For the entire time that he’s been a member of Parliament, Mr Neville’s been a strong supporter of our industry.
Twelve years ago, when he was the Chair of the House of Representatives’ committee on transport, Mr Neville produced a major report entitled “Beyond the Midnight Oil: managing fatigue in the transport industry.” He wrote this, back in 1999-2000:
… our entire society is evolving into a “24 hour society” as we expect goods and services to be available around the clock. In simple terms, this requires people to be at work at all hours of the day and night …
As a result of these changes the [transport] industry has been made more efficient and increased competition has resulted in lower transport costs for consumers. But there is a growing body of evidence indicating that we are fast approaching the point where best practice in efficiency is jeopardising best practice in safety …
Evidence suggests that the combination of low freight rates and the increasing cost of overheads (such as fuel and tyres) means that many operators are being forced to drive longer, faster and further in order to make even a small profit. As one long distance truck driver told us, he has ‘never ever worked harder to try and make nothing’.
This week, Mr Neville was asking strong questions of one organisation that appeared in front of him as a witness. Here’s some of what he said:
Mr NEVILLE: I would have thought from [this witness] we would have got a bit more sagacity and insight into this matter of safety. Your basic premise is that there is insufficient evidence to support a definitive link between remuneration levels and safety outcomes.
We have had a series of inquiries going back 10 or 11 years now, one of which I chaired, where we felt that the limits had already at that time been pushed to a point where drivers were not receiving fair reward.
Two things were happening. In companies where there were employees they were taking on more overtime than they could reasonably handle. And in the case of the owner-drivers they were being set unrealistic limits.
Just to say that you do not think there has been any evidence and that there has been a small decrease in the number of heavy vehicle road fatalities—I do not think that establishes anything. Would you like to respond to that?
Witness: [the witness offered some comments on the positive contribution of Chain of Responsibility legislation and industry codes of conduct]
Mr NEVILLE: Yes but does it go to things like possible demurrage? Does it go to things like saying that people will be reimbursed for unrealistic waiting times?
Or are we hopeful that in some sort of ethereal future this will all even out?
When you get to a point where no-one is responding properly to these manifest inefficiencies in the transport industry, you can understand why a section of the industry is asking for a tribunal—so that at least someone independent can say what is a fair thing.
There seem to be a lot of prospective and hopeful attitudes put forward, but they do not improve the lot of the young guy behind the wheel of a truck—
CHAIR: Nor the community they are driving through.
Mr NEVILLE: Exactly. One thing you just said in your presentation staggered me. You say that this tribunal should not have any powers over fatigue related matters. I found that an extraordinary statement.
It will be an interesting couple of weeks while we watch to see how this unfolds.