POLL: Port sale passes lower house

NSW Treasurer Mike Baird has defended rushing through legislation to privatise the Port of Newcastle, saying investors are ready and waiting to go.

The bill passed the lower house late on Wednesday night, a day after the government announced plans for the port’s 99-year-lease in its third budget.

STORY: Port sale plan rush criticised

It’s expected to net the government $700 million, with about half of that money to go back to the growth city north of Sydney for a light rail network.

The government suspended standing orders on Wednesday afternoon to allow debate on the bill, prompting outrage from the opposition.

‘‘The opposition believes this needs to be looked at closely and shouldn’t be rushed through in this manner,’’ said opposition transport spokeswoman Penny Sharpe.

The government’s also been slammed for seeking to push through the legislation before it’s completed a scoping study setting out the transactions details.

Local Labor MPs also have questioned whether the government is selling off a golden goose in its quest for cash for infrastructure projects.

Mr Baird rejected the criticism, saying there was a group of investors around the world looking for ‘‘exactly these sorts of assets’’.

‘‘We want to act as quickly as possible,’’ he told reporters in Sydney. ‘‘This is a point-in-time opportunity.’’

Mr Baird said the government would consider all of the details of a scoping study before making a final decision.

‘‘But we are determined and ready to go, given the incredible market opportunity,’’ he said.

‘‘This is too good an opportunity for the city of Newcastle. This is too good an opportunity for the state, so we are undertaking all the actions we need to get on with the transaction.’’

Mr Baird said Newcastle had waited for decades for action on infrastructure.

‘‘We are getting on with the job with an urgency and pace because the community deserves it.’’

The upper house will consider the bill on Tuesday before parliament breaks for winter.

Picture by Darren Pateman