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Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Page: 13535


Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (09:35): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Road transport accounts for over 1.7 per cent of Australia's total GDP and employs over 246,000 Australians.

Australia's freight task has increased at an annual rate of 5.6 per cent and is forecast to continue growing.

Given the vast distances of this nation, the government knows that a safe and productive transport sector is in the interests of all Australians.

The economic importance of transport is one side of the story.

Sadly, there is another side.

Each day four people are killed and another 80 are seriously injured on our roads, on average.

Last year, 1,368 Australians lost their lives on our roads.

A further 30,000 were hospitalised.

The statistics for truck driving are particularly grave.

It is the Australian industry with the highest incidence of fatal injuries, with 25 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2008-09.

That is 10 times higher than the average for all industries.

The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics has calculated that the cost to the Australian economy of this is $2.7 billion a year.

While the economic cost is important it is the human cost that really counts.

Very few Australians have not been affected by the loss of a loved family member, a work mate or a friend.

The effect is devastating: too many lives cut short too young.

The government is committed to doing all that is necessary to ensure that our truck drivers, whether they be an employee or a self employed owner-driver, have a safe and fair workplace, while sustaining the long-term viability of the road transport industry. The government recognises the important role of small businesses, particularly owner drivers in the road transport industry.

They provide flexibility for businesses to meet demand for the delivery of goods, particularly in rural and regional areas—small businesses make up around 60 per cent of the road transport industry, yet they make up far less of the income earned in that industry.

Almost 30 per cent of owner drivers are paid below the award rate and many are unable to recover the cost of operating their vehicle.

In 2008, the National Transport Commission's review into remuneration and safety in the Australian heavy vehicle industry found that:

…commercial arrangements between an array of parties to the transport of freight, including load owners/clients and receivers, consignors and brokers, freight forwarders, large and small fleets as well as owner/drivers have a significant influence on safety.

Drivers are at the bottom of the contracting chain and have little commercial ability to demand rates which would enable them to perform their work safely and legally.

In this market, owner drivers are often forced to accept work at the going rate or have no work at all.

Not only is remuneration for owner drivers low, working hours are long.

There are other issues that affect the payment systems for owner drivers and employee drivers and impact the productivity of the industry.

Unpaid queuing time was highlighted as a major issue in the transport industry during fatigue-related reforms and consultation for Safe Rates, Safe Roads Directions Paper.

According to the National Road Transport Operators Association, distribution centres regularly require drivers to wait up to 10 hours before loading or unloading.

Drivers are not paid for this waiting time and cannot claim the waiting time as an official rest break, which impacts on both income and fatigue management.

The loss of ten hours' driving time is an incentive to make up for lost time, by driving additional hours, speeding or contravening mandatory fatigue management systems.

Any improvements that can be made to these practices will bring about positive change for the road transport industry and will provide incentives for transport companies and warehouses to increase efficiency by minimising waiting times.

To date, a national approach to safety issues that address pay as well as pay-related conditions in the industry, particularly for owner drivers, has not been taken.

The bill being introduced today reflects the government's commitment to taking the necessary next steps in addressing the underlying economic factors which create an incentive for, or encourage, unsafe on-road practices.

The measures being introduced will ensure pay and pay related conditions encourage drivers to drive safely, manage their hours and maintain their vehicles.

This will benefit the industry and it will benefit the wider community.

The bill seeks to reduce the number of road transport fatalities and injuries. This is important for truck drivers and their families, but it is also important for industry and it is important for all who use our roads in the community.

Improved conditions, including work-life balance and other health benefits for truck drivers and their families will also contribute to a safer industry.

The bill will reinforce and lock in the benefits of previous reforms, including those achieved by both industry and governments, whilst complementing the role of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator.

It is another important step in removing economic incentives for unsafe behaviour.

The government recognises that owner drivers have chosen to be independent contractors and operate as small businesses.

The bill establishes a system that will assist road transport industry small businesses, while ensuring that owner drivers maintain their status as independent contractors.

This legislation will play an important role in removing the incentives for employee and owner drivers to drive in ways that increase the risk of deaths and injuries on the road

The safety of truck drivers and the community is paramount.

Key elements of the bill

The bill being introduced today will establish a new Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, whose objects are to promote safety and fairness in the road transport industry.

The bill complements existing federal legislation such as the Fair Work Act 2009 and the Independent Contractors Act 2006; current state-based schemes dealing with owner driver contracts; and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator laws.

The principal objects of the bill recognise the government's intention to provide a framework that promotes a safe industry by:

Ensuring that drivers in the road transport industry do not have pay and pay-related incentives and pressures to work in an unsafe manner. This includes unsafe work practices such as speeding and working excessive hours.

Ensuring that road transport drivers are paid for their work, including loading or unloading their vehicles or waiting for someone else to load or unload their vehicle.

Developing and applying reasonable and enforceable standards throughout the road transport industry supply chain to ensure the safety of road transport drivers.

Ensuring that hirers of drivers and participants in the supply chain take responsibility for implementing and maintaining those standards.

The bill empowers the tribunal to inquire into sectors, issues and practices within the road transport industry and, where appropriate, determine mandatory minimum rates of pay and related conditions for employed and self-employed drivers.

The tribunal will be able to concurrently consider matters, for example safety issues that impact on both employee and owner drivers, such as addressing waiting times.

These determinations, to be known as Road Safety Remuneration Orders, will be in addition to any existing rights employed drivers have under industrial instruments and owner drivers have under their contracts for services.

The tribunal's approach will be evidence-based and research-focused.

With this approach, the tribunal will have regard to issues such as:

the need to apply fair, reasonable and enforceable standards in the road transport industry to ensure the safety and fair treatment of road transport drivers;

the likely impact of any order on the viability of businesses involved in the road transport industry;

the special circumstances of areas that are particularly reliant on the road transport industry, such as rural, regional and other isolated areas;

the likely impact of any order on the national economy and on the movement of freight across the nation;

the need to minimise the compliance burden on the road transport industry.

The tribunal will also be empowered to grant 'safe remuneration approvals' in relation to the remuneration and remuneration-related conditions contained in a road transport collective agreement between a hirer and all self-employed drivers with whom the hirer contracts.

The tribunal will be empowered to resolve disputes between drivers, their hirers or employers and participants in the road transport industry supply chain about remuneration and related conditions in so far as they provide incentives to work in an unsafe manner.

The tribunal will deal with a dispute as it considers appropriate, including by:

mediation or conciliation;

making a recommendation or expressing an opinion; or

arbitration with the consent of the parties.

Fair Work Australia will be assisting the tribunal with dual appointments, ensuring a mixture of Fair Work Australia members and expert members with qualifications relevant to the road transport industry.

The tribunal secretariat will be provided by the General Manager of Fair Work Australia.

The bill also establishes a compliance regime for the enforcement of orders made by the tribunal, safe remuneration approvals and any orders arising out of a dispute.

These compliance functions will be performed by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

In addition, the Fair Work Ombudsman will provide education, assistance and advice to owner drivers, employees and the industry.

Conclusion

This bill is the government's response to the report of the National Transport Commission that I commissioned when I became the transport minister, but it is also in response to numerous reports over many years, including the Burning the midnight oil report, which was done by the House of Representatives committee, chaired by the member for Hinkler, who is in the chamber today. This has been an issue which has been talked about for a long time, but not acted upon until today.

While transport safety outcomes have improved over the years, there are still an unacceptably high number of truck accidents and deaths.

Without further action, the number of accidents will remain unacceptably high, impacting truck drivers, their industry and the wider community.

Lasting reform is necessary.

I pay tribute to all those who have worked so hard, including the members of the Transport Workers Union, the members of industry, including industry leaders such as Lindsay Fox, who have placed on the record for so many years the need to get a comprehensive plan to address these issues.

This reform is necessary and it must be directed at addressing the specific problems of the industry.

This bill does just this.

I commend this bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.