Second Reading

Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (15:39): I am happy to rise to say a few words on the Transport Legislation Amendment (Port Reforms and Other Matters) Bill 2022, which is relevant to all of us with ports and harbours in our electorates, including the magnificent electorate of Gippsland South, which does not have huge commercial ports, but we have actually got quite a few ports here, and I will come to those a little bit later. This legislation is largely the formal process of setting up Ports Victoria, as has been indicated by previous speakers, and has a number of other reform arrangements to ports, including changes to pilotage and setting up a licensing scheme for pilotage services, among other things. I note that one of objects of Ports Victoria is to promote and facilitate trade through commercial trading ports and local ports. That is a noble aim, and I hope it will be achieved by the new organisation. But I also note that we have seen a significant escalation in prices at the port of Melbourne since the time of the lease initiated by this government, and that flows through to business and flows through to households through the extra costs that are borne by them and indeed makes our port less attractive for business. We have long been the busiest port in Australia, and under this government the activity that they have undertaken puts that at risk. I would be hopeful that the changes in this bill might address some of those issues.

I just want to reflect on that issue of the privatisation of the port. It does bug me in this chamber very regularly when the government seems to be a bit schizophrenic on the issue of privatisation. We just saw it in question time, where the Minister for Health had a go at members of the opposition with respect to privatisation of hospitals in the Kennett government. There is an inconsistency there and hypocrisy in that the government is quite happy to privatise other services—land titles, the licensing division of VicRoads, the port of Melbourne. I do not really understand why one thing privatised is bad, but another thing is good. It seems to be one thing privatised by Liberals and Nationals is bad and something privatised by Labor is fine. So there is a hypocrisy there in the government on the issue of privatisation, and the port of Melbourne is a classic example of one that the government did.

As I said, the electorate of Gippsland South has some magnificent ports. We have got certainly the second-oldest port in the state, Port Albert, which was the way Gippsland was settled. It is largely just a small fishing port and a tourist area at the moment and certainly a very popular location for recreational fishermen to depart from as well. Port Welshpool is still quite an active port commercially, both for fishermen but also for Bass Strait trade, including from some of the Bass Strait islands. Quite a bit of activity goes through there, including live cattle coming in from the Bass Strait islands to markets in Victoria. We have got Port Franklin, which is probably one of the prettiest ports, certainly in my electorate—a lovely little port based on the Franklin River as it comes out into Corner Inlet, surrounded by what I believe is the Southern Hemisphere’s southernmost mangrove forest. And there are still quite a number of commercial fishermen that operate out of Port Franklin as well. Then we have got Barry Beach and Port Anthony, which are very serious commercial ports. Barry Beach for over 50 years has been the service point for the Bass Strait oil and gas rigs, now owned and managed by Qube. Port Anthony right next door—effectively the same infrastructure but slightly different ownership; Port Anthony owned by the Anthony family—is being developed and trying to work up a number of other commercial opportunities that can operate through South Gippsland, including most recently the announcement of a heads of agreement on new hydrogen production nearby, which would be a great thing to occur if it were to get off the ground.

We have also got plenty of other water-based areas. You will be surprised to know, I am sure, that there is in fact a port of Sale. The port of Sale was historically a very active port, providing access through the Gippsland Lakes and out through Lakes Entrance to Sale. It is a long time since that has been active, but it is now a great recreational area and one that is being redeveloped by Wellington shire with support from the federal government. And there are various other locations. Loch Sport you would not call a port, but it is an area of significant importance for the western part of the Gippsland Lakes. Indeed tomorrow I will be in Loch Sport catching up with some of the business and tourism association people there about their proposal for a safe harbour at that end of the Gippsland Lakes in Loch Sport. This is something they have been working on for some time in conjunction with councils, with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and with Gippsland Ports, and I would hope that this can be developed further into a proposal that can achieve a positive business case and then subsequently receive funding from both the state and federal governments if necessary. I think that would be a great boon for Loch Sport and indeed, as I said, for the western part of the Gippsland Lakes, where there is not much in the way of safe harbour.

There is an issue, and I hope that Ports Victoria will be able to deal with this to some degree, although it will not directly affect the Gippsland area. One of the challenges we have with water access, including to ports and to smaller recreational ports, is the number of different organisations that are in charge. I had a period a couple of years ago when I was dealing with issues of access at boat ramps on channels, and on a number of different ones—so Lake Wellington at Marlay Point; Sandy Point down on Waratah Bay; and I had some issues in Corner Inlet as well. They all had so many different agencies involved that it made it extremely confusing. We had literally DELWP, we had shires—South Gippsland and Wellington shires in my case—we had Parks Victoria, we had Gippsland Ports and we had foreshore committees of management, which actually are responsible in some areas as well. It would be good to clean some of that up.

Indeed the irony of the Marlay Point situation was that not only were Gippsland Ports, DELWP and the shire all separately involved, but Marlay Point itself, the boundary between Gippsland South and Gippsland East electorates, actually runs around the shore of Lake Wellington. So with the Marlay Point issue it was not even clear which local member should be chasing it up, because technically, I think, if I have got this right, the water would be mine but the land would be the member for Gippsland East’s. So there are anomalies like this that cause confusion and difficulty and ultimately often lead to inaction, and one of the jobs that we have had to do in Gippsland is to sort out who is responsible for these issues.

I just want to touch on Corner Inlet. As I said, it is the main commercial port in my electorate, with Barry Beach and Port Welshpool, and there are some great opportunities. I go back to the object of Ports Victoria: promoting and facilitating trade through commercial trading ports and local ports. There are some good opportunities there with the proposed offshore wind farms, and we are all excitedly awaiting the finalisation of plans for the Star of the South offshore wind farm in particular, which is more so off McLoughlin’s Beach and Port Albert. It will need to have obviously a construction base and then an ongoing maintenance base, and the hope I have is that they will choose Barry Beach in Corner Inlet as the maintenance base there. It will be certainly easier. It is on the right side of Wilsons Promontory. The alternatives would probably be potentially Lakes Entrance but more likely the port of Hastings, which is a lot further away, having to go around the prom. So while there might be some issues that we might have to deal with, with potential dredging of the channel to make Barry Beach a bit deeper, I certainly hope there is the Star of the South. There is the proposed Seadragon offshore wind farm near Seaspray, proposed by Flotation Energy, and indeed the Macquarie proposal, but that is more on the Bass Coast on the other side of Wilsons Prom, so less likely to be a benefit to me in Corner Inlet. And at the same time we have actually got the Bass Strait oil and gas rigs now starting to wind down. There will be decommissioning, and there will be potentially a nice transition where there is decommissioning of the offshore oil and gas assets at the same time as we are building and maintaining new offshore wind farm assets. So I would hope to see great opportunities for my electorate through those ports, and I look forward to that occurring in the future.

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