The Chair of Committees (The Hon. Amanda Ruth Fazio)
Thursday 4 May 2006
, in the absence of the President, took the chair as Acting-President at 11.00 a.m.
offered the Prayers.
SELECT COMMITTEE ON TOBACCO SMOKING
Extension of Reporting Date
Motion by Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile agreed to:
1. That the reporting date for the Joint Select Committee on Tobacco Smoking be extended to Friday 30 June 2006.
2. That this House requests the Legislative Assembly to agree to a similar resolution.
TARIRO UNIT METRO WEST RESIDENCES, WESTMEAD, CLIENTS ABUSE ALLEGATIONS
Production of Documents: Order
Motion by the Hon. John Ryan agreed to:
That under Standing Order 52 there be laid upon the table of the House within 14 days of the date of the passing of this resolution all documents in the possession, custody or control of the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care relating to the alleged abuse of clients at the Tariro Unit of the Metro West Residences at Mons Road, Westmead, between 2000 and 2006, including the report by Internal Audit Bureau (IAB) Services and any document which records or refers to the production of documents as a result of this order of the House.
TUNNEL VENTILATION SYSTEMS
Production of Documents: Further Order
Ms LEE RHIANNON
[11.05 a.m.]: I seek the leave of the House to amend Private Members' Business item No. 199, of which I have given notice, as follows:
Motion by Ms Lee Rhiannon agreed to:
Delete "14 days". Insert instead "21 days".
That under Standing Order 52 there be laid upon the table of the House within 21 days of the date of the passing of this resolution the following documents, not previously provided with a return to order of the House, in the possession, custody or control of The Cabinet Office, the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA), the Premier’s Department, the Department of Planning, the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC), NSW Health, or the responsible Ministers:
(a) all documents relating to the tunnel “filtration trial” announced in March 2004, and any investigations and or cost benefit analysis on the redesign of the ventilation system or the provision of electrostatic precipitators or other air treatment of filtration systems for the M5 East tunnel, the Cross City tunnel and the Lane Cove tunnel,
(b) all documents referring to the costs associated with advice sought from consultants and contractors concerning air quality or filtration issues relating to the M5 East, Cross City or Lane Cove tunnels,
(c) all documents relating to the Inter-Agency Working Party, including the study undertaken into pollution levels inside the M5 East tunnel,
(d) the audit conducted by the Department of Planning of the RTA's compliance with the approval conditions for the M5 East, and any documents relating to the audit,
(e) the review of NSW Health’s 2004 study entitled "Investigation into the possible health impacts of the M5 East Motorway stack on the Turrella community Phase 2", and any document relating to the review and any responses to concerns raised by community members,
(f) any document relating to the review by Lane Cove Council, and their agents, regarding the validity of the conclusions and findings of NSW Health’s 2004 study,
(g) any document relating to the Tapered Element Oscillating Microbalance Correction Factors Committee set under the agreement between the RTA and Residents Against Polluting Stacks (RAPS) in 2001,
(h) any document which relates to the compliance with approval conditions for the operation of the M5 East tunnel or the M5 East stack, including incidents and complaints relating to air quality, closure of lanes or emissions of tunnel gases from portals, including times, volumes, in-tunnel and portal monitoring records and associated traffic incidents,
(i) any documents which refer to occasions since May 2004 when in-tunnel carbon monoxide levels have exceeded 87ppm for 15 minutes at any monitor in the tunnel, or exceeded a time weighted average of 80ppm over a period of 5 minutes, with or without triggering incident response plans,
(j) any document which refers to the costs associated with increased traffic volumes in the M5 East tunnel and any modifications and variations made to the ventilation system since the opening of the tunnel,
(k) any document which refers to air quality monitoring and traffic management plans for the Lane Cove Tunnel, and
(l) any document which records or refers to the production of documents as a result of this order of the House.
YASMAR JUVENILE JUSTICE CENTRE SITE USE
Production of Documents: Order
The Hon. CATHERINE CUSACK
[11.06 a.m.]: I seek the leave of the House to amend Private Members' Business motion No. 200 outside the order of precedence, of which I have given notice, as follows:
Motion by the Hon. Catherine Cusack agreed to:
Omit "in the possession, custody or control of the Government". Insert instead "in the possession, custody or control of the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Corrective Services, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Infrastructure and Planning, the New South Wales Heritage Office, the Historic Houses Trust, the New South Wales Premier's Department, the Ministry for the Arts, New South Wales Treasury, the Department of Education and Training, and the Roads and Traffic Authority".
That under Standing Order 52 there be laid upon the table of the House within 14 days of the date of the passing of this resolution all documents created since 1 January 2001, in the possession, custody or control of the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Corrective Services, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Infrastructure and Planning, the New South Wales Heritage Office, the Historic Houses Trust, the New South Wales Premier's Department, the Ministry for the Arts, the New South Wales Treasury, the Department of Education and Training, and the Roads and Traffic Authority relating to the conservation or disposal of “Yasmar” at 185 Parramatta Road, Haberfield, and any document which records or refers to the production of documents as a result of this order of the House.
STRATHALLEN SITE SALE
Production of Documents: Order
Motion by the Hon. John Ryan agreed to:
That under Standing Order 52 there be laid upon the table of the House within 14 days of the date of the passing of this resolution all documents in the possession, custody or control of the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care relating to the sale of “Strathallen” in Goulburn to Longreach Capital Pty, including the contract of sale, and any document which records or refers to the production of documents as a result of this order of the House.
Batemans and Port Stephens Marine Parks
Petition opposing the creation of the Batemans and Port Stephens marine parks until the fishing industry and the community are adequately consulted, a socio-economic is undertaken, and real data on endangered species is made available, received from the Hon. Duncan Gay
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY ACT REVIEW
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA
(Minister for Finance, Minister for Commerce, Minister for Industrial Relations, Minister for Ageing, Minister for Disability Services, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [11.10 a.m.]: On Friday last week I attended a service to mark the International Day of Mourning to remember those who have died from work-related injuries or disease. It is always a moving occasion. It is our role in this Parliament to ensure we have workplace safety legislation that is effective in saving lives, and laws that are practical for employers and employees. On this front I can report to the House that the latest data demonstrates that New South Wales is on the right track.
The WorkCover Statistical Bulletin for 2004-05 shows that workplace injuries and fatalities are at their lowest level in 18 years. We are on target to meet the goals laid down at the New South Wales Workplace Safety Summit to reduce workplace fatalities by 20 per cent and workplace injuries by 40 per cent by 2012. The Government has delivered safer workplaces and a more effective and financially stable workers compensation scheme.
Almost six years ago I stood in this Chamber and detailed the reforms that were essential to overcome the Coalition legacy. This Government made the workers compensation scheme more responsive to the needs of injured workers and employers, with more immediate medical care, fewer disputes and delays, and an historic increase in benefits for the most seriously injured. Although the scheme’s deficit was projected to reach $6 billion by 2007, our opponents irresponsibly voted for no change. Fortunately, the Government was successful and, as we know, the scheme is well and truly delivering for employers and, most importantly, for injured workers. Disputes are down 65 per cent, the average incident reporting time has halved, 62 per cent of injured workers receive benefits within seven days, legal costs have been substantially reduced, and, of course, the deficit has fallen by more than $2 billion.
Employers and injured workers are seeing the benefits of this hard work. The New South Wales Government has cut premiums to business by 15 per cent across the board, which represents a $430 million boost each year to New South Wales business. Injured workers have also received a 5 per cent increase in compensation for serious spinal injuries in what is already the scheme delivering the most comprehensive suite of benefits to injured workers in the nation. None of these improvements could have been delivered had the Opposition been successful in 2001 in stopping the Government's program.
The Government is committed to further reducing injury and death in the workplace. At the same time it is committed to fostering a culture that consistently values workplace safety, and to abolishing any unnecessary regulatory burden on business. However, we should make no mistake: one person's red tape is another person's safety net. Finding the balance has been the key social and economic policy objective that the Government and workplace safety stakeholders have grappled with during the statutory review of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000.
Today I table the Report on the Review of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000 and I will outline principles that will guide us for the next decade and beyond. Today my message is twofold: Safe business is good business and New South Wales is well and truly open for business. During the review of the Act, employers said they needed greater certainty that they could fulfil their obligations. Employers said they thought it was unfair that individual workers appeared to have little imperative to be responsible for their own actions, leaving employers to carry all workplace safety responsibility. They said they needed clearer guidance from the regulator to help them conduct their widely varied businesses in widely varied environments. They said the existing defences to prosecution under the Act were not enough to protect employers who had gone to great lengths to make their workplaces safe. They said the workplace safety arrangements of 2006 and beyond needed to have greater regard for the non-traditional workplace models that have been evolving around us, including in the community sector.
While it has put much deliberation into making the workplace safety regime more user-friendly the Government is ever-mindful of the people our systems are designed to protect: individual workers, and particularly the vulnerable. Workers wanted greater protection for the vulnerable in both traditional workplaces and newly emerging industries and workplace models. Workers, too, support the notion that they should be accountable for their actions. They do not want to work next to someone who refuses to take responsibility for his or her actions. Responsibility all round is the best way to establish a culture of safety.
Workers also wanted to ensure that the safety message is available in every workplace and that no worker should be denied access to safety expertise and advice. The Government has listened to these concerns and intends to introduce a number of improvements designed to protect workers, while making practical risk management a more achievable object for all New South Wales employers. That is why the Government proposes to amend the New South Wales Occupational Health and Safety Act to make practical improvements that will assist workers and employers and harmonise our legislation with other States where this will enhance the occupational health and safety framework.
The Government will clarify that the general duties and obligations under the Act apply so far as is reasonably practicable. Ensuring the health and safety of employees will mean eliminating risks to health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable. Where it is not reasonable to eliminate a risk, employers will be required to reduce the risks to the lowest level reasonably practicable. Practical risk management does not require employers to go to extraordinary, unrealistic lengths, and never has. Rather, it requires the management of risks that are likely to affect health and safety over which the duty holder has a level of control. This is what the Government has always said and it has always been Government policy. This is what it intends to enshrine in legislation to give greater certainty to both employers and employees.
The amendment will also align the New South Wales laws with those of most other States. The way safety risks are managed at the workplace should be relative to the nature of the hazards and the size and scope of the business. The arrangements for managing safety risks may be simple for a small office-based business or very complex for an explosives manufacturing facility.
The Government wants to make it clear that workers have both rights and obligations under the law. To assist those particularly vulnerable workers, it proposes to extend a protection to clothing outworkers by providing a general duty in the Act for their health, safety and welfare. The regulations will prescribe the duty to apply to clothing outworkers engaged by the employer and any employees of the clothing outworker in relation to matters for which the employer has control. That is why it is providing an explicit duty for employees to take care of their own safety, as well as the safety of others.
To assist employees to discuss and take an active role in workplace safety matters, it is proposed that the powers of authorised employee representatives be extended to include the authority to discuss matters related to occupational health and safety with workers at a place of work. The modified powers are modelled on provisions in the Queensland Workplace Health and Safety and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2006 and will include limitations such as requiring employee representatives to provide 24 hours written notice before entering a workplace to discuss health and safety.
Another proposal designed to correct identified safety shortcomings, while avoiding the escalation of work incidents, is the safety recommendation notice. Through this mechanism, appropriately trained and authorised occupational health and safety committee chairpersons and occupational health and safety representatives will be able to make formal safety recommendations without involving a WorkCover inspector, thereby resolving local issues locally. This is in keeping with provisional improvement notices in the occupational health and safety regimes of the Commonwealth and several other States.
To give more compliance and enforcement options to WorkCover, the Government intends to amend the Act to allow for enforceable undertakings to be available as an alternative to prosecution for legislative breaches, except for the offence of reckless conduct causing death. In this way it aims to harness an Australian innovation that has been adopted in several other jurisdictions to engage employers in a creative means of correction of breaches by addressing the underlying causes and preventing further breaches.
Along with these legislative amendments, the Government is proposing to assist employers and other duty holders under the Act by providing greater and clearer guidance material on a range of issues to make compliance with their obligations easier. Such guidance material will cover WorkCover’s role, the rights and responsibilities of people at work, and the role of safety recommendation notices and enforceable undertakings.
However, the Government proposes to extend this notion further still by amending the Act to allow WorkCover to provide advice to individual employers and to issue guidelines on the interpretation of the Act and regulations. This will not only further assist employers with compliance but also encourage them to fill in any knowledge gaps that may have developed and to deal effectively with workplace scenarios they have put into the too-hard basket.
Today commerce and trade have increasingly little regard for borders. Employers have stated that when their work requires having workers in different States, they need to know what their obligations are before they can ensure compliance. Where possible, the Government has taken the opportunity to harmonise New South Wales provisions with those in other States and, where appropriate, the Commonwealth. Coupled with the greater emphasis on the provision of guidance material, greater consistency between jurisdictions will make doing cross-border business easier. I must point out that this Government has continued, and will continue, to support national harmonisation of key laws in relation to the economy. What it will not do is support a Commonwealth-driven race to the bottom, or a nationalisation of workplace safety arrangements with the real agenda of cutting safety protections.
Today I am releasing a draft bill that contains these amendments, and members of the public who wish to make comment can do so over the next two weeks. There has been extensive consultation on changes to the Act throughout the last 10 months and the Government intends to introduce this bill into the House before the Parliament rises. I take this opportunity to thank the members of the reference group, who ensured the consultation process was thorough and robust: the Chair, Greg McCarthy; the chair of the WorkCover Board and WorkCover Advisory Council; Mark Goodsell from the Australian Industry Group; Mark Lennon of Unions NSW; Greg Pattison of Australian Business Limited; and Mary Yaager of Unions NSW. Of course, the proposals put forward today are the Government's, and I take full ministerial responsibility for them.
In addition, I thank the personnel of WorkCover NSW who have worked to ensure that the proposed improvements will deliver safer workplaces. The Government supports WorkCover’s finding that the policy objectives of the Act remain valid and that, along with the amendments in the consultation draft bill, the terms of the Act remain appropriate for securing those objectives. Employers, workers and individuals have made their views very clear to me and I believe the Government’s response is evidence that it intends to work with business and workers to achieve better health and safety outcomes in this State. It is our intention that this assistance will give greater peace of mind to the people in the engine room of our economy—peace of mind that fosters innovation and investment without compromising health, safety and welfare.
The community can be confident that as the Government embarks on further improving our occupational health and safety framework, it does so with the determination to make a positive difference. It wants that difference to manifest in the daily lives of workers and employers in this State in fewer deaths and injuries, in a culture of continued workplace safety innovation and collaboration, and in the confidence that workers and employers alike can get on with the job, whatever job that may be.
I table the report on the review of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000, dated May 2006, and the draft Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Bill 2006.
The Hon. GREG PEARCE
[11.21 a.m.]: This is a belated response by the Government to change its policies that have been driving business out of New South Wales. Some of these changes have been requested by the Opposition and business in the State for a considerable period. Whilst we have not seen the exposure draft bill to which the Minister has referred, or any of the other amendments that may follow, the message the Minister has outlined is indeed a good one. We certainly support the proposition that safe business is good business, and we would like to see New South Wales well and truly open for business. But that will only occur next March, after we have a change in government.
As I said, these are belated changes and they will not rectify the damage that has been done by some of the Government's policies over a considerable period. The changes follow the Government also belatedly attempting to deal with workers compensation premiums, which were supposed to have been cut years ago. Honourable members will recall that last November the Premier announced that he would cut workers compensation premiums. We applauded the announcement at the time because the Opposition's policy, which had been announced five months prior to that, was to cut workers compensation premiums by 10 per cent and to look at other changes with regard to workers compensation. That the Government is now facing an election in March next year and has to address the fact that the New South Wales economy is a shambles and that business has been flooding away to other States simply reflects the trouble the Government now realises it is in.
The Government's record on its management of the industrial relations portfolio is not very good. Indeed—the Minister forgets this—the Government inherited from the former Coalition Government a workers compensation system that was in surplus, but Labor sent it into debt. The suggestion that somehow the Coalition was responsible for that is simply wrong. The fact that the Government has been able to claw back the situation by reducing the deficit to only about $1.1 billion or $1.2 billion mostly reflects the buoyant investment market as indicated on world stock exchanges.
Everything else the Government has done in relation to industrial relations and occupational health and safety has been a mess or has been extreme, to the point where we now see the Minister, in a humiliating way, having to announce a whole raft of changes to make the system work better. But the Minister has not dealt with a series of other problems with the industrial relations system that he has in place. I refer to fraud detection and prevention, audit management, and the huge WorkCover bureaucracy and how that bureaucracy is out of control. The most recent issue exposed by the shadow Industrial Relations Minister related to massive internal catering bills, whereby WorkCover executives were helping themselves to massive expenditure.
As I said, the majority of the changes appear to head in the right direction, and certainly we look forward to reviewing the legislation in due course. The way in which the workers compensation laws were introduced in the past, whereby absolute obligations were imposed on employers, was outrageous. The fact that the Government will now rectify that situation is well and truly timely. Business has been pointing out its concerns about the system, and the Opposition has been pointing out our concerns about it, for a very long time.
The fact that the Government is finally recognising that it needs to harmonise some of our laws with interstate laws is also timely. Clearly the economy needs to be rescued. To the extent that some of these changes are supported by the Opposition and reflect our policies, it is probably a good thing that they are introduced as quickly as possible and that we do not have to wait until we are in government, in March next year, to fix up this Government's mess.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE
[11.27 a.m.], by leave: As members know, I chaired the General Purpose Standing Committee No. 1 inquiry into serious injury and death in the workplace. Finally, on 17 November 2004 the Government, as is required, tabled its response to the committee's report. In its response the Government addressed a number of the recommendations arising from that inquiry, which I believe was an important and successful inquiry. However, I have been concerned that since that time it appears the Government has taken no action on some of the committee's recommendations. I am therefore pleased that the Government has now released its report on the review of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000, which is dated May 2006, because it addresses some of the issues the committee investigated. As the Minister said in his statement, the Government is committed to further reducing injury and death in the workplace.
A number of the committee's recommendations are extremely important. Obviously I have not had time to study the Government's report on the review of the Act, given that it has only just been tabled. I have also not had an opportunity to consider the Government's proposed legislation to see whether it embodies the recommendations of the committee. I hope it does. I will study the report to see whether the Government has not addressed some of the recommendations. One area of concern was that we seemed to have great trouble in getting accurate data on the true position in the workplace concerning workplace injuries and deaths and that there seemed to be almost a two-year delay in WorkCover making those figures available. An investigative report in the Sydney Morning Herald
, of 24 April this year stated:
In New South Wales, WorkCover relies on old compensations statistics. The latest it provides are 2003 and 2004.
I indicated that the upper House inquiry had insisted that those figures should be kept up-to-date and published, as far as possible at least, in the year following the accumulation of that data, and that perhaps the figures should be available as they occur so that one can get an up-to-date report at any time with only a one or two month delay in obtaining those figures. If that occurred we would then have an accurate view of what is happening in the workplace in regard to workplace injuries and deaths and ensure that legislation is effective. I am pleased the Government is moving ahead with the legislation to review and improve the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000, and I look forward to the debate in due course.
SELECT COMMITTEE ON TOBACCO SMOKING
Extension of Reporting Date
Motion by Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile agreed to:
That the following message be forwarded to the Legislative Assembly:
The Legislative Council desires to inform the Legislative Assembly that it has this day agreed to the following resolution:
1. That the reporting date for the inquiry of the Joint Select Committee on Tobacco Smoking be extended to Friday 30 June 2006.
2. That this House requests the Legislative Assembly to agree to a similar resolution.
Legislative Council Amanda Fazio
4 May 2006 Acting-President
FAMILY IMPACT COMMISSION BILL
Debate called on, and adjourned on motion by the Hon. Greg Donnelly.
CRIMES AMENDMENT (PROTECTION OF INNOCENT ACCUSED) BILL
Debate resumed from 2 May 2006.
The Hon. DAVID CLARKE
[11.32 a.m.]: The stated purpose of the Crimes Amendment (Protection of Innocent Accused) Bill is to prohibit the publication of information that would identify, or would be likely to lead to the identification of, a person accused of having committed a crime, before that person is charged, and also to provide that a court may order the publication of a notice of acquittal of a person in certain cases. The Opposition will not support this bill, although we sympathise with the Hon. David Oldfield and understand his admirable motives in bringing this bill forward.
A basic tenet of our legal system is the concept that a person is innocent until proven guilty: in fact, it is probably the most basic and pivotal of all the tenets of our legal system. For a person to be publicly named in respect to a crime without having been charged would be very distressing to that person. We have seen this happen on numerous occasions, both in the media and at royal commissions where individuals have been named in a highly negative way and in circumstances in which they have no legal redress to clear their name. We are aware also of cases where the media have named individuals in respect to criminal conduct when that person has not been charged. A public accusation of even implied guilt or suspicion of guilt could well be a breach of the right of a person to be considered innocent until proven guilty.
As I have indicated, the Opposition understands the admirable purpose behind this bill. However, the Opposition believes that this is an issue that warrants more thorough investigation and consideration. For example, one avenue may be for the matter to be referred to the New South Wales Law Reform Commission for a detailed examination of the issue and consideration of the implications of any remedies proposed. The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is a basic concept that distinguishes us from dictatorial and repressive regimes, which almost universally ignore this principle. So also is the right not to be publicly accused of guilt until it has, in fact, been established. However, there are other rights that need to be considered and balanced against the rights sought to be protected in this bill.
For example, there is the right of the community to be informed. The right to seek and obtain information is basic to the proper functioning of our democratic society. In fact, a society could not be considered to be truly democratic if there was not a free availability of information, opinions and views. Concurrent with the right to have access to information, opinions and views, is the right to disseminate such information, opinions and views. We flourish as a nation governed by democratic values and principles because of this right of dissemination of information. The truth is there is no freedom without a free press.
From time to time we are confronted with examples where this freedom has been abused, and even grossly abused, by elements within the media. But, on the whole, the system works fairly and equitably, with the media usually showing appropriate self-restraint. In those cases where elements of the media abuse this freedom and individuals believe they have been unfairly or misleadingly treated by the media, then they have recourse to the law: they have access to the courts through, for example, the law of defamation. Such recourse is available to anyone and everyone.
The Opposition notes that the Hon. David Oldfield proposes to remove the penalty of imprisonment for an offence under this bill and also to remove an offence under this bill as being one of strict liability. However, the Opposition still believes that the issues sought to be addressed by this bill have not been sufficiently canvassed and considered. There needs to be far greater consultation within the community. The balance sought in this bill—between the right of an individual to protection from public accusations when no charges have been laid and the right to free speech—has been achieved only at the expense of further restriction on the community's right to information and the right of individuals and the media to disseminate information and views.
The Opposition believes that further consultation is necessary before it is convinced that the existing law—including the law of defamation—does not already adequately provide the redress that the Hon. David Oldfield seeks with this bill. However, we are prepared to look at further proposals in this area. Additionally, when a citizen is accused of bad or criminal conduct but no charge is laid, as can arise when accusations are aired at royal commissions or at the Independent Commission Against Corruption, there is no recourse to the law of defamation. That is an area that needs to be looked at separately.
In its present form the bill is well intentioned but unworkable, and will infringe on other equally precious rights: it does not strike the right balance. The Opposition is not convinced that the bill's protection of one right is not obtained at the expense of other equally precious rights. Accordingly, this bill does not have the support of the Opposition.
Debate adjourned on motion by the Hon. David Clarke.
Debate resumed from 2 May 2006.
The Hon. DON HARWIN
[11.39 a.m.]: I commenced speaking last Tuesday on the motion moved by my colleague the Leader of the Opposition, who focused on the cyclical nature of police numbers. Members of the House would be well aware of the cyclical features of policing, which have been known for some time. We often hear about the relationship between attestation and resignation from the police force. This motion highlights a new cycle that has become apparent in the last eight years based on the election cycle.
The nature of that cyclical relationship is that under this Government actual police numbers peak in the six months prior to an election and then for budgetary reasons progressively are wound down over two to three years and then are wound up again just prior to the next election. I place a few figures on the record to demonstrate the nature of that cycle. At its highest point in 2003 NSW Police 85 local area commands [LAC] had a total of 13,434 operational police. NSW Police had a total strength of 15,168. As at 30 April 2005 total operational police numbers had fallen to 12,774 and the total strength was 14,739. In the two-year period from 2003 to 2005 the number of operational police dropped from 13,434 to 12,774. The same thing happened between 1999 and 2003, just prior to the 2003 election.
As at 30 April 2005, 68 of the 85 local area commands around the State had fewer police officers than at the highest point in 2003. Kiama suffered in particular. It is covered by the Lake Illawarra Local Area Command and has the third most serious loss. Only two other LACs have been worse off, which is of great concern to that community. As of this week, some 32 officers have been taken out of the Lake Illawarra Local Area Command. Indeed, seven out of those 32 have been taken out in the last month alone, which is incredible.
Indicative of this totally cynical approach to the cyclical levels of policing is that on 29 March the Minister for Police, Mr Scully, travelled to Albion Park to announce five new police recruits in the attestation to take place this month. There were glossy pictures in the Kiama Independent
and Lake Times
on 29 March with the member for Kiama, Minister Scully and the local area commander wheeled out for the photo opportunity. Yet during April they took seven officers away from us.
The Hon. David Clarke:
It is called sleight of hand.
The Hon. DON HARWIN:
A sleight of hand, as my colleague the Hon. David Clarke says. That is the totally cynical approach taken to policing in this State—an announcement at the end of March that Kiama would receive five new cadets during May, then during April seven are taken away. Even if every single one of those officers arrives out of the May attestation from the Goulburn academy, there will be still two fewer than there were at the beginning of April. That says everything about what is going on with policing in this State.
The commitment of only five probationary officers to the region is pathetic. Every community welcomes new and enthusiastic young policemen coming to work in their area. The member for Kiama should explain what is happening to the experienced front-line officers that have been slashed from his electorate. The member for Kiama needs to make the commitment that no more officers will be slashed from the Lake Illawarra Local Area Command and the 32 that have been cut on his watch as member for Kiama in his parliamentary term will be reinstated on an urgent basis. The community of Kiama has suffered incredibly under the Labor Government, which not only has slashed crucial police resources but also has failed to provide the community with a fully operational police station.
The former Leader of the Opposition and the current Leader of the Opposition, Peter Debnam, have both travelled to Kiama repeatedly and have made a commitment that has been tremendously welcomed by the mayor of Kiama, Sandra McCarthy, and councillors, including Councillor Trevor Fredericks, who is doing a good job in his area representing his community and the entire Kiama community. They are delighted that the Liberal-National Coalition has made a commitment for a 24-hour, seven day a week operational police station in Kiama under a Debnam Government come next March. That is something that the Labor Government has failed to do.
The member for Kiama has stated in the local newspapers and elsewhere that having a 24-hour, seven day a week police station sends the wrong message to the community. I find that extraordinary. Recent figures on graffiti crime have shown that a 24-hour presence is needed. I was disturbed when reading graffiti statistics focusing on graffiti hot spots around the State to find that the Kiama local government area is one of the worst in the State. This will be of great interest to Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile, who is a resident of the Kiama municipality. There are well over 200 local government areas in this State—I have forgotten how many because the Labor Government keeps amalgamating them without seeking approval from councillors—yet Kiama, a lovely little seaside community south of Sydney, rates No. 15 in this State for graffiti vandalism.
The Hon. David Clarke:
The Hon. DON HARWIN:
It is a scandal, as my colleague the Hon. David Clarke says.
The Hon. Eric Roozendaal:
He has been through a few scandals, so he would know.
The Hon. DON HARWIN:
That is the pot calling the kettle black. In the period under review, the rate of graffiti crime in Kiama was 213.1 offences per 100,000 people. That is extraordinary. It was well above the rate for similar communities. Indeed, in the neighbouring city of Shoalhaven the rate of graffiti crime was only 90.4 offences per 100,000 people. Given that most graffiti crime takes place in the evenings, one must ask: If members of Parliament are concerned about graffiti, why would they not want a 24-hour police presence in the principal town in their local council area? The honourable member for Kiama should reflect on that when he criticises the Opposition's suggestion that Kiama should have a 24-hour police presence.
In conclusion, I shall focus on one other matter. It is critical that the Government start to take seriously the needs of small country towns and their lack of a 24-hour police presence. That is a huge problem up and down the South Coast. I think many city-based members of the House and people who live in cities do not understand what it is like to live in a small coastal community—places such as Gerringong and Gerroa, and places further south in the Shoalhaven such as Culburra, Huskisson, Vincentia and Sussex Inlet—when there is an enormous problem with graffiti and juvenile crime late at night. People living in those places know that they cannot ring the police because by the time they get a response they know that no action will be taken.
The fear in those coastal communities as a result of the decision, basically, to put police into local area headquarters on a 24-hour basis and not diffuse them in any way is of enormous concern to Kiama council, Shoalhaven council and local government areas throughout rural and regional New South Wales. One of the most important aspects of the problem that is created by this totally cyclical—and cynical—approach to policing is that police numbers peak just before an election and are then run down. Rural and regional areas are suffering even more than city areas, and that is probably something that will only be addressed by a change in government.
The Hon. ROBYN PARKER
[11.53 a.m.]: The Hon. Don Harwin spoke about police numbers in coastal and rural communities. Many of the issues he discussed are the same as those in the Maitland and Port Stephens electorates. The honourable member has a thick file on policing in the Kiama electorate, which he spoke about. Equally, I have a thick file on Raymond Terrace, which is full of newspaper articles and letters from residents concerned about the lack of support by the Labor Government—the Carr-Iemma governments—in terms of police numbers, police stations, support for police and support for the community in terms of crime, and law and order issues. Policing is one of the Government's biggest failures in the electorate of Port Stephens, and we are constantly reminded of that on weekends and many times at night when police numbers are reduced. A large area in the electorate is simply not coping because of inadequate police numbers. Recently, the honourable member for Port Stephens had the hide to issue a statement that he would make policing his number one priority. The Port Stephens Examiner
of 28 March quoted the honourable member as saying:
I guess the one thing I haven't achieved for all sorts of reasons is the Raymond Terrace police station. That's my number one capital works request at the next budget.
Police stations for Raymond Terrace and Port Stephens have now appeared on the local member's radar screen. That is unbelievable, considering the member has represented the Port Stephens electorate since 1999. And he now thinks that it is his number one priority! In the period since he was elected there have been seven State budgets and a mini-budget in 2004, and now he thinks it is time to make the Port Stephens police station a priority. I have no idea where he has been since 1999, and I am sure many residents in the Port Stephens electorate want to know where he has been. How naive does he think they are? We have had seven years of inaction on policing, police numbers and support for police by way of an appropriate and adequate police station at Raymond Terrace.
The people of Port Stephens have long memories: they remember the 1996 budget allocation and the election promise of $2 million to provide Raymond Terrace with a proper police station. They also remember the Carr Government breaking that promise and reallocating that funding. The local member is saying that Port Stephens police station is his number one priority, although the money that was allocated disappeared and has not been reallocated. That funding would have provided a police station for police in the Port Stephens electorate, who work extremely hard and battle with not only inadequate conditions but also an appalling lack of numbers. The police strength in the lower Hunter area command should have been increased many years ago. The current authorised strength of 209 has not been increased.
Recent announcements of extra police numbers, probationary police coming on board—16 police in total; four for Raymond Terrace and 12 for Cessnock—are simply smoke and mirrors because those police will not be added to the authorised strength. A number of police will be lost through natural attrition and medical discharge, as has happened in the past. When police resign or retire, probationary police will fill the void. It is smoke and mirrors. They are not additional police; they will simply fill the gaps. There is no real commitment to police numbers in Port Stephens, where at night the police on duty have two cars to cover something like 900 square kilometres. The lower Hunter local area command includes isolated communities, communities with a changing population due to tourism, and communities with police coverage spread over great distances.
It is impossible for police to travel from one part of Port Stephens to another. Call-outs come from Maitland, and police have to travel from Nelson Bay up to Stroud. That is inappropriate. The people of the Port Stephens electorate need, and are calling for, a 24-hour police presence. They are calling for adequate police numbers to try to cover the sorts of geographical issues that the Hon. Don Harwin was talking about in coastal communities. The police are calling for some attention from this Government. It is a joke for the local member to say it is now on his radar screen, when he has been there since 1999. It probably appeared on his radar screen because he is feeling intense pressure from the local community and from the Coalition. We know what needs to be done with policing. We know about the needs of Port Stephens and we know that people in that area are working hard and are keen for a change of government and a change of member in Port Stephens, because the only way attention will be paid to police numbers is by the election of a Coalition member.
With a Coalition member, the people in coastal areas around Port Stephens, Anna Bay and the Tilligerry Peninsula will know that on a Saturday night when people are behaving in an antisocial manner they can call and get some sort of attention instead of having to call Maitland and then having the call diverted to Sydney. They know that proper attention will be paid to policing on the Tilligerry Peninsula and when the number of people coming into Nelson Bay increases during the holidays they will receive a response. That is the least they expect.
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
MINISTER FOR FINANCE SUCCESSION PLANS
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
My question is directed to the Minister for Finance. In light of concerns on the Central Coast this week that he has begun manoeuvring to oust the long-term member for Peats, Marie Andrews, will the Minister outline to the House what succession plans he has in place to ensure that when he resigns from this House to contest the new State seat of Gosford the interim Ministers for finance, commerce, industrial relations, ageing and disability services—
The Hon. Jan Burnswoods:
Point of order: Standing orders provide that Ministers are asked questions in relation to the performance of their public duties and their portfolio duties. The Leader of the Opposition's question has nothing to do with that and I ask you to rule it out of order.
The Hon. Don Harwin:
To the point of order: The Hon. Jan Burnswoods really jumps in too soon. The question is clearly about the Minister's responsibility for finance, commerce, industrial relations, and ageing and disability services. If the honourable member allowed the Leader of the Opposition to complete his question she would have realised that.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
To the point of order. The question is in order. I ask that you listen to the remainder of the question before making your decision.
Order! That is not appropriate. Standing Order 64 (1) states:
Questions may be put to Ministers relating to public affairs with which the Minister is officially connected, to proceedings pending in the House, or to any matter of administration for which the Minister is responsible.
The question was hypothetical and asked for an opinion from the Minister about something that may happen in the future. Therefore, I rule it out of order.
ROYAL NORTH SHORE HOSPITAL FUNDING
The Hon. PENNY SHARPE:
My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Health. What is the latest information on front-line services at Royal North Shore Hospital?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS:
I am pleased to inform the House that today at the Royal North Shore Hospital I announced an immediate $5.4 million funding increase to the hospital to boost its front-line services. The funds will be used for the purchase of new high-tech equipment and the enhancement and replacement of existing equipment. This includes a new $1.79 million state-of-the-art CT scanner, one of the few that we have in New South Wales. As honourable members are aware, CT scans use special x-ray equipment to scan images from different angles around the patient's body and then use computer processing of the information to show a cross-section of body tissues and organs to assist diagnosis. CT imaging is particularly useful because it can show several types of tissue, including lung, bone, soft tissue and blood vessels, with great clarity. Through the interpretation of CT scans of the body, radiologists can more easily diagnose problems such as cancers, cardiovascular disease, infectious diseases, trauma and musculoskeletal disorders.
The new 64-slice scanner at Royal North Shore Hospital is the latest in available CT technology and will enable clinicians to increase the number of procedures by up to 20 per cent and broaden the range of procedures available. Other new equipment and upgrades include two new heart-lung machines for heart bypass surgery; an optical tracking system for neurosurgery; ophthalmology infrastructure and equipment for a newly established major service; theatre airconditioning, medical air compressors, cardiac catheterisation laboratory airconditioning and cooling tower replacement. Furthermore, important fire and safety upgrades will also be undertaken as part of the funding boost to the hospital. This will benefit both patients and staff.
The Government is also allocating $1.5 million to replace an entire cardiac catheterisation laboratory. This is the gold standard for providing quick and effective diagnosis and treatment for patients suffering heart disease and heart attack, as part of a round-the-clock service. Two new state-of-the-art heart-lung machines will maintain circulation and oxygen supplies to our patients during open-heart surgery, and ophthalmology infrastructure and equipment will go to the newly established northern Sydney eye treatment and surgery centre at Royal North Shore Hospital. Theatre airconditioning, medical air compressors, cardiac catheterisation laboratory airconditioning and cooling tower replacement will ensure efficient and effective temperature control and airflow in high-tech areas such as theatres and cardiac catheter laboratories for both patients and staff during sometimes lengthy surgery.
This funding is in addition to the record $10.9 billion health budget announced last year. The 2005-06 budget also included the following new and ongoing capital works: $5.3 million for the Royal North Shore Hospital high dependency unit and 23 hour and day surgery units and $25.9 million for the stage two redevelopment of the Royal North Shore Hospital campus. This additional funding for Royal North Shore Hospital is part of the State Government's ongoing commitment to dedicating more resources to front-line health care.
MINISTER FOR PRIMARY INDUSTRIES OFFICE REFURBISHMENT
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY:
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Primary Industries. Given the drought is worsening throughout New South Wales, how can the Minister justify ceasing drought support subsidies for farmers while spending $46,698 to refit his ministerial office? How many months of drought transport subsidies would be funded with $46,698?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
Of course, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition's modus operandi is the sort of cheap shot thrown in to deflect today's issues and to try to cause a bit of embarrassment. I am not embarrassed about the expenditure on my office, which has grown in size and responsibility over the past few years. Of course, some modest renovations have been done. It is modest, because when one looks at Terry Griffiths a few years ago—
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition threw the cheap shot in so he has given me the opportunity to talk about renovations. I will have one of my colleagues ask me a sensible question about the drought and what we are doing.
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
Point of order: Of course, Terry Griffiths had the onerous responsibility of police. My point of order is relevance. There is a quite explicit question before the House: How many months drought support subsidies could be funded by $46,000-odd? This is the question the Minister refuses to answer because he is either embarrassed or too arrogant.
Order! The Minister was answering the question he was asked and making relevant comparisons. I am sure that when the Minister has completed his answer he will have responded to the question.
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
Thank you, Madam Acting-President. You are doing a very able job. The modest renovations have been basically due to the fact that I have assumed extra portfolios in the last three years, necessitating changes to accommodate the staff. I have a lot of evidence for saying that it is a modest extension compared with what previous Coalition Minister Mr Terry Griffiths spent on his office. In Egyptian times I would get a small tomb while Terry Griffiths would get the main pyramid at Giza. He had a $600,000 office bill.
The Hon. John Della Bosca:
What would that be in 2005 dollars? It would be about $1.1 million.
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
It would be over $1 million. I was fascinated by the reports and comments here and there—
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
Come back, cobber.
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
No, you have asked the question; you are going to get the full freight, brother.
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
Point of order: Madam Acting-President, I take a point of order once again on relevance. The Minister was asked a quite discrete, specific question: how much it would cost for the drought subsidies. I ask you once again to bring him back to the question before the House.
Order! The question related to expenditure on ministerial offices. The answer was relevant but the time allowed for the Minister to respond has expired.
CRIME COMMISSION INVESTIGATORS ACCOUNTABILITY
The Hon. PETER BREEN:
I direct my question to the Minister for Roads, representing the Minister for Police. Is the Minister aware that a Crime Commission officer has threatened to "knock" a murder suspect if three so-called witnesses do not provide testimony against the suspect? Is he concerned that a fair and objective investigator would not deal with prospective witnesses in this way? What steps will the Minister take to review the operations of the Crime Commission to ensure that its investigators are properly accountable for their activities?
The Hon. ERIC ROOZENDAAL:
I will refer the question to the Minister for Police for the appropriate response.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS LEGISLATION HIGH COURT CHALLENGE
The Hon. PETER PRIMROSE:
Will the Minister for Industrial Relations please advise the House what the New South Wales Government is doing to protect the rights of workers in this State?
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
Today is an important day for millions of workers and their families as well as businesses throughout Australia. Today the New South Wales Government is spearheading a High Court challenge in Canberra: we are fighting to overturn the unfair and damaging WorkChoices laws. The battle the New South Wales Government is currently engaged in with the Howard Government is one of the most important since Federation. At stake is our social fabric, based around the principle of the fair go, and the lifestyle and living standards of millions of Australian workers and their families. For the first time in our history we risk delivering a workplace to our children that is in worse shape than the one we inherited.
The New South Wales Government is taking a stand on behalf of Australian workers and their families because John Howard's ideological crusade will reduce the level of real wages through the low pay commission; remove penalty rates, shift loadings, holiday leave and other entitlements; remove protections for vulnerable workers, including protection from exploitative arrangements; severely limit the independent role of the Industrial Relations Commission and its exercise of broad dispute-settling powers; and remove protection against unfair dismissal. Anyone who doubts this reality needs only to consider the number of calls the New South Wales Office of Industrial Relations has received since the introduction of WorkChoices just under six weeks ago. It has received 23,000 calls, the majority from people distressed about loss of work entitlements or being threatened with the sack, or about having been dismissed.
That is why the Iemma Government initiated a High Court challenge against the WorkChoices laws. We need to protect the workers of New South Wales against these types of actions. But WorkChoices is also bad for New South Wales businesses. It introduces extra layers of red tape. The new payroll requirements are but one example. New South Wales and other States are united in our opposition to these laws. We believe that they are bad laws not only in their operation and effect but also because they are not valid and not permitted by the Constitution of this country. The Federal Government is using powers that were never imagined by the drafters of the Commonwealth Constitution. We will not let that pass. Our forefathers, the Constitution and the people of Australia who supported that Constitution intended that it be left to the States to make laws about industrial issues arising within their borders. The interaction of the State and Federal industrial relations systems has delivered to this country a system of fairness, sustainability and productivity. It is the very model of successful co-operative federalism. A century later the Howard Government has overturned the shared powers approach by using the corporations power.
We will argue in the High Court that this is not valid and not constitutional. What is the New South Wales Opposition's take on these unfair and damaging laws? Unlike Opposition and party leaders in other States who have criticised the laws and indeed oppose them, the member for Vaucluse is too spineless to stand up to his political masters in Canberra. He will not stand up for New South Wales families and he will not stand up against the Howard Government's unfair attack on the wages, conditions and entitlements of our nurses, teachers, ambulance officers and workers in other front-line services. His policy is to hand over the entire public sector to the Commonwealth's industrial relations experiment, to sack the umpire and condemn all New South Wales employers and workers to the conflict-ridden Federal system. His upper House colleagues are only too happy to blindly follow him. Only this week the Hon. Catherine Cusack told the House, "I am incredibly grateful that John Howard is in office... I do not shy away at all from the job he is doing, particularly in relation to workplace reforms... and I wish the Howard Government every success."
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS:
My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industries. Is the Minister aware of publicity given to milk prices by the Sunday
program on Channel 9 on 30 April? Did the Government promise to monitor the effect of deregulation of the dairy industry when it passed legislation in 2000? What is the result of the monitoring of milk prices after the unsuccessful deregulation of the dairy industry? Is there data on how prices have changed at the farm gate and how they have changed in supermarkets? If so, what does the data show? Has there been any increase in retail profits on milk and, if so, from what level to what level? Will the Government have the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal investigate milk pricing to protect consumers?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
Yes, I am aware of the Sunday
program on Channel 9 on 30 April. I am advised that it was the Australian Government that made the commitment to monitor milk prices. In fact the Deputy Leader of the Opposition made the following statement on 21 June 2000 during the second reading debate on dairy industry deregulation:
Last week the ACCC announced that it would be monitoring the cost, prices and profits of leviable milk products right through the supply chain, from the producer to the consumer. This is an important step. It is part of the Commonwealth dairy industry adjustment package and allows everyone with concern about milk pricing to approach the ACCC for an evaluation.
He made all those wonderful commitments. What is the reality? The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission [ACCC] is the appropriate government body to monitor prices, as the deregulated milk market is a truly national market. With this commitment from the Australian Government there was certainly no need for the New South Wales Government to duplicate the work of the ACCC. Figures published by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics [ABARE] reveal that the average retail price of a litre of milk in Sydney has risen from $1.35 in June 2000 prior to deregulation to $1.43 in June 2005. This represents an increase of about 6 per cent or about 1 per cent each year during this period. As of yesterday milk was retailing in supermarkets at Orange for prices ranging from $0.99 to $1.24 per litre. ABARE also publishes figures on the producer price for milk. These figures show that in 1999-2000, the last season of regulation, the average price to producers for a litre of milk was 26.2¢ while for 2004-05 it was 31¢, an increase over this period of 18.3 per cent.
Based on these figures, it is difficult to argue that retail profits on milk have experienced any substantial increase over the period since deregulation, while average retail prices have increased by only about 6 per cent over the past five years compared with an increase in producer price of about 18 per cent. If contrary information comes to hand, I am always prepared to request that either the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission or the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal investigate milk prices.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS:
I ask a supplementary question. There was a huge difference between market milk and manufacturing milk of about 50 per cent. Surely the market milk should be the comparison rather than the average price of milk. Can the Minister enlighten us about that, because that is what sent the dairy farmers broke?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
I am happy to look at manufactured milk products—
The Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans:
No, no, market milk.
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
I am happy to look at market milk for him and to provide some details.
THE SPIT BRIDGE WIDENING
The Hon. GREG PEARCE:
I direct my question to the Minister for Roads. What is the current status of planning work to widen the Spit Bridge and approaches by two lanes? How much has been expended in the planning works? When does the Government expect to commence construction work?
The Hon. ERIC ROOZENDAAL:
I thank the honourable member for his question. I am advised that the Government is committed to a major upgrade of the Spit Bridge to add two lanes to the western side, with a footway for pedestrians and cyclists, providing a total of six traffic lanes. The bridge carries approximately 68,000 vehicles per day. Development applications for the proposal were lodged with Mosman and Manly councils and the New South Wales Maritime Authority in 2003. Agreed conditions of consent were issued by the Department of Planning to Manly and Mosman councils in July 2005 instructing the councils to approve the development applications. Manly Council approved the project on 24 August 2005. I understand that Mosman council did not act to approve the project, so consent was deemed on 2 August 2005. The New South Wales Maritime Authority approved the development application on 9 February 2006. A contract for detailed design of the project was awarded to Connell Wagner on 24 May 2005.
PACIFIC HIGHWAY UPGRADE
The Hon. KAYEE GRIFFIN:
I direct my question to the Minister for Roads. Can the Minister provide the House with the latest information on the Government's investment in the upgrade of the Pacific Highway?
The Hon. ERIC ROOZENDAAL:
I thank the honourable member for her question and interest in this matter. The New South Wales Government has spent millions of dollars in upgrading the Pacific Highway on projects that have made an enormous difference to the New South Wales economy, North Coast communities and New South Wales road users. People want certainty on the completion of the Pacific Highway and I am determined to work co-operatively with the Federal Government to achieve that.
I am pleased to advise the House that yesterday three separate State-Federal joint announcements were made concerning the joint $58 million allocation to invite preconstruction work tenders on the Ballina bypass upgrade, the joint allocation of $37.6 million to progress the 8.5 kilometre Bulahdelah bypass, and the $12.4 million joint commitment to finalise preparation for the Coopernook to Mooreland project, currently estimated at $95 million.
The Ballina bypass is a very important part of the Pacific Highway upgrade, delivering a further 12.4 kilometres of dual carriageway. The New South Wales Government will put $29 million towards the important pre-construction phase. The bypass will be shorter than the current route, which goes through the urban areas of Ballina, and will save on travel times for Pacific Highway traffic. On the Coopernook to Mooreland bypass, $12.5 million will be provided on a 50-50 basis to get the project under way. It is the final stage in getting everything prepared, up to and including the calling of construction tenders. The bypass of South Mooreland will eliminate about one kilometre of existing highway with a speed restriction of 70 kilometres an hour.
In addition, new twin bridges over the main northern rail line will be constructed, as will new crossings at Pipe Clay Creek, Holey Flat Creek and Tom Cat Creek. Additionally, $18.8 million each will be provided by the New South Wales and Australian governments to prepare the Bulahdelah bypass for construction, which will cost an estimated $165 million overall, including new twin bridges over the Myall River. Completion of this project will be a terrific boost for Bulahdelah, where conflict between local and highway traffic has become a problem, as has safety and noise.
The Iemma Government is fully committed to getting the job of upgrading the Pacific Highway done. That fact has been recognised even by The Nationals member for Cowper, Luke Hartsuyker, in an article he wrote for the 15 April 2006 edition of the Coffs Harbour Advocate
. I think many people are frustrated by the sight of brawling politicians. People rightly believe that if there is a job to do then we should roll up our sleeves and get it done. That is why I am working very closely with Jim Lloyd, the Federal roads Minister. We want a co-operative approach and will explore ways to speed up the Pacific Highway reconstruction.
Together, the Australian and New South Wales governments will spend $960 million on the Pacific Highway over the next three years from June 2006. This is on top of the more than $2.2 billion spent over the past 10 years. To date, a total of 45 projects have opened to traffic since 1996, with motorists now benefiting from 233 kilometres of four-lane highway. A further 302 kilometres of new highway is under construction, have been approved for construction or have had a preferred upgrade route identified.
SYDNEY HARBOUR DIOXIN LEVELS
Mr IAN COHEN:
I direct my question to the Treasurer, representing the Minister for Ports and Waterways. Does the Minister support the plan whereby the decontamination of Homebush Bay is being undertaken not with cofferdams and draining the bay but with silk curtains and a bucket on a barge? Will the Minister guarantee that this will prevent the escape of dioxins, which potentially could create a toxic plume in the harbour? Will the Minister accept that the Russian roulette of consumption of contaminated fish will continue as a result of the Government's failure to take effective remedial action?
This is a very serious issue. [Time expired.
The Hon. MICHAEL COSTA:
I am happy to take the question on notice, because I cannot understand it; perhaps the Hon. Joe Tripodi will.
JUVENILE JUSTICE STAFF COURT APPEARANCES
The Hon. CATHERINE CUSACK:
I direct my question to the Minister for Juvenile Justice. Is it a fact that the Senior Children's Magistrate, Scott Mitchell, criticised the Department of Community Services [DOCS] for failing to attend court to assist children in need of care who are facing criminal charges? Is the Minister aware of the problems Mr Mitchell highlighted when he said that the absence of the DOCS officers is particularly distressing when a juvenile offender seeking bail or facing sentence is in the parental responsibility of the Minister? Has the Minister received complaints that his juvenile justice officers have to undertake welfare tasks that are properly the responsibility of DOCS? What steps has he taken to support his staff, who are struggling to supervise court orders, including curfews placed on young people who are forced to live on the streets because they have been abandoned by DOCS?
The Hon. TONY KELLY:
As I think it was indicated within the question, that is not a matter for me but for the Minister responsible for the Department of Community Services.
GROUND WATER TAX ENTITLEMENTS PROGRAM TAX TREATMENTS
The Hon. TONY CATANZARITI:
I direct my question to the Minister for Natural Resources. In the light of comments made by the Federal Parliamentary Secretary with responsibility for water, Malcolm Turnbull, about groundwater tax, what action has the New South Wales Government taken regarding the Federal Government's tax treatment of the Achieving Sustainable Groundwater Entitlements package?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
I thank the honourable member for his question. This is a very serious issue, and we might get a little bit of interest from members opposite, particularly The Nationals. Firstly, I welcome the comments on the groundwater issue reported in the media today by Malcolm Turnbull, the Federal Parliamentary Secretary with responsibility for water. It is good that a Federal Coalition has finally listened to what has been longstanding New South Wales policy. Of course, it is not a Federal member of The Nationals out there in the bush listening to farmers; it is the member from that famous country seat, Wentworth. In any event, I welcome Mr Turnbull's comments that he would meet with the Prime Minister and the Treasurer to discuss the tax treatment of the Groundwater Structural Adjustment Program. Today's Land
quoted Mr Turnbull as saying:
There's always an argument for simpler and fairer tax treatment.
There are many who believe that there's a loss of an asset, such as water, and there is compensation for that, it should be assessed as a capital payment.
That is a very good statement. I congratulate Mr Turnbull on taking the time to meet with the Namoi Catchment Authority in Gunnedah to discuss this important issue. It is an interesting, but welcome, about-face from the Parliamentary Secretary. When I met him on 22 February I deliberately raised the issue with him. He was quite emphatic in his response. He told me that the Prime Minister had spoken on the issue and there would be no change to the tax treatment. I am therefore glad to see there has been a change of heart on the part of the Federal Government.
I wish to make one thing clear: the Howard Government can, and should, change the tax treatment. It is the right and fair thing to do. But the stingy attitude of the Howard Government is hardly surprising. As we all know, every year it robs New South Wales blind of GST payments and so on. The farmers of hard-pressed areas like the lower Murray, the Murrumbidgee and the Namoi are fortunate that the State Government is willing to lend a hand. We have continued to lobby the Federal Government to do what is right. I have written to the Prime Minister, I have written to the Treasurer, and I have written to the Parliament Secretary. To date, what have they done?
It is only today, with comments from Mr Turnbull, that we see some sign that the callous indifference of the Federal Coalition Government may be about to change. Let me make it clear. Under the Achieving Sustainable Groundwater Entitlements Program the New South Wales and Federal governments jointly invested $110 million to help irrigators adjust their water extractions to the level of sustainable yield in six major inland groundwater systems involved. But farmers are being left high and dry by the Howard Government, which gives with one hand and takes with the other. The program is co-funded 50:50 by the New South Wales Government and the Federal Government. But under the Treasurer's tax ruling, the Commonwealth could see up to $47 million of its $55 million returned to it as income tax. In effect, that represents 85 per cent of the Commonwealth's total contribution to the program.
I hope that The Nationals, both in this Chamber and in the other place, set about addressing this issue and putting the same sort of pressure on the Federal Government that the Liberal Malcolm Turnbull is now exerting on this issue. It is good to see the Liberals getting more involved in regional issues. The Liberals have realised just how much they have been let down in the bush by The Nationals. Malcolm Turnbull is getting out there and trying to sort this issue out. But the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and his three fellow musketeers from The Nationals in this Chamber have said and done very little about this. If they have done anything at all, it has so far had no effect. I congratulate Malcolm Turnbull on his change of attitude; it is good to see a Liberal with a bit of financial nous. He and his wife do a good lunch, there is no doubt about that. It is good to see the Liberals getting involved in regional issues because, clearly, Mr Piccoli and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition have not had any impact.
PUBLIC DENTAL HEALTH SERVICES CO-PAYMENTS
Ms LEE RHIANNON:
I direct my question to the Minister for Health. Given that recommendation 9 of the recent inquiry into dental health was that NSW Health undertake research to determine the impacts of co-payments on low-income public dental patients, what research has the department done? Given that fees will be waived for people who are disabled or too poor to pay, what proportion of people currently on the waiting list does this represent? Given that data showing dental health for adults who are unable to pay is a particular problem, how will the co-payment system impact on this demographic? What proportion of all patients will be denied access to vital services as a result of the introduction of co-payments?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS:
The introduction of the co-payment system was a unanimous recommendation made by the Standing Committee on Social Issues arising from its inquiry into dental health—and it was made by representatives of the Opposition, the Government and also the crossbench. It is interesting that Ms Lee Rhiannon, having been one of the supporters of that inquiry being established to look into the issue, and no doubt having been enthusiastic about the thrust of its recommendations, seizes upon the committee's recommendation that asks the department to investigate the issue and seeks to criticise the Government for doing what the committee asks of it.
She is now asking how many people will be disadvantaged by the co-payment system and whom it will impact on. On the one hand, if the Government does what these committees ask it do, it is criticised, and on the other hand, if it does not do what they ask it to do, it is also criticised. It is a Catch-22 situation. We should have a look at what the Greens have been up to. But talk about flying kites! The Greens want to stop fluoridisation in New South Wales. If people want to know about the impact of the co-payment system on dental health, they should have a look at the scientific madness of the Greens in the lead-up to the next election in wanting to stop fluoridisation. What a disgrace!
The Hon. JOHN RYAN:
My question is directed to the Minister for Disability Services. Is only 5.7 per cent of the New South Wales taxi fleet wheelchair accessible, and how does this compare with the position in other States? What efforts has the Minister made to assist the Government in achieving parity in waiting times for people who want to book a wheelchair-accessible taxi? Did the Minister provide any advice at all to the Minister for Transport when the Government was considering an application by the Macquarie Bank to introduce an additional 300 disability taxis to the streets of New South Wales? If so, what was that advice? What other proposals has the Government made to increase the number of wheelchair-accessible taxis in this State?
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
Firstly I indicate that I obviously need to refer the question to the Minister for Transport. However, given that I have some connection with this issue and have some knowledge of it, I am happy to make some observations. As the Hon. John Ryan suggested, there has been a private sector proposal—I believe it has come from the Macquarie Bank—about supplementing Sydney's taxi fleet, particularly its disabled taxi fleet, with a specialised fleet with specialised equipment. Obviously that outcome would be supported by every reasonable person. There are, however, some transport and regulatory issues in relation to the taxi industry to be considered.
I emphasise to the House that the Government supports an outcome whereby persons with a disability who require taxi services—and, obviously, most people with a physical disability require them from time to time—are adequately serviced. Such an outcome has been one of the ambitions of successive transport Ministers. One of the advocates of the private sector proposal is a personal friend of mine, so I have considerable knowledge of it. I have discussed the matter with the Minister for Transport. I undertake to get further information from the Minister and will respond to the honourable member as soon as possible.
ST FLORIAN'S DAY
The Hon. HENRY TSANG:
My question is addressed to the Minister for Emergency Services. Will the Minister update the House on activities to mark St Florian's Day?
The Hon. TONY KELLY:
As some members are aware, today marks St Florian's Day, or International Firefighters Day. St Florian's Day is held on 4 May to mark the feast of St Florian, the patron saint of firefighters. It is a day on which current and past firefighters can be recognised for their contributions. Earlier today I had the pleasure of joining New South Wales Fire Brigade Commissioner Greg Mullins and the member for Campbelltown at a special graduation ceremony at the State training college in Alexandria. The event was special for two reasons. First, we were celebrating the graduation of 19 recruits, and second, we handed out bravery awards to some outstanding firefighters. Two firefighters from the Campbelltown fire station, senior firefighter Brent Smith and senior firefighter Bob Hodge, received commendations for their courageous action at a house fire in Hoddle Avenue, Bradbury, on 2 March this year.
Just before 11.20 a.m. the bells of the fire station at Campbelltown sounded and the crew sprang into action. Calling on their years of experience and training, the firefighters responded immediately to the fire. Unaware of exactly what they would be confronted with, these firefighters prepared for the worst. On arrival they saw that the front of the house was completely ablaze. Despite the extreme conditions, Senior Firefighter Smith began a search and rescue. Wearing breathing apparatus and protective equipment, he tore a security door off its hinges before kicking in a wooden door and entered the rear of the house. Once inside, he found a lady semiconscious in the kitchen and dragged her to safety. While Senior Firefighter Smith was rescuing the lady, Senior Firefighter Hodge broke through a lounge room window and rescued a man who was also unconscious in a bedroom and immediately dragged him to safety.
While we may at times take the work of our wonderful emergency services personnel for granted, the courage of these two firefighters cannot be doubted. Without their brave actions both occupants of that house would certainly have died in the fire. As Minister for Emergency Services, and somebody closely associated with the fire brigade in my home town, I know that these actions are typical of members of the New South Wales Fire Brigades right throughout the State. I am sure all honourable members agree with me in that regard.
The second award presented this morning was a Unit Commendation for Meritorious Service to firefighters from Liverpool, Horningsea Park and Busby fire stations for their actions at a fatal house fire in Christie Street, Liverpool, on 28 May 2003. On that occasion firefighters responded to a fire at 3.30 a.m. Despite the obvious danger, firefighters entered the burning house and rescued six people, including two unconscious children. Firefighters resuscitated the two unconscious children before they were transported to hospital. Tragically, those children and a neighbour who assisted at the incident later died in hospital.
While it can be difficult to come to terms with tragedies like this, we can be comforted by the brave actions of the firefighters at both these incidents. I am sure all honourable members join with me in paying tribute to our fine firefighters on this most important day. I should also inform members that besides being patron saint of firefighters, St Florian is the patron saint of Poland and the Austrian town of Linz. Florian was a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity in the late third century. When the Romans ordered Florian to offer sacrifices to pagan Roman gods he refused, professing his faith. As a consequence, he was burned alive and his body dumped in a river situated in present-day Austria.
COMMUNITY WORKERS WAGE INCREASE
Reverend the Hon. Dr GORDON MOYES:
I ask the Treasurer a question without notice. Is the Treasurer aware of the new New South Wales Social and Community Services wage award increase of 10.5 per cent over three years that was approved by the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission for government and non-government front-line human services workers? Is the Treasurer aware that these individuals often work in some of the most difficult, dangerous and stressful jobs in our community? What is the Treasurer's response to organisations such as the Network for Alcohol and Other Drug Agencies, who are anxiously seeking a promise that Treasury provide an estimated extra $13.5 million increase in funding over each of the next three years to pay for the awarded increase? Is the Treasurer aware that without such a commitment by the Government the number of front-line providers of human services in government agencies and non-government agencies reliant on government funding of wages will need to be cut?
The Hon. John Ryan:
He's told them to get lost.
The Hon. MICHAEL COSTA:
No, I have not told anybody to get lost. That is completely inaccurate. The Government is aware of negotiations around the New South Wales Social and Community Services [SACS] Award.
The Hon. John Ryan:
They did not have negotiations, they were given the award.
The Hon. MICHAEL COSTA:
There were negotiations with the Government. Stop interjecting. The Government provided funding for some major increases in the SACS Award that were awarded by the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission on the last occasion. In relation to the current round, within its grant allocation to the non-government agencies that it funds, the Government has provided appropriate escalations. It is a matter for the agencies and their work force as to how that escalation is utilised.
SNOWY HYDRO LIMITED SALE
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER:
My question without notice is directed to the Leader of the Government. Will the Minister give the people of New South Wales a guarantee that the Government will not proceed with the sale of Snowy Hydro Limited until the select committee established by this House tables its final report?
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
No, I will not be giving such a guarantee. The Hon. Jennifer Gardiner is the first person to ask me to give such a guarantee. As the honourable member well knows, the members of this House were here most of yesterday debating the best way to set up a committee to inquire into the Snowy sale. Having been told that we needed a parliamentary debate, I did my best to secure a full and open parliamentary debate. The Opposition rejected the view of the Government on the best way to proceed with the parliamentary debate, so we had the luxury and the appropriate outcome of two parliamentary debates about the Snowy issue. In those debates I made it very clear why the Government has decided to proceed with a change of ownership on the sale of our share of Snowy Hydro.
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
Why won't you wait?
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
The very next point I was about to make would be an answer to that interjection. I know it is disorderly to respond to interjections, Madam Acting-President, but with your indulgence I will make the point that of, course, two other governments are involved. The fact that all three governments are prepared to sell their shares at the moment is a conjunction that may happen only once in a decade.
Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order for the first time.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
For that reason alone, as has already been publicly announced, continuing and proceeding along that course is the best course of action. I will not go into repetitious detail in respect to the water matters. I will simply say that the arrangements for irrigators and for enhancement of the Snowy River's ecological health are binding agreements; they are subject to a licensing arrangement that the people of New South Wales remain the owners of all the water and the environment around the water, courtesy of the existence of Kosciuszko National Park. We are talking here about licences to generate electricity from the water moving through the Snowy Hydro Scheme. That is the most important issue at stake. With regard to the Hydro scheme itself, I repeat, I do not expect an answer from the Greens or any of crossbench member on this point because they do not come to this House saying they want to be an alternative government; they simply come to ventilate critical arguments.
The Hon. Michael Gallacher:
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
Maybe the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans does, but it is the Leader of the Opposition who wants to lead the alternative government in this place and it is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition who wants to be the Deputy Leader of the alternative government. They have to explain what other ways this great Australian enterprise—
Opposition members are getting very angry; they do not want to hear this. It is incumbent upon the Opposition to indicate to the House how otherwise Snowy Hydro can capitalise except by this sale.
The Hon. Michael Gallacher:
That is for the committee to find out.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
That is not even in the terms of reference. The Opposition put a whole lot of other things in the terms of reference but did not think to include this; they left it to Ms Sylvia Hale. The fact of the matter is the Opposition is not interested in that point, and the business community and the people of New South Wales, those concerned about the Opposition's capacity to manage the economy, will be asking the Opposition about that over and over again.
BELMONT AND RYDE HOSPITALS MIDWIFERY UNITS
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS:
My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Health. Would the Minister inform the House on the progress of the midwifery-led units at Belmont and Ryde hospitals?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS:
Comprehensive evaluations have been completed recently of the midwifery-led services at Belmont and Ryde hospitals. I am pleased to inform the House that both reports express positive remarks confirming that mothers and babies using the services have had excellent outcomes. Both hospitals operate stand-alone midwifery-led units under the strictures of clinical guidelines. Only low-risk women are accepted into the programs, and these women are screened extensively throughout their pregnancies for any problems. Should any risk or complications develop at any time, the woman is immediately transferred to Royal North Shore Hospital in the case of Ryde Hospital and to John Hunter Hospital in the case of Belmont Hospital.
It is important to emphasise that both services commenced after extensive consultation with the community, midwives and doctors. During the first seven months of service the Belmont Birthing Service cared for 108 women and their babies. Of the 52 women who eventually gave birth at John Hunter Hospital, only 5.5 per cent had caesarean sections compared to 26.6 per cent across New South Wales. This is a good outcome in itself. The report notes that patient satisfaction was extremely high even when births took place at John Hunter Hospital.
With regard to Ryde, the first evaluation of the safety and effectiveness of the caseload midwifery care within the Ryde Midwifery Group Practice is based on the 245 women who used the service. Again, all the women and their babies are well. The quality audit supports the fact that having a known midwife before pregnancy, birth and the post-natal period enhances the experiences of the women involved. I congratulate the midwives, local clinicians and obstetricians who contributed to the successful operation of Belmont and Ryde. In view of their success the Opposition should be ashamed that it has not publicly supported them and the women who use these services.
Indeed, the honourable member for North Shore and the Hon. Robyn Parker, in their joint press release of 22 September 2005, asked me to rule out the use of maternity services of this nature. In March of this year Ms Skinner put out another press release expressing concerns about midwifery-led units. I hope that these results at Ryde and Belmont will encourage the Opposition to finally give this type of midwifery-based care its full support. The community is demanding more of these services, and I am pleased to inform the House that last Friday, 28 April, I officially launched the Camden Midwifery Group Practice, which offers continuity of care with a dedicated midwife through all stages of pregnancy.
I had the opportunity to meet Georgia, the first baby born through the new practice, and her mother. Also, 150 women have booked to use the service and it is now fully booked until October this year. I am impressed with the broad level of support displayed for the new service. Instead of supporting the Camden Midwifery Group Practice, the member for Vaucluse has made completely unrealistic promises to introduce an obstetric-based service at Camden Hospital. The Opposition has not grasped the significant challenges that face New South Wales, particularly the obstetrics work force. It is not as easy as it is claimed to set up a fully staffed obstetrics service at Camden. The Camden community understand this. This is why the Macarthur Chronicle
dismissed the promise of the member for Vaucluse as a "political stunt" and "a crisis in the waiting". The editor went on to write:
If there is a shortage of specialists in maternity across the world, how will they entice them to Camden when other previous attempts were so unsuccessful?
Why waste more money on opening a unit that proved to be unsustainable?
They are good questions and the Opposition needs to answer them. In contrast to the Opposition, which seems determined to play politics with maternity services, the Government supports the provision of safe, sustainable choices for women and their families.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE:
I ask the Minister for Health a question without notice, which is prompted by the recent announcement by the Hon. John Tingle as regards his health. Is the Government aware that more than 4,500 men in New South Wales are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year? Is the Government aware that cancer of the prostate kills more people than any other cancer, with the exception of lung cancer? Is the Government aware that men are 20 per cent more likely to contract prostate cancer than women are likely to contract breast cancer? Is it a fact that whilst women receive free screening and considerable support resources for gender-specific cancers such as breast cancer, men receive little or no support for prostate cancer? Will the Government provide further funding for research in order to develop an effective screening treatment for prostate cancer? Will the Government provide free or subsidised prostate-specific antigenic screenings for men? Will the Government seek to better educate the community about the risks of prostate cancer?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS:
This is a very important question. I am not aware of the statistics that the honourable member has quoted. I am advised that the latest statistics from the Cancer Institute and Mortality Report indicate that in New South Wales the incidence of prostate cancer was 4,637 in 2003, and that it is projected to increase to 5,944 in 2011. Although prostate cancer is not the most common of cancers affecting males—I believe bowel cancer is the most common, although I stand to be corrected—it is a disease that can affect males, particularly in the higher age groups. It is rare in the ages of 50 to 54 but is commonly diagnosed amongst men in the 55 to 59 age groups.
The honourable member raised a number of issues about screening. There is no national or State screening program for prostate cancer. Currently, two randomised trials are being conducted overseas. One is a European randomised study for screening of prostate cancer, due for completion in 2008, and the other is an American study due for completion in 2006. The results of these trials hopefully will shed more light on the population screening of prostate cancer. Another important study is being conducted in the United Kingdom. It commenced in 2001 and its evaluation will take 10 years. It is anticipated that that study will provide insight into detection of early-stage prostate cancer and its natural history. Obviously, New South Wales will wait to see what transpires from those studies and information as to the effectiveness of any population-based approaches.
In answer to the third part of the question I advise that the Government supports the Cancer Institute of New South Wales, which during five years has invested a total of $5,528,400 on prostate cancer research, $3,750,000 for program grants and $1,778,400 for research fellowships working on prostate cancer in hospitals. The program grant was given to researchers from six New South Wales institutions, led by the University of New South Wales and the Garvan Institute, commencing in 2005. The grant will examine the genetic changes in prostate cancer to identify prostate cancer patients most at risk, with the promise of developing new screening tests and new therapies.
F3 SPEED LIMIT
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE:
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Roads. I refer to the Minister's answer of 5 April about the new speed limit on the F3. Does the new technology described in his answer identify when the road is impacted by fog or cloud? Does the variable speed limit apply in such conditions? If so, is the signage indicating that the speed limit is 90 when raining adequate to warn drivers in all conditions? If fog or cloud are not detected by the new technology, and given that the road between the Hawkesbury River and Mount White is notorious for poor driving conditions, will the Minister review the signage to ensure that drivers are required to slow down in such conditions?
The Hon. ERIC ROOZENDAAL:
The speed limit on the F3 for northbound traffic between the Hawkesbury River and Mount White was reduced to 90 kilometres in June 1999. The new variable speed limits commenced on 10 April 2006. The northbound speed limit was increased to 100 kilometres an hour in dry conditions and maintained at 90 kilometres an hour in wet conditions. Electronic variable speed limit signs have been installed that automatically display the reduced speed limit when required. Specialist equipment has been installed to detect moisture. Fixed signs to alert motorists of the new wet weather speed limit have been installed. A fixed speed camera system has been installed south of the Mount White turnoff. It became operational on 10 April 2006. The system works with two cameras, one which verifies the displayed speed limit on the approach of the speed measured location and an enforcement camera, which takes a photograph of a speeding vehicle. The speed camera infringes motorists according to the speed limit as indicated on the electronic variable speed limit sign.
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE:
I ask a supplementary question. If it is a fact that the first signage that motorists travelling north on the F3 sees indicates "90 when raining", and given that the Minister says that the signage detects moisture, is it not reasonable to assume that motorists can become confused given the location of the signage?
The Hon. ERIC ROOZENDAAL:
My answer relates to the variable message signage, which is directly linked to a number of weather detection units on the F3 specifically to detect rain. That system has been developed—I am advised it is one of the first to be used in Australia—because there is a direct connection between the number of accidents in rain and wet weather compared with the number during dry periods. I am disappointed about the assumption that this signage is somehow linked to all driving conditions. It specifically deals with wet road conditions in that particular area. Obviously the Government cannot be behind the wheel of every car and take responsibility for every vehicle. There is still an incumbent responsibility on all drivers to drive safely within the conditions they find themselves in. Certainly drivers who find themselves driving in fog or poor visibility should slow down and drive appropriately to meet the conditions of the road.
Order! I call the Hon. John Ryan to order for the first time.
DISABILITY AIDS AND EQUIPMENT FUNDING
The Hon. GREG DONNELLY:
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Disability Services. Will the Minister outline what is being done for children with a disability requiring aids and equipment?
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
I thank the honourable member for his ongoing interest in disability matters. Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the Spastic Centre at Ryde, where the Premier announced an additional $2 million, available immediately, to clear the waiting list for aids and equipment for children with disabilities. This funding will provide wheelchairs, pressure care mattresses and cushions, continence assistance packages, communication devices, maintenance and safety checks, and mobility and shower aids, as well as orthotics, for about 800 children with disabilities. In recent years the need for aids and appliances for people with a disability has increased substantially, and the Iemma Government has responded with real and practical assistance.
We have increased spending for aids and equipment for children and adults by 27 per cent, bringing the total budget to $24 million this year. This funding increase demonstrates the Iemma Government's commitment to delivering better disability services. To achieve this the Government is finalising a 10-year plan to ensure that the large financial resources dedicated to disability services provide the greatest possible support to people who need it. The plan will outline the New South Wales Government's commitment to deliver disability services that are able to respond to the diverse and changing needs of people with disabilities, their families and their carers. The current models of service for people with a disability have helped many people, but they have not been flexible enough for others.
The Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care has a yearly budget of more than $1.5 billion. We must ensure that those funds are used in the optimal way to deliver more support to more people. The new system will be more flexible, more responsive and deliver more options for people with disabilities, their families and their carers. At the same time the new system will continue to operate in accordance with the principles and objectives of the Disability Services Act. The new system will promote independence and complement the informal support of people with disabilities. It will deliver more help for families and carers sooner, and prevent crises wherever possible.
I have hosted consultations across the State to hear the thoughts, ideas and aspirations of people with disabilities, families, carers, service providers and peak organisations as to how we can improve the disability support system. The views and ideas shared at these consultations will assist the New South Wales Government to identify new and innovative solutions to better meet the needs of people with a disability and their families into the future. The Government's latest commitment of an additional $2 million to clear the equipment waiting list for children under 16 years is a demonstration of the Government's new approach. We are providing more help to people with a disability and their families.
If honourable members have further questions, I suggest that they place them on notice.
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
Earlier in question time the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans asked me about prices paid for manufacturing milk. I can advise the House that prices paid to New South Wales milk producers are no longer grouped as either "manufacturing" or "whole" milk. Following deregulation, prices are based on milk quality parameters, including protein and milk fat levels. Consequently, there is no Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics data available on manufacturing milk prices.
BATHURST HOSPITAL HELICOPTER ACCESS
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS:
Yesterday the Hon. Jennifer Gardiner asked me a question relating to the relocation of the helipad during the redevelopment of Bathurst hospital, and other matters. I can provide the following information. As honourable members will no doubt be aware, the relocation of the helipad is a temporary measure while Bathurst hospital is being redeveloped. Plans for the redeveloped Bathurst health service include a helipad on top of the building, with dedicated lift access direct to the hospital's emergency department. I am advised that the Ambulance Service was consulted about the move, and the site was chosen because it provides a safe landing site for helicopters away from public areas 24 hours a day. The site also allows for easy access for road ambulances to meet medical crews or patients. Bathurst airport also has existing amenities for retrieval crews.
I am further advised that Victoria Park, adjacent to Bathurst hospital, was not considered suitable because of occupational health and safety concerns, as well as helicopter operational issues. In relation to issues surrounding the Bathurst show, I am advised that ambulance officers transported 10 patients from the show to the hospital, and assessed and treated other patients at the scene. A trauma doctor was also called to attend the scene. Concerns relating to medical retrieval are currently being reviewed. That review will consider alternative transport arrangements in the event that ambulance transport cannot be immediately provided.
[The Acting-President left the chair at 1.06 p.m. The House resumed at 2.45 p.m.
LEGAL PROFESSION AMENDMENT BILL
Bill received, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Motion by the Hon. Tony Kelly agreed to:
Second reading ordered to stand as an order of the day
That standing orders be suspended to allow the passing of the bill through all its remaining stages during the present or any one sitting of the House.
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
The Hon. ROBYN PARKER
[2.47 p.m.]: The Coalition and the community are not the only ones hugely concerned about the number of police in the Lower Hunter command, which covers the areas of Maitland and Port Stephens. The Police Association has raised similar concerns. Members of the association have been writing to their local members to get a response and they have been active in the newspapers because they are extremely frustrated with the lack of support from the Government and the lack of attention they are receiving from their local members—the honourable member for Maitland and the honourable member for Port Stephens.
It should be noted that the Lower Hunter command consistently rates in the top three of the 80 local area commands that deal with the five major crime categories. Policing numbers are so poor that general duties police are being directed only to "priority one" and "priority two" jobs, which are the really urgent jobs. The other jobs are placed in a queue, and we all hear about people waiting for hours to get a response from the police. This also means that police cannot be proactive in preventing crime; they can only respond to crime, and even then only to urgent crime. Why is that? Because there are insufficient police numbers, and general duties police have to make up for the gaps in those two electorates.
The populations of the Maitland and Port Stephens electorates are increasing, and one would think there would be an increase in the number of police in the local area command to meet the increased need. But that is not a priority for the Government. The Coalition, along with the Police Association, will continue to expose the Government's lack of responsibility regarding police numbers. In the past few years the Government responded to the lack of police numbers only when there was an issue of great significance, such as the Macquarie Fields riots or the Redfern riots. They seem to be the only things that focus the Government on policing issues. Of course, other areas then miss out on the attention they need. It makes people wonder whether a major riot is needed before the Government pays attention to policing resources. Police in Port Stephens are working in appalling conditions. The Port Stephens Examiner
of 23 March stated:
Police branch spokesman Colin McCarthy said officers at Raymond Terrace are working in a "brothel"—
he did not mean an actual brothel; he meant poor conditions—
while car crews were stretched to the limit responding to calls for assistance from as far away as Clarence Town and Tea Gardens.
The Police Association said it had written to the local member, Mr Bartlett, on many occasions but he had dismissed the association's concerns when he met with its representatives and there was a lack of concern overall from the Government. Mr McCarthy went on to say that in his view—and I assume in the view of the association—there is a need for another car crew to operate in Port Stephens. At night only two cars operate. In the view of Mr McCarthy that would require an extra 12 officers.
The Raymond Terrace police station is disgraceful. I have been to look at it a couple of times. Police have to work with filing boxes stacked up around them. It is an occupational health and safety nightmare. Conditions are very cramped. Alleged perpetrators walk past witnesses and victims in the hallways. Indeed, staff have to change in hallways to which the public has access. We support the comments by the Police Association in regard to the lack of attention by local members. I repeat that the Government ought to focus on increasing police numbers in these two electorates. The Liberal-Nationals Coalition will deliver a result for these electorates. The voters of Port Stephens know this and will show it at the ballot box in March 2007. There will be no need for a public disturbance. The people of Port Stephens have already made up their mind. They know they will not get an increase in police numbers from the Carr-Iemma Government; it will take a change of government. We will respond to the needs of the people in the area.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE
[2.56 p.m.]: The Leader of the Opposition, the mover of the motion, is very knowledgeable on police matters as he is a former experienced police officer. It is obviously important that there be sufficient police to carry out the appropriate duties. Emphasis should be on police being able to carry out their duties. Doubling the number of police will not achieve anything if obstacles prevent the police from carrying out their duties.
Whenever we debate issues concerning the New South Wales police force it should be clear that we are not criticising individual police officers carrying out their duties. We very much appreciate the faithfulness and loyalty of the 15,000 or so police officers in New South Wales who serve and protect the people of this State. Opposition members may legitimately criticise government policies but this can give the impression that there is criticism of individual police officers, and that cannot be justified. People should be clear about where the problems lie. In many cases they lie with the government of the day—at present we have a Labor government—and its legislation and policies. Police officers have to obey and enforce the laws enacted by the Government.
We need to do all we can to restore the powers of the police. I believe we should restore the name New South Wales Police Force to indicate that police officers of this State do have muscle and are supported by the Government in carrying out their duties on behalf of the community. In no way is that meant to intimidate law-abiding citizens, who respect the police in the main; but it is meant to put the fear of God into criminals who are intent on breaking the law. The impression we get now is that those involved with crime treat the police with disrespect. They laugh at them, give them the finger, use four-letter words to describe police carrying out their duties, and even physically attack police. In some cases police have been murdered.
Let us ensure that we have an appropriate number of police. The Government must decide how many police to have within its overall budget strategy. The same applies to fire officers and ambulance officers. We will soon be debating the budget after it is presented by the Treasurer. When there is a call for 3,000 more police officers from the NSW Police Association, serious consideration should be given to how much that will cost and where the funding will come from to meet that need. I am not questioning the need to increase the numbers, but the Government—irrespective of whether it is a Labor Government or a Coalition Government—will have to work out how it can pay for them. Governments have many other budget demands to consider, such as hospitals, education and so on.
I am very concerned about the attitude of some sections of the community towards the police, particularly when charges are laid against citizens who have been engaged in offensive actions against a police officer or police officers. When the cases go before the court, usually before magistrates, in many cases not only are the charges dismissed but costs are awarded against the police, so NSW Police must pay for the court case. On occasion it is even required to pay damages or compensation to the person who made the complaint. That is often not justified and the charges laid by the police should have been upheld and a verdict handed down in their favour.
We all know that one of the main culprits in this area is Magistrate Pat O'Shane, who seems to have a strong negative attitude towards the police and is usually consistent in rejecting police charges brought before her. I wish they did not come before her because when they do she seems to automatically dismiss them and to turn the case into an attack on the police officers and their credibility. She dismisses the charges and often awards costs against the police. That is not only my personal opinion: in recent days strong criticisms have been voiced in appeals that have been lodged against her decisions by other magistrates or judges. That could be a strong case for the Government to consider whether she should be relieved of her responsibilities. They may be too heavy at this time given the reports that her health is not the best. Perhaps she should be encouraged to retire so that other magistrates can handle these cases.
It is also important for the Government to continue to review the powers of NSW Police, particularly under the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act, to ensure that the police have sufficient powers. Because I have been in this place for 25 years I remember the debate we had in the days when Mr Walker was the Attorney General and he repealed the Summary Offences Act and made other changes. There was a tendency in those actions deliberately to downgrade police powers, and I do not believe it was accidental. It was a Government policy, but I do not know whether the entire Government at the time endorsed and understood it. I know that Mr Walker came from the libertarian side of the debate about politics and values. I remember the debate that occurred when he set up a summit involving about 600 people to justify his very serious amendments to the law to decriminalise street prostitution, vagrancy, drunkenness, and even drug offences. In a philosophical fashion, he referred to them as "victimless crimes", and said that, as such, there should be no laws against them. Overnight he removed the police power to deal with petty crime or street crime. There are some areas in which that type of crime must be controlled or it will escalate the breakdown of law and order in our society. I blame Mr Walker for the impact of those amendments.
It is also important that police officers have the power to act against people carrying knives and, in particular, pistols. We had many problems with people using knives in robberies and attacking people, but knives now seem to have been replaced by pistols, and criminals seem to have easy access to them. Security premises have been broken into and 30-odd modern Glock pistols—the same as those issued to police officers—have been stolen, and individual security officers have been robbed. That is one obvious source of these weapons, but apparently they are also being smuggled into Australia and are readily available on the black market.
Only this week we witnessed the climax of the shooting of a bikie gang leader. According to a media report, in an attempt to apprehend the person suspected of committing the murder, police conducted a raid on the premises of a bikie gang. The raid was designed to prevent a continuation of the war between the Hell's Angels and Nomad gangs and other gangs involved in this warfare. Apparently at one house the police seized a total of 12 illegally-held guns, a bullet-proof vest, two assault rifles and a Chinese-made SKS with a shortened stock. They also found 10 pistols, including two Barrettas, a nine-millimetre Luger, two Glocks, a nine-millimetre Browning, two Smith and Wesson handguns, a Colt and another handgun. I am concerned that the police took action because of the fear of a bikie shootout.
Why were these premises not raided as a matter of course by the police? Why were they not being searched, given that there was clear evidence that guns were being stored by gang members? In other words, the police should keep the pressure on gang members so that they are afraid to leave their homes with a gun. One gang member was charged with 39 weapons offences. These police operations are reactive. I want proactive operations to prevent these guns being used by criminals. Pressure should be applied to potential criminals. In fact, I am happy to suggest that they should even be harassed by the police; that is, rather than waiting for a shootout, police should constantly search them or their homes so that these guns are taken off the street. It is very important to encourage the police and to change the law so that police officers feel confident in being proactive.
The police officers I talk to appear to feel that if they initiate action and questions are asked, they will be criticised; they will be questioned about why they did something rather than praised for being proactive. The police say that the safest thing for them to do is to wait for something to happen—a shooting, a bashing or some other crime—and then investigate it and hopefully apprehend the perpetrator. Before all these changes were made by former Attorney General Walker to deal with victimless crimes, the police were proactive. The civil libertarians did not appreciate that and criticism was levelled at the specialised police units that had responsibility for the city area and so on and they were accused of brutality.
I do not believe that was justified. But certainly they were physically strong police officers selected for that role and they kept the gangs under control; the gangs were frightened of the police. They are no longer frightened of them; there has been a complete change. I believe we have to restore that. I do not suggest that decent citizens should be frightened of police, but it is important that criminals and those considering criminal activity fear police and therefore are deterred from going out with a gun or knife in their pocket.
We need to strengthen those police powers, especially with regard to offensive language and conduct. We also need to look at the number of warnings given to young offenders. Perhaps it is time to reduce unlimited warnings for young offenders to one caution. Unlimited warnings cause police to give up taking further action because the offender simply repeats his or her offensive behaviour. Police have told me that in some cases they have charged a person, say for a drug offence, and by the time the police get back to the station the person is on the street again selling drugs. The police think, "What's the point? We charge them, we arrest them, they go in, and they are back out again. It's just a merry-go-round." It is another way of demoralising police officers. It is important not only to have sufficient police numbers but to give police officers the ability to carry out their duties.
I have raised in this House questions about whether the 12-hour shift that police now work has helped them to carry out their duties. Some people argue that it gives them more time at home. But the primary question the Government has to ask is: What is the most efficient method of achieving the aim of police carrying out their duties? If at the end of a 12-hour shift police officers are not functioning efficiently because they are tired and they are not concentrating well, they have a tendency to make errors in completing paperwork and getting search warrants prepared. As a result, clever lawyers see these errors and get their clients' cases thrown out. I do not suggest that the 12-hour shift is the reason for all those mistakes, but I believe it is a factor if police are not sharp enough in carrying out their duties.
When the Leader of the Opposition moved this motion on 7 June 2005 he quoted figures compiled as at 30 April 2005. I do not question those figures—obviously they are accurate—but I believe we should look at the current figures. I was encouraged by the figures, which have been supplied to me by NSW Police. They show that the police establishment for field operations is 12,420 and that currently the police strength in that area is 12,516, which is above the establishment. The establishment for specialist operations is 1,463 and currently the police strength in that category is 1,448, which indicates a very small number of vacancies in that area. The establishment for the other non-region commands is 573 and the current police strength is 615, which is above the establishment. The establishment for total strength of the New South Wales Police Service at present is 14,456, and the actual police strength is 14,575. In other words, the total police strength is almost 100 above the establishment.
The position outlined by the Leader of the Opposition when moving the motion was correct at that time. I assume that his moving the motion has helped to concentrate the Government's mind on ensuring that the establishment figures are now being met, as reflected by the numbers of police who are now serving the people of this State. I note that the New South Wales Police Association still asks for an additional 3,000 police officers. I do not question that because obviously the association has a lot of background knowledge to make such a recommendation. However, as I said, the Government must take into account its overall budget and its priorities in many important areas. I certainly support the Police Service being one of the top priority areas for the Government, so we can all live in a society that ensures peace and safety for all citizens, particularly families, women and children so they can live their lives in a satisfying way.
The Hon. MELINDA PAVEY
[3.15 p.m.]: I support the motion moved by the shadow Minister for Police and the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council, the Hon. Michael Gallacher. It certainly is of concern to the people of New South Wales that police numbers have fallen in 85 of the area commands around New South Wales. It is ironic that the time frame we are using to show the reduction in police strength in those area commands is 2003. As the people New South Wales are aware, they had to go to the polling booths in March 2003, and they elected a Labor Government to continue the premiership of Bob Carr.
Bob Carr ran really hard on law and order in the election campaign. As can be seen from the statistics and data compiled by the Leader of the Opposition, it was just a front, it was just spin, it was just a stunt on the part of the Government to pretend that it had increased police strength. We can now see from the figures the end result of the Government's poor management. In 2003 the Government engaged in spin to create a situation where people felt that their areas were being well policed. Record police numbers was the Government's mantra. Three years later, 85 police command areas have had their police strength dramatically reduced. It is one of the significant telling points of the incompetence and spin of Bob Carr.
But the Bob Carr era continues. Now Morris Iemma plays the same spin and the same game as the former Premier, Bob Carr. I agree with my colleague the Hon. Jennifer Gardiner, who has often said that the Carr-Iemma era must end. The figures we have before us are evidence of why that era must end. Police strength in my duty electorates of Monaro and Port Macquarie has decreased significantly, and I will refer to the figures shortly. The motion also points out that because of incompetence at the very top, from the Ministers we have had in the police portfolio over a relatively short number of years, we have had upgrading bungles with respect to the capital works program for the police department. During 2004-05, for example, police underspent $18.77 million on their budget for the police station upgrading replacement program. That fact is galling, particularly for my home town of Coffs Harbour. Coffs Harbour police station is nothing more than a rabbit warren. The Coffs Harbour police do an amazing job trying to perform their duties in cramped conditions and under very difficult circumstances. Probably the most frustrating thing for the local police is that many of them are located in different buildings outside of the station area itself.
Parkes, in the seat of Dubbo, is another area that the Government has neglected. It is clear that Parkes police station also is in urgent need of an upgrade. Moree is number 21 of the 27 priority police stations that have a refurbishment or replacement program on the books, but it has failed to receive any funding. In 2005-06 Tenterfield police station was included in the list of priority police stations for the replacement program. But in 2004-05, somehow—with the Minister at the helm—the Government was unable to spend $18.77 million in that upgrading program, even though there were many police stations right throughout regional and metropolitan New South Wales calling out for that money.
The crime statistics we are faced with at the moment reflect the fact that police strength is down. In 2003 the 85 local area commands had a total of 13,434 operational police and now they are 1,000 or so below that number. As at April 2005, the total number of operational police was 12,774. The statistics are travelling in the wrong direction. In the past 11 years, for example, assaults are up 82.6 per cent, sexual assaults are up 88.5 per cent, indecent assaults, acts of indecency or other sexual offences are up 32.6 per cent, offences of robbery without a weapon are up 13.9 per cent, and offences of robbery with a weapon not a firearm are up 82.4 per cent. I am speaking of numbers, but behind those statistics is a lot of pain, a lot of difficulty and a lot of suffering for the victims of those crimes. The Government stands condemned for failing to keep police operational strength to a level that it committed to in the 2003 State election.
As at December last year, Monaro had lost five officers. In the same period New South Wales had lost 674 officers out of 1,078 front-line police officers, meaning fewer officers patrolling the streets. The figures are getting worse. Between December 2005 and March this year a further five police have left the Monaro command. At its peak in 2003, operational strength was 144 police; it is now down to 134—10 fewer police doing work in the Monaro electorate. I have spoken to many people throughout the community and they are concerned. People in the Jindabyne area are particularly concerned. As many members would know, Jindabyne has an incredible influx of people during the winter season and there were some real issues this past winter concerning policing resources and police management. At night graffiti offences increased and there were increased problems in the streets late at night.
The local community have been very sensible about their approach to this and held a public meeting on the issue late last year. But they have not been, for want of a better expression, too hysterical about it because they understand that Jindabyne is still a relatively safe place and a good place to be during the winter months. They are working diligently behind the scenes with the local, on-the-ground police and police officials to try to rectify the situation for this winter to ensure that some of the problems that occurred last year do not occur again. There is not a full-time police allocation to Jindabyne and most officers come from Cooma, but there is a full-time resourcing issue there during the winter period. Let us hope that this winter the good locals on the ground raise this issue. The issue has been raised with me by The Nationals candidate in Monaro, David Madew. He is also incredibly concerned at the loss of 10 officers in the electorate in 2003. He will be working with the local community to raise those concerns and rectify the situation.
My other duty electorate, Port Macquarie, is serviced by the mid North Coast local area command. That area has had a reduction in operational strength going from 172 in 2003 down to 169. This region of New South Wales—which encompasses the towns of Kempsey, Wauchope and Port Macquarie—has some very considerable policing issues and there should be an increase in policing there, not a decrease. The Government stands condemned for allowing that to happen.
It is a shame that we have to put a motion like this before the House, but I congratulate the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Minister for Police on doing so and on allowing us, as duty members of the Legislative Council, to put on the record problems faced by constituents in our key seats—our duty electorates—that need to be addressed, because, quite simply, the people elected in the Legislative Assembly to do that on their behalf are failing miserably.
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN
[3.27 p.m.]: I support the motion by the Leader of the Opposition. I looked at the police numbers for south-western Sydney and there is a decrease of 279 police from the peak number in 2003. It is ironic because this area encompasses Lakemba and Cabramatta where there have been major policing issues over recent years. In fact, the gangs in that area are so strong now that they intimidate the police. This is of real concern. We saw this happen in the Cronulla riots where the police simply were not game to go in there. I support Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile's comment that we are not talking about the police per se. The police are only as good as the political support and the political will they have to solve crime, but because of the lack of political support and because of the regulations and the system the police have to operate under, they are seriously intimidated when going into these areas.
However, I find it ironic that the other day the Deputy Leader of the Opposition told the House about a 70-year-old widow who lives alone on a property in the Western Division and how a couple of the native vegetation Gestapo thought they should turn up and inspect her property. They were obviously so concerned about this 70-year-old widow—who has never had any criminal record, not even a parking fine, in her life—that they turned up at her property, supported by three or four police cars. But if you are in trouble in south-western Sydney you cannot get police assistance because they are not game to go there.
This is typical of the Government's priority on policing. The Government is not fair dinkum. Police numbers have fallen dramatically across the State, and of particular concern is the decrease of 279 in south-western Sydney. Camden and Goulburn are down 15 police, Campbelltown is down 16, and Green Valley is down 5. Even Macquarie Fields, where all the difficulties have occurred, has suffered a loss; it is down 14.
The Hon. Greg Pearce:
That would be the Mark Latham squad.
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN:
Yes. If it took three or four police cars to go to the property of a 70-year-old widow, it would need the entire force of south-western Sydney to visit Mark because he does have form.
Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile:
And they don't take cameras.
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN:
That is right, they don't take cameras. I do not really come from a political background but I pride myself on my great political vision back in the early 1990s when I ran against Mark Latham. The Hon. Peter Primrose would remember that campaign.
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
The Hon. Peter Primrose probably voted for you!
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN:
Indeed. It was the first time in Werriwa that a Liberal was actually getting ahead in the polls. But I had vision. I knew that Mark Latham would be better for the Liberal Party in the longer term, so I took a dive and allowed Latham to get in! And it is a matter of record what has happened since.
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
Charlie Lynn saved the day!
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN:
Yes. And if John Howard had the time he would ring me more often than he does. But he knows what happened, and I am sure this event will be reflected in his memoirs. A lack of numbers is not the only issue with policing. It is also about the quality of the recruits. At the moment we have a very inexperienced police force. All the seasoned veterans, the old blokes who operated with gut instinct and experience, have left, and we are left with a very young and inexperienced police force. Obviously, the Government will do the old smoke and mirrors trick to boost numbers in the lead-up to next year's election. Sure, there will be a lot more people in uniform but they will not have the necessary experience.
To produce a quality police force we must provide quality training. Police must be given long-term career prospects in their chosen profession. People become police officers because they want to make a contribution to the safety of their community and provide a service. When they take the pledge they go about their duties, but if they are not given even adequate political support, leadership or will, they become disillusioned and morale suffers. A decrease in morale can result in an increase in sick leave. People who are motivated do not generally get sick or require time off on stress leave. Many police with genuine compensation claims feel betrayed by a government and police hierarchy intent on preventing police from receiving just compensation. Their fellow police officers are aware of this also and ask themselves why they should continue to put their lives at risk if support is not there when they need it. So they play the game.
As politicians we have a duty to ensure that police have the necessary community, political and judicial support. Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile referred to magistrate Pat O'Shane. Police do the right thing, investigate a matter, arrest an offender, do the required paperwork, and bring the offender before the court, only to be ridiculed by a magistrate and have their matters thrown out of court. This has a collective negative impact on the morale of police. It is not just about police numbers; it is also about the perception of policing and the role of police. To reassure our citizens about safety in their communities we need high police visibility. We do not see police on the streets any longer in our communities.
The Hon. Henry Tsang:
You see them on their bikes.
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN:
Do you? You must travel in different places to me. Police now have to comply with so many rules and regulations that all their time is spent in the office confronted with red tape. They need support to assist with that. We have clayton's stations. I instance the Warragamba station, which has a "Police" sign out the front but there is no-one there to answer any knocks at the door—and the community and the crooks know it! The people of Silverdale and the surrounding areas are vulnerable. Ram-raids are conducted on businesses in the area because the offenders know that by the time the offence is reported—with calls being transferred from one station to another—and the police respond, they can have the stolen goods sold and celebrate yet another victory against society. There is no deterrent, and they know that even if they are caught they have a good chance of getting off.
I congratulate the Leader of the Opposition on moving the motion, which will expose the Government's smoke and mirrors. Hopefully, the Government will do something to provide more experienced police on the beat and review policing laws to enable police to do the job of a police force and not just a police service. After the next election the Liberal-Nationals Coalition will provide a safe environment for the people of New South Wales.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS
[3.37 p.m.]: I am concerned that members of this House always look at issues in such an incredibly simplistic way. In health we look at what the intensive care units are doing. With social policy we look at what the police are doing. We always consider the most acute end, when really all it amounts to is efficiency of resources.
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
What they need is an intellectual, Ace, to save them.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS:
Thank you, Duncan—as opposed to a lunkhead to not fix them. The universal point is that prevention is better than cure. If something is prevented it never happens, and therefore there is never any pressure for prevention. It requires people to analyse a situation and decide where to spend the money.
It may be true that police numbers are down. But it is also true that prison populations have increased and, according to the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, crime rates have fallen. Those who study crime say that the crime rates relate very much to the indices of poverty, social equity, school truancy and illiteracy. Tony Vinson stated that with respect to crime prevention, one should consider social indices, such as factors leading to crime, and address them. He emphasised that this was the cheapest way to prevent crime.
If we want the best society in terms of a safe and stable place to live for minimum taxes paid, we must look at the opportunity costs of the professions on which we spend money. Will we provide better education so that there is less illiteracy and school truancy, and therefore alienate fewer youths? Will we ensure that the drug problems of mothers are well treated so that their kids have a decent chance? We must remember that people are required to do such tasks, and their resources come out of the same bucket of money that funds police resources.
An interesting observation of the Macquarie Fields inquiry was that kids in that area do not believe they will ever get a drivers licence because they will never be able to read with sufficient skill to enable them to learn the rules. They have learnt to drive in a practical context; and they consider, somewhat fatalistically, that driving without a licence and being caught doing so is an occupational hazard. The hazard of them going to gaol, to the universities of crime, and then graduating to a life of crime is extremely great. The members of the committee that conducted that inquiry saw how vulnerable were these kids who come from disturbed backgrounds, who play truant from school and cannot read and write and who are now falling into a life of crime through this mechanism.
Earlier I was reading the Auditor-General's report on the State Debt Recovery Office's improved apprehension of, and money recovery from, train fare evaders. The point was made by the people from Mission Australia who were looking after the people of Macquarie Fields that those who do not have jobs do not have sufficient money. If they have to travel a long distance for a job interview, they will jump on a train without paying, and will get fined large sums of money as a result. Even if Mission Australia finds them a job, the State Debt Recovery Office will say, "No, you can't have a licence for your job until you've paid off your fines." Some of these people have fines totalling hundreds of dollars. The State Debt Recovery Office will then say, "If you do six lots of Centrelink payments to the maximum for your fines, after six weeks and an agreement to pay more you can have a licence. Then when you get a job you can continue to pay off this huge backlog of fines." Of course, that is difficult to do. Many people have jumped on trains on a number of occasions without paying and they owe huge amounts of money. Now Mission Australia intercedes so that they can get a licence, which means they can get a job and rebuild their lives.
So what starts as a simple proposition of catching more fare evaders—and indeed, the object of an Auditor-General's report in 2000 and a follow-up report released on 26 April this year was to improve money recovery from train fare defaulters—becomes a social welfare problem. If these people cannot get a drivers licence because they have defaulted on fine payments, and if they are arrested for driving without a licence and are sent to gaol, we will pay much more in terms of human misery and the provision of additional resources than we would have lost in train fares. We must keep a balance on this. Of course, travelling on our trains without a ticket is an offence.
Essentially, my point is that police shortages alone are not the cause of crime. My argument is that more police means more arrests, more court work, more prisons, more education in crime and more alienated people, and that may not necessarily be a great step forward. However, no-one wants their house broken into and no-one wants to be mugged by someone attempting to get money. One would like the police to be stronger than the gangs, be they motorcycle or ethnic gangs. I am of the view that ethnically based gangs of young men are a response to a feeling of alienation, as sociologists might tell us. Better integration of racial groups into mainstream Australian society, which might result from adult education or an integration project—at the moment attention seems to be on the most recent arrivals, Muslims—would reduce the large pool of youth who are conscious of their physical strength and alienation. I suppose physical strength and alienation are elements that make it more likely for people to form fairly destructive gangs and challenge the police.
In a sense, I am asking for an improved social policy rather than more police. Police have said that they spend a great deal of time transporting mentally ill people after apprehending them for committing offences to survive. When mentally ill people become dysfunctional, they are unable to pay their rent, they get evicted from their properties and they become homeless. They cannot fulfil John Howard's mutual responsibilities in terms of applying for a job in order to get welfare benefits, and if they cannot get welfare benefits they either go to soup kitchens or steal food. If they steal food, they are arrested and sent to prison. We spend much more money on housing the mentally ill in prisons—$60,000 a year—than it would cost to subsidise some sort of systematic boarding house accommodation arrangement and to subsidise carers to assist the mentally ill with their medications. We have a serious mis-allocation of resources.
The police have put it to me that they have too many jobs to do—and I mean by that all police, not just those who deal with welfare-dependent people. They have perhaps six or eight jobs to do per shift, and only some of the jobs—for example, house break-ins and car accidents—are allocated during a shift. Of course, if a job is not done properly or detectives are not available, they cannot get sufficient evidence for a conviction, and that is unsatisfactory from their viewpoint. If someone is burgled, the police want the burglar arrested and locked up to ensure he does not reoffend. It is important that burglars know that they cannot continue to get away with breaking into houses. Certainly, police have argued to me that an injection of resources would result in fewer jobs being allocated to each officer, and that in turn would result in more burglars being caught. There would be fewer burglars getting away with breaking into houses, and thus a pattern of behaviour would develop; the crime cycle would be broken.
Under police protocols, when someone is being charged with, for example, four offences, before each charge is read the police must caution the person by saying, "Anything you say will be taken down and used in evidence against you", and that is recorded. If it is not recorded correctly in the record of interview, the charges cannot proceed. The police say that in such a situation the charge procedure can take up to four hours. There is a large amount of paperwork; the red tape is a problem. Obviously if more people are policing full time, those full-time police often end up doing the paperwork. Naturally, defence lawyers take advantage of any loophole, including a caution not being given correctly.
There is a genuine case for encouraging police and helping them to do their jobs more efficiently, but I am not an expert on the technology that might assist them. Certainly, I am not an expert on police numbers, but if we looked at other areas of social support—such as carers for the mentally ill; integrating gangs and dealing with problems that lead to youth alienation; illiteracy and school truancy; reasonable transport, even if it must be subsidised in areas of poverty—that would make a difference to levels of crime. A friend of mine who used to live at Bundeena, which is an isolated area in the Royal National Park about 10 kilometres from Sutherland, told me that many cars were stolen in that area on Saturday nights so that kids could get into town; if they did not steal a car they simply could not get into town on Saturday night.
The stolen cars would usually be found undamaged in Sutherland, or they would be returned the next morning. It may be a simple problem of lack of transport but the kids would say, "We don't want to be alienated. We'll get away with this crime if we can in order to have a night out." If we were to approach the problem in terms of likely behaviour, rather than the behaviour we would like to see—that is, kids either making another arrangement to get into town or staying home and playing cribbage—we would have a better society. To simply say we need more police and intensive care people is all very well, but we could also say that we need more doctors, social workers, educationalists and roads. The demands on resources are limitless, and rather than simply move motions to condemn the Government for lack of police numbers or lack of something else we should implement prevention strategies and try to do these things better.
I have said for many years that the Government is most negligent with regard to health strategies—especially with tobacco control and combating obesity. The same can be said of the Government's social policy, as we try to get resources for kids with literacy problems, those suffering dyslexia and other difficulties that lead to their alienation and a likely involvement in criminal activity. As the proverb states: If you think education is expensive, try seeing how expensive ignorance is. Certainly, the Taiwanese believe that if you leave a young person unable to get a job, you condemn him or her to welfare for life and you condemn society to pay for that person's inability to work for life.
While the motion is well intentioned, I cannot support it. To criticise merely on the basis of numbers is not the best way to go. The Opposition should be urging the Government to optimise the allocation of resources to detect the causes of crime to make society safer.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER
[3.51 p.m.]: Unlike the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans, I have pleasure in supporting the motion of the Leader of the Opposition, which calls on the House to note that at their highest point in 2003 the 85 police local area commands in New South Wales had a total of 13,434 operational police and NSW Police had a total strength of 15,168. It is worth the House noting also that on 30 April 2005 the total operational police numbers in this State were 12,774 and NSW Police had a total strength of 14,739. It is interesting to note also that on 30 April 2005, 68 of the 85 local area commands had fewer police officers than at their highest point in 2003.
It is appropriate that we note that during 2004-05 NSW Police underspent on the budgeted police station upgrading and replacement program by $18.77 million and that in the 2005-06 State budget the Minister for Police did not provide any funding at all for 21 of the 27 priority police station and replacement or refurbishment projects, including those at Coffs Harbour, Moree, Parkes and Tenterfield. It is proper for this House to call on the Minister for Police to fully resource police officers and police stations throughout New South Wales.
Like other members on this side of the House, I support the excellent work of our much-valued New South Wales police. But under the Carr and Iemma governments it has become increasingly apparent that NSW Police is underresourced and understaffed. Recent statistics show the underresourcing is in various parts of country and coastal New South Wales, as well as in the metropolitan area. For example, in recent weeks there has been considerable concern amongst the Tweed-Byron community about the number of police in the local area command on stress leave. We understand that policing is a very stressful occupation but it is made all the more so when insufficient resources are provided to police to carry out their duties in the way citizens expect of them.
There is an increasing tendency for police not to attend callouts that are categorised as civil matters. While some matters that involve people with grievances might be better left for the people involved to sort out themselves, it is highly unsatisfactory that criminal matters are regarded as being of insufficient seriousness to warrant police attendance. It would be interesting to know what proportion of requests to police these days are being deflected to aggrieved and sometimes fearful citizens rather than being the subject of proper police investigation and follow-up.
Statistics show the change in police numbers for each local area command from a peak in 2003 to the most recent figures, which are to march 2006. It is interesting to note the decline in the number of police available to communities and local area commands right across the board. The Botany Bay Local Area Command has declined in numbers by 39. In City Central there is a large decline. In the local area command of the Eastern Beaches there is a decline. There is a decline in the Eastern Suburbs and in Harbourside in the city, as well as in Hurstville, Kings Cross, Leichhardt, Miranda and Newtown. Interestingly, one place where there has been an increase is the riotous Redfern, but the number of police in the Surry Hills Local Area Command has gone down by 42.
Clearly, there has been a shifting of personnel from one police station to the next, but there is still an overall decline. There is a decline in Rose Bay as there is in Sutherland, where obviously the Government is still waiting for the impact of recent riots to take effect. In Sydney there is a decline, as there is in the local area commands of Blacktown, Blue Mountains, Eastwood, Gladesville, Holroyd, Ku-ring-gai, Manly, Mount Druitt and the North Shore. Numbers are down on the Northern Beaches as they are in Parramatta, Penrith, Quakers Hill, St Marys, Brisbane Water, the Hunter Valley and in the Manning-Great Lakes. Some growing areas on the mid North Coast, in the Manning-Great Lakes region, do not have any police. The lack of a police presence in Forster and Tuncurry is of great concern. Numbers are down in the mid North Coast local area command as they are in Newcastle, Richmond and Tuggerah Lakes.
I mentioned earlier the number of police on stress leave in the Tweed-Byron local area command. Of course, the numbers in that area are down as well. They are also down in Waratah, Ashfield, Bankstown, Burwood, Cabramatta, Camden, Campbelltown, Campsie, Fairfield, Flemington, Green Valley, Liverpool, Macquarie Fields, Marrickville and Rosehill. Police numbers are down across the board. The numbers are down in practically every non-metropolitan area—in fact, all but one. The numbers in Albury are down, as they are in Cootamundra, Deniliquin, the far South Coast, Goulburn—
The Hon. Henry Tsang:
Can you table the document you are reading from?
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER:
No, it is important information, and everybody wants to know about it. The numbers in Monaro are down, as they are in the Shoalhaven, Wagga Wagga, Wollongong, Berry, Barwon, Canobolas and in Chifley, which is out at Bathurst. Good old Ben Chifley would be rolling in his grave! The Darling River is down in numbers; Lachlan is down; Mudgee is down; New England is down; Orana is down—
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
Orana is down.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER:
It is very down—in more ways than one. Oxley local area command is down in numbers. In that local area command—for example at Tamworth—despite at any given time only one mobile police patrol being available, police are still diverted to provide a constant police presence outside West Tamworth Leagues Club on speed camera duty to help fill the ever-increasing black hole of the Carr-Iemma-Costa consortium. It is an absolute disgrace. Statewide the police are deserving of more support because practically all across the State, local area commands are increasingly underresourced and understaffed. One might ask where all the police have gone. They have just disappeared.
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
They are chasing little old ladies in the Western Division.
The Hon. Christine Robertson:
A lady's sons chopped a tree.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER:
I hope they did not divert all the police out there. How many did they divert?
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
At least three carloads.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER:
Were all those police resources needed to find out whether they chopped down a tree? There are obviously more important things for the police to be doing. The police who went to that so-called incident were probably sitting in their police vehicles outside the lady's gate asking, "What on earth are we doing here?" They should have been doing something of greater import to the local area command and the citizens who live therein. It is very instructive that this debate has been conducted in this House. The statewide position is extraordinary.
When the Carr-Iemma Government announces that it will increase the number of recruits to the police academy, the people who run the academy are usually not told in advance; they hear in a media release about an influx of students. No planning goes into it. They are supposed to just cop it, just as the local area commands are meant to cop it when there is a decline in numbers across the board. I join the Leader of the Opposition and other colleagues in supporting the motion and drawing attention to the scandalous state of affairs affecting New South Wales Police under the Carr-Iemma Government.
The Hon. GREG PEARCE
[4.03 p.m.]: I support the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition noting that at the highest point in 2003 the 85 police local area commands had a total of 13,434 operational police and the whole service had a total strength of 15,168. As honourable members would realise, that was a result of the extraordinary effort made by former police Minister, Uncle Fester Costa, who was given the job of ensuring that before the 2003 election the Labor Party was able to at least notionally meet its promise to increase police numbers by the planned 1,000 police.
Honourable members will remember the scandalous way in which the Labor Party went about meeting that number. In the end it had to reduce the training period for police officers to enable the numbers to be rolled through. We heard the disgraceful mantra of "record numbers, record numbers", but, as a number of speakers have mentioned, that was only achieved at the expense of the structure of the police force. Essentially, most senior and more experienced police have been lost and the service now has a disproportionate number of very junior police.
Honourable members will also remember that within a few months after the election it was revealed that the police budget was over budget by, I think, $40 million. That was a direct result of the extra numbers that had not been budgeted for and the extra salaries and employment costs involved. Now, less than a year before the next election, the Labor Party, as usual, is rolling out its promises and all the spin. The Redfern riot—I know a great deal about it because I was a member of the committee that inquired into it—the Macquarie Fields riot, the Cronulla riots and their aftermath have occurred while police numbers have been allowed to plummet under this Government. As the motion says, as at 30 April 2005 total operational police numbers were 12,774 out of the total strength of 14,739. At that date 68 of the 85 local area commands had fewer police officers than at their highest point in 2003.
Other members have already stated the current police numbers. I will refer to a couple of examples of interest to me. In 2003 the Manly local area command had 119 officers but the number is now down to 96 officers, a reduction of 23. That demonstrates this Government's response to the concerns of the people of Manly about their safety and crime in their area. I understand that the authorised strength as at 31 March this year, the date on which the figure of 96 was reported, was 102. So even on authorised strength the number of police in Manly is down by 17 from the cynical, electioneering high of 119 that the Government achieved in 2003. Further north, in the Northern Beaches, which covers Pittwater, Davidson and Wakehurst, there were 208 police in 2003. There are now 190, a decline of 18. This is another disgraceful example of the cynical way in which the Government has treated policing, security and crime matters. The result for people living in Manly and the Northern Beaches is that in many categories crime has increased. The latest crime statistics—the Government's own numbers—that came out last month show that in 1995 there were 839 assaults in the Northern Beaches local government areas. In 2005 the number rose to 1,182—an increase of 40.9 per cent.
In 1995 there were 44 sexual assaults and in 2005 there were 61, which is an increase of 38.6 per cent. In 1995 there were 113 indecent assaults, acts of indecency or other sexual offences, and in 2005 there were 140, which is an increase of 23.9 per cent. In 1995 there were 63 robberies without a weapon and 70 in 2005, which is an increase of 11.1 per cent. In 1995 there were 234 instances of steal from a person and there were 274 in 2005, which is a 17.1 per cent increase. In 1995 there were 617 instances of fraud and there were 1,099 in 2005, which is a massive increase of 78.1 per cent. In 1995 there were 91 instances of offensive conduct and there were 253 in 2005, which is a record 178 per cent increase. In 1995 there were 125 instances of offensive language and there were 147 in 2005, which is a 17.6 per cent increase. In 1995 there were 82 instances of breach of apprehended violence order and there were 169 in 2005, which is an increase of 106.1 per cent. If anyone doubts that this Government's cynical reduction in police numbers, its inability to manage the budget, and the need to cut the police budget has had an impact, they need only look at those statistics.
The Manly Daily
of 19 February 2006 reinforces that view in an article headed "We're short 45 police". The article was based on the New South Wales Police Association's view that the police strength in Manly and the Northern Beaches is at least 45 police below the required establishment, which is almost identical to the figures I quoted earlier today; that is, Manly has 23 fewer officers and the Northern Beaches has 18 fewer officers since the peak in 2003. This Government stands condemned for its failure to maintain police numbers.
The balance of this motion relates to underspending on the police station upgrading and replacement program, which was underspent in 2004-05 by a massive $18.77 million. It will be interesting to see the next budget and to compare what has happened. The motion also notes that in the 2005-06 State budget the Minister for Police failed to provide any funding for 21 of the 27 priority police station replacement or refurbishment proposals. Luckily none of those was in Manly or the Northern Beaches. However, it demonstrates this Government's extraordinary failure to maintain police infrastructure. I join with other honourable members in calling on the Minister for Police to fully resource police officers and police stations throughout the State, particularly in Manly, the Northern Beaches and Pittwater.
The Hon. JOHN RYAN
[4.14 p.m.]: It is a pleasure to support this motion moved by my Leader, the Hon. Michael Gallacher, about police numbers. I say at the outset something my colleagues have said a number of times: Police numbers in this State largely reflect a political agenda rather than an agenda based on the community's need for security. During every election campaign since the Carr Government came to office—and I have no doubt that the Iemma Government is planning the same strategy—dramatic announcements have been made about additional police officers and a grand attestation parade has been held, usually at the Opera House, with the cameras rolling.
It is proclaimed that the young police officers involved are about to march into local area commands to boost their strength. The problem is that that performance is only for the campaign. Immediately after the election, police numbers decline. We see the sorry impact of that particularly in my area, which includes Narellan, Camden, Macquarie Fields and Campbelltown. People are increasingly concerned about crime, public safety and security.
I recall only a year or so ago doing some doorknocking with my colleague the Hon. Pat Farmer, the Federal member for Macarthur, in the Bradbury area of his electorate. At almost every house we visited, people raised their concerns about home burglaries. The Government has been saying that the incidence of home burglaries, among other crimes, is on its way down. It is not on its way down; the figures are on their way down only because of the impact of the Police Assistance Line. Since its introduction it has become almost impossible to speak directly to police officers about crime. As a result, people do not report crime. Crimes such as burglary occur, but people simply do not go to the trouble of reporting them because they know the police are not paying attention. The Government does not believe it is important for someone in a uniform to answer the phone, let alone to ensure that the information provided to a call centre results in a police officer investigating a crime.
I can count on my fingers the number of constituents who have rung the police concerned about a break-in and who have been visited by someone from the local police station to take fingerprints or gather other evidence. It is rare that home break-ins are one-off events; they are not done by someone spontaneously and never done again. Invariably, a group of people are operating in an area. It is simply a matter of investigating a number of incidents and gathering the evidence that might be available in the form of fingerprints, modus operandi, and what neighbours might have seen. If that is done it is possible to detect the perpetrators. The police often know the identities of the people who are active in a particular area, but without investigation a case is not prepared and people are not charged and brought before the courts. People know that reporting a crime is pointless, particularly when the report is made to a telephone answering service, and the result is that the figures are decreasing. However, if honourable members were to doorknock, they would discover that people are still as concerned as they ever have been about crime, if not more so. My doorknocking as a member of Parliament certainly convinces me of that.
A few years ago someone started a fire in the garden of my home and I had to ring the Police Assistance Line, despite the much-vaunted memoranda we have received about protection of members of Parliament. Someone put an incendiary device in the middle of my yard and attempted to burn the garden, the fence, and who knows what else. When I reported that to my local area command, I was told to report it to the Police Assistance Line. The officer to whom I spoke knew I was a member of Parliament. Apparently the police are supposed to regard threats to the security of members of Parliament as very important. There was physical evidence in my garden in the form of a coat-hanger with a firelighter attached. It was obvious that the fire was no accident, and if it had not been for the fact that one of my neighbours noticed the garden burning the result might have been very different.
I was then asked to report the matter to the Police Assistance Line. When I discovered that it would take me 10 or 15 minutes to go through the routine of giving police essentially statistics, I decided it was not worth the effort and I did not bother to report the matter further. Because I am a busy person I knew that nothing effective would happen as a result of my reporting the incident. Fortunately, there has not been a repeat of the incident that occurred at my house two or three years ago. I am sure that my experience is similar to that of many of my neighbours. It does not seem to matter that people are burgled. The most effective thing you can do is report the incident to the insurance company and make the report to the Police Assistance Line if the insurance company requires it.
The Hon. Melinda Pavey:
Get your number.
The Hon. JOHN RYAN:
Yes, get your number, and forget about it. As a result, sadly, most people do not bother to report crime. Many constituents have told me about similar experiences. For example, a lady whose son has a disability had as one of his proudest possessions a laptop computer. A few weeks ago, in Bradbury, when he was on his way home the laptop was ripped from his hands and he was punched to the ground by a gang who are well known to police. It was not as if they were people who could not be identified. I have absolutely no doubt that the individuals who committed that crime are known to the police. Had the police bothered to investigate the crime I am sure they would have been able to bring the perpetrators before the courts.
The young man was hospitalised as a result of his injury. I had to ring the local area commander and ask that he invite the lady to bring her son in so he could make a statement. It is now getting to the stage where, on serious matters such as this, it is necessary to go to one's member of Parliament and have him or her speak to the local area commander before police will take action, even if physical injuries are involved. That is an utter disgrace.
Another incident occurred only last week concerning a lady who had been making representations to me about a shoddy builder. She had encountered the builder, a person of Lebanese background, on a number of occasions. Late one evening he came to her home together with another person who appeared to be of Middle Eastern background and demanded money from her. The person accompanying the builder said nothing, but it was pretty obvious what that person was on the doorstep for: to provide physical intimidation while the builder made a threat. Fortunately, they went away.
In the course of last week this lady received not one but four SMS messages from the builder. The text of those messages was: "We are coming around to your home tonight with five other men and we are going to fix this matter tonight." I would have thought that any person receiving a text message of that nature once would be justified in feeling frightened. But if they received such a text message four times from the builder's mobile phone, obviously they would feel somewhat frightened and intimidated. Incidentally, the builder comes from Bankstown.
The lady lives in the Hornsby area, and she went to her local police station, which is part of the Ku-ring-gai patrol. After she reported the incident she was told, "Don't worry about it, he was probably meaning to frighten you." Hang on! Of course he was meaning to frighten her! If I had gone to the police and made such a report I would have expected a uniformed police officer to visit the person making the threat. Given that the police could establish the person's identity, address and phone number, why would they not visit that address and ask the person, "Can I examine your mobile phone to see whether you have sent messages of this nature?" I suggest that the police officer should then give consideration to investigating an offence under the telecommunications Act of threatening a person with physical violence.
The story gets worse. Eventually, after the police told the woman to go away I rang the local area commander and made it clear to him that I did not regard this to be a satisfactory level of service. I asked him, before I made representations to the Minister, whether he could offer the woman a better level of service. She was invited to come to the police station, and she was given some assistance and advice on applying for an apprehended violence order [AVO]—initially on her own, without police support. So the answer now is: You are not going to get police to investigate a crime; the best you can expect if you are intimidated in this fashion is that you can go to the Local Court and make your own personal application for an apprehended violence order. Goodness knows what would happen if the woman went to the police and said, "I am frightened that this AVO is being violated." Eventually I shamed the police into going with this woman to make the application on her behalf, so the magistrate at least had some indication that the police were interested.
To the absolute discredit of the magistrate, he accepted evidence from the person making the threat that what was intended by the text message was that he would go with some members of the Lebanese community and negotiate how this payment would be made. What a joke! Believe it or not, the woman did not get the AVO; she did not receive that protection. So being a single mother with two young children to look after, she left her home for a week to make sure she was not threatened! That is the state of law and order in our community: you cannot get action from the police, and you cannot get protection from the courts.
I am not one to participate in the law and order debate and call for greater penalties, more police action and so on without due consideration. I think I am generally considered in this Parliament to be a person of liberal sentiments who likes to see as low a level of police response as possible. But it should not be so low that people with legitimate concerns for their safety do not receive appropriate service. Needless to say, I have written to the Minister for Police about this incident, and to the Minister for Fair Trading because I do not believe the builder should be allowed to continue to operate while he acts in this way. The Fair Trading Act provides power to suspend a builder's licence if his performance is inadequate. However, I want to know why police are not following up these sorts of threats as they should.
I am particularly interested in police numbers in the Macquarie Fields and Menai areas. I note from figures that are publicly available that the Macquarie Fields area is serviced by the Green Valley patrol and the Macquarie Fields patrol. We all know the profile that Macquarie Fields has as an area of crime. Yet Macquarie Fields, of all places, is under strength by 20 police. Menai is another electorate in which I can assure members opposite that I will be taking a great deal of interest over the next few months. I note that the Menai area is so well represented by its current member, Alison Megarrity, that she has allowed, without comment, the Sutherland patrol to fall 15 police below strength. Similarly, the Liverpool patrol, which is also in her electorate, is 25 police below strength. What a great effort for a marginal seat that its patrols are 30 or 40 police down on their authorised strength.
Moorebank police station is a very ordinary building that is in dire need of some sort of upgrade to give police decent working conditions. There was a Menai police station but the building is now occupied by the dog squad. The police station is now operated from this joke of a facility called a shopfront police station. It is literally that. It used to be a Kentucky Fried Chicken establishment that could cater for only about two people in it at any one time. That shopfront police station now serves the growing area of Menai and that part of the Sutherland shire. That, too, I regard as a joke, and I am sure the electors of Menai also regard it as a joke. They want their police station back, they want a proper police station, and they want the dog squad moved somewhere else. Obviously, the dog squad has been put there for cosmetic purposes, to make it seem that the people of Menai are being provided with police without actually giving them a police service.
The people of Menai deserve a proper police response, the restoration of Menai police station, and an upgrade of Moorebank police station. I think my colleague the Hon. Charlie Lynn has already referred to this. As a resident of Narellan, it would be remiss of me not to pay some attention to the fact that residents of Narellan have been promised a police station for more than 10 years. For as long as the Labor Party has been in office—
The Hon. Charlie Lynn:
There is even land.
The Hon. JOHN RYAN:
Land has even been identified, and yet no police station has been built—and I suspect that it will not be built. The Camden police still do not have adequate facilities. I understand that female police officers have to leave the police station to visit the toilet because the station does not have male and female toilets. This is the state of policing in New South Wales, and yet my colleague the Leader of the Opposition notes at point (e) that:
The 2005-2006 budget the Minister for Police failed to provide any funding for 21 of the 27 priority police station replacement or refurbishment projects, including those at Bowral, Burwood—
a reference to both Camden police station and Narellan police station—
Coffs Harbour, Corrimal, Cronulla, Ermington, Granville, Liverpool—
which is also one of the police stations that services the Menai electorate—
Macksville, Moree, Parkes, Port Kembla, Quakers Hill, Revesby, Richmond, Windsor, Tenterfield, Warilla, Wyong …
If a government cannot offer its community security, it does not offer it anything. Nothing replaces a proper feeling of actual security and a proper police service. That is one of the things, next to spending a budget, that a government does. [Extension of time agreed to.
On behalf of my colleague the Leader of the Opposition we want this motion passed today as a strong statement to the community that we support decent policing. We do not believe there has been an adequate level of policing in the community. One of the basic things a government must do is offer people security. As Opposition members have demonstrated in this debate—and there has been virtually no comment from the Government in reply—New South Wales does not enjoy a proper level of policing: basic security issues are left unaddressed and the opportunities for people to seek redress for genuine assaults on their person, such as the ones I have described, are simply not there. There has to be a sufficient number of police to address people's needs, and we certainly do not need the politically oriented policing that passes as a joke in this State. We make that strong statement before the House today.
Debate adjourned on motion by the Hon. John Ryan.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF SACRIFICE MADE BY AUSTRALIAN SERVICE MEN AND WOMEN
Debate resumed from 2 May 2006.
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN
[4.32 p.m.]: The acknowledgment of traditional owners of the land seems to have been introduced around the time of the republican and reconciliation debates during the Keating Labor Government era. Left-wing academics, inner-city urban dwellers and doctors' wives were among the comfortable middle-class voices calling for changes to our flag and our system of parliamentary democracy. They also wanted us to say sorry for historical wrongs over which we had no influence. As it turned out, the only thing that changed was the Government.
I would hope that these ideological warriors of the Left will come to understand that the wider Australian community will accept such changes to our systems, symbols and institutions only when they are treated as equals in the debate, not as a group of uneducated westies or rednecks. My view is that concentrating on so-called progressive issues for our indigenous people has done them more harm than good. The "feelgood" factor for the chattering classes in comfortable inner-city environments does not translate into worthwhile sustainable benefits for indigenous people in remote and isolated areas. It has taken the emergence of indigenous leaders such as Noel Pearson and Warren Mundine to get some balance back into the debate and to earn the respect of the wider community in the process.
The election of one of the ideological relics of the Left to the presidency of this House brought with it some radical but predictable change. Firstly, our ex-service men and women were insulted when representatives of some of the most repressive communist regimes in the world were invited as official guests to the opening of the House, while our former and current allies whom we had spilled blood with in conflict with these regimes were ignored. The next to go was the portrait of the Queen from the public area of the Parliament. The recital of the prayer was delegated to the Clerk, and the acknowledgement of traditional owners was introduced without consultation. These types of insults in countries such as North Korea, North Vietnam and Cuba would have resulted in a lengthy stint in remote re-education camps, but here the insults have been ignored—a testimony to the tolerance of our parliamentary democracy that has served us so well since Federation. I personally have no issue with an acknowledgement of traditional owners of the land. However, I believe it would have been better accepted if there had been some consultation with members before it was introduced. I would hope that in the longer term the ideas developed by respected indigenous leaders such as Noel Pearson and Warren Mundine will give the meaning of such acknowledgements more significance.
There is one other group within our community that should be acknowledged also by our parliaments, local councils and educational institutions, and that is our service men and women who sacrificed their lives in defence of the freedom, peace and prosperity we have in this great country today. Among these, of course, are some of our finest soldiers, such as Aboriginal brothers Reg and Harry Saunders, who fought in the Middle East and New Guinea during World War II. Their father fought in the First World War, as did their uncle, Reg Rawlings, who was awarded the Military Medal, and who was later killed in action. Following in this military tradition, Reg and his brother Harry enlisted for service in the Second World War. Harry was later killed in New Guinea.
Reg Saunders proved a natural soldier, and he found less discrimination in the army than in the wider community. He became a popular non-commissioned officer in the 2/7th Battalion. The unit saw action in North Africa before joining the Greek campaign. When the British evacuated Crete in May 1941, Reg was one of the many men left behind. He spent an adventurous year hiding out, aided by the locals, before he was finally evacuated by sea. After he returned to Australia he rejoined his battalion and served in New Guinea. In late 1944 he attended an officer training unit, was commissioned lieutenant and went back to the 2/7th Battalion.
The Korean War provided further opportunity for soldiering and Reg led a company—C Company, 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment—through fierce fighting, including the battle at Kapyong in April 1951. He remained in the army for a year after the war. However, his life became unsettled and he had difficulty re-establishing himself as a civilian. Tough years followed, but he overcame them. Meanwhile, he found he was increasingly expected to be a spokesperson for indigenous Australians. In 1969 Reg Saunders was selected to be among the first Aboriginal liaison officers for the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, which became the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Devoted to those he had served with, he was a man of dignity and good humour, who remained committed to the advancement of his people.
In respect of our acknowledgement of past service and sacrifice, it is worth reflecting on the achievements of our troops in World War I under the command of General Sir John Monash, the greatest leader we have ever produced—and arguably the greatest Australian of all time. He was, as pointed out by his biographer, Roland Perry, the "outsider who won the war". It is worth noting that Monash commanded an army more than two and half times the size of the British Army under the Duke of Wellington or the French army under Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo. In his army corps he had an artillery that was more than six times bigger and 100 times more powerful than that commanded by the Duke of Wellington. It is surely an indictment on our education system and our arts industry that Australians know more about the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte than they do about General Sir John Monash.
It is interesting to note that at the height of his command the only enemies that caused him concern were a newspaper reporter, Keith Murdoch; a historian, Mr Bean; and a politician who happened to be the Prime Minister at the time, Billy Hughes. Some things never change. After the battle of Hamel in April 1918, the French Premier Georges Clemenceau paid a great tribute to the Australian troops about the cause of freedom in Australia, England, France and Italy when he addressed them. Speaking about freedom he said:
That is what made you come. That is what made us greet you when you came. We knew you would fight a real fight, but we did not know that from the very beginning you would astonish the whole continent with your valour.
He went on:
I shall go back to Paris tomorrow and say to my countrymen; "I have seen the Australians; I have looked into their eyes. I know that they, men who have fought great battles in the cause of freedom, will fight on alongside us, till the freedom for which we are fighting is guaranteed for us and our future".
A couple of months later, as the Australians prepared for another epic battle at Amiens, Monash sent a message to all of the 166,000 Australian troops in his corps:
For the first time in the history of this Corps, all five Australian Divisions will tomorrow engage in the largest and most important battle operation ever undertaken by the Corps.
They will be supported by an exceptionally powerful Artillery, and by Tanks and Aeroplanes on a scale never previously attempted. The full resources of our sister Dominion, the Canadian Corps, will also operate on our right, while two British Divisions will guard our left flank.
The many successful offensives which the Brigades and Battalions of this Corps have so brilliantly executed during the past four months have been the prelude to, and the preparation for, this greatest culminating effort.
Because of the completeness of our plans and dispositions, of the magnitude of the operations, of the number of troops employed, and of the depth to which we intend to over-run the enemy's positions, this battle will be one of the most memorable of the whole war; and there can be no doubt that, by capturing our objectives, we will inflict blows upon the enemy which will make him stagger, and will bring the end appreciably nearer.
I entertain no sort of doubt that every Australian soldier will worthily rise to so great an occasion, and that every man, imbued with the spirit of victory, will, in spite of every difficulty that may confront him, be animated by no other resolve than grim determination so see through to a clean finish, whatever his task may be.
The work to be done tomorrow will perhaps make heavy demands upon the endurance and staying powers of many of you; but I am confident, in spite of excitement, fatigue, and physical strain, every man will carry on to the utmost of his powers until his goal is won; for the sake of Australia, the Empire and our cause.
I earnestly wish every soldier of the Corps the best of good fortune, and glorious and decisive victory, the story of which will echo throughout the world, and will live forever in the history of our homeland.
Approximately 12 hours after the start of the battle it was all over. The Australians lost approximately 1,200 men out of an assault force of more than 100,000 under Monash's command. They captured more than 6,000 Germans, 100 field artillery pieces, a complete train and hundreds of vehicles. It was a decisive victory attributed to Monash's leadership and the fighting qualities of his Australian troops. Monash's biographer, Roland Perry, recorded that by the time he ordered the last of his divisions out of the front line, leaving no Australians in the war, their job was done. Over the previous six months they had taken 29,144 prisoners and liberated 116 towns and villages over an area of 660 square kilometres. No-one knows precisely how many enemy were killed but 60,000 would be a conservative figure.
In that same period Australia lost 5,500 dead and had 24,000 casualties. They had taken on 39 German divisions and beaten every one of them, from the crack Prussian Guards, who fought to the last, to cobbled-together forces that ran when attacked. Long before the great German offensive of 21 March 1918 the Germans knew where the strength in the allied armies lay. They were careful not to attack where Australian forces were in the front line. Indeed, one of the captured German documents advised that if they had known the Australians were their opponents they would not have defended Montbrehain. It was one of scores of such comments recorded by the end of this frantic period of annihilation for the Germans. They thought that the Australian style of fighting, whereby one rogue soldier, for reasons of bravado, courage, showmanship, competitiveness or just plain insanity after so long in combat, was nigh on impossible to counter. Man for man, the enemy was just as courageous as the Australians. But this element of apparent craziness, or even near-suicidal intent, defied the tenets of rigid German discipline and usually caught them off guard.
The initiative and courage of Lieutenant George Ingram was typical of these acts. During the Battle of Montbrehain on 5 October 1918, Ingram led a thrust against a German strongpoint and captured nine machine guns and 42 prisoners. He then led an attack against a position defended by 100 Germans armed with 42 machine guns. After capturing this position, he then went alone into Montbrehain in search of a sniper who had caused havoc among the British 139th brigade in its failed attempt to take the town the previous day. British soldiers had told Ingram that a sniper had picked off about 20 of their men as they advanced on some ruins in the town. Lieutenant Ingram went alone, as he wanted the element of surprise. He stalked his way into the town's narrow streets around sharp, blind corners, waiting for fire that was aimed in the direction of his brigade. One location began to betray itself. The shots were not coming from an elevated position, which is where the unlucky forces had been looking.
After an hour of stealthy movement among the ruins, Ingram spotted the source. A machine gun was aimed out of a house's cellar ventilator. Ingram crawled from the side of the cellar while firing was coming from it. When he was within a metre of it he stood up and fired his revolver into the ventilator, killing the sniper. Hearing other shocked German voices in the cellar, he dashed around to the back of the house, booted down the back door and bailed up 30 of the enemy. Ingram then waited coolly until his men entered the town. For this bravery he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Monash's strategies delineated the Australians from the rest of the allies. They marked a change in the way that war was conducted from a nineteenth century mentality whereby men were cannon fodder. Monash's detailed command of the equipment, weaponry and all the technological accoutrements of war put his thinking perhaps a half a century ahead of his contemporaries. The other important difference was that he could put theory into practice, and he did it to devastating effect. On 5 August 1918 Prince Max von Baden, on behalf of the German Government, asked for an immediate armistice on land and water and in the air. It was the beginning of the end of the war and soon after Monash departed for a well-earned break in London.
When one reviews the outstanding achievements of our Diggers against the Germans it is perhaps easier to understand why the odd Australian of German descent would harbour such a benign hatred of our troops generations later. Between the two world wars our political leaders failed us by demobilising and allowing our forces to run down to unsustainable levels. They relied on our relationship with Britain to bail us out if we got into trouble. Even when the war tocsin began to sound with Hitler's rise in Nazi Germany and warnings of Japan's expansionist aims were apparent as early as 1933 they continued in denial. In 1933 General Sturdee warned: Japan would pose the major threat to Australian security. He predicted:
The Japanese would act quickly, they would all be regulars, fully trained and equipped for the operations, and fanatics who liked dying in battle, whilst our troops would consist mainly of civilians, hastily thrown together on mobilisation, with very little training, short of artillery and possibly of gun ammunition.
That is exactly what happened six years later. The Head of Strategic Studies at the Australian National University, Professor David Horner, recently wrote:
It is now generally agreed that the Australian defence policy between the wars and until the fall of Singapore was, at the best, naively optimistic, and at the worst, some might say, close to treason.
Whilst our political leaders may have neglected their national insurance policy, at that time our Diggers answered the call—and the challenge. When war finally broke out in 1939 we were totally unprepared and dispatched an expeditionary force to Europe and the Middle East to make our contribution to Empire defence in the vain hope that they would come to our aid if Japan entered the war in the Pacific region. We now know that Churchill had other ideas, and the defence of Australia was not his priority. Our sycophantic political representatives were out of their league in trying to deal with Churchill and it took another great army leader, Monash's former chief of staff, the much-maligned General Thomas Blamey, to stand up against him. Blamey would not allow Australian soldiers to fight piecemeal under British command, as Churchill wanted; he would only allow them to fight as Australian units under Australian command.
As a result of Blamey's strong stand, Australia's fighting reputation, established on the beaches of Gallipoli and the fields of France, was re-established at places such as Tobruk and El Alamein. It was the Australians at Tobruk who inflicted the first land defeat on one of the great German Commanders, General Erwin Rommel, which probably further reinforced the feeling of hatred that the odd Australian of German descent has against our troops. When Japan entered the war with the bombing of Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941 we were at our most vulnerable, with all of our regular forces still stationed in Europe and the Middle East. The Japanese were deemed to be invincible.
In eight weeks the overpowering Japanese invasion forces had destroyed the United States Navy in Pearl Harbour and sunk the British battleships in the China Sea. The Japanese had captured Hong Kong and half of China and forced the British Navy to abandon Singapore. They defeated the United States Army in the Philippines and the British Army in Malaya. They had occupied Indonesia and sunk the Dutch fleet in the Java Sea. Australians experienced that terrible fear of imminent invasion. We faced the loss of our homes and our country. Many had turned to prayer as a last resort for their safety. Only the 8th Division AIF and two cruisers stood between the Japanese invaders and Australia. Australia needed three months to bring her fighting men from the Middle East and organise the assistance of two divisions of United States of America Marines to enable us to meet the advancing Japanese. The 8th Australian Division gave Australia those three months!
They were volunteer soldiers, equipped only with small arms. They manned Australia's foremost defences, a thinly held line stretching from Malacca in the west to Rabaul in the east. With only a rifle and bayonet they faced the heavy artillery, the dive bombers and the large tanks of the invasion armies. They fought to the finish in Johore and Singapore, in Ambon, Timor and New Britain. They fought desperately, with one thought in mind: that these Japanese must never be allowed to land in Australia. Despite the gallant efforts of the 8th Division the Japanese continued with their operations and landed on Australian territory in New Guinea in July 1942.
They had been turned back on two invasions attempts, in the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway, and then tried an overland invasion over the Kokoda Track. During the Kokoda campaign the Australians met the Japanese. Our soldiers were outnumbered, outgunned, out-trained—but they absorbed everything the Japanese could throw at them. They were pushed right back to the last line of defence, where they rallied and then forced the Japanese back across the track. That was the only time in our history that our territory has been invaded. Our soldiers recaptured Kokoda and raised the Australian flag on 3 November 1942. There were no British, no Americans, no Kiwis; it was purely an Australian operation. Some of the reports that have come out recently give one the feeling of what they went through and the sacrifices they made along the track. Lieutenant Doug McLean said:
The Japs were in deep dugouts protected with thick logs at ground level separated by other logs just to allow the weapons to protrude … providing a field of fire for the one hundred and eighty degrees facing the scrub. Now our troops as they attacked were hit in the lower leg and body … and I later found some of my boys lying against enemy positions with unexploded grenades in their hands. They were riddled with wounds but struggled as they died to get to the enemy … if ever blokes had earned a decoration … one lad was shot twice in the same action … flesh wounds … "Sir", he said crying, "Every time I move some bastard shoots me!" … he was only eighteen.
Major Steward, the regimental doctor of the 2/16th Battalion at Brigade Hill, said:
My saddest sight, at Butcher's Hill was that of a 23 year old former golf professional. He had a ghastly, gaping wound of the throat, and although my eyes could only see darkness and death, his saw light and hope. They were asking me something with all the mute urgency that eyes can convey. Eyes, the windows of the soul, show every facet of the inner feelings—love, joy, hope, fear, guilt, pity, hatred, and even bodily sickness or health. Looking as dispassionately as possible at that man's throat, I hoped he couldn't sense the lump in mine. Emotion clouds calm clinical judgement, but the hardest thing is not to flinch from the gaze of the man you know is going to die.
Laurie Howson of the 39th Battalion said:
The days go on. You are trying to survive, shirt torn, arse out of your pants, whiskers a mile long, hungry and a continuous line of stretchers with wounded carried by "Fuzzy-Wuzzies" doing a marvellous job. Some days you carry your boots because there's no skin on your feet. But when I look around at some of the others, hell! They look crook! Then I have seen the time when you dig a number of holes in the ground and bury your dead. Nothing would be said, but you think "maybe it will be my turn next."
Captain Katekar of the 2/27th Battalion wrote:
The wounded, God only knows, were in purgatory, hungry and in great pain. Some of our natives began to desert, meaning that our men had to replace them as bearers. "Doc" Viner-Smith allowed the maggots to remain on the wound in order to eat the rotting flesh and so prevent gangrene. That night we were still short of Nauro. I found it a great mental strain and so did the Commander and other officers, with that great responsibility of not only saving our wounded but of saving ourselves from starvation.
Chester Wilmot, a war correspondent on the Kokoda Track, said:
They must be going through hell on this track—specially those with leg wounds. Some have been hit in the foot and they can't even get a boot on, but they're walking back over root and rock and through mud in bare feet, protected only by their bandages. Here's a steep pinch and a wounded digger's trying to climb it. You need both hands and both feet, but he's been hit in the arm and thigh.
Two of his cobbers are helping him along. One goes ahead, hauling himself up by root and branch. The wounded digger clings to the belt of the man in front with his good hand, while his other cobber gets underneath and pushes him up. I say to this fellow he ought to be a stretcher case, but he replies "I can get along. There's blokes here lots worse than me and if we don't walk they'll never get out."
They are some examples of the selfless sacrifice that was made by ordinary soldiers on our behalf during our campaigns. When we turned the Japanese back at the battles of Milne Bay and Kokoda, Sir William Slim of Burma wrote:
Some of us may forget that of all the Allies it was the Australian soldiers who first broke the spell of the invincibility of the Japanese Army; those of us who were in Burma have cause to remember.
The attitude of the men of Kokoda was summed up by another journalist and author, Osmar White, who was at Eora Creek during the evacuation of the wounded. Australian forces that could fight were desperately trying to hold the Japanese off so that our wounded could crawl into the jungle and get back over the feature to their rear. White wrote:
I saw a 20 year old redheaded boy with shrapnel in his stomach. He kept muttering to himself about not being able to see the blasted Japs. When Eora was to be evacuated, he knew he had very little chance of being shifted back up the line. He called to me, confidentially: "Hey dig, bend down a minute. Listen … I think us blokes are going to be left when they pull out. Will you do us a favour? Scrounge us a tommy gun from somewhere will you?"
It was not bravado. You could see that by looking in his eyes. He just wanted to see a Jap before he died. That was all. Such things should have been appalling. They were not appalling. One accepted them calmly. This was jungle war—the most merciless war of all.
In his great tribute to ordinary Australians he wrote:
I was convinced for all time of the dignity and nobility of common men. I was convinced for all time that common men have a pure and shining courage when they fight for what they believe to be a just and shining cause.
That which was fine in these men outweighed and made trivial all that was horrible in their plight. I cannot explain it except to say that they were at all times cheerful and helped one another. They never gave up the fight. They never admitted defeat. They never asked for help.
I felt proud to be of their race and cause, bitterly ashamed to be so nagged by the trivial ills of my own flesh. I wondered if all men, when they had endured so much that exhausted nerves would no longer give response, were creatures of the spirit, eternal and indestructible as stars.
The men of Kokoda fought a terrible battle against overwhelming odds, yet they were not overwhelmed. They suffered huge casualties at Isurava and in the fighting back through Templeton's Crossing, Mission Ridge and Brigade Hill. They fought in the worst conditions imaginable, the climate and incredibly difficult terrain adding to their burden. Ultimately, they fought the enemy to a standstill and saw him turn at Iorabaiwa and retreat back over the Kokoda Track. Extraordinarily disciplined and well led, their efforts were not initially understood and appreciated by the higher command. However, the verdict of history and of the Australian people is different.
History records that these men made a tremendous victory possible. They stopped a downward thrust that if successful would have exposed the entire Australian mainland to invasion. So significant was their achievement that the historians now unanimously agree that the battles of the Kokoda Track saw the turning of the tide—a tide that could well have engulfed a young nation. Theirs was a victory not only of the jungle battlefield but a victory of sacrifice and selflessness, a victory of mateship, a victory of courage, a victory of endurance. In linking the spirit of Anzac with the spirit of Kokoda, it has been said that Anzac created a nation but Kokoda saved a nation.
Since the end of World War II we have engaged in other conflicts in defence of the free world. We have fought in Malaya and Vietnam, and we have served as peacekeepers throughout the free world. We are what we are today because of the selfless sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of Australians, young and old, male and female, black, white and brindle in two world wars and in numerous other conflicts in support of a free world. Through their mateship and courage, and because of their initiative and endurance, they carved a special place in our history and they should never be forgotten. Colonel Phil Roden, who died a couple of years ago, was the commander of the 2/14th Battalion at the Battle of Isurava. In a speech he made a couple of years ago he said that "the death of the brave is never in vain". When the unknown soldier was brought home Paul Keating paid this great tribute. He said:
We do not know his rank or his battalion. We do not know where he was born, or precisely how and when he died. We do not know where in Australia he has made his home or when he left it for the battlefields of Europe. We do not know his age or his circumstances—whether he was from the city or the bush; what occupation he left to become a soldier; what religion, if he had a religion; if he was married or single. We do not know who loved him or whom he loved. If he had children we do not know who they were. His family is lost to us as he was lost to them.
We will never know who this Australian was. Yet he has always been among those we have honoured. We know that he was one of the 25,000 Australians who died on the Western Front. One of the 416,000 Australians who volunteered for service in the First World War. One of the 324,000 Australians who served overseas in that war; and one of the 60,000 Australians who died on foreign soil. One of the 100,000 Australians who have died in wars this century.
He is all of them. And he is one of us.
Recently I was honoured to give an Anzac address to a group of students aged from five to about 16 years at a small girls school in Castle Hill. During my speech I said that if I had been giving the address 50 years ago most of them would not have had a father to go home to because of the sacrifice made by our fathers and grandfathers, but that we are fortunate that they have fathers to go home to today. Let us hope that that continues. We must never forget the sacrifice that has been made for the freedom and prosperity we enjoy in Australia today. Their sacrifice is our heritage. They deserve, more than any other group in our society, to be acknowledged in Parliament as a constant reminder of that sacrifice. I commend the motion to the House. Lest we forget.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE
[4.59 p.m.]: I support the motion moved by the Hon. Charlie Lynn and congratulate him on his outstanding speech on the traditions of Anzac, making special reference to both the First World War and the Second World War. He has suggested that after the prayers are read in this House at the beginning of each sitting day members recite the following words:
I acknowledge the supreme sacrifice made by the service men and women who gave their lives on active service in defence of the freedom we enjoy in New South Wales today.
Our Procedure Committee would have to make such a recommendation before that could be done, but it would be unique—such words are not spoken in any other parliament. It would be a way of constantly reminding ourselves of our servicemen and servicewomen, just as we do on Anzac Day when we recite the words "Lest we forget."
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted. The House continued to sit.
Motion by the Hon. Henry Tsang agreed to:
That this House at its rising today do adjourn until Tuesday 9 May 2006 at 2.30 p.m.
The Hon. HENRY TSANG
(Parliamentary Secretary) [5.02 p.m.]: I move:
That this House do now adjourn.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE
[5.02 p.m.]: In the Tuesday edition of the Daily Telegraph
is a rather malicious article that contained a number of errors. I know it has embarrassed the editor of the Daily Telegraph
. It was written by Simon Benson, the political reporter for the Daily Telegraph
here at Parliament House. He attacked me for organising the annual Festival of Light Community Standards Organisation conference, which dealt with some controversial issues that were on people's minds: the book and film The Da Vinci Code
, the impact of the Harry Potter books and films on children, and the issue of Islam. Simon Benson said in his article that I had condemned such activities as evil, yet nowhere in the conference publicity was the word "evil" used. I wrote in the conference brochure:
The conference speakers will discuss some of the controversial issues which are in conflict with our Christian faith and our belief in Jesus Christ as the son of God.
The conference was not organised by the Christian Democratic Party but by the Festival of Light Community Standards Organisation [FOL-CSO], with which I am associated. The FOL-CSO seeks to represent the concerns of parents, particularly mothers, about issues that affect children. They could relate to education or the media. The Festival of Light simply shares their concerns and supports the campaign by the Anglican Church, led by Archbishop Peter Jensen, against the lies and falsehoods in the book and film The Da Vinci Code
. As honourable members know, that book claims that Jesus Christ did not die on the cross and that he finally married Mary Magdalene. Obviously, that is an attack on the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith, which are that Jesus Christ died on the cross on Calvary and after three days rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven. The book tried to create the fantasy that what it says is true and that for 2,000 years the church has been hiding the truth. There is no truth in it—it is a lie—and the church has not been seeking to conceal anything. Obviously, there have always been heresies and other false teachings. Our conference will feature speakers who have studied the issue and who will give us further information on the falsehoods in The Da Vinci Code
book and film.
The issue of Islam should also be examined in a Christian nation. I believe we are living in a Christian nation. The teachings of both faiths cannot be true. The teachings of the Christian faith and the teachings of Islam are in conflict. The Islamic sacred book, the Koran
, also denies that Jesus died on the cross and that Jesus is the Son of God, but it recognises him as a man, a prophet. I believe we should be able to compare these beliefs. One of the speakers, Pastor Danny Nalliah, who has spent some years in Saudi Arabia, will be speaking about Islam and the court case in Victoria.
It seems that one cannot even question the Harry Potter books and films. I know they are popular, but I do not believe books or films are above criticism or examination, particularly in view of the report of the impact of these books and films on some children, and even the increased interest in the occult by some teenagers and adults. This published phenomenon warrants further study. It is also important for child psychologists to assess the impact of the Harry Potter books on the developing minds of children.
I was accused of ignoring the Crusaders, who massacred both Jews and Muslims. I have never ignored that and have never sought to defend what happened during the Crusades in the Middle Ages—and I am sure no-one would today. I am pleased to put this on the record for factual purposes. [Time expired.
LEGAL SERVICES ACCESS
The Hon. CHRISTINE ROBERTSON
[5.07 p.m.]: Since the creation of our legal system, well before the European settlement of Australia, the concept of justice has always been at the centre of our system. However, after scratching the surface and taking a further look, I am of the view that this pursuit of justice is a little more skewed than we care to admit. Whilst in theory the system works well, it heavily favours wealthier people, and those who are more comfortable with the power imbalance that often exists in the legal and justice system. For poorer and other disadvantaged people, the system is a confusingly complex and intimidating one, and it has some qualities that inherently disadvantage them—and this is before even considering that people from these backgrounds often have a greater need to use the legal system. The rights of disadvantaged individuals to access legal services should be one of the most basic features of our democracy, and was the subject of a recent survey undertaken by the Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales and launched by the Attorney General, the Hon. Bob Debus, in March.
The survey was analysed in relation to sociodemographic data. This survey confirmed something of which many members may not be aware—that disadvantaged people have a greater number of legal events in their lives than more privileged people do. In the country, this is particularly acute. Over two-thirds of respondents reported at least one legal event in the previous year, with a third of participants reporting at least three legal events. The type of legal events that occurred were wide ranging, and varied from criminal offences such as theft or even traffic offences though to civil matters, such as personal accidents, housing problems, or dealing with government. For people with disabilities, there was a wider range of legal events, and indigenous people in particular had a large incidence of problems with credit, debt, family law or employment law events.
Despite our system aiming to achieve justice for all, the most common response to these legal events was to do nothing. The main reason was the belief that seeking help and taking action would do nothing—would be of no use—and therefore no help was sought in the first place. There is also a range of other barriers making it difficult for people to obtain legal help. Many people sought help but had trouble getting through on the phone, making an appointment or getting a response after some initial contact. Others simply had problems with access, with there being inadequate provisions in their local community. Opening hours may have been inconvenient, or they may have had to travel long distances to access services. When they are faced with this kind of barrier it is not surprising that people have given up so readily—especially when the decision to seek proper, formal, legal advice is no small decision to take. What is interesting, however, is that respondents who sought assistance and persisted until the resolution of their matter were overwhelmingly satisfied with the final outcome.
Clearly, education about the legal system and the options available to people is required to raise awareness of the system and the rights available to participants in the legal system, and to ensure that expectations are appropriate for the legal event that is occurring. One of the interesting suggestions that arose from this discussion paper was that non-legal professionals be a first port of call for people seeking legal services. To many disadvantaged people requiring assistance this would provide a useful point of referral, and a point where they can access the most basic legal resources before having to engage a lawyer. This, however, should be part of a fuller campaign to improve the level of legal literacy in our community. As people are more aware of their legal rights and remedies or solutions that may be available to them they are more likely to trust the system, and in turn to use it. Part of this change would involve the integration of different legal services with each other and with other human services. This would help bring down the wall of intimidation that often accompanies the legal system.
If people who do not have access to the legal system, either because they are unaware of it or because the services are simply unavailable, that does not help the problem or make it go away. If anything, it only makes things worse. Having a legal system that is accessible to all is an important goal, albeit one that may take some reaching, and that goal is much more worthy when fixing the problems will help overcome disadvantage—something we should all be aiming to do. The system will remain complex, and there will always be some hurdles for people to overcome to access the system, but there are certainly steps that we can take to make things better, and this report has highlighted a few of them. I commend the report to the House, and call on all members to help pursue its aims of increasing access to the legal system for all citizens right across New South Wales.
ST GEORGE'S DAY
The Hon. DON HARWIN
[5.12 p.m.]: Last night I commenced some remarks about St George's Day that I will conclude tonight. St George's Day, 23 April, is the national day of England but St George's Day is not celebrated as much in England as other national days are in other countries, including Australia. The celebration of St George's Day was once the occasion of a major feast in England, on a par with Christmas from the early fifteenth century. However, this tradition had waned by the end of the eighteenth century. The Royal Society of St George was founded in 1894 with the specific aim of encouraging celebrations on St George's Day. I was a guest of the Sydney branch of the Royal Society of St George at its St George's Day dinner held on Thursday 27 April 2006.
It was my pleasure to accompany the president of that society, Mrs Gaye Fisher, in the official party, and I thank the secretary, Mr Peter Cavanagh, for an invitation to the function. The master of ceremonies was Major Richard Morgan, who is also the headmaster of Pittwater House. The Pittwater House Service Training Unit Colour Party performed a ceremony known as trooping the banner of St George and the national flag of Australia. The school's service training unit band and their sinfonia performed, providing background music and accompanying the guests' rendition of anthems. Mr Rex Morgan, AM, MBE, proposed the toast to England and St George and, as I said last night, Dame Leonie Kramer, AC, DBE, gave an outstanding occasional address.
It was a very enjoyable occasion, with a rousing communal singing of anthems and other songs. It reminded me a little of the St Paul's College Foundation's Victoriana evening, but that might have been because of some crossover between guests at each of these celebrations of Englishness. I am pleased to say that there was tremendous joviality about the celebrations—and a few tongues in cheeks as well—including a ceremony called the passing of the loving cup. This involves passing a cup of spiced wine between guests, and it was characteristic of mediaeval English banquets. The tradition is a reminder of ancient days when the act of drinking was sometimes made the occasion for assassination. The ceremony is said to have originated following the murder of King Edward the Martyr, who was stabbed whilst drinking by his stepmother, Elfrida, at Corfe Castle on 18 March AD 978. Some will deride such functions and ceremonies as indicative of some sort of cultural cringe, in the same way a former Prime Minister derided one of my party's heroes as being British to the bootstraps. Oddly enough, it is Australia's Englishness that is at the root of such criticisms. We may be the culturally diverse home of ethnicities and nationalities from across the globe, but as James Jupp, that great researcher of multiculturalism, wrote, "Australia is the second most English country in the world." Englishness is derided in a way that would attract the severest censure if it were directed against any other ethnicity. We are still such a culturally English nation that it is seen as a little odd for Australians of English descent to celebrate their origins in a way that we see as quite normal for other Australians of European, Asian or Middle Eastern background. I congratulate the Royal Society of St George on its St George's Day dinner and its work in spreading knowledge of English history, traditions and ideals and ensuring that St George's Day is properly celebrated.
SNOWY HYDRO LIMITED SALE
NON-PROFIT CHILDREN'S SERVICES INCORPORATED
Ms SYLVIA HALE
[5.17 p.m.]: Today at lunchtime my colleague Ian Cohen and I hosted a public forum, attended by more than 70 people, about the proposed privatisation of Snowy Hydro Limited. The response to the awful possibility that this Government—a desperate government in decline, a government more concerned about hanging on to its power than about the future of our water supply—would sell the jewel in the crown of Australian infrastructure is rightly provoking outrage and a sense of betrayal. The speakers today reflected widespread concern and the forum augurs an emerging united front of people from across the political spectrum opposed to the sale. Among those speaking were: Vicki Wallis, from the Snowy Alliance; Max Talbot, an engineer who worked on the Snowy Mountains scheme for 24 years; Siobhan McHugh, author of Snowy
, the Premier's Prize winning social history of the scheme; Adrian Piccoli, Nationals member for Murrumbidgee; Dr John Kaye, engineer and Greens energy expert; and Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes, a member of this House and chair of the inquiry that was yesterday forced upon the Government.
Others in attendance included Federal Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan; Melinda Pavey, another member of this House; Jocelyn Scutt, barrister and former Discrimination Commissioner in Tasmania; Paul Pearce, Labor member for Coogee; Andrew Constance, Nationals member for Bega; and the Mayor of Mosman. The Greens extend thanks to the many concerned members of the public who were present. The meeting carried the following motion by unanimous acclamation, "That Snowy Hydro Limited not be sold but remain in public ownership." I do not think you can be any clearer than that. The Government should stop and think about the appalling course it has embarked upon. I say to the Government: There is no disgrace now in backing down. The Government caved in to public opinion on the desalination plant. The sale of the Snowy is an even worse idea. It is time for the Government to beat a retreat. The finance Minister has said that it is too late. It is not too late. The Government has the power to withdraw and should do so immediately.
The Greens will be working in alliance with others, including people from the Snowy region, The Nationals, farmers, irrigators and others—whomever—and we will do whatever it takes to stop this sale from going ahead. I expect that opposition to the sale will snowball. That it has not created more outrage to date is attributable solely to the Government's determination to suppress public knowledge of its intentions. Selling the Snowy to prop up the budget will not save the Government. In fact, the Government is hastening its own demise. To sell the Snowy is wrong in so many ways. What the Government is selling is the public good. It is selling control over the nation's water.
I turn now to child care. On 21 March I visited the Six Hats Early Childhood Service, a not-for-profit centre in Mayfield, Newcastle. I met with Cherrylanne Williams, the service manager and chairperson of the centre. Cherrylanne is also one of the moving forces behind Non-Profit Children's Services Incorporated, which covers the Hunter region. It will be officially launched on 27 May. In the space of a few short months, 60 of 121 eligible centres in the Hunter area have joined Non-Profit Children's Services, and more are expected to join before the inaugural annual general meeting in June. The organisation was formed in response to the introduction and spread of for-profit child care centres.
It is worth noting that only yesterday the attempt by the world's largest for-profit child care centre operator, ABC Learning Centres, to absolve itself of its duty of care to the children in its care was firmly rebuffed by the Victorian courts. By way of contrast, Non-Profit Children Services' principal aim is to make parents and the community aware of what non-profit centres have to offer. Any funds non-profit centres receive from Federal, State or local government sources go into the running of those services; not a cent is diverted to profits for shareholders. Not-for-profit centres offer a higher ratio of staff to children than for-profit centres and the staff are better qualified, because they seek out the most suitably qualified staff, not the cheapest. They offer children a quality environment. For example, at the Six Hats Centre children can play on grass, not on Astroturf, even though grass is more expensive to maintain and replace. Finally, not-for-profit centres seek to develop a sense of community to empower users, whether they be parents, children or members of staff. Non-Profit Children's Services will have a stand at the Newcastle Show on 27 May to inform parents and the public of the value of community-based, not-for-profit early childhood centres. On behalf of the Greens I wish them every success.
RAPE CRISIS CENTRE
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS
[5.22 p.m.]: Tonight I pay tribute to the work of the New South Wales Rape Crisis Centre, which is located in Drummoyne, and specifically to the manager of the centre, Karen Willis. I spoke to Karen at the Premier's International Women's Day reception, which she attended as a nominee for Woman of the Year. She was nominated by her local member, Angela D'Amore. The NSW Rape Crisis Centre has been operating for many years and doing a great job. Because of the nature of its work, it does not get a huge amount of publicity, although I think most people who have any knowledge of the issue know of its work.
I make particular mention of the trial of an online counselling service being operated by the centre. In its three months of operation it has proved a very effective means of helping women—and young women in particular, because they are more Internet savvy—to use an online counselling service rather than the traditional telephone line or visiting the centre. The statistics collected during the trial suggest that 70 per cent of the online contacts have been from people who have been sexually assaulted but who have not spoken to anyone about what has happened to them. That indicates that the centre is reaching the target group. As I said, they tend to be young women, who are traditionally a hard group to reach, because they feel much more comfortable in the online environment. It is also important in terms of privacy because no-one will take particular notice of a young woman typing on a computer in an office or at home. It is a surprisingly safe and confidential way for women to approach the centre.
The NSW Police crime spokesperson, Wendy Valois, admits that there are problems associated with reporting sexual assault incidents to the police. The first step is getting the victim to make the report in the first place. If no report is made, nothing can be done. In a speech a few weeks ago in this House I referred to a report published by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research containing a number of recent statistics about the crime of sexual assault. Although it stressed the number of changes that the Labor Government has implemented over the years to make the reporting and court processes much easier, the bureau estimated that only 20 per cent of attacks are reported. Women in this House from all parties who have spoken about this problem over the years have probably often despaired about how we can encourage more victims to talk about what has happened, to report it and to go through what is often a painful and difficult process.
As I said, I pay tribute to the Rape Crisis Centre because this initiative is reaching and helping women who have not been reached or helped before. It is also obviously a learning experience. If the report establishes that the trial has been successful—as appears to be the case so far—it can certainly be extended. The telephone number for the centre is 1800-424-017 and the web address is www.nsw.rapecrisis.com.au
. I commend Karen Willis and the work of the Rape Crisis Centre to all honourable members. Again, I congratulate her on being very deservedly named as the Woman of the Year for the Drummoyne electorate at the International Women's Day reception.
HUNTER REGION HEALTH CARE
The Hon. ROBYN PARKER
[5.27 p.m.]: I rise tonight to address the Government's mismanagement of health care in the Hunter region. We have had some very sad events recently in the electorates of Maitland and Port Stephens which highlight the fact that health services are not travelling well and that this Government is not providing adequate emergency, ambulance and after-hours medical services. A few weeks ago a young schoolgirl, Kylie Bradshaw, died after being treated by a lone ambulance officer despite the fact that he worked hard and called on community members for assistance.
The Health Services Union, which covers ambulance officers, is campaigning for two-person crews to ensure that those sorts of things do not happen. It is very difficult for one-person crews to manage a crisis situation in rural and regional areas such as Maitland and Port Stephens. The union is very concerned about that situation and it has been pursuing the issue in an attempt to abolish single-officer crews. There are many examples of situations in which ambulance officers could have and should have been supported by other officers. Because of a lack of police and other services in Port Stephens we find that ambulances are often called out in emergency situations. The Health Services Union is also concerned about the new Matrix system. It has not been rolled out yet, but problems are envisaged with access blocks and one-person crews. People like Kylie Bradshaw are paying the ultimate price. No-one knows whether she would have survived had there been another officer at the scene, but the ambulance officer there certainly needed support. This week I raised the case of a young Rutherford woman who gave birth to her daughter in an ambulance outside a McDonald's establishment. The woman first went to Maitland Hospital but was told that the hospital did not have any beds available. She was then asked to wait. Finally she was transported by ambulance to John Hunter Hospital. When she got to the hospital she found that the 28 beds were full. She was not admitted but was treated in the emergency department and then sent home.
This is an extraordinary situation. The Minister for Health was asked to explain. He mumbled away an explanation—there is no explanation for this—and sought to downplay the circumstances in which this woman had her baby. It is simply ridiculous to suggest that it was an unusual circumstance, that staff were rushed off their feet, and so on. If it were not for those skilled ambulance officers, I do not know what would have happened. This woman and her baby may have needed emergency care. It is a case of mismanagement, inadequate resources, and not enough staff to open the beds that are necessary to serve people's needs.
The latest statistics show that nearly half the patients in the emergency department of Maitland Hospital wait longer than necessary to receive treatment and that 50 per cent of them have potentially life-threatening conditions. The statistics also show that more than 1,300 people are waiting for surgery in John Hunter Hospital and that almost the same number were not treated in its emergency department.
[Time for debate expired.
TABLING OF PAPERS
The Hon. Henry Tsang
, by leave, tabled the following papers:
(1) Report of the Independent Transport Safety and Reliability Regulator entitled "Implementation of the NSW Government's response to the Final Report of the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Waterfall Accident—Reporting period January to March 2006", dated 28 April 2006.
(2) Report of the Office of Transport Safety Investigations entitled "Rail Safety Investigation Report: Derailment of Freight Australia Limited Cement Service 4VM9: Bethungra. 22 December 2004", dated 28 April 2006, according to the Rail Safety Act 2002.
Ordered to be printed.
Question—That this House do now adjourn—put.
Motion agreed to.
The House adjourned at 5.32 p.m. until Tuesday 9 May 2006 at 2.30 p.m.