HASTINGS MP Neale Burgess has ridiculed speculation the Port of Hastings could be privatised, labelling any plans that pre-empt the outcome of a $110 million state government planning study as “a nasty joke”.
While refusing to rule out potential future privatisation, Mr Burgess said it was ridiculous to speculate on possible financing models when feasibility studies into the viability of the project were yet to be completed.
A report in the 18 January edition of The Age newspaper suggested the state government was “actively considering” privatising the ports of Melbourne and Hastings to raise up to $8 billion.
The state Labor opposition has also pledged to lease the Port of Melbourne to a private operator under a long-term deal to pay for its multi-billion dollar transport blueprint.
However, Mr Burgess said the privatisation proposals were irresponsible ahead of the completion of studies aimed at identifying the best model for Melbourne’s container transport needs, which are forecast to increase six-fold by 2050.
“Labor has already decided to sell off [the Port of Melbourne] without doing any homework at all,” he said. “But that’s what a responsible government does: you do all the necessary homework to identify the best possible option for the people of Victoria.”
He said “any moves to privatise the Port of Melbourne would obviously have serious implications for the Port of Hastings”.
“That’s why we’ve allocated $110 million over four years for a comprehensive study so that we can determine the best way to move ahead.
“Before we can determine the best way to move ahead and identify the best way of using taxpayers’ money, we need to know all the facts and identify potential environmental and social impacts.”
Asked if those options could include privatisation of port operations, Mr Burgess said: “Everything is on the table when we’re looking to identify the best option.”
However, he said it was implausible the project would attract public sector interest ahead of completion of environmental, geological and social-impact studies that could drastically affect eventual costs, which were presently estimated at up to $12 billion.
“No one in the private sector is going to move on a project like this without knowing all the facts.
“I can’t imagine any private interests wanting to come in while there are any unknowns, and right now there are so many unknowns.”
Mr Burgess said he believed expansion of Port of Hastings would prove to be the best solution for Melbourne’s future cargo needs, and the state g overnment was moving “full steam ahead” with planning for the project.