Australia's first National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy (Freight Strategy) was recently released, setting goals and targets for the transportation industry to 2024.

In the third of our four-part series we take a step back to see where the Freight Strategy came from and examine the third critical action area that was identified: Better planning, coordination and regulation.

We also look at the implications in a local context, with a short commentary about NSW's freight requirements outlined at the end of this article.

Where did the Freight Strategy come from?

In March 2017, the Commonwealth Government initiated the Inquiry into National Freight and Supply Chain Priorities (Inquiry). This itself was influenced by a recommendation made by Infrastructure Australia in 2016 that governments and industry work together to develop a 'whole-of-network' strategy examining Australia's freight and supply chains.

The aim of the Inquiry was to identify priorities for Australia for the next 20 years to improve freight and supply chain efficiency and capacity.

An expert panel was established to lead the Inquiry, whose members had significant freight industry experience.

The Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development assisted by preparing supporting papers on areas such as air and maritime freight, and analysis of capital city key freight route performance.

The Inquiry conducted extensive government and industry consultation and received 127 submissions.

In early 2018, the expert panel and Inquiry made recommendations and the Inquiry's report was released on 18 May 2018.

Following release of the reports, Commonwealth, State and Territory governments committed to the development of the Freight Strategy and continued to consult with stakeholders including through ten focus groups held in late 2018.

This further work identified two main groups of long-term change drivers in freight and supply chains, namely:

  • environmental pressures, such as climate change, energy sources and usage, and the consumer driven push for sustainability in supply chains
  • automation technologies, such as automated transport and freight facilities, and the impact of advanced manufacturing (such as 3D printing).

The Freight Strategy was ultimately adopted at the 2 August 2018 meeting of the Transport and Infrastructure Council (Council) on 2 August 2019. The Council is part of the Council of Australian Governments, also known as COAG.

Governments will be required to report on progress of the strategy annually, with a major review every five years.

The third critical action area: Better planning, coordination and regulation

The desired outcomes for this action are:

  • improve planning for moving freight across the nation
  • improved heavy vehicle access
  • future-focused freight regulation (productivity, safety, security and sustainability)
  • planning for a resilient freight system.

Perhaps the critical 2024-goal is that all levels of Australian government become 'freight aware'. While this may seem like a statement of the obvious, it needs to be borne in mind that many different government departments, at state and federal level, as well as local governments, can have influence over individual freight related projects. The residential use of land ostensibly reserved for freight corridors is one example. By way of a second example, the Inland Rail project must negotiate with dozens of state and federal government departments, as well as local governments, often with competing and/or inconsistent requirements.

It should not be assumed that these various departments talk to each other, let alone cooperate.

At a local level

The National Action Plan (Action Plan) identifies the need to, among other things, ensure freight demand is integrated into both transport and land use planning. It also recognises that freight needs to be given more consideration in governmental planning and decision-making.

In the NSW context, the government has produced a NSW Freight and Ports Plan 2018-2023 (Plan).

The Plan also recognises the importance of making freight front of mind for decision makers and integrating the demands of freight in both transport and land-use planning.

The Planning Act in NSW was amended relatively recently to give effect to statutory strategic planning, to establish a long-term strategic vision for an area and then required decision-makers to implement that vision at both the district and the local level.

The Greater Sydney Region Plan, the strategic plan for the whole of metropolitan Sydney, recognises the need to create efficient freight networks and to seek to identify and preserve long-term transport corridors for freight as part of a push to enhance the overall productivity of the region.

As part of the implementation of the Plan the NSW Government is investigating identifying and protecting land around important trade gateways such as Port Botany, Sydney Airport, Western Sydney Airport and Newcastle Port.

Also at the local level the NSW Government is also pressing Council's to ensure that they adequately plan for current and future freight requirements as part of the preparation of local strategic planning statements.

The intent being that these important considerations are ultimately reflected in the Council's local environmental plans which operate at the local level.

Hopefully these kind of initiatives, operating under the umbrella of the Action Plan can ensure that by 2024 the East Coast of Australia will have in place:

  • a series of long-term strategic freight plans linked in to relevant land use and transport planning documents
  • statutory provisions that seek to protect key freight corridors and precincts from encroachment
  • the assurance that land use planning and development assessment decision-making at the local level adequately considers the impact of development on existing and future freight operations.

Click here to read our previous article on examining the second critical action and stay tuned for our final part next week.

This publication does not deal with every important topic or change in law and is not intended to be relied upon as a substitute for legal or other advice that may be relevant to the reader's specific circumstances. If you have found this publication of interest and would like to know more or wish to obtain legal advice relevant to your circumstances please contact one of the named individuals listed.