Alice Thompson, CEO
Newcastle Herald, 3 July 2021
The basic recipe for regional development is infrastructure, human capital and a dash of a region’s competitive advantage.
However a region will not rise without the key ingredient of connectivity – to a global economy, between places, firms, people and their ideas. These networks can be physical like transport or digital. Connectivity also includes collaborative clusters like our own HunterNet that drive innovation, productivity and business growth.
This makes ports and airports vital economic assets in regional development.
I’ve had a lot of experience assessing infrastructure priorities and projects for government funding. I have learned that if a region doesn’t have a port or airport, they are likely to want one. If it has domestic gateways, there is demand for these to be upgraded to international.
The Hunter is the envy of many regions, boasting both an international airport and a deep water seaport. There is much more potential to grow and diversify our economy with these assets in our DNA.
Newcastle Airport is taking off with the Australian Government commitment to the Code E runway upgrade. The upgrade will allow the airport to accommodate long-range, wide bodied aircraft, connecting the Hunter with the rest of the world. It will significantly boost the visitor economy and support a huge uplift in freight activity, new jobs and growth.
The Port of Newcastle is the bookend to the airport and one of the region’s most significant anchors to a stronger, more diversified economy. The Multi-purpose Deepwater Terminal (MDT) project will create a world-class container terminal on the old BHP site. It will reduce the costs and delays experienced by local manufacturers currently importing components and exporting products through Sydney. This can represent up to 26 per cent of import costs for some of our businesses.
The MDT responds to Infrastructure Australia’s call for a deep water east coast port capable of servicing Ultra Large Container Vessels (ULCVs).
ULCVs are larger, more energy efficient ships with capacity to carry over 14,000 Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (standard twenty-foot containers or TEUs). They are the future of the global shipping fleet.
Designed to accommodate ULCVs, the MDT will have a throughput capacity of 2 million TEUs. This will dramatically increase the volume, productivity and efficiency of container shipping in NSW and Australia.
By creating additional capacity in a location already well serviced by transport, the MDT will help take the pressure off Sydney and defer expensive upgrades to the city’s congested land transport network.
When given the green light, the MDT will inject $2.4 billion in private sector investment into our regional economy, generate over 9,000 jobs in construction and 15,000 ongoing jobs in supply chains when operational.
It will deliver an additional $2.5 billion of economic benefits to the nation.
Yet the Port of Newcastle’s grand ambitions for our region have hit yet another hurdle with the dismissal of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) case against NSW Ports over the anti-competitive Port Commitment Deeds.
The Deeds were made when Port Botany and Port Kembla were privatised in 2013 and render the development of a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle uneconomic.
The NSW Government committed to a bold program in the Upper Hunter by-election to ensure coal mining communities have a strong future.
The Royalties for Rejuvenation fund sets aside $25 million each year to develop other industries and new jobs in the long term. The Port of Newcastle offers a solution, at scale and speed, to achieve just this.
In my years of infrastructure advisory at the highest levels of government, I have never come across a key economic asset that has had more obstacles put in the way of its development as experienced by the Port of Newcastle.
In my years of infrastructure advisory at the highest levels of government, I have never come across a key economic asset that has had more obstacles put in
the way of its development as experienced by the Port of Newcastle.
The Port does not need public funding to deliver on our shared objectives for jobs, growth and prosperity for the communities impacted most by the world’s shift to a low-carbon economy. It needs all parties – including the NSW and Australian governments – working together in the long term interests of the Hunter to unlock this project and the benefits it will bring. The future of our region depends on it.
Alice Thompson is the CEO of the Committee for the Hunter