The Minerals Council of Australia has urged Treasurer Wayne Swan to reject an application for access by third parties to privately owned rail infrastructure in the Pilbara region of northwest Western Australia.
Last month, the National Competition Council (NCC) gave its recommendation to the Treasurer. While the Council’s final recommendation remains confidential, many in the minerals sector believe it supports the idea of third party access after a draft recommendation, issued in June, favoured the idea.
The Treasurer has 60 days to rule on the matter, or it will be deemed that he has decided not to declare the railways open.
According to the Mineral Council’s chief executive Mitchell Hooke, if the proposal is approved it will send a powerful negative message to all future investors.
“This would be a socialisation of competitive privately owned infrastructure,” Hooke said.
“There’s a clear differentiation between privatising public monopolies and an attempt to try and socialise privately owned and operated infrastructure.”
According to Hooke, BHP and Rio built, owned and operated these rail lines, which date from the 1960s and have evolved into some of the most technologically advanced minerals industry infrastructure in the world.
The bid to gain access was not about competition or about a potential haulage agreement, but was rather “about erosion of competitiveness” through regulatory intervention, he said.
Fortescue announced on July 21 that it had achieved project completion on the first stage of its integrated iron ore mine, rail and port project in the Pilbara.
Earthworks for the 260km railway started in November 2006 and the first loaded train to port rolled in April 2008.