National Party powerbroker Wendy Duncan has swung her support behind building magnate Len Buckeridge's plan for a private bulk commodity port in Kwinana, saying it was desperately needed for live animal exports.
Ms Duncan is the most senior member of the Liberal National Government yet to voice her support for the tycoon, who is suing the State for $1 billion in damages over what he claims is a broken contract to allow him to build a rival port to Fremantle in Cockburn Sound.
However Ms Duncan, who is making a bold bid to move from the Upper House and replace John Bowler as the MLA for Kalgoorlie at the March election to boost her party's stocks, called on Mr Buckeridge to drop his port legal action to help smooth negotiations.
"I think you have to question the appropriateness of livestock trucks going through beautiful precincts like Fremantle," she said. "Livestock smell. I think it is probably time to look at alternative places of export, and James Point . . . would be as good a place as any. Regional ports are all pretty busy, but would be an alternative, but you would have to gear them up for it."
The Pastoralists and Graziers Association has previously called for a new port at James Point to overcome capacity constraints, and it has been a major issue in the National Party's farming heartland.
But until now Government MPs have been silent on the issue, given rancorous relations between Premier Colin Barnett and Mr Buckeridge over the issue.
A framework agreement to build the bulk commodity and live animal export berth and associated second-stage offshore container port in Cockburn Sound was signed in the dying days of the Court government in 2000.
But ideological battles with the Gallop and Carpenter governments meant the deal wasn't finalised.
Mr Buckeridge, a major Liberal donor, then argued with Mr Barnett, with the Government refusing to sell him the land needed to build the port as envisaged in the initial 2000 agreement. Mr Barnett was also opposed to the consortium building an offshore container facility.
The Government said it was prepared to consider leasing land for the first stage of the port - the bulk commodity berth with live sheep export facilities.
But Mr Buckeridge has said the lease and conditions meant the project was not financially viable as a stand-alone venture.The Government has declined to comment on the issue given the matter is before the courts but Mr Buckeridge hinted negotiations to resolve the issue were afoot. "There is a very serious attempt (to resolve the dispute) and I am prepared to forgo the profitable part of it, the container part of it, and only build the bulks as Mr Barnett has promised in Parliament," he said.