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Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Page: 2930


Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (18:46): I rise tonight to speak on the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011 and the Road Safety (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill 2011. Firstly, I would like to express my admiration for our nation's truck drivers. These guys—and some women—are the salt of the earth. They work long hours in isolated conditions and often in a very isolated environment away from family and friends. It is a very dangerous occupation. It is an industry in which over the last couple of years we have seen around 250 people killed and 1,000 more seriously injured. I am proud to say that on this side of the House there are several members who hold licences to drive heavy vehicles while on the other side, in the so-called workers' party, there is an absolute dearth of those who even know what a clutch is.

The purpose of this bill is to create a new government bureaucracy, to be called the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, which will inquire into sector issues and practices in the road transport industry and issue orders and set mandatory rates of pay and related conditions for employed and self-employed drivers. However, it should be noted that this bill will create confusion in the industry, as constitutionally the bill will not apply to over 40 per cent of owner-operators and over 20 per cent of employee drivers.

The reason behind this bill is that many of our nation's truck drivers today are being placed under undue economic pressure. One of the inherent difficulties that our nation's truck drivers face is delays—delays through roadworks, delays through accidents, delays through rain and delays through being caught in peak hour traffic. These delays can easily happen in a journey on any of our nation's roads, whether it is just across town or from one side of our continent to the other. Of the few examples I have noted, there are obviously a range of controllable and uncontrollable actions. The penalty clauses forced upon drivers, sometimes enforced from outside their contracts, do not make such distinctions.

When looking at the causes of delays, I need look no further than two nights ago when I, along with many of my New South Wales colleagues, was driving down to Canberra late on Monday night for this parliamentary sitting. There were roadworks at Marulan and the traffic was banked up for 10 kilometres. Whilst sitting in the traffic jam for over an hour meant little to me—I simply arrived here in Canberra an hour later—I could not help but notice the number of trucks that were lined up and experiencing the same set of circumstances. But what was only a slight annoyance to me was actually stripping money from the pockets of these blokes in their trucks. It was snatching food from their dinner tables, because these blokes are not fortunate enough to have a job where they sit around each night with their family. It is a tough job they have to do.

Marulan is located midway between Sydney and Canberra and it is an important trucking stop on the Sydney to Melbourne trip. That chaos on Monday night came from about 200 metres of a single lane on the Hume Highway being closed outside of peak hours. That may have been amplified by the increased road use of New South Wales parliamentarians and their staff making their way to Canberra or even Canberrans who had taken the day off for Canberra Day returning from holidays. But this was not even peak hour and we saw trucks held up for several hours, which would have delayed all the trucking between Sydney and Melbourne by several hours that day.

While these delays are inherent in the nature of the industry, the supermarket duopoly have been taking advantage of their centralised power to hold trucking companies and our drivers to ransom by giving them unreasonable deadlines and penalising them if they are delayed by even just a few minutes. I have even heard of one instance of a company being fined $50,000 because they were no more than a few minutes late with a delivery to one of the supermarket duopolists. What did the duopolist say when the company complained? They simply said, 'What can you do—take us to court?' That is unfortunately the market power that the supermarket duopoly have. They are able to act outside our laws and outside commercial practices.

Even Lindsay Fox has commented on the undue market power of the supermarket duopoly, accusing them of dictating terms and 'expecting everything for nothing'. In a recent interview in the Australian newspaper the Linfox founder offered his thoughts on the dominance of the two major supermarkets. Despite him having recently signed a new five-year deal with Coles, these are the comments he made. He said:

They are too big … You can't dictate the terms and conditions of what people have got to trade with you. And they are getting to that stage. They are trying to dictate to everyone …

They are expecting everything for nothing. They are going to crucify the farmers, crucify the bread manufacturers and if you spoke to most of the consumer goods manufacturers at the moment, you would get a very mixed response about the aspects of dealing with these companies.

We all believe in a free market, but a free market means just that: it means freedom. It means freedom in contract negotiation. It means freedom for one party to stand up and simply say 'Get stuffed' and pack their bags and walk away. But when the market becomes overly concentrated, that very freedom is taken away and others in the supply chain become nothing other than economic serfs.

So the real solution to the problem we have with the undue market pressure being put on our truck drivers—the unreasonable delivery times they are made to adhere to and the unreasonable waiting times—is what I would call the Standard Oil option—that is, to reverse the undue market concentration that has been occurring in this market for years and years. In any legislation we need to make sure we are addressing the cause of the problem and not putting a bandaid over the wound. It is obvious from the speeches from both sides of the House that the root cause of the problem—the economic pressure that is being put on our truck drivers—is the growing market concentration of the supermarket duopoly. These bills, unfortunately, do not tackle that root cause, and that is something we need to address.

I now turn to some of the other pressures our trucking industry will face in the future. While these bills look at the economic pressure on the transport industry, let us not forget the pain that every single member of this government voted to inflict on our transport industry with the world's largest carbon tax. From 1 July 2014 there will be an extra impost of 6.85c per litre on the cost of diesel. What that means for every owner-operator and for every truck that makes on average three round trips a week between Sydney and Melbourne is that $5,000 will be ripped out of their pockets. How can members of this government come in here and talk about helping truck drivers when their own policies are going to add $5,000 a year in costs onto them?

There are other issues we need to look at to improve the safety of our truck drivers. It is not just accidents. Truck drivers also face diesel pollution. We know diesel pollution is hazardous to human health. The groups that are at particular risk are industries that are especially involved in trucking. For truck drivers it is not only the pollution from their own diesel trucks but the elevated background pollution where they work—in ports, from cargo handling equipment, from ships and from locomotives. A recent investigation in California by the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, analysing the air quality inside truck cabs, revealed alarmingly high levels of diesel pollution and a threat to our drivers' health. Diesel engines emit a toxic brew of particulate matter as smog-forming nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. Diesel exhaust is estimated to be responsible for 70 per cent of the total cancer risks from air pollution. Numerous studies have documented this risk. According to a recent California Air Resources Board report, trucks involved in the movement of goods were responsible for more than half of the estimated 2,400 premature deaths attributable to diesel exhaust from the Californian freight industry. Also, the monitoring of air inside cabs has found an alarmingly high level of pollution.

Again, how can we assist in making the health of our drivers better? What can we do? Firstly, diesel pollution can be reduced by regular maintenance of trucks—making sure that trucks are at their best performance. But how can we do that if in this parliament we are legislating to make truck drivers pay an extra $5,000 a year through the carbon tax? There are of course other things we can do. We can limit idling time and the time they spend waiting in queues. But, again, we cannot do that unless we balance the market power between our independent drivers and our supermarket duopoly. Too often we hear that by having such a concentrated market we get market efficiencies.

If I operate a warehouse and I have trucks coming to me, it makes my operation very efficient if I can have the trucks I need to unload lined up one by one, so that when I unload one truck another truck pulls up. That makes my operation efficient, so that is how I want to do it. On the other hand, when drivers can be so easily delayed on our roads today, that puts the burden back on those drivers—which makes them more inefficient. They have to plan their trips, they have to leave hours earlier than they normally would and they have to wait in queues, simply to make that warehouse more efficient. So while that warehouse may become more efficient, what actually happens is that our entire supply chain becomes less efficient. These are the problems we have when our market becomes overly concentrated.

The other issue we need to look at is how to improve the health, wellbeing and safety of our nation's truck drivers—and of course it gets back to diesel fuel. The diesel fuel that we currently burn in trucks has very high levels of particulate matter. There is a way of reducing that, and that is through the process of coal liquefaction. We have the capability here in Australia, with our supplies of brown coal, especially in the Latrobe Valley, to produce diesel fuel through coal liquefaction. This would have particulates reduced by about 40 per cent. If we were able to do that it would substantially increase our ability to make our trucking safer. It would reduce the particulate matter in the cabs of trucks and make drivers' health a lot better, and that is what these bills also fail to address.

In the remaining minutes I have I will say a few kind words about Mr Tony Sheldon, the head of the TWU. I do not see him up in the gallery, but I believe he has been in Parliament House for the last couple of days. I believe he has truck drivers' best interests at heart. However, I think these bills need a bit of work, Tony. I do not think they are quite there. I think we need to look at and tackle the undue power of the supermarket duopoly, because we want to see all Australian truck drivers have a fair go. We want to make sure that the truck drivers of Australia have hope, reward and opportunity, as the rest of us do, and I hope we can achieve that in the future.

The SPEAKER: I would ask honourable members to sit down, because the honourable member is about to be advised by me that, it being 7 pm, I am about to propose the question that the House do now adjourn. The honourable member will have the opportunity of continuing his remarks at an appropriate time.