Port deal highlights Liberal-National Government's history of privatisation failures

09 November 2022


Ms JODIE HARRISON: After years of short shrift—sticking a secret provision into the port privatisation deal, which forced the Port of Newcastle to compensate its competitors if it transported more than 50,000 shipping containers a year—and after taking pains to trade Hunter's long-term future for a short-term sugar hit to this Government's structurally unsound budget, the Premier has begrudgingly acknowledged, because of political imperative, that this unfair, uncommercial, unreasonable constraint on the port and the economic future of our region and our State has got to go.

The Productivity Commission was incredibly critical of the existing arrangement, stating, "Port privatisation processes have penalised any development of container capacity at the Port of Newcastle."

The commissioner said, "There is a clear need for increased container terminal space over the next 30 years. We are looking at a doubling or tripling of containers coming into Australia." The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission was also damning in its assessment, calling the bad deal "inherently anti‑competitive".

For a government that has claimed to believe in the power of the free market to fix everything and has used this as a justification for offloading even revenue-generating assets such as the Port of Newcastle, the hypocrisy of this decision has been staggering.

Today's Newcastle Herald editorial says, "In joining with Mr Piper and Labor, the Government is implicitly accepting that the original deal was as anti-competitive as the ACCC and its other critics said it was and wrong in principle."

This backflip highlights not just the failures of the Port of Newcastle privatisation deal, but the failures of this Government's fundamental approach to privatisation. My Opposition colleagues and I and the member for Lake Macquarie are committed to working across the Parliament to fix this bad deal and to get the best outcome possible for the local people in my area, for the Hunter and for New South Wales as a whole.

Because the privatisation was a bad deal for the people of New South Wales, it is complex to untangle. We need to make sure that the people of this State do not end up footing the bill for fixing up the mess. We are hearing that the decision implicit in the amendment moved by the Government might actually cost the taxpayer billions of dollars.

I would like the Minister to confirm in Parliament that the liability to the State Government will not exceed the money collected from the Port of Newcastle. If the liability that the State Government is inheriting from this decision is greater than the amount of money the Port of Newcastle has to pay to the New South Wales Government, then the Minister has to disclose this in Parliament.

Let us be clear, no matter who is in charge, as the Government churns through Premiers and Cabinet Ministers, this Liberal-Nationals Coalition always comes back to a short-sighted privatisation agenda, with the Premier, even as recently as the last few days and indeed in Question Time today, refusing to rule out further privatisations. I ask: How long before the Liberal-Nationals sell off Hunter Water?

What about the remainder of Ausgrid and Essential Energy? We are already seeing power prices explode. I simply cannot fathom what would happen if the only remaining energy companies are fully privatised. With its privatisation agenda, the Liberal-Nationals are working against the future interests of this State.

With the privatisation of Newcastle port, they actively undermined the Hunter's and our State's future prosperity. Among other bad decisions in relation to privatisation has been the Newcastle buses. We have seen what a terrible outcome that has had for the people of Newcastle. Privatisation in this State has to stop. The Government has to come clean on exactly how much undoing this bad deal will cost the people of New South Wales.