The ball is in our court

Michael Kilgariff, Managing Director, Australian Logistics Council.

Michael Kilgariff, Managing Director, Australian Logistics Council.

This column appeared in the April/May issue of Logistics & Materials Handling.

The ball has been put into the logistics industry’s court. For some years now, we have been urging government not just for more investment in transport and logistics, but also for better targeted investment – investment that will produce the best returns. We have also argued for better planning and better coordination between the three levels of government in Australia.

We gained some success when the Labor Government set up Infrastructure Australia (IA) as a statutory body in 2008, but it required several years of detailed work before IA could produce a comprehensive priorities list in a report to the Government – its 15-year infrastructure plan. Late last year, the Coalition

Government responded to that report in a statement that was welcomed by the logistics industry, and the Australian Logistics Council in particular.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull agreed to something that has been at the forefront of the ALC’s wishlist – the development of a national freight and supply chain strategy. It was the core recommendation of the ALC’s 2016 election priorities document – ‘Getting the Supply Chain Right’.

So it is now critical that the industry plays a central role in the development of that strategy.

The ball is in our court. If we sit on our hands and presume that governments, the general public and narrow industry interests will get it right, we will be sadly disappointed.

The Prime Minister said, “Money alone is not the answer. We need to get better at planning and building the infrastructure, and to do that we have to work together – all governments, industry, stakeholders, consumers and citizens. And we must take a much longer view, rather than the short-term one driven, of course, by election cycles.”

He is quite right. But all too often lofty sentiments get watered down and sidetracked.

One of the critical questions will be the emphasis given to the various parts of the fairly finite infrastructure cake: transport (comprising road, rail, sea and air, with each of them divided into freight and passenger); telecommunications; water; energy; and buildings (particularly schools, hospitals and sportsgrounds).

Unless the logistics industry makes its voice heard, there is a danger that the strategy will emerge with the wrong balance. We know freight does not vote. It means that we start with a proclivity to favour public transport over freight, and to favour buildings over other infrastructure.

There is also a danger that the money for transport will geographically follow the votes rather than the freight.

It is imperative that the logistics industry and its premier voice, the Australian Logistics Council (ALC), put forward sound suggestions for the national strategy.

The ALC has always believed in taking the long view, so it is pleasing to see the Prime Minister stating that the national strategy must do the same. The ALC has always believed in only putting to government soundly argued, evidence-based submissions. This is because our members span the entire supply chain, incorporating road, rail, sea, air, sea ports and intermodal ports, so we are not interested in special pleading. That being the case, our input should be well received – but we cannot take that for granted.

Though the logistics industry impacts every business and consumer in the nation, it is often seen as one removed. People look at the parcel, not the truck, carriage or aircraft belly that delivered it.

We will have to make greater efforts to communicate the importance of our industry to the wider public.

The logistics and transport industries employ 1.2 million Australians and represent 8.6 per cent of the economy. We need to impress this upon the public as well as the people who will develop the national strategy. We also have to stress that the freight task will almost treble by 2050.

Taking the long view and getting coordination between the three levels of government in Australia have been almost intractable problems, so it was pleasing to see the Prime Minister’s intention to tackle them. The ALC’s ‘Getting the Supply Chain Right’ document said the Federal Government, “in partnership with the states and territories, should establish effective corridor protection mechanisms from urban encroachment or incompatible land uses to ensure the timely preservation of surface, subterranean and air corridors and strategic sites for future infrastructure priorities.”

The ALC is determined to not waste this opportunity – for the good of our industry and our nation and its people and businesses. The ALC’s annual Forum in 2017 in Melbourne had the development of the national freight and supply chain strategy as its theme. Taking the industry’s views and resolutions on the strategy from the Forum to government will be the main task of the ALC in 2017.

Experience has show that promoting good policy over bad – but popular – policy is a continuous task. But it has borne fruit in the past and we are determined to keep government accountable to deliver on the sentiments in the Prime Minister’s statement in the future.