Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has vowed to abolish the Gillard-Government appointed Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, which is behind the decision to impose mandatory minimum charging rates on truck owner-drivers, if his Government wins the election.
Mr Turnbull said on Sunday his Government will also redirect funding from the tribunal to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator.
The Prime Minister said the action is designed to support owner-drivers across Australia who were unfairly disadvantaged by the “destructive Road Safety Remuneration System Payment Order”, which came into effect on Thursday, April 7.
Mr Turnbull, who made the statement with Employment Minister, Senator Michaelia Cash, said the NHVR was the body that can “actually deliver real and tangible road safety outcomes in the trucking industry”.
The Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association (ALRTA) has applauded the commitment, while Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan said he will now happily retire his planned private Senator’s bill and throw his full support behind the Prime Minister’s plan to reallocate funds from the RSRT to the NHVR.
In a statement to media Mr Turnbull and Senator Cash said opposition leader and then Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten set up the Road Safety Remuneration System in 2012 “solely to advantage the Transport Workers Union”.
“The union claims that if you pay someone more money then they will drive more safely. This is not based on evidence or common sense. The RSRS system is predicated on this flawed claim and it puts tens of thousands of owner-drivers across Australia at risk of being driven out of business.”
The government said there was no evidence the RSRS had achieved any safety outcomes in its four years of operation, and would not achieve any in future.
Mr Shorten told the media there was a proven link between low rates of pay and poor safety.
“If you’re trying to pay the bills, trying to pay the mortgage, put the food on the table for the family and you’ve got unsafe rates of pay, then something’s got to give,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
“We don’t want that to be the safety of Australia’s road users.”
The Federal Government is planning to introduce a bill to freeze the rates when Federal Parliament resumes on April 18.
Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon said mandatory minimum pay rates were needed to protect road safety.
“If you can’t afford to maintain your vehicle, you don’t. If you can’t afford to put food on the table because you’re not earning enough, you work extraordinary hours and you’re fatigued,” Mr Sheldon told media.
Groups representing owner-drivers say the mandatory pay rates will price them out of the market.
Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association national president Kevin Keenan said the commitment made it clear that the Coalition Government now recognised that there was only one way to fix the problems that the Road Safety Remuneration System had caused.
“The rural transport sector has been looking for a firm commitment on this issue for some years. Prior to the 2013 Federal Election, we were only given a commitment that the Coalition Government would review the system. While we have been waiting for the review to be released the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal has made two devastating Orders that immediately threaten the viability of mum and dad road transport companies,” said President Keenan.
“Two independent reviews have now been released and the Government has been consulting closely with affected industry parties. Today’s commitment means that we know exactly where the Coalition Government stands heading into the 2016 Federal Election.”
“I also welcome the commitment to redirect funding from the Road Safety Remuneration System to a real safety regulator that we know is making a difference to on road safety outcomes – the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator.”
“While the ALRTA is pleased with the commitment, surely, the whole of the Federal Parliament must recognise that the 2016 Road Safety Remuneration Order is destroying businesses right now.”
“Yesterday, the Livestock and Rural Transporters Association of Victoria hosted a town hall meeting at which 160 affected transport operators had an opportunity to tell their story to cross bench Senator John Madigan. It was an emotionally charged meeting and that left no doubt that some will have already lost their business, home and mental health before the 2016 election has taken place.”
“I can only hope that banks and other financial institutions will show some compassion and refrain from foreclosing on affected operators while this mess is being sorted out.”
“I call on all Federal Parliamentarians to support the Coalition’s delay bill that will be introduced in the week commencing 18 April 2016. Better still, the next sitting period is the ideal opportunity to repeal the law and abolish the Tribunal and the devastating Orders it has made once and for all before our mum and dad trucking businesses go to the wall,” said Mr Keenan.
Queensland Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan said the announcement to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) provided the clearest pathway to ensure the long-term viability of the transport industry.
“Today the Prime Minister has made clear his long term intention is to abolish the tribunal,” Senator O’Sullivan.
“This is the news so many of us have wanted to hear. It is a win for common sense.
“This decision demonstrates the Prime Minister has listened to the concerns of owner-drivers across the nation and is prepared to take decisive action to defend the interests of small business in Australia.
“I now call on my federal colleagues of all political persuasions to support this plan to give real certainty to our owner-drivers.”