Calls for creation of federal road safety ministry

Senator highlights safety aspect importance to road freight

Calls for creation of federal road safety ministry
Catryna Bilyk


Tasmanian Labor senator Catryna Bilyk has called for road safety to have its own dedicated portfolio with a federal ministry, alongside a cultural change towards not accepting the road toll as the norm, and supports demands for road deaths involving commercial heavy vehicles to be treated as workplace deaths.

In a statement on road safety, the chair of Standing Committee of Senators' Interests cites the government's report, Inquiry into the National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020, which projects 12,000 deaths over the next decade and 360,000 injuries at a cost of more than $300 billion to the Australian economy.

"This can include some horrific lifelong injuries, such as brain damage, paralysis, amputations or loss of sight, yet somehow we've come to accept this as normal," she says.

"People being killed and maimed on a daily basis should not be accepted as normal. Our road trauma needs to be treated as a national emergency."

A federal road safety portfolio tops Bilyk’s priorities to focus on improving safety, and her statements on the former Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) gives weight to speculation of its re-introduction under the Labor Party should it be elected next year.

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"I believe an important first step is to have a dedicated road safety portfolio with the federal ministry, something that is currently lacking," she says.

"Labor has recently appointed my colleague Senator Glenn Sterle, from Western Australia, as the shadow assistant minister for road safety.

"For one group of people, road safety is of particular importance, and that is our road freight transport workers."

"I've also spoken recently in this place about the abolition of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal [RSRT], a decision which has cost lives.

"With the establishment of the RSRT came a system for setting safe rates of pay, a system which led to a 25 per cent decline in the number of fatalities resulting from heavy truck crashes.

"In an industry where workers are 13 times more likely to die than in any other industry, truck drivers should not be forced to work an 80-hour week or be unable to raise safety concerns with their employer for fear of being fired.

"This is not just a risk to the drivers themselves but to the rest of the travelling public."

Bilyk supports Transport Workers' Union (TWU) in its campaign to have road deaths treated and investigated as workplace deaths for truck drivers.

"The Transport Workers' Union has also been calling for road deaths involving commercial heavy vehicles to be treated as workplace deaths.

"This will allow investigators to determine whether factors such as time and cost pressures contributed to the death through fatigue, speed or lack of vehicle maintenance."

The Australian government's blueprint for road safety is the National Road Safety Strategy, a 10-year plan adopted in 2011, which is soon due for renewal.

The senator says the government's inquiry into the strategy has alarming findings in terms of the failure to act on the strategy and to achieve success against it.

"It seems clear to me from the inquiry report that the failure is not necessarily one of the strategy itself but the lack of progress in implementing it.

"One of the key findings of the inquiry has been the lack of coordination between the three levels of government, all of which bear some responsibility for road safety.

"This problem is summed up in the following excerpt: The governance capability, combined with poorly defined and resourced actions, ill-defined accountability and an inability to report on progress in a meaningful way has been the background headline behind the implementation failure."

Cultural change

Also in the report is a criticism of the "culture of looking at the performance of the road user rather than asking about the safety attributes of the road, the safety qualities of the vehicles and the appropriateness of the speed limit" in response to road incidents.

Bilyk uses Sweden’s Vision Zero approach as an example of changing the narrative and approach around tackling the road toll.

"Sweden has demonstrated that it is possible to dramatically reduce road trauma, but, to do so, first you need a cultural change. You need to adopt an attitude that any death or serious injury on the road is unacceptable.  

"You need to overcome the complacency that comes with accepting that carnage on our roads is the norm.

"It's profoundly disappointing that progress on addressing Australia's road toll has stalled, but it's especially disappointing when we have a good strategy but are lacking in national leadership to see it through. Even one death or injury on our roads is one too many.

"As I said, there is a strategy, but the implementation of that strategy seems to have hit a hurdle. It's up to the three levels of government to make sure that those hurdles are overcome. We have the policy, and it's all right to talk about it but we need to actually act on it – that's what's most important to us.

"If you don't have enough resources, and the actions can't take place, then there is no point in actually having the strategy. I would encourage everybody to talk to their federal, state and local government members to make sure that they're implementing, as much as they can, the changes that need to take place so that we can save lives."


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