WA TREASURER Mike Nahan has ruled out following the Victorian Labor government’s lead and gouging Fremantle port users in the lead-up to privatisation.
The Port of Melbourne, slated to be sold later this year, whacked stevedoring company DP World with an 800 per cent rent rise four months ago, and is expected to do the same to Asciano Patrick, whose lease is soon up for renewal.
The increases are expected to boost the port’s profitability by $320 million a year, making it more attractive to bidders.
DP and Patrick, which have Fremantle branches, have flagged legal action against the increases. Both have recently entered negotiations with Fremantle Ports over new leases for their container terminals on North Quay, as their current leases expire in 2017.
When the Herald spoke to Patrick spokesman Richard Baker recently, he said the company was nervously watching the Barnett government’s next move in light of the Victorian leases.
His boss, Asciano chief executive John Mullen had previously complained to Fairfax media the increases would make Melbourne uncompetitive internationally and lead to costs being passed on to consumers.
Dr Nahan won’t rule out any fee increases but says they won’t face gouging. The government would instead look to increase the port’s sale price by working it “harder”.
“We are not going to follow the approach of the Labor government in Victoria by jacking up the fees before the sale,” Dr Nahan told parliament this week.
He says the government is wary of creating a port monopoly in Fremantle, and will regulate how much a new private operator may increase fees. “We will state what the fees are in the legislation we bring to this place. We have not reached that point yet.”
Dr Nahan didn’t answer a question from opposition leader Mark McGowan on whether Fremantle’s privatisation would affect the construction of a second port near Kwinana.
by STEVE GRANT