It gives me great pleasure to stand and give my comments on the Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill 2016 in this cognate debate.
Before I start, I want to acknowledge the owner-operators in the gallery. Thank you very much for your commitment. It gives great weight to the debate to have you in the chamber to witness firsthand the frustrations and machinations of this House. It gives you the opportunity to see the quality of debate from both sides of the House and how disconnected it can be from the reality of the issue that is before you.
I want to pick up on the comments of one of the previous speakers in the House who I have regard for, the member for Moreton, when he said that there was almost no experience in the House. Well, this year I celebrate my 24th year in the transport industry. I employ 10 drivers around the state. My wife runs that business successfully today. My brother is in the industry. My grandfather before us was in the industry. He had the sole contract on the railway yards at Rockhampton. In addition, he had a furniture removal business. If you are ever in Toowoomba, take the opportunity to duck into the Toowoomba heritage village where you will find a Cobb and Co. style horse-drawn carriage labelled 'Buchholz Transport'. So transport is in my family's blood. Transport is still the vehicle that allows me the privilege of standing and defending an industry which I think has been harshly dealt with.
The legislation that I intend to speak to today I believe not only disrupts the industry but also is disgraceful in its intent where it discriminates against a group of owner-drivers in the way it was prepared. At every step since the bill came into the House in 2012 I have spoken against it because I saw the damage that it would do to the market and the ramifications that that would have for owner-drivers, their families and the sector. Without owner-drivers in that particular sector, taking that competition out of the market, Australians would be worse off in having the larger companies slowly ratchet up their prices.
Do not take my word for it. In the last 48 hours we have seen over 200 protesting drivers here in Canberra making their point. This morning there were another 40 drivers. Forty was the number because it was limited by the Australian Trucking Association, which held a function here in Canberra. It is a small world. When I went down to the showground this morning to get into a truck—lo and behold!—there was an operator who delivered product on a nightly basis to one of my Toowoomba depots 15 years ago. It was great to catch up with him. I thank Mark Curtis for the work that he has done in leaving his family and coming down here. He was in two minds as to whether or not he would travel. But he was happy that he had made the journey because he knows that he is making a contribution to the national debate.
In addition to the conversations that are happening here in Canberra on the national debate, the state of Queensland is also alive with owner-operators voicing their concerns. I know it is happening all around Australia. We have seen rallies conducted right around this great country of ours. In my electorate alone, a number of people have contacted my office. I am just going to give a quick overview of the style of commentary that people have given so that from the Hansard people can get an idea of the flavour of what the owner-drivers think of this piece of legislation.
Keith Davies said, 'Get rid of it.' Anthony Dodds said, 'Why?' Paul Spring said, 'How can this happen?' Luke Rickuss said, 'It must go.' Glenn Smith said, 'I'm worried.' Kim Wilkie said, 'I'm gone.' Bob Ward said, Paula Lee and Geoff Silcock said, 'This is a joke.' Warren Ahern said, 'You've got to do something about it, Scotty.' Denis Peta Fisher, Wayne Schultz, Sioban Banner and Steve Greer said, 'This is crazy legislation.' Steve Smith has contacted my office on over 10 occasions. There have been dozens more. Hansard would not allow me to repeat some of the colourful commentary that has been delivered by such enthusiastic representatives of the owner-driver industry.
Why are they so upset? Why would an industry explode virtually overnight? It is because they know that this terrible piece of legislation which has come into effect as of 1 April as an order by the tribunal is going to be unworkable and will price this particular sector out of the market. The government gave evidence at that tribunal and tried in its capacity to give evidence to push the remuneration start date back out to 1 April next year.
You have heard commentary today about how we should enter into a more conciliatory and conversational dialogue with the tribunal. Let me assure you that that dialogue has happened, and that the dialogue from the owner-operators and peak industries has fallen on deaf ears. We heard one of the crossbenchers, who was in here before and who previously supported the application, talk about a heightened level of arrogance from the tribunal and how that had forced him to change his position. He is now supporting the industry. In addition to that, the online rate remuneration calculator was published not 28 days beforehand, and it was on the back of that we, as a government, made the decision that we would push this start date back out.
As the energy in and around this movement became greater and greater, we could not support anything other than abolishing this tribunal. I want to acknowledge the Prime Minister for his nimbleness and agility—to be able to see this problem, address it and nip it in the bud. Senator Cash, from Western Australia, has done an outstanding job in leading the charge. The sector, I can assure you, are terrified. They are worried about the financial pressures that this tribunal will place on their businesses. How are they going to make their truck payments? I know that there are drivers now who are already touching base with their banks, looking for extensions on payments and being knocked back. That truck is often the first and only source of revenue for a household; mortgage payments and school fees are linked to that revenue. This tribunal does not save lives; it destroys lives. It destroys lives and it destroys businesses in our economy. That is what motivates me to stand here and speak against it.
One of the downsides of the tribunal is that the remuneration calculator only affects owner-drivers. When you have two sectors of the market, company drivers and owner-drivers, and only owner-drivers are forced to quote an inflated rate, even if you look at the minutiae of how a rate is calculated—historically, an owner-driver would quote to a potential client a per kilometre rate for a long haul trip, the deal would be done and away you would go. Under the current rate remuneration tribunal online calculator, effectively you are unable to deliver a quote until you get home. That does not work for small business. The variables that have been imposed in the market are unworkable, and it is those very points that have generated a level of enthusiasm in the sector for them to rise up and say that this is unfair. And it is unfair, because it does not allow the market forces to play out in their own right. When you have owner-drivers compelled to quote an inflated rate but the rest of the market can quote a much lower rate, then you can only make the assumption, and support the cynic's point of view, that the legislation was designed for no other reason but to drive the owner-operators out of the market. That is not good for Australian business, it is not good for our nation and it is not good for our country.
How can those on the other side say that they are supporting the sector by introducing a fair rate tribunal, when all this tribunal is doing is sending owner-drivers broke? Effectively, yes, you will save lives, because there will be no iron ore operators left on the road. This single policy is up there with some of the worst policy positions that we have seen from those on the other side of the House. We saw the mining tax that raised no money. We saw the insulation program that burnt many hundreds of homes to the ground. We saw the effect the policy of that side of the House had on the live cattle export ban—devastating hundreds and hundreds of small businesses. We saw the effect the policy position of those on the other side had when over 50,000 illegal immigrants came to this country via our shores.
I have had no-one—not one person—reach out to my office, either in Beaudesert in my electorate or here in Canberra. I have not had one person from the sector ring me up and say: 'The Safe Rates Remuneration Tribunal must stay. It's wonderful for the industry'—not one. Too many drivers are now parked up, not earning a brass razoo and uncertain of what their financial security looks like. That is why there must be an element of urgency around eliminating this tribunal.
I encourage the government, when considering getting rid of this tribunal, to remember that it does not only affect the owner-drivers but that there also is a flow-on effect that goes with it. You have your mechanical services. I had the opportunity to speak with Ron Smith of Smith's Mechanical from Peak Crossing the other day. He suggested that if this order was to come into effect and this tribunal was not to be abolished, then he would lose up to 30 per cent of his business as an unintended consequence of owner-drivers being forced off the road. That would result in him having to put off workers in a local area where he is, potentially, the largest mechanical workshop in the district. No-one should stand in this place and put their hand on their heart and say that that is good for our country. I will vote to abolish this tribunal. I will keep fighting for our owner-drivers because transport is in my blood.
I want to acknowledge the crossbenchers and, in particular, the bravery that was shown by those crossbenchers in this House who initially supported the bill. They have seen a light at the end of the tunnel; they have seen the failings of this. While those honourable members on the other side of the House had good intentions, the execution of this tribunal has led, potentially, to the death knell of a sector that deserves to be treated better, that deserves the economic freedom to be able to operate on our roads legally and profitably. I will condemn those from the crossbench who do not support this industry, who make the conscious decision that owner-operators should be forced off the road. I will condemn them because this industry has a role to play in our economy.
I want to acknowledge the crossbenchers in the Senate who made the journey down to the front lawns this morning and who, in some cases, supported this tribunal in previous circumstances. I offer them my thanks for changing their position to bring this terrible tribunal to its finality. Unfortunately, this tribunal in its current form destroys lives.
I will finish up by saying there is work that needs to be done on safe rates in this industry. I will work with the industry to try to find what those nuances look like into the future. But we need to give the industry some breathing space and the opportunity not to have over 20,000 second-hand trucks pushed back onto the market and not to have banks screaming at homeowners who are forced out of their homes, which will be repossessed as a result of the homeowners' only source of revenue being taken from them. That enthuses me to walk into this place every day. While I have breath in my body, I will fight for this sector. I believe in it. It has been very good to me. It has been very good to my family over many generations, and I know that the people who operate in this sector are decent people and deserve the right to be heard. I commend this bill to the House.