Tuesday 28 November 2000
Mr Speaker (The Hon. John Henry Murray)
took the chair at 2.15 p.m.
offered the Prayer.
I acknowledge the presence in the gallery of the former member of Lismore, Bruce Duncan, who served with distinction on the Constitution committee, and the former member for Tenterfield, Jim Bruxner. I welcome them to the House.
(Riverstone—Minister for Education and Training) [2.16 p.m.]: Honourable members should be aware that the town of Boggabri was hit by a severe, localised cyclone yesterday afternoon. The cyclone was centred very close to Boggabri Public School. No students were injured. However, eight buildings were unroofed, and 30 others in the township were slightly damaged. The storm has caused major damage to the trees and playground at the school. Most trees were uprooted and strewn about the playground area, and some classrooms were damaged by flying branches and other material. I am pleased to announce that all trees at the school will be replanted as soon as possible, at no cost to the school. Mature trees will be brought in from outside the area as required. Local council workers, State Emergency Services volunteers, parents and Boggabri Cotton Gin workers are helping clear the school grounds today. The school has been reopened, and students are being kept well clear of fallen trees and damaged buildings. Phone lines have also been restored. I commend the principal, Mr Les MacMahon, and his staff for their quick response to this storm, and for their initiative in organising the clean-up and restoration of normal school services.
(Barwon) [2.16 p.m.]: The Opposition supports the Minister's acknowledgement and expressions of concern that yesterday afternoon a mini cyclone hit Boggabri in my electorate. The Boggabri Public School was severely damaged and one house in Boggabri was completely destroyed. As the Minister said, several classrooms in the school were damaged. The Sate Emergency Service had been warned that the mini cyclone would hit Boggabri and they tracked it and moved quickly, on short notice, to ensure that the damage was minimised as much as possible. The mini cyclone then headed to the east, it then turned and headed towards Narrabri, which is a larger centre, and fortunately it moved away from there. The Opposition supports the Minister's statement.
BULAHDELAH CENTRAL SCHOOL AND HEATHCOTE HIGH SCHOOL BRAVERY AWARDS
(Riverstone—Minister for Education and Training) [2.18 p.m.]: I draw the attention of honourable members to the presentation of bravery awards to students and teachers from Bulahdelah Central School and Heathcote High School. In both cases, they saved the lives of others while risking their own. In June this year a four-year-old girl accidentally set herself alight while playing with a cigarette lighter in the back seat of her parents' car. The car was locked and parked outside Bulahdelah Central School. Two year 11 students, Shane Gillespie and Bradley Vander, were walking through the school grounds when they heard the child's screams and rushed to her aid. The boys pulled the child from the blaze, wrapped her in a school shirt and rolled her along the ground diffusing the flames. Two teachers, Penny Britton and Pino Leroianna, reached the scene and rushed the child to the nearby school clinic, where she received further treatment. This quick thinking and action saved the life of the four-year-old girl, who would otherwise have been severely burnt. I point out that the two students also faced considerable risk to their own safety in rescuing the child. Next week Penny Britton, Pino Leroianna, Shane Gillespie and Bradley Vander are to receive bravery awards for their efforts.
A certificate of commendation for bravery will also be awarded to Mr Greg Moon, a teacher at Heathcote High School. Mr Moon was leading an expedition of 10 students along the Dufars river when assistant instructor Gemima Robey slipped and fell into the water at a dangerous bend. With no thought for his own safety, Mr Moon rescued Ms Robey from the river and immediately attempted to resuscitate her. Throughout this, Greg continued to manage the students who were under his care and becoming increasingly distressed. Despite his efforts, Ms Robey remained in a critical state after she lapsed into a spasm and suffered shallow breathing. Greg directed the students to float Gemima down the river to the nearest town, where an ambulance took her to hospital. I am advised that she has made a full recovery. The 10 students will also be recognised for their assistance in saving Ms Robey's life. In both cases, the quick thinking and resourcefulness of the students and teachers resulted in lives being saved. Their bravery awards are an important recognition of their actions. They also deserve the congratulations of honourable members and the thanks of the people of New South Wales.
(Hornsby) [2.21 p.m.]: Opposition members join with Government members in applauding the efforts of students and staff at Bulahdelah Central School and the staff member at Heathcote High School. It is an interesting reminder that schools are extraordinary places where community is learned and practised and where the first instinct of the people involved in these potentially tragic circumstances was to go to the aid of a fellow human being. It seems to Opposition members, as I am sure it does to the Minister and his colleagues, that while ever we have, at our great public institutions, staff and students such as those at Bulahdelah Central School and Heathcote High School, this community is in very safe hands.
, pursuant to the Annual Reports (Statutory Bodies) Act 1984, tabled the report entitled "Annual Report—Year Ended 30 June 2000".
Ordered to be printed.
COMMISSION FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE
, pursuant to the Children and Young People Act 1998, tabled the report entitled "Annual Report 1999-2000".
Ordered to be printed.
POLICE INTEGRITY COMMISSION
, pursuant to the Police Integrity Commission Act 1996, tabled the report entitled "Annual Report 1999-2000", dated November 2000.
Ordered to be printed.
Petition praying that the House ensures that local communities are consulted prior to the installation of telecommunications facilities, received from Mr Barr
North Head Quarantine Station
Petition praying that the head lease proposal for North Head Quarantine Station be opposed, received from Mr Barr
Willoughby Paddocks Rezoning
Petition praying that the Legislative Assembly will advocate for the retention of all vacant land in the area historically known as the Willoughby Paddocks and its development as public parkland for the enjoyment of the community, received from Mr Collins
McDonald's Moore Park Restaurant
Petition praying for opposition to the construction of a McDonald's restaurant on Moore Park, received from Ms Moore
State Environmental Planning Policy No. 5
Petition praying that a moratorium be placed on State Environmental Planning Policy No. 5, received from Mr O'Farrell
Petitions praying that the Carr Government establishes a public inquiry into State taxes, with the objective of reducing the tax burden and creating a sustainable environment for employment and investment in New South Wales, received from Mr Debnam
and Mr Maguire
Cronulla Police Station Upgrading
Petition praying that the House restores to Cronulla a fully functioning police patrol and upgrades the police station, received from Mr Kerr
Eastern Suburbs Police and Community Youth Club Closure
Petition praying that the House stops the Board of the Police and Community Youth Club New South Wales Ltd from closing and selling the Eastern Suburbs Police and Community Youth Club, received from Ms Moore
Kings Cross Policing
Petition praying for increased police presence in the Kings Cross area, received from Ms Moore
Surry Hills Policing
Petition praying for increased police presence in the Surry Hills area, received from Ms Moore
East Sydney and Darlinghurst Policing
Petition praying for increased police presence in the East Sydney and Darlinghurst areas, received from Ms Moore
Manly Hospital Paediatric Services
Petition expressing concern at the decision of the Northern Sydney Area Health Service to discontinue paediatric services at Manly Hospital and praying that full services at Manly Hospital be maintained, received from Mr Barr
Mona Vale Hospital
Petition praying that services at Mona Vale Hospital be retained, received from Mr Brogden
Northside Storage Tunnel Gas Emissions
Petition praying for the installation of an acceptable system to address health risks associated with the discharge of sewage gases from the northside storage tunnel, received from Mr Collins
Coffs Harbour Health Services Funding
Petition praying for increased funding for health services in the Coffs Harbour area and a reduction in surgery waiting lists, received from Mr Fraser
Genetically Engineered Food
Petition praying that the House suspends the commercial release and trials of genetically engineered crops, supports the implementation of mandatory labelling of food derived from genetic engineering and funds independent scientific research to investigate the potential risks to health and the environment, received from Ms Moore
Moree Health Service
Petition praying that Moree Health Service provides appropriate accommodation and sufficient trained staff at all times, received from Mr Slack-Smith
Non-government Schools Funding
Petition praying that the Government reimburse the $5 million in funding that has been withdrawn from non-government schools and reverse its decision to withdraw a further $13.5 million in funding in 2001, received from Mr Richardson
Tumut Regional Roads Upgrade
Petitions praying that regional roads in the Tumut area be upgraded and that a regional roads summit be conducted, received from Mr Armstrong
, Ms Hodgkinson
, Mr Piccoli
and Mr Webb
Windsor Road Upgrading
Petitions praying that Windsor Road be upgraded and widened within the next two financial years, received from Mr Merton
, Mr Richardson
and Mr Rozzoli
Moore Park Passive Recreation
Petition praying that Moore Park be used for passive recreation after construction of the Eastern Distributor and that car parking not be permitted in Moore Park, received from Ms Moore
Moore Park Light Rail
Petition praying that consideration be given to the construction of a light rail transport system for Moore Park, received from Ms Moore
Surry Hills Clearway Restrictions
Petition praying that the clearway restrictions on Albion, Fitzroy and Foveaux streets, Surry Hills, introduced by the Roads and Traffic Authority, be removed, received from Ms Moore
South Dowling Street Traffic Management
Petition praying that the Roads and Traffic Authority investigates all possible traffic management options and implements measures to restore residential amenity and safety to South Dowling Street between Flinders and Oxford streets, received from Ms Moore
Kempsey and Macksville Pacific Highway Upgrade
Petition praying that the House improve safety on the Pacific Highway and fast-track the proposed bypassing of Kempsey and Macksville, received from Mr Stoner
M5 East Tunnel Ventilation System
Petition praying that the Government review the design of the ventilation system for the M5 East tunnel and immediately install filtration equipment to treat particulate matter and other pollutants, received from Mr J. H. Turner
John Fisher Park
Petition praying that the Government supports the rectification of grass surfaces at John Fisher Park, Curl Curl, and opposes any proposal to hard surface the Crown land portion of the park and Abbott Road Land, received from Mr Barr
Wagga Wagga Electorate Fruit Fly Campaign
Petition praying that the Government resources the Fruit Fly Campaign for the years 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003, upgrades the Wagga Wagga electorate to a fruit fly control zone, and develops and implements a fruit fly strategy to eliminate fruit fly from the electorate within the next five years, received from Mr Maguire
Petition praying that the practice of supplying stray animals to universities and research institutions for experimentation be opposed, received from Ms Moore
Petition praying that the House will totally and unconditionally abolish animal vivisection on scientific, medical and ethical grounds, and that a new system be introduced whereby veterinary students are apprenticed to practising veterinary surgeons, received from Ms Moore
White City Site Rezoning Proposal
Petition praying that any rezoning of the White City site be opposed, received from Ms Moore
PUBLIC BODIES REVIEW COMMITTEE
, as Chairman, tabled the report of the committee entitled "Towards Better Performance Reporting—Findings of an Annual Reporting Workshop Pilot Project", dated November 2000.
Ordered to be printed.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
PRIVATISATION OF POLICE SERVICE OPERATIONS
I direct my question to the Premier. Now that the police commissioner has convinced the Premier and his Cabinet colleagues to get rid of responsibility for parking police from the Police Service, will he give a guarantee to the 77,000 families in New South Wales whose homes are burgled every year that he will categorically reject any move to privatise the handling of serious crimes such as house burglaries, motor vehicle thefts and company fraud, as evidenced by his report?
WHEAT HARVEST TRANSPORTATION
I direct my question to the Premier. At this time of extreme hardship for New South Wales grain producers, many of whom are trying to salvage something from damaged crops just to subsist because the Premier refused to consider direct cash assistance, how does the Premier justify the harassment of these farmers by RTA gangs camped outside wheat delivery points to prosecute farmers transporting what is left of their harvest?
This is pathetic! We are working with the national Government to expedite the delivery of relief to flood-affected farmers and communities. We as a Government anticipate that we will be spending $200 million assisting these farmers.
Order! I call the honourable member for Myall Lakes to order.
You are out there fighting those farmers as we speak.
Order! I call the Leader of the National Party to order.
Mr Speaker, there are animal noises coming from over there. The House will note the childish levels that the Opposition has sunk to.
Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order.
As policy-making on the run, a moment ago the former Leader of the National Party said the Government has got until the end of this month to allocate $500 million to compensate the country for the Olympics—just find $500 million like that! I spoke to people from rural New South Wales during the Olympic Games. They were here as athletes, volunteers or visitors. None of them succumbed to this silly notion of a city-country divide about the Olympics.
Order! I call the honourable member for Murrumbidgee to order.
Not one of them went for that silly line from the Opposition that the country was somehow deprived by the hosting of the Olympic Games.
Order! I call the Leader of the National Party to order for the second time.
They were proud of the fact that we were hosting the Olympic Games and doing such a good job of it.
Order! I call the honourable member for Myall Lakes to order for the second time.
The notion that somehow the country has to be compensated because all of New South Wales did such a great job in hosting the Olympics is baloney. Last week the Chamber of Commerce in New South Wales revealed that country businesses were inclined to vote Labor. The Leader of the National Party sent out an email to all National Party members of Parliament attacking the Chamber of Commerce. Talk about shooting the messenger! We will continue to work constructively, as we have been doing, especially following our meeting on Friday with the Commonwealth, the banks and the farmers. From the farm organisations there has been no criticism of our approach, and there has been no submission about the matter to which the National Party refers.
HEROIN OVERDOSE PREVENTION STRATEGY
My question is directed to the Premier. What is the latest information on Government plans to reduce heroin overdoses and related matters?
The figures for 1998, which are the latest figures available, show that there were 358 fatal heroin overdoses in this State. That means that almost every day one person injected himself or herself with heroin, possibly in combination with other drugs, crippled the central nervous system, suffered heart failure and died. Most were aged between 25 and 34. Many were parents. One Melbourne study found that 1,000 children had been made orphans as a result of losing both parents to heroin overdoses. Many of these deaths could have been prevented. Heroin use in western countries has increased during the past decade. I think we are agreed that the reason for that is a steady supply of cheap, pure heroin. People who lived through the heroin epidemic of the mid-1980s are now middle-aged parents.
Order! Members on the Opposition front bench, from the honourable member for Lachlan to the honourable member for Baulkham Hills, have spent the past 10 minutes talking among themselves. If they want to have a private discussion they should leave the Chamber. If they remain in the Chamber they should listen to the Ministers' answers.
Their children, who are entering adolescence, are not aware of the damage that heroin can inflict. That is called intergenerational forgetfulness. Like each new generation of teenagers, they think that they are indestructible.
Order! I call the honourable member for Oxley to order.
The New South Wales Drug Summit resulted in $176 million in new funding initiatives in treatment, prevention, education and enforcement. The Summit recommended a plan to prevent heroin overdose. Honourable members will be pleased to hear that that recommendation has been effected, with a $670,000 program to be implemented over two years.
Order! I call the honourable member for The Hills to order.
There are people who may have beaten their heroin addiction and gone on to lead healthy, productive lives if their friends and family had known what to do in the event of an overdose. There is a myth that the majority of overdose deaths occur in lonely back streets and alleyways. The reality is that most take place at home. One study of overdose deaths found that more than half the overdoses occurred in the company of others. However, witnesses sought assistance in only 10 per cent of those cases. Their reasons for that were varied. They included ignorance about the signs of an overdose, fear of trouble with police and social stigma.
The Government's new heroin overdose plan contains practical measures that we hope will save lives in these circumstances. The New South Wales Ambulance Service attends 500 overdoses a month. Ambulance officers who revive unconscious drug users are ideally placed to deliver what health professionals call a brief intervention. That means spending a few minutes with patients to explain that they have suffered an overdose and to encourage them to seek treatment, even giving them a card with a phone number to call for advice and referral. Similar programs exist in other States. Research has shown that young heroin users are more likely than older users to think about treatment after an overdose.
Based on a successful program in Melbourne, recovery rooms will be piloted as part of existing services in two Sydney locations, one in the inner city and another in south-western Sydney. A recovery room is a quiet place in which a young person can be observed by trained health workers after an overdose to ensure there are no complications. It gives health workers an opportunity to encourage the young person to seek help. As well, overdose prevention workshops will be held at all 13 area health services. Families of drug users will learn how to recognise the signs of an overdose. A peer education program will also be run. This is a practical plan aimed at reducing overdoses and keeping people alive. It in no way signals tolerance of drug taking.
I want to comment on another matter relating to drugs. A strong theme from the Drug Summit was personal responsibility. Dependent drug users suffer a chronic relapsing condition. They need help and understanding. They also create chaos for their families, their workmates and their communities. Treatment services have been massively expanded as a result of the Drug Summit, but the community expects something in return, that is, personal responsibility. Last week the Federal Court set aside a decision of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in a disability discrimination case. The case concerned action taken by the Coffs Harbour and District Ex-servicemen and Women's Memorial Club against one of its members following certain behaviour by that member.
At the time the action was taken the member was on a methadone program. He had previously been a heroin addict. The court's decision means that addiction can now be a disability for the purposes of the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act. The relevant definition in the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Act is in the same terms. Although the case concerned specific provisions relating to the conduct of clubs and associations, the definition of "disability" applies to all areas of discrimination including, for example, employment and accommodation. That raises the prospect of disability legislation being used in a manner for which it was never intended.
I support the concerns expressed to the Government by employers. Therefore, I have written to the Prime Minister today asking him to consider amending the Disability Discrimination Act. We will also review the law in New South Wales to prevent it from being used in this unintended manner. The review will include a review of the Workers Compensation Act. We want to ensure people cannot claim that their drug or alcohol dependence is a ground for compensation. If they were allowed to do so they would be shifting the cost of their problem to the employer, and that is wrong. The community is prepared to support people who try to break out of the drug scene and resume a productive life, but it is not a free ride.
The tolerance of families and communities affected by drugs has been stretched to the limit. It is my view that a decision by adults to inject heroin in the face of all the evidence, all the education and all the warnings is a reckless and, I would say, stupid act. By injecting heroin into their veins, they put pressure on ambulance staff, on hospital staff, on health resources that ought to be going to other people, and on their mothers and fathers. It is pre-eminently a selfish act. Following the Drug Summit, our community has expanded treatment and the implementation of measures. The heroin overdose plan is only one of the plans that we introduced out of compassion for those who are hooked on drugs. But because the community is acting there is an obligation also on those who are drug dependent to act. The community expects drug users to do the right thing in return.
REGIONAL FLOODING ASSISTANCE
My question without notice is to the Minister for Public Works and Services. What is the latest information on government assistance to flood-affected country centres and related matters?
I am pleased to provide an update in answer to the honourable member's question. At the close of business yesterday the flood appeal that was announced by the Premier last week had received $349,000 in donations. That is an outstanding response and is an excellent example of the generosity of spirit that Australians are demonstrating to their fellow Australians who are in need and suffering as a result of the recent floods. The State Emergency Service [SES] is continuing to resupply hundreds of people who have been isolated by flooding along the Namoi, Peel and Macquarie river systems. About 460 properties remain isolated and the SES is providing food, fuel, drinks, medication and sandbags to the properties.
As the Minister for Education and Training mentioned earlier, yesterday the town of Boggabri suffered a severe storm in addition to the floods. I want to report to the House some of the measures that are being taken to assist the community of Boggabri as a result of yesterday's storm. As we have already heard, the primary school suffered significant damage and the SES, along with the fire brigade, has responded and is assisting the school community, as will the facilities maintenance contractor for the school. I can also report that the SES and the fire brigade yesterday responded to 10 calls for assistance. One house was destroyed and 20 others suffered damage.
As the Premier has already announced, the Government's contribution to assist families who have suffered in the recent natural disasters is estimated at $200 million. The Department of Public Works [DPWS] has already offered technical assistance and resources, including emergency help with water and sewerage problems, to all councils whose areas have been affected by flooding. The department has also advised that water supplies operated by bore trusts are eligible for emergency and restoration funding assistance under the natural disaster relief arrangements. In addition, the department has contacted other agencies—primarily Health, Police and Education—which have infrastructure in the flood affected areas to ascertain the extent of damage to buildings and grounds and any emergency works that may be required.
Because of the damage caused to Nundle police station assistance has been sought from the DPWS, and contractors have been engaged to undertake rectification work. I can also report on the number of schools that suffered structural and carpet damage. The facilities maintenance contractors for those schools have been engaged by the DPWS to undertake rectification work. These schools include Oxley High School, Peel High School, Lightning Ridge Central School, Gunnedah High School, Coonamble High School and Yetman Central School. All of those schools are now being attended to by their respective facilities maintenance contractors.
The DPWS is one of several government agencies that administer the Natural Disaster Relief program. The department administers the assistance program for emergency works, such as sandbagging, cleaning up and restoring damaged council assets, including footpaths, drainage works and parks. Councils will receive 100 per cent reimbursement for eligible emergency works once claims are received and processed. In that regard, councils are being advised to get the details to the DPWS as soon as possible. With floodwaters receding in many parts of the State I expect to see the first of these claims submitted to the department shortly. If the claims are in order cheques will be made available almost immediately. The DPWS is also offering to provide or arrange technical expertise, oversighting or project managing of any rectification works required.
Funding from the natural disaster relief program comprises 100 per cent funding for emergency works in excess of normal operations to restore essential services and for the provision of emergency levees, and 75 per cent funding for permanent restoration of damaged council assets for the first $100,000 and 100 per cent funding beyond that. That means that the maximum a council will have to contribute under the program's guidelines is $25,000 even though the bill may run into many millions of dollars. Funding arrangements under this program are very much welcomed by councils. At the moment 46 councils across the State are receiving assistance under the program because of the 12 natural disasters that have been declared in the past couple of years.
Since 1997 the Government has provided in excess of $20 million for emergency works, in both country and city areas, through this program. The breakdown for the years is: for 1997-98, $4.5 million; for 1998-99, $7.5 million; and for 1999-2000, $8 million. The projection for 2000-01 is $8.5 million. That figure excludes claims that might be received as a result of the latest damage caused by the fires. It is important that councils are made fully aware of the guidelines for the program, and staff of the DPWS in the affected regions have already contacted the respective councils informing them of the guidelines and helping them to submit their claims for restoration works.
Order! I call the honourable member for Wollongong to order.
This program is a proven success. During the past couple of years it has assisted other areas of the State after natural disasters. Under the program the city of Wollongong received a little over $8 million as a result of the floods in 1998. The city of Bathurst received more than $500,000 after the flooding in 1998, and the program funded significant work after the Newcastle earthquake and the Nyngan floods some years ago. In closing I want to give an update on the progress of assistance that has been made available by some of my ministerial colleagues. At 11 o'clock this morning the Minister for Agriculture advised that his department had received 217 requests for assistance from farmers with livestock caught in the latest flood.
More than 1,000 sheep have been airlifted to higher ground and other stock have been mustered to higher ground. Those rescue operations are being managed through the New South Wales Agriculture Co-ordination Centre in Walgett. The main areas requiring assistance are in the Walgett district, but assistance is also being given to land-holders at Lightning Ridge, Baradine, Pilliga, Carinda, Come by Chance, Warren, Rowena, Burren Junction and along the Bogan River. Farmers wanting helicopter assistance can contact the Walgett operations centre on 6828 1288. The New South Wales Government is funding the full cost of helicopters used in this rescue operation. That includes both the hire of machines and the necessary fuel. The cost of that assistance is $320,000. Anyone wanting advice on natural disaster assistance for farmers can contact the Rural Assistance Authority on free call 1800 331 126 or 180 678 593.
Under the natural disaster relief program farmers can access low-interest loans of up to $80,000 at 4 per cent over 10 years to help them carry on working their farms. The loan money can also be used to repair damaged fences, pastures, yards and machinery. Farmers can also claim 50 per cent of the cost of transporting fodder and livestock. New South Wales Agriculture is also offering accommodation to companion animals. The Minister for Community Services informs me that the Department of Community Services has assisted 425 families in Tamworth, Gunnedah, Narrabri and Inverell. I am also informed by the Minister for Energy that NorthPower is offering extended credit of up to six months for its customers hit by the floods. I am sure that assistance will be appreciated by those who are now struggling financially, particularly those farmers who have lost crops and much-needed income.
NORTHSIDE STORAGE TUNNEL
My question is directed to the Minister responsible for Sydney Water. Given that the cost of the northside storage tunnel has blown out from $290 million to $451 million, and that Sydney Water has failed to meet the Olympic commissioning deadline, will the Minister now lift the veil of secrecy and confirm when the tunnel will commence operation and the full cost of the project?
Every time the brash young member for Pittwater speaks in the public arena on an issue he gets it wrong. If he adopted a less brash approach and did some qualitative research he might come up with a policy, which would floor Government members because we never see policy from the Opposition. We know that the honourable member for Pittwater harbours leadership ambitions. My advice to him is to get to work on a policy and differentiate himself from his colleagues by releasing a policy. He would be the first Opposition member to come up with something. It is common knowledge that the Government and Sydney Water wanted to ensure that the northside storage tunnel was in operation during the Olympics.
Order! I call the honourable member for Gosford to order.
Honourable members will recall that during that outstanding event the harbour was in excellent condition. All Sydneysiders and all the other people throughout New South Wales were extremely proud of our city and our harbour. It is also common knowledge that in order to have the tunnel operational by that time we had to fast-track bringing it online; consequently, we had to go back and finetune some aspects of the tunnel before it commenced operation.
Order! I call the honourable member for Davidson to order.
That is now occurring and will be completed shortly.
Order! I call the honourable member for Pittwater to order. I call the honourable member for Port Macquarie to order. I call the honourable member for Wakehurst to order.
The whole issue of the cost of the northside storage tunnel has been closely examined in a whole range of forums, including the upper House, where there has been an extensive investigation into the matter.
Order! I call the honourable member for Baulkham Hills to order.
The documents on this matter have been tabled in this House and in the other place. The final bill for the northside storage tunnel will be about $450 million to $460 million.
Order! I call the honourable member for Pittwater to order for the second time. I call the honourable member for Baulkham Hills to order for the second time.
The final amount has not yet been determined because Sydney Water is still selling a range of plant and equipment that was used in the construction of the northside storage tunnel. The final cost will not be known until the process is completed, and it will be completed in the near term. However, it is common knowledge that the final figure is about $450 million to $460 million.
RURAL AND REGIONAL BUSINESS ATTITUDES
My question without notice is directed to the Premier. What is the Government's response to a recent survey conducted by the New South Wales Chamber of Commerce on business attitudes in rural and regional New South Wales and related matters?
Order! I call the Leader of the National Party to order for the third time. I remind the honourable member for Myall Lakes that on Thursday last week I directed the Serjeant-at-Arms to remove him from the Chamber. A number of members are now on two calls to order. The next member to be called to order will be placed on three calls.
Business is good in New South Wales, especially outside the city. The unemployment rate in New South Wales is the lowest rate in Australia. That reflects the success of our Post-2000 jobs plan for the State and the special edition of "Beyond 2000" that we produced for regional and rural New South Wales. No wonder the Sunday Telegraph
exposed the laziness of members opposite. According to the Sunday Telegraph
, shadow Ministers put in a bid for more pay but they cannot bring themselves to ask one, two or three questions.
Order! I call the honourable member for Hornsby to order.
The Leader of the Opposition was interviewed on Sunday radio on the day that article came out. When she was on Luke Bona's program on 2GB she was nice to me. She said, "I think the Premier's had a great year." That is fair; it is understandable. That shows her generosity of spirit. She went on to talk about various things. He said something like, "Isn't the New South Wales economy going great guns?" The Leader of the Opposition made a passing reference to the Government's Beyond 2000 jobs plan for the State, and said that they are only private sector investments. She said, "If you look at it, a lot of it is only private sector". Here is a lesson for the Leader of the Opposition, who has not had much ministerial experience and has not worked in the private sector: 80 per cent of the New South Wales economy is private sector. So when she is asked about this document and says that it is only private sector investment, she is correct. However, the buoyancy of the private sector in this State is one thing of which we are most proud.
Order! I call the honourable member for Hornsby to order for the second time.
It is a good indicator of how we are going.
Not how you are going, how they are going.
I see it reflects no credit on the Government. This Government attracted the Visy pulp and paper mill. That might have gone to Victoria but we won that company with infrastructure and TAFE training assistance. The Cadia gold and copper mine is another cluster with hundreds of jobs near Orange. We won that with an Act of Parliament—approved by Cabinet and carried in the Parliament. That is why we got the development. And so on down the list, all of it described in this plan. In this context it is hardly surprising that the State's Chamber of Commerce survey of 916 country businesses reveals that the approval rating of the Carr Government not with the electorate at large but with country business has climbed steadily in the past three quarters. The Chamber of Commerce survey in October shows that more people running and owning country businesses now support the Labor Party than support the Coalition. So sometimes we get embarrassing headlines such as "Rural business prefers Carr" and "Sour bush goes Labor".
Order! I call the honourable member for Murrumbidgee to order for the second time.
"Carr still top gun" was the headline in the Coffs Harbour Advocate.
When I see this kind of thing it is like Peter Reith winning a union ballot. The survey hit members opposite like a flying cow pat. The Leader of the National party went into one of his arm-waving rages. He sent an email to his colleagues which said, "The chamber"—that is the Chamber of Commerce—"has become a quasi-political fringe dweller and by such indulgence discredits its core function." Talk about shooting the messenger! Coalition members did not express a view; they just surveyed their members in the country. When their members in the country said, in a ballot, "We would go for Labor, for the State Labor Government", that reflects a trend. Country business is not one of our natural reservoirs of support. But a majority now says, because of plans like this and good economic management—
You talk to George W. Bush about what constitutes a majority. The majority reported it. Don't express your anger at me! The Chamber of Commerce conducted the survey.
Sourigate the recount. Manual machines! The warning signal is this. Note the date. Note the days coming off the calendar, as they do in the movies. We are getting closer to that wonderful anniversary—4 December. It has been two years since the events described in this book. And we know what happened on 4 December. It is all to do with business. They got in line, two by two, and went up to the office. And the honourable member for Hornsby was the worst!
If you ask me, I'll tell you what happened.
How did your account differ from his?
Point of order: I have two points of order. The first is that you have repeatedly ruled on the use of props. The Premier's use of a prop is in clear violation of your rulings.
On the point of order: The book was launched here in the Chamber. How many other books have been launched here?
Order! The Premier will resume his seat.
The second point of order is that you have also repeatedly ruled that Government members are to address their remarks to you, that they are not to engage in interchange with members of the Opposition. That book does not stay in the Chamber.
Order! The Chair acknowledges the second point of order.
It is all to do with 4 December and the role of business in what happened on 4 December two years ago. They all queued up, they had their little cue cards to keep the message simple, and Opposition members went in two by two. And remember Peter's account of it, the little litany: the polls, colleagues and business. The standing of the Coalition with business has gotten worse, not better. It is worse now than it was on 4 December. With business, forget everyone else. Forget approval ratings; forget what the electorate at large says. With business alone the Coalition's standing is worse now than when they all queued up to go in and see Peter Collins and say, "Because business doesn't back you, you've got to be removed as leader."
On this matter the Leader of the Opposition was asked by Luke Bona on Sunday whether she had read the book. She said, "I've got a lot of things on my desk at the moment. I've got a lot of work to do." On a day when members opposite were not working, that was almost a sleight. She said, "I've got a lot of work to do"—which some might regard as an understatement. The Leader of the Opposition went on to say, "I haven't had a lot of time to read things other than briefs and policy documents."
The hinges on the door on the tenth floor are creaking at this moment. There is a Himalaya of policy on the desk and the avalanche is headed this way. We cannot get that poker machine policy out of the honourable member for Hornsby. He promised it to me in the House last Thursday, but he will not hand it over. He said, "I'll show you the policy," but I have not seen it. This policy tidal wave is about to hit us. The Leader of the Opposition does not have time to read her colleague's book because—she tells Luke Bona, the respected media commentator—that she is too busy reading policy. Fasten your seatbelts in the press gallery; fasten your seatbelts down here. The tidal wave of policy that is about to descend is a drowning that we all look forward to.
[Questions without notice interrupted.
I acknowledge the presence in the gallery of the Hon. Matthew Foley, Queensland Attorney-General. I am sure he is enjoying his visit to Parliament.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
[Questions without notice resumed.
STAR CITY CASINO OPERATIONS
My question is directed to the Minister for Gaming and Racing. Will the Minister explain to the House why the Commissioner of Police believes police involvement in the regulation of Star City Casino is an unnecessary risk, when a leaked police document indicates that the city east region has made provisions for such a unit in its proposed operational structure for next year?
The honourable member for Port Macquarie should direct his question to the Minister for Police.
BANKS AND FARMERS DISASTER STRATEGY
My question is addressed to the Premier. Once the joint Federal-State banks and farmers disaster strategy is announced on 4 December will the Premier instruct the appropriate agencies to locate in the region to overcome red tape and work through the administrative process with local people?
Forget 4 December. The message now to all the agencies is to see that available assistance reaches the people who need it without any red tape, without any delay. Whenever arrangements for assistance are made, they take account of the fact—indeed, it is built on the recognition—that people need that assistance without any unnecessary delay. Let us hope that both layers of government will take that approach in forming their organisation for post-4 December assistance.
ALLANDALE AGED CARE FACILITY INVESTIGATION
My question without notice is to the Minister for Health. What is the latest information on an investigation into alleged criminal activities at the Allandale aged care facility in Cessnock?
In July this year the Hunter Area Health Service was made aware of alleged assaults on residents by specific staff at the Allandale Aged Care Facility at Cessnock. Following an internal investigation the matter was referred to police, with subsequent notifications to the Health Care Complaints Commission and the Commonwealth Department of Aged Care. Two staff members who are alleged to have been involved in the alleged assaults have been removed from the workplace pending the outcome of the investigation. At the same time, the area health service immediately reviewed all nursing practices to ensure the safety and wellbeing of residents.
Just three days ago, following a four-day site inspection by four independent auditors from the Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency, Allandale was successful in receiving three years accreditation. I note further that in the 44 individual assessment categories Allandale received ratings of either satisfactory or higher, including four specific commendations, for its quality of service. The investigation by police is a criminal investigation into actions taken by specific individuals. The Hunter Area Health Service is actively supporting the police as part of task force Skeena, which is based at the Maitland police station.
Relatives of all Allandale residents have been advised in writing of the police investigation. They have been given assurances that their relatives are not part of the investigation or the allegations of assaults. A 1800 telephone number has been established to assist family inquiries. The families of residents who are involved have been notified and are working with the Hunter Area Health Service and the police as part of the task force Skeena. The police investigation is obviously a sensitive matter involving alleged criminal activities. Anyone who may have relevant information should contact task force Skeena at the Maitland police station or the Health Care Complaints Commission. I know that I speak for the entire community, particularly the community of Cessnock, in wishing the police a speedy conclusion to their investigations.
My question without notice is to the Minister for Local Government. In the lead-up to the summer holiday swimming season, what advice can he provide to families who will be swimming at council-patrolled beaches?
This Friday marks the first day of summer. School holidays will commence in just under two weeks. This is a time when everyone's attention turns to the beach.
Order! The House will come to order. The honourable member for Gosford will resume his seat. The honourable member for Lachlan will cease conversing with the honourable member for Burrinjuck. The Minister for Fair Trading will remain silent.
Earlier today I launched a summer swimming safety message for owners of backyard swimming pools. Under the Local Government Act councils are required to ensure that people have appropriate fencing for their swimming pools. Likewise, councils employ inspectors to patrol beaches, adding to the safety that volunteer members of the Surf Life Saving Association provide. In the lead-up to the Sydney 2000 Olympic triathlon there was intensive international media speculation about the threat of sharks in the harbour. Special divers swam submerged beneath the swimmers with sonar equipment to protect the swimmers from attack. The cleaner that Sydney Harbour and other estuaries along the coast become, the more marine life will return; and the more that marine life returns, the greater will be the number of sharks that will feed on the marine life, and therefore the greater the risk of attack.
Members of this Chamber would be well aware of the recent fatal attack on a surfer at Cottesloe Beach in Western Australia. Shark experts Dr John Stevens, a CSIRO marine researcher in Tasmania, and Tony Ham, the acting manager of the Queensland Department of Primary Industries shark netting program, stated after the attack that Australians would be shocked if they took a helicopter flight over heavily populated beaches and saw just how many sharks were cruising offshore. The first recorded shark attack in Australia took place after European settlement in 1791 on the North Coast near Byron Bay. Despite some recent high-profile incidents in South Australia and Perth, the number of fatal attacks has not increased in recent years. Tony Ham warns that there are always sharks just off the beaches, irrespective of whether there is shark protection. He states:
The idea is not to eliminate the risk. The idea is to reduce the risk. No matter whether you swim at a controlled beach, there is always a possibility of attack.
There have been 69 fatal attacks in New South Wales, including 11 in the last 50 years. The last fatal attack in New South Wales was at Julian Rocks at Byron Bay in 1993, which involved a great white shark—the same type of shark as that which took the swimmer at Cottesloe Beach. The last fatal attack in Sydney occurred at Sugarloaf Bay, Middle Harbour, in 1963.
To minimise the risk of shark attacks swimmers should heed the following advice: Avoid diving or swimming where dangerous sharks are known to congregate; avoid turbid or dirty water; avoid channels, river mouths or drop-offs to deep water; avoid swimming among schools of fish, particularly when there is surface action; avoid playing with pets or domestic animals in shallow water; avoid swimming at night, at dusk or on days with high cloud cover; and avoid swimming near people who are fishing or spearfishing. In addition, people should always swim, dive or surf with other people and should look carefully before jumping into the water from a boat or a wharf. When a shark is sighted in an area people should leave the water as quickly as possible. There is no cause for undue alarm, but by taking these simple precautions people may avoid what for many of us would be our worst nightmare.
Questions without notice concluded.
WORKERS COMPENSATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL
Order! The House will now proceed with the deferred division on the question: That this bill be now read a second time.
The House divided.
Mrs Lo Po'
Mr E. T. Page
Mr W. D. Smith
Mr D. L. Page
Mr J. H. Turner
Mr R. W. Turner
Mr R. H. L. Smith
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
|Ms Saliba ||Mrs Chikarovski|
CONSIDERATION OF URGENT MOTIONS
Future Directions in Policing Report
(Epping) [3.46 p.m.]: My motion is urgent because it has become clear today that the Government already is implementing aspects of the so-called draft "Future Directions in Policing" report.
Point of order: I refer to Decisions from the Chair
of October 1996, at page 16, and the ruling of former Speaker Kelly that a notice was out of order because it contained argument and was too lengthy. My point of order relates to the argumentative nature of the motion of which the honourable member has given notice.
Is this time wasting or what?
It is not. You can have as much time as you like. The notice of motion is out of order because of the argumentative nature of paragraphs 1 and 3. The Carr Government has no plans to privatise these functions and has no plan to roll back independent oversight of the Police Service. There are public statements in that regard. The remainder of the notice of motion is based on hypothesis. It should be ruled out of order.
To the point of order: The notice of motion is not argumentative. Steps are now being taken to implement the report. It is not a draft report. Those are substantive matters for debate. The Minister for Police was present when I gave notice of this motion. He could have taken a point of order then. He did not, because he does not have a valid point of order. He is taking a point of order now to waste time.
Further to the point of order—
Order! I do not need to hear further from the Leader of the House. In the past the Chair has extended a degree of latitude to members in respect of matters such as this. The urgent motion of which the honourable member for Epping has given notice asks the House to note certain matters with grave concern. The motion also asks the House to note action to be taken under a certain plan. If the motion of the honourable member for Epping is given priority the Leader of the House will have an opportunity to refute his arguments.
The matter obviously is urgent because the Minister is doing his best to shut down debate on it. The motion is urgent because it is hugely embarrassing to the Minister that he has a plan that is already being implemented by his Government—
Order! The honourable member for Epping will confine his remarks to the reasons his motion should have priority.
The matter is urgent because the Government clearly is rolling out a plan for the privatisation of the investigation of fraud. The matter is urgent because the Government is rolling out a plan to privatise fraud investigation. That would allow people such as Christopher Skase, as chairman of Quintex, to investigate allegations of fraud within his own company. It is a farce. It is an absolute joke that the Minister for Police is already adopting parts of a report that will allow chief executives of corporations to sign off on evidence relating to their own corporate misconduct. That is a joke. It is almost as much of a joke as the report which is now attempting to terminate an independent audit into police reform.
Point of order: If we do not abide by standing orders we will not have sensible debate in this Chamber. The honourable member for Epping must establish the urgency of his motion. He is not at liberty to enter into a discussion about the substance of this matter.
Order! I uphold the point of order.
This matter is urgent. The Government is already implementing a report which seeks to terminate an independent audit by the Police Integrity Commission into police reform.
Name the report.
If the Minister visits the Sydney Morning Herald
web site he will find the name of the report. [Time expired.
(Bathurst) [3.53 p.m.]: My motion is urgent because it is about jobs and economic development—in particular, jobs in the wine industry. In recent years the Australian wine industry—and the wine industry in country and regional New South Wales—has grown in leaps and bounds and has done much to enhance our economy and improve employment prospects. My motion is urgent because Government members have become aware of recent moves by a number of major cash-rich American wine companies to prey on the Australian and New South Wales wine industries. Based on the history of the United States, their modus operandi will place at risk the quality of wine produced in Australia and New South Wales
Point of order: Despite clear rulings on points of order on the same subject that were taken earlier by the honourable member's colleagues, he is now debating the substance of his motion. The honourable member for Bathurst, like every other honourable member, must observe the forms of the House and indicate why his motion is urgent.
Order! I uphold the point of order.
If the honourable member for Gosford had been listening to my contribution he would have heard my constant use of the word "urgent". I return to the point I was making earlier. I do not want to waste the time of the House, as did the honourable member for Epping. My motion concerns jobs and economic development and the threatened reduction of that development by companies in the United States of America. We must send a message to the United States today—not next week or next month—that that is unacceptable. For those reasons my motion is urgent.
Question—That the motion for urgent consideration of the honourable member for Epping be proceeded with—negatived.
Question—That the motion for urgent consideration of the honourable member for Bathurst be proceeded with—agreed to.
(Bathurst) [3.55 p.m.]: The State Government recognises that one of the best-performing regional industries in New South Wales is the wine industry.
Point of order: The honourable member for Bathurst has not moved his motion. I ask you to ask the honourable member to move his motion.
Order! The honourable member for Bathurst will move his motion.
(1) supports the $600 million wine industry in New South Wales, which is Australia’s second-largest wine-producing State and employs up to 18,300 people;
(2) notes New South Wales wine is winning international export markets with a third going to North America; and
(3) expresses concern about "cash-rich" American wine companies waiting to prey on our success, which would lead to a reduction in the quality of Australian wine.
Wine producers have been achieving personal bests for over a decade now. In fact, it is easy to take for granted the wave of success that our wine producers continue to generate. The industry employs up to 18,000 people in a peak season and contributes over $225 million to New South Wales exports. Each year seems to see another round of double-digit export growth, another record level of wine and grape production, another round of major investment activity and another group of wine companies, brands and labels coming into being. That was until this week.
It has been reported that the Australian wine industry is to launch an ambitious 10-year marketing campaign aimed at lifting its annual sales to $5 billion. The Winemakers Federation annual conference has accepted that the industry must plan strategically to meet the challenges of globalisation, including problems such as oversupply of wine on world markets. Stephen Strachan, policy director of the federation, says that the predicted $2 billion increase in sales by 2010 will come from a new focus on domestic and international marketing. The new target markets for Australian winemakers include Japan, Germany and the United States. This is important.
Between 1997 and 2005 wine production in Argentina is predicted to rise by 40 per cent, the United States had a 25 per cent increase, while Australia experienced a 50 per cent increase in wine output over the same period. While this was going on, overall wine consumption was falling. Between 1980 and 1997 consumption fell by 43 per cent in France, 48.3 per cent in Argentina and 32 per cent in Greece. The advantage that Australia has is that it has a strategic plan, which I will touch on in more detail later.
Of more immediate concern is the news that Australian winemakers have been warned to be aware that cash-rich United States wine companies will prey on the success of our industry. Some might see that simply as globalisation, whereby our success stories are swallowed by overseas conglomerates, resulting in little or no change to the product. That could not be further from the truth. There is nothing to stop these cash-rich United States companies coming to Australia and taking over our great product. The low standards applied by United States wine giants would make Australian wine icons undrinkable if they were subject to a takeover.
The losers would be wine lovers. Make no mistake, the quality of our wine will go through the floor. Pierce's disease, which is spread by insects and is incurable, currently presents a huge threat to the United States wine industry, which is why giant companies like Gallo are eyeing Australia's disease-free vineyards. In the face of this relentless barrage of good news it is easy to become blasé about the future of the New South Wales wine industry. I state clearly that the New South Wales Government does not take this wine industry and its future success for granted. There is little doubt that, apart from the United States threat, the key challenge facing the industry is the possibility of significant oversupply. Since 1995, when the national wine industry launched its 30-year strategic plan Strategy 2025, there has been unprecedented growth in vineyard plantings right around Australia, including New South Wales. As a result, the 30-year supply projections in the strategy have been exceeded in just five years.
In New South Wales alone winegrowing production is set to grow by 44 per cent or 100,000 tonnes over the next five years. This is the equivalent of 77 million litres of wine or five million cases. As a result, the undisputed priority of the industry, both nationally and in New South Wales, has become marketing. Of the 250 wine companies in New South Wales, around 200 or 80 per cent are small to very small producers. These companies lack the volume and capital to participate in the export-driven growth or even to market widely on the domestic market, where 165,000 labels are now jostling for position. On the other hand, our medium to large producers tend to have a strong presence on both the domestic and export markets. However, they will need to increase exports by around 25 per cent per annum over the next five years to keep stocks at manageable levels. They will have to do this in the face of intensifying competition from other new world producers such as the United States of America and Chile, as well as from resurgent old world producers such as France and Spain.
The State Government is currently working with the New South Wales Wine Industry Association on a two-pronged strategy that recognises the quite distinct marketing challenges facing our two groups of producers—our small and our medium to large wine companies. The future of the small to very small producers lies in wine tourism. We will be strengthening our efforts to help these companies build sales through their cellar doors, through mail order and through linkages with local restaurants, clubs and hotels. We will also be encouraging and assisting small wineries to extend their offerings beyond wine sales to tap into other areas of commercial opportunity such as dining, accommodation, meeting facilities, arts and crafts sales and cultural activities.
For the larger, more export-oriented producers, we will be looking to capitalise on the raised international profile that we have been able to generate for Sydney, New South Wales and Australia as hosts of the 2000 Olympic Games. During the Games, I know the Minister for Regional Development as well as the Minister for Tourism and the Government conducted a range of events to showcase our wine industry and to give our export-ready companies opportunities to network with international business contacts. Of course, we must not lose sight of the fact that New South Wales—and, indeed, Sydney—is the most important wine market in Australia, and that one of the keys to improving the outlook for both our large and small producers is to maximise their exposure to the home market.
With this in mind, the State Government, through the Department of State and Regional Development and Tourism New South Wales, has been involved in extended negotiations to host the national wine industries showcase event, Wine Australia, in Sydney in 2002. As recently announced by the Minister for State Development, this bid has been successful and Sydney will be hosting this signature event at Darling Harbour during September and October 2002. This presents the industry in New South Wales with a wonderful opportunity to promote "brand New South Wales", both to trade and consumers in our most important home market, and to the international wine media and trade representatives who will be a strong focus of the event. I know the New South Wales Wine Industry Association recognises this opportunity and is a strong supporter of our bid.
Our efforts to raise the profile of our New South Wales wineries in the Sydney market do not begin and end with Wine Australia. The State Government has supported a number of other events and initiatives, including a regional flavours showcase during this year's Feast of Sydney and a guide to some of our best wineries and wine regions, "Discover the Wine and Food Trails in New South Wales". It is important to recognise this link between wine and tourism. As I said earlier, the big brand producers, who have about 80 per cent of the market, do not have to rely on tourism. The Bathurst area is not known as a wine producing area but already 13 wineries have developed in the Lithgow to Bathurst area, and Orange and Cowra in the Central West are established wine-producing areas. Many vineyard operators rely on the tourist trade, on attracting people off the road to sample local wines in a rustic setting. Many operators will never develop the marketing expertise and wine volume to achieve cellar-door sales, but they can link wine tasting to many other activities—
Point of order: Noting the motion, I am confused that the honourable member is talking down the wine industry by saying there is not much expertise in the industry.
Order! The honourable member for Port Macquarie will have an opportunity to address that matter at the appropriate time if he wishes to do so.
We are trying to link the big players with the small players. It is getting to the heart of the Opposition when the show pony from Port Macquarie makes comments like that on a very serious motion that should be supported.
(Murrumbidgee) [4.04 p.m.]: It is with pleasure that I speak on the motion moved by the honourable member for Bathurst. I am pleased to see what I consider to be quite a positive urgency motion debated in the House today. The wine industry within Australia and in New South Wales has been doing particularly well over the past few years and that has given a good boost to regional and rural New South Wales. At a time when agriculture and traditional industries in New South Wales and Australia have been suffering with commodity price problems, it is fortunate that prices in one area have been good. That has been great news for country New South Wales. The spread of wine grapes from the traditional Hunter Valley and Riverina areas to regional and rural New South Wales has been encouraging and a great boost for those communities. Vineyards have expanded into Mudgee, the Southern Highlands, the Australian Capital Territory, along the coast to Port Macquarie. Cassagrains, Broken Bago and Charley Brothers—
—and Raleigh Vineyards in Coffs Harbour are all very well-known wineries. I must say for the benefit of the honourable member for Cessnock that the Riverina will produce this year something like 180,000 tonnes of wine grapes, which makes it the largest wine grape producing area in New South Wales. Much of this was previously delivered by tanker truck to the Hunter Valley and very well marketed through the Hunter Valley. I commend those Hunter Valley wineries for their terrific marketing job. Without the wineries in the Hunter Valley the Riverina wine grape industry would not have expanded to current levels. But over the past five or six years those Riverina wineries have very much participated in the great expansion in wine exports that New South Wales and Australia have enjoyed.
I note in particular Cranswick Estate, which was mentioned in today's Australian Financial Review
. I assume that article is the cause of the motion today. It referred to the threat of American wine companies buying out very successful Australian wineries. I also have some concern about that. In the current climate there is little we can do to stop people selling. It is not a question of foreign companies wanting to buy our industries and companies. If I was offered twice as much for my house as it is worth I would not care who was offering the money, as long as the colour was right. Even if our wineries are offered enormous amounts of money, I would like to see them resist the temptation. They should be encouraged to expand of their own accord, continue making inroads into Europe and North America, and continue the success of the Australian wine industry.
Cranswick Estate is on the road to the Piccoli family farm and we pass it every day. Each time we pass it there is greater expansion there and that is primarily due to its export success. From memory, I think the Australian Financial Review
mentioned that something like 80 per cent of its wine is exported, and that is terrific. A couple of other companies in the Riverina are very successful in their exports. De Bortoli Wines, with its very famous wines, has been a very significant player in the United Kingdom. It certainly played a significant role in raising the profile of Australian wines in the United Kingdom, with its Noble One sauterne. In 1982, 18 years ago, its sauterne won one of the most prestigious wine show awards, which brought Australian wine to the forefront.
I agree with the honourable member for Bathurst that the Commonwealth and State governments have a big role to play in ensuring that the success of the wine industry continues not only for regional and rural New South Wales but also for the country as a whole. I also agree with his remarks about the important role it plays in employment in country New South Wales. Employment is one key issue for regional and rural New South Wales. There has been much talk about expanding wine grape plantings and the impact of the Commonwealth's tax relief and accelerated depreciation on plantings. Some would argue that plantings have almost reached an equilibrium, and some would argue that there is a slight oversupply of wine grapes. Certainly, there are calls within the industry to extend the tax relief to encourage wineries to invest in infrastructure to handle that additional tonnage. That is an important issue.
The Commonwealth Government is considering the implications of taxation on wine grape growers and wineries. Costs are also an important issue. The recent Federal Government announcement of additional road funding is a key to reducing transport costs, which are one of the more significant costs to wineries. Competition in overseas markets is increasing as other countries start to power up their exports. In many instances Chile, South Africa and other countries produce wine at a much cheaper price than Australia. We need to remain competitive. Our success has been due to the quality of our wine and its competitive pricing. We must ensure that our wines remain competitive internationally.
I urge the State Government to do all it can to alleviate as much as possible the costs to the wine industry. As the pressure on the wine industry in terms of supply has reduced, it is necessary to protect the growers. In the past year in the Riverina, in other areas of south-western New South Wales and in other areas of New South Wales generally growers have complained that they are not being treated fairly by wineries. Currently, the Wine Grape Marketing Board has a submission before the Minister asking for the board to be given powers along the lines of the previous powers it had while vesting of the wine grape crop was in place. That has now gone, and no-one is arguing with that. However, wine grape growers need protection in terms of payment controls, and they need assistance in indicator pricing, as happens in Sunrasia and other wine grape growing areas of Australia.
We need to protect the farmers. We need to encourage the wineries to invest in research, development and marketing to maintain the quality of the wines and to expand their export markets. Ultimately, it is the farmers, the guys on the ground, who produce the high-quality grapes to produce high-quality wine who need as much support as possible. They need to know when they will be paid. They need confidence to make the necessary investments not only to maintain the quality of their wine but to improve it. I support the motion. I look forward to the New South Wales wine industry expanding over the next 10, 20, 30 and 50 years to make us all proud of this important industry.
(Cessnock) [4.14 p.m.]: Along with its reputation for mining and beaches, the Hunter has developed a reputation as the home of some of the world's greatest wines. This reputation is well earned. Only last month the Premier opened the 120-kilometre Pokolbin pipeline, which will add to the region's success. That $10 million investment brings water to 400 properties. In recent times viticulture and wine production have been an essential part of the region's economy, an industry that has become, with its related tourism, as important as any other industry in the local area. The of capital within the industry is enormous for a regional economy. In excess of $360 million went through the registers in Hunter vineyards during 1998 and 1999; 92 per cent of this was related to grape and wine production. We need to add to this figure approximately $230 million generated in the region each year in associated infrastructure as a result of the economic activity in the wine grape industry. In 1999 there were approximately 4,600 hectares of wine grape plantings in the Hunter: 63 per cent of white and 37 per cent of red.
I am sure most honourable members of this House can testify to the quality of the finished product. The few wine drinkers who have not enjoyed the Hunter's famous semillons, chardonnays or bold shiraz should try them in the parliamentary dining room. At present 38 million litres of wine are produced in the Hunter: 22 million litres of white, 14 million litres of red and three million litres of fortified wine. Sales of the Hunter product equate to 38 million litres, valued in excess of $270 million. That breaks down to about $7 for a bottle of white and about $8 for a bottle of red. In the domestic market about 31 million litres were sold for $230 million, while eight million litres were exported at a value of more than $43 million. Hunter wine has markets all over the world and regularly attracts positive reviews in international white magazines. Many Hunter wines have scooped the pool at international wine shows. It is interesting to note that the former USSR imports 39 per cent of the region's export wine product, the United States of America takes 26 per cent and Asian countries take the majority of the rest.
In 1998-99, 348.3 million litres of wine were sold in Australia, and 215.5 million litres were exported. A total of 563.8 litres were produced and sold across the nation. Hunter sales of 39.3 million litres represent about 7 per cent of this total. The money flowing through the community and the region as a result of the wine industry impacts on the local labour market with astonishing effects. Currently, full-time employment in grape and wine production in the Hunter region is estimated to be more than 500 people, but that is only part of the whole picture as 2,060 people are employed on a part-time basis. During the peak time of the vintage season, which runs from February to May each year, the number of part-time employees blows out to 3,800. It is important to note that in addition to these base employment figures we need to add another 640 jobs that result from associated opportunities. These jobs relate to administration, restaurants, shops and accommodation that are attached to vineyards; they do not include those employed in the surrounding tourist and accommodation facilities.
That associated infrastructure, which is centred on the Hunter's vineyard area, creates some 3,500 jobs, which in turn has a multiplier effect of 2.5 in real terms. That brings the total to approximately 8,750 positions. These employment figures relate to $44 million in wages and salaries, 82 per cent of which relates directly to paid work in grape and wine production. This is why the threat from huge United States companies is so real. If the quality of our wine drops, wine sales, jobs and money in the local community will be reduced. Few regions other than the Hunter can boast so many facilities that are aimed at giving the tourists such a choice in accommodation and restaurants. [Time expired
(Burrinjuck) [4.19 p.m.]: I do not oppose the motion. However, I challenge members who think that the wines in their electorates are better than the wines in my electorate of Burrinjuck. New South Wales is Australia's second-largest wine-producing State. This House supports the State's $600 million wine industry, which employs as many as 18,300 people. The wine industry, which is expanding in my electorate all the time, has many different facets, including the actual production of wine, cellar-door sales, and tourism prospects. The industry provides a great deal of employment in my electorate, which is known as the cool climate wine-growing region of the State. In 1999 the total vineyard area in Australia reached 95,000 hectares of producing vines from a total of 122,915 hectares of vines under cultivation. About 85 per cent of bearing vineyards are planted to wine grapes. The size of Australia's wine industry is, therefore, evident.
In my electorate the wine industry is found from Tumblong and Gundagai through to Collector and Murrumbateman and also around Goulburn. I recently attended the opening by B. R. L. Hardys of a new wine display centre in north Canberra called Kamberra. The centre supports our local wine industry. My electorate has a large number of wine producers, and many of those producers' wines are exhibited at the Kamberra centre. Exhibitors of wines at the centre include Doonkuna, Madews, Helms Wines, Jeir Creek and many others. Our wine exports are growing rapidly. In 1999-2000 exports increased by 31.7 per cent in volume and 28.4 per cent in value. In 1998-99, 284.6 million litres of wine worth $1.37 billion were exported. In the year ended 30 September 2000 exports reached 300 million litres, which were worth $1.42 billion.
In 1999-00 exports accounted for more than 43.5 per cent of the total sales of Australian wine. Australia exports to almost 80 countries, but the top 15 markets account for 96 per cent of trade. In the year to June 2000, our top 10 markets by value were the United Kingdom, $590.4 million; the United States of America, $316.9 million; New Zealand, $65.3 million; Canada, $73.7 million; Germany, $40.9 million; Ireland, $37.4 million; the Netherlands, $36.2 million; Japan, $29.4 million; Switzerland, $28.4 million; and Sweden, $20.3 million. Singapore was the eleventh with sales valued at $14.9 million. For the year ended 30 September 2000 the total European Union market was worth $789 million from the sale of 186 million litres of wine. That is a huge amount. The industry target for exports of $1 billion by the year 2003 was reached in 1998-99. The industry has also set an export target of $2.5 billion by 2025. In July 2000 the AWBC predicted exports of $3 billion by 2010.
The wine industry is now an integral part of Australian industry. As I said, it is a key element the Burrinjuck electorate. However, vignerons in the Burrinjuck electorate need more security, particularly with regard to water. More grapes are being planted, at a cost of about $33,000 per hectare. Many vignerons borrow substantial amounts of money to plant their grapes, and those loans are considered to be high risk until their fifth year. It is therefore imperative that the Water Management Bill provides long-term security for irrigators and vignerons, as well as effective compensation for any loss of water rights that might result from the bill. Irrigators and vignerons will be significantly affected by the bill and it is, therefore, imperative that it be implemented in the correct way. [Time expired.
Mr W. D. SMITH
(South Coast) [4.24 p.m.]: It may come as a surprise to many honourable members to learn that South Coast wine is one of the rising stars within the burgeoning grape-growing industry. It has established a well-regarded reputation among Australia's viticulturists and selective consumers alike. Although it is a small part of a 50-region industry and a relative newcomer, it is fair to say that South Coast wines carry a unique fascination for connoisseurs and are finding a place in the $1 billion a year export market.
While the current grape-growing industry began in 1976 in my electorate with Jasper Valley Wines, the region's wine history goes back to the 1800s with a small vineyard at Alexander Berry's Coolangatta settlement. However, it was Andre Cotterill de Mestre and his brother Etienne, sons of Prosper de Mestre, one of the first land-holders, who established one of the more renowned vineyards of the time. In 1870 the brothers established a vineyard at Worrigee, near Coonamia and Jervis Bay roads, and named it Berung Vineyard. It apparently became a very profitable business. The property changed hands at least three times during the last decades of the nineteenth century and, while the vineyard flourished for about 30 years, the wine was difficult to sell. It is easy to understand why, with the Shoalhaven being a typical rural, parochial region and Sydney's gentry opting for the more prestigious names. Eventually the vine roots were weakened by penetration into the clay, as well as degradation from flooding, and the property was ultimately abandoned. It was never resurrected, at least not as a vineyard.
The South Coast has always had good potential for a wine industry. However, I believe that grape-growing regions such as the Hunter Valley set a precedent for taste and a certain quality, based upon traditional methods of grape selection, soil quality, climate and manufacturing. The apparent hardy climate and soils of the South Coast were factors in deterring any further interest in grape growing, and the region was virtually ignored for nearly 70 years. Today there are at least nine registered commercial wineries in the South Coast region, including Jasper Valley Wines, Coolangatta Estate, Fern Gully Winery, Silos Estate, Cambewarra Estate, Eling Forest Vineyard, Bundewallah Estate Winery and Grevillea Estate, which is in the electorate of the honourable member for Bega. Two South Coast wineries, Coolangatta Estate and Cambewarra Estate, have won accolades around the country with their prize-winning wines. Jasper Valley Winery and Silos Estate basically initiated the current industry, with their boutique wine varieties.
I should like to speak about Coolangatta because it is the largest vineyard in the Shoalhaven and has been extremely successful since the first issue, a sauvignon blanc, went on the market in 1990. Since then the estate's wines have won more than 170 awards at national and regional wine shows. The estate has also been named as New South Wales Tourism Winery of the Decade and won a trophy at the Australian Winemakers Show for the most successful exhibitor. Owned by the Bishop family since the mid-1940s, Coolangatta Estate has experienced considerable reconstruction and renovation over the years, and today it is a fine example of the region's heritage. Greig Bishop's first grapes were painted in 1988, and the winery has never looked back since that first planting. In the past few years the winery has produced two unique wine varieties, the Chambourcin and Verdelho. Cambewarra Estate is a comparatively new winery, but it has been very successful since the release of its first wines in the mid-1990s.
South Coast wines are one of the best-kept secrets in the world. It is fair to say that in the not-too-distant future they are sure to rival wines from the more established vineyards in the Hunter Valley, Barossa Valley and southern Victoria. According to figures released from the New South Wales Agriculture's horticultural products and plants production division, the region crushes approximately 240 tonnes of grapes. The Shoalhaven Grape Growers and Winemakers Association, which was formed in 1993, has 45 members who are all keen to work together to promote local wines and encourage expansion of the industry. More than 30 people are employed directly and indirectly in the industry. The vineyards are highly rated tourism centres and are featured in the New South Wales Food and Wine Guide
, as well as in travelogue and newspaper articles. New South Wales Tourism and Shoalhaven Tourism have worked successfully together in developing highly successful projects to promote overseas and locally the wineries and the region.
(Bathurst) [4.29 p.m.], in reply: I thank all honourable members who have participated in the debate. They represent different wine-producing regions and are naturally biased towards their own areas. Although each participant in the debate referred to wines grown in his or her area, the one constant theme throughout all speeches was quality. As I said earlier, that factor underpins the wine industry in Australia. Throughout the rapid expansion in recent years, loss of quality control was always a worry. It is now evident that that has not happened. Australian wines still dominate the world market because of their quality. One only has to taste international wines and compare them to Australian wines to realise that Australian wines are superior in quality and flavour.
The motion alludes to a concern that some cashed-up American companies may, for a number of reasons, be looking with envy at the Australian industry. One of the features that may be attracting American interest is, of course, the exchange rate, which creates opportunities for investment. Some American companies produce as much in their own right as the entire New South Wales wine industry. Gallo in California has a predatory marketing attitude that promotes volume over quality. Perhaps its overseas markets do not have the discerning palates of Australians. Nevertheless, Australians winemakers should guard against adopting the same attitude.
As honourable members have already mentioned, many hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in the winemaking industry by both large and small players. The industry must be protected at all costs. One wonders why there has been so much discussion about wine grapes being imported from Canada, particularly when the risk of disease is borne in mind. In an attempt to guard against the trends that would lead to a reduction of standards, Country Labor has brought forward this urgent motion. This House needs to protect the 18,000 jobs in New South Wales and the $225 million export markets that the wine industry represents. Protection of the industry is particularly crucial for regional areas of New South Wales, although I acknowledge that there are some wineries in and around the Sydney area. The honourable member for Camden is in the Chamber and I am sure that she would wax lyrical about the wineries in her electorate.
I cannot invite her to do so at the moment, but I am sure she would agree that it is important not to become blasé and complacent. The Government, through the Department of Regional Development and with the support of several Ministries, is assisting the industry to become established, to develop and to expand. In recent years in the Central West of New South Wales, the Cabonne winery around Kewdale, which is near Orange, has undertaken a $28 million investment, which is the biggest single investment in the region. That investment was undertaken through infrastructure assistance provided by the Department of Regional Development and approximately 30 jobs were created as a result of that expansion.
In the Goulburn area recently, AIM International undertook expansion and created an additional 10 jobs as well as investing $500,000 in its existing operation. In addition, the Bidgeebong winery, which I thought was located in the electorate of the honourable member for Burrinjuck but is probably located at Tumblong in the Riverina district, with the aid of government assistance in business planning and infrastructure has made an investment of $32.6 million and created 24 additional jobs. The point is that there is a role for government, and this Government has demonstrated its preparedness to provide support for the industry.
The Minister for Tourism, Tourism New South Wales and other bodies are promoting the wine industry. I am pleased to acknowledge the support that has been given by honourable members opposite. In recent weeks, aside from raising the concerns affecting the wine industry, Country Labor has moved urgent motions relating to such matters as rural Australian Broadcasting Corporation services, Kingsford Smith airport and country filmmaking. It is unfortunate that the National Party has been unable to have any urgent motions debated in the House. Members of the National Party seem to be dominated by the Liberal Party, which plays nuisance with the morale of the New South Wales Police Service. The House showed good sense in agreeing to debate this urgent motion. I commend the motion to the House and thank all honourable members who participated in the debate.
Motion agreed to.
MINISTER FOR GAMING AND RACING, AND MINISTER ASSISTING THE PREMIER ON HUNTER DEVELOPMENT
Motion of Censure
(Port Macquarie) [4.35 p.m.]: I move:
That this House censures the Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development for:
(1) misleading Parliament by falsely claiming the Independent Commission Against Corruption endorsed his Racing Legislation Amendment (Probity) Bill;
(2) the Minister’s erratic comments on poker machines and gambling in Australia;
(3) the complete failure of the Minister’s personally appointed Greyhound Racing Authority to stamp out corruption in the greyhound industry;
(4) the poor morale within the Department of Gaming and Racing with 90 staff out of a Department of 250 indicating they would accept redundancy if offered;
(5) the Minister’s lack of knowledge of the significant downsizing of the Department of Gaming and Racing and the recent slashing of 25 compliance staff; and
(6) the Minister’s acceptance of the significant downsizing of Casino inspectors allowing for continued illegal activity such as drug dealing, prostitution and money laundering at the casino’s high rollers room.
Over the last six to 12 months, honourable members have witnessed in this House a growing acceptance of incompetence and a Minister whose reply to everything is, "I'm not responsible." Honourable members saw an example of that again today during question time when a question was asked about significant issues concerning casino reform, to which the Minister replied, "I'm not responsible." I thought I would change the interpretation of those words so that the Minister's words agree with the censure motion. The Minister is indeed not responsible, and members of the Coalition do not believe that he should hold a position of responsibility for a key New South Wales industry.
I predict that the Minister will use key phrases such as, "After 27 years in this place ...", "People who know me ...", or perhaps even, "As soon as I became aware of one of these issues, I took action." Those statements are wearing thin with all honourable members. As I said earlier, gaming and racing is a critical portfolio, administering an industry which covers three codes of racing as well as liquor laws, casinos and gaming. Many changes are taking place in those industries as they become more and more professional. A great deal of community attention and new community expectations and standards are focused on the department. For the six clear reasons outlined in the censure motion, I put it to this House that the Minister is not up to the job. He is asleep at the wheel. But the overriding issue is that this Minister is not responsible.
The first reason for the motion is yesterday's revelation by the Commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption [ICAC], Irene Moss, that she had not endorsed the Racing Legislation Amendment (Probity) Bill. The Minister's claim indicates his adoption of an almost lazy option of verballing the ICAC. The ICAC certainly agreed to review probity testing but nothing more, yet the Minister took the next step and introduced the bill, stating that the ICAC had agreed to it and supports it. He suggested that all was hunky-dory, whereas in fact it has been revealed that all is not hunky-dory. The Minister has jumped the gun and the ICAC will be very interested to see the bill, in common with many sections of the racing industry such as the Thoroughbred Racing Board. I lay on the table for the information of honourable members a copy of the article that appeared in today's Sydney Morning Herald
, which is a good read.
The second reason for the motion is the misleading comments made by Minister relating to poker machines. Extracting from the Minister a comment on an important issue such as poker machines in New South Wales is similar to drawing teeth. I had to search outside the State to find the admissions of a failed gaming Minister; I had to use international sources such as the United Kingdom. The Minister's comments to the United Kingdom television channel 4 make interesting reading. This failing Minister has spoken pearls of wisdom. When asked why so many Australians are gamblers, he said that in this country we have high disposable incomes. He stated that retailers in this country have been alarmed over a period of years because a lot of that disposable income has gone into gambling whereas in other countries they use their disposable income to go to the theatre. He made that revelation in relation to problem gambling and poker machine addiction.
The Minister believes that problem gambling is bigger in New South Wales and Australia than was identified in the Productivity Commission report. He said that he would have thought that the figure for problem gambling was a bit higher than that, but that the common agreement is that it is about 3 per cent, which is the Productivity Commission benchmark. The Minister has revealed to the world that he considers problem gambling to be a bigger problem than research carried out in New South Wales and Australia has shown. The Minister should reveal the level of problem gambling in New South Wales and what action he is taking to deal with that problem. Another pearl of wisdom about poker machines was the Minister's argument that it needed to get out of hand to rein it back in. What an extraordinary comment on government and public policy!
This is an international embarrassment. The Minister has been caught saying that more people are susceptible to becoming addicted to poker machines than to other forms of gambling. He also agreed that there is clearly a problem because people play them virtually non-stop. He suggested that a love-hate relationship exists between the community and poker machines. These are extraordinary and embarrassing comments. He also used the old chestnut of comparing a gambling addiction to a chocolate addiction or the compulsion to fix motor vehicles. We had to go halfway around the world to get these pearls of wisdom. However, they highlight the fact that the Minister is not in control but is asleep at the wheel. I hope to lay these documents on the table at the end of my contribution.
The third reason I have moved this motion relates to the greyhound racing industry and the significant problems that have been identified in that industry over the past five years. The Minister sacked the board of the Greyhound Racing Authority when he first came to office and replaced it with a team of his own. A problem that was clearly identified in the report of the Independent Commission Against Corruption is that the anti-corruption plan developed in 1996 was not implemented by the Minister's team. Commissioner Irene Moss said that if the anti-corruption plan had been introduced, the problem with regard to chief steward Rodney Potter and many corrupt practices in the industry may not have occurred.
There is a direct link. The Minister and his team on the Greyhound Racing Authority failed to implement an anti-corruption plan and, therefore, failed to deal responsibly with an important section of the industry. The Minister forced Australia's leading owner and breeder, Paul Wheeler, to leave the board of the Greyhound Racing Authority. He forced him to sign a confidentiality agreement in the midst of an ICAC investigation into the greyhound racing industry. That is a disgrace. Thankfully, Paul Wheeler made some comments in the Greyhound Recorder
, which are enlightening. He identified ongoing problems within the industry and issues that had been raised with the Greyhound Racing Authority board but which had not been dealt with. Someone made serious allegations to Paul Wheeler, who raised them with the board and waited for the correspondence to be dealt with, but it was not dealt with. Paul Wheeler then had to raise the matter himself. He is referred to in the Greyhound Recorder
as saying that he was frustrated that when he did raise them they were dealt with flippantly.
I also refer to the lack of ministerial action with regard to allegations raised in the ICAC investigation outside the domain of ICAC's responsibility. In the opening days of the ICAC inquiry Ken Howe openly admitted having drugged dogs for more than 30 years. Who is taking action on that front, and where is the Minister's leadership? News Limited greyhound writer Jeff Collerson suggested that during the 1970s and 1980s there was an unwritten law permitting the use of stimulants. This culture appears to have been allowed to permeate the industry. Following the ICAC report one would have thought the book would have been thrown at the industry. Instead, those who have been identified as being involved in corrupt practices—and have openly admitted it—still have an intimate relationship with the industry.
I am told that they still lead dogs out for race meetings. I am told that the race record for the dog that won at Wentworth Park when it was drugged to the eyeballs, as identified by ICAC, still stands. That is a disgrace, and it demonstrates a lack of leadership from the Minister. One need only look at the hundreds of petitioners who have moved a motion of no confidence in the greyhound racing industry following the ICAC investigation to be beyond doubt about the complete lack of confidence in the industry and in the team which the Minister put in place. They are fed up with the direction that the greyhound racing industry has taken and with the lack of leadership and direction of the Minister.
My next point relates to departmental restructuring. When this matter was raised several weeks ago I found it extraordinary that the Minister claimed in public comment to Australian Associated Press [AAP] that only 20 people were interested in redundancy. In fact, 25 compliance officers have accepted redundancy and up to 90 people in a department of 250 have expressed an interest in redundancy. The Minister is not even aware of a fundamental and major restructuring within his own Department of Gaming and Racing. This again demonstrates that the Minister is asleep at the wheel and out of control of his own portfolio. He is quoted as saying to AAP:
Sure, redundancy notices were sent out to everyone, they were sent out to gauge interest and that's not to say any have been accepted.
That is wrong, as I have said. It shows the huge level of discontent and the decline in morale in this disintegrating Department of Gaming and Racing.I now move on to the ongoing issues in relation to the casino. Today the Minister denied any knowledge of what is going on in what is probably the key inquiry into the casino, that is, the McClellan inquiry. Everyone knows about it and many have had input. The Minister is flicking it to the Minister for Police. I challenge the Minister for Gaming and Racing, in light of the serious allegations raised in this House over the past 12 months regarding prostitution, drug dealing, money-laundering; and the allegations over which the Minister accused me of threatening him and his family—all of which have been confirmed as accurate in the interim report of the McClellan inquiry. I understand that the Cripps report is now floating around within the TABCORP structure. I hope that the Minister can gain access to that report and ascertain whether it confirms the issues raised in regard to the operations of the casino and the illegal and corrupt activity that the Minister has allowed to take place since its formation.
That is the challenge that I issue to the Minister. That is the only document within the entirety of the Minister's departmental structure that I have not been able to get my hands on. I get everything else. I lay upon the table a number of documents for the information of members. Further, the restructure was proposed without the Minister's knowledge, a matter I have spoken about before. I will enlighten the Minister. I have the current structure and the proposed structure. The Minister knew nothing about this. Under the restructure the department's staff is reduced from 90 to 57. That is a significant cutback in the compliance division. It is an absolute gutting of compliance in New South Wales. It is fair to say that we are introducing central monitoring, but who will drive the social reform agenda in this State? It certainly is not the Minister. We have a greedy Treasurer overriding a weak Minister. The Minister is asleep at the wheel. Industry is celebrating that it can get away with anything, and the department is in absolute disarray and is downsizing. [Time expired.
(Charlestown—Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [4.50 p.m.]: I called for a report from Mr Daryl Loewenthal, the Director of Racing, in regard to ICAC's recommendations and the racing probity legislation. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald
reported the Commissioner of the Independent Commission against Corruption, Ms Irene Moss, as denying my claims that ICAC supported the legislation to tighten racing controls. Accordingly, Mr Loewenthal provided the following comments for my information and consideration—and now obviously that of the House:
Firstly I should confirm that at no time was the actual Bill referred to the ICAC for its perusal. However, I had several discussions with ICAC officers, particularly the Director of Corruption, Prevention and Education, Mr P. Gifford, regarding the Minister's intentions.
To this end, I first recall speaking to Mr Gifford in the early part of April 2000, when I informed him that the Minister had agreed in principle to a probity checking regime being introduced and would be consulting with the three controlling authorities of racing to obtain their support to the initiative.
Subsequently on 2 May 2000, Mr Paul de Veaux (Manager, Racing Policy) and I met with Mr Gifford and Mr David O'Sullivan (Senior Corruption Prevention Officer) at the Department's offices to discuss various corruption prevention initiatives being considered by the ICAC in respect of the greyhound racing industry. During that meeting I again referred to the Minister's desire to implement a probity checking regime and confirmed that the three controlling authorities of racing had now formally provided their support for the proposal.
Subsequently, on 4 July 2000 a letter was received from the ICAC enclosing a copy of the draft segment for eventual inclusion in the Commission's report. That segment contained reference to the Minister's intention to develop and implement a suitable, common and continuing probity testing system for stewards.
During the period immediately prior to 11 October, I spoke to Mr Gifford to inform him of the Minister's intention to appoint His Honour Judge Barrie Thorley to inquire into the feasibility of recommendations 1 and 12 of the ICAC Report. During this conversation I also informed him [Mr Gifford] that Cabinet had approved of the Minister's recommendation to introduce legislation providing for the probity checking of officials in the racing industry.
During this and earlier conversations, Mr Gifford indicated his support to the Minister's initiatives in the matter and was complimentary of the continued commitment of the Department of Gaming and Racing to corruption prevention measures.
In view of the above, I had no doubt whatsoever that officers of the ICAC were fully supportive of the objects of the legislation and as a result the Minister's Second Reading Speech was prepared in the manner drafted.
Further to that, on 4 May, I, as Minister for Gaming and Racing, wrote to the ICAC commissioner informing her of the Government's intention to introduce probity legislation. The ICAC's greyhound report released some two months later, in August, included a recommendation to include probity testing for racing stewards. At page 19, under recommendation 3.2, the report states:
The ICAC notes, and supports, the action of the Minister for Gaming and Racing, who has sought and obtained from the GRA (Greyhound Racing Authority) as well as from the TRB (Thoroughbred Racing Board) and the HRA (Harness Racing Association) a commitment to developing and implementing a suitable, common and continuing probity testing system for stewards.
That is exactly what the legislation before the House is all about. It confirms my statement that the legislation has ICAC's support.
What does the TRB say? It is vehemently opposed to this legislation.
I have clarified the issue of support and have made an objective assessment. In regard to the Greyhound Racing Authority and, first of all, the member's reference to it as my "team", this is the second lot of people who have been with the authority while I have been Minister. So much for the honourable member's knowledge of the industry.
And you personally appointed them.
No, I do not appoint all members of the authority. The honourable member was here at the time that bill went through this House. In fact, the legislation provides that of the seven members only the chairman, the deputy chairman and one other are appointed on the Minister's nomination. The four other members are appointed on the direct nomination of various clubs or participant groups within the industry. And as for Mr Wheeler, he has done nothing wrong. All he was asked to do is what everybody else on those authorities does: sign a document. Under corporate law he is obliged to do various things.
Halfway through an ICAC inquiry and after a report in the Greyhound Recorder.
Shut up! I gave you a go.
Here we go!
Order! I call the member for Port Macquarie to order.
The matters that resulted in the ICAC investigation into the industry were brought to light shortly after the appointment of the present authority and, at my direction and at the request of the authority itself, the chief executive and other senior officers worked closely with the ICAC investigators to uncover the corruption that led to the ICAC findings. On 30 August 2000 the Commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, Ms Irene Moss, released the commission's report on its investigations into the conduct of officials of the Greyhound Racing Authority. In addition to the commission's recommendation that consideration be given to the prosecution of certain individuals, the report also contained several recommendations directed at preventing corrupt conduct within the greyhound racing industry and improving various regulatory functions across that industry as a whole.
In response to the ICAC report, on 7 September I undertook the following actions. First, I requested my department to promptly conduct a thorough examination of the commissioner's recommendations with a view to identifying appropriate courses of action. Second, I requested the chairman of the Greyhound Racing Authority to identify the most appropriate and expeditious means of adopting and applying relevant recommendations to ensure the optimal enhancement of the authority's regulatory, stewarding and administrative functions. Third, I requested that the racing industry as a whole liaise with my department in a thorough examination and consideration of the implementation of the commissioner's recommendations relating to the combining of regulatory roles and drug testing functions.
I have given my unqualified support for the implementation of the recommendations made by ICAC in its report. In fact, I have requested the Director-General of the Department of Gaming and Racing to personally oversight the Greyhound Racing Authority's implementation of ICAC's recommendations. To this end, the director-general has met with the chairman of the authority, Mr Magin, and the chief executive, Mr Rosier, to discuss the authority's preliminary plan to address the issues raised by the commissioner. In this regard the authority has already implemented parts of several recommendations and is committed to finalising all the recommendations in accordance with its implementation plan, which is envisaged to be completed by 31 March 2001. Wherever appropriate, the authority will engage the services of independent experts to assist with the process.
Order! I call the honourable member for Lake Macquarie to order for the second time.
In addition, in relation to ICAC's recommendations which require an examination of the possibility of combining certain regulatory functions and drug testing procedures across the three codes of racing, I have engaged His Honour Judge Barrie Thorley to conduct an independent review of those particular matters and report to me by the end of the year. The terms of reference for Judge Thorley's inquiry are as follows. The first is to examine the feasibility, practicality and cost effectiveness of combining the regulatory roles of the three controlling authorities of racing—the New South Wales Thoroughbred Racing Board, Harness Racing New South Wales and the Greyhound Racing Authority of New South Wales.
The second term of reference is: Without limiting the generality hereat, the examination should include the authorities' stewarding functions, their wider regulatory roles, including their drug testing functions and amongst other things it should address possible improved levels of probity, economies of scale and consistency of regulation and penalties. Third, the boards of the three controlling authorities, officers of my Department of Gaming and Racing and other persons deemed relevant are to be consulted during the examination. Fourth, a report is to be submitted to my department by the end of the year. Judge Thorley has strong credentials for this task. He is a past Chairman of the State Drug Crime Commission, past Chairman of the Police Board of New South Wales, inaugural Chief Executive of the New South Wales Judicial Commission, and is currently the Acting Greyhound Racing Appeals Tribunal, Acting Harness Racing Appeals Tribunal and Acting Racing Appeals Tribunal.
Now I turn to the charges that the honourable member spoke about. R. Bragg was found guilty on one matter and was disqualified for 10 years and fined $1,100. His appeal to the Greyhound Racing Appeals Tribunal was dismissed. One other related charge was deferred to a date to be determined. A. Sarcasmo was charged by the Greyhound Racing Authority and found guilty. He was disqualified permanently and fined $2,200. The R. Gill charges were heard by the Greyhound Racing Authority, and Mr Gill was found guilty. He was disqualified permanently and fined $6,600. Several other charges were deferred to a date yet to be determined. R. Potter was charged in relation to one matter and pleaded guilty. The determination of the penalty has been held over to a later date. R. King and K. Howe were charged on three matters. Supreme Court action was taken to prevent the Greyhound Racing Authority from hearing charges on the basis of a public perception that members of the committee could not deal fairly with the charges.
Order! I call the honourable member for Port Macquarie to order for the third time.
That matter has been transferred to the holding list, with instructions that the hearing be expedited. The honourable member for Port Macquarie referred earlier to staff morale. He said in a press statement that staff morale within the New South Wales Department of Gaming and Racing had "hit rock bottom, with about one-third of staff willing to accept a redundancy package". For the benefit of Boy Blunder, I refer to the latest figures. Last year, 31 staff accepted redundancies, this year 25 accepted redundancies, and there obviously will be more. Let me set the record straight. The honourable member for Port Macquarie has been given the name Boy Blunder because he constantly makes mistakes. In recent years a number of changes have impacted on the strategic direction and functions undertaken by the Department of Gaming and Racing.
Point of order: The Speaker has ruled on several occasions that members should refer to other honourable members by their names or by their electorates and not to the childish names being used by the Minister in what is obviously a difficult time for him.
Order! No point of order is involved.
When the Compliance Division was established in the mid-1970s its aim was to review financial statements submitted by registered clubs and to investigate areas of concern.
Point of order: I seek leave to table comments which are completely contradictory—
Order! No point of order is involved. The honourable member will resume his seat.
This role was expanded over the years to incorporate revenue compliance in regard to the payment of liquor licensing fees and machine gaming duty. However, this environment has changed. In 1997 the High Court determined that liquor fees were unconstitutional. The Compliance Division has responsibility for revenue compliance for these fees, amounting to more than $300 million annually and involving over 10,000 licensed premises. The following year the Carr Government successfully privatised the New South Wales TAB.
As part of that process a licence was issued to TAB Ltd to establish a centralised monitoring system for all gaming machines in hotels and clubs. The system will not only monitor the integrity of gaming machine operations; it will also undertake the duty assessment process and support revenue collection functions. Of recent times, particularly since I have become the responsible Minister, I have focused resources on minimising the harm caused through liquor and gaming abuse. The Compliance Division has played and will continue to play an important role in implementing these strategies, including the responsible service of alcohol and gaming, liquor accords and industry education.
Many of the initiatives which are now in place have been embraced by the liquor and gaming industries. It is now time for the division to review its priorities and to focus its resources on a new strategic direction. There is no doubt that industry compliance with appropriate standards will be part of that direction. Earlier in debate the honourable member for Port Macquarie, who obviously has some sort of obsession with this issue, referred to the downsizing of my department. Accordingly, it is important for me to put into context the Government's decision in relation to that issue.
As I said earlier, over recent years a number of changes have impacted on the strategic direction and functions of the liquor and gaming compliance program. When the compliance inspectorate was initially established in the mid-1970s its aim was to review the financial statements submitted by registered clubs and to investigate areas of concern. Much of that has changed. The honourable member has no idea how this section of the department operates. The role of divisions has changed dramatically over the years. The Compliance Division does an excellent job.
I refer now to the Star City Casino. Honourable members would be aware that Peter McClellan, QC, is conducting an inquiry to determine whether Star City Casino should continue to hold its licence. Mr McClellan is to report to the Casino Control Authority next month. An interim report, in the form of a public statement, was released by Mr McClellan on 31 August this year. The Government's response to the report was announced swiftly. The Premier announced that the Government would implement a number of important changes as a result of the recommendations of Mr McClellan.
The Government will transfer the Director of Casino Surveillance and casino inspectors from the Department of Gaming and Racing to the Casino Control Authority; employ additional casino surveillance inspectors and appoint a criminal law officer to improve liaison and information exchange between the casino surveillance officials and the law enforcement agencies—with additional inspectors to be paid for by Star City Casino and not the taxpayer. The Government will also convene a high level task force comprising the Commissioner of Police, Peter Ryan, Cabinet Office Director-General, Roger Wilkins, and Casino Control Authority Chief Executive, Brian Farrell, to improve intelligence and organisational links between the authority and law enforcement agencies.
The Government will lead the way with other Australian jurisdictions by developing a scheme that promotes cross-jurisdictional recognition of casino exclusion orders issued at the direction of police authorities. The Government is convinced that the implementation of Mr McClellan's recommendations will increase the quality and level of surveillance at the casino. Mr McClellan recommended practical commonsense changes designed to improve casino surveillance.
The Government is moving ahead with its implementation of the announced measures. For example, the Director of Casino Surveillance and the casino inspectors have relocated from the office of the department to the Casino Control Authority on an administrative basis pending formal integration of the two bodies. Negotiations are under way with Star City Casino with a view to obtaining funds for the engagement of additional casino surveillance inspectors so that taxpayers are not out of pocket for these costs. The high-level task force, which was established to improve intelligence and organisational links and law enforcement agencies, has met. [Time expired.
(Murrumbidgee [5.05 p.m.]: This censure motion is all about the confidence that this House and this State have in the Minister for Gaming and Racing. Over the past few months there have been too many instances in which the Minister has misled the State, the House, the gaming industry and the community. Misleading statements have been made by spokesmen on behalf of the Minister. It all boils down to the confidence that we have in this Minister. I represent an electorate in which gaming, the thoroughbred racing industry, clubs and pubs are important. No-one in the industry has confidence in this Minister. Earlier the Minister referred to the number of people in the Compliance Division who recently took redundancies. He said that this year 25 staff members accepted redundancies. I have a copy of a statement made recently in relation to redundancies which reads as follows:
A spokesman for the Minister said it was sent out to gauge interest and that is not to say that any have been accepted.
Only today the Minister gave us misleading information. As I said earlier, it all boils down to the confidence that this House and this State have in this Minister. Yesterday and today we heard conflicting reports about ICAC's endorsement of the Minister's racing amendment legislation. An article in today's newspapers states that the ICAC commissioner denied endorsing that legislation. Did the Minister claim it was endorsed by ICAC in the hope that it would give the legislation some additional support? We constantly hear misleading statements and comments.
The Minister ducks and weaves and dodges issues that are raised by members of the Opposition and the Opposition spokesman for gaming and racing. Again it all boils down to the confidence that this House and this State have in this Minister. Recently the Minister said on British television that people are addicted to gambling because of the availability of poker machines. The proportion of gamblers in Australia is probably a little higher than the proportion elsewhere in the world. What is the Minister doing about that? I do not think the community believes that the Minister is addressing this serious social issue. We have seen reports in newspapers about the problems facing gamblers in New South Wales.
The community expects a Minister to do something, and to make statements that can be relied on. Unfortunately, this censure motion against the Minister had to be moved today by the Opposition because the House and the State do not have that confidence. The comments by the Minister that the poker machine problem needed to get out of hand so that it could be reined back in again must be extremely worrying to the people of New South Wales. Equally worrying is the reduction of the staff of the compliance office to 25 at a time when compliance is very much on the agenda in this State. When the Gaming and Racing portfolio has been raised in this Parliament, when questions have been asked directly of the Minister, he has constantly sought to avoid answering them, has avoided addressing the tough issues, and on far too many occasions has misled the House and this great State about his efforts to solve the problem. The State cannot have confidence that he is dealing appropriately with problems at the casino. [Time expired.
(Strathfield—Minister for Police) [5.10 p.m.]: This is not an argument about whether the Minister should be censured. This is justification by the shadow Minister for being so lazy, so inaccurate and so false before Parliament. He is trying to justify his own incompetence in a wide-sweeping censure motion. The only thing not dealt with in the motion is the final score in the Davis Cup. The motion is as long as it possibly can be.
I am interested in what the Minister said, not in what the honourable member for Port Macquarie said. Nothing the honourable member said had any semblance of truth at all. I heard the Minister talk in his speech about contact with ICAC in April, May, July and October. The people at ICAC do not walk around with blinkers on. If someone from the Minister's office or the department goes to ICAC four times, they do not swap Christmas cards or give chocolates to each other, they find out what is happening. That is what the honourable member for Port Macquarie has to understand. He has moved a very irresponsible motion of censure against the Minister today. It is so wide that in a five-minute deliberation today I have to confine myself to one issue that he found little time to talk about. That related to the casino. Everyone should understand that the findings of the McClellan inquiry are still being considered by the Government. McClellan noted in his interim report that there are a number of ways to restructure the police presence. The honourable member for Port Macquarie, in his question today, asked the Minister if he could explain to the House why the Commissioner of Police believed police involvement in the regulation of Star City Casino is an unnecessary risk? I can tell the honourable member why: The Wood royal commission in New South Wales.
Who voted for it?
We voted for it, and members opposite voted against it. The Wood royal commission said:
… small specialist police units isolated from their command and support structures were more prone to corrupting influences.
I repeat what Mr McClellan said, that there are a number of ways to structure a police presence. Everyone acknowledges that. Where New South Wales leads the way is in the number of exclusions from the casino. I heard the honourable member for Port Macquarie extolling the virtues of other casino control mechanisms. I have heard him on the radio again misleading the public of New South Wales. Not one other State has the same powers as the New South Wales commissioner and operates on them. Sixty people have been excluded from the casino by the New South Wales police commissioner.
When I go to the Australian Police Ministers Conference—and I am going there in December—I will be moving that conference to urge every other State government and police service to adopt the same power as we have in New South Wales. We are using New South Wales as the benchmark and giving the other States the opportunity to agree with us to exclude the criminal element from casinos operating throughout Australia. At the moment New South Wales is landlocked: we are an island. Sixty people have been excluded from casinos as a result of action by Commissioner Ryan under the powers given to him by the Government of New South Wales. How fair dinkum is that? The question is whether the honourable member for Port Macquarie's friends in the Federal Government will accept the responsibility and whether Senator Vanstone will have the courage of her convictions to make this uniform and national law. She should do it. I will be sponsoring it and I will be belting the door down to make sure that this legislation, which is the leading legislation of all the States, is the blueprint for the whole of Australia. [Time expired.
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' STATEMENTS
BANKSTOWN REGIONAL AIRLINES PROPOSAL
(East Hills) [5.15 p.m.]: Today I speak about the ongoing saga of what is going to happen to Bankstown airport and to the thousands of families directly affected by any decision to move regional airlines out of Kingsford Smith airport to Bankstown. This also affects the 34 per cent of New South Wales residents who live outside the Sydney basin and who will have no access to Kingsford Smith airport. Every day a little bit more leaks out to give the lie to the promises by the Deputy Prime Minister that regional airlines will not be forced to go to Bankstown. As I told the House previously, they may not be forced but they will be made an offer they cannot refuse.
I refer to an advertisement on page 6 of the Sydney Morning Herald
of 27 November under the heading "Public Discussion Forum". I do not want to breach any conventions. If members opposite want to call it a prop, there it is. The advertisement was inserted by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission [ACCC]. It advises that the forum will look at the Sydney airport pricing proposal put before the commission by Sydney Airports Corporation Ltd [SACL]. SACL must advise the ACCC of any proposal to increase aeronautical charges at Kingsford Smith airport, and the ACCC forum will examine issues relevant to aeronautical pricing.
Where would the ACCC forum on prices at Sydney airport be held? Surely in Sydney, I can hear my colleagues chorus behind me. If it is not held in Sydney, it may be held at Bankstown, or in Dubbo, Tamworth, Broken Hill or Coffs Harbour. In keeping with the secrecy that has surrounded the future of Bankstown airport, Sydney Kingsford Smith airport and the Badgerys Creek site, the ACCC public discussion forum will be held in—wait for it—Melbourne. Melbourne will be the venue for the forum into Sydney airport's pricing structure. Anyone who wants to attend must register with the ACCC by Monday 4 December—a date the Premier reminded us of earlier this afternoon—and the forum is to be held on 13 December. One has to register just to attend the forum, let alone get there and say anything.
If the ACCC is fair dinkum in wanting the wider community rather than merely the major airlines to be in attendance, it should immediately rearrange this forum and hold it in Sydney. That is what I am calling on the ACCC to do. I know the Deputy Mayor of Bankstown, Councillor Grant Lee, has already spent much of yesterday calling the contact person indicated in the advertisement, a Melanie Rainey, and was unable to contact her. She was either too ill or simply unable to talk to him. Also, neither Councillor Lee nor my staff could access the advertised web site today to find out what SACL's proposal was. How is it that the people of Sydney or regional New South Wales will have to make, at short notice, a trip to Melbourne of all places to attend a forum affecting the future of Sydney Kingsford Smith airport and Bankstown airport?
How many Melbourne residents will attend a public forum on Sydney airport? How many Melbourne residents are either affected by or concerned about changes to the policies and operating practices of Sydney airport? The answer must surely be none. But the airline managers and the staff who live there may attend the public forum. How many Melbourne residents would find it appropriate to travel to Sydney or Brisbane for an inquiry into Tullamarine airport? None. Surely it cannot be beyond the understanding of the ACCC and Professor Fels that changes to the pricing of services at Sydney airport impact directly on the people whose livelihood and lifestyle are directly related to Bankstown airport and Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport. Bankstown airport is the biggest employer in my electorate and one of the biggest employers in western Sydney.
Any changes in the pattern of usage of Sydney airport that result from changes to the pricing policy will result in a change of usage at other airports, such as Bankstown, and obviously that will affect Kingsford Smith airport. Today I learnt that Impulse Airlines, which has sought more slots at Kingsford Smith airport, has been told, "Don't bother—it's full." That is how airlines will be directed to Bankstown airport. Such changes may have an adverse effect on the constituents I have been elected to represent. Why is the ACCC assisting the Federal Government and what is it trying to hide? Holding this inquiry in Melbourne is like holding an inquiry into the New South Wales abalone industry in Alice Springs or a New South Wales mining industry inquiry on the Gold Coast in Queensland.
CRONULLA ELECTORATE DEVELOPMENT
(Cronulla) [5.20 p.m.]: Tonight I raise the quality of life in the Cronulla electorate. Like other honourable members, I was shocked when I opened the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader
this morning and saw that once again Sutherland Shire Council had managed to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars of section 94 funds. It was great to see that the Eldorado of Elton Street has dug up another $500,000 in section 94 gold. That makes $3.5 million in the past few months. Perhaps the councillors should start calling themselves serendipity shire council. In the same newspaper I noticed in the Mayor's advertisement, funded by the ratepayers, that the council is considering setting up a bank so that "profits are then split 50/50 with the community bank and investing residents".
Hear! Hear! It's a Local Government Association issue.
If the honourable member for Murray-Darling is considering investing in the bank, he should consider the council's experience of losing and finding millions of dollars of section 94 funds.
It's a Local Government Association issue.
It is like the Labor Party in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. It is Sutherland shire incorporated. There are dangers in venturing into capitalism. It would be a pity if investing residents deposited $3.5 million and found that they had a credit balance of only about $86,000. Perhaps then the council slogan could be, "Put your money with the council and you can bank on the wails". For more than 12 months Sutherland Shire Council has been warned that the roads to Cronulla shopping centre and south Cronulla are facing gridlock. Last weekend the traffic conditions were horrendous.
It is not good enough for the council to say that it has appointed a consultant. We need a program to spell out what measures will be taken to prevent further disasters this summer while long-term measures are being devised. The scale of development of the shire has an immediate impact on street congestion. We need solutions that will continue to work in the real world. This will need a balance between economic, social and environmental goals. Leadership is needed for strong and decisive direction for new policy initiatives based on fundamental values shared by the great majority of shire residents. This cannot be achieved without thorough and rational analyses of the problems.
The aim must be long-term policy stability. That requires acceptance both by the shire and by the State. Debate must not be marginalised to residential and mixed residential-commercial development. The basic underlying causes of concern must be underpinned by policy formulation, not just perceived popularity. Development has become something to be opposed, instead of welcomed. People move out to the Sutherland shire to make their lives, only to find themselves playing leapfrog with bulldozers and redevelopment. The way we build and develop determines whether economic growth comes at the expense of community and family life, or enhances it. Now we have seen a new vision of how to build and plan better so that a strong local economy energises strong neighbourhoods that support strong families.
By helping communities to pursue smarter growth, we can make our shire not just better off but better for all. There are gains to be made from greater integration of overall council activities with other levels of government and private enterprise. In America there is now a resurgence of interest in building for people. Better planning is moving, in a grassroots way, towards visionary retail and residential developments. All of these are putting together parts of a bigger picture—a way of life in which economic dynamism, green spaces and friendly civic streets all co-exist.
State planning laws determine how much development occurs; councils determine where and how. Shire Labor has boasted publicly of its close relationship with the mayor. Therefore, shire Labor must explain its part in the formation of the so-called people's local environment plan. There needs to be an overall review, not just a focused review on popularly perceived concerns about the growth of the shire. There is a need to take a strategic overview of where the shire is and where it wants to go. The proposed local environment plan is only one link in the chain of success.
It must be recognised that individual land uses do not function in isolation; they are linked and interdependent. Existing council strategic and business plans offer no answer to concerns, and they lack reality as they do not focus specifically on resolution of concerns either immediately or in the longer term. The questions that must be answered are: What exactly is the council's concern with the current local environment plan? How much is it about local issue versus regional issues? Is it focused on land uses and/or localities, and what is the council's desired outcome? [Time expired
STOCKTON BIGHT NATIONAL PARK PROPOSAL
(Port Stephens) [5.25 p.m.]: Today I shall speak about the Stockton Bight National Park. As a young boy in the 1960s I lived at Stockton and spent many hours learning to ride a malibu on Stockton Beach. In the 1980s I moved to Anna Bay, where I continued malibu surfing at the northern end of the beach, as I do today. Stockton Beach is a very interesting beach. It is 19 miles long, and is ringed by the settlements of Stockton, Fern Bay, Williamtown, Salt Ash, Bobs Farm and Anna Bay. During the war, from 1942 to 1945 the sand dunes at the Fern Bay end of the beach were used as an armour proofing range where high-tensile ammunition was fired into huge chunks of steel.
Today this 19-mile beach is used for filming, including commercials, and a range of recreational activities. Since 1995 the Carr Government has announced the creation of about 150 national parks and three marine parks. Stockton Bight National Park is on the State Government's agenda. It is simply taking some time to bring that to fruition, and that is the purpose of this private member's statement today. My first real involvement with the community in the Anna Bay area was helping to gain support from the Commonwealth employment programs to help clean-up the beautiful foreshore at Shelley Beach, adjoining Stockton Beach. Subsequently, I have been involved in campaigns for, and achievement of, cycleways on the headland from the surf club to the cemetery, development of the car park, and the new surf club on the headland.
During and after the war years the northern end of Stockton Beach was also used as a bomb range for the Royal Australian Air Force at Williamtown. That area needed to be cleaned, and in the early 1990s laser equipment was used along the first three kilometres of the sand dunes to remove the unexploded ordinance. Once that was done, four-wheel drive vehicles were moved to the back of the beach, and access was given to them 400 or 500 metres down the beach. This removed the conflict of usage between the four-wheel-drive vehicles and the people using the beach for other recreational purposes. The vehicles were removed from where the people were.
Subsequently, in 1996 a four-wheel drive licence fee for people wanting to go onto Stockton Beach was introduced. Today 9,000 people pay that four-wheel drive fee of $25, and $175,000 a year goes to Port Stephens Council to address issues such as access to Stockton Beach, surf clubs, and so on. I have been involved with Stockton Beach for about 40 years. In my experience nearly every issue relating to Stockton Bight is difficult, takes time and involves working with the community. This is how it should be. Stockton Bight is a special place of high environmental value, it is used by many people, and currently it is the subject of a land and native title claim. No-one can be, or should be, in a position to wave a magic wand and make all interested parties happy.
A park will preserve these wonderful sand dunes and magnificent beaches for future generations. Since being elected to State Parliament—and I have been supporting the Stockton Bight national park proposal for some 20 years—my colleague the honourable member for Newcastle, Bryce Gaudry, and I have been working to resolve the many issues relating to the future of the park. Over the last 20 months I have had at least 30 meetings with various government departments and the community about the future of Stockton Bight. This is a genuinely complex and difficult issue. It involves Aboriginal land claims, conservation, professional fishing rights relating to pipis, a multitude of existing uses, different land titles and Commonwealth involvement. The issue of a Stockton Bight national park is not easy to resolve, and it is extremely important that the land claim issues be decided in the first instance before all other solutions come into play.
GOULBURN POLICE LOCAL AREA COMMAND
(Burrinjuck) [5.30 p.m.]: I wish to commend the recent work of the Goulburn local area command. Currently, 28 people from the Goulburn region are facing charges of supplying prohibited drugs. This has come about as a result of the hard work and dedication of members of the New South Wales Police Service Goulburn local area command. For the past year Goulburn police have been running three interlinked operations. Those operations have relied heavily on the support of the local community to identify drug activity and target repeat offenders.
As a result of information received from the community, police were able to identify suspects for further investigation. An early-morning briefing by Area Commander Superintendent Gary Worboys on Thursday 16 November was followed by the simultaneous execution of six search warrants. Properties in the Goulburn and Breadalbane areas were targeted. As a result of the early-morning raids and subsequent police inquiries, 28 people have been arrested. Nineteen of those have subsequently been refused bail, and police have laid 107 charges and seized drugs and property valued at $58,000. The seizures included three unlicensed firearms, three sawn-off weapons, one prohibited firearm and more than 30 knives. The majority of the drugs seized were heroin and amphetamines. At the height of the operation 46 police officers were involved, including local radio technicians and staff from the Goulburn Police Academy.
I would like to pay tribute to the police officers involved in the operation. The operation commander was Superintendent Warboys and the forward commander was Inspector Denise Godden. The outstanding success of the operation can be attributed to the professionalism and dedication of all the police involved, both locally and from specialist groups in the Sydney metropolitan regions. Special mention should be made of the vital role played by the Goulburn Drug Unit. Detectives Dean Wright, Bruce Russell and Dave Rhodes deserve special mention and praise for their actions.
I understand that the raids involved the use of drug sniffer dogs for the first time in the Goulburn local area command. A black labrador was specially brought to Goulburn for the raids. Superintendent Warboys said that the dog was one of the sniffer dogs used by the police force during the Olympics and now being used throughout the State in the fight against drugs. I would also like to thank the people of Goulburn and its surrounding district for their support of the police. During its investigations the Goulburn Crime Management Unit processed in excess of 150 intelligence reports every month, all touching on drug-related activity in some way.
Drugs have been the scourge of our society for too long. The link between the drug trade and property theft is indisputable. This has again been borne out by the information developed by the Goulburn police during their recent investigations. The crime manager of the Goulburn local area command, Inspector Denise Godden, was quoted in the Goulburn Post
as saying, "It was evident throughout this investigation the close association between property from break and enters being exchanged for drugs."
Worse than the property losses is the toll in human lives that this insidious trade takes each year. To some extent we have become complacent about the number of drug deaths we hear about in the news each week. We tend to treat them like the road toll: as an unfortunate but unpreventable facet of our modern life. As with every city and town across the State, Goulburn has fallen victim to those in our society who want to make easy money from the suffering and weaknesses of others. We must accept the fact that Goulburn has a high level of illicit drug use. A terrible low point occurred not so long ago when four young locals died from overdoses after using an especially high grade of heroin.
Some people in our society may say we cannot do any more, that the war on drugs has failed, and that we must now act to recognise drug use as a part of today's society. They call for a policy of harm minimisation and measures such as the introduction of drug shooting galleries. But we must not capitulate. We need more resources for the police to fight drug criminals. We need more resources for our courts to deal with drug criminals. We need tougher penalties to deter drug criminals. We need more resources for drug rehabilitation centres. We need more counselling support for drug users. Most importantly, we need more resources to educate our young people about the horrors of illicit drug use.
Too often our young people are bombarded with negative images of life by the media and in their entertainment. This can lead to a sense of hopelessness and worthlessness which can so easily seek escape in the use of illicit drugs. We need more resources to provide positive portrayals of life in our news and entertainment. To this end, I welcome the recent announcement of moves to establish a community drug action team in Goulburn. The team will bring together families, schools, local police, health and welfare workers, Goulburn City Council and businesses to develop a community drug plan.
This is part of the wider community drug action strategy which arose out of the Drug Summit held in this Chamber during May last year. These arrests in Goulburn have demonstrated that, with the support of the public and with sufficient resources, police can make a real dent in the drug trade. I ask the House to join me in congratulating Goulburn's police on these arrests and thanking them for their continuing efforts to protect our society from this continuing threat. While I am congratulating local police, I would like to commend the bravery of Guy Nicholson of Yass police, who last Sunday, within a two-hour period, removed two brown snakes from an aviary at a family day care centre. To have to confront a deadly animal not once but twice within a confined area is exceptional. Guy Nicholson truly deserves commendation.
DAPTO TO KIAMA RAIL ELECTRIFICATION
(Kiama) [5.35 p.m.]: I draw to the attention of the House the electrification of the rail line from Dapto to Kiama, a major budget commitment from the Carr Labor Government of around $50 million. On behalf of the residents of the Kiama electorate I thank the Government for listening to us and making the electrification of the rail an election promise. The people of Kiama showed their support for the Government and me at the last general election, and I know that this promise was one of the reasons for their support. Some conservatives often use the line: "Because we are in a safe Labor seat we get no money for major infrastructure." When one considers this electrification commitment, together with the road commitments for the north Kiama bypass and the Oak Flats interchange, as well as the reopening of Kiama District Hospital, it is very clear that this argument has no foundation. The people of Kiama will not forget, or forgive, the conservative Coalition Government for closing Kiama hospital and for withdrawing funding to provide sewerage to Gerringong and Gerroa.
However, many people in the Kiama electorate, particularly the Kiama local government area, have a number of concerns regarding the electrification commitment. Those concerns are real, and I take this opportunity to inform the Parliament of them. The first concern is that the review of environmental factors report released two months ago was not regarded as providing adequate consultation. The people of my electorate want more than simply the release of a complex document. They want the opportunity to be properly consulted in a manner in which their views will be heard and where they can learn about large projects that will have an impact on them, their communities and their environment, such as the rail electrification from Dapto to Kiama. This concern was heeded, and that is why I lobbied for public information days.
I was successful in this call, and the first of those information days was held last Friday at the Kiama Family History Centre. Another was held today in Dapto, and yet another will be held in Croome Road, Albion Park Rail, on Thursday 30 November. The consultation that has already taken place clearly shows the concerns expressed to me. There is a need for easy access at Kiama station, which was built many years ago. Access to and egress from the station is via Bong Bong Street rather than the main street, that is, Terralong Street. The access has steep stairs that often are difficult to negotiate, even for an able-bodied person. When I travel to and from Parliament, I have trouble negotiating those stairs while I am carrying my luggage to or from the platform. If I have difficulty negotiating the stairs when carrying luggage, honourable members can imagine the situation in similar circumstances to elderly people, disabled people and parents with strollers and toddlers. Public transport needs to be just that: accessible to all members of the public.
Kiama is a most beautiful town. One of the first features that strikes tourists and residents when travelling south by car is Bombo Beach and the headlands. Many people have bought property there so that they can enjoy the wonderful views. It is imperative that the visual impact of the construction of the electrification infrastructure on the view is minimised to the greatest extent possible. The 33,000 volt powerline carrying current to overhead wires should be placed underground along Bombo Beach. I also make the House aware of the need to place the existing powerlines underground, should the Rail Access Corporation agree to place the new 33,000 volt powerline underground. I will be raising that matter separately with the Minister for Energy
A number of other issues should be addressed, including the need to place the Bombo substation in a position that does not interfere with property or with the ability of the public to enjoy Bombo Beach, and the need for adequate parking for cars and buses at Kiama station. Kiama council will also need to work with the Rail Access Corporation to ensure that traffic flows associated with the station are as safe as possible. There has been a call for the Dunmore station to be relocated north to become the new station at Flinders. When the Carr Government has fulfilled its commitment to improve the Princes Highway, the public will not be able to access Dunmore station from the Princes Highway. It is suggested that the station should be moved to where the bulk of the populace resides, which is the new and growing suburb of Flinders. In conclusion, let me state that the people of Kiama know that we would not have this wonderful new asset if it was not for the Minister for Transport, Carl Scully. We simply ask that our concerns be heard and that assistance be given to help us find solutions.
AFTER SUICIDE SUPPORT GROUPS
(Wagga Wagga) [5.40 p.m.]: On 25 May I mentioned in this House a subject that is often spoken of in hushed tones, that is, suicide in the rural areas of New South Wales and, indeed, the whole of Australia. I referred in particular to the need for after suicide support groups to help those who are left behind to come to terms with what has happened to them. On that occasion, I highlighted the good work of Mary Walsh, who was previously based in Wagga Wagga but who is now living in Sydney and doing wonderful work co-ordinating a support group. Mary Walsh was invited to come to Wagga Wagga by the grief and loss task force that assembled in Wagga Wagga to attack this serious problem. Mary Walsh visited Wagga Wagga in June.
Following her visit, the people of Wagga Wagga were fortunate enough to start an after suicide support group to assist those who are left behind to deal with the grief and tragedy associated with suicide. I understand that the group to which Mary Walsh is attached has made an application to the Government for funding. On the previous occasion when I mentioned suicide and the need for support for those left behind, the Minister for Community Services said that the Government would do all it could to provide some relief. I appreciate that commitment. I understand that some time ago the group submitted a proposal to the Minister for Health with a view to obtaining financial assistance to support the achievement of its aims. Mary Walsh and the voluntary group want to take the program to other parts of New South Wales.
When Mary Walsh attended Wagga Wagga to establish the support group in June, her attendance ensured that the group commenced its work with the benefit of sound experience and professional support. Mary met the associated costs from her own pocket. I must point out that all the work that Mary Walsh is doing is purely voluntary. The group in Wagga Wagga has met a number of times and is regarded by the community as an important support group. The local Coroner, Mr Hill, is a staunch supporter of the initiative and as the parliamentary representative for the electorate of Wagga Wagga, I certainly am. The group will shortly expand into other areas, which has always been the goal of the after suicide support group. However, associated costs related to travel and stationery and on-costs need to be met for the program to operate effectively. The approach that was made to the Minister for Health regarding funding was made in an effort to meet those costs.
I understand that to date the group has not even received an acknowledgement of its application. Certainly there has been no progress since the approach was made to the Department of Health. I ask that this group be given an appointment to meet with the department or that the department at least acknowledge the proposal that has been put forward. Every day lost by this group in the achievement of its aims may mean another life lost somewhere in Australia, especially in New South Wales. Suicide is a tragedy that needs to be addressed as quickly as possible. We must find the necessary funding to enable Mary Walsh to start after suicide support groups in major centres such as Tamworth, Albury-Wodonga and Dubbo.
The people of Wagga Wagga certainly have benefited from Mary Walsh's work. I attended the first meeting of the after suicide support group and spoke with families who are dealing with the tragedy of suicide. I saw how people reacted to the knowledge that they could obtain assistance from trained people who have the necessary skills to understand their problem and to assist them to deal with it. It was an experience that I will never forget, and I am pleased that I was able to assist in bringing the group together. I urge the Minister for Health and his department to hastily respond to the group's request for funding. I understand that the request has been forwarded in writing. I ask the Minister and the department to promptly provide resources to enable the after suicide support group and Mary Walsh to continue their work, which to date has been entirely voluntary and resourced from the pockets of the members of the group.
NEWCASTLE FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETY CONFERENCE
(Wallsend) [5.45 p.m.]: On Saturday 4 November I had the honour and the pleasure of opening a conference sponsored by the Newcastle Family History Society. The theme of the conference, heritage and the new millennium, was discussed during sessions held throughout the weekend. As patron of the society, I congratulate the conference convener, Margaret Owens; the secretary, Margaret Parsons; the president, Ian Lyons; and the organising committee for taking up the challenge in a year in which the New South Wales Federation of Family History Societies has decided not to hold a conference. The Newcastle Family History Society conference, which was held in the Hunter region, provided continuity and did a good job of gathering together people from far and wide.
The conference was held in an excellent venue, the Heritage Reception and Function Centre at Raymond Terrace. The people who attended the conference represented the family history societies from many areas including Hornsby, Ku-ring-gai, the Blue Mountains, Cessnock and district, Port Macquarie and district, Lane Cove and Raymond Terrace. The Society of Australian Genealogies of Western Australia, the Western Australian Genealogy Society, the Port Stephens Family History Society, the Presbyterian Church archives, the Ryde Historical Society and the Tomaree Family History Society were also represented. A total of approximately 150 people attended the conference.
When the president, Ian Lyons, introduced the conference and welcomed those who attended, he said that the new millennium is a good time to reflect on what has been done in the collecting, recording and preserving of our history and cultural heritage. He pointed out that there is a trend towards development of cultural heritage, not only personal family histories and family histories. He went on to say that our history and cultural heritage tells us a great deal about ourselves and a great deal of material combines to make up cultural heritage. Those materials can be found in many public places such as community halls, buildings, parks and significant geographical sites. The materials range from artefacts, photographs, documentaries, historical items and collections, industrial machinery, outdoor sculptures and monuments to works of art.
The Hunter Valley region is rich in early colonial history and cultural heritage. The Newcastle Family History Society occupies the Lambton Mechanics Institute which you, Mr Deputy-Speaker, would know very well as it is located in your former electorate of Waratah. The institute has been classified by the National Trust of Australia. The building was opened in February 1894 but there is a single-storey building at the rear of the property dating from the 1860s which was part of the earlier mechanics' institute and was relocated from its original site in Howe Street, Lambton. The library of the society occupies the older part of the building. Participants in the conference included Mari Metzke, the manager of outreach services of the Royal Australian Historical Society. Mari gave the keynote address and introduced her speech by stating, "We are fortunate to be born in the computer age." People who are interested in both personal and cultural history welcome the information that is now available through the Internet. She emphasised the broadening of interest from family histories to community history and the development of natural history.
Another paper presented by Dr Bob James, "Friendly and Benefit Societies of the Nineteenth Century", detailed Hunter Valley celebrations such as May Day and the eight-hour day. Dr James has researched lodges and benefit societies such as the Freemasons, the Oddfellows, the Druids, the Rechabites, carpenters, colliers, bricklayers and others. He referred to societies whose objectives were fraternal and emphasised bonding of their members, solidarity and celebration. He pointed out that, in 1900, 80 per cent to 90 per cent of manual workers were members of friendly societies, even though at that time only 2 per cent or 3 per cent of the population would have been trade union members.
I purchased one of his pamphlets, "Secret Societies and the Labour Movement", which shows a photograph of the executive of the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemen's Association [FEDFA] at Broken Hill in 1913 in which the members of the executive of that union were attired in lodge regalia. The honourable member for Murray-Darling, who is present in the Chamber, may be interested to see that photograph. The Independent Order of Rechabites [IOR] Health Benefit Fund, as it is commonly known these days, was formerly the Rechabites Society. In conclusion, I congratulate the Newcastle Family History Society on its initiative in organising a conference and its active participation in advancing family history and cultural history of the Hunter region. [Time expired.
(Murrumbidgee) [5.50 p.m.]: I wish to defend the Deniliquin Council. Last week the Minister for Local Government named nine New South Wales local government bodies considered to be in financial difficulties. The Deniliquin Council, which is within the Murrumbidgee electorate, was one of those. There is no doubt that the management of some rural shires have struggled financially over the years. The history of Deniliquin over the past two years in particular has been documented in information provided to the Minister for Local Government and in the local newspaper. But I do not believe that things are as bad as the Minister made out. Certainly, there are a number of reasons for the Deniliquin Council being in its present financial position.
Good and positive steps are being taken by the new management. The new general manager, Mr David Carey, who took over a few months ago, is doing a very good job in returning Deniliquin Council back to the condition that it should be in. The council is addressing its difficulties. I note that the honourable member for Murray-Darling is in the Chamber. I am sure he would join me in congratulating Deniliquin Council and its management on the steps they have taken to overcome some of the difficulties that the council has faced over the past few years.
Deniliquin shire is in a difficult situation. It is a shire that encompasses only the municipality of Deniliquin and does not have any rural areas. It is ringed by the Windouran and Conargo shires, which are talking about amalgamation as we speak. I hope that the announcement by the Minister last week is not a subversive attempt to force, for financial reasons, an amalgamation of the shires, because that would not be supported by the local community. There have been discussions over the past two years about amalgamations in the south-western Riverina, but those discussions have not proved to be particularly successful. I hope that the State Government is not taking this as an opportunity to force amalgamations or bring about a redistribution of the boundaries of those shires.
The Minister commented that Deniliquin Council was considering digging up tar roads because they are too expensive to maintain. To the best of my knowledge, that statement is untrue, particularly as the Deniliquin shire does not have any rural roads. The nature of the council means it is responsible only for the town of Deniliquin. The town has had difficulties over the past few years with development. For a couple of years it has had local water allocations, in a community that is very much dependent on irrigation for rice growing in particular. Some local businesses have been struggling, but this terrific town has fought hard to be the success that it is.
It has a great radio station.
I note the comment of the honourable member for Murray-Darling that it has a great radio station. Indeed it is. This is a community that pulls together despite suffering adversity from time to time. There are ways in which the Government can help the Deniliquin shire. I note the Federal Government's recent announcement of road funding and its assistance with finances to help with road programs, but if we have better agricultural times there will be a great improvement in the Deniliquin shire. I certainly wish the council all the best.
I would like to mention a slightly different subject, with the indulgence of the House. Last week I made a statement about an essay competition that I ran. I thank the Minister for Small Business, and Minister for Tourism, who is at the table, for her response. I showed the young lady who won the competition a copy of Hansard
, with the Minister's comments duly noted. I have never seen more pride in a young lady than I saw on that young lady's face when I spoke to her the other day. The young lady was absolutely chuffed to know that her views were expressed in the New South Wales Parliament and so positively commented on by the Minister. I take this opportunity to thank the Minister.
(Keira) [5.55 p.m.]: This evening I want to talk about the Illawarra escarpment, which is a dramatic rainforest backdrop to the whole of the Illawarra region. Most specifically, I wish to talk about that section of the escarpment within the local government area of Wollongong, particularly as it relates to the electorate of Keira. The escarpment has huge local value from an environmental point of view. Many people get a great deal of enjoyment from this rainforest area. Ecologically, it is important because it is the habitat of some rare and endangered species of flora and fauna. The escarpment also has an economic value, being a backdrop to the city. The rainforest is part of the attraction for those who visit. It is a place which, through ecotourism, continues to offer some employment.
The escarpment also has the value of being a social identifier. People in our community identify with the escarpment as a vital part of the community, as they do the coastline. Of course, Wollongong and the Illawarra region are between the Illawarra escarpment, as part of the Great Dividing Range, and the coastline. So there is a need to protect this escarpment from unnecessary and undue development. Protection and planning for the escarpment lands has been on the agenda throughout the whole of the 1990s. In the early 1990s the Wollongong City Council established what was called an escarpment working party to look into planning for those lands. Members of the community were involved collaboratively and consultatively. They walked over a whole range of parcels of land and came up with some very sound policies to protect the escarpment and provide opportunities to bring much of that land into public ownership.
Of course, there is always a need to review and continually refine policies and planning policies of this nature. It was for the reason that, in the late 1990s, the council called for a commission of inquiry. I want to make it clear that the call for the commission of inquiry was supported by only Australian Labor Party councillors. Not one Independent—whether a Green, community business person or developer—voted in support of the commission of inquiry. Only Labor Party councillors supported the call.
The Carr Government and the former Minister, Craig Knowles, supported the establishment of the commission and established its transparent terms of reference. Commissioner William Simpson, who was appointed to head the commission of inquiry, did a tremendous job. He walked over much of the land to which I have referred and took into account many submissions. I acknowledge the broad range of organisations and bodies that presented submissions: the Illawarra Escarpment Coalition, the South Coast Conservation Society, a number of residents and resident groups, property owners and consultants. That is by no means an exhaustive list of those in the area who presented submissions. Some of the key findings of the commission of inquiry are as follows:
(a) that there should be no further residential or rural residential development in parts of the northern suburbs of the Wollongong local government area;
(b) a moratorium of the Council's Fair Trading and Rural Residential policies until a number of environmental land use constraints studies are undertaken;
(c) the preparation of an Illawarra Escarpment Environmental Management Plan following the finalisation of the environmental studies; and
(d) the establishment of an Escarpment Regional Park, as the basis for the long term management of the escarpment and its foothills;
- The identification of environmental capacity limits is critical in terms of managing the impacts of upstream developments on the floodplain areas, as evidenced by recent flood events in 1998 and 1999.
- Existing data indicate that the escarpment and its foothills have a multiplicity of constraints to development (flooding, land instability, bushfire and conservation areas etc).
- Some of these data are dated. The conservation, educational, cultural and other values are also not fully known or understood, particularly at the regional level. Environmental studies are therefore needed to up-date this information.
The Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, Andrew Refshauge, who has been extremely approachable and consultative in relation to these issues, met with a number of organisations and individuals and carried on the important theme of consultation through this planning exercise, an issue in which I have a continuing interest. The commission of inquiry report, which was completed in May 1999, has been reviewed by Wollongong City Council and the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning. Some activists and property owners are trying to selectively interpret Commissioner Simpson's recommendations. For that reason we must move on to the next phase. I understand that the Government's formal response to the report of the commission of inquiry report is imminent. I am confident that the Government will provide co-operative leadership to residents, property owners, indigenous communities, the city council and the plethora of agencies required to support and maintain this vital natural asset.
(Port Jackson—Minister for Small Business, and Minister for Tourism) [6.00 p.m.]: I congratulate the honourable member for Keira on his contribution. He quite rightly identified the natural beauty of the escarpment as integral to the Illawarra region. I remind him, though I am sure he knows, that tourism plays an increasingly important role in the diversification of the economy of the Illawarra and the protection of the natural environment.
BONDI BEACH RAIL PROPOSAL
(Vaucluse) [6.01 p.m.]: I refer again to the Bondi Beach rail proposal. I regret to say that it appears as though I have to raise this issue, which goes back over a period of four years, with the Government every six months. The Government seems to be making very little progress in relation to this project. Six months ago I remember asking the Minister for Transport to come clean on the Government's intentions. Since then I have received no information from the Government about what it is doing. I am aware that it is having great difficulties in relation to this project, as it is with every other aspect of the rail system in New South Wales.
I understand that four years ago the Premier wanted to push this major project from day one. The Government, the Minister and various rail authorities have made a complete mess of this issue from day one. The first proposal was clearly not viable in a technical sense, a financial sense or from the community's point of view. I am not sure whether it is getting any better. It is not that difficult to put up a good infrastructure proposal. The Minister has to address a number of issues. I ask him to consider those issues and to tell this House whether he is informed on this project, whether he is managing it properly and whether it has a future.
Public transport in Bondi Beach is critical. My constituents are dependent upon the current public transport system. the bus system, to get to and from work. Honourable members may be aware that the bus route to Bondi Junction is one of the busiest and most profitable public transport routes in Australia. A viable rail link would certainly be a worthwhile addition if it could be presented not only as a financially viable project but also as a project that had real appeal to residents. I make a number of points. The Minister must inform the House what stage this project has reached. If he is proceeding with this rail project to Bondi Beach, will there be a mid-station on Bondi ridge between Bondi Junction and Bondi Beach? That would certainly enhance the project from the community's point of view and allow people on the ridge—Bondi Road runs up the ridge—to use the rail line.
Will the station at Bondi Beach be easily accessible for residents living west of Campbell Parade? Honourable members would appreciate that almost 100 per cent of residents live west of Campbell Parade. The other market that the Minister may be targeting are fish. He will not get the right price from that market. He must address those issues affecting residents west of Campbell Parade. Will the project include a dual track in the tunnels between Bondi Junction and Bondi Beach to minimise disruption due to State Rail schedule failures? As we have witnessed in a number of other areas we simply cannot guarantee the performance of State Rail. A dual track would be needed to make this service viable.
Will the bus and train services be jointly managed to ensure that public transport services are optimised for residents not only at Bondi Beach but also along Bondi Road? Will ticket prices be set at a price which encourages residents to use the service and to leave their private vehicles at home? Will the project proceed only after a full evaluation of light rail alternatives has been undertaken? On what date will the Minister finally release the environmental impact statement? What will be the closing date for comment? What form will community consultation take? If the Minister answers those questions we might then be confident about what he is doing. But I doubt whether he has any idea of the stage that this project has reached.
I again invite the Minister to come into the House and to tell us what stage this project has reached. It is no wonder that the Premier has convened an industry forum tomorrow to release a green paper on the delivery of infrastructure. The Bondi rail project is a typical example of the mess into which this Government has got itself over the past five years in the delivery of infrastructure in this State. It cannot deliver the huge amount of infrastructure that New South Wales needs without a partnership with the private sector. I look forward to seeing the green paper tomorrow and I look forward to being able to determine whether the Government will move from its current ad hoc approach to a real policy position. Will we see a policy from this Government on infrastructure?
YETMAN PRIMARY SCHOOL
(Northern Tablelands) [6.06 p.m.]: Tonight I congratulate the "never say die" community of Yetman. On 17 October I visited Yetman Primary School. I met with the principal, Mr Stephen Wilkinson, the teachers of the school, and the 35 students who were present on that day. I congratulate Stephen Wilkinson, the teachers, parents and students of the school, and members of the Yetman community who met with me throughout the course of that day. I had an opportunity to present a State flag and a publication from this Parliament entitled "Australia's First Parliament", which were well received. The publication gave students an opportunity to research and have a better understanding of the history of this Parliament.
At the request of those concerned parents and residents with whom I met on that day I inspected a few roads in my electorate. I inspected the Inverell to Yetman road and viewed its 14-kilometer unsealed section. On a number of occasions Inverell Shire Council, the Mayor, Barry Johnson, and the General Manager, Paul Henry, have referred this issue to me and they have included in their annual plan the expenditure of a considerable amount of money for the rebuilding of that road. I congratulate them on their effort. Yetman community recognises the priorities set by Inverell Shire Council in relation to that road. As it is a State road, I have also made representations to the Minister for assistance to complete the 14-kilometre unsealed section.
I was also invited to visit the Yetman to Boggabilla road. While this road technically falls within the electorate of Barwon, it services the community of Yetman. That is why members of the community, including Kincaid Lunn—a significant member of the community, who also happens to be a senior constable of police—took me to one of the worst sections of road I have ever seen in the north-west, the Bruxner Highway. As often happens in small communities, the local headmaster and the local police officer are very strong advocates for the community. I am sure that Bruxner, who had a wonderful record of service to country people, would turn in his grave if he saw that this section of unsealed road was called a highway, let alone the Bruxner Highway.
The Yallaroi Shire Council is responsible for looking after the local road but, like local government in most areas, it has been strapped for cash. I know that the recent announcement by the Commonwealth was welcomed by all councils and by me. I want to make sure that funding provided both by the Commonwealth and the State assists Yallaroi Shire Council to seal this section of road. As I said, I think it is the worst section of road I have driven on, and I have driven on some pretty ordinary sections of road in my area. It is important that the Roads and Traffic Authority and the State and Federal government agencies get together now that some funding is available to assist Yallaroi Shire Council to undertake the necessary work.
We need to continue to free up funds for roads in regional areas. This welcome announcement will help look after some areas that have been abandoned for some time. We need to remember that these roads have not had the attention they deserve. Local government areas have had their funds diverted to other activities and local government authorities have been unable to maintain the roads for which they are responsible. It is important that Federal and State governments continue to make rural roads a focus and a priority. While the Federal Government is making these funds available, let us make it work, let us see what more the State and the various agencies can do to undertake a lot of the work that has not been undertaken for so many years. As many have said, rural roads are the lifeline between rural communities, and certainly affect the safety of schoolchildren. I have had representations from the Yetman community. This issue is obviously very important to the community. I congratulate the people of Yetman and look forward to raising this matter further with the Minister.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Bill: Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders
Motion by Mr Whelan agreed to:
That standing and sessional orders be suspended to allow the introduction and progress up to and including the Minister’s second reading speech on the Police Service Amendment (Selection and Appointment) Bill, notice of which was given this day for tomorrow.
SUPERANNUATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
(Strathfield—Minister for Police) [6.14 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard
The Superannuation Legislation Amendment Bill implements a number of proposals affecting New South Wales public sector superannuation schemes. The bill will amend the following Acts: the First State Superannuation Act 1992; the Superannuation Act 1916; the Police Regulation (Superannuation) Act 1906; the State Authorities Non-contributory Superannuation Act 1987; and the Police Association Employees (Superannuation) Act 1969. The provisions in this bill address a range of concerns that have been brought to the Government's attention by representations from members of the superannuation schemes and the scheme trustees, and have been the subject of consultation with the Labor Council of New South Wales. Overall, the proposed amendments would have no impact on the Government's public sector superannuation liabilities, rather some may lead to marginal savings.
I shall first summarise the purposes of the proposed amendments. The first group of amendments will affect all the defined benefit superannuation schemes for New South Wales public sector employees, that is, the State Superannuation Scheme, the State Authorities Superannuation Scheme, and the Police Superannuation Scheme. The amendments would allow the early release of superannuation benefits to current and former contributors on compassionate grounds or on the grounds of severe financial hardship as allowed under Commonwealth law. I shall later describe these provisions in more detail.
Other provisions would provide members of these schemes with the option of using the lump sum benefit payable from the State Authorities Non-contributory Superannuation Scheme to meet a contributions tax surcharge debt. The trustee has advised that some members would prefer to do this instead of reducing the value of their pension payments to meet the debt, as they must currently do. The bill would also allow all pensions paid to members of the State Superannuation Scheme, the State Authorities Superannuation Scheme and the Police Superannuation Scheme to be adjusted in line with the consumer price index, in years when the index is less than 1 per cent, but more than zero. Currently, such small increases in the index are not reflected in pension adjustments in the year in which they occur.
The State Superannuation Scheme is the only scheme affected by the next group of proposed amendments. One amendment would remove the requirement for a six-month waiting period for members who wish to commute their pension benefit to a lump sum. Currently, the six-month waiting period applies to pensions payable on early voluntary retirement, that is, where a person retires between the aged of 55 and 60. The Government Actuary has indicated that this amendment could lead to marginal savings in employer costs. The bill would also correct a potential anomaly that might affect a small number of scheme members, following recent amendments to the withdrawal benefits payable from the State Superannuation Scheme. The correction would ensure that no member will be adversely affected because of those recent amendments.
The Act governing the Police Superannuation Scheme would be amended to strengthen the trustee's powers to fulfil certain of its obligations under the Act. Under the legislation as it currently stands, the trustee is required to ensure that a member is not paid both a gratuity from the scheme and damages from third parties in respect of the same injury. The proposed amendments would empower the trustee to seek the relevant information from third parties to enable them to fulfil their statutory obligations.
Regarding First State Super, an amendment would enable members who are on total remuneration packages, but not recognised as executive officers under the Act, to elect not to pay employer superannuation contributions on salary in excess of the maximum level on which superannuation guarantee contributions are required under Commonwealth law. This amendment would achieve consistency under the Act with other officers who pay employer superannuation contributions from their remuneration packages.
The bill contains provisions that facilitate the trustee's treatment of late elections made by superannuation scheme members in relation to the conversion offer made earlier in 2000. The conversion offer refers to the right given to a member of either the Police Superannuation Scheme or the State Superannuation Scheme to elect to convert accrued scheme benefit to a lump sum, and have that lump sum transferred to First State Super or similar private sector superannuation fund.
I will now describe in more detail the provisions relating to the early release of benefits on compassionate or severe financial hardship grounds. An important issue for some members is their capacity to access their superannuation benefits at difficult times in their lives. While the primary purpose of superannuation remains to ensure that people have an adequate income in their retirement, there are times before retirement that some extra money can make a critical difference. Honourable members would be aware that the New South Wales public sector superannuation schemes must comply with the principles of overriding Commonwealth superannuation law.
The Commonwealth Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993—known as SIS—allows superannuation trustees to pay members part of their accrued superannuation benefit if they satisfy certain criteria for the release of benefits on compassionate grounds or on the grounds of severe financial hardship. These payments are called an early release of benefits, because they are paid to members before they would ordinarily be able to access the money.
None of the New South Wales defined benefit schemes currently allows an early release of benefits on compassionate or on financial hardship grounds to members who are still working in the New South Wales public sector. The State Authorities Superannuation Scheme only allows an early release of benefits if a member has already ceased employment and preserved the superannuation benefit in the scheme. The State Authorities Non-contributory Scheme—also known as the 3 per cent, or basic benefit scheme—only allows for the early release of benefits that have been preserved. The State Superannuation Scheme and the Police Superannuation Scheme do not allow for any early release of benefits at all, irrespective of whether the members are still working or not.
Passage of this bill would enable all the New South Wales public sector superannuation schemes to release benefits on compassionate or severe financial hardship grounds to anyone who satisfies the criteria established by the Commonwealth superannuation legislation. The Commonwealth allows the early release of benefits on compassionate grounds if, for example, the money is required and used to pay medical expenses for the member or their dependants, to prevent foreclosure and sale of a family home, to urgently modify a home to cater for severe disabilities or to pay for palliative care, funeral or burial expenses.
The Commonwealth rules also allow a lump sum of between $1,000 and $10,000 to be paid to a member no more than once a year on severe financial hardship grounds if the member satisfies certain eligibility criteria. These criteria depend on the age of the member. They may relate to such things as incapacity to meet reasonable and immediate family living expenses, and receipt of a relevant Commonwealth income support payment for at least 26 weeks. In assessing claims for early release of benefits, the scheme trustee will be required to comply with the rules and processes established by the Commonwealth, and applying to the community in general. The bill would also enable regulations to be made to specify how a member's superannuation benefit is to be adjusted to offset the amount released on compassionate or severe financial hardship grounds.
The early release of benefits will have no impact on the Government's superannuation liabilities. As I indicated earlier, this bill covers a variety of matters. Its primary intention is to enable the early release of benefits on compassionate and severe financial hardship grounds from the defined benefit public sector superannuation schemes consistent with Commonwealth legislation. Other matters addressed by the bill correct minor limitations in the current superannuation legislation and facilitate the administration of the superannuation schemes. I repeat that overall the proposed amendments would not affect New South Wales public sector superannuation liabilities, other than that they may reduce them marginally. I commend the bill to the House.
I indicate to the Opposition that the Opposition spokesman will be briefed about this bill as soon as we know who he or she is.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Maguire.
POLICE SERVICE AMENDMENT (SELECTION AND APPOINTMENT) BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
(Strathfield—Minister for Police) [6.15 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Maguire.
As a result of the Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service, significant changes have been made to the structure of the Police Service directly affecting the human resource management of officers and returning more officers than ever before to the front line. Specifically, in response to Justice Wood’s recommendations, this Government has worked closely with the New South Wales Police Service and the Police Association of New South Wales to:
Abolish the police board and transfer its functions in relation to employment, appointments and transfers to the police commissioner;
Appoint the Commissioner as the employer of all police officers in the New South Wales Police Service;
Adopt and implement Commissioner Ryan’s revised structure, thereby expanding the number of regions, removing districts and concentrating policing on the front line;
Introduce duty officers—increasing promotional positions; and
Introduce a new coordinated structure for recruitment, selection and appointment processes, including the introduction of the assessment centre process.
As a result of these changes, it has become apparent to all parties that further improvements are required to the selection and appointment process, to ensure that it is responsive and flexible, and to reduce the time and stress of the promotional appeals process for officers. In May 2000 the tripartite committee on human resources issues was established to review and implement improvements in Police Service human resources management, including the promotion process. This committee comprises both deputy commissioners of the New South Wales Police Service, the President and Secretary of the Police Association of New South Wales, and the Director General of the Ministry for Police.
This bill is the product of the co-operative approach adopted by these parties. I would like to thank them all for their efforts. I am pleased to advise the House that all key stakeholders in the promotional reform process support this bill and the accompanying administrative changes—that is, the New South Wales Police Service, the Police Association of New South Wales, the Public Service Association of New South Wales, the Police Integrity Commission, and the senior chairperson of the Government and Related Employees Appeal Tribunal (GREAT). I will now address the key provisions of the bill in turn.
The bill applies to all non-executive officers of the Police Service, that is, sergeants, inspectors, superintendents and administrative officers. As such, it will improve selections and appointments for approximately 7,500 Police Service positions. The bill does not apply to constable positions, as constables are appointed through the completion of police training and are promoted within the rank, subject to successful service. The bill also does not apply to promotions in the Police Service Senior Executive Service. In 1995, section 26A was inserted into the Public Sector Management Act to enable departmental heads to create and use eligibility lists to fill vacant positions in the general public sector.
Clause 1 of schedule 1 to this bill inserts section 67A into the Police Service Act 1990 to enable the commissioner to create and use eligibility lists to make selections and appointments to vacant police and civilian non-executive positions. The eligibility lists will be used to make appointments to the position the list was created for, or to positions substantially the same as that position. Eligibility lists have never previously been used in the appointment of Police Officers in New South Wales. The use of eligibility lists will benefit both the service and its employees. They will reduce the time taken to finalise appointments; provide cost and administrative savings to the promotion process; and reduce stress for officers who meet the appointment criteria for a position, by not requiring them to go through the application and selection processes again, if a relevant position becomes vacant within the lifetime of the list.
The provisions of section 67A, read in conjunction with other provisions of the bill, mirror section 26A of the Public Sector Management Act. The only difference to the section 26A regime is that this bill provides that the regulations may limit the police positions that can be determined to be substantially the same as a position for which an eligibility list is created. This restriction recognises that positions of the same rank will not always be the same. Whilst they may have a number of factors in common, they may vary as a result, for example, of where the position is geographically located. At the request of the Police Association, the regulations will give recognition to this so that an eligibility list created for one local area command can only be applied to that command. This agreement will be reviewed after 12 months operation.
Clauses 2, 4, and 6 enable eligibility lists to be used without advertising a relevant vacancy. This reflects current legislative and administrative arrangements under the Public Sector Management Act. The Police Service has used eligibility lists to fill administrative officer positions for a number of years, believing that section 26A of the Public Service Management Act also applied to police administrative officers. Given that these appointments have occurred without a specific legislative base, clause 10 of the bill removes any uncertainty as to the employment status of these persons by confirming the validity of previous appointments as a result of an eligibility list. The Public Service Association of New South Wales supports this. Clauses 3 and 5 provide for the merit appointment of sergeants, inspectors and superintendents from eligibility lists.
The restructure of the Police Service has resulted in a large number of police applying for newly created similar positions, for example the 375 newly created duty officer positions, a large number of which will be advertised at one time given their similarity. A common selection panel often oversees the selection of officers to these positions. Under the current regime, the officer with the greatest merit for one position will frequently be the officer of greatest merit for all the other positions advertised. The current regime compels the Police Service to recommend the officer of greatest merit to all positions that have been advertised and applied for at one time, unless the officer withdraws, or is appointed to one of the positions after the appeal process has run its course. This creates a logjam in the appointment process, significantly delaying placing police permanently into vacant positions.
Clauses 3 and 5, together with significant administrative reforms to the selection and appeal process, will overcome this difficulty of multiple nominations for the Police Service. Under the new procedures, the commissioner will, where practical, advertise at the same time vacant positions likely to attract a similar pool of applicants. Applicants will be encouraged to apply for all positions, maximising the likelihood of promoting the officers with the greatest merit. Applicants will be requested to list their interest in each of the vacant positions in preference order. The selection panel will then rank all applicants who meet eligibility criteria in merit order. Clauses 3 and 5 of schedule 1 to the bill remove the requirement for the commissioner to select the single officer with the greatest merit to multiple positions. Instead they require the commissioner to select the applicant with the greatest merit who has not already been selected for another Police Service position at the same or greater maximum salary.
This will enable the officer with the greatest merit to be selected to his or her preferred position. That officer will no longer be considered for selection to other positions, with the officer of the greatest merit amongst the remaining officers being selected to their first available preference. Selections will then be made down the merit list, according to officer’s preferences, until a different officer has been selected for each position. One of the important provisions of the bill is to maintain the appeal rights of any officer who is not selected to GREAT. This means that if that officer has his or her selection overturned on appeal he or she may still be considered for appointment to other positions which the commissioner has determined he or she had the greatest merit for.
I am advised that the Senior Chairperson of GREAT has generously agreed to list appeal hearings in the order of merit determined by the commissioner, rather than the order in which appeals are lodged, as is currently the case. It is envisaged this new listing system will reduce the incidence of officers accepting appointment to less preferred positions and subsequently accepting appointment to their preferred position, requiring the appointment process to start anew if they are later appointed to their preferred position; enable the most meritorious officers to be appointed as quickly as possible; and encourage the prompt withdrawal of appeals by officers who have had their appeals upheld for their preferred position, reducing the number of appellants who are before GREAT at any one time.
These legislative and administrative reforms will assist in streamlining promotional appointments, as well as assisting to reduce the time currently taken to fill vacant positions. This bill is an important step in improving the police promotion process. This Government will continue to work with the Police Service, the Police Association of New South Wales and the Public Service Association to ensure that it continues to meet the needs of the service, its employees and the community. Future improvements will be informed by the recent promotion and assessment survey and by the ongoing work of the tripartite committee.
The Government has put forward a bill that will significantly improve the police service promotion process. It will benefit the Police Service, police and civilian employees and it will benefit the people of New South Wales. It is the result of a co-operative approach taken by all parties and follows on from some of the reforms implemented by this Government as a result of the Wood Royal Commission. I commend this bill to the house.
[Mr Deputy-Speaker left the chair at 6.16 p.m. The House resumed at 7.30 p.m.
MINISTER FOR GAMING AND RACING, AND MINISTER ASSISTING THE PREMIER ON HUNTER DEVELOPMENT
Motion of Censure
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
(Cronulla) [7.30 p.m.]: In the limited time available to me I want to speak about a number of aspects: the casino, the inquiry, and finally the Greyhound Racing Board. What was done in respect of the casino was, in anybody's view, quite dramatic. The State Government, which takes tens of millions of dollars from the casino, slashed nearly $9 million from the Casino Surveillance Authority and cut staff from 57 to 29—a cut so severe that one inspector must monitor 1,000 security cameras for pickpockets, card counting, calls and trouble generally. He cannot possibly do that. As Graham Richardson, one of the Minister's friends, said on radio station 2GB, "You can't continue to roll back the money to monitor things over there and then pretend that in some way we're on top of things at Star City."
The Minister has been a member of this House for more than 20 years—he is the father of the House. From my observations he is a person who takes pride in his integrity, and he is not naive. He knew that those dramatic cuts would result in a great opportunity for money laundering, which would facilitate the drug trade. Honourable members heard what the Premier said about the drug trade in question time this afternoon. If the Minister had been shadow Minister at that time and if Chris Downey or the current Leader of the National Party had been Minister, I can imagine what the Minister would have said on behalf of the community in relation to those cuts. I ask the Minister to tell the House precisely what he did to make his views known in relation to the cutbacks. As Graham Richardson said:
… if the Government is going to cut the money to have people who are there monitoring all this—and it's little wonder, isn't it, that it's now obvious that an extraordinary degree of money-laundering has been taking place at Star City Casino … And of course the people who need to launder money most are drug dealers, and the people I have the least sympathy for …
He went on to say, "What the Government must do is to put the money back, get inspectors back." The Minister did have an inquiry, but as Mr Richardson said, "How did we ever get to the point where the absolute epicentre of money laundering in this State turned out to the Star City Casino?" Everyone from the Premier down has acknowledged that those cuts were a terrible mistake and the people of this State will pay the consequences in terms of drug addiction and crime generally. The Minister should tell the House whether he has confidence in Peter McClellan and whether he will give an undertaking that all the recommendations of the McClellan inquiry will be implemented.
The Minister will remember a debate in this House on a motion of no confidence in him. He spoke at length about two gentlemen named Atkins and Humphries. In view of the subsequent events I would like to know, particularly in regard to Potter and what was said by Atkins and Humphries, what the Minister's view is of Humphries and Atkins now, with the benefit of hindsight? In debate on the motion of no confidence a great deal was said about the greyhound industry. Yet an anti-corruption's strategy was put in place in the department in 1996, and we have had no explanation as to what happened. The simple facts are that in 1996 the then Greyhound Racing Control Board commissioned an anti-corruption fraud prevention plan. Risk assessments were carried out, and recommendations were made and forwarded to the Greyhound Racing Authority on the dangers and the development. I would like to know who received that report, what action was taken, and where the report went. I am talking about 1996, and about a report about which ICAC said if it had been acted upon none of the problems catalogued in the report would have occurred.
(Rockdale) [7.35 p.m.]: This motion is a sham, but it demonstrates how shallow and lacking the Opposition is, especially the shadow Minister. The motion is bereft of any reasons or information to support this censure.
Someone has written this speech for you!
I did. The motion is a grab-bag of desperation and deliberate inaccuracy.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Mills):
Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order.
If anything, the motion is an indictment of the shadow Minister, who moved it. It is a test of the man and his laziness.
Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order for the second time.
It is a testimony to his laziness in policy development and his irresponsibility. It is nothing more than a smokescreen to disguise his lack of activity and diligence in formulating policy in his own shadow portfolio. Indeed, the shadow Minister would do well to heed the call of the Premier today for the Opposition to put some effort into its own policy development, because it has not happened to date. This Minister, whom the Opposition wants to censure, is someone who has earned the respect of all sectors of the gaming and racing industries and they are considerable. It is this Minister who has guided, and in most cases researched and wrote, the Government's gaming and racing policies prior to the 1995 election and the 1999 election.
The shadow Minister could take a few tips from this Minister on how to work on and develop policy. Far from being asleep at the wheel as alleged, it is this Minister who did the work and put in the hard yards both during the time in Opposition and subsequently in Government. It is this Minister who in 1998 sponsored, through the Parliament, a major range of amendments to the Registered Clubs Act under the Government's landmark community partnership package of reforms for the hotel and club industries. One of these amendments reduced the top marginal tax rate for clubs earning more than $1 million in annual gaming machine revenue from 30 per cent to 26.25 per cent.
An additional concession of 1.5 per cent off the top marginal rate was made available for clubs—and this is important—to spend that percentage of their profits over $1 million on approved community development and support activities. When a club donates less than a minimum amount a smaller concession is offered and the residue is payable as duty to the Government by the Liquor Administration Board at the end of the duty year. This arrangement applies to more than 400 of the State's 1,400 registered clubs.
This Minister later approved the community development and support expenditure scheme guidelines which were developed in consultation with both Clubs New South Wales and the Council of Social Service of New South Wales. The community development and support expenditure scheme is designed to achieve two key objectives. The first objective is that larger registered clubs continue to make, and account for, their donations to the community in the most tangible manner possible. The second objective is to ensure that the disadvantaged in the community are better positioned to benefit from the substantial contributions made by those clubs to community and charitable organisations. This was innovative policy—policy enacted for the good of the industry and for the good of society generally.
While in Opposition it was this Minister who drafted Labor policy to ensure that government funds be allocated for research into the causes of problem gambling in New South Wales so that problem gambling may be addressed in the long term rather than with simply short-term or band-aid programs which may prove to be costly and ineffectual. Labor's commitment—indeed, it was this Minister's commitment—was made abundantly clear in our policy paper entitled "A Social Conscience Stand on Gaming", released as long ago as the March 1995 election.
What has happened to that?
This is news to members opposite. We have yet to see a policy document from the Opposition that contains any vision. Members opposite are absolutely hopeless. This commitment is now in action and is being implemented through the establishment of the Casino Community Benefit Fund under the Casino Control Act. The Minister and the Government believe that research into and education on the social problems caused by gambling stand at the forefront of activities which should be addressed by the resources available from the fund. When coupled with the Government's landmark responsible gaming legislation, the people of New South Wales should be in no doubt as to the Government's commitment to responsible gambling by players and gambling operators alike. The prime architect of Labor's commitment is this Minister, who is under attack by this insipid and irresponsible Opposition. The Opposition is a policy-free zone. This motion is a sham, a smokescreen for the inadequacies of the Opposition and the shadow Minister's inability to put together a coherent and intelligent policy of his own. [Time expired.
(Charlestown—Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [7.40 p.m.], in response: I should like to say, in an advised way, that there is no doubt in my mind that the honourable member for Port Macquarie needs to seek some counselling for his obsessional tendencies. His behaviour today was most unbecoming. The honourable member said that I had been in this House for 27 years. I must correct his mistake—he was wrong with just about everything else today. I have been in this House for 28 years. The honourable member will not take my advice but somewhere along the line he may learn some lessons.
I have clearly addressed the allegation that I misled the House during my second reading speech on the Racing Legislation Amendment (Probity) Bill. In providing the House with the details of a report prepared for me by the Director of Racing of my department, I have outlined the extent of the consultation which took place with ICAC over the proposed legislation. A motion of no confidence or a censure motion is the second most serious thing that could happen to me. As usual, the honourable member for Port Macquarie raced in here half-cocked—
I have not raced in.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Mills):
Order! I remind the honourable member for Port Macquarie that he is on three calls to order. He will have an opportunity to speak in reply and conclude the debate. He will remain silent during the contribution of the Minister.
Accordingly, I stress again that when I indicated ICAC's support for the legislation I clarified the extent of that support by reading from the ICAC report—the honourable member cannot change that—which stated:
The ICAC notes, and supports, the actions of the Minister for Gaming and Racing, who has sought and obtained, from the Greyhound Racing Authority as well as the Thoroughbred Racing Board and Harness Racing New South Wales, a commitment to developing and implementing a suitable, common and continuing probity testing system for Stewards.
Misleading the House? Wrong! As to the allegation that there was no consultation with the racing industry, I emphasise that full and complete consultation has taken place with the industry since I first raised the possibility of introducing this legislation in April this year. I can confirm that all the controlling authorities—that is, the Thoroughbred Racing Board [TRB], which the honourable member is waffling on about, Harness Racing New South Wales and the Greyhound Racing Authority [GRA]—were given access to the draft bill and asked to provide their comments. The GRA and Harness Racing New South Wales gave their unqualified support to the contents of the bill. The TRB raised several issues of concern to that body, and my officers held discussions with the chairman and the chief executive of that body to discuss those concerns. I am informed that all matters but one, which would have represented a significant departure from overall Government policy, were addressed in the redrafted bill. No consultation with the industry? Wrong!
As to the honourable member's allegations regarding my answer to a question in this House today, let me make it clear that the question was incorrectly directed. No wonder they call him Boy Blunder. The honourable member should not blame me for his folly. The question should have been directed elsewhere. The honourable member was wrong again. He went into some detail in relation to the statements that I reportedly made on British television. One of the more bizarre accusations he made against me was a comment which he said I made in relation to problem gambling. He implied that there was something seriously wrong with my observation that I was surprised that the incidence of problem gambling was not as high as 3 per cent.
The honourable member suggested that it was a dreadful thing for the Minister for Gaming and Racing to believe that problem gambling in Australia might be as high as 3 per cent. The answer is quite simple. If the honourable member had checked his facts—and he never does—he could have read the Productivity Commission report and found that over the past decade Australian studies into the prevalence of problem gamblers have shown that the estimated rates have ranged from as low as 1 per cent to as high as 2.9 per cent. In fact, the Productivity Commission reported that the most recent study in New South Wales in 1997 estimated that some 2.89 per cent of people were at risk of problem gambling, with a confidence interval ranging from 1.9 per cent to 3.8 per cent.
When the Productivity Commission conducted the first national survey of problem gambling and estimated that the incidence level was only 2.1 per cent, I was pleasantly surprised. And why should I not be surprised? It is beyond me why the honourable member for Port Macquarie considers this to be remarkable. What is remarkable is that he has not checked his facts. The honourable member referred to the downsizing of the department. The budget for the Department of Gaming and Racing was reduced by $3.8 million in 1999-2000 and a further $1.9 million in 2000-01. These reductions are not new; they have been outlined in the budget papers. These reductions have necessitated the department implementing a voluntary redundancy scheme.
The program was established in full consultation with departmental staff, the public sector union and the Public Sector Management Office. For the honourable member to say that the department is in disarray is simply another figment of his imagination. The director-general has personally been at the helm of this program. I have approved the voluntary redundancy management plan, which has seen, as I said earlier, 31 voluntary redundancies in 1999-2000 and a further 25 to date this year. That has been a successful downsizing. Downsizing the department? Once again, wrong!
As to the issue of morale, 81 of the 290 staff—about 28 per cent—expressed an interest in voluntary redundancy. Staff were under no obligation to accept redundancy as a result of expressing an interest. It certainly did not amount to a willingness to accept a redundancy package, as suggested by the honourable member for Port Macquarie. Indeed, a number of staff who were formally offered redundancy subsequently refused the offer. I believe that most staff responded to gain further knowledge of their redundancy entitlements in order to better consider their options for the future. Although people like me with a working class background would look at that sort of thing, the honourable member would not know much about it. To suggest that the number of staff expressions of interest was an indicator of staff morale is nonsense. Morale within the department? Wrong again!
The honourable member for Cronulla trotted out the old perennial about Atkins and Humphries. He should look at my extensive reply in the estimates debate in Hansard
. He would find that although I castigated them, they never offered anything of use to the police. They subsequently went to the ICAC and gave in-camera evidence. Were they called? No, they were never called. Why? Because they could never supply anything of substance. If there is to be a debate on a censure motion tonight, it should be against the honourable member for Port Macquarie. As usual, in the House today he has simply raised a string of unrelated, trivial beat-ups. Some other matters he raised were wildly inaccurate, once again. He has had to trawl through the resources of overseas television channels to find some information he thinks might be of some relevance to the matters of concern to this House. Clearly, he has wasted the time of the House, and he is the one who deserves to be censured. Few things are certain in life.
Your retirement is one of them.
We will all come to that. If the honourable member for Port Macquarie continues with his present behaviour, he will lose respect in just about every facet of this Parliament. When he first became the shadow Minister I offered to be co-operative with him. From then on, he has continually sought to undermine my character and do all sorts of things to try to make me out to be some sort of villain. As I have always said, the best motto for grabbing attention is to make it short, make it juicy and make it up. The trouble is, the motto of the honourable member for Port Macquarie seems to be make it long, but still make it up.
(Port Macquarie) [7.50 p.m.], in reply: We have had several matters confirmed in this debate over the last half an hour. Importantly, one of those matters is that the Minister clearly misled the media on 6 November when he indicated that redundancies had not taken place. In this debate, in defence of his own actions, he has confirmed that 31 redundancies have taken place within the department and 25 of those redundancies have taken place this year. That is a clear confirmation that redundancies and downsizing are taking place.
I am not a mathematician, but I am amazed that in response to my motion the Minister has tried to argue that a reduction by 25 this year and by 31 overall is in no way a downsizing. Surely, if a department gets smaller, that amounts to a downsizing. Twenty-five redundancies have taken place—as has been admitted by the Minister in this debate, but as he would not admit to Australian Associated Press on 6 November when he said: "No, no, no. We've just got the redundancy notices. We're not too sure how many have taken them. In fact, I think only 20 have expressed an interest in redundancies." That is what the Minister said publicly on 6 November. In this debate the Minister has confirmed that 25 redundancies have taken place this year and 31 redundancies have taken place since the redundancy program commenced. This is a complete about-face from the Minister, and it is confirmation that the Minister is not across his portfolio and is asleep at the wheel.
What was also confirmed in this debate is that we have a Minister expressing full confidence in the way he and his team at the Greyhound Racing Authority have, over the past five years, handled the greyhound racing industry, which has been demonstrated to be rife with corruption, as has now been exposed through the Independent Commission Against Corruption—not through anything that the Minister has done but by several courageous stewards who stood up, against the wishes of their chief steward, approached the chief executive officer and triggered a full and comprehensive inquiry. The Minister was prepared to let it continue; he was not doing anything. He failed to implement that key which ICAC has identified, that is, the 1996 anticorruption plan.
I ask the Minister: Why did you fail to implement the anticorruption plan, the anti-fraud risk assessment plan, or whatever you want to call it, and how do you stand in this place and justify your actions when ICAC and the commissioner identified your failure to implement that plan as the key to why Rodney Potter was allowed to get away with what he got away with? There is a direct link here between the failure of the Minister, the Government and the Minister's Greyhound Racing Authority to take action and to implement the anti-corruption plan. It is clear that there is a link, and it astounds me that the Minister is able to express full confidence in his actions and in the actions of the Greyhound Racing Authority in the way it has handled corruption in the greyhound racing industry over the last five years and will potentially handle it into the future.
Earlier I referred to several matters that could be easily cleaned up by the Minister right now which would send a clear message to the industry and the broader community that things are happening. What about the race record at Wentworth Park, which still stands, for a dog that was drugged to the eyeballs, as identified by ICAC? Why will the Minister not take action on that matter and sort it out immediately? These are small steps that could be taken now but clearly they are not being taken.
We have also learned in this debate that the Minister for Police, amazingly, came into the Chamber to try to defend the Minister for Gaming and Racing. Yet what the Minister for Police has done in the process is that he has rejected Peter McClellan's recommendations that may come out in his casino inquiry report in mid-December. The Minister for Police has now ruled out any police involvement on site at Star City Casino. The Minister for Police tried to make the point that we had a Wood royal commission and we were worried about unnecessary risks being taken at the casino. What about the necessary risks that need to be taken to deal with serious and complex issues that have been identified in this place and allegations that have been confirmed in the interim recommendations of Peter McClellan about loan sharking, money-laundering, prostitution and drug dealing?
Do I have to roll out all these people again? Do I have to roll out Sunny Liu, Quoc Thai Ly and Tan Gia Quach? Do I have to roll out the millions of dollars that have been ordered through the casino, to prove the point that we have a problem in New South Wales that is being covered up and is not being dealt with by the Minister and the Government? I do not want to go down that path again, but if the Minister for Police and the Minister for Gaming and Racing are going to conspire to develop some sort of argument that police are not needed on site at the casino, as recommended in Peter McClellan's interim report, and as expected to be delivered in Peter McClellan's final report, this is an absolute joke. Why on earth have we got through this whole process of having this report, why have we got through this whole process of many industry people, many former industry people and many concerned citizens giving evidence to Peter McClellan and Gail Furness from ICAC, when in debates such as today's debate the Minister for Police says he will not have anything to do with police taking an unnecessary risk on the casino site?
The Minister's argument does not stack up. His argument is equivalent to saying, "We do not need police in Cabramatta because I am worried about the police taking an unnecessary risk." This is an incredibly inward-looking approach to a police force and does not deal with serious allegations and serious issues of money laundering, criminal activity and corrupt practices within the Minister's Government and potentially within his department's structures. These issues must be dealt with, they must be streamlined, and the Minister is simply not dealing with them.
The Minister has tried to argue, as have others in this debate, that this is some kind of personal obsession of mine. Again I throw on the table hundreds of votes of no confidence that were delivered by participants in the greyhound racing industry subsequent to the delivery of the ICAC report into greyhound racing. These are the views of the people on the ground. Up to 1,100 or 1,200 people have said to me and to the Minister that they do not have confidence in the Greyhound Racing Authority as it stands. This is my obsession. What about all the current employees, the former employees, and the high rollers who are confessing that they have been involved in criminal activity at the casino? What about the people in the community who are saying that they have family members who were involved in these activities? What about the bloke on the news last week who ripped off the Sisters of Charity to feed his gambling addiction? Does the Minister not think that these are problems?
I find it extraordinary that the Minister did not hear me properly with regard to the United Kingdom transcript. For some reason the Minister tried to argue the case that I said that he thought the figure was lower than the 2 per cent identified by the Productivity Commission report. That is not the case at all. It is up to me to have to reconfirm for the Minister what the Minister said, which in itself is extraordinary. The Minister said that he believed the problem was bigger than identified by the Productivity Commission. What we did not hear from the Minister is how big a problem he thinks problem gambling in New South Wales is. The Minister has opened Pandora's box here. By some amazing magical research that I do not have access to, and the Productivity Commission obviously does not have access to, the Minister is saying that he believes that the issue of problem gambling is bigger than that identified by the Productivity Commission.
It is now time for the Minister to tell the House how big he thinks the problem is. In line with other comments made by the Minister during this debate, I am amazed at the statement of public policy by the Minister in relation to poker machines. The Minister has stated that he believes that poker machines had to get out of hand before they could be reined in. That is a bizarre and outrageous statement of public policy not only in the context of New South Wales administration but on the world stage as well. This issue is an international embarrassment for the Minister's backbench colleagues who are saying that the Minister's days are numbered, that his retirement plans are in train and that Mark Burgess from the Police Association has got the numbers. We have heard all the rumours and it is about time this House recognised that this State needs someone to provide serious leadership in Gaming and Racing. [Time expired.
Question—That the motion be agreed to—put.
The House divided.
Mr D. L. Page
Mr J. H. Turner
Mr R. W. Turner
Mr R. H. L. Smith
Mrs Lo Po'
Mr E. T. Page
Mr W. D. Smith
Question resolved in the negative.
|Mr Slack-Smith||Mr Carr|
|Mr Hazzard||Ms Saliba|
FISHERIES MANAGEMENT AND ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from 24 November.
(Keira) [8.10 p.m.]: This bill delivers to all sectors of the community that have a stake in our fisheries resources, and it delivers more sustainable fisheries for the whole community. But I have been assured that the bill does not increase aquaculture fees to $3,000 over five years, as the honourable member for Monaro said in his contribution to this debate last week. Earlier this year a report by the Centre for International Economics recommended that $3.6 million of the Government's expenditure on aquaculture should be recovered from the industry. In July the Government introduced an annual contribution of $350 for each aquaculture permit holder. Those funds will be placed in an aquaculture trust. This represents only 14 per cent of the recommended $3.6 million. A five-year moratorium has been placed on any further cost recovery, other than for CPI adjustments, or for extra services that might be requested by industry.
Recreational fishers have been asking for changes to the management of our fisheries and for a fairer share of the resource. That is why anglers are happy to contribute to the resource—as long as the money is used for recreational fishing. The bill introduces a general recreational fishing fee based on the successful freshwater recreational fishing fee. I want to make it clear that there is no joy for anyone in introducing a new revenue measure, but hard decisions need to be made. Governments are in fact elected to take hard decisions on issues such as this. By law, money raised from the fee will be placed in trusts dedicated to recreational fishing programs. My discussions with fishers in the Keira electorate have highlighted that generally they see the need for a licence and fee, but they want transparency. They are a bit suspicious.
The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. That is why recreational fishers will have input to fisheries management through the angler expenditure committee, which will be established to oversee trust fund expenditure, and to ensure transparency of the income of, and expenditure from, that fund. During consultation on the fee many recreational fishers were supportive of the money being spent on buying out commercial fishers, but only if there is a benefit to recreational fishing. The Government will create recreational fishing areas. There will be an open and transparent community selection and consultation process.
I pick up a point made by the honourable member for Bega, who obviously did not listen to the Minister's second reading speech. The Government also will seek nominations from communities that believe their region may benefit from a recreational fishing area. This is in addition to the Government's nomination of Lake Macquarie and Botany Bay. There will be ample opportunity for Tuross Lakes, for example, to be considered for a buyout. The angler trust expenditure committee will prioritise community nominations, and it will be up to those committees to consider how a recreational fishing area would impact on their economy and their environment.
The Government will facilitate the community consultation process by distributing an issues paper. An independent person will oversee the community consultation process—again a transparent process. Everyone will be able to have a say, including commercial and recreational fishers. As the honourable member for Monaro pointed out last week, recreational fishers have several fee options. This was as a result of the Government's extensive consultation. Whatever fee option fishers take, they will be able to fish anywhere in New South Wales—in fresh water, in estuaries or along the coast. Those with a freshwater fee will not need to pay the general recreational fishing fee until their current licence receipt expires. Anglers will be able to pay their fee at hundreds of different locations across the State—at their local Fisheries office, over the telephone, on the Internet or from agents, including bait and tackle shops.
The bill also delivers more sustainable fisheries for commercial fishers, anglers and the community in general by ensuring that our commercial fisheries are assessed in accordance with the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. Management strategies for each commercial fishery and environmental impact statements will be publicly exhibited. For the first time ever the community will be able to scrutinise the management of our fisheries and make submissions. The Government is also delivering security for commercial fishers through the new category 2 share management framework. The honourable member for Bega raised in this debate the issue of share management.
The reason there are only two share management fisheries—the high-value abalone and rock lobster fisheries—is that commercial fishers cannot afford it. This decision was made by the fishers themselves. The new category 2 share management scheme provides a way for other fisheries to move towards full share management if and when the fishers feel it is appropriate. Once a commercial fishery is assessed as sustainable, commercial fishers will be issued with long-term 15-year leases. With more secure fishing rights, commercial fishers will be able to make better business decisions and better decisions for the future of the resource. The bill will give recreational fishers along the coast the opportunity to invest in better recreational fishing, and we will have more sustainable and viable commercial fisheries.
I acknowledge that this bill and the sound environmental and economic policies that underpin it have evolved over the period since the discussion paper was first released, and even since the bill was first released. Those changes reflect the commitment of the Minister, the Hon. Eddie Obeid, to listen, to consult and to discuss. That sense of consultation is a hallmark of the Carr Government across a range of portfolios. I put on the record my thanks to those from the Keira electorate who have contacted me and with whom I have discussed this issue. They will not all be totally happy with the outcome, but they can be confident that they have been heard. They can be confident that the intent of this legislation is to protect, preserve and enhance fisheries in this State. I commend the bill to the House.
(The Hills) [8.16 p.m.]: In speaking to this bill I acknowledge that there are pressures on our recreational fishing stocks.
What fishing is there in The Hills?
The member opposite asks what fishing there is in The Hills. I have had a large number of representations from my constituents who are fishermen. Fishing is Australia's most popular recreational pursuit, as I am sure you are aware, even if your colleagues on the other side of the House are not. Fishermen are found everywhere—from the coast, right through to inland Central Australia. I recognise the pressures on our recreational fishing stock, as there are pressures on New Zealand fishing stocks.
I recall competing in a beach fishing contest there in 1978. The major prize was $5,000 for the biggest snapper caught. Any other snapper caught was worth $2,000. There was elbow room only along the 80 kilometres of Baileys Beach, but only one snapper was caught throughout the entire contest. That is an indication of the pressures placed on that region across the Tasman by commercial fishers. No doubt there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that people have similar experiences along the New South Wales coast. I am speaking of the whole coast—the South Coast, the North Coast, the Central Coast and the Sydney region. But we in the Opposition hold that there is a significant need for additional research into recreational fishing stocks and whether commercial fishing is overexploiting those stocks.
One of the issues that has not been addressed in this legislative package, which in my view is of paramount importance, is the commercial fishing of estuaries. Estuaries are breeding grounds for fish stocks. If commercial fishermen go into those areas, the impact could be similar to what happened at Wallaga Lakes, in the Bega electorate, where I fish annually. Commercial netting of species there has virtually eliminated fish stocks. Additional research must be carried out into what many anglers suggest is a real problem. There is a real question mark over whether this legislation is the way to go.
The greatest concern that has been raised with me by my constituents—and I add that they are extremely angry about it—is the saltwater fishing licence. I believe in debate last week the honourable member for The Entrance suggested that seniors more than 65 years old would be exempt from the fishing licence. That is not correct. Only pensioners will be exempt, not self-funded retirees. So people of an equivalent age who are not pensioners but who have attained the same age as pensioners will not be eligible for exemption from what they see as a tax on their favourite recreational pursuit.
The honourable member for The Entrance suggested also that the tax was going to support families and encourage them to wet a line. I thought that was one of the greatest examples of rationalisation that I have heard in my seven years as a member of this Parliament. I thought it was preposterous for him to suggest that families would stick together because of this Government's proposed tax. I have never heard anything quite so absurd. The existing freshwater licence is certainly supported by freshwater fishermen because the money goes back into rebuilding fish stocks and it is used also for research into native freshwater species. Those sorts of activities are widely supported by freshwater fishermen.
The bill does not specify how the money that is to be raised from saltwater fishermen is to be used. In fact, all the money will go into dedicated trusts and money from the trusts will be used "only for recreational fishing programs". However, those words are extraordinarily ambiguous. The bill does not spell out in any sense what the end result of expenditure from the trust fund will be, or how the moneys will be allocated over the first few years if the bill becomes an Act and the trust is established. The bill does not really specify how that money will be utilised and what the Government's priorities and programs will be. Another concern that I have is that some of this money is supposed to be used to buy out commercial fishermen. The first two candidate sites are Lake Macquarie and Botany Bay.
What will happen if those who live on the South Coast and the far North Coast fish exclusively in those areas? Will they simply end up paying a tax? I am sure that those who happen to live in those areas will end up paying a tax. Certainly in the foreseeable future they will not benefit from that tax. It is simply another way in which the Government will rake in money. If commercial fishermen are bought out in Lake Macquarie and in Botany Bay it will not make one iota of difference to the fishing stocks at Bermagui or Byron Bay. That is a problem that the Minister in another place did not address in his second reading speech or in debate on this legislation.
Of course, not all species that are fished by saltwater recreational fishermen are commercial species. For example, Australian salmon, a fine fighting fish which many anglers take, is no longer a commercial species as it is not deemed to be a good eating fish. If we catch fish and we release them we are not actually reducing fish stocks, but we still have to pay the licence fee. If, as is the case with the existing freshwater licence, the money were legitimately to go back into restocking and to improving recreational fishing along the length of the coast, then many saltwater fishermen would support the Government's proposals.
Insufficient research has been carried out on the reasons for the decline in fish stocks. Insufficient research has been done and not enough thought has been put into what should be done with the money that comes from the trusts. One thing alone that would cause me to oppose this legislation is the schedule of offences in the bill. I will read out those offences as I think they are absolutely outrageous and preposterous. Remember that this bill, according to the honourable member for The Entrance, is supposed to bind families together. Proposed section 34J in schedule 4 (1) to the bill states:
A recreational fisher who is required by this Division to pay a fishing fee is guilty of an offence if the fisher fails to pay the fishing fee.
The maximum penalty for any fisher not paying a $25 fishing fee or $5 for a three-day licence is $2,200. Fishers will be found guilty of an offence if they do not have an official receipt for the payment of a fishing fee in their possession when they take fish from any water. So people on holiday who go out to fish and who forget to put the receipt on their pockets will have to pay a maximum fine of $2,200. I note that the honourable member for South Coast is taking some interest in what I have to say. I am not surprised because I suspect that it will concern a large number of his constituents if this bill goes through this House. The worst of all the provisions in the bill is proposed section 34J (3), which states:
For the purposes of proceedings under this section, a person who is in possession of fishing gear on, in or adjacent to any waters is presumed conclusively to be taking fish from those waters (even though the person takes or proposes to take fish only from other waters outside the State).
So fishers will be presumed guilty simply if they are driving down a coastal road and they happen to have some tackle in their car—a rod on the roof of the car and a tackle box and bait in the boot of the car—and the maximum fine will be $2,200. That is absolutely outrageous. It is typical of the heavy-handed approach of this Government to environmental fines. For all those reasons I oppose the legislation. The Government should explain to the House how it intends to distribute the money that will flow into the freshwater and saltwater recreational fishing trusts. How does it justify a $2,200 fine for the minor offences that I outlined tonight? This bill will not achieve the desired result. It will not achieve what the Government wants. I do not think that the Government has thought through this legislation, despite its much-vaunted consultation program. I believe that a substantial majority of saltwater recreational fishermen will oppose the tax in whatever way they see fit.
Mr W. D. SMITH
(South Coast) [8.29 p.m.]: One of life's greatest pleasures is sitting on the edge of a pier at sunrise or sunset, dangling a line and pondering the ways of the world as the elusive fish do their best not to take one's bait. It usually works for me. Even more delightful is the face of a child after catching a first fish. Essentially, this legislation will ensure that future generations can catch a fish because there is adequate stock available. Fishing is certainly a wonderful leisure activity—an activity in which people of all ages can take part. Recreational fishing includes boats, whether it is a couple of mates setting out in a dinghy for a day on the lake or a crew of weekenders on a cruiser out for a challenge of game fishing on the high seas. It is one of the most popular of Australian pastimes. There would be few people who have not fished at least once. For many people it is a family affair during the summer holiday period. Many busy parents look forward at the end of each year to a few weeks on the beach and a bit of fishing.
In the 1960s and early 1970s a trip to the coast for holidays was a major adventure for city families—loading up the station wagon to capacity for a four- to six-week stay at a holiday home, camp site or bungalow. Among the pillows, bags and Tupperware would be a tackle box and reels. Dad often strapped the fishing rods to the rail on the edge of the roof of the car. In those days roads were mainly just tracks of bitumen and in some areas dirt tracks. The best fishing sites were always the hardest to reach and beaches were invariably covered with all types of natural treasures. The rock pools were full of interesting creatures—crabs, anemones, limpets, snails, sea urchins, periwinkles and often tiny fish.
Wharves and piers were often crowded with youngsters wetting a line for the first time, and it was nothing to see a bucketful of bream, trevally or mullett, depending on the area. In those days there was generally not a great deal of overt public concern over fishing stocks, although many people have been aware for decades that taking too much was not a good thing for the environment. Considerable pressure from environmentalists and conservationists, and reports by scientists, have brought the fragile conditions of fish resources to the fore. Over the past 20 years more and more public attention has been drawn to the critical threat to marine life, through overfishing and damage to breeding habitats.
I have seen for myself that the need to develop strategies to preserve habitats and sustain marine life is crucial. I strongly support the introduction of the recreational fishing fee. Today about 2.5 million people fish in New South Wales at least once a year. Of that number about 500,000 are visitors from interstate and almost 700,000 are children under 18 years of age. At some time each year just over a quarter of those people fish in inland waters. As part of the principal commitment to preserving our environment, the Carr Government drafted the "Fisheries in New South Wales—Sustaining, Sharing and Conserving" policy with an objective to conserve fish stocks and habitats.
Once again the Government has taken on a contentious issue and drafted a policy that sets out to achieve a fair balance between the need of the environment and the interests of the community. Much is to be said for the rational approach the Government takes on controversial issues. There is also much to be said for a government that encourages community participation in the planning process. The policy for recreational fishers to pay a fee to fish in freshwater and saltwater sites has been an exhaustive process and has been based upon several factors, including expressions from the public of the need to improve conservation of fish and habitats. It has also included the views of stakeholders on change and comments raised in submissions to the review of recreational saltwater fishing regulations.
The policy was supported by the vast majority of anglers at the recreational fishing summit meeting held in Sydney in December 1999 and is also inclusive of the report of the Standing Committee on State Development inquiry into fishery management. Few would want to see a complete abolition of recreational fishing. However, if fishing is to remain an intrinsic part of our culture, clearly it is essential to establish a comprehensive regulatory system that manages the extent of recreational fishing in our waterways, allows for the contribution of extra funding for habitat protection and restocking of waterways, and ensures a sustainable future for river and marine habitats.
These are the types of real benefits anglers have been able to see since the reintroduction of the freshwater fishing fee in 1998. The Government's policy has set out to do just that, and we should be praising the efforts of the Minister for Fisheries for this achievement. We should be grateful to a Government that has the commonsense to consider the long-term effects of this policy on its communities, the fishing industry and the environment. Many recreational fishers were pressing for changes to the regulations as early as the 1880s. One of the core issues has been a conflict with commercial fishers encroaching on areas frequented by recreational fishers.
On the South Coast, recreational fishers have complained for years of exploitation by commercial fishers in St Georges Basin, and the issue became so contentious that a formal study of the basin was conducted under this Government three years ago. Under the new policy, which incorporates the existing freshwater fishing licence with the new saltwater licence, there will be a better system of management of commercial fishing, with the buyout of commercial fishers where recreational fishing areas are created. Commercial fishers will be fairly compensated. There will also be a phasing out of contentious methods of fishing.
Recreational fishers with a licence will be able to fish anywhere in New South Wales, in accordance with the designated charge. Individuals will pay $5 for three days, $10 for a month, $25 for one year or $70 for three years. Charter operators, registered fishing guides and boat hirers can expect to pay an annual block fee of $100, as well as an additional $25 for each person over four people, up to a maximum of $250. Considering the cost of bait, tackle, rods and lines, supplies and fuel, the fee is really not prohibitive and is in line with the scale of interest among individuals. For instance, a fisher with relatively minor interest might spend between $50 and $100 a year on hand lines or rod and reel, hooks, sinkers, nets and bait.
The average dedicated fisher might spend between $500 and $1,000 a year for quality gear. Then there are the more upmarket fishers who could very well spend in excess of $5,000 in less than one year. When we consider the costs of travel, perhaps accommodation, and incidentals, I should think that the fishing fee will become an accepted part of the activity. Like the success of the freshwater fee, anglers will support the all-water fee when they begin to see the benefits of additional recreational fishing projects funded by their contributions. As I have said, the South Coast is surrounded by extensive waterways systems and many of these are known for the quality of the water and the marine life.
The Government has worked hard to identify sites requiring critical and essential attention. Several studies have been conducted to assess the biodiversity of specific water sites. One of the most notable studies has been on the Tallowa Dam waterway by the fitting of radio transmitters to Australian bass and sea mullet and tracking their progress. The fish stocks in the upper Shoalhaven River have been a concern for some years and there were fears during the last drought that the bass would disappear, with shrinking pools and diminished flows destroying both breeding habitats and feeding areas. To overcome migration problems over the Tallowa Dam wall the Government is looking into the feasibility of the construction of a high-level fishway. It will operate like a ladder, collecting fish from the base of the dam. The fish will be carried up and over the wall and deposited in the lake above.
Money raised from the recreational fishing fee will be used to buy out commercial fishers who have been operating in areas selected by the community for recreational fishing. Stakeholders will have input into the selection process through the Fisher's Resource and Assessment Council. Botany Bay and Lake Macquarie will be the initial areas for attention, with the possibility of buying out commercial fishers completely. This is quite a different approach to the commercial fishing industry, and the adjustment is likely to have a social and economic impact on families directly associated with the industry. However, a major overhaul of the industry is long overdue and, because previous governments put the matter in the too-hard basket, it has been left to this Government to take on the responsibility and to make the tough decisions.
Restructuring of the commercial fishing industry is unavoidable. Consideration needs to be given to the rising interest in recreational fishing and associated economic benefits, as well as the fragile habitats. The Government will provide fair compensation for commercial fishers whose licences are withdrawn as part of creating recreational fishing areas. Compensation will be paid from revenue generated from the fees. It is quite likely that recreational fishing will increase with a greater availability of and access to catches, and it is also possible that recreational fishers will spend more on fishing gear and the like. This should lead to expansion of associated retail businesses and activities, much appreciated in particular by regional economies.
Contraction of the commercial fishing sector should ultimately be offset by the growth in interest in recreational fishing. There are 34 commercial fishers in Lake Macquarie. However, about 92 fishers have taken fish since the mid-1980s. Of the 129 who have fished in Botany Bay since the 1980s, 60 still operate. Under the Act the category 2 share management plans will be introduced, based on calls by commercial fishers for more secure fishing rights. This is a reasonable expectation of the industry, and I am pleased that the Government has included this matter as part of the amendments to the Act. Category 2 share management is expected to provide more security to commercial fishers and promote better supervision of resources and long-term sustainability.
Statutory management plans for major commercial fisheries will be prepared with strategies to improve the viability and sustainability of the fishery. Once the plan has undergone environmental assessments and a fishery is assessed as being ecologically sustainable, 15-year fishing rights will be issued. Commercial fishers will be required to pay a $100 rental charge in lieu of a more expensive community contribution which is required to be paid under the full share management structure. The Government proposes to introduce an environmental assessment process for commercial fisheries. Management strategies and environmental statements will be publicly exhibited for at least 30 days. That means more sustainable and viable fisheries. Also for the first time ever the community will be able to scrutinise the management of our fisheries. I commend Minister Obeid for his exhaustive consultation process, and I commend the bill to the House.
Order! I welcome members of the Ryde Lions Club, who are guests of the Minister for Fair Trading.
(Hornsby) [8.40 p.m.]: Visitors in the gallery might reflect on the fact that the enjoyable activity of attending Parliament, which costs nothing at the moment, will, under the Carr Government, soon attract a fee. That is what the Government has done with fishing, a pleasurable activity that will attract a tax in New South Wales. I would bet that there is more than one self-funded retiree in the gallery tonight. They need to know that under the bill that has been proposed by the Carr Labor Government, while pensioners are exempt from the new fishing tax, self-funded retirees are not exempt from the fishing tax. That is the sort of thing that happens all the time with the State Government. Self-funded retirees do not qualify for the pension. Self-funded retirees are continually disadvantaged in this community. That is just one of the anomalies that Government members have not thought through in their support of this new fishing tax.
The Opposition opposes the fishing tax. We believe that fishing is something that families, individuals, self-funded retirees, pensioners and young people ought to be able to undertake without the Government sticking its hands in their pockets. There is only one reason, above all others, that the Government is doing this, and that is because it needs more money in the Department of Fisheries. It is not just because of the fine ideals proposed in this bill, some of which the Opposition supports. The ideals—for example, those discussed by the honourable member for South Coast in relation to applying an environmental assessment process for the development of new fisheries—we do not quibble with, but we do quibble with the fact that it is not those things that are driving the need for the fishing tax. The Opposition has in its possession an internal Government document that spells out some of the problems in the fisheries industry. The new Minister was presented with a briefing very much along these lines when he took over. The briefing states:
As a result of the 16% salary increases generated by an Award and only partly funded by the Treasury, NSW Fisheries is facing a shortfall of approximately $1.3M in the next financial year (1999/2000).
You can't name the source. You are hiding behind anonymity. You are making it up.
The source is the policy unit. I seek leave to table the document and incorporate it in Hansard
Order! As the honourable member for Hornsby knows, only Ministers may table documents.
I am seeking leave of the House.
Order! Leave is refused.
Mr Deputy-Speaker, are you refusing me leave or is the House refusing me leave? I am seeking the leave of the House to table the document.
Order! The standing orders do not permit you to table documents.
Except by leave of the House. I am happy for you to take advice.
Order! Leave is not granted.
So leave is refused? There you have it! I have a document. I have done my level best to try to have it incorporated in Hansard
so people can see where it comes from. I will tell honourable members that it comes from the policy unit of the department. I will continue what I was saying. It refers to the shortfall of $1.3 million because of only a partly funded pay increase that was granted. It continues:
Additional funding for this purpose was sought as part of the forward estimates process in November last year, however, expectations of success are not high.
Guess what? They were dashed. It continues:
In addition, workers compensation insurance premiums and rises in leasing fees for motor vehicles have placed additional strain on the budget.
Without additional Treasury funding, it will be necessary to review activities and/or to seek to increase revenue in some way.
There it is, Mr Deputy Speaker, You may not want me to table it but under the standing orders I can lay it on the table of the House for members to peruse. What is driving this bill is the need to increase taxation revenue, for the reasons that I have outlined. I am getting a thumbs up from the gallery—two thumbs up from the gallery. They know that I am speaking the truth. The Minister and members opposite have said that if there is a new fishing fee it will guarantee that you will catch a fish next Saturday. That is not right, because the money will not go into all of those ideals. The money will make up for the deficit in the department, as revealed by the briefing document that the Opposition has unearthed. That is what this is all about. That will mean that people who undertake what is, as I understand it, the single most popular pastime for Australians—going fishing—will simply have a new tax imposed upon them from the highest taxing Government in the Commonwealth and in the history of New South Wales.
The honourable member for Swansea might laugh. He does not care that his constituents are now being taxed 53 per cent more than they were when he was first elected in 1999. Indeed, since 1995 there has been a 53 per cent increase in State taxes. This will add another tax to it. Members opposite have said that families will not be affected because under the bill children under 18 do not have to have a licence and an adult who is assisting a child also does not have to have a licence. But read the fine print! The fine print says that a licence is not needed only if an adult is assisting a child and there is only one rod and line involved.
If a parent helps a five-year-old child bait up the hook and just happens to have a rod and reel—and any parent will know that there is precious little opportunity to fish while assisting a five-year-old—and wants to drop another line over the side in the vain hope that he or she might catch a fish, bingo, the parent has contravened the bill and the penalty will be $2,200, unless he or she purchases another licence. That is $2,200 for parents who put a line in while assisting their five-year-old to stick the prawn on the end, throw it in, reel it back in, then do it all again. That is what members opposite will not tell you. They talk about exemptions but do not say that pensioners are exempt and self-funded retirees are not.
That is a clear inequity which I encourage the Government to address. The chances are that even though the Coalition strenuously opposes the fishing tax, the chances are that it will be passed because the Government has the numbers. The Government is deliberately and knowingly passing something which has within it that inequity, amongst many others, where self-funded retirees still have to pay a fishing fee but pensioners do not. A number of my constituents have raised this matter with me and I want to take this opportunity to put a couple of their views on the record. For example, Mr Rob Attard of Wahroonga has written to oppose the jump in the licence and tax, as he calls it. He states:
Why not provide more support for recreational fishing clubs?
He says that if the Government is correct about people who are incorrectly taking fish that they are not entitled to, breaching bag and size limits—and that is a matter that concerns most people who go fishing—that is a clear problem. I will come back to the issue of enforcement. He says:
Why not provide more support for recreational fishing clubs? These clubs provide fishing education, fishing ethics, fishing/boating safety and foster a responsible fishing culture, far cheaper than the government can provide … but they are ignored in the paper.
My constituent makes a very good point. Mr Attard then asked, "Why not rest the fish stocks?" He said:
We can help out fisheries significantly, and quickly by placing periodic bans on chosen species (recreational and commercial), and "rest" them from all fishing ...
He then mentioned some examples. The Minister should be in possession of those examples because this letter was sent not only to me but also to New South Wales Fisheries during the consultation process held by the Government. Mr Attard then asked about better enforcement. He said:
Currently we have little obvious enforcement of fishing rules. I have seen numerous flagrant breaches of the bag limit and size rules, most fishermen have these stories of other selfish fishermen. There are too few fisheries officers, whom I believe should be paid out of general revenue.
On that score, in my experience people who do the right thing, who throw back undersize fish, become furious when the rules are not enforced against those around them who seem either not to know or to care about the rules. Those things are spoiling it for the rest of us. I encourage the Government to better educate people. If people do not know about size limits, one might say that it is their own fault, but the Government has a responsibility to educate them about its obligation to look after this resource. The Government needs to be encouraged not to be afraid to send out fisheries officers to ensure that people do the right thing. Fisheries officers need to do that with a degree of good grace so that they take part in what is essentially an educational process. Indeed, I recall one time when my family and I went fishing. We were delighted to see fisheries officers walking down the pier where we were fishing. They were handing out cards containing pictures of various fish and spelling out size limits.
Did you catch anything?
No, we did not catch anything. We hardly ever catch anything, yet it will soon cost us $25 for the pleasure. We were pleased to see those fisheries officers undertaking an educational role, rather than a punitive role. I encourage the Government to think about that. Another constituent, Mr Carrick of Berowra Heights, has written to me. In a long letter he spells out some of his concerns about the Government's discussion paper. His letter, which is addressed to the Government, states:
It is stated in your consultation paper that, commercial fishing effort could be retired permanently from Botany Bay and Lake Macquarie. Now, my main concern with this is that it is not fair or equitable. Why have the Hawkesbury and Parramatta Rivers or Sydney Harbour not been mentioned at all? If I am going to agree to pay this fee, then, all should benefit, including my backyard, the beautiful Hawkesbury River.
In my electorate I represent some of the best parts of the Hawkesbury River and parts of the Hawkesbury-Nepean system, including Berowra Creek, and parts of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and so on, where many of my constituents go to fish on weekends. The strong feeling among my constituents is that my area may not receive some of the benefits the Government is talking about, although they will all have this fee levied on them. Indeed, will the industry in my area—a significant fishing fleet operates out of Brooklyn—receive the benefits of all the Government's promises? Unless the Government loses its myopia about the Hawkesbury River area, there will be no local benefits either for the recreational fishers in my area or, indeed, for the industry in my area.
I oppose the fishing tax, as do other Coalition members. I do not believe the Government has been honest in saying why the tax is necessary. I believe that it is helping to make up for a deficit that New South Wales Fisheries has identified because of the lack of Treasury funding for some of its previous initiatives, but, most important, for the wage increases that have taken place. I do not believe that all the benefits of the fishing tax will be delivered. The honourable member for South Coast said that this fishing tax would be a boon. He said, "I have no doubt the fishing tax will be increased." I think he meant that the revenue will be increased; he may also have meant the amount of the fee will increase. To paraphrase the honourable member, he said, "This will be a great little earner for the Government. If it is Australia's number one pastime, and I have no doubt it is, it will be a wonderful little earner for the Carr Government." I have no doubt that the Government will not spend all the money on providing the benefits it has promised either for the commercial fishing industry or for recreational fishers.
Read the bill!
I have read what the Minister said. Basically, the Minister said, "We guarantee that if you agree to this fishing tax you will catch more fish." In the case of our family we will catch some fish, because I do not remember the last time we caught a fish we could keep; I do not think my children were alive. The Minister and his clever deception will be instantly disproved by what happens in the future. Recreational fishers will stick their hands in their pockets and pay the fee, and they will ensure that they have their receipt with them. Fancy having to carry the receipt wherever one goes! People who do not will be liable to a fine of $2,200. Recreational fishers will do all those things in the vain hope that the Minister was telling the truth when he said that more fish will be caught in New South Wales by recreational fishers.
Read the bill!
It does not matter how many times the honourable member for Swansea says, "Read the bill," the fact is that the Government is promising that fishers will catch more fish if they pay this money. Let us come back in 12 months, two years, five years and have the honourable member for Swansea and others who represent electorates like mine, in which fishing is an important activity, account to their constituents for the fact that they are not catching any more fish, although the Government has been raking revenue out of their pockets. I oppose the fishing tax.
(Swansea) [8.55 p.m.]: It is instructive that the House heard an anti-tax speech from the temporary member for Hornsby. Not only does the honourable member support the goods and services tax, last week he came out with the Opposition's only policy, that is, spending $2.5 billion of taxpayers' money to buy back poker machines.
Twenty per cent of them.
And that is only 20 per cent of them. When we are talking about economic management and useful applications for taxation, I would not particularly listen to the temporary member for Hornsby. I support the Fisheries Management and Environmental Assessment Legislation Amendment Bill. I congratulate the Minister for Fisheries, the Hon. Eddie Obeid, on introducing a bill that makes major reforms to fisheries management in New South Wales. This bill is the outcome of a discussion paper "Sustaining our Fisheries" launched by the Premier and the Minister in January 2000. The proposals outlined in the paper raised enormous interest in the Swansea electorate, particularly when it came to the proposals to introduce a freshwater fishing permit and to close the commercial fishery in Lake Macquarie, with a compulsory buyout of commercial fishing licences. I will comment on the details of that proposal and its impact on the commercial and recreational communities later in my contribution.
I propose now to speak to each of the significant objects of the bill. The first object of the bill is to require the environmental assessment of designated fishing activities under part 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. Honourable members will recall that earlier this year proceedings were commenced in the Land and Environment Court by Sustainable Fishing and Tourism, challenging the issue of a commercial fishing licence by New South Wales Fisheries which the organisation argued was an activity covered by part 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. The court subsequently found that commercial fishing was an activity under part 5 of the Act.
The court found, therefore, that all licences issued by New South Wales Fisheries were invalid, and gave the Minister time to regularise the situation with respect to environmental assessment. I am mindful that it was within the Minister's right to appeal the decision. However, I am pleased that he chose not to proceed by appeal. Instead he decided to fix the situation, which was clearly a bureaucratic, cumbersome and expensive requirement to conduct environmental assessments on individual fishing licences. To underline the absolute hopelessness of the legislation introduced by the former Minister for Fisheries in the Coalition Government, Ian Causley, the Minister provided us with a file note. A press release relating to the Minister's comments stated:
Mr Obeid said a file note written in 1993 and signed off by the former Minister for Fisheries, Ian Causley, clearly indicates the former Minister was aware of potential problems.
"A can of worms" is how the former Coalition Minister for Fisheries, Ian Causley, described the need to protect New South Wales's valuable fish stocks," Mr Obeid said.
"Despite knowing that the livelihood of our commercial fishers was at stake, the Coalition simply buried their collective heads in the sand and left the industry open to legal challenges."
Indeed, that is what happened in New South Wales. One of the objects of the bill will ameliorate that problem. Schedule 1 inserts a new division 5 into part 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 which provides an environmental assessment framework against which fishing activities designated under proposed schedule 1A to the Fisheries Management Act may be measured.
Time does not permit me to go into further details about the new assessment regime, except to make a few observations. The provision gives greater certainty for commercial fishers and I believe complies with the findings of the court. The Minister said in his second reading speech that the bill will strengthen the requirements of part 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act by requiring whole-of-fishery assessments. Importantly, the existing environmental safeguards present in part 5 will apply to fisheries management. Another observation I make is that this is a timely reform in that both the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning and its Minister, as well as the Minister for Fisheries, will play significant roles in the assessment regime.
I now turn to proposed amendments to the Fisheries Management Act 1994 outlined in schedules 2 to 7. Schedule 2 amends the Fisheries Management Act 1994 as it relates to an environmental assessment regime set out in new part 1A and schedule 1A. Schedule 3 amends the Fisheries Management Act as it relates to commercial fisheries. The proposals would have a significant impact on the 34 licensed fishermen and their families and the two fishing co-operatives, one at Swansea on the eastern side of Lake Macquarie and the other at Mannering Park on the southern shores of the lake.
I had several meetings with the affected commercial fishermen and undertook that I would ensure they were appropriately compensated. I believe it to be important that they be properly informed along the way. However, the point must be made that the Fisheries Management Act 1994, legislation introduced by the former Coalition Government, gives the Minister enormous powers to close fisheries and revoke endorsements without those commercial fishers having any expectation or right to compensation. That is typical of the Coalition parties. The Government believes that compensation is only fair and just for fisheries such as Lake Macquarie, which has been nominated by the Government for a buyout arrangement under schedule 5.
The Minister stated in his second reading speech in the other place that the Government proposes that the relevant fishers will initially be offered compensation at twice the market value of the fishers' catch history, averaged across the fishers' best three consecutive years between the beginning of 1986 and the end of 1999. The Minister went on to say that a further $10,000 would also be available for retraining or relocation, and that a further $10,000 would be available for accelerated depreciation of their fishing equipment, such as boats and fishing gear. Under the proposed amendments the Minister may, by order published in the Government Gazette,
declare any fishery to be a fishery to which the buyout arrangements apply, and specify the relevant commercial fishing entitlements that will be the subject of the buyout.
Such an order may be made only after consultation with the persons whose entitlements are to be acquired. As I said earlier, a person who holds a fishing entitlement that is cancelled will have a right to compensation, a right that does not exist under the current Coalition-inspired legislation. Commercial fishing has been carried out in Lake Macquarie for more than 100 years, and I understand the deeply held disappointment of those affected commercial fishers in Lake Macquarie with the Government's announcement.
I am proud to represent communities around Lake Macquarie. Indeed, the lake itself is within the electorate of Swansea. It is one of the world's great waterways, and it requires more skilful management than hitherto has been the case. Under the estuary management program, the New South Wales Government and Lake Macquarie City Council, along with Wyong Shire Council, will spend some $13 million over the next three years to remediate the lake from decades of relatively unchecked urbanisation, industrialisation and pressure from recreational and commercial fishers.
The community, through the discussion paper process and a series of summits for recreational and commercial fishers, has been alive to the environmental and resource management issues which are central to the future of a healthy lake. The concerned anglers group, which was started in Lake Macquarie many years ago, was one of the first community-based groups to draw attention to the environmental and health consequences of increasing urbanisation and industrialisation around the lake. Members of the group were also proponents of closing the commercial fishery to better manage the fish stock in the lake. Such a proposal led to conflict between the organised commercial fishers and the recreational anglers. It was a difficult process, but it was a debate we had to have. Indeed, it was part of the larger debate about environmental sustainability which has been captured by amendments in the bill we are debating.
I now turn to schedule 4, which relates to the proposal for a recreational fishing fee. First, I want to cut across the humbug emanating from the Opposition. The Opposition supports the recreational fishing fee; at least it supported it when the bill was debated in the other House. When the Minister and the Premier announced the introduction of the legislation earlier this year, the former shadow Minister, the honourable member for Port Macquarie, supported the saltwater recreational fishing fee so long as the Minister spent the money in the way that he said he would. That is dealt with in the legislation. The GST supporters in the Opposition now oppose a $25 a year saltwater recreational fishing fee, at a time when small business and families in my electorate are being hit by hundreds and hundreds of dollars a year because of the GST with little or no compensation.
The community of my electorate, and especially the concerned anglers group, has indicated its support for the recreational fishing fee and accept the Minister's assurance that the fee will be used for designated worthwhile purposes. The bill provides for a trust fund which will administer and advise the Minister on appropriate expenditures. It is fair to say that the community of my electorate is more advanced and sophisticated in its thinking than the Opposition and will not be scared into opposing this bill. I should like to place on record a letter addressed to the Minister by Mr David Gray, the Chairman of Advancing Lake Macquarie, which is a task force of business people established by Lake Macquarie City Council to advise council on economic development and tourism issues . The letter reads in part:
Lake Macquarie is a magnificent waterway that is a fragile environment. The Lake has to cope with increased population as well as a fast growing tourism destination for the Sydney market. This places extreme pressure on the Lake and the proposed fee is a fair and equitable response to ensure that every fisherman will assist in the management of this natural resource.
We wish to seek your commitment that funds raised through the licence will be used for fisheries management of the Lake, and in particular to protect and enhance fish stocks in the Lake. Through this approach the Lake will become a fisherman's paradise and its marketability, as a recreation destination, will only be enhanced. This in turn will generate jobs and add to the overall economic benefit of the Hunter's largest City.
I am mindful that this bill will have an impact on the electorate of Swansea. I am also mindful that commercial fishers from Lake Macquarie are facing a restructured fishery and that at the end of the process their industry will not exist. The Government needs to address their needs sympathetically as befits a Labor Government, and I am confident that proper redundancy arrangements will be met by the Government. I commend the bill to the House.
(Baulkham Hills) [9.08 p.m.]: The Opposition opposes the legislation. Whilst I can understand the thoughts and ideas behind the legislation, at the end of the day it is simply another tax on the people of New South Wales. In fact, I suggest it is a tax on families. The legislation will definitely harm many people in my electorate, and indeed the whole of western Sydney. The people of western Sydney probably go fishing, on average, once a year. Many families go on holidays during December and January. If the family happens to be on holidays for a month, it will be required to pay a licence fee of $25 if one person wishes to fish and an additional $25 fee if another person in the same family wishes to fish. Whilst I appreciate that children under the age of 18 will be exempt, if one or two of the parents wish to fish, the family will be required to pay a total fee of $50. For a month's fishing, that is a fee that families these days can ill afford. When one considers the cost of bait and equipment, the licence fee is definitely a tax on a great Australian family tradition, that is, a Christmas beach holiday when people go fishing.
People will no longer be able to afford to go fishing and will instead have to spend more time on the sand and in the surf because the reality is that they will not be able to afford to go fishing. If this legislation is intended to reflect any degree of realism as far as outcomes are concerned, it should be borne in mind that these days families do not usually catch many fish. More often than not, people have a greater chance of being bitten by mosquitoes than they have of getting a bite from a fish. After having spent the whole day in a small tin boat and then returning to the shore, people are usually very pleased to part with $5 or $10 to have some lovely greasy fish and chips that are nice and hot, full of cholesterol and full of fat because at least it is theirs, whereas back in the boat the bait and prawns have become smelly and their colour has changed from a vivid white or greyish hue to a sickly pinky red as a result of being partly cooked by the sun. I suggest that that is the average result of a day's fishing for the average Australian family.
But the good news is that the battlers' friends have decided that those who go out and get sunburnt will still have to buy their bait and equipment to go fishing and will still end up in the fish and chip shop, which will be the only fish they will get, but they will have to pay for the privilege. The Coalition honestly believes that the fee is a tax on families and it is a tax that should not exist. The more I examine the legislation the more concerned I become about it. Item  of schedule 4 contains proposed new section 34J, which relates to offences. It provides:
(1) A recreational fisher who is required by this Division to pay a fishing fee is guilty of an offence if the fisher fails to pay the fishing fee.
Maximum penalty: 20 penalty units.
I understand that the fine for not paying a fishing fee amounts to $2,000. However, the proposed new section also states:
(2) A recreational fisher who is required by this Division to pay a fishing fee is guilty of an offence if the fisher does not have an official receipt for the payment of the fishing fee in his or her possession when taking fish from any waters.
The effect of that provision is that if a person buys a licence and is stupid enough to leave it at home in the pocket of a pair of smelly shorts after having been on the beach, and later goes fishing after having left the licence at home, that person would be unable to produce the licence and would therefore have committed an offence under the legislation in the same way as a person who did not have a licence in the first place. The bill contains no provision that would permit a person to produce the licence within 24 hours. At least drivers of motor vehicles, as I understand it, are given the opportunity to present their licence, but there is no such provision in this legislation. If a person does not have a receipt showing payment of the licence fee, that person will be deemed to not have a licence and will pay the price in the form of a penalty, despite being a licence holder. When people obtain a licence, they should guard it, laminate it, and carry it with them always because when they go fishing they must have their licence in their possession. Even so, people are not out of the water, so to speak, with this legislation. Proposed new section 34J also states:
(3) For the purposes of proceedings under this section, a person who is in possession of fishing gear on, in or adjacent to any waters is presumed conclusively to be taking fish from those waters (even though the person takes or proposes to take fish only from other waters outside the State).
The effect of that provision is that people should not buy fishing gear for their children for Christmas in places such as Patonga which may necessitate a walk near the water or a walk along a road or passageway that is adjacent to the water. If a person is in possession of fishing gear and happens to be adjacent to water, that person is deemed to be fishing or taking fish from the water even though there is no intention to do so. The proposed new section is unjust and I would like the Minister to examine these provisions. The definition of a person who is deemed to be involved in fishing is too wide. In my opinion, the mere possession of fishing gear and the mere act of being adjacent to water are insufficient evidence of an intention to fish.
The other matter that concerns me and other members of the Opposition is that we believe this legislation will introduce another layer of bureaucracy by the appointment of a new type of ranger who will drive around in a shiny four-wheel drive vehicle, pull up along fishing spots and speak to families. The Opposition believes that there is a danger that families could be subject to interrogation, although perhaps not in every case. But the legislation may be overzealously implemented. The Opposition believes that when families go on holidays, they deserve to enjoy peace and tranquility rather than be terrorised by someone demanding that they produce a fishing licence for fish they probably seldom catch.
The honourable member who preceded me in this debate was concerned about the goods and services tax [GST]. The GST is a fact of life and the Federal Government received a mandate for its introduction. The Federal Government was up front about the GST and did not tell any lies. The people knew about the GST and voted on the basis that a GST would be introduced. At the end of the day, the New South Wales Government was pleased to sign up for revenue from the GST: in fact, I understand that New South Wales was the first State to sign up. At the end of the day, State governments are the beneficiaries of the GST; they will receive all the revenue derived from GST. I would have thought that with the $8 billion that the State Government will receive from the GST, it would have been able to give the battlers, particularly those who live in Sydney's west, a break and not force them to get a fishing licence.
Let us face the fact that people who go fishing once a year should not have to spend $25 for mum and $25 for dad just to spend a little over a month away on holiday. Often what happens is that dad parks mum in a camping ground at the beginning of December or halfway through December and travels back to work each day, then goes back to the camping ground over the Christmas break and does the same thing over the January-New Year break. Many families will require fishing licences for more than one month, and that will mean that they will have to pay $25. The Opposition has genuine concerns about the effects of this legislation. I appreciate the sentiments underlying the bill and I do not dispute them, but at the end of the day the Opposition simply does not believe that this legislation is fair. Similarly, the Opposition does not believe it is fair that people should have to pay to obtain access to beaches and national parks.
The Opposition believes that families and individuals should not be required to take out a licence to enjoy the great Australian pastime of fishing. In the end result, families and recreational fishers catch very few fish. Obviously, this legislation will be passed because the Government has the numbers and the Opposition accepts that as the reality. But in five years time, if a member of the Government should take a trip up to The Entrance, Woy Woy, Tuggerah or Lake Macquarie to check whether the legislation has resulted in more fish being available in the waters in those areas, I believe that the honourable member will find that not to be the case. In the meantime, families will have had to pay extra money at a time when the cost of living is not getting any cheaper. The bill provides for another tax and the people will be caught hook, line and sinker.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Mills.
ELECTRICITY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (TRANSGRID) BILL
Debate resumed from 22 November.
(Monaro) [9.14 p.m.]: I lead for the Opposition in the debate on the Electricity Legislation Amendment (TransGrid) Bill. The bill will allow TransGrid, which is the State's high- voltage network operator, to install and utilise new technology on its existing easements to improve its telecommunications network. I note that the overview of the bill states that the legislation will allow future energy transmission operators to be involved in the principal functions of TransGrid as set out in section 6C of the Act, which relate to the establishment, maintenance and operation of facilities for the transmission of electricity and other forms of energy and the provision of services for the transmission of those forms of electricity as well as certain ancillary functions. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the upper House is the shadow Minister for Energy, and he will undertake more careful scrutiny of this bill as its proceeds through that Chamber.
The bill will enable more efficient use of existing infrastructure, rather than rely on the necessity to build new infrastructure to support telecommunications. That is the basis on which the Coalition can support the bill. There is a demonstrated need for an upgrade of TransGrid's communications functions, a need brought about by a decision of the Australian Communications Authority. TransGrid currently operates a microwave network to support its internal communications, which are used to transmit data vital to the operation of the national electricity market, in concurrence with the original Act . The network also allows the company to monitor and report faults across its network. I believe Pacific Power currently is using earth wires replaced by fibre optic upgrades to discharge those roles on parts of the network that it currently operates in New South Wales.
The decision by the Australian Communications Authority means that TransGrid will have to abandon its existing network and move to new technologies from the beginning of December this year. I point out that once again the Government has done its usual trick and left this bill to the last moment, considering the fact that we are now only days away from December, when TransGrid will be required to change over to new technology use. The new technology being installed by TransGrid is known as optical fibre ground wires, which are being used by Pacific Power. The optical fibre ground wires are an advancement on the existing ground wires which, as many of us know, have been on top of the 330,000 volt transmission towers for the past 30 or 40 years.
As a boy I recall the exciting work being carried out particularly by Italian crews erecting the 330,000 galvanised steel towers carrying wires from the Tumut power station to the Australian Capital Territory and beyond. It is the top wires on those towers that are being replaced with a very similar wire that has a minimal visual impact but incorporates within it an optic fibre that has the ground capabilities of the existing wires. Really, though, we are talking about a new telecommunications infrastructure that is being enabled by this bill. In the first place, whilst it enables TransGrid, as the body controlling the transmission of electricity throughout the State, to carry out vital roles in the fault finding and monitoring functions of its transmission of power throughout the State, it opens itself to commercial use. This is where the Opposition has some concerns.
TransGrid has in place access agreements with land-holders over whose properties the high-voltage network travels. Those agreements include easements to allow for the installation, maintenance and upgrading of the transmission work. I believe to this point in time those access agreements have been operating quite well within the bases set down within the easement agreements. However, the Opposition is concerned that, with new people coming on board, and with new uses of the telecommunications infrastructure that this bill will allow, admission will be sought to land by utilising those easements, thereby creating a further impact on land-holders. Land-holders have a number of concerns, including vehicles bringing weeds onto properties, security of fences, maintenance of tracks, closing of gates and provisions to make sure that stock are secure on their properties.
Whilst the easement allows security in those respects and facilitates TransGrid's transmission of power, it does not take two things into account: the extra value accruing to TransGrid, or in fact the Government, from the licensing and use of these optic fibre facilities for further commercialised use, and the further maintenance and inspection work that may need to be carried out on those lines on private property because of these new initiatives. I know full well that at this point in time the people involved use helicopters to a great degree, and they use infrared sensing equipment and so on to test those lines, but a number of visits onto private property are necessary for inspection and maintenance of the towers, the vital electricity transmission network, and the telecommunications transmission network in the future.
The Opposition is concerned that the Minister has signalled that TransGrid may be able to explore further commercialisation of the optical fibre ground wire network. Commercialisation of the network could lead to increased dividends to the Government. That is all very well, as long as that is not at the expense of land-holders and others who deserve credit. Commercialisation also delivers better telecommunications to the people of the State. But, really, the Opposition feels that an issue remains relating to compensation of land-holders for the additional commercial use, and that issue needs urgent consideration. The Opposition has concerns about legislative changes that could allow telecommunications providers to access State-owned infrastructure for the purpose of furthering their own networks. If a telecommunications company or an Internet service provider wants to use the additional optical fibre capacity, will land-holders be compensated?
The additional maintenance, inspection and so on that will be required for the additional servicing of these facilities on their land, because that can jeopardise and compromise the easement agreements that have been made. Also, could the use of the additional capacity by a private company then limit TransGrid's future use of the optical fibre, meaning that another upgrade would perhaps be necessary in the future? Original negotiations for access and easements never included any forecast use of the network for commercial telecommunications functions. There is a cost associated with negotiations of this nature, and it has been a cost borne by government. This needs to be taken into account. The Coalition will be seeking assurances from the Government on those matters.
The bill also makes it clear that TransGrid will not be allowed to develop facilities for the sole purpose of telecommunications. That means TransGrid will not be able to compulsorily acquire further land to carry out telecommunications functions. I understand that the use of easement agreements will be extended to cover all works on the telecommunications network, and I am pleased that the bill includes provisions allowing for appropriate compensation should any damage to land or loss to land-holders be caused by the carrying out of those works. But, as I mentioned earlier, the burden is borne by the land-holder because the original easement agreements are in place. Whilst land-holders might be able to seek damages, the cost of the original easement agreements is being borne by the land-holders I have spoken about.
The bill also recognises that any further compulsory acquisitions of easements by TransGrid for its electricity network extends the use of those easements for telecommunications purposes. Compulsory acquisition will remain tied to the Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) Act. That is a very important provision. The Opposition recognises the importance of this bill in providing for TransGrid to make use of new technologies in upgrading its internal communications, and the Opposition supports those measures. As I said earlier, we see great savings for those companies involved in the transmission of power in the inspection and fault-finding functions of their services, as Pacific Power does in the State.
Section 6C, which deals with the functions of energy transmission operators, to some extent details the powers of an electricity transmitter to install telecommunications cable or equipment by attaching it to or incorporating it in any of its facilities for the transmission of electricity. My reading of that is that the operators could in fact put dishes onto existing towers and extend beyond optic fibre cable the use of telecommunications either within their electricity transmission charters or otherwise. It also empowers them to remove any telecommunications cables or equipment so installed, to operate and carry out work relating to telecommunications cables so installed, and to operate those facilities for the transmission of electricity for the purposes of telecommunications. The Opposition believes that the extra use of infrastructure for those purposes will place an impost on land-holders which may not have been covered by the bill. As I said earlier, the bill will be scrutinised more thoroughly by the Opposition in the upper House, at which stage we will seek assurances from the Government to address our concerns. However, at this stage the Opposition supports the bill.
(Lake Macquarie) [9.30 p.m.]: As chairman of the Government's energy caucus committee it gives me great pleasure to speak tonight in support of the Electricity Legislation Amendment (TransGrid) Bill—an important bill that will ensure TransGrid's future. I quote from the explanatory note to the bill. The overview of the bill states:
Part 2A of the Energy Services Corporation Act 1995 sets out the functions of TransGrid (and any other future energy transmission operators). The principal functions of TransGrid as set out in section 6C of the Act relates to the establishment, maintenance and operation of facilities for the transmission of electricity and other forms of energy and the provision of services for the transmission of those forms of energy (the principal functions). Section 6C also sets out certain ancillary functions, including the utilisation and development of TransGrid's facilities for provision of electricity in connection with the provision of telecommunications services (the telecommunications function). TransGrid is accordingly installing telecommunication facilities as part of its electricity network. The transmission facilities are used for, among other purposes, ensuring a safe and reliable supply of electricity (for example, for fault reporting) and transmitting electricity market information essential to the operation of the National Electricity Market.
The object of this Bill is to put beyond doubt both the past and future arrangements supporting TransGrid's exercise of the telecommunications function by amending the Energy Services Corporation Act 1995:
(a) to ensure that any power or right conferred on TransGrid by certain statutory or other easements and vested in it for its principal functions extends to its telecommunication function, and
(b) to make it clear that the powers conferred on TransGrid under Divisions 2 and 3 of Part 5 of the Electricity Supply Act 1995 (for example, the powers to erect electricity works and to enter land) relating to the exercise of its principal function may also be exercised for the purposes of the telecommunications function, and
(c) to specify some of the actions that TransGrid may take in exercising the telecommunications function, and
(d) to validate past actions of TransGrid that could validly have been taken if the proposed amendments had been in force when they were taken.
The Bill will also amend section 44 of the Electricity Supply Act 1995 to ensure that TransGrid cannot acquire land compulsorily for the purposes of exercising its telecommunications function and makes amendments to both that Act and the Energy Services Corporation Act 1995 to provide for the making of savings and transitional regulations.
I have read that overview of the bill onto the record of the Parliament as it is important for everyone viewing Hansard
in the future to be aware that this bill contains an explanatory note which provides the details of what is contained in it. The Electricity Legislation Amendment (TransGrid) Bill supports the Government's objective from the time of TransGrid's corporatisation to capitalising on the synergies between its high voltage network and telecommunications infrastructure. The bill does not change TransGrid's principal functions. The Minister stated that, under the TransGrid network, landowners will not face any material changes as a result of the amendments. The inclusion of optical fibre cables inside standard earth wires will not result in any external changes to the wires.
The bill makes it clear that TransGrid's easements for its transmission network also cover telecommunications infrastructure. The new optical fibre capacity provides the basis for a more effective internal communications network for TransGrid. There is also some excess capacity in the fibre optical cable compared to TransGrid's current communication needs. However, the bill is not about giving TransGrid a whole new telecommunications function separate to its core business. TransGrid will not be able to compulsorily acquire land to erect telecommunications infrastructure separate to its electricity network. So, basically, it will maintain its core function of electricity transmission—an important issue that everyone should recognise.
Owners of land through which TransGrid's easements run have already been compensated, generally based on the market value of the land at the time of acquisition. The telecommunications infrastructure which TransGrid is planning to install has no additional material impact on landowners. When TransGrid acquires an easement in the future, and that easement is acquired by agreement with a landowner, the agreement may include the additional use of the easement for telecommunications. Compensation is a matter for negotiation between TransGrid and the landowner. Future easements can only be compulsorily acquired for the purpose of electricity works, but when they are compulsorily acquired they will also allow the installation of telecommunications work.
An important part of the bill is that compensation will be in accordance with the Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) Act. That Act provides a well-established and fair regime for compensation. I said earlier that an important aspect of the bill, which should be on the record, is that fair compensation will be given to landowners. There are separate provisions to protect landowners in respect of potential damage to their properties. Where TransGrid relies on its statutory powers to enter land to maintain, install or remove telecommunications facilities, it will be required to compensate landowners for any damage arising from it accessing the land. I have been assured that landowners, therefore, are no worse off as a result of the bill and that the bill is not a departure from the New South Wales Government's previously stated policy on TransGrid and telecommunications. I commend the bill to the House.
(Southern Highlands) [9.37 p.m.]: I state at the outset that we are seeing again and again from this Government a tactic that we have come to expect. The Government attempts to clean up a mess after something has been implemented. The Government acknowledged the problems in this bill and stated that it is setting out, through this bill, to validate the past actions of TransGrid—actions that might have been valid if the proposed amendments in this legislation had been in force when those actions were taken. I have seen the results of those actions in my electorate. A number of affected landowners who have properties with easement agreements have undergone a great deal of stress and anxiety because of the actions of TransGrid.
Some months after the event we are being asked to pass legislation to validate work that has already been done. Are there any legal implications as a result of that work being done, or is this an admission that the work that has already been done on some of those properties is not legal? In the Moss Vale and Werai area a number of residents who are represented by one person—they are concerned about what is happening and about what TransGrid is doing—came to see me. Whilst they were perfectly at ease with the idea that TransGrid should update its infrastructure and put in place whatever safety mechanisms are required to ensure that the infrastructure is safe, that it works properly and that it delivers a good product to the taxpayers of New South Wales, they were of the view that the Government was riding roughshod over them. Little information is coming from TransGrid.
I was so concerned at the time that I placed some questions on the notice paper. On 15 November I received an answer. I asked whether or not ground wires, known as optical ground wires, had been installed in the overhead network; how many properties with easements would be affected; whether it represented an extension of the usage of TransGrid's network beyond electricity transmission; whether new contracts had been agreed to with landowners to recognise this extension of usage; and whether additional access fees and compensation would be paid to those landowners through whose land those easements ran.
The answer I received to my second question referred to the optical ground wire that is currently being installed. This is clear evidence that this has been going on for some months before we even saw the first hint of legislation from the Government to post-validate its actions. Any responsible government should be making sure that legislation is in place in advance of any of this sort of work. This is major work, major investment in infrastructure, and any responsible government would have made sure it put appropriate plans in place before it did anything. I understand the network will be 1,500 kilometres in length and will be expected to cover some 4,000 to 5,000 properties.
One suspects the reason legislation is coming after the event is that the Government could not be bothered to talk to 4,000 to 5,000 property owners or there was something the Government did not want to let them know about. I would be interested to hear from the Minister why he feels he has to post-validate something that happened in my electorate two or more months ago. Damage was done to some of those properties while that infrastructure was being put in place. Disruption was caused to some of those farms and a mess was made in some of the paddocks because it was done in the winter months. This is another concern of farmers who are doing their best to be good conservationists on their land and making sure they minimise damage, and they find that people come onto their land to access infrastructure such as this and do not take the care that the farmers would be taking on their own properties.
The real question is what is the status of contracts with land-holders for easements that were made on the assumption that that infrastructure would carry a particular sort of technology? We all know that technology changes and there is a responsibility on infrastructure providers such as TransGrid to ensure its infrastructure is safe and is the best possible. The Opposition has no argument with that. But we see here new technology in the form of a fibre-optic cable that runs inside the ground wire. Theoretically it has the capacity to add additional commercial opportunities to TransGrid's business. I have no difficulty with that. If TransGrid wishes to move into other businesses and that move provides greatest advantage for taxpayers and is a better deal for the people of New South Wales, that is fine. But if this happens in the future and TransGrid moves beyond the delivery of its core service into other businesses, will there be any recognition of this in the contracts and arrangements with those property owners who have the easements?
I would like the Minister to clarify this, because if a commercial gain is to be made, with advantage to the taxpayers, the private land-holders who bear the burden of those easements should have some capacity to participate in negotiations and discussions on this. Going back to the question I put on notice, the answer I got is that TransGrid is examining specific arrangements that may be required in the future. I would like to know what are the specific arrangements that may be required in future. Many land-holders through whose property the easements travel would be interested to know the answer to that. The honourable member for Monaro led for the Opposition on this bill. I have outlined some concerns I have, and I am particularly worried that we are trying to pass legislation that will post-validate something that happened some months ago. For the people in my area the time has already gone and they did not have the opportunity at the time to speak up. They were not consulted and were given no explanation that would reassure them about the special issues they raised with me.
(Hornsby) [9.43 p.m.]: I join with the honourable member for Southern Highlands as a member whose constituents have high-voltage—
Haven't you got your own speech?
This is the bill. We went through this last time. The Minister is slowing things up. He asked me whether I have my own speech. Well, for the benefit of the Minister, I have the bill. It is his bill, and I will refer to it in debate.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Lynch):
Order! Members on both sides of the House will direct their comments through the Chair.
Like the honourable member for Southern Highlands, I have constituents in my electorate whose properties are affected by high-voltage power lines. I want to raise the concerns that have been raised with me by them about some of these matters and point forward to what I think is a danger in the future. Like the honourable member for Southern Highlands, I can foresee a time when TransGrid's core business activity may include a wider part of the telecommunications industry. Like the honourable member for Southern Highlands, I see no problem with that. In fact, one should say it is important that TransGrid does diversify its business. From the point of view of providing infrastructure in New South Wales, over the years we have built a very efficient network that distributes electricity from one end of the State to the other.
Order! I call the honourable member for Auburn to order.
That efficient network should be able to be used to provide telecommunication facilities across the State. One of the things about which I am critical of the Government is that it has not been able to build quickly enough a high-capacity, high-speed telecommunications network around New South Wales. It is something that would greatly benefit students in rural schools and local health organisations in outback areas in providing up-to-the-minute health services. This grid is one way we can deliver that, so I do not quibble with it. I encourage TransGrid to become involved in those businesses.
This bill is not about that per se. It pretends to be about telecommunications for TransGrid's own purposes—things like providing information about the network, to being part of the national grid, to telling engineers where lightning strikes or cable breaks have occurred. I do not think any member of the House really believes TransGrid will go to the expense of fitting optical fibre and other communications devices down the length and breadth of the TransGrid network and simply use it so one engineer in Sydney can talk to another engineer in Bourke or to gain information on what is happening to a substation at Brewarrina. I do not for one minute think that is the sum of why they are doing this. If there is more to it, why does the Government not bring the plan to the House so we can debate that? Why does the Government not take that plan to the community, so we can talk about it? There should be nothing to hide. That is one of the reasons I am suspicious of the Government's motives in introducing this bill.
The honourable member for Monaro has indicated that the Opposition will be having more to say about the bill when the shadow Minister for Energy speaks in another place. We will not be opposing the bill, but we are raising our concerns in advance of what we suspect will happen in five or 10 years time or even sooner than that. The honourable member for Southern Highlands raised an important point, and it is one that my constituents have raised with me in relation to the electricity network on a number of occasions. It will not be recorded in Hansard
that when the honourable member for Southern Highlands asked whether, if TransGrid enters the telecommunications industry and therefore increases the value of its asset—the asset being the grid and the easements over people's properties—property owners would be sharing in any part of that business, the Minister shook his head. The Minister again shakes his head and, for the benefit of Hansard,
he said "No".
I will explain why in my reply.
I will look forward to the explanation. When the honourable member for Southern Highlands was speaking, the Minister said that a commercial value is not placed on the easements. That is all very well to say, but it means that when an additional benefit is taken by TransGrid, which is set up as an organ of the State, all these people who have properties that are blighted on behalf of the general community will not share in the benefits. The value of their properties will not increase at all and no compensation will be payable to those people when a ridiculous limit is applied—such as happened in my area, for example—around the feet of a stanchion were one cannot grow flowers, build sheds or put up swimming pools. Over the years, there have been many issues and people have had to fight against the authorities to be able to use what are, effectively, their own backyards. In those circumstances the Minister would say if TransGrid increases the value of its business, those people are not entitled to any additional compensation for what will very likely be a disbenefit to the use of their land. That is the kind of arrogance we expect from this Minister.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Lynch):
Order! I call the honourable member for Wollongong to order.
I do not raise these concerns only in relation to fibre optic cable. Constituents in my electorate are already concerned about the electromagnetic radiation that is given off by high-voltage powerlines. The Minister scoffs. I do not know whether he is scoffing at the honourable member for Wollongong or at what I have just said. but people are concerned about electromagnetic radiation. I ask whether the Minister would choose to have his young children grow up within spitting distance of a tower? People with children who live underneath these high-voltage installations are concerned about conflicting reports on electromagnetic radiation.
Switch off your electricity and you won't need them at all.
That is a unhelpful comment from the honourable member for Wollongong, who normally says helpful things. He said we should turn off electricity. Clearly, he does not have many constituents who have raised these matters with him because he shows no compassion or concern whatsoever for the needs of those who have. I raise the electromagnetic radiation issue because one of the options for increasing the usefulness of these telecommunications facilities is, of course, to put microwave or mobile telephone aerials on them.
If the Minister wants to rule it out of his second reading speech, he can rule it out for all time. If the installations increase electromagnetic radiation, a commonsense approach ought to be taken to the health concerns and needs of the people who live in close proximity to the installations. The way I read what the Government is saying to us now is that once this bill is passed it will use these as a lever to basically do whatever the Government likes and hang the consequences and concerns of anybody who lives in or near these facilities. If that is the case on this occasion the Opposition sounds a clear warning to the Government that it will do so at its peril, but, more important, at the peril of those who live near those installations. The Government cannot afford to be so arrogant that it does not take those matters into consideration. It disturbs me that when these matters were raised in debate the Minister indicated that if at some future stage Transgrid expanded in the way I have outlined, no additional compensation or payment for easements would be available to those whose properties are affected.
That is a worrying sign from a Government that has introduced a bill and pretended that it involves a simple and easy matter of TransGrid doing something for the benefit of its own network. The Opposition does not believe for a moment that that is all there is to it. To repeat what I said earlier, we think TransGrid ought to be in the telecommunications industry. I do not want TransGrid to increase the electromagnetic radiation around these stanchions. But the use of fibre optic cable in their networks to provide highband width around the State is an advantage. All land owners should share in its benefits, as indeed should the whole community. Finally, I encourage the Minister to think about that as a possibility for the future. If Transgrid is to expand its business and diversify with its resultant additional profits, perhaps the profits should be shared with the community. The Minister should not shake his head; he has not heard what I have to say.
I have. I have been listening.
I am putting a sensible solution, particularly in residential metropolitan Sydney where people live very close to high-voltage powerlines.
It is down in the ground. That is why you are speaking right now because of high-tension power coming into this building.
Order! If the honourable member for Wollongong wants to participate in the debate he should seek the call.
Surely it is incumbent upon us to do exactly what the honourable member for Wollongong has suggested, that is, put high-voltage facilities underground. On behalf of constituents in my electorate in medium-density or high-density residential areas who are affected by high-voltage powerlines I ask the Government embark on a program of reinvestment during the next decade or so to make sure that in residential areas those facilities are placed underground.
With a levy?
In answer to the honourable member for East Hills, we have just discovered through the Minister that he will provide additional revenue for TransGrid by diversifying into the telecommunications industry. If that is the case, there is additional revenue available to community benefit in underground powerlines. We did it for the Olympic Games. The Carr Government spent millions of dollars so that the National Broadcasting Corporation [NBC] could get a wonderful shot across Homebush Bay to the city. If the Government did it for NBC it ought to be prepared, if TransGrid is to make additional money from these proposed measures, to spend the money on community benefit and underground powerlines, at least in metropolitan areas.
(Granville—Minister for Information Technology, Minister for Energy, Minister for Forestry, and Minister for Western Sydney) [9.55 p.m.], in reply: I thank honourable members from both sides of the House who have participated in this debate. As I indicated in my second reading speech, fundamentally this amending bill seeks to stay up to date with new approaches and processes in communications. TransGrid has historically undertaken its own communications through microwave technology. That technology is becoming highly competitive as the spectrum is accessed and, therefore, TransGrid no longer has the ability that it historically had to use that technology.
Therefore, TransGrid is shifting to a new unobtrusive medium. It is important to note that TransGrid has always had its own communications; it simply wants to use the fibre optic cable medium for communication. As with all advances of technology, fibre optic cable is an extraordinarily efficient conveyor of large amounts of data or communication activity. Therefore, when TransGrid upgrades for its own purposes it has additional capacity in the system which may be used at some time in the future on a commercial basis. It is important to note that the roll-out of that fibre optic ground wire technology is primarily for Transgrid's own use.
Members of the Opposition have claimed that future commercial use of part of that infrastructure may bring additional revenue to TransGrid. While some members of the Opposition have said that it is irrelevant to easements, other members such as the honourable member for Southern Highlands and the honourable member for Hornsby have indicated that they believe it will have an impact. I make it clear that the purpose of the infrastructure has no bearing on easements. I would have thought that members of the Opposition would have been aware of that because it is outlined in the Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) Act.
That Act was introduced by a Coalition Government and, if I remember correctly, it was the Hon. Wal Murray who introduced the bill into this place. That Act ensures that property owners are compensated for infrastructure that is placed on their property and for ongoing access to that infrastructure for maintenance and the like. The Act bears no relationship to the revenue streams or the potential for that infrastructure to create revenue in the future for the Government, the community or, indeed, anybody else. Once one understands that fundamental point, it is important to understand that the diameter of fibre optic ground wire is no greater than the ground wire that has been used in the past. The beauty of fibre optic cable is that it is very small in diameter and can simply be placed into the core of the earth wire. Looking at it, one simply would not see any difference from a historic ground wire that is used on high-voltage towers or on high-voltage infrastructure. So in that way there is no additional inconvenience to land-holders and, therefore, no necessity to provide further compensation.
The honourable member for Monaro seems to have a greater understanding of these issues than some of his colleagues. He rightly raised the issue of the additional traversing of land by vehicles and the like for maintenance purposes. The infrastructure still belongs to TransGrid, regardless of what arrangements may be entered into in the future. Therefore, there will be no change in terms of access of personnel. Either TransGrid's personnel will enter a property to maintain the infrastructure or people authorised by TransGrid will enter the property to work on the infrastructure. That is exactly the way it is today, prior to the introduction of this amending bill. However, I make the additional point that fibre optic makes up the core of this ground wire. Therefore, by and large it is inaccessible except where it terminates. I understand that that is across bands of some five kilometres, and there are no additional maintenance requirements at the locations where the fibre optic ground wire terminates.
In that regard, there is no impact on land-holders in addition to, or above and beyond, what is already the case. The Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) Act makes it clear that the payment for easements relate to inconvenience to land users; they do not relate to the value that can be gleaned from any particular infrastructure. Another important point to make is that this legislation only authorises TransGrid to use or roll-out telecommunications infrastructure in conjunction with its core activity, that is, electricity transmission. In other words, this amending legislation does not allow TransGrid to roll-out telecommunications infrastructure in the absence of electricity infrastructure. TransGrid must provide electricity transmission first; then it can have telecommunications infrastructure as an adjunct to that.
The honourable member for Hornsby raised the issue of electromagnetic fields. Electricity is not transmitted through the earth wire; the earth wire is there for protection. There is no change to the level of transmission that is occurring across the infrastructure, or will occur in the future. Therefore, it has no relationship to electromagnetic fields above and beyond what is already in existence. In conclusion, this legislation clarifies that TransGrid can continue, as it always has in the past, to operate its own telecommunications requirements across its infrastructure. It is simply doing it through a new medium, that is, fibreoptic cables. Because of the advances in technology and the extraordinary capacity of fibreoptic cables to carry data, undoubtedly there will be excess capacity.
I shall now digress to address an issued raised by another Opposition member, that is, what will happen if TransGrid runs out of capacity. With 24 fibre optics one would have to go a long, long way before one runs out of capacity. The capacity for data transfer over 24 fibre optic cables is extraordinary. Indeed, taken to its ultimate potential, it would probably equate to about 2,000 times the current combined Telstra and Optus backbone network that exists in the country at present. That capacity make one fairly comfortable that there will not be any problems with lack of capacity. The bill will allow TransGrid to undertake its own telecommunications and, perhaps, enter into commercial telecommunications arrangements in the future with the spare capacity. As a number of members opposite indicated, if that were to eventuate it would be an advantage for this State because it would simply allow a greater capacity bandwidth, particularly in rural areas. On that basis I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
FISHERIES MANAGEMENT AND ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
(Clarence—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Regional Development, and Minister for Rural Affairs) [10.06 p.m.], in reply: I thank honourable members for their contributions to debate on this bill, which makes significant changes to the way our fisheries resources are being managed. The Government has introducing a comprehensive model for the environmental assessment of fisheries under part 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, a model which enshrines co-operation between two Ministers, the Minister for Fisheries and the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, and their agencies. The bill also provides commercial fishers with a new management framework that will give them long-term lease rights. The additional security will mean that they have something to invest in, to mortgage, to sell, to hand down to their children and on which to base sound business and resource decisions.
The bill addresses a wide range of fisheries issues. It gives commercial fishers more security and promotes a viable commercial fishing industry. It strengthens aquatic habitat protection measures and it provides an opportunity for recreational fishers to invest in the future of their sport. Underlying all these reforms is the principle of ecologically sustainable development. The bill will ensure that the management of our fisheries is focused on the sustainability of the resource on behalf of the community. I commend those Coalition members who have acknowledged that this bill is a positive step forward for our fisheries resources. In particular, Coalition members realise the potential for the general recreational fishing fee to improve recreational fishing opportunities, and that the Government's model of environmental assessment is a sensible approach. Once again I thank honourable members for their contributions to debate on the bill.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
: I seek the leave of the House to move the third reading of the bill forthwith.
Leave not granted.
Clauses 1 to 5 agreed to.
Schedules 1 to 8 agreed to.
Bill reported from Committee without amendment and passed through remaining stages.
NATIONAL PARK ESTATE (SOUTHERN REGION RESERVATIONS) BILL
Debate resumed from 17 November.
Mr D. L. PAGE
(Ballina) [10.14 p.m.]: I lead for the Opposition on the National Park Estate (Southern Region Reservations) Bill. It is important to put this legislation into context. Honourable members will be aware that in 1992 the Commonwealth and State governments signed the National Forest Policy Statement, which undertook, on the one hand, to create a comprehensive and adequate reserve system, which was to satisfy environmental outcomes, and, on the other hand, to create regional forest agreements of 20 years duration. Essentially, the Coalition's forest policy supports the National Forest Policy Statement concluded by the Federal and State governments in 1992. However, we differ from the NSW Government's forestry policy generally in that the Government has decided to exceed the terms of the National Forest Policy Statement either by way of declaring larger than required national parks or not following due processes—in other words, the State Government has gone ahead without the support and agreement of the Commonwealth.
Honourable members will be aware that prior to the 1999 election the Carr Government introduced legislation of a similar kind for the south-east, the Eden area, and the north-east. At that time the Coalition objected to the legislation on the basis that at that stage the Government had not signed off on an agreement with the Federal Government. However, in relation to this regional forest agreement I understand that, whilst no agreement has been signed off, there is in-principle agreement between the State and Federal governments. This, therefore, will represent the first regional forest agreement to be put in place by the Carr Government, which, at the time at which the legislation is being brought in, at least has some sort of in-principle support from the Federal Government.
The object of the bill is to make provision with respect to additions to the national park estate in the southern region of the State. The legislation creates additions to the national park estate of 385,000 hectares in the southern region. That will have the effect of creating a continuous corridor of some 350 kilometres from Nowra to the Victorian border. In addition, but not mentioned in the bill—and this is a point that must be taken on board by the Parliamentary Secretary—are certain commitments given to industry in relation to the availability of timber. Those commitments are contained in the Minister's second reading speech.
I do not have any reason to believe that those commitments will not be honoured. However, I make the point that the legislation as it stands creates the new national parks but, in terms of industry outcomes, those commitments are restricted to the commitments referred to in the second reading speech. It has been suggested to me that it would be possible for the Government to allow this legislation to be passed but not honour the other side of the agreement. It is unlikely that the Government would do that, but I would be much more assured if the Parliamentary Secretary, or the Minister, were able in reply to reinforce the comments made in the Minister's second reading speech. It is very important for the timber industry that it have those commitments.
The second reading speech referred to delivering 42,000 cubic metres per annum of even-flow high-quality logs to the South Coast subregion. It referred also to the delivery of 48,000 cubic metres per annum of even-flow high-quality logs in the Tumut subregion. The Minister further stated that when the Commonwealth signs the agreement, New South Wales has agreed to spend $6.5 million to increase the annual harvest in the South Coast subregion to 46,000 cubic metres per annum and to share with the Commonwealth the cost of the increase from 46,000 cubic metres to a total of some 48,500 cubic metres. This legislation refers on the one hand to an additional commitment of 42,000 cubic metres to industry followed by increases of up to 48,500 cubic metres for the South Coast subregion and a firm commitment of 48,000 cubic metres per annum of even-flow high-quality logs in the Tumut subregion.
The first among a number of the Coalition's concerns is that the Coalition requires a reassurance that the commitment made by the Minister on that matter in his second reading speech will be honoured. The Coalition also believes that it would have been better if this legislation had been brought before the Parliament with an agreement actually signed by the Commonwealth Government. That would have been a much better context in which to have discussed this bill, because the reality is that under the current arrangements the Coalition has to take this Government on trust. We know as a matter of experience that that is not something that we can do with confidence. The opportunity exists for the New South Wales Government to provide for conservation outcomes and not to act on the industry component of the decision.
It is also very important to acknowledge that this legislation, unlike the legislation that was passed by this Parliament in the latter part of 1998, does not contain provisions dealing with 20-year forest agreements and provisions dealing with integrated forestry operational approvals. I understand that the reason is that the legislation previously passed, which developed 20-year forestry agreements and integrated forestry operation approvals, will apply equally to this legislation. As I understand it, there is a connection between this legislation and the 1998 legislation.
I ask the Minister in his reply to reaffirm the position that 20-year forest agreements and integrated forestry operation approvals will be put in place for the subregions. At the moment the Coalition has only the word of this Government that this will occur. I have had discussions with the Forest Products Association [FPA] which at this stage has had no contact with the Government in relation to the development of 20-year forestry agreements and integrated forest operational approvals. The Coalition needs to make sure that the Government will honour that part of its undertaking. I wish to cite briefly a letter that I received from the New South Wales Forest Products Association. The letter states:
The support of the FPA and 100% of the industry is absolutely conditional upon the Government's promises, which are reflected at page 3 of the second reading speech by the Minister ...
The letter goes on to outline the commitments. Another concern that has been expressed by the FPA is that there have been long-promised but not implemented five-year filter strip studies in each of the forest agreement regions. A letter dated 20 November from Mr Col Dorber, the Executive Director of the FPA, addressed to me as shadow Minister states:
We understand that the EPA in particular has been most obstructive about the honouring of this aspect of the Government's commitment. We have been entirely unsuccessful in having this matter finalised.
In that context, the executive director is referring to the Government's long-promised but not implemented five-year filter strip studies in each of the forest agreement regions. I again request that the Minister in his reply address the issue. I have held discussions with officers of the Department of Planning, who undertook to pursue the issue with the EPA. The FPA has also sought a guarantee from the Government that no plantations will be included in the new national parks.
The FPA is rightly suspicious of the Government on that issue because it was discovered after agreements were put in place in 1998 that two significant plantations were included in the reserve system. When one thinks about it, it is really quite inappropriate for plantations which were planted specifically for the purpose of harvesting to be included in the reserve system, when the understanding of the industry was that the plantation would be made available for timber production. I understand that there are ongoing problems associated with timber amounting to approximately 4,000 cubic metres, all of which is likely to be lost as a result of inclusion of plantations in the north-east region.
I also wish to address some other concerns which revolve around the generally inadequate consideration of land-holder interests in the determination and negotiation of regional forest agreements. I think it is fair to say on the one hand that the Resource and Conservation Assessment Council [RACAC] process has provided the timber industry with a reasonable vehicle for putting its position and has provided a good vehicle for the conservation movement to make its bid for conversions of State forest to national park. But on the other hand the people who have been left out in the cold in that process are those who own neighbouring land, people who have Crown leases in State forests and people who hold occupational permits in State forests, which for the most part are grazing lease, and who will lose those grazing leases as a result of State forests being converted to national parks.
The north-east forest agreement provides us with a real lesson because I understand that 120 occupational permit holders were directly affected by that agreement. The effect of the agreement was that they lost their grazing entitlements as occupational permit holders, and a total of approximately 260,000 hectares of grazing land was lost in the upper and lower north-east regional forest agreement [RFA] alone. I am advised that in relation to the southern region, which is an area that is subject to the legislation presently before the House, not as many occupational permit holders are involved but that at least 30 will be adversely affected by the loss of grazing permits.
The Government has shown precious little compassion for their circumstances. The only thing that this Government has been prepared to do is give them 18 months to get off their land. In many cases the permit holders require the grazing leases in order to be able to make their properties viable. In many cases they have a large lease over State forests and a relatively small amount of freehold land. If they lose the grazing leases to State forests by conversion of the land to national park, their whole enterprise becomes non-viable because there is nowhere else for them to graze cattle.
And feral animals take over.
Mr D. L. PAGE:
The honourable member for Burrinjuck rightly makes a point about feral animals which I will address shortly. At the moment I am addressing the loss of grazing capability, which is a huge issue on the North Coast and will be another big issue for the southern region as well. It is also interesting to make the point that the Government has stated that grazing is an inappropriate land use for State forests and national parks.
It is incompatible with their objectives.
Mr D. L. PAGE:
As the honourable member for Monaro states, grazing is incompatible with the Government's objectives. Yet I have received correspondence from the Minister for Forestry defending the presence of cattle in native vegetation plantations by saying that the cattle are actually very useful in keeping fuel low by grazing and eliminating the build-up of fuel, which in turn reduces the risk of fire. Grazing also provides assistance with the provision of fertiliser.
Mr D. L. PAGE:
If the honourable member does not know how, I suggest he should go back to primary school or, better still, come out to my farm and I will show him. If he talks to someone from the National Party they will educate him on some of these basic things. The point I am seeking to make is that the Minister has an inconsistent approach. He says it is all right to have cattle amongst trees that are planted in a straight line, as in plantations, but it is not good to have cattle amongst trees that are not planted in a straight line. We all know that once native forests are planted out seedlings occur, and if natural regeneration is allowed in the plantation, the regrowth will not be in straight lines. So this Government policy is quite inconsistent in its approach. The Government should review its approach to cattle grazing. I emphasise that here we are talking about only very light grazing, and then at only certain times of the year. We are not talking about putting cattle into forests and flogging the country.
The point must be made that many of the areas that have been grazed for 100 years at certain times of the year produce an outcome that makes the Government feel comfortable about taking those areas into the reserve system. It now regards those areas as having high conservation value and being good enough to go into the reserve system. If they are good enough to go into the reserve system, how much damage has cattle grazing done to those areas over those years? I urge the Government to rethink this issue. It has a mindset and narrow view that all grazing in national parks is automatically wrong. In fact, in certain circumstances, grazing could be quite acceptable or in fact quite desirable, as the Minister for Forestry indicated in relation to plantations. It is very desirable because that reduces the fuel load. This issue has to be thought through more thoroughly than it has been in the past.
The next issue is access to land, where resumption results in freehold land being locked in by new national parks. I have raised this problem with the Government in private briefings. It has indicated that access will not be closed if it is the only access left available. That might sound fine, and it might sound like reasonable insurance, but the reality is that the access left available to some people might require a 200-kilometres journey to exercise. Where a property is split by a national park, all that the property owner need do is take the cattle through say 200 metres of national park, but the Government would close that access because another road connects the two parts of the person's property. However, the owner might have to go via Cooma to get there. In other words, it could involve a 100-kilometre trip.
Quite clearly, that is nonsense. Much more flexibility has to be included in the system so that those who need access to maintain their operations on freehold land—and this is access to freehold land that is being denied by the actions of government—will have a better arrangement to give them practical access to enable them to carry out operations on their own land. I seek a commitment from the Government, through the Minister in his reply to this debate, that it will provide the access that these families need to keep their operations viable. Another issue relates to the increase in the number of new national parks. Prior to this bill we have had at least 166 new national parks in New South Wales—a very substantial increase. This legislation will add a lot more to that number. I am not sure exactly how many; it is difficult to work out exactly how many new national parks are in this lot. But it covers 385,000 hectares, which is quite a number of national parks. The point is that the more national parks we have—
The more weeds we will have.
Mr D. L. PAGE:
Possibly more weeds, but the greater the number of neighbours, too. The more the boundaries of the national parks system are extended, the greater the number of people who will be adversely affected by poor management within national parks. We have weeds, feral animals fire control and fencing issues to deal with. It seems to me that the extension of national parks accentuates all those issues. They are bad enough as they are, but are exacerbated by continuing to grow the park system and affecting more and more people. I want to refer to a case study of a family affected by this decision.
The case study is that of the Boate family of "Eastwood", near Jerangle. Brothers Robert and William Boate farm "Eastwood", which supports them and William's wife and sons. The property is 5,800 acres, of which 4,000 acres is being lost to national park as part of the southern regional forest agreement. The family have been on the property for more than 80 years and are the third generation to farm the land. They have never been given the option of converting the leased land to freehold. They graze 100 head of poll Hereford cattle, the majority of which are breeding stock. If they lose two-thirds of their property, their stocking will be reduced by half, rendering the remainder of the property unviable.
And they will be out of business.
Mr D. L. PAGE:
Exactly. Two households now rely on the property. Helen and William Boate have two sons at boarding school. This is an isolated family, so the children have to go to boarding school. If the Boates lose this lease—they are occupational permit holders—the children will have to be pulled out of school. The family are a key part of the local community, comprising two of the 12-person bush fire brigade. They also keep an engine on their property, to make sure that they can access fires in their vicinity very quickly. They are members of numerous local clubs and societies, as well as helping elderly neighbours.
The Boates have been managing the lease land responsibly, controlling feral animals, particularly wild pigs. They have caught 68 wild pigs in the past six months alone. Of course, wild pigs have great potential to damage the land. They will certainly damage land much more than will cattle. The Boates have also been controlling outbreaks of serrated tussock, which they fear will get out of control under National Parks management. The resumption of the land will lead to the Boates' remaining freehold being entirely surrounded by National Parks and State Forests land. Although the Boates have received assurances of continued access, they have been given nothing in writing, and no legal easement has been offered. And, as I have indicated, they have been given 18 months to get their cattle off this land. These are small-time battles that we are talking about. We are not talking about wealthy graziers. We are talking about people with 100 head of poll Hereford cattle. That is a very small operation. As I have said, they put the cattle on this land at certain key times, when there is not a lot of feed elsewhere. But, without access to that feed at the critical time, they cannot maintain their cattle operation.
There are many other examples that I could give. Earlier, I was tempted to read into Hansard
in its entirety the letter that the Boates sent me. In the end, I summarised it, but the letter is quite heartwrenching. These people are looking down the barrel of losing the whole of their livelihood because of this legislation. I implore the Government to think this matter through more thoroughly and be more compassionate about the impacts that these sorts of decisions are having on neighbouring land-holders. We saw what happened in respect of the north-eastern forest agreement and the pain that that has caused. We do not want a repetition of that in the southern region. I should point out that the creation of forest management zones will place onerous restrictions on the use of land. Having to fence large areas of land to prevent stock from grazing in forest management zones makes grazing non-viable.
I am saying that, in addition to the areas that have been set aside under the reserve system, the Government creates these forest management zones. The problem is that the zones are created in a chessboard-like arrangement, with little bits of land here and there. At the moment, people who have grazing leases all over this country must make sure that their cattle do not enter the forest management zone. The law prohibits them grazing forest management zones, because those areas are deemed to be of high conservation value. The only way they can maintain their leases and not graze in the zones is to fence off areas that are not forest management zones. We are talking here about tens of kilometres of fencing. I repeat: many of these people are small-time graziers who do not have the money to even contemplate incurring that sort of cost for fencing.
As I said earlier, though the Opposition has a number of concerns about this legislation it will not vote against the bill. However, I would like the Government to honour those commitments to which I referred earlier relating to the industry, for example, the amount of timber that will be available to industry—a critical issue. I also want the Government to address, in some meaningful way, the issues I raised relating to grazing leases. It must reconsider that whole issue and ensure that access to properties is properly maintained. The Government must look more intelligently and more creatively at the establishment of forest management zones and at what occurs in those zones so that a lot of fencing is not required.
The Government must ensure that, given that this is a new area, the National Parks and Wildlife Service manages it better than it has managed similar areas in the past. I have often said to people that the name on the gate of a farm does not matter as much as how well the property is managed. Unfortunately, in New South Wales new areas of State forest are converted to national parks without any change in management. The management of those areas is getting worse as the National Parks and Wildlife Service does not have the equipment or the resources to maintain them in the way in which they should be maintained. There is much to be learned by the National Parks and Wildlife Service in managing its new reserve system.
Mr W. D. SMITH
(South Coast) [10.41 p.m.]: The southern New South Wales Regional Forest Agreement comes after five years of meticulous research and consultation between all stakeholders, including timber workers, forestry and national parks staff, conservationists, environmentalists, concerned individuals and community groups. Before I discuss the value of this agreement to the South Coast I inform the House of the fleeting visit to Nowra by Federal forestry Minister, Wilson Tuckey, in October this year. It is fair to say that the Minister is renowned for his startling commentary. His visit to my region was no exception, with such gems as, "We do not have enough capacity in Australia to produce enough timber for pulp mills", and "We are reducing resource opportunities by locking up forests in national parks." One might consider that they are just idiosyncratic comments designed to shock. However, the next startler takes the cake. The Federal Minister said:
We're growing a great resource, we should chip it and send it to other countries.
I felt as though I had stepped back a few generations, maybe even a few hundred generations. Those sorts of comments are quite prehistoric. This legislation is about a fair balance between our environmental responsibilities and the long-term security of the timber industry. I wonder whether the Federal Minister was suggesting that cutting down trees for woodchips and pulp is more valuable to our future than attempting to preserve the natural resources and to ensure a balance between the environment and the economy.
The honourable member will have an opportunity later to contribute in debate on this legislation. The message that has been available for decades and at every turn is: If we do not take care of the national environment future generations will not benefit from its biodiversity. The entire southern forests agreement process has been an outstanding exercise in co-operation between Government, industry, business, the community and individual stakeholders. Admittedly there has been some resistance on both sides from hard-line environmentalists and timber proponents. However, I am pleased to say that, on the whole, this agreement was reached with relatively minimal drama. It was a privilege for me to be part of that process.
Once again the diversity of the South Coast region is a major factor in the success of the agreement, with the Government delivering for the benefit of our communities and the environment. It is a credit to all stakeholders that they have been patient and that they have taken the time to submit their views and concerns about the process. It is a credit to this Government that it has worked with considerable finesse to achieve the current form of the agreement. On the South Coast is a handful of small timber mills—some of them family concerns—that have been worried about their future in the industry. I welcome the Government's move to ensure the security of and certainty for our timber communities with 20-year wood supply agreements.
I thank the Deputy Premier for his consideration of the region's economy and environment. This Government has created a reserve system that is comprehensive, adequate and representative, and will protect and conserve the biodiversity of the State's forests through scientific and systematic rather than piecemeal reservation. At the same time we have the benefit of a viable and ecologically sustainable forest industry. I remind Opposition members that their alarmist approaches to the southern forest agreement have amounted to little and there have been no raids on unsuspecting individual land-holders.
The key to the success of this agreement process has been negotiation and open discussion. I am pleased that the Government is considering even more support for the timber industry with an undertaking to spend up to $6.5 million to increase the yearly harvest in the South Coast subregion to 46,000 cubic metres per annum, and to share the cost with the Federal Government of an increase from 46,000 to 48,500 cubic metres. The realisation that 350 kilometres, between the Victorian border and Macquarie Pass, will be a continuous stretch of national parks and reserves must surely be a phenomenal achievement for this State. The additions bring the total area of reserves in the southern region, including Kosciuszko National Park, to more than 1.3 million hectares.
I welcome the additional 60,000 hectares to be protected in informal reserves and, by prescription, in State forests, with key areas of conservation concern in escarpment forests, including the new Mongarlowe National Park and extensions to Deua National Park. Coastal forests are reserved through a major extension to Murramurrang National Park with the creation of Meroo National Park, which protects much of the catchments of five coastal lakes, and through the extension of Conjola National Park to link with Morton National Park. The protection of lake areas and old-growth forests can only benefit our communities and future generations, with expansions in the tourism industry through legitimate access, revitalisation of habitats for native species, and a healthy contribution to the atmosphere and environments.
At the same time, we will see ongoing support for timber workers and industry through the provision of the forestry industry structural adjustment package which offers support, training and incentives to forest industry businesses and workers. Many South Coast community members have been clear in their support for national parks. I am pleased that their fears about uncontrolled development have been allayed. Many people move to the South Coast for the pristine natural environment. It is reassuring to know that a trip to the bush is only a few minutes away. I noticed in recent years that native wildlife appears to be less fearful of the presence of humans.
In many South Coast villages it is not uncommon to see kangaroos lazing away in areas close to parks and wombats wandering beside roads and bush properties. Blue-tongue lizards and snakes are often seen taking a chance on a hot road and the variety of birds across the entire region is quite astonishing. Even in my village at Hyams Beach a pair of sea eagles are permanent residents in Jervis Bay National Park, and families of black cockatoos make their way across the Shoalhaven during spring and very often after summer rains. Gang-gang cockatoos drop by for short visits to gardens in Nowra on their way to the bush and flocks of coloured parrots can be seen in all the bush areas of the South Coast.
Those are just a few examples of our native wildlife on the South Coast—a haven for nature, a blessing for residents and visitors, and only minutes away from our doors. I thank the Government for giving us all an opportunity to appreciate the value of the natural environment. By dedicating these areas as national parks visitors from the city can escape to such wonderment. That is a significant aspect about this legislation. Ecologically sustainable development is the industry of the future. However, it can succeed only with a measured and lateral approach as well as an understanding that all living processes are, in fact, linked. I thank the Minister for referring to the concerns raised by my local council, Shoalhaven City Council, during the consultation process. In fact, council raised many issues. The outcomes have resulted in two shooting ranges, formerly on State forests, to be transferred under the provisions of the Forestry Act and the Crown Lands Act to become Crown land. As well, State forest land will become Crown land so that a go-cart track can be developed in the Ulladulla area.
I welcome the move to provide for the acquisition of up to six hectares in Conjola National Park and up to six hectares in the new Kangaroo Valley Nature Reserve to allow for construction of a long-awaited sewerage plant. Also, the formalisation by the National Parks and Wildlife Service of easements, access and maintenance rights and obligations in respect of sewer and water pipelines in local government areas is a significant move. I am very pleased that the Minister for the Environment proposes to issue easements under the National Parks and Wildlife Act for the southern the Shoalhaven water augmentation pipeline.
Another welcome point of interest is the intention of the National Parks and Wildlife Service to consult with private land-holders potentially affected by changes of tenure on public land adjoining their properties on issues including access. It is easy to understand the problems that may arise with land-holders beside national park zones, including the management of fire hazards and water access, to say nothing of property access. It would seem that all factors have been well addressed in this bill concerning the Southern Forest Agreement. It is right for me to support the bill, not only because I am a member of the Government, but because I understand how important it is to every member of every community across the State. In conclusion I would like to say that the bill gives long-term security for the timber industry as well as increasing our national reserves. It is the result of enormous consultation, with almost 7,500 submissions received and the collection of masses of scientific data to form the framework for decision-making. I commend the Minister for the Environment, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the Minister for Forestry for their excellent work, and commend the bill to the House.
(Monaro) [10.51 p.m.]: As the shadow Minister, the honourable member for Ballina, said earlier, the provision of the Regional Forest Agreement [RFA] and the ensuring of forest reserves and timber resources for the forest industry for the next 20 years are part of the National Park Estate (Southern Region Reservations) Bill, which I support. The Forestry and National Park Estate Act of 1998 facilitated the RFA process, and provisions in this bill improve that. It provides for secure timber reserves for the next 20 years, with 42,000 cubic metres progressing to 48,000 cubic metres in the south-east region. These resources are utilised by large and small timber mills throughout the region, from Harris-Daishowa, south of Eden, the new hardwood mill, Blue Ridge at Eden, north to the Gumm Brothers mill at Harolds Cross, and many others on the coast.
However, the bill has caused much confusion and even today I have received telephone calls from constituents concerned about the process and the lack of consultation with respect to the national park estate aspects of the bill. The Government has been very clever to combine the RFA process with the provisions of the national park estate. The making of national parks and reserves has divided the community once again and having these two provisions combined makes it very difficult for members to represent truly their constituencies. Some 325,000 hectares of the region's forest will become national parks or reserves, and an additional 60,000 hectares is to be informally reserved. Much of this had previously been provisionally identified as wilderness, with all the land management and exclusion problems that entailed.
Schedules 1 to 6 to the bill detail where some 314 parcels of land are to be transferred to the national park estate. The problem is the maps that are detailed on page after page of the bill are not available. People have received their resumption notices and have been informed that the permissive occupancies that have been in their families for generations—in some cases more than 100 years—are to be resumed by the Government in the form of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, yet maps are not available for them to peruse to see whether their land is encumbered or not. Schedule 1 to the bill sets out areas of State forest reserved as national park, including 32,146 hectares to be added to Deua National Park. Schedule 2 sets out the Crown lands reserved as national park, including 2,486 hectares in 28 parcels to be added to the Deua National Park.
The bill will permit 8,988 hectares of State forests and more than 16,000 hectares of Crown lands to be added to Kosciusko National Park. It will also permit 15,663 hectares of State Forest and 1,064 hectares of Crown lands to be added to Tallaganda National Park and an additional 5,277 hectares to Tallaganda Reserve. Significant additions will also be made to Bimberi, Brindabella and Morton national parks and to Tindery and Yaouk nature reserves, all within or next to the electorate of Monaro. Provisions exist in the bill for forest industry structural adjustment funding, but again these apply to hardwood only. Job losses that have occurred in the south-east—in Bombala, Nimmitabel and other places—will continue to occur along the coast and in Cooma and Braidwood because of the inadequate provisions in this bill.
Many holdings will be affected by the resumption of permissive occupancies or occupational permits, and honourable members who have already spoken have dealt with that. As well, there are problems with the inclusion of freehold land. Provisions in schedule 7 to the bill prohibit that. Roger Thwaites at Araluen has a number of hectares of freehold land that have been caught up within the provisions of the bill. It is important that the Government looks at that. There are several landlocked portions—both ways: freehold land within Government-owned National Parks and Wildlife Service land or permissive occupancies within freehold land. These portions will become a big problem to manage and to fence, and for the control of weeds and grazing, as the Act specifically prohibits grazing.
A case in point is the Harrisons at Araluen, who will lose 1,200 acres of land. They also have land that will become landlocked, and there are big problems with sheep grazing in that area, with management of that land and with fencing. The shadow Minister mentioned the problem with viable farms. In my electorate, the story of the Boate family of Jerangle is heartwrenching. The family has controlled the pigs that do immeasurable damage. The family has been very productive over the years with cattle grazing and has left the land in the pristine condition—land that the Government deems is suitable to be resumed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. In the future the land will be mismanaged because the service is unable to manage it, and we have all seen evidence of that. Caroline and Peter Ewart of Jerangle are neighbours of the Boate family and will be caught up in the same circumstances.
Another case is Bruce Laurie of Wallaces Gap at Ballalaba. He has 1,800 acres that will be resumed over the next 18 months. It will be a major loss to him from a grazing point of view. He has a meeting on 15 December with four government officials to try to sort out the mess that he will be in. There are a lot of problems with the definition of "use", native vegetation, threatened species and a lot of other things that impose conditions on farming enterprises. They all need to be sorted out. Many areas within the legislation have not been taken into account. One is the fencing of lands from which stock are to be precluded.
The shadow Minister spoke about the increasing influence of neighbours. With neighbours more boundary fencing has to be taken into account, and directed, managed and surveyed to keep stock out. There are also many inadequacies in the surveying of the land. People have been told their blocks have been resumed—freehold blocks in some cases. The Franklin family of Brindabella in the electorate of Burrinjuck has a great history of management of the land. The Franklins were told at a meeting in Braidwood that their land would not be resumed, yet that family has received notice that it is to be resumed, and I have written to the Minister to get some clarification.
John and Anne Rolfe from Nerriga have had an ongoing problem with their stock from dingoes and dogs. Resuming this land will severely jeopardise their grazing concern. The sustainability of small rural communities is at risk because the income produced by these properties has contributed greatly to the fabric of New South Wales and to those small towns. The loss of those grazing concerns through the sale of stock and turnover through stock and station agents and in the small towns will contribute to the decline of rural communities. When people are forced to move on, the remainder of the community will have to cope with the burden of dealing with of weeds, feral animals and bushfire threats. State Forests and those responsible for parks and reserves do not pay rates to local government and so that burden will be forced on to those who remain and already pay rates.
Problems will arise regarding compensation for improvements on the land to be resumed, such as fences, dams, stock yards and so on. I am sure the amounts being discussed will not adequately compensate farmers for the losses they will sustain over those improvements to their grazing concerns. Honourable members have spoken about access and clause (8) of schedule 7 details the provisions relating to access roads. Clauses (5) and (6) provide time limits in which that aspect is to be resolved. Property owners affected are John Ingham, who has property south of Braidwood; the Hardwick and Kalivoda couple from Bungarby; and the Greens from Nimmitabel, who have spoken of Aboriginal tracks on their property. If this bill resumes that land into government ownership, the history of those Aboriginal tracks that date back almost 200 years will be lost to society. The very values maintained for generations by the Green family will be lost because no longer will they have a connection with the land.
I have spoken about the farm viability of many constituents. Dorothy Griggs has 1,300 acres at Back Creek, Araluen, and Kevin Griggs has 1,000 acres at Yang Valley, Araluen, each have occupational permits but their properties and agricultural concerns will be placed in jeopardy. The ancestors of Rupert Culverwell on the Kings Highway, Burbong, established land in 1817 just east of Queanbeyan, well before many farm occupations across Australia were established. His family has held an occupational permit for one small portion of this property for all that time. He has managed that land using it sparingly for grazing. It has no weeds, is safe from bushfires and has almost 185 years of connection with one family. This land will be taken over by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and, as we all fear, it will be mismanaged and end up being full of weeds and under threat of bushfires. Because it will become public land, people will access it believing it is theirs to use.
Hu Gault, who has property south of Queanbeyan, came to see me. He is an older farmer whose family has had many generations of connection with the land. He has said he has given farming away. He had 4,000 acres under occupational permit but because the parks department will resume the land, he will walk away from farming and leave behind his family's history with that land. Resumption of that land presents ongoing access problems. I have already spoken of our concerns with the management, costs and maintenance of all of this land to be resumed. The best people to manage it are those who have held for some time tenure of the land through occupational permits and other title. Resumption of this land will result in lost potential for tourism, recreation, education, conservation, biodiversity, historical and heritage factors as happened in Happy Jack's Road, Eucumbene and in the many other cases in Kosciuszko National Park.
The values of that land that this Government thinks it is protecting by attaching this legislation to the Regional Forest Agreement will be lost. The resulting burden will be placed on local communities through the forced management of land and the threat of bushfires. No social and economic studies have been undertaken on the impact through loss of primary production, increased public land management costs, the costs and burdens placed on neighbours and others who cherish the land, not to mention tourism and educational losses. This Government is not even aware of the cost of that lost potential. I echo the words of the shadow Minister about the loss of grazing value. Minister Yeadon said that grazing is a valuable tool in the whole of forestry areas. The Federal Minister for Forestry and Conservation, Wilson Tuckey, has also said that there is certainly a value in selective logging in parks and reserves. This is the correct management of that land and through it we have seen evidence of forests regenerating. It is not clogged up because there is water penetration and flow-on. Roger Hosking of Braidwood has much knowledge about this type of management and has informed me of some concerns with water or hydrology and bushfire threats and weeds such as serrated tussock.
We need to consider other things such as enshrining in legislation legal and physical access. We need to examine the possibility of allowing greater use of the land with more cost-effective voluntary conservation agreements to achieve the objectives rather than just have a land grab. Negotiations must be undertaken with disadvantaged leaseholders with the objective of identifying alternative land suitable for grazing. We need to formally acknowledge the historical connection and contributions leaseholders have made in maintaining the land in pristine conditions over many generations, sometimes almost 200 years. We need to enable the proclamation of heritage areas. We must allow for greater local community involvement in the management of park and reserve areas. Many issues concern me and my constituents. I have much trouble in supporting the land-grab aspects of this bill.
(Wentworthville) [11.06 p.m.]: I support the National Park Estate (Southern Region Reservations) Bill. I had a sense of deja vu as I listened to some previous speakers from the other side of the Chamber, but their comments did not have quite the intensity we might have heard in previous years when we discussed Regional Forest Agreement legislative mechanisms for the northern parts of the State or for Eden. I thought I would take the opportunity to get them going! This is significant legislation. As the Deputy Premier said in his second reading speech, since 1995 the Government has created 1.4 hectares of new parks and reserves under this type of legislation.
He got that wrong too, according to the proof version. It is 1.4 million hectares.
That is right, he did too. I am very pleased to see the honourable member can have an alternative career in Hansard once he has left the Coalition. When we used to debate legislation affecting reservations in the northern part of the State it was always the southern region that had the outstanding reservations. Before the 1999 election there was much stress and tension particularly in the conservation movement, perhaps also in the timber industry, because they would have liked this type of conclusion to their negotiations over the southern region. Of course, the physical timetable did not allow that to be achieved. One reason for that was, as mentioned in the Deputy Premier's address, the amount of exhaustive and probably exhausting consultation co-ordinated by the Resource and Conservation Assessment Council [RACAC].
It had responsibility to run the forest assessment process. I remind the House, as the Deputy Premier said, since 1995 the Resource and Conservation Assessment Council has done an absolutely excellent job in determining a number of these controversial issues not only in negotiations with relevant stakeholders because they are all represented on the council but also for the future of the reserve system across the State. The Deputy Premier particularly complimented the executive officer of RACAC, Rex Bowen, who is about to retire. I believe Rex actually retires this week from his position on RACAC. I congratulate Rex Bowen on a job well done since 1995 in ensuring that RACAC did its job, that it was able to negotiate through the various minefields that often came before it on these particular issues. Congratulations Rex, I wish you well in your retirement.
Opposition members have raised a number issues in their contributions. It is interesting that the honourable member for Ballina signalled that the Opposition will not oppose the legislation but the Opposition has taken the opportunity to trot out its regular objections in this type of debate. We have heard all about weeds, how many there are and how the National Parks and Wildlife Service is hopeless at controlling them. We have heard all about the problems of this type of new legislation that creates new parks and reserves, with the result that there are many more neighbours for the National Parks and Wildlife Service to take care of. According to the Coalition, the National Parks and Wildlife Service does an inadequate job and therefore it will not be able to cope with the hundreds of thousands of reserves and parks that are coming under its regime.
The honourable member for Ballina also raised some doubts about the number of national parks that are being created by this legislation. In one lucid moment the honourable member for Ballina said there must be something intrinsically wrong with legislation if it creates national parks. The Opposition has also said that this legislation will create great inconvenience and possible hardship for people with current grazing permits in these areas. Both the honourable member for Eden Monaro and the honourable member for Ballina took the opportunity to quote—
It is just Monaro: It is not Eden Monaro; that is the Federal seat. That shows how much you know. Monaro is the State electorate.
You are getting very excited. I know it is late in the evening but you should be aware you are getting too excited. Maybe you should take a little tranquilliser and have a little lie down. You had the opportunity to speak but obviously you cannot listen to others speak. Both the honourable member for Monaro and the honourable member for Ballina spoke at length about the fact that people who currently have grazing permits in these areas will be grossly inconvenienced and will probably have their livelihoods destroyed. I will go through those points.
It is interesting that all those types of issues have been raised in previous debates about these important matters when discussing Fegional Forest Agreements for the south and in the north. In relation to the north, the Coalition raised the same issues. Yet, they are not prepared to oppose this legislation. That reflects the concern that the Government has about the Coalition's policies. The Coalition has major objections about the way the National Parks and Wildlife Service actually operates, and it has major concerns about government expenditure in a number of these areas, but it is not prepared to show courage and oppose the legislation.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Lynch):
Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order.
Rather, it wants to pussyfoot about and rubbish the National Parks and Wildlife Service, rubbish the Government for creating new national parks and reserves, rubbish the Government for underfunding in areas such as weed control and grazing controls, but it is not prepared to oppose the bill. I am not sure why. Why do they not have the courage of their convictions? Why are they not out there opposing the legislation? They are just taking the opportunity to rubbish the managers of the land. They do not like the outcomes but they are not prepared to oppose them.
In the past when people such as the honourable member for Coffs Harbour led the Opposition charge they would actually oppose the legislation. They had the courage of their convictions and they opposed the legislation. By the way, I am really interested to know how the comments of the Coalition tonight will match the environmental policies released recently by the honourable member for Southern Highlands.The Opposition rubbishes the National Parks and Wildlife Service and rubbishes the creation of new national parks and reserves but does not give those agencies any credit for the considerable work they do. I cannot believe their comments about people with grazing permits being disadvantaged. Most of the work of the National Parks and Wildlife Service in the northern parts of this State has related to regional forest agreements in the northern areas in negotiating gradual exits for people with grazing permits.
Mr D. L. Page:
That is absolute rubbish!
That is not absolute rubbish. What have the people in the National Parks and Wildlife Service been doing?
Mr D. L. Page:
That is not true. You kicked them off.
Rubbish. How many times—
Order! I call members of the Opposition to order.
How many times has the Opposition negotiated outcomes with delegations from the National Parks and Wildlife Service? You are badmouthing an agency that has worked very hard to negotiate sensible outcomes. You are frightening these people.
Order! I call the honourable member for Monaro to order.
The new honourable member for Monaro has such a strong opinion on everything but very little knowledge.
You go and see these people and you will realise their knowledge.
You are very courageous when you are on that side of the Chamber.
Order! The honourable member for Monaro will resume his seat. If he again behaves in that way I will ask the Serjeant-at-Arms to remove him from the House.
I will be advising the National Parks and Wildlife Service that despite the very nasty comments that have been made in the Chamber tonight by some members opposite the service should still enter into bona fide negotiations with people with grazing permits. It should not be discouraged by the lies that are being peddled by members of the Coalition on this issue. It should continue to negotiate successful exits for these people even though that might mean that the process is a little delayed. That is what happened in the northern regional forest assessment.
Close down the farms. Make them unviable.
I wish you would do your homework.
I have done my homework, don't worry about that.
I wish you were aware of that before you came into the Chamber, rather than just rubbishing the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which does an excellent job. One of my other major concerns with the comments of the honourable member for Ballina is that he badmouthed the National Parks and Wildlife Service. He made an explicit comment that it would not be able to cope with the new reserves and parks being created. I would like to hear his comments on the effectiveness of the management regimes that are already in place in the northern areas of the State as a result of the northern regional forest assessment.
Mr D. L. Page:
Where is the money for this legislation? You have not announced any extra money.
You should do your homework as well. It is disgraceful that year after year for the past 10 or 11 years you have made the same ridiculous comments about these types of proposals. Progress has occurred and funds have been provided. The timber industry and the conservation movement have been reasonably happy with the outcome. That is the sort of successful outcome that is being arrived at as a result of the efforts of the Resource and Conservation Assessment Council. Yet the honourable member for Ballina still makes crude and ignorant comments. His support of the Federal Minister, Mr Tuckey, on this issue is interesting. We know how bad his behaviour is. He is always attacking State governments—usually New South Wales, but increasingly Victoria—on their efforts in negotiating regional forest agreements. Obviously, as has been indicated in debate, Mr Tuckey has not quite signed off on this, so perhaps members of the Opposition are not opposing this bill lest they ruffle Mr Tuckey's feathers. For whatever reason the Opposition is insinuating support for him.
No, the shadow Minister expressed concern that your State Government has not signed it either.
You know nothing! Why don't you go back and do some homework? You are cruelling your constituents' attempts to get successful outcomes by coming into this Parliament and absolutely—
Rubbish, I am representing my constituents.
You don't know anything! You don't even make an attempt to negotiate with the National Parks and Wildlife Service. I strongly advise your constituents to leave you out of any negotiations or deputations with the National Parks and Wildlife Service because you obviously cannot control yourself. If you cannot control yourself in here, how can you control yourself in a deputation? Why don't you grow up and behave yourself? People such as the honourable member for Ballina, who has been here since 1988, should try to teach you some manners. The honourable member for Monaro is talking to people who had the opportunity to negotiate with land-holders quite successfully in many regions of the State, so do not accuse this Government of being arrogant about land-holders. In fact, we bent over backwards to try to negotiate with them in relation to the southern regions. Despite the fact that you obviously have considerable concern, and that it has certainly upset you and increased your blood pressure, you are still not prepared to vote against the legislation. Why is that?
I said that I might.
You might! You are going to show the courage of your convictions? You will have a conscience vote on this issue? I would like to see that because, if you oppose the legislation, that will send some strong signals to the stakeholders that have been responsible for its creation. Send those appropriate signals to the conservation movement. Send them to the timber industry, the unions and the regional communities who will benefit from this legislation. I hope the honourable member for Monaro takes the opportunity to stop being a hypocrite, because that is what he has been up-to-date, and votes against the bill.
I obviously support the bill. It is timely because now that the coastal regions in the south are being covered by the bill it allows the Government to tackle those other priority areas in the western part of the State. An enormous amount of research is currently being undertaken by the Resource and Conservation Assessment Council [RACAC] on the western forests. It is a major priority for the Government and the conservation movement. We are very proud of our record with the new national parks we have created since 1995. But it is glaringly obvious that protection of public and private land is needed in western New South Wales. Now that the southern region reservations bill is virtually complete the RACAC can focus its attention on western New South Wales.
I take the opportunity to complement Rex Bowen and the previous chair of RACAC, Gerry Gleeson, who left the job only late last year. He has been appropriately succeeded. RACAC continues to do excellent work. With the help of the constituent agencies, particularly State Forests and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, it addresses a number of the problems that have been raised by the Coalition in the debate. I reiterate that despite those problems being raised it is very unlikely that the Opposition members will put their money where their mouth is and oppose the bill. I invite the honourable member for Monaro to vote against the bill if he feels so strongly about it.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Anderson.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Private Members' Statements: Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders
Motion by Mr Gaudry, on behalf of Mr Whelan, agreed to:
That standing and sessional orders be suspended to allow six members to make private members’ statement forthwith.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' STATEMENTS
KU-RING-GAI ELECTORATE POLICING
(Ku-ring-gai—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [11.22 p.m.]: This evening I raise the issue of Ku-ring-gai policing. On Monday I held one of my regular community consultations—on this occasion at the Pymble Bowling Club. At the morning tea with residents of Pymble one of the most significant issues raised related to policing within the Ku-ring-gai community. It is not an understatement to say that people are increasingly concerned about the level of crime across Ku-ring-gai and they are becoming increasingly concerned about incidents relating to violence and drug selling at railway stations within the Ku-ring-gai electorate. Among the issues raised with me by residents on Monday was that they rarely see police patrolling either in vehicles or on foot through the suburbs that make up the electorate. Secondly, it is very rare to see police patrolling through the shopping centres of Ku-ring-gai. From Roseville to Wahroonga there are shopping centres, well patronised by locals and others, where the level of policing is virtually invisible.
I have raised in this place before ongoing concerns about violence at railway stations relating, specifically at Pymble and Gordon, to trade in drugs by people from outside the Ku-ring-gai municipality who seek to prey on students attending schools within Ku-ring-gai. That problem too is being contributed to by the lack of visible policing in those areas. I know from personal experience that many shopkeepers throughout Ku-ring-gai are having to take alternative measures to make up for the lack of policing. In the last day or two we have heard much about the plans of the Commissioner of Police to further privatise aspects of the New South Wales Police Service. But we have already seen the privatisation of much of the security industry in this State. I instance that last year the Lindfield Chamber of Commerce was forced to employ private security guards to increase the level of security and protection at the Lindfield shopping centre.
At the end of the day the costs incurred by local shopkeepers in places such as Lindfield and Turramurra are passed on to consumers. People may well argue that Ku-ring-gai consumers are well able to afford that. My argument is that this is not just occurring in Ku-ring-gai; it is occurring across Sydney and in many shopping centres where the shoppers cannot easily afford extra costs. The point being made by the people I met with at Pymble Bowling Club on Monday is that without a visible policing presence we send exactly the wrong signal to those who want to make mischief within our community. Daily within the proximity of railway stations in Ku-ring-gai significant burglaries are committed by people who catch trains into the municipality and then take their loot elsewhere by train. There is no doubt that an increased police presence in the streets around railway stations would assist in deterring such crime.
In Roseville in the last six months there have been persistent burglaries in the streets around where I live. I put to the House that the only reason my house has not been burgled is that I have gone to the trouble of installing a very visible alarm. I would argue that that is a further privatisation of security services. One of the basic services State governments are meant to provide to communities is policing. This Government is failing. The community of Ku-ring-gai has a rebuilt police station at Gordon. It is one of the better police stations. Commissioner Ryan, who is currently criticising a number of older police stations around Sydney, could have no criticism of it.
With the exception of a skeleton staff and the not always loved highway patrol officers, there is no physical police presence at that police station. I know from personal experience, having had my car broken into outside my electorate office, which is not that far from the police station, that on Sundays there can be a queue of people outside the police station seeking to report crimes, essentially to a single officer. This is an issue within the Ku-ring-gai municipality. It does not relate to the way in which Superintendent Phil Hickman deploys his resources; it relates to the lack of resources that Phil Hickman is given to provide better security and adequate protection for the community of Ku-ring-gai. It is a matter that this Government should address.
(Newcastle—Parliamentary Secretary) [11.27 p.m.]: I hope that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has raised these matters with the Minister for Police. The honourable member would be aware that the intelligence-based policing of the New South Wales Police Service depends on citizens bringing information forward. I hope he has given his information to Superintendent Phil Hickman, who, I am sure, would ensure that the community safety officer in the area is available to advise on the matter that the honourable member referred to the Chamber.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition pointed out that he has installed a security system in his house. He pointed out that shopkeepers, acting responsibly, have taken security measures. I would say that they would be working in conjunction with the Police Service to ensure that the best intelligence-based policing is applied across his area. It is really a bit rich for the honourable member tonight, in the usual carping fashion of the Opposition, to complain about resources rather than supporting the Police Service, which is providing the best policing coverage possible. I will bring the issues raised by the honourable member to the attention of the Minister for Police, who I am sure will take appropriate action.
MAIN ROAD 217
(Lake Macquarie) [11.29 p.m.]: Tonight I raise the need to upgrade Main Road 217 and the Government's response to community concerns about the state of the road. Main Road 217 runs from Morisset in the south of the Lake Macquarie electorate along the western side of the lake through the northern suburbs of Speers Point and Argenton and on to Wallsend, which is a western suburb of Newcastle. The community has expressed concern to me over a long period about the state of the road. I am pleased to be able to outline tonight the work that the Government is doing to undertake a number of upgrades to this important transport route. The community is well aware that in the previous budget the Government allocated some $256,000 for a share in the Main Streets and Small Towns program for the Morisset main street. In September I called on the community to have its say on a proposal that has been worked up with the Roads and Traffic Authority and Lake Macquarie council on upgrading that main street.
The study identified a number of improvements which would benefit both pedestrians and cyclists in terms of improved safety and access to the railway station, nearby shops and retail areas. We are looking at kerb extensions to be constructed to narrow the crossing distance on Dora Street for pedestrians, this measure will be accompanied by the introduction of a 50 kilometres an hour speed zone. Roundabouts are also proposed at the Dora Street intersections with Doyalson and Bridge streets. We hope that work on those improvements will start well before Christmas.
In the past 12 months the intersection of Macquarie Street (MR 217) and Fishery Point Road has been the subject of a major upgrade. Finalisation of the seagull-type intersection is now taking place after council acquired a portion of a private property. Some $700,000 has been spent on that intersection. Earlier this month I announced the display of the environmental impact statement for the upgrading of the Five Islands Road, which is a $27 million project. A detailed environmenta impact statement is on display until mid-December. I am asking the community to go to their local motor registry, Lake Macquarie council or local libraries to view the environmental impact statement and have their say on this vital link.
The section of MR217 is vital because it will link the growing western area of Lake Macquarie and Newcastle. During morning and afternoon peak hours there is only one traffic incident on that section of road it becomes a bottleneck. About 34,000 vehicles use the road each day, and the $27 million upgrade proposed by the Government is well appreciated by local residents. This month I was also pleased to announce that $50,000 has been provided for a study as part of an ongoing commitment to improve travel conditions and safety on local roads in Lake Macquarie.
The study represents the next planning stage in the future of Main Road 217 and it follows on from a development study for the route which was undertaken some years ago. The current study will involve the collection of a range of data, including traffic volumes, origins, destinations and intersection usage. This information will then be analysed to predict future traffic patterns and allow planning for future improvement options along the route in the vicinity of Toronto. Work on the study will commence before the end of this month. It is an important part of the Government's ongoing plans to meet the needs of motorists on the western side of Lake Macquarie.
Finally, I was pleased to announce yesterday that improvement works will start this week on the intersection of Wangi and Dorrington roads, which again is Main Road 217, in the Rathmines area. The work will cost $100,000 which was allocated in this year's State budget. This work will improve safety and traffic flow for local motorists and their families. This increasingly busy intersection was reconstructed in 1998 to replace a previous T-junction near the Toronto country club. Some $500,000 was spent on that upgrade. This further proposed work will enhance the safety of vehicles merging on entering Dorrington Road by extending the existing merge lane and adjusting median islands. That has been a concern of local residents. The Rathmines Progress Association and local Labor Party members have contacted me in the past about this matter. I am pleased that this work is going ahead. Additional line marking and signage will also be undertaken. As I said, I am sure that all this work will be greeted very warmly by the local community.
(Newcastle—Parliamentary Secretary) [11.34 p.m.]: I thank the honourable member for Lake Macquarie for drawing the attention of the House to the positive road programs carried out in his area of west Lake Macquarie. It is a burgeoning population area with many people from Sydney recognising the value of living in that area. Of course, that creates traffic management issues. The honourable member for Lake Macquarie, in company with the honourable member for Wallsend and the honourable member for Swansea, has asked members representing electorates on the Central Coast to look at the traffic issues, to discuss them with local government and to bring the issues forward to the Minister for Roads. The outcome will be positive programs to improve traffic management and safety. The money that has been spent in these areas is an advantage for the community and the region. I congratulate the honourable member for Lake Macquarie on the work he has done.
NORTHERN RIVERS SUSTAINABLE FOREST MANAGEMENT
Mr D. L. PAGE
(Ballina) [11.35 p.m.]: In the northern rivers, regional strategy sustainable forestry activity is regarded as an important component in our social, economic and environmental future. It has been brought to my attention by constituents in my electorate, and indeed beyond, that proposals are being put in place by the Richmond and Clarence regional vegetation management committees which have the potential substantially to destroy sustainable forestry activities on private land. It is worth noting at the outset that SEPP-46 the predecessor of the Native Vegetation Conservation Act acknowledged the significance of sustainable forestry on privately owned land by making such activity an exemption.
It is clear that governments generally—and I believe it is true of the New South Wales Government—support sustainable forest management on privately owned land because it provides for ecologically sustainable land management, as well as conferring environmental benefits, such as increased biodiversity and greenhouse benefits, and providing economic benefits for individuals and communities fortunate enough to have private forest resource. I must point out that the regrowth forests are much greater contributors to biodiversity than traditional agriculture. Given that situation, it is hard to understand why the local vegetation committees are proposing to introduce an ill-researched zoning system over private forests which will take those areas out of consideration for the sustainable private forestry because they will be reserved.
These committees are drawing lines on maps which will mean that some farmers may be able to harvest timber while other farmers most certainly will not. The compulsory reservation of private forests by committees which have little or no real understanding or training in silvicultural management is a cause for great concern. Many forest owners have managed their native forests for very long periods, often foregoing immediate income for long-term forestry returns. As a result, large areas of forested land in good condition in coastal and tableland New South Wales have been harvested and will continue to be harvested according to long-term plans.
As I said, it was never the intention that the Native Vegetation Conservation Act be used to close down private forestry. In fact the opposite is the case. That is precisely why the exemption under SEPP-46 was included in the first place. However, it appears that if a regional vegetation committee wants to embark on a zoning regime that in many instances will prevent sustainable forestry on privately owned land, that will be permitted. That is a direct attack on the capacity of a land-holder to earn income from his land by harvesting timber on a sustainable basis. It is extremely inequitable and most unjust, particularly when those who have already harvested their land can carry on unimpeded under the native vegetation legislation.
Will these regional vegetation committees compensate the land-holders for sterilising a resource which can be managed both for income and for ecological values? I bet they do not. Will the Government compensate the farmers? I bet it will not. Management of sustainable forestry on private land should be the subject of a separate land management regime outside the Native Vegetation Conservation Act. For example, in Tasmania the Forest Practices Act provides for areas of forest and plantation to be declared as private timber reserves. The Tasmanian legislation recognises that forest investment and management is a long-term activity, and that owners need security, especially harvest security, if they are to manage the resource sustainably.
In Tasmania, a landowner seeks private timber reserve status through a government agency which regulates and promotes private forestry. Applications are evaluated and public comment is invited. Objections can be made, and there are appeal provisions for all parties. The critical point is that harvesting operations must be planned and undertaken in accordance with the forest practices code. The harvesting plan must be accredited and the Forest Practices Board arranges for an audit of 15 per cent of operations annually to ensure compliance. This private timber reserves system appears to be an efficient and consistent planning and management system for private forestry. We should be looking for something similar for New South Wales, rather than leaving such a big issue in the hands of regional vegetation management committees, which have no real expertise or understanding of silviculture management.
We have the opportunity to achieve ecological and economic benefits from sustainable forestry on private land. It is an important issue. I do not believe that the Government ever intended the situation to develop as it has. I urge the Government to take on board my comments and suggestions for a separate management regime to be put in place involving a system of accreditation, a code of practice for harvesting and an audit process to ensure compliance, similar to the process that is in place for plantations. I welcome the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary is at the table because he knows something about this matter.
(Newcastle—Parliamentary Secretary) [11.40 p.m.]: I thank the honourable member for his contribution, which has been made in a serious manner. I know of his interest in this subject and I am sure he will discuss this matter and what occurs in Tasmania with the Minister for Forestry. I thank him for bringing this matter to the attention of the House.
DEATH OF WENDY McKAY
(Menai) [11.40 p.m.]: Honourable members would be aware that for several years people living around Bankstown Airport have been struggling to get some answers from the Federal Government about the current management practices and the proposed future expansion of the site. The Bankstown Airport Community and Environment Forum [BACEF] has been at the heart of this campaign. Over the weekend I was saddened to hear of the passing of one of BACEF's founders and most committed activists. Wendy McKay died last Friday evening, 24 November, aged 59 years. Wendy's daughter, Sonya McKay, has prepared a moving tribute to her mother and I would like to share it with the House. It is entitled "A Tribute to a Remarkable Woman". Sonya writes:
Ever since Wendy McKay was born she was a battler. Born as a rubella baby she knew what it was to fight for life early on. Besides being born blind, she was deaf in one ear and had a hole in the heart. Heart operations allowed her to live, while operations allowed her to see for the first time what others take for granted.
Wendy McKay moved to the Bankstown district as a newly married woman in 1964. She then later gave birth to three children. Wendy was the only one out of a group of rubella sufferers under the study of Sir Norman Greg that was able to do so.
Wendy's community work started initially while living at Bass Hill, where she helped ward off potential development in Dooley Avenue for some years. Later on Wendy then became involved in the fight against a proposed airport at Holsworthy. Even before Holsworthy was rejected as an option, though, she and others could see the increasing noise and pollution impacts from Bankstown Airport. The Bankstown Airport Community and Environment Forum [BACEF] soon evolved through the consistent sacrifice of Wendy, as well as her husband Colin McKay. Although Wendy was not the spokesperson for the group it was only through her and Colin that BACEF was able to evolve and function as it did. They were the backbone of any necessary research, and anything that was needed they were always willing and available to help. Wendy, however, was the motivator for everyone. She was always proposing a protest regarding the airport, even in her last weeks in hospital. She was never one to give up.
Wendy's efforts did not stop there. After reading an article in the local newspaper regarding a contaminated site in the Milperra area, Wendy set about trying to contact people in order to create a group effort that would help lobby for the site to be cleaned up. After she found out that she had cancer she was even more determined to do something about the site. Her latest wish was to be able to contact people who were in a similar position. It appeared to her that too many people were contracting cancer in the region, and she wanted somehow to help them and others.
On Friday, 24 November 2000, however, Wendy McKay finally lost her 6 to 7 month fight with cancer. Colin, who was by her side, said that she passed away peacefully.
Colin McKay would like to thank the doctors and nurses at Braeside Palliative Care Hospital for their wonderful kindness and understanding treatment of his wife Wendy.
Wendy was an inspiration and fighter for so many. It would have been tremendous to have seen some real results regarding Bankstown Airport before Wendy passed away. Wendy, however, would never give up even to the end, and to her end neither will others. There are a great number of people in the community that feel strongly enough to continue with the work that Wendy sacrificed her time for, and together maybe they can achieve some worthwhile results. Wendy would dearly have loved to see the initiation of a curfew at the airport.
That concludes Sonya's comments on her mother, but I would like to add that today Wendy would be shaking her head and having a few words to say about the announcement by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission [ACCC] that a public forum will soon be held in Melbourne about a revised aeronautical pricing proposal at Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport. Wendy will be laid to rest on Thursday and I know that the McKay family feels as though it has lost its anchor. However, it will not drift aimlessly. Colin McKay is a strong and consistent, but perhaps more silent, partner in the McKay team.
I have not yet met Wendy's other two children but Sonya, who wrote the moving tribute I have just read, is also a remarkable woman. I know Wendy was extremely proud of Sonya and she had every reason to be. Wendy's spirit and determination will live on in Sonya. I am sure that all honourable members will agree that people who act on behalf of their communities first and themselves second are few and far between. Wendy McKay will be sadly missed. On behalf of all honourable members, particularly the honourable member for East Hills, the honourable member for Bankstown and the honourable member for Liverpool, I offer our condolences to the McKay family. We join in their tribute to Wendy, a remarkable woman indeed.
(Newcastle—Parliamentary Secretary) [11.45 p.m.]: I join with the honourable member for Menai in expressing the condolences of the House to the family of Wendy McKay. In all our electorates we celebrate people who make a difference and, obviously, this woman made a difference in her community. Wendy McKay was an activist. She saw the need for community action in relation to Bankstown Airport and the impact of its operations. She could see the potential carcinogenic effects of the contaminated site at Milperra, particularly as she suffered from cancer herself. It is appropriate to note constituents who have made a contribution, to celebrate their lives and to join with the rest of the community in thanking their families for what the family members have contributed to the community. We share with them their sense of loss but we also celebrate their life's work.
WESTERN SYDNEY ORBITAL
(Hornsby) [11.46 p.m.]: I note that the Federal Government is pressing ahead with the Western Sydney Orbital. I acknowledge the importance that that has for the transport and economic needs, not only of Sydney but for all of New South Wales. However, as the member for Hornsby I want to say that it has potentially disastrous consequences for people who live on or near Pennant Hills Road and depend on it for their daily business, moving around in their suburbs, taking their children to school, going shopping and, indeed, going to work. Pennant Hills Road is a disaster area. There are parts of Pennant Hills Road where an NRMA survey recently showed that the average speed was approximately 10 kilometres per hour during peak times, which extend for hours in the morning and in the afternoon.
Pennant Hills Road is also part of a network of roads that are chock-a-block and clogged to the point of maximum inefficiency, not only in those peak times but often in the middle of the day. Affected roads in the same network relationship include the Pacific Highway, the F3, the M2 and, indeed, the route along the Gore Hill Freeway into the city. There is a matrix of concern relating to the traffic needs of northern Sydney. My concern is that the completion of the Western Sydney Orbital, unless the other matters are addressed, will simply add to problems being experienced by northern city residents and those who need to travel through northern Sydney for their daily business.
I am pleased to say that this view has received a sympathetic hearing from the Federal Government, which understands the needs of Pennant Hills Road. However, we have received nothing at all by way of commitment to the needs of Pennant Hills Road from the State Government. I urge the Minister for Roads to remove his blinkers and take account of the needs of those people who depend on Pennant Hills Road, the Pacific Highway and the other roads I have mentioned. It is critical to address the increased traffic flows along Pennant Hills Road that will result from traffic coming off the M2 after the Western Sydney Orbital—the link to the M2—is completed, particularly those vehicles that want to move between the M2, the Western Sydney Orbital and the F3.
I believe that a solution must be investigated and that options must be laid out for community consultation. There needs to be a lot of opportunity for community input, because many of the solutions are difficult to contemplate. However, there must be an acknowledgment of the problem. We cannot bury our heads in the sand. Governments must lay these matters out for discussion. A northern transport needs options study must be conducted. That options study should include discussion of a new crossing of the Hawkesbury, much further to the west—perhaps along the Putty Road corridor or somewhere similar to that. A new crossing of the Hawkesbury would be a great job creation project, would be a great project for the economic benefit of New South Wales and would vastly improved transport times. Therefore, it would add to the efficiency of our heavy vehicles on the roads. It should be one of the options included.
However, the options study must specifically rule out any crossing of Berowra Valley, at Galston Gorge or anywhere else, as being part of the matrix. I record again my absolute objection and the objection of the Liberal Party to such a proposal. The Federal Government has ruled out such a crossing, but still the RTA and the Minister for Transport say that it is a possible option for inclusion in the future. That simply cannot be an option. It is not acceptable, either environmentally or socially. The State Government must join the Federal Government and the New South Wales Liberal Party in ruling out that option. On the subject of public transport needs generally in the northern Sydney area, today I received a letter from the Minister for Transport, Mr Scully, referring to statements that I have been making with regard to a parking space levy in Hornsby. I have been quoting the Minister as saying that he is intending to extend the parking space levy to Hornsby. The Minister's letter to me states:
… I take this opportunity to restate that the Government has no intention of extending the Parking Space Levy to Hornsby.
I again refer the Minister to his answer, on the notice paper, to a question on notice, in which the Minister states:
In respect of expansion and improvements, the Hornsby area has been identified to be included in its Parking Space Levy program in the longer term.
By the word "its", I take it Minister means "the Government's". If there is confusion it has been created by the Minister, and he must clear is up. However, at the moment the Minister is still on the record as saying that Hornsby will be included in that program. [Time expired
HUNTER REGION ROADS FUNDING
(Maitland) [11.51 p.m.]: I draw to the attention of the House the Federal Government's announcement yesterday of a road funding package, apparently commonly known as roads to recovery funding. Any money from the Federal Government for rural and non-metropolitan roads would certainly be welcomed in New South Wales. I acknowledge the size of the package that has been proposed over the next four years for this State—that is, in the order of $340 million, with some $254.5 million being specifically for regional and rural areas. The electorate of Maitland—which comprises four of the municipal areas of the Hunter region—significantly benefits in three of those major areas. Maitland will receive $1.813 million, Dungog shire will receive $1.437 million, and Port Stephens shire will receive $1.819 million. I have only a small segment of Newcastle city in my area, and the amount of work there under this program would be negligible.
I remind the House that those amounts will be spent over four years. Dungog shire—the shire in which I reside—will receive less than $350,000 per year. That is a very small amount of money. Even if we were to put the whole of that amount into the dollar-for-dollar funding through the Roads and Traffic Authority for regional roads in the electorate, it would still be a relatively small amount—less than $700,000. Given the cost of road works, it would certainly help. I do not deny that for one moment. However, in terms of it being a massive boost for local roads in my electorate, I must say that I am sadly disappointed. Certainly, one cannot look a gift horse in the mouth and it is important that we acknowledge and thank the Federal Government for its efforts in this regard.
A number of Federal members of Parliament have complained about the paucity of the contribution. I must say that I agree and express some concern about it. It must be remembered that New South Wales raises $3 billion annually in petrol excise and taxes for the Federal Government, and the whole of Australia is receiving only $1.2 billion over a four-year period. That is hardly a bonanza. It will certainly help, but the help is nominal. That is a tragedy for my electorate. The unspecified allocation of $400 million that may apply to the major road networks—the Federal roads throughout Australia—certainly will help. It may mean that there will be some funding for the Weakleys Drive proposed fly-over, which would connect with the Thornton to Beresfield link road, which the State Government is currently constructing. That would be great. We do not have any advice on that at this stage. We are told that there will be no advice until 2001.
I am concerned that out of the proposed $44 million for the Hunter region, the Lower Hunter—the region in most need of road maintenance, particularly on local roads—will receive less than $4 million over four years. I do not have the specific details, but I believe that at least nine shires would share in that funding. It is a small amount. When one considers that in Dungog shire alone the State Government is contributing $0.25 million to local roads over and above its normal road maintenance program, the $350,000 for four years only, whilst it helps, is still insufficient to address the problem, particularly those roads within the electorate that are used for commerce and the expanding tourist industry. I appeal to the Federal Government to rethink its funding and to increase the quantum, certainly for the Upper Hunter region. [Time expired.
Private members' statements noted.
Motion by Mr Whelan agreed to:
That the House at its rising this day do adjourn until Wednesday 29 November 2000 at 10.30 a.m..
House adjourned at 11.58 p.m.