Joint Committee on road trauma and safety on our roads

Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (15:35): I rise on behalf of  my Nationals colleague Gaelle Broad and I in support of this motion to establish a joint committee on road trauma and safety on our roads. In doing so I would like to thank the Liberals and Nationals Shadow Minister for Roads and Road Safety, the dynamic Danny O’Brien, who does a great deal of work and has traversed the state in support of various members, listening to their concerns about the deplorable state of the roads across regional Victoria. He does good work in that space and also good work on the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee in this space with Mrs McArthur as well.

Before I go into some of the detail around this motion and the need for it, I do want to put on record my very great thanks to all of those first responders who are there when there is – I will call it a crash, not an accident – a crash and there are crumpled cars, crumpled motorbikes and vehicles on the road and people who are in distress or who are not with us anymore. I want to thank those first responders. I would like to thank Victoria Police for the people who have to go out there in the most alarming of states. I would like to thank the SES, who regularly go out on those terrible nights and deal with people who have been in some form of crash or incident on the roads. I would like to thank the ambulance officers, the paramedics, who attend these very distressing events. They do so with the utmost professionalism. I would also like to thank the CFA, who in rural and regional Victoria very regularly are also the first responders dealing with a whole variety of danger. So let me place on record my thanks to them.

I also want to state that our roads are in an atrocious state, and that has to be a consideration when talking about factors that are the instigators of crashes, of disasters and of tragedies on our roads. If I look at the past, the present and the future, I would just like to raise that in 2012, under a Baillieu and Ryan government, the then minister for roads and road safety, the Honourable Terry Mulder, came up with a ministerial road safety council because he recognised a very great need to reduce our road toll. He recognised the importance of this. In one of his speeches on the Road Safety Amendment Bill 2014 he stated that Victoria continues to lead the way in terms of road safety. He said it is an international leader in road safety. He went on to say the likes of, and I quote:

We have taken great strides in reducing deaths from 1000 per year in the 1970s …

I digress. That was of course before we had seatbelts and the disaster that befitted and befell everybody who had those significant accidents without seatbelts. Indeed it was a past joint committee of this place that recommended seatbelts. A past committee of this nature – a joint road safety committee – also recommended blood alcohol limits and the testing of .05 blood alcohol limits to ensure that law enforcement can take dangerous, reckless people off the road, who cannot concentrate while impaired by alcohol. This was a recommendation from one of these committees that we are seeking to establish today. My thanks to him.

Moving on, under Labor we saw in 2018, after a record number of lives were lost, the minister at the time – as well meaning as Minister Pulford was; she was the Minister for Roads, Road Safety and the TAC, and I was in here when she often made comments about this – said:

It’s been a devastating year on Victoria’s roads with every loss of life someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, husband, wife or friend who will not come home tonight.

I am sure many people – most people who live in a town, who live down the street, who live in a community – have been affected by an unnecessary death after a tragic accident. I myself lost my cousin in a road accident death over 20 years ago, and we miss her still. It is a tragedy when we see so many deaths on our roads.

Come to the current day, the current year – fast-forward to 2023. To date 68 lives have been lost on Victorian roads this year. By comparison, we have got a 36 per cent increase in lives lost. Statistics do matter when they are people’s lives. And a significant increase is reflected in the statistics around rural roads. There were 31 fatalities in 2022, yet we have had 44 so far this year alone – a 42 per cent increase in our regional deaths. So not only are we seeing more people die on roads, there is an increasing proportion of fatalities, of lives lost on our country roads.

We on this side and those of us who live in the country know the deplorable state of our regional roads: the multitude of potholes, the multitude of unsafe shoulders, the vegetation that grows right up to the edge of the bitumen, the lack of maintenance and the lack of white central lines. I was heading out from Mirboo North to Boolarra only the other day – there is a new patch of road there on one section of the road. It has been there for a while, and yet there is no centre line. Line marking is another issue that contributes to these things.

Another concern that we see in our statistics is the age group over 70. There has been a huge increase of those people over 70 dying on our roads. And = the most overwhelming and staggering representation is those young 21- to 25-year-olds who are dying on our roads – that inexperience. I know when I taught maths eight years ago we did statistics on this, and it was the case then. However, it is not getting any better. The TAC recently said:

If we accept this ‘road toll’ as the price of a rural lifestyle or getting from A to B, another 2,500 people will die in the next 10 years and 50,000 people will be hospitalised with serious and life changing injuries.

Do we accept that, or should we investigate this to the highest degree we can by having a very sensible, broad-ranging joint parliamentary inquiry? I say yes.

There is a fantastic gentleman who is the chair of RoadSafe Gippsland. His name is Andy Milbourne, and he is passionate about safety on our roads. He has provided some comments to me about a whole raft of things. He said that this investigation should include motorcycles and the wearing of safety gear being critical. He also went into unregistered vehicles and bikes, saying that unregistered vehicles and bikes are still covered by TAC if they have an accident. His thoughts were: do we need to look at this? Because it is actually costing Victorians thousands. People who are unregistered are still covered. Should our committee not investigate these sorts of things? TAC claims from dirt bike riders in the bush are also costing. Well, we need to protect people, but people also need to be responsible for themselves. The over-70s age group – it is having a serious impact on people’s lives.

I am sure he would give his eyeteeth to come down and speak to a committee from his personal, very hands-on-the-ground experience. Multipurpose taxi programs – he is concerned that some of those older people in our community are driving when they should not be driving, and providing a taxi service, particularly in rural towns where we live, could well have a very good impact on those incidents and crashes.

Caravans and trailers, young people – he makes a number of comments around those subjects. We know how important the L2P program is to upskill those young people to be able to have experience. Not all children or young people have parents or grandparents who are able to help them drive.

This is a very important committee, and I recommend highly that the crossbench get behind this committee to propose it. The standing committees that we have will be burdened, time poor and money poor, and I think this is a perfect way to deal with such an important topic.