15 MP's sign letter demanding action on Port of Newcastle

Fifteen parliamentarians have signed and sent a joint letter to the Treasurer and the Prime Minister requesting action on the monopolised Port of Newcastle (PoN), which is 50 per cent owned by Belt and Road Initiative actor China Merchants Port Holdings.

The parliamentarians are highly concerned about proposed regulatory changes to the National Access Regime foreshadowed in the 2021-22 Federal Budget and how it could give the Chinese Communist Party CCP a strategic geopolitical advantage over the export of Australian coal.

The Budget appears to retrospectively eliminate previous arbitration determinations relating to the port. In addition, the ACCC has no oversight on the port and its monopoly status. ACCC Chair Rod Sims has described the Port of Newcastle as "a monopolist without constraint.”[1]

Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz, co-signatory of the letter, said the Budget measures, the 50 per cent foreign ownership, the monopoly status and the lack of regulatory oversight of the port is deeply concerning and a serious issue that must be addressed.

“The Port of Newcastle is an important strategic national economic asset as coal exports that go through it represent around 40 per cent of Australia’s national coal export volumes and the port has used its monopoly position in relation to Hunter coal exporters, creating uncertainty that threatens jobs and the global competitiveness of coal exports through the port,” said Senator Abetz.

“In 2020, China imposed steep restrictions on Australian coal imports and ongoing price increases at the Port of Newcastle will impact the global competitiveness of Australian coal exports and Australia’s capacity to export coal to other countries.”

“The 50 per cent lease of an important infrastructure asset to a company backed by Belt and Road Initiative actor for another 91 years and its monopoly position needs urgent assessment as is currently being undertaken with the Port of Darwin.”

“We the signatories call on the government to declare the Port of Newcastle a monopoly under the National Access Regime, establish arbitration mechanisms between coal producers and the port and provide assurance that any regulatory changes in relation to arbitration determinations will not be retrospective.”

The Infrastructure Fund and China Merchants Port Holdings Company (CMPort), each own 50 per cent of PoN. The PoN has 91 years of management rights and land lease left following its lease in 2014.

The parent of CMPort, China Merchants Group Limited, is a huge multinational state-owned corporation of the People's Republic of China. The company and its subsidiaries are key actors in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. CMPort proudly described itself in its 2019 annual report as “a crucial vehicle for China Merchants Group to implement the ‘Belt and Road’ Initiative promoted by China and the ‘Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area’ strategy.”

China Merchants Group Limited also boasts that it is guided by “Xi Jinping thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.”

The port is the only gateway port for Hunter Valley coalfields which produces high-quality thermal coal, and it handles approximately 40 per cent of Australia’s export volume of coal. The port currently handles 4,400 ship movements and 164 million tonnes of cargo annually.

 


[1] ACCC perspectives on transport issues, Australasian Transport Research Forum, 30 September 2019

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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136 Davey Street
Hobart  TAS  7001

(03) 6224 3707

Senator.Abetz@aph.gov.au

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