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Lost at sea: an assessment of the Productivity Commission’s report on container port productivity

Ports Freight Shipping Labour force productivity Australia

This research challenges the methodology and conclusions of a recent Productivity Commission study of productivity in Australia’s container port system.

The report suggests that the Commission’s exercise was ideologically motivated, and failed to properly interpret its own data.

By several indicators, Australian container ports have demonstrated superior and globally competitive productivity performance, including:

  • 7.8% annual compound growth in number of containers handled.
  • 3.6% annual compound growth in containers handled per hour of work (more than twice average productivity growth in the broader economy).
  • 5.9% annual compound growth in equivalent container units handled per crane.

The Productivity Commission’s claims that Australian ports are not ‘technically efficient’ rests on a faulty methodology which assumes that ports should minimise use of productive inputs (including land, capital, and labour) to meet any given volume of traffic. But in the real maritime logistics industry, other criteria – including ship turnaround time, and ability to respond to fluctuations in demand – are more essential for shippers.

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