Road safety

The government has admitted that this legislation is flawed, which is why the government is proposing to move a series of amendments to the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011, which is before the House, along with a cognate bill. However, neither industry nor the opposition has seen the amendments. Really, where are they and why aren’t we debating them right now?

I know that the transport industry is essential to this great nation. I am a regional member of parliament. The road transport industry delivers virtually everything in the Australian community, everything it needs to survive and to thrive.

So vital is this sector that Australia cannot survive without it. It is an industry that is frequently undervalued and underestimated. We take for granted everything on our breakfast table and in our houses and sheds, never thinking about how they actually got to the retailer or to our premises. The Trucks provide nearly all urban freight transport and are the only means of transport in most rural and regional areas.

Even grain production in Western Australia needs trucks to get to the rail depots and many farmers are now trucking grain freight direct to ports.

My father was a pioneer of cartage contracting and earthmoving in the south-west of Western Australia and my brother is a small business operator in the freight and transport industry.

I have spent countless hours in prime movers-from Diamond Ts to an International and Mack trucks-so I am directly aware of the issues in the transport industry and I do know that safety is critical to those involved.

However, as in every other industry, there are some people in the transport sector who risk their own safety and that of other road users and the community, and there are those who do the wrong thing.

In my electorate in 2011, two men from my community were killed while they were standing on the side of a busy highway. They were killed by a truck which had run off the road. This was a dreadful tragedy and I feel extremely sorry for their families. Nothing can possibly eliminate their suffering from the loss of their loved ones.

The truck driver involved was charged with dangerous driving causing their deaths, found guilty and sent to jail. There is nothing in the bill before the House today that would have prevented such a dangerous driver, who was negligent behind the wheel and showed a disregard for other people’s safety and his own, from causing such a crash. I agree with the shadow minister that, if we could pass a law to eliminate tragedies or make road safer for truck drivers and other road users, we would support it in a heartbeat.

There are many things that could and should be done to improve safety, but this bill is not providing all of those answers. For instance, in my electorate fatalities on the Coalfields Highway and roads between the industry centres of Collie and Boddington have fallen by over 90 per cent over the past two years. Local police have said that the South West Industry Road Safety Alliance has had a dramatic influence on the reduction of road deaths near Collie.

The alliance provides a collaborative approach to road safety. It incorporates major industry, state road authorities, local government and police in and around Collie and Boddington. The group has worked at a practical level. There have been major infrastructure improvements to intersections, the installation of street lighting and the development of car parks to encourage car pooling and bus services.

The alliance conducts major road safety campaigns at Christmas and Easter which include altered workforce travelling times to avoid peak holiday traffic, education campaigns and local television, radio and print road safety advertising.

The alliance has implemented voluntary heavy vehicle curfews and a local road safety education calendar with supporting resources and signage. I know there are ongoing workplace road safety toolbox sessions and the development and implementation of fleet safety policies. This is what is happening. These are all practical, workable and working measures. In fact, it has been so successful that it has been replicated in other areas.

In my experience, the majority of truck drivers and transport industry workers are committed to safety, particularly when you consider the numbers of trucks and truck movements on Australian roads. Their priority is to get home safely to their families and the majority do their job the best way they can so that the rest of their communities can do the same.

It must be recorded in this debate that a large proportion of accidents involving trucks are actually caused by car drivers. New South Wales RTA research concluded that other road users are responsible for 69 per cent of fatal crashes involving a heavy vehicle.

I know from first-hand experience that many motorists simply do not understand how to drive in heavy vehicle traffic and, as a result, cause accidents. A will give you an example. I am driving a prime mover heading towards the lights at the bottom of the reasonably steep Armadale Hill near Perth. My truck is fully loaded and my combination’s load weighs around 42 tonnes.

I am slowing down through the gears and giving myself at least 200 metres to stop at the lights. I am at least 100 metres away from the nearest car in front of me. And what happens?

In that braking space, several cars pull in front of me, some literally diving into the lane right in front of my truck. And what happens? They put their brakes on the minute they pull in front of me. How on earth do those motorists think that I will be able to safely pull up in the remaining space, and why would they be surprised to see my bullbar taking up the majority of their rear-vision mirror?

This is happening right now. Right as we speak, I guarantee this is happening. It is happening across Australia every single day and it is one cause of serious accidents.

Many truck drivers I know spend their time on the road every day anticipating such driver behaviour, and work overtime trying to prevent these types of accidents. In recent local South West Times media in relation to the road safety message, South West Industry Road Safety Alliance Chairman and Acting South West District Superintendent Lysle Cubbage said:

… motorists could make the biggest difference-people shouldn’t speed or drink drive and they should wear seatbelts and avoid driver distraction.

The government has confirmed that this bill is far more about industrial relations and increasing union power than it is about safer roads by simply taking the legislation from the Department of Infrastructure and Transport to the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations.

It sets up and empowers a new tribunal to introduce a range of arbitration arrangements that are clearly industrial relations measures, not safety measures. It creates major changes for independent contractors.

It will remove the independence of owner-drivers, which will treat independent contractors in the heavy vehicle sector differently from independent contractors in any other industry, and perhaps it is actually a warning for what is ahead for all other independent contractors.

Independent Contractors Australia noted in their submission to the House inquiry into this bill:

The Bill should be rejected. The government presents it as a road safety measure. Don’t be fooled. It is a direct attack against self-employed truckies. It sets a model for further attacks against all self-employed people in Australia. In fact the Bill is a government ploy designed to give huge power to the Transport Workers Union.

In delivering this power to the TWU, the Bill will probably breach competition principles and laws that prevent price fixing, will result in increases in road transport costs affecting all consumers, reduce productivity and suppress driver incomes. All this, and it would do nothing to improve the safety driving habits of truckles.

That was Independent Contractors Australia.

The Civil Contractors Federation said:

A consequence of the setting of Road Safety Remuneration Orders to owner/drivers would be the setting of a floor price, or benchmark which may not take into account the individual specifications of a particular job. An operator who has 10 years experience in a particular type of cartage would be rewarded the same as an operator who has little or no experience.

I would ask another question: how on earth will the tribunal set wage rates when the transport businesses, their clients and individual business operations are so absolutely diverse?

It is also not the case-as the government seems to suggest through this legislation-that all transport companies treat their drivers poorly or pay them badly. There is also nothing in this legislation to address what I believe is a road safety issue-the critical shortage of experienced truck drivers in the south west of WA.

Good operators are constantly leaving local transport and haulage companies to work in the north-west in the mining industry. Transport companies are continually putting time, effort and money into training their drivers.

By the time the drivers have the necessary experience, certification and accreditation and have been put through the various site inductions, the companies have invested thousands of dollars in each and every employee. They then have to watch that investment walk out the door and fly out to the mines. Transport company owners in my electorate are, by majority, already paying above average and award wages to keep their highly valued employees. They know their businesses depend on their drivers.

I believe there are some safety issues in the transport industry which we in this parliament should be looking at. However, as the habit of this government is to come up with the wrong answer to whatever question is before us, instead of supplying practical solutions, we see the government, through this bill, simply giving unions more power to dictate to small and medium businesses.

This bill imposes the latest extra layer of red tape and cost on small businesses at the same time that the government is imposing more cost and compliance on the transport sector through the carbon tax. Transport Workers Union National Secretary Tony Sheldon said on Ten News on 11 July 2011:

Under the carbon tax, drivers will be forced to do longer hours, sweat their trucks further, have less maintenance, and that means more deaths.

We know that the Australian Trucking Association has said that the carbon tax will add $510 million to costs in the trucking industry in 2014. Through this carbon tax on fuel, the carbon tax will not apply to only 400 or 500 businesses in Australia, but initially to 60,000 businesses which face increased air, rail and maritime transport costs. By 2014, when the tax applies to trucks on roads, this number will jump to 100,000 Australian businesses and millions of Australian families. And it is not as if the transport sector has been ignoring the issue of carbon emissions. According to the Australian Trucking Association in its submission to the government on the carbon tax:

The trucking industry has already spent millions on improving its environmental outcomes. A recent report commissioned by the ATA shows:

– the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions fell 35 per cent per billion tonne kilometres between 1990 and 2011, as a result of improvements in engine technology and the use of safer trucks with greater capacity.

– emissions of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and particulates from new engines fell dramatically between 1995 and 2010. For example, particulate emissions from Euro 5 engines (mandated from 1 January 2011 for all new trucks) are 92 per cent lower than the particulate emissions from new model trucks built in 1995.

The new Euro 5 standards cut emissions but come at additional cost to the truck purchaser. I have had people in my office who have said that it can cost them at least $50,000 per unit. It is not unusual for truck owners to pay that sort of money to reduce their carbon footprint and upgrade their vehicles without being able to recoup those costs in their businesses. This means the trucking industry is already paying extra carbon costs to reduce their emissions-something unrecognised and unrewarded by the Gillard government.

Many in the transport industry have raised their concerns about this legislation. The Australian Logistics Council’s managing director, Michael Kilgariff, said:

Rather than improving safety, the Bill will add another layer of unnecessary regulation that will impede industry efforts to improve safety and productivity levels which have flat-lined in recent years.

This regulation comes on top of existing laws applying to wages, conditions, contracting arrangements, road use, vehicle standards, fatigue, speed, mass, dimension, loading, substance abuse and record keeping, as well as general workplace health and safety obligations. The Australian Industry Group’s Heather Ridout has identified that:

The Government’s announcement of a new Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal is based on the flawed logic that paying drivers differently and at higher rates of pay will lead to improved safety. Road safety is a critically important issue for employers, employees and the wider community, but the proposed Tribunal is not the answer.

The National Road Transport Operators Association has urged the government to ‘pull’ the bill because it believes it will not improve safety. The bill covers the road transport industry including distribution, long-distance operations, the cash-in-transit industry, the waste management industry and all road transport drivers, including independent contractors. As I said, there is still more to be done and I support genuine road safety initiatives such as the Industry Road Safety Alliance South West and practical measures. However, the bill before the House certainly does not deliver those outcomes.