Growers fear rail chaos repeat

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
CBH wants safeguards put in place when Fremantle Port is sold to protect WA’s agricultural export industry.
Camera IconCBH wants safeguards put in place when Fremantle Port is sold to protect WA’s agricultural export industry.

Giant farming co-operative CBH fears the State Government sell-off of Fremantle Port could have disastrous implications for its 4200 grain-growing members in WA and their multibillion-dollar a year export industry.

CBH warned operations at its Kwinana terminal — which exports about five million tonnes of grain a year — were at risk under private ownership of the port.

It wants safeguards in place to protect WA’s most valuable agricultural industry in the wake of what it sees as the Government’s flawed privatisation of the grain freight rail network.

CBH owns land, storage facilities and a jetty at Kwinana but relies on a lease over the seabed to load about 150 ships a year.

It pays the Fremantle Port Authority hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for access under the lease and is concerned grain growers could be held to ransom by a private owner.

There is also a chance a private owner, or member of a consortium of owners, could operate a grain terminal in direct competition with CBH.

“Given the current lease arrangement for key WA grain supply chain infrastructure, CBH will be very keen to understand how the State will manage the process of privatisation of the Fremantle Port, and also what mechanisms will be put in place to protect the interests of ongoing State development and growth,” CBH government relations manager Brianna Peake said.

CBH was forced to remove its fleet of locomotives and wagons from taxpayer-owned freight lines leased exclusively to Brookfield Rail during a recent stand-off over a big jump in access fees.

The dispute temporarily derailed an export industry worth $10 billion to the WA economy over the past two years and damaged WA’s reputation as a reliable trading partner.

The Government is making no promises to CBH on Fremantle Port and yesterday refused to rule out access fee increases or the emergence of a direct competitor under private ownership.

It declined to comment on whether it had considered CBH and its members in the early stages of selling off the port.

Ms Peake said the Kwinana terminal was the most significant asset in the growers’ supply chain.

“It is therefore crucial that growers have access to efficient and cost-effective port terminal arrangements to ensure their grain product can be exported to international markets at a rate that is competitive with alternative exporting nations,” she said.

CBH had a monopoly over bulk grain exports from WA until last year when Bunge opened a terminal in Bunbury.

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