The NSW Government is set to sell off Newcastle Port in a deal worth an estimated $700 million.
The privatisation of the port, which will be leased for 99 years, follows the selling off by the Liberal Government of both Port Botany and Port Kembla in similar deals.
Half of the proceeds, around $340 million, will be spent on revitalising Newcastle CBD.
‘The $5 billion received less than three weeks ago from the long-term lease of Port Botany and Port Kembla was a landmark event in the fiscal strategy of the government,’’ Baird told Parliament.
‘‘The transaction showed what can be achieved when the right asset is marketed at the right time, with the right process.
“Legislation for the sale is expected to be introduced to Parliament this week, before a scoping study is commissioned. The sale is anticipated to be completed before next year’s budget.”
Baird said the lease would not include any of the port’s coal loaders, which are privately owned and operated, Newcastle Herald reported.
Many fear the privatisation of the port will affect employees and clients, and the wider community in general. The port employs 141 people, or 136.5 full-time equivalent staff.
NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson described the sell off as "absurd".
"Most people in Newcastle I imagine will be devastated," Robertson said.
"Jobs are provided at Newcastle port, it's the world's largest coal exporting terminal and it's being sold off.
"It generates revenues for the budget in NSW, it provides employment opportunities.
"What we know is that when you sell these assets jobs go.”
While unions have labelled the move ‘short sighted’.
Maritime Union of Australia Newcastle branch deputy secretary Dennis Outram said the port was one of the most profitable in Australia.
‘‘It makes no sense to privatise one of the most profitable assets you own in exchange for prettying up Newcastle, especially not when they should have been doing that anyway.’’
Outram said the union would be making representations to ensure conditions were protected for the ‘‘long term’’.
‘‘This is a short kill for [Premier] Barry O’Farrell and very concerning for the people of Newcastle and NSW,’’ he said.
Australian Maritime Officers Union national industrial officer and former Swansea Labor MP Robert Coombs said the $700 million price tag for the port was ‘far too low’.
‘‘It just doesn’t stack up from an economic point of view because that’s what they got for Port Kembla,’’ Coombs said.
‘‘It also leaves a big question about who is going to pay for the much-needed services like security for overseeing dangerous goods and pilotage for dredging. These types of things are crucial for service and security and they don’t turn a profit.’’
Newcastle Maritime Centre president and former Shortland Labor MP Peter Morris said the government should have focused on developing the port as a car import facility and container terminal.
‘‘They are going to cash in the port and they are also cashing in its future revenue stream,’’ he said. ‘
‘It’s far more important to be looking to the long term and planning for development of the port and the region.’’
But shipping agent Graham Clark welcomed the move and described it as ‘‘sensible for future growth’’.
It would ‘‘let us run our own race and be the masters of our own destiny’’, he said.