Prime Mover Magazine

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Peter Anderson

COVID-19 frames vitality of supply chains

June 2020

If coronavirus has crystallised anything for Australian consumers – after they get past the health and socio-economic impacts of the pandemic – it is the importance of safe, efficient and seamless supply chains to our way of life and standard of living.

Questions over where milk, bread, fuel and medicine comes from were once rarely asked by consumers, but as the pandemic took hold and the availability of these items were curtailed, consumers rightly started to ask.

The supply chains that service our broader community have been developing and improving for years. The introduction of forklifts, containerisation and bar code scanning have all been breakthroughs in improving the efficiency of supply chains.

We have over 40 different sectors in the road freight industry that see over 40 million tonnes of products move through our community every year. These sectors have enjoyed transformational gains in efficiency, productivity and safety, and we continually look for further improvements.

Some of the tensions stem back to the battle between industry productivity and community amenity. Lines are very blurred when looking to decide who should get the advantages of specific decisions, such as the placement of curfews or clearways.

Loads must get through, and invariably heavy vehicles discriminated against by these decisions seek out the next more efficient route, often in another municipality, starting the cycle again elsewhere.

Short sighted demands of locals to ban access to heavy vehicles does nothing for problems the transport industry faces. Ironically, when these supply chains stop there are demands by other residents to ease restrictions.

Solutions exist to this conundrum and the answers lie firmly with a change in dialogue and the pathway upon which industry and community can work together.

There is a need for shared responsibility and the application of common sense principles.

The VTA demonstrated these solutions through the development of the Cleaner Freight Initiative with the anti-truck lobby group the Maribyrnong Truck Action Group. (MTAG).

We found common ground with our traditional adversary by better managing trucks in the community based upon attainment of community amenity needs and productivity improvements for industry.

The solution inserted a market lever into the curfew process to incentivise industry to move towards quieter and lower emission heavy vehicles in response for community aspirations for a reduction in carbon emissions into the air around their homes.

The community compromised on curfews for a cleaner environment. 

Although bureaucratic bungling meant this solution couldn’t be implemented it has shown that the value of efficient supply chains is important and that heavy vehicles are an essential element of our community.

We now have an office within the Department of Transport that is dedicated to the movement of freight.

Freight Victoria has the remit to improve the supply chain efficiencies, productivity and safety. It is charged with implementing the current ‘Delivering the Goods’ freight plan and is accountable for recommendations in this document.

Already we have seen the Port Rail Shuttle commence. We are reviewing the permit and access process and the review of the heavy vehicle licencing system will see further transformation for the better of our industry.

However, more can be done.

The Principle Freight Network (PFN) needs to be delineated, improved and implemented to ensure dedicated roads are always available for freight to get through.

The PFN is a major starting point for the realisation by government agencies, bodies, councils and residents that trucks are an equal member of the community and that they are essential for us to enjoy living standard we are accustomed to.

The technology that has and continues to be introduced into vehicles is ground-breaking compared to other industries, and rates and prices have never been so low. We still need to understand that training our people, defining access pathways and investing in infrastructure are the stepping-stones to a free-flowing sustainable industry.

Mainstream interest in where essential goods come from, and how they get here, will continue to sharpen, especially as investigations into the origins of COVID-19 escalate.

This presents an opportunity for our industry to educate the community on supply chain intricacies, which we should fully grasp.

Peter Anderson

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