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Howard steers clear of Hunter coal blame game

<p>The Federal Government would not accept blame for Hunter coal bottlenecks, but would be prepared to work with the New South Wales Government to find a way to ease congestion, prime minister John Howard said yesterday (Thursday, May 3).</p> <p>Eight months spent battling an inflated vessel queue has fostered frustration among capacity providers and coal companies, and each side attributes blame for the congestion to each other.</p> <p>Mr Howard said on Sydney radio that while Australia’s coal terminals were out of the Federal Government’s control, he still planned to call NSW premier Morris Iemma to discuss what both governments could do to ease the bottlenecks.</p> <p>&#8220Some part of the problem may not be capable of being fixed immediately because there are private interests involved and sometimes when private interests conflict, the public interest is not always well served,&#8221 Mr Howard said.</p> <p>&#8220The laws directly affecting the port are in the hands of the state, but I’m not trying to get into the process of blaming people and of course, there are private operators in relation to coal loaders too.</p> <p>&#8220Let’s put aside for a moment who’s to blame &#8211 let’s try and see if there’s something that the two governments together can achieve in order to fix the problem.</p> <p>&#8220If governments together can’t do them then you may have to shift responsibilities from one government to another.&#8221</p> <p>The operator of both coal terminals at the port of Newcastle, Port Waratah Coal Services (PWCS), has made it clear that it wants to slash the present queue of about 70 ships, to a work queue of under 30. </p> <p>Xstrata and Coal &#38 Allied this week blamed the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) for not providing enough capacity, but ARTC chief David Marchant said it had delivered more capacity than the port could handle.</p> <p>The ARTC said it had 120mtpa of capacity along the 68 km arterial line from Whittingham to the port, while PWCS was providing 102mtpa.</p> <p>PWCS told coal companies that they would not be allocated as much capacity as they had asked for.</p> <p>&#8220PWCS confirms that with the reintroduction of the CBS in March 2007, all producers received a reduced allocation for 2007 compared to what they originally requested,&#8221 PWCS said in a statement on Wednesday (May 2). </p> <p>The original demands for capacity made by coal producers &#8220substantially exceeded planned coal chain capacity&#8221, PWCS said.</p> <p>The coal chain providers plan to provide 90m tonnes of capacity in 2007, but the capacity balancing system has since been re-introduced.</p> <p>Coal ships are waiting 27 days on average to load coal from Newcastle. </p> <br />