GREG RAY: Selling a mullock heap

SAY I was some rich bloke and I owned two really important pieces of land, one close to your home and another one closer to the home of some good pals of mine.

And say that for as long as anybody could remember I’d been renting the land near you to some characters who just wanted somewhere to park piles of coal, in between digging it out of the ground and selling it. I’d been getting good rent, plus a fat fee from my tenants, linked to the size of their dirt piles near your house.

The other block of ground I owned was bigger, closer to where some of my posh mates lived, and I pulled a fair bit of rent from it too.

For years you’d been whingeing to me about how the bit of land near you ought to be used for other stuff, not just a big coal-dump. Why didn’t I build some new warehouses there, or other stuff that might really add some value to your neighbourhood?

If I used this bit of land of mine more intelligently, I could make a big difference to your quality of life, you said.

But my coal-digger tenants didn’t want me listening to you. They didn’t want anything getting in the way of more and bigger coal piles, and they told me you were just an uppity git from bogan stock and not worth a pinch of you-know-what.

Say I pretty much agreed with them, not that I’d ever tell you that.

Anyway, say one day I got sick of owning these bits of land and wanted to flog them off.

You were cheering, because you thought maybe somebody with half a brain might buy the bit near you and use it for something other than a mullock heap, transforming your neighbourhood from a grimy dustbowl into something a bit more, you know, up-market.

I was happy to let you believe that, but being a cunning dog I was shafting you in secret.

My other block of land, the one not anywhere near where you live, was on the market and I was hoping to get really big bucks for it. But some of the would-be buyers were umming and ahhing and kicking the tyres and asking how could they be sure that one of their competitors wouldn’t buy my grotty old mullock heap, put some shiny warehouses on it and interfere with the profits they hoped to earn from owning my hoity-toity block of land.

No problem, I told them. Let’s get some lawyers to put a secret clause in the contract for both my blocks of land stipulating that if anybody buys the mullock-heap and tries to build a shiny warehouse they will have to pay compensation to the owner of the hoity-toity block for daring to compete.

Wow, can you even do that, they asked me. Money runs this show, I told them. You just watch me.

So that’s exactly what I did.

Now, let’s imagine I’m actually not just some random rich guy after all, but a state government.

And let’s imagine the two bits of ground are not just any old blocks of dirt, but are really the ports of Sydney and Newcastle. Can you guess which one is the mullock heap?

It’s hard to believe, isn’t it, that a government that purports to represent the entire state of NSW and which also claims to believe in free markets and competition, would pull such a dirty stunt that is so clearly and deliberately designed to hold one city back and prevent its economic advancement?

If this wasn’t NSW it might be hard to believe, but if you study the history of this sorry state you will see the commercial interests of Sydney have always been promoted over those of Newcastle.

As if Sydney even needs help. In this case the suppression of Newcastle’s interests was almost incidental, in that the main aim was to get the highest price for the Port of Sydney by guaranteeing Newcastle would never be allowed to compete in the container trade.

If anything, that’s even more insulting. Like, give me some extra dollars and I’ll cripple that mangy dog so it never bites you.

No wonder the government feels obliged to give Newcastle a small fraction of the sale proceeds from the long-term lease over the city’s own port. Kind of a guilty afterthought, maybe? Still, they didn’t have to …

But don’t you worry about the government. It won’t be out of pocket. Newcastle will repay this little ‘‘favour’’ a hundred times over by the time the Macquarie Street mandarins have finished with us.

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