PORTS have an important role to play in any effort to rehabilitate Australian coastal shipping, but several major impediments stand in the way of any such revitalisation.
That was the verdict of a panel that discussed the issue during the Australian Logistics Council’s Forum 2018.
The panel was made up of NSW Ports CEO Marika Calfas, Newcastle Ports CEO Geoff Crowe, Landbridge Group director Mike Hughes and Port of Melbourne CEO Brendan Bourke.
The coastal shipping discussion was sparked by a question from Shipping Australia CEO Rod Nairn, who asked what private port managers could do to encourage more freight to be moved by sea?
“We can take some of the load off [road and rail] and use some of the available assets we’ve got, which is the ocean highway – Ports Australia would call it the blue highway,” he said.
Mr Nairn suggested domestic freight could move through ports faster than international freight, and ports could drive the performance of their terminals.
“Can we break down some of the barriers that make shipping less competitive for domestic cargo to increase the capacity and the volumes through your ports, and is that something that you would be targeting?” Mr Nairn asked the panel.
Mr Bourke said private ports clearly had an interest in increasing the amount of freight that went through the ports, but they had limited options, as the ability to expedite domestic freight lay with stevedores.
“The difficulty is… they [stevedores] are the tenants of our port, it’s very difficult for us to step into the shoes of an operator and tell them what they should do – I think that’s a step too far,” he said.
“What we can do is encourage them to structure their arrangements so they can facilitate the others… The ports can be an advocate, but not necessarily dictate.”
Ms Calfas said anything that increased cargo throughput would be a boon for NSW Ports, particularly in exports.
“Out of Port Botany, for every full container we import, four of them go out full, and six carry air – it’s much better for us if we can get those six with air filled,” she said.
But, Ms Calfas said the key impediment to getting more domestic freight onto ships was still the coastal shipping legislation, but once that was taken care of, another impediment would loom.
“The other thing, once you do actually get some opening and an opportunity, you actually need to prove that it’s going to work,” she said.
“You’re going to have to prove to those who transport domestically, on the road or rail, that coastal shipping is reliable, it is cost-effective and there is a level of frequency of service that works for them.
“So, if the coast shipping legislation is dealt with, and I hope we can… there’s still that next step that you’re going to have to prove to the customer that it is reliable, efficient and cost-effective.”
Mr Crowe acknowledged there was much more coastal shipping in the past and it was worthwhile to work to revitalise it.
“There is discussion ongoing on that, but there is still work to do,” he said.