Shipping Industry Ignored For Too Long, Ports Australia National Conference Told

Calls for the shipping industry to be included in Australia’s National Ports Strategy have been ignored.

“How are we to have a serious policy dialogue about ports, freight infrastructure, or about supply chains, and not mention shipping?” the Maritime Union of Australia National Secretary and President of the International Transport Workers’ Federation Paddy Crumlin said today (Wednesday).  

Speaking at the Ports Australia National Conference at the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Hobart, Mr Crumlin also said, “Ports and shipping are the yin and yang of international trade.  

“That is unless you are Infrastructure Australia and the National Transport Commission, which developed a National Ports Strategy but omitted any reference to shipping.  

“Although the union raised our concern about this omission in formal submissions to Infrastructure Australia and the National Transport Commission, and in consultative forums, we have been ignored.   

“This is a serious state of affairs as it now looks like COAG will sign off on the National Ports Strategy with this serious omission.   

“This is a wasted policy opportunity. Let’s not make the same mistake as we develop the National Freight Network Plan.”  

Mr Crumlin said that if the industry was to maximise the utilisation of existing port investments and port assets, and improve port productivity, a range of safety, labour relations, training and workforce issues would need to be addressed by Governments and by the industry.  These issues are not currently part of the National Ports Strategy.   He said stevedoring and freight transport were high risk occupations, demonstrated by the number of deaths and serious injuries, which seriously undermined the opportunity for improved productivity and workforce harmony.  

“The very fact that the Federal Government, all State Governments and the peak social partners – ACCI, AIG and ACTU – unanimously agreed that Safe Work Australia establish a Stevedoring Technical Advisory Group to examine and report on improvements in stevedoring safety is a recognition that stevedoring safety needs serious attention and cannot be left to the industry itself to resolve,” he said.

“Despite Commonwealth bodies like Safe Work Australia and the National Transport Commission being directly involved in port and supply chain safety, Infrastructure Australia - also a Commonwealth body - gave the issue of safety no attention in the National Ports Strategy.  How could this be?”  

Mr Crumlin also told the conference that shipping, both its domestic and international elements, must be central to a national strategy for ports in Australia.  Integrated supply chain improvements can no longer ignore shipping.   He said Australian commodity exporters and the Australian international shipping industry have failed to take full advantage of their market power in effectively managing the supply and value chain opportunities beyond our ports.  

“We believe that Australian shippers, particularly the commodity exporters with long term contracts, have failed to fully understand or pay attention to shipping in their supply and value chain management,” Mr Crumlin said.  

“The evidence can be seen in the large shipping queues at Australia’s coal and to a lesser extent iron ore export ports, in the heavy reliance on foreign ships for our exports, almost exclusively operating under Free On Board (FOB) shipping contracts under which the buyer controls the shipping, and therefore determines the ship scheduling, ship utilisation, crew standards and costs.  

“The predominance of FOB shipping contracts in the international coal and iron ore trade where long term fixed contracts predominate is in marked contrast to the Delivered Ex Ship (DES) contracts, where the seller controls the shipping, in the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) trade for example.   

“We say that the long shipping queues at ports like Newcastle and Dalrymple Bay are as much about poor shipping policy as about structural deficiencies in shore side infrastructure and logistics processes.”  

Mr Crumlin also said Australia’s resource exporters have failed to understand the shipping industry and its significance in supply chain productivity and efficiency.     

Media contacts: Paddy Crumlin 0418 379 660;

Justin Coomber 0457 833 896;

Zoe Reynolds 0417 229 873.