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Thursday, 18 June 2020
Page: 3694

Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (17:31): In the short time I have available to me, I want to raise with the Senate quite an alarming situation that's happened over the last couple of days. There is an owner-driver by the name of Frank Black. I've known Frank for many, many years, and Frank wrote an opinion piece in an edition of Owner Driver entitled 'Maintain your rates'. I'll just quote a few lines from it. Frank Black states:

I've spoken to many owner-drivers who are already making bleak calculations about how long they can sustain their outgoings when they're struggling to pick up work.

This is during the pandemic; this is what started the conversation. Frank continues:

When the industry is in trouble, owner-drivers traditionally lose out first. It's expected—common sense tells us that if companies have their own equipment and workers to pay for, they'll put them to work before outsourcing.

Absolutely. We know that happens, and no-one's arguing. I will go back to Frank's words. I'm cherrypicking, but I'm pulling out bits that the Senate needs to hear:

Many of us are hanging in there—

he's talking about owner-drivers—

and probably like me, owner-drivers are saying yes to work whenever it's offered to make sure we have a buffer in tougher times. It's not ideal; we must still find ways to manage fatigue and, for example, I am unfortunately missing my grandson's first birthday for a job I would have otherwise turned down. Sacrificing our rest days and family life now is necessary to help keep the wheels turning in an attempt to ensure our business survives in a few months' time.

Frank goes on to say:

This is no long-term solution but it's all a part of being your own boss.

What does concern me is the cheap freight being offered by people taking advantage of the situation. This is no time for bottom feeders to seek to profit at the expense of others. We can't afford for rates to be lowered anywhere in the industry.

All that will happen if we undersell our work is that we all end up going bust.

Frank, I agree with you—yes, absolutely. I can't pick a fault in that.

The alarming part is that after that article, on 1 June this year, Frank received correspondence from the ACCC, and I will pull out a few lines. The ACCC says:

In the Article you made statements that could give rise to allegations that you attempted to fix prices with other owner-drivers.

I haven't got a lot of time to go through this, but I am absolutely gobsmacked, because I think the ACCC have a lot of things to do in this nation. It would be great if they concentrated on and spent more effort addressing the plight of dairy farmers—if they absolutely just did something. I think the ACCC would have a lot more credibility if they did something about the cartels, being the fuel companies. How they all go up and down on the same day, and how the hell it changes the price when it's still in the ground or the tank, has got me—I won't say the word I normally use—confused. That is the word I'll go with.

How did the ACCC come to the conclusion that somehow Frank Black was trying to form a cartel with other owner-drivers? There are thousands of owner-drivers, all on rates—some good, some bad, some absolutely terrible. I don't have the proof yet but I will continue to keep asking. I believe someone has contacted the ACCC to put the fear of the living daylights up Frank Black. A part of the correspondence from the ACCC refers to the act. It says that if you're trying to build a cartel—because you've had an opinion piece on price-fixing—you could face fines and up to 10 years in jail. As if that's not bad enough, the ACCC have been after me on a number of occasions over the years trying to accuse me of the same thing—never got them anywhere!

But the worst part is the Australian Trucking Association has seen fit to contribute an article virtually attacking Frank Black. The Australian Trucking Association, which represents businesses, doesn't represent owner-drivers—they'll tell you it does but it doesn't. Why would an association with 'trucking' in its title want to attack Frank Black as an individual when he's the owner-driver member of its committee? The ATA says here it is keen to distance itself from Black's comments and offers little sympathy for his position—a lot more to come.