Minister flags restructure of ports

Daniel Mercer and Kate FieldingSouth Western Times
The Minister says the case for combining Bunbury and Fremantle is strengthened by the growth of the lithium industry.
Camera IconThe Minister says the case for combining Bunbury and Fremantle is strengthened by the growth of the lithium industry.

Bunbury Port could be spun out of the troubled Southern Ports Authority and merged with operations at Fremantle after Ports Minister Alannah MacTiernan suggested the current set-up was not working.

Ms MacTiernan last week announced that experienced port executive Steve Lewis had been appointed the new boss of Southern Ports, which runs the ports of Albany, Esperance and Bunbury.

The appointment follows a period of turmoil at the authority, where the workplace regulator has been investigating claims of bullying under previous chief executive officer Nicolas Fertin and dozens of workers were made redundant.

Ms MacTiernan said Mr Lewis would be tasked with healing any divisions that lingered after the “catastrophic breakdown” of relations between workers and management.

She also said the authority needed to “focus not on internal issues but how they can service their customers”, saying users of the port had become disillusioned with the infighting.

“I think really we need someone with a demonstrated track record of being able to establish an effective and harmonious workplace and get people back on track and working together as a team,” Ms MacTiernan said.

The minister also flagged an overhaul of the organisation, saying Bunbury’s proximity to and similarities with Fremantle Port meant the two might be a better fit.

She said the case for combining Bunbury and Fremantle was strengthened by the growth of the lithium industry, with mines and processing plants being built at Greenbushes, Kemerton and Kwinana.

On top of this, Ms MacTiernan noted the Government’s plans for an outer harbour in Kwinana under its Westport strategy included using Bunbury as a container hub alongside Fremantle.

Despite the comments, the Minister said there was no intention of re-establishing the ports as standalone entities.

“Frankly, I’m not convinced that there is any particular synergy or advantage that’s come from having (Bunbury, Albany and Esperance) together,” she said.

“I don’t think anyone is really arguing to go back to single campus ports.

“But have we got the right mix? Bunbury might be better in with Fremantle.” we’re planning Westport and it might make more sense to really tie in the whole planning for Bunbury.”

Bunbury MLA Don Punch said the port’s potential was one of the opportunities being explored by the Westport Taskforce and he was confident its value to the State freight task was “well understood”.

“Bunbury Port has a huge strategic advantage by virtue of its capacity for growth and expansion as well as its proximity to Perth,” Mr Punch said.

“I believe there is potential for Bunbury to make a greater contribution to the metropolitan freight task into the future.

“If it is determined Bunbury Port is the right option to take on more of the State freight task and alleviate future pressures on Fremantle, then I am sure Bunbury is up to the challenge, but I will wait to see the final Westport recommendations.”

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