Jared Owens, 13 April 2016

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash has intensified pressure on Bill Shorten ahead of next week’s vote to scrap the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, with the Coalition now within one vote of abolishing the union-backed wage arbiter.

The government yesterday revealed that it would introduce legislation to abolish the tribunal in addition to separate legislation freezing new pay rates included in a recent controversial “safe rates” order as soon as parliament resumed on Monday.

The Coalition’s move came after independent senator Jacqui Lambie backed the scrapping of the regulator established by Julia Gillard in 2012, and Queensland senator Glenn Lazarus flagged the introduction of his own legislation to axe the regulator.

Senator Cash said next week’s anticipated vote on the tribunal’s abolition had become “a test of leadership for Bill Shorten”.

“We have got thousands of people across the country now begging us to save their businesses, to save their livelihoods, we have trucks being repossessed, we have mortgages that may now go unpaid, we are at crisis point and the government is going to bring the legislation into the parliament,” she told ABC radio.

“I can tell you, when the green bells and the red bells ring, all Australians should be watching exactly which side of the chamber people vote on. Let’s abolish this tribunal.

“You can stand with the Transport Workers’ Union and honour the dirty deal you did back under the Gillard government, or do the right thing by the mums and dads.”

Labor has urged the government to “to sit down and talk to all affected parties, to work through those differences” without abolishing the tribunal, which critics claim was designed to price owner-drivers out of business and into large fleet operations where the TWU exerts greater influence.

Tony Abbott yesterday urged the government to seize any opportunity to dismantle the tribunal, telling The Australian he tried to scrap it while he was prime minister, but was thwarted by a hostile Senate.

“If there’s the slightest chance that we get legislation to abolish the tribunal passed, of course we should put it up,” he said. “If one of the independent senators is to put up legislation to abolish the tribunal, frankly, we should be prepared to support it.”

Senator Lambie is the fifth crossbencher to back the abolition of the regulator and said the new pay rates handed an unfair advantage to large-fleet operators who were unaffected by the shake-up.

While independent senator John Madigan supports a plan to freeze the new pay regime until next year, he cautioned against scrapping the tribunal.

“The RSRT should not be kicked to the kerb without giving consideration to how these concerns will be met,” Senator Madigan said.

“There needs to be further discussion about a suitable replacement, if that in fact is the best way forward.”

Palmer United Party senator Zhenya Wang has also stopped short of backing the abolition of the tribunal, along with Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party senator Ricky Muir.

Mr Shorten’s parliamentary secretary, Ed Husic, said the opposition was “prepared to sit and talk” about a new way to provide greater safety and fairer pay for drivers “who are literally flogging themselves to death on our roads”.

“We’ve had 25 road deaths through heavy transport in the last month alone, based on some of the stats I’ve seen, and the community is genuinely worried about what impact this has not just on the drivers but on the broader community,” he told Sky News.

“There have been concerns for some time about the link between remuneration and road safety, which is what has driven reform, we’ve said we’re prepared to sit and talk to see if there is a better way forward that can deal with the concerns that have been raised by different stakeholders.”

Extracted in full from The Australian.