House debates

Monday, 18 April 2016


Road Safety Remuneration Amendment (Protecting Owner Drivers) Bill 2016; Consideration in Detail

7:24 pm

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | Hansard source

This is an important bill. It is a bill that, if enacted, will delay an order made by the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. This tribunal was established in order to ensure that there was a proper examination of the correlation between, on the one hand, rates of pay for owner-drivers, for employees who drive heavy vehicles, and, on the other hand, the incidents of fatality or injury on our roads.

On this side of the chamber, we believe that there are concerns with respect to the order. We just voted against the proposition to abolish the tribunal. If we are serious about taking what is an unprecedented step to, in effect, by way of parliament, delay an order that is made by an independent statutory body—the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal—then I think it is incumbent upon the government of the day, the executive government, to explain exactly why this has to be done. For example, why there was no effort made by the government to make submissions to the tribunal in order to ensure that the merits of the case, whatever they may be, were put on behalf of the government.

As you know, the government has a capacity, pursuant to the authority of the Minister for Employment, to intervene in matters that are before a number of statutory bodies including the Fair Work Commission and, indeed, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. We would have thought that if the government was serious about the consideration of this matter, then rather than seeking to entirely abolish the system and trash the tribunal, the Commonwealth last year, before the order was made, would have sought to intervene and make a submission indicating its views on those matters. We have had none of that. In fact, in August or September last year in this place, the former Deputy Prime Minister—the former minister for transport, Mr Warren Truss—indicated that there was no intention by the government to abolish the tribunal. He said so at that dispatch box in answer to a question. Indeed, subsequently other members of the Nationals also said that they were not in pursuit of the abolition of the tribunal. Nonetheless, they have now voted to abolish it; however, we do have to deal with this order.

Labor does consider that this matter (1) is serious and that (2) the order does, in some cases, illustrate a lack of regard for issues that have been raised by some owner-drivers. For that reason I have made clear, after speaking with not only the Australian Trucking Association and the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters' Association but also the Transport Workers Union, that Labor would want to sit down with the parties, examine the legitimate concerns of owner-drivers in this matter, and see if we can forge a compromise in order to consider the real concerns of all affected parties. Unfortunately, that has not happened here today. That has not happened because the Prime Minister, in search of an agenda, elevated this matter and sought to trash the tribunal. This House has just passed a bill to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, and we would say, 'That was the wrong approach.' What would be the right approach is to now consider the manner and form of the order and look to see whether it can be mended. Our view is that that would have been the better approach.

In relation to this order—it is an order that would 'delay until 1 January next year'—we would like to understand what that means. In particular, if the bill in relation to the tribunal that just passed this chamber failed to pass the other chamber, we would ask the government of the day to explain what they would be seeking to do with respect to the order—I will finish in a minute; I will not be taking up the full five minutes of this allocation at least—if indeed we are left with a tribunal in its place, an order that is delayed and yet no real certainty for the industry.

The best way to have dealt with this matter, we believe, would have been to convene a meeting of all representatives of the trucking industry. No-one doubts the difficulties confronting truck drivers. Long-haul truck driving in particular is a very tough job. For those who have their own businesses, it can be very difficult. Some of the onerous contracts that they have to enter into to make ends meet are, quite frankly, very unfair. We believe that the system has really been against many owner-drivers because of the manner in which some of the large players in this industry—that is, those that are seeking the provision of truck driving, the large companies that rely on truck driving—have driven down the genuine capacity of truck drivers to enter into contracts that are fair.

As a result of that, we believe that, just because the government seeks to abolish the tribunal and just because it seeks to delay the order, that will not fix all the problems in the trucking industry. Even if these two bills were to pass the Senate, that would not end the problems confronting this industry. Even in those conversations that I have had with those peak bodies—even those bodies that may want to see the success of both of these bills—nobody believes that the issues confronting the trucking industry will somehow disappear as a result of what happens in the parliament this week. There are fatigue issues. There are issues in relation to the payment of contracts. You have owner-drivers who are not getting paid, well after they have finished their trips. You have providers not being paid by the larger retailers in time to pay their owner-drivers. There is a whole combination of issues.

We also understand, in relation to the order, that there are issues with it. Having listened to the Australian Trucking Association and, indeed, also having listened to the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters' Association, we are of the view that this order should be reconsidered. There are two ways for that to happen. It could happen by way of the tribunal. I understand that the TWU made application today in the tribunal to delay the order, and that was not opposed by any of the employer bodies. The AiG, ACCI, NatRoad and the livestockers were not opposed to that application to put on hold the operation of the long-distance rate. Indeed, as I understand it, Linfox and other drivers appeared around the country positively supporting that position.

The reason that there should be a delay to the order is that we believe that following matters such as back loads and split loads; the client accountability to ensure that all employers are paid enough to pay their drivers, whether they are employee drivers or owner-drivers; the rise-and-fall formula to deal with the fluctuations in fuel price; and the maximum 30-day payments for all transport operators are really significant matters that will not be fixed by the success of these bills here or in the Senate. We need to sit down and deal with these matters.

A real leader would not be just trying to abolish a tribunal and delay a matter, to kick this down the road. If Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister, were interested in this issue in a genuine sense, he would convene a meeting and discuss those matters that I have just raised in relation to what affects owner-drivers and what makes it difficult for them. It would be a Pyrrhic victory for those who want to see the end of the tribunal and an order if we were left with no decent way to deal with fatigue and deal with the excessive driving which leads to deaths on our roads.

I ask the government to respond to those issues because I think it is serious. They should take it seriously. Certainly Labor does. That is why we have discussed it with all parties and not just with one. (Time expired)


No comments