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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 7 Hansard (21 June) . . Page.. 2366 ..

MR CORBELL (continuing):

Mr Deputy Speaker, the budget is one of misplaced priorities and missed opportunities. This Assembly, though, has the chance to say, "As an elected body, we will decide that there are better ways to support our community than to support an initiative that delivers free school bus services to only 25 per cent of all students in the ACT." Instead, we can say that that money should not be spent in that way. We can support moves that will get the government to focus on delivering that money to where it is needed, which is in our schools, our classrooms, and with our teachers and our students. That is Labor's proposal this evening and that is why Mr Berry's amendments should be supported.

MR HIRD (5.23): Mr Deputy Speaker, we hear a lot of rhetoric about the issue of free school bus travel. The fact is that when I joined this place in 1995 this was part of our platform. In 1995, when we were sitting on the side of the chamber where the Labor Party is now sitting, we did not know how bad the economy was, the amount of money that was owed or what had been frittered away by the then government. On gaining government, we needed to take some action and we did so.

As members would be well aware, at that time it was impossible for us to do everything we wanted to do. Firstly, we had to address the problems of ACT workers superannuation. Secondly, the previous government had made commitments in respect of joint ventures within the ACT, and an example of that was the commitment of $3 million at Harcourt Hill. Those opposite make a lot of Bruce stadium, but nothing is said about the deal that was done in respect of the establishment of a licensed club which did not eventuate. Even if you were the accountant of the year, you could not have waved your magic wand to wipe out immediately the $344 million that was identified by the Auditor-General plus the other encumbrances and problems. And we could not.

I heard the former Leader of the Labor Party say that "not a dickie bird was said" in the 1997 election campaign about the free school bus issue. Let me remind the former leader that he had a fair bit to say about it on numerous occasions. If he is suffering from Alzheimer's disease and has forgotten, he can refresh his memory by looking at the Hansards to see how many times he interjected or referred to it.

However, being a responsible government, we did not take action to implement that initiative. It was not a major priority. The major priority was to get jobs to get this territory going. We needed to create employment by bringing industry to the territory. We did all this. We also addressed and attacked the regional problems that were affecting our economy. We have brought unemployment down and we have given incentives to private enterprise. We have developed a good rapport in respect of future developments within the region. All of this is going well.

An election is to be held on 20 October. We made a promise to the electorate in 1995 and we are going to honour that promise. Some members who spoke earlier in the debate wanted to know why we are buying new buses. Let me tell them. This decision is based on the promise of free bus travel for school children.

But it goes even further than that. On numerous occasions I have heard members opposite and some of the crossbenchers targeting this government and asking what it was doing about the public transport needs of the developing area of Gungahlin. Well, surprise, surprise, we need more infrastructure and more resources. We need more buses that conform with the protocols of the public transport systems throughout Australia.

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