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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3078


Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (12:23): I appreciate the opportunity to speak on the bill before the House and to follow the member for Lyne. The member for Lyne and I do not always see eye to eye but this is one occasion when we are firmly on the same page. His comments relating particularly to the need to invest in the existing approach to road safety were very valid. He also made a very good comment that the hard grind of safer roads is something that is not going to be overcome by some sort of magic bullet or the Holy Grail that this safe roads legislation is put up to be in the broader community. He raises a very important point that it would be wrong to suggest in any way that there is any member in this place who has not already personally invested in the issue of safer roads or who has tried to find ways to deal with these issues involving the heavy transport industry.

I was a supplementary member of the committee which conducted the inquiry. I am just not convinced on the evidence that has been presented to me that the government has made a case. The comments by the member for Lyne, particularly in relation to investing in the existing approach, sit very well with the dissenting report that was put forward by the minority group—the coalition members. The members who made that dissenting report did so in very good faith. There was no sense of a party political nature or any animosity at all to that dissenting report. It was all about putting forward what we thought was a very valid argument, that there was existing activity being undertaken within the heavy vehicle transport industry which needed to be given time to be bedded down. I refer particularly to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator. We felt that the evidence we received during that inquiry reinforced that position.

The coalition members of the committee were also conscious of the incredible complexity of rules and regulations which already exist in relation to the heavy vehicle transport industry. What we see here today will not only add to that complexity, but also it will present an issue of duplication which could be a factor causing even more uncertainty in the industry. We are concerned that this extra layer of bureaucracy will not improve safety outcomes. It will lead to increased costs for the industry and consumers and then almost become self-defeating. It has been argued to us that there is an economic imperative facing these safety issues. We are concerned that we are going to end up with a situation where the extra costs will be self-defeating by putting more pressure on the transport industry.

It was with those thoughts in mind that the dissenting report was put into the inquiry process. I was disappointed that no opportunity was given for the committee's report to be tabled in the parliament before we started debating this legislation. I made those points during the earlier debate. Again, we see a process here where we have 64 amendments being presented to the House, with very little opportunity for members to assess them and get an understanding of where the government is going with this issue. I am concerned at the whole process, from the moment the government decided to bring on this debate without even respecting the committee process. The committee was chaired by the member for Cunningham, who did an excellent job in that role. As I said earlier, all members participated in that inquiry in good faith and it was disappointing for them to have the legislation brought on for debate before other members had the chance to even assess the committee's report. I thought this was disappointing on behalf of the government members.

On the issue of tinkering, if you like, with the commercial arrangements in this industry, it is something that is becoming of greater concern to the transport operators in my electorate. I have had the opportunity to speak to many of them about this issue. They are concerned at the unintended consequences—the perverse consequences—which may occur when you start having regulatory bodies—the tribunal in this case—effectively setting pay rates. They are concerned at the impact that that is going to have on the transport industry. There is a complex matrix of decisions that are made in relation to how the heavy transport industry sets its rates.

A classic example that one of the transport operators pointed out to me was the case of travelling between Melbourne and Adelaide. A transport operator working the Melbourne-Adelaide route will make his or her money on the route to Adelaide. On the backload from Adelaide they are prepared to accept a much lower rate because they have to get back to Melbourne to load up and make their money again going to Adelaide—if that makes sense. So the backhaul rate from Adelaide will be a lower amount. I am not sure how this tribunal will be able to deal with the commercial reality of a market force at work. This is a very complex issue that needs to be worked out. I am not sure that the tribunal will not end up in all sorts of trouble by tinkering with a commercial reality. That is one of the biggest issues facing this piece of legislation—the tribunal's work in interfering with the market. (Time expired)