BEN LAWVER is a Fremantle resident and port lover. He sat on the Westport Taskforce as a stakeholder, but says the experience left him convinced the exercise wasn’t transparent.
I LOVE living in Fremantle, and having a working port on our doorstep is part of why my wife and I continue to call Fremantle home.
With 120+ years of shared history with the community, our working port is ingrained into the very fabric that makes Freo a unique place and should be at the forefront of how we grow into the future.
In 2018 I was fortunate to be a part of the taskforce considering our community’s future and how the entire state can best handle an increasing freight task. Early on I believed Westport would be an independent process with a mandate to bring a diverse group of stakeholders together and soberly consider WA’s future freight needs.
For nearly two years I was employed by the MUA and actively participated on Westport’s main stakeholder group as well as focused work streams dealing with issues such as environmental impacts and the freight network supply chain.
What I experienced during this time showed me the taskforce wasn’t interested in an objective look at our state’s needs, but rather a pre-determined outcome in search of a process.
On several occasions I personally witnessed staff change criteria, alter reports before their public release, and even ignore serious environmental red flags, but only when doing so would minimise the cost of building an outer harbour in Cockburn Sound (both financially and environmentally) or inflate those costs for retaining a port in Fremantle.
For example, an early draft of one Westport report contained 17 environmental “red flags” associated with building an outer harbour in Cockburn Sound.
Prior to its public release I attended a meeting where a well-known outer harbour lobbyist stood up and said “We can’t publish this. If this is published we will never build the outer harbour”.
When the report was finally released to the public, those environmental “red flags” had been changed.
Later, when reducing the initial 25 future port options under consideration down to five, Westport ranked environmental concerns so low the final port options making their “shortlist” were the five absolute worst for environmental outcomes from the larger group.
It wasn’t just environmental concerns Westport swept under the proverbial rug; I also witnessed the very trade projections used to justify a new port being manipulated at the request of highly paid lobbyists.
Westport paid external consultants at Deloitte to assess future trade growth and initially supported their findings.
The Taskforce Chair even said at the time “we have based our projections on a 2.8 per cent growth rate which is moderate, not extreme, but if you look at previous exercises that have said we would have needed a new outer harbour by now they used figures that were much higher than that.”
After making these public comments I saw an outer harbour lobbyist complain the projections were “too low” and wouldn’t support the construction of a new port “soon enough”.
Shortly after these comments, Westport said the Deloitte projections would be sent for “peer review” and “modelling” at the Treasurer’s office.
The final trade forecast given to the public was much higher than the initial Deloitte figures, and now predicts a future where every man, woman, and child in WA will need to almost triple our consumption of overseas goods to be accurate.
The last Westport meetings I attended it was understood by everyone any future traffic issues at Freo would be driven by an increase in car related traffic, not trucks visiting the port.
When I asked about continuing existing efficiencies that might see freight volumes at Fremantle double without any additional pressure on the road network; I was told by the taskforce chair: “Any freight efficiency that can be achieved at Fremantle will be moved to Kwinana once the outer harbour is built”. This comment came 10 months before Westport’s recommendation that our state can only progress by building a massive port in Cockburn Sound.
Clearly, Westport wasn’t interested in any solution that would keep a working port in Fremantle.