Giving weight to freight

Having lived his whole life in regional Australia, the link between good infrastructure and economic growth was ingrained in his political thinking, the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said on Wednesday night.

Mr McCormack, who is also the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, was making his first formal speech in the role at the Australian Logistics Council Forum in Sydney.

The forum is an annual event and the ALC represents members spanning the entire logistics supply chain in Australia, incorporating road, rail, sea, air and ports.

ALC input to the inquiry into National Freight and Supply Chain Priorities was acknowledged by Mr McCormack, who said he expected to receive the final report soon. “The report will be key to the development of a strategy I will consider with my State and Territory counterparts at the Transport and Infrastructure Council meeting in November this year.”

The planning was needed because the "national freight task will double over the next 20 years."

Mr McCormack outlined the Federal Government’s $75 billion funding of infrastructure projects over the next ten years and its commitment to road safety programs “including Roads to Recovery, Blackspot Programs, Bridges Renewal and Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity.”

He also reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to building the Inland Rail which will be “the spine of the national rail system.” Work had also commenced “on a joint study with the Queensland Government to look at a dedicated freight link to the Port of Brisbane.”

Also present at the forum was ALGA President David O’Loughlin. He spoke at a session called Planning freight-friendly cities. Mayor O’Loughlin said the freight industry needed to build relationships at the Local Government level.

Mayor O’Loughlin said that ALGA was committed to working constructively with the Federal Government and industry to develop a practical and integrated National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy and commended the panel for consulting closely with ALGA throughout the process.

A key issue was improved integration between transport and land use planning. Whilst ALGA has supported Federal Government coordination of national freight strategy it was pleasing that most States represented at the forum confirmed they have or are now developing integrated land use and transport plans. 

But freight operators expressed frustration about the encroachment of residential development impeding their operations and viability. Mayor O'Loughlin noted that rezoning was a State matter, operators needed to talk more with their Local Governments and have a dialogue with local communities. They need to say “who they are, what they do and the important role they play in their local economy”. In the absence of such a dialogue, or participation in strategic planning discussions, the freight industry risked being overlooked in planning decisions.

Mayor O’Loughlin said that in general people did not have an appreciation of the national importance of freight. In spite of the vital role the delivery of freight played in keeping the country going, the industry had nowhere near the level of appeal of other service providers, such as hospitals or schools. It was up to the freight industry to develop a profile that would provide it with more importance and value in the eyes of the public, and their own “social licence” to exist and operate effectively.

Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development Anthony Albanese also spoke at the forum. He called the freight and logistics sector “the lifeblood of the Australian economy” and said Australia’s growing population would put it increasingly under strain, but he has had a very long relationship with industry and the infrastructure portfolio and was committed to continuing to work constructively with all interested parties to meet the challenges it faced. He called for an investment by the nation’s freight and logistic operators in “emerging technologies and new, innovative ways of servicing the customer”.

In private discussion he also indicated his strong support for community infrastructure and encouraged Local Government to make a strong case for a national fund.