Senate debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023


Road Safety

5:34 pm

Photo of Susan McDonaldSusan McDonald (Queensland, National Party, Shadow Minister for Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to bring the house's attention to some statistics that should ring alarm bells among those opposite who have the power to act. I'm joining the Australian Automobile Association in asking for urgent federal action on identifying the causes of bad crashes, in light of shocking statistics that show higher rates of death for regional drivers. The AAA reports that drivers in regional Queensland are more than three times more likely to be killed behind the wheel than their metropolitan counterparts, but in New South Wales, regional drivers are nearly 10 times more likely to die on the road than city drivers, and in Western Australia—a shocking statistic—regional drivers are 20 times more likely to be killed while driving than metropolitan drivers. Furthermore, for every 100 people killed in road crashes per month across Australia 100 are hospitalised every day.

As a resident of regional Australia, I'm appalled at these statistics, which show that metropolitan road deaths in Queensland in 2022 occurred at a rate of 3.05 per 100,000 people, while in regional areas it was 10.24 deaths per 100,000. In New South Wales, metropolitan deaths were 1.62 per 100,000, while in the regions it was a staggering 9.32. In Western Australia the metropolitan death rate was 2.84 per 100,000 people and 18.7 in the regions.

In light of this information, you would think governments would instantly be able to identify the disparity between city and country road deaths, but this is not the case. The AAA reports that all Australian governments have committed to halving Australia's road toll through to 2030, yet deaths are currently increasing at 3.7 per cent per year and have increased in each of the past five years.

The AAA is one of many road safety advocates calling for the Commonwealth to leverage the funding it provides to the states to urgently facilitate the timely, consistent and open reporting of national road safety data. Specifically, the AAA's federal budget submission calls for all Commonwealth road funding to states to be made contingent on states and territories releasing data related to the safety assessment of road infrastructure; casualty crash details, including crash type, location and conditions; vehicle details; road user details, including road user type, licence status and behavioural factors; and enforcement and compliance data. When in opposition, Labor called for this, so I ask: now that they are behind the wheel, so to speak, will they commit to this action?

It is no good spending billions on roads if there is no way to calculate road conditions as a factor in road crashes. The RACQ's 2022 analysis in Queensland showed that 17 regional roads, including seven in North Queensland, were considered as being of high to medium risk of serious injury and death. The Bruce Highway as a whole received the most complaints from motorists, particularly between Rockhampton and Innisfail, with potholes, rough surfaces and limited overtaking lanes drawing the most criticism.

When I see these figures I have to ask why the Queensland Labor government has allowed its road maintenance program to fall behind schedule by $6 billion. The Palaszczuk government will throw billions of dollars at tunnels and bridges in Brisbane, it will find billions more to host the Olympics and it will happily rip millions in speeding and other fines from motorists, but when it comes to ensuring that regional people have decent roads, the money just isn't forthcoming.

Just this week I have heard on good authority that federal funding for the Flinders Highway between Hughenden and Julia Creek is still waiting for matched funding from the Queensland Labor government. Anyone who has driven that road will tell you it's like a roller-coaster ride, making it treacherous for all but most especially the heavy vehicles taking cattle and minerals to Townsville and, soon, equipment for the CopperString project. Roads in our region must be upgraded and well maintained because, unlike the big cities, there's no other way to go if these roads have issues. Each year towns in Cape York and the gulf are cut off for weeks and sometimes months by flooded roads. That means supplies have to be flown in at great expense because there is literally no way to drive anywhere. Add in substandard roads and we can see why risks are higher. This is a critically important issue.