Prime Mover Magazine

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Kirk Coningham

Don’t put curfews on our economic recovery

July 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an expensive experience for governments around the nation.

Budgets that were in surplus or close to balance have been pushed firmly back into the red, and this will undoubtedly affect the policy choices governments make in the months and years to come.

Yet, significant reforms don’t have to be accompanied by a big spend. As governments turn their minds to policy actions needed to hasten the pace of Australia’s economic recovery, there is significant opportunity to achieve regulatory reforms that will be of lasting benefit to the freight and logistics sector.

The most visible manifestation of the COVID-19 crisis for many in the community was the sight of supermarket shelves that had been stripped bare in the early days of the crisis, as panic buying took hold. Recent generations of Australians are unaccustomed to shortages of any variety, and the experience has — perhaps for the first time — given many a reason to pause and consider the centrality of effective supply chains to their day-to-day lives.

We all know that ours is an industry that can struggle to capture public imagination. Decades of uninterrupted supply have seen our industry largely taken for granted.

With community awareness of our importance and value heightened, it is time to pursue the regulatory reforms that industry has long sought with renewed vigour.

If delivered these reforms can help prevent some of the supply chain challenges witnessed in the early days of COVID-19, and during the bushfire crisis before that. In this context, it’s worth bearing in mind that the single most effective government action taken to address supermarket shortages in March did not involve expenditure, but rather the stroke of a ministerial pen.

The most pressing challenge for logistics companies providing services to retail outlets at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was getting stock into stores quickly enough to satisfy extraordinarily heightened levels of consumer demand.

The existence of curfews that prohibit deliveries during certain hours were a significant barrier to addressing that challenge. Fortunately, they were also one that was easy to address — as within the space of just over a week, governments in state and territory jurisdictions took action to remove or suspend curfews and give logistics companies the flexibility needed to facilitate overnight deliveries into supermarkets.

ALC and its members have long advocated for the removal of such restrictions, as they generally result in higher costs, greater levels of road congestion and are broadly incompatible with the demands of a modern consumer-oriented economy.

Now that the benefits of lifting such restrictions have been demonstrated, governments should be encouraged to make their removal a permanent part of the new normal. This includes eliminating curfews on overnight deliveries to supermarkets and other retail premises and removing bans on heavy vehicles using particular routes, as well as addressing curfews on port operations and airport noise curfews that inhibit the movement of air freight.

It’s worth noting that in the three months that have elapsed since many curfews were lifted or suspended by state and territory governments, there have been no significant voices in the community calling for their reinstatement. This is further evidence that such operational restrictions are not needed.

In a constrained budgetary atmosphere such as that which is likely to endure for several years in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more important that governments drive though low-cost regulatory reforms that will still deliver tangible benefits to the freight and logistics sector, and to the wider community.

In that context, the permanent elimination of operational curfews seems like one obvious, low-cost policy priority for governments to pursue in the remaining months of 2020.

Kirk Coningham

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