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The proposal to lease out the current Port of Melbourne for 50 years to fund rail and road infrastructure in the east and south-east of Melbourne is the greatest fraud ever conducted on the people of the west of Melbourne. It locks the west of Melbourne into guaranteed congestion and pollution for half a century.
Michael Dowling served the state of Victoria (including governments of both persuasions) over 12 years, as deputy chairman of the Victorian Channels Authority and initial chairman of the Victorian Regional Channels Authority. He has also been a director of international shipping companies and is a shareholder in, and member of, a grain and logistics company advisory board that regularly sends more than 10,000 containers to the port.
The Port of Melbourne is Australia's busiest container port. Photo: Paul Rovere
In July, Dowling sent a letter to Ports Minister Luke Donnellan, pointing out why the effective privatisation of the port was a bad idea. He recommended establishing a new port ("Port West", near Point Wilson and Avalon airport), which was discussed as an option before last year's state election.
The letter argued the congestion created by having the port close to the city centre could not be resolved by road upgrades.
Port West is away from residential areas and inner Melbourne, and close to two different rail gauges, easily accessible to Geelong, the Riverina and the Western District.
Premier Daniel Andrews: important promises abandoned.
Further, Dowling argues the new facility could be built at no cost to taxpayers. He envisages international tenders being invited to operate a new port, including dredging, rail and road connections, with controlled pricing regulations and with the facility returned to the state after 50 years.
Port of Melbourne tenants would be given notice that they had to vacate their existing sites in 15 years and then relocate to Point Wilson.
The most important element of Dowling's proposal is: "The land at Avalon could be used as Australia's major inland port. All relevant container freight, whether from or to Brisbane, Darwin or Freemantle (and everywhere in between), could be directed to this container intermodal and then be distributed in the most efficient way.
"In this way ships would not have to trans-ship cargo, and the number and size of ships calling in to other Australian ports would either diminish or not expand significantly in the future.
"It can all be done at no cost to the state of Victoria, but using the Port of Melbourne achieves nothing in ensuring Victoria remains the hub of the freight system in Australia and does nothing to ensure Australia remains internationally competitive."
Dowling's vision opens up the prospect that the land on which the Port of Melbourne and the Geelong Port is based could be redeveloped with a mixture of residential, employment and recreational areas: "I would think the proceeds from the sale of land in Melbourne and Geelong and the enhancement to the state of Victoria would far outweigh the short-term proceeds and subsequent restrictions which may flow from a privatisation of the Port of Melbourne."
Dowling added: "While the creation of bridges over metropolitan rail crossings has its merits, the State of Victoria should borrow the money to undertake these services and plan on repaying these borrowings when the Port of Melbourne and Geelong Port and environs are eventually sold."
The letter was ignored.
This from a government that has abandoned several key pre-election promises: to implement the request by the current and three previous Victorian auditors-general to amend the Audit Act to allow the Auditor-General to follow the "money trail" into the accounts of private partners in public/private partnerships; to give the Victorian corruption commission real teeth to follow up on its own suspicions of government corruption; and to require all major infrastructure proposals to be examined by an independent authority.
Instead, Special Minister of State Gavin Jennings suggested Victoria did not need an anti-corruption commission modelled on NSW because Victoria's government wasn't as "contaminated" as NSW's. Further, Infrastructure Victoria's inaugural chairman, former Macquarie Capital executive director Jim Millar, says his first priority is a "30-year blueprint of the state's infrastructure needs" – but he is "not ruling out" consideration of the proposed Western Distributor if there is time.
Surely these excuses for abandoning election promises essential to restoring good governance in Victoria can't survive the Laugh Out Loud test – especially in the light of the public warning by logistics expert Michael Dowling.
Victoria is facing an infrastructure fiasco rivalling the desalination plant and the East West Link. As this is an issue of national importance, Dowling's ideas should be looked at by Infrastructure Australia. This would be an opportunity for the Turnbull government to show its fresh policy approach.
Kenneth Davidson is a senior columnist with The Age. Email: email@example.com
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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