Licensing and Registration (Uniform Procedures) Bill
Debate resumed from 8 May.
Mr O'FARRELL (Ku-ring-gai) [8.22 p.m.]: On behalf of the Leader of the Opposition, who is also shadow Minister for Innovation and Reform of Government, which covers information and communication technology [ICT], I indicate that the Opposition will not oppose this bill. The Opposition recognises the need for this legislation, given the condition of the Government's online services. The Coalition acknowledges that the bill aims to amend legislation covering licensing and registration processes as the first step towards introducing online licensing in the public sector; providing an online entry point to government licensing services; avoiding potential expenditure on government information technology, and thereby saving taxpayers up to $70 million; enabling online licence applications with an agency to be completed and paid in one session; enabling online verification of information within applications by accessing source databases; and providing the capability to introduce photo licences, where appropriate.
The Coalition also acknowledges that the bill aims to deliver benefits to the people of New South Wales by supporting projects that aim to deliver greater choice and convenience through the introduction of online services; greater flexibility through the introduction of one, three and five-year terms on licences and registration; reductions in application processing times; and access to up-to-date information via an enhanced business licence information service. The Government's Information Management and Technology Blueprint identified that need for the service as long ago as 1997. Now, five years later, we finally see action.
Only now, five years on, are we seeing the beginning of work to address what is required to bring New South Wales up to date with other States in the provision of e-government. The Kennett Government was elected in Victoria nearly 10 years ago. Within two years it had a system such as this operating to the great benefit of its citizens and, more particularly, to those people engaged in business in Victoria. Whilst this legislation is supported and its benefits are undoubted to those members of the public and those who do business in New South Wales, it has been a long time coming. That indicates that whatever good intentions the current Minister has and the previous Minister had, under the Carr Government this area is not given the priority it deserves.
New South Wales, as a market leader in government services in this country, does not leverage that into benefits for its citizens. This legislation might finally set New South Wales on the path to achieving the standard of service delivery available to people in other States. As I said, Victoria is years ahead on the delivery of online services. The Liberal and National parties believe that more action is required to deliver New South Wales government services online. The Coalition recognises the need for this legislation as legislation that genuinely seeks to achieve more efficient services for the people.
The Coalition recognises that it genuinely plans to provide services that support individuals, families and businesses in their activities, rather than hampering the aspirations of the people of New South Wales as do many of the current processes of the Government. This legislation is long overdue. The Government's commitment to online services is hollow. I challenge the honourable member for Wallsend, who is in the chair, as a powerful Government backbencher, to access the Government's web site and endeavour to access the media releases of the Carr Government's Ministers. I went looking for the Minister for Transport's latest reannouncement of the Parramatta transport interchange.
Ms Seaton: How many times is that?
Mr O'FARRELL: As the honourable member for Southern Highlands asked, how many times has that been announced? It does not matter how many times it is announced, but the latest available press release on the Minister's web site relates to 20 March. As I know better than most, a lot has happened since 20 March but still Government Ministers, and the Premier, are not prepared to use ICT to the betterment of the community to either inform them about Government decision making, positions and policy, or in this case to assist them to do business in this State.
The Carr Government is notorious for running the State by media release but it is afraid to share those releases with the State online in an attempt to lift its accountability. There is no doubt that part of the ICT revolution in this country and around the world is about the opportunities it provides for greater transparency and accountability, particularly in the public sector and in representative democracies. That is one of the great strengths and that is why the Opposition has no problem in supporting legislation of this type. That is one reason why the Government's commitment to ICT ought to go further than currently proposed.
The Government has taken its time, literally years, to make advances in this area. It is also clear that the legislation will make the process of obtaining licences and registration easier, removing much of the administrative burden that the Government has been extraordinarily slow to remove. In seven years of Labor government, and eight Labor budgets, this Government has been very slow to remove a bureaucratic and overregulated licensing system. This legislation, by doing that online, will seek to make some improvements. But even without this legislation, even without the application in technology, improvements could have been made earlier if the Government were committed to small business.
I will never forget that when the 1999 election was over—an election I well remember—the Premier went to Newcastle and said that he was going to reinvent the Labor Party as the party for small business. He has singularly failed, not just in the industrial area but on business licensing. Nothing in this legislation reduces some of the incredible levels of regulatory burden imposed by that licensing regime. This legislation is good because one of the benefits of licensing online is that people engaged in commerce, and employees currently wanting to become business operators, can apply for a licence. They can fill out the registration form and pay for it over the telecommunication system at a time that suits them.
I well remember that following Victoria's introduction of a single business entry point eight years ago, a survey showed that most of the transactions were actually done outside business hours. That demonstrates again just how inconvenient government can be if it does not make use of this sort of technology. The Government has often demonstrated that the real issues at the heart of this licensing system remain unresolved because of a lack of clear commitment. This legislation, among other Acts, will also apply to the Home Building Act 1989, which covers the licensing of contracts to perform residential building work.
It would be remiss of me not to refer to the application of this legislation upon that Act, because it is somewhat ironic that the Government is focused on simplifying the licensing process for a licence involving contractors performing residential building work but it does nothing to guarantee the bona fides of the builder and does not address the underlying issue of business licences and home warranty insurance, the source of so much concern amongst small business people throughout the State. It is an indication that the Government is committed to incremental reform on a piecemeal basis. It has no clear vision and no depth of understanding about all the things that small business and the people of this State expect of both government and the application of technology to government. The Opposition supports the bill, but calls for further action to deliver the choice and benefits of online delivery of government services.
Mr ORKOPOULOS (Swansea) [8.29 p.m.]: What a negative, carping speech by the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai. He said that the Kennett Government was elected 10 years ago. The Carr Government has been in office for only part of that time, and that means that when the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai was an adviser to the Greiner Government that Government did nothing at all. Finally, this Government is getting it together and the Licensing and Registration (Uniform Procedures) Bill is about modernising the way business and individuals deal with government.
Mr O'Farrell: Point of order: I remind my honourable friend, for whom I actually have some regard, that the Internet was not actually invented until the year the Greiner Government left office.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Mills): Order! There is no point of order.
Mr ORKOPOULOS: It is yet another example of how our Government is using information technology [IT] to improve the economic and social wellbeing of New South Wales. The Government recognises that the community increasingly expects to be able to interact electronically with friends and family, businesses and financial institutions, and government. This bill paves the way for an innovative whole-of-government—I really appreciate that term because its acronym is wog!—online business licensing system. One object of the bill that interests me is object (c), which states:
Schedule 3 provides that chiropractors, dental technicians, optical dispensers, optometrists, osteopaths, physiotherapists, psychologists and podiatrists will be able to access this licensing and registration system. The bill will enable up to 200 licensing and registration systems to be accessed electronically whilst still providing the option for processing through more traditional offline methods. The benefits to business are clear. The system provides a single entry point that will deliver a more efficient, convenient, customer-focused way for business to interact with government. But the new business licensing system provides benefits beyond business. It will also increase consumer protection.
by enacting common registration procedures (proposed Part 4) that are adopted (pursuant to amendments effected by Part 3 of Schedule 4) in relation to certain registration schemes affecting health professionals.
The bill will facilitate a more secure system for verification of information provided by people applying for and renewing licences or registration. I understand that currently only a couple of licensing authorities can check information provided by applicants against source databases such as education and training providers and criminal history databases. This gives an opportunity for a dishonest person to provide an authority with a fraudulent paper document that might describe a qualification that the person does not have, or allow a person to claim a right to a licence for which that person is not eligible.
The bill provides the opportunity for the development of third-party verification using technology to allow agencies to check information provided against source databases to ensure that the information provided by applicants is accurate. This will help to ensure that licences are only issued to people who are entitled to them, and that dishonest and inaccurate applications are detected and dealt with. Consumers will be able to more easily verify, and therefore have increased confidence in, the accuracy of the licences of those they are dealing with. The purpose of a licensing and registration system is to ensure that the community enjoys a decent standard of service, safety and accountability.
The new business licensing system, and this bill, retain a central role for the licensing agencies that have the expertise and experience to best determine these standards and to identify the relevant qualifications to achieve them. The bill in no way interferes with their role in determining what types of licences should be issued and who should be eligible to hold them. Rather, it will facilitate an innovative technological solution to enable them to do their job better and to make it easier for businesses and individuals to interact with them.
Finally, the Government recognises the right to privacy of all citizens. A privacy impact assessment has been undertaken to ensure compliance with the relevant legislation. In addition, Privacy New South Wales was involved in the consultation process that took place prior to the introduction of the bill, and the Government licensing project team will continue to consult with the Privacy Commissioner as the systems are developed and implemented. The Licensing and Registration (Uniform Procedures) Bill will facilitate the modernisation of the New South Wales licensing system, which will deliver significant benefits for government, business and consumers. I am pleased to support the bill and I commend our excellent Minister for Information Technology on yet another example of leadership in the use of IT to make government more efficient, effective and accessible.
Ms SEATON (Southern Highlands) [8.34 p.m.]: I join my colleagues in supporting the Licensing and Registration (Uniform Procedures) Bill and take this opportunity to ask the Minister to look at a very interesting issue that I was made aware of—as I am sure many other members were—via an email from a gentleman who, for a variety of reasons not of his own making, is unable to participate in what is effectively a revolutionary change in our lives and businesses through information technology [IT]. The honourable member for Swansea spoke of the need for standards of service, safety and accountability and about the ease with which businesses and individuals can interact with government on licensing procedures. Those things are great and need as much effort as possible to be implemented in the community.
However, the gentleman who emailed me and others—I know one Government member and another Opposition member who have responded to him—has outlined a situation where he falls through the cracks of the system. He finds it difficult to interact on any of these high-tech platforms or, indeed, in many other business transactions that he faces daily. He was born in Queensland and has been living in New South Wales since 1993. He suffers from epilepsy and, as a result, chooses not to drive a car and, therefore, has never sought to get a photo licence. Of course, photo licences are necessary for a range of transactions unrelated to driving. He outlined a number of cases in which his lack of a photo licence caused problems for him. He said he needs photo identification when he deals with most government departments and when he tries to open and close bank accounts. When he purchases an e-ticket and then goes to pick it up at the airport, he needs to produce some sort of photo identification.
He was even placed in the unfortunate situation of being listed as a missing person for a weekend because of some miscommunication. His family was unsure if he had used his ticket and the Qantas computer had no details, so Qantas told NSW Police and he was listed as a missing person for a couple of days. This must have been a distressing experience for him and his family. He talks about going to collect prebooked show tickets and being unable to prove who he is. Whilst we all welcome in many ways the benefits the IT platform provides and the things we are trying to achieve in making government more accessible, a number of people, for many practical reasons, simply fall through the cracks and find these things difficult. I have not met the gentleman except over the Internet, but I would like us all to take note of cases like this and try to find ways to solve day-to-day practical problems for people in these situations.
Mr HICKEY (Cessnock) [8.38 p.m.]: The Licensing and Registration (Uniform Procedures) Bill is the first legislative step in a significant government initiative to provide business and occupational licensing online. Currently there are 1.5 million business and professional licences held in New South Wales, and each year around 600,000 people apply for or renew licences by post or over the counter. By providing a systems approach to licensing regimes across New South Wales this bill lays the foundation for the implementation of the Government's $32 million connecting dot business project. This major government initiative aims to provide an online one-stop shop for businesses and occupational licensing in New South Wales. This is good news for business, particularly for small businesses and businesses in rural and regional New South Wales.
Owner-operators will have more time to run their businesses. Take an individual home building contractor, for example. A typical contractor might need to hold a combination of sublicences, such as for general building, roof tiling, bricklaying, formwork construction, carpentry and joinery, frame and truss erection, and wall cladding, as well as ensuring he has proper compliance with WorkCover, workers compensation and industrial relations regulations. When the new business licensing system is operational, business operators will be able to conduct licence transactions over the Internet. That will save money, cut red tape, improve convenience, and result in substantial time savings, particularly when dealing with one or more agency.
In the past, most businesses would have to visit multiple offices or write several letters to conduct their business with the Government. In contrast, the new system will enable them to renew their licence or business name, or advise of changes in the particulars online from their home or office at any time, day or night. This is particularly good news for rural and regional businesses. This is a huge undertaking, a four-year project, but users will start to enjoy the benefits sooner rather than later. Online business name renewals will be available to the State's 1.5 million business and professional licence holders by next February. In addition, 9,500 licence holders in specific trades will be able to start renewing their licences.
Motor dealers, employment agents, travel agents, pawnbrokers and second-hand merchants will be able to renew their licences over the Internet by early next year. Possibly the largest group of potential users will be the State's 1,488 travel agents, who already conduct much of their business online. Another potentially big user group in the initial phase is motor dealers, who can have multiple licences for the eight different types of activity they are permitted to undertake. For instance, a proprietor who holds licences as an auto dismantler, parts reconstructor and wholesaler will benefit by being able to transact all of those licences online. This is an exciting initiative with real benefits for small business. I am pleased to support the bill, which is fundamental to the implementation of the project.
Mr GAUDRY (Newcastle—Parliamentary Secretary) [8.42 p.m.]: I am pleased to support the bill, and I commend the Minister for his continued commitment to using information technology to make the Government more efficient, effective and accessible. There is no doubt that right across New South Wales, whether in the Sydney central business district, Newcastle, or regional or isolated rural New South Wales, the use of information technology is becoming more and more important in the conduct of business and the economic and social connection between people. The Licensing and Registration (Uniform Procedures) Bill is a very important initiative, and I congratulate the Minister on it. It will enable a single IT system to be developed to manage the licensing procedures, business and occupational licences in New South Wales.
The system is the result of the New South Wales Government licensing project, which planned and developed a single system to manage approximately 200 different licence types that are managed by 28 licensing agencies. They are currently administered under separate legislation, which provides different requirements across the various licence types for processes such as applications. Much of the legislation contains provisions that would prevent transactions from being conducted online, such as requirements for two signatures or statutory declarations. In introducing the legislation, the Minister is streamlining the whole process, giving people much better access, and giving businesses the opportunity to involve themselves in the transactions. He is also meeting the requirements of government in a very much more efficient system that diminishes the use of red tape, and facilitates not only commerce but the connection between various licensing agencies and the business community.
The bill will remove barriers to online transactions, which may be inherent in existing licensing legislation. It will provide a consistent legislative framework to enable the development of a generic IT solution, which will provide improvement and consistency in customer service across government. It will also facilitate future changes. For example, the administrative procedures and the system will already be in place for new licences. It is very much an important part of the Government's approach to facilitate business, make connections between business and government much more efficient and provide a faster more efficient service to business across New South Wales. I certainly commend the Minister for bringing this matter to the House. It involved an enormous amount of planning and co-ordination to bring all government departments and agencies online. Some years ago I participated in a review of the Threatened Species Conservation Act.
Mr Fraser: So did I.
Mr GAUDRY: One of the things that struck me at that time, and I know it would have struck the honourable member for Coffs Harbour opposite, was that an enormous mass of information was available across government departments and the business community, but there was no real mechanism to bring it together, to facilitate the interchange or co-ordination of material. As part of his responsibility for information technology, the Minister has taken great steps to facilitate that transfer of information. I congratulate the Minister on his efforts, and I am sure the honourable member for Coffs Harbour joins me in that. The Minister is aware of the need for the regional and rural business community of New South Wales to have access to, and the ability to transfer, that information to remit licences quickly. The Minister is doing that.
Mr Fraser: But he won't guarantee timber supplies to the timber industry.
Mr GAUDRY: I notice that the honourable member for Coffs Harbour continues to rail against the very effective administration by this Minister of not only information technology but also forestry. He has expended an enormous effort, and been successful, in bringing into the twenty-first century the conservation and security of the timber supply. It is another example of the good governance of this State, facilitated by the Minister for Information Technology, Minister for Energy, Minister for Forestry, and Minister for Western Sydney. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr McBRIDE (The Entrance) [8.48 p.m.]: I also support the Licensing and Registration (Uniform Procedures) Bill. The Government has approved the development of a New South Wales licensing system that will provide a single IT system to administer licensing processes across New South Wales government agencies, to augment existing mail and counter processes with an online means to apply for, renew and pay for licences, to obtain information about licence holders held in licensing registers, and to apply consistent processes in the way that licences are administered and enforced, so far as possible, in the interests of good practice and to the benefit of customers.
In another life, when I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Public Works, we tried to introduce an IT system across the whole administration of the New South Wales Government. Although I commend the Minister, there was a silo mentality within each Government organisation; they wanted to isolate themselves and not have an integrated system. I am not sure of the reasons, but it goes with the territory of public servant mandarins: they like to keep their organisations separate. They do not like crossovers into their organisation by other organisations, government instrumentalities or departments.
There was enormous conflict in regard to trying to push what the Minister has managed to achieve among New South Wales government departments. It was interesting to note that when we visited Canberra we found that the Federal departments had bigger problems with respect to uniformity of information technology systems within their departments. Every government department was isolated: the Foreign Affairs department could not communicate with Treasury, which could not communicate with Commerce, which could not communicate with the Attorney-General's Department. The Federal Government set up an information technology division and wrote a blueprint to try to achieve the outcomes that are part of this legislation.
I saw from those discussions how difficult it was to achieve this outcome. Notwithstanding that, each individual organisation endorses the goals of the legislation because it allows people to go to a kiosk and from there use the information technology equipment and access whatever information they need throughout the government system. This is important legislation for the consumer, that is, the user of the information outside the public service. Often when people are seeking information within government organisations it becomes a nightmare to transfer information from one organisation to another because the information technology equipment, the systems or the software are incompatible.
The Government has recognised all of this and has further decided that the licensing system will be introduced in phases, and that is appropriate. With information technology, problems will result when systems are implemented all at once. This proved to be the case with the introduction of information technology and radio communications systems in the emergency services, police and other emergency organisations. Information technology systems must be introduced phase by phase. This bill, which deals with phase one, provides that the online lodgment of renewals for the following licences administered by the Department of Fair Trading will be implemented by the enhancement of legacy systems: business names, motor dealers, pawnbrokers and second-hand dealers, employment agents, and travel agents.
These days almost all business done by travel agents is online, and I know from my own inquiries that people can access almost any information. However, the public must have access to this information and they need a compatible system. During phase two, the new licensing system, which will incorporate consistent processes, will be introduced initially for all licences administered by the Department of Fair Trading, and subsequently in a staged manner for licences administered by the Department of Gaming and Racing, Health Professionals Registration Boards, the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service and the WorkCover Authority. The licensing system will then be implemented in the 23 remaining licensing agencies following an analysis of their functionality requirements against the system.
In conclusion, I commend the Minister for what he has done with information technology. It is a challenging area that changes every day. I have a young son who is writing software for new programs and it is moving at hyperspeed all the time. That is why phasing in the implementation is so important. If implementation is not phased in, we will end up with old technology and without the processes to update as new technologies come on line.
Mr YEADON (Granville—Minister for Information Technology, Minister for Energy, Minister for Forestry, and Minister for Western Sydney) [8.55 p.m.], in reply: I thank honourable members representing the electorates of Swansea, Cessnock, Newcastle, The Entrance, Ku-ring-gai and Southern Highlands for their contributions to this interesting debate. At least members on this side of the House knew what they were talking about, in stark contrast to the contributions by Opposition members. The honourable member for Ku-ring-gai indicated that the Opposition is not opposing the bill. One assumes that means the Opposition is in support of it. However, the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai waxed lyrical for some time about Multimedia Victoria or at least what occurred in Victoria under the Kennett Government, and said it was far more advanced than our system in New South Wales.
That shows a lack of understanding by the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai in that this initiative under the Licensing and Registration (Uniform Procedures) Bill is way beyond anything that Multimedia Victoria did under Premier Kennett. Multimedia Victoria at that time was not within a bull's roar of what is occurring here. Multimedia Victoria under the then Treasurer and Minister for Multimedia, Alan Stockdale, certainly put some transactions on the Internet—and I acknowledge that they did that reasonably early. However, we like to take the view in New South Wales that we are at the leading edge rather than at the bleeding edge, and that is exactly what occurred in Victoria. Alan Stockdale put in place a system through a consultant—for want of a better term, he outsourced the project—and Multimedia Victoria at that time under Jeff Kennett paid a motser for the front-end delivery of services that at the end of the day were not all that great.
We in New South Wales adopted a similar approach to ensure that our citizens could access the Internet and via that access a whole range of government services, but we did it by and large within government—and it did not cost us anywhere near the amount of money it cost Multimedia Victoria at that time under Premier Kennett. We said we would have all appropriate services online by the end of 2001, and I am delighted to say that we did that. There are some 1,700 services that the citizens of New South Wales can access via the Internet when seeking information from the New South Wales Government. We did that at a fraction of what it cost Multimedia Victoria under Jeff Kennett.
The honourable member for Ku-ring-gai said that our electronic service delivery program was hollow. I do not know how he can say that when we have 1,700 services online involving a rich array of services dealing with the New South Wales Government. Indeed, the New South Wales Government is at the forefront or equal to any other government in this country with respect to electronic service delivery. The underlying concept of the bill is very exciting indeed. Originally we put information on the Internet, as many providers or participants were doing, as part of phase one. Phase two involves more substantive transactions in which people can come online and undertake more interaction with the Government, make payments, and receive service delivery online. Phase three, which is the most challenging stage, is to remodel processes in order to ensure efficient delivery of services over the Internet.
Those first two phases were about creating a front end for what could be regarded as traditional government services. We are now moving with this program into the innovative area of remodelling—or "re-engineering" as it is called in the industry—the back end. This is a four-year program that offers both a great challenge to the Government and a great benefit to the people of New South Wales. Not only will people be able to go online and interact with the Government when applying for and renewing licences in a whole range of areas, but we will re-engineer the back end to create more efficient and effective government. That is the exciting underpinning to this bill and the future for this type of area in the twenty-first century.
This approach contrasts starkly with that of the Opposition, which has no understanding of this issue—as members opposite demonstrated in the Chamber tonight. For example, the honourable member for Southern Highlands referred to the problems that people will have identifying themselves to various institutions and agencies if they do not hold a driver's licence. That is certainly a valid issue, but it does not turn on this bill in particular or on technology generally. That matter must be dealt with more widely in terms of people's ability to identify themselves effectively; it is not a technology issue.
The honourable member for Ku-ring-gai added to the dearth of knowledge on the Opposition side by remarking to a Labor member as he left the Chamber that the Internet was not invented until the Greiner Government left office. I am afraid that he is incorrect in that statement. The Internet was invented in the 1960s in the United States of America when the US defence agency sought to create a circular network that would continue to communicate if any portion was knocked out. I think the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai was referring to the worldwide web, which emerged in the late 1990s—about 1996—as a new way of accessing the Internet by using hypertext mark-up language that allowed information to be posted in a generic manner that was platform neutral for computers. This innovation allowed the world wide web and its physical infrastructure, the Internet, to operate in a new and important manner and launched the world information revolution.
The New South Wales Government certainly stays at the forefront of that information revolution, despite the recent dot com shake-out, or tech wreck, as a result of falling share prices on the NASDAQ. That is a minor aberration caused by people becoming too excited and overinvesting in that area initially. However, the roll-out of the information revolution continues unabated and will change our lives in unprecedented ways in the immediate future. This Government is not ignoring these changes. Unlike the Opposition, it is not hiding and pretending that this technology does not exist. The New South Wales Government stands proudly with leading participants and alongside any other government in the world that is at the forefront of the information revolution. The Licensing and Registration (Uniform Procedures) Bill will ensure that we stay at the leading edge, not the bleeding edge, of the information revolution. I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.