Joe Kelly, 06 April 2016

Nationals MPs are warning a new pay regime that sets minimum prices for self-employed truck drivers will have a more serious impact on the economy than the live-cattle export ban in 2011 and want to abolish the road safety regulator before the election.

While Employment Minister Michaelia Cash flagged legislation to defer the controversial pay regime until January, ­Nationals senator Barry O’Sullivan will go further and seek crossbench support to scrap the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal when parliament resumes.

Senator O’Sullivan said he hoped independent Queensland senator Glenn Lazarus would co-sponsor the move as he also canvassed plans to axe the tribunal.

“This (pay order) defies every single principle of the free-­market environment,” Senator O’Sullivan told The Australian. “It’s going to pit owner-drivers against company drivers. It’s clear that this is going to require a legislative solution. This is as big and probably bigger that the suspension of the live-cattle trade in 2011. This is that serious.”

The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was created in 2012 by the Gillard government, which said it would make roads safer. Tribunal president Jennifer Acton was appointed by Bill Shorten when he was workplace relations minister. Ms Acton worked as a senior industrial officer with the ACTU for 10 years ­before being appointed to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in 1992. She was also unsuccessful in an attempt to stand for the Victorian federal seat of Hotham, which Simon Crean won in 1990.

The tribunal has three other “dual members” who also hold positions at the Fair Work Commission: senior deputy president Lea Drake; deputy president ­Ingrid Asbury; and commissioner Peter Hampton.

There are a further four ­“industry members” who only sit on full bench matters. Ms Acton decides who and how many sit in on issues before the tribunal.

Industry members include Steve Hutchins, who was a NSW Labor senator from 1998 to 2011. He is also a former federal president of the Transport Workers Union and member of the ACTU executive. Mr Hutchins, one of the “faceless men” who helped ­remove Kevin Rudd in 2010, was first elected as a TWU official in 1980.

The other industry members are Paul Ryan, an industrial relations consultant for companies working in freight and logistics; Ann Williamson, director of transport and road safety ­research at the University of NSW, and Tim Squires, a former president of the Queensland Trucking Association.

A TWU application to lift a stay on the tribunal’s remuneration order will be heard by the Federal Court in Brisbane today after an intervention by industry, backed by government, resulted in the granting of an indefinite ­injunction. The government has claimed any decision today to lift the stay order will mean up to 35,000 long-haul owner-drivers will be bankrupted because they will be priced out of the market.

The new pay regime was due to start on Monday but the Federal Court delayed it after receiving applications questioning the tribunal’s rejection on Friday of a ­deferral to the start date that would have given owner-drivers more time to adapt.

TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon yesterday warned the court injunction was “creating ­uncertainty for drivers” and “holding up a solution to the high death toll in truck crashes”.

“Employer groups have been exposed on this,” Mr Sheldon said. “They put around myths about owner-drivers going out of business because of the order yet they represent the companies which will supposedly be sacking them.”

Five crossbenchers have indicated they are willing to support government legislation to freeze the new pay regime until January, although the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party’s Ricky Muir and independent John Madigan, both Victorians, are undecided.

The government needs six of the eight crossbench votes to pass its legislation, with Employment Minister Michaelia Cash yesterday saying she would not link the issue to the revival of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

“There are people out there who phone my office, grown men in tears, begging us to do something,” Senator Cash told ABC radio.

Mick Boland, a 56-year-old owner-driver, said yesterday that he was willing to explain to both Victorian senators how the new minimum payments would hurt his business. Mr Boland has 35 years’ industry experience and carts steel from NSW into Melbourne.

His son, Anthony, works for him as an apprentice but Mr Boland warns the tribunal’s new pay order “makes sure there is no succession plan” for his business.

“If the two crossbench senators had all the information laid out in front of them I think they would be quickly and easily persuaded this seems to be singling out one aspect of the transport industry and has nothing to do with road safety,” Mr Boland said.

Extracted in full from The Australian.