The WA Freight and Logistics Symposium looked at the problems and possible solutions for trucking in Western Australia. The state’s freight industry faces similar problems to those we face all over Australia, Diesel News went along to see how different it is in WA.
People in the west are always keen to try and distance themselves from the rest of Australia and tell us how they are the forgotten state and suffer from neglect. The subject of the eastern states ripping them off through the GST is a regular comment, as is resistance to the highly populated east imposing their rules on the very different west.
If there is a point of difference which does appear to be the case, it is in the way the WA road transport sector approaches the problem and comes up with the solutions. There seems to be a much more collaborative attitude between regulator and regulated, to get the situation working properly.
WA freight operators see one of their biggest problems being the perception of the trucking industry. Everyone is tarred with the same brush when a rogue operator does the wrong thing. A traffic accident is always a truck crash if a truck is involved and it’s always the truckie’s fault.
Social License to Operate
The public’s poor perception of the road freight industry is a nationwide issue. One of the people working hard to change the way the industry is treated is Kellie Houlahan, Executive Officer, Freight and Logistics Council of WA. She addressed the symposium to explain how the industry can try and regain its social license to operate.
“The question is, what is a social license?” Kellie asked. “The term started to appear in the late nineties when mining companies started to meet local resistance when starting new projects. Building community support became essential for them to achieve project success.
“The topic has transformed in recent years, used across many industries. You may have heard it in discussions about community expectations of banks and gas companies. For us it’s about understanding how it will impact on the freight industry.
“A large proportion of the barriers to improving the efficiency and productivity of the industry relate to community attitudes towards freight. Despite freight being pivotal to our everyday lives, it doesn’t enjoy the same social license as other activities. A lot of this probably relates to the high visibility and impact of trucks.”
A need to better explain the contribution made by freight to society has been identified by Kellie. The WA Freight and Logistics Council and the Western Roads Federation, who represent the trucking industry, are seeking to build awareness of the need for efficient supply chains for businesses, households and consumer prices.
Perth is a relatively small city but it continues to grow quite fast and the challenge is to improve the perception of the freight industry which will be needed to support this growth.
“Building community awareness and having honest discussions about freight will help to protect the social license that our networks require to operate effectively,” said Kellie. “When it comes to developing a social license, local context is key. The legitimacy of an industry sector hinges upon the experiences and perceptions of the local community and their understanding of the benefits the industry creates, as opposed to the problems the industry causes.
“The perceptions arise from such things as the local economic climate, the demographics and the social values. We are seeing examples of where the freight industry is being tarnished with the wrong image, being noisy, dirty and creating congestion on our roads.
“We know these perceptions are incorrect. However, the problem with perception is it becomes reality. It’s therefore up to us to create a new conversation on freight to shift those perceptions and shift community awareness and support.”
A communications business has been engaged to work with the freight industry. It has been given four key objectives. The plan is to educate the wider community about the breadth of freight and logistics in society and the contribution it makes to the WA economy and lifestyle.
Secondly, the plan is to build stronger community recognition of the importance of the freight industry to enhance baseline support for local projects. It’s task is also to build stronger government recognition of the importance of freight transport, to encourage better land and infrastructure planning and a continuously improving regulatory environment.
The last objective is to create an enthusiasm for the industry within government and the community, built on the concept that their future success is tied to the success of the freight and logistics industry.
“This is not just a local issue and it’s not just an issue for freight, it’s an issue for all industry,” said Kellie. “The federal government have recognised this as a n area of importance, They’re currently developing a national freight and supply chain strategy and as part of that they engaged an expert panel do a whole lot of consultation across the country, with industry to find where the critical areas for action were needed.
“Five areas have been identified and one of those is around developing a social license to operate. There needs to be a social license for freight and education and evaluation that freight is a valued system contributing to community well-being and prosperity. Government and industry need to collaborate for this to be realised.”