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Monday, 7 November 2005
Page: 57

Ms OWENS (4:05 PM) —I also rise in support of the member for McPherson’s motion calling for action on driver education. The number of deaths on our roads has been trending down since the eighties, thanks to a range of measures, including vehicle design and safety features, toughening up on registration of older vehicles, seatbelts, child restraints, bicycle helmets, drunk driving laws, community driver-reviver programs, police blitzes on speeding and 40-kilometre per hour zones outside schools. All these highly successful programs have led to a decrease in road deaths in Australia over the last 20 years. The number of deaths has decreased despite an extraordinary increase in the number of vehicles on our roads. Deaths per 100,000 vehicles have decreased from 26.5 in 1975 to 7.95 in 2004, and deaths per 100 million kilometres travelled have dropped from 3.5 to 0.81.

These are good figures that show the effect of good programs and lives saved, but they also hide the reality of deaths each year on our roads. The graphs look great, but the reality is quite different. In 2004, 1,598 people died on our roads in some 1,458 road crashes. Nearly 27 per cent of those were between the ages of 17 and 25, with the vast majority, some four-fifths, being males between the ages of 17 and 25—women accounted for the remaining one-fifth. Around 34 per cent of all passengers killed are in that 17- to 25-year-old age group, and around two-thirds of them are young men. In spite of the reductions—and regulators at all levels of government are to be congratulated for their work so far—there is still much more to be done.

One area still largely untouched, and where there is much more room for improvement, is driver training. This motion moved by the member for McPherson calls on the government to honour its commitment made during the 2004 election campaign to work with the states and territories to introduce a national compulsory driver education scheme for all new provisional licence holders by 2007. It recommends that the program be delivered through the school system on a compulsory basis as a certificate II course, providing 120 hours of practical driver experience and nationally recognised credentials.

It is hard to fathom why a backbencher in the Howard government would put forward a motion that reaffirms the commitment and asks the government to do what it has already promised, but this side of the House supports the member for McPherson in raising this extremely important issue. The opposition also calls on the government to honour this election promise. This is essential work that will ensure that, when our young men and women go out onto the roads, they go armed with the necessary skills to keep themselves, their passengers and others safe on the road.

This is an urgent issue that requires the attention of the government and the House sooner rather than later, and it requires appropriate financial support to ensure that schools can deliver the program effectively. It is quite common to see promises made and not kept by this government, or delivered years later than promised, but in this of all weeks we have seen how quickly the government can act when it wants to. In spite of the government standing up in this House in question time day after day and blaming the states for inaction, we can see how well the federal government can work with the states when it chooses to do so. The reality in Australia is that the Australian people choose one party in the states and one party in the federal arena, and quite often a different one in the Senate, year after year, and they expect us to do the job of working together.

This proposal and promise will save Australian lives. We can expect that around 1,500 people will die on our roads in each year that the government delays. That is over 30 people per week and over four per day, and that is not counting the thousands more who are injured, many seriously. Like many of the issues we face in this country, this is one that cannot be fixed later. For every year that it is delayed, people will die who otherwise might have lived. I hope this is a real promise, not one that will be made over and over again and never delivered. I hope that by the election in 2007 this program is already in place and we do not see it announced again for the benefit of that campaign. Let’s see it actually delivered. Let’s see the road deaths decrease in this country.