Road safety: government performance

I also rise to make a contribution to the grievance debate. Today I grieve for road safety in Victoria and the complete lack of attention by this government on this most vital issue. I am glad the Minister for Police and Emergency Services is at the table. He is one of three road safety ministers who have failed to deliver on road safety over the course of their government. I begin by asking a question that I thought even this dithering government would have addressed by now: where is this government’s comprehensive road safety strategy? I cannot believe I am standing here today asking that question. More than nine months have past since the Arrive Alive strategy was due to be updated, and it is still nowhere to be seen. The inaction and incompetence on road safety is emblematic of the Baillieu government.

At this government’s core is a giant black hole, and any ideas, any departmental proposals, any ministerial submissions and any advocacy from inside or outside government get sucked into it. That giant black hole is the Premier’s office. Every little thing — and those opposite know this true — must go through that office. Power has been centralised to an unprecedented level. The only problem with this process is that it goes only one way. An idea or proposal may go into the office but nothing comes out. There is a dithering, pathetic silence. This is the running joke of this government. Government members are too scared to make a decision; they are too distrustful of each other to let people get on with doing their own jobs, and they are so concerned about knowing and controlling what their own colleagues are doing that they have forgotten that they are here to govern.

It is not just policy that has to be screened but also people who must be screened through the politburo at 1 Treasury Place.

Proposed ministerial chiefs of staff, such as the proposed ministerial chief of staff to the Minister for Consumer Affairs, have been vetoed by the Premier’s office again and again. It was the most painful and drawn out staffing of ministerial offices in the history of this state. Staff were inserted into ministerial offices, not to work for the minister but to do the bidding of Michael Kappel. Tristan Weston, the well-paid man of leisure, is just one example. By the way, what, for goodness sake, was Tristan Weston doing and how much was he being paid? He was not there to provide his minister with frank and fearless political advice, and he was not there to be a trusted adviser.

He was there to do the work behind the minister’s back; to do the bidding of his Liberal handler, Michael Kappel. I have said in this place before that I cannot believe the Leader of The Nationals could be so naive as to allow this to happen.

It is common knowledge around the place that there is deep distrust and animosity between the Premier’s chief of staff and the Deputy Premier of this state. I predicted that Weston would never work for the Minister for Police and Emergency Services again. I also predicted that no Nationals minister would ever allow Kappel and the Premier’s office to insert a Liberal staffer into a Nationals office again. I was amazed to read reports that the Minister for Sport and Recreation, a Nationals minister, was being forced to employ Weston.

Mr Hulls — He is a soft touch.

Mr MERLINO — He is a soft touch indeed. What is the minister thinking? If that is true, all I can say to the minister is to watch his back, because Weston will certainly not be taking direction from him.

I digress, but it highlights the point that this is a government obsessed with central oversight and control. The member for Prahran has got a big head but a small voice. This is a government obsessed with central oversight and control, and it deems this obsession to be more important than actually making decisions. Whilst this approach should be exposed and ridiculed by the opposition and the broader community, the inevitable outcome of it — and it has been systemic in the nine months of the Baillieu-Ryan government — is not a joke. It is something we should grieve about because when it comes to issues like road safety we are talking about people’s lives.

Unlike this government Labor took decisive action on road safety. The successful Arrive Alive strategy helped drive the road toll down from 444 fatalities in 2001 to 288 last year — the lowest on record. It has worked. Our road safety partners, Victoria Police, VicRoads and the TAC (Transport Accident Commission) did a power of work in preparing for the Arrive Alive action plan and the update to Arrive Alive, which was due last December. What has happened to that body of work? It has disappeared into the black hole of the Premier’s office. Where are the new and innovative ideas to ensure that Arrive Alive remains relevant and continues to reduce the road toll and the impact of road trauma?

The answer is absolutely astonishing. This government has been recklessly absent from the road safety field. The update of Arrive Alive has been shelved. The groundbreaking road safety experience centre to be funded through the TAC has been scrapped. Funding for road safety initiatives has been reduced. Here is a simple statement that even those opposite will understand: you do not reduce the road toll by doing nothing.

Road safety is a vitally important area of public policy. The cost of road trauma is immense; there were 288 fatalities last year and 5392 hospital admissions. The financial cost to Victoria is $3.8 billion per year. The human cost is that families are devastated when lives are tragically cut short or impacted by serious injury and a lifetime of pain and debilitation. Around 90 Victorians suffer serious brain injury in road crashes every year, and half of all spinal injuries in Australia are due to road crashes.

Victoria has had a proud record of leadership and innovation in road safety on both sides of politics for decades. In 1970 the road toll was a horrifying 1061. In that year Victoria was the first jurisdiction in the world to legislate for the mandatory wearing of seatbelts. It had an immediate effect: in 1971 the road toll fell by 13 per cent. Our leadership continued over subsequent decades. In the late 1980s we became the first jurisdiction in the world to bring in mass-scale roadside random breath testing. In 2006 we were the first jurisdiction in Australia to introduce a random drug testing program. We have made massive investments in building safer roads, confronting and highly visible advertising and strengthening our licensing regime. We led the way in making it mandatory for all new vehicles to be fitted with electronic stability control. These road safety measures have been transformational. Under Labor’s road safety strategy the Victorian road toll decreased by more than 35 per cent from 444 to 288. Around 1000 lives were saved due to this strategy and the work of all our road safety partners.

Despite this success and the introduction of these measures, according to the TAC Victorians are still more likely to die violently as a result of a road crash than from any other cause. It begs the question: why has this government left the field of road safety? The Minister for Roads promised to up the ante on road safety. Those were his words. This is from someone who can only be described as a friend of the hoon. When he was in opposition and the shadow minister for roads, the current Minister for Roads thought people should be treated more leniently for speeding and for doing the most dangerous thing on our roads — that is, driving through a red light. That was what the then shadow minister talked about, and he is now one of the leading ministers in our road safety strategy. The coalition has done next to nothing, and it is not surprising given leadership such as his.

The only signs of action we have seen to date from this government on road safety have been a used car safety rating system and an announcement of a blitz on dangerous driving on Victoria’s regional roads, an initiative that included nothing new. There was nothing new in that announcement. What have we seen in this place? An extension of Labor’s hoon driving legislation and a proposed road safety camera commissioner that will not save one life. That is it. That is all we have seen on road safety from those opposite.

This feeble offering on road safety is no substitute for a comprehensive road safety strategy. The concern that this government, through its incompetence and delays, is putting at risk four decades of leadership is not just being expressed by the opposition. Back in May, during events in Melbourne highlighting the United Nations decade of action on road safety, the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria made this statement:

RACV notes that Victoria’s road safety strategy expired in 2010 and the state government has not yet released its own vision for Victoria’s road safety over the coming decade … Victorians expect the government to improve road safety …

Indeed they do. That statement was made back in May. What was the response from the government? Absolutely nothing. I can tell the house that similar concerns are held by many other organisations and individuals involved in road safety. Concern has been expressed to me by people touched by the tragedy of road trauma. People are waiting and wondering when this government is going to seriously tackle road safety.

At the six-month mark of the government’s inaction the opposition actually stepped into this vacuum created by those opposite and provided some leadership. We took the view that collectively we cannot afford to drop the ball on road safety. In June Labor released Below 200 by 2020 — Protecting Victorians on Our Roads, which outlines a series of initiatives and an ambitious but achievable new target to reduce the state’s road toll to below 200. As the Leader of the Opposition said at the release of this document:

Where the Premier is unable, or unwilling, to act and combat serious road death and injury, Labor will step in and help the government …

Nothing would make me happier than for the Baillieu government to adopt our plan to prevent deaths on our roads.

We urge the government to take up these ideas, which include recognising and rewarding new drivers by providing a free three-year licence, piloting the use of intelligent speed assist devices, creating a Minister for Road Safety rather than having three incompetent people dealing with road safety and reducing TAC premiums for people registering a new 5-star car. Speeding up the change of Victoria’s fleet to new vehicles would significantly reduce road trauma. Other ideas include increasing the use of speed warning devices inside heavy vehicles and investing in the road safety experience centre. New drivers who attend the centre would receive a free driving lesson, while drivers convicted of serious driving offences should be required to attend the centre. There are a whole raft of initiatives that we urge this government to take up.

The idea of having a road safety experience centre was about educating young people about the realities of road trauma. It would have saved lives, and it could have been funded. The money was there through the surplus and premiums at the TAC. The money is there; we know it is there to fund this. The government bleats about bipartisanship on road safety; I say, ‘Do something about it for goodness sake’. In the immortal words of John Kennedy ‘Just do something’.

Victoria’s internationally renowned reputation on road safety has for decades been earnt through hard work, innovation and commitment. The message for the incompetent trio of the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, the Minister for Roads and the Assistant Treasurer, who is responsible for the TAC, is that they need to gather up some courage, stand up to the overbearing goons at 1 Treasury Place and demand the release of the road safety strategy. They need to release a comprehensive road safety strategy and start saving lives. You do not reduce the road toll by doing nothing.

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