Colin Barnett was late.
Pacing back and forth in the house he hand-designed, building magnate Len Buckeridge - not one to be kept waiting at the best of times - was miffed.
"Len growled at Colin when he finally turned up," says a source close to the Premier.
The pair had agreed to a meeting at Mr Buckeridge's Peppermint Grove home in April 2009, in a bid to resolve an increasingly bitter fight over a port south of Fremantle.
A consortium led by the tycoon wanted to build the two-stage $420 million common-user venture at James Point as an alternative to Fremantle Port, which is straining at the seams.
But it would also be a chance for Mr Buckeridge to get his hands on a crucial piece of land on the Kwinana strip to further his vast integrated building empire of bricks, plaster board and cement.
All are businesses that require big shipments of bulk commodities to feed his company's construction arms that stretch around the state.
Despite the bumpy start, Mr Barnett and Mr Buckeridge are said by those at the meeting to have reached a resolution of sorts: the James Point Port (JPP) consortium would drop its demands for a second-stage offshore container port and just proceed with the land-based bulk commodity and live animal export facility. In return the State would negotiate a price for land needed for the development, and upgrades to roads and rail around the port.
Mr Buckeridge, a big donor who must have expected an easier ride when the Barnett Liberal government came to power, was nonetheless buoyed and pitched the plan to his fellow backers, including Sebastiano Catalano of the seafood family fame.
The building mogul was said to be annoyed when his partners said no, preferring to fight the Government to keep the container port, in opposition to competing plans from State-run Fremantle Ports.
So the bickering began again.
Ironically, shortly before Christmas last year, Mr Buckeridge bought out the other backers after they disagreed on spending $50 million on preparatory port designs, leaving him to fight on largely alone. Revelations yesterday that JPP has abandoned its original 2000 agreement with the Court government, and will pursue taxpayers for up to $1 billion in damages from bureaucratic delays, just adds to the jaw-dropping tale.
A private company is willing to build a port, at little Government cost, but is repeatedly denied by that same Government which may now have to construct the expensive infrastructure itself.
Mr Buckeridge wasn't surprised by opposition to the plan under the Labor Gallop and Carpenter governments, that viewed the port (misguided or not) as a land-grab and a plot by the Liberal Court government to bust union influence on the docks.
But the Barnett government's intransigence - Mr Buckeridge says it won't negotiate a price on the land, only an uncommercial lease - has him scratching his head.
Part of the go-slow appears to stem from Mr Barnett's steely-eyed view that crucial port infrastructure (such as with his intervention in Oakajee, but in this case container docks) shouldn't be in private hands - a view at odds with his party's free-market ideology.
Mr Barnett has been attacked on all sides for his stance, including from Buckeridge-ally and Liberal Federal MP Don Randall who accused the Premier of intransigence and a mental block over the issue.
But the Premier has stuck to his guns, and says he won't be swayed by one of his party's major donors.
For now, the best avenue of taxpayers avoiding a long and costly legal fight appears in returning to negotiations over stage one of the port - a land backed bulk terminal.
But that could still be costly.
While Mr Buckeridge appears to have given up on his dream of the container port, it was to have in part subsidised the first stage, meaning the Government may have to come to the table on other concessions.A private company is willing to build a port, at little Government cost, but is repeatedly denied by that same Government which may now have to construct the expensive infrastructure itself.
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