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Thursday, 22 May 1980
Page: 3080

Mr Charles Jones (NEWCASTLE, VICTORIA) -by leave- In speaking to the report presented by the Standing Committee on Road Safety on alcohol, drugs and road safety I take up the point raised by the Chairman of the Committee, the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter), at the conclusion of his speech. He raised the questions of whether the Federal Parliament should have a committee to investigate road safety, whether there should be an office of road safety and whether there should be a standards authoritywhatever field of operation there might be. In my opinion there cannot be too many committees working on this subject stirring up public opinion, government support and finance to improve our road system, the behaviour of people who drive the vehicles on those roads and the vehicles they travel in.

We have seen in the last decade and a half quite a substantial change in the public attitude to road safety. Twenty years ago when certain people started talking about the car manufacturer being required to improve the standard and safety of the vehicles he was building, such as by the installation of seat belts, and about the need for breathalyser testing- the call is now for random breathalyser testing- there were always those in the community who referred to them as ratbags and treated them as such. But I am pleased to say that the people who had the interest and courage to become involved in road safety at that time have been directly instrumental in bringing about quite a substantial reduction in the number of road deaths in the community. Whether in Australia, the United States of America, Europe or elsewhere, there has been a need for people to become involved and interested in the problem, to try to do something about it. We cannot get away from the fact. I advise people, if they are not prepared to read the whole of the report- a course which I recommend strongly- at least to read its major findings and recommendations. That will give them something to think about, something on which to act.

I come back to the clear and concise fact that in 1979 3,506 people were killed on the roads. Of that number, 1,800, or more than half, died as the result of the consumption of alcohol by some person: Either the driver or a pedestrian was under the influence.

When it is suggested that a driver should be prosecuted and sent to prison because he has been involved in a crash while under the influence, there is a great cry about civil liberties. Similarly, when the law was changed to require the wearing of a seat belt, there was talk of taking away people's civil liberties. The same can be said of the use of the breathalyser or of random testing. As long as I have the right to vote in this Parliament I will continue to vote for the taking away of those civil liberties. A driver who is under the influence of alcohol is certainly not in control of his vehicle. If such people want to kill themselves that is their prerogative, but it is not their prerogative to kill other, innocent people, whether they be drivers of vehicles or pedestrians.

The community must harden to acceptance of the point of view that the consumption of alcohol in the community presents a social problem. Quite apart from the road safety aspect, it is a major social problem in industry and commerce. It is not always the little fellow on the bottom of the ladder who has the problem. It is also found among the people on the top rung, at the administrative level. Indeed, the problem at that level is one of major consequence. The community must tackle this social problem. People must be prepared for the Government to fund a full investigation of the problem and to do as much as possible to help people who have the problem. We are told that there are as many as a quarter of a million alcoholics in the community. That is a heck of a big percentage of our population of some \4]A million. Therefore, the whole question has to be tackled as a major social problem. I have mentioned that in one year it contributed to the death of some 1,800 people. I intend to keep referring to that fact because it is important that we keep hammering the point.

Labor supporters engaged in demonstrations against the Vietnam War in which, in the period from 1964 to 1971, 494 Australian servicemen were killed. There was a great public outcry about it, but there has been no public outcry about the fact that 1,800 people were killed last year alone as a result of the consumption of alcohol. We have in the community people who say that it is a breach of their civil liberties if, when they are driving, a policeman pulls them up and says: 'Breathe into this; take this test'. The Committee has made a very strong recommendation in favour of random testing and State governments being urged to amend their traffic Acts to that end. Unless random testing is properly policed it will not be effective. That will mean that the publicans, the club secretaries and the club committees will squeal like hell because they will find that the random breath testing crew is just up the road, that as the drunks come out they will be tested. There is only one way to deal with such drivers. Until the community is prepared to face that fact we will continue each year to kill 1,800 people on the roads as a consequence of alcohol consumption.

Mr Les McMahon (SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - You are lucky you do not drink.

Mr Charles Jones (NEWCASTLE, VICTORIA) -I do not, and I do not want some mug to kill me either. An intense study was carried out by the Victorian Government over Friday, Saturday and Sunday nightsthe killer nights. It was discovered that on those nights a decrease of between 65 per cent and 70 per cent in fatalities occurred. That was for the simple reason that people went out that night knowing that if they exceeded the 0.05 per cent blood alcohol level which is permissible in Victoria there would be a distinct possibility that they would be pulled up and have to submit to a breathalyser test. The result was that they either did not drink or stayed at home and drank. That is their prerogative. Alternatively, if they went out they used public transport. All that the Committee is saying is this: If you want to drink that is your right but you should not drive a motor vehicle if you do. That is the whole point that the Committee is making.

The Committee has recommended that the Government carry out a series of investigations. I do not propose to take up the time of the House by reading the recommendations but certain points have been brought out positively in them. The Committee accepts as fact that the consumption of alcohol is a major social problem that must be tackled by government on the basis of intensive investigation and study to find out the best way of overcoming it. I am discussing the consumption of alcohol from the road safety aspect only. I am not referring to the other major social problems that flow from it, those that involve the family and so on. That is a separate aspect with which others may deal.

I do not altogether agree with that part of the Committee's report which states that, for about 25 per cent of drivers who have been prosecuted for consuming in excess of the permissible amount of alcohol, increased penalties would have no effect at all. There is a fair amount of evidence which shows that they are alcoholics, people who have a drinking problem and who will continue to drink irrespective of the penalty. I do not accept the suggestion that they will continue to do so irrespective of the penalty. I believe if they are hit hard enough they will seek alternative methods of transportation- public or some other form. I return to the point that people must be shown that they cannot kill their fellow men in the process of going out and enjoying themselves. I hope that the State parliaments, and the Federal Minister within whose responsibility traffic control in the Australian Capital Territory falls, will have the courage to initiate compulsory random breathalyser testing and that it will be rigidly enforced on the basis of people being told that if they drink and drive they will have a better than even money chance of being caught.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Would you flog them or hang them?

Mr Charles Jones (NEWCASTLE, VICTORIA) -If they murdered others, yes, I would flog them and hang them. I recommend the report to interested people. I believe that basically it is a good report. I believe that governments, State and Federal, should be prepared to carry out the Committee's recommendations and provide the finance that is necessary to endeavour to overcome this major social problem.

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