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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3056


Dr MIKE KELLY (Eden-MonaroParliamentary Secretary for Defence) (11:05): It is with tremendous personal pride that I get up to speak in support of the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011. We have heard from the coalition a lot of terrible vitriol and invective. Every time they open their mouths it is to condemn unions, to condemn working people, in fact. It truly offends me, because the history of this country has been based on the rights of workers being established through their ability to organise and seek true representation, proper representation. I am very proud to say that my great-grandfather was a key member of the building of that tradition.

Benjamin George Kelly, my great-grandfather, began life in Bega on our dairy farm and went on to become a teacher. Not long after that he moved into the transport business. He operated vehicles down near the Nimmitabel area, transporting workers for the construction of the railways down to Bombala. He then moved up to this area, the Queanbeyan-Canberra area, where he was involved in the local bus industry. That was in 1923. He was a man who had strong values based in the labour movement. He became involved in the establishment of the ACT branch of the Labor Party and also the Trades and Labour Council and was president and secretary of both those bodies. In 1928 he was proudly a founding father of the Amalgamated Road Transport Workers Union, which became federally registered in 1928. He laboured long and hard for the rights of those workers and I am extremely proud of the things he did during that time, during the really tough years of the Depression; he in fact led a march of the unemployed on federal parliament in 1935. His experience of seeing the circumstances of workers—both the transport workers he represented and workers more broadly—suffering from the effects of the depression led him to run for the seat of Eden-Monaro in 1940. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful in that bid, but I am proud to have been able to realise his ambition and to be able to speak today in support of this legislation. He would have been so proud and pleased at what we are seeking to achieve on behalf of transport workers with this legislation.

Transport is a key factor in my region. All through this region we have a large volume of traffic daily from long-haulers associated with the extensive logging industry, with the dairy industry—Bega Cheese, of course, is a major industry in the Bega area and there is a lot of traffic associated with it—with cattle and sheep and also with resupplying quarrying. The risks and consequences associated with that traffic on the roads in the region have come out of the way the industry has been managed up until now. Of course, it was in this very industry that we saw from 1979 onwards the development of the independent contractor mechanism, which began life primarily as a means of undermining the organisation of workers—the unions—in this country and of undermining workers' pay and conditions, including conditions in the workplace. Ever since, we have been trying to catch up with the establishment of the independent contractor model and to redress the wrongs these workers have suffered. We have heard reference to the fact that this is the most dangerous industry in Australia: 10 time more fatalities occur in this industry than in other sectors of the Australian economy. Around 250 people are killed and more than 1,000 people suffer serious injury on our roads each year.

What really gets me is that those on the other side allege that they represent better the interests of rural and regional Australia. Nothing could be more laughable. Every step of the way, the coalition has opposed reforms that would benefit rural and regional Australians. Not only has it opposed the NBN, which my region and other rural and regional areas so keenly seek; it has opposed our health and education reforms, which have had such a great impact on rural and regional areas, and now it opposes this legislation, which will have such benefits for road safety in rural and regional areas. Most of these accidents occur on country roads and involve country people.

One thing that pleases me so much about this legislation is that it is evidence based policy at its best. The birth of this legislation came through the work of the National Transport Commission leading to its 2008 report entitled Safe Payments: Addressing the underlying causes of unsafe practices in the transport industry. The commission established beyond question that there is a link between payment rates and methods for owner-drivers and employees and unsafe driving practices. It is established that those methods created an economic incentive to drive unsafely, resulting in fatalities and poor safety outcomes on our roads. So in that review there was a direct link between economic factors and the issues of speeding, working long hours and the use of illicit substances by many truck drivers in order to try to remain awake and able to perform their tasks. The commission's recommendations were very clear. It said that this link should be addressed through regulatory intervention at the national level and by the establishment of a tribunal.

This legislation establishes the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, whose object, ambition and reason for being is to promote safety and fairness in the road transport industry. The tribunal will comprise members from Fair Work Australia and expert members with qualifications relevant to the road transport industry. It will not be a case of jobs for the boys. It will not be the sort of knee-jerk anecdotal stuff that we so often see from the coalition. This is legislation and reform that is based on evidence and that will be operated by experts from the industry. The tribunal will determine whether a sector in the industry has poor safety outcomes as a result of low remuneration and will be able to make road safety remuneration orders to improve the on-road safety outcomes for drivers operating in sectors it examines. This will be a tribunal and a mechanism by which the specifics, procedures and issues can be examined regularly, gradual improvements can be rendered and conditions under which transport workers operate can be addressed and removed as a safety issue. It will be efficient and effective.

The member for Higgins talked about the lack of rules of evidence and the lack of procedure. That is exactly what we want to avoid with this process. We do not want a cumbersome, legalistic approach; we want a practical, effective, efficient method that will deal with issues and promote productivity. We do not want further jobs for lawyers, which the member for Higgins might like; we want outcomes. We want outcomes based approaches, outcomes for the transport workers, outcomes for the safety of our rural and regional areas and outcomes for productivity in the transport industry. I reject entirely the concerns of the member for Higgins.

The concerns of those opposite are not concerns about the economy, the industry or the way this body will operate. For them, as we have heard time and time again in this debate, it is all about union bashing. It is all about the philosophy of this coalition, which is to make the worker carry the burden for every economic improvement and every productivity gain. It always has to come out of the hide of the worker. Whenever we hear the Leader of the Opposition talk about writing pledges in blood, we know that he wants to write those pledges in the worker's blood. Every action he takes, every measure he opposes or supports, is founded on his approach of making the worker pay.

Those opposite may have abandoned the terminology of Work Choices but they have adopted the new terminology of flexibility. And what does 'flexibility' mean to the coalition? To the coalition flexibility means: 'We don't invest in infrastructure, we don't invest in innovation, we don't invest in skills. What we do is make the workers take a hit. We make the workers lose pay and conditions. We make the workers work longer. We make the workers suffer.' That is why it is so offensive—so obscene—when we see the Leader of the Opposition don his hard hat or his high-vis vest and go and visit workplaces across this country, pretending to be a friend of the worker, when everything he does is about sacrificing jobs in this country, destroying our manufacturing sector and eroding the safety and work conditions of workers across the nation. This is incredibly obscene, and the workers of this nation will not be fooled by it.

In fact, we saw one worker who tried to exercise his right of free speech recently when the Leader of the Opposition visited his work site. He pointed out the deficiencies of the Leader of the Opposition and lost his job as a result. As that worker said, not only did he lose his job as a result of the visit of the Leader of the Opposition to that work site but this points to a future in which, if the Leader of the Opposition became Prime Minister, he would wonder how many more jobs would be lost across the nation—and we know they would be in the thousands. The Leader of the Opposition pulls the plug on support of the manufacturing industry. He cuts a swathe of destruction through jobs in this region through the sacrifice of all of those vital Public Service functions that support our community across the country and would send this region, in particular, into a recession, as the coalition did in 1996. This is an illustration of the attitude of the coalition. It is all about making the worker pay, about inflicting pain on the workers, and in this instance it is pain on the transport workers.

We are talking about saving lives, lest we forget. There was one accident in our own region in 2009 that I think illustrates this perfectly. It was a tragic incident involving a fuel-tanker truck. The 36-year-old driver was working to the limits to perform in relation to the incentives issue we have been talking about. Unfortunately, a horrendous crash occurred on 29 December 2009 near Pebbly Beach. This driver's Kenworth prime mover was travelling south with a tank of diesel fuel. The collision involved striking a Subaru, a Honda Accord and a Toyota RAV4—so there were three other vehicles involved—and they were all turned into flaming balls of fire. The truck driver himself was killed, and the family of the driver of the Subaru was devastated. That driver, David Bridge, was killed. Tragically, his two beautiful daughters, Jordon and Makeely, aged 13 and 11, were also killed in the accident. His wife, Debbie, suffered horrendous injuries and, unfortunately, died recently. The family were from Ulladulla and were well-loved and respected in our region.

These are the specifics—the personal details, the tragedies—that are involved. This is not about statistics; it is about real people. It is about real people who are living in rural and regional Australia in particular. If the members opposite were interested in productivity gains, were interested in safety, were interested in the interests of Australians, of working people, and their pay and conditions, then they would get behind this legislation. So for the coalition it is not about those issues. It is about maintaining their pattern of negativity, maintaining their assault on the workers of this country, maintaining their philosophy of Work Choices through to the implementation of new regimes of flexibility that would hurt Australian people, hurt jobs and hurt workers.

My great-grandfather, Benjamin George Kelly, did so much to fight for the rights of workers in those early days when conditions were horrendous—when jobs were sacrificed on the economic altar of free rein for employers—with the Great Depression, the tragedies and the tremendous cost to workers of that era. They were the early days of establishing the Transport Workers Union, which has done such a wonderful job of looking after the interests of its 90,000 members. My great-grandfather would be very proud today that this Labor government—the Labor Party he worked so hard to establish—has delivered on a wonderful outcome for these workers.

Lest we forget, we have people out there right now who are working under these terrible conditions, working under these terrible disincentives to road safety. Their sacrifices are commemorated through road markers all around this land. I would urge members of the coalition to have a look at those road markers next time they are out there driving around rural and regional Australia, to think about their vote in relation to this legislation and to stop vilifying the 90,000 members of this union and the two million fellow Australians of theirs who are in unions across this country. They are not demons; they are not evil. They are decent men and women seeking to do the best for their families and for themselves in a country that prides itself on providing opportunity for people to better themselves. That is what this party is about. It is about improving conditions for these people, giving them jobs and giving them the opportunity to better themselves.