Referral of the inquiry
On 11 September 2019, the Senate moved that the following matter be referred to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee (the committee) for inquiry and report by April 2020:
The importance of a viable, safe, sustainable and efficient road transport industry, with particular reference to:
the importance of an enforceable minimum award rate and sustainable standards and conditions for all stakeholders in the road transport industry;
the development and maintenance of road transport infrastructure to ensure a safe and efficient road transport industry;
the regulatory impact, including the appropriateness, relevance and adequacy of the legislative framework, on all stakeholders in the road transport industry;
the training and career pathways to support, develop and sustain the road transport industry;
the social and economic impact of road-related injury, trauma and death;
efficient cost-recovery measures for industry stakeholders, including subcontractors;
the impact of new technologies and advancements in freight distribution, vehicle design, road safety and alternative fuels;
the importance of establishing a formal consultative relationship between the road transport industry and all levels of government in Australia; and
other related matters.
On 13 November 2019, the Senate agreed to extend the inquiry reporting date to 14 October 2020.
On 29 September 2020, pursuant to the order of 23 March 2020, the committee notified the President of a further extension of the reporting date to 11 February 2021.
On 5 February 2021, pursuant to the order of 23 March 2020, the committee notified the President of a further extension of the reporting date to 23 June 2021. Further extensions were granted on 22 June 2021 (to 8 July 2021), and again on 24 June 2021 to 25 August 2021.
Conduct of the inquiry
Information about the inquiry was made available on the committee's webpage. The committee also wrote to a variety of road transport stakeholders and organisations, to invite submissions. Details regarding the inquiry and associated documents are available on the committee's webpage.
The committee received 128 public submissions which are listed at Appendix 1. Public submissions to the inquiry are also published on the committee webpage.
The committee held a number of public hearings in relation to the inquiry, as follows:
Albury, New South Wales, on 22 November 2019;
Brisbane, Queensland, on 24 July 2020;
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, on 25 November 2020 (with South Australian participants via videoconference);
Perth, Western Australia, on 26 November 2020;
Sydney, New South Wales, on 8–9 February 2021;
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, on 11 March 2021;
Melbourne, Victoria, on 19–20 April 2021; and
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, on 28–29 April 2021.
A list of witnesses who appeared at these hearings is at Appendix 2. The Hansard transcripts of evidence from the hearings can be accessed through the committee's webpage.
In this report, some references to Committee Hansard and the Senate Journals are to proof transcripts. Page numbers may vary between proof and official transcripts.
The committee thanks all individuals and organisations that participated in the inquiry, by making submissions and giving evidence at public hearings.
Structure of the report
Chapter 1 provides the background and context to the committee's inquiry. The chapter includes an overview of the road transport industry, and in particular the freight transport sector. The chapter also includes a discussion of road safety issues involving heavy vehicles and work health and safety for workers within the road transport industry.
Chapter 2 examines work health and safety issues across the road transport sector.
Chapter 3 discusses the unsustainable commercial practices threaten the future of road transport workers.
Chapter 4 considers existing regulations and enforcement mechanism in place to support proper conduct across the road transport sector and supply chain.
Chapter 5 is concerned with the education and training needs of workers in the industry, in particular the creation of standardised training under a BlueCard system, and considers measures to attract young people and more diverse entrants into the industry.
Chapter 6 examines road transport infrastructure and improvements required to meet the needs of the industry and achieve increased safety, efficiency and productivity.
Chapter 7 looks at other important elements of the road transport sector, such as new and emerging technologies, matters related to the cash-in-transport sector and calls for a dedicated Minister for Transport.
Chapter 8 consists of the committee’s views for all matters contained within this report and subsequent recommendations.
Road transport industry overview
The Australian road transport industry is one of eight subdivisions of the transport, postal and warehousing industry. It includes road freight transportation and road passenger transportation including buses and taxis. This inquiry is primarily, but not exclusively, concerned with road freight transport.
Road freight transport activity
The Australian road network is vast and road freight transport is a vital means of transporting goods produced and consumed in Australia to businesses and communities. Mr Gary Mahon, chief executive officer of the Queensland Trucking Association, outlined the particular importance of the industry in the current economic climate:
The reliance on the road freight industry has never been more profound due to the extensive and ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 economic crisis, with disrupted global supply chains, simmering trade tensions and weaker demand. We need to be competitive on every metric to keep pace on the global map and keep our freight efficiencies comparable. Our leading manufacturing and production industries depend on it.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has estimated that in the twelve months to June 2020, Australian road freight vehicles moved an estimated 223 949 million tonne-kilometres (tkm) of freight across Australia.
Road freight transport is a growth industry. The road freight task increased by more than 75 per cent between 2000–01 and 2015–16, with the Council of Australian Governments Transport and Infrastructure Council estimating that the volume of freight carried by road will grow by over 35 per cent, to around 400 billion tonne-kilometres, between 2018 and 2040.
Road infrastructure is flexible, readily accessible and has lower capital investment costs in comparison with air or rail transport. Road transport has a greater role over short distances and 75 per cent of Australia's road freight is carried intra-state. The Insurance Work and Health Group at Monash University submitted that the road freight transport industry generated 'almost 80 per cent of the revenue generated by the total freight transportation sector'.
Figure 1.1 shows the growth of road freight relative to rail and sea transport from 1974–75 to 2014–15. Road freight has grown an average of 5 per cent per annum since the 1970s with its overall share growing from 16 per cent to 29 per cent in that time.
The majority of road freight moved in 2017–18 was crude materials such as stone, sand and gravel (30 per cent) with manufactured goods (12 per cent) and live animals (11 per cent) the next largest categories.
In terms of economic activity, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported in 2018 that total transport activity contributed $122.3 billion or 7.4 per cent of GDP in 2015–16, making it the fourth largest industry in the Australian economy. Total transport activity is made up of 'for-hire' passenger and freight transport, which comprises about 63 per cent of total transport activity, and in-house transport activity. The 'for-hire' transport sector, which comprises $77 billion of GDP, includes road freight operations and other for-hire transport services such as taxi services and air passenger transport by commercial airlines. The remaining 37 per cent ($45.3 billion) of the total transport economic activity was generated by in-house road transport, such as retail, mining, construction and agricultural sector industries using their own vehicles.
IBISWorld in 2020 estimated the size of the road freight market by revenue to be $47.6 billion.
Figure 1.1: Domestic freight by mode of transport, 1974–75 to 2014–15
Source: BITRE Australian Infrastructure Statistics Yearbook 2017 reproduced in Australian Trucking Association/Deloitte Access Economics March 2019 paper (Economic Benefits of Improved Regulation in Australian Trucking Industry) p. 10.
Australia's heavy vehicle fleet
A heavy vehicle is classified by the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) as a vehicle with a gross vehicle mass (GVM) or aggregate trailer mass (ATM) of more than 4.5 tonnes. The GVM of a vehicle is the maximum it can weigh when fully loaded, as specified by the manufacturer. The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) provides the following as examples of heavy vehicles:
livestock and other agricultural vehicles; and
mobile cranes and other special purpose vehicles.
Some of the most common heavy vehicle combinations used in the Australian vehicle fleet are depicted in figure 1.2 below.
Figure 1.2: Types of heavy vehicles
Source: Australian Trucking Association/Deloitte Economic Access, Economic Benefits of Improved Regulation in Australian Trucking Industry, March 2019, p. 15.
Road freight carried in heavy vehicles weighing 4.5 tonnes or more accounted for some 95 per cent of road freight movement in 2017–18, of which 77 per cent was carried on articulated trucks and 19 per cent by rigid trucks. The total Australian vehicle fleet in the twelve months to June 2020 included 104 442 articulated trucks and 521 255 rigid trucks.
Road freight transport industry and workforce profile
The road freight transport industry ranges from small operators with a single vehicle to large multinational fleet operations. It also includes freight forwarders who coordinate small freight movements but do not own the trucks they use (see figure 1.3).
Figure 1.3: Trucking industry structure
Source: Australian Trucking Association/Deloitte Access Economic, Economic benefits of improved regulation in Australian trucking industry, March 2019, p. 13.
Overwhelmingly, the industry's some 51 000 businesses are numerically dominated by small businesses, 'of which 53 per cent are non-employing owner drivers and 45 per cent are small businesses with 19 or fewer employees'. Less than 0.1 per cent of all operators have more than 200 employees. An industry overview in 2019 noted that '[less] than 0.5% of all operators own a fleet of more than 100 trucks, and 70% have just one truck in their fleet'.
The industry is characterised by low market concentration, with the three largest companies—Toll Group, Linfox and K&S—estimated to hold market shares of between one and nine per cent of industry revenue.
According to an October 2019 report by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE), there were around 200 000 people employed in road transport (including bus and taxi passenger transport) in 2016, of which 129 525 were employed in road freight transport. Road transport workers were 85 per cent male and had a median age of 47, with 30.1 per cent aged 55 or over. Dr Ross Iles from Monash University submitted that truck driving 'is the most common occupation in male Australians, employing 1 in every 33 men of working age, or approximately 3% of all male workers in the nation'.
As shown in figure 1.4 below, while the transport, postal and warehousing sector employed the most drivers, they were also employed in other industries such as construction, manufacturing, utilities, mining, and wholesale trade.
Figure 1.4: Employing industry of Australian truck drivers, 2016
Source: BITRE, National profile of transport, postal and warehousing workers in 2016, p. 7.
As shown in figure 1.5 below, truck drivers in 2016 also reported working longer hours than average, with 39 per cent of truck drivers working 49 or more hours per week (compared to 16 per cent of workers nationally).
Truck drivers were more likely than other workers to be employed full-time (85 per cent compared to 65 per cent nationally). Full-time truck drivers in 2016 had a lower median weekly income ($1173) than all full-time employed persons ($1272). BITRE noted, however, that this median was 'well above the current minimum award rates of pay for full-time long distance truck drivers', which in 2016 ranged between $814 and $924 per week, excluding allowances, penalties and overtime.
Figure 1.5: Proportion of truck drivers by working hours, 2016
Source: BITRE, National profile of transport, postal and warehousing workers in 2016, p. 26.
Transport and logistics company Toll Group submitted in response to these workforce figures that:
The [BITRE] report paints a sobering picture of the demographics in the industry. Despite comparatively good wages, deficits in safety and status combine to make it unattractive. We have made no progress on attracting women to the workforce, we have an aging workforce, second only to farming, and we’ve lost 6,400 truck drivers during a time where the freight task has doubled. Government and industry need to work together to map out a blueprint for attracting people to the industry. If truck drivers keep declining at the current rate, the industry could come to a standstill.
The Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation (ARTIO) made clear that the primary focus needed to be pay conditions across the road transport sector. ARTIO’s representative, Mr Paul Ryan made clear that without addressing this matter, then the sector will have an issue attracting people into the industry.
Heavy vehicles and road safety
Heavy vehicles are disproportionately involved in road crash casualties. Analysis released by BITRE in 2016 calculated that heavy vehicles comprised 2.4 per cent of registrations and 7 per cent of vehicle-kilometres travelled, but were responsible for some 16 per cent of road crash fatalities and 4 per cent of injuries.
Collisions involving heavy vehicles have high rates of death and injury due to the 'mass difference between heavy vehicles and all other vehicles and unprotected road user'.
BITRE further noted that in around 80 per cent of fatal multiple vehicle crashes involving trucks, the truck driver was not at fault.
BITRE further explained that 'trucks on average travel longer distances than passenger vehicles, and account for a proportionally larger share of traffic on roads outside urban areas', where most fatal accidents occur. Eighty per cent of fatalities where an articulated truck is involved, and 55 per cent where a heavy rigid truck is involved, occur in a regional or remote area.
Deaths from crashes involving heavy vehicles
During the 12 months to the end of December 2020, 170 people died in crashes involving heavy vehicles on Australian roads. This included 104 deaths in crashes involving articulated trucks and 68 deaths in crashes involving heavy rigid trucks. This was a 9.6 per cent decrease on the previous 12 months.
Between 2011 and 2020, the average number of people killed each year in Australia in crashes involving heavy vehicles was 180. As shown in figure 1.6, the overall trend showed a decline in deaths on average by 2.5 per cent per annum over the decade and by 0.9 per cent per annum since December 2017.
Figure 1.6: Numbers of deaths from crashes involving heavy trucks, 2011–20
Source: BITRE, Fatal heavy vehicle crashes Australia quarterly bulletin Oct–Dec 2020.
When the trend for fatalities in crashes involving heavy vehicles is broken down by type of vehicle involved, as shown in figure 1.7 below, fatalities in crashes involving articulated trucks fell by an average of 5 per cent each year between 2009 and 2018 while the average number of fatalities in crashes involving rigid trucks over the same period remained steady.
Figure 1.7: Fatalities in crashes involving heavy vehicles—trends, 2009–18
Source: BITRE, Road trauma involving heavy vehicles 2018 annual summary, April 2020, p. iii.
The National Truck Accident Research Centre reported significant improvement in the safety performance of the heavy vehicle fleet between 2004 to 2015, from a rate of 1.85 fatal crashes per billion tonne kilometres of freight to just over 1. In 2016 and 2017 the rate of crashes remained static.
Hospitalisations from crashes involving heavy vehicles
Between 2008 and 2017, an average of around 1700 people a year were hospitalised in Australia due to accidents involving heavy trucks or buses. While deaths from heavy vehicle crashes have reduced in recent years, numbers of hospitalisations are increasing. Table 1.1 below shows the numbers of hospitalised injuries by year to all road users and to heavy vehicle occupants (mostly drivers) from crashes involving heavy vehicles or buses.
Table 1.1: Hospitalised injuries in crashes involving heavy vehicles, 2008 to 2017
Heavy vehicle or bus – all road users
Heavy transport occupants
Source: BITRE, Hospitalised injury, September 2020, tables 2 and 7.
Social and economic costs
Road-related injury, trauma and death has an immense social and economic impact. It includes losses of a person's potential earnings and contribution to a household, ongoing care of people with disability, medical costs, vehicle repairs and unavailability, travel delays and insurance administration. There are also intangible losses from the quality of life a person would have enjoyed had they not died prematurely as well as the pain, grief and suffering from relatives and friends.
Emeritus Professor Michael Quinlan, an academic specialising in industrial relations and workplace health and safety, informed the committee that a study in which he had participated on the impact of workplace death found that 'of the 12 to 20 people on average who are affected by a workplace fatality, and this included truck drivers, 61 per cent experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, 44 per cent experienced major depressive disorder and 42 per cent experienced prolonged grief disorder'. Emeritus Professor Quinlan concluded that trucking 'is one of the most dangerous occupations and the impacts on families are profound'.
The social and economic cost of road trauma also forms the basis of cost–benefit analyses of regulations aimed at reducing physical harm such as transport safety measures.
The Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads estimated serious brain injuries cost the community around $4.8 million and each spinal injury $9.5 million.
The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development submitted that '[the] Australian Transport Assessment and Planning Guidelines Steering Committee is currently leading a project on behalf of the Transport and Infrastructure Council to develop nationally agreed willingness-to-pay values for private car drivers and passengers, which will support future assessment of the cost of road crashes'.
The Transport Workers’ Union of Australia (TWU) referenced statistics that reveal the social and economic cost associated with deaths and injuries across the road transport sector:
an economic cost of road crashes equating to $27 billion per year;
approximately 200 heavy vehicle crashes resulting in fatalities;
1500 crashes leading to hospitalisation;
a further 11,000 crashes resulting in less serious injuries; and
32,000 crashes causing property damage.
A 2016 study by the ANU found the total costs of road crashes to be two per cent of Australia’s GDP or $33.16 billion, consisting of: $9.38 billion in property damage; $10.2 billion in fatality costs; and $13.58 billion in injury costs indicating a total increase of 22 per cent since 2006. Of those road crashes, the heavy vehicle sector was over represented with 14.7 per cent of the total number of crashes involving ‘heavy rigid or articulated trucks, accounting for $4.64 billion in costs alone’.
Crash risks to drivers
Truck drivers face significant risk of crashes. Figure 1.8 shows the numbers of heavy truck occupant (mostly driver) deaths and hospitalisations in the decade prior to the 2017–18 financial year. In 2019, fifty drivers were killed in truck crashes, the highest figure in a decade and a 30 per cent increase on 2018.
Truck drivers emphasised to the committee that these are not just road statistics, they are workplace statistics, and that there is a degree of acceptance of driver accidents and fatalities that would not be tolerated in other industries. Mr Peter Biagini, Queensland Branch Secretary of the Transport Workers' Union observed:
We are seen as traffic accidents, and they happen all day long. But if you get killed on a building site or in a mining accident, it's seen as a disaster—and it is.
Figure 1.8: Deaths and hospitalised injuries of heavy truck occupants, 2007–08 to 2017–18
Source: BITRE, Road trauma involving heavy vehicles 2018 statistical summary, April 2020, p. 11.
The hospitalisation of drivers was identified as a continuing concern for the viability of the industry as many hospitalised drivers are unable to return to work.
A study by Toll Group identified suicide death of motorists by truck collision as another significant risk for truck drivers. Toll studied 147 deaths in 127 incidents that Toll drivers had been involved in over a 10-year period and found that in 14 per cent of cases 'a third party intentionally [moved] into the path of one of [Toll's] vehicles and is confirmed as suicidality-ideated by the coroner, the police or an insurer'.
The George Institute for Global Health, a medical research institute, cited National Transport Accident Research Centre analysis from 2017 that found that '37.5 per cent of all multi-vehicle fatal incidents in 2017 were either indicated or strongly indicated to be suicides, with 20.8 per cent being strongly indicated'. The George Institute remarked that the difficulties in identifying suicides by truck 'have led to under reporting and therefore a lack of action on this issue', which could have a 'detrimental effect on the mental health of truck drivers'. The George Institute articulated the need for research and investment in this area to understand its prevalence, impacts and prevention strategies.
Work health and safety hazards to workers in the road freight transport industry are discussed in more detail below.
Reducing heavy vehicle-related injury, trauma and death
Mr Andrew McKellar, chief executive officer of the Australian Trucking Association drew the committee's attention to the National Road Safety Strategy 2021–2030 with the observation that it aimed for a '50 per cent reduction in fatalities per capita and a 30 per cent reduction in serious injuries per capita by 2030' but that it 'does not quantify how Australia can get there, and the proposed actions that we see in there relating to heavy vehicles—to trucks—are not strong'.
The committee heard that given that in most heavy vehicle accidents the driver was not at fault, there appeared to be a deficit in training for motorists, especially young drivers, on how to better anticipate other road users and avoid crashes with heavy vehicles.
NatRoad submitted that benchmarks for heavy vehicle road safety should be created from data to enable performance improvements to be measured against appropriate targets. NatRoad called for further research into and analysis of heavy vehicle crashes and was one of several submitters that advocated for a dedicated authority, such as the Australian Transport Safety Bureau or the Office of Road Safety, to take responsibility for investigating and reporting on serious heavy vehicle crashes.
Other witnesses emphasised that any specialised unit with responsibility for heavy vehicle collisions should look beyond driver fatigue to 'what sort of training have they had and what pressure have they been put under by anybody in the chain'.
Inquiry participants repeatedly stressed the interconnectedness of heavy vehicle road safety and economics, emphasising that time and financial pressures led to drivers engaging in riskier behaviours such as speeding and missing breaks. As one driver explained,
Trucks don’t have accidents drivers do, and every wage contract in the industry at this time, tempts & compels the long-distance driver to drive in an unsafe manner and put his or hers and other road users lives at risk.
Mr Richard Olsen, Branch Secretary of the Transport Workers' Union of New South Wales, pointed to systemic issues affecting the industry where wealthy clients at the top of the supply chain exert downward pressure to undermine safety:
Year on year, we see major profitable retailers, manufacturers and companies demanding their goods be delivered in less and unrealistic time frames. This leads to drivers being pushed by bosses to cut corners by pushing speed, working excessive hours, skipping rest breaks and ignoring fatigue management regulations. With little individual bargaining power, drivers are often forced to put themselves in danger. As Australia's deadliest industry, no lessons have been learnt from consecutive tragedies.
The link between pay and conditions and road safety is discussed in more detail in chapter 2.