School Transport Policy motion

Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (16:57): I, too, rise to support the motion put forward by the member for Unley. I thank him for bringing this matter to the parliament because it has been an ongoing issue in my electorate for some time. I might also add that I acknowledge the member for Frome's motion as well because there are elements there that I think also need to be reflected in this issue regarding school transport.

Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (16:57): I, too, rise to support the motion put forward by the member for Unley. I thank him for bringing this matter to the parliament because it has been an ongoing issue in my electorate for some time. I might also add that I acknowledge the member for Frome's motion as well because there are elements there that I think also need to be reflected in this issue regarding school transport.

Some of the issues that I have had to contend with in my short time as a representative state member have particularly related to the Barmera Primary School, which had its school bus service cancelled, or cut, under the current Department of Education and Children's Services. That service had been running for about 29 years. Obviously, in the regions, a school bus service is vital for the existence of a school. It is also there as a conduit for getting students from outreach properties to school and to make sure that they get an education. I know that in some circumstances if there is no conduit—being a bus service or a car pool—children just do not attend school.

As I said, the Barmera Primary School bus service obviously left a lot of students without a means of transport to get to and from school. The service was used not only for getting children to school and getting them home, but also for school excursions and the like. It was an impact felt not just by the students that were being picked up and dropped off at school but the 241 students who actually attended the school. The department, through its incompetence, allowed the service to be cut, and that had a huge impact on that small regional school.

It really does seem to be that, with the eligible bus service, students who live anywhere inside the five kilometre radius of a school are not eligible to get on the bus. In many instances that bus service is in operation and it picks up students that are outside the five kilometre radius of the school, but it has to pass the homes of those students that would need a bus service, even if they are just within the radius. That bus goes straight past those students. It is not there to pick them up because it does not fit that five kilometre radius. I think that is outrageous that a bus that is half empty will not stop and pick up students because of the guidelines that the Education Department has set down.

The department knew that those students in Barmera were not eligible for pick-up but allowed their service to continue during the drought, removing the service subsequently once the drought had passed. That created a huge upheaval for the students. It created a huge uncertainty for parents. One minute we have one set of rules, the next minute there is another set of rules. It threw the school into turmoil. I met with teachers and parents on regular occasions trying to get some certainty back into how those students were going to get to school, and eventually it was sorted out. It was the small-mindedness of those making the decisions that leaves these students high and dry.

Another example is the Swan Reach Area School. Being an Area School, it picks up a lot of students from far and wide and brings them into that school. Everyone here knows that area schools have to work within a system. I have one particular student who lives 20 metres within the five kilometre exclusion zone. That student is a disabled student. He is in a wheelchair and yet he was denied the use of a school bus.

The school bus had a ramp, and what the parents were having to do is to take the student outside that 20 metre exclusion zone so that that student could get on. That bus had a ramp and that handicapped student was able to use the bus but, sadly, the bus ramp only worked occasionally. On some days they would pick up the student and they would have to drive to school with the ramp extended and there was no provision for that bus to have that ramp repaired or fixed because that student lived within the five kilometre radius. Again, it is the small-mindedness that really does beggar belief. They are little issues that regional students, regional families and regional schools are dealing with, sadly, way too often.

We also have had some issues raised by the member for Unley about non-government school children not being able to fully access the bus service, as opposed to government school children. Non-government school children are only able to use the buses if the buses do not have to travel any additional distances to get to non-government schools.

The Education Department should be about getting kids to school. It is not about branding them whether you are a private school or a public school or what sort of a uniform you wear or what colour shoes you wear. It should be about a service that provides kids with assistance to get to school so that they can get an education and they can be part of the school system. They may only travel further than the nearest government school if there is sufficient space on the bus, but if there is no additional cost to the department I am sure that parents would be willing to stump up some of the cost to be part of that school transport system.

It is about that bipartisan agreement in getting kids to school and that is what the school bus services should be about. We continually see the department looking at the bottom line—at the dollar value. I accept that, but in regional schools it is about being proactive in getting your kids to school, and that is how the department should be working.

Again, it is really a bit of a ‘them’ and ‘us’ situation. Sadly, I do not see too many of those DECD buses delivering kids to school here in metropolitan Adelaide. The big issue that we are dealing with is regional South Australia. It might be that the bureaucracy, perhaps even the minister, might need to get out and look at the circumstances where some of these kids have to get on buses in the dark to get to school. They get off the buses at night in the dark because that is what they have to do to get to school and be part of the system.

I guess some of the problems that are being experienced by schools about the size of the bus fleet contracted by the government are determined by the number of students in government schools. Why are buses being sent out with empty seats just to meet department regulations? This has left school students and parents at a loss. It is leaving them at a disadvantage.

As an example, I have Victorian school buses coming into my electorate, picking up South Australian students and taking them back into Victoria to go to school because they are prepared to pick up the kids so that they are putting up the numbers in their Victorian schools. They are prepared to be proactive to get students out of South Australia into Victorian schools. The South Australian education department has to pull kids to pickup areas whereas, in Victoria, they go to the gate and pick up the kids and take them to school.

There is the difference between the Victorian government that is proactive trying to put kids into school and the DECD department that is just being small minded and narrow minded and not working within. The member for Fisher has highlighted an issue that was brought to my attention and that is that we have got the education department now asking for parents to pay for seatbelts to be put into their kids' school bus. I think we really need to have a good look at how the system is working.

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