Media: By Michael Parris November 9 2022

The site of the proposed container terminal beside the south channel of the Hunter River at Mayfield. Picture by Jonathan Carroll

Port of Newcastle says it will act “without delay” once Parliament enacts legislation allowing it to compensate the NSW government for removing restrictions on it building a container terminal.

The NSW lower house voted on Tuesday in favour of a bill which will extinguish ongoing financial penalties on the port building a freight terminal if the private operator tops up its $1.75 billion lease payment to the state.

Port chief executive Craig Carmody said on Tuesday that the port operator was ready to kick-start the process of removing the container restrictions in Newcastle.

“While we celebrate this moment, we also recognise that a bill is not law until it passes through the upper house,” he said.

“Once a law, the Treasurer can expect, without delay, a request for determination of compensation, as required by the bill.

“Port of Newcastle intends to waste no time in making good on its commitment to the people of the Hunter and western and northern NSW to construct a container terminal.”

The port plans to seek investors to help develop a $2.4 billion container terminal on former BHP steelworks land at Mayfield once the ongoing penalties are scrapped.

Mr Carmody said the bill’s bipartisan passage through the lower house marked a “significant and positive step not just for the growth and diversification of the Port of Newcastle, but for NSW”.

“The beneficiaries of this bill stretch far beyond the port. The benefits flow across regional and rural NSW, where manufacturers, agri-business and all industries across the ports supply chain will be breathing a collective sigh of relief.”

NSW Ports, which stands to lose its monopoly over container movements in the state, said it was not a party to the deal between the government and Port of Newcastle.

“This is a matter between those two parties,” the company said in a statement.

“NSW’s container supply chains are most effectively serviced (economically, environmentally and socially) by Port Botany, followed by Port Kembla when Port Botany nears capacity.

“Today’s developments do not change that fact.

“NSW Ports will continue with its strategy and investment plans, which have seen more than $2.3 billion in private investment spent at our ports and intermodal terminals over the past nine years since privatisation.

“Port Botany and Port Kembla play a significant role in NSW, contributing $13.6 billion to the state economy each year and supporting about 65,000 jobs.”

Committee for the Hunter chief executive Alice Thompson said the Hunter’s future was “bigger and brighter today than it was yesterday”.

“When the bill has passed we will look back and acknowledge the many heroes in this story,” she said.

“The Herald for uncovering this unfair deal, vision and smart groundwork from the port, unified advocacy from regional leaders and representatives across politics from the upper to the lower Hunter all joining our voices and strengths in the face of significant barriers to unlock our region.”

Ms Thompson said Mr Piper deserved thanks for his “leadership in aligning the state government and parties to deliver this important reform”.

“Well done to the Premier and his team for listening to our case for change and working with this region to right the wrongs of the past.

“That’s the leadership we will remember.”

NSW Farmers president Xavier Martin said farmers were poised to save up to $2.8 billion over the next 30 years when the bill passed.

“The fact that we’ve got produce being driven by road into the biggest city in the country is a clear sign we’ve got some big issues with our rail freight system,” he said.

“This bill opens the way to give the Port of Newcastle the opportunity to expand and grow and meet its potential, something that will save farmers money, grow the state economy, reduce strain on our roads, reduce truck emissions and help the Hunter Valley in its eventual industrial transition away from coalmining.”