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Australia’s infrastructure progress: Ports

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Australia’s infrastructure progress: Ports article image

Ian Murray busts the myth that ports are just congested infrastructure points falling by the wayside. At lunch recently, a friend of mine who was once in exporting said to me: "What’s going on at our ports, all I read about is more and more delays, more and more trucks, isn’t it time the government got their act together and spent some money on infrastructure?" I thought for a moment before answering and politely suggested he have a look at a few websites, particularly Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane Ports, where huge investments are being made in infrastructure and ways of getting more freight away from trucks and onto rail. At the same time, I suggested that he look at sites for other ports around Australia as he may be surprised at what he finds in terms of money being spent on a range of things to better support our importers and exporters. Sydney Ports is probably not a bad place to start. It is Australia’s second largest container port, and trade is expected to double by 2020. It’s also located in a very congested part of Sydney. Two massive projects are underway that, when finished, will transform the way freight is handled in Sydney. The first is the expansion of Port Botany. This expansion will see the development of 60 hectares with five new shipping berths and 1,850 metres of new wharves. On its own, it’s a $1 billion project. I can hear my friend saying, "Why would anyone expand a port that’s located right in the heart of busy Botany?" And that’s a fair question. But when you look at the interface between the port development and the massive intermodal logistics centre planned for Enfield, you can quickly see the sense in it. Enfield is a huge undertaking, and I find it quite exciting. It’s located on a 60-hectare disused site in a major industrial part of Sydney. More importantly, the area is connected by a dedicated freight line to Port Botany, which will provide a competitive alternative to road transport. In fact, when operational, the objective is to move 40 percent of freight by rail compared to 20 percent currently. The benefits that will be derived from the Intermodal Logistics Centre at Enfield, from a trade point of view and for the public in general, are significant. It’s ideally positioned, close to the major ‘catchment’ areas where a large number of Australia’s importers and exporters are located; it has good access to main trucking routes, and when operational, it is forecast to provide up to 850 direct and indirect jobs. And if rail objectives are reached, it will reduce the number of trucks on the road. Nobody can argue about the benefits of that. Sadly, these sorts of massive projects take time. The intermodal terminal is forecast to be operational by 2011 and the port expansion a year later. With 5-7 percent growth in trade forecasts over the next 20 years, it can’t come too soon, but in fairness the cost is high and planning for this sort of undertaking is enormous. And we live in a democracy, where all interests must be canvassed. The original question was aimed squarely at Sydney, but without doubt applies to other major cities in Australia. We all have congestion and we all have growth in road movements. Australia’s busiest port, the Port of Melbourne, is also going through substantial development with the Dynon Port Rail Link and Channel Deepening projects well underway. The rail link, due for completion at the end of the year, will provide uninterrupted rail access to the Port of Melbourne for trains of up to 1,500 metres without impacting roads. The channel project will increase vessel accessibility to the port from an 11.6-metre draft to a 14-metre draft to allow for the world’s new fleet of container ships. Port of Brisbane too is spending on infrastructure with Berth 11 planned to be operational by 2012, and Berth 12 in 2014. There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t know of Australia’s infrastructure woes: we see them every day. But to say nothing is happening is simply untrue as there are some good things happening and even better things planned. Creating Infrastructure Australia is a move in the right direction and putting infrastructure in with the transport portfolio nationally is also good. Some people would argue for a national ports strategy, others for a competitive regime. From my perspective, competition is good. It keeps prices down and makes the ports proactive. It that helps our exporters, it gets my vote. -Ian Murray is the executive director of the Australian Institute of Export

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