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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3044

Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (10:08): Today we debate the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011 and the Road Safety Remuneration (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill 2011. We on this side of the House fully support the introduction of viable methodologies designed to improve road safety, particularly in the road transport industry. In this instance, however, the coalition will be opposing this suite of legislative changes, as this is not anything to do with road safety; it is all about union power.

The legislation would see the establishment of a new tribunal, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, made up of members from the road transport industry and Fair Work Australia. The tribunal would be given broad-ranging powers to investigate and set pay rates and conditions for any segment of the heavy vehicle industry through the issuing of road safety remuneration orders, or RSROs. Additionally, the tribunal would be authorised to deal with disputes on remuneration or related conditions between hirers, or employers, and independent contractors, or employees, where a dispute is not before Fair Work Australia. Resolution can be determined by conciliation and mediation. In the event that an agreement cannot be determined by these mechanisms then arbitration will occur.

The issuing of RSROs by the tribunal may apply minimum remuneration and employment conditions on top of existing relevant awards. Additionally, an RSRO may provide clarity on industry practices such as loading and unloading, waiting times, working hours, load limits and payment methods, as the member for Robertson was just talking about. For example, compensation in terms of remuneration could be provided for delays in unloading of transported goods.

Further, the tribunal may also reduce or remove remuneration incentives which are considered to apply pressure or amount to actions which contribute to unsafe work practices—for example, excessive work hours, speeding and other associated transport risks. It is interesting to note that an RSRO will, if introduced, override an existing Fair Work Australia award or agreement if the RSRO is more beneficial. So is this about road safety or about union control? That is the question we are here to ask.

The tribunal may also grant a safe remuneration approval, a form of collective agreement between specific groups such as independent contractors and hirers. In essence, an SRA is a form of enterprise agreement. This suggests that the legislation is not necessarily about road safety but rather, as I have said, about union control. This legislation and this government assume that remuneration is linked to road safety. This assumption is very difficult, if not impossible, to substantiate.

As I have already stated, the coalition is fully supportive of measures to address road safety concerns, particularly within the road transport sector. However, the impetus behind this particular suite of legislation is not clear. The government's own regulatory impact statement states:

… data at this point in time is limited and being definitive around the causal link between rates and safety is difficult.

To qualify this point further, the report also states:

… 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 or quantum of their remuneration.

We in this House are all fully aware that the bulk of operators in the transport sector are proactive respondents to road safety and measures designed to minimise the impact on drivers and the public of the transporting of goods by road freight. In contrast, we are also fully aware that cowboys exist across all sectors of industry, including the transport industry—not limited to a single contractor but also manifest in the form of companies.

Individual attitudes to risk remain an underlying factor of this debate, one that cannot be simply quantified. It is unclear how the attitudes of drivers to risk will be changed with the intervention of the tribunal and the potential for increased rates of pay. Nor is it possible to determine how much is enough in target earnings before an individual decides they have enough salary.

It is clear that the legislation, although veiled in the premise of being about road safety, is in fact and by definition about industrial relations, particularly as, just before this legislation was brought to the House, it was transferred from the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport to the minister for unions—I mean, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations.

We all know that the Northern Territory is remote from the rest of Australia. No matter how you look at it, to get goods to the Top End, to Darwin and Palmerston in my electorate, we remain very heavily reliant on road transport. The distances are vast, the environment is harsh and, every year, the Stuart Highway, the only road up to the Top End, is subject to the forces of nature, particularly heavy rains—which are happening as I speak—and floods, which more often than not result in substantial delays and down time for drivers. Although most of the Stuart Highway is in Minister Snowdon's electorate of Lingiari, I would not begrudge any expenditure on Territory roads. I just wish the Gillard Labor government would spend some money on Territory roads. So, please, Gillard government, spend some money on Territory roads. That is going to help my drivers be safe. From a road safety perspective the continued introduction of better road management practices, the increase in roadside stops and other fatigue management measures, as well as the tighter monitoring of measures already in place or on the cusp of being introduced to regulate the industry are far better options. Investing in Territory roads by this government would also be welcomed by Territorians, who each year are cut off from the rest of Australia.

In their submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communication, the National Road Transport Operators Association, NatRoad, provided analyses of the higher rates of pay and classic economic theory. Their conclusion indicated that higher rates of remuneration could lead to lower safety outcomes for some of the lowest paid drivers. The rationale behind this theory is that it is generally agreed workers will from time to time increase their labours in response to higher wages. The higher rewards generally increase the incentive to work with further remuneration, against a decrease in the relative attractiveness of leisure time. NatRoad argues in its submission:

... these workers are likely to increase, rather than decrease, their labour availability in response to a Road Safety Remuneration Order (RSRO) which marginally improved remuneration levels for these workers ...

The Australian Industry Group also highlighted this point by suggesting that, even if a connection between remuneration and unsafe practices did exist, it was not a proven response and:

... it does not follow that establishing higher minimum rates or prohibiting certain methods of payment will result in drivers changing their unsafe practices.

Rather, Ai Group suggested that if an individual driver's on-road behaviour is influenced by remuneration it is conceivable that increasing such incentives may increase the instance of behaviours where individuals seek to reap greater reward.

Research from the New South Wales RTA concludes that in 31 per cent of fatal crashes involving heavy vehicles the driver is at fault. If we accept this, then it begs the question: what impact will increased remuneration for transport drivers have on the other 69 per cent of fatal crashes, where the other driver is at fault? I suggest there will be nil impact; these crashes will continue to occur even after this legislation is enacted. Will the addition of a further level of regulation improve the transport industry? The industry is already heavily regulated at both the state and national levels. There is contractor legislation and workplace health and safety legislation, to name just two.

In addition to existing governance, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator will commence on 1 January 2013. The development of this regulator has taken years of engagement, consultation and negotiation by successive governments. One important aspect of the NHVR will be the national chain of responsibility provisions, which would make companies directly responsible for the unsafe behaviours of their drivers. On 1 January this year the Workplace Health and Safety Act model laws commenced operation in several states, including in the Northern Territory. One of the underpinning principles of the laws is for business to ensure workplace risk is as low as reasonably practicable. Given that the laws became effective just over three months ago, it seems somewhat pre-emptive and dismissive of the government to now introduce further levels of governance to an industry in circumstances where the new laws have yet to be proven effective or otherwise, nor has the opportunity been provided to industry to implement the new laws and get their house in order.

Based on this premise, I question the motivations for the introduction of this Road Safety Remuneration Bill. Furthermore, where the Workplace Health and Safety Act requires the application of as low as reasonably practicable ALARP principles, which absolutely require the implementation of continuous improvement and best practice philosophies, the introduction of a new level of governance via this legislation package seems an unnecessary and additional burden, particularly when the new model workplace laws have yet to be given time to be bedded down across the industry. I note again that the Ai Group has suggested the new measures being put forward in this bill may undermine the operation of the Fair Work Act to the extent of overriding decisions of the existing industrial tribunal. Does this not then put into question the effectiveness of this Labor government's modern award process in producing effective outcomes? Is it the case that the minister believes the government's Fair Work Act is unable to effectively function in the heavy vehicle industry space? Or, more simply, is this bill a measure to push up the wages of truck drives outside the processes already in place?

Many of the submissions to the House committee inquiry supported the points raised about there being existing laws which apply to wages, conditions, contracting arrangements, road use, vehicle standards, fatigue management, speed, mass, dimensions, loading, substance abuse, record keeping as well as workplace health and safety obligations. It would be fair to say, then, that if this bill is successful it will make an industry already well burdened with administrative red tape less flexible, less able to deal with the fluid nature of pricing conditions—diesel fuel prices, for example. Additionally, road safety remuneration orders have the potential to suffocate any efficiency gains and innovations through the application of standards in force at a particular point in time rather than a philosophy of adaptability and flexibility, as is currently the case.

There are other concerns. The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations indicates that, resulting from constitutional limitations, if the bill is passed it will cover over 80 per cent of employees and 60 per cent of owner-drivers within the industry. However the department notes:

... the Government has indicated its intention to expand coverage by exploring the possibility of referrals of power from state governments to enable expansion of the scheme to employees and owner drivers not within Commonwealth legislative power.

The legislation is not supported by either the Queensland or New South Wales governments and therefore renders the notion of expansion as unlikely and a moot point. So who does support this legislation? I bet you will be surprised to know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the TWU supports these bills before the House. I wonder if it is because these bills are all about union power and not about safety. These bills are all about the Gillard Labor government looking after its vested interests; it is all about the Gillard Labor government looking after its union mates.

These bills before the House have further deficiencies and broader implications, not just for the sector of the transport industry it was intended to regulate. Focus has been on the long-haul heavy vehicle sector of the transport industry; however, the definition provided within the bill for the road transport industry is extremely broad. I note that I am running out of time, so I think that I would like to remind everyone that this bill is definitely not about road safety, it is about union power. As such, I as a member of the coalition will not be supporting this bill.