Transcript of Interview with 4BC
Anthony Albanese MP
Minister for Infrastructure, Transport,
Regional Development and Local Government
Leader of the House
Subjects: Next week’s truckie strike; the shortage of air traffic controllers
July 23 2008
MICHAEL SMITH: We’ve managed to track down the Federal Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, who’s in the Northern Territory for a community Cabinet meeting. He’s on the phone. Minister, good afternoon.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good afternoon, Michael.
MICHAEL SMITH: Thanks for speaking with us. You’d be aware, Minister, that there are reports, very strong reports of a proposed transport stoppage starting next Monday for a fortnight.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s import rant to remember that these aren’t reports from the mainstream of the transport industry. These are – this is not the Transport Workers Union, nor is it the Australian Trucking Association. This is a disparate group of – well, various groups basically that have a series of issues and it’s a bit unclear what they expect to come out of any disruption that they may cause.
MICHAEL SMITH: Minister, I probably felt similarly to you when I first saw reports of this and thought, oh yeah, this looks like a bit of a ragtag bunch. We have been overwhelmed on this radio station switchboard with transport operators in support of the goals of this stoppage. And the first amongst them is pretty basic; it has to do with drivers’ safety and the availability of roadside stopping bays for drivers to stop and get their rest in. They say there simply are not sufficient of them and those that are present are filthy, you know, no toilet facilities, et cetera.
Now we’ve had the State Minister on, who said he’ll look at it. What are you doing about it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, what I’ve done is introduced legislation to – which would provide $70 million for a road safety and productivity package. I’ve written to the various organisations including the union about this issue. I’ve raised it with the Australian Trucking Association, the peak industry body, and it’s an announcement that we made in February that they were very supportive of. It, of course is linked to the road user charges which were defeated in the Senate earlier this year. But it is a practical step forward which the new Government made within two months of our election.
And one of the concerns that I have is that, as you would be aware, and your listeners certainly should be aware, is that one of the demands being made by some of these groups is for, in fact, a wind back of any fatigue laws, a wind back of any scrutiny of log books or of, indeed, of penalties for truck drivers.
And we need to make sure that truck drivers are not placed in a position whereby they’re able to be pressured into driving longer and longer hours with the subsequent dangers to safety, not just for themselves, but for road users in general. And I’m very concerned about some of the comments that I’ve seen made by some of the groups in the lead up to this action which suggests that they’re opposed to all fatigue laws.
MICHAEL SMITH: I haven’t heard that. I have heard Peter Schuback of the – who, you know, was the first fellow we spoke to behind it, saying that it seemed pretty unfair that if the stopping bays were full and the truck simply couldn’t pull in safely, that he’d be stung for driving past it.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, they’d say – that of course is one angle, but you take that to its logical conclusion which is that whether that’s the case or not, it certainly shouldn’t be used as an excuse to argue against all fatigue laws which a number of…
MICHAEL SMITH: No, but it does go to support…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: … which a number of people have made. Peter Schuback is of course an owner-driver. These actions seem to take place every few years. I’ve certainly seen the comments that Hughie Williams, the State Secretary of the Transport Workers Union, made yesterday and they have been in constructive discussion with the Commonwealth Government about these issues. We’re certainly looking at a whole range of issues including the issue of safe rates, which is something that the union has been campaigning for, for some time. And I’ve had discussions with the union, as they have also had discussions with Julia Gillard as the Workplace Relations Minister to see how…
MICHAEL SMITH: [Interrupts] Minister, if I can pause you there for a sec…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: … [indistinct] that issue.
MICHAEL SMITH: You may be in constructive dialogue with the union. We were overwhelmed with calls yesterday of truck drivers and their [break in transmission] no confidence in the union’s ability to represent their real needs.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, the union actually has a substantial national membership and is certainly, in my view, more representative than people who can just self-appoint themselves. They at least are…
MICHAEL SMITH: Don’t you take seriously though – like, the emotion, the passion that you hear in truck drivers’ voices when they ring up the radio station?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Of course I do because the fact is that there are substantial pressures that they’re under. There’s no doubt that the increase in global oil prices has placed substantial pressure on them. It’s a really tough job. It’s a tough job and I have every sympathy for them.
But I fail to see, I fail to see what some of the rhetoric that I’ve heard in recent days of shutting down the delivery of food and vegetable to supermarkets in towns and cities around Australia will actually achieve, when it’s not clear – it’s not clear… I’ve heard, for example, one of the demands is for the complete abolition of fuel taxes. Now, when you put petrol in your car you pay 38 cents…
MICHAEL SMITH: [Interrupts] Obviously that’s beyond the pale. Obviously that’s beyond the pale.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: … per litre fuel levy…
MICHAEL SMITH: Minister…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: … they don’t.
MICHAEL SMITH: … you say you have great sympathy for these people. Could I just ask what you can do for them.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What we can’t do is construct safety stops between now and six o’clock when your program ends. This is a new Government that has put forward a $70 million proposal for truck safety.
One of the things that they could do is to get the Federal Opposition under Brendan Nelson to actually vote for the package in the Senate that the Rudd Government has put up which would provide that $70 million above and beyond all other funding which is there, on top of state funding, on top of existing Commonwealth funding. This was an immediate response upon the new Government coming to office, and…
MICHAEL SMITH: Okay. So, Minister, it’s fair to say that you accept that there is a deficiency in the number of these bays for people to stop in safely?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Of course that is the case which is why…
MICHAEL SMITH: [Interrupts] Thank you. Minister, can we move to another…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: … we put forward the proposal.
MICHAEL SMITH: Thanks. May we move to another area of your portfolio responsibility which is aviation. Last week we had Dick Smith on. Here’s what some of what Dick had to say.
DICK SMITH: I thought with a change of government surely we will get a minister who will be very concerned about this. Well, do you know who the minister for aviation is?
MICHAEL SMITH: No.
DICK SMITH: See, nobody does. His name’s Anthony Albanese. I’m sure he’s a very capable person. But he’s got so much in his portfolio. He’s not only got Transport and Infrastructure, and old ladies or something…
MICHAEL SMITH: [Laughs]
DICK SMITH: That’s – I’ve never even been able to have a meeting with him or even talk to him on the phone.
MICHAEL SMITH: We’ll get Anthony Albanese on and see what this minister…
DICK SMITH: I bet – see how you go. I bet you won’t be able to.
MICHAEL SMITH: Well, we have you Minister. Today the chief executive…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: You ask and you receive [laughs].
MICHAEL SMITH: [Laughs] Good on you.
The chief executive of the Virgin Blue airline business, Brett Godfrey, has blasted your air traffic control system, saying that a handful of people can hold the country to ransom because of inadequate staffing.
We’ve had all sorts of reports about potential disasters, planes in uncontrolled airspace. Is our air traffic control system safe?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yes, it is. Yes, it is safe. And we do have a failure in terms of a lack of air traffic controllers. Now, you can’t train an air traffic controller overnight. It obviously – you need proper training to be put in place. To be fair to the previous government, with a new management in Airservices Australia they made a start on amending the predicament that we were in which was a severe shortage of air traffic controllers.
The new Government has listed these issues, along with pilots and other sectors of aviation, as on the skills priority list to make sure that we can get people into the system as an absolute matter of urgency.
But a skills shortage that developed over a decade of neglect can’t be turned around overnight. But the Government is certainly very conscious about it and we are doing all that we can to resolve the issues. Of course it is a fact that Civil Air, the air traffic control union, is engaged in industrial negotiation at the moment over a wages agreement. And it – at the same time there appears to be a situation whereby you’ve had a number of people not turning up for work in order to create a situation which causes some difficulty.
Now, these issues can’t be resolved overnight. The Government has established a green paper, white paper process, for the first time having a national aviation strategy. We haven’t had one in the past – it’s been all ad hoc – which is why these issues have crept up over a period of years. And what we need is a long-term strategic approach, including the issue of the skills needs in aviation.
MICHAEL SMITH: Minister Anthony Albanese, thanks for speaking with us.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to talk to you Michael.
MICHAEL SMITH: You too.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.