THE privatisation of Fremantle’s port is set to fail, with the Nationals defying WA premier Colin Barnett and opposing its sale.
Treasurer Mike Nahan was expected to introduce legislation setting up the sale within weeks.
That forced the hand of Nationals leader Terry Redman who announced just before Wednesday’s sitting that his party wouldn’t support it.
While the Nationals have a power-sharing arrangement with the Liberals in WA—including an allocation of ministers—they are not in a formal coalition as they are at the federal level. The arrangement gives the Nationals more freedom to set their own agenda.
The Nationals’ opposition won’t prevent the legislation getting through the lower house, where the Liberals have the numbers in their own right, but there’s virtually no chance it will pass the upper house where a combination of Labor, Greens and Nationals MLCs can defeat it.
“On Monday, enabling legislation was brought to Cabinet for the sale of the asset. In that Cabinet decision, we stepped out of it,” Mr Redman said of himself and Nationals colleagues Mia Davies and Colin Holt. At the announcement, the Nats’ entire parliamentary team was by his side: “My team and I are strongly of the view that we cannot see a pathway, certainly between now and the election,” he said of the sale.
“I suggest after that, that we can have a process that matches the complexity we need to have that supports the sale of what is such a significant asset for the state.”
He said the Nationals were being asked to vote on the legislation without knowing details such as access to the port for producers and associated costs, which would be kept from view in confidential contracts.
He noted NSW Liberal leader Mike Baird had taken his port privatisation plans to an election, and this was the sort of transparency WA needed to follow. Before the last WA election, Mr Barnett explicitly stated he would not sell Fremantle port.
Later on Wednesday Mr Barnett said he’d still introduce the legislation, and tried to sweeten the deal by reminding the Nats of his plans to use the sale to pay for new live animal export facilities at Kwinana.
Fremantle Labor MLA Simone McGurk welcomes the Nats’ decision but says it means more economic headaches for the premier, who’s been banking on the sale to eat into WA’s ballooning debt.
“This now scuttles their economic strategy — such that it is,” Ms McGurk told the Herald.
“It’s a major blow to the government which will be welcomed by the WA public.”
Federal Labor candidate Chris Brown, an official with the maritime union, said he’d spoken with farmers in the wheatbelt while campaigning for rail freight, and said they were deeply suspicious of the sale.
“Privatisation makes it uncompetitive in an international market, because the price rises get passed onto the producers,” he said.
He says while campaigning he hasn’t found one sale supporter, with many people concerned about losing an asset that earns the state $50 million-plus a year.
by STEVE GRANT