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Wednesday, 24 February 2021
Page: 78

Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (16:58): I am so excited to get up here and make my contribution to this discussion. Listening to Senator Chandler, I have to tell you, is quite comical really. You know, when we get 20-odd-year-olds coming into this building who haven't had any life experience but who want to talk about how much they love workers and talk all about jobs, I would just say that I came in here when I was at the young age of 45, so I can talk from life experience.

So you talk about the farce that the mob opposite have of creating opportunities and you talk about what a magnificent job they're doing for working people and young people. Well, I have to tell you, Mr Acting Deputy President Gallacher, I've had a privilege in the last few months of running around the nation talking to more and more truck drivers as the weeks go by, and I'm going to start by telling you some home truths. Do you want to know how good things are out there? It's about time this mob opposite actually took their fingers out of their ears and started listening to what goes on in Australia.

Now, I wrote off to the Fair Work Ombudsman and I said, 'Since your inception in 2009, how many cases have you run against employers for underpayment of wages or sham contracting?' And I have to give it to Ms Parker, she wrote back to me. I admire the Fair Work Ombudsman; I just think they're grossly underresourced and I think that they have their hands tied behind their backs. They haven't got any opportunity. You know how the rules are bent towards this mob opposite and their donors. She said to me there have been 20 cases of underpayment of wages for truck drivers. Mr Acting Deputy President, Senator Gallacher, you and I can sit down and have a nice stubby of Carlton Dry and I reckon I could come up with about 50 companies during that one stubby. And you, with your experience, would probably have another 50 companies just from South Australia alone. This nation is corrupt and rort—the underpayment of wages in the trucking industry alone.

The mob over there rub their hands together because some high-profile chef's been touched up because he's done something wrong, or Bunnings has done something wrong or, they said, even Maurice Blackburn. Go for it! What about the hardworking men and women in the transport industry? Some of the shams and scams going through the industry will be no surprise to you, Mr Acting Deputy President.

One of the greatest scams in this nation is called 'kilometre rates'. This goes back to the time in your previous life, Mr Acting Deputy President, when you were negotiating these enterprise bargaining agreements and rates, before we got the EBA system, and the fights we had with the industry bodies about average speed and all that sort of stuff. There are some very good employers out there who pay a kilometre rate. It's negotiated. It's above the award kilometre rate. And they'll do the right thing and pay hourly while the guys and girls are loading or unloading, or whatever they're doing. Fine, no worries. The majority of employers in the road transport industry, predominantly in the interstate line haul sector, are absolutely ripping off their drivers. I'll talk about the eastern seaboard, because this mob over there probably haven't been past Jerrabomberra; that's as close as they've got to the west, where the real trucking starts. The employers say it's 880 kilometres between Melbourne and Sydney, so they'll pay for 880 kilometres, not taking into account that drivers have probably spent five or six hours running around Melbourne or Sydney doing the loading. Someone's got to actually wash the bucket of nuts and bolts; someone's got to put the fuel in it. They don't pay for that. That's all part of the kilometre rate. The drivers just do that for love! If you have to change a tyre halfway between Melbourne and Sydney, or Sydney and Brisbane, or Adelaide and wherever—you don't get paid for changing the tyres. That's all part of your kilometre rate. So don't expect to get paid for all the add-ons. This goes on day in, day out in this nation. I challenge anyone to tell me that I am wrong. I know I'm not wrong. I know because the drivers tell me this.

That side over there spout about how wonderful they are—'We love jobs and we love workers!'—but half of you wouldn't know a worker if they fell over one. You wouldn't have a clue what a worker goes through. You're all privileged. So don't sit here on $200,000-odd a year and tell us how wonderful it is out there. You're asleep at the wheel!

Senator Bragg interjecting

Senator STERLE: If you want a debate, mate, I'll give you a debate. I'll debate you day in, day out. Don't you dare step into my space if you're not informed, mate, because this is my area and I know it damn well!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Gallacher ): Order!

Senator STERLE: I apologise. It happens when you get spivs that interrupt on something they know nothing about.

I'll tell you about another scam, and you've only got to go to to see it. One of the worst offenders in Queensland, QLS Logistics, is advertising on SEEK. They say: 'Come and drive our trucks; be prepared to work six days a week; you can work 10, 12 or 14 hours a day, no worries'—as long as you've got an ABN. This is sham contracting. They'll pay you as a subcontractor. Do you know why? It's because they're not going to pay you penalty rates, superannuation, holiday pay and sick leave and they're not going to give you rostered days off. This is what's going on. I report it to Fair Work Australia. I give it to the Fair Work Ombudsman. They came back to me. Like I said, they're underresourced.

I've got examples here of some of the shams and I'll share some of them with you. If anyone wants to interrupt and challenge me, feel free. This is from the Fair Work Ombudsman on underpayments in the transport area. One company had $132,000 in underpayments, another had a baby amount of $35,000, another had $60,200 and another one had $251,000. These are just single employers! How do you—I nearly said the fun word! How do you actually rip off your truck drivers to the tune of $251,000? Don't go away—others include $43,000 and $286,000 in underpayments. This is from the Fair Work Ombudsman, not Sterle making it up. This is what's going on out there, ladies and gentlemen.

Everyone thinks it's all rainbows and unicorns out there in the trucking industry. It is far from rainbows and unicorns. Wouldn't you mob go into a spin if your cucumbers weren't on the shelves at Coles next to the bread for your watercress and cucumber sandwiches! Wouldn't you spin out then!

Wouldn't you spin out if your latte or your chai or whatever you drink wasn't in the store at Coles or Woolies because the poor truckies hadn't got it there!

Senator Bragg interjecting

Senator STERLE: Senator Bragg, put it in writing. I'd love to hear from you even more. In fact, I challenge you, mate: prove me wrong. We'll take it outside. We'll take 38 steps to the right of here, where no-one's protected by parliamentary privilege. I know, mate, because I'm the one doing it; I'm the one talking to truckies.

I'll give you another one while you're all thinking it's rainbows and unicorns out there: Toll Fast. Mr Acting Deputy President Gallacher, how many companies were they before they all became Toll? I'm talking about back when you and I were organisers and you rose to the dizzy heights of state secretary and I ended up getting side shifted over to being a senator—just joking! How many times have we seen the big companies win? These are the ones that win. I'm reliably told by my good mate Richie Olsen that there is a massive blue going around Australia. Toll Fast have about 500 owner-drivers. These are couriers who've got their own one-tonne and two-tonne vehicles running around. One of their biggest clients is Officeworks. Toll Group had that problem with the internet—they got raided and all that sort of stuff—and their 500 owner-drivers around the nation have not been paid in six months. It's six months late. They haven't got their pay. I know for a fact that around Australia the union is blueing this with Toll. They're one of the two biggest transport companies in Australia. How the heck can they look anyone in the eye knowing that they have not paid their people for six months? How does anyone do that? You wouldn't get away with that in the Wild West. This is what's going on. People are fighting a major transport company—government contracts and all sorts of stuff—for their underpayments and against wrong classifications. If the big boys can do it—and normally I don't have a problem with the big boys, because we have the opportunity to get it sorted out—how the hell do the little ones not think that they can get away with it?

What irks me even more as I talk to transport operators and talk to the good trucking companies all through Australia—and there are many good trucking companies—is that they're being screwed the living daylights out of the top of the supply chain. This is where all the pain comes down from these corporate captains, these magnificent corporate citizens. And I'm not just going to Coles and Woolies; I'm throwing the mining companies in there too, like BlueScope Steel. They're all as bad as each other, the whole damn lot of them, because they exonerate themselves from any employer-employee relationship; they just contract it out. I tell you what, if you're worried about Uber, wait until that gets into the trucking industry. And Amazon said it's prepared to lose money for 10 years to disrupt what's going on here in Australia. So while you're out there with your talking notes and prepared speeches—I don't have a prepared speech—and what the minister's told you to say about these wonderful things that you're doing, cast your mind back to what I've said. Walk outside and ask people in the street how it's going for them.

I'm the first one to put my hand up to say we need to support young people getting into industry. You don't even put money into training for the transport industry. This is one industry that cannot attract kids. When you hear all the horror stories about how they're treated, the lack of toilets and the poor facilities, no wonder no-one wants to go into it. (Time expired)