May 27, 2012

M5 and Port Botany

Last week, the Deputy Mayor, Cr George Glinatsis represented this Council at the meeting of the M5 Taskforce, a grouping of local government authorities stretching along the M5 corridor from Camden to our City. At the Taskforce meeting, a representative of Infrastructure NSW gave a briefing on the overall Sydney freight task, the expansion of Port Botany, the M5 East and M5 West upgrades and the overall impacts on the economies of both the State and the nation. 

It was, as the Deputy Mayor advises, a comprehensive briefing. But it had a few holes, papered over with the catchcry from Infrastructure NSW to wait for a report the organisation is making to the State Government in September.

We will wait until September to see if and when the M5 corridor is to be expanded to meet the growing demands of both container traffic from Port Botany and private motorists.

The Taskforce has been consistent with both the State and Federal governments – this corridor must be upgraded and expanded and as soon as possible.

While bureaucrats sit and ponder, the new terminal at Port Botany is fast nearing completion and the extra number of containers will be a reality. And, we don’t have the transport and logistics infrastructure to handle the increased numbers. I have said this repeatedly and will continue to say it. 

However, there was one aspect of the Infrastructure NSW briefing that does cause me concern.

It is almost a given within the maritime and transport bureaucracies in this State that the 3.2 million container cap at Port Botany is non-existent. Transport for NSW, Sydney Ports Corporation and Infrastructure NSW seem to take the view that the legally imposed cap is a hindrance and something that will be dispatched whenever required.

There is an even more pressing reason for the State Government to have the cap removed. The Government has placed Port Botany on the block – a 99 year lease of the port is to be offered for sale. And, the value of a lease is quite different between a 3.2 million container cap and a port that will move over seven million containers. Why would private capital buy an asset that cannot be grown? That is not what capitalism is about. You buy an asset to grow that asset and its return on the initial investment.

The State Government will seek to maximise its return for the sale of the lease and hence my concern about the status of the legally binding cap. When quizzed about the cap and any move to lift it, the representative of Infrastructure NSW implied that there would be movement soon on this issue.

The only movement that can occur is an application to the Department of Infrastructure and Planning for an amendment to the approval granted to Sydney Ports Corporation for Terminal 3 and that the 3.2 million cap be removed. If such an application is made – and there is no way I know of where the State Government can get around it – then that application must be accompanied by a realistic transport and logistics strategy that will address the movement of containers to and from the port. 

We don’t want talk and reports and ideas – smoke and mirrors – we want actual work. We will wait to see when an application is made and then we will review it to ensure the right outcomes for our residents. If that is not the case, then we may all end up in the courts.

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