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Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Page: 2703

Mr NEVILLE (HinklerThe Nationals Deputy Whip) (20:14): Mr Deputy Speaker Symon, may I commence my contribution by congratulating you on your elevation to the Speaker's panel. These bills being debated tonight, the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011 and the Road Safety Remuneration (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill 2011, envisage a new Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, and this legislation has been the subject of a Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications referred legislation inquiry. I want to make it clear that, from my perspective, the committee's report is a fair and accurate record of the evidence that we received, both in the submissions and in the public hearings. However, the coalition members of the committee reached different conclusions from the evidence that was brought before us, and we did not support the final recommendation of this report.

The objective of these bills is to promote the safety and fairness of the road transport industry by establishing a Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal which may set pay and contract rates in the road transport industry by issuing road safety remuneration orders, or RSROs. The RSROs may contain minimum remuneration and employment conditions in addition to those contained in an award. The RSRO may also address industry practices such as loading and unloading, waiting times, working hours, load limits, payment methods and periods.

The tribunal can also make an order to 'reduce or remove remuneration related incentives, pressures and practices that contribute to unsafe work practices, for example speeding and excessive working hours'. Further, the tribunal may also grant safe remuneration approvals, which are a form of collective agreement determination in relation to road transport collective agreements between hirers and self-employed drivers. It will also be empowered to resolve disputes between drivers, hirers and employers, and others involved in the road transport industry supply chain, with any orders being enforced by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

As I said before, the coalition members of the committee understand and appreciate the intention of the bills. However, we do not believe that the measures contained in them will have a significant impact on improving safety for truck drivers and other road users. Indeed, it should be noted that there has been a gradual improvement in the accident and fatality rates in recent years, despite the increase in the national freight task.

The coalition has always prioritised road safety, and that is why we created the first ever national transport plan, Auslink and Roads to Recovery; restored the Black Spot Program; and supported the development of the National Road Safety Strategy. The key issue for coalition members in assessing the legislation is whether the proposed reforms have the desired effect of reducing unacceptably high rates of injuries and fatalities on our roads. There actually could be some unintended and dire consequences for individuals and entities involved in the trucking, freight and logistics industries.

One scenario that has been put to me is that of livestock saleyards. At no time in the entire saleyards process do the yard owners actually own a single animal. Other regulations state that saleyard managers are in charge of animal welfare while livestock are at a facility but at no time do they ever take ownership of that stock. When livestock arrives at the saleyards facility, the vendor's agent is in charge of them and, once the sale has taken place, responsibility is transferred to the new owner. In effect, the saleyard operator simply provides a facility and acts as a landlord yet they are covered by the proposed legislation and, for them to be able to function legally and effectively under the legislation, they may have to employ a logistics manager who would be able to allocate trucks to particular slots. This expense will have to be recouped from the industry, which in turn comes back to more pressure on the owners and ultimately the drivers.

Another consideration is the facilities for truck drivers currently provided at saleyards. Most of these facilities include parking, toilets and showers for the entire transport industry, not just livestock haulers. It has been suggested by some in the saleyards sector that these rest-stop facilities may only be open to drivers who have a prearranged loading or unloading timeslot. I certainly do not want to see that happen.

Members would be aware of my strong belief that we need more and better rest stops for drivers, including truck drivers. This was one of the findings of Beyond the midnight oil; 3,000 is what we suggested. Apart from improving rest facilities for truck drivers, we need to maintain and improve roads—a point supported in a number of submissions to the inquiry. The committee received plenty of evidence which supported a sharper focus on improving roads and enforcing existing laws and regulations, and it was frequently put to the committee that these and other measures would have a greater impact on road safety.

In its submission to the inquiry, the Civil Contractors Federation told the committee:

… road safety is a broader issue and improving road safety requires a holistic approach rather than being based on a narrow focus upon the method and quantum of remuneration.

Noel Porter of Porter Haulage in Victoria said:

There is no such thing as a safe rate .

There are however safe roads .Which we currently do not have .

We feel that the evidence points to ongoing fatigue and extended waiting times at loading points and later at distribution centres, supermarket unloading bays and the like, and they need to be the first point of attack.

During this inquiry, I met with a delegation of women who had lost their partners, husbands or family members in trucking accidents. I met with Johanna de Beer, a mother who had lost her son; Lystra Tagliaferri, a wife who had lost her husband, Lisa Sawyer, a sister who had lost a brother; Suzanne de Beer, a wife whose husband had been killed; and Stella Minos, the wife of an owner-driver. I was deeply moved by their circumstances. And, as one who lost his best friend who was a long-haul driver just 15 or 20 minutes from his home at the end of a long transport run, I can well appreciate their loss and their family tragedy. I pledge myself to continue to pursue better physical conditions for truckies and owner-drivers, but I do not see how introducing two layers of remuneration solves the problem. You end up with two regulators and with cross-jurisdictional problems. I am not in the business of union bashing, and Tony Sheldon knows that. I am a great supporter of the trucking industry and its drivers. I just do not agree with him in this instance.

In terms of committee credibility, my mentor was the Hon. Peter Morris, the Minister for Transport in the Hawke era and Chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Transport, Communications and Infrastructure in the Keating era. He urged us as his colleagues—and that was as colleagues of both political persuasions—to report on the evidence in our inquiries. I think it is a great waste of effort and a great pity if standing committees simply divide along party lines and report as the government wants them to report, especially when reviewing legislation, so I was really upset to have to disagree with the report. In fact, I can proudly say that during the 10 or 11 years that I chaired the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communication, Transport and the Arts we did not have one dissenting report between the two sides of politics. I thought that was quite remarkable—and we brought down some very heavy reports. The only dissenting comments that we had were, strangely, from government members who wanted to toughen up our recommendations. They were not speaking against them; they just wanted them to be stronger. I also remember the member for Oxley was trying very hard to get funding for the Brisbane to Ipswich Road when one of our reports came down. One of our recommendations did not align with his plan for that road. I went to see him and said that if he wanted to put in a dissenting report I would understand. He said, 'No, Paul. This is a great report. I would not spoil it by a dissenting report.' That was the spirit we had in those days, and I hope in matters as important as road transport we continue along those lines.

The member for Shortland mentioned 'beyond the midnight oil'. Some people ask me why we called the report Beyond the midnight oil. The reason was very simple. We all talk about 'burning the midnight oil', which is when we say we are doing more than we should or we are pushing ourselves more than is reasonable. But when we said 'going beyond burning the midnight oil' we meant that we were ratcheting up yet another notch, and that is what we found in the transport industry. We went out to truckies' service stations in the middle of the night. I remember one north of Armidale and in the cold hours of the morning talking to truckies, looking at the food they ate and working out how many hours they had driven. We got two of the best experts in the world on transport fatigue, who happened to be in Australia at the time, to give evidence and they put a lot of emphasis on what is known as circadian rhythms. They are the times of your daily cycle when your alertness is at its best. There are certain hours between midnight and dawn when, no matter how well you are adjusted, you are not at your best. There was also work from the University of Adelaide that showed how fatigue caused danger for truck drivers. So I have no inhibitions about strict laws that come down hard on employers who mistreat their employees, who force them to drive faster than they should or to take on time limits that are unachievable. I have no problems with prosecuting people who try to get their employees to bodgie up their logbooks. I believe there should be stricter controls enforced on supermarkets and loading organisations to make sure truckies get a fair go in loading their trucks and do their genuine work on the highway, not sitting around, as one speaker said earlier, for one day in every week just waiting for loads or waiting to be unloaded.

I had another bit of a problem with the report. I know it may have been well intentioned, but the idea of trying to extend this legislation to courier drivers and Australia Post contractors is, to my way of thinking, going a bridge too far. I am not saying that there may not be a case for better regulation in those two fields; I am not saying that at all. But, if we are going to have two layers of regulator, both dealing with money and money related conditions, and then we push this agenda into other fields of transport, I ask the questions: where will it end and will it give healthy certainty to business? I think not.

It was interesting that both the New South Wales and Queensland governments, two governments of different political persuasions, disagreed with the legislation. The Queensland government said, 'Queensland does not believe that the setting of specific rates and methods of payment by the proposed tribunal under legislation is likely in itself to encourage employers, employees and owner-drivers to adopt a broader range of safe work practices.' I think that quote from the Queensland government says it all.

Debate adjourned.