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A FEDERAL proposal to deregulate the shipping industry and allow foreign ships to compete in Australia’s freight market puts the rail freight sector at risk.
Rail, Tram and Bus Union executive director Stewart Prins said stagnant investment on rail infrastructure had left the freight industry fighting to compete already, without additional pressure from overseas players.
A government proposal to change the way cargo vessels are regulated and allow foreign-flagged ships to compete for a slice of the pie without following Australian regulations was quietly released in late 2020.
A BHP freight train carrying Australian iron ore to port. Australia ships around a third of its overall exports to China. PHOTO: IAN WALDIEMr Prins said the proposed reforms threatened Australian businesses operating under Australian laws.
“They operate in a different regulatory system,” he said.
“Road transport has been speeding up consistently, while trains are often stuck at 60-70km/h on tracks that are not up to standard.
“If you add into the mix sea freight, foreign ships are effectively competing against Australian vessels, road, rail and sea, but not having to abide by the same rules.”
Mr Prins said the reforms would make it easier for foreign vessels to pick up and deliver containerised freight from ports along the eastern seaboard, directly competing with freight trains operating between Brisbane and Townsville.
In the long run, he said it also jeopardised the business case for a proposed extension to the planned inland rail project into central and North Queensland. The inland rail is a planned freight rail line connecting Melbourne and Brisbane via regional Victoria, NSW and Queensland.
A pre-feasibility study has considered the benefit of extending the rail link to the Port of Gladstone and Mr Prins said the “logical next step” would push the line further north.
“The Rail, Tram and Bus Union has concerns that the rail freight sector is already facing significant challenges arising from a lack of investment in infrastructure, especially in comparison to the amount of investment into road projects like the Bruce Highway,” Mr Prins said.
“The withdrawal of Aurizon from intermodal rail services should have been a wake-up call, but the federal government has seemingly slept through the alarm. The prospect of open-slather competition against foreign shipping companies could send the intermodal freight sector, and all the jobs it supports, over the edge.”
The union estimates the proposal has the potential to “decimate” up to 10,000 regional freight jobs.
Union national secretary Mark Diamond called for Transport Minister Michael McCormack to quash the proposal saying it was “astounding to think” the Commonwealth Department of Transport would give foreign-owned shipping operators a stronger foothold in the Australian market.
The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications could not be reached for comment.
This article first appeared on www.townsvillebulletin.com.au
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