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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 2347

Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (21:11): I acknowledge the contribution from Senator Joyce. Senator Joyce and I have a lot in common. Some may not think that, but we entered the parliament together and we do enjoy each other's company. Like you, Senator Joyce, I do believe Australia's farmers are getting a pretty rough deal.

I would have to say that, in the seven years that I have been in this building, this would be the crowning achievement of my political career, although Senator Abetz may think it is going nowhere. I can inform all those in the chamber that 30 years of my working life has been dedicated to the improvement of conditions for Australia's owner-drivers and Australia's transport workers. As everyone in this building knows, even though Senator Abetz may not like it for himself, when I rise to talk about road safety and the issues facing Australia's trucking industry and Australia's truckies, unlike Senator Abetz I know what I am talking about. I have been a small business man. I know what it was like for my wife in the early days to be sitting there worried sick because the phone call had not come when I was supposed to be in Fitzroy Crossing, or I may have been supposed to be in Port Hedland that night and the reverse charges phone call did not come on the Telecom box, because I did not have a mobile phone.

I suffer this myself at times. Senator Abetz, you really should be in the chamber and you will get a lesson in what actually happens in Australia's trucking yards and Australia's trucking families. My 21-year-old son, who I am so bloody proud of—I am sorry; I am so damn proud of—is a young Australian truckie. He is 21 years of age and he is busting his backside to get his road train licence so he can start line hauling. He is driving semitrailers around Perth and he carts to the mining companies in Western Australia's north-west. When my son says to me, 'Dad, I'm going to be in Meekatharra tonight at eight o'clock; I'll give you a buzz,' and that phone call does not come through, every parent in this building and every parent listening would appreciate the tightening in my gut when I think, 'Where the hell is he? Is everything all right?'

My father was a truck driver, so I am second generation and my boy is third generation. We have actually had a doctor sneak into the family—I do not know where she came from! When my father was out trucking, carting furniture across the Nullarbor for Gills Transport, I was too young to appreciate the dangers that he went through every fortnight, pedalling that little bucket of nuts and bolts across the paddock. But my mum was not too young. My mum knew darn well what was going on. And we did not even have a telephone.

So I get a little bit annoyed when I hear the tripe from Senator Abetz, when he attacks my credibility on this issue. Was I rude to him, Madam Acting Deputy President? Yes, I was, and you pulled me up—and I tell you what: there is a bit of me burning in my gut wanting to be a lot ruder to him. How dare he treat me like this! But I will carry on the conversation outside, Senator Abetz, and in fact I will throw another challenge to you. Your mate Mr Truss would not take up the challenge: challenge me to a debate on road safety and the link between road safety, remuneration and fatigue and our truckies getting home each night to their families. Let us take the fight out there, Senator Abetz. Come on out, mate! You pick the states; you pick the trucking yards!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Boyce ): Order, Senator Sterle, address your remarks through the chair, please!

Senator STERLE: I will blue you; I will debate you! Don't flood it with the likes of Ken Phillips. Don't flood the meeting with the likes of the Australian Trucking Association—and out of respect, Madam Acting Deputy President, I will leave it there. There is the challenge, Senator Abetz. While Senator Abetz was playing kiddie politics in the Liberal Party in the Tasmanian university, or wherever he went, I was playing with road trains. Bring it on, Senator Abetz!

It is a happy night. I am happy. I am so happy that I cannot stop laughing. For that, I want to express my sincere thanks to the hardworking men and women in our trucking industry. I look up into the gallery at that young good-looking rooster in the blue shirt there, Mr Frank Black, an owner-driver, a bloke like me—no, a bloke better than me. He is still out there peddling. I have long hung up the riding boots; I surrendered. Frank is still going. Frank was interviewed on numerous television programs, and I watched them, and there were numerous news articles. Frank represents owner-drivers on the Australian Trucking Association Safety Council, I think it is—and if it is not, we will correct the record. He is a man who has been at the forefront of the fight for decency and safety and a proper remuneration for Australia's trucking fraternity. I dip my hat to you, Frank. I know you have been here for the last two days but you have also been here on numerous other occasions. I have met with Frank in Queensland, convincing owner-drivers that, if you want to get home safely and if you want to see your kids get through school and graduate and make a decent living, you have to be remunerated for your efforts. Not only is there the cost of running your truck, fixed and variable, but you must also have a safe and sustainable rate.

We should be proud of Australia's truck drivers. We are not embarrassed to be truckies. We are not embarrassed that we did not go to university. We are not embarrassed because we do not carry around some piece of paper with a lovely red ribbon on it that says, 'Aren't I wonderful? I went to TAFE college.' I do not have that. I have got a heart the size of a lion and I have got a road train licence. I have got my union card in my pocket and no-one is getting that from me.

I want to sincerely congratulate and thank the leadership of the Transport Workers Union while I am at it—and may I declare, in case someone out there in Liberal land missed it, that I am a proud member of the Transport Workers Union and I have been a proud member for 30 years. I joined the Transport Workers Union in 1981 as a young owner-driver. Actually, hang on; let us go back a bit. I actually joined the Transport Workers Union as a young 16-year-old cocky in 1976 when I first walked through the doors of Ansett Wridgways—and they may have been just Wridgways back then. I was told, 'We should be in the union, boy.'

Senator Edwards interjecting

Senator STERLE: Through you, Madam Acting Deputy President, you can carry on. Don't be a smart-A, mate! If you want to have a bubble about road safety, take it outside! I will carry this on. You are not that smart.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Sterle, through the chair, please, and do not direct comments to other senators.

Senator STERLE: I will sort this out later with Senator Edwards. He thinks that he is quite comical when we are talking about road safety.

I had joined the union in 1976. When I became an owner-driver, I was that smart; my boss told me that because I was an owner-driver I did not need to be in the union. I thought, 'Okay, that is fine.' It took me a year to work out that—hang on—he had just pulled the wool over my eyes. So in 1981 at Wridgways all I wanted was a decent, safe and sustainable wage, and income for my small business—my tiny business: me, and then in 1982 it became me and my wife. So I joined the union again.

For 30 years I have been fighting for safe, sustainable rates. But these guys up there did it. I did not do it. I could not do it. We actually had the ability under the leadership of Tony Sheldon, ably assisted by Michael Kaine, the national assistant secretary of the Transport Workers Union. I notice Peter Biagini up there, the Queensland branch secretary—it is great to see you, Pete. And there have been a gaggle of hardworking owner-drivers and wives who have pushed like heck to one day see this dream come true, and today it is going to come true. I will now celebrate, but in sharing my celebrations I am also very mindful that I want to give my friend and my colleague from Queensland Senator Mark Furner the ability to have some words as well. So I will surrender some of my time.

But what I would like to do, with your indulgence, Madam Acting Deputy President, is to say very, very clearly that there is nonsense being peddled by those who do not under any circumstances support small businesses; when they come out with this load of wallop about there being no link between safety and remuneration, they do not know what they are talking about. I am telling you, as an owner-driver, there is a damn strong link. Do you think that as an owner-driver I would drive, and my colleagues out there who are still doing it would drive, when feeling absolutely RS? You feel absolutely shattered because you have probably had about eight or 10 hours sleep in the last two or three days.

In Western Australia in the 70s and 80s when I started trucking, we did not have fatigue management. Well, actually we did. Once you bumped over one of those little white posts with the red reflector on it—uh-oh—it was time to manage your fatigue. That was our fatigue management. Do you think we truckies got home feeling like trash every week because we loved to feel like trash? We felt like that because our rates of pay did not adequately provide us with the ability to have a minimum of eight hours sleep. Senator Joyce's contribution—balanced, heartfelt. Senator Abetz—what an absolute disgrace.

But with the little time I have left I do wish to take this opportunity to sincerely thank some very special people who need to be thanked. There are the Baldwins, Irene and Ian, and the Western Australian ladies who came to the parliament last week and the week before, as Senator Xenophon mentioned: Lystra Tagliaferri and Lisa Sawyer—and I will not go into it, but we know they lost their husband and brother—and Suzanne De Beer and her mother-in-law Johanna De Beer, whom I met, who had come across from South Africa. Suzanne had lost her husband and Johanna had lost her son. To the TWU drivers and delegates: Frank Black—you've already got one plug, mate, but I'll give you another one, good onya, cobber!; Mark Trevellian; Dale Haining; Euan Scott-Bell; Ray Childs; Billy Burka; Ian Vaughan; Paul Freyer; Alan Taylor; John Waltis; Paul Dewberry; Dudley Wellard; Dennis Wilcox; Paul Walsh; Tony McNulty; my old mate George Clarke—love you, Georgie, great work!; Charles Mackay; Arthur Fasoulis; Paul Remadeno; Robert Ireland; Andrew Villias; Robert Burles; Graham Batten; and Brad Webster.

To the TWU Veterans, who I enjoyed a cup of coffee with the other day with, and we manage to meet every time we are in New South Wales as our federal-state councils and conferences: Dave Lupton, Brian Thomas, Peter Cooley, Steve Whittick, Col Neal and Kevin Sweeney. It is great they are still around to enjoy this dream that has come true.

To my very, very dear friend and blood brother Jimmy McGiveron from WA: Jimmy, fantastic mate, you gave me my start in the union movement and I dearly thank you for that. I still have not escaped the clutches and we are still out there battling. I will be battling alongside him till the day I fall.

To my good mate Senator Alex Gallacher: well done, brother! I know how hard you fought for owner-drivers and Australia's truckies all these years.

On that note, Madam Acting Deputy President, I could go on for the next hour with a gobful of marbles under cement, but I do want my friend and colleague Senator Mark Furner to have his opportunity to speak. I commend the bill to the Senate.

An incident having occurred in the gallery—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Boyce ): Silence, please, in the gallery! I am sorry, Senator Furner, but Senator Fisher is the next speaker.