By LACHLAN MOORHEAD
THE Victorian Government is committed to investing in the Port of Hastings, according to State Treasurer Michael O’Brien.
Speaking at a breakfast held at Holm Park Road Pavilion in Beaconsfield on Tuesday and hosted by Gembrook MP Brad Battin, Mr O’Brien discussed the key agendas outlined in the State Budget and their potential impact on residents across the south-east corridor.
High on the agenda was the plan to privatise the Port of Melbourne under a 40-year lease arrangement while developing the Port of Hastings, with Mr O’Brien assuring those with farming interests that they would remain secure.
“In selling the lease on the Port of Melbourne, will there be protections in there for farmers and others who actually use the port in terms of port fees? The answer is yes,” Mr O’Brien said.
“At the moment, the Essential Services Commission which is an independent authority, sets port fees, port charges, because we acknowledge that there is a monopoly.
“We do that when we’re the government, we’re the ones who ultimately receive the benefits of those fees, so you can be absolutely confident that we will be retaining independent statutory price setting for port access fees as we have done when we’ve been the owners of the port.”
Mr O’Brien said the Port of Hastings would be developed into an adequate alternative to the Port of Melbourne once the latter reaches capacity.
“With the lease of the Port of Melbourne, we’ll be doing that in a time frame where we believe by the time Melbourne gets to its natural capactity constraints, that’s the time you want Hastings coming up,” he said.
“So you can progressively develop Hastings over the course of the lease of the Port of Melbourne and by the time Melbourne is coming to the end of that lease, you’ll be able to migrate the traffic over to Hastings.”
The News reported last month that the City of Casey had voiced support for the Coalition’s Port of Hastings development, while rejecting the Labor’s rival Bay West proposal.
Turning the discussion to agriculture investments, Mr O’Brien said the $35 million allotted in the State Budget to the government’s Food and Agriculture into Asia project was pivotal to support emerging export opportunities and continuing viability of areas such as the Bunyip Food Belt.
“We’ve had a lot of senior level trade missions where premiers and other people have gone to China, India, South-East Asia, that’s where there’s booming markets for our Victorian produce.”