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Tuesday, 25 May 1993
Page: 1189

Senator DEVEREUX —My question is also directed to the Minister for Transport and Communications. I refer to the Warehouse to wharf report from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Transport, Communications and Infrastructure into the efficiency of the interface between seaports and land transport. The report emphasised the importance of electronic data interchange technology in improving the efficiency of waterfront services. Can the Minister advise of any recent developments in the expansion of electronic data interchange technology in the transport sector?

Senator COLLINS —The development of electronic data interchange, or EDI, in the waterfront industry is a vital element in improving the overall coordination and interaction of all of the participants in the transport chain. This was highlighted in the Warehouse to wharf report, which recommended the establishment of a national consultative group on EDI to accelerate and coordinate the spread of EDI in the transport sector. It is very impressive to actually have a look at what has been done in the Australian industry just over the past few years with things such as brokerage insurance and so on. In previous years this took a mass of paperwork. The entire transaction can now be completed just by tapping it all out on a keyboard. So there has already been tremendous progress made by industry particularly in providing these EDI services.

  The group that I have just referred to was established late last year. It comprises high level representatives from the relevant Commonwealth and private sector organisations. It has already undertaken a preliminary study of the current state of EDI in the transport sector, identifying any impediments to its implementation and examining possible solutions. Progress is also being made in the alignment of EDI systems between Commonwealth agencies, and of course the major agency that already accesses this EDI system is Customs.

  The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service is ensuring that its electronic transfer of export documentation is developed in line with the Australian Customs Service system that I have just mentioned. Similarly, for imported cargo, both AQIS and ACS are committed to an integrated clearance process whereby both agencies present a common point of entry and exit for importers. Already over 95 per cent of import entries are now lodged and paid for electronically.

  A further initiative will allow cargo manifests to be sent electronically to Customs, which will then direct copies electronically to port authorities and to the quarantine service, and subsequently issue a joint ACS-AQIS clearance through a single electronic message. This system is very good. Might I just say that under the old system that existed only a few years ago it could take up to 100 separate paper transactions to get a container into and out of an Australian port. So a tremendous amount of progress has already been made to obviate all of that.

  The system that I have just referred to, which is called sea cargo automation, is currently undergoing trials in the port of Brisbane. The ultimate aim is to have a completely paperless trading system. This will produce considerable direct cost savings and greatly improved service levels to waterfront users. In fact, I would like to be able to table documents in this Parliament on a floppy disk—if I could put in a quick bid for that—instead of having to lug them into the chamber.

  The Warehouse to wharf inquiry estimated that 40 million documents related to import and export of cargo were generated annually in Australia. As I have said, a single import process was found to involve up to 100 separate pieces of paper. Any reduction in this paper mountain would be a welcome improvement for the trading community in Australia. However, the inquiry also highlighted the vital role of the private sector in addressing inefficiencies at the port-land interface. The adoption of EDI technology places the primary onus on users of waterfront related services to adopt this new technology and make the necessary investment in computer equipment and software to access the system, thereby realising the full benefits to all users of the system.