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Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Page: 9884


Senator HUME (Victoria) (15:25): The emotional plea from Senator Sterle was, indeed, stirring. I don't doubt for a moment his sincerity. I do doubt, however, his accuracy. It was, indeed, those opposite that tried to destroy the trucking industry. The government, in fact, with the support of the crossbench, were the ones that took action to urgently abolish the RSRT and to put an end to its payments order, which directly threatened the livelihoods of tens of thousands of owner truck drivers and their family operators. That payments order caused crippling financial hardship and emotional distress to thousands of owner-drivers. It was very bad for small business; it was very bad for owner truck drivers; it was bad for families; and it was bad for the economy.

The RSRT was implemented in 2012 by none other than Bill Shorten. It was done to appease the Transport Workers Union in order to silence their public opposition to the Julia Gillard carbon tax. The payments order was designed purely to push owner-drivers out of business and into the employ of the large transport companies, making them a workforce that, of course, would be much easier to unionise. This government was not going to stand by and watch the livelihoods of those tens of thousands of people be destroyed. So, in 2016, with the support of the majority of the crossbench of the Senate, this government abolished the RSRT and saved the livelihoods of those thousands of small businesses—those thousands of owner-operator truck drivers. Mr Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, has made it clear that Labor supports the re-establishment of the RSRT and of the pay order. Labor continues to support the destruction of the tens of thousands of small businesses throughout Australia. It is entirely impossible not to feel enormous empathy for the men and women whose lives have been turned upside down by the unnecessary ordeal caused by the tribunal's unfair payments order.

Owner-drivers, as we all know, are the lifeblood of the economy. We simply couldn't survive without them. This government will never do anything which threatens their viability with significant implications across the country. By abolishing that tribunal, the government has been able to provide $4 million per year to vital road projects, including contributions to the Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative package that delivers chain-of-responsibility education and improves heavy vehicle monitoring. It has funded research into heavy vehicle driver fatigue to inform the development of future fatigue arrangements. It has also provided safer freight networks in areas identified as higher risk. It has contributed to the Black Spots Program and to the national Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program and the Bridges Renewal Program to deliver the key infrastructure to improve heavy vehicle safety outcomes. It has also gone to developing a master industry code of practice. It has gone to developing safety, education and awareness campaigns. It has also provided pilots for the new livestock transfer infrastructure.

While I feel for Senator Sterle and I can hear the emotion in his voice, I suggest to you, Madam Deputy President, that they are, in fact, crocodile tears—that there is an extent of theatre and of performance art to Senator Sterle's allegations today.

I've surprised myself today because I do tend to agree, to some extent, with Senator Carr. He was right when he said that this is a government that was elected because of its principles. Indeed, the announcements made yesterday by the Attorney-General, by the Prime Minister and also by the Minister for Finance, Mathias Cormann, suggest that we are acting on those principles.

It's not just rhetoric. It's not just empty words. We are acting on those principles. The behaviour of those opposite, while not the cause of it, certainly demands it; it certainly inspires it. This is a government of principle. This is a government that's acting in the national interest. It's a government that's doing what Australians expect of it. It's a government that is getting on with the job of looking after the interests of not just some, not just a select few, but all Australians.