South-west industry gains from deep-sea port

THE Port of Portland is the south-west’s gateway to the world. The port sits on the only deepwater harbour between Melbourne and Adelaide, and according to business development manager Malcolm Geier, is an important access point to international markets for local industry. 

Mr Geier said the port exports commodities, including aluminium, fertiliser, livestock, hardwood chips and saw logs, to countries including China, Russia, Korea, Thailand and Japan. 

This financial year alone, six million tonnes of bulk commodities are expected to be exported through the port, a marked increase on the three million tonnes that were exported just three years ago. 

“What we’ve seen in the past few years that has been different to the ten years before, is the advent of the mineral sands trades with Iluka Resources,” Mr Geier said. 

“We’ve also seen the volume of hardwood chips with the commencement of harvesting in the past few years. That volume has gone from almost nothing to an expected two million tonnes this year. 

“We had a number of years of drought and during that time we had pretty much no grain at all, so that’s starting to come back now as well.

“If you look three-and-a-bit years ago, our volume was around about three million tonnes. This financial year (2013/14) we expect to hit six million tonnes. In the financial year 2011/12 we did 5.4 million tonnes and last financial year we also did 5.4 million tonnes. 

Mr Geier said the biggest change in trade in the past two years was for saw logs, with 1.2 million tonnes expected to be exported this financial year. 

“Log volumes previously were about 300,000 tonnes a year. Last year we did close to 600,000 tonnes and this year we expect to be maybe into 1.2 million tonnes of logs,” he said.

“The (forestry) export market is huge for both logs and hardwood chips. Demand is softening in the domestic market for saw log so the port gives them access to a pretty important market to keep the viability of the forestry industry in the region.”

Mr Geier said he saw the port as a facilitator for large industry in the south-west of Victoria and the south-east of South Australia.

“It’s an enabling facility for a lot of industry — without it you have to have a really big and compelling business case to get projects up and running. But having this quick and easy route to markets can make a lot of little things feasible,” he said. 

“Without the port there would be a lot of inefficiency, you probably wouldn’t have a hardwood chip industry down here — there wouldn’t be a market for it. 

“In terms of livestock, export out of Portland is important to underpin the value of livestock in our part of the world. Having that export market really puts a floor in what livestock are worth. Without access to that overseas market, local farmers are at the mercy of what the local demand is.” 

jwoolley@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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