Australia’s supply chain path out of lockdown

The last 18 months has taught us that early planning measures and national consistency are critical to minimising the impact on the supply chain.

Industry needs a pragmatic and clear path forward from health officials to ensure that essential goods and services can continue to be delivered to increasingly expectant consumers.

The inconsistent application of the national freight protocol and the understandably cautious approach by state health officials has had a big impact on supply chain organisations and their employees.

They have managed to keep the economy moving despite a myriad of permits, rules, testing and vaccination requirements. As the vaccination rates increase across the country and state premiers publicise their intentions of lifting lockdowns, we need health departments to engage the industry and finalise their planning.

As we’ve seen from international examples, ‘living with the virus’ means there will be inevitable outbreaks that spread through the community into supply chain networks.

While it is only some states declaring plans to reopen currently, similar approaches will undoubtedly be adopted in all jurisdictions across Australia in the coming months.

This means that industry needs leadership from the National Cabinet process to avoid inconsistency, confusion, and further disruptions as we begin the journey to COVID-normal.

The ongoing pandemic has seen the unsung heroes of the supply chain resiliently adapting to the ever-changing requirements to meet compliance demands, resulting in operational challenges, confusion, and frustration.

By prioritising consultation and collaboration with industry, coupled with 18 months of experience and a considered risk management plan, the National Cabinet can put in place a clear and practical path out of lockdown that includes the critical supply chain network across Australia.

The path could include creating a risk management profile in consultation with governments and industry, assisting to increase compliance whilst reducing administrative burden.

As community and government risk appetite for opening the economy grows, alongside increase in community vaccination rates, risk management approaches need to also adapt.

A national industry safety management system could include:

• ensuring freight and supply chain workers have completed appropriate inductions and training to ensure workers understand and follow COVID safe practices

• promotion of vaccination to the workforce

• regular COVID safe communications • use of government funded Rapid Antigen Testing where appropriate as a proactive measure to limit workplace transmission

• workforce ‘bubbles’ and regular deep cleaning of premises.

The path also needs to include a national approach to the management of close and casual contacts for fully vaccinated employees.

Australia’s supply chain cannot weather large cohorts of the workforce being stood down in isolation as a result of being a close or casual contact.

ALC suggests the path for vaccinated employees exposed to COVID positive contacts should be to isolate until a negative PCR test result is returned.

However, they should not have to isolate for 14 days as per the current requirement in most jurisdictions.

Government funded Rapid Antigen Testing could be administered as a replacement for isolating at the start of each shift, as a proactive measure. Finally, as more of the economy opens up, the requirement for permits for interstate and intrastate freight movements will need to be reconsidered.

If a business has an approved COVID-safe plan and adequate staff safety measures in place, this should remove this administrative requirement.

National planning and alignment are needed now to allow supply chain businesses to plan, adjust, and optimise their operations to continue to meet community needs. Our path out of lockdown hinges on achieving a national and harmonised approach.

Getting the path right will be a little bumpy but ultimately manageable. However, getting it wrong could mean a rocky road to freedom.

Brad Williams

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