Unleashing the Ports Potential

By Ramsay, Randolph | Business Asia, February 2001 | Go to article overview

Unleashing the Ports Potential


Ramsay, Randolph, Business Asia


The world's ports are riding a privatisation wave, and Australian companies can hitch a ride if they play their cards right

THE TREND for ports privatisation will continue to gain momentum around the world, resulting in dozens of lucrative opportunities for the right Australian companies, a leading Austrade official says.

Austrade's national manager for infrastructure, sport and the Olympics, Peter Cripps, said the port privatisation push would continue unabated globally as governments realised the need to share port infrastructure costs with the private sector.

"Since the 1990s, there has been a realisation that the infrastructure needs of ports would need to be met by both public and private sector investment. We believe that trend will increase," he said.

"In a sense, ports are seen as much more commercially focused, as opposed to other government-owned entities which are seen as having a `public good'. Because a port's outcomes and beneficiaries are mostly commercial, governments have found this area easier to privatise, so the push will accelerate."

In Australia, the privatisation (or corporatisation) of ports has been in force since the start of the last decade. Association of Australian Ports and Marine Authorities executive director John Hirst, in a speech made late last year, said while port privatisation has its downside, the score card on "the benefits of corporatisation (was) neutral".

"(In the early '90s) ports were moved from being State Government Departments or Bureaus to a corporate structure based on what was known as the landlord model," Hirst said.

"It was envisaged that ports should actively manage the strategic port lands and ensure the efficient provision of all services, as well as undertaking trade facilitation under this model. Corporatisation provided for ports to outsource to the private sector the provision of most port services that were then being undertaken by the ports themselves.

"In some states, the term `landlord' was interpreted quite literally and restricted the role of the port corporation to planning and coordinating the use of port land and making it available to service providers.

"(The landlord model) would work a lot better if there was considerably less bureaucratic and political interference with ports, their boards, and if management was allowed to manage within their charter as in any normal corporation or business. There also needs to be a clear understanding and acceptance of the trade facilitation role of ports by government and that ports are a business."

Concerns aside, Cripps is confident that global privatisation will result in plenty of opportunities for Australian companies.

"The greater involvement of private capital in port infrastructure has provided numerous and varied business opportunities for Australian companies with relevant products, services and know-how," he said.

"The `selling off' process has enabled the host government to have the ports upgraded without having to put forward the money, while the move towards placing ports in private hands has created lucrative opportunities for specialised companies in the many areas within the overall port infrastructure. …

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