President’s column

Easter is a popular time for driving long distances to holiday destinations and to visit family and friends. We all long for a happy time, however our risk of being involved in an accident triples in the first 24 hours of the break.

Fortunately, we have come a long way since 1970 when our national road toll for the year hit a record 3,798 deaths. In 2017 it was 1,227 – and our population has grown significantly. But any death rate above zero is still far too high. Decreasing road fatalities and injuries should remain a priority for all levels of government – including ours.

Road safety depends on three things: safe vehicles, driver behaviour and good roads. Some of us can remember the 1970s when States and Territories made it compulsory to install and wear seatbelts, then crumple zones, airbags, ABS, ESC, and many other innovations.

The behaviour of some drivers continues to be a problem, particularly on high speed roads. But such things as random breath testing, speed monitoring cameras and stronger penalties have helped to improve driver behaviour in general, as has better and longer training for new drivers.

Then there are the roads. Local Government is responsible for the upkeep of about 75 per cent of all Australian roads by length. About two-thirds of road deaths happen on rural roads and a good proportion of these deaths are local people on local council roads.

Getting enough funding to maintain let alone improve the roads is a perennial problem. With 11 per cent of our infrastructure in poor or very poor condition, and the post 14/15 drop in Federal Assistance Grants, Local Government struggles to keep up.

This is where funding such as the Federal Government’s Roads to Recovery program is vital. ALGA advocacy has already contributed to extra program funding over this year and the last two, and new funding for bridges. But more Federal support is needed. ALGA’s Federal Budget submission calls for a doubling of Roads to Recovery funding, to effectively maintain current funding levels which will otherwise halve next year.

ALGA has also lobbied for Federal Black Spots funding to be increased and made permanent. ALGA has been involved in the drafting of the revised national Road Safety Action Plan though its involvement with the Road Safety Task Force of Austroads. ALGA also has a seat at the Transport and Infrastructure Council, where it puts the views of Local Government on road safety matters. 

Road safety is a central concern of Local Government and we are always looking to partner with other levels of government to save lives. And when funds are available, we must always find the careful balance between investing in improvements for convenience, productivity and safety.

Keep up the great work, and take care out there.