THE Barnett government’s proposed privatisation of Fremantle port could see the local council gain more control over the development of Victoria Quay, says mayor Brad Pettitt.
On Thursday WA treasurer Mike Nahan confirmed the Liberal-National government will this year implement a long-held dream of inviting private operators to bid for a long-term lease of the port’s operations.
Included in the Budget is $6 million for development of the Victoria Quay commercial precinct: Dr Pettitt says under a private operator, planning control might come back to the council.
He notes the council enjoys a good relationship with the state-owned port—and is much happier with the latest plans for the historic precinct—but says it has planning powers that are “exclusive and unusual”.
He stresses his comments shouldn’t be read as support for the privatisation. He’s still mulling over the implications for Fremantle, and particularly its impact on the Perth Freight Link.
The mayor says there’s been speculation the government could reap around $1.5 billion from the sale, making the $1.6b in the Budget for the link an over-investment.
Both Dr Pettitt and Fremantle Labor MP Simone McGurk say the government should have been budgeting for a second port at Kwinana rather than building bigger roads to Fremantle’s, which will reach capacity in around a decade.
Ms McGurk is concerned Fremantle’s capacity, estimated at 1.4 million containers in freight link documents, could be ramped up to attract higher bids.
“Apart from the fact people will be dismayed that the port will be run by private operators, that will push more trucks onto the roads and have a huge impact on Fremantle and the surrounding districts,” she told the Herald.
Ms McGurk fears a private operator is likely to be less responsive to concerns about operations that impact on the local community, particularly where costs are concerned.
“Just look what happened with the trains,” she says. Ever since the state’s rail freight was privatised locals have complained about screeching trains. When the government approached the private operators it was told to get lost.
Ms McGurk says with the mining boom well and truly off the boil and WA’s economy looking shaky, now is not the time to sell an income-generating asset.
“Last year, the Fremantle port authority reported a $44.9 million after-tax profit, a 10.7 per cent return on assets,” she says.
Other highlights for the southern suburbs include:
• $25m to make Aubin Grove train station more accessible;
• $16m for Fremantle port berth upgrades;
• $10.3m for the first stage of the South Fremantle and Hamilton SHS amalgamation into Fremantle College;
• $10m for the Cockburn Police Station;
• $6m for the Cockburn council/Dockers oval and aquatic centre;
• $3.15m for a new specialist engineering training centre in Munster;
• $2.9m for the Fremantle Hospital reconfiguration;
• $24.1m for stage 4 of Challenger Institute’s Murdoch campus; and,
• money to underground power in South Melville.
Planning for a new high school in Hammond Park was also flagged.
Ms McGurk says WA housing minister Colin Holt had indicated in a pre-budget press conference there’d be money to reconfigure some Homeswest areas, and she’s hopeful the “Beacy Bronx” will feature high on the list.
‘Last year, the Fremantle port authority reported a $44.9 million after-tax profit, a 10.7 per cent return on assets’ Simone McGurk
by STEVE GRANT