Prime Mover Magazine

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Kirk Coningham

Let resilience be our watchword in a post-COVID world

June 2020

As the effects of the COVID-19 crisis continue to unfold, the reality is that the world that emerges on the other side may look very different.

In terms of the operation of Australia’s supply chains going forward, the pandemic is likely to force industry and governments to more urgently consider some key questions.

Already, there is some commentary about the extent to which Australia relies on China, both for the import of manufactured goods and as an export destination.
Australia has concluded trade agreements with other key growth markets over recent years, including Japan, South Korea and Indonesia, and there are opportunities to expedite similar arrangements with India and the United Kingdom.

This would stimulate further employment growth in Australia’s key export sectors, help to further diversify and expand our supply chains and enhance their resilience.

Some of the disruptions to global supply chains witnessed in the earliest days of the COVID-19 crisis may also give Australian companies reason to consider the global-local balance within their supply chains – and engineer an uptick in some aspects of local manufacturing that, prior to COVID-19, was thought by some to be in terminal decline.

For the road freight sector, this means now is the time to start thinking about which infrastructure projects need to be prioritised, not only to promote employment growth during their construction phase, but to support Australia’s export and manufacturing efforts going forward by making our supply chains safer and more resilient.

There have already been some encouraging signs of cross jurisdictional collaboration in this respect.

For example, in late April, the Federal and Queensland Governments announced they were fast-tracking works on 22 projects approved under the Roads Of Strategic Importance (ROSI) scheme.

These projects are intended to improve safety and efficiency on key inland freight corridors in Queensland, including upgrades to bridges and intersections.

Meanwhile, in Western Australia the State Government has announced a suite of measures that will fast-track approvals for transport infrastructure projects up to a value of $20 million.

More significantly, action has been taken to expedite approvals for several major road projects that will significantly advantage freight operators in both regional and metropolitan WA, including the Bunbury Outer Ring Road, the Albany Ring Road, the Fremantle Traffic Bridge, and enhancements and extensions to the Mitchell Freeway.

Of course, there remain opportunities for governments in other jurisdictions to make improvements to infrastructure projects now underway to better accommodate the needs of road freight transport operators.

The inclusion of direct access ramps for heavy vehicles at Canal Road as part of the Sydney Gateway is one obvious example which would enhance the efficiency of road freight movement between Port Botany and the Cooks River Intermodal Terminal.

The level and sophistication of technology in our supply chains is likely to be another discussion with a renewed sense of urgency in the wake of the COVID-19 experience, particularly if the pandemic and its attendant restrictions endure for longer than initially forecast.

With consumers now more alert than ever to the importance of freight visibility and accurately tracking  deliveries, operators will need to turn their minds to ensuring that their systems offer customers increasingly sophisticated ‘track and trace’ services, point of origin certainty, and at the same time ensure there is an appropriate level of interoperability between their systems and those used by their supply chain partners.

COVID-19 has unquestionably had a disruptive impact on the operation of many businesses, and this will undoubtedly alter the operation of supply chains in the months ahead.

However, the challenges also present a host of opportunities. We can boost resilience, safety and efficiency of our supply chains through enhanced infrastructure. We can expand and diversify by engaging with more partners at home and abroad.

We can embrace emerging technologies to better serve existing and new clients. As an industry, we must actively pursue these opportunities to ensure a speedy recovery and a bright future in the post COVID world.

Kirk Coningham

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