Competition is delivering benefits on the waterfront

30 October 2014

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has released its 16th annual container stevedoring monitoring report.

“Increased competition is delivering improvements in Australian stevedoring, which build on significant gains in the industry since the waterfront reforms of 1998. Cheaper imports and lower costs for exporters will see benefits flow through the economy,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.

In 2013-14, capital and labour productivity at Australia’s container ports reached the highest levels the ACCC monitoring program has observed. The ACCC began monitoring stevedoring in 1998-99.

Average stevedoring prices fell in 2013-14 and, in real terms, are now at one of the lowest levels recorded by the monitoring program.

Over the past two years the stevedores have also made significant investments in efficiencies and capacity, which has doubled the size of the industry’s asset base.

“The introduction of a third stevedore into Brisbane and Sydney as well as a forthcoming new operator in Melbourne is changing the dynamics of the industry. From 2017, we can expect three container stevedores to be operating at each of Australia’s three largest ports,” Mr Sims said.

However, the ACCC has identified two key risks to future performance in the industry. These risks are the potential impacts of:

  • labour outcomes
  • port privatisations where adequate regard is not given to promoting competition or the appropriate level of economic regulation.

“The ACCC’s concerns around port privatisations are shared by key port users Asciano and Qube, who have publicly raised concerns about the impact on port costs,” Mr Sims said.

“Business will generally operate more efficiently in private hands, however if a State Governments’ privatisation goal is to maximise the sale price, which would come at the expense of poor industry structures or inadequate regulation, this quickly becomes an effective ‘tax’ on future generations.”

“The risk remains that labour outcomes or port privatisations could lead to greater costs for container stevedores, other port users, businesses, and ultimately for consumers”.

The ACCC has also identified three opportunities to improve productivity in landside connections to container ports in order to handle the expected growth in container volumes:

  • reform of road provision and charging
  • using pricing to allocate scarce capacity
  • industry-led initiatives to improve container flows.

The ACCC’s report is available. Container stevedoring monitoring report no.16

Background

The ACCC has monitored the container stevedoring industry since 1998-99 under a direction from the Australian Government. Container stevedoring involves lifting containers on and off ships. The ACCC monitors prices, cost and profits of container stevedores at six Australian container ports. Patrick and DP World operate at the four largest ports—Brisbane, Fremantle, Melbourne and Sydney. The newest stevedore—Hutchison Ports Australia—which was included in the ACCC’s monitoring program for the first time in 2012–13, operates in Brisbane and Sydney.

The ACCC also monitors Flinders Adelaide Container Terminal Pty Ltd, as the sole operator at the Port of Adelaide. At the remaining monitored Port of Burnie, no dedicated stevedoring service of international containers is currently provided since Patrick exited its operations in May 2011.

Release number: 
MR 265/14
Media enquiries: 
Media team - 1300 138 917

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