AUSTRALIA’S major container ports in most cases have been leased for a lifetime: Melbourne, Port Botany, Brisbane, Darwin and Adelaide have all been leased for 99 years and Newcastle has been leased for 98 years.

State governments generally tend to sell their ports to reduce their state’s debt. There was a time when ports were thought of as being part of a nation’s national security. The last major Australian mainland container port which has not been sold for a lifetime is Fremantle (the Tasmanian government still owns all its ports).

The Port of Fremantle is 22 kilometres south of Perth; the port is managed by Fremantle Ports, a Western Australia government business. In 2019-20 the Port of Fremantle handled 783,437 TEU and in 2020-21 the port handled 807,061 TEU. It was reported that the port handled its highest number of containers in 2020-21 despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fremantle Ports is at a stage where forward thinking is required:

  • Can the port handle container volume increases year on year?
  • Should an additional container terminal be built at Kwinana which is 40 kilometres south of Perth?
  • Could an additional container terminal be built elsewhere?

The Port of Fremantle was the first port to receive a container vessel 50 years ago; the port is now the last major mainland container port without a lifetime lease. The port has a chance to make a difference to the future of the state, to the state’s population and future generations by not following the trend to sell off their container port for a lifetime.

Rod Sims, the Chair of the ACCC has said, “Privatising assets without allowing for competition or regulation creates private monopolies that raise prices, reduce efficiency and harm the economy”.

It is in my opinion that the state governments of Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and the Northern Territory did not make ports efficient or effective by selling leases for 98-99 years.

To make a port efficient and effective for the lifetimes ahead, competition is necessary. Let’s not forget the recent case in regards to NSW Ports and the Port of Newcastle where the Port of Newcastle may be required to pay compensation to NSW Ports for establishing a container port. This is not a sign of competition, it is a sign of the state promoting or encouraging a monopoly.

The state of Western Australia is also unique in that it could be the first state in Australia to have a Special Economic Zone (SEZ). A SEZ could help to attract investment to the state, create employment for Western Australians and boost exports from the state.

The United Nations has reported that there are approximately 5400 SEZs in 147 countries but there are no SEZs currently in Australia.

In closing, for those that don’t know me, I have been a customs broker for 23 years and have operated Platinum Freight Management since November 2000. I have completed a Masters in International Revenue Administration and a Masters in International Customs Law and Administration. I have been employed by TAFE NSW for 13 years as a lecturer in Customs Brokering, concentrating on the classification of commodities that enter and exit Australia.