House debates

Monday, 18 April 2016

Bills

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

7:50 pm

Photo of Richard MarlesRichard Marles (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection) Share this | Hansard source

I stand here this evening as a proud former federal assistant secretary of the Transport Workers Union. I have heard a lot of discussion from the other side about representing owner-drivers. It is worth making the point that when I was the federal assistant secretary of the TWU—and I do not know if it is any different now—the proportion of the membership of the TWU that were owner-drivers was about a third. Owner-drivers comprise a significant number of people represented by the TWU because they have a particular need in what is a very dangerous industry.

Owner-drivers not only deal with all the effective issues that employees in an industry deal with; they also bear the risk of running their truck. In the long distance industry that is a significant investment indeed. Because of the danger of this industry and the fact that you do not earn a lot of money in transport, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was a really important piece of public policy which sought to bring safety into an industry which is one of the most—if not the most—dangerous industries within the Australian economy. Twelve times the national average is the death rate experienced in the road transport industry.

We support this specific bill which seeks to delay the implementation of this order until 1 January next year. It does so that there can be a whole lot of further consultation, which is really important, around the details surrounding the content of this order—issues such as back loads and split loads and the rise-and-fall formula, which deals with the fluctuations in the fuel price. I could go on.

But rather than dealing with the legislation in this way, we ought to be leaving this to the parties. The parties, right now, are talking about exactly these issues: AIG, ACCI, the Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation, NatRoad and the livestockers are all talking with the TWU about such a delay. Indeed, the TWU has made an application to the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal to see a delay in the operation of this order so that precisely the kind of consultation which is envisaged under this bill can occur. That is how it ought to be. It goes to the very fundamental point about why the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal is playing such an important role in this industry: it is bringing parties together to discuss the issue of safety and come up with a structure of payment within this industry that promotes the safe cartage of goods around Australia. That is what is occurring.

What we will see with the abolition of the RSRT, through the previous bill that went through this chamber, is, literally, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. All those conversations which are about promoting safety by virtue of the existence of this tribunal do not happen, or they do not happen in quite the same way. The idea which is being perpetuated on the other side of this House that there is no credible link between remuneration and safety in the road transport industry, frankly, beggars belief. The PricewaterhouseCoopers review of the road safety remuneration system makes it absolutely clear there is a connection. You can go to back to a Senate inquiry from 2000, which produced Beyond the midnight oil, which looked at the way in which this industry was structured, the existence of low hourly rates and the existence of trip rates that encouraged people to drive long hours and to drive in ways which, ultimately, made safety on the roads difficult to maintain and created danger for the entire public.

Now, again, I know this firsthand, having run the 2002 reasonable hours case at the ACTU, where it was identified that road transport, and particularly long-distance driving, was one of the hot spots in the Australian economy in terms of long hours being worked and unsafe practices as a result. They are not only unsafe practices in respect of those drivers but they are also unsafe practices in respect of the Australian public. Over a decade we have seen literally thousands of people killed as a result of trucking accidents. It is why the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was so important, it is why we supported it on this side of the House and it is why the government's stance, in opposing it, is an utter disgrace.

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