Pledge to expand Broome port

Brad Thompson BroomeThe West Australian

Agriculture Minister Ken Baston will push for a major upgrade of Broome Port to service demand from the oil and gas industry and live cattle exporters.

Industry figures are pushing for an initial investment of about $300 million to increase berthing and loading capacity.

The upgrade would position Broome to act as a supply base for the Browse LNG project if it goes ahead offshore and for what Mr Baston predicts will be a boom in live exports.

A shipment of 5000 slaughter-ready cattle left Broome for Indonesia at the weekend and three other shipments - two of feeder cattle bound for Indonesia and one of heavyweight cattle for Vietnam - will leave the port over the next week.

Mr Baston said the clear indication from his recent visit to Indonesia was that beef had become too expensive under the import quota system and it wanted more cattle from Australia.

Vietnam was emerging as a key market and Indonesia wanted to double average beef consumption per person to 4kg a year.

Mr Baston also revealed that Vietnamese and Indian diplomats had asked for meetings to discuss cattle imports.

He said upgrading Broome Port was a high priority given the bright future for cattle exports and the huge oil and gas fields offshore.

"Whether it is floating LNG or onshore, we still need that port as a supply base for the vessels that are out there," Mr Baston said. "Access to ports is important for any development and this (Broome) is an axis. We already have all the helicopters flying out of here. We have immense opportunities to utilise this port."

Broome is about 400km from the offshore Browse gas fields while Darwin Port is 800km away, but has much greater capacity.

Mr Baston, whose mining and pastoral electorate includes Broome, said the State Government's preference was for private capital to fund most of the port upgrade although he acknowledged it would have to put in money as well.

Roebuck Export Depot manager Paul Heil said though the four cattle shipments were a positive sign, volumes were still well down from two years ago when the Federal Government imposed a snap ban on exports to Indonesia.

Mr Heil said upgrading Broome Port would lower costs for exporters and make it easier to compete against Darwin.

Mr Baston inspected about 8000 head at the depot yesterday and said he had never seen cattle in such good condition.

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