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Local ports sharper

PRODUCTIVITY at Australian ports, including Fremantle, has increased at a faster rate than most overseas ports since the 1998 waterfront dispute, according to a Productivity Commission report.

The report measured productivity at Australian ports, including Fremantle Ports, compared to overseas ports between 1997 and 2002 and showed there was a significant reduction in the productivity gap between Australian ports and those overseas ports included in the study.

This was despite the relatively smaller trade volumes and throughput at Australian ports.

The report’s findings support the Federal Government’s position that the 1998 waterfront reforms including its backing of Patrick Stevedores against the Maritime Union of Australia over staffing and work practices have been successful in improving productivity at Australian ports.

The report says there were 1,200 waterside workers in Australia in 2002, compared with 20,000 in the 1960s.

The report also found the total number of containers handled at Australia’s five main ports increased by 19 per cent, from 1.8 million in 1998 to 2.14 million in 2001 and there were 26.9 crane lifts per hour on Australian wharves in September 2002 compared with 15.9 lifts per hour in December 1995.

Fremantle Ports CEO Kerry Sanderson said the substantial progress made in closing the productivity gap with overseas ports was important for Australia’s economic performance.

“Higher productivity improves the competitiveness of our exports and reduces the costs of imported goods,” she said.

Ms Sanderson said the report confirmed that over the past seven years Fremantle’s crane rate has been above or equal to the five port Australian average.

“The productivity gap has narrowed significantly, despite the disadvantages of the smaller throughput in the Australian ports,” she said.

“The study showed that, for the South East Asian trade, crane rates in Fremantle were significantly higher than in other Australian ports and Port Klang (Malaysia), indicating higher productivity in Fremantle, while the crane rates in Fremantle were shown to approximate the rates in Singapore.

“Fremantle’s geographical location makes it a first and last port of call for many of the visiting ships. Compared with some other ports, there is a requirement for more restowing to access and position the containers on board the ships.”

The study also showed that in 1998 container handling charges were significantly higher at Australian ports compared to most overseas ports.

It says container handling charges now appear to have fallen in Australian ports, however the apparent decline in charges can be attributed to the change in the composition of containers and the way the charges are measured.

Ms Sanderson said the report confirmed a significant improvement in charges at Fremantle Ports.

“For Fremantle, container stevedoring charges for the Europe trade have shown a 15 per cent real terms reduction from 1997 to 2002, while charges for South East Asia trade have fallen by 20 per cent in real terms over this period,” she said.

“This is a significant improvement.”

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