Question Time: South Eastern Freeway

Thursday December 12, 2019

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (14:55): My question is to the Minister for Transport. Is it within the minister's and the police commissioner's power to issue a directive not to proceed with fines and disqualifications for those drivers who are facing a loss of licence and substantial fines on the South Eastern Freeway before legislation was changed last Thursday recognising the previous legislation was unfair and unjust?

The Hon. S.K. KNOLL (Schubert—Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Local Government, Minister for Planning) (14:55): I would like to thank the member for Mount Gambier for his question. I would also like to thank him for the conversation that we had last week on this very matter. I also had conversations with the member for MacKillop, who takes a very keen interest in this issue, as well as, actually, the member for Barker, who also raised the same issues.

I can set aside the police commissioner, because the police commissioner is not somebody I can certainly direct, and what he is or isn't able to do in terms of directing his staff is very much a matter for him. In terms of the latitude that the Registrar of Motor Vehicles has, the registrar does not have discretion in this regard. The police do have discretion and have used discretion in relation to the South Eastern Freeway offences where, for instance, it has been demonstrated that the vehicle has been wrongly classified.

We have seen a number of instances where vehicles that actually did have a tonnage of less than 4½ tonnes were wrongly classified, and those fines were revoked. There was also an instance where a bus had a couple of seats removed and therefore definitionally came in under, where it was registered over, the threshold. That is a discretion that the police have and have used. The registrar and certainly the minister do not have discretion in relation to how these things are enforced.

The way we make laws in this country and in this state is that the law that is applied is the law that is in place at the time that the offence is committed, and so we have a situation, and have had a situation, where in 2017 this parliament decided that it would increase the offences on the South Eastern Freeway in line, broadly, with what the Coroner recommended, although the Coroner actually recommended to go a lot further than the parliament suggested. The Coroner was indeed suggesting that there should be gaol time on first offence for speeding down the South Eastern Freeway. The parliament chose in 2017 to do something. In fact, I remember in early 2019 being attacked by some members of this chamber about not being quick enough to institute the new penalties that related to these offences.

They came into place with much fanfare in May. There was correspondence—in fact, a five-page letter—sent to everybody who owns a truck or a vehicle that is subject to these laws, between 4½ and six tonnes, where we have seen a lot of issues, as well as correspondence to those people with heavier vehicles, and a whole heap of other communication tools have been used to try to tell people about these offences.

The parliament decided last week to now take a different approach. We did what a responsible government should do and that is find a way to make these new offences come into place as soon as possible. In fact, I would like to thank the Attorney-General, as well as the Hon. David Ridgway in the other place, for meeting with the Governor on Friday last week so that the laws that were passed on Thursday were assented to on Friday and came into effect as of midnight Thursday night in so that there is not this odd transition period where, the parliament having now made a different decision, the will of the parliament had a delay in being implemented.

The truth is that when we change laws in this place, to either make them harsher or make them softer, that is something that happens on a regular basis. Retrospectivity is something in this case that we looked at but could not practically implement without creating some really perverse outcomes. On the one hand, whilst I certainly agreed and pushed with the Hon. Frank Pangallo in the other place, as well as other members of this chamber, to get a better balance, the laws that were in place at the time are the laws that stand, and that is appropriate. It is appropriate not only for these offences but for all offences that this parliament chooses to put in place from time to time.