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Tuesday, 5 November 1985
Page: 1574


Senator LEWIS(9.32) —The Senate is debating the Interstate Road Transport Bill and the Interstate Road Transport Charge Bill. I want to raise a few matters in connection with this legislation. Every year I drive tens of thousands of kilometres around Victoria, mainly on country roads but a great deal on major highways and, in particular, the Hume Highway. Some aspects of that driving have caused me concern over the years. The first thing is the very extensive use of backroads by very large motor vehicles, even the 26-wheeler vehicles. Those back roads are being maintained by shires around the State of Victoria. The damage which is done to those roads by such enormous vehicles causes the shire engineers much concern. A lot of damage is done by motorists, such as myself, just driving ordinary motor cars around those back roads trying to seek some quicker way to our destinations.

I raised that matter only to draw the Government's attention to the fact that our State shires are not receiving adequate funds to maintain the road services that they are providing. Mr Deputy President, you will recall that, when we were in government, you had a considerable amount to say about road funding. A shire engineer put it succinctly to me by saying: `Senator, you are providing funds for us as if the roads will last 80 years when the truth of the matter is that they will last only 20 years'. All around Australia shire engineers are struggling to maintain our roads in some sort of condition. I congratulate them on their efforts. I say to the Federal and State governments that these are matters of infrastructure and basic matters of national importance that governments ought to be looking at. Both Federal and State governments ought to be looking at ways of providing adequate funds of the proper maintenance of all our roads.

I turn now to deal with the truckies, many of whom would now be out on the Hume Highway between Melbourne and Sydney. Believe me, during the course of the night there is an enormous volume of traffic on that road. I might say to motorists who are thinking of driving along that road that the best time to do so is during the day when the truckies are not on the road. I want to thank most of those truckies for the courtesy which they offer car drivers. Most of them drive sensibly. They indicate with their blinkers when it is safe or unsafe to pass them. However, there are many truckies on the roads who drive, especially at night, at enormous, frightening speeds. They drive along at 120 kilometres an hour. I have been passed by a 26-wheeled truck carrying probably 40 tonnes and, believe me, it is a frightening experience.

I can recall one wet evening at around 10.30 when I was driving near Wangaratta on the Hume Highway. I was in a smallish car. It was pouring with rain and there was mud and slush on the roads. I was driving at 110 kilometres an hour. I was passed by a convoy of eight 26-wheeled trucks. Clearly, the trucks were in convoy and were travelling at a speed in excess of 120 kilometres an hour. The distance between each would not have been more than a truck's length. I presume that by way of their radios they were signalling to each other or speaking to each other about whether they could overtake or not at a certain point, but I can assure you, Mr Deputy President, that it was so frightening that I stopped at the next motel and decided that I would not continue my journey.

It is that sort of thing which, unfortunately demonstrates the need for the sort of legislation which is before the Senate tonight. I do not know how such behaviour is to be controlled, except by the truck drivers themselves. If they are being pushed by their contractors, their employers and so on, clearly they have to take some action which will enable them to drive at more modest speeds. I acknowledge that they are excellent drivers. I acknowledge that, considering the volume of traffic and the speed at which these vehicles travel on the highways, the number of accidents is fairly small. Nevertheless, the few accidents that occur are terrible accidents.

Members of the Senate would know that I have always been a good supporter of the police forces. I stick up for the police as much as I can, but I must say that my experience has been that the traffic police, especially on the roads of New South Wales, are being used as tax gatherers. I do not say that it is necessarily their fault. I believe that it started with the Wran Government, which became so desperately short of money a few years back that it sold off the State. When it finished selling off the State it took every other opportunity to find any money that was hidden anywhere and then took other steps to recover funds from whichever source it could recover them. Clearly, it saw that motorists could be raped not only by way of registration fees, licence fees, petrol fees and all the other fees that are paid but also by way of policemen fining them for speeding offences on the spot.

It has been my experience that in New South Wales especially-I know it occurs in some places in Victoria but it is certainly not as bad there as it is in New South Wales-traffic officers, in order to raise the revenue which clearly they have to raise, hide on long straight stretches of the roadway and with their radar guns pick off anyone who is passing. That is certainly a way of raising revenue. I do not believe that the Government has given them some written direction that they have to raise revenue in this way. In some way or other the senior officers must reward the constables by telling them that they have been very good this week; they have raised x thousands of dollars whereas someone else has not raised much and he had better get out and do his job. Of course it is possible to raise revenue by hiding on a long straight stretch of road and using the radar gun, or by hiding around a corner immediately following a long straight stretch of road using a radar gun, to pick up motorists who are exceeding 100 kilometres an hour, especially on a two-lane freeway. To be fined for exceeding 100 kilometres an hour in a modern motor vehicle on a two-lane divided freeway seems to be the height of nonsense. That is not a way of keeping our roads safe. The police know how to keep the roads safe. They need to patrol openly the dangerous sections. They need to drive slowly and carefully around the dangerous sections with their blue lights flashing and the motorists will all slow down. That would provide the police with less revenue and the people of Australia with fewer accidents.

I have referred to truckies who drive at speeds in excess of 120 kilometres an hour in a 26-wheeler which weighs many tonnes. It is appal- ling to think about it. However, I have never managed to see such a truck stopped by a policeman who writes out a ticket for a speeding fine. I presume that it must happen but truck drivers are so well co-ordinated with their citizen band radios and they tick tack to one another so much that the location of the police is clearly identified and the truckies slow down as they pass a police trap. The result is that the truckies are able to maintain extraordinary high speeds on open highways. It is a matter of major concern. Clearly, something has to be done in order to bring about some safety on our roads.

Having said that, I turn to the legislation which has been introduced by this Government. Although I understand what might be behind it, I have to say that it is not properly thought out. As the Opposition will disclose at the Committee stage of the Bill, the legislation enables the Government to introduce regulation after regulation in more than 50 clauses which provide facilities to enable self-incrimination by way of those regulations. The Bill is far too open to abuse through those regulatory powers conferred on the Minister and the Government has not allowed the States to develop their own programs and legislation. We understand that three States have indicated that they will not support the legislation. In those circumstances and given the fact that this Bill will not commence operation until 1 July 1986, I put it to the Senate that the course proposed by the Opposition, that is, that the Bill be deferred pending consultations with the States and the trucking organisations, is the right and proper course to adopt.