Robert Gottliebsen, 07 April 2016

It’s now clear that the precedent created by the so called Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal could be used by any future ALP government to control prices.

In the name of “safety” the tribunal has shown that it can set prices that wipe out smaller farmers and owner-driver truckies and substantially increase the power (and political contributions) of the Transport Workers Union.

If unchallenged, the precedent can be applied across many industries to smash non-union small enterprises, including restaurants, couriers and retailers.

When she was prime minister back in 2012, Julia Gillard — a smart lawyer — planned the legislation very carefully.

Four years later, Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan, with the support of his leader Barnaby Joyce, if anything, understates the situation when he says that the tribunal’s attempt to give the Commonwealth and unions control over the transport industry is more serious for Australia than the cattle bans. Joyce was only five when the Australian public blocked the Commonwealth from gaining control over prices at a referendum. But Nick Xenophon was already 14 when yhat referendum was held in 1973 and should have remembered.

In 2012, Australia would have hoped that Xenophon, also a smart lawyer, might have picked up that the proposed Gillard ‘remuneration’ tribunal was an attack on small business and a way for the Commonwealth to fix prices for non-union activities.

The matter will now come before the High Court and if the court looks back into history, then it will reject Commonwealth power over prices. But there are no certainties when it comes to the High Court.

The ALP is ahead in the opinion polls.

Elements in the Liberal side of the Coalition are pressing to have the tribunal’s impact delayed until 2017. That’s about as stupid an idea as I can think of. Small businesses and farmers are allowed to trade for another nine months and then will have their heads chopped off. These people have mortgages to fund their trucks and farms that extend way beyond next January. Some politicians just don’t understand the real world.

Fortunately, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Senator O’Sullivan understand the game and Sullivan has called on the great small business advocate, Queensland’s crossbench senator Glenn Lazarus, to support him (How the crossbench can avert a disaster, April 4)

What stuns me is that Nick Xenophon (whom I regarded highly) could have been so badly fooled and is still talking about delaying the execution of owner drivers rather than stopping the carnage by repealing the legislation.

To try and understand how someone like Nick Xenophon was so hopelessly misled, I went back to the 2012 speech he gave supporting the establishment of the tribunal. I have linked to the full speech here, but let me extract a few extracts that show what actually happened to him. And it can happen to us all.

Xenophon 2012: “I have serious concerns about small businesses who tell me that they are shutting their businesses on Sundays because they cannot afford to pay people double time. I have concerns that there are young people — students — who tell me that they are quite happy to work for time and a half, not double time, because it is not economical for the business to stay open.”

Gottliebsen 2016: That showed back in 2012 you had a concern for small business but in 2016, when we are now facing one of the biggest attacks on small business ever seen in the country, you are nowhere to be seen. Canberra often destroys people with ideals.

Xenophon 2012: “I think that this bill is about issues of safety and that these are quite distinct from the issues that relate to small businesses, because of the influence of Coles and Woolworths with regard to this industry. This bill is about taking a national approach to safety issues relating to pay and conditions in the road transport industry. It establishes this tribunal, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal which, importantly, will be empowered to resolve disputes between drivers, hirers, employers and participants in the road transport industry supply chain. That is important because there is a complete disparity of bargaining power in that supply chain, and the drivers are the ones who are often the most vulnerable. They are the ones that cop it in terms of fatigue and a whole range of issues.”

Gottliebsen 2016: Oh Nick. You were completely fooled by Julia Gillard. We all make mistakes and we all need to learn from them. A tribunal was set up to set the prices that the small operators had to charge at ridiculously high levels but then left the prices of the large/TWU-linked operators unregulated. Thanks in part to your support we now have the unfair contracts legislation which will greatly help the cause you espoused without the tribunal’s small business executions.

Xeneohon 2012: “Last week I was visited by Lystra Tagliaferri, who bravely came to urge me to support this bill. With Ms Tagliaferri’s permission, I would like to share the story of how her late husband, David, was killed, and her own courageous response.

Last year, David was stopped on the side of a Western Australian road. He had a flat tyre, which he was changing with the help of another motorist. While the two men were changing the tyre an out-of-control truck veered off the road straight into them, killing both men. The truck driver had been on the road for 13 hours and was found to have taken antidepressants and diazepam, which had contributed to the accident. The driver had also taken a small amount of marijuana, but this was found to be non-contributory to the crash.”

Gottliebsen 2016: We have all made that mistake. Emotion rather than careful examination of the facts can affect anyone. We now have technology that can monitor driver hours and drug usage. That’s what should be done, not setting precedents for the Commonwealth to set prices.

Extracted in full from the Business Spectator.