Freight Rail, Safety, Standards & Regulation

Big reforms without a big price tag

CEO of the ALC Kirk Coningham outlines how governments could make significant reforms to unlock freight and logistics networks.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an expensive experience for governments around the nation. Budgets that were in surplus or close to balance have been pushed firmly back into the red, and this will undoubtedly affect the policy choices governments make in the months and years to come.

Yet, significant reforms don’t have to be accompanied by a big spend. As governments turn their minds to policy actions needed to hasten the pace of Australia’s economic recovery, there is significant opportunity to achieve regulatory reforms that will be of lasting benefit to the freight and logistics sector.

Developing a set of National Planning Principles was a key action to emerge from the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy released last year. Establishing these presents us with an opportunity to achieve a better balance and ensure that freight movement is properly integrated as part of a more nationally consistent approach to planning.

A key outcome flowing from the establishment of National Planning Principles must be to enshrine distinct planning recognition for freight and logistics lands within all state and territory planning schemes.

Of course, these new National Planning Principles would be significantly strengthened by the development of a National Corridor Protection Strategy.

A consistent national approach to corridor protection is essential to achieving the planning reforms that the freight logistics industry needs. Effective corridor protection not only serves to prevent future community discord over land use; it can also deliver significant savings for taxpayers when it comes to the cost of building infrastructure.

Infrastructure Australia underscored this fact in 2017, when it found that close to $11 billion could be saved on land purchases and construction costs for seven future infrastructure priorities listed on the Infrastructure Priority List if swift action was taken to preserve relevant corridors.

Now is also an ideal time to pursue harmonisation of regulations that govern freight movement as it transits across to the continent.

To take one example, the 2018 Review of Rail Access Regimes, published by the then Department of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development noted there were roughly 150 different environmental regulations that rail operators must comply with when operating rollingstock between Perth and Brisbane.

Clearly, there are cost savings and other efficiencies to be gained by moving towards a single set of laws across jurisdictions governing environmental regulation, workplace health and safety, workers’ compensation, and drug and alcohol testing for the freight and logistics sector. The new-found spirit of cooperation engendered through the National Cabinet process should now be harnessed to secure that outcome.

In a constrained budgetary atmosphere such as that which is likely to endure for several years in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more important that governments drive though low-cost regulatory reforms that will still deliver tangible benefits to the freight and logistics sector, and to the wider community.

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