Rachel Baxendale, 17 April 2016

Malcolm Turnbull has addressed a rally of truck drivers protesting against the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal’s introduction of minimum pay rates.

A convoy of more than 200 trucks from as far away as Queensland and Victoria converged on Canberra ahead of the senate debating the abolition of the tribunal this week.

Speaking alongside Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Employment Minister Michaelia Cash, the Prime Minister said the government was confident the crossbench would vote to abolish the tribunal.

“But if they do not, if enough of the crossbenchers don’t support it and if Labor and the Greens continue to oppose the abolition of the RSRT … we have a fallback, which is that we have another bill which sets aside the order that directly affects these owner drivers and we do have the numbers from the crossbench to support that at least.

“We are determined to get these family businesses back on the road.”

Mr Turnbull said the political pressure over the issue had to be exerted on Bill Shorten, who set up the tribunal as a Gillard government minister.

“Bill Shorten has to ask himself how can he live with putting these families out of business,” he said.

“He talks a good game about his plans for Australia. What sort of vision for Australia is it when tens of thousands of owner drivers, when tens of thousands of family businesses are put out of business?

“What sort of vision is it for Australia that punishes small business at the expense of their enterprise, puts them at risk, sends their mortgages into default?

“That’s what Bill Shorten has done and he has the opportunity as Barnaby says, he can put his hand up and say, ‘we made a blue, let’s abolish the tribunal’ and it would be gone.

“He could do that but he won’t because frankly he is as always doing the bidding of the big unions, in this case the TWU.”

“This attempt to link rates with safety is a spurious one. It always was. This was always simply a recruiting effort for the Transport Workers’ Union. Mr Shorten should own up to that.

Mr Joyce said today’s rally would remind voters of the “confusion and disruption” the previous Labor government and its Green and Independent allies wrought on Australia’s economy.

“Every now and then something like this pops up just to show how disastrous they really were for our nation, how that Labor, Green, Independent alliance brought all the combinations and permutations of confusion and disruption to the Australian economy, whether it was the live cattle trade, whether it’s this issue with the owner drivers, the mum and dad operators, whether it’s the debt, it comes back,” Mr Joyce said.

He asked what greater indication Mr Shorten could need that he had made a mistake with the RSRT.

“What else does he want? A telegram from the Queen? The Archangel Gabriel to appear in a vision tonight saying, ‘Bill, I think you made the wrong decision on that one,’ What we’ve got now is a very clear picture of what the nation will look like under you,” Mr Joyce said.

Mr Shorten said Labor’s position on the RSRT was driven by safety.

“Last year 210 Australians died in heavy vehicle truck collisions, he said.

“The heavy vehicle truck industry has a fatality rate of twelve times the national average of fatalities across all Australian workplaces.

“Labor does not want to see a set of circumstances in this country where the very low pay of owner drivers is incentivising drivers who are fatigued to cut corners, to drive faster.”

Earlier, furious drivers sounded a chorus of truck horns around federal parliament protesting minimum pay rates that they fear will cripple their businesses.

Politicians will return to Canberra on Monday and are under pressure to abolish the Gillard government’s Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, after it set new rates for owner truck drivers.

A convoy of several hundred truckies circled parliament house on Sunday morning.

“It’s been endless for a good half-hour,” an Australian Federal Police officer told AAP.

Some of the trucks had homemade signs saying “Let owner drivers keep carrying Australia” and “Save owner drivers’ jobs”.

Bay Kelly from Boorowa in rural NSW said some truckies had come from as far as Townsville, WA and Adelaide to participate in the convoy and the rally later on Sunday.

“One bloke committed suicide last night, due to the hardship in the industry,” Mr Kelly told AAP in the cab of his truck.

Mr Kelly says while he’s fortunate he owns his truck outright he knows many others experiencing financial pain.

“When you’ve got trucks that are worth a quarter of a million dollars and you’ve got repayments on them and you’ve got to try to make those payments it makes it hard,” he said.

An estimated 35,000 truck drivers are affected by the tribunal’s ruling.

Labor stands behind the tribunal, saying the intention of better pay rates will improve safety on the nation’s roads and prevent long-running problems, such as driver fatigue and drug abuse as truckies struggle to stay awake and do more trips to earn more. But Mr Kelly says the safety argument doesn’t fly because owner drivers were responsible road users.

“Us fellas out there are trying to make a living, we’ve got families, so we’ve got to get back (safely) to them,” he said. The government looks like it will have the numbers in the Senate to abolish the tribunal.

Independent senator Glenn Lazarus said people were “people are hurting” from the tribunal decision.

“Right now, people are absolutely devastated by this order and we need to get rid of it as soon as possible,” he told ABC TV.

However, there are truck drivers and the Transport Workers Union TWU who are staging a last-ditch effort to save the independent road transport industry body, with plans to gather in NSW and South Australia on Sunday.

TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon says a decision to abolish the body could “kill people”.

He says the industry experiences 12 times the national average for workplace deaths and high suicide rates.

* For support and information about suicide prevention, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

Extracted in full from The Australian.