Freight Rail

Welcome to COVID normal, and here is why we need it to stay

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.

Governments and industry came together during the COVID-19 crisis in ways that few could have ever imagined let alone predicted. Empty supermarket shelves panicked the nation and the cry was heard to quickly consult and collaborate with industry to ensure essential supply for all Australian consumers.

The outcome for our industry was that freight continued to cross state boarders and into communities. Where others grappled with enduring obstacles, the freight industry worked incredibly closely with governments to, quite literally, continue to deliver.

Welcome to COVID normal.

The supply chain industry is now in a greatly enhanced position. It has achieved high levels of trust and quality relationships with governments, extending across a broader range of federal and state departments (including Home Affairs and Treasury) to table once difficult and long-drawn out discussions.

ALC is now calling on government to hold on to this new COVID normal and establish a formal process to collaborate with industry at the beginning of the policy development process – not the end.

The standard government process to addressing a problem or opportunity is to develop policy, implement that policy through regulation and/or legislation, then give industry the opportunity to address it through a Regulatory Impact Statement. COVID turned this on its head as the deep experience and understanding of industry was engaged from the beginning. Helping address the problem or the opportunity and working together to deliver sensible solutions.

When meaningful collaboration is the start of the process, as demonstrated throughout COVID, benefits fall to everyone.

Take the curfews example. The problem was too much noise, the early solution was to ban delivery at certain times or restrict access, particularly around residential areas.

Fast forward to 2020. If governments and Industry consulted on the same problem today the sensible resolution wouldn’t require regulation or legislation that ultimately costs the economy dearly. Modern demands would be met with modern remedies. These could include the use of much quieter electric vehicles and changing regulations on noisy reversing alarms by engaging new and widely available technologies like reversing cameras and proximity sensors. Sensible industry led solutions, recommended by industry experts.

The new ‘COVID-normal’ approach has delivered other benefits. It has exposed government decision makers to the professionalism, “can do” attitudes and high- calibre people that are fundamental to our industry. This has justifiably, and dramatically, increased the trust of senior bureaucrats, political leaders and governments in our industry.

Through this mechanism we can move beyond old-school default positions including those that unhelpfully immediately prioritise the movement of people over freight. What the COVID experience has shown us is that there are many circumstances in which the movement of people is far less critical than the movement of freight.

We must bank the trust dividend and ensure open conversations and collaboration across ministries and governments extend into the future. As has been amply demonstrated throughout this crisis, we achieve great things working together. COVID normal is here to stay. The benefits, hard won during the most difficult of times, must be preserved and put to work as Australia grows its way out of a recession with the full and essential support of the supply chain industry.

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