Wednesday, 16 September 1998
Mr Speaker (The Hon. John Henry Murray) took the chair at 10.00 a.m.
Mr Speaker offered the Prayer.
BANANA INDUSTRY AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from 8 September.
Mr R. W. TURNER (Orange) [10.02 a.m.]: The Opposition supports the bill.
Mr PRICE (Waratah) [10.02 a.m.]: I support the bill. The national competition policy should be complied with wherever possible. The New South Wales agricultural industry has had difficulty complying with that policy. However, it will be relatively simple for the industry and the Australian Banana Growers Council Inc. to comply with this legislation. The national competition policy is a progressive program. The Government has been able to reverse a number of restrictive actions in relation to the application of the policy and function of the council. For instance, the bill provides for the cessation of existing transport direction, which is important. In this day and age growers wish to make their own transport arrangements, either through a co-operative, their individual associations or larger companies. That restrictive function is no longer required.
Until now the setting of grower charges and the allocation of the annual budget have required the approval of the Minister for Agriculture. That requirement has been removed because it is restrictive and unnecessary in this day and age. The board is competent to direct its activities and to deal with its funds. For example, the board may decide that funds raised for a specific purpose should be redirected to some other function of banana growing and marketing because of a change in policy or need. The restriction has been removed and the council can undertake such moves without fear or favour.
The banana industry is a significant industry in this State. In 1994 more than 61,000 tonnes of Cavendish and Lady Finger bananas were produced in New South Wales and more than 213,000 tonnes were produced nationwide. In 1997 New South Wales produced just under 50,000 tonnes of bananas - a decrease in production - and the nation produced more than 212,000 tonnes of bananas. This extremely important industry continues to have a significant input into the total agricultural income of this country. While much of the product is used internally, it is still an important export industry.
The bill provides for a review of the method of voting and the requirement for voting, so that only people who are entitled to vote are on the list. For example, a large corporation with multiple owners can have only one representative and if multiple properties are involved only one property manager can represent the interests of the group. This refinement is necessary and fair in the democratic process of elections. It ensures that budget determinations are not slanted to one particular company or sectional interest within the industry.
A number of similar amendments are contained in the bill. The compulsion to buy, acquire, sell or supply bananas is replaced with a power that is confined to voluntary agreements to do so. That is our normal trading competition policy, and it should be observed without the restriction of legislation. The Government promotes the changes outlined in the bill. I am pleased that the Opposition does not oppose the bill and I look forward to its smooth passage.
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation) [10.07 a.m.], in reply: I thank the honourable member for Orange for indicating the Opposition’s support for the bill. I understand that the shadow minister for agriculture will contribute to debate on the bill in the Legislative Council. I thank the honourable member for Waratah for his support for the legislation. His interest in agricultural debates and his study of the impact of the banana industry in this State are commendable.
The honourable member for Waratah said that the legislation implements recommendations for review arising from the competition policy process and that the process of reviewing statutory
marketing arrangements is having an impact on agriculture. However, on this occasion the Government supports the repeal of anticompetitive aspects of the legislation. The honourable member for Waratah alluded to public debates in focus at present on government moves to try to protect and maintain existing regulations in the dairy and rice industries.
This is not the case with the banana industry. The main area of anticompetitive regulations relates to transport arrangements in the industry, which are seen to be outdated. Some members of the banana industry have argued that existing transport arrangements should remain in place because they like to pool the cost of carting bananas out of the region, particularly into the Sydney market. This ensures that contractors are able to service small and isolated banana-packing sheds.
Banana industry representatives argued that if the industry were opened up to broad competition large producers near packing sheds would have cheaper transport rates than would smaller producers in isolated areas. The banana industry was concerned, therefore, about the viability of some of the more isolated sheds. However, looking at this matter objectively and not merely following an ideology, one takes into account that this was the only industry that had a pooling arrangement with a transport contractor. No other agricultural industry had an arrangement by which transport costs were pooled and shared among all growers.
The object of this legislation is to ensure that those banana producers who can get a better deal on transport will be entitled to search out transport companies to carry their product and thereby seek to reduce transport costs. Another point I made in my second reading speech is that producers who want to retain the banana industry transport contractor are free to do so. I pointed out that the choice will be theirs to make. This is a commonsense approach to competition policy review. I am pleased that the Opposition and the Government are as one in ensuring that these tidying up arrangements are passed by this Parliament.
Finally, I commend the honourable member for Waratah for his support of the industry and his references to its strength, both in New South Wales and nationally. I accept and support his comments about the changes in the method of voting. Let me give the assurance that the changes in the method of voting came about as a result of arguments put to the Government by many within the banana industry. With those few comments in response, and my thanks to honourable members for their support of the legislation, I commend the bill to the House. I hope it passes through the Legislative Council without opposition.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT AMENDMENT (OMBUDSMAN’S RECOMMENDATIONS) BILL
Debate resumed from 8 September.
Mr RIXON (Lismore) [10.12 a.m.]: Section 26 of the Ombudsman Act 1974 enables the Ombudsman to recommend that action be taken by a body that is the subject of a report made under that section following an investigation into the conduct of that body. The Ombudsman is required to give a report under the section to the Minister responsible for the body. The object of this bill is to amend the Local Government Act 1993 to enable the Minister for Local Government to require a council that is the subject of an Ombudsman’s report to comply with any recommendation made by the Ombudsman. The Opposition parties support the bill, regarding it as important that, if the Ombudsman makes a particular recommendation regarding a procedure that a council ought to be following, the Minister should have the power to require the council to take the recommended action, and that the Minister also should have power to ensure that the council keeps complete faith with its ratepayers and persons with whom it has dealings. With those brief comments, I repeat the Opposition’s support for the bill.
Mr GAUDRY (Newcastle) [10.13 a.m.]: I am pleased to support this bill introduced by the Minister for Local Government, particularly in my position as Chairman of the Committee on the Office of the Ombudsman and the Police Integrity Commission. This matter was brought to the attention of the committee and the Parliament in the Ombudsman’s 1995-96 annual report. At that time the committee took the view that, in reviewing the annual reports of the Ombudsman, it would seek to identify key issues raised in those reports with a view to determining whether the committee needed to take further submissions on those key issues from government departments, from the Ombudsman herself, and obviously from other relevant witnesses. The committee determined to follow that procedure in respect of each of the annual reports of the Ombudsman.
The committee produced a report to Parliament in October 1997 entitled "Key issues arising from the fourth general meeting with the New South Wales Ombudsman". In that report the committee noted the dissatisfaction expressed by the Ombudsman in her 1995-96 report about the fact that the current system did not ensure that local councils implemented her recommendations. The Ombudsman did not seek power for herself; rather she recommended that the Minister for Local Government have the power, should the Minister so desire, to require a council to carry out the recommendations contained in an Ombudsman’s report if the Minister felt that that action should be taken, and to do so without having to go through the procedure prevailing - that is, that the Minister would need to undertake, through his department, a further inquiry.
The procedure prevailing caused significant duplication of effort. The Ombudsman felt that that was not only wasteful but that it was better, if she considered it extremely important that particular recommendations be implemented, and after discussions with the Minister for Local Government, that the Minister be empowered to give such directions without the need for a further inquiry. The concerns first raised by the Ombudsman in her 1995-96 report were subsequently brought by the committee to the attention of Parliament following a series of committee meetings and hearings on that particular issue. The matter has been taken up by the Minister for Local Government. I congratulate him for taking note of both the Ombudsman’s report and the key issues report, picking up on those recommendations and bringing this amending legislation before the House.
I am pleased that the Opposition has indicated its acceptance of the amendment. I note that the Ombudsman, at the time of her fourth general meeting with the committee, expressed great concern at the failure of local government departments to pick up and implement her recommendations, but that by the time of the 1996 report the Ombudsman could point out that 97 per cent of recommendations made regarding local government had been implemented. In that year 30 recommendations were made, and 29 of those were implemented in that financial year. Obviously, local government councils had heeded the message. However, the Ombudsman still felt it was important that this particular amendment become law. I am pleased that it is before the House today. I commend the bill.
Mr RICHARDSON (The Hills) [10.19 a.m.]: I confirm that the Opposition does not oppose the bill. In fact, some members of the Opposition are members of the Committee on the Office of the Ombudsman and the Police Integrity Commission and have been privy to the discussions that have taken place about the proposed legislation and the recommendation of the Ombudsman. During the previous Parliament I was a member of the Ombudsman’s committee and I can recall discussing local government matters with Ms Moss. Of course, at that time the majority of the Ombudsman’s investigations related to police matters. I suspect that matters have changed somewhat because of the Wood royal commission. The Ombudsman informed me that a greater focus was to be placed on local government in the future. If after investigating a local council the Ombudsman brings down a report and the council chooses to ignore that report, nothing can be done about it under the present legislation. The Ombudsman simply has the power of moral suasion and embarrassment to convince a council to act on her recommendations.
In her report of 1995-96 the Ombudsman noted her dissatisfaction with the current legislation because it lacked the ability to ensure local councils’ implementation of the Ombudsman’s recommendations. The honourable member for Newcastle said, however, that in the last year 97 per cent of the Ombudsman’s recommendations for local government have been implemented. Therefore, we are talking about only 3 per cent of matters, which is not a substantial number. However, I suspect that some of those may be issues that need to be implemented. The Ombudsman does not make reports lightly; the investigations are usually quite thorough.
I know from my experience as a local member - I am sure that other members have had similar experiences - that in some respects local members tend to act as an ombudsman in council matters. Government members have said to me that 50 per cent of the matters referred to them by constituents are local government matters. It is often difficult for a local member to force a council to comply with the Ombudsman’s recommendations or to come to any sort of agreement about how a matter might be resolved. Local members, like the Ombudsman, really only have the power of suasion and of media publicity to force councils to take action in matters concerning constituents.
The bill provides that the Minister will adequately ensure that the Ombudsman’s recommendations are implemented. Under the present legislation, if the Ombudsman is not satisfied that sufficient steps have been taken by a council as a consequence of the report, the Ombudsman may make a report to Parliament. The Minister must then
make a statement to Parliament in response to the report within 12 sitting days. As the Minister said in his second reading speech, this is not, in every case, a suitable or effective method for dealing with a council’s failure to comply with the Ombudsman’s recommendations. However, when a council is investigated under the Local Government Act by a departmental representative, the Minister may make binding orders on the council arising from any recommendations contained in the departmental representative’s report.
There is a significant difference in the level of authority that the Minister can exert in those two situations. The bill ties the two areas together and provides for the Minister to investigate matters on which the Ombudsman has made a report and to enforce the Ombudsman’s recommendations. I note the Minister’s statement that the areas of investigation undertaken by his department and the Ombudsman are complementary. That is important, because the Opposition would not want the bill to result in an unnecessary waste of resources and duplication. The Ombudsman recently examined this matter and concluded that there is virtually no duplication. The Department of Local Government tends to focus on general council administration matters - that is certainly the case in my electorate - while the Ombudsman targets individual issues. The proposed legislation will provide a much-needed improvement to the current situation and will further strengthen the Ombudsman’s role in ensuring fair government even at the local government level.
Mr LYNCH (Liverpool) [10.25 a.m.]: I support the bill. I am a member of the Committee on the Office of the Ombudsman and the Police Integrity Commission and I have had an interest in this matter for some time. The Ombudsman first highlighted the need for this sort of legislation in her annual report of 1995-96. The proposed changes were the subject of evidence before the committee and of the committee’s report to the Parliament. The vast majority of the Ombudsman’s recommendations to councils are, of course, adopted largely without demur by the councils concerned. However, a small number of recommendations are not adopted.
At present the only sanction available is for the Ombudsman to make a report to the Parliament under section 26 of the Act setting out the recommendations made and the failure of the councils to abide by them. Under the present legislation the course then open to the Minister would be to conduct a further and completely separate inquiry. Essentially, that would be a re-run of the previous inquiry by the Ombudsman, which on any view would be a monumental waste of time, effort and resources, and an unnecessary duplication. The proposed legislation will allow the recommendations in the section 26 report to become the subject of an order by the Minister requiring councils to comply.
It is not appropriate for the Ombudsman to be able to direct such orders; that would fundamentally change the nature, philosophy and legal position of the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is not in a position - and it was never intended that she be in a position - to issue legal orders or directives herself. It is totally inappropriate for the Ombudsman to have that power. That power must rest with the Minister, as is proposed by legislation. Councils may say, "We have gone through an inquiry with the Ombudsman, who has particular powers. It is inappropriate for another set of powers to then be exercised by the Minister without the Minister properly considering the matter." That objection is properly and completely met in the proposed legislation. The bill does not provide that the Minister must inevitably adopt the Ombudsman’s recommendations. The Act clearly allows him a discretion as to whether he should attempt to enforce the Ombudsman’s recommendations.
Moreover, the proposed amendment prescribes a period within which a council may make submissions or tender arguments or evidence to the Minister about those recommendations. The proposed legislation clearly provides an appropriate time frame and structure to allow the Minister to properly consider the council’s response to the Ombudsman’s recommendations. The proposed legislation is welcome as it is logical and sensible and will remove the need for a complete duplication and a further rehearing of the issues. As I and other honourable members have said, the matter has agitated the minds of members of the Committee on the Office of the Ombudsman and the Police Integrity Commission for some time and the bill is a welcome amendment to the legislation.
Mr E. T. PAGE (Coogee - Minister for Local Government) [10.29 a.m.], in reply: I acknowledge that the Opposition does not oppose the bill. If the Ombudsman believes that issues raised in her report should be implemented by the council, the Minister, if he or she agrees with a particular recommendation, should be able to direct the council to implement the Ombudsman’s proposal. The bill is a sensible step in the right direction.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
HARNESS RACING NEW SOUTH WALES AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from 8 September.
Mr R. W. TURNER (Orange) [10.30 a.m.]: The Opposition will not oppose this bill, but I should like to make a few comments about it. One of the aims of the bill is to enable harness racing industry participants to have direct representation on the board of Harness Racing New South Wales. This includes representatives not only of the inner metropolitan club at Harold Park but the outer metropolitan clubs and - most importantly as far as I am concerned - the country racing clubs. At times the country clubs struggle for survival but they do not give up. The harness racing clubs within my electorate of Orange and those in Bathurst and Cowra are quite strong. They are alive and well and doing nicely with a lot of voluntary labour. The volunteers enjoy their work and can afford to do it. Since the privatisation of the TAB, Harness Racing New South Wales has had wider powers and it makes commercial decisions that affect the viability of harness racing clubs. Therefore, it is considered essential that harness racing clubs and industry participants have direct representation on the board.
The bill amends the Harness Racing New South Wales Act 1977 to reconstitute Harness Racing New South Wales as a statutory corporation; to constitute a board of Harness Racing New South Wales to exercise its commercial and other non-regulatory functions and to establish a regulatory committee of Harness Racing New South Wales to exercise its regulatory functions; to allow Harness Racing New South Wales, in conducting certain inquiries, to examine witnesses on oath; and to clarify that Harness Racing New South Wales has a discretion in deciding whether to conduct proceedings in respect of its inquiries in public or in private. The bill also amends the Defamation Act as it relates to Harness Racing New South Wales - HRNSW. Yesterday I discussed with Bob Jenkins, the president of the Orange harness association, his concerns about country representation on the HRNSW board. I seek an assurance from the Minister that country racing clubs will have equitable representation on the board.
One member of the board will be nominated by the New South Wales Harness Racing Club, which is principally Harold Park, and two members will be nominated by other harness racing clubs, at least one of whom will represent TAB clubs. Yesterday the president of the Orange association suggested that the nominations should be conducted by secret ballot, as that may enhance country representation on the board. One member of the board will be nominated by industry participants and three members, including the chairperson, will be nominated by the Minister for Gaming and Racing. The board will be responsible, inter alia, for regulatory compliance, integrity and many of the rules. With those few comments and an assurance from the Minister that country clubs will be given equitable representation, the Opposition will support the bill.
Mr FACE (Charlestown - Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [10.34 a.m.], in reply: I thank the honourable member for Orange for his contribution to this debate, and I appreciate the Opposition’s support for this important bill. I say, as I said last night about the greyhound racing legislation, this bill is yet another step forward. However, it does not hand total administrative control to the industry, to which the honourable member for Orange alluded, and there is a reason for that. I was attracted to a proposal to transfer total administrative control to the industry, bearing in mind the history of the harness racing industry. Of the three codes, the harness racing industry has probably had more friction and disagreements, but no-one can give me the historic background to that friction and those disagreements.
During my time in the Parliament the harness racing industry administration model has been changed three times. Each time everyone in the industry accepted the new model as good, but it was not long before there was disagreement about it. The industry must take a good look at itself. I am not in any way casting aspersions on Mr Jenkins, because I do not know him. But prior to my appointing the previous authority I called for nominations from far and wide, unlike previous Ministers, and everyone wanted to be on the board and offered reasons why. Indeed, most of those who applied to be the authority’s fountain of knowledge wanted to be board members, but, frankly, their overriding reason for applying was to further the interests of their own clubs, rather than the interests of the harness racing industry as a whole.
Harness racing is a great industry but there is a degree of selfishness among its participants. That became evident when I called for nominations to the board of the authority. In line with what I did with the other racing codes, we now need to take a step forward and give those in the industry the majority participation in its administration. Although the other two codes have proceeded with the important work
after privatisation, together with strategic plans to take them into the new century, I am disappointed that there is an ongoing dispute between HRNSW and the TAB racing clubs about the distribution to the industry of the moneys raised from the sale of the TAB - at a time when the Government is determined to give the industry a greater say in its own destiny.
Although the other two codes are working well, the ongoing dispute in the harness racing industry will probably end up in the courts. Honourable members on both sides of the House know that if that happens, the industry will have to meet the cost. The real and immediate effect of that will be that the diminishing amounts of money that have been made available to the industry for such purposes as prize money will be consumed by the legal costs associated with a court action. The broader populous of the industry should question whether taking court action will be of any benefit. As I said, we must take one step at a time. I hope that this bill, which provides for a fully representative HRNSW board, will prevent similar disputes from arising in the future.
When I became Minister for Gaming and Racing the industry was in turmoil, and the Coloresque inquiry did not help. This bill will overcome many of those problems and provide the industry with legal protection. When I became the Minister I called a summit at Harold Park, although I was advised by my ministry and the department not to do so because I would probably be tarred and feathered. But I proceeded with the summit and I gained some hope from it because at the end of the day sanity prevailed and most industry participants were in accord. However, the same half a dozen or dozen detractors and stirrers in the industry were seen for what they were.
I do not want to go back to those days, because that would not be in anyone’s interests. I take on board what has been said here and by the industry participant representatives on the new Harness Racing New South Wales board, and I will announce my decision in the near future. One thing I cannot do is give the honourable member for Orange an assurance that country representatives will be on the board, because that would undermine the basis of the legislation, which is to give clubs and industry participants the opportunity to nominate members of the board. For me to direct "thou shalt do" would be the first step in the board’s demise. However, I assure the honourable member for Orange that I am holding discussions with my department to finalise the criteria for the selection of club and industry participant representatives.
We needed to overhaul the harness racing industry, as we did the others codes, to ensure its future in the new millennium. The legislation will protect Harness Racing New South Wales from defamation action in respect of inquiries and provide it with the discretion to hold public inquiries. I am certain that if those involved in the Coloresque inquiry had such protection, the inquiry would not have been the circus it was, and nor would it have consumed money that the industry could have better used on administration. That inquiry did a tremendous amount of harm to the image of the industry, such that people again referred to harness racing as the "red hots", which is something the industry can do without. This legislation amends the Harness Racing New South Wales Act to cure some of those problems.
Harness Racing New South Wales is constituted under the provisions of the Harness Racing New South Wales Act 1977. Although the Harness Racing New South Wales model has changed several times since the original legislation, its major thrust has not changed. The board remains responsible for the control and regulation of the harness racing industry in this State. The Act currently provides that the board of Harness Racing New South Wales - which within the industry is still commonly referred to as the "authority" - will consist of seven members. At present those members are appointed by the Governor on advice from me. Former Ministers on both sides have made unwise decisions in relation to appointments over the years; and if there is any similarity between the greyhound and harness racing industries, it is the turmoil that has resulted from some board appointments.
It might be more good luck than good management, but the present board has received no adverse comment during the past three years. The implementation of this legislation is imperative because of the desire of the Government to reorganise the total framework of the administration of racing across the three codes in this State, the privatisation of the New South Wales TAB, and the fact of the racing industry entering an entirely new era. The commercialisation of the industry will guarantee its long-term survival. The legislation will ensure that each of the racing codes is increasingly responsible for its ongoing development and the promotion of the industry and the determination of internal funding distribution.
The harness racing industry has had its own authority in some form or another since 1977, but the perception has always been that Ministers had some say in the distribution of funds. The legislation will put that issue beyond doubt. The board of
Harness Racing New South Wales will have wider powers under the new arrangements and will take commercial decisions affecting the viability of race clubs, as the honourable member for Orange quite rightly said, and I can understand his concerns. It is therefore essential that clubs and industry participants have direct representation on the board. Harness racing is at its strongest west of the Divide. With the exception of a few meetings at Taree, there is no harness racing north of Taree or south of Nowra. Other than in Newcastle, Wollongong and the Sydney metropolitan area, the rest of the clubs are west of the Divide.
The board will be an important part of the future of harness racing. It is essential that clubs and industry participants have direct representation on the board, and that is why I have given assurances in that regard. In any democracy or any discussion, not everyone will agree. The legislation is not something I had drawn up overnight. It has been in the consultative and embryonic stages for something approaching 12 months. Following wide consultation with industry bodies we determined the structure that would best serve the harness racing industry. One member will be nominated by the New South Wales Harness Racing Club, commonly referred to as Harold Park. Some people within the industry dislike Harold Park, perhaps because prior to 1927 the Harold Park club was the principal club - as with the Australian Jockey Club in the thoroughbred racing industry. Even after all these years there is still some resentment because it made decisions people did not like.
In harness racing, as in the other codes, many participants are involved in it for the bulk of their lives. I took the view that the New South Wales Harness Racing Club should be represented on the board, despite the reservations of some. The New South Wales Harness Racing Club conducts almost 50 per cent of racing in New South Wales. It is the centrepiece, whether some like it or not, of the industry and plays an important and integral role in harness racing in this State. Even so, it will have only one voice on the board of seven.
Prior to the introduction of the legislation I ensured that a representative of the Harness Racing Club was on the board. I did not ask for nominations, I simply appointed someone. Two members of the board will be nominated by other harness racing clubs, at least one of whom will represent TAB clubs. It is essential that TAB clubs be represented because their operations will create the bulk of the money flow. As I said to the honourable member for Orange, no Minister can give an assurance that people will be appointed from specific areas; that will be for the clubs and industry participants to decide. We are introducing a model that I hope will give people the opportunity to play a democratic role in the process.
Another important aspect of this legislation is that for the first time the collective members of the industry, breeders, trainers and various other people, including, most importantly, the owners - and of course without owners the industry cannot survive and without enough racehorses there will be no races - will have a say in the industry. This model follows the establishment in the thoroughbred racing industry of the Racing Industry Participants Advisory Council as an adjunct to the Thoroughbred Racing Board. Under the control of the previous Minister, the Hon. Chris Downy, the harness authority had an advisory council, and I extended the council’s ability to interact with other industry members.
Unlike the greyhound industry advisory council, the harness racing advisory council has worked well and has assisted Harness Racing New South Wales - the "authority" - in making some of its decisions. Of course, some people in an advisory position get carried away and expect that their advice should be accepted. Having said that, I reiterate that the harness racing advisory council has worked well. The members of the advisory council will choose one of their number to be a member of the new board. Three years ago I appointed only five members of the authority to the board. Since then, as some honourable members will remember, I appointed another two members, to bring the board into line with the smaller racing code. That created the precedent of the advisory council having representation on the board, and at present the council has two members on the board.
Although that was a step forward at the time, I am reducing the council’s representation to one. As a consequence the board will have wider representation. Even some of those on the council doubt whether it has worked, and even though in some cases there has been controversy, I believe that the additional board members have brought a new breadth and depth to the industry. It is proposed that the ministerial nominees on the board of Harness Racing New South Wales will have sole responsibility for regulatory, compliance and integrity assurance matters. The full board will be responsible for commercial matters and for the development and promotion of the industry.
At first sight it might be thought that the three members I appoint will dominate the board. However, it is important with any board of
committee changeover that some members with knowledge of the previous procedures and decisions are retained. For instance, the club industry holds elections every three years, at which only a certain number of the board come up for re-election. Whilst not many clubs have availed themselves of this opportunity, it is good because it allows for the continuance of expertise. Sometimes in an organisation there is a spill and an entirely new board is elected. The result of the loss of expertise might be that nothing is achieved until the new board members find their feet. Apart from the odd boardroom battles, such a scenario would not happen in any major company in Australia.
However, I repeat that the ministerial nominees on the board will have sole responsibility for regulatory, compliance - which is such an important issue - and integrity assurance matters. When I first became Minister there was no integrity assurance component. The Coloresque inquiry identified the need for integrity assurance, and I thank the Independent Commission Against Corruption for its guidance in establishing models to appoint integrity assurance panels in both racing organisations. The full board will have responsibility for commercial matters, which is the major thrust of this legislation, and for the development and promotion of the industry. In other words, the seven members will oversight those three important functions. The new arrangement is designed to ensure that there is no perceived conflict of interest with the industry-nominated board members being involved in regulatory, compliance and integrity assurance issues.
I believe it is correct at this stage to separate those responsibilities. As I said last night to the honourable member for Hawkesbury during debate on the Greyhound Racing Authority Amendment Bill, at some future time after continued monitoring of the Act, it might be appropriate for the industry to nominate all seven board members. However, I have acted on the side of conservatism by taking one step at a time. We do not know which interests the other four board members will represent, and I do not want there to be even a perceived conflict of interest. Taking a line from the greyhound industry, it is more than likely that the other four board members will be owners, trainers, breeders or people who are otherwise involved in the harness industry. If in the early days they were put in the invidious position of having to deal with regulatory, compliance and integrity assurance matters, we could end up back where we started. I do not want that to happen, and it certainly would not be in the best interests of the harness industry.
As Minister, I will determine the manner in which the representatives of metropolitan clubs and industry will be selected. The criteria for selection of representatives will be made known through the declaration of an order in the Government Gazette. If people are concerned about the criteria they will be able to comment, even at that time. The whole thrust of the bill is about increased autonomy. Under the new arrangements the harness racing industry will be able to capitalise on the benefits that accrued from the sale of the TAB. Board members will preside over important issues such as the money that went previously to the old Racecourse Development Fund, which was an arm of the TAB and comprised the chairman of the board, general manager and an officer from my department. The honourable member for Orange would know that fund was wound up in July.
Unlike the Minister responsible for the Victorian privatisation model, I insisted on several things during the negotiation period. Victoria now has fewer than 50 member clubs in the galloping, harness and greyhound codes; this State still has slightly in excess of 200 race clubs and racecourses, and operates in a completely different situation to that in Victoria. New South Wales is approximately 4½ times the size of Victoria, and as the honourable member for Orange rightly pointed out, towns in New South Wales are smaller and have greater distances between them. There will be a mechanism in relation to the Harness Racing New South Wales, the Thoroughbred Racing Board and the Greyhound Racing Authority and the money that will be paid into a fund similar to the former racecourse development fund. By contrast to this Government, the Victorian Government gave the industry a one-off amount to use as it wished, whether by way of prize money, in club development, or however. Some clubs spent wisely and did tremendous additions and renovations. However, the Victorian redistribution scheme now has no identified component with which to develop racecourse works on racecourses or for other purposes.
Country New South Wales would suffer if we did not have a development fund that assisted clubs from time to time. I pay tribute to the industry for introducing this component. Costs in the harness racing industry are not dissimilar to costs in the galloping industry, yet the harness racing industry does not receive anywhere near the prize money or funding from the distribution of funds. I have always said that it costs the same to feed a harness racer, a trotter or a pacer, as it does to feed a galloper. The harness racing industry is responsible for large tracts of land and that could also cause
problems over time. If it were not for this development component with volunteer labour, I am sure that a lot of racecourses or harness racing complexes would not exist in this State.
The powers and protections being sought by this legislation are identical to those proposed for the Thoroughbred Racing Board. As I said earlier, the Thoroughbred Racing Board, in its bedding-down period, believed that its legislation was inadequate, and that led to the Waterhouse issue. I will not argue the legalistic issues relating to that inquiry as many different aspects could be argued. The Government did not want to impede the Thoroughbred Racing Board so it amended the legislation. That same principle applies to legislation covering greyhound racing. An appeal mechanism in that legislation created a conflict of interest. The appeal mechanism proposed in this legislation will enable it to be brought into line with other legislation.
This legislation, which will amend the Act to ensure that Harness Racing New South Wales has protection of defamation action in respect of the conduct of inquiries, will provide it with the discretion to hold inquiries in public. It does not have to hold inquiries in public, nor does the TAB or the greyhound racing industry. Similar powers and protections will be provided for the other racing codes. I thank the honourable member for Orange and the House for their indulgence. Everything that has been said today has been constructive and will be a blueprint for the future. I look forward to working with the industry and hope that it settles down well. It has settled down somewhat in the time that I have been the responsible Minister. Even though there is a degree of selfishness amongst a small number of people, overall goodwill will ensure that the industry prospers in the future. I hope that this amending legislation ensures that that happens sooner rather than later.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
PROTECTION OF THE ENVIRONMENT ADMINISTRATION AMENDMENT (ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION) BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Ms ALLAN (Blacktown - Minister for the Environment) [11.04 a.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
This bill gives expression to the long overdue need to better co-ordinate the environmental education effort in New South Wales. Specifically, it seeks to establish a council on environmental education that will bring together key service providers from each of the sectors involved in the development and delivery of environmental education programs. The proposed council will be more than an advisory body. It will co-ordinate the development of three-yearly statewide environmental education plans. These plans will clearly articulate the priority environmental outcomes set out in Government policy and will link educational initiatives to these outcomes.
As the council will include representation from all sectors involved in the delivery of environmental education, it will be well positioned to ensure a co-ordinated effort in delivering programs that achieve these priority outcomes. This is an important feature of what we are trying to do with this proposal. There are many first-class examples of environmental education programs in this State. However, there is ample evidence that these initiatives are often delivered independently of one another, outside any broader strategic framework. By providing a framework for co-ordinating the planning and delivery of environmental education, we will see great advances in the contribution that this tool can make towards improving the environment.
In addition to the education reforms canvassed in this proposal, the bill sets out a number of minor amendments consequential to the enactment of the Protection of the Environment Act 1997 that would otherwise have been dealt with by miscellaneous statute law amendment. The whole community of New South Wales recognises the need for environmental education. The honourable member for Newcastle, who is in the chair, is aware of this need, as a former teacher and as a member of a Government caucus committee. In its 1994 and 1997 community surveys, the Environment Protection Authority found that over 85 per cent of people in New South Wales believe that one of the two major causes of environmental problems is that people just do not know what to do to protect the environment.
By and large, people already have a positive attitude to the environment. Environmental education is no longer just about changing attitudes. The same EPA surveys showed that over 85 per cent of the community are concerned about environmental problems and believe that there is something they can do as individuals that will help protect the environment. So we need a co-ordinated effort, but also an effort focused on giving people what they
need so that they can play their part in environment protection. People are tired of messages of doom and gloom. They want knowledge, they want help in developing practical skills, and they want feedback on whether the things that they are doing are making a difference.
The community will be able to realise this aspiration only when all those involved in designing and delivering environmental education are doing so in concert with one another. The New South Wales Parliament recognised the legitimacy of this aspiration previously and attempted - although unsuccessfully - to grapple with the issue of appropriate legislation to support environmental protection. I will talk more about this later. So while this is not the first time the New South Wales Parliament has considered the issue, it is the first time a proposal put to this place regarding environmental education has been developed after a full and detailed consultation process with all key stakeholders. It is the first time that a model for dealing with this issue has been purpose-built to suit the needs of the New South Wales community.
In 1992 Dr Terry Metherell, former member for Davidson, introduced a private member’s bill - the Environmental Education Bill. This proposal, which borrowed heavily from a Wisconsin-based scheme in the United States, was similar in its intent to the proposal that the Government is now putting before the House. It was, however, markedly different in the way it gave effect to this intent. The Metherell bill was focused almost exclusively on the formal education system - schools and universities in particular - but the Government’s proposal is firmly anchored in the belief that learning about the environment must be a lifelong experience. This is a principle strongly supported by the education community. This principle is ever more widely being put into practice.
Since the Carr Government came into office in 1995, innovative environmental education initiatives have been developed which go much further and wider than just the school systems. Major community development, community education, industry, local government and the vocational education and training sector initiatives are all currently being implemented. The work in schools is part of a much wider system and needs to be recognised as such. At the same time, activity in the school system has increased. I understand from my colleague the Minister for Education and Training, who will participate in this debate, that environmental education was included on Agenda 98, the Department of Education and Training priority list for this year.
The kindergarten to year 12 environmental education curriculum statement, introduced in 1989, is also being reviewed. That statement is mandatory for government schools, and the Government is determined to assess its effectiveness thus far. I am sure the Minister for Education and Training will address that statement at a later stage. The proposal now before the House recognises the critical role of education in schools as part of the total environmental education effort, but it ensures that all key sectors involved in making environmental education a truly lifelong experience have a place at the table. Like the Government’s proposal, the Metherell bill sought to set up a council on environmental education. However, instead of the very narrow terms of reference it set out - again almost exclusively focused on the State school system and programs within it - the Government proposes a council with a charter that recognises both the breadth and the complexity of the environmental education field.
Parliament recognised the good intent behind Dr Metherell’s proposal. That is why it received bipartisan support in the Legislative Assembly. Notwithstanding that support, members of both the Government and the Opposition expressed in debate some concerns about the mechanisms provided for in the bill. The Legislature was prorogued in fairly volatile circumstances at the end of 1992, and the Metherell bill was not dealt with in the other place. In 1993, when the honourable member for Manly moved that the Legislative Council be requested to proceed with the bill, the motion was carried - again with bipartisan support. My predecessor as Minister for the Environment, the honourable member for Gosford, made some important points when this motion was discussed. He said:
The Government does not oppose the motion moved by the honourable member for Manly. The measure will reinstate the bill to its position in the Parliament prior to prorogation and will enable the Legislative Council to consider it. However, I place on record that circumstances have changed since the former member for Davidson introduced this bill in April 1992. At that stage the sections of the Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991 had not come into operation. They had certainly come into force on 1st March when the Environment Protection Authority was established and its role in ensuring community environmental education was not well understood nor operative throughout the community. Since that date, the Environmental Education Council has been set up, comprising members such as David Tribe, a leading environmental education authority in this State, Ian Kiernan and a wide cross-section of community groups involved in environmental education, environmental educationalists and other people. That was the envisaged role under the Protection of the Environment Administration Act.
The difficulty now is that this proposal needs to be reassessed in the light of the council’s operation. I am sure that the honourable member for Manly will be happy with the
reassessment, as will Mr David Tribe. It is useless to have duplication of functions, for that results in bureaucratic inconvenience and wasted effort without providing any benefit to the community. The community is united in the view that environmental education is important. It agrees that it is necessary to have a matrix and a model through which environmental education can be organised throughout the wider community, not merely schools. the intention was that the Environmental Education Council achieve that aim. Though the Government is happy for the legislation to be re-established before the Legislative Council, it is seeking to hold discussions with the Environmental Education Council, the honourable member for Manly and other interested parties before the matter progresses further in the Legislative Council to ensure that a rational and not a confused approach is taken to environmental education in this State.
Those were very long words of wisdom uttered by the honourable member for Gosford.
Mr O’Farrell: He was very wise.
Ms ALLAN: He was very wise, as is evidenced by those words, which I suspect were written by somebody else. It is obvious that the honourable member for Northcott is not involved with what is going on with the leadership and deputy leadership of the Liberal Party. The honourable member for Northcott can make his personal explanations later. Everyone knows he is supporting the honourable member for Ermington. Despite the lucid words uttered by the Minister for the Environment at that time, the matter did not progress under the previous Government. The bill was ready. Debate took place on Dr Metherell’s private member’s bill in 1992 and prior to that. Following the election the honourable member for Manly urged the Government to take up the cudgel on behalf of environmental education.
There was bipartisan support across the Chamber and significant utterances came from the honourable member for Gosford, but the legislation did not progress. That was not surprising, because the whole issue sunk into that bureaucratic network of communication and liaison. In other words, it was put on the back burner, into the too-hard basket, and nothing resulted from the extensive process of consultation that the then Minister for the Environment referred to. However, a new day dawned and in 1995, when this Government was elected, it explored some of the shelves in the back cupboards and found the legislation that had been relegated to the unimportant basket. The Labor Party came to government with an ambitious program to overhaul all the possible tools for environmental protection, including environmental education.
It is no coincidence that I am a former teacher, as is the Minister for Education and Training. As the Minister is committed to environmental protection, both he and I decided it was important to re-establish environmental education as the political priority in this State. Therefore, the Government has introduced landmark legislation to overhaul outdated pollution control and waste legislation and to add to that process environmental education. Prior to that the Government introduced legislative reforms dealing with the conservation of threatened species. It has created and properly managed new national parks. All those major achievements have occurred, and while they have occurred the Government has continued the process of intelligent consultation with the key stakeholders in environmental education. That has resulted in this much-needed, coherent framework for environmental education which, like the other environmental reforms, will be seen as another environmental achievement of this Government.
The Environmental Education Council referred to by the honourable member for Gosford was the Environmental Education Committee set up under the Protection of the Environment Administration Act. While this committee did some useful work - not the least of which was the development and release of a scoping paper which examined the history of environmental education in New South Wales - it was not equipped to perform the role envisaged for it by the previous Minister for the Environment. Its terms of reference were simply to advise the Environment Protection Authority on the development of effective environmental education and public awareness programs. Its membership could be drawn from appropriate sectors, but it did not compel key participants to be involved.
In order to truly determine how to carry this issue forward, the Government embarked on a significant consultation process. During 1996 a green paper was developed. This paper set out clearly the history of environmental education in the State. It documented major developments in the field. Importantly, it developed a model for creating the coherent framework which all agreed was necessary. The Minister for Education and Training and I had the privilege of launching this green paper early last year. On one of the wettest February days on record more than 300 people attended a workshop at Macquarie University to be part of that launch and to discuss the proposals outlined in the green paper. Following that workshop the green paper was widely distributed and more than 110 formal submissions were received.
The Government’s proposal had a clear vision - a high quality, integrated and effective system which ensures that all stakeholders have a role in planning, delivering and evaluating strategic
and environmental education for ecologically sustainable development in New South Wales. To achieve this vision we proposed a high level council on environmental education. The Government’s proposal gave the body a very tangible and much-needed focus: to develop three-year, whole-of-government and cross-sectoral plans for environmental education. These plans would be submitted to the Government for consideration. They were to link environmental education initiatives to priority environmental outcomes and ensure that all of those involved in developing and delivering these initiatives were working hand in hand. This would ensure that the duplication of effort seen in the past was avoided and that gaps in programs could be identified and addressed. The Government’s proposal committed the council to develop performance indicators for its environmental education plans and to report in state-of-the-environment reports on actual progress in implementing the plans.
Given the long history of this issue, the key stakeholders were very enthusiastic about the Government’s approach. Agreement about the need for reform was universal in the submissions we received. The model put forward by the Government was also widely approved. Concerns were expressed about the size and make-up of the proposed council. The green paper proposal canvassed a council with 18 members, including those involved in the design and delivery of environmental education programs, as well as those with an interest in the area but with no direct role. Concerns were expressed during the consultation that an 18-member council would be large and unwieldy and would have difficulty focusing on its co-ordination role.
The Government has taken on board an important suggestion for a smaller council, but with the capacity to set up working groups as necessary to deal with issues requiring broader input. This proposal, and comments made at the Macquarie University workshop, also indicated the need to formalise the requirement for the council to consult broadly when developing its plans and to include the outcomes of its consultation when submitting environmental education plans to government. The Government has modified its proposal accordingly.
The bill proposes an 11-member council that is made up of representatives from organisations or sectors with key roles in the design and delivery of environmental education programs. The bill requires the council to co-ordinate the development of three-year, statewide environmental education plans and to release a discussion paper - within six months of the commencement of this provision - on the process it will use to develop those plans. The bill requires the council to consult with a wide range of groups and to advise the Government of the outcomes of such consultation. The bill provides for the council to establish working groups, where necessary, either to deal with particular issues or to consider the needs of particular groups within the community.
Another issue raised during the consultation process was the provision of funding for some areas of environmental education. In part, this issue was addressed by the reforms to the environmental trusts scheme enacted in the budget session. From the year 2000 a minimum of $500,000 per year will flow to community groups for environmental education initiatives, which will provide funding certainty in an area where none previously existed. Funding issues will also be addressed by the council. Already a significant amount of resources is committed to environmental education from agencies within my portfolio and other agencies.
We know from consultation on the green paper that there are areas of duplication. By putting an end to such duplication resources will be freed up. Those freed-up resources can be allocated to gaps in program delivery. All of the key stakeholders have indicated not only a willingness to work together, but also a strong desire to work together. They know they can deliver better outcomes for the community if they do. They know that these outcomes will not only result in greater efficiency in the system but also result in improved quality of the outputs of programs in different sectors.
The final issue raised in consultation was that the bill should provide detail on the process for appointing members to the committee. The bill provides this. Environmental education is an area in which there is clear agreement about the need for co-ordination. It is also an area in which there is wide agreement about the need for programs that increase knowledge and develop skills. Neither the community nor educators want environmental education that focuses on doomsday scenarios and engenders the powerlessness that necessarily flows.
The Government is putting before the House a proposal that will position this State as the national leader in environmental education. Also, we are putting in place the kind of approach that is entirely consistent with international agreements for progressing environmental initiatives. Already, even before this reform process has been completed, the work being done in New South Wales is attracting attention nationally and internationally. Getting it right is about perfecting a tool that recognises prevention is always better than a cure. Our proposal
builds on the thinking and work that has gone on in the environmental education community and provides a framework for action. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Smith.
PROTECTED DISCLOSURES AMENDMENT (POLICE) BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr WHELAN (Ashfield - Minister for Police), on behalf of Mr Carr [11.25 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
In September 1996 the Parliamentary Committee on the Office of the Ombudsman and the Police Integrity Commission tabled a report of its wide-ranging review of the Protected Disclosures Act. The committee made 28 recommendations about the operation of the Act. The Ombudsman identified two of the recommendations for legislative amendment as the most crucial. The first of those amendments was to clarify that the protections provided by sections 20 and 21 of the Act apply to members of the Police Service who voluntarily make a disclosure. Those protections should apply to police officers, notwithstanding that they have a legislative obligation to disclose misconduct by other police officers.
Sections 20 and 21 of the Act provide protection for a whistleblower against acts of reprisal, as well as legal action such as in cases of defamation or breach of an obligation of confidentiality. The committee highlighted the difficultly of the protection provided by the Act being extended to police officers. This difficulty arises because the Protected Disclosures Act provides that for a disclosure to be protected it must be made voluntarily. However, under the Police Service regulations, police officers have an obligation to report to a senior officer any criminal offences or misconduct by other police officers.
The Protected Disclosures Amendment (Police) Bill makes clear that the provisions of the Protected Disclosures Act apply to a disclosure made by a member of the Police Service, even though the disclosure relates to the same conduct that an officer is obliged to report to a senior officer. This has been achieved by inserting a new subsection 9(4) and by including a specific reference to "a member of the Police Service" in the definition of a "public official". The other recommendation made by the committee that is addressed in this bill relates to offences under section 20 of the Protected Disclosures Act. That section provides that it is an offence for a person to take detrimental action against another person which is substantially in reprisal for the other person making a protected disclosure.
The parliamentary committee recommended that section 20 be amended to provide that in proceedings for such an offence the onus of proof be reversed. That is, an employer must prove that any detrimental action taken against an employee was not taken in reprisal for the employee having made a protected disclosure. The offence of taking detrimental action in section 20 is not limited to offences committed by employers. That section provides that the offence can be committed by any person. As the definition of "detrimental action" is broad and includes injury, damage, loss, intimidation and harassment, it is possible that an offence could be committed by a co-worker or another person. Accordingly, the amendment to section 20 goes further than the committee’s recommendation and applies to all defendants, not only to employers.
The bill amends section 20 to provide that in any proceedings for the offence of taking detrimental action against a whistleblower the onus of proof is reversed. That means that it is for the defendant to prove that any detrimental action shown to have been taken against a whistleblower was not substantially in reprisal for that person making a protected disclosure. This amendment to reverse the onus of proof in an offence under section 20 demonstrates this Government’s commitment to the protection of whistleblowers. The amendment will also send a clear message to all government agencies about their treatment of whistleblowers. That message is that when an agency proposes to take detrimental action against a whistleblower it must be able to demonstrate that the action was not substantially in reprisal for that person having blown the whistle. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Smith.
USE OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY CHAMBER
Motion, by leave, by Mr Whelan agreed to:
That standing and sessional orders be suspended to permit the Chamber to be used today, between the hours of 12 noon and 1.00 p.m., for the purpose of a joint meeting between elected officials of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission and the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council.
LAW ENFORCEMENT (CONTROLLED OPERATIONS) AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from 8 September.
Mr TINK (Eastwood) [11.30 a.m.]: The Opposition supports this bill, the purpose of which is to allow applications for authorities to conduct controlled operations to be lodged by facsimile. Since the principal Act came into force there has been growing concern within the Police Service about a backlog of applications for undercover operations. This is a real concern, particularly given the very large and growing drug problem in places such as Kings Cross. Obviously, the ability to apply by facsimile for the carrying out of an undercover operation will streamline the process. As I understand it, at present an application has to in effect be lodged and received personally in its original form by the Commissioner of Police.
The Opposition believes that this reform should go further and that the authorisation should be extended to include those holding the rank of at least regional commander. The Opposition does not seek an amendment to this bill but will take the matter further in coming months. I note that the South Australian 1995 criminal law undercover operations legislation extends the ability to authorise undercover operations to those holding positions down to and including the rank of superintendent. In New South Wales only the Commissioner of Police has the ability to authorise such operations. Although I have heard mention of Mr Jarratt’s name, my reading of the legislation reveals that he has the ability to authorise such operations only when he is standing in for the commissioner and acting as chief executive of the Police Service.
Only one person has the ability to authorise undercover operations, and that is completely unworkable and impractical for a police force of approximately 13,500 officers. Regional commanders are now subject to term contracts and have passed a vetting process for the purpose of those contracts. It follows that they should have the authority, support, capacity, competence and integrity to authorise undercover operations. It is apparent that there is a log jam in the office of the Commissioner of Police. That is no fault of the commissioner - the man is only human. It is unreasonable to expect the commissioner to authorise all these operations. The authority has to be extended down to the rank of regional commander. The Opposition will take this matter further in the coming months. In the opinion of Opposition members, there is a great deal more red tape to be cut, properly and ethically, from the running of undercover operations to ensure that those involved in organised crime in particular can be targeted by police operations that have a chance of catching them.
Mr WHELAN (Ashfield - Minister for Police) [11.33 a.m.], in reply: I thank the honourable members for Eastwood for his remarks and the Opposition for its support of the bill.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
[Mr Acting-Speaker (Mr Gaudry) left the chair at 11.34 a.m. The House resumed at 2.15 p.m.]
Governor of New South Wales
Petitions praying that the office of Governor of New South Wales not be downgraded, received from Mr Blackmore, Mr Brogden, Mrs Chikarovski, Mr Collins, Mr Debnam, Mr Ellis, Ms Ficarra, Mr Glachan, Mr Hartcher, Mr Hazzard, Mr Humpherson, Dr Kernohan, Mr Kerr, Mr Kinross, Mr MacCarthy, Mr Merton, Mr O’Farrell, Mr Phillips, Mr Photios, Mr Richardson, Mr Rozzoli, Mr Schipp, Ms Seaton, Mrs Skinner, Mr Smith, Mrs Stone and Mr Tink.
Petition praying that Ryde Hospital and its services be retained, received from Mr Tink.
Petitions praying that land tax on the family home be abolished, received from Mr Blackmore, Mr Brogden, Mrs Chikarovski, Mr Collins, Mr Debnam, Mr Ellis, Ms Ficarra, Mr Glachan, Mr Hartcher, Mr Hazzard, Mr Humpherson, Dr Kernohan, Mr Kerr, Mr MacCarthy, Mr Merton, Mr O’Farrell, Mr Phillips, Mr Photios, Mr Richardson, Mr Rozzoli, Mr Schipp, Ms Seaton, Mrs Skinner, Mr Smith, Mrs Stone and Mr Tink.
Kings Cross and Woolloomooloo Policing
Petition praying for increased police strength at Kings Cross local area command and police foot patrols in Woolloomooloo, received from Ms Moore.
Surry Hills Policing
Petition praying for increased police presence in the Surry Hills area, received from Ms Moore.
East Sydney and Darlinghurst Policing
Petition praying for increased police presence in East Sydney and Darlinghurst, received from Ms Moore.
Kings Cross Policing
Petition praying for increased police presence in Kings Cross, received from Ms Moore.
Hunter Koala Preservation Society
Petition praying for provision of a carers licence to the Hunter Koala Preservation Society, received from Mr Martin.
Western New South Wales Traffic Access
Petition praying for improved access for vehicular and rail traffic into the western areas of New South Wales, received from Mr Armstrong.
Northside Storage Tunnel Ventilation Exhaust
Petitions praying that a permanent ventilation exhaust not be located in Tunks Park valley or the car park adjoining Long Bay, received from Mrs Chikarovski, Mr Collins, Mr Hartcher, Mr Phillips, Mr Photios, and Mr Tink.
Moore Park Passive Recreation
Petition praying that Moore Park be used for passive recreation after construction of the Eastern Distributor and that car parking not be permitted in Moore Park, received from Ms Moore.
Moore Park Light Rail System
Petition praying that a light rail public transport system be established to serve sporting venues and the Fox entertainment centre at Moore Park, received from Ms Moore.
Lakes Way Link Road
Petition praying that the Government reinstate its commitment to the construction of the link road from the new Bulahdelah Mountain bypass to The Lakes Way, received from Mr J. H. Turner.
Petition praying that funds raised for an accommodation service for disabled people by Mattara Lodge be used for that purpose, received from Mr Mills.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Placing or Disposal of Business
Business taking the place of matters of public importance Notice of Motion No. 1 postponed on motion by Mr Hartcher.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! As there are now 146 General Business Notices of Motions (General Notices) on the business paper I propose, with the consent of the House, to continue the callover only until 10 members have indicated that their motions are ready to proceed. That procedure will not, of course, prevent members from moving motions to reorder business at the conclusion of the callover. The honourable member for Wakehurst is absent from the House today. He has advised me that in his absence any notices of motions standing in his name should be postponed. As a result I have postponed General Business Notices of Motions (General Notices) Nos 5 and 11.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
SYDNEY WATER CASH RESERVES
Mr COLLINS: I ask the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning whether Sydney Water’s cash reserves have quadrupled in four years to a massive $400 million. Why is he allowing Treasury to raid this money instead of using it to fix the water contamination crisis?
Mr KNOWLES: I preface my remarks by reminding the House that the Leader of the Opposition must have a short memory. The dividend structure for Sydney Water for the current and future years was determined by an independent cash analysis carried out by Coopers and Lybrand and commissioned by the former board under the chairmanship of John McMurtrie.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ermington to order.
Mr KNOWLES: This document demonstrates Sydney Water’s capacity to pay dividends well in excess of the dividend payment scheduled in
Treasury papers. Compare that rational and sensible approach to the management of Sydney Water’s dividend payments to Treasury so it can provide for schools and hospitals and other non-commercial government functions with the Auditor-General’s endorsement of the performance of honourable members opposite when they were in government. Honourable members may recall the performance of the Leader of the Opposition on Graham Richardson’s radio show last Thursday morning.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ermington to order for the second time. I call the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai to order.
Mr KNOWLES: He was asked about the former Government taking a $200 million special dividend from Sydney Water. The former Treasurer, who was caught on the hop, said, "I cannot remember. I am at home at the moment and I do not have the paperwork with me." How soon they forget!
Mr Hartcher: On a point of order. The Minister appears to have misheard the question -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no point of order. The member will resume his seat.
Mr KNOWLES: The former Treasurer said he did not have his papers and he could not remember. What a short memory Opposition members have. The former Treasurer did not know what had happened to a $200 million special dividend.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai to order for the second time.
Mr KNOWLES: Opposition members have bad memories. The $200 million special dividend caused the former Treasurer’s best friend in Sydney Water to resign.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Pittwater to order.
Mr KNOWLES: In 1993 the former Treasurer acknowledged his personal friend David Harley when speaking about the corporatisation of Sydney Water. David Harley said in evidence to a parliamentary inquiry in 1993 that he resigned as chairman of Sydney Water because of the raid on the coffers of Sydney Water by the former Government - the special dividend.
Mr Photios: On a point of order. The question, which was explicit, asked whether the current Minister would take responsibility for his dividend payment -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no point of order.
Mr Photios: He is saying -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Ermington is already on two calls to order. I will place him on three calls to order if he does not resume his seat.
Mr KNOWLES: The question goes to the very heart of Sydney Water’s ability to fund its capital program. David Harley said in his resignation statement:
As we discovered more about the dividend policies we amended the program by lengthening the target dates and increasing the risk of asset failure.
That is how Sydney Water was managed by the former Government. Sydney Water was notified of the $200 million raid in a letter from Robert Webster on behalf of John Fahey on the morning of a board meeting. The letter stated, "Give us the money today." No analysis was done; there was just a demand. Compare that approach to a detailed cash analysis by an independent body which demonstrates clearly that Sydney Water’s capital asset structure is not at risk as a consequence of the Government’s dividend program.
DRUG TREATMENT PROGRAMS
Mr PRICE: My question without notice is directed to the Deputy Premier, Minister for Health, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. What is the Government doing to further improve its drug treatment programs?
Dr REFSHAUGE: The Carr Government has a comprehensive policy to protect the entire community from the harmful and destructive effects of drug abuse. Its actions have been decisive. Be it drug courts or parent education nights, the Government is determined to make the community a part of the solution. It is protecting the community through tougher policing and other law and order initiatives. Recent reforms of the methadone program show that the Government is serious about making treatment programs work, not only for the addicts but for the entire community.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for North Shore to order.
Dr REFSHAUGE: We are helping families by educating parents and children so they can talk openly and honestly about drugs. Our 24-hour-a-day alcohol and drug information service hotline means that help is just a phone call away. We are acting comprehensively to fight drugs when they are hurting families and communities. Today New South Wales takes the lead again in the fight against drugs.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Davidson to order.
Dr REFSHAUGE: The three initiatives I announce today will reform the needle-syringe program and reflect recent changes to the methadone program. These initiatives are: first, the ceasing of the supply of large bore needles and syringes, which have been used predominantly to inject methadone; second, the establishment of a pilot program of a new style needle-syringe program, which will become the first entry point for addicts into drug treatment services; and, third, the establishment of a needle clean-up hotline. New South Wales has an enviable record in reducing the level of harm faced by injecting drug users - a fact that is highlighted by our low HIV-AIDS rate compared with nations which do not have needle-syringe programs. However, we must ensure that all our drug programs continue to be relevant to the health needs of those who use them as well as the broader community.
Large bore needles and syringes are almost exclusively used for the injection of methadone syrup. Large bore needles and syringes are different from those used to inject heroin. Recent changes to the methadone program will significantly reduce the instances of illegal diversion of methadone. The supply of large bore needles and syringes is not compatible with the therapeutic aims of the methadone program and, as such, free supply of these at needle-syringe programs will cease, effective from 31 December 1998. A staged withdrawal of the syringes and needles will enable the education of clients in disease prevention and ensure a smoother transition for needle-syringe program staff.
In order to boost disease prevention the $195,000 that will be saved from the removal of these needles and syringes will be redirected to hepatitis C education. This is in addition to the further $600,000 funding for hepatitis C prevention and education that I announced last month. The Government is also announcing today the piloting of a revolutionary new type of needle-syringe program. The change will see needle-syringe programs become a key entry point for addicts into drug treatment services. The pilot program will provide pro-active intervention at as many as five needle-syringe outlets. The key aims will be to stabilise clients through counselling, immediately reduce drug taking and provide a smooth transition into drug treatment services.
The first patients are expected to be accepted into the pilot program by January 1999 and, if successful, the program may be expanded across New South Wales. Our third initiative has been the establishment of a needle clean-up hotline. The number is 1800 633 353. This service, which provides a single phone number to which all complaints about discarded needles and syringes can be referred, will also ensure that complaints are promptly referred to local agencies for action and removal. The Carr Government has a comprehensive policy to protect the community from drug abuse. We are acting decisively across portfolios to fight drugs where they are hurting our community. By working together we can better protect our families and our children from the harmful and destructive effects of drugs.
SYDNEY WATER STAFFING LEVELS
Mr SOURIS: My question is directed to the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning. Under this Government has the number of Sydney Water senior executive service officers, earning more than $66,000 a year, blown out by 50 per cent while overall staffing levels have decreased by more than 25 per cent? How does the Minister justify Sydney Water fat cats getting fatter when residents cannot drink the water?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order.
Mr KNOWLES: I said recently that the Opposition always gives the Deputy Leader of the National Party the mug questions. In the context of the McClellan inquiry, the Government has already announced a fundamental review of the management structure of Sydney Water. Those issues will be dealt with in that review. The Opposition sheds crocodile tears for the workers of Sydney Water.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Deputy Leader of the National Party has asked a question. He should listen to the answer in silence.
Mr KNOWLES: Let me compare staffing levels when the Opposition was in Government with staffing levels today.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for The Hills to order. I place the
honourable member for Georges River on two calls to order.
Mr KNOWLES: The number of Sydney Water employees was cut in half by 4,000 under the Opposition’s administration. The Opposition gutted that organisation. Since then Sydney Water’s employment levels have remained relatively static. When it comes to the staffing levels and administration of Sydney Water the Opposition is put to shame.
WOMEN AND MOTOR VEHICLE REPAIRERS
Mrs BEAMER: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Community Services, and Minister for Women. What is the Government’s response to recent research on motor vehicle repairers and female customers?
Mrs LO PO’: This issue greatly concerns me, because when a female motorist is discriminated against by a motor vehicle repairer it can often lead to a financial disadvantage. As all honourable members know, repair bills for motor vehicles can be as much as a month’s mortgage payment. The last thing women need is a rip-off charge to be added to their bills. Honourable members would be aware of a recent report entitled Why Do Women Pay More? We pay more for everything, including dry-cleaning and hairdos. Following the report’s publication, the New South Wales Motor Vehicle Repair Industry Council, in conjunction with the Department for Women, took the initiative and commissioned a study to find ways to improve customer relations between the motor vehicle repair industry and female customers.
To seek a balance of responses in the study the Motor Vehicle Repair Industry Council sought the views of three groups of women: those who had lodged complaints with its disputes committee, a random sample of women motorists provided by the NRMA and a random sample of women taken from the electoral roll. The survey found that 84 per cent of those women believed that they were treated differently and unfairly by motor vehicle repairers simply because they were women. The survey unearthed some common complaints from women about the motor repair industry. Women complained that they were treated as if they knew nothing about mechanics, they were spoken to in a patronising and condescending way, they were ignored if a man was present, and, probably the most alarming claim of all, they were intimidated and even physically threatened.
Mr Photios: No-one would be able to intimidate you.
Mrs LO PO’: I cannot say the same about the honourable member for Ermington. Some comments from women who participated in the survey included: "They know that women don’t know anything about cars - they thought I was a bimbo", "My husband was treated differently, and he knows nothing about cars", and "The mechanic blamed the problem on the way I drive my car." One repairer actually said, "Women should be seen and not heard, they belong in the kitchen." Another comment was, "The garage owner actually tried to physically intimidate me by kicking my car when I complained." One woman was told, "You’re just a woman. What would you know?"
It would be difficult to imagine any man, with some exceptions, being spoken to in that manner. Consumers, whether male or female, deserve respect and fair treatment from businesses with which they are trading, no matter what industry. While I am sure many of these problems exist because of the attitudes of individual repairers, there is a perception among women that the industry as a whole discriminates against them. The motor vehicle repair industry is concerned about these problems and is working with the Government on solutions. I am pleased to inform the House that the State Government will introduce a number of measures to protect women in this area and to help the industry improve its customer relations.
The Minister for Fair Trading has advised me of a number of improvements that the Motor Vehicle Repair Industry Council will introduce. One measure will be to make women more aware of the existence of the disputes settlement mechanisms within the council. The council will redistribute its brochure "Your Glove Box Guide to Trouble Free Car Repairs" through consumer tribunals and the family and divorce court system, as the study shows that newly single women are particularly vulnerable. In order to resolve problems before they reach the dispute process, a training course for Motor Vehicle Repair Industry Council inspectors is being developed by the Department for Women.
The course will focus on better customer communication skills that inspectors can take with them to the shop floor in their day-to-day dealings with mechanics. Education is an important part of changing attitudes. I have asked the Minister for Education and Training to investigate the inclusion of an appropriate strand on customer relations in the TAFE course for apprentice motor repairers. It is
bad enough that women experience discrimination, but when they pay for the privilege it is an even greater insult. After all, it is not only unfair and unjust when women are treated this way, it is also bad for business.
HOSPITAL WAITING LISTS
Mrs SKINNER: My question is directed to the Minister for Health. Have Lismore doctors who have refused to participate in his political stunt, with a $30 million slush fund aimed at momentarily reducing waiting lists, said that they will "not be turned on and off at the whim of political expediency", and demanded that he address the long-term funding problem? The Minister does not like letters from doctors, does he?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Questions without notice should not be couched in an argumentative way and should not contain additional information. If such questions were permitted the Chair would have great difficulty controlling the House. I ask the honourable member for North Shore to omit the comments from her question and to rephrase it in the proper form.
SYDNEY WATER SUPPLY CONTAMINATION
Dr MACDONALD: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning. In view of the Minister’s misgivings in 1994 about the awarding of the AWS contract for the Prospect water treatment plant and his knowledge of high cryptosporidium readings in the storages at that time, what action has he taken over the past 3½ years to remedy the situation and avoid the current crisis?
Mr KNOWLES: That is a very good question. History will record that this Government opposed the corporatisation of Sydney Water on the fundamental principle that it was our belief that the regulatory framework surrounding Sydney Water as an operational body was seriously inadequate. History will record the zeal of the coalition Government of the day, now the Opposition, to corporatise Sydney Water in great haste, and that the honourable member for Manly, the honourable member for Bligh and, indeed, the former honourable member for South Coast had to make a decision about which way they would vote. In those days they held the balance of power.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Southern Highlands to order. I call the honourable member for Georges River to order for the third time.
Mr KNOWLES: History records a meeting that occurred in the office of the then Minister, Robert Webster, with the three Independents sitting like judge and jury. Robert Webster sat on one side, I sat on the other, and each of us was required to debate our views about whether or not Sydney Water should be corporatised. The people who were at the meeting - the honourable member for Manly and the honourable member for Bligh - will recall that what I am saying is the truth. It was their decision to vote with the coalition to corporatise Sydney Water, despite their acknowledged concern about the lack of a proper regulatory framework.
Their vote saw Sydney Water corporatised, with 15-year-old drinking water standards, lack of a proper regulatory arrangement or environmental health framework, and a water filtration plant with a contract that was promised to provide 99.9 per cent cryptosporidium and giardia-free water. But we never saw a document. Indeed, it is now revealed that Prospect water filtration plant was the second-best technical option that they stuck to. They decided to proceed with the corporatisation. Pious words about what we have done go back to those very days.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Gosford to order.
Mr KNOWLES: Hansard records the member for Manly’s concern when he said at that infamous meeting, "I may not be elected at the next election" - bear in mind it was March 1995 - "and this is my one opportunity to put my stamp on this issue. I have lived with this issue and I will therefore vote with the coalition Government." When Labor was elected to Government we began the difficult process of strapping a better regulatory framework around Sydney Water.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order for the second time.
Mr KNOWLES: For example, we moved very quickly from the 1980 National Health and Medical Research Council drinking water guidelines to the current national standards, the 1996 standards. The coalition was satisfied with corporatising Sydney Water with 1980 standards, 15-year-old standards, with provision only for an upgrading. The Opposition does not like to hear this. The problem the coalition has in all of this is that it has done so many rotten, appalling things to Sydney Water.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order for the third time.
Mr KNOWLES: I have not even started on the honourable member’s record. But we immediately moved -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Southern Highlands to order for the second time.
Mr KNOWLES: The question is a good one because it offers a nice comparison in contrasts: 15-year-old drinking water standards that did not require testing for cryptosporidium and giardia, and a licence that only required Sydney Water to move to the 1987 standards on a non-specified time frame but still did not require testing for cryptosporidium and giardia; their record and our record -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai to order for the third time.
Mr KNOWLES: The Government immediately moved to the 1996 current national standards, which still do not require testing for cryptosporidium and giardia; in addition, we now require testing for cryptosporidium and giardia. We moved drinking water standards into a regime that has come from behind the pack to lead nationally and is up with the best in the world. Catchment management, for example, is another issue.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I place the honourable member for Davidson on three calls to order.
Mr KNOWLES: That is another issue the honourable member for Manly was concerned about at the time, although he did not bother to do anything about it when he supported the corporatisation. Labor immediately moved to institute the 117 directions that the coalition failed to incorporate into the Sydney Water corporatisation legislation. The 117 directions are the planning requirements which give Sydney Water consultative powers -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Vaucluse to order. I call the honourable member for Vaucluse to order for the second time. I call the honourable member for Vaucluse to order for the third time.
Mr KNOWLES: Honourable members opposite are very new to all of this. Unfortunately, the more they ask the more they bury their leader. If they study the debate in Committee on the Sydney Water corporatisation they will find that the then Opposition, now the Government, moved an amendment to require that Sydney Water not be corporatised unless and until what was then known as the EPA stage two legislation was put into place. The honourable member for Manly will recall that because as chairman of the joint select committee he was a strong advocate of that proposal. But he did not vote with the Labor Party.
To answer the honourable member’s question about what we have done to improve the regulatory framework of Sydney Water, my colleague the Minister for the Environment has introduced, and the Parliament has carried, the EPA Stage 2 protection of the environment legislation - stronger regulations all round. As I explained in response to an earlier question, on the financial side, we do things to properly structure dividend and capital programs. We are confident of what we do. The Government has a very good record in terms of the structural relationship with which Sydney Water has operated the system -
Guilt speaks loud! The honourable member for Manly thought he was gone in 1995. The honourable member for Manly, the honourable member for Bligh and the former honourable member for South Coast, the controllers of the Parliament, looked Robert Webster in the eye and said, "Here is the deal. You can have your corporatised Sydney Water if we get these things." What they got does not mean much at the end of the day, but what they left out - the EPA Stage 2 legislation, a proper regulatory framework around the organisation as an operator - is an indictment not only of the coalition but of those members.
Dr MACDONALD: I ask a supplementary question. Why did the Minister not commission improvements to the water treatment plants or clean up the catchment areas?
Mr KNOWLES: I have given a fairly lengthy answer in which I covered catchment management. My question back to the honourable member for Manly is, in view of the answer I have just given, why did he allow Sydney Water Corporation to be corporatised with an inadequate regulatory framework?
SUTHERLAND SHIRE COUNCIL LAND SALE
Mr McMANUS: My question without notice is to Minister for Local Government. What is the status of the Department of Local Government’s independent investigation into Sutherland Shire Council’s attempt to sell public parkland to developers?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Eastwood to order.
Mr E. T. PAGE: Last June I requested the Department of Local Government to conduct an independent investigation into the controversy around Sutherland Shire Council’s plan to sell parkland at North Cronulla to developers. I requested the investigation for two reasons. First, I am always concerned to ensure that parkland is protected for the benefit of families in the area. Second, in this case I was concerned that council was proposing to sell the land to developers while court action opposing the sale was still pending. In other words, it was seeking to pre-empt any court decision. Yesterday I received the report of the investigation. The investigators found that the council’s action in trying to sell the land before court proceedings were finalised was unreasonable and involved an element of payback. It also indicated a disturbing attitude by some elements of the council toward the community group opposing the sale. The actions of one councillor in particular, Brett Thomas, featured prominently.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Pittwater to order for the second time.
Mr E. T. PAGE: It was Brett Thomas who moved the motion that council expedite the sale of the land despite court action continuing.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ermington to order for the third time.
Mr E. T. PAGE: Councillor Thomas admitted to officers of the department that he did this without giving any thought to the consequences for council or any eventual purchaser if the court subsequently declared the sale illegal. His determination to have the parkland flogged off to developers overruled everything else. Brett Thomas also moved a motion at Sutherland Shire Council this year which directed council’s solicitors to pursue court costs from the community group opposed to the land sale - an outrageous action. He was obviously trying to bankrupt a community group of concerned residents simply because they opposed his plans to sell parkland to developers. The report found:
. . . the particular circumstances of this matter would suggest that there was an element of ‘pay-back’ in the council’s decision to seek costs . . . the action [to seek costs] could be seen as a deliberate attempt to deter the Committee from pursuing its appeal.
The independent report recommends that Sutherland Shire Council stop all attempts to sell the land until the residents’ case is heard. I am pleased to say that council has agreed to comply with that recommendation.
HOSPITAL WAITING LISTS
Mrs SKINNER: My question is directed to the Minister for Health. Have Lismore doctors refused to participate in the Minister’s $30 million waiting list program, saying that they will not be turned on and off at the whim of political expediency and demanding that the Minister address the long-term funding problem?
Dr REFSHAUGE: It is not surprising that when the honourable member for Lane Cove takes over as Liberal leader she will have a reshuffle and the honourable member for North Shore will not be the shadow minister for health, nor will her colleague the anaesthetist from Lismore, Dr Brian Pezzutti; it will be Charlie Lynn. It is not surprising that the Prime Minister has asked that the member for North Shore stop asking questions about health because they rebound in her face and in his face. Let me explain some of the details about the health portfolio that have not been grasped by the shadow minister for health, the member for North Shore. I remind the House that on Sydney radio she said that she does not know the details of the Medicare agreement. There are some things that she ought to know about it and we should perhaps explain them to her.
Mrs Skinner: On a point of order. My question relates to a letter the doctors wrote, not what I might have said. The Minister has the doctors’ letter. I would like him to answer the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no point of order.
Dr REFSHAUGE: In the Medicare agreement negotiations the Federal Government, the Liberals and Nationals in Canberra, decided to establish a cut program, a waiting list reduction program. It was initiated by none other than the honourable member’s Liberal colleague Michael Wooldridge, a doctor. He offered the States some $120 million across Australia to have a short-term waiting list reduction program. That offer was made by the Federal Government as part of the Medicare negotiations. It was very much a targeted, short-term reduction of waiting lists initiated by the Federal Government. If the honourable member does not like the Federal Government policy she should do what we do: vote Labor.
REGIONAL SMALL BUSINESS
Ms NORI: My question is to the Minister for Regional Development, and Minister for Rural Affairs. What is the Government doing to help accelerate the growth of small to medium businesses in regional New South Wales?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I remind members that a number of them are on three calls to order.
Mr WOODS: The support of the honourable member for Port Jackson for business in New South Wales, especially in the regions, is widely acknowledged. The Government’s aim is to accelerate economic growth in the regions, an aim which is achievable under the strategies it has put in place.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I place the honourable member for Coffs Harbour on two calls to order.
Mr WOODS: That aim is completely unachievable under the blind adherence of the National Party to economic rationalism, particularly under the champion of economic rationalism, the Leader of the National Party. The Government has set up a range of programs to help small business in country New South Wales grow and create new jobs.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Baulkham Hills to order. I call the honourable member for Baulkham Hills to order for the second time.
Mr WOODS: The State Government is committed to targeted and strategic intervention.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Baulkham Hills to order for the third time.
Mr WOODS: It is committed to stepping in and helping country businesses. It is not sitting on the sidelines watching and waiting while opportunities are missed. When the Federal coalition abandoned the successful Ausindustry enterprise improvement program the State Government stepped in, committing $17 million over four years to help small to medium enterprises increase exports, profits and jobs. It is doing this through the high-growth business program - the State Government’s answer to Ausindustry. Once again, the State Government is picking up and funding effective programs abandoned by the Federal coalition, with the support of coalition members in New South Wales. The coalition is blinded by an ideology that does not work for country people, an economic rationalist approach championed by the Leader of the National Party. The success of Ausindustry spoke for itself. An independent report into Ausindustry self-help programs which was commissioned by the Federal coalition Government -
Mr Armstrong: On a point of order. The standing orders are clear and precise: a question must ask for relevant information. I put it to you that the Minister, in answering the question from the honourable member for Port Jackson, is making a ministerial statement as a political exercise. There is no information in what he is saying. I ask that you at least make him abide by the standing orders of the Parliament.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister's answer is in order.
Mr WOODS: Whenever the Leader of the National Party feels a little embarrassed by the Government’s programs and his lack of sense he jumps to his feet trying to excuse himself.
Ms Allan: It is like a cattle prod.
Mr WOODS: A cattle prod might do him a bit of good. An independent report into the Ausindustry program commissioned by the Federal coalition Government showed that those businesses that had received Ausindustry grants were more likely to have grown, to have increased exports and to have developed new products than firms that did not enjoy that assistance. The Federal Government axed the program. That decision is hidden in the detail of the coalition’s so-called industry policy. However, the coalition made the decision to axe the Ausindustry program before seeing the results of a study it commissioned into the effectiveness of the program.
The honourable member for Coffs Harbour, the bright spark of the National Party, interjects. He is undoubtedly future leadership material. Members of the coalition were so blinded by the free market ideology, which drifts down to Opposition members here, that they thought the study would prove that the Ausindustry program was not working. But they were wrong. The report commissioned by the coalition, the independent A. C. Neilsen report, showed that the Ausindustry program was working and delivering great value for money, as well as new jobs. The median amount of funding received by the businesses surveyed for the report was $29,000 - not a great deal of funding - and for that
the companies each showed a median increase in business turnover of $4 million. That sort of increase means new jobs, which are important to those on this side of the House. In 1996 alone Ausindustry support is estimated to have created 6,100 direct new jobs in this State. Yet the Federal Government axed the program without awaiting the results of a report it commissioned.
Mr Armstrong: On a point of order. Once again I draw your attention to the Minister’s response. It in no way has any relevance to the question. It is totally outside the standing orders.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Chair has ruled on that point of order. No point of order is involved.
Mr WOODS: The Leader of the National Party is a little like one of those clowns at country showgrounds - the head goes from side to side and one puts a ping-pong ball in the mouth. Ausindustry has been of particular benefit to country businesses. It has meant that they can get access to the same sort of expertise enjoyed by city businesses. Some of the regional businesses that secured that benefit include Ruddweigh Engineering at Guyra, Australian Topmaking Services Ltd at Parkes, Lovick Engineering Pty Ltd at Orange, Hot Tuna Pty Ltd at Taree, Macquarie Worsteds at Albury, Clarence River Fisherman’s Co-operative Ltd at Maclean, Mariani Industries at Casino, Back O Bourke Fruits at Bourke, Setons Bakery Equipment at Dubbo, Parle Foods Pty Ltd at Griffith and Vetafarm Pty Ltd at Wagga Wagga.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I place the honourable member for Murwillumbah on two calls to order.
Mr WOODS: The State Government, through the high-growth business program, will continue to help small to medium businesses in regional New South Wales. The Government recognises that the innovative businesses of country New South Wales are the engines of growth and job creation. Under the Government’s program $4.3 million per year will be available to help those businesses with business planning, export market planning, network support and more - and the program will have a strong regional focus. Client managers will be based in Goulburn, Wagga Wagga, Dubbo, Tamworth, Broken Hill, Tweed Heads, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Armidale and Gosford.
The State Government is demonstrating its commitment to regional New South Wales. It is working with those communities and industry to secure new jobs and economic growth. The State Government is committed to targeted, strategic intervention to help all regional communities because it believes that it is in the national interest to have growth in regional centres. That is something the Opposition does not believe in and does not adhere to.
NEW ENGLAND PUBLIC HEALTH UNIT BUDGET
Mr ARMSTRONG: My question is to the Minister for Health. Is the New England Public Health Unit now required to effect millions of dollars worth of cuts to its budget? Has the financial crisis in the unit reached the point at which hospital staff are reporting shortages of basic supplies such as toilet paper, sutures and sanitary napkins?
Dr REFSHAUGE: As the Government announced some time ago, the New England Public Health Unit undoubtedly had some budget difficulties. That is why the Government made significant changes to the administration of the unit and required it to come in on budget, as is the case with each area health service and public health unit. In 1998-99 the funding allocation for the New England Public Health Unit is a record $132 million. That is an increase of $31 million or 30.8 per cent on the figure when Labor took office some four years ago.
In real terms, after inflation, the Carr Government has increased funding for this area by almost 21 per cent. The Government has delivered real increases in funding to the New England Public Health Unit as well as rebuilding a significant number of country hospitals, including improvements to the emergency department of Armidale and New England Hospital. Further redevelopment is to proceed. Not only has the Government increased funding for health generally, it has increased funding for the bush by more than 33 per cent. I know there is difficulty and I know why that difficulty is being experienced. It is because John Howard has provided for private insurance some 10 per cent -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Coffs Harbour to order for the third time. I call the Leader of the National Party to order.
Dr REFSHAUGE: The Prime Minister has acknowledged that private insurance is causing every hospital around Australia to experience difficulty, and the reason they are experiencing difficulty is because of the failure of John Howard’s policy on private insurance. What did he do about it? He put
$600 million of taxpayers’ money into private insurance, but that did not result in one patient being treated. The Premier of Victoria clearly said that the policy of putting $600 million of taxpayers’ money into private insurance rather than into hospitals, such as those in the New England area, was a joke, a dud policy, a total failure. The Premier of Victoria and the other Liberal Party and National Party Premiers around the country - that is when the Queensland and Tasmanian Premiers were members of the coalition - have indicated clearly that every hospital in Australia is experiencing difficulty as a direct result of John Howard’s cuts to health budgets and his failure to stem the fallout of private insurance. That is one of the major reasons why John Howard is about to lose the Federal election.
Questions without notice concluded.
CONSIDERATION OF URGENT MOTIONS
Australian Rice Industry
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation) [3.19 p.m.]: My motion should have priority because the Federal Government, through the National Competition Council, has called upon the State Government to review its decision on the rice industry. Australia is in the middle of a Federal election campaign, and the election will be held on 3 October. My concern is that unless this matter is resolved on behalf of the rice industry before 3 October, the vesting arrangements for the rice industry will, unfortunately, be in jeopardy. The matter is now being debated in the southern parts of New South Wales. It is important that this motion be dealt with urgently by the House and that the coalition supports the Government in requesting the Federal Government, particularly the Deputy Prime Minister, to issue a statement that the New South Wales Government will not be penalised as a result of its decision to preserve the rice industry vesting regulations. For those reasons I ask that the House give priority to my motion for urgent consideration.
Sydney Water Supply Contamination
Mr HARTCHER (Gosford) [3.21 p.m.]: I ask the House to give priority to my motion, which relates to the tabling of papers from Sydney Water. The Minister for Agriculture said that Australia is in the middle of a Federal election campaign. Metropolitan Sydney is also in the middle of a water contamination crisis. As the people of Sydney boil their water they are entitled to ask why that is so. They are entitled to have put before them all the information relevant to the decision-making process. The only way that can be done is if the Government is prepared to bite the bullet and table the papers. Government Ministers talk about them, they jump up and down, they give non-answers to excellent questions asked by honourable member for Manly, and they insult the honourable member for Bligh when she interjects. But at the end of the day they do not answer any of the questions and they do not give information to the Parliament or to the people of Sydney.
The Opposition does not ask that judgment be passed upon the Government at this stage. It asks only for open government and for the documents to be tabled. When the Minister for Police was on this side of the House he moved a similar motion demanding that documents be tabled in the interests of open government. I do not intend to reflect adversely on the rice industry, as important and vital as it is, when I say that it is being used by the Government for cheap political purposes. At the end of the day the rice industry will still be there, but the people of Sydney will still be boiling their water. Why are they still boiling their water? Let us find out why. Let us have tabled in the Parliament all the documents, letters and contracts that are referred to so often by the incompetent Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning so that the people of Sydney can see exactly what is happening.
My motion is urgent because the water crisis is ongoing and unresolved. This crisis is not historic; it did not happen in the past. This crisis is here now. The boil-water alert will last, at the very least, until Saturday, 19 September, but all the indications from the Minister are that it will last beyond that time. If Government members vote against this motion, they will be saying that they are not prepared to come clean with the people of Sydney. The motion is urgent because it will enable the Government to decide whether it will take the people of Sydney into its confidence, whether it will tell everyone in New South Wales exactly what is happening to the water system, or whether it will seek to hide the documents that the Minister and others have referred to.
The motion seeks only the production of the relevant letters, the contracts, the memoranda and the files, whether in written or electronic form. That is not a lot for the people of New South Wales to ask of this Government. For as long as one mother has to boil the water from the tap before she can give it to her children, this matter will remain urgent. For as long as one HIV patient has to approach a tap with fear and worry, this matter will remain urgent. For as long as one elderly person is forced to wonder whether the water must still be
boiled, the matter will remain urgent. For as long as those suffering from cancer and undergoing chemotherapy treatment cannot trust the water that is given to them by the Sydney Water, this matter will remain urgent.
For as long as the children of this State cannot drink water from the taps or bubblers at their schools, the matter will remain urgent. For as long as Sydney Water has to supply bottled water to its employees and for as long as members of Parliament have to buy bottled water in the parliamentary dining room, this matter will remain urgent. The whole issue must be addressed and brought before the Parliament and the people of New South Wales. The only way that can be done is if the Minister tables the documents. The Government has a clear choice between saying that it has nothing to fear from the production of those documents and hiding behind its parliamentary majority and denying the Parliament and the people the right to inspect the documents. Is the Government prepared to come clean, is it prepared to take the people into its confidence, or is it prepared only to hide behind its numbers?
Question - That the motion for urgent consideration of the honourable member for Mount Druitt be proceeded with - put.
The House divided.
Ms Allan Mr Martin
Mr Amery Ms Meagher
Mr Anderson Mr Mills
Ms Andrews Mr Moss
Mr Aquilina Mr Nagle
Mrs Beamer Mr Neilly
Mr Carr Ms Nori
Mr Clough Mr E. T. Page
Mr Crittenden Mr Price
Mr Debus Dr Refshauge
Mr Face Mr Rogan
Mr Gaudry Mr Scully
Mr Gibson Mr Shedden
Mrs Grusovin Mr Stewart
Mr Harrison Mr Sullivan
Ms Harrison Mr Tripodi
Mr Hunter Mr Watkins
Mr Iemma Mr Whelan
Mr Knowles Mr Windsor
Mr Langton Mr Woods
Mrs Lo Po’ Mr Yeadon
Mr Lynch Tellers,
Mr McBride Mr Beckroge
Mr McManus Mr Thompson
Mr Armstrong Mr O’Doherty
Mr Beck Mr O’Farrell
Mr Blackmore Mr D. L. Page
Mr Brogden Mr Peacocke
Mr Chappell Mr Phillips
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Photios
Mr Cochran Mr Richardson
Mr Cruickshank Mr Rixon
Mr Debnam Mr Rozzoli
Mr Ellis Mr Schipp
Ms Ficarra Ms Seaton
Mr Glachan Mrs Skinner
Mr Hartcher Mr Slack-Smith
Mr Humpherson Mr Small
Mr Jeffery Mr Souris
Dr Kernohan Mrs Stone
Mr Kerr Mr Tink
Mr MacCarthy Mr J. H. Turner
Dr Macdonald Mr R. W. Turner
Mr Merton Tellers,
Ms Moore Mr Fraser
Mr Oakeshott Mr Smith
Mr Knight Mr Collins
Mr Markham Mr Hazzard
Mr Rumble Mr Kinross
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
AUSTRALIAN RICE INDUSTRY
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation) [3.33 p.m.]: I move:
(1) notes the support by the State Government for the $600 million Australian rice industry, which is almost entirely within New South Wales.
(2) congratulates the Australian rice industry for its unprecedented success in defending its local markets against imports.
(3) condemns the Commonwealth Government for threatening to penalise the Government $10 million a year for its decision to support the Australian rice industry.
(4) notes with alarm the Commonwealth Government's letter to the State Premier spelling out the Commonwealth Government's threat.
(5) commends the Federal Opposition for publicly stating that it will not penalise the State Government over its decision to defend the rice industry.
I thank the Government for giving this motion priority. I also thank the honourable member for Tamworth for supporting this rural industry, unlike members of the National Party. As the motion states, the rice industry is predominantly established in the Murray and Murrumbidgee regions of New South Wales. It is an extremely successful industry that continues to grow in value each year. The New South Wales Government has conducted a number of reviews of the services of agricultural industries under the national competition policy agreement. In 1995 the rice industry became the subject of such a review. Under the Council of Australian Governments - COAG - agreement the New South Wales Government is required to comply with National Competition Council reviews, and that is what the Government has done.
However, I must point out that the New South Wales Government is not compelled to decide on a particular outcome for the industry under review. If the Government makes a decision to maintain regulation of an industry - or not, as the case may be - has complied with the COAG agreement because it has made a decision based on an assessment of the regulations and their impact on any one industry. To be more precise, the rice industry came under review in 1995, and the recommendation was to remove the vesting powers of the Rice Marketing Board for the domestic sale of rice. The Government chose to oppose that recommendation for good reason: to support the stability of the rice industry. The industry, as everyone in this House knows, is extremely pleased about that decision.
The NCC and the Federal Government, however, take a different view of the whole process. They seem determined to remove the vesting powers of the Rice Marketing Board as they affect the domestic market. The Federal Government has subsequently threatened to withdraw $10 million a year tranche payments from the State Government unless the State Government reverses its decision. This action is not justified and should not be allowed. The Federal Government is effectively holding the New South Wales Government to ransom and totally ignoring the real value of the rice industry in this country. As I have already said, the rice industry is worth more than $600 million, and in 1997 produced 1.38 million tonnes of rice. The industry directly employs 6,500 people and provides a stable and secure economic base for more than 6,000 families in the Murray and Murrumbidgee regions.
Further, more than 85 per cent of our rice is exported and competes well on the international market. Domestically, the industry also competes well, with more than 85 per cent of all rice eaten within Australia grown locally. Imported rice is not subject to tariffs or duties, so it is very much a free, open and competitive market. As an example of further success, the consumption of rice within Australia has risen dramatically in recent years, from an average 2.5 kilograms per person in 1971 to an average 5.5 kilograms per person in 1992. I understand that that figure continues to grow. My overriding argument from the word go has been: if the system is not broken, why try to fix it? If the industry is working well, why change it? In other words, why do we not leave the rice industry alone?
The New South Wales Premier, the New South Wales Treasurer and I, as Minister for Agriculture, met with the NCC Chairman, Graeme Samuels, several months ago to discuss this issue. It was agreed to continue negotiations with the New South Wales Government and the industry. The rice industry has been in continual contact with the National Competition Council to try to nut out some options to the single-desk arrangement. I understand that no workable options have yet been put forward. The rice industry review acknowledged that current arrangements were beneficial to Australia, as the industry was able to maximise returns from its exports of rice crop. But the review had a different view of domestic marketing arrangements. It identified a grower premium for rice supplied to the food service industry, such as restaurants, which did not exist for other rice sold to the domestic market.
Jasmine fragrant rice is grown specifically to satisfy the restaurant market. A premium has to be paid to growers for the rice because it does not have the same yield levels as other rice varieties. Jasmine fragrant rice yields less per hectare than other varieties - 5.6 tonnes per hectare compared to nine to 10 tonnes per hectare for other varieties. That dry economic organisation, the Industry Commission, estimated the consumer cost at $2 million and said that it believed the premium for food service rice "reflected consumer preference in the level of service provided". The premium is a small price to pay, but it appears that for that reason alone the Federal Government has chosen to dock $10 million from the New South Wales Government’s competition tranche payments.
I seriously question the rationale behind that $10 million penalty and I have my doubts about the models used to reach that figure. The figure of $10 million was not the only figure put forward; I understand that figures ranging from $2 million to $12 million were also suggested. They included amounts of $2 million, $3.5 million, $6.3 million
and $12 million. Those estimates, which were based on uncertain assumptions, are therefore questionable. The question that has to be asked is: why has the National Competition Council recommended that the New South Wales Government be docked $10 million - one of the highest estimates of all? It is totally unreasonable. The Federal Opposition Leader and leader of the Labor Party, the Hon. Kim Beazley, went on the public record last week as saying that the Labor Party would definitely not penalise the New South Wales Government for its decision to defend the rice industry if Labor wins the 3 October election. Neil O’Keefe, shadow minister for primary industry, told ABC radio on 10 September that he agreed with the New South Wales Government’s position. He said:
I would not be enabling the competition commission to fine New South Wales for not forcing the rice growers to give up their structure.
I, and I believe all honourable members, should applaud the position of the Federal Opposition, which I commend to this House. A great partnership could exist for our primary producers, in particular the rice industry, if the New South Wales Government and a Federal Labor government could work in tandem in the best interests of the primary industries in this country. The rice industry would clearly be a beneficiary of such a working relationship. Earlier I outlined the reason why this matter should take precedence. I recently told the rice industry that unless it gets a commitment from the Federal Government - from the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister or the Treasurer - that it will not dock the New South Wales Government $10 million from its tranche payments, the New South Wales Government will have no alternative other than to put in place procedures to deregulate the domestic rice market in this country. That would be not only outrageous; it would be a crying shame for an industry which is doing everything right.
Finally, I will highlight the reasons why the New South Wales Government decided to keep these regulations in place. First, the rice industry competes on the domestic market against the imported product, which has no tariffs or quotas. Second, it competes on the international market with about 85 per cent of the product sold overseas. It is competing against some of the largest rice-producing countries in the world. Third, the rice industry contributes substantially to regional development, particularly in the electorates around the Murray and Murrumbidgee areas. I understand that the honourable member for Murray will speak in debate on this issue later. Fourth, in all these so-called costs to the consumer the real price of rice, as opposed to the consumer price index, has fallen since 1984. We have a product which is falling in price in real terms, which contributes to regional development, and which competes on the export market against imported products. The rice industry deserves the support of the State Government and it has that support. It certainly deserves the support of the Federal Government. I commend the motion to the House.
Mr SMALL (Murray) [3.43 p. m.]: I move:
That the motion be amended by leaving out paragraphs (3), (4) and (5).
The motion would then read:
(1) notes the support by the State Government for the $600 million Australian rice industry, which is almost entirely within New South Wales.
(2) congratulates the Australian rice industry for its unprecedented success in defending its local markets against imports.
I have a great deal of respect for the Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation, but I do not respect him for raising this matter today. He is just playing politics. We could all work in harmony to overcome the problems that the Minister has referred to. The Minister was correct when he spoke about the magnificent rice industry and the dedication of rice growers. Eighty-five per cent of the rice that is produced in Australia is exported. Those export markets are available to us only because of our quality control. The Minister said that the price of rice has fallen. The rice industry has been able to progress and manage its operations successfully only because of its own initiatives. It has conducted research and, with the help of government funding, has maintained and improved the quantity of rice grown per acre or hectare. The quantity of rice that is produced is what has kept the industry where it is today.
In 1995 the Premier and Prime Minister Keating signed an agreement at a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments. A problem has arisen since the signing of that agreement. The Government could have approached the Opposition and asked it to work in harmony with the rice industry. I condemn the Minister for playing politics in this House. The Minister had plenty of time to resolve these issues, yet he moved a motion to debate this issue at a time when the Federal Government is in caretaker mode because of the pending election and cannot legislate until after the election. I am disappointed that the Minister has
tried to take political advantage of the rice industry. The rice industry holds the former coalition Government in great esteem because of the vesting powers that it gave to that industry. The Minister has done himself a great injustice today.
The 2,400 farmers in the Murray Valley who depend heavily on water for their crops are receiving only 30 per cent of their allocation. How will those farmers be able to grow the required quantities of rice? Rice farmers in the Murray Irrigation Area lose another 5 per cent of their flow regime because of evaporation within the channel system. Farmers in the south of the State are also short of water. It is important for growers, families, communities and the rice industry to meet export demands. The issue that the Minister should have made reference to was this important water shortage. The rice industry, like the sugar and dairy industries, receives partial protection. The vesting powers secured by the rice industry from all governments - both past and present - has been enormously beneficial to it. The rice industry has not taken advantage of the price of rice, even though rice is imported into Australia.
Former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam slashed 25 per cent off the rice import duty. The rice industry approached the then Australian Government to determine how it could be afforded protection. It was agreed that all rice imported into Australia had to be of the same standard and quality as the rice produced here and exported; it has to be dehulled because that is where the spores of disease can be carried. The rice industry has been able to make a strong showing within Australian marketing. The industry is run by the growers under very good management, and the Minister should be very proud of what it has been able to do. The Minister is playing politics. It is disgraceful that he has raised this issue today, because Tim Fischer has worked closely with the industry in an attempt to assist it. If there are problems in this area he is prepared to investigate the possibility of a single desk selling licence for export marketing for the rice industry.
That would open up the domestic market of finished product with free trade. The rice industry would be prepared to consider that option, so long as it had a single desk selling licence for export marketing. I would have more respect for the Minister if he continued to honour the agreement with the coalition and the rice growers instead of trying to big-note himself by placing in an extremely bad light something that can be corrected. I am disappointed that he has taken unfair advantage of the situation. The rice industry will be able to maintain and protect itself, particularly with the assistance of the Federal Government - and, I sincerely hope, with the assistance of the Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation. I implore him not to play politics with New South Wales rice growers because that will earn him no support at all. The rice industry covers the food bowl of Australia, particularly the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, the Coleambally Irrigation Area and the Murray Valley. The industry has been able to demonstrate enormous potential and growth, even though it is dependent on the amount of water it can secure.
This motion today has done the Minister no good at all. I look forward to the future when we will be able to negotiate with a Minister who is prepared to work with the industry, the coalition, the honourable member for Murrumbidgee and me, as members who represent rice-growing areas, instead of having to deal with a Minister who plays politics with such motions. He is playing politics and he is damned for that. The other three clauses in the motion, which are omitted in the Opposition’s amendment, are also political because the motion has been moved at a time when the Federal Government is in election mode. The Minister is playing politics in an attempt to help Labor’s cause in Australia. In order to recover some of his credibility the Minister should do everything possible to get as much water as possible into the system to help the irrigators in the Murray Valley, the MIA and the CIA. The Minister should not vote for his motion but for the Opposition’s amendment.
Mr PRICE (Waratah) [3.53 p.m.]: I speak in support of the motion, and against the amendment. I am surprised at the reaction of the honourable member for Murray, considering his interest in the rice industry. If the last three clauses are removed, the motion will have no teeth; it will merely set out what has already happened. The New South Wales Labor Government will continue to support the rice industry. The motion seeks a statement from the Federal Government - it does not have to pass legislation - that it will revisit its commitment and consider deleting the penalty that would be delivered against the sovereign State of New South Wales because of a perceived problem with competition.
It must be remembered that competition is limited in this industry and that 99 per cent of Australia’s rice crop is grown in New South Wales. Only New South Wales and Victorian growers are seriously involved in the industry at this time. Obviously, the industry is controlled well and is working well. We have heard today that the domestic market competes against imports with no tariff protection and no complaints. Rice prices have fallen over a period, but the industry’s co-operative
system and the way it operates is an example to many other agricultural industries in this country. I express no criticism of that. This intent of the motion is to support the industry, not to bring it down. One of the reasons given for the move to deregulate and the pressure that has been put on the State is the fact that John Elliott’s corporation, which is involved in the rice growing area, wants to sell overseas.
If that is the case it is a damnable proposition to put forward to the industry through the National Competition Council. I would not like to think that we as a nation support the selling off of the farm, as it were. We have had enough of that. How much of Australia’s agricultural industry has to be sold to foreign interests before this country recovers and becomes a true producer not only in the rice industry but in all other agricultural industries? Our agricultural produce is largely overseas owned, as is food production generally in the secondary and tertiary processing areas. It is about time that we called a halt to that. The Federal Government should seriously consider the impact of its competition policy on this industry.
If we cannot take note of the sovereign status of New South Wales and the decision made by this Minister, in co-operation with the industry, to retain the industry in its current form and to support the vesting powers that have stabilised the industry - referred to earlier today - I do not know what can be done to assist the industry. To be penalised to the extent of $10 million is outrageous. It is a penalty that this State cannot afford and other agricultural industries will suffer as a result of any reduction in the budget allocation from the Federal Government, whether by way of bonus removed or by penalty against the general budget allocation.
The motion is clear and precise. It supports the industry and asks the Federal Government to rethink the imposition of these types of costs, particularly in respect of an industry that has probably been one of the most successful rural industries in the country. I am amazed that there is not more support for condemning the Federal Government’s action. I do not care who signed the documents. The important matter is that the competition council, for whatever reason, has decided that it will penalise this State for the operation of a very successful rural industry. That is not on. I stand absolutely behind the Minister and support his resistance to the Federal Government’s action.
Mr Slack-Smith: How far?
Mr PRICE: Far enough to make sure that I support the Minister in his attempts to guarantee that the agricultural industry remains free from the threat of the imposition of the requirements of the competition council. The dairy industry has been salvaged, at least for a period. The Minister is making a valid and honest attempt to salvage the rice industry. The State should not be taxed or unfairly penalised by the Federal Government for an activity that is largely New South Wales based. It could be regarded as a monopoly situation, but it is regulated within this State. It is under the surveillance of government and the industry and it is within the control of the producers. It is a rare situation in the agricultural industries. I absolutely support the motion as proposed by the Minister and look forward to it receiving the support of the House.
Mr SLACK-SMITH (Barwon) [3.58 p.m.]: I speak against the motion and support the amendment proposed by my colleague the honourable member for Murray. I may be a cynic, but I have a suspicion that there is an election in the air because this is the most pathetic and grubby game of politics that I have ever seen. It is a typical example of ignorance on the part of this Minister, who has not got a clue! The Federal Government cannot make any decisions now because it is in election mode and is only a caretaker government. After all this time the Minister has decided to pull this stunt.
The coalition raised this issue on 22 July, two months ago, but nothing has happened. All of a sudden, with the Federal Government in limbo and unable to make any decisions, the Minister raised this issue and then mentioned that Kim Beazley, Federal Leader of the Opposition, announced on 19 September that he will support one-desk selling in the New South Wales rice industry. One month before that, Tim Fischer, Leader of the National Party, gave his solid-gold guarantee that he would underpin single-desk selling in that industry. It is obvious from what the Minister has said that Mr Beazley has decided that he had better start running, by copying what Tim Fischer said one month before. The Minister was aware of all this two months ago. He has raised this issue suddenly because a Federal election has been called. This is grubby and pathetic politics.
None other than the Premier, soon to be the ex-Premier, and failed Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating signed the Council of Australian Governments agreement in 1995. Yet the honourable member for Waratah had to say he did not particularly care who signed the agreement. Labor signed the agreement and now is trying to pull the wool over our eyes. The Government is bush-bashing again. Why not focus on the taxi industry or try something else unpalatable in the
cities, according to the Hilmer report? But the Government, so keen on bashing the bush, will lose the bush and will lose Government next time around. When that time comes, the rice industry will remember.
Mr ANDERSON (St Marys) [4.02]: I support the Minister’s urgency motion. However, I am really surprised at the position taken by the honourable member for Murray. In June in this Chamber I acknowledged his expertise. I congratulated him on his speech, the issues he raised, and his great depth of knowledge. At the end of my contribution I commented to members opposite that it was the duty and responsibility not only of the Government but of all members to pursue this issue.
It was not politicking at all. The proposal affected the Murray electorate. Government members suggested that the Opposition should give assistance by contacting Tim Fischer and John Anderson to let them know that this House opposes their proposed changes, and that a bipartisan approach would make the Federal Government fully aware of our proposal. That was back in June. A letter recently received stated that those matters have been considered, but they have been ignored.
The Federal Government made its move, and is fully inclined to implement the COAG agreement. All the good ideas and reasoning put forward by members in this Chamber have been for nothing, and have been ignored. The Federal Government played politics. That is particularly difficult to accept given that the industry works well, contributes significantly to the economy of rural New South Wales, and is very effective. The aspirations mentioned by the Minister in his speech earlier today, of doing the right thing for the community, the State and the nation, are not good enough for the Federal coalition. It still wants to stick the boot in and then say to the New South Wales Government, "If you do not implement the conditions of the COAG agreement we are going to take $10 million off you not just for one year but every year until such time as you implement." That is blackmail and coercion. The State Government did all that was expected of it, and conducted a review, as it was required to do under the COAG agreement. The Government found that the industry is working very effectively and for the good of the community. We do not intend to implement those requirements.
The industry played its part, as did the Government in supporting regional and rural New South Wales. Members opposite seem to be trying to defend the indefensible. They should be supporting the Government; they should be going to Tim Fischer and John Anderson saying, "You are the people who have influence with this Federal Government. You are not helping our people. You should be out there doing what we are asking you to do, not pursuing a line put forward by bureaucrats, but doing what you can and doing the best to assist the rural New South Wales community. You are the people who are playing politics. You have seen fit not to support your own people, not to support your rural industry."
Mr Amery: It is defensive politics.
Mr ANDERSON: It is very defensive politics because country representatives in the Federal Government are not doing their job. If they were representing the people of rural New South Wales they would be in there battling, doing the very things that this Minister and this Government have done for the rural people of New South Wales to support them when they need support. Tim Fischer and John Anderson should be condemned. According to the polls, people in rural areas are withdrawing their support. The polls are saying loud and clear that the coalition will have serious problems in rural areas. If the attitude of Federal country members is any indication, I can understand why.
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation) [4.07 p.m.], in reply: I reply first by - [Quorum formed.]
Motion by Mr Whelan agreed to:
That standing and sessional orders be suspended to allow the Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation to have his reply restored to the original five minutes.
Mr AMERY: I shall first respond to the Opposition’s contributions in this debate. In my 15 years as a member of this House speaking before or after the honourable member for Murray, until today I had not heard him lost for an argument. The debate today was about playing politics. Nobody in this House knows the rice industry better than the honourable member for Murray. I would have thought that he would have strongly supported the motion because he knows that because of politics - not for any other reason - the rice industry in this State is under substantial threat. The honourable member said that the motion was grubby or playing politics. I make no apologies about it: this is playing politics.
The rice industry knows that the decision is about politics. It is lobbying not only the honourable member for Murray but also Tim Fischer and other members. This is not some big hit from the Opposition; this is a political debate. The Federal Government has to make a political decision. I make no apologies for playing the political line on this question. I will repeat what I told the annual conference of the rice industry at Coleambally some weeks ago when I said that I would do everything possible, political or otherwise, to make sure that the Federal Government makes a statement that secures the domestic arrangements for rice in this State - moving motions in this House, lobbying the Federal Government or lobbying the Federal Opposition. I will take every opportunity to get a statement out of the Federal Government.
The second point raised by the honourable member for Murray - it was taken up by the honourable member for Barwon - was that the Federal Government is in a form of caretaker role at the moment and cannot pass legislation et cetera. That is true, but we are not asking the Federal Government to pass any legislation before 3 October; all we are asking from the Federal Government is a statement, a press release, or a firm comment on radio from the Prime Minister, the Treasurer or the Deputy Prime Minister - a press release or letter to us would be preferable - saying that in the event of the coalition Government’s re-election it would take action to ensure that New South Wales does not lose the $10 million of transpayments.
The argument that the Federal Government is in caretaker mode and cannot pass legislation is false. We know that the Federal Government cannot pass legislation. The honourable member for Murray did not research the question very well. He has debated the rice industry in this House with me and he knows that the matter has been before this House on many occasions in recent months. The matter is not being dropped on the Federal Government a few weeks before the Federal election; we have been fighting the case for more than a year. The honourable member for Murray has participated in debates in this House to bring about a result for the rice industry.
However, today he took a different tack. There is a strong campaign in the seat of his Federal colleague Tim Fischer because of his lack of action to support the rice industry. I make no bones about bringing up this debate in the weeks before the Federal election to try to get a commitment from the Federal coalition in support of the domestic arrangement. I was disappointed at the comments by the honourable member for Murray. I will check Hansard tomorrow but he gave me the impression that he was giving up on the fight for the domestic arrangements. He quoted the Deputy Prime Minister saying that we should be looking after the single desk on the export market. Let me put on the record that the review under the competition policy never put in doubt the single desk on the export market. As a matter of fact, the recommendation of the review under the competition arrangements was that there should be a single desk licensing on the export market.
The honourable member for Murray or the Deputy Prime Minister posture as though this is something worth fighting for, but this part is not even in the ring. It is not part of the fight. It is not in question. The only thing in question is the domestic arrangements for rice. We are saying that all the farmers can be kept on their holdings only if we keep the vesting arrangements for the single desk on the domestic market. The export question is a phoney. I thank the honourable member for Waratah and the honourable member for St Marys for their contributions. I agree with the honourable member for St Marys: why is the Opposition not trying to get a statement out of Tim Fischer to defend the rice industry in this State? I reject the amendment moved by the honourable member for Murray.
Question - That the words stand - put.
The House divided.
Ms Allan Mr Markham
Mr Amery Ms Meagher
Mr Anderson Mr Mills
Ms Andrews Mr Moss
Mr Aquilina Mr Nagle
Mrs Beamer Mr Neilly
Mr Carr Ms Nori
Mr Clough Mr E. T. Page
Mr Debus Mr Price
Mr Face Dr Refshauge
Mr Gaudry Mr Rogan
Mr Gibson Mr Scully
Mrs Grusovin Mr Shedden
Mr Harrison Mr Stewart
Ms Harrison Mr Sullivan
Mr Hunter Mr Tripodi
Mr Iemma Mr Watkins
Mr Knowles Mr Whelan
Mr Langton Mr Woods
Mrs Lo Po’ Mr Yeadon
Dr Macdonald Tellers,
Mr McBride Mr Beckroge
Mr McManus Mr Thompson
Mr Beck Mr D. L. Page
Mr Blackmore Mr Peacocke
Mr Brogden Mr Phillips
Mr Chappell Mr Photios
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Richardson
Mr Collins Mr Rixon
Mr Cruickshank Mr Rozzoli
Mr Debnam Mr Schipp
Mr Ellis Ms Seaton
Ms Ficarra Mr Slack-Smith
Mr Glachan Mr Small
Mr Hartcher Mr Souris
Mr Humpherson Mrs Stone
Mr Jeffery Mr Tink
Dr Kernohan Mr J. H. Turner
Mr Kerr Mr R. W. Turner
Mr MacCarthy Mr Windsor
Mr Oakeshott Tellers,
Mr O’Doherty Mr Fraser
Mr O’Farrell Mr Smith
Mr Crittenden Mr Armstrong
Mr Knight Mr Hazzard
Mr Rumble Mr Kinross
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Matter of Public Importance
Mr D. L. PAGE (Ballina) [4.27 p.m.]: I raise the issue of water policy and water management as a matter of public importance because water, whether it be for drinking, irrigation or sustaining the broader environment, is our most precious natural resource. As we have seen from the Sydney Water crisis, water management is a sensitive issue. The foundation for any water regime, be it urban or rural, must be a strong scientific database. Unfortunately, under the Carr Government a series of important decisions have been made about rural water management without the scientific information base to support them. It has been a classic case of policy on the run, not backed by scientific data, and the result has been devastating for rural communities.
The motion of no confidence in the Carr Government was overwhelmingly endorsed at the last New South Wales Farmers conference as tangible evidence of the deep mistrust the rural sector has of this Government. Much of it relates directly to the Government’s handling of water and native vegetation policy. The Carr Government does not seem to understand how important it is in country areas, at a time when banks and other private sector organisations are closing branches and offices, for governments to be very sensitive to the social and economic impact of their policy decisions.
The water policy of the Carr Government has been racing ahead of information availability. It must have been something of an embarrassment for the current Minister to have been told by Dr Williams, as he was shortly after he inherited the land and water conservation portfolio from his failed predecessor, at the launch of the Darling River management plan in the Jubilee Room at Parliament House that the plan did not have an adequate scientific basis. Indeed, the same could be said generally about many of the policies being implemented by the Carr Government. The way in which the Government decided the average 10 per cent for environmental flows in our western rivers had nothing to do with science. It was a political compromise between what the conservationists wanted and what the irrigators wanted.
Because of the way the Government has interpreted the Murray-Darling Basin cap, many valleys have had water cuts of more than 20 per cent. Again, the scientific rationale for this has not been transparent to those affected by these decisions, and the impact of the decisions on local economies has not been measured. The Government has implemented decisions and counted the bodies afterwards. The Government needs to know the social and economic impact before these decisions are made. Moreover, at this very moment the Government is letting out large volumes of water from Burrinjuck Dam too early in the water season and at a time when farmers cannot use the water because they are not ready for it. That water should have been stored and released later in the season.
It is scandalous when Murrumbidgee irrigators are told that this year they can have only 60 per cent of their normal allocation. If that water had been stored in the dam for even a month, they would have had an allocation of close to 70 per cent. The Carr Government has effectively poured $50 million worth of income down the river at a time when, in terms of environmental flow, it was not necessary. All the lower tributaries are running a banker and
the vast wetlands of the river already have more than enough water because of the recent rain. Such a large release of water at this time is irresponsible and is in defiance of the Government’s obligations under the Water Act to take into consideration social and economic impacts. The Opposition moved an amendment to that effect at the end of last year.
Another impact of implementing water policy without scientific data is that many blanket statewide decisions have been made based on inadequate information. That in turn has cost New South Wales dearly in lost income and employment opportunities. A good example of that was Labor’s small dams policy, which placed an embargo on the building of all farm dams for irrigation purposes. That unsophisticated policy meant that even in unstressed river valleys, where water is readily available, horticultural and viticultural projects could not proceed even though they might need only a small amount of water in a dam to guarantee that plants did not die during a dry period.
For example, a large broccoli growing project in the north of the State near Glen Innes which required very little water was lost to Queensland because of the Government’s small dams policy. The coalition, on the other hand, wants to bring new capital and new technology to country areas, thereby creating export income and much-needed jobs. Labor's small dams policy was also inconsistent with the broad policy objective of trying to drought-proof farms by providing on-farm storage. Yesterday the Minister, in a desperate attempt to stop some of the haemorrhaging over the Government’s water policy, did a huge backflip on the small dams policy. On the face of it, there appears to be some merit in the Government’s amended approach. However, the fact that land-holders will be able to harvest and keep 10 per cent of run-off raises several questions.
First, how will this run-off be measured? What is the scientific basis for it? How will it account for variations between soil types, vegetation cover, the slope of the land, and the like? What will happen if 10 per cent of run-off is less than a farmer’s current entitlement, for example? Which rule will apply, the existing licence or the new 10 per cent rule? Will the Government compensate farmers for losses of water entitlement under the 10 per cent rule? Will this rule not discriminate against farmers in drier areas where rainfall is less and the need for on-farm storage is greater because of inconsistent rainfall? A myriad of questions remain unanswered. Perhaps the Minister in his response will give the House more detail as to why, for example, 10 per cent and not some other figure was chosen.
The Government’s misguided small dams policy is but one example of a government that has lost its way on land and water policy. It has destroyed the trust that formerly existed between government agencies and land-holders. The disastrous handling of State environmental planning policy 46 by Minister Yeadon did irreparable damage to the relationship between government and land-holders. His arrogant and non-consultative approach to water management was equally as bad. He did not understand that successful natural resource management involves a close and co-operative partnership between government and resource users. A future coalition government will rebuild a trusting relationship with land and water users and change the current Government’s emphasis on policing and control to one of partnership and co-operation. The coalition prefers education and co-operation to the heavy-handed regulatory and centralised approach of Labor.
Australia is the driest continent on earth. Our water must be used wisely and policies must be put in place that guarantee long-term sustainable use. Every catchment is different and every river system has its own characteristics and management challenges. Some catchments are stressed and some are not. That is why the centralised approach of the current Government will not work. Blanket embargoes on dam building and the issuing of licences for irrigation purposes are bad policy in relation to anything other than the short term. Similarly, the Murray-Darling Basin cap on water extractions at 1993-94 levels cannot be a long-term policy position because it does not allow for change within the system over time. The interpretation of the New South Wales Government of the Murray-Darling Basin cap has been far more restrictive than that in other States. That has disadvantaged New South Wales water users when compared with their interstate counterparts. New South Wales has lost jobs and income to Queensland, Victoria and South Australia because of its interpretation of the cap.
In a broad sense, once acceptable environmental flow regimes are established within the Murray-Darling Basin I cannot see any justification for retaining the cap. These environmental flows have been established in many key catchments, and the New South Wales Government should change its approach to the cap. I welcome the Minister’s announcement that he will review the Government’s attitude to the cap. However, I understand that the Minister has recently signed off on an extension of the cap for another 12 months, so I wonder how committed the Government is to a genuine review of the cap.
Over the past few months honourable members have heard a great deal about Sydney Water’s contamination problem. That issue serves to highlight the need to be vigilant in maintaining water quality. Unfortunately, in regional New South Wales the Government has been so pre-occupied with cutting back water to irrigators that it has neglected the critical issue of water quality in both Sydney and rural areas. The Carr Government’s 33 per cent cut in funding to the country towns sewerage and water supply scheme from $75 million in 1995-96 to $50 million this year is scandalous. Most country town sewerage systems release treated sewage into our waterways. It is simply unforgivable that the Government has made such large cuts in funding to sewage disposal systems when the clear result is reduced water quality.
The Environment Protection Authority, the State’s environmental policeman, has lost sight of its primary function and engaged itself heavily in the role of water policy formulation. One can legitimately ask where the EPA has been while the Government has hacked the funding for country sewage disposal schemes to pieces. The EPA has been pre-occupied with developing policy for the so-called water reform process, a policy which it, as the environmental policeman, has to enforce. Under the Government the EPA has been set up for the classic conflict of interest, the classic poacher-gamekeeper situation. The EPA will police, and indeed is already policing, its own policies. That is clearly unacceptable to the community and undermines accountability principles. That real weakness in the Government’s water policy has long-term ramifications for transparency and accountability in water management.
The next matter of concern is water pricing. Water users understand and accept that water should not be undervalued and that some increase in the price of water has been necessary to achieve cost recovery. However, they insist on a high level of accountability and transparency if water price increases are to be imposed. They want to know the rationale behind a price increase and exactly how the money is being spent. The Carr Government’s $1.35 per megalitre tax was not justified by any transparent or accountable process. It was simply imposed on water users without any consultation whatsoever. It was not the result of a referral to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal. To this day, there is no accountability or public rationale for how that $1.35 per megalitre charge was arrived at.
Moreover, the Government and IPART are both pre-occupied with cost recovery for their own sakes and are not sufficiently focused on outcomes. Cost recovery might make the accountants happy because they have a mathematical equation to balance. But unless that equation has produced significant environmental benefits along the way which offset the economic burden that higher prices impose on the water user, the whole exercise is misguided. Water users need to know that they are getting value for money when extra charges are imposed. In the Murrumbidgee, for example, money has been allocated to a carp reduction program, but has any real progress been made? My information is that little progress has been made in relation to that program. [Time expired.]
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation) [4.37 p.m.]: I am sure the shadow minister for land and water conservation would agree that it is a shame that the rules in this House allow members to speak for only about 10 minutes in a debate involving the many issues that come under the umbrella of water reform. Therefore, I will try to refer briefly to many of the issues he has raised. That is probably the way he structured his contribution. Some of the comments made by the honourable member for Ballina were contradictory. He said that Australia is the driest continent, that we need to have healthy rivers, that we need to have water, and that we need to attract new agricultural industries to the State. He then went on to attack many aspects of water reform which are designed to achieve exactly what he was talking about: to attract more water-efficient industries and to restore the health of our rivers.
The honourable member’s contribution was contradictory. I will start with his last point: water pricing. To some extent I was expecting his criticism, because last Friday I announced that the Government would accept the recommendation of the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal to increase water prices by 20 per cent this year and by the same percentage next year. Some have questioned why the Government would accept such a large percentage increase. To some extent the Government had no reasonable choice. The Council of Australian Governments agreement states that water delivery will achieve full cost recovery by 2001. Therefore, although New South Wales is lagging behind the other States in water pricing, particularly Queensland and Victoria, the only way to achieve full cost recovery was to accept the recommendations of the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal.
Mr Cruickshank: What is full cost recovery?
Mr AMERY: I will come to that in a moment. Even if I were to approach the Premier and
the Treasurer and suggest that the recommended increase be reduced because we are six months away from an election, the water users would be aware that the increase would then have to be loaded up way above 20 per cent following the election next year, when another increase will be recommended. The honourable member for Murrumbidgee asked, by way of interjection, "What is full cost recovery?" He should be aware that the industry was pleased with the IPART recommendation because it was something like 45 per cent below full cost recovery as defined by the Department of Land and Water Conservation. The IPART recommendations have eased the pain somewhat.
The shadow minister for land and water conservation referred to the dams policy. I could be forgiven for being somewhat frustrated by the arguments of the Opposition. If the Government announces a policy the Opposition says there has been no consultation and that the Government has not been listening to the community. However, I have travelled around New South Wales and deputations have followed me back to Sydney to talk through many of the issues in relation to farm dams, et cetera. When the Government, after listening to its constituents, formulates a policy on farm dams the Opposition accuses it of doing backflips. It is a shallow accusation. If the Government did not seek solutions the Opposition would accuse it of being non-consultative so far as water users are concerned.
The shadow minister also raised issues concerning the Murrumbidgee area, the Burrinjuck Dam and so on. One of the strengths of the water reform package is that although a COAG agreement locks the Government into pricing formulas, which I have already addressed, the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council, which consists of Ministers from all States and is chaired by the Federal Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, locks the Government into the cap. The honourable member for Ballina does not know what he is talking about when he refers to the cap. He talks about my reviewing the cap and criticises the Government for signing up for another 12 months, but he is talking about chalk and cheese. The Government’s review is not of the cap per se, but of how it is interpreted.
It has been said that New South Wales seems to interpret the cap more rigidly than other States. I do not necessarily accept that argument. However, I have listened to it, and that is why I have asked for a review of government administration of a number of matters. The honourable member may have seen from a press release that Jack Hallam, the former Minister, and the Director-General of the Department of Land and Water Conservation, will conduct a number of meetings around the State to get feedback from water users about the Government’s interpretation of the cap. The Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council initiated an independent audit of how States interpret the cap. So far, the audit has found that New South Wales is interpreting the cap more appropriately than all other States.
There has been some concern about the way the cap is interpreted by Queensland and Victoria. The Government has to honour the agreement. The reality is that any changes that may affect the cap will have to be dealt with by the ministerial council. The cap is not an issue for New South Wales alone; it must be addressed by the combined forum. The shadow minister raised also the country towns water and sewerage program, a program I was delighted to inherit in the reshuffle last year. That program enables the Minister to work with a number of local councils to restore, improve and augment the water supply and sewerage schemes to various towns around the State.
In August I travelled to a number of places within the State and announced funding of almost $10.5 million for projects in places such as Byron Bay, Kempsey, Manila, Baradine, Queanbeyan, Goulburn, Griffith, and Deniliquin, with more to come. My only response to the contribution of the shadow minister on the country towns water and sewerage program is that the Government is spending almost $1 million a week on improving the water supply and sewerage facilities of various country towns in New South Wales, and will continue to do so. Every council that has applied for Government funding under the scheme has received it. If there has been disagreement, the Government has worked to achieve a mutually agreed position to fund projects.
I will be pleased to work with other country councils to improve their water supply and sewerage systems. Scientific data does not necessarily prove that something is right from now and forever more. Science is a changing discipline. The Government will continue to work with the best scientific data available. However, as I said to the Leader of the National Party when he asked me a question on this issue, the Government will not hide behind arguments about scientific data to frustrate the water reform process. In recent months the Government has demonstrated that if new evidence demands an investigation, the Government will undertake that investigation. Yesterday’s comments about farm dams demonstrate that the Government regards water reform process as a continuing process.
The irrigation industries know they have constant access to the Government to negotiate various aspects of water reform. I have received advice that today’s irrigation flow in the Murrumbidgee is 5,000 megalitres, and tomorrow the allocation is set to increase to about 65 per cent. The Murrumbidgee and Murray valleys are all about climatic conditions and the storage levels of the dams rather than about water reform. It is pleasing to note that river management committees in those valleys are making decisions about river flows. It is pleasing also to note that the committees consist not only of local council representatives but of representatives from the irrigation industries. They are local people making decisions about environmental flows and allocations to their rivers.
Mr CRUICKSHANK (Murrumbidgee) [4.47 p.m.]: In 1998 the incoming Government made major changes to the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area that invited investment. The changes that have taken place are dramatic and revolutionary. But people are starting to worry seriously about further investment because of the flip-flop nature of the Government’s decision making on water. The Minister said that the water allocations in the Murrumbidgee River are set to increase to 65 per cent. The Minister inherited from his predecessor a number of people who do not think much of the irrigation industry or the people involved in it. The politics of envy is at its worst at the moment and the Minister has done nothing to dispel it. A few weeks ago Burrinjuck Dam was 45 per cent full. The people to whom I referred earlier - I do not know how they do it because it flies in the face of all commonsense - said that environmental flows are necessary to fix a problem in the river. Most people who travel along the river fail to find all these half-dead forests and other areas that are supposed to need water. When Burrinjuck Dam was only 45 per cent full the Minister said that 130,000 megalitres of water had to be released downstream.
Farmers are trying to implement farming programs using a 60 per cent water allocation, which is the best they could get out of the Government. Most farmers believed that, because of the rain, their 60 per cent water allocation would be increased. The Government gave those farmers nothing, but it let 130,000 megalitres of water go down the creek. Burrinjuck Dam was filled to 95 per cent capacity but, because of those environmental flows, it is now down to less than 88 per cent. How long will the Minister keep that up? He has told the farmers that the water is going down the river but they can use it as part of their allocations. The farmers were not ready for that water as that announcement was made only a day or two before the water arrived and the farmers had not prepared their land. They are trying to implement programs based on a 60 per cent water allocation.
The Government gave farmers no encouragement concerning the amount of water that they would receive for the rest of the season. As I said earlier, Burrinjuck Dam is down to 88 per cent capacity, a reduction from 95.1 per cent. The way in which the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, the largest inland irrigation project, is being managed is disgraceful. The Government and the Minister for Agriculture do not seem able to prevent the implementation of the policies of former governments. There is a belief that those involved in the irrigation area are not nice people: they are using up our resources. The only other way that those resources can be used is by letting them flow into the sea, thus jeopardising the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. We want greater efficiencies, and that is why all the changes have been made. Greater efficiencies are being achieved.
If people do not know what water allocations they are to receive and what they are told flies in the face of what they believe is happening, the irrigation industry is labouring under more serious problems than just an ordinary drought. Farmers know where they stand when there is a drought. The Government’s advisers do not know what they are talking about when they refer to environmental flows. There is not yet enough historical data to make proper judgments on environmental flows. Some members of advisory boards are downright nasty towards farmers in the irrigation area who are using this scarce resource. The farmers know that water is a scarce resource but they are getting better and better at using it. The Government wants to protect the rice industry and other industries. How about protecting the water supply of farmers in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area? At the moment the Minister is doing nothing to ensure that their water supply is maintained. The Government is hopeless and out of touch in its running of this State’s water system.
Mr D. L. PAGE: (Ballina) [4.55 p.m.], in reply: I agree with one thing the Minister said: it is regrettable that we have not had more time to debate this important issue. Earlier the Minister said that he had to put up the price of water because of an agreement reached by the Council of Australian Governments, and because of the need for cost recovery he announced a 20 per cent increase in the price of water. Let us look at the Government’s previous announcements. Ian Douglas, President of the Ricegrowers Association, said this about bulk water charges under the Carr Government:
The bulk water charges incurred by a typical Murrumbidgee Valley rice grower have already increased by 280 per cent in the first three years of the Carr Labor Government’s term and will increase by more than 400 per cent in the four-year term if the recommended prices are adopted.
We have just heard the Minister say that he has adopted those prices. Water prices have increased by 400 per cent under the Carr Government. The Minister will probably say the Government had to do that to achieve cost recovery. Cost recovery has two elements. The first element is the revenue side and the second element relates to the costs. This Government is mainly interested in whacking up the price of water. Cost recovery is where revenue and costs come together. To get those costs down the Government has to achieve more efficiencies in the Department of Land and Water Conservation and in the distribution system. Water must be delivered at the best possible price. If it is not, our irrigators and rural productive sector cannot be internationally competitive. We want cost recovery, but we want it at the lowest price. That is what this issue is about.
The Minister does not appear to be concerned about that matter. However, I remember him arguing, when he was shadow minister, how terrible privatisation was in Britain. He said it was terrible that the price of water had increased by 5 per cent. Yet as a member of this Government, the Minister has put up the price of water by 400 per cent. What a hypocrite! The Government’s interpretation of the cap on pricing is much more restrictive than the interpretation of other States. I welcome the Government’s interpretation of it in that way and I give the Minister credit for that. But I ask him to review water prices intelligently and to bear in mind the impact of the overly restrictive policies that have been put in place in the past.
New South Wales is the biggest player in the Murray-Darling catchment. If the Minister goes to the Murray-Darling Basin Commission with a more flexible policy and he argues the case with the other States I am sure he will get a sensible response in relation to the continuation of the cap as a whole. Everybody knows that when the environmental flows are in place there will be no justification for the cap. There are many inequities in the cap because it is tied to 1993-94 levels of development. Some people received a great deal of water in that year and some people did not receive very much. A number of equity issues must be addressed. I remind the Minister, although I am sure he does not need reminding, that the cap was an interim measure for 12 months only. However, the cap has been extended. It was not designed as a permanent policy objective, and the Government should work hard to ensure that that does not turn out to be the case.
The Minister did not deny that the Government has cut back its allocations for water and sewerage works from $75 million to $50 million. The Minister said that the Government is spending about $1 million a week on the provision of those services, which equates to about $50 million a year. He claimed that every council that wants a sewerage system can get the funds. He did not tell us that the Government has changed the criteria so that councils, in particular coastal councils in areas experiencing population growth, are no longer able to obtain additional revenue or the subsidy for which they were eligible under the former Government. The councils have to fund the services themselves.
The Minister also did not tell us - he possibly does not know because he has not been in his portfolio long enough - that the State Government only funds the cheapest option available for sewerage works. There is a lot of room for the Minister to increase funding for sewerage and water supply programs in country areas. First, he has to acknowledge the special needs of areas of high population growth and, second, he has to ensure that he funds the best and not the cheapest option. I was disappointed that the Minister did not take the opportunity to explain in more detail the announcement he made yesterday about land-holders being allowed to retain a rolling average of up to 10 per cent of the water run-off on their properties. I welcome that announcement, but it raises many questions about differences in soil types - sandy soil versus clay soil - slopes, and all those sorts of things. [Time expired.]
SECURITY INDUSTRY ACT: DISALLOWANCE OF SECURITY INDUSTRY REGULATION 1998
Mr TINK (Eastwood) [5.00 p.m.]: I move:
That this House disallows the Security Industry Regulation 1998 made under the Security Industry Act 1997 which was published in Government Gazette No. 87 on 29 May 1998 at page 3927 and tabled in this House on 2 June 1998.
At the outset, I want to say that the Opposition will continue to support the Security Industry Act. However, it believes that the Security Industry Regulation, purportedly made under the Act, undermines the goodwill and work that has gone into the Act. Two matters of great concern to the Opposition are, firstly, the fees that have been charged for the various types of licences and, secondly, the transitional provisions, which the Opposition believes are fundamentally flawed. I turn now to the provisions relating to licence fees set out in clause 12 of the regulation.
In relation to the granting of a master licence a fee of $500 is payable by a master licensee who has not more than 10 licensed security employees, a fee of $1,000 for a master licensee who has 10 but not more than 50 employees, and a fee of $2,000 for a master licensee who has more than 50 employees. In addition, each employee is required to be licensed, the fees for which have risen dramatically. A class 1 or class 2 licence, one of which is required by people who work in the industry - for example, bouncers and security guards - attracts a fee of $300, with an application fee of $50.
There are many small businesses in the security industry throughout metropolitan and greater Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong and regional New South Wales. A master licensee with not more than 10 employees would be charged a fee of $500 for the master licence and a fee of $300 for each employee. I do not quibble with the fact that these people should be licensed, but the quantum of the fees is off the wall. Under the previous law, the cost of a licence was of the order of $35 per year. That cost has now been multiplied by a factor of 10 to $300 for a class 1 or class 2 licence, plus a $50 application fee. Whilst it may be argued that the fee covers a five-year period, nevertheless there is no capacity to pay in instalments.
This up-front fee is a huge impost on small businesses, which had previously been required to pay $35. When divided by five, the annual pro rata rate is $70 - double the existing fee. The Government acknowledges it has got itself into a mess because no sooner was the regulation promulgated than the Government rushed back with a fresh regulation, which was gazetted on 24 July. It provided for a special $250 licence fee for self-employed licensees. The supplementary regulation, if I might call it that, clearly acknowledged the stuff-up inherent in the original regulation, which is the subject of this disallowance motion. It recognises that the regulation did not get the position right on self-employed licensees.
A letter dated 2 September from the Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary, the honourable member for Bulli, to the honourable member for Bega confirms that. That letter and other correspondence from the honourable member for Bulli purport to suggest that the fees are cost-recovery charges only. I find that extremely hard to believe. Multiple fees ten times the amount that has been charged to date have engendered cynicism throughout the industry and a deep suspicion of a revenue-generating exercise. A memorandum, headed "1997-98 Operating Budget" and signed on 2 December 1997, was sent by the Deputy Commissioner, Specialist Operations, to all specialist operations commanders. I dare say that similar memoranda were circulated throughout the Police Service.
Mr Whelan: What does that have to do with the disallowance of the regulation?
Mr TINK: It relates to the exorbitant cost of the fees. The second paragraph of the memorandum stated:
These strategies should include a review of any programs or activities which may need to be cut and identification of services provided to external (to the Police Service) users which have potential to generate revenue.
The provision in this regulation which introduces fees amounting to ten times the existing charge is a classic example of an attempt by the Government and the Minister for Police to generate revenue. They used the Deputy Commissioner, Special Operations, and put a proposal to generate revenue for the Police Service through the mess that is the police budget by slugging small businesses in the security industry. That is what it is all about and why the Opposition fiercely opposes the quantum of the fee. The Opposition believes that the fees being charged have nothing to do with the actual cost of the licences.
The second matter relates to the transitional provisions, which are in even more of a mess. Upon ringing the 1300 362 001 number about transitional provisions, one is told that there is a gap between the expiration of an existing licence and a recommendation being made for the granting of a new licence. In the meantime, anyone who continues in business during that gap is committing an offence which, under section 7, carries a maximum penalty of six months in gaol. According to that 1300 number, there is a hiatus and a lack of coverage between the expiration of a licence and a recommendation for a new one.
I understand that the honourable member for Northern Tablelands also received advice about this issue. He was told there is an even greater hiatus period in that there is no legality until a new licence has been processed, as distinct from a recommendation for a licence. That seems to relate to the transitional provisions in the regulation - which are tightly drawn around the expiration of existing licences on 1 September - particularly clause 30, the subject of the disallowance motion, and clause 31A, which refers to the fact that an existing licence is irrelevant until 1 September and other relatively short periods. I do not believe that is in the spirit of the Act, which was supported by the Opposition.
Provision was made in part 2 of the Act for the making of regulations which would allow generous transitional provisions to obtain after the expiration of an existing licence until a final decision had been made on a new licence. Whatever the technical arguments might be - and I believe they support the suggestion that there is a big black transitional hole in the regulation - the advice from the 1300 number is that people are acting illegally after the expiration of a licence until such time as they receive a recommendation for a new one. That has been recognised by the Minister in his third attempt at drafting the regulation, which will provide extra latitude for people in the retail industry who are caught by this legislation. [Time expired.]
Ms SEATON (Southern Highlands) [5.10 p.m.]: I support the motion of the member for Eastwood. In doing so I wish to raise a number of issues on behalf of some small security businesses in my electorate and also on behalf of some of the publicans in my electorate who are having problems with aspects of the new legislation - and, of course, the regulations that go with it. They have expressed concerns to me that they regard this as not much more than a revenue raising exercise, as the honourable member for Eastwood suggested. The honourable member for Eastwood made it very clear that the Opposition supports the thrust of the original legislation, the Security Industry Act 1997. In the past, the security industry has been the target of some poor perceptions in the public arena and there have been some incidents which have not reflected well on the standards of the industry as a whole.
It is very important that the industry take steps to raise its standards, both in procedures and in the quality and integrity of the staff involved and their overall professionalism. High standards are essential for the industry because they engender public confidence and a better public perception. Preparations are under way for the Olympic Games and I understand they will include some opportunities for the security industry. It is important that all of those things are in place when we are thrust onto the world stage. The industry will obviously be much more attractive to those who might consider hiring such services if it enjoys a good public perception and high level of confidence.
The Opposition has major concerns about some aspects of the regulations. The Opposition supports the grounds for the refusal of a licence as clearly set out on page 8 of the Security Industry Act information leaflet, but I have to say that this leaflet has caused a lot of confusion and raised a lot of questions - unanswered and possibly unanswerable. I believe the Minister should be aware of some of the concerns expressed by small security industry practitioners in the electorate of Southern Highlands. On 2 July I wrote to the Minister on behalf of some of those businesses and I am disappointed to say that I have not yet had an answer to the questions posed by Mr Geoff Oliver of Senteck, representing a number of local security practitioners.
One issue I would raise with the Minister relates to the level of insurance. Security practitioners believe it is higher than it need be in respect of an industry standard. They have complained about the 33 per cent increase in the insurance cover they have had to pay and want to know exactly why the $10 million level has been set. I know that that was recommended by an independent review, but they have some difficulties budgeting for some of those increases. They are also concerned about the cost of licences and I think that is one of the major issues. The honourable member for Eastwood has covered that, but the experience of one of my constituents is that in the past his master licence cost him $35. He cannot understand why he now has to have two separate licences which cost him, I believe, $700; and he cannot see what extra value he is getting for that extra money.
It appears to him and to many others like him that in creating these two licences the Government has created two reasons to extract money, not merely one; and he believes that the overall fee increase relates more to revenue raising than to anything that will significantly improve the outcomes of the industry. I also raise a concern of my local publicans which I understand is shared by many members of the Australian Hotels Association and by small business as a whole. They are worried about the impact on small businesses that have to access security services from time to time. They include pharmacies, liquor stores and newsagencies - a range of businesses that from time to time find it necessary to engage security services.
The local publican’s concern is that he has to be the holder of a master licence. The fee for that licence is $500 and the fee for each class 1 subclass 1C bouncer he hires to act as a crowd controller is $300. In addition, that person has to undertake a course consisting of 120 hours. In a regional centre such as Bowral or any of the southern highlands towns, it is not usual for someone in that situation to hire two or three bouncers in the course of a week, necessitating the payment of three individual subclass 1C licence fees. In addition, in regional towns there is often a very high turnover of people engaged to do that work -
Pursuant to standing orders debate interrupted.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' STATEMENTS
QUONG TART MEMORIAL
Mr MacCARTHY (Strathfield) [5.15 p.m.]: Last weekend I was privileged to attend the unveiling in Ashfield of a memorial to Quong Tart. I was honoured to be there, not only in my own capacity, but also representing the Federal Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, the honourable Philip Ruddock. It is only relatively recently that I became aware of this fine man, Quong Tart, as he was generally known. When researching some information about the Western Suburbs Hospital - done to death by this Government about three years ago - I found a reference to him in a book about the hospital written by a former member of this House, Mr Gordon Jackett. Referring to the unveiling of a foundation stone in December 1893 and to a number of toasts that were made on that occasion, Mr Jackett stated:
Mr Quong Tart, a very eminent Chinese resident of Ashfield who was famous throughout Sydney for a number of reasons, not least of which was his singing of Scottish songs, proposed the toast of ‘The President’ in a very humorous and eulogistic speech, the Sydney Morning Herald reporter tells us.
I read that only a few weeks ago and later I received an invitation to the unveiling of the memorial to Quong Tart by his grandchildren, Ian Tart and Sharon Rorke. It is singularly appropriate that Ashfield should be chosen as the site for this memorial. Ashfield is in the expanded seat of Strathfield and the whole area is the centre of a vibrant Chinese community. Ashfield was the focus of Quong Tart’s life in Sydney. Quong Tart was born in southern China. He was a 9-year-old when he came to Australia in 1859 with an uncle. He went to the goldfields where he not only made his fortune but acquired an affinity for a number of things such as cricket, Scottish dancing and Scottish poetry. He moved to Sydney as a tea merchant and established several tea rooms, most notably the famous Elite in the Queen Victoria Building which apparently was the place to be seen. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald last Saturday stated:
Quong Tart straddled both cultures with extraordinary ease, considering the racial sentiments of the day.
He mediated between Chinese and Europeans on the goldfields and in other places, he campaigned for better working conditions for Chinese coolies and he was an outspoken critic of the opium trade. He acted as an unofficial ambassador on trips to China and at home was a benefactor of numerous community causes. His involvement in 1893 in the first steps to establish that western suburbs hospital of which I spoke was typical of his community spirit. He died in 1903 - coincidently the year my father was born.
Ninety-five years later an enthusiastic group inspired by Councillor Spencer Wu and the West Region Chinese Association raised $8,000 to commission the bronze bust to commemorate Quong Tart. What an appropriate time to highlight the great contribution to Ashfield, to New South Wales and to Australia of this fine man, a migrant from China. His life and legacy are testimony to the fact that being a good Australian is not a matter of race or place of birth. Quong Tart was probably one in a million but others - for example, Victor Chang - have continued to prove the truth of the assertion that it is not where one comes from or what one’s race is but what one does that makes one a good Australian.
I congratulate Councillor Spencer Wu and his association on their initiative to perpetuate Quong Tart’s memory in the heart of Ashfield’s business district. At this time in particular when questions of race are being questioned, when some ignorant people are arguing that migrants perhaps are not the best thing for Australia, the memory of Quong Tart makes us realise how wrong those sentiments are. He was a man well ahead of his time, a hundred years ago, playing an active part in the community of Sydney and leaving a rich legacy to his family, now mainstream Australians. In 100 years time the grandchildren of the migrants in Australia today equally will be regarded as mainstream Australians. We need to highlight and revere the memory of more great Australians such as Quong Tart.
Mr WATKINS (Gladesville) [5.20 p.m.]: I draw to the attention of the House the problem of unemployment in our community. The rate of unemployment, a problem in every electorate represented in our Parliament, is an immense social tragedy. Widespread unemployment is the most divisive, destructive and pressing problem facing our State and nation. I am aware of its impact in my electorate, on middle-aged men forced from work by redundancy, on women over 50 who have a desperate need to work, on those with mental illness or disabilities who can and want to work, on people from non-English speaking backgrounds and on too many young people. Honourable members know the reality of the problem: the ill health, depression and poverty it causes, the long-term damage it creates in individuals and families. In such a bountiful nation it is a tragic waste of precious economic and human resources.
Faced with this reality, the reaction of the Federal Government, media outlets and industry bodies to unemployment figures is mystifying. The absurd, almost surreal, reaction to the September unemployment figures by the Federal Government and most media outlets reveals the extent of the problem we face as a community in coming to terms with the issue of unemployment. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released in early September make very disturbing reading. They indicate a drop in unemployment from 8.3 per cent to 8.1 per cent. That means 761,000 Australians remain unemployed. This minuscule change was leapt on by the Prime Minister and described as "very good figures". Newspapers describe the figures as "rosy" and enough to give the coalition cheer.
That response was obscene. There is nothing good about 8 per cent of our work force being trapped in unemployment. There is nothing rosy or cheerful in the lives of those without work, or their families. The depressing nature of the figures becomes clear when they are analysed in detail. The drop in the rate of unemployment was due almost entirely to the jump in the ranks of working women. Male unemployment did not change and remains at 8.6 per cent. The figures also reveal another drop in full-time employment and a rise in part-time employment. So it is part-time employment for women - for example, 20 hours per week in a cleaning job - that is on the increase whilst secure full-time employment continues to evaporate.
Perhaps most tragic is the chronic youth unemployment inherent in these figures. Among young people the jobless rate stands at 28.2 per cent. When the Howard Government came to office the rate was 26.8 per cent. The decision to abandon the young unemployed is the Federal Government’s most heinous act. It means that the Government has abandoned the hopes and aspirations of all those hundreds of thousands of young unemployed. And they know it. Despite the deceitful action of Minister Kemp, the Minister responsible for the disastrous Job Network, suggesting that these recent figures were a sign of unemployment falling, the Federal Treasurer acknowledged that unemployment was unlikely to fall over the next year.
The chief economist with the ANZ bank, Mr Saul Eslake, agreed. Paul Cleary, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald on 11 September, described this as Howard failing his defining test. Unemployment was signalled by John Howard as the central task for his Government. Honourable members will recall the breast beating over the numbers of young unemployed and the crocodile tears for the long-term unemployed. More than a third of all currently unemployed - 251,200 people - are now classified as long-term unemployed, those out of work for more than a year. That figure is up 20 per cent on the figure when John Howard became Prime Minister. It is clear that not much is going to change under the current Federal Government and under the economic orthodoxy that rules in Australia.
Put bluntly, the unemployed in Australia have been betrayed - betrayed by our economic system, by many of this nation’s leaders and by most of this nation’s main institutions. Most governments, our major companies and our banks, including the Reserve Bank of Australia, have collectively turned their back on the unemployed masses in Australia - the 761,000 and their families and dependants. Just this morning I heard Ian Macfarlane, head of the Reserve Bank board, speak about the role of the bank in determining economic priorities. He spoke favourably of the Reserve Bank’s role in targeting interest rates, in achieving low inflation and about other challenges such as deflation. But he said absolutely nothing about unemployment and the desirability of tailoring economic policies to break its back, of the need for unemployment targets or of the primacy of policies to reduce unemployment.
When such institutions are willing to tolerate that level of unemployment without reacting how can the unemployed do anything other than give up in despair? How bitter must they be when they hear the Prime Minister say that tax reform is the central issue of this election. How angry they must be when they hear him dismiss the Labor Party as trapped in the politics of envy when it dares to stand up for the needs of the lowly paid and the unemployed. How disgusted they must be when they hear the Prime Minister dismiss job targets and job creation programs and talk of encouraging people to get up off their tails and work themselves into a higher tax bracket - when they have never worked or have not had a job for 12 months or two years and have watched their children struggle at school, go without at Christmas and have their life expectations destroyed by the scourge of unemployment.
Mr AQUILINA (Riverstone - Minister for Education and Training, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Youth Affairs) [5.25 p.m.]: Once again the honourable member for Gladesville has brought to this Chamber an issue which goes to the very heart of social concern: the scourge of unemployment and what it is doing to average families across the State and the nation. It affects his electorate and most other electorates, particularly the electorates of members representing Sydney’s west and south-west and many parts of rural New South Wales.
As Minister for Education and Training in New South Wales unemployment is of great concern to me. I took note of what the honourable member said. He indicated in graphic, real and human terms precisely what unemployment is all about. The Howard Government has significantly hurt the people of Australia. Youth unemployment has increased despite the Howard Government trying to hide the real figures by introducing a common youth allowance and forcing a lot of young people back into schools even though they have no aptitude or inclination to go there. The Federal Government has not provided additional finance to keep young people in years 11 and 12, or a meaningful curriculum.
Today I launched a vocational education and training program to increase the vocational opportunities for young people in years 11 and 12. Much of the funding has been supplied by the Carr Government, without assistance from the Howard Government. Let us not forget that the Howard Government abolished the funding for growth in training. The State Government has been obliged to fund all the increased growth in technical and further education and other forms of training. The honourable member for Gladesville should be commended for his speech and the Howard Government should be condemned for what it has done. [Time expired.]
MURWILLUMBAH RAILWAY STATION
Mr BECK (Murwillumbah) [5.27 p.m.]: I raise the concerns of the people who use and who work at Murwillumbah railway station, on the station and in the Countrylink office. The Carr Government and Minister Scully propose to downgrade staff at the station. The proposed downgradings are common knowledge among staff not only in the Tweed but at all stations from Central to Murwillumbah. My colleague the honourable member for Coffs Harbour is also concerned about proposed cuts at Coffs Harbour station. In approximately three hours from now 200 to 250 passengers will alight from the train at Murwillumbah, the end of the line. They must all disembark. At the same time 200 to 250 passengers will wait to board the train to travel back to Sydney or through to Melbourne.
Mr Fraser: How many staff will be there?
Mr BECK: Currently the staff ratio is satisfactory and I congratulate them on the excellent job they are doing. There is a roster system of eight staff. Two people staff the Countrylink office from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. taking bookings for people coming to this beautiful destination or going home from a wonderful holiday. Three people staff the station daily from 2.00 p.m. until 10.00 p.m. Another staff member comes on from 7.00 p.m. through to 10.00 p.m. When the Countrylink office closes one staff member leaves the station and mans the Countrylink office from 5.00 p.m. to 9.00 p.m. to help customers with ticket problems.
Staff also assist people embarking and disembarking from this train that is so important to Murwillumbah electorate. However, there is a proposal to cut the number of staff so that the station will not be manned on Saturdays, Sundays or at night. Dear old lady pensioners or holiday-makers with children will have to struggle to find the coach and deal with their own luggage. It is a disgrace. Tomorrow a meeting will be held with the Australian Services Union and the Public Transport Union.
Mr Watkins: You support the unions, do you?
Mr BECK: Of course I do. I support all people. It is pleasing that the honourable member supports my private member's statement. Current staff numbers at Murwillumbah station should be maintained. As well, we must look to the future and expand the rail link from Murwillumbah through to the Coolangatta airport. Only yesterday the Queensland Government released its budget. David Hamill, a former Minister for Transport in the Goss Government and now the Treasurer in the Beattie Government, has allocated $782 million for rail, and I refer to the southern Gold Coast-Tweed study corridor, which involves a rail link to the airport. However, the Government has forgotten the Murwillumbah electorate and is not constructing that rail link to the north. But I have received an assurance that all that will change following the 27 March election next year when the rail link will be extended to Coolangatta airport. Also, privatisation of the airport will ensure that there are air as well as rail and road terminuses.
Those who travel on the XPT are deeply concerned that there is no water on the XPT, not even for a cup of tea. The only place where the water tanks can be steam cleaned is in Sydney, but Sydney water is contaminated. People have rung me complaining that they are arriving at Murwillumbah panting through thirst and broke because they have had to buy bottled water. Countrylink offices should be staffed properly. Apparently one carriage has been removed from the XPT service because of overheads and costs but the train is always completely booked out. [Time expired.]
INGHAMS CHICKEN PROCESSING PLANT
Mr LYNCH (Liverpool) [5.32 p.m.]: I draw to the attention of the House serious problems being experienced by constituents in Hoxton Park who have complained to me about the offensive odour emanating from the Inghams chicken processing plant. One resident of Hoxton Park, Mr Prasad, described the smell as an awful stench. Another resident, Mr Chandra, described the odour as a stench of decaying and decomposing matter. These two residents and others are concerned at the seeming indifference of the operators of the chicken processing plant.
The situation is so serious that there is at least anecdotal evidence that some residents have been forced to sell their homes and leave the area because of the stench. There is a consistency in the complaints that have been made to me in that they all describe the odour being at its worst at about 7.00 p.m. to 9.00 p.m. Two separate operations seem to be the cause of the problem. There is one odour from the processing facility and the operations surrounding that. There is a separate problem with the chicken sheds. As I understand it, the former of these is a matter for the Environment Protection Authority. The latter is a matter for regulatory control by Liverpool City Council. Following a significant number of complaints to both the EPA and the council, a meeting was held on 27 November last year between representatives of Liverpool City Council, the EPA, local residents and developers. Subsequent events to that are well described in a letter I received from the Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment dated 29 June, as follows:
The Ingham plant holds a pollution control licence issued by the Environment Protection Authority. Conditions requiring certain pollution control equipment on processors can be attached to the licence and are legally binding.
In 1997 the EPA received a number of complaints regarding odours from the Inghams plant at Hoxton Park. As a result of these complaints, the EPA initiated a requirement that the company construct a new wastewater treatment plan. Inghams has installed a $3 million wastewater treatment plant to control odours and improve effluent quality. The EPA’s records indicate that complaints regarding odours from the plant have reduced significantly since the completion of the new treatment plant.
Liverpool City Council, through Mike Ritchie, Corporate Manager Natural Environment, also wrote a letter dated 7 July, part of which stated:
Council has received complaints from residents in the adjacent housing developments concerning the odour. This odour was from both the chicken sheds and operations associated with the processing facility located on the site.
The majority of the complaints relating to the odour were caused by activities associated with the operation of the chicken processing plant. This facility is a scheduled premises and is controlled by the Environment Protection Authority. Accordingly, these matters were referred to the EPA for their perusal.
In this regard upgrading of wastewater facilities have been undertaken within the past twelve to eighteen months. Complaints relating to odours being generated by council regulated facilities on the site, namely the chicken housing sheds, have been investigated . . .
Council has concluded in general that best management practices are being implemented by Inghams.
Thus, council believes at this time that Inghams are taking all practicable means necessary to prevent or minimise air pollution.
The existing use rights of Inghams necessarily require that their medium to long term presence on that site be recognised and respected in council’s planning and decision making.
I have quoted at some length so that the full import of what the letters say can be made clear. The impression given by the authorities is that a number of complaints were made, the problem has now been fixed and the matter is over and done with. Unfortunately, that is not what the residents are now telling me. They assert that the problem has not been resolved. There are two schools of thought amongst the residents. One is that despite all the changes and improvements nothing has improved and the stench is as bad as ever. Another school of thought concedes that the odour has become somewhat better but that it is still an upsetting, offensive stench. It is no surprise that complaints to the EPA have been reduced. A plethora of earlier complaints culminated in the November meeting and new equipment. Residents may well assume that nothing more can now be achieved by complaining to the EPA.
The broader issues here are typical of the problems in new-release areas where there is a conflict between long-established, pre-existing uses and newly established residential use. The simple and frankly simplistic response is to say that because the original user was there for so long the new residents have to like it or lump it. That, on any reasonable assessment, is not a tenable view. Residents were not warned by developers or real estate agents of the potential problems. They purchased properties in good faith, unaware of any difficulty.
Moreover, the plant is subject to the law prohibiting pollution, regardless of how long the plant has been there. The community benefits broadly from the development of new estates in areas such as this. Development further from urban
centres would impose an even greater strain upon public resources. That in turn would place responsibility back on the community as a whole to ensure that new estates are not subject to unreasonable conditions, such as an offensive odour. It is not appropriate or tenable to simply say that because users were there first, new residents cannot complain. Despite the optimism of the EPA and Liverpool City Council, the problem has not been solved; complaints are continuing. I request that both these institutions look again at ways to resolve the problem.
Ms ALLAN (Blacktown - Minister for the Environment) [5.37 p.m.]: Last year Inghams was required to implement eight pollution reduction programs negotiated by the Environment Protection Authority to improve environmental performance at its plant. Two of these pollution reduction programs related specifically to odour reduction. The first was the installation of a $3 million waste water treatment plant and the subsequent decommissioning of Inghams old anaerobic lagoons. I understand that the second was the implementation of an odour control strategy. These measures have been very successful in reducing odours and community complaints about odours from the Inghams plant. I am advised that during the 12-month period between September 1996 and September 1997 the EPA received approximately 100 odour complaints from residents. However, since the beginning of this year the EPA has received only two complaints, one on 19 January and the other on 22 February. Evidently, subsequently the EPA has received no formal complaints.
I am advised that an EPA officer inspected the Inghams plant approximately eight weeks ago and was satisfied that the plant was complying with its licence. No odours were detected at the time of the inspection. I thank the honourable member for Liverpool for raising the matter. I note his statement that the odours from the plant are often worse after hours. I have asked the EPA to ensure that the premises are inspected at such times. I can appreciate that the honourable member for Liverpool has been given differing advice by constituents on this issue. The Government is keen to ensure that, despite the important role that Inghams plays in both regional and State economies, it continues to perform at a high environmental standard. I undertake to ensure that the EPA investigates the complaints made by the honourable member for Liverpool on behalf of his constituents.
SYDNEY WATER SUPPLY CONTAMINATION
Mr KERR (Cronulla) [5.39 p.m.]: At present Sydney is in the grip of a water crisis. Fortunately, residents of the Sutherland shire are not affected by the crisis because our water is still drinkable. However, that does not mean that the Government has not failed in relation to the fundamentals of government and the welfare and health of its citizens. Earlier this year I received a letter in which the person who wrote to me said:
On Friday last I contracted severe food poisoning after having purchased prawns from a seafood outlet . . . I became violently ill. On Saturday being very alarmed I attempted to contact the New South Wales Department of Public Health as I was particularly concerned that should any young child or elderly person in ill health eat the same seafood that I did a fatality could result.
In consequence I was informed by the emergency contact at the New South Wales Department of Public Health that the only thing that could be done was for my particulars to be taken as there were no Health and Food Inspectors on duty of a weekend for the whole of Sydney.
That should be of grave concern to all members of this House.
Mr Fraser: It is frightening.
Mr KERR: Yes, it is frightening. I presume that if there are not any food inspectors in Sydney over the weekend, there certainly would not be any in Coffs Harbour.
Mr Fraser: There are none in Coffs Harbour.
Mr KERR: I am told that there are none in Coffs Harbour. Yet, Coffs Harbour is a destination that many people go to, and certainly they would eat out during the course of the week.
Mr Fraser: Beautiful prawns are caught up there as well.
Mr KERR: I am told that beautiful prawns are caught in Coffs Harbour. I recall that Barrie Unsworth, a former Premier, was very keen on dining at Oscars, I think it was.
Mr Fraser: I think that was at Fisherman’s Cove. He grew oysters at Nambucca.
Mr KERR: I recall that Barrie Unsworth did go into the oyster industry. I believe that when a Labor Council member heard about it he said to his wife that he was thinking of buying a boat. This issue is of vital interest to the many food outlets throughout the State.
Mr Aquilina: What was the original point?
Mr KERR: I am pleased that the Minister for Education and Training, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Youth Affairs is taking this matter seriously, because it is of great concern. Certainly
anyone who has experienced food poisoning would regard it as serious. As the author of one letter to me wrote, food poisoning can be fatal for the elderly and for young children. The Olympic Games in 2000 will bring an influx of tourists. There must be an inspectorate monitoring this State’s food supply. During the present water crisis restaurants are particularly vulnerable in the preparation and cooking of food.
Mr Harrison: Not one person has been affected by drinking the water.
Mr KERR: The honourable member for Kiama says not one person has been affected by drinking the water.
Mr Harrison: They have all built up an immunity from when you were in government.
Mr KERR: I could not claim credit for providing an immunity to the people of Sydney. If it were possible to grant an immunity to the population of Sydney in relation to any problem, that would be a good thing. But that did not happen. Class actions have been instituted against Sydney Water. The Government might receive a subpoena on behalf of the defendant, given the last gratuitous remark of the honourable member for Kiama. This is a serious matter of grave concern. The people of the Cronulla electorate, and indeed the people of this State, are entitled to assurances about avenues available to them should they suffer problems after they have dined.
BHP PORT KEMBLA WASHERY
Mr HARRISON (Kiama) [5.44 p.m.]: On two previous occasions in this House I have expressed my concern about the dumping of 1.3 million tonnes of coalwash from the BHP Port Kembla washery to a position adjacent to Lake Illawarra at Haywards Bay. Approval for the work was issued by Wollongong City Council and the Environment Protection Authority during 1994. Coalwash dumping then proceeded quickly. At the same time large volumes of soil were excavated adjacent to where the coalwash was being deposited, ostensibly to be used to provide one foot of soil cover for the coalwash when the final work was completed.
I am advised that cavalcades of trucks removed soil from the site. The general impression of concerned residents, who were alarmed at what was taking place, was that the company Soredo Pty Ltd did little other than to dump as much BHP coalwash as possible and to establish some cashflow by the sale of river soil extracted from the area. During 1996 the company was apparently unable to bring in enough money from the sale of soil and disposal of coalwash to carry on. The company’s financier, the Macquarie Bank, appointed receivers and managers to take over control of the project, and work was stopped soon thereafter. At that time, although 1.3 million tonnes of coalwash had been dumped on the site, a further 2 million tonnes was required to ensure that the site was ready for subdivision or development.
It defies explanation why a subdivision was ever approved in this location, resulting in the loss of a valuable flood detention area and an important creek which eventually carried stormwater into Lake Illawarra. I suggest that Wollongong City Council has a case to answer. It is difficult to point to any benefit flowing to anyone, other than to BHP, in finding a site - in my view, a totally inappropriate site - close to its operations on which to dump millions of tonnes of coalwash, or to Soredo for flogging off soil which had been deposited at the site over the past many centuries. The work on the site has now been turned over to Soredo Pty Ltd, which is reportedly intent on dumping another two million tonnes of coalwash. I cannot understand how Wollongong council or the EPA ever approved this disastrous project.
I call on the Minister for Local Government and the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning to fully investigate all circumstances leading up to approval being granted. In as much as it is intended that another two million tonnes of coalwash be dumped on site, I call for work to be estopped pending an investigation regarding the bona fides of Soredo Pty Ltd, its directors, the paid-up capital of the company, and its capacity to carry out the work for which approval has been given by Wollongong council.
I fear that if work is allowed to start up again, the environmental disaster that already exists at Haywards Bay will be exacerbated and the community will eventually be left with an offensive, ugly and environmental disaster due to the company once again going into receivership when the last grain of coalwash has been dumped and the last possible soil has been taken from the area. It is very hard in a case like this to know where to apportion blame. Some investigation of the events leading up to approval by Wollongong City Council should be carried out. Certainly some investigation of the bona fides of the company, Soredo Pty Limited, should be carried out.
Does the company have the capacity to do what it is talking about? Is it another $2 company
that gets approval to do one thing, but ends up doing something completely different? Answers to those questions are urgently required. The Minister for Local Government, the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning and the Minister for the Environment may be involved in this multifaceted problem. For as long as Lake Illawarra exists, communities living in the area will be left with an environmental disaster. For those reasons I would like work on the project to be stopped. Unfortunately an approval exists, but the bona fides of the company should be investigated to ensure it can do what it claims it wants to do.
ROADS AND TRAFFIC AUTHORITY REDUNDANCIES
Mr CHAPPELL (Northern Tablelands) [5.49 p.m.]: Last Thursday afternoon, while the House was sitting, I received a phone call from Glen Innes in my electorate to say that rumours were circulating about the possible offer of redundancy packages to some 25 workers at the local works depot of the Roads and Traffic Authority. I immediately wrote and posted in the House that afternoon a letter to the Minister for Roads telling him that in my electorate rumours were rife to that effect, and called upon him to immediately advise me that the rumours were not correct and that no jobs would be lost. I have not yet received a reply. I spoke at length with people at the local level in Glen Innes. I also spoke to the council and asked if it would call an urgent meeting of appropriate people on the Saturday morning.
At the meeting I met with some of the workers, the council and other community leaders, and spoke about the implications of the offer of redundancy packages. By that time it was confirmed that 25 redundancy offers had been made, with the expectation that at least 12 positions would be lost. We were told by the regional officer of the RTA that no figures were targeted for removal from Glen Innes, and that there would be no forced redundancies. If anyone was to go anywhere that person would be offered redeployment. I am not quite sure how, why or where because no other vacancies exist anywhere else in the system. Following that meeting, on the Monday morning I again wrote to the Minister calling upon him to meet with a delegation from Glen Innes. In fact, I invited him to come to Glen Innes to deal with the issue and talk about it to his employees.
The meeting resolved that if the Minister would not come to Glen Innes a delegation would go to him. Once again, I received no reply to my letter. Dozens and dozens of jobs have been cut from the RTA works depot in the area, and the impact on the community is severe. The highways and roads in the area are falling apart after many months of continuous rain. The deterioration in the road surface is serious. I still have not received a reply from the Minister, but I know a letter is circulating in Glen Innes today indicating that the Minister is, like most of his ministerial colleagues, playing games with the Mayor of Armidale, who happens to be one of the favourite sons of this Government. The Government thinks it will run him around the traps on 27 March.
The Minister has agreed that he will meet with the people on Thursday of next week. Obviously he will not go to Glen Innes to confront his employees. The Minister is set to tell the community that I have done nothing to support the New England Highway. It would be very convenient for the Minister if he were able to prove that. This afternoon I grabbed a few press releases from my files, all of which have been followed up with letters to Ministers, including the Federal Minister for Transport and Regional Development, asking him to come to Glen Innes to address the problem. He has not turned up yet because he was asked only yesterday, but I understand he will come. I have press releases and letters to the Minister for Roads about roundabouts at either end of Armidale on the new by-pass, about fatal black spots identified at several points on the highway, and about cuts in funding generally to the New England Highway.
I have written numerous letters to the Minister, issued numerous press releases and made numerous phone calls about funding, including discussions with the appropriate Federal Minister on site. The Government tried to make a point earlier this year about cutbacks by the Federal Government to the New England Highway. The cutbacks are basically a re-allocation of Federal funding from the New England Highway to the Pacific Highway for urgent work. Money has continued to go to roads in the New England area, but we want more. More importantly, I am seeking the retention of these jobs in Glen Innes for the people, the community and safe travelling conditions on the New England Highway. [Time expired.]
Mr SCULLY (Smithfield - Minister for Transport, and Minister for Roads) [5.54 p.m.]: What a shameful performance by the honourable member for Northern Tablelands. Richard Torbay, Chairman of the Country Mayors Association, rang me yesterday and strongly put his concerns about Federal Government cutbacks that are threatening jobs in the honourable member’s electorate. How dare the honourable member for Northern
Tablelands come into this House and suggest that it is the State Government! He should read Hansard. On 2 June 1998 he attempted to blame the State Government for cutting Federal road funding. He said, "The priority has been set by the Government of New South Wales." That is an absolute lie!
The honourable member for Northern Tablelands is a bozo. The Federal Government sets the program for Federal road funding. The honourable member for Northern Tablelands should go to his electorate and tell the truth. He said he was going to come in here tonight and set the record straight. He should go back to his electorate and say nothing other than the truth. The only people who are interested in the jobs of the RTA are this Government, Richard Torbay and the mayors of Severn, Tenterfield and Glen Innes shires. The Acting-Speaker, Mr Mills, is interested in what is happening in New England. I want to know what the Federal Government is doing about the Devils Pinch realignment.
What is the Federal Government doing about the Rose Valley Creek deviation? Why has the Federal Government diverted millions and millions of dollars from the New England region? If the New England cannot get Federal Government road funding in the middle of a Federal election campaign, it will never get it. That is a truism. A National Party star member cannot get funding from a Federal National Party roads minister. He has been crossed off. New England cannot get the money needed to maintain jobs. The honourable member for Northern Tablelands should stand behind me and point the finger at the Federal Government. Tell the truth! [Time expired.]
Mr PRICE (Waratah) [5.56 p.m.]: I would like to raise the case of Mr John Rose of 14 Fourth Street, Lambton. He is a former police officer who was injured in 1997 and who, ultimately, lost his job as a result of his injuries. Mr Rose visited my office in July 1988 and raised the issue with me. Later, on my advice, he wrote to a number of members in the lower Hunter explaining his situation and sought my assistance to raise this matter in Parliament. Although John Rose has been very patient in dealing with this matter, I understand his concerns.
The issue goes right back to the level of compensation paid to police officers through WorkCover, subsequent to a variation in work conditions accepted by police following negotiation of an industrial agreement after the change of government in 1988. That agreement reduced certain conditions regarding workers compensation matters, particularly arrangements pursuant to serving police officers. The considerable discomfort that this matter has caused Mr Rose is emphasised in a letter that I received from him on 24 July in which he stated:
After commencing Service as a Police Officer in April, 1990, I served as a front line response General Duty Officer, up until my unfortunate medical exit in December, 1997. As a proud member, serving the community of New South Wales, I suffered severe spinal injuries sustained in a Police motor vehicle accident whilst en route to a hospital fire in Newcastle. Unfortunately the injury was such that medical opinion dictated that I be exited from the Service. I found this decision, and subsequent drastic changes impacting upon my life style extremely difficult to cope with. You could well imagine the further strain placed upon me upon learning that I was not financially catered for under the current post 1988 Compensation scheme. In contrast, Police employed prior to 1988 receive fair and equitable compensation entitlements.
Honourable members might recall that at that time a number of awards were altered. Productivity arrangements were entered into and certain conditions were waived. The matter I raise is an unintended consequence of the arrangements entered into with the Police Service at that time. I continue my quotation from Mr Rose’s letter:
It is my view, and the view of the Working Party that certain recommendations be adopted to allow post 1988 Police fair, just, and equitable benefits, in the unfortunate event of sustaining similar severe injuries for all Police Officers. Further, I believe that this recommendation could be made retrospective for the small amount of Officers exited under the `Special Risk Benefit’ of the current scheme.
The working party to which Mr Rose refers was set up under the Ministry of Police. The Police Association, the Commissioned Police Officers Association, the Police Service, Treasury and WorkCover were represented on the working party, and it was chaired by the Ministry of Police. I understand that later this session a bill will be brought forward to deal with certain aspects aimed at correcting those imbalances. Whether that measure will involve any retrospectivity I am uncertain, but it is a matter that needs to be considered. Again I quote from Mr Rose’s letter:
After being granted a final, and total payment figure of approximately six months of my salary upon exit (without right of appeal), and left in the desperate situation of seeking Social Security payments via Centrelink, is to say the least disgusting after eight proud years of service in a career which was taken from me. I have now been left with a future of total uncertainty, particularly pertaining to financial and associated personal economic factors. Of particular insult is the fact that at the time of receiving such injury I was performing a duty which most general members of society would not be expected to perform. Whilst I acknowledge this to be an every day function associated with the role of Policing, I feel a just and equitable mechanism for reasonable compensation is also required whilst performing such duties or special risks.
I advised the Minister for Police that I intended to raise this matter in the House this evening, and graciously he has attended the Chamber to respond. We must look urgently and sympathetically at extending the provisions of the proposed bill to cover cases such as that of Mr Rose. [Time expired.]
Mr WHELAN (Ashfield - Minister for Police) [6.01 p.m.]: I thank the honourable member for Waratah for his courtesy in advising me that he would be asking me to investigate this matter. I assure him that I will look into the case of John Rose. I have taken on board the concerns he has raised. By way of explanation might I say that the issue of workers compensation for police officers has been ignored by coalition governments since 1988. The Labor Government made a commitment to provide the utmost support for police officers injured in the line of duty. Prior to the last election, Labor made a commitment to recognise the unique nature of policing and negotiate an improvement over time, subject to budgetary constraints, of superannuation and workers compensation benefits available to police.
Police officers who joined the Police Service after 1 April 1988 are covered by the WorkCover workers compensation scheme. Officers who joined prior to 1988 are covered by the hurt-on-duty provisions in the Police Regulation (Superannuation) Act 1906. Because of that anomaly, in April 1996 I established a ministerial working party to examine the whole issue of workers compensation for police officers. The working party, which included representatives of the Police Association, the Commissioned Police Officers Association, the Police Service, Treasury and WorkCover, delivered its report in May this year.
I announced at the Police Association biennial conference in May that the Government would implement the recommendations of the working party. Those recommendations include the topping up of workers compensation from a source other than the cashing in of leave; a review of the Police Services rehabilitation and redeployment program; and dramatic improvements to special risk entitlements, including a significant enhancement of lump sum payments upon death, total and permanent incapacity or discharge where redeployment is not possible, redefinition of "special risk" to take account of dangers peculiar to police work, and establishment of an appeal avenue to the Compensation Court. That means that before the next election the Carr Government will have restored equity between police employed prior to and post 1988. I repeat that I understand the honourable member’s concerns and I commend him for raising these matters on behalf of his constituent John Rose. I certainly will look into the matter.
INTEGRAL ENERGY SERVICES
Ms SEATON (Southern Highlands) [6.03 p.m.]: I wish to bring to the attention of the House concerns that have been expressed to me by constituents of the Southern Highlands electorate about the services, particularly maintenance services, offered by Integral Energy, the electricity distributor in that area. First, I acknowledge the courtesy and attention of the chief executive officer of Integral Energy given to me on any occasion on which I have contacted him or his office. He has always acted promptly to solve whatever problems I have raised with him. In a way, I feel that may not be quite the right way to go about solving some of these problems in the long term, for I always have the feeling that if I make approaches to his office and receive prompt attention, by doing so I bump down the list others who might still be waiting for service or to have their problems solved, but who perhaps may not have thought to contact their local member. Therein may lie an inequity to begin with.
Before I deliver the brickbats, I have a bouquet for Integral Energy. Recently I said on local radio that I was keen to hear more about the sorts of experiences that people were having with Integral Energy. I received a telephone call from Ms Jan Mooney of Mittagong, who was keen to tell me that she was very happy with the service given her by Integral Energy during the recent storms, and that her problems were fixed promptly. So I give credit where it is due, particularly in that instance. Also, I separate the issues that I am about to raise from issues that relate to maintenance and service problems resulting from the recent heavy rains and storms. Those weather conditions brought about a workload that no-one could fairly expect to be fixed instantly by Integral Energy. The comments I am about to make relate to normal, day-to-day service provision by Integral Energy, all things being equal in the environmental climate.
I wish now to put forward the concerns that a number of people have raised with me. Some of those matters have been addressed, and some are yet to be addressed. I seek the Minister’s response, and his attention to the outstanding matters. First of all is the customer Mr Kennedy of Mittagong. He complained about regular interruptions to his power supply and said that when he tried to contact the electricity supplier he found that the advertised contact phone number for the reporting of interruptions does not allow for the proper reporting of those interruptions. Mr John Holton of the East
Bowral Progress Association expresses concern about a number of interruptions to the East Bowral power supply, interruptions that he attributes to an inadequate number of power lines in the area and inadequate maintenance of those lines. There have been a significant number of blackouts in the East Bowral area.
Mr Philip Testaz of Bundanoon also is worried about interruptions to his electricity supply and difficulties in reporting those interruptions. Mr Ian Long of Bowral complains of long delays by Integral Energy in answering emergency calls. As a member of a bush fire brigade, he waited 1½ hours before someone from Integral Energy appeared to repair fallen live wires when a house burnt down in Balmoral. He is also aware of a case where a lightning strike was reported on a house and five hours passed before someone from Integral Energy arrived to inspect the premises.
I have raised a number of concerns. More recently I have been contacted by Mr Barclay and Mr Reece, both of Welby, who raised separate specific concerns with the chief executive. They made the point that when incidents are reported to Integral Energy they seem to get lost. The system seems to lack central organisation and co-ordination. They believe that the person at the call centre who is handling reports does not care about the problems or the outcomes. That is a bad report about a organisation that provides a service. They also believe that supply interruptions are occurring more frequently than is reasonable. Whilst they might be satisfied with the technical explanations that they are being given, they believe that the representatives of Integral Energy are trying to fob them off.
There are widespread concerns that downsizing of maintenance staff numbers has left too few people on the ground to handle the workload. If regional areas like the southern highlands are trying to attract businesses, telecommuters and people wishing to locate their businesses and activities in that area need to be assured that they have a reliable electricity supply for computers, industrial plant and all the things necessary to run businesses and increase the number of local jobs. I urge the Minister to look carefully at these issues and to determine how Integral Energy can improve its level of supply to southern highlands customers.
WOLLONGONG FLOOD AND STORM DAMAGE
Mr SULLIVAN (Wollongong) [6.08 p.m.]: This evening I refer to some of the causes of flood and storm damage in the Illawarra region. The simple answer is that the problems were caused by a great deal of water. However, there is a little more to it than that. I will quote from an article in today’s Illawarra Mercury, an article which relates specifically to the downpour that occurred on the night of 17 August when more than 200 millimetres of rain was recorded in a period of a few hours and 300 millimetres of rain was recorded in a period of 24 hours. The newspaper article on page 14 of today’s Illawarra Mercury, written by Tina Sorenson and headed, "Humans at fault in flood disaster", states:
Humans could be partly to blame for the effects of natural disasters culminating in last month’s Wollongong storm, a government scientist has suggested.
Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) geologist Dr Henk Heijnis believes blocked drains and development near dry water courses contributed to the Illawarra disaster.
That calls into question the role of planning at a State level and the role of the local council, which is primarily responsible for approving developments. I want to refer specifically to a house in Preston Avenue, Figtree, which I inspected. The house backs onto Byarong Creek. That creek has been known to flood frequently, and it was flooded on that night. It is not unusual for that area of Figtree to be flooded and it is not unusual after heavy downpours or after long periods of wet weather for a substantial volume of water to flow down Byarong Creek. On the night in question, motor vehicles parked at an adjoining shopping centre and bowling club floated into the area. Near the house in question Byarong Creek enters four culverts. Motor vehicles became jammed in each of those culverts creating a dam wall.
The house in question, which has elevated foundations, and about a dozen other houses at the southern end of Preston Avenue were flooded. The people who live in that house had not built the original house but had added extensions to it. One enters the house from the street, climbs up two feet of steps, goes into the main entry area and then into an atrium which leads down about four feet of steps into the kitchen and family area. The owners of the house obtained council approval to extend the house. To get to the extension one has to walk down an equivalent of about four feet of steps, so the house has been progressively built down towards the creek. As a result of the downpour the newest additions, which cost almost $20,000 to build, moved three or four inches on their foundations.
Because of that movement the residents of the home will effectively have to demolish the additions after following standard council building
requirements. I believe that council is at fault in allowing the extension to that house to be built at a level lower than existing areas of the home, which were flooded. Councils in flood-prone areas should be required as a matter of course to introduce measures which will reduce flooding problems rather than compound them. In this case council has compounded the problems by allowing an addition to the home which made it more vulnerable to flooding and the house suffered structural damage. I raise this matter for the information of honourable members and the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning.
Private members’ statements noted.
[Mr Deputy-Speaker left the chair at 6.13 p.m. The House resumed at 7.30 p.m.]
SECURITY INDUSTRY ACT: DISALLOWANCE OF SECURITY INDUSTRY REGULATION 1998
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
Ms SEATON (Southern Highlands) [7.30 p.m.]: Earlier I was explaining that some publicans in my area must engage two or three people as bouncers during the evening shifts. That means that the publicans must pay three licence fees, which presupposes that the three people are constantly on roster. Of course, that is not the case, particularly in country and regional areas where people engage in a lot of shift work, seasonal work and so on. Some people act as bouncers for only a month or so before moving on to a permanent job. That means that publicans constantly have to renew the licences for the people who undertake the work of bouncers, and it is becoming an enormous cost burden. Another issue is first aid training. Some of my constituents ask why a St John Ambulance certificate is not acceptable. Small security businesses such as the ones I am speaking about feel that they are being unfairly treated under the new legislation. I have already written to the Minister about this issue.
About 70 per cent of security industry employment is in small and medium firms like the ones I am talking about. They believe that this regulation will create obstacles, especially financial obstacles, to the continuance of their business, which in turn will cause their businesses to be swallowed by larger participants in the industry, resulting in the loss of local jobs. We do not want that to happen. Another issue is the granting of firearms licences. Many larger firms are members of Australian Security Industry Association Ltd and other larger organisations. While I am sure those organisations represent their constituents extremely well, some small businesses believe that those organisations do not deal with their issues as well, as they are more geared to representing larger security firms. That is where a problem lies. Page one of the Security Industry Act Handbook states:
Some of the local businesses in my area want to form a new association that they believe will better represent their specific small industry concerns. They have tried to register their association and obtain firearms licences, but only last week some organisations had their firearms licence applications rejected because their association was not approved by the licensing authority. So that is another obstacle facing small security firms.
Finally, businesses are concerned about whether these new arrangements and the regulation will improve the probity of the industry. I sincerely hope that that will be the case but there is some doubt about whether the commitment of police resources will be sufficient to ensure that those who fail the probity test - for example, if they are charged and convicted of an offence - have their licence revoked and that they do not slip through the system and we return to a situation in which people no longer have confidence in the industry. I sincerely hope that that will not happen and that the Minister will respond swiftly to the concerns I raised in my letter of 2 July, which represented the issues raised by security firms in my area.
Mr CHAPPELL (Northern Tablelands) [7.34 p.m.]: I support the concept of improving standards in the security industry. It is necessary to improve the standards for all the reasons enunciated by the Government, which I fully support. However, I support this disallowance motion because the Security Industry Regulation is yet another example of government persisting with the idea - and the previous Government was also guilty of this - that one solution fits all problems. That is not the case because there are problems of scale and isolation. These days government - and I mean "government" in the generic sense - is failing to address a myriad of problems. It is failing to provide specific solutions that have local application and to produce the results that it wants from its legislation and regulations. Previous speakers have referred to those matters which also concern me.
I shall give the House an example. The first person to contact me about this regulation came
from a small town with a population of about 500 in north-western New South Wales. The town is not quite in my electorate. This man is the local locksmith and the local bouncer when a bouncer is needed. Indeed, he is the local Mr Fix-it. He has been providing these services for many years. He contacted my office and said, "Do you realise that it will now cost me $1,350 a year to be licensed to carry out the sorts of businesses I want to carry out? Half of the things I do voluntarily, and I will not even be able to do that without paying for the privilege." That is the sort of problem we are confronting.
The regional town of Armidale is an example of a much larger town. Armidale has many pubs and clubs, and many university-based functions are held there. All those liquor-based activities require security. However, there is a constant turnover of people providing security services. Mostly they are students who do a bit of work as bouncers in the local nightclubs and bars to earn a few extra bob to support their academic careers. These people must undertake an accreditation course and pay a licence fee. Also, hotel licensees must hold a master licence.
Mr Whelan: Volunteers are not counted.
Mr CHAPPELL: I know. Sometimes these people work voluntarily; at other times they charge for their services. Often the people organising an event must make a discreet decision as to whether they can afford to provide security. If no security is provided the event will not take place, so a degree of voluntaryism is involved. It is a matter of scale of undertaking. In smaller, more remote communities one-size-fits-all solutions may sometimes be valid, but they are not valid in all situations. The problem is that the Government has introduced a new regulation that will simply disable local communities.
As I said, in Armidale there is a high turnover of students trying to earn a few bob casually by providing security services as bouncers. The resultant dysfunction in the security industry is one reason the regulation must be disallowed. The honourable member for Southern Highlands said that the licence fee has increased tenfold, which is significant. Although the $350 fee is probably not significant to people running a business who earn $50,000, $60,000 or $70,000 a year, many people do not earn that amount of money so they are disabled as potential wage-earners, employees, contractors and so on. More importantly, because of the imposition of this regulation, many events will not take place and communities will suffer. This regulation must be disallowed.
I will briefly refer to the transition period. Last week one of my staff phoned the Security Industry Registry to ascertain the position of a couple of my constituents whose licence applications are in a queue and will not be dealt with for six to eight weeks. The registry officer said that if my constituents carried on their business in the meantime they would be acting illegally and would be in breach of the law. That is simply not acceptable. People should not be putting themselves outside the law to carry on their business or, in some instances, to perform voluntary community work. The regulation may not specifically apply to volunteer work, but that issue has been covered.
The licensing backlog is an administrative problem. Transition provisions should apply so that licensee applicants who have been working in the security industry can continue until they receive a recommendation. That is not the information coming from the registry. When challenged by my staff member about the information given, the registry officer said that is the way it is, like it or lump it. That is not good enough, and the Government must address the situation. Governments generally, State and Federal, of any persuasion, seem to believe that they can invent a set of regulations and apply them to a problem, one size fits all. That is not the case.
Governments need to be more discreet and allow people with a good track record to continue working in the industry. Why do people who have been successfully performing security work for the past five years need to be re-accredited? There ought to be a grandfather clause, a transition provision, and special provision for small and isolated communities. Also, there should not be a tenfold increase in fees. I support the withdrawal of this regulation. It needs to be revisited to address the problems.
Mr SMITH (Bega) [7.41 p.m.]: I wish to speak briefly on the disallowance of the Security Industry Regulation. I agree with the honourable members who have said that the security industry needs tightening up. However, it has got to the stage where the increase in fees is not merely a cost-recovery exercise, it is a tax on the industry. One of my constituents, Rob Pollock, is the proprietor of Moruya Hi-Fi and Electrical, a business which is having great troubles because of the increased fees. Mr Pollock is an electrician by trade and, as the name of his business would imply, sells electrical goods. He also conducts a number of other enterprises out of his shop, which is common in country areas with low populations and low volumes of business.
Mr Pollock’s problem would be experienced by many people in small country towns. He has built up a business installing about one security alarm a week. He is probably the only person in the Moruya area who performs such work. Previously his licence fee was $30. After the introduction of the increased fees probably no-one will install security alarms in Moruya. A master licence will cost Mr Pollock $500 and he then has to license his employees at a fee of $300 each. That may be acceptable in the high-volume metropolitan areas where many security alarms are installed every day. But, with the increased fees, Mr Pollock will not be able to continue to install alarms in Moruya, and I would imagine that businesses in many country towns would be in the same position.
On behalf of Mr Pollock I wrote to the Minister for Police on 30 July and received a reply on 2 September from the Parliamentary Secretary, the honourable member for Bulli, who is in attendance. He indicated that the fee was appropriate under the cost-recovery system. That may be the case - and it certainly happened when we were in Government - but to apply a tenfold increase from $30 to $300, and if employees are involved to $600 or $800, is not acceptable. This provision discriminates against country people. Many of the laws enacted by the Carr Government do not take into account the isolation of and low volume of business in country areas. That is one of the reasons why the Government is so much on the nose in regional areas. It now holds only three real country seats. It has to realise that not every business has a large volume of customers, and that businesses conduct a number of enterprises.
The installation of security alarms is one of the enterprises that supplies Mr Pollock’s family with a living. It may be a small proportion of what he does, but he accumulates income through the various activities conducted in his shop. He runs a good business, which he has conducted for many years. The business supports his family and provides a service to the community. In one hit the Government comes in and bangs this fee on him. What would his customers say if he told them that the installation of a security alarm would have cost $30 this year, which was the cost of his licence, but will cost $300 or $400 because the Government says that is the cost-recovery amount? That is not acceptable.
The Government should increase fees gradually and in proportion, like everyone else does. It should not go bang and wipe someone out of business. That is not the way business is done. It might be great for Government members to sit back and have public servants advise on costs, but at the end of the day people have to earn money to pay those fees. The Government has not taken that into account at all. The Government should recognise that country areas do not have a high volume of business to pay for these fees, certainly not in one hit, and some adjustment should be made for that. I support the disallowance motion.
Mr WHELAN (Ashfield - Minister for Police) [7.47 p.m.]: People listening to Opposition members addressing this disallowance motion would think that everyone will be ruined by the regulation. The Opposition supported the security industry legislation when it was passed by the Parliament. I am pleased that the Government is raising standards to protect the public, which is acknowledged by the Opposition, and that the industry is becoming professional. This regulation was prepared in consultation with the Industry Consultative Committee, which included representatives of the industry, unions and the Police Service. The draft version of the regulation was amended, as necessary, following submissions received during the consultation period. Far be it from me to say that the regulation is not supported. A letter dated 14 June from ASIS International stated:
•master licence holders must be a member of an approved Security Industry Organisation. As these organisations are yet to be determined, conditional licences will be issued until proof of membership can be established
We believe that the new Security Act and Regulations is exactly what the Industry required to assist it to clean up its operation and to allow specialist industry peers to regulate the activities of their own members through proper professional bodies controlling the ethics and operation of their members.
New South Wales is leading the way in Australia in the licensing of the Security Industry and you and your government are to be congratulated on your initiatives in this area.
All members who held licences acquired under the old Local Court system received this brochure, which sets out succinctly and in simple terms what is required to obtain a licence. This legislation followed upon the recommendations of the royal commission and the Industrial Relations Commission report into the transport of cash and other valuables. The IRC received submissions and oral evidence from interested parties. The consultation process involved a wide range of people involved in the industry. Contrary to what has been said in this debate, I assure the House that since its introduction on 1 July the legislation has been well received by the industry. This has been confirmed by the industry in telephone conversations, letters, at seminars, at breakfasts and during consultation.
I shall address now the individual matters raised during the debate. First, let me dispel the myth that the fees were set as a revenue-raising exercise. Fees under the old legislation were fixed in 1985, that is, 13 years ago, and an increase was
necessary to meet current costs. Fees must take into account projected cost increases over the next five years as the licences are issued for five years. Costs were also incurred in adopting the IRC recommendations. These included set-up costs of the new Security Industry Registry; selection and training of civilian staff; increase in staff resources following criticism by the IRC of the previous system; more stringent criminal record checks for the first time; more intensive checking of licence applications, including master licence applications for training certificates, financial statements, close associates, bankruptcies, compliance with industrial and other legislation; photographic licences; and the IRC recommendation that licence fees were too low and should be increased.
Fees must be sufficiently high to discourage fly-by-night operators and they were set on the basis of the projected cost-neutral outcome. Any reduction in licence fees puts this outcome in jeopardy. It is important to remember that with small business operators all costs associated with earning income are tax deductible, much the same as it is for a barrister or trade union member. I asked a journalist what the membership fees were of the Australian Journalists Association and was told that it was $500 per annum. The annual fee for a security licence is about $150. Trade union membership costs between $300 and $400. The Opposition spokesperson for police is a barrister. He should tell the House what the fees are for a practising certificate - unless he has a special exemption.
The fee for a solicitor’s practising certificate is considerable. This regulation relates to people in the security industry paying a fee of the order of $150, which is tax deductible. The industry is not complaining. The only complaints are from the Opposition, but it does not represent the industry and is not up to date with the regulations. Under the original provisions the total cost for a sole trader required to be licensed for more than one class of licence and to have a master licence was $1,200. Under the new provisions that will be reduced to $680. Membership of an accredited industry association is required as part of the co-regulation of the industry. This will ensure compliance by all master licence holders with the legislation and with the industry code of conduct.
The risk of cutting corners or of inappropriate practices are higher with small companies that are not under such close scrutiny as larger operations and may have greater difficulty in maintaining market share. This increased risk prevents them from being exempted from membership of industry associations. Small operators took up the opportunity to put their concerns before the IRC and to make submissions during the consultation phase of the regulation. Some small operators put forward their views also at a meeting of the union which representatives from the ministry and my office attended. I stated in Parliament that I will review the operation of the legislation one year after its introduction to ensure that it is not operating unfairly. Small operators are concerned that they may be taken over by large organisations. That is not a direct result of the legislation; it is a regrettable fact of life in commercial industry and the current economic climate.
The Security Industry Registry has suggested that small operators could form their own association and seek accreditation. For example, the Australian Security Industry Association Ltd - ASIAL - has proposed that new associations could commence under its umbrella until such time as they develop sufficient expertise to obtain accreditation in their own right. The transitional provisions mean that existing licences that would otherwise have expired prior to 1 July have been extended until 1 September. A person holding such a licence was given eight weeks from the commencement of the new legislation within which to lodge a licence application and have it processed. The security registry advises that those licence holders were given written advice that they must be relicensed by that date and that such applications have been treated as a priority.
Existing licences due to expire during July have been extended a further 60 days after the original expiry date or until the determination of the application. Licences that expired from August onwards have continued for the remaining time or until the operator’s application was determined. I am advised by the security registry that in all cases licence holders were advised of the requirements that had to be complied with, and that applications were prioritised in order to ensure that they were not disfranchised. Licence holders had a responsibility to lodge applications as advised by the security registry. I am not aware that information of the type mentioned by honourable members opposite has been provided over the security registry’s telephone information line.
All information on licensing, training and all other legislative requirements is contained in the small brochure to which I earlier referred. That brochure was sent, with a covering letter from the Security Industry Registry, to every licence holder and to individuals who applied for a new licence. Bulk supplies of the brochure were provided to industry associations and unions. The honourable
member for Southern Highlands raised an issue that was not correct. I refer her to the specific provisions in subclauses 5(l) and 5(m) that exempt holders of hotelier licences and their employees, and secretaries and employees of registered clubs, from the need to hold a security licence when exercising functions under either the Liquor Act 1982 or the Registered Clubs Act 1976.
Proof of public liability insurance is necessary when conducting a security business, and premiums vary depending on the number of firearms or dogs to be used. That means that ordinary employees acting in the course of their duties do not require an individual licence. Page 5 of the brochure that was forwarded to all licence holders contains information on that aspect. The legislation specifically included a reference to club bouncers because of the proven high risk of violent behaviour in such potentially volatile situations. That recommendation was supported by members on both sides of the House. The security industry required reform, particularly of those areas of it that impacted directly on the public.
I repeat that the regulations were prepared after thorough consultation and concurrence. When the legislation was introduced I said that I would monitor it to ensure that it did not operate unfairly. The Retail Traders Association put forward an excellent stated case, and I have agreed to give that association the extension of time it sought because it was not previously licensed. It was experiencing difficulties with Coles and Woolworths and requested an extension of three months or six months within which to comply with the regulation. The association had no complaints, supported the legislation and will ultimately comply with it. It supports cleaning up the industry, as everybody does, and this is the way to do it.
Mr TINK (Eastwood) [7.57 p.m.], in reply: Unlike the Government, the Opposition does not believe every struggling small businessman in this industry is a fly-by-nighter. The Opposition believes some people in the industry are honest operators trying to make a living and provide a service. In many rural communities represented by the honourable member for Northern Tablelands, the honourable member for Southern Highlands, the honourable member for Bega and others in this House, people offer security services on a part-time basis in rural pubs and small localities. Small operators in the bush may have to struggle to pay the fees that some city operators with high-volume business and turnover are able to afford. That presents a real problem. The Opposition has had much feedback that it believes is genuine and has addressed the problem. The Government should recognise that some genuine operators need time to pay these fees or the opportunity to pay by instalment. The regulation makes no provision to allow for either of those procedures. I am suggesting that a properly drafted regulation that fully takes into account the small business concerns would -
Mr Whelan: You want to disallow the regulations.
Mr TINK: That is because the transitional provisions are a mess, but I will come to that in a minute. So far as the fees are concerned, the Opposition is merely suggesting that the Government should reconsider a properly drafted regulation under the Act that allows time to pay. Three regulations have already been drafted: one that the Opposition is seeking to disallow; one a couple of weeks later to change the fees; and another to give Woolworths and Coles more time to comply. I am suggesting the Government should make a fourth attempt to give a couple of struggling small businessmen around the place a break. All of a sudden instead of paying $35 they are paying $350! Give them a little time to pay. If necessary, do what the councils do, charge them a bit of interest for what is in effect a loan, but allow time to pay. Give them a go.
The Minister referred to Bar Association fees and solicitors fees and numerous other fees. Barristers and solicitors pay fees year by year by year. They do not suddenly receive a bill for five years worth of fees in advance. That is what these people will have to pay. I pay bar fees. The Minister pays a solicitor’s fee.
Mr WHELAN: No, I don’t.
Mr TINK: All right, you do not. I do. I get a bill every year. I have some idea of what I have to pay and some capacity to plan. I do not suddenly get a bill for the next five years that I have to pay in one hit. All these small businessmen need time to pay. There is a capacity for the Government to charge interest in the same way that the local council rates are subject to interest charges. Give them a go because they are not fly-by-nighters. If that is the Minister’s view we will make it well known around the place. Industry associations are extremely disturbed about the fees. I understand a draft letter was distributed by the ministry seeking to have some associations sign off on fees. They did not do so. Those associations said, in relation to fees, "We do not agree with them."
The Opposition agrees with the thrust of the Act. That is why we supported it. We believe that it has to be cleaned up. We support the legislation, but we do not support the fees sight unseen and we do not support a situation where a simple amendment would do the trick. The transitional provisions are at the heart of the disallowance motion. If the transitional provisions are not right the whole thing
deserves to be speared. All I can say is that the advice that is being provided on the 1300 number is a dog’s breakfast. The honourable member for Northern Tablelands and his staff were given certain advice; my staff were given other advice; and, apparently, the third version is the correct one. Somebody had better go to the people who are manning the 1300 number and tell them to get their act together and dispense the right advice, because at the moment -
Mr Whelan: Tell me why you want to disallow the whole of the regulation.
Mr TINK: Because people who are attempting to renew their licences should not be experiencing delays in the registry, through no fault of their own. Their businesses are being put in jeopardy because the Minister has not seen fit to provide proper transitional provisions to enable them to proceed, business as usual, until such time as the registry can get its act together, act competently and give consistent advice; until such time as their applications have been processed. If they are processed and they fail, that is one thing. If they are processed and they succeed, that is another. Until a decision is made they ought to be able to continue in business. Our understanding is that that is not happening; they are falling between the cracks and for that reason the whole regulation is flawed.
The Government should try for the fourth time to allow people who are waiting for a final decision to continue in business and keep their employees in employment. The Opposition supported the legislation. We supported it, among other reasons, because we believed that there would be proper transitional provisions. The Minister has not delivered proper transitional provisions in the regulation and that is why the whole thing is flawed. If there are people out there falling between the cracks through no fault of their own because of this primary regulation it does not deserve to stand, it is not fit to stand, and we would not be doing our job if we did not raise the issue.
These people are trying to do the right thing and they should be allowed to continue to trade until a decision is made one way or the other. They are under a bit of financial pressure, particularly those in the bush, and they need a little time to pay. They would be the only people in New South Wales - although many will probably follow, given the budget problems in this State - that receive a bill for five years fees virtually without warning. Five years, pay in advance, no time to pay, no warning, nothing. So far as this Government is concerned, anyone who cannot pay is a fly-by-night operator. There are a lot of people out there who are honest, who are struggling, who are battlers and who provide very important security services at country hotels and other venues. They are certainly battlers, but they are not fly-by-nighters. It is a downright insult and they just need a fair go to deliver services to their community. The Government could have a new regulation gazetted within days.
Question - That the motion be agreed to - put.
The House divided.
Mr Beck Mr O’Farrell
Mr Blackmore Mr D. L. Page
Mr Brogden Mr Peacocke
Mr Chappell Mr Phillips
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Richardson
Mr Cochran Mr Rixon
Mr Cruickshank Mr Rozzoli
Mr Debnam Mr Schipp
Mr Ellis Ms Seaton
Ms Ficarra Mrs Skinner
Mr Glachan Mr Slack-Smith
Mr Hartcher Mr Small
Mr Jeffery Mr Souris
Dr Kernohan Mrs Stone
Mr Kerr Mr Tink
Mr MacCarthy Mr J. H. Turner
Dr Macdonald Mr R. W. Turner
Mr Merton Mr Windsor
Ms Moore Tellers,
Mr Oakeshott Mr Fraser
Mr O’Doherty Mr Smith
Ms Allan Mr Martin
Mr Amery Ms Meagher
Mr Anderson Mr Mills
Ms Andrews Mr Moss
Mr Aquilina Mr Nagle
Mrs Beamer Mr Neilly
Mr Clough Ms Nori
Mr Crittenden Mr E. T. Page
Mr Debus Mr Price
Mr Face Dr Refshauge
Mr Gaudry Mr Rogan
Mr Gibson Mr Scully
Mrs Grusovin Mr Shedden
Mr Harrison Mr Stewart
Ms Harrison Mr Sullivan
Mr Hunter Mr Tripodi
Mr Iemma Mr Watkins
Mr Knowles Mr Whelan
Mr Langton Mr Woods
Mrs Lo Po’ Mr Yeadon
Mr McBride Tellers,
Mr McManus Mr Beckroge
Mr Markham Mr Thompson
Mr Collins Mr Carr
Mr Hazzard Mr Knight
Mr Kinross Mr Rumble
Question so resolved in the negative.
PAWNBROKERS AND SECOND-HAND DEALERS ACT: DISALLOWANCE OF CLAUSE 16A(1)
Mr J. H. TURNER (Myall Lakes) [8.17 p.m.]: I move:
OF THE PAWNBROKERS AND SECOND-HAND DEALERS AMENDMENT
(RECORDS AND GOODS) REGULATION
That this House disallows clause 16A(1) of the Pawnbrokers and Second-hand Dealers Amendment (Records and Goods) Regulation 1998 made under the Pawnbrokers and Second-hand Dealers Act 1996 which was published in Government Gazette No. 112 on 24 July 1998 at page 5619 and tabled in the House on 8 September 1998.
That regulation refers to the requirement on pawnbrokers and second-hand dealers to report to the Commissioner of Police in electronic form all information on prescribed items within 24 hours of the record being made, or in accordance with other arrangements made with the licensee by the Commissioner of Police. The Opposition agrees with the second part of that regulation. The Commissioner of Police should make other arrangements with the licensee. This has been a sticking point of this legislation for some considerable time. The Government knows that this matter was discussed at a number of meetings, including the Regulation Review Committee. I was invited by the honourable member for Bankstown to attend a meeting of that committee at which the problem of reporting within 24 hours was specifically raised.
I sympathise with the industry in that regard. The irony of the situation is that regulation 16A(2) refers to a further reporting requirement by those who are not required to store information in electronic form. That must be furnished to the Commissioner of Police in a manner and at a time directed by the commissioner. The regulation is silent as to that time, but one would think it would not be less than 24 hours. If this is designed for the purpose of the detection of crime, how one can have consistency in reporting escapes me. The simple answer is that a person wishing to evade the law would go to a smaller dealer who sells less than $150,000 worth of used items, because there will be a longer reporting time component.
It is not the desire of the Opposition in moving for disallowance to thwart the detection of crime; we want to stop pawnbrokers and second-hand dealers being incriminated by not being able to report within the 24-hour period. In many instances it is simply not practical for them to do it. The regulation puts an onus on them and makes them liable in the event that for some reason - business pressure, family pressure, illness or even holidays - they do not report. Mr Tim Martin, a pawnbroker from Chester Hill, appeared before the Regulation Review Committee. He has a sensible approach to the matter, believing that there should be a change. When the amending bill was debated in this House on 26 May the Opposition said that it would not oppose the bill but that if the 24-hour requirement was included it would consider moving disallowance of the relevant regulation. I now honour that undertaking. On 19 May Mr Martin wrote to the Regulation Review Committee stating:
However, the regulation is to be amended so that ALL electronic records are to be transmitted within 24 hours. The change from 14 days to 24 hours will be unworkable for many in the industry, especially with casual staff on some days and with weekend trading. For workability, there needs to be flexibility on time of transmission. A period of 3 days would be workable, or perhaps the police could nominate to each shop a particular weekday for which that shop is to transmit their weekly data, staggering the data load for the COPS system.
The major concern the industry has with this amendment is not the time issue but the fact that we will now be required to regularly send all records to the police. For years pawnbrokers have happily supplied to police details of new loans and purchases. This is data useful to the police, and what the local DATS officers want (when I asked them). Much of the other records required by the Act and Regulations are only useful in rare circumstances and will of course be available from the licensee. It is a gross invasion of privacy on our buying customers to transmit buying customers’ names and addresses with what they brought, how much they paid, and when. This places our customers at greater risk of theft, as well as raising questions about policing tax laws, and privacy of collectors. It will make some buyers reluctant to buy from a secondhand dealer.
Mr Martin went on to say that much of the data is unreliable and the buyer’s name and address, the date, and the price and even description of the stock are no longer relevant to police. Many people from the industry have contacted me since introduction of the requirement for transmission of computerised data saying that they cannot comply with the 24-hour requirement. They are fearful that they will be liable to penalty through the Department of Fair Trading and/or the police if they do not download the information. If it is a matter of the detection of
stolen goods, traders have to hold the goods for 14 days in any event. If it is a matter of marrying the traders’ reports with reports of stolen goods - I do not want to knock the police; they do a pretty good job - I am told by the industry that police officers would rarely come around within 24 hours even when they have the information. Police are very busy and have other things to do.
There is also the problem of recording the information to be supplied to the police within the 24-hour period. I have had reports that the information required for the software component is onerous. For instance, a gold chain would have to be described by length, links, thickness and all sorts of other technical information. Many of those involved are small business people working long hours to make a quid. They have to comply with a whole range of requirements. If they were given a slightly longer time they might be able to do it but if they have been busy, particularly on a weekend when they probably do their best trade, it would be extremely difficult to record the information in the required form, put it in the computer and transmit it within 24 hours.
There is a solution. I implore the Minister for Community Services, Minister for Ageing, Minister for Disability Services, and Minister for Women, the former Minister for Fair Trading, to convey this to the Minister in the other place: clause 16A(1) of the Pawnbrokers and Second-hand Dealers Amendment (Records and Goods) Regulation should be changed so that the records can be made in accordance with other arrangements made by the Commissioner of Police with the licensee. I would hope that we could come to an arrangement with the Government and the Minister in the upper House so that commonsense can apply. If we can achieve a reasonable time for reporting so that people will not be made criminals themselves by not reporting, the matter could be resolved.
Because of the intransigence of the Government in relation to the 24-hour period the Opposition has no choice but to move for disallowance of the regulation. As I said earlier, in my speech on the legislation on 26 May 1998 I stated that the Opposition reserved its right to move for disallowance of the regulation. The matter was raised in the Regulation Review Committee. The police simply did not take any notice of the message that was sent out by the industry. In all fairness, I believe that the Department of Fair Trading probably did take notice of it but the police seemed to be intransigent on it. I believe that the police are being impractical. If the legislation is to safeguard property and ensure that there is a proper reporting technique and that those who deal in stolen goods are properly brought to justice, a practical approach is needed. We do not want people avoiding their responsibilities because of sheer incapacity to comply. If a reasonable and proper time for compliance can be agreed on it will benefit the industry, the police and the Government. The Opposition will pursue disallowance of the regulation until commonsense applies in relation to it.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mrs Lo Po’.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Order of Business
Motion by Mrs Lo Po’ agreed to:
That standing and sessional orders be suspended to permit consideration forthwith of General Orders of the Day (Committee Reports) followed by six private members’ statements.
STANDING ETHICS COMMITTEE
Reports: A Draft Code of Conduct for Members of the Legislative Assembly
Mr NAGLE (Auburn) [8.28 p.m.]: I speak on two reports by the Legislative Assembly Standing Ethics Committee on a draft code of conduct for members of the Legislative Assembly. The first is dated October 1997 and the second is dated 1998. It relates to the code of conduct put before the House by the Premier and subsequently accepted. The two reports outline the inquiry process which has led to the adoption by the Legislative Assembly of a code of conduct. This is the first parliament in Australia to formally resolve to adopt a code of conduct and as such reflects this State’s commitment to obtaining higher standards for its elected representatives in future. The Legislative Assembly Standing Ethics Committee presented the final draft code of conduct for members of the Legislative Assembly on 16 April 1997. The committee’s report detailing the process behind the drafting of the code was tabled in October last year.
As honourable members would be aware, a code of conduct was adopted by the House on 6 May 1998. The code of conduct contains many of the provisions recommended in the committee’s draft code presented to the House. The code covers such conduct as conflict of interest, bribery, the receiving of gifts, the use of public resources and the use of confidential information. It is a living document that forms the basis of the beginning of a code of conduct for members of Parliament into the future.
Further, it will be subject to review to ensure that it is consistent with contemporary standards. The Premier has undertaken to appoint an ethics commissioner in the very near future.
The ethics commissioner will advise members of the House on standards of behaviour and on their rights and responsibilities in relation to conflict of interest, bribery, the receiving of gifts, the use of public resources and the use of confidential information. I look forward to working with the ethics commissioner in the very near future. I thank committee members for their hard work in the inquiry process and the development of a code of conduct. I especially thank the three community members of the committee. For the first time in the history of parliament in western democracy three community members were appointed to a parliamentary committee.
The community members were Mr Stan Hedges, a former mayor and businessman involved in a great deal of business activity and community activities such as being chairman of the New South Wales Electricity Commission; Mrs Leonie Tye, a housewife and businessperson from the central coast; and Mr Kim Wilson, a former justice of the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea and a lawyer. The three community members played an invaluable role and acted as a check and balance to ensure that the committee faced up to the types of concerns about members’ behaviour that were being raised in the wider domain.
Community input has been central to the project of drafting the code, and the code adopted by the House reflects a sophisticated understanding of the balance of competing demands - constituent, party, personal and political - that are part of the day-to-day life of a member of Parliament. As I said, the second report examined the draft code of conduct presented by the Premier. That was embraced enthusiastically by the majority of committee members. I thank the committee secretariat for their hard work. I thank the clerk to the committee, Ronda Miller; Daniel Wright, for his hard work on the committee’s first report; the current secretariat, Helen, Stephanie and Kylie; and Greg, who assisted the committee in the preparation of a discussion paper.
In summary, the code adopted by the Legislative Assembly is a workable code that encompasses aspirational principles. This Parliament will now go forward as the first parliament to adopt a workable code of conduct for elected representatives. Under the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act there is a requirement for review of the code of conduct at least once every two years. A review will be made into the way in which the code is being implemented, whether it works and whether it is sufficient to cover the contingencies of life and the vicissitudes that befall us.
In this game it is hard to reach the high ideals that may be expected of us. We are always placed in the position of making decisions, because we are decision makers. There is an up side and a down side to every decision. We try to uphold as best we can the ethical standards required by the community. We will not have our privileges impeded but we will listen to the community and to the ethics commissioner and we will proceed to work with this code. I extend my thanks to my fellow committee members, the honourable member for Gladesville, the honourable member for Peats, the honourable member for Murwillumbah, the honourable member for Liverpool, the honourable member for Manly, the honourable member for Cabramatta and the honourable member for Northcott, and the three community members to whom I have already referred, Mr Stan Hedges, Mrs Leonie Tye and Mr Kim Wilson.
I recommend that the Parliament consider and embrace the committee’s recommendation No. 7 and that it consider promoting educative programs not only to members of Parliament but also in the community. It is important that the community knows about the way in which the New South Wales Legislative Assembly works and the way in which laws are formulated and passed. Those are aspirational goals. I commend both reports to the House and I again thank all those involved in the provision of excellent reports to the Parliament.
Mr LYNCH (Liverpool) [8.34 p.m.]: I intend to raise matters that have not, in my view, been resolved in the code that has been adopted by the House. The first issue relates to the legal impact of the code. Most codes of conduct, whether they relate to parliaments or to other institutions, do not necessarily or of their very nature have legal implications. This code is very different. Because of the provisions of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act this code has very clear and definitive consequences. A substantial breach of the code could lead to a finding of corruption. Therefore, a legal implication flows from the code, and the same cannot be said about most other codes of conduct.
That means that the aspirational code originally adopted by the committee contained more aspirational provisions and had more difficulties than
other codes, because aspirational codes are generally couched in very broad terms. The difficulty is that at some stage a lawyer may want to apply the letter of the law to those formulations within the aspirational code. The code contains very broad statements and aspirations. People may find that a number of things they have been doing that they thought to be proper and fair - and which would generally be perceived to be proper and fair - may technically be in breach of the code. Of course, that is no reason not to have a code of conduct; that is simply something that should be borne in mind as time goes by.
My second point is that the committee’s work was done largely on a consensual basis. Votes were taken on very few issues and members spoke in opposition to each other. In one such instance I was on the losing side, as sometimes happens to us all. Honourable members will recall that the requirement for a code of conduct came out of what is known as the Metherell affair. The Independent Commission Against Corruption drafted a clause to include in the code a provision that would cover the position if such a set of circumstances were to occur again. The committee by a majority vote resolved not to adopt the ICAC recommendation. There is an argument that other clauses in the code cover the situation. That may well be right.
It is rather curious, however, that the code was drafted as a result of a particular set of circumstances yet the provision covering that set of circumstances was not adopted by the committee. As I have said, I suspect that issue may come back to haunt the committee. I turn to my final point. The first report of the Standing Ethics Committee presented three different models to enforce the code and cover the way in which the situation is to be resolved when a complaint is made and investigation has to occur. I favoured model B, which I largely drafted. Model B called for the use of an ethics commissioner to investigate and make determinations of fact in relation to alleged breaches of the code. I am acutely aware that that is a largely unpopular proposition within the Chamber.
I guess I would like to be in the position to say, "I told you so" perhaps several years down the track when the regime that has been introduced may be used in a partisan way by one side or the other - all that is needed is 50 per cent of the votes plus one - to achieve a particular result. It seems to me, as one who is acutely aware of having been in the minority on a number of occasions, that the use of an independent arbiter may well be of assistance. It may well be that time will tell, and the same could probably be said for many of the provisions that were finally adopted. The code is not a document that will be written in stone forever more; it will be modified as time goes by and as we see how it operates and whether community expectations and our own expectations change. It would not surprise me if the code had to be amended in several ways, and that would probably be very positive. I extend my thanks to the secretariat for their work.
COMMITTEE ON THE INDEPENDENT COMMISSION AGAINST CORRUPTION
Collation of Evidence: General Aspects of Operations
Mr NAGLE (Auburn) [8.38 p.m.]: The committee, as part of its responsibility to monitor the functioning of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, holds regular general meetings with the commissioner. The sixteenth general meeting was held on 28 November 1997 and the proceedings of the meeting are contained in this report. Another meeting has been held since. Once again the committee’s general meeting with the commissioner canvassed a wide range of subjects, including investigations, corruption prevention and education, and corruption research. The committee finds the general meetings to be a valuable means of obtaining information on the operations of ICAC and of questioning the commissioner on specific matters. Sometimes that questioning can be very volatile, but basically the committee and the commissioner manage to get through the proceedings, and the information conveyed to the committee is usually very helpful to the committee in carrying out its functions and role.
Honourable members may be interested in an overview of the work that is carried out by the commission. The meeting revealed that the number of complaints and other matters received by the commission has remained high. The committee was told that 6,643 matters were received by the commission in 1996-97. Local government, which comprises 177 councils in New South Wales, was the subject of the largest number of complaints, with 33.3 per cent of the total number of complaints in the period July to October 1997. The Department of Corrective Services followed, with 19.1 per cent of the total number of complaints in the same period. There was an increase in the number of protected disclosures made to the commission since the last general meeting, with 23.5 disclosures per month, compared to 16.75 per month in the previous year.
The commissioner reported on the implementation of the recommendations of the
Independent Commission Against Corruption. Since its establishment ICAC has made 97 recommendations, of which 35 were for legislative change and 62 were for systemic change. Forty per cent of the recommendations for legislative change have been implemented, compared to 71 per cent of the recommendations for systemic change. This year ICAC will survey the implementation of recommendations made in its investigation reports over the past three years and the committee will examine that survey with interest.
At the time of the general meeting the commission was conducting the first stage of its investigation into the Department of Corrective Services. That investigation centred on the conduct of a prison officer who had developed a working relationship with a former criminal, brought contraband into the prison and arranged for the bashing of a prisoner. The commission has since reported on that aspect of the investigation and intends to table further reports on the issue raised by the investigation.
The report on Operation Cal was discussed at some length. The commissioner told the committee that the investigation into three local councils - Lane Cove, Holroyd and Fairfield - raised concern about probity in the local government sector. A number of councillors and officers in the councils under investigation had received gifts from interested parties. Some councillors failed to report the gifts. This ongoing exposure of corrupt practices is a crucial part of the commission’s functions. Other functions such as research are also important.
In the period leading up to the general meeting in November the research section’s functions included working with the investigation unit to identify areas that may potentially be the subject of investigation. The research section is working also on developing a database to enable sophisticated analysis of complaints, to determine more accurately the types of complaints received from the public and chief executive officers and employees within the public sector. This would be useful in examining trends in corruption.
The commissioner told the committee that a large project that was undertaken in recent times was the study on the impact of the Protected Disclosures Act. I share the commissioner’s concern that implementation of the Protected Disclosures Act has been poor: only 42 per cent of organisations have implemented internal reporting systems and 65 per cent have failed to inform their staff about the Act. The commissioner reported that an interdepartmental steering committee has been established to attempt to improve implementation rates, and the Premier has issued a directive to all agencies to implement the internal reporting systems. Other initiatives will be undertaken as a matter of priority in 1998.
The corruption prevention and education section has a number of ongoing projects. A key project involves identifying the corruption prevention issues in public sector recruitment, with the aim of improving ethical standards in public sector recruitment. It is hoped that this in turn will reduce the number of complaints about recruitment received by the commission. Another important corruption prevention project involves examining what opportunities exist for local government inspectors to act corruptly. The commission has developed a set of guidelines for councils which it aims to release this year after review. As part of its corruption prevention work the commission has also given advice to departments and authorities undertaking projects.
The advice usually relates to matters such as whether the procedures used are conducive to corruption. The Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, Landcom and the Department of Land and Water Conservation have been the recipients of this advice. The committee heard that the education section has undertaken work to educate both the public sector and the general public. This involves providing training material to public sector managers, undertaking workshops and distributing community education material to public schools and high schools.
The Committee on the Independent Commission Against Corruption focused on the Operations Review Committee due to its importance as an accountability mechanism. The function of the ORC is to advise the commission on whether to investigate a complaint or to discontinue an investigation. The committee heard that the ORC considers approximately 100 reports at each meeting, which results in a heavy workload. The committee is determined to look closely at the operation of the ORC during the current review of ICAC.
In conclusion, as with the committee’s previous collations, the report of the half-yearly general meeting held on 28 November 1997 contains a valuable overview of the commission’s activities in investigations, education, research and corruption prevention. I thank the commissioner for his attendance at the general meeting, and I thank commission staff for their work in gathering the information required by the committee. I thank also members of the committee for their participation,
which was vigorous at times, and the commissioner for the work he has done in advising the committee. I appreciate the excellent work of the committee staff and I commend the collation of evidence to the House.
Mr LYNCH (Liverpool) [8.45 p.m.]: I speak on the collation of evidence of the Commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption on general aspects of the commission’s operations. An issue that arose at this committee meeting, which had been raised many times before and about which I have spoken, relates to false and vexatious complaints being made to ICAC, usually accompanied by some attempt to obtain media coverage. This is a cause for considerable anger on the part of the victim of the false complaints, and because of the associated media attention it has considerable potential to damage that individual. More importantly, it means that ICAC must expend precious resources on preliminary assessments of completely unmeritorious complaints. ICAC could be doing more useful things with the money than chasing rabbits down warrens.
At this committee hearing discussion took place in relation to a serious issue which involved an attempt to directly influence the parliamentary process. It related to a complaint by the Property Council of Australia to ICAC dated 18 June 1997 over proposed amendments to the City of Sydney Act. On that same day the Property Council of Australia issued a press release announcing to the world that it had complained to ICAC about the proposed amendments. To suggest that this was a bona fide attempt to get ICAC to investigate an act of corruption is, of course, monumentally laughable. It would be regarded as a classic case of ICAC having to waste its valuable time and resources assessing a complaint without merit.
There is an even more sinister aspect in this instance, that the real aim was to impact upon the passage of legislation and derail its passage in the other place. It is bad enough that bodgie complaints are made that waste ICAC’s resources. It is even more outrageous when that is done to derail the parliamentary process. Part of the concerns were well expressed by the Minister for Local Government in a letter dated 30 July 1997 to Commissioner O’Keefe. That letter stated, in part:
While I respect the democratic right of any individual group to oppose, support, or express any opinion on proposed legislation, changes to existing provisions or indeed any decisions of the Government, comments should not be misleading, untrue or threatening.
On 18 June 1997 the Property Council of Australia issued a press release claiming that it had referred details of the proposed amendments relating to a development levy in the City of Sydney Act to ICAC because, in its view, the scheme could be conducive to corruption. The press release was issued at the time the amendment was being debated in the upper House and was obviously designed to influence the Independent members who had not publicly detailed their intentions with respect to the legislation. To my knowledge this is the first time that ICAC has been used to influence the parliamentary process. That is an undesirable precedent and the sooner it stops the better. Finally, I pass on my thanks to the secretariat for its work.
JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE UPON ROAD SAFETY
Report: Staysafe 41 - Review of the Road Safety Situation in New South Wales in 1995
Mr GIBSON (Londonderry) [8.48 p.m.]: As an ongoing task the Staysafe committee is required, first, to monitor, investigate and report on the road safety situation in New South Wales and, second, to review and report on counter measures aimed at reducing deaths, injuries and the social and economic costs to the community arising from road accidents. This report, the second report to be issued under the annual review process, confirms the strong leadership of the Roads and Traffic Authority in policy and program development to reduce road trauma. Unfortunately, it has also continued to identify the deficiencies in the RTA’s documentation and responsiveness that were described in the preceding annual review covering the 1994 period. It is hoped that those deficiencies will be corrected as the Staysafe committee continues to monitor and review the road safety activities of government agencies.
Potentially enormous benefits are to be gained from the new approaches to road safety that are evolving, including the vision zero concept in Sweden, the integration of road safety and environmental issues in European jurisdictions, and the shift from a specific road transport safety focus to more general policy and program development activities that focus on community safety.
A wider aspect is that the very success of our dealing with road trauma is providing an impetus for better dealing with other areas of injury and trauma. In particular, in the area of workplace trauma, I note the recommendation of the Standing Committee on
Law and Justice in another place the formation of a workplace safety committee similar to the Staysafe committee. That recommendation reflects the importance of parliamentary committees such as the Staysafe committee to deal effectively with unintentional deaths and injuries in the New South Wales community.
Sometimes the committee has to be tough. The Staysafe 41 report of the Staysafe committee reflects the need to be tough and a little hard-nosed. The report documents the rather messy dealings of the road and transport portfolios in responding to the community’s twenty-sixth report into the safety of schoolchildren around buses. To put it bluntly, the behaviour of the RTA and the Department of Transport officials in assessing the findings and recommendations of the report has been deficient and neglectful. Initially many of the crucial recommendations were rejected but now belatedly they are being adopted and put into place.
Overall, it does not appear that there was any attempt by the bureaucrats to view the findings and recommendations as a complete package of counter measures, as was intended and clearly stated by the committee when it drafted the report. Instead, the bureaucrats examined each recommendation in isolation and took great pains to demonstrate why each recommendation should be rejected. Why? In great part the reason for the poor performance of the bureaucrats was because they were angry that their advice to the committee during the inquiry had not been accepted. They thought that three or four children being killed around school buses each year was something that we just had to accept and was the parents’ fault. The committee did not accept that and said:
That attitude and that policy is unacceptable! There are things that we can do - all of us - whether we’re drivers passing by, a bus driver, a teacher, a parent or a government official.
The committee made recommendations to address those matters so that each and every one of us can do something to ensure that our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews or the neighbours’s children do not face death just because they travel to and from school. I am angry and I think the Minister should be angry about the response of government officials to the report. The Minister, the former member for Kogarah before him and the Minister for the Olympics when he held the roads portfolio were given very poor advice.
If honourable members do not believe me they should ask my fellow members of the Staysafe committee, Brian Evans who lost his little son on the last day of school or all those parents, schools and communities who have suffered a searing, unforgettable and needless tragedy. Listen to the words of Brian Evans just a few days ago. Last Monday he wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald and said:
My son didn’t die because his parents didn’t care for him, he died because five-year-old children get excited, vehicles are allowed to pass school buses and buses are permitted to run early . . .
Mr Evans concluded:
. . . these issues remain disgracefully uncoordinated and at the mercy of vested interests in the transport industry.
The Staysafe committee will continue to defend the right to safety of those in our community who use the roads. The committee will continue to investigate new ways to eliminate road trauma, and review the existing policies and practices to see whether we can do better with what we already have in the armoury. The documentation of current and previous road safety-related work by government agencies, and the exploration of new approaches to road safety, will remain as the central approaches of the Staysafe committee’s annual review activities in the future.
Before concluding I must make note of the bipartisan manner in which committee members conducted their inquiries and deliberations. I am grateful for the hard work of my colleagues, Government and Opposition members, and members from the crossbenches. Collectively members of the Staysafe committee bring a wealth of experience and an ever-critical approach to the monitoring, investigation and review of road safety issues. Their scrutiny ensures that policy and programs for road trauma reduction remain focused, and are developed and delivered efficiently and effectively.
The work of the parliamentary officers in the Staysafe committee office has greatly assisted the committee’s deliberations. I note the roles played by my director, Mr Ian Faulks, and his staff including Mr Chris Papadopoulos, Mr Paul Adams and Ms Cory de Vega. I thank the parliamentary reporting staff for their excellent efforts, and the parliamentary printing section for the printing and publication of this report. I commend the report to the House.
Mr SMITH (Bega) [8.54 p.m.]: I speak briefly on Staysafe 41, which is a review of the road safety situation in New South Wales in 1995. Page 283 of the report refers to reports of incidents on school buses. Most incidents happen when children are alighting from, entering or going around buses,
or when parents are on the opposite side of the road to where they should be to pick up their children when a bus pulls up. Honourable members know that most accidents happen at those times.
Members representing country electorates are deeply concerned about primary school children who have to travel long distances on highways out of town on their way to or from school. They are not travelling in built-up areas in a 50 or 60 kilometre per hour speed zone. Primary school children often are seated three to a seat without seat belts. I have raised this matter on a number of occasions and I believe that the Staysafe committee will investigate it.
Whichever party is in office, that problem has to be grappled with, to avoid a major accident on a country road. In such an event three primary school children sitting on one bus seat could suffer multiple injuries. I am fearful of such an accident occurring. Fitting school buses with seat belts will be expensive. Seat belts have been installed in tourist buses. That requirement must be implemented in school buses, particularly those travelling long distances and at high speed on highways.
A seat equipped with a secure seat belt must be provided for each passenger on a bus. I am sure that is a matter that the Staysafe committee will investigate. Bad accidents can be prevented if we try to do something about them now. I congratulate Ian Faulks and the Staysafe staff on the wonderful job they have done. The Staysafe committee, a bipartisan body, is recognised not only in New South Wales but throughout the world as one of the top 20 safety organisations. I am sure its good work will continue and that in the future it will consider the matter I have raised.
Mr HUNTER (Lake Macquarie) [8.59 p.m.]: Tonight I speak in support of the Staysafe 41 report entitled "Review of the Road Safety Situation in New South Wales in 1995", which continues the implementation of the committee’s resolution to review road safety activities in New South Wales on an annual basis. The oversight of actions undertaken to reduce road trauma was a central aspect of the Staysafe committee’s terms of reference to monitor, review, investigate and report on the road safety situation. I intended to limit my comments to referring to a commitment made by the Premier when delivering a speech, which is incorporated in Staysafe 41. The report introduces the Premier’s speech as follows:
Staysafe believes that, in terms of road safety, probably the most memorable event of 1995 in New South Wales occurred in a speech by the Hon. Bob Carr MP, Premier of New South Wales, at the NRMA conference: "Crashes: Costs and Causes" on Tuesday 12 September 1995. This speech committed the Carr Government to specific road trauma reduction objectives by the year 2000.
The Premier’s commitment to the goal that New South Wales roads would be the safest in the world by 2000, and to the objectives of fewer than 500 road fatalities and fewer than 5,500 serious casualties from road crashes by 2000, drew immediate criticism, which was relayed in the newspapers at the time. The Staysafe committee supports the Carr Labor Government’s commitment to New South Wales having the safest roads in the world by 2000. The development of appropriate and achievable goals is a core function of any strategic planning process. It is inappropriate to disparage any government that seeks to make a clear commitment to address a problem such as road trauma, a remedial problem which causes such social and economic cost to the New South Wales community.
I know that feeling is shared by all members of the Staysafe committee. No matter which government is in power, every effort to reduce fatalities on our road is supported. The Government’s commitment certainly has my support, and I commend the Premier and the Government for setting this goal. The sooner the Government can introduce the 50 kilometre per hour urban speed limit the closer it will be to achieving that goal. We know that 60 or 70 lives, including the lives of young children, could be saved each year by introducing that lower speed limit on our residential streets. I commend the Staysafe 41 report to the House.
Mr O’DOHERTY (Ku-ring-gai) [9.02 p.m.]: I thank the members of the Staysafe committee and its director, Ian Faulks, for their tireless work on behalf of the safety of the State’s pedestrians, particularly schoolchildren. Two of my constituents, Brian Evans and Debbie Dietz, whose son was killed in a tragic accident at the end of 1996, have placed great faith in the work of Staysafe. On behalf of Brian and Debbie I inform the House that the Opposition is appalled at the inaction of the Carr Government. That inaction has already been referred to tonight by the chairman of the committee, whom I thank for his comments and for placing on the record part of Brian’s recent letter to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Despite the fact that the Government has made many promises to this family and to me as their local member, it has taken no action whatsoever. Staysafe has recognised that and Brian Evans has been very patient, but he has now lost his patience. He believes that he is the victim of a campaign to keep him silent by promising more and more things
that never eventuate. It is cruelty in the extreme for the Carr Government, or any government for that matter, to make promises to parents who have lost their children, simply in the hope that they will go away. As I said on the recent occasion of the service to mark the remembrance day for the group Helping Our Pedestrians Everywhere - HOPE - governments must make decisions based on true compassion, not just expediency.
That means being with those who grieve and making a real difference in the lives of people who have lost their loved ones, in the hope that this will not happen to others. I watched Brian and Debbie go through the awful events of the past 18 months, both as their friend and local member. I do not want this to happen to other constituents or friends, my family or anyone else in my electorate. In the time available to me I should like to place on record some of the questions that Brian Evans asked of the Minister for Transport, and Minister for Roads - questions that have no answers and that betray the fact that the Government has acted in the most cynical and uncaring fashion possible. Some of the questions Brian Evans asked of the Minister were:
•What was the outcome of the Newcastle trial which convinced you that a 40kph speed limit for overtaking vehicles around stopped school buses would be beneficial to School Child pedestrian safety?
•What aspects of the Newcastle trial convinced you not to limit the speed of vehicles travelling in the opposite direction to the bus?
•What will be the penalties for drivers who:
1. fail to slow down . . .
2. fail to slow down and take care . . .
3. collide with a child, killing or maiming them . . .
•Considering the apparent view that flashing signs were needed in connection with the new 40kph rule, and the time and effort expended in finding a suitable device, on what basis was it decided to rely on static signs . . .
•Was the static sign ever tested in the Newcastle trial and what was the outcome of the test?
•Is it true that the tested, electronic signs proved to be too expensive and the only reason for choosing untested static signs was cost . . .
•On what basis has it been decided to continue ignoring the Recommendation of Staysafe 26 to properly upgrade warning lights on buses and cease their being confused with indicator lights?
•What was the outcome of the Newcastle trial with regard to the use of wig wag lights?
•Did the Newcastle trial establish whether or not passing drivers will have sufficient time to slow to 40kph when their only warning is the activation of wig wag lights when the bus doors open?
•What enforcement problems did the trial expose and how were they solved?
Unfortunately, I do not have enough time to place the remaining questions on record. However, I wish to put those questions in the context of Brian’s circumstances. Eric Evans was killed when the bus from which he alighted arrived earlier than usual because it was the last day of the school term and the bus had not stopped at some of the schools on its route because as non-government schools they had already closed. Eric’s mother, Debbie, was just a few metres away at the corner and knew there had been an accident. Her worst fears were realised when she arrived on the scene. Eric was killed because, as an exuberant five-year-old, against all the advice of his parents, he had raced across the road and was doing what children do.
I join with the other members who say - and we have made the point many times in our local community of Wahroonga - we are all responsible for the safety of our children. We are part of a village and we are all responsible for the safety of the children who live in that village. That means that we must all take care. More importantly, it means that those who are in a position to make a difference - and I refer to the Minister for Transport, and Minister for Roads, and the Minister for Education and Training, whose safer routes to schools program is a joke - need to do something that is genuine and will make a difference, instead of simply saying things to make people like Brian go away. I assure the House that he will not go away. [Time expired.]
•. . . when will you take measures that guarantee No school bus will arrive before it is expected at any given bus stop, leaving small children unattended at the stop, without a criminal charge being laid against the relevant bus driver and the Bus company?
JOINT SELECT COMMITTEE ON VICTIMS COMPENSATION
Report: Complaint by the Walsh Family concerning Rakus Solicitors
Mr STEWART (Lakemba) [9.08 p.m.]: In December 1997 I was asked to appear on the Channel 9 program A Current Affair in my capacity as chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Victims Compensation. The story focused on what I
considered to be a gross injustice, that is, the denial of victims compensation to a father and brother of a murder victim and the granting of the amount of $3,000 to an accomplice to the murder. As a result of my involvement in the television program I became acquainted with Thomas and Carolyn Walsh, the parents of the murdered man, and undertook to bring their complaint to the attention of the committee. The outcome is this report.
Although I understood the concerns that the Walsh family raised about the decisions made by the Victims Compensation Tribunal, I was amazed to discover the problems that they had encountered with their solicitor, Ms Sharon Rakus. It seems that the Walshs, during their experience as victims of crime, have encountered some unsympathetic and inequitable attitudes and decisions. I am pleased to say that throughout the course of this inquiry the committee uncovered a great deal of the truth about the conduct of Ms Rakus towards her victims compensation clients. It also uncovered information as to why the Victims Compensation Tribunal made the decisions it did regarding the applications relating to Matthew Walsh’s murder.
The evidence presented to the committee about Rakus Solicitors and Attorneys has demonstrated that this firm has purposefully set out to use a respected volunteer organisation, the Sydney City Mission, as its recruitment base for unsuspecting and highly vulnerable clients. In this regard Sharon Rakus has shown herself to be a solicitor who has used her privileged, trusted and respected position to manipulate and abuse the victims compensation system. One can only surmise that this systematic abuse of the victims support system by Sharon Rakus was done for her own financial gain, at the expense not only of many genuine victims of crime but also of the New South Wales taxpayers, who largely fund the scheme. In particular, her treatment of the Walsh family has been unconscionable.
As a result of its inquiry the committee has recommended that the Legal Services Commissioner examine whether Sharon Rakus placed herself in a position of professional conflict of interest in handling the victims compensation claims of both the Walsh family and, unbelievably, the man who assisted in the concealment of the murder. David Koziwoda. He was the man who helped remove the body of Mr and Mrs Walsh’s son. The committee also recommended that the Legal Services Commissioner examine whether Sharon Rakus’s work in relation to victims compensation generally and her involvement with the Sydney City Mission fell below the acceptable professional and ethical standards of her profession, and whether she basically used her position for her own gains.
The key issues which the committee has uncovered in this inquiry concerning abuse of victims compensation by a solicitor are systemic problems which need to be rectified by the introduction of more checks and balances on the quality of work being done, given that it is the taxpayers of New South Wales who ultimately foot the bill. Accordingly, the committee recommended that legal fees be met by the tribunal on a discretionary basis only. The tribunal will look carefully at that situation and assess on merit whether fees should be granted to the victim.
Lastly, the committee recommended that Magistrate Chris Longley, the man ultimately responsible for the decision to award the money to David Koziwoda, be permanently removed from the Victims Compensation Tribunal roster. I heartily endorse all the recommendations of the report and understand that both the Legal Services Commissioner and the Attorney General are giving those recommendations their prompt and considered attention. I thank all of the witnesses who appeared before the committee during the course of this inquiry as well as the committee secretariat for its assistance in the preparation of the final report. In particular, I thank the committee director, Catherine Watson, who was diligent in her preparation of this important report, which has highlighted how victims can be used by solicitors to further their own financial ends.
Mr PEACOCKE (Dubbo) [9.13 p.m.]: I also speak to the third interim report of the Joint Select Committee on Victims Compensation. I will focus upon the unconscionable decisions made by Magistrate Chris Longley in this case regarding the awarding of victims compensation. Honourable members may be aware that it is an ongoing passion of mine that victims of crime be given a better deal before the courts. Any type of change in their treatment must start with the judiciary. The public must be able to feel confident that those on the bench can empathise with victims who are injured as a result of criminal acts and that magistrates will do their best to put things right.
I consider it totally outrageous that both the father and brother of the murdered man, Matthew Walsh, were denied victims compensation by Magistrate Longley, but a man who helped move the body and clean up the murder scene was awarded $3,000 for nervous shock. That man was clearly deeply involved in the murder. The police report received by the tribunal recommended that he not receive compensation. In fact, it stated that recommendations had been made to the Director of Public Prosecutions that he be charged as an accessory. By his own admission he knew well in
advance that the murder was going to be committed and was present in the flat while it occurred. He then helped the murderer carry the body down the stairs and load it into a van to be dumped. He then returned to the flat and cleaned away blood and other evidence.
Magistrate Longley considered that this man deserved $3,000 for nervous shock. Meanwhile the father and brother of Matthew Walsh, who presented medical evidence of their emotional devastation, deserved nothing according to the magistrate. It appears to me that any magistrate capable of such an inequitable and unsympathetic decision cannot have the necessary experience in personal injury cases and, therefore, does not belong on the bench of the Victims Compensation Tribunal. That leads me to question why the Chief Magistrate of the Local Court and the Attorney General make a practice of rostering magistrates to the tribunal on a random basis without first assuring themselves that the magistrates have the ability to identify with a victim’s plight and to uphold the spirit of the legislation.
At the very least some training should be offered to magistrates before they sit on the tribunal so that the type of decision made by Magistrate Longley in the Walsh case does not recur. That is particularly important, because once magistrates are appointed to the tribunal they are required to undertake only a desk review of each case. They do not meet the crime victims at first hand to see the damage done to them. Magistrates are currently rostered to the tribunal in six-week blocks. That does not give them enough time to gain experience in victims compensation or to become truly involved in the work of the tribunal. I therefore endorse wholeheartedly the fifth recommendation of the report, that is, Chris Longley no longer serve on the tribunal. Further, I would like to have the existing tribunal magistrates roster system totally reviewed to ensure that victims of crime are treated as sympathetically and equitably as possible and that no more situations occur in which criminals receive compensation for their crimes.
JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE UPON ROAD SAFETY
Report: Staysafe 42 - Review of the Road Safety Situation in New South Wales in 1996
Mr GIBSON (Londonderry) [9.17 p.m.]: The forty-second report of the Staysafe committee is a result of the continued implementation of the committee’s resolution to review road safety activities in New South Wales on an annual basis. The oversight of actions undertaken to reduce road trauma is a central aspect of the Staysafe committee’s terms of reference, which are to monitor, review, investigate and report on the road safety situation. In performing this task the Staysafe committee is mindful of the observation of Dr William Haddon, the man whose thinking has been most influential in the modern approach to the organisation and administration of road safety activities. He stated:
First we need to have research or, as I prefer to put it, practical fact finding. The second thing we need to do is to get the facts to people in a position to use them.
The Staysafe committee has identified three strong themes to underpin its work: transparency, accessibility and accountability. That is, the Staysafe committee seeks transparency in respect of road safety activities in New South Wales, and it expects that information concerning the development and implementation of road safety activities should be accessible to the general community. If information about road safety activities is openly available, the accountability to the community of road safety workers and organisations will be enhanced. Road safety activities in New South Wales are, in the main, funded from the public purse. At the same time road safety activities are not subject to specific concerns over confidentiality or privacy. Taking those points together there is no particular reason to conceal or mask the Government’s efforts to reduce road trauma through spending on programs of countermeasure implementation or countermeasure research and evaluation.
The compilation of annual reviews of road safety activities in New South Wales serves to address the themes of transparency, accessibility and accountability in a manner that is otherwise not available to Parliament through the conduct of specific issue-based inquiries. The Staysafe committee has now conducted three annual reviews of the road safety situation in New South Wales covering 1994, 1995 and 1996. The fourth annual review is under way, and a public hearing will be held shortly. During this period the Staysafe committee has noticed a steady improvement in the willingness and capacity of public officials to identify, collate and document the information required by the Staysafe committee to conduct a review of the annual road safety situation.
The review of 1994 road safety activities, the first review, resulted in the Staysafe committee taking extraordinary steps, first, to terminate a public hearing because of the initial refusal by a witness to
answer a lawful question relating to the expenditure of public funds and, second, to advise a Minister of State not to sign a submission to the committee because it was known to contain significant errors of fact. It was not a happy time for the bureaucrats. It is fair to say that public officials were surprised and confused by a parliamentary examination of the general management of road safety activities.
The wide-ranging canvassing of responses across the full extent of road safety activities was challenging to senior managers, who were more used to a specific, limited inquiry into a particular aspect of road safety. The request for an overall coherent summary of road safety activities proved to be a difficult task for some senior managers, as the collation and documentation of such work was not regarded - strangely, I might add - as a core business managerial requirement. During the review of the 1995 road safety situation, the second review, there was a continuation of the reluctance of some public officials to declare road safety activities openly, which led to an extension of public hearings over several months to gain satisfactory responses posed by the Staysafe committee. However, by the time of the review of 1996 road safety activities there had been major changes in the senior management of several of the organisations involved in the reduction of road trauma.
It is pleasing to note that many of the problems associated with earlier reviews have not recurred. However, over the three years of road safety activities reviewed by the Staysafe committee, the link between specific actions taken during the periods of time under review and the overall strategy defined by the Road Safety 2000 planning process is not clear. What is set out in the strategy is not taking place. As the period covered by the Road Safety 2000 planning process draws to a close, it is necessary to pay specific attention to the success or otherwise of actions listed to be undertaken at a particular time, and the overall strategy in which those actions are nested. On the basis of the information presented to the Staysafe committee to date, such evaluations of the effectiveness of the action plans developed under the Road Safety 2000 strategy have not been conducted.
Recommendations made by the Staysafe committee in the report of the first review have not yet been implemented. The committee repeated the recommendations in its second annual review report, and now repeats them for the third time. The committee acknowledges the commitments by senior managers within the Roads and Traffic Authority regarding several of the recommendations for improvement, but feels constrained to continue to restate what are obviously best practices in transparency, accessibility and accountability. The committee calls upon the Roads and Traffic Authority to, first, develop a capability in research documentation that can identify information regarding research projects and statistics involving road safety matters; second, to develop and maintain an Internet home page on road safety that publishes relevant information about this research and statistics; third, to publish an annual road safety situation report, not only basic surveillance statistics; and, fourth, to hold an annual public seminar to publicise the results of research through public expenditure.
It is public dollars the Roads and Traffic Authority is spending, so let us make the results public. I am grateful for the support of my colleagues on the Staysafe committee during the conduct of this review. Each and every member of the Staysafe committee - whether it be a Government member, Opposition member or member of the crossbenches - brings a continuing and active interest and concern to the problem posed to the New South Wales community by road trauma. The conduct of an annual review of road safety activities is time consuming and difficult and I thank my fellow members for their diligence in addressing this very important task.
I take the opportunity in speaking to the report of the review of the 1996 road safety activities to thank also those public officials who worked to identify, collate and document the information required by the Staysafe committee to conduct the review. This review has been the first in which the committee has been able to endorse the responses received from the full range of portfolio areas involved in developing and delivering road safety programs. Finally, I thank the committee’s director, Mr Ian Faulks, and his staff for their work. I thank the parliamentary reporting staff for their excellent efforts and the parliamentary printing section for the printing and publication of the report. I commend the report to the Parliament. Opposition members should take note of it.
Mr SMITH (Bega) [9.26 p.m.]: I speak to Staysafe 42, "Review of the Road Safety Situation in New South Wales in 1996", particularly to the question which appears on page 34 of the report about the Princes Highway . The question was:
My question relates to the Princes Highway improvements. Has a safety audit been conducted along the Princes Highway from Sydney to the Victorian border, and if so, what was the outcome of the audit?
The response, in part, by the Roads and Traffic Authority was:
Well, the answer would be no . . .
The short answer is No, we have not done a full audit from Central Railway to the border . . .
In my opinion the Princes Highway is the most neglected highway in New South Wales. During the past four years no major capital works funding has been allocated to the highway south of Wollongong. A number of public meetings have been held in the Ulladulla area to discuss a long-needed bypass and a number of options have been formulated. The consultation process has been gone through and the Roads and Traffic Authority has been considering its decision for more than six months. Because no decision has been made and no-one knows where the corridor will go, people who want to buy and sell have been affected and normal business cannot continue. One can only assume that a decision has not been made because it would involve paying out just compensation to those who will be adversely affected.
Ulladulla needs a bypass now. It is about time more money was spent on the Princes Highway in Ulladulla and other areas. The Ulladulla area is not the only area that has been neglected. For a number of years a corridor has been chosen to bypass Bega. Currently the Princes Highway runs through the main street of Bega and does a right-hand turn at the Bega clock, a corner which is difficult for semi-trailers and large vehicles to negotiate. When travelling north and taking that turn, one is driving down a steep hill and the community is fearful that an accident will occur if a truck careens out of control down the hill. The Princes Highway has a number of such bad spots, another of which is south of Narooma. Most of the road between Narooma and Cobargo requires major upgrading. A recent report of the NRMA did not give a favourable account of the Princes Highway because of the lack of passing lanes and the simple fact that it had not been significantly upgraded since the last report of the NRMA.
It is time that the Government considered putting major funding into this highway. Past Nowra, there is really no railway station, so that all people south of the Bomaderry-Nowra area must use this route to transport produce to and from the district. The highway is the lifeline of the area. I suggest that the Government consider major works to the highway to upgrade it over a number of years. I congratulate members of the Staysafe committee, and the director and staff, on the wonderful job they do. I am sure that, being a bipartisan committee, it will continue with its good work, ensuring that the good reputation of the committee will go from strength to strength.
Mr HUNTER (Lake Macquarie) [9.31 p.m.]: I will speak briefly in support of Staysafe 42, entitled "Review of the Road Safety Situation in New South Wales in 1996". The Staysafe committee has now conducted three annual reviews of the road safety situation in New South Wales covering the years 1994, 1995 and 1996. Those reviews have been reported in Staysafe 31 and Staysafe 41 and of course in the report now before the House. Over this period the Staysafe committee has noticed a steady improvement in the willingness and capacity of public officials to identify, collate and document the information required by the Staysafe committee to conduct a review of the annual road safety situation.
Page 9 of the report sets out the chapters dealing with government departments with which the committee spoke before putting the report together. Chapter 2 dealt with road safety activities in the Roads and Traffic Authority, chapter 3 with the Police Service, and chapter 4 with the Department of Transport. The committee also spoke with representatives from the Department of Education and Training, the Attorney General’s Department and the Health Department. In response to a question about wire rope fencing and concerns raised by the New South Wales Motor Cycle Council, the Roads and Traffic Authority pointed out that it was unaware of any reports involving motor cycle impacts in the Sydney areas in which wire rope fencing had been installed.
The risk posed by this type of fencing to motor cyclists has been raised in the past. However, there is no evidence of serious accidents either in Australia or overseas to justify the concerns raised about this type of fencing. It could be argued that other forms of roadside barriers, such as guard rails, are equally dangerous, according to a response by the Roads and Traffic Authority. However, concern is still expressed by the Motor Cycle Council. I take on board those concerns, and in future reviews undertaken by the Staysafe committee I will be questioning the Roads and Traffic Authority further to ensure the safety of motor cyclists in areas that have rope wire barriers.
Finally, in recent reports the Staysafe committee discussed the strong themes that underpin the work of the committee - transparency, accessibility and accountability. Annual reviews of the road safety situation in New South Wales both satisfy the terms of reference from Parliament to Staysafe to monitor, review and investigate road
safety matters, and serve to address the themes of transparency, accessibility and accountability identified by Staysafe. Like the chairman, I congratulate my colleagues on the road safety committee. I congratulate also the director, Ian Faulks, as well as the secretariat, for the excellent work they have done to put this Staysafe 42 report together. I commend the report to the House.
PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE
Report: Proceedings of the Interactive Seminar and Workshop on Dispute Management in Local Government
Mr TRIPODI (Fairfield) [9.34 p.m.]: I speak to Public Accounts Committee report 114 entitled "Proceedings of the Interactive Seminar and Workshop on Dispute Management in Local Government". In 1991 the Public Accounts Committee tabled a report entitled "Legal Services to Local Government" and expressed a concern about the high level of legal expenditure incurred by local councils. Today that expenditure remains high and amounts to an extra allocation of $4 million of public funds to legal costs since 1993. These high costs translate to an added burden for ratepayers - costs which, in many cases, could be minimised through the efficient and effective use of alternative means of dispute resolution.
The committee conducted an inquiry aimed at constructively identifying the continuing causes of those high costs and the reasons that the cost-effective processes of alternative dispute resolution have not been embraced more wholeheartedly by some local government bodies. On 6 and 7 March the committee co-hosted an interactive seminar and workshop with the Law Society of New South Wales, the Local Government and Shires Associations, the Department of Local Government, the Australian Commercial Disputes Centre and the Royal Australian Planning Institute to better inform itself of the continuing causes of high legal costs in councils and also to promote the use of alternative dispute resolutions as a more effective way of managing disputes in local government. The proceedings of that seminar and workshop were an integral part of the inquiry process as well as a mechanism for the promotion of more effective dispute management procedures in local government.
Mr CHAPPELL (Northern Tablelands) [9.39 p.m.]: I wish to say a few words about Public Accounts Committee report 114 entitled "Proceedings of the Interactive Seminar and Workshop on Dispute Management in Local Government". When in 1991 the Public Accounts Committee tabled a report in Parliament entitled "Legal Services to Local Government", it expressed a concern about the high level of legal expenditure incurred by local councils. On 6 and 7 March the committee co-hosted an interactive seminar and workshop with the Law Society of New South Wales, the Local Government and Shires Associations, the Department of Local Government, the Australian Commercial Disputes Centre and the Royal Australian Planning Institute to better inform itself of the continuing causes of high legal costs in councils and also to promote the use of alternative dispute resolutions as a more effective way of managing disputes in local government.
As my colleague the honourable member for Fairfield has said, this was a sell-out event. Perhaps it should have been held in a larger venue to enable the attendance of many others who would dearly have liked to be part of it. The proceedings of that seminar and workshop were an integral part of the inquiry process, upon which the committee will shortly report, as well as a mechanism for the promotion of more effective dispute management procedures in local government. The organising committee sponsored a visit from the acknowledged international expert Dr Tom Taylor, Assistant Director of the Florida Conflict Resolution Consortium in the United States of America. His attendance added a great deal of international lustre to the event.
The seminar was conducted using three forums, each with a panel of five or six experts in local government functioning. This structure lent itself to extensive debate about the problems faced by councils in the way they managed disputes, their understanding of ADR, and its costs and benefits. The forum gave everyone an opportunity to offer solutions to current systemic inefficiencies. The second day workshop proved invaluable and provided participants with an opportunity to experience alternative dispute resolution techniques. The event attracted a sell-out attendance. The committee was pleased to have been associated with the endeavour, and in particular with other colleague organisations that were co-sponsors. The committee believes that the proceedings of the conference reflect the fact that progress has been made in encouraging modification of some of the less efficient, less effective and uneconomical procedures currently employed by local government bodies.
I take this opportunity to place on record the great debt of gratitude owed to the former Public Accounts Committee Director, Patricia Azarias, by
the committee, the Parliament and the public sector of New South Wales. She has been seconded to a senior agency appointment. Patricia’s commitment to the role of the Public Accounts Committee as parliamentary watchdog in all matters of accountability, her professionalism and her innate wisdom have meant that, under her directorship, the committee enhanced its reputation, both nationally and internationally. The committee has been innovative and has reached out beyond the Parliament to the broader public sector, the professions, and industry and commerce. This seminar was just one of the many sell-out national and international events held by the Public Accounts Committee which advanced the art and laid down new challenges. That task of the committee has been completed well, in particular because of the great contribution made over a number of years by its director, Patricia Azarias. I compliment Patricia and I also compliment all the staff of the PAC on the manner in which they performed their functions.
JOINT SELECT COMMITTEE ON VICTIMS COMPENSATION
Report: The Collection of Restitution from Convicted Offenders
Mr STEWART (Lakemba) [9.42 p.m.]: As a result of a reference from the Premier the Joint Select Committee on Victims Compensation resolved in June 1998 to hold an inquiry into the current problems faced by the Victims Compensation Tribunal in collecting restitution from perpetrators after it has paid out compensation to their victims. The reference received from the Premier was largely as a result of a case involving Anthony Reid, a convicted paedophile, who transferred his home in Narrabeen to his brother to avoid payment of restitution. This house, which has an estimated market value of $400,000, was transferred for the nominal sum of only $1. The matter was brought to the attention of the honourable member for Manly, Dr Peter Macdonald, by the mother of one of the victims. The tribunal did not know about the transfer at the time because of the timelag between the conviction and the receipt of the victims compensation applications.
It appears that under the present legislation the tribunal can do little to reverse this transfer. It quickly became obvious to everybody that the tribunal must be given additional powers to stop this type of thing happening again. The committee therefore prepared the discussion paper which raises options for the reform of the present system. The first of these options canvasses the issue of whether the Victims Compensation Tribunal should be given the powers to declare void retrospectively transfers such as Anthony Reid’s. Currently section 121 of the Bankruptcy Act provides that transfers of property which are done to defeat creditors can be declared void by the court of bankruptcy. There is a strong argument that a similar provision should be enacted in the victims compensation legislation. Its very existence would probably have deterred Anthony Reid because his solicitor would have been under an obligation to inform him of it.
Secondly, the committee canvassed whether the tribunal should be given a discretionary power to freeze or even seize the assets of an offender until it can be determined whether victims compensation applications will be made. Tasmania inserted this type of clause into its legislation to seize Martin Bryant’s assets following the Port Arthur killings. Thirdly, the committee asked whether any transfer of property to avoid restitution should be made an offence under the legislation and, if so, whether significant penalties should apply. One of the inefficiencies in the current system is that it relies almost totally on the convicted offender to truthfully tell the tribunal what property he or she actually has. Other than this the tribunal must go on fishing expeditions at the Land Titles Office or the Roads and Traffic Authority to find out what property may be owned by the offender.
The committee considers that it may be more effective for the tribunal to access the information regarding an offender’s assets which is placed before the court by his or her defence solicitor at the time of sentencing. It has therefore been proposed in option No. 4 that such verbal listings be formalised in writing and added to the court file. The tribunal can then access them when it is required. The committee also canvassed whether restitution should be pursued from offenders while they are in prison. This is an ongoing problem which faces the tribunal as it is expensive to bring prisoners before the tribunal and very rarely do they have any significant earning capacity in gaol. The committee was mindful when conducting this inquiry that the tribunal, when pursuing restitution, is generally dealing with people who have very little money. However, as the case of Anthony Reid shows, when they do have money they also have access to resources to advise them how best to protect what they have.
This is just not good enough. The taxpayers of New South Wales are being defrauded in instances where assets are either hidden or transferred. The tribunal clearly needs to find better ways and it
should be given more power to ensure that this does not occur. One of the basic premises of restitution is that there is a nexus, however illusionary, between what the victim receives and what the defendant is made to pay. In the words of the mother of one of Anthony Reid’s victims:
People do not want money off the Government; they want it off the person who hurt their family. I would not enjoy spending it near as much if I think it came from the Government, not Tony Reid. When I get on that plane to take my family on a holiday I want to put my finger out the window and say "Suck eggs, Tony Reid!" I cannot do that if it comes out of everybody's taxes.
I anticipate that the committee will soon be concluding this inquiry and reporting to the Parliament regarding its findings. I thank the committee staff and Catherine Watson, the director, for their diligent work in that regard.
PRIVATE MEMBERS’ STATEMENTS
Mr HARTCHER (Gosford) [9.46 p.m.]: Tonight I raise the issue of car pooling - an important matter sponsored by the Environment Protection Authority and the Roads and Traffic Authority. Car pooling is especially significant in areas such as the central coast, where 80 per cent of the population commute to Sydney. Each day some 30,000 people from the central coast travel to Sydney by car. If we reduce the number of cars on the F3 we will reduce the risk of accidents, help the environment, save money and make a major contribution to lessening the number of vehicles on our roads. Accordingly, it is important that the RTA and the EPA sponsor and encourage the development and greater usage of car pooling arrangements on the central coast, especially around Gosford.
It is, therefore, with some concern that I was recently contacted by a group of bus drivers who work at the Willoughby depot of the State Transit Authority who are operating a car pool from Gosford, from Kariong to Willoughby. This group of people, who have been operating a car pool for some 18 months, meet at Kariong every work day, park two of their three cars at Kariong and then proceed in the third car to their depot which, of course, is in Sydney. Each day they have been parking in a designated spot at Kariong. Recently, two of them parked their cars in the usual spot - a place which they have been using for at least the past 18 months - and proceeded in the third workmate’s car to Sydney.
The cars are generally parked at this location at approximately 3.30 a.m. when they work day shifts and at approximately 3.15 p.m. when they work evening shifts. That means that they return to their cars at 3.30 p.m. when their day shift is completed and at about 2.30 a.m. when their afternoon shift is completed. It has always been their desire not to inconvenience people or create a nuisance to others and they therefore park their cars carefully. The location where they have been parking their cars is relatively safe and secure. It is off the road and it does not hinder or impede traffic. Importantly, it is an area without residential development which means that residents are not disturbed by their comings and goings in the early hours of the morning. Having parked there for 18 months, they were subjected to a blitz by parking police and they all received parking infringement notices. The reason given was that their style of parking was inappropriate. In other words, they should have been parking parallel to the kerb, instead of adopting an angle-parking system, notwithstanding that there were no notices or warning signs indicating the prescribed manner of parking or that parking in the area was prohibited.
If car pooling is to be encouraged it is important for the Environment Protection Authority and the Roads and Traffic Authority to encourage the parking police and the council to co-operate in developing appropriate parking areas. Parking police should be instructed not to blitz certain areas where individuals are not causing any traffic hazard but are in fact complying with the spirit of the Government’s car pooling programs. I urge the Minister to advise the RTA and the EPA, in conjunction with local councils and parking police, to develop a program police to designate areas that are appropriate for car pooling so that cars can be parked and drivers can pool in relative safety without incurring infringement notices.
On behalf of my constituents I will make representations to the Commissioner of Police about considering withdrawing the infringement notices in this case. It is important to remember that the Government’s car pooling proposals will not be successful if there is no designated or convenient spot for people to park their cars in safety with an assurance that they will not be blitzed by parking police. They were not aware that they were committing an offence. I urge the Government to support my request to ensure that car pooling works and that the number of cars on our roads, especially the F3, is reduced.
NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS COACH, Mr MAL REILLY
Mr GAUDRY (Newcastle) [9.51 p.m.]: On behalf of most of the people of the Hunter region I express thanks to Mal Reilly for his efforts during the four years that he has coached the Newcastle Knights. I congratulate him on his magnificent performance as coach and on the tremendous success the Newcastle Knights have enjoyed during that four-year period. Last year the Newcastle Knights won the ARL premiership and this year they finished the season as joint competition leaders. Last weekend they lost to Canterbury 16-28 at the end of a very difficult season, given the number of players who were injured throughout the season - I think about 13 players were injuring during the season - and the unfortunate problems with drugs. Indeed, the Knights management did not distance itself from those problems.
I pay tribute to Mal Reilly for his coaching skills and to the Newcastle Knights players for their talent and determination to work through this season and, as I said, to finish as joint competition leaders. Last Sunday they finished the season full of pride. The score was 16-16 at full time and after the first half of extra time, but they lost in the end. However, the players deserve credit for their performance. Undoubtedly, Mal proved his success as a coach. As a player he had no peer in terms of his tough, determined and disciplined approach to playing as a lock forward for England and for Manly in the Sydney competition. He is still recognised by the Newcastle Knights players and fans as a person with tremendous understanding of the game who exerted tremendous influence and discipline over his players.
During the four years that Mal coached the Newcastle Knights they played 99 games with 63 wins, three draws and 33 losses. The development of the players was amazing. Who can forget the final try by Darren Albert in the last seconds of the grand final last year. Who can forget the tremendous work of Andrew Johns in the grand final this year. Andrew Johns did not miss one game this season although he was carrying injury; his effort was 120 per cent. He is recognised as the Dally M NFL player of the year, the Provan-Summons people’s choice of the year and the Dally M best half in the game. Obviously he was supported by the other Knights players, including Paul Harragon, the Johns brothers, Marc Glanville, Robbie O'Davis, Owen Craigie and Butts, who is one of the toughest players in the game, as well as emerging stars such as Danny Buderus, Mark Hughes and Jason Moodie.
This year the Knights showed that they have great depth. Much of their success can be attributed to the coaching style of Mal Reilly and to the respect shown him by both the players and the rugby league supporters of the Hunter Valley. The crowds of 20,000 or 30,000 people at home games demonstrated that there is not only enormous support for the Knights but also a tremendous understanding of the game and of Mal Reilly’s contribution to it among rugby league supporters of Newcastle and the Hunter Valley. Mal is returning home to England to support his mother following the death of his father this year. He is a tremendous man. He is a credit to rugby league and has done the city of Newcastle and the Hunter proud.
SHOALHAVEN RIVER BRIDGE
Mr ELLIS (South Coast) [9.56 p.m.]: Several weeks ago a vehicle crossing the old bridge over the Shoalhaven River ran into the superstructure, severely weakening the bridge. The bridge was constructed last century with metallurgy that is inconsistent with contemporary engineering. The result was that any remedial work was delayed, and even now the repairs are only temporary. The accident created chaos to Nowra traffic as the old bridge is the only crossing over the river linking Nowra to Bomaderry. The alternative to people wishing to enter Nowra is to travel from Goulburn via a dirt track or to travel from Braidwood via Batemans Bay. This alternative effectively means about four hours additional travel to get from Bomaderry to Nowra - a span of about 400 metres over the river.
Initially, peak-hour traffic was restricted to traversing only three lanes but, thanks to the Roads and Traffic Authority controllers who did a magnificent job under very difficult circumstances, four lanes were converted out of three to ease the situation. The RTA had to work day and night to rectify the problem even temporarily, and it still took more than four weeks. I am disappointed that the RTA has not replied to my request for a briefing on the situation. I would have expected to be kept apprised of progress so that I could keep my constituents informed. I wrote to the RTA some five weeks ago and I am still waiting for even the courtesy of an acknowledgment.
That is not good enough, and such an attitude can only be seen as treating Parliament with contempt. The congestion created at this bottleneck reflects on the Government’s refusal to allow a link road to be constructed over Bomaderry Creek. It has long been argued that a link road was becoming increasingly imperative to local traffic flows, and this latest incident has highlighted that this road is necessary to local traffic management. Instead, intentional delays and obstruction by the
Government have resulted in the lapse of the development consent. This was all orchestrated to appease local green extremists and cannot be seen as anything else.
The Government has failed. The development consent lapsed because a couple of Ministers caused it to lapse - they did not want it to go ahead. A minor accident on the only bridge into Nowra from Sydney resulted in havoc and inconvenience for residents. The Shoalhaven needs three things to improve its road transport infrastructure to enable it to compete on a level playing field with the rest of New South Wales. It desperately needs another river crossing, the Bomaderry link road and government funding to construct the Shoalhaven highway to Canberra.
The Government has denied the Shoalhaven a link road and is baulking at matching the Prime Minister’s funding offer for the upgrade of Trunk Road 92. There is no doubt that it will also avoid confronting the obvious need to expedite the planning of another bridge over the Shoalhaven River. All three projects are necessary for the economic and social welfare of the region. The continual refusal by the Government to confront this reality is either because of wilful neglect or plain incompetence. The accident on the bridge is a stark reminder of the need to address these issues now and not to postpone them. One can only imagine the consequences if half the river crossing was permanently out of action. As it is, I am yet to be reassured that there is no permanent damage to the bridge. If the Roads and Traffic Authority took timely action and kept me informed, I could reassure the community. However, I cannot extend such assurances and can only assume that all is not well.
I call on the Government to do three things. First, and the easiest, to approve without further delay the construction of the Bomaderry Link Road, as proposed by Shoalhaven City Council. Second, to immediately announce that it will match the Prime Minister’s funding offer for Trunk Road 92. That provision of funding should be an unconditional commitment and not tied to other projects, as Labor members have intimated. Third, to start planning a second river crossing so that construction can begin as soon as possible. The need for a second river crossing has been clearly demonstrated. It is needed now, not in 20 or 30 years time.
HUNTER ACADEMY OF SPORT
Mr MILLS (Wallsend) [10.01 p.m.]: I bring to the attention of the House an outstanding occasion that I was honoured to attend two weeks ago - the Hunter Academy of Sport annual presentation night at Western Suburbs (Newcastle) Leagues Club in the Wallsend electorate. This year the Hunter Academy of Sport, sponsored by government and private sectors, is celebrating 10 years of service, growth, achievement and successful work for the benefit of youth in the Hunter. It is the largest regional academy in Australia. The academy is not a school or a replacement for sporting clubs and associations; it runs programs for young, talented sportspeople, not only in sporting development but also in personal development in the areas of personality, social skills, team work and ethical behaviour in sport. That kind of work is at the heart of the Hunter academy.
Seventeen talent development squads form the basis of the academy with 400 athletes taking part. Approximately 100 coaches volunteer their services to train these young people. Almost all of the athletes and coaches were present at the presentation. The academy has 12 consultants; 17 board members; and two full-time staff, Ken Clifford, executive officer, and Kylie Newton. I pay tribute to Ken Clifford, who is also affiliated with the district cricket association. Ken is a quiet achiever who has the unique ability to help people achieve their goals. The academy owes much of its success to his determination and talent. Warren Evans, chairman of the board of directors, spoke on the evening about the board’s aims and pride in the achievements of the academy.
The academy also conducts sub-regional road shows at which club administrators courses and coaching sessions are run and the talent development squads compete against local teams. On the night Vaughan Douglas of NIB Health Funds Ltd told us that NIB, a private sector organisation, supports the Hunter academy because it considers that by assisting young people to improve and reach their potential it is tapping into the unique spirit of the Hunter.
Two academy coaches were recently honoured for achievements. Ken Kaiser was chosen by the Australian Soccer Federation to represent Australia at a large coaches conference, which was held during the World Cup competition in France, and Max Debnam, head athletics coach and also an Australian athletics coach, recently toured Europe and attended the World Junior Athletics Championships in France. On the presentation night the University of Newcastle presented a scholarship to a member of each of the 17 squads.
The academy runs 17 talent development programs. The concept is similar to the program
concept that is in operation at the Australian Institute of Sport. The programs are run over a 12-month period and generally involve youngsters aged from 13 to 17 years. They feature coaching, physical training and testing, nutritional education, sports psychology and sports ethics. The 17 sports are Australian football, basketball, cricket, cycling, golf, hockey, lawn bowls, netball, rugby league, rugby union, soccer, softball, squash, surfboard riding, tennis, touch, and track and field athletics. Many Australian and interstate representatives are among the coaches, including lawn bowls representative Barry Salter. I congratulate the Hunter Academy of Sport on its 10 years of achievement for young sportspeople and thank the directors and coaches for their contribution to the Hunter.
PEEL RIVER FLOOD DAMAGE
Mr WINDSOR (Tamworth) [10.06 p.m.]: As most honourable members would be aware, I do not make a private member’s statement unless I regard it as a matter of great importance. I want to speak to an important issue in my electorate. I am pleased that the Minister for Land and Water Conservation is present in the Chamber because his assistance is required to reach a solution. As has been discussed in the House over the last few days, floods in the State’s north-west have created enormous economic damage. We have discussed the impact on the business community, the land and infrastructure. The Premier and various Ministers have travelled through parts of the north-west to inspect the damage.
I particularly want to bring to the attention of the Minister the breach of a levee bank about 10 kilometres along the Peel River east of Tamworth. To put it into perspective, for many years the levee bank has kept the water within the river banks and away from the fertile river flats where, as the Minister would be aware, lucerne and other crops grow. All indications suggest that due to erosion within the stream the river bank has been eaten away and the levee bank has collapsed.
Enormous damage has been caused by the breach of the bank and a problem has occurred on Mr Barry Gilbert’s property about 10 kilometres east of Tamworth, from where the water flows through Tamworth and out towards Keepit Dam and Gunnedah. The Peel River is being redefined in another stream as an anabranch. One of the concerns that I and many others in the area have is that there seems to be an acceptance of the new natural river course by the Department of Land and Water Conservation. With that acceptance there is no obligation on the land-holder to repair any damage, which would have an enormous impact on some very rich fertile flats. About eight or 10 farmers are involved. They have suffered five floods, and their livelihoods have been affected. The damage bill amounts to well over $1 million.
Public roads have been damaged and, more important, the Tamworth water supply is at risk if the river redefines itself. The Minister has previously provided funds to maintain the river and Tamworth city water supply could become obsolete if that part of the river is redefined. I have convened numerous meetings with community members and other interested parties in an attempt to produce a workable solution. The cost of any such solution would be too great for individual land-holders, but if something is not done the problem will be exacerbated.
Assistance has been provided by the regional director and other members of staff, including Tony Page, who returned from holidays to offer his assistance. It is obvious that the solution will come only from out-of-square thinking; the department cannot do anything within the square. The solution requires involvement by the Minister and the Department of Public Works and Services because the department’s facilities are at risk. The problem could be solved for the relatively low cost of approximately $50,000 to $70,000, and Tamworth City Council could provide assistance in reaching that solution. The levee, not the old river bank, could be fixed by the land-holders for a relatively low cost, but if nothing is done millions of dollars in damage will be incurred by the local community. I ask the Minister for some assistance. [Time expired.]
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation) [10.11 p.m.]: The Department of Land and Water Conservation advises that rivers can change location naturally, as the honourable member for Tamworth said. The department is not normally in a position to provide funding to prevent these naturally occurring processes or for repairing any damage. However, in this case I acknowledge the honourable member’s concern that the diversion of the river could cause economic and social difficulties.
Several irrigators and the Tamworth City Council water supply pump are affected, and damage caused by recent floods must also be considered. This afternoon after I was approached by the honourable member for Tamworth I raised the matter with the Department of Land and Water Conservation. The department’s regional director has already contacted the council and affected land-holders to identify a solution to the problem. The
department is currently preparing a technical assessment and estimates. Subject to that work, I confirm that the Government is prepared to provide emergency financial assistance for agreed repair works. I thank the honourable member for Tamworth for raising this matter, for his good work on behalf of those affected by flood damage and for his co-operation with the department.
TOUKLEY GOLF CLUB LEGACY TOURNAMENT
Mr CRITTENDEN (Wyong) [10.12 p.m.]: I report to the House the successful Legacy golf day at Toukley Golf Club on Sunday, 13 September. Honourable members will be aware that my predecessor, Harry Moore, has had longstanding support and affection for Legacy. This year was the twenty-sixth year that Harry Moore has conducted Legacy golf day. It is also the seventy-fifth anniversary of the establishment of Legacy. Harry Moore and his helper, legatee Bert Sainsbury, did a fantastic job in raising in excess of $4,600 from the golf day.
This special day brings together the entire community in my electorate. More than 50 businesses and individuals donated prizes in kind or in cash towards the raffle and golf tournament prizes. The support was wonderful. Many individuals support Legacy. Mrs Eve Johnson, president of the Toukley war widows group, for the sixteenth year donated a gold watch for the raffle winner. As Mrs Johnson presented the prize she recounted that she had been a widow for 40 years - her late husband had been one of the Rats of Tobruk - and she and her daughter had benefited from Legacy support over many years.
The support for Legacy of people like Mrs Johnson is fantastic and ensures that the memory of the fallen is maintained and that those left behind are cared for materially. The local newspaper, the Central Coast Express Advocate, undertook some outstanding work in promoting the Legacy golf day. However, so many people wanted to take part that it took me five hours to play my round! It was a pleasure to see so many people pay their money to take part in this community event. Of course, the day would not have been held without the support of the Toukley Golf Club and its President, Don Gordon. The club donated to Legacy the use of the course and all green fees for the day. I commend the actions of Harry Moore to the House.
Private members’ statements noted.
House adjourned at 10.15 p.m.