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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 14 Hansard (11 December) . . Page.. 4694 ..

Road Accidents - Breath Testing

MR KAINE: Mr Speaker, through you, I address a question to the Minister for Police, Mr Humphries. Minister, the Government recently announced new penalties to be introduced for drink-driving offences, but can you tell me what arrangements will be made to ensure that people who contribute to accidents are always breath tested by police, as a matter of course, to determine whether alcohol consumption was a factor?

MR HUMPHRIES: I thank Mr Kaine for that question. He is referring to the announcement we made a little while ago about new penalties to be introduced into the Assembly early next year to cover situations relating to drink-driving. The changes we are making include the introduction of a three-tiered penalty regime similar to that in New South Wales, with penalties varying for low-, medium- and high-range offenders and there being a more defined and rigorous application of penalties within those particular ranges. I did note when I announced those changes that Ms Follett was quoted as calling them draconian.

Ms McRae: They sure are.

MR HUMPHRIES: Ms McRae confirms that. I was a bit surprised to hear that said, because these penalties were announced last year by me as Minister and at that stage the then spokesman for the Opposition on this matter, Mr Connolly, said - and I have his words here:

... this statement is capable of broad bipartisan support ... It is built on the initiatives that we were taking in government.

... the Opposition is pleased that its approach is being carried forward by this Government.

I am pleased that there was support for these measures, and I hope that there will yet be support for these measures, because clearly they are sensible. They reflect what happens in New South Wales, a Labor State, and I am sure that the measures are going to be supportable by the broader community, who want action to be taken against those who drink and drive. From 1 December - some parts of this package are already in place - those who are involved in road accidents will be required automatically to undertake a breath test within the time required by the legislation. Members might recall that the Ombudsman was critical of the fact that people involved in accidents were not being breath tested. That is now being remedied as from the 1st of this month.

Last financial year we had some 13,199 accidents in the ACT. Of those, 669 involved injuries and 20 involved fatalities. Mr Speaker, these measures - not just that particular one, but the whole stack of measures that the Government has announced - are designed to send a message about a number of things. If you drink and drive and you have an accident, from now on you will be tested, no matter when the accident takes place, how it happens or what the circumstances are. Even if you are only just over the limit and even if the accident is not your fault, you will still be in considerable trouble. If you are in that position you may be ineligible to claim on your insurance, even if you are not at fault in the accident itself.

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