Monday, 18 June 2007
Today, I want to speak on a subject that I have become increasingly passionate about and that is the road toll in our nation. I grieve today for the family of Alan Ross, aged 25, who had a driving accident over the weekend that killed his son and seven-month-old baby. Police found marijuana and bourbon in the wreckage of his car. I grieve for him, his family and his wife and for all those Australians who have had a loved one killed in an accident this year or in previous years.
The time has come in our country for all levels of government and all of us holding positions of influence in the community to stand up and be counted and tackle this horrendous road toll figure that seems to continue to increase every year. I spoke about this in the parliament on 28 May this year. I referred to the fact that 1,605 Australian lives were lost on our roads in 2006, of which 337 were Queenslanders.
I draw to the parliament’s attention today the fact that the number of road fatalities to date this year in Queensland is 173. That represents some 33 more Australians killed than at this time last year. If this trend continues, by 31 December 2007 there will be some 450 fatalities in Queensland alone. I think the time has come for all of us to address this. We can do something about it. I call on all Australians who might be listening, if they have any ideas or thoughts about how we can reduce this figure, to get in touch with their local member. As the federal member for the Queensland seat of Ryan, I encourage all Queenslanders, when you have a really serious issue, to contact your Queensland federal member.
Last Christmas, the western suburbs of Brisbane experienced a tragedy in which two young Australians were killed in a terrible fatality that devastated their families and the community. I want to compare the figures for previous years because they are very insightful. As I said, in 2006, the Queensland road fatality figure was the worst in 10 years, with 337 deaths; in 2005, there were 328 fatalities; in 2004, there were 311; in 2003, there were 310; in 2002, there were 322; in 2001, 324 Queenslanders lost their lives; and, in 2000, 317 Australians were tragically killed on Queensland roads.
The national road fatality figure in 2006 was 1,605 Australian lives lost. Each year in Australia about 300 young men and 80 young women under the age of 25 die in car crashes. That means that in any given year Australians aged between 18 and 24 are twice as likely as drivers in any other age group to die in road accidents. Per kilometre driven, the death rate of drivers aged under 25 is more than four times that of drivers aged between 25 and 54. I was going to speak in this grievance debate today on another topic of interest to me but, when I read on the front page of the weekend Courier-Mail the story that drew the attention of Queenslanders to this horrendous accident which claimed the children of Alan Ross, I changed my mind and decided to speak about this topic. I do so as a member of this federal parliament and also as a new father.
Most us in this parliament are parents or grandparents. Many of us are uncles and aunties. Certainly many of us are brothers and sisters. I try to imagine the personal impact and emotional trauma which one would confront if a very close family member were killed in an accident, particularly an accident which could have been prevented. I cannot imagine the immense pain and suffering that mums and dads would experience and have to confront if they were told they had just lost a son or daughter.
My son, Ryan Andrew Johnson, is going to turn one year old on Friday, 22 June 2007. Of course I love my son with every fibre and ounce of my being. To contemplate, just for a moment, the possibility that my son, as a teenager, could lose his life through negligent driving or holding a mobile phone in his hand, or perhaps while smoking in his vehicle—of course I hope he will not smoke—is unimaginable for me. I cannot imagine the trauma that my wife and I would go through if my son were to be the victim of an accident and lose his life because a young driver in another vehicle was perhaps intoxicated or unable to concentrate, and the consequences of his action or inaction were to take my son’s life. I want to grieve today as a parent, more than anything else. I grieve as a young father for all those fathers who have lost a son or daughter.
I say to the government of this country, to state governments, to local and community leaders and to mums and dads of teenagers or young adolescents, particularly those who might be about to get their licence, that getting to your next event five minutes late is no big deal. Please slow down. Please drive with care. I am sure that, if we were totally frank and candid, all of us would say that we have pressed the pedal a little too quickly on more occasions than we would like to confess. Perhaps we have been distracted by a mobile phone, by a cigarette or by hearing the ABC news. Whatever the cause, I implore all those who might be listening to me and my parliamentary colleagues to really try to raise this issue to a level beyond where it is now. The culture of drink driving and binge drinking among our young people is a particular problem in our country. We have to address this problem.
I commend the Queensland government for its initiative in encouraging young drivers to drive appropriate vehicles. I know legislation has been passed to ban certain vehicles being driven by young people where the power of those vehicles is completely inappropriate. I think the Queensland legislation is good, but it is not as good as that in Victoria and New South Wales which specifies the cars which can be driven by youngsters as opposed to the power based option in the Queensland legislation.
I am sure that all members of the parliament from all parties and of all political colours would support me in the thrust of what I am saying today. I encourage all Australians to contact their local federal member to say, ‘Let’s put this front and centre in the political debate.’ That we lose hundreds of lives each year is a tragedy. That hundreds of lives are lost each year unnecessarily is a shame for all of us. (Time expired)