Why the State Government’s Supply Chain Taskforce Report is a Missed Opportunity

When the State Government’s long-awaited Shipping and Supply Chain Taskforce Report was handed down in October, I was disappointed to realise there’d been a missed opportunity to identify and implement localised measures to improve the supply-chain in the short-term.

More than a dozen recommendations were made, including that WA work with the Federal Government to boost the number of Australian-flagged vessels to increase capacity and assist in emergency circumstances, such as when rail and road routes are interrupted.

While this, and the other recommendations are welcome, it’s worth noting that most will take time and Commonwealth cooperation to implement.

They’re largely macro-level measures, and while they’ll be beneficial in years to come, unfortunately they’ll do little to improve local operations in the short-term.

The problems that triggered the Taskforce in the first place still remain, and when the next disruptive event happens – whether it be weather-related, workforce related or something else – we’ll find ourselves back in the same position as when the Taskforce started more than 18 months ago.

We’re just kicking the can down the road.

I would have liked to have seen local supply-chain inefficiencies addressed in the report, such as a lack of consistency in local government policies, HPV restrictions and opportunities for efficiencies at Fremantle Port.

There are a number of things that can be done immediately which will assist in making landside operations far more efficient, cost-effective, and able to react more quickly to disruptions in the supply-chain.

Some of those things are;

  • Consistency Among Local Government: Each local government area has different rules around truck movements such as pick up and drop off times, making it difficult to develop time-efficient routes. Even issues such as on-street parking in certain areas can cause problems, making it difficult for trucks to efficiently get in and out of areas, costing valuable time and money – which is ultimately passed on to consumers.
  • HPV Restrictions: High Performance Vehicles (HPV) are restricted in the number of containers that can be carried at any one time, which results in a higher number of truck movements and inefficient routes being used, particularly in areas that aren’t adequately serviced by rail-freight.
  • Port Efficiencies: Different terminals often work in slightly differently ways, which can make overall operations clunky and not as efficient as they can be. It’s no one’s fault, it’s just how things have always been done. But if we can create some consistency, smooth out wait times and avoid double-handling, the overall benefit is potentially significant.

The Taskforce report appeared to lack the depth and urgency required, particularly on the back of the pandemic, and subsequent flooding events that cut off both road and rail in the north and east of the state.

Those events resulted in empty shelves for lengthy periods of time, which is highly visible and allows the general public to see with their own eyes what happens when the supply-chain is disrupted.

However, because the shelves are currently stocked, the public pressure has been removed and there doesn’t seem to be the same urgency to fix the issues as there has been in the past.

But when the next disruptive event happens – and it’s a when, not an if – we will see the exact same results, because nothing has changed or been put in place to resolve the issues.