SUBJECT/S: New report on impact of Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal on owner-drivers.
MINISTER MCCORMACK: I thank you all for coming today. I am pleased to be joined by the Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash and the Minister for Infrastructure & Transport, Darren Chester.
We are here today to announce the report by the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman’s Inquiry into the effect of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal’s Payments Order on Australian small businesses has been completed.
I will start by introducing the inquiry, Minister Cash will then speak about the impacts the Payments Order had on people’s lives and effects on their families. Minister Chester will then comment on the safety implications of the Payments Order.
We will be happy to take questions after we have all spoken.
The Contractor Driver Minimum Payments Road Safety Remuneration Order 2016 was issued by the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal on the 18th of December, 2015.
Following significant industry concern, the former Minister for Small Business Kelly O’Dwyer requested the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell, to conduct an Inquiry into the effect on Australian small businesses of the Payments Order.
The Payments Order took effect on the 7th of April 2016, for a brief time, before the RSRT was abolished, ceasing operations on the 21st of April 2016.
The Payments Order set minimum rates of pay on a per kilometre and per hour basis for contractor drivers undertaking routes either in supermarket distribution or long distance operations.
As the Minister for Small Business, the Small Business Ombudsman has provided me with her completed inquiry, which I tabled in the House of Representatives last night.
I thank Kate Carnell for conducting the Australia-wide inquiry and the work she has undertaken.
The Government response to this inquiry will be announced when we have analysed and considered all of the Ombudsman’s findings.
I do however want to bring your attention to the inquiry today, as elements of it are alarming and damning.
I will hand over to Minister Cash.
MINISTER CASH: Thank you Minister McCormack. I too welcome the report into the impact of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal’s payment order by the Small Business Ombudsman Kate Carnell.
There is no doubt that this report and its findings are absolutely devastating.
The report also confirms that the Government made the right decision in moving swiftly to abolish earlier this year the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and put an end to this devastating payments order.
It is a well-known fact and it is now confirmed by this report, that the payments order caused crippling financial hardship and emotional distress to the thousands of owner drivers.
The payments order was bad for small business, it was bad for truck drivers, it was bad for their families and it was bad for the Australian economy.
When you read the report and the report will be available later on today, what strikes you more than anything is the human impact that the road safety remuneration tribunal had on these truck drivers. Quote after quote in the report tells of the negative consequences resulting from the order on people’s lives including their mental health, their relationships and their finances. Many people lost their livelihoods as a result of this payments order.
Perhaps though the most perverse element of this sorry saga as we know, was that the damage inflicted by Labor’s RSRT was done under the guise of safety. The report outlines that this was wrong.
Let us be clear in terms of the history of the road safety remuneration tribunal. The RSRT was established in 2012 by Bill Shorten at the request and the behest of the Transport Workers Union. Nothing more and nothing less.
The payments order that was handed down at the end of last year was designed to push owner-drivers out of business and encourage them to take up work into the employ of the large transport companies because then, of course, it makes it a lot easier to unionise that workforce.
The Government was not going to stand by and watch the livelihoods of these great Australians, Australians who carry our economy, be devastated and destroyed because of a political decision made by Bill Shorten in kowtowing to yet another union.
As Minister McCormack has outlined, in April of this year with support of the former crossbench we managed to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and the payments order and save the livelihoods of these small businesses.
Senator Xenophon himself was one of the cross benchers who had initially voted for the establishment of the road safety remuneration tribunal, but when he listened to the impact that the payments order was having on these businesses, he realised, he listened and he understood and he knew that we needed to abolish the tribunal.
Senator Xenophon did the right thing and he supported the Government in its efforts, he apologised.
Now today with the handing down of the release of the Small Business Ombudsman’s report, it is also time for Bill Shorten to stand up and do the right thing.
Bill Shorten made it very clear that prior to the July election that if Labor had been elected they would have returned immediately the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and the devastating payments order.
Well I say to Bill Shorten, read the report, if you don’t believe this evidence than quite frankly you won’t believe anything.
Do the right thing now, do what Nick Xenophon did, stand up and support the owner drivers, admit you were wrong and give a clear undertaking to the tens of thousands of owner drivers across Australia, the small businesses they support and their families, that never again will you kowtow to the TWU and commit to them that never again will the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal ever rear its ugly head again.
In terms of the report, it is impossible to read this report and not feel great empathy for the men and women whose lives have been turned upside by this unnecessary ordeal.
I reconfirm on behalf of the Turnbull Government that we will support towner drivers every step of the way, we abolished the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and under this Government it will never ever again see the light of day.
Minister Chester will now make some comments.
MINISTER CHESTER: Thank you Minister Cash and Minister McCormack, and I think this demonstrates again the Liberal and National parties are the parties of small business and this report vindicates the stance we took. There are fundamental differences between the stance of the Coalition and the stance of the Labor Party in relation to this issue.
We believe and understand that you can actually save lives on our roads without sacking owner-drivers. There is nothing to suggest that owner-drivers are poorer drivers - but the RSRT discriminated against owner-drivers and targeted them all in the guise of safety.
The RSRT had nothing to do with safety whatsoever.
We are addressing road safety concerns in the heavy vehicle sector (indistinct)....safer drivers on safer roads in safer vehicles and we will continue to pursue that agenda as a national government. We have a $50 billion Infrastructure Investment Programme which is changing lives around our nation and saving lives and we will continue to invest and deliver for the Australian people in that regard.
I want to point out that in terms of the heavy vehicle sector, the practical work we are doing in terms of road widening, road strengthening, freeway duplications, new rest areas and making sure the heavy vehicle sector is well considered in our road safety plans.
The money saved by the abolishment of the RSRT – the $4 million a year – has been given to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator to invest in road safety improvements for the heavy vehicle sector. That $4 million will be used for point-to-point camera technology, working with the heavy vehicle sector on ways to improve interaction with light vehicle drivers around heavy vehicles etc.
The final point I want to make is that while there are heavy vehicle crashes occurring at a rate which is too high for our liking, in the vast majority of cases for heavy vehicles involved in a crash, it’s actually the light vehicle driver who’s found to be at fault and that’s a challenge for us all to take greater responsibility as we use our road network and how we interact around heavy vehicles and take responsibility for our own actions on the road.
JOURNALIST: Minister Cash, what’s the evidence the Road Safety order was the cause of hardship, rather than underlying conditions in the industry, including low pay before the order was in effect?
MINISTER CASH: The report itself clearly highlights that safety was used as an excuse to bring in this order. The report itself highlights that the impact of the payments order was discriminatory.
It only applied to one sector of the market and that was owner-drivers. It forced them to accept a payment term that they did not want to accept and it ensured that they became uncompetitive.
JOURNALIST: But that doesn’t the answer the question, the order was only in effect for two weeks, doesn’t that suggest that owner-drivers were already heavily indebted and desperate because of low pay and conditions in the industry before the order was in place.
MINISTER CASH: These people are small business men and women, they choose to be owner-drivers and run their own businesses. In terms of the evidence that we have, once the impact of the order became clear and that was before April of this year, the owner drivers made it very clear to us they were already being told by the contractors they would not have jobs if and when they had to charge those rates.
In terms of the evidence that we had, it was from the owner-drivers themselves telling us the work was drying up and there would literally be nothing left for them on the day that the payments order came into being. This report now confirms in black and white that is exactly what occurred.
Lives were devastated.
JOURNALIST: Doesn’t that constitute anecdotal evidence people saying that they wouldn’t have had enough work to stay afloat
MINISTER CASH: When you are a small business person that is no longer going to be offered work, and they have been told that by the person who would normally be offering them work, that is not anecdotal evidence.
Unlike Labor, we believe what we were being told by the owner-drivers. We acted, the crossbench also listened very carefully to the owner drivers and worked with us.
What we have now releasing this report today is absolute confirmation that the actions of the Turnbull Government took at the time were the right actions and we have literally saved tens of thousands of jobs as a result of abolishing the payments order.
JOURNALIST: Minister Cash how many suicides would you attribute to this owner driver truck saga?
MINISTER CASH: You are right. The report unfortunately does make mention that there were suicides as a result of the impact of the payments order. This is obviously devastating for all of us.
In terms of the numbers I cannot comment on the numbers, I will let the report speak for itself.
JOURNALIST: Minister Chester and Minister Cash, you said there is no link between pay and safety for owner-drivers, but the two reports the Government commissioned before the election including the Jaguar report said that there was a statically significant link between pay and safety. Why do you accept the anecdotal evidence in this report rather than that evidence?
MINISTER CASH: I disagree with the premise in your question. The reports did not find that conclusively at all, it was merely commentary in the reports. As Minister Chester has clearly outlined and as is now found in this Small Business Ombudsman’s report, in terms of road safety, to bring in a Tribunal under the guise of road safety and say that by paying owner drivers more you are suddenly going to make our roads safer when the owner drivers will be the first people to put their hands up and tell you, safety is paramount, it is a paramount consideration for them.
The truck is their life, it is their business they want to to go home to their families at night and they actually took it as an absolute insult that the Labor party and Bill Shorten would say to them, we need to pay you more and in paying you more you are suddenly going to become safer?
The report clearly highlights that this is a fundamentally flawed premise. I will let Minister Chester make some comments in terms of where the actual issues of safety are better addressed.
MINISTER CHESTER: Thank you Minister Cash. The issue of road safety is of paramount importance to the Commonwealth and other state jurisdictions.
Over the past 12 months, tragically we’ve seen an increase in road fatalities and serious injuries in our nation. To the end of June this year 1,292 people have died on Australian roads. After decades of improvements in reducing road trauma in Australia we have actually seen an increase of about 10 per cent in the past 12 months. That’s why I’ve called a meeting of all State Ministers for later on this year with an absolute focus on road safety and trying to bring together the best and brightest minds in Australia on this very issue.
We are not achieving the level we have achieved in the past in terms of reducing serious injuries on our roads or reducing fatalities on our roads. In the heavy vehicle sector there has been some improvement though over the past couple of years and while every serious injury, every fatality is a cause for great angst and concern for governments and for communities and for the families
impacted, we do need to work harder in terms of having a national conversation and a renewed focus on road safety.
As I said in my opening comments it’s not about a single solution, it’s about having a whole safe system approach and that involves having safer drivers, it involves having safer vehicles and having safer roads and we’ve got to approach all three of those equally if we are going to see real reductions in road trauma.
In terms of the heavy vehicle more specifically, our focus is on practical measures – having more and better rest areas so drivers can take a rest when they need it and actually get a decent rest when they take those breaks. It’s making sure that we have a safer road environment for them to do their work in and it’s also making sure that light vehicle operators – the mums and dads driving their cars – understand that when you interact with heavy vehicles what limitations those heavy vehicles have.
There are parts of a heavy vehicle where you can’t see a light vehicle and people need to understand that, so when you’re interacting with heavy vehicles, pulling out, going around and stopping in front of them very quickly is very dangerous manoeuvre. So it’s an educational issue and that’s why we’re talking to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator about a national campaign in relation to that, how to improve the interaction of light vehicle operators with our heavy vehicle sector.
JOURNALIST: Given the hardship that has been caused by a government decision, is an assistance package or compensation part of the consideration for the owner drivers?
MINISTER MCCORMACK: The Government is considering the report and its findings, there are 14 recommendations that the Government is considering.
There isn’t a compensation package, the fact is we have abolished the RSRT, the fact is the Lberal Nationals government has said the RSRT will not come back under any circumstance under any Government that we are in.
I just want to pick up the point about the anecdotal evidence, I have never seen as a member for six year in this place the sorts of heartbreaking, heart wrenching letters that I received via email, via post, via telephone call.
Often you get form letters, conspired by getup, conspired by the unions, these were heartfelt letters from people such as Wayne Lewis from Coolum, such as Clayton and Naomi Thomas who have a 17 month year old from West Wylong, such as Alan Shearer from Wagga Wagga.
I know Darren and Michaelia have letters also from their constituents, from their people.
These people were forced off the road, these people couldn’t do backloads, their work dried up these people are safety conscious. Safety is their number one thing and they were forced off the road and forced out of business.
They don’t want that, we don’t want that. Australia doesn’t need that. Our truckies are the lifeblood of this nation, they keep this nation moving, they keep supermarket shelves stocked, they are, I cannot emphasise how much that safety means to them and to be put out of work, 62,000 of them was beyond comprehension and as Minister Cash said, Bill Shorten needs to come out today, he needs to acknowledge this report and he needs to apologise and he also needs to confirm that this will not in any way shape or form occur under any future government.
JOURNALIST: Back on to suicide quickly would you go as far to say the tribunal, Labor and the unions have blood on their hands.
MINISTER CASH: I will let the report speak for itself, once you have read the report you will come to your own conclusions. In terms of the broader principle on the impact that it had, it was a devastating impact, clearly outlined in the report and that is why we moved so quickly to abolish the RSRT in April of this year. Thank you.