House debates

Monday, 18 June 2007

Independent Contractors Amendment Bill 2007

First Reading

Bill and explanatory memorandum presented by Mr Wilkie.

1:25 pm

Photo of Kim WilkieKim Wilkie (Swan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to introduce the Independent Contractors Amendment Bill 2007 into parliament. The purpose of this bill is to create a fair and equitable transport regulatory system for truck owner-drivers by exempting WA operators from the Independent Contractors Act 2006. Under current legislation, Victoria and New South Wales are both exempt from the IC Act, but Western Australia’s application for exemption has been denied. The government’s decision to deny West Australia exemption from the IC Act has unfairly discriminated against owner-driver operators in WA and compromised the safety of our roads.

This amendment will repeal regulatory discrimination against Western Australian owner-drivers, as well as encouraging greater safety and improved business performance throughout the industry. The Western Australian state government has already passed legislation designed to improve the safety and profitability of the owner-driver transport sector, but until the federal government grants WA an exemption from the IC Act the Western Australian government cannot proclaim the bill.

The Australian economy relies on road transport. Because of the immense size and dispersed population of our nation, Australia is the most road transport dependent country in the OECD. In my home state of Western Australia, road transport is a critical service industry which underpins its booming economy. With the amount of road freight expected to double by 2020, the importance of having a viable and efficient road transport industry, staffed by experienced, skilled and well-trained drivers is growing rapidly. Yet the transport industry here in Australia is fast approaching a crisis. Few industries have suffered more from the critical skills shortages that have developed under the Howard government than the road transport industry. While experienced drivers and mechanics are flooding out of the industry, young people are not entering it at anywhere near replacement rates.

In order to address the lack of driver retention in the road transport industry, it is vitally important that we recognise exactly why drivers are leaving. When you take a look at some of the facts and figures from the industry, it is not really all that surprising why it is happening. When you look at what drivers earn, and especially what owner-drivers earn for the amount of work they put in, it is little wonder there is an exodus from the industry. A business in which one’s health and safety are routinely compromised due to pressures to drive for an unsafe number of hours, and in which rates of pay are being continually driven down by this government’s unfair industrial relations policy, is hardly an attractive career path.

Owner-drivers in particular are faced with rates of pay per trip or kilometre so bad that many have been forced to adopt highly unsafe driving practices such as speeding, reducing the maintenance work on their vehicles, carrying unsafe loads and using stimulant drugs to stay awake. As a Treasury report from the Western Australian state government found, the average profitability of the owner-driver industry is low. Many experience very tight profitability margins, or simply no profit at all. Recommended rates for the industry have remained static in nominal terms over the past decade, while in real terms they have declined by more than 20 per cent. Until owner-drivers receive reasonable and safe rates of pay, the pressure on drivers to cut corners to meet their bottom lines will remain.

The Western Australian bill is designed to rectify these problems. The Western Australian bill is designed to promote a safe and sustainable road freight industry in WA by enshrining safe rates of pay for owner-drivers and establishing an industry code of conduct. But, as I mentioned, until the federal government grants Western Australia an exemption from the IC Act, the bill, which has the support of both the Transport Workers Union and the WA Transport Forum, will not be enacted.

While the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations has sought to justify the government’s decision to refuse Western Australia’s exemption on the grounds that it will conduct a national review of owner-driver laws, ‘with a view to achieving national consistency’, I do not think that anybody believes for a second that this means that the government is seriously going to sit down and consider what will be best for owner-drivers and the safety of our roads. No, Mr Deputy Speaker, a national review of the owner-driver industry will simply serve as a smokescreen for the government to repeal New South Wales and Victoria’s exemptions from the IC Act and make sure that Western Australian owner-drivers are never entitled to the safe and sustainable pay rates that they deserve.

It is truly a disgrace when a government puts its own ideological agenda ahead of the safety of our roads and the wellbeing of transport workers. And it is truly a disgrace when a government tries to hoodwink the public with its phoney claims of a genuine review. But that is precisely what this arrogant and self-serving government is really all about. It is not interested in the safety of our roads and it is certainly not interested in seeing owner-drivers being entitled to fair and equitable pay. In fact, this government is not really interested in much at all in WA unless it can be dug out of the ground and sold overseas.

The people of WA deserve a government that cares about the safety of our roads, a government that is not just about driving down the pay and conditions of our transport workers to the bare minimum, and a government that will end the skills shortages that now threaten the viability of road transport in this nation. It is critical that the exemption proposed by this bill be passed by the House. (Time expired)

Bill read a first time.

Photo of Ian CausleyIan Causley (Page, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

In accordance with standing order 41, the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.