About 400 people rallied in Port Kembla on August 26 to oppose the privatisation of the port. In late July, the NSW government signed off on a recommendation to lease the port for 99 years.
The government says 20% of the expected $500 million to be made from the lease will be spent on infrastructure projects in the Illawarra. Unions and the community opponents say they fear a commercial operator will put profits before people and jobs at the port.
Speakers at the action included Ian Fulford, president of the Port Kembla Chamber of Commerce; Stephen Jones, ALP federal member for Throsby; Vicki Curran, Wollongong City Council independent councillor; Philip Laird, planning and transport expert; and Garry Keane, Southern Branch secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia.
The August 27 Illawarra Mercury reported: “Port Kembla Chamber of Commerce president Ian Fulford headed a line of vocal opponents [at the rally], calling it a ‘‘nonsense’’ to sell off the port ‘‘for peanuts’’ when it generated between $25 and $50 million net profit annually.”
The issue was raised at the August 27 meeting of Wollongong City Council “as a matter of great urgency”. Curran moved several motions in favour of keeping the port in public hands.
Her proposal for a local referendum on the lease, seconded by independent councillor Greg Petty, was rejected. But several other of Curran’s motions were carried with Greens and Labor support. The four Liberal councillors voted against.
The carried motions included that council reaffirm its opposition to privatisation of the Port of Port Kembla, that the NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell and Minister for the Illawarra Greg Pearse be requested to attend a public meeting in Wollongong to explain why they support the Port privatisation in light of their pre-election stance against privatisation, and that the petition opposing Port Kembla’s privatisation be displayed in Council offices and libraries.
Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery, who voted for the motions, said during the discussion: “The port is an asset that belongs to the people of NSW, and more importantly, to the people of this city. There isn’t a business case for this. From my perspective this whole thing needs to be rethought.”
The Save Our Ports committee, which organised the August 26 rally, have vowed to continue fighting to keep Port Kembla in public hands.