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Wednesday, 20 June 2007
Page: 87


Senator STERLE (3:29 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

I rise to present to the Independent Contractors Amendment Bill 2007.

This bill exempts the Western Australian Owner Driver (Contracts and Disputes) Act 2007 from the Commonwealth's Independent Contractors Act 2006.

This Bill will provide the same rights to Western Australian owner drivers that exist for New South Wales and Victorian owner drivers.

This Bill is about the take-home income of owner drivers in Western Australia, but it is about so much more as well.

The industry in my state wants this set of laws to set up a sustainable industry.

Families want to see more of their truckles who are often pushed into working unsustainably long hours.

Motorists want safer roads.

Also we know fuel prices have been rising, increasing the financial pressure in the trucking industry.

Owner drivers need a break from the Howard government.

They need more certainty to put the industry on a safe and sustainable footing.

This Bill makes it clear that Labor is on the side of the trucking industry, owner drivers, their families and wider road safety.

And yet it comes about because the Minister for Workplace Relations has declared that the Howard government will not exempt the Western Australian Act that will help achieve these goals.

The Minister also intends to review owner driver legislation exemptions in New South Wales and Victoria. This would be a disaster for the owner drivers in New South Wales and Victoria as well.

This so-called review process is code from the Minister that the government intends to repeal the long held rights of owner drivers in New South Wales and Victoria. It is also an explicit announcement that the rights enacted by the Western Australian government for owner drivers will not be respected by the Commonwealth either.

This Private Members Bill represents a test for the government - will it join Labor to promote a sustainable industry, better road safety and owner driver conditions - or will it declare that these hard working owner drivers are the next group in society that will be harshly affected by its laws.

If this Bill is not passed by the Commonwealth Parliament, the Western Australian Act will not have an effect on owner drivers in my proud state.

This is what is at stake. It is a challenge for this Parliament to back owner drivers.

The actions of the government in declaring that it will not exempt the WA Act might be understandable if the trucking industry had objected to the creation of those laws.

Yet the opposite is true! The trucking industry wants the WA Act to apply.

The Chief Executive of the Transport Forum WA, Debra Goostey, has stated in regard to the WA Act:

‘It is essential that the Independent Contractors Act drafted by the Federal government does not become an obstacle in the development of sensible legislation that only provides a safety net for subcontractors ...’

Transport Forum WA also argues the WA Act is a critical step toward achieving competition in the industry within a framework of minimum safe sustainable freight rates and industry standards of practice and behaviour.

The WA laws are pro-competition designed to encourage safety and improve business performance. According to the WA Treasury they will assist and encourage appropriate investment by owner drivers into the industry.

The WA Act provides a basic set of minimum standards and promotes good faith bargaining and behaviour taking the trucking industry forward into the future.

It is what the industry wants!

Isn't this what we should all want as well?

And it appears that everyone does want it except the Howard government. You have the Western Australian government leading and acting - in consultation with industry and the Transport Workers Union, which strongly back the changes.

Only the Howard government stands in the way as a recalcitrant. There it is again, acting out of nasty ideology and nothing more.

These WA laws are about the take-home income of owner drivers, but they are about road safety and family lives as well.

There is a barrage of academic opinion that justifies setting guideline minimum freight rates.

Many studies have indicated that excessive competition in the trucking industry has resulted in lower than economic freight rates, leading to driving hours above safe levels, the use of stimulants, reduced maintenance and unsafe work schedules and loads.

Low freight rates have been linked to increased speeding by owner drivers.

Where they are under heavy financial pressure owner drivers are more likely to break road rules, overload or overdrive to complete more trips.

Owner drivers who are paid a flat load system are more likely to report high levels of fatigue.

And, international studies have linked freight rates and industry safety performance.

This is why setting guideline freight rates in Western Australia are so important. And yet, the Howard government is indifferent.

The WA Act also sets an industry standard for pay dates. They must not be beyond 30 days from invoice in a contract. This is about creating security of payment and cash flow for owner drivers.

Where there is no date specified for payment in a contract, the payment must be made within 14 days.

Interest on overdue payments is the rate of interest prescribed in the Civil Judgement Enforcement Act 2004.

This is a comprehensive system to promote cash flow security in the trucking industry in Western Australia.

It is about a healthy culture of supply-chain management and practice that promotes prompter payment for owner drivers.

These WA laws also give owner drivers the benefit of protection from unconscionable conduct.

This means that large hiring companies cannot abuse their power in letting a contract with an owner driver.

Contractual negotiation must be based on good faith bargaining.

Owner drivers may challenge unreasonable conditions set in a contract, especially if the condition was not clearly communicated.

So, what is at stake in this bill?

In human terms, the government has rejected the rightful wish of my states’ trucking industry to improve long term security for those working in it.

The government has rejected the evidence that guideline freight rates promote a long term sustainable industry.

The government has rejected the evidence that road safety would improve if owner drivers were facing less financial pressure.

The government has rejected the views of the Transport Forum WA, the Western Australian government and the Transport Workers Union who all have worked together to ensure that the laws enacted in the Owner Driver (Contracts and Disputes) Act 2007 promote the long term health of the industry.

This is arrogance in the extreme from the Howard government.

The government which has often claimed to be a friend of business and independent contractors is no friend of owner drivers in Western Australia.

This shows how out of touch and extreme this government has become under the Prime Minister.

On the Labor side of politics, we are for the trucking industry and the hard working men and women who work in it.

We are for sustainable practices based on good faith relationships and minimum standards to promote safety.

The purpose of the WA Act is to ensure safe and sustainable rates for owner drivers in the road transport industry.

We expect heavy haulage drivers to operate in a safe manner, with proper fatigue management practices in place.

But owner drivers must receive reasonable rates in order that the industry meets these community requirements. Otherwise the evidence is that the industry will be forced into dangerous behaviour.

This is why the government should support owner drivers by supporting this bill. I commend this bill to the Senate.


Senator STERLE —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.