Labor readies for port talks

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PORTS Minister Luke Donnellan intends talking with “all parties involved” about the government’s plans for the Port of Hastings.

The government has announced Infrastructure Victoria will assess the merits of expanding Hastings or building a new port north of Geelong in Port Phillip, despite Labor candidates going into the November election with promises of “no container port in Western Port”.

However, now in government, Labor is taking a much softer line.

“As a government we do have time and we need to get the decision right on the location of Victoria’s next container port; that’s why we will commission Infrastructure Victoria to undertake a thorough assessment of how a Bay West port option stacks up against Hastings,” a spokesperson for Mr Donnellan said on Monday.

“The government is expecting to get advice from the department early in 2015 regarding the scope and timing of work that needs to be undertaken to provide Infrastructure Victoria with the information it needs to make a thorough assessment.

“In the meantime, the minister will be sitting down with all parties involved including the Port of Hasting [Development] Authority to discuss their role moving forward.”

The authority, which has offices in High St, Hastings, employs close to 100 people and is funded with $110 million approved by the previous Denis Napthine-led government.

It took more than three weeks for Mr Donnellan’s office to respond to questions from The News about the future of the development authority.

The authority itself has not responded to several requests for information.

In what seems an unlikely twist, environmentalists find themselves agreeing with Hastings MP Neale Burgess on one thing: Labor will come back to championing Hastings as Victoria’s next major port.

However, while being applauded by Mr Burgess that decision would anger the environmentalists who would be able to accuse Labor of deceiving voters and fielding candidates who were opposed to post expansion at Hastings.

Mr Burgess told The News on Friday that “everybody in labor wants it [the container port at Hastings]” and that pushing for the Bay West option during the election campaign had been to “just create a point of difference”.

He said the Napthine government and the previous Labor government had each spent four years working towards port expansion at Hastings.

Jenny Warfe, of the Blues Wedges conservation organisation, suggested staff at the Port of Hastings Development Authority could be used to “prepare for the very different future we are facing, rather than being paid for yet another round of trashing the environment, by us long suffering taxpayers”.

Ms Warfe said the state Labor government “maybe hoping we have forgotten what their [then] Ports Minister [Tim] Pallas said in 2009 re Hastings: No other port location offers the same overall advantages as Hastings, and it holds major economic potential for the state of Victoria.

“When Blue Wedges supporters met with him soon after, he said there was no plan B – so [it was] Hastings or bust.”

Ms Warfe said “that same Labor government” had “seemed quite happy” for commentators to label Blue Wedges “knuckleheads and jihadists … and as superstitious zealots”.

“It would be amusing if not so infuriating to watch successive governments fall over themselves to please which ever corporate entity is banging on their door on which ever issue they want government support and handouts for.

“Developers, shipping interests, big coal and other big business get armchair rides through open doors to ministers offices, while those of us concerned for the future of the planet are generally left outside, or offered a 15 minute meeting in three months’ time with a bored junior adviser.

“While this imbalance remains, what hope is there for the natural world on which we all rely?

“We don’t need Hastings or Bay West – we need a different future, not relying on the business as usual dinosaurs’ version of reality.”

– A Mangrove Experience boat is being held Saturday 24 January to provide passengers aboard the Tidemaster a close-up view of “the world’s most southerly mangroves” and birds that frequent the internationally recognised wetlands. Organised by the Somers-based Caring for Westernport, the trip will be addressed by scientist Dr Tim Ealey, also known as Mr Mangrove. Bookings www.trybooking.com/115703 or call O420 500 403.

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