04 September 2023
I thank the member for Barker for this important motion. This motion feels particularly pertinent for me today as last Thursday four lives were tragically lost at a dangerous intersection on the Hume Freeway in Chiltern in my electorate of Indi. Ten crashes have taken place at this intersection in the last 10 years, including four serious collisions. The most recent crash has sent shock waves through the small town of Chiltern, and my thoughts are with the families of those lost, who I understand come from the member for Riverina’s electorate. I pay my deepest sympathy to him and his people.
It’s not just the families of those who are lost. There was the truck driver and the local emergency workers who were first responders to this horrific accident. It is so important that we make our roads safer for businesses, for individuals and for our community to get to work, to export our goods, to visit family, to go to the local pub for dinner, to get the kids to sport. Our roads are crucial for us to live our lives in rural and regional Australia, and they are critical in times of emergencies. But, with such long stretches and frequent use, sadly rural and regional roads are more likely to see fatalities and serious injuries occur from car accidents than metropolitan areas. The Australian Road Deaths Database, a national crash database, demonstrates that approximately two-thirds of road deaths occur in regional and remote areas, with one-third occurring in a major city area. These proportions have not changed over the last decade. The managing director of the Australian Automobile Association, Michael Bradley, has said, ‘We need to understand the factors causing this metro-regional disparity and greater Commonwealth road safety leadership through improved data collection is the key to making this possible.’
In Indi, some rural areas have higher accident rates than others. In 2021, Murrindindi Shire Council conducted a road trauma study which found that from 2010 to 2019 they had the highest number of road fatalities compared to other small rural shires in Victoria.
Despite high road tolls, rural councils don’t have a large amount of revenue to cover the cost to construct, maintain and upgrade the roads. The average income for an Indi local council is only about 16 per cent of the average income for a Melbourne local council even though our local councils are responsible for thousands more kilometres of roads and many more bridges. And, after three years of high rainfall and significant flood events which have caused extensive damage, our roads are worse than ever. In my 30-plus years of living in the electorate of Indi I have never seen our roads this bad. Bridges and culverts are completely washed away, causing lengthy detours. The potholes are bone rattling. When I’m driving across the electorate I’m on high alert for a blown tire or even a broken axle.
The work already carried out to fix the roads and all the work that still lies ahead is enormous. More than inconvenience and frustration, these terrible road conditions are dangerous. Constituents are writing to my office weekly with stories of near misses. A farmer from Glenburn called Dean contacted me over the weekend about a half-metre deep pothole on a blind bend on the Melba Highway. He said a trailer’s axle snapped going over the pothole. If another car was in the wrong place at the wrong time, it could have caused a serious or fatal accident.
The Black Spot Program is a critical program to improve safety on roads where there is a history of accidents, but, like the member for Bendigo has just stated, we shouldn’t have to wait till fatalities occur before we get action. Since 2014 the Black Spot Program has provided almost $6 million to Indi councils to undertake critical work to improve road safety—install safety barriers, re-mark lines for foggy conditions, seal shoulders and install flashing warning lights. I support the member for Barker’s calls to make sure this program is accessible to local governments to help them make our roads safer. One way to do this is to support local councils to conduct the road safety audit that’s required to apply for the program. These audits are expensive, but, as I said earlier, we need more data to identify where and why fatalities are occurring on our rural and regional roads, because without knowing that information, without getting that information right, we can’t even begin to start the fix and make them safer.
We can all agree that we want to see the road toll go down to zero. Building better roads is a key part of this. The Black Spot Program is a crucial part of the puzzle. But our local governments need ongoing support from government at all levels but at the federal level on this program.