Knowledge gaps put brakes on industry and operator performance

It has been bandied about the ages in a number of contexts, but its central premise remains steady: if you know something that someone else doesn’t, you’re at a distinct advantage. The phrase is especially relevant to our billion dollar freight and logistics industry, which relies on accurate, timely and measureable knowledge and information to guide decision-making for informed short-, medium- and long-term planning.

This can involve hundreds of millions of dollars in expenditure on new plant and equipment, human resources, infrastructure, acquisitions and other vital investments to help improve the health and productivity of our industry. So, it’s critical that the data these decisions are based on are as bulletproof as possible. Regrettably, this isn’t the case today.
As an industry, our contribution to the national economy is often understated, in part because it is too diffuse in terms of its size, scope and reach. A sub-contractor with his own vehicle moving goods on a prescribed route four times a week, though exponentially smaller, makes just as important a contribution to our national accounts as does a tier one operator running a 500+ vehicle fleet around the country.

Our national accounting system tracks the economic impact of the Transport, Postal and Warehousing industry – inclusive of postal services, warehousing and transport services. It likely fails to collect data that, if captured, would provide a truer reflection of its impact.

For example, national accounts do not capture a great deal of freight movements that are carried out by companies on their own account. For reporting purposes, this activity is identified in the national accounts as being part of those companies’ primary industry, as an ancillary industry. This can lead to legislators and policymakers making decisions on how, where and when to target road, rail and sea freight infrastructure, that are badly off-the mark because they’ve been based on incomplete information.

Addressing this knowledge gap is vital for the health of our economy and the prosperity of our industry. While the Australian Bureau of Statistics does track economic indicators and measures around transport, they are underestimated because, as in the example above, they do not track services that are undertaken by firms on their own account.

The National Transport Commission (NTC) has embarked on an ambitious journey to bridge the knowledge gap. In Phase One of the project, a report was produced analysing the composition of our industry and summarising existing information about the movement of freight and people. That report has updated ABS and BITRE from 1984 on the composition of the industry.

The second phase of the project – now out for consultation – could lead to the commissioning of a discussion paper that identifies all the information gaps, explores options for how they could be filled – and who fills them – and looks at measures for improving data collection and sharing among regulators, legislators and industry.

The VTA fully supports this work of the NTC, who is to be commended for recognising the gaps, and taking steps to fill them. In its recent Business Case for the project, the NTC stated its benefits would include “information about passenger and freight movements over road and rail in Australia being updated more frequently, as well as identifying opportunities for improving strategic information available to transport decision makers.”

We wholeheartedly support attainment of these benefits. The VTA is not alone in supporting this much-needed NTC project, with widespread expressions of interest from many in the commercial transport industry across road, rail and passenger sectors, industry regulators governments, the ABS, BITRE, AustRoads, the Institute for Supply Chain Logistics and other representative groups.

We encourage others to get involved and let policy makers know accurate information is in our national interest. A prosperous transport industry depends on it.

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