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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 2344


Senator JOYCE (QueenslandLeader of The Nationals in the Senate) (20:59): No-one disputes the issues of road safety. They are at the forefront of everybody's mind. The issue of truck drivers being able to stop is something on which there has been a lot of concentration. The issue here is how much you pay truck drivers. Is it determined by a panel that can be dominated by—to be honest—TWU members and safety issues? That is what we need to concentrate on. We are completely mindful of making sure we do everything in our power to make the roads safer. To be honest, we will be moving for inland rail—getting back to short-haul road transport and trying to get as much long-haul road transport onto rail as we possibly can. But there is nothing in this bill that will protect road safety per se. The government has provided no evidence that greater pay will reduce road accidents and fatalities. We all want to be paid more; that is a natural human aspiration. But it is the same argument as this: if we pay doctors more, will they be more successful with their operations? I do not think so; they are probably doing the best job they can at the moment. If we pay bricklayers more, will they be better at laying bricks? Probably not, but they will probably try to lay a lot more bricks than they currently do.

One of the concerns we have is that, if we go away from paying a salary and instead pay according to the amount of work done, it is motivation to do more work—and that means you are going to be more tired. If this bill is about safety, why has the government transferred responsibility from the Department of Infrastructure and Transport to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations? Industry representatives, truck drivers and small business owners question whether a link can really be made between remuneration and road safety. No-one doubts for a moment that people want to be remunerated at the highest possible level they can get; that is the natural instinct of all people who work, including me and everyone in this chamber. But does this legislation make the roads safer? I do not think it does. If it does, the evidence has not been presented to the Senate in a form that wins the argument.

In their submissions to federal inquiries, reputable industry bodies such as the Australian Logistics Council and the Australian Industry Group clearly say they do not believe there is a link between road safety and remuneration rates; they certainly say it has not been proven. NatRoad's theory is that drivers will, for a time, increase their labour availability in response to higher wages. That is what most people do—because higher wages are a reward and generally increase their incentive to work while decreasing the relative attraction of leisure time because of its greater opportunity cost. In essence, if you get paid more per hour then you are going to try to work more hours. If you work more hours, does that make you safer? Not necessarily. It might make you wealthier, it might make you better remunerated, but it does not necessarily make you safer. Even the Ai Group has doubts. They stated:

Even if a causal connection between remuneration and unsafe practices is presumed to exist it does not follow that establishing higher minimum rates or prohibiting certain methods of payment will result in drivers changing their unsafe practices.

There are so many other issues that need to be addressed for owner drivers, such as registration rates on trailers and trucks. As much as possible, these issues need to be addressed. This is an area where people are being done over.

Also, we do have concerns about how the major retailers are treating owner-drivers. We do have a concern that not only are they being exploited but so are farmers. We have tried to be as vociferous as we possibly can on that. We have stated the case on behalf of dairy farmers and vegetable growers, who, like truck drivers, are just small business people. But we have not yet been convinced of the argument that paying people more money, by means of a tribunal, to grow more lettuces makes them a safer tractor driver or that paying them more for a litre of milk, which they probably deserve, makes them a safer dairy farmer. Likewise, does paying them more money to drive a truck make them a safer truck driver? We are not engaging in an argument about whether people have been exploited. We are engaging in an argument—because it is the premise of this legislation—about whether a connection has been made between the rates being paid and the safety outcomes on the road.

Senator John Williams was a truck driver, so in the National Party there are strong sympathies with the issue of the exploitation in owner-driver pay rates. We are aware of those issues; we are not blind to them. Discussions have been held even tonight about what this issue means. Without labouring the point, the premise of this is that there is a connection between how much people are paid, as determined by a tribunal, and how safe a process is. But we think it goes beyond just that.

These laws require a business to ensure that workplace risks are 'as low as reasonably practical'—ALARP. Not only has this legislation not been given the opportunity to prove its effectiveness but, as the Australian Logistics Council notes:

There is a direct collision between the philosophy of this Bill, which raises the spectre of inserting command/control regulation in an area where other laws require the application of ALARP principles—which in one way places greater burdens on operators as ALARP implicitly requires implementation of 'best practice' and continuous improvement.

Additionally the Ai Group has suggested that the regime undermines the operation of the Fair Work Act by overriding decisions of the existing industrial tribunal. By implication, the Fair Work Act must be flawed and unable to produce appropriate remuneration and conditions for the employee truck drivers, which is something that should be taken up in the Fair Work Act rather than being dealt with in this bill. Employees in the heavy vehicle industry are already subject to the modern award principles of the Fair Work Act. Does this lead to a conclusion that the minister believes that the government's Fair Work Act provisions are not working, or is the bill an attempt to push up the wages for truck drivers? If there is an issue with the Fair Work Act, the Australian Labor Party should deal with it through the Fair Work Act.

This bill is yet another layer of red tape for businesses and the heavy vehicle industry to deal with. The industry is already subject to numerous regulations and legislation at both the state and national levels relating to driver safety. These include independent contractors legislation, workplace health and safety legislation and the soon-to-be-implemented National Heavy Vehicle Regulator. NatRoad points out :

There are existing laws that apply to wages, conditions, contracting arrangements, road use, vehicle standards, fatigue, speed, mass, dimension, loading, substance abuse, record keeping as well as general workplace health and safety obligations.

The bill will add further complexity to an already bureaucratic area. In New South Wales, for example, the bill will be the fourth layer of regulation for driver fatigue. One would note, by listening to channel 40 on any night on the Newell Highway or any of the major roads, drivers continually dealing with the issues of regulation, especially, and necessarily, in fatigue management and weights. These are issues of safety and I suppose they are necessary encumbrances, but a direct correlation between how much they are paying you to do a job and safety is not clearly drawn. What is clearly understood is that, if you have a centralisation in any marketplace and you have two major players—say, Coles and Woolworths—who have the capacity to determine a rate, you are probably going to get done over—and that does not just go for truck drivers; that goes for dairy farmers, vegetable growers and a whole range of people who are trying to deal with this issue.

To be honest, this is something that the National Party has been harping on for a long while and being derided about—sometimes by our own side, to be honest, and sometimes by Dr Craig Emerson. He gives a splendid rendition of how evil we all are for bringing these sorts of things up. Maybe I look forward to a time in the future when there can be a bit more understanding across the chamber on issues where certain people and certain industries are getting done over. Maybe we might be able to, in a joint way, understand the issues that are not just exclusive to truck drivers but may also be part and parcel of other issues—not just for the TWU but for farmers as well.

Without labouring the point, we are not emphatically opposed to this. We oppose it, but we are not going to town on it. We understand and have strong sympathies with owner-drivers. We understand the complexities and the discrepancies and the corruptions and the mechanisms by which they should be paid a fair rate for what they do. But in this instance we do not believe that the argument has been clearly drawn in the Road Safety Remuneration Bill on the premise that there is a clear connection between road safety and what people get paid. I am not casting any aspersion at all on whether what they are being paid is fair. That is a completely separate issue. It is like the fact that we do not believe that many farmers are being fairly paid but we do not think that paying them more—although they should be paid more because that would be fair—is going to make them safer farmers; it will probably just mean they are being dealt with in a fairer way.