NSW rejects demerit points reform

NSW Government uses its numbers to defeat legislation to give magistrates the power to rule on demerit points

By Brad Gardner | December 4, 2009

The NSW Opposition’s bid to give courts the power to rule on demerit points has been defeated.

The Government used its parliamentary majority to defeat the Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Amendment (Demerit Points) Bill introduced by Nationals leader Andrew Stoner earlier this year.

Currently, a magistrate can record a guilty verdict or conviction but waive financial penalties. However, demerit points will always be applied if a person is convicted or guilty of an offence.

"Where there is a valid reason or an explanation of the offence and the judge exercises his or her discretion to impose no fine, an additional penalty should not be imposed in the form of demerit points," Stoner says.

If passed, the Bill would have allowed magistrates to use discretion when ruling on red light and traffic offences.

But Camden MP Geoff Corrigan joined his other Labor colleagues in refusing to support Stoner by saying offenders must pay a price for breaking the law.

He also used debate on the issue to blame motorists for an increase in NSW road toll.

"That increase is not due to bad policing or bad roads. It is due to the overconfidence of drivers and their not being aware of road safety," he says.

Liberal MP Jonathan O’Dea says the Government has gone too far with its demerit points policy because there has been a sharp increase in the number of people losing their licence.

"Perhaps magistrates should have the power not to impose demerit points for relatively minor offences in extenuating circumstances," O’Dea says.

"By giving magistrates this sensible power, it addresses an imbalance and reduces an inconsistency in the law."

Stoner also took aim at Labor MP Nick Lalich, who last week opposed the Bill on the basis it would lead to an increase in people contesting fines.

"That is arrant nonsense. That is like saying that judges will decide that no fine should be applied…for no valid reason," he says.

The NSW demerit points policy has caused confusion in the trucking industry, with drivers leaving court without fines thinking they will receive no more penalties.

The Government recently announced a month-long moratorium on demerit points for fatigue management offences until January 1 next year.

The RTA was also directed to remove demerit points issued to drivers who were penalised for breaching fatigue management regulations introduced in September last year.

Assistant Transport Minister David Borger says many drivers penalised for breaches were trying their best to comply with the regime.

"I understand confusion about the rules have [sic] resulted in some drivers being penalised, despite honestly believing they were doing the right thing," Borger says.

"Demerit points will be applied to serious driver fatigue offences committed after January 1, 2010 but only if the driver is found guilty by a court."

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