Where to from here?

Hal Morris

Much talk and bluster has been happening within hallowed halls of transport ministries and departments over the last few months.

The prime minister and premiers have made public commitments to be nation builders. Ministers have been meeting talking big picture reforms. Working groups have been beavering away with their heads in a huddle. Great promises have been made and possibilities mooted.

The ALC and NTC have both released documents identifying the priority reforms needing to be taken forward urgently.

But the question many people in the transport and logistics industry are asking is “Why is this any different from before?”

This is a very legitimate query.

The key issues hindering our supply chains have long been known, in particular:

• Ad hoc and modally based infrastructure decisions.

• A continued unwillingness from jurisdictions to synchronise regulation across borders or simplify red tape.

• Lack of long-term planning for our future infrastructure needs.

• A continued tendency for each mode to look after themselves, instead of working towards an enhanced freight supply chain.

There have been attempts to address these issues with varying success. The most recent of these was the AusLink reforms, which, while an improvement, stopped short of solving the problems.

The reforms were stymied by continued turf wars between state and federal governments and a focus on an expanded national network without truly considering the bigger picture, including ports and state and local infrastructure.

There is not only a need to get the basics right, but modern society is layering more complexity onto already convoluted systems. For example, increased security as well as occupational health and safety requirements are increasingly having an impact on transport and logistics.

So why is this time any different? Are big things really happening?

Well, there are certainly positive signs but it is still to be seen. The ducks are all lined up and the possibility for real reform is there.

All governments are politically aligned. State ministers have agreed to consider setting aside their state-based differences to reform the system including regulatory inconsistencies.

The Federal Government has set up Infrastructure Australia to independently advise governments on priorities.

Ministers are pressing forward with the National Transport Policy Framework, with bureaucrats working hard to provide them with strong advice on what needs to be done.

Industry has advised government on priorities including through the ALC’s National Industry Strategy and the Top 24 Supply Chain Blockages.

But talk and action are worlds apart and now is when the decisions start getting hard:

• Governments must realign their thinking to consider the whole supply chain and be national in basis.

• Rusted-on regulatory irregularities must be scraped off the system.

• Infrastructure must receive a higher priority in the budgets, both state and federal.

• Modal mindsets must be set aside by both industry and government agencies.

• Real long-term planning must occur and be acted on when complete.

And these are just the big picture items.

Industry must also act. We must clearly advocate for reform in a unified manner and we need to be willing to act in the areas that are best reformed by us, not government – for example, actioning national industry codes of conduct and investing in the supply chain.

When we speak about the need for reform of the current systems underpinning the transport and logistics industry all players agree, be they industry, government or academia. However, we must not underestimate how much vested interest there is in continuing current failings.

But now is the time to stop just talking the talk. It is time to walk the walk.

Meeting the challenge will be difficult. It will require hard decisions. But as a nation we cannot afford to continue to say it is too hard to fix the underlying problems.

The ALC has released the Top 24 Supply Chain Blockages following intense consultation with industry. Importantly, we have also indicated fixes. My challenge to all players, but particularly government, is to get on and do it. History will thank us.

If we don’t, history will say we wasted our real chance for real reform. Now is the time for action.

Top 24 Supply Chain Blockages

Infrastructure

1. Resources rail network: develop the rail network that is needed to serve a rapidly- growing resources sector.

2. North-south rail network: improve the service standards on the main north-south rail corridor to permit rail to a level at which rail will become the predominant mode for Melbourne–Brisbane traffic.

3. East–west rail network: expand the capacity of the east–west rail network to ensure that future growth can be accommodated without a deterioration of service standards.

4. Grain networks: clearly define the role of rail in the future carriage of grain exports and upgrade grain networks to ensure that this role can be performed efficiently.

5. Shipping channels: ensure that shipping channels serving all major ports are capable of serving the vessels of the size needed to carry our international trade efficiently

6. Short-haul rail: develop short-haul rail routes linking urban intermodal terminals and container ports to allow efficient rail operation, including where possible freight-only tracks and provision for double-stacking.

7. Rest areas: provide sufficient rest areas on all major highways to allow effective fatigue management while minimising any impact on the productivity of road haulage operations.

8. B-double and B-triple networks: accelerate the definition and implementation of a national B-triple network and ensure that the B-double network is extended to allow access from all significant pro duction facilities to major freight routes.

Regulation

1. Concessional limits: implement a programme of concessional limits for heavy road vehicles serving intermodal terminals to encourage the complementary use of road and rail modes.

2. Open access regimes: ensure that, wherever practical, all significant new transport infrastructure is subject to an open access regime, and develop improved regulatory processes to reduce the delays and costs to both access seekers and access providers.

3. Streamline PPP approvals: develop streamlined PPP approval processes to facilitate private investment in transport infrastructure.

4. Uniform rail standards: implement nationally uniform technical and safety standards for rail operations.

5. Road pricing: reform road pricing to facilitate the efficient use of road vehicles and appropriate allocation of the freight task between road and rail.

6. High-productivity vehicles: reduce the regulatory barriers to the introduction of innovative high-productivity vehicles.

7. Over-dimensional vehicles: adopt nationally consistent and less burdensome regulation to reduce the costs associated with the movement of over-dimensional vehicles.

8. Harmonise fatigue management: harmonise legislative processes and regulatory arrangements associated with the implementation of the national fatigue management system.

Planning

1. Identify intermodal terminal sites: identify the sites for strategic intermodal terminal development in all major cities and ensure that these sites are protected for future development.

2. Protect access corridors: define and protect the road and rail access corridors to all significant ports and strategic intermodal terminals.

3. Transport plan: build on and integrate the AusLink corridor strategies to provide a clear and comprehensive plan for transport infrastructure of national importance, including port access links.

4. Develop comprehensive strategies: develop comprehensive freight and logistics strategies covering both rural and urban freight movements in all states.

5. Fast-track planning: effectively implement in each state fast-track planning processes for transport infrastructure of strategic economic significance.

6. Climate change: undertake a comprehensive national assessment of the effect of climate change on transport infrastructure and develop strategies for managing this effect to minimise the impact on infrastructure cost and reliability.

7. Coastal shipping: develop coastal shipping plans to accommodate growth and efficiency.

8. Real-time information: capture accurate real-time information for infrastructure and planning use.

Hal Morris is the chief executive of the Australian Logistics Council.

* Excerpted from Australasian Freight Logistics Issue 12, June/July 2008 (pp.14-5)

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