Second Reading: Road Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019

I rise to speak on the Road Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, a bill that aims to amend the Road Safety Act 1986 and the Sentencing Act 1991 to allow for immediate suspension of driving licences for dangerous drivers charged with excessive speeding offences and other serious offences, including where a vehicle has been used as a weapon to cause injury or death.

I support the amendments moved by the member for Caulfield to broaden the circumstances where police may immediately suspend a drivers licence or a learners permit. I hope the government takes on board the amendments. I think it is an opportunity for us to strengthen the road safety laws and be in line with New South Wales to make sure we do not have anomalies between the states, which we spent some time last year fixing. So this is an opportunity. As my colleague said, it is good to have these opportunities to look at the different states and make sure that we do align, so I hope this opportunity is taken by the government.

Having a licence is actually a privilege, not a right, so we need to send a strong message that if you do something wrong there will be tough consequences. The bill as it stands, as I say, could go further. We need to get serious about road safety. Road safety is paramount. Today the road toll is 25 deaths for 2020, one more than the same time last year, which we know was a shocking year with 266 deaths—up 24.9 per cent on the previous record low year. The sad part too is that this is a disproportionate number of deaths in the regional areas. Last year 147 people died on rural roads compared with 119 on Melbourne roads. When you look at the population of the city versus the regions, it is very disproportionate. I think we have got to actually stop for a minute and think that this is someone’s son, someone’s daughter, someone’s child, someone’s brother, someone’s family member.

That really makes us remember that this is a human being—a family person, a child that never makes it home, a mother that does not get home to her children or a dad who does not get home to his kids. We know that distraction, speed, drugs, alcohol and not wearing seatbelts are major factors, but we can do more.

We have got a policy sitting on the table. It was the first policy after the election that we introduced, and the government has the opportunity to take up the policy that we the opposition have put together that strengthens drug laws. We have got magistrates calling for it again. They called for it three times last year on three separate occasions, and already again this year the magistrates in south-west Victoria are calling for strengthening of the drug laws. It is pretty hard to ignore those at the coalface like the magistrates who are asking for this, and we have got it on the table. I do not understand why the government is just too arrogant perhaps to take up this opportunity.

What surprises me as the Shadow Minister for Rural Roads is that whilst those conditions like distraction, speed and alcohol are absolutely real, what does get left out of the conversation is the state of our rural roads, and this has to be a factor in some of the deaths. Our roads are poor, and if I showed you some of the photos that my constituents send me from right across—

Ms Kealy interjected.

Ms BRITNELL: Well, the member for Lowan has just used a very profound word to describe the state of our roads, but I will just stick with ‘poor’ and leave that to your imagination. She is right. Well, we will go with ‘stuffed’; it started with ‘s’, so something similar to that. They are absolutely terrible.

You would only have to come for a drive. I hope, as you go out to the fire-ravaged areas, you will actually take your eskies, you will visit the country areas and you will take notice of the roads, because it is pretty hard to ignore the state of them. South-west Victoria has the worst roads, but the further you go to the border in any part of regional Victoria the more you will see examples of how bad the roads are.

Five years of neglect and we are seeing potholes that are the size of craters. We are seeing roads that are for kilometres just in total disrepair. What we are seeing, as the government’s way of addressing this, is they are putting up ‘Slow down’ signs. Well, that is not healthy for the state of Victoria. It is not healthy for our families who want to feel safe on our roads. It is not healthy for our state if we want to have any sort of productivity.

I do not understand why the condition of the roads is not discussed more. What I do not like is seeing the community being fooled and seeing announcements being made of repackaged money when the reality is that no-one is fooled out in the regions. They drive on these roads, and they are absolutely frustrated, particularly when they see works being done that fall apart within weeks—a totally wasteful use of money. Last year I had 8000 people sign a petition calling on the government to do more to fix our rural and regional roads. Now, that is a very telling number. There have not been too many other petitions in this Parliament or in previous parliaments that meet that amount of people, and if that petition was still going, there would be more and more because people were literally lining up to sign.

I do not disagree with the premise of the bill, and I believe we need to do more to expand the opportunity to crack down on unsafe behaviours. Again, that is where I think the strengthening of our drug laws would really signal a government that is serious about the challenge with the road deaths that we are seeing. We have already got 15 deaths on our rural roads this year compared with the 10 deaths on Victorian roads that are in Melbourne. We must do more.

When we see the current government ripping $2.9 billion out of the Transport Accident Commission budget to make their books look better and we see 400 000 alcohol breathalyser tests per annum cut from the tools and resources available to manage the challenges we see on our roads where people are doing the wrong thing—drinking and driving—then I do not really feel confident that we have a government that is serious about addressing the road toll. There are families I talk to who have lost loved ones. I know that truck drivers I talk to will not use certain roads that are designated B-double routes because they are so bad. I talk to mothers whose children are going on school buses that are going on roads where the shoulders fall away, sometimes 10 inches, so significant is the drop-off because the maintenance is just not standing up at all. So when I talk to those people, it is very, very concerning. I simply urge the government, as every truck driver says to me, to get into a vehicle and drive out onto the roads, particularly in the regions.

Yesterday I met with Regional Roads Victoria to get a briefing on the state of the road damage from our fires in the north and the east, but I also took the opportunity to talk about some of the roads that I have constituents writing to me, ringing me or coming to see me to talk about. I urged them to go and have a look at just how bad they are, and I showed them some photos, because every single time I put the evidence under the nose of somebody who has not been out and actually driven on these roads they are absolutely shocked.

I will wind up by saying that we do need to take politics out of this discussion. Roads are basic infrastructure that the community have a right to. I think the government needs to think about the regions in a different light—of how we do punch above our weight by the way we add so much to the productivity of the state with the product that we produce and send through the port of Melbourne. So, please, all I am asking is for the government and us as a Parliament to take a bipartisan approach and look at these road safety amendments that my colleague the member for Caulfield has proposed. I am asking the government to support those amendments. I also take the opportunity to beg once again—as I do every time I stand up in this place—for the government to take seriously regional Victoria. It is a really important part of the state.

When you govern, you govern for the whole of the state, from border to border. Many of my constituents say that the Premier is way too focused on the City of Melbourne and at the expense of the country. Well, I once again will finish up by saying: please take some notice of what I am saying here about the importance of our roads, and also I hope you will support the amendments which will strengthen road safety laws and assist in lowering the road toll, which we are all very serious about.