President’s Column – 13 December 2019

ALGA President David O'Loughlin gestures at a lectern

Road safety is a hot button issue at this time of year,  and on Tuesday I participated in the Deputy Prime Minister’s roundtable on Local Government and road safety, convened in Brisbane and also attended by the Assistant Minister for Road Safety, Scott Buchholz. 

There were around 30 participants invited including the LGAQ, elected representatives and officers from five councils, road safety experts, Austroads and Australian Road Research Board, police, RACQ, Agforce, and the insurance industry.

It was a chance to highlight to the Deputy Prime Minister opportunities to work with and support Local Government to improve road safety rates. 

As the level of government with responsibility for 75 percent of Australia’s roads by length – but with access to just 3.5 percent of the tax revenue – we face a major challenge in addressing safety on our roads.

But it’s a responsibility we cannot ignore, as too many crashes occur on our local roads, while the risk of being seriously injured on our roads is 50 percent higher than driving on a state road.

We need to step up and do more, but we also need more support – a fact explicitly acknowledged by the Commonwealth and the States and Territories at the recent meeting of Transport Ministers last month.       

We explained to the Deputy Prime Minister facts including that most Councils struggle to just maintain their road networks, let alone widening shoulders, installing rumble strips, run-off barriers or clearing vegetation.

We asked for better data at the local level to help councils see the scale and locations of road crashes – and those causing serious injuries not just fatalities – so we can shape our expenditure accordingly.  And we highlighted the challenges in attracting and retaining engineering expertise for many councils.

I appreciated that the Deputy Prime Minister confirmed the Commonwealth has heard Local Government’s call for more support, including last month at our National Local Roads and Transport Congress in South Australia.

The Deputy Prime Minister said the National Road Safety Strategy inquiry and the Review of National Road Safety Governance showed some local councils are struggling with road safety.

“Smaller councils often struggle to ensure they have the capability or access to expertise to improve road infrastructure for safer local roads,” he said.

As the Deputy Prime Minister said, there are success stories including the Roads to Recovery Program, but more can be done, and it requires efforts by all three levels of government.

The Commonwealth is clearly committed to working with us to improve road safety in every council, but each of us will have to accept the challenge of making road safety a greater priority at the local level.

That means being more receptive to adopting the good ideas which other councils come up with, and engaging more frankly with our communities about whether what we are currently doing is enough, and what else could be done locally.

Leadership is needed if we are to break through on this issue – and breakthrough we must because fatalities are not reducing and serious injuries are actually increasing. 

Many councils will put out a road safety message in the leadup to Christmas urging our residents to drive safely.

Let’s back those messages up with a commitment to take real action over the coming 12 months and beyond to move our communities towards the goal of zero deaths, and a major reduction in serious injuries from road crashes.

Road safety starts at home, and virtually every road journey starts and ends on our roads, local government roads.

David O’Loughlin

ALGA President