Melissa Horne, the Ports & Freight Minister for Victoria, yesterday* announced the creation of a new ports regulator for the state at an industry round table event.
The new entity, “Ports Victoria” will take over the work of the Victorian Regional Channels Authority and the Victorian Ports Corporation (Melbourne). However, the new body would be more than the sum of its parts. It would have over-arching responsibility for the waterside function of commercial trading ports.
The creation of Ports Victoria is a key finding from the Independent Review of the Victorian Ports System. The State Government does not yet appear to have released the review although it has issued a summary of the Government’s response.
That response notes that freight volumes are expected to grow dramatically and that formerly centralised system had fragmented. The independent review was tasked with determining whether the system was still appropriate.
“The review found they were not. Port stakeholders said the public governance arrangements were confusing, duplicative and ineffective. The Victorian Government’s initial response to the review is to establish Ports Victoria,” the Government response reads.
Based in Geelong and starting work on 01 July, in summary the new body will be responsible for:
- Safety, efficiency and fairness of access
- Navigational control and safety
- Quality and continuity of pilotage and towage (licensing of both)
- Navigational safety in non-port State waters
- Cruise shipping
- Promoting trade and growth
- Public information and education
The Government response document also noted that several stakeholders had expressed a preference for Geelong as part of the review process. Another of Port Victoria’s responsibilities will be to ensure there is an approach to the needs of each Victorian port that does not unfairly focus on the larger Port of Melbourne.
During a brief question and answer session, Shipping Australia CEO, Melwyn Noronha immediately queried:
- What, if any, commercial functions will the new entity have?
- What regulatory oversight will there be of the new entity?
- What oversight will there be of charging and pricing?
- What the plan is for the development of multiple ports, such as the Port of Hastings, in Victoria?
Captain Noronha also raised the issue that, at first sight, the new entity’s responsibility to “promote trade and growth” – an arguably commercial objective – could potentially be in conflict with the entity’s other functions.
Minister Horne responses to Captain Noronha’s questions about commercial functions, regulatory oversight and charging and pricing oversight are “currently being worked through”. She added that there will be a legislative charter.
“The intention is not to put more costs in; it’s about gaining efficiencies – these are decisions for government in the future”, she told the industry round table.
Minister Horne did not agree that there would be a conflict interest between the objective of “promoting trade and growth” and the other responsibilities.
She also stated that there would be no job losses as a result of the creation of the new entity and that employee engagement with unions and employees would begin immediately. Melbourne-resident employees will be able to choose to commute to Geelong. Minister Horne described that journey as a “relatively easy commute”.
Key operational roles will remain in place.
*Thursday 25 February