Labor goes quiet over port plans

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DESPITE the new state government’s apparent lack of enthusiasm to build a major container terminal at Hastings, Liberal MP Neale Burgess maintains the port expansion will go ahead.

He believes the Labor government led by Daniel Andrews will establish a panel to evaluate Hastings and the so-called Bay West area in Port Phillip before announcing it will go ahead with long-held plans for Western Port.

The government says no decision will be made until after a review by the yet to be formed Infrastructure Victoria.

The new body will assess the merits of developing the state’s next container port at Hastings or Bay West, near Geelong.

“It will be ludicrous to use Port Phillip,” Mr Burgess said, adding that the outgoing government had spent the past four years planning to expand the Port of Hastings following three years’ backing for the proposal by the former John Brumby-led Labor government.

However, an expert has told The News that shipping companies that Victoria’s economy will never be big enough to justify shipping companies sending their largest container vessels, even if deep water channels are available in Western Port.

Almost echoing the findings of the Build it-but will they come report by Victoria University’s Dr Hermione Parsons, the expert said the extra handling costs of containers at Hastings would be passed on to consumers: “All that will do is give more money to foreign-owned companies… New York takes ships the same size of those coming to Melbourne and there’s no way ships that can’t go to Brisbane or Sydney would come here.”

The expert also predicted staff cuts to the Hastings Port Development Authority by mid-February.

The authority has not returned several calls from The News.

Mr Burgess said he had not sought a meeting with new Ports Minister Luke Donnellan, but “I intend to front him and at least talk face to face”.

He said Labor still wanted to use Hastings as a “bulk port” to export coal and urea and import bitumen.

“It’s still in their plan for the Port of Hastings, they’ll do both [containers and bulk goods]. Their previous plan is still on.”

Mr Burgess said he had “knocked back” numerous proposals during the Coalition’s four-year term (brought to a halt by Labor’s victory on Saturday 29 November).

“I told them to go find somewhere else [for a port].

“They [Labor] intend using the Stony Point line, which would end passenger train services, and there’ll be a new line through Pearcedale. We’ll have B-double trucks going through the middle of our towns.”

In the lead up to the election the Labor Party criticised plans for a container port at Hastings and flagged building one at Bay West, close to Geelong on the west coast of Port Phillip. Labor has several MPs in the Geelong while the peninsula is “safe” Liberal.

However, the government remains non-committal, with Mr Donnellan not directly addressing questions posed by The News and instead issuing the following statement: “The Andrews government will refer its proposal to develop a post at Bay West near Werribee to the new, independent Infrastructure Victoria. No decision will be made on the future of Victoria’s ports until Infrastructure Victoria concludes its review.”

Also in the run-up to the election Labor’s three Mornington Peninsula candidates – Steve Hosking (Hastings), Carolyn Gleixner (Nepean) and Rebecca Wright (Mornington) – stated they were opposed to any expansion of the Port of Hastings.

The three issued a joint statement saying the proposed expansion threatened the environment, viability of the tourist industry and would create few jobs.

Questions not addressed by Mr Donnellan in several emails from The News concerned the future of the $110 million-funded Post of Hastings Development Authority and government liability for any surveys already commissioned or underway.

The authority has nearly 100 staff and recently entered a new lease to expand its office area in Hastings.

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