Bill's Transcripts

Transcript: Press conference on safe rates for safe roads, 1 March, 2012

SUBJECT/S: Safer roads and remuneration for truck drivers

COMPERE:  Now the Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten is just stepping up to the microphones in Canberra, along with him are some representatives from the Transport Workers Union.  This is a media conference that’s been called to discuss: safer rates for safer roads. That’s what it’s been described as in the media release.  Presumably it has something to do with pay rates for truck drivers.

BILL SHORTEN:  Welcome everyone.  I’ve got with me Tony Sheldon, the National Secretary of the Transport Workers Union. Also very importantly I have with us a number of people who’ve seen firsthand, the dreadful consequences of unsafe rates of pay, of unsafe roads, of the human toll of not having a proper net, for the very important people in our transport industry. I might just ask Tony to introduce our guests and then say a few words about the actual legislation that is being debated today in Parliament. Tony.

TONY SHELDON:  Thank you very much and Minister and we’re really saying this to all politicians in Canberra as we speak, is that this is a piece of legislation which is beyond politics.  It’s actually about saving lives. 

There’s been a raft of enquiries, coroners’ reports, Government enquiries, academic reports, now a House of Representative reports which have clearly linked the fact that pressure from retailers and other major clients in the industry, drive an economics that means that people get killed on our roads.  It means that truck drivers are forced to do extraordinary hours; they’re not able to maintain their vehicle and their own vehicles and the companies they work for as truck drivers are pressured. 

Pressured on both deadlines, pressured with poor capacity to maintain vehicles, pressured on every sense of the supply chain because of the desire from some of the most richest and powerful companies in this country, to extend and draw the last drop of blood, literally out of the lives of many truck drivers, but also other road users.

 There’s so many tragic stories of loved ones being killed, of families losing people they so deeply care for; neighbours losing neighbours.  This is not an issue just where truck drivers are being killed, just truck drivers, someone’s husband, someone’s dad, someone’s granddad.  Well those ‘just truck’ drivers deserve life, but so do 330 road users each year. 

I’d like to introduce Listra.  Listra is a very, very strong woman. And the women behind me have lost loved ones, as a result of a fatigued truck driver, who’d had to work extraordinary hours, and they want to tell a bit of their story about why they’re here supporting the Safe Remunerations Bill, and why it is critically important to all road users.  But also to reach out to the hearts of people of people on both sides of the chamber to support a bill that every academic, coroner, public report in this country for the last 20 years said it should be done, and congratulations to this Government because they’re prepared to take it up and do it. 

Listra.  Just stand where I was to you.

LISTRA: Good afternoon.  I’m here with my family and friends, because we’ve had a really bad year after losing our husband - my husband and Suzanne Bier’s husband. We really support this that hopefully it will filter into our communities and help to save lives of every man on the street.  Because it can be your mother, your father, your kids, and we just hope that with this, if this can come through, it will filter into our community and help us.  Thank you.

TONY SHELDON:  Thanks Listra.  Well done.

BILL SHORTEN:  So to explain the bill, what the Government is proposing is that there be a Safe Rates Remuneration Tribunal.  What we believe is that two hundred and fifty people plus getting killed each year in connection to truck collisions, one thousand people being seriously injured, an estimated cost of two-point-seven billion dollars to the Australian economy.  This price is too high and the carnage has to stop.

What we’re doing, and talking about these family stories is making it clear that when we say safe rates, what we’re also saying is we want safe roads.  Next time someone’s driving in their car with their family going home or going to the beach and you see a truck pass you by, we need to remember that the roads of Australia are also workplaces for tens of thousands of people. 

It isn’t good enough, and this country is smart enough to prevent of set of circumstances where drivers are rushing to fulfil unrealistic deadlines, they’re perhaps required not to be paid for waiting time.  They get very low rates of pay - some are around the order of thirty-thousand dollars a year, which is barely the minimum wage in Australia.  Sometimes in order to meet the very tough deadlines, they have to take illicit substances.  We think we can make safer roads for our drivers and their families, but we also believe that safer rates mean safer roads for all Australians.

We hope that the Opposition, will for once take away their negative attitude in opposing everything the Government says, because we should recognise any one of us, could be in the position of these widows, where someone we love is caught up in a truck collision because of the unrealistic and unsafe remuneration practices. And we are very pleased that many employers in the industry are supporting our legislation and I think that enough is enough.  That no more people should die needlessly on our roads, when we can prevent it by ensuring that people have safe rates and that Australians have safe roads.

Happy to take any questions.

QUESTION:  When are you expecting this legislation will go to a vote, Mr Shorten?

BILL SHORTEN:  We hope very soon.  There’s a final report coming down probably as possibly as early as today.  We know that there’s been fierce debate within the Coalition about writing a minority report.  We know that there are principle members of the Coalition, like Paul Neville, the Member for Hinkler, and he’s been previously quite strong in support of these issues.

We’ve had report after report saying this is an issue.  Now is the time to act to make our roads safe.

QUESTION; Mr Shorten, have you spoken to the cross benches about this bill?

BILL SHORTEN:  We’ve engaged in discussions with them.  I’m also pleased to say that some of the cross benches have indicated that they’ll meet with the Transport Workers Union and very importantly the people behind me. 

Sometimes in politics it’s easy to think that it’s the words on the paper which is what matters.  In this case it’s real people, people who’ve had incredible catastrophe in their lives.  I don’t know how a family can ever recover from the cost of losing a loved one or someone who’s been seriously injured.  So what these families are doing here is they’re showing that in politics, it’s not just a matter of words, it’s a matter of lives.

QUESTION: What are the companies that are most egregious in pushing truckies too far?  Can I ask Mr Sheldon’s response to that as well?

BILL SHORTEN:  Well I will give Linfox a tick for supporting the proposition. Most of the road transport industrial organisations are supporting the proposition.  Small owner drivers are supporting the proposition.  We even have some here today.  I might ask Mr Sheldon to answer the specifics.

TONY SHELDON:  Thank you.  I think what’s been very clear in all the reports, that we’ve got thirty-two per cent of the road transport task in this country is controlled by the two big gorillas, Woolworths and Coles.  Fifty per cent of everything people eat and drink each week is supplied by those two companies.  The size of the road transport task means the responsibility is squarely on their shoulders to stop squeezing the life out of truck drivers and trucking companies.

They’ve been very adamant about opposing anything that requires them to be held in account for the economics, their economic footprint that is really driving this industry not just to despair, but to its death.

QUESTION:  Well just on that, I mean truck drivers are more often than not small business people and they’ve got compete with each other to get the work.  I mean will this legislation maybe lead to less work for a number of them?

TONY SHELDON:  No, actually for…

REPORTER: [Inaudible]

TONY SHELDON: Sorry, yeah, sorry. 

One of the things that’s quite clear and that is that where there is – First of all, the TWU represents twenty thousand owner drivers across the country.  They’re a vibrant and very involved group of employees and owner drivers within this industry, both within and without the union.  Certainly there’s a large number of small fleet operators as well.

This won’t actually put pressure on those fleet operators.  There is logic to have owner drivers, there’s logic to have fleet operators, there’s logic to have supply chains which involve and engage other trucking companies in those supply chains.  But what is not logical is actually saying that safety should have a price on it as a choice between having your trucks maintained, or not winning a contract.  Having a job and doing things safely.  Having the job and doing things properly.

This legislation is geared at making sure that the whole supply chain is accountable.  It doesn’t – it means that the people that have never been accountable, and that is the major clients that drive the economics of the industry, that is driving the dangerous practices, this’ll be the first time that they’ll be effectively accountable in a way where all the parties are brought together, conciliated to bring solutions and eventually potentially arbitrated.

QUESTION: Mr Shorten, can I just confirm, is the position of the Opposition unclear and to an extent are you trying to get them to consider, by meeting these people, to the idea of following the legislation?

BILL SHORTEN: The job of the Opposition I accept is to oppose various Government policies.  This issue should be above politics.  When we talk about cost, think about if you’ve got one thousand people who are being seriously injured in truck collisions, if you’ve got a serious or severe disability that’s one-million-dollars a year, and you’ve got one thousand people in that category.  You can’t even begin to put a price on life.

There is insurance premiums, there’s damage to property.  Doing nothing is a very expensive option for Australia and we’ve engaged with employers big and small, we’ve done reviews, we’ve had the academics out there.  We think that the cost of inaction is far more expensive than the cost of action.  In terms of the Opposition, I cannot understand what on earth would possess the Opposition to say they don’t want safe roads.

QUESTION:  Just on another issue Mr Shorten has the Prime Minister's position been undermined over the Bob Carr issue?

BILL SHORTEN:  No not at all.

QUESTION: How do you turn it around - you've just had a vote where the Prime Minister has established a bit of authority and then another stuff up - how do you turn things around?  How do you get a bit of momentum for the government?  It seems every time you have a win you have a stuff up.

BILL SHORTEN: Did you say a bit of authority?  Well I think the cat was belled last night.  Andrew Robb conceded on television that he said - or radio but he conceded in the media last night that the only way that they can have their extravagant paid parental leave scheme - extravagant is what one of the Liberal senators called it - the only way they can have a paid parental leave scheme is by putting a new tax on.

QUESTION:  What's that got to do with this question Minister?

BILL SHORTEN:  Just longer than fifteen seconds and I'll get to it.  So we've got an expensive scheme belled by Mr Robb. And then this morning Tony Abbott goes on one of his walkabouts around Canberra and he had a bit of a Joe the plumber moment.  Remember in the American elections Joe the plumber sort of confronted President Obama and that became one of the issues.  We're still trying to find the identity of the storeman, but he had a blue collar moment where the storeman yelled out how are we going to pay for the seventy billion dollars?

The way in which you turn around this election is that Mr Abbott has to answer the question where's the seventy billion dollars coming from?  The problem is that the Opposition can only be negative because they can't afford to be positive.  That's the crux of this election.

QUESTION:  Mr Shorten are you disappointed...

QUESTION: Minister is there any chance you'll answer his question?

QUESTION: Are you disappointed that Bob Carr is not coming back to Canberra?

BILL SHORTEN:  No. It's up to him what he does.  He said he doesn't want to.

QUESTION: Would you have liked to see him in Canberra?

BILL SHORTEN:  I'd like to see him in Sydney.  I like Bob Carr. But in terms of the Senate that will be a matter for the New South Wales branch. 

But going back to answering Keiran's point this election is whether or not Mr Abbott can afford to turn the switch from negative to positive. That is the sweet spot in this election.  The Opposition cannot explain how they will pay for their policies.  That is why he can only be negative because he can't afford to be positive.

QUESTION:  Unless he's got a tax that will pay for his paid parental leave and he accuses the Government of not getting modern women. That it's actually a productivity measure, because it will pay women to have their babies and then come back into the - and while they are to be paid at the same level as if they were at work then they come back to work.  He thinks that he gets it and you don't.

BILL SHORTEN:  I admire Mr Abbott's commitment to the millionaires of Australia.  He wants the millionaires of Australia to get cheap private health insurance; he wants the millionaires of Australia to get a Rolls Royce paid parental leave.  We've got a scheme which one-hundred-and-forty thousand mums are using at the moment.  We're doing it from within the budget.  He wants to put a new tax.

The Liberal Party myth in life is that somehow they're the party of small taxes.  They're relying on the sort of ghosts of Peter Costello and John Howard to justify their economic legitimacy.  They can't explain the seventy billion dollar hole.  Senator Sue Boyce was reported yesterday as saying why do we have this Rolls Royce extravagant scheme instead of a Holden scheme?

Indeed Russell Broadbent the forthright Member for McMillan said why won't they commit to a national disability insurance scheme?  Instead they've got this proposition to put a new tax on Coles and Woolworths to pay for our high price maternity leave.

QUESTION:  Mr Shorten were you one of the faceless men who stymied Bob Carr's bid for Canberra?

BILL SHORTEN: I had no idea of any of the discussions going on.

QUESTION:  So was it just Stephen Smith wanting his job back?

BILL SHORTEN: I have no idea of what went on and I don't believe that at all.

QUESTION: Why do you think you're not involved when so many people were?

BILL SHORTEN: Sorry I missed that Latika.

QUESTION:  Who is speaking against the Prime Minister?  It's not Kevin Rudd this time is it?

BILL SHORTEN:  No - I don't know.  What I would say is that we had the ballot on Monday.  I know that was quite a rough process, a tough process.  I know that was of great interest to the gallery.  The New South Wales branch as is consistent, as has been happening for a hundred years on both sides of politics will submit a replacement which will be then presented to Canberra.

QUESTION:  So two ministers have said that Julia Gillard could not win an election.  Should they be demoted in the reshuffle?

BILL SHORTEN: My money is on Julia Gillard winning the next election.  And one of the reasons why we're going to win the next election is because we're the only party who want to have safe roads, we're the only party who doesn't have a seventy billion dollar black hole.  We're the people that can make our sums add up.

QUESTION: Are you hoping to get a new job tomorrow or when the reshuffle is announced?

BILL SHORTEN: I love my current job because I can do something about making our roads safer.  The tragedy of what we're talking about today the real issues is that there's nothing I can do to help these widows with what's already happened.  And for all of the legislation in all of the world, we can't help the people behind me back to where they wish they could be which is that it never happened.

But what they believe, what the union believes, what I believe is that in this Parliament you occasionally get a chance to do something which will stand the test of time and I want people on our roads to go home safely and that's why I want this legislation passed. 

Thanks very much.

REPORTER:  Thank you Minister.

COMPERE: So that was the Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten along with TWU boss Tony Sheldon and families of truck drivers talking about safe rates of pay for truck drivers among other things.  Bill Shorten was saying drivers are rushing to fulfil unrealistic deadlines, they're on very low rates of pay thirty thousand dollars a year and some are talking illicit substances to get the job done.  Bill Shorten is saying safer rates will mean safer roads for all Australians.  The Government is proposing a safe rates remuneration tribunal.

Also the Bob Carr Senate speculation is the political story of the moment in Canberra.  Bob Carr has said he's not going to go but there's all that talk about if the Prime Minister was keen on getting Bob Carr and Tony Abbott is saying the faceless of the Labor Party vetoed that plan.  Bill Shorten is rejecting suggestions the PM's authority has been hit over that.

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