Joanne Ryan MP
Federal Member for Lalor
Joanne Ryan MP

Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal

I rise today to support the motion moved by the member for Perth and join her in calling on the government to retain the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal so that it can do its job to make our roads safer for all users. I note the comments by the member for Parkes and would say that I have not been here long but I have learnt one thing: defence is the best form of attack. So, yes, I too am jumping early and with good reason. Words like 'unstuck' and 'safety could be assumed to be a burden' have me on my feet today.

The passing of the original legislation in 2012 was an important moment for all Australians. It sent a clear message about the then Labor government's commitment to road safety. But more than sending a message, it ensured that action would be taken to make our roads safer. It created the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, with specific powers to ensure pay and pay related conditions for truck drivers and that they and the trucks they are driving are at their best when they are on our roads. It was introduced in response to alarming statistics in human cost. Between 2010 and 2012, around 250 people were killed and more than 1,000 suffered serious injuries on our roads in accidents involving trucks. It was the Australian industry with the highest incidence of fatal injuries, with 25 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2008-09. It was 10 times higher than the average for all industries. The legislation was passed to address specific issues: to reduce incentives for drivers to push themselves beyond what is fair, reasonable or safe to make unrealistic deadlines and a decent living; to reduce incentives to cut corners on safety and maintenance; and to make our roads safer for truck drivers and the general public.

The tribunal was created to do all that was necessary to ensure that truck drivers, whether they are an employee or a self-employed owner-driver, have a safe and fair workplace, while sustaining the long-term viability of the road transport industry. The government of the day recognised the important role of small business, particularly owner-drivers, in the road transport industry. They acknowledged that the small businesses in this sector provide flexibility for businesses to meet demand for the delivery of goods, particularly in rural and regional areas. It was noted at the time of introducing the legislation that small businesses made up around 60 per cent of the road transport industry, yet they made up far less of the income earned in that industry. The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal works with all stakeholders to ensure that pay and pay-related conditions encourage drivers to drive safely, to manage their hours, and to maintain their vehicles.

The safety of truck drivers and of the community is paramount. When your place of work is the cabin of a prime mover, work conditions and rates of pay that allow for rest are essential for your own safety, for the security of your family and for the safety of everyone else using the road. I heard the term 'road train'—long before I saw one for the first time on the Stuart Highway in 1984—from two brothers who were owner-drivers doing interstate haulage. I was taught by those same brothers to respect trucks on the road and to understand their capacities and limitations. I understand the variation of load on the way a truck manoeuvres, and I appreciate and admire the skill of experienced drivers as much as I admire those who load and secure trucks and ensure driver safety. I understand how important sleep is for truck drivers because, as a family, we lived it.

I also understand the pressures to meet the deadlines; the hours spent waiting to load and unload; the time off the road for repairs and maintenance, or because the roads are congested or flooded—and what it costs in terms of income. I understand the pressure to make the payments on the truck and to keep the business alive. I also understand the love for the work. With that, I also understand how unfair the industry can be, how cutthroat, and how an owner-driver has little time for politics, or organising, or lobbying. In my experience, there was no time for that—just the pressure to stay on the road and make a living. The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was established specifically to target this, in an industry that is essential for our economy: to make that industry safer and fairer. While the economic cost is important, it is the human cost that really counts. Very few Australians have not been affected by the loss of a loved family member, a workmate or a friend in a road accident. My family is no different; except that the one we lost was an owner-driver, thrown from his prime mover on a sweeping bend. My family have lived the nightmare of the police visit with the ghastly news. It was a single-vehicle accident so we were, thankfully, spared the worst news—that others might have been killed or injured. The effect was devastating.

As a society, we have changed the way we socialise to counter the damage of road accidents. We have spent millions of dollars on advertising and deterrence. I urge the government to let the tribunal get on with the job.


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