Unions and industry associations have proposed extra protections for rail workers as the response to COVID-19 continues across Australia. Read more
COVID-19 broke down long standing curfew policy barriers in record time because they made sense to both the supply chain industry and communities alike, writes ALC CEO Kirk Coningham.
While states and territories have committed to initiatives to implement the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy (NFSCS), a lack of deadlines means there remain gaps in the national approach behind the strategy, the Australian Logistics Council (ALC) has found. Read more
CEO of the ALC Kirk Coningham writes that significant efficiencies can be found without massive spending.
Among the many disruptions wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic was the need to defer the 2020-21 Commonwealth budget, which will now be handed down some five months later than originally scheduled.
As always, ALC made a submission to the federal government ahead of the originally planned date. This was well before the full effects of the pandemic reached Australian shores and our industry faced the challenge of keeping essential supplies moving, despite unprecedented restrictions on movement and the effect of state and territory border closures.
All of us – governments, industry and the wider community – have learned lessons as a result of the COVID-19 experience. Perhaps more than ever before, communities now understand the very real and immediate impact that supply chain disruption can have on their daily life.
As consumers witnessed empty supermarket shelves as a result of unprecedented demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a clear need to ensure that logistics operators are given the flexibility to they need to meet increased and changing demand.
This is equally true right across the supply chain – from deliveries into supermarket loading docks through to the movement of freight trains across state borders.
Perhaps the single most effective government action taken during the pandemic to address supply chain disruption did not involve massive expenditure, but simply the removal of operational curfews through non- legislative ministerial action.
Industry has called for the removal of such operational restrictions over many years. With many of them suspended for the duration of the pandemic, both government and the community have been able to see the benefits.
As the Prime Minister himself noted in June this year: “Trucks were allowed to resupply along roads and during hours where they were previously banned. And the sun came up the next day. It was extraordinary.”
This goes to the heart of the key point ALC has made to the federal government ahead of this year’s Budget.
With the pandemic having placed the nation’s finances in a challenging position, this is the time to focus on regulatory reform that may not cost big money – but can nevertheless have a profound impact on supply chain efficiency.
The need for such regulatory reform was a key focus of ALC’s pre-budget submission in January – and the urgency of that task has been underscored in the supplementary submission provided to the federal government in August.
In the rail space, this includes supporting the development of a National Rail Plan that will finally establish a single set of consistent national laws to regulate the movement of freight by rail in Australia that address environmental regulation, workplace health and safety, workers’ compensation and drug and alcohol testing.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated border closures have put a spotlight on the disruption that can be caused by inconsistent regulatory approaches between jurisdictions. The upcoming federal budget is the place to start work that will finally make the changes needed to overcome such disruptions.
ALC CEO Kirk Coningham highlights how a united freight industry has achieved a common-sense protocol for border safety.
The COVID-19 pandemic has required all of us to deal with scenarios and situations that were hard or even impossible to anticipate.
Of course, the freight and logistics industry has long-held concerns about some of the complexities that arise from having to comply with multiple regulatory regimes as freight crosses the border from one state or territory into another. Yet the closure of those same borders at the onset of the pandemic has forced the industry to confront and adapt to a whole new set of requirements.
The fast-moving nature of the COVID-19 challenge has also required governments and regulatory authorities to move speedily – and in some instances, this has led to the imposition of rules that are simply incompatible with the realities of freight transport.
Over the past several months, ALC has worked with its members, regulatory authorities and allied industry groups to build support among governments for a nationally consistent approach that will protect the health of the freight transport sector’s workforce and the wider community, while still ensuring that our industry can get the job done.
Those efforts bore fruit in late July when the National Cabinet gave its endorsement to a Domestic Border Control Freight Movement Protocol.
The protocol has been endorsed by chief health officers from all state and territories and clearly outlines measures that all states and territories agree will allow freight to move safely and efficiently across borders.
This includes a number of common- sense measures which ALC has pursued throughout the pandemic. These include the ‘waive through’ of freight vehicles at borders, standardising the duration of border crossing permits, mutual recognition of COVIDsafe work plans developed in other jurisdictions, and not requiring rail crews to quarantine or self- isolate when crossing borders if they have not developed COVID-19 symptoms.
Obtaining agreement to this protocol has only been possible because our industry has been able to clearly and convincingly demonstrate its commitment to COVIDsafe practices to governments nation-wide.
In particular, the members of our Safety Committee provided crucial support by offering compelling examples of the extensive efforts being undertaken by freight and logistics companies to make their operations COVIDsafe. This gave policymakers added confidence that our industry takes its obligations seriously
and understands the importance of COVIDsafe behaviour in protecting the wider community. The importance of having COVID testing available for freight workers frequently crossing borders is also recognised, and the protocol calls for states and territories to offer ‘pop-up’ testing facilities in appropriate locations.
Importantly, the protocol also requires authorities to consult with industry to understand the effect and impacts of potential changes ahead of any new directions being been put place.
It will be vital for governments to follow this requirement if we are to avoid some of the confusion that has been witnessed throughout the pandemic, especially in instances where border requirements were changed with inadequate notice to industry.
All parties should respect the outcome of the latest reviews into Inland Rail, and get on with the transformational project, writes ALC CEO Kirk Coningham.
In mid-June, Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered a major economic address in which he announced that to hasten the pace of Australia’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery, the federal government would move to cut approval times for projects under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
At the end of 2019, approval processes associated with this act were taking an average of 90 days – the Prime Minister has committed to reducing this to 30 days by the end of 2020.
At the same time, the Prime Minister also unveiled a list of 15 major infrastructure projects nationally that are on what he termed the “fast track” for expedited approval under a bilateral model agreed between federal, state, and territory governments.
At the top of this list was the Inland Rail project, which regular readers of Rail Express will know is one of the most iconic freight infrastructure projects ever undertaken and will play a significant role in modernising our supply chains. Inland Rail will allow a transit time of 24 hours or less for freight trains between Melbourne and Brisbane via regional Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland.
Yet, with construction on the project already underway, some groups are now attempting to have changes on the Border to Gowrie section of the route in Queensland.
Despite the fact that extensive and independent analysis of corridor options has previously confirmed the route chosen in 2017 is the best option, there is now a further review taking place at the request of the federal government.
The whole point of constructing Inland Rail is to provide a safe and efficient freight rail link for Australia’s east coast that permits a transit time of 24 hours or less for freight between Melbourne and Brisbane. Altering the route to the more complex one being advocated by some will make travel times longer and will make construction a more complicated and costly exercise.
This latest review process seems to run counter to efforts to expedite the construction of Inland Rail, and unlock the economic, employment and regional development opportunities that the project offers to areas that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The enormously successful Inland Rail Conference presented by ALC and the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) in Toowoomba last year clearly demonstrated a high level of support for the project from the communities along its proposed alignment. Many local businesses have already been making investment decisions based on the route chosen in 2017.
Eleventh-hour attempts to alter the approved route of the Inland Rail project are causing uncertainty for investors and local communities, placing a brake on employment growth and regional development opportunities at a time the economy can least afford it.
Inland Rail has been talked about for decades. The last thing local communities or the economy need now is for those benefits to be placed at risk by endless reviews of modelling that has already been thoroughly examined and re-examined.
Once this latest review of the is concluded, it is incumbent on all parties to respect its outcomes and turn their attentions to expediting construction. That way, this once-in-a-generation freight rail project can start delivering benefits for local workers, businesses, exporters and consumers that are now needed more than ever.
The NSW government has given planning approval for the Botany Rail Duplication and the Cabramatta Passing Loop.
Both projects will be delivered by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) with shortlisted contractor expected to be invited to tender shortly, Peter Winder, group executive Interstate Network at ARTC.
“These two landmark projects will encourage a shift in freight share from road to rail, to help rail carry more of Sydney’s freight growth and associated traffic congestion and support growth in the containerised freight task and port-shuttle rail services between Port Botany and intermodal terminals such as at Enfield, Moorebank, Minto and Chullora.”
The project will allow for freight trains up to 1,300 metres in length to pass between Cabramatta and Warwick Farm and enable Port Botany to handle increasing freight loads by rail, said Minister for Transport and Roads Andrew Constance.
“As the state’s largest container port, the efficient operation of Port Botany is critical. Forecasts predict a whopping 77 per cent increase in the amount of freight it handles from 14.4 million tonnes in 2016 to 25.5 million tonnes by 2036.”
The dual projects were one of a number of NSW rail projects that received fast-tracked planning approvals. According to Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole the projects will allow more freight to be carried by rail.
“These projects are crucial because more freight is moved on rail lines and congestion is busted with fewer trucks on our roads,” he said.
“This project will not only provide new rail infrastructure but will inject around $400 million into the economy and create around 500 local jobs during construction.”
The Cabramatta Loop will be completed by mid-2023 and the Botany Rail Duplication will be completed by late 2024.
Australian Logistics Council CEO Kirk Coningham welcomed the announcement.
“Duplicating the remaining 2.9-kilometre single track section of the Botany Line between Mascot and Botany and constructing a new passing loop on the Southern Sydney Freight Line at Cabramatta will inject greater efficiency and capacity into the freight network and help to meet NSW’s growing freight demands,” he said.
“The delivery of these projects by the Australian Rail Track Corporation will further encourage freight owners to transport more containers by rail and will build on significant investments NSW Ports has already made to increase port-side rail capacity.”
Inconsistency in the application of border controls for freight movements are creating delays and confusion for rail freight operators.
After the national cabinet endorsed a national protocol for freight movement over closed borders on July 24, which recommended that government agencies should consult with industry in relation to border controls, changes have occurred without consultation, said Australian Logistics Council (ALC) CEO Kirk Coningham.
“The lack of consultation directly contravenes the national protocol that all state and territories agreed to.”
Coningham said that a lack of consistency was creating confusion.
“It is especially concerning that some jurisdictions have now mandated negative COVID-19 test results for drivers coming from Victoria, yet Victorian authorities are explicitly discouraging anyone who is asymptomatic from obtaining a COVID-19 test,” he said.
“This leaves freight vehicle drivers travelling interstate from Victoria in an impossible position of being unable to comply with the requirements of one government because of the instructions given by another.”
Currently, South Australia is requiring those providing commercial transport and freight services who travel from Victoria to have a COVID-19 test within the last seven days of crossing the border.
Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie said that consistency was vital to enable the efficient operation of supply chains.
“Delays at the border or differing approaches across the country frustrate those efforts at a time when we rely on our rail freight network more than ever.”
The national protocol sets out that COVID-19 tests should be made available to rail crew, and that routine testing should be required for those planning on entering or leaving hot spots. States and territories should also provide pop-up testing facilities that do not add undue time to the journey.
Wilkie said that delays at the border can have a significant impact on freight operations.
“It is essential state and territory border restrictions account for the vitally important role of the rail freight sector and make sure operators have consistent protocols to follow as they travel across the country.”
A joint national protocol to enable smooth freight movement over closed borders has been agreed upon by state and territory governments and the Commonwealth.
The national Protocol for Domestic Border Controls – Freight Movements establishes a common set of agreements for freight operators that are transporting goods across state borders that have been closed due to coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreaks.
The national protocol outlines that rail crew will not be required to quarantine or self-isolate for two weeks, unless they develop symptoms of COVID-19 or were in close contact with a case.
Rail crew who are crossing borders or travelling through hotspots should be required to keep a record of close contacts and should minimise non-essential contacts.
Freight operators are encouraged to have a COVIDsafe workplan which will be mutually recognised by state and territory governments.
If further changes are necessary, state and territory governments are encouraged to consult with industry to understand the impact of potential changes.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that the protocol was the result of collaboration between government and industry.
“This is a great demonstration of how governments and industry are working together to ensure much-needed goods keep making their way to communities during the pandemic whilst keeping the health and safety of all Australians front and centre.”
Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport Scott Buchholz said that with various and rapidly changing requirements, the protocol would enable the efficient operation of supply chains across Australia.
“We know this has been tough a time for the industry, with our freight operators often required to cross multiple internal borders in a single trip – facing the critical domestic border controls state and territory governments have had to operate to stem the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
“Aligning state and territory measures through this protocol will ensure smoother inter-state journeys for our freight operators and reduce delays in the supply chain.”
Australian Logistics Council (ALC) CEO Kirk Coningham said the organisation had been working to ensure that freight continues to move when border restrictions were put in place.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined just how vital efficient, safe and resilient supply chain operations are to Australia. Yet the closure of state borders and imposition of restrictions during the pandemic has added complexity and duplication of processes associated with freight transport,” said Coningham.
Interstate border closures were a feature of the first wave of COVID-19 shutdowns in March, with freight operators required to fill out arrival forms.
In early July, when NSW closed its border for the first time with Victoria due to the outbreak in Melbourne, permits were required for rail freight staff crossing the border. This initially also required rail staff to self-isolate, however this was then overturned.
Coningham said the new protocol will reduce future confusion.
“The protocol’s explicit acknowledgement that authorities should consult with industry to understand the effect and impacts of potential changes ahead of any new directions being been put place is significant. Adherence to this commitment will be essential to avoid some of the confusion that has been witnessed throughout the pandemic, as border requirements were changed with inadequate notice to industry,” he said.
“ALC is pleased that these principles are all enshrined in the protocol that has been agreed to today. We also welcome the protocol’s commitment to mutual recognition of COVIDsafe workplans developed in other jurisdictions, and to standardising the duration and conditions of border permits.”
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.