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Thursday, 1 March 2012
Page: 2493

Ms SMYTH (La Trobe) (12:40): I am very pleased to speak on such an important piece of legislation as the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011, which will have the effect of establishing a new Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. We on this side know that this is an important move towards establishing safer roads both for those who work regularly on the roads as truck drivers and transporters and for the general public. I should say that my electorate of La Trobe in particular is one where electors will be particularly pleased to see the results of this bill. Because of its position on the outer fringes of Melbourne it is serviced by a number of significant arterial roads, and heavy road usage inevitably means that it faces significant road safety issues. Indeed, the heavy usage of roads within my electorate has meant that one of the municipalities, Casey, has one of the highest numbers of road fatalities in the state of Victoria. Across the four municipalities in my electorate in 2008, 29 people lost their lives. Last year there were four fatalities involving heavy trucks. With over 120,000 residents, La Trobe also has over 3,000 local people who are working within the transport sector. So I know that this bill and the initiatives that it implements will be of tremendous interest to them.

The bill is extremely significant because it reflects the government's commitment to address the underlying economic factors that create unsafe road practices. The bill will encourage drivers to drive safely, manage their hours and maintain their vehicles. We all know that making our roads safer is vital. The road transport industry is a major part of our economy, but truck driving is also sadly a very dangerous occupation. Truck driving has the highest incidence of fatal injuries, with 25 deaths per 100,000 in 2008-09. That is 10 times higher than the average for all industries.

In this debate we have heard much from those opposite about there being no meaningful correlation between rates of pay of truck drivers and safety on the roads. It is important to respond to that, because it was a particular focus of the Leader of the Nationals in his contribution to this debate. A number of people have spoken of the correlation between rates of remuneration for truck drivers and safety on our roads. Indeed, Professor Michael Belzer, who is an internationally recognised expert on the trucking industry, had quite a bit to say on this issue in 2006. He stated:

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%.

Those are extraordinary figures and tell of the real correlation between appropriate rates of remuneration and the propensity of drivers to be involved in serious accidents. Professor Belzer went on to say:

Higher pay produces superior safety performance for firms and drivers.

Professor Belzer is by no means the only person or organisation to speak about the correlation between rates of remuneration and safety on our roads. Indeed, the 2008 independent National Transport Commission report Safe Payments: addressing the underlying causes of unsafe practices in the roads transport industry confirmed that existing remuneration arrangements in the industry 'have a significant influence' on safety. So we hear regularly in the course of this debate and through the debate which is occurring in the community in general around the campaign for safer rates of pay for transport users. While we hear from those opposite that there is no connection between those two issues, there is very clearly a connection which has been drawn upon both by experts and by the commission report itself and which would surely be recognised by most reasonable people in our community as being a significant issue affecting safety on our roads.

This government recognises that owner-drivers play a very important role in the road transport industry, comprising some 60 per cent of the sector. Yet we know that they struggle to be remunerated appropriately. Almost 30 per cent are paid below the award rate, with many unable to cover their costs. At the bottom of the supply chain, they have little commercial ability to demand the rates that would enable them to work both safely and legally. We know that they have to cope with long working hours and unpaid queuing time. According to the National Road Transport Operators Association, distribution centres regularly require drivers to wait unpaid for up to 10 hours before loading and unloading. This has an impact both on their income and necessarily on fatigue management.

The National Transport Commission report recommended that eliminating these incentives for unsafe driving and poor safety in the remuneration and conditions of Australia's road transport drivers be achieved through regulatory intervention, and this is what we are responding to in the bill before us today. This government accepts that a regulatory approach will more effectively address current unacceptable levels of safety and potential market failures than merely a voluntary approach. The exploitation of drivers is totally inconsistent with this government's commitment to fairness, so we respond to these issues very meaningfully through the bill today. The measures in this bill are an extremely important step in creating the right environment to encourage safe roads and safer workplaces for Australian drivers. This government has a track record of having committed itself to improving safety and fairness in industries right across Australia since coming to office.

The bill also complements the existing federal legislation such as the Fair Work Act and the Independent Contractors Act, current state based schemes dealing with owner-driver contracts and the national heavy vehicle regulator laws. It recognises this government's intention to provide a framework that promotes safety by ensuring that road transport drivers do not have pay related incentives to work in an unsafe manner, such as encouraging speeding and excessive work hours. It is something that will encourage road transport drivers to be paid for their work, including loading, reloading and waiting times—something that is not necessarily the case currently. The bill will develop and apply reasonable and enforceable standards throughout the road transport industry supply chain to ensure the safety of road transport drivers. And it will ensure that hirers of drivers and others in the supply chain take responsibility for implementing and maintaining those standards.

I know that those opposite have remarked about the potential for the industry and for businesses to feel the regulatory effects of this bill and to be inconvenienced by this bill. I note that this bill has had wide support across the industry. I refer particularly to some of the comments by Mr Paul Ryan of the Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation. Members might know that this is an organisation that represents small and medium sized enterprises, which shift around 80 per cent of Australia's freight. It supports the bill. As the organisation's representative, Mr Ryan has stated:

Will it improve safety? Yes, because it will ensure that those customers (of transport companies and operators) are held accountable for their conduct before an independent tribunal. Yes, because it would give small and medium sized enterprises and mum and dad businesses a vehicle to be heard, particularly through their associations. Yes, because contract allocation and payment terms will not be used as a penalty or incentive.

So, despite all those comments from the other side about small business being disadvantaged through the measures contemplated in this bill, we have seen that some of the strongest advocates for those parties have resoundingly indicated that they support the bill and the reasonable measures which are contemplated in it.

The bill establishes an independent tribunal which will be able to inquire into the road transport industry and, where appropriate, determine minimum rates of pay and related conditions for both employed and self-employed drivers. The tribunal will also be able to consider other matters, for example safety issues, that impact both on employees and owner-drivers, such as addressing waiting times, as I have mentioned earlier. These determinations, which will be known as road safety remuneration orders, will be in addition to any existing rights employed drivers may have under industrial instruments and existing rights that owner-drivers may have under their contracts for services. The tribunal's approach will be evidence based having regard to applying reasonable and enforceable standards to ensure safety and fair treatment of road transport drivers.

I particularly note that during the debate we have heard from those opposite about the concerns of business and that they say there is no correlation between safety and safe remuneration rates. We have also heard in this place, during the very many debates we have had, about the influence of large retailers such as Coles and Woolworths. We hear regularly from, in particular, members of the National Party about their concern that there is an unfair market advantage available to large retailers such as Coles and Woolworths. I say to that that this bill is a perfect opportunity to stand up for the little guy in relation to organisations such as Coles and Woolworths. As members would no doubt be aware, around 30 per cent of road transporters are carrying goods for Coles and Woolworths. Given those members' oft expressed concern at abuse of market power and its impact on their electorates, I really hope that they will turn around and ultimately support this bill and support the protections for their communities.

I am sure that members opposite will be interested to know what the industry thinks on this particular point. I note that the publication entitled the Australasian Transport News has stated in its January editorial on these issues:

What cannot be disputed is that in many cases freight users have been getting a free ride, and have been big enough and ugly enough to keep it that way. They have no price signal for reform or increased efficiency at the interface between the truck hire and their warehouse, and that cost has been borne by those with least power.

So this is a perfect opportunity, particularly for members of the National Party, to stand up for the little guy and give effect to the things they have been saying in so very many debates about the market power of organisations such as Coles and Woolworths—to do so for all those ordinary Australians working on the roads as drivers. I hope that National Party members will reflect on that during this debate.

This bill represents the government's response to the 2008 National Transport Commission report. While transport safety outcomes have improved over the years, there are still far too many truck accidents and deaths. That is why lasting reform is absolutely needed to redress the specific problems of the industry. Truck drivers should not have to speed, they should not have to overload their trucks and they should not have to drive excessive hours or cut back on vehicle maintenance just so they can make a decent living. Ultimately that is what this bill is entirely about. They expect government to act—and so we are acting. This bill will help make our roads safer for drivers and for the general driving public. That is why I am particularly proud to support it.

I would like to acknowledge the significant campaign by drivers around the country to raise awareness of this very important issue. In particular, I would like to acknowledge the work of Tony Sheldon and Michael Kane, whose Safe Rates campaign has raised awareness of this very important issue among politicians and across the community. I am pleased to stand here and support it.

We have heard, during the discussions about this bill, from truck drivers themselves. I refer to the evidence of Mr Freyer and Mr Black, both truck drivers, to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications. They reported the extreme time and financial pressures put on them and on their employers. They reported increases in loading waiting times, they reported pressure to cut into driver break times and they reported pressure to break logbook legal requirements. This important evidence was provided to the standing committee and it reflects the reality of so many drivers right around the country. We are grateful for this evidence being put onto the public record by Mr Freyer and Mr Black.

I join with those who have been supporting the Safe Rates campaign to ensure that we have appropriate safety measures, to ensure that the general driving public, including the driving public in my electorate, is better protected on the roads and to ensure that unreasonable requests being made of drivers does not make driving on our roads a hazard for everyone. I commend this bill to the House.