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Thursday, 23 October 2008
Page: 16

Mr KATTER (10:38 AM) —In the electorate I represent, where about four per cent of Australia’s fruit and vegetable growers are on the Atherton Tableland, some 4,000 kilometres away from the markets in Sydney, we have to rely very, very strongly upon the road hauliers and road freighters of Australia. But they have been oppressed by government—and I use the word ‘oppressed’ because I think that is probably the best word to describe what has been happening here. The livestock hauliers came to a decision that they should have a stoppage. It took place, with mixed success: cars were certainly taken off the roads all over Australia because of the stoppage, with a figure of 15 per cent of the trucking operations involved, but I would put that figure in North Queensland, where I am very familiar with the operators, at more like 70 per cent. But whether it was 15 or 70 per cent, they are organising nationally now.

In the 1870s and particularly the 1880s and 1890s in Australia, the working or labouring employee class had to organise themselves to confront their oppressors head-on. In those days the oppressors were the employer class. One in 32 of those who went down the mines never came back up again or died of the dreadful miners phthisis. Today, it is the self-employed class who are being driven to the same sorts of decisions that were taken by the employee class back then. But if they could not get the message to government with that national stoppage, the difference now is that they are organising. In every road trucking centre throughout Australia there will be representatives of the National Road Freighters Association. That body will be formed as a result of the pressure coming from the government. And it will be formed to achieve the same results that were achieved by the then working-class to secure the arbitration commission—if you like, a fairness tribunal—because of what is being done here.

If you say to me that we have a problem with road accidents, with large road trains, B-doubles and semitrailers, firstly, the statistics do not bear that out. Secondly, if you do not carry on rail but on road, then, yes, there is a higher incidence of these sorts of problems. But let me tell you: we do not have the option of going on rail. We have been informed that in the mid-west, between Mount Isa and Townsville, there is no more capacity on the rail, so we cannot carry anything on rail even if we wanted to. In terms of all of our mineral products from the Georgetown and eastern Gulf of Carpentaria area, the port of Karumba has all but collapsed, so we cannot go that way. The railways have informed us that they will not allow us to go down the range to Cairns. And the government has pulled up the railway line to Greenvale. So the only way of getting the product out is a 40-year-old single-lane highway from Georgetown to Charters Towers. I am absolutely amazed that there have been no accidents there—it is by some miracle. Either the country is going to mine and there is going to be great danger on the road, or the country is not going to mine. In my homeland, the Cloncurry-Mount Isa area, we have eight, arguably nine, mines waiting in the wings because they simply cannot get the product out.

We are faced in the road trucking industry with a massive increase in charges. Under this new agreement, for B-double configurations we are going from $8,000 for registration to $14,000. Has anyone’s cost structure been doubled in the last two years? I would hope that not many industries have had cost structures double. But in this industry their cost structures have trebled. Let me be very blunt about this. Who is to blame? The people applying registration increases from $8,000 to $14,000 are to blame. On a semitrailer configuration we are going from about $5,000 to pretty close to $10,000.

We also have to pay for petrol, and petrol has trebled in price for diesel operators over the last three years. Quite frankly, at any time in their 13 years the previous government could have moved to ethanol and moved to a price in the range of 75c to 85c a litre, the same as in the United States and Brazil. But in their wisdom they chose to listen to the big oil companies and the big mining corporations who were opposed to ethanol. The net result of that is that we have suffered a 200 per cent increase on the previous charge for diesel.

On another plane entirely: I once loved driving. Julia Creek was some 700 kilometres from my home town of Charters Towers, and I always used to drive home after meetings. I would drive home very late at night. I loved driving. It was a great experience. It was a freedom thing. I drove millions of kilometres, and I had no accidents whatsoever in that period of time. In fact, in the whole of my life I have had only two accidents. One was when I was very young and I was doing three kilometres an hour and the other one was when I was doing five kilometres an hour—both times someone hit me; I did not hit them. Now it is pure misery to drive. Quite frankly—and I do not know about other people—I spend my time looking for stop signs and slow-down signs and looking over my shoulder to see if police are around and trying to figure out what I am doing wrong. It is just torture to drive. When you do as much driving as I do, you get pulled up on average about once a month for a breathalyser test or something like that. I actually count the number of police cars between Ingham and Charters Towers. It is about 200 kilometres. We average 2.9.

In a short ethanol tour overseas—I had never been overseas before and I probably will not go again—but in my short time touring Vancouver, Minnesota and Sao Paulo I would have seen three police cars, I suppose. We did not have random breath testing in Queensland until Bjelke-Petersen was stabbed in the back. He and I were the two opponents of it, and we were the only teetotallers in our political party. He said, ‘We don’t want to live in a state where police are pulling up people all the time and looking into their cars. That is not the sort of state we want to live in.’ We used to go fishing, camping or out on the ocean to toss in a line—we are not allowed to shoot anymore—but probably most of the recreation that we used to enjoy throughout our lives is now illegal.

Government members interjecting—

Mr KATTER —I do not know whether there is cause for humour here. I can assure you I did not mean to be humorous.

Mr Albanese —The Nats want to shoot Alby!

Mr KATTER —I see. That is acceptable. No, that is not acceptable. Your interjection is acceptable. The new log books are not available in a lot of our country centres. There is the new and very complicated log book. The truckies I know can fix a very sophisticated piece of machinery. I am always awed by the truckies that I know, because I could not get remotely close to doing the things that they can do with a motor. How they can understand it all is well beyond my understanding. I find that on the whole these people have very much above average intelligence and capabilities, but they are not the sort of people who have spent a lot of time in universities. If you give them complex paperwork to do, that is just not their thing. If they were competent in paperwork, they would not be truckies, I can assure you, Mr Deputy Speaker Schultz. So you are asking a bird dog not to chase birds here. You are asking a person who, because of his talents and strengths, is a truck driver. He keeps one of our biggest industries in Australia going, but you are asking him to be a damned bookkeeper, you are asking him to meet capacities in filling out forms that he simply will not or cannot do.

A lot of the owners, not the drivers, are telling me that, quite literally, you need a lawyer to explain to you certain aspects of the log books—that is, if we can get the log books. Even the most positive person in the transport department, state or federal, would not claim that the new log books are available in every single centre in Queensland; they are not. You can get an exemption—if you can find the local policeman who is probably out in his car picking on some poor beggar for speeding because his boss has told him to. But it is not easy to find the people in these country areas who are authorised to give you an exemption.

There is some naive belief here that you can pass a law or a regulation and every single truckie in Australia will hear about it and understand it. One gentleman got hit the other day. He did not know that he could not use the old log book, that he needed an exemption. He said, ‘Everyone else told me that you could still use the old log books,’ and they said, ‘Yes, you can, but you need an exemption.’ He said, ‘Well, I didn’t know that.’ He got hit with three points and a $600 fine. Now he cannot drive because all his points are gone. He had a previous breach on the log books, an absolutely ridiculous breach that had nothing to do with safety whatsoever. Anyway, he has lost his points and now that he does not have a job he has to employ someone to take his place. He had been working a 65-hour week and now he has to pay someone to do that 65 hours a week. There is no way that he can survive financially.

If you say, ‘Well, we’re making the roads secure,’ yes, but there is a little matter of male suicide rates. Australia has one of the highest suicide rates in the world of men between the ages of 25 and 50, because we are oppressing and torturing people on a continuous basis with overlegislation. For last year and the year before, the three most litigious states on earth—there is a register for this—were California, No. 1; an American Midwest state, No. 2; and Queensland, No. 3. That is a measure of overregulation, overpolicing and overrestrictions on your freedom. It is really a register of the most unfree states on earth. There are more people in jail in California than in the education system, to quote but one example. The year before last, New South Wales forged ahead of Queensland into the No. 2 spot in world. So the next time that people say to me, ‘Isn’t it wonderful to live in a free country?’ I will have to correct them on that. I cannot help but bring in an historical analogy. The father of the English-speaking people was Alfred the Great. Alfred the Great wrote down the first laws in English history. That truly wonderful man—to me the most outstanding man in human history by a long way; he was a lovely person—said of the English race, or the ‘Anglish’ race, as we then were, ‘I want to say that we’re a civilized people.’

Winston Churchill spent a lot of time on A History of the English-Speaking Peoples and on Alfred the Great, for which he made a Nobel laureate, I might add. When Alfred the Great wrote down those first laws he said, ‘I have not presumed to put down in writing many laws of my own, for I do not know what would be suitable for those that follow after me.’ That is a humble, simple statement from a humble, simple man. I wish it were tattooed on the arm of every person who walks into this parliament or every person out there in the Public Service who creates these regulations that are driving human beings to suicide. If you are about to lose your business, as this poor truckie is about to do, there is a good chance statistically that, at the same time, you will also lose your family. And, because of the laws in Australia, for seven years you will not be able to really participate economically in our society. If it is a murderer, he is put in jail for 14 years and he is eligible for parole after seven years. These poor beggars will carry that debt for the rest of their lives. They will never be free unless they take bankruptcy.

You really have to be a lawyer to figure out the complexities of the fatigue laws in this bill. You have got so many hours in a two-day period, so many hours in a one day period and so many hours in a week. If you are driving long distances, there is no doubt that you do become fatigued. I would say that irresponsible drivers are not with us very long for a number of reasons; I would be the first to admit that. But anyone who puts a rig on the road with a driver who drives while feeling fatigued is nothing more than a fool and he will not be in the business for very long. It is an absolute certainty that he will not be in the business for very long. You can pass all the laws you like but there will be people who will drive while fatigued, because they were at a party on the weekend or playing football on the weekend or because they were friendly with a young lady or something of that nature. They will be fatigued. They are human beings and it will happen to them. There is nothing in these laws that go into that sort of thing. I refer to Mick Pattel who is heading up the National Road Freighters Association, a very great Australian. He and his family have contributed very greatly to this country over a very long period of time. Clare Mildren, his right-hand man, and all the other major trucking operators throughout Australia, all the big boys in the various industries—in fruit and vegetable hauling, in livestock hauling—are all strongly backing Michael Pattel. I was very surprised because the big boys do not normally take aggressive action but in this case they were coming in very strong behind him.

I said to Mick’s father, because they were driving great distances, ‘How do you work with fatigue?’ Kevin Pattel said: ‘The only way that you can deal with fatigue is to pull your car up and have a sleep, a catnap. Even 20 minutes will take that edge off the fatigue. Don’t try anything else; it simply doesn’t work.’ Throughout Australia that will be the tune to which this industry marches, and all the laws in the world will not stop stupid, irresponsible people from doing stupid, irresponsible things. And all the laws in the world will not make the good people any better. That is not the way human beings work.

In conclusion, I would say: Mr Government, you have increased our charges dramatically and made us non-competitive on the world market with your laws and your charges. You have passed laws that have led us not to have drivers. At my last meeting with Mick Pattel when we were have a quick lunch together, a bloke came over and said: ‘Mick, what can you do for us? I’ve got two of my three trucks stood down because I’ve got no drivers.’ (Time expired)