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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 13 Hansard (7 December) . . Page.. 3873 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

drivers. Drivers with a blood alcohol content of 0.1 are seven times more likely to have an accident than a sober driver.

Nearly 30 per cent of fatal road accidents in Australia involve drivers within the legal blood alcohol level. It is also interesting to note that half the serious accidents on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights are alcohol related. There is a responsibility on this Assembly to send a clear message that drink-driving is not acceptable. Not only is drink-driving harmful for the person who drinks, the fact that they are on public roads alongside other drivers means that innocent drivers are under threat from potential injury and death from the reckless behaviour of drunk drivers.

It is clear that, despite an intense effort to combat drink-driving over a number of years, the reduction in alcohol related road trauma has levelled out over the last decade. The Federal Office of Road Safety, in one of their monographs, indicated that there are still some hardcore groups of motorists who have not responded to the community campaign to reduce drink-driving. These are young male motorists, blue collar or unemployed male motorists and middle aged male motorists who appear to be alcohol dependent. While legal penalties have some deterrent value, these findings indicate that there still needs to be a broader range of educational and community awareness-raising strategies and alcohol rehabilitation programs to keep sending the message that drinking and driving are not compatible.

Just disqualifying problem drinkers from driving for a period may get them off the road for a while, but it will not solve the problem in the long run. The existing Motor Traffic Act already contains a range of rules and penalties regarding drink-driving. The Government now proposes to strengthen these rules through new legislation which incorporates the amendments put forward by Paul Osborne. The amendments are basically the same as those put forward by the Government in 1997 that were defeated.

The question that this Assembly must address is how far it should go in penalising drink-drivers. There are different views on this issue within the Assembly. The Greens support the Government's desire to send a strong message to the community that driving while drunk is not acceptable and that offenders will be appropriately penalised. We support the idea of a graduated scale of penalties based on the blood alcohol concentration of the offender, because it is clear that the risk of road accidents increases markedly with increases in blood alcohol concentration.

We also support the initiative in the Bill to provide a 12-month good behaviour period as an alternative to licence suspension for drivers who gain excessive demerit points. While we want to get drink-drivers to sober up or stay off the road, there is a complicating issue raised by the Government's amendments - the role of the Assembly and the courts in setting penalties. We accept that the Assembly's role is to set maximum penalties for particular offences through legislation. But to set minimum penalties interferes with the role of the judiciary in determining the appropriate level of penalty in individual cases, by taking into account all the circumstances of an offence.

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