Walker Trusts Amendment Bill
WALKER TRUSTS AMENDMENT BILL
The Hon. R. D. DYER (Minister for Community Services, Minister for Aged Services, and Minister for Disability Services) [4.16 p.m.]: I move:
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
That this bill be now read a second time.
I am pleased to introduce the Walker Trusts Amendment Bill 1997. The purpose of the bill is to allow distributions to be made from the Walker Trust Fund to the Central Sydney Area Health Service for the purposes of supporting and maintaining the renal dialysis service at the Dame Eadith Walker Hospital. The bill also facilitates the use of appropriate parts of the Walker estates as public open space.
The Dame Eadith Walker Convalescent Hospital for Men was established by the Walker Trusts Act 1938. Money from the estate of Thomas Walker was distributed from a trust fund to the Central Sydney Area Health service for the purposes of conducting the hospital. The hospital continued to be used as a convalescent hospital until 1988 when the changing health needs of the population and of convalescent patients rendered the use of this heritage building inappropriate for that purpose. The hospital is now used as a renal dialysis centre where patients are equipped with the knowledge to perform dialysis on themselves.
This change in function of the hospital caused difficulties in the distribution of the trust funds. The Walker Trusts Act specifically states that the trust funds are to be distributed to a convalescent hospital for men. Accordingly, funds could not be distributed to the hospital after it became a renal dialysis unit which provides services for both men and women.
To overcome this problem, the bill allows the hospital to be used for the provision of public health services. The bill also validates the use of the hospital as a renal dialysis service. This will allow the Perpetual Trustee Company Ltd, which is the trustee of the Walker Trust Fund, to recommence payments from the trust fund to Central Sydney Area Health Service.
The bill also changes the name of the hospital from the Dame Eadith Walker Convalescent Hospital for Men to the Dame Eadith Walker Hospital.
The Perpetual Trustee Company Ltd, as trustee of the Walker Trust Fund, has been consulted in relation to this bill. It endorses the amendments which allow the recommencement of payments from the trust fund to the renal dialysis unit at the Dame Eadith Walker Hospital.
In addition to these amendments, the bill facilitates the use of appropriate parts of the Walker estates (housing the Dame Eadith Walker and Thomas Walker convalescent hospitals) for public open space. The Walker estates are situated upon the large former land holdings of Thomas Walker on the harbour at Concord.
The Government is committed to opening areas of the harbour foreshore for the use of the public. Appropriate parts of the Walker estates present opportunities for such public recreation without impeding the use of the hospitals in any way. For example, the Dame Eadith Walker Estate (sometimes known as Yaralla) includes large paddock areas and a harbour foreshore walk.
The bill facilitates the creation of this open space by inserting a provision in the Act which allows part of the land to be leased or licenced. The Department of Health is currently consulting with the National Parks and Wildlife Service for the most appropriate way to make suitable parts of the Walker estates available to the public. As part of this process, it will be ensured that patient care at the hospitals is not adversely affected in any way. The bill provides that any lease or licence granted over the land is not to detrimentally affect the administration of, or the care of patients of, the hospitals.
The main provisions of the bill are as follows.
Clause 1 of the bill amends the Walker Trusts Act to institute the change of name to the Dame Eadith Walker Hospital and to allow it to be used for public health services.
Clause 2 of the bill allows the Minister for Health to direct that a lease or licence be granted over part of the Walker estates. Such a lease or licence may only be granted if the Minister for Health is of the opinion that it will not detrimentally affect the care of patients at the hospitals or the administration of the hospitals.
Clause 2 also amends the Walker Trusts Act to validate the use of the Dame Eadith Walker Hospital as a renal dialysis unit. The payment of money from the trust fund in respect of the renal dialysis unit is also validated.
In closing, this bill allows trust funds to once again be made available for the valuable health care services provided by the Dame Eadith Walker Hospital.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. PEZZUTTI [4.16 p.m.]: The objects of the Walker Trusts Amendment Bill are to permit the use of the Dame Eadith Walker Convalescent Home for Men for renal dialysis for men and women, to rename the hospital the Dame Eadith Walker Hospital, and to enable part of the hospital lands to be leased or licensed. In 1994 the coalition Government proposed such legislation, but it was not passed before the 1995 election. The current Minister for Health, Dr Refshauge, introduced similar legislation in 1995. At that time my colleague Mrs Jillian Skinner asked the Government to give priority to the bill as dialysis usage was outside the terms of the trust and, therefore, strictly speaking, was illegal. Some years later, the Government introduced this legislation.
When the Minister for Community Services incorporated the second reading speech of the Minister for Health he did not say that the Government proposed amendments to it because of the serious concerns raised by my colleague Mrs Jillian Skinner and others in the lower House. The Minister intends to move amendments in Committee to try to correct mistakes in the legislation that might otherwise have been made if it had remained in its present form. The Dame Eadith Walker Convalescent Home for Men has been used for many years for renal dialysis. This legislation will simply enable the Central Sydney Area Health Service to continue to provide those services. As I said earlier, parts of the hospital lands will be able to be leased or licensed but the legislation makes no provision for the maintenance of the historic buildings on that site. When my colleague the Hon. Ron Phillips introduced similar legislation in 1994, he said:
I commend the bill to the House.
I will move amendments in Committee to prohibit some of the usages proposed in the Government’s legislation. It is obvious that under the bill the Minister intends to allow alienation of some of the property for leasing and other purposes. I draw honourable members’ attention to the fine contribution to debate on this bill in the other place by the honourable member for Strathfield, Mr Bruce MacCarthy - a hard-working member. I note the absence of any contribution by the honourable member for Drummoyne, Mr Murray, who from time to time likes to parade himself at Concord. Mr MacCarthy made the astute point that the land is among the few remaining parcels of farmland in the centre of Sydney. The considerable use of the land by local residents for the agistment of horses is supported locally and should not be put at risk. The amendments I will move will not interfere with that usage.
When the amendments were moved in the lower House, Dr Refshauge’s comments to my colleague were scathing and mostly offensive. I will deal with that matter in Committee. The Concord Heritage Society supports the coalition’s proposed amendments which will make it clear that the Central Sydney Area Health Service has the power to use the hospital only for public health purposes and that the land can only be leased for public open space. The heritage society is concerned about the run-down nature of the heritage-listed outbuildings and what may become a limited area of open space. Those matters will also be addressed later. the coalition’s proposed amendments will ensure an allocation of funds from the Government for the restoration and maintenance of heritage buildings associated with the Dame Eadith Walker estate and that the land that has been set aside is used for public open space.
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY [4.22 p.m.]: On behalf of the Australian Democrats I support the Walker Trusts Amendment Bill. I make it clear to the House that it is my intention also to support the amendments that have been proposed by the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti. It is necessary that these amendments are agreed to because at the moment the definition of the word "land" is too loose. I perceive a great danger unless the words "for the purpose of public open space" are inserted in the bill. The Minister said in his second reading speech in the other place:
By broadening the application of the Trust in this way, the Trustee will be able to continue to provide funds for essential maintenance of the valuable heritage buildings on the site.
The bill as it stands will allow the land to be leased or licensed. The land could be leased or licensed for some facility which was not in the best interests of either the hospital or members of the public, who have used the land for a long time for public recreation purposes. I am informed that many local residents use the land for agistment of their horses; the land was originally part of a large farm complex. It is also essential that the Government allocate funds for the restoration of heritage buildings on the site. I am not suggesting that this money come out of the health budget; in fact, I would be most upset if it did. That money could come out of the Heritage Trust because architecturally the buildings are of a fine standard and are part of the State’s heritage. To maintain them in good repair will cost a considerable sum of money. Although one of the amendments foreshadowed by the Opposition provides that the Minister must allocate funds for the restoration and maintenance of heritage buildings, my understanding is that the Opposition does not require such funding to come from the budget of the Department of Health.
I am advised that the Opposition will move the same amendments in this House as were moved, and defeated, in the other place. At present the bill states that the Minister for Health can direct the trustees to lease or license part of the estate land. The Minister said in his second reading speech that this would facilitate the management of suitable parts of the land by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. In theory that seems an extremely good idea and I do not think that anyone would object to the NPWS having control over the land. However, the danger is that giving the Minister the power to direct the trustees to lease or license the land for such purposes leaves the estate open to the risk of undesirable development.
Commercial development already takes place in Royal National Park - canoes are available for hire and kiosks have been installed. A large number of people visit Royal National Park. If such pursuits were made available in the grounds of the Dame Eadith Walker Hospital on the shores of the harbour, I am certain that a large number of people would be attracted there also. Although such activity would serve as a revenue raiser through licence fees to the Department of Health, it would be inconsistent with the peace and quiet enjoyed by the hospital residents. It seems that the main aim of the bill is to defray some of the costs of the upkeep of the buildings that are administered by the trust.
I received a briefing note from the Department of Health through the office of the Leader of the Government which states that restricting the leasing and licensing power to public open space would prevent other possible community uses such as the existing agistment of horses, certain community events and amenities such as refreshment facilities. What does the Government mean by refreshment facilities? To draw a very long bow, the phrase could suggest a Hungry Jack’s or a McDonald’s. The use of the land for the agistment of horses is consistent with the terms of the trust. Fees are paid for this agistment, and I assume the money is used to assist the trust to keep the grounds in good repair. The Department of Health has argued that the open-space amendment would prevent the land from being used for the agistment of horses. I disagree. The same briefing note said that the bill would allow parts of the Walker Estate to be leased or licensed for an urban park and for community use. There is no such provision in the bill. Proposed section 19B(3) provides:
The bill facilitates the creation of this open space by inserting a provision in the Act which allows part of the land to be leased or licensed.
The section does not say anything about an urban park or community use. That may be in the Minister’s mind but it certainly is not in the black letter of the bill. If the bill is passed in its present form, how will that section be interpreted? In proposed section 19B(4) the only restraint on the Minister is that he must be of the opinion that the lease or licence will not detrimentally affect the administration of or the care of patients at the hospital. In his second reading speech only a month ago, on 24 September, the Minister for Health specifically mentioned that the bill facilitates the use of appropriate parts of the Walker estate as public open space. What has changed the Minister’s mind in the last month? If he was happy to say that in September, why is the Government seeking to further amend the bill now? I found it strange that in the lower House the Government rejected the second coalition amendment, which sought to facilitate the
use the Minister referred to in his second reading speech.
There is an argument that the trust should not be interfered with at all as those who left the land did so with a specific purpose in mind. The Perpetual Trustee Company Limited is the trustee for the Walker Trust Fund. Each year $230,000 is paid to the hospital from the trust - a third of the income from the trust’s investments. The money is then paid by the trustees to the Central Sydney Area Health Service. The problem has been that the trust has not been able to allocate funds to the Dame Eadith Walker Hospital following its becoming a renal dialysis unit because the terms of the trust were to fund a convalescent hospital for men. There have been no payments from the trust to the hospital for a number of years and the yearly allowance has gone to the residuary beneficiaries.
The Dame Eadith Walker Hospital, or the Thomas Walker convalescent hospital, was to provide convalescent services for men. This use has changed; it is now mainly a renal dialysis unit for both men and women. It is true that sometimes the use intended by the donor of a gift changes slightly, as happened with what was a convalescent home for men in the 1930s. However, the facility’s present use is still for health care. The Government insists that it cannot find the funds to maintain and restore the heritage buildings at the site because the Minister for Health cannot allocate funds for this purpose from his portfolio. He said that funding for such work would have to come out of the health budget.
The second briefing note that members received stated that $500,000 had been spent recently on painting, reroofing and plumbing and that a further $250,000 will be spent on the restoration of the outbuildings on the Dame Eadith Walker estate. I gather that the Minister is concerned that spending money on the buildings would mean that funds have to be taken from the mental health or community health budget allocations. However, the Minister has already admitted that there may be access to Commonwealth Government funds through the so-called Federation Fund. This disproves his protestations that the funds can come only from the health budget. It may be worth considering allowing the hospital to come under the auspices of the Historic Houses Act of 1980.
The Minister’s office is now saying that the department could not afford to make the open space available to the public without access to funds from the National Parks and Wildlife Service. This seems to be a totally different issue. In my opinion it is irrelevant because the bill does not compel the Minister to do anything with the lands, and we all know that the National Parks and Wildlife Service has an enormous responsibility already. It does not even have the funds currently to do all that it ought to be doing in national parks and recreation areas set aside in New South Wales, so I do not see how it would be able to provide the Minister with the funds needed to keep the buildings in good repair.
I have received information from the health department that there is no evidence in writing to support this contention; there is no formalised agreement. I believe that the use of the land could possibly be aligned with the old English tradition of the "common", where people are allowed to use land for a range of purposes, including the grazing of animals. I was also told that both the Department of Health and the Concord Historical Society are happy for the horses to stay on the land, and that the hospital is happy for the grounds to be used for fetes and other community activities which may not be allowed under the public open space proposal - or at least this is its belief. What is wrong with having a fete in an area designated as public open space?
Why will the Government not accept the amendments? I am growing more and more suspicious of any legislation that contains the words "can be used as the Minister directs", given what has happened to other public open space at Moore Park, Pyrmont and Strickland House. The Government promised that public access would not be denied to the people of the eastern suburbs in relation to Strickland House. Now that it is soon to become a boutique hotel, the only people who will have access to the foreshore land will be those staying in the hotel.
I remind honourable members of what has happened at Circular Quay. We are still fighting about what is likely to happen outside the Conservatorium of Music. The Government’s record on the preservation of foreshore land and public open space is extremely murky. I doubt there will be public open space for people to enjoy on the Walker estates unless it is provided for in the black letter law of the bill, and that is what the Opposition is trying to achieve with its amendments. That is why I intend to support them.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES [4.38 p.m.]: I support the legislation and will support the amendments foreshadowed by the Opposition and the Government’s foreshadowed amendment to an Opposition amendment. A few years ago there was a fight over the Dame Eadith Walker estates. There was a threat that they would be sold off by the
previous Government. But Peter Collins came to the rescue. He has a personal interest in maintaining the estates as part of our valuable heritage. I was grateful that at the time the coalition Government listened to the local community, which was very concerned about maintaining the heritage values of the estates and their open spaces. The amendments to be moved by the Opposition will make sure that the area remains green space. They will not allow any creeping developments to take place, as might be allowed under the legislation as it stands. I am pleased that the estates are still intact and that they will remain intact.
The Hon. R. D. DYER (Minister for Community Services, Minister for Aged Services, and Minister for Disability Services) [4.39 p.m.], in reply: I thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate. The Walker Trusts Amendment Bill will allow the resumption of payments from the Walker Trust Fund to the Dame Eadith Walker Hospital’s essential renal dialysis service and for the maintenance of the heritage buildings that constitute the hospital.
The renal dialysis service is of great importance to New South Wales because it provides services for 25 per cent of dialysis patients in the State. The Dame Eadith Walker Hospital is one of the State’s key training centres, equipping about 120 people each year with the knowledge to perform dialysis on themselves. By making money available for the support and maintenance of the hospital, the bill is in accordance with the terms of the bequest of Thomas Walker that his estate be used for charitable purposes. The opening up of suitable portions of the estate for use by the public is in accordance with the Government’s policy to make the harbour foreshore accessible to the people of New South Wales. The bill ensures that this will not adversely affect patient care, and I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
The lease or licence may be granted for such purposes as the Minister directs.