Senate debates

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Statements by Senators

Transport Industry

12:45 pm

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I hope that Senator Sterle stays here to listen to this speech, because it is very important and involves people that Senator Sterle and I have worked with.

I have always believed in a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. I am sorry that Senator Sterle is leaving, because we have both worked for the transport industry when truckies were being treated very unfairly.

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

You're making me stay now!

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have made him come back now! Recently, Senator Sterle and I put out joint media releases and joint media when companies wanted to put truckies back to 90-day, and even 120-day, payments. But there is now one problem that we have coming in. When the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was put through this place when Labor was in government I did not have a lot of bad things to say about it because, as a former pig farmer, I know how Woolworths treated me. I know what the big end of town does to the small Aussie battlers, as I call them.

However, there is an order that has come out which starts on 4 April. It is called a road transport remuneration order. As I said, a fair day's work for a fair day's pay—it is important that people get paid properly. But there are some problems with this order that I think people simply have no idea about. Let me explain it.

The order relates to owner-drivers. So, let's say I have three trucks—I own them—and I drive one, Senator Sterle drives another and, believe it or not, Senator Dastyari drives the other. It has a high seat in it! The order does not relate to the two trucks that Senator Sterle and Senator Dastyari drive that I own; it is only about the one that I own and drive. So here is the problem: a calculator on a computer will set the rate.

I will give an example: imagine I had a four-deck sheep crate or a two-deck cattle crate—it is one stock crate; you can convert them to cart sheep or cattle—and I am based at Broken Hill. If I were to cart a load of sheep down to Adelaide, that is about 500 kilometres. The order relates to when you go 200 kilometres interstate or 500 kilometres within your state. It probably does not even relate in Tasmania because I do not think you go far enough in Tasmania to clock up 500 kilometres. I would charge about $5 a kilo. So I would charge about $2½ thousand to go down to Adelaide and unload the sheep there ready for export or whatever.

Here is the problem: if my stock and station agent phones me from Broken Hill and says, 'Look, I've given you that job. Now, I want you to call into Collinsville Stud,'—a very famous merino stud—'at Mount Bryan on your way home and I want you to pick up 20 rams.' It's just a bit of a part load, you run them 10 to a pen on the bottom deck. It is two pens and you would not have to check them. They could not get on top of each other, they could not suffocate and they could not get down. They can just squat down and go to sleep.

I would then have to go to the calculator and see what price I must charge from Mount Bryan, near Burra, to Broken Hill. It might say that the minimum price is $1,500, so I must charge $1,500 to take those 20 rams back to Broken Hill. Now, when I get back there, the cocky who I have got them for to put out on his station to join his ewes would say, 'What in the hell are you doing? $1,500 to bring 20 rams? You're coming home empty—what are you doing?'

It gets worse. If I called into another stud and I put another 20 rams on I would have to charge another $1,500. So if I take two lots of rams back, with just 20 in each mob, I have to charge $3,000. So I would not get the job. But if I sent Senator Sterle down in one of my trucks and he brought the rams back I could charge $300 to bring the rams back and I would not have a problem, because I would not be covered under the order. If I sent Senator Dastyari down it could even be worse—but we will not go there!

So here is the problem: when owner-drivers are back-loading they are going to have to charge a minimum rate. I have a stack of emails here from owner-driver companies, and these are just some of them. They are very concerned that if this is not delayed there is going to be real trouble. I commend Minister Cash—and I am glad she is in the chamber now—because yesterday she supported a motion for the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal to delay this until 1 January next year so that they can get the bumps out of this and we do not have the situation where owner-drivers are actually going to go broke and have their rigs repossessed et cetera.

Being paid fairly is a good thing. As I said—a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. But the ramifications that will send owner-drivers broke are concerning. I will read an email here—I will not give the person's name: 'To whom it may concern, I am an Indigenous Australian living in rural New South Wales, trying to make a living transporting grain during harvest season and moving grain and fertiliser during the off season. As it is very difficult for Indigenous Australians to obtain work and operate their own business to build a future, this order would be another nail in the coffin for us working in the transport industry. The financial effect on rural communities will be massive. For example, fuel depots; tyre and mechanical garages; auto electricians; local shops—like bakers; safety clothes and equipment shops; and the list goes on. I would hate to think of what will happen to battling owner-operators and their families if this law comes in after 4 April—what would be their financial ability to put food on the table. There will be a large number of people in a very dark place mentally, and it will be catastrophic for small towns in rural Australia. I really think that the people who make these decisions have no knowledge of rural Australia, as it affects 35,000-plus owner-operators who will be put out of work. I hope this Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal order can be reviewed, with owner-operators having some say in their future.' A very good point.

That is just one email. So the concern is that this order has now been put in place. The tribunal sits a way away from this place—at arm's length. Whatever decisions it makes are binding. But I think that they have not considered the ramifications. I had a bloke in my office yesterday who has a B-double. He carts grain from just over the border in New South Wales down to Melbourne, and he gets a good rate. When he comes back he brings fertiliser. It is at a discount rate because he is coming home empty to get more grain. He now has to charge an enormous amount of money to come home. However, if he lived on the other side of the border, 10 kilometres away in Victoria, the order would not apply to him because it is within the state and under 500 kilometres away. So he is now competing with someone just over the border who can actually do the business a lot cheaper. This is very concerning.

I am with Senator Sterle: on many occasions when people are not making money or not being paid, and being dragged out to 90 or 120 days, the first thing they neglect is the condition of their vehicle, with their tyres and steering getting worn. They say, 'Well, we'll do another trip.' The brake line is getting down—'Nah, keep 'em going. We can't afford to replace them.' This is a real issue and a very important issue.

I encourage people to get online and support the draft order, which was put in place yesterday, that this be deferred to 1 January next year until the gremlins are ironed out of this in relation to owner-drivers. I think the 200 kilometres interstate—the back loading—is a big issue.

I had one truckie ring me. He has a prime mover. He runs from Melbourne to Brisbane. He gets $3,000 for dragging the trailers of the big companies. He is happy. He gets $1,000 to come home with a part-load. The company will now have to pay him $2,000 to go home from Brisbane to Melbourne, and the company said they are not going to do that. They cannot just throw away $1,000, because their contract will not have that much of a gap in it. So he is very annoyed that he will now lose his work. He was happy with the deal.

Another contractor goes from Adelaide to Brisbane and back to Perth. He has good rates all the way until he comes to the run from Perth to Adelaide. Going home he charges $2½ thousand for a part-load or a load, but the order says he has to charge $6½ thousand. No-one will pay $6½ thousand for a returning truck to go from Perth to Adelaide. He will lose that job. He said that will be a big hole in his cash flow; hence, he will face financial difficulties.

This Indigenous Australian makes a good point: when every country town has a 'truckie' or a truck stop, where do they buy their tyres? Off the local dealer. Where do they buy their fuel? Off the local dealer. Where do they get their electrical work done? The auto-electrician. Where do they get the service done? Their repairer is the local mechanic. These are vital jobs and businesses in every country town—big or small. We do not want to see these people put out of work. There has to be a time delay on this. I think that is absolutely essential.

I call on owner-drivers, if you are out there listening now on your rigs: please do a submission to Tell them your situation. Tell them you may be losing your contracts on 5 April. Some of these contracts are multimillion-dollar contracts and they need time to be worked through and so on.

I hope widespread support is shown to delay this audit until 1 January so these gremlins can be sorted out so our owner-drivers are not forced to go broke. If they disregard and disrespect the law and say, for example, 'Look, I'll bring those sheep home back from Adelaide to Broken Hill for $300,' they face a $54,000 fine. That would be enough to put any sole operator owner-driver down the tube if he gets a bill for $54,000 in breach. People are not even aware of it. It was announced in December. Many people I have spoken to were not aware of it a few weeks ago. Of course, now it has been out in the media and people are becoming aware of it. I do hope that people pull together to sort this out properly. (Time expired)