New industry alliance to fight stevedore access charges

By: Rob McKay


RFNSW, ATA, WRF and CBFCA come together to fight new impost at container ports

New industry alliance to fight stevedore access charges
Access charges battle has a new grouping

 

The latest move in unfettered stevedore infrastructure surcharge hikes has spurred the formation of a new grouping of trucking and trade-services organisations to coalesce.

Peak industry organisations Road Freight NSW (RFNSW), the Australian Trucking Association (ATA), Western Roads Federation (WRF) and the Customs Brokers and Forwarders Council of Australia (CBFCA) say they have joined forces to fight "the latest round of crippling charges being imposed by stevedores on transport operators across the nation".

The new charges, also described as ‘access charges’ have been announced as the 2018-19 Australian Competition and Customer Commission’s (ACCC) annual stevedore monitoring report, shows that higher "infrastructure access charges" for port users across the country resulted in revenue for stevedores soaring to $166.6 million – "an exorbitant 63 per cent increase on the previous year", the new alliance notes.

The three trucking bodies, and RFNSW in particular, have voiced deep concern on the stevedores’ behaviour but linking with the CBFCA, which has been in regular contact with the ACCC over the imposts, appears to be a first.

"Based on the ACCC finding now is the time for state governments involvement to regulate the infrastructure charges just like the port service charges," CBFCA head of border and biosecurity Zoran Kostadinoski said on the ACCC report’s release.

"CBFCA will continue to work with other key industry peak bodies and State Governments advocating for regulation of infrastructure charges."

The new grouping mirrors, to a certain extent, one that brought together transport and freight bodies Container Transport Alliance Australia (CTAA), Freight & Trade Alliance (FTA) and the Australian Peak Shippers Association (APSA) two-and-a-half years ago.

Though members of both groupings have some limited wins, such as convincing the Victorian government to bring on its Port Pricing and Access Review and the ACCC to back removal of unfair contract terms, gaining concrete political action has been a far harder task.

Now stevedore DP World Australia’s (DPWA’s) announcement of a new access charge rises have spurred a renewed land-side effort.


Read how the DPWA access charge hike was received, here


"These significant revenue streams clearly demonstrate that landside port users are effectively underwriting the profitability of stevedores through the regular rises in access charges, in what is a monopolistic operating environment at the country’s major ports," the new alliance says.

"The ongoing increases are building unavoidable costs into national supply chains, with stevedores failing to adequately invest in terminal infrastructure to address worsening truck turn-around times and improve overall productivity and efficiencies for transport operators.

"At Port Botany, DP World Australia will increase its container charge from $63.80 to $91.00 (effective 1 January, 2020), whilst at Fremantle the charge has jumped from $8.22 per container to $45.00 – a staggering 450 per cent increase.

"Once again, these charges have not been subject to any detailed regulatory scrutiny.

"RFNSW, the ATA, Western Roads Federation and CBFCA say: Enough is enough."

The new alliance of industry groups argues that, based on the ACCC’s monitoring report, the stevedores’ charges are unjustified and it is calling for a full, independent review of the ongoing price hikes.

"Our members are already operating on incredibly tight margins and these ongoing price rises are having a crippling financial impact on truck operators," RFNSW chief executive Simon O’Hara says.

"They’re a real burden on their businesses.

"The stevedores are using their market power at the ports to continue imposing these unjustified port charges – using truck operators to increase their revenue.

"It’s time industry had a fair and robust price monitoring system at the port which is why here in NSW, we have asked for the NSW Government’s urgent intervention."

For the ATA, the ongoing issue points to a national regulatory failure.

"The existing price monitoring framework has failed," CEO Ben Maguire says.

"The stevedores ignore it and clearly hold it in contempt.

"The government needs to take urgent action to protect trucking operators from these monopoly charges."

The WRF, is clearly stung that one of the biggest percentage hikes in the access charges saga is to land in WA.

"How can truckies be expected to cop a 450 per cent increase in port charges?" chief executive Cam Dumesney says

"Truckies will have no choice but to pass the charge on to their clients through the supply chain with consumers ultimately, paying for it. In a sluggish economy, we just don’t need it.

"It’s clear that landside operators are propping-up the stevedores through these excessive charges, yet in return, there seems to be no investment in much-needed infrastructure at the ports."

Access charge opponents have been frustrated on the stance of state and federal transport ministers to act on their concerns.

Last year, following representations to federal transport minister Michael McCormack in the lead up to the release of the ACCC’s previous monitoring report, which also voiced concerns over access charging, he sheeted responsibility to the states, which control the nation’s container ports.

This is where the CBFCA is looking for movement.

"State governments now need to step-up and act," CEO Paul Damkjaer says.

"These ongoing charges are an example of a small number of players in one market dictate terms and pricing, at the expense of Australia’s international trade.

"State governments and port authorities have a role to play and cannot leave it to the ACCC to resolve, as the ACCC has limits on its powers to intervene.

"The CBFCA will not give up until these charges are abolished."

 

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