Ports Australia held its long overdue Biennial Conference in Brisbane from the 30th of August 2022 to the 1st of September 2022. One of the headline panels examined how risk, resilience, and recovery will play a key role for the port sector in responding to the market and environment we find ourselves in today.

The ports sector, the maritime industry, the global supply chain and the world as a whole have been severely impacted by the pandemic in the last few years. Established processes and systems have been challenged as cumulative effects have caused delays and rising costs around the world.

The public, governments, and people in industry have begun to demand answers when it comes to efficiency as delays impact the Australian economy. One thing is clear as we begin to approach the light at the end of the tunnel: the new normal will come with new challenges.

Inefficiency and rising costs have emerged as the key issues for the medium term and both industry and government must react accordingly. TasPorts Chief Executive and Ports Australia Deputy Chair, Anthony Donald, moderated Port Australia’s risk, resilience and recovery panel.

Mr Donald highlighted the remarkable fact that, despite the global disruptions associated with the pandemic and the government response, not a single Australian port shutdown because of it. This highlights the agility already present in our ports before the current push to make them more resilient.

But what does resilience mean today? The first guest on the panel, Shane Fitzsimmons, Resilience NSW Commissioner, suggested that perhaps the way we use the word now is different from its dictionary definition.

“Resilience means the ability to bounce back to normal after a big disruption. But what is normal and how do we avoid going back to the same place that left us vulnerable in the first place? Resilience is how we learn, adapt and adjust through our lived experience,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.

“Industries like ports can learn through their own lived experiences and importantly, that of others, to identify, understand and mitigate the risk of vulnerability, through considered planning, interventions and investments.”

It is clear as we continue the recovery process that we must treat threats to our ports sector as opportunities to strengthen it. Mr Fitzsimmons’ experience with the recent natural disasters in New South Wales can teach us all. We must adapt and continue to evolve, falling back to the ways of old will not always work.

The second panel guest, Phillip Emmanuel, TT Club Asia Pacific Regional Director (international transport and logistics insurer), highlighted that ports don’t operate in a vacuum. We are part of a wider supply chain, and when the wider supply chain experiences issues, so do ports.

“Where the problems came in was on the logistical side with struggles around infrastructure. The problems came in with the infrastructure around the ports on the logistics side via rail, trucking. There was also a lack of containers, labour, and lack of infrastructure durability,” Mr Emmanuel said.

One of the key takeaways, as we look back on the effects of the pandemic and other supply chain challenges, has been that every point along the supply chain must be resilient. Changes in international supply chains ripple down to domestic supply chains and ultimately impact everyday Australians.

Ports are big, visible pieces of infrastructure that often bear the blame from the public for international issues, but they have not shied away from this. Already, we see around the nation our ports taking the initiative to address wider supply chain issues, whether it be empty container shortages, or trying to reduce truck turnaround times. Australia’s ports can be proud of the work they do as a part of the international supply chain community.

The final guest on the panel, Jenny Lambert, Director Economics and Employment and Skills at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, spoke about skills and how the maritime sector can find skills from new places.

“Look at the growth industries such as the tech sector and think of the corporations that were nothing several years ago but who are now global leaders in their spaces. Seeing areas where they have taken advantage of the crossover between entrepreneurship and technical skills, and how that can be applied to other businesses,” Ms Lambert said.

“Those types of sectors have taken advantage of their skills base and looked for opportunities to use existing skills in new ways. That is the competitive ground that, globally, these organisations are on.” The maritime sector in Australia relies heavily on skilled workers of all levels. Global competition for skilled maritime workers remains tight.

We are encouraged by the direction the Federal Government seems to be going in terms of promoting domestic skills development, whilst also encouraging the immigration of skilled maritime workers to provide the workers the industry needs. But it is also important for industry itself to play a role in developing the talent it will need in the future.

Managers must also look internally to promote learning of new skills amongst its experienced workforce to retain employees by increasing their abilities and/or placing them in different roles to take advantage of their existing skills in new ways.

This is an exciting time for the Australian ports industry. The energy at the Ports Australia Biennial Conference shows that the sector has bounced back from COVID-19 and is going to be stronger than ever.

Ports Australia would like to thank the distinguished panel for their insights about risk, resilience, and recovery. The people we have in our industry are engaged with challenges of the supply chain both domestically and internationally. We call for unity across the supply chain as we continue our journey and look forward to working with our counterparts to get the best outcomes for the Australian economy.

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