Fears Fremantle will lose ‘heart and soul’ if port moves to Kwinana

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Plans to build a new container port in Perth’s industrial south have sparked criticism over the potential environmental impacts on the nearby waterway and raised fears Fremantle could lose its “heart and soul” if its port shuts shop.

On Monday, Premier Mark McGowan unveiled plans to build a new container port in Kwinana which could see Fremantle port close as early as 2032.

Mr McGowan said keeping the existing port running for the next 50 years would cost around $8 billion, about twice as much as the estimated cost of building a new one.

Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt told ABC Radio Perth on Monday evening that while he appreciated the planning for a second harbour, neither he nor the Fremantle Council supported shutting down the current port.

“It’s been a working port for 120 years, it’s part of Freo’s heart and soul and if this does come to fruition … I think it will be a sad day,” he said.

The Fremantle Port including harbour and container facilities.
Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt said he was concerned about the City’s future without a working port.(ABC News: Benjamin Gubana)

The McGowan Government swept to power in 2017 with an election pledge to review the future of the existing Fremantle Port, following long and angry protests over the previous administration’s bid to build Roe 8 — a freight extension that would have seen wetlands bulldozed to provide better trucking access to Fremantle.

A land-based container port in Kwinana with a dedicated freight corridor to remove trucks from the suburbs was the top of five recommendations put forward by the Westport Taskforce, an independent body set up by the McGowan Government soon after elected.

Westport’s report flagged two options — the first would see Fremantle and Kwinana operating simultaneously for an initial period, while the second proposes shifting from Fremantle to Kwinana in one move.

A ship coming into a harbour.
The Westport Taskforce came up with five recommendations for a future port.(ABC News: Benjamin Gubana)

Both would ultimately see Fremantle port shut down either by 2032 or a decade or so later.

WA’s Opposition leader Liza Harvey has rejected the government’s proposal, saying the Liberals are committed to keeping Fremantle Port operational by resurrecting its abandoned Perth Freight Link plan.

“The Liberals will always remain committed to Fremantle being an operational port and to fixing whatever congestion measures need to be addressed to ensure it reaches its full capacity including building Roe 8 and Roe 9,” Ms Harvey said.

CCI says businesses wary of increased costs

Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) WA chief economist Aaron Morey has urged caution after Monday’s announcement, and said the case for change has yet to be robustly made, at least publicly.

“While prudent to consider future port options, businesses are keen to understand the port costs they will bear under different levels of future container trade,” Mr Morey said.

“Key assumptions in the analysis include trade volumes increasing by a factor of five, and Western Australia’s population exceeding 5 million.

A man in a boat waves at a large container ship.
CCI WA chief economist Aaron Morey said the case for change had yet to be robustly made.(ABC News: James Carmody)

“If these and other projections do not eventuate, there is a significant risk that the cost of using a new port will be higher for the business community.

“It remains important that a sober assessment is made of whether costs of trade will be lower or higher under an alternative port option, including sharing of modelling that outlines evidence on the merits of a new port.”

The State Government has committed $97.2 million towards the next phase of the project and since it was set up, about $10 million has been spent on the Westport Taskforce.

Fears new Kwinana port could disrupt Pink Snapper stocks

The Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) said a container port in Kwinana appeared to be the most environmentally-friendly option proposed by the taskforce, however Recfishwest has raised concerns about the impact on Cockburn Sound, the waterway near the proposed Kwinana port location.

The community organisation is calling for the State Government to immediately address what it claimed to be the taskforce’s shortcomings to ensure Cockburn Sound’s future as a marine habitat, particularly pink snapper stocks in the area.

Buildings in the Kwinana industrial area leading down to the ocean.
The state’s recreational fishing lobby is concerned about the impact on marine habitats.(ABC News: Marcus Alborn)

“The Taskforce’s recommendations were developed after a three-year process costing millions of dollars,” Recfishwest chief executive Dr Andrew Rowland said.

“Yet, despite the time and money spent, the Taskforce has failed to answer the basic question — what impact will a new port in Cockburn Sound have on the sound’s pink snapper stocks and fishing experiences?

Andrew Rowland wearing a khaki long-sleeve shirt holding a dead pink snapper on a beach.
Recfishwest chief executive Dr Andrew Rowland said the Taskforce did not say what impact a port would have on pink snapper stocks.(Supplied: Andrew Rowland)

Dr Rowland said that despite strongly and vocally articulating concerns around the environment and pink snapper stocks, the taskforce failed to address any of it in the shortlisting process.

“Of all the millions the Taskforce spent in attempting to better understanding what the future looks like, not a single cent was spent on planting seagrass, stocking snapper or building new habitats,” Dr Rowland said.

“How and where the Government invest the $97.2 million they have committed to developing this questionable recommendation over the next four years, will tell if they truly value the environment or whether, just like the Westport Taskforce, they prioritise economics over the environment.”

Westport has highlighted the important asset Cockburn Sound is to WA, across industry and trade, fisheries, environmental and social values and Aboriginal heritage, believing there would be opportunities to build the sound’s resilience.

It said Westport would be researching seagrass regeneration and protecting pink snapper spawning conditions alongside other studies to take place.

Premier says current port ‘funnels’ trucks through suburbs

While out announcing an investment for a brewery in Fremantle’s Victoria Quay, Mr McGowan said there would always be critics.

A mid shot of WA Premier Mark McGowan speaking into microphones at a media conference wearing a black coat and red tie.
WA Premier Mark McGowan has defended the Government’s decision to fund the rollout of a port in Kwinana.(ABC News: David Weber)

“This harbour is going to fill … it’s in the middle of a residential area, it funnels all of the trucks right into the middle of Perth.

“All you’ve got to do is get the traffic out, have a modern, efficient port that meets the long-term needs of the state, that’s what successful countries and cities around the world do.”

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