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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 1689

Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (19:29): I only have 10 minutes, but I could go on all night about this incident. I saw on Twitter, probably three or four weeks ago, a picture of a truck jackknifed on a major highway in Sydney. The exact date was 5 February 2016. It was a semitrailer—so, Mr Acting Deputy President Gallacher, you know exactly what I am talking about—

Senator Nash: So do I.

Senator STERLE: And you, Senator Nash—fantastic. How many tonnes was it? Got ya! It was a 42½-tonne semitrailer—a bogie drive tri-axle trailer. I have great respect for Senator Nash because she understands the issue of road safety and the importance of our drivers being fully trained in handling these monsters running up and down our highways. I say 'monsters' with affection, because they are what I played with for many, many years of my life.

So here was this semitrailer jackknifed on the M5, I think it was. I went to the source of the story. Chris Reason at Channel 7 had done it. A couple of drivers were heading down the M5—I think it was the M5. I am led to believe it goes under Sydney Airport. There is a bit of a bridge. They saw it. They thought, 'Whoops-a-daisy, we don't know if we're going to fit,' so they pulled up. This pair of clowns—and those are the nicest words I can use for them—got out of the truck and then thought, 'We'd better back up,' on three lanes of highway. They could not even back up the semi; it jackknifed. I take it back: one was hiding in the cab like a coward while the other one was trying to back it up. One bolted. The driver bolted. The news people got out there.

These two, who were employed to operate a 42½-tonne rig on our highways, carting freight, were employed by a mob to which you would be no stranger, Mr Acting Deputy President Gallacher—a mob from Mt Gambier called Scott's Transport. I am going to take 20 steps out to my right, and I am going to go for Scott's. I am going for them. I am not hiding behind parliamentary privilege.

Scott's Transport used to be a very, very decent employer, I am led to believe. But the management of the company has been passed down a generation or two, I think—I stand to be corrected. Scott's Transport from Mt Gambier had employed these two drivers, who were Indian. Before you all start jumping up and down, foreign workers are always welcome in this country, but they are not welcome, in my view, when they are doing Australians out of jobs by working for lower wages and lesser conditions. I have not proved that yet. But what I have proved is that these two Indian drivers, who denied any responsibility, were not able to back up a semitrailer. On the news, they were asked by the reporter: 'Not only should you be able to back this semitrailer—I am worried about a 42½-tonner on our highways mixing with school buses and other road users—do you think you should know how to uncouple the semitrailer?' The clown sits there and says, 'No, why would I have to know how to uncouple the semitrailer?'

It is an absolute pox on our system that two foreign drivers have come into our nation and are driving 42½-tonne loaded rigs up and down our highways. For all I know, they could have been doing B-doubles or road trains the day or the week before; I do not know. There was a bit of misinformation. The TV reported that they were here on 457 visas. I wrote straightaway to the minister for immigration, and I commend the minister for immigration because he got back to me straightaway. He took this seriously. He said to me, 'They weren't; they weren't on 457 visas.'

What I want to find out—and I am going to find out as the chair of the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee, because we are looking into this—is who these clowns were working for. I want to find out who employed this pair and put them behind the wheel of a 42½-tonne rig running up and down our highways with other road users when they cannot even unhook it or back it. I want to know: were they directly employed by Scott's Transport in Mt Gambier, or were they working for a subcontractor or another company that was contracted to cart for Scott's Transport?

I am inviting Scott's Transport to come and face us. And, Scott's Transport, don't hide, because we know who you are, and I am on the warpath with this because, you see, you have responsibility. I do not care about any excuses. I want to know from Scott's Transport: who the hell was the client? What was in the back of this truck? How many trips has this pair of clowns done? Who are they working for? Are they here on some other visa? There is absolutely no way on earth that any Australian politician can accept that we have people on our highways who are not trained. Where the hell did their licences come from? We used to joke about it in the seventies: 'Did you get your licence out of a Wheaties packet?' I am absolutely flabbergasted. I can tell you this, Mr Acting Deputy President Gallacher; they were licensed in Queensland. So the Queensland government has something to explain here.

I had heaps of things going through my head. I was thinking to myself: is there something sinister here? These two peanuts do not have the skills to back this rig or unhook this rig, and yet they are licensed to drive this rig. Is there something shonky going on? Is there somewhere overseas you can go? Is there corruption somewhere? I am not suggesting anyone in Queensland is corrupt. Something has gone wrong.

I spent 12 years of my life pulling road trains through this great nation. No-one can deny me the passion that I have for keeping our roads safe and for making sure our truck drivers are safe. No-one can deny the anger I have inside me as part of a family with three generations of truckies. I know the skills that we obtained on our journeys. I learnt at my father's knee, in his truck. Unfortunately, my son did not have the same opportunity to learn at my knee, because I had hung up the riding boots before he started driving trucks. But I know the training that he has done and that all our fellow Australian truck drivers have done, and the rigorous training that they go through. In fact, there are that many bloody laws in this country, I do not know why you would even want to be a truck driver anymore.

Yet these clowns are in our country, driving for someone and carting someone's freight, and Scott's Transport have to answer why the hell that is. Scott's Transport might think they are going to get out of this, but they are notorious. Scott's Transport, you will have the opportunity to front me and the committee and you will have the opportunity to prove me wrong. In fact, I want you to prove me wrong, because your record disgusts me. You absolutely disgust me. How are you on our highways? You should be locked up, and I stand by that.

Let us look at Scott's Transport's infringements over the last few years. In May 2014, Scott's of Mt Gambier was fined a total of $1.2 million after pleading guilty to 165 speeding offences just in New South Wales. I am told it was reduced, on appeal, to $85,000. The buggers should be locked up. They should not be allowed to walk our streets when they have been fined $1.2 million, for crying out loud. In New South Wales, drivers of overheight vehicles who blatantly ignore the tunnel warning signs face a $2,200 fine and six demerit points off their licence, plus the truck can be grounded by suspending its registration for three months. My goodness me, there are some answers needed.

I will tell you what happened at the end of the day. There are these drivers in Sydney from a government organisation—or whatever it is—called RMS. I apologise; I do not know what 'RMS' stands for. If someone can help me out there, please set me straight. An RMS driver had to come out and move the rig. And this pair of peanuts then got into the truck and happily drove off. Where were the coppers? Why weren't the coppers saying, Whoa, just stop right there'? You could not back the damn thing up, you could not uncouple it; they had to bring a government employee in to back the bucket of nuts and bolts up. And the coppers sat back—the coppers can prove me wrong; if I am wrong, come and tell me—and let them drive off. What the hell is going on here?

We have a terrible record as a nation. Three hundred and thirty people are killed in heavy vehicle related accidents on our highways every year. And we think it is acceptable for two Indian drivers—one at the steering wheel and one in the bunk hiding like a coward—to end up behind the wheel of a 42½ tonne rig and strand it across a three-lane highway? They cannot even get the bloody thing back! I am as mad as hell. I apologise for my language. I tell you what, it is going to really fire up when I front Scott's.

Scott's and the Queensland government, I will leave you with this: there are questions that need to be answered. You cannot hide. I am not going to let you hide. I have been stewing over this since I first heard of it on 5 February, or whenever it was. Goodness me! It makes me want to put my hands around someone's throat and actually choke the living daylights out of them. What happens if these clowns go out there and kill someone? What does the Queensland government say? What are they going to say—'Oh, we didn't know'? You knew. Queensland, they were licensed in your state. I do not care what persuasion of government is in control in Queensland, I am going to go down the supply chain. I am going to expose—and I do not care if it takes every ounce of my fibre to find out—who the hell's freight they were carting and how many times they had carted this freight.

Clients of Scott's Transport or any other transport company who are using these people: I am coming for you. And I am not saying it lightly. I am wound up like a clock. I am not going to sit back when there is a responsibility, as a legislator in this country, to have that side of parliament doing everything it can to tear down our Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. The beautiful thing about this is that the coalition senators that I spoke to on my committee are 100 per cent behind me.

God help us! You can find a truck driver in this country with one phone call. (Time expired)