Lost valley of the batteries

CHRISTY CAIN is the WA branch secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia. This week’s THINKING ALLOWED is a response to one a fortnight ago by sustainability export Peter Newman on how a new port in Kwinana could help launch a “Lithium Valley” industry in Western Australia.

WHY would our state government support the rushed construction of a new, or duplicated, port facility in Cockburn Sound at a cost of $6 billion when such facilities will not be needed for 25-plus years into the future?

In Professor Newman’s opinion piece the other week, he suggested that our state needs to build a new port in Kwinana to support a “Lithium Valley” so we can have jobs in the future.

The problem with this opinion by the professor is that it is at odds with what the lithium industry is saying they need to prosper.

In two submissions to parliament the Australia Mining and Exploration Companies outlined what government should do to support the growth in Lithium mining and processing.

• Christy Cain

Port agnostic

None of their recommendations included building a $6 billion dollar port in Kwinana.

I attended a forum sponsored by the Western Harbour’s Alliance, of which prof Newman is a member, and where Tianqi Lithium general manager Phil Thick said that their expansion of operations was port agnostic and Fremantle is more than adequate for their needs.

This is why companies like Tianqi are expanding today and already bringing thousands of jobs to the Kwinana industrial area; they do not need new port facilities to make their businesses work.

At its peak, the best estimate is a “Lithium Valley” will produce 12,000 containers of export annually. Currently, Fremantle Port exports around 150,000 empty containers every year.

We have a long way to go before a new port is needed to support Lithium Valley.

Traffic congestion around the port is getting better. In 2014, prof Newman estimated the flawed Perth Freight Link would remove 500 trucks form local roads every day.

Our union opposed the Roe 8 PFL because we knew there were better solutions that wouldn’t destroy the Beelair wetlands.

Since 2014 with better freight logistics, freight volumes have increased at Fremantle Port by 10 per cent while the number of trucks on local roads have decreased by 580 per day.

The facts show we didn’t need ROE 8 to accomplish the reduction in trucks on local roads.

If prof Newman had bothered to attend the public forum on Wednesday August 29 he would have heard from actual freight logistics, port planners, industry businesses, and workers all saying clearly that Fremantle can continue these efficiencies and the port has at least 25 years before the operators themselves would consider as a business needing to move operations.

If the Lithium Valley doesn’t need a new port, current operators say they have at least 25 years of capacity in Fremantle Port.

Efficiencies have already taken more trucks off the road than Roe 8 was designed to do, and shipping lines don’t need or want new facilities in the coming decades.

What is driving the push to close a publicly owned asset and spend $6 billion on a new port?

A working port is part of the very soul that gives Fremantle its identity.

The MUA and industry agree we do not need to close Fremantle Port and destroy the heart of our community as PROF Newman and others seem to be advocating for.

3 responses to “Lost valley of the batteries

  1. Spot on! A working port is part of the fabric that gives our Fremantle community its identity. There has been a working port for over 120 years so if someone who recently moved here is bothered by a few trains or trucks carrying cargo maybe they moved to the wrong city.

  2. Bunbury port is probably more appropriate for lithium refinery. Lithium mined in Greebushes and Ravensthorpe. Suggesting Kwinana/Rockingham is probably result of a deal between govt and miners/processors to save money on FIFO workers. What about decentralisation? We need to develop Bunbury Esperance etc and other coastal ports to give workers in SW an avenue for careers and allow kids to stay in SW towns? The increasing density within 80k of Perth wiil eventually cause a lot more environmental and pollution problems than Newman says he is trying to address.

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