This week saw the cruise industry present the annual figures for how many Australians took holidays on the water last year. It’s a great story, with one in 17 Australians taking a cruise – the highest per capita penetration of any country on earth.
But the good news ends in New South Wales.
Despite being the state with 53 per cent of this burgeoning and lucrative industry, it’s also the state that went backwards by 2 per cent in terms of growth.
Why? Because, despite repeated requests and inquiries, little concrete has been done about Sydney’s inability to take more than one large ship a day.
It’s simple really. Tens of thousands of foreign tourists want to visit and some of the world’s biggest cruise lines want to station modern, technologically-advanced ships in our waters. But almost all overseas passengers want to be assured they will see our beautiful Opera House and Harbour Bridge.
The industry is building more and more new ships – 18 this year and 120 by 2027. Most are too big to go under the bridge to White Bay. Which means we have just one place for them to dock: Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal. It can only take one ship a day.
We could have used Garden Island as an option during the six-month season. A report by former Liberal leader Peter Collins suggested it. But former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ruled that out after the Australian Navy said it was necessary for our defence.
So we are left with the option of ships coming into the harbour to take in the sights, then mooring at Botany Bay, our premier container port.
Easy, right? Already a port. Shouldn’t be too hard to find room for a cruise ship berth. But despite a business case and a Federal Government recommendation this should be a priority infrastructure project, nothing has really happened.
During the recent state election, there was gridlock – Labor leader Michael Daley made it clear Port Botany would never get up if he was elected. Ports minister Melinda Pavey said nothing, despite repeated requests for her views. It was a political hot potato, with resident groups raising the temperature and local newspapers dredging up issues that don’t really exist.
Today, Gladys Berejiklian says she has a new mandate to get the job done.
And we have a new minister in charge of the port of Sydney – Andrew Constance.
We have offered him a platform for his views on this issue. We hope, in coming weeks, to bring those to you.
But in the meantime, NSW and Australia is missing out.
The cruise industry created 17,000, $1.4 billion in wages and $4.8 billion in economic value in 2018.
But growth slumped to 0.9% from over 4% the year before. And that, according to Cruise Lines International Association MD Joel Katz, was down to New South Wales.
Queensland is building a new terminal at Luggage Point. There is work in Cairns, Eden and Broome.
But, as Mr Katz reported, “a lack of berthing capacity in Sydney has hampered cruise lines’ efforts to expand their operations in local waters.”
Australia’s growth pales beside the overall rise of almost 7% globally.
We understand there are procedures to go through before Molineaux Point or Yarra Bay can be serious contenders: the environmental impact, transport, financing, fishing, heritage, indigenous culture, noise, social impacts and a community consultation process. It’s a lot of work. But it has to start now.
Ms Berejiklian’s election slogan was “Let’s get it done, NSW!” Now she is back in Macquarie Street, approving the start of work on next stage of a Port Botany development would seem a simple next step.
So let’s get it done, Gladys! A lot of jobs and tourist dollars are hanging on the result.
Vote in this year’s special Readers’ Choice Awards
No doubt 2020 will go down in cruise history as the year of the pandemic – a once in a generation event. And this year’s Cruise Passenger Readers’ Choice Awards will reflect it.