A major over-haul of the Victorian ports sector is on the way following the completion of the Independent Review of the Victorian Ports System.
Although the review itself does not appear to have been released, an “Initial Government Response” is publicly available.
The top recommendation was that the Victorian Regional Channels Authority and the Victorian Ports Corporation (Melbourne) be subsumed into a new body, “Ports Victoria” (see the full story here).
The review also found that the current arrangements for navigational safety are complex and inconsistent. It recommended that Ports Victoria reinforce the harbour master role by consolidating and clarifying lines of accountability. This could include any or all of directly employing, having reports from, training or supporting harbour masters.
Pilotage and towage
The review recommended stronger oversight of pilotage and towage and that Ports Victoria be responsible for ensuring that there are pilotage and towage services available for vessels. This would include some kind of non-exclusive-licensing system.
Local ports / Corner Inlet
The review concluded that there is no need to make significant change to the majority of Victoria’s local ports. However, it did note that Corner Inlet is already handling some large commercial vessels (off-shore oil and gas; Bass Strait) and that there is the prospect of significant expansion. If there is a major project approval then it is proposed that Corner Inlet be declared as a commercial trading port. That would trigger a variety process such as a review of management arrangements and the requirement to create a Port Development Strategy.
The review notes that there is significant encroachment (from residential developments, typically) around the Port of Melbourne. It also considered that the current planning tools are inadequate and that stronger buffer protections are needed. The review recommended that the the State’s capacity strategy could be jeopardised without sufficiently robust planning protections both for the Port of Melbourne and for any possible future port at Bay West.
Landside pricing and access at the Port of Melbourne
In an interesting development, the review found that, while stevedores (container terminal operators) do exercise market power by levying terminal access charges (TAC), the evidence does not suggest they are using this market power to inflate profits.
Work should be underway now to create and transfer work to Ports Victoria. That body begins work in July 2021 and, at some point in mid-2021, there will be a commencement of stakeholder engagement on the Victorian Ports Strategy.