Ports Australia is the national body which represents port corporations and authorities, and marine regulatory agencies. Prior to 2007, the organisation went by the name of The Association of Australian Port and Marine Authorities (AAPMA). They have since rebranded to Ports Australia to more readily reflect their identity and the national character of their operations.
Ports Australia is an inclusive organisation and includes big and small ports within its constituency and represents them all. This means that they have both the publicly and privately owned ports within their membership. They have three major objectives: represent the interests of ports on the national stage, keep members up to date and advised on regulatory developments and facilitate the exchange of information between members. Additionally, Ports Australia also promotes public awareness and an understanding of ports’ contribution to national, state, and regional development, as well as their key role in transport supply chains.
Ports Australia serves as an integral communication network for members and members receive plentiful benefits. “First, you belong to a strong community of ports and have access to our very considerable networks. Members know that they have a committed staff in Sydney who are continually engaging with the federal minister and federal agencies to keep ports and port related issues up on the public policy agenda. Another benefit is that we keep our members advised on developments in statutory and regulatory requirements that impact their businesses and we are pro-active in working towards ensuring that such legislation works in the interests of port operational efficiency and development,” says David Anderson, the CEO of Ports Australia.
“Responding to the substantial trade growth in prospect is the prime driver of our current policies, which brings with it a commensurate urgency to address port infrastructure and regulatory issues,” says Anderson. Right now, robust growth is anticipated within both the container and commodity trades. According to Anderson, this growth will occur in a very small amount of time.
However, such growth does not come without its fair share of challenges and Ports Australia is doing its bit to assist its members to face those challenges. Over the last four years, they have been working on the National Port Strategy (NPS), an agreed upon set of measures that ensure ports can operate as effectively as possible and to develop capacity with certainty, without unnecessary and capricious approvals and regulatory process. The protection of road and rail access corridors and of port land and freight precincts is a particularly critical issue, as is improvements in the dredging approvals regime. In the first instance, the purpose of this strategy was to bring port related issues into greater prominence on the political and public policy agenda. Anderson explains that they are serving a sometimes “forgotten sector.” He explains that “one of our first tier goals was to say to the government that they need to put more focus on the performance and development of the ports sector otherwise the future of our trades will be seriously compromised.” With the NPS, they have governments and their agencies more focused on the ports sector, so they have experienced success with that goal.
On the GFC, Anderson reflected that “we were experiencing record volumes through our container ports in October of 2008.” However, these numbers plummeted to a low point in about December of the same year as the global financial crisis fell upon the country. “There were a lot of vehicles on the water that nobody wanted and our container volumes fell away. Bulk volumes remained reasonably steady although there were price effects and a number of our regional ports dependant on particular trades such as wood chips took a painful hit.
“In addition to the GFC, the industry also faced challenges due to climatic conditions. Agricultural output in particular has been up and down and the transport and logistics sector must adapt to increasingly volatile conditions in agricultural output.” While the effects of the global financial crisis were quite profound, they did not last very long in the grand scheme of things. Currently, Anderson says that not only have those record volumes returned, but they are now being exceeded.
A supportive membership
Ports Australia has become a very successful organisation, with a supportive membership. They run seminars, conferences and working groups, and make an effort to engage in issues of collective interest for its members – like ballast water issues, dredging and dredged spoil issues, environmental policy initiatives, as well as the big strategic issues around capacity development. By focussing on what is important to the industry and using both critical and strategic thinking, they have brought their issues and concerns to the attention of government ministers. Anderson, who has had several years of industry experience, says “it’s a very rewarding job and that’s because of a supportive and collegiate Board and a membership who focus on the things that are important and who understand the importance of cooperative action.”