House debates

Monday, 18 April 2016

Bills

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

8:30 pm

Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I am pleased to have this brief opportunity to speak on this bill today. As it is, we were recalled to parliament by the Prime Minister for this sitting in order to debate—that is the purpose of the parliament. But I find myself being gagged on an issue of significant importance to my own community. I was on this list to speak earlier, but I am happy to take what time I have now. I am very pleased to be able to speak against the bill before the House, because the repeal bill before the House is a continuation of the Abbott government's determination to put ideology before the real-world consequences of their policies.

The tribunal was set up by the previous Labor government to deal with the very significant incidences of accidents and fatalities in the road transport industry. Twenty-five people were killed last month; 300 people were killed last year. The tribunal is a response to the perverse incentives in the trucking industry that have forced drivers to work in unsafe conditions in order to make ends meet.

Trucking is Australia's most dangerous profession, with drivers being 15 times more likely to die at work than any other profession. This in itself should warrant government attention, but when you consider that truck drivers' workplace is the road that we all share with all of us with our friends our partners our children, the need to ensure the safety of working conditions for truck drivers in these circumstances becomes an unavoidable imperative. That is why the last Labor government set up the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal in 2012; to change the safety record of the industry, to help increase driver safety and to decrease fatalities for truck drivers and for those with whom they share the road. This is the very reason for the name of the tribunal.

Listening to the contributions of the ministers opposite during question time and to the contributions of members opposite in this chamber during this debate, I understand the disinclination that they have to talk about the full name of the bill. They call it the 'RSRT' bill. It is called the 'Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal' bill because there is a connection between road safety and remuneration. Refusing to say this out loud does not change the facts. This is an issue that has been shown beyond doubt. There has been study after study after study—the evidence is enormous—over an extended period of time.

The Conversation website, a website that publishes contributions of academics and experts from around the world, fact-checked this statement recently. On 13 April they fact-checked the claim: 'Do better pay rates for truck drivers improve safety?' Michael Quinlan, Director of the Industrial Relations Research Centre, UNSW Australia, found: 'there is persuasive evidence of a connection between truck driver pay and safety'. He said:

Australian studies conducted since the 1990s found a significant link between scheduling pressures, unpaid waiting time, insecure rewards and access to work, and hazardous practices such as speeding, excessive hours and drug use by drivers.

The connection is clear. Pressure from the top of the supply chain, in the form of underpayment or perverse incentives, are leading to symptoms like fatigue, speeding, log manipulation and the use of stimulants and narcotics.

I represent an area of Melbourne that understands trucking related issues better than most. My electorate sits between the industrial and logistics hubs of Melbourne's west and the Port of Melbourne in the centre of Melbourne. Every day thousands of trucks rumble along our residential streets, trying to get to arterial roads and their destinations. Indeed the community I live in and represent, residential suburbs like Footscray and Yarraville, see at least 20,000 truck movements a day. That is 20,000 heavy vehicle movements in front of the schools in my electorate, in front of the playgrounds in my electorate and in front of the homes of families and children in my electorate.

Appropriate infrastructure plays a role in protecting the community and ensuring safety. And in this respect I congratulate the Victorian Labor government for its commitment to getting trucks off residential streets in Melbourne's west and onto the proposed western distributor tunnel and elevated freeway. But this infrastructure response will never get all the trucks off our residential streets. They will not get every truck off our residential streets. So the workplace environment and the safety environment for truck drivers remain critically important.

Ensuring road transport employers are not perversely incentivised to work in an unsafe manner should be a minimum requirement to ensuring public safety. The Transport Workers Union national secretary, Tony Sheldon, has said that the abolition of the tribunal, an effective shutting down of the conversation about transport and pay in the transport industry, will cost lives. He is right. That is what the evidence says.

There is a connection between remuneration and safety. If we break that connection, if we break the efforts that the RSRT has made to increase remuneration, lives will be lost. I encourage those opposite to draw on the passion they had for participants in the home insulation scheme and for workplace safety in that scheme and the number of times they spoke on the lives of those individuals and to think about the lives of the truck drivers before the House today.

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