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Thursday, 1 March 2012
Page: 2497

Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (12:55): I rise to speak on the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011 and the Road Safety Remuneration (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill 2011. Members of the government are fond of coming into this place and telling us they are in touch with their electorates. I do not think they can be talking to everyone in their electorates because, if they were, they would know that small businesses in Australia are on the ropes—on the ropes in a major way. They are drowning in red tape, compliance, obligation and penalty. Yet, when we come to this place to make the laws for Australia, we find a government intent on piling more red tape, compliance, obligation and penalty on those businesses.

It is not as if transport companies do not already have a plethora of laws to comply with and regulatory bodies to deal with—and that is before the establishment of this Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. But we are not going back to those current compliance measures. We are not going back to that current raft of legislation and regulation controlling the industry. We are not to have an updated body or a revamped body or a review of the bodies that exist. Instead, let us have a new body—and this new one is not just a mickey mouse body; it has sweeping powers. The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal will be able to make orders. Those orders may contain minimum remuneration and employment conditions additional to those contained in the award, they may address industry practices such as loading and unloading and they may address waiting times, working hours and load limits. Load limits—as if there were not already enough laws in Australia dealing with load limits! But still this new tribunal will be dealing with load limits.

They will interfere. They will have the ability to make orders in relation to payment methods and periods and they can reduce and remove remuneration related incentives, pressures and practices that contribute to unsafe work practices, for example speeding and excessive working hours. I do not know why they do not put in there that they will get the person in the company to order the rubber bands as well, because that is about all that will be left for the company to decide upon.

Transport companies in Australia are already dealing with mass limits, length limits, combination limits and roadworthiness tests. We must have roadworthy trucks, but I will relate a little tale here. Just last year I was speaking to a person I know in the business. He operates around 80 trailers and about 40 prime movers—so it is a medium sized trucking business. One of his truckies was pulled up on the road and the highway patrolman went over to the him and said, 'Your mudflaps are 20 millimetres too short.' The highway patrol directed that the mudflaps be changed before they would let that truck—and the rest of this operator's fleet—back on the road. So he went away, bought a new pallet full of mudflaps and, a couple of days work later, had them all fitted to all the trucks. Too short by 20 millimetres—you would have to wonder about the common-sense rules in all that. Companies are directed to follow only certain road routes. They have directions on work and pay standards, and fatigue management laws. They deal with the police, highway patrols and local councils on a daily basis. They have to deal with line of responsibility loading legislation. Just as an aside, a number of farmer contractors came to me last year and said that they had arrived at the local silo overloaded. They should not be overloaded, but it is a little difficult to judge sometimes; it happens from time to time. Under the current legislation, the bulk-handling operator cannot unload the trucks and cannot allow them to leave the site either. No wonder people think the law is an ass.

What do we need? We need another body, another raft of regulation! This new body will be staffed by people from Fair Work Australia. It is worth looking at Fair Work, because only last week new appointments were made to Fair Work. I had a look through the list of appointments. You would hope there was a good spread of appointments from across business and the community but just about all of them, with the exception of one, came with a union background. Steve Knott, the AMMA chief, this week criticised 'the endless tribe of union appointments'. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that the appointments would 'add to the standing of the tribunal and should garner the confidence of business and employer associations'. We would hope so, but I am not sure that is the case. Fair Work Australia is to have a strong hand in this new body, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, and in industry appointments. Given the track record of Fair Work, we would have to wonder just what that list is going to look like.

This brings us to what the basis is for assuming that more money means a safer road? The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics reported that in the three years to June 2011 there has been an average decrease of 3.5 per cent per year in trucking accidents for articulated trucks and an average decrease of 14.7 per cent per year for heavy rigid trucks. NatRoad tell us that 69 per cent of the fatal crashes involving heavy vehicles are not the fault of the truckies. But they are to wear the brunt of yet another attack on their industry.

I come from a regional electorate. I have a heavy truck licence. I have driven a few in my time. I have a number of friends who are employed and who employ within the industry, so I thought I would get on the phone and get an understanding from them of what is going down in South Australia. I was told that exclusively truck operators in South Australia already operate on hourly rates. So why on earth am I upset about this legislation? Is it because they think this probably will not affect them directly? They pay on hourly rates because truckies are in short supply and if you do not pay properly, you do not get them and you will not get good people. They are paying hourly rates and any losses that are incurred at the site of loading or unloading are worn by the company. As I say, you might wonder why I am upset. It is because they are upset because they will have to face an unknown amount of compliance burden. Surely once this new tribunal is established, they will want reports and pay sheets from the companies, logbooks from the drivers and check-in and check-out times to make sure that the company is not doing the wrong thing. The small truckies will have to supply that information to the tribunal.

One of the operators told me that he had just signed a significant five-year freight contract. He said: 'How will all this affect the five-year contract? Am I going to be faced with a compliance burden? Am I going to be faced with higher costs?' You can be absolutely sure there are no rise and fall clauses within that contract which he will be able to access. As I said, they already have the load and fatigue management laws and workplace health and safety laws to deal with.

We have a body called COAG, and I am sure members of the government are aware that COAG are working on getting these laws in place and ensuring cohesion across Australia. I commend them for that work because the laws across Australia should be uniform. But if those laws do not work, we should fix them. We should not put in place a new body. The government's regulatory impact statement on the bill says:

Speed and fatigue are often identified as the primary cause for a crash but it is a much harder task to prove that drivers were speeding because of the manner of the quantum of their remuneration.

That is what the report says, so one has to wonder where the drive for this is coming from. The whole world always wants to beat up on truckies. Truckies are the root of all evil if you ask the average suburban person. I drive 90,000 kilometres a year and I find the truckies are some of the best drivers on the road; it is the blokes in the cars that I would like to get off the road. Intelligent people have come up to me and said, 'Those road trains are terribly dangerous things. You should get them off the road.' I said, 'Do you know what they weigh?' 'No, a lot.' I said: 'Yes, about 80 tonnes. That is what a road train would weigh, perhaps a bit more. Do you know what a six-wheeler weighs?' 'No, I don't know what that weighs.' I said: 'They are about 22 or 23 tonnes, mate. What would you rather be hit by? Seventy-eight tonnes or 23? It won't make any difference to you. You will get the same result. If you put six-wheelers back on the road, you will have six times as many of them.' That is when the accidents will really start to ramp up.

The truckies have to wear this uneducated invective that comes from a certain section of the public. Debates like this and moves like this only vilify the truckies further. We should be working in concert with them, because it is governments that make them drive on substandard roads. Much of the accident statistics can be explained by the poor network of roads, and deteriorating, in many cases, that we have across Australia. Last week, for instance, there were articles in the New South Wales press in particular about a New South Wales company called Lennon's. It was alleged they had been altering speed limiters. This is very serious stuff. If that is what they have been doing, Lennon's should have everything that is coming to them. I would broach no defence of altering speed limiters on trucks. But guess what? To paraphrase a former Prime Minister: it is already illegal! And there are plenty of ways of dealing with Lennon's in the courts and making sure that they comply with the current road rules.

There are a couple of other things. There are some quotes here. The Australian Industry Group said:

If a casual connection between remuneration and unsafe practices is presumed to exist, it does not follow that the established higher minimum rates, or prohibiting certain methods of payment will result in drivers changing their unsafe practices.

Additionally, the link between road safety remuneration rates and conditions for truck drivers assumes that the overwhelming majority of the road accidents are the fault of the heavy vehicle driver.

As I said with those earlier figures, it is clear that that is not the case.

So, I do stand opposed to this bill. I stand opposed to the bill because I think I understand a bit about the trucking industry. I know enough people in the trucking industry that give me good advice. They are good people, they are good operators, and their backs are against the wall. It is not just the transport operators either but the businesses that rely on them. Businesses across Australia have their backs against the wall. Every week we are hearing about new manufactures closing up business in Australia. One of the reasons is the cost burden. This is just a small thing but it is another brick in the wall, another straw on the camel's back.

I am constantly approached by people saying: 'You've got to get rid of some of this red tape, you've got to get rid of some of the compliance. We can't survive. We spend half our time dealing with compliance.' I do not oppose all regulatory and compliance measures, because there are times when we have to stand up and be counted so the general public is protected. But, in general, when these bills come before us, we should examine exactly what they are trying to do and why they are trying to do it. In this case I think it comes from the Labor Party's deep-seated mistrust and misunderstanding of small business, and their preference for big business. They like big business because big business do business with big unions, and big unions support the Labor Party, the government of Australia at the moment. Big business is the Labor Party's preference. As for small businesses: tough luck. And this is just part of the attack on small business around Australia.