Second Reading – Owner Drivers and Forestry Contractors Amendment Bill 2019
18 June 2019 : Mr Walsh
I rise to make a contribution on the Owner Drivers and Forestry Contractors Amendment Bill 2019. I suppose no contribution from the other side of the house would be complete without some criticism of the federal government and the member for Sydenham has not disappointed me here. There just always has to be a whack somehow at the coalition federal government-and in this case about an issue of road safety. What intrigues me is that it is the Labor Party that has actually got rid of the Road Safety Committee of this Parliament. If the other side was actually fair dinkum about road safety in this state they would still actually have a road safety committee in this Parliament that would actually be looking at road safety issues. So I think the words from the member for Sydenham are rather hollow when it comes to road safety given the Labor Party’s track record on the Road Safety Committee of this particular Parliament. We have tragically seen a significant increase in the fatalities on roads in Victoria so far in this 12-month period and I think both sides of the house would love to see the numbers declining year on year rather than increasing and one of the things that would actually help do that would be to have a road safety committee of this Parliament that could actually look at those road safety issues rather than just talk about and criticise the federal government on those particular things. The member for Sydenham and former minister also talked about the issue of the 2016 review into the Owner Drivers and Forestry Contractors Act 2005 which supposedly these amendments are based on but one of the things with that inquiry and with the submissions that were made to it is that no-one knows what was actually in those. As the former minister said they are confidential to the government. If the government is actually serious about what the logic is behind these amendments it should actually make those public. You can redact the name and the information of the people that put them forward. There is no issue about the confidentiality of the actual name of the person or the business that puts them forward but I would have thought the content of those submissions would be useful for both sides of politics and would be useful for the industry in judging this legislation against what people actually said because no one knows. As we know knowledge is power. The Labor Party is great at making sure no-one else actually knows what is going on with the things that it does-in this case with this particular piece of legislation. We actually do not know that these legislative amendments that are before the house relate back to the submissions that were made and I think it just shows the arrogance of this particular government and how they are actually going about things. I would urge the government to release that report and to release those submissions with the names of the people submitting or the businesses submitting redacted-I accept that-but at least let us have the information that is out there. I suppose particularly from a harvest and haul contractors point of view there have been comments made around certainty in contracts and certainty in payments and also the stress that is on small business owner-drivers in making a dollar and what they have to do to survive. I think if you talk particularly about the forestry contractors-the harvest and haul contractors in the forestry industry-the greatest thing that would give them certainty the greatest thing that would take stress out of their lives and the greatest thing that would mean that they could actually be profitable in the future would be certainty around their work. We saw this government go for over 12 months with not actually having a timber release plan or an allocation order so there was certainty of work for that particular segment of the owner-drivers and forest contractors in this particular state. I can remember visiting Traralgon with an upper house member for Eastern Victoria Region Melina Bath where we met with a group of harvest hauling contractors who had just signed a new five-year contract with VicForests. As part of that contract they had been required to go and buy new machinery to make sure they had the safest and the best machinery. One particular contractor there that we met with had spent over a million dollars on a new harvesting machine and had bought several new trucks and a new truck and trailer are probably close to half a million dollars each as well. This particular businessman had invested $1.5 to $2 million into his business based on a five-year contract and he had been stood down by VicForests because there was no timber release to actually do that work. So again if the former minister the member for Sydenham is serious about making sure that there is certainty in owner-drivers’ lives there is certainty in contractors’ lives it is incumbent on the government to actually make sure the timber is there that these harvest and haul contractors can actually make a dollar and know they can invest with certainty that they will have work for the full five years of their contract rather than being stood down or told by DELWP ‘Go and do some fire recovery work; we can’t give you timber at the moment to do this work but go and do this work’. That lasted for a short period of time but then there was this huge uncertainty for them again. No discussion about forestry harvest and haul contractors would be complete without paying some tribute to the former upper house member Philip Dalidakis who resigned yesterday. Before Philip came into Parliament and before he had some other jobs with the Labor Party he was actually the executive officer of the Victorian Association of Forest Industries and someone who was an absolute champion of the forest industries and the harvest and haul contractors there. I pay tribute to what Philip did on behalf of that sector. There are those of the view that Philip lost his cabinet spot in the changes after the 2018 election because he was actually a champion of the forest industry. The view that some people have put forward is that he did not get to stay in the cabinet because he actually stuck up for the forestry industry whereas those from the green and the left side of the party actually wanted to make sure the forest industry closed down here in Victoria. So can I pay tribute to Philip for what he did for the forestry industry both when he worked for the Victorian Association of Forestry Industries and also as I understand it for how he was one of the very few voices if not the lone voice within the Labor Party and particularly in the cabinet who was actually standing up for the forest industry and the 22 000-something jobs right across Victoria-the forest industry the harvest and haul the timber mills the processing the furniture industry the truss industry the house-building industry-all those people that actually rely on the native timber industry here in Victoria. It was good to have a champion. I wish him well with his new job with Australia Post but I would hope-I would desperately hope-that there are some voices on the other side of this house who will stand up for the timber industry rather than see it continually decline under this particular government because there is a real risk of that. As our lead speaker spoke about on this particular piece of legislation there are provisions in this legislation that allow an owner-driver contractor to be offered a contract on the terms negotiated by a negotiating agent even though the owner-driver contractor did not appoint that particular agent. There are concerns from the industry that this may clear the path for the likes of Transport Workers Union organisers to actually bully hirers into taking TWU-approved terms. We do not want to see that sort of situation in the transport industry. We want to make sure that there are plenty of hirers and there are plenty of people wanting to be hired to make sure there is competition in the transport sector. The last thing I would like to finish off on is this requirement to pay invoices within 30 days unless there is a dispute or unless the parties have agreed otherwise. I think one of the challenges that small business have both dealing with large business and particularly dealing with government is that they do not get paid. I constantly get people coming into my office in Echuca where they have dealt with large contractors from Melbourne who have come into the regions and won a contract-they have beaten everyone else when it came to price. They employ subbies and then they do not pay them on time or they actually go broke and do not pay them at all. I think that is a real tragedy for a lot of small businesses-that they are put under severe pressure by big business and by those with government contracts who actually do not pay them on time or do not pay them at all. So I think that is a good change there where you can make sure that contractors and subcontractors are actually paid on time. Our lead speaker also talked about the issue of electronic forms of information and the use of new technology. I think one of the exciting things that is being developed in the future is this whole concept of the blockchain system where you have actually got full transparency from the start to the end of a supply chain or a production chain or whatever and you can actually guarantee payment through that particular system. As I said one of the greatest challenges for small business apart from the work they have to do is actually making sure they get paid for that work because if they do not get paid they obviously go broke very quickly and big business and the government are notorious for not paying people on time or not paying at all. The opposition will not be opposing this particular piece of legislation.