Senate debates

Thursday, 19 October 2006

Trade Practices Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2005

Consideration of House of Representatives Message

12:26 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Mate, I tell you, I hold up pretty well, especially on a Thursday. I would like to share my thoughts with honourable members opposite, especially Senator Fielding. As Senator Conroy said, there are some 10,000 transport workers who are owner-drivers. They are in small business—they are a cross between a small businessman and an employee—but they have very expensive tools of trade. What usually happens is that contractors go out there and hock their family home. They have the first payment for the truck and all of a sudden they are given anywhere between $50,000 and $350,000 or $400,000 to buy a vehicle.

While these vehicles are being kept busy running up and down the highway, owner-drivers and their partners and the women in transport do not have the ability to go one on one and negotiate with big business. There is a misconception that small business operators in the transport industry have the luxury of knocking on the boss’s door and saying: ‘Hey, boss, fuel’s gone up and tyres have gone up. I need a pay rise.’ ‘No worries; sure, you’ve got it. Go away.’ It does not happen like that.

Very clearly, a lot of truck drivers and small business contractors rely on the Transport Workers Union to negotiate for and on behalf of them in every state of Australia. Senator Conroy was being generous in his speech when he said there were 10,000. I dispute that. I say there are a heck of a lot more. But there are also a heck of a lot more small business owner-drivers in the transport industry who rely on unions to negotiate their conditions and remuneration and who are not members of the Transport Workers Union. They do not have a baseball bat put to their head to say that they have to be a member of the Transport Workers Union. It does not work that way. But those that are represented by the Transport Workers Union have to rely on these guys to do the dealings for them. They are too damn busy to do it themselves. They are up and down the highway trying to pay off an investment they are not getting a proper return for.

Big business will exploit them. Make no doubt about that. Through you, Mr Temporary Chairman, I would like to say to Senator Fielding that I would like to see the family impact statement. And if you ever visit Western Australia, Senator Fielding, I would love to take you out to Kewdale and Welshpool, the trucking centres of that great state of Western Australia, and have you explain to the subcontractors out there that because of your vote this bill has gone through and they can no longer have the union negotiate for and on their behalf while they are up the road working day and night trying to pay off an investment to keep the wolves away from the doors. Senator Fielding, I know that you are still on the phone but I urge you to read the Hansard so you do not miss anything. It is your vote that will do this. It is your vote. You changed your mind. I would love to hear your input to this debate. I would love you to tell us why you changed. Then I would love to see you front up to the small business people of Australia.

Thousands of small businesses—and not only in the transport industry—have the ability to engage unions to negotiate for them on their behalf. Schedule 1, on page 17 of the bill, talks about unions and says that a union, or any official of a union, cannot under any circumstance represent or make application to negotiate. I pose the question to honourable senators opposite: what if a group of small business men were to engage the Hell’s Angels? Would they be able to come in and negotiate for them, on their behalf? Is that what would happen?

I strongly urge all senators opposite to be very aware of what they will be voting on today. They should not take their right-wing ideological view of the world—‘we can stamp out the unions’—but think about the small business people who rely on unions to negotiate for and on their behalf. Senator Fielding will take away that right today. After he walks out of this chamber I am sure he will be reminded on many occasions by many small business people what he has done to them.

This bill is absolutely no win for small business people. This bill will help the big end of town. In the trucking industry, God help us when Toll start pulling out this bill and whacking their subcontractors—and not only Toll. I use Toll as an example because they are the largest employer of subcontractors in this country. A multitude of transport companies who have subcontractors will rip up their subcontractors’ conditions and the contractual arrangements they have had with them and whack them around the head with the bill: ‘This is the law now. You can’t use a union. You have a $350,000 investment to pay off, so we will tell you what you will work for. If you don’t like it, tough, because the law—with the help of Senator Fielding and others—says that we can do this to you.’ I strongly urge Senator Fielding to put his case, through you, Mr Temporary Chairman. I am dying to hear Senator Fielding’s reasons as to why he has done this spectacular backflip and why he is happy to side with the government to put through this obnoxious bill. And, supporting comments made by Senator Milne, I am dying to see the family impact statement.


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