MEMBER for Port Macquarie Leslie Williams has been challenged to ride on a local school bus to experience first hand the safety risks faced by students.
The challenge has been issued by members of the School Transport Action Group and follows an unsuccessful bid by The Greens to debate compulsory seatbelts on school buses.
Action group spokesperson Peter Rodgers said he had issued the challenge following a conversation with Mrs Williams earlier in the week. He remains unconvinced that the state government is commited to seat belt reform.
Mr Rodgers has previously expressed concern that the issue of students standing on school buses and of them travelling without seatbelts has been placed on the backburner by the state government and has accused Mrs Williams of being either uninterested or ineffective on the seatbelt issue.
He now fears that there will be no decisions before mid year, meaning that at least one of the key recommendations in a report handed down last year – that standing on high speed routes will be banned by the commencement of Term 3 this year – won’t be implemented.
He has accused the state government of spending $19 million on the introduction of hunting in national parks when it would cost much less to mandate seatbelts on school buses in regional areas.
Locally there is particular concern over those buses travelling from south of Port Macquarie along Ocean Drive to schools in Port Macquarie and along Mitchell Houston Drive (and across the Pacific Highway) to Wauchope.
Mr Rodgers has alleged one bus recently left Bonny Hills with 89 students on board – more than 30 of them standing.
Mrs Williams has defended her own response – as well as the state government’s response – to the seatbelt issue.
“I understand many people feel very strongly, as I do, about the safety of children on school buses in regional and rural areas,” Mrs Williams told the Port News.
“It is a very complex and emotive issue.”
According to Mrs Williams, more than 60,000 students across regional and rural NSW travel on a fleet of nearly 1500 dedicated school buses each and every day.
She said the state government was currently working its way through the 35 recommendations handed down by the School Bus Safety Community Advisory Committee’s Inquiry into school bus safety, handed down in October last year.
“We will update the community once the findings have been considered,” she told the Port News.
“To say that I’m either uninterested or ineffective is simply not the issue.”
However Mr Rodgers said most of the recommendations were administrative and the window of opportunity for the state government to do something about the recommendation relating to end standing on high speed routes was quickly beginning to close.
Students have also joined the fight with a Facebook page to gather information on how many students have been standing on buses each day and whether or not they think it is “over the top”.
The Greens last week failed in a bid to fast-track the installation of seatbelts on school buses with the state government , the Labor opposition and minor parties all voting against urgency on a bill introduced in the upper house by Greens MP and transport spokesperson Cate Faehrmann.
Ms Faehrmann later described the government’s delaying tactics as “a joke”.
“It was way back in April 2011 that the minister established her advisory committee to sort this problem out.
“At the time she told parents that school bus safety was a priority. That was almost two years ago and she’s had the committee’s reccomendations since October.”
Ms Faehrmann said The Greens’ bill had provided an opportunity to fast-track action on the already exhaustively planned and fully costed solution presented by the advisory committee “but all the government can say is it’s a very difficult issue”.
“It was very disappointing that the Labor opposition and minor parties also voted against urgency – they know how important this is to parents and have had plenty of notice to consider the bill.