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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 2340

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (20:43): I will be supporting the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2012 and the Road Safety Remuneration (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill 2012, and I will outline my reasons shortly. Before I do, I want to reflect on a couple of issues. Firstly, the government—and this was a point that was made very well by Senator Fisher—says that the ABCC is discriminatory because it deals with a particular class of employees and that there ought to be one rule for all. I am not necessarily against the idea of different rules in different areas. Sometimes there are compelling reasons to take a different approach on an industry by industry basis. That is why I am not necessarily against the abolition of the ABCC or its functions. For that reason, I do not think that it is inconsistent for me to support a specialist tribunal if the focus is safety. There is another issue at stake here. The opposition says that this is about an industrial matter rather than a safety matter, in a sense. I want to make this clear, and it is perhaps something that the opposition has not made clear: I have serious concerns about the modern award system in its current form. I have serious concerns about small businesses who tell me that they are shutting their businesses on Sundays because they cannot afford to pay people double time. I have concerns that there are young people—students—who tell me that they are quite happy to work for time and a half, not double time, because it is not economical for the business to stay open. I think that is a debate that we have to have.

But I see this bill in a different category. I think that this bill is about issues of safety and that these are quite distinct from the issues that relate to small businesses, because of the influence of Coles and Woolworths with regard to this industry. This bill is about taking a national approach to safety issues relating to pay and conditions in the road transport industry. It establishes this tribunal, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal which, importantly, will be empowered to resolve disputes between drivers, hirers, employers and participants in the road transport industry supply chain. That is important because there is a complete disparity of bargaining power in that supply chain, and the drivers are the ones who are often the most vulnerable. They are the ones that cop it in terms of fatigue and a whole range of issues.

I just want to make it clear to my friends in the government and in the opposition and, indeed, the crossbenches that I think there are some industrial things that we are making a mess of in this country and that the modern award system is coming up with a whole range of presumably unintended consequences that are really hurting small businesses, but this bill is a very different approach.

The tribunal will be able to inquire into issues and practices within the road transport industry and to determine mandatory minimum rates of pay and conditions for employed and self-employed drivers. Road transport is a growing industry that employs over 246,000 Australians and accounts for over 1.7 per cent of Australia's total GDP.

We need to make sure that this industry is safe, not just for the drivers but for every other road user in this country. This industry has the highest incidence of fatal injuries of any industry in Australia, with 25 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2008-09, making fatalities in the road transport sector 10 times higher than the average for all industries. That is not to mention other road users who get killed or injured in trucking incidents.

Last week I was visited by Lystra Tagliaferri, who bravely came to urge me to support this bill. With Ms Tagliaferri's permission, I would like to share the story of how her late husband, David, was killed, and her own courageous response.

Last year, David was stopped on the side of a Western Australian road. He had a flat tyre, which he was changing with the help of another motorist. While the two men were changing the tyre an out-of-control truck veered off the road straight into them, killing both men. The truck driver had been on the road for 13 hours and was found to have taken antidepressants and diazepam, which had contributed to the accident. The driver had also taken a small amount of marijuana, but this was found to be non-contributory to the crash.

The driver pleaded guilty—and he deserves credit for pleading guilty, rather than contesting it—to two counts of dangerous driving causing death. The driver has been imprisoned. I said before that Ms Tagliaferri has been courageous in her response, as not only has she found it in her heart to forgive the truckie but to ask questions as to why he was driving so erratically and drugged up to try and prevent this from happening to other families. I think it is important to note that David was just 44 years old and left behind two young children.

Ms Tagliaferri, along with David's sister, Ms Sawyer, are seeking answers as to what the company's role was in this and where the law sits in these sorts of circumstances. I will be supporting the application to have the Western Australian coroner look into these matters. I think it is important that there be a coronial inquest. I will do everything that I can to support such an application for the coroner to hear this matter.

Today we have the opportunity to clarify where the law sits, and to protect truckies from the insidious pressures that come down the supply chain—and they are insidious pressures. Our nation's truck drivers face unrealistic and often impossible deadlines and schedules. This results in truckies driving too far, too fast and for too long. In these circumstances our truck drivers are set up to crash, with deadly consequences. Their rate of accidents is unacceptably high.

We need to ask who set these impossible deadlines and schedules that result in the road industry being the deadliest in Australia. It is no secret that a very substantial proportion of trucks on our roads each and every day are carrying goods for major retailers. The market dominance of retailers such as Coles and Woolworths allow them to dictate to transport companies and truckies on delivery schedules and price. There is a real issue of drivers being forced to queue, unpaid, for hours to load and unload at the depots of Woolworths and Coles, forcing drivers to then work long hours to make a buck.

I believe that this bill before us goes some way to addressing those issues, to ensuring that truck drivers are properly remunerated and not forced into impossible schedules. I believe that, in delivering food to our tables, truckies should not feel so pressured that they resort to substances to keep them awake—dangerous substances that increase the risk of a crash. I find it remarkable that we are here debating to give truckies a fair go, to remunerate them properly and also to remove those pressures on supply lines. I see the pressures in our horticulture sector, where farmers are too scared to speak out against Coles and Woolworths because they feel so intimidated and fearful. The same thing is happening in this industry.

I think this is an issue in my home state of South Australia. I know that Steve Shearer, who represents trucking companies and who is a person I actually have a lot of regard for—

Senator Sterle: I don't!

Senator XENOPHON: Senator Sterle says he does not; I do. I have worked well with him on a whole range of issues, and I am happy to engage Mr Shearer, who has expressed real concerns, about this because I do respect him. I think that such is the nature of this industry and such is the nature of the pressures that we have that it is essential that we tackle this once and for all.

I just want to conclude by referring to a couple of other things. I have heard stories of employees accepting cash payments, still at rates higher than what they are normally paid, simply because if they did not the employers would not be able to open as penalty rates are too high. That goes to other industries, and shows how the system can be manipulated. I think that it is important that there be fair remuneration, but that is something that our truckies do not have the luxury of. In the trucking industry, truckies are forced to wait around, unpaid, while their trucks are loaded and unloaded. There are no penalty rates in sight for them and they have to work excessive hours in order to make a living and to pay for their trucks—often they are owner-drivers.

To those who say this bill is purely about industrial purposes, I do not believe that is the case. It is about having safer roads, and that involves decent remuneration—not excessive remuneration—it is about protecting drivers from those who dominate supply chains, forcing truckies into impossible schedules, and it is about safety. It is about having drivers who are not too tired, it is about having drivers who do not need to resort to drugs—which is unacceptable on any occasion—and it is about drivers having the support they need to do the job well and safely.

Ultimately, it is about saving lives. I think the time has come to have an industry that has one of the best rates of safety in this country, not the worst. I believe that this bill will go some way in achieving that. I support the bill.