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Child protection concerns on allowing adults on regional Victorian school buses

Parents have expressed grave concerns about the safety of their children in submissions to a Legislative Council inquiry into a proposal to allow bus operators to take adult passengers on school bus routes.

As submissions closed on Friday, one parent wrote:

“No! It's not safe to open school busses to the general public so that anyone can see where kids live or groom them. If you do that you need to pay an escort.”

Some of the good intentions behind the proposal is to support the mobility of regional and rural people in Victoria and address the lack of adequate public transport services.

The mainstream school bus service has been an exclusionary network since its foundation in 1944.

Meanwhile, the rural school bus service is privately owned, used by the owner at their disposal for other work. Bus Victoria said in their submission that they supported the changes, noting the differing regulatory landscape nationwide:

“Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania do not allow non-students to travel on their dedicated school bus networks.
“In New South Wales, regular passengers are permitted to use dedicated school bus services only if there is capacity.
“The operator can charge a fare based on what would apply for the same distance travelled on a regular passenger service.”

Proponents also suggested in their submission that an added adult presence will reduce bullying on school buses:

“Bullying commonly occurs in situations where there is a lower level of adult supervision.
“The presence of adult passengers on a school bus may well reduce the incidence of bullying behaviour between children, even more so when information is available about successful intervention approaches.”

Member for Lowan in western Victoria, the Nationals' Emma Kealy, had encouraged Victorians to participate in the inquiry, saying in a statement in March:

“It is great to see this issue being looked at. Members of many of our rural communities in Lowan have little or no access to public transport while some school buses have plenty of room for extra passengers.
“I am aware of many situations where young people have caught the school bus for years but are not able to continue to do so after they finish school to get to their new job or tertiary education, even though they are still too young to get a driver’s licence.
“If we can ensure child safety and school students are not disadvantaged in any way this may be an option that could work well for our community, giving residents access to at least some form of public transport.

The inquiry will now consider submissions and report to parliament later in the year.


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