Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (16:36): I am pleased to rise this afternoon and make a contribution on the Transport Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 and concur with my colleague Mr Mulholland that the Nationals and the Liberals will not be opposing this bill. It really is quite a thick bill. It is an omnibus bill that contains many elements. I will touch on just a few of most interest to the people in my Eastern Victoria electorate. The bill certainly looks at the legal process – and we have heard this in quite a lot of detail – about a research trial of driving and medicinal cannabis use, and I will touch on that. It provides regulation around e-scooters and bicycles in their share schemes with local councils and the problems that are occurring with those. It aligns bus driver accreditation with commercial passenger vehicle drivers. It clarifies the governance arrangements for various transport agencies, including V/Line, and I know that is a particular interest of my Eastern Victoria Region constituents. It also makes reforms around speed cameras and speed detection devices to be used on bikes and e-scooters, and it also looks at the rules around alcohol interlocks and makes various other amendments.
I would like to take my contribution to the topic of medicinal cannabis, noting that it was I think in the 58th Parliament that the government brought through the use of medicinal cannabis noting its very important use as a prescribed drug to support those people who have significant pain from serious cancers and conditions – nausea and the like that can often happen during chemotherapy – and also those who have epilepsy and other severe conditions with seizures. There is a demonstrated improvement in quality of life and pain management for those coping with those very serious conditions. Indeed in terms of the assessment of driving while under the influence of a drug, certainly it is the only legally prescribed drug that is screened either by a swab or by a blood test. Those users, if they are found with medicinal cannabis – or THC, which is the psychoactive component of cannabis – in their blood, it is either an on or an off. Either you either have it in your blood and therefore can be charged or you do not. But the important detail is around the effect it has on the body of the driver when in charge of a car, and that can only be for a short period of time – a matter of hours.
However, THC can actually be in the blood system for anywhere up to 24 hours. Therefore somebody can be driving completely, I will say, safely and completely aware of their actions but still record that particular drug in their system.
We know and we have heard from you, Acting President Terpstra, about the introduction of safety measures in terms of seatbelts and blood alcohol limits that have been introduced in Victoria in years past and the importance of those. We also note that there is no blood alcohol percentage test available for more serious drugs such as methamphetamines and also MDMA. So the context around this analysis and this trial I think is an important one. Of course the devil is always in the detail, and it is up to the government to refine this, but certainly proposing an off-road research trial in a safe environment to test those sorts of impediments or test drivers under the influence I think would be a better outcome for all motorists and safer for all Victorians. So we certainly are not in opposition to that. Again, it is always in the detail, and like all members of the community, we would like to be kept abreast of how those trials will be conducted and of the method behind those trials but also of the reports and the responses from those trials. There needs to be transparency from the government in pushing this and conducting those trials.
Indeed, we have seen very recently the tragedy of a road toll that is at a 15-year high, with 258 lives lost on Victorian roads this year. That is 258 families and communities that have been absolutely traumatised by these losses. There is not one figure, there is not one issue; there are multiple issues that lead to crashes – not accidents, they are crashes and they are fatalities. Alcohol can be involved, certainly drugs can be involved, and fatigue and driver distraction. There is always a need to be mindful in any situation that we are to keep our eyes on the road and not be distracted. Speed is also an element that is of concern, as is not driving to the road conditions. But may I also say in this house that our road conditions – the condition of our roads – even on a fine, calm, mild day are absolutely appalling in this state, and we have seen the government cut road maintenance funding again and again.
If you want to look at road tolls, we can also see that unfortunately of those 258 deaths on our Victorian roads, there is an over-representation of rural deaths – 153 of those deaths occurred on rural roads. We used to have a saying, and it still holds true: if you want to save country lives, fix country roads. That has never been more true than it is today. I implore the government to look at its road maintenance funding and increase it back to a reasonable standard – not just a line that occurs in a media release – and help fix those country roads. I know there have been, through lobbying in my own small way, some small interventions, particularly in the Walhalla district and others, where there have been improvements to road safety – barriers and the like – but really it needs a whole-of-government response to put this down. It is a multipronged issue, but we cannot continue to see an increase and an exponential rise in deaths on our roads, which are tragedies for families and communities.
The other part that I would like to take us to is the clarification of the sector governance and data use in terms of V/Line. If it was just so simple to fix V/Line by changing up the governance arrangement, I would run around with my hands in the air, applauding the government.
However, we have seen over a period of time – and I will give you an example – the deterioration of our V/Line services, and many Victorians absolutely count on having a reliable and punctual service. We see in Gippsland that it just is not the case. The punctuality target across Victoria for V/Line is 92 per cent, so 92 per cent of the time train should – that is the V/Line punctuality target – arrive on time. What we see from the performance data in Gippsland is that – we will go back in time and then to the present day – in 2014, when the then Liberal and National government was in Parliament, the punctuality was at 87.5 per cent. These are not my figures – these are V/Line figures. You can look them up. The government inherited 87.5 per cent. That was not 92 per cent – there was still a way to go. There were still improvements that needed to be made. We move forward nine years, and we see that the average punctuality target to date – so the year to date – is 79.9 per cent. So less than 80 per cent of trains arrive on time. There was one time when we scanned these in my office, because we are always interested in looking for good service. In January this year, 2023, the government met its punctuality targets. But guess what? It was the only month when there were no trains arriving. The punctuality target was met when there were no V/Line trains. It was actually a bus service, a coach service, that was delivered.
The other thing that we have seen over time by this Labor government is the tweaking of the timetable. In Gippsland we had 62 services, but what the government did was they actually increased the length of the journey. They increased the time allowable for that service to arrive, which in effect enabled punctuality to be there when it was not actually there.
We see the regional revival issue as well. We know that my colleague in the federal sphere Darren Chester, at the time when he was minister for transport, provided some very significant funding, over half a billion dollars, back in the day when $1 billion was worth something. The government have been claiming that ever since. We do not really mind where the money comes from, but we want to see those improvements and we want to see better punctuality targets. I know that the bill looks at changing from a V/Line service, where there is a board-managed, CEO-based, state-owned enterprise, to a statutory authority. On 16 June 2021, the then Minister for Public Transport, the Honourable Ben Carroll said:
… we want to ensure that we have a strong V/Line to match that investment.
Move on 2½ years, and we have got still today 79.7 per cent punctuality in Gippsland. That is not a strong V/Line to match this investment outcome. A gentleman, Mr Carrick, has been the CEO. He has not delivered in this context. Let us hope that moving to a statutory body will actually produce some better results for the people in country Victoria.
In finishing off, there are a couple of other things that I want to touch on. I want to discuss the topic of e-scooters. You will be aware that country MPs often stay in Melbourne when they are down here, because it is too far to drive home – 2 hours to drive home – during a sitting week. We walk around the streets et cetera, having a look around and enjoying a little bit of Melbourne life now that it has opened up after being completely closed down during the COVID lockdowns. What you do have to watch out for is the occurrence of e-scooters that are left fair smack in the middle of the pavement. I do not want us to turn into a nanny state by any stretch, but I also do not want to see additional people going into emergency departments because they have tripped and fallen over e-scooters that have just been left willy-nilly.
It would be interesting to understand how that is going to be worked through. I see that the bill provides no real guidance at this stage, so it might be a question that we have for the government about how operators of these e-scooters and councils will address concerns about footpath clutter, pedestrian hazards and also in relation to dumping. A while ago there was an article in the newspaper around the poor Yarra River, which ended up becoming like a natural habitat for new aquatic life because there were so many e-scooters and bikes dumped into it. Now, that is not an outcome that any of us want, so we want to understand how that is going to be worked through. Certainly I know that the AMA has raised concerns about the lack of regulation in relation to these electronic mobility scooters and about incidents at emergency departments increasing.
In finalising my contribution, in relation to the bus accreditation I understand that neither the bus industry nor the Transport Workers’ Union were consulted on these changes. It is disappointing, and I hope that the government will now provide that level of consultation to assure the bus industry, a very important industry for many, many Victorians, that level of clarity. Other than a plea for a greater level of service and punctuality on the Gippsland line, I hope to see this pass through the house.