House debates

Monday, 18 February 2019

Ministerial Statements

Road Safety

4:12 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to make a ministerial statement relating to road safety.

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is leave granted?

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

Leave is granted.

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Grayndler, and I note his passion on this issue as well.


One hundred and nineteen. That is the number of road deaths in the first month of this year. One hundred and nineteen too many.

Crashes on our roads have a terrible and lasting impact on individuals and their families, as well as on emergency personnel and first responders.

Every one of us here today, each level of government—federal, state, territory and local—and each member of the Australian public plays a role in ensuring the safety of people on our roads.

I've said before, I don't like talking about road deaths in terms of statistics, because it can desensitise us to the personal impact: someone with talents, someone with ambitions and someone with loved ones—who loved and was loved. And who now is gone. Remembered, still loved, but lost. Their hopes and dreams and lives over.

Statistics do, however, provide us with a stark reminder of the scale and importance of the issue and the need to do better. Much better.

Since record keeping began in 1925, there's been an estimated 191,555 deaths on Australia's roads.

That is a shocking number. Imagine the same number of families, sitting down to Christmas lunch since the passing of a loved one, with an empty chair around the table for no good reason. 191,555: the lives and contribution to our communities that has been lost is unthinkable.

As the Australasian College of Road Safety emphasises to me, at least 37,000 people a year require hospitalisation because of serious injuries—more than 100 people a day—with 4,400 permanently disabled.

Regional and remote Australia continues to be overrepresented, with around 64 per cent of the deaths on our roads.

This must change.

Independent Inquiry into Road Safety

In 2017, the government initiated an inquiry into the National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020.

This strategy set out the vision that "no person should be killed or seriously injured on Australia's roads" and set the goal for a reduction of at least 30 per cent by 2020 (relative to a 2008-10 baseline).

With around only a 15 per cent reduction at the time, this inquiry was an appropriate call to action by the member for Gippsland and then Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.

Last November I wrote to all members and senators informing them that this inquiry had been handed down.

I would like to again acknowledge and thank the inquiry team, Associate Professor Jeremy Woolley, Dr John Crozier, Mr Lauchlan McIntosh AM, and Mr Rob McInerney—and all the stakeholders who contributed—for the tireless work on the inquiry report and for the ongoing passion they bring to addressing road safety.

As has been put to me by stakeholders I have met, a vision for zero might sound ambitious, but in aviation, mining and construction this is no longer a goal but an expectation. And these stakeholders are in no doubt that it is not just the goal that is important, it is implementing what has to be done to get there.

Government's response to the i nquiry

The panel's report has 12 recommendations to improve road safety leadership, governance, resourcing and accountability. It sets out a framework for the development of the next National Road Safety Strategy and proposes actions that can be taken now to make an immediate difference.

As the cabinet minister with responsibility for road safety, I take this responsibility very seriously and am very pleased to advise the House important work is already under way.

One of the first actions I have taken is to initiate a road safety governance review, with the support of all governments.

The governance review is an essential step—a step recommended by the independent panel—for all governments to consider improvements to road safety roles and responsibilities and the way road safety agencies are structured and resourced.

This governance review is about doing the groundwork, so resources are directed to where they make the most difference. It is about finding ways of improving coordination across and within the federal, state, territory and local systems of government, looking for gaps in effort, and developing a performance measurement system which drives improvement.

The governance review will help identify how to implement many of the inquiry recommendations. And it will help the Australian government answer questions about how to make road safety a genuine part of "business as usual" within its institutions—such as what a federal office of road safety should look like, whether to increase the scope of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, and how to better coordinate across the portfolios of transport, health, attorneys-general and others.

Leadership at all levels of government

Through our partnerships with all levels of government, the Australian government is pushing hard to improve our roads, making sure vehicles continue to become safer, encouraging people to make better decisions when they are on our road network and improving the way we collect, disseminate and utilise data to support better decision-making.

I took the inquiry report to my state and territory ministerial counterparts at the first opportunity. This is critical as it is only through a commitment from all levels of government that real progress will be made.

At this Council of Australian Governments' Transport and Infrastructure Council meeting in November last year it was agreed a working group will develop an implementation plan for the inquiry recommendations. This implementation plan is to be considered by the council at its next meeting in the middle of this year.

Better data and information

Governments know good information leads to better policy and management decisions. That includes monitoring what is happening on our roads as well as recording both road deaths and road trauma.

This last point is particularly vital because to date we have lacked reliable, nationally consistent, non-fatal injury data collected by jurisdictions linking crash, hospital and injury. This point was also highlighted through the inquiry.

The government is working with state and territory governments to improve the way crash data is collected and reported.

In 2019-20 we will have—for the first time—a national baseline to measure progress against the agreed target of a 30 per cent decrease in serious injury on our roads.

Also, as recommended by the inquiry, the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics has made available a data visualisation tool showing which communities have achieved zero road fatalities.

A key output of the governance review will be to identify the key performance indicators that will measure and report how harm can be eliminated, to frame the development of the next National Road Safety Strategy.

Safe r oads

The independent panel recommended greater investment in road safety improvements to our roads and made practical suggestions about ensuring spending is targeted toward the highest risk roads and corridors.

The member for Grayndler and I may find opportunities to argue on the margins, but what we do agree on is the importance of transport infrastructure investment and the need for road safety to be a focus. I appreciate his efforts in that regard.

Late last year we met to discuss, amongst other things, the South Coast section of the Princes Highway and agreed on a bipartisan approach to improve that stretch of dangerous road. I very much appreciate the bipartisanship and the reaching across the aisle that took place.

Likewise, the government continues to fund programs such as Black Spot, Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity, Roads to Recovery and Bridges Renewal, to ensure they are addressing road safety priority areas.

But the government expects road safety to be embedded in all our road transport investments. Much of our 10-year, record $75 billion infrastructure plan is delivered in partnership with the states and territories and we'll be doing more to ensure road safety remains a core objective of the next National Partnership Agreement due to commence from 1 July this year. We'll also be working with Infrastructure Australia to ensure road safety is a key factor in its business case assessments.

Our goal through this plan is to get people home sooner and safer. We are also seeing the dividend from this approach. Further to our commitment to improve and invest in the Bruce Highway upgrades since 2013-14, there has been a 31 per cent reduction in crashes and a 32 per cent reduction in fatalities.

In fact, analysis undertaken by the government's Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics has shown that previous investment by the government in more than 70 major projects has reduced by 1,800 the number of accidents due to safer driving conditions through upgrades road surfaces, targeted lane widening, additional overtaking lanes and improved signage and intersections.

The government will be doing much more to better identify the outcomes from our road investments and also to identify what factors are having the most success in reducing road safety incidents.

The government is looking at how it can work with other levels of government to support greater road safety and maintenance works on regional roads, and a Roads to Recovery Statement of Expectations has already been released to give this effect.

This government will continue to examine its road safety programs to ensure they are targeting the right projects and will work with jurisdictions to ensure this is informed by the most up-to-date data.

Safe Vehicles

As we work to make our roads safer, we also need to ensure the vehicles that travel on them are safer for their occupants and for other road users.

Targeted changes in the Australian Design Rules have already resulted in a significant reduction in injuries and fatalities—basic things such as the introduction of seatbelts, child restraints and electronic stability control in light vehicles have all made a big difference in reducing road deaths and injuries in Australia.

The changes to the Australian Design Rules under the 2015-2017 National Road Safety Action Plan for pole-side impact, electronic stability control for heavy vehicles and anti-lock brake systems for motorcycles alone will save more than 850 lives with net benefits of over $2.2 billion to the community over 15 years as a result of those changes.

Manufacturers are also making big advancements in vehicle safety, and people are choosing to buy safer cars.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has reported that of the top 100 selling vehicles available at March 2018, 37 models, representing 31 per cent of the market, offered autonomous emergency braking as standard. This represents a tenfold increase from 2015.

Safer cars can and will continue to be a key factor in the safety of drivers and their passengers.

Last year the government announced a further $6.6 million for ANCAP for another five years to assist it to continue to play its important role in testing and assessing new cars, supporting people to make informed decisions about the safety of the cars they buy and general advocacy about safety on Australian roads.

Safe People

Governments are also encouraging people to make better decisions about their behaviour on our roads.

There has been progress over the years—our roads, vehicles and road users are becoming safer. Today, we take seat belts, airbags, lower speed limits, behavioural programs targeting drink driving and so much more for granted. Complacency however, remains a huge challenge. Recent reports show human error contributes to more than 90 per cent of all road accidents. So the search for effective new ways to deal with human error must be accelerated.

Australia is now the world leader in drug driving enforcement and deterrence, and with around 400,000 tests annually, it is the largest roadside drug screening and testing program in the world.

We will continue to try to do more. A National Drug Driving Working Group—with police, government, road authorities and key policy makers—is developing a national best practice model of roadside drug testing.

Drug driving requires a strong response from governments if it is to save lives on Australian roads.

Of great and increasing concern is driver distraction, particularly the use of mobile telephones while driving.

A national survey of community attitudes to road safety conducted in 2017 found 64 per cent of people used a phone while driving—one in five admitted they used their phone for activities such as browsing the internet, texting, taking photographs and other applications. That's a staggering number of road users who are driving distracted each and every day, and it must stop.

If you take your eyes off the road for as little as two seconds to look at your phone, at 50km/h, which is the general speed limit in a built-up area, your vehicle travels 27.78m. That's a lot of time to miss a small child running onto the road after a ball or a pet, a lot of time not to see a pensioner on a walker take a step too far between parked cars, and a lot of time to miss people using a pedestrian crossing.

As part of the National Road Safety Action Plan 2018-2020, the Queensland government's been leading a national project to develop a national approach to reduce driver distraction. I commend them for it.

In addition, the National Transport Commission's been progressing some important work on the Australian road rules as they relate to driver distraction.

I commend the New South Wales government as well, for increasing the penalty for illegally using mobile phones to five demerit points. The penalty was increased from four to five demerit points on 17 September 2018. During double-demerit periods, drivers who break the rules will be penalised ten demerit points. That's most of your licence.

I intend to do more with my state and territory counterparts on education campaigns, better understanding behavioural influences to inform enforcement and deterrence and what technological responses might be available.

In support of this, I've recently written to leading telecommunications and information technology companies seeking their advice and cooperation on what more can be done.

Improved transport systems and automated vehicles.

The government is working with industry and state and territory governments through the COAG Transport and Infrastructure Council to develop a fit-for-purpose regulatory system to ensure we are ready to adopt automated vehicles safely and legally on our roads. The National Policy Framework for Land Transport Technology has been developed, to foster an integrated policy approach by governments across Australia to the development and adoption of emerging transport technology.

Last year, I announced $9.7 million for the establishment of an Office of Future Transport Technologies. This office will work across government, industry and other key entities to ensure Australians can access the benefits of future transport technologies while ensuring they are kept safe as the technologies are developed and deployed. The new office enhances the government's strategic leadership role in developing and implementing future transport technologies in Australia successfully and responsibly.

Partnership with states, territories and local government.

State and territory governments are on the frontline of road safety in delivering the safest possible system—safe roads, safe vehicles, safe people, and safe speeds.

They fund, plan, design and operate the road network, manage vehicle registration, ensure vehicles on the road are roadworthy and maintain our driver licensing systems and regulate and enforce road user behaviour.

At the same time, local governments fund, plan, design and operate the road networks in their local areas. We recognise this is a mammoth task. As the Australian Local Government Association has reported, local roads managed by local governments account for 75 per cent of the total road length in Australia, or 662,000 kilometres.

So maintaining cooperation and partnership across all levels of government is essential, including through the COAG Transport and Infrastructure Council.

And in recognition of the need for coordination across all aspects of the road safety policy challenge, I've written to the chair of the COAG Health Council, the Hon. Roger Cook MLA, to action a decision of transport ministers to refer the inquiry report for consideration.

The government's work together with state and territory governments, police industry associations and community groups underscores the joint commitment to all Australians being able to use our roads safely.

I intend to pursue more regular meetings of relevant ministers, including road safety, law enforcement, health and education together with road safety stakeholders to ensure our goals are achieved.

International partnerships

I've spoken about drug driving as an area where Australia is a world leader.

As a nation with a strong record of achievement in improving road safety, Australia has the capacity and the responsibility to assist other nations in reducing the number of deaths and serious injuries on their roads.

Australia will also need to learn from others around the world. Our international partnerships will be critical in carrying us forward to the vision zero targets.

Involvement of members and senators

I also commend the Parliamentary Friends of Road Safety Group, co-chaired by the member for Wide Bay, Llew O'Brien, and Senator Alex Gallacher. This group of committed parliamentarians from all sides of politics is using its influence and network to bring greater awareness of road safety and the need for continued improvements to our approach.

And with the support of the House, I propose a standing committee on road safety be pursued in the next term of parliament, to build on the good work of the Parliamentary Friends of Road Safety. This committee will be able to consider reports on progress with meeting reduction targets and implementing road safety initiatives.

In conclusion, road safety is complex, with no simple or easy solutions. My priority, as the minister responsible for road safety, is to lift the Commonwealth's leadership and ensure all governments continue to invest in a safe road safety transport system. I was pleased to stand with the member for Grayndler, the shadow minister for transport and infrastructure, when the inquiry report was delivered by the independent panel. I'm pleased to be with him today to commit to taking forward the inquiry's recommendations, not only because this issue is too important for politicking but because it provides the necessary consistency in policy and time to measure performance and build the evidence to know where to focus and where to make a real difference.

I welcome more discussion about the actions of all levels of government, the private sector and community can make towards a future in which deaths and serious injuries are no longer regarded as the inevitable and acceptable cost of road travel. Road safety is of deep concern to each and every one of us. For me, it is personal. As a former regional journalist, I have covered far too many road accidents and incidents, leaving far too many awful and painful memories of the impact on families as well as emergency services personnel.

No matter where you live, the government wants to help you get home sooner and safer. However, still more than 100 Australians are hospitalised daily and a further 100 die each month due to road cashes. Even though regional Australians make up around only a quarter of the population, they account for more than half of the deaths across the nation. I encourage everyone here to consider what they are doing to make our roads safer, how we work with our electorates, the conversations we have and the actions we can make to get a real and lasting difference. Together we can get to our goal of zero fatalities and injuries each year. I present a copy of my ministerial statement.

4:31 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to respond on behalf of the opposition to the Deputy Prime Minister's statement regarding the inquiry into the National Road Safety Strategy 2011-20. I begin by acknowledging his personal commitment to improving road safety. He's genuine, not just because he's the transport minister, but it is a long-term commitment, as he said, arising out of his own experience. Of course, it is a fact that there would barely be an Australian who hasn't been touched by trauma on our roads either directly or indirectly, which is why it requires a concerted effort by this parliament and, indeed, all parliaments, local government and the community to do what we can in our own way to make a difference.

The inquiry was called in 2017. Unfortunately, the targets that were established in the National Road Safety Strategy for the decade 2011-20 when I was the minister—and this was the internationally recognised decade of road safety—weren't met. The target for reductions was 30 per cent. Instead, we're on track to receive a 15 per cent reduction. While a 30 per cent reduction was an ambitious target, we should, as the minister said, always aim high. We should, though, review our progress and make changes where necessary. Of course the objective should be zero, but we need to acknowledge the fact that, for a range of reasons, somehow, after year upon year of decline in fatalities on our roads, we had a spike up just over the last few years. There's a range of reasons, many of which were outlined by the minister of why that's the case. The use of mobile phones, no doubt, is having an impact on our roads. I think there's been, to some extent, some complacency. State governments ran effective awareness campaigns and perhaps that has dropped off. There was a view that, somehow, if we just kept doing what we were doing, it would continue to decline. But we need to respond, and that's why I congratulate the government on initiating this inquiry in 2017 and the minister for making sure that not only was that inquiry received from the independent panel but we ensured that this whole parliament engaged as one. That's what we should be doing, because public safety isn't just about defence and our borders; it's about the safety of the travelling public each and every day.

Road safety is, indeed, complex and difficult. Achieving improvements requires investment, perseverance and collaboration. Above all, it requires consistency and bipartisanship across the different levels of government, but we also need to engage the community in this process. Working together doesn't necessarily preclude disagreement. We will disagree on some issues about infrastructure priorities. But we shouldn't think for one second that what that means is that we have differences as to our objectives, because I believe that we do not. It does mean, though, that we should be prepared to discuss things based upon our consideration of the facts, but we should work together with goodwill and a sense of purpose. I'm certainly confident that the Deputy Prime Minister and myself can do that in this place.

The inquiry is a useful contribution to the road safety debate, particularly in the areas of improving data collection and the harmonising of governance between state jurisdictions. One of the things that we did in government was to move to single national transport regulators. We moved from 23 to three. We had a process, as well, of single licensing for heavy vehicles. In the long run, I'd say that state and territory governments need to acknowledge that their parochialism is just that and that it doesn't actually have, in today's world, as much relevance as it might have had in the less mobile world of the early 20th century. We should have single, national licences. We should have common laws so that people understand what the laws are in the different states. We should have common signage. We should do what we can to move to a national system. That's not an infringement on state rights; it is just common sense that will make a positive difference. Again, I would call upon the state and territory ministers to put aside some of the parochialism that I have no doubt that the minister, when he has chaired the ministerial council, has had to deal with, just as I did.

We welcome the report and the 12 recommendations to improve road safety, leadership, governance, resourcing and accountability. We also welcome the fact that in response to the report, the government has commenced a road safety governance review to improve coordination between the various jurisdictions that have an influence on road safety regulation. It's pleasing to hear of progress and continued improvements in data collection on traffic accidents and that we now have a national baseline to measure progress.

The report also outlines progress in the Australian Design Rules, in areas like electronic stability control for heavy vehicles and anti-lock braking systems for motorcycles, which are expected to save 850 lives and deliver net economic benefits that are worth more than $2.2 billion over the next 15 years. Today's vehicles are so much safer than those of decades ago. The behaviour is also so different today. When my son was much younger, it used to always amaze me that when I got in the car and he was in the back with his friends, I'd say, 'Have you got your seatbelts on?' and before I could get the first two words out, they automatically had them on.

That cultural change from when I was his age and people would often drive-around without their seatbelts on, even when seatbelts were in cars, just as a matter of fact, is a major breakthrough, just as airbags and other measures have made such a difference. I'm all for a competitive motor vehicle industry where manufacturers compete to deliver the best and most popular products, but in the 21st century safety has to come before the factors that used to be there in terms of what colour a car was, how much sound made—all those considerations. Safety has to be first. And one of the things is that people are much more conscious now about those issues.

Of course, one of the things that has happened as a direct result is that many of the accidents that would have caused fatalities now just cause serious injury, because people survive. As the Deputy Prime Minister noted in his contribution, 37,000 people are hospitalised each year due to road trauma. That has a terrible impact on the individuals, their families and their friends, but it also is a loss to the national economy. This is an economic issue as well. This is waste of human life and potential, and we need to do much, much better.

There are three things that you can do: infrastructure and better roads, better design and regulations, and personal behaviour. Every report I've seen on road safety—and I've read a lot of them over the years—comes down to those three factors. When it comes to better roads, there have been substantial improvements. I'm very proud of the increased investment that we put into the Pacific Highway and Bruce Highway and the completion of the Hume Highway. I will never forget having a meeting in my office with Wayne Sachs, the chief ambulance officer from Gympie. When I asked for the figures for my department, Cooroy to Curra was by far the most dangerous part of the Bruce Highway. Mr Sachs, an ambo of many years standing, sat in my office and just pleaded for support for the upgrade of the Cooroy to Curra section. He had been to so many fatal accidents. I was very pleased to go to the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, of course, and the then Treasurer, Wayne Swan, who were both very familiar, coming from Nambour, with that section of the highway. We got it done in terms of it beginning and some being completed on our watch. Other parts were completed and were very important. I'm very proud, when I drive up the Pacific Highway, to see the difference that it made.

As the Deputy Prime Minister knows, because we have discussed it, my name Anthony comes from my young cousin, who was killed on the Pacific Highway, just before I was born, at Halfway Creek. Certainly safer roads make an enormous difference. I've always felt a responsibility to leave a legacy when it comes to those issues.

At the end of last year, the Deputy Prime Minister and I had a chat and I think it's the way that parliament should work. We spoke about the Princes Highway. I'd been down the South coast and met with the editors of the newspapers who'd run a campaign—Fix It Now—on Princes Highway. The South Coast Register, the Milton Ulladulla Times, the Shoalhaven & Nowra News, and the Kiama Independent had run an effective campaign advancing the interests of their communities and serving the public interests. One of the things that arose out of that was something that doesn't happen that often. In no context, with no urging from the parliament, we put out a joint statement. There should be more of that across the parliament, in my view. And we've committed to bipartisanship on that issue to see what we can do. Historically, the truth is it's not part of the national highway. Therefore, historically, governments of both persuasions at the national level haven't invested large amounts in the Princes Highway. That's the truth. But there's a clear case for us to do so, and to do so in a bipartisan way.

In recent times there has been an area of disagreement, which is the area of heavy vehicles and safe rates. The safe rates issue was pursued by me as a minister, and it arose out of a bipartisan report of the parliament from an inquiry chaired by the late Paul Neville, the former member for Hinkler—someone who had the respect of everyone in this parliament. He was a very genuine guy and a very committed representative of his electorate. The fact is that when the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was abolished and not replaced by anything—the system was left to the market—it left a gap in road safety. Whilst the market can achieve many things as a signal, one thing that characterises the free market is that it has no conscience. If a truck driver is placed under pressure to drive too long or to bid for work against a competitor and undercut them to get the work, it leads to bad practice, in terms of speeding or the use of drugs in order to stay awake, and it has an impact on our roads. I would like the issue of heavy vehicle safety and safe rates to be progressed in the future and I hope that it can be. I raise this issue in the spirit that it's intended, which I'm sure the Deputy Prime Minister knows. We need to address that issue, because I don't think at the moment we're doing enough in that area.

As the minister said, one thing about regional highways is that regional Australians are overwhelmingly overrepresented when it comes to victims of road trauma. That's why, whoever is in government, we can't have a circumstance whereby we look at the political pendulum to determine road funding. We need to look at where the investment is needed. The Black Spot Program is very effective. The Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative is very effective. We need to make sure that the people who are delivering the programs actually get the investment done when the investment has been allocated, rather than having underinvestment and underspend in those areas.

We need always to take the opportunity to look to the future, and I congratulate the government on establishing the Office of Future Transport Technologies. It's very important that we look at the impacts that electric vehicles and driverless cars are going to have on road safety. There are a range of other issues that we need to address when it comes to road safety as well. I'm very concerned about the increased number of fatalities and incidents involving cyclists on our roads. There has also been a significant increase in the number of pedestrians who are either killed or injured on our roads. I wonder whether part of that is the impact of mobiles—people just walking out when they're distracted—but certainly it is a very worrying trend indeed.

When it comes to moving forward, I was very pleased that at the ALP national conference, held in Adelaide last December, we committed to the establishment of a national office of road safety. I acknowledge that the minister is looking at that as well and raised it as part of his statement. I think it is very important that there be a dedicated unit within the department to look at best practice research, data collection and what the next 10-year National Road Safety Strategy, to commence in 2021, should look like. Looking at the relationship between the different levels of government, law enforcement, motoring organisations, experts and research bodies—bringing in all the relevant stakeholders—is also very important. For all of us in a country like Australia, with our vast distances and a relatively small population for the size of our continent, roads are going to continue to be important into the future. With road safety, I want to see a return to a decline in road fatalities. I note that, in the last year, there was a reversed upward trend. I pledge, on behalf of Labor, to work with the government and have a bipartisan approach on these issues.