Transcript—Weekend Today Show, Channel 9

Interview

DCI009/2017

07 January 2017

Subjects: Road safety, entitlements

Jayne Azzopardi: Good morning, Minister. Is that where we are at now—does safety have to be bought?

Darren Chester: Good morning, Jayne.

Safety on our roads is a complex equation. It is about safer roads obviously, safer drivers—so taking responsibility for ourselves and making sure we are looking after the people in our vehicles and other road users—but it is also about safer cars and taking advantage of the good technology that is available out there. The comments that I made this week was unfortunately a lot of younger drivers are overrepresented in our accident statistics, and it coincides with a time in their life when they are probably driving the worst car they ever drive. So if we are in a position as parents to give them a little bit of help to get a better and a safer car, I think we can see some benefits in terms of reducing road trauma for younger people in particular. So, the comments weren't meant to be controversial. It was all about explaining the equation between safer drivers, safer roads, and safer cars, because we had a terrible year in 2016 on Australia's roads.

Jayne Azzopardi: You also talked about elderly people, and you said people need to have a tough conversation with their elderly parents about whether they should still be driving. Do elderly drivers figure in the road toll? Are they to blame for these figures?

Darren Chester: No, it's not about—and I do want to change the conversation—it's not about trying to blame older drivers but the numbers are coming through that older drivers are overrepresented in crashes now, and we have an aging population in Australia. So it means we are going to have to work out how we help older drivers still have that independence, still be able to transport themselves around and still be involved in their community life, but if they become a risk on the roads, if their eyesight's failing, or they are physically not capable of driving, we can't pretend it is okay to still have them out there in that unsafe condition. So these are tough conversations we are going to need to have, but at a time when our road toll— our road trauma—increased beyond 1,200 in the last twelve months, we are going to need to have these tough conversations as a community. It may well be that we have to say to our older parents or our grandparents, you really probably have to consider whether you should be driving if you don't actually have the physical capacity to safely manage your vehicle.

Jayne Azzopardi: Now, you are talking about people taking a lot of personal responsibly here. Young drivers, elderly drivers— surely the Government has a role to play too. Should they be putting better facilities in place for older people to have transport? Do we need better roads? What can you do?

Darren Chester: You are spot on. When I talk about responsibility, I'm not just trying to throw it all back on drivers. Governments have responsibilities as well and we shouldn't shirk those responsibilities. We have to build the safest possible roads we can build, and that is why the Government has a $50 billion infrastructure investment programme rolling out right now. So that's important, but as you correctly indicated, if older drivers aren't going to be able to maintain their license then the public transport networks have to step up and make sure they can still be fully involved in community life. So I'm not trying to blame people or portion responsibility to one person over another. The simple fact is too many people are dying and being seriously injured on our roads, and I just don't accept that in 2017 another 1,200 Australians have to die this year. We have to do better, and I think by working together at a community level, working with our police, and working at Government level across state and Federal Government, local Government jurisdictions, I think we can do better in 2017 and I'm determined to do that.

Jayne Azzopardi: Yeah, we certainly do. Look, another issue making headlines today—your colleague, Health Minister Sussan Ley, is under fire for buying a luxury apartment while on a taxpayer funded trip to the Gold Coast. She says it was an impulse purchase and she did nothing wrong. Do you think that's good enough?

Darren Chester: Well, Sussan's made some comments in relation to her travel on that occasion…

Jayne Azzopardi: She hasn't spoken publicly though. She's only issued a statement.

Darren Chester: Well, I have read that statement and I understand from that statement that she indicates that every bit of travel she took was in accordance with the rules as they apply. From my experience of working with Sussan, I find her a very hard working, capable, intelligent Minister who brings a very strong regional perspective to the Federal Cabinet. She is a very highly valued colleague, and I think she has spoken in relation to the travel issue. I would say one other thing though, Jane. One of the great things about the Australian political system is the access that is provided to State and Federal members of Parliament, and Members of Parliament do travel a lot. They do meet with people right around Australia on a daily basis, and that does come at a significant cost so I acknowledge that. But we do travel a lot and that access is something I think which is really important—something that we want to see continue into the future.

Jayne Azzopardi: But you know, this might be within the rules, as was the case with Bronwyn Bishop we saw last year. But just because it is within the rules, does that make it right?

Darren Chester: Well, you're comparing two incidents which I think are quite different. The Bronwyn Bishop incident involved getting a helicopter to fly to a fundraising event, which I think really did stretch the boundaries beyond any credibility in that regard. I think that was clearly one that the Australian public had great concerns about. Now, in relation to Sussan Ley's explanation—she was in Brisbane and she did a media conference where she announced $1.4 billion, I think it was, worth of funding for an important health initiative, and then she indicated she travelled to the Gold Coast and met with stakeholders on the Gold Coast. There is nothing particularly unusual about Ministers travelling a great amount on one day right throughout the year. As I mentioned before, the access that is available and we want to see continue is for Ministers and Federal Members of Parliament to meet with everyday Australians in their own communities rather than having people having to come to see us in Canberra all the time. So I understand the concerns you are raising, but I think the fact that we travel a lot and are available to the Australian public is an important part of our system.

Jayne Azzopardi: Have you ever bought an $800,000 apartment on an impulse purchase?

Darren Chester: No, I haven't, Jayne.

Jayne Azzopardi: Alright. Darren Chester, the Federal Transport Minister. Thanks for joining us this morning.

Darren Chester: All the best, and stay safe on our roads everyone.

Jayne Azzopardi: You too.