Road Safety

I spoke in parliament today on road safety.

Road Safety Remuneration (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill 2012
13 March 2012

We have all seen horrific images of fatal motor vehicle accidents, the twisted and torn remains of cars, the spray of shattered glass that marks the sites and that look of shock, anguish and disbelief on people's faces. Every death that occurs on the roads is not just the tragic loss of one person's life. Rather, it spreads ripples right through the community. It is children who grow up without a parent; it is family birthday celebrations without an aunt or an uncle; it is the distinctive laugh of a friend no longer heard at Friday night drinks. That is why the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011 and the Road Safety Remuneration (Consequential Amendments and Related Provisions) Bill 2011 are so important. These bills address the heartbreaking loss and tragedy of the road toll and its far-reaching cost to the nation.

Workplace health and safety reform has been a core part of the work of this government. No matter what job you do, when you go to work you should expect to come home at the end of the day. The men and women who are our valued transport workers deserve that peace of mind. And their families deserve it do. I am proud to represent in this place the Australian Labor Party, a party that was formed to represent the interests of working people 121 years ago. That is our heritage. It is a heritage that we do not shy away from. We will defend it at every turn. This legislation is 21st century Labor values in action, protecting the interests of workers on the road.

The statistics of the road toll are chilling. The road toll has declined substantially over recent decades but it is still the case that in an average week four people are killed and another 80 are seriously injured. Last year, 1,368 Australians lost their lives on the roads and many more were hospitalised. The road transport industry has the highest incidence of fatal injuries. In 2008-09, that industry had 25 deaths per 100,000 workers. That is an astonishingly high death toll for any industry. It is 10 times the average. According to the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, that imposes a cost on the Australian economy of $2.7 billion a year.

Substantial work has been done on the relationship between remuneration and safety. In the case of R v. Randall John Harm in 2005, Justice Graham found that the truck drivers had intolerable pressure placed upon them to get produce to the markets or goods to their destination. In 2008, the National Transport Commission reviewed remuneration and safety in the Australian heavy vehicle industry. It found that commercial arrangements between parties about the transport of freight have a significant influence on road safety. Drivers often find themselves at the bottom of the contracting chain. They do not have the commercial ability to demand rates that would let them perform their work safely and legally. Owner drivers are often forced to accept work at the going rate or end up with no work at all. Remuneration for owner drivers tends to be low and working hours can be extraordinarily long.

A major issue for owner drivers is unpaid queuing times. The National Road Transport Operators Association estimates that distribution centres regularly require drivers to wait up to 10 hours before loading or unloading.

Many are not paid for the waiting time—cannot even claim the waiting time as an official rest break—and that impacts on their income and it impacts on their fatigue management. That means that these drivers are losing 10 hours of driving time and that creates a perverse incentive for them to make up for lost time either by driving additional hours, speeding or contravening mandatory fatigue management systems.

A study funded by New South Wales WorkCover found that truck drivers were frequently forced to break driving regulations in order to make a living. It found that 60 per cent of drivers admitted to nodding off at the wheel over the last 12 months. Drivers in that study were working an average of 68 hours a week. Almost a third told the study—anonymously, though, of course—that they were breaking driving laws and doing more than 72 hours a week. Only 25 per cent of those drivers reported to be paid for waiting times. Almost 60 per cent of drivers were not paid for loading or unloading.

This bill ensures that we have safer roads not only for drivers but for all Australians. The economic and social cost of unsafe roads is massive for drivers, their families and the general community. The road transport industry knows this. They know that their industry is one of the most dangerous in Australia. That is why the Gillard government is committed to introducing a safe remuneration system for drivers. I commend the minister at the table, Mr Shorten, for his hard work in making this happen.

This bill addresses the root causes of unsafe driving practices. It addresses the underlying economic factors that create an incentive for unsafe road practices or inadvertently encourage them. It will establish the National Road Safety Remuneration System, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and a separate education and compliance framework. The tribunal will include members from Fair Work Australia along with independent work, health and safety experts. We have determined that a sector of the industry that has poor safety outcomes as a result of low remuneration will be able to make a road safety remuneration order to improve the onroad safety outcomes for drivers operating in that sector. This system is scheduled to commence on 1 July 2012.

Michael Belzer, in his paper to the Safe Rates Summit in 2011 titled 'The Economics of Safety: How Compensation Affects Commercial Motor Vehicle Driver Safely', said the following:

'Higher driver pay is associated with safer operations. Clearly the more drivers are paid, and the more they are paid for their non-driving time, the less likely they are to have crashes'

He went on to say:

'If the fundamental exigencies of markets work at all, then a cargo owners' need for lowest price will lead to a race to the bottom and safety will suffer. Because economic forces are involved, economic solutions must be considered.'

I want to speak to some of the objections that have been made to this bill. The Australian Logistics Council is opposed to the measures in this bill. Their managing director, Michael Kilgariff, has said that rather than improving safety the bill merely adds another layer of regulation. He has claimed that it will impede industry efforts to improve safety. I acknowledge the work that the ALC has done in their Retail Logistics Supply Chain Code of Conduct. That is a code that covers safe scheduling, loading of vehicles, securing loads and driving plans. I very much appreciate the work that has been done by Michael Kilgariff and other members of his staff, such as Alicia Hewitt, but I do believe that this bill is an important step in contributing to safer roads.

Evidence demonstrates we need a different approach to get safer practices in the road transport industry. Michael Belzer, who I quoted before, has a 2006 study that demonstrates that every 10 per cent more that drivers earn in pay is associated with a 19 per cent reduction in the chance that they will have a crash. Every 10 per cent more paid days off reduces the probability of driver crashes by six per cent.

New South Wales Deputy Coroner Dorelle Pinch's findings into the deaths of drivers Anthony Forsythe, Barry Supple and Timothy John Walsh found:

'As long as driver payments are based on a (low) rate per kilometre there will always be an incentive for drivers to maximise the hours they drive, not because they are greedy but simply to earn a decent wage.'

A 2011 survey by the Transport Workers Union of Australia found that 48 per cent of drivers have almost one day a week in unpaid working time. It found 56 per cent of owner-drivers have to forego vehicle maintenance because of the need to keep working; 27 per cent felt they had to drive too fast; and 40 per cent felt pressured to drive longer than legally allowed.

Andrew Villas, a former driver, testified to the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission:

'When I was required to perform excessive hours I would sometimes experience a state of mind that I can only describe as hallucinations, which I considered to be due to sleep deprivation. I would see trees turning into machinery, which would lift my truck off the road. I saw myself run over motorcycles, cars and people ... I estimate that I had experiences like these roughly every second day. They were not an uncommon thing for me ...'

If ever there were dangerous and unsafe working conditions they are the ones which Mr Villas has described. This government is not prepared to sit back and ignore such risks to transport workers, their families and the general public.

Many members and employees of the Transport Workers Union live in Fraser. They include ACT bus drivers, truckies and paramedics. I would like to especially thank Klaus Pinkas, the Secretary of the ACT sub-branch of the Transport Workers Union and his team. I know he has worked with community transport workers for fair and safe conditions. He has been a strong advocate for their rights and for their workplace needs. I would like to thank Klaus for the conversations that we have had about this bill and his hard work in making it happen.

One of the duties that I am pleased to have as the member for Fraser is to chair the ACT Black Spot Consultative Committee, a federally funded program which each year spends $1 million making ACT roads safer. It is a terrific program because we ensure that every dollar spent produces at least $2 of public benefits.

We cannot fund the black spot remediation program unless the cost-benefit study comes back with at least a two-to-one return. So it is always a pleasure, as part of that committee, to be able to see federal government funds go where they are needed most, whether that is fixing up signage, adding line markings and frangible posts, or ensuring that roads are safer for motorcyclists and for bicyclists. All of the programs that we fund through the Black Spot Program go to making sure that the ACT's roads are safer.

As the Prime Minister has said, ‘Australia's truck drivers work hard to make a living. But they should not have to die to make a living.’ We on this side of the House have the interests of workers in everything we do. The Labor Party, as its name suggests, is the party of work. We are the party of workers. That is why we want transport workers to go to work, come home safely and receive fair pay for their day's work. And, for those who are opposing this bill, I have one question: would you let someone, a worker, near you, who might injure you, who had not slept for long enough? Would you, for example, let a surgeon operate on you who was beginning to hallucinate because they had been working for too long? Driving up to 62 tonnes of heavy vehicle is a position of equal responsibility and skill.

For the first time, under this bill, we will have a proper national approach that can examine all of the factors that contribute to the carnage in the industry, and the power to enforce solutions. This government is looking after those at the bottom of the contracting chain so they receive a fair day's pay to do their work safely and legally. There is too much death and too much injury on our roads and in the road transport industry. I sincerely hope that this bill can make a difference in bringing down the road toll. I commend the bill to the House.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.