More Coastal Shipping in Australia

THE Australian Shipowners Association has been buoyed by the release of two studies that backed its lines on coastal shipping and employment.

The inter-governmental Australian Maritime Group commissioned one report, ‘International and Domestic Shipping and Ports Study’ and released in May, from consultants led by the respected Meyrick and Associates.

“Shipping’s share of the inter-capital non-bulk freight task [movements parallel to the coast] is currently small, just 3% in terms of mass,” it said. “In our judgment, the balance can be tipped in favour of a role for dedicated coastal shipping in the transportation of this freight.”

This seemingly revolutionary outcome could be achieved through a combination of:

• Improved service offerings than have yet been offered in the market, which provide a service quality similar to rail at a lower price;

• The lead being taken by, or in partnership with, an existing door-to-door transportation firm with the financial capability to invest in ships, domestic equipment and possibly co-invest in dedicated port infrastructure; and

• A supportive policy framework from governments which stimulates innovation in and promotes the use of non-bulk coastal shipping in a manner that facilitates efficient choices between the various modes of transport.

“We also believe the current domestic container shipping operations offered by international permit vessels is volatile and unable to offer the level of service or space to contest additional cargoes currently carried by land transport modes. International cargoes will always take priority over domestic ones,” it said. “Withdrawal of capacity by international operators would also have implications for land transport.

“Government policy on road and rail has the capability to impact upon the future modal share of domestic shipping. Regulations on road size and weight limits, driver fatigue, fuel emissions, carriage of hazardous cargoes and decisions whether to invest in new rail infrastructure all can to tip the balance in favour of shipping. These considerations suggest a gap or role does exist for dedicated domestic container shipping and increased coastal bulk shipping.”

The other report was the product of a bi-partisan senate committee whose ‘Workforce Challenges in the Transport Industry’, the ASA believed: “Identified the key issues affecting maritime skills and apportioned responsibility for action in a way that will drive outcomes.”

Teresa Hatch, maritime operations director, said: “The recommendation that section 23AG of the tax act be reviewed is one of those rare everyone’s a winner situations. The bipartisan nature of the Senate committee should guarantee support for a simple amendment which will throw open the doors of opportunity to young Australians considering a seafaring career.”

This belated recognition that ships have a part to play in shouldering an ever-increasing transport load has yet to be replicated by the present federal government after nearly 12 years in power. And this continues to grate with association chief executive Lachlan Payne. “If the policy of implementing change by not having done anything has achieved its desired outcome, then the current government could say it has achieved this,” he said.

“The outcome has been for the industry to diminish; reliance on international operators to increase; for regulatory constraints on Australians to continue to impose competitive disadvantage on them; it’s caused ship operators to leave Australian flags in favour of foreign flags for registering ships; it’s encouraged ship operators to resituate themselves outside Australia. And if the government thinks those are desirable outcomes, then they’ve worked beautifully because the facts are that’s what happened.” 

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