Senate debates

Thursday, 9 August 2007


Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Committee; Report

10:57 am

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of Senator Troeth, the Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Workplace Relations and Education, I present the report Workforce challenges in the transport industry, together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

Leave granted.

I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.

10:58 am

Photo of George CampbellGeorge Campbell (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I wish to make some comments in relation to the tabling of the report Workforce challenges in the transport industry. This inquiry commenced on the basis of looking at employment opportunities in the industry and the issue of shortages of skilled labour required by the industry. In terms of the period that this inquiry covered we only had a very superficial look at what is a very complex industry, with a number of different forms and modes of transport across our country. One of the startling factors that came out of the inquiry, which seems to be agreed upon by all sectors of the industry, including the department, is that our requirements for transport will double by the year 2020. That poses a very significant challenge to this parliament and to this country to commence to put in place policies in this industry to ensure that both the modes of transport are right and that there is a labour force in place to be able to manage those modes and operate those modes of transport by the year 2020.

The government has given the Australian Logistics Council the task of examining a draft report prepared by the department of transport that looks at transport requirements for the next five years and marshalling the responses from the industry to that draft report. It is essential, in our view, that they not just look at the next five years but start to examine the requirements for the next 20 years. There is a major challenge in this industry to do with training, particularly for truck drivers, and there are a whole range of issues, some of which are complex, that need to be addressed in that area. I am sure my colleagues Senator Sterle and Senator Hutchins will address that.

But there is also the challenge of looking at what direction we go in to face the 2020 challenge that faces this industry. Do we focus on building more rail infrastructure and seek to shift a greater proportion of our goods by rail than by road? Do we increase road transport? Do we look at using the natural infrastructure that exists all around the Australian coast and shift more of our goods by sea? We do not need to build roads 100 miles away from the coast because there are natural sea lanes that may help to satisfy our transport needs. When I was in Brisbane for another committee inquiry, I took the opportunity to talk to the Port of Brisbane Authority. They are doubling the size of the Port of Brisbane right at this moment. A huge amount of work is being undertaken to develop the port.

One piece of information I was able to glean from that visit is that something like 80 per cent of all containers that go through the port are delivered within 100 miles of the Port of Brisbane. That raises real issues about whether you move goods by rail or by truck. They said there is a major issue in Brisbane because of the interface between goods trains and passenger trains on metropolitan lines. The passenger trains obviously take precedence, and that is an inhibiting factor for the movement of goods by train. They also say that the size of container ships is going to double within the next five years—in fact, they are being built now. So, instead of ships carrying 3,000 or 4,000 containers, they are going to be carrying 8,000 or 9,000 containers. They said that, even if you were able to piggyback containers by rail, the most you would be able to add is another 230 containers.

So the intermodal interface is getting out of alignment because of the technology that is now being applied on ships and in other parts of the industry. That needs to be looked at. It is a major challenge that has to be faced up to. If we do not get it right, it is going to have a substantial impact upon the Australian economy and our capacity to increase our efficiency and productivity and to be able to match it with the rest of the world. I make the point because I think we need to see this report not as the conclusion of the transport issue but as a starting point to focus on the policy options that may be available to match the challenge into the year 2020. Those issues need to be addressed now. There are only eight or nine recommendations in the report, but they are key recommendations that need to be treated seriously. Interestingly enough, this is a unanimous report of the committee. It has the support of senators on the government side and senators on this side. It should be treated seriously by this government and looked at seriously by the department. Initiatives should be taken to ensure that the issues raised in the report start to be addressed in terms of building the physical and human infrastructure that is going to be essential to meet our transport needs in 2020.

11:05 am

Photo of Steve HutchinsSteve Hutchins (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a pleasure to follow Senator Campbell and his comments in relation to the report Workforce challenges in the transport industry. As he outlined, the report is unanimous. It did take a few visits and inspections to highlight to a number of people on the committee the skills shortage in the transport industry—and not in just road transport. I compliment the committee chair, Senator Troeth, for her excellent conduct of the inquiry and for putting herself out to go to a variety of places to see how transport operates in this country. Of course, I also compliment the officers of the committee, John Carter and Monika Kruesmann.

As Senator Campbell said, the report is unanimous—and I think that is unique for the Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Workplace Relations and Education. Most of the reports, as I recall, have not been unanimous—in fact, there have been significant minority reports in relation to a number of the inquiries conducted by this committee. As Senator Campbell outlined, this is just the beginning and should not be seen as a panacea for the difficulties that employers are facing with skills shortages in the transport industry. I am sure that Senator Sterle will comment on this as well. To a large degree, particularly in the road transport industry, they have no-one to blame but themselves.

The organisations that represent workers in that industry—whether it is the TWU, the RBTU or others—have highlighted for some time the difficulties that are being faced as a result of these skills shortages. What is the answer of these companies to those shortages? They think there are two answers. Firstly, they think it is good to rort the system at the moment for traineeships and just train existing employees. Most of the money that goes to these traineeships goes to existing employees; 90 per cent of the money that these companies have access to goes to people already on their payroll. They do not go down any avenue to make sure that they have at least the 4,500 entrants that are required to come into the industry each year. So who is to blame? They are, themselves. What is their other solution? Their other solution is to try to import truck drivers through the use of the 457 visa, which is also commented on in the report. We must say that we do not recommend that this option be considered.

Whilst conducting the inquiry, we saw some scary things occurring, including the inability of the road transport industry in particular to invest in the future. Senator George Campbell talked about the intermodal changes in road, rail et cetera. We went to Australian National in Melbourne, and they told us that they cannot get men to drive trucks for car carrying, because they are not available—they are just not there—so they have to fit out trains to cart cars across from the west to the east. It is not any cheaper to put it on rail and it is not cheaper to go by road—it is almost neutral—but there are no men or women out there to do this work. I hope that the government and the department look at the recommendations in the report. They were considered seriously by the members of the committee. We see this as one way to point the government and the industry in the direction in which to deal with the pending skills shortage in the road transport industry.

11:10 am

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

I would like to add my comments on the committee’s inquiry into workforce challenges in the transport industry. I support the comments of my colleagues Senator Hutchins and Senator George Campbell. Like Senator Hutchins, I have an undying interest in the transport industry. Senator Hutchins and I are the only truck drivers represented in the Senate, and we are quite proud of that. We travelled the country with the support of Senator Troeth, the chair, who, I must add, did a wonderful job in chairing the committee. We had numerous submissions. Sadly, the submissions were all the same: ‘What have we got ourselves into?’ ‘It’s everybody else’s fault.’ ‘How can you, the government, or maybe a new government, help us out?’

A lot of positives came out of this inquiry, but, very sadly, I have to continue my comments along the lines of those of Senator Hutchins. For years and years, Senator Hutchins and I banged our heads against brick walls, arguing about the coming skills crisis that would hit the transport industry. Where will we find tomorrow’s truck drivers? Where will we find tomorrow’s forklift drivers, receival staff, even clerical and managerial staff, let alone mechanics, tyre fitters and auto-electricians? And there are the problems faced by the maritime industry and, obviously, the aviation and rail industries. As Senator George Campbell said, a raft of about eight recommendations came out of this committee, and we fully support them. Wonderfully, they were agreed to by both sides of this chamber, but we just cannot stop there.

I think that one of the saddest indictments in the transport industry is when we talk about traditional trades and trade skills. I have to say that it is very important to have the mechanics, tyre fitters, licensed aircraft maintenance engineers and the like, but who the heck is going to drive the trucks, trains and forklifts tomorrow? If you look in the West Australian newspaper, in my fine state of WA, every Saturday you will find column after column of: ‘Wanted: truck drivers.’ They are just not out there. It is not good enough to sit back on both sides of this chamber and admit that, by the year 2020, our transport task will double. Crikey—I would hate to think what it will be like by the time we get to 2020, unless we start acting now, from today.

I would also like to add that there are wonderful arguments out there about road versus rail, aviation and maritime. This comes from a transport operator and someone who has a vested interest in Australia’s future transport needs: there is a role for all modes of transport. Let us not make any mistake: what rail does, it does very well; what the road industry does, it does very well as well. But we must acknowledge this point: apart from a newborn baby, I cannot think of anything in Australia that is not delivered on the back of a truck. Whether we like it or not, we have to have infrastructure: roads, ports and railway lines. We could have the most efficient railway lines in the world running between our great states and cities, but the goods have to get to the rail yard on the back of a truck. I know that our industry—I still say ‘our industry’, proudly—is not the most popular industry. As is highlighted in the report, the work is done mostly in the wee small hours. When we sit down as Australians and open up our newspaper and our packet of Weeties or pop the bread into the toaster, we do not give any thought to how those goods got to our tables. We know they came from Woolies or Coles, but how did they get there from the farms, the factories and all sides of manufacturing?

I would like to add a few more comments before I conclude. As Senator Hutchins said, sadly, the transport industry wants to make up every excuse for why it has got itself into this pickle. Senator Hutchins is correct. I was part of the implementation of the existing employee traineeships in Western Australia back in 2000, alongside the employers’ representatives from the Transport Forum, the peak body representing transport employers in Western Australia. About $8 million was injected into training, which we supported fully. We supported it fully for a number of reasons. Firstly, we saw the impending crisis coming. Secondly, we wanted to have transport workers’ skills recognised. Up until the last couple of years, transport workers, whether they be truck drivers, receivals staff, forkies, freezer workers or whatever, were never classified as skilled workers; they were never classified as tradespeople.

The committee had a number of submissions from people representing large transport who had the audacity to sit there and say that because of the crisis that the industry has got itself into—using all this money to train existing employees, as Senator Hutchins said—they have not invested one single cent in training new trainees or in apprenticeships. I will tell you why they have not: because of the fear that, if they had to recognise transport workers as skilled workers or tradespeople, lo and behold, the truckies, the forkies and the receivals staff might ask to be paid appropriately. But I will save that debate for another day.

I would like to thank Dr John Carter and Monika Kruesmann, from the committee. They were absolutely valuable to the committee and they assisted us all the way. I would also like to add that the situation we are faced with in transport is not going to be resolved by the two main practices that are happening in the transport industry today. One is poaching. The transport industry cannot help itself. One transport company will let the other companies do a little in-house training that is not recognised through any skills process and then will poach those drivers with the promise of an extra rupiah per hour, or whatever it may be. That is not going to solve the problem. We must have quality training. As a government, through the department and all facets of the transport industry—employers and employees alike—we must offer a skilled framework. We must offer recognition of those skills. If we have to call them tradespeople, that will be a fantastic day for transport workers in this country.

We cannot go to sleep now. To use a trucking colloquialism, the last thing we want to do is to fall asleep at the wheel. The ball has started rolling. It is not just about bricklayers, carpenters, gasfitters and plumbers. Transport employs hundreds of thousands of Australians, directly and indirectly. We cannot take our eyes off the ball. This must be only the first footprint in what we do to meet Australia’s transport needs going into the future. I commend the report to the Senate.

11:17 am

Photo of Guy BarnettGuy Barnett (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the same topic: the report by the Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Workplace Relations and Education entitled Workforce challenges in the transport industry. Firstly, I want to thank all members of the committee and, in particular, the chairman, Senator Judith Troeth, for her leadership. I note the camaraderie and the support that we had from all sides on that inquiry. It was illuminating for me. I learnt a great deal. I acknowledge other members of the Senate, including Senator Sterle, who have a special interest in this matter. It is part of his history and experience. The committee went to various parts of Australia. As I said, I learnt a great deal from the evidence of the witnesses and the various submissions that were presented to the committee.

I note the chairman’s comments in the preface about the support of all members of the Senate committee for this report and the summary of findings and recommendations. Before noting the important findings and recommendations, I want to acknowledge John Carter, the secretary of the committee, and Monika, for their work and their team. I thank them for their support over the many months.

I want to highlight that, in the report, the committee found that there are workforce challenges facing every sector of the transport industry—roads and railways, shipping and aviation. The report notes:

To varying degrees, industry finds difficulty attracting and retaining employees, and particularly young employees, whose entry into the industry is necessary to replace a workforce which is ageing and looking to retirement. Younger workers are deterred by poor industry image, more attractive career prospects in other industries (particularly mining), and lack of coordination and appropriateness of training regimes.

These problems add further operational pressure to employers who are already facing tight profit margins, and who may sometimes struggle under complex regulatory and compliance regimes. A particular difficulty here relates to the variations in transport related legislation and regulation between different jurisdictions.

That was patently clear at the various committee meetings that we had. The report goes on:

The need to address these workforce challenges is becoming urgent in the face of estimates that the national freight task will double by 2020.

That is an amazing statistic and a concerning one. The report continues:

There is a critical relationship between Australia’s reliance on commodities for economic growth, a successful commodities industry and effective transport and logistics. It is vital that these workforce challenges, which may compromise the transport industry’s effectiveness, be addressed.

Some action has been taken, by both industry and government stakeholders, and the committee commends this progress. However, much work remains to be done, and the recommendation of this report may serve as a guide in where effort, investment and policy focus should be directed at the highest priorities.

I support the report and commend it to the Senate.

Question agreed to.