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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3040

Ms O'NEILL (Robertson) (09:53): I rise with great pleasure to speak this morning on the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011 and the Road Safety Remuneration (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill 2011. There is so much that goes on in this place every day and sometimes there seems to be an incredible gap between the work we do and what Australians see of the work we do. Sometimes bridging that gap in our discussions here in the chamber can be quite challenging. I believe, however, that the legislation we are considering today is legislation for all those who might be out driving in their car right now listening to this broadcast or for all those who might be sitting at home watching A-PAC. People who move around in our community and who are drivers of ordinary cars and vehicles really do understand the pressure of driving on our roads and they share a concern about the trucks and the truck drivers on the road.

I have just finished 240 hours of driver supervision with my two young daughters. One of the big challenges they faced was overcoming their physical anxiety about being on the road with large trucks. Large trucks are frightening for many new drivers—and, sadly, not every driver is going to make a truck driver's day at work an easy thing either. We all share the roads and it is very important that we manage the way we enable people in the truck-driving industry to do their work in a safe manner. We need to do that to ensure that young drivers, such as my own daughters, can use the roads with a reasonable sense that they can move safely and that the truck drivers they are sharing the road with are not under such time pressures, such health pressures or such economic pressures that they are encouraged to cut corners or to take risks—even to risk losing their lives. I think we need to put on the record the Prime Minister's words:

Australia’s truck drivers work hard to make a living.

They certainly do. She continued:

But they shouldn’t have to die to make a living …

And that is at the heart of why we are here in this chamber today moving this piece of legislation.

What are the facts? Let us not race over these facts as we so often do when we start to talk about statistics. Every year, 330 Australians are killed in truck crashes. That is 330 lives lost and at least 330 families amazingly impacted by that loss. These people in our community—those who have lost family members in truck crashes—know the intricacy of the challenges that face people who work in the trucking industry and know there is every chance that those lives might not have been lost if we in this place had been paying enough attention to providing a framework that was safety oriented. Such a framework might have kept those men and women alive.

When we say 'truck crashes', it is pretty easy for people to think, 'Well, it is truck drivers who died.' But that is not the case. We know that in fact 72 per cent of the people killed when a truck is involved are actually occupants of other vehicles—older drivers, younger drivers, families on holidays, kids crossing a road. We need to do everything in our power, through our legislation, to make sure that truck drivers have every opportunity to move safely and to have the sorts of working conditions that give them the chance of getting home alive to their families at the end of a long day of driving. But it is not just that 330 Australians are killed every year in truck crashes or that 72 per cent of them are people in other vehicles. There are also 5,300 Australians injured every single year in truck crashes.

We know that the deaths and injuries arising from truck crashes are absolutely devastating for families and communities. While you can never put a price on a life and while the loss experienced by those who love the people who die can never be calculated, there is in fact a number to consider. Each year, the cost to taxpayers of these tragic truck related deaths and injuries is $2.7 billion.

One of the other critical issues we need to address for the ordinary people of Australia is the misuse of unfettered commercial power by massive industry clients like Coles. We are seeing evidence all the time that this is the root cause of death and injury. There are trucking industry clients who could care a whole lot less about the 330 lives, clients who care only about the bottom line of their own business, clients who treat truck drivers as disposable units of labour—as if they have no personhood and as if they have no families. Those trucking industry clients are certainly trying to make sure that truck drivers have no rights to have a safe workplace. They are trying to squeeze the industry so hard that drivers are often forced to work far too long and to drive far too fast just so they can make a living for themselves. A critical number of reports have been presented over the years but I think it is fair to say that we have hit a point of crisis, and that is why we are responding with this legislation today. I want to cite one piece of evidence from a coroner. I have great respect for the work of all politicians in this place, who work together in the interests of our nation, but too often we hear people making points just for political gain without paying attention to the facts and the real evidence. There will be 330 people who will die this year if things stay as they are. We need to make a change, and the reason we need to make a change is this sort of statement:

NSW Deputy Coroner Dorelle Pinch expressed the consequence of the heightened 'exposure to risk' that is part of the trucking industry in her 2003 findings regarding the tragic death of employee drivers Anthony Forsythe, Barry Supple and Timothy John Walsh.

Real men, real people who nearly 10 years later have families who still long for their return and who wait, wondering what might have been if they had had safe conditions to work in. The deputy coroner said:

As long as driver payments are based on a (low) rate per kilometre there will always be an incentive for drivers to maximise the hours they drive, not because they are greedy but simply to earn a decent wage.

That is a fact. That is a coroner who has been paying attention to the impact of death and that is the reality that this legislation deals with.

One of the critical reasons that things have advanced to this point is the efforts of the Transport Workers Union. So often in the public debate in this country we hear unions maligned. When people are out doing this work in their trucks, when they are driving around the country and when they are taking these unnecessary risks because of the highly dangerous context they are working in, they need somebody else to be doing the organisation to make sure their stories are told and to make sure that the facts of their challenging existence are recorded somewhere. When things get as bad as they are now in the trucking industry, that is when you absolutely need your union to organise a voice for you.

I really want to pay tribute to Tony Sheldon and the TWU for the work that they do. I know there are some members attending today, and a few are actually in the parliament right now. I am assuming that the men who are sitting here today have all probably spent a bit of time in a cab themselves. The truck drivers I know love their work. You would have to; I could never do that travelling for all those hours every day. They love their work, they want to keep doing their work and they need to do it safely. They want to do that work knowing that somebody has their back, that somebody is looking after them. That is what the TWU is doing and has done. It has brought the evidence to this place so that we can put it on the record and make sure that we empower the legislative capacity of this place to change things once and for all, to give it a fair go so that, at the end of this year, there are not 330 families sitting there waiting for somebody to drive that truck through the gate but finding that they are just not coming home. We cannot allow that to continue.

I also want to put on the record one of the important findings of the Safe Rates Summit 2011. There are a number of things identified that impact on the behaviour of drivers. Low rates of pay I have spoken about. There are also incentive based rates, which are corrupting ordinary healthy behaviours; unpaid working time, where people are called only to have their trucks stand there waiting to be loaded and waiting to be unloaded and not getting paid for that, which is completely unfair; unreasonable demands; poor queuing practices; and, obviously, the imbalance of market power that I have spoken about.

The Safe Rates Summit indicated that those six critical factors lead to some particular behaviours that make it dangerous for you and me, non-truck drivers, on the road and dangerous for the truck drivers. When you have those sorts of working conditions, it is not surprising that fatigue is a part of the problems that cause crashes. Drug use, very sadly, is a part of the life of some truckies. I know that the TWU has been working very hard in long-term education campaigns to interrupt those behaviours and to make sure that people understand that they should not be taking those risks with their bodies. Speeding is obviously one of the critical things, and we do see that on our roads. When people are pushed to the edge, they will take the wrong decision and speed. There is also poor vehicle condition. When you are on a wing and a prayer all the time, when your rate of pay is screwed down to the lowest possible amount, sometimes there is not the money to service the machine in the way that it needs to be serviced. Sometimes there is not the money to replace the tyres, which are not cheap on these big rigs. Big problems are going to happen if we do not attend to the fact that this industry needs significant review and reform.

Tom from the Central Coast is one person who was interviewed at Marulan. I also want to pay credit to the people who did the research. Sitting at a truck stop and taking evidence probably has not been the most salubrious experience for some of the people who undertook to do the research, but that is what a union can enable to happen. They can invest for the whole group in the sorts of resources that we need to produce the evidence to give us a clear picture of what is going on, and Tom could not have been any clearer:

I am doing 24 hours in unpaid waiting times a week. With trailers being pre-loaded by ... I cannot afford to wait another hour or so unpaid while they unload and reload a set of trailers to get the legal weight. I carry overweight regularly and I don't have a choice.

I am sure that Tom is not happy about that from the tone of what he said there, and as a driver who might be sharing the road with Tom I am not happy about it either. That is why we are here in this place putting forward this legislation. It is our goal to make it impossible for these conditions to continue and to give ordinary workers a fair go. In closing, I would like to refer to the main reasons why this government has introduced a safe remuneration system for drivers. We need, through this legislation, to address the root causes of unsafe driving practices. We know that there are underlying economic factors that encourage unsafe on-road practices. We know that the commercial dominance of the transport industry's powerful clients, especially big retailers, is corrupting this workplace and making it dangerous for ordinary men and women who work in this industry and bring all of the goods that we get from our supermarkets, who move all the produce from the country to the processing places, who move all of the things that we require around our country. Our goal in this legislation is very clearly to lead to safer roads for all Australians. We know that the current economic and social cost of unsafe roads is overwhelming for drivers, their families and the general community. We on this side of the House understand the importance of looking after ordinary Australian workers and their families.