Nov 22, 2011

Question without notice – Road safety & safe rates

CHRIS HAYES (Member of Fowler) – My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.  Would the minister update the House on what the government is doing to tackle speed, fatigue and dangerous work practices in our trucking industry?

ANTHONY ALBANESE – I thank the member for Fowler for this question.  This is a government that is committed to looking after working families and their interests and it is indeed a tragedy that every year around 250 people are killed in accidents on our roads that involve heavy vehicles.  More than a thousand people are seriously injured in accidents involving heavy vehicles on our roads.  Most of those deaths involve other vehicles in a collision with trucks.

That is why this is an issue for all who travel on our roads, not just for those working men and women who deliver goods right around this vast nation.  The road transport sector continues to have the highest incidence of fatal injuries compared with every other industry.  Some 25 deaths per 100,000 workers – 10 times the average for all industries.

I, as the Minister, commissioned a report by the National Transport Commission that found that low rates of pay can lead to risky work practices by drivers trying to make ends meet.  This followed a number of reports over the years, and I acknowledge the work done by the Member for Hinkler [Paul Neville] and other members of this chamber in producing reports such as the House of Representatives report Beyond the midnight oil.  These reports and studies have documented the risky practices, including speeding, taking drugs, driving long hours and risking accidents by not maintaining heavy vehicles.

This cannot continue and that is why the Government will introduce legislation this week to establish a national road safety remuneration system, comprising a tribunal and a separate education and compliance framework.  The tribunal will have the ability to set pay or pay-related conditions to ensure safe driving practices.  The tribunal will begin work on 1 July next year and will include members from Fair Work Australia, along with independent work, health and safety experts.  Truck drivers should not have to speed, overload their trucks, drive excessive hours or cut back on vehicle maintenance just to make a decent living.

These reforms are long overdue in the trucking industry and will improve safety in the industry.  They have been welcomed by many senior people in the trucking industry, including people such as Lindsay Fox, who for many, many years has been a strong advocate, to his great credit, of better practices on our roads, because he wants to look after his workforce.  He understands that good work practice is also good business practice.  I pay particular tribute to those people in the Transport Workers Union and in bodies such as Linfox, the Australian Livestock Transporters Association and others who have been a part of what is a very long campaign to get this reform through.

We established a safe rates advisory group 12 months ago and we have been consulting every step of the way.  This is a good reform.  It is about better practice for this nation’s truck drivers, but it is also about safer roads for all Australians.

I call upon the whole Chamber to support this reform.