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WA Nats 'should have opposed port sale'

AAP logoAAP 20/11/2016

The WA Nationals should have opposed the Utah Point port sale because it was meant to be exclusively for junior miners, but now giants such as BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto can use it, AMEC says.

After legislation enabling the sale of the Pilbara facility was passed by state parliament on Thursday, the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies said the proposed privatisation put export trade and jobs at risk.

That was because an amendment in the legislation will allow major miners to take up to half of the 23 million tonne per annum capacity at Utah Point - even though they already have 850Mtpa at Port Hedland and Cape Lambert - if junior miners let port space sit idle.

Companies including Atlas Iron and Mineral Resources rely on Utah Point as their sole export point in the Pilbara.

AMEC chief executive Simon Bennison said he was not convinced access and pricing rules, including an arbitration regime, contained within the legislation would offer the small companies real protection.

He said the details simply weren't clear or transparent enough, and WA Nationals leader Brendon Grylls should have stood up for his Pilbara constituents and opposed the bill.

"The government has pushed all of the protections junior miners are asking for into the regulations saying 'trust us', but they may not hold power when they come before parliament again next year. We're saying to the Nats 'don't believe it'," Mr Bennison said.

"The government unfortunately has shown very poor judgment in privatising the port and I don't think there's very much support throughout government for it - I think it's Treasury-driven.

"If they get $300 million to $400 million for this, it pales into insignificance to the 2000 jobs and $1 billion in revenue a year that comes from the activity of the port."

Jacqui Boydell, WA Nationals MP for the mining and pastoral region, said the party had fought hard for the junior companies, including having their concerns heard before a parliamentary committee.

"The Nationals have ensured there are tight restrictions in place to ensure the ongoing priority use of Utah Point for the junior mining sector," Ms Boydell said.

"Any future owner of Utah Point needs to be able to utilise the asset - just like the state government would if it remained a state asset.

"The people of WA would expect us to deliver a return from our asset, not just allow it to sit empty if the junior miners were not using it."

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