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Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Page: 2700


Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (19:58): Deputy Speaker Symon, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment to the Speaker's panel. I believe that this is the first time that I have spoken in the chamber when you have been in the chair. I am sure that you will do a wonderful job.

I rise to support the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011 and the Road Safety Remuneration (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill 2011. I do so because I support road safety and sound occupational health and safety legislation. This legislation will ensure that workers in this industry are protected in ways that they are not at the moment. The bills will establish a new Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, whose objects are to promote safety and fairness in the road transport industry. It 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 relative conditions for employed and self-employed drivers in addition to any existing rights employed drivers have under the industrial instruments and contracts of employment and any existing rights that self-employed independent contract drivers have under their contracts for services. A determination may be made by the tribunal on its own initiative or on application.

The tribunal will also be empowered to grant safe remuneration approvals in relation to remuneration and remuneration related conditions contained in road transport collective agreements. It will be empowered to resolve disputes between drivers, hirers, employers and participants in the road transport supply chain by mediation, conciliation and private arbitration. It will be a mixture of Fair Work Australia and an expert panel of members with qualifications relevant to the road transport industry and it will establish a compliance regime for the enforcement of RSROs.

This legislation will complement existing federal legislation, such as the Fair Work Act and the Independent Contract Act 2006, which was brought in under the Howard government. It will also complement state government schemes dealing with owner-driver contracts and proposed state based heavy vehicle laws.

I first became aware of the conditions that many drivers in the road transport industry work under when I was involved in an inquiry into independent contracting and labour hire arrangements. The report that the then House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Workplace Relations and Workforce Participation brought down, Making it work, opened my eyes. The most powerful submission and the most powerful evidence given to that inquiry was from the Transport Workers Union. It came from drivers who were pushing the envelope each and every day, in many cases just to make enough money to keep their rigs on the road. The legislation that we have before us today is long overdue. It is legislation that will benefit the whole of our community. It is not just about ensuring that there is proper and adequate remuneration for drivers. It is also a road safety initiative.

I will run through some of the strong arguments why members on both sides of this House should support this legislation. Members should not just stand up and support special interest groups within their own electorates, support big business or concentrate on profits, blaming the drivers and attacking the unions. These owner-drivers are small business operators. Each and every day they go out there and work very hard. Their downtime is time that they are not paid for. It is a very difficult industry to make a living in. It is a very hard industry for those who are employed in it. It is to the government's credit that it is finally recognising that those drivers deserve to have a decent wage.

I compliment the member for Hinkler, who is sitting in the House. I know that he understands a lot of the pressures that truck drivers are under. He brought down a report when he was chair of the transport committee called Burning the midnight oil. It showed the pressures that drivers were under in trying to make a living. That has not changed.

I will give a few statistics. Every year, 330 Australians are killed in truck crashes. That means that each and every year 330 truck drivers are farewelled by their families and friends. These families and friends say goodbye to their loved one and that loved one never returns home. Around 5,300 Australians are injured each year in truck crashes. They are not only those who are driving but families who are going away on holidays and people going to work. Trucking fatality rates are 10 times the national fatality average by industry. That is an incredible figure. Death and injury cause immeasurable family and community devastation. It costs the community.

Those people who are left without a father or in some cases a mother who was the main income earner are then forced to initially look towards the welfare services that operate within this country. Their standard of living and lifestyle falls down around their ears. The associated economic costs of hospitalisation, rehabilitation and maybe a lifetime of unemployment are enormous. As a community, I do not think that we can allow that to continue. The government feels that way and that is why we have introduced the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011 and the Road Safety Remuneration (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill 2011. The cost to taxpayers each year from truck related deaths and injuries is $2.7 billion. That shows you just how expensive it is when you take into account all those things I mentioned earlier. The root of this problem is the unfettered commercial power of the big industry clients. It is the one issue that pushes the drivers to go that little bit further and then it causes death and injury. These big commercial powers squeeze the industry so hard that drivers are often forced to work too long or to drive too fast just to make a living for themselves and their families. Keeping a truck on the road is very expensive—the fuel and other associated costs of operating a truck are enormous.

We like to think that the people who are delivering essential goods and services throughout Australia are going to be fairly paid for the work that they do, but the fact is that currently they are not. Some employers are paying the right wages, and some drivers are getting the right sort of compensation for their work, but there are many, many thousands that are forced to push the envelope, to go a little bit faster, to work a little bit longer than they should just so that they can survive. This leads to dangerous on-road behaviour.

This all relates to the economic pressure that is placed on the drivers. Forty-eight per cent of drivers report almost one day a week is unpaid waiting time. They are standing there with their truck waiting for the goods to be loaded. As a consequence, they have got to make up the time they have lost while they are waiting. Fifty-six per cent of owner-drivers have had to forgo vehicle maintenance because they have economic pressure to keep their truck going. It is imperative that we look at these issues. Twenty-seven per cent felt they had to drive too fast, and 40 per cent feel pressure to drive longer than is legally allowed. I believe there have been some checks recently in New South Wales which have shown that these behaviours are taking place. It is all about pressure. It is coming indirectly from the clients and it leads to unsafe trucks being on the road and unsafe behaviour from drivers who are being forced to push themselves to the limit just so they can make ends meet.

I will give the example of Tom, who lives on the Central Coast of New South Wales, which is part of my electorate. He completed a survey and summed up some of the pressures and dangers in the industry. He said:

I'm doing 24 hours in unpaid waiting times a week. With trailers being pre-loaded by—

the company—

I cannot afford to wait another an hour or so unpaid while they unload and reload a set of trailers to get the legal weight. I carry overweight regularly and I don't have a choice.

He carries overweight regularly and he does not have a choice. That is the pressure that is being put on drivers by the way the industry is operating at the moment.

It is time for the government to act. It is time for governments in all jurisdictions to come together and work to make this industry safer and to protect not only the drivers, not only those who work in the industry, but also the community as a whole. It is a major occupational health and safety issue for those drivers and it is one that cannot be ignored. The solution is quite simple: introduce a safe rates system and the legislation we have before us today, and make sure that we have an industry that operates in accordance with proper safety guidelines.

It was in 2000, I think, when the member for Hinkler chaired the committee which brought down the Beyond the midnight oil report. It is 2012 and really nothing has changed in that time. Drivers are still pushing the envelope; drivers are still forced to keep their trucks on the road when they should be going in for service; drivers are still forced to fudge their logbooks just so they can make a living; and drivers are still being forced to drive faster than they should. Drivers are still being forced to do all of the things that they really should not be doing. As a government we should be putting in place proper laws to make sure that they do not have to do this.

I was interested to hear the previous speaker. She was talking about 'red tape' relating to bookkeeping and substance abuse. I actually think as the government and as the parliament we should be ensuring that we have legislation in place that stops that substance abuse and makes sure there is proper record keeping. With the introduction of the Road Safety Remuneration Bill and the Road Safety Remuneration (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill, that is exactly what we will have—good safety legislation. (Time expired)