Transcript: Press conference on Road Safety Remuneration Bill

19 March 2012

SUBJECT:     Road Safety Remuneration Bill   

BILL SHORTEN:  I'm pleased to report that the House of Representatives has today voted to make Australia's roads safer. We've just passed the Road Safety Remuneration Bill, which will ensure that truck drivers, road users have the safest possible conditions on our roads. All Australians use Australia's roads. Australia's roads though are work places for some. We understand that sorting out and making sure that truck drivers have better safety isn't going to prevent all injuries and fatalities on roads, road safety's a complex issue.

But what we also understand is that this Government wants to make sure that Australia's roads are safe for both truck drivers and the rest of us who use them. Two-hundred-and-fifty people being killed across Australia on roads, two-hundred-and-fifty being killed annually on Australia's roads in connection with heavy vehicle collisions, a thousand people being seriously injured; literally the road toll which is happening related to the workplace and trucks needs to be tackled and needs to be tackled for every level of government including the Federal Government.

So, today the Government has succeeded negotiating passage through the House of Representatives legislation which will make roads safer. I'd like to put on record my recognition of the work of the Minister for Transport, Anthony Albanese but I'd also like to put on record my recognition of the work done by the Member for Hinkler, Paul Neville, he's a National Party member, but his work that he did with Deputy Chairman Steve Gibbons, the Member for Bendigo several years ago when a Parliamentary committee started to draw light on this matter.

But I'd also like to put on record my acknowledgement of the Transport Workers Union of Australia and the various road industrial organisations, from the employers who've supported this. I'd also like to recognise the leadership of individual companies great and small in the transport industry, not the least of which is Linfox, they've said that we need to do more than we're currently doing to make our roads and our transport industry safer.

Today the Parliament of Australia has voted to make sure that more Australians who start work at the start of their shift come home safely. Happy to take any questions.

QUESTION:  The Government's committed to cutting red tape. Doesn't this really strangle a lot of smaller businesses, small trucking businesses?

BILL SHORTEN: Well, we want to cut the crime scene tape on Australia's roads. There's a bit more tape which is important than anything else, that is of safety. A thousand seriously injured people every year adds up to hundreds of millions of dollars. It's estimated in the most recent numbers we have that heavy vehicle collisions cost $2.7 billion. Workplace safety generally in Australia doesn't get the sort of attention which it deserves from the media. $60 billion is the cost of work safe injuries generally; $2.7 billion in the transport industry alone.

The new tribunal will take into account the needs of industry. Transport's not monolithic. Indeed in the speeches that have been given in the House, we recognise that there's plenty of subsets within transport but one would not want to sacrifice safety on an argument of cost, because in fact the greatest cost isn't even the economic cost which is proven, how do you measure the cost to a family of a driver who doesn't come home that night? How do you measure the cost to a family who might be on a holiday or taking their kids home from school and they're caught up in a heavy vehicle collision for no fault of their own?

QUESTION: Will this cut the cost?

BILL SHORTEN: I did say at the outset that I believe that safety is complex. The causes for road injury are complex. The Opposition said there's no link at all between remuneration and road safety. What I believe is that when you look at the reports, you look at the National Transport Commission report of 2008—and I'd commend you to have a look at it if you haven't already done so—it recognises what's in fact has been recognised since as early as 1979. So we're not discussing a new problem here.

It does believe that there is a link between remuneration, the method in which owner/operators, independent contractors are paid and road safety. The National Transport Commission said that in their 2008 report. Even much more recently, the Monash University Accident and Research Centre who I think are amongst some of the world leaders in workplace safety and vehicle-related safety, they've made it clear that for their research, one of the contributors to fatalities, collisions, is the high turnover of labour in the transport industry. They say it's inexperience.

Now the reason why you've got so many inexperienced drivers is because you simply can't make a living on some of the conditions that people get and so no wonder people churn through the industry. So what we have done in Australia is we've seen the evolution of a system which sees a greater than average preponderance of inexperienced people working in industry, trying to make ends meet for them and their families and we've seen the human cost on our road.

So do I think that this will guarantee the road toll will be whatever it is now minus a certain amount?

QUESTION:  [Inaudible].

BILL SHORTEN: I can't - that is the road toll related to trucks. I can't guarantee to you what the road toll will be next year but one thing I can do is that one of the causes of excessive speeding, one of the causes of taking illegal - illicit substances, one of the causes of the high turnover of labour in the industry, that will be tackled. And I also trust this tribunal will engage with employers, it'll engage with the experts, it'll engage with the union, it'll engage with people and I think that that is the best recipe to tackle this issue.

QUESTION: Minister Shorten just following on from that question. Do you have any idea or expectation of how much this legislation will reduce fatalities or [inaudible] in the industry and are you happy for this legislation to be judged on whether it's successful…?

BILL SHORTEN: Joe I'd refer you to the answer I gave to the previous question but just to supplement, no-one can guarantee what's going to happen in terms of the road toll. What I do know is that I personally have seen enough workplace injury and fatality to know that fatigue is always a factor and can be a factor. I know that if you've got to spend long times waiting to load and unload and then you want to get home, I know that there's a whole lot of pressures in the remuneration system which contribute.

I don't think there is one silver bullet to road safety, but I do know that the research; research by people who've studied this matter for decades and years, the National Transport Commission of Australia, the Australian Road Transport Industrial Authority, five out of six of the associations, the CEO of Linfox, Tony Sheldon from the TWU, these people live and breathe the transport industry every day and I think it defies credibility to argue that poor remuneration structures are not related to some of the collisions we've seen and we have the evidence to support that.

QUESTION:  Just on financial…

QUESTION: Minister Shorten, is the tribunal going to be up and running by 1 July?


QUESTION: Do you have any idea who you'll be appointing to that tribunal?

BILL SHORTEN: That's a work in progress. Obvious - a work in progress. What I would say is that you want to get people who know a lot about the transport industry and that to me is as important as having people who are legally trained. It's getting people who know the transport industry, from the employer perspective, the employee perspective, the safety experts, business, so we're not in a position to make announcements on that yet. But certainly we'll be looking for people with life experience, not just flat level law experience.

QUESTION: Just on financial advice, you've got that before the Parliament at the moment, are you open to adjusting that reform in order to secure the support of the Independents? Are you talking to them? Do you have any confidence of getting that reform through by this week?

BILL SHORTEN:  Just to take those three questions in the order that I can recall them.

What the Government's interested in doing is making sure that Australians have enough money to retire on. That is why tonight there is every chance that superannuation will be passed - the increases to the superannuation guarantee will be passed for the first time since 1992 which will see superannuation —compulsory superannuation —increase over the next seven and eight years by a total of an extra three per cent. So that'll see superannuation go from nine per cent to 12 per cent.

If that is the case, then what we're doing is not going to help necessarily people in their sixties and seventies but it means our young workers in their twenties and thirties have got a far better chance of not retiring poor. But if we are going to create large legislated compulsory savings then our financial services industry has an obligation not to unduly enrich themselves on the way through.

If we are going to create a river of retirement gold then I want to make sure that people aren't unduly helping themselves and siphoning off some of that out of people's accounts through being too expensive or through the provision of poor financial advice. That is what's motivating our future financial advice reforms.

In addition this Government wishes it wasn't so but the rollcall of Storm, of Opus Prime, Trio and other financial collapses means that we need to improve the professional standards and the confidence of the Australian people in the financial planning sector.

Having stated those two principles, we are entirely open to the pragmatic negotiation of implementation details. Now it's fashionable sometimes in the media to say that whenever the Government compromises that’s somehow a back down. It's not a back down. What we recognise is that we know the destination we want to arrive at. We will listen though to the voices of industry, to consumers to get the best possible outcome and that obviously also includes listening to the measured and worthwhile contributions of Mr Wilkie, Mr Oakeshott, Mr Windsor, Mr Bandt.

QUESTION: You've got a bit more - you've got another yet for the transition. Does that mean that you've got a bit more time to negotiate, to get the legislation right or do you absolutely have to get it done this week or in the next…

BILL SHORTEN: I am confident of the justness of our cause about reforming financial advice. As I said, it wasn't the Government who invented some of the financial problems which have occurred to particular financial product providers. We don't pretend that these reforms will fix every one of those problems but the ASIC and the other regulators and the consumer groups believe that these are good reforms.

We will negotiate them in a timely manner. We will do so in such a way that respects the concerns of the Financial Planners Association of Australia, the Industry Services Network and all the other various stakeholders who provided us with valuable counsel so far. We will get these reforms done. We will do it in a pragmatic fashion and if it takes a little longer to get from A to B we'll do so, because we are determined to get to our destination.

QUESTION: Minister Shorten…

QUESTION: Minister Shorten what do you make of the position of the Coalition on the Craig Thomson medical certificate? I gather that he has a certificate up to Thursday?

BILL SHORTEN: Yeah listen, the Opposition don't know whether or not they're Arthur or Martha in some of their commentary about the inquiry into financial transactions of the HSU. On one hand they've wanted us - they've accused us of political interference, on the other hand they've accused us of not politically interfering enough. I think there's been forests written on this matter —or forests cut down to be put on paper to be written—on this matter.

There's one report out. We just want to let the processes take their appropriate sequence of events and we're not interfering and we're letting the independent regulators get on with their job.

QUESTION: [Inaudible].Most employers wouldn't give someone a week off without seeing an update on their health. Is it fair for the Coalition to expect the same?

BILL SHORTEN: Listen I haven't followed the latest transactions but I somehow don't think the Opposition are greatly concerned about an individual government MP's health. I don't think that's…

QUESTION: Surely it sets a disturbing precedent for workers across Australia if a medical certificate isn't taken?

BILL SHORTEN: Well again you've obviously got some - I haven't followed the latest in these medical certificates. It is important I think - I'm in a press conference to talk about how we handle safety on our roads. I’m in a press conference to talk about how we make sure that the drivers have conditions which improve the safety, not only of drivers, but also all other road users. In terms of medical certificates for individuals here and the argy-bargy, I'm not across the latest on that.

QUESTION: But do you think that Craig Thomson should be granted a pair for the rest of this week?

BILL SHORTEN: Look, listen if Mr Thomson's ill he should be and I have no reason to believe that he isn't. But again I hope that when we replay this discussion later on, that when we talk about two-hundred-and-fifty people dying in heavy vehicle collisions, that when we have a thousand people seriously injured, this doesn't become a press conference on the medical certificate.

QUESTION: [Inaudible].

QUESTION: Just quickly, the report last week, you'll talk about it later but isn't it a bit of a kick in the teeth…

BILL SHORTEN: Okay, fair enough.

QUESTION: …but given that it's brought out allegations of misuse of money, payment of money, use of money, union funds to go to weddings, is that a kick in the teeth for people trying to retain and get union members?

BILL SHORTEN: That matter has been referred - first of all this whole matter's been investigated by the General Manager of Fair Work Australia, who exercises the discretion in this matter. They had a delegate working for her who's done the report. She's given us a report one-hundred-and-fifty pages long—she's provided it to the Senate Committee I should say—and she's made recommendations. The report says that she's asked the Australian Government solicitor to pursue the matter further.

As the matter is being pursued further—in other words, the process is under way—I don’t think that I'm going to help anyone's point of view on this by starting to second guess the individual transactions. To go to your broader question I think the vast, vast bulk of Australian trade unionists and Australian trade unions are honest, professional and hard working and I don't immediately - and I certainly for one don't think that the activities or proven, unproven or alleged of one organisation should be passed to reflect on the whole Australian trade union movement. Just as when there is a corporate collapse, I don't think that all of Australian business are crooked.

Thank you very much.