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Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Page: 2672

Mrs ANDREWS (McPherson) (17:56): I rise today to speak on the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011 and the Road Safety Remuneration (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill 2011. These bills before the House will create the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, which will have a variety of powers in regard to the road transport industry, including road transport and distribution industries, long distance operations, the cash-in-transit industry, the waste management industry and other road transport drivers, including independent contractors. I note that this is a rather broad definition, capturing both employees and independent contractors in industries that were not contemplated during the consultation period. The bills before the House will cover all employed and self-employed drivers who operate in the road transport industry and will establish a new Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal with the power to inquire into sectors, issues and practices within the road transport industry. The tribunal will also be given broad powers to set pay rates and conditions for sectors within the road transport industry.

The coalition is dedicated to ensuring that roads are safer for all Australians, from local residents to freight drivers. The Howard government introduced a variety of programs to provide safer road networks, such as AusLink, the first ever national transport plan and the Roads to Recovery program. It is interesting to note that the Roads to Recovery program was first scheduled to expire in 2005 but was extended due to its success. It is great to see that it is still going strong today, with funding allocations planned for up to 2013-14.

When we look at the bills before us, however, we see there are several issues of concern. The government has introduced this legislation to address concerns regarding the road safety transport bill. However, when we look at the provisions it is apparent that there is much more of a focus on industrial relations. The legislation has come about based on the assumption that there is a link between pay rates and road safety outcomes, and this is an issue of contention.

Before I discuss this very important issue, there are three other issues that are of concern as well, namely that the legislation adds another layer of red tape to the heavy vehicle industry, removes the independence of independent contractors and overlaps with other legislation which is currently in force or being developed. I will address each of these issues in further detail. Firstly, with respect to the issue of the extra layer of red tape imposed by this bill, red tape is always a blight on any industry or business. We therefore must move to reduce as much of it as possible, wherever it is possible to do so and not create any more. In relation to the heavy vehicle industry we must make it a priority to put appropriate regulations in place to ensure safety on our roads but these should not be onerous. It is only fair to note that the industry has developed its own codes of conduct, providing an operational framework for organisations to assist in regulating the actions of road transport drivers.

There are currently many regulations and pieces of legislation that the heavy vehicle industry is subjected to at a national and at a state level. To name just some of these, there is the independent contractor legislation, the workplace health and safety legislation and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, NHVR, which is due to commence on 1 January next year. When the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator commences, it will standardise several previously conflicting legislative requirements. Successive governments have spent a great deal of time and effort to develop this regulator, with significant consultation and negotiation taking place. The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator will make companies directly responsible for the behaviour of their drivers when such behaviour is deemed unsafe. This will be done through the national chain of responsibility provisions.

The NHVR is just one example of regulation that covers the industry. However, this bill will add more bureaucracy and therefore more red tape. The heavy vehicle industry will therefore be less flexible because of this bill, with efficiency gains also likely to be limited. There may also be the stifling of innovation, with the advent of road safety remuneration orders to reflect the standards in force at a particular time, whereas the current provisions allow for adaptability and flexibility.

Secondly, the bill will most likely erode the position of independent contractors as independent contractors, who are currently outside the jurisdiction of the Fair Work Act. They will also now be covered by this legislation. A new class of employment relationship will be created that is neither employer-employee nor a hirer-independent contractor. This will in effect reduce the autonomy of owner-drivers by removing their independence and will leave independent contractors in the road transport industry being treated differently to those independent contractors in other industries. Unfortunately, there are a small number of dangerous drivers who already break existing laws. However, this is being used as reason to make owner-drivers become subject to this legislation's provisions, which are similar in nature to those in the Fair Work Act. This point has also been put by the Independent contractors' association.

I said earlier that I had concerns about the government's assumptions that there is a link between remuneration and road safety outcomes, and that this bill will improve road safety. In their submissions to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications, the Australian Industry Group made it clear that it had those same concerns. Along with the Australian Logistics Council, AiG does not believe there is definitive proof that there is a link between road safety and remuneration rates. There is a significant body of evidence to support the statement that excessive speed is the major cause of many road accidents. It clearly is not the only issue. Road design and condition, driver skill level, vehicle condition including maintenance, as well as drugs and alcohol can all be contributing factors to an accident.

In its submission AiG suggested that a variety of in-vehicle safety technologies can assist with the management of driving behaviours, which cause accidents, such as speeding. Measures such as compliance with speed limiter regulations along with vehicle monitoring systems that utilise telematics may also assist with improved road safety outcomes. AiG summarised this issue by stating:

Improvements in safety will only be achieved if safety hazards are appropriately identified, controlled and, where possible, eliminated.

I also add that there have been concerns in regard to the scope of the tribunal's orders. The tribunal can make an order with respect to a person in the supply chain, as well as to remuneration and other related conditions. The Civil Contractors Federation has said that civil contractors under this bill may incur a responsibility to a third party whom they do not directly hire or over whom they have no direct control. Of course, this is a huge concern.

You have only to look at the number of heavy vehicles going up and down the M1 in my electorate of McPherson to realise the key role the road transport industry has in maintaining other industries and businesses across Australia. Thousands of people travel this stretch of road daily, including heavy vehicles. But at numerous locations the M1 can resemble a car park due to the heavy congestion. Further, it can be quite dangerous for both residential and business users, who are forced to compete in the frequent traffic deadlock.

Although the government claims that remuneration can solve the issue of road safety in the industry, one has only to look at the M1 to see that the solution is more difficult than the government suggests. We need to provide a multifaceted approach that takes into account the many factors that may contribute to safety concerns. Firstly, we need to provide proper transport infrastructure for road users.

A few weeks ago I wrote to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport to ask him to do just that in my electorate. I have asked him to provide information on the status of the M1 upgrade between Nerang and Tugun, the time frame for the approval of the project proposal report and when the works are expected to begin and be completed. Also, I have asked for the time frames for any further upgrades through to Tugun. I have now received a response advising that the upgrade of the M1 from Worongary to Mudgeeraba has been approved, with construction anticipated to commence later this year and to take about 18 months to complete. By the time this part of the upgrade is complete, it will be early to mid 2014, some seven years after the money to upgrade the section of the M1 from Nerang to Tugun was committed. That is about half of the section of road that was committed for the upgrade, so it is a long time. Until that time, we on the Gold Coast will continue to experience extensive delays. Those delays push people that should be using the M1 off onto residential areas, which can contribute to significant road safety issues in that part of the road and in the community.

Secondly, we need to look into implementing education and awareness programs for road transport drivers, as well as implementing new technologies in the industry. Any decent safety scheme provides for some form of education and awareness, and this should be obvious, not an option. Further, advances in technology provide today's businesses and industries with avenues that were not available to previous generations. If we can harness those technologies in the road transport industry, it will be for the better.

Before concluding, I do wish to voice my discontent that I speak before we have had proper consideration of this legislation. I believe that there should be further consultation and the community should be very widely involved. I am concerned that Labor is trying to push these changes through before the community in particular has had the opportunity to properly consider their implications and before due consideration has been given to the industry and to the very many concerns that they have with this bill.

I believe that this is nothing more than a thinly disguised wages claim. The Gillard government and the TWU are making this wages claim by making the very loose connection between remuneration and road safety. This is an assumption that is yet to be definitively proven. I share AiG's argument that if we are to improve road safety there must be a holistic approach by government. To improve road safety, we must focus on having better roads, on implementing education and awareness programs and on looking at ways to use new technologies to improve road safety. Increasing remuneration is not the answer.