Fast Five: How the epicentre of our supply chains keeps on moving

Brendan Bourke, Port of Melbourne Chief Executive, explains how the nation’s largest capital city container port has maintained operations in a year of disruption.

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Welcome to another edition of Fast Five - VCCI’s fortnightly series where we ask Victoria’s top business leaders to answer five simple questions to gain insights into how Victoria’s most successful businesses operate.

Port of Melbourne is Australia’s largest capital city container and general cargo port, which manages more than one-third of Australia’s total container trade and receives approximately 75 per cent of the goods destined for retailers, hospitals, as well as everyday goods.

Chief Executive Brendan Bourke explains how the heart of Victoria’s logistics network has continued to keep beating as the global pandemic sent supply chains into chaos.

Port of Melbourne Chief Executive, Brendan Bourke.#1: What do you think will be the greatest challenge to your industry in the future?

The port supply chain connects complex business operations across shipping, on-port activities, landside logistics and trade owners, each with own their industry dynamics. Progress or disruption in one part of the supply chain can have cascading effects on the others.

The port is at the epicentre of this and the challenge is to ensure that port facilities continue to meet industry needs, while balancing community expectations and environmental considerations. Our city port location is our greatest strength – situated around key transport links providing efficient options to move goods around Melbourne and into our regional trade catchments.

As the port’s manager, we aim to steward our assets in a way that allows the port to grow in its current location but also maintains our social license to operate. This is a challenge for many city ports, not just ours.

#2: How is the Port of Melbourne future-proofing its business?

The Port of Melbourne has developed a 2050 Port Development Strategy (2050 PDS). The 2050 PDS is a roadmap for meeting projected growth in both volumes of trade and in the vessel sizes which will service the Australian market. Global fleet sizes are increasing and it’s important that we can accommodate these vessels.

The 2050 PDS includes 10 projects to meet these drivers and to ensure the efficient operation of the port and the supply chain into the future. There’s no doubt COVID-19 has been a disruption, but we are focused on the bigger picture, and must be ready to meet future growth. The 2050 PDS is a 30-year plan but it is also flexible and will be reviewed every five years to respond to evolving needs.

#3: What do you think is needed to boost opportunity for Victorian business?

We welcome investment that supports increased productivity and efficiency in the supply chain. This benefits our sector and improves the timely access of goods for businesses and the wider community.

The focus moving forward should be the improvement of the freight network, which not only supports the supply chain, but improves congestion for everyone – particularly on roads.

We particularly support investment and prompt decision making on projects that improve freight rail efficiency over the long term. This will facilitate early government and private investment that has the twin benefits of boosting economic activity while providing a platform for operational efficiency improvements that will have lasting benefit.

Such examples could include the development of new freight terminals located in strategic corridors adjacent to industry. Closer to the port gate, a rail link to Webb Dock is one of the projects identified in our Port Development Strategy. At present much of the port’s latent capacity is at Webb Dock, but there is no on dock rail connectivity. To remain competitive and provide an efficient supply chain over the longer term, a comprehensive portside rail network is necessary.

#4: What excites you about the future?

What this pandemic has shown is that the business community and society can adapt very quickly when required. According to CBRE, Australia’s e-commerce market has experienced around five years’ growth in a truly short time as people have moved online. This will inevitably lead to long-term change in how businesses respond to more direct servicing of consumers.

Such rapid change will also require the ports industry and freight supply chain to be adaptive and responsive. This makes for a challenging yet exciting future as port trade volumes will continue to grow. Ports already operate in a diverse and dynamic environment so, more than ever, there will be new interesting projects on the horizon.

So, it’s fascinating to able to plan how port land needs will change over time while delivering essential projects, like our rail projects. It is exciting to be part of an industry that supports economic activity and jobs, but there’s a practical outcome knowing that ports perform an essential service – from when goods arrive at the port, all the way to when a package lands on your doorstep.

#5: What has been the greatest lesson you have learned from the past six months?

I am so impressed by the resilience of our people who have been able to adapt and be flexible under quite different and challenging circumstances. Our organisation was able to relocate its entire workforce to a work from home model in less than two weeks, with staff fully connected to their usual systems.

The same resilience has been demonstrated by all the participants in the port supply chain, who have shown great commitment to ensure the port runs as smoothly as possible in this difficult time.

From the outset the industry quickly responded to adapt to COVIDSafe processes which have proven to be highly successful. In doing so they have reinforced the essential role that ports play in our lives. 

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