Transport Legislation Amendment Bill 2023

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I am proud to contribute to this debate on the Transport Legislation Amendment Bill 2023. Firstly, I would like to thank the Minister for Roads and Road Safety and the Minister for Public and Active Transport for their work on this omnibus bill and for bringing it before the house.

This bill seeks to make a range of improvements in the transport sector. The first section addresses road safety, which is a matter close to my heart. I am a member of the Economy and Infrastructure Committee, and we are currently looking into the issues regarding road safety and specifically the impact of road safety behaviours on vulnerable road users. I would like to thank the other members of our committee – the member for Bellarine, the member for Shepparton and the members for Pascoe Vale, Narracan, Tarneit and Kew – for all the work that they are doing alongside me. I would also like to thank the various stakeholders that have given up their time and provided submissions to the committee and attended the public hearings. We are looking forward to reporting back to the house early next year on what we have seen before that committee.

As has been mentioned, we have got an excellent track record with regard to road safety. We have been leading the nation and the world when it comes to road safety. In the 1970s we were the first jurisdiction in the world to introduce mandatory usage of seatbelts. And something that has been before the committee with regard to that is that we have been seeing quite a bit of people not wearing their seatbelts anymore. Something we have become accustomed to is that nearly everyone should be wearing their seatbelts. Everyone has to wear their seatbelt, and I would like that to be occurring. In 1976 Victoria introduced random breath testing, becoming the first state in Australia to do so. We once again led the world in the 1980s, becoming one of the first jurisdictions to introduce speed cameras. In early 2000 Victoria also introduced mandatory roadside drug tests and the graduated licensing system. All of these policies have made a significant impact on Victorians, saving thousands of lives across the state over several decades. As a state, and I am sure on all sides of politics across the chamber here, these reforms are something that Victorians are grateful for. Improving road safety for drivers, passengers, pedestrians and all Victorians is something to be celebrated, and we should not take that for granted. That is why I am proud to be part of the Allan Labor government – a government that is continuing to introduce new road safety measures so we can continue to prevent deaths and accidents on our roads.

In relation to this specific bill, one of the key reforms is to allow the minister to designate road safety research trials. This is extremely important when it comes to the matter of driving and the use of medicinal cannabis. Once again Victoria led the nation in cannabis reforms in 2016 by becoming the first state to legalise medicinal cannabis under prescription for therapeutic use. This was a huge win for Victorians suffering from illnesses that can be treated by medicinal cannabis, including cancer-related symptoms, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.

However, we are aware that there are issues facing individuals who use medicinal cannabis and who also wish to drive. Under our current presence-based drug-driving laws it is illegal to have any THC detected if you are driving. This is because THC is capable of impairing and intoxicating individuals. It is important to note that THC can be present in some forms of medicinal cannabis. Under the current laws users of medicinal cannabis would be committing an offence by driving if THC was detected in a drug test, even if they were not intoxicated or impaired by the medicine. As a result, many Victorians who need to use medicinal cannabis are faced with a tough decision – having to choose between health care and the ability to drive. We know that doing the right thing by Victorians in this situation is a challenge. We want to be able to make sure that medicinal cannabis users can drive if they are not impaired while at the same time ensuring the safety of other drivers on our roads.

It is why this bill seeks to allow the minister to designate road safety research trials, including a trial to help address this issue. We are wanting to establish a closed-circuit track trial in order to see how THC in medicinal cannabis can impact the performance of drivers and how this may impact increased risks on our roads. Additionally, such a trial would aim to determine the relationship between THC concentrations, road safety risk and driver performance. This trial would occur on a closed-circuit track, separate from public roads, so we do not put any road users in potential danger during the trial. Of course this trial would be operated by professionals ranging from road safety partners, health professionals and independent research organisations in collaboration with the Department of Transport and Planning.

Our government believes in establishing an evidence-based policy position on driving and medicinal cannabis, which is something I strongly support. We can only make policy that balances health and road safety outcomes by following the recommendations of evidence-based research. There will be other research and evidence that will inform policy changes regarding medicinal cannabis and driving on Victoria’s roads, which I look forward to seeing. I am proud to be part of the Allan Labor government, which is addressing the real issues when it comes to health and road safety.

The next section of the bill seeks to address e-scooters and their future in our communities. Through the recent trial we know that e-scooters are becoming a very popular means of transport for Victorians for moving around our community in an active and cost-effective way that also reduces congestion on our roads. We have found that when road rules are followed, e-scooters can be used safely for riders, pedestrians and other road users, and we would love to see their continued use in Melbourne.

However, we have to ensure that e-scooters, as well as e-bikes, do not obstruct footpaths or other public infrastructure. I am sure many of you can remember the oBikes that were introduced in a trial in 2017. They cluttered our footpaths and streets, with dozens and dozens and dozens of oBikes found in the Yarra River, which was a disgrace. We must work to ensure that this situation is not repeated. Considering the e-scooters on trial can also be parked in public spaces, we have to make sure that such problems do not occur. However, we know that there are always instances of e-scooters blocking pathways and other public infrastructure.

That is why we need to make sure that our local councils are equipped with the appropriate powers to take action. This bill seeks to introduce the right for local councils and communities to have a say in what is safe and appropriate for their area when it comes to e-scooters and e-bikes. If required, councils will have the ability to prevent such sharing schemes from operating in their local government area. We are giving the option to local councils so that they are aware that e-scooters and e-bikes may not be suitable for every community. Furthermore, this bill seeks to require the operators of such vehicle-sharing schemes to provide sufficient insurance for riders and others, including passengers. As part of giving councils their own autonomy regarding the presence of e-scooters in their areas, councils can make this insurance a condition of operation in their local government areas. We want to make sure that the use of e-scooters can be safe, effective and fair for all Victorians, and this bill seeks to do exactly that.

When thinking of road safety, I am sure that one thing comes to mind for many Victorians, and that is drink driving. Tragically too many lives are lost on our roads due to people driving under the influence of alcohol. Nobody should ever have to lose their life in this way. Over the years steps have been taken to address drink driving across our state, including the installation of alcohol interlock devices in cars for repeat drink-driving offenders. Another policy in place is the zero blood alcohol content condition for offenders. All drink-driving offenders are subjected to the zero blood alcohol content condition when they return to licensed driving, for a minimum of three years. These measures are in place to ensure the safety of not only the driver but also any passenger on board and everyone else on our roads.

However, the zero blood alcohol content condition and alcohol interlock are applied concurrently. This leads to the most serious drink-driving offenders, after the removal of their alcohol interlock device, spending less time on the zero BAC condition. This stands in contrast to the most effective and logical method to reduce recidivism, and this amendment seeks to address this by requiring the removal of an alcohol interlock device to be accompanied by the imposition of a further zero BAC requirement. We are preventing repeat drink-driving offenders from taking the wheel again before serving an appropriate sentence. Instead of the current arrangement, where the zero BAC requirement is applied concurrently with the alcohol interlock, this period will apply for three years after the device is removed.

The Allan Labor government is taking sensible, logical and proactive action to ensure that our roads are safer for all Victorians. I am proud to be part of a government which is nation leading in roads and transport infrastructure and road safety. This government will always look at ways in which we can improve our road safety standards. We will make continual improvements to our transport infrastructure system through an evidence-based approach. This amendment bill does exactly that, and I commend the bill to the house.

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