The planned sale of Fremantle Port has effectively been torpedoed by the WA government’s alliance partners, with the Nationals refusing to support the proposal.
The port is among a raft of public assets the state government is seeking to privatise, including utility Western Power, to pay down mounting debt, which is forecast to nudge $40 billion by 2018.
Enabling legislation for the sale was brought to cabinet on Monday, but Nationals ministers sat it out.
The party took to the steps of parliament on Wednesday to announce it strongly opposed the legislation.
Nationals WA leader Terry Redman said the party raised several concerns about the transaction, which would place the state’s only container port in private hands, but these were ignored.
Mr Redman said the legislation lacked transparency and would allow Treasurer Mike Nahan to enter negotiations with potential buyers without disclosing vital details of the sale, such as access and pricing for users of the monopoly asset, which include livestock exporters and grain producers.
“The fact that legislation has been brought into parliament without addressing these concerns is a breach of good process in our view,” Mr Redman said.
The opposition took aim at Premier Colin Barnett over the “fiasco”, which comes less than a week before a cabinet reshuffle as the Liberal government prepares its front bench for next year’s election.
“The premier can’t even control his own cabinet,” WA Labor leader Mark McGowan told parliament.
“The government is at war with itself. The National party is at war with the Liberal party. That is what is going on here.”
Shadow state development spokesman Bill Johnston said selling assets was not a good debt reduction strategy.
“The only way to fix the Liberal party debt, deficit and mess is to do it slowly and carefully, like paying off a house – there are no quick fixes on these issues,” he said.
Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison recently announced such transactions would be assessed under new foreign investment rules.