May 20, 2013

Address to Transport Workers Union Annual National Conference, Darwin

This Government has done great things for Australian truckies.

The changes we have made since coming to power in 2007 have been about making the day to day work life of a truckie easier and fairer. 

Investment in the Nation’s Roads

You know better than most that, in the competitive, globalised world of the 21st century, good infrastructure matters.

In five short years we have turned around declining investment in the nation’s infrastructure and begun building for the future.

Since coming to power in 2007 this Government has committed $60 billion as part of our Nation Building programs to modernising the nation’s road, rail and public transport infrastructure.

We have replaced neglect, buck passing and short-termism with a comprehensive, long term plan inspired by Labor’s century old nation building tradition.

And we have put this much greater level of funding to good use:

  • Building and upgrading 7,500 kilometres of road, resulting in a marked improvement in the condition and safety of our highways.
  • 129 major road projects completed, with work currently underway on a further 71.

The 2013-14 Budget continues this work with the nation’s regional highways and urban public transport infrastructure being big winners. Over the next 12 months we will: 

  • Continue the rollout of our $4.1 billion plan for a better, safer Bruce Highway, to begin, continue and complete a range of major improvements to this vital road.
  • Make further substantial progress towards the full duplication of the Pacific Highway, the largest, most complex road construction project ever undertaken in this country. The funding being provided in 2013-14 will allow upgrade work to begin and continue along 165.5 kilometres of the Highway.
  • Complete within the next two months the full duplication of the Hume Highway between Sydney and Melbourne more than half a century after work began on this great national endeavour, a milestone made possible by the almost $1 billion we have invested in this road since coming to office in late 2007. 

Safe Rates

But the changes we have made for the nation’s truckies is not just through nation building roads.

We set up the Safe Rates Tribunal to ensure drivers are not exploited or have to take risks at work to make a living.

Truck driving continues to be the industry with the highest incidence of fatal injuries, with fatalities and injuries costing the community an estimated $2.7 billion in 2010.

The Safe Rates laws recognise the important role owner drivers in the road transport industry and know that small businesses make up around 60 per cent of the road transport industry, yet they only make up for around 11 per cent of the income earned in the industry.

Improved driver remuneration leads to increased safety outcomes.

Many accidents in the industry result from speeding or fatigue.

The Safe Rates laws acknowledge the need to tackle the problems of speed and fatigue in the road transport industry and to remove economic incentives for drivers to engage in unsafe work practices.

The creation of the Safe Rates Tribunal and laws is something that the TWU, Tony Sheldon and Michael Kaine should be very proud of.

Safe Rates shows what can happen when the union movement and a Labor Government work together with industry for the benefit of working people and their families. 

National Heavy Vehicle Regulator

We have also cut the red tape that tie up your work through the creation of a single National Heavy Vehicle Regulator in January this year.

No more will you have to deal with multiple and contradictory laws as you cross a state border.

No more will heavy vehicle drivers have to deal with different weight regulations in different states.

No more will a B-Double livestock transporter be allowed to carry 66 cattle while in Queensland but only 60 in New South Wales; necessitating either lower productivity in Queensland or the unloading of 6 cattle at the QLD/NSW border.

No more will interstate drivers have to carry around multiple folders holding all the permits, records and all the other reams of paperwork that are required by each and every state.

No more will it be necessary for you to have to carry each State’s legal approvals in your cabin.

It means a “one stop shop” for heavy vehicle registration renewals and access permits.

These reforms are about making a real difference for the working men and women of our transport industry.

Combined with the national rail and maritime safety regulators, this reform has reduced the number of transport regulators from 23 to three, with projected economic benefits of $30 billion over the next 20 years. 

Heavy Vehicle Rest Areas

Then there is the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program.

This program is the first Commonwealth dedicated program of its kind and I am proud to have started it in 2008 and to ensure it continues to improve safety for our truck drivers.

In last year’s budget we provided an additional $150 million to this program to allow the continued construction of rest areas, parking and decoupling bays, road enhancement projects and technology trials and projects aimed squarely at improving safety and productivity.

This additional funding brings the total program to $220 million and adds a further 58 projects to the 236 projects already delivered including over 140 new or upgraded rest areas and 46 new or upgraded parking/decoupling bays.

We did this because we know that the opportunity to stop for a rest is particularly important on long haul routes through regional areas.

We know that fatigue is a killer on the road and by delivering modern rest areas truck drivers can take a break, meaning everyone on the road is safer­–in crashes involving trucks a car will come off worse.

Long distance truck driving is a tough and often lonely job that takes you away from your home and your family.

A safe spot to park your vehicle with toilets and facilities is one way this Government can help make your job a little easier.

And of course, a decent rest means a safer trip for drivers and everyone else on the road. 

Conclusion

Compare all this with the Abbott No-alition.

They have already said they will review Safe Rates – we all know what that means.

When they were last in Government they neglected the Nation’s road and rail infrastructure – based on their pathetic infrastructure announcements so far nothing has changed there.

We saw their industrial relations policy last week – we know an AWA when we hear one, we know that penalty rates will go if they have their way, we know it’s in their DNA to make it easy for workers to be dismissed without protection and we know their hostility towards Australia’s union movement.

In contrast, I can assure you that this Labor Government will never cease in our efforts to build a stronger, fairer, more productive Australia.

An Australia where everyone gets a fair go and everyone has a right to dignity in the workplace or in the community – as we just showed with DisabilityCare.

And I know it’s a goal that the TWU shares.

Whatever sector of Australia’s vital transport industry you work in, I look forward to continuing to work with you – and all 90,000 of your members – as we fight to keep these important reforms.

Thank you.