Written in May 1992
SPECIAL NOTE: The following Hansard document, which covers the introduction of compulsory helmets legislation in the ACT in May 1992, was manually scanned from hardcopy by a CRAG member.
Since about 1995, the ACT Government has begun to make Hansard available online. Click HERE to do a Google search for helmets on the ACT Government Hansard website. Note that you will be able to find a limited amount pre-1995 Hansard material as well, although the May 1992 debate unfortunately does not appear to be there.
Australian Capital Territory, Legislative Assembly
Hansard, 9 April 1992, Pages 144-145
TRAFFIC (AMENDMENT) BILL 1992
MR CONNOLLY (Attorney General, Minister for Housing and Community Services and Minister for Urban Services) (11.20): Madam Speaker, I present the Traffic (Amendment) Bill 1992.
Title read by Clerk.
MR CONNOLLY: I move:
That this Bill be agreed to in principle.
This Bill amends the Traffic Act 1937 to provide for the compulsory wearing of bicycle helmets by all cyclists and their passengers on public roads and in public places, an increase in the maximum general fine under the Traffic Act 1937 from $100 to $500, and the repealing of 6e Traffic (Amendment) Act 1987, which has never commenced operation.
The proposal to make bicycle helmet wearing compulsory forms an essential part Of the Prime Minister’s 10-point package of road safety initiatives to be implemented in return for funding to eradicate accident black spots. This initiative was originally agreed to by the Alliance Government and has been endorsed by the present Labor Government as an effective road safety measure.
There is overwhelming evidence that shows the lifesaving benefits of bicycle helmets. Two-thirds of all injured cyclists admitted to hospital have sustained a head injury. Head injuries are the primary or contributing cause of death in approximately 80 per cent of bicycle fatalities.
Over the last two years in the ACT a total of four people have died as a result of cycle accidents, two of whom suffered head injuries. Of the 18 cyclists who were admitted with injuries in 1991, seven suffered head injuries, none of whom were wearing helmets, and 11 were admitted with other injuries. Of these 11, five were wearing helmets. In other words, none of the five helmet wearers who were hospitalised sustained head injuries, whereas seven of the 13 hospitalised non- helmet wearers did sustain head injuries. In 1990, of the 17 cyclists admitted to hospital, five wore helmets, none of whom suffered head injuries. Four of the 12 cyclists who were not wearing helmets suffered head injuries.
Cycle injuries add a significant strain to public expenditure on health care. The Bureau of Transport and Communications Economics estimated that the hospital, medical and rehabilitation costs alone, in 1988 dollars, of each road accident victim in Australia averaged over $6,000. The cost to the ACT health system in 1991 of cycle accidents alone was well over $100,000. The introduction of this legislation will reduce the number of serious head injury cycle accidents, which in turn will reduce the pressure on the already strained hospital system, as well as significantly reducing the pain and suffering of the community.
No general exemptions from wearing helmets are provided in the legislation as I feel that the risk of serious injury through a cyclist being involved in an accident and not wearing a helmet should be avoided at all costs. The only exemptions that the legislation will allow are for overseas riders competing in bicycle races. Failure to offer exemptions under these circumstances may jeopardise the ACT’s participation in international bicycle races.
I intend that this legislation should be implemented within the next six months. Offering up to six months’ grace will allow cyclists time to purchase approved helmets before the legislation commences operation and is enforced. I do not intend for its introduction to be staged, as was done in New South Wales. With the extensive publicity associated with the introduction of compulsory helmet wearing in New South Wales, as advertised on regional television, and with specific publicity to be undertaken by my department, I feel that the Canberra community would be well aware of the impending requirements by the time this legislation is introduced.
The Department of Urban Services road safety unit has also been working for some time in Canberra schools, stressing the importance of wearing bicycle helmets as a road safety initiative, and will continue to do so after this legislation has been introduced.
The introduction of this legislation follows an amendment to the Australian standard for bicycle helmets which allows new lightweight, well-ventilated, softshell helmets onto the market, which will further encourage the wearing of helmets by cyclists.
This Bill also proposes to amend the general penalty provision of the Traffic Act 1937 to increase the maximum fine that can be issued by the courts from $100 to $500. I stress that this provision affects only the maximum fine enforced under the Traffic Act 1937 for offences that do not attract specific fines themselves. This maximum fine has not increased since 1984, and there have been significant increases in on-the-spot fines for specific offences since then.
I take this opportunity to also repeal the Traffic (Amendment) Act 1987, which empowers the relevant Minister to determine fees for the conduct of bicycle races or trials on public roads. This Act has never commenced operation. Given that such races and trials occur rarely, a fee setting mechanism is no longer considered necessary.
With Canberra enjoying an extensive bicycle path network and a beautiful riding environment, our city is ideally suited for cyclists. I feel that the introduction of this Bill will significantly improve the safety of all cyclists, which in turn will increase the level of enjoyment that cycling will bring to the ACT community. I now present the explanatory memorandum for this Bill.
Debate (on motion by Mr Westende) adjourned.
Hansard, 19 May 1992, Pages 568-591
TRAFFIC (AMENDMENT) BILL 1992
Debate resumed from 9 April 1992, on motion by Mr Connolly:
That this Bill be agreed to in principle.
MR WESTENDE (8.17): Madam Speaker, we in the Liberal Party have consulted widely on this matter before coming to the conclusion that we will support the proposed legislation on the compulsory wearing of bicycle helmets. Unlike the Government, which we believe is simply following the initiative of the Victorian and other governments, we have consulted widely to make up our own minds on this matter. This is not to politicise a matter on which we are in agreement with the Government; but, Madam Speaker, on such an issue the Government must consult the community, particularly those affected, that is, the cyclists.
We are informed that the Government has not consulted the Cyclists Rights Action Group, even after repeated requests from that organisation. Consultation is about talking to all interested parties, not just those who are in agreement with a proposed piece of legislation. We have spoken to both the proponents and the opponents. We have heard the views of the Cyclists Rights Action Group and we appreciate the thoroughness in the presentation of their viewpoint. However, the views that have been put to us by other sectors of the community are far more compelling.
Dr Ray Newcombe, chairman of the ACT Trauma Committee of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons and secretary of the Neuro Surgical Society of Australasia, has advised us that there is an unacceptable high level of injury from bicycle accidents. Dr Newcombe indicated that both of these organisations support the legislation for compulsory wearing of helmets. He has said that the incidence and severity of these accidents are clearly reduced by wearing helmets.
Dr Newcombe advises that every weekend people who have come off bikes are admitted to the Woden Valley Hospital. Last Saturday week a blood clot was removed from a 16-year-old girl involved in a bicycle accident. She was not wearing a helmet. Dr Newcombe further advises that another patient, a university student, was admitted to the Woden Valley Hospital after coming off a bicycle, but she was wearing a helmet and sustained only minor injuries. After some minor attention she was able to leave the hospital shortly after arriving there.
The ACT branch of the AMA, in a press release on 21 April, called for the compulsory wearing of helmets for youngsters. It stated that the AMA is concerned that the ACT is lagging behind the other States in making helmets mandatory for bike riders. The AMA refers to the data collected by the ACT injury surveillance and protection program which shows that head injuries account for nearly 40 per cent of admissions to hospital of injured bike riders not wearing helmets, but for only 10 per cent of admissions of bike riders wearing helmets. Clearly, this data reveals that many young people are injured in bike accidents and that the wearing of helmets dramatically reduces the risk of head injury.
The Child Accident Prevention Foundation of Australia has written to me expressing its full support for the introduction of this legislation. This Organisation claims that each year, on a national basis, around 90 cyclists are killed on the roads, with approximately another 20 cyclists hospitalised for each fatality. The Child Accident Prevention Foundation of Australia has advised us as follows:
Early research in Victoria, pre and post legislation, displays a trend for a lower proportion of head injuries presenting at accident and emergency departments of hospitals participating in the Victorian injury surveillance system.
Correct helmet wearing has he potential to substantially reduce the extent of head and brain injury. For any helmet to offer maximum protection it must meet Australian standards and fit correctly with the straps and webbing adjusted.
I continue to quote:
The foundation fully Supports the introduction of the proposed legislation and considers that a campaign to inform ACT residents of the new legislation thus encouraging compliance is necessary.
The foundation also feels that cyclists and parents need to be aware of the importance of the correct fitting of helmets, the need to destroy helmets if they are involved in a serious impact and suitable maintenance.
While the local Council of Parents and Citizens Associations does not have a policy on the matter of compulsory wearing of bicycle helmets, the national parent Organisation does. This organisation, known as the Australian Council of State School Organisations, has a policy on school bike plans and road use education which in part calls for legislation to make compulsory the wearing of safety helmets. We have received a letter from the Canberra High School Parents and Citizens Association Incorporated which supports the proposed legislation. This Organisation has said:
There have been several incidents recently involving Canberra High School students travelling to or from school which have brought home to us the value of helmets in saving riders (and especially young people) from serious injury or death.
Madam Speaker, we have heard arguments that this legislation is infringing the rights of freedom of choice. We have heard arguments that the matter of children wearing helmets is for parental supervision. Madam Speaker, as everyone knows, parents are not with their children 24 hours a day. They cannot be sure that their child will always remember to on the helmet. This legislation will reinforce the educative process in making children more aware of the necessity to wear a helmet when riding bikes. I am equally sure that, when a child, or anyone for that matter, is involved in a bicycle accident, they would be well pleased to have a helmet on.
As to the matter of freedom of choice, there are limits. For instance, we are not permitted to drive as fast as we would like on our roads and highways, and we have to wear seat belts. There is a whole host of controls and restrictions in our society which the society has placed there for its own good. Wearing bicycle helmets may present a hassle for the cyclist; but, if that cyclist happened to ride in front of a vehicle, or a vehicle accidentally struck that cyclist, then I suggest that the driver of the vehicle would be very much relieved if the cyclist was wearing a helmet – and, let us be honest, so would the cyclist.
Madam Speaker, this legislation highlights that cycling, while an enjoyable and healthy pursuit, has its dangers. While helmets will make this safer, there is a further necessity for cyclists to observe other safety requirements. Madam Speaker, some cyclists tend to be a little lax when it comes to observing traffic rules. How many of us have seen cyclists riding at night without lights or even adequate reflectors? How many of us have seen cyclists riding through intersections without observing traffic signals? Of course, they may well be the minority; but it does highlight a further need for regulation in terms of their safety.
Madam Speaker, we support the Government in this legislation; but we would urge that, prior to its introduction, the community should be well informed of what the legislation entails. We would also strongly advise that this awareness program should include all issues relating to safe cycling to which I have referred and especially a reminder to cyclists that riding a bicycle in the dark without lights is also an offence under the existing Act and one that carries a penalty fine.
Having said all that, Madam Speaker, we have some problem with agreeing to clause 6, whereby the Government wants to amend section 40 of the principal Act by omitting $100 and substituting $500. We believe that that is going too far, even though we realise that the last amendment was in 1984. Let me indicate some of these offences. One of these offences is riding a bicycle with insufficient brakes. We do not believe that that is worth a $500 fine. Others are: Having more than one person on a bike designed to carry no more than one; three or more horses abreast on a public street, with the exception of mounted police; and driving a horse and cart without control of the horse. Madam Speaker, I could go on, but I think this highlights why we have a problem with clause 6.
MS SZUTY (8.27): Madam Speaker, I oppose the amendments which have been proposed by the Government, on the ground that compulsion is not the way to go with this issue. I know that the action is being taken to honour a commitment made to the Federal Government in return for money given to upgrade a number of black spot intersections around Canberra. But, if there is an argument to compel cyclists to wear helmets, why does this same argument not apply to rollerbladers, rollerskaters, skateboarders, and even pedestrians? Statistics available for 1991 show that only one person died as a result of head injuries sustained in a bike accident; this in a total of 18 road fatalities in the ACT. On these grounds, maybe a case should be made for drivers and passengers also to wear helmets.
I feel that the way to bring bicycle helmets into use is not by compulsion but by education and role modelling. Victorian evidence suggests that the introduction of compulsory helmets for cyclists led to a reduction in the use of bicycles by some 15 per cent. At a time when we are all concerned with health, fitness and reducing the use of fossil fuels, introducing a measure which, it would appear, will lead to a fall in the use of bicycles for recreation and commuting purposes seems retrograde. That is not to say that I do not support the wearing of bicycle helmets. I would support an education program which emphasises the need for people to protect themselves. Children especially need to be given information, role models and incentive to adopt helmet wearing as a sensible practice.
Canberra’s commuter cyclists appear already to be well aware of the advantages of wearing a bicycle helmet, without compulsion. A large proportion do wear helmets, and have done so without being told that to travel without headgear would incur a penalty. Speaking of that: Under the amendment put forward by the Minister, and remarked upon by Westende, we have a final clause which does not draw attention to itself, but nonetheless will have a financial impact on a lot of Canberrans. It is here we find that the Government proposes increasing fines for a range of offences under the Act by 500 per cent.
Let me be more specific, as Mr Westende was. The general fine will increase from a maximum of $100 to $500, and this in a year when the Federal Government has achieved an inflation figure of less than 2 per cent. Fines were increased in 1984 from $40 to $100. At that time the increase was 250 per cent. Now the Government wants to fine people who have committed an offence under the Act, for which no specific penalty is prescribed, up to $500. This will increase the maximum penalty fivefold after eight years.
What are the types of offences that will attract this penalty? Under section 9 of the Act any person who, upon a public street, rides a bicycle which has not affixed thereto on some convenient part efficient brakes and a bell or other efficient approved appliance for giving warning of its approach shall be guilty of an offence. If a rider does not have at least one hand on the bike handlebar, and if he or she does not have their feet on the pedals, they are also guilty of an offence. As well, carrying a pillion passenger on a bike not designed to take more than one person is an offence for both rider and passenger. Riding or driving two abreast, unless you are on a bike, is an offence in a vehicle. Having a projecting load and not obeying the directions of a police officer who is regulating the traffic are offences under the Act where there is no specific prescribed penalty.
While I realise that the discretion of the court can come into effect when offenders appear before a magistrate, are these offences worthy of such an onerous maximum penalty , particularly when the penalties spelt out for certain offences under the Act fall into the range of $40 to $100? madam Speaker, I oppose the amendments.
MR HUMPHRIES (8.31): I wanted to rise in the debate to indicate that this is an issue which has vexed the Liberal Party for some few weeks. As I think Mr Westende indicated, we have discussed this issue at great length and we have come to the view that the legislation the Government is bringing forward ought to be supported. But we acknowledge that there are arguments either way in this matter, and that it is not as straightforward as it might appear on first blush. In particular, the Liberal Party examined with care the submission brought forward by the Cyclists Rights Action Group. It caused considerable soul searching in our ranks. I want to address some of the arguments that were used – – –
Mr Berry: We would have to find a soul first.
MR HUMPHRIES: I will not take a point of order, Mr Berry. We examined the arguments in that, and I want to come back and touch on some of those in explaining why the Liberal Party has decided to support this legislation.
The submission makes a number of points about the question of liberty and the idea that people should be able to do what they wish when they are riding bicycles down a path or down a road in the ACT. In particular, the words of John Stuart Mill, the great libertarian, were quoted in the same vein as I think an American judge some time after him who expressed the same principle in words to the effect that I have the right to swing my arm ends at the tip Of another mans nose, the idea being that people should be completely free to do what they wish providing it does not affect any other individuals around them. That, to libertarian Liberals, is a very compelling argument. I think it has been quoted by the Attorney General as well in this chamber in one form or another. So, it is a fairly compelling argument and needs to be addressed.
I think that the difference between what John Stuart Mill said and what we are doing here is that in a sense the social context in which people conduct their affairs has changed a great deal. Of course, in Mill’s day, questions such as illness and penury and things of that kind were very much private matters. If I fell ill, if I was not able to pay my debts, these were matters purely between me and my creditors, or me and my creator in the case of illness. These were not matters in which general society was involved.
We take a different view today. People who are ill today are cared for by the community. People who cannot afford to buy food are provided for, to some extent, by the community. So, in a sense we have a society which intrudes, if you like, into that previously private world of an individual’s well-being. I suppose one argues that the corollary of that interference is that the broader community has some right to protect its interest, if you like, in the health and well- being of that person. The argument goes that, because the community will pick up the tab if an individual falls off his bicycle and cracks his head open and has to be treated, then the community has some right to mitigate the damage or loss that flows to the community by virtue of that happening. As a result it is expected that people in those circumstances will take some measures to protect themselves, and, if they do not, then, in certain circumstances, the community will demand that they have sanctions imposed against them until they do.
The principle, I think, was established quite clearly when some years ago now the community supported the concept of seat belts, and that has already been mentioned, I think, in this debate. I think that was the initiative of a Liberal Government at some point 20 or so years ago, and I cannot argue with that initiative. It certainly has caused the saving of many lives and it certainly has resulted in some small intrusion into people’s private lives; but, I think, at a great saving to the public purse and no doubt to the purses of insurance companies.
There is a principle here, though, which is being invaded and which is quite important. We need to bear it in mind. We all must enjoy some right to do some things to our bodies which the community as a whole might not see as desirable. I suppose, in the same continuum, that eventually the Government could bring forward a Bill to ration the amount of cream that we all consume, on the basis that large consumption of cream will lead to heart disease which will have to be treated probably in our public hospitals, and that imposes some cost on the public purse. I for one, would defend my right to consume as much cream as I wish. So, there is a real argument about how far one goes in defending the public’s right to impose itself into the private affairs of individuals. I do not know where that line is drawn. I think that it is drawn such that we are entitled to compel cyclists to wear helmets; but it is a fine argument.
The argument is also put, Madam Speaker, that the number of people injured on our roads and our cycleways through not wearing helmets is relatively small compared with, for example, injuries in motor cars or even as pedestrians, and that again – – –
Mr Berry: They should wear helmets in motor cars.
MR HUMPHRIES: That again is a compelling argument. Mr Berry says, and I think the Cyclists Rights Action Group actually argue, that it would be as logical to make people in motor cars and on the streets wear helmets as it would be to make cyclists wear helmets.
Mr De Domenico: Only if You drove convertible cars, though, surely, because the helmet could be seen to be the roof of the car itself.
MR HUMPHRIES: I note that argument.
Mr De Domenico: or jogging, perhaps, Mr Humphries.
MR HUMPHRIES: Or jogging, perhaps. I, frankly, am not sure what the answer to that argument is; I throw it up only to let people understand that that has been put forward. It seems to me that one is inherently more likely to injure oneself by having an accident on a bicycle than one is by having an accident in a car because one has some protection in a car. But it is not an argument that I think we can lightly put to one side.
The point is, Madam Speaker, that the community here stands to gain some protection. I believe that protection is the responsibility of a Government and an Assembly which wishes to protect individuals. It is hard for us, in particular, to mandate that children wear helmets if we do not provide the example of adults doing the same thing and, of course, the ACT, frankly, does have the advantage of receiving some funding under the Commonwealth program by taking a part in this exercise.
Mr Moore: Bought out again.
MR HUMPHRIES: In a sense it is being bought out. We want to do something about our black spots which we do know cost lives. I think that that is a reasonable trade-off. If someone wants to pay me to do that, I am quite happy about that. I will be watching, as will my party, for any further intrusions, if you like, into the rights of individuals to do things by themselves; but I do not this particular provision infringes unduly on that principle.
MR STEVENSON (8.39): Why does one not respond with ability in any situation that one deals with in life? If we look at responsibility, the key is that one can make up one’s own mind. When we get a situation where someone constantly takes away our right to respond, takes away our freedom of choice, eventually there is little doubt that many of us would do things that are not sensible, that may not be responsible – responsible for others, or responsible for ourselves. This, I feel, is really the basis of the matter.
If you have children, if you continually do things for them, you will eventually find that they will become useless. If you have people who continually have things done for them, eventually they will become useless. Why is it that on a farm in the country people usually have a very high level of responsibility and usually have a very high level of productivity at a young age when that is not common within the city areas? I believe that it is because they have responsibilities pushed on them when they are younger.
Mr Humphries referred to a quote by John Stuart Mill but did not read it. I think it is worthwhile reading it, although we all have a copy. It reads:
The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community against his will, is to prevent harm to others. He cannot rightfully be compelled for his own good, or because, in the opinion of others, it would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for persuading him, but not for compelling him.
I have always been a firm believer in education, not legislation. We do not necessarily all benefit in our lives from the three million rules and regulations and Acts and amendments that we have had since Federation.
Mr Humphries: We do here. We make them. It gives us something to do.
MR STEVENSON: Mr Humphries says, “We do here. We make them. It gives us something to do”. I will not comment. So, the question, quite rightly, is: Where do we draw the line with legislation? This is the key with censorship as well. Where do we draw the line? I think we should really draw the line in the area of harm to others. With the wearing of pushbike helmets, it cannot be said, logically, that there is a potential for harm to be caused to others.
One difficulty that has been brought up to us again and again is that riding along Northbourne Avenue at peak hour may be a lot more dangerous than riding in one’s local park, particularly when, as with most parks in Canberra, they are very well manicured and there are not too many potholes to hit and fall over on. What it really comes down to is whether or not individuals have the right to decide for themselves what they will do in their own lives.
If we take that away from them, what are the repercussions? What are we going to see in the long term? There is every right along this line of protecting people, as Mr Humphries debated, of how much cream thy will have. But I suggest that there are a lot of things within one’s diet that are going to cause more problems than cream. You could well say that the average diet is not necessarily too good for people. When we look at the billions of dollars spent on health care in Australia, it does suggest that there is something we are doing that is probably not all that good, or not doing that we should be doing. One of the suggestions would be to get out and ride pushbikes, which brings us back to the problem that some people, unfortunately, will not ride pushbikes if they are compelled to wear a helmet.
There are different reasons for this. With some people, it is simply a matter of principle. They simply refuse to be told to wear a pushbike helmet. With others, it is some feeling they have of freedom, depending on how fast they can pedal, with the wind blowing through their hair and the joy of riding a pushbike. How I will—
Mr De Domenico: Do you support seat belts?
MR STEVENSON: Seat belts support people. Seat belts support me and other people. Let us look at some surveys that we did in March last year.
Mr De Domenico: who is “we”?
Mr STEVENSON: The Abolish Self Government Coalition, Mr De Domenico. We asked the question: Do you agree with pushbike helmets being made compulsory? Fifty-two per cent, to round it off, said yes; 43 per cent said no; and 5 per cent said that they were unsure. From a survey we did in the Chronicle recently, about a month ago, we had 48 replies, and 83 per cent said no and 17 per cent said cent said yes. I realise that there are many people who are particularly concerned about not being forced into wearing helmets. I realise that those people were more motivated and did write to us more frequently than the others. I fully acknowledge that. Our last surveys, over the last few days, resulted in 75 per cent of people saying yes, 22 per cent saying no, one per cent saying that they did not have enough information to make a decision, and 2 per cent being unconcerned about the issue.
Mr Connolly: Dennis, you have to vote with the Government.
MR STEVENSON: So, as Mr Connolly has suggested, I should vote for the compulsory wearing of helmets, and I will, regardless of my personal views. I think it is fairly clear that the majority of people in Canberra agree with the action, and I think that is the way it should be in society. If we, as a community, make a decision, we can then benefit or have some lack of gain on that decision, and I think that is the way it should be.
MR MOORE (8.46): I guess the irony that I find in opposing this legislation is that I am probably one of the very few people in this Legislative Assembly who ride a bicycle and wear a bicycle helmet. It would be of interest to me to know just how many other people own helmets and ride their bicycles. It is one of those curiosities, I guess.
It seems to me that in making this decision it is very easy to say that there is a simple black-and-white argument as to whether one should be free to wear a helmet, or whether we should compel because of the measure of damage done in our society. It seems to me that we draw our conclusions, and we make our decisions, after weighing up the cost and the benefit. By and large, having weighed up that cost and benefit, a quite large number of members of the Assembly have come down on the side that the benefit outweighs the cost. That is really what we are talking about this evening.
I do not believe that that is the case here and it concerns me in terms of the precedent that is set. Ms Szuty raised the issue of the possibility of having helmets for people who are wearing rollerblades or who are riding skateboards. I imagine that, if we were to look at the statistics per mile or kilometre travelled on those types of vehicles, we would find a quite significantly higher percentage using bicycle helmets. No doubt in this chamber some time in the next decade we will see legislation that will provide for the protection of rollerbladers, and the users of whatever new invention comes, saying that they should wear helmets. Another interesting point that was raised by someone else is the possibility, if one looks at the statistics, that we should be insisting on helmets for passengers in vehicles, and that is the next logical conclusion.
In looking at these matters, we weigh up the cost and the benefit and make our decision accordingly. Somewhere along the line we are going to have to draw the conclusion that it is no longer our responsibility to interfere with those rights and freedoms of other people and that we should allow education to fulfil the role. That is the point made by Mr Stevenson.
If we were really serious about using the statistics to determine whether people should or should not be wearing helmets, there are some interesting statistics that many of you would have received. I do not know how many of you would have studied them. They were provided to all of us by the Cyclists Rights Action Group. These statistics on fatal crash types come from the Federal Office of Road Safety and are for 1988. These statistics do not tend to vary that much from year to year. This body looked at road user fatality groups. Fatalities of cyclists, thanks to head injuries, accounted for 80 percent of the fatalities. For pedestrians it was 78 per cent, and the statistics go on similarly. So, one could easily make an argument to say that we should be ensuring that pedestrians wear helmets. The arguments that we have heard put initially by the Government in introducing the Bill, and then from others who are supporting the Bill, could be applied quite easily to pedestrians.
Once we have pedestrians wearing helmets, I think we could look at what happens in the home with young children and try to ascertain how many head injuries occur at home. Then we could consider whether or not we should ensure that babies that are being carried around by their parents have helmets on because, after all, occasionally their heads are bumped and so forth. The point I am making, and it becomes clearest of all when you look at vehicle occupants, is that an argument is very easily made for ensuring that helmets are worn under those circumstances. I think there are very good arguments for wearing helmets in motor vehicles. It may well be that shortly we will see people doing that. If we think back a matter of 10 years, it was very rare to see a cyclist wearing a helmet, although, going back quite some years ago to when I was a child, I remember that there were people who wore leather helmets.
The real question is: Where are we going to draw the line? In the chamber this evening, in the final run and obviously after considerable consideration the Liberals have come down on the side of saying that they will support this legislation and there is no doubt that the attempt by the Federal Government to bribe members of this Assembly with the black spot funding has been taken on. That in itself presents a quite significant style of precedent. The Federal Government will give us money if we are very good and do what they think is a good idea. I think that also needs to be questioned.
For myself, I have come down on the other side and would argue that there are some real costs in terms of cycle riding. One of the costs, of course, is the finding that where bicycle helmet legislation has been introduced there has been a reduction in the usage of bicycles. When you are looking at the overall health of the population, you cannot help but ask what that is going to cost us in terms of fitness and what it is going to cost the community in terms of extra hospitalisation and so forth.
It is too early to determine whether or not that result of the introduction of such legislation will diminish as time goes on. I quite accept that that is often the case; that as a reaction to a particular piece of legislation there is a drop-off, for example in this case, in the use of bicycles, but that use will in turn grow. That is a concern, and it is a concern particularly when there is such an emphasis, from an environmental perspective, on trying to get people to use alternative means of transport, cycling being one.
Another factor in this is people’s vanity. There is certainly the argument that people will not now ride bicycles simply because they do not like the way it makes their hair go sweaty, turn into rat tails, turn fizzy, or whatever. I am very fortunate in that, with a bit of barbed wire on my head that counts for hair, it does not really matter very much. We put a helmet on and off and it makes no difference. We do not get too concerned about what our hair is like at any given time.
I think the point is best put in terms of the costs and the benefits. As far as I am concerned in this case, the benefits, while they are clear, can be attained through education, and the costs are simply too great. Therefore, I oppose the legislation. I would like to make a final point about something that has been raised by both the Liberals and Ms Szuty. Attempting to sneak an increase in the overall fine level into this Bill was inappropriate. I spoke to Mr Connolly about this after the Bill was introduced and his reaction at the time was something along these lines: “Well, we get inflation, and obviously there has to be an increase”. But 500 per cent since 1984 is hardly in line with the CPI, even under a Labor government.
MR DE DOMENICO (8.55): Madam Speaker, I rise briefly to speak on this Bill. I did not intend to speak initially and I apologise, Mr Lamont, for getting up before you. I thought it was quite right to say, first of all, that as far—
Mr Kaine: As far as we can see, it is going to be eminently more interesting than what he was going to say.
MR DE DOMENICO: Thank you. My esteemed leader is right, as he usually is; but not all the time, mind you. I rise to say, first of all, Madam Speaker, that as far as the Liberal Party is concerned – I am sure my colleagues will agree – we do not have any feeling that we have been bribed by anybody in supporting this legislation. So, first of all, Mr Moore, we have not been bribed, as you so incorrectly put it.
Moreover, as Mr Stevenson correctly said, a person’s right to respond is important. But I also say, without wanting to speak on other matters that hopefully will come up to this Assembly in the future, that we have to speak about the right to life of people riding bicycles and walking along footpaths, and riding or walking along streets. Also, no-one mentioned the right of protecting those who do the hurting. In other words, as Mr Westende said, quite correctly, what if you or I were driving a car and we happened to hit someone on a bike who did not have a helmet on and did that person damage? I think the community has a right to protect people who, through no fault of their own, happen to be involved in an accident.
I speak with personal experience. Three or four months ago one of my sons, who in fact does ride a bike to school and does wear a helmet, was riding along the footpath and, lo and behold, a car came out of a driveway, backing out where there were bushes and hedges, and he was knocked off his bike. His head hit the car in front of him. I shudder to think what would have happened to him if he had not had a helmet on.
I conclude by saying two things. Even if we save one life, I could not give a hang what John Stuart Mill said 200 years ago, or whenever. He does not even vote in the ACT, for a start. I could not give a hang what anybody said. Whilst I also have certain philosophical bents from time to time, as you all will realise, as long as we can save one life I think that we ought to support this legislation. Therefore, the Liberal Party quite rightly and quite correctly supports it.
Finally, Madam Speaker, I just once again agree with everybody else who has spoken about the concern about clause 6 of the Bill and the penalty. Whilst the maximum penalty, I think, for not wearing a seat belt can be up to $75, we are now told that driving a horse and cart without control of the horse can bring a fine of up to $500. I would like the Government to look at that, and perhaps we may leave it as it is.
MR LAMONT (8.58): Madam Speaker, somewhat surprisingly – –
Mr Kaine: This is going to be a long one.
MR LAMONT: It will be.
Mr Kaine: He even has a prepared speech, too. Look at this, a prepared speech.
MR LAMONT: I do believe that it is incumbent upon the Government to try to educate the Opposition. Somewhat surprisingly, Madam Speaker, the issue of compulsory bike helmets has become – – –
Mr Kaine: You are going to have a hard time educating us on anything.
MR LAMONT: I know that we are going to have a hard time trying to educate the Opposition. Somewhat surprisingly, Madam Speaker, the issue of compulsory bike helmets has become reasonably controversial. Members of this Assembly on both sides of the house have been assailed as threatening individual freedoms, and supporters of the Government’s proposal have even had their commitment to democracy questioned.
Opponents of the Government’s legislation have argued, inter alia, that because there are a greater number of head injuries to pedestrians and motorists, the Government is not justified in helmeting cyclists and that in doing so they are trampling on the individual rights of cyclists. Drawing heavily on the philosophical writings of the nineteenth century libertarian John Stuart Mill, they argue that the right to self-preservation is the right of the individual alone and that head injuries to cyclists are no-one else’s concern. They deny that the law should be a mechanism for persuading children of the benefits of wearing helmets, saying that this is properly the responsibility of parents.
As an Assembly member, and as a father of three boys, I am extremely concerned that the outwardly sophisticated arguments of these critics could undermine community support for what I see as a very important measure by the Government to improve public safety.
Madam Speaker, the statistics used by the opponents of this proposal are quite misleading and, I would suggest, mischievous. Put simply, it does not necessarily follow that we should not legislate for the wearing of bike helmets before we have helmeted pedestrians and/or motorists. While it may be true that the absolute number of people incurring head injuries is greater for pedestrians and motorists, this says little about the true nature of the risks involved in cycling.
I doubt whether any medical statistics exist, or would be obtainable, to show the number of bike riders who regularly ride their bikes in public places. Therefore, we are unlikely ever to have any firm data on the number of head injuries as a percentage of bike riders and how this compares with the percentage for pedestrians and motorists.
While such information may be unobtainable, I suspect that the reason why there is such little community support for helmet wearing by pedestrians and motorists is that these activities are seen to be inherently less dangerous, in terms of incurring a head injury, than bike riding. Without statistical data we cannot know for sure, but it is an intuitive position that I would accept as fairly self-evident.
The main opponents of the Bill, the Cyclists Rights, Action Group or CRAG, also argue the question of the equity of introducing compulsory helmet wearing. They claim that they are being picked on as a small minority and that it is pure political cynicism to target a group which has less political clout than either pedestrians or motorists.
Madam Speaker, even if we accepted the premise that bike riding is not more dangerous vis-a-vis head injury than walking or driving – and, from what I have said above, I do not accept that premise – I believe that this argument is also flawed. it is not cynicism but simple commonsense that the Government should seek to ameliorate the head injury statistics wherever it is politically possible to do so. We would never make progress in any direction if governments were unwilling to move in one area because of political opposition in another.
Madam Speaker, CRAG also reject the idea that the proposed legislation is an appropriate way of ensuring that children wear helmets, saying that “protection of children is a parental responsibility”. However, the protection of children in many areas is a community responsibility. Governments are regularly required to intervene to protect children where parental responsibility has proven to be inadequate. In a letter to me on 11 May the president of CRAG pointed out that 41 per cent of cyclists killed in 1988 were under the age of 16. Surely this represents an example of the inadequacy of parental supervision on these occasions.
Another argument put forward is that, while the Government may be acting reasonably as far as the wearing of helmets is concerned when cyclists are on the road, it is not reasonable for cyclists to have to wear them when on arguably less dangerous terrain such as public parks. They also say that there will be problems in enforcing the law and that this will encourage people to be law-breakers. My view on this is that if we accept that government has a responsibility to protect children, and we do, it is important to ask: What is reasonable in the exercise of that protection? In this case I think we need to ask whether or not it is reasonable to assume that we can rely on children to always make a distinction between riding on the road and riding in other public places such as parks. I do not believe that it is reasonable.
There are, in any case, Madam speaker, other practical difficulties in making a distinction between different public places and attempting to enforce such a distinction in the courts. It could be argued, for example, that, were the Government to legislate for the wearing of helmets only on roadways and were there to be a bike accident in a public park, the Government could be held liable for not extending the same protection to cyclists in parks that it had extended to cyclists on the roads. Whatever one may think about the logic or fairness of such reasoning – and I make no judgment about it one way or the other – the fact is that it is not unusual for the courts to find governments negligent where it is felt that reasonable steps could have been taken to avoid what are judged to be foreseeable threats to public safety. Given that bike riding in parks is not without risk, this could certainly be argued.
The opponents of this Bill have quoted, rather tendentiously, I might say, Madam Speaker, the words of John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty”, that the treatment of minorities is the measure of the quality of a democracy. Madam Speaker, I have serious doubts that when John Stuart Mill wrote those words he had in mind the compulsory wearing of bike helmets as an example of the oppression of a minority.
As a rule, Madam Speaker, I generally look for philosophical guidance not from philosophers like Mill but from philosophers like my dear old apple-cheeked grandmother, who always used to remind me that in a democracy there are certainly rights – we have in all democracy a basic fundamental principle of rights – but there are also obligations. As a matter of fact, Madam Speaker, I think that someone with the good sense and perspective of Mill would have agreed with the sage wisdom of Granny, and the opponents of this Bill would do well to do the same.
On balance, I believe that the benefits to public safety which this law will bring will outweigh any perceived loss of amenity to some cyclists. I accept that there may be a problem with enforcement of the law, but I do not believe that it is any greater than that which applies to the wearing of seat belts or motorcycle helmets. It is certainly no greater, Madam Speaker, than the problem which would pertain were the law to attempt to make an artificial distinction between different public places such as roads and parks. The Government has an obligation and a duty to protect public safety. This law is a reasonable measure by the Follett Administration to do so.
There has been much said this evening Madam Speaker, about the statistics pertaining to deaths and head injuries sustained by cycle riders. I seek leave to table and to have incorporated in Hansard the statistics for Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT for the period 1988 to 1991.
Document incorporated at Appendix 1.
MR KAINE (Leader of the Opposition) (9.07): I was not going to speak to this subject either, like my colleague Mr De Domenico; but, when Mr Lamont makes an 18-minute speech, with 15 closely typed pages, it strikes me that there must be something very important about this issue, so we should all make a statement about it.
I support this legislation. I do not support it because the Commonwealth is blackmailing me over black spot legislation or grants of money or anything else. I do have some respect for the notions of people like John Stuart Mill, who lived a long time ago but whose principles still hold good in today’s society. Whether it is hard hats or anything else, the principle is still good. I do not think that it is the role of parliaments, however, to sit here in glorious isolation and make decisions about the community, unless it is the will of the community that we do so. There is a will of the community at the moment that has to do with the wearing of safety hats by people riding bicycles.
We do not have to go back too many years to see the argument about whether people should be obliged to wear seat belts in motor cars. There was legislation enacted to require that right across Australia – not because legislators said that it had to be done, but because the community finally realised that it was the sensible thing to do. It is only quite recently that motorcyclists have been obliged to wear hard hats – again, not because we legislators sat here and said that we have to protect those people because they are incapable of protecting themselves; we did so because there was a public demand. Mr Moore, in that, is correct; the legislators, not only here but across Australia, made a judgement about the costs.
Now we are at the point where there is a rising public perception and a rising public demand that something be done to protect people riding bicycles. By and large, I think that flows from a concern for children who ride bicycles, as much as anything. But, as has been rightly pointed out, you cannot make artificial distinctions between 16-year- olds and 17-year-olds, or between public parks and public streets; so, you have to make a judgement about the costs and how far one should go in legislating for a person’s safety.
I do not doubt for a minute that at some future time, as Mr Moore mentioned, we may well be discussing the question of whether people who use skateboards should be protected in a similar fashion. I do not think for the time being there is any evidence to suggest that it is anything like a problem – there is certainly no public perception that it is a problem – but at some future time it may well become so. It may well happen during my time in this Assembly and we may well be sitting here discussing the issue of making people wear hard hats if they are going to use skateboards. That will be, again, because there is a demand from the public that we do so.
I have one final comment, Madam Speaker. I found it rather odd that Mr Moore argued against this legislation, because I know that he is an ardent cyclist. I see him riding his bicycle to work in this building and I see him wearing a hard hat. He has made a judgement for himself that this is a prudent thing to do. Why should he argue that it is not equally as prudent to require somebody else to do the same thing? if you were one of the hardheads who are going to ride a bicycle without a hard hat and say, “I do not need to do so”, there would be some logic to your argument that nobody should.
Mr Moore: Because I am a true Liberal; that is why.
MR KAINE: Mr Moore is ambivalent on this subject, as he is with many others. He wants to protect himself when he rides a bicycle, but he does not think that anybody else should be protected. There seems to me to be a certain ambivalence in that.
For my part, Madam Speaker, I Support this legislation – not because I alone think it is a good idea, but because I have had a lot indications from the community out there that they think it is a good idea, that the public purse should be protected, that their tax dollars should be protected, in our hospital systems and elsewhere, and that there is an obligation, where parents do not protect their children, for the community to do so. For that reason, and that reason alone, I support this legislation. I do not think there is much more argument that can be mounted about it, Madam Speaker.
MR CONNOLLY (Attorney-General, Minister for Housing and Community Service and Minister for Urban Services) (9.12), in reply: I rise to close the debate on this matter. I think it has been a very constructive debate on both sides. One of the most telling things that that were said was said in different ways by both my colleague Mr Lamont and Mr De Domenico when they both referred to their own children. Mr Lamont said that he was approaching this primarily from the point of view of his three young lads; and Mr De Domenico said that only some months ago his son was involved in a spill while wearing a hard hat, he came off and was okay.
It is interesting that when this debate was first emerging we had one of the ACTION bus stoppages. On that day a young woman came off her bike on Adelaide Avenue, which caused a bit of confusion and chaos to traffic on that morning. I was taking a close interest in how traffic was flowing that morning, understandably. The police were able to advise me very quickly that this young woman was all right. She was wearing a helmet. Had she not been, she would have been very seriously injured, if not killed.
This argument essentially comes down to the legislature protecting lives and protecting against serious injury. Mr Kaine made a telling point; this is not a case of the legislature getting out there in front of the community. In large measure, it is a case of the legislature responding to community pressure.
I was interested to hear the Dennis poll results last year. There was about 50 per cent support. Recently, when there has been a fair degree of public debate on this issue, it has risen, on the Dennis poll, to something like 75 per cent. I could regret setting a precedent of citing with approval in a debate here a Dennis poll result, but that is indicative that there is general public support for this measure. That certainly is consistent with the views that we have been getting in terms of phone-ins, letters and calls coming in on the issue.
I am really grasping for an issue that was raised by opponents of this measure to respond to. The issue of liberty versus compulsion, I think, has been addressed well by a number of speakers. I think everyone has wrestled with this to some extent or other, but it essentially comes down to the same argument as about seat belts. I would have said rhetorically that nobody is against seat belts because they have been so proven to be a lifesaver.
I was intrigued to have delivered to me only this evening the latest missive from the Cyclists Rights Action Group – directed to Mr Brown but copied to me – which says that laws to compel the wearing of helmets and seat belts infringe civil liberties and have no place in a civilised society. I would have to say that I think that is simply wrong. I think that hardly any people would say that the compulsory wearing of seat belts, by legislation around Australia and virtually throughout certainly the developed world, is wrong. I think that is an extreme minority viewpoint that would find very few adherents. I could understand an argument that draws a distinction between seat belt and helmet, although I would disagree with it; but I think that I sort of argument is an absolutist argument and can stand no support. I would be surprised if Mr Moore supports that, although perhaps he does.
Let us look at what we compel people to wear by way of safety. For seat belts there is virtually unanimous agreement. We have child restraints in cars. This legislature, during the former Government, I think, toughened up on some of the child restraint laws. There was unanimous support for that. It is a sensible measure that is saving young children’s lives, and it has total support. As to motorcycle helmets, has there ever been an argument against the compulsory wearing of motorcycle helmets? I would find it extraordinary. It is accepted.
Mr Moore: Margaret Reid did, I think.
MR CONNOLLY: I that related to lights, or wearing them at low speed. There was at one stage an exception; you did not have to wear the helmet if you travelled at below 15 kilometres per hour. That has now been outlawed again generally accepted.
I thought of another example this evening when attending an Emergency Service exercise, namely, hard hats on construction sites. That fits in with what Mr Kaine was saying because the pressure for hard hats on construction sites came first from the union movement and first from workers demanding safety. They demanded that it be made compulsory. Legislatures were slower to move. Only recently, with occupational health and safety legislation, has the state stepped in and said, “You shall be protected”. Before that, the workers themselves were demanding protection. So, I just cannot see an argument about compulsion versus optionism.
Mr Moore said that there was the problem of vanity; that people would not like wearing helmets because of their vanity. I am sure that people would rather have even an ugly helmeted head than a squashed and beautiful one. He spoke of a trade-off. He said that there was a trade-off involved here; that 15 per cent fewer people were riding bikes in Victoria. I am happy with a trade-off that has 15 cent fewer people on bikes for 50 per cent fewer fatalities and serious head injuries, and that is what the figures show, if you want to talk trade-offs.
The issue of skateboards and rollerblades was raised. I think that what this Assembly or parliaments throughout Australia will be looking at before helmets for skateboarders and rollerbladers may be the issue of whether they are to be allowed on the roads. There is a strong argument that perhaps they should not be on the roads. That is the big difference now. Essentially, they are recreational activities and in the ACT we encourage them to be done in recreation parks that we provide and in skateboard rinks that we provide. It may be that either private members or the Government may bring before the Assembly something in the way of an element of compulsion. But skateboards and rollerblades are not used regularly on the commuter roads as bicycles are; so there is a distinction.
Madam Speaker, the safety arguments are overwhelming. The statistics tabled by Mr Lamont make a case which most members agree with, and the overwhelming public support for the measure makes even Mr Stevenson vote with the Government on this occasion. I am sure, incidentally, that the 75 per cent popular support would be about par for popular support for most actions of this popular Government. We will wait for other Dennis poll results on that giving us more good news.
The other issue that needs to be addressed in my summing-up is this issue of penalties. The first thing which I really must take exception to is Mr Moore’s remarks about this being sneaked through, because this was made abundantly clear in the presentation speech. The paragraph says that the general penalty provision in the principal Act currently provides for a maximum penalty of $100 for offences committed against the Act where no other penalty is provided. This provision was last reviewed in 1984 and it is proposed that the penalty be increased to $500. We made this abundantly clear in the introductory speech; so there can be no question that this is an attempt to sneak penalties through.
I must concede that perhaps presentationally it was unfortunate that we dealt with the two matters in the one Bill, because it has provided some comfort for people who are opposed to helmets to raise some spurious arguments about penalties and cycles and suggest that this is all part of some anti-cyclist conspiracy. The reason why this was brought in in the same Bill was that I, personally, have a dislike of getting into a situation that we got into in each of the first three years of the Assembly where, by December, we were debating the Traffic (Amendment) Bill No. 6 because amendments to the motor vehicle laws and the traffic laws tend to have to be dealt with fairly regularly. I am trying to institute a practice whereby, when we bring one measure before the Assembly, we take the opportunity to deal with a few matters in one amending Bill in order to reduce the clutter on the legislative program. That is why we rolled the two matters up, although they are disparate.
The sensible reason why the Government thought of increasing penalties was that this has not been dealt with since 1984. In that time inflation has moved along; other penalties have been increased. We are constantly being told by the Liberal Party that we have to get tough and increase penalties. Well, here we have one. If the Liberal Party, when confronted with the issue, does not want to increase penalties, that is fine. They are maximum penalties, and that is important. That is very important. These are matters not dealt with by on-the-spot fines. These are matters dealt with before a court and we are talking maximum penalties.
There was some glee from Mr Moore and, I think, Mr Westende when they picked up a couple of the more obscure sections of the Traffic Act, such as that three or more horses are not to be ridden abreast, which perhaps seems a little trivial. The offence of loads being insecure is not a particularly trivial offence. If you have a semitrailer or a trailer with large planks or drums rolling off, I would hardly think that that is regarded as a trivial offence. If we go further down, there are some quite substantial matters here which I would certainly like the Liberal Party to think about before they toss this out.
Some of the more substantial offences are not dealt with by a specific penalty in the Act and so are caught by this general provision. One is the provision that requires a driver to stop a vehicle when required to by a member of the police force. That is section 33. Another is the provision that a driver is to give their name and place of address to the police. That is section 34. Another is section 35, relating to furnishing information to the police officer. Most importantly, there is section 32, whereby a driver is to stop in the case of an accident. That is, in effect, a hit and run, although if anyone is injured or killed you would deal with the driver under the more serious provisions.
Failure to stop in the event of an accident and failure to stop when required to by a police officer are matters that would be caught by this increased penalty. While we can laugh at the outlandish possibility that you would get the maximum penalty for the three horses abreast on Northbourne Avenue, and we can jest about that, I would have thought that there would be general agreement that failing to stop after an accident or failing to stop when directed by a police officer to do so are matters that may be regarded as more than trifling and more than a joke and that $100 may seem to be a little low, particularly when we think that the current $100 was an increase from $40 back in 1984, which probably itself traces back to about 20 pounds. A lot of these penalties were around for a long time.
The point is that we have a general offence provision that covers a range of offences, from the potentially trivial and laughable – the three horses abreast offence – to really quite serious offences. The section 32 offence – driver to stop in the case of an accident – is a matter which I think most people would regard as fairly serious. The section 33 offence – driver to stop a vehicle when directed to by a police officer – is a reasonably serious matter. I would ask the Liberals whether they think that $100 should be left or whether it is reasonable, in a context in which penalties generally have risen over the years, to increase these penalties.
I would restate that it is the Government’s intention to pursue a matter that I addressed, I think, in my introductory speech when I first came into this Assembly; that is, to move to the regime of penalty units whereby we can do a sort of once and for all review of penalties in ACT legislation, quantify them and decide whether we think that facing to stop when a police officer tells you to is a matter that is three times more serious than riding horses three abreast on the footpath, set the penalty by way of penalty units, and then have a single Act that allows us to increase the monetary quantum of those penalty units with inflation.
The Government does intend to pursue that course; but, for the instant, we have this Bill before the Assembly to debate the issue of cycle helmets. The opportunity was taken to review a penalty provision that has been there for some years. While it is possible to trivialise this and say that we are being excessive in talking about $500 for not having a bell on your pushbike, which is at the most trivial extreme, on the other hand there are some quite substantial matters here, such as not stopping in the case of an accident and not stopping when required to do so by a police officer. For these matters, really, a $500 maximum penalty – and in every case it goes before a magistrate – is not unreasonable. I will leave that matter with the Liberal Party. They are always lecturing us about increasing penalties and getting tougher. We will see what they do.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill agreed to in principle.
Clauses 1 to 5, by leave, taken together, and agreed to.
MR MOORE (9.26): Clause 6 relates to the issue that Mr Connolly has just been speaking on – the penalties for offences. They are increasing the penalty by amending the Act to omit $100 and substitute $500 – a 500 per cent increase. Mr Connolly drew attention to substantial matters and referred to sections 32 and 33 of the Act and other substantial areas. What this actually indicates is his own inadequacy. If there were a particular reason to distinguish between substantial matters and far less substantial matters, it would be appropriate for the amendment to this legislation to be drawn accordingly. That was not done. It was simply done in this manner, and that is why it is appropriate for us to vote against it.
It seems that Mr Connolly has been consorting with the credit card merchants to arrive at this figure. Are the offences so heinous? Will the threat of this fine deter people in the ACT from committing such horrible acts as riding their bikes within 10 metres of a shop? It is well understood to constitute wanton behaviour, often conducted by minors and those unable to afford a proper vehicle, and obviously they should be stamped out.
Mr Connolly: Not if you are a pensioner and you are almost bowled over by some kid on a pushbike.
MR MOORE: This conduct obviously has outraged the Attorney-General, Crusher Connolly, who also believes that other deviant forms of behaviour- – –
Mr Lamont: Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The terms used by Mr Moore are unparliamentary. He has been skating on the brink since he commenced this diatribe. I would seek that he withdraw.
MR MOORE: I could understand his point of order if I had said ‘Liar Lamont” or something, but I did not and I would not. I also withdraw that.
Mr Lamont: I ask that he also withdraw that.
MR MOORE: It is a spurious point of order.
MADAM SPEAKER: Mr Lamont, I am handicapped somewhat by the fact that I did not actually hear what was said.
MR MOORE: “Crusher Connolly” was the term I used, Madam Speaker. Especially consider the tone of my speech tonight. I also believe that deviant forms of behaviour are to be discouraged at all costs.
Mr Lamont: Madam Speaker, I rise to the same point of order. He has repeated it I seek that he withdraw it.
MR MOORE: What point of order are you talking about? What standing order number?
Mr Lamont: Referring to the Attorney General as “Crusher Connolly” is not appropriate. It is unparliamentary.
MR MOORE: Come off the grass! How sensitive! Deterrence for deviant- – –
MADAM SPEAKER: Order! Mr Lamont, let me consider it tomorrow, please.
MR MOORE: Deterrence for deviant forms of conduct also include subsection 8(2), which says:
A person shall not - (a) drive, ride or wheel a vehicle, other than a bicycle; or (b) drive, ride or lead an animal on a footpath
This means that offenders will include those renegades who dare to ride in wheelchairs, push children in prams and walk dogs on a footpath. One has to ask: Is Mr Crusher Connolly suggesting that they use the road instead? Or will he instigate a fine of a further $500 for using the road, thereby gaining a sure fund-raiser? That, of course, would be one of the major advantages of this.
Had this fine been in force last week, the revenue raised at my expense would have been in the vicinity of some $10,000. As an obvious recidivist, I was culpably pushing my arrow full of bricks – old Canberra commons, I might say, too – across the lawn, onto the footpath outside my house and around to my driveway. I now discover, to my great sensitivity, that I was flouting the law. It was certainly not on purpose. It was an opportunity missed for revenue raising that would leave ACTEW for dead.
When we look at section 10 we see this:
Any person who, upon a public street ... rides a bicycle - ... ... ... (b) without having his feet on the pedals thereof ...
Fair enough, we should aspire to the safe riding of bicycles. But $500 is the fine. Section 22 of the Act says:
Any person who, in any public street in the vicinity of any sale- yards, inconveniences passers-by or obstructs traffic by causing or permitting any animals - (a) to assemble and remain standing...
We are pleased to see that cats are not included in the definitions in the Bill, as I believe that cats are very difficult to train to take a sitting position, which would render their congregating legal. It is fortunate that sheep and dogs, who are a little easier to train, will not necessarily incur such a draconian fine, providing they do not remain standing.
These are the sorts of things that are covered by this increase from $100 to $500 in the Bill. Quite clearly, the amendment to the Act is entirely inadequate. If Mr Connolly believes that there are some serious areas that require an increase in the level of penalty, then appropriately he should legislate in that area. This general increase is entirely inappropriate and I urge members to vote against it.
MADAM SPEAKER: Members, the time is now 9.30 pm. I propose the question:
That the Assembly do now adjourn
Ms Follett: Madam Speaker, I require the question to be put forthwith without debate.
Question resolved in the negative.
TRAFFIC (AMENDMENT) BILL 1992
MR HUMPHRIES (9.31): The Liberal Party, as it indicated before, will be opposing this clause. I think that we can accept that there is some force behind the argument that the Attorney-General has put, that some of the offences provided for in the Traffic Act do require stiffer penalties than presently are provided for. I think we would accept that. There are certainly some fairly serious provisions in there which need to be considered.
An increase of 500 per cent is a rather stiffer penalty than the Liberal Party generally supports; nonetheless, there might be circumstances in which we would support such an amendment. We will not support the kind of blanket amendment which has been talked about here, however. It is simply too broad. It is simply a sloppy way of dealing with a whole series of very sensitive issues to which individual thought should be given.
I am quite happy to indicate that we will be rejecting that clause of the Bill at this time. If the Minister comes back at another time with more sophisticated amendments dealing with each of these sections, instead of this ham-fisted style, as Mr Moore puts it, I am sure that they will be supported by this party. We do believe that there are a number of quite minor and probably irrelevant provisions in the Act which ought not to attract penalties of that size, and for that reason we think that a little more sophistication is called for.
MR CONNOLLY (Attorney-General, Minister for Housing and Community Services and Minister for Urban Services) (9.33): Madam Speaker, it would seem that this measure is doomed to failure. The liberal Party, despite their regular calls for us to get tough on virtually every offence under the sun, when given their first opportunity retreat at breakneck speed, no doubt influenced by Mr Moore’s very entertaining speech – entertaining and amusing, but somewhat at odds with the Act.
The offences he was referring to relate to vehicles. The Act uses the phrase “vehicle or motor vehicle”. “Motor vehicle”, in the definitions section of the head Act, the Traffic Act, has the same definition as in the Motor Traffic Act. It essentially means motor vehicles. “Vehicle” is defined to mean a bicycle or a carriage drawn by an animal, which I think would exclude the wheelbarrow that Mr Moore – – –
Mr Moore: I am an animal
MR CONNOLLY: Indeed, it would, because “animal” is defined to mean any horse, cattle or sheep generally, apart from, interestingly enough, the provision requiring a person to stop when a vehicle or animal that they have been riding is involved in an accident. When you are riding an animal which is involved in an accident, you are required to stop, whether that animal is a horse, cattle, sheep, pig or dog; whereas generally, “animal”, for the purposes of the Act, in the interpretation section, means a horse, cattle or sheep. So, members should be aware, if they feel free to ride a sheep or pig down Northbourne Avenue and believe that- – –
Mr Kaine: if you are riding your sheep around London Circuit, be careful.
MR CONNOLLY: No. you see, for riding a sheep you would, of course, be caught, Mr Kaine. You would assume that you would be caught, because of the general definition of “animal” meaning horse, cattle or sheep. Members may think that by riding a pig or dog on the streets of Canberra they could avoid the provisions of the law and the $100 penalty if they were involved in an accident; but they could not because some earlier draftsperson has very thoughtfully provided an extended definition of “animal” to cover pigs or dogs as well as other matters.
Essentially, the extreme matters that Mr Moore was referring to simply do not apply. Pushing a wheelbarrow is not caught. He referred to a wheelchair being caught. In fact, there is a specific condition relating to wheelchairs which has a specific penalty of $100. That simply is that a person shall not either walk on a public street or use a wheelchair on a public street without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the street. I think that is a sensible provision.
What is interesting is that, in relation to what was put up as a trivial matter – the riding of a bike within 10 metres of a shop – I have on a number of occasions received constituent enquiries about this. Elderly Canberrans in particular have said that this is a real problem and that things should happen about it. No doubt I will be delighted, when dealing with future constituent inquiries, to respond saying that we tried but the Liberal Party rejected the increase in penalties. I think that will be grist for many a letter going out in the future.
As I say, without trivialising the matter, an opportunity was taken when this matter was before the Assembly to review penalty provisions. While there are specific penalty provisions, the general penalty has been sitting there since the early 1980s. We thought it was too low. While there may be some cases that seem trivial, there are some more substantial matters. I was particularly drawing attention to failure to stop in the case of an accident and failure to stop when called upon by a police officer to do so. The matter that was raised by Mr Moore as a trivial matter is really, I think, a matter of some substance. In cases where the person on a bike may cause real concern or alarm to an elderly pedestrian, I would have thought a $500 maximum would be appropriate for a court; but the matter is in the hands of the assembly.
MR MOORE (9.38): I could not help having my attention drawn by Mr Connolly to the definition of “animal”, which means any horse, cattle or sheep. That indicates to me a further inadequacy of the legislation. It would be expected in Australia that we include camels in the definition.
That the clause be agreed to.
The Assembly voted –
AYES, 8 NOES, 9 Mr Berry Mrs Carnell Mr Connolly Mr Cornwell Ms Ellis Mr De Domenico Ms Follett Mr Humphries Mrs Grassby Mr Kaine Mr Lamont Mr Moore Ms McRae Mr Stevenson Mr Wood Ms Szuty Mr Westende
Question so resolved in the negative.
Remainder of Bill, by leave, taken together, and agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Hansard, 19 May 1992, Pages 761-762
MINISTER FOR URBAN SERVICES
LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY QUESTION
QUESTION NO. 81
Mr Moore – asked the Minister for Urban Services:
(1) Bearing in mind your statement to the Legislative Assembly on 18 September 1991 that Labour Party policy is essentially the view of John Stuart Mill, namely that an individual has the maximum freedom until the point at which that freedom hurts another; what hurt to another do you rely upon to justify a law to take away a cyclist’s freedom to choose whether or not to wear a helmet for self protection.
(2) If the hurt to another is merely the cost to the public health- care system, is it a fact that caring for cyclists with head injuries is minuscule compared to motor vehicles and pedestrians with head injuries, and persons with diseases caused by smoking; how then does the Minister justify the discrimination against cyclists.
(3) Did your department advise upon the Commonwealth Government’s inclusion of compulsory helmets in it’s offer of additional funds for roads, namely that problems could be created for the ACT, and helmets should be compulsory on main roads only; and that it would be both impossible and inappropriate to police the wearing of helmets on cycle paths in Canberra, leading to the creation of an unenforceable law and the adverse social consequences associated with encouraging law breaking.
(4) Have the Minister or the Department requested from the Commonwealth its reasons for including compulsory bicycle helmets in its offer; if so, with what result.
(5) Are you aware of findings by the Australian Institute of Criminology that punitive laws are relatively ineffectual as a means of inducing young people to adopt desired behaviour, and has your Department investigated positive inducement for the wearing of helmets; if so, with what result.
(6) Consistent with the principles of participatory democracy espoused by the Chief Minister on 25 September 1991 and at other times, what steps have you taken to consult with cyclists on the question of compulsory helmets.
Mr Connolly – the answer to the Member’s question is as follows:
(1) It is often the role of Government to legislate to reduce the trauma for the families of seriously-injured accident victims if possible. Precedents, such as the wearing of seat belts, the imposition of speed limits, the introduction of drink-driving legislation, the testing of motor vehicles, have all been imposed to reduce the risk of injury and death to members of the community. Occasionally these measures may reduce an individual’s freedom, but I believe that when sufficient evidence is available to suggest that lives could be saved or serious injury prevented if these freedoms were reduced, it is a responsibility of Government to adopt these measures.
(2) The wearing of helmets is an effective measure to reduce pain and suffering from injuries as well as costs incurred by the health system. The compulsory wearing of helmets is considered to be a practical and effective road safety measure which already has widespread acceptance amongst the community.
The Ten Point Road Safety Package (of which cycle helmet legislation is a part) does not discriminate against cyclists. It includes the reduction of the blood alcohol limit for all drivers, the imposition of maximum speed limits for heavy vehicles and speed limiters for heavy vehicles.
(3) & (4) It is not appropriate for me to divulge the nature of Departmental advice to a Minister, discussions between officers of my Department and other Departments, or of discussions between Ministers.
(5) I am aware that reports exist that suggest that punitive laws can be ineffectual in inducing young people to adopt desired behaviour. However, I believe that this legislation should not be categorised in this way. I believe that the $35 fine is set at a reasonable level considering that it is a penalty designed to enforce the public’s safety.
In regard to the inducements offered by my Department for the wearing of helmets, the Road Safety Unit of my Department has for a number of years, promoted cycle safety, including the wearing of helmets, in all ACT schools. There has been an average increase of around 30% in helmet-wearing rates over the past six years, from under 20% in 1986. The overall wearing rate within the community is far from satisfactory, especially as the increased wearing rates are not reflected to the same degree amongst teenage riders. I feel that there is a need for further incentives to wear helmets which is why I introduced this legislation into the Assembly.
(6) I met with Mr Curnow, President of the Cyclists Rights Action Group, an Organisation established primarily to fight the introduction of compulsory helmet wearing, before this Bill was introduced and discussed the proposal with him. Given the nationally uniform approach to this matter, and its inclusion in a package which was accepted by the Alliance Government, I feel that sufficient consultation took place.
Hansard, 19 May 1992, Page 801
(incorporated in Hansard on 19 May 1992 at page 581)
Death rates as a result of cycle accidents in NSW and Victoria per year (Compulsory cycle helmet legislation introduced in 1991)
Year NSW Victoria 1988 34 17 1989 19 34 1990 20 24 1991 10 12 (After the intro. of helmet legislation)
So far this year, NSW have recorded 4 cycle deaths which, projected yearly, indicates 10 deaths per year.
Head Statistics For Victoria
Three separate studies have been undertaken in Victoria to ascertain the impact of compulsory helmet wearing on head injuries in that state. They showed a reduction of 46%, 40% and 47% respectively in head injuries as a result of cycle accidents after the introduction of the legislation.
Over the last two years in the ACT, a total of four people have died as a result of cycle accidents, two of whom suffered head injuries.
Of the 18 cyclists who were admitted to hospital with injuries in 1991, seven suffered head injuries (none of whom were wearing helmets), and 11 were admitted with other injuries. of these 11, five were wearing helmets. In other words, none of the five helmet wearers who were hospitalised sustained head injuries whereas seven of the 13 hospitalised non helmet wearers did sustain head injuries.
In 1990, of the 17 cyclists admitted to hospital, 5 wore helmets, none of whom suffered head injuries. 4 of the 12 cyclists who were not wearing helmets, suffered head injuries.
So, on the basis of these two years, if a cyclist who is wearing a helmet is hospitalised, he/she is unlikely to have a head injury. But if a cyclist who is not wearing a helmet is hospitalised, he/she has a 30 – 50% chance of having a head injury.