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Monday, 13 December 1993
Page: 4389

Senator BURNS —My question is directed to the Minister for Transport and Communications. Given the disappointment that the minister expressed in this chamber last week about the Northern Territory government's failure to introduce the .05 blood alcohol limit in line with every other state and territory, and given the hope that the minister expressed that it would do so before Christmas to maximise its involvement in the current national road safety campaign, I ask: has the minister received any indication from the Country-Liberal Party government in the Northern Territory that it will take this important step before Christmas—that is, 1993?

Senator COLLINS —I regret to say that the Minister for Transport and Works in the Northern Territory has publicly responded in a most disappointing and, I must say, disturbing way in terms of his understanding of the facts relating to drink-driving. I am particularly concerned about this because, as I told the Senate last week, the Northern Territory is currently the only place in Australia that has not joined every other state and territory on a .05 blood alcohol limit—

Senator West —Shame.

Senator COLLINS —It is a shame, particularly for those who will die on our roads. It is particularly disturbing that the public response of the responsible Northern Territory minister has shown such a bad grasp of the facts. The minister has said publicly in an interview that he gave to the ABC that the Northern Territory had yet to announce a date for when it would join the rest of Australia on .05. He did confirm publicly that drink-driving was a major contributor to road deaths in the Territory which, as I said in my previous advice to the Senate, is three times the national average rate for road deaths. He then went on to say—and I found this astonishing—that the Northern Territory Government was:

being blackmailed by the Commonwealth into lowering its blood alcohol limit in order to obtain the federal funds that were attached to the ten point package.

That is extremely disappointing. What was more disturbing was that he went on to say:

I do not believe there will be any change in the accident statistics about fatalities with alcohol involvement if we drop the level to .05.

I found that astonishing. I normally have a great deal of respect for Mr Manzie, whom I consider to be one of the best of a bad bunch. But I am profoundly disturbed that a minister responsible for oversighting a part of Australia that has a road death fatality rate three times the national average could possibly assert that when the weight of evidence is so profoundly against him.

  The case for setting .05 on statistical grounds is compelling. Indeed, that was the reason that every state and territory jurisdiction, with the exception of the Northern Territory, adopted it. Studies of crash statistics show that the risk of being involved in an accident for a driver with a blood alcohol count of between .05 and .08 is more than double that of a sober driver, with the risk doubling again if the driver goes over .08.

  However, there is compelling evidence that the .05 limit does more than just eliminate low level drink driving; it also reduces significantly the number of people taking to the roads with very high blood alcohol readings, and it is easy to understand why.

Senator Crichton-Browne —What's this got to do with the federal government?

Senator COLLINS —It has everything to do with us. What an astonishing interjection. We administer the Federal Office of Road Safety. We implemented the 10-point package that provided for the national system of .05. What a ridiculous interjection.

  I will now turn to the statistics. For example, in the ACT, the number of people driving with blood alcohol counts above .05 dropped by almost 40 per cent after the introduction of the lower limit in 1990. That reduction was sustained over a follow-up 12-month study. This represents an enormous gain to road safety because the road risks, not just to those with high blood alcohol levels but also to other drivers, is extreme.  I reiterate that all states and territories, with the exception of the Northern Territory, are joined together in both implementing and advertising a .05 limit. I hope that the Northern Territory government implements such a limit prior to Christmas.