TOW TRUCK INDUSTRY AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from 27 October.
(Ku-ring-gai - Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [11.01 a.m.]: I speak on behalf of the Opposition on this bill and acknowledge the presence in the gallery of students from Nowra Public School in the Federal seat of Gilmore, represented by my colleague Ms Joanna Gash. I welcome also students from a number of schools in the electorate of the honourable member for Kogarah. Students from Nowra Public School have already witnessed one debate on a transport bill introduced by the Minister for Transport and they are about to witness another.
The debate demonstrates that the majority of work in the Chamber is done co-operatively, rather than in adversity and conflict so often portrayed by the media. The honourable member for Kogarah, the honourable member for The Entrance and even my friend the honourable member for Wollongong represent their constituents well and do so in the spirit of co-operation. We do not deserve quite the reputation for behaviour that is sometimes portrayed in the media.
The Opposition does not oppose the Tow Truck Industry Amendment Bill, which was introduced into this Chamber last week with the support of the Opposition. It followed a review of the tow truck industry conducted by a former member, Peter Anderson. The Opposition strongly supports every effort to clean up the tow truck industry, which has been a blight, particularly on this city, for many years. It has been the subject of reviews by successive governments of all persuasions and the Opposition is delighted to join in the spirit of bipartisanship to ensure that the industry is tightened up.
The job allocation scheme will extend to regional and country New South Wales. The Minister would be aware of concerns expressed by operators in those regions and those concerns will be addressed by the honourable member for Albury. Overall, the Opposition believes this is worthwhile legislation. I note that the bill seeks to amend three pieces of legislation. First, it seeks to amend the Tow Truck Industry Act, which was introduced last year, and makes essentially finetuning administrative changes to the job allocation scheme. The bill seeks also to amend the Road Transport (General) Act 1999 and the Road Transport (Safety and Traffic Management) Act 1999, particularly in relation to the towing away of vehicles and the creation of tow-away zones for special events, a development which is clearly and logically necessary.
I raise an issue in relation to those provisions on which I seek a response from the Minister. The Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA] will be protected under these amendments from claims for compensation in the event of a vehicle being damaged when towed. I seek advice from the Minister about a car being towed away which was previously stolen. Will the compensation waiver mean that the person whose car was stolen will have to foot the bill? The RTA should consider that matter because there is a difference between those who wilfully disregard tow-away zones and those whose cars, having been illegally taken in the first instance, are left in a tow-away zone. Other than that, the Opposition does not oppose the bill.
(The Entrance) [11.06 p.m.]: The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is known for his bipartisanship. I, too, emphasise that in
Parliament 85 per cent of legislation is done by consensus and only 15 per cent is in dispute. Unfortunately, the media uses disputes for conveying to the general community the image of Parliament but that perception is not correct. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition and I enjoy a strong personal relationship: we both regularly visit McDonald’s.
The honourable member for Albury is a true gentleman of the House and on a number of occasions I have enjoyed his company and that of his family. They are great community representatives and he is an excellent local member. I am not too sure about the new honourable member for Wagga Wagga. He is still on training wheels and I will reserve my judgment. Given the company he is keeping today, perhaps he has a good future also. The Tow Truck Industry Amendment Bill is a further extension and refinement of the Tow Truck Industry Act 1988.
I congratulate the Minister on taking on a matter that has been too difficult for governments in the past two decades. Everyone who has personal experience of this problem is dissatisfied with it. More than 30 years ago the behaviour of tow truck drivers at the scene of an accident involving my mother was more than reprehensible. Governments, the RTA, the NRMA, the Motor Traders Association [MTA] and every industry organisation have all been aware of this problem, but for a number of reasons no action was taken. It is to the credit of the Minister and the Government that they have driven these necessary reforms.
The appointment of Peter Anderson to head the inquiry was a tremendous decision. As a former Minister for Police, Peter Anderson has an intimate knowledge of the industry and the problems associated with violence in the industry. In addition, he is a master negotiator in a very difficult situation, as proven by the Act that was passed last year and the amendments that have come forward this year, and he has undertaken extensive consultation. This is a hallmark of the Carr Labor Government, particularly the Minister for Transport.
This Government works continuously through a negotiation and consultation policy to produce legislation that will have the agreement of both sides of the House. This consultative approach started with the introduction of the Tow Truck Industry Act 1998. The current bill makes a number of minor amendments to provide effective tow truck regulation. The bill will enable the Tow Truck Authority [TTA] to represent the Crown in regard to tow truck matters. As the Government’s regulatory authority, the TTA will be able to better carry out its functions. Currently a non-Government authority carries out these functions. The amendment fulfils an important requirement by giving necessary authority to the TTA.
The bill enshrines in legislation provisions relating to the allocation scheme that are currently contained in regulations. It deals with the relationship between the TTA and participants in the job allocation scheme and makes it clear that job allocation prevails over any other arrangements for towing work. This ensures that the structure of the allocation scheme is clear and straightforward. The Tow Truck Industry Amendment Bill contains tow- away provisions to enable the Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA] to improve its traffic management services.
The TTA will work closely with the Roads and Traffic Authority’s state-of-the-art Transport Management Centre to ensure that illegally parked vehicles are removed from clearways as quickly as possible. This will help to clear traffic around an accident site and assist in reducing traffic delays. As a representative of an electorate situated on the Central Coast and as a person who is familiar with the operation of the F3 motorway, I assure the House that this is a very important issue as it relates to traffic management and the operation of major arterial roads on the Central Coast and in other parts of New South Wales.
When the speed limit on a section of road in my electorate from Mount White to the Hawkesbury was reduced from 110 kilometres per hour to 90 kilometres per hour, and when a tow truck system similar to one that operates on the Sydney Harbour Bridge was introduced providing new protocols, the rate of accidents was reduced by 83 per cent, which has brought about major improvement in quality of life for the whole community, reduction of social costs associated with accidents, and reduction in travelling time. These major benefits will flow on to the whole community.
The bill also allows the RTA to create special tow-away areas to help cater for special events, and increases the penalty for failing to pay the prescribed tow-away charge. That will be a major issue in the year 2000 celebrations. The bill will ensure that motorists who can show that their vehicle was stolen and left in a clearway will not be liable for obstructing traffic. By virtue of these amendments, tow truck drivers who are authorised by the RTA to remove vehicles that are causing an obstruction will be permitted to use any reasonable means to move the vehicle.
The proposed amendments will allow tow truck operators and drivers to take the course of action that is least likely to damage the vehicle and will protect them from being liable for any damage that is not caused by their own negligence. This matter was referred to also by the member who preceded me in this debate. The job allocation scheme is part of a comprehensive reform strategy. As chair of the Tow Truck Authority, Peter Anderson has undertaken unprecedented consultation with the industry. The majority of tow truck operators want to clean up the industry. Support for the reform process is strong. The reforms that have already been undertaken include a restructured Tow Truck Authority with an advisory council that includes the Motor Traders Association, the NRMA, the police and the Department of Fair Trading.
The restructuring will provide a better enforcement framework and a stronger policy focus to solve problems in the industry as they arise. There will also be a more effective disciplinary process to make sure that if drivers do the wrong thing they will be punished. There will be more enforcement officers and tighter regulations to bring discipline to the streets and highways. In addition, there will be stronger character requirements and, in liaison with the police, better security checks on people who are involved in the tow truck industry.
As I mentioned earlier, there has been extensive consultation with the industry. Two reports by Peter Anderson were made available for public comment. Surveys of tow truck operators and drivers were also carried out, and focus groups in the city and in country areas were also part of the process. An 80-page regulatory impact statement was sent to all operators in the industry. Moreover, Peter Anderson made himself personally available to meet face to face with the industry throughout the whole of the State and also made himself available to all interested members of Parliament. That level of consultation is important to the industry in reflecting the culture of the industry and the support of decent-minded people in the tow truck industry.
The job allocation scheme will commence early in the year 2000 notwithstanding, as the Minister indicated, the Y2K bug. The scheme will operate statewide and will include heavy vehicle towing. The job allocation scheme will co-ordinate towing services for the Roads and Traffic Authority, the New South Wales Police Service and the New South Wales Ambulance Service. There will be a continuous rotating roster which will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in identified accident zones. The operators who wish to participate in the scheme will be assigned slots on the roster in their nominated zone.
Accidents requiring tows will be reported to the job allocation centre. Depending on the number of vehicles involved, the job will be allocated to the next operator or operators who are on the roster for that zone, and a computer will randomly generate a unique allocation number for the job. The scheme is an important step forward. Anyone who has been involved in an accident - as I unfortunately have been - or witnessed numerous accidents will readily acknowledge that the chaos of a crash zone results not only in traffic management problems but also in the people involved becoming distressed. Accident victims are not in a fit or proper state of mind to make a decision on the allocation of the towing job or on where they want the car to go.
When accidents involving my own family members have occurred, I know that they have made judgments or decisions which, with the benefit of hindsight, they have regretted solely because of the circumstances of the accident. People who are involved in a car accident become distressed and unsettled and are ill at ease. In those circumstances, some tow truck operators dive in and coolly, calmly and cleverly manipulate the accident victims. This legislation represents the Government’s intention to put in place a scheme that I believe the community for decades has been crying out for. As I said earlier, I congratulate the Minister for taking this action.
The majority of country operators support job allocation because it will ensure a fairer distribution of available police towing work and reduce possible corrupt activities. That issue was raised with Peter Anderson in discussions with members of Parliament during meetings that I attended. Peter Anderson actually went through the process and explained how it will work for country operators, taking into account their perspective as small traders. It was a matter of concern for some members of Parliament how small traders would be accommodated in the process. Those concerns have been adequately answered by the replies that were given by Peter Anderson.
Importantly, as I have already mentioned, there is an ongoing framework which will allow restructuring to occur and changes to be made as they are required. The suggestion to include heavy towing in the allocation system was put forward by the tow truck industry. Heavy vehicle towing in the allocation system will lead to faster response times for the removal of trucks from important roads. Heavy towing currently requires a great deal of on-site negotiation. With respect to vehicle removal from clearways, the allocation scheme will allow the RTA to draw on a larger pool of fast, reliable towing services to meet periods of unusual or
unexpected demand. This will mean that response times for clearway removals will be quicker.
The job allocation scheme will benefit the whole community. The scheme will improve the quality of towing services, improve public safety through raising the standard of conduct that is expected from tow truck drivers on the road, and improve traffic flow and ensure faster removal of vehicles from clearways. The scheme also will reduce harassment of accident victims by unscrupulous tow truck drivers - a situation of which all honourable members would be aware, put a stop to unfair and illegal practices such as intimidation, and prevent unlawful and unhealthy competition
The bill extends provisions contained in the Act passed last year. Together, those pieces of legislation go to the heart of an issue that has been a matter of public concern for decades. I congratulate the Minister on his action in bringing forward this bill and commend the role of Peter Anderson in negotiating genuine consultation with the industry and all representatives. He consulted in such a way that a resolution has been produced which is acceptable to the industry, the community and both sides of Parliament.
(Port Jackson - Minister for Small Business, and Minister for Tourism) [11.20 a.m.]: I thank the honourable member for Albury for allowing me to speak and this time so that I can attend a meeting; he is a gentleman.
He is a good bloke.
He is. The Tow Truck Industry Amendment Bill will provide a finetuning of the Tow Truck Industry Act 1998 and provide for the more effective operation of the Tow Truck Authority [TTA]. It will improve the operation of the accident towing allocation scheme and enable the TTA to manage the removal of vehicles from clearways. Peter Anderson, as chair of the TTA, has undertaken unprecedented consultation with the industry. The majority of tow truck operators want the industry cleaned up and support for the reform process is very strong. Reforms already undertaken by the Government include, first, a restructured Tow Truck Authority with an advisory council that includes the Motor Traders Association, the NRMA, police and the Department of Fair Trading.
This will provide a better enforcement framework and a stronger policy focus to solve problems in the industry when they arise. The second reform already undertaken is a more effective disciplinary process for drivers and operators, and the third reform has been the provision of more enforcement offers and tighter regulations to reduce the incidence of harassment. The final reform is the necessity for stronger character requirements and, in liaison with police, tighter security checks. The bill will further enable the TTA to improve the professionalism of the industry and provide for an efficient, effective allocation scheme for towing following an accident.
The industry is a significant small business sector of the New South Wales economy and for too long it has been perceived as unprofessional or thuggish. In actual fact the majority of tow truck operators are hard working and offer effective towing services. The Tow Truck Authority is working with the industry to improve its business skills, and I applaud those efforts. As part of the reform process the TTA undertook a number of focus group meetings with business administrators to outline the benefits of the reform process for them and to consult with the industry to ensure that their benefits were maximised. It is pleasing that the industry has responded positively to the Government’s initiative.
I am advised that the TTA plans to offer further assistance to the truck industry to improve its business practices and that it will encourage improved training of drivers and operators on occupational health and safety and customer service. It is pleasing that the reform process has included assistance for tow truck operators to improve their businesses. The bill is a small but important step in allowing the Government to provide effective regulation of the tow truck industry to eliminate corrupt elements and enable honest small businesses to flourish.
(Albury) [11.23 a.m.]: I add my congratulations to those already expressed about the Hon. Peter Anderson, who did a remarkable job in consulting with a wide cross-section of people interested in the tow truck industry. Peter was available to members of Parliament and I commend him for the excellent job he did. However, I have a couple of questions which I will address to the Minister. Having said that, as soon as I have finished speaking I will have to leave this Chamber to attend a meeting. I apologise for that. The allocation system will add value to a tow truck licence because there will be a guarantee of work. I do not support regulation unless it is absolutely necessary.
Regulation of the tow truck industry is necessary because some of the people involved in it some time ago were, to say the least, dubious
characters. Years ago in Albury some people involved in the industry had criminal records and were not the sort of people who should deal with distressed people following a car accident. They caused enormous problems for themselves and for people involved in accidents as well as others involved in the tow truck industry. The industry certainly needed to be cleaned up and controls needed to be imposed. However, I have some concerns with the allocation service. If that service is to be centrally located, I wonder how the operators can have an intimate knowledge of all areas of New South Wales.
If a person has an accident in a remote part of my electorate necessitating the towing of a vehicle, will the person in the call centre who receives the call know exactly where the accident occurred and know how to make the most advantageous arrangement for towing that vehicle? I am concerned about this because of my experience following the recent changes to the electricity industry. When a blackout occurs in my area the person involved has to ring Queanbeyan. The person taking the call has no knowledge of country areas in southern New South Wales. It is difficult to get the message across about where the problem is occurring in the electrical service. That leads me to wonder whether similar problems will occur in getting tow trucks to attend the right location within a reasonable time.
I have concerns also about individuals involved in a car accident not having the right to engage a tow truck operator of their choice; they will have to accept whoever is rostered. For example, I may have been involved in an accident some time ago and engaged a tow truck operator with whom I was completely happy. If I have an accident tomorrow I may want to engage that person again, because I know him and have confidence in him because he did the right thing by me last time. Or if one of my family members is involved in the industry I may want him to tow my vehicle. However, I will not have that right under the provisions of the bill. I am concerned about that because the bill takes away the rights of the individual to make that important decision.
Many honourable members would have seen cars involved in a collision at an intersection with dozens of tow trucks in the vicinity. The tow truck drivers put pressure on the people involved in the accident to make a decision about which operator they should use. This is a difficult decision. People involved in accidents will be greatly advantaged if that difficulty is removed. Therefore, I support those provisions, with reservations. People involved in an accident often cannot think clearly, do not know what to do, and may not have been involved in an accident previously. Sometimes their vehicle may block traffic, and people in other cars blow their horns and try to get by. With six or seven tow truck operators hustling for one’s business, it is hard to make a clear decision about what to do.
The allocation system will certainly remove that difficulty. However, I am concerned about the rights of individuals to choose who will tow their vehicle. I am also concerned about heavy towing. I imagine that if I owned a fleet of heavy vehicles I would have towing arrangements in place in the event of an accident. I would probably have a satisfactory business arrangement with someone to look after me and my vehicles, who would respond quickly and know exactly where I wanted my vehicles to go and be able to assist my drivers. However, if I have never before dealt with the person allocated to me, that may not be satisfactory. Business arrangements are very important and I wonder if provision will be made for existing business arrangements to continue. The allocation system would seem to rule those out, which is of concern to me.
The 48-hour cooling-off period is a great improvement, because after an accident people should not be called on to make these important decisions on the spot. If people make the wrong decision they should have the right to change it later. With those few reservations, generally speaking I support the bill. Changes in towing practices are needed. I am concerned that people will not have the right to choose who will tow their vehicles. I am also concerned about heavy vehicle operators. It is a shame that tow truck licences are being made to resemble taxi licences; they are being given real value because of the guaranteed work. I leave those questions with the Minister and indicate my support for the bill.
(Lismore) [11.30 a.m.]: I support this bill. However, like the honourable member for Albury, I want to raise some concerns on behalf of those in the electorate of Lismore and smaller country areas. Tow truck operators in my area, small companies, have told me that they are now expected to have staff on 24-hour call as part of the call-out system. I have taken up this issue with Peter Anderson, who has indicated that he did not regard that as a problem. However, I ask the Minister to acknowledge that requiring the operators of small tow truck companies to have people on call for 24-hour shifts may pose a problem in smaller country areas. Indeed, that problem is being, and will be, experienced in small country towns. I hope some arrangement will be made so that the operators do not remain in that position.
The second issue raised with me was the $25 cost of the forms. If an operator has one or two trucks he is expected to have a book of forms in each truck. I also took up this issue with Peter Anderson. He indicated that the matter has not been finalised, but most operators have indicated to him that they would prefer to purchase the towing authority forms in books of 10 or 20 in advance. Some have also suggested a regular debit system. Perhaps the Minister could extend some leniency to the smaller operators so they do not have to buy a book of 10 at $25 each instead of what they are paying now, between 20¢ and 25¢ a form.
Another matter raised with me by the local operators is the removal of choice. That may not be a big issue in the city, but in small country towns where there may be only two operators and people may not get on with one of them, it is a concern. I ask the Minister to looked at that. Peter Anderson did not believe it was the problem I made it out to be, but when there are only one or two operators in a town loss of choice becomes a problem. The other issue of major concern in country areas, and particularly in my electorate, is operating on local government boundaries.
The Kyogle shire boundary is within 20 minutes drive of Casino. If an accident took place on that boundary, as I understand it the tow truck would have to come from Kyogle, which is 40 minutes drive away, while it is only 20 minutes drive from Casino. Boundaries in country areas, where shire and town boundaries join together, need to be looked at. Perhaps the radius of the community should be used rather than the shire boundaries. They are the main points I want to raise. I compliment the Minister and the industry on the review, which was probably brought about by what has happened in the city.
(Murrumbidgee) [11.34 a.m.]: I want to mention one or two points that have been raised with me by some of my constituents, particularly Farronato Brothers Smash Repairs and MIA Smash Repairs, about the operation of the proposed tow truck legislation. I appreciate that the amendments are only minor but the main focus of the legislation causes me concern. I applaud the thrust of the bill and the problems it seeks to address in the city. However, the legislation will cause significant problems for rural operators, particularly those in western New South Wales, where the Murrumbidgee electorate is located.
The city of Griffith occupies a relatively small local government area which joins the Carrathool shire only 10 or 15 kilometres out of the town. Tow truck operators from Griffith currently operate in that local government area as well. Under these proposals if they apply to tow in that local government area they will be required to tow in both local government areas, which will mean they will have to operate in a radius around Griffith that takes something like 2½ hours to traverse, but they will have a response time of 20 minutes. I am sure many of these anomalies can be remedied.
I would like to have provision made for the impact of this and other legislation on country people, as opposed to those who live in the cities. I fully appreciate what the legislation will achieve in the city but, as with many other bills, the legislation does not have a particularly practical application in country areas. I ask that those matters be taken into consideration when the bill is revisited and when other legislation is proposed. The size of some local government areas will cause considerable problems.
Tow truck operators in Griffith and in other areas in the Murrumbidgee electorate work well together. There are none of the problems we have heard so much about with Sydney tow truck operators. They work together in a constructive and co-operative way. Unfortunately, the research they have done indicates that this legislation will cause them a considerable number of problems. Another matter causing concern is the fee to adjust the roster. Tow truck operators in the Murrumbidgee electorate now deal with such without any difficulty. I ask the Minister to give further consideration to the matters I have raised.
(Coffs Harbour) [11.38 a.m.]: I want to repeat some concerns that have already been put to the House. Country tow truck operators acknowledged the need to reform the tow truck industry. Every member of this House acknowledges that. They remember the debacles in the major metropolitan areas of Newcastle and Sydney when dozens of tow trucks turned up to accidents, some of them ill prepared and ill equipped. Generally the bill is fully accepted by the industry. As my colleagues the honourable member for Lismore and the honourable member for Murrumbidgee have said, a number of matters in the bill are of real concern to regional New South Wales. One of those concerns is the fact that the call-out and roster systems are based on shire boundaries.
One concern has been brought to my attention by Alan Scott, who runs a reputable smash repair and tow truck business in Bellingen. Alan is well liked. Carl Foster runs a similar business and there is also another operator. If an accident occurs in Bowraville, which is in the Nambucca shire,
someone has to come from Nambucca or Macksville, depending on the random call-out. In all probability that person would live in or around Bellingen and do business there. This legislation requires some finetuning to ensure that commonsense prevails.
As there are three tow truck operators in Bellingen, the nature of the random call-out system could mean that one operator will get three call-outs in a row. The call-outs are not based on a roster system; they operate randomly. That could mean that an unfair advantage will unintentionally be given to other businesses in the shire. Some speakers have said that a person who has dealt with a particular repairer or tow truck operator for many years might want that repairer to handle his or her vehicle in the event of an accident. However, because of the random call-out a specific tow truck might not be available.
There is a good deal of co-operation in country areas. The police might ask a driver, "Do you have a preference as to which tow truck operator you want called in?" Whilst I appreciate the need to tidy up the industry, operators in regional and rural New South Wales still need some flexibility. Alan Scott said to me that he was happy with the reforms which call for operators to wearing uniforms and proper protective clothing. That will not only give the industry a better name and a better image; it will also protect workers and ensure that WorkCover costs do not increase. Earlier mention was made of the fact that tow truck operators will have to keep books with 100 forms in each vehicle. If a tow truck operator has three tow trucks he would be looking at a cost of $7,500. That is a fairly horrific amount for a small country operator to pay.
The Minister might consider implementing a pay-as-you-use type system. Most tow truck operators have been in business for years. They are not fly-by-nighters; they are good, solid country businessmen. I ask the Minister to take those matters into consideration when reviewing the way in which this legislation operates in regional and rural New South Wales. The Minister should consult directly with industry groups in the regions and their concerns must be addressed. I commend the bill to the House.
(Tamworth) [11.43 a.m.]: I speak briefly in the debate on this bill. There has been a degree of bipartisanship this morning in debate on a number of bills introduced by the Minister for Transport, and Minister for Roads. The Minister and the department have used a particular process to come to grips with the tow truck industry, an industry that has presented the Government with some fairly difficult problems over the years. I pay credit to Peter Anderson for the way in which he conducted himself on behalf of the Minister in relation to issues with which governments have been grappling for quite some time. Peter Anderson took on board the concerns of country tow truck operators and country communities.
This morning a number of speakers have raised what they believe to be issues of concern: the specific needs of small country communities. I ask the Minister to listen seriously to those concerns. Even though those concerns are specific, particularly as they relate to small communities, they could impact on the viability of a number of businesses. Peter Anderson acknowledged that one could not throw a blanket across the State and, through legislation of this type, provide everyone with the same degree of equity.
Governments must give this matter some consideration. It is difficult to try to legislate for the State as a whole. Sometimes there are inadvertent impacts on smaller communities or individual groups. The Government must look closely at this process. Whilst the Minister is in the Chamber I will try a small diversion. The Minister should also include in that process the impact of competitive tendering.
Fine, but this is transport and that is roads.
It relates to the maintenance of roads. The tow truck industry is one of the greatest users of roads in country areas.
Along with rail.
I have not got to rail yet. The Minister is aware, as he visited Dubbo the other day, that there is a degree of concern that competitive tendering is only another blanket that is being thrown across the State which could have a detrimental effect on smaller communities and shires. The Minister, having put in place a process that has worked, should now take on board the concerns that have been expressed about the impact that this legislation might have on country communities. I ask the Minister to examine the competitive tendering process that is being used.
(Smithfield - Minister for Transport, and Minister for Roads) [11.47 a.m.], in reply: I appreciate the support of the Opposition for this legislation. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the work done by the former member
for Ryde, the Hon. Michael Photios, who commenced what I consider to be an important bipartisan approach to this issue. I have had some meaningful discussions with him, as I have had with the present shadow minister for transport. Both he and I accept that this is one issue on which the Parliament must project a bipartisan image to the tow truck community, particularly metropolitan areas, to root out intimidation, violence, criminality and corruption. There is almost no disquiet in the House in relation to this initiative as it relates to metropolitan areas. I acknowledge the bipartisanship that has been shown for some time in relation to this issue. The shadow minister raised a number of issues, particularly the fact that a towing fee does not apply to the owners of stolen vehicles.
It is probably unreasonable if someone has had his or her car stolen and it has been parked and then towed away. If the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is aware of any constituents who have had a fee imposed on them as a result of this legislation he should bring them to my attention. Unless some unusual circumstances apply, I would be happy to tell the Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA] to waive the fee. Generally speaking, if a car is parked in a clearway and it has to be towed away there is an onus on the owner. Whoever is the registered owner of the plates is charged a fee. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition should bring any cases of that nature to my attention.
If a tow truck operator is required by the Roads and Traffic Authority or the police to remove a vehicle parked in a clearway he has a choice. He can either lift the vehicle, pull it away and in so doing damage it because it is probably in handbrake mode, or he can risk trying to enter the vehicle, which will probably damage the paint or the locking system. This bill will entitle a tow truck operator to actually enter the vehicle and disengage the handbrake and probably cause a lot less damage to the vehicle than might otherwise have occurred. If the paint is scratched or there is some damage to the locking system the tow truck operator will not be liable for that provided that, when he enters or removes the vehicle, he exercises the care that would be expected of him.
Not a crowbar through the window.
No. If it were a crowbar through the window, one would normally suggest that was careless and negligent and as a result would attract compensation for damage.
It would depend on the circumstances.
The honourable member for Port Macquarie is spot on; he is a bush lawyer. The circumstances of each case are relevant to whether there is negligence. I am not sure when a crowbar would be appropriate; I cannot think of any circumstance when it might be appropriate. When one thinks of the honourable member for Coffs Harbour, I can understand that others with less control than I might use it.
Withdraw and apologise!
Yes, I do. The honourable member for Albury raised the issue of adding value to tow truck licences. I rule that out absolutely and emphatically. This process is not designed to create a taxi licence value system. I ask the colleagues of the honourable member for Albury, who had to leave to attend another meeting, to convey to him that he can dispel any myth that this bill is designed to create value in number plates within the tow truck industry. That is not on because we will provide an open system.
Anyone who wishes to do so may become a tow truck operator. They will not have to buy someone’s licence by paying $200,000. We will ensure also that every so often, through advertising or some other process, people will be invited to join the tow truck industry. Each year operators will be asked if they intend to remain in the system. That will ensure no value is assigned to the licence plates and that they are not treated as a tradeable commodity.
The members representing the electorates of the Lismore, Albury, Murrumbidgee, Coffs Harbour and Tamworth expressed concern about the zoning areas. That matter has not been finalised. As the Minister accountable for implementing this process, I acknowledge that the system must be applied differently in rural and regional areas to the way it is applied in the city. This proposal had its genesis in serious criminality in the industry, particularly in Sydney and to a lesser extent in Newcastle and Wollongong.
Industry representatives approached Peter Anderson and Francis Marshall, the Chief Executive of the Tow Truck Authority, and asked to have regional areas included in the proposal. A number of industry regional centres denied that the criminality is only a city-based phenomena. They told us that in regional centres and even in some moderately sized towns there is intimidation and criminality. They welcomed the allocation system and asked us not to
restrict it to cities. I had intended to isolate this proposal to the city areas for the reason I have stated, that is, the tow truck industry in the bush has unusual characteristics. We have agreed to the industry’s request, but the tow truck industry in the bush has different characteristics to that in the city. Zoning in accordance with local government areas is one suggestion that has been put on the table as a way of establishing boundaries.
However, it is not the only way. Another suggestion was the use of Police Service boundaries. There could be other methods. I believe that when we have worked through those suggestions a hybrid solution will be produced and commonsense will prevail. I will not have a system under which someone in a particular local government area must wait two hours for a tow truck to respond when another local government area adjacent to the boundary is only 20 minutes drive away. We will work through that issue with the industry.
Peter Anderson’s door is always open, and I ask members from either House to continue to work with him and Francis Marshall in relation to any concerns they may have. In the spirit of bipartisanship we will attempt to include the resolution of those concerns in the final outcome. At the end of the day this bill will work effectively only if both major parties, the Independents, operators in the industry and local government embrace it.
It must be borne in mind that this proposal is designed to get rid of the intimidation and corruption in the industry. Matters such as zoning areas and the method of collecting fees are subject to negotiation. Some country operators may have one or two vehicles and may prefer an alternative system. I acknowledge that and indicate that we are happy to work through that. The book is not closed on that issue. This is not the end of the debate. This is an ambitious proposal, and so far as I am aware, no Government in the world has implemented a full allocation system for an entire State. Melbourne has a limited allocation system that has not worked all that well.
It will probably be necessary to finetune the legislation at a later stage to overcome some unintended consequences. At present I am not aware of any such consequences. This system is a first in the world. People should be patient; they should also be aware that some wrinkles will probably appear in the system. In 12 months time after the system has been implemented I will undoubtedly be back before the House with legislative finetuning. As we worked through the consultation with the Opposition and country tow truck operators we acknowledged that finetuning would be needed. By this time next year we will have to revisit the legislation.
Freedom of choice was raised. It is not possible to have a dual system. The industry asked us to produce this allocation system; it also asked to be included in it. By definition, an allocation system in which an industry asks to be involved means that freedom of choice is removed. However, commonsense will win out in some country areas. If a rural town has three operators, the allocation will be negotiated through the Tow Truck Authority. In practice there will be a degree of choice that will not be possible in, say, the metropolitan area of Sydney.
If that freedom of choice was available in Sydney, corruption, backhanded payments and all of the other nonsense that we are trying to remove would continue. I trust I have dealt with all the issues that have been raised. Once again I sincerely thank the Opposition for the important role it has played in preparing the bipartisan message this House intends to send to the minority of criminals in the industry that it will not muck around with them. We will deal with them. If they have not already left the industry, they should pack their bags because the new system will be implemented within a few months.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.