Wellington Local News:
Country Will Be Hardest Hit
Liability of road authorities for damages incurred by road users may cause problems
By Craig Ingram MP - 18th June 2002 - Back to News
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Country people will be the hardest hit by a decision of the High Court to extent the liability of road authorities for damages incurred by road users, the Member for Gippsland East, Craig Ingram, said today.
The Independent MP was commenting following the High Court decision last year and the release last week of a State Government report titled Road Standards and the Legal Duties of Road Authorities.
"The implications are far reaching for rural communities in particular and cannot be solved by off-the-cuff suggestions that do not address the core of the problem," Mr Ingram said.
"The solutions put forward in the State Governmentís discussion paper and by the National Party to reinstate the non-feasance defence for road authorities or have the government dictate standards of road maintenance is only addressing the symptoms of a much greater problem.
"Applying a Band-Aid to protect road authorities, such as rural councils, against litigation for failing to adequately maintain their crumbling road and bridge networks is just covering up the disgraceful cost shifting from State and Federal governments to Local Government.
"If the State Government wants to impose standards on Local Government, they need to pay the costs of achieving those standards
"At the same time, they should explain why, for example, the Dandenong Council pays less than $5 per head of ratepayersí money on roads, compared with the shires of East Gippsland and Wellington paying around $150 of ratepayersí money each year.
"The court decision has created enormous problems, particularly for rural municipalities that have large numbers of aging wooden bridges that they have been unable to replace. In future, municipalities may be liable if they fail to regularly inspect bridges to ensure they are safe. This will add a very significant cost for country municipalities and slow down the rate that these structures can be replaced.
"Without urgent action, councils may be required to close these roads and bridges, which is totally unacceptable and potentially dangerous."
Mr Ingram said submissions on the discussion paper were due by July 5, but he had requested this date be extended to allow more time for affected parties to digest the information and prepare a detailed submission.
The discussion paper can be obtained from Mr Ingramís electorate office in Bairnsdale, or viewed at www.vicroads.vic.gov.au.
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