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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10445

Mr FITZGIBBON (HunterChief Government Whip) (19:05): The town of Singleton in my electorate is in mourning. Very tragically, on Monday afternoon a horror crash occurred involving a prime mover and a school bus. As a consequence, one nine-year-old is dead, and many other children, including his brother, are injured. Young Harry Dunn was thrown from the bus on impact; he did not stand a chance. His seven-year-old brother, Luke, and another student remain in John Hunter Hospital with quite serious injuries.

Stories which have emerged from the incident paint a picture of mayhem, as kids screamed and parents who were within earshot of the accident ran to the scene. It is hard to imagine the pain and distress felt by those parents approaching that intersection. It is hard to imagine the pain of the drivers involved. It is even harder to imagine the pain of Dean and Sarah Dunn, the parents of nine-year-old Harry and seven-year-old Luke. There could be no greater source of grief than the loss of a young child. The pain and sorrow is impossible for us to comprehend. Indeed, the whole tragedy is difficult to comprehend.

Singleton is a relatively small town. Those who are not directly affected will be in the minority; the affected will include family friends, schoolteachers, the parents or relatives of fellow students and maybe a sporting coach. They could be a resident living near the scene of the accident—maybe one of those who desperately tried to help the injured schoolchildren. They might be someone who regularly served the boys or their fellow students in a shop. It is just so tragic.

The Principal of St Catherine's Catholic College, Brian Lacey, said that, understandably, the school community was struggling to deal with the tragedy and that counsellors have been called in to help people deal with their grief. He described Harry as an outstanding young boy who always had a smile on his face. St Catherine's is a great school full of great people. I have no doubt that Dean and Sarah Dunn and other family members are receiving plenty of support. Indeed, support from the broader community has been overwhelming. People are flocking to the scene of the accident to lay floral tributes.

Understandably, questions are being asked about the safety of the intersection on which the tragedy occurred. So too are questions rightly being asked about the absence of seatbelts on our school buses. Maybe this week is not the time for a debate, but very soon there will be one about both issues. It makes no sense that people are regularly fined for not wearing a seatbelt in their vehicles and yet we throw our kids on a bus without one. That should surely change.

Singleton is not just a town, it is a community—a strong community. Like those in every country town, its people will rally in support of the Dunns and every family which had children on that bus. My deepest sympathies go to everyone involved. This is one of the saddest speeches I have made in this place. I hope I never need to make another like it.

While speaking of Singleton, I take this opportunity to congratulate Councillor John Martin, who on Saturday was elected the town's new mayor. He has immediate challenges ahead, obviously. I also acknowledge the outgoing mayor, Sue Moore, who I believe did a great job and will continue to serve on the council with great energy and commitment. Having mentioned John and Sue, I should also congratulate Bob Pynsent and Peter Blackmore, who were elected and re-elected in Cessnock and Maitland respectively, and Martin Rush and Des Kennedy, who were returned to the Muswellbrook and Mid Western councils and will almost surely be re-elected mayor by their fellow elected representatives.

In the Upper Hunter Shire, former mayor Lee Watts was re-elected to the council but it appears unclear who will be the mayor. But I pay tribute to Lee's time as the shire's leader. I understand the new mayor could be, amongst candidates, Michael Johnson, who will contest me as the National Party candidate at the next federal election. He was a former mayor of the shire and I am very happy to acknowledge him. I wish everyone on the council the best. I congratulate all those who contested the elections, both the winners and the unsuccessful. Their decision to put themselves forward for service to their local communities is admirable and is appreciated. As someone who served for eight years in local government—and I know that there are many in this place who have done the same; I notice Mr Secker acknowledging that—I can say that it is an admirable cause. It is a cause and a job often without reward—or at least little reward—but it is a great opportunity to do something for your local community. Again, I thank all those who put themselves forward last Saturday.