Senate debates

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Statements by Senators

Road Safety

1:25 pm

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in this period of senators' statements to talk about an issue that I refer to frequently in this place. It's probably fairly ironic that we've spent a couple of days debating euthanasia, assisted suicide and the like. Well, these people don't want to go. These people definitely don't want to go. I'm going to talk about deaths on our roads.

Since the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was abolished in April 2016, 406 people have been killed in truck crashes. In the 12 months to the end of March 2018, 184 people were killed in 163 fatal crashes involving heavy vehicles. The transport industry remains the deadliest industry in Australia. Transport accounted for 24 per cent of workplace deaths between the period from 2007 to 2016. Early figures in 2018 show that 24 workers—24 truck drivers—have lost their lives in the transport sector. A 2018 Monash report has found that between 2004 and 2015 drivers had a 13-fold higher risk of fatal injury than any other worker, and that more than three-quarters of the fatalities in truck drivers were due to vehicle crashes.

A Macquarie University study criticised the critical gap that has been left since the government abolished the independent tribunal, noting there was now no body or functional authority that can eliminate existing incentives for tight scheduling, unpaid work and rates that effectively deliver below-cost recovery. In real terms, rates of pay have declined over the last 30 years in the industry. The government's own report, the PwC report, showed a link between road safety and pay rates of drivers and that safe rates systems would reduce truck crashes by 28 per cent. There is over 30 years of experience of the link between pay and safety.

A 2018 union survey—I know those on the other side will throw their hands up and decry that evidence—of over 1,000 respondents revealed that 93 per cent of truck drivers want to see changes made to make transport safer and to feel less pressured. A further 69 per cent of the respondents thought that governments have a responsibility for fixing the pressures in the industry, whilst 63 per cent said that regulators have an active role. Macquarie University said one in 10 truck drivers work over 80 hours per week; one in 600 drivers say that drivers can't refuse an unsafe load; and 42 per cent of owner-drivers said the reason that drivers do not report safety breaches was because of fear of losing their job. Safe Work Australia's report showed that 31 per cent of transport employers say that workers ignore safety rules to get the job done; 20 per cent of transport employers accept dangerous behaviour, compared to less than two per cent in other industries; and 20 per cent of transport industry employers break safety rules to meet deadlines, which compares to about six per cent in other areas. We can go on. ASIC reveals that insolvencies in transport are amongst the highest in any sector. The National Transport Commission reveals that heavy vehicle crashes cost Australia about $3.8 billion per year.

Let's put this all back into some sort of perspective. In the light of this overwhelming evidence, the loss of life and the catastrophic injuries that have resulted since the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was abolished, what do we have?

We have a new secretary of the Transport Workers Union, Michael Kaine. He will take up the charge, he will take up the gauntlet, following years of dedicated leadership in that sector, going back to John Allan and our good friend Anthony Sheldon. Michael Kaine will take up that challenge and he has started to advocate—professionally, as he always does—in a very considered way, based on evidence. But what does he get? What does he get from this crew on the other side here, from this government on the other side? The workplace minister, Mr Craig Laundy, said, 'The tribunal was a union protection racket'—nothing to do with safety—and that's why parliament abolished it. Nothing could be further from the truth, Mr Laundy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This government is responsible for people losing their lives on the road because it abolished the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. I was in here the night it was abolished and the guillotine was put in place to stop genuine debate on the issue. I know that there are people on that crossbench there who should hang their heads in shame forever because of their actions on that particular day. Mr Laundy, I have to tell you, I always got mentored by people who said, 'When someone is in the gutter, don't get down in the gutter with them. Stand up a bit higher and just re-state the evidence of your case.' I'm going to do a bit of that. I'm not going to get down in the gutter with Minister Laundy, the honourable Craig Laundy, the son of a $500 million empire, who owned a vast chunk of the hospitality area in Sydney. I'm not going to get down in the gutter and point out that he can actually see his electorate from his $8.5 million waterside mansion, if he looks that way. Two weeks before he got re-elected, he moved out of his electorate, bought an $8.5 million mansion and, according to media reports, jumped ship.

Why would we take advice, or why would we have a person like Mr Laundy, who also coincidentally said that people who worked in his empire, or his father's empire, were 'begging for their penalty rates to be cut'. Liberal MP Craig Laundy said, 'Staff begged to work weekends for less'. Clearly, if any commonsense evaluation of that proposition were to be articulated, you would have a proposition where someone was earning a modest income and, faced with losing a day's pay, they may well have said, 'Look, I'd rather lose a day's pay than starve. I'll work for less.' But 'begging to work for no penalties'? This is the workplace relations minister who says a genuine, articulated, researched body of evidence is 'a protection racket'? I've got to say, if it is a protection racket, I'm on side with it. I'm on side with a dedicated band of professional people advancing proper safety standards in transport, not just for the transport operator but for every road user. I'm for the people who can go to work, articulate their rates, get paid appropriately and get home to their family at night. If that's a protection racket, Mr Laundy, I'm guilty. As is Michael Kaine, as is Tony Sheldon, as is former Senator Steve Hutchins, as is former federal secretary John Allan, as is Senator Sterle, as is every like-minded person on this side of the chamber.

We are not here to cop that sort of level of abuse, to say we're advancing a protection racket for the Transport Workers Union. We've invested decades in the proper research in this area. We've advanced the case and won the support of major transport companies. There is a major transport operator who has written to the Prime Minister of this country asking for action in the transport sector. To this day, I do not think he got a response. To this day, he did not get a response.

You cannot move anywhere in this great country of ours without a truck passing you or you passing a truck. You've got a right to know it's safe. You've got a right to know that the driver is able to do his task without breaking the rules, that his vehicle is properly regulated and that his vehicle is properly insured and properly maintained. To have a workplace relations minister putting the proposition that we're advancing a protection racket is an absolute disgrace.

We stand much higher than you, Mr Laundy. We stand on fair ground built on decades of research and proper hardworking working-class people advancing their case. We look down on you, Mr Laundy. I suppose you can see your electorate from your $8½ million mansion, and you can hear workers begging for penalty rate cuts, but that is all nonsense. Get out in the real world and address your portfolio.