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Stop playing politics – Make road safety bipartisan

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Legislative Assembly 5 April 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (17:48): I think the member for Sunbury is probably right: the level of road investment in this state is unmatched; it has never been as poor as it is right now.

I certainly do not need 3 minutes to talk about the road projects that are occurring in my electorate, because there are not any. There might be an occasional bit of resheeting, a little bit of maintenance, but there are no projects underway and there have not been in any year that Labor has been in power in this century and a little bit before.

The Road Safety Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 is straightforward. It amends the Road Safety Act 1986 and the Transport Accident Act 1986, basically intending to achieve three outcomes.

It aims to enhance enforcement against distracted behaviour—people on their phones, texting or trying to find the next podcast, everything else you can do on a smartphone—and enhance enforcement against a failure to wear seatbelts. Absolutely crazy: why would you get into a motor vehicle and ignore the safety device that is closest to you, the seatbelt? It is just absolutely crazy. But we know it is happening, and we know that we do not have enough police on the road to enforce this in the way we have traditionally done in the past. As someone mentioned, there is an opportunity to use technology. So that is what this is about.

The second point is about strengthening the licence suspension powers where a serious road safety offence is alleged and there is a risk to public safety.

The final change is around the transport accident scheme. On the one hand this is tightening the eligibility requirements where particular offences may have been committed and compensation would be, to put it mildly, inappropriate and in many ways morally wrong. The second change deals with anomalies that potentially disadvantage people who may be involved in a second collision and therefore be penalised by having the support that they have been receiving reduced.

The background to this legislation is that while road safety has improved enormously in this state over an extended period, you have only got to look at the graph that was included in the government’s own road safety strategy. It makes it clear that road safety has, despite the enormous growth in vehicles on roads, improved enormously since the 1960s.

I was just looking back this afternoon, and I well remember as a kid the Sun’s ‘Declare war on 1034’ campaign. The headline was ‘Let’s end this grim harvest of tragedy’, and when you look at the way the numbers were increasing at that time, it really is very, very unpleasant reading. This article refers to the 1969 figure of 1034.

The high-water mark for deaths on the road was 1061 the following year. But the article was suggesting that mathematically it was likely—this was in, I think, November 1970—that the road toll for 1970 would finish up as 1118. Thankfully it did not, but had it done, it would have been 22 people every week.

Of course the reference there is very much to the decision of the government, on the recommendation of the Road Safety Committee, to require Victorians to wear seatbelts. The report, which I have in my hand, handed down in September 1969, made some pretty tough recommendations, including within two years the compulsory wearing of seatbelts.
The reason I raise this is because one of the factors on that graph that I referred to is that basically since this government was elected the numbers have plateaued and in fact they are starting to increase. All the way from 1970 the graph is in a downward trend until we get to the election of this government, then it flattens out and starts to ease up again. Unfortunately one of the first things the government did was in fact to abolish the Road Safety Committee, which had ensured that road safety was considered to be a bipartisan issue. Both sides had an investment in that.

There are a few smirks going on in the chamber, but when you look at the history of this, the 1969 report, the opposition and the government—then a Liberal government—were included in the make-up of this committee. The report talks about a survey conducted by the RACV. When you look at the numbers, fewer than half of the population supported compulsory seatbelts.

More than half of the population opposed compulsory seatbelts, yet the committee went ahead and made recommendations that seatbelts should be compulsory in a range of situations immediately and then within two years be compulsory across the state. They were able to do that because they had that bipartisan membership and the issue was able to be pushed hard by both sides.

Sadly, as a result of this government’s actions, we have lost that bipartisan approach. The government would rather play politics with this issue—not all members of the government, and I certainly do not include the current minister in this category—but too many people want to play politics with road safety, and road safety is about the loss of human life.

As the government’s strategy makes very clear, it is not good reading, and it is something that has really got to be turned around. Frankly, I do not take much joy from the strategy, although the issues that we are dealing with this afternoon I think are of value. There is not a lot in it.

One concern I very much do have is that towards the end of the strategy there is talk about safety performance indicators and output indicators. They are all generalities. We have not seen the specifics. There are some issues that are to be dealt with by 2030, but how are we going to know that the strategy is on track, how are we going to know that the strategy is actually having an impact, unless we see those numbers? And of course, apart from the raw numbers—the number of serious accidents, the number of people killed on the road; we know those headline numbers—we do not know how we are tracking in so many other areas. Mobile phones, texting—we are dealing with that this afternoon. We are not doing anything at this stage to deal with the epidemic of drug driving, we are doing very, very little in terms of drunk driving, in terms of .05 breaches—those numbers are just not getting any better. So I think there is a long way to go.

In terms of the changes that are being made this afternoon, as I mentioned there are some changes around technology, so allowing cameras, through the use of artificial intelligence, to detect—and then it being verified by humans. The information provided by the government after the briefing was that we currently have an offence rate of 2.4 per cent. One in 42 drivers is using their mobile phone. Frankly, I would not be surprised if it was much higher than that, but even if it is one in 42, it is an epidemic problem. Hopefully this change will go some way to dealing with this.

On the changes around licence suspension, serious offences, whether it is leaving the scene of an accident, whether it is a range of issues around protecting emergency services workers or whether it is around the final issue of dangerous or negligent driving—all of those issues—are dealt with, and dealt with reasonably.

On the final one, as I mentioned earlier, the transport accident changes, the only point I would make on that is that the measure that is intended to prevent further loss of earnings is not retrospective. I think it is reasonable to ask: why is that not retrospective? The response we had back from the government was, ‘It would be a significant administrative burden’. Perhaps it would be, but what about the impact on the individual? I am sure it is a much more significant impact on the individual than it would be an administrative burden.

So I think it is a step in the right direction. There is a lot more to be done. We desperately need more enforcement beyond cameras. We need cops on the road. We need people wondering when they are going to pop up. It is a step in the right direction, but if we could make this a truly bipartisan effort, we would have much more success.