BILLS Safety Remuneration Bill 2011, Road Safety Remuneration

Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (18:31): Regardless of our positions in this chamber, everyone would agree that it is fundamentally the right of every single person that if they leave for work safely they should return home safely. It is simply inconceivable that anyone could disagree with that proposition. However, how do we guarantee that—and I am mindful of some of the comments by the member for Grayndler and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport—when we are told that truck driving is the most dangerous industry in Australia by a factor of 10. The costs of these deaths to the country is about $2 billion per year.

In the 12 months to June last year there were 210 fatal crashes involving trucks. Again, we say that when people leave home they should be able to return home in the same way they left—safely, in one piece. But heavy trucks account for 2.5 per cent of all vehicle registrations and 7.5 per cent of vehicle kilometres travelled, but they are involved in 15 per cent of all fatal crashes. The official record keeper, the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, says that speed, drugs, alcohol and fatigue are often to blame. I also turn to the fact that the situation continues to get worse, not better.

I am mindful of the submission that the Transport Workers Union made to the inquiry into the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011 and the Road Safety Remuneration (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill 2011. In their submission they say:

No other industry is responsible for 330 deaths in a year. No other industry injures 5,350 people per year at the rate of 31 per day. This is an industry in the midst of a severe crisis in safety.

It is simply not getting any better because, if you look at the three years to March 2010, fatal crashes involving heavy, rigid trucks increased an average of 0.3 per cent a year. It may sound like a small amount to others, but if you are involved in that, if you are part of that 0.3 per cent and there is a family that is affected by that, you feel that in a major way. Each road death costs approximately $1.7 million. Each injury in an accident costs over $408,000. When you look the social costs of those deaths, injuries, illnesses and family breakdowns and at the pain and suffering, at some point someone has to pay for this. It is a huge burden, not just in an economic sense but in a social sense as well.

Is it getting any better? You only need to turn to some of the recent incidents. These were picked up in the Daily Telegraph where it was quoted that earlier this year people had been found to be tampering with the speed limiters that prevent them from going over the speed limit. Trucks exceeding 115 kilometres per hour could be pulled over immediately. There have been incidents where people have been found to be tampering with their trucks for no other reason than to meet deadlines and ease the pressures that are on them. There is wide community recognition of the problem, and we have had countless inquiries. I would liken it to an excuse for inaction. People understand and get the simple proposition that if we improve safety in the trucking industry we make roads safer for everyone—for the people who travel on those roads but, importantly, for people in the trucking industry and their families.

In 2008, the National Transport Commission—the NTC—investigated the issue of safe payments in the road transport industry and their work spurred the development of these bills. It aimed to provide a valuation with recommendations for the improvement of truck driver payment methods, working conditions and career structures to address safety issues. The widespread concern is that risks are taken and that safety is compromised to meet the demands of the job or to secure pay outcomes. One statistic that flawed me was the one that suggested that about 30 per cent of owner drivers are paid below the award rate. No-one else would accept that. If anyone else in the general community was paid that amount of money there would be an uproar.

Again, I refer to the submission made by the TWU where they had a survey conducted last year that illustrated some of the dangerous on-road behaviours. Forty-eight per cent of drivers report almost one day a week in unpaid waiting time, and for delivery drivers it is more than 10 hours a week. Fifty-six per cent of owner drivers have had to forgo vehicle maintenance because of economic pressure and the need to keep working and the high cost of repairs. Another 27 per cent felt they had to drive too fast, and nearly 40 per cent felt pressured to drive longer than legally allowed. This is what people are saying directly from the industry, the pressures that people at the coalface feel they have to operate under. The NTC report looked at the link between remuneration and road safety, and that link was quite clear. The report found:

…the overwhelming weight of evidence indicates that commercial/industrial practices affecting road transport play a direct and significant role—

I will repeat that—

…a direct and significant role in causing hazardous practices. There is solid survey evidence linking payment levels and systems to crashes, speeding, driving while fatigued and drug use.

Yet we have the member for Riverina coming in here a few moments ago and saying that there is not enough proof. For them it has not been proved beyond any shadow of a doubt, despite all the work done, that there is any sort of link when clearly, in the absence of any contrary evidence put forward in the debate by those opposite, the work that has been undertaken shows otherwise.

It is worth making the point at this juncture that, through countless inquiries, responses to incidents, responses to the media interest that has been aroused by this, and in dealing with families that have been traumatised, there is one organisation that has continuously, passionately and determinedly pressed the case for something to be done. I want to place on the record my admiration for the Transport Workers Union of Australia—in particular Tony Sheldon, Michael Kane, who I notice up in the gallery, and my friend and colleague the New South Wales Secretary Wayne Forno. In years to come, people will be able to say that the work done by this organisation has saved their lives or spared them from injury. There are people in this chamber who say that too much power has been wielded by one organisation in this matter; but to be honest I thank God that that power has been exercised because families have not had to be traumatised by the death of their loved ones, whether they are the people driving those vehicles or general commuters involved in accidents. I congratulate the TWU for the work they have done.

The NTC report formed the platform for these bills. If you look at the objectives of the legislation, there are a number of things it seeks to do. I want in particular to draw attention to the fact that it aims to promote safety and fairness in the road transport industry by, for example, ensuring road transport drivers do not have remuneration-related incentives to work in an unsafe manner; removing remuneration-related incentives and pressures that contribute to unsafe work practices; ensuring that road transport drivers are paid for their work, including loading and unloading vehicles or waiting for someone else to load or unload their vehicles; and developing and applying reasonable and enforceable standards to the road transport industry supply chain to ensure the safety of road transport drivers.

We also seek to set up a Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal to ensure that we promote the objectives of the act and safety and fairness in the industry. It will ensure that work is done in an evidence-based and research-focused way. It will also create determinations known as road safety remuneration orders which will be in addition to any existing rights that employed drivers have under industrial instruments or that owner-drivers have under their contracts for service. These bills will ensure that the years of talk, of hand wringing, of saying something has to be done will end. We will make sure that there is something in place to resolve the issues that people in the trucking industry have had to deal with for years.

In spite of all this, when we finally get to a point where we can take action, we still have those that try to propagate myths about what this legislation will do. Some suggest that safe rates will cost consumers, ignoring the reality that every single death costs $2 million; every injury costs over $400,000. Who do people believe bears this cost? This cost is heavily borne by the families involved but it is also, ultimately, borne by the public. It is spurious to claim that the implementation of this bill would lead to costs when these costs are already being borne. The aim is to reduce the costs, economic and social, on those families. There are people that say that voluntary systems would work better, when there is simply no evidence to suggest that the voluntary systems that have been in place so far have assisted in any way, shape or form. They have had no impact to date. The death rate, the injury rate and the incident rate continue to grow. Worse still is the argument put forward by those opposite that there is no proof that remuneration and safety are linked, when in fact a huge volume of work has been undertaken to show this. I will read an excerpt from the NTC report, quoting Professor Michael Belzer from the University of Michigan:

The point estimates indicate that if mileage rate were to increase to $0.37 per mile, drivers would reduce their weekly hours to be in compliance with current regulations. At this rate, drivers are being compensated at a rate sufficient for them to be able to satisfy their income requirements without being induced to work in excess of mandated law.

Those opposite said in a dissenting report that they were unconvinced safe rates would lead to an improvement in road safety outcomes. They also said that the link between remuneration and safety in the transport industry has not been definitively established. They suggested that improving road infrastructure and enforcing existing laws would achieve safety improvements. This is simply an excuse to know, not act. It would be improper to reveal too much of the committee's consideration of the bills, but there was an attempt to work together within that committee. However, the dissenting report betrays the fact that none of those opposite can point to anything that they did in their time in government—when they had an opportunity to deal with this—or that they could do now, as an opposition, that would improve this situation and avoid deaths. Those opposite would rather find ways to delay—for example, requiring us to be able to establish beyond any reasonable doubt that there is a link between remuneration and safety. Until the point that we could do that, we would still have people in the trucking industry and other people using those roads dying to satisfy their demand for absolute proof that there is a link between the two—when huge volumes of work have been done to prove just that. I would argue that, if they oppose this legislation, those opposite are absolutely compelled to tell this chamber one thing that they would do to save people's lives and prevent injury. Do not tell us existing laws have to be enforced better, because the evidence suggests that even to this point people are abusing the law by either playing with speed limiters or engaging in drug use because of the very pressures they have to operate under.

Those opposite have to get serious. They have to look at the families of those truckers who have died and the families who have been injured in road accidents involving trucks and explain to them why further inaction is a recipe for anything good in the general community. They are compelled to demonstrate to this chamber what they would do to improve the situation.

Do you like this post?
Ed Husic MP
Federal Labor Member for Chifley

Ed supports