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THE NSW Government and Hunter Valley coal producers hope the former Liberal NSW premier Nick Greiner will be able to mediate between miners disagreeing about the best way to allocate capacity at the overstretched Newcastle Port.
The Minister for Ports and Waterways, Joe Tripodi, yesterday appointed Mr Greiner to develop a new system for accessing the port amid lengthy ship queues ahead of planned expansions.
Last month the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission rejected a proposal supported by producers Xstrata Coal and Rio Tinto's Coal & Allied that would have allocated port capacity based in part on railway contracts.
Some smaller producers such as Donaldson Coal and Whitehaven Coal, which did not have firm railway contracts for 2008, complained the proposed system might make them close mines and cut jobs.
The competition regulator instead extended the term of a temporary system that slashes every producer's allocation by an equal percentage when there is not enough port capacity available. Mr Tripodi appointed Mr Greiner in the hope of breaking an impasse between producers such as Xstrata and Rio with enough rail capacity and smaller miners such as Donaldson and Whitehaven. That could prove difficult, given the sides have been unable to agree on a working solution over the past few years.
Xstrata and Donaldson said they welcomed Mr Greiner's appointment. A report by Allen Consulting Group submitted to the commission by Donaldson, Whitehaven and Idemitsu Resources last month suggested one compromise could be an allocation system based on price. Coal-loading charges are now set at a fixed rate, but Allen suggested "more dynamic prices" would assign capacity to those who valued it most highly. Newcastle Port, the world's busiest coal export port, shipped 84.7 million tonnes of coal last year, compared with 79.8 million tonnes in 2006. But the average waiting time for vessels was 55 days, compared with 23 days in 2006. The port's capacity should expand to 95 million tonnes this year.
Source Extract: Brisbane Times
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