I rise on behalf of the opposition to speak on this bill. As outlined previously by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, this bill amends the
Motor Vehicles Act to enable the minister to exempt remote Aboriginal communities, initially the APY and MT peoples, from the onerous licensing regulations.
The opposition believes this to be common-sense legislation. It is quite obvious that in remote communities the ability to meet licensing conditions to the letter of the Motor Vehicles Act is almost impossible. In remote communities there are very few, if any, driving instructors, limited access to roadworthy vehicles and limited access to fully-licensed supervising drivers for learners in order for them to complete the 75 driving hours, not to mention the literacy issues that prevent access to information or accurate completion of the logbook.
Given the difficulties just mentioned, it is no wonder that only 17 per cent of Aboriginal people living on the lands hold a current driver's licence. This leads to many driving unlicensed in order to get around the vast homelands, and a spiral of criminality ensues. These people are then fined for driving unlicensed and, after failing to pay fines, many wind up in gaol. As honourable members know, with a criminal conviction and a prison sentence, future employment becomes difficult to obtain. We do not wish to see this continue. These people should not be considered criminals purely as a result of their geographical challenges.
The minister indicated that he has capacity to prescribe other areas for exemption, and this is welcomed. From a personal perspective I know that non-Aboriginal people living in remote areas, cattle stations and the like, would also find it difficult to meet the specific requirements outlined by the current act, so perhaps that is something the government can look at in the future.
Finally, I indicate that I will be moving an amendment to legislate the need for exempted drivers to undertake an intensive driver training course and pass driver competency. I understand the government wants these details to be the realm of the minister; however, we believe it is important that it be legislated. I commend the minister and the department. There are many brickbats thrown about in Aboriginal affairs, and even in this particular instance there are many reasons why we could say that this is too hard. If we are going to make meaningful differences, especially on the APY lands, sometimes we have to take a risk and perhaps put ourselves out there.
I commend the minister and his advisers in particular on this issue because it does show a reasonable amount of courage. I also thank other members in this place for their support, because it is very easy to find reasons not to do things. My experience from travelling to the lands is that not enough happens, because there are always too many reasons why we cannot get something done, and not enough reasons why we can. The opposition will support the second reading of this bill, and I look forward to moving my amendment in committee.