Road Safety Camera Commissioner Bill 2011

I rise to speak on the Road Safety Camera Commissioner Bill 2011. It is ironic that we are debating this bill today, the day the Auditor-General has handed down his report on the road safety camera program. I am glad the Minister for Roads is at the table, because I think he would be sorely disappointed with the findings and recommendations made in the report. The report completely debunks everything coalition members have said about road safety cameras, particularly what was said by the Minister for Roads when he was shadow minister over the course of the Bracks and Brumby governments.

The report not only debunks every single thing the shadow minister at the time said but rebukes the policy the government has implemented in regard to the publishing of mobile speed camera data. I will return with much anticipation to the Auditor-General’s report later on in my contribution.

It is also appropriate during this debate to pose the same question I posed during the grievance debate earlier today — that is, where is this government’s comprehensive road safety strategy? It is coming at some stage. During question time we heard two extraordinary answers from the government. We heard an admission from the Minister for Roads that we may get the strategy by the end of the year; therefore the comprehensive road safety strategy is 12 months overdue. The second extraordinary answer was from the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, who was pretending that he was happy about the Auditor-General’s report.

Mr Noonan — It is embarrassing.

Mr MERLINO — I think he is embarrassed by the contradictions between what was said by the coalition in opposition and what the Auditor-General has made clear in his report today. On the question of where the government’s comprehensive road safety strategy is, I look forward to hearing from each and every member of the government during this debate where they think the road safety strategy is and when the people of Victoria will see it.

How on earth can this government justify the fact that more than 9 months — almost 10 months now — have passed since Arrive Alive was due to be updated? Nothing has happened: the road safety field has been vacated.

The Minister for Roads, who promised to up the ante on road safety, along with his road safety colleagues, the Minister for Police and Emergency Services and the minister responsible for the Transport Accident Commission, have failed miserably to uphold the high standards set in Victoria over four decades. The successful Arrive Alive strategy helped drive the road toll down from 444 fatalities in 2001 to 288 last year — the lowest on record. In anyone’s language it has been an outstanding success. As the shadow minister for the Transport Accident Commission and road safety I am proud of Labor’s record in government. I am glad the former Minister for Roads and Ports, the member for Tarneit, is the shadow minister at the table.

Following the election last year the government’s road safety partners, Victoria Police, the TAC (Transport Accident Commission) and VicRoads, were ready to hit the ground running with the new administration. A huge amount of work had been done over the course of a year developing ideas and proposals for the next iteration of Arrive Alive. The action plan was due to be released in December, and it was ready to go. What has happened to that work? It was ready to go. Surely it does not take nine months to consider the work we know was prepared in the development of the action plan.

This is one of the clearest examples of how dithering indecision has taken hold of this government. The people in the black hole of the Premier’s office have in their clutches the work to deliver the update to Arrive Alive, but the three ministers responsible for road safety in this state are too weak to prise that work from the hands of those at 1 Treasury Place and deliver it to the people of Victoria. This is a reprehensible situation. We are talking about people’s lives. The issue is not optional. Road safety is not something a government can choose to engage with or not. It is not acceptable to waste 12 months. Time after time we have said, ‘You don’t reduce the road toll by doing nothing’. We are talking about the lives of Victoria’s citizens.

Driving down the road toll is hard work. It requires constant innovation and informed decisions through a clear evidence-based approach. As we will hear later from the Auditor-General’s report, that is something the government categorically has not done.

Where are the new ideas to further reduce the road toll and the impact of road trauma? The answer would be met with horror by anyone or any family impacted by the tragedy of road trauma, because, as was conceded by the minister during question time today, the answer is that the government has no comprehensive road safety strategy and no vision of where it wants to take road safety over the next several years.

As we have already heard, the government has shelved Arrive Alive, scrapped the innovative road safety experience centre and reduced funding for road safety initiatives. You do not reduce the road toll by doing nothing.

The opposition is not going to oppose this bill, but let us be clear about what this bill does and does not do. The bill simply creates additional speed camera oversight. That is where it begins and that is where it ends. This bill will not make our roads safer. It will not save one life, it will not help reduce serious injury, and it will not change driver behaviour. It will not do any of those things. This is the coalition government’s pathetic contribution to road safety in this state.

I suspect that government members are embarrassed by this debate. They are certainly embarrassed that this bill is being debated today, the same day the Auditor-General’s report has been handed down. This bill, which will not save one life, has been on the notice paper since May. We have been ready for months and months to debate this thing that will not do anything to make our roads safer. Members opposite do not want to debate it because they know the debate will highlight how little they have done on road safety.

This bill and the extension of Labor’s hoon driving legislation is no substitute for a comprehensive road safety strategy.

Mr Mulder interjected.

Mr MERLINO — It is not. Unfortunately those opposite are so incapable of thinking beyond their own limited election promises that that is all the Victorian community gets. Their attitude is, ‘If it is not our idea, it is not a good idea and we are not going to even discuss it’. It is woefully inadequate.

I talked earlier today about the cost of road trauma. We had 288 fatalities last year, with 1400 Australia wide. There were almost 5500 hospital admissions in Victoria in 2010, with over 32 500 across the country. According to the Auditor-General’s report the annual financial cost for Victoria was $3.8 billion. Around the country it is around $27 billion a year.

There is also the human cost to devastated families. I have had a number of discussions with Karen Robinson, whose son was killed in a road accident. She refers to the ripple effect, and she showed me the presentation she makes at trauma seminars. People who have been convicted of dangerous driving are ordered to undertake these seminars, and Karen has a presentation which features her son in the middle and shows the ripple effect on the immediate family, the extended family, workmates and friends. It goes on and on, and it is quite confronting.

As I said at the beginning of my contribution, Victoria has a strong record of leadership and innovation in road safety. It was the first jurisdiction in the world to legislate for the mandatory wearing of seatbelts in 1970.

An honourable member interjected.

Mr MERLINO — I take up the interjection.

Indeed, over four decades the support has been bipartisan. Victorian governments over the last four decades have led the world on road safety initiatives, but you do not get bipartisan support for doing nothing. Labor will not support a government that does nothing. It may have been a Liberal government back in 1970 that introduced the mandatory wearing of seatbelts, but it is a poor reflection on the Liberal government of 2011.

As a state, from 1970 on we have consistently pushed the envelope as we have searched for effective ways to reduce the impact of road trauma. We have introduced mass-scale roadside random breath testing and random drug testing, we have invested in safer roads and we have introduced cutting-edge advertising campaigns that have made a difference. We have strengthened our licensing regime, and under the leadership of the former Minister for Roads and Ports we legislated for the mandatory installation of electronic stability control in all new vehicles. Those are the things we have done, and those are the things that have made the difference. They have delivered a 35 per cent drop in the road toll from 444 fatalities in 2001 to 288 last year, but we know there is so much more that we need to do and must do. Two hundred and eighty-eight lives are 288 too many, and almost 5500 injuries per year; the statistics are astonishing, and as I said earlier, the ripple effect on friends and family impacted upon by road trauma is immense.

The final, sobering reality — and a point I would make to a government that has done nothing and will do nothing for 12 months — is that, despite all the gains that governments on both sides have made over the last four decades, we are still more likely to die — —

Mr Mulder interjected.

Mr MERLINO — The minister is one to talk. We are still more likely to die violently as a result of a road crash than from any other cause. We know that speed is the key contributor; we know that speed is a factor in about 30 per cent of road fatalities. Speed reduces the time drivers have to react and avoid crashes, as well as reducing their ability to control their vehicle. Speed lengthens stopping distances, increasing both the likelihood of an accident and the severity of the crash outcome.

I refer to page 59 of the National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020, which under the heading ‘Evidence — what is known’ and the subheading ‘Crash risk evidence’ says:

The likelihood of being involved in a serious casualty crash rises significantly with even minor changes in travelling speed. For example, Australian research has shown that the risk of a serious casualty crash doubles with just a 5-kilometre-per-hour speed increase on 60-kilometre-per-hour urban roads or with a 10-kilometre-per-hour increase on rural highways.

The Monash University Accident Research Centre has been terrific in assisting the state and federal governments to develop road safety strategies and reduce road trauma for some 20 years. I quote Professor Mark Stevenson, the director of MUARC, who recently said in an editorial opinion piece in the Age of 11 August:

We know that the greater the speed at impact, the greater the kinetic energy, and hence the severity of injury. Clearly anything that reduces the kinetic energy reduces the level of trauma. We know from research in Scandinavia that even a 10 per cent reduction in speed across the road network equates to 30-40 per cent reduction in fatalities.

The management of speed is the success story of road injury prevention, and much of this success can be attributed to the widespread roll-out of overt cameras, such as red light cameras —

does the minister want leniency for people who go through a red light camera? —

and covert, such as mobile speed cameras.

In combination, both overt and covert cameras act as a deterrent, discouraging offenders from reoffending and deterring all road users, irrespective of whether they have previously offended.

He goes on to say:

The evidence of the effectiveness of overt speed cameras is overwhelming, with recent evaluations of red light and fixed speed cameras in Victoria highlighting a 47 per cent reduction in casualty crashes and an associated cost saving to the community of more than $8 million a year. The evidence of the effectiveness of covert speed cameras is equally compelling, with a further 21 per cent reduction in serious casualty crashes observed following their introduction in Victoria a decade ago.

Increasing road safety is all about changing behaviour, and as Professor Stevenson said, both overt and covert cameras act as a specific deterrent. They may not always be popular, but we know road safety cameras play a critical role and save lives. A look at the statistics also shows that their deterrence role has been successful. According to figures published on the Transport Accident Commission website we have seen an increase in the hours that mobile speed cameras have been used over the last five years, and we have also seen a decrease in the number of offences recorded per hour of use.

In 2006 there were 75 868 hours of mobile speed camera time recorded, and 10.12 offences per hour were recorded. The annual figure reflected drops in offences per hour for each and every year thereafter such that by last year, 2010, there were 196 810 hours of mobile speed camera time and 6.35 offences recorded per hour. The deterrence effect of speed cameras is working.

The proportion of vehicles travelling more than 10 kilometres over the speed limit has dropped to less than 0.7 per cent of the total recorded offences by speed cameras in 2010. It was the lowest figure ever recorded. This demonstrates a pattern of behaviour. It demonstrates that people are changing their behaviours for the better. I highlight this and will refer to the National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020. In this strategy there is a case study of Victoria. It says on page 61, under ‘A speed enforcement case study’:

In 2000, Victoria had a relatively intensive enforcement program, including covert speed cameras, backed by an extensive speed-related public information program. Starting in December 2000, Victoria progressively introduced a package of measures to improve speed compliance, including:

increasing speed camera operating hours by about 50 per cent;

making enforcement more covert and unpredictable;

increasing the number of enforcement sites in use;

lowering the speed camera enforcement tolerance;

reducing the thresholds for penalties applying to different levels of speeding offence;

increasing the amount of speed-related advertising.

A comprehensive statistical evaluation of the impact of this package found that by the latter half of 2004 it had resulted in a 10 per cent reduction in all casualty crashes (involving death or injury) and a 27 per cent reduction in fatal crashes …

That is a Labor. That is a road safety strategy delivered by Labor.

That is what we expect this new government to do.

The evidence is clear about road safety cameras — they have an impact on driver behaviour. Why was it that members of the then Baillieu opposition ran a consistent campaign to undermine public confidence in road safety cameras? In a reckless and dangerous manner, in complete contradiction of the facts and contrary to expert advice, it peddled the message that road safety cameras were not about road safety but about revenue raising. It did this — I will outline that that is beyond doubt. The fact that it did this undermines the integrity of this government when it comes to road safety.

We heard the hypocrisy of the Minister for Police and Emergency Services during question time. What did coalition members say when they were in opposition? Frankly they were a friend of the hoon. In 2003 the then shadow Minister for Transport, the member for Polwarth and current Minister for Roads — —

Mr Mulder interjected.

Mr MERLINO — They may laugh now, but opposition members should have a listen to quotations of their colleagues. In 2003 — —

Mr Mulder — You’re an angry man.

Mr MERLINO — No, I am mild mannered — I really am. In 2003 the then shadow Minister for Transport, one of the coalition’s worst offenders, was reported as saying:

The Bracks government is squeezing every last dollar out of the Victorian motorist …

In 2007 he said the use of the term ‘road safety camera’ was a deliberate political ploy. He then was reported as calling it a ‘speed camera revenue-raising bonanza’. In 2009 he was reported to have said:

John Brumby writes a speeding fine every 25 seconds …

In 2010 he was reported to have said road safety cameras were an ‘underhanded form of speed monitoring’. He was reported to have said in terms of dangerous driving through intersections and revenue that:

The latter takes precedent with the Bracks government.

In October 2010 he was reported as having said that people who run red lights should get off with a warning and that:

[Drivers] are getting absolutely sick of it …

That meant that drivers were getting absolutely sick of being fined when they drove through a red light. It was not just the present Minister for Roads who spent time attacking road safety cameras and their impact on tackling road trauma. During the election campaign the then Leader of the Opposition reportedly said, ‘Most people think speed cameras are revenue raising’. He was reported to have promised to locate them:

where they are needed, not just for revenue …

Members should not let this convenient political story get in the way of facts. Firstly, the Auditor-General’s findings in the report of July 2006 entitled Making Travel Safer — Victoria’s Speed Enforcement Program state at paragraph 4.4.4:

We are satisfied that targeting of mobile camera activity to sites is primarily based on reducing travel speeds and risk, rather than maximising the numbers of infringements issued.

Deployment to sites takes into account crash history, traffic volume and infringement rates. We found no evidence that deployment to sites was targeted at maximising ‘hit rates’ of infringements.

That is supported by the Auditor-General’s report that was handed down today, but the then opposition blatantly ignored those facts. If the coalition’s reckless and dangerous statements became its policies, it would lead to an increase in the road toll — that is, there would be more deaths and more injuries.

In responding to the crazy suggestion that people should be able to run red lights and get away with it, Bruce Corben from the Monash University Accident Research Centre was reported to have said:

Any moves to soften the enforcement is likely to lead to a less effective outcome against one of our most concerning categories of death and serious injury …

That is, more deaths and more injuries. This was the reckless nature of the opposition before it formed government.

Each of the statements made by the member opposite was deliberately designed to diminish public confidence in the use of road safety cameras; each was carefully crafted to paint speed cameras as some kind of elaborate ploy to rip motorists off by deception. They were dangerous, irresponsible and reckless statements that undermined public confidence and ignored the fact that road safety cameras save lives.

The coalition now in government has done a complete backflip on road safety cameras. Now coalition members say — and we heard the Minister for Police and Emergency Services say this during question time — that cameras save lives, and not only that but after years of attacking Labor for perceived revenue raising through road safety cameras, the Baillieu government has lifted projected revenues from road safety cameras in its first state budget.

I refer to an article that appeared in the Age of 31 January. It states:

Mr Ryan said there was a misguided broad belief among Victorians the government used cameras purely for revenue raising.

‘I don’t believe that is right’, he said.

What hypocrites! In February the Minister for Police and Emergency Services rightly pointed to the road toll of 776 fatalities in 1990. The year speed cameras were introduced there was a record low of 288 fatalities. In an online article entitled ‘Camera locations will save lives’ Mr Ryan is reported as saying in February:

We are seeing that direct impact as a result of the cameras.

A Herald Sun article of 20 April reports Mr Ryan as saying:

The government believes speed cameras work. We believe that cameras do save lives. We are not going to apologise for them.

The only ones who need to apologise are the current Minister for Roads, the Premier of this state and other members of the coalition, who at every opportunity during the last several years attacked road safety cameras. They were the primary cheerleaders of the cameras as revenue-raising brigade. The misguided belief that the Minister for Police and Emergency Services rebukes now that he is in government was the chief criticism of the coalition. This misguided belief was held with a passion by the Premier and the Minister for Roads.

As I have said, the bill we have before us does not contain a comprehensive road safety strategy; it simply creates the statutory office of road safety camera commissioner.

The commissioner will be empowered to conduct at least annually reviews and assessments of the accuracy of the system and the information provided by the Department of Justice. The commissioner will undertake investigations into the integrity, accuracy and efficiency of the system as requested or agreed to by the minister. The commissioner will also receive complaints. Importantly, though, the commissioner will not investigate individual complaints. There will be no change to the way individual complaints are handled; they will simply be referred to the existing review processes through Victoria Police, the courts and the Ombudsman. Any member of the public expecting anything different from the bells and whistles that were promised will be disappointed. The commissioner’s complaints investigation power is limited to issues that suggest a systemic failure. These issues may be investigated and recommendations may be made to the minister. The issue of the independence of the commissioner is something the government must clarify during the course of this debate.

The minister promised on 31 January that the road safety camera commissioner would be ‘an independent third party’, and on 25 May he said the commissioner would have ‘wide-ranging powers to receive and investigate complaints’. Given those comments promising wide-ranging and independent powers, why is it that the commissioner may undertake investigations into the integrity, accuracy or efficiency of the system only if requested or agreed to by the minister? Why is there no own-motion power?

At the departmental briefing the opposition was informed that the terminology ‘own-motion’ would be better described in this way: the commissioner may form a view from complaints that there may be a systemic issue and then investigate it. There is no fully independent, non-qualified power to investigate own-motion inquiries. In addition to the commissioner’s powers, the bill will enable the creation of an expert reference group to provide advice, and the commissioner must report to the Parliament annually.

In the last couple of minutes let us get to the report of the Auditor-General. I will quote from some sections of this report. Given all the quotes I have read out from the Minister for Roads and other members of the coalition attacking road safety cameras, what did the Auditor-General say? He said in his report:

 

Road safety cameras improve road safety and reduce road trauma, and their ongoing use as an enforcement tool remains appropriate …

A strong body of research shows road safety cameras improve the behaviour of road users, and reduce speeding and road crashes.

In reference to generating revenue the report states:

… but this is demonstrably not the primary purpose …

The deployment and siting of fixed and mobile cameras is based on the road safety objectives of the program …

… the processes and controls in place provide a particularly high level of confidence in the reliability and integrity of the road safety camera system.

The report goes on to state on page 11:

Cameras have been repeatedly shown to be effective in reducing crashes and speeding …

Evidence from Australian and international jurisdictions strongly supports the use of road safety cameras to reduce road trauma.

One of the findings of the report is:

The criteria for siting fixed cameras are soundly based on crash risk, and all decisions since they were developed have adhered to these criteria.

The decisions on fixed cameras have always adhered to these criteria. They are always based on reducing road trauma and cutting down the road toll; they were never based on gaining revenue.

The final point I would like to make is that the one thing the government has done on road safety cameras is publish their location. What does it say on page 34 of the report? It states:

Mobile cameras are intended to create the perception that if you speed, you will get caught.

Since January 2011, DOJ has published a weekly list of sites that have a mobile speed camera rostered to it … This practice is inconsistent with the intention of the program.

The report refers to the situation in Warrnambool. By publishing the statistics the people in Warrnambool know they can speed because there are no mobile cameras. It is an absolute disgrace.

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