WA road safety cuts collide with councils

By Paul Hemsley

The Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) has accused the Colin Barnett government of being asleep at the wheel on road safety after the Police Minister’s office informed WALGA President Troy Pickard that the state has cut funding for the RoadWise community awareness program by half.

The highly successful WALGA-managed program has been operating since 1994 as councils across the state work to drive home the message on community road safety with initiatives including the Child Car Restraints Fitting Service, Driver Reviver stops, Local Government System Project and community grants.

But now the program that was previously funded at $3.1 million per year through the state’s Road Trauma Trust Fund will be forced to function on just half the financial resources it had prior to the 2013-14 state Budget thanks to a $1.5 million cutback.

WALGA claims the state government initially requested the Association carry the burden of ongoing administration costs even at the significantly reduced funding levels allocated.

But following discussions, Minister for Police Liza Mary Harvey eventually accepted the Association’s compromise to include administration costs within the scaled down funding.

The impact of the government’s funding cut to the program will mean that there will be less money to pay for staff and other important resources, meaning that six people are anticipated to lose their jobs.

The cuts are puzzling for WALGA President Troy Pickard, who said that the “arbitrary decision” came as a “complete surprise” with an “unacceptably short timeframe” for implementation and a “lack of rationale” as to the reasons for the cut.

Mr Pickard said that it’s “even more disappointing” to see that the funding removed is raised through red light and speeding fines and specifically dedicated for initiatives achieving road safety outcomes.

“To the contrary, these programs are directly responsible for saving lives on our roads, particularly in regional areas and have been proven to be some of the most effective programs funded from the Road Trauma Trust,” Mr Pickard said.

According to Mr Pickard, the revenue of fines to this Trust has been meant for road safety initiatives, so he warned that WALGA will “carefully watch” future expenditure from the Trust to ensure that money raised through speeding and red light camera fines was not used for general expenditure purposes.

“We will certainly be vigilant to ensure any future expenditure from the Fund goes towards real road safety outcomes and not propping up departmental administration costs,” Mr Pickard said.

Mr Pickard has also put the state government’s handling of the communication of the funding cut under the microscope, suggesting that the absence of a State-Local Government Partnership Agreement may have contributed to the lack of consultation and communication on the topic.

“To have an important decision such as this communicated in such a summary fashion highlights the need for a true partnership between State and Local Government”, he said.

He said that issues such as this could have been handled far more effectively and appropriately if there were agreed terms for consultation under a Partnership agreement.

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