The Liberal Party has learned nothing from the embarrassing failure of its 1990s Mid-West infrastructure development policy.
Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan said that Opposition criticism of the State Government’s Oakajee project underlined its lack of competence and inability to learn from past mistakes.
“Labor’s approach was to nurture the Mid-West iron ore industry, by expanding Geraldton Port, with a view to building a bigger port when the demand was there,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“In contrast, the ill-fated course chartered by Colin Barnett in the 1990s was to abandon Geraldton Port in favour of building a port for a steel mill that never happened at Oakajee.
“This vision was in tatters before the 2001 election and its failure helped the Liberals to lose the seat of Geraldton and much economic credibility.
“Under Labor a $103million port enhancement project, a new $49million Berth 5 iron ore facility and vital road investments in the $46million Mt Magnet to Leinster Road, and the $91.4million Geraldton Southern Transport Corridor (GSTC) mean Geraldton Port has enough capacity to handle three times the region’s current iron ore output.
“While the region’s iron ore output has grown impressively and attracted major investment, and despite dramatically improved ore prices, the industry is still to demonstrate an iron ore resource necessary to justify a $1billion plus a Mid-West port and rail infrastructure investment.
“Yesterday’s decision to award Oakajee Port and Rail the right to develop an open access, major volume port, has now cleared the way for this development.
“When there is a business case, the port will be built privately, but it would have been irresponsible to commit taxpayer funds to the project while no such case could be demonstrated.”
The Minister said by contrast, the Liberal approach was to make a massive taxpayer funded investment in a new port and to abandon Geraldton.
Here is Colin Barnett in April, 1996:
‘the Government will not commit hundreds of millions of dollars to both projects. My preference is for Oakajee, if that goes ahead and if that does go ahead (Geraldton Port) development will be ruled out.’
“Twelve years later, despite much more favourable conditions, the region’s output is still only 4.43 million tonnes per annum, insufficient to justify a deepwater port,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“Oakajee under the Liberals would have been a white elephant, soaking up millions of public dollars better spent on other regional projects during the past decade.
“Under Labor, the Mid-West is rapidly going ahead and Oakajee will become a major iron ore port and industrial area built largely by the private sector.”
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