House debates

Monday, 3 June 2013


Road Safety

10:18 pm

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Roads and Regional Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to discuss the important issue of road safety and to highlight my concerns that more needs to be done to help reduce the enormous impact of road trauma on our nation. I believe there is a need for greater national leadership, with a renewed focus on building safer roads, supporting the rollout of safer vehicles and promoting improved driver behaviour.

While the nation's road toll has steadily fallen from nearly 2,900 deaths in 1982 to 1,300 deaths in 2012, more needs to be done to reduce the road toll and the number of serious injuries from vehicle accidents. The total annual cost of road trauma in economic terms is $27 billion, with 25 people dying and 600 people being seriously injured each week in Australia. Yes, we have made dramatic gains in the past, but it is time to reset the clock and bring on a new wave of reform with new energy and enthusiasm for the task of lowering the road toll.

I fear we have become somewhat complacent and, if not accepting of, we seem resigned to the fact that people will always die and people will always be seriously injured on our roads. That complacency and that sense of resignation needs to reversed as a matter of urgency. I support a more holistic approach from governments for reducing road trauma in recognition of the social and economic impacts across the entire community and a broad range of government departments that have a direct responsibility in this area.

At the moment, there is a very heavy emphasis on departments at both state and federal levels which have either an infrastructure component or an enforcement aspect to their responsibilities. But, as a recent paper from the Australasian College of Road Safety correctly emphasised, the impacts of road trauma flow across many portfolios and there is a compelling argument that it should be regarded as the highest-ranking public health issue facing our nation. As ACRS President Lauchlan McIntosh said:

Imagine if improvements to combat road trauma were a top national health priority—the effect on our nation's health, economy and wellbeing would be a gold standard for the global community.

There are many aspects to road safety, and the coalition will have more to say about this in the months ahead. But there is one area that I want to focus my comments on this evening, and that is the issue of safer cars. Recently, I attended a crash test in Sydney where the Australasian New Car Assessment Program demonstrated how it assesses vehicles which are sold on the domestic market. The vehicle I observed being tested was a Nissan Pulsar and it received a five-star rating, and it is worth noting that the federal government has a fleet-purchasing policy which mandates that all light passenger vehicles purchased by the Commonwealth must have a five-star ANCAP safety rating. That is a good policy, and it is one the coalition would endorse. But given we have that policy in place, and given everything we know about the importance of safer vehicles reducing the severity of injuries, why do we allow lesser vehicles to be sold on the Australian market?

It is my personal view that we should ban the importation of any vehicle sold in volume which does not achieve a minimum three- or, preferably, four-star ANCAP safety rating. Right now, we have vehicles on sale in Australia that the federal government would not let any public servant drive but that we are allowing to be imported and driven on our roads. In safety terms, these are duds and they should not be on our roads. They may be cheap but they are potentially deadly, and there is no logical reason why we should import vehicles with comparatively low ANCAP safety ratings.

If they are not good enough for Australian public servants, then they are not good enough for Australian families, they are not good enough for Australian workers and they are certainly not good enough for Australian kids. If these low-ranking vehicles are involved in an accident we know the occupants of these vehicles are more likely to be seriously injured or killed than if they had been driving a vehicle with a higher ANCAP safety rating in the same vehicle class. The people who are injured in such a crash are more likely to sustain more serious and more debilitating injuries that will diminish their quality of life and cost all Australian governments much more in terms of the overall health budget.

We should be telling the international vehicle manufacturing market that we will not tolerate the importation of such vehicles in the future. We should give the manufacturers fair warning and ban the importation of these vehicles as soon as possible. Lives can be saved and serious injuries can be minimised by the swift uptake of new technology and by ensuring that more Australians are driving safer vehicles. We should be banning the importation of any vehicle which does not achieve a minimum safety rating, because all vehicles manufactured in Australia already meet that high standard. It makes no sense to allow the importation of vehicles to compete with locally manufactured vehicles when we know they are not as safe and we know that any accidents will end up costing Australian taxpayers more in the longer term.

On a separate but related point, there is a need to ensure that international vehicle manufacturers make greater strides to ensure that new safety features are more quickly deployed to Australia, when they are developed. We know that manufacturers have sometimes in the past been slow to include new safety features in vehicles imported to Australia, despite the fact that those features are included in vehicles for sale in their country of origin. I think we can do better in that space as well.

The coalition recognises the need for increased national leadership and placing a higher priority on issues relating to road safety and reducing road trauma in our communities is a pressing area of national concern. While great progress has been made in reducing the road toll across Australia in the past 40 years, there is a concern within the coalition that momentum has been lost and there is a need for a fresh approach and reinvigorated commitment to tackling road trauma.