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Watchdog approves car terminal bid

Docking station: Australia’s competition watchdog says it won’t block car-shipping giant Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics from operating Webb Dock, but it will be watching to make sure competitors aren’t squeezed out.

Car-shipping company gains approval to lease redeveloped Webb Dock

General News logo31 Mar 2014

By BARRY PARK

*AUSTRALIA’S competition watchdog has allowed one of the world’s largest car shipping companies to lease one of the nation’s busiest shipping ports for vehicles, but has put in place strict conditions should the organisation win the business.

In the lead up to a final decision, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said it would allow Melbourne International RoRo and Auto Terminal (MIRRAT), a subsidiary of car-shipping giant Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics (WWL), to lease the automotive terminal at the Port of Melbourne.

MIRRAT, and rival terminal operator Australian Amalgamated Terminals, are both in the running to lease the site, which is currently part of a $1.6 billion makeover of Melbourne’s commercial waterfront, from 2016. The works will open up a third container terminal at the dock, as well as create “new world class automotive facilities” for off-loading car transporters.

AAT undertakes operations in ports in Brisbane, Port Kembla, Adelaide and Webb Dock West, Melbourne.

The Victorian government launched a bidding process for the right to operate the automotive facilities early last year, with MIRRAT and AAT the remaining tenderers.

A decision is imminent.

The ACCC's conditional approval for MIRRAT was part of the process that the company needed to go through to be in the running for the tender. AAT underwent the process last year.

The ACCC said MIRRAT had agreed to a court-enforceable undertaking to provide open access to the facilities until June 30, 2040.

“MIRRAT’s ultimate parent company Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics AS operates an ocean shipping business in competition with other terminal users at the Port of Melbourne,” the ACCC said.

“The ACCC was concerned that MIRRAT could use its position as a vertically integrated operator of the sole automotive terminal at the Port of Melbourne to discriminate against rival automotive shipping lines and other terminal users that MIRRAT may compete with in future, including stevedores and PDI (pre-delivery inspection) facility operators.”

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said an important feature of the undertaking was the competition watchdog’s ability to publicly review it in 2018, and every five years after that.

“In this review, the ACCC can identify any changes that need to be made to ensure that the undertaking continues to address competition concerns throughout its 22-year term,” he said.

“The review process may take into account submissions from interested parties and the findings and recommendations from the independent auditor, who will be monitoring MIRRAT’s compliance with the undertaking.”

The development of Webb Dock was announced in 2012, well ahead of Toyota’s announcement earlier this year that it would shut down its Australian car-making operations from 2017 – a year after the new dock facility is scheduled to open.

Toyota currently exports about 70,000 cars a year, mainly to the Middle East, but struggled to compete as the high Australian dollar and soaring production costs ate into the business’s profitability..

In terms of imports, about 370,000 new cars arrive at Webb Dock each year. The works to improve the facility’s efficiency should push that figure up to about 600,000 cars a year – more than half the annual new-car sales Australia-wide.

According to the state government, the newer facility will also reduce the number of trucks crossing the West Gate Bridge to transport new cars to PDI facilities in Melbourne’s western suburbs, with three out of five trucks needing to make a return trip to deliver vehicles to the city’s eastern suburbs.

Webb Dock operated as a container facility until the 1990s, and also served as a passenger ship terminal linking Melbourne with Tasmania.

After moving away from containers, the dock has specialised to become a major automotive terminal for the export and import of cars.

The dock is an important source of revenue for the state government.

While WWL will lease the dock, Patrick AutoCare and Prix Car were named as the private sector operators of the site’s on-dock PDI facilities.

The two companies are responsible for 80 per cent of the state’s total pre-delivery inspection volume.

According to the government, Patrick AutoCare will develop a 12-hectare site, while Prix Car will build a new four-hectare facility, both of which are expected to be operational by mid-2015.

* A previous version of this story indicated that MIRRAT was the preferred tenderer. This was not correct.

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