Nov 22, 2011

Transcript of doorstop interview – Parliament House

Subjects: Safe rates, Qantas, MRRT

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Every year 250 Australians lose their lives in accidents which involve a heavy vehicle. More than 1000 people are injured in an accident which involves a heavy vehicle. The Government will be introducing legislation to parliament this week to provide for safe rates for truck drivers. This is an issue about safety on our roads, not just for those hardworking Australians who drive our trucks and deliver our goods right around the country, but for all Australians who use our roads. We know from research that’s been done by the National Transport Commission, by the trade union movement, and anecdotally, we know that it is the case that unsafe rates can put pressure on truck drivers to drive for too long, to drive fatigued, to use illicit substances, to take action which is simply not safe in order to put food on the table for their families, whether it be employees of companies or whether it be owner-drivers. What safe rates will do is ensure that best practice occurs in the industry and that we drive out the unsafe practices that have had such an impact. We know that the cost to the economy of accidents involving trucks in 2010 was some $2.7 billion. But it’s the human cost of accidents that is of greater concern than just the cost to the economy. What these changes will do is ensure that there’s a tribunal established made up of people from Fair Work Australia and also industry representatives so that where a driver knows there is pressure being placed on for unsafe practices they can go to the tribunal and the tribunal can make a determination to stamp out these practices. This is good policy, dealing with an issue that has been around for a very long time. We have taken our time to get this reform right. We established a safe rates group, made up including industry representatives, a year ago. Before that we had the National Transport Commission have an inquiry and come up with evidence showing that there was a direct relationship between unsafe work practices and the impact of tolls on our roads. So this is good reform. It’s about making our roads safer for our truck drivers but also making our roads safer for all Australians.

QUESTION: Do you think that drivers will have the [indistinct] I guess that they can stand up to the companies? [Indistinct] understand that the truck sector is quite competitive.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: What this is about is ensuring also that there’s a level playing field in terms of the truck sector. That’s why, in terms of the heavy vehicle sector, good companies such as Linfox support this announcement. They know that it’s good practice for their business to have rates that are safe, to have drivers that are looked after. They know that’s good practice. What it will do is stop some of the cowboys trying to undercut operations, the sort of circumstances whereby even though commonsense tells you that it’s eight hours between point A and point B, drivers are told, well, we’ll give you the job but we’ll give you the job if you can do it in six hours. So they’re faced with either speeding too fast or cutting corners in other ways or not stopping to make sure that their vehicle is properly maintained, and cutting corners. We know that that pressure can be placed on. What the tribunal will do is once you have a mechanism in place that ensures that there’s somewhere for people to go, that there’s accountability in the industry, is that practice will be lifted across the sector and there’ll be good outcomes; good outcomes for truck drivers, good outcomes for industry itself, and good outcomes for the public who use our roads. This goes hand in hand with what we’re doing with regard to heavy vehicle regulated reform. Some of you would be aware there’s been a bit of publicity about that relating to Dolly Parton recently and the issue of national transport regulators. By moving to three national transport regulators, including most significantly the one in heavy vehicles, we’re going to boost the economy by $30 billion over 20 years. So that’s good microeconomic reform. Hand-in-hand with that reform, this safe rates legislation will ensure that there’s good outcomes in the industry; ensures that best practice spreads across industry, and that cowboys who try to undercut and put in unreasonable conditions upon truck drivers who might be desperate to get that job, that that is stamped out of the industry.

QUESTION: But you said they might be desperate to have that job. Wouldn’t that mean that some of them aren’t brave enough to speak up and actually, you know, dob in their bosses?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: What will occur over a period of time is that once you have a tribunal there, you have accountability. At the moment you don’t. I’ve been in this parliament for 15 years this year. There have been at least two inquiries in my time into these issues. In my first term of parliament, from 1996 to 1998, this issue was looked at but it wasn’t followed up by action. So we know that these issues have been around for some time. We’ve got the practice and the balance right. Like other reforms, you can’t just click your fingers and solve all the problems overnight. What you can do it put in place a mechanism to ensure that best practice occurs, to make sure that road safety is given the priority that it deserves.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you a quick question on Qantas. It looks like there’ll be no strike action over Christmas. I’m guessing you’ll welcome that move.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Oh, absolutely. What the Australian travelling public want is certainty with the decision by the Government to take this issue to Fair Work Australia. The parties had 21 days to reach an agreement. As a result of their failure to do so, some issues will be arbitrated upon by Fair Work Australia. There has been some agreement and progress made with the three unions, but what is clear is that there’s certainty for the travelling public over the holiday period. And that’s a good thing.

QUESTION: Weren’t you worried there could be appeals to this – the ruling made by Fair Work Australia?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We are very confident that we have a robust system in place. The Government supports our legislation. We will defend any challenge to our legislation.

QUESTION: Just on the roads, you’re nearing completion of the duplication of the highway from Sydney to Brisbane which escapes me at the moment, the name of it, so…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Sydney to Melbourne.

QUESTION:  Sorry, Sydney to Melbourne.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:      The Hume Highway.

QUESTION: Thank you. Where do you go from after that – do you look at highways like the Newell and link Brisbane with Melbourne in a better capacity? Where’s next?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well today’s not the day for multi, tens of billion dollar announcements on the run. What I can say is that our nation-building program with regard to roads is proceeding very effectively. Just this week I announced I’d bring forward a $490 million for projects on the Pacific Highway, including importantly fixing the Clybucca section of the highway which was the scene for Australia’s worst ever road accident, way back more than 20 years ago. So we know that those have been issues. One of the things we can do to improve safety on our roads is to fix infrastructure. The Government’s doing that. We can fix regulation. We’re doing that through the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator. We’re doing that through safe rates. And we can do that by ensuring there’s better education in terms of road safety and a better culture of road safety on our roads. With regard to the Hume Highway, we’ve opened in the last month the bypass at Tarcutta, and other sections of the highway. The only section that’s left is the Holbrook bypass. That’s due to be completed early in 2013. Next week I’ll be up in Ballina, opening the Ballina bypass. Completed six months ahead of schedule. This Government’s nation-building program is being rolled out right around the country. On the same day next Tuesday we’ll be opening the Kingston bypass in Tasmania. We’ve brought forward, yesterday, funding for the Blacksoils Interchange on the Warrego Highway in Queensland. This is an area that’s been impacted by the growth in the Surat Basin. All of these projects are vital. This government’s serious about investing in infrastructure to make our road’s safer. We’ve done that. But we’re also taking mechanisms such as introducing this tribunal to ensure that there’s safe rates in our trucking industry.

QUESTION: Just on the mining tax, is that, when can we see that expected to pass through the lower house.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well look, the mining tax is being debated before the Parliament now as we speak. The mining tax will continue to be debated after question time. There’s no reason why the mining tax can’t go through the Parliament this evening. But Tony Abbott also has an opportunity. He has an opportunity to reverse gears, and change his position on this mining tax. The Government says yes to the mining tax. The Australian public say yes to the mining tax. The big miners say yes to the mining tax. The only person who says no is Tony Abbott. And if he is to have any economic credibility whatsoever, he should reverse his position, concede that he got it wrong, embrace the fact that there’ll be funds for new infrastructure, for increases in superannuation, and for a reduction in company tax across the board. This is good policy, it’s sensible policy, Tony Abbott should get out of the way.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] it to be passed tonight, or for a vote to happen tonight, you need Adam Bandt on board, and he’s not on board yet. Do you think you can reach an agreement with the Greens by tonight?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We are absolutely confident that this is the right thing to do for the Australian economy and that Australians deserve to get a better share of the profits that big mining companies are achieving as a result of digging up the finite resources that are the property of all Australians that can only be dug up once. We’re confident that people of good will in the Parliament will vote for this, and we call upon Tony Abbott to join us.

QUESTION: Have you found $20 million worth of savings?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We have got our position very clear, and I believe that those people who don’t support this mining tax will find themselves offside with the public who really want something very simple here. They see the record profits that are being made by the big mining companies, they see the big mining companies saying, we’re prepared to pay more tax, and you have Tony Abbott saying no, we don’t want your money, we don’t need your money, you just keep that extraordinary profit ratio that they’re achieving up to this point. This is common sense. We expect it to get through the Parliament. Thank you.