Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 12 Hansard (21 November) . . Page.. 3700..
MR MULCAHY (Molonglo) (3.37): I make some comments on an increasingly important issue facing the ACT over the coming years. I believe that comprehensive infrastructure solutions will be required to maximise the mobility of aged citizens in the ACT and begin to address problems associated with an ageing population.
This issue has been the subject of considerable discussion over the past few months and culminated in a recent seminar on older drivers that was sponsored by the Australasian College of Road Safety and the NRMA ACT Road Safety Trust. The seminar was attended by a host of local and international authorities on the subjects of ageing and transport, and the conclusions drawn from the various speakers shed new light on the problems associated with seniors' mobility and how to begin tackling them.
It is generally thought that those aged 55 years or more are appropriately included in this debate. As life spans increase, the baby boomers of today are extending the age range of what it means to be an older driver or public transport user. Expectations are also increasing on what are acceptable means to maintain an independent lifestyle.
Professor Don Aitken of the Road Safety Trust believes that, despite older drivers being very safe and cautious, their susceptibility to accidents increased from the age of 84. During the seminar, Professor Aitken stressed the fact that older drivers themselves may not necessarily be the problem. However, the world's population is definitely getting older—and the ACT community is certainly ageing rapidly—and the birth rate is declining on an Australia-wide basis, which will start to change perceptions on seniors' mobility and its associated policy problems.
Dr Bella Dinh-Zarr, the acting North American director of the make roads safe international road safety campaign, agreed that in the United States as well as Australia we are experiencing an ageing population. She stressed that we need to do something now and not wait for the baby boomers to get older, as they generally have better health than previously and have become accustomed to more independence. This is particularly true in the ACT, where the population is ageing rapidly and issues concerning the aged will become ever more important over the medium to long term. We need to have the right policies in place to begin solving these problems now before they become too expensive and unmanageable.
Why is mobility important for older citizens in our community? Mr Robin Anderson, an executive member of the ACT and region chapter of the Australasian College of Road Safety, believes that mobility for older people is critical for both physical and mental health. That is why the cessation of driving, when necessary, should be done gradually and not consist of a sudden, traumatic experience. No longer being able to drive can be a traumatic experience for some older people. There currently exist overseas programs addressing this problem.
Mr Allan Brownsdon from the Council on the Ageing presented some telling statistics about how aged citizens currently get around the ACT. Apart from demonstrating that we as a territory have the most rapidly ageing population in Australia, he showed that, amongst the various travel options that are utilised by older people in the territory, some 280,000 people drive their own car; 150,000 people walk to get around; 66,000 people are driven by their carer; 30,000 people use the ACTION bus system; 27,000 people are