MONDAY, 11 APRIL 2016
SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull abolishing the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and putting the safety of truck drivers at risk; Royal Commission into banking system; climate change; high-speed rail.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody. I'm down in the Port of Melbourne talking to owner-drivers, truckies who work through the night delivering the services which Australians take for granted.
The Labor Party is going to stand up for the conditions of truck drivers and owner-operators in Australia. I do not know why Mr Turnbull is so keen to go after tradies and truckies but then not go after multinationals to pay their fair share and he wants to give the big banks a leave pass from the Royal Commission.
Anyone who tries to tell Australians that there is no link between paying owner-drivers’ and truck drivers’ low rates of pay and safety is risking the safety of Australian motorists. Let's be very clear, I asked Mr Turnbull to not use politics and safety together. If he's got a problem with truck drivers getting minimum rates of pay, he needs to sit down and talk to people. He should not be getting rid of the independent umpire.
There's an independent umpire setting the safe rates, the rates of pay for owner-drivers in Australia. It's been - this process has been under way for three years. It's demonstrated that when you pay owner-operators and truck drivers very low rates of pay, safety becomes jeopardised. Now what we have is a system of minimum conditions which are being rolled out in the truck driving industry. Truckies are not well paid by national standards and owner-operator drivers are even less well paid than employee drivers. And what happens is that you've got truckies who put their relationships under pressure, who are trying to pay the mortgage and the bills, they're forced to drive and forced to drive at very low rates of pay.
So you've got an independent tribunal, which has been established, and they've given orders for minimum conditions for owner-operators. The Government has ignored this issue until March and now they want to get rid of the independent umpire rather than deal with the real issues at stake here. Let's be really straight here, the Labor Party stands on the side of truck drivers, stands on the side of safe roads and safe rates. The Liberal Party wants to get rid of the independent umpire. And once again, it doesn't matter if it's the construction industry or the transport industry, Mr Turnbull's not on the side of truckies and tradies, but he will fight to the death to make sure that big banks don't face a Royal Commission.
Labor knows where it stands; it's on the side of everyday Australians. I'm going to ask the Shadow Minister, Brendan O'Connor, to talk further about the important link between road safety and safe rates of pay. Another happy truck driver supporting our campaign.
BRENDAN O'CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks very much Bill, it's good to be here talking to truckies about health and safety, talking about public safety and talking about ensuring that the industry is safer as a result of the decisions made when Labor were last in government to look at this issue in a temperate and considered manner.
Everybody knows that users the road, that there are times when you fear for your life because there might be people on the road that are acting in a dangerous manner, that's not just truck drivers that’s anyone, and everyone has a responsibility to improve safety on our roads. Now this decision that was determined by the independent umpire was looking to improve the lot for truckies, but also ensure that we respond to the correlation between low rates of pay and the incidence of fatalities. Too many people have died on our roads. I've met - and people have spoken to me and I've met too many widows because of people dying on roads, in some cases as a result of the fatigue of truck drivers put under enormous pressure because of the current arrangements.
Now if there are any problems with the order as far as the Prime Minister's concerned, the best thing for him to do would have been to sit down and talk to all affected parties, to work through those differences. Instead we've seen a Prime Minister willing to play with the emotions and play with people's lives. Well you don't get to play politics with safety; you should not be playing politics with people's emotions. You should be acting as a leader, and a leader would sit down, listen to everybody and work through some of these issues if they're there to be resolved. We have not seen that from this Government. We've seen the Prime Minister seek to exploit this matter, show no leadership and most remarkable of all, I think, act in an extreme and arrogant matter. I mean the fact that he doesn't agree with the decision is one thing, his response is to abolish the independent umpire because he doesn't support the decision. How arrogant, how out of touch, how extreme in his response.
We will be supporting truckies and this industry and indeed we'll be talking to the crossbenchers and others about making sure we do not see an end to the independent umpire. It's absolutely vital that we get this right. This has been in the making now for years and yet only last month the Government sort to intervene. If they had an interest in this matter they should have intervened far earlier, they should have made submissions as they capacity do on behalf of the Commonwealth. But they chose not to do that. They chose not to do that and at the eleventh hour they came in to delay the decision and then of course the Prime Minister's gone further and has threatened the abolition of the independent umpire. Well if he's willing to abolish the independent umpire for this industry because he doesn’t like the decision, what will he do when the Fair Work Commission hands down a decision on penalty rates that he doesn’t like? What will the Prime Minister seek to do if he doesn’t like the National Wage Case decision that's made? What an arrogant act but an out of touch Prime Minister, with callous disregard for truck drivers, only wanting to play politics with their emotions and play politics with safety.
SHORTEN: Thanks Brendan. Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, there obviously has been a backlash (inaudible). Will you at least consider changes (inaudible).
SHORTEN: Well first of all, Labor's position is based upon making the roads safer and getting better minimum conditions for truck drivers. That's what drives Labor in this whole argument. We want to see a better minimum deal for truck drivers and we want to see safer roads for everyone who uses them. In terms of the new system which has been three years in the making, Labor is certainly up for sensible compromise about the pace of which the new minimum conditions are rolled out. Let me repeat that - Labor's up for sensible compromise and the pace in which new overdue minimum conditions are rolled out. But what you don't do is then, if you don't like the decision, just abolish the whole system. Too many truck drivers, too many representatives, too many owner drivers, too many widows and families have seen the toll the heavy vehicle industry of that lack of safety in terms on Australia's roads. We can't afford to wind back the clock and start all again, it'd be too much work, too much research over 20 years establishing the link between low exploitative rates of pay and poor safety in the heavy vehicle industry. But when it comes to implementing the new order then of course common sense can prevail. This is the problem with Malcolm Turnbull he knows that he should just compromise. A real leader, a really fair dinkum leader in this nation would have gathered the truck driving industry together, gone through the concerns about the implementation and worked out a timetable to roll it out in a way which perhaps alleviates some of you've been raising. But a real leader doesn’t just cave into the right wing of his Liberal Party. A real leader doesn’t just for the point of trying to round up a few votes and a scare campaign for an election say they'll abolish the independent umpire. Mr Turnbull's turning his back on years and years of sensible moderate workplace relations because he's got to out Tony Abbott Tony Abbott.
JOURNALIST: What compromise would be considering on the (inaudible).
SHORTEN: Well some of the parties to the tribunal hearing have suggested a longer implementation time, I think there's some sensible food for thought on that proposal.
JOURNALIST: Would you consider lowering (inaudible).
SHORTEN: No, I'm happy to let the parties to the industry and the tribunal work out the rates that they have worked out, I'm not going to try and second guess everything that has taken years, that makes me different to Malcolm Turnbull. I don't think I'm the smartest person in the room on the truck driving industry of road safety. What I do know is that if there is concerns about implementation and people are not sure what they're meant to pay and how much and when. Well clearly then you've got to listen to that legitimate concern. But it's one thing to listen to a legitimate concern, it's one thing to broker a consensus and compromise. It's another thing to pander to the right wing of your political party and just get rid of the independent umpire. It’s another thing all together to turn your back on the fatalities in the heavy vehicle industry. This industry has 12 times the fatality rate of the average of industries across Australia. The fatality rate in heavy vehicle transport is 12 times the national average fatality rate across all industries. More and more you've got a churn or drivers in the industry because the hours are just too hard and too unforgiving on the bank balance and on the relationships and fatigue factors. So more and more, we’ve got inexperienced drivers, and a lot of the experienced men and women in this industry know this is a real problem, the high turnover. I do not know why Mr Turnbull is turning road safety, and the minimum conditions of truckies into some sort of desperate election issue. I don’t understand why the Liberals will go after tradies on building sites, truckies on our roads, yet when it comes to multinationals they’re a soft touch, and they’ll dig in to defend the big four banks. It’s got me beat as to what their priorities are.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, will Labor be holding an inquiry into Australia’s electricity industry and looking at possibly closing down [inaudible] power stations?
SHORTEN: Well we’re working on our climate polices, what I can assure Australians who want to see real action on climate change is vote Labor at the next election. We’ve already spelled out we’ll have 50 per cent of renewable energy by 2030 as part of our energy mix – that’s our goal. We’ve said that we want to be a net zero carbon emitter by 2050. Or put in plain language, we want to focus on renewable energy, it’s part of the investment wave of the future. If you want to create good jobs, if you want to give consumers power over electricity prices, and we want to encourage the expansion of renewable energy. One thing we won’t be doing is pretending like Mr Turnbull that Tony Abbott’s policies on climate change were at all effective – they simply weren’t. All the Liberals are doing is paying large polluters billions of dollars of taxpayers money for poor environmental outcomes.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] climate change policy, is that correct?
SHORTEN: Well again I’ll just refer to my previous answer. Labor will always be more trusted on climate change than the Liberal Party. The NSW Liberal Party set up a committee to investigate the science of climate change, and the Federal Council has endorsed the meeting. And the Liberal Party is still arguing about climate change. We’ve got policies focused on dealing with the costs of climate change. Climate change is not just a problem for people who live on Pacific islands – it’s a problem for Australians too. We see more extreme weather events than ever before in our industrialised history. We see debate about coral bleaching and damage to our Great Barrier Reef. The Insurance Council of Australia has done very important work projecting the increased costs in insurance if we don’t take action on climate change. For us, climate change is both a challenge and an opportunity. But there are real costs which we shouldn’t pass on lazily to our children and our grandchildren, because we don’t act now. Real costs from extreme weather events, to insurance, to the value of land in low-lying parts of coastal Australia.
But there’s also some real opportunities in climate change. The rest of the world, for the past 12 to 24 months added on over a million renewable energy jobs. Australia actually shed jobs, we lost jobs. How on earth under this Liberal Government – doesn’t matter if it’s Tony Abbott or Malcolm Turnbull, their policies are the same - did Australia go backwards on renewable energy jobs? Climate change is not just a challenge, it’s an opportunity. There’s $2.5 trillion in the future to be invested in the Asia-Pacific. Labor wants Australia to grab some of that investment for Australia. So when it comes to climate change, we’ll have more to say about our polices in the coming weeks and months before the election – but one thing’s for sure. We believe in climate change, we believe in acting on climate change, and we certainly won’t fob off for the future what this Liberal Government is refusing to do now.
JOURNALIST: In The Australian today (inaudible) high-speed rail (inaudible).
SHORTEN: Labor has been talking about a high-speed rail with much more detail, precision and commitment than the Liberals. Yet again, this is a desperate Malcolm Turnbull clutching at straws to try and shake off the tag of being a do nothing Prime Minister. But if the Liberals were so committed to high-speed rail, why did they scrap some of the funding for a high-speed rail authority which Labor previously out in place? Mr Turnbull – talk is cheap. It’s actions that really matter. And when it comes to everything from climate change to banks, Mr Turnbull talks a great talk, but he just doesn’t walk a great walk. On the banks last Wednesday, he was happy to give Westpac the bake, tell them off for what they were doing wrong, he said there are problems in the banking sector. But by Friday, when Labor chose to act, Mr Turnbull’s gone into hiding again on banking, and reverted to defending the big end of town. On climate change, before Mr Turnbull got rid of Mr Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull was the King of climate change. Now he’s the jester of climate change, he doesn’t have a serious policy, and all he is is pathetically backing Tony Abbott’s policies. And of course, when it comes to high-speed rail, Malcolm Turnbull again says oh this is a very important matter he says, but the problem is that his government that he’s come in to has been cutting back on funding for the authority which would make this dream a reality in a much sooner time than Mr Turnbull is capable of. My colleague Anthony Albanese will be speaking further about high-speed rail later this morning, but as we’ve seen, it’s all talk and no action.