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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 2356

Senator WILLIAMS (New South WalesNationals Whip in the Senate) (21:49): I rise to speak on the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2012 and the Road Safety Remuneration (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill 2012. I back up what my leader Senator Joyce said: we are not overly concerned about this legislation. Even though we are not voting for it, it is one of the things I am certainly not going to die in a ditch over.

I was a truckie. It was a great pleasure just six months or so ago to drive a Kenworth with a friend of mine from Inverell to Canberra. I must admit that drivers are a bit spoilt today with these automatic trucks. When I started in the seventies we had 200 horsepower and they were dangerous times. There were no Jacobs brakes, no tri-axles, three decks of sheep, two decks of cattle and just bogey trailers.

Senator Farrell: Support the legislation then. Come across. Join us.

Senator WILLIAMS: I am trying to make a simple presentation. If you want to get into a blue, I can bring on a blue. We could start talking about the $515 million tax you are going to place on truckies on 1 July 2014. You talk about profitability and truckies surviving and you are going to hit their industry with a $515 million tax. Do you want me to continue or are we going to go back to the civil form?

Senator Farrell: Madam Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: we are talking about legislation that relates to transport workers. The convention is that Senator Williams should sit down while I make my point of order. We are talking about the transport industry, not other legislation. Senator Williams should be relevant to the topic.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Crossin ): Senator Williams, I remind you we are talking about the road safety remuneration bills.

Senator WILLIAMS: Let us talk about road safety. We are talking about safe rates. We are talking about what truckies are paid, especially the contractors when they unload at Coles and Woolworths. I do not have a problem with what you are proposing. I was a pig farmer and I used to sell pigs to Woolworths. Woolworths told us they would not buy imported pig meat, but six months later they were buying imported pig meat. Why? Because it was a bit cheaper. They looked at the bottom line dollar. So I have had a bit of experience in this field.

We are talking about profitability. We are talking about road safety. None of us wants to see more crashes on the road. There was one at Urunga just a couple months ago where the truckie just came round a corner and there was a Falcon ute on the wrong side of the road. The truckie had to veer off the road, he went through a house and a young chap was killed. What a tragic incident. Sadly, most of the time the truckies are blamed when most of the time it is not the truckie's fault. We know how professional the drivers are and we know how committed they are to their work. The point I make is that there are a lot of things that can be done. Madam Acting Deputy President, you know very well that the former National Party leader John Anderson insisted that the 18½c rebate be returned to the trucking companies when the road-user charge came in. He said that if he did not get it he would resign his position as minister. That is what brought a big lot of money back to the truckies. Now 3½c has been taken by this government. So this government is actually taking another $250 million in tax from the truckies.

Let's look at the truck stops. This has a lot to do with safety on the road. If you go up the Pacific Highway of a night you will find that if the truckies have not pulled up by 9 or 9.30 then they cannot get into a truck stop. That is a serious problem. The government are spending $17 million a year on truck stops; I urge them to spend more. It is an important issue. We know that in New South Wales some good truck stops have been established but there are many more to go. I ask members of the government, over on that side of the chamber, to look at establishing more truck stops.

I know that big business is hard; they look at the bottom-line profit. As I said, I was a pig farmer and I used to sell pigs to Woolworths. I have had firsthand experience. I urge the government to establish its tribunal fairly. Do not just stack it with members of the Transport Workers Union. Have people on the tribunal from the transport industry—people who know the industry and who are in the industry—not just those who are representing the workers. Then, and only then, will you see fairness in the tribunal. That is one concern I have and I trust that the government will take that on board, so that the tribunal when it is in place on 1 January next year is a fair tribunal.

We all want people to get home to their families. I remember the crazy things I did when I was driving trucks. In those days you would work 35 hours out of 40 hours and have little sleep. It was crazy. That was in the days before logbooks. Then, when logbooks came in, we carted livestock so we were exempted from the logbooks. I remember the trips down the Stuart Highway, with 500 kilometres of corrugations which were six inches to a foot deep, the bulldust holes and the danger of it all. They were crazy days and I am glad it is different today.

The trucks are now much safer. With the braking systems—the Jacobs engine brakes—and the stability in the trailers the trucks are certainly a lot safer these days. Thank goodness, because in the early days it was crazy. I remember Phillip Fazulla from Broken Hill. He had a load of sheep on his truck. He ran off the road going down towards Yunta. He hit a tree and he was killed. That is just one example that comes to my memory of someone who was simply working too many hours.

I realise what it is like. I know that some people in the transport industry pay their drivers for 1½ hours to unload. Sometimes it might take the drivers 30 minutes to unload; sometimes they might take two hours. They give the drivers a kilometre rate and they are happy with it. We know that the state and federal awards in terms of the kilometre rate were endorsed by this government. They were part of making it up and putting it in place. It is all about fairness. I say all the time in this place that life is about fairness. We want people treated fairly. We want the companies who pay the rates treated fairly. We want the truckies and the drivers treated fairly.

As I said—following on from my leader Senator Joyce—we do not have major problems with these bills but we do question whether they will be the silver bullet to prevent deaths. I hope they are. We will see how these bills perform when they are introduced. But I also urge members of the government to look at what they are going to do to the trucking industry—I could make this a big issue—on 1 July 2014. Look at pollution from trucks. Senator Sterle would be well aware that if you have one 400 Cummins driving down the road it will put out more pollution than 50 new Euro 5 motors. Fifty trucks today will put out less pollution than just one of the old 14-litre Cummins trucks. We know how much the truckies have cleaned the pollution up. They have done the right thing. Sadly, the new trucks use a bit more fuel, which produces a bit more carbon dioxide, because it is linked directly with fuel usage. The truckies have done their bit with pollution. These days you do not see the black smoke pouring out of the trucks as they go up the hills. The truckies have done their bit to keep their rigs safe. We just need to have them treated fairly.

The National Party is not going to die in a ditch about this issue but I will certainly be watching what happens. As you know I have been in the industry for many years and I have seen dangerous, crazy times. I am glad those times are not here today. But I urge the government to consider what you will do to the industry with that extra 7c a litre road user charge.

I also urge the government to consider the issue of the truck stops. I have raised this issue at Senate estimates hearings. Truckies do work hard; they carry our country. Look after them with more truck stops. The government are spending just $17 million a year on truck stops yet they are collecting an extra $250 million a year from the road user charge of four years ago. Think about the safety issues related to truckies being able to pull over and use the shower and toilet facilities, not just have somewhere to park. These are issues I have taken up with Duncan Gay, the new roads minister in New South Wales.

Let's hope that whatever happens we have people getting home to their families and that we have fewer accidents and fewer deaths on the road. Sadly, we will probably always have accidents, but let's hope they are reduced. I have questions about this legislation. I repeat that I want the tribunal set up in a fair manner, not stacked one way. If it is stacked one way, you know what this side of the parliament will do: we will oppose it all the way. So be fair about that. Let's hope that the end result is that there will be some saving of lives, and let's hope that there is some fairness shown to the contractors and small businesses. At the same time, treat those companies that are paying the truckies fairly—especially the smaller companies. With regard to back loads and livestock it is a whole different kettle of fish in terms of the same rate either way. You cannot expect someone to take six decks of sheep from Inverell to Brisbane, bring home 20 head of cattle and charge the same rate on the way home. It does not work like that; it cannot work like that. That issue needs to be looked at as well. With that, I will let Senator Thistlethwaite say something.