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Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Page: 2668

Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (17:41): It is not surprising that the member for Mayo is opposing this bill. As he mentioned previously in his contribution, he is against fairness for building workers and he is against fairness for truck drivers. Indeed, we know that he is one of the champions of Work Choices. So, in fact, one could say that he is against fairness for working people. We do know that Tony Abbott is desperately trying to bury Work Choices. He says it is dead, but the member for Mayo is one of the people who is desperately trying to resurrect it, giving it mouth-to-mouth and getting it back out there so that Work Choices will be reintroduced and the unfairness associated with that legislation will be brought on all people. It is not surprising that once again the Liberal Party is rejecting fairness for working people around this country. So, for very good reasons, I urge the opposition to support this important piece of legislation.

Unlike the member for Mayo, I am very, very pleased to rise today to support the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011. I think it is incredibly important that we try and remove the economic incentive that encourages truck drivers to be involved in unsafe work practices on our roads. Safety on our roads is not just the transport industry's business; it is everybody's interest. The workplace health and safety standards for truck drivers are not, as I said, just the industry's business. When we see collisions on our roads between trucks and other road users, more often than not it is a family car that receives the brunt of the force of that collision. Needless to say, the majority of injuries and fatalities are sustained by the passengers in those cars. Everyone in this House agrees that any death on our road is an absolute tragedy. So it is important that the opposition gets behind this bill to ensure that the number of deaths that have occurred in recent years does not continue.

We know, from studies, that over 250 people on average lose their lives and that over 1,000 people suffer serious injuries as a result of accidents involving trucks on our roads. Truck drivers should not have to accept speeding, overloading their trucks, driving excessive hours or cutting back on vehicle maintenance as part of their job description. The abundance of unsafe work practices and workplace health and safety breaches are part of the transport industry culture and pose serious risks to drivers' safety and to the safety of everyone else. We cannot simply sit idly by and watch the number of road fatalities trickle through the Australian Bureau of Statistics data each year without ensuring that we are doing everything possible to prevent these accidents from happening.

This side of the House is committed to improving work practices in the transport industry and to reducing the cost in lives that is currently so sadly occurring. It has taken a Labor government to take this issue seriously. It is this Labor government that is committed to improving safety outcomes for truck drivers while also ensuring the long-term viability of the road transport industry

Through the National Road Strategy 2011-20 we are focused on addressing problem areas such as speeding, fatigue and dangerous work practices in the trucking industry. Part of that is through setting up the new Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, which this legislation introduces.

Australian truck drivers work hard to make a living, and the government wants to support measures that ensure pay and related conditions encourage them to drive safely, manage their hours and maintain their vehicles. We have begun improving working conditions for truck drivers through the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program, which we set up to improve safety and productivity outcomes for the heavy vehicle industry through funding projects over the last four years. That funding has gone towards projects for rest areas, parking and decoupling bays, enhancing roads and technology trials. It is the first Commonwealth program dedicated to this kind of reform, but we recognise that there is more work to be done.

It is this Labor government that has continued to push the agenda for road safety through the implementation of further measures that will improve driver working conditions and reduce the number of deaths and injuries we see each year. It is this government that is committed to getting to the crux of the issue by focusing on the causes of incidents involving road transport vehicles that see thousands of innocent Australians caught in the crossfire.

The government recognises the good work of the Transport Workers Union. We heard the member for Mayo make comments about this, but the Transport Workers Union does stand up for its workers and it does a very good job. I commend its longstanding safe rates campaign, which called for improvement to transport industry rates of pay and driving practices to improve safety for all people on the road. That led to the 2008 report from the National Transport Commission, which examined payment methods and the impact they had on safety, and the chain of responsibility obligations that could be applied in developing legislation.

It is interesting to hear the opposition continue to say that there is no evidence to link rates of pay and economic incentives with work health and safety practices on our roads. I urge the opposition to have a look at some of the evidence. The Transport Commission review did find a link between rates of pay and safety outcomes for truck drivers. If the rate of pay is not substantial enough it creates an incentive for truck drivers to drive longer for more pay, which means factors like speeding, fatigue and the use of illicit substances, as well as other unsafe practices, come into play.

In response to the National Transport Commission's report, the minister consulted with industry stakeholders and developed models for possible reform in the industry, building on the recommendations in the NTC report. As part of the process, a Safe Rates Advisory Group was established by the government to provide expert industry advice on policy options for national reform. The Safe Rates Advisory Group then developed a directions paper and made recommendations that a tribunal be established to deal with safety and pay issues for both employee and owner drivers, as set out in the National Transport Commission's review.

So, unlike what the opposition would have us believe, this legislation has been through extensive consultation and review. We now have before us a good piece of legislation. While those on the other side continue to do what they do best—say 'no'—we are working with stakeholders to look at better outcomes. Once again, I urge the opposition to get on board with this and not just say no.

The bills before the House seek to complement existing legislation to promote safety and fairness in the road transport industry so that truck drivers are paid reasonably for the work they do and to remove any economic incentives for drivers to take unacceptable risks on our roads. The introduction of the legislation will fulfil the recommendations made by the Safe Rates Advisory Group in its directions paper, which say clearly that the economic incentives for truck drivers to practise poor workplace health and safety need to be broken.

The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal will work by looking 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. If the tribunal determines that a sector of the industry has poor safety outcomes as a result of low remuneration, the tribunal will be able to make a road safety remuneration order to improve on-road safety outcomes for drivers operating in that sector. In addition, the tribunal will 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 self-employed or independent contractor drivers with whom the hirer proposes to contract.

Other functions of the bill will be to empower the tribunal to resolve disputes between drivers, their hirers or employers and participants in the road transport industry supply chain by mediation, conciliation or private arbitration, and to establish a compliance regime for the enforcement of orders, safe remuneration approvals and any orders arising out of the arbitration of a dispute.

This is an important piece of legislation, which a lot of my constituents have very much welcomed. In my electorate there are a lot of truck drivers and independent contractors and other people who have recognised that they have to work around the clock to ensure they get the pay to make ends meet. They work longer and longer hours, and often do not have the time to look after their equipment or have the time they need in a whole range of areas that they have identified are important. In fact, Daniel, a driver in my electorate, said to me that he believes this bill will definitely stop fatalities and draw into the industry people who want to drive, because there is more money in it. This point—that we need to ensure that people are getting paid appropriately and are not taking risks—is an important one.

We have seen today that the opposition is again saying no to another sensible bill on which there has been consultation and work with stakeholders. The opposition seems to deny that there is a link between remuneration and the improvement of safety on our roads. This is despite evidence to the contrary; reports looking at the economic incentives have been coming out regularly. Of course the opposition would not want facts in any debate. It does not want facts, it does not want information, it does not want studies and it does not want consultation. All it wants to do is say no. It just wants to leave the existing systems in place.

I heard the member for Mayo talk about infrastructure and I have to say that I was quite surprised by him saying that he supports increasing money in infrastructure, because while the opposition were in government they spent years neglecting our infrastructure right around this country. I know in my own electorate it took an election of a Labor government to start investing in infrastructure. It is interesting that their argument is, 'Don't do anything about this; just put more money in infrastructure,' when it was not their track record to put any money into infrastructure. It has actually been this government that has. I take it from the member for Mayo that he is actually applauding us in that endeavour, and I hope he does support us in the future. I know the opposition did not agree with Infrastructure Australia. That was obviously an important body that was, once again, all about economic infrastructure and investment in infrastructure after consultation. Hopefully, this is a sign from the member for Mayo that he is going to get on board with our infrastructure spending. This might mean that he will support our mining tax as well. Obviously that is important in raising funds for good economic infrastructure. I am not sure, but maybe he was flagging that.

Certainly we are not going to just stand by and allow road fatalities to continue happening. I am not under any illusion that this bill will remove all fatalities from our roads. This is always going to be a fact of life in Australia. But we should not leave any stone unturned. We should ensure that we are doing everything possible to make sure we do not have any deaths that could have been prevented. This is a very important piece of legislation. As I said, it has been through significant consultation. It has gone through a commission. It has gone through a working group. It has gone through discussions with stakeholders and a whole range of people. We are now in a position to implement it. Once again, I call on the opposition to put their obstructionist politicking aside and actually get on board and say yes to something. This would be a very important piece of legislation to say yes to.

In conclusion, improving road safety and workplace health and safety is a responsibility of those elected to parliament and we should not shirk away from it. We often hear people in the opposition talk about health and safety as perhaps not something that this House should be focusing on. I note that certainly when it comes to the harmonisation of health and safety we see scare campaigns put up by the opposition saying, 'Volunteers will be going to jail now.' That was in an actual letter that was sent out to my constituents. This opposition will go so far. Of course, that is not true. Volunteers will not be subject to onerous responsibilities under the health and safety legislation but, once again, this opposition does not stop at running these scare campaigns. But we on this side of the House think it is important to have a safe and healthy workplace. We do not believe that anyone, any worker in this country, does not deserve to go to work and be safe and come home alive and uninjured. Establishing this tribunal is an important step to ensure that there are safe working conditions for our truckies. It will not only protect our truck drivers but also serve to protect every road user. Once again, I call on the opposition to support this legislation. I commend the bills to the House.