She'll be right attitude all wrong, Australian industry told

By: Rob McKay

Nation cannot afford indulgence on infrastructure or complacency in training, leaders say

She'll be right attitude all wrong, Australian industry told
Linfox CEO Michael Byrne is worried Australia's education system is not keeping up on a global scale.


Australian government and business attitudes to freight logistics practices and the infrastructure that underpins them have taken a blast from two separate barrels from within the industry.

Asciano CEO and Managing Director John Mullen and outgoing Linfox CEO Michael Byrne took the nation to task for lazy thinking and shortsightedness in the face of the huge infrastructure and international competitive challenges confronting Australia.

Mullen blasted the lack of development of an agreed, integrated and efficient freight transport master plan that remains above political fray and the short election cycle.

"Freight and infrastructure investment are long-cycle play as everybody in this room knows," he says.

"Building railways ports, highways, etcetera, takes decades, not years."

Mullen says the private sector needs long-term certainty if it is to play a leading role in funding and operating transport infrastructure networks.

"I think we have to face up to the fact that we are pretty hopeless as a nation, and have been, in actually doing this today," he says.

Mullen acknowledged the important role Infrastructure Australia needs to play in maximising the benefit of new freight infrastructure investment and maintaining alignment with long-term freight network plans.

"We conduct endless debate about major infrastructure investment but see glacial progress in actually implementing such investment," Mullen says, pointing to the likes of Sydney’s second airport and its Barangaroo development.

"We take 20 years debating them, with every change of government reversing the decisions of the former one and every small minority group managing to achieve delay and little coordination between federal, state and private sector objectives.

"Consultants rub their hands with glee at another round of feasibility studies but very little actually happens."

Mullen called on the country to work to a master plan with clearly identified freight network corridors, develop an independent and bipartisan process for the review and approval of new projects, and then move beyond electoral cycles in delivering our stated infrastructure plans.

Mullen points to a lack of cohesion in the national approach due to an absence of political leadership as leading to inertia harmful to national development.

"It seems that it is almost de rigueur for a government in opposition, federally and locally, to oppose the plans of the incumbent government," he says.

"Sometimes it seems purely to score political points. This, of course, for us, means that it is really difficult for private enterprise to take calculated risks and investments."

At a time when governments of either party profess a keenness for private sector investment, this attitude has a chilling effect on such an outcome.

"Freight and infrastructure investments are long cycle plays and the private sector needs certainty and long-term direction if it is to have a leading role in funding and operating Australia’s freight network," Mullen points out.

He continues: "We must establish a clear destination – where we want to be in 20-30 years – and set out the infrastructure priorities to reach this destination."

Mullen says this must include priority projects and five-year targets to measure progress.

For his part, Byrne contrasts the lack of rigorous educational standards generally in Australia with those in competitor countries, especially in Asia.

After revealing that Linfox’s biggest single contracted fleet exists in Thailand for Tesco’s supermarket operation there, he says: "We need to muscle up intellectually. One of my great concerns is that our education system isn’t keeping up with global trends."

Byrne raised the conundrum of whether to choose a qualified East Asian executive candidate fluent in four languages with a qualified Australian fluent in only one, against a backdrop of customers fielding an array of the best talent in global business.

Without a serious approach to such matters, "the customers will take advantage of us," he says.

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