Port of Echuca forecast to run at more than million-dollar loss

By Lachlan Durling

CAMPASPE Shire ratepayers are propping up the Port of Echuca to the tune of millions, a report has revealed.

The Cloudstreet Economics report has highlighted how inaction on the embattled Port of Echuca precinct may impact ratepayers in the future.

Council noted the Realising the Port of Echuca Precinct Potential – Consideration of Options for the Future Management of the Port of Echuca Precinct report at the September meeting, which showed potential Port management structures.

It found the current management of the Port means the precinct will be running at average losses of $1.5 million over the coming nine years, with the Port coffers requiring a $1.85 million annual top-up from ratepayers for capital works.

Meaning the total operating loss forecast from the current management structure would be $19,802,700 for the 2018-2030 period.

The report said the current structure also results in a lack of financial and operational transparency, has inadequate financial and management reporting and has constraints on the ability to expand the service offering, improve asset utilisation and enhance precinct activation.

The report came before council as part of a motion acknowledging further advice for a not-for-profit management structure was required.

Councillor Vicki Neele also requested council chief executive Declan Moore seek advice for a not-for-profit arrangement with volunteer engagement.

A decision that sparked outrage for some councillors.

“One of my major concerns is that this may not be the council that will be making the final decisions and I think any incoming council will need to have that full picture,” Cr Neele said.

“We have found a consultant that has presented an excellent piece of work, but he was only asked to look at two options, not at this option of more volunteers.

“And with his expertise and knowledge I think the community deserve that his eyes look at this.

“I refute the fact that I just want my point of view. I think it is best for the community that we have an expert opinion and a very informed expert giving us all sides of the story.

“If we get this next piece of work, we will have that and there will be no uncertainty.”

Seconding the motion, Cr Annie Vickers said the historic Port worked in the past and would be able to again.

“Yes, it did work. It did work for many years and yes there were problems. But we’ve been working on this for something like 12 years,” she said.

“When we work on it we need to get it right, once and for all. Have the bustling Port back again because it’s not there now.”

Cr Daniel Mackrell voted against the item, saying he was hopeful the new councillors would have all the facts.

“I do believe Cr Neele has said it, there will possibly be another group of councillors come in, I hope so,” he said.

“We may be able to come to a conclusion with the Port precinct and make it into what it should be.”

Cr Leigh Wilson said the current group of councillors was trying to save the Port at the 12th hour.

“It has been pointed out we have been working eight years and this hasn’t gone anywhere. In the previous council we made some decisions around slowing things down because we needed to fix a lot of infrastructure down there before we move on,” he said.

“And that was some collective decision-making that took place.

“At the start of this council term, we set in place wheels in motion to determine a strategy. And systematically, over almost four years, we’ve got nothing done.

“This is collective decision-making and a lot of those decisions I’ve voted against because I’ve had my arguments that we’re either trying to pursue some poor governance to get to a point or other activity, and that’s for the record.

“The proof is in the pudding over the previous four years that a number of councillors have systematically worked against everything down in that area and we have achieved nothing over these four years and now they’re still trying to find someone to blame.”

Before the motion was put to a vote, Cr Neele responded saying the exploration of a new management structure was not a tactic to delay action in the Port area.

“This isn’t a delaying tactic, we are waiting on that additional information, as part of my motion says,” she said.

“At the same time we’re asking for this additional body of work so that all questions can be answered.

“There are people saying ‘oh, no-one in the community is interested about this'. I’ve had a number of phone calls from interested community members asking if the not-for-profit option has been explored, so obviously we didn’t identify that well enough.”