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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3075


Dr STONE (Murray) (12:08): I too want to make a contribution in relation to the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011 and the amendments that have just been proposed—all 64 of them. The electorate of Murray has one of the highest number of truck registrations of any regional area in Australia. I see those representatives of the trucking industry regularly in my office. They are small owner-operators, big intergenerational family businesses and big national operators, and not one of them has once said to me that their drivers will be any safer, or if they themselves are drivers that they will be any safer, as a result of a difference in pay.

Their problems with safety are to do with the lack of harmonisation of road transport rules across Australia, the lack of adequate driver courtesy on the roads where they have to tangle with local mum and dad type traffic, the skills shortage, the ageing workforce and the number of hours they have to drive. Their safety issues are also to do with the often unconscionable behaviour of their biggest employers, the two big supermarkets—Coles and Woolworths, the owners of 80 per cent-plus of retail in the supermarket sector—that put undue pressure on them in terms of the time frames in which they must pick up and deliver their cargo.

There is a whole range of problems with our transport industry and perhaps one of the biggest for small owner-operators, who are always close to being financially unsustainable, is that they will always need a lot of supports. But they are not going to get any supports through this Road Safety Remuneration Bill. With these amendments, it is extraordinary that there is a suggestion that the capacity to collude and come up with contracts whereby people have been able to collectively bargain will lead to greater road safety. That is just nonsense. We all know that collective bargaining has been suggested and approved, for example, for dairy farmers and tomato growers. But in the Australian context, you are faced with the huge duopolies, who are very apt to retaliate should you raise your head above the parapet and demand better remuneration for your effort. In that situation, to suggest that collective agreements are going to work for the small contractor, or even collections of bigger road transport operators, is just unrealistic and naive in the extreme.

We do need a great deal of attention paid to our road transport sector. We depend so much on the freight task around Australia because our rail and our shipping is not viable as an alternative in many areas. We do have a crisis because of our skills shortage and the ageing population of our transport operators. We do have problems with the small owner-operator who has one or two trucks having to slash their prices to a point where they cannot be profitable for very long because they are competing at the margins. Yet here we have a bill which falsely implies that there is a relationship between salaries paid and safety on the road. Again, it is naive and it is nonsense. I think it is an insult to the hard-working transport sector.

As our shadow minister made the point, there may be a lot of very perverse outcomes as a consequence of this bill, because it is about the trade union's power and their capacity to fund the Labor Party into the future. It is not about the industry sector. It is not about the rank and file transport operators. They were not consulted. In my part of the world, where we have the highest number of transport registrations of anywhere in rural Australia, they were not closely consulted about these changes. They are terrified of what this new tribunal might do. They certainly do not think collective bargaining is going to give them any greater advantage in becoming more viable in the future.

Let us look at the real problems facing our transport sector. Let us make sure that we have better harmonised road rules. Let us ensure that the transport industry is treated with respect and in a way that it can be sustainable in the future. Let us make sure, for example, that we can safely put enhanced B-doubles on the road. Let us have more inland ports. Let us have less congestion in places like the ports where trucks have to wait hour upon hour, sometimes days, to offload their contracted cargo. This bill is a nonsense and I cannot support it.