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Chairman inducted into the Australian Maritime Hall of Fame

19 November 2015

Prior to 1985, ports were the business of governments, owned and often operated as arms of the state by port authorities and their ministerial masters. But in that year, Malaysia decided that it had a problem which needed a radical solution.

The country had very strong trade growth prospects, but the government in Kuala Lumpur could not easily spare the capital to develop the infrastructure needed to develop Port Klang.

 In 1986, Malaysia’s Port Klang became the first container port in the world to be handed over to a private contractor, Conaust Australia, under a long term agreement.  The man who had masterminded it was Captain Richard Setchell, the managing director of the Conaust project.  By the 1980’s Conaust Australia had bought out its partners and competitors and became established as a major terminal operator.

Upon Richard’s return to Australia in 1987 he was appointed as Chairman and Managing Director of Conaust Ltd which was soon to be renamed P&O Ports and from then he set about delivering an ambitious plan to expand to all five continents and become the largest operator of container terminals in the world.

Within a decade, more than a hundred ports around the world had moved from government to private hands, 20 of them managed by P&O Ports — which had become if not the biggest by volume then at least the most diversified box port operator in the world.

The private investment concept also turned out to be enormously flexible. In the 1980s, it was mostly smaller container ports in Asia and the developing world with very high rates of future growth that turned to the private financing and development model.  In the 1990s, it spread to more mature port industries in Europe and North America.

In the 2000s, the major port operators started buying each other – and P&O Ports, which started on the back of an envelope in Sussex Street Sydney, was sold to Dubai’s DP World in 2005 for $7. 7 billion dollars, a very strong multiple which marked a high point for the price of assets like this.

By this time, Richard had retired, and was last seen driving a tractor on his farm somewhere near Kiama in NSW.  Or so we thought. In fact, he was shortly back in the game with his own Anglo Ports operation in alliance with Manila-based ICTSI.

He thought the time was right to break the container terminal duopoly he had done so much to build in Australia.  As it turned out, Anglo Ports was the first to do so, though Anglo Ports was an energetic proponent of any port project going and did a great deal to make the intellectual case for ending the duopoly era.

However, recently, Richard achieved a major success when Anglo Ports was announced as a joint-concession winner, together with ICTSI, to build a new facility at Webb Dock, Melbourne.  Anglo Ports left behind some serious international competition with its winning proposal.  In February this year, Anglo Ports divested its shareholding in the joint venture, but remains engaged in other port investment opportunities in Australia and around the world.

Australia has a proud maritime history.

Few people know that the port industry in its modern privatised form was also invented in Australia, and that Richard Setchell was the man behind it.  It truly makes him not just an Australian maritime leader but a global leader as well.

Captain Richard Setchell is a worthy inductee into the Australian Maritime Hall of Fame and our congratulations go to him. 

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