President’s column 9 August 2019

Image shows President David O'Loughlin smiling in front of a black background

Last week on your behalf I attended the meeting of the Transport and Infrastructure Council in Adelaide, at which a major focus was road safety.

Road safety is a vital issue for local government, as we are the owners and managers of over 75% of Australia’s roads by length.

Some 52% of all casualty crashes and 40% of all road deaths occur on local
government roads, and most people who are killed on regional roads are local residents. Local country people on roads they are familiar with – it’s a serious problem.

We know that driving on a local road means the risk of being seriously injured is 1.5 times higher than driving on a state road. This rate increases dramatically in remote areas.

At the Council meeting, I took the opportunity to thank the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and the Assistant Minister for Road Safety, Scott Buchholz, for the Budget announcement of a $50m per annum increase in funding the targeted road safety blackspots program – most of which is directed to councils – and the $100m boost in Roads to Recovery funding. It’s not enough to wipe out our backlog, but we should always be grateful for every dollar of assistance we receive.

The Council was considering a report on the road safety governance arrangements in each jurisdiction and what improvements can be made to help us all achieve the road safety targets governments committed to under the 2011-2020 National Road Safety Strategy.

Nationally, around 1,200 people die in crashes on Australia’s roads annually, while 35,000 are injured and, as a major road owner, Local Government needs to play its part in reducing that unacceptable toll.

One of the key commitments made by all jurisdictions at the meeting, as stated in the meeting communique, was “all jurisdictions will work with local governments to improve engagement and resourcing for road safety.”

I would hope to see that engagement as jurisdictions continue to review road safety capacity to support the delivery of the next National Road Safety Strategy and position Australia to achieve the vision zero target.

I believe that if those jurisdictional reviews include Local Government, as they should, they will reveal limited capacity among most councils for network analysis and safe systems design. In other words, our engineers may be expert at road maintenance and designing for strength and longevity, but are they expert at safe road design?

While we may be responsible for three-quarters of Australia’s roads by length, local councils struggle to do so with just 3.6 percent of the country’s total tax revenue. Funding is a key issue and one I made clear to the meeting. We can’t do this on our own.

Financial issues aside, we should also be playing a key role in engaging our communities on road safety issues.

We always say we are the best connected level of government in the nation – so we are the best placed to share the data with our communities and ask them to join us in a crusade to change local attitudes, to wear the seatbelt, to slow down, to take it easy, not mix alcohol and drugs with driving, and to look out for our mates.

Because no amount of spending on our roads will save our mates, our family, or our neighbours if we don’t all take more care.

I would like to think that all councils could play an active role in drawing together the leaders of their communities – sporting club captains, coaches and board members, members of the Lions and Rotary Clubs, the local chambers of commerce, school principals and student leaders. These leaders of any and all of your respected community organisations, and whoever is well-connected and respected, can look at the statistics in your area and enrol their support in making our road use safer.

And if your local road injuries and fatalities are low, don’t be afraid to celebrate it, or put up an “injury free” counter on the Main Street.

If it’s not low, be prepared to consider a wide range of interactions. Some will need funding, others a consistent and persistent campaign by all of your community leaders to change attitudes. They influence others, and others look up to them for guidance and example.

All of us share the responsibility for improving Australia’s road safety record, and it was important that in light of fatality rates increasing around the nation this year, the Transport and Infrastructure Council agreed to my suggestion that road safety would be a standing item at each future meeting.

Lastly, today I am in Cairns for the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting, at which I’ll be advocating strongly that Local Government stands ready to expand our role as a trusted partner of the States/Territories and Federal Governments.

I’ll update you on the results of the meeting in my column next week.

David O’Loughlin
ALGA President