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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 2292

Mr BUCHHOLZ (Wright) (13:05): I rise to speak on the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011 and the Road Safety Remuneration (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill 2011. I share the thoughts and the comments of the shadow minister for infrastructure and transport, the member for Wide Bay, who spoke earlier. Along with the previous speaker, the member for Fowler, I have experienced and am very sympathetic to anyone who loses their life on the road. I have experienced loss of life in my electorate through the floods and natural disasters, so I am very au fait with the pain of losing people in your electorate. However, I do want to make the point that before coming to this place I owned a transport company. I believe I am the only person in this House who has had such an involvement in this industry. I had 14 depots throughout Queensland, I employed 105 permanent staff and contractors, and my payroll was around $80,000 a week specifically in the transport sector. I have some authority in this sector.

I have also stood in this place on a number of occasions and supported bills. The government will make the point that the opposition gets up and says, 'No, no, no.' I have stood in this place and supported numerous bills so that good policy had carriage in this place. But I stand here today, qualified in the industry, au fait with the machinations of the industry, and stress to the government that this is not good policy.

I will outline for you, categorically, why this policy should not be dealt with in the way that it is at the moment. Even looking at the way the bill is being carried, the procedure of the House is being totally disregarded. The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications has taken evidence and has not given its report as yet but the bill is before the House. I believe that the government also has amendments to what is already a flawed bill before the House. So not even the government believes that the bill before us is intact. It is already proposing amendments.

It is right that you are going to hear members of the government speak about road fatalities and try to make the causal link between pay rates and road fatalities. We on this side of the House have no reservation about trying to preserve life. The causal-link process is far from accurate. Evidence that was given to the inquiry, evidence that I will share with the House, will raise doubts and concerns about the line of attack that the government will use to support this bill.

I will now take you to some of the comments by people who gave evidence at the recent inquiry. There were a number of people who gave evidence, but I have chosen the peak bodies or organisations that have a stronger emphasis on representing the voice of the independents. The independents, for the sake of this debate, are the people I will refer to as one- to three-truck owners, not the multinationals. By definition, the independents are the people that the government is trying to assist—trying to help them by regulating their pay. The peak bodies are also not supportive of this because they see it as fundamentally flawed policy. The Australian Long Distance Owners and Drivers Association says:

… members feel that this Safe Rate legislation will only add to the ever increasing amount of compliance we are subjected to already.

…   …   …

… the transport industry is the most legislated and regulated industry in this country. This is not bad provided it is enforced consistently across the country and the Chain of Responsibility is extended to cover government’s role in this industry.

I want to pick up on that comment because the member for Fowler made the point that he sat in a roadhouse and he spoke with drivers involved in the industry. I have sat in those roadhouses, I have showered in those roadhouses and I have slept in them. So I understand exactly what he was talking about. The point that the Long Distance Owners and Drivers Association was making is that it is a burdensomely overcomplianced and overregulated industry. The point is that with regard to both of those examples that were put up—the excessive hours and not having the choice to carry overweight product—there are regulations in place for that. If you are driving over your logbook hours—and no reasonable operator encourages that with their staff, but I am not so naive to think that that does not happen—then you are in breach of regulations that exist. If you choose to carry product that you know is overweight, you are in breach of the regulations. So I am suggesting that putting another layer of compliance over the top of this for these people is not going to fix the principles or the practices that are already in place in the industry. Another layer of compliance is not going to fix it. I know genuinely in its heart that the government wants to get a resolution on this, but I am suggesting the means and the ways by which it is setting about it will not get it the outcome. I will be happy to give you my years of experience in the industry to get to an outcome. But I implore the government that the way it is going about it at the moment will not reach the desired outcome and does not have the support of the industry.

Brookfields Transport gave evidence to the inquiry stating:

“Safe Rates”, whilst a great idea in principle, it will have a huge amount of flaws in practice.

…   …   …

You really do not need a committee to even look at “safe rates” as again, it will not work due to the wide diversity of road transport, and any attempt to introduce it would just show a total lack of understanding of road transport in Australia. Seriously, get out and actually talk to the back bone of road transport, and they are not the major companies. Find out what their real costs are, the government red tape, registration costs … waiting times at loading and unloading sites, and of course roads.

Predominantly, what the person giving evidence there was saying is not too dissimilar from what the government is trying to achieve. The government is trying to achieve a higher margin for the independent operators—for the people within the industry—by increasing the rate. What the evidence received by the committee is saying is that although they want the same outcome, they want the government to get its hand out of the pocket of the industry with regard to costs, reduce their overheads and allow them to operate in a free market so that they get that bigger margin. Do not increase their wages, just play a role in decreasing their costs. You might think, 'How does the government play a role in these increased costs?' As they have said, there is overcompliance and the burden of the workplace health and safety. To give you an example, I ask those people in the House now, and those people watching, to think about a figure—the cost. What do you think the price, imposed by government, is of the registration alone—a one-line item on one truck—on a B-double truck is at the moment? You might be thinking about the $300 or $400 that it costs for your car. A B-double registration for 12 months is $15,708. What do you reckon a multi-combination unit registration is? The answer is $22,200. Those costs have increased exponentially over the years. The industry is saying to the government, 'Get your hand out of our pockets and let us try and get on with trying to provide a lifestyle for our families.'

The National Road Freight Association said:

… over regulation and inconsistent regulation … has far more effects of the Safety of our members. I feel this ''Safe Rates" bill will further monopolise the Transport industry and force individual operators out of the industry.

I know that it is not the government's intent to force people out of the industry, but when independent operators and peak bodies are telling you that this legislation is going to be detrimental you must take that on board, you must take that into consideration, because they are not lone voices. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said:

ACCI has considered the Bills and the Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) accompanying the Bills. The RIS indicates that the proposals appear less certain to deliver improved safety outcomes for road transport industry participants …

It has had a look at the legislation and it just does not believe that it is going to work. Terrie Bradley, another small independent contractor, said:

… many of our members believe that the implementation of safe rates will only serve to disadvantage those of us who work for the right rate now.

Why is it that small independents are so concerned about getting a pay rise? It just does not make sense, does it? But when they are consistently saying this—and I am not just picking people willy-nilly from the industry—it indicates an overall mindset that this is bad legislation. One of the NatRoad surveys found that 74 per cent of their members did not agree with this policy. Labor understand the importance of 74 per cent. They had a vote the other day. They said that a 70 per cent vote gave them a mandate, that it was the majority of the room and that it showed it was time to 'move on and heal'. If 70 per cent, or greater than 70 per cent, of another industry is saying to you overwhelmingly that this is bad, you must take it on board. You cannot say that 70 per cent of one vote is a victory but that 70 per cent of voices in an industry must not be heard.

I live in a regional area and my post gets delivered by a little postal operator. The Post Office Agents Association said in point No. 33 of their submission:

It seems unlikely that the Bill would improve road safety for Mail Contractors.

Those little mail contractors are pulling in and out of the road all the time. The bill may be skewed towards linehauled road safety on our highways, but the far-reaching effects of this policy will touch the little postal operators—by definition, it will collect everyone. Point No. 43 of the same submission says:

Collective bargaining is already available under the Competition And Consumer Act 2010.

The Director-General of the Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney General said:

Queensland did not support any of the models proposed in the Directions Paper but argued that safety in the road transport industry is multi-factorial and should be addressed with a number of intervention strategies.

The National Road Transport Operators Association said that the January 2012 survey of 105 transport businesses indicated that 74 per cent rejected the supposed link between pay and safety and that the RIS and the 2008 report by the National Transport Commission acknowledge that the link is not conclusively proven. They went on to say that limitations on federal powers mean that the bill will not have full coverage, resulting in a two-tier system unless states refer their powers, and it is estimated that the current proposal will cover just 60 per cent of owner-drivers and 80 per cent of employees.

I truly believe that the industry needs review. It is unfathomable that a driver and independent operator would be expected to line up next to a multinational operator at a loading dock. Before we even turn our trucks on, you can see the comparative advantage for the multinational operator. I buy my truck directly from the local Kenworth dealer. The bloke next to me, who is the multinational, is buying directly out of the European Union. He is paying $50,000 to $60,000 per unit less than I am. His fuel bill is $1 million a month. He is buying from the terminals cheaper than I can buy from the service station which charges a retail margin. We are not starting from the same point, so trying to bring the base price up will only infect the market.

I would like the opportunity to speak further, but time is against me. There are issues with waiting times that the industry must address. There are demurrage times of four, six or eight hours when drivers are not getting paid. They do have fatigue issues, but my point is that this bill will not resolve that for the industry. The industry sector's voice must be heard.

In summary, if the government really wants to help the industry the best way it can do that is to get its hand out of the industry's pockets and allow those margins to return. Increasing the base cost is not going to get you to the place you want to be, but increasing the margins by dropping the overwhelming burdens of cost that the government places on the industry would be a place to start. I am more than happy to offer my time to work with anyone from the government to achieve something that looks remotely like it would work.