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Tuesday, 25 September 1973
Page: 1474

Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

Mr COHEN - The Select Committee on Road Safety was first appointed by the House of Representatives on 27 April 1972 on the motion of the then Minister for Shipping and Transport, the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon). At that time it was not really expected that this Select Committee would finish its inquiry into such a complex problem as road safety in the period of life left in the 27th Parliament. The honourable member for Henty (Mr Fox), Chairman of that Committee, tabled a report in October 1972 that the Committee had been unable to complete its inquiry and recommending that the Select Committee be re-appointed in the next Parliament, with the ability to use the evidence of the previous Committee.

I would like to pay tribute to the members of the previous Committee for the volume of work done in assembling the body of evidence which has provided a starting point for the present Committee. Especially I wish to acknowledge the work of the honourable member for Henty for his able chairmanship and for his continuing work as a member of the present Committee; of Dr Solomon, former member for Denison, who lost his seat at the last election, and of the honourable member for Northern Territory (Mr Calder). The Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) also a member of the previous Committee, moved for the re-appointment of this Committee on 12 April 1973. At this time the Minister requested an early report from the Committee on the form which a specialist National Office of Road Safety - recommended by the Expert Group on Road Safety in its report 'The Road Accident Situation in Australia - A National Review' - should take. The report I am tabling today goes beyond this request and includes an outline of the problem, the constitutional position, and statistical needs.

The problem is a pressing one. The 820,000 injuries and 33,000 deaths in the 10-year period to December 1972 makes it so. This mayhem is estimated to have cost between S650m and $875m for 1972 incorporating such things as vehicle repairs and loss of value representing around 40 per cent of these costs; personal injuries around 20 per cent, fatalities around 20 per cent and insurance administration and legal costs around 20 per cent. Seat belt legislation has reduced this to some extent. The average growth rate of around 6 per cent was experienced during the period 1962 to 1970, excluding 1967 when there was a slight pause in the upward trend. In 1971 and 1972 the trend was reversed quite dramatically and the number of deaths per annum declined. Estimates of the lives saved over the 2 year period is around 850. That is, 850 persons are alive today because of the use of seat belts. This, of course, does not take into account the many thousands of people who have been saved serious injuries by the use of such belts.

When honourable members read the report, they will find that the Committee has recommended that the Australian Government should take steps to examine the constitutional position in the light of the opinions received by the Committee from the Attorney-General and from Professor Howard, Hearn Professor of Law, University of Melbourne, with a view to removing any barrier to the implementation of recommendations of this Committee or any other duly constituted authority. This is necessary because of the uncertainty in the area of constitutional powers on road safety matters, and much of the lack of direct action by the Australian Government appears to have stemmed from this uncertainty.

I suppose the major recommendation in the report is that the Australian Government should legislate for the creation of a national authority on road safety and standards as a statutory authority with a full time commissioner of First Division status. This authority should include an advisory committee on road safety research and information to advise the Minister for Transport on major research projects and to assist the commissioner in facilitating communication with various bodies associated with road safety. The advisory com- mittee would include a part-time chairman and the commissioner would be an executive member of that committee. The authority should have the following functions:

(a)   to advise the Minister for Transport on road safety, including proposals for financial assistance to the States for this purpose;

(b)   to formulate, in consultation with the relevant State and Australian authorities, proposals in respect of motor vehicle standards, road safety standards in respect of highway engineering, traffic management, roadside furniture and town planning, and uniform traffic codes;

(c)   to certify compliance of motor vehicles and vehicle components with approved standards; this would include some form of consumer protection and vehicle emission controls as they relate to safety standards;

(d)   to 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)   to conduct road safety research on a multi-discipline basis by the use of outside bodies and persons and of its own staff and facilities;

(f)   to conduct road safety education and publicity campaigns and to co-ordinate State and Territory efforts in this field;

(g)   to collect and disseminate road safety research information; and

(h)   to 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.

To carry out the last two functions it will be necessary to create within the authority a central information service, to include a national data base of road safety statistics developed in consultation with the Commonwealth Statistician, firstly, to explore user requirements, and the relevance of statistics and other data to the reduction of traffic accidents and identify, and recommend to collecting agencies, data requirements; secondly, to work with relevant authorities towards the development and general use of uniform definitions and concepts, uniform data collection forms and compatible data processing and storage systems; thirdly, to bring together all relevant data from other agencies, both Australian and foreign, and establish a data base to serve research and statistical purposes; and fourthly, to produce, and integrate when appropriate, data analyses case studies for research purposes and public information. These recommendations, if adopted by the Government, should provide the basis for the impetus that the cause of accident reduction needs. It should lead to improved roads and roadside environment, safer cars and better drivers through better training and more effective publicity.

Also, honourable members will note that the Committee has recommended that the Australian Government should make a grant of up to $20,000 to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons to assist the Road Trauma Committee to complete its survey of road accident injury patterns. That body has carried out a survey at its own cost, has pioneered in this area of statistics and has established many sources of data which would prove valuable to the new information service. It therefore deserves assistance.

At the Committee's request I wrote to the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) on 1 2 September 1973, seeking his co-operation in obtaining uniformity throughout Australia of traffic legislation, signs, signals, accident reporting and definitions. I feel that much of the frustration in this area has been due to the problem being approached at lower levels instead of being decided at the Prime Minister-Premier level and a way found to implement their decisions. I also requested that he assume the type of national leadership in the road safety area that the President of the United States and other national leaders have taken in recent years.

In its resolution of appointment the Select Committee was given leave to report from time to time. This report is the first of a series of reports which the Committee will be making on particular areas, most of which are listed in paragraph 25 of the report. The next topic probably will be that of road environment, with the vehicle, the driver, and the road transport system to follow. I should like to thank the Department of Transport for the assistance rendered to the Committee so far in this inquiry. I should like also to explain that in paragraph 42 of the report, part (c) could be attributed to the Department of Transport. In fact this was a suggestion made in evidence by the Road Trauma Committee of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

My final comments on the Committee's work, just briefly, are that I am very proud to have worked with this Committee. We are only just beginning our job. We worked very hard during the recess, visiting Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra on a number of occasions and also visiting Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane. There has been a wonderful spirit of cooperation among all members of the Committee irrespective of Party affiliations. I am delighted that the report is a unanimous one with no dissenting minority. The only complaint I have is that I think that the Government could provide us with some extra staff.

Motion (by Mr Daly) proposed:

That the House take note of the paper.

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