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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3060

Ms SAFFIN (Page) (11:20): I welcome and strongly support the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011 and the Road Safety Remuneration (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill 2011. Recently I put out a statement at home in which I said a number of things, and I will repeat some of them here. I said that the Road Safety Remuneration Bill will save lives by ensuring that truck drivers are paid reasonably for the work they do and will get rid of the economic incentive for truck drivers to take unacceptable risks on our roads. I have been a strong supporter of the Transport Workers Union campaign for safe rates in the trucking industry and also strongly supportive of the efforts the government has made to deliver this.

We know that around 250 people are killed and that more than 1,000 suffer serious injuries on our roads each year in accidents involving trucks. In the region where I live, the Northern Rivers region, we know all too well the high toll of accidents involving trucks on our roads. In 2008 the National Transport Commission's review into payment methods in the industry found a link between rates of pay and safety outcomes for truck drivers. The TWU and industry representatives were on the government's Safe Rates Advisory Committee and have been consulted every step of the way about this legislation.

Truck drivers, whether employees or owners—they are still truck drivers—should not have to speed, overload their trucks or drive excessive hours to earn a decent living. Truck drivers work hard enough to make a living and the government wants to support measures which ensure pay rates that encourage drivers to drive safely, manage their hours and maintain their vehicle. That is reasonable.

There is a TWU campaign, Safe Rates, which has gone on for some years. I have participated in a lot of the campaign activities which have been held in my electorate of Page. We have received great support from people in the community, from the public, because they all know that truck drivers have to be on the road and they all want those truck drivers to drive safely. We have to have a system, a framework and laws, where they are necessary, to make sure that can happen. That is what these bills provide.

The booklet Safe Rates Summit 2011 quotes from evidence given by a former driver, Andrew Villis, to the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission:

When I was required to perform excessive hours I would sometimes experience a state of mind that I can only describe as hallucinations, which I considered to be due to sleep deprivation. I would 'see' trees turning into machinery, which would lift my truck off the road. I 'saw' myself run over motorcycles, cars and people. On one occasion I held up the highway in Grafton—

Grafton is in my seat of Page—

while waiting for a truck which was not there to do a three point turn (I was radioed by drivers behind me asking why I had stopped). I estimate that I had experiences like these roughly every second day. They were not an uncommon thing for me.

We have an obligation to make sure that no truck driver is ever put in a situation like that.

Australian Magazines Trade quotes from a letter from Trish Freyer, of the Freyer family of Maryborough in Queensland, to her local MP. Among other things, the letter said:

We don't want to be millionaires; we just want to be able to make a decent living safely.

That is repeated over and over by many different people in the truck-driving industry.

Safe R ates S ummit 2011 quotes a study by Anne Williamson and Rena Friswell which says:

A study, funded by NSW WorkCover, shows that truck drivers are frequently forced to break driving regulations in order to make a living. It showed drivers are working an average of 68 hours a week, while almost a third are breaking all driving laws and doing more than 72 hours a week. Only 25 per cent of drivers were paid waiting times, and almost 60 per cent of drivers surveyed were not paid for loading or unloading. 60 per cent of drivers admitted to “nodding off ” at the wheel over the last 12 months.

The same publication, Safe Rates Summit 2011, quotes from the judgment by Justice Graham in Regina v Randall John Harm, 2005. The judgment said, in part:

… truck drivers are still placed under what is, clearly, intolerable pressure in order to get produce to the markets or goods to their destination within a time fixed, not by any rational consideration of the risks involved in too tight a timetable, but by the dictates of the marketplace. Or, to put it bluntly, sheer greed on the part of the end users of these transport services.

The publication goes on to quote Bob Carr, speaking at the Safe Rates Summit of 2009:

It was certainly an issue during my time in NSW politics because we were very conscious that far too many truck drivers and members of the public die on our roads in crashes that are preventable.

It also quotes Warren Truss, the Leader of the Nationals, saying on 23 October 2008:

… quite clearly someone has to stand up for the ordinary truck drivers who work long hours on our highways.

Safe R ates S ummit 2011 includes a further statement attributed to the honourable member for Wide Bay. Mr Truss is quoted as having said in October 2011:

I understand that there are cost recovery pressures for drivers.

The honourable member has the opportunity to stand up for those truck drivers today by voting for this legislation.

I stood here and listened to the honourable member for Higgins talk about the TWU, which represents over 90,000 members. She talked about the TWU as though, somehow, because it is involved and because it lobbied to make conditions safer for truck drivers, whether TWU members or not, it is not relevant—that it is not right and proper that the TWU pursues safety and decent pay rates for truck drivers. Thank goodness we do have organisations and unions like the TWU which are concerned about safety for their members and for members of the public. That is what they do and it is such an important role.

I listened to coalition members tick off what they think is wrong, but they offered very little by way of solutions. I have quoted the honourable member for Wide Bay, the Leader of the Nationals, saying we have to stand up for truck drivers. How do we stand up for them if we do not do things like endorsing safe pay rates and a mechanism that can actually bring those safe pay rates into operation? There is no fine piece of legislation we could draw up here that, of itself, could do that. We need a system; we need a framework. That is what this bill is about and we have to get it implemented.

The government recognises the important role that owner-drivers play in the road transport industry. Truck driving continues to be the industry with the highest incidence of fatal injuries. The estimated cost to the community of truck crashes is $2.7 billion, but that is only the monetary cost. There is also the human cost of these tragedies—the fatalities and the people left with catastrophic injuries. Research has also found that improving remuneration leads to increased safety outcomes. In addition, there is evidence showing that many accidents in the industry result from speeding or fatigue. We have had evidence and evidence and evidence over many years that shows that, so it really is time to act. There have been a lot of inquiries and they show the same thing, so we do need to act today and get this legislation passed.

The government is clearly committed to improving safety outcomes for truck drivers while ensuring the long-term viability of the road transport industry. The circumstances of owner-drivers have long been recognised through regulation in a number of states; it is one of the issues that is raised. As far back as 1979, inquiries have recommended that there be particular regulation for owner-drivers, so it is not something that is new. There are existing regulatory arrangements covering owner-drivers in my state of New South Wales and in Victoria and Western Australia. Those drivers are no less deserving of coming home safely to their families than any other drivers are. Whether they are owner-drivers or drivers they are all truck drivers, and that is the point we have to stay focused on.

In commending these bills I say to the ministers who have been responsible in getting us to the stage we are at today: well done! And well done to the TWU for a persistent and sensible campaign that will bring us what we call safe pay rates but also safety on the roads, for truck drivers, for their families and for all of us.