Senate to debate road tribunal abolition

The Senate will soon decide whether to scrap the road safety tribunal, which imposes minimum pay rates on owner-driver truckies.

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Hours after handing the Turnbull government a double dissolution trigger by rejecting for a second time a bill to reinstate the building industry watchdog, the Senate is expected to debate the tribunal’s abolition.

The government slipped the bill – and another bill to freeze a minimum pay decision for owner-truck drivers – into this week’s parliamentary agenda.

Parliament was recalled on Monday by the governor-general at the request of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in a constitutional move not used in almost 40 years.

The intention was to deal with legislation to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission and a bill to crack down on unions.

The ABCC bill was voted down by the Senate on Monday evening.

Last week the government revealed it would also introduce legislation to scrap the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.

The coalition used its numbers to gag debate on the abolition on Monday evening before the lower house passed the bill and sent it to the Senate.

If the abolition bill isn’t passed in the upper house, the government’s back-up plan is to freeze a minimum pay rate decision for owner-drivers, which the coalition says puts 35,000 businesses at risk.

Nationals MP Mark Coulton told parliament the decision deprived owner-driver truckies from achieving the great Australian dream of being your own boss.

He said the decision forced drivers to park their trucks because they can’t compete against bigger transport companies.

Employed truck drivers were not covered by the minimum pay decision, only drivers who own their own vehicles making it cheaper for bigger companies who employ drivers.

Mr Coulton, who holds a heavy vehicle driver’s licence, said owner-drivers would have to charge a higher rate than the average to comply with the rules.

They had two options: break the law and hope they weren’t caught or charge the higher rate and miss out on the job.

“This is not about safety, this is about anti-competitive behaviour,” he said on Monday.

Cabinet minister Christopher Pyne argues there is no tangible safety outcome from the tribunal.

Labor disagrees, saying there is a direct correlation between minimum pay rates and road safety.

Scrapping the tribunal would make roads less safe for all Australians.

Mr Pyne says it’s vital to abolish the body to ensure owner-truck drivers can keep working.

“This is about those operators who just want to earn a living so they can continue to sponsor their local sporting club, St John’s Ambulance or their children’s school without having their livelihood threatened,” he told parliament.

It appears the government has enough support in the Senate to pass at least the freeze.