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Tuesday, 13 November 2018
Page: 7947

Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (17:03): Can I just ask Senator Hanson and Senator Georgiou to hang around. I'm not going to have a crack at you. I think there's something else you need to hear, while you're being the best friends of workers. I would request your support on what I'm going to talk about now.

We're worried about 457-class visas, but let me tell you there's a bigger plague in this nation. Border protection are very well aware of this, because of the road safety inquiry that I chaired three years ago—I think that was when we put it up. Senator Williams is very supportive of our concerns here, because I wrote a report that was bipartisan. He's my co-chair. He's my partner in the work that we did here. I'll tell you where the problem is. The problem we have in this nation is the exploitation of the foreign visa system. This is where we really have to start concentrating. It should come as, and would not come as, a surprise in this chamber here that this started. There was an incident on the M5—I believe it's the highway in Sydney that goes under the airport—where a K&S B-double, on a Friday evening, pulled up. It shouldn't have been on there. It was over height. It couldn't get under the bridge. Fortunately, it's a very rare occurrence because most of our truckies are very well trained and traversed in where they should be and where they shouldn't be. The problem was that, when the RMS turned up and the police turned up, there were two drivers in the cab. One wouldn't get out of the cab and the other one got out and said that, between the pair of them, they couldn't back out the B-double. For those who aren't trucking operators like me, part of your training is having to actually back the bucket of nuts and bolts out. You have to be able to do that. You have to be able to couple it all up and take it off safely without it falling apart. Not only could they not back out the B-double but they couldn't uncouple the B-double so they could do a U-turn. We're talking about a company—K&S—that was one of the most respected companies in Australia when it was under the ownership of Allan Scott, a very, very decent employer. The RMS had to uncouple it while one driver refused to get out. Both of the drivers weren't Australian drivers; they were from overseas. Before anyone has a crack at me, I've made it very clear: this is not about attacking people from overseas; it's about attacking the mongrels who exploit our visa system, and they happen to be of the same race. They get them here, offer them a house and say, 'If you open your mouth, you're out and you're deported back.' That was bad enough.

What made it worse was that, when Senator O'Sullivan and I wrote to RMS and the police and asked, 'What happened when the truck was put back together?' they said they waved them goodbye and wished them safe travel to where they were going. The good folk of RMS and the police were only operating under the crappy laws they have in New South Wales. The minister at the time went missing. It was a man, and he got the 'big A', and then a woman took over. It was the same woman who thinks you should put electric shocks through steering wheels to keep truck drivers awake. I'm not making this stuff up.

Anyway, lo and behold, I was in Sydney last week. I had the pleasure of being with 500 transport workers at the TWU's New South Wales conference. There were 500 men and women in that room from all facets of the transport industry, whether it be road transport, warehousing, aviation or buses—it didn't matter; they all had the same objective: they want to be safe and they want other road users to be safe. That's great. I was informed of an accident at a place called Fairy Meadow. They tell me that Fairy Meadow is on the way to Wollongong. I don't know. But, to cut a long story short, there's a big hill, and a rigid truck came along at seven o'clock in the morning. The rigid truck driver was a foreign truck driver. Anyway, the brakes failed through an intersection. Thank Christ, no-one was killed. He ploughed into a McDonald's car park. Can you imagine that, at seven o'clock in the morning at McDonald's? Thank God, no-one was killed. There were a couple of people injured. Now Border Protection are involved because the driver, allegedly—are you ready for this; Senator Hanson, I'll need your help in the next parliament—was on a student visa. The investigation is on.

This mob are called Hari Om. Try to Google them and, if you can find out who they are, please help me out. They're a massive company in India and they've got some dealings here. They have 11 trucks here in New South Wales—one smashed up, of course. RMS grabbed the other 10. Every single one of them was defected. They were defected through bald tyres, seatbelts not working and brakes not working. I spoke to the head inspector of RMS today, and he told me that, of the 10 vehicles still on the road, six of them have been grounded. Hari Om, whoever the hell they are, nearly went broke a couple of times. There are notices of proposed deregistration from ASIC that I found from 2013 and 2016. They actually do a heck of a lot of work for Toll and TNT. In fact, I'm told they do more TNT.

One of the biggest problems we have in this nation is chain of responsibility. Senator O'Sullivan and I wrote a magnificent report after two years of hard work. I'm running out of time. I want to be very quick. One of the recommendations we addressed said:

The committee recommends that, if not adequately addressed through the recommendations of the Migrant Workers' Taskforce, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection comprehensively review visa arrangements to address systematic or organised abuse in the transport industry.

Senator O'Sullivan and I addressed another recommendation, which said:

The committee recommends that all visa holders with heavy vehicle driving licences undergo driver skill tests before their heavy vehicle driving licences are recognised in Australia.

We said a lot more. We know there's a problem. We know that the visa system is being exploited. Like we said, we are seriously of the opinion that these poor devils are recruited from India, come over here—they may be studying something at university. They may come up with the cure for cancer—I don't know; I hope they do. They'll start doing part-time B-double operations between Brisbane and Sydney because they have nothing better to do, or drive trucks for this other company, Hari Om.

If we're going to get real serious, this is the squeeze on the supply chain. Let's make this very, very clear. You're not from trucking stock, but you have worked this out. If a transport company has bald tyres, they've got foreign drivers on student visas, their brakes aren't working and the seatbelts aren't working, yet they're the third link in the supply chain—no, they're the fourth. There's the customer, whoever the customers are. I'd love to know whose freight they're carting, because I'd love to contact the company and say, 'Did you know your freight's on the back of these buckets of crap?' That's the first thing I'd love to know. Then there's the transport company, being TNT—I'm told TNT is one of the worst, with this Hari Om. I'm ex-TNT, so that wouldn't surprise me. I became a unionist because of TNT, not because I was born one. They made me one, so I'm not going to let TNT off the hook. Then you have this other transport company—and I've spoken to the manager today—DSE, who subcontracts to the Indian, Hari Om. There are four in the supply chain, so what the heck are these people being paid, for crying out loud? Hari Om is exploiting the visa system, putting dangerous vehicles out on the road and trying to dodge the TWU. The TWU are now doing the investigation. Can you believe that? Border Protection is just checking on the visa and the immigration stuff. The TWU is out there wanting the time and wages, the safety management plans and the fatigue management plans. This is not the work of the TWU; this should be the government. You can't wait to put your claws in when taxing those from the transport industry. You steal 40 cents a litre off us in the fuel tax excise; it doesn't go back into the roads.

Senator Hanson, across the chamber to you and Senator Georgiou, this is a serious problem for our nation. It's not brand new. The supply chain is being squeezed. We all have children, grandchildren or allies out on the road. We want them to be safe. We have to absolutely work together to put a system in place where you cannot squeeze the supply chain. At the end of the day, the companies have to be responsible. It's all very well having a chain of responsibility and all very well having fatigue management, but, if you turn a blind eye as soon as something like this happens—you go and whack over the couple of truck drivers and you still let that rotten system go on—what the hell are we doing in terms of road safety, let alone protecting other road users and protecting a valuable industry that, I can tell you, is really highly disregarded in this building?

That is just one tiny little complaint—well, not tiny; it's not tiny. What I'm trying to say is that we wrote this report in good faith. This is a joint report from Senator O'Sullivan and myself. We presented an interim report. We tabled it on 3 May 2016. We took this damn seriously. We did a final report on October 2017. Since then, we've had three ministers. We've not even had a response to say, 'Hey, for crying out loud, not only must we make the roads safer for everyone on the roads but also, please, Border Force, get in there and tighten up on the exploitation of foreign workers.' It's not good enough to have these poor buggers being promised the world, brought out from other countries and employed by some grubby labour hire person who's from the same country who turns a blind eye—and TNT keeps employing these other ratbags.