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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3082


Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (12:44): I appreciate the opportunity to continue my contribution in relation to these matters. I congratulate the member for Bradfield on the point that he has just raised. I think it is a valid argument.

I would also like to expand on the points that were made a few moments ago by the member for Hinkler and others. My comment relates to the complexity already in the industry given its current arrangements, particularly in the way rates are agreed to. It is something that I touched on before when I referred to the issue of a transport operator working, for example, the Melbourne to Adelaide route. My concern is that once governments—in this case, the tribunal—start interfering in this sort of marketplace there will be some perverse outcomes. I am not one who argues that there should be no government involvement in markets when it is justified. But I think we must proceed with caution in this case and ensure that we do not end up causing more problems when we are clumsily trying to provide answers for the industry, particularly when we are talking about an issue as important as safety. A point that my local transport industry operators raise with me regularly in our discussions is that they already have so many other regulations in this industry and there are extensive provisions already in place to deal with any transport operators or individual drivers who flout the existing laws. If anything, there was a concern expressed to me from those within the transport industry that the drivers themselves can pay a very heavy economic price for what are fairly minor breaches. The point I am making is that, if the TWU is right and those opposite are right that there are economic pressures or commercial pressures which are systemic as they relate to the safety issue, then we also need to look at some of the issues relating to the enforcement provisions and the degree of fines being paid by truck drivers for very minor or innocent breaches or mistakes. So I think that is an issue that we need to examine more closely.

The member for Lyons talked before about the existing provisions in place and having to invest in a whole range of other safety efforts, and I think he is right in that regard. State and federal governments have not been quiet on this issue. They have been working very hard, and there has been some level of success. We only need to look at the accident statistics in recent years to see that there has been a reduction. I am not for one second suggesting that we give up our efforts in that regard, but there has been a reduction in the accident fatality rates in recent years and I think we should be giving time for some existing efforts to be fully implemented.

That matter of the commercial issues in the transport industry and the impact that they have on safety is something that the TWU has argued strongly about. The member for Hinkler referred to some comments made by the TWU representative, Mr Tony Sheldon, in relation to the carbon tax. It is relevant to this debate, when we are talking about so-called 'safe rates', that we have the TWU pointing out that the carbon tax is going to force drivers to find an extra $100 to $200 a week, so it is almost counterproductive—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. DGH Adams ): Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. We are debating the amendments to this bill. We are not debating the carbon tax. I call the honourable member for Gippsland.

Mr CHESTER: Mr Deputy Speaker, I am not seeking to argue your point but the point that I was referring to is this: we are going down a path where in the submission that was made to the inquiry the TWU strongly argued the case that there are systemic commercial and economic pressures which are resulting in poor safety outcomes, but at the same time we are introducing other bits of legislation which are going to put more commercial pressures on the transport industry. It is almost counterproductive to be doing one thing while you are doing the other thing. So that is the point I was trying to make, Mr Deputy Speaker, without wishing to argue about your ruling.

The Leader of the Nationals, in his contribution, also referred to the fact that this bill erodes the concept of independent contractors, and the amendments that we are discussing take this erosion of the status of independent contractors one step further by reducing their ability to negotiate terms and conditions that they believe are adequate. This bill and the amendments we are talking about will centralise contracts for groups of independent contractors and, in doing so, limit their opportunity to bargain. They have the potential to hamper competition and may remove the flexibility which is so important for industry. So in this way I believe the bill has the potential to make hiring groups of owner-drivers less attractive. The point I am making is that I believe that in going down this path and in tampering with an industry we run the risk of creating unintended consequences and ending up, in terms of this very important issue of safety, having some perverse outcomes and not actually achieving what we set out to achieve in the first place.

As many members on this side have indicated, while this bill has been touted as a road safety measure, we are concerned that it is more about industrial relations. We believe that existing safety efforts should be given the chance to be bedded down and that safety is a very complex issue. I do not disagree at all that fatigue undoubtedly plays a part in it, but I think that by focusing on this issue alone we might be diverting attention from the more holistic approach, which is what the dissenting report indicated, a view which was supported by the coalition members during the inquiry process.