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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald
Michael Parris

Port woes push Hunter firm to look at US factory

Greg Whiteley talks to opposition leader Chris Minns at a Business Hunter breakfast at McDonald Jones Stadium on Tuesday. Picture supplied

A Tomago-based maker of medical products is being forced to export its goods via Melbourne and consider opening a factory in the US as the battle over a Newcastle freight terminal rages on.

Whiteley Corporation executive chairman Greg Whiteley told NSW opposition leader Chris Minns at a Business Hunter breakfast on Tuesday that his company was suffering from the lack of a container export terminal in its home city.

"We've been up in the Hunter for nearly 30 years. We came from Sydney. It was a great decentralisation for us," Dr Whiteley said during a question-and-answer session with the would-be premier.

"But one of the issues now as an exporter is actually getting goods to foreign markets.

"When we want to export, we've got to ship our goods to Sydney, where it normally won't get on a boat, and it gets sent to Melbourne, where it usually ends up going through either New Zealand on to Singapore or Singapore and out.

"If we were manufacturing in Melbourne, you just ship across town and the goods are gone."

Labor has expressed qualified support for a bill tabled before Parliament last month by Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper which seeks to scrap controversial penalties on Port of Newcastle developing a rival container terminal to Port Botany and Port Kembla operator NSW Ports.

The penalties were included in secret "commitment deeds" when the NSW government privatised the state's three publicly owned ports almost 10 years ago.

Mr Piper hopes Parliament will approve his bill next week before breaking for the state election in March.

Labor has proposed amendments to the legislation which would leave the decision whether to extinguish the penalties in the hands of a future treasurer.

Mr Minns said changing the port "situation" was "crucial" to the Hunter, but a Labor government would need to see the detail of any compensation payable to NSW Ports before scrapping the penalties on Newcastle.

Whiteley is the region's largest medical product manufacturer.

Demand for its products has skyrocketed due to the COVID pandemic.

Dr Whiteley told the Newcastle Herald after the breakfast that his firm was negotiating a large contract with a US-based multinational but was more likely to set up a factory in America than try to export from the Hunter.

"All that export income that would come to Australia and all those jobs, we just cannot compete. It's the simple reality," he said.

"There are real costs that are being borne that are limiting our capacity to compete on the global market."

He urged Labor to launch a public inquiry on the port privatisations.

"At what point does public interest overwhelm some secret, stinky deal?" he said.

Dr Whiteley told Mr Minns he was frustrated about public focus on employment and investment opportunities in Sydney when the Hunter was an economic powerhouse.

"There's so much Sydney focus ... yet this is the largest manufacturing sector in the whole of the NSW economy."

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