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Thursday, 1 March 2012
Page: 2505

Mr O'DOWD (Flynn) (13:28): I begin my contribution on this road safety remuneration legislation by saying that the way the government is handling the legislation leaves much to be desired. It is unusual that we are debating these bills when neither side of the House has had sufficient time to review the report from the Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications. The trucking industry has also been left in the dark. So, I will have to speak on many facets of the industry without knowing what is contained in the report or knowing what amendments the government plans to introduce. It has already planned amendments to the legislation.

I come from a trucking industry background. I was in the fuel game for some 20 years, and I have been in the timber business for the last 10 years. I have owned trucks over those 30 years. My son Ben is a professional driver who works for Queensland Rail. When I was in the fuel industry we carted dangerous goods around the countryside. We had a run-in with our insurers because they followed the concept that, because we carted fuel and it was a dangerous industry, our insurance premiums should have been higher than anyone else's. With a lot of planning we, the fuel truck drivers around Australia, started our own insurance company, OAMPS, which is listed on the stock exchange to this day. It was very successful. All of a sudden the insurance rates we were paying came tumbling down to less than a third, because of what we started. The fact is that fuel truck drivers were very competent, well paid and well trained.

That is the background I come from. But many types of operations make up the trucking industry. There are the large corporate truck drivers, employed drivers, prime contractors, subcontractors, tow operators, small-fleet operators, medium-fleet operators and large-fleet operators. We all know some of these people.

But can we link driver remuneration and safety as the No. 1 factor in deaths on our roads? There is no proven link between pay rates and the incidence of road safety. There is, however, a direct link between driver behaviour and road safety. Speed and fatigue are often identified as the primary causes. We should note that the incidence of death and serious injury has declined over the past few years. However, any death is a tragedy and we can always improve our record.

There are many causes for truck accidents. It is not just the salaries or wage rates that our employees or contractors are receiving. I think the No. 1 killer on our roads is the lack of infrastructure. We have a white line some 100 centimetres wide separating cars and trucks. This is particularly so in the case of the Bruce Highway, which is said to be the worst highway in Australia, not by me but by the RACQ. It is a debacle that needs to be fixed very quickly. There are potholes and the roads get dished out by the tracks of the heavy vehicles. If you have driven a prime mover with a trailer you will know that the trailer can kick around. Your prime mover could be on the right side of the road, but if your trailer hits a pothole or a dished out section of the road it can cross to the other side of the highway. This is lethal.

Our roads are getting more and more busy and the heavy loads are increasing. Going back 30 or 40 years ago a lot of our freight was carted by rail. Rail is very efficient for carting product but, alas, less and less is being carted by rail, and there are reasons for that. More and more of it is going on the road. With the mining boom, in my area alone you cannot go on the Bruce Highway or the Capricorn Highway any day or any night without coming across wide or long loads. With the mining booms in Queensland and Western Australia a lot of professional drivers have come off the road and gone to work in the mining areas, where they are offered huge salaries, some upwards of $150,000 or $200,000 a year. When they leave, these professional drivers leave behind a vacuum in the general cartage area.

The lack of driver education is a problem. You cannot just get in a truck and drive off into the wilderness. You have to be conditioned to be a truck driver. The lack of driver rest stops and facilities at the rest stops is deplorable. The regulations say that after 5½ hours you must pull up. Where do you pull up in most areas? Out in the middle of nowhere? There are no facilities for our drivers to have a shower and a decent meal. That is another problem, and it is a big one.

On the matter of how you get a drivers licence, I think that can be tightened. The fuel industry was, I think, the first industry to have a 35-hour week for its drivers. But you have to attract the right drivers, and you have to pay good money. A lot of people do pay well over the award rate to get the right type of driver. So, we have that flexibility there now. It already exits. If I want a quote to send a load of timber from my electorate out to the Maranoa electorate, I will often ring up a trucking company in Longreach and he will say, 'Yes, we will do that job,' and he will give me a rate and I will accept it and off it goes. We have that flexibility there, and having it is great. It is private enterprise working at its best. If I do not put the right driver on the job, the product will not get there and the customer will not be happy. I will shoot myself in the foot if I do not do it right. That is how to be a successful business: doing the right thing by your staff and by your customer.

Speeding and tailgating are other reasons for accidents. We cannot deny that. A 22-year-old man was killed at Mount Larcom about two weeks ago. He was stopped in a line of traffic because of another accident, would you believe. A truck came along and the driver was distracted, and was pulling something off the floor of the cabin of his truck and did not see the line of traffic in front. He careered straight into the back of this car and the young guy from Gladstone was killed outright.

Fitness for duty, the way that we employ new drivers and fatigue management are, as I see it, all part of the problems on our roads. There are many factors to be considered when we talk about the industry. There is the livelihood for the drivers and their families. There is a greater red tape burden on the operators. There is the road toll and the road conditions. The road conditions between Melbourne and Sydney are different from the road conditions from Longreach to Tennant Creek or Darwin—much different. The cost of freight to the Australian consumer is another issue. The impact the carbon tax will have on the industry is a big issue. Electronic monitoring is another one. Regarding a centralised wage system, not all hats fit the cause. Horses for courses is the recommended way. Behavioural and cultural training is another thing. You cannot just pluck someone out of the air and put him behind the wheel of a truck. It is quite interesting to note that Rio Tinto are going to use driverless trucks in WA at their mine site. That is food for thought. The heavy vehicle sector is already one of the most regulated industries in Australia. It certainly has some impacts.

NatRoad is opposed to the removal of incentive payments. In particular, they are strongly opposed to the removal of cents per kilogram rates in the long distance awards. Higher wages combined with a carbon tax will put inflation through the roof. Small to medium businesses are in jeopardy and could go down the drain. Red tape, as the member for Grey has already alluded to, is a very important issue. Different rates keep the industry competitive. If you fix rates, you will take the competitiveness out of the industry. Remember that we all must have competition to make sure that we are doing the right thing by the consumer.

If we get this legislation wrong the industry will end up in chaos, with more bureaucracy and more costs. Is this piece of legislation about improving road safety or is it industrial relations in the guise of road safety? This must be questioned. Will increased remuneration increase our safety on the roads? With the other issues that I have mentioned, this has to be looked at more broadly. There are many other things connected with road safety. The biggest road killer is the condition of our roads where you have a small white line separating all sorts of vehicles, heavy and small, with about two feet of space between what is going one way and what is going the other way. Those are the reasons we oppose the legislation.