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Monday, 15 October 1973
Page: 2096

Mr CHARLES JONES (NewcastleMinister for Transport) - In rising to speak to the debate arising from the presentation of the interim report of the Select Committee on Road Safety concerning the setting up of a national authority I thank all members of that Committee for having brought the report down and for the manner in which they have gone about their responsibilities. They have an important task and the manner in which they have gone about it has been indicated by the enthusiasm of the last speaker, the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes). The same enthusiasm has been evident in Committee members from the Opposition. When committees operate in this way we know that we will get reports that are prepared by men who are interested in and conscious of their responsibilities. For that reason I thank them for the report.

In recent times considerable attention has been paid to the tragic loss of life and limb on our roads and many proposals have been put forward with the aim of reducing or eliminating such loss. We have had our successes, in particular with seat belts. The Select Committee on Road Safety has estimated that seat belts probably have saved about 850 lives during the past 2 years. Some 850 Australians who are walking about today owe their lives to seat belts. To this number we must add those who would otherwise have been severely maimed and handicapped as paraplegics and quadriplegics. But we cannot afford to be complacent. The road toll has again started to rise. Last year there were 3,422 fatalities and in the 7 months to July of this year 2,044 Australians lost their lives on our roads compared with 1,905 in the same period_of_last year.

The Australian Government has recognised the road toll as a national problem warranting urgent co-ordinated action at the national level. The Government moved for the reappointment of the Select Committee on Road Safety. It accepted the major recommendations of the expert group, in particular the creation of a central information service for those working in road safety and a program of low cost improvements at locations with bad accident records. The sum of $3m has been provided for this purpose in this year's Budget and we will be looking at further support in the context of our review of the Commonwealth Aid Roads legislation. A total of $975,000 is being provided this year for road safety promotion and research. I referred to the Select Committee the recommendation by the expert group for a high level specialist national office of road safety so that I could have the benefit of its views. The Select Committee reported on 25 September recommending a statutory national authority on road safety and standards which would take over and intensify the present activities of my Department in the field of road safety, emission control and consumer protection.

I have much pleasure in informing this House that the Government has accepted the recommendations of the Select Committee. We will set up a national authority on road safety and standards with the following terms of reference: (A) Advise the Minister for Transport on road safety, including proposals for financial assistance to the States for this purpose. (B) Formulate, in consultation with the relevant State and Australian authorities, proposals in respect of: Motor vehicle standards involving emission control and consumer protection as well as safety standards; road safety standards in respect of highway engineering, traffic management, roadside furniture and town planning; and uniform traffic codes; (C) Certify compliance of motor vehicles and vehicle components with approved standards. (D) Prepare road safety impact statements in respect of transport and urban development programs being financed to a significant degree out of Australian Government funds.

(E)   Conduct road safety research on a multidiscipline basis by the use of outside bodies and persons and of its own staff and facilities.

(F)   Collect and disseminate road safety research information. (G) Collect and disseminate in consultation with the Bureau of Census and Statistics national statistical information required by workers in the various disciplines relevant to road safety and relating to such topics as drivers, vehicles, accidents, etc., on an Australia-wide basis. (H) Conduct road safety education and publicity campaigns and co-ordinate State and Territory efforts in this field.

As I have said, the Authority will take over and develop the work my Department has been doing for some time. This does not involve any criticism of the work which has been done. We are seeking a higher degree of efficiency in a function which involves a large and complex transport system within a complicated institutional framework. To achieve greater progress it is necssary to attack the problem on a wide front by the use of vigorous, co-ordinated and multidisciplinary methods. In recent years the difficulty of tackling the problem has been increased by the growing number of organisations which have responsibilities involving one aspect or another of the road safety problem. It has become obvious that the only way of handling this complexity with any degree of efficiency is to create a national body such as the one the Government has decided upon.

The Authority is expected to be operational by the middle of 1974. We will appoint an interim commissioner to assist with legislative and organisational matters. It was expected that the necessary legislation would be introduced in the current session of Parliament. However, due to the weight of business, this may not be possible. To assist the Authority we will appoint an advisory committee on road safety research and information to carry on the good work of the expert group on road safety. We will also take an urgent and thorough look at the Constitutional position. Traditionally it has been accepted that the States had full responsibility in this field - except in the Australian Government's own Territories - but this view has come under challenge. In fact it has been suggested that the Australian Government has ready-made powers which would enable it to legislate effectively in the road safety field in a national context.

The Government accordingly has decided to commission a thorough examination of the Constitutional situation so that we can remove as far as possible any barriers to effective action. In the final analysis the successful tackling of the road toll will depend on the goodwill and co-operation of all concerned. The Select Committee is to be commended on this its first report. I look forward to further valuable advice on how to deal with this national problem.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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