Monday, 18 April 2016
Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill 2016, Road Safety Remuneration Amendment (Protecting Owner Drivers) Bill 2016; Second Reading
This is one of the very few times that I have had to equivocate on this legislation. I have been very enthusiastically in favour of having some action taken. As the member for Cunningham said, we have a lot of deaths that can be avoided and it will get a lot worse unless something is done about the situation. It was precipitated, in my opinion, by Woolworths and Coles. Both sides of this parliament have allowed them to go from 51 per cent in, I think, 1991 to around 90 per cent of all food and grocery items sold in Australia today. So they hold a hugely powerful position.
When you deregulate the dairy industry you go down from 60c a litre to 40c a litre on the day that you deregulate. This industry has never been regulated, so what happens is that the Woolworths and Coles of this world can just simply by having a Dutch auction watch the race to the bottom. Of course, many of our drivers will suffer as a result of now having to drive very excessive hours indeed.
In the of livestock-hauling industry we have one very big operator. It was a long time ago now—maybe 30 years ago, in fact—that he was offering rates 50 per cent less than everybody else. He was going broke but he was going to take an awful lot of the rest of us down with him. It was obvious to me that we needed some sort of minimum pricing in the road hauliers industry. We fought very hard for it at the time. We fought very hard for a minimum pricing arrangement in the beef industry as well.
What has happened over the last 29 years is that we have seen all of these things removed. It is with the deepest regret today that I feel forced to vote for the removal of regulation. But I give an undertaking to my truckies back home and to the Transport Workers Union that, if we have a newly constituted body that will bring in the protections we need, I most certainly will be supporting it, as I supported the original legislation on this.
I owe it to Tony Sheldon and the TWU to do some defending of them here. I know what the original motivation was—there was some self-interest; there is no doubt about that—in the sense that the TWU felt that they were a very powerful organisation and could provide protection and useful involvement by people such as the NRFA and the LTFA and all of the livestock hauliers and the small operators throughout Australia. Whether those people saw it that way or not, I do not know. But all of us who read history books are very well aware of what happened in the United States. There was Jimmy Hoffa's famous comment about Bobby Kennedy, who was trying to put him in jail. He said: 'Where was Bobby Kennedy when we were driving up the road into trees doing 80 hours a week at the wheel? Where was little Bobby when we were having our legs broken by the strikebreakers? Where was little Bobby Kennedy when it came to the highest death rate of any group in American society? He was out sailing his yacht at Hyannis Port. That is where he was.' Many of us know the history of the union and what happened over there.
I deeply regret voting for the legislation today in the sense that there was never any doubt in my mind that the intentions of the union and Minister Albanese were entirely good. They were well intentioned in the initiative. I most certainly supported the initiative that they were taking.
It was quite right what the member for Cunningham said: 110 years ago in this country one in 10 of us who went down the mines never came back up again but died of the terrible miner's phthisis. In my state we only had gold and sugar cane 110 years ago. Those were the only two industries we had in my state. Funnily enough, or tragically enough, one in 30 that went into the cane fields also died, never came back out again. Whether it was Weil's disease or snakebite or whatever, we needed protection. So if these people here are asking for protection—I share the view of the member for Cunningham, who made an excellent contribution, that we do need protection.
But what has happened is that the initiative has run completely off the rails. There is no doubt in my mind that this tribunal was so arrogant, one-eyed and determined not to see the point of view of the small operators that it antagonised them beyond belief. It not only antagonised them but, because it did not listen to them, it put forward proposals which were absolutely flawed. Let me be very specific: the advantage that a small operator has is that he fixes his own trucks. In a big corporation they have to get people in to fix the trucks for them. A small operator fixes his own trucks and he drives his own trucks. He is an owner-operator. His family drives the trucks. And, yes, some of them work very, very hard—maybe even work longer hours than they should—but they do this to stay alive and to be competitive. The competitive advantage they had was being removed by the tribunal's decision, and the tribunal acted in an excessive and insensitive manner.
Those of us who may have studied a bit of law in our lives would know—unfortunately, most of those who have studied law do not appreciate this—the habeas corpus rule says, 'You can't take the body.' It is Latin for 'can't take the body'. What it really said was, 'You can't grab a person off the street without a due process of law.' Due process of law is always depicted by Madam Justice—she has a sword in one hand and the scales of justice in the other, what we would call a beam balance, and she has a blindfold on. Well in this case there was no blindfold and there were no scales. There was a big heap of weight on one side and there was nothing on the other. We did not get to have our say. So because of the arrogance and insensitivity of this tribunal, a person like myself, who started off, very enthusiastically, backing the TWU—and I still will back them in their endeavours—now cannot do anything else now except get rid of this tribunal. It has engendered such an arrogance and a refusal to listen that it has no credibility out there whatsoever. It will not be trusted now or in the future by the owner-operator class in this country—and they are not a class of blokes that get revved up.
Mick Pattel, a young man from the famous Pattel family that got us the 20 per cent advantage in volumetric loading in Queensland, and his dad were there at the meetings with Russell Hinze, and we got a tremendous breakthrough that saved us 20 per cent of the cost of carting cattle in Australia. But Mick tried to get a national organisation going and no-one was prepared to stand up—or stand out, I suppose. Eventually, even though we had a lot of initial success, it just petered out. What I am trying to say is that these are not militant people; they are not people that get upset. Even when we try to get them upset for their own purposes, we cannot get them to act. Even great leaders of men with very gifted intellects, people like Mick Pattel—his extended family of cousins, second cousins and uncles would be amongst the biggest livestock hauliers in Australia. Curley Cattle Transport is probably the biggest livestock haulier in Australia these days. But Mick Curley got to where he is today by driving those trucks himself again and again and on numerous occasions, and as often as not fixing those trucks himself.
But we were able to achieve, through a bit of unity in the livestock hauling industry, this tremendous breakthrough. I am sure that we can do it in the future. I urge representatives of the trucking industry to have a look at getting into some sort of arrangement with a powerful group like the TWU. Yes, they make contributions to the ALP—so does the CFMEU—but if there is ever a group that fights for the ordinary Australian and for the things we believe in, it is the gold miners union. All right, there was an amalgamation; they had to take in other people, and they have done their very best to get good people in to fix that up. I am not saying that everything is perfect, I am certainly not saying the union is perfect and I am obviously not saying that I am giving financial support to the ALP, but, having said those things, there are bigger issues at stake here.
The member for Cunningham was dead right in referring to the mining laws, which I am well aware of. For anyone who has read my book—which is out of print; we have sold them all, which is a good thing I suppose—I go into the details of how one in 30 people went down those mines and never came back up again. In my home town of Charters Towers, in the southern part of my electorate, there were 23 miners killed in one explosion. We needed protection from excessive behaviour in the marketplace. It is all right for people to compete, but it is bad when they compete and someone gets killed. We want to make rules so that there is minimum pricing in the industry.
In the northern part of the Kennedy electorate is Mount Mulligan, where 72 people were killed in one explosion. That is 100 people in just two mining incidents in the Kennedy electorate. I am not including my own land, which is the Cloncurry-Mount Isa area, where similar events occur with regularity because it is an intrinsically dangerous industry. So whilst I regrettably say that I will be voting with the government on these two bills, I do so in the knowledge that the intentions and the initiative taken by the TWU were laudable—not justified, but laudable—in my opinion, and I most certainly hope they do not give up the fight. I am just terribly sorry that this whole thing has run off the rails in the way that it has. I congratulate the Transport Workers Union for the initiatives they have undertaken. I deeply regret that the people that I represent have been hurt inadvertently by a tribunal that simply would not listen and would not hear the other side of the debate. A tribunal is supposed to deliver fairness. It is supposed to have a blindfold on and have the scales evenly balanced. You cannot completely ignore that and say you know everything about everything and not listen to the people who say, 'We are going to be hurt,' and refuse to acknowledge that they are going to be hurt badly. What will we end up with if we continue down this path and nothing is done here? I am not saying that what has happened here has been good, but something needs to be done because you are running pell-mell into a Woolworths-Coles situation.
I find Lindsay Fox a good bloke—other people may not, but I do. Les Blennerhassett has had a lot of public criticism. I have never had a single person who works for Les Blennerhassett offer the slightest criticism of him. Again this is a man who worked his own trucks. He carts most of Australia's bananas in Australia. Darryl Pedersen, who has never been political in his whole life, rose up. And there are people I do not know all that well—Phillip McMahon and Lee McArdle. These are people who have never taken an interest in public affairs in their lives and yet they are burred right up. They are really scared. If they are really scared then I am really scared. Unfortunately, that distrust now does not allow me or other people to do anything else but vote the way we are voting, in spite of the fact that we were responsible for the initiatives that have come to a bad end here today.
I commend this to the House. I urge the House to listen to the problems that exist out there, which the member for Cunningham outlined previously in this debate, and acknowledge that something needs to be done because this race to the bottom will result in people being killed, as it always does. Greed will drive people down to levels that will cause trouble at the end of the day. To go forward with another tribunal, or a differently constituted tribunal, that will listen to all sides of the argument and move forward intelligently— (Time expired)