Ports Australia is urging governments to safeguard the supply chain by planning now before we begin living with COVID-19 and not waiting for inevitable outbreaks to occur.
As the rapid increase in vaccination rates across the country inspire state Premiers to tout their intentions of lifting lockdowns once certain thresholds are met, we need Health departments around Australia to do the planning with industry now. When the time comes to begin “living with the virus” as it’s being reported in mass media, outbreaks spreading throughout the community and into supply chain networks will be inevitable.
While it may only be a small number of Premiers declaring plans to reopen their states to begin with, this approach will undoubtedly be adopted in all jurisdictions across Australia in the coming months, meaning we need leadership from the Federal Government to avoid inconsistency and confusion.
Ports Australia is not currently aware of any contingency plans being coordinated by government authorities for when outbreaks inevitably occur at key supply chain points, like ports or intermodal terminals.
Whether or not workers are vaccinated, there must be plans for when outbreaks spread through workforces along the supply chain, be it port staff, truckies, rail operators, or anyone in between. Small pockets of those workforces being stood down is the best-case scenario but still far from ideal; however, the time may come where an entire port’s operational labour force is struck.
There is no way a critical piece of infrastructure like a capital city container port can be shut down which will avoid mass panic when supermarket shelves go unstocked or not compromise the already-fragile integrity of our economy. Equally, the impact on our economy will be devastating if any number of our major resource exporting ports are closed for a period of time.
There are questions we must answer now before the situation reaches a tipping point, such as:
• What will be the protocol if a supply chain worker is infected? Will all close contacts (i.e. colleagues) be forced into isolation?
• Will an area of the supply chain (e.g. port or terminal) be closed for cleaning following exposure to a COVID-19 case?
We cannot wait until we reach such a situation to respond, the planning must be done now by health departments in consultation with industry to ensure we never reach a situation where critical supply chain assets are endangered on a scale we have never been made to comprehend.
Ports Australia urges authorities begin facilitating desktop exercises whereby industry and government can collaborate through real scenarios of workforce virus outbreaks and the like, ironing out the approach and management to situations which could become reality in coming months. This initiative can be driven by the Federal Government and executed by government departments across individual jurisdictions.
Once such planning has been completed, industry members will need clear direction from their relevant health and safety authorities as to the protocols in place to protect their workers and maintain the flow of trade.
Ports Australia’s CEO, Mike Gallacher discussed the devastation such situations could cause and what industry needs from government.
‘The fragility of our economy and the looming threat of a recession will be crystallised like never before if we see unprecedented shutdowns along the supply chain,’ Mike said.
‘We, the supply chain, know our job and we’ve got Australia’s back, but we need the assurance from government they have a firm understanding of how we operate which is reflected through their planning to protect our people and operations.
‘We’ve seen moments of public hysteria throughout the pandemic like when toilet paper went flying off supermarket shelves at unprecedented rates, and that was when the supply chain was strong-functioning!
‘We cannot afford to have this poorly planned… we appreciate government authorities are overwhelmed right now but that will be taken to a whole new level when panic ensues once again,’ Mike ended.
Media: Josh Appleton – E: firstname.lastname@example.org, P: 0439 833 628
Ports Australia is the peak industry body representing port authorities and corporations, both publicly and privately owned, at the national level.