Robert Gottliebsen, 19 April 2016

Such is the power of digital journalism that sometimes a headline can change a nation. And so it was that on Monday, April 11 Paul Pennay attached the heading Malcolm Turnbull has forgotten how business works on to my Business Spectator commentary about the government’s (then) disastrous approach to the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and now it appears that it has helped save the livelihood of some 35,000 owner truck drivers.

I would not have known of the impact on the government of that headline, and the commentary that supported it, had not a senior member of the cabinet come up to me at a large corporate function. He told me that the commentary had alerted the cabinet, which then changed its stance on abolishing the tribunal.

The government was fully aware that if the decision by the tribunal to force owner-drivers to double and treble their rates (and fine both them and customers if the wrong rates were charged) but not require the same ridiculous charges on TWU members, came into effect, it would bankrupt owner-drivers and be a national disaster.

But they saw this as a fantastic election issue and wanted to delay putting the necessary legislation before the Senate until after the election. They did not realise that the tribunal’s actions were so lethal to owner-drivers (including removalists) that a large portion of the 35,000 owner-drivers would have been bankrupted before legislation was passed (if it could be) and the game would be over.

Malcolm Turnbull had forgotten just how important cash flow is to small enterprises with large overdrafts. The pretext was that the crossbenchers would not support it. I believed they would support the abolition of the tribunal because it was such a clear-cut issue and, in any event, it needed to be tested.

Last night in the Senate, the crossbenchers did the right thing by the nation and the tribunal was abolished.

In all, I wrote eight commentaries for Business Spectator starting just 16 business days ago on March 29. I want to list the roles some key people played in abolishing what was a truly bad body.

Grace Collier:The Weekend Australian columnist is a national hero. She blew the whistle on the tribunal and her commentary alerted both myself and others to the fact that the tribunal was trying to destroy owner-drivers and enshrine the TWU.

In her commentary (TWU can bring nation to its knees with ‘safe’ truckies rates, March 19-20) she explained how “farmer Keith” currently pays $175 for an owner-driver to pick up a few head of cattle. After April 4, that owner-driver would be legally forced to charge $784 and if he doesn’t charge $784 he could be prosecuted by the Fair Work ombudsman and fined up to $54,000. The farmer could also be fined.

Glenn Lazarus: The Queensland crossbench senator who responded to my call for crossbench senators to rally in the national interest. (A plea to the Senate crossbenchers, March 31 and How the crossbench can avert a disaster, April 4).

With the nation’s truckies backing him, he will almost certainly be re-elected as a Senator in a double dissolution election — as he should.

Nick Xenophon: For a short time Nick was all over the place on this matter but in the end he did his homework and was an important contributor (Xenophon has been hopelessly misled, April 7).

Jacqui Lambie: When Lambie gave abolition her support we all knew that the numbers were there (Jacqui Lambie heeds call to trash trucking tribunal, April 13)

ALP leader Bill Shorten and Greens leader Richard Di Natale must have known the disaster the tribunal was causing and that forcing owner-drivers out of business with a differential rate to employed TWU members would not improve road safety — it would just lift the suicide rate. But both the ALP and Greens are so dependent on union cash that they must toe the line. Shorten has introduced some innovative polices over a wide area but is trapped when unions are involved. It might cost him the election. The Greens are also on the union money teat.

Independent Contractors Australia: Ken Phillips fights the fight with incredible ferocity even taking the matter to the High Court. The various industry bodies also did well but it was the truckies themselves who rallied to protect their livelihood and the nations road transport system that played such a big role, attracting much wider media support including magnificent coverage in The Australian.

Barnaby Joyce: Barnaby is proving a real asset for Australia. He allowed his Queensland Senator to back Glenn Lazarus and was tireless in cabinet.

Senator Michaelia Cash: The Minister for Employment stumbled early but in the end she delivered.

I should also point out that many individual truckies were badly hit before the tribunal was abolished. I hope they can get the backing to sue the individual members of the tribunal for damages. And, just for the record, here are the two commentaries that started it all off:

‘Safe’ truckies rates to take heavy toll (March 29) and The high toll of punishing small trucking operators (March 30).

Extracted in full from The Australian.