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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3047


Mr MARLES (CorioParliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs) (10:23): I rise with both a sense of pride and a sense of delight to speak in support of the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011. Before I do that, I would like to acknowledge in the gallery above us students from Killester College in Springvale. Welcome to Parliament House, and I really hope that you have a very productive visit today. It is a great thing to be visiting the nation's capital, and I am sure you will enjoy your day here.

I would also like to acknowledge representatives from the Transport Workers Union who are in the gallery as well, led by Michael Kaine, the national federal assistant secretary of the TWU. I also note Senator Glenn Sterle in the gallery, a former TWU official, as of course I am. I raise that in this sense, that it does give me a better understanding, I think, of the particular issues faced by people who are driving on our roads around this country, the dangers that they face and the particular trials and tribulations that they have in their work. It is really that experience that I hope I bring to this chamber in speaking today.

I want to come back to my friends in the gallery in a moment, but I will first take up some of the comments from the member for Solomon. I find them disturbing, though we understand that those on the other side have a natural predilection against regulation and that is fair enough in the context of where they come from, and it is also the case on this side of the House that we as a government too have made enormous inroads to removing red tape and reducing government regulation. Indeed, it would be good if we saw some more national unity around the states with further harmonisation. If we could get some conservative governments on board for that agenda we would really see some red tape being removed. But when you hear a person say, in relation to what is the single most dangerous industry in this country, that their attitude is to ignore regulation, it does strike me that that represents a certain fundamentalist view which is not helpful in the debate and which is not going to see the deaths and injuries which are occurring on our roads today being stopped. If you are talking about the single most dangerous industry in this country, if there is ever a case for regulation that is when you have it. That is why we need to be moving down this path, and that is exactly what the Road Safety Remuneration Bill is all about.

At the risk of singling out any of those from the Transport Workers Union in the gallery today, I do want to mention Rick Burton, and it is great that Senator Sterle is in the gallery as well. Rick is now the assistant secretary of the West Australian branch of the Transport Workers Union. Both Rick and Senator Sterle come from WA and indeed both have been active in the north-west of WA, the region which is representing the extent to which road transport, and particularly long-distance road transport, is increasingly becoming such an important part of our national economy.

Senator Sterle in his life on the road drove trucks—furniture trucks, I think I am right in saying—from Darwin to Perth. He knows all about what it is to drive long hours without particularly good remuneration and about the pressures upon a driver in those circumstances. Rick in his work throughout WA is seeing currently a stream of long-distance trucks making the trip from Perth up to the top of WA because of the wonderful resources boom which is happening in that part of the world, but he is also seeing the incumbent dangers associated with that stream of road transport. Their experience and their presence here, particularly Rick's presence in making the pilgrimage from Western Australia to Canberra, speaks volumes about why it is so necessary that we move to deal with what is a very dangerous industry indeed and one which needs regulation in the form of the Road Safety Remuneration Bill. I would like to say to Rick and to all who have made the trip: thank you for coming here and bringing this issue to Canberra. You have done your membership and also your country an enormous service in raising this issue and making sure that something is done about it in this place, and I know that Senator Sterle will be carrying on good work in the other place to make sure that this does become the law of the land.

Road transport represents 1.7 per cent of our national GDP. It employs 246,000 people. It is an industry, as I have said, which is growing—growing by virtue of the resources boom but also growing by virtue of the increasing connectedness of our economy. It is growing at a rate of about 5.6 per cent per year. It is unquestionably a vitally important part of our national economy. The roads of Australia and the trucks which pass along them are quite literally the arteries which make Australia work. But while being an incredibly important industry, it is an industry which is very dangerous. Somewhere in the order of 1,400 people die on our roads every year. About 250 of those die as a result of an accident involving a truck. More than 1,000 people are injured every year because of accidents associated with trucks. In 2008-09, there were 25 deaths per 100,000 people working in the road transport industry. That figure makes it the single most dangerous industry in our country. It is why we are moving this bill; it is why we need to see some action here; and it is why we have seen the campaign run by the Transport Workers Union.

It has been estimated that the cost to our economy associated with these accidents is $2.7 billion every year. But it is not so much the economic cost—as significant as it is—that tells the story of the cost to our country associated with those injuries and deaths. In recent weeks the TWU has had in this building people, widows, and family members who have experienced firsthand the death of a loved one as a result of a trucking accident. When you talk to those people you understand the sudden, traumatic and total change to their lives these incidents occurring on the roads have caused. As a result of these deaths their lives will never be the same again. They speak much louder than any economic figures, or any statistic, about the need for us to act in this parliament today. Their presence in this building demands a response, and I am very proud to be a part of that response today.

The response to the issue of trying to reduce trucking deaths on our roads, and how we will act to deal with the issue, was articulated by the National Transport Commission in its report titled Remuneration and safety in the Australian heavy vehicle industry, which came out in 2008. What became very clear in the evidence garnered in the report was the link between the rates at which people are paid and the conditions under which people work and the accidents that then ensue on our roads. If any of us were to be honest, no matter what side of the House we stand on, that conclusion is hardly rocket science. It is hardly rocket science to say that, if you need to work long hours and push yourself beyond your extremes in order to earn a living wage, at the end of the day that is what you do.

The state coroner, in his summation of findings in relation to accidents involving Anthony Forsythe, Barry Supple and Timothy John Walsh, in 2003, said—and this was reported in the Remuneration and safety in the Australian heavy vehicle industry report of 2008:

As long as driver payments are based on a (low) rate per kilometre there will always be an incentive for drivers to maximise the hours they drive, not because they are greedy but simply to earn a decent wage.

Back in 2000, this parliament, through the Senate, held an inquiry into the safety of road transport in Australia. The committee's report was entitled Beyond the midnight oil: managing fatigue in transport. That report included the following observation:

A number of submissions have argued that the 'payment by results' method used in road transport is a major contributor to driver fatigue. This type of payment may encourage drivers to work longer hours to increase their earnings.

The report also stated that it may influence drivers to engage in dangerous practices such as speeding and excessive hours.

Finally, Professor Quinlan, who authored the Remuneration and safety in the Australian heavy vehicle industry report of 2008, perhaps put it the most succinctly when he said:

Customer and consignor requirements on price, schedules and loading/unloading and freight contracts more generally, in conjunction with the atomistic and intensely competitive nature of the industry, encourage problematic tendering practices, unsustainable freight rates and dangerous work practices.

That is the link between the conditions of work on our roads and the behaviour of drivers when they are driving. It is a completely understandable link and it is a completely natural response to the fact of needing to push yourself beyond your limits in order to earn a living wage. But, inevitably, that leads to an unsafe situation on our roads.

That is why we now have before us the Road Safety Remuneration Bill, which seeks to fairly and squarely address this issue by making the matter of safety central to the way in which conditions are set for those working in road transport by making it absolutely clear that safe rates are part of the establishment of rates.

Principally, this legislation establishes a Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. This tribunal will be able to act on its own motion and also can act as a result of an application by any of the parties in the industrial space. The tribunal can do two things. Firstly, it can make road safety remuneration orders, which, if you like, establish a minimum safe rate of pay to ensure that safe behaviours ensue as a result of that rate of pay. This would sit on top of whatever the industrial instruments are within the workplace, be they awards or collective agreements. The first thing, therefore, is to make sure that safe rates orders—that safety as a component of an industrial minimum—can be put in place in the system.

Secondly, the tribunal will give what are described as 'safe remuneration approvals' for an industrial instrument that is sought to be certified within the industrial system. This is to say that, where there is an enterprise agreement or where there is an instrument in relation to owner-drivers or independent contractors within the transport sector, the ability is there to take that to the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal to have established upfront that the rates of pay contained in the instrument are 'safe rates'. That will therefore represent a 'safe remuneration approval'.

These two heads of power represent the primary basis on which this new Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal will operate. It will have the power to resolve disputes amongst the parties. It will be an independent body of government—an independent body of Fair Work Australia—but, having said that, the ability will be there to have dual appointments between members of Fair Work Australia and the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. That is a precedent that we have seen in other areas of industrial regulation within Australia in both the Coal Industry Tribunal and the remuneration tribunal for our armed services. But also, sitting on the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal will be industry experts who do understand the particular nature of this industry, and compliance will be a function carried out by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

In concluding, this represents an enormous achievement by the Transport Workers Union. They have been diligent and persistent as they should be in pursuit of this legislation. This is a great example of trade unions acting on behalf of their members and achieving something which is wonderful for them and which is so important for the country. I want to acknowledge the national secretary, Tony Sheldon; the assistant secretary, Michael Kaine; and state secretaries Wayne Forno, Wayne Mader, Peter Biagini, Ray Wyatt and Jim McGiveron. I take my hat off to all of them. They have done a wonderful thing for this country.