Senate debates

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Statements by Senators

Road Safety

1:49 pm

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm disturbed by recent news that 37 people have died on Tasmanian roads in the 12 months to September 2018. This represents a 20 per cent increase over the previous 12-month period and, despite a gradual improvement in the road toll over many years, this recent spike is concerning. Tasmania's road death rate sits at around seven deaths a year per 100,000 people, the second-highest in Australia after the Northern Territory. Australia-wide, over the same period, 1,200 people died on our roads.

As the government's report, Inquiry into the National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020, points out, if we cannot improve road safety, then at the current rate we will see 12,000 deaths over the next decade and 360,000 injuries at a cost of more than $300 billion. This can include some horrific lifelong injuries, such as brain damage, paralysis, amputations or loss of sight, yet somehow we've come to accept this as normal, but people being killed and maimed on a daily basis should not be accepted as normal. Our road trauma needs to be treated as a national emergency.

I believe an important first step is to have a dedicated road safety portfolio with the federal ministry, something that is currently lacking. Labor has recently appointed my colleague Senator Glenn Sterle, from Western Australia, as the shadow assistant minister for road safety. Senator Sterle has a strong background in this area as a former truck driver and organiser for the Transport Workers' Union, and he was advocating for improved road safety even before he came into this place. For one group of people, road safety is of particular importance, and that is our road freight transport workers.

I've also spoken recently in this place about the abolition of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, a decision which has cost lives. With the establishment of the RSRT came a system for setting safe rates of pay, a system which led to a 25 per cent decline in the number of fatalities resulting from heavy truck crashes. In an industry where workers are 13 times more likely to die than in any other industry, truck drivers should not be forced to work an 80-hour week or be unable to raise safety concerns with their employer for fear of being fired. This is not just a risk to the drivers themselves but to the rest of the travelling public—to you and to me.

The Transport Workers' Union has also been calling for road deaths involving commercial heavy vehicles to be treated as workplace deaths. This will allow investigators to determine whether factors such as time and cost pressures contributed to the death through fatigue, speed or lack of vehicle maintenance. I would like to, at this point, congratulate the TWU Members First Team on their re-election. They've worked very hard over many, many years to improve road safety, as I say, not just for the truck drivers but for the general public. I think that the recent TWU elections have shown the great work that they've been doing, and that's shown in the great result that those elections brought.

The Australian government's blueprint for road safety is the National Road Safety Strategy, a 10-year plan adopted in 2011, which is very soon due for renewal. The government's own inquiry into the strategy has some alarming findings in terms of the failure to act on the strategy and to achieve success against it. It seems clear to me from the inquiry report that the failure is not necessarily one of the strategy itself but the lack of progress in implementing it. One of the key findings of the inquiry has been the lack of coordination between the three levels of government, all of which bear some responsibility for road safety. This problem is summed up in the following excerpt:

The governance capability, combined with poorly defined and resourced actions, ill-defined accountability and an inability to report on progress in a meaningful way has been the background headline behind the implementation failure.

The report also criticises the fact that when crashes occur we have a culture of looking at the performance of the road user rather than asking about the safety attributes of the road, the safety qualities of the vehicles and the appropriateness of the speed limit. With their Vision Zero approach, Sweden has demonstrated that it is possible to dramatically reduce road trauma, but, to do so, first you need a cultural change. You need to adopt an attitude that any death or serious injury on the road is unacceptable. You need to overcome the complacency that comes with accepting that carnage on our roads is the norm. It's profoundly disappointing that progress on addressing Australia's road toll has stalled, but it's especially disappointing when we have a good strategy but are lacking in national leadership to see it through. Even one death or injury on our roads is one too many.

As I said, there is a strategy, but the implementation of that strategy seems to have hit a hurdle. It's up to the three levels of government to make sure that those hurdles are overcome. We have the policy, and it's all right to talk about it but we need to actually act on it—that's what's most important to us. If you don't have enough resources, and the actions can't take place, then there is no point in actually having the strategy. I would encourage everybody to talk to their federal, state and local government members to make sure that they're implementing, as much as they can, the changes that need to take place so that we can save lives.