Code commits states and territories to keep freight flowing

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.

National protocol to reduce cross-border freight confusion

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.”

Freight industry shaping supply chain strategy

The federal Freight Industry Reference Panel has met for the first time to progress industry input into the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy.

According to panel chair John Fullerton, the work of the panel will cover all modes.

“Our advice to government will present a holistic, cross-network, multi-modal view and I look forward to working with these members on this critical goal.”

The panel, announced in June, will provide expertise on the delivery of the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy, the agenda for government and industry action in freight for the next 20 years. These actions include investment, improved supply chain efficiency, better planning, coordination, and regulation, and more precise freight location and performance data.

The plan has been developed to grapple with a 35 per cent growth in freight volume between 2018 and 2040 and the changing profile of freight to more urban freight. At the same time, freight productivity and costs have plateaued, reducing competitiveness of exports.

“As we act to respond to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, we also need to maintain our focus on meeting our long-term freight challenges to support a bigger and more productive Australia and to secure a prosperous future for this critical industry,” said Fullerton.

“That’s why we’ll be working hard to ramp-up momentum on the strategy, with each of the panel members bringing a depth of knowledge and a range of experiences from across all freight modes and supply chains.”

Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport Scott Buchholz said that the shared and collaborative experience of COVID-19 for the freight industry highlighted the importance of working across government and industry.

“The strategy is important now more than ever to support this critical industry and indeed the entire nation by driving real improvements to Australia’s freight productivity, because that is good for jobs and the economy,” he said.

“The panel has an important role driving ambition for the strategy and acting as a vital conduit for industry views and providing independent advice on progress made.

“I look forward to seeing the panel’s work progress as we continue working hard to implement this critical strategy to achieve better outcomes for our national freight supply chain.”