Port of Newcastle (Extinguishment of Liability) Bill 2022

Port of Newcastle (Extinguishment of Liability) Bill 2022

(Second Reading Debate, 8 November 2022, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

 I strongly support the Port of Newcastle (Extinguishment of Liability) Bill 2022, which removes the obligation on the Port of Newcastle to pay a levy to the ports of Botany and Kembla for every container that goes through its port.

 I acknowledge the leadership of my friend and colleague Greg Piper, the member for Lake Macquarie, in bringing this important bill to the Parliament. There are 93 members in this place. We will probably vote in a unanimous way to support the bill with amendment. However, it took Greg to do the work to bring the bill before the House, which shows the important role that Independent members play in the New South Wales Parliament.

I am not anti‑privatisation. Sometimes the private sector is best placed to deliver services and provide much‑needed competition. However, privatisation does not work when assets and services are sold off at the expense of public benefit merely to achieve a quick windfall. The privatisation of our ports infrastructure was one such deal. It sacrificed the economy—particularly the State's regional economy—the environment and Sydney's amenity to get a better price. That short‑term decision needs to be fixed now. The container levy's detrimental impact on the Hunter economy was assessed by the Legislative Assembly Committee on Environment and Planning during its inquiry into sustainability of energy supply and resources in this State, which I chaired. We found that diversifying the Port of Newcastle is critical to realising the full economic opportunities of the Hunter region as the world moves away from coal. Coal reserves in the Hunter may be exhausted in the next 30 years as mines reach their end of lives.

Across the world countries are moving to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by phasing out energy from thermal coal. Before the war in Ukraine, coal prices dropped and the fourth coal terminal at Newcastle was cancelled. Recent increases in coal prices are temporary and many countries are expediting their move away from coal. The Hunter and other coal‑dependent regions desperately need economic diversification. At a time when the world is seeking to decarbonise energy production, the coal regions of New South Wales can use their unique knowledge and skillsets from coalmining and power generation to support a new renewable‑energy innovation and manufacturing export hub. The Hunter and adjacent coal regions have the capacity to export solar, wind and hydro power technology and components to the world, and to make this State a leader in renewable energy. But under the existing port infrastructure arrangements, renewable energy exports would have to travel 175 kilometres to Port Botany or 244 kilometres to Port Kembla, or pay the levy, which would add huge costs to their operations.

Other export industries, like wine, wheat, agriculture and manufacturing, experience those crippling economic impediments. Some of those industries are using the Port of Brisbane because it is cheaper and easier than sending containers to Sydney. Constraining the Port of Newcastle's container capacity means all imports that head north unnecessarily have to travel through Sydney, which congests our already choked roads and freight rail lines, causing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. I understand that 16.5 per cent of containers imported in this State end up in the Hunter and northern New South Wales. The committee heard that global shipping is moving towards ultra large vessels and that Newcastle is the only deep‑water port in Australia that can handle those vessels. Diversifying the port would also provide much‑needed resilience in our import and export industries in the face of infrastructure disruptions from fire and flood—realities that it appears we will need to live with in a challenging climate ahead.

Creating a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle could create more than 4,600 jobs in the Hunter alone and boost a number of local industries across regional New South Wales. It is not in the State's best interests to maintain the levy. We must find a solution to ensure the Port of Newcastle can diversify its trade base and provide import and export services to the Hunter and regional northern New South Wales at a reasonable cost. We need to restructure our port facilities for public benefit. The challenge may have been created by previous leaders, but it is now one for this Parliament to fix with the leadership of the member for Lake Macquarie. I acknowledge the work done by the member's adviser, Jason Gordon, who is present today. Bringing a bill to this Parliament is a challenge for the entire team. I know how hard Greg and Jason have worked together to get the bill to this point. I commend it to the House.

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!