House debates

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Questions without Notice

Transport: Road Safety

2:14 pm

Photo of Michael FergusonMichael Ferguson (Bass, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question today is addressed to the Prime Minister. Would the Prime Minister outline to the House how the Australian government is helping to improve the safety of schoolchildren with a practical plan? Is the Prime Minister aware of any alternative approaches to governing, or trying to govern, Australia?

Photo of John HowardJohn Howard (Bennelong, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Bass for his question. I note, incidentally, that in March 1996 the unemployment rate in Bass was 9.9 per cent. I am now happy to report that it has fallen to six per cent. I also note that the Labor candidate in the seat of Bass in the forthcoming federal election is a former organiser with the Australian Services Union, taking her place inevitably and inexorably alongside all the other former trade union officials who are Labor candidates.

Can I also say to the member for Bass that the policy I announced this morning in Queanbeyan—flanked by my colleagues the member for Eden-Monaro; the member for Gilmore, who has campaigned very, very hard on this issue, and to whom I want to pay tribute for her work; and the Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads, the member for Robertson—was devised without reference to a committee. We actually decided to adopt the policy and we decided to implement it. It means that, from today, we are going to make available some $40 million over a period of four years to fund, up to a cap of $25,000 a bus, the installation of seatbelts in new or retrofitted buses that are used in country and regional Australia. This will be a wonderful addition that will provide additional safety for schoolchildren and additional peace of mind to the parents of those schoolchildren. As we all know, school buses in rural and regional areas travel over longer distances and at higher speeds. Therefore, the risk of accident, the risk of injury and even the risk of death is higher with country school buses than with those in metropolitan areas. This will be available in such a way that at least 375 school buses a year, and at least 1,500 over the four-year period, will get the benefit of this measure. It will provide improved safety for 7.5 million school student bus trips each year.

Can I say to the state and territory governments, whose responsibility this really is: please get on with fixing the situation in metropolitan areas. I know that in some parts of Australian cities these seatbelts have been fitted; in other parts, they have not. Where they have been fitted, I say: ‘Good on the state governments.’ Where they have not been fitted, I say to the state government: ‘Provide a basic service to the children under your charge.’ I think this is a practical initiative which will result in safer travel for our schoolchildren as they go to school on country roads. It is one of those practical measures immediately operating that this government is very committed to.

I want to record my thanks again to the member for Gilmore; the Government Whip; the minister, the member for Robertson; the member for Eden-Monaro; and indeed many other members who have worked very, very hard and have persuaded the government to introduce this long-overdue measure.