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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 2343

Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (20:52): I rise to speak in support of the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2012 and a related bill. After a lifetime in the transport industry, and as a member of the TWU for 35 years and an official for 23 years, I want to set all that aside to talk about my experience in road safety. I was appointed acting transport commissioner of the National Road Transport Commission by the then minister for transport, John Anderson. I was appointed by the Governor of South Australia to the Road Safety Advisory Council of South Australia, and I was also appointed by the Governor of South Australia to the Motor Accident Commission as a director for some five years. But I will I set aside my union experience to talk about my experience in the road safety area.

We see 250 deaths a year and 1,000 injuries. Unfortunately, deaths are quantifiable; you can put a dollar value on the death. You can quantify it; it can be insured and paid out and the grieving families will deal with their grief, bury their dead and get over it, albeit they will remember their loved ones forever. But, when it comes to 1,000 injuries, insurers, families and the people who act as directors of the Motor Accident Commission dread those 1,000 injuries. A closed head injury can cost $5 million to $6 million. The families will live with that all of their lives. We are killing 250 people, and we have 1,000 injuries, and we have a transport task that is set to double.

Today I heard Minister Shorten asked whether this will bring the road toll down. He was very careful in his answer, and he covered all bases. But the reality is that, with the transport task set to double, it is unlikely that the road toll will be brought down and it is unlikely that the number of injuries will be brought down. But what we can do is put in place safe systems of work for people who carry this economy, people who work as hard as is humanly possible and who work when most Australians are asleep. They work at the wrong time of the day in relation to their circadian rhythms, so we really do have to do something about road safety. To write this off as a cynical exercise in union power is completely misleading. The cost of these injuries to the national economy is estimated to be about $2.7 billion. If we look at the transport task doubling, then we can add zeros to that.

Now fatigue is inseparable from remuneration. If a driver is held over for four hours in a loading bay and then needs to go on and complete his task of earning a decent living for his family, his decision is simple: do I feed my family or do I pull up and go home with half a day's pay? These things are quite clear and unequivocal. The driver who decides, after being held up for four hours, to work out the rest of his allotted kilometres—to earn the wages to feed his family, to keep the company that he is employed by in work with a supply chain participant who is merciless—will accumulate a sleep debt. There are a couple of things you could do. You could stop eating—you could probably go for three or four weeks without eating—or you could stop drinking for a few days. But you cannot stop sleeping. You will accumulate a sleep debt and, when that debt is due and payable, you will go to sleep. Unfortunately microsleeps of three to five seconds at 100 kilometres an hour can have tragic consequences. If the pilot of a jumbo jet happened to have a microsleep of three seconds while landing the plane, everybody would be thinking, 'Gee, that is a huge problem.' It is no different with a B-double truck of 53 tonnes.

Senator Xenophon mentioned a coronial inquiry. Let me tell you about the first coronial inquiry into transport. According to Dr Philip Swann, it was around 1740 in the County of Sussex. A carter and his driver were killed. A coronial inquiry was held which ruled two remarkable things: (a) the driver had fallen asleep because he was tired and (b) the horse was blind. Now at the Remote Areas Conference in Alice Springs a number of years ago, I asked all the operators in that area: how many blind horses are your drivers in charge of? The answer was 500 to 600, because that is the horsepower of trucks that we currently operate. So, in road safety terms, we must pass this bill in order to protect the travelling public of Australia; allow truck drivers who start in good shape in the morning to return home to their families; take off the pressure, which is merciless, that the supply chain providers put on the companies and ultimately the drivers; and simply allow truck drivers to have a decent living and a fair wage and get home to their families in one piece.