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Thursday, 1 March 2012
Page: 2500

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (13:10): The objective of the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011and related bills is to make our roads safer for all Australians. We know that each week four people are killed and another 80 are seriously injured on our roads. We also know that, last year over 1,300 Australians lost their lives on our roads and a further 30,000 were hospitalised. We know that road transport is the Australian industry with the highest incidence of fatal injuries. We know that this is an industry which had 25 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2008-09. That is 10 times higher than the average for all industries. That is right, Mr Deputy Speaker: 10 times higher than the average for all other industries.

The human cost here in terms of lives disrupted and families devastated by tragedy is tremendous. Just this week there was a funeral in Bowral in my electorate of Throsby of a local tow-truck driver Geoff Clark, who had gone to the aid of a young woman whose car had broken down. Both were killed by a passing truck on the Hume Highway. An eerily similar tragedy happened to Albert de Beer and David Tagliaferri. David got a flat tyre on the Old Coast Road near Myalup in Western Australia in February 2011. Seeing David in trouble, Albert, a total stranger to David, played the part of the good Samaritan and stopped to help him. Then tragedy struck. An oncoming truck hit the men and they both lost their lives. David's wife, Lystra, and his sister Lisa; and Albert's wife, Suzanne, and his mother, Johanna Christina de Beer, are here in Canberra today to ask members to support this bill. They are joined by Stella Minos, from Sydney, and her husband, Michael Christou, a truck driver. Stella worries constantly about the pressures the industry puts on her husband and how this will affect his driving. They are joined by other truck drivers from across Australia, proud members of the Transport Workers Union of Australia.

The families of Albert and David have had to learn a lot about the trucking industry since their tragedy. The driver who was involved in that accident was sentenced to five years in January this year for his actions. However, the de Beer and Tagliaferri families see the bigger picture. They are here today, united with truck drivers and the families of truck drivers. Of course drivers should be responsible for their actions but, ultimately, we will not see real change in the industry until every part of the retail supply chain is held responsible for setting industry standards to stop the carnage on our roads that leads to tragedies such as the one suffered by the Tagliaferri and de Beer families.

Today, we are not only talking about a human cost. Let us also talk about the economic cost because, even by that measure, opposition to these bill does not stack up. The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics calculates the cost to the Australian economy of this at well over $2.7 billion a year. Clearly, we have a problem. The issue facing us today is: how do we fix it? The challenge for us as parliamentarians is how we respond to these facts. Do we start to support measures that can do something to alleviate this terrible situation? Do we ignore the evidence presented to us by experts? Do we ignore the pleas for action from those facing these dangers every day of their working lives?

Many come to this place saying that the issue is with the quality of our roads. For example, on 14 February this year the member for Cowper, speaking on the state of the Pacific Highway between Warrell Creek and Urunga, said that 'road safety must be the most important consideration when prioritising which projects receive funding'. On 15 June 2010 the member for Gippsland, speaking on the Princess Highway east of Sale, said:

One mistake by a motorist should not end up as a fatality, but on too many sections of the Princess Highway east of Sale we are faced with that situation. We must spend more money on the safety of the road environment.

Labor agrees with these sentiments; road safety should be a priority, and we are acting. Federal Labor has acted to double the roads budget. A record $28 billion is being spent over six years. This is the most comprehensive investment in our nation's highways and roads since the creation of the national highway network almost 40 years ago.

Unfortunately the member for Grey, who made some comments about red tape, is not here, but we have also acted to overhaul the way our nation regulates the transport industry, particularly transport industry safety. We have acted by slashing the number of regulators from 23 to just three. We have acted by replacing the inconsistent state based regulations with one modern, nationwide system that covers maritime, rail and heavy vehicle safety.

These reforms are critical, but alone they are not enough to reduce the horrendous rate of road accidents involving heavy vehicles. The problems are systemic; they stem from the structure of the industry. That is because almost 30 per cent of owner-drivers are paid below the award rate. Many owner-drivers are simply unable to recover the cost of operating their vehicle. It stands to reason: if you incur operating costs of $500 per day and you are earning about $50 per hour then you are going to have to work 10 hours to cover your operating costs before you even make a profit. However, if you are earning only $25 an hour, that turns the number of hours you have to work to cover your costs to a deadly 20 hours per day before you start making a profit. Quite simply, those opposite who seek to deny the link between hourly rates, hours worked and road safety have their heads in a bucket of sand.

While small businesses make up around 60 per cent of the road transport sector they really are small fry in terms of the income they earn within the industry. The terms and conditions for road transport—and I think this is a sentiment the member for Grey would agree with—are dictated by the large retailers. Large retailers are creating the conditions that put hazards on our roads. Coles and Woolworths account for 30 per cent of Australia's national road freight task and, as such, have an enormous impact on the road transport industry.

In 2008 the National Transport Commission's review into remuneration and safety in the Australian heavy vehicle industry found that commercial arrangements between an array of parties to the transport of freight—including load owners, clients and receivers, consignors and brokers, freight forwarders, large and small fleets and owner-drivers—have a significant influence on safety. Drivers are at the bottom of the contracting chain and have little commercial ability to demand rates that would enable them to perform their work safely and legally. In this market, owner-drivers are forced to accept work at the going rate or have no work at all. Not only is remuneration for owner-drivers low, but working hours are dangerously long.

There are other issues that affect the payment systems for owner-drivers and employee drivers and the productivity of the industry. For example, unpaid queuing time was highlighted as a major issue in the transport industry during fatigue related reforms and consultation for the Safe rates, safe roads directions paper. Large retailers put the squeeze on operators and drivers in the road transport industry, just as they notoriously put the squeeze on other parts of the supply chain such as farmers.

A recent study funded by New South Wales WorkCover showed that truck drivers are frequently forced to break driving regulations in order to make a living. The frightening statistics in that report included that 60 per cent of drivers surveyed admitted to 'nodding off' at the wheel over the last 12 months; that drivers are working an average of 68 hours a week, with almost a third breaking all driving laws and doing more than 72 hours a week; that only 25 per cent of drivers are paid during waiting times; and that almost 60 per cent of drivers are not paid for loading or unloading.

There have been numerous inquiries into these facts—coronial findings, reports and investigations into these issues over the past 20 years—which confirm this situation. That is why I stand here gobsmacked that some on the other side of this chamber seek to deny the link. However, some on the other side do get it. That is because they have some expertise. The member for Moore, for example—a medical doctor by profession—had this to say on 27 February this year:

According to research by Professor Drew Dawson, head of the University of South Australia's Centre for Sleep Research, staying awake for 17 hours has the same effect on performance as having a blood alcohol level of 0.05 per cent and after 21 hours awake, people demonstrate the same deterioration as having a blood alcohol content of 0.1 per cent. Many people begin to show signs of mental fatigue later in the working day and tasks seem much more complicated, concentration wavers and mistakes can be made.

The member for Moore goes on to say:

Late nights spent working can cause mental fatigue, making it harder to recollect information and affecting the ability to think clearly.

And he goes on:

No matter how rational and high minded you try to be, you can't make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It's different from ordinary physical fatigue—you're not consciously aware of being tired—but you're on low mental energy. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending energy to think first through the consequences.

This was a speech about the working hours of parliamentarians—not a deadly profession, many might say. But if the member for Moore is right about the impact of sleep deprivation on members of parliament then this must also be true of people driving heavy vehicles up and down our highways.

The overwhelming findings of report after report show that there is a link between safety, rates and structures of remuneration in the road transport industry and the accidents, deaths and injuries on our roads involving these vehicles. The bills before the House today will establish a new Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, whose objects are to promote safety and fairness in the road transport industry. The tribunal 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, to be known as Road Safety Remuneration Orders, or RSROs, will be in addition to any existing rights employed drivers have under industrial instruments or contracts of employment and self-employed or independent contractor drivers have under their contracts for services. RSROs 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 the remuneration and remuneration-related conditions contained in a road transport collective agreement between a hirer and self-employed or independent contractor drivers with whom the hirer proposes to contract. The tribunal will be empowered to resolve disputes between drivers, their hirers or employers and participants in the road transport industry supply chain by mediation, conciliation or private arbitration. 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 tribunal secretariat will be provided by the General Manager of FWA.

The bills will also establish a compliance regime for the enforcement of RSROs, safe remuneration approvals and any orders arising out of the arbitration, by consent, of a dispute. These are enforceable instruments. Compliance functions will be performed by the Fair Work Ombudsman. The bills 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 system is scheduled to commence on 1 July 2012.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to meet with a constituent of mine, a truck driver by the name of Len Hartley. He is a keen advocate of the bills before the House, and I was pleased to give him my pledge that when this legislation came before the House it would have my wholehearted support. I give that support willingly, not only because it is in the interests of the truck drivers of this nation but also because two of Australia's major highways cross through my electorate—the Princes Highway and the Hume Highway. I know that this legislation, together with what we are doing in doubling the Commonwealth's road overhaul spend, will have a big impact on road safety in this country.

I commend the words of the member for Moore. He is right when he draws the link between mental fatigue and safety and the hours worked by parliamentarians. He should be applying the same principle to those people who are charged with taking the nation's freight burden from place to place, from city to city, in sometimes very dangerous conditions. He should show the same sentiment towards their working conditions by voting in favour of this legislation. All of those on the other side of the House— particularly National Party members, who would have many owner-drivers in their constituencies—should support it as well because it is in their interests, in the interests of their families and in the interests of all road users in the country. I commend the bills to the House.

Debate adjourned.