Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (17:28): I am pleased to rise to speak on the Road Safety Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. As the member for Cranbourne indicated, this is largely an area of bipartisanship when it comes to road safety, and certainly as to the detail of the bill I am happy to confirm that the opposition will not be opposing the legislation. There is not so much bipartisanship on the issue of our roads more broadly, and I will come to that.
While there are a couple of different parts to this bill, the main element is of course the introduction of new road safety cameras that have the ability to detect basically whether people are using a mobile phone. This is, I guess, an issue close to my own heart for sometimes all the wrong reasons. I am not going to stand here and claim to be a saint when it comes to those issues. I noted the comments of the member for Frankston earlier about the push for all of us to be more efficient, and as an MP, I dare say as a country MP, it is a particular issue. I estimate that in normal times pre COVID and probably in the last couple of months as things have got back to normal, I probably spend an extra 10 hours on the road. I spend at least 10 hours on the road a week, and that is 10 hours I do not have to read, to assess reports, to deal with emails and to do all those things that perhaps particularly city MPs, who do not have to travel as much or at least as far, have more time for. It is an issue that vexes me a lot, and certainly it does tempt you to be doing things that you should not be doing. I, for one, look forward to the autonomous vehicle; I think I will be able to get a hell of a lot more done when it comes. But it is an important issue. Looking at your mobile phone, sending messages, checking emails or whatever while you are driving is obviously a seriously dangerous thing to do, and I am sure we have all done the wrong thing from time to time and given ourselves scares as well. It is one thing I try to avoid.
This legislation will introduce the ability to use these new cameras. I am comforted that there is not a pure reliance on the artificial intelligence technology which will detect whether people are indeed using a mobile phone, but where that technology identifies that there will then be a human review of the images as well to see whether someone has done the wrong thing or not. I believe that the report that related to the trial that has been done of this technology has not yet been made public. I think that is something the government should do. There is a tendency in the public sometimes, particularly when it comes to speed cameras, to see them more as revenue raisers rather than road safety devices. This additional measure needs to have the best possible public confidence, and releasing all the information that relates to the trials and to indeed how the technology works would be a wise move on the government’s part to engender that confidence in the community. We have seen in the past faults with speed cameras, red-light cameras and the like that have caused some concern, and of course we have seen big issues in the fines department—though that is a separate issue. But that is something that I think the government should be doing.
There are a number of other elements to the bill that other members have touched on. I will not necessarily go into those now. I do just want to speak, though, a bit about road safety and roads in general. It is critical of course that we do what we can to improve road safety and get the road toll down. What I am concerned about that has been grossly overlooked by this government is the condition of the roads themselves, and that is an issue that has been consistently the number one issue in Gippsland South since I was elected in 2015. It is absolutely up there again at the moment, the last 12 months or so, partly due to obviously the last couple of wet seasons that we have had; that certainly has made the roads break up much faster. But there is no question that the roads in country areas are falling behind, and it is an issue that comes to me extremely regularly from my constituents. It is the one that they stop you in the street about, it is the one that they comment on social media about and it is the one that they send you emails and ring the office about. I get regular complaints, and they are genuine.
In that context I was interested, in listening a little bit earlier, to hear the member for Eltham basically saying that the concerns that we have raised in the past are wrong. She used the lived experience, I think she said, of her mum, who sent her a text and said she had driven from Traralgon to Healesville and ‘The roads were great, and I really don’t know what the Nats are going on about’. Indeed the words she used were that The Nationals are raising ‘imagined fantasies’. Now, that is going to go down well in my community and indeed the communities around country Victoria if government members think that the poor states of our roads are ‘imagined fantasies’. It is extraordinary that a member of the government would say that.
When I first got elected in 2015, I remember the state Labor government then making a 10 per cent cut to the road maintenance budget. We have seen this year in the most recent budget a 25 per cent cut. We might remember, those of us who have been around a bit—and indeed the member for Mornington is sitting here—us asking questions in PAEC of the then minister for roads, who promised $1 billion for country roads over eight years. When we challenged him on that in the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee process he was unable to show where that $1 billion ever actually came up. That is because it was largely a fantasy. We have seen that, yes, the spending on roads has increased from time to time since those budgets, but the most recent one again is another cut.
We also of course saw the abolition of the country roads and bridges program, which actually did a lot of good for our small rural shires in particular. They were getting a million dollars a year to upgrade local roads—the roads that people live on, that the cattle trucks and the milk tankers go down. That was a huge loss and a completely unjustified cut by this government.
I want to mention too that there was some significant work done last year—and it was pretty much all funded, or largely funded, by the federal government—on road safety across the state, some of it in my electorate, most of it going towards road shoulder sealing. I have raised this a number of times in this place, most recently with an adjournment, because what happened with that funding is the shoulders were sealed but they almost immediately began breaking up. So I raised this with the Minister for Roads and Road Safety, and I know the member for Gippsland East and others have also raised it, because that was another frustration. There were many in my community who were rapt, including me, that these shoulders were going to be sealed on some of our main roads, particularly around Sale, and I might mention Bengworden Road, Rosedale-Longford Road, Longford-Loch Sport Road, Seaspray Road and Traralgon-Maffra Road as well. Many of these were done, but they almost immediately started breaking up, resulting in potholes and the like.
I got a response from the minister to an adjournment on 8 March where he basically said that with the money they had they went for the longest possible distance that they could do the sealing, which may be a noble aim, but that in doing that weaknesses in the existing pavement are expected in works such as these. So basically the government knew that there were going to be failures with these roadworks and went ahead anyway, and that is consistent with what I have heard from many of the contractors. Many of the contractors who had those jobs told Regional Roads Victoria, ‘This isn’t going to work; you need to actually change the camber of the road totally, or you need to use different materials’. But they were told, ‘No, we’ve got the money now. We’ve got to spend it. Go ahead’. And we ended up with these incredible failures on the roads, which is just not good enough. I am not sure whether to give the minister a 10 out of 10 for honesty or a one out of 10 for the failure of actual management of our roads, because it was a disaster and it continues to be a disaster. Regional Roads Victoria is now going back and having to fix up all these potholes and mistakes on the side of the road that have occurred from mismanagement.
To suggest that the poor state of our roads is an imagined fantasy is a fantasy in itself. The member for Eltham and other government members should get out and see the state of our roads. Then they will understand that road safety is not just about new cameras.