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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 2353

Senator FURNER (Queensland) (21:37): It is a proud moment for me. It is a proud moment to have followed the likes of Senator Sterle and Senator Gallacher and to have present in the gallery tonight, to represent real reforms to the transport industry, where reforms are needed, workers who are vulnerable, workers who I have represented in my career and the first union I worked for: the Transport Workers Union Queensland branch. It is a union that I am extremely proud of. I am proud to see here tonight representatives from that union in the gallery: TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon, TWU National Assistant Secretary Michael Kaine, Peter Biagini from the Queensland branch and Frank Black, an owner-driver from Queensland.

The other side indicated that they do not get it. I can understand why they do not get it, but it is not rocket science. Anyone can work out why we need to fix this problem. Conversely, you can look at it this way. I have been involved in situations where owner-drivers are under pressure running up from Sydney to Brisbane and running back empty because they cannot get a load back. So the incentive is to get up, get unloaded as quick as possible and get back for another load. These are the challenges we are facing in the industry. These are the challenges of lack of maintenance, lack of sleep, the taking of illicit drugs to make sure you get from point A to point B, main contractors paying subcontractors rates that have been agreed upon between the Transport Workers Union and the industry and ignoring those rates, the snowball effect down the path of paying company or employee drivers the incorrect rates at all. I have been privileged to be in situations where we have enforced those rates for the right reasons: to make sure that they are paid the right rates but also to make sure the roads are safe not just for transport workers but also for road users.

That is what the other side just do not get. They do not understand this is not just an issue that affects transport workers; this is an issue that affects everyone throughout our nation who uses our roads, regardless of whether it be on the black box running up the highway to Darwin or out in the western blocks of Queensland. It is an area that needs to be concentrated on. It is an area we need to resolve. And let's face it: just about everything we use, everything we wear, everything we consume comes on a truck. This is why we need to look after drivers and ensure that they have the right to work in a safer workplace environment—the same basic rights that many of us already enjoy.

A lot of us go to work each day. We come to the Senate each day. We do not come to work in this Senate each day thinking we are going to be injured, and I am sure drivers do not go to work each day after they have kicked their tyres, checked their oil and their water, jumped in that huge vehicle of anything up to 55 tonnes and headed on down the highway wishing that they would end up in a situation where they might be involved in an accident and kill some poor family. They are pushed into situations where they have had that situation created. It is a situation we need to correct.

We need to protect them, and this is why. More than 246,000 Australians are employed in our road transport industry. In 2008-09, there were 25 deaths per 100,000 workers, and this casualty rate is 10 times higher than the average of all industries. Annually, thousands of people are involved in truck accidents, with about 250 losing their lives per year. Minister Shorten indicated recently that Australian truck drivers have been pushed to the limit. Some have been pressured to cut corners on safety and maintenance, some to speed in order to meet unfair and unrealistic deadlines, some even taking illicit substances to keep themselves awake to get to destinations on time, putting their lives and the lives of other Australian road users on the line just to make a decent living, repay their debts and make ends meet.

The Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2012 seeks to create a road safety remuneration tribunal and to improve pay and conditions for drivers. It is not just about pay; it is conditions: looking at rest breaks, looking at the way they operate the vehicles, looking at the extreme conditions and the surrounds they work in, looking at the roads they drive on.

And let's not get started talking about roads. There were 11½ years that those opposite neglected our roads under their reforms. It was not until we came in, through the national building infrastructure program, to correct roads like the Bruce Highway in my state of Queensland, that we got on the road to making those roads safer for every driver, whether they are truck drivers or drivers of passenger vehicles on the roads. Our program is fixing and reforming the neglect those opposite were involved in for 11½ years.

The report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communication states:

The safety aspects of the bill relate to removing the incentives for drivers to work excessive hours by improving their pay and also providing, in some cases, compensation for delays in unloading cargoes. It is proposed that this will reduce their chances of having an accident.

The report also states the tribunal's responsibilities include it to be 'empowered to inquire into sectors, issues and practices within the road transport industry and, where appropriate, determine mandatory minimum rates of pay and related conditions for employed and self-employed drivers by making Road Safety Remuneration Orders (RSROs).' By having rates of pay determined, it means that drivers will not have to rush and put their and other people's lives on the line so they get paid.

On 14 March, Lateline aired a story on the trucking industry. Reporter Kerry Brewster said truck drivers were not paid for loading and unloading times. That is a reality. You go out to some of those distribution centres, whether it be Coles or Woolworths, and you will see drivers sitting in their vehicles or walking around their vehicles to try to maintain some sanity, waiting for hours and hours for their vehicles to be unloaded. In some cases, at the end of the day they are told: 'Sorry, your vehicle won't be unloaded today. Come back tomorrow.' That is unjust, it is unfair and it is something we should not be allowing in this particular industry.

Kerry Brewster interviewed a gentleman here in the public gallery today, Frank Black, who told her there were penalties for arriving late. Frank said:

They either charge you a financial penalty or sometimes they re-book your delivery slot, which nine times out of 10 is the following day.

Put yourself in that situation: you are a small business person trying to make ends meet, trying to provide for your family and to put food on the table and you arrive at a distribution centre and you are told to come back tomorrow. How do you operate in that sort of time frame? How do you operate in that sort of business? This bill will fix those sorts of issues. Because of this penalty, Mr Black says he tries anything to beat the clock. I have been privy to the circumstances, as I referred to earlier, of what happens when people cut corners to beat the clock.

I reflect on a situation with the company Northline when I was an official at Eagle Farm. We had a campaign to make sure we got road train drivers paid at the correct rate. Northline was the only remaining company that refused to pay the agreed rates. So, as any good union official would do, we set up a campaign at their entrance and started talking to drivers as they entered the business. There were different road train drivers on the line of the campaign talking to the Northline drivers to make sure they were being paid the right rates. Sure enough, they were not. So the campaign spread until Northline succumbed and agreed to pay the correct rate so the road train drivers could make sure that their vehicles were maintained correctly and had the right rubber on the road. This legislation is about making sure that these things are fixed.

It really concerns and annoys me when I hear about Mr Black's plight as a driver. It is amazing that I was referring to a time back in 1989 and 1990, a few decades ago, and here it is still happening in this industry. It is something that should have been fixed decades ago. The only things blocking it now are those opposite. We on this side understand the reasons why this needs to be fixed. The only speed bumps in the road are over there—those opposite. These drivers who do our nation a service should not be putting their lives at risk and, ultimately, the lives of our families and other road users at risk just to put food on their tables.

Unpaid waiting times is also an area where the tribunal will have powers to investigate and to take action if it appears the times are likely to have an adverse effect on safety. The National Secretary of the Transport Workers Union, Tony Sheldon, believes now is the time to make our roads safer. He said:

Parliament now has the opportunity to vote on legislation to make a seismic difference to safety on our roads. They have the power to make our roads safer, to allow truckies a fair go and to stand up to the major retailers who care only about their bottom line.

How true that statement is. On 8 March Mr Sheldon also spoke about an incident involving a truck driver at excessive speeds. He indicated:

While I support the determination of investigators to cut down on unsafe road practices in the trucking industry, until such time as we address the core issues in the industry, dangerous behaviour will continue to be encouraged. The fundamental issue is the demands of major retailers such as Coles and their economic power in road transportation. Coles and other major retailers control 32% of the entire freight movement in the country. Their economic power allows them to demand ever more from drivers and transport companies. We have had more than 20 years of commissions, coroners reports and inquiries which have highlighted time and again the link between the transport safety crises and economic factors.

I think I have referred to just about every occasion where drivers are put to the limits in their industry. There is probably a multitude of other examples I could mention. In conclusion, I am extremely proud to be here this evening to make sure this bill passes this chamber. I commend the bill to the chamber.