The State Opposition has warned the Barnett Government has missed its chance to reform WA's ports, saying legislation introduced into Parliament would tighten Treasury's control rather than freeing up port boards to respond to commercial demands.
Under the new legislation, introduced yesterday by Treasurer and Transport Minister Troy Buswell yesterday, the eight bodies that manage the State's major ports would be merged into four regional authorities - the Kimberley Ports, Pilbara Ports, Mid West Ports and Southern Ports.
Only Fremantle would remain as a stand-alone port when the reforms take effect next July.
Mr Buswell told Parliament the reforms would help improve efficiency, improve corporate governance and encourage private sector involvement at WA ports.
Although yet to study the legislation wording closely, industry groups and mining companies cautiously welcomed the reforms, saying an increased commercial focus at the ports would benefit industry.
Atlas Iron managing director Ken Brinsden said the regional consolidation would help deliver quality board candidates and management at WA's ports, and increase their commercial decision-making ability.
But Labor's transport spokesman, Ken Travers, cast doubt on the claims.
He said provisions in the proposed Bill meant the new port authorities "effectively become Government departments controlled by the Treasurer".
Sections of the previous Port Authorities Act requiring boards to act "in accordance with prudent commercial principles" and endeavour to make a profit have been replaced.
There are new requirements for port authorities to comply with Government-set capital spending limits and meet forecasts contained in "approved income and cash flow statements".
"The biggest constraint on our port authorities over the last five years has been restrictions placed on their boards that have prevented them from developing appropriate plans for the future," said Mr Travers.
"Under the proposed changes State Budget requirements will override the port authorities' own strategic development plans and statements of corporate intent. Effectively, boards will have financial decisions taken off them and just become advisory bodies to the Government."
Mr Buswell's office was contacted for comment yesterday.'The biggest constraint . . . over the last five years has been restrictions placed on the boards.' " Labor transport spokesman, *Ken Travers *