Some 200 industry leaders, decision makers and government speakers from all over Australia met in Darwin recently for the 46th biennial Ports Australia conference.
The conference, one of Australia’s chief maritime events, focussed on the opportunities and challenges facing Australia’s port sector, delivering strong, positive messages about the value Australia’s ports contribute to society.
The Hon. Michael Gallacher, CEO of Ports Australia, said the conference agenda reflected the future direction of Ports Australia.
“Australia is in an era of rapid change—be that commerce, trade, politics or innovation’, he said. ‘But at the physical heart of that are our ports. With that change comes opportunities and challenges for our sector.”
The conference opened with the Ports Australia AGM followed by a tour of the Darwin Port and a cocktail party at NT Parliament House, hosted by NT Minister for Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics, Eva Lawler.
During the two-day event, delegates attended 23 presentations and Q&A segments on the conference’s main themes, including security, economic and regulatory issues in Australia’s ports sector, social licence and community engagement, alternative energy, new technologies and innovation, port policy, Australia’s business and trade relationship with China, and coastal shipping.
Other key themes were infrastructure charges, the impact of the sector on local economies, and the opportunities and challenges for Australia’s ‘blue highway’.
Speakers included the Hon. Anthony Albanese MP, shadow minister for transport and infrastructure; David Holly, Chief Economist of Trade and Investment in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; the heads of ports authorities from other Australian jurisdictions and law enforcement representatives.
The conference organiser, Cameron Armstrong of Essential Experiences Event Management, said the Ports Australia conference is about education and engagement.
“The objectives were bringing people up to speed with best practice and each port sharing stories about what they’re doing,” he said.
Ports Australia’s Communications Director, Mike Fairbairn, reiterated that goal.
“For a sector that’s geographically spread, it was important for us to bring everyone together in a space that felt natural and encouraged them to talk to each other,” he said.
“A more united sector is one of the outcomes we were seeking from the conference.”
Mike said Darwin’s unique atmosphere and welcoming personality was one the highlights and allowed the conference host to achieve that goal.
“The atmosphere in Darwin relaxed people, and they were able to socialise,” he said.
“I think there were a lot of new relationships and networks built out of the Darwin conference, which is one of the main reasons we do the event in the first place.
“The setting actually encouraged the sector to unify more—that would be one of the legacy issues from the Darwin event.”
An al fresco gala dinner on the second night was a highlight for delegates, who dined under the frangipanis as the sun set over beautiful Darwin Harbour.
Armstrong said the Darwin Convention Centre is right up there with Australia’s top business events facilities.
“We’ve used most convention centres around Australia, and Darwin is very competitive with those,” he said.
“The food, the service—we couldn’t fault the centre. It was perfect.”
Fairbairn credits the event’s success to the centre itself.
“I think the success came down to the vibe the centre set—how it allowed delegates to interact with each other and build relationships,” he said.
“In a lot of conferences, it’s quite hard and fast. There might be a networking event on the first day and people may or may not come, and then it’s a bit disjointed for the next few days and you might not see the same person again.
“But in Darwin, it was the perfect-sized venue, people bumped into each other again and again, and there wasn’t a lot of distractions, which meant people built those relationships and went away with something more meaningful than a business card.”
Armstrong said the Ports Australia conference in Darwin ticked all the boxes.
“No other place you can guarantee fine weather and confidently plan outdoor events at this time of year,” he said.
“That’s a stand out for us about Darwin—as well as perfect weather, it’s got that lovely, relaxed vibe but still a high-quality offering as far as accommodation and facilities. So Darwin is very positive for us.”
Darwin Convention Centre General Manager, Janet Hamilton said the importance of providing a space for clients to meet and achieve their objectives is important.
“Darwin is a place that takes delegates away from the distractions of a big city allowing them time to focus and become immersed in their conference, which leads to meaningful connections, knowledge sharing and ultimately strong business outcomes.”