QUBE managing director Maurice James has used an industry lunch in Melbourne to make a robust defence of terminal access charges imposed by container stevedores.

Terminal access charges/infrastructure fees have become a feature of the Australian waterfront during the past three years, much to the chagrin of transport operators.

But Mr James told an ICHCA Australia lunch in Melbourne many of the criticisms by “squeaky wheels” were misguided.

Qube holds a 50% stake in Patrick, one of the stevedores that has imposed a TAC.

Stressing his view was a personal one, rather than the official position of Patrick, Mr James said shipping line consolidation had caused a significant impact upon stevedoring.

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“So what you are seeing through the stevedoring industry is stevedoring rates all being driven to the lowest common denominator by consolidation and, yes, by competition in stevedoring,” he said.

Mr James said the TACs were also an outcome of the zest by governments for three stevedores in the major ports.

He said Patrick and DPWA had previously argued importers and exporters were better off with fewer stevedores who would have economies of scale and could operate with lower unit costs.

“That [argument] didn’t prevail, state governments wanted third stevedores and the ACCC was pushing heavily. What’s the consequence of that?

“Third players coming in and committing capital and committing excess capacity into a market that creates competition,” he said.

“Top that off with ports going through privatisation and property costs going through the roof pre and post-privatisation.”

Mr James noted comments he’d made at an industry function in 2014 when he warned of soaring infrastructure charges if ICTSI agreed to rents at Webb Dock that were rumoured to be between three and four times those at Swanson.

“In that speech I said, ‘if that is the case, beware because infrastructure charges are going to $60 to $80 per TEU,” he said.

“The reality is, that’s where they’ve gone.”

Mr James also described as “ludicrous” any suggestion rail access to Webb Dock should be prioritised over Swanson Dock.

“Now is the time to have a response to articles that do appear in the press from certain competitors at Webb Dock… about not doing Swanson Dock until they sort out Webb Dock. I think that’s ludicrous,” he said.

“Seventy five per cent plus of freight through the Port of Melbourne goes through Swanson Dock.”

Mr James said he would nonetheless support rail to Webb Dock.

“My point is, don’t stop Swanson [Dock rail],” he said.

The ICHCA lunch was held at the Windsor Hotel.

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