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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3092

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (13:28): There are several problems with these amendments, which are not evidence based but are industrially driven. For a start, proposed clause 33(6), agreements for drivers, would ensure that all current agreements, except those made between groups of owner-drivers and hirers under existing state regulatory regimes, would be out the window as they are not approved road transport collective agreements. The effect of this amendment is that any contract between a group of independent contractors—owner-drivers—and a hirer must be approved by the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. Clause 33 of the original bill stated that the tribunal 'may grant' approval for road transport collective agreement where certain conditions are met. This is completely different to what is stated in the amendment, and demands further consideration and consultation with the heavy vehicle industry. These current agreements, now deemed null and void, would have to be immediately renegotiated. This would put hirers and owner-drivers who are parties to the agreements in a difficult and untenable situation. As well, this instantly undermines commercial contracts established between two companies involving contract drivers. For instance, how will it affect the commercial arrangements between a major car manufacturer and companies that transport their cars? Does it invalidate those particular arrangements? Does it make them now unenforceable? The bill devalues the concept of an independent contractor. This amendment takes this even further by limiting the ability of independent contractors to negotiate terms and conditions they consider appropriate. The bill will centralise contracts for groups of independent contractors and in doing so reduce their opportunity to bargain. It has all the hallmarks of being able to hinder competition and could well remove flexibility. In so doing, the bill could make hiring groups of owner-drivers far less attractive. Further, the tribunal will not be sufficiently equipped to deal with the possible volume of contracts it will be required to approve.

The bill has been lauded as a road safety measure. We have been told that the tribunal it establishes will issue orders to make sure drivers have remuneration and related conditions to ensure they will drive safely. However, this amendment goes much further than that. It empowers the tribunal and gives it the responsibility to approve agreements between groups of owner-drivers and hirers. This underlines the fact that this is not about road safety. It is an industrial relations measure which is payback to the powerful Transport Workers Union.

I am a road safety advocate, as I am sure everybody in this parliament is. It is an issue many people in the Riverina have raised with me time and again. There are far more pressing road safety problems for the heavy vehicle industry than so-called safe rates. Here is a remark from the Transport Workers Union National Secretary, Tony Sheldon himself:

Under the carbon tax, drivers will be forced to do longer hours, sweat their trucks further, have less maintenance, and that means more deaths.

These amendments are not about road safety. They are about empowering unions further, and we do not need that.