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Monday, 15 October 1973
Page: 2090

Mr McKenzie (Diamond Valley) - I believe that this report is a landmark in Australia's legislative history. I hope that the legislation which will flow from it will be something of which we will be very proud. I believe it is a privilege to speak in this debate. My interest in this subject goes back over a number of years. One of our problems as a community is the way in which we have come to accept road accident casualties as inevitable. Even the word 'accident' is a misnomer. I do not believe that we should think of them as accidents any longer because they are preventable provided we take the action necessary.

At this stage I join the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) is paying a tribute to the work of the Chairman and to the Committee staff, who have assisted us in our deliberations. It is interesting to note that this report, which comes from a Committee made up of members of all parties in this House, is unanimous. I hope that action which will flow from it will also have a great deal of unanimity. The recommendations of the Committee in this instance cover a number of matters. This is the first of a number of reports which will be brought down by the Committee and placed before the House for consideration. Firstly, the Committee recommends that the Australian Government should examine the constitutional framework in which any road safety legislation would work. Secondly, it recommends 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. The report then goes on to list the functions of such an authority. It covers all those matters which bear upon legislation for road safety.

One of the problems which the Committee came across in its deliberations and in hearing witnesses who came before it was that the various State authorities have so many different ways of approaching this problem. There is not one form for the reporting of road accidents in any one of the States or Territories which is the same as those of others. This makes it very difficult and in fact impossible for the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics to draw up uniform data. One of the problems with road safety in Australia is that we do not really know the full extent of the problem and where we ought to act first. Nevertheless, there is sufficient guide to enable us to do a great many things. For instance, as far as road accidents affect vehicles, we know that there are 2 major aspects. One is the prevention of accidents by designing vehicles so that they are better controlled, by designing environmental factors such as more divided highways into our roads, by better signposting and by having much better road marking. I might digress here to say that some of the evidence placed before the Committee showed that effective road marking could cut road accidents by as much as 70 per cent to 80 per cent. That is something .that I think we should not overlook.

The other major factor, of course, is the driver. Unfortunately human beings remain the sort of people they are for most of their lives. We can train them. We can persuade them to drive better, as some companies do with their drivers. But most drivers, although they have a quite highly developed degree of physical skill, do not always have their minds on the job. They do not drive as they are physically capable of driving because mental factors rom into it. So this is the problem relating ' the prevention of accidents.

Facing up to the problem that road accidents will occur, we must look to see what we can do about the prevention of death and injury should an accident occur. There are several ways in which we can approach this. We can strengthen cars - programs are being developed in many countries now in the development of experimental safety vehicles as is being done both in the United States of America and Germany. Some of these vehicles are very large and heavy and quite grotesque in design. However, other vehicles have been designed which, while affording the driver and his passengers maximum protection, are well designed and pleasing to look at. I would suggest that this is a field into which Australian motor car manufacturers might well enter.

In regard to individuals, the major problem of course is with pedestrians. Large numbers of pedestrians are killed every year; the figures vary from State to State. Most of these persons are either very young or elderly and it seems to me that the only way in which we are going to solve the major part of this problem is to separate pedestrians and vehicles. A great deal of publicity was given recently in my own State of Victoria to a school crossing accident. These are the sorts of things that should not happen in a well organised society. The separation of pedestrian and vehicles is very expensive but it is the only real answer because while pedestrians come into close proximity with vehicles accidents will occur.

I was interested to note in the Press following the presentation of this report to the House that the Chairman of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons road trauma committee, MrE. S. R. Hughes, urged the States to cede their powers over road safety legislation to the Federal Government so that a national road safety agency could be created. He urged the

States to agree quickly to the necessary constitutional changes. I am not sure that all these constitutional changes are necessary in the first stage, but I think it would be a good idea. Mr Hughes said:

Increasing carnage on Australia's highways has created a state of emergency.

He went on to say: . . the road trauma committee fully supported recommendations made to Federal Parliament last week by the House of Representatives Select Committee on Road Safety. A national emphasis on road safety would mean we could come to grips with this national epidemic. There would be no more pussyfooting or conf usion over the many issues.

Unfortunately this did not meet with the approval of the Victorian Chief Secretary, Mr Rossiter. Mr Rossiter replied that any move to give the Federal Government the powers on road safety would be 'over my dead body'. The Melbourne 'Age' very correctly pointed out that Mr Rossiter did not quite understand the situation. The article said that what was proposed by the House of Representatives Select Committee on Road Safety was that there should be a national authority headed by a first-rate full time commissioner to advise the Federal Government on all proposals for financial assistance to the States on road safety. We do need a national approach to this problem and I hope that those Ministers in charge of road safety in the various States will come together with the Australian Government to see what we can do about the problem.

I point out to the House that if deaths on the roads continue at the present rate, approximately 100,000 people will die over the next 27 years in road accidents. It is necessary to state this fact. Honourable members are aware of the huge numbers of people who go to see a major football final. Imagine that number of people being wiped out and the tremendous suffering that the loss of those people would cause. The toll on our roads is running at a rate equal to the number of deaths in a major war. We must look at this problem in the same way as we would look at defence needs in a major war. If we were faced with a problem in time of war, would anyone of us say: Where is the money? We cannot, do it. The problems are too great' Of course we would not say that. We would take whatever steps were necessary. That is what I believe we must do now.

We must consider safety features in vehicles and safety features on our roads. These do save lives. The introduction of seat belts is an outstanding example. Following the intro duction of the compulsory wearing of seat belts in Victoria, the road death rate fell by 13 per cent in a year. This was despite the fact that not every person wore a seat belt. I also bring to the attention of the House the need to protect children. We still see small children unrestrained in vehicles moving in heavy traffic where the driver may need to stop suddenly. We still see small children moving about in fast moving vehicles on our major highways. We should be able to design seats for these children and educate people to see that that sort of thing does not happen.

The cost of road accidents in monetary terms has been mentioned in the report. It is very difficult to estimate what it is, but I believe that it could be as high as $ 1,000m per year. The cost in human terms is tremendous. How can we ever measure the cost in human suffering? Yet, we do measure some intangibles in our society. How does one measure the value of a famous work of art? We put a value on works of art occasionally. How do we measure the value of music or the pleasure that people receive from sport, television, theatre, poetry and all sorts of human intangibles. I believe that we need to put a much greater value on human life than we are doing at the moment with respect to the effect of road accidents.

This major national problem needs a national solution. We must not be content to accept the situation which has developed. This report, I believe, will be only the first step on the way to action which will change the legislative framework of our approach to road safety in Australia. In so doing, with goodwill and in the belief that any money expended will be more than returned, even in monetary terms, we must all work together in this Parliament in the same way as the members of the Select Committee on Road Safety are working together. When the time comes for a decision, we must make that decision unanimously in the interests of all those people whose lives will be saved and in the interests of the suffering which will be prevented if we take such action.

Ms Katter - Mr Speaker, I ask for leave to use a few minutes of the time that remained to me before the sitting was suspended. Unfortunately, I arrived in the chamber 2 minutes late and missed my call. I have spoken to the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) who has been kind enough to say that I might use those additional few minutes.

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