House debates

Monday, 18 April 2016

Bills

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

8:53 pm

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

Again, I do not disagree with all that was said by the previous speaker, the member for Mallee. As I said earlier, truck driving—especially long haul truck driving—is a difficult occupation. Add to that if you are running it as a business, then you really are working very hard to turn a profit.

With respect, what was not really addressed entirely by the previous speaker, or by many other members of the government, was the architecture of the contracts that lead to people being placed in what I would suggest are unfair situations, struggling to make a profit and struggling to maintain a business because of the way in which the industry operates. You have very large retail and mining companies that set very difficult contract terms, which place enormous pressure on smaller players in the market. I heard from the Prime Minister and from other speakers, and I would agree at least with the rhetoric of the government, that they are concerned with small enterprises and small businesses. If that were true—and I am going to accept for the moment, at least for the purpose of this discussion and in the tenor of which I would like to debate this matter, that it is true—then I believe that we should be looking at the power of large players in the market place.

There is no doubt that the road transport industry is a tough industry, but you do have large retail and mining companies that also make it very difficult. Part of the capacity of the tribunal is to examine a number of issues, including the time in which people are paid. I have spoken to some people who oppose the order that we are debating now. I have spoken to owner-drivers who do not support this order, and while I do not agree with them, I respect some of the reasons they have raised with me. But I also understand that smaller companies have grave concerns about their inability to pay their owner-drivers because they have not been paid themselves. And yet nobody seems to want to deal with the failure, on some occasions, of larger players in the road transport industry to pay on time in order for those smaller enterprises to maintain wages for their crew, or just to pay their bills as an owner-driver. There are a series of things that will not be fixed by the abolition of the tribunal, or just the delay of the order.

I also want to make it very clear, in speaking on this bill, that I am supporting this bill, but I think it begs the question: if we are going to delay the order—and that is what we are debating now; we are not debating the abolition of the tribunal as that has come and gone in this chamber—and if we are going to assume for a moment that the tribunal may still be there by the end of this week, and that is as possible as not because there is a debate the other place, then why aren't we discussing what happens after the order is to take effect? This is a delay order. This is not an abolition of an order made by the tribunal; this is a delay order for 1 January next year.

We have come some way to a meeting of minds, if you like, because even the major employers and the union agree with the deferral of the order until we discuss a number of things, including split loads, back loads, timely payments and a series of other matters. These things are being discussed. In fact, before the tribunal today there was an application by the TWU supported, or certainly not opposed, by all of the employer bodies mentioned in this debate. That is the way this should be happening: there is an issue before the independent umpire that the parties agree upon.

That is the approach the government, in a normal situation, would take. You would not say: 'We don't agree with an order. We're going to delay the order by way of parliament. And, by the way, we're going to abolish the tribunal. We're going to abolish the umpire that made the decision because we don't accept it.' That is an extreme, disproportionate response, even if you have some fundamental problems with the decision that was made. That is the problem I have. Because if it is allowed for executive governments to abolish a statutory body as important as this tribunal, then what would stop a future government abolishing a decision on a national wage case or abolishing a decision that will not cut penalty rates? (Time expired)

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