VISA ABUSE REMAINS DANGER TO ROAD SAFETY
November 21, 2018
SENATOR GLENN STERLE
SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR ROAD SAFETY
CHAIR, SENATE RURAL REGIONAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT REFERENCES COMMITTEE
LABOR SENATOR FOR WESTERN AUSTRALIA
DUTY SENATOR FOR HASLUCK, STIRLING & TANGNEY
VISA ABUSE REMAINS DANGER TO ROAD SAFETY
Four years ago, the Senate established a committee inquiring into Aspects of Road Safety, which I chaired.
The Aspects of Road Safety inquiry covered many areas of the transport sector including the state of the heavy vehicle transport industry, heavy vehicle training, driver shortages and supply chain issues.
Most alarmingly however, the committee uncovered a culture of abuse within the Visa system when it found that foreign nationals in Australia on student Visas were being employed to drive heavy vehicles without the necessary qualifications or accreditation. This was brought to the attention of the committee via a major traffic incident on the M5 freeway in Sydney on 5 February 2016.
This incident involved a team of two drivers, one on a student visa and the other the holder of a dependant 457 visa, who stopped at the entrance of the M5 tunnel because of the low clearance restriction but were subsequently unable to reverse or decouple the B-double heavy vehicle. The driver partially jack-knifed the vehicle across the highway when attempting to reverse it, thereby bringing traffic to a standstill. What this demonstrated was gross incompetence on the part of both drivers, including a complete lack of understanding of the road rules and an inability to adequately move the truck they were driving when required to. New South Wales Roads and Maritime Service (RMS) and the Police were called to survey the situation, and after RMS workers decoupled the truck and moved it off the highway, the drivers were allowed to continue on their journey. This was after RMS were called in because of the driver’s inability to reverse the truck himself. The driver’s should never have been allowed to drive the truck in the first place and they should not have been allowed to drive off after the incident by the authorities.
The committee pursued the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for more information about this and whether they were aware of further potential visa abuses in the transport industry. Following further investigations by the Department, the driver from the M5 incident had his visa cancelled, and he was subsequently removed from Australia. We do not know the whereabouts of the second driver.
The committee also learnt that the assessor who granted this driver with a licence was suspended for 12 months after it was discovered that they had granted licences to drivers who had not even sat the practical drivers licence test.
With regard to visa holders, the committee made the following recommendation (Recommendation 16) in its interim report of May 2016: The committee recommends that all visa holders undergo driver skill tests before their heavy vehicle driving licences are recognised in Australia. The committee also recommended that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection comprehensively review visa arrangements to address systematic or organised abuse in the transport industry.
In the absence of a response by the Government or the Department to the recommendations of the report, I am concerned that threats to and violations of Australia’s visa system remain a significant threat to road safety in Australia.
Just two weeks ago for example, a driver on a student Visa in Wollongong driving a rigid vehicle crashed into the parking lot of a McDonalds leaving people in hospital after break failure. It is a miracle that no one was killed.
I welcome the announcement by the Government that the Department of Immigration and Border Force will be investigating this matter further, however it is not good enough to wait for near tragedies like this to occur before action is taken.
More can be done by Government to prevent these accidents from happening.
This Government needs to acknowledge the Senate's road safety report and do more to ensure that our visa system is protected from those who would seek to exploit it.
Wednesday 21st November 2018
MEDIA CONTACT: BEN WHOLAGAN (STERLE) 0400 685 543