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WA floods affect local supply chains with truckies forced to take 2000km detours

Flooding

Major flooding in Western Australia (WA) has caused supply chain disruption with main freight routes in and out of the state submerged, leading to enormous detours of more than 2000km in a desperate bid to get supplies to communities.

As record-breaking heavy rain battered the WA Goldfields and Nullarbor, the Trans-Australian Railway Line and the Eyre Highway were both cut.

The latter – which was closed between Norseman, 700km east of Perth and Eucla on the WA-SA border – opened after several days.

However, WA’s crucial railway line – which reportedly transports more than 80 percent of the state’s food – remains closed between Kalgoorlie and Rawlinna following a deluge of up to a metre of water in places, and will not reopen until Easter Saturday according to The Australian Rail Track Corporation.

On 22nd March, Australia Post warned that Parcel Post deliveries to and from WA are subject to estimated delivery delays of 1-2 business days, while deliveries sent from other states may be delayed by up to three weeks due to the rail disruptions.

Flooding in the far north of the state compounded the issue with closures on the Great Northern Highway between Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing.

The ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ flooding event, which occurred due to six months’ worth of rain over a 24-hour period, has seen truckies add more than 2000km to their usual routes.

Nathaniel Rosenberg who manages the Warakurna Roadhouse told the ABC that supplies are usually trucked 1726km up the Great Central Road from Perth once a week.

However, due to road closures, trucks were forced to take a massive detour through South Australia and Alice Springs to approach from the east.

Following the disruption to freight routes, there has been renewed calls for a national strategy to tackle the issue as flooding gets progressively worse every wet season, following extensive supply chain issues in 2022.

Speaking to Gary Adshead on 6PR Perth’s ‘6PR Mornings’, Western Roads Federation CEO Cam Dumesny said, “We actually need a plan. We’ve been pushing for that for some time. It’s not just about helping our roads and our rail, we need a freight system: road, rail, sea and air. We need more buffer stocks and more warehousing so that we can cater for these disruptions. Not just in Perth but in our regional areas, particularly vulnerable areas.

He added, “We need a national strategy and we need an implementable plan but at the moment it just falls on deaf ears.”

Mr Dumesny went on to explain that fresh produce growers in WA who are trying to export to the east coast market will feel the brunt of the current flooding due to the short shelf life of their produce, while the supply of mining and gas equipment out of WA will also be impacted.

He concluded, “So a lot of Western Australian businesses, either bringing stuff in or exporting stuff across, they’ll feel it and it’s already hard enough trying to do business in WA as it is, so it’s just more pressure on them.”

In 2022, Coles and Woolworths were forced to bring in purchase limits due to significant flooding in South Australia that stopped the crossing of products from eastern states via road and rail, with the Trans-Australian Railway Line closed for over three weeks.

Following this event, the state government established a shipping and supply chain taskforce which suggested that WA should consider the role of merchant shipping to keep the state connected.

In October 2023, the taskforce’s co-chair Kyle McGinn MLC said, “We saw in January 2022 the rail go down, and people would still remember shops that were empty.

“That was a real sign that we needed to see how we could add an extra chunk to the armour, and shipping — for the first time in a long time — became part of that conversation.”

Mr McGinn highlighted the number of emergencies in the Kimberley due to flooding and the impact on remote Aboriginal communities who suffer significantly from supply chain breakages when floods occur.

He added, “At the moment, we don’t really have what I would call a coastal trade. We don’t really have an internal Australian-flagged, Australian-crewed fleet that operates around Australia.

“If we can rebuild and make the environment a lot better for Australian-flagged and Australian-crewed vessels, we could see a lot more vessels operating internally within Western Australia, but also vessels that are available for when there is an emergency.”

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