A REPORT branding Australia’s ports “a wicked problem” has earned a sharp rebuke from industry body Ports Australia.

The report was prepared by Ai Group, an employer body.

“It is clear from an Ai Group Discussion Paper… that significant issues associated with our ports persist which could undermine our resilience, competitiveness and COVID recovery,” said Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox.

“As an island nation, 98% of Australia’s trade goes through our ports and most Australian jobs rely on ports in some way through import/export trade,” he said.

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“Despite our dependence on them, Australia has followed many other countries by largely privatising our ports to fund other state infrastructure projects and reduce debt.

“However, privatisation has brought risks: undervaluation of port assets, increasing port charges, competition issues, less port investment and less concern for long-term public interest.”

Mr Willox said issues had been exacerbated by industrial action.

In a statement, a Ports Australia spokesperson said it was disappointing Australian Industry Group had released their paper without first consulting the ports industry.

“The report is littered with inaccuracies and clearly represents a significant lack of understanding about ports and wider Australian and international maritime and logistics sectors,” PA stated.

“It also fails to understand the close working relationship between Australian ports and both state and federal governments on issues such as planning, infrastructure investment, environmental and biosecurity protection, border security and our strong nationwide involvement with locally based, community projects.”

PA noted references to the ‘chaos’ that occurred during the early impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as Australia experienced panic buying.

“It was during this time that the ports sector worked with every other link in the supply chain to restock supermarket shelves by enabling the rapid flow of goods across the country,” the spokesperson said.

“The professionalism and experience of the logistics supply chain assisted in restoring calm and confidence to the Australian community and we have continued to do so throughout this crisis.

“We look forward to meeting with Australian Industry Group to talk through their issues and provide them with a broader understanding.”

The Ai Group report can be viewed here.

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