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State Government Takes Control of Lower Portland Ferry Operations

Apr 4, 2024

The NSW Government is to take control of the Lower Portland Ferry after months of mismanagement and the cessation of ferry services for three months.

The NSW government today announced it had given the Lower Portland Ferry a lifeline and will step in to manage the service to “secure its future for the local community.”

The free car ferry crosses the Hawkesbury River and is a vital link for commuters, tourists and during emergencies. It allows firefighters and paramedics to access communities and offers a safe and convenient passage for residents.

The NSW government will now take control of the Lower Portland Ferry

As the key route between the Hawkesbury and the Hills Shire, it’s also an important driver of the local economy, supporting tourism, businesses and locals getting to and from work. Around 500 vehicular trips are made each week, saving hundreds of locals more than half an hour of travel time, with the closest alternate crossing point at Sackville. 

The service, currently operated by HCC and jointly funded by HCC and Hills Council, was facing an uncertain future. The NSW government had provided additional funding in recent years but this was now in doubt. Both councils had previously expressed a desire for the government to operate the service.

The ferry has been out of service for maintenance since January and was not expected to return until around mid-April. In the middle of last year, the HCC failed to issue a new tender for a new contract to operate the ferry at the end of its contract nor had they made plans for critical maintenance required under regulations to keep the ferry operating beyond April 2024. Additionally the council had made no plans, in the event of any maintenance, for a loan or replacement ferry. 

Transport for NSW said it is working closely with Hawkesbury City Council on arrangements to transfer the service to NSW Government ownership later this year and ensure there is minimal disruption to service.

Both Federal Member for Macquarie Susan Templeman and Member for the Hawkesbury Robyn Preston had advocated for the NSW government to assume management of the ferry.

Templeman welcomed the decision. “For years this has been a source of anxiety for residents, with many calls to the previous Liberal government to remove the operation of the ferry from Hawkesbury Council, in order to provide security of service. 

“It’s taken a Labor State Government to resolve this issue, which ensures long-term peace of mind for locals, and I thank Transport Minister Jo Haylen for her leadership,” she said.

Haylen said: “We’re so pleased to be keeping the Lower Portland Ferry afloat and ensuring it stays in service. This means communities around Lower Portland, the Hawkesbury and Colo Rivers retain a vital link during emergencies, and fast travel times for those who use the route regularly.

“This crucial and beloved ferry’s future was under a cloud and suffering maintenance issues, and there was a real risk under the current arrangements that it would be discontinued. The ferry has been part of the landscape since the nineteenth century and now it will continue to serve the local community into the future,” she said.

Preston told parliament in February that the Labor government needed to accept responsibility for the Lower Portland ferry. “I appeal to the Treasurer in the other place, Premier MInns and the MInister for Transport to factor this ongoing cost into the next State budget. Currently the Lower Portland ferry is out of service for 12 weeks for cyclical maintenance. That takes a toll on locals who have to make alternative arrangements for such a long period because a substitute vessel has not been secured,” she said.

Earlier this week Templeman wrote to the NSW Minister for Transport asking her to review the previous government’s decision to privatise other ferry services – including the Wisemans Ferry, Webbs Creek Ferry and Sackville Ferry currently operated by Birdon. 

“In my view privatising these services was not in the public interest and they need to be within the responsibility of Transport for NSW to manage and operate. I therefore urge you to take the action needed for the NSW government to own and operate the vehicular ferries in the Hawkesbury,” she wrote.

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