House debates

Monday, 18 April 2016


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

7:24 pm

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

This is an important bill. It is a bill that, if enacted, will delay an order made by the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. This tribunal was established in order to ensure that there was a proper examination of the correlation between, on the one hand, rates of pay for owner-drivers, for employees who drive heavy vehicles, and, on the other hand, the incidents of fatality or injury on our roads.

On this side of the chamber, we believe that there are concerns with respect to the order. We just voted against the proposition to abolish the tribunal. If we are serious about taking what is an unprecedented step to, in effect, by way of parliament, delay an order that is made by an independent statutory body—the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal—then I think it is incumbent upon the government of the day, the executive government, to explain exactly why this has to be done. For example, why there was no effort made by the government to make submissions to the tribunal in order to ensure that the merits of the case, whatever they may be, were put on behalf of the government.

As you know, the government has a capacity, pursuant to the authority of the Minister for Employment, to intervene in matters that are before a number of statutory bodies including the Fair Work Commission and, indeed, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. We would have thought that if the government was serious about the consideration of this matter, then rather than seeking to entirely abolish the system and trash the tribunal, the Commonwealth last year, before the order was made, would have sought to intervene and make a submission indicating its views on those matters. We have had none of that. In fact, in August or September last year in this place, the former Deputy Prime Minister—the former minister for transport, Mr Warren Truss—indicated that there was no intention by the government to abolish the tribunal. He said so at that dispatch box in answer to a question. Indeed, subsequently other members of the Nationals also said that they were not in pursuit of the abolition of the tribunal. Nonetheless, they have now voted to abolish it; however, we do have to deal with this order.

Labor does consider that this matter (1) is serious and that (2) the order does, in some cases, illustrate a lack of regard for issues that have been raised by some owner-drivers. For that reason I have made clear, after speaking with not only the Australian Trucking Association and the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters' Association but also the Transport Workers Union, that Labor would want to sit down with the parties, examine the legitimate concerns of owner-drivers in this matter, and see if we can forge a compromise in order to consider the real concerns of all affected parties. Unfortunately, that has not happened here today. That has not happened because the Prime Minister, in search of an agenda, elevated this matter and sought to trash the tribunal. This House has just passed a bill to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, and we would say, 'That was the wrong approach.' What would be the right approach is to now consider the manner and form of the order and look to see whether it can be mended. Our view is that that would have been the better approach.

In relation to this order—it is an order that would 'delay until 1 January next year'—we would like to understand what that means. In particular, if the bill in relation to the tribunal that just passed this chamber failed to pass the other chamber, we would ask the government of the day to explain what they would be seeking to do with respect to the order—I will finish in a minute; I will not be taking up the full five minutes of this allocation at least—if indeed we are left with a tribunal in its place, an order that is delayed and yet no real certainty for the industry.

The best way to have dealt with this matter, we believe, would have been to convene a meeting of all representatives of the trucking industry. No-one doubts the difficulties confronting truck drivers. Long-haul truck driving in particular is a very tough job. For those who have their own businesses, it can be very difficult. Some of the onerous contracts that they have to enter into to make ends meet are, quite frankly, very unfair. We believe that the system has really been against many owner-drivers because of the manner in which some of the large players in this industry—that is, those that are seeking the provision of truck driving, the large companies that rely on truck driving—have driven down the genuine capacity of truck drivers to enter into contracts that are fair.

As a result of that, we believe that, just because the government seeks to abolish the tribunal and just because it seeks to delay the order, that will not fix all the problems in the trucking industry. Even if these two bills were to pass the Senate, that would not end the problems confronting this industry. Even in those conversations that I have had with those peak bodies—even those bodies that may want to see the success of both of these bills—nobody believes that the issues confronting the trucking industry will somehow disappear as a result of what happens in the parliament this week. There are fatigue issues. There are issues in relation to the payment of contracts. You have owner-drivers who are not getting paid, well after they have finished their trips. You have providers not being paid by the larger retailers in time to pay their owner-drivers. There is a whole combination of issues.

We also understand, in relation to the order, that there are issues with it. Having listened to the Australian Trucking Association and, indeed, also having listened to the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters' Association, we are of the view that this order should be reconsidered. There are two ways for that to happen. It could happen by way of the tribunal. I understand that the TWU made application today in the tribunal to delay the order, and that was not opposed by any of the employer bodies. The AiG, ACCI, NatRoad and the livestockers were not opposed to that application to put on hold the operation of the long-distance rate. Indeed, as I understand it, Linfox and other drivers appeared around the country positively supporting that position.

The reason that there should be a delay to the order is that we believe that following matters such as back loads and split loads; the client accountability to ensure that all employers are paid enough to pay their drivers, whether they are employee drivers or owner-drivers; the rise-and-fall formula to deal with the fluctuations in fuel price; and the maximum 30-day payments for all transport operators are really significant matters that will not be fixed by the success of these bills here or in the Senate. We need to sit down and deal with these matters.

A real leader would not be just trying to abolish a tribunal and delay a matter, to kick this down the road. If Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister, were interested in this issue in a genuine sense, he would convene a meeting and discuss those matters that I have just raised in relation to what affects owner-drivers and what makes it difficult for them. It would be a Pyrrhic victory for those who want to see the end of the tribunal and an order if we were left with no decent way to deal with fatigue and deal with the excessive driving which leads to deaths on our roads.

I ask the government to respond to those issues because I think it is serious. They should take it seriously. Certainly Labor does. That is why we have discussed it with all parties and not just with one. (Time expired)

7:35 pm

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to strongly support the abolition of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and to support the cognate bill. I also write to support the thousands and thousands of men and women who are owner-drivers in Australia, around 35,000 of them, particularly the owner-drivers who still have customers, who are out there working right now. For those whose trucks are parked up waiting for the abolition of this tribunal, the coalition government have prioritised this legislation to get you back on the road as soon as we possibly can.

I want to personally apologise to each and every one of you who has been vilified by the Labor members opposite. Some of the comments have been absolutely disgusting. I can tell you that I am proud to represent you here in the Australian parliament. I respect the work you do, your professionalism and the passion you have for your industry, your business, your family and your local communities.

My father was an owner-driver all his life. His first truck was a 1948 Diamond T. His second truck was an International BCF180, which he drove for 37 years. My family still has both of those trucks. The Diamond is in mint condition, and the BCF could do a day's work every day. Why? It is because my dad was committed to the safety and maintenance of his trucks. His life depended on that maintenance every day. For my brother and I, who were frequently with him in the truck, our lives depended on that maintenance. And my father, like other owner-drivers, wanted to get home safely every night and see community members get home safely to their families every day as well.

My father loved his trucks with a passion. They were his pride and joy. When he and my mother bought their house block in Brunswick, he did the earthworks but built the shed first because the trucks needed to be under cover. He loved his trucks, and he loved the work he was able to do with them. It was all about the job—just like all the great owner-drivers I have met recently. They take great pride in their rigs and their work. They just want to get on with their job, and that is what we are helping them to do. Like many of the drivers I have met recently, my father donated his time, his machinery and his expertise to countless local projects.

My brother, Lindsay, like every owner-driver I know, is committed to the maintenance and safety of his truck. He is out on the road right now. He is the second generation in our family in this industry, and his son Shane is the third generation. Lindsay, like many owner-drivers, does his own maintenance. He started as a mechanic. Others, like Shane, started as heavy duty mechanics.

In the time that I have left I want to thank all the drivers who have been part of the convoy to Canberra, including those I met recently who have already closed their businesses and are trying to sell their trucks. One man has already closed his business because of the order and has his trucks on the market. He told me he has put drivers off because he knew he would never be able to sell his trucks when so many owner-drivers were going out of business because of the order. One of the owner-drivers has had to put his house on the market as well.

I want to thank all of the drivers—the men and women and their families—who have rallied to say no to the order and no to the RSRT. These are the people who simply want to get on with what my father did: start a small trucking business; put a roof over their family's heads; feed, clothe and educate their children; and help their local community. I want to thank Mark Talbot, Mark Sullivan, Stephen and Frank Marley, Shannon Dawson, John Mitchell, Darren Power, Baden Mills, Wayne Copeland and Jan Cooper of the Livestock and Rural Transport Association. These people are all part of the crew who were in Perth last week. I want to thank Lodehaul and especially Raquel Moulds, who has worked so hard to help save the industry and was part of the convoy-to-Canberra crew. I want to thank all of those who fronted up at parliament today.

I will quote some of the words of Mark Sullivan, from Cunerdin, who said:

As a rural transporter who gives a level of service so that we can get repeat business every season, all of a sudden—

because of this order—

we can't negotiate a reasonable rate to backload or look after our customers' needs.

That is exactly what the owner-drivers are about: looking after their customers' needs.

Mark also said:

You will have to apply the minimum break both ways and what will happen is the price ourselves out of the market and customers will look elsewhere may lead to an operator who isn't caught up in the order.

That is exactly the way it is.

The complexity of the order, with owner-drivers unable to interpret the order without having to seek some form of legal advice, is another layer of red tape that these small businesses do not need. I support these fantastic owner-drivers in Australia and I am proud to represent them in this place.

7:40 pm

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

The seat of Lingiari is unique in this place in the sense that the trucking industry is the lifeblood of the community. Whether you are talking about live cattle exports, the mining industry, servicing Aboriginal communities or the tourism industry, without the trucking industry the place would grind to a dead halt. I have spoken about the trucking industry in the Northern Territory and across Australia previously in this place and I have indicated very strongly my support for the work they do—not only those people who are employees of major trucking companies but also the owner-drivers. Indeed, in a debate in this place in 2006 I read from a Transport Workers Union submission to an inquiry. In that submission they said:

Owner-drivers are single vehicle operations the vast majority of which perform work exclusively for a single transport operator (principal contractor). Owner-drivers are highly dependent upon those with whom they contract.

They said that owner-drivers are price-takers in the marketplace and that:

This dependence leads to inequality of bargaining power and the associated potential for exploitation.

That exploitation of owner drivers in the transport industry, of course, results in industrial instability, higher than average rates of bankruptcy and road transport accidents, and in the debate today we have heard examples that highlight the importance of understanding the relationship between people who are pressured as owner-drivers and road accidents.

But we do not oppose this particular bill, because this is what the Transport Workers Union and others have been seeking to do: to delay the implementation of this order to allow people to discuss the significant number of issues that need to be talked about. That is what an informed leader would have done. Instead of rushing to judgement about the tribunal itself and abolishing it, he would have come into this place and said, 'Let's have a discussion about how we can defer the implementation of the order and sit down with all the participants in the trucking industry.' The owner-drivers, the TWU, the major trucking companies, ACCI, the Road Transport Association—you name it—could have sat down to discuss issues such as backloads, split loads, client accountability to ensure all employers are paid enough to pay their drivers, whether an employee or owner-driver, a rise and fall formula to deal with fluctuations in the fuel price, and maximum 30-day payments for all transport operators. These are very important things that need to be discussed, and it is very clear that the owner-drivers who are in the industry need to be guaranteed an opportunity to have their views properly expressed and heard in a way that delivers a result for them. I am not sure that the abolition of the tribunal will, by itself, deliver a result of them. It is a very hasty political decision.

We have been brought back to this place because we were told there were very important pieces of legislation to be discussed in the other place. We heard the Governor-General's speech this morning. It did not address this particular issue, yet now we find ourselves in this place discussing the Road Safety Remuneration Amendment (Protecting Owner Drivers) Bill 2016 and the Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill 2016 and having the debate gagged. What a travesty! The trucking industry of the Northern Territory and the people of the Northern Territory want to know what I think about this, but I have been told by the government that my right to speak has been gagged and that I cannot participate in the substantive debate. I have to use the ruse of this particular part of proceedings to be able to make a small contribution.

Let's be very, very clear: the backbone of the Northern Territory economy is very much in the hands of the trucking industry. Those people involved are long haul drivers, who are involved in much of the work that happens in the Northern Territory transporting cattle from properties in the Northern Territory to markets in the south and transporting cattle to the wharf at Darwin for live cattle export. All of the food that comes to the Northern Territory from Adelaide to Darwin is on long haul transport. Fuel that comes across to the Northern Territory is brought on long haul transport. These are very, very important things. I express my strong support for the trucking industry. (Time expired)

7:45 pm

Photo of Andrew HastieAndrew Hastie (Canning, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to wholeheartedly support the Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill. I stand with the many owner-operator truck drivers around Australia who oppose the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal's harmful and punitive measures that, left unchecked, will destroy many small trucking businesses across this great country. The Turnbull government stand shoulder to shoulder with small business. We stand for free enterprise. We stand for government that does not get in the way of everyday Australians earning an honest living. Government policy should make life easier for Australians, not harder.

Today, once again, we find ourselves under the very long policy shadow of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years. After almost three years in government and long after the pink batt fires have burned out, the coalition are still triaging the policy failures of the Labor government. Today, we are abolishing from Australian law the punitive 2016 payments order that came into effect on the fourth day of this month—and we are abolishing it not a moment too soon. The payments order—under the sneaky guise of road safety—sets mandatory minimum pay rates on a per-kilometre and hourly basis for contractor drivers working either in supermarket distribution or long distance operations. The 2016 payments order targets small trucking operators who service regional areas of the country and smaller independent supermarkets.

What does this mean in the here and now for owner-operator truck drivers? It means we have an unnecessary tribunal creating uncertainty and damage to a vital industry in this country. It means that tens of thousands of owner-drivers across Australia will be priced out of the market and forced to close. It means that small independently owned supermarkets such as the many IGAs in Canning will have to pay more for their delivery costs as they absorb the economic costs of owner-operator truckies going out of business. That is right: small businesses in regional areas will have to pay more for the delivery of stock and goods to their shop floors. This is bad policy for owner-operator truckies and it is bad for the regional small businesses that rely upon their services.

Let's consider the human cost for a minute. I spoke last week with an owner-operator in the city of Canning by the name of Glen Morris. Glen lives in Serpentine, which is in the shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale. It is one of the fastest growing local government areas in this country. It is aspirational. Glen is 62 years of age and he recently invested in a truck valued at $400,000. He has operated his own truck business for 30 to 35 years. He has two employees. He drives about 200,000 kilometres per year and spends $15,000 on fuel each month and $1,200 on services for his truck every six weeks. He pays licence and registration fees of $15,000 per year. He spends another $10,000 on tyres every year. His insurance is about $8,000 per year. His accreditation and permits are about $1,500 per year. All of these costs are before he even factors in super or wages for himself. The tribunal would make it more difficult for him to get ahead. It would make it more difficult for him to compete in this market. The government should be helping people like Glen, not harming their economic livelihood.

Why was this road safety remuneration system introduced in 2012? Apparently it was for road safety. But two separate reviews, one by PricewaterhouseCoopers and one by Jaguar Consulting, have debunked this idea. Even Labor's own regulatory analysis completed at the time that the system was introduced acknowledged that insufficient evidence was available linking road safety and remuneration. So why then was it introduced? The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal members were appointed by the now Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, an esteemed member of the union aristocracy in this country. On the tribunal we have former Labor senator and former president of the Transport Workers Union Steve Hutchins—a fellow union comrade. The president of the tribunal, Jennifer Acton, is a former ACTU official—another union member. You do not have to be Sherlock Holmes to see union fingerprints and union DNA all over the RSRT policy framework. It is a cash grab at the cost of small business in this country. It is that simple.

The Turnbull government opposes the RSRT for very good reason. It is anti small business, it is anti free enterprise and it compromises the economic security of many Australians. That is why I commend the Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill to the House.

7:50 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7:55 pm

Photo of Karen McNamaraKaren McNamara (Dobell, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the 62,000 owner-drivers impacted by the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal's payment order. In providing my support to owner-drivers, I acknowledge the approximately 1,700 Dobell based owner-drivers who face financial ruin due to this heartless payment order. To the owner-drivers of Australia, this government stands with you in its resolve to see not only this payment order delayed but also for the repeal of the road safety remuneration system.

Since it commenced operation, the RSRT has made two enforceable orders. The second order is the controversial Contractor Driver Minimum Payments Road Safety Remuneration Order 2016. No-one would ever dispute that road safety is vitally important, but what is disputed is the correlation between higher remuneration and safety. With regard to the safety argument put forward as justification for this order, NatRoad recently commented:

The TWU cites safety as a requirement for this order as they quote the number of deaths on the road as proof. If you were to delve into the statistics I guarantee more than 90% of the crashes they think will stop after RSRT begins, involve drivers not caught under the order, eg. The infamous Mona Vale fuel tanker crash would not have come under the order for two reasons, 1. Employed driver and 2. Fuel transport.

NatRoad further stated:

To an owner driver it's more than a job it's a profession that is of their highest priority to carry out safely.

Despite Labor identifying from their own regulatory analysis that the regulatory costs associated with their proposed road safety remuneration system outweighed any benefits and concluding there was no clear demonstrated link between remuneration and safety, they still went ahead and introduced the road safety remuneration system.

Already we are witnessing the impact of this order on small business operators around Australia, including in my electorate of Dobell. Don Robb, an owner-operator, contacted me about this order. Not only is Don concerned about his own business, he is also extremely concerned for his son. Like many families involved in the trucking industry, sons and daughters of owner-operators follow their parents' career. Don's son has a near-new $350,000 Kenworth and three near-new road train trailers, all on finance. He has had his business for nearly 10 years. He can be away from home for up to eight weeks at a time. Owner-drivers, as it stands, cannot do part-loads and have to cart what the RSRT calculates is the price; if they do not, there can be heavy penalties.

If this order goes ahead, Don's son, along with thousands of other owner-drivers, will be bankrupt. Because of this, many of them are now suffering depression and are suicidal. While Don is concerned about the impact of this order on his own livelihood, he is concerned about his children and their families—just as many others carry that additional burden of concern about their children and families. Don was so incensed with the heartlessness of this order he contacted the Leader of the Opposition directly. I share with the House a heartfelt plea of a father concerned for his son, a plea no doubt shared by all concerned families of Australian owner-drivers impacted by this order:

My son is one-truck operator who road trains to and from Perth to the Eastern states—you are putting him out of business, all he wants to do is go to work, feed his family, pay his taxes and do the right thing, his mental health was perfect until this owner drivers order came into effect.

I am very concerned about his well fair. I'm not sure whether he is suicidal or homicidal, if anything happens to him I will hold you personally responsible. Please have another look—Don Robb.

Yvonne and James Taylor operate Taylor Transport. Yvonne has grown up in and around the transport industry as the daughter of and now the wife of an interstate truck driver. The Taylors have successfully operated their own transport business for almost 10 years. Yvonne is very aware of how the industry operates and understands firsthand how hard these men and women work, the long hours they put in and the extensive time away from their families—the families who fiercely support them to earn a living, doing a job they enjoy and want to do with professional integrity.

The Taylors, like many others in this industry, are now—and I quote Yvonne—facing 'what has become the fight of our lives'. Yvonne shared with me this quote from a fellow transport operator: 'This order drives a dagger through the heart of Australia on a scale never seen before.' In Yvonne's words: 'That pretty much sums it up in a nutshell, as does the often seen bumper sticker "Without trucks Australia stops". All we want to do is keep Australia moving.'

The Robbs and the Taylors are everyday hardworking Australians who represent the backbone of this country. They ask for nothing but the opportunity to go about their business and provide for their families. Already there are documented cases of drivers being denied work by the larger logistic companies. This is a mess created by Bill Shorten and this is a mess that we want to fix. I commend this bill to the House. (Time expired)

8:00 pm

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I recall in 2012 being at Uncle Leo's Roadhouse. It is at the crossroads near my electorate when I was the member for Werriwa. When I was there I was talking to a lot of the drivers. One driver was very agitated. He was on his mobile phone; he was making a series of phone calls. He eventually told me that he was going to take a load in his B-double truck back to Brisbane. As I said, this guy was very agitated. He said, 'I am going to get only the price of the fuel that it takes to get there.' He was trying to negotiate getting back to Brisbane. He went back for the price of the fuel in the truck. There was nothing for maintenance and nothing for his labour, just for the fuel in the truck. Those opposite want to talk about the price of labour or the price of a job. I do not know how much fuel goes into a B-double, but that is all he got to take that load to Brisbane.

We ought to understand what this tribunal is about. It was certainly giving some fairness and decency in terms of the rates at which truck drivers are remunerated. It ensured that they were not cutting corners because of the rates they are paid, were not reduced to taking No-Doz to keep themselves awake at night, were not doctoring the log books and were not interrupting the speed regulators on the vehicle. There is a good reason for that. It is worthwhile trying to ensure people do not do that because those in the long-haul road industry are 12 times more likely to die than those in any other industry in this country. It is an unsafe industry. We must ensure that they take every step to have the appropriate and proper practices, because when there is an accident involving a heavy vehicle—and it is very tragic if someone loses their life or is maimed when driving a heavy vehicle—invariably it is going to involve somebody else and that could be any other road user. That was the whole genesis for ensuring safe rates were struck.

As a matter of fact, when safe rates were struck the then member for Hinkler, who had been very much a supporter of that, as I have told the current member for Hinkler on many occasions, said: 'We have had a series of inquiries going back 10 or 11 years—one of which I actually chaired—talking about fair rates and fair reward for working.' Two things were happening: companies where there were employees were taking more overtime than they could reasonably handle and owner-drivers were being set unrealistic limits. That should not be a foreign concept to those opposite.

Do not forget that midway through last year the then small business minister, Bruce Billson, announced to the House, proudly, that they were setting up a code of conduct to protect farmers from being screwed down in terms of their price by Coles and Woolworths. So we were going to protect farmers. It is good that we do because people like Cobby ought to be protected. The truth is that they need an external arrangement to be able to do it. The same applies in road transport. It is conceded that, in terms of their purchasing power particularly in the retailing sector, Coles and Woolworths are capable of screwing down the rates.

You all know the number of trucking businesses that are being wound up. That fellow I saw that day took a truckload of produce back to Brisbane for the price of fuel. I do not think that business is going to go too well. This was designed to be able to set reasonable rates, setting a floor and helping people in that arrangement. To simply come and turn over the decision—and I can understand why it should be delayed—and throw the baby out with the bathwater, to throw out that element that actually lends some fairness and decency to the remuneration system, I think is reprehensible. (Time expired)

8:05 pm

Photo of Warren TrussWarren Truss (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

When the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal bill was introduced into parliament I said in February 2012:

If I could find a way to legislate to eliminate tragedies on the road, and the sufferings of families and the loss of livelihoods associated with road accidents, I would support it enthusiastically.

The reality is though the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal could make no contribution to safety by simply raising pay. If you really believe that higher pay is going to eliminate the accidents then why not put up the price of coal so there would be fewer accidents in the coal industry? There are a lot of people dying in farm accidents. If we legislate to double the price of wheat, would we expect that that would somehow reduce the toll? The reality is there is no connection.

Of course if a driver is under pressure—whether that comes from troubles in the home, financial difficulties, his worries about his timetable or his concentration on the football or the music on his radio—he is not going to be as safe as somebody else who is paying attention to the road and to the wheel. There is a link between stress and safety, but you cannot fix that simply by paying higher rates. Indeed, the RSRT itself has added to the stress of so many drivers over recent weeks because it has chosen to pay some drivers more than others. This is not a way to resolve the issue. Indeed, the then government's own regulatory impact statement for the bill said, on page 4:

Speed and fatigue are often identified as the primary cause for a crash but it is a much harder task to prove that drivers were speeding because of the manner or quantum of their remuneration.

It went on to say:

… data at this point in time is limited and being definitive around the causal link between rates and safety is difficult.

There was never any causal link established between pay rates and safety.

Indeed, a report by the New South Wales RTA into road traffic accidents found that heavy vehicle drivers were at fault for only 31 per cent of the fatal crashes involving a heavy vehicle—only 31 per cent. What are we going to do to the pay of the people who are at fault in the other 69 per cent of accidents? A clear link has just never been established.

The legislation was introduced by the then Minister for Infrastructure and Transport because he had responsibility for road safety. But, within two weeks, Labor introduced 64 amendments to their own legislation, amendments that they had not consulted with the industry on or informed the then opposition of until a few hours beforehand. By the time we got to that stage, it was the minister for workplace relations, the current Leader of the Opposition, who was in fact running the bill. This exposed, absolutely, that even Labor did not believe that remuneration had anything to do with safety. It was all about a pay-off to the Transport Workers Union, a union that had donated generously to the Labor funds, a part-owner of the ALP with the rest of the trade union movement. Some of the members of the Labor Party actually depended on the Transport Workers Union for their own endorsement.

The reality was that this was a pay-off to their union mates. It is very similar to what they did for the MUA with the maritime legislation—another piece of legislation that has proved to be disgracefully flawed and failed to do anything to maintain jobs in the Australian shipping industry. I am pleased that the House has passed the bill to repeal the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. We now need to also proceed to pass the legislation to get rid of the maritime legislation that Labor passed.

Clearly, while tragedies on the road are very damaging to the Australian economy, they are very, very damaging to our social life and to the families of those involved in them. We need to look realistically at what causes traffic accidents and do what we can to resolve them. It needs to be remembered that the road toll for truck drivers has been in steady decline now, and it was in steady decline before the RSRT was invented. The RSRT has made no contribution to safety. This House must at least delay its current disastrous ruling. In reality, the RSRT serves no useful purpose. There are plenty of other laws about safety in Australia. We do not need the RSRT, and it should be abolished.

8:11 pm

Photo of Cathy McGowanCathy McGowan (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Tonight I add my voice in support of the government on these two pieces of important legislation. I would like to acknowledge the many members of my electorate who have spent hours working with my office, communicating with my office and making sure that I could come to this place and represent their views. I would like to say to Peeter Ling, Simone and Scott Lewis, Jess Hinde, Anthony Glass, Geoff and Ann Prudames, Matthew Walker, Matthew and Nicole Battocchco, Kellie Boland, Leonie Jackson and all the other people who have written to my office: thank you.

I draw attention in particular to a letter I received from Kevin Keenan, who is from the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association. Kevin caught up with me at the Northern Victorian Livestock Exchange in North Barnawartha and chewed my ear. Kevin, I heard you. As he said in his letter to me:

As an owner driver for over 35 years I find this very difficult to believe that a union who champion for the little fella against big business could possibly put me out of work or cut my work so I have to cut maintenance to survive.

The clause that states that there is no partial loading and any part load will be taken as a full load will be of great disadvantage to the rural sector. If farmers have to pay for a full load no matter how many they have on a load then they will use smaller trucks to do the job at a lower cost but put more trucks on the road.

Kevin, I am really happy tonight to support the government on this legislation.

A second letter I would like to refer to is from Ken Beggs from Mansfield. He wrote a very extensive letter, and he put the three options that he has been faced with. The first is that he continue to operate profitably, as he is currently doing, yet be in breach of the RSRT legislation. The second is that, alternatively, he sell up. This would mean selling equipment below the payout figures owing on them, and other carriers not affected by this order would readily take over the job at the same rates that he is working for. His third option is to employ an unrelated driver to drive the truck. He says:

If I did this, I would be compliant. I would not come under the RSRT Order, the driver would be paid the current wage I pay myself, (which is above the RSRT safe rates), continue with the contracts I have committed to and still make a profit.

However, he said: 'I personally would not have a job, therefore no wage to live on.' He went on:

Option No 3 sounds ludicrous. How is it that I can employ someone to drive my truck under the same conditions I currently operate at and be legal, yet if I drive the truck myself I am in breach of the RSRT Order and hence breaking the law?

How can this be fair and just?

He called me and said: 'How can our democratic system allow such discrimination against a minor sector of a large industry?'

I say to the people of Indi, to the fantastic trucking industry and the small businesses that go with it, to the men and women who make our logistics service work, to those who pick up our agricultural goods and carry them, to those who pick up our manufacturing goods and carry them, and to those who pick up our retail goods and carry them right across the north-east of Victoria and then across this great and marvellous country: democracy is working. Your voices have been heard loudly and clearly in this place, and I am really pleased to add mine to support the government tonight on this legislation. I hope the Senate quickly does what needs to happen in the other house.

As I bring my comments to a close, I would particularly like to thank the many people of north-east Victoria who have worked so closely to bring about this really positive outcome. Thank you.

8:14 pm

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I support this Road Safety Remuneration Amendment (Protecting Owner Drivers) Bill 2016, which seeks to delay the commencement date for the payment order issued by the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal in respect of the contractor-driver minimum payments to 1 January 2017.

The Australian Industry Group and others have made application to the tribunal for a delay in the commencement date of the Road Safety Remuneration Payments Order 2016. In the past 48 hours, we have witnessed convoys of owner-drivers and their prime movers rallying together around Parliament House, calling upon the government to protect their livelihoods. The proposed changes have the potential to impact upon the viability of businesses in the road transport industry, the movement of freight across our nation and the national economy. Therefore, hirers, contractor-drivers and other participants in the supply chain should have sufficient time to make any necessary adjustments to their operations.

Across our vast country, the road transport industry is an integral part of the economy in terms of logistics, distribution and supply chains, linking products to markets and goods to customers. Nationally, the industry turns over $51 billion annually, providing work for approximately 200,000 drivers. The livelihoods of up to 35,000 owner-drivers are at stake, many of whom have taken out mortgages to finance their prime movers.

There is a substantial case in supporting a delay to give the industry adequate time to prepare for such significant structural reform, to understand the terms of the order and to modify business practices accordingly. It has become apparent that there is evidently a lack of understanding amongst owner-drivers of the payments order, because the drivers misinterpreted the relevant provisions when they were giving evidence about the industry at the tribunal hearing. The order establishes minimum payments for contractor-drivers involved in operations relating to a supermarket chain or long-distance operations, setting minimum rates of payment per hour and per kilometre for such contractor-drivers, depending on the class of vehicle being driven. Contractor-owner-drivers have maintained their position in evidence that if they have to apply the rates prescribed in the payment order they will not be hired, due to being priced out of the market.

If this debate is actually about improving road safety, then permit me to speak about the current improvements in the driver training, assessment and accreditation system implemented in recent years. As testament to the diversity of life experience and skills on this side of the House in the parliament, I am the holder of a current unrestricted multi-combination MC licence, which enables me to drive B-doubles and road trains. Having gone through the process, I can attest to the rigorous training program which has been introduced in more recent times to actively improve road safety in the heavy haulage industry.

When I completed my training in Maddington, Western Australia, it involved passing units of competency in fatigue management and vehicle safety inspections before and during each trip, as well as route planning to ensure that the prime mover and its trailers did not exceed the maximum allowed length, height or weight permitted on certain roads and bridges during the journey. Participants in the accredited course were required to complete workbooks as part of the theoretical component of the training, and were shown how to use logbooks to maintain proper records. Furthermore, during the practical assessment the vehicle combination was required to be loaded to just over 20 tonnes per trailer, which in my case was over 40 tonnes for the road test.

The more stringent vocational education and training regime has been implemented over the years in an effort by the road transport authorities to improve road safety standards in a practical way. Gone are the days when heavy-vehicle licences were issued at local police stations in rural areas following a brief driving test around town in an unladen vehicle. Today there is a graduated licensing system, which requires an applicant to gain two years' experience with a car licence before obtaining a heavy-rigid HR licence, and then a similar period of road experience before moving on to the heavy-articulated categories of heavy combination, HC, and multi-combination, MC. These training and development measures are practical, and it can be demonstrated that they have a logical effect on improving road safety. (Time expired)

8:20 pm

Photo of Shayne NeumannShayne Neumann (Blair, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I speak in relation to the Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill 2016, and record my opposition to it.

Prior to the last redistribution in Queensland, I had the privilege of representing the Lockyer Valley. On numerous occasions I attended the 'Lights on the Hill' memorial service—a day when truck drivers and their families would attend to remember those who were killed in the last year. Sadly, their names were on the memorial. Each year, more people were added. Truck driving is a dangerous business, and it is a risk for the families. They do not know when—and if, in fact—their loved one will come home.

The truck driving industry is critical to our farming sector, getting produce to the markets and to the ports—to Rocklea in South-East Queensland. And it is not just that but also delivering household goods—furniture and clothing. In a seat like mine of Blair, where there are major highways—the Ipswich Motorway, the Brisbane Valley Highway and the Cunningham and Warrego highways—roads are king.

But for those opposite to deny the link between pay and road safety is simply to fly in the face of the best evidence. We saw the report delivered by the former member for Flynn, the Hon. Paul Neville. That House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications, Transport and the Arts report in 2000, titled Beyond the midnight oil: managing fatigue in the transport industry, made it clear that there was a link. In addition to that we also saw the Quinlan inquiry in 2001 and the Mutual Responsibility for Road Safety case in 2006. We also saw the National Transport Commission Review report in 2008, the Safe Rates Advisory Group report in 2010 and the PricewaterhouseCoopers report quoted by so many people in this place. For those opposite to deny all that is simply a nonsense.

It is easy to feel sympathy for those who work in this sector, because their livelihoods are threatened and pay is very low. It is hard to put food on the table for your families and to have your jobs threatened, and of course it seems quite harsh in many ways, but the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was a good idea and in my view should not be abolished. It was and is as it currently stands about making road safety remuneration orders and conducting research into pay conditions and related matters that affect safety in the road transport industry.

Those opposite have indicated that they may take some of the functions of the RSRT and put it with the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator. I would be very surprised indeed if we saw that jurisdiction extending to pay orders. Our side of the chamber and indeed the TWU have also sought compromise in relation to this matter. Those opposite have in fact got rid of a tribunal which is about the linkages between pay and conditions and road safety. Sadly, they have made our roads and highways across this country less safe for all Australians. In the last month 25 people have died on our roads as a result of heavy vehicle accidents. Fatality rates in the trucking industry are 12 times the national average, and that must stop, but what is so disturbing about what the government has done is that they are willing to abolish a tribunal just because they do not like the decision. What would stop the Abbott-Turnbull government intervening to defer increases in national minimum wages or overriding decisions of the Fair Work Commission simply because they do not like decisions in relation to penalty rates?

This is a very bad precedent they have set today and clearly is an ideological attack on workers and fair pay and conditions in the country. It is typical of what those opposite have done. This is a Prime Minister who stands for nothing other than being Prime Minister. This is about political expediency. Did they do anything about this two years ago when the road safety remuneration order which set minimum pay rates for owner-drivers was proclaimed by the tribunal? They did nothing at all. This was done on the eve of an election simply to raise stakes, inflame passions and pursue a political agenda against workers. This is about the election that is going to take place on 2 July. It is not about road safety, it is not about pay and conditions and it is not about the economy. It is about political expediency from a government that has run out of ideas, exists for itself, does not exist for the benefit of working people in this country and exists only to pursue the political ambitions of the Prime Minister who grabbed power from the member for Warringah.

8:25 pm

Photo of John CobbJohn Cobb (Calare, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The most amazing thing about this debate—if I can call it that—is the fact that it took so long for the media to pick up on what was really happening here even after we all realised what the tribunal had done. There is something that I do not hear any of the Labor speakers, including the previous speaker, talking about. If this is about safety, which it is not, or if this is about looking after drivers on the road, which it is not, why does it only apply to one section of the trucking industry? None of them mention that.

They talk about road safety. We are all into road safety. Of course we are—we all drive on the damn roads. But this is not about safety; this is about unionism—a pay-off to the unions. For what? Let's not go into that. But it is a pay-off for unions against what particular section of the trucking industry? The section of those who do not join unions: the drivers who own their own rig, as has been mentioned, by putting their house under a mortgage or whatever reason. There is nothing I see that I love more in the world than a young couple going into their own business, whatever it might be, be it an electrician or an owner-driver truck operator. But this is actually not just an attack on owner-operators who are not members of unions; it is an attack on the self-employed.

The Central West of New South Wales is a big trucking area, but it amazed me how long it took for the media to get the fact that only one section of one of Australia's biggest industries, with a huge number of people involved in it, was being attacked, and that was those people who own their own truck and drive it. It is so crazy that, if I own three trucks and pay two people to drive two of them and drive one myself, the other two trucks are not affected by the decision of the road safety tribunal. It is only the one I drive myself.

And there is no evidence to show that owner-drivers have any worse record than anyone else. When you stop and think about it, how ludicrous is it to suggest that the person who owns his own truck—it is his livelihood, he services it, he repairs it and he makes sure it meets the specifications—would want to trash that truck more or risk it more than someone, quite possibly just as good a driver, who is paid to drive their truck? It is ludicrous, and there is no evidence to suggest that. In fact, you do wonder if it is actually constitutional to pick out one section of industry like the TWU and Bill Shorten did.

I found that we had to get out in the media and explain that this is just an attack on one section of people who do not join unions. When I went out, Whites Stock Transport went with me into the media, and Cassie White made an incredible impact in the Central West by pointing out something very relevant to this. She said, 'Our company is actually big enough that we will not be too affected by this, but all the subbies we use, who come take from us and bring stuff to us, are affected, because they are nearly all owner-operators.' She said, 'What this will do is simply make the big guys bigger and the small guys smaller or not exist at all.' As somebody pointed out, what a lovely thing to do to someone who has mortgaged their home so they can buy a truck and so that they and their wife or partner could go into business together.

I have seen things come before this House before, but I have never seen anything as brazen as Bill Shorten, the now opposition leader, and the TWU getting together to put into being the road safety tribunal with people who are obviously not terribly sympathetic to owner-drivers to simply make their lives hell and put them out of business.

8:30 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8:35 pm

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about the Road Safety Remuneration Amendment (Protecting Owner Drivers) Bill 2016. As we all know, the Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill has now passed this House and gone up to the Senate. And I would like to congratulate the House on passing that bill, because this is probably the most egregious legislation that has come before me, to my knowledge, since I was elected to this House.

Were hundreds and thousands of owner-drivers mistaken? No, they were not. They knew the full intent of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal order. It was designed to make them uncompetitive, send them out of business and send them driving down the road to work in a unionised workforce for some of the major primes. It was so blatant and so obvious. I am just flabbergasted that people who spoke up about it three and four months ago were not getting traction. Why, at three minutes to midnight, did Australia suddenly wake up to the fact that it is a complete doddle, a smokescreen and a Trojan horse to destroy the livelihoods of thousands and thousands of small businesses?

Less than a week ago, one of my reliable stock haulage contractors, Bryan Alley, rang me and said: 'David, what am I going to do? If I don't follow these ridiculous pay orders, I could be fined $54,000.' That is $54,000 for not charging too much money, for uncompetitive rates. That would mean no-one would use him, It is going to send him to the wall. That does not increase his safety; it increases the chance of him and his family losing their livelihood. I know there are plenty of others in the livestock haulage business around the Lyne electorate. There are many people who depend on transport. It is the lifeblood of Australian industry.

But it is not just stock haulage and freight. There will be huge ramifications for metropolitan areas too. When you move house, apartments or whatever, you get removalists. Many of them are small business men and women with their own truck and their own business. As the member for Calare so rightly pointed out, if this were really about safety, it would apply across the whole industry, not just to small business people and owner-operators. It would not be selective.

Also, it flies in the face of observed fact. Truck safety has been improving. The number of truck driver injuries and deaths has been reduced. There have been many layers of regulation across state bodies and other federal bodies that have led to that. One interesting fact is that when you look at the truck fatalities, in two out of three of those crashes, road crash investigations revealed that the truck driver was not at fault. What were these people thinking—that only owner-drivers are unsafe? The previous speaker, the member for Gellibrand, mentioned that driving a truck is 15 times more dangerous, but the obvious reason for that is that transport drivers work 40 or 50 hours a week. Most of us who are driving around and at risk of road fatalities have 15 or 40 times less time on the road. It is quite obvious that, if you are doing that the whole time, the statistics reflect that.

I am so proud that common sense has prevailed in this House this afternoon. The National Party—my colleagues—all got behind this weeks and months ago. I am so glad that Australia woke up and realised what was at stake. The repeal bill has gone up to the Senate, but these days we can never really depend on some members of the Senate. They follow the instructions of their union backers. So this Road Safety Remuneration Amendment (Protecting Owner Drivers) Bill is equally important. Should they reject the other bill up in the Senate, at least we will have this legislation that will defer things until 2017, when we will have time to discuss this further and point out the obvious— (Time expired)

8:40 pm

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

I understand some of the sentiments expressed by the previous speaker, the member for Lyne, and I do understand that there are challenges for owner-drivers. That is why Labor wants to have a collegiate approach or a consensual approach, if you like, to dealing with this issue. We utterly oppose the notion that, if you do not like the decision of a statutory body, you decide to abolish it. I think that is just a disproportionate and contemptuous response. What would have better served the constituency, those who work hard in the road transport industry, would have been the government convening a meeting of affected parties to work through some of these issues.

We are now debating the Road Safety Remuneration Amendment (Protecting Owner Drivers) Bill 2016, the bill in relation to the order that was made by the tribunal in December. At that time the parties, employers and indeed the Transport Workers Union made clear that they were willing to see the delay of the order in order to consider its implementation and some of the legitimate concerns raised by certain stakeholders that would be affected by that order. That would have been the proper course. In hindsight, I think it is fair to say that the tribunal would have been better to consider that application or those submissions by the employer and union representatives in order to reconcile outstanding differences wherever possible. Who would not want to seek to refine or resolve matters without having to deal with them in an arbitral way? We think it is clear that if that approach had been taken we would not be here now. The parties would have had further discussions, the tribunal would have involved itself in those outstanding matters and—who knows?—we might well seen a reconciliation of views to the point where we could have had a greater level of consensus.

It will be a Pyrrhic victory if the bills were to succeed in the parliament, because they do not do anything to deal with some of the serious challenges confronting the industry. It is not about whether Labor succeeds in opposing the tribunal, or the coalition succeeds in abolishing the tribunal; it is about whether we can improve road safety without causing any unnecessary difficulty for owner-drivers. That may be a very difficult ideal, but I think it is one worth pursuing. I think a government that was serious about dealing with these issues and had respect for all parties would at least be trying that approach. I do not think it is right that this is a binary debate. This is not about one side being all wrong and the other side being all right.

Even in my conversations with the representatives of the constituent parts of the industry, all of them have at least said to me that there are problems in the industry. There are problems in relation to being paid.

Some of the smaller and medium-size companies, not big companies, have difficulty paying their drivers, whether they are employee or owner-drivers with their own rig, because they have not been paid by their principal contractor or the large client, quite often a retail or mining client. Very large enterprises do not always pay on time. We know that large companies do not always pay their taxes and they play games with our tax laws. We also know that they do not pay fleet owners and they do not pay owner-drivers on time and that puts enormous pressure on drivers. That issue is not one that is just held by the union; it is held by many of the employer bodies that represent these enterprises.

The danger of this debate as far as I see it, and the reason why we need to get to the bottom of what the government wants to do beyond the delay of this order, if indeed that abolition of the tribunal were not to happen, is because we need to work out how we fix the industry. (Extension of time granted) Given that we are debating now this order and given that this bill goes to only delaying the order then we really need to understand—

Honourable Member:

An honourable member interjecting

Photo of Russell BroadbentRussell Broadbent (McMillan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am giving indulgence because he is the shadow minister.

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

I am happy to surrender and then stand up after, if that is what you want. It just interrupts the flow of the debate. I am not trying in any way to deny the speaker because I would like to hear from more speakers on this issue. It is a very important matter and I invite members of the government to put their view.

I think if we talk this matter through we might find that there is more that we have in common. I do not believe it is possible that people want to see a higher incidence of fatalities on our roads than we possibly can bear or have to see happen. I cannot fathom the notion that people would not be looking to find ways to reduce the absolutely tragedy that has occurred not only to truck drivers but to families. I mentioned earlier in the debate that a family of four was killed just in the last 24 hours 200 kilometres north of Adelaide. I know a truck was involved but I do not know if anyone was at fault.

Photo of Russell BroadbentRussell Broadbent (McMillan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

If the member for Gorton is going to extend his comments, he will have to come back in the next five minutes after this.

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

I will finish on this, Mr Deputy Speaker. Thank you for such indulgence. Given that this is an order before the parliament, it seems fitting that, if we are going to play around with the decision of an independent umpire, we have an obligation to seek to resolve problems in the industry, not just ram home a vote and deny the obvious, which is there is a correlation between rates of pay and the incidence of fatalities on our roads.

8:47 pm

Photo of Andrew BroadAndrew Broad (Mallee, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Those opposite would have us believe that the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal is about road safety. I have been a member of the CFA and sat at three o'clock in the morning with a lady who had been killed in a fatality in a car there and a truck rolled over there. I have been a truck driver myself and I know a little bit about these things. But this is not really about road safety. Those opposite use that name because it adds weight to their argument but this is about the interference of trade between private operators that they were not trying to broaden across to the general trucking industry.

We have a log book system that has been very effective. We have policing. We have mass management to encourage maintenance. There are a number of things that take place within the transport industry to look at the safety of the trucks, to look at the hours that truck drivers can drive and to look at general consensus that we can keep the roads as safe as they possibly can be. It needs to be said that the very nature of trucking, where you are spending 40 hours a week on the road, does expose you to greater chances of accidents because you are on the road a greater amount of time than the average person. But I think trucks have largely become safer than they have ever been with the brake systems that are now on our B-doubles. Considering some of the trucks when I was young to what is there now, you can pull them up a bit quicker.

What is this about? This is not about, unfortunately, road safety; this has been all about ensuring that the competitive edge of the trucking industry, which has been the owner-driver, which has been the person that mortgages their house, that wants to move from being a worker to being a small business person, is wiped out of the industry. That person has said to themselves, 'I have been truck driver. Now what about if I could become an owner truck driver? What about if I took the financial risk to go and buy a truck and then work for myself?' We should at every point in the Australian economy be removing barriers for people who want to have personal endeavour, who seek to run a small business, and who seek to be self-employed.

What this has done is actually try to disadvantage them. The point that is lost in this whole debate is there has become one rule for the owner-driver and another rule for the company, so much so that it interferes in the very terms of trade. So an owner-driver has to set a rate that is over and above what a company can set—so this is not about equity—to the level that an owner-driver has to charge $1:50 a litre for fuel whereas the company charges the standard rate which is about $1:05 in my town and so it has become disproportionate, as a classic example of regulation trying to interfere with the very basis of the terms of trade.

I have had truck drivers say to me that they have been driving a truck for 15 years and they never thought when they heard about this that this would actually happen. 'Surely common sense would prevail,' they said. But they have now had to park their trucks. They do not how they are going to make repayments on their trucks. They do not know how they are going to make repayments on their houses. And as a result of the decision made by the Gillard government, and now hopefully being reversed in this place, we are putting people, the Australian government is putting people who have borrowed money for a truck and who have mortgaged their house out of work. Think about that for a moment. What a diabolical situation, where the Australian government can put a person who has personal endeavour at risk of losing their house. For what reason? For wanting to drive a truck and be self-employed. That is a disgrace.

I want to say to the truck drivers: we are doing the right thing, not by this bill but by the previous bill, which was about getting rid of it. Because, if you are going to buy a truck you need confidence to invest. This week the local Kenworth dealer in my town had three orders cancelled on Monday morning as a result of this legislation. When the Gillard government's policy is doing things like that—where it is shutting down people investing in buying trucks and putting people out of their jobs—then it shows that those opposite have not learnt at thing. Nothing in the debate here has talked about how they are going to ensure small business people succeed. If they want to talk about safety, then they should talk about logbooks, they should talk about road conditions, they should talk about mass management, and they should talk to people such as me, who have stood behind and beside trucks at fatality scenes.

8:53 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8:58 pm

Photo of Luke HartsuykerLuke Hartsuyker (Cowper, National Party, Deputy Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

In the minute or two that is left, I would like to bring to the attention of the House the impact of the RSRT on people like Nicole and Craig Crampton from Crampos Transport in Urunga. Nicole emailed me to explain how this order would impact on their business. She said: 'Without even being able to drive, this will affect our ability to keep the business afloat, pay off our house and give our children the best education they deserve. We pride ourselves in having A1 roadworthy machinery, and all have NHVR certifications, but our lack of cash flow will undoubtedly cause a negative effect on our ability to maintain our standards. We believe this order is going to have an enormous impact not only on us but also on small businesses and small communities—more so than you are willing to believe. Really, we need more time to adjust or to wind up our business.' She goes on to say that the order has 'made our machinery and our business worthless, as no-one is going to buy it right now because every other owner-driver is looking at the same options. Craig's dream of driving and owning his own trucks has all but been destroyed in two weeks.'

There we have some great local businesspeople being run out of business by an irresponsible Labor Party in concert with the union movement.

Debate interrupted.