Wednesday, 17 March 2021
Statements by Senators
I've got a good news story, so I'm looking forward to my contribution. I'm sorry I've only got 10 minutes; I could go all day on this. I want to talk about a magnificent project that's come out of Western Australia. Amazing things happen when industry and employer groups get together and start talking in one voice and singing from the same hymn sheet. So was the case with two very good close friends of mine: Timmy Dawson—nicknamed 'Smokey', like most Dawsons—secretariat of the Transport Workers Union Western Australia; and Cam Dumesny, CEO of the Western Roads Federation.
Going back some time last year, just after COVID restrictions were lifted and we could start travelling through Western Australia again, 'Smokey' and I jumped in the car and headed up north, because there had been a lot of reports about the poor quality of rest areas for our heavy-vehicle drivers. The one I mainly wanted to see was what they colloquially term the road train assembly area in Newman, which is code for 'an absolute pigsty and should be condemned'—anyway, that was my view. We went up and had a look. We spoke to a lot of truck drivers. It's been many years since I've pulled into a rest area up north to spend the night, but, going back to the days when I was on the road with my mates, it was not uncommon to pull into a dirt truck bay. If it was raining, I guarantee you'd lose a thong—it would snap off—or you'd be up to your ankles in mud. If you wanted to go to the toilet, you had to make sure it was in between showers—this is not a pleasant conversation to have, but it's the truth—and take a torch, whack a roll of toilet paper under your arm, and go off into the bush and hope to crikey you came out alright. And we wondered why we couldn't attract women into the transport industry! Since then there has been a lot of work done to get these rest areas and truck bays equivalent to how they should be, fit for purpose, in 2021, when truckies can be treated like humans when they have to pull up and have a rest or relieve themselves. More importantly we want to have the best working conditions to get women into the industry.
At the time I wrote to the Premier of Western Australia, Mark McGowan, and strongly advised him that he could do worse than sit down and talk with the industry, and sit down and talk with Timmy Dawson and Cam Dumesny. To his credit, he did that. Out of that came a magnificent project where 17 targeted locations were identified. I commend Minister Rita Saffioti, the Minister for Transport and Planning, in working with the industry and with Main Roads, her department. And I want to congratulate David Fyfe, from the Western Australia Livestock and Rural Transport Association; he is a magnificent representative for his members in the transport industry. They identified these projects and came to the conclusion that there is a bucket of money—and I give credit to the Commonwealth government, who provides that bucket of money back to the states—with which they can go and upgrade these areas, which is fantastic. For those of us from WA, we should be excited about it. It's been a long time coming but it's coming.
This $14 million package will provide ablution facilities at 10 locations on key freight routes, including near Bunbury, which is down south; Northam, to the east; Port Hedland, in the north; Northampton, in the north; Exmouth, in the north; Wubin, just north of Perth, which is the massive road train assembly area—that takes me back about 20 years, maybe longer, when I was leading the campaign to get it bituminised so that our truckies didn't have to run around in mud while dropping off their trailers or picking up their third trailer or backing dollies up. That's now going to be targeted. It's long overdue for expansion. It has got toilets and showers. It's great to hear it is going to get more.
It includes Marble Bar as well. Those of us from WA would know why Marble Bar has been included. Marble Bar is a hotspot of activity with the mines. The two most popular configurations we see in Western Australia north of Newman and out in the Goldfields especially are triple road trains and quads, which are the monsters that pull the iron ore from the mines to the ports. They're running along with four trailers. That's serious weight. I think it's up around 220 or 230 tonnes. You wouldn't want one of those running over your foot with a thong on. That is good news.
Thank goodness there is also the expansion of the Newman road train assembly area and new ablution facilities. That is $6 million. I congratulate the industry bodies and the Western Australian government and I thank the Commonwealth government for giving us that bucket of money, but there's a little bit of shame here for BHP. I never let an opportunity go by. We talk about Newman. For those who don't know, Newman used to be called Mount Newman. It is one of the first places where iron ore kicked off. There is the huge Mount Whaleback. BHP are a huge exporter of our rock, the Australian people's minerals. A heck of a lot of money comes in and out of Newman. The sad part is that I didn't see BHP put their hand in their pocket. I did ask them, but that was like talking to a brick wall. So no kudos for BHP.
BHP talk about being the big Australian. They're not Australian. They talk about how many employment opportunities they give. That's great. It's tremendous that they give those employment opportunities to a lot of Australians, particularly in my home state, where a lot of the wealth comes from. But they do not make the top of the box, in my view. They don't go past their gates. Their truckies live like they did in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. They walk around in dirt and have no toilets. BHP don't give a damn. Anyway, well done to the others.
There is also at Leonora the sealing and extension of parking and the provision of toilet facilities to the tune of $1½ million. That's fantastic. There's also the sealing of an existing parking area near Karijini to separate heavy vehicles and light vehicles. That is tremendous. We encourage people in Western Australia to get out and about and have a look around. We're asking people to hook up their caravan or camper trailer or to hire a Winnebago. We have to remember that out on these highways the tourists are mixing with some big kit. There are a lot of movements around the north and eight-metre wide loads are the norm. There's no doubt about that. The last time I looked the width of the road was about five metres, and that's both lanes. So you can understand we need to increase these facilities and do our best to increase the infrastructure up there.
What also excites me a bit is the one roadhouse between Newman and Port Hedland. From memory, for about 440 or 450 kays—don't hold me to it—there's just one roadhouse: Auski. Auski is where a lot of the truckies and the tourists pull up. You can get a good feed at the Auski. I know because I've been there a number of times. You can get a shower. Auski supply some facilities. They ask for a gold coin donation. You don't have to. That's great for the truckies. The only pitfall is that the massive parking area for the triples, the big stuff and the overwidth stuff coming in is dirt with massive potholes that you could fall in or lose a prime mover in. That's going to be sealed as part of this deal. That is a magnificent thing.
While I'm on this, I encourage any program on our freight routes for our drivers but also any program that makes things as friendly and welcoming as possible for families. In a lot of these areas there's only one road in and out—you may have two if you're lucky. We want to encourage Australians to see Western Australia. I encourage every Australian. If you get the opportunity—and we all love jumping on a plane and heading to Bali or somewhere else—go and see Australia. Come to the west and come up to the north-west—it's a magnificent part of the world; it is God's country—but remember that you are mixing with some big gear up there. If we can also provide facilities and decent roadhouses for tourists with fuelling facilities and playgrounds, it would be even better. The truckies would welcome it. Everyone is welcome in the west. We just want everyone to be safe.
I say this with the greatest respect: I sincerely thank both governments, Commonwealth and state. I thank Minister Saffioti for not only listening but doing something. Once again, to Timmy Dawson, Cam Dumesny and David Fyfe: you really are champions for the industry. Thank you, guys. But we can't stop there. There is a lot more that needs to be done. We should not be looking at this great project as a one-off. This is something that needs to be an ongoing thing. The trucking industry is a great cash cow for any government. They take a lot of money out of the truckies' pockets in all forms of taxation.
While I'm at it, I'll mention that the Tasmanians have done a great job down there talking to industry; I thought I'd just throw that in because I saw Senator Whish-Wilson. They've listened to truckies. They've listened to the transport industry. Congratulations down there. That's brilliant. As for the other states—
An honourable senator interjecting—
Sorry, and all the other Tasmanians. You've all got different surnames. You've confused me. I'm not going to get out of this one! That's going to give me some grief!
But I also want to congratulate the Queensland government. They're doing something similar. To our other state governments: you've got a long way to go. I encourage senators and members to speak up. Let's get these roads as safe as we possibly can.