Using Australia's Blue Highway

Australia's Blue Highway is our seaways surrounding the country connecting cities and towns nationwide to each other and the world.

Australia is an island nation with over 80 per cent of ourpopulation living within 50km of the coast. We have around 80 ports operating atthe centre of these towns and cities. Yet we use the blue highway to move lessthan 15 per cent of our domestic freight moving the rest by road and rail.

Why is this a problem?

  • Our population is growing rapidly and the amount of goods we are bringing into the country (freight task) is growing at an even faster rate.
  • Australia’s domestic freight task between 1990-00 and 2015-16 grew by around 50% (NTC, 2016).   In that time coastal shipping’s contribution grew by 1%; rail’s by 210%; and road’s by 61%.
  • Freight is expected to continue to grow strongly – 26% over the decade to 2026 (Deloitte Access Economics, 2017).
  • Additional investment in road and rail is not projected to meet Australia's demand.  Roads are already reaching and outgrowing capacity.  Rail is also facing problems, with freight trains delayed by the ever-growing number of passenger services operating on shared network infrastructure.
  • The cost of existing urban transport congestion in Australia’s capital cities is forecast to increase from approximately $13.7 billion to $53.3 billion by 2031 unless significant infrastructure investment and planning is undertaken.
  • Road is ideal for short journeys and ‘last-mile’ deliveries, while rail is better suited to moving over longer distances, particularly for inland communities.  Coastal shipping is an efficient way of moving large volumes of freight and can be used 24/7 without the conflicts faced by land-based transport.

A straightforward way to manage Australia's future freight task is to ensure that we are optimising our available freight networks.

Approaching freight projects with mode neutrality. Ensuring targeted allocation of these networks to move freight efficiently and effectively could result in a range of benefits, such as improved productivity, improved end-costs, reduced congestion and environmental benefits.

Benefits of the Blue Highway

The Blue Highway through Australia’s 80 Ports connects regional Australia and cities via Australia’s 80 Ports cheaply, efficiently, with less emissions and without causing congestion on our roads and rail.

The Blue Highway can help:

Saves money

Australian governments’ invested $26 billion on construction and maintenance of roads in 2015 16.   Since 1999-00 this expenditure had risen by 62%.   In addition, under-recovery of damage caused by heavy vehicle road freight is estimated at between $7,000 and $10,500 per truck each year.   Rail expenditure by all governments was $11 billion in 2015-16.  Since 1990-00 this expenditure has increased by 16%.

By moving more freight along the blue highway we could reduce the amount spent each year maintaining road and rail. A more balanced freight system frees money that could be better spent on hospitals and education.

Reduces congestion

One container ship can carry the same load as almost 400 trucks which is an important factor is deciding our future transport mix when considering the cost of congestion is increasing in Australia’s capital cities to $53.3 billion by 2031.  Additionally, the damage to our roads caused by trucks which is not being recovered is a saving gained through improved freight transport balance.  Read more on Ports and congestion busting.

Improves road safety

Road fatalities in 2018 involving heavy trucks saw 154 people die from 136 fatal crashes.  The number injured or survived is not included in this.  Under a scenario in which 1 million tonnes of freight per annum is shifted from road to sea between Brisbane and Townsville, the reduction in accident costs would be approximately $30.7 million per annum.

Reduces pollution

Additionally, shipping produces 1/5th the carbon emissions of road per tonne-km.  This is an important factor in future freight transport decision making because Australia’s second largest source of greenhouse gas pollution  results from the transport sector, which predominately consists of road and rail.

Revitalise Regional Australia

A revitalised coastal shipping industry could mean an increase in the use of regional ports, both to move freight domestically and as a stopover for international ships.  It could deliver a boost to regional development – creating jobs in regional port cities and boosting local businesses.  It will provide an opportunity for skills development in Australia for the flailing maritime industry.

More business at regional Ports would also generate more business for local transport providers. For example we could see a shift from long haul trucks movements to more short range regional ones.

Reverse Australia's Maritime Skills Shortage

Increased coastal shipping would provide more opportunities for young Australian’s to work in the industry. This is vital if Australian Ports are to continue operating. Read more about Australia’s maritime skills shortage.

How can we take advantage of the blue highway?

Benefits from the blue highway could be gained if we took a more balanced freight approach to planning and policy decisions.

  • Development of a National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy that optimises our available freight networks. Ensuring targeted allocation of these networks to move freight efficiently and effectively will result in lower end costs for Australian businesses, consumers and potentially result in new viable businesses.
  • Improvements to current regulations which burden the maritime industry from fairly competing in the transport mix.
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