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Infrastructure and Transport – Tasmanian Devil Road Deaths

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 6 June 2023

Tags: Tasmanian Devil, Roads, Infrastructure, Transport, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, agreed. About time. It's good. Minister, I notice in your diary you had a meeting in January this year with the Circular Head Devil Working Group. I'm interested in exploring with you what measures, if any, our Government is taking to protect the disease free devil population at Circular Head and whether there's movement on speed limit reductions or consideration, for example, of lower speed limits at night when devils are more active.

Mr FERGUSON - I'm going to suggest that we answer this in two parts because I'm the minister and while Mr Swain is the Deputy Secretary, he's also the Commissioner for Transport and one of his roles is an independent statutory office of determining speed limits. He has to judiciously do that work without interference from ministers or shadow ministers or other interested parties. I had a great discussion with the two ladies that I met with by phone. We had a good discussion about a range of initiatives. If I can reflect from that conversation, there was some frustration that there has been -

Ms O'CONNOR - Ongoing deaths of devils.

Mr FERGUSON - There's been ongoing - not just ongoing deaths, which is regrettable, particularly with the Tasmanian Devil threatened species and one which is so iconic and important for not just Tasmania as our brand but also part of our ecosystem.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is so nice to hear you say that.

Mr FERGUSON - Yes. We had a great discussion. One of the areas of frustration was the speed limit setting on the road. I highlighted that I was not in a position to make any promises about speeds because of the role of the Transport Commissioner in setting speed limits, and also the need for some local stakeholder support - particularly the Circular Head Council as the owner of the road. I'm just reminded that at the time of my meeting, Mr Swain was on leave and Ms McIntyre was the acting Commissioner so, however we answer that is in your hands. I’m happy to take questions on numbers or details but in the meantime, council did ultimately apply for a lower speed limit setting, after a change of heart. I understand the change was supported by the Commissioner.

Ms O'CONNOR - Was this your decision, or Mr Swain's, or Ms McIntyre's?

Ms O'CONNOR - Was this your decision, Mr Swain, or Ms McIntyre's?

Ms McINTYRE - It was mine, as acting Transport Commissioner at the time, while the Transport Commissioner was on leave.

I received technical advice from our technical engineers about the road conditions and agreed to reduce the speed limit to 80 kilometres per hour through a section of the road, based on the road conditions, not associated with the road kill issue.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Ms McIntyre. Minister, I have not seen the request that went from Circular Head Council to the Transport Commissioner or acting Transport Commissioner. My understanding of the position taken by Circular Head Council is that there is a genuine concern about speed limits and the loss of an endangered species on that road on a regular basis. Is that part of the consideration or not at all?

Mr FERGUSON - I thank both Mr Swain and Ms McIntyre for their answers but now that Gary is back in position, both of them are free to speak, but I feel that Mr Swain should explain how these things would work in the future.

Mr SWAIN - There are a couple of things that we try to do in speed management. One is we reference the Austroads guideline for speed so that we have a consistent basis for looking at speed. We are conscious that we don't generally support a lot of chopping and changing in speed because it confuses motorists. You might have a section of road that's half a kilometre interspersed in a longer set, we will try not to change the speed too much. We do look at the behaviour of drivers in the area. Often, we find on average that people's decisions are quite sensible. If you look at road speeds on a contested road where it is 100 kilometres per hour going to 80 kilometres per hour, you will often find that the average speed is like 82 kilometres per hour, or something quite sensible. Most people make good decisions on average.

You often run into problems where there are different levels of experience in the drivers. If you have a road which is part tourist, part local, that's a problem. They're the sort of things we take into consideration. I can't speak to that decision because it was Denise's but I have looked at another similar decision and got to the same place that Denise articulated.

The process is the road manager makes an application to the Transport Commission and they have to make an argument as to why the speed should reduce. We would guide them to reference the Austroads guideline in doing that. At the moment, I am not aware that anyone has made an argument for a connection between road safety and animal welfare impacts. There may well be animal welfare impacts of vehicles on roads but the case has not been made that would be reduced if speed was reduced. With a nocturnal animal, if you went from 90 kilometres per hour to 80 kilometres per hour at night, would it have a material impact on road safety which is what the speed setting is about?

There might be other policy considerations outside of that around animal welfare but the speed decision of the Transport Commissioner is around road safety and road efficiency. On the major highways, we are trying to maintain a constant speed at a high level.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Swain. The issue here is that while there is obviously a set of metrics that the Transport Commissioner looks at, it is not only an animal welfare issue, it's the survival of a species issue. It strikes me that there's an inflexibility in the process where other important considerations that would complement road safety aren't considered.

It is tragic that there doesn't seem to be a capacity here to alter road driving conditions in order to safe a species that is teetering on the edge of extinction.

Mr SWAIN - There are other interventions which Denise may be able to talk to better than me, through you Deputy Premier, around the way we design and maintain roads. A couple of these that I'm aware of, we've been asked to look at the speed and have concluded that the speed needed to reduce in both cases I can think of.

Ms O'CONNOR - So they complemented each other, potentially.

Mr SWAIN - What I am saying is it wasn't formerly considered, but in being asked to look at it because of a concern about animal welfare, after applying our normal model to that road, we concluded the speed needed to go down.

Ms O'CONNOR - A final question. Does State Growth or the Transport section do any broader work on road kill and reducing road kill as part of road design and speed?

Mr FERGUSON - Yes. Denise is the expert but the answer is, yes.

Ms McINTYRE - Thank you, Deputy Premier. I wouldn't say I'm expert but I manage a team of people who work with experts. We are currently developing a strategy for managing road kill or mitigating road kill on the state road network. We implement designs where we know that we have animals crossing. We did take some special road designs for the Tarkine roadworks that were undertaken. We included rumble strips and different types of deterrents.

We have trialled different types of guide posts to alert or to deter animals from the road when vehicles are on the road. They have had some measure of success in very slow road environments but not so with higher speeds like on the Huon Highway. We do, where we identify that there are animals that we can protect and have the means to protect them, include that into designs.