Heartbroken owner driver truckies have pleaded with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to abolish a transport watchdog that is crippling their family-run businesses.
On the eve of parliament’s return, about 200 truckies drove their rigs to Canberra on Sunday to urge MPs to scrap the Gillard government’s Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal that has set new minimum pay rates.
Some came from as far away as Townsville, Adelaide and Western Australia.
Gordon Mackinlay, from Holbrook in NSW, told the rally his truck hadn’t made a buck in a week.
“This is not about politics – I want to feed my family and make a truck (loan) repayment next month,” he said.
Kelly Boland, who runs a business with her husband, said her family had been owner drivers for three generations and their 19-year-old son wants to be the fourth.
“His future is being taken away from him,” she said.
Mr Turnbull vowed to get the owner drivers back on the road.
“Their pioneering spirit, their courage are the life blood of our nation and economy,” the prime minister said.
The federal government will introduce draft legislation into parliament this week to kill off the tribunal and it has a backup bill to freeze the pay rates to 2017 if there’s not enough support in the Senate.
Independent senator Glenn Lazarus is rallying his fellow crossbenchers to back abolition, with the government needing six of their votes to pass the legislation.
“There are thousands of truckies in limbo,” he said.
“I’m getting messages from partners saying their husbands and wives are stuck in Adelaide, stuck in Perth because they can’t afford to come home.”
For Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, the blasts of truck horns is the sound of a nation moving.
“That’s the sound of jobs, the sound of farmers moving cattle … mines moving minerals, shops moving produce,” he said.
But Labor and the Transport Workers Union argue abolishing the tribunal will lead to more road carnage.
“When truck drivers are not paid a safe rate, they are left with no choice but to skip on maintenance, speed and drive while fatigued, or risk not being able to keep a roof over their family’s heads,” NSW union secretary Michael Aird said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the solution wasn’t to get rid of the independent umpire but he clarified Labor was open to delaying the pay orders.
“Two hundred and 10 people died on our roads in heavy vehicle truck collisions last year,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
Mr Joyce said it was time for Mr Shorten to own up to his mistake.
“What else does he want? A telegram from the Queen? The Archangel Gabriel to appear in a vision tonight saying, ‘Bill, I think you made the wrong decision on that one’?” he said.
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said the tribunal was a result of a dirty deal between Labor and the union to boost its coffers.
“Quite frankly it’s an insult to hear members of the Labor Party and Bill Shorten accuse you (owner drivers) of being drug addicts or not driving safely,” she said.
A convoy of trucks will converge on Parliament House on Monday morning.