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Ports Australia has announced it has commissioned an extensive economic analysis into coastal shipping as the organisation looks to increase the role ports play in moving freight around the country.

Ports Australia chief executive officer Mike Gallacher told the Federal Government’s Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities on Thursday that Deloitte Access Economics would carry out an extensive review into coastal shipping.

Mr Gallacher said an expected dramatic increase in Australia’s population meant there was a greater urgency in correcting an imbalance which saw our ports currently moving just 15 per cent of freight around the country, compared to 56 per cent by rail and 29 per cent by road.

“For a maritime nation with over 70 ports strategically located right around our country, each with road and rail access, each with maritime-related industry nearby, in either a capital city or regional town . . . a continuation of this imbalance surely is not in our national interest,” Mr Gallacher told the committee.

“ . . . improved utilisation of our nation’s port structure and maritime network will add to the sustainability of (major) cities and also help to grow, in a sustainable way, existing regional towns and cities.”

Mr Gallacher said Australia’s ports would have a vital role to play in the future as the amount of freight needing transportation was expected to double over the next 20 years.

“Even with extra investment, Australian transport infrastructure will be hard pressed to meet this demand,” he said.

“Ports are the gateway for over 98 per cent of Australia's imports and exports, yet no strategic focus or funding is allocated towards improving the maritime network of this country to facilitate further economic growth and ensure the sustainability of our cities and regional centres.

“My members are confident that increased coastal shipping could go some way to (meeting) some challenges this committee is exploring.”

Mr Gallacher said Deloitte’s report was expected to take a number of months and would be the largest review of the shipping sector undertaken.

“Its objective is to seek out the data, in terms of the current state of coastal shipping, the maritime workforce and the barriers that prevent greater utilisation of the sector,” he said.

  “We are also interested to understand what needs to be done to create jobs in ports around the nation and the skills needed for the future.”

Ports Australia launches major review