Staff numbers have been slashed from about 100 (including consultants) to 31, with one insider telling The News that the authority is “shrinking fast, all the consultants are about to go”.
The authority’s CEO Mike Lean says the authority is working with the government to investigate logistics associated with the use of Hastings as a bulk port.
The authority was established by the former Coalition government in 2012 with $110 million (over four years) to manage the Port of Hastings and plan for a container terminal.
However, it seems that its role now has been cut back to managing the port and possibly planning to expand the port’s existing use to handle bulk commodities, such as oil and gas.
Environmentalists have long opposed any increase in oil tankers coming to Western Port because of damage to the bay’s internationally-recognised wetlands that could result from spillages.
There have been about 50 ships a year coming to western Port in each of the past three years.
During the lead-up to the November 2014 election, Labor candidates on the Mornington Peninsula ruled out a container port at Hastings and the government says Infrastructure Victoria will be assessing the state’s port needs.
When in opposition, Labor proposed building a container port at “Bay West”, on the western shore of Port Phillip closer to Geelong. When previously in government it favoured Hastings.
Mr Lean was appointed by the Coalition state government in February 2013 to “lead the authority in the development of the Port of Hastings to become Victoria’s second international container port”.
The authority website now defines its role as being “responsible for managing existing trade at the Port of Hastings through the Port Management Agreement with Patrick Ports Hastings”.
It will be “working with the government to assist it in implementing its ports policy”.
In its Project 10,000 – Victorian Labor’s Transport Alternative report, the party said it would “seek independent expert advice from Infrastructure Victoria about the viability of Bay West as an alternative site for Melbourne’s second container port … Address the logistics needs of the state, including future bulk capacity at the Port of Hastings and Port of Geelong.”
However, the document is regarded as Labor’s platform, not its policy, and the Premier Daniel Andrews has only said Labor will deliver on its policies.
When asked about its role, the authority last week said: “The Port of Hastings Development Authority is continuing to work with the Victorian government to provide information on studies completed to date, assist in implementing the current ports policy and oversee the day-to-day operations of the Port of Hastings”
Mr Lean has also cancelled the first meeting for the year of the PORTicipate “community and engagement network”.
“It is our intention to notify all members of the authority’s future program as soon as is practicably possible,” Mr Lean said in an email “postponing” the 5 February meeting.
He said the authority “have had the great pleasure to be introduced to, and welcome” the new Ports Minister Luke Donnellan.
“We are working with Minister Donnellan and the newly formed Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources to determine how the authority may assist government with the implementation of their policies as they relate to ports,” he said.
Executive director of the Victorian National Parks Association Matt Ruchel on Friday questioned the need for a second container port.
Revelations that the Port of Melbourne would relinquish 150 hectares of land showed “this has nothing to do with the capacity of ports and more to do with real estate”.
The government should “take a deep breath, properly assess all options and ask do we need another container port”.
“Politicians should stop throwing darts at maps and answer the question if it’s [a container port] needed at all.”
Mr Ruchel said existing ports – Melbourne, Geelong or Portland – should be expanded rather than developing “a Bay West or Port of Hastings”.
“The [Port Phillip] bay has already need dredged and mega ships are never going to come to Melbourne, it doesn’t make any sense. We have a population of five million, so where is the demand for them to come?”
Mr Ruchel said the VNPA would not support “a massive expansion” of existing bulk oil or gas facilities at Hastings and called for a review of land earmarked for port related purposes.
In the authority’s 2013-14 annual report chairman’s Yehudi Blache predicted “the next 12 months look to be equally challenging and exciting for the authority to ensure that planning for this vital link [a container port] in the state’s infrastructure network continues apace”.