TWU Media Release 30 May 2016

Malcolm Turnbull has lied during a live televised debate with Bill Shorten saying “50,000 owner drivers went out of business” because of a Safe Rates Order which was in operation for just two weeks.

The Transport Workers’ Union is calling on the prime minister to correct the record and admit the Safe Rates system would have in fact saved lives, as his own report showed.

“Mr Turnbull made a statement last night which apart from being factually incorrect is also just physically impossible. How can 50,000 drivers have gone out of business in just two weeks? Why were supermarket shelves not empty if that happened? Why did petrol stations not run dry?” said TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon.

“The real story is that the Prime Minister tore down a system which his own report shows would have reduced truck crashes by 28%. Thousands of drivers for the first time in decades were set safe minimum rates to address pressure on them to speed, drive long hours, skip mandatory rest breaks and skip maintenance on their vehicles. The system would have held wealthy retailers such as Coles, oil companies and manufacturers to account for these safe rates – all major donors to the Liberal Party,” he said.

“The Prime Minister is lying to the public about the Safe Rates system in order to hide the fact that he abolished a system aiming to make our roads safer and our truck drivers businesses more sustainable. We are calling him out on this,” Sheldon added.

The Federal Government abolished the Safe Rates system on April 18th. An Order giving owner drivers a safe minimum rates was in force from April 4th. Along with the safe minimum rates, abolishing the system also ended a requirement for owner drivers to be paid within 30 days of completing work, protections for whistleblower drivers who raise safety concerns and a requirement for safe driving plans.

Small transport operators and owner drivers have among the highest rates of insolvencies of any industry, according to figures from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. In the financial year to June 2015 there were 275 insolvencies among small transport firms of five full time employees or less. In the financial year before that there were 548 insolvencies. Among the main reason for the insolvencies was inadequate cash flow.

Media enquiries: Judith Crosbie 0432552895


  1. Full quote from Malcolm Turnbull during an ABC News leaders debate

“What about people who work for themselves in the trucking industry. Bill Shorten had a plan which he put into operation which put 50,000 owner drivers out of business until we were able to abolish this Tribunal just a few weeks ago”

  1. Evidence of pressure

A Safe Work Australia report in July 2015 showed

  • 31% of employers say workers ignore safety rules to get the job done
  • 20% accept dangerous behaviour, compared to less than 2% in other industries.
  • 20% of transport industry employers break safety rules to meet deadlines – this compares with just 6% of employers in other industries.
  1. Low pay

Owner drivers have an average income of just under $29,500 with $29% of them underpaid (this is based on an analysis by PriceWaterhouseCoopers of the 2006 census which was included in the regulatory impact statement for the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011).

  1. Bankruptcies

According to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, transport operators have one of the highest rates of insolvencies of any industry and small firms of five full time employees or less are the most likely to go bankrupt. In the financial year to June 2015 there were 275 insolvencies among these small operators. In the financial year before that there were 548 insolvencies. The main reason for the insolvencies was inadequate cash flow.

  1. Suicide

A study by Deakin University showed 323 truck drivers committed suicide between 2001 and 2010. (Suicide among male road and rail drivers in Australia: a retrospective mortality study). An analysis by the Victorian coroner’s court showing truck drivers had the highest number of suicides out of any other profession, with 53 drivers taking their own lives between 2008 to 2014.

  1. The Liberal Party and its financial donors

The Liberal National Party receives billions of dollars in donations from retailers, banks and oil companies – which were all in line to be held to account for safety and poor rates in trucking by the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. A financial link of $7 million exists between the Liberal National Party and Wesfarmers, the major retailer which opposes the Tribunal. Of this there is a $5.3 million link in the form of dividends drawn down from Wesfarmers shares owned by the Cormack Foundation, an associated entity of the Liberal Party. A further $1.7 million in political donations was given by Wesfarmers and Coles to the Liberal and National Parties