OPINION: Groundhog Day a very real possibility in the supply chain

Brian HackCountryman
Shipping containers sit stacked at the Port of Fremantle in Perth. Photographer: Sergio Dionisio/Bloomberg
Camera IconShipping containers sit stacked at the Port of Fremantle in Perth. Photographer: Sergio Dionisio/Bloomberg Credit: Sergio Dionisio/Bloomberg, Sergio Dionisio

With two months until we ring in the new year, we’re facing the very real prospect of 2022 being a repeat of 2021 and 2020, in terms of supply-chain congestion, unless we take action to implement change.

It’s time for a task force to be established, backed by the McGowan Government, to help navigate our way out of ongoing delays and bottlenecks, which is having an impact on retailers and consumers, and costing the WA economy.

Whether the mode of transport is sea, air, road or rail, it’s all part of the supply chain and we need to start addressing the myriad issues or risk economic damage.

A task force will bring together the best minds from relevant industries and organisations, such as the WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry, unions and port operators among others, to develop long-term solutions.

We’re already seeing the impacts of current delays, with retailers struggling to meet consumer demand, wait times for materials in the construction industry, and more recently the agriculture industry left waiting for vital harvest-related equipment.

Myself and other industry stakeholders are tired of simply identifying the problems, and want to work collaboratively to develop actual solutions. However, a key element to the success of a task force will be to have the backing of the State Government.

Ports and Transport Minister Rita Saffioti should lead it if it’s to have a meaningful impact.

No one needs another talkfest. We as an industry want to start developing realistic solutions, that can be implemented across the short, medium, and long term. It’s about ensuring the answers work for the entire supply chain and don’t just provide a bandaid solution for one particular industry.

I am confident a task force will have the support of the majority of stakeholders, and could develop real solutions on priority issues.

Industrial action

Resolving ongoing disputes between Maritime Union workers and stevedoring companies needs to occur as a matter of urgency. It’s not about attributing blame, but we need all sides to work constructively to reach an agreement.

24/7 economy

While vessels and the ports operate 24 hours a day, other sections of the West Australian supply chain do not, resulting in bottlenecks. In the same way retail extends trading hours and increases staff during the busy Christmas period, the supply-chain may need to do the same, in the short term.

Documentation processing times

Processing times for arrivals are blowing out, despite extra funding in the previous State Budget. Streamlining regulations and improved communication from the department would help speed up processing times.

Increased costs

Pandemic-related delays and bottlenecks have pushed freight prices higher as desperate companies pay premium prices to guarantee space on vessels. Easing some congestion from within the supply chain could assist in adding capacity, potentially allowing prices to level out. A shortage of workers, exacerbated by WA’s hard border closure, is also having an impact, with the Western Roads Federation recently warning the State requires hundreds more truck drivers, mechanics, and train drivers, among other roles.

It’s clear the entire supply chain is experiencing problems, it’s not just a case of fixing one issue. Numerous problems need to be solved, concurrently.

The economic cost of doing nothing will be significant, with numerous sectors of the domestic economy now feeling the brunt of supply-chain delays.

The time for waiting is over and unless we take action and start making changes, then you might as well start planning your 2022 Christmas shopping now, because we’ll be seeing the same old problems in a brand new year.

Brian Hack is the managing director at EES Shipping.

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