Australia’s first ‘green’ port seeks to serve Defence
An ambitious Australian company is seeking approval to build Australia’s first ‘green’ port in the Exmouth Gulf. The $300 million-plus Gascoyne Gateway development aims to increase Australia’s defence capabilities by making the port accessible to Navy ships, submarines and Border Force vessels.
The port would also service Exmouth Gulf’s existing marine traffic, including tourist vessels, cruise ships and super yachts.
If approved, the single-jetty deepwater port and renewables hub would be located 10 kilometres south of Exmouth township.
Gascoyne Gateway is a wholly Australian-owned company, led by people with decades of port management experience. They have already attracted about 60 investors, many from within the veteran community.
Co-founder and managing director Captain Michael Edwards OAM is himself a veteran, having served in the Royal Australian Navy from 1979 to 2004.
The project’s eco credentials
Planning submissions claim the port will immediately deliver a net environmental benefit by introducing better regulation of existing marine traffic in the Gulf, including regulating the movement of larger vessels and their associated impacts.
The port will also reduce shipping emissions through more efficient freight solutions, reducing long-haul trucks on the roads and road freight transport emissions.
And while many ports around the world only retrospectively introduce carbon-neutral and regenerative initiatives once the infrastructure has been put in place, plans for the Gascoyne Gateway include several regenerative schemes built in from construction through to operation.
These include regenerative habitat options for local flora and fauna and plans to develop a solar farm and battery storage to power the jetty.
Renewable energy will be used to produce potable water for the local community and to replenish local aquifers.
There has been some community and conservation group backlash, and the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) announced the Gateway port proposal would be subject to the highest possible level of assessment.
This will entail a technical report and peer review, which will be open to a public comment process.
Edwards says this is a chance to demonstrate the development’s commitment to environmental management and put it to the ultimate test.
The project has engaged former EPA chair, Dr Ray Steedman, as an environmental consultant.
Potential benefits for the naval sector
There are geographical ties to Defence — with the Northwest Cape and Exmouth serving as an operational and strategic outcrop for Australia and its allies since World War II. Likewise, Learmonth Air Base and naval communications station are located in Exmouth.
Edwards says there are few viable logical options for refuelling warships between HMAS Stirling (650nm) and Darwin (1450nm); the Exmouth solution offers unconstrained access to the Indian Ocean with no navigation channels and quick access to submarine optimal diving depths.
“Moreover, the option of refuelling Collins class submarines in Exmouth would likely extend operational patrol ranges by up to two weeks while providing more rapid deployment to strategic choke points in archipelagic sea lanes to the north,” Edwards says.
He suggests the Australian Border Force would benefit from an option that projects a 40 per cent saving in operational fuel and running maintenance costs over those currently borne from Darwin-based operations.
Defence experts back the plans
While the project has yet to secure the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) commitment to using the facility if it’s built, the scheme is not without expert supporters.
The ADF former chief of Navy Vice-Admiral Russ Crane, who has worked with the team behind the proposal in the past, is one of the higher-profile veterans supporting the project. He believes the port has enormous potential to assist military and commercial interests.
“Having the ability to stage out of the closest point of Australia into South-East Asia saves an enormous amount of time, fuel, provisions, and it offers attractive benefits to our Navy in exercising in our primary area of interest,” Crane says.
Professor Gordon Flake, the founding chief executive of the Perth USAsia Centre at The University of Western Australia and one of the world’s leading authorities on strategic developments in the Indo-Pacific, also supports the additional facilities the Gateway would offer our allies.
He notes the largest naval base in Australia is near Perth and Fremantle and there are significant resources in Darwin, but there is nothing between these points. He says access to fuel alongside deep water and transport capabilities somewhere between these sites would be highly beneficial to the military.
The project has also drawn government interest, with former defence and foreign minister Stephen Smith mentioning the proposed port in his recent call for a Force Posture Review to ensure Australia’s military assets are well positioned.
“Having a port in that part of the world takes us closer to the Indonesian archipelago,” Smith said.
“From a submarine perspective, it means submarines don’t start their operation in Fremantle or in Port Adelaide, they start in the north-west of Western Australia.”
An Exmouth facility has also been acknowledged by rescue organisations as potentially providing unique capabilities to support submarine rescue operations in the north-west of WA.
“These would include proximity to areas suitable for submarine exercises and close proximity to RAAF Learmonth and one of the most capable airstrips in Australia that offers an air deployable capability to the marine facility we are building,” Edwards says.
“The port would also provide the ability to support logistics, fuel, provisions for rescue ships and suitable berth and wharf facilities to embark modules/containers.”
A final investment decision will be made in January 2023 with construction planned to commence later that year. The port is intended to be operational by early 2025 with the lifetime of the jetty expected to be 50 to 100 years.
Inside Defence, opportunities, challenges and new pacts
- The AUKUS agenda: domestic and international partnership implications beyond submarines
- AUKUS sets Australia on a new strategic path in the Indo-Pacific
- The complex challenges of Australia’s maritime defence
- Australia’s balancing act between our biggest trading partner and our most important ally
- $2m dollar funding boost, extension a boon for international projects
- Defence in $100m push to build sovereign capabilities
- The need for speed
- We want to build nuclear submarines, but what about everything else we have to build?
- Why we should be more vigilant about terrorism
- Tackling the growing threats to Australia’s cyber security