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Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Page: 2675


Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (18:10): I rise to speak in favour of the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011 and cognate legislation, and I commend the government for introducing it. Road safety affects us all, and anything we can do to improve it should be adopted. Road transport contributes around 1.7 per cent of Australia's GDP and employs almost a quarter of a million Australians. It is a significant industry beyond any doubt. Unfortunately, it also has the highest incidence of fatal injuries of any industry, with 25 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2008-09, which is 10 times higher than the average for all industry. The cost to the economy of these losses has been calculated at about $2.7 billion a year, but this should not primarily be an economic argument. We have to remember that, for truck drivers, the roads are a workplace. The inside of their cabin is a workplace. It is a space that is shared by all of us, and we all have a common interest, every time we get in a car or go out on the road on our bikes or walk across the road, to make sure that whoever is driving that very large truck potentially coming the other way is well rested and enjoys a safe and healthy workplace.

I heard some comments from the opposition about this being a thinly disguised wage claim and the threats that this might provide to people who genuinely want to be independent contractors. A basic principle that underpins this seems to have escaped some of the contributions to the debate—that is, when you have supply chains that are able to move from principal to contractor and down to the person who ultimately does the work, unless you have in place an approach that regulates the whole of that supply chain then you will find that it is the person at the end who almost always suffers. They are the one who is faced with the prospect of not getting work next time. They are the one who is told by the supermarket, 'We want you to wait outside here for three or four hours before you pick up your load'—and that is unpaid time. That means by the time they pick up their load they are potentially fatigued more than is fair. In this context I note and support the long-running campaign by the Transport Workers Union for safe rates in the road transport industry. I have met with them recently and met drivers who are going to be affected by this legislation. I have since signed a pledge to make our roads safer by supporting this bill, and today I honour that commitment.

Despite what has been said, this bill is the result of a lengthy and drawn-out process. There was a parliamentary inquiry into the issue of fatigue in transport in 2000. In addition, the National Transport Commission examined and reported on this topic in 2008. The Safe Rates Advisory Group was then established by DEEWR. In 2010 there was a paper entitled Safe Rates Safe Roads, and 45 submissions were received. A regulatory impact statement was then prepared by DEEWR. There is strong evidence that we need the measures in this bill. I will run through some of that evidence.

A survey conducted in 2011 by the Transport Workers Union illustrated the dangerous on-road behaviours that drivers are currently forced to engage in as a result of the economic pressures they are put under every day. The survey results show that 48 per cent of drivers report almost one day a week in unpaid waiting time. For delivery drivers it is more than 10 hours a week. This represents 300 to 500 hours per year worked without pay. Fifty-six per cent of owner-drivers have had to forgo vehicle maintenance because of economic pressure, the need to keep working or the high cost of repairs; 27 per cent felt they had to drive too fast; and nearly 40 per cent feel pressured to drive longer than legally allowed. Many say that the pressure comes directly or indirectly from the client. There are many other examples of evidence from over 20 years of commissions of inquiry and coroners reports explicitly linking rates of pay and safety. The 2008 report by the Hon. Lance Wright QC and Professor Michael Quinlan stated:

There is solid survey evidence linking payment levels and systems to crashes, speeding, driving while fatigued and drug use.

The 1991 federal Department of Transport and Communications report Long-distance truck drivers: on-road performance and economic rewardsaid:

Any deviation from a fixed salary tends to encourage practices designed to increase economic reward which are not synergetic with reducing exposure to risk.

Sworn testimony from Associate Professor Michael Belzer, of the University of Michigan, before the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission Mutual Responsibility for Road Safety case in 2006 said:

Every 10% more that drivers earn in pay rate is associated with an 18.7% lower probability of crash, and for every 10% more paid days off the probability of driver crashes declines 6.3%.

I note in this context that the vast majority of industry associations and leaders are in favour of this bill, including the Victorian Transport Association, the Australian Industrial Road Transport Industrial Organisation, various small fleet operators and various large fleet operators as well.

There is also evidence to suggest that pressure coming from higher up the supply chain is contributing to some of these unsafe practices. Almost a quarter of the drivers surveyed by the TWU believe pressure was coming from beyond the transport community. It is well known that we have a duopoly in the supermarket market and these two big retailers are responsible for one-third of all freight movements in this country. They aggressively leverage their economic power to increase their profits in many areas and I have no doubt that this occurs with road transport as well. Even large companies such as Heinz have noted this, with their chief financial officer recently stating that this is a very difficult environment. The reality is that, with two key customers, the environment for grocery manufacturers has become inhospitable. If large corporations such as Heinz are feeling this pressure, then truck drivers and their employers will be feeling it far more.

I believe, and the Greens believe, that there is enough evidence to support external intervention in the transport market. The only conclusion, other than allowing the continuation of horrendous practices, is that we must establish an effective and enforceable framework for maintaining safe rates and conditions. In our opinion this bill provides such a framework. It gives effect to four key principles: the universal application of a safe rates system to all supply chain participants, including client accountability for safe performance, planning and safe rates; safe rates and related conditions for long- and short-haul employees and owner-drivers determined by an independent tribunal; the capacity to make binding determinations and resolve disputes amongst supply chain participants; and an appropriate and adequate enforcement regime. All these principles are to be supported and I commend the bills to the House.