COLUMN | Addressing the top thirty priorities from Down Under [An Innocent Australian]

A containership passing through Sydney Harbour (Photo: OOCL)

Unlike most other maritime nations, Australia failed to embrace coastal shipping and we are myopically focused on road transport. A quick look at ABSTATS and you will see that we are back at pre-Covid tragedy levels, where road deaths are at 1,300 per annum and serious injuries are at 18,000 per annum, the latter costing the nation much more, with families pushing wheelchairs and providing rest of life care.

Add road congestion and road repairs, which all of us know too well, sitting in a stationary traffic queue trying to quell anger management. Then sprinkle that with road transport emissions and we have a total of $50 billion steady outflow, confirmed by ABSTATS.

About 12 years ago in Cancun, I caught up with my friend Emmanuel Grimaldi, the world’s largest ship and port owner. We were sitting and chatting together with our wives, cooling our heels before an industry conference, and he was astonished to find out that Australia did not have a coastal Ro-Ro shipping service.

I explained to him that we used to have a coastal Ro-Ro service, which was government-run. His eyes rolled, as he knew all about bureaucratic organisations, full of people who either don’t know or don’t care.

“Reducing coastal truck traffic is indeed a compelling strategy and a leap towards low emissions.”

Despite its great potential, the combination of lazy seafaring unions demanding high salaries for low performance, bureaucrats demanding unrealistic operational schedules, and lack of infrastructures for modern Ro-Pax vessels, the Australian National Line (ANL) collapsed in an untidy heap in 1989. I actually worked in the ANL head office in Melbourne for exactly three years and three days in the mid-1970s and required three lots of exorcism to get it out of my system. I bailed, as I recognised the ridiculous policies cascading constantly from hermetically-sealed Canberra and could foresee the collapse. I headed to Queensland as the new boss of a one-man marine empire.

Emmanuel confirmed that the Motorways of the Sea (MOS) program only required financial subsidy for the first two years, but during that time, it removed 60 per cent of the truck traffic from coastal roads. The resultant cost for trucks to travel from Italy to France or Spain by ship was then, and is now, less than the combination of road tolls and fuel for a truck by road.

For over 25 years, I have been peddling the Australian Motorways of the Sea (OZMoS) concept at many venues, even sending a slideshow presentation to all parties every two years, including in 2021 to the then opposition leader Anthony Albanese. No response from him, Morrison, Bandt, or Wally the Goose.

Think about it! If we reduced coastal truck traffic by 60 per cent, wherein trucks are the predominant culprit of road deaths, accidents, road maintenance and road emissions, wouldn’t you come to the conclusion that we could also reduce road deaths and road accidents and the road issues costs of $50 billion by at least 50 per cent?

I believe $25 billion is an enticing figure and deserves national focus, or at least near the top 30 “Best Things to do for Australia’s economy”. It is indeed a compelling strategy and a leap towards low emissions.

“Australia’s got talent, but it’s missing in our leadership.”

Alas, it would appear that Team Albanese is working from the bottom upwards, with The Voice and Climate Change (numbers 30 and 29 on my list) capturing his team’s total focus. My fellow Scot, Colin Hay, would be delighted to know that the whole Australian economy is viewed from Down Under as he wrote the song.

So, Mr Albanese has established an expert committee to investigate the best course of action for Coastal Shipping. There appears to be rules for establishing such committees. They must be party-aligned. They must have an open mind, which means that experienced operators are eliminated as they would be singularly focused on a successful solution. The committee should be gender-balanced.

With this lacklustre team being appointed, with most of whom I know but wouldn’t employ, I did send them all a copy of OzMoS. Again, no one replied. I can understand them ignoring a fringe proposal for lower emissions by banning travel by pogo stick, but about stuff that is a no-brainer for safety, emissions, and the economy? Hello!

So next time you are sitting in a traffic jam, sandwiched between trucks that are belching out fumes even at idle, or stuck at road repair red traffic lights where no one is working, or watching ambulances carting bodies away from a road accident, daydream about being the Prime Minister for a few days. Do you immediately implement a policy that could save 650 Australian lives each year and reduce serious injuries to 900 Australians, or do you focus on the Voice and Climate change that won’t save anyone or their pets ?.

Australia’s got talent, but it’s missing in our leadership.

Stuart Ballantyne

Active naval architect and vessel operator, Stuart is your first port of call for musings on vessel design and operation, and is a staunch proponent of improved passenger vessel safety.