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Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Page: 2677

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (MaranoaSecond Deputy Speaker) (18:17): I thank the member for Gippsland for allowing me to jump the queue, as it were, and speak ahead of him. This Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011, its associated amendments and the cognate bill we are debating, in their original form, I thought were about road safety. It now appears that the Road Safety Remuneration Bill is about industrial relations. Once that got out amongst the trucking industry in my electorate, I got a whole wave of comments and emails from industry, from saleyards, from boards and from the trucking industry. They have genuine concerns—and I hope the minister is prepared to listen to these genuine concerns of the industry.

I am not convinced—and I know that many in the industry are not convinced—that you can link, as this bill attempts to do, road safety to the rates of pay that drivers get. It is about safety. Truck drivers operate under very strict rules in terms of the time limits that they can operate those trucks. They have got times and they have to log those times in their logbooks and show when they have rest breaks. They are very much obliged by law to comply with the maximum time they can have as one shift before they have got to have a rest break. These logbooks are audited by the Road Transport Authority. Even on the haul between Brisbane and Sydney there are cameras above the New England Highway just south of my own electorate that record the trucks as they come through and can photograph or capture on film the drivers and the times they passed through that checkpoint. So there is also an electronic checkpoint being used, and rightly so, to make sure truck drivers comply with maximum driver hours in a day. This is designed to make sure that they do not go beyond that, because it is about road safety, not about the remuneration they receive.

I was interested to receive from the Queensland government—a government of this government's flavour—submission 022, received 2 February 2012. It was directed to the inquiry secretary. It said:

I am advised that these matters were addressed in the Queensland Government submission to the Directions Paper in the following terms—

and this is what is important, and it was addressed to the Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications. This is how they have responded:

Queensland did not support any of the models proposed in the Directions Paper but argued that safety in the road transport industry is multi-factorial and should be addressed with a number of intervention strategies.

They went on to say:

Queensland does not believe that the setting of specific rates or methods of payment by the proposed Tribunal under the legislation is likely, in itself, to encourage employers, employees and owner-drivers to adopt a broad range of safe work practices.

It goes on further:

Queensland does not support moving the setting of rates of pay away from the industrial arena and into transport arena and recommended that economic modelling be undertaken to determine the effects of initiatives that aim to address road safety through economic regulatory measures, such as a system of safe payments.

So what they are saying is that they do need more work. They are not walking away from the need to make sure that our roads and transport operate safely. It is most interesting that the Queensland government said in its submission to the inquiry:

Queensland did not support any of the models proposed ... Queensland does not believe that the setting of specific rates or methods of payment by the proposed Tribunal under the legislation is likely, in itself, to encourage employers, employees and owner-drivers to adopt a broad range of safe work practices.

If the government thinks that, if it passes, this bill will improve safety on the road, they are deluding themselves. I do not walk away from this, nor do any of my colleagues on this side of the House, nor would anyone in this place. We want to reduce as much as possible the loss of life as a result of road accidents across this country.

I have roads in my electorate right now, particularly with coal seam gas opening up in the Surat Basin, where trucks are running almost nose to tail. It is just like coming along the Ipswich Highway on a Friday afternoon once you are west of the Toowoomba Range going into my electorate. The volume of heavy traffic across the Warrego Highway is unprecedented. The Warrego Highway was never built for that volume of traffic, nor for the loads being carried. When these roads were built they started off as narrow bitumen roads and they have been extended out. They were built for 10-ton trucks, for single-axle semitrailers. Now they are carrying massive loads to Roma with AB-triples and further east with B-doubles. Some of the loads of mining equipment are astounding. There are great trucks of two and three connected together and carrying mining equipment on a road built for a 10-ton truck. Upgrading our highways is where there has to be an investment in road safety. In my own constituency, the Warrego Highway is a great example.

When it comes to drivers having to comply with the length of time they can drive before they must take a rest, the Warrego Highway, where it was a 110 kilometre highway, has now been reduced in some areas to 80 kilometres per hour. That is certainly going to slow down the trip for the truck operator. Why is it now 80 or 90 kilometres an hour? Because of the rough surface, where it is not as safe as other parts of the highway where the speed limit is 100 or 110 kilometres per hour. That means a driver will be slowed in moving towards an end point. That means, as a result of the legislation which requires him to work maximum hours because of driver fatigue, he might have to pull up and not complete the trip—because of the roughness of the road.

I am interested in investment in road infrastructure. I guess governments of all political persuasions have had to deal with this issue. I am not one to say that every government has been perfect in this area. We have a massive country and a large network of roads. When this government came to power they imposed on the trucking industry an additional tax on fuel excise which was going to be used—this was the sales point—to establish rest stops for trucks across Australia. I wrote to the minister after they had been in government almost three years. My question to the minister was submitted on 23 February 2011. I asked the minister:

... how many rest stops have been built in the Maranoa electorate as a result of the $70 million four year Heavy Vehicle Safety Package, and on which highways, local roads and main roads are they located?

My electorate covers almost the full length of the Warrego west of Toowoomba, two-thirds of the Landsborough Highway and a large slice of the Capricorn Highway—all major roads—a link to the north into the resources areas and into the outback areas of my electorate. We also have a road link between Darwin and Townsville used by the Defence Force to bring heavy equipment to the south or transport it north. The answer to my question was:

Two new heavy vehicle rest areas have been built and one existing bridge will be upgraded under the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program in the Maranoa electorate.

I drive a lot on my roads. I have not been able to do a great deal of driving because of flooding in the last couple of years, as much as I would like to. I am still looking for those two rest areas but I would have thought that with a large electorate such as Maranoa, which is heavily dependent on the transport sector, we would have seen at least half a dozen. The trucking industry is paying the extra tax. They have said they are prepared to pay it if the truck stops are built.

The trucks coming out of the channel country at the back of my electorate with three trailers, type 2 road trains, are burning something like a litre every 600 metres and they are paying their tax every 600 metres for these truck stops. They will often do 12 hours before they hit the bitumen, and they are looking for truck stops

I was out there at the end of last year talking to one of these truck operators. He was trying to comply with the logbook requirements while driving on these roads. He said that it was virtually impossible and that to do so you had to take another driver with you. And who pays that cost? The producer. In this case, he was bringing cattle in from the channel country out of Western Queensland, getting them to rail and then bringing them further in. This government and future governments must invest in upgrading our roads, because that is where we can substantially improve road safety on the roads in the electorate that I represent in this place. And I am sure it is the case in other parts of Australia.

I also got a letter from the saleyards organisations. They are concerned about what it might mean for the saleyards. The beef industry is a very big industry in my electorate. Across Queensland, in fact, the beef industry is the second largest industry by export value, just behind the coal industry. Cattle are nearly always moved on roads, as the member for Herbert would know. They wrote to me and said that their members, while never stepping away from their responsibility regarding heavy vehicle driver fatigue laws, are deeply concerned about this proposal. What they are concerned about is that trucks coming into saleyards might have to now employ a manager to make timeslots for when these trucks can arrive and unload, adding further costs for those in the trucking industry and for producers. It would also complicate something that is already working now and impose further costs on the saleyards. My own home town of Roma has the largest store stock cattle selling centre in Australia. This is not just the member for Maranoa speaking: the saleyards people have genuine concerns. This concern came from the President of the Australian Livestock Markets Association. And it was unsolicited, such is their concern. They want their voice to be heard in this parliament.

In conclusion on the Warrego Highway, I ask the minister for transport—who is responsible at the end of the day for road construction and upgrades—whether the funding mentioned in the answer to my question for the upgrade of the bridge over the Maranoa River at Mitchell will be provided and when. Is it going to be reengineered as a result of the flooding that we had recently, which did substantial damage to the bridge over the Maranoa River? I believe that the design that they may have had will be inadequate. They now have to upgrade it and have it at a higher level than the flood level that saw the old one go underwater. I think that is what they had the plans for. I say to the minister: I would like to know the answer to that question as well. (Time expired)