Monday, February 08, 2021

Bike riders should be held more accountable for carnage they cause

Riding two abreast was once banned. It is a curse to other road users

Cyclists should pay a fee to be registered and licensed and be banished from footpaths and arterial roads because they are a danger to themselves and pedestrians.

The massive pandemic-led surge in cyclists on our roads has sparked fresh calls for bike riders to be more accountable. It may well signal the end of the MAMIL (middle aged men in lycra). Many are saying enough is enough.

If it’s good enough for those getting around on motorised scooters to be registered – they too don’t lack anything in the aggression stakes – cyclists should now be subject to the same laws as vehicle users.

If a cyclist can be charged with being drunk on our roads, why are they not subjected to the same stringent rules that apply to motorists? Some may suggest registering and licensing cyclists and banning them from main roads is going overboard. But this is deadly serious.

They are a menace to themselves and others. In 2018, 82,000 people signed a petition to stop cyclists being able to ride two abreast. It follows legislation in NSW which now requires motorists to leave a minimum gap of one metre when passing a cyclist when the speed limit is below 60 km/h. Loss of demerit points and fines apply to motorists who do not adhere to the law, angering some car bodies.

But what of the rights of pedestrians and motorists? Take the example last year of a 93-year old man who was fatally struck by a cyclist while out walking. Charlie Embrey was struck by a cyclist as he walked near his home in Burpengary, on Brisbane’s northside.

The cyclist was a man, 43, who was not injured. Police said they collided when travelling in opposite direction near Reynolds Court. Surveys conducted by Victoria Walks – which represents walkers – show 40 per cent of the elderly say they don’t go on footpaths because of cyclists.

“In crashes between pedestrians and cyclists the most serious injuries are sustained by the pedestrian because of secondary impacts such as a head hitting the ground,’’ a Victoria Walks report said.

In the 12 months to June last year, 48 cyclists died on Australian roads, up from 34 in the corresponding year, with fatalities doubling in the past three years. Queensland is a wonderful state for cycling, and there has been a big spike in bikes being purchased and used during the pandemic, sparking suggestions Brisbane was in its biggest cycling renaissance since the 1970s.

Contributing to the popularity boom is the way in which councils have spent tens of millions of dollars on new and improved cycleways, aimed at getting bike riders off the roads they share with vehicles. A joint state and council committee has been established to focus on cycle safety after a spate of bike deaths in recent years.

The Active Transport Advisory Committee has been meeting regularly for seven months, and the main concern appears to be regulation of heavy vehicles. But the reality is that heavy vehicles will never be banned from using roads because the transportation of groceries and goods in this decentralised country of ours is vital.

So where does that leave cyclists, many of whom are playing Russian roulette on the roads with cars each day? It’s simple. They need to be banned from major roads. For their own protection, as much as the motorists who are faced each day with dodging them.

Major thoroughfares such as Gympie Road, Wynnum Road, Ipswich Road and Abbotsford Road are death traps for cyclists. Motorists are now funding cycleways through rego taxes. Councils are pandering to these cyclists by annexing sections of roads, causing even more congestion for car and truck users.

We need to stop the cyclist carnage on the roads. The best way to do that is banish them from busy roads altogether and introduce laws where they must stick to the cycleways.


Leftist olive branch to Christian voters

OPPOSITION leader Anthony Albanese will seek to offer an olive branch to religious voters who turned their back on Labor in 2019, saying “respect of their views” and potentially conscience votes on some contentious issues would be a part of a Labor Government led by him.

Mitochondrial donation, a cutting edge treatment for a rare disease also known as “three-person IVF”, would be an example of where conscience votes could be offered.

Labor’s election post-mortem found religious voters and Christians in particular had been turned off the party, with party insiders having said “they were scared of us”.

In the wake of the review, Labor members including Deputy Leader Richard Marles began holding began holding roundtables with religious organisations, but the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions curtailed much of this.

Mr Albanese told The Courier-Mail that he had continued to meet with leaders of different communities, including Catholic, Anglican and Greek Orthodox churches.

“People are looking for respect and for respect of their views,” he said. “I’m someone who, I don’t try to go out there and put my views out there. But I was Catholic raised and engaged there. “But I also engage with religious leaders across the board.”

He said he was support of conscience votes on appropriate issues. “I’ve been a strong supporter of conscience votes and have argued that consistently within the Labor Party and publicly for a long period of time,” Mr Albanese said.

The Mitochondrial donation was an example of where he would support a conscience vote for the Labor Party. Mitochondrial disease is a potentially fatal genetic disease in children which robs the body’s cells of energy.

Mitochondrial donation is an assisted reproduction treatment which uses DNA from three people, with donated eggs, to prevent parents transmitting the disease to their children.

Health Minister Greg Hunt told the Coalition party room last week that a laws to legalise the process would be coming up in the parliament and they would be allowed a conscience vote on the issue.

Mr Albanese said he too believed it was an issue that should be appropriately dealt with through a conscience vote.

The UK in 2015 became the first country to legalise the process.


How Scott Morrison's huge 'Fortress Australia' gamble to stop endless Covid state border closures and let the lucky country thrive could mean we're cut off from the world for YEARS

Scott Morrison's decision to keep the international border closed has been hailed by business leaders as the key to Australia's economic success - but may leave Aussies banned from going abroad for at least another year.

While other nations struggle under the weight of growing Covid cases and mounting deaths, Australians are - with a few exceptions - going about their normal lives, other than flying overseas.

On Friday, Mr Morrison signalled millions will soon enjoy even greater freedoms as he looked to end snap border closures that have left families separated and people fearing booking interstate travel.

His decision to close Australia's international borders on March 20 last year is fast approaching its first birthday, and some of the country's top CEOS - including Qantas CEO Alan Joyce - have said it is the key to the nation's economic health.

But Mr Joyce also called for more consistency with snap border closures after some states locked down entire cities after recording a single case.

'We're a victim of our success, in a way. We have state borders slamming shut with just one case. Now, some will argue that's how we stay successful, but the NSW experience shows otherwise,' he told the AFR.

He explained the airline is supportive of the hard border system continuing if it allows domestic travel to stay open across the country - calling snap closures 'confusing and confidence sapping'.

While Qantas' domestic flights are set to return to 60 per cent capacity of pre-Covid levels, snap lockdowns could see this fall to a even lower level.

'I think we need to put more trust in the testing and tracing systems we've built through COVID and the incredible levels of co-operation shown by the community,' Mr Joyce said.

Mark Steinert, chief executive of Stockland, also called for more consistency between states, and asked others to adopt an approach similar to that seen in New South Wales - where border closures are avoided in all but the most serious outbreaks.

'Once state borders remain consistently open, with a targeted approach to deal with community transfer, we are confident we will see a further increase in economic activity and jobs growth,' he said.

Elizabeth Gaines, who heads up Fortescue Metals, also backed the government's hard international border closure, calling it a 'considered, thorough approach'.

While border closures between states could soon be a thing of the past, a reluctance to allow in foreign travellers is weighing heavily on universities which relied on international students.

Universities lost an estimated $1.8billion in revenue and had to cut 17,300 jobs last year compared to 2019, according to Universities Australia.

On top of this, the tourism industry has been decimated thanks to the lack of international tourists, as well as domestic closures.

The lost of international flights has cost the economy more than $61billion since the pandemic began, and overall the value of Australian tourism is expected to fall from $138million to $83billion, according to Tourism Research Australia.

But thanks to the international border closures, Australians have been able to spend millions in their own backyard by taking trips in their own state, as well as eating out at restaurants and cafes.

Mr Morrison recently hinted international borders could open sooner than the predicted 2022 date if it's proved the vaccine is stopping transmission and not just illness and deaths.

'The key thing I think is going to impact on that decision, is going to be whether the evidence emerges about transmissibility, and how the vaccine protects against that,' the prime minister told News Limited during a Facebook Live on Wednesday.

'If it indeed does stop transmission between people, then that could be quite a game-changer, but that will not be evident for some time yet.'

Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, last month said he expected the hard borders to be shut for the remainder of the year.

During the Facebook live, he echoed Mr Morrison's statements, and said it would be a waiting game to know how effective vaccines were in stopping transmission.

'If, as we suspect these vaccines are effective at preventing transmission, the sooner we get the population vaccinated, the sooner people - not only will they be protected, but we will get on this path towards good herd immunity, and that will speed up the return to international travel,' he said.

Under a taskforce led by Philip Gaetjens, Secretary for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, new strategies are being put forward in alignment with the rollout of the vaccine to return life to normal.

Mr Morrison said the country would soon be able to treat Covid-19 like other virus, such as the flu, which does not require lockdowns or even social distancing - although this isn't expected to change the government's hard stance on international borders anytime soon.


Home affairs failing to meet Australia's freedom of information deadlines, watchdog finds

The home affairs department is failing to meet lawful deadlines in a huge proportion of freedom of information cases, a problem exacerbated by the involvement of ministerial staff, poor training and the need for greater senior-level departmental support, an investigation has found.

The freedom of information system is a critical plank of transparency and accountability in Australia, but data shows it is currently deteriorating considerably, with delays, complaints and refusals all on the rise.

The department of home affairs is by far the biggest recipient of FOI requests but frequently struggles to meet its obligations to process requests within lawful timeframes.

In October 2019, after receiving a series of complaints about home affairs, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner started an own-motion investigation of the department’s FOI handling.

The report released on Friday found the department missed the lawful deadline in more than half of the FOI requests for non-personal information it received each year for the past four years.

It found there were “inadequate processes” for escalating requests and finalising decisions, and the department was using non-FOI staff with inadequate training to work on some requests.

“The department has implemented an approach for processing FOI requests for non-personal information that requires significant engagement by the staff in the business areas to which a relevant FOI request relates,” the report found. “The training and resources made available to those staff does not facilitate processing FOI requests within the FOI Act statutory processing periods.”

The department also lacked “senior-level support for embedding policies, procedures and systems for compliance”, the investigation found.

The involvement of media teams and the minister’s office in FOI requests also “limits the ability of the department to meet” its deadlines.

The OAIC recommended the department immediately appoint an “information champion” to make sure the department is complying with the FOI act. It should also prepare an operational manual to instruct staff on how to process FOI requests within the lawful timeframes, train its staff in FOI, and conduct a broader audit of its performance.

The department said it accepted all recommendations and has had a program of continuous improvement under way since October 2019 to improve its performance.

“As a result of the continuous improvement program, the department more than doubled the finalisation of requests for non-personal information in 2019-20 compared to 2018-19 (1,789 compared to 870),” a spokesman said.

It’s not the first time the department has come under fire for its FOI handling.

In 2019, the Guardian revealed that its delayed handling of FOI requests had led to almost 8,000 requests being automatically refused.

It has also been accused by a whistleblower of breaking freedom of information law to withhold documents about alleged legal breaches during pay negotiations with staff.

When the independent senator Rex Patrick asked about the department’s compliance at Senate estimates in October 2019, the home affairs secretary, Michael Pezzullo, said he was attempting to “spread finite resources across every single piece of legislation this parliament sees fit to pass”.

“It’s within it’s your prerogative to pass laws as you see fit,” he said. “Like my colleagues in the portfolio and more generally across government, I have to apply finite resources, which allow us to comply to the maximum extent we can.”

Patrick said the report had “properly rapped Mr Pezzullo over the knuckles”.

“As the principal officer for home affairs responsible for FOI, his performance does not meet the expectations and professional responsibilities for the chief executive of a federal government department,” Patrick said.

“But I live in hope and will be following it up at March’s estimates committee hearings.”




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