Monday, 24 February 2020
Private Members' Business
Black Spot Program
I'm pleased to speak to this motion. We all know we need to do more to make our roads safer. That's why the Black Spot Program has bipartisan support. This program was first introduced under the Hawke government, and for three decades now governments of all stripes have extended and invested in this important program to make our roads safer. But, sadly, this program alone has not been enough to drive down our national road toll. We are now in our seventh year of coalition government, and for seven years progress on road safety has stalled. Australia is now in the final year of the National Road Safety Strategy. This plan, launched by Labor when in government in 2011, was intended to guide Australia towards a future of safer roads, fewer injuries and, most importantly, fewer fatalities. Tragically, however, the road toll for 2019 was higher than it was five years ago. Last year, 1,194 Australians died on our roads. This is a national tragedy that is being felt by families in communities in all corners of the country.
Every death on Australia's roads is one death too many, yet the government is simply not providing the national leadership Australians deserve and demand when it comes to road safety. We know from analysis by the AAA that only nine of the 33 indicators from the National Road Safety Strategy will be met and that eight of the targets, including one of the headline targets—to reduce serious injuries by 30 per cent—still cannot be measured. The work to make sure we can measure that target has not been done.
I note that after the election last year the government established the Joint Select Committee on Road Safety. This committee was formed with the mandate to inquire and report on steps that could be taken to reduce Australia's road accident rates, trauma and deaths on our roads. This is an important task, and it should lead to real action. Instead, the committee did not even meet until Labor members lost patience, frankly, with the government's inaction and called a meeting themselves last parliamentary week. And, over the weekend, we saw revelations that the government is more concerned with using this committee to deliver political favours than it is to find a way to actually lower the road toll.
Earlier this month was the Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety, held in Stockholm. Despite it being a ministerial conference, the Morrison government did not send the Deputy Prime Minister or the assistant minister for road safety. Instead, representing the parliament at this global conference was a first-term backbencher from the National Party, the member for Cowper. If you're asking why the member for Cowper attended this global ministerial conference then you're not on your own. The Weekend Australian gave us a hint of what might be the real reason for why the member for Cowper was sent on a trip to Stockholm: he voted against the member for New England's party room assault on the Deputy Prime Minister. In the lead-up to the recent Nationals leadership spill, the member for Cowper was considered to be a supporter of the former Leader of the National Party Barnaby Joyce, but on the eve of the vote he changed his mind. Why? It couldn't have something to do with the committee chairmanship or a tax funded Scandinavian trip I'm sure!
Road safety should be above political gains. But, despite the government's claim that the member for Cowper attended the Swedish conference representing the parliament of Australia, it would appear that no non-government MP who was invited was invited to attend as part of a parliamentary delegation. Global conferences should be an important opportunity for cooperation with policy formulation, not a prize to be handed out in return for party room votes. If the government truly took the issue of road safety seriously, there is no doubt that a minister would have attended this conference. In fact, you would have thought the minister for road safety would have been a good idea. That the government's two ministers skipped the conference, that the head of the Office of Road Safety was usurped on the program by a departmental deputy secretary, and that the parliament was represented by a first-term backbencher send a very, very powerful message as to what this government actually thinks of road safety.
It is good that the government points to the three decades of success of the Black Spot Program because there isn't a lot of good in other aspects of its road safety policies. Labor will always support the Black Spot Program and any other policy that drives down our nation's road tolls and saves Australian lives. This government has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to the National Road Safety Strategy. There has been a distinct lack of national leadership on national road safety. We are seeing the road toll continue to rise, and that is not something the government should be proud of. We will continue to be ready to work with the government on any substantial policies that they come up with to improve road safety, and we certainly hope that they actually manage to do so.
I rise to support this motion and the government's commitment to reducing the nation's road toll. Considering the importance of roads and transport for all facets of our daily lives and economy, road safety is rightly a national priority for this government. This priority is re-enforced in the National Road Safety Action Plan 2018–2020, which outlines the practical steps being taken to make our roads safer at all levels of government.
Over the past 10 years more than 12,000 people have lost their lives on roads in Australia, including over 2,500 in my home state of Victoria. These deaths were avoidable and can be mitigated through the implementation of effective policies, including educational programs, traffic control and monitoring, vehicle regulations and infrastructure improvements. The Black Spot Program is a key infrastructure project that supports the priorities outlined in the National Road Safety Action Plan. It has been an incredibly important program to safely deliver for our drivers in accident prone areas. In the 2019-20 program year, 273 projects were approved, bringing the total number of approved projects to 2,371 since the program began in 2013.
I support this program because it is estimated that over a 10-year period the 2,371 approved projects will prevent approximately 14,460 crashes and save around 280 lives. I support this program because, for every dollar invested in the program, the cost of road trauma to the community is reduced by six times over the long term. I support this program because it reduces fatal and casualty crashes by 30 per cent. To ensure that this program continues to deliver safer roads for our communities, the government will provide a total of $1 billion to the Black Spot Program for the 10 years from 2013 to 2023, with an ongoing commitment of $110 million each year following.
The continuation and expansion of this program will be particularly important for regional and rural areas, including my electorate of Mallee. Since the start of the program, 13 projects have been approved in my electorate—a total investment of over $6 million to our region. Significant projects include the improvement of Polkemmet Road in Vectis and McCallum Street in Swan Hill, as well as the construction of a number of roundabouts in Mildura. I also look forward to the completion of upgrades to the Charlton-Swan Hill Road, which are scheduled to begin in March this year. The shoulders of this road will be sealed, tactile edge lines will be installed and hazards will be removed to improve visibility along the road.
The government's commitment to building better, safer roads is indicated not only through the Black Spot Program but also through the Roads to Recovery Program. This program has made and will continue to make significant contributions to the safety of our roads: $6.2 billion will continue to be provided through this program to 2024. Furthermore, the 128 local government areas across Australia that are affected by severe drought will receive an additional $138.9 million in the 2020 calendar year through this program.
I'd also like to take this opportunity to highlight other works that desperately need to be completed to ensure that Victorian roads are safer for drivers. I speak of the ill-fated Murray Basin Rail Project, a $440 million project that has been mismanaged by the Victorian state Labor government after a $240 million investment from the federal government. The incomplete project has delivered a substandard rail system in Victoria, resulting in producers who are increasingly opting to freight their produce by truck. While I support our road transport industry and accept that there will always be a need for it, Mallee roads are experiencing accelerated degradation and increased safety increases due to the number of trucks using them daily. We can reduce these outcomes by getting more freight onto rail, and we will get more freight onto rail if the Murray Basin Rail Project is completed. I call on the Victorian Labor government to complete this project in good faith and to work with federal government to achieve this end.
I commend the government, and in particular the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Michael McCormack, for the work achieved so far and for the commitment to continue delivery of the Black Spot Program, which facilitates greater access for Australians and improves safety and efficiency for all in my electorate of Mallee.
No-one doubts for a moment the importance of having programs like the Black Spot Program that identify areas where accidents have occurred—either accidents where people haven't experienced massive injury or, in those very unfortunate cases, where there has been either injury or death. We don't want people to have to go through that. We don't want the economy to go through the impact of $27 billion of costs attached as a result of road accidents.
We should use public funds wisely to improve public safety. But there are problems with the management of these programs. This government has sponged up taxpayer dollars and made decisions that the public expect to be fairly made. It's completely broken. No-one can trust this government, with the political corruption that has gone on in the grant programs. There is no better evidence of that than what happened with the sports rorts. Money was deliberately siphoned off to help the political interests of the government.
Now we find that it is in road funding too, in an area that is supposed to have an impact on reducing congestion in some of our most congested cities in the country. We find that 83 per cent of road funding was assigned by this government in a politically corrupt way to benefit people in marginal seats or others being targeted. This is not something new. And it was reported in The Australianof all places! This is a media outlet the government would expect more than usual political comfort from. But they put on their front page the electorates that will benefit the most from road funding—and this particular road funding is designed to improve either safety or congestion—and it is government electorate after government electorate that has been handed funding. You can see how government areas benefited way more than anyone else.
In the electorate that I represent we need investment in the new major motorway going next to us and in decongesting rail lines to improve people movement in my part of Western Sydney. We need investment to help remove black spots like the Francis Road bottleneck in Rooty Hill. But no funding has been provided to the Chifley electorate. But the electorate next door was targeted by the Liberals, with $180 million worth of promises splashed in one electorate alone. This government has given up on having even a semblance of impartiality, fairness or balance. They basically pick up taxpayer funds, turn them into a political levy, and then apply for their mates in their areas. This is simply wrong. It is corrupt. It is breaking the trust in the way that governments make decisions, and it has to end.
The Urban Congestion Fund is just another instance of this money getting picked up and thrown around. Eighty-three per cent of the funding decisions went to government. This is wrong. It is wrong, and people should be held accountable for it. We are sick of the minister for population, who I have dubbed the 'minister for roundabouts', getting up and saying that his big contribution to decongestion and better people movement is that he's funded a roundabout here or there in, obviously, key marginals that the government wants to hold on to. It is not good enough. The Australian people and particularly Australian taxpayers deserve better. We should get to a system where these types of decisions are made much more independently. It is why Labor has called for ages for Infrastructure Australia to be given that independent mandate to make those decisions, instead of what we have got here, which is basically cronyism, corruption and political campaigns being buttressed by taxpayer dollars. It is an absolute disgrace.
It is very sad that, on a motion regarding black spots and road safety, all we have heard from speakers opposite is politics—politics around who got sent from what committee to where, politics around which electorates might be getting funding and which aren't. What we are not hearing is some empathy for this issue, the serious issue of road safety. This is an issue where people lose their lives. It is an issue where the government, I have to say, is acting and has been acting for some time on a range of measures—the Black Spot program being one of them. We heard this churlish argument against roundabouts, calling a minister 'Minister for Roundabouts' because he's funding them. Roundabouts are a very important part of the mix in sorting out road safety issues. It just shows the kind of politics that are at play here.
In my electorate of Dawson there are quite a number of road safety projects along with the blackspot program, fixing up intersections such as Milton and George Streets. It is going to be a signalised intersection there where there have been quite a few accidents in the past. That is something that practically is happening. There is also another problem intersection in Bowen that is being fixed, and that's on the back of two other intersections in Bowen where there have been accidents and that have been fixed through this program as well.
Bigger funding is going towards major road infrastructure projects which also are going to improve road safety. We have the Mackay ring road. It's going to take the heavy vehicles out of Nebo Road. A few years ago we a driver who had a fit in a sugar truck. He crossed the lane and ran into one of the motels we've got on Nebo Road in Mackay. He hit the gas canisters on the side of the motel, and it blew up with a huge explosion. Luckily, in that event no-one actually lost their life. We on this side have acted after many years, including under the Labor side of government, with the council and the community calling for funding for the Mackay ring road. Not only have we funded stage 1 of that Mackay ring road, which fixes up the heavy vehicle issues in Nebo Road and the Mackay urban area; we have also have funded stage 2, which is all about freight efficiency.
Along with that, an issue I have been pushing for a long time—back before I was a member of parliament, when I was a local government councillor in Mackay and represented the area of Walkerston, which now Michelle Landry represents as a federal member—is the Walkerston bypass. When I got into this job, that was one of the things that I wanted to see funded as well. Along with the member for Capricornia, I pushed long and hard for that. At the moment, we've got the Peak Downs Highway, which runs through the small town of Walkerston. You've got these fuel tankers heading out to the mines. They go past a very tight little village and pass two schools—a state school and the Catholic school—and the main shopping area, where a whole heap of pedestrians are. These trucks roar through there every hour of every day. It's a completely state controlled road, by the way.
I went to the state minister, Mark Bailey, saying to him that, if we could come up with 50 per cent of the funds, would they fund it. 'Yes' was the response. When we came up with the funds, they still wouldn't do it, even though it was a completely state controlled road and it should have been done at state expense. We came up with 80 per cent of the funds, and suddenly they are doing it. So we have the track record. We are doing these sort of projects in regions, not just Mackay. We've also got the Haughton River bridge up in the Burdekin, near Townsville. We've got the Townsville ring road. Stage 4 of that is being built. A lot of it has already being built. We've had road safety projects all over Queensland and all over Australia. They will continue because of the massive investment that this side of politics, managing the budget better, has been able to put into infrastructure—particularly road infrastructure—across this country.
That side would leave it all up to the bureaucrats to determine. If Infrastructure Australia made every single choice that there was to make, regional Australia would get nothing. That's what we'll look forward to under a Labor government: bureaucrats who neglect regional Australia making all of the decisions.
Black spot funding and Roads to Recovery funding are supported by both sides of the chamber. During the 12 years I have been here, Labor governments have invested in black spot funding and coalition governments have invested in black spot funding. I can think of intersections in my electorate, for example, Cemetery Road and Whitehill Road in Eastern Heights, Ripley Road at Flinders View or, indeed, a bend of a road in Lobb Street in Churchill where black spot funding has made a difference. I remember speaking on numerous occasions to the various mayors and councils in South-East Queensland that I have had the honour of representing—the Scenic Rim, Somerset, Ipswich and the Lockyer Valley—in the last 12 years about how Roads to Recovery has made a difference.
But this government has taken cronyism and corruption on road funding to an art form. It reminds me of a conversation I had with now passed on Don Livingstone, the former Labor member for Ipswich West, who told me that when he was elected on 2 December 1989, he could find no significant road-funding projects in Ipswich West in the long history of the Bjelke-Petersen regime in Queensland. When I looked at this motion today, I thought of Don, who passed away five years ago, tragically—a great man who did a lot of good in our local area. We have a bridge named after him at One Mile. This government, when it comes to major projects and road funding, has favoured coalition governments in an extraordinary way. They must think, for example, traffic congestion finishes at the intersection of a federal Labor electorate and a federal coalition electorate.
The Urban Congestion Fund, for example, has been rorted extraordinarily by this government, with 83 per cent of the $3 billion going to 144 projects located in coalition seats and marginal seats they hope to win off the Labor Party. This is the sports rorts on steroids. There wasn't a specific project in Blair that was funded under this fund. When I think of areas in my electorate, I think of things like the Cunningham Highway, which is outside the RAAF base at Amberley. Federal governments, from Howard's day all the way through, have spent $1.3 billion on the RAAF base at Amberley but have not fixed up the Cunningham Highway from Ebenezer Creek to Yamanto. And this government seems not much interested at all in dealing with the Queensland government to fix up one of the worst black spots in Ipswich. People have lost their lives, cars have been damaged and lives have been changed for the worse. There are traffic jams galore in the morning and in the evening.
Every time I talk to the 8,500 people who work on the RAAF base at Amberley, whether they are serving military personnel or those working in the aerospace area, they always talk about this issue. Why aren't the government fixing this? Why aren't they dealing with the Queensland government to make sure this upgrade is absolutely necessary?
At the last federal election, the Labor Party took to the campaign a commitment to put another $500 million into the Darra to Rocklea section of the Ipswich Motorway, not matched by the coalition. It took the election of a Labor government in 2007 for the Dinmore to Darra section of the motorway to be upgraded—designed, built and completed under a Labor government. This Liberal government was eventually shamed in 2016 into putting $200 million towards the upgrade of the Darra to Rocklea section of the Ipswich Motorway, but didn't match this.
And of course there is the Oxley roundabout. We have close to 100,000 vehicles a day going through that roundabout. There is a final section that goes towards what we used to call the Centenary Interchange that needs to be done. We talk about black spots and areas that will help road safety, talk about saving lives and damage to vehicles and about helping communities.
This government should have a good look at themselves because they're not doing the right thing. Sure, they might be doing the right thing on black spot funding and on Roads to Recovery funding but there is so much more they could do. They're not doing it in my electorate and it is affecting the personnel on the RAAF base at Amberley and the people who live around that base, the whole of Ipswich and the whole of Somerset. They should do a whole lot better than they're currently doing.