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Prime minister flags federal ports and freight probe

National container transport issues in unusually strong focus


Prime minister Scott Morrison has foreshadowed a Productivity Commission examination of the nation’s disfunctional ports logistics system.

The federal probe was revealed in a virtual address Australian Industry Group (AiG) this week.

Announcement of the Productivity Commission examination comes at a time of greatly increased scrutiny of the container line industry as it impacts domestically and operates internationally.

This has now reached the very highest political level.

The port container logistics sector has been a focus of sustained criticism from haulage interests for decades but this has ramped up in recent years due to soaring unregulated landside charges and imposts from stevedores and neglect of market mechanism that has seen local and export costs rise.

This has been brought into even sharper focus by pandemic-induced trade disruption and huge shipping cost increases, exacerbated locally by industrial action, which Morrison noted.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is already in the midst of its own review of international container shipping and handling, and the protection afforded by Part X of the federal Competition and Consumer Act.

Read why the ACCC is looking into container shipping, here

“In light of the recent ACCC Container Monitoring Report, the Government is also examining broader issues associated with the relative productivity of Australian ports,” Morrison told the AiG.

“Ports are the gateway for our economy. Inefficient ports are a tax on all of us.

“Coalition Governments – Liberals and Nationals – have always understood this, and have always been prepared to take action to ensure our ports can serve our economy as best as they possibly can.

“And we are taking action by improving port productivity through infrastructure projects, tackling regulatory inefficiencies at the Australian border through the Simplified Trade System – which will streamline compliance costs for Australian importers and exporters while replacing legacy ICT systems.

“Now, it’s clear, however, that productivity challenges remain in Australia’s maritime logistics system. These relate to competition, industrial relations, infrastructure constraints and technology uptake.

“Now, shortly the Treasurer will be releasing the terms of reference for a Productivity Commission enquiry into the efficiency of our maritime logistics system.

“This is not an enquiry that I see going on for a long time. I want to see this back here by the middle of the year.”


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