Bridge Over Troubled Waters

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-By John Boley

The recent announcement that a so-called ‘supertrawler’ would be basing its operations in Tasmania caused a real rumpus. The row centred on the effect this monster – the 142 metre trawling and processing ship FV Margiris, which is to work out of Devonport for the coming season – might have on fish stocks, given its capacity to hoover up several thousand tonnes of fish per trip.

But Paul Weedon was able to take a rather more sanguine view of the news. He is CEO of Tasports, steering the company through the current difficulties of economy around the state, and he sees the vessel’s choice of base as vindication of his company’s policies.

Tasmania’s economy has always fluctuated. In recent times, the two major drivers have been metals processing and tourism, each of which has been contributing some 1.3 billion dollars per year. Large processors of minerals include Nyrstar, with a zinc smelter on the Derwent River in Hobart, and aluminium producers on the Tamar River at Bell Bay in the north. In recent years more than 800,000 visitors per year have been arriving in the state. The winter months are a quiet period for tourism but in the summer there are around fifty cruise-ship arrivals in Hobart as well as daily arrivals on the Spirit of Tasmania ferry service into Devonport.

Paul and his team are not responsible for the state of the economy, which he points out has been less than buoyant of late as container traffic and forestry production have suffered. Tasports – full name The Tasmanian Ports Corporation Pty Ltd – is a registered, private company fully owned by the Tasmanian government, responsible for the operations and management of all ports in Tasmania.

There are nine ports in all, including Flinders and King Islands, and the company’s efforts are concentrated largely on Hobart, Devonport, Bell Bay and Burnie.

The company was created following the amalgamation of the state’s four port companies – Hobart Ports Corporation Pty Ltd, Port of Launceston Pty Ltd, Port of Devonport Corporation Pty Ltd and Burnie Port Corporation Pty Ltd – in January 2006, and its job is to facilitate trade by improving the efficiency and expanding the range of services offered at its locations.

The state-owned nature of the enterprise means that Paul and his team are able to take a broader view of matters such as investment than a fully private entity might take, studying the big picture and taking account of the many downstream benefits of a project throughout the Tasmanian community rather than considering port-side profitability in isolation. So one current project – which was due for board discussion mid-June, shortly after our interview, with Paul expressing confidence it would gain approval – for development on the Macquarie Wharf is considered for the fact that it will help to put money into the local economies of numerous communities, not just that it will attract ships of a certain tonnage.

This Macquarie 2 project involves the refitting of a large shed – around 9,000 square metres – for a joint purpose terminal for cruise ships and for operations to and from the Antarctic. Together with ‘real’ freight (tourists in this case actually do constitute a form of freight themselves) these two sectors account for most of the opportunities for Tasmanian ports and Tasports works hard to secure more business in whatever ways it can.

Concept designs for the $7 million redevelopment of Macquarie No 2 shed as a dedicated facility for cruise and Antarctic activities were put to public approval late last year. The designs were part of a development application submitted to Hobart City Council. Plans for the redevelopment focus on improving the appearance and functionality of the facility while still retaining the historic foundations and cultural values of the original wharf shed.

Architect impressions of the modern, open plan redesign of the building were made public following months of customer and stakeholder consultation conducted by Tasports to understand the key requirements of the facility.

The redevelopment of Macquarie Shed No 2 will further cement strategic plans to foster cruise and Antarctic activities in Hobart Port, providing flow-on economic benefits for port users, tourism and the greater Tasmanian community.

It is understood that planning approvals have been obtained and following the rubber stamp approval of the Tasports board in mid-June, construction tenders will be made and work is likely to commence by the start of spring. The two activities – Antarctic and cruise – have considerably different requirements and Tasports worked hard in the design phase to accommodate both under, essentially, one roof. Macquarie 2 complements the boutique hotel project now envisioned for Macquarie 1 shed (please see sidebar for further details).

The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) is run by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population & Communities. Regarding Hobart as very much its home base for exploring the far south, the AAD is currently preoccupied with marking the centenary of Douglas Mawson’s first trip there. On 2 December 1911, Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition left Hobart bound for Macquarie Island and East Antarctica. The 1911–1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition was the first Australian-led Antarctic expedition. The Mawson-led expedition was important for the science conducted, which contributed to the world’s understanding of Antarctica and the global processes of which it is a part. Australia’s Antarctic scientists today continue this important research.

There is talk sometimes of competition from the Port of Fremantle, Paul concedes, which would also like to be a contender to host the AAD, but the developments in hand in Hobart make that less likely. There is also talk of a new ship for the AAD, almost certainly a larger one, and Hobart is already gearing up to enable the port to handle the extra volume. The port also hosts the smaller but also significant French scientific team that explores the vast southern continent.

On the north coast of Tasmania, the port of Devonport is focused on container traffic, handling many of the goods that the populace of the state need, and on the two Spirit of Tasmania ships that ply the route to and from Melbourne, taking nine hours each way and carrying private and commercial vehicles as well as passengers and freight. As with AAD, there is talk of a new and larger ship due before the end of this decade and Tasports’ job is to take a long term view of what the needs will be, a fine balance against the short-term demands of economic swings.

The expansion of facilities in Melbourne has enabled that port to take much larger ships, says Paul, some of which are unable to then complete the voyage to Tassie. This is unavoidable – nothing Tasports could do. Paul says he prefers to concentrate on areas of the business where he and the team can make a difference, and prospects for larger cruise liners – especially in the ‘environmental tourism’ sector – and the possibility of a third nation basing its Antarctic operations in Hobart – mean they will be keeping busy for many years to come, piloting Tasmania’s ports through sometimes stormy waters.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

January 18, 2019, 3:26 AM AEDT