Will a hole in the bay save Victorians?

Why have farmers been tricked into believing that a bigger hole in the Bay, allowing bigger ships in with even more boxes of imported fruit and vegetables will be a winner for them and us?
  “At last – something VECCI and Blue Wedges agrees on!” says Blue Wedges spokesperson Jenny Warfe. We agree wholeheartedly with Neil Coulson, VECCI CEO’s recent calls for cleaner coal technologies, and technology-based solutions to the greenhouse problem, water recycling, public transport and rail freight. Good on you Neil.
But…unlike VECCI we don’t agree that any funds should be allocated in the May state budget for digging a nasty big hole in Port Phillip Bay. It is a nonsense that our economic prosperity lies in removing any impediments to channel deepening. Rather, a huge economic threat is looming in the burgeoning Chinese, Indian and Latin American manufacturing and agricultural sectors. This is surely THE threat to Australian farmers and manufacturers – certainly not whether a few larger vessels can move in and out of the Port”.

 “Only last week numerous media reports warned of burgeoning increases in agricultural (fruit and vegetable) production in China which should make local farmers hair stand on end! China is the world's horticulture powerhouse, now pro­ducing almost half the world's vegetables. More than 550 million tonnes of vegetables were produced in China in 2004, whereas Australia produced only 3.1 mil­lion tonnes (ABS)” says Ms. Warfe.

“Australian vegetable growers are rightly fearful that Chinese produce will flood Austra­lia's domestic and export mar­kets, especially if the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement gets up, and are glumly predicting that China can increase its production rate a further two or threefold, and get fresh produce to Australia more cheaply than we can grow it. The Apple and Pear industry warns that hundreds of thousands of workers in that sector alone would face loss of income if the Australian apple industry was threatened.

So – why have farmers been tricked into believing that a bigger hole in the Bay, allowing bigger ships in with even more boxes of imported fruit and vegetables will be a winner for them and us?” 

“It’s pretty clear that imports are increasing much faster than exports. In 2004, ABS reported that imports had increased 42% in the previous 3 years, whilst exports increased less than 1%, and the trend has not altered since 2004. This has co-incided with record household debt, and has to mean fewer jobs in Australian agriculture and manufacturing and some unhappy households”.

And – it’s not just farmers who are worried. Only 2 weeks ago, Heather Ridout, Australian Industry Group Chair warned that 30,000 jobs had been lost in manufacturing in the last year, with predictions of a further 40,000 next year, and 100,000 over the next decade, and why? Because of increasing competition from (mostly) China!

“Now, do we really believe, like VECCI, that a deeper channel in the Bay will make our manufacturing and farming sector competitive with China, India and Latin America?

Blue Wedges believes we should be concentrating on niche industries to give our manufacturing and farming sectors a competitive edge, domestically and internationally. This will require innovation to develop new products, particularly in water recycling, energy efficiency and transport; not a cheap and nasty 19th century style hole in our bay” says Neil Blake, Blue Wedges spokesperson.

“It’s also worth noting the Bracks government’s big spending plans to increase rail infrastructure into the Port of Melbourne, whilst Pacific National Rail is threatening to close six rail lines in Victoria used primarily for grain transport. PN is now willing to surrender these lines to the State Government. It’s time that the Bracks government demonstrated some real commitment to sustainability state wide, not just focusing on Melbourne, and takes the opportunity to re-acquire these state rail assets. Then we can really start to have a proper look at an integrated freight strategy for moving our goods and produce around the state and around the continent”.
Let’s forget the PoMC’s blinkered vested view that everything must go through the Port of Melbourne. Who other than the Port of Melbourne bureaucrats could really care whether some boxes of goods moved to our export markets via train through to the (already deep water) Port of Brisbane, then onto a ship? And who could knock a logical, sustainable integrated nation-wide freight solution to the ecological and economic conundrum facing the Bracks government with their risky, parochial and out-moded channel deepening plans?   

“We can continue to have a vibrant port by concentrating on being the premier port for medium sized shipping, passenger liners and coastal trade linked to a re-invigorated rail network. And anyway, it hasn’t been conclusively demonstrated how many or how often bigger vessels will come to Melbourne in the coming years, especially with the looming oil crisis.


And if they are coming in fully laden there’s no jobs in it for us” says Ms. Warfe.

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