Mr GEPP (Northern Victoria) (11:26): I rise to make a contribution on the Transport Legislation Amendment Bill 2020. I will take a little bit of time in the first instance. As Mr Davis has said, whilst the matters contained in the bill are not overly complex, there is actually quite some considerable change that is talked about. So for the benefit of the house, I will spend a little bit of time providing that overview of the acts to be amended and the purposes behind the bill, and then I will confine whatever time I have left to a little bit of the change, because I know that there are other speakers that will cover other aspects of it.
The bill amends eight different acts. There is the Accident Towing Services Act 2007, the Heavy Vehicle National Law Application Act 2013, the Rail Management Act 1996, the Road Management Act 2004, the Road Safety Act 1986, the Transport (Compliance and Miscellaneous) Act 1983, the Transport Integration Act 2010 and the Transport Legislation Amendment Act 2019. The amendments are required, as I said, in terms of the purposes behind the bill in three key areas: to support the implementation of Big Build projects and to fulfil election commitments made by the Andrews Labor government; to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of safety regulation; and, thirdly, to address legal uncertainties and improve administrative processes, and by that I mean make miscellaneous and technical amendments.
So in terms of supporting the implementation of the Big Build projects and the election commitments, the bill before the house today has four key areas: one, to enable local infrastructure built by a state body to be transferred to councils in accordance with the normal split of responsibilities between state and local road managers; secondly, to introduce processes and powers to close private rail crossings; thirdly, to strengthen penalties for breaches of traffic management regulation; and fourthly, to remove doubt that VicTrack can enter long-term leases over Crown land in its management for rail infrastructure related purposes.
Secondly, and referencing back to increasing the efficiency and the effectiveness of safety regulation, the bill will set out to do this by improving the efficiency of the vehicle impoundment scheme; secondly, by providing for zero blood alcohol concentration for all drivers of heavy vehicles; and thirdly, by increasing penalties for unlicensed driving through breaches of interlock conditions and supervising learner drivers. I will come back to this aspect of the bill in the remaining time of my contribution.
Thirdly, as I made reference to earlier, the bill addresses legal uncertainties in improving administrative processes through miscellaneous and technical amendments, including enabling annual fees to be charged in relation to custom plates, and Mr Davis made some comments around that; clarifying the application of demerit point offences to non-Victorian drivers; and finally, providing greater flexibility to regulate emerging types of motorised personal mobility technology through regulations. That provides a very broad overview of the aspects of the bill, and I am pleased to be able to make this contribution here this morning.
I want to focus on the road safety amendments in the bill in particular, and it is particularly timely that I am able to do that because I have just recently been through the Economy and Infrastructure Committee inquiry into the road toll here in Victoria. That work is ongoing, so I will not improperly touch on those aspects of the act or indeed the work that is still ongoing with that inquiry except to say that what we have learned through that inquiry—I think, anyway—is that this is something that we have got to remain vigilant about. We cannot ever take for granted our road toll and think that our work is done.
The road system here in Victoria is arguably our most important piece of infrastructure, and it is used by every Victorian in some way, shape or form. You are just not able to get around or get about without using our very important road system here in Victoria. Of course when it comes to the road toll one death is too many, and it is not just about the deaths. What we learned through that inquiry was about some of the terrible injuries and the long-lasting physical effects that road trauma has on Victorians and Victorian families and indeed the impost that it then puts on our health system et cetera. It just has that ripple effect right across our community.
So I am very pleased to see that this bill continues this government’s commitment to road safety, even while resources have been diverted in the past 10 months or so through the coronavirus pandemic. As I have said, every death or serious injury on our roads has that terrible impact on so many lives. It is just not the people who are physically involved in the crash; it is their loved ones and it is the first responders. You talk to the first responders, as we did through the inquiry, and you hear from them the trauma that they experience, even though they do this professionally for work, and the terrible toll that it takes on them as individuals—not to mention the toll on the long-term carers of those people who are involved in road trauma and who suffer for very many years thereafter.
Victoria has a very strong history of road safety achievements, and I would like to recognise just some of them. Of course we are familiar with them, but if we do not take ourselves back to some of these key important aspects we just sort of forget about them and they become a little bit business as usual. I think it is good to remind ourselves of some of the things that we have done over the journey. We introduced seatbelts and random breath-testing back in the 1970s. We introduced compulsory bike helmets as well as the Transport Accident Commission adverts in the 1990s. Unfortunately I am old enough to remember some of those very graphic TV ads that were nonetheless required to actually bring to the forefront of people’s minds the perils of navigating through our road system. And while there is tremendous benefit that we all get from it, there are potential dangers that are there for us. Of course we have introduced random drug testing, we have reduced speed limits and pleasingly we have introduced the graduated P-plate system throughout the 2000s. In recent years the Andrews Labor government has continued to focus on some of the high-risk behaviour that unfortunately persists in our community. We have all got examples of it in our own local communities where people abuse, if you like, the road system and behave inappropriately, putting themselves at risk but, far worse, putting others at risk—others who are innocent bystanders who will get caught up in the poor behaviour of others. That is why we have done all of those things in the past, and we continue to have that very heavy focus on road safety.
In 2018 mandatory licence disqualification laws were strengthened to include all drink and drug drivers. Last year we passed legislation which bolstered the powers of Victoria Police to immediately remove more dangerous drivers from our roads. These things are not done for any other reason than to keep every road user as safe as we possibly can. Putting people behind the wheel—or the handlebars of a pushbike or a motorbike—of a car or a truck comes with a great deal of responsibility. But as long as we continue to have people die on our roads because of poor driver behaviour, or get injured and suffer lifelong trauma, we cannot rest on our laurels.
For heavy vehicles we have had zero blood alcohol requirements applying to drivers of vehicles greater than 15 tonnes for some time. This bill extends the zero blood alcohol requirements to drivers of vehicles over 4.5 tonnes. It is easy to understand that there is a greater risk of harm if a heavy vehicle crashes. We have all heard the maths on this: the bigger and heavier the two forces that come together, the greater the carnage. Also drivers of these vehicles are commercial drivers, and they do it for a living. That is their occupation. They are on our roads far more frequently than most, and there is no reason in that instance why they should be drinking when they are working. Of course we have got other commercial drivers such as taxi, Uber and courier drivers, and we have seen through the global pandemic the explosion of people working in those occupations. They too are subject to zero blood alcohol content requirements.
We have had alcohol interlocks for drivers getting their licences back, and that has been a successful measure to combat further drink driving. But like all regulation, it is only effective if it is complied with. Breaching those interlock requirements, such as by tampering with the interlock, is unacceptable. It should be seen as a serious offence and treated as such. This bill will increase the maximum court penalty for those sorts of offences. Interlock conditions are a requirement to drive legally, so breaching an interlock condition is effectively unlicensed driving and breaking the law. The bill aligns those penalties with penalties for driving whilst disqualified, with a maximum 240 penalty units, or $40 000, or up to two years imprisonment.
We have also got changes for supervising drivers. Road trauma is one of the leading causes of death amongst our young people, and it is vitally important that when we put our young people on the road they are as safe and as skilled as possible, and a key component of that is providing quality supervision. Learner drivers need a supervisor who adheres to the law and who is not affected by alcohol. Again, this bill will make changes to ensure that any supervising driver who is affected by alcohol and exceeds the .05 will be dealt with accordingly.
Whilst many of the changes in this bill are very commonsense changes—and I was pleased to hear in Mr Davis’s contribution that in essence the opposition will be supporting the bill notwithstanding that they will be seeking a couple of amendments, and the government will respond to that in the committee stage—they are nonetheless very important amendments. I have got colleagues who will be addressing other aspects of the bill, so I will leave my contribution there, but in doing so I commend the bill to the house.