I just listened closely to the member for Bendigo for 10 minutes, and I would advise her that she should start sticking up for her electorate. She should start sticking up for the family-operated mum-and-dad truck drivers in her electorate. I tell you what, Mr Deputy Speaker, I think the people of Bendigo would have been listening; they will judge her harshly at the next election.
I also hope that those who were going to put a '1' beside Senator Stephen Conroy's name will think twice. What a disgraceful example he gave in the Senate this morning. When the Governor-General, of all people, was trying to make his statement, Senator Conroy said, 'A strong Governor-General would never have copped this.' That is what he said when the Governor-General was addressing the joint houses of parliament. Then Senator Conroy referred to his speech, saying, 'How embarrassing this must be for you.' He should go into the Senate and apologise forthwith. That is disgraceful. It is undignified. It shows a lack of respect for tradition and for what this parliament stands for. But that is typical of Labor.
I listened very closely to the transport minister, Darren Chester, at the rally this morning and I did not see too many Labor members there. I listened very carefully to Minister Chester's comments. I appreciate that the member for Bendigo just referred to road safety and the number of accidents. Of course, none of us in any seat in this place or in the Senate wants to see any accidents. It is dreadful. I appreciate that driving a truck is a dangerous occupation. Minister Chester said, when addressing the rally this morning:
Let me just say a couple of things about road safety, because that seems to be the way the TWU is trying to hide what was clearly a plan to drag in more members to their union rather than anything else. There is not a person here who does not care about road safety.
And he is right. He said:
It's tragic when someone dies on our roads. You've seen it; I've seen it. We've lost friends and we've lost family. You want to get home safely to your family and friends. We want to make sure the roads are as safe as they can possibly be. That is why we have the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator in place, working with industry already. It's already doing the enforcing fatigue measure. There are already coppers on every corner enforcing speed. There are already issues around making sure your vehicles are roadworthy. The government is investing record amounts of money in road infrastructure—not enough, I accept that; there is never enough—and new rest areas. We are getting on with the job when it comes to safety. This tragic loss of life on our roads is something we all need to deal with, but there is another tragic factor the TWU never wants to talk about. In most of the accidents involving heavy vehicles the heavy vehicle driver is not at fault. The heavy vehicle driver is not at fault in the vast majority of cases. It's a sad and it's a tragic fact, but it's true.
Minister Chester is right. He is so correct.
I drove here to parliament today, very early in the morning, with Clayton Thomas of West Wyalong. It was his birthday; he turned 41 today. His wife, Naomi, and he have a 19-month-old son, Isaac. They invested heavily in a brand-new rig last October. It has already done 87,000 kilometres. He is getting on with the job, from West Wyalong, of carting goods around our country. As well as driving me here this morning as part of the anti-RSRT convoy, he wrote to me and he said:
As owner-drivers of a one-truck company this new legislation eliminates our work. We are currently working on a full-time basis with a large company, and we have been told that following the introduction of this legislation we will no longer be required for the job as they won't be paying the additional fees for their subcontractor owner-drivers. This effectively means our only means of income has been slashed, and our company will be out of work come 4 April.
As parents of a 17-month-old baby — bear in mind that it was a short time ago that he wrote to me — with two mortgages and a five-month-old truck, this is obviously of massive concern to us. These rulings are discriminatory against the owner-driver and implement an uneven playing field within the transport industry. They have resulted in us being unable to secure any future work despite extensive and exhaustive efforts to do so. Small families and rural communities rely on the lifeblood of the owner-driver.
He comes from West Wyalong, a junction of the Mid-Western and Newell highways. It is a vital transport hub. It is a vital corridor of activity and commerce in this nation. Clayton wrote:
Any assistance you can provide in overturning or obliterating this ridiculous legislation that unfairly targets the owner-driver would be greatly appreciated.
His wife had even more to say, as some of these really concerned wives of truckies do. Of course they want to see their husbands come home; they want to see their loved ones back safely. She said:
We have been in business for eight years. We have worked towards having our own business for 13 years. … This is something we believe in; this is our livelihood.
I drove in your rig this morning in your convoy; it is brand-new so this is not about road safety.
Not at all, owner drivers have probably the biggest interest in making sure that safety is adhered to. It is a priority that the trucks are in good working order; it is our livelihood.
He piped up and said:
It is our income. We have to make sure it is right, we have to make sure it is going and we have to make sure we get home.
If Bill Shorten, the member for Maribyrnong, was here, what would you say to him?
Wake up, have a look at what you are doing to the people of Australia, the ones who are out there every day working hard to earn an income. They are not sitting back taking a handout. Just have a look at what you are really doing. If you value the Australian people and their votes, have a look.
But Mr Shorten, the member for Maribyrnong, does not care about those particular votes. He does not want to have a look. All he cares about is being beholden to the unions.
We heard the minister for resources in question time today say how Mr Shorten, the member for Maribyrnong, got up at a union conference and said, 'These are the people I love being around,' just a day after they were talking about breaking the law, about union thuggery and about doing whatever it takes to get their point across. These people are workers. These people are doing their darndest to ensure that they get home safely and that they get paid a fair wage. They are happy with what they are getting. They are doing a good job. Why is Labor getting in the way?
I have heard from Shearers Road Freight of Wagga Wagga and they said the same thing. I have heard from Wayne Lewis from Coolamon, who was particularly concerned. He is a long-term truck driver who wrote to me on 18 March and said:
I attended a meeting in Wagga Wagga last night which was attended by close to 150 owner-drivers or contract drivers. The general mood, I felt, at the meeting was one confusion and total disbelief that something like this order could be brought into law.
I have to say that particular meeting to which he refers had 150 owner-drivers. It takes a lot of to get 150 owner-drivers off the road and to a meeting with very short notice. But they turned up in droves. Wayne Lewis said:
This order will without doubt increase the price of commodities that have travelled over 500 kilometres on the back of a truck in Australia. There are not too many objects that people use in their everyday lives that have not spent some time on the back of a truck. This order will also affect families whose breadwinners help to keep trucks on the road. It will affect insurance companies, it will affect finance companies and the list goes on.
We heard the Deputy Prime Minister this morning talk about the fact that it would affect so many other direct businesses such as mechanics—those people who keep the trucks on the road. Wayne Lewis said:
Have you people on this tribunal really given any in-depth thought to what you have created?
They probably have not because even though they are at arm's length of government, this was a Labor inspired, Labor conspired, Labor set-up tribunal. Wayne Lewis asked me:
Why does everything have to be so complicated? Why not just have an ombudsman that people can go to if they have a grievance about unsafe rates? It would be a lot more simple than this order that is now unfortunately law and that you have given birth to. I suppose we have the TWU and the Labor Party to thank for this fiasco.
Wayne, yes, you do. He said:
Speaking of the TWU, I cannot really believe that an organisation such as theirs could hate a group of people, owner-drivers and their families, so much that they could instigate something as woeful as this. If they are trying to get owner-drivers on-side, I suggest they go back to the drawing board because this type of bullying will never make me want to be part of their little gang. How do I explain to a hirer that, instead of a tonnage rate or a cubic rate which they now pay, they are going to have to pay a kilometre rate and an hourly rate as well? What happens on a journey if the truck is held up through no fault of the driver, for example, for a flood, roadworks, accident or even law enforcement officers? Does this mean that I have to go back to the hirer and say to them that they owe me more money because the trip took longer because of these unforeseen circumstances?
It is a good question.
This order is going to create a lot of unnecessary paperwork, which is something the transport industry already has too much of.
Thank goodness for this side of politics, the government, which has been getting in and getting rid of much of the regulation in the red tape burden and the bureaucracy that bogs down small business. The reason we do that is because we want government to get out of the way as much as possible from business getting on with the job of moving goods around Australia, getting on with the job of hiring more people.
There were 301,000 more full-time jobs created last year because the Liberal-Nationals are in government. The other side just want to create more red tape. The other side just want to be beholden to their union mates to make sure that they get elected again because most of them are former union officials. Most of the people on our side of politics are former small business people. We understand business. We understand how important it is for the economy to make sure that the lifeblood of the nation, those truck drivers driving up and down the arterial roads, are getting the goods to market, to make sure that those mum-and-dad operators are able to continue to do the job that they have been doing so well for so long.
In 2012 the Labor government introduced a Road Safety Remuneration Act based on very limited, very dated academic research suggesting that if you pay a truckie more, they will drive slower and work fewer hours. I was in a truck this morning with Clayton Thomas, and the trucks are governed to not go over 100 kilometres an hour. If you go down into Victoria, where they are very stringent on these things, and you drive 103 kilometres an hour even downhill, even with a full load, they will book you. So we know that this is not about road safety; this is about being beholden to the unions.
I heard the member for Ballarat having a go at Minister Chester during a division this morning about a particular truck accident, not knowing all the facts. It was not the poor truckie's fault. When this bill, as it should, gets thrown out of parliament and the Senate actually agrees with the coalition government on this, I hope, if there is a future accident, that Labor does not use this as a political plaything and say, 'There you go; that death was your fault because you removed the Road Safety Remuneration Act.' I do hope that does not happen because road safety should not be a political plaything. This is a union plaything; we know that. When the act passed parliament the member for Maribyrnong said that the Labor government:
… is committed to ensuring the long-term viability of the road transport industry but that does not have to be at the expense of truck drivers, whether employees or self-employed, having a safe and fair workplace.
We want truck drivers, owner-operators, mum and dad truckies to have a fair and safe workplace. We want to make sure that they are paid at the rate that they ought to be paid at. But after almost four years of operation, it is becoming very clear that the rationale that Labor or relied on to convince the parliament to pass the act is just not true.
Senator Nick Xenophon, who voted in favour of this legislation, said at the rally this morning, 'I was sold a pup.' He admitted he was wrong. I will not say he begged forgiveness for having voted in favour of the legislation, but he did say that he was sorry. He told the truck drivers—good people—this morning. As Minister Chester said, at this very spot in question time, 'In public life we all make mistakes'. Labor should come in and admit they have made a mistake, but they will not, because they are so rusted on to their crony union mates. I can say that. I was a member of a union for 21 years. I know that unions play a part in society, but everything should be in moderation—and this is not in moderation! This is not about moderation; this is about screwing down the mum and dad truck driver owner-operators in the Riverina, in New South Wales and in Australia, in getting them off the road and getting more members in the TWU. What a disgrace. That is why we are here debating it. That is why we need to throw this legislation out. The member for Bendigo and all those other regional Labor members—thank goodness there are not many of them—should get on board with us.