Transcript—ABC 24

Interview

DCI001/2017

01 January 2017

Subjects: Road safety, Infrastructure funding, January 1

Nicholas Harmsen: We're joined by the man calling for change, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester. Minister, happy New Year and good morning.

Darren Chester: Good morning and Happy New Year to you as well.

Nicholas Harmsen: Can you just take us through what's going on here? We've seen great variability in the road tolls between the states in 2016. South Australia is reporting a record low. It seems NSW and Victoria have very high results. What's going on and what can we do about it?

Darren Chester: After decades of improvements in reductions in road trauma in Australia, so since about 1970 where we had more 3,700 people die on our roads, so after decades of improvements, over the last three or four years, we have seen a spike nationally in terms of road trauma. So in terms of fatalities and serious injuries we have seen a national spike, which is of great concern. The worst-affected states have been Victoria and NSW. Queensland and WA as well, South Australia's had a good year but nationally the trend has been very poor and it has been something of great concern to state transport ministers and obviously police commissioners who I've met with in the past 12 months.

Nicholas Harmsen: Now, obviously, a lot of the road safety measures are State Government responsibilities but you have a role here as the - funding the lion's share of infrastructure on the roads. Are we spending enough on appropriate road safety infrastructure measures?

Darren Chester: It is a complex equation, it is about safer roads, safer drivers, it is about safer vehicles, and we need to get all three right. Obviously as the Federal Minister I don’t have direct responsibility for road safety in each jurisdiction but I have made a personal commitment to work with the state ministers and the police to drive down road trauma in each of our states. That is why last year I called a meeting of all the state transport ministers and police senior officers involved and we started working our way through what is it we can do better, are we sharing enough information across jurisdictions, are we investing in the right road safety improvements, what can we be doing more to reduce road trauma? It is something that I think we need to continue that conversation in 2017. I simply don't accept that 1,200 Australians have to die on our roads this year. We can do better than that and we need to work with the community and all levels of government to make that happen.

Nicholas Harmsen: At the moment when a State Government wants to build a road, it puts together a business case, that goes to Infrastructure Australia, where it is assessed and based on benefit cost ratio. Do you think that ratio factors in the cost of road safety and the cost you've mentioned there of road trauma over a long period of time?

Darren Chester: It certainly does factor that in but I think we can give a higher weighting to road safety into the future. Road trauma is costing the governments across Australia in the order of $30 billion per year - that's the economic cost. The social impacts are obviously immeasurable. When one person dies on our roads, it is not just one person affected there is a ripple effect through their family, friends, the community, it flows out across our nation. So more than 1,200 people dying in one year is a tragedy of national proportions and I want to make sure that in 2017, we recommit ourselves as governments but also as individual road-users, that we recommit ourselves to having a safety-first culture on our roads. This is not a game to try and avoid detection by police when you're speeding or you've had too many drinks and try and sneak home on a back road. It's not a game. This is something that we should be working on as individuals, taking our own personal responsibility for actions on the road. It is something I'm keen to pursue this year.

Nicholas Harmsen: You mentioned earlier the age of the vehicle fleet – I think it is about 10 years at the moment, the average age of cars on the roads. What measures are you considering to try and change that and get younger people into safer cars?

Darren Chester: The one thing we are doing at the moment is actually promoting the ANCAP safety ratings, so that particularly parents who may be helping their kids to buy their first car, helping to understand that if you can spend a little bit more and get a car with those safety features the chances of survivability if a crash does occur increases dramatically. It is one of the great ironies I guess of modern life is that the worst car you will ever drive is probably going to be your first car and that is when you are at the highest risk of having an accident.

So we need to try and get our younger people into safer cars to pick up some safety features in cars now for around about $10,000 in the second hand market and you can get some pretty good safety features in those cars. Certainly a new car, $15,000-$20,000, there are a lot of safety features. That is a lot for a lot of families but we need to try and encourage people to purchase those safer vehicles, because in the longer term the benefits to the community is enormous.

Nicholas Harmsen: Is there more the federal government can do? I know that the federal government is being petitioned at the moment to get rid of the luxury car tax, we no longer have – well soon we will no longer have a local car industry to protect. Could that potentially be an area which you could get some of the newer technologies on to our roads faster?

Darren Chester: I think there is always more we can do in this area of public policy. It is a changing environment all the time. I think there is more we can do and we need to make sure that we are working with manufacturers offshore that they send us their safest possible cars. In the past they have been slow to put some of the safety features into Australia, I think we can do more in that regard. We need to promote the purchase of safer vehicles, as I referred to. We need to be working with our state jurisdictions and local councils on our infrastructure spend going towards more safety upgrades. We already have a road Black Spots program, we have got a Roads to Recovery program with local councils, and we have got a $50 billion infrastructure spend under the current Federal Government. So there's a lot of things going on but we need to pull them all together and then accept we have responsibility as drivers. It's about safer drivers in safer cars on safer roads. It's a combination of factors. We can do better than we are doing at the moment.

Nicholas Harmsen: What about driverless car technology? If we look at the US, we see this is all fast approaching with Google and Tesla and all these companies working on driverless technology. Is that something the Federal Government thinks it can play a role in? I know some of the states are looking at different trials.

Darren Chester: Absolutely. The technology is evolving, that's why I referred to before it's changing all the time. I think before we get to the autonomous vehicle, it will be the driver-assisted technology which makes the biggest improvements for us in the next five or ten years. Driverless vehicles are a little bit further down the track than that but there's a lot of technology in new vehicles today that can assist the driver to avoid a crash occurring in the first place. So, again, we need to try and get people into those newer vehicles as quickly as we can, recognising that not everyone can afford a brand new car. But if they get into the second-hand market then perhaps we can see benefits flowing in terms of reductions in road trauma.

Nicholas Harmsen: Minister, it is 1 January. That means a new backpacker tax, 15 cents in the dollar for every dollar earned. What is this going to mean for finding seasonal working in an electorate like yours in Gippsland?

Darren Chester: I think it was a fair compromise in the end. It was a long process and wasn't the prettiest process to watch from the outside as we had that negotiation with the crossbenchers but at 15%, that compares well to other nations which are competing for this holiday workforce. Obviously I'd prefer to see more locals undertaking those jobs in the horticultural sector but the reality is we need a large workforce to get crops off at harvest time and there's no reason why under this new arrangement we won't get a good workforce coming to Australia, doing the job and then getting out exploring the many great parts of our country.

Nicholas Harmsen: Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Darren Chester, thank you for your time.

Darren Chester: Thank you.