Hundreds gather for Port Kembla

Around 400 people turned up to protest the potential privatisation of Port Kembla at the Outer Harbour. Pictures: ADAM McLEAN Southern Branch Secretary of the Maritime Workers Union Gary Keane addresses the crowd.

Caleb Renshaw holds a flag during the privatisation protest.

Hundreds of impassioned Port Kembla supporters have vowed to fight for the port’s future in the face of the state government’s controversial privatisation plan.

About 400 protesters created a living wall of red as they marched along the harbour foreshore carrying flags and ‘‘Save Our Ports’’ placards yesterday afternoon, in fervent opposition to the port’s privatisation.

Port Kembla Chamber of Commerce president Ian Fulford headed a line of vocal opponents, calling it a ‘‘nonsense’’ to sell off the port ‘‘for peanuts’’ when it generated between $25 and $50million net profit annually.

‘‘It just doesn’t make any economic sense,’’ he said.

Throsby MP Stephen Jones took the microphone and declared, to whoops and cheers of the crowd, that the privitisation plan was ‘‘a dud deal for the Illawarra’’.

Ward 3 councillor Vicki Curran, on behalf of her Labor counterparts, echoed Mr Jones’ sentiments, telling the rally NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell was responsible for ‘‘auctioning off the future of our city’’.

Cr Curran said several councillors would be taking an urgent seven-point motion to Wollongong City Council tonight, hoping to gain support for the Save Our Ports movement.

The points included calling for a poll of Illawarra residents under section14 of the Local Government Act and meeting with other port cities to develop a strategy to oppose privatisations.

And more sensationally, asking Mr O’Farrell be declared a persona non grata by the City of Wollongong ‘‘until he desists from attempting to privatise our port at Port Kembla’’.

Last month, state cabinet signed off on a recommendation to lease the port out to the commercial sector for 99 years.

Of the $500million expected to be generated from the Port Kembla lease, $100million will be spent on infrastructure in the Illawarra.

The operation would be likely to go to the same private investor who snaps up Port Botany, which cabinet has also agreed to turn over for 99 years.

University of Wollongong transport and planning academic Associate Professor Philip Laird, who was at the rally yesterday, said the ‘‘packaging’’ aspect of the sale was most concerning to him.

‘‘To me, it’s there’s a lot at stake – if it’s packaged off with Port Botany, you reduce any incentive for competition between the ports, so it reduces the incentive for a container port here,’’ he said.

‘‘And in that case, why bother with Maldon Dombarton? And in that case we’ll get more trucks and it will make it harder for people to live here and commute to Sydney.’’

Save Our Ports committee member Alice Scott thanked the hundreds of supporters at yesterday’s event, but hoped the wider community would get behind the campaign.

‘‘We need the whole of the Illawarra to get behind us on this,’’ she said.

‘‘This is one of the biggest issues to hit the Illawarra for many a decade.’’

A motion to ensure Port Kembla remains in public ownership, lodged by Member for Wollongong Noreen Hay, is expected to be debated in NSW Parliament on September 6.

Supporters resolved to organise a ‘‘protest train’’ to take them to NSW Parliament on that day.

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