QTA calls out stevedores on massive charges hikes

By: Rob McKay


Intervention comes as DP World Australia ends cost review deferral

QTA calls out stevedores on massive charges hikes
As elsewhere, stevedore charges at the Port of Brisbane are out of control

 

The Queensland Trucking Association (QTA) highlights its growing concern at terminal access charge increases at the Port of Brisbane, as stevedore DP World Australia (DPWA) launches a new round of hikes there.

The issue of the charges has caused growing concern at the state industry body as container haulage operators there deal with a burden that shows every sign of increasing and that they are powerless to influence.

"The Queensland Trucking Association is highly concerned at the anti-competitive pricing behaviour of Port of Brisbane’s stevedoring companies," it says in an analysis of the issue. 

"This sustained year on year gouging of the road freight industry has recently reached a tipping point with ever increasing complaints received by the QTA from members.

"Like much of the Australian economy, the Port of Brisbane’s stevedoring companies have not been immune to the impact of the Covid-19 on their operations. 

"From March 2020, both import and export container volumes decreased on the previous year as imports felt the impacts of Chinese port and industry closures under the country’s lockdown measures and then the sustained slowdown of the global economy.

"The downturn in overall TEUs is evidenced in the below graph and as an illustration total full import containers in 2019-20 decreased 5.0 per cent to 570,651 while total full export container volumes decreased by 3.2 per cent to 338,762.  

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"This has had subsequent flow through to DP World, Patrick and Hutchinson operations."

The QTA charges that stevedores operate under different market conditions and economic structure compared to trucking, leaving haulage exposed and unshielded.

It argues that "the difference between the road freight industry and Brisbane’s stevedore companies is that the stevedore companies are oligopoly providers able to easily increase prices without fear of losing market share. 

"Stevedores operate within an essential and one off infrastructure asset unable to be readily bypassed.

"The Queensland road freight industry operates with fierce competition amid an extraordinarily challenging operating environment where prices cannot be easily increased. 

"Our port’s stevedoring companies have benefited from massive increases in their landside charges.  

"Analysis by the QTA indicates that higher landside revenue is now more than offsetting any fall in quayside revenues collected from shipping lines as a result of Covid-19. 

"To be frank, the road freight industry cannot and should not be the cash cow for each stevedores balance sheets."

It notes that a comparison of booking fees across the three major container terminals in Brisbane shows all three stevedoring companies have increased their booking fees across the past four years by between 160 and 313 per cent.

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"Furthermore analysis of infrastructure or terminal access charges (TACs) indicates increases in prices ranging from 119.1 per cent through to 315.9 per cent," the QTA says. 

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"There are range of other fees including ‘no show’, chain of responsibility, pondus, side-loader and long vehicle fees that have all followed similar trends. 

"On average landside charges have increased across these categories by 190 per cent and compare to Brisbane’s CPI increase of just 4.1 per cent over the same period.   

"Collectively these increases are adding at least another $100 to each container lift for the import and export of containers threatening both our exports and living affordability.

"Analysis by QTA of ACCC data indicates that these fee increases are certainly not justified on the basis of the stevedoring companies own costs, such as labour, equipment and property charges. 

"These have risen by a maximum of 22.5 per cent and in one instance have actually fallen. 

"Indeed the ACCC recently commented in their Container Stevedoring monitoring report—2019-20 that operating profit margins for the stevedoring industry increased in 2019-20 for the first time in a decade. 

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"On the face of it, there is little if any evidence to suggest these price rises can in any way be justified."

The QTA analysis was undertaken before today’s DPWA announcement that its TAC review deferral of last November is ending and east coast container port increases would come into effect from May 1.


Read what DPWA said about the November hikes deferral, here


The stevedore says that the changes only apply to TACs and there are no new charges to the landside interface with the transport industry.

"DPWA’s business costs continue to rise, requiring a review of our service charges to rebalance cost recovery," it continues.

"These costs include ongoing investments in terminal landside equipment, infrastructure, and technology to improve service delivery and overall productivity at the ports.

"Rebalancing ensures we can continue meeting the demand of Australia’s international trade and is crucial to the sustainable future of DPWA.

"DPWA is currently working with the various state authorities and regulators to implement the amended charges.

"DPWA notes that state and territory infrastructure and transport ministers have agreed to develop voluntary national guidelines for applying stevedore infrastructure and access charges at Australia's container ports.

"DPWA looks forward to participating in this process as the new guidelines are developed."

The new charges per full container are:

Export Containers

  • Brisbane $89.50
  • Sydney $89.50
  • Melbourne $89.50

Import Containers

  • Brisbane $124.00
  • Sydney $126.60
  • Melbourne $139.20.

 

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