State, territory and federal infrastructure and transport ministers have released an enforceable code for the border control of freight movements; however, differences remain.
The code follows the previously released protocol and specifies the measures that states and territories will enforce to ensure freight can keep moving during COVID-19 while ensuring the virus does not spread.
The code aligns previously disparate measures that individual states and territories had adopted, particularly after the outbreak of a second wave of COVID-19 in Victoria, said Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport Scott Buchholz.
“Aligning state and territory measures through this Code will help reduce delays in the supply chain, ensuring our freight operators can keep moving safely and efficiently.”
Under the code, states and territories will not require freight workers, including rail crew, to self-isolate when travelling across a border, although workers are advised to keep contacts to a practical minimum.
Other common measures include the requirement for a valid border permit and record keeping by the driver and operator of a freight train of recent contacts.
Australian Logistics Council CEO Kirk Coningham said that the alignment of requirements across borders was welcome.
“The confirmation that workers will not need to go into quarantine or formal self-isolation in any jurisdiction is also especially important in minimising disruptions to freight movement. ALC also welcomes the Code’s commitment to the mutual recognition of COVIDSafe workplans between jurisdictions,” said Coningham.
Testing requirements remained an area of difference. While Queensland has mandated tests on a seven day rolling basis for those coming from hotspots, Victoria will not provide testing for asymptomatic freight workers. In WA, tests are mandated on a seven day rolling basis for those crossing the border and in NSW tests are encouraged. Upon arrival into a state, testing requirements also differ, with testing mandated within 24 hours in South Australia and within 48 hours after entering WA.
Conginham said that the federal government may be required to step in to assist testing in Victoria.
“With the extraordinary pressures on Victoria’s testing capacity at present, it may be appropriate for the Federal Government to provide the state with some additional support to help make this happen, in the interests of national supply chain efficiency,” he said.
“ALC remains deeply concerned that not providing testing for asymptomatic drivers in Victoria will make it extraordinarily difficult for freight workers to meet border requirements imposed by other states and could lead to supply chain disruptions.”
Chair of the Freight on Rail Group (FORG) Dean Dalla Valle also welcomed the protocol and code and the efforts of governments to enable freight to continue moving on rail.
“The only additional measure our sector would strongly recommend in the coming days and weeks is for extra resources to be thrown at more widespread and rapid COVID testing; albeit we appreciate testing regimes in states like Victoria have understandably been stretched to the limit,” he said.
“It was therefore very pleasing to see the new national protocol includes states and territories providing pop up testing facilities at rail freight terminals/depots where they can be accommodated.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the crisis had shown how Australia relied upon the efficient movement of freight.
“The work our freight operators do keeps our shelves stocked and our local economies running,” he said.
“Streamlining the process for crossing borders will make life easier for our freight operators.”
Dalla Valle said that government had to be brought up to speed on the requirements of rail freight.
“For instance, in any given day, numerous train crews and support staff must cross state borders in light vehicles to meet interstate services or return to home base after a shift,” said Dalla Valle.
“For example, a train crew based in Broken Hill will regularly cross in South Australia by car to relieve another crew on the Trans-Australian Railway, and vice-versa. Similarly train crews in south western NSW often cross into northern Victoria by car to meet bulk grain services on the Murray Basin Rail network.”
These realities have led train crews to keep themselves isolated and follow strict hygiene practices. This has enabled rail to continue to move freight across borders and minimise the spread of COVID-19.