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Pressure mounts on stevedores over container access charging

Haulage and trade bodies welcome Constance move as state ministers look askance


New South Wales transport minister Andrew Constance has written to Port Botany stevedores calling for restraint on container access charging for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis.

Having been snubbed on stevedore access charging four months ago and seeing another occur as anti-virus measures began pummelling the economy and port-related businesses, Constance’s letter comes as state ministerial irritation is rising.

It is understood the issue was discussed at national transport ministers meeting early this month and that the sort of frustration Victorian ports and freight minister Melissa Horne at the end of last month.

It is further understood that concern has grown in Queensland, with transport minister Mark Bailey expressing support for Constance at the meeting, the first indication that  the issue has gained political traction in that state.

“Given the unprecedented situation posed by the coronavirus and the crucial role of all parties involved in the supply chain and in moving freight during this pandemic, it is the NSW Government’s strong view that now is not the time to increase charges,” Constance writes in a letter to landside trade services and transport concerns.

“I have therefore called for restraint from the Port Botany stevedores in not increasing infrastructure access surcharge charges for at least the duration of the COVID-19 response.

“In recognition that cash flow is a pain point raised by the road freight industry, I have requested that Port Botany stevedores engage with Transport for NSW (TfNSW) and the road transport sector to find a solution to payment terms.

“I have advised the stevedores that it would be beneficial to work with road transport operators to arrange relaxation of payment terms to assist operators with cash flow issues during this time.

“I have also noted that such arrangements may help to ensure operators are available in the interests of a competitive supply chain when trade rates return to more normal volumes.”

Read of Melissa Horne’s irritation at container stevedore behaviour, here

Landside parties welcome the move.

“We thank the Minister for listening to our ongoing concerns about the impact these increases in port charges are having on our members during these difficult times,” Road Freight NSW (RFNSW) chief executive Simon O’Hara says.

“The Minister has acknowledged what truckies are telling us – that port charges have the real potential to undermine their viability during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is essential that the State’s supply chains are operating efficiently to keep freight moving. And, as the Minister has said, it is clearly not the time for stevedores to be again, ramping-up their access charges.

“We call on stevedores to act on the Minister’s edict not to increase port charges and to give truckies a break during these tough times.”

Freight & Trade Alliance/Australian Peak Shippers Association (APSA/FTA) sees the move as possibly opening the way for regulation of terminal access charges, also called ‘infrastructure surcharges’ if the Constance approach is again ignored .

“Events have transpired to be the catalyst required to fast-track the long awaited implementation of regulation to stop the use of Infrastructure Surcharges,” FTA director Paul Zalai says.

“Our message to state governments is simple in what is shaping up to be an extended period of economic uncertainty ‘please no more reports, the issues are obvious and we now need decisive action’.”

FTA/APSA points out that states other than NSW would need new legislation to allow for control on access charging but that provision already exists in NSW.

FTA/APSA says it received advice from Freight Victoria CEO Praveen Reddy last week that we will receive “a formal correspondence outlining the Victorian government’s formal response” to the Deloitte Access Economics report on port charges.

A DP World Australia spokesperson declined to comment.


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