Senate debates

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Statements by Senators

Road Safety

1:22 pm

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make a contribution today in senators' statements about one of my key interests since I have been in this place, and that is road safety. As the co-chair and co-founder of the Parliamentary Friends of Road Safety, I'm very pleased to announce that this bipartisan working group is, once again, active in the 46th Parliament.

I want to go to a couple of issues which I will highlight in this contribution. One is that the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee have conducted a couple of inquiries into road safety. In fact, they made two reports. An interim report of the inquiry into road safety was tabled in the Senate on 3 May 2016 and the final report on 26 October 2017. And, to date, there has been no government response. I think senators may well be aware, though general members of the public may not be aware, that, if a Senate committee concludes an inquiry and tables a report in the Senate, the expectation is that there will be a government response within three months. If there is no government response within three months, there is tabled in the Senate a report to say, 'The government hasn't responded.'

I can understand that, if there were a partisan political debate going on, the government wouldn't see fit to respond. But, if you look at the outcome in road safety to date, in South Australia there's been a 69 per cent increase in deaths; in Victoria, a 55.7 per cent increase in deaths; in Western Australia, a 12 per cent increase in deaths; and in your own state of Tasmania, Madam Acting Deputy President Askew, a 10.5 per cent increase in deaths. So it's not to say that the problem has gone away. It's not to say that the problem is a party political issue. It's simply to say that the government is asleep at the wheel. I would expect people to say: 'You'd expect to hear that from a Labor senator. That's the sort of stuff they do. They come in and bag the government.' If we look at the Review of national road safety governance arrangementsa public document commissioned by the department and published in June 2019—the final report says:

1. The Australian Government has not provided sufficiently strong leadership, coordination or advocacy on road safety to drive national trauma reductions. The Transport and Infrastructure Council (TIC) has not been used to enable cross-jurisdiction decision-making to drive the national harm elimination agenda.

2. The Safe System approach has been adopted but not ingrained or mainstreamed within government business by federal, state, territory or local governments. TIC is the ideal forum to drive meaningful mainstreaming of road safety and integrate Safe System principles. Work to mainstream the Safe System approach could be led through the Road Safety Strategy Working Group which all TIC members directed to be instituted in November 2018.

3. A fundamental and critical finding of the review is that road safety teams at all levels of government lack influence across the Safe System pillars and within their own organisation. For example, road safety teams lack influence over transport infrastructure design; planning; operation; maintenance and funding teams; and road transport infrastructure investment decisions, which do not include or retain Safe System treatments. Better integration of road safety teams into these decisions is essential …

This is the government's own report into its governance and operation of road safety. It is extremely critical and forthright, presented by and signed off by the secretary of the department, Dr Steven Kennedy, who I think is now Secretary to the Treasury. This review into their operation that is extremely critical is signed off very clearly by the secretary of the department. It's not just me coming into the chamber and throwing a stone at the other side. The report is implying that there's been dereliction here. We are killing a lot of Australians needlessly. There are simpler, more effective ways of spending our road funding to incorporate safe systems into the design of our infrastructure.

There are eight recommendations. For example, recommendation 6 says:

The speed of legislative change to incorporate safety features into vehicle design is under increasing pressure from new technology. This poses challenges for road users and for regulators across all levels of government who need to ensure vehicles meet community and government safety expectations. The Australian Government is responsible for leadership in this area and must lift its efforts to improve the uptake of new safety technology in the Australian new vehicle fleet.

We can't even mandate the importation of the safest vehicles. We have the Australian Design Rules, and we have a complex formula for complying with that. It's out of date. It relates to a time when we used to make motor vehicles. We used to actually manufacture motor vehicles, but we don't do that anymore. We import every one of them, and we can't even mandate autonomous braking technology and lane-keep assist. We can't mandate that across the vehicle fleet because the department wasn't resourced sufficiently, until very recently, to be able to do it quickly and effectively and because the government wasn't providing any leadership. The minister sets the tone of the department. The department reviewed its own operation, signed off by Dr Steven Kennedy, and the review was conducted by two experts. One is Jeanne Breen, independent reviewer and principal consultant of Jeanne Breen Consulting; the other is Mr David Shelton of Safe System Solutions. Both, reputationally, have expertise in this area. They were employed as consultants to write this report, and this review has found out what we've been saying for years—that the department has taken its eye off road safety.

We all know the awful tragedies that have unfolded with people killed in bushfires and other natural disasters around the country, and we know the energy that the essential services expend all hours of the day while they acquit their roles superbly, trying to keep people safe. Road safety is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week job and it has to be set at a very high level, with a safe systems approach. If you're going to spend $100 billion on roads, for goodness sake make sure they're safe roads. Most of the roads in Australia are owned by local governments. The local government doesn't talk to the state government which doesn't talk to the federal government. The money is coming from the federal government level in a lot of cases, so why are we not combining effectively to make sure we have safe roads?

We know what works. The Bruce Highway is a classic example of what works; a metre and a half of separation has saved hundreds of lives and thousands of injuries. What we know from talking to the experts is it not only changes behaviour on that road and saves lives and injuries; it changes people's behaviour when they get off that road, because they don't have a metre and a half of separation. All of a sudden they slow down and drive more carefully. So we do know what works. The safe system approach is well known. What hasn't happened has been the coordination, strength and leadership at a federal level. We want to see that improved. I know that the member for Wide Bay, Llew O'Brien, is just as passionate about this as I am.

We need leadership straight through the department. Get it operating; get the Office of Road Safety to start working on its own report. Don't take advice from me—although we have given advice to the department ad nauseam over the years. There is its own report, the Review into National Road Safety Governance Arrangements, tabled this June. It has eight very succinct recommendations about the way forward. Resource it. The minister, the Hon. Michael McCormack, should instruct the department to get on with it. There is no need for any more reviews. This is clearly a case of, 'Whoever's running the department, give the appropriate guidance and leadership, and make sure the Office of Road Safety is appropriately funded and appropriately led.' People are then in charge of their own destiny, to go out across the various levels of state, territory and local government, to combine effectively to reduce this never-ending, repeating trauma of death and injury in the Australian community. The BITRE report, which goes to the trend in respect of injuries, is on the rise. What's happening in road safety is feeding into every state health budget. If we are better at retrieving people and getting them to hospital, there is an extraordinarily high cost for the ongoing care of those people. It is economics 101; if we can reduce death and trauma, we'll save lots of money.