Supply chain sovereignty essential for maintaining living standards

The VTA was pleased to host over 180 members and transport industry participants at its recent State Conference, where a variety of speakers addressed delegates on the topic of What’s in Front of the Transport Industry.

In my opening address I was keen to emphasise the importance of supply chain sovereignty for Australia to maintain its high standards of living, as the nation emerges from the COVID pandemic and vaccinations are rolled out across the country.

As an island nation and democracy that relies on imports for sustaining our quality of life, Australia relies on the certainty from supply chains. We enjoy the status of having the 5th highest ranking in living standards in the world.

But what can we do better? How do we maintain and improve upon what has been created?

Supply chains, logistics and transport systems are vital for a country such as Australia because they link markets, community and people.

COVID has challenged us to question whether current supply chains are flexible enough and whether they are able to carry an increase in capacity or are just too expensive to operate any other way.

Some people may think we have been slow to develop these supply chains, that they are not productive enough or do not meet the needs of the market.

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia has highlighted the importance of these supply chains.

This was personified by the fact that freight transport did not stop, could not stop and was able to gain recognition, exemption and acknowledgment of making sure that we were all supplied with the goods that we need to maintain our current standards of living.

We must continually question whether Australia as a nation is doing enough to secure its supply chains so as not to risk eroding standards of living, inhibiting growth or diminishing resilience, using fuel energy security and trade as examples.

If we do not source and refine our own fuel and depend solely on international suppliers how vulnerable is our standard of living if this supply is interrupted.

Or if China represents approximately 18-20 per cent of all imported goods that you will find in homes today, how would we resource these goods if there was an interruption with supply from China?

As another example, in the road transport industry the only recognised qualification for a heavy vehicle is a licence. Under the current system you do not need to be trained to gain a licence.

The industry does not look at the licence as a qualification and will not employ those individuals who have just gained a heavy vehicle licence.

The industry wants all heavy vehicle drivers to be trained before they are given a licence.

The National Road Transport Commission produced a study with recommendations on the issue in 1995.

Nothing changed. The COAG Transport Industry Council requested a report on the issue in 2013, with the final report delivered in 2018. Nothing changed. A new report has been requested and is due for delivery in 2022.

The road transport industry is still struggling with drivers who are not trained before they get behind the wheel of a heavy vehicle.

It takes courage to build an appetite for reform, which is what we need from our political and regulatory leaders.

While uncertainty has been part and parcel of the COVID journey for everyone, it’s been amplified for transport operators and workers, who have worked through restrictions, lockdowns, and border closures magnificently to service their customers and the Australian community.

The irony of COVID is that it’s probably done more to help consumers build awareness and appreciate supply chains than any other event in recent history.

When you’re confronted with supermarket shelves that have been emptied of toilet paper, canned goods, pasta, fresh meat and poultry, and you’re forced to order online because you’ve been restricted from travelling more than five kilometres from home for months on end, you start to think and question how goods get to market.

Our domestic supply chain foresights and reactions must look to understand what needs to be done and take advantage of the resources at hand.

Peter Anderson