“It’s the same the whole world over”

Years ago there was a popular song with the title, “It’s the same the whole world over”, and we recalled that air when we read about the dredging debate being waged about – no – not about our own Delaware River, but about Port Phillip Bay, down under in Australia.

One of that county’s most senior port executives, chairman Richard Setchell of the Australian International Container Terminals, has slammed the decision to dredge Port Phillip Bay and accused the nation’s dominant stevedores of bullying the state government and the Port of Melbourne Corporation. (Sound familiar?)

Mr. Setchell, a former global boss of P&O Ports said that channel deepening would not have a significant benefit for container trade at Swanson Dock, which was already close to full capacity. “I think the money would be far better spent on developing (the Port of) Hastings, and the dredging project is simply delaying the inevitable”, he said.

Mr. Setchell, who ran P&O’s port operation in Melbourne through the 1990s before branching out on his own, said a container port in Hastings was the perfect alternative to the shallow Port Phillip Bay because of its deep channel and existing rail corridors. He said that he offered to purchase 50% of the existing Hastings port in 2005 and to build a new container terminal as part of a bid to establish a network of container terminals. The chief executive at the Port of Hastings Corporation confirmed that he had discussed that offer with the treasurer and transport minister, both of whom refused to meet with Mr. Setchell. (“It’s the same the whole world over”).

Mr. Setchell’s comments followed those of a string of prominent experts and analysts who have called for a rethink of the proposed dredging scheme and who are endorsing instead the fast tracking of the ports of Hastings and Webb Dock as container terminals.

Isn’t it odd that those with the authority to spend taxpayers’ dollars proceed to do so in irrational ways? ( “It’s the same the whole world over”). It seems as though the Delaware River and Port Phillip Bay have become mirror images – as have certain officials in those locales – those with grandiose and half-baked plans.

“Dominant stevedores bullying the state government …?” But it was the other way around in Philadelphia. Government officials, maritime consultants and certain maritime and port interests were actually prodding the stevedores. Dangling 100,000 jobs in front of the unemployed was dirty pool. It was an outright lie, in fact. The ill-conceived attempt to duplicate a port the size of the NY/NJ complex in the middle of Philadelphia would have brought, not jobs, but consequences not unlike those now troubling residents in Southern California.

It took a court decision to call a halt to the madness along the Delaware, otherwise the wasted time, effort and money would have taken a terrible toll. Philadelphians will forever be indebted to Judge Daniel Pellegrini.