By Joe Bourke
More than 100 residents gathered at Balmain’s Clontarf Cottage on Sunday March 8 to attend an electoral forum.
The forum was focused on the controversial White Bay Cruise Terminal following a damning Upper House inquiry released last month on its effect on Balmain.
Independent councillor John Stamilos, a long time campaigner against the terminal, chaired the event which also featured Greens MP Jamie Parker and state Labor candidate Verity Firth.
“I don’t believe it can work here at all. The best thing for the community would be for the terminal to go,” Clr Stamilos said.
Ms Firth welcomed the Upper House inquiry, which she said was triggered by the work of NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley.
“Without his work, we would never have had this inquiry and we definitely would never have had White Bay as a term of reference. Now we’ve had the inquiry and it’s come down with some really strong recommendations,” she said.
But Mr Parker said Labor was responsible for the development as it had been approved near the end of the former Labor government’s term.
Ms Firth said although it was approved by the Labor government, the site was always going to be a port and so the challenge was now to regulate the terminal.
Labor has promised to enforce the use of low sulphur fuel in the harbour. The maximum allowable sulphur content in fuel is currently 3.5 percent. Labor has promised to reduce this to 0.1 percent if elected.
Ms Firth said the shipping industry’s claims that low sulphur fuel cannot be provided are “simply wrong”.
“Both Shell and Caltex have now basically said if there’s a market for it they will provide it,” Ms Firth said.
Mr Parker said this does not go far enough in reducing the impact of the cruise ships on the area, and that the area was getting “ripped to shreds” by the pollution.
“Even if we do have low sulphur fuel, it is still pumping out thousands and thousands of equivalent homes every day of electricity generation from that site, and shore-to-ship power is part of the solution but it can’t deal with the noise problem and we know that,” he said.
Mr Parker said he would support a changed location for the terminal as its objectives were incompatible with the current location.
“Unless we all have noise barriers around our houses, it can’t work and it won’t work,” he said.
The current terminal does not have an onshore power source, meaning the ships cannot turn off their engines while in port.
The extent of the pollution was clear midway through the meeting when one resident, Rick, pointed out that “you can smell it”, to the crowd’s agreement.
Another resident, Michael Johnson, suggested imposing levies to fund solar panels for the terminals.
He said this would help solve the terminal’s power problem and reduce pollution in the area.
Steve Bastian is the President of the Balmain Rozelle Chamber of Commerce, and said he can’t see the terminal “being moved in a hurry” due to the amount of money that has been spent on the site.
He said the passengers from the cruise ships could help the area’s business sector.
“My attitude is let’s try and make a so called negative into a positive for the area, and Council and everybody agrees that the shops are finding it tougher and tougher every year to be viable in places like Darling Street,” he said.
“So let’s get our resources together and get some of these quite wealthy passengers that come in from these cruises and holidays and pick them up and bring them up to the main street and show them a typical Australian town.”
Ms Firth listed possible development on the terminal’s site as a reason for her support of it; a claim Mr Parker said was “misleading”.
“That whole argument about ‘well, if we don’t put the cruise ship there it’s going to be developed’ is utterly false. Sydney Ports was never releasing that land. It’s a deep water port.”
Both candidates said the Liberal party must be taken to task over the port, and at least commit to regulating the fuel used.
Balmain’s Liberal candidate, Lyndon Gannon, was not present at the debate.
Clr Stamilos said the event went well and that “everyone was in clear unison with the findings of the Upper House inquiry that the relocation of cruise ships to White Bay was a serious error”.
The Liberal government announced on the Wednesday following the forum that they would match Labor policy and regulate the fuel’s sulphur content.