Danny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (14:45): I am pleased to rise to say some words on the Transport Legislation Amendment Bill 2023, which is a very large omnibus bill with quite a number of different sections to it that I will go through in some of the detail here. It is one of those ones, I suspect, for which I will have no trouble filling the full half an hour, because it is quite a complex bill with a number of moving parts.
The main, I guess, political element of the bill is the introduction of a process for a research trial for driving and medicinal cannabis, but the bill also provides for the regulation of e-scooter and e-bike and other vehicle share schemes by local councils. It aligns bus driver accreditation with accreditation of commercial passenger drivers and brings in a whole new section in the Bus Safety Act 2009 in that respect. It clarifies governance arrangements for various transport agencies, including Safe Transport Victoria and V/Line. It makes various other road safety reforms, including allowing speed cameras and speed detection devices to be used for detecting speeding bikes and e-scooters, as well as some other rules on alcohol interlocks. There are rules amended around the sharing of data from commercial passenger vehicles and the public transport network with particular respect to CCTV footage, Myki data and other travel data, and there are multiple other technical and consequential amendments in the bill as well.
But I will begin by talking about the medicinal cannabis issue and driving. This is quite a vexing issue. It is somewhat of a wicked problem for government policymakers to address. There are some in the community who would say that it is very simple, but I do not believe so, and I will go into a bit of the detail now. Clause 56 of the bill introduces an opportunity for the minister to designate a road safety research trial which effectively exempts those participants in a trial from the existing road rules, because what the trial will do is it will determine:
… to what degree it is safe for someone to drive or be in charge of a vehicle after consuming or using a drug, a combination of drugs, or a drug or combination of drugs and alcohol …
Likewise, it will look at fatigue, and it will inform the methods that police may use to assess impairment when a person is driving. This is, I guess, the nub of the matter. At the moment, obviously, we have introduced medicinal cannabis and people can get a prescription for that, so it is legal to take medicinal cannabis with a prescription. However, it still remains illegal for someone to have THC in their system – tetrahydrocannabinol – which is one of the three things that are tested for in drug and alcohol roadside testing, the other two being MDMA, or ecstasy, and methamphetamine. A drug test via mouth swab tests for those three. Obviously we have blood alcohol tests as well and a .05 per cent blood alcohol content limit. The problem is that someone who takes medicinal cannabis could potentially have THC in their system. Now, in most cases people will only be impaired for driving purposes or for any purposes for a couple of hours, but the THC can stay in their bloodstream for days, weeks or potentially even a month, which is one figure that I have heard. As a result, if a person is tested on the roadside, despite the fact they might be completely free of any impairment from THC, they may in fact test positive to THC and therefore be breaching the Road Safety Act 1986. Quite naturally users of medicinal cannabis are saying ‘Well, I’ve got a prescription, the government has said it’s legal for me to use medicinal cannabis, and now you’re punishing me for doing so on the road even though I have no impairment’. The issue of impairment is not an easy one to address.
If I go back to a little bit of the history on this, members will recall that a former member in the other place introduced a private members bill on this, I think it was in 2019. The government, because it did not support that legislation and neither did the opposition, set up a process and an expert committee to look into it, which came to a number of conclusions, none of them final, in dealing with the matter. And then, with the election of two members of the Legalise Cannabis Party at the last election, they brought in another bill in the other place, virtually identical to the earlier bill, which was debated in the other place earlier this year.
As the responsible shadow minister, again I prepared the opposition’s position on that, and I did absolutely see both sides of the story here. It is certainly a concern of many Victorians that they are taking medicinal cannabis and are therefore unable to drive. On the other side of things, it is not as simple as saying that there should be an exemption for people taking medicinal cannabis, because that potentially could be abused by people utilising cannabis in a recreational sense. I hesitate to use the word ‘recreational’ to distinguish between the two types of uses – prescribed and recreational. If someone is a prescribed user, using it for whatever ailment they may have – it is often for pain and it is often for insomnia that people are using medicinal cannabis – it also does not stop them potentially using marijuana/cannabis recreationally and then being able to drive and then show their prescription to a police officer when they are pulled over and say ‘Hey, I’m off scot-free’. I guess that is the potential ramification that we have with simply providing an exemption. Indeed the parliamentary library has provided a report on this bill today. It goes through some of the history of it and mentions Victoria Police’s comments about this issue in a submission to the other place’s inquiry a few years ago that said:
… cannabis use remains a significant threat to road safety.
It goes on to say that THC is likely:
… to reduce a driver’s ability to have full control of a vehicle …
through slowing down reaction times, distorting perception of speed and distance and reducing concentration. The parliamentary library report goes on to say this is affirmed by other agencies, such as the Transport Accident Commission and VicRoads. I think we all understand that. Whether it is excessive alcohol or whether it is cannabis, we know that there is going to be an impairment effect, and from a road safety perspective that is the issue that remains quite tricky. So it was that the government opposed the Road Safety Amendment (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill 2023 earlier in the year in the other place, as did the opposition, but we said at the time that we understood the unfairness of the current situation and that we would keep an open mind on this particular issue. As it is, this bill today, the Transport Legislation Amendment Bill, actually sets up the ability for the government to designate a process.
It is disappointing that the government has failed to agree to our request to take this legislation into consideration in detail, because there are many questions that we would like answered on the bill broadly but also on this particular issue of a trial, including things like where the trial is going to be held. The government indicates that a trial will be off-road in a closed environment, but that is not reflected in the bill. So where is it going to be? Who will be involved? How will the trial be undertaken? I am sure the government will at some point give us this information, but it would be nice when we are actually debating legislation that will set up a trial or allow a trial to occur for the government to give some indication of what that trial will actually involve. In a sense the government has kicked the can down the road with this issue. I also support the option of looking at a trial to see whether we can erase what is certainly an unfairness for people who are using medicinal cannabis, but that needs to be balanced by the road safety issues that are prevalent, which I have just gone through. Perhaps a future speaker on the government side might explain in some more detail how the trial will work – who will be involved, who will run it and all of those sorts of things – because I think this is an important issue and one that needs to be addressed in time, as I said, by balancing the need for road safety, given the terrible road toll that we have had this year so far.
There are a number of other parts to the legislation. A large chunk of the bill actually deals with accreditation of bus drivers. It implements a revised bus driver accreditation scheme, removing the old scheme from the Transport (Compliance and Miscellaneous) Act 1983 and placing a new scheme into the Bus Safety Act 2009. According to the government, this is designed to modernise the accreditation process and align it with the process for commercial passenger vehicle drivers and to bring it all effectively under the banner of Safe Transport Victoria. But in both the consultation with industry and stakeholders that the opposition undertook and the government bill briefing it was confirmed that the industry itself has not been consulted on this issue at all. The Bus Association Victoria knew nothing about it when we contacted them, and I am advised from the bill briefing that neither the Transport Workers’ Union nor other unions were involved. Indeed the advice from the minister’s office was that relevant stakeholders would be consulted during implementation of the changes. I would have thought that it would be a good thing to consult the stakeholders at the start when you are changing legislation on something like this. That is a failing, and I think the government needs to make sure that it listens to drivers and to the industry as it implements these changes.
The other bit of interest from a public perspective that certainly has had some significant media coverage and public commentary in the last couple of years is the issue of e-bike and e-scooter share schemes, particularly e-scooter share schemes, which have been trialled for some time now in the City of Melbourne and the City of Ballarat in particular. The government has twice now extended the terms of the trial that has been occurring. It has created some controversy. E-scooters are a relatively new device in our society. They have raised concerns with people illegally riding them on the footpath. They have raised concerns with the share schemes presenting a trip hazard for people, particularly people with a disability, on our footpaths around cities and also waste matter in certain circumstances with e-bikes in the past – bikes being dumped in the river and the like by users or vandals. There are a number of issues that have yet to be addressed really in the development of these schemes. What this legislation does is effectively handballs the problem to local government and says that local government will now have to deal with it. It does this by saying that a share scheme cannot be operated unless that share scheme operator has an agreement with the relevant local government agent.
What concerns me in this is, firstly, that it is a cost-shifting issue. Secondly, it handballs a pretty tricky issue to local government. Thirdly, I am not sure that the government, certainly not through this legislation, has addressed the issues of concern that have been raised. It literally just handballs it to local government through this legislation and has not yet provided guidance or anything on those issues of pedestrian safety, of clutter on our roadsides and footpaths and all of those matters. That is reflected by the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), which has come back to us and said:
The proposed approach, which will require each council to assess proposals and negotiate with potential providers individually, seems inefficient and appears to pass the compliance and financial obligations onto local government.
As I said, it is a cost shift. The MAV goes on to say:
Without an agreed state or national standard, and consistent approaches between councils there is a risk of a patchwork approach to managing e-scooters across the State.
That is where I have concern with respect to this legislation handing it to local government and expecting them to set it up. The MAV went on to state to me:
The State should provide a model agreement with standard conditions to guide local governments.
I agree entirely. Indeed that is something I asked about in the bill briefing with the government, and I am advised that that is exactly what the government is proposing to do, so that is welcome. But how it will address those issues of compliance and those issues of safety for pedestrians in particular and other users is a live question. I find it a little bit ironic that the government, in one of its first acts in this Parliament, established an inquiry into vulnerable road users and yet vulnerable road users like pedestrians, like cyclists, may well be impacted by these share schemes and the government is handballing the whole problem to local government and expecting them to deal with it. There are also issues of insurance and safety standards that the government needs to address. We were assured that the department will be doing that through the implementation of this bill and working with local councils, but I am yet to be convinced that the government will get this right.
Having said all that, my view, and I think the view of many of my colleagues, is that there are problems with e-scooters. There are issues of safety. I know the MAV also raised concerns about the number of accidents that occur with people involved with e-scooters and the impact that is having on our emergency departments, but those issues can perhaps be compared to the concerns had when those dreaded motorcars came along in the early part of last century. It is new technology, but it is useful technology. It is potentially green technology depending on how it is powered and certainly it is good technology for people getting around city areas in particular. We should not turn our back on things like e-scooters. We should work out the best way to regulate and manage them, just as we did those dreaded motor cars – ‘infernal machines’ I think they were referred to at the time, scaring horses and scaring ladies, so they forced people to walk along in front of them with lights.
All those things that happened 120-odd years ago are going to happen with e-scooters, perhaps not quite as dramatically. But there are issues that we do need to work through. In the end it comes back to the users themselves doing the right thing and making sure that they in fact are riding safely, doing the right thing in where they leave e-scooters and e-bikes and making sure that other people on our road network are not impacted. I do have that concern, and as I said, there are concerns from the MAV and from the Australian Medical Association about some of these issues, and I hope that they can be addressed.
There are multiple other amendments in this legislation to different parts of the suite of transport legislation – indeed quite a number of bills are being amended here. One of those amendments is with respect to the use of alcohol interlocks. What happens here is that if someone has been subject to an alcohol interlock condition on their drivers licence, under this legislation once that alcohol interlock condition is removed from their licence they will be subject to a further three years of zero blood alcohol content. That brings those people in line with someone who has lost their licence due to drink driving and is coming back. When a person in that circumstance comes back and gets a new licence, they are also subject to three years of zero blood alcohol. That is consistent. The government says – I think with some justification – that this is about ensuring that the worst offenders are subject to tougher conditions than others on the road, and that is appropriate.
The bill also clarifies a part of the legislation regarding someone who has let their licence expire. Effectively you have a six-month grace period in which you can reapply with no further conditions. The bill clarifies that the zero blood alcohol condition will apply if you have waited longer than six months to renew, but if you are within that six-month grace period, your licence can be renewed without suffering another three years of zero blood alcohol.
Clause 48 extends the use of speed cameras and speed detection devices to bicycles and e-scooters and other vehicles. I was a little bit surprised that that did not already apply. Of course you cannot use a speed camera to send someone a fine because we do not have licence plates on bikes or scooters, but the bill does allow those devices to be used to penalise someone. That might be for speeding. It might sound a bit funny to say that someone could be speeding on a bike, but you can easily get up to 70 kilometres an hour on a bike if you are going downhill, and in a 40-, 50- or 60-kilometres-an-hour zone obviously that would be speeding. The statewide speed limit for e-scooters is 20 kilometres an hour, so scooter riders could be going over. I know members in the chamber will be aware, but if you ever go down Macarthur Street in the morning, just before 9 o’clock – I would be interested to be out there with a speed detection device, because there are some e-scooter riders that head down Macarthur Street at absolute full pelt. I am not giving the Minister for Police or anyone any ideas, but if you are looking for somewhere to go, get out there. That is certainly a place.
Clause 47 of the bill bans e-scooters for use on freeways, which I think is also sensible. Clause 46 is a minor change, but it allows police and PSOs to prevent a person who is incapable of driving from driving any other vehicles. This is, I guess, to clarify the law. Currently when someone is – the term is ‘incapable of driving’, but we will assume that this is from impairment – impaired from either drugs or alcohol or some other issue that may have occurred, police can take the keys effectively and stop them from driving their vehicle. This amendment stops them also from getting into another car or onto a bike or onto an e-scooter or something, whether motorised or not. That ensures that both that person and the general community on the roads are safe as well.
Part 7 corrects an anomaly of the government’s own making, whereby its free rego for apprentices scheme that was introduced on 1 July this year did open up the potential that those apprentices – given they were not paying rego – were also not paying third-party insurance. This amendment corrects that to ensure that those people are covered in the event of an accident. Again, had we had the opportunity to take this bill into consideration in detail, I could have asked the minister. It was on 1 July that policy was introduced. We are nearly into November. I would be interested to know whether, sadly, anyone has had an accident and required coverage from the TAC and not been covered and indeed whether this part of the legislation is retrospective.
There are quite a number of other amendments, some of them relating to the transport sector agencies. These are effectively retrospective changes. The government has been able to make changes and introduce Safe Transport Victoria and change V/Line from a board-managed state-owned enterprise to a statutory authority with a CEO reporting to the secretary of the department. It did that last year and in 2021 with respect to V/Line. They were done under transport restructuring orders under the Transport Integration Act 2010, and now this bill formalises those arrangements in law. In doing so it also repeals certain parts of other acts that are no longer relevant.
I want to particularly pick up on the issue of V/Line, because the change that we are formalising now, as I said, relates specifically to removing the board of V/Line and having the CEO report directly to the transport secretary. At the time this happened, Minister Ben Carroll was the Minister for Public Transport. He issued a media release on 16 June 2021 that said:
The Victorian Government is taking action to ensure V/Line is set up to deliver better services for fast growing regional communities.
Other parts of the release said that ‘the Government wants to ensure we maximise the performance of V/Line’ and that these changes to move from a state-owned enterprise to a statutory authority were about:
… improving oversight and delivery of regional public transport services.
So I had a quick look. Here we are, two-and-a-bit years down the track from that promise, and I had a quick look at the most recent performance figures for V/Line. I see the member for Narracan taking interest in this, because he knows he has plenty of commuters in the Warragul and Drouin areas and in Trafalgar and Yarragon and all those parts that particularly are commuting. The Gippsland line is currently on 79 per cent punctuality, well short of the target punctuality of 92 per cent. In my own area, going to Bairnsdale – so the line from Sale going on to Bairnsdale – it is currently at 82.5 per cent. Normally we have a bit of a fight on the coalition side among us country MPs over who has got the worst performance, but I have got to say – sorry, member for Narracan – that the member for South-West Coast has got us all covered at the moment. Punctuality in September for the Warrnambool line was just 51.2 per cent. Then not far off the member for Narracan and me was the member for Murray Plains, with Swan Hill and Echuca at 75 per cent punctuality, well short of the target of 92 per cent. You can pluck the figures from any month, because there is only one month’s figures each time you go to the website. Sadly for the government, every time I go to the website I can be guaranteed that I will find that the punctuality targets, particularly for the Gippsland line, are not being met.
That is no different today despite the investment that is being made. I note that in that media release and repeatedly the government continues to talk about its big investments in the regional rail network. Well, ‘Thank you very much, Darren Chester’ is what I say, because 80 per cent of the funding comes from the federal government. We see it time and time again. There are billions of dollars being spent on transport infrastructure in Melbourne and it is pretty much all state government, but when it is funding for projects outside of Melbourne, the state government loves to take credit for them, but what does it do? It asks the federal government and in particular the former federal coalition government to actually fund them. Well over 80 per cent of the Regional Rail Revival was funded by Darren Chester as the federal minister for transport infrastructure. The minister who was at the table before, the now Premier, they do not recognise that often. They just say it was our project, but it was in fact the Nationals and Liberals in Canberra that actually made sure that those projects happened, because this government is happy to spend money on the regions but only if it is someone else’s money. It is one thing to talk about all the wonderful things that the government is delivering, but when it comes to regional Victoria and particularly when it comes to V/Line, it is continuing to fail.
There are a couple of other areas that I will just touch on in this legislation. There are multiple minor other amendments, and literally at the back of the bill there are pages and pages of amendments that simply update language and change names that are no longer relevant. There are some amendments that clarify the right of drivers to a review of decisions under the Commercial Passenger Vehicle Industry Act 2017. There are further regulation-making powers under the Marine (Domestic Commercial Vessel National Law Application) Act 2013, and I should acknowledge here that that would actually be the responsibility of the Minister for Ports and Freight and that many of the other issues are the responsibility of the minister for public transport. And the shadow minister in this case is about to get up and give what I think will probably be one of the best speeches you will have heard today. He is going to give an absolute ripper. I am just the warm-up act. I know you are enjoying it over there, but I am just the warm-up act. The Shadow Minister for Public Transport has got more to say. So there is that marine change.
The bill also formally abolishes the infrastructure reference panel under the Road Management Act 2004. This panel, I am told, was actually abolished or disbanded in 2019 and has not met since 2018, but it was a committee effectively to advise governments on changes to particularly roads, to codes of conduct, to codes of practice with respect to road and road making, and it was made up of various different agencies – roads authorities, utility providers, public transport providers. The bill ensures that those organisations and other ministers will still be required to provide feedback to the minister in the making of those codes.
I think I will just touch on it – I have had a lot to say over a long period of time now about the roads – but gee, do we need some better advice on our roads, because the state of the roads in Victoria at the moment is an absolute disgrace. It does not matter where you go. It is sad to say, but some of us in the country are sort of used to it, but now when you are going on our highways and freeways – Acting Speaker Edbrooke, in Frankston only a couple of weeks ago 25 people hit one pothole and blew their tyres in a night. I drove the Western Highway to Ballarat the other day and it is a disgrace. The Hume Freeway from time to time as well when I get up there – these roads are just appalling. The government has failed very dramatically on roads. Not surprisingly, after a 25 per cent budget cut this year and 45 per cent since 2020, our roads are in an absolutely terrible state. The government needs to be doing far more not only in spending but also in the accountability of VicRoads and our contractors to actually make sure they do a good job. But anyway, this bill – there are many things in it – is not being opposed by the opposition, and I look forward to further debate.