Environment and Sustainability, Freight Rail

Summer events show need for resilience focus

Kirk Coningham, CEO of the Australian Logistics Council, outlines how the effects of this summer will continue to be felt in the freight rail sector.

It is reasonable to say that many Australians have experienced a challenging beginning to 2020, and the flow-on effects are likely to affect our industry in a variety of ways over the months ahead.

The bushfires that burned through vast swathes of the continent had a devastating impact on families, local communities, and businesses. The immediate scale of the tragedy is recorded in lives and homes lost and understandably, that is where the initial focus of recovery efforts has been.

Yet in some respects, that is only the beginning of the story. With the fires now extinguished and the immediate physical threat having passed, it is becoming apparent that recovery efforts – and the cost of those efforts – will be significant.

These costs will include significant repairs that will have to be undertaken to repair damaged transport infrastructure.

Throughout the early weeks of this year, ALC has been participating in regular industry discussions convened by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Development, Michael McCormack, which are focused on providing industry advice and assistance to the federal government in shaping its recovery response to the fire crisis.

What was already a difficult beginning to 2020 is now being further compounded by the challenges associated with the coronavirus.

As in the case of the fires, the initial focus is on protecting lives through containment and quarantine efforts. Yet, as with the fires, once the immediate threat is contained, there will be significant economic effects to consider.

Australia’s freight rail sector plays a crucial role in getting imported freight
to customers, as well as transporting Australian products to the point of export. The disruptive effects of an episode like the coronavirus have obvious flow-on effects across the whole supply chain – and these will need to be managed effectively and responsibly.

Over recent weeks, experts have warned that the ongoing restrictions on the movement of goods and people in China – our largest trading partner – are likely to adversely impact Australia’s agricultural exports. The effects are also being felt in other export sectors, including minerals and resources.

On the other side of the coin, restrictions on the departure of vessels from China means those importing goods to Australia – and road transport businesses which supply them – are also likely to feel a slowdown.

Improving the resilience of Australia’s supply chains to withstand the effects of natural disasters and international events was clearly identified in the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy released last year.

It was a theme echoed in the 2020 Infrastructure Priority List released by Infrastructure Australia in February. The updated list placed a renewed emphasis on enhancing the capacity of national infrastructure to cope with disruptive events – whether they be as a result of natural disasters or through other unexpected events such, as global epidemics or terrorism.

The early part of 2020 was a powerful demonstration of why our governments must join with industry in acting more urgently to address that challenge.

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