Upgrade the Ghan line as a major freight route to: free the Barrier Reef from heavy shipping; reduce pressure on ports like Newcastle + Melbourne, open the interior to fresh produce and maximise overland transport opportunities for Aussie companies.
If Darwin’s deep water Panamax harbour was sensitively transformed into Australia’s port for all foreign vessels from the north and the Ghan railway was developed into a rail freight spine and linked to major cities along the east coast, the Great Barrier Reef would be protected from heavy international shipping, dredging or re-building ports (including Gladstone harbour and Port Phillip Bay) would not be necessary, transport times would be reduced and employment opportunities in the Northern Territory would be increased and transport profits would be shifted from foreign shipping companies to Australian rail companies at the earliest opportunity.
Freight delivery schedules from Darwin to Adelaide or Melbourne would be reduced from 2-3 weeks to 2-3 days; Australian domestic coastal shipping would be given a fillip (foreign ships carry 99% of our international and 30% of our domestic coastal trade); shipping safety would be more easily controlled and the size of vessels using coastal shipping routes could be restricted to suit port capability, reducing or eliminating the need for dredging and increasing rail services to isolated communities in central Australia would allowing cheaper provision of goods and services, particularly much needed supplies of fresh food.
While Hay Point, Gladstone and Newcastle ports operate at world-class efficiency so have little room for improvement without physical expansion, Darwin currently operates at 40% efficiency so has room for improvement. This can occur within its existing footprint, incorporating the efficiencies of Rotterdam, Europe’s busiest harbour, with its surprisingly small footprint and adjacent equally agriculture which demonstrate that he model of ports with sprawling heavy industry is no longer current.
A total ‘catchment and harbour’ approach based on Darwin as the ‘Port for South and Eastern Australia’, that respects Larrakia cultural heritage, would bring significant employment and commercial opportunities to Darwin without necessitating any inappropriate industrial development on the harbour banks or within the coastal catchment.
This proposal meets all the objectives of the Green Paper on 'Developing Northern Australia' without, once again, addressing development of ‘the north’ in isolation but as part of wider Australian problems whilst giving ‘the North’ its due as Australia’s gateway.
With the Chinese as the new port lessors, there is scope for sharing the capital costs of this proposal that would bring advantages to both parties.
This is, indeed, a BIG idea but should not be feared for that reason. Australians have, for years, lacked a grand vision for moving to a sustainable future with widespread benefits to a variety of environments, societies and businesses.
This big idea is a way of cleaning up myriad smaller problems that may otherwise involve greater overall cost and deliver only mediocre improvements when addressed separately.