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Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Page: 2693

Mrs D'ATH (Petrie) (19:29): I rise to speak in support of the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011 and the Road Safety Remuneration (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill 2011. These bills will establish a new Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, which will have the objective of promoting safety and fairness in the road transport industry. The principal bill lays out the powers and functions of the tribunal, which will be empowered 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. These determinations will be known as road safety remuneration orders.

The tribunal will also 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 insofar as they provide incentives to work in an unsafe manner. The tribunal will be made up of a mixture of Fair Work Australia members and expert members with qualifications relevant to the road transport industry. The bill will also establish a compliance regime for the enforcement of road safety remuneration orders, safe remuneration approvals and any orders arising out of the arbitration, by consent, of a dispute.

This bill will complement 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 proposed state based heavy vehicle 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. The bill also ensures 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. It also includes developing and applying reasonable enforceable standards throughout the road transport industry supply chain to ensure the safety of road transport drivers and ensure that hirers of drivers and participants in the supply chain take responsibility for implementing and maintaining those standards.

We have heard from the member for Bradfield and the member for Mayo that this bill allegedly does not deal with fairness or safety. In fact, the member for Mayo only a couple of hours ago went so far as to say there was no reference to the words 'fairness' or 'safety' in this bill. All I can say to the member for Mayo is that he must not have read the front cover or even opened the bill to look at its contents.

I will not go to numerous references throughout the bill to fairness and safety but I will draw the attention of the member for Mayo and those on the other side of this debate to sections such as section 20, which specifically goes to matters the tribunal must have regard to. Section 20 subsection (1) states:

In deciding whether to make a road safety remuneration order, the Tribunal must have regard to the following matters:

(a) 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.

It could not be made any clearer. Those of us who are elected to this parliament should at the very least be able to read a piece of legislation that clearly articulates the purpose of that bill, which is fairness and safety. As I say, I do not intend to use the time that I have to go through every section that is outlined there, but I have already stated what the principal objectives of this bill are in relation to removing those incentives and pressures for unsafe work practices.

Why is it important for this bill to be introduced? We have already heard from the member for Mayo that this industry has an award—there is the Fair Work Act—and if this is all working why do we need to do anything else? If it is not working, why do we not just fix that act or fix the award? This is evidence that the member for Mayo, along with many on the opposition side, has no idea of the issues facing the road transport industry. These are issues that have plagued this industry for many, many years. There have been numerous coronial inquiries, government reports, judicial determinations and academic studies outlining why it is necessary to introduce separate legislation to deal specifically with the transport industry.

The Transport Workers Union of Australia's website notes that these reports and studies have indicated that legislation needs to give effect to four key principles: firstly, the universal application of a safe rates system to all participants in the supply chain, including client accountability for safe performance, planning and safe rates; secondly, safer rates and related conditions for all drivers including long- and short-haul employee drivers and owner-drivers determined by an independent tribunal; thirdly, the capacity to make binding determinations and resolve disputes amongst supply chain participants; and, fourthly, an appropriate and adequate enforcement regime.

For far too long drivers have been pushing themselves on our roads to meet ridiculous time lines to put food on their tables and pay their bills. These drivers have gone to extraordinary lengths to do their jobs. We have heard of the accounts of taking stimulants and prescription or other drugs just to meet their demands. These drivers want to drive safely; their families want them to drive safely; we want them to drive safely. How can drivers be expected to drive safely, obey speed signs and take appropriate breaks to avoid fatigue when there is insufficient legislation to protect them while they do this? We all know the effect fatigue has on drivers, on fine motor skills and concentration.

When we turn a blind eye to what is happening in the road transport industry, we say it is okay for these drivers to put themselves at risk. We say that it is okay for them to put other lives at risk because, when we talk about the road transport industry, an unsafe industry means unsafe roads for all road users. The road toll is already too high. Too many people die on our roads every year. Families lose loved ones and sometimes whole families are lost. Sometimes these accidents involve truck drivers who also have families who grieve. These drivers are just trying to do their job, a job that we need them to do. Without truck drivers our businesses suffer and our economy suffers. We have heard the minister already state that the road transport industry is an integral part of the Australian economy. 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.

We have heard this evening the offensive deriding of the union movement by those on the other side of this debate. The member for Mayo was particularly scathing of the union movement in his comments on this bill. I think his words were that we are just trying to give more power to our mates in the unions. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am more than proud to stand here and congratulate the Transport Workers Union and the union movement. They should be congratulated on their safe rates campaign. We should congratulate the union, their members and every person in the community who has signed up and supported this campaign. It is long overdue, and it is their hard work and advocacy that has seen this come to fruition.

I appreciate that opposition members, particularly the member for Mayo, are very nervous about unions, and I can understand why. It is unions that give workers a voice, and we know that the opposition do not like workers to have a voice. When in power, they have done in the past, and would do in the future, everything possible to ensure that workers have no voice and cannot act collectively in their common interest. That is what these workers have done. They have acted collectively in their common interest not just to get better pay, not just to get better conditions but to actually save lives—not just for their own safety but for others on the road as well—and they should be congratulated.

All workers deserve the right to have laws in place that provide a safe workplace. All workers deserve to have regulation within the industry that they work in that ensures that where unsafe work practices are allowed to occur the individual or business can be held liable. Every worker wants to go home at the end of a work day without injury. Every child or partner wants to have their mother, father or partner come home from work. The Gillard government is committed to improving the road transport industry. We have listened to the industry and we are acting in the interests of the industry.

Some of the statistics that the Transport Workers Union have put together are quite horrifying: the 330 Australians killed every year in truck crashes, the 5,300 Australians injured every year in truck crashes and a trucking fatality rate 10 times the national fatality average by industry. This death and injury causes immeasurable family and community devastation. There is a $2.7 billion cost to taxpayers each year from truck related deaths and injuries. Misuse of unfettered commercial power by massive industry clients like Coles is the root cause of death and injury. Clients squeeze the industry so hard that drivers are often forced to work too long or too fast just to make a living for themselves and their families. This is what the Transport Workers Union has identified as the crisis: someone's mother, son, sister, brother or dad.

We heard from the member for Mayo today that we are just politicising these people. But these are workers, real people who are sick of hearing about these fatalities. It is not just numbers to them. This is their husband or their wife, their brother or their sister, their son or their daughter, and we do need to talk about them. That is the problem. We cannot just talk about this as a piece of black-and-white law and statistics that do not affect people. This is all about people, and that is why we need to introduce this legislation.

The Transport Workers Union website notes that a survey conducted in 2011 by the TWUA illustrated the dangerous on-road behaviours that drivers are currently forced to engage in as a result of economic pressures. According to the survey results, 48 per cent of drivers report almost one day a week in unpaid waiting time; 56 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, with many saying that the pressure comes directly or indirectly from the client.

In the brief time I have left I want to acknowledge the great work that our drivers do. I met some of my local truck drivers just last year when they came to the Redcliffe showgrounds for the Brisbane Convoy for Kids, raising money for sick kids. It was incredible to see truck after truck coming into the showgrounds. I met the drivers and I met their husbands, their wives and their kids, some of whom go to school with my kids—for the first time I realised that they were truck drivers. I talked to them about the risks and about how they feel and are valued by our society and our community. We do not realise the benefits that they provide to our economy by just getting into those trucks every day and driving. Whether they are short-haul drivers or a long-haul drivers, they do an amazing job and an important job for our economy. We need to keep those drivers safe. We need to make sure that they go home to their families each night. That is why I support this bill.