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Cindy McLEISH (Eildon) (16:25): From time to time we get to deal with an omnibus bill in the Parliament, and I will note that the Transport Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 we have before us was one that was introduced with a 13-day period of adjournment, not the typical 14, so I think we have done a remarkable job to get up here and be able to present our case as well as we can.
This, as I mentioned, is an omnibus bill, and it deals with quite a number of areas. One of the ones that is actually quite interesting is the setting up of the legal process for the research trial of driving with medicinal cannabis. I will talk about that in a little bit. As we have heard from other speakers, we have got regulation around e-scooter and bicycle share schemes by local councils, and it is interesting how many councils were involved in that – who was driving that and who was not driving that. We have the bus driver accreditation program and governance arrangements for various transport agencies, including V/Line. Certainly we have heard of some of the issues so far from this side of the house with failing and poor V/Line services. We have different road safety reforms about speed cameras and speed detection devices, using them on bikes and e-scooters, and that will allow me to talk in some detail and at some depth about some of the road safety issues that are present in my electorate.
There are a number of another areas, but I am going to start just with the medicinal cannabis. It is quite an interesting situation because it is not like a traditional drug that might be in your system for just a short period of time. So if it is in your system for a longer period and you are not influenced by it and you are pinged for drug driving, so to speak, that does not seem very fair. I think we are very open-minded about this particular part of the legislation that is before us. One of the things that I find quite interesting is this trial would be closed circuit in a controlled driving environment. They will try to work out what that looks like and how that will work, but I was interested that even for off-road we need to make changes to the Road Safety Act 1986 to facilitate this trial. I am very interested in how that might go. Of course, as is very typical, we have got little detail about where, when or how this trial will run, so we would like to know a little bit more about that.
I want to just mention the bus driver accreditation. There is a whole bunch of issues around buses and bus drivers. What this is doing is implementing an accreditation scheme and taking the old scheme from the Transport (Compliance and Miscellaneous) Act 1983 to try and modernise and change the accreditation process. Now, one of the things that the government fails on consistently – and it is absolutely consistently – is consultation and what consultation means and how they do it. Consultation does not mean: we have decided we are going to do this, and here is what is happening. Consultation means going to people – going to those with skin in the game. In this case that is a lot of the bus companies, the networks that are involved in delivering public transport across the board. Now, they did not know. Neither the industry nor the Transport Workers’ Union were consulted about it, and the minister’s office advised that relevant stakeholders – this is what I loved – will be consulted during implementation of the changes. ‘Will be’ is not consultation. The consultation has to happen before so that you get it right the first time. You do not get a little bit into the legislation and think ‘Oops, we’ve made a little bit of a boo-boo here. We need to come and fix it up and bring it back’. You need to get through all of that in the first instance.
We know that the government has a pretty interesting background and history with the bus system and their approach to nationalising it a number of years ago. I know many bus companies in my electorate – I have McKenzie’s, I have Martyrs and we have Ventura in the wider area – were exceptionally concerned about this and the length of the contracts that they were required to take out. If you wanted a longer contract, you had to pretty well hand over all your buses and depots, and that is just so wrong. We have Ventura, who are turning 100 years old next year. They are a private company.
I was pleased to hear the member for Monbulk before talking about what a wonderful service Ventura, the privately operated bus company, gave to her going through the rainforests in the Dandenongs. She made comments particularly about the service operators and the drivers and things like that. Private companies very much pride themselves on how they deliver their transport. I and many people in my electorate have seen these companies grow as family-owned businesses. They have really grown and deliver such a great service, and the drivers are so helpful to everybody. I think the government’s attitude towards the bus companies has been pretty appalling for quite some time now.
I want to mention also the 684 bus service from Eildon to Southern Cross. Again there was poor consultation. The bus used to go from Eildon into Alexandra through many little country towns and down through Healesville and stop at Chirnside, stop at Eastland and stop at East Melbourne at the medical precinct, and this was particularly important for so many people who could alight and go to their specialist appointment. We do not have trains; we rely on the V/Line buses in my electorate. They were looking at terminating that at Lilydale and telling everyone to pop off the bus, get on the train. Now, a lot of people that take that are elderly and really enjoy being able to get on at one stop and off where they need to get off. I FOIed documents from here, and what a letdown it was to get virtually nothing back, not the real assessment of what people on the ground did tell them. I know when they did the assessment it was hard to get the consultation happening in country Victoria in my electorate rather than just at Healesville. We needed it across the Divide, and Carmel Denham from Buxton did a good job in really lobbying to get this changed.
I also want to mention the Road Management Act 2004 and part 5 of the bill here, which refers to the abolition of the infrastructure reference panel, and roads and road safety. For too long the roads in my electorate have been neglected, and they only get fixed when there is commentary on the radio and in the newspapers. And the different companies that fix tyres and wheels tell me how booming their business is because of the shocking state of the roads. You can go anywhere in my electorate and ask those that fix all of the tyres how business is, and they will tell you that because the government completely neglects the roads, business for them is good. But it is not for the people who damage their vehicles. We have had classic cars damaged at $2400 a pop, and they do not get compensation. We have had multiple vehicles on the side of the road, and especially when it is dark and raining you cannot see those potholes.
We have had some work done on the Melba Highway because it has just been so desperately needed, but the Heidelberg-Kinglake Road is a problem and the Whittlesea-Yea Road is a problem, as are Maroondah Highway and Warburton Highway. I have mentioned the Melba Highway, the Goulburn Valley Highway – there are so many roads. The road between Mansfield and Barjarg has had some pretty significant works done recently, and that is long overdue – in fact it is probably from Maindample to Benalla. But when I raise these issues time and time again with the minister I get multiple letters with the same reply. The reply is not very useful when it says ‘We are investing all this money over 10 years’. Well, it is not being invested now. It is all patchwork at the moment. They say they are doing all of this maintenance and repair work, but they are not. It is not evident. It is invisible in my electorate, except in the instances where it is on the front page of the newspapers or it is a story. I think Channel 7 did stories all around the state. Every night they ran a different area with potholes, and I know my electorate was featured quite heavily there.
We have got this money that is back-ended. Now, why is this investment in roads back-ended? We all know why it is back-ended. It is because the government is failing to keep control of its balance sheet. They are failing to make the right investments and manage those investments to keep them in control instead of having them blow out to the extent that they are blowing out. Of course for this government their philosophy is: ‘The project is a little bit overdue. We don’t have enough money here. Let’s just whack on a few more taxes. Let’s hit the businesses a little bit more. Let’s hit ratepayers a little bit more, and for people who are already suffering from the cost of living, let’s make it even harder on them.’ So the government’s way to prosperity, I think, is tax, tax, tax. Well, that does not work, and it is not going to work. I implore the government to look at their budget a little bit more carefully and bring some of that roads investment forward, because in country Victoria we absolutely need that roads investment. It is no good having it in six years time when the roads are in the absolute worst state ever. We need that investment now.