Resilience, flexibility, optimism as 2020 ends

It’s difficult to believe ten months have passed since early March, when the VTA hosted its annual conference with over 200 VTA members at Phillip Island.

Little did we know it would be the last time we would be gathering in person for an event of any significant size and scale — thanking our lucky stars that we just managed to pull off the conference before COVID-19 border closures and capacity restrictions forced the cancellation of major events for the remainder of the year.

We saw signs early on at that event that the resilience, flexibility and optimism from transport operators that would be needed to survive 2020 was already apparent in spades.

Our industry was one of the first to recognise the supply chain threats posed by coronavirus and the uncertainties it would create for consumers, with our very first joint communique from the VTA and state-based transport associations anticipating disruptions and urging patience from consumers.

That set the tone for the VTA’s advocacy for policy settings and support from legislators and regulators to assist our members and freight operators through the pandemic, and for reassuring consumers that the freight industry would service their needs and ensure ample supplies of food, medicine and other essential goods.

Through consistent advocacy, the VTA and other industry groups kept our industry open and working, servicing record consumer demand prompted by unwarranted fear of shortages.

Practical efforts to keep supply chains functional were suggested including the removal of curfews on heavy vehicles and efforts to keep clearways unobstructed to allow operators and their drivers to keep up with the freight task.

In the early days of the pandemic when supermarkets struggled to keep up with demand, measures like this were credited with normalcy returning to national supply chains as consumers adjusted to forced lockdowns.

Federal and state ministers and their bureaucracies are to be congratulated for listening to what our industry needed to help keep supply chains moving, particularly Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Victorian Ports and Freight Minister Melissa Horne, who helped fast-track decisions by removing red-tape to allow freight and logistics companies to service their customers.

As it became apparent we were going to have to live with coronavirus for many months to come, our efforts quickly turned to how freight operators could best be supported in order to maintain an ample pool of safe and healthy drivers.

Operators were trailblazers of COVID Safety Plans to keep workers and their workplaces clean and hygienic.

Advocacy from the VTA and our affiliates ensured freight and logistics employees were recognised as essential workers, safeguarding their employment and the sector’s capacity to service the economy through lockdowns.

State and Commonwealth governments have done their bit with financial support and incentives to promote investment in people and equipment.

As a Victorian-based advocacy group, COVID-19 has impacted the VTA and our Melbourne and Victorian members particularly hard through 16 weeks of harsh lockdowns and trading restrictions.
Notwithstanding this, our members have remained overwhelmingly positive, with consecutive VTA COVID Insights surveys showing overwhelming optimism for a strong business recovery. This is outstanding validation of our industry’s efforts to adjust to service customer needs.

Looking to the future, our Insights report showed half of operators agree or strongly agree that COVID-19 will generate even bigger volumes of freight, and that more than half (55 per cent) agree or strongly agree domestic and international trade will increase in the coming months.

After a year of chaos and turmoil, these results are especially encouraging, as are findings that two-thirds of respondents would invest in their businesses by purchasing new capital equipment, and by hiring new staff (31 per cent) or leave staffing levels unchanged (31 per cent).

For this optimism to continue it is essential that border crossing restrictions with Victoria and other jurisdictions be removed as quickly as possible so that national supply chains can fully support the re-opening of our state and national economies.

Let us all hope that the free and unfettered movement of people and goods can resume in 2021, albeit in a new, COVID Safe, normal.

From all of us at the VTA, thank you for your support during this difficult year, and we wish you a safe Christmas and the most prosperous New Year in 2021.

Peter Anderson

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