Ports shielding their eyes from implications like the Wise Monkeys

Governments have made railing promises to counter truck congestion around Port Botany and through Sutherland.

Recent Baird and Turnbull mistakes, especially protections for a corporate monopoly at the cost of community damage, and ‘‘collateral damage’’ from the City Deal, have reduced the prospect of a sustainable future for Port Botany and its surrounds, through Sutherland and down to Port Kembla.

The Ministry of Transport in the late 1970s was faced with the imminent opening of the Port Botany container terminal, where construction had started in 1969 under Askin. 

The corruption-riddled dockside situation at Darling Harbour was to be closed.

We brought the two major issues together, within a very tight budget. Port Botany was an unsuitable site for a port but it was the best we had, so we used the 1925 railway but couldn’t electrify it. The target was railing of 40 per cent of throughput.

We planned the Maldon-Dombarton link so Western Coal could go straight to Port Kembla, and started the construction. Greiner stopped it in 1988 and subsequent State and Federal ministers fiddled around.

The privatised NSW Ports are the monopoly provider of container services in Sydney, and in 2015 and since promised the same Botany railing target as Wran in 1981 and Turnbull in the 2018 Budget, namely 40 per cent railed.

Their Masterplan estimated Botany’s maximum throughput to be at least 7.2 million TEU a year, with 35.7% railed after 2045 (56 trains a day compared with 16 in 2015). By that time they estimate up to 6,900 truck movements a day at Botany compared with 3,900 in 2015; while car carriers from Kembla, up Mount Ousley and beyond, will double on Sutherland roads.

Turnbull’s 2018 Budget’s $400 million for the duplication of the Botany rail link and ancillary depots to start on the 40 per cent path has been accepted by councils and some media but was debunked by a special econometric study in 2015/16.

Here are the false promises and the deceits, the greatest of which is the City Deal that replaced heavy trains from the Illawarra to Western Sydney with metros, meaning Port Kembla is cut off from the Inland Rail. The Ports are shielding their eyes from the implications like the Wise Monkeys.

Moorebank said it would reduce truck movements by 3,300 a day from 2019/20 (1.2 million TEU), which is about one-third of Botany’s load.

The Masterplan said that ‘‘430,000 TEU have been estimated as being contestable for rail transport via Enfield and this is forecast to grow to 1.7 million TEU by 2045’’. Moorebank and Botany have 1.5 km sidings but Enfield’s are just 900 metres.

Two-thirds of Botany’s railings will be going to terminals with 900 metre down to 600 metre sidings, meaning Botany’s capacity calculations are more than 40 per cent over-estimated (80 trains a day needed, not 56).

That will pump up truck numbers, as will the short distance and double-handling costs within such a small radius of the Port. None of the various Port planning documents reference the Hon Milton Morris’s Inquiry report for Carl Scully, which forced a down-grading of truck movements – part of the ‘‘social contract’’ applying to all facilities.

In 2008 the then chair of Port Kembla Nick Whitlam welcomed PM Rudd’s infrastructure funding promises by seeking $1.2 billion to match Botany’s container capacity and $300 million to finish Maldon-Dombarton.

Adele Ferguson wrote it up as busting ‘‘the cosy duopoly between Patrick and Dubai Ports (formerly P&O ports)’’. Whitlam’s hopes were to be dashed as, underneath all, is a Cargo Cult reality shared across the industry and especially Turnbull, the Greater Sydney Commission, Ports Australia and NSW Ports which are enforcing monopoly rights, thus putting the unnecessary costs on the South-Eastern suburbs and the Illawarra.

Robert Gibbons