Planning that delivers
It is no surprise that population growth – and the pressures it imposes on transport infrastructure – has been a focal point in this federal election campaign.
As Australians view some of the economic challenges now bearing down upon us – housing affordability, worsening traffic congestion and slow wages growth – it’s easy to point to population growth as the cause of all our ills.
As is often the case, the truth is somewhat more complex.
It is more accurate to say that the issues outlined above are not symptoms of population growth so much as they are consequences of a failure to properly plan for population growth.
This is equally true of many challenges that confront those in the heavy vehicle sector on a daily basis, such as bans on particular routes, noise curfews and, of course, congestion.
All these things can be traced back to a consistent failure by governments – at all levels and over many decades – to incorporate freight movement into their planning policies.
Freight is no less essential to the day-to-day lives of Australians than a reliable supply of potable water or electricity.
Without the freight logistics industry, most Australian households could not feed or clothe themselves, much less maintain a comfortable standard of living.
Regrettably, this reality is not being reflected in the way our governments deal with freight issues.
Most Australian jurisdictions still do not have a dedicated minister for freight. This lack of direct accountability within government for a key economic sector has obvious flow-on consequences.
Too often freight priorities run a poor second to residential priorities in planning decisions, and many of our planning systems fail to properly acknowledge the vital role of freight efficiency in establishing liveable communities.
This situation must change if Australia is to successfully meet its growing freight task and satisfy the demands of consumers who increasingly expect faster delivery and lower shipping costs.
In ALC’s view, now is the time for the Federal Government to demonstrate national leadership.
By using incentive payments and leveraging its existing constitutional powers, the Federal Government can drive the establishment of a consistent national approach to planning to give freight the focus it deserves.
During ALC Forum 2019, held in Melbourne in early March, ALC released the third in its series of Discussion Papers on the development and implementation of a National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy.
Don’t Box Us In sets out how the Federal Government can take a more active role to drive better planning outcomes for freight logistics operators and ensure that freight movement is properly embedded in our planning systems.
Although planning is primarily a matter for state and local governments, there is capacity for the federal government to act. Indeed, there are precedents for such action.
In the 1990s, the Federal Government made incentive payments to state and territory governments that undertook economic reforms as part of National Competition Policy.
More recently, the Federal Government has offered incentive payments to the NSW Government and relevant local governments to support reforms that will accelerate housing supply in Western Sydney.
In the lead-up to the Federal Election, the Labor Opposition has also signalled it is open to the use of incentive payments as part of its proposed COAG Economic Reform Council.
Given both sides of politics acknowledge the effectiveness of incentive payments in delivering reform, ALC has suggested this approach be adopted to encourage state and local governments to adopt freight-friendly planning practices.
Further, the Constitution provides the Federal Government with the capacity to provide grants – known as ‘specific purpose payments’ – to states and territories, attaching such conditions as it sees fit.
Such payments are often used by the Federal Government to invest in areas over which it has no formal constitutional authority, including health, school education and road funding initiatives.
Don’t Box Us In suggests that this mechanism should be used to ensure that state governments receiving funding support for transport infrastructure do not then impose restrictions on that infrastructure that inhibit efficient freight movement.
This would include limiting access to roads for heavy vehicles and noise curfews.
Ensuring our planning systems and the regulation of freight infrastructure promote the efficient and safe movement of freight is crucial if we are to serve our communities and ensure Australia remains globally competitive.
This demands leadership.
The Federal Government should not be afraid to use the constitutional powers already available to it to promote this outcome and ensure that freight movement is appropriately and consistently prioritised by governments at all levels.
Australian Logistics Council