Stewart takes umbrage with Albanese

Industry veteran Andrew Stewart says obstructionist states, not industry apathy behind the inability to enact long needed reform

Stewart takes umbrage with Albanese
Stewart takes umbrage with Albanese

By Anna Game-Lopata | March 1, 2011

Queensland sugar plantation owner and long time supply chain industry activist Andrew Stewart today hit back at Transport Minister Anthony Albanese’s inference that industry could be more supportive of government reform.

He was referring to comments made by the Minister in his keynote speech at the Australian Logistics Council’s (ALC) Annual Forum last week.

In his speech Minister Albanese urged industry to get behind his Land Freight Strategy for reform because he (the Minister) "can’t do it alone".

Stewart, who also sits on the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport of Australia’s (CILTA) National Working Group says the Land Freight Strategy is a "carbon copy" of the Liberal government’s 2002 Freight and Logistics Action Agenda.

"Industry has been asking for these solutions for twenty and thirty years and we made many constructive contributions along the way," Stewart says.

"The reform process actually began in 1983, with the May Inquiry into the National Road Freight Industry.

"The inquiry
came out in 1984 with a fast-tracked reform program to sort out regulations and grow road, rail and port productivity and to coordinate and develop freight hubs and corridors.

"May came out then with the concept of one national organisation to coordinate everything which took six years to set up," Stewart says.

"The Howard government saw the process was stalling, and there was the wharf strike against Patrick," he says.

At that time, the then Transport Minister John Anderson set up the Freight Transport Logistics Industry Action Agenda which was supposed to get reform rolling.

Stewart, who headed the Building and Engineering Group for the Freight Transport Action Agenda says the group predicted the quadrupling of container movements over a twenty year period and presented its findings to the Port of Melbourne.

"But they said it wouldn’t happen," Stewart says.

"Now ironically high quality logistics means more trucks and vehicles running around with fresh air in them, because people want their deliveries today."

"That’s why vehicle movements are growing exponentially. Supply chain is growing about 1.25 times faster than economic growth."

While Stewart agrees the talk from federal government is all good, he says the real problem lies with the states.

"The states are being criminally difficult, in my view," Stewart says.

"Objections they raise to reform are often obstructionist, such as ‘that’s not the way we do things here and we’re not going to change’, which is unproductive.

"On the whole, states haven’t digitised their roads, rail and supply chain infrastructure," he adds.

"So for any kind of information about the critical networks, they have to reach through paper plans in drawers. That’s pathetic in the twenty-first century."

As another example, Stewart says NSW, Queensland and Victoria can’t agree on what roads to invest in to allow an integrated freight path from north to south for essential produce.

"Until there’s an alignment of federal and local government with the states, with attention to rebuilding the process that has been broken, we won’t get action on any reform agenda," he says.

Stewart also says proper transport planning is a critical failure in the system

"Australia has about 2,000 kilometres of dual lane expressway. Compare our plan to that of China, which is building 1,000 km of dual lane expressway every year and has done so since 1998.

"Our trading partner has increasingly better logistics than we have including huge inland ports such as Shanghai."

"$40 billion for the National Broadband Network (NBN) isn’t going to reduce the need for the $40 billion required for physical infrastructure," Stewart says.

"IT has been excellent for speeding up back office supply chain functions but it hasn’t been the panacea for speeding up the movement of goods that we all thought it would be.

"We also need to re-visit the maps to get nationally relevant supply chain routes that take booming industries such as mining into consideration.

"Our export supply chains are okay, but the inbound is less efficient than it was ten years ago.

"But most importantly we need one national system, one country one system," Stewart says.

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