Proof, NSW Legislative Assembly Hansard, 18 October 2006, Pages 79 -, article 37

Mr PAUL GIBSON (Blacktown) [5.31 p.m.]: I draw the attention of the House to a very important road safety education intervention in my electorate of Blacktown. This program has been running on a voluntary basis since 1992, but at the moment it is in danger of being discontinued. The Blacktown Traffic Offenders Program, or TOP as it is called, is a community-based program that has operated in Blacktown as well as a number of other metropolitan locations since 1992. The Blacktown Traffic Offenders Program has been run for almost 15 years without any government assistance. It is, to be frank, now flooded with offenders referred to it from the Local Court in Sydney, the Central Coast, the Hunter and the Illawarra. In fact, some 48 courts are at present referring offenders to the Blacktown Traffic Offenders Program. More than 8,800 traffic offenders have experienced the program. About 200 offenders attend a course at any one time. The program is operating at or above its capacity. It is operated on a voluntary, non-profit basis—and it is working.

Several years ago the Roads and Traffic Authority funded an independent evaluation that showed completion of the program was associated with a significant reduction in re-offence rates, particularly regarding drink-driving. The recent study by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research of the use of dismissals and conditional discharges when sentencing drink-drivers showed that magistrates in the Local Court who refer offenders to the traffic offenders program are far less likely to dismiss drink-driving charges or to give a drink-driving offender a section 10 conditional discharge under the Crimes Act 1900. More than half of the offenders who have gone through the traffic offenders program are in that critical age group often talked about and read about, the 16 to 25 year olds. That is the age of greatest danger for drivers. More than half of the offenders who enter the program have pleaded guilty to a drink-driving offence. Across New South Wales the involvement of alcohol in fatal crashes is rising, so the program is definitely targeting the right people.

The traffic offenders program has existed only as a result of strong support from local service and community organisations, such as Rotary, the Blacktown RSL Club and Blacktown City Council. Since its inception the program has been strongly supported by the Staysafe committee. Graham Symes, its co-ordinator, has been there from day one and does a great job. David Bamford, its honorary chairman, also does a tremendous job. The evidence of Roads and Traffic Authority witnesses to a public hearing of the Staysafe committee on Monday 20 September 1999 was:

The Roads and Traffic Authority is undertaking several initiatives that address recidivism. The Roads and Traffic Authority has evaluated Traffic Offenders Programs, a pre-sentencing education program offered to offenders. The results appear to be very positive, and we are developing options to encourage the development and use of these programs.

Sadly, nothing has happened in the intervening six years. In mid-September 2006 I again asked the question of Roads and Traffic Authority witnesses. Again the evidence was:

The fact that people come before the court also allows access to a number of other programs that we have in place to help with drink-driving. They are programs like the Traffic Offenders Program and, more recently, the Sober Driver Program, which our evaluations show are very effective …

So one might expect that the Blacktown Traffic Offenders Program would be well supported by authorities. The New South Wales Government released the Road Safety 2010 strategic plan in late 1999. The plan provided for a road toll of less than 400 deaths by the end of 2005 and less than 300 road deaths by 2010. The plan specified that there would be government efforts to address speeding and drink-driving enforcement programs. The plan provided, amongst other things, for the Roads and Traffic Authority to sponsor programs such as the Blacktown Traffic Offenders Program. I cannot think of a better program, because it helps not only young people but other offenders to get back on the road and become safe drivers again. Tomorrow I will be bringing people from the traffic offender program to meet the Minister for Roads, Eric Roozendaal. I am certain that, following their presentation to the Minister, he will have the same thoughts about this worthwhile program as I do. [Time expired.]

18th October 2006