May 27, 2014

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland—Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) (18:32): It is always entertaining to listen to members opposite in their various states of denial in relation to the budget. I urge the member for Parramatta to refer to today's editorial in The Australian Financial Review headed 'PBO confirms the budget problem'. Perhaps the member for Parramatta would also like to read the attached article 'Budget crisis is real, says PBO.' It goes on:

In remarks that effectively endorse government warnings that left unchecked gross debt would balloon to $667 billion, Parliamentary Budget Officer Phil Bowen said it was time to begin the return to surplus to protect the economy against future crises.

And just as those opposite did as they built up the accumulated debt and deficit, and accumulated a mess for the coalition to clean up, the member walks out of the chamber laughing. I encourage all members from the opposition to read this article. It goes on:

It is time to start coming out of [debt and deficit] otherwise the longer you leave it the more exposed you become and the harder it is to wind it back. If you just continued on the trajectory of payments and revenues prior to the budget net debt is forecast to grow rapidly. I think at the highest rate in the OECD.

I do not think that is a fiction at all, but neither am I saying that we have an immediate emergency. And I recognise the Parliamentary Budget Office's Mr Bowen for his comments. Surely we are currently at a very low level relative to the rest of the developed world, but frankly we do not want to find ourselves where the rest of the world is. We have to have a buffer. One of the reasons we came through the global financial crisis so well was because we started with assets.

How did we start with those assets? Could it have been through years of good financial management by the coalition, by Liberals and nationals in government? Then we had the Labor Party in office, racking up year after year of deficits, despite promises by the former Treasurer, the member for Lilley and despite the repeated promises of a surplus which never eventuated, and now it is up to the side of the House to clean up the mess. I urge those members opposite to acquaint themselves with the facts, to stop being in this process of denial and let the coalition get on with the job of cleaning up the mess.

There are two other matters I want to raise today in relation to the Appropriation Bills. One is a far more bipartisan initiative which I am sure the Deputy Speaker is aware of. It is the formation of the new Parliamentary Friends of Road Safety group. It is a friendship group which has the support of me as a co-chair and Senator Alex Gallaher and has been initiated by members from both the House of Reps and the Senate and has received strong support in the six or eight weeks since its formation. The new parliamentary friendship group has an aim to elevate the issue of road safety to a new level within the Commonwealth and to help provide national leadership on issues relating to road trauma. One of my key concerns in joining the group and agree to be the co-chair is a disproportionate number of rural and regional road users, motorists, pedestrians and cyclists, who continue to die or be seriously injured on our regional highways and our local road networks. It remains an enormous challenge for us as a community and at all levels of government to address the road trauma which continues to exist.

I acknowledge that increased enforcement activities and improved driver behaviour are important. We must also recognise in this place that investing more funds in roads and building a safe road network is a critical aspect in reducing the incidence of road trauma in our community. The research that underpins the National Road Safety Strategy found that 50 per cent of the anticipated reduction in road fatalities in the future would come from building safer roads. That is consistent with the earlier work by the Australian Road Assessment Program, which argued that building safer roads had the capacity to save more lives than the combined impacts of improved driver behaviour and increased law enforcement put together. So I am very keen to work across the party divide with the Parliamentary Friends of Road Safety group in this coming term of parliament and I encourage other members who are keen to participate in a bipartisan manner for projects to reduce road trauma right across Australia in the years ahead.

The first event which was organised by the friendship group involved our public support for an event called Fatality Free Friday. Fatality Free Friday provided an opportunity for members and senators to sign the Fatality Free Friday pledge. We had many parliamentarians attending on that day. By taking the pledge the members in this place were joining a large group of Australian people taking the pledge online. I checked this morning and more than 80,000 people had signed the pledge in relation to road safety. By taking the pledge what you are doing is promising that on Friday, 30 May, this coming Friday, you will remind your family, friends and workmates to take extra care on the roads. You will put your lights on for safety. You will be mindful to drive safely and follow the road rules. You will not speed are not drink and drive. You will take care at level crossings. You will slow down in the wet and drive to suit the conditions. You will not tailgate other drivers and you will look as far ahead as possible. Your will wear your seat belt. You will not use your mobile phone while driving. You will set a good example to your passengers by driving calmly and safely, and you will take care as a pedestrian when crossing the road or street. I must say that that list of things that we pledged to do only a matter of two weeks ago is pretty much common sense, but I guarantee you that every member of this place and everyone who happens to be listening tonight would have broken one or two of those the last time they drove. It does help to remind us that some of the road safety initiatives really come down to common sense and come down to us repeating appropriate behaviour time after time.

Fatality Free Friday is just one day and we acknowledge that the road trauma issues in our nation will not be solved on Monday. But it does serve as a reminder. Since its inception in 2007 the campaign has continued to expand its operation and is now recognised that Australia's only national community-based road safety program. It has successfully fostered community ownership for complex road safety issues and encourages those who can make a significant difference in reducing road trauma. As I indicated, this campaign is more than just about a single day. Our target is to have a fatality free Friday this week but ultimately we are aiming for a longer term change in community response. Last year's Fatality Free Friday event was a great success nationally and the organisers would like to thank everyone for their support and also encourage them to be supportive in the future.

It is an alarming fact that since records began in 1925 there have been 180,000 deaths on Australia's roads. That is a staggering figure—180,000 deaths since 1925. However, we need to take some heart that road trauma has declined considerably in the past 40 years and we have been making some improvements.

The national road toll fell from 3,798 in 1970 to 1,192 in 2013. That is quite a remarkable achievement over the passage of about 40 years. We have seen the toll drop from almost 4,000 to about 1,200. I recognise that a whole range of measures have led to that, and road safety is recognised primarily, perhaps, as a state responsibility. States have responsibility for funding, planning, designing and operating our road network, and for managing vehicle registration and driver licensing, and for regulating and enforcing road user behaviour. But there is a federal responsibility as well, and I think that is why it is so important that we have the Parliamentary Friends of Road Safety. The federal role includes regulating safety standards for new vehicles—an incredibly important opportunity for us to reduce the road toll. The federal responsibilities extend to allocating infrastructure resources, including for safety measures across our national highway and local road networks.

The federal government, under the coalition, has continued many initiatives that were supported by the previous Labor government. It also decided to continue to fund the successful keys2drive program, which was in danger of losing funding under the previous government. The Roads to Recovery model is continuing under this government. It will have expanded funding, which I think is a great initiative. The Black Spot Programme will continue and be expanded into the future. The national network of funding priorities will continue.

I am pleased to acknowledge the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, the member for Mayo, Mr Briggs, who announced only a matter of days ago that the coalition government would continue to provide funding for ANCAP, the Australasian New Car Assessment Program, which works on improving road and vehicle safety. I had the opportunity, as the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Roads and Regional Transport, to work very closely with ANCAP, and we should be very proud of the work they do. The 2014-15 federal budget commits $1.1 million to support ANCAP in its work over the next two years. ANCAP is the leading independent vehicle safety advocate in Australia. When any members have the opportunity—and perhaps we will seek to organise this for our parliamentary friendship group—to see ANCAP in operation, the crashing of a test vehicle is quite confronting. It is quite sobering to see a brand-new vehicle smashed into a concrete block. Then the researchers get to work on making the measurements and checking how the occupants of that vehicle would have fared in an accident. If you get to see that crash testing in person, it rapidly reminds you of your responsibilities on the road, perhaps unlike anything else. So I am very pleased that the assistant minister has been able to announce that funding commitment. I am very pleased that ANCAP will continue to do its very good work across Australia in the two years ahead.

In relation to the budget measures and road safety, I would like to acknowledge the work of the minister himself, the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of The Nationals, Warren Truss, who has provided for ongoing funding through the Roads to Recovery Programme, which will see in my electorate of Gippsland something in the order of $6 million made available for local road funding initiatives in the 2013-14 period. This ongoing commitment to Roads to Recovery is something that the parliament can be part of. It is a program that was initiated many years ago under the previous Howard coalition government. It was continued to be funded under the Labor Party during its time in government. It is one of the few programs I can think of which has survived the change of government and has not had its name changed, which is quite an achievement in itself. There is a recognition across the party lines that Roads to Recovery is an important issue and works well in providing local governments with the opportunity to fund important local road priorities.

In my electorate I have had the opportunity to meet with many of the councillors and to inspect some of the programs which are underway, many of which have a safety aspect to them. I am very pleased to see that the local shires are working to improve road safety on their own road networks.

Also in the budget from a road safety perspective is $565 million to fix dangerous and accident prone sections of local roads and streets through the Black Spots Programme. There is an additional $100 million for that program in 2015-16 and 2017-18. Again, it is an important initiative because it addresses one of the fundamental challenges of improving the actual safety of the road environment. As I said at the outset and as I mentioned through the Fatality Free Friday initiative, driver behaviour enforcement measures are important but in the complex equation of road trauma and improving road safety we cannot be shy as a state government or as a federal government in recognising that the investments we make in road safety and infrastructure help to improve the outcomes for drivers, their passengers and other road users.

In addition to the Black Spot Program, the coalition government, under the stewardship of the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, will be providing $300 million for its new bridges renewal program, which again has a safety aspect to it. For many of our regional councils, it is very expensive to try to replace or repair local bridges, and what we have seen in many parts of rural Australia is load limits being placed on those bridges. A load limit placed on a bridge inevitably has a productivity impact but also has a safety impact. It means that things like local fire tankers cannot necessarily access all parts of the community until the bridge is repaired or replaced. So the $300 million for the bridges renewal program, operating in much the same way as the Roads to Recovery program, will be very welcome across regional Australia, particularly since it is going to require the states and the shires to match that funding, so we will leverage off the $300 million from the Commonwealth and provide $600 million worth of work.

In my own electorate of Gippsland, I was very pleased to see that the federal minister visited, met with me and discussed the importance of a number of road safety initiatives in the Gippsland region. The budget provides for the ongoing funding for the Princes Highway duplication between Traralgon and Sale. It is a program that has had bipartisan support throughout its history. There has been $175 million allocated over the past five years, a mixture of Commonwealth and state funding. The next stage involves $40 million under the new coalition government. There is a genuine desire within the community, and there was a recognition by the minister himself during a visit in January that funding will need to be forthcoming for future stages. In the order of $250 million will be required to finish that duplication work between Traralgon and Sale. I am also very pleased that in the budget there is some funding for the Princes Highway east of Sale, in the order of $11 million of combined funding from state and federal budget commitments, to install three overtaking lanes, which will have a significant benefit, again, in terms of road safety on the Princes Highway in my electorate.

I have tried to illustrate through my comments here tonight that road safety is a complex equation. It is very satisfying that we now have a Parliamentary Friends of Road Safety group working in this place. I look forward to working closely with Senator Gallacher and the other members of the friendship group as we endeavour to promote and strive for national leadership on what is a very difficult area of public policy. It is not just about driver behaviour, although that is important. It is not just about enforcement, but again that is important. And it is not just about improving the safety of the road environment, although, as I have illustrated with my comments tonight, that is also important. The efforts to improve the safety of the vehicles on our roads are another critical factor. So it is a very complex equation, and it is terrific to see that this term of parliament will have members from both sides working in a spirit of bipartisanship to address the horrific road toll we have in Australia. Still in excess of 1,100 people died on our roads in 2013. We have made some improvements in recent years, but the challenge is ahead of all of us to continue to strive towards a toll of zero in the future.


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