The Australian Logistics Council’s CEO, Kirk Coningham, explains how the industry has been on the front foot during a time of crisis.
Like every other industry, Australia’s freight and logistics sector has spent recent weeks grappling with the realities of doing business in a changed world.
While for many this has meant transitioning to working from home arrangements, contemplating shifts from bricks and mortar retail arrangements to online sales in retail, and a changed focus for hospitality businesses towards takeaway and delivery sales, the challenge for this sector is somewhat different.
The simple reality is this; those on the front line of Australia’s freight logistics industry can’t work from home. Our ports, stevedores, road, rail, and air freight operators are working tirelessly to keep supply chains flowing and make sure Australian communities can access the goods they need day-to-day.
As challenging as the COVID-19 crisis is, it would be far worse without the dedicated support and service offered by those working in Australia’s logistics industry.
All levels of government have made it clear that freight transport and logistics remain an essential service. In turn, this means that those who are working around the clock to support households and communities at this challenging time deserve the strongest levels of support and flexibility from governments and from the wider community.
In the difficult circumstances that all of us are currently enduring, the health and security of our workforce must remain paramount.
As instances of panic buying occurred in the early days of the COVID-19 event, it was distressing to hear instances of transport workers and in-store retail personnel being accosted by angry consumers.
The current situation is having an impact on the day-to-day lives of all Australians – and perhaps it is inevitable that this is causing frustration and irritation for some. However, taking those frustrations out on delivery drivers or retail workers is completely unacceptable.
Far more positive has been the determined and collegiate way in which all parts of the supply chain have worked effectively to address challenges as they have arisen, to ensure that freight can continue getting to the places it needs to go, efficiently and safely.
This has included working to remove barriers that prevented overnight deliveries to supermarkets and retail outlets such as noise curfews that stopped heavy vehicle access and the use of loading docks. Industry worked quickly with state and territory governments around Australia to either remove these curfews or have their enforcement suspended for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. This helped stock levels to recover and reduced the occurrence of panic buying.
The decision of several state and territory governments to effectively close their borders posed significant potential threats to the efficiency of freight movement on both road and rail.
Again, it was impressive to see the way that representatives of both modes set aside commercial considerations and worked collaboratively with industry groups to ensure restrictions on cross-border movement caused as little delay to freight movement as possible.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the COVID-19 situation is the uncertainty over its duration. Naturally, this causes anxiety in the community and makes business planning especially difficult.
However, what is certain is that in addition to ensuring the community can continue to access essential goods, the freight and logistics sector also has a vital role to play in providing economic opportunity.
Already, there is evidence of some pick-up in consumer demand and economic activity in China, which will remain a critical export market for Australia.
As we look to sustain Australian businesses and create employment opportunities, our freight sector will be essential in supporting our exporters’ efforts to get their goods into recovering markets. Governments and local communities must understand the importance of their task as part of Australia’s economic recovery, and provide every support possible to help our workforce achieve it.