Road Safety Amendment (Automated Vehicles) Bill 2017

Mr O'Sullivan— It gives me great pleasure today to rise and speak on the Road Safety Amendment (Automated Vehicles) Bill 2017. Road safety is something that is very dear to my heart. I have said quite a bit in this place about the condition of regional roads, and I will go into some of that again today. In terms of this bill, it is focusing on introducing a regulatory framework to support and monitor trials of automated vehicles on Victorian roads, which preserves the safety of all road users. This is certainly an interesting topic. I am on a committee that is currently looking at electric vehicles in this state and more generally. The committee has had quite a few witnesses come in and provide evidence in relation to automated vehicles. We met just last week and it was one of the more fascinating days I have had as part of the committee, listening to all the different views on automated or electric vehicles in particular.

One particular example came from La Trobe University in terms of operating a fully automated electric bus transporting students from one part of the campus to another. That was a fascinating topic in terms of how it is going, and there were many questions asked about how that actually operates and what safety procedures are in place in relation to that particular automated electric bus. It operates with a whole range of sensors and cameras which provide real-time information back to the computer system in terms of what is happening around the bus as it is moving from one area to the other. I think it is a loop of about 2.3 kilometres from one part of the campus to the other. They are conducting trials now, and over the next few months those trials will be escalating and, providing that all the trials go to plan, that might be fully operable later in the year. We were invited out to La Trobe University to have a look at that, and that is something that some of the committee members may well do. There was a lot of interest around that in the committee. It was fascinating.

Another part of that inquiry into electric vehicles that is interesting from my point of view and from a regional point of view is that I think electric vehicles are probably precursors to where we end up down the track in terms of automated vehicles. There is no doubt that if you look at history in terms of the evolution of transport, going towards electric and then automated vehicles is probably inevitable in the next few years or few decades or however long it takes, and I think we need to make sure that we get the technology right before we roll that out. We have seen examples from some of the well-known companies that are trialling it, whether that be Tesla or Google, and I am sure there are a whole range of others as well. Those technologies will improve year on year, and I have no doubt that we will get to a point where that will certainly be the case.

A cousin of mine who recently bought a new vehicle made the comment to me that he does not believe he will ever again buy a vehicle that has an internal combustion engine in it. He suspects that the next vehicle he will buy brand-new will be an electric vehicle. That may well be the case. We know that there are a significant number of electric vehicles around now, and one of the challenges is around the charging points. As we know, you can charge many of those vehicles in your home or you can charge them at your place of work. If you are travelling from point A to point B, there are charging stations along certain highways where you can pull up and charge. In terms of charging, one of the debating points is about the time it takes to charge. Some of them take 10 hours to charge. If you are staying overnight, that might work for you, or if you are at work, but there are charging stations now where you can do it in a much quicker time frame than that. They think they will get to the point where through a supercharging station you might be able to get a range of some 400 kilometres from a charge of about 5 to 10 minutes. That is an interesting future in terms of where we are going with electric vehicles. At some stage no doubt automated vehicles will also come along. I look forward to being part of that inquiry and maybe our committee might look at automated vehicles in the future, but that would be in the future.

The area I do want to talk about in some detail is the issue of road safety. As we know, out in regional Victoria the statistics for fatalities from road accidents are disproportionate to the statistics for the population in Melbourne, for example. What we have seen in regional Victoria is quite disappointing. The roads have been deteriorating, and in some cases they are certainly getting worse. The current government cut the country roads and bridges program which saw each regional council receive $1 million in funding that they could use at their discretion to upgrade roads or bridges in their municipality. The government decided that they did not want to continue that. I guess we have probably seen that money filtered back into Melbourne.

Mr Ondarchie, I am glad you mentioned Mulgrave. That is a point I will be coming to very, very shortly. What we have seen through this government is that they tend to like to spend money in Melbourne and they tend to ignore whatever happens beyond the tram tracks. The Labor government said they would replace the country roads and bridges program with something they could brand their own. They did that. They called it the Labor country bridges program. That was an interesting program. On the surface it sounded like a good program: the Labor country roads program. Sometimes you need to look at the detail of this government's projects, because they love a glossy headline, but as all Victorians have got to know, you need to dig a bit deeper to find out what is a really going on. You need to look past the glossy headlines that they like to throw around. There were 48 projects they rolled out in relation to that program, which sounds great, but when you look at it, 10 of those projects were in the Assembly electorate of Mulgrave.

Mr Morris — That's not the country.

Mr O'Sullivan— Mr Morris makes a great point. I do not know the geography of Melbourne very well, but Mulgrave, and others in the chamber might be able to help me, is a suburb of Melbourne, isn't it?

It is. It is not far from here. It is only, what, 10 or 15 kilometres down the road. I find it very interesting that they can justify spending the money on 10 of those projects out of 48 in the single electorate of Mulgrave. What I found even more intriguing was when I looked a bit deeper into that and wondered, 'Well, is Mulgrave a marginal seat or something like that? Is there an extensive array of works that needs to be done in that seat?', from the research I did it did not appear so. So I thought to myself, 'Why is that?'. And then I looked at who the sitting member is, and I thought, 'Hello, that might explain a few things'. It is actually the Premier himself.

Daniel Andrews is the member for Mulgrave and he obviously decided. He banged the table with his finger and said, 'I want that money spent in my electorate of Mulgrave'. And he said, 'I don't care where the money comes from. Just take it from the country roads and bridges program', which is obviously what has happened. It is the case that that money, which should have been spent in country areas, has been spent in the Premier's own seat of Mulgrave, which is only 10 or 15 kilometres from the CBD. Country people were outraged when they learned that the Premier was spending money that should be spent in the country in his own electorate. Country people say, 'Well, hang on, why are they doing that when the roads in the regions are starting to fall apart?'. There are potholes, the shoulders are starting to crumble and we have seen much damage happen to cars when they are driving along and hit one of these potholes that has not been fixed. They get damage to their car, whether it blows a tyre, cracks a rim or does damage to the suspension. In some cases we have seen thousands of dollars worth of repairs to these cars when they have experienced damage as a result of the potholes.

Just more recently we have seen the rollout of the wire rope barriers, which has been fascinating. I was at the Seymour expo over the weekend and there was a petition. People were flocking in droves to sign the petition in relation to the wire rope barriers. Everyone just kept saying, 'Why are they doing this? Why are they doing it? It's absolutely ridiculous'. I kept explaining to people and was actually defending the program by saying, 'They save lives when they are installed properly in the right spots', and that is absolutely true. But unfortunately too often we have seen that this program seems to have been rushed and has been rolled out in the incorrect spots. Wire rope barriers are being rolled out so close to the highway in some instances that if you pull up in a car alongside the wire rope barrier, half of your car will actually be on the road. God help anyone who has to get out and change a tyre in that situation. You would be out on the road itself with cars whizzing past, which actually makes it more dangerous, which is not the purpose of the program.

What was even more interesting was that in one case on the Hume Freeway there were three wire rope barriers between two roads. There was one next to the highway on that side, there was one on this side and there was one in the middle. I do not think we need three. One down the middle probably would have been sufficient. That is very interesting because there has been a lot of discussion about the wire rope barriers. What did the Minister for Roads and Road Safety say about it? He said, 'Anyone who criticises the rollout of the wire rope barriers is a dingbat'. He also said they were nothing more than banjo-playing conspirators. I just think it is absolutely outrageous that the minister would say that.

What is even more interesting is that down in Mr Morris's area, the mayor of Corangamite raised with the minister when the minister was down there the fact that the country roads and bridges program had been cut, and she said that had been detrimental to the roads and the replacement money had been insufficient in terms of maintaining the roads down there. What did the minister say to the mayor of Corangamite? He said, 'It's better than a kick in the dick'. Excuse me for using that language, but that is a direct quote of what the minister said to the mayor of Corangamite. That is actually disgusting.

What is more disgusting about that is that the minister, when he was asked a question about this in question time in the other place just today, said, 'Yes, I used the wrong word. I should have said, “It's better than a kick in the head”'. That is what the minister said in question time today. That is absolutely disgusting. The minister is advocating for violence in the community, which is a real problem. It is absolutely disgusting that we have got a minister of the Crown coming out and using that language, saying, 'It's better than a kick in the head'. It is absolutely disgraceful. The Minister for Roads and Road Safety should resign. It is an absolute disgrace.

That is just a part of why regional Victorians have so little confidence in this government on a whole range of fronts, let alone road maintenance and road safety. When you have a minister saying those sorts of things it is absolutely outrageous.

What is even more interesting is that after the minister said that anyone who criticises the rollout of the wire rope barriers is a dingbat and that they are banjo-playing conspirators, he has now done a complete turnaround and has decided that we need to have a review. So finally, after three weeks of campaigning very hard around the state the minister has listened to all of the campaigning and all of the views and voices of the people of regional Victoria and the people on this side of the house, who have been speaking out against this program, saying we need to halt it, we need to do a review and we need to do it properly. There is no doubt that wire rope barriers have a place along our roadways, but it needs to be done properly.

Something that people on this side of the house will certainly look forward to is that when there is a change of government on 24 November this year finally regional Victorians will be able to get some sort of comfort in relation to being able to look at a minister who is going to take them seriously and look at road safety and do it properly in the first place. That is all we ask: that regional Victorians get their fair share of the road funding — because clearly they do not get it under this government — and that any road maintenance that is done and any roadworks that are done are actually done properly.

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