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PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2011 17:44 
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The Age [AUST] here
The Age - is state political editor. - September 8, 2011
wrote:
Populist speed camera stance leaves Coalition in a jam [AUST]
Josh Gordon is state political editor. - September 8, 2011

Opinion
OUR hatred of speed cameras is irrational, yet understandable. They stand guard over our roads like empty Ned Kelly helmets from a Sidney Nolan painting. They have power to impose seemingly unreasonable penalties for minor lapses, yet they are automatons, impossible to reason with. They make no distinction between rich and poor, and no allowances for extenuating circumstances. Nor do they offer judgment on good or bad driving.

In short, they are an easy target, one the state Coalition was only too happy to cynically exploit in opposition in a classic example of hip-pocket politics. In 2009, the then shadow and now Minister for Roads, Terry Mulder, said speed cameras represented a ''treasured pot of gold for John Brumby''.

During last year's election campaign, Ted Baillieu promised a government led by him would regularly publish details of mobile speed camera locations, while hinting there were serious questions about their placement being linked to raising revenue.
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In December, after the Coalition's election win, Police Minister Peter Ryan ordered the Justice Department to shelve plans to switch on 32 new cameras, saying he did not want any more activated until ''we deal with the actual use of the cameras and their place in things''.

Then in January the government announced it would publish online a weekly roster of potential mobile camera sites.

In August the Coalition introduced legislation to establish a new public office: Road Safety Camera Commissioner. As pointed out by Broadmeadows MP Frank McGuire, the purpose was not to boost road safety, or to change driver behaviour or to save lives. ''The commissioner is a part-time officer who will conduct reviews and assessments, undertake investigations and receive complaints,'' McGuire told Parliament. ''This is the Baillieu-Ryan regime's grand plan on road safety.''

All of this seemed to create a sense that the Coalition was firmly on the side of motorists when it came to cameras. Then, quite suddenly, its attitude changed. Late last week Ryan announced that the 32 cameras placed in limbo would be switched on, and did not rule out the possibility of more cameras. ''As to whether we ultimately get more, that's something that I will receive material from the police about from time to time, and I will consider that on its merits,'' he said.

What changed? The problem - something Ryan is no doubt now coming to grips with - is that speed cameras might be unpopular, but all the evidence suggests they work. As a report last week by Auditor-General Des Pearson makes clear, there is no evidence Victoria's 328 camera sites are primarily used to raise revenue, and strong evidence to suggest they prevent death and serious injury, saving Victoria billions of dollars in the process. A study of 77 camera sites by the Monash University Accident Research Centre concluded that cameras led to an average 47 per cent drop in the number of casualty crashes. That translates to 17 fewer crashes causing death or serious injury and 36 fewer minor injury crashes per year.

Last year, 288 people died on Victorian roads. Once you consider the broader costs such as lost earnings, road crashes are estimated to cost the community $3.8 billion.

To put this in perspective, the government raised $211 million from speed and red light cameras in 2009-10, equivalent to just 0.47 per cent of total revenue and down from 0.5 per cent previously.

None of these findings are particularly new. As pointed out by McGuire last week in Parliament, in 2006 then auditor-general Wayne Cameron reached a similar conclusion to Pearson, finding there was ''strong evidence'' that speed cameras ''are primarily directed at reducing road trauma rather than raising revenue''.

At the time, Treasurer Kim Wells (then shadow police minister) was far from convinced, saying the report was ''inconclusive'' and that the Liberal Party still believed cameras were being used to raise revenue.

All of this places the government in a sticky situation, having created the impression it will adopt a more lenient approach favouring motorists. Not only did last week's audit report provide more evidence that speed cameras work, it even suggested that the Baillieu government's decision to publish details of their locations each week could increase the likelihood of accidents ''given the connection between speeding and road trauma''.

This is the burden of populist politics. Matters that seem so clear and simple in opposition, and which readily win the applause of commentators and voters, can prove much more nuanced in government. Another example of this sort is unfolding around the government's vaunted scientific trial of alpine cattle grazing. A politically beneficial promise to restore grazing rights to the Alpine National Park for mountain cattlemen appears to be stalled while the government scrambles to gather evidence to justify its spurious claim that the trial was being conducted for scientific purposes.

As for speed cameras, Ryan is now promising to consider the auditor's recommendation that the government reconsider its policy to publish locations of cameras weekly, calling it a ''question of balance''. This raises the question: what then are we weighing up?

The moral is that something as serious as road safety should be placed above politics, however much motorists detest speed cameras.

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