House debates

Monday, 18 April 2016


Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill 2016, Road Safety Remuneration Amendment (Protecting Owner Drivers) Bill 2016; Second Reading

3:14 pm

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What an extraordinary question time—again the government denied the link between pay and safety when it comes to roads and what has been decided by the tribunal. Let me remind the government what the Australian Productivity Commission report found in 2016. This is a government that is happy to support the Productivity Commission when they recommend cutting penalty rates but is not willing to support the Productivity Commission when they say there is a direct link between pay and safety. The cherry-picking of this government is extraordinary.

And that is not the only report that linked pay to safety on our roads. There was another report, by Jaguar Consulting, in 2014. There was the National Transport Commission report in 2008. The Productivity Commission recognised in 2014 and 2016 that RSOS will result in a '10 per cent to 18 per cent reduction in the number of crashes'. This is on page 86, if government members would like to check it out. Perhaps they should read up on it before they make a statement in this House stating otherwise. The road transport industry has the highest fatality rate of any industry in Australia, with fatality rates 12 times higher than the average for other industries. That was on page 6 of the Productivity Commission review. Let me just state that again: '12 times higher'.

Let's be real about our roads network. It is the workplace of Australian truck drivers. It is the responsibility of this place to do everything it can to ensure that safety is paramount on our roads, yet all the government plans to do—what they believe will improve road safety—is just build roads. That is not enough. It is not enough to just build roads. You also have to look at who is driving on our roads and the pressure on our truck drivers on our roads. In my previous statement I listed example after example of trucking accidents in my electorate. The Bendigo electorate has a vast network of highways. It is important that we have tribunals like this that are independent of government, that are making orders to ensure that we have safe freights and road safety.

Since it was created in 2012 the tribunal has made two rulings that have been evidence based, and which people have had the opportunity—like with the Fair Work pay commission, like other tribunals—to have an input into. That is the purpose of an independent tribunal. The first ruling was to mandate 30 days minimum payment for transport workers. The second was to set a minimum rate of pay for owner-drivers. Both these rulings were made after many years of consultation and investigation by the tribunal. The tribunal acts like any other tribunal that has been established by this parliament. It acts to consult. It acts to make decisions. It is independent of this place. What we have seen, though, in the last few days, if not weeks, is this government completely trash that independence.

I agree with the member for Chifley when he says that this is a stunt. This is a government that continues to chop and change its position on this issue. In consideration in detail upstairs in the Federation Chamber, I asked the then minister for transport: 'Can the government today rule out scrapping the RSRT? Can the minister commit to supporting the RSRT?' That was on 18 June 2015. What the minister at the time, the Deputy Prime Minister, said was: 'We haven't got any plans to get rid of it.' Less than 12 months ago, this government said, in consideration in detail: 'We haven't got any plans to get rid of it.' It cannot get any clearer than that about how this government chops and changes their minds over and over again, trying to save their own jobs.

But the minister is not the only one who continues to chop and change his position on this particular bill. When the current Deputy Prime Minister was in the Senate he also stood up and defended the creation of the tribunal. He said that he did not have a great problem with it. He did not see a problem with it. Whilst he was voting against the bill he did not really have an issue with it, and did not think it would have a big impact. What has happened? What has changed? Again, this is a man who is desperate to save his own job, who is putting a scare campaign out there, who is denying the purpose of this. He is misleading people in the Australian community that this is about ensuring every hour that is worked is paid and that there is a rate of pay that everybody receives. This is a government that is not committed to road safety, despite all of their rhetoric. If they were, then they would listen to report after report that directly links pay to safety.

These are our roads, and fatalities on our roads are higher in this industry than in any other industry. Yet what we have is a government that is not serious about road safety. If they were, they would be working with the opposition on how to improve the tribunal going forward and how to ensure that we continue to improve road safety. Instead, what we had was a stunt where they just want to abolish it. That just demonstrates how narrow-minded they are when it comes to this legislation.

It is now crystal clear that, when this Prime Minister gets a decision from an independent umpire that he does not like, he will just trash it. What happens next? What happens if the fair pay commission recommends a pay rise for some of our lowest paid workers? Will he recommend abolishing the fair pay commission? What happens if Fair Work Australia does not follow his advice and cut penalty rates? Will he abolish Fair Work Australia? It is not fair on people working in this industry, some our lowest paid workers that this government will not stand up for.

We know that our roads are not always safe. And we acknowledge that a lot needs to be done to help improve road safety. What this tribunal was established to do was to try to ensure that at least our truck drivers are not being forced to race by supply-chain pressures. This ensures that drivers are not undercutting each other because of pressure from big clients.

When I have spoken to people in my electorate about this issue, they have been clear. They want the undercutting in the industry to stop. They want people to be paid for every hour that they work. Even if you do a backload or a return trip just to cover the cost of petrol, you have undercut the next truck driver who would have done that.

My family actually has a history in trucking. My uncles both worked in long haul, and so did my cousin until his wife begged him to give it up and take on a job that was more of a local run, where he would be home every night, because she was pregnant and worried about what was happening on our roads. Every family that has truck drivers in the family has stories of worry because of the pressure that is being put on them through the supply chain. Earlier this year I met one driver who has been to 52 funerals of workmates—52 people involved in the trucking industry who have lost their lives. Find a person in another industry who has had to attend 52 funerals of workmates.

This government is not interested in road safety, despite its rhetoric. They are not interested in the reports that link pay rates to road safety. They have whipped up a fear campaign amongst the trucking community that, quite frankly, is just unfair. (Time expired)

3:24 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I just listened closely to the member for Bendigo for 10 minutes, and I would advise her that she should start sticking up for her electorate. She should start sticking up for the family-operated mum-and-dad truck drivers in her electorate. I tell you what, Mr Deputy Speaker, I think the people of Bendigo would have been listening; they will judge her harshly at the next election.

I also hope that those who were going to put a '1' beside Senator Stephen Conroy's name will think twice. What a disgraceful example he gave in the Senate this morning. When the Governor-General, of all people, was trying to make his statement, Senator Conroy said, 'A strong Governor-General would never have copped this.' That is what he said when the Governor-General was addressing the joint houses of parliament. Then Senator Conroy referred to his speech, saying, 'How embarrassing this must be for you.' He should go into the Senate and apologise forthwith. That is disgraceful. It is undignified. It shows a lack of respect for tradition and for what this parliament stands for. But that is typical of Labor.

I listened very closely to the transport minister, Darren Chester, at the rally this morning and I did not see too many Labor members there. I listened very carefully to Minister Chester's comments. I appreciate that the member for Bendigo just referred to road safety and the number of accidents. Of course, none of us in any seat in this place or in the Senate wants to see any accidents. It is dreadful. I appreciate that driving a truck is a dangerous occupation. Minister Chester said, when addressing the rally this morning:

Let me just say a couple of things about road safety, because that seems to be the way the TWU is trying to hide what was clearly a plan to drag in more members to their union rather than anything else. There is not a person here who does not care about road safety.

And he is right. He said:

It's tragic when someone dies on our roads. You've seen it; I've seen it. We've lost friends and we've lost family. You want to get home safely to your family and friends. We want to make sure the roads are as safe as they can possibly be. That is why we have the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator in place, working with industry already. It's already doing the enforcing fatigue measure. There are already coppers on every corner enforcing speed. There are already issues around making sure your vehicles are roadworthy. The government is investing record amounts of money in road infrastructure—not enough, I accept that; there is never enough—and new rest areas. We are getting on with the job when it comes to safety. This tragic loss of life on our roads is something we all need to deal with, but there is another tragic factor the TWU never wants to talk about. In most of the accidents involving heavy vehicles the heavy vehicle driver is not at fault. The heavy vehicle driver is not at fault in the vast majority of cases. It's a sad and it's a tragic fact, but it's true.

Minister Chester is right. He is so correct.

I drove here to parliament today, very early in the morning, with Clayton Thomas of West Wyalong. It was his birthday; he turned 41 today. His wife, Naomi, and he have a 19-month-old son, Isaac. They invested heavily in a brand-new rig last October. It has already done 87,000 kilometres. He is getting on with the job, from West Wyalong, of carting goods around our country. As well as driving me here this morning as part of the anti-RSRT convoy, he wrote to me and he said:

As owner-drivers of a one-truck company this new legislation eliminates our work. We are currently working on a full-time basis with a large company, and we have been told that following the introduction of this legislation we will no longer be required for the job as they won't be paying the additional fees for their subcontractor owner-drivers. This effectively means our only means of income has been slashed, and our company will be out of work come 4 April.

As parents of a 17-month-old baby—

bear in mind that it was a short time ago that he wrote to me—

with two mortgages and a five-month-old truck, this is obviously of massive concern to us. These rulings are discriminatory against the owner-driver and implement an uneven playing field within the transport industry. They have resulted in us being unable to secure any future work despite extensive and exhaustive efforts to do so. Small families and rural communities rely on the lifeblood of the owner-driver.

He comes from West Wyalong, a junction of the Mid-Western and Newell highways. It is a vital transport hub. It is a vital corridor of activity and commerce in this nation. Clayton wrote:

Any assistance you can provide in overturning or obliterating this ridiculous legislation that unfairly targets the owner-driver would be greatly appreciated.

His wife had even more to say, as some of these really concerned wives of truckies do. Of course they want to see their husbands come home; they want to see their loved ones back safely. She said:

We have been in business for eight years. We have worked towards having our own business for 13 years. … This is something we believe in; this is our livelihood.

I said:

I drove in your rig this morning in your convoy; it is brand-new so this is not about road safety.

She said:

Not at all, owner drivers have probably the biggest interest in making sure that safety is adhered to. It is a priority that the trucks are in good working order; it is our livelihood.

He piped up and said:

It is our income. We have to make sure it is right, we have to make sure it is going and we have to make sure we get home.

I asked:

If Bill Shorten, the member for Maribyrnong, was here, what would you say to him?

Naomi replied:

Wake up, have a look at what you are doing to the people of Australia, the ones who are out there every day working hard to earn an income. They are not sitting back taking a handout. Just have a look at what you are really doing. If you value the Australian people and their votes, have a look.

But Mr Shorten, the member for Maribyrnong, does not care about those particular votes. He does not want to have a look. All he cares about is being beholden to the unions.

We heard the minister for resources in question time today say how Mr Shorten, the member for Maribyrnong, got up at a union conference and said, 'These are the people I love being around,' just a day after they were talking about breaking the law, about union thuggery and about doing whatever it takes to get their point across. These people are workers. These people are doing their darndest to ensure that they get home safely and that they get paid a fair wage. They are happy with what they are getting. They are doing a good job. Why is Labor getting in the way?

I have heard from Shearers Road Freight of Wagga Wagga and they said the same thing. I have heard from Wayne Lewis from Coolamon, who was particularly concerned. He is a long-term truck driver who wrote to me on 18 March and said:

I attended a meeting in Wagga Wagga last night which was attended by close to 150 owner-drivers or contract drivers. The general mood, I felt, at the meeting was one confusion and total disbelief that something like this order could be brought into law.

I have to say that particular meeting to which he refers had 150 owner-drivers. It takes a lot of to get 150 owner-drivers off the road and to a meeting with very short notice. But they turned up in droves. Wayne Lewis said:

This order will without doubt increase the price of commodities that have travelled over 500 kilometres on the back of a truck in Australia. There are not too many objects that people use in their everyday lives that have not spent some time on the back of a truck. This order will also affect families whose breadwinners help to keep trucks on the road. It will affect insurance companies, it will affect finance companies and the list goes on.

We heard the Deputy Prime Minister this morning talk about the fact that it would affect so many other direct businesses such as mechanics—those people who keep the trucks on the road. Wayne Lewis said:

Have you people on this tribunal really given any in-depth thought to what you have created?

They probably have not because even though they are at arm's length of government, this was a Labor inspired, Labor conspired, Labor set-up tribunal. Wayne Lewis asked me:

Why does everything have to be so complicated? Why not just have an ombudsman that people can go to if they have a grievance about unsafe rates? It would be a lot more simple than this order that is now unfortunately law and that you have given birth to. I suppose we have the TWU and the Labor Party to thank for this fiasco.

Wayne, yes, you do. He said:

Speaking of the TWU, I cannot really believe that an organisation such as theirs could hate a group of people, owner-drivers and their families, so much that they could instigate something as woeful as this. If they are trying to get owner-drivers on-side, I suggest they go back to the drawing board because this type of bullying will never make me want to be part of their little gang. How do I explain to a hirer that, instead of a tonnage rate or a cubic rate which they now pay, they are going to have to pay a kilometre rate and an hourly rate as well? What happens on a journey if the truck is held up through no fault of the driver, for example, for a flood, roadworks, accident or even law enforcement officers? Does this mean that I have to go back to the hirer and say to them that they owe me more money because the trip took longer because of these unforeseen circumstances?

It is a good question.

This order is going to create a lot of unnecessary paperwork, which is something the transport industry already has too much of.

Thank goodness for this side of politics, the government, which has been getting in and getting rid of much of the regulation in the red tape burden and the bureaucracy that bogs down small business. The reason we do that is because we want government to get out of the way as much as possible from business getting on with the job of moving goods around Australia, getting on with the job of hiring more people.

There were 301,000 more full-time jobs created last year because the Liberal-Nationals are in government. The other side just want to create more red tape. The other side just want to be beholden to their union mates to make sure that they get elected again because most of them are former union officials. Most of the people on our side of politics are former small business people. We understand business. We understand how important it is for the economy to make sure that the lifeblood of the nation, those truck drivers driving up and down the arterial roads, are getting the goods to market, to make sure that those mum-and-dad operators are able to continue to do the job that they have been doing so well for so long.

In 2012 the Labor government introduced a Road Safety Remuneration Act based on very limited, very dated academic research suggesting that if you pay a truckie more, they will drive slower and work fewer hours. I was in a truck this morning with Clayton Thomas, and the trucks are governed to not go over 100 kilometres an hour. If you go down into Victoria, where they are very stringent on these things, and you drive 103 kilometres an hour even downhill, even with a full load, they will book you. So we know that this is not about road safety; this is about being beholden to the unions.

I heard the member for Ballarat having a go at Minister Chester during a division this morning about a particular truck accident, not knowing all the facts. It was not the poor truckie's fault. When this bill, as it should, gets thrown out of parliament and the Senate actually agrees with the coalition government on this, I hope, if there is a future accident, that Labor does not use this as a political plaything and say, 'There you go; that death was your fault because you removed the Road Safety Remuneration Act.' I do hope that does not happen because road safety should not be a political plaything. This is a union plaything; we know that. When the act passed parliament the member for Maribyrnong said that the Labor government:

… is committed to ensuring the long-term viability of the road transport industry but that does not have to be at the expense of truck drivers, whether employees or self-employed, having a safe and fair workplace.

We want truck drivers, owner-operators, mum and dad truckies to have a fair and safe workplace. We want to make sure that they are paid at the rate that they ought to be paid at. But after almost four years of operation, it is becoming very clear that the rationale that Labor or relied on to convince the parliament to pass the act is just not true.

Senator Nick Xenophon, who voted in favour of this legislation, said at the rally this morning, 'I was sold a pup.' He admitted he was wrong. I will not say he begged forgiveness for having voted in favour of the legislation, but he did say that he was sorry. He told the truck drivers—good people—this morning. As Minister Chester said, at this very spot in question time, 'In public life we all make mistakes'. Labor should come in and admit they have made a mistake, but they will not, because they are so rusted on to their crony union mates. I can say that. I was a member of a union for 21 years. I know that unions play a part in society, but everything should be in moderation—and this is not in moderation! This is not about moderation; this is about screwing down the mum and dad truck driver owner-operators in the Riverina, in New South Wales and in Australia, in getting them off the road and getting more members in the TWU. What a disgrace. That is why we are here debating it. That is why we need to throw this legislation out. The member for Bendigo and all those other regional Labor members—thank goodness there are not many of them—should get on board with us.

3:39 pm

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Vocational Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today with great frustration to express my complete opposition to the Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill 2016 before the House today. I have spoken on the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal on many occasions in this House, and, indeed, I was the chair of the parliamentary committee that reviewed this bill before it was introduced. I have spent a lot of time looking at the issues around road safety. It would not surprise members that I would do so, given that my seat has a major trading port—the port of Kembla—in our region. We deal with a lot of truck movements across our entire region, and, in particular, areas like the Mount Ousley Road.

The issue of road safety is a consistent one in our community. We have had decades of looking at really serious issues that we experienced around truck-based accidents on the roads. Of course local members like me and the member for Throsby, who was also a member of that committee, are going to take a serious and in-depth interest in anything to do with road safety. So I find it extremely offensive, cheap and rather pathetic that people opposite would attempt to characterise our engagement in this debate as motivated by some sort of control by unions, or would pass judgement on our motivation and link it to being controlled by others. It is cheap, it is easy, it is lazy and it is wrong. I live in a region where we have had many decades of dealing with truck-related fatalities. I took it very seriously when I chaired the committee that reviewed the legislation, when I was looking at what was structurally happening in that industry that may be problematic for the safety and wellbeing for those who are driving trucks—which is, of course, important.

I come from a mining family. I know only too well that the issues around how you structurally deal with safety can drive a particular type of behaviour, and, hopefully, improve the likelihood that people will return home to their families. That is important. But truck drivers, uniquely, are an industry that spend the vast majority of their work time sharing their workspace with us—the rest of the community. All of us are out on our roads and using our roads to do our own work, move around with our families and participate in community life. We need the assurance that those who are using our roads as their workplace are doing so in the safest and most effective way in order to ensure that we can all use the roads safely.

I absolutely find comments by those opposite, who have taken shots about the motivation of those on this side, a really poor and sad reflection on the standards of debate that should happen in this place. I always find it frustrating that on this side of the House—in my own area, I meet with my trades and labour council, I meet with my business chamber, I meet with peak community groups. I treat everybody with the presumption that their motivation is to represent their organisation, their members and to do a good job, even though we will not always agree. But in this place those opposite consistently seek to run a demonising campaign about the trade union movement in this country—and we are seeing it being ramped up and ramped up as we head into an election. That is what we are doing here this week, so the Prime Minister can get a double dissolution election by once again going back to the standard, repetitive, conservative tradition of running an election campaign by demonising the trade union movement. We even had a little bit of 'stop the boats' thrown in today for good measure. It is a really legitimate question to ask why they bothered changing leader at all, because it is back to the same songbook.

Anyway, as frustrated as I am with that, I am going to bring to my contributions some reflections on why I think the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal is a significant and important contribution to the road safety of the country. It is the case—and many members opposite have made the point, and it is a good point—that there are many ways in which to address road safety. Obviously, laws around behaviour and the use of roads is one of those. Organisations like the road safety National Heavy Vehicle Regulator and so forth are in place to ensure that the sorts of laws we require people to comply with can be enforced. The previous member, the member for Riverina, spoke about how 'trucks do not speed because the police catch them'. That would be nice if it did happen all the time, but it does not. Police cannot be everywhere all the time.

So, if you look at the history of road related truck accidents, you will consistently find issues to do with truck drivers having made decisions that lead to deaths on the road, accidents and injuries. Often those relate to speeding. They relate to the use of illegal drugs. And they relate to failure to maintain and look after the vehicle in a way that ensures that it is road safe.

You take that issue, and you can go in one of two directions. I suggest that those opposite are taking one, and we are taking another. One direction is that that individual is personally responsible and must be prosecuted. I do not think anybody in here would argue that, if people break the law, that should not be the case. But the other thing you can do as a broader society and indeed at least as a government is to ask: is there something systemic happening here, in that so many of those individuals are making those decisions? We have heard a lot of talk about the owner-drivers that those opposite have met with, and I would say that, across the board, truck drivers are not somehow different to everybody else and more prone to illegal activity by the very nature of who they are. They are being driven to this by the way their industry is structured.

The reality is that a power imbalance occurs where those at the top of the chain are able to screw down and drive contracts that push the pressure and the responsibility further and further down that chain until the people who are sitting in the truck have to make decisions that are absolutely unacceptable. I do not believe it is sufficient for a government to say, 'We are okay with addressing this issue by pursuing the individuals, but we're not okay with pursuing the structural problem in the industry that is pushing those decisions onto those individuals.' We will continue to see the structural problem occur. We will continue to see cases where trucking companies are involved in truck accidents because the trucks were not maintained. And sadly, too often, others on the road die in those cases as well.

It is true that you can improve infrastructure. Of course you can. We can get better roads. Finally the New South Wales state government have got around to spending the $4 million we gave them before the last election to put a new truck stop on the Mount Ousley Road. I have been banging on at them for ages to get on with it. It is great that it is finally underway. Of course the infrastructure is important. Of course getting better regulations in place, such as requiring people to take rest breaks and so forth, is important. Of course laws that require people to act in legal ways—such as not using drugs, not abusing drugs, not driving excess hours, not failing to maintain their vehicles—are important. But we have been doing all that for decades, and we continue to see this industry have the highest death rate of workers of any industry in this country. We have seen about 25 deaths only recently, over recent months, on our roads. We continue to see this as an industry with excessive rates of suicide amongst the workers because of the pressure under which they work.

I come, as I said, from the mining industry. We fought hard over generations to stop the sorts of practices in the mining industry that were causing death. It was a very dangerous industry.

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

One in 30.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Vocational Education) Share this | | Hansard source

One in 30. And of course at the time people would have put arguments about how that cost impacted—that is, how higher safety levels might impact on the business arrangements at the time. They are never easy decisions. They are never easy processes. But no-one in our community would argue that loosening up the safety requirements we put in place in that industry because of its horrific death rates is the right thing to do.

The time has come for the trucking industry. The workers in that industry deserve the same systemic approach to their industry to make it safe, not only for them but, uniquely, because they share their workplace, for the rest of us on the roads. I have been to many, many briefings on this particular issue since the change of government. I have met with the widows who come here to talk to these parliamentarians. In one case, it was about the lady's husband. In another case, the lady's husband was killed on the side of the road; he was not the truck driver. I have talked to truck drivers. There is the gentleman who has gone public saying he has attended 52 funerals in his working life. It is incomprehensible. If there were 52 people killed in any other industry, we would not be tolerating continued structural arrangements that allow for that level of death rate. That is how serious this is. I do not bring anything to this dispatch box other than a really genuine and serious concern that we have an industry that is crying out for us to do something about it, and we have communities who share their roads with that industry saying to us, 'There is a bigger problem here, and it needs to be addressed.'

We did. As a result of the evidence that came forward—and I refer honourable members to the advisory report on the bill, which the committee did, and there is a dissenting report in there—we came to the view that the most effective way to do that would be to establish the tribunal and task it with the job of looking at the industry and at particular sectors of the industry to see whether there was a chain-of-command problem that was putting pressure unreasonably on all levels of that chain so that the cascade effect was that you ended up with unsafe practices.

Decisions are made by tribunals. Sometimes they are difficult for one part of the community, and we work as parliaments and governments to find transition methods and how you would manage that and do it effectively. It looked initially like that was what the government were going to do, but then they decided to just jump and abolish the tribunal. I think that is a really short-sighted decision to have made. I think that, if they had wanted to discuss—as indeed our shadow minister said—how these things could be implemented and managed in ways that took people's concerns into consideration, we could have at least continued to progress the issue of the structural problems around safety in the trucking industry. But they have not; they have decided to abolish the tribunal—and they have done it with a whole lot of rhetoric. I hope not all speakers on the other side fall into the trap of simply union bashing. They believe that we, because of generations of understanding the role of unions in protecting people's wellbeing and safety at work, somehow bring dirty hands to this debate. I will not tolerate that. It is an unacceptable assessment of what the debate is about, and I am not going to allow that sort of comment to stand unchallenged. It is beneath people in this place. We can have differences of opinion about how to improve road safety, but I think it is pretty cheap to question people's motivations when it comes to safety.

I say to the government: talk to the opposition; talk to the key players in the sector, certainly. Let's see if we can find ways to make this a manageable issue for those who are having problems. But we need this tribunal. We need it because over decades it has been proved that the other measures—infrastructure improvements, rules and regulations, laws and enforcement—while important, are not enough. There is a structural problem. It is impacting the safety of everyone on our roads. This tribunal needs to be allowed to do its job, and this bill should be removed from this House.

3:53 pm

Photo of Michelle LandryMichelle Landry (Capricornia, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Last Monday I climbed aboard a big blue rig and joined local truck owner-drivers on a convoy rally through Rockhampton city. With horns blasting, they were protesting against the controversial Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. Today I joined the rally in Canberra. I joined Dave Duck, from Rockhampton, who is an owner-operator and is very concerned about the consequences of the RSRT. And today I stand on the floor of federal parliament in Canberra ready and eager to cast my vote to abolish this controversial tribunal once and for all. That is what I pledge to those truckies and their families back home, and only the cold, cruel hearted Labor MPs in this House would dare to stop it.

Today our coalition government, by seeking to repeal the operations of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal in this session of parliament, are moving to protect owner-drivers from being driven out of business. Our aim is to provide certainty to tens of thousands of small business owners across Australia. I thank Rockhampton locals Tony Hopkins of Hopkins Brothers Transport and Laura Francis from Francis Freighters for their perseverance in bringing this issue to the attention of politicians. The RSRT imposed a controversial fixed-rate contract order that industry groups, farmers and truck drivers say will destroy jobs and livelihoods. Following pressure from truckies and the government, the tribunal sought industry feedback to determine whether it would push the start date of this order back until 2017, but in doing so it forced mum and dad truckies to appear before an arrogant panel of tribunal members over the Easter long weekend, a holy weekend which is traditionally set aside for family activity. I condemn the head of the tribunal for such a tactless attitude. Local owner-drivers involved in these Easter hearings have described the president of the RSRT as a person of intellectual arrogance.

Given our geographic make-up and the vast distances that separate our towns and cities, much of the food, freight, fuel and fibre that moves around this great nation is transported by trucks. Truckies are the lifeblood of our nation. We cannot allow the Leader of the Labor Party, a man who wants to be Prime Minister, to let his party's mistake kill off as many as 60,000 jobs. Labor's Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal must be abolished, and it must be abolished immediately. By introducing this legislation today, the Turnbull-Joyce coalition are showing that it is the Liberal-Nationals who are listening with an open heart to mum and dad truckies—people who fear they will lose their livelihoods because of fixed contract regulations imposed by the tribunal. Our government has been listening to its country MPs, including me and Ken O'Dowd, who is sitting next to me, and that is why we are talking about this bill today.

The tribunal, set up by Labor, is a toy for the Transport Workers Union, and its fixed price contracts will have no impact on road safety. So how did it come about? Last week, one respected trucking company owner in Rockhampton sat down in my office to explain how he sees it. He said that when Julia Gillard was trying to fend off a bid from Kevin Rudd to take back the Labor prime ministership she had to seek the support of a powerful union faction, the Transport Workers Union. The trade-off was that she was forced by the union to set up this pathetic tribunal under the guise of road safety. We cannot allow this country to be controlled by union thugs.

When, last week, I joined local truckies in a protest rally against the tribunal and the unions, I was moved by their stories and their genuine fears for their livelihoods. Grown men were moved to tears by the stress of not being able to meet the demands of this farcical tribunal. These mums and dads work hard to provide for their families and provide jobs for other families in our community; it is plain wrong that a tribunal lorded over by union thugs should try to send them broke. The bills today are a test for Labor in helping to fix the mess they created and protect the jobs of down-to-earth local people. But are they up to it? Let me warn the truckies of Capricornia that a vote for Labor's candidate in Capricornia is a vote to kill off small businesses, trucking operations and jobs in the region. I am not making this up; this is factual. Richard Easey, from Easy Haul in Central Queensland, says he has already had to let drivers from his family company go because of the RSRT. He says that, coupled with the downturn in coalmining in Central Queensland, the series of destructive orders the tribunal has imposed on the industry will make business even harder. Laura Francis, who with her husband operates a trucking business called Francis Freighters, says the flow-on effect in the community is huge, with large trucking dealerships also fearing for their future. That means jobs in the truck maintenance area, including apprenticeships, are at risk. Jobs in the truck tyre supply sector are also at risk. And fewer truckies on the road will mean less fuel, so servo jobs will be hit as well.

Labor's previous legislation, which we aim to repeal today, is flawed. If they force mum and dad trucking owners out of business, they risk an entire industry. One transport industry expert predicts that, when you take into account the cost and mortgage required for a prime mover, a collapse of mum and dad operators would mean $70 billion worth of new trucks and parts would become obsolete overnight. To quote him: 'They would be useless and left to rust. That is why dealerships are also worried.' He continues by suggesting that the RSRT would not reduce accidents but in fact increase untimely deaths. He explains this by saying that, by putting truckies out of business, the owner-drivers still face paying off the bank debt they borrowed for their rigs. He said: 'This financial stress will lead to mental health issues, family stress, possible domestic violence and, in some extreme cases, suicide.' We must abolish a tribunal that risks pushing men and young fathers to commit suicide.

The Deputy Prime Minister has described the situation facing small trucking businesses as catastrophic. The National Farmers' Federation warned that:

… new minimum rates for owner drivers will drive up freight rates for smaller consignments of livestock or other rural commodities by as much as 350 percent.

Last week the President of the National Road Freighters Association, Tony Hopkins, called for a royal commission into who, why and how the tribunal came to be set up. He feared there were underlying sinister manoeuvres by the Transport Workers Union to force mum and dad drivers out of business. They would then be forced to work for large multinational freight companies as hired staff and by doing so they would be forced to join the Transport Workers Union—a union, according to reports, which has provided at least $8 million into the pockets of the Australian Labor Party.

Last week on the trucking convoy through Rockhampton, I held up a sign saying: 'I support truckies.' Today, as their representative and voice in the Australian parliament, I repeat that slogan loud and clear: I support truckies. On that note, I commend the bills today to the House to effectively abolish the controversial Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.

4:02 pm

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

This is one of the very few times that I have had to equivocate on this legislation. I have been very enthusiastically in favour of having some action taken. As the member for Cunningham said, we have a lot of deaths that can be avoided and it will get a lot worse unless something is done about the situation. It was precipitated, in my opinion, by Woolworths and Coles. Both sides of this parliament have allowed them to go from 51 per cent in, I think, 1991 to around 90 per cent of all food and grocery items sold in Australia today. So they hold a hugely powerful position.

When you deregulate the dairy industry you go down from 60c a litre to 40c a litre on the day that you deregulate. This industry has never been regulated, so what happens is that the Woolworths and Coles of this world can just simply by having a Dutch auction watch the race to the bottom. Of course, many of our drivers will suffer as a result of now having to drive very excessive hours indeed.

In the of livestock-hauling industry we have one very big operator. It was a long time ago now—maybe 30 years ago, in fact—that he was offering rates 50 per cent less than everybody else. He was going broke but he was going to take an awful lot of the rest of us down with him. It was obvious to me that we needed some sort of minimum pricing in the road hauliers industry. We fought very hard for it at the time. We fought very hard for a minimum pricing arrangement in the beef industry as well.

What has happened over the last 29 years is that we have seen all of these things removed. It is with the deepest regret today that I feel forced to vote for the removal of regulation. But I give an undertaking to my truckies back home and to the Transport Workers Union that, if we have a newly constituted body that will bring in the protections we need, I most certainly will be supporting it, as I supported the original legislation on this.

I owe it to Tony Sheldon and the TWU to do some defending of them here. I know what the original motivation was—there was some self-interest; there is no doubt about that—in the sense that the TWU felt that they were a very powerful organisation and could provide protection and useful involvement by people such as the NRFA and the LTFA and all of the livestock hauliers and the small operators throughout Australia. Whether those people saw it that way or not, I do not know. But all of us who read history books are very well aware of what happened in the United States. There was Jimmy Hoffa's famous comment about Bobby Kennedy, who was trying to put him in jail. He said: 'Where was Bobby Kennedy when we were driving up the road into trees doing 80 hours a week at the wheel? Where was little Bobby when we were having our legs broken by the strikebreakers? Where was little Bobby Kennedy when it came to the highest death rate of any group in American society? He was out sailing his yacht at Hyannis Port. That is where he was.' Many of us know the history of the union and what happened over there.

I deeply regret voting for the legislation today in the sense that there was never any doubt in my mind that the intentions of the union and Minister Albanese were entirely good. They were well intentioned in the initiative. I most certainly supported the initiative that they were taking.

It was quite right what the member for Cunningham said: 110 years ago in this country one in 10 of us who went down the mines never came back up again but died of the terrible miner's phthisis. In my state we only had gold and sugar cane 110 years ago. Those were the only two industries we had in my state. Funnily enough, or tragically enough, one in 30 that went into the cane fields also died, never came back out again. Whether it was Weil's disease or snakebite or whatever, we needed protection. So if these people here are asking for protection—I share the view of the member for Cunningham, who made an excellent contribution, that we do need protection.

But what has happened is that the initiative has run completely off the rails. There is no doubt in my mind that this tribunal was so arrogant, one-eyed and determined not to see the point of view of the small operators that it antagonised them beyond belief. It not only antagonised them but, because it did not listen to them, it put forward proposals which were absolutely flawed. Let me be very specific: the advantage that a small operator has is that he fixes his own trucks. In a big corporation they have to get people in to fix the trucks for them. A small operator fixes his own trucks and he drives his own trucks. He is an owner-operator. His family drives the trucks. And, yes, some of them work very, very hard—maybe even work longer hours than they should—but they do this to stay alive and to be competitive. The competitive advantage they had was being removed by the tribunal's decision, and the tribunal acted in an excessive and insensitive manner.

Those of us who may have studied a bit of law in our lives would know—unfortunately, most of those who have studied law do not appreciate this—the habeas corpus rule says, 'You can't take the body.' It is Latin for 'can't take the body'. What it really said was, 'You can't grab a person off the street without a due process of law.' Due process of law is always depicted by Madam Justice—she has a sword in one hand and the scales of justice in the other, what we would call a beam balance, and she has a blindfold on. Well in this case there was no blindfold and there were no scales. There was a big heap of weight on one side and there was nothing on the other. We did not get to have our say. So because of the arrogance and insensitivity of this tribunal, a person like myself, who started off, very enthusiastically, backing the TWU—and I still will back them in their endeavours—now cannot do anything else now except get rid of this tribunal. It has engendered such an arrogance and a refusal to listen that it has no credibility out there whatsoever. It will not be trusted now or in the future by the owner-operator class in this country—and they are not a class of blokes that get revved up.

Mick Pattel, a young man from the famous Pattel family that got us the 20 per cent advantage in volumetric loading in Queensland, and his dad were there at the meetings with Russell Hinze, and we got a tremendous breakthrough that saved us 20 per cent of the cost of carting cattle in Australia. But Mick tried to get a national organisation going and no-one was prepared to stand up—or stand out, I suppose. Eventually, even though we had a lot of initial success, it just petered out. What I am trying to say is that these are not militant people; they are not people that get upset. Even when we try to get them upset for their own purposes, we cannot get them to act. Even great leaders of men with very gifted intellects, people like Mick Pattel—his extended family of cousins, second cousins and uncles would be amongst the biggest livestock hauliers in Australia. Curley Cattle Transport is probably the biggest livestock haulier in Australia these days. But Mick Curley got to where he is today by driving those trucks himself again and again and on numerous occasions, and as often as not fixing those trucks himself.

But we were able to achieve, through a bit of unity in the livestock hauling industry, this tremendous breakthrough. I am sure that we can do it in the future. I urge representatives of the trucking industry to have a look at getting into some sort of arrangement with a powerful group like the TWU. Yes, they make contributions to the ALP—so does the CFMEU—but if there is ever a group that fights for the ordinary Australian and for the things we believe in, it is the gold miners union. All right, there was an amalgamation; they had to take in other people, and they have done their very best to get good people in to fix that up. I am not saying that everything is perfect, I am certainly not saying the union is perfect and I am obviously not saying that I am giving financial support to the ALP, but, having said those things, there are bigger issues at stake here.

The member for Cunningham was dead right in referring to the mining laws, which I am well aware of. For anyone who has read my book—which is out of print; we have sold them all, which is a good thing I suppose—I go into the details of how one in 30 people went down those mines and never came back up again. In my home town of Charters Towers, in the southern part of my electorate, there were 23 miners killed in one explosion. We needed protection from excessive behaviour in the marketplace. It is all right for people to compete, but it is bad when they compete and someone gets killed. We want to make rules so that there is minimum pricing in the industry.

In the northern part of the Kennedy electorate is Mount Mulligan, where 72 people were killed in one explosion. That is 100 people in just two mining incidents in the Kennedy electorate. I am not including my own land, which is the Cloncurry-Mount Isa area, where similar events occur with regularity because it is an intrinsically dangerous industry. So whilst I regrettably say that I will be voting with the government on these two bills, I do so in the knowledge that the intentions and the initiative taken by the TWU were laudable—not justified, but laudable—in my opinion, and I most certainly hope they do not give up the fight. I am just terribly sorry that this whole thing has run off the rails in the way that it has. I congratulate the Transport Workers Union for the initiatives they have undertaken. I deeply regret that the people that I represent have been hurt inadvertently by a tribunal that simply would not listen and would not hear the other side of the debate. A tribunal is supposed to deliver fairness. It is supposed to have a blindfold on and have the scales evenly balanced. You cannot completely ignore that and say you know everything about everything and not listen to the people who say, 'We are going to be hurt,' and refuse to acknowledge that they are going to be hurt badly. What will we end up with if we continue down this path and nothing is done here? I am not saying that what has happened here has been good, but something needs to be done because you are running pell-mell into a Woolworths-Coles situation.

I find Lindsay Fox a good bloke—other people may not, but I do. Les Blennerhassett has had a lot of public criticism. I have never had a single person who works for Les Blennerhassett offer the slightest criticism of him. Again this is a man who worked his own trucks. He carts most of Australia's bananas in Australia. Darryl Pedersen, who has never been political in his whole life, rose up. And there are people I do not know all that well—Phillip McMahon and Lee McArdle. These are people who have never taken an interest in public affairs in their lives and yet they are burred right up. They are really scared. If they are really scared then I am really scared. Unfortunately, that distrust now does not allow me or other people to do anything else but vote the way we are voting, in spite of the fact that we were responsible for the initiatives that have come to a bad end here today.

I commend this to the House. I urge the House to listen to the problems that exist out there, which the member for Cunningham outlined previously in this debate, and acknowledge that something needs to be done because this race to the bottom will result in people being killed, as it always does. Greed will drive people down to levels that will cause trouble at the end of the day. To go forward with another tribunal, or a differently constituted tribunal, that will listen to all sides of the argument and move forward intelligently— (Time expired)

4:17 pm

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is truly with great pleasure that I speak this evening on the repeal of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. Firstly, I will give some background. We know when the Labor Party were previously in government that they had a plan with their carbon tax to put a 7c per litre tax on diesel fuel, affecting every single truck and transport operator across the nation. We also know that the Transport Workers Union gives millions—$7 million or $8 million in recent years—to the Labor Party. We also know that over recent years there has been a massive decline in trade union membership, from something like 40 per cent of the workforce in 1992 to less than 15 per cent today. Let us add all these things up.

During the last parliament we had the so-called Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal set up. When that was set up I do not think anyone could have envisaged the evil that it has done. It has put in a policy that discriminates against owner-operators in the trucking industry. It put in a pricing order that fixes prices. The prices that are fixed for the independent owner-operators do not apply to trade union members or to big trucking firms. This attacks one of the fundamental freedoms that we should have in this country. It should be a fundamental freedom for any citizen in this country—if they have the will and the desire to have a go—to start and to run their own small business. This disgraceful order from this tribunal undermines that very freedom that is part of our country.

Members of the Labor Party have rolled in one after another during this debate and claimed that this is all about road safety, but we know it is simply nothing more than a recruitment campaign for the trade union movement. If this order is allowed to go ahead, it will force independent owner-operators out of business. The only way they could continue to operate in the transport game would be to become an employee of one of the large companies as a unionised member, with of course their union fees flowing into the TWU and that money flowing down to finance the next Labor Party election campaign.

I disagree with many things that Senator Lazarus has said before but he was 100 per cent right when he said that blind Freddy could see that this has nothing to do with road safety. It is despicable and disgraceful for members of the Labor Party, under the guise of recruiting more members for the trade union movement to try to get some payment out of them to help fund their election campaign, to cite that this is all about road safety. Do not take my word for it; Michael Wong, a former TWU employee from 2009 to 2012, belled the cat when he said:

Fundamentally the union doesn't care about owner-drivers, it cares about its income and the political power it can achieve. The practical effect of the RSRT is to push owner-drivers out of the market.

That is exactly what it does. I will give you some quick examples from a document presented to the High Court Chief Justice on 15 April this year in the application of Independent Contractors Australia for an injunction against the RSRT. Greg, a transport operator in Queensland, said:

Having to use the calculated pricing structure of the RSRO I am now required to charge between 18% and 30% more.

He went on:

… this sort of loading under the RSRO will have me priced out of the market.

So we have the tribunal ordering small business owner-operators to increase their price between 18 per cent and 30 per cent but, lo and behold, that does not apply to the large companies with their unionised workforce. What an absolute disgrace. As I said, this undermines one of the most fundamentally important freedoms that should be guaranteed in our Constitution. As for the tribunal, those tribunal members should take a good look at themselves—the arrogance that they have displayed in this order. They are either completely commercially naive or stooges for the trade union movement.

It is in the act. Section 20 of the act says, 'matters the tribunal must have regard to'. It is not 'may have regard to'; it is 'must have regard to'. Section 21(a) is the need to apply fair rates and fair treatment of road transport drivers. How can driving these guys out of business be classified as fair treatment? Section 21(b) is 'the likely impact of any order on the viability of businesses in the road transport industry'. We know what it does to the viability; it pushes independents out of work. Another one is 'the likely impact of any order on the national economy'. We know that this order is going to cost billions of dollars to the national economy. Section 21(i) is 'the need to minimise the compliance burden'. You are tying these guys up in red tape. I have a few more quotes, again from the documents filed in the High Court. This one is from Justin:

I am an owner-operator and do sub-contract work for a local company carting general freight. That was until Friday! I now don't have any work because the local company cannot afford to pay me to do the subcontract work under the new RSRO!! …

I WAS a proud owner-driver …

Now my truck is parked in the shed and I'm left wondering HOW, HOW, HOW am I going to pay for it without any income???! … I WAS proud to call Australia home, but it has become a dictatorship, even trying to tell me how to run my own business. Up until now I managed perfectly well to make the payments on my truck and to have some $ to spare to make it all worthwhile. NOW I have a truck, but soon I will have NOTHING! The bank will move in and take my truck, then it will take my home, my farm, my family, my life.

We have members of the Labor Party that are voting against this. Shame on every single one of you. It is an absolute outrage that you would not join the coalition and get rid of this disgraceful tribunal. After the arrogance that that tribunal showed by ordering those people on Easter weekend to attend hearings, under threat of six months in jail if they did not give evidence, this tribunal deserves to be abolished, and the tribunal members should hang their heads in shame over this disgraceful order.

We are all concerned about road safety—every single one of us in this place. Many of us drive on country roads to make it to Canberra. But what this order does is actually makes road safety worse. The reason it does is that independent owner-operators have a better safety record. That is exactly what the 2014 report by Jaguar Consulting says. It said:

… research on the relationship between employment type and accident involved consistently shows that owner drivers have either lower rates of accident involvement or, at worst, similar accident levels to employee drivers.

The Jaguar report also cites a study by Hunter & Mangum, which found that non-union firms had lower accident rates than unionised firms.

A study by Williamson in 2001 entitled Driver fatigue: a survey of long distance heavy vehicle drivers in Australia,found that it was employee drivers in large trucking companies that had the highest rate of accidents. So, if you take these independents off the road, if you steal their business, if you put them at a competitive disadvantage—which is exactly what the tribunal is doing—and you have their work replaced by unionised operators in large trucking firms, you will get worse road safety outcomes. That is the ultimate disgrace of this. It will do exactly the opposite of the sham argument about road safety that has been put up.

There are many of my colleagues who wish to speak on this this evening, so I will leave my comments at that. But I am very proud to stand with them and say that we are here to abolish this shocking and disgraceful tribunal. This is a completely un-Australian act. We stand for the fundamental freedoms of anyone in this country who wants to have a go in their own small business. To those members of the Labor Party using road safety as a reason: shame on every single one of you. With that, I commend this bill to the House.

4:28 pm

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a real pleasure to be able to make a contribution to this discussion today, and it is a really important one. I note that it has been the practice in this debate so far to refer only tangentially to the legislation that is actually before the House, so I am going to take a pretty novel approach and talk about the bills that we are discussing today! They are really important bills that protect truck drivers in this country and protect all of us who share the road with people driving trucks.

I am aware that there is probably some confusion out there about exactly what it is that we are debating today, because a few weeks ago probably no-one outside of the trucking industry had ever heard of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. Certainly, we had not heard much from the federal government about it, even though the order that is under discussion today was made in December last year.

Just for the purposes of helping people understand what it is that we are discussing: this is a remuneration tribunal that was set up to set rates and terms of pay for truck drivers in our country. The reason that it was established was because there are extremely clear links between the rates and conditions that truck drivers work under and their safety practices on the road. I will talk a little about the very clear links and the clear evidence that we see from studies that have been done all over the world.

Some time ago this tribunal made a decision about rates of pay that owner-operators of trucking companies in this country have told us they are going to find it very difficult to implement. We are very happy to sit down and talk about how we can resolve that discussion. But, instead, four months after this decision was made by the tribunal the federal government has come really out of nowhere and said, 'Well, that's it—we're going to abolish this tribunal without any public discussion.' For that reason we are opposed to this measure. It is a complete overreaction to the order that was given by the tribunal. As I have said, the tribunal is actually a very important one; it performs a really important role in protecting drivers and in protecting all of us on the road.

One of the really essential features of living in such a big country with such a small population is that trucking is still a way that goods are moved around. It is just a fact of life for us in Australia. Anyone who is driving on the Hume Highway or on the south-eastern in the Murray Valley out in my neck of the woods in Melbourne is going to share that road with people who are doing long-haul driving and who are driving trucks that can cause serious damage if accidents happen.

We see the evidence of the additional danger in having a road system like this very clearly. If there is one thing that I want people to remember coming out of the discussion today, it is that truck drivers are 12 times more likely to die at work than ordinary Australians. This is actually the biggest death rate of any industry in this country. It is actually one of the most dangerous jobs in the country.

Something else that everyone should remember is that in last month alone 25 people died in trucking accidents. What is crucial to understand about this is that of those 25 people, many were not truck drivers. So, although this is called the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, and although it deals specifically with truck drivers, the reality is that this is a piece of legislation that protects all of us because we do share the roads with people who are truck drivers.

For all the reasons I have just described, this tribunal was set up in 2012. Its critical role is to set rates and conditions for truck drivers around this country. The reason that the tribunal was established is because, as I mentioned, there are extremely clear links between the rates of pay and the conditions for truck drivers and their safety on the road. In all these debates, the best thing for us to do is to go back to the evidence. I say to people who are interested in this issue: do not listen to those on the other side. Do not even listen to us when it comes to evidence; try to find an authoritative source. And we have a really good one. The Conversation website, which, as most would know, has as its core business checking facts that are used by politicians, has looked into this link between rates of pay and safety on the roads in recent weeks. What it has found—and I am quoting from the upshot of their review is:

… there is persuasive evidence of a connection between truck driver pay and safety.

The evidence that The Conversation considered when it looked at this critical question about the links between pay and road safety came from a series of studies that had been done in particular in Australia and in the US which, like Australia, is very dependent on trucks as a way to move goods around the country.

Some of the studies that have been done in Australia show very clearly that the amount and, in particular, the way that drivers are being paid significantly affects their sleepiness and, in addition, the speed at which they travel. That is a crucial issue for safety on the road. In fact, one study talked about different methods of paying truck drivers: when they are paid on a per trip basis, truck drivers drive 15 kilometres faster on average. That is a serious amount of speed that truck drivers are using to get around when they are using this type of payment system.

The Conversation looked at some international studies. One that I do want to mention is a pretty substantial American study that was done by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. That study looked at long-haul drivers—so, drivers who were doing mainly interstate travel. They found that driver pay had a significant effect on safety on the job. And it was not just looking at things like the outcomes—for example, people being injured in accidents. It looked at the practices that those drivers had to adopt when they were not being paid enough to keep their families going. There were things like use of drugs to stay awake and to stay alert, undertaking excessive hours, speeding and working for longer than the safe number of hours. These were all things that were associated with lower rates of pay.

So there is some really good evidence out there about this question. Again, I would encourage those who are interested in understanding this issue a little more to have a look at The Conversation's review of this. But I would just make the point that all these studies show us something that is pretty simple and pretty logical, and that is that if people are not getting paid enough to make a living to support their families then they are going to have to do things that make their incomes higher. If the rates of pay for truck drivers are set too low for them to make a living using safe practices then people are more likely to use unsafe practices. That is just the logic of how this operates.

Just in thinking of what this is about: I talked a little about fatalities when I opened my discussion today, and this is absolutely about truck driver safety. But it is also about those of us who share the roads with people who are driving trucks. The reality is that all of us in this chamber have families and all of us represent people who use our roads. I know that as a parent I do not want to put children in a car knowing that we will be driving down the freeway next to someone who has had to adopt unsafe driving practices just so they can make a living. That is just completely inappropriate in a country like Australia, where we are so dependent on our roads as a means to get around.

Based on what I have said, of course the question is: why would the government want to abolish something like this? There is a complication that the industry and the government are going to need to deal with. I mentioned that the tribunal has made a decision that threatens the viability of some owner-operators. That is a very serious issue. Of course we do not want to have a tribunal that puts truck drivers out of work and that puts under threat businesses that have been going concerns for long periods of time. I respect the people who have come to Canberra to talk to us about this issue, who have seen generation upon generation of people in their families driving trucks and who see the order that was given by the tribunal as a threat to their livelihoods. There is a lot of sympathy for the people who are in that position, and Labor wants to talk with them and to represent them in this parliament. It is not, though, a good reason to abolish a tribunal. Tribunals make decisions all the time. Just because we do not like one of them or it is not suitable for the current commercial context, it does not mean that we abolish the tribunal.

What would a good government do in the face of such a challenge? I think a good government would sit down with the relevant parties—with the drivers, with the owner-operators, with the big trucking companies who, as it turned out in question time today, are also very concerned about this, and with the union representatives who represent many of these drivers—and discuss how it is that this can be managed. I do not think anyone wants to be bloody-minded about this. The point of this tribunal is of course not to threaten the viability of businesses; it is to try to make us safe on our roads. If the balance has not been got quite right there, let's address that situation. But it is not a reason to abolish this tribunal. This is a good piece of public policy that is based in really good evidence. We should support it and modify it if needs be, but I definitely do not believe that what has happened is grounds to abolish the tribunal altogether.

I think the reality that we face here is that the attempt to abolish the tribunal has been very reactionary and has really come out of nowhere from a decision that was made many months ago. Actually, in mid-last-year a question was asked of the Deputy Prime Minister about whether the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal would be abolished, and the government said, 'No, we're not going to go down that path; we don't think there will be public support for such a proposal.' I guess the question for us is why out of nowhere this has suddenly become such an urgent national priority. It is something the government was not talking about at all a couple of weeks ago, and suddenly they have people on the phone, trying to drum up protests and this sort of thing. Why would the government be doing this?

I think it is a really good example of the current situation that the government is in. What we see on the other side of the House from issue to issue is a government that is in search of a mission. I have to say as a member of parliament that it is staggering to me that a group of people who have worked their whole lives to be in a government just like this one get there and have no idea what they want to do with that political power. What has the member for Wentworth been doing for the last years that he has been a member of parliament but thinking about what he might do if he ever got to be Prime Minister? And yet we see that he gets into the role—probably a lifelong dream for him—and he is frozen. He cannot create an agenda. He cannot think of what his government should stand for. So we see him sadly—very sadly—grasping from issue to issue. Some of the journalists in the press gallery are calling this 'government by thought bubble' because from week to week the ogre against our economic growth in this country changes. We saw the tax mix at one stage be the big problem facing the country. Then we had the structure of the federation. We have had the union movement as the big issue. We have had tax burden on the middle class and then tax burden on companies. We need to get something resolved here.

One of the things that is really notable out there in my electorate at the moment—and I am sure other members of parliament are hearing this—is that, whether I am talking to people who are senior in business or people who are on a street corner who have come to talk to me about a local issue, they are all saying the same thing: they want leadership. It is almost a matter of 'just lead us somewhere, just in one direction, just for a few months, so we understand what this government is about'. Instead, from week to week we just get different stories and different sets of objectives from this Prime Minister and his Treasurer.

Politics is politics, so I am not going to get too upset about a piece of legislation coming before us that perhaps would not be prioritised under other circumstances, but I have to say one thing that I am finding very frustrating about the current situation. The country actually faces hugely significant problems that need the attention of the national parliament. We have an education system that is falling behind education systems around the world. For the first time in as long as we have known, children who are living in Australia right now are getting a lesser quality of education than children who are living in Shanghai. This is a crucial national problem and something on which the government has nothing to say.

We have a healthcare system that is under pressure form an ageing population. We have a standard of living in this country that has not improved for five years. These are problems that are worthy of recalling the national parliament, but we are all here, the whole House of Representatives and the whole Senate, and have gone through the charade of going into the Senate and hearing the Governor-General give another address—what an absolute farce this has been—and are doing it because the government just cannot think of anything better to do. It has brought us here to talk about pieces of legislation that for sure are important and raise issues that matter to many Australians; but, Deputy Speaker Kelly, if you think that the bills being debated in the upper house at the moment are the most important issues facing the country, that just shows how out of touch you are.

I am standing with Labor today. We will not be supporting the repeal of this tribunal. The reason we are not supporting the repeal of this tribunal—apart from the craven manner in which this has been done—is that this tribunal actually performs a crucially important role. It is called the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal because it is about road safety. It is about protecting truck drivers, who are 12 times more likely to die on the roads than Australians who work in other industries. It is about protecting you, Deputy Speaker, the people at home and me when I am on the road with my family. I do not want to be on those roads, thinking that I might be driving next to a truck driver who has had to work too-long hours, skip his breaks and use drugs, caffeine or other things to keep him awake just so he can make a living for himself and his family. It is not far, it is not good for road safety and it is not something that Labor will support.

4:43 pm

Photo of Ken O'DowdKen O'Dowd (Flynn, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Road Safety Remuneration Amendment (Protecting Owner Drivers) Bill 2016. I would like to acknowledge the harrowing future faced by drivers impacted by enacting the road safety remuneration order of 2016. As you know, many Australians do not know how the goods and services they require arise so spectacularly each day from an unknown source. The unknown source, of course, is the trucking industry. It could be big trucks—haulage from large companies—but, mainly, the further west you go or the further you go out of the big cities, it is the small owner-driver who delivers services such as food and the like.

The bill that had been introduced would apply on 4 April 2016. That would have put the grocery prices up alarmingly. Owner-drivers drive all night according to their logbooks. They deliver the food and clothing not only for the people out there who need these services but for their own children. Mum-and-dad truck operators are the life and breath of Australia. It is absolutely true that truckies keep Australia moving. That saying has been around for a long, long time. These owner-drivers are not only drivers; they are small business owners. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and we need to stop them from being preyed on by damaging regulations like the RSRT.

They are not just good drivers; they are professional drivers. They do not want to damage their trucks. They do not want to have accidents on the roads. But they have to be aware of the other people on the roads, and I would say they are more likely to cause accidents than the heavy-duty driver. I can go back to when I used to own trucks and have a fleet of trucks. We were a group of fuel distributers. We were all members of APADA, a group that looked after fuel agents. There was a perception out there then that we were dangerous drivers and that our trucks needed to be double-insured. As we got together as a group, we formed our own insurance company—called OAMPS, which is still around today—and we then were able to prove to the insurance companies of Australia that we were in fact the safest drivers in Australia. Consequently, our insurance rates dropped by at least 50 per cent and we also got dividends from the profit that we made out of the other people who used OAMPS. That was a separate story, but it was started by the perception that we were the most dangerous drivers in Australia. It is not true.

I have been approached by several operators in my electorate who are just beside themselves, worried about the new order. They are worried about how they are going to pay for the leasing of their trucks and their premises, and the wages for staff. The mechanics and the fuel distributer have to be paid. The maintenance has to be paid for. The brake linings on the trucks, all the stuff comes into it.

I have had people from Monto, Gerry and Sandra Morgan; Kirk Porter from KJP Haulage in Gladstone; and Julie Just, who was down here today. She did not want to be here but she had to be here. Her husband is not all that well. He has not experienced good health over the last few years. She virtually runs the business and she had better things to do than come down here today for the rally yesterday and the rally this morning.

There are other people out there. There is grain haulage. There are furniture removalists who have the owner-driver truck situation. There are the guys who cart cattle and sheep all across Australia. They are very badly affected by these new rules. That is why the new rules have to go. You cannot have a two-tier pricing system—one for the big guys and one for the little guys.

What happened to price fixing? It was against the law to fix prices. I do not know what has happened with that law. In my day if you tried to fix the bowser price, you would be thrown into jail. If that is not price fixing, I would like to know what is. I am sure that the ACCC would not approve. Big Brother, having to know what you have to charge for your freight—that is unfair, when you do not know what he is charging for his freight. He can charge anything he likes. But he knows that you have been told what you can charge. I have never seen a system like it. It will just put small businesses completely out of business.

And it has already happened. Inside a month, there are people out there who have lost their trucks, had their contracts cancelled by the big operators. The blokes who are subbing have lost their contracts because the big guy said: 'I can't afford your rates anymore because you are governed by the RSRT.' I have never seen anything like it. And if you do not comply, you can cop a fine for $54,000 and a jail term. Who is going to risk their family and their life? The whole business is up in the air. We have to bring certainty back to these people and bring it back to them today.

It is just totally unfair the way this has panned out. Talk about safety! Everyone is involved in safety. Everyone cares about safety. But can you tell me what is fair about a logbook system where—because of your logbook you drive according to what your logbook tells you—you might be in the back of Woop Woop, the back of Broken Hill, and your time is up to have a rest. So you pull your truck over on the side of the road. There are no toilets. There are no showers. There is no food. And you are stranded in the cab of the truck for eight hours while you have a rest. Then you are expected to get up and drive for your next turn. If you can imagine yourself in that situation, can you imagine waking up fresh and alert after spending eight hours in a truck in fifty degree temperatures with no food, and just a wash out of the tank on the side of the truck? I do not think that is a good idea. Why doesn't the regulator look at those sorts of issues?

When a small truck goes into a depot in the port of Melbourne, he is told he can load at eight o'clock in the morning. So he gets there and he plans his day; he plans his night and where he is going to stop. Then all of a sudden a Toll truck or a Lindsay Fox truck comes in in front of him. He has been pushed back. What does he do in the meantime? He sits around. And then a Toll truck comes in and goes to the head of the queue again, and the small-time operator gets pushed back again. No wonder he ends up tired. Fatigue has not been looked at by the tribunal, and that is a real safety issue.

As the coalition government we are spending money on our roads. Roads are the workplace of these drivers. We have invested $50 billion in the Black Spot Program, bridge renewal programs and Bruce Highway improvements in Queensland, but here we are still looking at safety issues. They can be improved. There is no-one on this side of the House or that side of the House saying that they cannot be improved. They can be, but we have to work together on this. We cannot do it by flattening our small-time operators. They are not the problem. It is the system that is the problem. That is why the tribunal should be sacked—because it is not looking at the real issues. Our heavy vehicle drivers are professional drivers, and they are not at fault. The tribunal is at fault, and that is why we must abolish it. I commend this bill to the House.

4:53 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker Mitchell, I know you have a passion for cars, but, with your indulgence, I am just going to acknowledge the many truck drivers that made the journey to Canberra for this Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill discussion, and also those that might be listening on the radio—although, I think, if you are doing a long-distance haul, listening to parliament might actually be a dangerous thing to do, because it could make you doze off! Thank you to those who have taken the time to be involved in this political process.

It is a privilege to serve my constituents of Moreton in this House, and I do take that privilege very seriously. There are sometimes debates in this House that are so important to the everyday lives of people in Moreton and around Australia that I wonder who the people on the other side of the debate are really representing. This is one of those debates. The safety of our roads affects every one of my constituents. It is an issue that crosses all socioeconomic divides, cultures and age groups.

Moreton, in the southern suburbs of Brisbane, is a transport hub. We have the Acacia Ridge goods yard, with the standard gauge rail line going all the way through to Perth, and trucks converge on that node. We also have at Tennyson the goods yard there, which is the beginning of the train line transporting goods all the way up to Cairns, all the way north. Next door to that, at Rocklea, we have the Brisbane Markets, where trucks come in from all around Queensland and Australia and then go out, taking the fruits and vegetables. I have 18,000 businesses in my electorate, many of them connected to trucking businesses and/or using transportation involving trucks. Transport businesses, like MiniMovers, are even based in my electorate of Moreton.

As the stickers say, Australia relies on trucks. It is interesting that Australia has a similar land mass to that of the United States, yet only about half or a third of our goods are actually carried by rail. That is not a topic for this debate, but it is important to note. I grew up in a small country town out in western Queensland, and we used to say it was the biggest town in Australia not on the train line. In fact, St George was serviced by the train lines at Thallon or Dirranbandi. I grew up across the road from a trucking business. I have had trucks in my life for many years.

It is sad to hear the statistic that 25 people died on our roads last month as a result of heavy vehicle accidents. We know that it is a dangerous business. We know that people who drive trucks also know that and have to be alert all of the time. They are in charge of big pieces of equipment, often with tight time frames and tight budgets. Just yesterday, four people were killed in a horrific crash between a car and a truck. We know that fatalities for the trucking industry are 12 times the national average.

That is why, when Labor were in government, we did something about trying to make roads safer for all Australians, and the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was introduced. We knew that there was a problem, so, in consultation with the trucking industry, the union movement and stakeholders, we did what we could to fix it. Labor established this tribunal specifically to stop these accidents which cause so much death and injury.

I have been lobbied by people in truck stops in my electorate. Just down the road from my house, I have the truck stop that sells more diesel than any other service station in Australia. I went in there once and I remember being lobbied by a bloke who was not connected with the TWU but who was upset because one of his friends in the trucking industry had died. So I know that this issue is personal in the place that I represent.

The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal does good things. I know that those opposite are doing their best to politicise this. We had one speaker refer to the tribunal as doing 'evil' work. We have seen the Prime Minister try to politicise the process whereby he is trying to destroy this tribunal. Why? Because it made a ruling that the member for Wentworth did not like. So what does he do, rather than say, 'All right, let's hope the next decision'—like in a game of footy—'goes our way'? He wants to kill the tribunal. He takes out the umpire because he did not like the call the umpire made. When I played footy, I might have got upset with the referee, but I did not sack the referee if I lost a footy match because of their decision. In a court of law, if you do not like the decision, you can appeal it, and an independent arbiter or a higher court will review it. When you have the judgement from the highest court, that is the final decision. You do not dismantle the courts, and cloak it in populism, because you do not like a decision. That is a step down the road towards fascism.

This is a worrying decision by the Turnbull government here today. It does not bode well for future determinations by other bodies, under the Turnbull reign. There are many determinations that we could expect from other independent bodies which may not accord with the ideals of this Liberal-National party government. One that springs to mind is a decision to increase the minimum wage. We can easily see how the Turnbull government might be opposed to that determination. What about a decision by the Fair Work Commission on penalty rates? We know how this government abhors penalty rates. We have heard so many speeches against penalty rates being paid to low-paid workers, who give up their weekends to work. What decision would be safe if the government are prepared to just trash the body making it when they do not agree with the decision? Some toff from Point Piper, his money parked in the Caymans, attacking a minimum wage increase for truck drivers does not pass the pub test at the pubs in my electorate where the truck drivers go to have a drink—an appropriate drink, obviously.

This particular decision of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal is very important to all of us. It will make our roads safer. There is an enormous body of empirical evidence, not political evidence, that links pay rates and safety on our roads, the roads that I drive on, the roads that the people in Moreton Drive on. PwC, in their 2016 report, recognised that the road safety in relation orders will result in a 10 per cent to 18 per cent reduction in the number of crashes. That is good for business, that is good for lives but it is also good for the nation. PwC is not exactly a radical left-wing entity, I would stress. An academic paper in 2006 based on a survey of 300 long-haul truck drivers found that owner drivers and drivers working for smaller firms reported more injuries than those employed by larger firms. The same academic paper found that owner drivers had a slightly higher crash rate.

This bill, brought on urgently by the Turnbull government, is nonsensical. I guess there are not a lot of long-haul truck drivers living in Point Piper who had a chance to lobby their local member. Not only is this a reckless and dangerous decision by the member for Wentworth, it flies in the face of what he said just a week ago. Just last week the Prime Minister said that he would abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal if he was re-elected. A week later, we are debating a bill to abolish it. There was no mention of this in his letter to the Governor-General in terms of proroguing the parliament. We should not be surprised that the member for Wentworth's position has changed. This Prime Minister changes his position almost on a daily basis. He stands for nothing but political expediency. We thought that captains calls were a thing of the past with the member for Warringah but they are continuing in this divided government. To quote from my favourite political show, Veep:

This is a government of continuity with no change.

Deputy Prime Minister Joyce said in 2012 about the introduction of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal:

Without labouring the point, we are not emphatically opposed to this. We oppose it but we are not going to town on it. We understand and have strong sympathies with owner-drivers. We understand the complexities and the discrepancies and the corruption and the mechanisms by which they should be paid a fair rate for what they do.

He also said in his speech today, rather bizarrely I thought, 'Owner-drivers treat their trucks better than those employed by trucking companies.' I do not know where he got that information from. Maybe it is because this is a guy who, when he was given a taxpayer funded $80,000 Land Cruiser, drove it into the water and wrecked it. Maybe that was his basis for that statement. It was a bizarre statement and I think he should apologise to employee truck drivers.

Senator Williams, one of those opposite who was a truck driver, said in his speech on the introduction of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal:

I back up what my leader, Senator Joyce, said. We are not overly concerned about this legislation. Even though we are not voting for it, it is one of the things I am certainly not going to die in a ditch over. Let us talk about road safety. We are talking about safe rates and we are talking about what truckies are paid, especially the contractors when they are unloaded at Coles and Woolworths. I do not have a problem with what you are proposing.

That was from one of the few people opposite who actually knows how to drive a truck. The former LNP member for Hinkler, who is also a National Party member, Paul Neville, is very well loved by both sides of the chamber. He chaired the committee which reported in October 2000 on a lot of these issues.

He said in his report:

When you get to a point where no-one is responding properly to these manifest inefficiencies in the transport industry, you can understand why a section of the industry is asking for a tribunal—so that at least someone independent can say what is a fair thing.

There seem to be a lot of prospective and hopeful attitudes put forward, but they do not improve the lot of the young guy behind the wheel of a truck—

Peter Biagini from the Transport Workers Union in Queensland said today when my office spoke to him that the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal has already made a difference to the safety on our roads. I contrast this with the contribution by the member for Hughes, who said that the tribunal 'does evil work'. Let's look at some of the things that they have done.

The 2014 order implemented three important rulings: a mandatory drug and alcohol testing policy—how can that be evil work; all drivers trained in workplace health and safety; all drivers must have a safe driving plan before embarking on a trip. How can this be bad? The orders from this tribunal, the independent watchdog, have more substance than a desperate, whimsical 'captain's pick'. The full bench of the tribunal in its recent decision said:

The making of the 2016 RSRO has followed an extensive process that has been outlined in this decision. The decision to make the 2016 RSRO, and the terms set out in it, has been based upon comprehensive consultations, research, evidence, submissions, comments and hearings.

After a proper process of consultation, research, consideration of evidence, submissions and hearings, the tribunal has come up with an order. With the polls collapsing around him, the member for Wentworth decided to make a politically motivated captain's call to try to ram this surprise legislation through. Good government consults with the affected parties—the employers, workers, unions, owner operators. That is the opposite of what the member for Wentworth has done.

We were told more than a year ago now that 'good government starts today'. We are still waiting. If the LNP gets its way, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal—I say that deliberately; I am not going to say 'RSRT' because those opposite have been told not to say the full title—will be abolished and the roads will be less safe for all of us—for the truck drivers, for other road users, for pedestrians and for the people of Moreton going about their daily business.

The government might be happy compromising on road safety to save a buck but Labor believes that safety on our roads is paramount. Labor believes that it is unacceptable to have people dying on our roads because our truck drivers are overworked. Labor is happy to have discussions with the government about a sensible compromise around the pace at which the new minimum conditions are rolled out. The member for Gorton has already stated that. Why throw the baby out with the bathwater? That is not a decision of a sensible, consultative government. The Prime Minister might be participating in great photo ops with truck drivers and their rigs but he really does not, I believe, fundamentally care about truck drivers or about what their remuneration is. He is doing what he thinks is the politically best option for himself. Just like his photo series on public transport—I think it was called 'selfies near poor people'—he is taking advantage of a political situation. This week we are seeing the real Malcolm Turnbull, a bloke prepared to spend taxpayers' money to recall parliament to debate legislation that a week ago he said he would deal with after the election. Now he says it is of 'great importance'. It is of such great importance that Mr Turnbull and his government, just a few weeks ago, voted against debating one of them, and the other, which has already been rejected three times by the Senate, was no longer even in the parliament.

The only thing the member for Wentworth values is power. We have seen that. He took power from the democratically elected member for Warringah, and now he is doing all he can to manage and control this divided party opposite. The member for Wentworth has shown this week that he will do and say whatever it takes to make that happen to cling to power, even if it means that it puts people who are using our roads at risk.

I ask those opposite to try and remove the politics from the situation. We know that this floor—F-L-O-O-R—can be well below the enterprise bargaining rates. Let us remember that. It is a complicated process, but sometimes it is above the award rate and sometimes it is below the award rate, depending on the distance being travelled. Do not listen to the political spin coming from those opposite. This is an attempt to abolish an independent umpire, rather than sitting down, dealing with stakeholders and doing the right thing by this nation.

5:08 pm

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on the Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill 2016 as the member for O'Connor, and as a farmer and a client of some of the hundreds of owner-drivers in O'Connor whose family businesses would be destroyed by the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal findings. This order from the tribunal affects my electorate—all 908,000 square kilometres—more than most. The order from this tribunal creates a great deal of uncertainty for all owner-drivers, whether it be the subbies on the Goldfields, hauling general freight to mine sites; the grain truckers in the Wheatbelt; or the livestock transporters in the South West.

Having lived and worked all my life in a small regional town, I know how critical owner-drivers are to our economy, and how hard they work.    Service providers in O'Connor that support the owner-drivers sector also include tyre service shops, diesel mechanics, fuel suppliers and auto-electricians—to name a few. But equally important is the produce trucked to markets or the ports in my electorate: whether it be gold ore to the processing plant, nickel to the Esperance port, grain to Albany, livestock to the abattoir or horticultural produce to Perth.

I believe that I am in a unique position in this debate, as one of the few members in this place holding a multi-combination driver's license—you may have one yourself, Deputy Speaker Mitchell; I know you have been involved in the trucking industry.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have been for over 20 years.

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I know the member for Flynn, who spoke before me, certainly does, and the member for Wright, who will be following me, certainly does. It gives you a great perspective of what we are discussing here today—particularly as having a road train licence enables me to tow three trailers. And as someone who has driven a road train, I understand the fatigue management protocols in place, the maintenance matrix and the driver scheduling, which were already mandatory aspects of our heavy vehicle safety requirements. We have discussed safety here a lot today, and I have found that while most truck drivers are very professional in the way they drive on the road, some of the car drivers that interact with road trains on the road leave a lot to be desired.

Just to put a bit of perspective on what this legislation is all about, I want to quote Mr Michael Wong, who worked for the TWU from 2009 to 2012 and who helped deliver the political campaign for the establishment of the RSRT. He provided a remarkable insight into the TWU's mindset and priorities. He said:

Fundamentally the union doesn’t care about owner-drivers, it cares about its income and the political power it can achieve. The practical effect of the RSRT is to push owner-drivers out of the market.

These owner-drivers work incredibly hard, often with a spouse or partner contributing to the family business. Like all small business owners, they have many reasons why they have chosen their vocation. For some it might simply be that they just want to be their own boss. Others may be striving to be the next Lindsay Fox. I am proud to know owner-drivers from both ends of the spectrum, and all points in between across my electorate.

I would like to provide some evidence of the impact the RSRT rates will have on owner-drivers within WA, and those servicing the east-west freight route across the Nullarbor. Coolgardie-based small business B&C Parsissons Transport co-owner Bryan Parsissons is one of the owner-operators opposed to the RSRT order. He said in the Kalgoorlie Miner last week:

The order would decimate his business if introduced, and could have massive impacts on the cost of transporting goods between the Goldfields and Perth. "Prices could eventually triple" he said. "Every single thing, except the water from the pipeline, every single thing could potentially triple."

Another driver I would like to quote is Glenn Kendall, aka Yogi. Some may recognise Yogi from Outback Truckers;he starred in several episodes. He also has a regular spot on ABC Drive radio. But Yogi and his wife, Amanda, run a family business. He has provided me with some examples of the effect on his business. He said:

Example 1: Currently we are paid $2904 to move a machine from Fremantle to Esperance one way. Under the RSRT if the client requires me to come straight back to get another load, they now have to pay both ways. So we now need to charge a total of $3321.62.

That equates to 35 hours work time at $31.26 for every hour I am loaded, including rest breaks and overnight sleeping. The client also needs to pay $1.54/km. Which is a 1452 km round trip at $1.54 = unemployment. Because as you can clearly see … by being paid for every hour and every km, we are not viable and will not be used. The three or more truck company can charge whatever they like.

Example 2: Based on the current market for freight from Katanning WA to Wangaratta Victoria the rate is approximately $6,000. Under the RSRT we need to charge for 3,415km @ $1.54/km = $5,259.10 + 84 hours @ $31.26 = $2,2625.84.

With a total of $7,884.94. Again this is our set safe rate, which as you can clearly see is $1,884.94 above the current market value. Once again, I reiterate, the big company can charge whatever they like.

This two-tiered pricing system punishes the owner-driver sector for no demonstrable improvement in road safety. My experience is owner-drivers are extremely diligent with the maintenance and roadworthiness of their trucks. The reason for this is they cannot afford to have their truck off the road due to a breakdown. A larger trucking company can schedule maintenance and absorb the costs of having a prime mover off the road. An owner-driver cannot do that, and has to put in the hours ensuring their own truck is roadworthy and will not fail them on a job.

I would like to quote from owner-driver Yogi again, to underline the professional approach that these businessmen and women take. Yogi said:

Just the ridiculous notion of getting a safe rate which will in turn make me, as an owner driver, SAFER is beyond thinking!! We run a very strict safety program because of the sheer nature of my work in country Western Australia and operating interstate. I cannot afford to have a maintenance issue stuck half way between Katanning and the eastern seaboard. The cost alone to ship parts to the truck would financially kill us!! We run a full maintenance program which includes servicing every 10,000 km of the truck and trailer. We also have the vehicle fully inspected every 50,000 km which includes truck and trailer 'over the pits' to inspect everything.

It has clearly been shown that there is no evidence of safety provided by the tribunal. There is no sound evidence showing that employee truck drivers are less likely to be involved in an accident than owner-drivers. The analysis, in fact, shows that road safety in the heavy transport sector continues to improve. Despite a steadily increasing number of large road combinations carrying out more movements each year, road incidents involving these trucks continue to trend down. Deaths from heavy vehicle crashes in Australia have fallen by more than 20 per cent in the last decade, from 262 in 2005 to 192 in 2015.

This is still too many, but this coalition government is taking steps to improve road safety. The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator will be better resourced, with the $4 million from the RSRT redirected to improve road safety for all. The coalition government has committed $50 billion to improving road infrastructure across the nation. Just one of those investments includes $36 million of federal government funds for the Great Eastern Highway, one of the key highways in O'Connor and also one of the key links between the east and the west of Australia. Last week the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport announced over $5.6 million in black-spot funding in O'Connor, and we have previously seen $3 million invested in road safety pull-overs across the electorate. Some of the programs this government is rolling out include the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program, the Black Spot Program, the Roads to Recovery program and the Bridges Renewal Program.

In conclusion, I implore the members of this House and those in the other place to support the passage of the Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill 2016 and support the hardworking truckers in my electorate of O'Connor and across the nation.

5:16 pm

Photo of Terri ButlerTerri Butler (Griffith, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal—as you know, Deputy Speaker—is an independent national body with functions relating to the road transport industry. According to the tribunal, its functions include:

          As you also know, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was established in 2012 and commenced operating on 1 July of that year.

          It is worth, I think, talking a little bit about the decisions and orders of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal that have attracted some controversy and that have been briefly discussed by some of the speakers in the debate today. In the decision that led to the making of the Contractor Driver Minimum Payments Road Safety Remuneration Order 2016, the tribunal noted that, in 2013, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal had issued an order providing 'certain minimum conditions, but not minimum payments' for contractor drivers, and in that decision the tribunal had 'summarised the various submissions that had been made to it on minimum payments' but had 'declined' to make a minimum payments order at the time, saying that it would do so subsequently after further information had been obtained.

          Specifically, what they said at the time of making this decision in late 2015 was that the decision that had been made in 2013 had referred to the research material presented to the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal 'on the relationship between remuneration and safety in the road transport industry and material presented from government-initiated and other inquiries into the road transport industry, as well as the evidence before the RSRT concerning the relationship between remuneration and safety'. They said that, in the proceedings that had preceded this decision in December 2015, there had been some people who had attempted to bring into question—or further question—whether there is any relationship between remuneration and safety or who had otherwise tried to suggest that the material that they had referred to in 2013 was now dated. But the tribunal found that nothing persuasive had been put to them to lead them to conclude that the substance of the material was not relevant to the decision that they then made in 2015.

          So it is worth, I think, referring to the 2013 decision and the work that was done in relation to that decision that referred to the links between remuneration and safety. That decision in 2013 was about the 2014 order, which went on to set out requirements regarding payment time within 30 days of received invoice for contractor drivers; written contracts for road transport drivers, which could be in electronic format; contracts between supply chain participants; safe-driving plans for long-distance operations in heavy vehicles; training in work health and safety; drug and alcohol policies; dispute resolution; and adverse conduct protection. As I said, they decided not to deal with rates in that order but to do some work subsequently on rates, which is how we ended up with the decision of December last year.

          In that decision in 2013, as I said earlier, there was a lot of work done to canvass the connection between road safety and remuneration. At the time, they said:

          Road accident data relevant to the road transport industry was presented to the Tribunal by ARTIO. Research material was also presented by the TWU … This included empirical research reports on remuneration factors and safety-related outcomes including crashes, onroad performance in general, stimulant use and fatigue and speeding.

          In saying 'stimulant use', of course, I am talking about illicit drugs as well as legal drugs. They went on to canvass a number of different studies.

          Firstly, they were referred to an inquiry initiated by the Motor Accidents Authority of New South Wales, which reported in 2001. They went on to cite substantial parts of that inquiry's report from the 2001 inquiry, including:

          During its own investigation the Inquiry discovered earlier inquiries, coronial inquests and commissioned research into the road freight industry since the 1980s that identified a strong association between commercial practices and safety.

          They also referred to that inquiry's findings that there were a number of tendering practices common in the industry that were not conducive to safe operation—for example, taking little account of how a task was to be completed or other safety related issues and instead quoting an all-in price, which placed cost burdens even for events beyond control or due to customer inefficiency. And they went on to cite further parts of that inquiry from 2001, which ultimately found that there was a combination of commercial and industry practices and structural features that constituted a significant underlying reason for unsafe practices and for the industry's overall poor safety performance. One of the recommendations in that inquiry was to have minimum safety based payments for owner-drivers.

          They then went on to canvass an inquiry initiated by the Victorian Minister for Industrial Relations in 2004, which was called Report of inquiry: owner drivers and forestry contractors, which went on to draw connections between the real financial pressures that led to working unduly long hours with consequent fatigue. Of course, for those who are questioning how there could possibly be a link between remuneration and safety, it is fairly obvious that commercial practices are connected with those financial pressures to work unduly long hours with consequent fatigue. In that second inquiry to which reference was made there was substantial information about minimum payments to owner-drivers being a serious issue, since those drivers are under particular pressures, which are referred to in the decision.

          Thirdly, they referred to the 2006 decision of the full bench of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission and went on to cite provisions from that. They noted that Professor Quinlan, who had been in the 2001 inquiry, had given evidence before the full bench of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission.

          Fourthly, they referred to a 2008 report, prepared for the National Transport Commission, entitled Remuneration and safety in the Australian heavy vehicle industry: a review undertaken for the National Transport Commission. The report, by Professor Quinlan and the Hon. Lance Wright QC, included substantial discussion about connections between remuneration and safety, which are cited at some length in the 2013 decision.

          Fifthly, they referred to the 2008 inquiry established by the Australian Transport Council as part of the National Transport Policy Framework. The report of that 2008 NTC inquiry said:

          Although considerable work has been undertaken to this point to demonstrate the link between safety outcomes and truck driver pay rates or methods, the new report—

          referring to the other 2008 source that they had referred to—

          by Professor Michael Quinlan and the Hon Lance Wright QC draws all this information together, and, with the addition of new evidence from stakeholders, conclusively determines the existence of this link.

          They helpfully included in the decision—which anyone can get; it is on the internet—a very helpful table showing, in a graphical and diagrammatic way, the consequences for truck drivers of a failure to have appropriate levels of remuneration. They talk about the root causes and economic pressures leading to safety concerns in the trucking industry.

          The tribunal also, in their 2013 decision, canvassed the evidence that had been given by several individuals, including Dr Michael Rawling, who outlined some of the research surrounding supply chains in the road transport industry, and Mr Michael Caine of the TWU. They went on to say that they had had research from Mr Paul Clapson, an owner-driver; and Mr Mark Trevillian, a road transport driver. I think they also had, if I remember correctly, Mr Eric Pickering, a road transport driver; Mr Brad Statham, a chartered accountant who advised owner-drivers; Mr Frank Black—someone whom I have met—an owner-driver who gave evidence that most times companies tell him the rate of payment. They were some of the people to whom they made reference in the decision, having canvassed five or six substantive and serious reports in relation to connections between road safety and remuneration.

          The 2014 order was made and the 2016 order was made subsequently. It is not the only work of the tribunal, of course. If you have a look at the four annual work programs they have produced to date, you will see that they have been looking at the retail sector, the livestock sector, the bulk grain sector, the interstate long distance sector and intrastate long distance sector. In the current annual work program, for example, which is the fourth annual work program, the tribunal propose to inquire into the road transport and distribution industry; long distance operations in the private transport industry; sectors in the cash in transit industry; the oil, fuel and gas sectors of the road transport industry; the wharf and port sectors of the road transport industry; and sectors in the waste management industry. A bill to abolish the tribunal ought to be considered in the knowledge that the work of the tribunal is serious and significant work that goes to road safety and safety generally across a number of sectors of our economy.

          It is not very rare for litigants to be upset about a decision. What is rare is for those same litigants to try to get the entire tribunal abolished because they are not happy with the decision. We say, as you know, Deputy Speaker, that it is important to maintain the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal because of the connection between road safety and remuneration. As you know, trucking is Australia's deadliest profession, with drivers 15 times more likely to die than people working in any other profession. It is a serious and significant issue. You would also be aware that it is an issue that has been debated with some emotion by people across both sides of the House, but some of the arguments have been very unfortunate. The member for Capricornia attempted to draw a link between domestic violence and the order of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, as if to say that somehow domestic violence was caused by minimum rates in an industry. The member for Hughes got up and said, 'Isn't it outrageous! People are expected to comply with summonses and turn up at a tribunal when they are ordered to turn up.' We are here in Canberra this week because people on the other side of this chamber want to debate and enact a bill that will actually remove the right to silence of people in the construction industry, and this same mob are saying it is outrageous that people have to comply with summonses in tribunals. It is just hypocrisy and it ought not to go unremarked.

          To go to the very recent decision, it is true to say that participants in the industry have raised concerns about a number of issues. Those issues include backloads, split loads, rise and fall fuel and whether there should be specific exclusions from the order. Of course, the proper way to deal with a tribunal's order with which you are unhappy is to seek to engage, to persuade and to vary that order. That is precisely what is happening. There was an application to vary made recently, and in deciding that application the tribunal took the opportunity to comment on some of the things that have been said about the current order and the tribunal itself. They set forth something of a myth-busting paragraph. Paragraph 2 of the recent decision on the application to vary said the following:

          The correct position on the issues covered by the myths is as follows:

                  As they said:

                  To the extent any peak body has created and perpetuated myths about the application and operation of the 2016 RSRO, or failed to alert their members as to the opportunity to put submissions regarding the draft RSRO—

                  which was published—

                  they have done their members a great disservice.

                  They went on to say that it is true that some still appear to think it is un-Australian for the order to place restrictions on market practices that are a root cause of death and serious injury on our roads. Here we find the nub of the issue: do you believe that you ought to deal with safety issues by dealing with the root causes, or do you believe that you ought to just wash your hands of it, turn a blind eye and get rid of a tribunal that has been set up for safety purposes?

                  It has been suggested that the tribunal is somehow a creature of the TWU. Anyone who reads the recent decision on the application to vary will be left in no doubt that the tribunal is very independent. The TWU comes in for some pretty significant criticism throughout the course of that decision. Similarly, if you read that decision you will see the amount of engagement and discussion that the tribunal engaged in with industry. There were 60 days of consultations, conciliation conferences and hearings. It published two reports on those conferences. It published a significant amount of research material. It commissioned a KPMG research project and published it. It implemented a Q and A process. It published the draft order so that people could make submissions. It put a draft payment calculator online. It published numerous statements and considered more than 100 written submissions and comments. Those are not the actions of a tribunal that is somehow not operating in an independent way and is not engaged with the sector and industry.

                  It is simply the case that the people who are seeking to raise concerns about this ought to engage with the tribunal and continue to press their issues. But, as the tribunal said, the order was made on 18 December and everybody knew that the first date of operations would be 4 April. Yet the Australian Long Distance Owners' and Drivers' Association did not put in any application to vary until 3 March. The Australian Industry Group did not put theirs in until 9 March. We have had people in here complaining that there were hearings over Easter. They did not put their applications in until the beginning of March and the second week of March for an order that was to take effect on 4 April. What do they expect the tribunal to do? Of course they are going to have to continue to engage and afford natural justice to people involved in the sector. It is also worth noting that the decision is very, very clear about a number of the procedural issues. I am very concerned about these attempts to silence the tribunal. (Time expired)

                  5:31 pm

                  Photo of Scott BuchholzScott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

                  It gives me great pleasure to stand and give my comments on the Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill 2016 in this cognate debate. Before I start, I want to acknowledge the owner-operators in the gallery. Thank you very much for your commitment. It gives great weight to the debate to have you in the chamber to witness firsthand the frustrations and machinations of this House. It gives you the opportunity to see the quality of debate from both sides of the House and how disconnected it can be from the reality of the issue that is before you.

                  I want to pick up on the comments of one of the previous speakers in the House who I have regard for, the member for Moreton, when he said that there was almost no experience in the House. Well, this year I celebrate my 24th year in the transport industry. I employ 10 drivers around the state. My wife runs that business successfully today. My brother is in the industry. My grandfather before us was in the industry. He had the sole contract on the railway yards at Rockhampton. In addition, he had a furniture removal business. If you are ever in Toowoomba, take the opportunity to duck into the Toowoomba heritage village where you will find a Cobb and Co. style horse-drawn carriage labelled 'Buchholz Transport'. So transport is in my family's blood. Transport is still the vehicle that allows me the privilege of standing and defending an industry which I think has been harshly dealt with.

                  The legislation that I intend to speak to today I believe not only disrupts the industry but also is disgraceful in its intent where it discriminates against a group of owner-drivers in the way it was prepared. At every step since the bill came into the House in 2012 I have spoken against it because I saw the damage that it would do to the market and the ramifications that that would have for owner-drivers, their families and the sector. Without owner-drivers in that particular sector, taking that competition out of the market, Australians would be worse off in having the larger companies slowly ratchet up their prices.

                  Do not take my word for it. In the last 48 hours we have seen over 200 protesting drivers here in Canberra making their point. This morning there were another 40 drivers. Forty was the number because it was limited by the Australian Trucking Association, which held a function here in Canberra. It is a small world. When I went down to the showground this morning to get into a truck—lo and behold!—there was an operator who delivered product on a nightly basis to one of my Toowoomba depots 15 years ago. It was great to catch up with him. I thank Tony Curtis for the work that he has done in leaving his family and coming down here. He was in two minds as to whether or not he would travel. But he was happy that he had made the journey because he knows that he is making a contribution to the national debate.

                  In addition to the conversations that are happening here in Canberra on the national debate, the state of Queensland is also alive with owner-operators voicing their concerns. I know it is happening all around Australia. We have seen rallies conducted right around this great country of ours. In my electorate alone, a number of people have contacted my office. I am just going to give a quick overview of the style of commentary that people have given so that from the Hansard people can get an idea of the flavour of what the owner-drivers think of this piece of legislation.

                  Keith Davies said, 'Get rid of it.' Anthony Dodds said, 'Why?' Paul Spring said, 'How can this happen?' Luke Rickuss said, 'It must go.' Glenn Smith said, 'I'm worried.' Ken Wilkie said, 'I'm gone.' Bob Ward said, Paula Lee and Geoff Silcock said, 'This is a joke.' Warren Ahern said, 'You've got to do something about it, Scotty.' Denis Peta Fisher, Wayne Schultz, Sioban Banner and Steve Greer said, 'This is crazy legislation.' Steve Smith has contacted my office on over 10 occasions. There have been dozens more. Hansard would not allow me to repeat some of the colourful commentary that has been delivered by such enthusiastic representatives of the owner-driver industry.

                  Why are they so upset? Why would an industry explode virtually overnight? It is because they know that this terrible piece of legislation which has come into effect as of 1 April as an order by the tribunal is going to be unworkable and will price this particular sector out of the market. The government gave evidence at that tribunal and tried in its capacity to give evidence to push the remuneration start date back out to 1 April next year.

                  You have heard commentary today about how we should enter into a more conciliatory and conversational dialogue with the tribunal. Let me assure you that that dialogue has happened, and that the dialogue from the owner-operators and peak industries has fallen on deaf ears. We heard one of the crossbenchers, who was in here before and who previously supported the application, talk about a heightened level of arrogance from the tribunal and how that had forced him to change his position. He is now supporting the industry. In addition to that, the online rate remuneration calculator was published not 28 days beforehand, and it was on the back of that we, as a government, made the decision that we would push this start date back out.

                  As the energy in and around this movement became greater and greater, we could not support anything other than abolishing this tribunal. I want to acknowledge the Prime Minister for his nimbleness and agility—to be able to see this problem, address it and nip it in the bud. Senator Cash, from Western Australia, has done an outstanding job in leading the charge. The sector, I can assure you, are terrified. They are worried about the financial pressures that this tribunal will place on their businesses. How are they going to make their truck payments? I know that there are drivers now who are already touching base with their banks, looking for extensions on payments and being knocked back. That truck is often the first and only source of revenue for a household; mortgage payments and school fees are linked to that revenue. This tribunal does not save lives; it destroys lives. It destroys lives and it destroys businesses in our economy. That is what motivates me to stand here and speak against it.

                  One of the downsides of the tribunal is that the remuneration calculator only affects owner-drivers. When you have two sectors of the market, company drivers and owner-drivers, and only owner-drivers are forced to quote an inflated rate, even if you look at the minutiae of how a rate is calculated—historically, an owner-driver would quote to a potential client a per kilometre rate for a long haul trip, the deal would be done and away you would go. Under the current rate remuneration tribunal online calculator, effectively you are unable to deliver a quote until you get home. That does not work for small business. The variables that have been imposed in the market are unworkable, and it is those very points that have generated a level of enthusiasm in the sector for them to rise up and say that this is unfair. And it is unfair, because it does not allow the market forces to play out in their own right. When you have owner-drivers compelled to quote an inflated rate but the rest of the market can quote a much lower rate, then you can only make the assumption, and support the cynic's point of view, that the legislation was designed for no other reason but to drive the owner-operators out of the market. That is not good for Australian business, it is not good for our nation and it is not good for our country.

                  How can those on the other side say that they are supporting the sector by introducing a fair rate tribunal, when all this tribunal is doing is sending owner-drivers broke? Effectively, yes, you will save lives, because there will be no iron ore operators left on the road. This single policy is up there with some of the worst policy positions that we have seen from those on the other side of the House. We saw the mining tax that raised no money. We saw the insulation program that burnt many hundreds of homes to the ground. We saw the effect the policy of that side of the House had on the live cattle export ban—devastating hundreds and hundreds of small businesses. We saw the effect the policy position of those on the other side had when over 50,000 illegal immigrants came to this country via our shores.

                  I have had no-one—not one person—reach out to my office, either in Beaudesert in my electorate or here in Canberra. I have not had one person from the sector ring me up and say: 'The Safe Rates Remuneration Tribunal must stay. It's wonderful for the industry'—not one. Too many drivers are now parked up, not earning a brass razoo and uncertain of what their financial security looks like. That is why there must be an element of urgency around eliminating this tribunal.

                  I encourage the government, when considering getting rid of this tribunal, to remember that it does not only affect the owner-drivers but that there also is a flow-on effect that goes with it. You have your mechanical services. I had the opportunity to speak with Rod Smith of Smith's Mechanical from Peak Crossing the other day. He suggested that if this order was to come into effect and this tribunal was not to be abolished, then he would lose up to 30 per cent of his business as an unintended consequence of owner-drivers being forced off the road. That would result in him having to put off workers in a local area where he is, potentially, the largest mechanical workshop in the district. No-one should stand in this place and put their hand on their heart and say that that is good for our country. I will vote to abolish this tribunal. I will keep fighting for our owner-drivers because transport is in my blood.

                  I want to acknowledge the crossbenchers and, in particular, the bravery that was shown by those crossbenchers in this House who initially supported the bill. They have seen a light at the end of the tunnel; they have seen the failings of this. While those honourable members on the other side of the House had good intentions, the execution of this tribunal has led, potentially, to the death knell of a sector that deserves to be treated better, that deserves the economic freedom to be able to operate on our roads legally and profitably. I will condemn those from the crossbench who do not support this industry, who make the conscious decision that owner-operators should be forced off the road. I will condemn them because this industry has a role to play in our economy.

                  I want to acknowledge the crossbenchers in the Senate who made the journey down to the front lawns this morning and who, in some cases, supported this tribunal in previous circumstances. I offer them my thanks for changing their position to bring this terrible tribunal to its finality. Unfortunately, this tribunal in its current form destroys lives.

                  I will finish up by saying there is work that needs to be done on safe rates in this industry. I will work with the industry to try to find what those nuances look like into the future. But we need to give the industry some breathing space and the opportunity not to have over 20,000 second-hand trucks pushed back onto the market and not to have banks screaming at homeowners who are forced out of their homes, which will be repossessed as a result of the homeowners' only source of revenue being taken from them. That enthuses me to walk into this place every day. While I have breath in my body, I will fight for this sector. I believe in it. It has been very good to me. It has been very good to my family over many generations, and I know that the people who operate in this sector are decent people and deserve the right to be heard. I commend this bill to the House.

                  5:46 pm

                  Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

                  The Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill 2016 is a Liberal government bill to effectively abolish Australia's Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, and I think that really says it all. We are abolishing the body specifically established by this parliament some years ago to improve safety on our roads by improving the safety and conditions of owner truck drivers in the industry that is the most dangerous industry in our nation. What is occurring here is quite troubling, and many people have asked me over recent weeks why the government is actually doing this—why the government is seeking to abolish the body that was specifically established to improve safety on our roads by targeting the area that causes the most accidents.

                  The question that we need to ask ourselves is: why do we need a Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal? It is because of these quite shocking facts: firstly, that the fatality rates for the trucking industry are 12 times the national average. Those driving trucks on our roads are 12 times more likely to have an accident than the national average. Last month alone, 25 people died on our roads as a result of heavy vehicle accidents. It is not just those owner-drivers that are at risk, because, as we know, many people share our roads, and often it is innocent victims that are killed by truck drivers who are driving in unsafe conditions. It is the families—the men, women and children—who may be killed by an unsafe truck driver. It is the cyclists. It is the pedestrians. It is others who are innocent victims of the shocking rates of safety in this industry. This is quite simply the unsafest, most dangerous industry in the nation, and the facts establish this. The facts establish that there is a serious problem with road safety when it comes to the trucking industry.

                  Any government worth its salt—any government that looks at problems in our nation and how you fix them—would be derelict in not looking at the issues associated with this industry and doing something about it, and that is what Labor did when we were in government. We accepted the advice of experts. It was independent advice from organisations like the Productivity Commission, from academics and from international studies in other nations like the United States that pointed to the fact that there is a direct link between the rates of pay of truck drivers and the safety outcomes on our roads. This government wants to trash the tribunal specifically established by the previous government to stop accidents which cause serious death and injury on our roads. It is illogical and it is downright dangerous—dangerous for every Australian that uses our roads.

                  Why is the trucking industry so dangerous? Again, we know the answer to this. We know what the facts tell us, because there have been numerous studies and investigations into this industry. We know that truck drivers are forced to drive for long, unsafe hours by big multinational companies that they work for just to make a living. I know we have some owner-drivers in the audience here today, and I know many truck drivers, including many owner-drivers, and I have to say I feel for them, because they are forced to sweat the assets which they own, to skimp on maintenance, to drive overnight for long periods, to avoid taking breaks and to drive fatigued just to earn a quid. But it should not be like that, and we should not abolish a body specifically set up to ensure that we lift the rates of everyone that works in the industry and that no-one is disadvantaged by lifting the minimum bar to improve safety conditions in this country and stop the situation where owner-drivers literally have to undercut each other in a dog-eat-dog world to make a living.

                  It is a fact that there have been literally hundreds of investigations, coronial inquests and reports from police which have stated that a free market rate for truck drivers compromised safety. Quite simply, there is a direct link between the minimum rates of pay for truck drivers and safety, fatality and accident figures in this country and indeed throughout the world. There are literally hundreds of studies and inquiries that have been conducted into this issue, particularly over the last decade, and almost all have concluded that there is a significant link between scheduling pressures, unpaid waiting times, insecure rewards and access to work and hazardous practices such as speeding, excessive hours and drug use by drivers just to make ends meet.

                  A 2001 Australian study found that drivers who were paid in terms of the amount of work they did reportedly worked more fatigued, and worked fatigued more often, than those who were paid in terms of the hours that they actually work—an hourly rate, like most workers throughout the country. The United States National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, in a 2002 report, demonstrated that in the USA there were widespread unsafe driving practices and regulatory noncompliance, and there was a direct link between a free market for owner-drivers in terms of what they were paid—undercutting and a dog-eat-dog world—and these safety results. The US Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which also reported in 2002, demonstrated that higher compensation led to significantly safer truck driver performance. For every 10 per cent more in truck driver mileage pay rates, the    very large American truck load carrier found that the probability that a driver would have an accident, or a crash, declined by 40 per cent.

                  I am not an expert in this field, but I have done a bit of research over the course of the last week in preparing this speech and there is also my work as a lawyer in this area of occupational health and safety over the last decade. All of the studies that I have read and all of the cases which I have been involved in—unfortunately, some of those were serious workers compensation claims for death and serious and permanent impairment—have demonstrated that there is a direct link between the rate of pay that people get and the safety outcomes in a particular industry. It is a simple fact, it is simple common sense, that if you pay someone a fair and decent wage to ensure that they can get by, work a reasonable amount of hours, live, feed a family, send their kids to school and are able to buy the necessities of life off that wage then they are not going to work ridiculous hours where they become fatigued and engage in unsafe work practices just to make ends meet. So there is a direct correlation between rates of remuneration for drivers and safety accident rates.

                  The commentary over the last couple of weeks has been that some owner-drivers say they will be put out of business. I want to make it clear: I do not want to put any owner-driver out of business. We do not want a situation where owner-drivers are forced to undercut each other on the rates that they offer to businesses just to make ends meet—but the solution is not having any minimum rates. The solution is not abolishing this body and ensuring that there is no minimum standard to which people are paid and which they work by. It has been shown in industries throughout the world that that develops into a dog-eat-dog system, where it is a race to the bottom. When you are talking about the most dangerous industry in the country, you simply cannot allow that to occur. It has been shown that there is direct link between the rates of pay that someone is paid and safety on our roads.

                  This exact system is the reason why the trucking industry is the most dangerous in Australia, and it is precisely because of this dog-eat-dog system that has existed in the past that people have been dying on our roads. It is precisely why studies recommend a minimum rate of pay for truck drivers as the best way to improve safety. A pure market without minimum conditions will result in more accidents and more deaths, and that is exactly why Labor is opposing this legislation which effectively abolishes the body that has been put in place to ensure a minimum standard into the future. Removing minimum standards, removing minimum rates of pay for owner-drivers, will, in my view, result in more unsafe practices in the trucking industry and ultimately more deaths on our roads—and that is not something that we want to be encouraging here in this parliament.

                  The minimum conditions that are established by the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal are undertaken and reported in determinations after that body conducts an inquiry. It just does not come up with a figure and hand down that figure overnight. It conducts inquiries, takes evidence, looks at the studies that are being quoted by me and many other speakers and makes determinations. Importantly, it provides a lead-in-time to these determinations so that things are not occurring overnight. The current determination, which has been the subject of some controversy, has been out there for a while and this has given the operators an opportunity to adjust to it.

                  Instead of a knee-jerk reaction from the government, instead of seeking to merely abolish this body, if there are issues with this determination and how it will operate for owner-drivers then why doesn't the government sit down with the tribunal, with the owner drivers, with the Transport Workers Union, with the opposition and with the crossbenchers to try and work on modifying the system? Labor have certainly said that we will sit down and negotiate to modify this system. We would be happy to compromise to ensure that we get an effective determination so that owner-drivers do not feel that they will be forced into unfinancial situations by it and, importantly, that we are not undercutting a minimum set of safety conditions existing in this industry. But, instead, the government has refused to negotiate.

                  The government have refused to even countenance sensible negotiation, a sensible compromise, to ensure that we can continue to set minimum standards of safety on our roads. Nope, they have just moved to abolish this body. That, I think, is unreasonable, it is unfair and it flies in the face of all the evidence that has been presented over the course of the last decade, through independent inquiry after independent inquiry, to governments of all persuasions here in Australia and indeed throughout the world about the need to do something about safety in the trucking industry. The statistic I quoted earlier that the trucking industry is 12 times more dangerous than other industries throughout the country is something that we simply cannot ignore. As legislators with an obligation to look at this and improve road safety, we must do all we can to ensure that we keep a body that has effectively been established to ensure that minimum conditions do prevail and that we do not implement a system where drivers are undercutting each other and forcing each other to work in unsafe conditions. So it is on that basis that I and my Labor colleagues will be opposing the repeal of this important body, because it does set minimum conditions and those minimum conditions ensure that our roads are safer.

                  5:59 pm

                  Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

                  I rise to speak on the Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill 2016 and the associated bill, the Road Safety Remuneration Amendment (Protecting Owner Drivers) Bill 2016, which, as a fallback position, would defer the implementation of rulings of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. I was listening to the remarks from the member for Kingsford Smith and am given to reflect that most of his speech was actually spent talking about things which have very little to do with the current ruling from the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal which affects owner-drivers. But you have got to hand it to the unions and the ALP—they have this uncanny ability to make a cup of poison sound like it is really good for you, that it is as good as a serve of roast duck, for instance. They can dress up almost anything to make it sound as if it is a good outcome. The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal is certainly an instance of that. It is a Labor-union fit-up that is totally committed to unionising the full industry so they can control it from top to bottom.

                  I must turn to the remarks by the shadow minister for employment and workplace relations at the opening of this debate. He made an absolutely disgraceful linkage with a tragic accident that happened in my electorate yesterday, near Crystal Brook on Highway 1. He went through the details of those fatalities, the age of the driver and the kinds of things you find in the newspaper, with absolutely no background understanding of the accident at all. Then, after making that very strong link between the RSRT's current rulings and the accident, he said, 'Of course, you should not jump to any conclusions that it was the truck driver's fault.' That is a disgraceful linkage, something that a member of parliament should not be drawn into. If they do not know anything about a particular incident, they had best keep their head down. My informers tell me that it is highly unlikely that the truck driver was at fault in this case, but it does not make it any less a great tragedy. I think it would have been better if we had left that debate alone.

                  The heart of this ruling is that the RSRT singles out owner-operator truckies as being more dangerous than those they may employ to put in their truck cabs. The premise is that they must charge more if they or their family are sitting on the operator's seat. If the owner-operator is sitting on top of his $450,000 investment, the very suggestion that he or she would be less careful with that investment than an employee would just beggars belief.

                  I have been speaking to numerous truck families since this ruling came to bear down on us in the last few weeks. I have a bit of a list here. I spoke to Joy and Colin Plane, from Price on Yorke Peninsula. Joy has been a fearless campaigner. She has been tracking all over Adelaide, she has contacted all the crossbenchers and she was here yesterday for the rally in Canberra. They have spent 33 years in transport, with one truck. Their son is now operating as an owner-driver. This ruling by the RSRT is destined to drive them out of business.

                  I also spoke to Don Davey, another truck operator, in the Ardrossan area on Yorke Peninsula. Scott and Rodney Quinn, from Cleve, operate a pretty big business. I think they run about 30 trucks, but they employ 30 subbies as well, and those subbies are mainly owner-operators. Rodney rang me up when the deferment came through a week ago and he said, 'The court has just saved me the job of picking up the phone on Monday and telling seven owner-operators their services are no longer required.' This is serious stuff.

                  I also spoke to David Smith, from Smith Haulage in Tumby Bay; Leteesha and Michael Burke, from Port Pirie; Belinda Wheare, from DJ and JM Wheare on Yorke Peninsula; Rod Moore Transport, from Peterborough; and Natasha and Craig Landorf, from Booborowie. I also sat down with some local truckies from my home town: David and Barb Phillips and Don and Annie Beinke. They are all just bewildered that the government or any body of the government could do this to them. They cannot understand why someone would do it. Why would they make the supposition that (a) they are more dangerous drivers and (b) they will have to charge more for their services than if they put an employee in the seat? The why is pretty simple. I explained it to them. It is because the owner-operators are a disparate lot, an independent lot, and they are virtually impossible to unionise. The unions are very comfortable with the big companies. The big companies allow them access to their workforce so they can sign them up to the union. I do not know, but I would be surprised if the big companies did not supply some funding to the unions to help them in this task, but I do not know that for sure. The trucking companies, of course, are willing to deduct membership fees for the unions—more members, more money to pour back into the ALP campaigns, more numbers on the conference floors and more ability to influence selections of people who may be elected to parliaments around Australia. No wonder the TWU hate owner-operators.

                  Australia is a free country. Surely a legislated minimum price on product and service is a restraint of trade. Certainly it is anticompetitive. Imagine if we put a minimum price on shampoo—not something I use all that much of, I must admit!—or pies or plumbing services or anything else you care to turn your mind to. Firstly, this puts a great restraint on the economy. It is almost guaranteed to take away a competitive edge and that spirit of entrepreneurialism that we should foster in Australia, where people stick their neck out and have a go. If you legislate this flat line across the economy, it does not matter what you do it with, you upset that balance. So we absolutely should allow people who run their own businesses to set the fees for their own services. It is the way our economy should operate.

                  PricewaterhouseCoopers has reported that this ruling by the RSRT is likely to cost $2.3 billion—$2,300 million—to the economy over the next 15 years and threatens the jobs of 3½ thousand workers. That should be enough to make anyone draw breath. In the part of the world that I come from, the regions of South Australia, the bulk of the trucking task, apart from the interstate movements which run right through the electorate, is carried by owner-operators. There are links that go back into the grain industry. Some might argue that the grain industry is short-haul; it is not necessarily. In fact, my farm is situated 240 kilometres from the port. Is a round trip a long haul? Is a second trip during the day a long haul? Is a primary product like wheat or milk that is en route to the supermarket because it is en route to the manufacturer along the way? There are so many unanswered questions for those people trying to run trucking businesses at the moment.

                  One of the truckies I was talking to thought he was doing the right thing, but when he ran some sums on his business he concluded that his freight rate for trucking grain was going to have to increase by 25 per cent, which would immediately put him out of business. An extra few dollars to the grower means: 'We don't utilise that truckie. He's finished.' I have received reports from the trucking retail industry that their order books have just dried up and that some operators have cancelled orders for the delivery of new trucks. The uncertainty has meant that they have put them on hold until this is cleared up and they know they have a business into the future. They are the kinds of signals that tell us there is something terribly wrong with this ruling by the RSRT and, by extension, probably with the RSRT itself.

                  It is dominated by people who have past union links. In fact, the head of it comes out of the ACTU. It is also an interesting read to look at their salary packages. There is somebody in the transport industry that is doing all right and certainly those Fair Work commissioners are among those, with salaries in excess of $400,000 a year. I lot of my truckies would dearly love to get their hands on that kind of money.

                  They have used an ingenious method to pass the penalty on to the truckies. The fines are not actually aimed at the truckies; they are aimed at the people who utilise the truckies. While the truckie might think, 'I might take a risk' or 'I might do this or I might that;' in fact there is a very little they can do because their customer says to them, 'I can't afford to take a risk with you, so consider your services terminated.' That is exactly what has been happening.

                  I have seen some truckies upset over the time. I talk to them regularly; a number of operators whom I go to for sage advice on the transport industry, particularly in South Australia. I have never seen them so crook on anything. They are beside themselves. I think back over a number of other issues they have come to me with and they have been grumpy, but I have never seen them like this. They have just said, 'This will destroy the industry.'

                  We saw some of that passion out on the lawns in front of Parliament House this morning, with the truckies making the effort to come to Canberra. As I pointed out, one woman who came to the rally yesterday had made the very long trip from York Peninsula to Canberra. They know this is so important to the industry, and it is so important to my constituents. Anything that significantly drives up the freight rates in regional South Australia, significantly drives up the cost of living in South Australia. We are absolutely freight dependent. We pay freight on objects. We pay freight on the things we produce and sell. We pay freight on all of our inputs. We are absolutely dependent.

                  As a past grain grower, I can tell you about the ever growing cost of freight into that final wheat cheque. It is hard to contemplate that it costs more to get my wheat down the road 200 kilometres than it costs to take it to the other side of the world once you have it on a boat. I am not saying in any way that we are being ripped off in the system; I do not think we are, as they all have expenses to meet. But the very idea that we would put a minimum price into the system that would raise that cost for everybody is an absolute threat to all of our businesses.

                  With those remarks, I will round up. I am very pleased to hear that it sounds like we have the support to get this through the Senate. It might be worthwhile for those who supported it in the first place who have now changed their mind to contemplate how that came about, and maybe they might take more care over legislation that comes before them in the future.

                  6:13 pm

                  Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

                  Last month was the hottest March on record. But does the government bring us back here, summoning everyone from across the country for a special sitting of parliament, to debate the threat of climate change? No. People have lost their houses because rogue banks have been giving them advice that was actually in the bank's interest but not in the individual's interest. Does the government bring us back here asking, 'What can we do to make sure that people around this country are not getting ripped off by the banks?' No.

                  The government says we must all come back for a special sitting of parliament, using a section of the Constitution that has not been used many times at all, because it wants to attack people's rights at work and the unions who represent people when they are in work. First up, it says that it so concerned about so-called corruption, but it does not want to establish a national federal independent commission against corruption or a national anticorruption watchdog; it would like a body that is able to look at one side of the political fence in one industry. And it says that we have to come back to debate the Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation. Then, because it realises that that is actually a bit thin and that most people around the country, if you asked them, would not accept the proposition that the only place that wrongdoing and corruption exists in our society is there, it wants a national watchdog that looks into politicians and public servants, and looks into employers as well as, including employers like the company that bribed Saddam Hussein's regime.

                  Instead, they come back in and say, 'Well, no. The next piece of legislation we want to pat out the agenda is one that will make our roads less safe and will remove people's rights at work when their workplace is the roads that we all share.

                  What is this legislation that we are debating? What is it that we are being asked to repeal? We are being asked to repeal legislation that enshrines a pretty simple proposition: if you are working on our roads, which we all share, as a truck driver, then there should be minimum rates of pay that apply across the board and that do not just apply if you are an employee but they also apply if you are an owner-driver. There is a reason for that: if you look back over study after study, we know in an industry like this, like many others, that are characterised by lots of intermediate contracting chains, where there is often a large distance between the person who might receive the delivery or contract—they might be a supermarket, they might be Coles or Woolworths—and the person down the bottom who actually does the work. What happens is that every time you take a step down that contracting chain, the money and the reward goes up, and the risk and the pressure flows down. It ends up being the case that the person at the bottom of the chain is the one who is under the most pressure and told, 'I'll give you this job, but you have to deliver it in 12 hours time. I can't promise you that you won't be waiting a couple of hours before the job is loaded. But it's going to be your responsibility to get it there on time and, if you don't do it well, we're going to impose a penalty or you might not get paid at all.'

                  What does that do? We know what it does. In this industry, there are a lot of people who spend a lot of time waiting without any payment at all for their goods to be loaded so that they can then do the delivery. What we know is that some of that waiting might stretch for as long as a whole shift of work and they do not get paid for it. But they are expected at the end of that long period of unpaid waiting time to be as bright as a button and deliver the load in what might be less time than they originally thought they might have to deliver it.

                  What happens when you put that kind of pressure on people? When you put that kind of pressure on people, you don't have to be Einstein to work out that when someone takes to the road in a B-Double, a semitrailer—who is are not well rested, is under extraordinary pressure to deliver on time and is told by the person who is one step up the contracting chain, 'Well, if you don't do it, I'm sure I can find someone else who will'—people take risks that put themselves and other road users at risk. We know that, because study after study of Australian drivers has told us that. One 2001 study found that drivers who are paid in terms of the amount of work they did—at piece rates; so not being raid hourly rates—reported fatigue more often than drivers who are paid for the time that they were working.

                  Another Australian study that was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2007 said:

                  … the strongest predictors of drug use were payment based on the amount of work completed and fatigue reported as a major problem … The strong association of payment by results and low pay with drug use among Australian long-distance truck drivers is consistent with other research suggesting that economic factors are an important influence on health and safety in the workplace.

                  Just to underline that:

                  …economic factors are an important influence on health and safety in the workplace.

                  That is why in response to that, legislation was passed through the last parliament which the Greens supported, because it makes our roads safer. There will be less pressure on people to drive when they are tired, less pressure on people to drive when they are on drugs and less pressure on people to drive when they are not well rested, if they are paid properly and there is a uniform floor that applies across the sector so it applies whether you are an employee or an owner-driver. That has been part of the problem up to now: for constitutional reasons, we have had the ability to regulate what employees do but we have not had, until this piece of legislation, the ability to regulate owner-drivers in the same way.

                  If you have a floor underneath industries that are characterised by high levels of contracting out, like the cleaning industry or the textile industry, it means you cannot have a race to the bottom on the amount that people get paid. At the end of the day, that is what is the variable factor in a lot of these contracts that get signed. When you put a floor in, you stop that.

                  There has been a lot of complaints where people have said: 'The people who are paying me aren't going to be able to afford this.'. To what extent have people asked and to what extent has there been an across-the-country push, including from the government, to say, 'It's the law and now we have to comply with it'? No, the government has not gone out and said, 'This is the law of the land now, and people are just going to have to work out how to incorporate this cost and potentially pass it onto consumers or customers at the end of the day. But there is going to be an increased cost as a result of increased wages—of course there has to be; you have to work out how to do it.' No. They have allowed—in fact, encouraged—people to come up here and, effectively, blackmail by saying, 'I'm told that I'm not going to get the contract, so you should repeal the legislation.'

                  If there are problems with the order that the tribunal has made, if there are some legitimate concerns—and I have heard some concerns expressed, for example, that it applies the same rate of pay if you are delivering a full load as if you are delivering a half load. There is a simple solution to that: go back to the tribunal and ask them to fix the order. That is something the government could have done on any occasion. On any occasion the government could have gone back to the tribunal and said, 'We need to fix this, because there are some unintended consequences.' Instead, what we have is the government standing up in this place saying, 'Oh my word—did you realise there are several truck drivers out the front protesting? We should listen to them.' They do not tell the parliament that it was the employment minister, Senator Cash, who encouraged them to come up in the first place—who said, 'Come up and take industrial action. Come up to parliament. I know what the government would be saying if other people clocked off work to come up here and protest out the front of parliament—but this was one that was actually encouraged by the government itself.

                  It is not well thought that there is a long history of partnership between Greens and truck drivers. I have not met many truck drivers who have been prepared to go to the barricades for their right to vote Greens. It is not a natural partnership, one might think. But this is a bill that we are prepared to defend because it is about the safety of those truck drivers. And, crucially, something we have to recognise is that roads are something that we all share. I would suggest that most people, if they are driving along the highway late at night, when all they can see are the headlights, and a truck is doing 100 kilometres an hour down the other side of the highway—and it might not be a dual carriageway; you might not be separated by that much at all—would want to know that that person driving the truck has been well rested. You want to know that that person is not under pressure to cut corners for the sake of a dollar but that they have safety as their paramount consideration. When you are taking the kids home from school and you are in a suburban street and there is a B-double next to you, as often happens in my electorate of Melbourne, you want to know that the person who is driving it has not been forced to wait 14 or 15 hours, unpaid waiting time, and then they have just got this load and have been forced to go and deliver it.

                  It is good legislation that should stay. If there is a problem with the order, go back to the tribunal and ask them to fix it. The fact that the government's first response is to come here and abolish the legislation in toto tells you everything that you need to know about what we are going to see over the next few months. This government has never seen a right at work it did not want to strip away. And here we are being brought back again, and what is on the agenda? Not the big economic matters of this country, not the climate challenges that we are facing and not the social issues that many people want resolved, but union bashing, pure and simple—and expect to see a lot more of it. But, when it comes to protecting people's safety at work and protecting the safety of our roads, the Greens will stand steadfast, and so we oppose this bill.

                  6:24 pm

                  Photo of Christopher PyneChristopher Pyne (Sturt, Liberal Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

                  I move:

                  That standing order 133 (deferred divisions on Mondays and Tuesdays) be suspended until the conclusion of the consideration of the Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill 2016 and the Road Safety Remuneration Amendment (Protecting Owner Drivers) Bill 2016.

                  I move that suspension motion so that we can move to a vote on the RSRT at the earliest convenience of the House.

                  Question agreed to.

                  I move:

                  That the question be now put.

                  6:35 pm

                  Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

                  The question now is that this bill be now read a second time.