Subjects: Road safety, Liberal Party, religious freedom.
DAVID SPEERS: Welcome back to the program. I want to talk a bit of policy for a moment here because today quite a shocking report was made public, an independent review that was commissioned by the Government looking at road safety in Australia. It’s a big deal in a lot of regional areas; a lot of urban areas as well. This report showed that about 12,000 Australians are likely to die on our roads unless more is done by State and Federal governments over the coming years to spend, it’s been recommended, $3 billion a year on road safety and set a new target of zero road deaths by 2050. The report highlighted that the current plan, the ten-year strategy we’re currently in to cut the road toll by 30 per cent by 2020 is not going to be met, that more than 660 people have died on Australian roads this year alone and it’s only September, and that last year there were 1226 road fatalities. I’m joined now by the Shadow Minister for Transport, Anthony Albanese. Thanks very much for your time this afternoon.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks for having me on.
SPEERS: It probably didn’t come as a huge surprise to you, a lot of this, but are there any simple answers to doing more on this front?
ALBANESE: Well there aren’t, but this is a very welcome report. I was the Transport Minister that commissioned the National Road Safety Strategy. And what had occurred over decades, really since seatbelts was the big change that made a difference in reducing the road toll, but year on year for three decades, we had three issues. New technology – seatbelts, ESC, air bags – all making a difference; cars being safer through new technology. The second change of course is better infrastructure – the duplication of the Hume Highway, getting on with the duplication of the Pacific Highway – better roads. The third is driver behaviour – much more consciousness now about things like …
SPEERS: Drinking and speeding?
ALBANESE: All of those things. And people also, I know when I was a kid, having a seatbelt on was something that was optional. Now it always amazed me that when my son or his friends are in the car I would say, ‘you’ve got your belts on?’ I don’t know how they did it in one movement, sit down, and it’s just part of that.
SPEERS: And it’s a cultural norm now.
ALBANESE: And people are conscious of it.
SPEERS: Other driver behaviours change, though. What about texting and fiddling with the mobile phone?
ALBANESE: That has got to be – one of the things that’s occurred over the last two years, is that we’ve seen an increase for the first time. So you see this trend going down and then all of a sudden this spike and it happens to be when smartphones have become more prevalent. People are feeling the need for immediacy in terms of texting or looking at information. Even new technology like some of the, looking at maps where people are going, can be dangerous if people are distracted from looking at the road, instead looking at a device for where they’re driving to.
SPEERS: What’s the rule on that because you know nearly every Uber driver, taxi driver, professional driver has their phone stuck next to the steering wheel and they’re following the maps and taking orders and all that sort of stuff? I mean they’re allowed to do that, presumably?
ALBANESE: In part one of the things that today’s assessment has done is to really take a bit of an assessment. Let’s stop, have a look at why it’s not working and see if we can work (Inaudible). It was commissioned by Darren Chester, the former Transport Minister, and myself and Michael McCormack launched the report jointly today. This is something that isn’t about …
SPEERS: Which is a bit of rare bipartisanship we need.
ALBANESE: Absolutely. And Michael McCormack, I must say, has been very good as the new Minister in being consultative about that and I thank him for it. We had today interestingly – it wasn’t just road and transport experts – some of the people who participated in this report are people who are the parents and relatives of victims of road trauma. And of course every fatality on our road is an absolute tragedy. But it’s not just a tragedy for those people directly, it’s their family, their friends, the whole community can suffer.
SPEERS: So if the texting problem is the one that’s caused a recent spike and we have campaigns – you know ‘Get Your Hand Off It’ is a very successful campaign. There’s fines and so on and penalties in place. Do they need to be really ramped up or do we need to go with some sort of technology to block the use of a mobile phone while you’re in a vehicle?
ALBANESE: I think those issues need to be considered and that’s one of the recommendations. There’s a range of recommendations in the report that need to be examined. I thank you for having us on talking about it today. We want people to have a look at this and we want – myself and Michael McCormack are committed to working together to make sure that we get an outcome.
SPEERS: You’ve got to work with the states too, a lot of this is their jurisdiction.
ALBANESE: Absolutely. The states are responsible for a lot of the legislation and the law enforcement. In particular law enforcement has made an enormous difference.
SPEERS: A couple of other things away from the report there today. You were sitting there in Question Time this afternoon. The questions keep going to the Prime Minister: Why was there a change in the job? His answer today: Get over it. You think there would be Australians who agree that it’s time to get back to some policy?
ALBANESE: Well, there’s probably, maybe, 45 people who might agree in the country. But I think that Australians are entitled to know why it is that Prime Minister Turnbull was replaced. And what is extraordinary is that Scott Morrison, the new Prime Minister, doesn’t seem to know why that has occurred. There are Members of Parliament in the Coalition who are asking us, who are saying around this building – and you would know that David yourself – who were saying we don’t know why all this happened. We had circumstances whereby the Government was putting forward an argument that it was governing well. They can’t have it both ways.
SPEERS: You know though what happened here. There was a significant section of the party that were agitating and pushing and Turnbull couldn’t control it and everything happened the way that it did. It was untenable for him.
ALBANESE: I think there were some people who never saw Malcolm Turnbull as being a legitimate member of the Liberal Party. I think that is part of the problem of what we are dealing with here. If so, they should say that, because I will tell you what that means. What that means is that anyone who doesn’t have hard Right economic and social views isn’t welcome in the modern Liberal Party. If that is the argument, they need to say that and that is one of the reasons why they can’t answer the question.
SPEERS: But will Labor be getting over it? Or will you keep going with this line of questioning?
ALBANESE: We will continue to pursue the issues of the dysfunction because the dysfunction has an impact. It’s not a matter of who is sitting in the top chair. It is a matter of whether the Government can function or not and what we have seen as well, and I asked a question in the Parliament about the leaks of infrastructure investment, about a whole range of the other leaks as well about Catholic schools, the leaks with regard to discussions between the now Prime Minister and the Tasmanian Treasurer. All of these issues are having an impact. Take the infrastructure one. What we know now is the Government allocated $7.6 billion to various infrastructure projects in the Budget in May, but they are not telling anyone about it and they are not getting on with it. But why is it? Now we know for example there is $3.5 billion that has been allocated for Western Sydney Rail through Badgerys Creek Airport. Why isn’t that commencing so that people can actually … .
SPEERS: You guys never took a decision and held off the announcement?
ALBANESE: What we didn’t have David is this sort of massive leak whereby you have had the entire infrastructure program that the Government has set between the Budget and election day leaked out there.
SPEERS: All right. Let me just finally ask you about another theme that we heard from Scott Morrison today. He said in Question Time we are standing up for those people of faith and belief in this country and only this Government could be guaranteed to protect it. Do you get the feeling that this Prime Minister is going to be using faith and religion as, I don’t know, a political weapon, but certainly something to distinguish the Government from the Opposition?
ALBANESE: Well I hope not David, because Australia is a secular country and we have had a separation of church and state. It is a very fundamental principle that we have in this country. I respect people of whatever faith they have and I’ve been a strong advocate for example, a consistent advocate, not always agreed to by people who I usually agree with in my party, about conscience votes for example. But the idea that one side of politics has a monopoly on faith, I think people of faith know that that is a nonsense.
SPEERS: Do you agree with the need for tougher religious protections?
ALBANESE: Well, I think you have got to make a case for what the problem is before you search for a solution. In this country what I recognise as one of our great strengths is that in my local community you have people who visit churches, both Catholic, Orthodox of various persuasions; you have mosques; you have a synagogue, and everyone is able to practice their religion I think in absolute freedom.
SPEERS: Anthony Albanese, thanks very much for joining us.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.