A Victorian coalition government plan to sell Melbourne’s port for billions is totally different to Labor’s plan, the state’s treasurer says.
Labor is already committed to the sale of Australia’s busiest port for $6 billion if it wins the November election to pay for the removal of Melbourne’s 50 worst level crossings.
Treasurer Michael O’Brien has now confirmed the government also plans to start a sale process within months.
He says Labor’s proposal would see the port privately operated for a century, while the coalition would prefer a shorter lease.
“We want to make sure that we can bring along the development of the Port of Hastings,” Mr O’Brien told Fairfax Radio on Wednesday.
“We think that a shorter-term lease of the Port of Melbourne will assist in doing that.”
He said the port sale could also raise significant funds to help pay for government projects.
The state government wants to secure funding for the second stage of the East West Link and the Metro Rail Capacity Project, which would include a rail link to Melbourne Airport.
Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said Labor preferred the option of a second container port in the Bay West area, between Werribee and Geelong, to the development of the Port of Hastings.
“We think that running that freight task through the southeastern suburbs from Hastings makes no sense at all,” he told ABC radio.
“The infrastructure costs, the rail, the road, are just enormous.”
Infrastructure Partnerships Australia chief executive Brendan Lyon said privatisation of the Port of Melbourne offered an opportunity to recapitalise public finances.
“The sale of the Port of Melbourne could liberate billions of dollars that could be funnelled into the state’s road, railway and social infrastructure networks,” he said in a statement.
Victorian Transport Association chief executive Neil Chambers said he hoped either political party used the proceeds from the sale to improve freight flows.
“Importers and exporters, and I think the broader freight logistics industry, would expect some of that revenue to be spent on improving land-side logistics connections to those ports,” Mr Chambers told ABC radio.
Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber said the state would lose the income stream it had been receiving. The port returned $175 million in dividends during the past five years on net assets of about $1.5 billion.
“We will lose control of one of the state’s most strategic economic assets,” Mr Barber said. “Long-term decisions about transport strategy will be subsumed by the need for short-term private profits.”