I rise this evening to speak on the Road Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019. I would like to congratulate Minister Neville and those working for her in both her office and department for bringing this before the Parliament. I know they have invested painstaking time and effort into consulting on, reviewing and developing this legislation over a long period of time.
On an ongoing basis Mr Grimley and I, and of course Derryn Hinch before us, have worked with many stakeholders and other interested parties on the possibility of these kinds of changes to existing laws. That has meant that Mr Grimley and I and our staff have in turn raised a number of issues in detail with Ms Neville’s office both this year and last year on and around this legislation specifically. We have genuinely appreciated those discussions and what has emerged from them. At this point I also want to pay special tribute to Jeynelle Dean-Hayes, who is in the gallery, and her husband, Josh, who, as the minister has noted, are one of the two main inspirations behind this bill. I had the pleasure of standing beside Jeynelle and Josh today along with my colleague Mr Grimley at what was a very emotional doorstop. I sincerely hope that Jeynelle’s message is conveyed far and wide through media so that others driving a motor vehicle will be responsible and think about how their lives can be changed in an instant, which can ultimately end in a terrible tragedy. Jeynelle has been in regular contact with our party, and when I think of her this evening and the loss and trauma that the family have endured, I know she is hoping this legislation will honour her son Tyler’s death and bring about the urgently needed change to current laws. From the moment that her son Tyler Dean was killed in a hit-and-run accident near Winchelsea in 2017 Jeynelle and her family have endured extraordinary heartbreak. They have been through so much, including two exhausting court cases, yet they have never given up. Their resilience, hard work, passion and persistence in Tyler’s honour to instigate some of the changes to Victorian law that are reflected in this bill have been genuinely inspiring to all of us in Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party. I imagine that many others who know them would share that same sentiment as well.
Although it is impossible right now to go through all of their names individually, I also want to thank each and every person who has been in touch with our party in recent years on these dangerous driving issues. Your advocacy around each of your experiences has been very important, not least in relation to our approach to this bill, and we are extremely appreciative of your engagement with us. I will add that I do not know Chloe Dickman personally, but given Ms Neville has nominated her as the other key person on whose experiences this bill is based, I trust that, like Jeynelle and many others, she will also be taking great comfort from seeing this bill reach its final stages and indeed hopefully its passage through the Council tonight. As should now be obvious from everything I have just said, Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party is generally very pleased by the government’s approach to the various matters covered by this bill. We have also made our positions clear on many of these issues a number of times in the past in this place.
On that note, I will move on to various individual elements of the bill itself. I certainly do not intend to cover all of them; however, I will focus on those of most interest and relevance to our party. Foremost among them is the increase in the range of sanctions that can be applied to a person who uses a motor vehicle to commit offences such as murder or attempted murder or to intentionally or recklessly cause serious injury. Not to downplay any of the other sets of circumstances to which this applies, we clearly hope that this may help to reduce hit-and-run driving in Victoria in the future. Hit-and-run driving is a truly sickening and, unfortunately, all too prevalent crime. In fact, I will borrow from the words of Derryn Hinch himself to say that the instigators of hit-and-run incidents are cowards whose lack of compassion towards their victims is despicable. Police records show there were nearly 150 deaths and more than 18 000 injuries from hit-and-run driving in Victoria during the period from 30 June 2000 to 1 July 2019. So anything that can potentially be implemented, such as the changes incorporated in this bill to reduce those types of numbers, is an extremely worthwhile goal which has our support.
That said, it is obviously one thing to introduce these laws and quite another to make sure they are adequately enforced. And I do admit to experiencing some nervousness when I come across terms such as ‘exceptional circumstances’ and ‘a just cause or excuse’ when first looking at this bill and the relevant areas of the acts to which it applies. I do not say that only because those terms immediately remind me of the ‘special reasons’ clause in relation to attacks on emergency services workers, nor because of the general inevitability of unintended consequences in some parts of policy and law when those kinds of phrases are present. I also say it because history has already not been kind to many jurisdictions around the world in their efforts to satisfactorily tackle hit-and-run driving. Unfortunately, and often because of technicalities and escape clauses that are too wide, there has been a very low number of convictions worldwide relative to the numbers of these incidents. And I am not talking simply in respect of drivers there, because typically very few passengers in vehicles involved in hit-and-run incidents have been charged, let alone convicted of any offences either.
Akin to all of that there have also been many longstanding and vexed questions, even about the most appropriate penalties and deterrents for hit-and-run incidents. These debates have been not only around the right levels of maximum jail terms and financial sanctions but also around questions of how these penalties can best be aligned for those who have been charged with drink and drug driving. I also believe, as does my colleague, that the impounding of a vehicle could be seen and used as a deterrent for those who intend to drive unlicensed. If someone who has alcohol and/or illicit drugs in their system knows there is a lesser charge for fleeing the scene of an accident than for causing one while so impaired, then it creates a clear incentive to leave the scene. Accordingly, this has been a problem for lawmakers around the world. Of course evidence-gathering itself and suitable police resourcing for it has also been a common difficulty, and it is an unfortunate reality that many hit-and-run investigations are ultimately closed due to a lack of evidence. On a broadly related theme, we are assuming there is a good reason for this, but until we can work out what it is, we are also surprised, in a Victorian context, that the Transport Accident Commission itself does not even actually keep statistics of hit-and-run incidents here. I am hoping that someone may even interject to tell me what that reason is. For now I will not labour these points any further. Instead I will simply note that these are all topics on which we envisage there will possibly be continued discussions with Ms Neville’s office in the future.
In turning to some other areas of the bill, our party is also supportive of the proposed new immediate licence suspension for excessive speeding. In the area of drug driving there is also a lot to say. We share Minister Pulford’s view that drug driving is a very significant factor in road trauma in Victoria. We also agree with the recently outgoing assistant commissioner for road safety, Stephen Leane, that getting drug drivers off the road will be one of the next decade’s most important and greatest challenges. Whilst I acknowledge the various technical challenges around making the testing as reliable as possible, I am also especially keen to see far more drug driving tests conducted and the power to undertake those tests widened in Victoria Police beyond just highway patrol officers. Having had many interactions on these specific issues with the government both inside and outside this chamber, I now realise they are working very hard toward implementing those two objectives as well.
In a more general context about dangerous driving, I am also heartened to see from recent media reports that one of the points that has arisen in our conversations with the minister’s office, namely the government’s desire to roll out significant new mobile phone detection camera technology, does still look like it is on track for implementation in Victoria soon. This is an area that obviously continues to need intensive effort, and indeed it is worth noting that in recent weeks both Queensland and Western Australia have very substantially increased their fines for drivers caught using mobile phones. That is even in advance of the expected release later this year of the National Transport Commission review on this subject.
That might be the appropriate place for me to come to the end of this speech as I know that there are others who are wishing to also speak to this bill. I will also restate that I believe this Parliament must continue to come together to make further significant enhancements to road safety policies and laws in the near future, particularly in relation to the dreadful scourges of drug driving and mobile phone use. In closing I want to extend my thoughts to all of those who have endured the despair and trauma of deaths or terrible injuries of loved ones in road accidents. I thank the government for devising this legislation and also reaffirm my enormous admiration for those who have personally and so courageously advocated for the very important changes that it contains.