NEW South Wales transport minister Andrew Constance has referred to the state Productivity Commission the matter of port surcharges imposed by stevedores on transport operators and exporters.

Mr Constance also warned waterfront operators “against slapping higher port surcharges on transport operators and exporters who are battling crippling drought”, describing as “completely unacceptable” for stevedores to increase infrastructure levies anytime soon.

“This is a critical time for our agricultural exporters as they face unprecedented drought conditions,” the minister said.

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“Key stakeholders have raised concerns about the impact of increasing port charges in NSW that have potential to drive up the cost of everyday goods, as well as impacting the state’s economy and competitiveness of our exports.

“They have also raised concerns around the frequency and lack of justification for these increased charges passed on by stevedores.”

Mr Constance’s contrasts with that of Qube managing director Maurice James, who recently argued the higher terminal access charges/infrastructure fees were the logical outcome of having more stevedores operating on smaller margins.

Mr Constance said he had referred the matter of rapid price increases to the NSW Productivity Commissioner to investigate the impact on the supply chain.

“The NSW government welcomes the investment stevedores make in improving the efficiency of our ports, however, greater transparency is required to restore confidence in the industry,” Mr Constance said.

“Stevedores must act responsibly and immediately put a stop to any price hikes.”

Freight and Trade Alliance director Paul Zalai welcomed the minister’s announcement.

“We will continues with our advocacy to the NSW Productivity Commissioner for utilisation of existing state based regulation to not just cap the fees but to wind back the arrangement altogether,” Mr Zalai said.

“There is no issue with stevedores recovering costs or being profitable – but they need to do so through negotiations with their shipping line commercial clients and not holding road and rail operators to ransom with terminal access charges.”

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