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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3087

Mr BUCHHOLZ (Wright) (13:04): I rise to speak on the 64 amendments before the House at the moment but specifically proposed subsection 33(6), which, if inserted into the act, would read:

Despite any other law of the Commonwealth, a State or a Territory, a road transport collective agreement has no effect unless it is an approved road transport collective agreement.

A road transport collective agreement is defined in clause 33(1) as an agreement between the contracted driver and the hirer:

that specifies remuneration or related conditions (or both) for participating drivers who provide applicable services to the participating hirer.

The effect of the amendment is that the contract between the group of the independent contractors, known as the owner-drivers, and a hirer must be approved by the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.

With that in mind, I take you to the example of two operators sitting on a dock. One, through successful business models, has wonderful vertical integrations and is able to provide a service—for example, from Sydney to Melbourne in a line-haul type environment—several hundred dollars cheaper because of his buying power capacity. When the tribunal under section 33(6) then goes to set those collective agreements referred to in the amendments, how is the independent operator able to find any leverage? It is a win-win scenario for the larger operator and actually a lose-lose scenario for the smaller operator. The example I draw you to is the buying power that the big guy has. If the big bloke can do it at $1,000 and the smaller bloke can only do it at $1,200 and the rate is going to be set at $1,200, which I believe would be the safe rate to look after the smaller bloke, the big fellow is laughing all the way to the bank because he has just picked up a $200 increase, which gives him more market dominance and the capacity with the greater margin to buy more trucks and dominate. I suggest the implication or an unintended consequence of this particular amendment among the 64 amendments before the House is more far reaching than was first considered.

I would also like to draw your attention to proposed subsection 33(1) and the distinction between the original definition of road transport collective agreement' and the effect of the amendment's deletion of the word 'and' and insertion of the word 'or'. Mr Deputy Speaker, as you would be well aware, that significantly strengthens the original intent, which brings me back to my original point about the concern, which was proven in the submissions before the inquiry, of the greater transport sector as to whether or not this is an appropriate way forward.

I would also draw your attention to the dissenting report of coalition members in that inquiry when they were considering this. The coalition members stated that they fully supported the need for a multifaceted approach to reducing accident rates in the transport industry, so they were fully supportive of trying to get the incident rates down. However, they said it should be noted that there was a gradual improvement in the accident and fatality rate in recent years, despite the increase in the national freight task. The rates of accidents are going down. This bill is about safety and the amendments, even though they are not predominantly about it, do talk about safety. We have the trajectory of fatality rates on a downward slope and, with the increase in government road infrastructure funding, we should see in future even more reductions in road fatalities. So that begs the question of why we need an additional layer of bureaucracy when all the industry is saying to the government is: 'Get your hand out of our pocket. If you are interested in increased freight rates, take some of the costs off us and allow us to get on and be profitable.'