Kirk Coningham, CEO of the ALC, outlines why the current crisis should refocus attention on rail freight connectivity and the national supply chain.
As the effects of the COVID-19 crisis continue to unfold, the reality is that the world that emerges on the other side may look very different. In terms of the operation of Australia’s supply chains going forward, the pandemic is likely to force industry and governments to more urgently consider some key questions.
Already, there is some commentary about the extent to which Australia relies on China, both for the import of manufactured goods and as an export destination. Although Australia has concluded trade agreements with other key growth markets over recent years, including Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia, there remain opportunities to expedite similar arrangements with India and the United Kingdom.
This would stimulate further employment growth in Australia’s key export sectors, help to further diversify our supply chains and enhance their resilience.
Some of the disruptions to the global supply chain that we witnessed in the earliest days of the COVID-19 crisis may also give Australian companies reason to consider the global- local balance within their supply chains – and engineer an uptick in certain aspects of local manufacturing that, prior to COVID-19, was thought by some to be in terminal decline.
These factors should spur consideration in the rail freight sector about infrastructure projects that need to be prioritised, not only to promote employment growth, but to support Australia’s export and manufacturing efforts going forward.
These should include enhancing the connectivity of the Inland Rail project currently under construction with key ports – particularly the provision of a dedicated freight rail link connecting Acacia Ridge and the Port of Brisbane.
Similarly, increased investment in on-dock rail and construction of intermodal hinterland terminals serving major ports around Australia will help to address road congestion in many of our cities.
The level and sophistication of technology in our supply chains is likely to be another discussion with a renewed sense of urgency in the wake of the COVID-19 experience, particularly if the pandemic and its attendant restrictions endure for longer than initially forecast.
The automation and digitalisation of manual and paper-based processes will become especially important if the impacts of COVID-19 affect labour supplies in the freight and logistics sector. Progressing the implementation of the Advanced Train Management System (ATMS) on the interstate freight rail network will certainly permit the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) to enhance the safety and reliability of the network, while simultaneously boosting its capacity.
COVID-19 had unquestionably had a disruptive impact on the operation of many businesses, and this will undoubtedly alter the operation of supply chains in the months ahead. However, the challenges also present a clear opportunity to boost the resilience of our supply chains through enhanced infrastructure, so that they can better serve our communities. As an industry, we should not be afraid to pursue those opportunities in partnership with governments.