House debates

Monday, 18 April 2016


Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill 2016, Road Safety Remuneration Amendment (Protecting Owner Drivers) Bill 2016; Second Reading

4:17 pm

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

It is truly with great pleasure that I speak this evening on the repeal of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. Firstly, I will give some background. We know when the Labor Party were previously in government that they had a plan with their carbon tax to put a 7c per litre tax on diesel fuel, affecting every single truck and transport operator across the nation. We also know that the Transport Workers Union gives millions—$7 million or $8 million in recent years—to the Labor Party. We also know that over recent years there has been a massive decline in trade union membership, from something like 40 per cent of the workforce in 1992 to less than 15 per cent today. Let us add all these things up.

During the last parliament we had the so-called Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal set up. When that was set up I do not think anyone could have envisaged the evil that it has done. It has put in a policy that discriminates against owner-operators in the trucking industry. It put in a pricing order that fixes prices. The prices that are fixed for the independent owner-operators do not apply to trade union members or to big trucking firms. This attacks one of the fundamental freedoms that we should have in this country. It should be a fundamental freedom for any citizen in this country—if they have the will and the desire to have a go—to start and to run their own small business. This disgraceful order from this tribunal undermines that very freedom that is part of our country.

Members of the Labor Party have rolled in one after another during this debate and claimed that this is all about road safety, but we know it is simply nothing more than a recruitment campaign for the trade union movement. If this order is allowed to go ahead, it will force independent owner-operators out of business. The only way they could continue to operate in the transport game would be to become an employee of one of the large companies as a unionised member, with of course their union fees flowing into the TWU and that money flowing down to finance the next Labor Party election campaign.

I disagree with many things that Senator Lazarus has said before but he was 100 per cent right when he said that blind Freddy could see that this has nothing to do with road safety. It is despicable and disgraceful for members of the Labor Party, under the guise of recruiting more members for the trade union movement to try to get some payment out of them to help fund their election campaign, to cite that this is all about road safety. Do not take my word for it; Michael Wong, a former TWU employee from 2009 to 2012, belled the cat when he said:

Fundamentally the union doesn't care about owner-drivers, it cares about its income and the political power it can achieve. The practical effect of the RSRT is to push owner-drivers out of the market.

That is exactly what it does. I will give you some quick examples from a document presented to the High Court Chief Justice on 15 April this year in the application of Independent Contractors Australia for an injunction against the RSRT. Greg, a transport operator in Queensland, said:

Having to use the calculated pricing structure of the RSRO I am now required to charge between 18% and 30% more.

He went on:

… this sort of loading under the RSRO will have me priced out of the market.

So we have the tribunal ordering small business owner-operators to increase their price between 18 per cent and 30 per cent but, lo and behold, that does not apply to the large companies with their unionised workforce. What an absolute disgrace. As I said, this undermines one of the most fundamentally important freedoms that should be guaranteed in our Constitution. As for the tribunal, those tribunal members should take a good look at themselves—the arrogance that they have displayed in this order. They are either completely commercially naive or stooges for the trade union movement.

It is in the act. Section 20 of the act says, 'matters the tribunal must have regard to'. It is not 'may have regard to'; it is 'must have regard to'. Section 21(a) is the need to apply fair rates and fair treatment of road transport drivers. How can driving these guys out of business be classified as fair treatment? Section 21(b) is 'the likely impact of any order on the viability of businesses in the road transport industry'. We know what it does to the viability; it pushes independents out of work. Another one is 'the likely impact of any order on the national economy'. We know that this order is going to cost billions of dollars to the national economy. Section 21(i) is 'the need to minimise the compliance burden'. You are tying these guys up in red tape. I have a few more quotes, again from the documents filed in the High Court. This one is from Justin:

I am an owner-operator and do sub-contract work for a local company carting general freight. That was until Friday! I now don't have any work because the local company cannot afford to pay me to do the subcontract work under the new RSRO!! …

I WAS a proud owner-driver …

Now my truck is parked in the shed and I'm left wondering HOW, HOW, HOW am I going to pay for it without any income???! … I WAS proud to call Australia home, but it has become a dictatorship, even trying to tell me how to run my own business. Up until now I managed perfectly well to make the payments on my truck and to have some $ to spare to make it all worthwhile. NOW I have a truck, but soon I will have NOTHING! The bank will move in and take my truck, then it will take my home, my farm, my family, my life.

We have members of the Labor Party that are voting against this. Shame on every single one of you. It is an absolute outrage that you would not join the coalition and get rid of this disgraceful tribunal. After the arrogance that that tribunal showed by ordering those people on Easter weekend to attend hearings, under threat of six months in jail if they did not give evidence, this tribunal deserves to be abolished, and the tribunal members should hang their heads in shame over this disgraceful order.

We are all concerned about road safety—every single one of us in this place. Many of us drive on country roads to make it to Canberra. But what this order does is actually makes road safety worse. The reason it does is that independent owner-operators have a better safety record. That is exactly what the 2014 report by Jaguar Consulting says. It said:

… research on the relationship between employment type and accident involved consistently shows that owner drivers have either lower rates of accident involvement or, at worst, similar accident levels to employee drivers.

The Jaguar report also cites a study by Hunter & Mangum, which found that non-union firms had lower accident rates than unionised firms.

A study by Williamson in 2001 entitled Driver fatigue: a survey of long distance heavy vehicle drivers in Australia,found that it was employee drivers in large trucking companies that had the highest rate of accidents. So, if you take these independents off the road, if you steal their business, if you put them at a competitive disadvantage—which is exactly what the tribunal is doing—and you have their work replaced by unionised operators in large trucking firms, you will get worse road safety outcomes. That is the ultimate disgrace of this. It will do exactly the opposite of the sham argument about road safety that has been put up.

There are many of my colleagues who wish to speak on this this evening, so I will leave my comments at that. But I am very proud to stand with them and say that we are here to abolish this shocking and disgraceful tribunal. This is a completely un-Australian act. We stand for the fundamental freedoms of anyone in this country who wants to have a go in their own small business. To those members of the Labor Party using road safety as a reason: shame on every single one of you. With that, I commend this bill to the House.


Tibor Majlath
Posted on 20 Apr 2016 11:23 am

I was hoping to understand the issue. Initially it sounded as if owner drivers were protesting against receiving higher pay. That didn't make sense.

Then I thought perhaps big trucking owners were protesting against having to pay more to their employees. But it doesn't apply to them.

Perhaps it was about companies having to pay more to owner-drivers to do subcontract work under the new RSRO.

According Kelly it is more about recruiting for the TWU and the money flowing into the Labor party's coffers for the next election. Apparently, this will make roads more dangerous "by forcing independent owner drivers off the road, and having their work being taken over by large unionised firms this will actually make our roads more dangerous."

Kelly jumps to this conclusion based on cherry picking from several reports such as the 227 page 2014 report by Rex Deighton-Smith of Jaguar Consulting. It is all so simple if one only reads the 'executive summary' which also states that "the evidence for the existence of linkages between remuneration levels and road safety performance is relatively limited, while there are difficulties in interpreting the specific nature and significance of any such links."

Lack of data is not evidence one way or another. No wonder there are difficulties in interpreting the specific nature and significance of any such alleged links. Kelly's contribution is just embarrassing.