Concern over Brookfield buy

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

Brookfield has added to its State rail logistics dominance with the $12 billion purchase of rail and port company Asciano.

Brookfield and Asciano already have a strong presence in WA.

Brookfield's interests include a regional rail network which does business with Asciano's Patrick stevedoring business at Fremantle port, the Brookfield Multiplex construction group and properties including Brookfield Place in the Perth CBD.

But the news has alarmed some Wheatbelt growers who are still reeling from last year's Tier 3 rail closures and the continued uncertainty about the cost of access to the State's grain freight network when the December 31 rail access agreement extension with CBH expires.

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After December 31, prices for next harvest are tipped to increase sharply.

CBH and Brookfield Rail are awaiting a determination on future rail access fees from the State's Economic Regulation Authority after the two companies earlier failed to reach a deal.

Growers are worried the buyout is a sign Brookfield is determined to further strengthen its stranglehold on the State's freight rail network by adding Asciano's above-rail operations, which have the potential to compete with CBH on the transport of grain.

WAFarmers president Dale Park said he had little faith in the State Government's ability to regulate against monopolistic behaviour.

"We think the lack of transparency we've had from Brookfield means that any is possible with the latest Brookfield takeover of Asciano," he said.

"And that would be achieved by maybe giving Asciano a different access regime and cost to that of CBH."

Mr Park said he had no faith in the ability of government to adequately regulate anti-competitive behaviour by Brookfield.

If we go into the port sale, which is apparently another distraction, we're going to have to strengthen our regulation on selling these monopolies, he said.

Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance chairman Greg Richards further echoed Mr Park's comments adding Brookfield had shown its determination to extract as much value for shareholders as possible from the State's grain growers.

"My concern is that if Brookfield has interests in above and below-ground rail, as well as interests in the State's ports, our farm productivity will be affected to an even greater extent than what it is already under the lease it holds with the State Government," he said.

Mr Richards said if the buyout was in the interests of the State he would certainly like it explained to him sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, Brookfield Rail chief executive Paul Larsen said the transaction involving Brookfield to acquiring Asciano would have no impact on CBH and its famers.

"Rail will have to continue to ensure it is cost effective to compete with road transport, as 45 per cent of the grain task is currently carried by road in WA," Mr Larsen said.

"There is an effective access regime in place that provides a framework for ensuring effective, fair and transparent competition on WA's railway network.

"The ERA is currently reviewing this regime, as it does every five years, and Brookfield Rail looks forward to participating in and co-operating with the ERA on any required changes that result from this review process."

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