Export threat as consortium refuses to share

HE Treasurer, Wayne Swan, said yesterday the eyes of the Government were firmly fixed on a dispute at the Newcastle coal terminal that threatens to jeopardise future port expansion plans and cost the country millions in lost export earnings.The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission this week lost patience with the BHP-led consortium at Newcastle over its refusal to sign up to a new agreement on sharing port facilities.The dispute is typical of arguments over who gets to use port and rail facilities. Because this infrastructure is often owned by a monopoly, regulators need to ensure that other parties have access.At Newcastle, the ACCC has had a temporary approval in place for years, allowing development of the port facilities. But it has revoked the approval because, it is understood, of differences with BHP over who should control use of the crowded facilities.Mr Swan said he was ”extremely concerned” at reports that the expansion plans could be jeopardised, and would contact the Infrastructure Minister, Anthony Albanese, about the issue.”It goes to the core of our productive capacity, and our capacity to export,” the Treasurer said.Later, Mr Albanese said the Commonwealth had had discussions with the NSW Ports Minister and urged a timely resolution of any outstanding issues. The chairman of the ACCC, Graeme Samuel, told ABC Radio the parties had plenty of time to meet a deadline about a new agreement to share the facilities.”We’ve come to the conclusion that it is no longer in the public interest, there’s no longer an overwhelming public benefit in having this so called transition arrangement in place,” Mr Samuel said.The NSW Ports Minister, Joe Tripodi, said the Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group – led by BHP – had helped out on signing a new agreement with the State Government because the state insisted it build a new coal loader to its full capacity.”That’s the sticking point, the Government will not change its position on this, that we are not allowing a coal-loading business to sit on capacity while there’s so much demand from coal producers to have export capacity through the port,” Mr Tripodi said.

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