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Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Page: 9871

Workplace Relations


Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (14:42): My question is to the Minister for Employment, Senator Cash. On last night's ABC 7.30 report we heard harrowing details of what household brand Tip Top are doing to the truck drivers who deliver their bread. One family of a driver who has since died of lung cancer told how one night after returning to work after having a lung removed he called in sick but was told he was under contract. So he drove until he had to give up work altogether. Sadly, he died last year. When did the minister first become aware of the conditions experienced by Tip Top drivers? And what action has the minister taken since?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:43): I thank Senator Sterle for the question. I have recently also seen the media in relation to Tip Top. Can I just say the government takes the safety, as we all do, and I know you do, in particular, Senator Sterle, of all road users, including truck drivers, very seriously. That is why, as senators would be aware, we're investing $75 billion in infrastructure from 2017-18 to 2026-27, including a number of programs specifically targeting road safety.

Senator Sterle, I would say if there are any drivers who are concerned about the safety of their vehicles, they should immediately contact the road transport authorities—

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Cash. Please, resume your seat. Senator Sterle, on a point of order?

Senator Sterle: A point of order, Mr President, on relevance. I specifically and clearly asked the minister when she first became aware—she said she has, but not when—of the conditions experienced by the Tip Top drivers, and, as importantly, what action she has since taken.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Sterle. As you know, I can't instruct the minister how to answer a question. I can, however, remind the minister of the question, as you have, kindly, done as well. Senator Cash.

Senator CASH: As I've stated, if there are any drivers who are concerned across Australia about the safety of their vehicle, they should immediately contact the road transport authority in their state. The government has a strong track record, in particular, Mr President, as you would know, when it comes to standing up for owner-drivers. We have also made it very, very clear that we're investing in road safety to ensure that drivers across Australia benefit from increased safety on the roads. And, in particular, Senator Sterle, in relation—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Cash, please resume your seat. Senator Cameron?

Senator Cameron: Mr President, this is on relevance. The minister was asked: when did she first become aware and what actions has she taken? That's the key issue here.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, as you know, the minister is also allowed to address other elements of the question. There were other elements of the question. I take the opportunity to remind the minister of the entire question.

Senator CASH: As I said, the government makes an ongoing investment in relation to road safety because we are aware that you need to ensure the safety of drivers on the road. But, Senator Sterle, also in relation to—

Senator Sterle: A point of order, once again on relevance, Mr President. I've clearly asked about the conditions at Tip Top. I did not mention the condition of the trucks, which are highly maintained anyway. I did not mention anything about the roads that these drivers are on. It is the conditions at Tip Top where they get screwed down—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Sterle, I've reminded the minister of the question. The minister is entitled to answer the preamble to the question as well.

Senator CASH: As I was saying, owner-drivers are covered by the Independent Contractors Act 2006 and, if they have concerns in relation to their contracts, they can also apply to the Federal Court or the Federal Circuit Court to have a review of the contract on the grounds that the contract is harsh or unfair. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Sterle, a supplementary question?














Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (14:46): My first supplementary. Since the abolition of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal in April 2016, there have been 301 police reported, truck related deaths on our roads. Can the minister confirm the government's own figures show an increase of 9.4 per cent in articulated-truck crash deaths over the past year?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:47): Senator Sterle, as I have already stated, all of us here take the safety of all road users, including truck drivers, very, very seriously. While obviously acknowledging every death and serious injury on our roads is shocking, it is also important to note, and you would know this, that the vast majority of crashes involving heavy trucks are actually not the fault of the truck drivers themselves. The heavy vehicle industry is a focus of work for Safe Work Australia and health and safety regulators in all jurisdictions in order to reduce the high numbers of fatalities in that industry.

Senator Jacinta Collins: Mr President, a point of order: again, the minister is failing to answer the question. She has been asked to confirm these very alarming statistics.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Collins, the minister is also allowed to address the facts in the question, and I think the minister is being directly relevant to the question as it was asked.

Senator CASH: Again, the important point to note here in particular, Senator Sterle, is that you are trying to put a spin on statistics. The point I'm making is that every death—

Senator Cameron: You are a disgrace.

Senator Sterle interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Cameron, please cease interjecting while one of your colleagues is on their feet.

Senator Sterle: Mr President, a point of order: I take absolute disgust at that line of answering from the minister. She should be ashamed of herself saying that I'm trying to spin road deaths for a political gain.

The PRESIDENT: That is not a point of order, Senator Sterle. There's an opportunity to debate answers after question time.

Senator Wong: A point of order, Mr President, on direct relevance: we accept your ruling in relation to Senator Sterle, but he is expressing, I think, appropriate frustration. The minister—

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Senator Wong: On direct relevance, as I started, Senator Macdonald.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my right! Senator Wong has the call.

Senator Wong: Thank you, Mr President. There was only one question: it was asking the minister to confirm this government's own figures about the increase in the number of articulated-truck crash deaths. I suggest to you, Mr President, that the answer today has not been directly relevant to that question.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Wong, I heard the minister directly address, on a number of occasions, deaths in truck accidents. I consider that to be relevant to the question as asked. Senator Cash, there are four seconds remaining.

Senator CASH: The point I was making, again, is: it is important to note that the vast majority of crashes involving heavy trucks are not the fault of the truck driver. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Sterle, a final supplementary question?
















Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (14:50): The government's own review carried out by PWC showed that orders authorised by the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal would have cut truck crash fatalities by 28 per cent. Why does the minister continue to ignore the evidence that her policies are demonstrably endangering the lives of our truck drivers and other road users?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (14:50): Senator Sterle, I completely reject the premise of your question. Two independent reviews, by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Jaguar Consulting, concluded that the road safety remuneration system, including the tribunal, was not required, given that there is limited evidence of a link between safety and remuneration. In fact, the PricewaterhouseCoopers review found that the orders made by the tribunal would cost the economy in excess of $2 billion over 15 years.