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Friday, 19 November 1993
Page: 3279

Senator DEVEREUX —My question is directed to the Minister for Transport and Communications. Following the government's success in achieving major waterfront reforms in the restructuring of the stevedoring sector, which has allowed the focus to move now to other port services, is there any evidence that these reforms are resulting in lower charges for the end users, namely, Australia's exporters and importers?

Senator COLLINS —I am pleased to say that there is, and further evidence of the substantially improved performance of the Australian waterfront was released yesterday. The Bureau of Transport and Communications Economics reported on its development of a port interface cost index which identifies the costs in each segment of the transport chain from the warehouse to the wharf.

  Senator Alston interjecting

Senator COLLINS —If Senator Gabble could stop for about 30 seconds, I would finish this answer. This initiative arose from last year's Warehouse to wharf report from the inquiry into the efficiency of the interface between seaports and the land transport system by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Transport, Communications and Infrastructure. The Bureau of Transport and Communications Economics plans to publish the index every six months to measure changes in stevedoring rates, customs brokers fees, land transport charges and port related charges, which include port authority, government, towage and pilotage charges.

  The current index has compared waterfront costs in 1991 with those in 1992 and has found that total costs of international container movements through the waterfront fell by between five per cent and 11 per cent at Australia's major ports of Sydney and Melbourne. Stevedoring charges themselves declined over this period by a substantial 22 per cent. Shipping lines reduced the average planned stay of their ships in port by almost half a day per port call because of reform efficiency improvements. Container depots are now able to make cargo available five to seven days after ship arrival, compared with the previous average of 10 to 21 days.

  The report notes an apparent decline in port related charges, which, importantly, includes those levied by the state controlled port authorities. However, it attributes this fall primarily to an increase in the number of containers exchanged per ship visit rather than a change in the underlying level of the charges.

  While the current index provides further evidence that the total costs of moving international cargo across the Australian waterfront have clearly and substantially fallen, the government fully recognises the need for continuing reform, particularly in port authorities and other services at the sea-land interface. In order to pursue this, I have provided Peter Morris, the chairman of the House of Representatives standing committee, with a further reference for that committee to inquire on an ongoing basis into the issues raised in the Warehouse to wharf report about improving performance of the sea-land interface.

  The committee has been asked to give particular attention to encouraging participants in the transport system, and particularly the shippers, to recognise their role in improving overall performance. In this regard, the BTCE report provides detailed information which will assist shippers to understand the waterfront industry and raise their awareness of the costs involved in each separate link of the cargo handling chain.