Jul 28, 2008

Transcript of Interview with Leon Byner on 5AA

Transcript of Interview with Leon Byner on 5AA

The Hon Anthony Albanese MP

Minister for Infrastructure, Transport

Regional Development and Local Government

Leader of the House

Subject: Truckie strike

July 28 2008

LEON BYNER: Well, we’ve got a trucking dispute on, and the two issues seem to be, one, that they’re saying the price of fuel’s too high, we’re not getting a fair go, we don’t like the new log book system, it’s too intrusive, it’s going to make our job impossible, we’re being harassed by the police and our costs of registration and insurance are through the roof and we just can’t afford it. And the other issue, which I raised with Anthony Albanese recently was, that there is plenty of evidence to show that companies are charging customers a fuel levy which they are not passing on.

So let’s talk and thank the federal minister for being available to us at relatively short notice, Anthony Albanese.

Anthony, thanks for joining us today.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: G’day Leon, good to be with you.

LEON BYNER: Now what is your observation of this trucking dispute, which includes a proportion of those who work in the industry and not others. What is your understanding of why this is happening?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, let’s be clear about who it includes and doesn’t. It doesn’t include the mainstream of the industry, the Australian Trucking Association, the industry group, or the Transport Workers Union. And it includes – there’s actually at least two or three groups involved on the fringes who are putting forward a series of demands. It differs from time to time, depending upon which group you speak to, what those demands are. But they run from attacks on the leadership of the industry and the union and demand for them to be removed, to the removal of all fatigue laws, to the removal of all fines that have been given against truck drivers, to the removal of all fuel levies.

There’s a range of these demands. It’s pretty unclear what actually today’s activity is meant to be achieved, and it’s unclear how many people will actually participate. Because one of my concerns has been the threat that has been contained in emails that have been distributed to truck drivers, and those emails have indicated that, essentially, truck drivers and their families won’t be safe if they’re not – if they don’t participate in this action.

LEON BYNER: What is your reaction to that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Oh look, I’m very concerned, as is the Transport Workers Union and the industry itself to those sorts of threats. Don’t really advance anyone’s cause.

There’s no doubt that truckies are under financial pressure. The Federal Government has met with their organisations. Just on Friday, we announced an inquiry into safe rates to look at the relationship between the ways that payments are made and whether there’s a relationship between unsafe work practices, and that inquiry has been welcomed by the industry and, indeed, by the union involved.

It will be headed by Professor Michael Quinlan of the University of New South Wales, and Lance Wright, who’s a former president of the Industrial Relations Commission. That was agreed by the Commonwealth and all state and territory transport ministers at the meeting that we held just last Friday.

LEON BYNER: What is your attitude to the reality that we keep hearing that companies are charging – and this affects also couriers as well. They’re charging their customers a fuel levy but not passing it on to the people who buy the fuel.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, that is certainly of concern to me. It was raised the last time I was on your program, and I immediately got into contact with Graeme Samuel, the head of the consumer watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and spoke to Mr Samuel about this very issue.

Then – you were on leave when I got in contact with your program.

LEON BYNER: Yes.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’ve been waiting for you to come back, but Graeme Samuel, certainly, is pleased to appear on your program, and he wants to hear directly from truck drivers if there’s any evidence of…

LEON BYNER: And…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: … this occurring and he will take action.

LEON BYNER: And courier drivers as well.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely.

LEON BYNER: The problem is, see, if you complain about something like this, and you are a subbie, it is very easy for the parent company who employs you and doesn’t pass on that levy…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look…

LEON BYNER: … to say, oh bugger you, well, we won’t give you any jobs.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Oh look, Leon, I understand the difficulty that’s there, but Mr Samuel’s indicated that he’s happy to respect confidentiality in these matters. Of course, it does make it more difficult if you don’t have people who are prepared to engage in direct evidence of…

LEON BYNER: Yeah.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: … this activity…

LEON BYNER: Yes.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: … of course. But the important thing is, when I drew it to Mr Samuel’s attention, he indicated that he’d be concerned, and that the ACCC certainly is prepared to take action…

LEON BYNER: So you…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: … because it is against the law.

LEON BYNER: I was – yeah, that’s what I was going to ask you. So it is against the law to do that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely.

LEON BYNER: Yeah.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: And the ACCC’s the appropriate body to do that. Of course, it is an anti-competitive conduct because one company’s obviously getting an advantage if they’re doing that over others in the marketplace. And on that basis, it was Mr Samuel’s preliminary – this was just a verbal discussion, but it was face-to-face that I had with him about this issue. He indicated that i… on the face of things, it would seem to be a breach.

LEON BYNER: All right. My other question is, what proportion of the transport industry is involved in this? Is it 20 per cent, 30 per cent, 15, 20, 40?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Oh look, certainly, it’s a very small element are involved. I think most truck drivers and their families understand that the appropriate way for them to move forward is to negotiate either through – collectively through their union, the TWU, or through their industry association, the Australian Trucking Association which I’ve addressed both those bodies in recent months.

LEON BYNER: All right.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: So one of the concerns that I have is that the person who was on your program before, when offered discussions with my office, has said, well, there’s nothing to nothing to negotiate, and, therefore, there’s no need to have any meetings. I mean, it is just unrealistic to suggest that all fuel levies are going to be removed. All fatigue laws removed and scrutiny of them. I mean, what we’re talking about here is the need for safe work practices for truck drivers, but also for other road users. And I think your listeners would be completely opposed to the idea that it’s okay for truck drivers to be pressured into working nine, 10, 11 hours without any scrutiny.

LEON BYNER: Yeah. There’s another issue that you might have heard about, and that is that for the more long distance drivers and their associates if they drive with a partner, which sometimes they do, it is reported that the numbers of truck stops is diminishing. And that, of course, means that for them to be able to fulfil their obligation by law in these rests is becoming somewhat problematic.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it’s not diminishing. It’s not increasing to the extent that it should, and that’s why I’ve introduced legislation as part of the changes to the fuel levies that were knocked back by the Senate was a $70 million safety and productivity package.

LEON BYNER: Why did they knock that back?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, they knocked it back, the Opposition, having advocated last year this very change. It was something that I inherited.

LEON BYNER: Yeah.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I added in the safety and productivity package because of the feedback I’d had from the Australian Trucking Association, as well as the union, that we needed an expansion of these – of rest stops and … in order to improve safety in the industry.

But that was knocked back in the Senate. The Government will be reintroducing it in the second half of the year, and we hope that the Opposition stops playing political games and comes to a sensible conclusion.

LEON BYNER: The other point, of course, is the registration and insurance costs which drivers – I think, whether they’re involved in the stoppage or not say – are getting to the point where they’re almost unaffordable. But I guess you would defend them as being necessary.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, of course, one of the things – registration costs, of course, go to state governments by and large. But, of course, it’s one of the dilemmas with building good roads that provide safe passage does require money. And…

LEON BYNER: The argument is, of course, Anthony, and you know this, that to see, touch and feel a good road is sometimes somewhat difficult for a truck driver who uses them regularly. They would argue that maybe the money’s not being spent on where it’s supposed to be.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well what the National Transport Commission recommendations to the former government were, and that have been adopted and agreed to, were that we have a user pays system, and that that money would go – would be used for the upgrading of roads. And I think it is critical, and part of this $70 million safety and productivity package would be for rest stops, but also for productivity improvements, such as assisting in reinforcing bridges so that trucks could do more direct routes which would improve their practices, as well as providing significant productivity improvement.

LEON BYNER: Anthony, thanks for joining us.