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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3054

Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (10:51): I rise to speak on the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011 and Road Safety (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill 2011. All Australians are concerned by the significant number of fatalities on our roads and the serious injuries that result from car and truck crashes on our roads. We all drive on our nation's roads and we want to see such injuries and fatalities reduced. We can all agree that we want safer roads, but we are being asked by the government to believe that this legislation is going to achieve that objective.

The government put 'safety' in the title of the Road Safety Remuneration Bill, suggesting that somehow this bill will lead to safer roads. But simply having the word 'safety' in the bill's title does not mean that the bill is in fact substantially about road safety, or that it will achieve the objectives of greater safety on our nation's roads. If this bill was really about the safety of workers in the transport industry you would have a very realistic and reasonable expectation that the bill would be brought forward by the relevant minister—Minister Albanese, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. But this bill has not been brought forward by that minister. Instead, it has been brought forward by the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, Mr Shorten—the minister who has been dubbed by my colleague, the member for Mayo, Jamie Briggs, as the 'minister for mates'.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Dr Leigh ): The honourable member would assist the House by withdrawing that reflection on the minister.

Ms O'DWYER: I withdraw. This is an IR bill dressed up as a bill about safety. This is a bill that has been drawn up by the minister's mates in the union movement—Tony Sheldon, secretary of the Transport Workers Union, along with colleagues in the Australian Council of Trade Unions—to increase union power and dominance in the industry. We know that the transport industry is substantially made up of independent contractors who are not covered by the government's Fair Work Act or by the union movement. This bill is an attempt to change that under the guise that it is being moved to achieve greater road safety.

It is my view that it is a very cynical thing indeed to exploit the tragedies on our roads as a political power play. Yet the government has made no secret of its continued battle against independent contractors. It wants independent contractors to be considered as employees and it wants those employees to be union members who will pay dues to union secretaries who will then continue to donate to Labor Party campaigns.

I will address three fundamental problems with this bill. Firstly, this bill establishes a new tribunal with very broad powers, powers which do not relate to road safety. Secondly, there is no evidence to suggest that increased pay will result in safer roads. Thirdly, there are already existing tools to achieve the objective of greater road safety that will be more effective and will actually address the substantive issue of achieving safer roads in Australia. The broad powers of the tribunal that will be established relate to remuneration, conditions and industry practices. The tribunal will have significant power to make orders on any one or all of these things. It will have the power to do this without even a referral. It will be able to initiate its own referrals. It will have the power to determine such things as working hours, load limits, payment methods, waiting times, loading and unloading practices—the list goes on and on.

Most importantly, the tribunal will be able to make orders and determinations on these things without any regard for the safety standards or the safety outcomes. It has full discretion to make these orders. Parties such as, say, the union movement, can make application to the tribunal under the bill for such orders on these very broad powers. We are told in this place to take it as a matter of trust that when the tribunal sets wages it will apparently do so with regard to safety and that when it sets industry practices it will do so with regard to safety. We are told to take it on trust that when it determines payment methods it will do so with regard to safety but, yet, there is nothing in this bill that requires the tribunal to have regard to safety when making such orders. As I said, it has very broad discretion.

The tribunal, as well, is not bound by the rules of evidence and procedure. It has very broad powers to conduct itself and inform itself in a way that it sees fit. More than this, it has significant powers with respect to penalty orders. Criminal penalties of six months imprisonment can be issued for failing to attend a hearing before the tribunal or refusing to answer questions required by the tribunal.

Who will make up this tribunal? We are told that there will be a maximum number of nine people on the tribunal with at least five coming from Fair Work Australia and the others chosen by the government who have experience in the road transport industry. We know exactly who the government will appoint to such a tribunal. It has a very significant record on this. It will be no surprise to those on this side of the chamber when the government appoints to this tribunal union mates who have already campaigned for the government on such issues.

Why is the government bringing forward this new set of employment arrangements outside of the Fair Work Act? Why is it bringing forward a tribunal? Is it a sign that the government has problems with its Fair Work Act? Has there been a failure that the government is now acknowledging? Does it mean that the government has reconsidered its position on the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which it opposed on the basis that there should not be sector-specific or industry-specific laws or two laws in contrast to Fair Work Australia? That is one of the issues that concern us on this side of the chamber—the very broad powers that the tribunal will have to make these orders, penalties and determinations.

The second concern that we have is around whether in fact increased remuneration has anything to do with better safety outcomes. The government has asserted that it does, yet the evidence to date has suggested that there is no causal link. In all of the submissions that were provided to the committee that looked into this bill, there was no evidence to suggest that increased pay will lead to increased safety outcomes. In fact, the government's own regulatory impact statement says that the data is limited and that there is no causal link between rates of safety and remuneration. So we could in fact have a rather perverse outcome here where, if there are higher rates of pay, it may well incentivise some drivers to work longer hours, which is, we are told by the government, entirely contrary to the objectives of the bill that it has brought before this place. The government and the unions are very much alone in actually supporting this bill. Not even the Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh—not even the Labor government of Queensland—supports this bill. They see no causal link between the two things.

We believe that there are better ways to achieve safety outcomes. I note the very good work that was done by my colleagues who issued a dissenting report in relation to this bill, where they said:

… the Coalition members support further efforts to improve occupational health and safety outcomes, particularly fatigue reduction measures, for the transport industry …

They recognise the fact that there are many elements that relate to road safety, many elements indeed, and that those elements combined together will help us achieve safer roads for all Australians. They understand that it is important that we have strong road and traffic laws and strong enforcement of those laws, that there are proper fatigue management regulations, that there are chain-of-responsibility regulations, that we improve our highways and road conditions, that we improve the frequency of rest-stop facilities, that we improve health and safety legislation and that we also work through the COAG process, where there is already good work being done in this regard. We believe that speeding laws need to be very much enforced and that there should be suitable industry codes of practice and that these are much more effective ways to deliver enhanced safety and fairness across the road transport industry.

The government are moving an IR bill—be in no doubt about that. This is an IR bill designed to increase the reach of the union movement over independent contractors. It is a philosophical cause for the government. It is one that they have pursued mercilessly. Under the guise of a road safety bill they are seeking to implement this. They are seeking to do that by cynically exploiting the terrible and awful tragedies that have taken place on our roads to date. They plan to give a tribunal increased powers. They plan to give this tribunal increased discretion to make orders—orders that do not relate in any way to safety. There are better ways, as I have outlined, that we can improve road safety in Australia on our roads.

We do not believe that this bill is worth supporting. We believe this bill is misplaced. We empathise with those people who have lost loved ones on our nation's roads and we understand their very real concern to see increased safety. We do not believe though that this bill will achieve that, so we on this side of the House oppose the government's IR bill.