Water Board (Corporatisation) Act: Disallowance Of Regulation
WATER BOARD (CORPORATISATION) ACT: DISALLOWANCE OF REGULATION
Mr HARTCHER (Gosford) [5.28]: I move:
The Opposition moves the disallowance of this regulation on two main grounds: it is unduly restrictive of citizens' rights, and the recent breach of it illustrates the importance to this House and to the community of New South Wales of equality before the law. The area involved is the Warragamba catchment area, an area previously covered by regulations made in 1989 under the Water Board Act. Without consultation and without warning, the Minister has approved the repeal of those regulations and the introduction of new regulations which not only redraft the 1989 regulations but also extend them and regulate conduct in certain areas which was not previously regulated. However, there was no community consultation or demonstrated scientific reasoning behind the extension of the old regulations.
On 27 May no less a person than the Premier of this State entered the very area covered by these regulations and went to swim in the Kowmung River. Had he taken that action after the making of these regulations only three months later, the action would have been illegal because the regulations came into force on 1 September. At the time the regulations were mooted, the honourable member for Manly, who was chairman of the parliamentary inquiry into the Water Board - an inquiry that dealt with water catchment and the protection of water catchments - made the very appropriate comment that the decision to regulate was premature. At the time he said, using the royal plural, "We are surprised at the need to change the regulatory landscape before plans of management are developed with the National Parks and Wildlife Service."
This area of the Warragamba Dam and its catchment are acknowledged by everyone in New South Wales as being extremely beautiful.
Historically they have been used by bushwalkers and by day campers. No evidence has ever been adduced by either the Minister or the Sydney Water Corporation that minimal use by responsible citizens exercising their democratic right to go bushwalking in the magnificent areas of this State has endangered the water supply or the Sydney catchment areas. The effect of the regulation and the extension of the regulation of conduct means that bushwalking will cease over most of the southern Blue Mountains, an area of over 3,000 square kilometres bounded by Katoomba, Jenolan Caves, Kanangra Walls and Mittagong. Part 4 of the regulation bans camping and picnicking in schedule 2 land. As that land is inaccessible and it cannot be reached in a single day, by prohibiting camping or picnicking the Government is effectively prohibiting people from walking there. I am advised that most of the area is inaccessible to single-day bushwalks.
One would understand that there might be some rationale behind such a regulation if that area were all pristine bushland. But it is not. The 3,000 square kilometres includes towns and farms, rural subdivisions, power stations, mines and the area of which the honourable member for Bathurst has claimed he is a champion, an area in which he claims to support responsible mining. He is in the Chamber, so it will be interesting to hear what he has to say about the exclusion of his constituents from these lands. Notwithstanding that this is not a totally pristine wilderness area, let me give honourable members some examples of the absurdity of the Minister's regulation. I am advised that every Sunday hundreds of tourists, both Australian and foreign, walk from the bottom of the scenic railway to picnic either at the ruined castle or at Mount Solitary, which is some kilometres from Warragamba Dam. Under the regulation such picnics will now be illegal for most citizens.
Every Anzac Day since 1947 bushwalkers have congregated at Splendour Rock, a much-loved vantage point in the Wild Dog Mountains. There they remember the bushwalkers who fell in the wars. The memorial was established by Paddy Pallin. The place is sacred to many walkers, but under the regulation this spot will only be accessible to that rare walker who is able to make the long return journey from Katoomba to Megalong Valley without either camping or picnicking on the way. Private lands, including in-holdings, within the national park will not be affected by the regulation. That only demonstrates the absurdity of the regulation. A great deal of private land, including in-holdings, in this particular area that are not affected by the regulation. Activities will continue to take place that might be argued to be deleterious to the water catchment. Yet they are uncontrolled. Bushwalkers will not be able to camp at Cox's River at the junction of Breakfast Creek, which has been a popular area for bushwalking and camping. Yet at that spot the water is undrinkable because of pollution from the surrounding towns. Although the water is polluted and undrinkable, bushwalkers who want to camp there are being told that they cannot camp there because that will somehow have a deleterious impact on the water catchment area. The regulation is irrational and without any scientific basis. It has been introduced prematurely by a Minister and a corporation who are arrogant and indifferent to the community.
A second principle is involved in this discussion: equality of all before the law. On 23 September no less a person than the Premier of this State landed in the area in a helicopter, because he could not walk there. He walked in the permitted area of the catchment area, but when he was in the prohibited area he was an accessory to a misdemeanour, a breach of a statute: the lighting of a fire. In the opinion of the community the Premier of this State is guilty of a criminal misdemeanour. Yet no action has been taken by the Minister to ensure that a prosecution was lodged by the corporation for which he is responsible. No activity at all has taken place at the Sydney Water Corporation, the body that has pledged to uphold the law. Yet the Premier is a person who is said to have a blanket approval to visit the area.
However, the regulation it does not have the authority to give blanket approvals. People who wish to visit the area must apply for an approval to do so. So the corporation, the Minister and the Premier have all been caught out on a deliberate breach of the law of this State, a flagrant violation of the fundamental provisions of the law. Yet the Government has simply said that the regulation does not apply to the Premier. If the principle of equality before the law means anything, it means that we are all to be judged before it. The Premier of this State and those who accompanied him should be prosecuted for what took place on 23 September. What a magnificent statement from two independent witnesses appeared in no less a source than the Sydney Morning Herald! What did the two independent eyewitnesses have to say when the Premier asked, "Is that against the Water Board regulations?" The Premier it was against the regulations. He asked the very question. He put himself on notice, and got that immortal reply that is so typical of the Labor Party: "Bugger the regulations. We are in government now." That is what the Government is saying: "Bugger the regulations. They are there for the ordinary people, the workers, the battlers of this State."
Mr DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Gosford would be well advised to moderate his language in this Chamber.
Mr HARTCHER: The attitude of the Government is that the regulations are there for the workers of the State, but all the Government is interested only in feathering its own nest. The regulation is ill thought out and has no scientific basis. The regulation has no scientific basis. It affects 3,000 square kilometres and it violates the principle of equality before the law. [Time expired.]
Mr KNOWLES (Moorebank - Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, and Minister for Housing) [5.38]: At least we know the truth. I inquired a little while ago whether the former Minister for the Environment had been invited to the champagne celebration at the conclusion of the debate over the corporatisation of Sydney Water. The Hon. Robert Webster was the Minister responsible for leading the former Government through the corporatisation process, together with the environment groups, and they were pleased with the result they managed to achieve. If I remember correctly, this was an example of world's best practice: environmental legislation linked to corporatisation of a government trading enterprise. It is a pity that the honourable member for Gosford was not invited to the party to celebrate the conclusion of the debate. I must say, in fairness, that he did not participate in any of the debates, the Committee stage or the second reading debate. He was nowhere to be seen, despite the fact that he was responsible for the environment. If he had been at the party or if had been involved in any of the debates he would realise that what he is trying to do now is repeal regulations compelled by legislation enacted by his Government.
The legislation to corporatise Sydney Water requires the formulation of new regulations to be gazetted by 1 September 1995. Honourable members are witnessing extraordinary hypocrisy from the former Minister for the Environment in moving this motion for disallowance. First, his Government corporatised Sydney Water and, as a consequence, established the need for the regulations. Second, the regulations are as tough as they are because the previous Government agreed to the substantial amendment of its original corporatisation bill in negotiations with peak groups and the Independents in the Parliament, in particular, the honourable member for Manly. The honourable member for Manly, who is present in the Chamber, will have something to say about that in a moment. When the bill was amended it was trumpeted in the Sydney Morning Herald and in the Daily Telegraph Mirror by the former Government and by the former Minister for the Environment as an example of world best practice legislation in water quality and catchment management. They said it was the toughest piece of corporatisation legislation that had ever been created, and it was hailed as an extraordinary win for the environment. The Opposition cannot have it both ways. It cannot claim that this is the toughest environmental legislation in the world - that is the Opposition's claim; it is not necessarily my claim - and then say, when things gets tough, "We want to repeal the bits we do not like." Essentially, that is what the Opposition is doing. By disallowing this regulation the Opposition is seeking to remove the protection of the catchment areas for Sydney's water supply.
If this regulation is disallowed major problems could be created for the quality of Sydney's water supply, there could be an impact on our environment and the health of our citizens could be endangered. If this regulation is disallowed there is no doubt that the Warragamba catchment will be left absolutely unprotected in the context of Sydney Water's operating licence. The ability to control pollution and disease in special areas will be removed, and the ability to remove and control stock will be removed. Sydney Water's ability to control the water supply will be interfered, with and the supply will proceed unchecked. What will be the consequences if the regulation is disallowed? Disallowance of the regulation will remove Sydney Water's statutory powers to manage the drinking water catchments of Sydney. Disallowance will also fly in the face of the principles for catchment protection and the preservation of ecological integrity brokered between government and the environment movement and reflected in the provisions of corporatisation legislation.
Disallowance of the regulation will have serious economic consequences if the quality of drinking water is diminished and the cost of water treatment increases because of the diminished quality of our bulk water supplies. Higher treatment costs will result in higher costs for Sydney Water customers and a lower economic return to the people of Sydney. Disallowance will put pressure on Sydney Water as a landowner to fall back on its legal rights to control trespassing through lengthy and costly court processes. If the regulation is disallowed, additional pressure will be placed on the National Parks and Wildlife Service to stretch its resources even further to cover those areas Sydney Water will no longer be permitted to cover. Disallowance will open up unprotected catchments to access for everyone, not just bushwalkers, but also four-wheel drivers, shooters, waterskiers, horse riders and land clearers, all of whom have legitimate needs and wishes but whose interests are obviously in conflict with protecting Sydney's water supply. Where was the former Minister for the Environment when this debate took place? There were two years of legislation committees and at least three months of debate in this Chamber with interminable, nauseating committees. He did not speak once in any of the debates. This man, who regards himself as a former Minister for the Environment - he is not a patch on Tim Moore and, in his capacity as shadow minister for urban affairs, planning and housing, he is not a patch on the former Minister, Robert Webster - seeks in this first debate on Sydney Water's role in managing water catchments to disallow a regulation that protects Sydney's water supply. What an extraordinary action for a former Minister for the Environment!
It is fairly clear that the principles for catchment management have escaped the honourable member for Gosford, but I should put on record the value of catchment management and the regulations that govern it. Catchment management is essential to both the health of consumers and the ecological integrity of catchment areas. Sydney is the envy of the world as it possesses such unspoilt and pristine
drinking water catchments. That has come about through a great deal of regulation over a number of years. It has been further reinforced by the recent corporatisation of Sydney Water and the regulations flowing from that, designed, developed and supported by the current Opposition. International experts consistently point out that Sydney's pristine catchments are priceless. In Europe, where pristine catchments are rare, raw water is of poor quality and is expensive to treat. By comparison, Sydney's treatment costs are kept down because our raw water is of such high quality.
In North America, where some cities have the benefit of pristine catchments, attempts are being made to reintroduce tough catchment regulations. Those cities have learned that by opening up areas for access by four-wheel drivers and horse riders, water catchments have become degraded through increased visitation, pollution and vegetation clearing. Because areas in New South Wales are needed as drinking water catchments, they have been protected over the years and have retained the environmental value they now have. This fact prompted the environment movement to make the preservation of the ecological integrity of drinking water catchments such an important issue in negotiations leading to the corporatisation of Sydney Water in 1994.
As I have said, some people want it both ways. They want the tough environmental regulation except when it applies to them. The former Minister for the Environment is advocating the removal of the regulation and the opening up of catchment areas, which will enable anyone to go into these areas, do what they want and put at risk the quality of Sydney's drinking water with the subsequent impact on health and the degradation of the environment. Is the former Minister for the Environment, the honourable member for Gosford, so inept that he does not understand the legislation enacted by his own Government? Is he not aware of the exhaustive negotiations that took place to formulate it? Is he unable to grasp the fact that for legislation to work the regulation that supports it, puts it into practice and gives us the tools to achieve the social, economic and environmental goals embodied in it, has to be established?
What has changed in the interim? The Government has changed. The members of the Opposition responsible for managing environment policy and development and the coalition's agenda have also changed. They are hopelessly out of touch. They want to maintain the opportunity to swing both ways. They argue for tough environmental prescriptions for corporatised entities such as Sydney Water, but when they have the opportunity to swing they want to disallow regulations. They are marginalising themselves. The Government puts a lot of energy into marginalising Opposition members. This morning members of environment groups who came to see me said, "We are here today to try to tell Chris Hartcher to pull his head in, to wake up to himself and to stop doing stupid things like attempting to disallow vital catchment protection regulations." The honourable member for Gosford is attempting to deal with a sensitive issue in a foolish way. While he may choose to go down the path of disallowance we do not choose to go with him. I would like to think that some of the more rational people involved in debate on the corporatisation of Sydney Water will take the honourable member for Gosford behind the woodshed and give him a clip around the ears.
Mr LONGLEY (Pittwater) [5.48]: I support this motion for disallowance. It is an important motion that has the strong support of all major environmental groups in our community. That is a salutary and significant point. This catchment management regulation should be disallowed for a number of reasons. It actively restricts the activities of bushwalkers, campers, swimmers and those who enjoy sailing and canoeing. It actively restricts those who wish to enjoy our environmental heritage safely and responsibly, in a way that does not damage the environment. In other words, it unnecessarily restricts the activities of the majority of the people of New South Wales. With regard to water activities, it may be that motor powered boats and such vehicles should be prohibited. However, activities such as sailing and canoeing do not pollute the water, so there is no need to prohibit them from certain areas within part 4 lands.
Mr Knowles: Are you advocating sailing on Warragamba Dam?
Mr LONGLEY: It is clearly a current activity in a number of areas. This regulation prohibits those who wish to light fires when camping. I remind honourable members on the Government side of the House of what happened recently when the Premier went bushwalking. Apart from wasting taxpayers' money to use a helicopter to arrive at his location, he also lit a fire when he arrived, in clear contravention of the regulation. Although the Premier was not prosecuted for that breach, I am sure that had anyone else lit a fire, that person would have been prosecuted. This proposed regulation is typical of the hypocrisy of the State Labor Government. What does it say to the people of New South Wales, the majority of whom treat the natural environment with the respect it deserves - more respect than was given by the Premier? The activities I have listed are some that will be affected by the regulation.
People who live in the towns in this area are also affected by this regulation. Residents of Woodford, Medlow Bath and Warragamba can be subjected to severe financial penalties for walking in bushland near their homes. Sydney Water may attempt to distinguish between who it will and will not prosecute. However, it is ridiculous to restrict the use of bushland just because residential homes adjoin part 3 land, to say nothing of the legal problems that are bound to ensue from enforcing a regulation on only some occasions. Of course, the
coalition would have preferred that this regulation be amended so that effective environmental safeguards could still be maintained, but without unfairly and unnecessarily restricting visitors and residents. Regrettably, this cannot be done as the regulation must be either accepted totally or not at all. Because of its various faults, the regulation should be disallowed. I refer to some of the comments of the environmental organisations about this regulation.
Mr Knowles: What did they tell you this morning? You know they said, "Don't disallow it."
Mr LONGLEY: It is significant that the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, National Parks Association of New South Wales, Confederation of Bushwalking Clubs, Total Environment Centre and Kowmung Committee -
Mr Knowles: You will go to hell for telling lies.
Mr LONGLEY: The Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning is requesting me to respond to an interjection - a practice that I know the Speaker does not encourage. The Minister is implying that I have other knowledge about the matter and that I have met with environmental organisations today. I assure the Minister that that has not occurred.
Mr Knowles: You are the shadow minister for the environment. Don't you talk to the peak environment groups?
Mr LONGLEY: Indeed I do, and I have been speaking with them on a number of issues. However, I have not been speaking with them on this particular issue other than to receive a copy of their submission to the Regulation Review Committee, a document to which I am about to refer. The submission, which was prepared by the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, National Parks Association of New South Wales, Confederation of Bushwalking Clubs (NSW) Inc, Total Environment Centre and Kowmung Committee, makes a number of significant and important points. The first and perhaps most important point is that the statement and public consultation processes by which this regulatory process was put in place did not meet the spirit of the Subordinate Legislation Act. The submission also stated:
That this House disallows the Sydney Water Corporation Limited (Catchment Management) Regulation as set forth in the notice appearing in Government Gazette No. 102 of 25 August 1995, at page 4858 and tabled in this House on 19 September 1995.
. . . the Catchment Management Regulation imposes unwarranted restriction on camping, swimming and the lighting of camp fires in about 300,000 hectares of national parks in the Warragamba Catchment Area.
It is precisely those unwarranted restrictions on environmentally benign activities within our national parks that are the subject of this debate. The Labor Party's approach to these issues must be rejected. We must insist that the citizens of New South Wales have the right to use national parks in an environmentally friendly fashion. That is the essence of this debate. The submission continued:
At the moment, a blanket prohibition regarding the abovementioned activities is understood to apply . . .
That makes a mockery of what Labor Ministers say. The Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning said that giving open access to everybody will ensure that catchment management will be thrown out the window; that these are tough regulations for good environmental reasons. The reality is that there is no reasonable justification that swimming should not be allowed in these areas. The submission continued:
. . . swimming in Schedule 2 Special Area catchments causes no harm. The streams in many of these catchments are polluted with sewage discharged from Sydney Water's treatment works, as well as urban stormwater runoff and by the activities of coal mining. There is no reasonable justification why swimming should be so regulated in the light of the activities already permitted in these catchment areas.
There are a number of significant and important areas in regard to the disallowance of the regulation. The Minister raised a number of issues. He said that the disallowance will mean that we will lose protection of our water supply, that catchment protection will be thrown out the window, that there will be severe economic consequences and that there will be open access to all sorts of people who want to cause environmental damage. The Minister knows that they are hollow arguments. If they were true and correct, they would beg the simple question of why the Government gazetted this regulation as one that forces this House to not be selective in its disallowance and amendment process but disallow the whole regulation? The Government did not permit that option. The Minister argued that catchment management would be thrown out. Of course, he knows that is a hollow, nonsensical argument. The coalition is moving this disallowance because there is no other option. The Government is bound to give credence to the rights of the people of New South Wales to behave in a benign and environmentally friendly fashion in our national parks. For that reason the House should vote for this disallowance to proceed.
Ms ALLAN (Blacktown - Minister for the Environment) [5.58]: Unlike the comments of the honourable member for Pittwater, this disallowance motion is about the Opposition's plan to open up every protected Sydney Water catchment for any type of use. Only a few years ago the honourable member for Wagga Wagga and then Minister responsible for the Water Board, the honourable Joe Schipp, was caught using a power boat on the Warragamba Dam catchment. He used the boat and a VIP lodge to have a holiday jaunt with relatives, without a care for the possible impact of his activities on Sydney's water. Obviously the honourable member for Gosford has a great deal of sympathy for his colleague, and this is the Liberal Party's retaliation. They now want to expand this
sort of behaviour on all our sensitive catchments. The honourable member confirmed that in the comments he has just made.
Under the disallowance we could have a range of activities on protected waters including power boating, water skiing, jet skiing, fishing, swimming and a range of other possibly polluting activities in Sydney's drinking water. Imagine if there was an oil spill from a boat or some other serious pollution incident. This has several possible implications for the people of Sydney. It means that the $2.5 billion investment that the people of Sydney, the Illawarra and the Blue Mountains are currently making in the upgrade of all drinking water treatment will be in vain. Or it could mean that our drinking water will soon become polluted as a range of activities begin to take place in these pristine catchments.
If the regulation is disallowed, either people will have to tolerate drinking this polluted water, leading to illness, or water rates will have to skyrocket to fund yet another billion dollar upgrade of our water treatment plants. So after slugging households with the $80 special environment levy and wasting the money on consultants, contractors and publicity propaganda, the honourable member for Gosford on behalf of the Liberal Party now wants to hit everyone again, this time from the Opposition benches. They could cry foul and say that the Government Pricing Tribunal would not have a bar of it but the fact is that the GPT would not have a choice. Faced with a serious health problem for Sydneysiders, people would be forced to pay more and get less for their money.
Though the National Party has not yet contributed to debate, the motion has the dead hand of that party on it. Its agenda is to open up these catchment areas, some of high wilderness quality, to horse riders, four-wheel vehicle drivers and trail bike riders - the typical constituency of the National Party. It may even allow the grazing of animals, the shooting of firearms, all those favourite activities that our colleagues in the National Party like to enjoy of a weekend or during a parliamentary recess. If the coalition is ever re-elected, they would be in a prime position to flog off these lands to developers. They want to torpedo the protection of these areas so they will never again be reserved as national parks or protected under Sydney Water's special area classification.
This Government is committed to providing the best quality catchment management to ensure the provision of pure drinking water to the people of New South Wales. It is essential that Sydney Water has the capacity to regulate activities within catchment areas in order to protect catchment values. I am sympathetic to the interests of those members of the community who wish to pursue a range of recreational activities within catchment areas, but the protection of the catchments must come first. I am also certain that wherever possible recreational activities can and will be accommodated. Indeed, we must not lose sight of the fact that the regulation has a broad and essential purpose of controlling access to catchments so that any activities which threaten their environmental integrity may be carefully managed by Sydney Water.
While purity of drinking water and maximisation of public health are clear priorities for the Government, it appears that the Opposition has no qualms at all about jeopardising these goals. The regulation is essentially in the same terms as its predecessor, which enjoyed broad community support and was developed after a process of public consultation. The Government is committed to continuing community consultation and will discuss matters of concern with interest groups, such as local bushwalking communities, in an effort to achieve an understanding of the need for catchment protection and at the same time negotiate mutually acceptable recreational alternatives. Some individual bushwalkers have expressed concern about this at various times. But these same people, if they were sitting up in the gallery today, would be horrified watching our blundering colleagues in the Opposition putting their big feet over a very important water catchment for Sydney. They would be the first people wanting to distance themselves from this very politically opportunist activity going on this evening. The community cannot afford the cost of having unregulated catchments when that cost could be the severe erosion of public health in this State.
The Government's policy is to protect these catchment lands ultimately as national parks and to ensure the catchments continue to be managed in the most effective fashion. The Government's policy also supports the continued funding of management for these areas by Sydney Water in recognition of its vested interest in keeping these areas pure for water quality purposes. I will be initiating discussion with the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning to discuss how we can best effect this policy. This debate has been interesting in that it has brought the current coalition champions for the environment - the honourable member for Gosford and the honourable member for Pittwater - to their feet to discuss an important environmental issue. But - and I speak with experience - they have not picked the right topic to try to endear themselves to the vast numbers of people concerned about the protection of the environment in the Sydney metropolitan area and throughout the State. They have blundered badly.
This is a delicate issue. People want to enjoy these areas, probably only for bushwalking purposes. But I believe that the same groups, representing particular bushwalkers, really want to open up our catchment areas for the same sorts of activities that the honourable member for Gosford and the honourable member for Pittwater have outlined this evening. It is interesting that the water catchment area in the central coast region represented by the honourable member for Gosford, though managed by the local council, has a very
high level of protection. The council has decided to maintain that level of protection in line with the protection levels currently enjoyed by Sydney Water. It is astonishing that the honourable member for Gosford can come down to Macquarie Street and argue for a breaking down of those environmental catchment protections in the Sydney Water catchment area when he is not prepared to argue for a freeing up of those activities in his own backyard. That is hypocrisy in the extreme, and it is important that we acknowledge it.
Earlier this evening we witnessed his unparliamentary performance when he referred to comments by the Premier. In recent times he has made a desperate attempt to justify the paucity of his argument. The honourable member should not be so cynical. He should not talk about protection, ultimate protection or penultimate protection in the Gosford catchment, and then in Sydney talk about breaking down environmental protection in the Sydney Water catchment. It is important that we, through the Sydney Water Corporation and as future protectors through the National Parks and Wildlife Service, get the protection of those areas absolutely right. We are not going to be able to do that if we allow the sort of activities that will inevitably occur in that catchment area if disallowance succeeds today.
Dr MACDONALD (Manly) [6.08]: I have concerns about the process by which we have arrived at this point in the gazetting of the regulations. Essentially, disallowance is a political stunt. I have spoken to the honourable member for Gosford; I was not convinced of the truthfulness of what he was saying, and his arguments appeared shallow. The disallowance motion is premature, particularly given that the matter is being reviewed by the Regulation Review Committee, which will look at the consultation process and other issues it is required to consider. If the honourable member for Gosford is unhappy with that outcome, he should move his motion later; in fact, he should defer it. The honourable member for Gosford referred to comments I made in the media - and I stand by them - that I was unhappy that regulations were not so much gazetted but drafted and talked about prior to the plan of management. We would not be facing difficulties in debate about appropriate use, access and protection if a plan of management was already in place. I understand that preparation of such a plan of management is likely to take up to two years and that under subordinate legislation these regulations had to be gazetted. There is an argument that the old regulations could have been rolled over. There is now a new set of regulations, the drafts of which were fairly draconian.
The honourable member for Gosford has obviously been lobbied, as I have, by the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, by the Total Environment Centre, the National Parks Association, the Kowmung Committee, the Confederation of Bushwalking Clubs (NSW) Inc, and others. They have been fellow travellers with me over the years I have been in Parliament. In a sense we have a common agenda. I think they are on the wrong side of the fence on this debate, and I will argue that shortly. They put the case that some aspects of the regulations are too onerous in terms of access into schedule 1 areas. We will not know whether that is true until the plan of management is developed. However, a clear analysis of the environmental impact is needed. I hope the Regulation Review Committee will consider that aspect.
That impact may be minimal, and perhaps at some future date the Minister could revisit the regulations in the light of that plan of management. I would like to hear him say that. If it proves that the regulations are too tough flowing on from the plan of management, I will call on the Minister to give a commitment to reconsider those aspects of the regulations. Meanwhile, in the changed regulations I am happy for the precautionary principles to be applied. I have problems with some of the groups. I do not want to get into a battle or go into the trenches with these groups, but some of their arguments remind me of arguments from special interest groups such as four-wheel drive groups and horse riders who want access to these areas. There is a shrill argument from these peak environment groups that they are different, and that they should be listened to. That argument could be the same as the arguments of pony riders and four-wheel drive groups.
I would say to those groups that until the plan of management is developed we should adopt a precautionary principle. In its draft stage the regulation was recognised to be fairly draconian, particularly in relation to on-the-spot fines. I am glad the regulations have eased off significantly. I have a commitment and it is on the record in debate on the Water Board (Corporatisation) Bill in relation to protecting those areas. My concerns are recorded in Hansard of 2 December, and they relate to the transfer of those lands into a corporation; the protection of catchments; and the commitment that they should never leave public control, and that if they ever change hands control should go to the National Parks and Wildlife Service with the areas being subject to the plan of management. I continue to stand by that commitment. I would like that to happen publicly, but that has not happened. However, it will be considered by the Regulation Review Committee.
I have spoken to the Minister about those aspects of the regulation that worry me. I am concerned about the relaxation of controls on private lands, and I need to be convinced about the relaxation regarding domestic activities. There may be some inconsistency, and that should be considered by the Regulation Review Committee. If the regulation is disallowed, it will be three months before another regulation can be gazetted, if it is essentially the same. There are real dangers if this disallowance gets through. I want to get this message through to the upper House. If the
regulation is disallowed, there will be a real danger that excessive use is made of the areas by horse riders and four-wheel drive groups.
I would say to those crossbench members in the upper House who are concerned, as I am, about catchment lands, that we should not do anything rash. We should take the precautionary measure of protecting the land and keeping the pressure on the Minister and on Sydney Water to develop plans of management. The Regulation Review Committee should consider some aspects that have been raised in debate. The regulation should certainly not be disallowed; it could open up a hornets' nest.
Mr GAUDRY (Newcastle) [6.15]: I compliment the honourable member for Manly on his input. It shows a lot more sense than that of members opposite. He emphasised the importance of catchment management and of ensuring that the people of Sydney have pure drinking water, that their health is protected, and that Warragamba catchment areas are protected fully. There is no doubt - as has been said by the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning and the Minister for the Environment - that the thrust of the disallowance legislation would lead to the entry into those protected areas of a range of users that would be detrimental to the environment and to the quality of water in the Sydney Water catchment area. That would result in either expensive treatment to bring the water up to the required health standard or the environment being further degraded. Neither of those issues should be entertained.
Approximately a month ago, with representatives of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Blue Mountains National Park Trust and Sydney Water Corporation, I visited the Warragamba catchment area through Kanangra Boyd and the proposed wilderness area to consider some of the issues surrounding catchment management and the impact of the declaration of wilderness. Two things happened on that trip that demonstrated a need for strong regulation and cooperation between Sydney Water and the National Parks and Wildlife Service to ensure effective catchment in the area. There is certainly a need to develop a full catchment management plan.
To the great embarrassment of the four-wheel drive member of the Blue Mountains National Trust, in the Kowmung River area we came upon a group of what I would describe as hoons. They were using their four-wheel drive vehicles in watercourses, firstly, to see how long it would take to bog the vehicles in the wetland areas and, secondly, to see how many four-wheel drive vehicles were required to retrieve those vehicles. Such action is detrimental to watercourses. It is indicative of the sort of unregulated activity that can take place. We also came upon some young people who had gone through the barriers and across the roadways that Sydney Water uses to access areas of the dam. They deliberately ignored the warning signs and were fishing in an area of Warragamba dam that is not accessible to the general public.
Regulations are being flouted. There is a need for continued surveillance and diligence on behalf of organisations whose principal concerns are the maintenance of pure drinking water for people of Sydney and the protection of public health. It is disappointing that the honourable member for Gosford - that St Ignatius old boy - used offensive and unparliamentary language to attack the Government, which is implementing these regulations after consultation with the community and interest groups. Obviously they have legitimate interests in pristine outer catchment areas and want as much access as possible to the areas covered by the regulations.
Let us look at the need for catchment management, which as I said is necessary to protect the health of the people of Sydney. In the outer catchments there is a natural pristine area. It is great to see so close to Sydney a large area dedicated as a national park - hopefully, it will soon be a wilderness area - for present and future generations. There are quality run-offs in those areas. The object of developed land in outer catchments is to protect storage areas from the impact of pollution, erosion and so on. The impact of pollution, erosion and so on can be minimised by proper consultation and arrangements with people involved in land use in those areas.
The exclusion zone operating in the inner catchment areas is important to limit biological contamination of the still waters of Lake Burragorang and the back-up supply in the rivers that run into the lake because waterborne diseases can be ameliorated by the oxygenation of swiftly running water being slowed down in still water catchment areas. It is important to limit human interference in those areas wherever possible. Catchment management is only one aspect of the overall water management strategy of Sydney Water which is aimed at ensuring that the customers of Sydney Water receive water of a quality fit for human consumption, at the lowest cost and with the greatest efficiency. The regulation that the Opposition is attempting to disallow is an integral part of the whole management process.
The multiple barrier strategy for supplying clean water to the people of Sydney represents world best practice. Undoubtedly, Sydney Water is achieving world best practice in providing safe and reliable drinking water to the people of Sydney. However, that is threatened by the disallowance of the regulation. As the honourable member for Manly said, if the regulation is disallowed, there will be a hiatus in the regulations and that will threaten the health of the people of Sydney. The disallowance threatens a long-established strategy of Sydney Water, as the former Water Board and in its present form, to employ the multiple barrier strategy to protect the health of the people of Sydney, Illawarra and the Blue Mountains. What we are threatening is the ability of Sydney Water to apply all the elements of the strategy, which would seriously weaken the ability of Sydney Water effectively to protect health.
Loss of the ability to regulate access to water catchment areas will result in higher water treatment costs and an increased level of risks, and consumers will suffer an outbreak of waterborne disease. We are confronting a serious health issue. The honourable member for Gosford, in an irresponsible way, is attempting to overthrow regulations that resulted from proper consultation and that effectively control access to the important water catchment areas abutting the Warragamba Dam. For the reasons I have outlined, we should vote against the disallowance. [Time expired.]
Mr DEBNAM (Vaucluse) [6.25]: I support the disallowance. We heard eloquent explanations from the honourable member for Gosford and the honourable member for Pittwater for disallowing the regulation. I shall quickly run through on a couple of comments made by honourable members. The Minister hides his head in shame, and I understand why. The Minister said that the regulation is compelled by water board corporatisation legislation. He noted that it is a sensitive issue, and there is no doubt about that. Our point is that the regulation is a simplistic approach; we want a more sophisticated approach. The Minister for the Environment said that the disallowance would mean an unregulated catchment. Certainly, the catchment would be unregulated until the regulation is sorted out. The Minister's statement was simplistic. We want a competent and appropriate regulation in this case. I quote an article in the Sydney Morning Herald:
The purpose of this suggested disallowance is to permit current canoeing activities on Tallowa Dam on the Shoalhaven River. Sydney Water has provided no reason why these secondary storages should continue to be unavailable for water sports which do not involve contact with the water or that do not cause potential water pollution.
This evening the honourable member for Manly said that some aspects of the regulation are too onerous. That is our point. The regulation needs to be tidied up; it needs to be disallowed and rewritten. The honourable member for Newcastle gave us an exposé on hoons - to use his word - using four-wheel drive vehicles in an unregulated situation. Some people may act in the manner he described, but many responsible people who use four-wheel drive vehicles for recreation will be concerned about his comments. The regulation affects 3,000 square kilometres. It raises the issue of the importance of equality before the law, as noted by the honourable member for Gosford. The regulation has been put forward without consultation, and it needs to be tidied up. There is no evidence available of damage done by bushwalkers.
I note what the honourable member for Gosford said about prohibiting camping and picnicking. The remoteness of the area means that people are effectively prohibited from bushwalking there. That is of concern to a large number of people not only in the Sydney area but in other parts of Australia and overseas who come to the area to bushwalk. The regulation does not affect private lands in the middle of the area involved, and for that reason it is consistent. I shall refer to correspondence that we have received from interested parties. We received a letter from the president of Bushwalkers NSW, Andy Macqueen, who made the point that the effect of the regulation will be that bushwalking will cease over most of the southern Blue Mountains. Once again, that is an area of 3,000 square kilometres. He also refers to the fact that each weekend hundreds of Australian and foreign tourists walk from the bottom of the scenic railway to picnic around the Ruined Castle or at Mount Solitary, many kilometres from Warragamba Dam.
Those picnics will now be illegal under the regulations. He spoke of how on Anzac Day bushwalkers have congregated at Splendour Rock, a much-loved vantage point in the Wild Dog Mountains. Again this will be precluded under the regulations. He made the point that many of our youth groups, Scouts, schools and others who learn about the bush and undertake challenging expeditions such as those required under the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme will not be able to use this part of the Blue Mountains, and I am sure that members would agree that that is a shame for the whole community. He also said in his letter:
`The decision to regulate was premature. We are surprised at the need to change the regulatory landscape before plans of management are developed for the National Parks and Wildlife Service', said Dr Macdonald's spokesman.
The honourable member for Gosford spoke about the 23 September visit by the Premier to this area. As we have heard, the Premier swam in this area before the regulations were invoked, and that activity would now be illegal. When the Premier went there on 23 September he did not walk in as most people have been doing; he used a helicopter to reach this remote area and get out of it again. I cannot remember the figures but I think the helicopter cost about $600 or $700 an hour. I think it sat on the ground there for about four or five hours waiting for them to finish their afternoon recreation. On 23 September the Premier was an accessory to lighting a fire, which is prohibited by these regulations, which came into force on 1 September. Was approval given for the lighting of the fire? Our understanding is that no approval was given.
Obviously, the Minister should ensure that members of that 23 September incursion, including the Premier, are prosecuted for their offence under these regulations. We then ask what was the purpose of that visit. Clearly it was nothing more than a photo opportunity, which is all we have had from this Government since it was elected in March - a series of photo opportunities. In fact, the Premier is now known as the member for photo opportunities, and several of them have blown up. This has been the one that has been of the most serious concern to people of New South Wales, and certainly the honourable member for Gosford has been outraged by this particular incident. The call
for prosecution under the regulations is a valid one. I would ask the Minister to look into that. I know bushwalking groups would support that call because they certainly feel outraged that they have been excluded from this area, which they have loved for some considerable time. In summary I feel there are valid reasons to support the disallowance of this regulation.
Mr SHEDDEN (Bankstown) [6.33]: It is amazing that the honourable member for Gosford has moved for disallowance of this regulation at this time, some five weeks before the last possible date for disallowance on this regulation. I thought it might be appropriate to mention to the House the Regulation Review Committee's consideration of this regulation at its meetings on 7 September 1995 and 21 September 1995. The Committee has met with representatives of the Colong Foundation, the National Parks Association and the Confederation of Bushwalking Clubs (NSW) Inc, at their request, to discuss it. The general issue that the group raised was that the new regulation created a blanket prohibition on camping, swimming and the lighting of fires in about 300,000 hectares of national parks in the Warragamba catchment area. They asked the committee to consider recommending that certain matters be addressed by the adoption of appropriate catchment management plans. On 11 October the committee wrote to the Minister to obtain his advice on various representations.
One point raised in these representations was that Sydney Water would be developing a plan of management as required for special areas under section 86 of the Act and that this plan of management would only apply to areas within national parks or in lands directly controlled by Sydney Water. Other Crown lands and private lands would not be covered by the plan of management. If this is the case, the plan of management may not be an adequate way of addressing the regulatory management of the whole catchment. This would mean that the regulatory management of Sydney Water and national parks would be pursued along different lines to that of other areas for which no plan of management is prepared under the Act. The committee has asked Sydney Water to address that issue. The committee noted that clause 84 of the regulation permits Sydney Water to direct land-holders in a special area to remove buildings or works if there are reasonable grounds for believing that this direction is necessary to prevent or minimise pollution.
This type of regulation was disallowed by Parliament in 1990 on the grounds that it made no provision for procedural fairness, appeals or compensation. The committee has requested the Minister to repeal this provision. On 8 September Sydney Water provided the committee with a regulatory impact statement and submissions on it together with details of considerations of those submissions. The material included a briefing note on a special briefing session by Sydney Water and ministerial staff on the regulation on 29 August 1995. It would appear from this briefing note that further dialogue will be undertaken to clarify matters of concern arising from the regulation and other general catchment issues. The last date for disallowance of this regulation or any part of it in this House is 21 November 1995. The committee is awaiting the Minister's reply to determine the finite attitude to the regulation in its current form. The motion at this stage is premature and I oppose it.
Mr HARTCHER (Gosford) [6.37], in reply: I thank members who participated in this debate, and especially the honourable member for Pittwater and the honourable member for Vaucluse for their very clear and valid contributions. Might I take up the comments by the honourable member for Manly, who, when this regulation first came out, issued that unutterable utterance, using the royal plural:
Sydney Water has produced no scientific evidence to support the exclusion of people from the parks. Those who oppose Sydney Water's action include Professor John Burton of the University of New England, a national authority on resource management.
"We", because he speaks for everybody. When the House debates whether the regulation should be disallowed he says "this debate is premature." He has really gone into the prematurity mode. He says this debate is premature because we should be waiting for the report of the Regulation Review Committee.
Dr Macdonald: Why not?
Mr HARTCHER: The honourable member for Manly asks "Why not?" I will tell him. We heard from the honourable member for Bankstown, who is member of the Regulation Review Committee, that the committee has recommended that the regulation be disallowed. If the honourable member for Manly is not a hypocrite - and that is debatable - and if he stands by his comment when this regulation was introduced that the regulation was premature, that there should have been consideration, and that the plan of management was with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, he will support the motion. We will see whether he does so in a few minutes. There will be no gap, no lacuna at law under which people can commit all sorts of nasty offences, if this regulation is disallowed, because there is nothing to stop the Minister relying on the ordinary provisions of law.
If the Minister wants a further regulation he can bring one down. What is at stake here is that this regulation is inappropriate, premature, anti-bushwalking; it is against the customary pursuits and pleasures of thousands of citizens in this State not over a few years but over a 100-year period; it is ill-considered, reckless and has no scientific basis; and the leading authorities - not me - on natural resources and on catchment management, as well as the environmental movement, have all said that there is simply no valid reason for it. The Minister knew that this matter was to be discussed; notice of it was given yesterday. The Minister had every opportunity to come to this House and table something. All sorts of documents have been tabled in this place.
Why was one not tabled this afternoon documenting valid scientific reasons as to why controls have to be placed on the conduct of the ordinary citizens of this State? He could not, because there are no such scientific reasons. In May the Premier was happy to swim in this area. In September he was prepared to go to there and light camp fires. Twice in the past four months the Premier has been to this spot and has enjoyed it. Yet the very privilege that is extended to the Premier and his friends is to be denied to the ordinary citizens of the State. This is hypocrisy at its best. This is the Labor Party at its worst. Few organisations other than the Australian Labor Party could sink as low as this Premier and this Government. This is the man who insults women again and again. He insulted women as recently as question time in this House this afternoon with his disgusting and degrading remarks directed towards the honourable member for Lane Cove.
Mr Knowles: On a point of order: I recognise that the honourable member for Gosford is wound up, but I ask that he be directed to speak to the substance of the debate, if he has any substance to contribute.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I uphold the point of order.
Mr HARTCHER: The Premier was able to travel there by helicopter.
Mr O'Farrell: How much did that cost?
Mr HARTCHER: I will answer the interjection of the honourable member for Northcott in a moment. Privileges such as spending Government money on personal pleasures on a Saturday afternoon are not extended to ordinary citizens. Once these walks by the Premier did not cost anything. He would walk along a cliff face - although nobody wanted to walk on his right-hand side - and it did not cost anything. There were lots of photos taken. But now the photos are a lot more expensive. The cost of the helicopter trip right into the wilderness areas, right into the designated catchment areas, was $500 an hour. The issue before us is whether the Government will effectively protect the environment of this State in a consultative and rational manner.
Dr Macdonald: What is the point?
Mr HARTCHER: The point is that decisions are being made about environmental protection that do not take into account any community consultation; there was none in this instance. That has an injurious effect on the lives of thousands of ordinary citizens. I could instance many examples of that but the obvious one is of bushwalkers no longer being permitted to go into an area which they have been accustomed to visiting, with no evidence at all having been adduced to justify the regulation. The honourable member for Manly asked what is the point. They are the points. They are the points the honourable member for Manly was not prepared to address in his speech. He was only prepared to talk about the due process of the Parliament and to suggest we wait for the report from the Regulation Review Committee.
The role of the Regulation Review Committee is separate from the role of the House. The role of the House is to pass judgment on legislation and regulations as they impact upon the people of New South Wales; not simply to be sidetracked on whether one has crossed the t's and dotted the i's in the making of a regulation. That is the role of the Regulation Review Committee, in the various processes it follows. The role of the House is to protect the interests of the people. That is why it is quite legitimate to debate this issue now rather than wait for the report of a committee that may be narrowly focused. As for stunts, the honourable member for Manly is a past master at stunts, but we will not go into that. He is here by the grace of 150 people, but that will change.
The Opposition will support any sensible measure to protect catchment management areas. We have a real interest in making sure that the people of this great city have a pure water supply, which we gave them in our seven years in government. But this regulation has been introduced in an ill-considered, non-consultative, unscientific way and the Minister has not justified it. Nor has the Minister for the Environment been able to justify it other than in personal remarks such as those from the honourable member for Manly, who invokes the royal aura and says, "We are concerned" and, "We think it is premature."
The Opposition is asking members to consider how the Government has handled this regulation, to consider the lack of justification for it, to consider the impact it has upon thousands of people and to consider the simple stupidity of it, bearing in mind that in the 3,000 square kilometres of the catchment area there are villages, power stations, mines, roads, private land holdings, vehicles, houses and people. If the Government believes that somehow all of that will not have any impact but that a few dozen bushwalkers a year will have an impact, it really does not have an understanding of how the world works.
Mr Debnam: What about the photo opportunities?
Mr HARTCHER: The honourable member for Vaucluse reminds me about the photo opportunities. The fact remains that all that the Premier was interested in was a photo opportunity. He went to the area and took photographers from the Sydney Morning Herald with him. It was a media stunt that backfired, as so many of his media stunts have backfired. This is the man who, when he was Minister, had a photographer follow him around for the express purpose of taking as many photos as possible so that he could use them for party political purposes. The Opposition condemns the regulation. We are asking all sensible members of this House to vote for its disallowance. We commend the motion to the House.
Question - That the motion be agreed to - put.
The House divided.
We are concerned about the regulation and we think it is premature.
Mr Armstrong Mr Merton
Mr Blackmore Mr O'Doherty
Mr Causley Mr O'Farrell
Mr Chappell Mr D. L. Page
Mr Cochran Mr Peacocke
Mr Collins Mr Phillips
Mr Cruickshank Mr Richardson
Mr Debnam Mr Rixon
Mr Downy Mr Schultz
Mr Ellis Mrs Skinner
Mr Fahey Mr Slack-Smith
Ms Ficarra Mr Smith
Mr Fraser Mr Souris
Mr Glachan Mr Tink
Mr Hartcher Mr Turner
Mr Hazzard Mr West
Mr Humpherson Mr Zammit
Dr Kernohan Tellers,
Mr Kinross Mr Jeffery
Ms Machin Mr Kerr
Ms Allan Mr Markham
Mr Amery Mr Martin
Mr Anderson Ms Meagher
Ms Andrews Mr Mills
Mrs Beamer Ms Moore
Mr Clough Mr Moss
Mr Crittenden Mr Nagle
Mr Debus Ms Nori
Mr Face Mr E. T. Page
Mr Gaudry Mr Price
Mr Gibson Mr Rogan
Mrs Grusovin Mr Rumble
Ms Hall Mr Scully
Mr Harrison Mr Shedden
Ms Harrison Mr Stewart
Mr Hunter Mr Sullivan
Mr Iemma Mr Tripodi
Mr Knight Mr Watkins
Mr Knowles Mr Whelan
Mr Langton Mr Yeadon
Mr McBride Tellers,
Dr Macdonald Mr Beckroge
Mr McManus Mr Thompson
Mr Beck Mr Aquilina
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Carr
Mr Longley Mrs Lo Po'
Mr Rozzoli Dr Refshauge
Question so resolved in the negative.