House debates

Monday, 11 September 2023

Private Members' Business

Black Spot Program

1:11 pm

Photo of Garth HamiltonGarth Hamilton (Groom, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very happy to rise in support of this motion, and it's a very timely one. It wasn't that long ago I was up at Highfields, in the north of my electorate, opening Road Safety Week. It's a great opportunity to stand beside not just the police but all the emergency service personnel who play such an important role in keeping us safe and looking after us when accidents occur. At every one of these events, I try to tell a personal story; I think we all have personal stories of how road safety impacts us. This year I was talking about a friend of mine, Dean Batchelor, a truck driver and a kid I grew up with—a great concreter, actually; he worked with me for a lot of my youth. He was sadly caught in an accident not that long ago, and he is now on the Lights on the Hill memorial down in Gatton, where those who lost their lives in the trucking industry are remembered.

This is an important motion for us, particularly in regions like mine where the Black Spot Program is such a great program in supporting local road infrastructure improvements and upgrades. Recently, we celebrated two of those projects being completed in our area: the intersection of Bridge and Hume Street had a set of traffic lights put in there, where there had been serious accidents because of visibility issues that have been resolved—there are now dedicated left-hand turning lanes that have made a huge difference; and Perth and Curzon Street, another suburban section of road that the Black Spot Program did a great job of addressing. We've got Margaret and Mackenzie Street being upgraded in the next couple of weeks, another part of our local community where there are significant issues with visibility in suburban streets largely because of the trees on the side of the road and the hilly areas. I was also down at the corner of Canning and Brisbane Street, in Drayton, identifying another area where there is a perfect opportunity for black spot funding to come through; I'm very happy to support that application there.

This program has done so much good for us in our region, and I hope it will continue to do so. To put it into context of why it is such a crucial program—and I think it's even more important now—we're seeing the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program being brought to an end beyond 2026. This has been an absolutely crucial program for funding local roads, bridges, that sort of thing, in regional areas. Unfortunately, to see that wrapped up while the minister is still talking it up and talking about what good it's done leaves a bit of a sad taste in the mouth.

We've also got the Road Safety Program coming to an end in 2025. This is the program that the automotive association of Australia said they were extremely disappointed to see funding redirected away from. This was basically a program that allowed funding for safety upgrades of almost any road, any issue. It was a 'use it or lose it' model. It forced local governments into getting on with the action of making roads safer.

Again, it is sad to see this one being wrapped up, and I would also point out just how difficult it is for councils to deliver these road improvements. We've seen the federal assistance grants reduced. The LGAQ president Linda Scott came out all guns blazing on that one, because this reduction in the funds that the councils have to address roads and infrastructure in their regions is just another slight that is borne within changes in all of these infrastructure funding packages. If you put that beside the 90-day infrastructure review, which is now out to 130 days, we're seeing a halt on the delivery of some if these key projects, and they are so crucial in areas like mine.

My electorate pretty much sits exactly within Toowoomba Regional Council. We have a highly urbanised area throughout inner-city Toowoomba, but as soon as you drive outside of that you've got roads that simply do not have the same funding, because of the lower density populations in those areas. It's incredibly difficult for the council to fund those road upgrades that are so crucial. In those areas it's no longer just about commuters and access around the city; at that point we're talking about how we keep livelihoods going. It's about how we get produce to port. It's absolutely crucial.

We've seen a long history of bipartisanship going back a number of governments when it comes to funding road safety improvements, and I hope we see that continue. I hope to see the Black Spot Program made easier and more accessible for councils, because right now they're finding their funding reduced.

1:16 pm

Photo of Sam LimSam Lim (Tangney, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Our roads are the lifeline of our communities, connecting us to our families, our workplaces and our aspirations. I believe that road safety is paramount, and every journey taken, regardless of the mode of transport, should be made with the goal of reaching our destination safely. The government's Black Spot Program is a key program, instrumental in enhancing road safety across our vast nation. First introduced by the Hawke government in 1996, it aimed to reduce the number and severity of crashes on Australian roads over three years. It targeted locations with a history of road accidents, hence the name 'black spot'. For over two decades the Black Spot Program has been steadfast in its commitment to reducing the risk of road crashes. It has successfully funded projects across our country aimed at improving road safety in areas where it is needed most.

When the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transport visited my electorate of Tangney in May this year, she came to announce key commitments under the Black Spot Program which would substantially improve 24 dangerous crash sites on Western Australia roads in 2023-24. For my constituents, this means the installation of a roundabout and upgraded street lighting at the intersection of Corbel and Modillion Avenue North in Shelley in the electorate of Tangney. I was so thankful that this was finally happening under our government, after a tragic accident at this site back in January 2021claimed the life of a 17-year-old young man on his motorcycle. There was also something that frustrated me: Why did it take so long for something to happen? Why didn't the previous government do something to address this sooner?

When I was a police officer, I attended so many traffic crashes. It is against this backdrop that I advocate and support amendment of the black spot road safety program guidelines to make it easier for local government to be able to access this vital funding. Half of our road crashes occur on local government roads. These crashes are responsible for 52 per cent of all casualties and 40 per cent of all road deaths. These numbers are not just statistics; they represent lives disrupted, families torn apart and communities scarred. It is our moral duty to address this issue.

Numerous lives have been spared and countless injuries prevented due to the intervention made possible through the Black Spot Program. However, as effective as the program has been, there are challenges in ensuring the local government sectors have equitable access to this funding.

There are cases—like the roundabout in my electorate of Tangney—that have taken nearly 2½ years to be announced and actioned. Local governments shoulder the responsibility for approximately 77 per cent of the road network, yet it only collects around 3.5 per cent of the total tax revenue raised by governments in Australia. This financial imbalance highlights the heavy reliance of local governments on funding from other levels of government.

These amendments in the guidelines represent a substantial shift towards making the program more accessible and responsive to the needs of local communities. It is true that not all councils are created equal in terms of resources. Rural and regional councils, with their lower rate bases, may find it challenging to meet the stringent criteria for the Black Spot Road Safety Program. These councils are the lifeblood of our regional communities, and we must ensure they have the support needed to make their roads safer.

Amending the Black Spot Road Safety Program guidelines is not merely a matter of convenience; it's a matter of life and death, and our collective safety should be a non-negotiable priority. Let us work together to make this a real thing.

1:21 pm

Photo of Melissa PriceMelissa Price (Durack, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Each year far too many Australians die on our roads. These Australians are just going about their lives, whether going to work or coming home to be with their families. In the 12 months that ended June 2023, 1,205 people died on Australian roads. That is an unacceptably high number and highlights the critical need for action to improve road safety across this country. Such an effort requires cooperation at the federal, state and local levels.

As the elected representative for the largest electorate in Australia, it would come as no surprise to those in the chamber that I am too often confronted with harrowing stories within my own electorate of Durack. This year alone, in Western Australia, we have seen 105 road fatalities. This matches the 105 road fatalities that occurred last year up to the same date. Fifty-four of the 105 road fatalities have occurred in regional Western Australia.

The Black Spot Road Safety Program is a longstanding program aimed at combating the risk of serious accidents. The program has been delivered continuously since the first year of the Howard government and delivers an ongoing commitment of approximately $110 million per annum. The program invests in projects that reduce the risk of accidents occurring, like constructing roundabouts at dangerous intersections or adding overtaking lanes in problem areas. By targeting these locations where crashes are occurring or are at risk of occurring, the program saves the community many times the cost of relatively minor road improvements. The results of this program are unquantifiable, but it has no doubt saved so many families from unnecessary heartache and pain.

Despite the success of the program, I am concerned that the current structure of its guidelines is not best suited to addressing the growing problem of road safety in regional WA, and it really does need some attention. Currently, nominations for blackspot locations are invited year round, but I believe there is too much reliance on local governments to make applications. It is noteworthy that locally controlled roads account for approximately 77 per cent of total road length in Australia, yet local governments only collect around 3.5 per cent of the total tax revenue raised by Australian governments. Fifty-two per cent of all road casualties and 40 per cent of all road deaths occur on locally controlled roads.

In my electorate, there are over 40 local government authorities. Some of these LGAs have only a few hundred people living within them; therefore, they simply do not have the rate base to support resources to develop detailed blackspot applications. Given that many road deaths occur in regional parts of the country, whereby local governments may not have the resources to make an application under the current system, I would ask the government to consider adjusting the guidelines in order to make it easier for such applications to be made.

Another area of concern I have with the current Black Spot Program is that the money being allocated to improve road safety is so far underspent. This year we've only seen the data released for Victoria and South Australia, but unfortunately we are seeing a pattern emerging. In Victoria, there was an underspend of $5.5 million, and in South Australia there was an underspend of $2.9 million—totally unacceptable. Now, we know the situation has not improved, as we are well off track to achieve the National Road Safety Strategy target of a 50 per cent reduction in road deaths by 2030. So again I stress that real attention needs to be given as to why the program is being undersubscribed and that consideration needs to be given to those regional areas.

Of course, it's not just the Black Spot Program that is designed to improve road safety. Many infrastructure projects are also at risk now as part of Labor's 90-day infrastructure review, which has now surpassed 130 days. So it appears that the transport minister not only isn't able to tell us how she made the decision to block Qatar Airways but also isn't telling us which important infrastructure projects, especially in my electorate of Durack, which are aimed at improving safety and productivity, are important enough to go ahead. Currently there is $180 million being held up by the current transport minister. So to the minister: get on with it. Make the decisions to make sure our roads are safe.

1:26 pm

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased to be able to speak on the importance of the black spot road safety program, which has been delivering funding continuously for nearly 30 years to reduce the risk of road crashes. It's one of the many funding programs by the federal government that recognises that few councils have the resources on their own to keep their roads maintained or improved.

In the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury there are more than 2,000 kilometres of roads to look after. And, of course, those roads have been smashed in recent years by fire, heavy rains, storms and floods. So the Commonwealth investment in these local government areas goes well beyond black spot funding. There has been hundreds of billions of dollars of roads repairs required across Macquarie. They are still underway. That is funded by the joint federal New South Wales disaster funding arrangements.

But, beyond that, significant programs have been brought in to improve roads. For instance, under phase 4 of the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program, councils like Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury received allocations of $869,000 in the mountains and just over $1 million in the Hawkesbury. However, the Albanese government recognised there were extra needs for regions like ours, and an additional half a million dollars was allocated to Blue Mountains and an additional $627,000 was added to Hawkesbury. That's substantial additional funding, recognising what our community has been through. The Hawkesbury Council is finalising the list of roads that it will rehabilitate or seal, thanks to my 2022 election commitment of $11.2 million in road funding. The Blue Mountains commitment was $12.5 million, and I look forward to the announcements on the long list of roads that will be improved thanks to that allocation.

These things are on top of the very key Black Spot Program, which is providing $110 million a year to fund measures right across the country improving road safety and saving lives. We know that projects delivered through black spot funding reduce serious crashes by an average of 30 per cent. Nominations are considered each year by the relevant state or territory black spot consultative panel, which is made up of representatives from community, road user groups, industry, Australian and local government, and state road and transport agencies. The panels provide the opportunity for stakeholders to have a say in the project selection process, ensuring that nominations of the highest priority and importance to the local community are recommended. As those opposite are aware, sites can be nominated by councils, the state road authorities, individuals and community organisations. Anyone can jump on and nominate a road for black spot funding. Last year's black spot funding included several key improvements for my community, with $820,000 for two sections of Old Bathurst Road in Blaxland and $1.1 million for St Albans Road. Both of these will save lives.

Photo of Alicia PayneAlicia Payne (Canberra, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

Sitting suspended from 13 : 30 to 16 : 00