The Chris Corrigan-backed Qube Logistics and stevedoring company Hutchison Ports have made a shortlist of four bidders vying for the right to operate a new $1.2 billion container terminal in Melbourne.
In a further step towards breaking the duopoly on Australia's waterfront, the Port of Melbourne has released the identities of the four groups that have made the shortlist, which also includes a Macquarie-backed consortium and another group that comprises Anglo Ports and an Asian ports operator.
The bidders are competing for the right to operate the third terminal at Webb Dock East, which will be mandated to shift at least 1 million containers each year.
The four shortlisted bidders will have to lodge their proposals in September and the winner is expected to be announced early next year.
Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing's Hutchison Ports is expected to be the leading contender.
The deep-pocketed stevedore has already won the right to be the third operator in Sydney and Brisbane, in a big challenge to Asciano's Patrick stevedoring division and DP World.
Hutchison recently opened its terminal at Fisherman Islands in Brisbane and wants to do likewise at Port Botany by the end of this year. Commonwealth Bank analyst Matt Crowe said Hutchison was the "hot favourite" to become the third operator in Melbourne.
"You would think that having all three slots [at the major ports on the east coast] would be a more compelling offer than someone having a sole terminal," he said.
The Port of Melbourne, the country's largest, is touting the third container terminal as the "jewel in the crown of Australian ports". Chief executive Stephen Bradford said the expressions of interest confirmed the "strategic significance of operating at terminals" at the port.
The third terminal is the major part of a $1.6 billion makeover of the port. It includes about 30 hectares of waterfront and an empty container facility. The first container ship is expected to dock at the third terminal in late 2016.