ACCC decision to ease WA, NT supply issues

Freight, rail and trucking companies have been given special permission to work together to ensure supplies of food and other goods reach consumers in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has granted an urgent interim order allowing companies involved in the supply chain to cooperate and share information, which would otherwise violate competition laws.

The move follows major flooding in parts of South Australia last month which disrupted rail and road networks, limiting the supply of essential goods, including groceries.

The main rail line between SA and WA was only reopened on Tuesday after repairs to 18 separate breaks on around 300 kilometers of track.

The clearance request was made by Linfox and applies to a number of other groups, including Pacific National, One Rail and major grocery retailers.

It could also apply to a wider range of businesses, including retailers, wholesalers, or other transportation services.

Companies will be able to meet to identify much-needed retail products in WA and NT and prioritize their supply by road, rail, sea or air freight, including the development of stocks if necessary.

The orders also allow groups to work together to identify and ensure critical WA and NT products are supplied to other jurisdictions.

“There is a risk that critical shortages of retail products in WA will be compounded by a possible increase in COVID-19 cases which could affect workers in the transport, logistics and retail sectors,” said ACCC Vice President Mick Keogh on Wednesday.

“Allowing this authorization will likely result in public benefits by giving supply chain actors the opportunity to maximize consumer access to retail grocery products, reduce community concerns, and reduce pressure on retail supply chains.”

Last month’s once-in-200-year weather event in South Africa led Coles and Woolworths to impose temporary purchase limits on WA customers on a range of products including pasta, rice, flour and sugar .

On Tuesday, WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said it would take some time to deal with the large freight backlog.

“We expect another four to six weeks until all lines are available in stores, trying to clear the backlog in the east and also ensuring that distribution centers are full again,” she said.

During the rail outage, 55 three-track trains carried essential goods through the Nullarbor while some retailers hired shipping companies to deliver food containers, with the first ship due to arrive in Fremantle next week.

Ms Saffioti said there was national recognition that shipping should play a bigger role in strengthening supply chains and that roads needed to be upgraded.

She also called for greater flood protection of the rail network to avoid such disruptions in the future.

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