Tuesday 19 October 1999
Mr Speaker (The Hon. John Henry Murray) took the chair at 2.15 p.m.
Mr Speaker offered the Prayer.
REGISTER OF DISCLOSURES
Mr SPEAKER: Pursuant to the Constitution (Disclosures by Members) Regulation 1983 I table a copy of the Register of Disclosures by Members of the Legislative Assembly, being primary and ordinary returns as at 30 June 1999.
Ordered to be printed.
ASSENT TO BILLS
Assent to the following bills reported:
Anzac Memorial (Building) Amendment Bill
University of New South Wales (St George Campus) Bill
Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Bill (No 2)
The following bill was returned from the Legislative Council without amendment:
Anzac Memorial (Building) Amendment Bill
OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN
Mr Speaker announced, pursuant to section 31 of the Ombudsman Act 1974, receipt of the report entitled "Annual Report - Law Enforcement (Controlled Operations) Act 1997", dated September 1999.
The Clerk announced, pursuant to the Public Finance and Audit Act 1983, receipt of the performance audit report entitled "Office of the Protective Commissioner, Office of the Public Guardian - Complaints and Review Processes", dated September 1999.
Petitions praying that the establishment of heroin shooting galleries be opposed and that consideration be given to the introduction of legislation for drug reform, received from Mr Armstrong, Mr Crittenden, Mr Greene, Mr Hickey and Mr Murray.
North Head Quarantine Station
Petition praying that the head lease proposal for North Head Quarantine Station be opposed, received from Mr Barr.
Wagga Wagga Aquatic Centre
Petition praying that an indoor aquatic centre be built at Wagga Wagga, received from Mr Maguire.
McDonald’s Moore Park Restaurant
Petition praying for opposition to the construction of a McDonald’s restaurant on Moore Park, received from Ms Moore.
Petitions praying that a committee be established to review the Firearms Act, received from Mr Fraser, Mr George, Mr Piccoli, Mr Slack-Smith, Mr Souris, Mr R. W. Turner and Mr Webb.
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.
Bondi Pavilion Olympic Stadium Proposal
Petition praying for opposition to the construction of a stadium at Bondi Pavilion for the volleyball event during the 2000 Olympic Games, received from Ms Moore.
Condobolin Hospital Services
Petition praying that the House do all within its power to ensure the continued availability of surgical and theatre services at Condobolin Hospital, received from Mr Armstrong.
Goulburn Base Hospital Services
Petition praying for opposition to any reduction in pathology services at Goulburn Base Hospital, received from Ms Hodgkinson.
Seaforth TAFE Closure
Petition praying for opposition to the closure of Seaforth TAFE, received from Mr Barr.
Sydney Institute of Technology Vocational Education
Petition praying that the provision of quality public vocational education be maintained at Sydney Institute of Technology, received from Ms Nori.
Fairlight Pedestrian Safety Arrangements
Petition praying that consideration be given to the introduction of additional safety arrangements at the crossing between Thornton and Crescent Streets, Fairlight, received from Mr Barr.
Woolloomooloo Wharf Redevelopment
Petition praying that the Woolloomooloo wharf redevelopment project include provision for a ferry wharf, received from Ms Moore.
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
Petition praying that consideration be given to the construction of a light rail transport system for Moore Park, received from Ms Moore.
Syd Einfeld Drive Pollution Barriers
Petition praying that consideration be given to the erection of pollution barriers on the northern side of Syd Einfeld Drive, received from Ms Moore.
Surry Hills Pedestrian Crossing
Petition praying that a pedestrian crossing be installed on Belvoir Street, Surry Hills, received from Ms Moore.
Windsor Road Upgrading
Petitions praying that Windsor Road be upgraded and widened within the next two financial years, received from Mr Richardson and Mr Rozzoli.
Petition praying that the practice of supplying stray animals to universities and research institutions for experimentation be opposed, received from Ms Moore.
Petition praying that the House totally and unconditionally abolish animal vivisection on scientific, medical and ethical grounds and that a new system be introduced whereby veterinary students are apprenticed to practising veterinary surgeons, received from Ms Moore.
Compulsory Competitive Tendering
Petition praying that the introduction of compulsory competitive tendering for roadworks in regional and rural areas be opposed, received from Ms Hodgkinson.
Septic Tank Inspection Fees
Petitions praying that septic tank owners be exempted from inspection and registration fees, received from Mr George and Ms Hodgkinson.
White City Site Rezoning Proposal
Petition praying that any rezoning of the White City site be opposed, received from Ms Moore.
Country Hotel Licences
Petition praying that an investigation be conducted into the continued viability of hotel licences in country centres, received from Mr Maguire.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
OLYMPIC GAMES TICKET ALLOCATION
Mrs CHIKAROVSKI: My question is directed to the Minister for the Olympics. Given that Chief Executive of the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games [SOCOG] has admitted he misled a parliamentary committee, will the Minister now tell the House exactly how many first-class tickets have been reserved as part of his premium package programs?
Mr KNIGHT: I begin my answer by first dealing with the allegation that Sandy Hollway, the Chief Executive Officer of SOCOG, misled the estimates committee.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Vaucluse to order. I call the Leader of the National Party to order.
Mr KNIGHT: I will quote a few relevant passages from that estimates committee. Hansard records:
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL: How many tickets are available through these gold packages?
Mr HOLLWAY: If I may, I would like to stand subject to correction on this, but I would be happy to consider providing the information later and check on it.
CHAIR: The question can be taken on notice if you wish to table factual, detailed material later.
Mr HOLLWAY: I think so, yes.
Later, Mr Hollway was asked a question by the Hon. D. T. Harwin which, in part, goes to the nub of this issue. Hansard further records:
The Hon. D. T. HARWIN: . . . So in total we are talking about approximately 250,000 tickets, are we?
Mr HOLLWAY: Yes, subject to my checking and correcting if that is wrong, as I said.
Last night Mr Hollway indicated, at a doorstop interview with me, that he would now like to take up the offer he put to the estimates committee of giving further information on notice.
Let this be clear: Mr Hollway said, effectively, "Look, from the best of my memory this is the figure, but if it is the wrong figure I will give you the correct figure later." The committee agreed with that course of action. And that is precisely what Mr Hollway did.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Hornsby to order.
Mrs CHIKAROVSKI: I ask a supplementary question. In light of that answer, such as it was, will the Minister now reveal to New South Wales taxpayers the names of the private companies, clubs and other organisations that have negotiated or are negotiating secret premium ticket deals?
Mr KNIGHT: While it might be tempting for some members of the House to out the rich by naming each person who buys a premium package, I have called for an extensive report to be given to the SOCOG board on Thursday about precisely what is happening with premium tickets. I will be able to talk to the media, probably at the end of that meeting.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I place the honourable member for Pittwater on two calls to order.
CANNABIS MEDICAL USE
Mr ASHTON: My question without notice is to the Premier. What is the Government’s response to the requests by the Australian Medical Association [AMA] to investigate the therapeutic use of cannabis?
Mr CARR: Earlier this month the AMA and the Law Society released a statement supporting the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. In the United Kingdom in 1998 the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology released a detailed report on this issue. It concluded that cannabis could serve a therapeutic function. The United States Institute of Medicine, in a report released in March, also looked upon the issue favourably. The Federal Government of Canada has approved clinical trials involving such a use for cannabis, and they are expected to begin next year.
I clarify an important point, however. Those who advocate the legalisation of cannabis should not consider my statement today as a sign of support for their cause. The question I am interested in today is the use of cannabis or its active ingredients to treat pain, nausea and loss of appetite, to help people suffering from the indescribable pain of cancer, AIDS and other serious illnesses, and to consider the merits of cannabis as a drug that may be prescribed by a doctor and used under medical supervision. If honourable members have ever visited someone recovering from a bout of chemotherapy, who is
wracked with pain and is unable to sit, stand or lie without the most excruciating discomfort, they would know what I am referring to. If there is a way of alleviating that sort of pain, we have a moral obligation to explore it.
But we must take into account the risks associated with the drug. These include the potential of dependence, its association with mental illness, the risk of cancer and respiratory problems from smoking the drug and the creation of a legal supply of cannabis or its extracts. All these risks deserve to be weighed and carefully considered. However, they should not stop us from evaluating the clinical benefits. Each year around 27,000 people in this State are diagnosed with cancer. Around 7,800 people in New South Wales currently have HIV or AIDS. I would not want, and I am sure no member of this House would want, to stand in the way of the dying and seriously ill seeking relief from pain and suffering if it is available through this source.
On compassionate grounds we must give this matter our consideration. I believe we should explore it further. Therefore, I announce today we will set up a working party to give consideration to this matter. Bodies that will be invited to participate in that consideration will include the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Australian Medical Association, the Aged Council of New South Wales and the New South Wales Cancer Council. The working party will report to the Government by July next year. We need to consider the matter fully. If there is potential for cannabis to be used for therapeutic purposes to relieve suffering, we should have an open mind.
KOORAGANG ISLAND STEELMAKING FACILITY
Mr MILLS: My question without notice is to the Premier. What is the Government doing to help create new jobs in steel in Newcastle?
Mr CARR: I am pleased to announce today that Protech Steel Pty Limited is seeking international investment for a new $1.5 billion steelmaking facility on Kooragang Island in Newcastle. It will create 500 to 700 direct jobs and 2,000 jobs during construction. The project represents the opportunities for job creation and steelmaking in the Hunter region. Protech Steel’s integrated mini mill will process iron ore and coal into about one million tonnes of steel and value-added products.
The New South Wales Government has supported the project by committing to the development a 48 hectare site on Kooragang Island, which will give the project access to Hunter Valley coal, loading facilities and deepwater port frontages for unloading raw materials and supplying export markets. Protech Steel’s decision to seek investment for a new steelmaking plant is a vote of confidence in the Hunter region and its highly skilled work force. The Government has signed a memorandum of understanding with Protech Steel ensuring a whole-of-government approach to the project. Protech Steel has engaged Lend Lease Projects as the project’s development manager. P&O Ports is discussing the provision of shipping, stevedoring and materials handling logistics services.
In London last week I met Lend Lease Corporation chief, Mr David Higgins, and P&O Ports chairman, Lord Jeffrey Sterling, to discuss the State Government’s post-2000 jobs plan. Over the past two years Protech Steel has undertaken comprehensive financial and technical feasibility studies which show the $1.5 billion project is viable. As the company talks to potential international investors it is able to say it has the State Government’s full support. This is an exciting development for the Hunter and for the whole of New South Wales. It further consolidates the New South Wales Government’s post-2000 jobs plan for the State.
OLYMPIC GAMES TICKET ALLOCATION
Mr SOURIS: My question is directed to the Minister for the Olympics. What proportion of the total number of A and B grade tickets for swimming finals has been included in the secret premium package scheme, and what proportion were offered to the community through the first round ballot?
Mr KNIGHT: I will explain to the Leader of the National Party and to other members of the House, although many of them will be aware, how SOCOG operates. SOCOG is a statutory authority set up by legislation of this House. It consists of a board of 14 persons, including the honourable member for Gosford. Each of those 14 people has an equal vote on the board. On Thursday the board will be considering a report I have commissioned about a whole range of ticketing matters. One of the issues the board will have to consider at that meeting is whether the board should make public the session-by-session information from the first ticketing round.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Davidson to order.
Mrs Chikarovski: The board met last night. Why could it not decide then?
Mr KNIGHT: The Leader of the Opposition should speak to her colleague.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! When the Minister has resumed his seat the Leader of the Opposition may seek the call to ask a further question.
Mr KNIGHT: It may be that the Leader of the Opposition’s relationship with her colleague is as bad as her relationship with me. The board will consider whether to release the session-by-session information. The marketing, ticketing and commercial experts from SOCOG have argued extensively that that should not be done. I have heard their arguments. Notwithstanding their arguments I believe that on Thursday the board should decide to release the information.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I place the member for Hornsby on three calls to order.
Mr KNIGHT: Having said that, I have only one vote on the board. If the Leader of the Opposition would like to amend the SOCOG Act to remove the board and put it entirely under ministerial authority, she should seek to do so. In the meantime we will wait and see what the honourable member for Gosford and the other members of the board - as diverse as John Valder, Nick Greiner, Graham Richardson, John Coates, Kevan Gosper and others - decide when they have heard the argument from the ticketing and marketing staff. I have advised the House that my view is that session-by-session material should be released, and that is how I shall vote on the matter. I hope there is a majority in favour of that view.
WAR MEMORIAL PROTECTION
Mr McMANUS: My question is to the Premier. What plans does the Government have to further improve protection for wartime memorials in New South Wales?
Mr CARR: I thank the honourable and gallant member for his question. It will be a genuinely sad day when gates are erected to protect the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park, but it will be a necessary action. No-one can guarantee the safety of these monuments, but we have to do all we can in that regard. For that reason the Government has taken steps to ensure that the Anzac memory lives proudly in this age and will in the next. On 19 February I announced that part of the school curriculum will include the compulsory study of World War I by students. In years 7 and 10, 200 hours will be devoted to the history of Gallipoli and the Anzacs, World War II and the Vietnam War.
We should not forget the Vietnam War and those Australians who served their country in that war - contentious though it was back home. Those who fought in that war did their duty, and we should take special care to commemorate their contribution; they too are part of this tradition. Symbolic measures include the dedication of Anzac Bridge, which serves as a modern reminder. Sadly, there have been attacks on Anzac memorials at Hyde Park, at Corrimal and on the Kokoda Memorial Walkway. During discussions with the Returned Services League [RSL] - and its President, Mr Rusty Priest, in particular - it became clear that penalties under the Summary Offences Act for defacing war memorials were out of date.
It also became clear that the law needed to cover more than merely vandalism and graffiti. That is why legislation will be introduced to increase the penalty for wilful damage to war memorials to $2,200. Anyone causing a nuisance or committing an indecent or offensive act will be subject to a $1,100 fine. That is consistent with the Anzac Memorial (Building) Act. The legislation currently contains provision for vandals to be required to pay restitution or to perform community service to teach them respect.
It is not known how many memorials there are in New South Wales. According to the RSL there may be between 2,000 and 3,000. At the request of the RSL, the Department of Local Government will conduct, through local councils, a survey of all memorials. It is expected that the survey, which will be concluded within 12 months, will serve as an important historical document. Following the survey guidelines will be distributed to councils indicating the best way of protecting, preserving and enhancing the memorials, important as they are to our history and character as a people. Many brave Australians gave their lives so that we can enjoy a free life. Keeping their memory safe is the least we can do.
RURAL FIRE SERVICE ADMINISTRATION
Mr J. H. TURNER: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Emergency Services. With the State’s bushfire season already under way, why has the Minister failed to intervene on behalf of the State’s 70,000 bush fire fighters, who are uniting against moves to take local administration of the service away from them and to centralise it in Sydney, thus risking a huge loss of volunteers?
Mr DEBUS: That is the most misguided and silly question I have ever heard. There are number of small dissident volunteer groups around the
State - just a couple - and they have a small membership. Many of them are manipulated by the Opposition through the New South Wales Farmers Association. However, they are very small in number. By any measure, the largest representative body of rural fire service volunteers is the New South Wales Rural Fire Service Association.
Mr Hartcher: Whom you won’t meet.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Gosford to order.
Mr Hartcher: Admit that you refuse to meet them.
Mr Whelan: The new leader!
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister for Police should not encourage the member for Gosford.
Mr DEBUS: Contrary to the interjection of the honourable member for Gosford, I meet frequently with the New South Wales Rural Fire Service Association. A press release that was issued only 10 days ago is perhaps worth quoting. It states in part:
There is no doubt that the path our Service is heading down is the one we need to be on. It is the only path that will ensure that we don’t merely survive in a rapidly changing world, but that we are actually able to meet the needs of our communities in the future . . .
The press release goes on to praise the leadership of Commissioner Koperberg, and indicates what I know to be a self-evident fact: the overwhelming majority of the 70,000 bush fire volunteers in this State recognise that the commissioner has brought the organisation from a stance in which bush fire fighters were almost reduced to using branches and wet bags to fight fires to its present stance. In the words of this press release, the service is better equipped, better trained and better suited to dealing with the fire threat to our communities than ever before. In the press release Mr Don Luscombe is quoted as saying:
Our membership has never been stronger - in every sense of the word. Our record levels of funding - the hundreds of new tankers and the improved firefighting gear that we enjoy should be recognised as being largely as a result of his endeavours . . .
He was there referring to the endeavours of the commissioner and the Government. I will not deny that I am somewhat concerned about the question asked by the Deputy Leader of the National Party - not because it has any substance or addresses any issue of seriousness, but because it represents a continued fracturing of the bipartisan support for volunteer bush fire fighting that has been normal in the past. The question follows the catastrophic and disgraceful display of the Leader of the Opposition after the April hailstorm when she attacked the State Emergency Service and its leadership. The question also follows similar remarks by the Hon. D. J. Gay supporting tiny minorities who disagree with the new administrative arrangements in the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.
It is a disastrous course of action. I implore Opposition members to stop it before they politicise emergency services and seriously undermine the reforms that have taken place. Those reforms guarantee that the Rural Fire Service is better prepared now than it has ever been in its history. Does the Opposition not understand that the fires of 1997 were potentially much more serious than the fires of 1994? The reason that they did not become more serious was that the Rural Fire Service continued to improve its firefighting capacity. By asking that question the Deputy Leader of the National Party displays a level of ignorance and idiocy that I find offensive.
NURSING HOME ACCOMMODATION
Mr BLACK: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Health. What is the effect of the Federal Government’s failure to provide an adequate supply of nursing home beds in New South Wales?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The House will come 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: I acknowledge the interest of the honourable member for Murray-Darling in these sorts of issues. He was telling me only this morning about his travels around the northern part of his electorate.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Leader of the National Party to order for the second time.
Mr KNOWLES: He was talking to people in rural communities, who clearly understand the distress being caused in country towns by the negligence of the Commonwealth Government in failing to provide an adequate number of nursing home beds. The Health Department and its officials have established a draft agreement with the Commonwealth Government or its officials to provide much-needed beds for nursing home patients
in the New England region. All that is required now is the endorsement of the draft agreement by the Commonwealth Minister for Health and Aged Care, Michael Wooldridge, to allow the money and the beds to flow.
Whilst the Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care has his problems at the moment dealing with the magnetic resonance imaging scam, it might be appropriate, in the context of the needs of people in New England and, indeed, the needs of people in New South Wales, that he take the time to find a pen to sign the agreement that his officials have now established with the New South Wales Department of Health. Some honourable members will be aware that, during the past two months, there has been a great deal of argument between the State and the Commonwealth about the provision of accommodation for nursing home patients. I pay tribute to the honourable member for Northern Tablelands and to the honourable member for Tamworth for correspondence I have received from them and for their representations in relation to these issues. Clearly, this major issue in the New England region has been the subject of a degree of misinformation by a number of Federal members of Parliament.
It is always someone else, isn’t it, Craig?
The member for Gosford claims it is always someone else’s fault. In this case it is the fault of no-one but the Commonwealth Government.
Always someone else; never you, Craig.
The irrepressible member for Gosford!
He does not need too much encouragement. He demonstrates his capacity to lead - I don’t think! The Australian health care agreement is clear as to the responsibilities of the Commonwealth and State jurisdictions. Residential aged care is a Commonwealth responsibility. Nursing home patients are not in need of acute care; they simply require support in their older years. Sadly, over recent months the Commonwealth has tried to suggest that the States should pick up the tab. At one stage it suggested it had legal advice to back its claim. In the case of the New England area, the Commonwealth’s attempt to cost shift would have cost the taxpayers of this State $11 million. That is a direct impact on the State’s health budget of $11 million for the New England region alone.
I understand from advice I have received that Commonwealth officials, Mr Wooldridge’s departmental officials, have backed away from that view with haste. At departmental level they now acknowledge their responsibility. Since those original assertions State and Commonwealth officers have worked constructively on a draft plan to meet the needs of country people. The draft plan involves the Commonwealth providing approximately 70 new places in the New England region. That is good news. The honourable member for Northern Tablelands and the honourable member for Tamworth would appreciate the effort that has gone into brokering that agreement off the back of quite a deal of misleading misinformation put about by Federal members in that region.
They claimed, of course, that the New England Public Health Unit was totally responsible, that it was entirely its funding responsibility and that the Commonwealth had no jurisdiction over this matter, although at the same time it opened aged care beds in Tenterfield in total contradiction of its public statements. The draft plan will involve the expedition of all necessary approvals to allow the payment of the recurrent Commonwealth subsidy for the 18 high-care bed places in Tenterfield.
There is an agreement to fast track health and aged care service plans for Emmaville and Boggabri to facilitate the early development of multipurpose services that will provide an additional 15 beds approximately and the identification again by the Commonwealth of 43 additional residential care places from a combination of national Commonwealth funded programs. When Michael Wooldridge finally signs off, that will be good news for the New England region. It shows what can be done by collaboration rather than confrontation. However, the problem is not isolated to the New England region.
It should be of interest to every member of this place, particularly those representing country and rural electorates, that currently statewide there are 866 older people in rural and remote areas confined to hospital beds but classified under the health care agreement as nursing home type patients. That one deliberate cost shift by the Commonwealth means a cost shift annually to New South Wales Health of $83 million. That means this State is picking up the tab of $83 million for a Commonwealth-funded program under the health care agreement. In simple terms that means less money for acute services, community health services and surgery. For example, it could mean an additional 8,000 hip or knee replacements, another 180 intensive care beds, 202 acute psychiatric beds
or tackling the dental program that has been gutted by the Commonwealth over the last four years.
Always your responsibility.
We have a timely interjection from the honourable member for Barwon. I have here a letter and it is interesting to note from its letterhead that in addition to being the honourable member for Barwon he is the shadow minister for agriculture, shadow minister for western New South Wales and, importantly, the assistant shadow minister for rural health! One might assume from that august letterhead that this fellow knows something about the subject. I advise the House that on 20 July in a letter to none other than the Hon. Dr Michael Wooldridge, MP, the Minister for Health and Aged Care, the honourable member for Barwon, the assistant shadow minister for health, said in the second paragraph:
Minister, as I understand it, Aged Care Accommodation is a Commonwealth responsibility.
It gets better. The Coalition has tried to pass the buck when its own shadow minister for rural health acknowledges the issue is a Commonwealth responsibility. He went on to say:
The situation in New England with the health care crisis facing us now in rural and regional areas of New South Wales is at breaking point.
Order! I call the honourable member for Coffs Harbour to order. I place the honourable member for Wakehurst on three calls to order.
The honourable member for Barwon continued:
I feel the crisis would not be as severe if the Federal Government were to take the responsibility of Aged Care accommodation in . . . NSW.
I endorse the remarks of the honourable member for Barwon. That was said at a time when the Commonwealth was running away from this issue at a million miles an hour, refusing to take responsibility under the health care agreement for funding residential aged care. We knew, the public health unit knew and the local members knew that what was being put down by the Commonwealth was a lot of nonsense. It has now come out with its hands up and recognised that a cost shift of $11 million in the New England region is something for which it has to take responsibility.
However, having agreed to accept responsibility for the New England issue the question now is: What about the 866 people statewide who are in exactly the same position? I should like to give the House a couple of anecdotes that will demonstrate clearly the sorts of thing I am talking about. I am not talking about old people spending a couple of days in the inappropriate environment of a hospital. I am talking about people living in hospitals for months, weeks and, in some cases, even years. A place called Henty in the southern part of the State is in the electorate of the honourable member for Albury.
Henty has a good little hospital, and I pay tribute to all the people who work there. Henty District Hospital is a 14-bed acute care facility. Currently, 11 beds are occupied by nursing home type patients, that is, patients who should have been paid for by the Commonwealth but are being paid for by the State. Henty hospital is an old facility, but it is a good hospital. However, it is not the sort of place an older person would want to spend a long time in, sharing a communal bathroom with 13 other people. It is not the sort of place that offers an effective living environment or the capacity to socialise because it is a ward-based hospital.
One or two individuals have given us consent to have their circumstances raised in this place. One woman, whose name I am happy to supply to the local member to check, is 96 years old and has been living at Henty hospital since 1995. That is four years. Her sister was also a nursing home type patient, but she died in hospital in March this year. Her niece is deceased. She has a few cousins in the region but she celebrates every Christmas with hospital staff in a totally inappropriate environment. The second case is that of a 77-year-old man, who is a quadriplegic as a result of a farm accident. I am happy to supply his name also He became a resident of Henty hospital in 1992. He has spent seven years in an entirely inappropriate environment.
They are only two examples of the 866 people who currently reside in hospitals in rural communities because of the inability of the Commonwealth Government to acknowledge its responsibility. I have referred to this matter today to remind the Commonwealth that at an officer level we have reached agreement. The draft agreement is now in place. There is recognition that this is a Commonwealth responsibility and the precedent of the New England region, an $11 million cost shift, now has implications for the rest of the State. Those 866 men and women - the elderly in our community, the people of rural New South Wales, the backbone of farming for generations - have a right to something better. All we need is the Commonwealth to honour the agreement.
The Government is doing an enormous amount of work in rural New South Wales. It has introduced multipurpose services and employed extra ambulance officers. The Government is working with nurses and doctors. A few weeks ago, in answer to a question, the Premier outlined the considerable success the Government has had in only a few short months in appointing overseas- trained doctors to general practice in rural New South Wales towns that have not had doctors for years. I am happy to co-operate on this issue. Honourable members opposite would do well to contact their Federal mates to ask them for the money that the New South Wales health system is currently being short-changed.
I have not tallied up what $83 million over the months might do, but it could have provided a great deal more than what is currently being provided under present budgetary restraints - not to mention the $53 million we are owed under the hospital indexation agreement. They are substantial amounts of money. Commonwealth officials have acknowledged that the nonsense put up in the New England region, the claim that the provision of residential aged care was not the Commonwealth’s responsibility, was a scam. That ploy has been exposed. The challenge is open to Michael Wooldridge to sign the agreement and send a cheque to provide those extra dollars. That extra funding will provide better quality care for those who are currently kept in hospital beds and will ensure that the same level of treatment is delivered across the State.
Order! I call the honourable member for Coffs Harbour to order for the second time.
These issues are important. They go to the heart of public policy. They go to what a government should do for rural communities. A collaborative two-tiered health system between the Commonwealth and the State obliges both parties to honour the agreement. The State Government stands by its responsibilities to the aged in rural communities. As stretched as health funding is, the Government will ensure that acute care services and facilities are available. However, that funding is stretched even further by the Commonwealth short-changing the State Government of $83 million. That is the sort of thing one can expect from Michael Wooldridge. If only he had the decency to sign the agreement!
COMMISSIONER OF POLICE SALARY PACKAGE
My question is to the Minister for Police. How much taxpayers’ money has been spent on legal advice trying to keep secret the multimillion dollar contract with the Commissioner of Police when police have been forced to cut down on petrol, overtime and spending on train fares and phone calls?
Every question the honourable member for Epping asks me in this House is aimed at denigrating the Commissioner of Police.
Order! I place the honourable member for Murrumbidgee on two calls to order.
It is all about trying to drag the Commissioner down to the low levels of the Opposition. I have some advice for the Opposition: Get off his back and let him do his job. He is doing a great job in New South Wales. He has the support of the Carr Government.
Point of order: The question was how much police petrol money is being spent on legal fees to keep secret the multimillion dollar contract with the Commissioner of Police.
: Order! There is no point of order. I call the honourable member to order.
The Opposition has not learned its lesson since it voted against the royal commission. The Opposition has learned nothing about supporting the New South Wales Commissioner of Police. The Opposition did not even support the royal commission during its currency, when it was investigating corruption.
: Order! I place the honourable member for Epping on three calls to order. He has asked a question and he will listen in silence to the rational answer being provided by the Minister.
Commissioner Ryan is doing a fantastic job.
: Order! I call the honourable member for Vaucluse to order.
Since his appointment Commissioner Ryan has had the support of the Carr Government. I ask the Leader of the Opposition to ensure that all Opposition members now join with the Government in acknowledging that the former Coalition Government made a mistake when it opposed the royal commission. Let the Commissioner of Police get on with the job of reforming the Police Service. We would have a better Police Service and a much better State if the Coalition were to get behind the commissioner and the Government.
: Order! I place the honourable member for Davidson on three calls to order.
POKER MACHINE CENTRAL MONITORING SYSTEM
My question without notice is to the Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development. What is the Government doing for the State’s small clubs to help them cope with the installation of a central monitoring system for poker machines?
The honourable member for Tweed has been a consistent supporter of registered clubs and the hospitality industry in his electorate. The economy of the area he represents relies heavily on tourism and the club and hospitality industry. For some time the Government has been concerned about the effect on small clubs of the central monitoring system and the fee of $26.10 a month per poker machine. At the last State election we undertook to ensure that smaller clubs would not be disadvantaged by the introduction of a central monitoring system, unlike the Coalition, which did not and would not honour its promises.
About 500 small clubs in the State are not wealthy and make a profit of only as much as $200,000 a year. The Government recognised the position of those clubs in the last taxation review, when it was decided that clubs that made a profit of up to $100,000 a year would pay no tax, and that those with profits of between $100,000 and $200,000 would pay only 1 per cent tax. Last week at the annual conference and annual general meeting of the Registered Clubs Association in the Tweed, the Government and I recognised the position of those small clubs. It was obvious that clubs that make such small profits would be in financial trouble if they had to pay $26.10 a month for each poker machine. In fact, most of them, especially those in small country areas, would have had to close their doors.
That would be disastrous for many local communities that rely on their clubs to provide sporting and social facilities. Bowling clubs and golf clubs in country towns and smaller centres in particular would have been dramatically affected. Social clubs and small sporting clubs would have been forced to close. The Government had only two choices: It could either not connect the almost 5,000 poker machines in these small clubs, or it could connect them and give the clubs some fee relief.
Last week at a meeting of the Registered Clubs Association the Government decided on the latter course because it is essential for security reasons that all machines be monitored by the central monitoring system. Therefore, the Government has decided that for the next four years 500 clubs will not pay that fee. After that time clubs with a profit of up to $100,000 will continue for all time to be exempt while those with a profit of up to $200,000 will pay one-third of the fee in the first year, two-thirds in the next year and the full fee in the third year. In other words, they will be given relief for seven years.
The Government wants all machines to be connected to the central monitoring system and will therefore pay the TAB to connect all 500 small clubs in New South Wales. This will cost approximately $1.5 million a year, representing less than 0.2 of 1 per cent of the total tax collected from poker machines. It will not only save most of these small clubs but allow them to face the future with confidence. It will also enable them to plan for upgrading of their facilities. I have received numerous letters from honourable members on both sides of the House. I received a letter from Brush Farm Bowling Club, in the electorate of the honourable member for Ryde, stating that that club would have been in some difficulty.
On a recent visit to the South Coast the honourable member for South Coast pointed out numerous clubs that would have been affected, in particular those in the Jervis Bay area. Without this initiative many small towns in the Broken Hill electorate may have been left without a bowling club or a golf club. Several clubs in the electorate of the honourable member for Bathurst likewise told me that they would have been affected - and that is only a small sample.
In June 1997 Parliament passed legislation that enabled TAB Ltd to operate, on an exclusive basis for a 15-year term, the central monitoring system for gaming machines in registered clubs and hotels. The Government made the decision to provide all computerised central monitoring systems for gaming machines in clubs and hotels which, when fully implemented, will provide many benefits to clubs, hotels, industries and people in New South Wales. I thank the honourable member for Tweed for his timely question. This measure will allay the anxiety of many small clubs in New South Wales and provide them with tremendous relief.
Questions without notice concluded.
CONSIDERATION OF URGENT MOTIONS
(Miranda) [3.12 p.m.]: The recent decision of banks to close branches and cut jobs affects the livelihood and wellbeing of men and
women in Sydney suburbs and right across regional and rural New South Wales. These decisions must be scrutinised and debated as a matter of urgency and at the earliest possible opportunity. The people of New South Wales, the men and women about to lose their jobs, the families facing a bleak future as a result of bank closures and the elderly deprived of face-to-face banking services all have a right to expect that their concerns will be raised and their voices heard in this House as a matter of priority. Accordingly, my motion for urgent consideration should be accorded precedence by this House.
Government Water Policy
(Murrumbidgee) [3.13 p.m.]: It is essential that my motion proceed today because of the significant number of lives and industries that are affected by the current crisis in the Murray Valley. Every single day counts. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that a significant part of the New South Wales and Australian rice industry is under threat due to the shortage of water available for irrigation in the Murray Valley. This Parliament has the opportunity to alleviate some of those problems and, although I acknowledge that this has been a dry year, the Government has an opportunity to assist irrigators in the Murray Valley. The period to 16 October is the optimum period for planting rice in the Murray Valley and, for the uninitiated, water is the crucial element in rice planting. That date has passed and every additional day that passes will lead to a reduction in the rice yield.
It is imperative that the matter be dealt with immediately. It is unfortunate that Parliament has been in recess during the past couple of weeks, because it is now almost too late. Today a large rally was held in Albury. It was attended by 3,000 to 4,000 people, not only irrigators and farmers but also, perhaps more important, business people. This crisis is affecting farmers today but in six months, when it is time for the crop to be harvested, families will not have the money to spend and that will have an adverse effect on retail trade within the Murray Valley, especially at Christmas time. A rally of this size cannot be ignored. I understand that the town of Jerilderie and other river towns dependent upon irrigation closed down today to permit people to attend the rally. There were a number of speakers, and the attendance of a National Party member. We often speak in this House about the importance of small businesses. Every single farm is a small business and 2,500 are seriously affected.
A meeting was held a couple of weeks ago in Jerilderie at which 1,000 people attended, and two days earlier 500 people attended a meeting at Deniliquin. The crisis in the Murray Valley will affect tens of thousands of people both directly and indirectly. Major industries are under threat. The rice industry is the tenth largest agricultural industry in Australia, with a turnover of $700 million. The crisis in the Murray Valley may result in the direct loss of up to 400 jobs within the rise industry and the loss of 2,000 jobs indirectly. It is time to act now.
Some initiatives have been taken by the Snowy River Shire Council and many discussions have been held. A slight concession was given to the irrigators but that was insignificant and is not nearly enough. Although I do not in any way wish to detract from the importance of bank closures, banks have been closing branches for years. During its 4½ years in office the Government has had plenty of time to debate the matter; it is not necessary that it be debated today. The crisis in my electorate is so significant that my staff have requested counselling training to enable them to deal with the many people who are distraught about their future and that of their children. People are in crisis today, a crisis equivalent to a business in the city being told that it has only 17 per cent of electricity supply requirements available to it. It is essential that this matter be debated today. [Time expired
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Consideration of Urgent Motions
(Strathfield - Minister for Police) [3.18 p.m.]: I move:
That standing and sessional orders be suspended to permit:
(1) both notices of motions for urgent consideration to be dealt with at this sitting; and
(2) an unlimited number of speakers on the motion for urgent consideration standing in the name of the member for Miranda.
The Government will support the motion proposed by the honourable member for Miranda being debated, but will also make arrangements for the motion for urgent consideration proposed by the honourable member for Murrumbidgee to be debated following debate on the motion for urgent consideration of the honourable member for Miranda. In other words, both motions will be debated, with the motion of the honourable member for Miranda being debated first.
(Gosford) [3.19 p.m.]: I move:
That the motion be amended by the addition of the following paragraph:
(3) 12 members to speak on the motion for urgent consideration standing in the name of the member for Murrumbidgee.
The Leader of the House has moved a motion to permit full debate on the motion proposed by the honourable member for Miranda and that is appropriate, but he has not included unlimited debate on the motion proposed by the honourable member for Murrumbidgee.
How many speakers do you want?
Six from each side of the House.
That is acceptable.
I convey to the Leader of the House the Opposition’s appreciation of his courtesy.
Amendment agreed to.
Motion as amended agreed to.
(Miranda) [3.22 p.m.]: I move:
(1) calls on the Commonwealth, Westpac and other major banks to immediately drop their plans to shed jobs and close branches, particularly in suburban metropolitan areas and regional and rural New South Wales;
(2) urges all the major banks to maintain their current level of services and branches in New South Wales;
(3) notes the importance of face-to-face services to long-term customers, particularly the elderly; and
(4) supports the New South Wales Minister for Fair Trading’s plan to impose minimum standards on bank licences requiring them to supply at least a minimum level of banking services to the community.
Three thousand jobs, Mr Speaker! The jobs in question are the jobs of 3,000 men and women who are dependent upon Westpac Banking Corporation for their livelihood. Those 3,000 men and women and their families are facing a bleak and uncertain future. I am not talking about only Westpac branches in Sydney suburbs such as Sylvania, Gymea and Jannali in my electorate: I am talking about branches in regional and rural New South Wales, at places such as Gloucester, Tenterfield, Holbrook and Braidwood.
Last Wednesday, Westpac announced that it would shed 3,000 workers - and honourable members should note the word "shed". The Gordon Geckos of Westpac - those executives with their greed-is-good mentality - did not say that they were going to take away the livelihoods of men and women who have given loyal service to the bank for years. They did not say they were going to cut costs by cutting face-to-face banking services. They did not say that they were going to ignore the needs of their elderly, long-term customers in their drive for maximum profits.
They certainly did not say that they could not care less about whether their cost-cutting measures effectively closed local businesses and put their employees out of work, and they did not say that they could not care less whether they destroyed suburban shopping centres, country towns and entire communities. No, the Gordon Geckos of Westpac simply said, "We will shed 3,000 workers" and they said that without batting an eyelid! To them, sacking 3,000 workers means about as much as putting 3,000 pieces of pieces of paper through a shredder! They do not mention the real consequences of their decisions, because the sad truth of the matter is that Westpac Banking Corporation, and other major banks such as the Commonwealth Bank, have stopped caring about the community. They simply care only about the bottom line.
The major banks are putting profits before people. Indeed, it is not enough that Westpac tells us that it will slash 10 per cent of its work force. It has to twist the knife and leak a hit list of 80 branches it plans to shut. The Gordon Geckos of Westpac are coming to a branch near you, Mr Speaker. Which branches? All 80 branches were published in last Sunday’s Sun-Herald
and I draw them to the attention of honourable members present in the Chamber. If people are really lucky, their suburbs may just be left with an automatic teller machine [ATM]. In the International Year of Older Persons it really does not matter to the major banks that elderly or infirm people have difficulty using an ATM.
It does not matter to banks such as Westpac that some people do not drive or do not have a car but now have to travel three kilometres to the nearest bank for the face-to-face service that they need - a service that they have relied upon for years. It does not matter to those banks that people have shown loyalty to the same bank all their lives. Never mind that people have banked at the same branch for as long as they can remember - their bank is going to shut down. The Gordon Geckos of Westpac, those who have the greed-is-good
mentality and who truly believe that greed is good, have made up their collective minds and there is no going back.
Westpac is not the only bank which has forgotten the people and it is not the only bank which is putting profits before people. Let me provide the House with a case study of a bank that is hell-bent on shutting its doors in Kirrawee, part of my electorate in Sydney’s southern areas. There are 35 individual shops and businesses operating in the main street, Oak Road. It is a complete shopping centre. Nearby Flora Street to the north contains light industrial and residential areas. In that street alone there are 84 small factories and businesses employing hundreds of men and women. There are also more than 250 residential dwellings. To the south is a large residential area which is occupied by young families as well as senior citizens. A significant number of pensioners live in that part of Kirrawee which includes aged care accommodation and nursing homes.
Approximately 21.6 per cent of the population of Kirrawee is 55 years of age or over, which means that one in five persons are of retirement age. Many of those seniors do their shopping as well as all their banking at Kirrawee. They do not have cars because they do not drive, but week in, week out they get up to Kirrawee and combine their shopping with their banking. Kirrawee has only one bank and it has been there for 38 years. Which bank? The Commonwealth Bank, of course. Which bank had senior staff members drop in to my office late on Friday afternoon 8 October when I was out a letter stating that the bank had decided to shut its Kirrawee branch on 19 November? You guessed it, Mr Speaker.
Which bank did not bother to consult the community before posting a notice on its front door saying that it was shutting down? Which bank did not have the decency to tell its staff that it was shutting down after the close of business on 7 October? As I said, it was the Commonwealth Bank. This is the same bank that made a record $1.4 billion net profit after tax in 1998-99 and it is the same bank that increased its profit by almost $500 million in the four years to 1999. All this is stated in the bank’s annual report. It is the same bank that gave its shareholders an average return of 20 per cent on their equity in 1998-99; the same bank that cut its full-time staff by nearly 5,000 employees and its part-time staff by nearly 1,000 over the last four years.
Which bank has shut down 312 branches and 348 agencies in the last four years? It is the same bank that increased its total assets by more than $35 billion in the last four years. Which bank also has its Gordon Geckos and links their remuneration to profits? It is the same bank that in 1998-99 paid its Chief Executive Officer, Mr Murray, a bonus of $700,000 on top of his base annual salary of $1 million; the same bank that paid its six senior executives total annual bonuses of $2.1 million on top of their base annual salaries and share options.
Why is the Commonwealth Bank closing its Kirrawee branch? Shopkeepers, pensioners, residents and small business owners are at a loss to understand the reason. As Mr Death, who has been the proprietor of the haberdashery store at Kirrawee for the last 15 years, correctly said, "This bank does not even have any competition." The bank stated in its letter that it had decided to close the branch only after a thorough investigation of customer usage.
I have spoken to the shopkeepers, and they have told me that something is wrong, that something does not quite equate with reality. I asked the shopkeepers about their usage of the bank. Mr Mal Arthur, who has owned a butcher shop across the road from the bank for 10 years, said that the girls in the bank are flat out on Wednesdays and Thursdays of pension week. Angelo, the hairdresser who has been in the same Kirrawee shop for 16 years, said that the bank is always busy and every time he goes there he has to line up. Ken McMillan, who owns Kirrawee Cycles, said that the bank’s decision to close defies logic, because he rarely goes into the bank without having to get into a queue. The takeaway food shop owner, John Sclavos, said that the bank is always busy at lunchtime servicing people from nearby factories who visit Kirrawee to buy their lunch and do their banking.
A bank employee informed me that approximately 10,000 transactions are processed through the Kirrawee branch every year, and the Commonwealth Bank has never disputed that figure. It is time that the banks developed a conscience and considered the needs of their older residents, the people who have relied on face-to-face services for the long term. And what about loyalty? Does loyalty mean nothing to the Commonwealth Bank? Which bank was established in 1912 as the people’s bank? Which bank amassed its vast wealth on the backs of everyday ordinary Australians, those who are now our senior citizens? Many of us would remember the Commonwealth Bank money boxes we were given to encourage us to save with that bank.
The Commonwealth Bank is now turning its back on the senior citizens of Kirrawee and those in other places throughout New South Wales. Their
loyalty and our loyalty over the years means nothing to the Commonwealth Bank. It is time that banks thought about maintaining their current level of service to the people and understood and accepted in a tangible way the importance of face-to-face services for their long-term loyal customers, especially the elderly. It is time that banks stopped shutting branches and laying off employees. It is time they became decent corporate citizens with a social conscience and started acting responsibly. I urge the House to support this motion unanimously.
(Vaucluse) [3.32 p.m.]: The Opposition joins with the Government in debating this issue. I have a few concerns about the direction that the honourable member for Miranda is taking, but no doubt everyone in the Australian community would share my concern about bank branch closures and the loss of services to customers. It is interesting to note the parallel between what has been happening with the banks and the activities of the Carr Government during the past four years. The closure of bank branches has had a dramatic impact in many areas, because it has often been done without notice to the bank’s loyal customers or to the business base of the particular branches.
Bank branch closures have certainly affected small businesses in various areas, as the honourable member for Miranda said. A branch closure is often a knee-jerk reaction following years of operation without reform of bank practices. I am sure that this matter is of concern to each and every member of this Chamber who has dealt with banks over the past 20 or 30 years and watched them continually alienate their customer base and move further back from the community. Clearly, there are parallels between the banks and the Carr Government. In the next few years there will be even bigger shocks as the Carr Government makes massive adjustments to its current financial situation.
It is concerning to read some aspects of this motion and realise that it is confused socialism, poorly disguised. It is simply bank bashing and probably will not move the community forward. If anything this issue will be raised once again by the New South Wales media during the next 24 hours. I hope that the banks will do a lot more to get their act together and compile a plan to involve the communities in the areas where branches are under threat of closure. The community should be involved in working out alternatives to branch closures, because the closure of a particular branch, which often serves a neighbourhood without competition, will have a devastating effect on the local community and local business.
Perhaps there is an alternative. Perhaps the banks should ask the branch managers to become involved in a community consultation and marketing program. The banks may find that their market share actually goes up in the neighbourhood instead of down, and they may find that they need not pull out of the area. There are many opportunities to be considered. Banks should also consider the poor state of planning in New South Wales. Bank branches located in small shopping centres will have extreme difficulty in surviving.
There is no doubt about that, because our planning system, or lack of planning, simply will not help them. Not only will that not help the banks, but it will not help the small businesses that are trying to survive in the same shopping centre. We are all aware of shopping centres that have become virtually derelict over the years. We are also aware of other shopping centres that have turned around their destiny in 12 or 18 months with good planning decisions, support from the local community and support from local councils.
Obviously the banks provide a critical mass in many shopping centres which are under threat. With a little forward thinking, banks, local communities and local councils certainly could do a lot to remedy the situation in local shopping centres, and provide themselves with a future which would not include closing a bank branch. One aspect of serious concern is the impact on small business as banks close branches in neighbourhoods. No doubt bank closures have a huge impact on the local community, but the local community still has an opportunity to bank at other banks.
Small businesses surrounding a bank are often devastated by the closure of a bank branch and that is of real concern to us all. In New South Wales we need to encourage and stimulate the small business sector, not make it more difficult for each business to operate. The honourable member for Miranda slammed the banks by mentioning Gordon Gecko. I ask him to look at the parallels with banks and the Carr Government over the past four years. There is no doubt that the Carr Government is out of touch with the community; there is no doubt that several Ministers, the Treasurer, and the Minister for Transport were slammed by their own party at the Labor Party conference a few weekends ago for being totally out of touch with the community, for being arrogant and for being dismissive of community concerns.
Much of that emanates from the fact that for four years the Carr Government has simply ignored
any reform of the bureaucracy or the government trading enterprise sector. An incredible head of steam has built up for long-overdue reform as well as an incredible head of steam in a budget that is about to burst. It is fairly widespread knowledge in the community that the budget is skating on extremely thin financial ice. As the interest rates go up, which probably will happen in the next few weeks or months, the budget will be under incredible pressure as another $500 million could easily be added to it.
At the same time the public sector payroll is going through the roof. The Treasurer will freely admit, in caucus I am sure, that he has a major problem with the budget. Today banks are announcing massive closures and losses of staff, but in the next few years the financial crunch will come for New South Wales and the Carr Government will be driven to announce massive adjustments. The parallels between banks and the Carr Government will be apparent for all to see. The Labor Party has decided to bash banks today. Fair enough! I am not sure that that will make a constructive contribution to the future of New South Wales. But there are a number of aspects that we can all look at in consultation with the community, on planning matters and marketing of bank branches in those local communities.
However, we should also be aware of the parallels with the Carr Government and the fact that the Government is out of touch and in need of reform, and that its cost structure is running out of control. In the next few years we will have a major problem which will result in an announcement by the Carr Government of major structural reform and major job losses - unless it gets its act together now. Whereas the honourable member for Miranda mentioned the need for a conscience and for loyalty, I say that in parallel the Carr Government needs to realise that it owes loyalty to the people of New South Wales, not only to the Labor Party. The Government needs to have a conscience and needs to undertake its own reform program before it is too late.
GOVERNOR’S SPEECH: ADDRESS-IN-REPLY
The House proceeded to Government House at 3.40 p.m., there to present to the Government its Address-in-Reply to the Speech His Excellency had been pleased to make to both Houses of Parliament on opening the session.
The House returned at 5.15 p.m.
reported that the Address-in-Reply to the Governor’s Speech had been presented, and that His Excellency had been pleased to give thereto the following answer:
The Speaker and Honourable Members of the Legislative Assembly,
It gives me much pleasure to receive your Address and to thank you for your expression of loyalty to Her Majesty The Queen.
I am also glad to have your assurance that earnest consideration will be given to the measures to be submitted to you and the necessary provision for Public Services made in due course.
I have every confidence that your labours will advance the general welfare and happiness of the people of this State.
PRIVATE MEMBERS’ STATEMENTS
SOUTH SYDNEY NATIONAL RUGBY LEAGUE EXCLUSION
(Blacktown) [5.16 p.m.]: When I was a young kid living at Young I dreamt of playing rugby league one day in Sydney. Like a lot of young kids in those days there was only one team to play for and if we ever made it to Sydney the team we wanted to play for was the South Sydney Rabbitohs. They were given that name because a lot of families lived and survived by selling rabbits in the streets of South Sydney. I finished schoolboy football and came to Sydney by invitation to trial for South Sydney. After playing one trial I was offered a contract. We did not have much money in those days and my contract with Souths was a new beginning. At the time it meant everything to me and my family. I went out of schoolboy football one day and into Souths the next.
I played with players of the calibre of Henry Morris, Mickey Faller, Jackie Coyne, Billy McCarthy, Charlie Gibson, Eric Robinson, Trevor Hyler, Jimmy Lisle, Daryl Chapman, Michael Cleary, Kevin Roberts and Kenny Kay, and trained under coaches of the calibre of Bernie Purcell and Dennis Donohue. It was a dream come true for a young kid from the bush. South Sydney was the tradition of rugby league. There was an old saying in those days that when South Sydney was on top, rugby league was on top. South Sydney was a breeding ground for some of the great players such as Churchill, Sattler, O’Neill, Coote, Brannigan, McCarthy, Moses, Wearing and Raynor. Over the
years these players and South Sydney became the yardstick by which other teams and players were measured.
However, that yardstick is now being removed. It was a glorious tradition to be on top one year, to battle back the next year, to lose for a couple of years and then to rise again like a phoenix. That was South Sydney. The club was formed in 1908 and is Australia’s oldest club. Over the years 61 South Sydney players have played international football and they included test captains such as Arthur Hennessy, Clive Churchill, Johnny Sattler, Ronny Coote and Bobby McCarthy. The club has won 20 premierships. South Sydney has never reneged on paying a bill. It has paid its way since 1908 and has never defaulted in paying its fair share.
South Sydney is more than a rugby league team; it is a way of life. It stands for the battler and the true unity, pride and loyalty that only a South Sydney player could really know. Rugby league supporters are a funny lot. Yesterday I held a function at Parliament House and I spoke to a bloke I have known for a long time by the name of Bomber James, who is getting on in years now but who played for Young in the 1960s. He now lives at Kiama. He does not support South Sydney, but he said something with which many rugby league supporters would probably agree. He said, "Because of what has happened to South Sydney - not that I ever supported them - I will never ever watch a rugby league game again." The Bomber Jameses are what has kept rugby league going all these years.
I do not care whether South Sydney met the criteria. Rugby league was great when it was a workingman’s game, and South Sydney has always been working class. Now that the rich have taken over the game the tradition has gone. Today tradition counts for nothing. In the future when hard times come to rugby league - and I am certain they will - I wonder what the Murdochs and the big money will do. I wonder whether rugby league will survive as it did during the Depression and in times of war. Clubs such as South Sydney have kept the game alive. I have no doubt that when hard times fall on rugby league and people turn off their television sets the Murdochs of this world will replace rugby league - a way of life in this country, and in this State particularly, since 1908 - with the midday movie. When the recent decision to exclude South Sydney was made a piece of rugby league died. I have great admiration for George Piggins and what he has done. He stands for guts, loyalty and the workingman’s game. In a recent letter he said:
During the height of all this treachery the more I got to know humans, the better I love my dog.
I totally agree with him. The National Rugby League has made a terrible decision. It has supported money instead of tradition.
(Vaucluse) [5.20 p.m.]: The Carrara estate in Vaucluse electorate was acquired by the New South Wales Government in 1914 under the Foreshores Resumption Scheme for a public recreation ground and as an addition to Neilsen Park. In 1989 the convalescent home on the site was closed and the patients transferred to other facilities. The future use of that site, the 13 acres of harbour parkland and buildings, was debated for five years. In March 1994, together with the Premier, I unlocked the gates of that property and allowed public access to it for the first time in five years. The gates have remained open ever since.
In November 1994 I established a review to consider viable uses for the buildings on the estate. In 1994 various Government Ministers assisted with that review process, which continued after the State election. This estate not only comprises an historic home and several other buildings but 13 acres of prime harbour parkland. It attracts visitors from Sydney, from New South Wales, throughout Australia and from other countries. The renovation and use of buildings on the property has been debated for the past 10 years. As I said, in 1994 I formed a committee to establish some guiding principles for the future use of the property and the buildings.
I should like to make reference to several of those guiding principles. They acknowledge that the harbourside open space is a rare and valuable asset; that the trust, which will eventually take over the property, will ensure that the entire historic property remains in public ownership; and that the historic house and all of the land will be retained for appropriate general public use and enjoyment. The guiding principles also acknowledge the strategic links the property has with the harbour and the adjacent national park. They noted that within this conservation mandate Sydneysiders and visitors alike will be encouraged to appreciate the property’s unique values.
The guiding principles also acknowledge that we need to provide a range of appropriate public recreational and community opportunities which will not compromise heritage and landscape values and community access to all the land and to the historic house. It was suggested that the property be managed in a manner which minimises the impact of traffic and noise upon local residents. In the context
of the guiding principles and in addition to funding provided by the State Government it was intended to establish a degree of financial self-sufficiency which would fund the maintenance and improvement of Strickland House.
This has been a sad and sorry saga for 10 years. The hospital was closed in 1989 and the public sector of New South Wales must decide the future use of this property. I call upon the Minister to embrace the guiding principles that the committee spent so much time putting together in 1994-95 and to publicly call for expressions of interest for the renovation and use of the buildings. I have suggested to the Minister that we need to publicly evaluate the options for that property which have been put forward by various parties. This must be done on top of the table, not under the table.
Over the past 10 years one of the difficulties has been that various evaluations have been undertaken about future uses but they have never enjoyed the entire trust of the local community. We need to re-establish the trust between the community and the Government. I invite the Minister to join me in the next few weeks if possible, and certainly in the next month, in visiting the property to meet with interested local residents and other parties to discuss the future use of the property and to find a way forward.
CENTRAL COAST AGED-YOUTH SUPPORT SERVICES
(The Entrance) [5.25 p.m.]: Last week I attended the presentation of the annual report of Nareen Gardens, Bateau Bay, a ministry of the Uniting Church. It is a care and concern establishment for people in the Bateau Bay area who are ageing or have disabilities. Part of the Nareen Gardens mission statement reads:
The goal of the ministry is to respond to the individual needs by focusing on developing specialised and innovative support and care services, which promote a sense of community, choice, dignity and independence, and quality care.
All those objectives are met with loving care. I offer my congratulations to all those associated with Nareen Gardens, including the administrator, David Goodhew, who also happens to be the son of the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney; to the board of directors, which is led by its chairman Norm Starret; and to all the managers, doctors, consultants, carers, therapists, counsellors, hospitality staff, laundry staff, orderlies, outdoor staff and volunteers. Nareen Gardens now provides a hostel, a nursing home, self-care facilities, special residential care for people affected by dementia and respite care for their carers. It is like a self-sufficient country-style village for more than 200 residents and a total of more than 300 people, including staff and volunteers.
Nareen Gardens is one of six similar facilities in a precinct which is bounded by Bias Avenue, Yakalla Street and The Entrance Road, Bateau Bay, catering for as many as 800 retired people. They are great facilities and the residents are fabulous people. I have visited all the retirement centres personally. More and more of those facilities are being built as I speak, my electorate having one of the largest populations of retired people in Australia. Simultaneously my electorate and, indeed, the Central Coast has developed one of the largest populations of young people in the State, with almost 25 per cent of the population being 19 years or younger. The Central Coast has the three largest primary school enrolments in the State. One school is on the Woy Woy peninsula, another is in Berkeley Vale, which is in my electorate, and the other is farther north in the lakes area. The enrolment at each of those schools is in excess of 900.
In summary, my electorate has a large elderly and retired population which is matched by a large population of young people. To my mind the challenge is how to integrate those two groups so that young people can benefit from the mountain of worldly wisdom and experience of our retired citizens and thus build a stronger community. Suggestions on how to achieve that goal have been made to me. They include a proposal to adopt a grandparent or, looking from the other side of the spectrum, a proposal to adopt a grandchild. The elderly could be invited into our schools to act as oral historians and advisers, and to provide reading and teaching assistance, and assistance generally, in the schools.
The elderly could also visit young families in the area to provide advice and assistance. The tyranny of distance is evidenced on the Central Coast by the fact that many young families who have moved to the Central Coast take four hours or more to travel to work in Sydney. In many cases, the parental influence in those families has been diminished by the fact that the parents simply cannot spend a great deal of time with their children because they are paying off their mortgages and are trying to raise their families at the same time. The elderly could provide great assistance to those young families.
One proposed scheme is similar to home care in reverse. It would not be home care for the elderly but, rather, home care for the young. It would not be
Meals on Wheels for the elderly but, rather, Meals on Wheels for the young. I will provide the House with the example of a woman who lives at a retirement village at Norah Head. She worked at one of the local schools as a volunteer and adopted in this role a young person. Over a period she built up a relationship with her. She used to look after the young girl after school until the girl’s parents came home from work. She has now effectively adopted a grandchild as well because the young woman whom she looked after is now a primary school teacher and has a young child of her own.
Recently the woman told me that it was a fantastic experience for her. However, of possibly greater value to her than the actual experience was the opportunity for her to give something to a young person. She told me that it changed her whole retirement; she became someone who is active in the broader community and part of a larger family instead of someone who was living in a retirement village. I intend to write to all of the retirement villages in my electorate to ask for their views on the proposal and ways in which the residents think that it could be implemented. I think it would be a major achievement in the International Year of the Older Person that is being celebrated this year. If we can somehow better integrate the fabulous resources of elderly people with younger members of the community on the Central Coast, the whole community would benefit.
SNOWY MOUNTAINS HYDRO-ELECTRIC SCHEME FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY
(Monaro) [5.30 p.m.]: During recent weeks and particularly last weekend I attended the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of the Snowy Mountains scheme. The events during the past month or so have included many reunions at towns both surrounding and within the Snowy Mountains. The celebrations have also included displays of the International TD24 bulldozers, Tauna pulls and old machinery at Adaminaby and other towns in the area. Celebrations took place last weekend in Cooma. The proceedings opened with a welcome by Auntie Margaret for the many thousands of people in Central Park at Cooma to the Ngarigo lands. That was followed by an address by the Hon. Philip Ruddock, the Federal Minister for Immigration, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Australian citizenship ceremonies, which coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the Snowy Mountains scheme. I was unaware of that coincidence before I attended the celebrations.
There was also a rededication of the flags of many countries whose citizens had been involved in the scheme and the incorporation of new flags from Central Europe, including those of Estonia, Slovakia and Ukraine. Last Saturday afternoon a procession of historical cars, which featured literally hundreds of cars from the 1949 era, paraded through the Cooma streets. During the afternoon, I and many others, including the Prime Minister, the Hon. John Howard, attended the Adaminaby picnic races, another remarkable country event.
On Saturday evening I was honoured to be among the 184 guests who attended the Tumut 2 power station, which is 244 metres underground. That power station produces approximately 280 megawatts of power and approximately 7.5 per cent of the output of the total scheme. Fortunately, it was not operating last Saturday night. The dinner was attended by the Prime Minister, Kate Carnell, the Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory, the Hon. Don Chipp and the Hon. Gough Whitlam, who was Prime Minister when the scheme was 25 years old. There were many other distinguished guests at this incredible occasion, which was rendered somewhat surreal by the lighting, the music and the unrivalled location. I stayed overnight at Cabramurra, as did many others, which I discovered to be the town at the highest point above sea level in Australia. It has great potential as a centre for alpine studies or as a remote campus. It could also be utilised as an accommodation facility to help educate and promote the Australian high country.
Great as those occasions were, they were somewhat less significant than the public reunion picnic at Jindabyne last Sunday. Between 15,000 and 20,000 people met at the picnic and exchanged stories and anecdotes from the past. There were stories of hardship, sacrifices, misses, near misses, accidents in which 120 people lost their lives, tunnelling records and feats that are almost unbelievable today. People who had not met for more than 40 years since working together on the scheme were reunited. They looked at photographs taken decades ago showing young people who had their lives ahead of them and who had a vision. After working on the scheme, many of those people settled in Cooma, Queanbeyan, Canberra, Wollongong and Newcastle and elsewhere across Australia.
Tents were set up to help organise the reunion, including one from Thiess, which was the major sponsor. The scheme was the birthplace of multiculturalism in Australia. It was also the birthplace of the Toyota Land Cruiser, which is now an icon on city streets and throughout rural areas. I offer my thanks and the thanks of those who were reunited last weekend to the many sponsors and
organisers of the celebrations. They are to be congratulated on their dedication, commitment and work over the past three years to make the reunion and the fiftieth anniversary celebrations a great occasion. They are also to be congratulated on helping Australians to reconnect with, to re-live and to celebrate a truly great Australian achievement. The construction of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme was a remarkable engineering achievement that has been unparalleled in Australian history. Regrettably, it probably would not be possible to undertake a similar engineering feat in Australia because I understand that a similar project would now cost approximately $5 billion. It was a truly wonderful weekend and I had great pleasure in attending the celebrations.
MUTAWINTJI NATIONAL PARK HERITAGE TOUR
(Canterbury - Parliamentary Secretary) [5.35 p.m.]: I sing the praises of two organisations in my electorate - namely Canterbury Boys High School and Canterbury-Hurlstone Park RSL Club - in connection with a six-day heritage camp in Mutawintji National Park conducted by the high school and attended by 41 of its Higher School Certificate [HSC] students. The heritage camp was the brainchild of a teacher at that school, Tony Coggan, who managed to create sufficient interest in Mutawintji among the students. However, one snag in the plan was that insufficient funds were raised to cover the full cost of the trip. I emphasise that the majority of students at Canterbury Boys High School are from low-income families. Whilst the boys had saved enough for accommodation and food they did not have sufficient funds to cover the cost of hiring buses and fuel. In all that amounted to an extra $3,600.
I was approached to seek Government assistance to fund the shortfall. Although the Government funds youth holiday camps through the Department of the Sport and Recreation and through police and community youth clubs, no funding is available for heritage trips to the outback. Having been to Mutawintji I realised the tremendous educational and inspirational value in a trip to the area. I was determined to help the school if I could. I told the students that I would approach local clubs for assistance. I intended to approach six clubs and ask them for $600 each to subsidise the trip. To my surprise the first club I approached, the Canterbury-Hurlstone Park RSL Club, which is renowned for its generosity, told me to go no further; it offered to donate the full amount of $3,600.
It is important that I single out that club, because without it the 41 HSC students from Canterbury may have missed out on a great adventure. To some people a trip to Mutawintji may not be a great adventure, but it was for those boys. Apart from the heritage significance of the trip, a number of the boys had never had a holiday out of Sydney, let alone an outback experience. It was an experience to be remembered for all time. I am told that the boys toured rock engravings and a rock art gallery, they ate bush tucker prepared by their Aboriginal guides, and they were deeply affected by their exposure to the Aboriginal history of Mutawintji. They visited an outback cattle station at Broken Hill, the Royal Flying Doctor Service base and the Pro Hart gallery.
The 41 students came from a huge variety of backgrounds, namely Koori, Chinese, Lebanese, Anglo-Saxon, Fijian, Greek, Vietnamese, Polish, Portuguese and Turkish. The trip was an excellent example of multicultural Australia learning about indigenous Australia. I record my appreciation of Canterbury-Hurlstone Park RSL Club for contributing in no small way to the trip. I particularly thank Tony Coggan and the staff of Canterbury Boys High School for organising the trip, which, of course, was a memorable experience for the students. No doubt the trip provided them with some respite before they undertake their HSC, which they are scheduled to do shortly.
WAGGA WAGGA RADIOTHERAPY CENTRE
(Wagga Wagga) [5.40 p.m.]: On 18 August a public meeting was convened by the residents of the Wagga Wagga area to discuss establishing a radiotherapy centre for the city and the region. The 2,000 people who attended the meeting determined that the community would embark on a proposal to raise $3 million as its share of $5.2 million which is needed to establish a radiotherapy centre to enhance cancer and radiotherapy services. The balance of the $5.2 million is to be raised by a Federal Government health programs grant [HPG]. The HPG will help pay for the capital cost of the linear accelerators which are to be housed in the proposed centre, which will be owned and paid for by the community. It will be managed by a trust formed from members of the community.
In only six weeks more than $500,000 has been raised by the residents. As chairman of the committee, I am pleased to report that a plan is in place to raise the $3 million by the year 2001. On
24 September the members of the steering committee were warmly received by the Minister for Health, Craig Knowles. We put to the Minister a proposal to establish a radiotherapy centre in Wagga Wagga and walked away from that meeting with a commitment from him to support our drive and to assist wherever possible. The committee, including me and a delegation of Federal members, a retired member of this House, Joe Schipp, and members of the Wagga Wagga medical fraternity met with the Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, Michael Wooldridge. We put to the Minister a compelling case as to why we should have radiotherapy services in Wagga Wagga.
Currently, residents from Wagga Wagga and the region must travel to Sydney for treatment and they often have to stay for as long as nine weeks for radiotherapy treatment. The establishment of a centre in Wagga Wagga would alleviate the need for 98 per cent of people to travel and would allow for families to be with loved ones who are undergoing radiotherapy treatment. Cancer affects many of us and I know that members on both sides of this House have been touched in some way, shape or form by it.
The drive by the Wagga Wagga community has unleashed unprecedented enthusiasm about achieving the goal. Last Friday evening we raised $60,000 at two functions. A block of land was auctioned for $54,000, and the community raised another $6,000 that night. On the weekend we raised a total of $100,000. On Monday morning I attended the fundraising function at Wagga Wagga High School at which 14 teachers and some students had their heads shaved. They raised $6,370. On Monday an additional $10,000 was pledged, making a total of $16,370 for our cause. Whilst the Minister for Health has given his commitment to assist our drive, we hope that the Federal member will respond positively to our drive to enhance radiotherapy services.
The land on which the centre is to be built will be leased from the Calvary private hospital, but the facility will be for the general public. Everyone in the region will have access to the facility. On 31 October Rotary is to conduct a door-knock fundraising campaign in the region which we hope will raise $250,000. The 4,000 wheat farmers in the region have been asked to donate one tonne of wheat each. It is our aim to raise $1 million by Christmas and $1.5 million by March. I know that some issues need to be ironed out, but with the co-operation of the State and Federal governments and a community approach, they can be resolved. Members of all political parties have put their allegiances aside and are working together. I am proud to be the chairman of the fundraising committee, and I am proud of the community for its efforts in the fundraising drive to build a radiotherapy centre for Wagga Wagga.
(Canterbury - Parliamentary Secretary) [5.45 p.m.]: I wish the honourable member for Wagga Wagga every success in his fundraising efforts. Any community that can raise $500,000 in six weeks towards a $3 million project is well on the way to achieving that goal of $3 million. I am pleased that the honourable member received a positive response from the Minister for Health when they met. Like the honourable member, I cannot anticipate the response he will get from his Federal colleagues, but anyone who raises that sort of money must encourage government to assist in this worthwhile program.
(Wallsend) [5.46 p.m.]: Last week the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning announced that the Government had given approval for the Donaldson mine to proceed in the Black Hill, Beresfield area. I advise the House today that many of my constituents living very close to this mine in Beresfield and Black Hill, particularly along Weakleys Drive, are very upset and disappointed at the Government’s decision in favour of the mine. They consider that their concerns were not given enough weight and that their lifestyle and suburban amenity will deteriorate when the mine is operational. They are particularly concerned that their health may suffer.
I have referred previously to those concerns in this House and in representations to the Government. Last week, after the decision, I spoke again to Maureen Langman, the spokeswoman for the Weakleys Drive and Avalon Estate residents, to councillor Phil Jackson and to the Beresfield Australian Labor Party branch and heard of their distress and disappointment at the decision. The Minister stated in his announcement that the important reason for making the decision was that it would be good for jobs in the Hunter. I agree with him that it will be good for jobs.
However, many people, including you, Mr Deputy-Speaker, and councillor Jackson of Newcastle council, will confirm that if a rezoning for development on adjacent land around the mine had gone ahead, up to three times the number of jobs would have been created locally. Indeed, the mine will be good for mining jobs. No doubt it will also be good for the national economy and the mine
will earn export dollars for Australia. The country as a whole, and some people in particular, may become richer, depending on the price of coal. The downside will be the impact on residents who live adjacent to the mine.
The Government has gone beyond the recommendations of the commission of inquiry by imposing extensive and stringent conditions of consent to try to safeguard residents’ amenities and the environment. These conditions are warranted because residents live so close. For example, ongoing community involvement has been set as a basic consent condition. The mine owners must fund a community consultative committee with an independent chairperson. The mine owners must regularly and publicly inform the community about the mine’s construction and operation. A complaints hotline and logbook with reports on complaints will be given to the consultative committee and local councils every three months.
Mining has to commence within two years so that employment benefits are realised soon, and must be completed within 11 years. Strict environmental management, monitoring and compliance is a consent condition, together with strict noise limits. Rail loading will be limited to between the hours of 7.00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m. to reduce noise impacts. Blasting restrictions within 500 metres of dwellings have been imposed and structural surveys of potentially impacted residences must be conducted before operations commence. Air quality and water quality are to be safeguarded, and local flora and fauna will receive protection. The National Parks and Wildlife Service will supervise and review those plans.
A conservation area is to be established around the mine and compensatory bushland in the area is to be twice the size of the area impacted on by the mine. Any landowner may request acquisition or negotiated agreement if noise or air quality criteria are exceeded after mitigation measures are in place. Aboriginal heritage will be protected and local traffic amenity will be considered. In my view, in practice there is a difference between the premining promise of clean operation and the failure to achieve that.
My constituents have said to me that if the Donaldson mine has a dust-free operation as promised under the environmental conditions of consent, it will be the first open-cut coal mine in the Hunter Valley to be dust free. Let me give two examples, the first of which is close to hand. One of my constituents living on Weakleys Drive, who has a common boundary with the Donaldson mine, has collected dust that he has washed off the roof of his garden shed deep in his backyard. Cloudy water in a two-litre plastic bottle, when shaken, goes impenetrably black from the washings from his roof. Local people say that that dust comes from Bloomfield Colliery, which is six kilometres to the west.
No-one could blame them for expecting even more pollution - whatever the prevailing weather conditions - from the Donaldson mine, whose operations at some stage will be just half a kilometre away. Similarly, the people of Beresfield, up to 10 kilometres away from that colliery, also suffer the effects of pollution at present. The second example comes from the story in yesterday’s Newcastle Herald
on the difference between promise and reality. Last week, Bengalla open-cut mine at Muswellbrook won the Hunter region’s annual coal honour for excellence in environmental management.
That occurred despite the 1,200 complaints that have been lodged with the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning since work began, and despite the average of 50 complaints a month about vibration, noise and dust pollution from the mine. The manager said the mine complied with its development consent conditions. There we see evidence of the gap between the promise and the reality of the operation. Those mines do not conform to community expectations.
Despite disappointment at the decision, as the elected representative of the people in Beresfield, Black Hill and along Weakleys Drive I will work to ensure that the promised environmental constraints will be enforced and that the best possible freedom from vibration, noise and dust will be achieved for the people adversely affected. I will take an interest in the monitoring, in the plans and in the chairmanship of the community committee. There should be no place on the committee for apologists for the mine owners. It is there to ensure the protection of that community.
(Marrickville - Deputy Premier, Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, and Minister for Housing) [5.51 p.m.]: I recognise the work that you, Mr Deputy-Speaker, and your colleague the honourable member for Wallsend have done in ensuring that the concerns of your constituents about the Donaldson mine are brought to the attention of the Government. The mine will generate up to 500 jobs for families in the lower Hunter. The Government approved the Donaldson mine as a project that is important locally, regionally and nationally.
I emphasise that in approving the mine we have not ignored the views of the local community. The Government’s approval of the mine includes extensive and rigorous conditions to protect the local environment and the community. Based on your concerns, Mr Deputy-Speaker, those of the honourable member for Wallsend and of the local community, stringent conditions seek to minimise environmental impacts, protect residents, provide regular independent monitoring and reporting, facilitate public consultation and ensure long-term conservation and rehabilitation of local flora and fauna.
Independent experts will be appointed to implement and monitor air, noise, flora and fauna protection measures. We appreciate the community’s concerns about the mine’s potential effects on local amenity and the environment. That is why ongoing community involvement has been set as a basic consent condition. Mine owners must fund a community consultative committee, with an independent chairperson. They must regularly and publicly inform the community about the mine’s construction and operation. There will be a complaints hotline, with reports on complaints to the consultative committee and local councils every three months.
In addition, there will be strict environmental management, monitoring and compliance, including an environmental management strategy; detailed management plans; six-monthly reports; three-yearly audits and the appointment of an independent environmental officer. There will be strict noise limits and annual reduction targets. Blasting restrictions will be imposed together with safeguards on air quality and water quality, the protection of flora and fauna, the establishment of a conservation area around the mine and the protection of Aboriginal heritage. As well, any landowner may request acquisition or negotiated agreement if the noise or air quality criteria are exceeded after mitigation measures are in place.
DETALA PTY LTD LAND DEVELOPMENT PROPOSAL
Mr D. L. PAGE
(Ballina) [5.53 p.m.]: I wish once again to raise the issue of the impending development of environmentally significant land off Pacific Vista Drive in close proximity to the Ciburn Margil Swamp, which is a State environmental planning policy 14 wetland at Byron Bay. I have been concerned with this issue for more than six years. I previously put the case for preservation of this land to Parliament in October 1993. In a letter dated 12 March 1993 to the Department of Planning in Grafton the National Parks and Wildlife Service stated:
For the reasons of conserving the locally limited clay heath habitat on the site and for giving added protection to the important wetland and endangered species habitat of Ciburn Margil Swamp, the Service strongly advises purchase of the site to place it in public ownership, along with a recommendation to Byron Shire Council that the site be rezoned to "Coastal Lands Acquisition (zoning 7 (f2))".
A 4,100-signature petition in support of protecting this land has been submitted to Parliament, to the Premier and to the Minister for the Environment. There is a long history to this issue, which has involved court action, attempted land swaps and possible Government acquisition. The issue is reaching a critical point, with development likely in the near future if the land is not purchased by the Government and protected for current and future generations. There is a window of opportunity now to save this land, involving all three levels of government. I will flesh out that proposal later.
The history of this issue is that under the Byron shire local environment plan - which was formulated in 1987-88 and signed off by the Premier, then Minister for Planning and Environment, in March 1988 - the said land was zoned, inappropriately, I believe, 2a residential. Despite its obvious environmental value, the owner of the land, Detala Pty Limited, is within its rights in developing the land, given its zoning. In fact, Detala has development consent - upheld by the Land and Environment Court - for a 15-lot residential development. In response to a variety of ministerial submissions between 1993 and 1995, requesting acquisition of Detala’s landed by the State government, the Department of Land and Water Conservation investigated a number of potential exchange sites but was unable to identify suitable or sufficiently unconstrained Crown land of equal value to include in an exchange proposal.
Under both a Coalition Government and a Labor Government I have been supportive of moves to bring about a land swap which is satisfactory to Detala - which, to date, has proved to be fruitless - or for the Government to acquire the site for its environmental values and for inclusion as part of the adjoining Arakwal National Park. I have in the past approached the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning with a view to including this land under the Coastal Lands Protection scheme. However, because it is not strictly adjoining the coastline, it is technically outside the guidelines.
I suspect that the real reason for non-acquisition has more to do with the shortage of
funds in that scheme, as it has only $4 million to $5 million for the acquisition of land across the State - a totally inadequate amount. More recently, the former Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning agreed to review acquisition of the lands under the Coastal Lands Protection scheme, but, once again nothing tangible has occurred. A draft land assessment in accordance with part 3 of the Crown Lands Act has been completed over vacant Crown lands adjacent to the Detala site.
This assessment was made in response to an application by Detala for an authority to discharge stormwater onto adjoining Crown lands. The land assessment found that Crown lands adjacent to the Detala site were of high conservation value. Although the Detala site was not part of the assessment, as it is freehold land, its environmental attributes are identical to that of the adjoining Crown lands. Following discussions with Detala’s legal representatives in October 1988, Detala said that it would not consider a land swap for any area that did not already have current development consent.
I am advised that Detala is prepared to sell the land and that Byron Shire Council has offered to contribute $700,000 towards its purchase. However, I have not had discussions with Detala in relation to the sale price. I understand that an opportunity now exists to involve the Federal Government in obtaining funding to purchase the land. This funding is likely to come through the Natural Heritage Trust. I understand that the Federal Government is favourably disposed towards that proposition.
With the $700,000 contribution from Byron Shire Council and the Commonwealth Government’s preparedness to contribute $2 for every $1 provided by the State Government, the contribution from the New South Wales Government would be relatively small - probably less than half a million dollars. Even though the State Government’s contribution would be relatively small, it would achieve an outcome that would be of tremendous benefit to the community at Byron Bay and throughout New South Wales.
I, therefore, strongly request that the State Government, and the Premier in particular, take this into consideration in discussions with Treasury. It is critical that we protect this land for its environmental values. In 1988 the Premier signed off on the local environmental plan, which is what caused this problem. Now the Premier can remedy his mistake by helping to acquire this environmentally important land. I wrote to him on 31 August this year and again on 15 September but to date I have received no reply. Time is running out. The Government must act soon if this land is to be protected. I urge the Government to find its share of the money to acquire this land in the public interest. [Time expired
INTEGRAL ENERGY ILLAWARRA BUSINESS AWARDS
(Keira) [5.58 p.m.]: Last Saturday evening, on behalf of the Premier and certainly as a representative of the Illawarra region, I attended the Integral Energy Illawarra business awards function which was held in the Wollongong Entertainment Centre. About 750 people attended that function to celebrate the achievement of, and to recognise the contribution made by, a number of businesses in the Illawarra - which, in this context, comprises the five local government areas of Wollongong, Shellharbour, Kiama, Shoalhaven and Wingecarribee. A number of awards were presented that evening. I acknowledge the recipients of those awards. Boral Blue Circle Southern Cement at Berrima was the recipient of the Manufacturing and Mining Award, which was sponsored by Australian Business.
I note that the local member is in the Chamber this evening. In receiving the award the Boral representative acknowledged the contribution made by employees of that organisation when it was undergoing operational changes. The Beaches at Thirroul was presented with the Leisure and Entertainment Award, which was sponsored by the Wollongong Retireinvest organisation. The Beaches, an old hotel which has been renovated, is now acting as a stimulus for the rejuvenation of the Thirroul shopping centre. In the past nine months Barry and Colleen Gilbert, the proprietors of that business, have gone from employing about eight people to employing more than 30 people. Obviously, a number of those employees are young people and a number are part-time workers. Barry and Colleen Gilbert have done a stirling job with that business.
Aceit Clothing was the recipient of the Retail and Wholesale Award. Gino Arcello, a dynamic young business person in our community, deserves the recognition that he received. A local company called InfoComp received the Information, Technology and Telecommunications Award, which was sponsored by Telstra. InfoComp - a great company that is doing a lot of hard work - won recognition for innovation in the New South Wales small business awards a few weeks ago. I am proud
to be able to say that the rehabilitation, aged and extended services section of the Illawarra Area Health Service won the Professional Services Award, which was sponsored by Heard McEwan, lawyers. It is tremendous that a public sector organisation received recognition in that way.
The Commercial Services Award, which was sponsored by Wollongong City Council, was won by Silvia and Danny Wilson, who run a company called Bark Busters and who have as their slogan "Whoyagonnacall?" This company is exporting a product to the United States of America, Canada and the United Kingdom which helps people to train their dogs and stop them from barking. Dogs are trained to behave themselves and to stop being neurotic. Silvia and Danny Wilson have done a great job in expanding their business franchise.
Ellison Horticultural was presented with a special award for export development. I am pleased to be able to inform the House that a public sector organisation - namely the Port Kembla Port Corporation - won the Innovation Award for its computerised piloting system. The Novotel, North Beach, received the Environmental Management Award. Phil Billerwell, the General Manager of Novotel, acknowledged the contribution of over 300 employees. I mention one employee, a young fellow called Ross Campbell, about whom I will not say any more. I will leave honourable members to draw their own conclusions.
The Employment and Training Award was won by Highlube Fluid Engineering - a company that has put a great deal of effort into ensuring that its employees receive appropriate training. The overall winner of the Illawarra Business of the Year Award was InfoComp - the company to which I referred earlier. Rob De Dominicis, Barry Becarevic and Ray Tubman, the directors of that company, are selling their product in the Illawarra, throughout New South Wales, interstate and overseas. I congratulate that company for producing some of the finest superannuation software.
On the evening in question those who attended the function were entertained by a choir from the Wollongong High School of Performing Arts. About a hundred young people performed on stage as did a young gentleman from that school called Shannon Brown, who was one of the featured performers. He has a great future in the entertainment industry. I offer my congratulations to all those who participated in the awards. [Time expired
SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS ELECTORATE TRANSPORT SERVICES
(Southern Highlands) [6.03 p.m.]: An overwhelming issue of ongoing concern in my electorate and in many regional electorates is transport. When door-knocking prior to the last election, I established that this issue is of concern to young people, families and older people living in Wingello, Penrose, Avoca, Yanderra, Wilton, Oakdale, Appin, Bargo, Douglas Park and other regional villages. One of the election commitments that I made prior to March was that I would convene what I call a transport forum in the electorate to work through those problems, identify what the possible solutions might be and attempt to implement the solutions.
Young people are affected by a lack of local transport. They desperately need to have social contact with each other. They need to be able to watch movies, play tennis or do whatever they want to do, at weekends in particular when there are no bus services. Some young people actually take risks by accepting lifts from other people - a matter about which some of their parents are worried. It is difficult for someone who lives at Hill Top to get to Mittagong, Picton or Tahmoor to meet up with friends at weekends. The lack of adequate transport facilities also affects young people’s employment opportunities.
I recently met with the mother of a young person who lives in Yanderra. The only reason that that young person was able to take up a job opportunity in Mittagong was that her neighbour, who had to go to Yerrinbool every day, gave her a lift so that she could get on a train to Mittagong. Families are discovering that they need a second car - something that they had not counted on. Children are missing out on after-school activities. Older people, who do not always have cars or licences to drive - their licences might have lapsed after a lifetime of driving - cannot get to shops or to health facilities as there are poor bus connections.
On many occasions in this place I have canvassed shortcomings in our local rail services, particularly overcrowding on the 3.47 p.m. service; the Olympic timetable and the impact it will have on the Southern Highlands electorate; the lack of carriages; and the impact of staff cut-backs, particularly in towns such as Picton, Mittagong and Bowral. I have said enough in this place recently about those matters, so I will now focus on bus transport and the improvements I would like to see in the Southern Highlands bus network.
Our local bus companies do a great job, particularly on the school run. However, there are not enough services. That is partly because bus companies, for whatever reason, are locked into a 40-seat bus capacity. On week days there may be adequate services, but often on week-ends there are none. I have tried to canvass for more services but have been constantly told that they are not
economic. The problem is that the services will never be economic in my lifetime if we stick to a 40-seater bus model. I am not satisfied with that outcome, and I will not accept it. We need to have this transport forum to find more flexible, imaginative forms of transport.
I would like to examine other options, such as minibuses and service taxis - small vehicles that work on a continuous loop - which many people in my electorate have recommended to me based on their experiences in places such as Singapore, and which I have seen in a number of Middle Eastern countries where I worked as a student. I would like the regulatory, licensing and funding obstacles of such services to be identified and resolved so that more transport options can be put forward.
I have invited residents, community associations, Wingecarribee and Wollondilly councillors and officers, employment agencies such as Mission Employment and Centrelink, church and community services, students, school representatives, taxi and bus company representatives, the media, the honourable member for Camden, and many other people to the forum which is to take place on Monday, 15 November at 10.30 a.m. in the Tahmoor community hall. We hope that people will be able to travel to Tahmoor by public transport, perhaps by rail. Having the forum on a Monday means that some services which do not necessarily operate on week-ends will operate.
I will take all the recommendations to emerge from the forum to the Minister for Transport, and Minister for Roads and to other relevant Government Ministers who have a role in helping to implement the recommended outcomes. The Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, the shadow minister for transport, will also attend the forum to listen to what local people have to say. I look forward to seeing him there as well.
It is vital that we concentrate on local transport. It plays an important social role for young people, families and older people, and provides employment opportunities. It is the thing that keeps the fabric of our society together, particularly in a regional area. I know that many of my regional Coalition colleagues have these same problems with extremely dispersed populations in a number of villages over a vast distance. We must have regular, flexible transport options that are, above all, affordable. I look forward to the outcomes of the Southern Highlands transport forum on 15 November. [Time expired.
(Canterbury - Parliamentary Secretary) [6.08 p.m.]: As Parliamentary Secretary for Transport, I am well aware of and appreciate the interest that the honourable member for Southern Highlands takes in transport. I refer a good deal of correspondence to her. In fact, she is one of the more constant correspondents concerned with transport. I note that the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party is to attend the forum. However, in the interests of constructive recommendations emerging from the forum, I hope that an invitation will be extended to Government or to departmental representatives. I am sure that any recommendations will be reviewed sympathetically by the Government.
WENTWORTHVILLE ELECTORATE LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS
(Wentworthville) [6.09 p.m.]: I take this opportunity to congratulate the four new mayors who have been elected in Wentworthville in the past six weeks. There are four council areas in the electorate of Wentworthville - Holroyd, Parramatta, Blacktown and Baulkham Hills. Each of those council areas now has a new mayor: Councillor Peter Herlinger in Holroyd, Councillor David Borger in Parramatta, Councillor Alan Pendleton in Blacktown, and Councillor John Griffiths in Baulkham Hills. Three of those new mayors are members of the Labor Party. However, I also congratulate John Griffiths on his election as Mayor of Baulkham Hills.
I should like to speak in particular about Holroyd City Council and to congratulate Peter Herlinger on his elevation to the position of mayor. I have known Peter Herlinger and his family since I was a child. Peter and I grew up in Girraween, and I went to school with his children. Peter Herlinger took over as my campaign director after the death of my previous campaign director and former member for Wentworthville, Ernie Quinn. He was also my campaign director in the March 1999 election.
Peter Herlinger has been an outstanding councillor on Holroyd City Council. In fact, in his own ward he was able to attract a swing of 25 per cent in the March election, enabling the election of the number two on his ticket, Jason Moncrieff, and almost the election of number three on his ticket, Peter Hayes. Peter Hayes, another childhood friend of mine, could have been a councillor on the Holroyd City Council, but missed out by a mere handful of votes. There was an outstanding result in Peter Herlinger’s ward in the March election and
there were also good results in other wards within Holroyd City Council. Councillor Malcolm Tulloch was able to bring in a running mate as well. It resulted in Holroyd City Council becoming a Labor Council for the first time in its history.
One of the reasons Peter Herlinger was able to attract such a swing was the fact that urban consolidation and development within the municipality was the overwhelming issue in Holroyd City Council’s local government election campaign. Over the past few years Holroyd City Council, like other councils in the Sydney metropolitan area, has been very busy implementing the Government’s State environmental planning policy [SEPP] 53 to ensure that its urban consolidation objectives are met.
However, at times Holroyd City Council has managed to incur the wrath of local residents who have been most concerned about the type of development occurring in the municipality and about the intensity of that development. People such as Stan and Phyllis Johnson, who live at 73 Girraween Road, Girraween, the street in which I grew up, have had ongoing concerns about the way Girraween Road has been changing as a result of pressure from developers. There is a proposed development adjacent to 73 Girraween Road which has been rejected by Holroyd City Council and will soon be the subject of a Land and Environment Court hearing.
It is extremely important that the views of concerned residents, as reflected by the overwhelmingly strong results for the Labor Party in Holroyd City Council, are heeded, not only by the Government but also by the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning which has carriage of the implementation of SEPP 53. I believe that there is now a strong view within Holroyd City Council that it will continue to comply with the Government’s urban consolidation objectives, but there is also a feeling that the way those objectives relate to Holroyd needs to be reviewed.
Last night, for example, Holroyd City Council convened a public meeting to consider a residential development strategy review. I know that the Holroyd community has already received an undertaking from the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning that when the review is complete he will talk seriously to them about the future of urban consolidation in Holroyd. The community of Holroyd now has very high expectations of Holroyd City Council. The council is going to seek to meet those people’s expectations and to try to ensure that the amenity of the neighbourhood of Holroyd does not change any more drastically. I grew up in the Holroyd area, and I am well aware of the pressures for development and the way that that community has changed. Many residents who have lived there since the Second World War want to make sure that the environment which they already enjoy continues to be a pleasant and stable environment.
NORTHERN TABLELANDS EDUCATION FUNDING
(Northern Tablelands) [6.14 p.m.]: There are not too many accolades coming in the direction of the Minister for Education and Training at the moment, but I wish to place on record my thanks and the thanks of one of the communities in my electorate, the community of Glen Innes, for the action the Minister is taking with regard to providing adequate funding for the special education needs of the Glen Innes High School. I have received correspondence from and have spoken to the Mayor of Glen Innes and to the president of the parents and citizens association, who have expressed their support for the Minister’s actions to date. I look forward to a satisfactory outcome of this issue.
I raise a matter of concern with regard to the many capital works projects needed for the schools of the Northern Tablelands electorate, and the fact that they have failed to move up the priority list, in favour of other projects within New South Wales. Guyra Central School, an excellent school that is doing a great job for the never-say-die Guyra community, has made many representations for the provision of a suitable school hall. It is not an unreasonable request given that the school is 115 years old and has never had a school hall. It has an enrolment of approximately 320 pupils. Representations have been made for a hall many times since 1977, and indeed long before.
For the benefit of honourable members not familiar with the geography of my electorate, Guyra school would be at one of the highest altitude levels of any school in New South Wales. It is often subjected to inclement weather, with wind, ice and snow frequent occurrences in winter and a very high ultraviolet level in summer. I am confident that many schools of a smaller size and subject to less climatic extremes have the benefit of a school hall. I should like to quote in part the 1996 response to previous representations made on behalf of the Guyra Central School for the provision of a school hall:
Priority is given to essential new works in areas of high population growth and to projects where there is pressure to proceed with works already scheduled.
Guyra Central School will be taken into consideration for a future capital works program when next reviewing school enrolment needs across the State. However, due to competing demands, it is not possible to indicate when funds for the project would be allocated.
That was the response in 1996 and we are no closer to getting on the capital works program list. My reading of the response is that Guyra will never get a guernsey without a proper review of the capital funding cake that seems to be tipped in favour of areas with larger populations. I have made representations that this is grossly unfair to schools like Guyra and others within my electorate that need proper sheltered accommodation in various forms, having regard to the special climatic conditions that prevail. Martins Gully Public School within my electorate also needs covered walkways, assembly areas and sheltered bus waiting areas.
Newling Public School also needs an assembly hall or a multipurpose shelter and covered walkways. There are more than 40 public schools within my electorate, most of which have capital works needs of varying degrees. I call on the Minister for Education and Training to immediately review the allocation of funds for capital works programs as they relate to regional New South Wales in general and to my electorate in particular, and with special regard to the projected timetable for works to be undertaken at the schools I have mentioned.
(Maitland) [6.17 p.m.]: I join with the honourable member for Wallsend in expressing my concern and disappointment at the Government’s decision to permit the Donaldson open cut mine to proceed adjacent to my electorate of Maitland in the vicinity of the Newcastle suburbs of Beresfield and Tarro and the Maitland suburbs of Woodberry, Thornton and Ashtonfield. The case against the mine has been argued on behalf of the community for seven years. In fact, the battle has been fought twice: won under a previous Government and lost under the present Government.
I am sure the Government has decided to proceed for a number of good and cogent reasons, but that does not allay the fears of my constituents and their neighbours in Wallsend. Having led deputations, submitted petitions, spoken in Parliament several times and appeared before the commission of inquiry I find I have exhausted all avenues of protest and now, like my colleague the honourable member for Wallsend, I can only attempt to maintain wherever possible the stringent conditions that have been imposed on the proponents of the mine.
It is not for want of trying and it is not merely because of voter concern that I raise this matter. I was a resident of Beresfield for 32 years, raised my family there, and owned a home there, though I have now moved into my present electorate. I am concerned that this mine, which already contaminates the area, will accelerate the contamination process with this additional facility. I am concerned also that a number of conditions may not be implemented in a way that will satisfy the local community - particularly conditions relating to blasting.
Areas of Beresfield are undermined in two locations by a pre-war mine that has been timbered and flooded for approximately 40 years. Both mines are capable of collapsing if there is a particular set of vibrations. Beresfield has experienced several instances of subsidence and associated problems, and repairs have been made in co-operation with the Mine Subsidence Board.
I have no objection to the provision of jobs through this additional mine facility as that is good for the community, but, as my colleague has said already, if the previous Maitland and Newcastle councils had allowed proposed subdivisions to proceed perhaps there would have been no need for this mine. A number of directors of the mining company also own the land that is subject to subdivision. With the decision now to allow the mine to proceed, the subdivision may also proceed. That would be a double whammy to the community. I am concerned also about the prospect of future coal compensation claims that will more than compensate any claimant, and in some cases would mean a triple whammy to the community.
My biggest disappointment was to be advised that the Mayor of Maitland wrote in support of the project, though I have not confirmed that with him. Obviously that was one of the deciding factors in allowing the mine to proceed. However, when he was my predecessor as the local member, he spoke soundly on several occasions against the project and highlighted the dangers I have outlined. I suppose it is politics, but it must be difficult for constituents to understand the sudden about-face when the electorate boundary is moved half a kilometre. I will certainly follow up on the conditions imposed on the proponents of the mine.
I am concerned also for the Aboriginal heritage of the area. The construction of the F3 highway from Wallsend to Beresfield was stopped for approximately six months because Aboriginal artefacts were discovered in three different locations along the route. A certificate to destroy had to be
obtained from the National Parks and Wildlife Service in association with the local land council. The area to be mined is in the same location. I hope the right spirit is generated with the service and the Aboriginal Land Council so that a full check can be done and none of the Aboriginal heritage is lost through this destructive process.
NORTHERN RIVERS RENAL SERVICES
(Lismore) [6.22 p.m.]: Approximately 10 days ago I attended a meeting of the Northern Rivers Kidney Association Support Group. The association became aware of a funding crisis approximately three to four weeks prior to the meeting. Since the existence of the crisis became known several patients have been referred out of the area at short notice to receive care. The association met with Dr Jambor, who is the Chief Medical Superintendent of the Lismore Base Hospital, to discuss concerns about the treatment of clients at hospital and at home.
Dr Jambor outlined his background and views for members of the group. He acknowledged the effort of and results achieved by the association, such as establishing a renal unit at Grafton. He advised that there had been no budget cuts to renal services as had been indicated in the media. I must acknowledge that whilst there has been an increase in funding, the renal unit at Lismore Base Hospital has recently been supported by additional technology at Grafton and Ballina, for which we are all grateful as the equipment can now cater for 64 dialysis patients. However, due to budget constraints and lack of staff necessary to supervise this operation, or for continuing day-to-day supplies, only 34 people are currently able to take advantage of the machinery. This lack of funding is equivalent to four additional shifts that could be worked in Ballina.
Dialysis patients are a unique group for, without exception, they are offered only one choice - dialysis or death. Once the nephrologist decides that dialysis is required, the patients who carry out the process at home, as well as those who attend hospital units, must spend six hours a day on three alternate days of each week connected to the machine. They must do so for the remainder of their lives, which thankfully can thus be extended by several years in many cases.
However, honourable members will appreciate the limitations imposed upon the patients regarding travel for business or pleasure, as they are governed by the machine. The draining and changing of a bag several times daily is certainly not appealing, nor is it suitable to a patient’s lifestyle. Because the renal units on the north coast are not currently operating at full capacity, patients in need of this vital treatment live under the threat of being drafted to Newcastle or Sydney. They are expected to uproot family members and completely reorganise daily domestic and employment routines, often at short notice, to obtain medical care in cities where they may have neither friends nor relations.
Dr Jambor stressed that in his role he must ensure fair and equitable access to health services. Currently, the units are operating as follows. The Grafton unit has now come on line and is working to capacity. Lismore’s is operating beyond capacity. Home haemodialysis is about to commence in Ballina, with a staffing appointment currently being finalised. As I said earlier, that is to service 34 beds, not the 64 beds required. Dr Jambor is in an unenviable position. The additional funding must come from the Minister.
Dr Jambor’s role is to allocate as best he can within specific guidelines. This means being fair to all users of the hospital system. I am fully aware that the Northern Rivers Area Health Services board is lobbying the Minister for Health. Once again, Dr Jambor’s responsibility is to manage all areas of the service and accommodate all types of care. With this in mind, he can only do his best with the resources that are available. The renal unit problems that I have outlined are but part of the continuing problems being faced by the Northern Rivers Area Health Service, which currently receives $186 million, which is close to $18 million short, using the research and development formula. This funding shortage is causing continual stress on the whole area. I make a plea to the Minister to visit the Lismore electorate to see the problems for himself. [Time expired
ILLAWARRA-SHOALHAVEN DRUG SUMMIT
(Illawarra) [6.27 p.m.]: I wish to recognise the achievements of the recent Illawarra/Shoalhaven Drug Summit in addressing the issues of drug use and alcohol abuse in the region. The range of drug and alcohol treatments available in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven region include assessment, referral, counselling, brief intervention, case management, residential rehabilitation, detoxification, substitution therapies and day programs. Services are provided in both in-patient and outpatient settings by the public health system, private health providers and the non-government sector.
The geographical area covered by those services extends from Heathcote to the Victorian border and includes the Southern Highlands and the Goulburn area. Currently there is one facility providing in-patient detoxification for illicit drug users and a second facility providing detoxification for alcohol. All service providers got together after the New South Wales Drug Summit. Following that meeting it was proposed that a similar process be carried out to identify the specific needs of the Illawarra and Shoalhaven region. A survey was conducted by the Executive Director of the Illawarra Regional Information Service, Mr Martin O’Shannessy.
The results of that survey were similar to those of the New South Wales Drug Summit as the survey indicated that the community saw the problem of drug and alcohol abuse as being more a public health issue than a law enforcement or judicial issue. An initial meeting took place. It involved a number of service providers. At the meeting it was decided that the convenors of the Illawarra-Shoalhaven Drug Summit would be Mr Rob Goodfellow and Mr Joe Scimone, members of the Illawarra Area Health Service board, with Kristine French of the Wollongong Crisis Centre as project chairperson and co-ordinator of the key consultation groups. A mission statement was prepared. I would like to share it with this House:
To organise a public forum involving a broad cross-section of the community and to identify and respond to the needs and issues associated with all forms of drug use and alcohol abuse in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven area in response to the New South Wales 1999 Drug Summit.
Six consultation groups were formed: Community Perceptions - Drugs, Crime and Safety, which was chaired by Ms Bronwyn Richards from the Safe Community Action team; Treatment and Prevention, which was chaired by Mr Will Temple, president of the Wollongong Crisis Centre; Families and Intervention, which was chaired by Mr Trevor Crowe from Frameworks for Families; Young People, which was chaired by Ms Lisa Parker of the Illawarra Area Health Service Youth Drug and Alcohol Service; Public Forum, chaired by Mr Rob Goodfellow of the Illawarra Area Health Service board of directors, and Koori Community Consultation, chaired by Mr Brian Brown of the Illawarra Area Health Service, Rawson Street Centre.
As a result of those consultation group meetings a number of issues were raised. It recognised the need for an increase in existing services, including detoxification and rehabilitation beds; a need for all service providers to work smarter and on a more co-ordinated care basis; and a need for extended hours for family service in the Shoalhaven. It was recognised also that drug and alcohol abuse affects all members of the community and therefore must be looked at as a problem for all of the community.
At the summit on 24 September there were more than 280 representative services. Those included health groups, service providers, schools, churches, welfare groups and community groups as well as individuals. Unfortunately, due to ill health, I was unable to attend the summit. However, I believe it was a clear indication that the community of the Illawarra is committed to improving the drug and alcohol abuse problems that affect the area.
SEVEN HILLS RAILWAY STATION COMMUTER PARKING SECURITY
(The Hills) [6.31 p.m.]: Last year one of my local papers, the Hills News
, ran an article outlining commuters’ concerns about inadequate security at the commuter car park at Seven Hills Railway Station. "Hills District commuters are sick of having their cars stolen and vandalised because of inadequate video surveillance in the multi-level car park at Seven Hills Railway Station", the article began. Well, nothing has changed. On September 23 this year my constituent Luke Allshorn of Kellyville returned to his car - a 1992 Toyota Corolla - at the car park at around 9.30 p.m. to find thieves had broken into it and stolen his stereo. I would like to quote from his statement:
I returned to my vehicle parked on the second level of Seven Hills car park station. I found the small window of the passenger side door smashed in, the boot shelf holding my stereo speakers missing, and the console torn away from the frame and electricals hanging out. The glove box was open and the detachable face for the stereo was gone, as was the ashtray.
I crossed the road and reported the incident to Seven Hills police station and was informed that I was one of several people to have my car broken into that night. I asked the officer about the security cameras and guards that were previously stationed in the car park. I was informed the guards were taken away this week and the cameras may not have been on.
I walked back to my vehicle and saw two men breaking into a vehicle on level 1 of the car park. I then dialled 000 from the train platform. A police vehicle showed up around 15-20 minutes later, by which time the vehicle being broken into was gone.
So the thieves were having a field day. And no wonder. Not only were the video cameras not working but the previous week State Rail, in its wisdom, had taken away the private security guards
who had been patrolling the parking station. So there was no security at all, no deterrence to the thieves. One police officer said that 15 cars a day are stolen from the car park. Luke Allshorn has already been a victim, having had his 1984 Toyota Corona stolen last year.
It is understandable that this 23-year-old man is less than enthusiastic about continuing to use public transport. The Government has to understand that security, both on trains and on and around railway stations, is one of the major impediments to increased patronage. What is the Government doing about the problem? It is raising fares by up to 25 per cent and cutting staff by more than 400. This is the same public transport system on which, as the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal revealed, assaults and robberies have almost doubled since 1995 and on which, is it any wonder, only one in three commuters feel safe.
The honourable member for Blacktown, in whose electorate this car park is located, recognises the problem. He told the Hills News
that State Rail should hire more security guards. I agree with him. If the Government wants to encourage more people to use public transport, if it wants most of its passengers to feel safe on and near trains, it has to take these sorts of issues very seriously. The Seven Hills commuter car park has been a crime hot spot for a long time - since well before 1998 - and the design of the car park leaves a lot to be desired. What does State Rail intend to do about it? The Hills News
of 12 October 1999 reported:
A State Rail spokesperson said Seven Hills railway was listed as part of a $100 million government security upgrade which will see the implementation of a closed circuit security television system, static security and high intensity lighting. A date for completion could not be confirmed.
State Rail is looking to return the security guards on a rotational basis with another station to monitor the situation to see if it warrants full-time security guards.
As the honourable member for Blacktown has noted, that is not good enough. Security cameras were installed in the car park during this latest spate of break-ins, but they were not working. Using security guards on a rotational basis will not do the trick because it seems pretty clear that the villains know when the guards will be there, and act accordingly. If State Rail wants commuters, not just from my electorate but from western Sydney, to continue to use Seven Hills station it will have to bite the bullet and employ full-time security guards.
I have a question for the Parliamentary Secretary for Transport: Would he leave his car at Seven Hills commuter car park for the day? Would he feel confident that, if he left his car there, perhaps when Parliament was sitting, he could return late at night to find it intact, not broken into, not tampered with, and not stolen? My constituents do not have that level of confidence.
My constituents do not have railway stations in The Hills area. They are prepared to commute to stations like Seven Hills and Blacktown, leave their vehicles and commute into town - thereby doing the right thing, getting cars off the road and reducing pollution - but they want to be assured that when they return to the car park their cars will be there intact and not damaged.
(Canterbury - Parliamentary Secretary) [6.36 p.m.]: The honourable member for The Hills told me he was going to speak about a transport matter. He asked me, "Are you still the Parliamentary Secretary for Transport?" I Said, "Yes." He said, "Wait until you hear what I have to say." Listening to what he had to say was a bit like being hit across the face with a wet lettuce.
Let us dissect what the honourable member for The Hills had to say. He was very critical that the video surveillance cameras at Seven Hills railway station were not working when a constituent of his, I take it, had his car broken into. There are times when cameras do not work, and there might be 1,000 reasons why that is so. He was also critical that it took police 15 or 20 minutes to get to the scene after his constituent phoned them.
I didn’t say that.
Yes, you did. The honourable member for The Hills said that after some time they arrived, but meanwhile the car had been broken into. For all we know, the police officers might have been attending a homicide or something far more serious than a car break-in at Seven Hills railway station. It is hypocritical of the member for The Hills to say that the Government needs to do more about security - and he referred not only to security within car parks but also to security on public transport. Yet we all know that this Government has put security guards on every metropolitan train after dark. A colossal effort!
To hear a member of the Liberal Party criticise this Government for its public transport security reform is an absolute joke. I do not think I have ever been to the Seven Hills car park, but I have parked my car in a number of car parks in the outer west, including at Blacktown, and I have always felt quite secure. My car has never been broken into. If I had to, I would leave my car in those car parks
again and travel on the superb public transport system provided by this Government.
Private members’ statements noted.
[Mr Acting-Speaker (Mr Lynch) left the chair at 6.38 p.m. The House resumed at 7.30 p.m.
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
(Georges River) [7.30 p.m.]: I support the motion of the honourable member for Miranda. My electorate of Georges River has also been informed that the Westpac Banking Corporation intends to close its Beverly Hills branch on 29 October. That branch has served the close-knit community of Beverly Hills for many years. Its services are now being withdrawn and customers are being asked to undertake their banking in the next suburb, Kingsgrove. Although it is only one train station away, it will greatly inconvenience the people of Beverly Hills, in particular older residents and business operators in the Beverly Hills shopping centre.
The banking community seems to expect that no matter who you are you are able to use the Internet and automatic teller machines, or access phone banking. For many in our community that is not the case. Unfortunately, the notion of customer service, which we once associated with businesses such as banks, no longer exists. The notion of dealing with people face to face definitely does not exist. Whilst banks anticipate that their customers will be loyal to them, there is no expectation that the banks will be loyal to their customers.
It would also seem from the announcements of Westpac’s Dr David Morgan that Westpac does not have much loyalty to its staff. In conjunction with the announcement that the Beverly Hills branch would close, Westpac announced that up to 3,000 jobs would be cut in an effort to increase profits to its shareholders. Whilst it is recognised that approximately 30 per cent of Australians are shareholders, some of whom hold Westpac shares, almost 100 per cent of Australians are bank investors, in that they have bank accounts.
The closure of the Westpac branch at Beverly Hills comes hot on the heels of last year’s announcement by the Commonwealth Bank that it would close its branch at Penshurst. That announcement caused a significant uproar within the Penshurst community, and in particular from older people. This year is the International Year of Older Persons, but Westpac has not read the announcement.
According to an article in a weekend newspaper Westpac has a potential hit list. I am extremely concerned that included on that hit list are two other Westpac branches within my electorate: Oatley and Mortdale. Yesterday, in response to the article, I wrote to Westpac to ascertain whether that information was correct and whether its services to my community would be further depleted. Westpac at least had the courtesy to inform me that its Beverly Hills branch would close, but I was deeply concerned that the correspondence I received had obviously been printed straight off the hard drive of a computer.
The data at the bottom of the correspondence indicated that the letter had been revised on 17 June; it is obviously a form letter. Considering the number of branch closures in recent times, Westpac probably needs a form letter to send to local communities. Although technology may be beneficial, we should have an appreciation of people, loyalty and service. We should put people and the community first. Banks such as Westpac and the Commonwealth should remember that we live in a society, not just an economy.
Mr D. L. PAGE
(Ballina) [7.35 p.m.]: I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate. The Mullumbimby branch of the Westpac Banking Corporation has been targeted for closure, with the loss of six jobs. Mullumbimby is a small town which can ill afford to lose six jobs. Just prior to the general announcement I was advised by Mr Mark Stafford, Regional Manager of Westpac, that the closure was to occur. He assured me that Westpac clients would have access to virtually the same services. However, I do not believe that is true.
Despite what Westpac says, in addition to the loss of jobs that bank closures generate in both city and country areas, there is a loss of service. Privacy issues also arise when in-store banking arrangements are established, such as Westpac is planning to replace closed branches. No decision has yet been made about the location of an in-store branch in Mullumbimby. However, a privacy issue could arise if a Westpac customer had to carry out his daily banking at a store operated by a business competitor.
I would advise upset Westpac customers to protest with their feet and go to another bank. If they want to get out of the banking system
altogether, I suggest that they go to a credit union. In Bangalow, which is also in my electorate, the local community was outraged when the National Australia Bank, the last bank operating in Bangalow, reduced its level of service to two days a week. At a public meeting the community made it clear that if the bank was not prepared to support Bangalow, then Bangalow should not be prepared to support the bank. The community organised a credit union to open in Bangalow, and that credit union is doing extremely well.
In this age of economic rationalism it is understood that banks must make a profit, but they must also deliver a service. They have an obligation to be loyal to the community and ensure that people’s privacy is not compromised. People who are unhappy with a bank should go to another bank, if there is another bank remaining in that small town. Fortunately there was another bank in Mullumbimby, but not in Bangalow. I congratulate the community of Bangalow on its initiative in attracting a credit union to the town.
Westpac referred to its actions as a branch refurbishment program. The Oxford Dictionary
meaning of "refurbishment" is brightening up and redecorating. Westpac is saying it is brightening up and redecorating its branch network. This is a good example of weasel words and doublespeak. The new in-store facility in Mullumbimby will have only the most basic facilities. People wishing to talk about loans will have to go to out-of-town mobile specialists. Local advice will not be available for those who want to access loans.
In many small country communities these cuts come on top of the loss of many other services. At Mullumbimby Hospital surgery was terminated in June last year and it is proposed to halve the number of beds. It is difficult for country towns to bear such cuts, either in the public or the private sector. There is little point whingeing about it, because Westpac is obviously driven by profit. It is abominable that although Westpac recorded a record profit last year, it has given notice that it will retrench a further 3,000 staff. I urge people to seek an alternative to banks.
(Ryde - Minister for Fair Trading, and Minister for Sport and Recreation) [7.40 p.m.]: I congratulate the honourable member for Miranda and the honourable member for Georges River on raising this issue of grave concern to me and many members of the community. Banking, and the behaviour of the major banks, are problems which simply will not go away. The simple fact is that despite years of negative publicity about the behaviour of the giant banks, New South Wales consumers are still not getting a fair deal.
Consumers have a right to expect that major banks will act in a responsible manner, in a fashion that demonstrates some regard for the community’s concerns. They have a right to treat banking like any other essential service, such as water, electricity and communications. Consumers are entitled to believe that access to basic banking services is a fundamental right. That is why it is about time banks lived up to the rhetoric and gave consumers what they want.
One of the first things I did on becoming Minister for Fair Trading was to meet all of the major banks and ask them to inform me about their plans. I must say I was not reassured. I told the banks that as far as I was concerned they have an obligation to provide basic banking services for all and to make special arrangements for special customers, such as the aged and the disabled. It is not surprising that some were more forthcoming than others. But the fact remains that they will not do it by themselves. They fail to see, as we do, that they have obligations.
We now find that despite some banks talking the talk, they still plan to gut branches and pull out of local communities. According to the Financial Sector Union about 700 positions will be lost in rural and regional New South Wales if Westpac implements its plan. If the plan proceeds, those who will provide Westpac services are likely to be the newsagent, the real estate agent, or some other non-Westpac person. Despite their best endeavours, those people will be unable to provide the level of privacy, expert assistance and range of services currently offered by Westpac branches.
The time has come for governments to stop expecting banks to do the right thing. Now is the time for governments to take the necessary steps to ensure that banks live up to community expectations. In particular, the time has come for the Commonwealth Government to address this long-festering problem. That is why I took the first available opportunity to raise the issue in a national forum. At the recent meeting of the Ministerial Council on Consumer Affairs I put forward a plan to ensure that adequate banking services are made available to the general community, especially in the rural sector.
I put to the ministerial council a comprehensive plan which would see minimum community standards for banks enshrined in law. Under my plan banking licences would be subject to
community service obligations, which could include a certain number of fee-free transactions for those receiving government pensions and benefits; a certain level of banking services in rural and regional areas; and, safe, accessible and easy use of automatic teller machines [ATMs] and EFTPOS for aged and disabled consumers.
I also proposed that an existing regulator be appointed to rate each bank and publish a community banking rating, which would help consumers make informed decisions about which financial institution to use. The plan would work. It is based on existing models that operate successfully in the United States of America. The plan is comparable to the universal service obligations that are already imposed under the Commonwealth Telecommunications Act. It is hardly radical; it is about making banks live up to community expectations.
Unfortunately, at the ministerial council meeting only Queensland and Tasmania were prepared to support my plan. The Commonwealth Minister, Joe Hockey, acted as an apologist for the banks. He refused to accept the plan from New South Wales and pulled rank on the conservative States. I find this surprising and extremely concerning. I can only agree with a quote that appeared in last week’s Australian Financial Review
The banks have got to understand there are social obligations. They have privileges. Australian banks are very profitable by world standards and they have obligations . . . There is more to banking than the bottom line just as there is more to governments than budget surpluses.
I find it even more surprising that the man who made that statement was none other than the Prime Minister, John Howard, when asked about the Westpac plan. Today I call on the Prime Minister to live up to his rhetoric. I call on him to pull Joe Hockey into line and have a look at the plan I presented to the ministerial council. It does not matter if all honourable members of this House agree; we cannot act as the bank’s regulator. That is up to the Commonwealth. Following the statements of the Prime Minister, I can only assume that he will direct Joe Hockey to think again, and to take some action rather than mouth measly apologies on behalf of the banks. I urge the House to support this motion.
(Burrinjuck) [7.45 p.m.]: I support this motion. A fortnight ago, when Westpac decided to close its branches at Boorowa, Blayney, Oberon and Mullumbimby, I contacted the honourable member for Ballina and the honourable member for Bathurst to seek a joint, bipartisan approach over Westpac’s decisions. I am pleased to inform the House that in a bipartisan spirit we made that joint approach today to Westpac’s Managing Director, Dr David Morgan, in a letter which stated, in part:
Constituents of our electorates are not convinced by Westpac’s assertions that banking services will be maintained or even improved. To the contrary, we hear a common response that your branch closures will sharply reduce face-to-face banking services, compromise privacy and severely restrict the cash flow capabilities of your large account holders . . .
In our regions the credibility of your bank has taken an enormous buffeting over recent weeks. To redress this very intense community anger Westpac will need to fundamentally review its decision to close rural and regional branches.
In our dealings with Westpac representatives we have been concerned over the bank’s failure to communicate its impending decisions to us, to branch staff and to our constituencies in general.
That is the general thrust of the letter. However, since that initial contact, as the honourable member for Miranda pointed out, Westpac has now revealed a plan to sack 3,000 employees, more than 10 per cent of its work force, apparently in the chase for profit. This motion is significant not only to the honourable member for Bathurst, the honourable member for Ballina and me but to all members of this House. In fairness, it does not relate only to Westpac or the Commonwealth banks. All of the major banks must answer for their actions in non-metropolitan New South Wales. They must all respond to increasing community anger, stop the cuts, and begin the long task of restoring services to the bush. Nothing less will do if they have any hope of stemming the backlash they now face.
At Boorowa on 5 October several hundred people gave Westpac one huge wake-up call. Local and national media were present when this community told Westpac that its move to close the local branch - the last bank branch in town - and replace it with an EFTPOS machine and a telephone in a shop is a disgrace. One Westpac officer told the ropable crowd that a survey had shown that 80 per cent of customers favoured Westpac’s decision. The mayor of Boorowa, Councillor Robert Gledhill, took a straw poll on the spot. The officer who was representing Westpac took home a crystal-clear message that his bank has its facts wrong.
I am enraged that the big four banks are trying to abandon this viable rural community just when seasonal conditions are showing some promise. I am furious that I was told of this decision at five minutes to midnight or late in the day before the public announcement was made. I hold Westpac in contempt for failing to tell its staff what it was
going to do to them. There are six hardworking staff at Boorowa who are delivering a first-class service on behalf of Westpac. These fine Australians have built enormous goodwill for Westpac over many painstaking years. However, their efforts have been destroyed overnight by a reckless and faceless manager somewhere in Sydney.
It is beyond belief that I had to press and probe simply to get answers about the fate of these people. The fact is that none of them have future job guarantees. That is what they get for being loyal to the Westpac Corporation. However, it is not only Boorowa that is affected. Late last week I again took a panic phone call from Westpac - from, I suspect, another middle manager who is the meat in the sandwich - to say that the Crookwell branch will also be closing. Why was there such urgency? It was because the story had been leaked to the local media. That is why I was told.
I was not told because Westpac wanted to get onto the front foot with a decent story to tell me, and not because Westpac wanted to give me and its staff adequate notice. I received a phone call because the press had got hold of the story. Crookwell branch staff were told a day after the press received the story. I am told that they were given brief matter-of-fact advice, and that was all. Now I am forced to ask questions behind the scenes about what will happen to other branches in my electorate. I have found that the branch staff and branch managers, who are very nervous, do not know. They hear rumours on the 6 o’clock news and that is all they know. When they ask, they are not given any information. When will Westpac learn?
This absolute mess can only lead to speculation about the motives of the banks and whether the banks have decided to lump their bad news together with other news. Tomorrow an inquiry of the Australian Broadcasting Authority will begin into how the banks arrange their publicity. Surely the banks would not be so cynical that they would lump together the bad news for their staff with the pasting that they might well be going to take over the next three weeks. We are left to speculate on the banks’ action because our constituents are being left in a vacuum which is otherwise known as the mushroom club. All honourable members know what that means: kept in the dark and fed on you know what!
(Manly) [7.50 p.m.]: The banks are ruthless oligopolists and behave in a manner that is quite consistent with the way in which oligopolies behave: When there is limited competition, they ruthlessly do what is necessary to maximise their profits. Over the years the culture of banks has changed significantly. There was a time when banks were more paternalistic, when there was a ceiling on interest rates and when the local branch manager was the person to whom the community would speak about financial and other issues.
Banks were, in a sense, quasi-governmental institutions. They were not regarded as companies in the way that other private enterprise organisations were. In those days there were government-owned banks, State banks and the Commonwealth Bank and there were what are known as free enterprise banks, which adopted other names at a later stage. In essence, those times have changed since the publication of the Campbell report and the deregulation of banks.
Prior to deregulation when there were ceilings on interest rates, banks competed through advertising and through the number of branches they had, which enabled them to gain their markets. The notion of deregulation was that interest rates would be freed up, which would benefit consumers. There would be greater access to credit even though it became more expensive. For example, mortgage interest was fixed, and it was almost a privilege to obtain a mortgage from a bank manager. It is now easy to obtain a mortgage loan at commercial or similar rates, whereas in the past they were rationed.
Despite deregulation, banks are still not competing in terms of price. Although there is oligopolistic rivalry, banks do not really compete in terms of interest rates or charges that are imposed; rather, they compete more in advertising. The classic oligopolistic position dictates that if a small country town has only one branch operating two days a week, as is the case in the wonderful little town of Bangalow, in a truly competitive market that would be an incentive for someone to come in and offer a full service.
However, when there is very little competition between the banks, they can all afford to take the chance of reducing their costs by closing down branches because there is nowhere else for consumers to go. The fundamental issue is that the banks have a firm grip on the market and consumers will fare second best. Today’s Manly Daily
indicates that in the northern beaches area of my electorate branches are possibly at risk of being closed at Collaroy, Newport Beach and Seaforth. It remains to be seen what will happen to those branches.
The point about banks that are closing branches is that commercial values have triumphed over communal values. Unless members of
Parliament come to terms with economic market forces that are running rampant in the community, we will pay a high price at a later stage. Governments have already experienced an example of that type of reaction in rural communities, where there has been a voter backlash as a result of cuts in services and people not receiving what they deserve.
Our community and nation has a population which is spread over vast areas, and members of Parliament should ensure that services are provided. If banks are to be good corporate citizens, they must play a role in providing a service; if they do not, they are letting people down. The banks’ chief executive officers are paid megabucks and, as part of their deal, they receive options on shares. It is therefore often in their interests to preside over short-term increases in the value of their bank’s shares because it benefits them.
It is wrong that their personal aims may be in conflict with long-term community aims. In my electorate an educational bank is being closed down: Seaforth TAFE. It is not being closed down by the private sector but by the Government. The arguments that have been presented and the principles that have led to the closure of Seaforth TAFE are exactly the same as those used by Westpac. In that case also, the action being taken is wrong, wrong, wrong.
(Albury) [7.55 p.m.]: I listened carefully to the honourable member for Manly and found myself agreeing with much of what he said. I can remember when being a customer of a trading bank meant almost being a member of the family; it really was a family affair. Sons followed their fathers into banking, families were loyal to the banks, and banks were loyal to families. In recent years it has been very sad to see all the banks close branches in country areas. That has been going on for some time with little regard for the effect of the closures on the communities and on those who have been loyal customers over many years.
It is sad that the banks have turned their backs on many country areas where they have made substantial profits over the years, and in many cases continue to do so. One wonders what drives the banks and what has caused that to happen. One of the towns in my electorate received an announcement that the bank’s branch was closing and when people asked why, they were told that although the branch was still profitable, the bank had decided to close it anyway. One must ask: Why would banks want to do that to people who have been loyal to them year after year?
Although banks expect farmers to carry on and take the good times with the bad, they are not prepared to do that. In Walla Walla, a small town in my electorate, where the last remaining bank closed a few years ago, the people were told that it would be a simple matter for them to bank at one of the bigger centres.
It is not a simple matter for people who live 30 miles from Albury to get to another bank. Banks do not take that factor into account and I am saddened by their attitude. I am also surprised that banks continue to claim that their shareholders demand more profits. As I have said in this place in the past, I am a shareholder in some banks but I do not demand more profits. I do not know of many shareholders who make that demand. Most shareholders and customers of banks believe that service is more important than profits. If banks give good service their customers will be loyal and, as a result, profits will follow. But these days banks do not agree with that philosophy.
I was surprised that Corowa was included in my electorate in the recent boundary changes. Corowa is a significant town with a population of about 5,000, and a number of banks. I visited Corowa, called at each bank and asked to see the manager. I was told, at all banks except one, that they no longer have a manager but an officer in charge; they had lost their managers years ago. At that stage the only bank in Corowa with a manager was the Commonwealth Bank. When I spoke to him he said, "I am the manager at present, but when I go another manager will not be appointed." That means that in Corowa no bank will have a day-to-day manager on the premises. Therefore, the personal contact that one once had with the person who made decisions about one’s financial future no longer exists in the banks in many country towns. That is a sad situation.
During question time today health services in the town of Henty were mentioned. Some time ago all banks except the Commonwealth Bank withdrew from Henty. A committee was formed to investigate the future of banking in that town. Members of that committee approached the Commonwealth Bank and asked it to guarantee that its branch in Henty would remain open. The committee was told that such a guarantee could not be given. The committee was so concerned it decided to take positive action and approached the Bendigo Bank. Henty now has a community bank for which the Bendigo Bank provides banking expertise. The local community provided the building and fully supports the community bank. The customers are receiving an excellent service and I suggest that other communities consider taking similar action. [Time expired.
(Keira) [8.00 p.m.]: I note the comments of the honourable member for Albury and agree that a great deal of this debate is about relationships and interaction, customer services and direct services. Society today is moving more and more towards technology. One thing that leads to a sense of breakdown in the community is the lack of personal interaction or the loss of the opportunity to enjoy and provide customer service which, of course, leads to the success of many businesses. This afternoon during private members’ statements I spoke about the Illawarra community business awards. I said that many awards resulted from a commitment to business customers.
The same concerns are raised about the banking industry by city, country and regional communities such as Wollongong, which I have the privilege to represent. Of the four strip shopping centres in my electorate, Corrimal, the largest, continues to have a branch of each of the four major banks. One wonders how long they will remain open. In Fairy Meadow the branches of the National Australia Bank, the ANZ Bank and the Westpac Bank have closed, but the branch of the Commonwealth Bank remains open. Similarly, in Woonona the ANZ Bank and Westpac Bank branches have gone, but the branch of the Commonwealth Bank remains open. In Thirroul the branches of the Westpac Bank, the ANZ Bank and the State Bank have gone. Therefore, people have to travel greater distances to conduct their banking and that means that they take their business from the strip shopping centres. As a result, the buildings become derelict and are vandalised.
That leads to a spiralling loss of business and a loss of a sense of community pride, which is an important factor in this debate. The people who suffer most are those who do not understand new technology, or who are scared of it: the elderly, those who lived and worked through the Depression, and those who worked hard for a long time and struggled to maintain a trust in their banks. That has been blown out of the water. Some people do not understand how to use an automatic teller machine [ATM] - they lived in a time that was much simpler - but the banks have forced them to learn to use new technology. The banks have also forced the elderly to deal with computerised telephone banking. That takes away the sense of personal relationship and interaction that I mentioned earlier.
That is all, of course, at the behest of the banks, which claim that is what the community wants. It is not what the community wants. During this debate and at other times honourable members have said that that is not what their constituents are telling them. Their constituents want to be able to visit a bank, to carry out a transaction over the counter, and to deal with a person rather than a computer-generated voice. I, like the honourable member for Albury, have a few shares in a bank and I want a return on my money. However, I do not want that return at the expense of people’s jobs, at the expense of their future, or at the expense of the communities. I and many other people believe that bank customers have the opportunity to vote with their feet.
They can take their money out of the banks and take their business to other organisations such as a local credit union or a locally based building society, for example the Illawarra Mutual Building Society. That is one way of sending a message to the banks that their attitude and their approach is inappropriate. Another way of sending that message is to have members of Parliament speak out as representatives of communities. Today I made some telephone calls and asked people if they were prepared to speak to the media tomorrow about this issue. The banks keep claiming that is what the community wants, and people accept it. People want someone to stand up and talk to the banks on their behalf, and that is what this debate is about. That is why I support the motion.
(Lachlan) [8.05 p.m.]: During the debate Government members have spoken in support of the motion. They have spoken about how to take action against banks: withdraw your money, withdraw your support for banks. They are probably fairly good moves but it is a pity that honourable members do not have the same ethos as far as the Government is concerned. The problem is that there is no alternative for the next 3½ years. The Government has withdrawn jobs and services from rural communities and set the pace. That is evidenced by the vacancy for the principal’s position at the Murrumbidgee agricultural college since March 1997. Why is it that the two senior lecturer positions have not been filled since February this year? Why is it that the management of health and education in regional New South Wales have been centralised?
Those jobs, with their accompanying prestige, have been lost to country communities. Members of the Government are a little hypocritical. I see the honourable member for Bathurst is shaking his head. He is the mayor of a country community and he would recognise the gutting that has occurred of public service positions across country New South Wales. In the past five years the town of Cootamundra, which I have represented since 27 March, has lost more than 100 State public
service jobs. The towns of Junee and Parkes have each lost more than 40 railway jobs. I note that Government members have become very excited about that matter.
Let us keep our feet firmly on the ground. The Government has been in office since 1995. It has now had time to show whether it is fair dinkum - and it is not. Government members use a hypocritical smokescreen and try to blame the banks, Westpac particularly on this occasion, but they will not admit to their own sins in rural New South Wales. Throughout history banks have been the symbols of progress in rural communities. The honourable member for Burrinjuck mentioned Boorowa a number of times. It happens to be in her electorate but it is also the location of my home bank. I have a good memory of the town. In 1952 the State Bank built a brand new building there. That was regarded as a major breakthrough, signifying that that town was a hard commercial centre. Indeed, some of the leading rural families in New South Wales banked in that town. They still do. That town had branches of the ANZ Bank, the Bank of New South Wales and the State Bank, plus Commonwealth Bank agencies.
During the past 10 or 15 years many accounts held at those banks have been transferred to the more specialist areas of banking. Rural accounts have gone to specialist agricultural management accounts and business accounts have gone to specialist business management accounts. That has been part of the progress in the so-called reformation of banking. One can argue about this till the cows come home, but the bottom line is that when a bank came to town the community felt some pride in itself and recognised that it had some commercial expertise and a solid financial base. By the same token, a bank leaving town is an indication that the community has lost its soul. That is the big problem in rural communities.
The other side of the coin is that when government services come to town, perhaps a regional office of education or a health care service, that is also an acknowledgment of a growing community. When government services leave town, that is equally damning of the community in the eyes of investors and locals. The Government should think about the positions it has cut from NorthPower and the energy industry across New South Wales. The Government crows loud but it is all feathers and no meat when it comes to jobs in the bush.
(Menai) [8.10 p.m.]: I support the urgent motion moved by the honourable member for Miranda. I, like many others, was stunned by last week’s announcement by Westpac that it would shed at least 3,000 jobs, or nearly 10 per cent of its work force, and close about 80 branches. That action is being taken to address a so-called efficiency gap, despite the fact that Westpac’s 1998 after-tax profit was $1.342 billion. Furthermore, analysts expect that this year Westpac will post a record $1.43 billion profit. It is hardly a bank in crisis. The National Secretary of the Finance Sector Union, Mr Tony Beck, last week described Westpac’s announcement as callous and shortsighted. On Tuesday 12 October Mr Beck said:
These cuts to customer service and jobs are appalling. When it comes to customer service and responsibilities to employees and the community, the banks appear to be engaged in a race to the bottom - and with this announcement it appears Westpac wants to get there first.
The other banks are fierce competitors in the race referred to by Mr Beck. Almost every day I hear from friends or acquaintances stories of frustration and anger at the policies and processes of the major banks. It increasingly appears that the heart of the motivation for branch closures, staff reductions and the ever-increasing fees and charges is bank merger speculation. A big bank merger would cut even deeper and have a devastating effect on the community. The Finance Sector Union has reported that since Westpac took over the Bank of Melbourne in 1997 more than 100 branches have been closed and more than 1,000 jobs have been slashed in Victoria. To give some idea of the devastation Mr Beck says that could be multiplied by 20 if two major banks were to merge.
Mr Beck correctly points out that the Federal Government’s hands-off approach to the Australian banking sector is failing the community. Banking is an essential service, and it is time Prime Minister showed some leadership and stopped allowing the banks to operate as laws unto themselves. The Federal Government has a role to play in ensuring the banks fulfil their social obligations. Other countries impose such requirements. As the Financial Sector Union asks, "The Federal Government has a charter of universal service obligation for other providers of essential services such as Telstra - why not the banks?" The Financial Sector Union is calling on the Federal Government to work with consumer groups and industry and employee groups to establish a charter of social responsibility for the banks that sets out their obligations to customers and staff. In the words of the Financial Sector Union’s national secretary:
Something needs to be done to restore the balance between the interests of bank executives and large shareholders, and the needs of the community.
I find it particularly abhorrent that the so-called alternatives to face-to-face banking are portrayed to be more efficient and convenient for the customers. All the banks are peddling the same message. My colleague the honourable member for Georges River pointed out tonight that while alternatives such as Internet banking, automatic teller machines and inclusion of bank branches into other businesses such as newsagencies and pharmacies may be convenient for some, they alienate many, especially the elderly. Indeed, I am sure the last time honourable members tried to buy a stamp at a post office they had to stand behind many people who were trying to do a lot of other things. Moreover, it is curious that in the long run the reality of alleged customer convenience always seems to pay off in favour of the banks.
To give Westpac a break, an example from my own experience with the ANZ Bank was the cancellation of Saturday morning opening hours. We were told that opening on Saturday mornings was not viable, and that so many other services existed - for our convenience, of course. Along with that initiative came phone banking. A persuasive brochure mailed to me stated, "Pay your Visa card and other bills - no more rushing to the bank before closing time." On the last day of the month my Visa card payment fell due. It was a busy day, so I took up the option of waiting for the quiet of the evening to do my phone banking - at my convenience. Imagine my surprise when a month later I found a credit charge on the account. I asked how this could happen - "Please explain", as a famous redhead once said.
I found out although one is transferring funds between one’s own accounts it may not register on the bank’s records until as much as 40 hours later. What a surprise that was! If I had taken the option of going into the bank in the traditional way and handing over a cheque, albeit from another financial institution, the bill would have been considered paid. To my detriment, I had taken one of these many and varied alternatives. It will be to the community’s detriment if bank mergers and other initiatives proceed. [Time expired.
(Monaro) [8.15 p.m.]: I speak in debate on the urgent motion relating to banking services. I noticed with interest the list of bank closures in the newspapers. Westpac intends to close 54 branches in the country and 26 in the city, which demonstrates the way in which centralisation is working in this State. Once again, country people will be disadvantaged. Of particular interest to me were the planned closures by Westpac of its branches in Bombala and Braidwood, which are both in my electorate. Only the other day I was talking to a lady in Bombala and I asked her where she worked. She said that she worked at the Westpac bank in Bombala. I did not say anything at the time, but that was sad news. Regrettably, I think she will be one of the 3,000 people who lose their jobs.
When a bank closes in a country town such as Bombala or Braidwood it takes people approximately 45 minutes to an hour to travel by motor vehicle, if they have such a convenience, to access alternative services in Cooma, Canberra, or elsewhere. Electronic banking is not always possible and Internet services are not always available for people in the country. Inadequate electricity services often make it difficult for electronic commerce, e-commerce, or electronic banking to occur. Often that is not an option for people in the country. I feel for the disadvantaged and the young in our communities who are trying to access suitable banking services remotely.
The disproportionate number of banks closing in the bush represents the loss of more jobs. People lose confidence, the local community experiences difficulties and businesses find it difficult to invest money in the area. People in country areas do not have access to other banks. Twenty-six bank branch closures are proposed by Westpac in Sydney, but those living in the city have to travel only a few kilometres on a bus or in a train to access bank facilities, and some people access those facilities while they are at work.
People in the country do not have those options; they are affected by the tyranny of distance. Anyone operating a cash business will have to travel some distance at least once a week to deposit cash or do other business. The lack of banking facilities will make it difficult for such a person to continue in business. There will be security problems for those travelling any distance carrying bags of money and returning with a cash float each week. They will have the added problem of hiring staff to act in their capacity while they are away.
The Government has a responsibility to provide basic services in the bush. The State Government should put pressure on the Federal Government to provide basic services through its program of regional development. Small businesses and communities need some incentives before that sort of development occurs. People in the country are facing the loss of as many as 2,000 jobs. Westpac will save up to $300 million and reduce its work force by 10 per cent through these proposed bank branch closures. I note that Westpac is proposing to close banks branches in 200 rural centres.
It is all very well for Westpac to say that branches will be located in pharmacies or shops, but in many instances that will not suit the people who work there. Some people will use those agencies for basic banking services but it will present difficulties for those who want a home loan, a car loan or something that is a little different. If they are a few days or weeks late in making a payment it will not be easy to discuss that sort of matter with a pharmacist or with a staff member of any other organisation that has a bank agency.
Bank branch closures lead to a loss of confidence in country towns. Young schoolchildren want to be able to put their pocket money or their savings from lawnmowing into a bank. When I was young my father gave me a moneybox from the old Commercial Banking Company of Sydney, and that bank’s building still exists today. That sort of economising enforces in the minds of children the ethics of saving and how it works. The Government has a responsibility to provide minimal banking standards in the bush. Rural New South Wales cannot sustain the potential loss of 3,000 jobs. We cannot stand back and let that happen. [Time expired
(Swansea) [8.20 p.m.]: I support the motion for urgent consideration moved by the honourable member for Miranda. It is in these terms:
(1) calls on the Commonwealth, Westpac and other major banks to immediately drop their plans to shed jobs and close branches, particularly in suburban metropolitan areas and regional and rural New South Wales;
(2) urges all the major banks to maintain their current level of services and branches in New South Wales;
(3) notes the importance of face-to-face services to long-term customers, particularly the elderly; and
(4) supports the New South Wales Minister for Fair Trading’s plan to impose minimum standards on bank licences requiring them to supply at least a minimum level of banking services to the community.
My colleague has raised an important issue: the actions of Australian banks since deregulation in the early 1980s. That action has had both immediate and ongoing impacts on the communities that they service. Banks occupy a singularly vital place in our communities. They have contributed to the economic development of the State and nation and, until the financial services sector was deregulated, provided a tangible link for our communities, our State and our nation to those financial services. It is one thing for governments to provide for greater competition in the financial services marketplace, but it is another thing for private banks, in an unrestrained way, to detach themselves from their obligations to the community.
For me the recent announcement by the Westpac bank that it plans to sack a further 3,000 staff and implement another round of bank closures was the last straw. I must speak out about these latest moves, and I feel obliged to protest at the rampant disregard of Australian banks for their customers. They must be reminded that not all people in the community are able to readily use the latest technologies in lieu of face-to-face banking. The banks want to reduce pension days to a conga line in front of automatic teller machines rather than provide the assured face-to-face service enjoyed by those communities lucky enough to retain bank branches. A machine will never be a substitute to a person seeking advice or assistance from bank staff.
I am one of those who believe in the power of politics as a central force for change. The Federal Government must advise representatives of the banks in the strongest possible terms that the price of deregulation is the maintenance of a level of community presence and service and not the sacking of thousands of workers or the closing of hundreds of branches across the State. The Federal Treasurer must demonstrate courage and put that proposition to the banks and back it up by threats to impose community service obligations on them by regulation. I commend the honourable member for Miranda for moving this motion, which I most wholeheartedly support. I look forward to its unanimous adoption by this House.
The contrast between the Opposition’s response in this debate and the contributions of Government members is interesting. The honourable member for Lachlan, a distinguished member of this House, turned this debate into a political attack on the Government. We heard the detailed and considered response of the honourable member for Monaro. He referred to the impact of the closure of banking and financial services on the community. He obviously understands that the Federal Government - in fact, he actually named the Federal Government - has to act on this issue. It is no good the Deputy Prime Minister calling another country summit to resolve this and other problems in the bush. It is no good National Party members gnashing their teeth and wailing about bank branch closures and then having the honourable member for Lachlan seemingly apologise for the closure of banks in this State. I support the motion and commend it to my friend the honourable member for Coffs Harbour.
(Oxley) [8.25 p.m.]: I do not disagree with the terms of the motion moved by the honourable member for Miranda. In the face of the huge profits being enjoyed by major banks at this time and the obscene salaries being paid to senior executives, it does not seem right that those banks should take what in my view is the easy way out and increase profits, the bottom line for their shareholders by slashing staff and seeking efficiencies, foisting technology upon their customers and closing country branches. The senior executives and the senior members of management of major banks do not justify their salaries by producing such a simplistic solution to maximise their profits.
The proposed closures are not restricted to Westpac. Other major banks are showing a total lack of commitment to country Australia, particularly rural New South Wales. That lack of commitment is of concern to the National Party. Banks want to employ practically no staff and they want their customers to deal with machines and technology with which they are not familiar. As the honourable member for Monaro said, that is not acceptable, particularly for older people. Despite assurances about in-store branches and maintaining face-to-face contact, nevertheless fewer staff in country towns and in metropolitan suburbs are available to deal with inquiries by those who are just not comfortable with technology.
This move comes also at a time when bank fees are going through the roof, including fees for transactions, using automatic teller machines [ATMs], electronic funds transfer at point of sail [EFTPOS], et cetera. Surely banks have some community service obligations and State and Federal governments have a role to enunciate those obligations. Westpac Banking Corporation closed its Wauchope branch in my electorate and established an in-store branch. We have been assured that Wauchope will still have available the various services, but the net loss is at least one job. As a result, the building stands vacant with loss of rental income to Wauchope.
I hope credit unions in country towns, particularly on the mid North Coast, such as the Bananacoast Community Credit Union, the Holiday Coast Credit Union and the Coastline Credit Union, will prosper and pick up disgruntled customers from major banks. This move by Westpac is economic rationalism at its worst. I was a little surprised that the Government moved this motion because it too is guilty of economic rationalism in country towns.
It closed down the laundry at Kempsey hospital.
It did close the laundry at Kempsey hospital and also the catering service. Countrylink is also under attack. More jobs will go from Wauchope, and from Kempsey railway station and travel centre as a result of the proposals for Countrylink.
Macksville hospital also.
Macksville hospital also has lost jobs as well as TAFE and State Forests - economic rationalism by the Government. This motion represents hypocrisy on the part of the Government. Today I presented petitions from hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have been to my office expressing concern about Countrylink services and jobs being cut in the bush. In light of this motion about Westpac bank branch closures I urge the Government to reconsider Countrylink’s proposals to cut staff and services especially to elderly people who need station attendants to assist with luggage, bookings and so on. I am happy to support the motion but I urge the Government to examine its practices of economic rationalism with Countrylink, TAFE, State Forests, hospitals and other government agencies in country regions.
(Peats) [8.30 p.m.]: I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this motion as bank closures have been of important concern to so many people in recent years, particularly in the electorate of Peats. Banks have been major players in Australian society for a long time. Generations of Australians relied upon the banking system to look after their life savings in good and bad times. However, banks did not win many friends during the Great Depression of 1929-34.
During that black period in Australia’s history banks did not show much compassion to their customers who, through no fault of their own, had either been assigned to the large pool of unemployed or were earning only one week’s wages every three weeks. Many families lost their homes. Many other bank customers lost farms or small businesses because of the widespread effects of the Depression. It is little wonder that in the 1940s the great Labor Prime Minister, Ben Chifley, attempted, unsuccessfully, to nationalise banks.
Ben Chifley and the Australian Labor Party all those years ago attempted to ensure that Australian banks faced up to their obligations to Australian workers and their families by treating them with some dignity and compassion. How did the banks react to this push by the Labor Party back in the dying stages of Ben Chifley’s long and distinguished political career? Despite the fact that legislation to
nationalise banks was passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate, it was challenged by the banking industry in the High Court of Australia. The High Court ruled that the legislation was unconstitutional.
Today Labor members are not calling for the nationalisation of banks; instead, we are putting banks on notice to show some consideration towards customers and not regard profit as the deciding factor in planning future operations. I firmly believe, as I am sure all of my parliamentary colleagues do, that banks have a social and moral obligation to provide a service to the people of this State. Otherwise, we could return to the bad old days when many people did not trust banks and hid their savings in a tin under the bed or buried it in the backyard.
A bank closure causes major upheaval and disruption in a community, particularly to senior citizens who grew up in an era prior to modern technology and are accustomed to face-to-face service. In the majority of cases elderly bank customers have no desire to access an automatic teller machine, which is usually out in the street where they are at risk of being mugged by some unscrupulous person or persons intent on getting their hands on ready cash. Only recently Westpac decided to close its branch at Ettalong Beach, which meant many customers had to go elsewhere to conduct their bank business.
Of course, the winner in that case was Westpac’s major opponent as many of Westpac’s customers did not have their own transport and did not wish to travel by public transport to Umina Beach as suggested by Westpac management. Not only did the closure of the Ettalong Beach branch have an impact on the customers, it also impacted on the Ettalong Beach business community. The branch employed a number of people and they had purchasing power in the local area. Unfortunately, local business has suffered the effects of the branch closure as well as the bank’s many customers.
The two major Australian banks, Westpac and the Commonwealth, have built up their business with the support of Australians from all walks of life. Westpac Banking Corporation, formerly the Bank of New South Wales, is Australia’s oldest banking institution and the Commonwealth was once known as the people’s bank. Sadly, it appears that loyalty by generations of Australian families does not count for much these days. It is little wonder people are deserting the once highly regarded major banks and taking their business to credit unions. This is certainly the case in my electorate.
Credit unions are looking after the people that the banks have refused to look after. This is the International Year of Older Persons and it is sad that Westpac is considering closing approximately 80 branches across the State. That action will not only affect senior citizens who rely on Westpac for their banking services; it means also that thousands of people will not have jobs. I shall take this issue to my electorate through the distribution of petitions. I certainly take pleasure in commending the motion to the House.
(Coffs Harbour) [8.35 pm]: I am in two minds about this problem on the basis that in the past banks in New South Wales created a great service to regional New South Wales. Now I suppose they are making what would be called a commercial decision to rationalise those services in regional New South Wales and in the city in some instances. Whether we agree with that response by the banks is a matter of personal conscience and of commercial reality, especially in regional New South Wales. In the past banks have taken good profits from country communities back to shareholders who are mainly in the city. Whilst deploring job losses and services to the people in my electorate, I have witnessed the responsible increase in support for a major local credit union, that is, the Bananacoast Community Credit Union headed by Mr Ray Battle.
When Dorrigo lost the services of its banks people in the community were amazed and everyone was in turmoil. Prior to 1995 I was involved in those credit unions being granted trustee status so that they could handle accounts from local government, clubs and other organisations that normally would not have been able to bank with them. Those credit unions now have that trustee status and they can handle accounts of any size within their communities. The beauty of these credit unions is that they reinvest their profits in the community by small loans to their investors. Shareholders of the credit unions - they are co-operatives - are the people who are part of those credit unions. The growth of credit unions in Dorrigo, Bellingen, Woolgoolga, Coffs Harbour -
Nambucca Heads and Macksville.
Nambucca Heads and Macksville as the honourable member for Oxley said -
The Banana coast Community Credit Union does not have a branch in Kendall, although it will eventually get down there if you want to become one of its members.
The Holiday Coast is down there.
The Holiday Coast Credit Union is down there. Credit unions are doing a good job. Paragraph 2 of the motion moved by the honourable member for Miranda urges all major banks to maintain their current level of services and branches in New South Wales. I challenge the Government to tell us about the regional office of National Parks that has now been moved into the marginal Labor electorate of the Minister for Local Government, Minister for Regional Development, and Minister for Rural Affairs. It has been moved out of Dorrigo, a small community that has lost its banking services.
Dorrigo has also lost the Forestry office, which is now closed. The small community of Dorrigo will lose 11 jobs. Where is the honourable member for Miranda and the Minister? They are saying nothing. Salaries amounting to $600,000 will be taken out of Dorrigo. Banks are not needed in Dorrigo because this Government has taken salaries away from the Dorrigo community. Another part of the motion notes the importance of face-to-face services for long-term customers. What about the Forestry office customers?
What about Countrylink?
What about the people who work for Countrylink? What about the people who used to go to the Forestry office in Dorrigo to get a firewood licence to cut girders or sleepers? They now have to travel to Coffs Harbour. They cannot go to Urunga - a town shared by the honourable member for Oxley and me - because the Forestry office in that town also closed. This is a hypocritical motion. The honourable member for Miranda wants to belt a private industry, a banking industry, for making rational decisions, regardless of whether one agrees with them, but at the same time ignores the fact that country areas are losing jobs.
These towns are losing jobs in TAFE, Forestry, the railways and health. Recently the Government closed four beds, which will not be reopened, in the maternity unit at Coffs Harbour hospital. Last year under this Government the maternity unit at Bellingen hospital closed. The year before that the maternity unit at Dorrigo hospital closed under this Government.
You are getting a brand new hospital.
The honourable member for Swansea said Coffs Harbour is to get a brand new hospital. There will be 148 beds for acute medical care, compared with the 157 beds we have now.
It is going backwards.
It is a backward step. It is hypocritical of this Government to try to nail a private industry when Government services amounting to millions of dollars are disappearing from country electorates. The Government ought to look at its own backyard and fix it before it attacks private industry.
(Cessnock) [8.40 p.m.]: I support the honourable member for Miranda and draw the attention of the House to the plight of rural communities in New South Wales resulting from the closure of banks and financial institutions that often form part of the central business area in such communities. All honourable members are aware that Westpac is considering closing more than 60 of its branches in New South Wales. As a member of Country Labor I believe we need to support our rural communities not merely with rhetoric but also with action to ensure their future viability.
We need to consider what effect the closure of 60 to 80 banks in New South Wales will have on employment. Some 3,000 jobs will be lost as a result of the restructure of Westpac, 700 in rural and regional areas. It is totally unacceptable. Banks have made their money on the backs of rural communities, but now they have turned away, closed their institutions and layed off committed staff. Banks and economic rationalism seem to go hand in hand, driven by the liberal conservative philosophy that puts profits before people. Profits are important in all sectors, not merely banking, but without people there can be no profits.
Profits generated by banking institutions are totally above what the average person deems reasonable. In November 1998 Westpac promised no more cuts to face-to-face banking in New South Wales. Today we hear of more closures and more sackings. Where will it stop? The people of New South Wales, especially those in rural and regional areas, should consider whether they need to use Westpac Banking Corporation. Does Westpac deserve our money? Does it deserve money from the bush? No! I encourage the people of rural Australia and my electorate to consider their business and banking needs, and I challenge Westpac as to whether it deserves to make profits from monetary transactions.
Westpac may come to understand that its actions are deemed inappropriate and unethical by Australian standards if it realises that people are
prepared to withdraw their funds, close their accounts, refinance their loans and deal with more honourable banking institutions. The only way to make Westpac sit up and listen is to take away its core business, the small person whose salary is paid into an account to draw on and use as part of everyday life. Is Westpac so aloof that it believes it can trade solely on large businesses and large transactions offered in city areas only?
It is not only rural Australia that is under attack from Westpac in this round of the restructure. The list reveals that many urban and city areas that house aged persons, unemployed persons and socially isolated persons who would find it difficult to travel to other banking facilities will be affected also. I speak not only of city areas but also of rural areas such as Coffs Harbour. Banking institutions are not merely places where one can withdraw funds. They are often the first port of call for businesses seeking to gauge the viability of a community in order to determine the possible development of their businesses.
Westpac claims that its services will not be downgraded. It claims it will be able to move its operations to newsagents and other small businesses and shopfronts. A move to newsagents and shopfronts will make it very difficult for monetary transactions larger than $100. People may feel unsafe and uncertain about handling large sums of money in places with minimal staff. I call on the House to support the motion and to lobby Westpac to confirm its agreement of November last year to maintain hours of service at all branches current at that time, to guarantee basic services such as deposits, withdrawals, bill pay, transfers, balance inquiries and cash handling at all branches, and to guarantee that bank fees in rural centres will not rise beyond city fees. It is time the banks no longer regarded themselves as being above the community. They should be part of the community and make no further reductions in their operations. I support the motion.
(Lakemba - Minister for Public Works and Services, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Citizenship) [8.45 p.m.]: I have spoken previously in this House about the outrageous intention of Australia’s major banks to close branches, sack staff and reduce services. One certain thing about the banking sector is that, although profits may increase, services to the public and jobs will decrease. Members of this House have received many complaints about the bad behaviour of Australian banks. The recent decision by Westpac to slash 3,000 staff from its work force is another instalment in a series of very bad decisions taken by Australia’s major banking institutions in the past couple of years.
Families do not deserve this, certainly not at a time when bank profits have increased to record levels. I am sure all honourable members will agree with those sentiments. It is strange that one of the first decisions of the new Managing Director of Westpac, Dr David Morgan, was to slash staff and close bank branches, particularly in regional and rural New South Wales. In announcing his decision he indicated that it was time to reward Westpac shareholders, who up to this point had missed out.
That was an interesting observation on his part because in a survey conducted by the Business Review Weekly
Westpac ranks in the top five most profitable companies in the nation. However, its managing director says that is not enough and that it must do better to reward its itinerant membership of shareholders. I cannot understand the logic behind that, especially as it is trotted out as the rationale for slashing an additional 3,000 jobs and follows a commitment made earlier by Westpac to halt the decline in face-to-face banking services, the rate of bank branch closures and the shedding of staff.
In the seven years since 1992 the ANZ, Westpac and Commonwealth banks have shed almost 40,000 full-time staff positions. This has not been driven by declining profitability, declining competitiveness vis-a-vis other financial institutions or a declining position relative to international competition; it has been driven by economic rationalism gone mad. This is highlighted in my electorate and in every other electorate throughout the State and country. In Narwee Westpac Bank and Commonwealth Bank branches have closed. In Penshurst and Peakhurst Commonwealth Bank branches have closed, and this week in Beverly Hills, at the same time as the Commonwealth branch closure at Miranda, the Westpac branch closed, the ANZ branch having closed previously.
The only bank remaining is the Commonwealth Bank and there are serious doubts about its future. The State Bank has closed in Riverwood. A handful of suburbs in an inner southern Sydney electorate have been the victim of this economic rationalism gone mad. Dr Morgan and Mr Murray, the Managing Director of the Commonwealth Bank, should remember the words that appeared in the editorial of the Age
this week which are timely and which state:
Banks are not responsible only to their itinerant collection of shareholders. Their role as financial intermediaries is crucial to business and households alike. They are major employers. And their actions are crucial to the nation’s ability to meet its wider economic and social goals.
The Westpac board, Dr Morgan, Mr Murray and all the other major banks that are responsible for
creating destruction and havoc in city, regional or rural local communities should think again. Their role in the economy is far too important for them to just make decisions on the bottom line for an itinerant group of shareholders.
(Kiama) [8.50 p.m.]: Bank closures have not been a good thing for people in country New South Wales. They have not been a good thing for the people of Kiama, the electorate that I represent. Last week I was granted the belated courtesy of being informed by two officers of the Commonwealth Bank that a number of their customers, and my constituents, would be temporarily disadvantaged due to the closures of branches in Oak Flats and Warilla. I was told on the day that the Commonwealth Bank made its announcement. How is that for consultation? Customer loyalty to the bank does not appear to mean very much to the big-end-of-town bean counters when they decide to close yet another branch.
I have heard some beauties in my time but I have never heard a more contemptuous statement than the line being peddled by Westpac recently. Westpac seems to have done the impossible, that is, it plans to reduce its work force by 3,000 in the name of better service to customers. It is no wonder that many Australian families feel let down by their bank and are moving their money into other institutions. Westpac should come clean and admit that it is not dispensing with 3,000-odd jobs for the sake of improved service for its customers but, rather, it is shedding these jobs to provide greater profits for its shareholders.
Profits are high for all banks and the prediction is that Westpac will make a sizeable profit of $1.43 this year. Last year Westpac made an after-tax profit of $1.342 billion. The bank thanked its workers and customers for the increased profit this year by closing 200 branches and shedding 3,000-odd jobs. That is shameful! Westpac is not the only bank making huge profits. The after-tax profits for 1998 for the National Australia Bank was $2.511 billion, for the CBA Bank $1.251 billion and for the ANZ Bank $1.75 billion.
I support the calls made by Geoff Dereck of the Finance Sector Union that Westpac should name the 200 branches it has said it will close. It would be wrong for the bank to make 200 separate announcements over the next 18 months, as is currently planned. This type of staggered announcement leads to uncertainty for many Westpac workers and customers. It simply is not fair. The 3,000 jobs that are to be lost from Westpac are 3,000 full-time equivalent jobs, not 3,000 workers. This means that many people who work in country or regional New South Wales on a part-time basis are going to be especially disadvantaged. The 3,000 job-loss figure should be increased to show the number of people who will actually lose their jobs rather than the full-time equivalent figure of 3,000 that is being put forward at present.
More than 1,700 branches have closed throughout Australia in the past six years and 40,000 big bank jobs have disappeared since 1991. This fact is at odds with the strengthening of our economy over the same period. Banks are still recording massive profits, however, they fail to realise that they have a social obligation as well as an obligation to operate profitably. I call on the Federal Government, as did the Financial Sector Union [FSU] and the Minister for Fair Trading, to introduce some form of regulation of banks for an appropriate social charter. After all, banking is an essential service and the Federal Government has a role to play in ensuring that banks fulfil their obligations to the community and do not abuse their privileged position.
This charter of social responsibility needs to set out the obligation of banks to their customers and staff, as well as a requirement to restore the balance between the interests of bank executives and large shareholders and the needs of the community. The idea and implementation of a charter of social responsibility is not only supported by the Financial Sector Union but is in operation in other countries. For instance, the United States of America has a Community Reinvestment Act that ensures all sections of the community have access to banking services, and limits the ability of banks that do not meet community service criteria to relocate branches, merge or acquire other banking assets.
Further, the Federal Government has a charter of universal service obligation for other providers of essential services such as Telstra, so why not the banks? Leaving the decisions to the banks and to the free market is not providing the required services to people in regional and country areas. The Federal Government can do something about this and it should. Branch closures have occurred in the towns of Gerringong, Jamberoo and Robertson. Those communities are feeling the devastating effects of such branch closures. Small businesses have nowhere to deposit their day’s takings and neighbours are not meeting to discuss community concerns at their local banks as they once did. This sense of community loss is a great shame and is hurting small business. I support the motion.
(Kogarah) [8.55 p.m.]: I support the motion moved by the honourable member for Miranda and condemn the Commonwealth Bank and Westpac for their plans to slam their doors in the faces of yet more customers and more people in New South Wales. These are people who need the banks, who have supported the banks and who have been betrayed by those very same banks. Those banks think the industry is only about profits. That shows that although they might have a lot of dollars, they have certainly got no sense.
Approximately 200 Westpac branches are shutting up shop regardless of the isolation that will be caused to many people who rely on them. That is 200 branches - not two, not 20, but 200 branches. That blatantly mercenary decision shows no care for the customers. Banks do not see the impact that their actions have on people’s lives. For them the closures are a matter of numbers and dollars, but they should be about faces - the faces of people who have walked through their doors day after day, year after year. The faces of business owners have a right to show outrage.
The action by the banks affects their livelihoods, and their customers will be forced to shop in the few remaining areas where branches continue to trade. We must also consider the 3,000 employees of Westpac who are about to join the unemployment statistics. Their 3,000 faces are now showing uncertainty, fear, worry and tears. I wonder whether those human beings will be able to make ends meet, thanks to Westpac. I wonder whether they will be able to keep paying their mortgages. I wonder whether their mortgages are with Westpac.
What will happen to elderly people? Many older people need counter service and cannot use other methods of banking. Elderly people feel intimidated when they are forced to use automatic teller machines. What have the banks said to elderly people in our community? They have said, "Bad luck." It is bad luck for those who have been totally loyal customers of the banks all their lives and who are totally dependent on an over-the-counter service.
My electorate of Kogarah has the highest proportion of older people in New South Wales. One in six people in Kogarah is over 55 years of age. These people have not necessarily got access to the Internet; nor do arthritis or a variety of other conditions make it easy for them to punch the teller machine buttons. Some of those people certainly do not have the ability to travel halfway across the city to the next closest branch of the bank. The people of Kogarah and every other area of the State have every reason to be appalled and outraged.
Many older people have been customers of the banks for most of their lives; they probably started their first account when they were schoolchildren. They want to deal with people, not machinery installed in walls. The banks should be accountable. All people should be able to walk into a branch and ask about charges that appear on their bank statements. Many people want to ask questions and feel comfortable talking to human beings. Banks must realise that slamming their doors in the faces of communities is not acceptable. They must realise that banking also has a human face.
The community reacted to the Commonwealth Bank’s decision to close yet another branch - this time in the southern Sydney suburb of Kirrawee. As the honourable member for Miranda said in his speech, that branch operated on Oak Road for 38 years. For 38 years the Commonwealth Bank enjoyed the patronage of people who live in the area. For 38 years the customers of the Kirrawee branch - the local residents, the business owners and the community - have supported the Commonwealth Bank. For 38 years the Commonwealth Bank has happily taken the community’s loyalty, but what is it giving back in return?
When the Kirrawee branch of the Commonwealth Bank closes its doors for the last time on 19 November, there will be not one bank of any variety in that suburb. That shows the banks’ appalling commitments to communities. The banking industry has that rare ability to make ever-greater profits, so it cannot possibly be said that banks have got it tough. With the third Commonwealth Bank branch to close its doors in the St George-Sutherland area in the last 12 months, I can tell honourable members who has it tough: the residents of Kogarah have it tough. In fact, every person in New South Wales has every reason to expect that his or her local branch will be the next to close.
Commonwealth Bank executives have to accept that there are still some processes that require people to visit a branch. Irrespective of why customers visit a bank - to deposit a cheque or the day’s takings or to pick up a new credit card - customers should be able to perform those tasks. This is a modern world and the role of technology cannot be denied; nor can it be denied that this is a world of communities made up of human beings. There can be no greater marketing strategy adopted by a bank than being the first to recognise this principle and adopt a conscience. Which bank will be the first to care? For the reasons I have stated, I support the motion.
(Illawarra) [9.00 p.m.]: I support the motion moved by the honourable member for
Miranda. Last Friday two Commonwealth Bank managers called into my office to inform me that the branch in Oak Flats in the Illawarra electorate will close on 26 November and that another branch in Warilla, which also services my constituents, will close on the same day. I am very concerned about that decision and made my thoughts known in the Illawarra Mercury
The bank, in defending the decision, said that the 12 staff members involved would be relocated to Shellharbour Square. They also claimed that the decision to centralise the three branches was based on an increased demand for service at the Shellharbour Square shopping centre. Regrettably, the fact that the Shellharbour Square branch has increased its customers does not help those who visit other branches on a regular basis. Oak Flats is one of the older suburbs in the Illawarra and has a large population of older people.
I am concerned that elderly people will be greatly disadvantaged. Presently they can drive or walk to the main street where they can use the banking facilities and purchase their pharmaceutical requirements, fresh fruit and vegetables and practically everything they need, all within close proximity to the bank and parking. In the future, constituents will have to drive or catch a bus to Shellharbour Square, which is a very large sprawling shopping centre where parking is always a problem. Parking can only get worse during the Christmas shopping season and elderly people will have to walk from one end of the centre to the other to cater to their needs.
Many people either do not like using or do not feel comfortable using automatic teller machines or other forms of electronic banking. They prefer to deal instead with a real person. I have urged the residents in my electorate who are unhappy with branch closures to show the banks that they do not support the decisions that have been made by withdrawing their savings and investing in other banks that offer the services they require. I am also circulating a petition in my electorate that will be presented to the Commonwealth Bank. The petition has been signed in support of the Oak Flats branch remaining where it is. I will approach all local businesses in Oak Flats to support the petition.
Where is the bank’s loyalty to its long-serving customers? Why should customers remain loyal to the bank? As far as I can see, banks are loyal only to their shareholders. Banks boast that they are making massive profits; however, they are not rewarding those who have been long-term customers. In recent years a number of banks have closed in the Illawarra electorate. In the past 18 months the Colonial State Bank, the National Australia Bank, the St George Bank and now the Commonwealth Bank have all shut their doors. In the Illawarra, where the unemployment rate is higher than the national average, we cannot have people being made redundant because of bank closures. We must send a clear message to the banks that we are not going to take this lying down. That is why I support the motion moved by the honourable member for Miranda.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Whelan.
GOVERNMENT WATER POLICY
(Murrumbidgee) [9.05 p.m.]: I move:
That this House notes with concern the growing crisis in the Murray Valley.
On this very day a crisis is unfolding in the Murray Valley the likes of which the area has not seen in 100 years. Together with the absolutely critical state of irrigation in that valley and so many other agricultural industries suffering a decline in the last few years, irrigation and irrigated agriculture is about the only lifeline available for the Murray Valley at the moment. Although some industries are doing particularly well, this year there has been a marked decline in water allocations for a number of reasons. That has resulted in a very serious crisis. Generally speaking, there are four reasons why this crisis has occurred. First, there was the spill of the Hume Dam.
A couple of years ago the dam wall moved a fraction closer to Albury and one million megalitres of water were released from the dam. In the past two or three years that water has not been replenished by natural rainfall, and that has been one of the causes of the reduction in allocations to irrigators in the Murray Valley. Secondly, Lake Victoria, which is a storage facility en route to South Australia, recently experienced a reduction of 400,000 megalitres due to the discovery of Aboriginal artefacts. In recent months that water has been replaced by water from the Hume Dam and the upper catchments.
Thirdly, South Australia has received 350,000 megalitres in dilution flows. While South Australia is supposed to receive 1.6 million megalitres in flows each year, it received 4.1 megalitres in the last
calendar year; that is almost three times the agreed amount. I understand the point of view of irrigators and citizens of South Australia, but the amount of water flowing into South Australia has created dire consequences in New South Wales. One reason for the crisis is that this has been a particularly dry year.
However, the Government was in a position a couple of months ago, and it still is, to alleviate the problem in some way - not by giving irrigators 100 per cent of their water allocation, but in some other way. This was an opportunity for the Government to give them an extra 10, 15 or 20 per cent so that they could at least plant something, pay the interest on their mortgages, or pay their school fees. Irrigators face losing their businesses. It is the equivalent of industry not being able to use electricity. Irrigators asked for a guarantee of security, a guarantee of their allocation of up to, say, 20 per cent.
Last year, by agreement, 200,000 megalitres of above-target water were used to guarantee that allocation. Fortunately rains came before the end of January and the dams filled sufficiently. Not a single drop of that water was required. All in all, last year was a relatively good one. This year is another very dry year and irrigators again asked for that security. They knew they would probably not get it for nothing and they were prepared to pay the commercial rate. Although Snowy Hydro is yet to be corporatised, it operates under corporate rules and has an obligation to provide a return to its shareholders.
However, irrigators were disappointed with the deal offered to them, under which they have to buy 300,000 megalitres of additional releases from Snowy Hydro. Irrigators have to pay between $11 and $33 a megalitre for that water. They will use that water this year but next year they have to give it back. Many people cannot understand why irrigators have to pay for something but have to give it back the next year. Although some media commentators got the facts completely wrong, the general sentiment was that the situation was unbelievable.
Irrigators in the Murray Valley are most upset, particularly because they understand that there is a certain amount of water available in the Snowy Hydro scheme which is not required by Snowy Hydro for the production of electricity. Irrigators believe that the scheme was built as security for them, and they are disappointed that the water is not used to secure their allocations. Suggestions have been made about what the Government could do. Snowy Hydro formulated a pricing structure for that water.
The Government, which is a 58 per cent shareholder of Snowy Hydro, was told that the prices could not be reduced because it had to produce a return for its shareholders. I and other honourable members asked the Government to allow a reduction in price because of the crisis faced by communities and farmers. But the Government refused to get involved and, unfortunately, refused to reduce the price. We also asked the Government to lobby the Snowy Mountain Council to release some of the above-target water, but that was not done.
Other issues included the necessity for that water to be paid back next year. Snowy Hydro had offered five years in which to pay back the water. If next year is very dry irrigators will have difficulty repaying the water. Despite the fact that irrigators have to pay for the water the Department of Land and Water Conservation added 10 per cent to its price. A couple of weeks ago I spoke to the Treasurer, Michael Egan, who is a 58 per cent shareholder in Snowy Hydro, and asked him to do something to make the price more realistic so that farmers could survive another year. In the early stages he was co-operative. In a press release dated 23 September I stated:
Both the Treasurer and Snowy Hydro seem very keen to do a deal and further meetings are being held today between all parties concerned.
However, in the space of a few weeks and perhaps as a result of the Victorian State election and negotiations between the Premier and the Independent member for East Gippsland, the sentiment seemed to change; Mr Egan was not so accommodating. He was asked to help or to lobby within Cabinet to assist the farmers. In a letter to the editor of the Deniliquin Pastoral Times
I do not have ministerial responsibility for water allocation policy and management.
Those areas come within the portfolio of Mr Amery, Minister for Land and Water Conservation.
Mr Egan would not take responsibility and, although the Hon. R. S. Amery is the Minister for Land and Water Conservation, we asked Mr Egan to lobby the Minister on behalf of the farmers. But he refused to do so. The honourable member for Murray-Darling has been noticeably quiet, although I assume he will speak in this debate. I am interested in what he will say because over the past eight weeks that this matter has been going on I have heard only one thing from him on one day.
It is interesting to hear the rhetoric by Country Labor. This was one opportunity for Country Labor to show its true colours, and it did; it did absolutely
nothing. As I said, the optimum day for rice planting in the Murray Valley was 16 October. That time has passed and if rice is planted now it will have reduced yields, but there is still time for planting. I thank the Government for allowing this debate to proceed tonight and I hope that something can be done to resolve this issue.
(Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation) [9.15 p.m.]: In response to the motion moved by the honourable member for Murrumbidgee I will move a fairly non-contentious amendment. The Government will support the motion. However, the motion contains the word "crisis", and, whilst the current situation in the Murray is a crisis, it is not of record-breaking proportions. It must be remembered that irrigators in the south of the State are not experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime drought, nor is it a one-in-20-year drought. It has been estimated by the department as a one-in-five-year drought.
I am not belittling the current problem in the Murrumbidgee and the Murray rivers. However, this will happen again, and the irrigation community must plan for it. Of course, the Government will be there to help them plan for those dry years, as it has been throughout this whole process. Country Labor members - particularly the honourable member for Murray-Darling - have been there throughout this process. I will shortly detail a number of initiatives that the Carr Government already has in place to help the irrigation industries in the south of the State. Although I support the urgent motion of the honourable member for Murrumbidgee I move:
That the motion be amended by adding the following words:
and notes the Government’s work in negotiating the release of up to 300 gigalitres of water at minimum commercial rates.
That is to say, the House acknowledges the hard work put in by the Carr Labor Government to broker the deal reached with Snowy Hydro Trading. I understand that earlier today a number of irrigators marched in Albury, asking for more water at better prices. I acknowledge what they said, but I would like to explain a few things which may not be apparent. First, the Department of Land and Water Conservation has been working with Snowy Hydro to broker a deal for the release of additional water.
Despite some politicking by the former Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, which delayed the issue somewhat last week, we now have access to 300 gigalitres of water from the Snowy scheme. That water is to be released to irrigators in 100-gigalitre batches at commercial rates. The first 100 gigalitres will cost $11 per megalitre; the second batch of 100 gigalitres will cost $21.30 per megalitre, if that is taken up; and the third will cost $31.50 per megalitre - again, if that is required. Half of those costs will be paid up front to ensure that the water allocation is secured.
The remaining costs will be payable by the end of December, when farmers choose to take up the additional water. Irrigator groups helped to broker this deal. The split method of payment was secured by Bill Hetherington, President of Murray Irrigation Ltd. Everyone would like endless amounts of free water, particularly when businesses, livelihoods and communities depend on it. The reality is that water is a limited resource that attracts competing demands. Its management has been vested in the Crown since 1912 - a position confirmed by the 1986 Water Administration Act.
The Department of Land and Water Conservation generally handles bulk water supplies in country New South Wales but, to state the obvious, those supplies are dependent on rainfall. Rainfall in the Murray Valley has been low this year and water allocations for irrigators are only at 17 per cent of licence entitlements. I am sure all honourable members in regional New South Wales will be encouraged by the recent rains across the State. That rain could affect the irrigation allocation announcement that has already been made, but we will have to wait and see the figures. Some irrigators have a 20 per cent carryover from last year, but that still does not amount to a massive total.
As a result, in recent months irrigator groups came to my office and asked if we could help them broker a deal for water from the Snowy scheme - a rare occurrence. They said they were prepared to pay for the water. The Government has succeeded in brokering a commercial deal. However, irrigators now claim that the costs for them to use the water are prohibitive. Let us look at those figures. The Snowy Hydro water will cost between $11 and $31.50 a megalitre, which is a million litres of water.
I believe most irrigators will take the lower priced water as they need it. The cost is slightly higher than the usual $3.50 to $4 per megalitre that they pay for their bulk water allocations through the Department of Land and Water Conservation. But compare these figures to water that can be traded on the open market. Many farmers are now taking advantage of water trading opportunities to top up their annual standard allocations when they want to
develop their chosen industries. In the Murray Valley, which is the subject of today’s debate, the cost of temporarily transferring water as a trade can cost between $40 and $50 a megalitre, but it is sometimes higher for certain industries.
That is far more than the commercial rate that Snowy Hydro set for us when we brokered this deal. Remember, it is not the Government that is setting the price for Snowy Hydro water; it is Snowy Hydro Trading. People who listened to country radio in the past few weeks would realise that only last week I spoke about the offer, put through the New South Wales Government, of $20, $40 and $60 for the same amounts of water. However, changes in the way the water has been distributed and the improved situation in the Murrumbidgee meant lower prices, so the situation is much better than what was being negotiated only a week ago.
Snowy Hydro has to assess its own risk management levels and gauge what water supplies it needs to ensure that its customers’ electricity supplies are met. That is why there will be a so-called payback of water next year. The water is not being bought from Snowy Hydro; it is being borrowed from next year’s allocation. Irrigators get an advance on next year’s water allocation. The cost has gone down since negotiations first began with Snowy Hydro.
When we tried to get water for both the Murray and Murrumbidgee valleys we were asked to pay up to double that rate. As the Murrumbidgee water allocations increased to 60 per cent the focus moved solely to the Murray Valley and, as a result, costs decreased. I understand that irrigators in Albury also wanted the immediate release of above-target water, for which they were willing to pay on a commercial basis.
Unfortunately, the situation was not as good as they would have liked it to be. The option had already been explored: it would cost more than seven times the price we have secured. Above-target water is extremely expensive because operations within Snowy Hydro need complete flexibility to time its release. Snowy Hydro uses that water to generate electricity at times of high electricity prices or to provide insurance products for other generators.
I take this opportunity to remind the House of the work being done by the New South Wales Government. In the past four years we have spent $39 million on land and water management plans in the region, and $16.3 million is being spent in the region this financial year. The Government is also encouraging water-use efficiency in the southern irrigation areas and elsewhere across the State. It has provided $25.6 million towards this scheme for water users. The Federal Minister for Industry Science and Resources, Senator Nick Minchin spoke about this issue today on ABC Radio, and in particular he referred to the price of water on offer from Snowy Hydro. He said:
. . . and I gather it’s not actually a real commercial price. It’s way below a real commercial price in terms of its value to the Snowy trader, the hydro electric generators. And you know it is an issue for all Australians as to how do we work out a real commercial price for water. One thing we all have to understand is we just can’t regard water as free.
We would like to have done better on the water price deal with Snowy Hydro. However, the irrigators came to us because of low dam levels in the Murray and said they needed more water and security of water from Snowy Hydro. They asked us to help broker a deal, and we agreed. By attacking the Government in a negative way the honourable member for Murrumbidgee is virtually asking us to accept that the irrigators who are providing him with information will not take yes for an answer. As I said, we would like a better deal, but this was the best we could get.
Mr D. L. PAGE
(Ballina) [9.25 p.m.]: I am delighted to support the motion of the honourable member for Murrumbidgee. I congratulate him on moving the motion and on his efforts over the past eight weeks in support of the Murrumbidgee irrigators and in particular the Murray irrigators, who are experiencing very dry times. In normal circumstances they should have been able to expect a better response from the Government. His proactive performance in assisting irrigators in the Murray region stands in stark contrast to the Minister’s effort, which is too little too late. The honourable member for Murray-Darling has made no contribution to support Murray irrigators. Despite the comments made earlier that Country Labor supports those people, in reality it has done nothing.
Let me put this debate into some sort of context. The irrigation industry in Australia is important. Agriculture accounts for about $8 billion worth of national income and irrigated agriculture accounts for about one-third of that, even though the amount of land used for agriculture is only about 5 per cent. So we are talking about an industry that is of significant importance to Australia’s national wellbeing. I would have thought that it was important and in the national interest for people to have reasonable access to secure water supplies, if such water was available.
We know in this case that water is available. In my view, the Government’s response to this motion has been totally inadequate. Despite the fact that the Minister said that about 300,000 megalitres would be made available, Murray irrigators have received advice to the effect that only about 225,000 megalitres will be made available because of rules that have been put in place by the Department of Land and Water Conservation. The Minister said earlier that about 300,000 megalitres of water would be available to Murray irrigators but, under the 20 per cent licence allocation rule, irrigators cannot access that full amount. The Minister keeps saying that this water will be available at commercial rates.
Minimum commercial rates.
Mr D. L. PAGE:
The point of the story, about which the Minister might need reminding, is that the legislation relating to the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme and the basis on which that scheme operates are contingent upon the water inquiry on which this Parliament insisted prior to the corporatisation of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme. The Minister keeps saying on radio and in Parliament how important it is for this water to be made available at commercial rates. As a result of legislation passed by Parliament Snowy Hydro Trading will not become corporatised until the water inquiry has been concluded and announcements have been made in relation to the allocation of water from the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme for the Snowy, Murray and Murrumbidgee valleys. At this stage Snowy Hydro Trading is not under any obligation to supply water at a commercial rate. The Government, which holds 58 per cent of the shares, is the biggest shareholder in the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme.
The Minister says, while sitting on his hands, that he cannot do anything about supplying water because somehow or other the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme has to operate on a commercial basis. The Minister is wrong. It does not have to operate on a commercial basis until the water inquiry initiated by this Government is concluded. Consider that in the context of the original intention of the Snowy Mountains scheme, which was to green inland New South Wales and provide the Murray and Murrumbidgee valleys with irrigation water. That was the primary objective of the Snowy Mountains scheme. That objective ought to be able to be realised and that irrigation water should be made available. The water is there and it can be made available. It is wrong of the Minister to pretend that that water has to be supplied at commercial rates. If the water is to be supplied at commercial rates, why do irrigators have to pay for it twice?
You are wrong.
Mr D. L. PAGE:
I am not wrong. Irrigators have to pay twice for that water. The Minister said that irrigators have to pay $11 a megalitre. Delivery charges have to be added to that figure, as do the costs of having to pay for that water next year. If the Minister is talking about a rental arrangement he should be charging a rental price. He is not talking about a rental arrangement; he is talking about charging for water at its commercial rate on an acquisition basis. [Time expired
(Murray-Darling) [9.30 p.m.]: At the outset I salute the many irrigators from the Murray-Darling and Murrumbidgee areas who protested today in Albury. I salute the leaders of that group for their endeavours to preserve a great irrigation industry. Before I respond to some of the statements made by the honourable member for Murrumbidgee, let me give honourable members a snapshot of the Murray-Darling area. In employment terms there are two failing industries in western New South Wales. We have been told by the McLachlan report that anything less than 22 microns, which represents all of western New South Wales, should not be in the pastoral industry and that four out of five people in the industry should get out.
You have got it wrong. It is anything more than 22 microns. You ought to wake up.
It appears as though the honourable member for Lachlan has just woken up. The mining industry is on its knees so far as employment is concerned. The proposed Leicester nickel mine is being developed in the Lachlan shire; the proposed Tritton mine in the Bogan shire may or may not get off the ground. The bottom line is that jobs that once existed in the mining industry are not there today and will not be there tomorrow in the short term or the long term. There are two emerging industries in western New South Wales. The first is tourism, which must have some upper limit, and the second is irrigation. On last year’s figures the rice industry in both the Murrumbidgee and Murray areas is worth about $300 million, a significant amount.
I have been asked what Country Labor’s views are on all these issues. Earlier this year I launched the Hassal report, which was commissioned by the Barwon-Darling food and fibre group, in Bourke. At Bourke the 690 people employed in the irrigation industry are producing about $81 million worth of products. A meeting was convened in Broken Hill on 30 July at the request of irrigators and at a venue
chosen by them to consider all irrigation-related issues from the north to the south. I am pleased to say that Lawrence Arthur from Moulamein attended the meeting, which lasted 2½ hours, and he put forward the views of rice growers in that area. If the honourable member for Murrumbidgee wants to see a copy of the minutes of that meeting I advise him that they are freely available.
I have read them.
The honourable member might like to show them to the honourable member for Lachlan so that he can brush up on some facts. Irrigators at the meeting in Broken Hill discussed a number of issues, in particular where they were going both now and in the future. Country Labor was asked to meet with irrigators next week in Sydney. That meeting, which will be held at the irrigators’ request, will be supported by Country Labor. I will not back away from that. I recognise the importance of irrigation to western New South Wales and the Murray and Murrumbidgee region.
The question is what you have done.
Issues are being debated. I welcome the support for and the interest shown in Country Labor by the Minister. A working group is discussing issues such as feast or famine and a number of other issues. Opposition members are not up to date on those issues, as they have claimed that Country Labor has done nothing. That is a load of rubbish! Country Labor has been active on these issues for a long time. On the issue of costs, Senator Nick Minchin said today:
This is the deal that has been rated by New South Wales -
Honourable members should remember that the deal was done through Country Labor to get that first 100 gigalitres of water out of the Snowy Mountains scheme - [Time expired
(Lachlan) [9.35 p.m.]: I propose to move an amendment to the motion. I move:
That the motion moved by the member for Mount Druitt be amended by adding the following words:
and in committing water users to paying back this water next year irrespective of seasonal or financial considerations to individual farmers or the broader community.
The Government, by its motion, has succeeded in disfranchising all interested parties. On the one hand there is the brochure from the environmentalists in the Snowy region, who demonstrated outside Parliament 10 days ago, and on the other hand more than 3,000 people demonstrated in Albury today, wanting more water. The Government pleased only itself, and I doubt it has pleased all of its members. Today’s Sydney Morning Herald
printed an excellent letter to the editor from a most esteemed researcher and academic on water, Emeritus Professor John Burton of Armidale, who said:
In 1949 when, after 65 years of interstate wrangling, agreement on the construction of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme was achieved, everybody accepted the proposal to reduce the daily flows in the Upper Snowy above Dalgety to 1 per cent of their original average values. To put this into perspective, the upper river represents only 14 per cent of the total Snowy River catchment; the mean annual flow at Orbost near the mouth has been reduced by only 45 per cent . . .
The current proposal to return the flow to 28 per cent of something is meaningless, since the former flows at Dalgety varied enormously from month to month and from year to year . . .
Let’s put this issue into perspective. And talking about icons, have another look at Banjo Paterson’s poem. It is about a horseman, not a river, for goodness sake!
The Minister said this is not a record crisis. I ask him: What is a record crisis if the greenies are demonstrating one day and the farmers are demonstrating the next? How much more do we have to have before there is a crisis in the industry? The Minister claims he is helping the irrigators plan for the future on a five-year plan. The Minister should try going to a bank to borrow money to improve technology in the irrigation industry on a five-year basis. The Minister should try going to a government agency to get assistance to improve commercial viability on a five-year basis.
Today 3,000 people demonstrated in Albury and one of the main cries was: Where is Country Labor today? Where is the member for Murray-Darling? They had not heard of him. They thought he was still holidaying on an island somewhere off the coast of Australia. The bottom line is that many communities within the Murray River system are looking at a 50 per cent reduction in potential income from the rice industry this year. A dairy farmer, a young man who has two of his brothers milking 250 cows in the Murray area, today said he has sufficient water to continue his dairy operation until January next year. At this stage he has no water to carry him through. If he gets water, the Carr Government has negotiated that he pay it back next year. But how much will he have to pay? How does he put it back in his budget? How does he
value it? Will it cost him $30 or $60 a megalitre? Will it even be available? Who knows?
The Government does not acknowledge that fact. I know the Minister cares, but he simply does not understand the mechanics of borrowing water. It must be there to pay it back. The Minister is asking people to commit themselves to an open-ended chequebook next year without any certainty of income or value in the produce they will return. It is ironic that the rice industry is under threat. That is the very industry for which governments have fought so hard to open up new markets in Asia, particularly in Japan, and the Government is now back-pedalling on supporting that industry for the sake of seven months worth of water. The electricity industry had seven years to give back the water and the Minister will not give farmers seven months worth of water to produce their rice crop for this year. If it was good enough for the electricity industry to have seven years of water stored, how about giving the farmers seven months on an honour system for the dairy industry, rice industry and horticulture district? This is a test for Country Labor. So far it has failed us and it has little chance of redeeming itself.
Order! Is the amendment moved by the honourable member for Lachlan an amendment to the Government’s amendment?
It is an amendment to the motion.
Under the standing orders the Chair cannot entertain two amendments at the same time. The amendment is acceptable if it is an amendment to the amendment.
I will accept your ruling. I am content to have moved the amendment as an amendment to the amendment.
(Bathurst) [9.40 pm): I have pleasure in speaking to this urgent motion moved by the honourable member for Murrumbidgee and supported by the Government. The Opposition is probably somewhat surprised at the Government’s support of the motion, but it merely demonstrates once again that the influence of Country Labor is ensuring that these issues are pushed to the fore. That causes some problems for members on the other side of the House as they regard this area as their traditional heartland.
The Bathurst electorate, which I represent, is located at the top of the Macquarie River catchment and I should like to comment about that area as I believe it is relevant to this motion. I strongly support the irrigation industry in the unregulated upper catchment streams within my electorate and in the regulated parts of the system further downstream. I am vitally interested in the economic success and environmental health of the Macquarie Valley. I believe the early achievements of the Government’s water reforms demonstrate the Government’s commitment to securing a vibrant and sustainable future for irrigators.
These achievements have resulted from an effective partnership between governments and the community through river management committees. In the Macquarie Valley substantially increased provisions for environmental releases for the Macquarie marshes have produced excellent results for the health of the wetlands and the dependent flora and fauna. In particular, additional breeding events have produced an abundance of bird life, creating at times a wonderful natural spectacle. On the other hand, water reforms developed through the river management committee include new arrangements for irrigators on the regulated section of the river to carry over unused allocations from one year to another.
Point of order: I am reluctant to take this point of order because I realise the honourable member is quite genuine, but I must draw attention to the fact that the motion is specific. It asks this House to note with concern the growing crisis in the Murray Valley, not the Macquarie Valley.
Order! I am sure the member for Bathurst was merely making a passing reference to the Macquarie Valley and that he will now return to the subject matter of the motion.
If the honourable member for Lachlan had listened, he would have heard me preface my comments by saying that my local knowledge was pertinent to the debate. My comments are given credibility by the Minister’s earlier remarks. He made forceful points that are worth repeating, especially in relation to comments of the honourable member for Ballina, who has now flown the coop but who tried to make a bit of mischief about the ownership and management of the water. The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme acts on behalf of New South Wales and
Victoria and is authorised by the Snowy River Shire Council, which is covered by a Federal Act. We must recognise that the allocation of water from the Snowy River is under legislative control.
Will you send those comments to the honourable member for Ballina later?
We will. The total volume of water available for general security use in the Murray is 290 megalitres, which includes 50 megalitres that has been redirected this year from the Barmah-Millewa Forest. This is apart from the 225 gigalitres for high-security use. The New South Wales Government has helped to secure up to 300 gigalitres of water for general security in addition to that amount. The water allocation for Murray irrigators with general security licences is currently 17 per cent. Some irrigators also have access to 20 per cent rolled over from last year. The only reason irrigators in that area approached the Minister was the extremely dry period and the mechanical failure of the Hume Weir. I heard quite stark evidence of that last week when I visited Albury for a CSU council meeting on a flyover. The impact of that accident on the river was obvious.
The Minister, through his department, has reacted to a genuine problem for the benefit of irrigators in that area. The Government has approached the problem in a commonsense way. Everyone expects that a price has to be put on water, and today the Federal Minister, Nick Minchin, forcibly made that point. The Opposition must acknowledge that the Minister and the Government have been genuine. They have brokered a good deal, given the circumstances. If the same problems exist next year I am sure the Government will again react appropriately. The Minister has proved that he is available and that he is a great listener. Country Labor will ensure that the relevant issues are put before the Minister and that he continues to respond appropriately. I support the motion.
(Southern Highlands) [9.45 p.m.]: I support the motion moved by the honourable member for Murrumbidgee. I commend him for his interest in this matter and for the hands-on assistance he gives the irrigators and the communities in his electorate that rely so much on irrigation. Members of this House may be aware of my long association with Murray Irrigation Limited, which is centred around Deniliquin, the irrigators particularly and, most importantly, the general community. Much has been said in this debate about the economic importance of the irrigation industry to the economy of the local community, New South Wales and the local community.
I bring to the attention of the House the very important environmental work being done by Murray Irrigation, which is at risk if the viability of the industry is under threat. It is very important to understand that connection. Four land and water management plans were developed in the Murray Irrigation Area. I understand that Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area irrigators are embarking on similar plans. Those four land and water management plans are absolutely critical not only to the maintenance of Murray Irrigation’s licence but also to the long-term sustainability of the region.
The four land and water management plans involve a huge financial commitment by local irrigators, who have put millions of dollars of their own money into the implementation of those plans to protect and remediate the environment to sustain themselves, their children and the community. On a practical level they have to do it if their licences are to be renewed. In that context I congratulate George Warne, Kelvin Baxter and Bill Hetherington on their work in co-ordinating and developing the land and water management plans, and I note the significant community input that has gone into those plans.
Recently I had the opportunity to again visit Deniliquin, as well as Griffith and other centres, with the honourable member for Murrumbidgee. We spoke to rice producers and irrigators. We visited the rice growers processing plant and heard about the work of many rice growers in providing wetland opportunities for migratory birds, which is a very exciting program, and one that members of his House would want to know more about. I spoke with Murrumbidgee irrigators and with Murray irrigators.
I spoke also with Greening Australia and heard of its very successful partnerships with local people and the local community in environmental mediation programs. I was really impressed to see how far the irrigators had progressed since my last contact with them four or more years ago. Their commitment to the project remains steadfast. In fact, environmental considerations are part of the normal day-to-day conversation between most farmers. It has become a fact of life. It is something with which they are very keen to be involved. They want positive environmental investment and they want to change their practices, but often they find that the Government puts obstacles in their way.
They are all out on different nights of the week attending meetings of native vegetation committees, threatened species committees, catchment management committees, and water reform committees. They are being divided and conquered. Sometimes they feel demoralised. They feel that consultation is simply lip-service, a play-acting process for which the Government has already written the script and the outcome. Irrigation began in New South Wales because after World War II governments encouraged people to do it and provided subsidies for it. But governments of all persuasions did not satisfactorily maintain that infrastructure.
We are now faced with transmission losses of around 50 per cent. The dowry that was given when Murray Irrigation was privatised went only some way to upgrading that infrastructure. Everyone acknowledges that there is a long way to go. There is a great capacity to reduce transmission losses and make water available for environmental and other uses. The Carr Government could do a whole lot more to help irrigators and farmers generally find other water-efficient production opportunities with high-value products. Kenaf is an example.
I visited the CSIRO’ s filter technique trial at Griffith, where there is one test pot of kenaf in a series of pots designed to circulate through a managed system of effluent through salinity-affected soil, which takes out salt from saline soil and in doing so produces viable crops such as kenaf. If the State Government worked with farmers on developing diversification, such as kenaf crops, it could provide job opportunities in the value adding and processing of kenaf, which would then provide the fibre mass that can be used for paper making, and we all understand the benefits of that. Murray valley farmers and their communities face a crisis. Farmers and the community want to help themselves and improve the environment for all of us, but the Government in this State has a long way to go to demonstrate social and environmental credibility.
(Wentworthville) [9.50 p.m.]: I congratulate the Minister on bringing a sense of balance to the debate. I have been singularly unimpressed with the contributions from the other side of the Chamber. I admire the honourable member for the Murrumbidgee, who introduced the motion; he is acting on behalf of his constituents. But the efforts from members opposite have been pathetic. The honourable member for Lachlan, under the guise of trying to contribute positively to the debate, has revealed his ongoing opposition to the allocation of environmental flows. His opposition is on the record over and over in this House. In an almost back-handed away he is trying to come at it again.
I was amazed by the contribution by the shadow minister for the environment. She should praise the impact of the Government’s water reform process on the rivers of this State. Only this Government has been able to guarantee ongoing environmental flows to the rivers of New South Wales. A tremendous number of environmental achievements of the Government have been widely recognised, not only by the environmental lobby but by communities and local government bodies across the State since the process has been in force.
One does not have to be a genius to know that the lack of water is a growing crisis in the Murray valley; as it is across the State. That is why the Government has a water reform policy. For a number of decades we have overused our water allocations and drained our rivers dry. We have some successful industries in country New South Wales as a result. Water is an extremely precious resource, but it was not until 1995 that a well-managed water policy was in place in this State. The Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation has not been the Minister for the entire time of the current Labor Government, but since he has come into the ministry the amount of tension in the community about this issue has reduced.
People like the honourable member for Murrumbidgee might try to whip up that tension again. I am not sure what his motives are, but I assume they are honourable. He should tell his community groups, irrigators and water users that a process is in place in which they can participate and be genuinely consulted. I reject completely the inference from the honourable member for Southern Highlands that it is not a real consultation process. The Department of Land and Water Conservation and the Environment Protection Authority in this State has allocated innumerable hours to ensure that the consultation process is genuine.
The Government is listening to river management committees, local government and the irrigators. The Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation has such acute hearing because so many people come to his door to raise this issue with him. We are not only hearing, we are acting. This State has a moribund Opposition. It has a particularly moribund National
Party that is not even aware of the genuine issues relating to water.
The honourable member for Murray-Darling and I visited Byrock on the weekend for the Tidy Towns competition and not one member of the Opposition was present at that forum. That shocked me because I would not have expected to see a strong Labor constituency in that area. The honourable member for Murray-Darling and I received praise from people from the far west of New South Wales, the Murray Valley and other parts of the State on the Government’s water reform process. They expressed their delight that the Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation was at long last injecting some balance into the debate. They rejected partisan politics on this issue. They know that water is far more important and should not be used as a political football across the Chamber between a moribund National Party and the Government.
It is important that the Government perseveres with its water reform process. It will continue to listen to the concerns of irrigators and those who are demonstrating at either end of the political spectrum. The Government will also continue to make real decisions to ensure that the water reform process remains on track. The Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation is responsible for these reforms that the Opposition could not achieve in its seven years in government. In the past five years the Government has managed to deliver an agenda that has pleased most of the major interest groups.
(Upper Hunter - Leader of the National Party) [9.55 p.m.]: The worst aspect of this crisis in the Murray Valley is the fact that the Carr Labor Government has been happy to pit Australian against Australian. The Premier received a deputation from Victoria and had his little dalliance with a Victorian Independent. After a discussion lasting 1½ hours the Independent came away very happy indeed. The Premier of New South Wales was prepared to sacrifice the livelihood of one million people in the Murray Valley - the farmers and irrigators - and to use water as a trading chip in the battle in Victoria to try to give Steve Bracks a leg up. That is an outrage!
The honourable member for Murray-Darling has been conspicuous by his absence. I wonder if he had a nice time on Norfolk Island when the people of his electorate needed him. Thank goodness the National Party - the honourable member for Murrumbidgee and the honourable member for Lachlan - were able to represent them. If the Government’s involvement was satisfactory, why did 6,000 people rally against the Government in Albury today? The Government did not convince those people so it should not try to convince us that it has achieved anything.
This is not a lasting solution. It is punitive in its application. If water is to be repaid next year irrespective of the season and the financial conditions, the Government will impose double the hardship next year. If it is not repayable over a period of at least five years, it could well cause total disaster in the area the Government now so vainly purports to represent. However, it does not represent that area. It is to the credit of the National Party and the Coalition that they have supported farmers in their hour of need. When the chips were down, when the Government abandoned them, was ready to sell them down the tube and held clandestine discussions with Independents across the border, the Opposition looked after them and championed their cause in the media.
The honourable member for Murrumbidgee attended the meetings. The honourable member for Murray-Darling was whooping it up in Norfolk Island while farmers and rural communities in his electorate were desperate. The Government took them to the brink, virtually the last potential day for planting and sowing the rice crop, and in the end imposed a regime which is so punitive that it could well cause double the problem this time next year. The Government will live to regret the fact that it has sold those farmers down the tube. It is no wonder that several thousand people rallied against the Carr Government today in Albury.
(Londonderry) [9.58 p.m.]: I had prepared a formal speech but I must comment on the waffle we just heard from the Leader of the National Party. His statement of the facts is wrong. He said that this State Government was seeking to block these initiatives. In fact, it was Kennett who stopped the deal going through. The New South Wales Government was negotiating to get the water and Kennett tried to take a political position by stopping it. This clearly demonstrates that the Leader of the National Party does not know what he is talking about.
This is an important matter, not only for the honourable member for Murrumbidgee but also for all honourable members. I have similar problems in my electorate of Londonderry. This year the
Minister addressed the Economic Development Board in the Hawkesbury area because of difficulties with water licences, restrictions and caps. It is not merely a problem for the Murrumbidgee area; it applies across-the-board. Two weeks ago my colleagues and I were in the north-west of the State and exactly the same issue was raised with us. Something must be done about obtaining an equitable water supply for everyone in the region.
One initiative was that people wanted to create market gardens but they had received reports that this was not sustainable because they did not have a guarantee of water. Those people also sought guarantees and wanted the Government to make exceptions in their case so that they could plant market gardens for the betterment of their communities, including their local Aboriginal communities. I do not seek to detract from the importance of the motion moved by the honourable member for Murrumbidgee because it is important to us all. The Minister succinctly covered all the issues in his contribution.
I think you are biased.
I do not think so. Water reforms are important also in ensuring that the environment receives its share.
Mr D. L. Page:
We are not talking about that. We are talking about a one-off problem.
I just explained to you why it is not a one-off problem. In 1995 when I was first elected to this Parliament I travelled with the water resources committee to the Murray where exactly the same issues were raised.
We listened to the irrigators all along the Murray and we listened to people involved in the rice industry throughout the Sunraysia area. They all told us that they had a great need for additional water supplies. The need for additional water is not something that has happened only this year in the Murray area. It has been happening in a number of areas, and numerous requests have been made.
The former Minister for Land and Water Conservation received submissions on the same issue. On two occasions I have travelled to Menindee to meet with people involved in the cotton industry. I encountered the same situation down there, namely, people demanding special allocations of water to meet their special needs. All along the irrigation system, there are continuous requests for additional water. [Time expired.
(Albury) [10.03 p.m.]: Some time ago, the indicators on the earth wall of the Hume Weir indicated that the wall had moved in a manner that was considered to be quite dangerous. From time to time the earth wall of the dam moves. When the level of the water is low, the wall moves downstream and when the level of the water recedes, the wall moves back to its usual position. To some extent, the wall is flexible but recently it was considered that it had moved too far and that some remedial action had to be taken.
As a result, the level of the dam was reduced so that work could continue. Heavy rainfall occurred after that and a great deal of water had to be passed through the dam. Unfortunately, that water was lost and it also caused a lot of flooding downstream. The dry times that have been experienced since then, combined with a reduction in the level of water in the dam, have created an absolute crisis so far as irrigators in the Murray and Murrumbidgee areas are concerned.
An interesting point about this motion and about what has been said during this debate is that, despite the varying positions that have been adopted, all honourable members have recognised just how important those irrigation areas are to the economy of New South Wales and, indeed, Australia. The rice that is grown in those areas provides a considerable amount of export income, so it is a very important industry.
It is also interesting to note that farmers who are traditionally slow to become angry and who do not demonstrate lightly have today gathered in their thousands. In addition, business people from towns that support farmers decided that the situation in relation to their economic future and viability was so grave that they should be involved in the demonstration and many businesses closed for the day. The business people and the farmers travelled to Albury to make their point and to alert the rest of the people in New South Wales and the nation to the situation that confronts them.
The Minister said that the Government has arranged to provide the water that the farmers need. It is certainly true that they will have an allocation of extra water that may help them to cope in this difficult time and in difficult circumstances. However, what about the future? Not only do farmers have to pay for this water at a very high rate - a rate that they say is not economical let alone profitable, yet they still have to use it - but next year they have to pay it back. To my mind, that is a double whammy. It is unfair that they should have
to pay a high price for additional water and then pay it back. I can appreciate why these people have become so incensed and why they have decided to go to Albury to demonstrate against what they feel is a very critical situation.
I agree with my Coalition colleagues who have said that something more must be done to assist these farmers. I appeal to the Minister to consider what can be done about the repayment because it seems to be totally unfair that farmers should have to repay the water at some time in the future. How will they be able to do that? How can they enter into an agreement whereby they have to pay for water and then return that water at a future date? To my mind, it is not logical or sensible, and it is totally unfair. Their future is at stake. They do not know where to turn or what to do.
Although the Government seems very proud of what it has achieved, its actions will certainly not solve the problem being experienced by these farmers. Members of the Coalition will argue this issue in this Chamber time and again, because the Government has not provided a real and viable future for the people concerned.
(Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation) [10.08 p.m.]: A number of members have referred to correspondence from the Victorian Premier. By leave I table a letter dated 8 October from the Premier of Victoria to the Premier of New South Wales concerning the release of 300 gigalitres of water from the Snowy Mountains scheme to New South Wales irrigators in the Riverina.
(Cessnock) [10.09 p.m.]: I have listened to numerous people and I have read many newspaper articles about the differences in water use between New South Wales and Victoria. It is important that honourable members understand that in New South Wales all the water available in any year is made available to users. Typically in the Murray Valley, irrigators use this water opportunistically to maximise their annual harvest, because annual cereal crops, particularly rice, dominate the Murray Valley’s irrigated agriculture.
In New South Wales, the individual irrigator can determine to use all the water entitlement that is available in any year or save some for next year, if conditions are dry. At present, New South Wales general security users are able to carry up to 20 per cent of their unused entitlement into the following year. Victoria does not issue licences that are equivalent to New South Wales high security licences and places much greater reliance on permanent plantings and dairying than does New South Wales. Therefore, to support its industry, Victoria must adopt a more conservative approach to water allocations and keep much more in reserve for dry periods than New South Wales does.
The Murray-Darling Basin Committee, in co-operation with each of the States, keeps an account of how much water is available to each State at any particular time. Each State must then set aside a statutory reserve to ensure that it can meet its responsibility to supply South Australia its entitlement.
Point of order: I understand that the Standing Orders provide that members are not permitted to read prepared speeches. I know that the members of the Minister’s staff write lovely speeches, but I would like to hear a speech from the heart.
Every member who has participated in this debate has used some form of notes. The Standing Orders provide that members may make passing references to notes.
The water that is available to New South Wales is issued in the following manner: New South Wales sets aside 225,000 megalitres for its high security water users. That typically includes town water supplies, industrial water supplies and water for high-value permanent crops such as citrus and grapevines. The unused water from the previous season that has been carried over by the irrigators for the following year must also be set aside. In 1998-99, New South Wales Murray Valley irrigators carried over 373,000 of unused water for use in the 1999-2000 season.
New South Wales sets aside the body of water that will be lost through evaporation and seepage during the year. If these losses are not accounted for, the water will not be able to be delivered to the water users. The losses which must be accounted for will include 10,000 megalitres for the Wakool River system and 222,000 megalitres for the Murray Irrigation Channel supply system. New South Wales sets aside 50,000 megalitres as its share of the Barmah-Millewa Forest environmental allocation during the year.
At no cost.
At no cost, yes. In dry years this volume will be reallocated for irrigation and arrangements made for it to be repaid at a later time.
That is the case this year. The remainder of the water available to New South Wales is divided between the general security water users and an allocation announced as a percentage of their entitlement. As at 18 October, the allocation available to New South Wales general security water users was 17 per cent of entitlement. Rainfall and runoff in Australia is extremely variable and we experience wet periods with floods followed by droughts.
The construction of major dams in our inland waterways has done much to minimise the impact of droughts, but we cannot expect dams to drought proof the country. Climate records indicate that the past 50 years have, generally, been wetter than the first 50 years of the century. Furthermore, in the past 30 years there have been substantial increases in the levels of irrigation throughout the Murray Valley, particularly for rice, horticulture and viticulture. If all the records for each year of the century were considered against the current levels of development - [Time expired.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Extension of Sitting
Motion by Mr Whelan agreed to:
That the sitting be extended beyond 10.30 p.m.
GOVERNMENT WATER POLICY
(Murrumbidgee) [10:16 p.m.], in reply: I will focus on the real issue: When I and the irrigators first approached the Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation, we asked for a deal to allow access to above-target water.
That is much dearer than this.
The Minister interjected "That is much dearer than this". According to what is apparently now the role of the Snowy hydro scheme, to generate electricity they use that above-target water as an insurance product for coal-generated power stations. That was never the intention of the scheme, nor should it be. The intention of the scheme was to divert water to the west of the mountain ranges for the purpose of irrigation and that electricity would help pay for the scheme. Under the commercial relationships Snowy Hydro has undertaken at the direction of the Government, it would be very expensive to get access to that water.
The argument used by irrigators and my argument to the Government - I wish I had had the support of the honourable member for Murray-Darling at that time - was to ask why is it so imperative that that Snowy Hydro scheme has to make an enormous profit? It is using its monopolistic powers to blackmail irrigators. The above-target water is stored in the scheme in a series of dams for the purposes of irrigation. But Snowy Hydro has realised the value of it as an insurance product. It is the role of government to assist citizens in crisis situations such as this and we asked the Government to exercise its power as the majority shareholder in the Snowy Hydro scheme.
We asked the Government to subsidise the price of water: that is what the Snowy scheme was built for. However, the Government refused to come to the party; instead it said it would sell next year’s water. But next year the irrigators will have to pay back that water. Water may be worth $30 to $60 a megalitre and if we experience another dry year people will have to buy that water and then pay it back. The price has increased from $11 to $22 to $33, and now an additional $30, $40 or $50 is to be added.
When Snowy Hydro originally calculated the price of water as a commercial deal, the Government gained an option for irrigators to pay back the water over five years. The irrigators were to pay a little now, and if the following year was dry they were to pay a little extra, or hold it over and pay it back the year after that. Irrigators were prepared to take that option because they assume that in the next five years there will be a wetter period and they will be able to pay back the 10 per cent or 20 per cent that they take. But, no, the department has said that it will not allow a period of five years in which to pay back the water; it will allow a period of only one year.
This year we have a crisis, and next year we could have a complete catastrophe in the Murray Valley if climatic conditions do not improve. A solution has been offered, but it is about the twenty-fifth possible option. The irrigators asked for a commercial deal, and I do not believe that cannot be achieved because it was achieved last year at zero cost. However, this year the Government said no. It
was prepared to look at costs but refused to negotiate - and, so far as Country Labor is concerned, I have not seen a Minister visit the area.
Has George Souris been there lately?
We have a Labor Government which has its hands on the reins. We were looking to the Minister’s advisers to come to see what is going on. The Government has had eight weeks in which to deal with this crisis, but it has done nothing.
Question - That the amendment of the amendment be agreed to - put.
The House divided.
Mr Armstrong Mr Piccoli
Mr Brogden Mr Richardson
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Rozzoli
Mr Debnam Ms Seaton
Mr George Mrs Skinner
Mr Glachan Mr Slack-Smith
Mr Hartcher Mr Souris
Mr Hazzard Mr Stoner
Ms Hodgkinson Mr Tink
Mr Humpherson Mr J. H. Turner
Dr Kernohan Mr R. W. Turner
Mr Kerr Mr Webb
Mr Merton Tellers
Mr Oakeshott Mr Fraser
Mr D. L. Page Mr R. H. L. Smith
Ms Allan Mr McBride
Mr Amery Mr McManus
Ms Andrews Mr Martin
Mr Aquilina Ms Meagher
Mr Ashton Ms Megarrity
Mr Bartlett Mr Mills
Mrs Beamer Mr Moss
Mr Black Mr Nagle
Mr Brown Mr Newell
Ms Burton Ms Nori
Mr Collier Mr Orkopoulos
Mr Crittenden Mr E. T. Page
Mr Debus Mr Price
Mr Face Dr Refshauge
Mr Gaudry Ms Saliba
Mr Gibson Mr Scully
Mr Greene Mr W. D. Smith
Mrs Grusovin Mr Stewart
Ms Harrison Mr Tripodi
Mr Hickey Mr Watkins
Mr Hunter Mr Whelan
Mr Iemma Mr Woods
Mr Knight Mr Yeadon
Mr Knowles Tellers
Mrs Lo Po’ Mr Anderson
Mr Lynch Mr Thompson
Mr O’Farrell Mr Markham
Question resolved in the negative.
Amendment of amendment negatived.
Amendment agreed to.
Motion as amended agreed to.
DRUG COURT AMENDMENT BILL
Bill received and read a first time.
House adjourned at 10.36 p.m.