RSRT, owner-drivers become election battle

Shorten comes to the defence of the RSRT as Turnbull joins Cash in seeking its abolishment

RSRT, owner-drivers become election battle
Bill Shorten taking about safe rates in 2011.


Opposition leader Shorten has swung to the controversial body’s defence after days of relative silence on the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) issue.

As the election looms, it looks almost certain the Coalition will continue to use anti-Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) to tar opposition leader Bill Shorten with having created it – an accusation made by crossbench Motoring Enthusiast senator Ricky Muir, as quoted on The Guardian Australia website.

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull gave extra weight at the weekend to the government’s political prosecution of the case that gained an extra populist edge with education minister Michaelia Cash urging affected sectors of the industry to take to Canberra streets in protest.

"Now what we have seen is this RSRT, this tribunal established by the Labor Party, established by Bill Shorten, has produced an order which will drive owner-drivers out of business," Turnbull says.

"It will make them uncompetitive with other larger businesses.

"It is designed entirely and was designed entirely by Mr Shorten when he was in government to advantage the Transport Workers Union.

"It was a piece of legislation that has had nothing to do with safety, everything to do with getting small businesses, self-employed people, the enterprising family businesses of Australia off the roads. Now they've made that order and we are seeking to get it revoked.

"We’ll have to do that through legislation. As you know we’re bringing the Parliament back early to deal with the ABCC Bill and the Registered Organisations Bill and once they are dealt with we will seek to get a bill passed to ensure that that order is set aside until next year.

"But, what we’re committing to today and this is the most important point, we will, if we are re-elected, abolish the RSRT.

"It is not a tribunal that does anything effective to do with safety, it undermines owner operators, it undermines small business, it undermines family businesses.

"Two reports have investigated it and each of them has recommended that it be abolished.

"We’re going to carry that out, it will be abolished if the Turnbull Government is re-elected at the election this year."

The strong message has gained the approval of the Australian Trucking Association, NatRoad, and the Queensland Trucking Association. 


Independent Senator Glenn Lazarus’ response comes in a letter to Turnball, calling on the federal government to provide "crisis and financial support" for owner-drivers impacted by the RSRO.

"While I welcome your recent support for owner-drivers," Lazarus says in a letter, "I do not agree that the abolishment of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal should be made a federal election issue."

"Owner-drivers need a resolution now and should not have to wait months until an election outcome to have this serious issue resolved."

Lazarus himself will introduce a Bill to remove both the RSRT and the RSRO during the week of April 18, the letter says.

The Bill will broaden the powers of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) to "develop solutions with all parties across the country to ensure equitable outcomes for all truckies, including owner-drivers."

However, he has urged the Prime Minister to assist those affected in the meantime.

"Many are already losing contracts, work opportunities, and future business," the senator says.

"Trucks are sitting idle. Families are unable to bring in an income. Truckies are going broke and many are set to lose their livelihoods, trucks, homes, and families."

Lazarus says he is also afraid that some may attempt to take their own lives.

Lazarus lended his hand to the owner-driver cause in Queensland last month, attending and speaking at a Anti RSRT Freight Rate Convoy.


Using terms common with the Transport Workers' Union's (TWU) backing for the tribunal and before its creation, Shorten returned fire - though he did hold out the possibility of a bipartisan approach.

"We want to make sure that our roads are safe for truck drivers and indeed everyone else who uses Australia's roads," he says.

"There's a clear correlation between low payment of drivers driving through the night, employee owner drivers and indeed poor safety.

"The heavy transport industry has a fatality rate 12 times the national average.

"The cost of heavy vehicle collision crashes and loss of life costs $2 billion a year.

"It's been clearly proven in Government report after report, independent reports, there is a correlation; if you pay your truck drivers very poorly, some of them will be forced to take risks with their safety and the safety of all other Australians.

"We call upon Mr Turnbull to work with the Labor Party in ensuring a fair deal for Australia's truck drivers and indeed Australia's road users."


The TWU’s response was more pointed and looked to turn the 2016 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) analysis, Review of the Road Safety Remuneration System Final Report, and the 2014 Jaguar Consulting Review of the Road Safety Remuneration System against the government’s position.

"Malcolm Turnbull is defunding and abolishing independent judicial investigations into holding banks, oil companies, retailers, manufacturers and ports and wharves to account for unsafe, economic pressure on their transport supply chain," TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon says.

"These are the same people who bankroll the Coalition’s Liberal National Party.

"The prime minister’s own reports show that road transport has the ‘highest fatality rates of any industry in Australia’ with 12 times the average for all industries [PwC].

"His own reports show that this Tribunal will reduce truck crashes by 28% [Jaguar].

"Yet he is attacking the Tribunal – the one body which can provide a solution.

"It is clear he is doing this because this Tribunal will hold the major companies which are his party’s donors to account for the low cost contracts they give out to transport operators."


Opposition transport spokesman Anthony Albanese also looked to turn Coalition-linked reports back on the government, citing the 1999 Beyond the Midnight Oil: Managing Fatigue in Transport report of the Howard government to show that the issue has been around for many years.

He also returned serve to Cash on calling for a protest convoy to Canberra.

"You have a government basically provoking industrial action, in terms of ‘bring your trucks to Canberra’, ‘stop working, bring your trucks to Canberra for a political protest’ – at the same time, as that’s precisely the sort of activity they are saying should be ruled out by other working people," Albanese says.   

He also points to the lack of government interest in the RSRT over the past four years and its lack of a submission to the tribunal on the draft Contractor Driver Minimum Payments Road Safety Remuneration Order 2016.



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