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Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Page: 2917

Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (17:53): Road safety is a major issue in our country. Australians were outraged when 521 of our servicemen were killed in the Vietnam War between 1962 and 1975. Yet in less than twelve months on Australian roads last year more than 1,290 lives were lost, more than double the deaths in one year on Australian roads than in more than 12 years of war.

Today I rise to speak on the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011 and the Road Safety Remuneration (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill 2011. The coalition is committed to improving road safety in the heavy vehicle industry and making roads safer for all road users. Indeed, the coalition has a record of supporting measures which improve conditions for drivers. It was a coalition government which created, implemented and delivered record funding levels through the AusLink program. It was the coalition which developed and promoted the crucial Roads to Recovery program and the Black Spot Program after the Keating government had cancelled it. And it was the coalition which committed to spending $100 million over five years on 100 rest areas on the AusLink network. The latter was as a result of a recommendation calling for higher quality rest stops for heavy vehicles, which came from an inquiry chaired by my colleague the member for Hinkler which delivered the report Beyond the midnight oil. It was an inquiry into managing fatigue in the transport industry. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to my colleague the member for Hinkler for the dedicated and relentless work he has put in for more than a decade to improve safety for all Australians on the road.

Despite the increased number of trucks on the road and the increased distance they travel, numbers of deaths from crashes involving articulated and heavy rigid trucks have decreased. In fact, the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority has concluded that heavy vehicle drivers are at fault in only 31 per cent of heavy vehicle crashes, with the remaining 69 per cent a result of other road users. Of course, even one death is one death too many.

The Road Safety Remuneration Bill was appropriately referred to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications, because most people agree that there is a direct correlation between road safety and the standard and condition of our roads and highways. Sadly, however, this bill is not about road infrastructure, badly neglected by successive Labor governments in Queensland for more than 20 years. No, this legislation is about establishing a new Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, which is to be given broad powers to investigate and set pay rates and conditions for any segment of the heavy vehicle industry.

No-one doubts the difficulties involved in driving and managing heavy vehicles. During the hearing held by the committee, the Transport Workers Union of Australia raised many varied examples of their members' needs and experiences. One example given was about the Brisbane City Council, which they praised for entrenching driver conditions as part of its garbage contract. In the lead-up to that contract being finalised, I spent five hours in a garbage truck observing firsthand the difficulties experienced by drivers, not the least of which was as a result of the previous Labor Lord Mayor's insistence on an unworkable dual bin truck system.

That firsthand experience is one of the reasons the coalition members tabled a dissenting report—because we know that a one-size bill does not suit all cases. It is very difficult to legislate for conditions which vary so much depending on different driver situations. We are concerned about so-called 'jurisdictional creep', which has seen the proposed bill extended to include intrastate courier operators, which is not supported by the evidence. We also do not believe that adding another layer of bureaucracy will improve safety outcomes but believe rather that it will lead to increased costs for industry and consumers.

This bill proposes to set up a new body and to implement new regulations and new restrictions. This bill and the associated amendments will simply cost taxpayers millions of dollars without any appreciable benefit for the road transport industry. There are already existing laws in each state, and even the Queensland Labor government opposes this bill. Members on the opposite side of the House regularly come into this chamber and say that they are 'listening' to the needs of both business and workers. This bill is further evidence that they are really not listening at all.

As a member of the Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications, I would like to express my appreciation to the hardworking secretariat. To Julia Morris, Kilian Perrem, Susan Dinon and Peter Pullen: thank you for your support and assistance. To everyone who made submissions, and especially those who attended the public hearing on 15 February, I thank you for your contribution. Through this process, many concerns were raised about what this bill will achieve—and we were listening.

I would therefore like to reiterate to the House the comments I made in conjunction with my coalition colleagues in the dissenting report. We understand and appreciate the original intention of these bills. We acknowledge the important work that is required to ensure that the safety and welfare of drivers is seriously considered by this parliament. We do not, however, believe that these bills appropriately address these considerations.

The government have indicated that they intend to move some amendments to this bill. It is a shame they could not manage to table them before we started to debate the bill. Indeed, I trust they now take on board the points raised in our dissenting report so we can support them. Wherever there is a move to improve safety that will truly be beneficial to drivers and to the community at large, the coalition will support such a move.

At its core, this bill will establish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, which will be handed very broad powers to investigate the heavy vehicle industry and dictate the pay rates and conditions for its workers. The heavy vehicle industry itself constitutes long-distance operations, the road transport and distribution industry, the cash-in-transit industry, the waste management industry and all other road transport drivers. In doing so, it would also add to the purview of the tribunal all road transport drivers, including independent contractors. The government would then appoint to the tribunal members from Fair Work Australia. It would also comprise industry members. The tribunal could then issue orders, stipulating minimum remuneration and employment conditions, and control other industry practices such as waiting times, working hours and load limits.

There are two main reasons I oppose the main bill. Firstly, it will not perform as it was intended to perform, and it will not make the roads safer in this nation. Secondly, it creates a new layer of bureaucracy and adds to jurisdictional creep between state and federal legislation, decreasing flexibility in the industry and increasing red tape. When will this government learn that you cannot fix problems by more bureaucracy!

In the dissenting report, the coalition noted the lack of evidence that increases in remuneration will lead to an improvement in road safety outcomes. It is a merely an assertion by the government. It is also an assertion that is not even backed up by the government's own regulatory impact statement, which says 'data at this point in time is limited and being definitive around the causal link between rates and safety is difficult'. We need to be very specific here before we go about restructuring an industry. It is easy to say that remuneration rates and safety are linked, but that is not an argument per se to suggest that current remuneration rates or conditions are inadequate. Indeed, during the inquiry I noted that, even if all workers were paid at what they might consider a reasonable rate, there would still exist the competition between workers to succumb to the pressure of delivery time limits. At the margin—at the level of the individual worker—it would be difficult to determine at what level a worker suddenly decides that they are being paid enough. Every worker would like to be paid more, but it would be difficult to determine at what level a worker suddenly decides that they are not going to push through their fatigue and keep driving or when completing the job in less time no longer seems an attractive proposition. We cannot aggregate the risk attitudes of every driver in this industry and come up with a one-size-fits-all policy and regulation that will ensure safety.

The member for Bradfield also questioned during the public hearing whether a worker has time and income preferences such that they may actually decide to work the same number of hours at a higher pay rate, thereby continuing the effects of speeding and fatigue on road safety. This should also be considered in the context of the regulatory scheme under which the transport industry currently operates, and that leads me to my second issue, which is the jurisdictional creep these bills create. Currently, we have rafts of legislation at both the Commonwealth and the state levels that either directly or indirectly cover the road transport industry. Not only are these workers and their conditions subject to the Fair Work Act and its related Modern Award principles; they are also subject to workplace health and safety legislation and independent contractor legislation. There are already existing laws that apply to things like wages, conditions, vehicle standards, fatigue, speed, substance abuse, record keeping and other driver obligations.

Some, including the TWU, have argued that the current regulations are not working. But, if we take a step back and look at the entirety of what is happening in this industry, we see there have been huge reforms passed and many are in the early stages of implementation. We must consider the steps that have been taken more recently to address the specific concerns in the industry. There is the new national initiative, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator and the national heavy vehicle law, the national fatigue management rules and the upcoming national chain of responsibility measures. These initiatives are designed to specifically address many of the safety issues. For example, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator will commence its operations from 1 January 2013. It has been developed through many years of consultation through the Coalition of Australian Governments process, to harmonise confusing and conflicting regulations. The regulation includes a national chain of responsibility measure that will make companies directly responsible for unsafe driver behaviour. This regulator also has provisions that relate to, for example, fatigue management. The New South Wales submission to the inquiry commented that a new tribunal could, in fact, make orders that are inconsistent with the national heavy vehicle law.

For the last decade Australian governments have been trying to untangle the very confusing situation in this industry. These bills will be the fourth layer of regulation covering driver fatigue in New South Wales. Today's bills will completely undo the good work that has already been done in this area. It is also important to consider that the main bill will make the industry far less flexible and reduce its ability to adapt and respond to changing circumstances. In this industry flexibility is paramount given the huge dependence on fuel prices and the inherent volatility of global oil prices. In the previous five years to June 2011, productivity gains slumped to only 0.6 per cent per annum. A new tribunal and its road safety remuneration orders will stifle efficiency gains and innovation, reflecting the top-down wishes of the tribunal instead of current conditions which allow the industry to respond to changing conditions.

The dissenting report notes that evidence was submitted to the committee regarding a particular focus on improving road infrastructure, an increased focus with which I agree. Road transport workers have had to drive on insufferable roads for too long. I note that in Queensland the Bruce Highway has been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair by successive state Labor governments. Constantly besieged by natural disasters such as what we saw during the big wet season last year, it can be cut off for inordinate amounts of time. Fortunately, the LNP in Queensland under Campbell Newman have compiled a crisis action plan as a fundamental priority for the main highway of the state, should they win government. It is this kind of constructive action that will make an appreciable difference for road transportation industry workers and all Queenslanders.

At a federal level, the coalition recognises the importance of maintaining our national road network to ensure that our roads are accessible and safe. Since we proudly initiated the Roads to Recovery program in 2001, local councils have been able to maintain and upgrade local roads. At the last election we proposed the restoration of the strategic regional roads program which supports regional connections and creates jobs. It would mean a further $351 million for the health of the regional economy and the safety of those servicing these regional areas. These are real, important measures that the government can implement to ensure that we diminish any factors that may contribute to crashes.

To conclude, today's bills are a reflection of the power that unions have over this Labor government. The onus to prove that there is a causal link between the level of remuneration at the margin and safety on the roads has not been met. So even if I were prepared to accept that premise, we already have a raft of legislation in the states and the Commonwealth as well as new measures, some as yet untried, that have actually had proper consideration through the COAG process. These bills will simply undo all that hard work and further complicate the industry.