FAMILIAR ROUTE: Bill Shorten has skin invested in the re-establishment of the RSRT having driven the Tribunal's establishment in 2012.
FAMILIAR ROUTE: Bill Shorten has skin invested in the re-establishment of the RSRT having driven the Tribunal's establishment in 2012.

Labor will reinstate tribunal

SCO-MO, our newly minted Prime Minister, bounced around rural Australia in a baseball cap, badly downing beer, eating meat pies, and using an Australian idiom that fell off the truck with Banjo Patterson.

Australia looked on as the PM's big bus, as empty of Sco-Mo as a political promise, continued a political tour of regional Queensland.

We watched as the re-purposed persona of Scott Morrison, seemingly a different person from the terse minister for immigration of a few years ago, stumbled from one foreign affairs blunder to another. One thing became clear: There is a very good chance that Labor will take control of government at the next election.

The pundits of the commentariat are calling next May as the most likely time to go to the polls, dependent perhaps on the outcome of the NSW state election early in 2019.

Take the Christmas silly season out of the calendar, a time when little work is done in Canberra, and the coming election is not far away.

A Shorten Labor government is enough to send chills down the spine of the road transport industry, in particular owner operators and small fleets, still a little punch drunk and certainly wary that some form of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) will, in some form, raise its ugly head.

Time to remember that Bill Shorten was the original author of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal when he was Workplace Relations Minister under Julia Gillard back in 2012.

Repeatedly Shorten has said he would reintroduce a form of the RSRT if and when elected.

In spite of the Turnbull / Cash execution of the Tribunal in April 2016, like a political Frankenstein, the RSRT has lain its in its coffin but the ill-considered idea has never truly died.

Names may change but the Transport Workers Union (TWU) will not let it R.I.P. with the core sentiments of the old RSRT legislation trotted out by Tony Sheldon every time there is a bad one on our highways.

Let me say there is still ample room for safety reform at the grassroots level of our industry, away from the legislative processes of NatRoad and the NHVR.

Last thing we want is a re-embodied, renamed RSRT clanking its way through the industry

Safe rates are coming?
Safe rates are coming?

Why it didn't work?

ANY genuine safety reform that isn't subsumed in red tape and is a product of harmonious and inclusive conversations would be welcomed by industry.

But this has never been the case. The approach has always been adversarial, with Natroad, the ATA and other industry representation lined up against Union and Labor opposition. And no wonder when the RSRT was sprung on the industry going further and threatening livelihoods far more than was ever flagged.

When accepting submissions for the Road Safety Remuneration Order (RSRO) in 2016, experienced and professional truck operators were spoken down to and belittled.

The following RSRO meant the possible collapse of business to an estimated 35,000 owner drivers. It was a time when the road transport industry was in turmoil as the claws of the Tribunal attempted to get a throttle-hold on the small businesses and lifestyles of owner drivers and small family-owned fleets.

The industry was in a state of revolt when the Turnbull government axed the RSRT, in the same week it called a double dissolution election to take place a couple of moths later.

Minister for Employment, WA Senator Michaelia Cash turned out to be the industry's Joan of Arc and she was riding shotgun for Malcolm Turnbull since he elevated her to the ministry after the Abbott-ousting spill in September 2015.

Cash drove the dismantlement of the Tribunal hard, taking advantage of multiple photo ops with hard working, salt-of-the-earth truckies outside Parliament House.

The Turnbull government was seen to have empathy with blue collar constituents, a perception that no doubt drew some traditional voters away from Labor and perhaps was the tipping point that pushed Turnbull over the line in his slim-win in the July 2016 election.

At the ATA June 2016 conference in Toowoomba Michaelia Cash was reported as saying: "Under a Turnbull government the RSRT will never rear its ugly head again!”

Labor was running in a different direction with the unions, particularly the TWU, hurting. Strengthened in his position as Opposition Leader following solid results in the 2016 election, Shorten has many times stated that the RSRT and its perceived safety measures would be returned with a future change of government.

In 2017, Bill Shorten was reported as saying he would reinstate the Tribunal and implement Safe Rates.

To be fair Shorten has said on several occasions that he wouldn't reinstate the Tribunal but it is difficult to ascertain what his beliefs were at the time and what statements were made as political expediency.

But Shorten has skin invested in the establishment of the RSRT having driven the Tribunal's establishment in 2012.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten. MICK TSIKAS

Time to move

WITH the federal election looming, road transport needs to move quickly rather than waiting for another RSRT to be imposed.

Perhaps a less adversarial approach needs to be taken with industry representative bodies working with politicians both in government and opposition. A safety policy needs to be developed that meets most of the safety concerns of the union but keeps policy development in the hands of the industry and the people working in it.

Accepting the assumption that Labor may take government in May or June, the road transport industry should preparing its war chest now, but not just to rebut the RSRT in whatever form and under whatever name it might fly, but to lobby Labor candidates and sell an alternative policy that meets the safety concerns continually flagged by Labor and the TWU.

The political environment that incubated the RSRT still exists, we have the same political pressure that could propagate the return of the tribunal or something similar under a different name. Politicians of all colours and tribes have electoral pressure to implement road safety measures.

We have a mainstream media ready ready to demonise truck and driver every time there is a heavy vehicle involved in a crash without any regard as to who was at fault, the pressure on pollies is continuous. And pressure on Labor politicians is ever-present from the Transport Workers Union.

National Secretary Tony Sheldon continues to be a zealous evangelist for the notion that if truck drivers and operators are paid a base minimum and 'safe' amounts, road tragedies can be reduced. Not many people in the road transport industry disagree with the basic concepts of Sheldon's Safe Rates, if the curtain of dislike for the Union is pushed to one side.

It all went wrong in 2016 when Sheldon, the TWU and the Tribunal pushed beyond the base constituency of the Union and imposed the RSRT 'Orders' on operators who were independent, non-union and the final RSRO put the businesses of thousands of owner drivers and small fleet owners under threat.

We need to ensure this ambush mentality can never happen again. The representative bodies need to work to elevate the issue of safer roads to an election issue, a notion that would be taken up in regional and marginal seats that rely on road transport for survival. And this is a big ask! Are we up to it?

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