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Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Page: 1430

Senator WILLIAMS (New South Wales) (12:45): I rise today to speak about the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and the role it plays in the safety of our truckies. The mission statement of the tribunal is listed as: firstly, making road safety remuneration orders; secondly, approving and assisting with negotiations for road transport collective agreements; thirdly, dealing with certain disputes related to road transport drivers, their employers or hirers and participants in the supply chain; and, fourthly, conducting research into pay, conditions and related matters that could affect safety in the road transport industry.

I want to take you back to March 2012 when this legislation was before the Senate—and I respect those who are now opposite, people like Senator Sterle, about needing more safety in the transport industry. The last thing we want to see is our truckies—or anyone for that matter—killed on our roads. I made the comment then that I had no major problems with the legislation, but I queried whether it would be the silver bullet to prevent deaths. I warned at the time that the tribunal should not be stacked with members of the Transport Workers Union. In fact, I said:

Have people on the tribunal from the transport industry—people who know the industry and who are in the industry—not just those who are representing the workers. Then, and only then, will you see fairness in the tribunal.

Recently I sat down with the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association. This is a group that represents hardworking road transport companies and workers, many of them based in small communities of regional and rural Australia, who provide the first and last link of the supply chain for Australia's agriculture industry. I see them every day of the week when I am home in Inverell. There are truckies bringing the cattle into the Inverell abattoirs and truckies then taking the containers off to the waterfront at Brisbane, providing a vital service to industry to survive and providing food not only to Australians but also to thousands, perhaps millions, of people around the world. The Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association supports the review of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal—and I will get to that review in more detail later. It said to me that there are problems in the industry that need addressing such as payment time frames and payment for all work time including waiting and washing.

Let us look at their particular concerns. The association has grave concerns about two aspects of the draft Road Safety Remuneration Order. These are the requirements for mandatory written contracts and for safe-driving plans. What I am getting to is red tape and paperwork that will not achieve anything. It will not provide safety and will be of no benefit. When you put this extra red tape and costs onto our truckies, who pays for it? I am talking livestock transport here. They have to do out a plan and a contract, which means more time for the grazier or the farmer, as we know, who is running the sheep and cattle or perhaps even goats. So it is more cost to the grazier, the landowner—our food-providers, if you want to call them that—and who pays more to the farmer? No-one does. They are the price-takers. They will cop the burden, as always. It makes a very good case for special circumstances requiring the ongoing use of verbal contracts in the rural and remote transport sector—not a written contract, not a written driving plan, a plan of the route the truckie is going to take, but a verbal plan, and I will get to that more in a minute as well.

Hardly any work carried out by livestock transporters or grain carriers is done under an ongoing written contract. It is seasonal work. The wheat harvest is now coming to a conclusion in many areas. It has finished up in the north of the state in Queensland, though, sadly, not with very good crops this year because of the dry winter. Down south in New South Wales and into Victoria, there are very good crops but late frosts have caused damage. There are the truckies out there carrying the wheat to the silos and perhaps even storing in sheds on the farm. Some obviously have made it to parts of consumption.

If it is seasonal work, jobs are allocated here and there. It is very random. Certainly, some carriers could be on a retainer with regular work, such as feedlot to abattoirs, consistent business contracts, or carting grain to feedlots for the fattening of steers for market. But because of the very nature of the work, the truckie could be a subcontractor one day and prime contractor the next, so it is changeable and there should be flexibility. The truck cab becomes their office and their work regime is vastly different from that of someone running up and down the east coast of Australia on an interstate trip. Quite simply, mandatory written contracts are not always possible or feasible, and oral contracting must be allowed to continue. The Fair Work Act does say that a contract may be written or oral.

Now to the other worry, mandatory safe-driving plans. The Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association point out to me that it is just not practical for a safe-driving plan to be agreed to between the hirer and the contractor for short-notice, long-distance work—let alone require others in the supply chain to witness the arrangements.

I will give an example. A very good friend of mine is someone I became very good friends with very early in 1960 when we walked into school as five-year-olds. He runs a double-deck sheep and a single-deck cattle truck in South Australia in Jamestown where I grew up. He may get a call today asking if he can come up to Umberatana Station tomorrow to take a load of sheep out, about 220 wethers. What paperwork has he got to go through? He has been up to the Flinders Ranges a hundred times. He knows the road. He might have to take them down to the Adelaide saleyards. When he gets there they might say, 'Look, 100 of the wethers were a bit light-on in weight. We are now going to put these 100 dry ewes on. They are weighing better.' So once again his load has changed. This is paperwork. There is nothing wrong with oral contracts, and the fair work legislation says that. What I am saying is we need flexibility, not more paperwork to achieve nothing.

As I said when I started, Senator Sterle is a passionate supporter of the truckies and the transport industry, and I am the same—we have both changed plenty of gears in our life. We want to see people safe, but we do not want to see the industry swamped with paperwork without flexibility. The Australian Livestock and Rural Transport Association pointed out to me that it is just not practical for a safe driving plan to be agreed between the hiring contractor for short-notice, long-distance work, let alone to require others in the supply chain to witness the arrangements. If I am on a property in northern South Australia and I ring up a truckie and say, 'Could you do a load of sheep for me?' it is a minute's notice. It might be urgent. They might say, 'There is rain coming in two days' time. You've got to get up this dirt track, in through the station track and get out.' Who is going to witness the arrangements?

What I am saying is that there are laws in place governing fatigue, and we need to see that those laws remain, but do not add another layer of complex regulation and costs. I could take you back to the seventies when I was driving trucks, and really it was a farce. It was dangerous. We would go to places like Coober Pedy through 500 kilometres of terrible road, corrugations and bulldust holes. The trailer brakes were full of dust—just red sand like sandpaper—and often they were too far worn out or out of adjustment. They were dangerous days.

Perhaps what kept us safe is that we could not go fast. We used to work on an average of 50 kilometres an hour when we went on a trip. We had little horsepower, the trucks were not powerful like today. We had 200 horsepower carting three decks of sheep, two decks of cattle, and if you were not going up the gearbox, you were going down it all day. We could only go along slowly, and that is probably what saved a lot of us from having accidents. Today it is different. A 600-horsepower truck can go along at 100 kilometres up and down.

Senator Sterle: That is more dangerous. You know that.

Senator WILLIAMS: What I am saying is that those days were extremely dangerous because we did not have the regulations. We would go into Adelaide after being up a rough track for 500 kilometres and half the lights on the side of our trailers would not be working because the globes had fallen out. We would just clean up and put the globes back in—we just wanted to get there and get the stock unloaded. There was a case where you did not have to abide by your logbook while carting livestock—you were excluded. We drove too long, we got too tired—they were crazy days.

I make the point that Labor and their partners, the Greens, have already done enough damage to the Australian transport industry. The carbon tax was due to start in July next year with the fuel tax credits to be cut by 6.8c per litre. Thankfully the Australian people threw them out in September. Putting another $500 million cost on our truckies and our diesel will achieve what? I will tell you what. The best comment that came out of the Senate inquiry was that of Mr Tony Sheldon, the Transport Workers Union boss. He said two words: death tax. That is how he described an extra $500 million tax on our truckies—a death tax that would sweat the trucks and sweat the drivers. Thankfully it is not going ahead.

Senator Sterle: I rise on a point of order. That is a blatant lie from Senator Williams. Tony Sheldon is the only one sticking up for truck drivers in this country, apart from the good supporters of Labor on this side of the chamber. Not one of those on the other side of the chamber are standing up for Australia's truck drivers, and that should be withdrawn. It is an absolute lie and it is a disparagement of Tony Sheldon's character.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Stephens ): There is no point of order.

Senator WILLIAMS: What I will do is get the Hansard from the inquiry. I will gladly send Mr Sheldon's evidence to Senator Sterle's office and state the point where he described it, because I was in the inquiry in Sydney when he quoted it—and that is a fact. You have even got your union calling your proposed carbon tax on the truckies a death tax.

Senator Sterle: He is the only one standing up for Australia's truckies. Your lot do not. You do not give a damn—

Senator WILLIAMS: The truth does hurt some, doesn't it? What about the live export ban Senator Ludwig implemented in 2001? Talk about being led by the nose. What did that do to the truckies in the Top End? They were put out of work. The trucks were standing idle while we lost the 750,000 head of live exports to Indonesia because of your Prime Minister at the time, Ms Julia Gillard. That is who not knocked that off.

The point I make about this is: do not swamp our regional truckies—who are carting their livestock to the abattoirs, to the market and feeding Australia—with paperwork. The oral contracts are part of the fair work legislation, and if you are going to put paperwork on them, who is going to pay for it? They will pass it down the line to the primary producer. Who does the primary producer pass the cost on to? They have no-one to pass it on to—and we wonder why the average age of a farmer is 58 years of age. Why are the young ones not going on to the farm? It is because the profit is not there, and I salute the new agriculture minister, Mr Barnaby Joyce, for his white paper into the farm-gate price.

Senator Sterle: You are a gumby for Coles. You are two faced, Senator Williams. You talk about Coles and yet you have not got the guts to stand up for the average Australian.

Senator WILLIAMS: I will take the interjection from Senator Sterle. As I said, I did not have a problem with this legislation when it came out, because I do not want to see truckies done over by the big end of town; but I do not want to see our livestock truckies done over with paperwork and regulation and a tribunal where one person has the power. That is why I welcome the inquiry into this. I am all for support for the survival of our truckies.

Martin's livestock transport of Scone are good carriers. You see their cattle trucks everywhere. One million dollars it will cost, they told me—that extra tax from your plan in the carbon tax would cost Martin's transport $1 million a year. And to achieve what? No reduction in emissions whatsoever. Are we going to burn less fuel? No, their trucks will still burn eight billion litres of fuel a year. That is the case. Do not swamp our stock drivers and carriers with paperwork to achieve nothing. They are at call, as I said. A typical example is that they get a call from a station owner: 'Can we get this stock out before the rain comes?' What are they supposed to do, sit down for hours and go through paperwork? Who is going to agree to it all? It is outrageous. The Fair Work Act says that an oral contract is binding and that should be stuck to exactly. So that is the situation.

Senator Sterle interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Sterle, Senator Williams has the right to be heard in silence.

Senator WILLIAMS: I agree with you, Madam Acting Deputy President; thank you very much. So that is the point I make. I support safety on the road and I support safety for our truckies by whatever we can do. We have got the national road safety plan coming into place and the national regulations, and the sooner they get here the better so we do not have different weights in different states and all the red tape. But I do not want to see the paperwork swamping them and just being thrown around. We have already got too much paperwork when small businesses, especially owner-drivers, are trying to survive; it is more time and more cost to them, and all so they can do the paperwork. So you are trying to run a small business and the paperwork is swimming all around you and you are drowning in it, and I do not want to see more paperwork. So, regardless of what Senator Sterle says, let us see that people can actually run their business in this country without being swamped by red tape and regulation.