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Transcript of interview with Greg Jennett: ABC Capital Hill: 11 April 2016: Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal

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SUBJECT/S: Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.

JENNETT: Brendan O’Connor. Let’s start with what the Government’s saying first of all. We heard Scott Morrison there saying that he understands there’s support for a temporary delay to this pay regime. Has Labor actually offered any support to the Government on this?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Well we’ve not spoken to the Government. I’ve sought a briefing with respect to the legislation proposed from Minister Cash and that’s been denied me. So there’s no effort by the Government to reach out to the Opposition. But can I just say this to you Greg, we are concerned that there is a clear correlation between exploitative rates of pay and the remarkable and damning statistics in the heavy road transport industry insofar as fatalities are concerned. For that reason, we want to see a fair and decent outcome, not only for employees but for owner drivers as well, in an industry that has a fatality rate twelve times the average of all industries in this country.

JENNETT: Sure, but I suppose the question then arises, what is the best way to address that fatigue issue? That safety issue? Is there a Government algorithm and what appears to be a somewhat inflexible approach that this calculator offers?

O’CONNOR: Well firstly - look, a leader though, Greg, would sit down and convene a meeting of all affected parties of the road transport industry. A Prime Minister who was

a leader would not, because he doesn’t like the decision, just decide to abolish the independent umpire. Now what should happen, if there are legitimate concerns, then of course they should be considered in light of the Government’s remarks. But I fear Greg that the Government is playing with public safety and road safety and playing with the emotions of owner drivers who have been told, or have been given misleading information about some of the consequences of this decision. Having said that, as I understand it, the employers and the union and the owner operators, I think could sit down and work through these matters in a temperate sensible way. And I think that’s what should be happening before we get to this sort of extreme, contemptuous, arrogant act by the Prime Minister.

JENNETT: Alright we’re talking about two separate things here. Because one, which you’re calling extreme and intemperate, is effectively an election promise that was announced by the Prime Minister yesterday.

O’CONNOR: Well he brought them together, Greg - I didn’t bring them together. The Prime Minister as you say on the weekend said, I didn’t like the decision, I’ll abolish the commission. I’ll abolish the umpire.

JENNETT: Sure. And then in the interim, there’s something that Labor’s talking about being interested in which is looking for a half-way house, accommodation in some way. So do you see any likelihood that you could support this interim measure, the Bill that actually comes to the Parliament next week?

O’CONNOR: Absolutely we are open to having a conversation with all affected parties. That’s what leaders do. That’s what the Government should have done. The Government has had no conversations with the union representing thousands upon thousands of not only of employees, of owner-operators. And a lot of the concerns raised have been by large fleet owners who don’t want to pay reasonable rates of pay. So this has been misrepresented quite frankly by the Government. It is not the case that owner-operators across the board oppose this decision. There are fleet owners who have raised concerns. And there’s been some misinformation, but I would suggest, yes, in relation to this idea that you introduce a Bill into Parliament to knock off an independent umpire’s decision - whilst I think that’s a pretty radical thing to do, in light of the concerns and misinformation, we’d like to talk to all affected parties and reach a resolution. Not play politics with transport safety, public safety, and the emotions of mum and dad operators.

JENNETT: Do you acknowledge that this comes as a shock to those independent and smaller owner driver operators, because they were hither to operating in a fairly free-market fluid negotiating yourself environment, and now they have this one size fits all -

O’CONNOR: No, Greg. It’s - I’m not suggesting that everyone would know the detail, but this matter has been going on for years. Government reports have been commissioned, including by the current federal Government. Each report one after the other, while they have different views on certain matters, have all said there is a link

between the fatality rate on the roads in this country and rates of pay. So to argue that all of a sudden you haven’t heard - this matter has been going on in the Commission, sorry in the Tribunal, the independent umpire, for months, indeed years. And the Government had the authority to intervene and make a submission. But what did the Government do? It did nothing until last month when it wanted to delay the order. Why didn’t it make submissions prior to the order being made? I thought that’s where they again, vacated the field, showed no leadership if they’re genuinely concerned about this issue. But quite frankly, this is just something that I think Malcolm Turnbull grabbed as a distraction. He’s willing to play with the lives of owner-operators and play with their emotions when in fact this matter has to be considered in detail and temperately, because we’re talking about the hundreds of people who lose their lives on the road. Not just truck drivers, but victims of heavy road accidents.

JENNETT: Alright. I guess -

O’CONNOR: Now just a sec. This is a public safety issue. Not just an occupational health and safety issue. It’s a public safety issue.

JENNETT: Sure. And just finally, because I know you are pressed of time, but the claim has been made in public arena that this might have the effect of driving people towards the TWU, the Transport Workers Union. Is that, or has that ever been a factor in Labor’s thinking?

O’CONNOR: Absolutely not. It’s a ridiculous assertion. The reality is the TWU, quite frankly, unlike most unions, already represent owner-operators and employees. In fact, they’ve always been speaking out on behalf of small businesses in the transport industry. That’s the one thing that sets them apart from some others unions that don’t do that. They have a long history. They’ve been advocating and making changes in State and Federal law in relation to owner-operators. And this battle is not just for employees. The owner-operators that are driving are on far lower conditions of employment. If you have a reasonable floor in the heavy vehicle area, in the road transport industry, you’re going to reduce the pressure on drivers to drive 18 hours a day and possibly kill themselves and others. And that’s why we think we need to find a reasonable outcome on this Greg. Work with the parties. Don’t use this issue and the emotions of people as a political football.

JENNETT: Well alright, for your patience and time today Brendan O’Connor. Thanks so much.

O’CONNOR: Thanks Greg.