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Urgent fixes needed for sky-rocketing port fees and surcharges

port botany

Road Freight NSW (RFNSW) and the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) have joined forces to table a raft of recommendations to urgently address a slew of serious issues impacting operators at the country’s ports.

In a joint submission to the Productivity Commission (PC) inquiry into the nation’s port system, the peak bodies highlight sky-rocketing fees and surcharges, creeping inefficiencies and the lack of productivity plaguing the country’s ports, which are continuing to impact freight operators and disrupt critical supply chains.

The associations outline how stevedores’ infrastructure/access fees have risen up and in excess to an astonishing 750 per cent; VBS booking fees up to 104 per cent; a 723 per cent increase in the cost per container in the last four years; and empty container park fees have risen on average 61 per cent since September 2020 – with no real productivity gains to show for it.

The joint submission also argues that: “Ports, supply chain and freight are an important nexus for an island nation like Australia. Policy makers need to guard against creeping inefficiencies, the proliferation of costs and parasitic charges by third parties. In particular, road freight has all the carrier, contractual and legal responsibilities while earning the least and dealing with an ageing workforce.”

The key recommendations from RFNSW and the ATA include:

  • Repeal of Part X of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 as it pertains to shipper collective agreements. Their legal, but anticompetitive, behaviour has meant that shippers dictate terms collectively in relation to Australian ports;
  • Retention of the PBLIS (Port Botany Landside Improvement Strategy) regulation at Port Botany. A system that delivers 17- 45 minute turnaround times from a system that delivered 3 – 14 hour delays at Port Botany;
  • Independent price regulation of all surcharges, levies at the port including but not limited to infrastructure access charges and software companies;
  • Increase investment in infrastructure to address inefficiencies in the supply chain caused by larger ships, lack of land transport access to Australian container ports and shortage of space in empty container parks;
  • Explore federal investment in training and skills for the Australian workforce specifically freight and logistics given the average age of a truck driver is substantially higher than the workforce average and the profit margin for freight companies is often less than two per cent;
  • Ensure by way of regulation reasonable container detention policies are administered;
  • Facility owners and operators (including ports) should be parties in the chain of responsibility under the Heavy Vehicle National Law, and
  • Regulation to end the use of long vehicle fees, which place pressure on increasing the number of truck trips required to move the freight task. This increases congestion, increases emissions and reduces productivity.

Commenting on the submission, RFNSW chief executive officer, Simon O’Hara said today: “We welcome the opportunity to provide the PC Inquiry with tangible solutions that will help transport operators slugged with these unjustified, over-the-top price rises at ports and suburban container parks.

“The significant strain our members have been under during the COVID pandemic has exacerbated the myriad of issues impacting industry and the effectiveness of our critical supply chains.

“It’s therefore imperative that the PC consider our recommendations which will see land and maritime logistics work together to boost productivity and economic growth.”

To read the full joint submission, click here.

The Productivity Commission was given eight months to examine the nation’s port system in a bid to boost profitability and operations across Australia’s wharves amid growing concern they are holding back the national economy.

It is due to report back on its findings in August.

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