The economics of Victoria’s channel deepening project have always been difficult to understand. It promises only losses for taxpayers and consumers, high and uncapped costs of construction and uncalculated costs of maintenance dredging. The project promises the loss of a portion of fisheries and the amenities that make Port Phillip Bay the most heavily used recreational waterway in Victoria.

The project is said to cost $750 million but it will likely double – even if tidal heights do not increase significantly from opening up the entrance.

Then there are the additional costs of rebuilding wharves and roads, new train lines and infrastructure. Truck traffic in and out of the Melbourne will increase fourfold and will likely require more freeways, bridges and tunnels.

The State Government silenced its fisheries scientists. The losses from a $100 million per annum commercial and recreational fisheries closing down for two years or more are unknown. The State Government does not want know.

The Penguin Parade is a $200 million dollar per year international tourist attraction. The Phillip Island penguins feed in Port Phillip Bay and during the first EES penguin scientists expressed concerns as to the project’s impact on penguins. They were gagged from appearing at the second inquiry. The cost of losing the Penguin Parade has not been calculated.

More than 250,000 people hit the east coast beaches on any one of 40 summer days each year. To service this summer industry there are seasonal cafes and kiosks to complement dozens of strip shopping centres, coastal hotels, restaurants, life saving and fishing clubs, swimming centres and so on that attract people. At $20 per day per person, clean beaches generate $100 million spending per annum. The cost of contaminating beaches for two years or more? The State Government believes a consultant that says that businesses will lose income of $4.1 million – but the diving industry $14.6 million in revenue.
And then there is the Central Business district, Docklands and the intense smell of petro chemicals as three million cubic metres of toxic sludge is lifted out of the Lower Yarra over two years. At best no-one will notice – at worst the CBD could be shut down, docklands evacuated, tourist ferries and rowing banned. Cost? The State Government does not want to know.

Then there is the economic benefit. The container movement is predicted to be the same – from 2 million containers per year now to 7 million per year in 30 years time – but for some shippers the costs will be cheaper because they can load more containers per boat into the port. The financial benefits of $2 billion dollars over 30 years are actually spread across the nation – much like the cost of the sludge from dredging will spread across the bay.

As the costs of shipping will be all but doubled it is hard to find beneficiaries beyond the owners of super tankers and the next generation of super container vessels who will be spared the inconvenience of unloading part of their cargo – something many already do anyway.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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