Port Authority unable to explain opposition when questioned by government committee

On 8 December 2014, the CEO of the Fremantle Port Authority was brought before the Estimates and Financial Operations Committee, to be queried for evidence supporting his opposition to a community-owned wind farm on state land at the port. Astoundingly, Mr Leatt-Hayter was able to answer at least five distinct questions with the same single vague response about the ‘best interests of the port’.

Mr Leatt-Hayter has used this tired and empty response ad nauseum since 2011 to evade presenting any evidence to support his continued obstructionist stance against an increasingly well-supported community wind farm project.

But the real shock came when he almost accidentally revealed his position would not be influenced by any facts or evidence. This was right after he was reminded that a scoping study commissioned by the Fremantle Port Authority in 2011 did not rule out a wind farm — in fact it encouraged further studies, and advised that Rous Head would be the prime location for a wind farm [1].

This revealing response implies that Mr Leatt-Hayter’s wind farm obstructionism is ideological.

And this ideological position has been held firm by Mr Leatt-Hayter since 2011. But what hasn’t held firm is the rest of the energy industry: it has undergone unprecedented change, which ought to prompt large energy consumers such as the Port to re-evaluate the way they procure energy.  This dialogue reveals that the CEO has not considered any new evidence in over three years. But worse, it revealed that he would not be swayed by any evidence — such as overwhelming community support, reductions in the cost of electricity for Fremantle Ports and its tenants, or hedging against future electricity price rises.

Transparent and accountable decision-making by appointed government agencies are of critical public interest.

Mr Leatt Hayter has until January 15th to respond formally to calls for evidence by this committee. Since he has already indicated he won’t use evidence to inform his views, we can only expect a response bursting with more opaque and evasive spin.

Is someone who makes business decisions uninformed by community opinion, nor cost savings, the right man to be running this government enterprise?

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A summary of Chris Leatt-Hayter’s evasive answers, from the transcript [2]:

When asked about energy cost savings from a wind farm, CLH responded,

“…it would not be in the best interests of the port…”

 

When asked for more clarity on the decision (e.g. would the wind farm not offer cheaper power? Were there other factors involved?), CLH responded there were “other issues” and made erroneous reference to separation distances in other jurisdictions (which he admitted “do not apply here”), before saying,

“…we did not see that it was in the best interests of the port…”

 

When reminded of the unanimous support of the Maritime Union (who represent the vast majority of port personnel); or the port’s activities outweighing any noise or visual amenity issues from turbines and acting as a buffer between community and wind farm on outer harbour, CLH responded,

“… we came to the conclusion that it was not in the best interests of our business…”

 

When asked about the scoping study the FPA commissioned, which did not rule out a wind farm option, CLH responded,

“… it was not in the best interests of our business…”

 

Finally,  Hon Ken Travers looked for a way forward through the dead-end obstructionism:

What would it take for [the Fremantle Community Wind Farm co-op] to be able to convince you that you should reconsider… their proposal?”

To which CLH responded:

“…it is not in the best interests of our business to proceed […] I do not think there is any additional information that would change our view.”

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References

[1] Wind Power Scoping Study – July 2011 (the public can obtain un-redacted copy by contacting the FPA)

[2] from official transcript at http://www.parliament.wa.gov.au/Parliament/commit.nsf/(Evidence+Lookup+by+Com+ID)/10448A9038BBAC2248257D8D0003D0FB/$file/ef.aar13.141208.trb.001.cl.pdf