Senator Glenn Sterle said the squeeze on our operators is now at a point where it can't go on any longer.
Senator Glenn Sterle said the squeeze on our operators is now at a point where it can't go on any longer. The Weekly Times

Senator Glenn Sterle says everyone will get a fair go

SENATOR Glenn Sterle wants to get one thing straight in the countdown to the federal election in May.

If Labor wins, owner- drivers need not fear the resulting safe rates order or the new-look Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal charged with its governance.

Speaking to Big Rigs the day after convening a well- attended transport forum in Canberra, Labor's Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety was at pains to correct the misconceptions that had arisen since the ill-fated Road Safety Remuneration Order 2016.

"Why the hell would I do anything to disadvantage the owner-driver?” Mr Sterle said.

"I'm a third-generation owner-diver. My house was built on it.”

Although the exact details were yet to be hammered out, Mr Sterle said Labor's new version of safe rates would be vastly different from the first which divided the industry and sparked nationwide protests.

"Let's be clear, the order was atrocious,” he said, citing a number of ways the order was weighted against owner-drivers.

"We had no favours done for our industry but I want to make this clear for your readers, I have no intentions at all of introducing anything that tells companies what they can charge.

"Whether you're using employed drivers or subcontractors there will be a standard by which you can't go below and that will be worked out with industry.”

Mr Sterle said he had no "ace up his sleeve” in terms of a quick fix to make trucking safer should Labor prevail.

PROTESTS: Trucks head out of BP Archerfield for the Anti-RSRO protest convoy in 2016.
PROTESTS: Trucks head out of BP Archerfield for the Anti-RSRO protest convoy in 2016. Carly Morrissey

But he conceded there would be a new version of the RSRT, although he was adamant it wouldn't go by the same name.

"There are other things we mustn't forget,” he said.

"When we had the RSRT we had the ability to ensure that transport operators would get paid within 30 days. The baby was thrown out with the bath water - that's not my terminology, it's been said to me a number of times.

"I also have a plan that I will be forming a working body, not just on safe rates but an industry body with industry experts to address all our issues in the transport industry where I can be of assistance in the federal arena, which has never happened before.

"That will be a cross representation from industry, owner-drivers, small businesses, the associations and the union,and I'm dead-set serious on that.”

Although retired from truck driving for years, Mr Sterle said he'd retained the passion for the industry and jumped at the chance to be on the frontline of reform.

"Bill (Shorten) gave him the opportunity last year when he promoted me to a shadow assistant minister and said to me, sort it out, go out there and work,” he said.

"The squeeze on the truckies has been there forever. It's just that it's getting worse and worse.”

So how does he expect new rates will make truckies safer?

"I'll rephrase that - by not paying them properly it makes the roads less safe,” he said.

"When there are rates or remunerations structured around kilometres or tonnages there is a tendency for that type of system to be exploited for greed. And that's what came out of Canberra.”

ATA chair Geoff Crouch said it was very encouraging to see everybody proactively contributing at the Canberra forum to one central goal: to improve safety outcomes.

"We look forward to continuing the discussion with Senator Sterle and his colleagues,” Mr Crouch said.

Owner-driver Chris Howard said while there were some different agendas in the room, everyone was on the same team.

"It would be great to have a combined effort incorporating drivers, employers and suppliers,” Mr Howard said.

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