Recently I had the pleasure of attending Abermain Public School to meet with students and staff about an issue of significance to them. I am talking about the intersection of Charles Street and Cessnock Road in my electorate of Cessnock. The intersection is best described as diabolical and dangerous; it has been a thorn in the side of the local community for some time. Significant renovation works have been done on the intersection. Indeed, four years ago the Labor Government spent about $12 million on the intersection. Unfortunately, some of the original problems and reasons for that work still exist. One terrific aspect of this story is that last year I was contacted by a teacher at Abermain Public School requesting that I visit the school to talk to the students in years 5 and 6 about the role that government can play in fixing the problems with the intersection.
After meeting the students, I gave them the task of coming back to me with all their issues. I suggested they visit the intersection and take photographs, write about the problems, and so on. A couple of weeks later delivered to my office was a large poster, about one metre by one metre, with at least two dozen photographs and short explanations about the problems. I was asked to deliver the poster to the Minister for Roads and Ports and ask the Minister to meet with the students. I duly gave the poster to the Minister. Unfortunately, he has been unable to visit the students, although a representative from Roads and Maritime Services met with the students. These young people learned the important lesson that their voices are just as important as those of others, and they got their meeting.
I promised to get back to the students to follow up on the issue and to discuss with them how to proceed and other action they can take. About three weeks ago the shadow roads Minister visited my electorate and we took the opportunity to meet with the students and talk to them about their problems. The problems are many: a dip and a crest, a pedestrian crossing, a blind corner intersection, a bus stop, a narrow bridge and another corner that feeds into the intersection. There is a newsagent, a fire station, parking, gardens, telegraph poles, light posts and traffic islands within the space of about 20 or 30 metres. Their close proximity causes problems. The issue is pedestrian safety. The only pedestrian crossing that connects one side of Abermain to the other side is located at a notorious intersection. There have been dozens of rear bumper crashes, near misses and skidding brakes and pedestrian safety issues occur on an hourly basis.
On this particular stretch of road we need to consider pedestrians before drivers because many young children use this crossing. Many students do not qualify for a bus pass because they live too close to the school, and they have to cross a main State road at a point that is not safe. The students I met with were articulate and intelligent and clearly outlined the issues. They had ideas and suggestions for solutions, including roundabouts, traffic lights, relocating the pedestrian crossing, changing the gradient of the road, improved warning signals on either side of the pedestrian crossing, changing the eligibility rules for student bus passes so that students could catch a bus to school rather than cross the road, relocating the bus stop away from the crossing, reducing parking spaces and removing garden beds. These young people had given this issue serious thought.
The strong theme in this story is the empowerment and intelligence of young people. As politicians we seek to reach out to the youth, engage and empower them. But how do we do that? We do it by meeting with them, bringing their issues to the Minister, taking the shadow Minister to meet them and having a follow-up session. I hope they have been empowered by their involvement in the political process where decisions are made about community infrastructure. Whether or not they achieve their goal in relation to the intersection—and I hope they do—these young people left the room with a sense that politicians can and do listen and that young people’s voices are important. Cheers to the young people of Abermain Public School.