The National Road Safety Strategy (NRRS) Inquiry reported that as the NRSS review progressed, it became very apparent that issues around leadership and management were of concern to a large number of stakeholders. The NRSS Inquiry's findings made it clear that "political will at the highest level of government" would be required to address the 'implementation failure' of the previous decade.
Based in part on the NRSS Inquiry's findings, as part of its terms of reference, the committee was tasked with gauging support for the "possible establishment of a future Parliamentary Standing Committee on Road Safety" and seeking stakeholder views on what the functions of such a committee should be.
Overall, submitters were largely very supportive of the establishment of a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Road Safety (Standing Committee).
In expressing its strong support for the establishment of a Standing Committee, the Australasian College of Road Safety (ACRS) for example, argued that:
This would be an entirely appropriate response from the Australian Parliament to the National Inquiry commissioned by the Australian Government, affording the inquiry report, and the response to that report by the Australian Government the significance it deserves. Sustained policy and legislative attention will be required at a parliamentary level if we are to recover from our current performance slump and get road safety on track towards our common goal of eliminating serious road trauma by 2050.
The Australian Automobile Association (AAA) was also "highly supportive of the establishment of a permanent Standing Committee on Road Safety". The AAA argued that:
A permanent Standing Committee could play an important role in improving the transparency of Government action on road safety. With the new NRSS currently under development, a Standing Committee would play an important role in overseeing its development, and ensuring accountability for implementation of measures within the next NRSS.
Role of the Standing Committee
The Australian Road Safety Foundation (ARSF) also indicated its support for the establishment of a Standing Committee on Road Safety. ARSF argued that a Standing Committee, a dedicated Road Safety Minister and the Office of Road Safety (ORS) are "critical to expanding the focus on road safety and the health and wellbeing impacts on the nation" and suggested that a Standing Committee's functions should include:
establishing future national road safety targets;
establishing a national leadership position in relation to road safety and road trauma;
developing scope to ensure accountability for achieving those targets;
exploring systems and initiatives to expand cultural change into the safe systems approach;
establishing greater collaboration with all sectors associated with road safety;
overseeing and enhancing coordination between all levels of government;
ensuring road safety is viewed as a priority across all government sectors;
ensuring overall accountability for the nation's road safety performance;
developing greater integration of road safety and road trauma awareness with greater engagement of the health and education sectors; and
developing Australia's capability to influence road safety in the Asia-Pacific region.
In addition to having a role in promoting collaboration with, and support for state/territory and local government road safety programs, the ACRS argued that a Standing Committee would be supported by those businesses and community interest groups who are concerned about road safety. The ACRS submitted that the following major issues could be incorporated into the Standing Committee's terms of reference:
Investment timelines – short, medium and long-term investment needs in Australia for achieving zero road fatalities and serious injuries by 2050.
Investment decision making processes – the re-orientation of investment decision making processes within the land transport sector to favour road safety: such as a requirement for states and territories to publish safety star ratings for their road networks, or the establishment of a National Road Safety Fund.
Support for new vehicle safety technology – the acceleration of market uptake and regulatory decision making regarding critical new vehicle safety technology, such as matching European regulation of intelligent speed adaptation and autonomous emergency braking.
Address imbalance relative to outcomes – reducing inequalities in road safety outcomes, such as those suffered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups and other geographic, user and socio-economic groups.
In supporting the establishment of a Standing Committee, the Insurance Australia Group (IAG) argued that it would provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to have a say in road safety policy-making, and provide an opportunity for elected officials to hear from experts and constituents in relation to how that policy can be best constructed. A Standing Committee could also play a valuable role in terms of conducting inquiries into specific areas of road safety policy, for example: connected vehicles, vulnerable road users, indigenous road users and urban planning.
The importance of a future Standing Committee taking a bipartisan approach was stressed by submitters. Expressing support for the establishment of a committee, the ACRS argued that the "Standing Committee should actively foster and maintain a bipartisan spirit in its endeavours". It should also:
…be prepared to hold the Australian Government of the day to account for achievement of safety results for the people of Australia. It should also be prepared to engage constructively on legislative and policy proposals from the Government, including providing support for safety focused decisions which may have proved contentious in the past, and promoting collaboration with and support for State Government and Local Government road safety management programs.
The Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) also indicated its support for the establishment of a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Road Safety, and stressed that road safety is a bipartisan issue that requires both national leadership and regular review.
The Australasian Trauma Society (ATS) argued that bipartisan support for the Standing Committee would be required to ensure its success. The group also told the committee that it would support the establishment of a Standing Committee, provided it is given the power to enforce policy change based on appropriate advice from the ORS (and the governance oversight committee of the ORS).
The Australian Road Safety Foundation (ARSF) also pointed to the need for a bipartisan approach – and argued that it will be critical to uniting road safety stakeholders and achieving national leadership in relation to road safety.
Austroads stressed the fact that the responsibility for land transport rests largely with state and territory governments, rather than the Commonwealth. It was submitted, however, that while the Commonwealth does not have primary responsibility for land transport matters, it could "have a leadership role in relation to national road safety". Austroads argued therefore, that the focus for a Commonwealth parliamentary committee should be on:
areas where the Commonwealth has responsibility, including vehicle standards and the adoption and implementation of international treaties relating to road safety; and
identifying areas of successful road safety practice adopted by state, territory or local governments and making recommendations on ways to encourage the adoption of sound road safety practices Australia-wide.
The International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP) told the committee that the measurement and accountability for the achievement of key road safety KPIs over the next ten years will be "critical to ensuring that 400,000 Australians are not killed and injured during that period". The group argued that ensuring that accountability is set at the right level of Government and related stakeholders will require "good governance, transparency of reporting, resourcing, action and measurement of success". In providing its support for the establishment of a Standing Committee to perform this function, iRAP also argued that it would "help ensure that the right level of financial and human resources are mobilised" to work toward improved road safety, noting that:
An important part of this function is to make sure that the 2021-2030 National Road Safety Strategy currently under development includes clear accountability, well defined and measurable targets and a commitment to measure and report on progress. Soft language, unambitious targets and blurred accountabilities must be avoided in the next Strategy. This will simplify the role of the Standing Committee in providing the necessary leadership and oversight of Australia's performance, sharing of success and refocussed action and learnings when performance is poor.
In providing its support for the establishment of a Standing Committee to perform this function, iRAP argued that it would "help ensure that the right level of financial and human resources are mobilised" to work toward improved road safety.
The Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) noted that while the NRSS sets a vision and provides a formal outline of how Australia proposes to address the road safety issue, "there is limited accountability at the national and jurisdictional level to ensure delivery of the strategy and its action plans".
The ARRB submitted that a Standing Committee could:
provide oversight and a degree of accountability to the delivery of road safety;
serve as a mechanism for reporting progress on meeting agreed performance targets;
engage with experts and agencies to seek out best practice and consider implementation to support the national agenda;
commission reports on issues of national relevance.
The ARRB also suggested that a Standing Committee could be set up to mirror – on a national scale – the efforts of the NSW Staysafe Standing Committee, or the Parliamentary Road Safety Committee in Victoria. The Standing Committee could also investigate emerging road safety issues and those issues which may not otherwise receive parliamentary attention.
It was argued that while there are various programs that are working to address the problem of road trauma and promote road safety, there also needs to be greater cooperation across all road safety stakeholder groups to "form a united front to eradicate deaths, illness and injuries on our roads".
The NSW Government argued that Standing Committees can be of genuine assistance to the Parliament in the performance of its functions. It was also argued that committees can increase public awareness and debate on issues under consideration by the Parliament and provide benefit to the community – by reviewing proposed laws, facilitating more informed policy making and ensuring greater government accountability.
Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) pointed to the complexity of working with individual states that have their own ministerial imperatives, and noted that this is particularly difficult when various aspects of road safety are federal, state and territory or local government responsibilities. It was argued, therefore, that one of the things a Standing Committee could achieve would be:
…to actually direct the Office of Road Safety to better coordinate transmission of those effective programs from state to state to make sure that where there is a program that is very effective. For example, child restraint fitting stations in one state could get transmitted and rolled out across other states to stop each state from having to reinvent the wheel and reinvent the wheel in a slightly different way, which may or may not be as effective.
The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) welcomed the introduction of a Standing Committee, particularly if the committee "provides an opportunity for organisations to participate in policy making and to have their views placed on the public record, and considered as part of the decision-making process. It was submitted that the Standing Committee should play a role in:
ensuring that there is national consistency of regulations applying to vehicles, drivers, roads and road infrastructure;
ensuring effective coordination between all departments, agencies and stakeholders.
Recommendations for a different oversight body
The George Institute for Global Health (George Institute) acknowledged that there is currently a gap in road safety oversight, and suggested that it "might be filled by a parliamentary standing committee". It was argued, however, that "better oversight could also be achieved by the establishment of a government appointed body", for example an ombudsman or commissioner.
It was suggested that such a body should sit outside of government and investigate crashes involving all ages and user groups across Australia. The body could also make recommendations to state governments and advocate for resources to address the public health problem of road trauma – potentially seeking funding from organisations such as the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).
The George Institute submitted that a new body could also be charged with the oversight of coordinated, multi-sectoral policies, undertaking forensic analysis of all crash events and making appropriate recommendations to government. The Institute cited as an example a recent report of the Child Death Review Team, which focused on child passenger deaths in NSW. The report provided a detailed forensic analysis of fatalities on our roads, and included a set of recommendations aimed at reducing preventable deaths.
The NRSS Inquiry pointed to stakeholder concerns around both leadership and management, and made it clear that addressing the 'implementation failure' of the previous decade would require "political will at the highest level of government".
The committee has remained mindful of these findings throughout its inquiry, particularly while evaluating stakeholder support for the establishment of a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Road Safety. The committee also sought stakeholder views on the functions this type of committee should fulfil.
The committee was pleased to note that overall, stakeholders support the establishment of a Standing Committee, with several arguing that a parliamentary committee is the most appropriate response to the findings of the NRSS Inquiry Report, and will give the issues the attention and significance they deserve.
The committee notes that stakeholders have clear expectations regarding the role of a Standing Committee. The committee agrees with those stakeholders who stressed the need for any future Standing Committee to take a leadership role, maintain a bipartisan approach to road safety, ensure accountability, and promote better coordination across all jurisdictions and all road safety stakeholder groups.
The committee is also in strong agreement with the view that a future Standing Committee would provide a vehicle for stakeholder groups to have their views (and their expertise) taken into consideration, and to participate in the policy-making process.
The committee does note, however, that there are several obstacles that will need to be overcome to ensure that the Standing Committee is able to operate as a fully functional stakeholder and make a valuable contribution to improving road safety.
It will be important, for example, to establish how a Standing Committee will interact with non-Commonwealth bodies, such as state and local governments to ensure the best outcomes nationally. A clear line of accountability that allows the Standing Committee to oversee the Transport and Infrastructure Council (TIC) would be crucial in ensuring its effectiveness.
The committee recommends the establishment of a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Road Safety.