Tuesday, 27th October, 1992
Mr Speaker (The Hon. Kevin Richard Rozzoli) took the chair at 2.15 p.m.
Mr Speaker offered the Prayer.
ASSENT TO BILLS
Royal assent to the following bills reported:
Dairy Industry (Corporations) Amendment Bill
Lotto (Amendment) Bill
Totalizator Legislation (Amendment) Bill
MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
Mr Speaker advised the House that he had received from the Leader of the Opposition notice of a matter of public importance, which would be set down for debate at the conclusion of formal business.
Mr FAHEY: I desire to inform the House that on 22nd October, 1992, His Excellency the Governor accepted the resignation of the Hon. Edward Phillip Pickering, M.L.C., as Minister for Justice, Minister for Emergency Services, Minister Assisting the Premier, and Vice-President of the Executive Council. On the same day His Excellency appointed the Hon. John Planta Hannaford, M.L.C., Attorney General and Minister for Industrial Relations, as Vice-President of the Executive Council also, and the Hon. Wayne Ashley Merton, M.P., as Minister for Justice, and Minister for Emergency Services. Also, I wish to inform the House of the appointment on 22nd October, 1992, of the Hon. Michael Robert Yabsley, M.P., as Parliamentary Secretary assisting the Premier, and Treasurer.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
HOMEFUND FINANCIAL LIABILITIES
Mr CARR: My question is directed to the Premier, and Treasurer. Given the damning criticism of HomeFund contained in the Trade Practices Commission report released today, will the Premier now detail the State Government's financial liabilities under the scheme?
Mr FAHEY: Earlier today a report by the Trade Practices Commission in respect of HomeFund was released. The Government was aware that the report was coming. It relates to two matters that obviously deeply concern the community in respect of HomeFund, a scheme that was established by Labor when it was in government.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Hurstville to order.
Mr FAHEY: The Acting Minister for Housing stated in a press release today that he welcomed the Trade Practices Commission submission to the HomeFund review and would ensure that its recommendations would be considered in the review being conducted by John McMurtrie. The report of that review will be presented at the end of November. The review was ordered by the Minister for Housing soon after he took over the housing portfolio in July of this year. It was established to deal with some of the difficulties associated with the HomeFund program and to establish a clear basis for future operations. As I said, HomeFund was established in 1986 under the Wran Government. It has been a success under both Labor and coalition governments. But, along with other home financing schemes, it has suffered under the strain of the recession and the dramatic fall in interest rates.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is too much audible conversation in the Chamber.
Mr FAHEY: In relation to the ongoing concerns listed by the commission in its submission, the department informed the Acting Minister that the material on which the commission based its judgment was out of date. Specifically, the commission raised concerns that promotional material being used by the department may mislead borrowers and potential borrowers. That concern was based on material issued in July 1990, which had been replaced by the department in July 1992. The commission said also there were ongoing deficiencies in the knowledge of co-operatives as to the availability, terms and conditions of mortgage assistance. The Acting Minister said that the department had recently issued a circular to all co-operatives requiring them to clarify advice to borrowers on all mortgages provided since October 1991. The HomeFund review is still receiving submissions. The HomeFund hot line for clients -
Mr Carr: On a point of order. The Premier is making no attempt whatsoever to answer my question, which related specifically to the liabilities of the State Government under HomeFund.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Leader of the Opposition knows that the Chair cannot control the content of the Premier's answer. The Premier may answer the question as he sees fit. Order! I call the honourable member for Blacktown to order.
Mr FAHEY: This Parliament has only one liability. He is on the Opposition benches and all members know who he is. The Government has recognised that the HomeFund financing arrangement - and the honourable member for Heffron will appreciate this from discussions I had with her earlier this year - was causing great concern to the borrowers under the scheme and the community because of the recession. Appropriately, an inquiry has been established. The inquiry will examine all aspects of HomeFund, including the liability and exposure of the Government and the nature of the scheme. The inquiry will report at the end of November. I am more than happy that the matter is being addressed at this stage. It is a matter I take seriously and I believe it is incumbent upon all members from both sides of this House to get the scheme in order to ensure that the borrowers obtain the best possible benefit from it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Londonderry to order.
Mr PETCH: My question without notice is directed to the Premier, and Treasurer. In view of statements by the Opposition about private sector involvement in hospital redevelopment, will the Premier make clear the Government's position on this issue and whether public access is assured?
Mr FAHEY: For some time the Opposition has been running around the countryside, particularly in marginal electorates, endeavouring to stir up the community on this issue. It was fairly obvious to me when I visited Maitland recently with the honourable member for Maitland that the community had been told another big lie by Labor, particularly the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, in respect of privatisation of the Maitland hospital. I invite him to have a look at the editorials that followed my visit there. The local newspaper stated clearly that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition had indulged in considerable humbug in relation to the privatisation of health services.
Health systems around the world are under enormous pressure. The New South Wales system is no different. People have increasing expectations of receiving health care. Coronary by-passes and hip and knee replacements are becoming increasingly common for members of the community, particularly the aged. We all expect to be treated in a modern hospital with high-technology services. The question, of course, is where the money is coming from. The forward health capital works program in New South Wales is fully committed. The present program assesses the areas of highest need. There is a further $2 billion backlog of work as a result of years of neglect under Labor. Demand for services is growing at two per cent a year. That demand can be addressed only through more efficient infrastructure. That is a fact of life which all governments, regardless of their political leanings, will have to accept. The Government has a responsibility to deliver high-quality health care but it will not place New South Wales triple-A credit rating at risk by going further into debt. The consequences of that are obvious in Victoria where an announcement was made in relation to that State's credit rating only last Friday. Instead, this Government is harnessing the capacity of the private sector to develop a small number of new hospitals. Four possible locations have been identified for this type of development, including Port Macquarie. The others are Hawkesbury, Liverpool and Prince of Wales hospitals.
I want to make it plain that the Government is not relinquishing control of the public health care system, a fact that the Opposition chooses to totally ignore. The Government will retain total control of how those hospitals deliver public health services, and that has been explained in detail in all the briefings and consultations which have occurred in respect of Port Macquarie. It is a commitment by which this Government will abide strictly on all projects delivering public health services. But, despite the Government's clearly stated position, the Opposition has been trying to frighten the sick and elderly people of this State. It has mounted a cynical and mischievous campaign designed specifically to scare vulnerable people - a typical short-sighted scare campaign led by a bob each way Opposition leader. Increasingly, people have weighed up the emotional rhetoric of the Leader of the Opposition with the facts and assurances presented by the Government.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is far too much audible conversation in the Chamber. Members will remain silent.
Mr FAHEY: The Opposition is sounding increasingly hollow. Its policies, particularly in respect of health, lack credibility and lead nowhere.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Campbelltown to order.
Mr FAHEY: For example, the Leader of the Opposition's recent comments on the fast tracking of Liverpool and Nepean hospitals highlight his total lack of understanding of health management. That is because the nature of the projects which the Government has initiated at both hospitals is such that they cannot be built any faster.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Riverstone to order. I call the honourable member for Mount Druitt to order. I call the honourable member for Liverpool to order.
Mr FAHEY: To build them any faster would involve knocking down all existing buildings and starting from scratch, leaving no health services available for the next three years. So much for the Labor leader calling for the fast tracking of projects. I should point out also that the Mayor of Liverpool, Mark Latham, is on record as stating that the proposal for the involvement of St Vincents Hospital in Liverpool Hospital would provide the best possible quality of service at Liverpool Hospital. In terms of the general strategy, the State Government has a statutory responsibility to deliver public health services to anyone in need of care. That is why the Department of Health will retain total control over public health services at the new Port Macquarie hospital. The Government will not enter into any contract that will diminish its control of public health services.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Leader of the Opposition to order.
Mr FAHEY: The private sector has a small but significant role to play in developing new public health infrastructure. Some people have suggested that the Government lease back hospitals developed by the private sector. A lease-back arrangement would not comply with Loan Council guidelines.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Moorebank to order. I call the honourable member for Smithfield to order.
Mr FAHEY: That is why the Government has proceeded with this new joint sector development model. The benefits are obvious. The community gets a new hospital; the people of New South Wales are better off because the Government does not have to go further into debt; and the State retains total control of the delivery of public health services. That is a win-win situation for the people of New South Wales, and the Opposition knows it. Sensible and targeted co-operation with the private sector, combined with a guarantee of public access, is a long-term answer to alleviating the cost of health care infrastructure in this State.
NEW SOUTH WALES AGENT-GENERAL IN LONDON
Mr KNIGHT: I direct my question to the Premier, and Treasurer. What reasons has Neil Pickard given for his unauthorised travel in contravention of a directive from the Premier's colleague the Minister for State Development and Minister for Arts? Why will the Premier not sack Mr Pickard without compensation for breaching his contract?
Mr FAHEY: I thought the honourable member for Campbelltown was going to ask me a question about Trevor Boucher. I thank the honourable member for the question as it gives me an opportunity to explain to the House some of the details concerning a decision I have made today. On 1st September I announced my intention to abolish the position of Agent-General in London. I said that the resources could best be used to further the interests of the New South Wales public by replacing the outdated post of Agent-General with a trade mission which focused on Europe.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Port Stephens to order.
Mr FAHEY: The Agent-General was given six months' notice rather than the minimum three months' notice required in his contract, in view of the fact that the Government was not merely removing the Agent-General but was closing the post. That meant that ceremonial responsibilities had to be wound up, a new head of the trade mission had to be recruited and appointed, and many details, including real estate arrangements, had to be finalised before the Agent-General's post was properly scaled down to a trade mission.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Campbelltown to order for the second time. I call the honourable member for Londonderry to order for the second time.
Mr FAHEY: As part of that process I asked the Minister for State Development to ensure that there were no excessive expenditures, including expenditure in relation to travel. The Minister, through his director-general, issued an official memorandum dated 17th September, 1992, addressed to the Hon. Neil Pickard. That memorandum was sent via fax at 6.12 p.m. on 17th September, Sydney time.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ashfield to order.
Mr FAHEY: Under the heading "International Travel Approval", it stated, "The Minister wishes to approve all international travel by staff, following my approval and recommendation". The memorandum was signed personally by the director-general. On the same day, 17th September, 1992, the director-general issued a formal letter to the Agent-General in which he said that the Minister "wishes to be informed about and to approve any travel by you out of the U.K. during the balance of your time in London". In a nutshell the Agent-General in London and his staff were notified that any travel out of the United Kingdom would require approval by the responsible Minister, the Minister for State Development.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Broken Hill to order. I call the honourable member for Bulli to order.
Mr FAHEY: However, there is some dispute about when these directives were received in the London office. That dispute has caused some delay in getting to the bottom of this issue.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is far too much interjection from the Opposition benches. The answer will be delivered sooner to allow further questions to be asked if members of the Opposition remain silent.
Mr FAHEY: Notwithstanding the hysterical scandal mongering by some members of the Opposition, the Government has a responsibility to the public to get it right. The Agent-General has acknowledged that the ministerial directive from the Director-General of the Department of State Development faxed to his office on 17th September was received on that day. However, Mr Pickard stated, "This circular was not regarded by me or my staff as a directive to either the Agent-General or the Agent-General's staff members".
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order.
Mr FAHEY: There is a further dispute about the second ministerial directive, which was sent via the Department of State Development special courier. Because the ministerial directive was directed personally to Mr Pickard, the Director-General of the Department of State Development advises me that he sent the ministerial directive via his department's courier either in the internal mailbag of 21st September or 24th September, and it arrived, respectively, two days later.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Kogarah to order.
Mr FAHEY: However, Mr Pickard insists that his office did not receive this ministerial directive until 9th October, and he claims it was not opened until 12th October. Mr Pickard acknowledges that he was informed by telephone as he had already left for a privately-funded holiday in Rome. He subsequently attended two business conferences in Nice and Dusseldorf, as part of his official visits, on his way back to London.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Broken Hill to order for the second time.
Mr FAHEY: At each of these official conferences the Agent-General was met by an officer who had flown from the London office.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Penrith to order.
Mr FAHEY: However, there can be no doubt that the Agent-General has clearly acknowledged that both his staff and he personally were aware of the ministerial directive about travel approval by 12th October at the latest. I am not suggesting that he agreed with the ministerial directive, but clearly Mr Pickard does not dispute that he was aware of it. Yet, on 18th October, Mr Pickard left his holiday in Rome and undertook official appointments in Nice and Dusseldorf without ministerial approval. In addition, Mr Pickard was joined at these conferences by staff members who were also acting without prior ministerial approval for their travel, as was required by the directive of 17th September.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Canterbury to order.
Mr FAHEY: Last night, after some extensive delays, I spoke to the Agent-General. Those delays were caused by the normal problems of time zones experienced by Australians ringing London, and they were exacerbated by an inability to contact the Agent-General to discuss the issue. During the early hours of the London morning his telephone appeared to be engaged. I arranged for one of Mr Pickard's staff to have him telephone me, but the closest I could get to the Agent-General was to have the building porter knock at the front door and pass a message for Mr Pickard to telephone me urgently.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Smithfield to order for the second time. Though honourable members may find the Premier's answer interesting, amusing or whatever, they must remain silent when the member with the call is speaking. I seek the co-operation of all honourable members in that regard. I have now registered a considerable number of calls to order. Though at this stage I do not deem all offending members to be on three calls to order, I warn those who have been called to order already that should they deliberately flout my ruling they are likely to be called to order again far more readily.
Mr FAHEY: I am advised that the message was received by Mrs Pickard at approximately 7 a. m. During the next five hours I did not receive any return telephone call from Mr Pickard. At approximately midnight, Sydney time, I again telephoned Mr Pickard and this time I successfully located him at his London office. There is little more to add than to say that I found Mr Pickard's explanations inconsistent and unconvincing. He acknowledges that the ministerial directives were issued, and that he was aware of them before he and his staff undertook international travel in breach of those ministerial directives. As such, I have been left with no alternative but to terminate the Agent-General's contract. Mr Pickard has breached his agreement with the Government, and today I have faxed a letter to the Agent-General terminating his contract.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Penrith to order for the second time.
Mr FAHEY: The Government is prepared to fund Mr and Mrs Pickard's return airfares to Sydney. Any compensation, if applicable, will be determined by a judicial body. With that in mind, I feel restrained from making further comment, but for the benefit of members I seek leave to table the following documents: memorandum of 17th September, 1992, being a directive on international travel; letter of 17th September, 1992, being a directive on international travel to the Agent-General personally; and letter of termination forwarded by me this day to the Agent-General.
MOTOR VEHICLE PURCHASE COMPLAINTS
Mr HAZZARD: My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Consumer Affairs, and Assistant Minister for Education. Do motor vehicles continue to be the greatest source of complaint to the Minister's department? If so, is the Government taking any action to assist first-time buyers to avoid the pitfalls associated with buying motor vehicles?
Mrs CHIKAROVSKI: As honourable members are probably aware, every year in New South Wales consumers purchase half a million motor vehicles, and those purchases generate about $6.5 billion in turnover. Almost a quarter of all inquiries to the Department of Consumer Affairs involve motor vehicles. Most inquiries or complaints about cars are taken on Monday morning after weekend impulse buying. The main problem relates to contracts. Many people do not realise that the order form they sign on Saturday or Sunday is in fact a contract to buy a car. Many people who browse around caryards at the weekend hastily sign a legally binding contract to purchase a vehicle. After some reflection, they want to back out of the deal because they realise they cannot afford the car or because they have found a cheaper one elsewhere. However, most contracts have a clause which says that the consumer will forfeit a certain percentage of the purchase price if he or she cancels the deal. This penalty is usually 5 per cent to 10 per cent of the purchase price. This may not sound like much, but in relation to a car worth $20,000 the penalty can amount to as much as $2,000.
According to detailed research by the department, young first-time buyers appear to have the most problems. For instance, research has found that 70 per cent of people thought that there was a brief cooling-off period during which they could change their minds. In fact, few car buyers actually read the documentation. Research has shown that while there was an urgent need for some form of a checklist on buying a car, a long
and detailed booklet was not likely to be read by the target audience. Accordingly, I inform the House that this morning, at the motor show, my department released a checklist. The checklist is not a guide on how to buy the best car, but, rather, a guide on how to buy a car the best way. The checklist has been written in plain English and is designed to fit easily into a coat pocket or a handbag so that it can be taken with the potential purchaser. The campaign has been welcomed by the Motor Traders Association. The checklist will be distributed in large numbers from motor registries and the department's offices across the State.
We hope it will prevent cases such as that relating to Robert - an 18-year-old who recently started work as an apprentice carpenter. He decided to buy a car from a licensed secondhand motor dealer. After a Saturday spent in used car yards, he finally found a vehicle he liked, paid a deposit and signed an order form. The following day his uncle, who was retiring and buying a new car, offered his old car to Robert at a give-away price. Robert accepted, but when he went back to the dealer seeking a refund he discovered that he had actually signed a contract. He would lose 10 per cent of the purchase price of the car if he cancelled that contract. Robert's case is hardly unique; according to the department similar things happen all the time. The department hopes, I hope, and I am sure all honourable members in the House hope, that the release of the booklet will avoid this sort of situation in the future and will make sure that people avoid all pitfalls in relation to buying cars.
Mrs GRUSOVIN: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Consumer Affairs, and Assistant Minister for Education. Will the Minister use her powers under the Fair Trading Act and injunct all parties involved with HomeFund to prevent any further misleading and deceptive conduct following the decision by the Consumer Claims Tribunal and the report of the Trade Practices Commission? What action will the Minister take to ensure that all borrowers whose contracts have been breached receive appropriate compensation?
Mrs CHIKAROVSKI: As the honourable member for Heffron is well aware, seven outstanding matters are still before the Consumer Claims Tribunal. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on those matters. I have been informed this afternoon by the head of the Department of Housing that the groups and companies involved have been ordered to cease all advertising relating to HomeFund until the completion of the McMurtrie inquiry. So far as the other matters are concerned, I believe they would be better directed to the Acting Minister for Housing.
COMCAR HIRE CAR SERVICE
Mr HUMPHERSON: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Transport, and Minister for Tourism. Is it a fact that the New South Wales Government launched a High Court challenge to prevent Comcar operating hire car services in this State without appropriate licences? What was the outcome of that challenge?
Mr BAIRD: I thank the honourable member for Davidson for his question and for his obvious interest in public transport. This is another of those amazing cases which shows the ineptitude of the Federal Government. Once again the safety of the public and the viability of small businesses in this State have been brought into question. Honourable members may recall that earlier this year Comcar decided to move into the
private hire car business in New South Wales. Many members may think that was inappropriate at a time when many small hire car operators were going out of business because of the federally induced recession. One would question the wisdom of such a move. Nevertheless, Comcar came to New South Wales. It sought to ignore the stringent New South Wales accreditation program for drivers and hire car companies and the required payment of $15,500. For each of the companies involved each car is charged that amount. Comcar decided it was above paying that amount and that it did not have to pay. Though many hire car companies were finding it difficult to make ends meet, they were required to pay that amount. However, the Federal Government ignored the requirement. It was an unfair situation; it was not a level playing field. The hire car industry was rightly upset by the huge advantage enjoyed by Comcar.
The New South Wales Government asked Senator Bolkus to bring the Federal Government into line with requirements in New South Wales. My colleagues on both sides of the House were interested in this issue. Other transport Ministers were outraged about what was happening in their States. A large number of coalition members of Parliament, both State and Federal, accepted our call for a ban on Comcar services in protest at its actions. Eventually, we had no other choice but to take our case to the High Court. This was an unnecessary requirement and unnecessary expenditure. We should not have had to take that step but we were forced into it by Senator Bolkus because Comcar wanted the unfair advantage of going out into the market-place and taking the cream for itself. We had a duty to ensure that Comcar operated under our strict accreditation requirements.
I am pleased to report that this litigation sparked the Commonwealth into holding extensive discussions with New South Wales. It realised that we were serious and agreed to Comcar operating on similar terms to the rest of the private hire car industry. In other words, Comcar will now pay the same fees as other operators for private work undertaken in New South Wales, including hiring by private clients, State and local government bodies, Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank. I am pleased to say that the Federal Government has also given us an assurance that Comcar will meet the accreditation standards covering safety, which we are very proud of, given that New South Wales leads all other States in this regard. The High Court has now ratified the agreement between New South Wales and the Commonwealth, which means that we will have genuine competition in the industry instead of the unfair situation that existed in the past. It is a pity that we had to even contemplate taking the unnecessary step and expense of taking the Commonwealth Government to the High Court. As usual, the Federal Government totally ignored the interests and the wishes of small businesses in this State and went on its merry way. It was only by virtue of the national ban that it was forced to accept this situation. I am pleased about the outcome, but the unnecessary expenditure was forced on to us by the Federal Government.
ESCAPES FROM GAOLS
Mr DOYLE: I direct my question without notice to the Minister for Justice, and Minister for Emergency Services. Have 41 prisoners escaped from New South Wales gaols since 1st July this year? Is this almost double the number of escapes for the same period last year? Will the Minister reverse the gaol staffing and security cutbacks which have caused this increase?
Mr MERTON: Opposition members have short memories. Honourable members will be aware that a man charged with armed robbery escaped from Parramatta gaol on Saturday afternoon. Any escape from the State's correctional centres is a matter
of serious concern to the Government and me. Of further concern - and if necessary, I will address this question today - are claims by the Prison Officers Association that insufficient staffing levels of the gaol contributed to the escape. I advise the House that there appears to be no basis for this claim by the union. I met yesterday morning with the Corrective Services Commissioner, Major-General Neville Smethurst. I raised the matter of the escape from Parramatta gaol and the union's claims about staffing levels. I am advised that a departmental investigation has been launched into the circumstances of the escape. I am further advised that, as the escape occurred from a new section of the gaol complex, security arrangements are being reviewed. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on these matters until the investigation is completed. In relation to staffing levels - and this goes directly to the union's claims - I am advised that all security posts at the gaol were manned at the time of the escape.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Kogarah to order for the second time.
Mr MERTON: Two non-security posts were unmanned. I am advised that this is considered to be a more than acceptable level of staffing. Both of those posts in question have been classified as non-essential by both the department and the prison officers' union. One was an activities post, which was manned by an officer who supervises inmates during educational or recreational activities.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Londonderry to order for the third time.
Mr MERTON: The honourable member for Londonderry would be doing this place a favour if he escaped. The second was a more general post, also classified as non-essential. The corrective services department and the union are presently negotiating issues relating to staffing levels and overtime payments. The department pays about $26 million per year in overtime and penalty rates. I am advised that the department has identified wastage in this area and is determined to introduce greater accountability into the provision of overtime. I have also heard claims by the honourable member for Peats about possible gaol closures. I can advise the House that no decisions have been made.
A question has been asked relating to prisons. Let the people know the rumours, myths and fallacies the honourable member has been propagating. Quite simply, there are no plans to close gaols at this point in time.
Honourable members seem to find this very amusing, but we will see what happens to them in a moment.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Bulli to order for the second time. I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order for the second time.
Mr MERTON: I must point out that the number of escapes from the State's correctional centres has dropped markedly under this Government. I thank the honourable member for this question because it gives me an opportunity to tell the House that statistics provided to me by the corrective services department show that the average annual number of escapes over the past 15 years was 144. In 1987-88, the final year of
the previous Labor Government, when law and order policy was in tatters, the total number of escapes was 143. Honourable members will remember that they were the days of the revolving door prison. There were more prisoners outside than inside. In fact, there were so many escapees that they put a Minister in there to build up the numbers.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The House will come to order. The Minister will answer the question.
Mr MERTON: In 1988-89, the first year of the present Government, the number dropped to 79. From an average of 144, in the first year of this Government the number was 79.
The honourable member is lucky his name is not muddy. In the last financial year, 1991-92, the number dropped to 64, that is, less than half as many as in the final year of the Unsworth Government.
NORTH COAST BUSHFIRES
Mr RIXON: My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Justice, and Minister for Emergency Services. Will he advise the House what measures were taken to combat the fires which broke out throughout the North Coast during the weekend?
Mr MERTON: I thank the honourable member for Lismore for his question. The honourable member is a hard-working and industrious member.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Hurstville to order and deem him to be on three calls to order for interrupting me when I am on my feet. As I have said on several occasions in the past, it is always good to see the House in good humour, but I advise honourable members that such conduct erodes question time. Although the compulsory 10 questions are to be asked, the co-operation of members will enable more than that number to be asked. I seek the co-operation of members in that regard for the remainder of question time.
Mr MERTON: It is very pleasing to note the many schoolchildren in the gallery from the Goonellabah Primary School. Weather and fuel conditions on the North Coast over the past few weeks have been conducive to the regular outbreak of fires. Most of these fires have been dealt with by the volunteer bush fire brigades and other fire authorities operating in the northern region. However, towards the end of last week a number of fires were beginning to cause difficulties for local firefighters. One of the fires in particular, identified as the Wooyung fire, took a run late on Friday afternoon and entered Tweed shire from Byron shire, requiring co-ordinated activity by brigades in both council areas. Weather conditions on Saturday again resulted in these fires causing local firefighters great difficulty. The Department of Bush Fire Services held urgent discussions with local councils in the area with a view to invoking the emergency provisions of the Bush Fires Act. Under the emergency provisions, one person can be appointed to co-ordinate firefighting activity in the region. The department was advised that local councils and other fire authorities felt that, as the situation was so serious, such an appointment would be in the best interests of the area.
The department appointed Mr Ron Fussell, district forester at Casino, assisted by Mr Victor Brown, northern regional officer of the Department of Bush Fire Services, to take charge of firefighting efforts. The appointments were made for the areas of Tweed, Byron, Lismore, Casino, Ballina, Kyogle, Richmond River, Copmanhurst and Maclean, effective from 6 p.m. on Saturday. I am delighted to report to the House that the action was successful, with the fires now being contained. For this reason, the appointments were terminated on Monday. Unfortunately, a total of 5,700 hectares has been burnt and about $25,000 of accumulated small assets, including fencing, timber and one tractor, have been destroyed. About 250 volunteer firefighters, assisted by firefighters from the Forestry Commission and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, were involved in the operation. The volunteers alone have put in more than 4,000 hours of labour. I am sure all honourable members would join me in thanking them for their efforts. The Director-General of Bush Fire Services has been in close contact with me at my home over the weekend and has constantly informed me of the operations. The fires, although not life threatening, have once again demonstrated the magnificent work of our bush fire services, particularly the highly efficient volunteers attached to the 2,600 bush fire brigades in New South Wales. Although I have been the Minister for Emergency Services for just a few days -
Mr Gibson: And the Minister is already putting out fires.
Mr MERTON: The honourable member needs a hosing down. I am extremely impressed with the efforts of all involved. I am sure all honourable members will join me in wishing our firefighters all the best for the coming summer. Their efforts are further evidence of how dependent the people of New South Wales are upon the volunteer bush fire services. They do a tremendous job, and I know all members support them in their activities in protecting property, livestock and lives in New South Wales in the many bushfires we have had. Bushfires will be a tragedy that we will continue to have.
BIRKLEY COTTAGE FUNDING
Dr MACDONALD: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Community Services, and Assistant Minister for Health. Will the Minister give an undertaking to fund the Birkley Cottage facility for homeless children in Manly rather than allow its closure?
Mr LONGLEY: Birkley Cottage is of significant concern to the residents and people of Manly-Warringah. Indeed, I have discussed that matter with the honourable member for Manly and with a number of youth workers and people in that area who are involved in the issue. The proposal with regard to Birkley Cottage comes formally under the jurisdiction of my college the Minister for Health, and he and I have had preliminary discussions with regard to it. It is important that the needs of those involved in Birkley Cottage are taken care of. A process of ongoing consultation is necessary to communicate the views of the Department of Health and Manly hospital so that the needs of those at Birkley Cottage and of people living in the Manly-Warringah catchment area are properly met. The Minister for Health and I will have further discussions on that issue, but it is essential that the Department of Community Services, the Department of Health and, more importantly, area health staff liaise to meet those needs. A process of consultation has been formally undertaken to meet those needs but the question of the best way to meet those needs remains.
NARRABRI SHIRE COUNCIL
Mr CHAPPELL: I address my question without notice to the Minister for Local Government, and Minister for Cooperatives. Has the local government department completed its investigation of Narrabri council? If so, what action has the inspector recommended and how will ratepayers be affected?
Mr PEACOCKE: I thank the honourable member for Northern Tablelands for his question, which deals with the growing concern of many people about the competence of certain local councils. The whole process of reform of local government is based on the need for more accountability and greater financial and management competence in councils. Many councils in this State have already embraced the need for reform and have made real changes and improvements in the running of their organisations and the services they supply to their ratepayers. However, there are still a number of councils which typify the worst aspects of government at a local level. Narrabri council has been a source of very vocal local complaint for a number of years, and the council's practices have become legend in the industry. In June this year I approved an investigation by the Department of Local Government of the council and its activities. The main aims of the investigation were to investigate complaints from the local community and assess the council's implementation of recommendations made in previous examinations of the council.
The issues raised included the council's actions in suspending a number of staff, the operations of the council as an administrative unit, and allegations of improper conduct against specific individuals who are or were elected members of the council. So high is the public feeling that the local community formed the Concerned Narrabri Shire Residents Group. This group campaigned strongly for the council to resign or get its act together. The inspector's final report on Narrabri Shire Council has confirmed concerns about the capacity of the elected body to manage its responsibilities and to get on with the job. It is quite apparent that no significant improvements have been made in the management of the council's organisation since 1988, despite five reports between 1987 and 1991.
The problems highlighted in the final report of this current investigation include a complete lack of forward planning. For example, at the commencement of the inspection the council was asked for a range of information - a normal practice for such review - but was unable to provide such simple information as an organisation chart. Another was that the council did not have a management-corporate plan or forward financial plan. Yet another related to the council's inability to make decisions or reach agreement - it was not uncommon for council meetings to go on for days; and one drainage project first approved in February 1991 was still the subject of argument in August 1992. Further, the process of debate was unproductive and ineffective. In Narrabri it is dominated by personal argument, bickering, accusations by one councillor of having been defamed by another councillor, and endless arguments over technical points of debate. Intervention by the council in technical matters meant that council members could spend hours arguing over such things as gravel quality, and then hours more on exactly which pit the gravel should come from.
Another of the problems highlighted was the council's handling of staff matters and those involving alleged corruption; it may have been well-meaning but it was ineffective. Individual members have attacked members of staff without necessarily having any evidence on which to base those attacks. Further, the council's precipitate action in suspending certain officers without inquiry and generating a witch hunt mentality
within the organisation has not led to a proper assessment of the issues, or allowed individual actions to be considered in context. Additionally, the excessive secrecy, the disciplining without prior inquiry and the constant suspicion of corruption have contributed to the uneasiness of staff. I suspect that has led to concern about the possibility of replacing staff.
Though there are failings of administration and management by the council's staff - and that is undoubted - the elected body must shoulder a significant part of the blame for the present situation. The new council's incapacity to develop clear policies and priorities 12 months after its election can only be seen as the absolute failure by the body. The council has no excuse for that failure. It seems to have lost sight of its duty to its electorate, the whole of its electorate, to provide effective and efficient services and leadership. It is imperative that the council get on with the job. The inspector's report provides a clear action plan, and the council has been on notice about the findings since the draft was discussed with it some weeks ago. Election to local office is a privilege and carries responsibilities. It is not an opportunity to engage in argument to the detriment of the local area and the destruction of confidence in the council as an administrative unit.
It is essential that the council demonstrates that it has the ability to manage. Since the preparation and delivery of the draft report I understand that the same behaviour has continued. The council claims to be a leader in the local government industry - far from it. It is in fact one of the most worrying. The inspector's report recommends that the council restructure its operations as well as adopt a proper code of conduct and performance-based criteria for its senior managers. Under the Local Government Act the council has 40 days to respond to the inspector's report. I expect it to act within that period. Unless I am convinced that the council intends to take action to solve its long-running problems, I will move to a public inquiry to review its operations. If the findings of such an inquiry are negative, I will be forced to consider dismissal of the council. This would be a drastic step, and a step which I do not lightly propose to take. I hope that the council will respond satisfactorily so that I can avoid having to take that action. I am not prejudging the situation. I mention this matter because of deep concern within that community about the actions of this council. So that honourable members may understand the matters about which I speak, I seek leave to table the report.
Serious Traffic Offence Penalties
Petitions praying that laws relating to road accident fatality or injury be re-evaluated, received from Mr Mills and Mr Smith.
Barnsley Traffic Lights
Petition praying that a controlled pedestrian crossing be established opposite Hawkins Masonic Village on Northville Drive, Barnsley, received from Mr Mills.
Fassifern Railway Station
Petition praying that the House support the restoration of train services on the Newcastle-Central Coast line and provide easy access to platform No. 3 at Fassifern railway station by installing ramps to the existing overhead walkway bridge, received from Mr Hunter.
Baldon Station Stock Control
Petition praying that the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs inquire into the charges laid by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals against a Mr John Leonard of Baldon Station, received from Mr Small.
Petitions praying that the Government will not take steps to legalise brothels but will close all existing brothels by enforcing the Disorderly Houses Act, received from Mr Fraser, Mr Rozzoli and Mr Turner.
Hunter Sewer Service Access Charge
Petition praying that the parameters of the sewer service access charge of the Hunter Water Corporation be modified, received from Mr Hunter.
Western Suburbs Hospital
Petition praying that the House and the Government reject any proposals to close Western Suburbs Hospital, received from Mr Whelan.
Petitions praying that because of dissatisfaction with the rationalisation of health services the House prevent the downgrading and possible closure of services at Lidcombe Hospital, received from Mr Rogan and Mr Shedden.
Northern Illawarra Hospital Services
Petition praying that the proposed redevelopment of Bulli District Hospital be commenced immediately and that there be no further cuts to services or staff at the Coledale District Hospital or the Garrawarra Hospital, received from Mr McManus.
Auburn District Hospital Noise Pollution
Petition praying that the House ensure that noise emitted from the gas compressor and exhaust fans at Auburn District Hospital be reduced and regularly monitored, received from Mr Nagle.
Lidcombe Hospital and Auburn District Hospital
Petition praying that the House reject any proposals to cut back services or staffing at Lidcombe Hospital and Auburn District Hospital but instead support an increase in services and staffing at the hospitals, received from Mr Nagle.
Court House for Toronto
Petition praying that the Government provide for the construction of a court house complex for Toronto, received from Mr Hunter.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
General Business Notice of Motion No. 15
Mr SPEAKER: I have to inform the House that I have been advised by the honourable member for Ashfield of an error in fact appearing in General Business Notice of Motion No. 15, wherein the date should read 26th July, 1989. As such a correction would not alter the scope of the notice I direct that the necessary correction be made in the business paper.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Unanswered Question Upon Notice
Mr SPEAKER: In accordance with the sessional order I draw the attention of the House to unanswered question upon notice No. 741, standing in the name of the Chief Secretary, and Minister for Administrative Services.
Mrs COHEN: I advise the House that an answer to question No. 741 has been lodged with the Clerk.
REGULATION REVIEW COMMITTEE
Mr CRUICKSHANK (Murrumbidgee) [3.15]: I bring up and lay upon the table of the House the fifteenth report of the Regulation Review Committee upon various regulations and upon common issues and new developments in relation to regulations.
Ordered to be printed.
Mr CRUICKSHANK, by leave: I do not intend to speak to each of the regulations referred to in the report. However, I wish to inform the House of a number of matters of general importance that the committee's report contains. The first concerns the tabling of statutory rules. My committee has been pursuing reforms of the current system for tabling of statutory rules since its fourth report to Parliament of December 1988. It has had lengthy correspondence with the Attorney General and the Parliamentary Counsel since that time on the various preferences for reform. The current proposal was put forward by the former Minister for the Environment in March of this year. It was for the Clerks of the respective Houses to arrange with the Parliamentary Counsel for the tabling of extracts from the Government Gazette as soon as possible after the publication of statutory rules. The committee is of the view that it may be necessary to amend the Subordinate Legislation Act to ensure that all relevant information is provided to Parliament immediately upon the publication of regulations in the Government Gazette.
I turn to principal statutory rules published on 29th June, 1990. A matter that has concerned my committee for some time is the failure to implement the Premier's undertaking to prepare regulatory impact statements in respect of statutory rules published in the Government Gazette of 29th June, 1990. These rules would have been principal statutory rules for the purposes of the Subordinate Legislation Act 1989 and would have required regulatory impact statements but for the fact that they were rushed into the Government Gazette of 29th June, 1990, immediately prior to the commencement of the
relevant provisions of the Subordinate Legislation Act on 1st July, 1990. The committee outlined these concerns in its ninth report to Parliament. The Premier at the time described this avoidance of the Act as a "small victory for Sir Humphrey" and undertook to honour the spirit of the Act and provide for appropriate review of those statutory rules. The Attorney General was subsequently given the duty of co-ordinating the Government's review. When the committee last reminded the then Attorney General of his undertaking on 6th November, 1991, it was told that the matter had been referred to the Premier for consideration and reply as the administration of the Subordinate Legislation Act had also been transferred to the Premier. The committee is not satisfied with the lack of a substantial response from the Government on this matter.
I turn to regulatory impact statements. The staged repeal program under the Subordinate Legislation Act has now passed two of the five initial stages. This means that all those regulations made prior to 1st September, 1964, have been repealed unless the repeal has been postponed by the Governor. The Parliamentary Counsel has provided my committee with statistics which show that as at 1st July, 1990, there were 978 statutory rules comprising approximately 15,000 pages and as at 1st September, 1992, there were 820 statutory rules comprising approximately 12,000 pages. This means that in the past two years the number of statutory rules has been reduced by 15 per cent and the number of pages in statutory rules has been reduced by 20 per cent. These are very significant results. The significance of them has not been lost on business and industry, which have commented favourably on the position in New South Wales as compared with that in the Commonwealth and most other States in a paper entitled "Liberating Enterprise to Improve Competitiveness" of September 1992. These figures, however, are not enough. The committee must examine the quality of the regulatory impact statements produced. New and replacement regulations as from 1st July, 1990, have been made in accordance with the regulatory impact statement process. The standard of these statements was not high. Most failed to identify adequately alternative options to making statutory rules. The attitude among departments appears to be that the regulatory impact statement procedures are tacked on at the end of departmental decision-making processes rather than there being a total change in the way those decisions are made in respect of legislative proposals. The committee has noted a wide range in the quality of regulatory impact statements prepared by departments. The quality varies not only from department to department but also within departments.
One of the positive things to emerge from the committee's criticism of the standard of regulatory impact statements is a greater willingness on the part of Ministers to consult with the committee regarding requirements of the Subordinate Legislation Act. An instance of this arose in respect of the committee's fourteenth report to Parliament concerning the Ozone Protection Regulation. On 27th March, the then Minister for the Environment gave an undertaking to Parliament that he would arrange for an officer from the Environment Protection Authority to brief the committee on its procedures with respect to the evaluation of regulatory proposals. The committee met with that officer on 23rd July, 1992, and discussed the new procedures for the review of legislation by the authority.
The committee has noted that moves are under way in a number of other States and the Commonwealth towards the preparation of legislation along the lines of the New South Wales Subordinate Legislation Act. The Administrative Review Council of the Commonwealth has prepared a report recommending such a review in respect of all instruments of a legislative character. The committee has made representations on similar proposals in Queensland, Tasmania, and Western Australia, and has also made a submission on the proposed review of the Victorian Subordinate Legislation Act.
Following proposals to introduce a uniform Interpretation Act, suggestions have been made for the introduction of a uniform Subordinate Legislation Act throughout the Commonwealth. In the light of the need to pursue microeconomic reform of business regulation, the committee considers these proposals have merit. In the report I mentioned earlier entitled "Liberating Enterprise to Improve Competitiveness" of September 1992, which was sponsored by 19 business and employer groups, New South Wales was commented upon favourably for having cut red tape and having repealed many regulations under the staged repeal process.
The main thrust of the paper was to call on all Australian States and the Commonwealth to convene a special Premiers conference to discuss adoption of uniform procedures for regulatory assessments. The committee agrees with this recommendation. In May the committee was provided with a memorandum from the former Premier concerning review clauses in legislation. The memorandum stated that it is now government policy to include review clauses in all Acts so that each is reviewed at the end of five years of operation. The committee was concerned that there was no mention in this memorandum of any assessment of bills presented to Parliament. It appears that it will only be after a principal Act has been enforced for five years that the review will take place and that there will be no assessment of amending bills.
The committee noted that in the Government's memorandum of understanding with the Independent members provision was made for the introduction of statements on the financial, social or environmental impact of bills and that this reform was due to be implemented in accordance with that agreement by July of this year. In March of 1991 the committee tabled its eleventh report which contained detailed recommendations for the introduction of such impact statements on bills as well as for the staged review of Acts. The committee recommended that the process be monitored by a scrutiny of bills committee. The committee sought the advice of the Premier, and Treasurer on whether the model for legislation review recommended by it in its eleventh report would be adopted. In his response the Premier said:
The development of suitable proposals to implement this undertaking has taken longer than envisaged in the Memorandum of Understanding but it is expected that preliminary proposals will soon be available for discussion with the Independents. It is therefore not possible to give at this stage a definitive account of how the new procedures will operate. Nevertheless, in the development of proposals in this area, the comments put forward in the Regulation Review Committee's Report have been kept in mind. It can also be suggested that the overall excellent quality of the legislation enacted since 1988 might serve to allay some of the concerns expressed in the Committee's Report about current procedures relating to principal legislation.
The paper "Liberating Enterprise to Improve Competitiveness" of September 1992 saw the lack of proper scrutiny of Acts as a major weakness of the present system in New South Wales. It said:
State Governments have initiated a number of valuable regulatory reforms. New South Wales and Victoria appear to have the most advanced procedures for the examination of existing legislation and the vetting of new regulatory proposals. The main weakness of these State initiatives is that they only apply to subordinate legislation and not to Acts of Parliament. In New South Wales the Subordinate Legislation Act (1989) set in place a systematic review of all existing regulations through a program of staged repeal as well as automatic sunsetting of all new regulations.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is too much audible conversation on the backbenches. If members wish to converse, they should do so outside the Chamber.
Mr CRUICKSHANK: The paper continued:
All new regulations, under the Subordinate Legislation Act, are subjected to clearly defined processes of assessment (e.g. financial impact statements), public consultation and scrutiny.
The committee is concerned that the procedures developed for reviews of bills and Acts be as rigorous as those for regulations. This will ensure that uniform quality is maintained in all legislation and that the provisions in Acts which empower the making of regulations and other delegated legislation are properly developed.
LEGISLATION COMMITTEE UPON THE NATIONAL PARKS AND WILDLIFE (ABORIGINAL OWNERSHIP) AMENDMENT BILL
Mr WEST (Orange - Minister for Conservation and Land Management, and Minister for Energy) [3.25], by leave: I move:
That the Legislation Committee upon the National Parks and Wildlife (Aboriginal Ownership) Amendment Bill have leave to make a visit of inspection to:
(1) Cobar and Mount Grenfell historic site, and
(2) Armidale and Mount Yarrowyck Nature Reserve,
on 5th and 6th November, 1992.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Bulli to order for the third time.
Mr WEST: This motion follows a move that I made earlier this session to restrict travel by members of legislation committees.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for The Entrance to order.
Mr WEST: I have received correspondence from the chairman of this committee indicating that the members will be undertaking this visit using their parliamentary warrants. Obviously the cost of the trip to the Parliament will be somewhat reduced. I ask members of legislation committees to be conscious of the cost of travel. If Parliament continues to make use of legislation committees, that cost may be considerable.
Motion agreed to.
JOINT SELECT COMMITTEE UPON POLICE ADMINISTRATION
Motion by Mr West, by leave, agreed to:
(1) That Wayne Ashley Merton be discharged from attendance upon the Joint Select Committee upon Police Administration and that Malcolm John Kerr be appointed to serve on such committee.
(2) That a message be sent acquainting the Legislative Council of the resolution.
COMMITTEE ON THE OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN
Motion by Mr West, by leave, agreed to:
(1) That John Edward Hatton and Albert John Schultz be discharged from attendance upon the Committee on the Office of the Ombudsman and that Barry John Morris and Antony Harold Curties Windsor be appointed to serve on such committee.
(2) That a message be sent acquainting the Legislative Council of the resolution.
NEW SOUTH WALES ECONOMY
Matter of Public Importance
Mr CARR (Maroubra - Leader of the Opposition) [3.28]: I move:
That this House notes as a matter of public importance the state of the New South Wales economy comparative to other States.
It is time to explode the myth that this coalition Government has been pushing, that is, that the economic performance of New South Wales is better than that of the rest of Australia. This minority Government was re-elected on a false prospectus, a false claim by the former Premier of New South Wales of this State's superlative economic performance. As always, the claim was that this State's economy was outperforming that of the rest of Australia. The harsh reality is that New South Wales is performing very poorly relative to the rest of Australia. The New South Wales economy is adrift, like the Government itself. The claim that this Government has protected New South Wales from the worst of the recession is now utterly false. The evidence comes from many quarters, but it comes most clearly from the New South Wales Treasury itself. The New South Wales Treasury publication, "Interstate Comparison of Economic Indicators" says:
The seasonally adjusted data shows strong increases in employment for the three months to August in every State except New South Wales.
Strong increases in employment in the three months to August in every State except this State! That is not a claim coming from another Treasury; it is a claim coming from the Government's own organisation. The Treasury overview stated:
During the winter months the New South Wales economy once again weakened relative to the other States. In particular, it performed worse than the other States in all the labour market areas except overtime hours worked. The average indicator ranking shows New South Wales has slipped to equal fourth place with Tasmania with an average indicator of just 2.9 out of a potential 6. Only South Australia performed worse.
That was from a publication of the New South Wales Treasury. It comes from the engine room of the Government, and it makes it patently clear that, on all relevant indicators, the New South Wales economy is performing under the national average. Of particular concern in the quarterly figures is the collapse in engineering construction, private investment and job vacancies. Specifically, quarterly indicators show residential building approvals in New South Wales running at less than half the rate relative to other States. Engineering construction commencements fell in New South Wales by $52 million in the March quarter, compared with a $6.3 million rise in the other States. Private new capital expenditure fell by more than twice the rate of the other States. During the 1991-92 financial year private capital expenditure in New South Wales fell by 36 per cent compared with a fall in Australia of $12.4 per cent. The collapse in private building, construction and investment is devastating employment opportunities for workers and school-leavers in this State. While job vacancies rose by an average of almost 29,000 in the other States, it fell by more than 38,000 in New South Wales. The Opposition's concerns are not based on one bad quarter but are fuelled by the trend decline New South Wales has experienced over the past year or more. Treasury analysis clearly shows that
the average indicator ranking for this State has fallen from 4.1 in September 1991 to 3.2 in August 1992, to a current low of 3.1. This trend decline is confirmed by New South Wales Treasury's October 1992 interstate comparison of economic indicators, which shows:
New South Wales continues to underperform the other five States on 17 of the 24 key economic indicators.
In 17 of the 24 key economic indicators nominated by State Treasury New South Wales is performing poorer in comparison with the other States. New South Wales is now lagging behind the rest of Australia in more than 70 of the 100 indicators used by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. I move on from the publication of the State Treasury to the ABS statistics. In plain terms, the Government is being told by its own Treasury and by the Australian Bureau of Statistics that the New South Wales economy is becalmed and drifting downward relative to the rest of the Australian economy. It is ludicrous for the Government to heap praise on itself when the figures appear to favour New South Wales; to argue it is responsible for the strength of the New South Wales economy when there is strength in the figures; but to argue now, when the economy is becalmed and when other States are beating New South Wales, that it is not the Government's fault, it is not the Government's responsibility. The Government's rhetoric has shifted. It faces figures that show that the State economy is performing badly. The Government should not talk about triple-A ratings. It inherited the triple-A rating from the previous Labor Government. It got a triple-A rating on a silver platter -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Murrumbidgee to order.
Mr CARR: - and it has been trying to claim credit for it ever since. The Government got the triple-A rating from the previous Labor Government, together with the lowest level of debt as a proportion of the State economy of any State in Australia, including Queensland.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Murrumbidgee to order for the second time.
Mr CARR: The Government got the lowest level of public sector employment as a proportion of total employment of any State in Australia when it came to office. It did not get a Tricontinental Bank; it got a State Bank that was well managed. That is what it inherited from Labor. It has no excuses. The ABS figures clinched the case made by State Treasury's own figures. Members of the Government cannot heap praise on themselves and preen themselves when the figures look halfway decent, then argue that they can take no responsibility and it is all Canberra's fault when the figures turn against them. But the figures have turned against them and they are going to have to accept that. The Premier is just as guilty as his predecessor when it comes to making outrageous claims and taking credit for the New South Wales economic performance. I have the press releases issued by the Premier during his period as employment Minister, and the headlines tell it all. They stated, "New South Wales beats teenage unemployment trend". He cannot say that any more. They stated further, "New South Wales leading employment". He cannot say that any more. And, "Underlying strength in the New South Wales economy". The figures do not bear it out. He cannot say that any more. Also, "People in New South Wales have the best chance of getting a job". If you said "today", you would be telling a lie because the figures say it is not true. And finally, "New South Wales continues to weather the national recession better".
The Government's own figures, the figures from the New South Wales Treasury, and Federal comparisons from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that that is not the case. There is no comfort for this Government in headline unemployment figures, and the people of New South Wales know that is the case. While the measured unemployment rate in New South Wales moves around month by month, a deeper analysis of the figures reveals the frailty of the New South Wales labour market. Over the past two financial years to June 1992, New South Wales lost more jobs than any other State except Victoria - almost 45,000. The New South Wales Treasury survey to which I referred indicates the rapid decline in job vacancies in this State. But honourable members should note that New South Wales suffers from a lower participation rate than Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, or Australia as a whole - that is, the national average. In fact, the New South Wales participation rate has persistently been at least one per cent lower than the national rate. That is, the number of people discouraged from seeking work in New South Wales is higher and there is, therefore, a far greater chance of hidden unemployment in New South Wales when compared to Australia as a whole.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics figures reveal that less than 55.4 per cent of the New South Wales population aged over 15 actually has a job. This is a very poor result compared with the position of the other States in this regard. Western Australia has more than 58 per cent of the working population in jobs; for Australia as a whole, more than 56 per cent of the population has jobs; in New South Wales the figure is 55.4 per cent. In other words, if New South Wales had the national participation rate, measured unemployed would be 12.3 per cent higher than any other State except South Australia. That is just another indication of how poorly the State is performing, despite the fact that this Government inherited a diverse, well-managed State economy in 1988, with Government economic indicators, financial indicators, all respectable and all under control. The Government has no excuses. The combined impact of the real unemployment rate and the collapse of job vacancies in this State, in the context of a deteriorating State economy, confirms the incompetence of the Government's economic, industrial relations and State development strategies. The Government can make no claim about microeconomic reform flowing through to the private sector. Large manufacturing firms in New South Wales, the big employers, are struggling with increases of up to $1 million in their bills. Honourable members need only look at the performance of the Maritime Services Board. New South Wales port charges are the highest in Australia, and they are going up, not coming down. Last year the Government demanded a dividend from the Maritime Services Board of $30 million; this year that is to be doubled to $60 million. What will be the effect on New South Wales industrial competitiveness?
According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald of September the industry commission ports inquiry was told that the dividend policy amounted to a tax of $8,000 on each ship that visited Sydney. The article stated, "One shipping executive claimed that, because of the dividend, port costs in Sydney had risen by 117 per cent since 1989". That is a tax on New South Wales exporters and a tax on New South Wales industrial efficiency. At a time when we ought to be doing everything to enhance and sharpen the efficiency of people who are employing labour in Australia and producing Australian products for world markets, the Government is hitting them with a round of unjustifiable increases to fund its Budget. The dividend of the Maritime Services Board is designed to float the Budget deficit. One witness who gave evidence before the inquiry said that it costs $25,000 for one of his ships to call in at Sydney, compared with $22,000 at Melbourne, and $8,900 at Brisbane. Port charges in Sydney of $25,000 will be a contributing factor in the shift of industry to Queensland.
In this year's Budget State taxes are up by a massive $450 million, or 5.3 per cent - making New South Wales taxpayers once again the highest taxed people in Australia. At least Nick Greiner was a Premier who used the right rhetoric. He said that he wanted New South Wales to be a low tax State and he wanted his Government to be a low taxing government. This Premier has abandoned that rhetoric. He is now living with the reality of no promised tax reductions down the track. There is no mention of tax reductions in his Budget. He has refused to make any commitment to reducing the tax burden. In the 1990-91 Budget the medium-term strategy was boldly aimed at "transforming New South Wales from a high tax to a low tax State". That was under Greiner's administration. But after the impact of a few short months this replacement Premier, and Treasurer has abandoned any commitment to transformation, preferring merely to say "containing the tax burden on the citizens of New South Wales relative to other States".
This is a government adrift, and it is taking the drifting economy with it. Though the former Premier failed totally to bring the growth of the tax burden under control - his last major act as Premier was to add significantly to it - at least he was willing to make an annual commitment to transform New South Wales to a low tax status. By every action of the new Premier we have it written into the State's medium-term economic strategy that this State, under his Government, will remain the highest taxed in the country, with all that that means for industry struggling with the additional burden that the Government has placed on it. Industrial relations figures have moved against this State. What an advertisement it is for the new industrial relations laws that now prevail, that the interstate comparison of economic indicators reveals that disputes skyrocketed in New South Wales while they fell on the five-State average. Elsewhere in Australia industrial disputes figures are down but in New South Wales they are up. In the May quarter, industrial disputes measured by days lost per thousand employees rose by 70.5 per cent in New South Wales while they fell by 17 per cent for the five-State average. [Time expired.]
Mr SOURIS (Upper Hunter - Minister for Finance, Assistant Treasurer, and Minister for Ethnic Affairs) [3.43]: This should hardly be the day or the week that the New South Wales Labor Party would bring on a motion of this nature, comparing the economic performance of New South Wales with other States. This week Victoria's credit rating was downgraded two notches, from its already low grade of a double-A2 rating to an A1 rating. The Opposition has brought on this motion following a period when the Western Australia Inc. report was brought down - a period in Australian political and economic history which is an absolute disgrace. The Western Australia Inc. report reads even worse than the book Lady Chatterley's Lover. It also follows the conclusion of the inquiry into the State Bank of South Australia, which brought down the South Australian Premier. In addition to the announcement of Victoria's downgraded rating, it is expected that a further announcement will be made this week about Victoria's underlying debt of some $60 billion. Despite all this, over the weekend the irresponsible Leader of the Opposition suggested that New South Wales should undertake one of the most extraordinary debt binges in the history of New South Wales by increasing our debt by $1.2 billion to fund presently unprepared capital works programs.
Such a suggestion, which would lead to greater debt and debt servicing and which would, probably in one single stroke, blow out our triple-A rating, is irresponsible and a disgrace. The Leader of the Opposition relied on a document entitled "Economic Information", which is routinely issued by the New South Wales Treasury. That
document is supposed to be a snapshot of the economy of New South Wales. It is not supposed to be indicative of a long-term or underlying situation. The Leader of the Opposition fell into error with many of his comparisons. He tried to say that though New South Wales has experienced a period of relative stability with high economic growth, it is obvious that the percentage changes - increasing and decreasing, but fluctuating around a high and good level - would probably not be as good as, say, those of Victoria, which is on a very low level with low economic indicators, but bouncing slightly back. The percentage increase of the bounce back from a low position belies the considerable and underlying strength that the New South Wales economy has in its continuation at a very high level of economic indicators. That is the crucial error that has been made by the Leader of the Opposition in trying to conjure up this comparison of economic statistics.
When quoting statistics concerning engineering commencements by the private sector, the Leader of the Opposition did not say that the New South Wales position in total, including transport, utilities and heavy industry sectors, shows that it has the second best performance. That is better than the performances of other States, including Queensland, but not as good as that of Victoria - and that is an indication of the bounce back by the Victorian economy from a low stage compared with the continuing good performance of the New South Wales economy. There are other statistics, including the employment rate and labour market figures. Labour market figures for New South Wales reveal that it has consistently had the lowest unemployment rate in Australia. There is no data that shows New South Wales has higher hidden unemployment than any other State. The labour force participation rate reflects a wide range of demographic and social factors, one of which is that New South Wales attracts by far the greater share of migrants who choose initially and continually to live in New South Wales. There are underlying factors that relate to New South Wales, and the statistics prove that the employment performance of New South Wales is not below any of the other States. As I said, it has continued to outperform the Australian average every time the indicator has been calculated.
This motion is all about past performance and prospects for the New South Wales economy. It is no use taking only one snapshot which makes a comparison of a fluctuation at a high level compared with a bounce back from a low level. Rather, one has to consider in particular the forecast for economic growth in New South Wales. The forecast is in line with the Australian forecast by the New South Wales Treasury of 3.5 per cent in 1993, 4.5 per cent in 1994, and 3.5 per cent in 1995. These growth rates, which are forecast to show that New South Wales will perform at least as well as the rest of the States, are a strong indication that the forecast and prospective position of New South Wales will continue to remain considerably enhanced in relation to the positions of other States. Unemployment and inflation forecasts for New South Wales give the same indication. Unemployment is forecast, by people other than myself, to be consistently below the forecast Australian rate in the three years ahead - 1993, 1994 and 1995; 9.5 per cent in 1993 compared to the Australian figure of 10.1 per cent, and so on in each subsequent year. The inflation rate for New South Wales is forecast not to be in excess of the Australian expected performance.
It is important to have an understanding of these economic indicators and the indicators which underlie the performance of New South Wales, particularly during a recession. First, the structure of the New South Wales economy is the most diversified of all State economies. This diversified economic base, while allowing New South Wales to benefit from upswings in Australia's terms of trade and export markets, mitigates the effects of economic downturns. The fact that the State economy is more heavily concentrated in sectors experiencing stronger economic growth and performance, such
as tourism and the service sector, and less dependent on industries such as motor vehicles, textiles, clothing and footwear, has been an important contributing factor to the above average performance of the State in the current downturn.
Second, I refer to the benefits of microeconomic reform which have gradually taken place over the past four or five years. Reform in the government trading enterprise sector and the microeconomic reform program generally cannot be understated, especially when one compares the performance of other States in this regard. This year the Victorian Government brought down a budget which, in truth, had a deficit of the order of $2.2 billion or $2.3 billion. At the same time, the New South Wales Government was credited with a good performance of a $1.2 billion forecast deficit. The difference between New South Wales and Victoria comes down to one factor: the performance of New South Wales in microeconomic reform and the result in the dividend performance of the government enterprises, which has undertaken a reform program.
Of the order of $1 billion in dividends is set to flow this year, on top of the previous flow of dividends - $780 million last year. There has been a growth rate from 1988 of $129 million in GTE dividends to the $1 billion forecast for next year. This has been the result of sustained microeconomic reform and economic efficiency drives. This has characterised the New South Wales economy and has set it completely apart from the economies of other States. Our commitment to microeconomic reform and to doing the right thing by New South Wales and New South Wales business will ensure that this State continues to remain ahead of other States, as all the economic indicators would show, and continues to emerge stronger from this recession - the recession caused not by the New South Wales Government but deliberately by the Federal Labor Government. There is no point in honourable members opposite attempting to decry the performance of New South Wales by the use of myriad falsely interpreted statistics to somehow cover the underlying political cause. There would not be an economic or political commentator in Australia who would disagree with sheeting home the blame directly to the Federal Labor Party. No one else can be blamed. If anything, New South Wales should be credited for performing far better than any other State and Australia as a whole, and far better than would have been expected had the Labor Party been in control in this State.
Honourable members opposite should look at the sorts of things that happened in Victoria. Productivity rates have been declining in Victoria over a period of four or five years because of its previous Government's complete commitment to the union movement and to taking orders from the Trades Hall - union headquarters - in Victoria. Even this week it thinks it is still in control of the Government of Victoria. It is threatening strike action to create pandemonium if the Victorian Government undertakes an economic agenda similar to that which the New South Wales Government undertook and similar to the economic agenda which should be undertaken by every other responsible State.
When the Budget was brought down this year by this Government a book was produced comparing the economic performance of New South Wales with those of other States. From page 33 onwards a series of graphs indicate, especially for those on the other side of the House who lack economic wisdom, that the New South Wales economy has performed either the best of any other State in each indicator or the best of all States with one exception - Queensland. In relation to employment performance New South Wales, in comparison with other States, employs fewer public sector employees - the worst being Tasmania, and then, working our way through the Labor States, South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria, in that declining order. With regard to the index of the severity of State taxes, New South Wales has the lowest, except for
Queensland. These points, which the Leader of the Opposition squirted out with gay abandon, defy truth, and the facts are here for all to see.
New South Wales had fewer outlays. Compared with the expenditure assessed by the Commonwealth Grants Commission, New South Wales recorded a 100 per cent performance. In other words, it was exactly in line. Whereas all the basket cases - Victoria and South Australia, in particular - recorded higher figures than did New South Wales. Only Queensland was able to show a responsible position. Net debt is another indicator where New South Wales was the best, except for Queensland. And we all know why Queensland is in the good position it is in: it has had a considerably sustained period of good economic management thanks to a conservative government - a government that positioned that State to show the economic indicators it is now showing, to the envy of all Australia.
I refer to the debt servicing ratio. Again, New South Wales is best, except for Queensland. I refer to growth in net debt, a most important indicator given the foolishness of the Leader of the Opposition, who, over the weekend, suggested a blowout in debt in excess of $1 billion. With respect to growth in net debt, New South Wales is in decline - the best performer, except for Queensland. There is no doubt that the New South Wales economy is in the strongest position and has continued to sustain a position of strength over a number of years, despite the fact that other State economies have declined considerably. Though some States are showing, in terms of a percentage change to their relatively bad position, a greater growth rate or a greater percentage betterment in relation to some economic indicators, they are not the important indicators. Coming from a very low base, some of those States are showing some signs of improvement, but they are not in a position that is envied by New South Wales, which has been able to sustain its very good position. [Time expired.]
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [3.58]: Failed microeconomic reform, failed industrial relations reform, and abandoned taxation reform are destroying the climate for investment and economic growth in New South Wales. For that, this Government is entirely responsible. It must address itself to these issues as a matter of urgency. This Government is adrift and it is taking the economy with it. What have we heard from the Minister for Finance, Assistant Treasurer, and Minister for Ethnic Affairs? The Minister has said, "Tell the people of New South Wales _You have never had it so good'". He ought to tell the people who are unemployed why they have had it so good. This Government - under which taxes and charges have been increasing almost daily - knows that it is in desperate mess.
Last Sunday, in order to address some of the damage already caused by the Government's economic mismanagement, the Leader of the Opposition announced a major capital works proposal. As a result of the proceeds from the sale of the GIO the Government has an unused potential borrowing capacity of around $1.2 billion. Labor's proposal is to stimulate employment and give people a chance through expanding the State's capital works program while, at the same time, not increasing total borrowings over the three financial years ending no later than the calendar year 1994. We would bring forward by six months a proportion of next year's capital works program to take advantage of significant cost savings available now due to excess capacity in the building and construction industry. Such a proposal would entail an acceleration of existing projects or the bringing forward of a number of new projects that are sufficiently advanced in the planning stages to be started now. Of course, we could expect that any such project would be fully able to satisfy Treasury's cost-benefit analysis procedures before commencement. If this proposal were adopted, the Opposition would join with
the Government in giving a joint commitment to the ratings agencies of a commensurate reduction in the 1993-94 and 1994-95 borrowing programs by an equivalent amount. Over the three financial year period there would be no increase in total borrowings by the New South Wales Government under this proposal apart from offering a major targeted boost to the most fragile section of the economy.
The proposal offers a significant employment and confidence boost. This proposal has the potential to create as many as 24,000 new jobs in 1993 - when they are most needed. Given the magnitude of the employment and economic difficulties facing New South Wales, the Opposition believes that this proposal is not only responsible but also essential. If the Government accepts this proposal, the Opposition will give all the necessary commitments to protect the State's vital triple-A rating and provide any other support and assistance to the Government in the course of the implementation of the proposal. Honourable members should remember that it was a Labor Government that had a triple-A rating and handed it to this Government along with a surplus - a surplus which it has turned into a deficit. Under this proposal, we would be able to build those vital public hospitals without resorting to privatisation. In the electorate of Madam Deputy-Speaker, Port Macquarie, there could be a public hospital built under this proposal, and built ahead of time as a public hospital - publicly owned and publicly managed, as the people of that electorate wanted. The 61 per cent of people who voted showed overwhelmingly that they wanted a public hospital. Hawkesbury would also be able to get its vitally needed new public hospital. Lithgow and Wollongong, instead of having their proposals stalled, would be able to have their hospitals built. Maitland, instead of being delayed time and again, would be able to have its upgrading -
Mr Souris: On a point of order. I am not sure that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is comparing the economic performances of the States of Australia. Talking about privatisation and votes in Port Macquarie is not dealing with the matter of public importance, which canvasses the question of the economic performance of New South Wales compared with that of the other States.
Dr Refshauge: On the point of order. I understand the embarrassment of the Minister at the inability of his Government to provide the services required. He tries to take up time in a debate that could be used to explain the differences between the States and therefore the different philosophies that follow from the economic positions that the States have got themselves into. As a result of this -
Madam DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! Is the member speaking to the point of order?
Dr Refshauge: I am speaking to the point of order.
Madam DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member's time has expired.
Dr Refshauge: I am speaking to the point of order.
Madam DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! The member may complete his point of order.
Dr Refshauge: As the Minister has pointed out, this debate is about a comparison of the economic situations of different States. That would lead to whether one follows a particular route of, say, privatisation of public hospitals. Therefore I
would be quite in order raising the issue of Port Macquarie, Hawkesbury, Wollongong, Lithgow or Maitland hospitals.
Madam DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is straying from the point of order. He is beginning to debate the matter itself. I think I have heard sufficient on the point of order. It is somewhat irrelevant in that the member's time has expired. I was prepared to let the Deputy Leader of the Opposition continue a little down that path, but he was starting to develop a theme that seemed to be outside the scope of the motion. However, his time for speaking has elapsed.
Mr McManus: On the point of order.
Madam DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! I have ruled on the point of order. There is no point of order before the House.
Mr SMILES (North Shore) [4.6]: What a farce, what a disgrace and what an absolute stupidity that the Leader of the Opposition in this House could raise this motion this afternoon! What a nonsense! What a fool! The bottom line is that the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues cannot recognise the factors that contribute to a bottom line in economic terms. How appalling that the Leader of the Opposition, as demonstrated in question time, should focus on Liverpool Hospital and talk about a fast or quick fix approach - fast tracking he calls it. It is typical of the Leader of the Opposition and typical of the Opposition in this Parliament. Fast tracking at Liverpool Hospital means tearing down every building in the hospital to recreate a new and modern hospital. The Leader of the Opposition, in raising the points he has raised, is demonstrating the same "tearing down" mentality as did his deputy here this afternoon.
The most interesting and most profound thing about the bottom line to the New South Wales economy is that any comparison of this State's economic indicators with those of other States reveals that all other States with the exception of Queensland are right at the bottom of the basket. New South Wales has, through this Liberal and National Party Government, managed to survive the worst recession and the worst impact of the recession because of its good management. It has maintained its values and economic performance with greater success than any other State bar Queensland. Though I acknowledge that building rates have fallen a little within the last two or three months, the Leader of the Opposition has totally forgotten the high building rates in this State compared with those of every other State for at least three years prior to this three-month period. On State taxes, it is interesting that the Leader of the Opposition forgot to tell the House that one of the reasons we have had to struggle to contain our taxes and our tax burden is that his Federal colleagues have cheated the people of New South Wales of about $1 billion this year, on a per capita basis. Honourable members who look at the contribution by New South Wales men and women to the Federal tax returns will know that we have been cheated out of about $1.3 billion. Despite that, this State has maintained a level of economic management that is the envy of every other State led by a Labor government of recent times.
The Leader of the Opposition spoke of the industrial relations dispute and of disputation days increasing by some 70 per cent, completely forgetting that the major contributor to that 70 per cent increase was the Labor Council's one-day strike. The Labor organisation contributed to that 70 per cent increase above all else. The Leader of the Opposition is unable to look at the broad spectrum of economic indicators so very important to truthful debate in the House. On the Maritime Services Board and the complaint that ships face an $8,000 charge when they come into Sydney, firstly, it is a
shame that the Leader of the Opposition, in doing that calculation, could not recognise that ships come in and ships go out; in other words, he talked about the cost to New South Wales exporters and completely forgot to tell us that part of that $8,000 per ship is attributable to importers. Secondly, so what if it costs $3,000 less to bring a ship into Melbourne? If honourable members ask the Victorian Treasury what they are facing because of the artificially low prices charged by the recently defeated Victorian ALP Government, they will get an indication of why we in New South Wales are better off. It was fascinating to hear the Leader of the Opposition speak about this State's triple-A rating.
Mr Harrison: The present Government inherited it from the previous Labor Government.
Mr SMILES: Yes, the Government inherited this State's triple-A rating in the midst of a boom but, unlike other Labor States, maintained that rating despite the incredible recession Australia has suffered in the past four years. In Victoria the previous Liberal Government passed on a triple-A rating to an incoming - and now defeated - Labor Government, and that rating was blown apart.
Mr McManus: On a point of order. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition was ruled out of order for comparing States and their credit performances. The honourable member for North Shore is making the same comparison. I ask that the honourable member address the motion.
Madam DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! The point of order taken is in direct contrast with the one ruled upon earlier. The motion concerns the credit ratings of various States. The member for North Shore is addressing that subject; the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was not. The member's time for speaking has expired.
Mr HATTON (South Coast) [4.11]: I am not impressed that blame is being laid on the Federal Government. The fact is that both sides of politics would have deregulated the banking industry. Both sides would have gone down the track of the prolificacy of the 1980s which increased foreign debt and reduced our international competitiveness. Of course, both sides have the answers after the event. Though it may be valid for the Assistant Treasurer to compare the performance of New South Wales with that of Western Australia and Victoria, those other States need the accountability, openness and power shift which have been the basis of the charter of reform and negotiations between the Independents and the Government in New South Wales. The Government deserves credit for including those elements in its own agenda. But my confidence in the Greiner Government has been shattered. Before May 1988 the coalition Opposition was talking about a $300 million or $350 million deficit. At that time the honourable member for Maroubra, now the Leader of the Opposition, was talking about a $1 billion to $1.5 billion deficit, growing to $2 billion. I did not believe him then. However, the figures that emerged after the election proved him correct. We have been lied to since May 1988; there was a considerable debt but we were not told about it.
We Independents, having the balance of power following the last election, took our responsibilities very seriously and, with the Leader of the Opposition, told Moody's that the Government had a right to govern, a right to contain debt, a right to try to retain the triple-A credit rating - which it did - and that we would support the budget strategy. We supported the Government's strategy and also the sale of the GIO, which netted more than $1 billion for this State. We also supported a mini-budget, which netted approximately $250 million and made the current Budget look particularly good. But,
deep-seated in my heart I have serious worries about the whole question of economic rationalism. I have a horror cartoon in my mind of a big machine entitled "Economic Rationalism", with Keating on one side and Hewson on the other, working the handles, with people being fed in one end, blood and bone being spat out the other end, and Fischer standing there with a straw in his mouth saying, "I wonder whether that blood and bone is going to improve the rural economy".
Mr Cochran: On a point of order. The honourable member has made comments about Mr Fischer, the Federal Leader of the National Party, and about other matters that have no bearing on the motion. I ask that the honourable member be directed to address the motion.
Mr Hatton: On the point of order. The Minister referred to the Federal Government and placed blame on it. I am entitled to make passing reference to that. I have just finished my comments on that aspect.
Madam DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! The point of order is not upheld. The member for South Coast was making passing reference to those issues.
Mr HATTON: Economic rationalism has been embraced by the Government and 50,000 jobs have disappeared. We are told this will cut costs and help the ordinary man and woman in the street. What has John Citizen seen from this so-called economic rationalism? Have more jobs been created? Have the 50,000 jobs lost been made up and has there been proportionate growth? In an effort to contain debt, as mentioned by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Government has not taken up the loan allocation, which it should have, at least to prevent privatisation of hospitals. Short-term savings in capital investment have occurred but long-term recurrent costs, such as those associated with privatisation of the health system, have increased. On the Treasurer's own admission, contributions by government trading enterprises to the Budget have risen from $120 million to $780 million and are projected to swell to $1 billion, and that is bound to increase charges. I have a basic worry about economic rationalism, a policy embraced by both sides. Without doubt, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. [Time expired.]
Mr CRUICKSHANK (Murrumbidgee) [4.16]: It is quite extraordinary -
Mr McManus: On a point of order. At the call I was on my feet well before the honourable member for Murrumbidgee rose. I suggest that the honourable member missed the call and that I should be entitled to speak.
Madam DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! The Chair, in attempting to allow both sides to contribute equally in debate, has discretion in giving the call. The honourable member for Murrumbidgee has the call.
Mr CRUICKSHANK: Of all the topics that Carr could have chosen as the subject of a matter of public importance, this must be the least credible for him. His own party is wondering what he is doing talking about the economic state of New South Wales, because he does not know anything about it. The Leader of the Opposition is attempting a pre-emptive strike at the Government by yelling about Tricontinental and the woes of Victoria as though such things had never happened. But those things did happen and the Federal Government, not the New South Wales Government, was and is responsible for that. The triple-A rating is here to stay in New South Wales. What the previous socialist Government did in Victoria - while its Canberra mates brought this
country to its knees - is also there to stay. The Opposition has least credibility on economic issues. Members opposite - flat earth economists - should choose other subjects for debate. Even the honourable member for South Coast has said he does not understand economic rationalism. However, Federal politicians on both side of the Canberra camp know what it is all about and know they have to act. The Opposition in this State has offered no solutions. The fact is that Carr has developed his $1.2 billion scheme - $550 million more than the Government allocated for expenditure on capital works. He should have undergone a course in debt management.
Mr Souris: Another of his debt binges.
Mr CRUICKSHANK: As the Minister has interjected, it is another of the debt binges of Carr. He has not acknowledged the results of past binges by Labor State governments, yet he has the audacity to attempt to sheet home blame to the Government of this State. His actions defy imagination and rationality. The hallmark of the Government has been a medium-term to long-term budgeting strategy - an approach that the Opposition would do well to note. The Budget has struck a balance between a $650 million economic stimulus to capital works, which will create 18,000 direct and indirect jobs, and responsible debt containment. The Federal Government, the mates of those opposite, is swallowing the Federal Budget in an attempt to pay off debt and create an impression of economic management through its make-work schemes. Carr believes that the State can borrow, borrow, borrow $1.2 billion with the credit built up by the coalition Government's sound economic management. This State can borrow $1.2 billion. Victoria cannot. I am sure Western Australia cannot either. The Opposition suggests that the Government should throw New South Wales further into debt. Carr's proposal would seriously undermine -
Mr Harrison: On a point of order. The honourable member for Murrumbidgee has made constant reference to the honourable member for Maroubra as "Carr". I ask that the member be directed to use the correct title when referring to the Leader of the Opposition.
Madam DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! I uphold the point of order. The member for Murrumbidgee should refer to the Leader of the Opposition by his correct title.
Mr CRUICKSHANK: The proposal of the honourable member for Maroubra would seriously undermine our commitment to maintaining Moody's triple-A credit rating. Opposition members should take note of this before starting their hare-brained schemes. Annual interest charges alone on a $1.2 billion debt would be up to $120 million a year. The honourable member for Maroubra says that the Government and the Opposition should approach Moody's and Standard and Poor's to obtain their prior consent for a $1.2 billion loan; they are the authority to ask whether we should be borrowing that amount. [Time expired.]
Mr CARR (Maroubra - Leader of the Opposition) [4.21], in reply: The Minister for Finance, Assistant Treasurer, and Minister for Ethnic Affairs is so bereft of any response to the statistics that were put to this House in my contribution that he has had to rely on budget forecasts. I have here five of the Government's budget forecasts to show how the Government has performed in the past. We can look at the 1991 budget forecasts, the actual outcome and the percentage variation. How close did the
Government get the forecast for the total financial result - that is, the New South Wales budget deficit? It was out by 17.5 per cent. The 1991 Budget projected that 7,100 public sector jobs would go. The Government ended up getting rid of 11,400, an increase of 60.6 per cent. The projected figure for inflation was 3.5 per cent, but we lived with 1.7 per cent - down 51 per cent. The employment projection was wrong by 75 per cent and the unemployment projection by 15 per cent. The output figure was out by 100 per cent. Stamp duty revenue is one figure the Government should have known about because it was all its own work. The figure projected in the 1991 Budget was $2,377 million; the outcome was $2,034 million. The Government was out by 14.5 per cent.
Mr Fraser: Who told you that, Bob?
Mr CARR: I make this point simple enough for even the honourable member for Coffs Harbour.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is too much interjection.
Mr CARR: Even the dopiest of the National Party hacks should grasp and absorb this point.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Kogarah to order.
Mr CARR: The only defence the Minister for Finance, Assistant Treasurer, and Minister for Ethnic Affairs was able to present in defending the Government's Budget was that budget forecasts would lift the New South Wales economy. His defence was all about the budget forecasts. Of those five or six budget forecasts I have just given, the closest was out by 15 per cent. This shows how valid the Government's forecasts are. This debate is all about whether this Government has lived up to the performance standard set by Nick Greiner when he delivered the policy speech for the coalition at the last State election.
Mr Cochran: On a point of order. The Leader of the Opposition should direct his remarks through the Chair.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no point of order.
Mr CARR: Sensitive little violet! An article prior to the last election was headed "Gloom buster. Nick vows to lead recovery". That is what this debate is all about: has the coalition lived up to the promise it dangled before the people of New South Wales? Nick Greiner said in his policy speech that he would lead the nation's economic recovery with a combination of good management and compassion. Events have taken care of the former member for Ku-ring-gai. I will not dwell on his record of broken promises except to say that this is a promise this Government is not keeping. From the Parliamentary Library we have got an account of this Government preening itself on the economic indicators when they appeared to favour it. In November 1990 the former Premier boasted on the basis of the figures of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the figures I included in moving my motion, that the New South Wales economy was stronger and more stable than the economies of the other States. Mr Speaker, it will not surprise you that he was saying in November 1990 that the New South Wales economy was stronger than that of the other States because of the Government's approach to economic management. When another set of economic indicators came out in December
1990, the ABS labour force figures, Mr Greiner seized on those to say, "New South Wales still the best". He said:
The better performance of NSW on employment is further proof of the correctness of taking the hard decisions on improving the efficiency of the public sector.
If it is good enough to base a claim such as that on the labour force statistics that were released in December 1990, it is time to think again when the labour force statistics have moved decisively against the Government. The figures that entitled the Government, in its view, to crow about economic outcomes have now moved against the Government. The funny thing is that when the labour force statistics, the ABS comparisons and the Treasury document making interstate comparisons now come out making unfavourable comparisons a press release is not issued. The Minister for the Environment will tell us that is a paper conservation measure. No press release is issued because the figures - the ABS figures, the labour force figures and the interstate comparisons - now damn the Government. The only defence of the Minister is that the budget forecasts are sanguine; they offer us some hope. Not on the basis of those presented in the past. They had better be more accurate than previously.
Our positive alternative to the drift under this Government is to bring forward capital works spending to this financial year, when it is required. That is the jobs and hospitals recovery plan I announced on the weekend. We will save the Government's bacon again. I will troop off to the credit agencies Standard and Poor's and Moody's again and defend the triple-A rating, as I and my colleagues have been required to do twice in the past, putting the interests of this State above mere party political advantage. The fact is that the triple-A rating, which was solid as a rock under Labor and reassessed only after the change of government, will be secured because we will give the guarantee that in the subsequent two financial years borrowing will be reduced by a proportionate amount. We are talking about jobs and hospitals now, public works to drag this economy forward again. These public works will, for example, deliver to the people of Maitland the new hospital that the Government keeps denying them. These public works will give Port Macquarie a public hospital for the people as an alternative to hospital privatisation. These public works will give the people of Lithgow, whom the Government is telling to wait indefinitely, the public hospital they require and they want, and which their member has worked so diligently to get them.
We will provide jobs and hospitals in a package that is economically responsible because borrowings will be reduced in the subsequent two financial years. The global entitlement is there. This side of politics would do nothing to undermine the State's triple-A rating: we were the architects of that triple-A rating. The alternative to my positive proposals for jobs, hospitals and economic growth is to suffer and sustain the drift in the New South Wales economy to which this Government is shackled at the present time. Drift is not good enough for the people of this State because it means joblessness and a worsening New South Wales economy. That is not good enough for the Opposition. That is why we urge the Government to adopt the positive solution that I put forward at the weekend. That is why we draw to the attention of the people of this State the declining economic indicators that confirm New South Wales is in deep trouble and that this Government has nothing to offer.
Question - That the motion be agreed to - put.
The House divided.
Mr A. S. Aquilina
Mr J. J. Aquilina
Mrs Lo Po'
Mr J. H. Murray
Mr E. T. Page
Mr W. T. J. Murray
Mr D. L. Page
Question so resolved in the negative.
TRAFFIC (FINE DEFAULT) AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from 15th October.
Mr LANGTON (Kogarah) [4.38]: The Opposition will support the bill, which will amend the Traffic Act to enable the enforcement of parking fines incurred in local government car parks. I and many of my colleagues in the Chamber are former local government aldermen. We know only too well the vital and valuable role played by local government in providing car parking facilities - whether they be in local shopping centres, local sporting venues, or areas adjacent to railway stations and bus rail interchanges. I was pleased to note that, in February, a single fixed penalty of $50 was introduced for such infringements. Some councils, in accordance with the relevant ordinance in the Local Government Act, increased that penalty to $250 for offences of illegally parking in spaces reserved for disabled drivers. I am sure all honourable members would agree with actions that will assist councils to enforce that type of parking restriction. I was also pleased to note the number of magistrates in Local Courts who support councils in the rigorous enforcement of those increased penalties. Following the introduction of that uniform penalty, councils were able to use the police processing bureau, the self-enforcing infringement notice scheme, to gain benefit from the cost-effective processing of penalty notices. The proposed amendments to the legislation will protect council staff, time and finances from those who consider free council car parking as an alternative to their own private garages. The system also will benefit local councils by enabling them to gain revenue by more rigorously enforcing parking requirements.
Some people who park in council car parks consider they are picked on by local councils and ordinance inspectors. However, I believe the majority of people appreciate the time, trouble and great expense incurred not only by councils but by local chambers of commerce in providing car parks. Until the introduction of this legislation, those who broke council car parking laws and avoided paying their fines did not face any other sanction apart from the threat of imprisonment as a result of the issue of a commitment warrant. Since 1988, traffic and parking offenders who refuse to pay fines now face an alternative to a weekend or few days in the local lockup - or, alternatively, heaven forbid, in Long Bay. Their licence or car registration may now be cancelled. As has been mentioned by the Deputy Premier, Minister for Public Works, and Minister for Roads, prior to the introduction of this legislation, the extension of those licence and registration provisions did not apply to offences for which infringement notices were issued in free council car parks.
Under the SEINS system, the police issue the fine, administer it on behalf of the council, and take approximately $16.50 from the $50 fine for that service. I believe that fee is quite acceptable to councils. I understand that approximately 156 of the 176 councils in New South Wales now use that scheme. Quite obviously, the new scheme will streamline the whole process. Currently ordinance 34(c) of the Local Government Act, which relates to council car parks, forces councils, in order to catch fine defaulters, to make application to the Roads and Traffic Authority for a section 12 certificate to enable them to apply sanctions. I understand that each application costs $27. The bill before the House will save that expenditure and staff time in writing out and researching those certificates and applying to the Roads and Traffic Authority for a section 12 certificate.
Mr W. T. J. Murray: They can use DRIVES.
Mr LANGTON: I am glad the Minister mentioned that. Quite obviously, I did
not intend to mention it but he has forced me to refer to it in passing. The bill before the House will attempt to correct that anomaly of the convoluted method by which councils had to obtain section 12 certificates from the Roads and Traffic Authority. Councils will be able to advise those who park illegally in council car parks that they face the ultimate sanction of registration or licence cancellation. In his second reading speech the Minister said that the cancellation sanction, which did apply to all other parking and traffic offences before, "has proven to be a very successful enforcement strategy". I can only assume that the Minister has not had brought to his attention the relevant section of the 1991-92 Report of the Auditor-General, volume 2, page 283, which highlights a feature of his investigation of the finances for that year. The report states:
There were nearly one million unexecuted warrants with an estimated value of $123.2 million at year end (1991) compared with 1,008,284 million ($118.4 million) a year earlier. During 1991-92 a total of 289,346 warrants with a value of $55.3 million were received. It is expected that many warrants will not be satisfied by way of payment.
In other words, the Auditor-General is saying there is $123 million in outstanding fines - dare I say $123 million which would not only provide an upgrading of many kilometres of State Rail Authority tracking but would build half of an F4 or F5 freeway.
Mr W. T. J. Murray: But we do not get them.
Mr LANGTON: The Minister said he does not get those fines. Perhaps if he threw around a bit more of his well-known weight in Cabinet he might be able to get access to some of that cash, which could go back to the Roads and Traffic Authority. It is a tax on motorists. Let us get it back and spend it on roads. I would suggest that, bearing in mind the $123 million in outstanding fines, the cancellation sanction can hardly be described as a very successful enforcement strategy. Though the Opposition will support the bill obviously it cannot support the mismanagement of the Government or the Minister of this fine collection process. Though the principle is certainly right, the Opposition has some concerns about the administration. The Opposition not only cares about those who commit offences and who are not brought to account because of failings in the system, but is also concerned about innocent victims of the record system - quite clearly a grossly deficient computer system which cannot grasp the reality of individual situations. I would dare to say that the computer, which the Minister and the Roads and Traffic Authority are saddled with, would have trouble grasping anything at the moment. I return to the $123 million. Even if the average fines and costs were $1,000, which I believe is a grossly overstated figure, that means that 123,000 people who should not be driving are driving. Those people should have their licences or their registrations cancelled. I spoke about the Minister's mismanagement and the Government's mismanagement. Let me, as the Minister provoked me to do earlier, talk about the DRIVES system, which is costing -
The DRIVES system is supposed to administer the scheme we are talking about. It is costing something over $80 million. The Roads and Traffic Authority records are in such a shambles that we might as well write off that $123 million, because I do not believe there is any chance of collecting it. The registration component of DRIVES is nearly two years behind schedule and is not even close to being functional. How many individuals are going to escape without penalty because the police processing bureau at Parramatta cannot match data with the DRIVES computer system and finally notify and punish parking and traffic offenders? The situation of the guilty avoiding punishment is bad enough, but when the mismanagement I referred to causes concern to innocent and
quite clearly law-abiding citizens, obviously there is cause for concern. I believe that the Minister has great responsibility to ensure that the procedures in the Roads and Traffic Authority are in place, effective and quite accurate before we can be assured of the integrity of the system. Cancellation of licences and registration is an excellent deterrent to those who treat parking laws as a joke. People should be advised where they stand.
When parking fines have been issued offenders receive reminder notices stating that the fines must be paid in the next few days otherwise their licence or car registration will be cancelled. That appears to be fair and straightforward but often it is not. In my office I have drawers full of case studies of people who have found out by chance that their licence or car registration has been cancelled. Literally thousands of people in this State have had their licence and motor vehicle registration cancelled without their knowledge. It is a gross fault in the system. If this practice continues and is extended under this bill, the Opposition would have grave concerns. The Minister would admit that he has a responsibility to ensure that the system is 100 per cent correct. Because I find it exceedingly relevant, I shall quote the case study of Ms Lynne McGimpsey. In late 1990 Ms McGimpsey received final notification that unless she dealt with three outstanding parking offences her licence and car registration would be cancelled. She realised that she had not personally incurred those fines, as at the time her vehicle was being driven by a former flatmate. She duly informed the relevant authorities that her flatmate was going to deal with the matter. Her flatmate had written to the fines default unit stating that though the matter was to proceed in court, she and not Ms McGimpsey would accept responsibility.
After receiving the threatening notification, Ms McGimpsey was told in a telephone conversation to write to the fines default unit and explain the matter in full. She did this and, as further instructed, in 1991 she wrote to the Attorney General's Department, again explaining the full situation. At that time she was told that the matter would go back to the Police Department for further consideration and that the Roads and Traffic Authority would be instructed not to cancel any documents in her name. Ms McGimpsey received no more instructions and she assumed that the authorities were dealing direct with her flatmate to resolve the matter. That was an incorrect assumption, because in mid-August 1991 Ms McGimpsey realised that her licence and car registration renewal papers had not been sent although they were almost overdue. She rang the Roads and Traffic Authority and was told that her licence and registration had been cancelled in December 1990 and that three warrants had been issued for her arrest. These were the matters that she had been told were all fixed.
In January 1991 she was told that the matter listed in her name would be withdrawn while it was being further investigated. Someone in the Roads and Traffic Authority apparently did not take any notice. Perhaps the information was entered into the computer and it disappeared into that $80 million black hole for which the Minister is responsible. Obviously the computer and the Roads and Traffic Authority were not flexible enough to deal with the matter. Ms McGimpsey, who at that time was several months pregnant, was concerned about the possibility of being arrested. She went to see a chamber magistrate, who agreed that she was not at fault. The relevant correspondence supposedly sent from the Attorney General's Department in January 1991 could not be found in the records of either the Police Department or the Roads and Traffic Authority. It had disappeared. The chamber magistrate wrote to both authorities asking for the matter to be re-examined and for Ms McGimpsey's licence and registration cancellations to be withdrawn. Even then it took the Roads and Traffic Authority a further six weeks to forward new licence and registration papers to Ms McGimpsey. Though she has her new licence and registration papers, she is not sure whether the matter is concluded. She
does not know what is shown on her record. However, of real significance is the fact that the woman concerned was completely unaware of the problems. She was innocently driving her car for almost nine months without a licence and registration papers because she was told that the matter had been fixed. Not only was she driving an unregistered vehicle whilst unlicensed, but she was driving whilst uninsured. Honourable members would be aware of the complications that could have arisen from that.
If this Minister's amending bill, which extends the cancellation sanction to those who offend in council car parks, is going to work, the Minister has a responsibility to ensure that the Roads and Traffic Authority can provide the police and other authorities with relevant and up-to-date information, and that DRIVES - if it ever does get up and running, particularly in the registration area - is flexible enough to deal with matters such as the one I just raised. I know for a fact that there are literally thousands of cases in New South Wales that are similar in nature to the one I have just recounted. I do not know how many people are presently driving, blissfully unaware that they are unlicensed or that their vehicle is unregistered. The system in the Roads and Traffic Authority is a disgrace. People deserve a better system than the one they are getting. The DRIVES project is already $50 million over budget and to that should be added $123 million in outstanding fines, which the Auditor-General virtually tells us we are never going to collect. As I said, the Opposition supports this commonsense bill. However, before there is an extension to the licensing and registration cancellation sanctions, the system must be fixed.
Mr FRASER (Coffs Harbour) [4.55]: I support the Traffic (Fine Default) Amendment Bill. This bill was introduced to assist local government to enforce traffic fines issued to people who did not comply with restrictions that local government placed on parking areas provided free of charge to assist local businesses, residents and - especially on the North Coast - tourists. From time to time it is necessary for people to park for specified periods in shopping centres, sporting venues and other local government areas. Local government authorities, in their wisdom, have specified restrictions for these parking areas. This system has been flouted by a number of people in all communities. Tourists regularly visit Coffs Harbour and overstay the designated time limits in council car parks. If they are issued with a parking ticket from the ordinance officer, they often throw the ticket in the bin, wander away and are yet to be found. In February this year the Government moved to have a penalty of $50 introduced, but it did not address the fact that the only way councils could recover revenue from fines was through the court system or a system of issuing summonses if fines were not paid, or possibly through threat of imprisonment. This proved to be an unacceptable cost to both local government and the people concerned.
Under this bill, councils will be empowered to collect revenue, some of which was previously lost, or bring pressure upon fine defaulters through the default sanction provisions of the Traffic Act. This will mean that people who default in the payment of fines will have their licence or registration papers cancelled. Councils will have the opportunity to gain more revenue. People who are fined will be under greater pressure to pay their fines in a much quicker time than they have in the past. This bill will not only benefit councils in monetary terms; it will also benefit shoppers and others wishing to utilise council car parking areas. The restrictions placed on those areas will be adhered to because of the sanctions that may be imposed under this legislation. During holiday periods on the North Coast parking space near beaches is at a premium. This bill will ensure that local residents and tourists will be able to utilise fully facilities on the foreshore that are provided by local government, service clubs and other organisations. I think local government will welcome this legislation. It will relieve some of the
pressure on councils to collect outstanding fines. Local government officers can have more confidence applying the restrictions and imposing fines. It is difficult to get a parking space during the Easter weekend in Coffs Harbour. Motorists do not adhere to local council restrictions. It is frustrating for locals and tourists alike. I support the bill. I am pleased that the Opposition has decided to support the bill, though its support is somewhat reserved.
Mr McMANUS (Bulli) [5.0]: As did the honourable member for Kogarah, the shadow minister for transport, I too support the bill. I am pleased that the Government has accepted the initiatives of the Australian Labor Party by ensuring that fines, the alternative to gaol, are enforced. As a consequence, no longer will our gaols be overcrowded with people who have committed minor offences, such as not paying parking fines. However, as did the shadow minister, I also have some major reservations. I was an alderman of the Wollongong City Council for almost six years. I am fully aware of the concerns of local government about the collection of moneys due as a result of fines. Councils require assistance in this regard. It has been a total waste of time and effort so far as officers of the council are concerned, given the constraints that the Government has put on local government. It is essential that local government is provided with some sort of support. It is unfortunate that the Government has placed other pressures on councils, in particular not allowing councils to increase rates. This bill, however, will go some way to providing local government with much-needed support.
As has been pointed out by the shadow minister, the case history of Ms McGimpsey should be of concern to all members of Parliament. As the shadow minister has indicated, most members of Parliament are well aware of the case history as a result of representations made to them. The matter must be addressed. As legislators, it is important that we pass laws that can be policed correctly. I have some concerns, as does the shadow minister, that this can be achieved. I hope that there is some substance in the rhetoric of the Deputy Premier. I have some reservations, and I believe that it may take some time to achieve the objectives of the legislation. I remind honourable members of DRIVES - the $80 million blunder the Roads and Traffic Authority has on its hands at the moment. In passing, I inform the Minister that only a month ago I had to register my car and my wife's car. I tried to register my wife's car on a Friday but was told by the staff at the registry that I would be better off returning on Monday because on Mondays there is only a 20-minute wait instead of a 45-minute wait for information to come from the computer. I ask the Minister to give some assurance to the Parliament, the people of New South Wales and local government that any system that is introduced will be efficient. Quite frankly, the system is not efficient at the moment; and it seems to me that it will be a long time before it is. The shadow minister referred to the fact that $123 million is outstanding in fines. That is an indication of the seriousness of the problem.
Mr W. T. J. Murray: You are as silly as he is.
Mr McMANUS: That is probably a compliment. I have a great deal of respect for the shadow minister. He is proving to the people of New South Wales that the Minister is incompetent and that he belongs to an incompetent, blundering Government. As did the shadow minister, I am detailing the mistakes the Government is making. I want the Minister to understand that people are paying big money for cars, petrol and transport in this State. It is the Minister's responsibility to ensure that they get value for their money. They are getting nothing like the efficiency they deserve.
Mr W. T. J. Murray: What about the 140,000 incompetent errors that Labor made?
Mr McMANUS: The Minister keeps referring back to a previous Labor Government or, if he is in another bind, he blames my Federal colleagues in Canberra. Why can he not take responsibility for his actions? The Minister has brought this bill before the House. I have already said that I support the context of it. I am simply telling the Minister and the Government that there are major holes in the bill which have to be fixed in order to give people confidence in the Government. There are concerns; Ms McGimpsey is a prime example. There are thousands of Ms McGimpseys in this State who need security, and there will be more of them unless the DRIVES system can be operated efficiently as soon as possible. The Minister has introduced the legislation, and the Opposition supports it; but he has a long way to go before he can convince the people that he is worthy of their confidence in this regard.
Mr MORRIS (Blue Mountains) [5.7]: I congratulate the Deputy Premier, Minister for Public Works, and Minister for Roads on this initiative. In my contribution I wish to concentrate on the forgotten people, the disabled. My electorate, as is the electorate of Coffs Harbour - and I endorse the remarks of the honourable member for Coffs Harbour - is a tourist area. It has many international-class hotels and major lookouts. Visitors to the area have problems finding parking, as do the disabled. The disabled are the forgotten people of our society. They have difficulty going about their day-to-day business. I have always acknowledged the disabled and I have worked in the local community to help them.
Since the introduction of the standardised penalty - $50 - there have been a number of representations in relation to those who park illegally in spaces reserved for the disabled. The Fairmont hotel at Leura is a perfect example of a location that has insufficient car parks. It has only two disabled parking spaces. Often those spaces are used by able-bodied people too lazy to take their car to the bottom of the car park and walk back. They pull in and unload their goods. On many occasions, the hotel management locks up the offending vehicles. I have been to functions at that hotel many times. The disabled have nowhere to park their cars, which have been specially fitted out for them. It is proposed to address the present situation by increasing the prescribed penalty for this offence to a level which will provide an effective deterrent. The penalty will be $112, which is in line with fines for the most serious parking offences. The Minister is to be commended for including an increase to the penalty - it is a vital part of the legislation. I have listened to all the other speakers, but no one mentioned it. I quote from the letter of the Deputy Premier:
The community will be spared the cost of keeping a defaulter in custody and providing family support during the period of detention. The present burden on local courts will be reduced, and local councils will be better equipped to effectively regulate the car park areas under their control.
In relation to the movement of traffic near supermarkets, council studies have revealed that car spaces will turn over eight times a day in a car park with one-hour parking spaces in a busy town. Proprietors of shops in country areas are among the worst offenders. They live perhaps a few miles out of town on a farm and park their cars in the car park. They are occupying valuable space. They could park behind their shops, but they are too lazy to walk. We see this a lot in our local area. Surveys taken by local police and local council ordinance officers confirm these facts, and reference is made to them by the local chamber of commerce people. Many of my constituents are elderly, especially those living in the townships of Lawson, Wentworth Falls and Blackheath. They hop in their old cars, which are dear to them - probably 1970 models that travel
only 3,000 or 4,000 kilometres a year - and drive into town. When they do so it is most important that a car park is available to them. I commend the Minister for ensuring that parking spaces will be available to the disabled and the elderly, and for giving councils an alternative to the collection of penalties. It is a more equitable and businesslike arrangement. I support the bill.
Mr MILLS (Wallsend) [5.11]: Let me start by correcting the honourable member for Coffs Harbour, who said that the Labor Party supported the Traffic (Fine Default) Amendment Bill with reservations. There is no reservation in relation to the support of the bill. The Opposition has some concerns about the administration of the bill. I commend the honourable member for Blue Mountains, who stole my thunder. I also wish to speak of the disabled. About a month ago I wrote to the Government on behalf of a constituent and a support group in my electorate. They wished to solve the problem of getting disabled parking spaces free, which meant enforcing the law as it was with regard to council car parks. They also asked for help in developing a campaign to extend some sort of enforcement provisions, where possible, to private car parks. I received a most considerate and compassionate reply from the Minister for Local Government, who indicated that there was progress so far as car parks were concerned, and that it was hoped, perhaps by way of the new Local Government Bill, a mechanism would be put in place to enable disabled groups and others to lobby private owners of car parks - to have them somehow associated with council car parks - so that disabled parking provisions could be enforced. I commend the bipartisan community approach to helping disabled people get their parking spaces close to where they need to go. The policy is fine.
I believe, however, that the administration of penalties by the Roads and Traffic Authority is not satisfactory. My concern is as a civil libertarian. The bill is rooted in civil liberties because it is based on the concept that we should not be sending people to gaol for not paying outstanding fines for minor matters. Rather, we should be looking for other options. Another civil liberties question arises with regard to the denial of rights of certain people who end up - as the shadow minister, the honourable member for Kogarah, said - as innocent victims of the system. In the past two years six people have come to my office complaining that they had lost their licence or their registration without knowing of it because of parking or minor traffic offences. One fellow, who lived in Marshall Street, had his licence cancelled for nine months without his knowing it as the result of a parking fine. The fine was picked up by his wife just as they were starting separation and divorce proceedings. All his mail was lost. He simply did not know about the cancellation. That is not good enough.
Just two weeks ago a similar matter came to my attention. A fellow from Allambra Avenue went to court and had offences against him dismissed under section 556A of the Crimes Act. Of course, he had to pay the victims' compensation levy, but nobody told him. Somehow the notices went astray - and remember we are dealing, after all, with ordinary human beings in these matters - and his licence was cancelled for three months without his knowing that it had happened. Such a situation should not continue. The answer lies in the administration of the system. We need a culture at the top of the RTA which encourages more friendly, personal contact with the public. In relation to the cancellation of registrations and licences, we must have, rather than a sterile letter issued from a computer, face-to-face contact by an officer of the RTA. If someone is to be served a summons, it should not be sent out by computer. There has to be human intervention - eye-to-eye contact in relation to handing over the summons - to ensure that there are no innocent victims of the system.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Chappell): Order! It being 5.15 p.m., pursuant to sessional orders the debate is interrupted.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' STATEMENTS
ADOPTION OF CHILDREN BY MILITARY PERSONNEL
Mr SMILES (North Shore) [5.15]: I bring to the House's attention an issue of concern to some of my constituents, namely, military families and the adoption of children. One of my constituents has raised an issue close to his heart and, I would imagine, to the hearts of many people throughout New South Wales and indeed Australia. He is a member of our armed forces. Within my electorate there are no less than three military installations, hence the significance of this issue and my concern with it. My constituent has been serving Australia for many years and has been married during his period of service. He and his wife wish to adopt a child and have been attempting to do so since 1985. However, in the course of his military service, my constituent has been continually relocated from State to State, and with each relocation has had to go through the whole process of applying to adopt over and over again.
As is the case in so many other areas, each State of Australia has different requirements and regulations when it comes to adopting children, and adoption applications are not generally transferable between States. It seemed that just when this couple had fulfilled the time requirement and any other requirements of a particular State relating to adoption, they were transferred and had to start all over again. One can imagine their upset and frustration at this apparently illogical situation. The fact is that the armed services have a limited capacity to act on behalf of soldiers, naval personnel or airmen in this regard in that though compassionate postings may be requested, there are no guarantees with regard to such requests. Career management centres and armed forces community services departments are informed of such matters, and it is hoped that they are taken into account. But it seems that in reality none of these safety nets is adequate to solve the problem.
I am informed there is no specific policy on this matter but that a working paper of sorts is being prepared in response to concerns obviously being expressed with increased vigour. I am also informed that the Australian defence forces headquarters speaks for Australia's three services and any recommendations for legislative change would have to derive from there. However, I urge the Minister for Community Services, and Assistant Minister for Health to look into the situation and liaise, as necessary, with the Australian defence forces headquarters and any other Federal bodies in an attempt to correct an obviously difficult and special situation. It seems an extraordinary waste that in these times, with children homeless and starving, caring couples who want to provide a supportive, comfortable and loving home for children should have to face so many obstacles, which appear purely administrative, when at least one member of the couples concerned works for the military forces. I ask the Minister for State Development to pass on to the relevant Minister my deep felt concern for military forces personnel living in my electorate who wish to adopt children.
SPEECH THERAPY FACILITIES
Mr THOMPSON (Rockdale) [5.20]: I wish to raise the case of my constituent Yvonne Lobina and her four-and-a-half year old son David-James, who has been assessed as having global disorder delay. Since the condition was diagnosed more than two years ago his mother has been trying to get him help, particularly speech therapy. David-James's global disorder delay is due to ear problems he has endured for some time. For
more than two years he has suffered consistently from ear infections. At the same time his speech development has been slow, being impaired by his constant ear problem. Though he has had three operations, the condition continues. This young lad is healthy, robust and bright in all other respects; however, he has had difficulty articulating words and putting sentences together. In seeking assistance for her son, Yvonne Lobina was initially referred to a specialist at the Prince of Wales Hospital. The specialist was most considerate and helpful. A medical assessment of David-James was completed there but the necessary follow-up speech therapy could not be provided - because, as Ms Lobina was regretfully informed, they did not live in the area. The Lobinas live at Brighton-le-Sands in the St George area - for them only a few hundred metres on the wrong side of the boundary of the Eastern Area Health Service.
Yvonne Lobina's investigations - and they have been both extensive and intensive - have revealed that the eastern suburbs have excellent speech therapy facilities for young children, but they are rare indeed in the St George district. For two years Ms Lobina has been trying to arrange a satisfactory program of therapy. The situation has been difficult. Wherever she turned there was at least a 12 months' waiting list no matter how urgent the case. For the last three months her son has attended the nearby Bexley Therapy Centre once a fortnight for a mere half-hour, but therapy will not be available for him there next year. One half-hour each fortnight is lamentably insufficient for proper treatment. Through her exhaustive inquiries, particularly over recent months, Ms Lobina has learned of hundreds of children in a position similar to that of her son. Some cases are in a worse position. A letter she wrote recently to me states:
My son is the tip of an iceberg as far as therapy needs are concerned, and his problems are not near as bad as some children that I hear about.
She went on to say:
Even my doctor's wife asked me if I could talk to a mother from my area who has a three year old daughter who cannot speak and the mother does not know what to do.
In another case she informed me about, a Liverpool woman told her that she could only get speech therapy for her child once every six weeks. The agony and heartbreak for parents of young children in such cases is obvious enough. But what about the effects on the children? As Ms Lobina said in her letter to me:
The quicker and younger we get our children helped, the quicker we can help them before it becomes an even bigger problem, such as when they reach high school and things are going to be even harder to fix and probably a lot more expensive.
It seems obvious to me that these sorts of problems should be addressed during infancy and early childhood. That there is such an unmet need in the community is tragic. But it is more than that - I believe it is straight-out neglect of our children. I wonder how many children there are with problems at school or with personality problems due to a lack of speech therapy facilities? Who knows how many people are in our gaols or other institutions because of similar difficulties not corrected or treated during childhood. Fortunately my constituent Ms Lobina has recently been able to enrol her son at the Punchbowl early childhood support unit. She is very grateful that after so much frustration and delay she is at last able to get attention for David-James, but, even so, she has to travel extensively from her home in Brighton-le-Sands to Punchbowl three mornings each week. It is an excellent program but there are too few of them and they are too remote from people who live in the Rockdale electorate.
This again highlights the problem of the lack of such facilities in the St George area. Where facilities do exist there is a heartbreaking 12 months', or longer, waiting list. This situation must be corrected and properly staffed facilities provided if these young children are to be given a fair chance in life. It seems incredible to me - and I am sure to those many parents with young children in need of therapy - that the nearest facility to which a St George child can be admitted for the early intervention special education program is at Punchbowl, with alternative facilities at Loftus and Annandale. It is a dreadful situation and it must be addressed immediately. We need significantly more public services for children with speech and language disorders and learning disabilities generally. The case of my constituent Yvonne Lobina and her son David-James bears out this need in the clearest possible terms.
RURAL SEWERAGE CONNECTION PAYMENTS
Mr SMALL (Murray) [5.25]: I wish to raise the issue of payment for sewerage connection in towns in the Murray electorate and other rural areas. I express gratitude to the Deputy Premier for making money available to towns needing full sewerage connection. Environmentally, towns with river frontages need full sewerage connection. I have corresponded with the Minister for Local Government on this matter. The Minister has been most helpful and I am pleased that he is present to hear my comments on this issue. I wish to speak in particular about Barooga, on the Murray River in the Berrigan shire, and about Mathoura, a town in the Murray shire on Gulpa Creek, a subsidiary of the Murray that feeds back into the Edward River. Shire councils in those areas are most anxious to allow ratepayers to make a one-off first-up payment for sewerage connection. The cost to ratepayers for sewerage connection at Barooga is estimated at $700 a year, or $14,000 over 20 years. Mathoura is in a similar position, though residents there pay lower rates. Both shires, however, have worked closely with the Department of Public Works in an effort to keep costs down.
Many farmers and others choose to retire to Barooga or Mathoura, both being beautiful towns on waterways and near forests. Residents of those towns do not want to pay $700 each year for 20 years. The life expectancies of many retired residents are less than 20 years, and they want to make a one-off up-front payment. The estimated one-off payment at Barooga would be about $3,240. Service charges would continue to be paid each year but they would be minor obligations compared with the burden of having to pay $700 each year. The regulations require that all ratepayers pay up-front for such payment to be effective; therefore, half the ratepayers could not pay in that fashion if they wanted to. I ask the Minister to consider favourably offering assistance to the ratepayers of the Berrigan and Murray shires when introducing the proposed legislation. I know that the Minister is anxious to assist in that regard and I would appreciate any expedient arrangement that can be made to enable ratepayers to make one-off payments for sewerage connection rather than be subject to payments spread over 20 years.
Mr PEACOCKE (Dubbo - Minister for Local Government, and Minister for Cooperatives) [5.29]: We are considering doing exactly what the honourable member for Murray suggested. Such provisions in the new legislation would save significant amounts for individual ratepayers who are able to pay the charges mentioned up-front, which would also result in considerable savings to shires and councils involved in the connection of sewerage and other works. Subject to due consideration by Cabinet, I hope that such a provision will be incorporated in the new legislation.
Mr GIBSON (Londonderry) [5.30]: I rise to speak on a topic that comes within the portfolio of the Minister for Transport, and Minister for Tourism. He often tells Opposition members that we get it wrong, wrong, wrong. The incident I wish to refer to is an example of the Minister and the State Rail Authority getting it wrong, wrong, wrong. A Mrs Maguire of Richmond, after saving for a long time, on 18th September left on a holiday. She believes in keeping her money in Australia and supporting New South Wales tourism. She did not go to Fiji; after seeing a State Rail Authority brochure she decided to take a CountryLink tour to see Toowoomba's Carnival of Flowers. The senior citizens on the tour looked forward to this with great joy. Unfortunately, the tour turned into a "Fawlty Towers" episode. It was completely wrong, wrong, wrong from day one. First, the coach provided was not a "5 star luxury coach" of the Australian Scenic Tours line as advertised on the brochure. Despite the tour having more than 40 passengers, there was no tour conductor to tell the people where they were going and what they would see. Every now and then the driver would mutter that they were going through Bullamakanka or some such town.
There was nobody to assist with loading or unloading luggage. The people on the tour did not consider the itinerary value for money. The second day of the tour was spent at Movie World on the Gold Coast. The driver wanted to pick up the passengers at 1 p.m. After the passengers argued for some time the driver relented and agreed to pick them up at 3 p.m. However, the passengers had to miss the highlight of the Movie World tour because they did not have time to see the shows. Lunch every day was bedlam. It was not made clear when the lunch break was. When the coach pulled up at 11 a.m. at a place the passengers did not know the driver said that he would leave when everybody got back on the bus. Nobody knew that this was supposed to be the lunch break. At 3 p.m. they had to pull up at a corner store because the old folks on the tour were feeling the pinch of a very heavy schedule.
The highlight of the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers is the street parade. Unfortunately, the people on the tour missed the street parade because it was held the day before they arrived. The following day the driver took them to see "Toowoomba's prize-winning gardens". All the driver knew about the gardens was the addresses. He could not tell the passengers the prize-winners, the highlights of the gardens or any of the details. All he could say was: "Here is another display. Have a look at it". Then away they would go again. The passengers paid big money for the trip: it cost in the vicinity of $700 per person. My constituent Mrs Maguire was saddened. She tries to promote tourism in New South Wales and Australia whenever she can. She had considered going to Fiji but decided on the Carnival of Flowers tour instead. The trip was abortive from day one. Apart from the lack of courtesy shown to the passengers throughout the tour, the highlight of the trip was missed because the tour was 24 hours late.
When the tour arrived back in Sydney Mrs Maguire, as a good State Rail Authority customer, decided to catch the train to Richmond. The train took an extra one and a half hours to get to Richmond, which was another disappointment. Then - surprise, surprise - her luggage did not arrive at Richmond. It turned up after a couple of days. The State Rail Authority has got it completely wrong, wrong, wrong with this trip. I feel sorry for the more than 40 elderly people who went on the trip. There is no doubt that they did not get value for money. I hope that this trip was a one-off; I do not know. I ask the Minister to look into this matter. The passengers should be compensated or given another trip to make up for missing out on the enjoyable trip they should have had but did not get.
CRONULLA VISITOR CENTRE
Mr KERR (Cronulla) [5:35]: In contrast to the statement by the honourable member for Londonderry, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to commend the State Rail Authority and the Minister for Transport, and Minister for Tourism -
Mr Knowles: You did not go on the trip.
Mr KERR: No, and I am pleased that I did not. By way of contrast I am able to commend the Minister and the State Rail Authority. My remarks refer to a visit to Cronulla by the Minister for Transport, and Minister for Tourism. He was welcomed by the Cronulla Chamber of Commerce. We inspected the railway station and the trains. The Hon. Bruce Baird, a former Cronulla boy, as all members would know, offered the former luggage office at Cronulla railway station for use as a visitor centre.
Mr Knowles: That is where the luggage had gone from Richmond.
Mr KERR: The honourable member for Londonderry mentioned that the luggage had turned up, so Cronulla railway station has been cleared in that regard. The State Rail Authority is not using the luggage office much. It was envisaged that it could be used to enable visitors to the Sutherland shire to learn more about the attractions of the shire. This suggestion was welcomed by the Cronulla Chamber of Commerce. The president, Mr Kevin Schreiber, has been very active in ensuring that the people from this city, this State and the whole of Australia are well aware of all the attractions of the Cronulla area. The whole of the Sutherland shire is of interest to people of the rest of the State. It has many attractions. The four Cronulla beaches are the best in the world. The prize-winning Waterhouse gardens and the Joseph Banks native gardens are just part of the attractions that would be available to people such as those in the electorate of the honourable member for Londonderry. I think they would have a much better time visiting the Sutherland shire than they would have on the trip referred to. The area has natural bushland, gardens and beaches which are world-class attractions. As yet, after some months, the Sutherland Shire Council has not taken up the Minister's offer. The Cronulla Chamber of Commerce has shown great patience, as have the people of the rest of Australia, in relation to the opening of the visitors' centre.
Mr Knowles: Get on with it.
Mr KERR: As the honourable member for Moorebank has suggested, the council should get on with it. I believe the honourable member for Lakemba agrees. People from their electorates would be keen to visit the shire and be afforded its many attractions. Even the residents do not fully appreciate the walks that are available. The Sutherland shire is a great place for families to enjoy beautiful natural attractions at low cost. Kurnell, the birthplace of Australia, is part of the shire. Under this Government the road to Kurnell has been greatly enhanced. Kurnell is beginning to have the types of facilities that should have been provided previously in recognition of its place in Australia's history. I ask the Sutherland Shire Council to respond speedily to the Minister's generous offer. People in the shire would happily volunteer to staff the office to ensure that their fellow Australians have a good time in the shire. I am sure all members would like the office to be opened as quickly as possible. We are told that the current recession is one that we had to have. Any money spent in the shire on the inexpensive visits available would help small business there. The shire has much to offer in terms of quality of life and family life. In these troubled times the facilities and attractions of the shire should be known to residents and visitors.
BUNBURY CURRAN CREEK RAIL OVERBRIDGE NOISE POLLUTION
Mr KNOWLES (Moorebank) [5.40]: I am pleased that residents of Sutherland and Cronulla will have their quality of life improved by the provision of a visitor centre at Cronulla railway station. My concerns relate also to CityRail and its failure to act on complaints by residents about noise and vibration caused by trains crossing a bridge over the Bunbury Curran Creek at Macquarie Fields and to the ignoring by CityRail of a direction from the Environment Protection Authority to investigate and rectify the problem. To give honourable members an idea of the problem, when a coal or large freight train crosses the bridge on the main southern line to Melbourne, residents living adjacent to the bridge in Railway Parade have to suffer as many as 60 wagons trundling past their bedroom windows in the middle of the night. Many of those residents deal with the problem by putting up mattresses against their windows. That is totally unacceptable. Earlier this year, I wrote to both the Minister for Transport and to what was then the State Pollution Control Commission. The matter was of such concern that the State Pollution Control Commission wrote to CityRail requesting that it take action. I should like to quote from the letter written by the Environment Protection Authority to CityRail because it clearly outlines the position. The letter notes that the residents complain of offensive noise when trains cross the bridge and continues:
As the railway is a scheduled premises under the Noise Control Act the Authority requires as a matter of urgency CityRail undertakes the following investigation.
The first was to conduct a noise and vibration survey to determine any impact from the new train timetable on the amenity of the affected residents; second, to compare the results with the guidelines in the noise control manual; third, to determine the best practicable means to be undertaken to resolve the problem; and, fourth, to inform the authority of any work that may be implemented and the time frame to complete the work. One would have thought that direction from the State's environmental and pollution watchdog was fairly explicit. However, as CityRail has ignored the instruction to act, I raise the matter to try to obtain the co-operation of the Minister for Transport in having the problem rectified. Mr Murray Hillam, a spokesman for CityRail, advised that CityRail certainly accepted that noise and vibration levels were too high by current standards, but added that it was not required to act on the Environment Protection Authority's recommendations. He said also that it would cost $500,000 to upgrade the structure of the bridge and there was no guarantee that this would solve the problem.
This problem has been determined by the Environment Protection Authority as being sufficient to require that CityRail no longer breaches the Noise Control Act. Residents have to put mattresses against their windows nightly in an effort to reduce the noise. They also suffer because of the excessive vibration. The bridge is of box steel girder construction. It is archaic, but still carries all of the traffic on the main southern line from Sydney to Melbourne. Although commuter trains are a problem, the real problem results from as many as 60 freight wagons at a time rumbling past bedroom windows that are literally 20 or 30 metres from the bridge. I put it to the House that all reasonable people would regard the problem, which has been acknowledged by CityRail, as one that needs to be rectified.
I simply cannot understand why CityRail has not incorporated any budgetary amounts to rectify the problem into its capital works program or any of its ongoing maintenance programs. Having identified the problem and having been instructed by the Environment Protection Authority to rectify the problem, CityRail's actions are despicable and negligent, to say the least. By ignoring the Environment Protection Authority's
instruction, CityRail is simply bringing the authority and the Government's other environmental and pollution watchdogs into disrepute. CityRail is encouraging the community to lose confidence in the Environment Protection Authority. It has exacerbated the problem by acknowledging that the noise levels are too high but it will do nothing about them. That does CityRail no credit. I urge the Minister to act on these representations and ensure that the necessary work is undertaken.
BELLINGEN ISLAND FLYING FOX COLONY
Mr FRASER (Coffs Harbour) [5.45]: I bring to the attention of the House a matter that has been a problem in my electorate for a number of years. I refer to the fruit bat or flying fox colony on Bellingen Island at Bellingen. The colony has been there for a number of years. However, last year its numbers increased to more than one million. Residents, farmers and the council implored the then Minister for the Environment, Tim Moore, to take action to scare the bats off the island, which is situated right in the middle of a residential area. The noise and stench upset the people in the area. Children cannot sleep. The smell is causing irritation not only to the children but other residents in the area. However, the representations received a response which said only, "No, the bats cannot be touched". The former Minister advised me, as a result of advice received from Robert Quirk of the National Parks and Wildlife Service:
Because flying foxes eat native fruit, they act as dispersers for seeds of rainforest trees . . .
I want to place on the record that fruit bats or flying foxes actually eat sclerophyll blossom. The former Minister stated also:
Camps such as Bellingen Island which are occupied during summer are also maternity camps that provide both access to reliable food sources and shelter to newborn flying foxes.
The flying foxes are actually obtaining food from the farms in the area. Losses to farmers, banana growers, small croppers and stone-fruit growers in the area is estimated at about $2 million a year. If growers have colonies on their properties, they can obtain from the National Parks and Wildlife Service a limited licence to shoot a few and scare a few away. That does not solve the problem. Anyone who has gone to the tenth, eleventh or twelfth floor of Parliament House in recent times and looked out across the Royal Botanic Gardens will see that they are a mess. Bags are hanging off trees. Why are the bags there? They are there to rid the gardens of flying foxes. We cannot get rid of them in areas where they are causing aesthetic problems in townships and damage to fruit. We have to take the word of the former Minister and the National Parks and Wildlife Service that the flying foxes cannot be disturbed. However, if a colony decides to come into the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, what happens? There is an instant reaction, with the full concurrence of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which is to get rid of them or shoot them. There is no problem about moving them because they are in the metropolitan area. Recently the secretary of the Ku-ring-gai bat colony committee, Mrs Nancy Pallin, spoke in Bellingen. The Coffs Harbour Advocate reported:
Mrs Pallin suggested a "door-knock" of North Bellingen residents to explain the habits of flying foxes.
She said she was confident that if such a door-knock were held, people would learn to live with the bats.
I wonder whether such a door-knock was conducted in Sydney. Did the National Parks and Wildlife Service knock on all the doors or do a letterbox drop around the central business district and say, "You can live with flying foxes, there are no problems"? No, it did not do that. It said, "You can move them, you can get rid of them". That cannot be done in an area where fruit bats are depriving farmers of $2 million worth of income, but it happens in the city area. There is one rule for city people and one rule for country people. The National Parks and Wildlife Service has no understanding of the problems caused by fruit bats in country areas, but it says, "You must live with them making a noise around your house, causing a stench" - which is totally unacceptable to all residents - "and ripping millions of dollars out of the local community". It is about time some balance was brought into the argument. It is about time the National Parks and Wildlife Service said, "That colony is overgrown, it is ruining the natural rainforest on Bellingen Island". The rainforest on the island should be preserved. It is a reserve. Residents want to do it up, but while the colony is there the trees are dying, the stench is disgusting and people want nothing to do with it. It is now time that we have the reserve nominated as a botanic garden so that Sydney people can come in and say, "You can get rid of them because Bellingen Island is now the botanic garden of Bellingen". I suggest there is a great imbalance on this question. It is about time the National Parks and Wildlife Service attended to its responsibilities even-handedly; it should take more note of the needs of country people, instead of worrying about fruit bats on Bellingen Island, which are there in millions and should be reduced.
Mr ARMSTRONG (Lachlan - Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs) [5.50]: I thank the honourable member for Coffs Harbour for raising this very important matter. Though many honourable members may not consider this matter to be of paramount importance, to the fruit industry, particularly the banana industry, fruit bats have been a problem for some years. We are talking about jobs, productivity, income and technology. The banana industry in New South Wales is most efficient. The industry is making a major investment in its own future at the moment out at the Sydney Marketing Authority's premises at Flemington. The bottom line is that fruit bats, whilst they may have some fascinating habits - they hang upside down and to some are warm and cuddly - nevertheless are a rather stinking animal en masse. There is no doubt about that. Those who do not believe that statement should go to the Botanic Gardens and sniff under the trees, or walk through the brush at Wingham, and they will get some idea of how attractive fruit bats are when they congregate in the millions.
Last year the New South Wales Government made $20,000 available, in co-operation with the University of Queensland, to undertake a research program into fruit bats. I am informed that the program is almost completed and that we can look forward to a report from the University of Queensland in the near future. In regard to the Royal Botanic Gardens, I am informed the trust attempted to get rid of the fruit bats by using naphthalene chemicals, then plastic bags hung in the trees. The final program, commenced six weeks ago, involved banging a five-gallon drum underneath trees at dawn and dusk to upset the sleeping patterns of the fruit bat. Two weeks ago, thousands of fruit bats en masse departed from the gardens. That might be the answer. There might be a five-gallon drum banging attack on the fruit bats on the North Coast in the future.
NEWCASTLE BUSES TERMINAL SITE SALE
Mr GAUDRY (Newcastle) [5.52]: I bring to the notice of the Minister for State Development, and Minister for Arts - and ask him to convey to his colleague in the upper House and also to the Minister for Transport, and Minister for Tourism - a serious concern in Newcastle relating to the proposed sale by auction on 5th November of State
Transit Authority land at the top of Scott Street in Newcastle. At the moment that land constitutes both the Newcastle Buses terminus and also the site of the Top of the Town Motel. That public foreshore land - a sensitive headland right at Newcastle Beach - at the moment is leased by the State Transit Authority to the Top of the Town Motel for the next 20 or 30 years. As Newcastle City is in the process of conducting an integrated transport study, it is considered by many in Newcastle that the proposed sale constitutes a fire sale of very valuable government land - land which at some future time could be important not only for recreation purposes, but potentially for future planning of our city.
First, to sell the land now, at the bottom of the property market, and when there is an enormous amount of land available in Newcastle for redevelopment, both through the Honeysuckle project and under the Newcastle City Council's Civic site proposal, is to pre-empt the planning decisions that will be made as a result of the integrated transport study. Second, the sale gives potential to the setting up of a site that will compete with the convention centre and hotel proposals on the Civic and the Honeysuckle sites at Newcastle. There is community concern about the sale. The Concerned Citizens Group, which has brought forward a proposal for the Newcastle Old Town, both as a developmental proposal and a tourist proposal for the future, has written to the Minister. I know that the Newcastle East Residents Group has written to the Minister expressing concern at the potential of the sale. The very valuable public land on the foreshore was given to the people of Newcastle by a previous Labor Government. That Labor Government had proposed to sell off another section of the land, but when the community approached that Government and clearly pointed out the great recreational, leisure and tourist potential of that land, the Government decided to give the land to the people of Newcastle for inclusion in the harbour foreshore scheme.
The section of land I am speaking about is important for several reasons. First, it is on Newcastle Beach, right on the headland. It has great potential for the future. If retained in public ownership, it has the potential for future use for a public purpose. It could link beautifully with the foreshore, Pacific Park and the beaches of Newcastle to provide great public amenity. Second, it occupies the site of the former convict gaol, which is a very important piece of Newcastle's heritage. On the foreshore and coming in from the Nobbys signal station is Fort Scratchley, the site of a former convict stockade. That gaol site, which unfortunately is covered by asphalt, has not been substantiated by archaeological survey. It would appear to be a rather precipitate action to sell off the land into private ownership when it could be a very important asset for the City of Newcastle.
Another matter to which I earlier referred was the transport study for which $200,000 has been allocated. The object of the survey is to provide a properly integrated transport system for Newcastle. Each day 500 buses use Scott Street and its terminal. To sell the land, even on the basis of having it leased back for two years by State Transit, pre-empts the finding of the study. I know that Newcastle Buses considers the site as excess to its needs, but I believe it is most important to retain the land until the study is completed. [Time expired.]
Mr COLLINS (Willoughby - Minister for State Development, and Minister for Arts) [5.57]: I have often thought that if I were ever to leave the best electorate in New South Wales, that of Willoughby, one of the most attractive places in which I could possibly live is the area just described by the honourable member for Newcastle. Indeed, as I believe I have mentioned previously, a survey of residential amenity Australia-wide earlier this year or late last year found that Newcastle, and in particular the area just described by the honourable member for Newcastle, is probably the best served with
residential amenity of all areas of Australia. It has much going for it. It has proximity to the city of Newcastle, Newcastle harbour, the beach front at Newcastle, major facilities such as the university immediately at the rear of it, and Royal Newcastle Hospital. I share with the honourable member his enthusiasm for that particular area.
I will convey his thoughts to the Minister for Transport, and Minister for Tourism. I hear what the honourable member says about the concern of local people about a fire sale of that valuable asset. On the other hand, I think we all want Newcastle to progress. This is an ideal site for commercial development - if that is the chosen option. No doubt such a development would attract to Newcastle a great many people who would thereby recognise the beauty of Newcastle. The point made by the honourable member for Newcastle is that we should look at the other side of the coin, that is, whether or not the land should be used for public open space or some other public purposes. I will convey those matters to the Minister for Transport, and Minister for Tourism for his consideration. I am sure he, too, appreciates the natural beauty and promise of that particular area and will want to make a decision in the interest of all the citizens of Newcastle.
ROBERTS ROAD, GREENACRE, TELECOM SITE
Mr DAVOREN (Lakemba) [5.59]: I wish to speak about the Telecom site in Roberts Road, Greenacre. As this property is surplus to the needs of Telecom, the decision has been made to dispose of it. The site is zoned "special uses, Telecom", which has inhibited the sale of the property somewhat. The preferred purchaser, Finemores Transport Pty Limited, proposes to use the site as a 24-hour truck depot for the repair and servicing of trucks, and as a goods warehouse. The site, in the main, is surrounded by residential properties and naturally residents were a little annoyed when they heard about the proposed purchase by Finemores Transport. Most residents had purchased their properties in the belief that the Telecom depot would remain on the site. I have sympathy for the residents whose quiet residential area may change. The residents organised petitions to Strathfield council. A public meeting was held at which their problems were acknowledged by the two Federal members - the member for Lowe and the member for Blaxland - by Strathfield council ward aldermen, Bankstown council ward aldermen, and me. To their credit, the Strathfield aldermen acknowledged the residents' problems and unanimously decided to reject the application to rezone.
I am led to believe that the ramifications of the Act are such that when a council rejects a rezoning application there is no appeal to the Land and Environment Court, and that the only way the council's decision can be overturned is by the Minister gazetting a local environment plan or by legislation of this House. I am also led to believe that the Department of Planning has pressured Strathfield council to reconsider its decision not to rezone. That is not the right way to go about it, and it is certainly contrary to the wishes of the residents. I have written to the Minister for Planning, as have the two Federal members and the aldermen of Bankstown, asking him to respect the views of the residents and to reject any move by Telecom to have the area rezoned heavy industrial.
Finemores Transport has the opportunity to establish its truck depot on surplus land at Chullora, which is currently owned by the State Rail Authority. In the near future the Government will attempt to sell this land. It would be an ideal location for Finemores Transport, as it is situated on the Hume Highway, one of the main arteries into Sydney. The site can accommodate rail transport, if required. It would be easy to
run in a spur line, as Franklins has done on nearby land it uses for warehousing purposes. The residents have made their point and the council has accepted it. It is underhanded of the Department of Planning and the Minister to apply pressure on a local government authority to overturn a democratic decision. [Time expired.]
WIDENING OF VICTORIA ROAD, WEST RYDE
Mr PHOTIOS (Ermington) [6.4]: I draw to the attention of the House some critical issues relating to road improvements to Victoria Road, bordering on the electorates of Ermington and Eastwood. In so doing, I note with much pleasure the provision of $12,372,000 in this year's Budget for roadworks in my electorate. I refer in particular to the widening of the Victoria Road underpass beneath the main northern rail line. In this year's Budget the sum of $513,000 has been allocated for the widening of the road from four lanes to five lanes, which is in line with one of my election commitments; and in that respect I am extremely pleased about the allocation of this money and the works that have taken place at that location. However, I caution the Roads and Traffic Authority and the Parliament with respect to certain of the provisions for the development. Because I believe this is a critical issue, I draw to the attention of the House the proposed amendments that I have submitted to Bob Morris, the Regional Director of the Roads and Traffic Authority. At a meeting with him, my colleague the honourable member for Gladesville, and Mr Greg Piconi, the project manager for this intersection improvement, we were able to reach a good understanding about the need to provide even further funds to improve this particular program.
Honourable members may be aware that at that location the Government has plans to increase the width of the road in order to provide for five lanes of traffic. The proposal that has been put to me and to the community provides for an additional lane eastbound. However, I have a strong view, shared by the West Ryde Chamber of Commerce and by representatives of the West Ryde-Meadowbank Progress Association, that if that location is to be widened from four lanes to five lanes, the best proposal would be one which provides for tidal flow to facilitate either eastbound or westbound traffic during peak hour traffic, with three lanes available for traffic travelling in those directions. Having widened the road to five lanes, it would not be appropriate to fix three lanes of traffic, as is currently proposed, in an eastbound direction only. To that extent I have made firm representations to the Roads and Traffic Authority, which I am delighted to say have been well received. Mr Morris and the Roads and Traffic Authority agree with the need to provide what may be another $750,000 for this project in order to provide for tidal flow.
In addition, I have been concerned about the aesthetics of the project and the need to improve the landscape on the other side of the line from my electorate, in Gladesville, and on the other side of Victoria Road, within my electorate. Consequently, changes are to be made to the plans which will be submitted to me in the next few weeks. Honourable members should be aware that at present Telecom and Water Board equipment - cables and piping - is being relocated. The excavation of the northern side of the project is almost finished, with a view to reconstructing the abutment to either end of the railway bridge. Between March and June of next year work will begin on the relocation of footpaths on the northern side of the project and the completion of the pedestrian tunnel. During the period July to September 1993 the new lane will be completed and the project commissioned. In my view it will necessarily need to provide
for the flow of traffic on a tidal basis, so that traffic can flow in an eastbound direction in the morning and westbound in the evening. The changes to the proposal, the allocation of $513,000 in this year's Budget and a total budget for this project of $7.1 million, will see an impressive project towards the end of next year or early 1994.
Private members' statements noted.
The following bills were returned from the Legislative Council without amendment:
Jurisdiction of Courts (Cross-vesting) Amendment Bill
Supreme Court (Video Link) Amendment Bill
The following bill was returned from the Legislative Council with an amendment:
Mutual Recognition (New South Wales) Bill
[Mr Acting-Speaker (Mr Chappell) left the chair at 6.10 p.m. The House resumed at 7.30 p.m.]
TRAFFIC (FINE DEFAULT) AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
Mr W. T. J. MURRAY (Barwon - Deputy Premier, Minister for Public Works, and Minister for Roads) [7.30], in reply: I thank the honourable member for Kogarah, the honourable member for Bulli, the honourable member for Wallsend, together with my colleagues the honourable member for Coffs Harbour and the honourable member for Blue Mountains, for their contributions to the debate. It never ceases to amaze me how the big Labor lie continues to be perpetrated and how many different forms it can take. In this case, it has been extended to a degree that I find quite amazing. The fact is that DRIVES is a $39 million project, not an $80 million one. If we could get that particular figure firmly in the minds of everybody, we would be doing a great service to the community as a whole.
Mr Langton: I think I have got the $80 million figure in their minds already.
Mr W. T. J. MURRAY: As I have said, the great Labor lie is still being perpetrated. The honourable member for Kogarah said in his speech that he knew of thousands of cases where individuals were unaware that their licence had been cancelled for fine default. That is a rather fascinating statement. How does the honourable member know that thousands are unaware of it if they do not know about it? It is difficult to understand his statement given that the persons who have had their licence or registration cancelled would have received a traffic infringement notice, the courtesy letter telling them that they need to pay up, the letter saying that cancellation will occur if the fine is not paid and the letter notifying the fact that the cancellation has occurred.
The last three items of correspondence are all sent to the last address shown on the registration papers or the licence. They do not receive notification because they do not bother to tell the Roads and Traffic Authority about their change of address. On many occasions letters are returned because people have not seen fit to advise their change of address. That is one of the systems people use to get around the cancellation of registration, fines and so on. It is quite unlikely, if people were genuine, that they would not have received that advice.
It has been mandatory for many years that the Roads and Traffic Authority is to be notified of a change of address within seven days. Given the fact that the licence or registration cancellation process takes about three months from the time the offence is committed until the last letter is sent, there is substantial time available for people to realise they have made an error. The honourable member for Wallsend wants defaulters to be advised of the cancellation face-to-face. I suggest that if we cannot find them by letter there is precious little chance of finding them face-to-face. If we had to send officers out to find thousands of people each year, to hand them fine default notices, there would be a reduction in funds to repair and build roads. The bill before the House will reduce court delays and, as the honourable member for Wallsend said, prevent people having to attend court because they have failed to pay their fines.
The honourable member for Kogarah gave us his interpretation of the Auditor-General's Report and the $123 million of outstanding commitment warrants. The honourable member does not seem to understand, does not realise, or has not read - as I tend to believe is probably the case - the statement by the Auditor-General that the warrants referred to are not only related to parking and traffic offences but cover unpaid court penalties across all areas of administration in New South Wales. Many of them would predate the introduction of the fine default scheme. The fact is that we do not see hide nor hair of a lot of these fine defaulters until they apply to re-register their car. They then find out, by virtue of the fact that they have not bothered to record their change of address, that they cannot get their car re-registered or their licence renewed. They finally have to cough up the amount to pay their fines. Their licence or registration will not be renewed until such time as those fees have been paid. A person's correct address is essential computer information.
There were 140,000 errors that we were aware of. We become aware of many of these cases when persons apply to re-register their car. They may have changed their address and not told us, or the engine number does not match the number on the registration papers. Many variations and computations can take place. I have no hesitation in saying that there are delays, especially at about 11 o'clock, which are being steadily reduced as a number of problems are resolved. In fact, many people have told me that they have been in and out of the motor registry in three minutes. I recollect that only a few weeks ago the honourable member for Kogarah was speaking on radio to a radio personality. He said it was shocking that we were providing a queuing system whereby people took a number and sat down to await their turn, rather than stand in a queue. I assure honourable members that people have made it abundantly clear that they prefer that idea to standing around in queues for however long that may be. I thank honourable members for their support of this legislation. It will be of great benefit to the physically impaired. Areas will be reserved for disabled people. We have recently taken steps to allow the impairment certificate of a disabled driver or passenger to be transferred from one vehicle to another. As a result, we are in a position to create
greater accessibility to appropriate parking spots for people with impairments. I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
MUTUAL RECOGNITION (NEW SOUTH WALES) BILL
Consideration of Legislative Council's amendment.
Schedule of amendment referred to in the Legislative Council's message of 27th October.
Page 23, Schedule. After line 26, insert:
14. Business Franchise ("X" Videos) Act 1990 of the Australian Capital Territory
15. Classification of Publications Ordinance 1983 of the Australian Capital Territory
16. Crimes Act 1900 of the Australian Capital Territory, section 92NB
17. Film Classification Act 1971 of the Australian Capital Territory
18. Publications Control Act 1989 of the Australian Capital Territory
19. Film and Video Tape Classification Act 1984 of New South Wales
20. Indecent Articles and Classified Publications Act 1975 of New South Wales
21. Classification of Publications and Films Act of the Northern Territory
22. Classification of Films Act 1991 of Queensland
23. Classification of Publications Act 1991 of Queensland
24. Classification of Films for Public Exhibition Act 1971 of South Australia and regulations under that Act
25. Classification of Publications Act 1974 of South Australia and regulations under that Act
26. Summary Offences Act 1953 of South Australia, section 33 and section 35
27. Classification of Publications Act 1984 of Tasmania
28. Classification of Films and Publications Act 1990 of Victoria
29. Censorship of Films Act 1947 of Western Australia
30. Indecent Publications and Articles Act 1902 of Western Australia
31. Video Tapes Classification and Control Act 1987 of Western Australia
Motion by Mr Souris agreed to:
That the Committee agree to the Legislative Council's amendment.
Resolution reported from Committee and report adopted.
STOCK DISEASES (AMENDMENT) BILL
Debate resumed from 15th October.
Mr MARTIN (Port Stephens) [7.45]: The Opposition is supportive of the legislation and seeks to ask certain questions of the Minister in reply. It is hoped that appropriate and adequate answers will be received to the questions raised. The object of the bill is to amend the Stock Diseases Act 1923 to modify the system of identification in relation to tracing diseased stock. The modified system, administered by rural lands protection boards, will be decentralised and funded by land boards rates, applications and renewal fees. This legislation has been put in place in an endeavour to identify more quickly problem areas where reports are received from abattoirs, export establishments, or milk authorities that test milk to find out whether organochlorins are present in milk. There is great play in this legislation that there will be a dual recording system - one kept on a central register and another kept at rural lands protection boards. The Opposition accepts that but requires an assurance that there will be co-operation and interlinking between both places. Frequently in this State teething problems occur although large sums are expended on computer hardware and software. Also, money is often not available to continue with a system and, as a result, it breaks down.
Legislation which has just been debated by the Parliament in regard to cancellation of licences highlighted the poor system that operates in some sectors of State administration. I ask the Minister in reply to address that matter and to assure the Opposition that the computer equipment will be kept up to scratch at rural lands protection board level and at the departmental central register level. I ask that a guarantee be given that the software be tried and proved, and that major problems do not occur in its implementation. In the past many stock brands have been on the central register. It is important that the register contain thorough and comprehensive information. We must ensure that duplication of brands by excessive devolution does not occur to rural lands protection boards. The central register must be the supreme body, quickly and regularly able to monitor registration of brands to ensure duplication does not take place. The Opposition is happy to accept the Minister's assurance on those matters. It is some time since I have had anything to do with the cattle industry. It is important to put on the record that with swine I imagine there will be a tattooing-type brand, either on the ear or on the carcass. There will be tail tags, as has traditionally been the case, and there will be fire and freeze branding of hides. The registration of brands should be cleared up so that it is beyond doubt to people who refer to this legislation in the future.
The explanatory note states that the system will be supported with funds from the brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication campaign. It is important that all concerned be clear about how much will come from the brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication campaign funds, and how much will be spent. That applies particularly to producers of the State, who should know upfront what is happening. It will be very important to work out very clearly what the cost will be to the rural lands protection boards, because it is a user-pays system. Following all the consternation in rural areas about the Cattle Compensation Fund, producers in New South Wales should be assured that the $9.1 million in the fund - and I understand that $2 million has been allocated already to a project in Armidale - will not be frittered away, but that there will be major input and harmonious discussion with producers to ensure that money is not spent in a way that the farmers are not happy with.
The explanatory note suggests that the system is designed to reduce theft of stock. I do not understand how the adoption of this system will alter theft levels. It is important that the Minister address that matter in reply. The amount of livestock that is stolen and moved around New South Wales is horrendous. Another bill before the Parliament at the moment, the Wool, Hide and Skin Dealers (Amendment) Bill, which my colleague the shadow minister for police will have carriage of, will also be important in stopping theft. It is very important that we keep an eye on the level of stock theft and do all we can to minimise stock theft, which is very much to the disadvantage of so many honest farmers. I have covered the areas of concern to this side of the Parliament. I said at the outset that we would be supporting the legislation, but that we hoped that our concerns would be addressed, considering our spirit of support for the legislation. I thank the House for the opportunity to address the bill.
Mr SMALL (Murray) [7.52]: I support the Stock Diseases (Amendment) Bill, which provides for tail tags for stock, a necessary measure to ensure the continuance of the traceback facility in our fight to eliminate and control diseases in stock. The provisions of the bill are designed to promote greater efficiencies and to minimise costs to producers who sell stock at sales and into the market, from where they go into the food chain. With the cessation of funding through the brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication campaign, it is essential that this vital facility be maintained. I am most pleased to note that the cost to producers will be minimal. The tags cost approximately 7c each, which is a very small price to ensure the sale of safe and wholesome meat products to the consumer, and the maintenance of exports.
The only other fee payable is an application fee designed to cover the cost of administration when further particulars are applied for. It should be noted that producers who have tail tags allocated to them at present and who pay rates under the Rural Lands Protection Act will pay no additional fees in respect of tail tag particulars allotted to them. A person who is not a landholder will pay an annual fee, primarily to ensure that the particulars are kept current. This will ensure that obsolete information and tags are not applied to stock, and will enhance the integrity of the traceback system. The amendments provide for decentralisation of the operation of the scheme into the hands of 57 rural lands protection boards throughout New South Wales. Simultaneously, the amendment provides for greater efficiencies to be achieved, with resultant cost savings in the operation of this system. The swine brands register has been merged with the cattle tail tag register, and the same number will apply for both cattle and pigs. The maintenance of the system is vital as it is a requirement of the European community and other major markets that there be a traceback facility to identify the property of origin of any cattle that enter the food chain. The system serves the purpose of also enabling chemical residues in stock to be traced back to properties of origin, again a vital facility in the maintenance of our beef export markets.
In the past 10 or 12 years there have been considerable changes in the eradication of brucellosis and tuberculosis. Eradication schemes have been established in New South Wales - indeed, throughout Australia. In the Northern Territory, water buffalo have suffered considerably from tuberculosis. Consequently, stock there is herded and tested before it is sold or slaughtered. I recall that with my own stock the pastures protection board veterinary surgeon, by taking blood samples, on a number of occasions actually identified what were thought to be positive results for tuberculosis or brucellosis. Our stock was under quarantine for almost six months. To be quite honest, it caused quite a lot of heartache. Several animals were slaughtered to ensure that other stock would not be contaminated. That showed the thoroughness of the testing undertaken. We were very pleased to learn that no cattle proved to have the diseases.
The good thing is that incorporated within the amending legislation is the provision that the actual tail tag brand number that is placed on cattle and pigs is the same tag number for the stock producer. From that point of view this legislation might be simple, but it will provide a great benefit not only to the operator but also to those involved in tracing any disease or problem that may warrant investigation. I congratulate the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the Department of Agriculture upon bringing before the House this beneficial legislation.
Mr ARMSTRONG (Lachlan - Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs) [7.58], in reply: I thank the honourable member for Port Stephens, who led for the Opposition, and the honourable member for Murray, who spoke on behalf of the Government tonight. The subject has been most adequately covered, both in my second reading speech and in the responses this evening. However, I should like to reiterate a few of the major measures in the legislation. The intent of the legislation, apart from the objectives outlined, is to enhance our export performance in red meat - as in beef - and pork markets; particularly to ensure that we have continuing consumer confidence in domestic products in this country; and to continue our guarantee to consumers of our meats that our produce is probably the cleanest in the world today.
Australia is most fortunate to be the only continent in the world today to have never had an outbreak of exotic disease of either plant or animal life; and to be totally free of any accusation or connotation of nuclear contamination. Those three factors have proved to be of enormous benefit in enhancing our reputation in the export market, particularly with regard to accessing new markets that are becoming available throughout Asia. It is important that we continue to promote both the concept and the fact that we do produce a clean product. That is one of the reasons I am delighted that both sides of the House have agreed to support this legislation. The honourable member for Port Stephens referred to the efficiency and capacity of the rural lands protection boards to manage computerisation. Most boards now have computers. The district register will be on computer, where one exists, and the interchange to the central register in most cases will be by computer disk. Members who are familiar with rural lands protection boards would recognise that as organisations of rural management they have proved historically to be most efficient, most economical, and very capable of carrying out their responsibilities. I am sure that will be the case with the management of this new, improved recording system for both swine and cattle.
The legislation provides for parallel numbering for swine tattooing and tail tags. Swine tattooing will continue to be done with a small hammer-type tattoo on the shoulder, where the swine or pig is hit once. There has been an improvement in the number of stock theft recoveries and convictions in recent years because of better identification. Historically police and authorities were often hampered by the lack of identification and record keeping by the owners of stock. A lot of confusion existed, and many cases were lost because there was no proof of identification. With improved recording of tattooing, branding, tail tags and better record keeping, there has been an increase in the apprehension of people who have been prone to borrow somebody else's livestock. The rural lands protection boards have the benefit of annual returns from all producers in the board's district, each board has its own computerised database, and information as to brands, tail tags and tattoos, and special tail tags is available to police on a telephone call, with immediate access to the computer. I commend the legislation.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
MINE SUBSIDENCE COMPENSATION (AMENDMENT) BILL
Debate resumed from 15th October.
Mr ROGAN (East Hills) [8.3]: I lead for the Opposition on this bill. The Opposition will not oppose, and indeed commends, those features of the legislation - which has been part of the progress since the maiden bill in 1961, following the 1928 Act - which go that much further to providing benefits for landholders and home owners who are affected by mine subsidence. Mine subsidence is always a rather emotional issue in areas where people are affected by it. It is always difficult to balance people's rights with the obvious need for mining activities. As we all know, coalmining is one of the State's major industries. Indeed, it is the nation's number one export earner. As such it provides employment and prosperity in areas where it is carried out, particularly in the Hunter Region. However, it is only natural that home owners are concerned about their property if they are above an area where mining is occurring. With longwall mining the amount of subsidence can be more accurately predicted, but that is of little satisfaction if cracks suddenly appear in a home or a swimming pool as a result of mining. Property-owners naturally want to be assured that if damage occurs, they will be compensated and the damage will be properly addressed.
This bill goes a little further with regard to meeting some of those concerns, and credit must be given to the Government and the Minister for bringing this bill before the House. It is opportune also to address the issue of proper planning and to ensure that, wherever possible, areas that have the potential to be mined for coal will, through proper planning, be kept free from residential development. I make this point because although all Opposition speakers to this debate this evening represent Hunter electorates, there is similar concern in the Picton-Campbelltown-Camden area. The Government has not indicated yet that it does not propose to go ahead with a significant planning development in an area called Cardow. It would be a tragedy if the problems in the Hunter that this legislation is addressing were repeated in Cardow. Although this bill does not take into account planning laws as they relate to future developments, it behoves me to raise the matter during this debate and indicate the Opposition's concern that proper planning is essential if we are to eliminate some of the problems being faced in the Hunter area.
When a bill such as this comes before the House it is of interest to look back at some of the measures that have been taken in the past. The library has provided me with the second reading speeches on the major changes to the Mines Subsidence Compensation Bill when it was introduced in this House in 1961 by the late Mr Simpson, who represented the electorate of Lake Macquarie. The present honourable member for Lake Macquarie, who followed his father in holding that seat, will speak to this bill. All former members for the Lake Macquarie electorate displayed great interest in mine subsidence because it affects that area. Indeed, the honourable member for Cessnock, whose father was also a distinguished member of this House, also spoke on that bill. At the time of that debate a number of members representing Hunter electorates spoke on that bill.
Prior to introduction of that measure, home owners had to take out their own insurance for property damage caused by mine subsidence. Indeed, on 2nd March, l96l, Mr Simpson, the honourable member for Lake Macquarie, said in his second reading speech that on the repeal of the Mine Subsidence Act 1928, property-owners in the Merewether and west ward districts would be relieved of the need to pay annual
insurance premiums. At that time only specific areas were covered by insurance arrangements. The proposed legislation covers areas designated by the Mine Subsidence Board under the Mine Subsidence Compensation Act 1961 in the event of damage caused by coalmining. I note with interest the Mine Subsidence Board report for 1991. The 1992 report is not yet available but I dare say that it will be tabled soon by the Minister. I make the comment, for the benefit of officers of the Mine Subsidence Board in their preparation of future reports, that although graphs are helpful in painting a general picture, they cannot replace tables showing the number of claims made and the amounts paid by the board. The 1991 report shows that more than 700 claims were lodged that year. I hope that rejected claims will be covered by this bill, and that unsuccessful claimants will be able to renew their claims. I ask the Minister, in his reply, to advise whether rejected claims will be covered by the proposed legislation. Will there be any retrospectivity for those claims, or will the proposed legislation cover only claims lodged on and from its enactment? Previous unsuccessful claimants would be assisted if they could be given advice about their position.
The whole question of mine subsidence has been covered by a number of reports, two of the more recent being the Dey report, instigated by the former member for Lake Macquarie, Mr Merv Hunter, as a result of mining activities in that electorate, and the Smith-Clough report, initiated by the Government. The Government is to be commended for the drafting of this bill, but in any redrafting of the measure in an attempt to answer some of the concerns raised by people affected by mine subsidence it should reconsider the recommendations of those reports. I live in an area that is unaffected by mine subsidence. However, it is a heartbreaking experience to visit people in areas that are affected, who genuinely believe that damage to their properties is a direct result of mining under their homes, but whose claims have been rejected by the Mine Subsidence Board. Home owners who suffer damage to their homes through mine subsidence must be given the benefit of the doubt, and I am pleased that the proposed amendments take that further step. Paragraph (a) of item (2) in schedule 1 covers household or other effects such as carpets, curtains, furniture, electrical appliances and other goods not previously covered for damage by flooding caused by mine subsidence.
On a visit to the South Cessnock area with my colleague the honourable member for Cessnock I saw a number of homes that had literally dropped down - I was told that water virtually ran uphill when flooding occurred there. I readily understood the concern of residents whose claims to the Mine Subsidence Board for damage to household contents had been rejected. That failing is addressed in this measure. A number of my colleagues, including the honourable member for Swansea, will contribute to debate on the bill. I was particularly impressed with the people in the South Cessnock area to whom I spoke: none of them wanted to stop the mining, but said that damage should be paid for - and rightfully so. The proposed section dealing with damage to buildings or works used in winning coal or shale will enable one colliery company to make a claim against another colliery company where damage occurs. It could be argued that such claims should be opposed if payment comes out of the public purse, but as payments are made from a pool contributed to by all coal companies, the proposal has some merit.
Initially I was concerned about the amendment in paragraph (b) of item (2) in schedule 1, which deals with vibrations due to blasting in open-cut mines. The proposed legislation will spell out clearly that such claims cannot be made except where subsidence is shown to be a direct result of blasting; and that vibrations from such blasting will not be allowed as the basis for a claim. I am reassured by the Minister's reference in his second reading speech to such claims being made under section 265 of the Mining Act. However, I raise with the Minister a small point. Section 265(2) of that Act stipulates
that the holder of a mining lease may agree with an owner or occupier on the amount of compensation payable, but that any agreement reached is not valid unless it is in writing and signed by or on behalf of the parties to the agreement and lodged with the director-general.
I refer to the mechanism for appeal by home owners in the event of subsidence from blasting from open-cut coal operations or from any other mining operations. If home owners are dissatisfied and cannot reach agreement with the mining company as to the extent or acceptance of responsibility for damage that occurs as a result of those mining operations, what mechanisms are open to them? The certificates of claim under section 15C of the Act - which is to be clarified, if I may use that word - are interesting. The board's 1991 annual report notes an increase of 95 per cent in the issue of those certificates. That seems to be an extraordinary jump, and it would be interesting to know the reason for it. It would be interesting to know also whether the clarification we are debating tonight will lead to a reduction in the number of claims made under section 15C of the Act. My colleagues from the Hunter, particularly the honourable member for Wallsend, will cover that issue. The Minister referred to the honourable member as perhaps being one of the instigators of the amendment to the section. I commend that part of the legislation.
I conclude my contribution by straying a little from the bill, though my comments relate to the Mine Compensation Board. I am pleased that the board is aware of public opinion and of the need for it to address the concerns of home owners who lodge claims. I noted with interest the opinion survey which was conducted during 1990 and covered in the board's annual report. The initial survey in 1990 and the second survey in 1991 attempted to analyse the level of public awareness of the board's role and services. Some interesting results emerged. For example, between one-quarter and one-third of people are not aware whether they live in a mine subsidence district; that they require building approval if they are living in a mine subsidence district; that they must make an inquiry of the board if buying a property in a mine subsidence district; or that compensation is payable if damage accrues to an improvement as a result of mine subsidence.
Clearly there needs to be a little work done there to inform people in mine subsidence areas, first, that they do live within a mine subsidence area and, second, to advise them, in the event of any damage, of the nature of compensation payable to them and the means by which that compensation can be paid. The Opposition welcomes this measure, as it welcomed the major changes in 1961 to the Mine Subsidence Compensation Act. A number or members from this side of the House will speak on the legislation, particularly members from the Hunter district who will indicate their particular interests in this issue of mine subsidence. As I said, the Opposition welcomes the measure and supports the passage of the bill through the House. However, we call on the Government to go that little bit further and address other concerns, some of which will be raised by my colleagues.
Mr BLACKMORE (Maitland) [8.24]: The amendments to the Mine Subsidence Compensation Act of 1961 are designed to alter the definition of subsidence to include all vibrations and other movements of the ground relating to underground extraction and to make it clear that it excludes ground vibrations emanating from blasting in open-cut mines. As mentioned by the Minister in his second reading speech, the Mine Subsidence Board has had a close working relationship with the community. It provides very sound technical advice to those building homes in areas likely to be affected by subsidence. Unfortunately, it happens that people are affected by mine subsidence. The single largest
purchase people make is the purchase of a house. To be told after a period - suddenly in many instances - and having made improvements to their homes, that they can be affected by mine subsidence, is shattering news for them. They are seeking financial help to alleviate their dilemma and to enable them to lead peaceful lives in the area in which they have chosen to live.
Most of the amendments contained in the bill are the result of difficulties experienced with the existing legislation in trying to assist home owners whose properties have been affected. As the honourable member for East Hills said, improvements are defined in the Act to include "any building or work erected or constructed on land; any formed road, street, path, walk or drive-way; any pipeline, water, sewer, telephone, gas or other service main, whether above or below the surface of the land". This definition is consistent with the traditional philosophy of the Act, which was to provide compensation to the owner in relation to improvements which had been damaged by mine subsidence. The principal improvement concerned is the dwelling-house. Previously it was not conceded that non-improvements in dwellings could be damaged by mine subsidence. I know it sounds rather strange to talk about that tonight, but it is difficult to be convinced, or to convince other people, that the exterior of a home can be damaged, yet the interior cannot, by mine subsidence.
Following events at Chain Valley Bay and South Cessnock, the Mine Subsidence Board has changed its views - and I acknowledge the presence in the Chamber of the honourable member for Cessnock. At those locations the surface of the land was lowered to such an extent that floodwaters entered the dwellings, causing damage to items that were not improvements but were household items and personal effects, such as carpet, furniture and so on. Under the existing legislation damage caused by flooding, which in itself has been caused by mine subsidence, is compensable. However, it is restricted to improvements. The amendment before the House will extend the definition of compensation to include household effects. They are defined and will include curtains and carpets and, to bring it right up to date, also musical instruments, computers and power tools. In fact, it will cover a great number of household items that are found in most houses nowadays.
I am sure the honourable member for Cessnock will speak of his electorate, but the Cessnock City Council generally does not encourage development on surfaces over mined areas. For that reason, apart from an area which also embraces portions of the cities of Newcastle and Maitland, there are no proclaimed mine subsidence districts within Cessnock boundaries. There is only one colliery now operating within the city's precincts and it is located in rural and semirural areas. An older section of South Cessnock was undermined in the 1920s, and in 1990 part of the workings collapsed and affected a large stormwater drain, reducing its capacity to take water away from the houses. Of course, some of the damage caused was to personal effects such as carpets, lawnmowers, refrigerators, appliances and other household items of furniture. Acting in good faith, the Mine Subsidence Board replaced these items but found, after subsequent legal advice, that though damage caused by flooding - which in itself has been caused by mine subsidence - is compensable, it is restricted under existing legislation to improvements. Improvements were defined generally as fixtures to land and did not include household and personal effects.
Flooding as a result of subsidence also has occurred on the Central Coast, and the Mine Subsidence Board is sympathetic to the provision of compensation for damage to personal property. That is the reason for this bill. The community is becoming more and more aware of the effects of mining on the surface. A good example is the longwall
mining at the Teralba colliery, which received a great deal of publicity before and during the mining process. I pay tribute to the Hon. Milton Morris, a former member for Maitland, who is chairing a ministerial committee to liaise with the community. The committee has membership from the mining company, the Department of Mineral Resources, the Mine Subsidence Board and, most importantly, the local community. As events occur a larger proportion of the community is being affected as urban development spreads to the old mining areas such as East Maitland in my electorate and areas currently being mined on the western side of Lake Macquarie.
Society's needs are also changing. Flooding has been caused by mine subsidence, and in this respect Chain Valley Bay in South Cessnock has already been mentioned. It is also worth while mentioning that during the disastrous Newcastle earthquake an old mine shaft between townhouses collapsed completely. Whilst the townhouses could be repaired under the compensation fund, the grand piano, the furniture and the stereo, which all went down the shaft, could not be replaced by compensation. I understand that in future a claimant for damage caused by open-cut blasting will have to pursue the claim through the warden or under the common law. I am aware of a recent claim for damage in my electorate in relation to which the board has accepted liability for damage to a water board reservoir caused by blasting vibrations in an adjacent open-cut mine. It is a very simple matter for the board to investigate whether damage is due to subsidence. I hope that under the new system claimants will be able to obtain the same satisfaction just as easily. What we are seeing now is the result of many years of unchecked operation within the coal industry. The honourable member for East Hills spoke of the importance of the coal industry to New South Wales. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister for Natural Resources. In recent months the Mining Bill has been introduced, and there is now a change in compensation arrangements. The Minister has taken a short time to address these matters. It is important to protect the environment of the Hunter Valley and to care for people who, due to time subsidence, suffer damage to the most important purchase people normally make in their lives - their homes. I have much pleasure in supporting the bill.
Mr NEILLY (Cessnock) [8.33]: I support the legislation and congratulate the Minister for Natural Resources on its implementation. The bill has been about a year in coming to fruition. I think that when the bill was referred to the Minister by the board last year he was ill and certain formalities had to be gone through such as addressing the legalities and seeing how the recommendations would affect the public and the industry before the legislation could be prepared and introduced. Before dealing with the detail of the bill I observe that the mine subsidence compensation scheme is industry funded on the basis of claims experience and what the board considers will be its future obligations. During the past decades I have seen some ups and downs in contributions by the industry. I believe that the industry recognises that it has a responsibility to contribute to the scheme but I suggest that in the past decade, when the industry has experienced difficulties, it would have liked its contributions to be fairly minimal. I was pleased to read in the Mine Subsidence Board annual review for 1992 at page 3 the following agreed corporate image and philosophy:
client servicing in a helpful, efficient and caring way
fairness and acting in the interest of the public
professionalism and expertise of the organisation
protection provided by the organisation
Over the years my experience has been that the board has operated in accordance with that image. I have always found officers of the board to be very responsive when difficulties have arisen, and compassionate when dealing with the public. On occasions they may have given the benefit of the doubt to members of the public in resolving some matters brought to their attention. In saying that I refer to mine subsidence at Pelaw Main, Abermain, Paxton and South Cessnock. The honourable member for Maitland pointed out that a large chunk of my electorate is represented by the Cessnock City Council area. There are no designated mine subsidence areas within the city of greater Cessnock. At one stage about 28 formal mines operated in the area. In addition, a lot of informal underground work was taking place. Some operations were referred to as scab mines. Others operated just to get out a load of coal. The industry has changed and, in conjunction with the changes in the industry, the mine subsidence compensation scheme has had to be changed.
In the early days many of the mines - they were principally underground - did not have good records of their operations. Pillars were extracted without knowledge of the board. There was also a lot of robbing of the ribs of the mines. Sometimes the mines meandered off in a different direction from that shown on the formal maps of the mining operation. With the advent of longwall mining in recent years subsidence has occurred immediately, whereas old workings under conventional mining methods would not necessarily result in subsidence and, if they did, the occurrence of the subsidence could not be predicted. If longwall mining occurs close to the surface, the subsidence is highly visible. In deeper sections it can result in a total stratum movement. Though this may not be so visible, it can result in areas becoming swampy from being more low lying. It is far more easy to predict subsidence with longwall mining than with conventual mining. The problem at South Cessnock was addressed by the Minister, the shadow minister - the honourable member for East Hills - and the honourable member for Maitland. I believe that what occurred at South Cessnock was a shift away from the barrier. South Cessnock mined the Greta seam, which was 30 feet thick. It was mined in three different operations, the last time in the 1920s. In the mid 1980s it was obvious that something was going awry at South Cessnock because the concrete sections of the stormwater drain running through the centre of South Cessnock suddenly had gaps of six or seven inches between them.
The shift or drop away from the barrier was contrary to the natural terrain. The downhill slope was reversed and a pond developed between a concrete channel and the barrier of the mining operation. In 1989 and 1990 flash flooding occurred. As a result, people lost items of personal property. They received compensation. For that reason, the Mine Subsidence Board decided to determine its obligation to pay compensation. A legal opinion was received, which validated the interpretation that the legislation dealt essentially with fixtures to properties such as buildings, service pipelines and the like. The people at South Cessnock became very upset. Their properties were prone to instant flooding because the stormwater drain had deteriorated from being able to accommodate a one-in-ten-year flood to being able to accommodate only a one-in-one-year flood. Their properties also dropped in value. The legislation does not address matters such as that, but deals only with the ability of people to continue to live in their properties. Any financial loss arising from property devaluations as a result of subsidence is not addressed by the amendments before the House.
The possibility that people may not be compensated for the future loss of personal items such as household furnishings was the straw that broke the camel's back. Although the Mine Subsidence Board showed compassion, the present legislation was needed. It will ease much of the pain of older people who have no intention of leaving
the area in which they have resided for so long. They merely want the satisfaction of knowing that in circumstances where, because of what had transpired, they could not even obtain insurance, a fund will be available to assist them in relation to future financial loss. The problem at South Cessnock went beyond what is dealt with by the provisions of the bill. The stormwater drain will continue to be a problem. The introduction of some sort of drainage retention basin may be necessary. Problems are also experienced because of subsidence of normal household drainage lines and fractures in sewerage pipelines - as water cannot run uphill. Houses have fallen away from kerbsides and roads, which are now elevated above the houses themselves. I do not know how the loss of value of a property can be dealt with by the mine subsidence legislation. I have the gut feeling that the intent of the legislation is to ensure that dwellers are able to live in their properties for the remainder of their lives. It is not about the saleability of properties. Ultimately that problem may have to be addressed because of changes in mining activities.
I have a small doubt about proposed new section 12(1)(a). Yesterday I raised that doubt with staff in the Minister's office, but received no response. Perhaps the Minister may be able to elaborate on that in reply. The revised section now enables the surface owner, albeit a mining company, to claim damages for subsidence caused by another mine operator which has affected the surface buildings. That is fair, but a problem arises in relation to the definition of "owner". If the mine operator is a subsidiary of the surface owner, which regularly happens in old mining areas, the subsidiary company should not be entitled to benefit under the compensation scheme. The principal Act defines "proprietor" but does not define "owner". Perhaps the Minister will outline in reply the intent of the amendments to section 12(1)(a) and the reference to "owner". No one could dispute the fact that the legislation is a significant improvement to the existing Act. It addresses compassionately the needs of the public. It adheres to the philosophy of the corporate image as spelt out in the 1992 review of the board. It will give people residing in coalmining areas a little more confidence in, and good will towards, the coalmining industry. Those sentiments are well and truly needed nowadays. Generally I support the bill.
Mr PRICE (Waratah) [8.46]: I support the Mine Subsidence Compensation (Amendment) Bill. I should like to speak principally about the problems associated with open-cut blasting. The bill does not deal with that but refers the entire matter of compensation back to section 265 of the Mining Act. Although I have no difficulty with the specific transfer of responsibility, it is worth while noting that citizens of my electorate have had difficulties obtaining compensation under the existing Mine Subsidence Act and the Mining Act. I refer to the properties along John Renshaw Drive in the vicinity of Black Hill opposite the Buchanan colliery, which has been a constant concern for a number of residents. Although the Act can certainly be interpreted as claimed by the Minister in his second reading speech, I have some concerns, based on actual experience, that compensation is not readily available.
I should like to relate that claim to a problem associated with the Newcastle earthquake in 1989, when insurers mounted a long and continuing argument that because the hill area of Newcastle was honeycombed with old mine shafts and it was assumed that the earthquake caused movement in some of the mines, flooded and not flooded, that contributed to or accelerated damage caused to a number of homes both within and without the subsidence area in the city. That argument has not been resolved. I understand that this bill does not deal with all aspects of damage caused by mine subsidence. However, I have referred to the earthquake and the problems with the Buchanan colliery to highlight two actual instances where arguments continue. The net result is that people who are entitled to some form of compensation are not receiving satisfaction.
Whether the bill goes far enough, I am not prepared to say at this stage. It certainly is a step in the right direction and I support the introduction of the legislation. I suspect that further evidence will demonstrate that there are still some areas not properly covered. When the Minister distributed information on the review of the mining subsidence districts and issued the new boundaries some individual locations within my electorate had been acknowledged by the board as having been subject to subsidence, and satisfactory remedial work was undertaken, but some other locations outside the area also appeared to be damaged as a result of subsidence. In most cases property-owners were unable to undertake the geotechnical investigations required to prove their point, simply because they could not afford them. That leaves an area of doubt in the minds of many people. Subsoils do move and some damage can approximate subsidence, but until the issue is determined absolutely by way of geotechnical survey it is almost impossible to address the reticence of the board or the concerns of householders. They are very obvious concerns and fears.
It is good that the bill expands to cover not only property but also certain items within households. That is certainly a positive step and I support it. One particular case that springs to mind is that of the Kent colliery, a very small colliery that operated during the war years in a suburb of Newcastle called Beresfield. To my knowledge only one house has been subject to subsidence. That has been treated on several occasions and the problem appears to have been overcome. It was a shallow mine, subject to local flooding because of the water table. Though economics did not enter into it during the war, they certainly did soon after. It was many years later that the subsidence occurred. The fact that an area is considered to be outside a mine subsidence area or district does not mean that at some time in the future, because of an uncharted or poorly surveyed mine, the problem will not occur again. I assume the proposed amendment will allow people in that situation to make a claim which, if justified, will result in adequate compensation in due course.
Section 15 certificates, permitted under the Mining Act, certainly have affected some people in the area of the Buchanan colliery. Whilst that open-cut operation has ceased - and I doubt that it will recommence - there is still an impediment with regard to the documents required for sale. The certificate indicates that there is a potential problem that may involve insurance or future claims for compensation. That certainly diminishes the real value of the property, particularly when the mining is not under but adjacent to the mining area, and has a particular life span. I mention this matter again because it has caused severe hardship in the case of two families and I know that in neither case was the family satisfied. That section of my electorate has only been in my care for the past 14 months and I was on the tail end of it. The problems are very real. Though I sympathise with the people affected and have empathy with their continuing plight - I would not wish to be involved myself - that is poor consolation for them. The compensation aspect was not made available under the Mining Act and it is now absolutely excluded under the Mine Subsidence Compensation (Amendment) Bill. I hope the Minister will take that into account because I believe there will be grey areas and certain sections of the bill may be subject to further amendment in light of some of the matters I have raised.
Mr BOWMAN (Swansea) [8.54]: I am happy to support the Mine Subsidence Compensation (Amendment) Bill, believing as I do that it is a most valuable piece of legislation. It amplifies and clarifies the scope of mine subsidence provisions in New South Wales in a way that will greatly allay the anxiety felt by many people who believe their homes or the chattels therein can be threatened by mining and also the people who are dependent on the mining of coal, either as investors or workers in that industry. It
seems to me that it is particularly important that those who feel they might be threatened by subsidence are made to feel as secure as is humanly possible so that there will be the strongest community support for mining in regional areas, and those people who might be prone to invest or seek employment in the industry will not have those opportunities put at risk by very hostile community reactions. I have attended meetings at which miners were present. They are not people to back away from a fight, but on those occasions those men did not identify themselves because of the very visible anger of residents who - wrongly I believe, but nevertheless very genuinely - feared that their essential interest, that is, their home, was at some risk from the prospect of coalmining. I applaud the greater consciousness of the importance of community support for mining activity by the United Mineworkers Federation of Australia and the Coal Association, and I pay tribute to the Mine Subsidence Board and the Department of Mineral Resources for acting in appropriate ways which show their cognisance of the importance of community support for the mining industry.
I believe that if people are really secure in their belief that if damage occurs they will suffer no more than relatively short-term anguish, the prospects for coalmining in New South Wales - which is a tremendously important industry - will be considerably improved. I appreciate not only the introduction of the legislation but the Minister's co-operative attitude on occasions when I have sought answers to questions relating to some of the difficult cases that can arise in respect of mine subsidence claims. Whilst, strictly speaking, it should not be over concerned with the detail of such matters, Wyong council has played a very supportive and helpful role in resolving some of the conflicts that have arisen in respect of mine subsidence claims. Chain Valley Bay is in the electorate of Swansea and I can well recall the great dismay, during the time of the previous Labor Government, when water from Lake Macquarie was getting closer and closer to people's front doors and, in short, some unfortunate things were said. The lake was said to be particularly full at that moment, and it probably was, but people were full of anxiety because they were well aware that if the water kept rising as the land subsided then the goods within their homes would not be covered for damage. That was a matter of great concern to many people.
Some of the homes that are built on the delightful foreshore of Lake Macquarie were substantially affected by mine subsidence. Some pillars collapsed, and unfortunately the community developed a degree of overall concern, and indeed antipathy, to mining. The danger is that this antipathy can spread to other communities. For example, when the prospect of further mining under Lake Munmorah was canvassed at various public meetings, what happened at Chain Valley Bay was uppermost in the minds of many people, who felt a lot of genuine anxiety. It is fair to say that when there is genuine anxiety, some people will tend to exacerbate the situation by going over the top. The Mine Subsidence Board acted wisely in providing a great deal of information to residents and in being willing to discuss the matter in depth with groups of people, tempering the somewhat hostile attitude of certain people. My knowledge of mine subsidence has been improved substantially through discussions and seminars organised by the Mine Subsidence Board. Residents in the electorate of Swansea, whether they reside in the Lake Macquarie area or in the northern Wyong shire, now have a much more positive attitude towards mining. I am confident that this legislation will increase their sense of security. Residents will benefit through greater peace of mind and relaxed enjoyment of their properties, as will the mining industry, on which New South Wales so greatly relies.
I do not wish to appear miserly. Though I praise the legislation I would not like it to be thought that I am convinced that it is all that we need. We cannot anticipate what future problems might arise. Given that the legislation has the flexibility and readiness
to respond to new situations and the perceived needs of the community, I am sure that any changes that are needed can be nutted out in a co-operative spirit and implemented in such a way as to keep people reasonably satisfied. I grew up in a mine subsidence area and I felt completely relaxed about underground mining. I had to go through a learning curve to realise just how great was the fear felt by some people who have resettled on the Central Coast, but who originally came from areas that had not known mining. Because of the substantial investment that they have made in their family homes they are particularly fearful of mining. Consequently they are likely to oppose coalmining as such. On more than one occasion I have heard people make the unsustainable claim that there should be no mining under residential areas. I am fully conscious that a serious problem can arise in respect of the morale of the community if there is an unfortunate subsidence incident.
A short while ago Gwandalan, in the electorate of Swansea, experienced subsidence, which came as a shock to the residents who were retired and who were looking for a calm existence. The Mine Subsidence Board acted vigorously and promptly to successfully allay their fears. So far as I am aware, their claims have been processed expeditiously, and ultimately virtually all people will be satisfied. There is a short-term pain if walls begin to crack and doors and windows do not operate properly because of subsidence, and there is the necessity to wait until the subsidence has ceased before any restoration of dwellings can commence. People can manage to put up with that with a little support, so long as they feel that their chattels and the structures themselves are covered in appropriate circumstances, that a doubt clause will be operated fairly, and that the Minister and his department will act sympathetically to the natural concern felt by residents whose homes are their proudest possession. I applaud the bill. I hope it will become law before Christmas. I believe it will be a Christmas present not only to many householders affected by mine subsidence but also to the mining industry.
Mr HUNTER (Lake Macquarie) [9.6]: As outlined by the Minister in his second reading speech, the object of this bill is to amend the Mine Subsidence Compensation Act 1961 to achieve a number of things: to extend the circumstances in which compensation will be granted by providing compensation for damage to the household or other effects; to remove the exemption preventing the payment of compensation for damage to buildings or works used in connection with the winning of coal or shale where the damage is caused by other colliery holdings; to exclude from the definition of subsidence, ground vibrations resulting from blasting in open-cut coalmines that do not result in actual subsidence; and to clarify the nature of the information to be included in certificates relating to compensation claims issued under section 15C of the Act. In the Lake Macquarie electorate mine subsidence is a controversial issue, because longwall mining is occurring under residential areas. Many people have made claims for compensation because of damage caused to their homes by subsidence. I say it is a controversial issue, because a number of people have had their claims unjustly denied.
The amendments proposed by the Minister will address some of the issues that the residents in my electorate are concerned about, but unfortunately it does not go far enough to enshrine in legislation the rights of home owners. Under the current Act compensation is payable only when mine subsidence causes flooding which damages improvements. Excluded are household effects such as carpets, furniture and electrical appliances. None of those items is covered by the definition of improvement in the current Act. In that sense the amendment to section 12 will provide compensation for damage to such household items arising from flooding due to subsidence. I ask the Minister in his reply to explain what the criteria is for determining flooding and whether there are any time lapse provisions - in other words time after the subsidence that
flooding may occur. I ask him also to clarify for my benefit, and for the residents in my electorate, whether compensation will be paid for crops or livestock in rural and semi-rural areas that are flooded through subsidence. As I said, this amendment is a step in the right direction, but overall the amending bill does not go far enough. It does not alter the Mine Subsidence Board to make it more consumer-friendly, it does not increase the community's level of representation on the board, it does consider the expenses of claimants when additional evidence is required to support their claims, and it does not insert into the Act that the benefit of the doubt be given to claimants.
Another amendment to the Mine Subsidence Compensation Act will exclude from its provisions damage from ground vibrations resulting from blasting in open-cut coalmines. It is said that such activities were not intended to be covered by that Act and that section 265 of the Mining Act adequately covers that matter. I take the Minister's word on that. Another amendment will allow one colliery company to claim against another colliery company where damage arises from subsidence. This is currently not provided for in the Act. It appears to me that the Minister is helping out colliery companies, but he is not going far enough to help the victims of mine subsidence - the working people whose only major asset in the world is their home. These amendments do not go far enough to protect them.
Another amendment relates to section 15C certificates. These certificates state whether any claim under the Act has been made on a specific property. It is argued that this, in essence, is a black mark against a property which may be offered for sale. It is proposed to clarify the disclosure of such information. This particular issue was raised some time ago by my colleague the honourable member for Wallsend. I am pleased that the Government and the Minister have taken on board his helpful criticism and moved to amend the current Act in relation to section 15C certificates. This amendment is definitely a step in the right direction. I think it would be obvious to anyone that if a property-owner submits a claim for mine subsidence damage and that claim is refused, the damage has not been caused by mine subsidence as far as the board is concerned. Why should it issue a certificate under section 15C which states a claim has been made? If the board truly believes that the damage to the home was not caused by mine subsidence, clearly a claim should not be registered on a 15C certificate.
Unfortunately, this amendment does not go far enough in that, if a claim for mine subsidence damage has been made and has been accepted by the board, and the repair has been undertaken, why is there any need to have marked on a 15C certificate that a claim has been made? The damage has been repaired and the home once again complies with all building standards. Perhaps the Minister could reply and explain why he is not going that one step further and eliminating the stigma of such a public disclosure when a home that was once damaged has been repaired and now complies fully with building regulations. While I am talking on section 15C certificates I think it is very important to tell the House that on 2nd October, 1992, the Minister for Natural Resources published in the Government Gazette notice of a regulation increasing fees payable on these certificates, meaning certificates under sections 15A, 15B and 15C of the Mine Subsidence Compensation Act. So while the Minister comes before this House extolling the virtue of his changes to the Mine Subsidence Compensation Act, he is quietly doubling in one case, trebling in another, the charges for certificates issued by the Mine Subsidence Board. It is a massive increase. It reneges on the commitment of the previous Premier not to raise charges above the consumer price index. It appears that, with these amendments to the Act, the Minister is giving with one hand but taking with the other. Perhaps the Minister would like to explain to the House, when he replies, the reason for this massive increase in the cost of those certificates.
The people who require these certificates and are being charged these enormous prices, through no fault of their own, live in mine subsidence areas. Though the Minister is attempting, by these amendments, to improve their lot, he quietly by regulation doubles and trebles the cost of these certificates which they must obtain before selling their properties. I say to the Minister: do not stop here with the amendments - move forward. These amendments do not do enough for the victims of mine subsidence; they need more community representatives on the Mine Subsidence Board; the benefit of the doubt should be enshrined in legislation; the expenses of claimants should be paid where extra evidence is required to support their claims; and there should be an appeals mechanism at the level of the community justice centre instead of the Land and Environment Court, which is very costly for people with small claims and is not easily accessible for people living in mining areas, such as Lake Macquarie.
The amendments we are debating tonight do not make the Mine Subsidence Board consumer friendly. Even though the amendments will allow property-owners to claim for household effects, they will still have to fight to gain compensation. They will also be hit with this slug on the certificates when they require them for the sale of their properties. I ask the Minister to look into everything that I have raised. People living in the Lake Macquarie electorate in a mine subsidence area have to pay more for the construction of their homes because of their need for better foundations, and then have to suffer the indignity of their homes being damaged and having to fight to gain compensation. They are now to be hit with extra charges if they wish to sell their homes. I ask the Minister to please look at the issues I have raised and have the courage to make further amendments to the Mine Subsidence Compensation Act.
Mr MILLS (Wallsend) [9.16]: I am pleased to support the amendments to the Mine Subsidence Compensation Act. My appearance has been well telegraphed, thanks to the Minister for Natural Resources referring to my name and earlier representations with reference to section 15C certificates under the Act. Section 15C certificates state whether on a specified date any claims for compensation under the Act have been made with respect to a specific property. It is a voluntary certificate. The Act provides that any person may apply to ascertain this information. Of course, it would normally be done only by someone who is buying a house. From the statistics, not very many people apply for these certificates. I refer to the statistics in the annual reports of the Mine Subsidence Board over the past few years. In 1988-89 only 37 15C certificates were issued; in 1989-90 there were 167; and in 1990-91 there were 326. That was almost a 100 per cent increase in the past year, and a ninefold increase over two years.
The reason for this may well be that consumers who are buying houses are becoming more aware. Perhaps that coincides with a change in the way councils look at their responsibilities in the consumer area, particularly with regard to section 149 certificates, which councils must issue. I am told that many local government councils are concerned that the buyer of a property should know any negative things about it and that any encumbrances should be mentioned in the section 149 certificates. A classic example is that if a house is in a flood plain the prospective purchaser ought to know. Someone inspecting such a house in the middle of a drought would not suspect anything, while anyone who inspected it after a rainy season may not want to buy the property or would want to pay a lot less for it than the vendor is asking. Section 149 certificates are issued by councils. The councils are worried.
In my electorate the local council is writing on 149 certificates that it is possible that there may be some lead contamination in the grounds of certain houses. It may be that people simply went to a local garden shop and bought some slag to act as fill in a
garden bed, slag which might just happen to be lead slag from the Boolaroo smelter. It is pretty inert; the lead does not leach out very readily. But, if analysed, it would come out at 6,000 parts per million lead. That is recorded on the 149 certificates. It is also possible that there may be less than 25 parts per million lead but, because the Department of Health did a survey in a particular area, the council might say that there is lead poisoning of the soil. Quite frankly, it is a very delicate area. Anyone dealing with local councils will understand this. I was asked some years ago by community groups and individuals about 15C certificates. They were seen as a black mark against the property being offered for sale. The Minister said in his second reading speech, "I believe there should be full disclosure of any defects caused by subsidence".
Let us examine the nature of 15C certificates. If a claim is submitted but not granted under the Mine Subsidence Compensation Act because the board finds that it was not subsidence but may well have been clay movement, an earthquake or whatever, it is misleading and unfair to the seller of the house to have on the certificate that a claim has been made, because it has nothing to do with the Mine Subsidence Compensation Act. While it does not faze me, quite frankly, newcomers to an area like the Hunter Valley where a lot of mining goes on sometimes have seen cartoon-style images of large holes into which properties fall. Those of us who live in the area, and particularly those who know the mining industry, know that does not occur, but it does worry people. There is no point in worrying people. Worried people do not buy houses and do not want to pay much money for them. It is unfair to the vendor to have a claim on a certificate if the claim made was not due to subsidence. That is point 1, which the Minister has accepted. I am delighted to see that provision in the bill.
The Minister has not accepted point 2. Some time down the track, we will have to study this again. I want to lay the matter out so that we understand it. If a claim is submitted and accepted, the board will arrange for the damage to be repaired and compensation will be paid from the Mine Subsidence Compensation Fund. A lot of my constituents and I believe that, once the house has been fixed up, there should be no need for that to be put on the certificate. In that sense, the bill does not go far enough. If an engine falls off a Boeing jet from overhead and knocks down part of a house, under some form of insurance a claim would be made and the house would be repaired. When that property is sold, does it appear on a certificate that damage to the house has been repaired to warn the prospective buyer? There is no obligation to disclose that a Boeing engine fell on to part of a person's house. If a truck crashed into a house on a major highway and caused considerable damage, where is the obligation that that should be disclosed after the house has been restored to its previous condition? Where is the obligation on anyone, any authority, to put that on a certificate so the vendor is warned?
I am concerned that mine subsidence is being singled out from other occurrences that could affect the integrity of a property. I am not saying that it should not be mentioned, but I am concerned that subsidence is mentioned and other damages are not. It is a question of equity. We have to tackle the problem. I do not think we will tackle it in the context of this bill, with its four very small amendments. Sooner or later we will have to review mine subsidence provisions, the damage it causes, the way that affects property values and whether that is compensible. One of my colleagues, the honourable member for Lake Macquarie, may have referred to that earlier tonight. Certainly, 15C certificates will be improved by the provisions of the bill, but the bill only goes halfway. The issue is still one of concern. Nevertheless, we will be supporting that amendment.
I refer to three other provisions of the bill. Damage to mine improvements in connection with the winning of coal ought to be compensible. Inequity is self-evident. That ought to be the case. Any damage ought to be compensible. The only concern I have - and I ask the Minister whether he would refer this to his officers before he replies - is how many of these claims are likely. One example was given of water pipes in the second reading speech. I wonder whether there are other claims pending and whether the Mine Subsidence Board has made any estimates of the likely amount of compensation to be payable under that amendment. We really do not know. We only have the one example. I hope it is not a big problem. If it is and claims are likely to be pending, the total pot of money that pays out mine subsidence claims may well not be big enough. We may see the fund taking more cents per tonne than it does at the moment. That may not be a good thing. There needs to be a balance. I would like to know - and the House should know - what are the likely claims and how much money is likely to be paid.
The definition of subsidence is to be amended. It is interesting that back at the time of the 1989 bill - and there was much more controversy in the Wallsend electorate then than at the moment about mine subsidence and damage - the extended definition of subsidence was vital to my then constituents in Homesville, which is now part of the Lake Macquarie electorate. Following pillar removal at West Wallsend No. 2 colliery, we did not have much measurable falling of the ground level but there was an enormous cracking of rock strata underneath, according to the geologist, which caused massive vibrations and similar damage to what was later observed in the earthquake. That was the kind of thing that led to the 1989 amendments and extended the definition of subsidence to all vibrations or other movements in the ground. We are going back on that in that it is vibrations caused by, or in relation to, mine subsidence. That is fair enough as a tightening.
The honourable member for Waratah raised the question of the Black Hill residents. They were in the Wallsend electorate prior to the last redistribution. I am concerned at the claim mechanisms available under section 265 of the Mining Act because I am pretty certain it is not so easy to claim under that section of the Act for damage caused by vibration from open-cut mining as to claim from the Mine Subsidence Board, which is more structured towards known and expected damage from certain kinds of underground mining. We need some assurances. Down the track we may have to review the mechanisms of claiming under the Mining Act because of the increased volume of blasting and open-cut mining taking place, for example, in the Hunter region. The final matter, flooding, has been well covered by my colleagues the honourable member for Cessnock and the honourable member for Swansea. I do not intend to elaborate except to say it is a most welcome amendment and arises from legal opinions obtained by the board. It wanted to be user friendly and do the right thing, but legal opinion said it could not. This bill will redress that matter.
Finally, I support the excellent remarks of my colleague the honourable member for Lake Macquarie, who more or less indicated - as did the shadow minister, the honourable member for East Hills - that a Labor government will examine the Mine Subsidence Compensation Act much more deeply, particularly in regard to the benefit of doubt to claimants, to enable community input at the pre-mining and approval stage - and perhaps avoid some of the problems that have arisen in the past, when local community people felt they were fighting the system. They should not have to. The board and the Department of Mineral Resources are starting to move towards involvement, but there is a long way to go yet. Hydrology studies should be mandatory. In other words, Labor will emphasise the community protection and natural justice recommendations of those
two very important inquiries of a number of years ago, the Day inquiry and the Clough-Smith inquiry. The four matters considered are heading in that direction. I look forward in a year or two to the Mine Subsidence Compensation Act being further amended to make it even better for people who live in mine subsidence areas.
Mr CAUSLEY (Clarence - Minister for Natural Resources) [9.30], in reply: I thank the honourable member for East Hills, the honourable member for Maitland, the honourable member for Cessnock, the honourable member for Waratah, the honourable member for Swansea, the honourable member for Lake Macquarie and the honourable member for Wallsend for their contributions, though I note that one or two spoke against the bill while others thought the measure did not go far enough. I am sure all honourable members accept that balance is needed in these issues. Though people living in mining areas are entitled to compensation for subsidence-caused property damage, it must be appreciated that costs involve jobs in the mining industry. This measure is a cost to be borne by the industry and must be well managed. The honourable member for East Hills asked whether compensation would be retrospective. Compensation will not be retrospective but will take effect when these amendments are passed, as is evident from item (8) of schedule 1, on page 4 of the bill.
The honourable member for Cessnock intimated that the board had been sympathetic and probably had paid out funds for improvements in the past - and that is one of the reasons the amendments have been proposed. Compensation will be payable from the time the bill is passed. People will be allowed to make a claim and have it considered by the board up to 12 months after damage has occurred. The honourable member for Cessnock suggested that corporations could double dip in that one colliery could claim against the actions of another colliery of which it is a subsidiary. That aspect is clarified in the explanatory note to the bill in relation to damage to buildings or works used in winning coal or shale, and I quote:
The amendment to section 12(1)(a) removes the exclusion, allowing for compensation to be payable for damage to any improvement regardless of its use, as long as it is not owned by the same person whose operations caused the subsidence.
That explanatory note clearly indicates that in a case of common ownership a company could not claim against itself and thus deplete a fund that is so important to the industry. The honourable member for Waratah and other honourable members expressed concern that in the past compensation had been denied. The honourable member for Lake Macquarie went further and said he believed claimants were entitled to compensation but had been denied. It is my understanding that the board takes a very sympathetic approach to these cases and examines closely whether claims are genuine. I dare say that is an exercise of judgment. On advice I have received from the board from a number of inquiries I have made, it obtains the best advice possible on subsidence - in some instances the best in the world - and whether damage the subject of a claim was caused by subsidence. It is well known that movement of clay in particular, especially during severe droughts such as those experienced in this State over the past few years, may in some instances be considered probably to be due to mine subsidence. It is a difficult area but it is my understanding from discussions I have had with members of the board that they are sympathetic wherever possible.
People with problems, those who believe they still have problems, and who believe they have not been fairly dealt with by the board, should give me the information and I will take it up with the board. That is the only way to clarify some of those issues and get the best advice possible. St Paul's High School at Teralba was designed to allow
for subsidence: a few minor cracks appeared in the building but it successfully subsided. The main northern line - and experts on longwall mining were brought out from England - was never disrupted by mining underneath it. I am sure that the best advice possible is obtained. The honourable member for Lake Macquarie also asked whether crops and livestock would be included in consideration of claims for compensation. Crops and livestock are not improvements and would not be considered for compensation. Section 15C certificates raised some interest. The honourable member for Wallsend raised the vexed question of what should be revealed about a property and what information should be made available by a vendor to a purchaser. The view of the legal profession is that declarations about encumbrances on a property are necessary. Section 15C certificates are designed not to be a blight on a property but to indicate clearly and honestly whether a claim has been made, is pending or has been paid out. That must be understood. My attitude is that a person has a right to know if a claim had been made in the past on a property in a subsidence area, even if that claim has been paid. A vendor may or may not have made a claim in the first place, but I can see no reason to hide the fact that a claim has been made. The Government is attempting to clarify that issue and has taken up the points raised in the past by the honourable member for Wallsend.
I have to say to the honourable member for Lake Macquarie that the fees issue is a red herring. A section A certificate costs about $20, a section B certificate about $50 and a section 15C certificate about $20. A section 149 certificate from a local council, however, costs about $100. Section 15 certificate fees are not high for the services provided; indeed, I consider some of those fees to be fairly small. The honourable member for Lake Macquarie asked how compensation will be determined when flooding occurs. Subsidence will be measured. If subsidence is enough to allow flooding, that will be taken into consideration in determining whether compensation is payable for subsidence damage. In many areas the Government has looked carefully at problems that have arisen. Coalmining is an important industry for New South Wales and especially for coal-rich areas of the State. Obviously, good will must be maintained with the people of those districts to ensure that mining continues and that coal continues to be won. Honourable members have said that planning is important. Ipswich is a typical example of a town that killed itself. Ipswich still has tremendous reserves of coal but these days coalmining has nearly disappeared from that area. A city has grown up over the coal reserves. Honourable members should keep that in mind. On many occasions I have expressed to members opposite my concern about alienation of many coal reserves in national parks and other areas of the State. That issue is of vital importance to the economy of this State and it should be addressed.
Dr Kernohan: And at Camden.
Mr CAUSLEY: I am well aware of the Camden district and many areas in the western area of the State with big reserves of coal that have been alienated. Massive reserves exist under Wollemi National Park to a substantial depth. I believe that in future that coal will be won without damage to the national park, though some of my colleagues and some colleagues of the honourable member opposite might disagree. I thank all honourable members for their contributions. The bill, though small in extent, is of great importance to those who live in mine subsidence areas. I commend the bill.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
MURRAY-DARLING BASIN BILL
Debate resumed from 15th October.
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt) [9.40]: At the outset I state that I lead for the Opposition, which supports the bill. The stated object of the Murray-Darling Basin Bill is to approve and give effect to an agreement entered into between the Prime Minister of Australia and the Premiers of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The agreement is set out in the schedules to the bill. Complementary legislation will be placed before the Federal, Victorian and South Australian parliaments. Generally when bills relating to the Murray-Darling Basin are debated in this House members are treated to a large-scale broadside; they are overwhelmed with statistics on the Murray-Darling Basin generally centred on the economic worth of the region. I recall that a couple of years ago in a debate on the area figures were bandied about which suggested that the area was worth about $110 million to the economy. The area of land involved is 1.06 million square kilometres. I do not intend to go through such a comprehensive list of statistics on this occasion; they have been put on the record often enough to convey the enormity of the Murray-Darling Basin and its economic significance and environmental problems.
As the Minister for Natural Resources mentioned in his second reading speech, the origins of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission date back to 1914. The Murray-Darling Council is an interdepartmental government committee with representatives from the Federal Government and the New South Wales, Victorian and South Australian governments. Among its other responsibilities it is charged with attempting to resolve the many land and water issues and environmental problems affecting the basin. The task of the governments and the council is not easy. The problems council is facing in regard to the catchment include: the need for responsible utilisation of water by all the communities in the region; and salinity, which is our foremost environmental concern. The Minister has continually highlighted in environmental debates concerning forestry and other such issues that the major environmental concern in this country is overlooked - the salinity problem. I agree with him on this.
There is a continuing need for the promotion and enforcement of proper land management issues such as the overclearing of land, cropping of marginal lands, overstocking by graziers and the ever present problem of noxious animals. The problem of land degradation and soil erosion continues and there is the need to retain areas of nature conservation significance. Finally, there is the need for acceptable standards of water quality for the people in the area, a problem exacerbated by the latest water problem to gain national attention - that of blue-green algae. Recently I read the report of the blue-green algae task force. It showed that the problem is prominent in many areas of the basin, particularly along the Darling River. One of the needs for the updating of this legislation was mentioned by the Minister in his second reading speech: the need to address recent strategies such as the salinity strategy. I was able to obtain copies of brochures and documents on the salinity strategy. They show the importance of the strategy succeeding. The introduction to the document "Salinity and Drainage Strategies" states:
Without intervention the area affected by high watertables could increase by 500,000 hectares with the cost of lost production increasing to $95 million per year by the year 2015. Costs to water users -
I am sure this will not make the people in the irrigation areas very happy:
- would increase to $57 million per year by the year 2015.
The documents associated with the strategy show the enormity of the problem and the major tasks set for the basin and the governments involved. The need for the strategy arose from the effects of 150 years of clearing, farming and irrigation in the basin, which caused watertables to rise and the subsequent movement of salt. As a result, the States around the basin have now been affected. The problems have been highlighted in a document by the Department of Water Resources entitled "A Guide to the Salinity and Drainage Strategy of the Murray-Darling Basin's Ministerial Council July 1992". On the second page of the document it states that as a consequence of past actions all three States have significant land and water management problems. South Australia is now affected by river salinity, including Adelaide's water supply. Victoria has severe land salination problems brought about by land clearing, lack of drainage and poor irrigation practices. New South Wales has waterlogging problems brought about by the lack of drainage and poor irrigation practices and some salinity problems; and there is a potential for salinity problems to increase substantially in the near future.
The problems for the three States are significant. The bill provides that other States become members of the Murray-Darling catchment policy-making process. I refer specifically to Queensland, whose rivers feed into the Murray-Darling system. The mechanics of the bill are very brief. The agreement which generated this bill commences at page 13 of the bill. The agreement leaves out virtually nothing of what has been determined between the States and the Federal Parliament. For example, it sets out various definitions and interpretations and the constitution of the Ministerial Council. At page 23 of the bill under part III it is provided:
(3) The Ministerial Council shall consist of up to three Ministers from each contracting Government who have prime responsibility for matters relating to water, land and environment.
The Opposition spokesman on land and the environment will contribute to this debate. The agreement also sets out the functions of the Ministerial Council, the role of the commission, the terms of office, the procedures for filling vacancies caused by resignations and procedures allowing for the removal of members from office. The Minister said in his second reading speech that the commission would give stronger emphasis to its role on the environment. Clause 41 of the bill sets out what the commission shall do in regard to water quantity and quality. The bill also sets out water quality objectives. For example, clause 44 states:
The Commission must formulate water quality objectives for the River Murray and make recommendations with respect thereto to the Ministerial Council.
The bill does not contain general policy provisions or broad-brush statements. It contains specific directions - for example, in relation to the protection of the Hume Reservoir catchment, which is referred to on page 36. Various public works projects, which were highlighted briefly by the Minister in his second reading speech, are dealt with in another part of the agreement. The effects of salinity are the major issue. The salinity and drainage strategy resulting from a report prepared by the Federal and State governments is set out in schedule C on page 73 of the bill. Part 1 of schedule C deals with definitions. The various projects required to put the strategy in place are then dealt with. As the Minister said in his second reading speech, comparatively old legislation is now becoming more relevant to the various environmental policies which have been adopted
by the Federal Government and the three State governments. I was somewhat amused when I found that the agreement dealt with South Australia's entitlement to water. The entitlements set out on page 52 reveal that South Australia is entitled to receive 32,000 megalitres in June and 159,000 megalitres in December and January. As I said earlier, the agreement is not a broad-brush general policy statement which various governments can misinterpret at their own whim. It is specific in relation to many issues, and governments will be required to comply with the various provisions of the agreement.
Some of the provisions are machinery in nature and are of no concern to the Opposition. As an example, I refer to the addition of a ninth independent commissioner to undertake the functions of the commission president, and the termination of the previous arrangement under which the president was an appointee of the Commonwealth. The commission will now appoint its own independent president. Changes in the procedures for the running of the commission are not a major concern. As I mentioned earlier, a mechanism is provided for new parties to join the agreement. Apparently an agreement has been reached for Queensland to become a party to the agreement after the passage of approving legislation. I am sure all honourable members will welcome the expansion of the roles of the various State governments as a result of the introduction of this bill. I understand that the other Parliaments are yet to pass similar legislation, not because of any reluctance to do so but because of timing. The Victorian Government has recently undergone a minor change. South Australia will introduce similar legislation shortly. The passage of similar Federal legislation is a matter of timing. The Opposition is pleased to assist the Government with the passage of this bill through both Houses.
Mr SMALL (Murray) [9.53]: I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the Murray-Darling Basin Bill and to point out that the object of the bill is to approve, and provide for the carrying out of, an agreement entered into between the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia with regard to water, land and other environmental resources in the Murray-Darling Basin. The River Murray Waters Agreement has been amended many times since it was entered into in 1914. Redundant provisions have been removed and the document has been generally updated. In 1987 the Murray-Darling Basin Commission formed a legislative review group to make the agreement more effective in dealing with issues in the basin and to have that agreement drafted in plain English. The Murray-Darling Basin Commission was preceded by the River Murray Commission. Although it did an efficient job, it did not have the broad-scale effectiveness of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. The River Murray Commission was identified with the Commonwealth only, whereas the Murray-Darling Basin Commission involves Commonwealth-State co-operation.
In 1991 the ministerial council approved a replacement agreement. The agreement follows a similar form to the previous agreement but has been strengthened in a number of ways. It expresses in more detail the functions of the council and the Murray-Darling Basin Commission in respect of water, land and environmental matters. It provides for the implementation of strategies such as the natural resource management strategy and the salinity and drainage strategy, and for the inclusion of such strategies as schedules to the agreement. It provides also for more effective management of shared resources and more effective financial management. Improvements include flexibility in cost-sharing arrangements, the carrying forward of funds to a subsequent budget period, revised tender procedures, and the updating of the water distribution clauses although still retaining the fundamental distribution principles established as long ago as 1914. The concept of continuous accounting has been introduced to make the most effective use of available water, and a ninth independent commissioner will undertake the function of commission president. The president was formerly an appointee of the Commonwealth. The Murray-Darling Basin Commission will now have a fully independent president.
A mechanism will be provided for new parties to join the agreement. An agreement has been reached that Queensland will become a party to the agreement following the passage of the approving legislation. A schedule to the agreement containing conditions of entry will be approved by the ministerial council and tabled before Parliament. The bill will approve the new agreement and make provision for it to be put into effect in New South Wales. As far as practicable, the bill has been drafted in uniformity with the approving legislation of other parties. The bill will repeal the Murray-Darling Basin Act 1983 and associated amending Acts, but is generally similar to the 1983 legislation. The Murray-Darling Basin comprises a large part of Australia and a huge part of New South Wales. It relies heavily upon rainfall, the catchment water storage facilities and the management structures of the river system. I am extremely pleased that the Commonwealth is now working with the States of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, and that Queensland will be included in the catchment area. The Minister for Natural Resources has been very much involved in the changes proposed in the legislation. The other two Ministers who have been involved are the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the Minister for the Environment. Each of the other States has a three-member ministerial party as well as senior officers. Don Blackmore is the Executive Officer of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. The previous occupant of the position, Mr Johnson, did an outstanding job and Don Blackmore is continuing that tradition. He is working extremely well with Peter Millington from the Department of Water Resources.
New South Wales is fortunate to have such an agreement between the Minister for Natural Resources, the Department of Water Resources and the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. The bill was introduced to repeal the Murray-Darling Basin Act 1983 and identifies the areas of salinity, as referred to by the honourable member for Mount Druitt. Salinity is an important issue in all irrigation areas, particularly throughout the Murray-Darling Basin. It has been in the river system for probably thousands of years, certainly in the 200 years since European settlement of Australia. When the rivers were not managed, they took their natural course. Because the Murray-Darling Basin was part of the ocean, the soil has a high salt concentration. Salt has risen to the surface, particularly with man-made irrigation and agricultural development. We are learning to understand and manage it better, and agricultural requirements for irrigation have become much more efficient.
Several years ago, when the economy was at its peak, it was considered that the Murray-Darling Basin Commission could generate $10 billion in agricultural products. It is certainly capable of doing that and a lot more, but at present there is a severe downturn because of past severe droughts and the wet period now being experienced in the southeastern portion of New South Wales and in Victoria, which has caused flooding to the Murray region. My heart goes out to those suffering severe loss or damage as a result of flooding. On the other hand, nature takes its course and large flows downstream cleanse waterways and provide a natural flooding system for red gum forests. The value of that has been enormous since the Dartmouth storage was built in the upper reaches of the Dart and Mitta Mitta rivers. The dam can hold 4 million megalitres of water. It has made an enormous contribution to the management control of the river system, with supplementary benefits for the Hume storage.
The Murray 1 and Murray 2 hydroelectric schemes and the Eucumbene storages are all complementary to the Murray system. The Tumut and Murrumbidgee rivers have upriver storage and together have achieved results previously not believed possible. The Snowy Mountains scheme took 25 years to complete at a cost of $840 million. That cheap technological development is renowned worldwide. New South Wales would have
suffered far worse floods in past years, particularly having regard to the three wet years prior to the present dry year - perhaps even major floods - but controlled storage, the provision of airspace, and the regulation of water and salinity control, have been of great advantage. In this regard the Murray-Darling Basin Commission has excelled. Agreement has been reached between representatives of government and departments across three States and the Commonwealth. As well, Queensland has indicated its intention to become a signatory to the agreement.
The quality of water has been a major problem during past years. Honourable members will recall the recent severe outbreak of blue-green algae in the Darling River system. It has been around for a long time and can be seen in many water courses, sometimes even lakes and dams. The results of severe drought conditions in the reaches of the Darling River have not previously been acknowledged. Algae has infested the Darling, Murray, and Goulburn rivers and streams with large flows. Though a task force has been set up and a report has yet to be published, there is still a lot to be learned. I mentioned how fortunate the red gum forest is because of the amount of water it is receiving at the moment. Red gums are important to the economies of many small country towns and the economy of New South Wales generally. Irrigation has progressed enormously over the past 30 years in the Murray-Darling Basin. Efficiencies are being achieved with microjet rib systems, spray irrigation, broad flood irrigation, improved land forming methods and reticulation. Better surface drainage is also essential, and the Government is doing all it can to assist in that regard.
In regard to resource value, no one can deny that what we are doing with water in Australia is of immense importance. Water is a priceless asset in a country short of water - as Australia is. Consequently, the management control of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission is extremely important. I pay tribute to the Chairman of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Mr Noel Fitzpatrick. I mention also Don Blackmore, who was referred to by the Minister for Natural Resources. They have all played a very important role and I have appreciated the opportunity of working with them at times. Because of my concerns relating to salinity, a committee, called the SAFE committee - salinity action for economy - was set up. Having looked at a lot of areas in relation to which bandaid treatments were implemented, we have brought about significant improvements. I congratulate the Murray-Darling Basin Commission on the way it got its act together. We are not people who want to interfere; we are people who want to assist as representatives of State and Commonwealth governments, irrigators and local councils. We are doing as much as we can about water quality, certainly down river in South Australia, where there have been complaints about the inferior way that New South Wales manages water. I congratulate all who have worked hard in the drafting of this legislation, which I support.
Mr MARTIN (Port Stephens) [10.8]: Though the Opposition supports the legislation, it believes it has a duty to ask questions and raise concerns in order to ensure that the legislation is sound. That is a duty that we all share, to do the right thing by the people of New South Wales. On this occasion, of course, the governments of four States and the Commonwealth are involved in the relevant agreement. The legislation is significant and will benefit the people of Australia. As was stated by my colleague the honourable member for Mount Druitt, a whole range of economic data suggests that this important part of Australia needs special treatment. Some of the matters I will raise need clarifying. The objects of the legislation are to approve and give effect to an agreement entered into between the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth and the Premiers of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, which will replace the current River Murray Waters Agreement, and to repeal the Murray-Darling Basin Act 1983. My predecessor
the Hon. Jack Hallam did a marvellous job with that legislation in 1983. His efforts to protect the interests of New South Wales and to ensure that the New South Wales contribution was of a high standard should be placed on the public record.
The obvious outcome of this legislation will be to control the flow of the river and to address environmental problems. The Opposition spokesperson on environmental matters, who follows me in this debate, will raise various environmental issues. As a person who worked at the horticultural research station at Dareton in 1987 and who was a horticultural adviser for the Department of Agriculture up until the end of 1970, I am acutely aware of the salination problems of the Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers. It is vital that we address the issue of salination. It is important to encourage Queensland to enter into this agreement as quickly as possible, because of the major agricultural activity taking place in the upper reaches and catchment of the Darling, which flows down from St George and other areas in Queensland into northern New South Wales.
Soil conservation practices in the Wellington area have serious salinity implications for the Macquarie River and the Murray-Darling Basin and should be examined. Salination problems at Yass are quite severe, so it is vital to incorporate in this legislation matters of financing and salination at a land management and conservation level. Some disturbing activities are taking place with the privatisation of water systems in New South Wales. Those issues must be addressed in the context of this legislation and conservation and land management. Once water systems are privatised there will be little control, as there is now through the Water Resources Commission, on what happens to the water and how it is used. Recently I visited the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area and saw the cocktails of drainage water mixed with clean water. I saw what is going into Barren Box swamp and Lake Wyangan, which also have serious salination problems. It is important that the commission look at total land care and salinity control aspects.
I turn now to our rice industry, which is probably the most efficient in the world. Each year about a quarter of a million acres of rice are planted in the Murray-Darling Basin, producing about a million tonnes of rice. Water usage for rice growing is not all that efficient when compared with other water usages worldwide. The rising water tables and associated problems will require the serious consideration of the ministerial council and other bodies. Last year the Darling River experienced growth of blue-green algae. Obviously this problem will not diminish until there is a significant decline in the amount of phosphorous going into the water. This legislation talks a lot about salinity but does not address the blue-green algae problem, the need for flushing, and the allocation of water. Sadly, a stocktake of water allocated to farmers and other landholders along the river systems would reveal that considerably more water is allocated to them than flows through in those rivers. It is vital for this State to overcome that problem, particularly now that farmers are pushing for freehold rights to the water. The Opposition is of the view that the water should be publicly owned.
I turn now to salination, a matter that causes me great concern. Having left the horticultural industry some 20-odd years ago, I have great difficulty in equating EC units to parts per million. Honourable members should realise that there is a fairly logical equation. New South Wales Fisheries works in parts per million, rather than EC units, as does most of the scientific world. One EC unit is equal to about 0.64 parts per million of salt. Sea-water is 35 thousand parts per million or about 54,700 EC units. In horticultural terms we are talking around 700 or 800 parts per million in the Mildura area and about 300 parts per million in the Sydney water supply. In the Morgan area of South Australia we are getting close to 1,000 units. Livestock is able to tolerate levels up to 1,500 and horticultural crops can tolerate about 500 to 600 parts per million. It is
important to bear that in mind when considering how we will manage our river systems. If we are not careful we will wipe out the beautiful river red gums along the Murray River, which are so much in need of protection. If the system is not managed properly it will be irreparably damaged. We should have a sensible understanding for our fellow Australians in other States, not only in one irrigation area but in the interests of all those people who live near rivers that contribute to the Murray-Darling Basin. I note clause 27 of the bill confers jurisdiction to the Supreme Court. I wonder whether this would be better handled by the Land and Environment Court, and perhaps the Minister in his reply will address that issue. The Land and Environment Court, I imagine, would be a more practical and realistic court to handle these matters. If there is some impediment to that, the Minister should state so in his reply. Very interestingly and very tongue in cheek, clause 29 provides that anything done by the commission or any works or property held by the constructing authority for the purpose of any works are exempt from New South Wales rates, taxes, charges and fees. As this Government is a Liberal-National government, it is important to consider what would happen if a goods and services tax were imposed and whether that would affect these sorts of taxes and charges. It is important for the Minister to put on the public record now whether they would be subjected to a goods and services tax and who would pick up those charges.
Another aspect which is of concern to this side of the House is the employment terms of the people currently employed under the Murray-Darling Basin Act. It is important that there be continuity of employment and that the superannuation and all other conditions of those employees are preserved. It should be stated very clearly who the employing authority is and who negotiates an award for those people, whether it be under Commonwealth awards or various State awards. It is important that this Government guarantees the employment of these people, who have done such an excellent job over a number of years. What would happen to groups such as the Murray River League and other groups which have been influential over the years? They have had a major input through lobbying and ensuring that the organisations look after the interests of landholders along the river system. The league has been very effective, and it is important that its past role be acknowledged by the Minister and that its future role is clearly spelt out.
In closing, I refer to a paper circulated by the Department of Water Resources entitled "A Guide to the Salinity and Drainage Strategy of the Murray-Darling Basin: Ministerial Council" of July 1992. The paper raises three very important facts: South Australia is affected by river salinity, which we must address; Victoria has severe land salinisation problems brought about by land clearing. New South Wales has problems as a result of waterlogging. I refer to the waterlogging problems. How will we assist with the drainage of those areas? What are we going to do with tile drainage? How will we ensure that the rice industry is more responsible? What will we do about the problem of waters coming out of that industry? What will we do to try to raise water tables? It is important to realise that not one irrigation system in the world has lasted more than a few hundred years.
Ms ALLAN (Blacktown) [10.23]: I take this opportunity to congratulate the Federal Government, the New South Wales Government, the Victorian Government and the South Australian Government on the agreement which is represented by the Murray-Darling Basin Bill. The 1991 agreement, which is now confirmed by this legislation, not only made a number of significant achievements in relation to more closely defining the functions of the council and the Murray-Darling Basin Commission with respect to water, land and environmental matters but also, as my colleagues have already indicated, provided for the implementation of strategies such as the natural resources management
strategy and salinity and drainage strategy. Very importantly, it also provides a more effective management network for precious shared resources between Federal and State governments. I am pleased with the cost-sharing arrangements which are outlined in the agreement.
Land degradation has been described as Australia's number one environmental problem, not only by the former Prime Minister but by Ministers in the current State Government and other people within the community. The real cost of land degradation is declining productivity. For example, it is estimated that salinity results in lost agricultural production in the Murray-Darling Basin of around $220 million each year. Land degradation has many forms. The House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment, Recreation and the Arts nominated a number of these forms in 1989; it did not just point to dry land salinity, it pointed to water erosion, wind erosion and, in particular, chemical contamination of soil and water. It identified this as resulting from long and continued use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and the poor information base on this serious problem. It described it as mainly an off-side effect on ground water zone, waterways and agricultural products. It saw as another feature the nutrients from fertilisers and waste materials which were contaminating surface water. It described this process as eutrophication and identified it as a major problem for Australian waters, potentially more serious than salinity.
The Murray-Darling Basin Commission published a document in 1990 entitled "The Murray". It gave a very interesting description of the Murray River and its evolution over millions of years. I was interested to note that the rainforest which characterised the area millions of years ago, as the Australian continent drifted slowly northwards, was replaced by vegetation more able to survive the changes in climatic conditions. According to "The Murray", a huge terminal lake called Lake Bungunnia existed from about two million years ago until about 550,000 years ago. That lake drained to give the present course of the river through South Australia to the sea. If Lake Bungunnia existed today it would probably be beset by blue-green algae problems, like other aspects of the Murray-Darling system. A number of my colleagues, including the honourable member for Murray, have mentioned this problem. "The Murray", even in 1990, identified the issue of algal blooms as a major threat to the future of the river system. The document related the development of the problem to a number of issues, including the growing urbanisation along the banks of the river and the resulting pollution from stormwater and sewage effluent from those cities and provincial towns. It also identified the chemicals used as pesticides and herbicides on agricultural land which would inevitably wash into the streams. It identified nutrients in treated sewage and irrigation draining water which it believed would increase the frequency and intensity of algal blooms which contaminate drinking supplies and increase the cost of water treatment.
"The Murray" indicates that algal blooms are not new. Apparently Charles Sturt, when he discovered the junction of the Murray and Darling rivers in 1830, found that the waters of the Darling "though sweet, were turbid and had a taste of vegetable decay, as well as a slight tinge of green". In the 1870s the blue-green algal blooms were causing the death of livestock drinking from Lake Alexandrina. "The Murray" identified the causes of algal bloom, the future threat of the problem and its history, and it also highlighted that it was going to be one of the priority areas for action by the Murray-Darling Basin Committee over the next several decades at least.
It is not surprising, therefore, that more recently we have had the State Government's report on blue-green algae. On 22nd September the Minister for Natural Resources released the State Government's report on the effects of blue-green algae, the Government's strategy and the forecasted effects of the blue-green algal blooms. The report identified 42 search needs and 30 recommendations which the task force categorises as essential to combat the algal blooms in the State's river system. The task force investigated for nine months and recommended the control of run-off, the creation of holding dams, the land application of effluent, the reduction of water use for intensive rural industries, erosion control strategies and the limiting of livestock access to waterways. However, already the Department of Water Resources has warned that blue-green algae has been detected along the Darling River near Bourke and has announced a medium level alert along the Darling River between Bourke and Wilcannia. As the weeks go on and as the weather becomes warmer we will see those medium level alerts increase to high level alerts.
Mr Joshua Chivers of the river watch program warned that with the river running slower because of the drought and the weather and water becoming warmer, conditions will become progressively more favourable to algal growth. Senior water management officers have also warned that the scope to control blooms of a similar size to last year's blooms, if they get that big again, has been significantly reduced since water reserves are too low to prevent washing out of algal blooms as they occur. The task force made it clear that there were no quick fix solutions to the problem. The State Algal Co-ordination Committee, or SACC, will oversee what is expected to be at least a decade-long program to improve the quality of New South Wales rivers, streams and lakes. Despite the urgency placed by the task force on its recommendations and the Government's heart-felt concern and commitment to the task force recommendations, the same recommendations will not be implemented until some time next year. Although the task force, for example, cited phosphates from detergents, washing powders and sewerage treatment works, targeting detergents alone as a major source of the blue-green algal bloom will not solve the problem. By all accounts the community can expect the problems to be worse than last year's problems as nutrients have been building up in the rivers for the past two years.
Fifty per cent of phosphorous entering the waterways is from farming products, but a recommendation to review the extent and manner of their use in farming operations was not suggested in the task force's final report. That is a very serious omission. The disappointingly soft approach findings and recommendations of the task force are an indicator of the absence of Government policy with regards blue-green algal bloom not only in the State's river system as a whole, but particularly in the Murray-Darling river catchment area. The Minister for Natural Resources lamented last November, "The Darling River has the dubious record of being the world's longest riverine algal bloom". But when questioned on the 23rd of this month, only last week, in estimate committee hearings as to where were specific budget allocations for the capital works projects, education programs and other management programs involved in dealing with the blue-green algae problem, the Minister replied that he did not know what funds would be available this financial year. This is despite the interim report of the task force that $200 million was needed to fix the algal bloom problem. That is obviously a steep sum, but the Government is not even making token efforts to address the problem.
The Government's inaction on the blue-green algae issue is further highlighted by its failure to allocate a specific amount of money to resolve the problem and indicates its reluctance to take the tough decisions, particularly in relation to phosphorous run-off from farms. My colleague the honourable member for Port Stephens mentioned this
matter in his comments. The task force named 48 waterways that were experiencing blue-green algae problems, 30 of which are regarded as serious. Included in this number is the Murray-Darling river system, yet there is still no co-ordination strategy to monitor the socially and ecologically disastrous algal blooms in river systems and water supplies. I do not intend my comments to be a reflection on the efforts of officers of the Department of Water Resources or officers of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. The report as a whole is excellent. The current problem in New South Wales and, more broadly, in the whole of Australia with algal blooms is not unique. In fact the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in its latest environment report, released in 1991, has identified that algal growth in surface waters is becoming a major problem in many member countries. Page 60 of that report nominates a number of areas in, for example, Belgium, France, the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands where algal blooms are creating a similar series of problems. [Extension of time agreed to.]
The state of the environment report of the OECD has nominated many member countries that are experiencing similar problems. From my discussions with officers of the Department of Water Resources, a great deal of interest has already been expressed in their task force report by some of these member countries, which at present are looking to New South Wales and Australia as leading the way at least in the analysis of the problem, and certainly in the adoption of long-term strategies. However, while a number of OECD countries are experiencing problems, some are making significant improvements in dealing with algal bloom problems. In particular, I note that in Canada phosphorous in the Great Lakes area has been decreased due to almost 20 years of joint efforts with the United States. In Sweden, where the sewerage treatment of phosphorous is high, according to the OECD similar progress in phosphorous concentrations is reported in many rivers from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s. Obviously, in the future not only the Department of Water Resources but also the Murray-Darling Basin Commission and Ministerial Council will have to look at a number of short-term as well as long-term strategies. Already the State Algal Co-ordinating Committee will be doing a number of things over the next few months to try to minimise what is presently seen to be an almost inevitable crisis this summer - as there was last summer - with the proliferation of algal blooms through not only the Murray-Darling river system but river systems generally in New South Wales and even in the Sydney metropolitan area.
The State Algal Co-ordinating Committee is working very hard at present to maintain water in river systems. It is actively seeking co-operation from farmers in various regions of New South Wales. It still has quite a way to go to get that co-operation and there still has to be a fair degree of consultation with, for example, cotton farmers in the northwest of New South Wales to ensure that co-operation is maintained. In the short term, the SACC will be talking to public works departments and local government authorities in an attempt to improve as quickly as possible the sewage treatment performance of a number of councils that discharge very poorly treated effluent into the Murray-Darling system. In the final analysis, in the short term many people will be praying for as much rain as possible over the next couple of months to avoid a similar occurrence to that of last December. In the long term, a number of strategies will have to be developed. The issue will be addressed by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission - from indicators we already have. The agreement in this legislation highlights the new management structure that the commission will pursue. There are some other positive indicators. From what I have seen in my visits around rural New South Wales, it appears the land care movement is working very well. It is increasing its influence and scope of activity throughout New South Wales. It is one symptom of the new mood propelling State governments and also the national Government in tree planting and other initiatives to combat salinity.
Discouragement of vegetation clearance and increased water quality monitoring are also important factors. I congratulate the Murray-Darling Basin Commission in particular on the more extensive monitoring of water quality. The New South Wales Department of Water Resources has had major carriage of the report so far, and the SACC will be maintaining that momentum, but funds already flowing from the Murray-Darling Basin Commission focus in particular on monitoring the water system. Monitoring will help even in the short term in giving quicker alerts and greater notice of problem areas, and also will help maintain water quality in the river system. However, many problems remain on the horizon. Some signs are good but others are not a cause for optimism. Land degradation is the outcome of many decades of mismanagement, ignorance and a general exploitative attitude towards the land. There are many indicators within contemporary agriculture that that attitude has not changed. For example, with greater centralisation of Australian agriculture, the average farm size is growing.
Farming is becoming more dependent on higher energy mechanised technology and chemical input. For many crops, pesticides and fertilisers now account for about 50 per cent of production costs. Present levels of pesticide and fertiliser use are far higher than 40 or 50 years ago. A solution to this problem will not be found until sustainable agriculture through changed and improved farming practices is attained in this State. The Murray-Darling Basin Commission will play a pivotal role in that endeavour and will work closely with the New South Wales Department of Water Resources and with the Government - as it did with the former Labor Government, and as it will with future Labor governments in this State. Though in the past Queensland has not been prepared to shoulder its obvious responsibilities, I am particularly pleased that State will join the commission. In the longer term I look forward not only to greater financial commitment from the present State Government to maintain the rage, as it were, against outbreaks of blue-green algae, but also to continuing input from the Federal Government to ensure that the Murray-Darling Basin Commission has the resources needed to counter these problems.
Mr BECKROGE (Broken Hill) [10.43]: I have pleasure supporting the Government on this measure, for this is one of those rare events in political life when governments and oppositions in all participating States have come together on a policy for management of the Murray-Darling river system. It is one of those rare examples of co-operative federalism in which sovereign States act together for the benefit of the people rather than to further narrow State interests. Past legislation has truly benefited the people, but no greater example could be found than the co-operative work done by the States in relation to the Murray-Darling Basin system. I hope that the proposed legislation will be complemented by legislation in South Australia and Victoria, and also by the Commonwealth, with participation by Queensland. The Murray-Darling Basin Commission excluded Queensland at that State's specific request. Queensland formerly was governed by the forces of darkness but the Government of that State wants to enter into an agreement with other States traversed by the Darling, Barwon and Macintyre rivers for the overall management of a great river basin.
Without doubt, the Murray-Darling Basin covers a huge area of New South Wales. The Darling and Barwon rivers run right across the Broken Hill electorate. Water resources are very precious. In 1982 the Murray stopped flowing to the sea because the Darling dried to pools of water. Fortunately the rains came in 1983 and that problem was solved. Last Christmas we faced the terrible problem of blue-green algae choking 1,000 kilometres of the Darling River system. I went to Bourke and to Louth with the shadow minister for agriculture. He was most concerned about runoff from river banks into the Darling River possibly being the cause of blue-green algae, with
consequent effects on agricultural production. If that problem arises again this coming season - and that is a distinct possibility - the Government will have to face it. Reading between the lines, I detect panic about what will happen this Christmas. The problems of last Christmas are still with us, but no solution has been found. The solution may be monitoring of the runoff into the river system, though no real attempt has been made to prevent runoff that increases possibility of blue-green algae and associated toxicity during dry periods of slow river activity.
I hope that the Government does everything possible to prevent that problem arising again, for it would be a disaster not only for those who live on the Darling River system but also for the whole river basin, and especially for those living downstream. At present the Murray River is in flood and the river system is being flushed out. Floods benefit South Australia downstream. Salinity will be washed away and a cleaner river system will be left after the floods. Disastrous as floods have been around Yarrawonga and Albury, flooding is important to flush the river. Management of the Murray River and Darling River systems, including tributary streams from Victoria and New South Wales, mainly the Murrumbidgee, is most complex. Water is our scarcest resource but it is taken for granted by many city people when they turn on a tap. When Warragamba Dam develops a problem it is regarded as a terrible catastrophe for Sydney, and city dwellers think it is the end of the world. People living in Sydney do not understand that out west it is the end of the world in a dry period when the river system dies through lack of water or low water quality - a tragedy not only for the people who live along the river but also for agricultural production. The wool and other pastoral industries along the Darling River system achieve great productivity which benefits local towns servicing those industries. A national body involving all States traversed by that river system is essential. I am pleased that clause 32 of the bill provides for the entry of another State into the agreement.
I hope that in future the Queensland Government will take part in the operation and management of the system under the agreement. Much of the water originates from Queensland. There is a massive problem in the flood plains around St George. There is a huge development in Queensland - outside the ambit of the New South Wales Government - at Cubbie Station. There has been a lot of good will by governments, past and present, in Queensland to see that that enterprise does not put too much pressure on the water delivery system. However, it would appear that despite the best intentions of everyone the operation will pose continuing threats in the future to the availability of water across the border rivers system. If Queensland is included in the agreement, we will have complete management of the river system.
Mr CAUSLEY (Clarence - Minister for Natural Resources) [10.51], in reply: I thank the honourable member for Mount Druitt and the honourable member for Murray, who supported this bill, and the anti-farming lobby - the honourable member for Port Stephens, the whingeing, whining, job destroyer from Blacktown and the honourable member for Broken Hill, who has just identified that he did visit his electorate once last year. Whilst this bill has been brought forward in good faith, Opposition members, particularly the honourable member for Blacktown, the honourable member for Port Stephens and the honourable member for Broken Hill, have attempted to point score on blue-green algae and the problems relating to it. Some of the issues must be addressed. The honourable member for Port Stephens continues to amaze me about what he does not know about the subject. He said that he spent time in the Murray area advising particularly on horticulture. There is no doubt that salinity problems are a big issue. I raised it at the Murray-Darling council some years ago. Many of the issues that the honourable member for Port Stephens was talking about have been addressed by the council for years. Measures to deal with the problems are in train and improvements have been made.
Mr Martin: In your second reading speech you did not say that.
Mr CAUSLEY: I doubt that the honourable member could read it. He gave wrong information to the honourable member for Blacktown about answers at a committee meeting the other day. As I said in my second reading speech, the agreement that has been reached will bring up to date the agreement between the States that has been in force for many years. I give credit to the Government of Queensland for joining the Murray-Darling council. This has been long hoped for by the other States and the Commonwealth. The addition of Queensland will give the council greater strength. The salinity control, drainage and water quality programs have been formulated by the Murray-Darling council. This Government and I and the other Ministers who make up the Murray-Darling council support those programs. I wish to clarify some of the points raised. It always amazes me that Labor speakers are absolutely opposed to farming and the benefits it provides for the State. The honourable member for Broken Hill talked about runoff from agriculture. Of course there is runoff from agriculture, but it is a matter of balancing up and trying to come to terms with the problems.
Mr Martin: Two speakers against four.
Mr CAUSLEY: The honourable member for Port Stephens is laughing again. He continually bags production and the fact that someone is at least contributing to the economy of Australia. There is no doubt that our standard of living and the jobs we are all seeking to create cannot be provided if there are not people providing the basis for the economy. The honourable member for Blacktown spoke extensively about the fact that in the report on blue-green algae we identified certain areas from which nutrients were coming into the river system. She said that 50 per cent was coming from farming and this Government was doing nothing about it. This Government is doing something about it. If she had read the report or listened to what I have been saying, she would have known. But that does not suit her ghoulish attitude.
Mr Martin: What are you doing? Talking about it?
Mr CAUSLEY: If the honourable member listened he might hear. But I fear that my words would go straight through him; there is nothing for them to stick to. This Government is doing something about agricultural problems. I have referred to superphosphate usage. There is no doubt that a lot can be done in regard to how it is applied and when it is applied. In Australia it is difficult to identify when heavy rain will fall but superphosphate should not be applied immediately before heavy rain. However, when superphosphate is applied it attaches itself quickly to clay particles in the soil and in most cases it will not leach easily from the soil. I want to make clear to the honourable member for Blacktown that 50 per cent of soil erosion cannot be attributed just to farm operations; natural soil erosion is a big contributor. I have been identifying the problem of river bank and natural soil erosion for many years. Phosphorous has come from such erosion for eons. The phosphorous is now in the sediments of the river and will be there for a long time. It will not disappear overnight.
Some of the old hands in the Bourke-Brewarrina-Louth area can attest that their grandfathers relied on spears away from the river to overcome some of the problems now being experienced in the area. Blue-green algae first exhibits itself in the weirs on the river. In fact, there is a blue-green algae outbreak at present at Louth. The blue-green algae task force clearly said that such outbreaks will continue because of the fact that the phosphorous is there. We are attempting in a number of ways to reduce the levels going into the river - reducing the quantity of detergents, doing something about sewage and
changing agricultural practices. But outbreaks will continue because of the build-up over a long time. Last year this Government took positive action. Many of the towns in the affected areas - and many of the homesteads, as I understand - have activated carbon filters to treat water supplies. Some $200,000 worth of bores for stock watering were drilled adjacent to the river. If further outbreaks of blue-green algae occur, which is most likely, people in the area will not be threatened by contaminated water. The honourable member for Port Stephens will be able to report back to the honourable member for Blacktown that the Government is spending money this year to deal with the problem of blue-green algae. At the launch of the report of the blue-green algae task force I said that $500,000 would be spent by the Government this year on water quality and other management controls. I am managing to spend $700,000 across the State on artificial wetlands which we hope will intercept some of the flows that everybody is so worried about going into the river systems. So the Government is spending $1.2 million in those areas.
The honourable member for Port Stephens singled out the rice industry for a bit of a blast as well. For a number of years the rice industry and the Department of Water Resources have recognised the problems of rice growing. This activity uses more water than many other agricultural pursuits. For a number of years the department has been identifying what are known as leaky soils. The department does not encourage farmers to grow rice in those areas because the irrigation water seeps quickly into ground water. Rice growers have spent enormous amounts of money on laser levelling to ensure for their own benefit that they do not use the whole amount of water available but save on the cost of water. In many of those areas there have been significant savings. I note that the honourable member for Port Stephens has visited the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area and Barren Box swamp. I inform him that there are some problems in Barren Box and Lake Wyangan but they are now being addressed.
Following the usual form of members of the Opposition, the honourable member for Port Stephens referred also to privatisation of the irrigation areas. The irrigation areas will not be privatised. There will be irrigator control. For some years I have been allowing irrigators to manage their own affairs. They are doing it efficiently and ensuring that the price of water does not rise dramatically. They are also saving the taxpayers enormous amounts of money. I should mention to members opposite that I recall clearly that as soon as one of their colleagues became Minister for Water Resources, he reduced the price of water by 30 per cent. That did a lot of good for the environment and the management of water resources! Over the years the Opposition has done very little for the irrigation areas. As a Federal Minister said to me at a meeting of the Murray-Darling council, "At last we have someone in New South Wales who is prepared to bite the bullet on irrigation and do something about it". Undoubtedly there will be more of that.
Even though there is irrigator control, licences will be involved when the irrigators take over those areas. Those licences will be stringently controlled to ensure that the drainage and disposal of saline water is taken care of. The honourable member for Port Stephens also floated some ideas about the taxation exemptions provided for in clause 29. The only reason for the exemption is to avoid double taxation of funds provided by the parties. The kite flown by the honourable member for Port Stephens about a goods and services tax is not relevant to this debate at all. I should say something about a goods and services tax because it is fairly important. I would be happy to talk about it for some time because of the dishonesty of members of the Labor Party. They talk about all these things but they never want to get down to the nitty-gritty of what such a tax might save and what incentives it might provide for Australians.
Under Labor the national debt has increased from $30 billion to $160 billion in 10 years. What a great effort! That is the type of thing that must be reversed if Australia is ever going to get anywhere.
In relation to terms of employment of the commission, no change is effected by this bill. The status of the commission will not be changed. Clause 36 gives the commission clear powers to deal fully and properly with employment conditions of staff. That issue, which was raised by the honourable member for Port Stephens, is clearly dealt with. The River Murray League was mentioned. It was the forerunner of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. It may still have some input because it is certainly an amalgamation of the councils in the Murray River system. The commission has gone much further than the league, which is proud of the fact that the commission is such a responsible body. It certainly has the support of the States and the Commonwealth. As the honourable member for Mount Druitt said, it is a shining example of co-operation. No doubt many of the problems which have been experienced along the Murray River will be overcome as a result of co-operation between the States and the Commonwealth under the agreement that is so clearly defined in this bill.
I will not comment on that. The honourable member for Port Stephens is talking about the Supreme Court versus the Land and Environment Court. I understand that the Land and Environment Court is the first part of the appeal system. If one disagrees with the decision of that court, obviously one can go to a higher court. That is the usual procedure in any dispute. I thank those members who have supported the bill. I deplore those who have tried to score political points on this issue. This bill is worthy of the support of all members.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
House adjourned at 11.6 p.m.