More than 100 people gathered in Wollongong Town Hall on November 8 for a public debate on the NSW government's plan to lease Port Kembla for 99 years. The government hopes to make $500 million on the lease, about $5 million a year, despite the state-owned Port already making between $25 million and $50 million a year.
Minister for the Illawarra Greg Pearce put the government's case for the lease. From the upfront cash payment for the lease, $100 million would be spent on infrastructure projects in the Illawarra, he said. Pearce said with the private sector running the port, the government would avoid the need to pay for its growth, and that the sector had a “tried and true record” of delivering services around the world.
South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris opened the case to reject the lease and keep the Port in public hands. “Ninety nine years is as good as a sale,” he said. He asked why the government would lease out such a profitable asset that had been managed so well for so many decades.
Local planning expert and economist Graham Larcombe delivered a powerful contribution to the debate, describing privatisation as a “failed model”. He said the benefits of selling off public assets are always overstated, and the experience has always led to job losses, degraded services and a short-term agenda for profits.
He expressed the concern that many in the community have raised, that the Coalition government does not have mandate for the leasing of the Port, otherwise it would have been raised during the election campaign.
[For more details about the community campaign to stop the privatisation of Port Kembla visit Save Our Ports Port Kembla website.]