Published on February 1st, 2016 | by Eva Cripps
WHAT’S TAC DOING WITH YOUR MOTORCYCLE LEVY?
How transparent is TAC with your motorcycle levy? Not at all.
Road safety remains a hot topic. Sensationalist media headlines promote road carnage and killer speed as though the industry survival depends on the gruesome reporting of preventable and tragic deaths. The summer months, in particular, bring out all the usual protagonists with calls for lower speed limits, greater penalties for hoons and more drug testing. The general public, confident the government and police have their best interests at heart, explode in rage at any suggestion of a misplaced policy or revenue raising. They burst with anger at the thought of their neighbour exceeding the speed limit by three kilometres per hour. Road safety sells. It makes money. It’s good for the media business.
While public shows of bloody faces, broken bones and grieving relatives is good for the media, the Victorian Transport Accident Commission (TAC) must think that its motorcycle road safety responsibilities stop with whatever the media churns out; at least that is one of the conclusions one must draw from the woefully inadequate practical steps it and other road safety agencies are actually taking to effectively address motorcycle accidents and fatalities.
Documents obtained under Victorian freedom of information (FoI) laws reveal a number of startling and highly concerning omissions with regards to oversight, governance and accountability when it comes to both motorcycle road safety, and more gravely, the management and disbursement of the Motorcycle Safety Levy.
If Government rhetoric is to be believed, motorcycles are a huge issue for road safety agencies. It stands to reason that it would therefore have in place strategic, long term and properly governed motorcycle safety initiatives. Yet the documents from TAC, including minutes from the Motorcycle Advisory Group, managed by VicRoads, reveal that general motorcycle policy, happily endorsed by TAC, not only goes against the body of motorcycle safety research and evidence, but in some cases actually puts motorcyclists in greater danger.
Of course, the suggestion that TAC does not actually concern itself with the safety of motorcyclists sounds ludicrously absurd. It simply does not make sense for a government organisation – tasked with paying benefits to people injured in transport accidents, developing campaigns to increase awareness of road safety issues, charged with engendering behavioural change and reducing the incidence of road trauma – to take no real, workable and tangible steps to reduce the road toll. Likewise, it does not make sense for the other State Government agencies who concern themselves with road safety, like VicRoads, Victoria Police and the Department of Justice, to fail to establish a program and policy that is workable.
Yet this is demonstrably the case. The key mechanism for discussion, consultation and stakeholder engagement for motorcyclists in Victoria is through the Motorcycle Advisory Group. Likewise, the Motorcycle Advisory Group, as determined in its terms of reference, was tasked with providing ‘advice on the Strategic Guide to Expenditure and advice on program guidelines for projects’. Surprisingly, TAC only held copies of minutes for two meetings of MAG from the period 30 December 2012 to 31 May 2015 – these meetings were held on 7 February 2013 and 29 May 2014, with an agenda available for a meeting supposedly held on 26 November 2014.
Only two conclusions can be drawn from this: that almost no meetings of MAG were held in the two and a half years comprising the FoI request, or that TAC, a government organisation entrusted with public funds, has such woefully inadequate records management systems, important formal and final documents related to motorcycle safety and the expenditure of the Motorcycle Safety Levy cannot be found. Either option is unacceptable.
In particular, the lack of publicly available information in regards to the Motorcycle Safety Levy is disturbing. The Levy is collected as part of the TAC premiums for certain motorcycle classes. It is to go ‘directly to initiatives to improve the safety of riders. These initiatives include on-road and non-road related projects’. The specified purpose of the funds provides an obligation on TAC to ensure the funds are only disbursed in accordance with the purpose of the fund. However, according to the TAC 2014-15 Annual Report, the program expenditure is developed by the MAG, and is administered by VicRoads, which seeks reimbursement of funds spent from TAC.
This convoluted and apparently too-complex-to-keep-records-of process is so poorly governed, TAC was unable to identify any documents in relation to a formal process for how Levy funds are spent. It was also unable to locate a copy of the Strategic Guide to Expenditure – the document meant to govern how Levy funds are disbursed.
Is this to mean that TAC simply hands Levy funds over to VicRoads with careless abandon as to what the funds are spent on?
The often-heard criticisms of TAC, VicRoads, and other ‘safety agencies’ are well-founded. Despite MAG’s intended aim of providing a process for consultation and discussion, the documents obtained under FoI show that key motorcycle stakeholders are ignored, if they are able to speak at all. It is nothing more than a pseudo consultative process where VicRoads and TAC promote cherry-picked research to support pre-determined outcomes – many to the detriment of motorcyclist safety.
The types of policies coming out of the so-called safety agencies are dangerous. VicRoads fierce opposition to legalised motorcycle filtering led the former Minister to make absurd claims about the dangers of a safe practice. Thankfully a new Government demonstrated a commitment to motorcyclist safety and implemented filtering in November 2015. However, another dangerous and ill-advised policy, mandatory hi-visibility vests for learner motorcyclists, became law, in direct opposition to the wealth of research showing safety benefits were negligible, and in certain conditions could actually put a motorcyclist in greater danger.
The MAG minutes reveal a further policy being pushed by the so-called ‘safety agencies’; mandatory boots for motorcyclists – with a bizarre notion of a ‘simple definition’ of a boot to overcome the unworkable nature of mandating such a thing, and ignoring the potential dangers of certain types of boots, eg, steel toe cap, to motorcyclists.
Behind the scenes at TAC and VicRoads, bureaucrats appear to be steadily working away, devising and implementing more ways to harm motorcyclists. Working away, without any proper consultation, stakeholder engagement, or regard for evidence-based research at all. This is in stark contrast to the New South Wales Government who are working closely with stakeholder groups, and the New Zealand Government which has an effective and strong relationship with motorcycle representatives.
One could easily draw the absurd conclusion that exposing motorcyclists to greater danger was good for TAC and VicRoads. Or at the very least, TAC and VicRoads is beastly careless about motorcycle road safety.
The public face of motorcycle road safety in Victoria is far removed from the reality. Road safety agencies continue to claim that motorcyclists are over-represented in crashes and demand more punitive measures to force compliance with so called ‘safety laws’. TAC even spent $77,538 for the Charley Boorman MotoGP Tour 2014 to sell its motorcycling road safety message. It is astounding that behind the scenes there is no effective mechanism in place for governance of motorcycling safety.
Who is in charge of motorcycle road safety at TAC? That is anyone’s guess. Who is calling the shots? Making decisions? Approving how money is spent? Who is responsible? Who knows. The Minister? The FoI request showed that no publicly available documents exist to demonstrate accountability and good governance.
One thing is clear; the howls and shrieks and demands for something to be done about motorcycle road safety is all empty rhetoric. Behind the scenes it is a shambles, with no oversight, ineffective governance, and an obvious contempt for community consultation.
If TAC considered motorcycle road safety to be such a concern, it would take the MAG seriously. It, along with VicRoads and other agencies would go out of its way to seek out evidence-based policy, consult with stakeholders, and act on recommendations from road safety enquires.
As a minimum, surely it would draft and have publicly available the Strategic Guide to Expenditure so that the general public can be sure the Levy funds are actually being spent to improve the safety of riders.