Tuesday, 19 April 2016
Thank you, Mr President. It is not owner-drivers versus the Transport Workers Union, and it is an absolute fabrication to make out that owner-drivers have lost their incomes and their livelihoods because of a decision which came out of the RSRT just a few weeks ago. It is as if suddenly the Turnbull government have discovered mums and dads, as they have repeated it over and over in the media and in the parliament. But guess what: just because you say something over and over does not mean people believe your message or that your message is credible. The Turnbull government's new-found love of mums and dads is not credible. You cannot stand for the big end of town over and over, cut health, education, Medicare and pathology services and put banks before people, and then suddenly discover mums and dads. You fail the pub test, and on this issue it is clear that the Prime Minister and Minister Cash in particular have failed the pub test.
Yesterday, in abolishing the RSRT, the government did not talk about road safety or deaths, nor did they outline their plan to improve road safety and reduce deaths. Why? Because they do not have a plan. It is that simple. The Turnbull government are chaotic. It is a government which has no plan, and it has no plan about road safety. The RSRT was not even in its sights until last week. If it was really the big issue they claim it to be then they have had three years to listen to the whole industry and come up with a workable solution that does not put truck drivers and other road users at risk of death on our roads. That is the simple truth. The Turnbull government saw a political opportunity and took it. Unfortunately and tragically, that means more deaths on our roads, because this government have chosen to play politics with road safety.
Let me put the facts on the table: $2 billion is the estimated cost of heavy vehicle accidents in Australia every year. Two thousand five hundred and forty eight people were killed in truck related accidents between 2004 and 2014. That is 2,548 people who did not go home to their families—lives lost and families and loved ones in mourning. In 2012-13, there were 1,728 people hospitalised in crashes involving a heavy vehicle. The number of people hospitalised was up by 1,412 from 2005-06. Between 2012 and 2015, 3,000-plus transport businesses went bankrupt. Sixty per cent of these small firms of five or fewer employees—the mums and dads the Turnbull government have suddenly discovered just last week—went bankrupt because of poor cash flow and poor financial control, not because of high wages or because of the RSRT but because they were not getting the money in quickly enough from the jobs they had done. This is about big business screwing over small business—the mums and dads. This is what needs fixing, a fair go for everyone, and this could have been achieved if the Turnbull government was not playing politics with truck drivers and sat down with Labor, the union and the industry to find solutions.
Sadly, in Victoria between 2008 and 2013, 53 truck drivers took their own lives. According to analysis by the Coroners Court of Victoria, truck drivers had the highest number of suicides out of any profession. Along with these shocking statistics, we have injuries and deaths caused by speed and drivers ignoring safety to get the job done because of the pressure they are under. And in March of this year, while the Turnbull government was plotting to get rid of the RSRT, there were 25 deaths in trucking crashes alone. There were 25 people who did not go home to their families and their friends—people whose families were left devastated. There was not one word from the Turnbull government about this shocking loss of life—no plan, no proposals, just blatant political opportunism.
And let me run the ruler over all the garbage we have heard from the Prime Minister, Minister Cash and the Turnbull government who claim somehow to represent thousands of owner-drivers. Research released today by the Transport Workers Union—checking the facts—absolutely expose the Turnbull government, the Prime Minister and Minister Cash on the garbage they have peddled. Just 12 per cent of Australians polled thought the tribunal should be abolished. They did not ask them. No, they did not ask the Australian voters; they just saw a dirty political opportunity and took it. Twelve per cent of Australians are the only group of Australians who agree with them—not the thousands that they claimed in the media—just 12 per cent. In fact, that figure was consistent. Most of the people polled thought the tribunal should have strengthened powers, and it did not matter who they voted for: whether they voted for Labor, whether they voted for the Liberals, whether they voted for the Independents. Thirty per cent of those polled thought the tribunal should have more powers. They certainly did not support its abolition. Once again, the Turnbull government, the Prime Minister and Minister Cash just ignore the facts of the situation and make it up as they go along.
The truth is—the reality is—trucking is one of Australia's most dangerous jobs. Road transport has the highest fatality of any industry in Australia. It has 12 times the average for all industry. Yesterday, when I began this speech, I talked about some of the owner-drivers and some of the widows that I met, and I mentioned a woman who had become an activist because she lost her husband in a trucking accident. Her name is Suzanne and she said: 'We know drivers are forced to work these crazy hours not because they want to but because the big companies at the top are cutting their transport costs. Why is the government trying to abolish the one body which can stop this deadly cycle? Why are they forcing other families to go through what mine has gone through?'
Those opposite would have you believe that this is all a big union beat-up. Suzanne was not a member of the Transport Workers Union; she is the widow of a truck driver killed needlessly on our roads. This is a view she formed from sitting in the coroners court and her truth is being denied by those opposite for blatant political gain.
Let us hear from Mark, who is an employed truck driver. Mark says: 'Drivers are forced to drive too fast or too long to meet unrealistic delivery deadlines set by companies like Coles. The money is just not there to do everything properly and safely.' And Mark says, and I conclude, 'That is why we need the RSRT.' And let us hear from another owner-driver, not one trumped up by the Turnbull government—an owner-driver who has his own opinion—not one who is being used for blatant political purposes by the Turnbull government, who suddenly found the mums and dads of Australia just last week.
Let us hear from Ray who is an owner-driver, 'Minimum rates need to apply nationally to lift standards and ensure people can pay themselves a wage and pay their overheads, otherwise you get a race to the bottom and safety is sacrificed.' Let us have a look at what the RSRT is able to make orders on, or could make orders on. It could establish minimum rates of pay and not put people out of business—but you never heard that from the Turnbull government. It could look at industry practices for loading and unloading vehicles, for waiting times, for working hours, for load limits, for payment methods and for payment periods—all the factors which contribute to a safe trucking industry. It could look at ways of reducing or removing remuneration related incentives, pressures and practices that contribute to unsafe work practices.
At the time that it was abolished, after some kind of thought bubble by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Employment just last week, it was looking at issues such as oil, fuel and gas; cash in transit, another dangerous industry; waste; ports and wharves; and retail and long distance—another set of factors which contribute to safe trucking in our country. And what does the Turnbull government do? It abolishes it, for no reason other than cheap political gain. Labor will not stand for that. We will not. We put people first. That is what Labor does. The Turnbull government does not and it never has. Today, as a Labor senator, I stand with members of the Transport Workers Union and truck drivers across this country. I can assure those truck drivers and the Transport Workers Union that Labor will put people first.