Views from industry

Freight Industry Reference Panel Report

As governments and industry act to respond to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, we need to maintain focus on delivering on commitments under the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy. These commitments are critical to meeting our long-term freight challenges and helping Australia’s economic recovery.

COVID-19 has shown that rapid gains can be made for the freight sector when industry, the community and all levels of government work together. However, this should not lead to complacency — governments and industry need to build on and cement gains made to date, identify and remove roadblocks as they arise, and continue to look for opportunities to help freight move more efficiently.

The Industry Reference Panel would like to thank industry for participating in its National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy Survey. The survey found that the majority of respondents were aware of government initiatives against all Action Areas and believed that these initiatives were well targeted. However, the majority were unaware of what progress was being made. A summary of some of the issues raised in each of the four Action Areas included:

  1. Smarter and targeted investment — the need to ensure heavy vehicle road reform continues and access costs between road and rail are harmonised. Future proofing the transport sector in relation to a low carbon future was also raised as a key consideration.
  2. Enable improved supply chain efficiency — community acceptance of freight, national harmonisation and inconsistent application of COVID-19 border restrictions.
  3. Better planning, regulation and coordination — the disparity in the level of regulation and access charges across different transport modes as well as the need for a greater focus from government on land preservation for key corridors and intermodal terminals.
  4. Better freight location and performance data — progress towards the establishment of the National Freight Data Hub and the need for industry to share data in a consistent manner.

We are pleased to see the progress being made across a range of initiatives and for all transport modes, such as:

  • the release of the National Rail Action Plan and the fast tracking of the Port Botany rail line duplication
  • Queensland’s completion of two major upgrades on the Pacific Motorway and the completion of the third and final section of the NorthLink Western Australia road project
  • the commencement of construction of Inland Rail and the steps being taken to accelerate the works
  • the International Freight Assistance Mechanism which, while not specifically aligned to the Strategy, has kept Australia’s air freight moving when it would otherwise have ground to a halt
  • the planned commencement of construction of the North East Link in Victoria in early 2021
  • detailed planning around the new Bridgewater Bridge as well as the early completion of the Perth Links Road as part of the Tasmanian Midland 10 year plan, and
  • the release of the Westport Taskforce’s plan for a new port in Perth and the Western Australian Government’s commitment to progress with corridor protection and approvals.

Now that all jurisdictions have implementation plans in place, there is opportunity to leverage best practice across the country and reflect on the impact of initiatives on the action areas as they are delivered. From our consultation with industry counterparts and our own experience across different areas of the freight sector, one area where more action needs to be taken is in better freight data. With accurate, timely and comparable data, we will have greater certainty that current actions are the most effective to achieve the intended outcome — activity being no substitute for meaningful results.

All levels of government and industry need to work together ahead of the next Annual Report to develop performance indicators for the Strategy to provide a baseline against national action areas so that progress can be tracked over time. We also need consistent data collection that has the ability to measure freight movements by mode through supply chains — that is, a multi-modal approach to freight data. For this to be achieved, both governments and industry will need to ensure the task is well-resourced and that efforts are well- coordinated.

This is very important given the need for value for money infrastructure investment and policy settings across supply chains to drive the best and most economic use of a particular mode along the strategic transport corridors around Australia. Efficient use of capital and sound policy initiatives are now more important than ever in the post COVID-19 environment, and data-based decision-making is critical.

We are pleased to see initial steps in this direction, including through the different projects underway — the National Freight Data Hub project, the international supply chain benchmarking project, the freight telematics data collection project and individual jurisdictions’ commitment to open data. The New South Wales Government should be commended on its commitment to create a ‘Freight Hub’ on the Transport for New South Wales website that links multiple sources of data to support evidence-driven decisions against the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy Action Areas.

We encourage governments and industry to do more in this space, while continuing to meet their other commitments around infrastructure investment, streamlining regulation and improving planning. We look forward to continuing to work with governments and industry over the coming years to ratchet up ambition and deliver real results through the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy.

The Freight Industry Reference Panel

John Fullerton
Sophie Finemore
Peter Garske
Nicole Lockwood
Brett Charlton

Industry plays a critical role in helping implement the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy. In recognition of this, Infrastructure and Transport Ministers agreed to set up a Freight Industry Reference Panel to provide industry a clear line of sight on implementation of the Strategy.

The Panel has an important role driving ambition for the Strategy. It acts as a vital conduit for industry views and provides independent advice on progress made.