The efficiency of Australia’s ports is critical to our efforts to broaden Australia’s sources of economic and jobs growth in the wake of the end of the investment stage of the mining boom.
At a time of economic transition, we must ensure that our railways, roads and ports have sufficient capacity to support non-mining sectors, particularly in regional areas.
Businesses crave logistical certainty.
That’s why 2017 is the right time to lift investment in transport infrastructure, a point made repeatedly by business leaders and economists including Reserve Bank chairman Philip Lowe and his predecessor, Glenn Stevens.
We could start by getting on with the long-proposed Inland Rail project linking Brisbane and Melbourne, which would significantly boost capacity through our nation’s eastern agricultural heartland.
The former Labor Government invested $600 million improving those parts of the existing lines that would form part of Inland Rail and left $300 million in the Budget for further work.
But since 2013, not a single sleeper has been laid.
That’s not good enough.
In NSW we need to increase the capacity of the Port Botany by completing the duplication of the Port Botany Rail Line as well as the Maldon-Dombarton rail link, which would connect Port Kembla and south-west Sydney.
But as important as it is to lift investment, that investment must meet long-term strategic imperatives. If the wrong projects are funded, it will divert funds from productivity boosting projects.
The Perth Freight Link was announced in its 2014 Budget, without the benefit of a detailed plan or any cost-benefit analysis into the project.
While the stated aim of this project is to take trucks to the Port of Fremantle, planning has been so chaotic that on the current design, the road would stop 3km short of the port.
That’s not good enough either.
But the broader strategic issue is that the Port of Fremantle will reach full capacity within just a few years.
Rather than building the Freight Link, we should focus on port capacity in the long term.
It makes more sense to focus on the development of the Outer Harbour proposal, along with investment in public transport in Perth to take cars off the roads and deliver productivity gains across the entire economy.
Strategic planning is critical.
Last November, in his annual address to Parliament on infrastructure, the Prime Minister announced a plan to develop a strategy to increase the productivity and efficiency of Australia’s freight supply chain.
This is unnecessary. The work has already been done.
Under the former Federal Labor Government, Infrastructure Australia and the National Transport Commission were tasked with consulting with industry, as well as the states and territories, to produce the National Ports Strategy and the National Land Freight Strategy.
Together with the creation of national regulators, historic shipping reforms and Labor’s Government’s record infrastructure budget, these strategies provided a strong foundation for rising productivity and faster economic growth.
In the globalised world of the 21st Century, the prices consumers pay and the health of businesses more depends than ever on having better, less congested roads, faster, more reliable railways and modern, efficient sea and air ports.
The National Ports Strategy, produced in January, 2011, promotes better long term planning on the waterfront, with operators required to publish 15 to 30 year master plans detailing expected growth at their ports and the facilities required to handle that growth.
It also streamlined environmental approval processes and established protocols for better planning around ports, with state and local planning authorities required to implement “buffer” strategies to prevent encroachment on the ports as well as road and rail corridors.
The National Land Freight Strategy set out principles for greater focus on an integrated transport system designed to move goods into and out of major ports and around our country quickly, reliably and at lowest cost.
These strategies provide a clear framework for moving forward.
Anthony Albanese is the opposition spokesman for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development.
This piece appeared in the Australian newspaper today.