Brace for 2023 economic headwinds

Much of 2022 was punctuated by three key events that have combined to put real pressure on our national economy, with consequences for the transport industry.

Soaring inflation, rising fuel costs and a normalisation of interest rates after record lows, are leading to higher business and other costs and operators need to prepare for something of a reckoning this year as these increases start to peak.

Operators have rightly factored this into their cost models, recognising that wearing higher business charges is fraught with risk and potentially detrimental to their financial health and wellbeing, and their capacity to employ people.

While this undoubtedly contributes to inflation in the broader economy, the VTA continues to advocate for operators to ensure customers and consumers are appropriately charged for the goods they consume, recognising that transport accounts for around 12-15 per cent of the total cost of goods sold, with this figure expected to rise unless productivity starts to improve.

It is encouraging that the Commonwealth Government is doing its bit to help alleviate the impacts of higher energy costs throughout the economy. Temporary price caps will help to reduce what businesses and consumers pay for energy, freeing up their disposable income to maintain living standards that have been eroding through cost-of-living pressures. We can only hope that as inflation peaks and interest rate growth stabilises over the course of the year, a degree of normalcy starts to return after years of turmoil.

While these are domestic issues we have a degree of control over, the elephant in the room continues to be geopolitical tensions overseas that, while happening thousands of kilometres away, has implications for Australia’s supply chains and economic recovery.

Energy costs will continue to be impacted by the ongoing war in Eastern Europe, which we hope will come to a peaceful resolution as soon as possible. Aside from the humanitarian catastrophe, war continues to impact supply chains and the price of commodities with Ukraine’s export capacity of grains like barley, corn, and wheat severely limited, leading to higher prices everywhere.

In China, an apparent shift away from a ‘zero Covid’ strategy has the potential to continue impacting supply chains. Labour shortages there in manufacturing, agriculture, and other sectors due to an expected spike in transmission will inevitably create domestic blockages.

Australia is particularly vulnerable to foreign supply chain disruptions, especially in the context of global shipping price hikes and the tyranny of distance we feel as a remote island nation. Shipping lines are either bypassing Australia altogether or are limiting their passage here to reduce costs and as a response to reduced supply.

As an industry group, our focus this year will be to advocate for the legislation, regulation and reforms that are necessary to respond to these domestic and international pressures, to limit their impact on our industry.

We will also continue to pursue reforms that are preventing operators from growing their workforce and solving chronic labour and driver shortages that have plagued the industry.

Through our Victorian Government backed programs, we’ve proved that more intensive and practical-based driver training can produce safer drivers, whilst helping to attract new participants to the transport industry such as people looking for a career change and women returning to the workforce.

The next step in this process is to trial the program for young people, including school leavers, which is why we’ve called for a pilot program to accelerate the time to get responsible and capable and extensively trained young people behind the wheel of heavy vehicles.

Training, not experience, should be the benchmark upon which we licence drivers and we will continue our advocacy for this strongly this year.

Notwithstanding the challenges, the future is bright for the Australian transport industry when viewed through the lens of consumption, which continues to grow.

The headwinds are there but they are not insurmountable if we work in unison and towards a common goal.

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