Looking at the big picture in Qld

From its inception, the Queensland Transport and Logistics Council has brought an increased focus in the corridors of power in Brisbane on the issues affecting the movement of goods around the Sunshine State. Working together with the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR), the QTLC has become the interface between the government and a transport industry who is chomping at the bit to get increased productivity and regulatory reform.

A new perspective from governments around Australia has seen them get involved in genuine consultation instead of simply paying lip service to the concept. Some of the impetus for this change of heart has come from the recommendations of the Henry Tax Review released last year. In the review the emphasis was put on the government to aid improvements in productivity throughout the economy.

The QTLC sees the freight and logistics industry coming together to work under a single banner and be a single voice when talking to Queensland’s Minister of Transport, Rachel Nolan. The committed involvement of all the major stakeholders in the Queensland economy who are concerned with freight logistics gives the organisation the credibility it needs when sitting down with ministers and senior bureaucrats.

“At the moment, from all transport modes, there is quite a mature attitude towards our freight future,” says QTLC Chairman Neil Findlay. “The attitude is that Australia, in general, needs to adopt a modal optimisation mindset and put in the past some of the baggage which has been constraining us. If it’s a commodity which is suited to rail, then for God’s sake,put it on rail!

“We have to have a rational thought process which says, if you are moving something like containers from Toowoomba to Brisbane, it is unlikely they can be moved efficiently on rail. Therefore, we have to provide the best possible road freight option we can find. At the moment, A-doubles look like providing that solution. How do we make it better? We need to do some work on a couple of bridges. This is just a small example of what can be done.”

The new-found atmosphere of cooperation between the various modes of transport has developed in recent years as a result of the realisation within the industry that problems associated with Queensland’s fast growth, growing freight task and increasing congestion are not being addressed. The individual components of the supply chain were each making separate and often conflicting presentations to the powers that be. This gave the government a confused message and a license to develop policy without full consultation, in advance, with stakeholders in the freight and logistics industry.

The QTLC has been involved around the state and was part of the Remote Indigenous Supply Chain (RIFC) study which looked into getting better freight outcomes for supplying the Torres Strait Islands. There were some good operations but with little cohesion. For example, government departments were separately supplying resources into various areas and the study worked out how a better collective outcome could be achieved.

The Freight Smart Grants project is also under the purview of the QTLC. Dollar for dollar grants are being provided to industry through the Queensland Government. QTLC has been charged with the process of seeking applicants, assessing applications and allocating the funding. They are looking for organisations in the freight sector to come up with innovative ideas that reduce environmental impact. The first round of grants is expected to be announced soon.

The most significant development yet, since the formation of the QTLC, and strongly influenced by its existence, is the release by TMR of a new draft Integrated Freight Strategy for Queensland. This draft has come about after a period of intensive research and targeted stakeholder consultation between the government and the transport and logistics industry to come up with a vision for the future of integrated freight solutions in Queensland.

“The QTLC were quite heavily involved in the development of the Freight Strategy with TMR,” says QTLC Vice Chairman, Mark Johnston from Haulmark Trailers. “In fact, we went out and did our own consultation including workshops and a whole range of things. From this we created the report which we presented to TMR and from which they developed their strategy.”

“This initial release of the freight strategy is not the action agenda, it is the second stage, after the TMR have received feedback, which will set the agenda for the future development of the freight logistics industry in Queensland.”

Now that it has been published for consultation, the new Freight Strategy will be examined by three committees set up by the QTLC covering infrastructure, intermodal and the fraught area of access and regulation. In order to get some genuine feedback on this document the QTLC is looking for operators both from Queensland and those nationally who operate in Queensland to give their feedback. QTLC intends to work as a conduit for ideas from the grassroots, and stakeholders who are working in freight logistics, into the consultation process.

“We will be looking at issues like where are the best possible places to put intermodal centres,” says Neil. “We need to work on some really prickly issues like how we develop weatherproof freight access into North Queensland. We will be identifying key freight routes and the infrastructure inhibitors for those routes, bridge limits and weight limits, stuff like that. We need to work out what are the key priorities, because Queensland needs to be able to hold its hand up to Infrastructure Australia and tell them the critical points at which funding should be spent.

“Queensland has done a lot of good work but it hasn’t been very well coordinated. We need all of the parties to put together a coherent strategy now, so that when the funding round comes along we can say ‘right, this is what we need and this is where we need it’. We could say, for example, money needs to be spent to improve access to Rockhampton to make it more flood proof. We may have to look at areas like the Surat Basin, it’s not just about getting the coal and gas out, it’s also about getting all the equipment and supplies into the area.

“I think it should be stressed that we are not just about infrastructure, we are also working in areas like regulation and whatever issues come across the table. Broader policy and regulation issues, like PBS, are clearly on our radar. Our members have been working with the A-double project into Brisbane Port. Our charter is very broad we are not limited to just talking about bridges and roads or ports.”

This kind of consultation is expected to be a much more open process than we may have seen in the past. Many in the freight and logistics industry have been reticent about giving direct feedback when dealing directly with state government bureaucrats but should feel more comfortable expressing those opinions to committees made up of people who speak the same language and work in the same industry.

“As these working groups are formalised, we are looking for people to contribute to these working groups,” says Neil. “It could mean getting involved or just giving us access to information. We have got a no holds barred attitude to where we will go to get the input. We have appointed a project manager to aid the project and this will mean the task should not be too onerous for those who get on board.

“It is important to stress this, because the people that you need are very busy. It’s difficult to get the time out of them because they are so busy but they are the ones with the knowledge and understanding which we desperately need. We won’t be overburdening the people we need to help on these working groups, they might only have to meet, in person, every three months.”

Involvement in the process of developing a new strategy document has given the QTLC the confidence to expect genuine results which will benefit productivity and efficiency in the industry generally. They are now looking for positive practical suggestions, based on the principles set out in the document, as to where freight logistics policy and industrial development can head into the next few decades.

“We are an apolitical organisation, we work with the government not with any particular party,” says Neil. “We are also, clearly, not modally focused, our mission in life is to find the best freight outcome, regardless of whether it is shifted by road, rail, ports, airfreight, conveyors or pipelines. Our job is to advise government and the industry on how to get the best freight outcomes.

“With this project, we are looking at a 20 to 30 year horizon, so with that mindset there are a lot of major freight issues on the table. You only have to look at the predicted freight growth figures, and even if you accept the ‘Fudge Factor’, there is going to be considerable freight growth. A lot of this growth is going to take place in South East Queensland and so then it begs the question, what are we going to do about access to the port, what will we do with intermodal facilities and how is this freight task going to fit with residential development?

“Are we going to get access for B-triples or A-doubles, will we get a standard gauge railway in there? These are some really tricky issues and if we are taking some long-term views which are well beyond electoral cycles. Regardless of which government comes in or out, these are the kinds of policy understandings which Queensland needs to have to make sure we get the right outcomes.”

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