2017 Australasian Road Safety Conference
11 October 2017
Thank you Lachlan for the invitation, and congratulations to the ACRS for hosting another successful event. My address tonight starts on a bit of a sombre tone and I hope I don't depress you over dinner. But the first point I want to make is that since 1925, 189,000 people have died on Australian roads. Since 1925, 189,000 people have died on Australian roads. That's more than the total servicemen and women who have been killed in all of the conflicts and peacekeeping missions the Australian Defence Force have been involved in. And we do recognise the extraordinary service of the Australian Defence Force and the enormous loss that's been suffered each Anzac Day, each Remembrance Day and, of course, every evening when The Last Post is played at that most sacred of all sites, the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
There are thousands of monuments in our suburbs, in our country towns, which honour the fallen, and also the honour boards in small country halls in just about every town you'll find in regional Australia. So, they remind us of the sacrifice, the service and, of course, the futility of armed conflict. But there are also thousands of even smaller memorials along our roadsides. And I drove past a few of them today as I was driving through regional WA out to York. Small crosses, some of them carrying faded photographs, some of them with stuffed teddies and toys on the roadside, small shrines to lost loved ones. These very personal memorials should remind us of our responsibility to each other every time we get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.
Ladies and gentlemen, my message to you tonight is there's a war on our roads and we have to keep working together to win each of the battles. Like any war, it needs a national focus, it needs a national response, and it needs national leadership. We have to battle together for funds, we have to battle our own internal bureaucratic systems, and we have to battle complacency. On that point, I fear we've become too accepting of the casualties on our roads. We seem almost resigned to the bloodshed. We seem immune to the horrific losses we sustain on a daily basis, and perhaps that comes from the mistaken belief that it won't happen to us, that I'm a good driver, it won't affect me. But as each and every person in this room knows, it affects us all.
As your Minister, it is my job is to go into that federal Cabinet room and argue on your behalf, to advocate on behalf of road safety experts, to make sure our voice is heard in that important room. The point I want to make is that I simply refuse to accept that this is as good as it gets here in Australia. I refuse to accept that up to 1300 Australians have to die each year on our roads. I refuse to accept that tens of thousands of people have to be seriously injured and perhaps maimed for life. I also refuse to accept that our first responders—the ambulance officers, the police, the State Emergency Service volunteers, the CFA—have to endure the trauma of attending these scenes, and then informing the next of kin every day. I urge everyone in this room to feel the same way. If there's one message to remember from my comments here tonight, it's simply this one: never give up. Never give up on the work you are doing in your particular roles.
In a more cheerful vein, can I simply say one other thing: thank you. Thank you so much for the work you've already done. Thank you for the work you're doing today. Thank you for the work you're going to do tomorrow, and more importantly, thank you for the work you're going to do years into the future, because this is a battle that's worth fighting and worth winning. Thank you for not giving up, for continuing to look for the answers, and I know at times it can be frustrating, and if you're anything like me, from time to time you feel like we're not making progress quickly enough. But we do need to reflect from time to time on the successes we have had in this battle. I do share your frustrations, but I want to emphasise that the work you are doing is making a difference and you are saving lives.
To win this war, the challenge is for us to keep working together. We must keep looking for new ideas. We must keep embracing new technology. We must keep sharing our knowledge and our experiences, and, from my perspective, we must keep campaigning for funding where it's needed and keep raising awareness of road safety measures.
There are many, many, many people in this room who are passionate about road safety and dedicate their lives to reducing road trauma, and I just hope that if you've been feeling a bit jaded or frustrated in the past, this conference has actually helped to reignite your passion and hardened your desire to keep making a difference in the work you're doing.
We need to be bold and we need to be courageous if we're going to win the war on our roads. It will take strong leadership. It will take the determination of every one of us in this room and many more. I believe that you're up to the challenge, and I want to work with you to make sure we achieve great things into the future.
Again, thank you for your work, and all the best for the future. Thank you.