Newcastle to lose in lease, rail move: Labor

THE O’Farrell government’s decision to lease Newcastle port operations to help fund its $460 million Newcastle rail plan was ‘‘dangerous’’ and ‘‘just a facade that will pump more money into Sydney than Newcastle’’, the state opposition has claimed.

Visiting Newcastle yesterday, Deputy Opposition Leader and shadow minister for the Hunter Linda Burney also accused Ports Minister Duncan Gay of ‘‘possibly misleading Parliament’’ when on May 28 he denied reports in the Newcastle Herald that a port sale was on the government’s radar.

‘‘There is also an element of blackmail because the people of Newcastle have to forgo an asset to get a piece of infrastructure,’’ she said.

‘‘That’s not being applied in other areas so why should it happen here?’’

When the government announced last year it would lease Port Kembla, it re-committed only $100million of the $740-million Port Kembla lease deal back into Wollongong. Newcastle will get $340million from the $700million expected to be raised by the leasing of Newcastle’s port. That is in addition to the $120 million already allocated to the rail and revitalisation project.

‘‘Why should you have to sacrifice the most important asset this region has to get a piece of infrastructure that should be coming your way anyway?’’ Ms Burney said.

‘‘Why can’t the money come from the $1billion a year that the Hunter generates for the state government through mining royalties, taxes and fines?’’

She said Labor was still committed to retaining the heavy rail line into Newcastle and bringing the University of Newcastle campus into the CBD was ‘‘the real key to revitalising Newcastle’’.

In parliament yesterday, Mr Gay said he was not aware at the time of his comment in late May that the government intended to privatise the port.

Asked on Tuesday if the government would next target assets such as Hunter Water, Treasurer Mike Baird echoed Mr Gay’s words: ‘‘We have no plans’’.

CONCERNED: NSW Deputy Opposition Leader Linda Burney at Newcastle’s Nobbys beach. Picture: Darren Pateman