The freight and logistics sector is the lifeblood of the Australian economy.
It is critical that the federal government support the sector with appropriate infrastructure investment, while also providing policy leadership and working with industry and other levels of governments to facilitate the efficient movement of goods around the nation.
In that context, it is good that the federal Coalition government is working on a National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy, to be finalised later this year. However, it must be noted that the former federal Labor government produced such a strategy, the National Land Freight Strategy, in 2012.
Developed by Infrastructure Australia with input from the National Transport Commission, industry and the states and territories, it was a blueprint for a streamlined, integrated and multi-modal transport system. It also complemented the National Ports Strategy, which we had published that same year.
In 2013, the incoming Coalition ignored the strategy, before deciding three years later to start afresh. Putting aside the waste of five important years, it is right thing for the Commonwealth to finally seek to provide leadership in this important area of economic policy. Getting freight distribution systems right boosts productivity and that drives economic growth and, most importantly, job creation.
Australia’s existing freight and logistic network is struggling to cope with the demands already placed on it, let alone the added demand that’s expected in the years ahead. Australia’s population is expected to grow by 400,000 people a year. That’s a lot of extra consumers who will expect the shelves of their favourite shops and supermarkets to be filled with the products and brands they enjoy.
Then there will be the growing demand from industry to supply the raw material and capital equipment required to make those consumer goods and for exporters to get their products to market as quickly as possible.
As the work load increases, we must look rail to lift its share of the freight task compared with other modes of transport. That is not to diminish the indispensable role of road transport. Road, air and sea transport will all play their part. But when it comes to moving large volumes of freight over long distances, rail has significant advantages that we must exploit in coming decades.
Rail does the job at a lower cost and more safely. It is also the most energy-efficient mode of land transport, meaning less pollution and a smaller carbon footprint. In fact, rail produces three times less harmful carbon emissions than road. Having more freight carried by rail also translates into lower highway maintenance costs, less congested urban arteries and fewer road accidents. Just one 1800 metre can replace as many as 100 trucks.
When you add up these competitive advantages, it is clear that a growing role for rail must sit at the centre of the new freight strategy.
The modernisation of the nation’s rail freight infrastructure is a project that serves the national interest. It must continue.
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