Views From Industry – 2022

Freight Industry Reference Panel Report

Times have changed.

The importance of effective and efficient supply chains to improving Australia’s productivity and supporting positive economic outcomes has never been so critical. The disruptive events experienced across Australia and internationally over the past three years have exposed vulnerabilities and increased the focus on our transport networks and supply chains. Now is an opportune time to reflect on whether the Strategy is still fit for purpose and hitting the mark in a post-COVID-19 world.

All levels of government and industry need to continue to work together to deliver actions under the Strategy. The Panel would like to see a greater focus on the freight and logistics industry as a whole, to ensure that all parts of our industry can benefit.

Supply chain disruptions and resiliency

Resilient supply chains make for a resilient Australia. Challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, workforce skill and labour shortages, natural disasters and increased geo-political instabilities have highlighted the importance of building resilience into our supply chains.

The growing demand for freight is straining existing infrastructure and affecting service levels along the supply chain. Australia’s widely dispersed population and climate exacerbate this challenge. To accommodate the expected growth of the freight task, Australia will need to build capacity through both infrastructure investment and the efficient use of existing assets across all modes.

The Panel welcomes actions taken towards improving resilience, including the establishment of the Office of Supply Chain Resilience on 1 July 2021. The Office monitors critical supply chains and coordinates whole-of-government responses to improve ongoing access to critical goods and services.

It is encouraging to see all the other work underway by governments and industry to build new freight gateways and hubs, strengthen existing freight corridors and improve our freight systems. Throughout the next year, we would like to see greater coordination across governments, including infrastructure bodies, to build on existing progress and to continue making Australia’s freight and supply chains resilient.

In particular the Panel encourages greater consideration of the national impact on freight and supply chain performance whenever transport infrastructure projects are considered and approved by governments.

Workforce skill and labour shortages

As we emerge from the pandemic, we must keep a strong and skilled workforce as a high priority. Australia’s growing freight task will only continue to test our workers, especially with a projected higher level of automation and shifting business models.

Like many areas of our economy, the freight sector is having difficulties in attracting skilled workers across its various functions. Shortages for transport sector roles have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching the highest level in 12 years. This has primarily been driven by economy-wide factors, including tight labour markets, increased freight demand, and reduced migration while international borders have been closed.

The Panel consulted with industry this year on workforce issues and the key recurring themes were the poor perception of the sector by prospective employees and the low supply of appropriately skilled workers. A range of initiatives are already underway in this space, but we need to see more progress, particularly in the short term. We strongly encourage government and industry to work together in strengthening our workforce.

The need for better freight data

Data plays a huge role in the Strategy. We are calling on all areas of the freight industry to consider how they can participate in projects under the Strategy, and share data with governments in a mutually beneficial way.

Tracking performance under the Strategy is key to its success. Work is underway to update the current Freight Performance Dashboard and to develop a new Freight and Supply Chain Strategy Dashboard, closely aligned to the Strategy’s six overarching outcomes. This work will help improve progress reporting under the Strategy and will provide new opportunities to track performance. The Panel is encouraged by this work and would like to seek continued focus and commitment over the coming year.

By improving the availability, consistency and security of freight location and performance data, we can improve freight operations, make better investment decisions and monitor and evaluate freight performance. When it comes to data and technology, industry can and must help drive the way forward.

Accordingly, the Panel strongly urges industry and government to agree how to accelerate the collection of freight data to provide the factual basis on how our supply chains are functioning and to identify opportunities for improvement.

Action: underway and looking forward

As Australia works to recover from another challenging year, it is vitally important that all levels of government and industry continue to focus on delivering commitments under the Strategy. We are very pleased to see progress being made across the different action areas, including:

  • 66 projects delivered in the 2021-22 financial year through the Bridges Renewal Program (Action Area 1)
  • Increased investment in Victoria’s Women in Transport Program (Action Area 2)
  • The implementation of the NSW Heavy Vehicle Access Policy Framework completed (Action Area 3)
  • Accessibility and usability improvements made to the Data WA Portal, which currently provides over 2,500 discoverable datasets (Action Area 4)

We thank jurisdictions and industry for their continued engagement and ambition in delivering results through the Strategy. We look forward to continuing these effort

Freight Industry Reference Panel