Why Industry Needs to Get Involved in the Productivity Commission’s Supply-Chain Inquiry.

Amid the festivity of December, and the continuing chaos within the supply-chain, you may have missed that the Productivity Commission announced an inquiry into Australia’s Maritime Logistics System.

The inquiry will look at long-term trends, structural changes and impediments within the nation’s maritime logistic system and connected supply-chains. It will also look to identify any mechanisms that might be available to address the issues identified.

We at EES spent much of last year calling for action to address the myriad of supply-chain problems, including publicly calling for a State Government backed Task Force, and so we welcome news of the inquiry.

However, it’s now time for industry stakeholders to step up, and ensure all our voices are heard.

The Productivity Commission is currently accepting public submissions to the inquiry, closing on Friday February 11.

While it’s easy to assume others in our sector will make submissions and so it won’t matter if you don’t get yours in, you’re wrong. We need every single company with an interest in Australia’s maritime supply chain to have their say.

If we think back to the delays and congestion of 2020 and 2021, it’s difficult to come up with a single company that hasn’t been affected.

We saw empty retail shelves as stores waited for stock, the mining and agricultural sectors waiting on parts, trucking companies dealing with the flow on impacts of delays, and freight forwarders like ourselves trying to manage a system that struggled to adhere to regular schedules.

In case you needed reminding, allow me to highlight just some of the problems we’ve faced here in WA in recent months;

  • Vessels Skipping Port: A number of vessels opted to skip Fremantle Port altogether toward the back end of last year, as it was simply too hard and expensive to do business.
  • Continued Delays and Congestion: Cargo that was forced to skip Fremantle Port eventually returned, and coupled with an increase in the number of containers exchanged per vessel, resulted in overloaded wharves and transport depots.
  • Vessel Calls Down: The total number of vessel calls to Fremantle is at its lowest level in years, averaging in the low 20’s when we should average more than 30 calls a month.
  • Increased Costs: We, among other companies, are now paying tens of thousands of dollars in detention bills, as shipping lines simply do not care for landside delays.

Another major issue throughout 2021 was drawn-out industrial action by members of the Maritime Union. While there is currently no strike action taking place, it’s important that concerns on all sides are meaningfully addressed, to ensure the problem doesn’t arise again in the future.

It’s these concerns that need to be written down and submitted to the Productivity Commission, to ensure we can start to develop genuine solutions and improve the system overall.

Given the inquiry isn’t due to hand down its report until at least August, it’s unrealistic to expect that we’ll see a real difference this year.

However, if we’re to have any chance of 2023 being different, I urge you to make a public submission.

It’s too easy to expect that someone else will come up with the solution, but unless we as an industry take this opportunity to highlight our lived experiences, we may very well find ourselves having this same conversation in 12 months time.