Tuesday 19 March 2002
Mr Speaker (The Hon. John Henry Murray)
took the chair at 2.15 p.m.
offered the Prayer.
ROYAL EASTER SHOW
(Maroubra—Premier, Minister for the Arts, and Minister for Citizenship) [2.15 p.m.]: The 2002 Royal Easter Show starts this Friday. It is the largest exhibition of its type in Australia. In fact, it is the largest annual event—
One would think members opposite would support the show. They are negative; they carp about everything.
Order! I place the honourable member for Epping on two calls to order.
Government is simply trying to get on with the job of running the State, and it has to deal with a few niggardly critics opposite who represent fewer and fewer people as the months go by. The Royal Easter Show has been a much-loved part of New South Wales life since the first Agricultural Society Show in 1823. The new-look show will feature new attractions. There is a positive note to the show because of the buoyant condition of much of the State's agricultural industries.
One would think the Leader of the National Party would be interested in the fact that farm export earnings are expected to reach $31 billion this financial year, up from $22.6 billion just four years ago. Wool prices have rocketed, and broadacre and dairy farmers are experiencing some of the best times since the collection of data began 26 years ago. This year the show has a new logo: an iconic Australian "bushie" on horseback, clad in Akubra and oilskin against a backdrop of rich earth colours—so unlike the leadership of the National Party we have come to know and love. The logo is entirely appropriate in this the Year of the Outback, to which the honourable member for Murray-Darling has made a significant contribution.
The 2002 Royal Easter Show will be the fifth to be staged at Sydney Olympic Park. The House might recall the carping critics who said the show would never go there, it would never work there, it should not be tried at Homebush Bay. Last year, however, there were 5.2 million visitors. This year the show will incorporate a large area of Olympic Boulevard and visitors will, for the first time, be able to see close up the Olympic Cauldron, which was moved to its new position in the Overflow Park last September.
The year will be the last year visitors will be able to see Olympic Park in its original state. As the decade unfolds, hotels, apartments and high-tech businesses will fill out the site. Our plans are well advanced. In 2002 we will complete the Olympic Park master plan to guide development over the next decade, open the 440 hectares Millennium Parklands for public use, hand over remediated parklands for use as sporting fields by local communities, complete the 2,000-square-metre Olympic and Paralympic Memories project and attract a greater variety of everyday users, such as school sporting groups. We are also bringing Aussie Rules to Olympic Park, and remodelling Stadium Australia to accommodate football codes and bring spectators closer to the action. Finally, later this year or early next year construction will begin on the first new property development, the first step in meeting our target of bringing 3,000 residents and 10,000 workers a day to the site.
Order! I call the Leader of the Opposition to order.
Olympic Park won a place in the heart of every Australian as the home of the best Olympics ever. Like Darling Harbour, it will in time become an outstanding success—a place we naturally turn to for celebration and entertainment, a high-tech business hub, and a great place to live. But for two weeks in March and April Olympic Park will be the home of country New South Wales, where we honour the resilience and success of our rural communities and the men and women who do it tough on our farms and stations all year, every year. So I urge all honourable members to get along to Olympic Park, support our rural communities and have fun. I am sure all members will welcome the visit to the Parliament this Thursday of a special group of young people, the participants in The Land
Show Girl and Rural Young Achievers competitions. They will be given a tour and morning tea. I urge all members to support these outstanding young Australians.
By the National Party.
Haven't members opposite heard? Like the honourable member for Port Macquarie, they have all quit the National Party. I thank the House for its attention.
(Lane Cove—Leader of the Opposition) [2.23 p.m.]: I am pleased the Premier is in such good humour about the country; I am pleased he is acknowledging the existence of country New South Wales. The Premier has forgotten about the country. How often do members on this side visit country constituencies and hear people say, "As far as Bob Carr is concerned New South Wales means Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong." The Premier thinks the far west is Penrith. We are pleased that our country constituents, the rural people of this State, are having a much better time of it at the moment. It has been a tough time for many of them. They have been through drought and floods, and now they are getting some of the best prices in many years for grain, wool and wheat. Rural New South Wales is feeling a great deal better about itself. I congratulate the Federal Government on the fine leadership it has shown in ensuring that our strong economy has helped all of our rural producers.
I remind the Premier of one or two things. It was a Coalition initiative that the Royal Easter Show go to Homebush. That move was one of the key components of making sure that Olympic Park worked—and it is the only part of Olympic Park that does work. We are disappointed that it was not until after the Olympic Games that the Premier realised that there was no post-Games plan for Olympic Park. Only now has the Government realised that unless it spends some money on organising Olympic Park infrastructure a number of the organisations will not survive. The tennis centre is having difficulties and the swimming centre is just breaking even.
What about the football?
In June last year the Government was nowhere to be seen when the Australian Rugby Union was trying to get support. When it comes to sport the mob on the Government benches has no idea. My favourite story about the Premier was when he said he was looking forward to seeing Plugger kick that ball over the bar. I urge everybody to go to Olympic Park and enjoy the Royal Easter Show. It is one of those family experiences that people like me have enjoyed with their families for more than 15 years. It is a pity about the transport services to Olympic Park. I assume we will have a decent service during the Easter Show so people can get there.
You can go on to Silverwater too.
Perhaps the students in the gallery will be pleased to know that last week when it was suggested that we needed more teachers the Premier suggested that we could recruit them from prison. The Easter Show is a great event. It is not only about bringing the country to the city. It is about ensuring that everybody who appreciates rural New South Wales can enjoy the opportunity of meeting people who spend their lives there. Most people who go to the Easter Show do not come from the country; they come from the city. They enjoy the opportunity to experience part of the rural life that was so well depicted in the first part of the Olympic Games opening ceremony. That part of the opening ceremony was inspired by things that have happened at the Royal Easter Show. Long live the Royal Easter Show—but I want everyone to be careful about catching the trains, because we cannot rely on the Government's trains to get us there.
I draw the attention of the House to the presence in the gallery of a delegation from Vietnam led by Madam Truong. The delegation is here as part of the exchange program of the Australian Political Council. We also welcome to the gallery a group from the Cumberland region of the Rural Fire Service, which encompasses Fairfield, Blacktown and Penrith.
TOTAL FIRE BAN
(Blue Mountains—Attorney General, Minister for the Environment, Minister for Emergency Services, and Minister Assisting the Premier on the Arts) [2.28 p.m.]: As honourable members would be aware, the Commissioner of the Rural Fire Service has declared another statewide total fire ban today.
Order! The Chair extended a degree of latitude to members during the ministerial statement made by the Premier. That time has now passed. The shadow Minister will want to respond to the statement being made by the Minister for Emergency Services. I ask members to extend to the shadow Minister the courtesy of allowing him to hear the Minister.
As I said, the Commissioner of the Rural Fire Service has declared another statewide total fire ban today. Fire authorities advise that it is very rare to have such extreme fire conditions—high temperatures, low humidity and moderate to strong winds—right across the State at this time of the year. Authorities are on high alert and fire hot spots have been identified. Firefighters have been battling blazes in the Bega Valley and at Mulwaree, Tenterfield and Lake Macquarie in what can only be described as extraordinary weather conditions. They have these fires well in hand, but extra precautions are being taken to ensure that the situation remains contained.
In response to these conditions, fire authorities have extended the contract of the Christmas 2001 bush fire fighting helicopters, the "Georgia Peach" and the "Incredible Hulk", for the remainder of the official bushfire season. The contract for the helicopters was due to finish yesterday but it has been extended until 31 March, the official end of the bushfire season. I am sure all members of the House would agree that the air cranes were a terrific addition to our firefighting air fleet, working as they did in close co-ordination with firefighters on the ground during the recent crisis. The air cranes deliver some nine million litres of water mixed with fire retardant at the rate of 45,000 litres an hour. Having the two aeroplanes on standby is a bit of extra insurance in the event of an emergency. Federal and State authorities are currently assessing longer-term options for improving Australia's aerial firefighting capability as part of a national joint proposal on aerial firefighting resources.
During the current bushfire danger period I strongly urge the community to take particular care and to immediately report any fire or suspicious behaviour to police or fire authorities. Since we have recently lived through one of the worst fire seasons in living memory, I remind the community that it is essential to heed total fire ban declarations. During a total fire ban no fire of any kind may be lit in the open. That includes incinerators and barbecues that burn solid fuel. People may use gas or electric barbecues but only if it is on residential property within 20 metres of the house or dwelling, is under the direct control of a responsible adult, the ground around the barbecue for three metres is cleared of all material that could burn, and there is a continuous supply of running water.
(Oxley) [2.32 p.m.]: The exceptional weather conditions in this State are undoubtedly continuing. Indeed, dry conditions prevail throughout New South Wales. My colleague the honourable member for Coffs Harbour informed me that as he was flying down to Sydney yesterday he saw large fires burning in areas of Barrington Tops National Park. There are also fires near my home town of Wauchope. Unfortunately, it is apparent that fires are burning in national park areas. One would hope that the fire management plans for those areas have been implemented and that appropriate hazard reduction work has been undertaken. No doubt the danger in times such as these is directly correlated to the amount of hazard reduction work that has been undertaken in accordance with those plans.
As the problem of arsonists raises its head once again during a time of extreme fire danger I ask the entire community to be vigilant in relation for arsonists. I hope the Government will match its statements with action and prosecute those who deliberately light fires during a total fire ban. While again acknowledging the magnificent efforts of the Rural Fire Service, the State Emergency Service, the Volunteer Rescue Association and other volunteers, it is the Coalition's earnest desire that the lives of our firefighters not be put at risk and that the time they spend fighting fires is not sacrificed in vain. Prevention must be the number one objective of the Government and the agencies concerned. The extension of the contract for the firefighting helicopters, the "Georgia Peach" and the "Incredible Hulk", is welcomed. I urge members of the public to observe the total fire ban declared by the Commissioner of the Rural Fire Service.
VARIATIONS OF PAYMENTS ESTIMATES 2001-02
tabled variations of the payments estimates and appropriations for 2001-02 in relation to the Olympic Co-ordination Authority and the New South Wales Department of Sport and Recreation, in terms of section 24 of the Public Finance and Audit Act, 1983.
North Head Quarantine Station
Petition praying that the head lease proposal for North Head Quarantine Station be opposed, received from Mr Barr
Hazardous Material Burning
Petition asking the House to amend legislation in relation to the regulations governing the burning off of hazardous material, received from Dr Kernohan
Fire Brigade Funding
Petition praying that the House introduce a fair and equitable way to fund the Fire Brigade and incorporate the surcharge on rates and taxes of landlords and property owners so that the cost is shared across the community, received from Mr Price
Petition praying that the Government allow continued access to public lands, abandon plans to declare the south-east wilderness study area wilderness, and repeal the Wilderness Act 1987, received from Mr Webb
Branch Line Above Rail Community Service Obligation
Petitions asking that above rail community service obligations on branch lines be reinstated until branch line infrastructure is upgraded to a standard to ensure competitiveness with main lines, received from Mr Armstrong
and Mr Piccoli
Manly JetCat Services
Petition seeking reversal of the decision by Sydney Ferries to stop JetCat services to Manly at 7.00 p.m., received from Mr Barr
Lane Cove Tunnel Works
Petition praying that the House initiate a review of Lane Cove tunnel works, received from Mr Collins
Local and Regional Roads Funding
Petition praying that funding be increased to allow local government authorities to maintain local and regional roads, received from Ms Hodgkinson
Sydney Harbour Bridge Toll
Petition requesting that the Sydney Harbour Bridge toll not be increased, received from Mrs Skinner
Manly Lagoon Remediation
Petition praying that funds be made available to assist in the remediation of Manly Lagoon, received from Mr Barr
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
Lake Burrinjuck Water Level
Petition requesting the Department of Land and Water Conservation to maintain the level of water in Lake Burrinjuck at a minimum of 45 per cent, received from Ms Hodgkinson
Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment Management Trust
Petition praying that the House reinstate the Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment Management Trust as soon as possible, received from Mr Rozzoli
Queenscliff Geographical Names Board Classification
Petition praying that the House reinstate Queenscliff as a suburb with the Geographical Names Board, received from Mr Barr
Northbridge Primary School
Petition asking that permanent classrooms replace temporary demountable classrooms at Northbridge Primary School, received from Mr Collins
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
Petition praying that Dapto police station be manned for 24 hours each day, received from Ms Saliba
Petition praying that the House note the concern of Malabar residents about the closure of Malabar Police Station and praying that the station be reopened and staffed by locally based and led police, received from Mr Tink
In the absence of the Deputy Premier, who is ill, I will take questions on his behalf.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
PHUONG NGO ORGANISED CRIME INFLUENCE
My question is to the Premier. Has the Premier asked his police Minister to explain what happened to allegations raised in December 2000 by Detective Sergeant Tim Priest that Phuong Ngo¸ the Labor Party power broker and political assassin, was involved in organised crime in the Cabramatta area, including the heroin trade? Have police been able to assure the Premier that this level of influence does not continue to exist with Phuong Ngo behind bars?
Phuong Ngo "the Labor Party power broker" when I have a photo of him with Nick Greiner, the former Liberal Party Premier of New South Wales? Is this the same Phuong Ngo appointed by Nick Greiner to the Ethnic Affairs Commission from July 1990 to June 1993—
Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order.
Mr CARR: —
a three-year term on the Ethnic Affairs Commission, appointed by Nick Greiner? Is this the same Phuong Ngo with whom the New South Wales Liberal Party negotiated a preference deal electing him to Fairfield City Council in 1987 and 1991?
Order! I call the honourable member for Coffs Harbour to order.
Perhaps the same Phuong Ngo, the very man who exchanged preferences with the Liberal Party in the 1991 State election?
Order! I call the honourable member for Baulkham Hills to order. I place the honourable member for The Entrance on three calls to order. I call the Leader of the National Party to order.
Perhaps it was a different Phuong Ngo who was Philip Ruddock's travel companion to Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam in 1999? I hope there is no confusion of identity. I am only trying to be helpful.
Point of order: My point is on relevance. We are talking about Phuong Ngo.
Order! I call the honourable member for Cabramatta to order. I call the honourable member for Wakehurst to order. There is far too much interjection from those on the Government frontbench. The Leader of the Opposition is entitled to take a point of order.
I would be happy to respond to the honourable member for Cabramatta, who was in the same branch as Phuong Ngo. My point is relevance.
You deny you were in the same branch? We've got the records.
Order! I ask the Leader of the Opposition to ignore the interjection.
We will have to table that record, I am sure. In December 2000 Tim Priest raised allegations about Phuong Ngo being involved in the heroin trade. We want to know what the police have done about it.
Order! There is no point of order.
Tim Priest is advising the Minister for Police and I will leave him to impart any intelligence data relevant to current policing.
Order! I call the honourable member for Oxley to order.
But I have to say this: what a brazen performance by a political leader who chooses for her luncheon company on a visit to Silverwater, Bassam Hamzy, who has been convicted of murder, Kevin Geraghty, a cocaine importer and money launderer—
Order! I call honourable member for Vaucluse to order.
—and Tarkan Tuncbliek, who is serving a six-year sentence for offences including armed robbery—
Order! I call the honourable member for Oxley to order for the second time.
Mr CARR: —
and another man charged with two counts of manslaughter and one of murder.
Order! I call the honourable member for Wakehurst to order for the second time. I call the honourable member for Southern Highlands to order.
She hurls herself over the barbed wire fence at Silverwater to get in to have lunch with these people. The six million people of New South Wales who last week saw her on television in coloured photographs in that distinguished company will make a decision about her credibility on anything to do with criminality or criminal justice.
My question without notice is to the Premier. What is the latest information on bail in New South Wales?
In 1998 the Government made a number of important changes to the Bail Act. We removed the presumption in favour of bail for a number of serious and violent offences, including manslaughter, malicious wounding with intent, aggravated sexual assault and assault with intent to have intercourse. The impact on the remand population has been significant. In June 1995 the remand population was 719. Now about 1,660 prisoners are on remand. Today I can announce further changes to the Bail Act, targeting repeat offenders. These changes are based on the advice of police. Police advise that repeat offenders are responsible for most crime. The approach we are taking is this: targeting individual offences is one thing but to drive down crime, we have to target repeat offenders. Targeting offences is one thing, but we are targeting offenders.
This week the Government will introduce new bail laws to remove the presumption in favour of bail. The presumption in favour of bail will be removed for any person charged with any offence while on bail; for any person charged with any offence while on a good behaviour bond or on parole; for those convicted of fail to appear offences; and for any person charged with an indictable offence who previously has been convicted of an indictable offence—importantly, any indictable offence. For example, for a convicted car thief charged with break and enter there will be no presumption in favour of bail. For a person on bail for malicious damage who assaults someone in the street there will be no presumption in favour of bail. For a person on a good behaviour bond charged with shoplifting there will be no presumption in favour of bail.
The scale of these changes should not be underestimated. These changes will increase the prison population. The Department of Corrective Services is making provision for an increase of about 800 in the next two years. That is an increase of about 50 per cent in the remand population. This is expensive, but putting repeat offenders in gaol makes the place safer for the rest of us. That is the essence of it: putting repeat offenders behind bars, despite the objections opposite, makes the place safer for the rest of us.
Order! I place the honourable member for Pittwater on two calls to order.
This Government will expand the capacity of the prison system to meet this increase. Over the next two years this will cost approximately $135 million. This is in addition to the $80 million allocated for the construction of a new 350-bed prison at Kempsey and about $90 million for the construction of a new 350-bed prison in the central west.
It is more people for you to have lunch with, Kerry—a greater range to choose from, more appropriate cultural celebrations. There should be a smile on your face, not a frown! This is in addition to the $54 million for the new women's prison at South Windsor and $5 million per annum to reopen Cooma gaol. The community and in particular frontline police want these changes. Frontline police are sick of locking up the same people again and again. Police have reported cases in which repeat offenders with hundreds of charges are being granted bail. Here are some examples. In just four months last year one woman was arrested on nine occasions and charged with 320 offences. Of the nine arrests, police refused bail on eight occasions. The court subsequently gave bail on seven occasions. She failed to appear in court and went on a crime spree through Sydney, committing a further 237 offences.
Under which Government?
Order! I call the honourable member for Davidson to order.
He is in preselection danger, so allowing the occasional interjection helps the Liberal Party. In another case the defendant was a participant in a criminal syndicate involving a large-scale break and enter offence. He was arrested on five occasions and charged with 17 offences. Police refused bail on four arrests. The court subsequently granted bail on all occasions. He was then involved in a police pursuit and arrested for disqualified driving—at the time he was disqualified from driving until 2009 and was serving a six-month suspended sentence for driving offences. The court again granted him conditional bail.
We make the point that we are all safer if people who can be described as repeat offenders are behind bars, and that is where we will put them. This policy is based on the advice of police—police who spoke to the police Minister and to me about the desirability of these changes. We listened to what rank and file police told us about trends in sentencing, and we are delivering. Despite all the opposition we will cop from the Coalition, this is a tough measure, and we will make it work. They can whinge and whine all they want. That is all they are good for. Putting people like those whose records I have described behind bars stops crime. It is as simple as that. Our legislation sends a clear message: Repeat offenders do not deserve any favours; they can wait for their day in court in a prison cell.
INDO-CHINA CHINESE ASSOCIATION TREASURER QUOC THAI LY
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Gaming. Is Quoc Thai Ly, the treasurer of the Indo-China Chinese Association, which received State Government grants for compulsive gambling, and which reportedly funded Phuong Ngo's Long Bay party, the same Quoc Thai Ly who, according to police records, put more than $16 million through the old Sydney casino in just six months?
I assume the Leader of the National Party is talking about the framework of the Casino Community Benefit Fund. The person he is talking about may well be a person connected with the Indo-China Chinese Association. In fact, the Act provides for the payment of a levy in respect of the Sydney casino licence, and it also provides for money derived from that levy to be the subject of a trust deed and appointed trustees. The role of the trustees is to make recommendations to me about the distribution of fund moneys. I make it quite clear that my role is only to approve or not approve the trustees' recommendations. Unless the trustees have made a recommendation, money cannot be taken out of the fund. So any funds that would have been extended to the New South Wales Indo-China Chinese Association would have been on the recommendation of the trustees themselves.
Order! I call the honourable member for Gosford to order.
The Casino Control Act also provides for policy guidelines to be issued by the Minister for the purpose of giving effect to the provisions of the trust deed. Last year funding policy guidelines were developed by an interdepartmental committee. That was, of course, as a consequence of what I reported to the House recently—that I had some concerns that moneys may not have been used for their intended purpose. The object of those guidelines is to assist the trustees in making recommendation for funding by indicating the percentage of funds that should be directed each year to the objectives of the fund. That has been the case once again with funds for the Indo-China Chinese Association. Those objectives are funding for counselling, treatment and rehabilitation programs, research, preventative measures, education and awareness, and community projects.
The guidelines do not override the requirement that it is the responsibility of the trustees to make all recommendations regarding the fund allocations. For the information of the Leader of the National Party, I might add that as a result of the trust deed and the legislation requirements, I am at arm's length from the decision making relating to the allocation of moneys from the Casino Community Benefit Fund.
Has the Leader of the National Party any information to the contrary? In the time that I have been a member of this Chamber from time to time he has made wild and wonderful allegations in this place, but never on any occasion has he come up with a scintilla of evidence to support anything that he has raised in this House. He is a fake. He never comes up with evidence to support his allegations. I put to the honourable member and to the House that we can account for where the moneys did or did not go in regard to the Indo-China Chinese community. I have been able to ascertain that the Federal Government gave $100,000 to the same organisation. I am told that the auditing process for that Government is very suspect. The honourable member ought to be asking his Federal colleagues
where the money is.
I repeat that the Leader of the National Party can never come up with any evidence to support the many allegations that he has made while I have been a member of this Chamber. He has not come up with one scintilla of evidence. I point out again that the financial reporting requirements specified under the funding agreements will be met by the Casino Community Benefit Fund. I invite the honourable member to bring to my office or departmental officers particulars of the matters he has raised in the House—but I would wager that he will not.
MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE IN RESTAURANT FOOD
My question without notice is to the Minister for Health. What is the Government's response to community concern about the use of monosodium glutamate [MSG] in restaurant food?
The Silverwater gaol does not have MSG in its food, although one would think from the reaction in the Parliament last week of the Leader of the Opposition that she had a delayed MSG reaction. Everyone understands that monosodium glutamate is a powerful flavour enhancer for food. While it is safe for the majority of the population, the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital allergy clinic estimates that between 5 per cent and 10 per cent of the population experience what the unit calls a food intolerance that is sufficiently significant for sufferers to visit their doctor.
Symptoms of monosodium glutamate [MSG] intolerance may include severe headache, migraine and nausea, numbness in the neck extending to the arms and back, irritable bowel syndrome, itchy rashes like hives, asthma-like symptoms, mood changes, heart palpitations, disturbed sleep and vivid dreams. MSG occurs naturally in some foods but usually in quantities far too small to have any real impact. In packaged foods in which MSG is added consumers already have the benefit of a labelling regime that specifies the list of ingredients in the package. For example, MSG can be listed under a variety of names: hydrolysed vegetable proteins, potassium glutamate and sodium caseinate. MSG additives can be identified by the numbers 621 to 625 inclusive.
This type of information is simply not available to patrons of restaurants where liberal doses of MSG can be added and therefore incorporated into meals. Without warning, as a consequence of large amounts of added MSG, patrons can suffer serious reactions and can get those intolerance symptoms and allergic reactions as a result. As all honourable members would be aware, in many restaurants the solution to this problem has been a simple one. The restaurateur simply identifies whether the restaurant uses MSG in food preparations.
Sadly, though, there are restaurants that do not provide adequate consumer information about the addition of liberal doses of MSG. As a consequence the Government formally applied to the Australian and New Zealand Food Standards Authority [ANZFSA] for the introduction of a standard to require restaurants and other food outlets to notify customers whether MSG has been added during the preparation of food. I am advised that ANZFSA will not be in a position to commence that work until later this year and that it is highly unlikely the regulation will be produced prior to 2003 at the very earliest. Therefore the Government proposes to prepare a regulation under the New South Wales Food Act which will require food businesses to identify whether they add MSG in the preparation of food.
When are you going to be prepared to provide treatment for patients? Where is Danielle Evans' treatment? Her life is at risk.
Order! I call the honourable member for North Shore to order. I call the honourable member for North Shore to order for the second time.
What was I saying about mood changes, heart palpitations and irritability? The honourable member for North Shore has all the symptoms. Sure as eggs, she has had MSG for lunch! Mr Speaker, I think we should check out the kitchens to ensure there is no MSG, otherwise look at the effect that it can have on some honourable members! As I said, the Government will prepare a regulation under the New South Wales Food Act which will require food businesses to declare whether they use added MSG in the preparation of their food products. This will bring into line those restaurants that do not provide such information with those that do. The simplest form of notification will be the incorporation of appropriate advice on a restaurant menu. Naturally the Government will work with the New South Wales Restaurant and Caterers Association to ensure the smooth implementation of the requirement which will provide clear advice to consumers about the existence of added MSG.
In addition, the Government proposes to further assist the New South Wales allergy unit at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital [RPA] and the recently established chair in paediatric allergy at the Westmead Hospital to encourage further research and public education about allergic reactions and food intolerance. Discussions are under way to set up at the New South Wales allergy unit the serious food allergy and intolerance register for those who have serious adverse reactions to foods. The register will collate data about reactions to particular food types as part of the overall management of safe food and its production in this State. People suffering from an adverse reaction to food will be able to ring a 1-800 number or go online to email their details to the RPA medical unit. The register will also be available for doctors, pharmacists, school teachers and child care workers to report any incident in which a person has suffered an adverse reaction to food. The focus will be on a broad range of allergies, including adverse reactions to MSG, peanuts, milk, eggs, prawns and other seafoods. The serious adverse reactions to food register will be an important tool in analysing ongoing data and proposing further work to assist those who suffer from allergic reactions and food intolerance.
INDO-CHINA CHINESE ASSOCIATION PARLIAMENT HOUSE VISIT
My question is directed the Premier. When he received and entertained the executive of the Australian Indo-China Chinese Association in Parliament House in March last year, was he aware that the president, To Ha Huynh, and his son, Dennis, who is the deputy mayor of Fairfield, have described themselves as close friends of convicted assassin Phuong Ngo? Does he remember the occasion?
The short answer to the question is no, but I wish to elaborate. By the way, the honourable member for Gosford is slow to get up today but he was a whole lot faster getting on the phone to the Sunday Telegraph
after the Hornsby by-election and putting the boot into his Leader. I thought that was very fast work, but I notice that he is a whole lot slower today.
Point of order: The Premier is making offensive remarks. I ask the Premier to withdraw those remarks because I find them offensive.
Order! There is no point of order.
If the honourable member for Gosford wants to get into the game of who is at what ethnic function we can devote question time every day in the House to that.
Going to a prison is different, I think.
Order! I call the honourable member for North Shore to order for the third time.
I was invited to meet the Australian Indo-China Chinese Association executive, and I did. I have no idea who they are friends with. I was invited to meet them as an ethnic association coming to Parliament House. I would not have had the faintest idea who their associates are. I was invited to meet the leadership of an ethnic organisation. Every honourable member of this House is in that position from time to time, and not the least is Nick Greiner, whose photograph I displayed a moment ago when I was talking about this matter.
Order! I call the honourable member for Baulkham Hills to order for the second time. I call the honourable member for Vaucluse to order for the second time.
The Opposition will not lecture the Government on judgment after the photograph that was taken of the Leader of the Opposition with Bassam Hamzy, Kevin Geraghty, Tarkan Tuncbliek and another man whose name escapes me but who we shall call, if honourable members prefer, Dennis, trusting that is not his name. That man was charged with two counts of manslaughter and one count of murder.
Point of order: My point of order is about the judgment of the Minister for Industrial Relations, who had lunch with Phuong Ngo at a ministerial lunch.
Order! There is no point of order.
As for the honourable member for Gosford, I love the story from May 1994.
It diminishes not at all with the passing years. When he was meant to be representing the former Coalition Premier, John Fahey, at the launch of a book about the patriarch of the Australian Lebanese community he became confused and wound up at a Pakistani wedding. According to the report in the Australian
of 11 May 1994, it dawned on him that something had gone seriously wrong when he was led to the bridal table and he was enthusiastically welcomed by the bride and groom. His office could not confirm whether he stayed to make an off-the-cuff congratulatory speech before escaping to his official function. Opposition members talked earlier about judgment, so let me give the House an example of their judgment. The honourable member for Gosford gave Phillip Smiles a character reference when he appeared in Sydney's St James Local Court describing him as "forthright, straightforward and honest". Mr Smiles was facing four tax charges, including allegations that he listed nannies as secretaries so as to claim tax deductions.
Point of order: Mr Speaker, as you and the Premier know, standing orders do not allow for a reflection on the administration of justice in New South Wales. In the Phillip Smiles case the court upheld the fact that he was entitled to the benefit of good character and that he was honest and straightforward. The Premier's remarks, which are a slur on the judgment of the court, should be withdrawn.
Order! The honourable member for Gosford may make a personal explanation at the appropriate time.
TRANSPORT INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS
I direct my question without notice to the Minister for Roads, and Minister for Transport. What is the latest information on major infrastructure projects in New South Wales?
I have good news to report to the House. Yesterday I was advised of the successful tenderer for project management of the Parramatta rail link. Today tenders closed for the Western Sydney Orbital. Tomorrow the tender process will open for the Lane Cove tunnel. So the results in one week are as follows: one tender let, one tender closed and another tender to be opened.
Opposition members do not like hearing this, but this Government is getting on with the job. Total investment in projects in the wider Sydney region is just under $4,000 million.
Order! I call the honourable member for Coffs Harbour to order for the second time.
This Government is implementing more road, rail and transitway projects than were implemented in the last 60 or 70 years. I am pleased to report that the successful tenderer for the project management of the Parramatta rail link is Bovis Lend Lease. I am happy to inform the House that its job will be to co-ordinate and oversee the work of other contractors—the tunnelling, track and station works—on this $1.6 billion project. Bovis Lend Lease has an impressive record in project management, including the Aeroflot terminal at Moscow airport, the $350 million renovation of Grand Central Station in New York, the construction of the Time-Warner Building in New York and, closer to home, the international terminal and the landmark Jacksons Landing development. I congratulate Bovis Lend Lease on successfully negotiating its way through a complex tender process—one more major step towards building the Parramatta rail link. Next week tenders for the major tunnelling track and signal contracts will close, ensuring that we are on track to start construction of this $1.6 billion project before the end of the year.
Point of order: While the Minister is at it he should tell us when the Parramatta to Epping rail link will be built. He is building only half a railway—$1.6 billion is being expended for the construction of half a railway.
We are building the Parramatta to Chatswood rail link.
Order! The Minister will pause until I have ruled on the point of order. There is no point of order. The Minister has the call.
Clearly, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition cannot read. He should know that the environmental impact statement and the planning approval that was given by the Deputy Premier confirm this Government's commitment to building the Parramatta to Epping rail link by 2008 and the Parramatta to Chatswood rail link by 2010.
Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order for the second time.
An amount of $1.6 billion will be spent on stage one of this project. All this information is on the record. Opposition members hate this because it embarrasses them. They did nothing for their communities. We are building Old Windsor Road, Windsor Road, the north-western transitway and the Parramatta rail link. Opposition members did absolutely nothing for their communities.
Order! I call the honourable member for Parramatta to order.
I should also talk about the Western Sydney Orbital—another road project Opposition members had nothing to do with. This Government is getting on with that project.
Order! I call the honourable member for Baulkham Hills to order for the third time.
Let me put all of this into perspective. A 40-kilometre motorway, which will bypass 56 sets of traffic lights, will be this State's single biggest contract. Let me also put these facts on the record. An amount of $350 million has been allocated by the Federal Government towards this project. The rest of the project will be financed by the people of Western Sydney. They have to pay a user charge when they go through the tollway. So we should not hear any nonsense from Opposition members that the Federal Government is paying for this project. The people of Western Sydney will be paying for the Western Sydney Orbital. Planning approval was given—
Point of order: The Minister for Transport is misleading this Chamber.
Order! There is no point of order.
Opposition members fail to refer to this minor investment of $600 million that the Government is allocating between now and 2006.
Is that all?
The honourable member for The Entrance wants to know whether that is all. This Government is allocating $600 million for Windsor Road, Old Windsor Road and the Sunnyholt Road corridor. We will have a world-class road and transitway network. The honourable member for Baulkham Hills should apologise. Referring again to the Western Sydney Orbital, I am pleased to say that tenders closed today. Three bids were put in for this project, which will cost well in excess of $1 billion. The three consortia comprise Leighton and Abigroup; Thiess, Baulderstone Hornibrook; and Transfield and Bouyges. Later this year I look forward to announcing the successful tenderer. At this stage it is intended that work on that project will commence before the year is out.
The Lane Cove tunnel is another project that Opposition members did not even think about building. They might need a reminder about the way in which they financed private tollways. The M2 ran out at Mowbray Road and spewed thousands of cars and trucks onto Epping Road, which runs through the electorate of the Leader of the Opposition. I have a duty on behalf of the Government to fix up the electorate of the Leader of the Opposition. She did not even think about doing that when the Coalition Government was in office. What a pathetic performance! Even worse, when the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was chief of staff for the former Minister for Transport, Bruce Baird, he allocated a quarter of a billion dollars of public money to finance the M2. If that was not bad enough—
Members of the Opposition are shocking when it comes to private sector financing. They do not know how to go about it. I refer again to the Lane Cove tunnel. I am happy to announce that tomorrow this Government will start the tender process for the construction of that significant project. This Government is getting on with the job. We are constructing the Western Sydney Orbital, the Parramatta rail link, the cross-city tunnel, the Liverpool to Parramatta transitway and the Lane Cove tunnel.
SENATOR HEFFERNAN CRIMINAL OFFENCES ALLEGATIONS
My question without notice is directed to the Premier. Now that the Comcar record used by Senator Heffernan to justify his disgraceful attack on Michael Kirby has been revealed to be a fake, will the Premier ensure that New South Wales police will fully investigate how this document came to be created and that those responsible are prosecuted to the full extent?
I, like every member of this House, look forward to this matter being prosecuted and the person who forged that document being revealed and prosecuted. If the New South Wales police can give any assistance in that matter they will do so. However, I suspect that it is a matter for the Commonwealth authorities. I think that is the view the New South Wales police would take. I would certainly want to satisfy myself that if they can pursue or assist in any part of this work they will do so. What is emerging out of Canberra is nothing less than a monstrous conspiracy directed at bringing down a High Court judge who, as we all know—Liberal and Labor alike—served with distinction on the New South Wales Court of Appeal. The great question at this stage must be: Who forged that document? Who set out to write down fake entries on a form purporting to be a record of Commonwealth car movements? That is the question that the Commonwealth Government must answer. Certainly the New South Wales police would want to assist in that line of investigation, although, as I said, I suspect that as it is a Commonwealth authority it is primarily a matter for the Australian Federal Police.
STUDIO AND AUDIO ENGINEERING INSTITUTE BYRON BAY HEADQUARTERS
My question without notice is to the Minister for Regional Development, and Minister for Rural Affairs. What is the latest information on plans to establish an international headquarters for a major audio college on the Northern Rivers?
It gives me great pleasure to inform the House of the latest development to create a world-class recording and film score studio in the Northern Rivers. This $20 million project was at risk of being established in Geneva, Switzerland, but, thanks to the good efforts of some key negotiators, the multi-billion-dollar project has now been secured for Byron Bay. This is a huge vote of confidence not just in Byron Bay but in all regional New South Wales. The project began in July 2000, when the Department of State and Regional Development began negotiations with the Studio and Audio Engineering [SAE] Institute to set up its world headquarters in Byron Bay. The SAE Institute network of colleges is the world's largest provider of audiovisual and digital film education. The institute began its life in 1976 when engineer and producer Dr Tom Misner saw the need for practical audio education.
The first course was held in Sydney with a four-track tape recorder and custom-made mixing console. Since then it has grown into a global network with colleges in 40 cities across the world, including London, Munich, Vienna, Auckland, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Kuala Lumpur, Stockholm, Madrid, Brussels and Liverpool. Some 12,000 students worldwide attend the SAE Institute colleges, of which 2,000 are Australians. The institute has plans for an additional 43 colleges in India alone, and 20 colleges in the United States of America. The Byron Bay headquarters project is to establish a world-class recording studio to cater for film score production as well as for research and development in this growing industry. It will involve the relocation and consolidation of the head office of the SAE Institute in Sydney and Amsterdam to Byron Bay. It will act as a research centre for senior and postgraduate students drawn from SAE Institute colleges throughout the world. It will also build on New South Wales' reputation as the leading film-making State in Australia—an industry worth some $3 billion to the New South Wales economy.
The initial projected investment was $8.5 million, with an estimated 33 full-time and part-time jobs. I can announce today that this has grown into a massive $20 million investment, with an expected 45 jobs to be created in the Northern Rivers. The proponent, Dr Tom Misner, purchased a site at Ewinsdale at Byron Bay but was forced to move to another site which needed both rezoning and development approval. My department, through the efforts of Tweed business development manager Mr Trevor Wilson, worked tirelessly with all the key stakeholders to work through the planning issues. I am pleased to announce that the rezoning was approved by my colleague the Minister for Planning and gazetted last week.
Construction is due to commence immediately following final council approval and the headquarters is expected to open its doors in March 2003. The State Government has been proud to support this project, as it is proud to support projects throughout New South Wales. As I said earlier, it is a huge vote of confidence in the creative and technical expertise that we know exists in regional New South Wales. I can also announce today that the State Government has offered financial assistance to the SAE Institute to establish its world headquarters at Byron Bay. It will be a major boost for the film and audio industry, not just on the Northern Rivers but throughout New South Wales.
JOHN MORONEY CORRECTIONAL CENTRE PRISONER OUTINGS
My question is directed to the Minister for Corrective Services. What action has the Minister taken following revelations to the Serious Offenders Review Council that six prisoners from the John Moroney Correctional Centre—including armed robbers and others convicted of malicious wounding—were taken on tenpin bowling outings without appropriate approvals and warrants, and without the knowledge of the victims?
As has been indicated to the House, the Serious Offenders Review Council was established to advise the Corrective Services Commissioner on the classification of various offenders, particularly those classified as serious offenders. The honourable member has alleged that some prisoners were taken on outings. I will have that allegation investigated. I would be extremely concerned if a prisoner who was classified as a serious offender—that is, a prisoner who was originally sentenced to a term of at least 12 years—were taken on such an outing. I flag to the House that I have serious concerns about a couple of the recommendations of the Serious Offenders Review Council. I am now conducting a number of inquiries in relation to the operations of the council. I am also looking at recommendations being made to me in relation to a wide variety of prisoners whose classifications I have a number of concerns about. I will report to the House when I have more information on those matters.
I ask a supplementary question. First, will the Minister advise when he will provide that information to the House? Second, will the Minister confirm that the prisoners included Barry Raymond Hoole, a notorious escapee and armed robber—
Order! I will allow the first part of the question. The second part of the question is out of order.
In relation to the first part of the question, I will provide the information as soon as possible—but definitely before the shadow Minister tables his first corrective services policy!
SENATOR HEFFERNAN CRIMINAL OFFENCES ALLEGATIONS
I wish to provide a supplementary answer to the question asked earlier by the honourable member for Bligh. I am advised by the New South Wales police that the material forwarded by Senator Heffernan to them was received on 18 March. This material is being carefully assessed by investigators from the Child Protection Enforcement Agency, with legal advice obtained from court and legal services. The material supplied includes an alleged Comcar driver's log and statutory declaration. Yesterday New South Wales police also received from Mr Laurie Brereton, MP, a transcript of a media conference he gave in Canberra. On 18 March the Prime Minister sought and received a briefing from Commissioner Ryan and former superintendent Woodhouse on the findings of Strike Force Corey, an investigation which included an examination of these allegations. Following a thorough assessment of the material, it was determined by the police that there is no basis for any further investigation by New South Wales police into any offence alleged to have been committed in this State. The material provided regarding the alleged use of Commonwealth vehicles and documents pertaining to the use of Commonwealth vehicles has been referred to the Australian Federal Police.
Last week the honourable member for Myall Lakes asked a question concerning a car theft in Taree and levels of country policing. The Minister for Police has subsequently advised me that the car was reported stolen by the owner at Taree police station at 10.00 a.m. on 13 February. Within six minutes an alert was broadcast to police across three local area commands. At the time the theft was being recorded local police were responding to a serious assault at a local service station, which led to the arrest and charging of the offender. I am further advised by the Minister that the stolen vehicle was recovered in Forster three days later. New South Wales has a record number of police. In November 1994, towards the end of the Coalition's last term in government, 3,595 police were in rural New South Wales. As at 28 February the total number of police in rural area commands was 4,334, an increase of 739.
Questions without notice concluded.
CONSIDERATION OF URGENT MOTIONS
Mr W. D. SMITH
(South Coast) [3.30 p.m.]: This matter is urgent because research and development in biotechnology in regional universities is funded by the Federal Government. The House should debate this matter urgently because advances made in biotechnology today will serve the whole of society well into the future. The House should debate this matter today for the sake of the 2,300 people across New South Wales employed in biotechnology. Finally, the matter is of immense importance to my constituency, the people of Jervis Bay, who have been waiting 11 months for the Federal Government to commit funding to the marine centre of excellence.
Namoi Valley Groundwater Task Force
Mr D. L. PAGE
(Ballina) [3.31 p.m.]: The matter I bring before the House today is urgent because of the Carr Government's total failure to provide an adequate response to the desperate situation regarding water allocations in the Namoi Valley. The matter is urgent because last week the Minister for Land and Water Conservation stated that water allocations in the Namoi Valley would, on average, be cut by 60 per cent. In some zones in the valley it will be cut by up to 95 per cent. The matter is urgent because the Carr Government's response to this desperate situation has been nothing short of pathetic.
Why it is urgent—not the argument for it.
Mr D. L. PAGE:
It is urgent because the task force appointed by the State and Federal governments in March 2000 produced a detailed report. It reported to the State Government in November 2000, some 18 months ago. This matter is urgent because those recommendations included a package of $120 million in a three-way split: $40 million by the Commonwealth, $40 million by the irrigators and $40 million by the State. It is urgent because the State Government's response to the task force's recommendation that it put up $40 million has been to put up $15 million over 10 years. The State Government's response has been totally inadequate—it is only $1.5 million per year for a significant problem that exists in the Namoi Valley. The matter is urgent because the task force said that of that $120 million package over 10 years, $55 million would be needed to buy back the entitlements, the overallocated water. The State Government is providing a minuscule $15 million of that $55 million acquisition cost to buy back the water. We have an overallocation in the Namoi Valley.
Point of order: The honourable member is going to the substantive part of his argument, which he should do in debate. He should be talking about why his motion is urgent; he should not be giving us the detail.
Order! I uphold the point of order.
Mr D. L. PAGE:
This matter is urgent because the State Government will finalise its water-sharing plans in a month or so. This issue is important for the Namoi Valley. The State Government's response is totally inadequate. If it builds this response into the water-sharing arrangements for the Namoi Valley there will be grave implications for individual irrigators and the valley. This matter is urgent because the State Government has not recognised that State governments and bureaucracies of both complexions have created the problem. They have provided an entitlement in the Namoi Valley of some 476 gigalitres. However, the sustainable limit is some 213 gigalitres. The resource is overallocated and needs to be reallocated. For that to occur funding arrangements must be equitable. The Government's response is pathetic. It provides only a minuscule amount of money to buy back the licences required. By contrast, the Federal Government is prepared to fund its full share of the $40 million. The State Government is prepared to pay only $15 million. That is pathetic. This important issue must be debated in the Chamber today. I call on all members to support my motion, which is more important than the Government's motion.
Question—That the motion for urgent consideration of the honourable member for South Coast be proceeded with—put.
The House divided.
|Mr Orkopoulos |
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.
|Mrs Lo Po'||Mrs Chikarovski|
|Mr Lynch||Mr Hartcher|
|Dr Refshauge||Mr Maguire|
Mr W. D. SMITH
(South Coast) [3.44 p.m.]: I move:
(1) recognises the growing importance of the biotechnology industry to New South Wales, which currently employs 2,300 people and contributes $300 million annually to the New South Wales economy;
(2) notes the State Government's $68 million BioFirst strategy, which includes the BioPlatform to support the growth of medical and agricultural biotechnology in rural and regional New South Wales;
(3) congratulates regional universities such as Charles Sturt and Southern Cross on encouraging this industry of emerging importance to New South Wales; and
(4) calls on the Federal Government to invest in biotechnology by increasing funding to universities in regional New South Wales.
The Federal Government should immediately increase funding to regional universities to promote biotechnology research. Biotechnology is emerging as one of the nation's most important industries, especially in New South Wales. The industry has a valuable contribution to make not only in terms of employment and investment but also in the intellectual and social fabric of our State. We have an intellectual reserve among our academics, and it is important that they have the opportunity to apply that reserve socially over the coming decades so that our society can benefit from that intellectual capability. There is no denying that the groundbreaking work currently being done in biotechnology across the State will serve us all well into the future. New South Wales is leading the way. Indeed, New South Wales is the base for 40 per cent of biotechnology companies in Australia. One of these exciting companies is based in my electorate of South Coast.
Probiotec is an innovative regional company that produces natural pharmaceuticals—in other words, pharmaceuticals based on naturally occurring chemicals in living things. Last year I joined with the Minister for Regional Development to announce government assistance for the company's expansion in Nowra. That was greatly welcomed by my community. Probiotec has turned the waterways of the Shoalhaven into a virtual goldmine, sourcing marine organisms to produce its range of pharmaceuticals. The Government's assistance for the company has led to some 42 new jobs for the Shoalhaven, which is great news for the area and a great economic boost to the South Coast. A world of innovative companies in regional New South Wales are developing the State's biotechnology industry.
Probiotec has developed a method of turning shark cartilage into an effective form of pain relief—innovative chemistry to relieve suffering in our communities. It is also supplying a range of women's calcium supplements to South-East Asia and the United States of America, taking Australian innovation to the world. The company is also working with Food Science Australia on a $1.6 million project developing a range of natural arthritis relief medicine. I was also pleased to join with the Premier in May last year to announce the development of the world-class Marine Science Centre of Excellence at Jervis Bay. This park is a $1.5 million commitment from this Government to establish the South Coast as an international leader in scientific marine research. It is hoped that the centre of excellence will become a new education and training centre for University of Wollongong students.
Unfortunately, in the true style of the Federal Government, the people of the South Coast are still waiting for it to come to the party on this exciting project. It is typical of the Federal Government to thwart the progress of such a valuable project. It has no commitment to the development of skills in industries such as biotechnology in rural and regional areas. It is simply not good enough, and I call on the Federal Government to immediately inject its fair share of funding into the marine park. The State Government's $1.5 million is on the table, and I know that members of my local community and the University of Wollongong would join me in urging the Federal Government to match that figure.
The Commonwealth should put its money on the table, as the State Government has done. This exciting project is being supported by the area consultative committee and everyone else on the South Coast, yet the Federal Government remains immobile. There is a definite contrast between the Commonwealth Government's position and the position the Carr Government has taken of encouraging biotechnology. This Government is always pleased to promote emerging industries, particularly in regional and rural New South Wales. We are well placed to become a world leader in the development of biotechnology products. Indeed, the June 2001 issue of Corporate Location
magazine, a leading worldwide authority on industry location, rated New South Wales as number two in the Asia-Pacific region as a location for biotechnology companies. This is an exceptional achievement when one considers that our competition included Singapore and Japan.
Biotechology companies operating in New South Wales enjoy a high proportion of tertiary qualified residents, proximity to Asian markets, research facilities second to none in the world and, importantly, a State Government that is willing to foster innovation. An indication of our strong commitment to developing innovators in New South Wales is the Government's biotechnology strategy, BioFirst. This is a $68 million commitment to the biotechnology industry and to the 2,300 people it employs across the State. Our strategy has been praised by the best in the industry, including the Executive Director of the Garvan Institute for Medical Research, Professor John Shine. Professor Shine said of the strategy:
With the initiatives contained in BioFirst, the State Government has demonstrated leadership and commitment to the promotion of New South Wales as a world player in biomedical research.
This is a highly prized endorsement from one of the country's leaders in the field of biotechnology. The strategy involves four main components in encouraging existing and attracting new biotechnology companies to New South Wales. Firstly, the BioPlatform initiative will provide additional funding for research and development facilities, and the creation of major research clusters in rural and regional New South Wales. There are many opportunities for the expansion of the industry in country areas and this initiative by the Government will help attract key research groups to rural and regional New South Wales by helping to provide the necessary facilities. Secondly, the Government has developed an initiative to assist biotechnology companies based in New South Wales to market themselves to the rest of the world. This initiative will provide support for biotechnology companies looking to take their innovations to the world and will help to ensure the growth of new and existing companies.
Thirdly, BioEthics is an initiative aimed at promoting community awareness of the benefits of biotechnology to the community as a whole. Finally, BioUnit will be a specialised unit established within the Government to oversee the co-ordination and implementation of the strategy and provide advice to the Government on the development of the industry throughout New South Wales. BioFirst is possibly one of the Government's most important initiatives since taking office. New South Wales, especially country New South Wales, needs to stay in front in emerging areas, and this initiative will go a long way to ensuring that we keep up with the rest of the world. It presents an opportunity to build on the $30 million annually that the industry contributes to the State's economy and to promote the talent that exists in country New South Wales in this area.
The Government is also working to attract the world's leading biotechnologists and researchers to this State. The BioFirst awards program has been established to recruit five world-class researchers to the State each year for the next three years. This initiative will complement other similar award schemes such as the Australian Research Council Federation fellowships and the Burnett scholarships. New South Wales has many talented researchers and others involved in biotechnology. The BioFirst awards will attract other gifted scientists from around the world to New South Wales, bringing their ideas and skills together with those already in the State.
The Carr Government has an unwavering commitment to the promotion of the biotechnology industry and research and development in New South Wales, and that is highlighted by the $1.5 million that has already been put on the table by this Government for research facilities on the shores of Jervis Bay. That commitment was made more than 11 months ago, and we are still waiting on the Federal Government to match it, despite the fact that all the major players and stakeholders in my area have agreed that it is a wonderful project that will put the South Coast on the intellectual map in terms of research. It will help the thinkers in Wollongong University. It is a pity that the Federal Government does not share this commitment, and I call on it to do so.
(North Shore) [3.54 p.m.]: I know that the honourable member for South Coast was only elected to this place in 1999, and maybe he will take a little while to catch up with things, but I refer him to a motion of which I gave notice in October 1999. That motion, which was finally debated in September last year, addressed this very issue. In fact, it is almost an exact replica of the motion moved by the honourable member for South Coast in that it recognises the importance of the biotechnology industry to New South Wales.
The big difference is that I pointed out the huge commitment that the Commonwealth Government had made to the increased understanding of this very important area by providing an additional $600 million for medical research, which doubles the amount of funding in this area up to 2004. This Government's $68 million BioFirst strategy was announced on 15 August 2001. On that date I issued a press release which stated "Carr Government's Biotech Funding—Too Little, Too Late". It is interesting that that theme was picked up by the Australian Financial Review
on 27 August in an article entitled "Too little too late for NSW biotech lobby". The article referred to the authors of a 1999 report aimed at boosting the New South Wales biotechnology sector and stated:
that is, the scientists—
have attacked the Carr Government for failing to adopt many of their recommendations.
They said the NSW Government had been too slow in acting on the report, while Victoria and Queensland had pledged a combined $600 million to biotech development.
That should be compared with the contribution of $68 million from the Carr Government. The article quoted Dr Robin Stanley, a management consultant who advised on the report, as having said:
The NSW Government has decided, belatedly, to act on various recommendations contained in the report on the status of biotechnology in NSW.
… much greater emphasis and support is required to fund biotechnology clusters and attract world-class scientists.
In that same article the report's chief author, Dr Mark Bradley, said he did not know why the Carr Government had taken so long to act on the report, which had been commissioned in 1999 by the Department of State and Regional Development. It does not take much brain power to work out how important the biotechnology industry is to Australia, and particularly New South Wales. I recommend to the honourable member for South Coast and any interested Government member a very worthwhile report by P. T. Wills, which was commissioned by the Federal Government in 1999. That report, known as the Wills report, has become the standard for a background and framework for investment in biotechnology in Australia. It identifies the huge potential for Australia, which is one of the few countries with the capacity to harness the benefits of the revolution in biotechnology.
I very quickly recognised—as did most people in the scientific community—the importance of this review and its tremendous ideas and very important recommendations. New South Wales is a long way behind Queensland, in particular, and Victoria, both of which have dramatically increased their investments in this area. Victoria has a very well developed research infrastructure that goes back many years. When I was a child growing up in Victoria everybody knew about the Walter and Eliza Institute. But Queensland has taken the cake by increasing its funding by $100 million in one year. New South Wales has allocated $68 million over four years. What a pittance! What a pathetic response, when the Government was aware of the recommendations in the Wills report. The Coalition was so impressed with the recommendations in the Wills report that it formed the basis of the Coalition's health policy on investment in 1999 and will continue to form the basis of our investment in health and biotechnology, and particularly biomedical research, for the next election. I move:
That the motion be amended by leaving out paragraph (4) with a view to inserting instead:
(4) congratulates the Federal Government on investing in biotechnology by increasing funding to universities in regional New South Wales.
The Carr Government announced its $68 million BioFirst strategy on 15 August 2001—well over a year after the Wills report came out and well after the Federal Government had increased biotechnology funding. The Carr Government's announcement was way behind what is being done in other eastern Australian States. It was not until Wednesday 6 February 2002—six months later—that applications for awards under BioFirst were announced. No wonder the scientific community, those working in biotechnology and technology, are saying, "Too little too late." Where has the Carr Government been? This item has been on the Australian agenda for a very long time.
It is a disgrace that New South Wales is so far behind in providing what is necessary to make this State competitive. Here we are talking about jobs, keeping scientists in Australia, and the tremendous advances that can be made right across the board—for patients who will benefit from medical research, and in agriculture, which will benefit from advances in biotechnology related to agriculture. For the Carr Government to claim that its BioFirst strategy has had an impact on agricultural biotechnology is arrogant in the extreme. The majority of that funding has in fact come from the private sector. It has come from companies such as Cargills, Monsanto and ConAgra. The Carr Government wants to take credit for everything that is good, whether it has had anything to do with it or not, and to cast blame for poor performance on somebody else.
In relation to Federal Government investment in biotechnology, that Government will be investing substantial amounts of money in biotechnology this year. That investment includes $25.9 million from the Cooperative Research Centres Program, $28 million over five years through the Major National Research Facilities Program, $15 million through the COMET and R&D START programs, $3 million from the Innovation Investment Fund, $1 million from the Innovation Access Program, $40 million from a dedicated Biotechnology Innovation Fund, $46.5 to establish a biotechnology centre of excellence, $25 million through the Australian Research Council, $26 million through the Australian Institute of Marine Science, and $47 million through the CSIRO. It is a disgrace that the Carr Government has been so slow to respond to the emerging and important industries related to biotechnology. That is why the Coalition is so well received when it speaks to science and biotechnology industry groups. They know that the Coalition has a strong commitment in this area, in furtherance of the commitment already shown by the Federal Government.
The Carr Government, instead of its churlish attempts to claim credit for advances that have been made by industry and for initiatives of the Federal Government, should have supported my motion, which sat on the notice paper for a year before it was debated in September last year. My motion congratulated the Commonwealth Government on getting on with the job of working in partnership with other levels of government and with the private sector in providing regular advances in biotechnology for this State. Instead, ill-informed and misled backbench Labor members have read speeches that have been prepared for them that have absolutely nothing to do with the truth. I refer honourable members to articles in the Australian Financial Review
which quote scientists as saying that the Carr Government's $68 million BioFirst strategy was "too little too late". The strategy was announced last year, but we still have not seen any advance under it.
(Bathurst) [4.04 p.m.]: I support the urgency motion. The facts are quite clear, despite what the honourable member for North Shore would have us believe: New South Wales is at the forefront of biotechnology in the Asia-Pacific region. New South Wales hosts 40 per cent of biotechnology companies in Australia. There are more than 60 dedicated biotechnology companies in New South Wales. Those companies are supported by more than 190 companies in related areas like pharmaceuticals, services and medical instrumentation. Further, over 50 per cent of the revenue generated by this burgeoning industry is through export.
The renowned Corporate Location
magazine rates New South Wales number two in the Asia-Pacific region as a location for biotechnology. I know that honourable members opposite would ask why. I will elucidate. New South Wales has world-class technology parks, world-class research facilities, a high proportion of tertiary qualified residents and, very importantly, a commitment by the New South Wales Government to foster innovation. The $68 million BioFirst initiative, which was launched by the New South Wales Government last year, will put more funding into biotechnology research and will help commercialise that research. That is very important. The Government is using taxpayers' dollars cleverly. It is giving the lead to private industry, with the $68 million being a focus to attract other investment by private organisations. It is particularly important that New South Wales go down this track because we operate in a global economy. We might argue about the merits of globalisation, but we must compete in that market.
This is a great opportunity for Australia to be competitive in that global market of six billion people. We must ensure that we have first-class research. The New South Wales Government is showing the way, attracting the private sector so that commercial organisations work side by side with government. A special unit has been created to see that this happens in an ethical and socially acceptable way. Regional New South Wales—in which I have a particular interest—has a chance to embrace this emerging industry, and is well qualified to do so. Our five regional-based universities all have specialised units of the CSIRO and other government-run research facilities working in tandem with university research departments. There is also a great commitment by the private sector to work with those organisations. All New South Wales universities have a business development and commercialisation arm.
Innovation is not new to regional New South Wales. Just look at how successful the Government's Australian Technology Showcase has been. In my electorate a number of companies have been funded through that initiative to help them develop and market their products. The showcase has been extremely successful. The Minister for Local Government, Minister for Regional Development, and Minister for Rural Affairs, the Hon. Harry Woods, is regularly in my electorate making more such announcements, adding to the number of jobs and enhancing the potential of regional and country New South Wales.
Biotechnology clusters are developing in several regional centres in this State. Those include the Cellulose Valley Technology Park at the Southern Cross University in Lismore, the Charles Sturt University at Wagga Wagga and the John Hunter Hospital and University of Newcastle in the Hunter. The New South Wales Department of State and Regional Development has provided funding towards a feasibility and planning consultancy for Wagga Wagga City Council and the Charles Sturt University to develop a biotechnology centre of excellence. The Biological Solutions Precinct, as it will be called, will focus on both agricultural and biomedical research. I am advised that a number of current projects have the potential to be outstanding commercial outcomes. The benefits of a biotechnology centre of excellence for the Riverina are substantial and multiplying. The centre will attract a large number of highly qualified professionals, investment for research leading to product development, and commercialisation and potential large-scale production facilities.
One can see that the New South Wales Government is not afraid of the future, of investing in our human capital, or of supporting sustainable emerging industries. The honourable member for North Shore made much about the Federal Government's involvement in biotechnology, but she did not quote its chief scientist, who admitted that if scientists want funding they have to get it themselves. That is consistent with the actions of the Federal Government. The first thing it did on coming to office in 1996 was abolish the Department of Regional Development. We know the role that department should be playing in attracting this sort of research to country New South Wales and New South Wales generally. I commend the motion.
(Ku-ring-gai—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [4.09 p.m.]: I congratulate Country Labor members, who are the personification of the advances in biotechnology in this State, on participating in this debate. Although both their speeches and press releases have been written for them by Walt Secord, by some magical biotechnology the words have managed to come out of their mouths and their fax machines. If ever there is an example of what is wrong with this Government, it is demonstrated by the sort of approach adopted by the first two speakers in this debate. I encourage the third speaker, the honourable member for Tweed, to be original and innovative and to show some depth of knowledge about the subject. The honourable member for North Shore has moved an appropriate amendment to the motion. If members opposite seriously want to debate the need for advanced biotechnological development in this State, the first thing they have to do is take politics out of the debate. That is what business, the academics want and all those who are seriously concerned about this matter want. However, that is what the Government is failing to do.
If members opposite are serious about advancing the cause of biotechnology, not only in the city but in the country and in regional centres, the second thing they might care to do is to take some action about the appalling level of taxation that applies to businesses and research institutes in this State. As honourable members on both sides of the House have said during this debate, when it comes to biotechnology, the first priority of New South Wales should be to compete with the rest of the world. To do that, New South Wales first has to compete with States to its north and south. The statistics cited by members opposite, which were provided to them by Mr Secord, show that Queensland and Victoria have a sharper emphasis when it comes to biotechnology advancement—and why wouldn't they? A biotechnology company operating in Queensland or Victoria pays lower workers compensation premiums and payroll tax, and pays a lower rate of other government imposts.
This debate is an example of the classic Carr Government fix. On the one hand, the Government puts out press releases showing what good boys they are and on the other hand they are grabbing as much for the State's coffers as they can. That clearly acts as a disincentive. I do not deny that 40 per cent of biotechnology companies in Australia are located in New South Wales—and why wouldn't they be located here? It is the largest State, it is situated in the best geographic area for biotechnology industries and it largest city in Australia is located within its boundaries. However, the reality is that New South Wales could be doing so much better if the Government took a holistic approach to State development and ensured that its rhetoric in support of industries in regional and city areas was backed by policies in a number of portfolios.
The honourable member for Camden is in the Chamber. Probably no-one who knows more about agricultural bio-research than the honourable member for Camden. She can tell honourable members how difficult it is to do business and to undertake research—not only with commercial institutions and academic institutions, but also when applying to governments for grants and the provision of resources. If we are to advance this area, we should get the politics out of the debate and acknowledge the role that has been played by the Federal Government. The honourable member for North Shore has outlined the expenditure undertaken by the Federal Government in trying to help investment in biotechnology both in this State and throughout the nation.
I point out to members opposite that it took the New South Wales Government until 15 August last year to produce a policy, and that was eight months after the Federal Government released its innovation policy on matters including biotechnology. The Federal Government launched the Australian Technology Park at Redfern in January last year and eight months after that the State produced its policy. Even then, those who have been intimately involved in this State's development of biotechnology industries said that the State Government's action was too little too late and did not hit the mark. Above all I plead with members opposite to acknowledge the role of the private sector in biotechnology research instead of trying to steal credit for what the industry is doing.
If members opposite are serious about advancing the cause of biotechnology industries and ensuring that qualified people are given the opportunity to produce value-added goods, not only for export but for the good of all consumers in New South Wales and the rest of Australia, they should get off the backs of people involved in the industry and ensure that Treasury, the Department of State and Regional Development and other government departments provide genuine support. I conclude where the Minister for Transport, and Minister for Roads began during question time today. When the Government announced the Parramatta rail link, the Premier went on long and hard about providing access for western Sydney workers to jobs in the biotechnology and high-technology corridor in West Ryde. Because only stage two has been funded— that is, Epping to Chatswood—those people have not been able to obtain the jobs they were promised. That is an example of the hypocrisy that members of this Government engage in during debates of this type.
(Tweed) [4.14 p.m.]: I support the motion moved by the honourable member for South Coast, which refers to the New South Wales biotechnology industry and some of the reasons why the industry has not developed as fast as it possibly should have done. New South Wales is already internationally recognised as one of the leading locations for biotechnology investment in the Asia-Pacific region. The New South Wales Government is committed to the practical development of the biotechnology industry in New South Wales. In August last year the Premier launched a five-year plan to support the industry so that it reaches its commercial potential and provides a significant economic contribution to the State. That five-year plan, BioFirst, is made up of four components. BioPlatform is the New South Wales Government's commitment to providing additional funding for biotechnology research as well as key technology platforms such as genomics, informatics and other technologies. BioPlatform will support the development of clusters in Sydney and regional New South Wales in medical and agricultural biotechnology.
The second component, BioBusiness, is the Government's commercialisation arm of the strategy. The Government will provide extensive support to the growth of new and existing biotechnology companies and for the international marketing of the industry. The third component, BioEthics, will promote community awareness and discussion of the ethical, social, environmental and legal implications of high-technology in New South Wales. That will be overseen and implemented by the fourth component, BioUnit. This is a sensible plan that will foster innovation and attract investment funds to the industry.
In the same way as the honourable member for Bathurst has referred to what will happen in the Riverina, I will highlight what is happening on the North Coast. The Centre for Plant Conservation Genetics is one of the three main research facilities that will underpin the Cellulose Valley initiative by the Southern Cross University in Lismore. The centre will employ more than 50 staff, mostly researchers, who will conduct research into forestry, rice, tea-tree and sugarcane genetics. The centre has identified an opportunity for the development of a national plant DNA bank. This fits in with the BioFirst strategy which states that there is a need to ensure that New South Wales has an adequate repository of genetic material for ongoing research and development. Through the Department State and Regional Development, the New South Wales Government has contributed funds towards the employment of a project manager and a policy development officer to develop important infrastructure for this line of research.
The benefits are significant. For the industry, it means the attraction of research funds, the development of spin-off companies and cluster formation. As the honourable member for Bathurst pointed out, the Government's initiatives are all about utilising seed funding to attract funds from private industry to undertake research. For the Government, the benefit translates to jobs and economic development in the regional areas of the State. On a more technical front, the DNA plant bank will increase protection of Australian agricultural industries and natural biota through the provision of greater tools for the detection of quarantine breaches, the promotion of greater agricultural and forest diversity, the establishment of a repository, and the creation of greater quality assurance of agricultural commodities. It is cutting-edge research in which the possibilities are endless.
Last year's innovation statement by the Federal Government was supposed to propel Australia's emerging industries, such as biotechnology and information and communications technology, into the future. However, all it did was put the same level of funds back into research and development and the education sector that had been ripped out by the Federal Coalition Government in its first term of government. By doing so, the Federal Coalition Government in effect set back these emerging industries five years. New South Wales is yet to see the funds flowing from all the programs referred to by the honourable member for North Shore during this debate.
I call upon the Federal Government to make good its contribution to biotechnology research. Federal funding is more than warranted, especially to continue university research in regional areas of New South Wales. The New South Wales Government does not intend to set back biotechnology industries. It intends to support this State's world-beating researchers and to help develop this State's leading biotechnology industries. As recently as a few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of being part of a Country Labor delegation that visited a company at Tweed Heads in northern New South Wales that had received a small contribution from the Department of State and Regional Development to assist the company in marketing its products in biotechnology research. [Time expired.
Mr W. D. SMITH
(South Coast) [4.19 p.m.], in reply: I thank the honourable member for Tweed, the honourable member for Bathurst, the honourable member for North Shore and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for their participation in the debate on this important motion. The honourable member for North Shore claimed that the Government had done nothing to promote the biotechnology industry. That is quite an absurd statement when we take into account the Government's $68 million commitment to biotechnology in New South Wales. As I said earlier, that $68 million has assisted the biotechnology industry and it has resulted in the creation of 42 jobs—a significant economic generator in the South Coast electorate.
The biotechnology company in my electorate exports calcium products to South-east Asia and to the United States of America. Honourable members would be aware that calcium products are important in the treatment of osteoporosis in women. I said earlier that the Jervis Bay Marine Park is located in my electorate. The establishment of the marine science centre would ensure that the Marine Park Authority, New South Wales Fisheries and Wollongong university all operated under the same roof. Unfortunately, the Federal Government has not come to the party and it has not allocated the $1.5 million that it promised to allocate to assist in the establishment of this centre. That is a slap in the face for the members of the area consultative committee in my electorate who have all given of their time to promote the establishment of this centre. That committee has one paid chief executive officer and a number of other administrative staff.
Stakeholders and the movers and shakers in this group assess projects and examine documentation that assists them in formulating ideas and things of that nature. They were all enthusiastic about the establishment of the marine science centre in Jervis Bay. As I said earlier, the fact that the Federal Government has not come to the party is a real slap in the face for those who put in so much time and effort. It is also a slap in the face for academics at Wollongong university who are supportive of this project and who do a terrific job of bringing university education to the South Coast. The Federal Government should get off its hands and allocate, as the State Government has, the funding it promised.
An obvious distinction can be drawn between members of the Government and members of the Opposition. The Government stands up for the interests of country businesses and researchers. I was disappointed that no member of the National Party participated in a debate concerning regional and rural New South Wales. Two members of the Liberal Party, members representing north shore electorates, ran a line that should have been run by members of the National Party in this House. Members of the National Party should join Government members in calling on the Federal Government to commit more funding to regional universities and biotechnology research.
I referred earlier to the BioFirst strategy, which aims to promote the development of biotechnology in this State. A major component of that strategy involves the Government actively encouraging biotechnology companies to establish and expand in New South Wales, as they have done at Bomaderry in the South Coast electorate. As I said earlier, that company has received assistance from the State Government. The Government is assisting the industry through marketing, research establishment and commercial expenditure. It is working with the industry to ensure that biotechnology companies stay and grow in New South Wales.
I cannot stress enough the importance of this industry to New South Wales and to the 2,300 people that it directly employs, to say nothing of the many spin-off jobs that result from this industry—and that number is growing every day. The Government has in place appropriate and effective initiatives to ensure that the biotechnology industry is one of the strongest in New South Wales. If the honourable member for North Shore believes that a substantial amount of money has been made available by the Federal Government for biotechnology research she should have no problem in assisting me to obtain $1.5 million for a research station in Jervis Bay. [Time expired
Question—That the words stand—put.
The House divided.
|Mr Greene |
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.
|Mrs Lo Po'||Mrs Chikarovski|
|Mr Lynch||Mr Hartcher|
|Dr Refshauge||Mr O'Farrell|
SMALL BUSINESS MONTH
Matter of Public Importance
(Port Jackson—Minister for Small Business, and Minister for Tourism) [4.34 p.m.]: As members would be aware, the Government holds an annual Small Business Month in recognition of our small business community. I am pleased to say that the Small Business Month has quickly become an important fixture on the New South Wales small business calendar. This year's Small Business Month, which will take place from 1 May to 31 May, will be bigger and better than ever. We will be offering nearly 300 seminars, workshops and exhibitions to small business owners throughout regional and metropolitan New South Wales. Those events will tackle the big issues for small business such as marketing, cash flow management, information technology and many more. Small Business Month provides an opportunity for the Government and the community to recognise the contribution of small businesses in New South Wales. I am pleased to say that, once again, many events will be free or at a low cost to participants.
This year we are calling the annual event "Small Business Month 2002—Saluting Smart Business," which is in line with the Government's philosophy of helping small businesses do business smarter. The Department of State and Regional Development has designed a program that will provide business people with critically important but easy-to-digest business information to help them grow their businesses. Apart from enhancing their business skills and generating ideas, they will also have the opportunity to widen their network of business contacts. There are six themes for this year's Small Business Month: marketing, business growth, exporting, innovation and technology, finance and getting started.
Last year more than 22,000 owners, operators and staff across New South Wales attended 266 events around the State. These figures were close to double those of the highly successful Small Business Month held in 1999. The 1999 Small Business Month involved more than 150 events in the State, 90 of which were delivered in regional areas and attracted more than 11,000 small business people. I am pleased to announce that this year's major sponsors are the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and the Australia Post Small Business Awards. I know that their contribution will ensure the success of this year's events.
The Government will promote Small Business Month 2002 throughout New South Wales with the distribution of a Small Business Month calendar and a dedicated web site displaying details of all the activities available. We will also promote it via our network of more than 100 sponsors, partners and government agencies. From 15 March 2002 people will be able to access information about Small Business Month from the Department of State and Regional Development's web site www.smallbiz.nsw.gov.au
. The web site contains contact details for each Small Business Month event, allowing people to register their attendance via email. As occurred in the past, Small Business Month will start with an interactive breakfast seminar beamed by Sky Channel around the State. We have found that these seminars are very well attended. The seminar will address marketing issues relevant to small businesses, and experts will be available to answer wide-ranging questions from the audience.
A snapshot of what regional New South Wales can look forward to during Small Business Month includes exporting seminars, marketing your home-based business, and employment issues for small business on the Central Coast; a look at the future of your business in Parkes; workshops on employment issues for small businesses in the Central West; export-related events, plus seminars on how to succeed in business, as well as employment issues for small businesses, in the Hunter; seminars and events on WorkCover issues, cash flow management, and tourism networking in the Illawarra; and a series of exporting events and a small business open Day on the mid North Coast.
The Murray Region will see the launch of the Women in Business Mentor program in Albury, as well as seminars on marketing, customer service and employment issues. The New England region will focus on exporting, as well as business awards programs that recognise excellence in small business. The Northern Rivers area will host a series of seminars addressing marketing, legal implications for small business, business fundamentals, as well as a briefing on the upcoming Exporter of the Year Awards. The Orana will enjoy a media-public relations-communications seminar, a community economic development forum, and an innovation expo and workshop. The Riverina will host seminars on budgeting for success, WorkCover issues, and a rural small business conference.
South-eastern New South Wales will enjoy seminars on cash flow management, enhanced customer service skills and getting into business. A large number of events, seminars and workshops will take place throughout metropolitan Sydney, many of which will be held in the greater Western Sydney region. I have in front of me a more detailed 20-page list of programs and events. Events will be held in more regional centres than I have had time to outline in my contribution this afternoon. Honourable members can be assured that they cover the length and breadth of the State.
Small Business Month gives the Government and, perhaps more importantly, the Department of State and Regional Development an opportunity to get the message out about what support is available from a raft of government programs, not simply from the Department of State and Regional Development. The State Government's support for small business is available for small businesses at all stages of their business life, from individuals planning to start a small business to newly established and well-established businesses, particularly if they become involved in exporting. Targeted support is also available for those with sustainable operations that have the potential for growth, either through geographic market expansion—both domestically and internationally—through product market expansion or through product innovation. The central driver of these programs is our commitment to assist firms to adopt new technologies and management practices. This allows them to improve and narrow their focus, to increase productivity and to promote their competitive position in a global marketplace.
Small Business Month is the Government's way to give something back to the men and women who put in the long hours and risk their money to create the jobs and business diversity we enjoy all over New South Wales. I am delighted to say that I will be attending many of the events in both regional and metropolitan locations, where I will have a chance to reinforce this message. I ask all honourable members to join with the Government in this richly deserved thank you to small business by promoting Small Business Month to constituents and encouraging participation. I am happy to provide honourable members with material that they can distribute in their local regions. I look forward to the contributions of honourable members in this matter of public importance. I also look forward to seeing many small businesses throughout New South Wales in May.
(Southern Highlands) [4.42 p.m.]: This is my first opportunity to speak as the newly appointed shadow Minister for Small Business. As someone who has been a small business person in the past, I was very pleased and proud to be given this appointment. My second job out of university was to start my own small business. I am grateful to have had that experience and to have experienced some of the highs and lows small business people experience. I am still a small business person to the extent that my husband and I jointly run a farm. While it is on a very small scale, I am pleased to be involved in an important part of the economy that provides employment for so many people, particularly in regional areas.
Small businesses are a vital part of the economy, particularly regional economies. My colleague the honourable member for Orange has been highlighting some of the experiences of his local small business people, who are primary producers in the first instance and who are branching out into other enterprises. For example, a grain farmer has added to his business the production of agricultural lime from a quarry he manages. Another is a canola grower who is now crushing canola for oil and selling it to supermarkets. These people are large-scale primary producers as well as small business operators who are value-adding and creating jobs, business opportunities and opportunities for diversification in regional towns. That is very much to be encouraged and supported.
Small business, particularly in regional areas, often provides the people who are the backbones of service clubs—rotary clubs and lions clubs. They are usually the sponsors of community events, ranging from charitable functions to sporting events, and they also play an important role in encouraging young people to think about becoming business people themselves. They provide valuable work experience for students from high schools and colleges. They also have a valuable interaction with schools. So, on many levels, small business is not just part of our economy but also part of our culture and something very much to be supported.
The Opposition is very supportive of Small Business Month in May. While we welcome the attempt to help small businesses increase their skills in marketing and all sorts of related activities, the Minister for Small Business has missed the point. During Small Business Month we would like to see the Government come to grips with some of the big problems small businesses are having to struggle with under this Government, including concerns about crime and safety, particularly in neighbourhood shopping centres. In my area in particular—and I am sure all honourable members on this side of the House would agree—small businesses are constantly saying to their local members that there are not enough beat police in their shopping centres, in their villages and in their towns. I am sure it is the same in urban centres. There are simply not enough police. Shops are bearing the brunt of broken windows and malicious damage, of vandalism and theft.
In my area small businesses are reduced to having to ring the police assistance line every time something like this occurs. If a window is broken it costs approximately $600 to replace it. Small businesses no longer claim on their insurance because it is far too expensive, so they make a report to the police assistance line. However, it is rare that even a pattern of malicious damage will trigger a serious investigation by local police because there are simply not enough resources in local police stations to do that investigative work. These things become yet another statistic, and that is not on. What has the Government's response been? Honourable members have heard about the rent-a-cop proposal. It will not be affordable, even if we agreed with the ethics of it. Some people have major concerns about the ethical choices facing police officers who take part in the rent-a-cop proposal. I doubt whether any businesses in my area or in the area of the honourable member for Orange will be able to afford to rent a cop. They want to know that police will be around when they need them. They need to know that sufficient numbers of police are walking the beat and doing the job equitably for everybody.
The Opposition would like the Government to admit that it has a problem with its current unfair dismissal legislation. I cannot tell the House how many small businesses have said to me that they are concerned about taking on young people and giving them a go. If that young person does not work out the business could find itself in costly litigation or saddled with an employee who does not meet the needs of that small business or the workplace requirements. Small businesses would like to be able to give people a chance and know that if it does not work out for any reason—and there are all sorts of good reasons why it may not work out—they can make new arrangements. At the moment they cannot do that. As a result, many young people are missing out on that opportunity simply because of the Government's approach to unfair dismissals.
Stamp duty on things such as property insurance and small business insurance is also crippling small business. Public liability has been well canvassed. One wonders why the Carr Government is not taking a more active role to try to solve the public liability crisis until one looks at the revenue coming to the Government from insurance, stamp duty and land tax. State tax revenue is up 33 per cent or $7.1 billion: land tax of $1 billion is up 66 per cent since 1995; stamp duty is up from $2.6 billion to $3.5 billion, a 67 per cent increase; and payroll tax is up from $2.8 billion to $4.1 billion, an increase of 23 per cent. We are the highest taxed State in the nation, and small business is bearing a considerable amount of that burden. While the Government is receiving record revenue from stamp duty, land tax and other State taxes and duties, small business is certainly not seeing any improvements in the number of police officers on the beat or the sorts of physical amenities that are important environmental additives to commercial precincts.
Small businesses are disadvantaged when their employees do not arrive at work on time because they are faced with unreliable State rail services. Many times people in my electorate have come to see me to say that they have had their pay docked because they have not been able to arrive on time. That is a burden not only on employees but also on employers, who must make arrangements to accommodate staff who, with the best will in the world, simply cannot get to work on time. As I said, one big burden on small business is the cost of public liability insurance. Many small businesses must make insurance arrangements one to one with insurance companies because they simply have no other choice. They would like to identify others who are involved in like enterprises and to form insurance pools that can then approach an insurance company to negotiate a lower premium price.
Today the Coalition announced that a Coalition government would immediately set up a community insurance network help desk which would help to link community groups and small businesses in insurance pools to help reduce the crippling public liability insurance costs they are facing at present. I can think of no more sensible and legitimate role for the Minister for Small Business and the Minister for Fair Trading than to provide infrastructure through which community groups and small businesses can link with others of like size and type to form pools which can then apply for public liability insurance cover, hopefully at a lower level than if they were negotiating one to one. There are many things the Coalition would like to see this Government take up. In the Small Business Month of May the Coalition would like the Government to acknowledge the problems for small business. I wish all small businesses great success. I send them the message that we are listening to their concerns and we will be producing policy initiatives to help them make the most of their businesses.
(Menai) [4.52 p.m.]: With initiatives such as Small Business Month, the New South Wales Government supports small businesses at every stage of their business life. The Menai electorate has a large number of small business operators living and working in the local area. The relatively recent but highly successful formation of the Greater Menai Business Association boasts a large and active membership. Further, the local Rotary and Lions organisations, which have been established for longer periods, are also well attended by local small business people who, at every possible opportunity, give back to their community in many different ways. As the Minister for Small Business pointed out, Small Business Month is an important initiative in familiarising the small business community with government assistance programs.
Through the Department of State and Regional Development, the Government will spend more than $7.8 million on small business development this financial year. Government assistance includes programs such as the Small Business Expansion program, which can be accessed by companies wishing to offset the cost of employing private sector consultants to establish a growth path for their firm. The Government has created a web site—www.smallbiz.nsw.gov.au
—designed specifically for small businesses. The Women in Business Mentor program and the Aboriginal Business Development program are excellent examples of targeted programs designed to improve business skills while increasing the confidence of those who participate. On occasions I have had the honour and privilege of representing the Minister for Women in Business Mentor program graduations. It is terrific to see that the program is helping women in small business to develop.
The Government also recognises that high-growth, small to medium-size businesses play a critical role in the State's economic wellbeing and growth. The Government has developed the New South Wales High Growth Business program, which began on 1 July 1998 following the Commonwealth Government's withdrawal of funding for the AusIndustry enterprise improvement program. We have held 24 forums for high-growth businesses, which were attended by more than 2,200 small business owners and managers. Other agencies are also working to enhance the regulatory and information environment for small business. I shall give a few examples. WorkCover and the Department of Industrial Relations offer telephone hotline services to explain government requirements and industrial awards in a user-friendly manner.
TAFE New South Wales offers a wide range of practical short and certificate courses that can be adapted for in-house application by individual firms. A voucher system to encourage e-commerce skill formation in small business has been introduced in some regional areas to ensure that the advantages of this technology reach all firms. The Government has worked to secure jobs and investment by driving down the cost of doing business. Businesses have seen average real reductions of 9 per cent in electricity charges for customers who are able to shop around for their power, which means that a small business in New South Wales now pays an average of 30 per cent, or $3,005 a year, less for electricity than its competitors in Victoria; 40 per cent in water charges; 44 per cent in freight rail charges; and 35 per cent in port charges. In total, government charges have fallen by 19.4 per cent overall in real terms to the benefit of both household budgets and business balance sheets.
For small firms at the sharp end of business, this has meant an enhanced ability to compete, to maintain employment levels and, indeed, to create new jobs. The New South Wales Government will continue to build on its track record of delivering relevant support by identifying new industry sectors and management practices that can benefit small businesses. The underlying driver of all we do for small business is to make the New South Wales small firms sector, which is the premier small business sector nationally, better and stronger. Support is provided with the aim of investing in human capital, the skills of our business owners and operators. The continued growth and success of small firms require continuous renewal of skills and knowledge by entrepreneurs and the people they employ to help our nation and economy grow.
These support initiatives are part of the Government's small business strategy—a strategy delivered efficiently and effectively over the past seven years. Small business will continue to be recognised and supported on a whole-of-government basis so that this important sector's 360,000 quiet achievers can face the future with confidence. As I said at the beginning of my speech, a high proportion of people in my electorate of Menai are involved in small business. They are quiet achievers, and they give back to their community. I am pleased that Small Business Month will give us an opportunity to remind them of what we can do for them. I wonder how many members of this House will take up the opportunity to be part of a small business for a day, which I know we have been invited to do. I look forward to doing so in my electorate.
(Port Jackson—Minister for Small Business, and Minister for Tourism) [4.57 p.m.], in reply: I was looking forward to my first debate with the shadow Minister for Small Business, but she has left the Chamber. I think she will have a long career as shadow Minister for Small Business because, clearly and surprisingly, her contribution to this debate was disappointing. I will have to give her a few quick lessons, and perhaps members opposite might be kind enough to pass on what I say to the shadow Minister. She talked about payroll tax. I remind her, and indeed the rest of the House, that this is the fifth consecutive year that the payroll tax rate has been reduced. Indeed, it has been reduced by 25 per cent since it was at the record rate of 8 per cent in 1990, under the Coalition Government.
Under this Government the payroll tax threshold has increased from $550,000 to $600,000. So, all up, the payroll tax impost on small business now is lower than it has ever been. The shadow Minister also talked about unfair dismissal. She gave the usual story that unfair dismissal regulations stifle job creation. I have news for her: New jobs are created by economic growth, not by changing the unfair dismissal laws. However, do not take it from me. The Federal Court judgment of 16 November 2001 in Hamzy v Tricon International Restaurants
found no reason to think that unfair dismissal laws make any difference to employers' decisions about employing staff. I have a copy of a certified practising accountants' survey in which their business adviser, Judy Hartcher—probably no relation to the honourable member for Gosford—says:
The perceptions of small business [in respect to these laws] are … a barrier to generating long-term employment…
I know what she means because when I talk to small business they always raise unfair dismissal laws, but when I discuss it with them in detail they are really talking about peaks and troughs. They say to me, "What happens when we have peaks and troughs in production and we really cannot afford to keep on that number of staff?" I say, "Are these hopeless, no good employees?" They say, "No, they are good employees, it is just that we don't have the work for them." They admit that it is about peaks and troughs and that work force flexibility is different to the unfair dismissal laws. I also point out that the figures from the Department of Industrial Relations indicate that unfair dismissal claims covered by New South Wales legislation are rare: they are less than 0.2 per cent of the work force. There were 27 per cent fewer unfair dismissal claims in 2000 than there were in 1996-97, so they are decreasing.
Due to the vulgar and raucous antics of a certain member of the Opposition, perhaps the honourable member for Southern Highlands did not hear what Her Excellency outlined in respect of public liability insurance on behalf of the Government at the opening of Parliament. However, I fail to understand why she did not understand what the Government will do in relation to public liability because the very next day the Premier said in a ministerial statement—which he commenced at 2.44 p.m. and concluded at 3.02 p.m.; he spoke for well over 15 minutes—that the industry's opposition to taxes is not new and stamp duty is clearly not the cause of recent massive premium increases. However, any merit in the arguments against taxation will be considered as part of the Government's review of options to tackle public liability insurance problems within the State.
The Premier outlined in considerable detail what this Government is planning to do in respect of public liability. However, anyone who thinks it is a problem just for New South Wales does not understand. Anyone who thinks that the collapse of HIH Insurance or September 11 had nothing to do with it does not understand. Apparently, in the next week or two there will be a national summit—the Prime Minister refused to hold a summit as late as January, and there has been some contradiction between Minister Hockey and Minister Coonan. It is in that environment that the Government will devise its response and strategy in respect of this difficult issue. Anyone who reads the Premier's speech will see how far the Government is prepared to go to deal with this significant issue—there is no doubt about that. I advise the shadow Minister that industry associations were already attempting pooling amongst their membership long before the Opposition thought of it.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Bill: Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders
Motion by Mr Aquilina agreed to:
That standing and sessional orders be suspended to permit the introduction and progress up to and including the Minister’s second reading speech of the Appropriation (Budget Variations) Bill, notice of which was given this day for tomorrow.
APPROPRIATION (BUDGET VARIATIONS) BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
(Riverstone—Minister for Land and Water Conservation, and Minister for Fair Trading) [5.04 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The practice of seeking approval for supplementary appropriations to cover payments not provided for in the annual Appropriation Act has now become entrenched. This Government, in presenting further appropriation bills, has sought as far as possible to ensure the Parliament has the opportunity to scrutinise anticipated additional funding requirements prior to expenditures being incurred. However, it is not always possible to seek Parliament's authority in advance for pressing expenditure needs and the Parliament has previously established procedures to provide for this eventuality. Each year Parliament makes an advance available to the Treasurer to meet unforeseen expenditures. In addition, section 22 of the Public Finance and Audit Act 1983 enables the Governor to approve of payments to cater for the exigencies of the Government, in anticipation of appropriations by Parliament.
The introduction of the Appropriation (Budget Variations) Bill in this session enables the Government to account to the Parliament on how the Treasurer's Advance has been applied for recurrent and capital expenditure, seek an adjustment of the advance prior to the end of the financial year, seek appropriation to cover expenditure approved under section 22 before year end and seek additional appropriations for payments that are intended to be made in the current financial year and in respect of which no provision was made in the annual Appropriation Bill. The Appropriation (Budget Variations) Bill in respect of the 2001-02 financial year seeks appropriations of $288,834,000 in adjustment of the Treasurer's Advance, $338,250,000 for services approved by the Governor under section 22 of the Public Finance and Audit Act 1983 and additional appropriations of $469,083,000.
The appropriation required for the Treasurer's Advance is detailed in schedule 1 annexed to this bill, along with a full account of how the advance has been applied this year. The Treasurer's Advance payments in 2001-02 include $5.25 million to establish the Community Solutions Crime Prevention Fund to undertake crime prevention activities in Miller, Kings Cross, and Redfern and Waterloo. Other items include $2 million to reduce the cost to some farmers of transporting grain and $5.8 million for eradicating fire ants. The additional appropriation required under section 22 of the Public Finance and Audit Act 1983 relates to the provision of funds to meet certain expenditures required by the exigencies of Government.
This amount includes an appropriation required in relation to the First Home Owners Grant Scheme of $142.3 million—this amount will, however, be repaid to the State by the Commonwealth—an appropriation of $40 million for further rail maintenance on non-metropolitan infrastructure and appropriations for natural disasters, including $40 million for the February-March floods in northern New South Wales and $95 million for the December-January bushfires. This sum is in addition to the $11 million allocated for bushfires in the 2001-02 budget, and makes the total cost of fighting bushfires this year $106 million. An amount of $19.95 million has been appropriated to cover capital expenditure for natural disaster advances.
An additional appropriation of $469,083,000 is required to allow the immediate start of important public projects in 2001-02. The majority of these projects were originally included in the forward estimates for the period 2002-03 to 2005-06. The stronger than anticipated growth in the State economy has improved the estimated budget position for 2001-02. This has enabled the Government to bring forward expenditure or fund pressing new projects. An additional $70 million has been provided for maintenance and minor works to schools.
The transport portfolio has been provided with $43.7 million to accelerate the acquisition of land for the Parramatta to Chatswood rail link and for some rail capital works that will improve operations efficiency, and workplace and passenger safety. The funding also allows the State Transit Authority to bring forward major Sydney Ferries projects, including completing the refurbishment of the Manly ferry fleet and re-engineering the JetCat fleet. The program of installing closed-circuit television cameras on wharves will also be undertaken more quickly. New South Wales Health has been provided with $27.5 million to purchase new hospital equipment including CT scanners for rural hospitals. The Department of Housing has been provided with an additional appropriation of $25 million for capital grants and a further $105 million to more rapidly tackle backlog maintenance in public housing.
The Rail Infrastructure Corporation will be provided with $100 million to help finance its obligations for the construction of the Parramatta to Chatswood rail link. The Ministry of the Arts will be provided with $39.1 million for works on the Sydney Opera House and the acquisition of land for a performing arts centre at Eveleigh. The bill also seeks appropriations to adjust certain payments made during the 2000-2001 financial year either from that year's Treasurer's Advance or approved in that financial year by the Governor under section 22 of the Public Finance and Audit Act. Each of the payments made has been included in the 2000-01 audited financial statements of the agencies making those payments. The practice of introducing further appropriation bills has enhanced accountability for the expenditure of public money from the Consolidated Fund. It is further evidence of the Government's commitment to transparent and full financial reporting to the Parliament and the community. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Maguire.
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' STATEMENTS
PUBLIC LIABILITY INSURANCE
(Cronulla) [5.15 p.m.]: There is consensus that New South Wales has an insurance crisis. The St George and Sutherland Shire Leader
alerted the community to that crisis on 26 July last year, when a local resident, David Campbell, courageously spoke of the financial problems faced by his organisation due to the cost of public liability cover. Since then large numbers of community organisations have faced financial crises related to insurance. The dimension of the insurance crisis is so great that community life across New South Wales is being threatened. A range of voluntary and recreational activities are being severely impacted upon by the unaffordability of insurance. I have written to a number of voluntary organisations in the Cronulla electorate and I have received quite a number of replies. I want to relate to the House a sample of those replies. The first was from the Port Hacking Open Sailing Club, which wrote in part:
Our finances are totally funded from membership fees and galley trade from sales of soft drinks, hamburgers, sandwiches etc. as we are not a licensed club and do not have bar trade or dining room facilities.
Our public liability insurance has risen this year from $900 in 2000 to $2,400 in 2001. We have never made a claim and are very concerned about the strain on our funds with this increase.
We also have property burglary insurance, shire rates, water rates, electricity, telephone, rescue boat insurance and registration, not to mention the increasing costs from vandalism.
We can't understand how the public liability insurance increase can be substantiated...
The club provides further information in its letter, and I am happy to make that publicly available. The Cronulla Sailing Club wrote to me to advise that its premiums had increased substantially and that it had to increase its policy from $5 million to $10 million, at a cost of some thousands of dollars. The club had been advised that that additional cover was needed. The Cronulla Sailing Club said that with limited funds to maintain and expand its facilities, the increased insurance premiums impacted severely on the club. The Elouera Surf Life Saving Club also responded with a message that could have been the same from all surf life saving clubs in the Cronulla area. That club has had a substantial increase in the cost of its cover for public liability, and is required to be insured for $20 million. That, once again, is a volunteer organisation. The Sutherland Shire Netball Association wrote about the problems it is facing, saying:
For the past few years, our younger members i.e. Nursery players – 7 years and under and our 8 & 9 year old players have been insured under the NSW Sporting Injuries Scheme which costs a lot less for the parents of those players.
The netball association said further:
Unfortunately though NSW Netball was only able to obtain insurance cover for one year, which will commence from 1 April 2002.
The letter was dated December 2001. I received a response also from the Port Hacking Divers Club, stating that public liability insurance had been very hard to obtain over the past two years, and outlining the difficulties that the club is facing. The Sutherland Shire Arts Council also responded to my letter and outlined its difficulties. Those clubs cover a range of activities in the shire, but they represent but a small slice of community life that is being seriously impacted. I repeat, this is not a sudden crisis; it has been escalating for years. It was the subject of a front page article in the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader
of 26 July last year, yet no action was taken by the New South Wales Government except to advise incorporation. As I said at the time, incorporation requirements can impose a huge burden on many small associations and certainly is not a panacea for the problems these community groups face. [Time expired.
(Port Jackson—Minister for Small Business, and Minister for Tourism) [5.20 p.m.]: Just a short while ago, on the matter of public importance, I spoke on the issue of public liability. I will make similar comments in response to the statement made by the honourable member for Cronulla. Obviously, public liability is an important and difficult issue that has arisen in recent months. However, I would point out to the honourable member—who was somewhat critical of the Government in some of his comments, and certainly implied in his closing comments that the Government had not done anything—that I can understand why he did not hear Her Excellency outline the Government's program. That was because of the raucous and rather vulgar behaviour of one of his number during the whole of the Governor's Speech.
Don't slur us all like that.
Do you want me to name names?
I think you know who that person is. Perhaps you could whisper in that person's ear and tell that person not to behave like that in future. It was most embarrassing for all of us. The very next day the Premier made a ministerial statement of some 18 minutes duration, telling the House what the Government intends to do in relation to public liability insurance, and advising that the Government is willing to be part of any national solution, including legislation. The Premier said that any merit in arguments against taxation will be considered as part of the Government's review of options to tackle public liability insurance problems within the State.
I point out to members opposite that the Attorney General made an announcement last November that did not make the front pages of the Sydney Morning Herald
concerning the Government's intention to set up a Cabinet working party to examine the issue. It was becoming increasingly obvious that the first real hit would take place at the end of the year and that was when the impact would be felt. Anyone who thinks that the collapse of HIH and the events of September 11 did not have a role to play is very sadly mistaken.
MULGOA ELECTORATE SCHOOLS
(Mulgoa) [5.22 p.m.]: One of the delights of being a parliamentary representative is the opportunity of visiting local schools to see the splendid work that is done by both teachers and students. I take this opportunity to inform the House of the activities of two of the schools in my electorate that I have been fortunate enough to visit recently. Those schools have new principals. Earlier this year I visited Surveyors Creek Public School at Glenmore Park. This new school, which was opened recently in my electorate, was built at a cost of $4.8 million. The school's principal, Mr John Williams, his two assistant principals, Graham Wheeler and Deirdre O'Brien, and staff members have done an exceptional job in ensuring that the school is up and running—a very difficult task.
I was told by the principal that the entire staff of the school was working during the last week of their school holidays to ensure that everything was ready for the arrival of the first students. The commitment and enthusiasm of the staff are to be commended. I have been told also that many meetings were held outside school hours and that staff willingly gave up their own time to ensure that the school's smooth beginning was carried forward throughout the term. Currently there are 155 students at the school and they also take a keen interest in the school's activities. Mr Williams has worked closely with some senior students in putting together the constitution for the student representative body.
Student elections will be held next week, and I am told that interest in those elections is very high. I am sure that interest would have been even higher if Mr Williams had not vetoed a student proposal for the representative body to meet during class hours. I am told also that the third parents and citizens meeting is to be held tonight. Mr Williams has informed me that he sometimes feels that he has to bridle some of the unbridled enthusiasm. The president of the parents and citizens association is Deborah Ross and the committee is already planning its third fundraiser. A successful barbecue with members of the local community has already been held.
I congratulate Mrs Ross and other members of the parents and citizens committee on their hard work at the beginning of the school term. It has been a real team effort in getting the Surveyors Creek Public School up and running. It is particularly pleasing to see the way in which the entire staff, the student body and the wider school community have pulled together to overcome some of the hurdles that often face new schools. They all helped in various ways by covering books, putting up shelves and doing things that have to be done to establish a new school. I look forward to my next visit to the school, which I hope will occur shortly.
Another school I wish to bring to the attention of the House is St Marys South Public School. Yesterday I met the new principal, Mr Wayne Newton, and a school council member, Mr Kevin Dwyer. Mr Newton outlined to me some of the school's priorities for the year and its draft management plan. In some ways the school is different to Surveyors Creek Public School because St Marys South Public School is one of the older stock schools in my electorate, being more than 40 years old. A number of initiatives will be undertaken at the school to lift literacy levels and improve the school's results.
The school is aiming within three years to achieve the State average in the basic skills tests by focusing on literacy and numeracy across the curriculum. Although the school is one of the more disadvantaged schools within my electorate it will be looking to enhance the role played by parents in their children's education through a number of initiatives, including parent training in mathematics terminology and encouraging parents to involve themselves in learning outcomes through formal interviews with teachers. The school is also looking to support learning and teaching by creating a safe and friendly environment and addressing many of the maintenance issues that plague older schools, including the need for improvement to school grounds, drainage and furniture.
I congratulate Mr Newton on the proactive initiatives he is undertaking and I look forward to reporting to the House on the success of the programs. Older schools typically have problems with maintenance issues. Those problems may be simple, such as stairs that need upgrading, or they may be rather big, such as large trees that are disrupting drainage. The school needs to be encouraged in its attempts to take a long-term approach to the education of its students. I look forward to establishing a great relationship with the new principals who have taken up their positions in my electorate during the past year. I hope that the educational outcomes they achieve are as much as they and the parents— who put a great deal of trust in this State's education system—hope they will be. I invite the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the honourable member for Oxley—who are present in the Chamber and have shown a great deal of interest in my remarks—to visit these two schools.
NATIVE FLOWER EXPORT MARKETS
(Oxley) [5.27 p.m.]: Recently I had the pleasure of addressing a native flower growers expo in Kempsey. The expo was assisted by the Department of State and Regional Development and the local area consultative council. The native flower-growing industry is an extremely important industry for Australia because the world market for Australian native flowers, including kangaroo paw, Christmas bells, banksia, waratah and other varieties is approximately $500 million. It is surprising that Australia is accessing only $40 million of that vast international market. Other countries such as New Zealand, Israel and the United States of America are selling Australian native flowers in this burgeoning market, so there is huge potential for Australian growers to increase their market share by exporting this unique floral product.
One of the problems confronting Australian growers is, to some extent, the massive size of the market. During the northern hemisphere winter Australian growers are faced with huge orders that many find difficult to meet. For example, supplying American supermarkets is a very big ask in terms of the quantity and quality of flowers that are required. It is therefore essential that a critical mass of growers, perhaps under co-operative arrangements, develop to meet that need. The Native Flower Growers and Promoters Association, whose president is Brian Sundin from the Macleay district in my electorate—in fact, he has a farm near Kempsey—has 47 members located between Coffs Harbour and Taree.
It is important for the State and Federal governments to support this industry because it is labour intensive; it provides jobs in areas of high unemployment; it produces export income, which is important for Australia's balance of payments; it is a decentralised industry and encourages populations to establish outside cities, which, by all measures, are overstretched and suffering from increased population demands; it assists in redeveloping rural areas that have suffered declines in the timber, dairy, banana and fishing industries; it encourages the efficient use of land because relatively small areas such as 10 hectares or 15 hectares can be used to produce a significant income; and it is a non-polluting industry.
Support is needed from governments through the promotion of the industry as an alternative agricultural industry. The expo was an excellent way to raise the community's awareness of the industry's existence. Assistance is also needed in research and development. I give credit to the Department of Agriculture, particularly Bettina Gollnow, and the University of Sydney, but more assistance is needed in research and development to research new flower species that will meet the demands of overseas markets.
Another area is quality control. Overseas markets, in particular markets in Asia, are demanding precise quality indicators on flowers. Transport infrastructure is required in this important industry. Refrigerated trucks are required along the side of the road. I inform the Minister that support is needed for the 2003 annual meeting of New South Wales native flower growers, which is hosted by the Department of Agriculture. These excellent forums, which provide discussion on best practice, bring together growers and traders and assist the local economy.
In 2003 the forum is to be in held in Port Macquarie. However, at present the Department of Agriculture does not include in its budget funding for this type of meeting. The Native Flower Growers and Promoters Association has been asked to contribute between $2,000 and $5,000 towards that meeting. Most growers are not wealthy. Growers who only recently entered the industry are facing high set-up costs and have taken out loans to meet those costs. So it is unreasonable to ask the growers for support for this forum. I hope that the Minister for Regional Development is able to provide funding to assist in the holding of that important meeting.
(Port Jackson—Minister for Small Business, and Minister for Tourism) [5.32 p.m.]: I am pleased that the honourable member was impressed by the interest that the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Regional Development have shown in this venture. When I was Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development the department was already working on this important issue. The honourable member rightly pointed out the value of this industry. The only thing he did not mention was that growers used the industry to supplement their incomes. I will ensure that the Minister for Regional Development and the Minister for Agriculture are provided with a copy of the honourable member's speech.
(Canterbury—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.33 p.m.]: Three months ago to the day the Attorney General launched a new identification card—a birth card—as an alternative to the traditional paper extract of a birth certificate. Birth certificates include details of a person's place and date of birth, but a birth card will also include a person's signature, a photograph and a hologram, which is good for security purposes. The card, which is issued only to those who choose to acquire it, has been given a big tick of approval by the Privacy Commissioner. It is difficult for some people to provide proof of identification.
Over the last month or so I have had to produce identification on a number of occasions when engaging in bank and other transactions. On one occasion I was attempting to acquire a new personal identification number for a Visa card and on another occasion I had to provide identification at the airport before I could acquire a ticket to board a plane. On each occasion I presented a club membership card which contained my photograph, but that was not considered suitable. I had to provide something more important, such as a driver's licence or a passport. From time to time thousands of young people in New South Wales need to provide proof of their age. It is difficult for both young people and elderly people who do not have a driver's licence or a passport to produce identification.
I refer to this issue tonight because I wrote an article that was recently published in the Earlwood News
—a local publication in my electorate. The article, which contained approximately 100 words, did not refer in detail to the birth card, but I was amazed at the response I received to that article. People came to my office and asked me about the birth card. I was inundated with phone calls from people who requested more information about obtaining the card and about the waiting times involved. People told me stories about the difficulties they had encountered recently when they had been asked to produce identification which they were not able to produce.
The introduction of this birth card has been well received. At present the card is available only in New South Wales but I am sure that other States will follow the lead. It is evident that this card is essential from the amount of interest that it has generated. I urge all honourable members to do their best to promote this card. If there is a demand for the card in the Earlwood suburb there must be a demand for it throughout New South Wales. I congratulate the Attorney General on introducing this essential card, which is in high demand by the elderly.
PORT STEPHENS ELECTORATE PUBLIC LIABILITY INSURANCE SUMMIT
(Port Stephens) [5.38 p.m.]: On 23 October last year I spoke about public liability insurance. At that time the Minister for Gaming and Racing said:
From a regional point of view, as the Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development I ask the honourable member to supply information to my office and I will also forward it to my regional co-ordinator, who works out of the Premier's Department, for consideration.
It was subsequently suggested that I should host a summit on public liability insurance for tourism operators in the Port Stephens electorate. A public liability insurance summit was held on Thursday 21 February 2002. That summit was attended by people from Gloucester, Lake Cathie, Forster, Jamberoo, the South Coast and the lower Hunter. Committee members with whom I worked organised five-minute presentations from people who had experienced public liability insurance problems. David Brown from the performing arts, Andrea Idstein, Kate Croll from Arts Hunter, Britt Osborne from Tomteland and Rob Caldwell from Toboggan Hill Park told the 75 to 80 people who attended that summit about the problems they were experiencing, in an attempt to establish that these problems were generic throughout the region.
A number of speakers contributed to debate at the summit. They included Mr Jim Eddy, past president of the Australian Amusement, Leisure and Recreation Association; Cameron Douglas, an insurance broker; Glen Thornton, chief executive officer, Newcastle Business Chamber; and Gavin Jenson, defence lawyer with Sparke Helmore. I also spoke about my experience on the Public Bodies Review Committee. Delegates who attended that summit were then asked to form a number of groups and to make suggestions on which all delegates could vote. Workshops were aimed at achieving solutions to public liability reform through brainstorming by different bodies affected by public liability. Delegates who were involved in the workshops to which I referred earlier were asked, after discussing and presenting ideas and solutions, to denote which of those ideas were of greatest priority in providing solutions and reform to public liability.
The first involved risk management in ecotourism and soft adventure tourism. Some of the suggestions included accredited inspectors, self-regulation and an assumption of risk by those using tourism facilities. Under the current law, if a person deliberately climbs under a piece of moving equipment, despite the operator of the business complying with every WorkCover requirement that operator is still liable. The second suggestion was a capping system aimed at eliminating smaller claims while still catering for larger genuine claims. The workshop delegates were extremely concerned about the number of fraudulent claims. They were also concerned about the fact that anyone defending a claim in court could be liable for court costs of $20,000. Indeed, in many cases, with the insurance company's blessing, it is easier and cheaper to pay out the claim.
Bulk buying of insurance was also suggested. However, the problem is that there is only one company in Australia today that is selling public liability insurance. Last year, for every $100 in premiums that insurance companies took in, they paid out $160. From the perspective of insurance companies, it is simply not economic to be in the business. Insurance companies are providing huge premium quotations, but basically they no longer want to be involved in public liability insurance. The suggestion was made that the legislation governing workers compensation, motor vehicle compensation and public liability insurance legislation should be uniform. In the time available to me, I will not be able to conclude my remarks on that subject. However, it was an extremely good conference and I congratulate everyone who attended. [Time expired.
(Port Jackson—Minister for Small Business, and Minister for Tourism) [5.43 p.m.]: I thank the honourable member for Port Stephens for his contribution. This is the third occasion in about the past hour that I have spoken on public liability insurance. As I said earlier, the Government is looking forward to the national summit on public liability insurance, which is to be held some time in the next two or three weeks. There must be a national approach to this issue. One of the worst examples I have heard about a tourism operator being hit by the public liability insurance problem occurred in Tasmania. That operator, who used to pay a premium of $18,000 for public liability insurance, was asked to pay $150,000, yet the business turns over only $120,000. I can therefore well understand the difficulties faced by business operators.
The honourable member for Port Stephens said that the increasingly litigious nature of society is part of the problem. I believe that probably is part of the problem, together with the collapse of HIH insurance, the events of September 11, and the cyclical phenomena that occur in the insurance industry from time to time. I am sure all members agree with the sentiments expressed by the Premier in his ministerial statement a couple of weeks ago. If a person gets a splinter in his or her elbow, it is not necessarily someone's fault and it is not necessarily an excuse to try to get one's hands on $15,000 or $20,000. Personal responsibility must also come into the equation. I applaud the Premier's announcement that certain forms of advertising will no longer be available to the legal profession, which I believe must also take some responsibility for the problem. However, I believe the time has come when all of us as individuals must take some responsibility. As a person who took up paragliding, which is not necessarily the safest of sports, I get a few bruises, but so what? Life must be about a challenge; it is not always about trying to point the finger and blame someone else.
KU-RING-GAI ELECTORATE POLICING
(Ku-ring-gai—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [5.45 p.m.]: Tonight I again raise the issue of policing in the electorate of Ku-ring-gai. Before Christmas last year, as a result of concerns expressed by parents, I became aware of what I term nascent gang activity in my electorate. I describe it as "nascent gang activity" because I do not believe it is the full-blown gang activity that occurs in other parts of Sydney. I certainly hope that the suburbs that make up the Ku-ring-gai municipality do not at any stage get that style of gang activity. However, youths are engaging in antisocial behaviour, and there is evidence of youths crashing parties and violently attacking attendees at those parties. Anyone who intends to hold a teenage party on the north shore now must ensure that there is private security, or that adults are prepared to provide private security, before the party proceeds.
When I raised these concerns publicly, the initial reaction of the local police commander, Superintendent Phil Hickman, who I believe does a good job within the resource structure with which he is provided, was to call an urgent meeting of Ku-ring-gai council's crime and safety committee. That was an attempt, initiated by former mayor Tony Hall to bring police, members of council and significant other groups such as the railway staff and local members together to seek to address crime and safety issues throughout Ku-ring-gai. The meeting was held and Superintendent Hickman briefed those present on the activities of police in trying to deal with the young people in question, particularly around Gordon police station.
I accept that police are trying to do their best, and I will always try to support them. But I totally disagree with the Carr Government's policy and the resource parameters within which police are required to operate. After the 1996 changes to the Police Service, Gordon police station was downgraded, and policing is now from Hornsby and Chatswood police stations. As I have said time and again, the majority of police resources from both those commands will go into Hornsby and Chatswood because they are the major retail and social centres in the area. In the meantime, Ku-ring-gai residents are simply not receiving their fair share of policing.
More than two months after that public meeting I raise a couple of concerns. First, one of the outcomes of the meeting was to ensure that "Alcohol-Free Zone" signs were displayed around Gordon station and in Gordon Park. I noted as recently as last Sunday night that those signs are yet to go up. The signs will not ensure a solution to this problem, but they will give police the power to move people along and ensure that young people are not able to congregate and engage in antisocial behaviour, which will in turn ensure that those public areas are available for the public to enjoy.
Last December both Brendan Nelson, the Federal member for Bradfield, and I wrote to the Minister for Police or Commissioner Ryan seeking a meeting with the local police commander for the North Shore region so we could be briefed on the overall strategy to deal with this nascent gang activity along the north shore rail line. I am appalled that three months later we are yet to receive any sort of response to that request. I would have thought that Michael Costa, in particular, would have instructed his police commander to meet with the Federal and State members to ensure that we are briefed on what activities are occurring.
I also raise my own concern that, despite the image that Michael Costa is attempting to get across to the people of New South Wales—that is, that he is committed to finding local solutions to local police problems—he has constantly refused to accept my invitations to come to my electorate to have a look at this nascent gang activity and to make himself aware of the enormous underutilisation of Gordon police station. Upgraded at a cost of $3.6 million in the early 1990s, it is now the home to only one general duties police officer each day.
I raise the matter once again because of concerns I have recently received from Pymble residents relating to youths hanging around Pymble railway station and engaging in violent behaviour. I have had related concerns brought to my attention by parents and local residents, both old and young, about some of the activities that are taking place in Pymble Park. Clearly, a problem is emerging that must be addressed; it must be nipped in the bud. That will not occur unless there is a concerted police effort, not only at Gordon and Pymble but all along the north shore rail line between Hornsby and Chatswood. Without that concerted police effort, we run the risk of gang activity in the Ku-ring-gai electorate getting out of control, as it has in other parts of Sydney, our young people being put risk, and older people who live in my electorate having their activities curtailed because of fears about community safety.
LAKE MACQUARIE ELECTORATE SCHOOLS
(Lake Macquarie) [5.50 p.m.]: I raise a number of issues concerning two schools in the Lake Macquarie electorate, Arcadia Vale Public School and Booragul Public School. Last year I had an opportunity to raise in Parliament concerns put forward by representatives of those schools. I brought to the House's attention a letter signed jointly by the then president of the Arcadia Vale Public School parents and citizens association, Leanne Watkins, and Paul Jayne, the president of the school council. Following my contribution in this House I also made written representations to the Minister for Education and Training, the Hon. John Watkins. Earlier this year I was pleased to receive a response from the Minister in which he acknowledged the concerns raised by Arcadia Vale Public School. In that letter the Minister said:
I have requested an officer from the Property Services Unit, Newcastle to arrange an inspection of the school with the school principal and community representatives during term one, 2002, to investigate the other issues raised by you in your representations.
I am pleased to say that that inspection took place on 7 March. The inspection was attended by Mr Barry Wheeler, Manager of the Newcastle Property Services Unit. He was accompanied by Gary Wilson, Property Services Officer with that unit. We had an excellent meeting with the principal of the school, John Croker, the new school parents and citizens association president, Kym Culbert, and parents of children attending the school. We spent well over an hour walking through the school, looking at a number of problems with classrooms. Both Barry Wheeler and Gary Wilson responded then and there by giving commitments to the school to rectify a number of problems. However, the school community again put to me that one of their major concerns that will not be addressed immediately by the Department of Education and Training is the need for a new administration building at the school. The school community is also pushing for new permanent classrooms and a new school hall. Again I ask the Minister to take on board the concerns of the community at Arcadia Vale Public School about the areas that have yet to be addressed by the department.
Last year I also had the opportunity to raise in the House issues concerning Booragul Public School. Again, I had received a letter from the president of the school council, Pat Korsman, that I read into Hansard
. The Minister replied to me, addressing some of the concerns raised. He also sought an inspection of the school by officers of the Property Services Unit to discuss these issues. Once again I thank Barry Wheeler and Gary Wilson for attending the school with me on 7 March. We met with the school principal, Wendy Cheek, and representatives of the school community. Again, the representatives of the Department of Education and Training were able, then and there, to give commitments to the school in relation to pathways, drainage problems and security issues that are to be rectified immediately.
The school representatives pointed out to the Department of Education and Training officials and to me as their elected representative that they had been waiting for many years for a new library. Some years ago there were plans to replace the existing demountable library, which leaks, with a new facility. Today I again bring to the Minister's attention the need for a new library and staff car park at Booragul Public School. These fall within the scope of the Premier's Community Renewal program. A new library at the school would be an added bonus for the local community; it would be a focal point for the community and would help bring the community into the school. I ask for Minister to take on board the concerns raised by the relevant school councils and the parents and citizens associations. Also, I take this opportunity to extend to him an invitation to visit the Lake Macquarie electorate and to visit these schools and a number of others in my electorate to learn how the Government can address issues of concern to the local community.
PUBLIC LIABILITY INSURANCE
(Monaro) [5.55 p.m.]: I heard some of the earlier important remarks of the Minister for Small Business, and Minister for Tourism, who is at the table, about public liability insurance. I also heard her remarks about paragliding and hang gliding. Public liability insurance has been a concern for some time. Premiums have been slowly climbing, although from relatively low levels initially, with a compounding effect, due to the collapse of HIH and the events of September 11. The premiums have now reached levels where insurers and their underwriters have drawn the line. Over recent times the number of claims and the size of payouts have risen exponentially. For some months constituents of the electorate of Monaro have raised their concerns, as have many others across the State and nation. I have written to the Premier and the Federal Ministers with responsibility for the matter. I have asked the Premier questions and I intend asking various other Ministers questions about the matter this week in Parliament.
Public liability insurance is a serious matter. The resolution of the present problem will need bipartisan co-operation not only between members and Houses of this Parliament but also between the other States and the Commonwealth. If affordable insurance cover is not obtainable in the near future the result will be not only the end of many, if not all, community and cultural events throughout the year but also the tragic loss of volunteers in our society. People from all walks of life, of all persuasions and of all capabilities will be reluctant, unwilling or, indeed, unable to continue to unselfishly contribute their time, effort and funds to charities, community events, sporting clubs, small businesses, service organisations, historical societies and other diverse cultural associations. In the electorate of Monaro the Hoskinstown community hall, the Ando community hall and many others halls are the heart of the communities. Their future is in jeopardy, as is the future of many other buildings and facilities owned by the Department of Land and Water Conservation. The Government, the trustees and the broader community have a responsibility to keep these important places open.
Other events like the Big Ride, gymkhanas, annual fundraising horse rides like those at Wyndham, Cathcart and Bombala, face extinction, as does a one-horse, one-day event with Santa Claus and a cart at Thredbo which benefits the local children and community on Christmas Day. It probably will not be able to continue. A number of small businesses using horses to provide recreational rides throughout Monaro are similarly at risk due to the quantum of premiums or the unavailability of public risk insurance. Whale watching and other coastal tourism opportunities are similarly threatened. The National Association of Historical Engine Enthusiasts faces a premium this year of some $64,000. Next year it will be $180,000, and that is clearly beyond the 5,000 nationwide membership. Queanbeyan senior citizens have been asked to pay more than $1,600 for three months cover. Annual shows like those at Pambula, Bungendore, Nimmitabel, Delegate, Braidwood, Dalgety, Cooma, Bombala, Bemboka and Queanbeyan, along with other fairs, expos and annual events, are also threatened.
Annual marches like those on Anzac Day, Remembrance Day and others organised by the RSL, which are vitally important historical and heritage events commemorating our past, are also at risk. It is of grave concern to the RSL sub-branches and those who remain that these events may be lost due to the unavailability of public indemnity insurance. Similarly, rodeos, camp drafts, pony clubs, other sporting and recreational activities that drive our society, and small innovative businesses that employ many hundreds of thousands of people, face an unavoidable demise. Charities like Red Cross, service clubs like Lions, Apex, Rotary, Country Women's Association, View clubs and others that embody the ethos of altruism and voluntary work will be void of participants, simply because of the onus of gaining cover and protection, and the cost of compliance. Communities large and small and many individual recipients will lose out on the benefits. Local, State and Federal governments will not be able to fund the shortfall.
The costs that are yet to flow due to requirements relating to local government public land, roads and footpaths, et cetera, are yet to be realised. Sadly, our society has become paranoid about the risk of injury and is convinced that litigation is the only solution. While taking the lawyers out of the loop is an important first step, legislation can provide for caps on payouts, claim thresholds, set payments for scheduled losses, self-insurance, immunity for volunteers and umbrella coverage. That must happen immediately. The State should devolve responsibility to the Commonwealth so that workable and consistent laws can be enacted. Educating the community at large to accept those changes and to be responsible for themselves and each other will take some time. These matters are urgent. Time is at a premium. As annual events come around and insurance renewals become due, assurances must be given that action will be taken to maintain our society and cultural diversity.
(Port Jackson—Minister for Small Business, and Minister for Tourism) [6.00 p.m.]: Public liability insurance is obviously exercising the minds of many people. This is the fourth time I have spoken on it today. I agree with much of what the honourable member for Monaro had to say. As I said I have been paragliding, and it was in his electorate. Public liability insurance has particular implications for his electorate. Anything to do with air, water or horses seems to attract the most difficulties.
Yes, if you want to be a rev head. Clearly public liability insurance is a problem. I reiterate the Premier's comments and the comments of the Governor on behalf of the Government on the occasion of the opening of Parliament. We are anxiously awaiting the national summit. The honourable member for Monaro seems to be the only member on the other side of the House who understands that a national approach to this problem is needed. The honourable member for Monaro may recall the Premier's lengthy statement to the House a couple of weeks ago in which he said he would not ignore any options, including capping and so on. As I said not five minutes ago in another contribution, one of the elements—and it is the element that angers me the most—is the increasingly litigious nature of our society with people becoming so averse to risk that a bruise on the ankle is a reason to sue someone for perhaps $5,000, $6,000 or $7,000. It simply will not work.
I emphasise that there must be a national solution to this problem. We can look at pooling, capping and all sorts of restrictions, but they will not work unless we have a national solution. Although this problem becomes apparent from time to time all over the world, and September 11 has not helped, the crash of HIH and the fact that there is virtually no competition in the marketplace—just about all insurance companies have vacated this area; they are not interested any more—we must as best we can create an environment in which we can attract more players and bring some competition back to the marketplace. I could give the House examples of exorbitant premiums. But what about those who cannot get coverage for love or money? It would not matter how big a cheque we are prepared to write, they cannot get coverage.
REVESBY WORKERS CLUB FORTIETH ANNIVERSARY
(East Hills) [6.02 p.m.]: Tonight I shall talk briefly about the good work of Revesby Workers Club in my electorate of East Hills. In September this year the club will celebrate its fortieth anniversary, and I am sure the board of directors and management is planning a series of celebrations to highlight that fantastic achievement. The proud history of Revesby Workers Club and its continuing success is known throughout New South Wales. Therefore, I am honoured to have been chosen as patron of the club by its members at the last annual general meeting. I have assured club members that I will do my best at all times to promote the reputation of the club and what it means to members and the wider community. It may be of interest to members on both sides of the House, particularly the honourable member for Willoughby, to learn that the former member for East Hills, Pat Rogan, is on the board of Revesby Workers Club and is the chairman of Clubs New South Wales.
Revesby Workers Club began as the East Hills District Labor Club, with just over 250 foundation members. Today, unfortunately, fewer than 50 foundation members are still with us. In those days, to form a club was very difficult, and the cost of becoming a foundation member was not insignificant, whereas today it is not expensive to join a licensed or registered club. In about 1978-79 a charity committee was established under the direction of Phyllis Johnson, the then secretary to the then manager of the club, Brien Higgs. That charity committee is now known as the Bill Bullard Charity after a previous president of the club. That charity has raised well over $1.3 million, which has been donated to the Multiple Sclerosis Association, the Heart Foundation, the Ageing and Alzheimers Group, the Tourette's Syndrome Organisation, the Children's Leukaemia and Cancer Organisation, Bankstown East Hills Handicap Association, Westmead Children's Hospital, Camp Quality, St John's Ambulance, Bankstown Hospital and Bankstown Aged Care Services.
There are many other organisations I could mention that have received grants from the club over the past 25 years or so. On average, the club has donated $60,000 a year. These funds have been raised through the volunteer efforts of the club membership through raffles, fairs, white elephant stalls and a number of other community activities, as well as a board club donation. By far, most of that $60,000 a year comes from the volunteer efforts of the ordinary club members. The club has about 30 interclub organisations, such as a tennis club, a snooker club and a netball organisation, which all do something to raise money for charities. Recently the club donated more than $60,000 to the Sutherland Bushfire Brigade, as a result of the hugely successful country night held at the club. We are all aware of the unparalleled bushfire crises that enveloped the State in December 2001 and January of this year. Once again the generosity of Revesby Workers Club, the entertainers and the membership shone through. Of course, other registered clubs should be congratulated on their support in so many ways during the fire crises.
With President Norma Smith, Vice President Daryl Melham MP, and Vince Smith, a former high school deputy principal, I had the pleasure of serving on the club's Scholarship Committee again recently. I congratulate those students on continuing scholarships—they receive $250 a year to help them complete their tertiary courses—and the new students selected for scholarships this year. The club's scholarship scheme has been conducted for more than 20 years, and hundreds of students have benefited from the club's assistance to purchase texts, books and other educational requirements. I encourage any club member with a young relative sitting for the Higher School Certificate this year to watch out for details in the Revesby Workers Club journals on how to apply for a scholarship. I might add that all of that was achieved long before clubs were mandated to make compulsory community donations.
I thank the board of directors, the members and the staff of Revesby Workers Club for their efforts on behalf of my constituency of East Hills. I note the presence of the Minister for Gaming and Racing in the Chamber. I commend him not only for the interest he has shown in his portfolio but also for visiting Revesby Workers Club and many other clubs in New South Wales. Clubs are often criticised. The Government has put in a lot of effort into providing for responsible gambling, the responsible serving of alcohol and the like. I am proud of the work done by Revesby Workers Club. As I said, much of the club's work is not mandated and was done many years before the Government mandated it.
(Charlestown—Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [6.07 p.m.]: I thank the honourable member for East Hills for raising this matter. Revesby Workers Club is the Cinderella of clubs in the sense that in a short period it emerged virtually from a shed to the active and well-run club it is today. That is due to the course followed by the original pioneers since the establishment of the club. While the club enjoys the privilege of being one of the larger clubs in the State, it has never lost sight of why it was originally established. Many clubs could take a leaf out of the Revesby Workers Club book; this club was making donations to the community long before the Community Development Support Expenditure Scheme and other schemes. The club has always given a considerable portion of its income back to the community it represents and where it was established.
I pay tribute to Brien Higgs, who was president of the club in the early days and then its secretary. He gave me considerable assistance when I first became the shadow Minister some 14 years ago. Not only was Brien involved in the Revesby Workers Club; he also gave considerable guidance to the workers club movement. It is a pity that Brien was unable to attend the opening of the club's recent extensions, which I attended. The current chief executive officer, Ed Camilleri, has considerable talent and as general manager he has been involved in all the good things done by the club. Norma Smith was the first female president of the club. That was at a time when it was unusual to have female club presidents. That shows the nature of Revesby Workers Club. I congratulate the club on its fortieth anniversary.
LANE COVE TUNNEL
(Willoughby) [6.09 p.m.]: I draw to the attention of honourable members a matter raised by the Minister for Roads in Parliament earlier today, that is, the proposed Lane Cove tunnel to be built in Sydney's north. Today the Minister announced that the Government has invited registration of interest to finance, design, build, maintain and operate the proposed Lane Cove tunnel, with a view to construction starting in 2003. That news is welcome, and I think the Minister's contribution today is appreciated by all members concerned. However, I want to draw to the Minister's attention a number of issues that have already been drawn to my attention by local community organisations. The matter has already received the attention of Willoughby City Council, and I believe the council has made a contribution to the environmental impact study of the Lane Cove tunnel which has been undertaken. In particular, I draw attention to the petition signed by my constituents that is being presented to the House each day the Parliament sits.
Councillor Stuart Coppock from Willoughby City Council has put in a lot of work harnessing and directing local community concern about the proposed tunnel. I refer in particular to a submission by the Chatswood West Ward Progress Association on the proposed tunnel. The association is concerned principally about the filtration of gases produced in the tunnel by vehicles passing through it. The association is not alone in being concerned about adequate filtration and the removal of pathogens and submicron particles. It is also concerned about the transit of hazardous materials in the tunnel and the need to avoid the kinds of events that recently occurred in catastrophic European fires. The design requirements for this tunnel must take into account those sorts of issues. The association's submission states:
The tunnel alone will not relieve the near gridlock conditions to its north along the Pacific Highway. It will very soon be necessary to complement it with the southward extension of the F3 Freeway. Diversion of over 1000 vehicles per hour from the Pacific Highway Gore Hill Freeway on-ramp to the M2 tunnel entry at the river has not been designed for, or even evaluated within the traffic section of the tunnel EIS.
The Artarmon and District Progress Association made a valuable submission. It pointed out a number of things that need to be provided. For example, the Pacific Highway and Mowbray Road intersection will need to be improved to facilitate use of the Pacific Highway as the route of choice from the Lane Cove tunnel and Gore Hill expressway to Chatswood, while reducing the impact on local streets in Artarmon. The ramps on the Gore Hill expressway will need to be changed to improve traffic egress northbound to the Pacific Highway. The impacts of the project on traffic in Reserve Road, both north and south of the Gore Hill expressway ramps, will need to be further examined.
A number of my constituents have made valuable contributions. For instance, Mr Richard Tarte has made a number of detailed submissions. Marion Butt of Artarmon has pointed out the potential traffic congestion that will occur in Artarmon village. I thank my constituents who have made such an effort to put their views to the Government so that design improvements can be incorporated in the tunnel when it is built. I will write to the Minister and inform him of these potential problems. I hope that when the tunnel is constructed in 2003 we will see the benefit of direct input from my constituents and from constituent organisations such as the progress associations and Willoughby council. Their concerns should be taken into consideration in the final design of the tunnel. I trust that the Minister will eventually report back to the Parliament on the incorporation of many of these excellent ideas.
PORT MACQUARIE BASE HOSPITAL
(Port Macquarie) [6.14 p.m.]: I draw to the attention of the House a report released last week by Legislative Council General Purpose Standing Committee No. 2 entitled "Quality of Care for Public Patients and Value for Money in Major Non-metropolitan Hospitals in NSW". The inquiry commenced in April 2001 because people in the Port Macquarie area were concerned that they were not getting a fair share of dollars with respect to quality of care. The issues involving Port Macquarie Base Hospital—the first privately run public hospital in New South Wales—have existed for a decade. It was time for the operations of the hospital to be reviewed. Accordingly, the upper House was an appropriate body to undertake that review. The Committee looked at a range of non-metropolitan hospitals, including Albury, Coffs Harbour, Dubbo, Lismore, Manning, Orange, Tamworth and Wagga Wagga. This was a worthwhile exercise.
In its report the committee made some comments with respect to Port Macquarie Base Hospital. The report mentioned that the committee had received a number of submissions, one of which was a confidential submission from me. It included 400 letters from constituents concerned about the hospital's operations. New South Wales Health acknowledged that greater community involvement in Port Macquarie Base Hospital is required and informed the committee that the Mid North Coast Area Health Service will be given increased authority to manage the contract at a local level with Mayne Health. That is welcomed. In addition, the committee reported that in September 2001 it approached Port Macquarie Base Hospital to provide indicators of cross measures relevant to the inquiry.
Despite receiving advice from the organisation's chief executive officer that information was being prepared, none was forthcoming by the time the report was prepared. The report stated that while the complete quality indicators for Port Macquarie Base Hospital have not been published, the committee considers that as a publicly funded hospital Port Macquarie Base Hospital should, within contractual restraints, provide data collection for evaluating and monitoring quality of care conducted by New South Wales Health in line with other area health service hospitals. I thought that was fair enough, until I received a letter from Mayne today. It states:
ABC Port Macquarie called us today and mentioned you may be talking on air tomorrow about the discussion paper which has been recently released by the Parliament Committee conducting the review of Quality of care for public patients and value for money in major non-metropolitan hospitals in NSW.
I wanted to ensure you were aware of some facts in relation to comments made in the discussion paper:
- Port Macquarie Base Hospital received a request to supply information to the Committee;
- Port Macquarie Base Hospital supplied the information to the NSW Health Department, which had agreed to provide this material to the Committee on the Hospital's behalf (although it appears this did not occur);
- We are concerned that this information was not made available to the Committee and are taking steps to ensure this occurs.
That falls into line with the ongoing concerns with regard to the operation of Port Macquarie Base Hospital. I hope it is not the case that an upper House committee has withheld information or that New South Wales Health, for whatever reason, has withheld information from the committee because it is not in its interests that this information be provided. Alternatively—although it does not make sense—Mayne may have made false allegations in its letter to me today. I raise this matter tonight so that the Minister and the committee can explain what went wrong and why this information has not been made public. The whole point of the report and the 12-month inquiry was to review Port Macquarie Base Hospital and to see where delivery of service is in Port Macquarie. Unfortunately, without that information in the report, it is extremely difficult for the Port Macquarie community to know where it sits in the scheme of things with regard to health care in regional New South Wales. Therefore, I hope that clarity can be provided on this matter.
Private members' statements noted.
[Mr Deputy-Speaker left the chair at 6.19 p.m. The House resumed at 7.30 p.m.
JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE UPON ROAD SAFETY
Motion, by leave, by Mr Whelan agreed to:
(1) That Thomas George be appointed to serve on the Joint Standing Committee upon Road Safety in place of Andrew John Stoner, discharged.
(2) That a message be sent acquainting the Legislative Council of the resolution.
GOVERNOR'S SPEECH: ADDRESS-IN-REPLY
Fourth Day's Debate
(Upper Hunter—Leader of the National Party) [7.31 p.m.]: We are on the brink of the eighth year of the Carr Labor Government. In just over 12 months the Premier and his members of Parliament will present themselves to the voters of New South Wales seeking a further four years of power—12 years in total. This Government does not deserve 12 years in office and, given the damage it has exacted on rural and regional New South Wales, the voters of this State do not deserve four more years of Labor. Labor's rhetoric, repetition and re-announcements this year show how deeply the Carr Government's lack of vision runs.
The New South Wales National Party will continue to present a strong, viable alternative for voters next year. We are a specialist party that focuses on issues in country and regional New South Wales. We are not beholden to unions or any other groups for that matter. In government we will make a mark. There will be commonsense decision-making and programs that harness community knowledge and views. As I travel around New South Wales I find there is a strong desire to unleash the vast potential that exists in country areas. That potential lies in the resources and the ideas of the people who live in our communities. In my view the role of the New South Wales Government is to provide the services and resources necessary for those communities to capitalise on that potential.
Unfortunately, after more than seven years of rule the Premier has demonstrated that he has a fundamental misunderstanding of and detachment from rural and regional New South Wales. He is focussed on the Newcastle-Sydney-Wollongong axis and rarely acknowledges the communities outside this axis—that is, 30 per cent of this State's population. It is worth reviewing Labor's performance. Who can forget, when Labor came to power in New South Wales, that its chainsaw gangs cut hundreds of jobs from rural and regional communities? Despite much public relations spin over the past few years those jobs have not been replaced and dozens of communities are poorer for it. Apart from jobs, this Government has not invested in capital infrastructure in rural and regional New South Wales. Despite big promises post-Olympics, nothing has eventuated. Labor has even taken to claiming private sector projects as initiatives of its own in a bid to cover up its embarrassment. Who can forget the loss, for example, of the Lithgow aluminium smelter?
The terrible fires that swept this State at Christmas will not be forgotten quickly by those directly involved and by the wider community. It was a tremendous show of the community spirit that makes Australia so special that we had thousands of volunteers putting their lives on the line to protect others' lives and property. The spirit of generosity was also evident by the millions of dollars donated to victims of those fires. In the aftermath it is important that we now look back at the cause of the fires and how we could have been better resourced or prepared for such a catastrophe. This is why the National-Liberal Coalition sought support from other political parties for a wide-ranging parliamentary inquiry into the fires. There must be a conduit to give experts and those directly affected by the fires a chance to put forward suggestions and to recommend change.
Issues that need canvassing include the implementation of the recommendations of the coronial inquest into the 1994 bushfires, the adequacy of controlled burning and the payment of compensation for landowners affected by the negligence of public authorities. I am pleased the Carr Government belatedly agreed to establish a parliamentary inquiry. It is interesting to note that while we have 5.5 million hectares of national parks and nature reserves, prescribed burning operations by the National Parks and Wildlife Services effectively halved, from 47,816 hectares in 1993-94 to just 19,220 hectares in 2000-01. The average reduction burning by this Carr Government agency over the past four years is just 11,700 hectares per annum.
I was alarmed to hear this Government signal that it will create more national parks despite being unable to properly manage those that already exist. This includes the current assessment of the South Brigalow biodiversity region. This issue is of great concern to country New South Wales as the amount of land managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service has increased from approximately 4 million hectares to 5.5 million hectares, and it will undoubtedly increase further by the time this term of the Carr Government is completed. At the same time the Government has allowed national parks to become havens for noxious weeds and feral animals.
Whenever I travel throughout country New South Wales the issue of crime and safety, and specifically police numbers, is raised with me. Dozens of country police stations are often unmanned, with the phones switched through to the nearest major police station, which can be hours away. Since the new Police Minister was appointed last year the public relations spin has gone into overdrive, but he should realise that press releases pumped out of glass office towers in Sydney will not be swallowed by country New South Wales. I challenge the Minister to provide the number of police actually available for operational duty on an average day, rather than the rubbery figures he recently published on the Internet.
The Premier has gone very quiet on his commitment at the last election to boost police numbers by at least 1,100 extra officers. Labor recently announced a rent-a-cop plan that will allow off-duty police to wear their uniforms and carry guns while working for private groups or companies. This plan will disadvantage struggling small businesses and many less affluent communities that cannot afford to pay. This is the Carr Government trying to cover up the low number of police it has on the streets. If there are police willing to work extra shifts, the Carr Government should employ them to do police work, not allow them to be hired by certain interest groups.
Another recent Labor plan is to hand on-the-spot fines to vandals, graffitists and shoplifters instead of arresting them and sending them through the court process. This is clearly unacceptable, especially at a time when crime has gone through the roof in New South Wales, with record levels of assaults, thefts, robberies and vandalism. Here we have yet another case of the Premier talking tough when the television cameras are rolling but then inevitably going soft on crime and on criminals. And the Police Minister's recent whirlwind tour of country areas served only to reinforce his spin credentials. Following his visit the Minister faced the prospect of Mudgee and Taree police staging industrial action in protest at the lack of staff. In Mudgee the local area command is 15 officers under strength; the Upper Hunter command is 11 short; and in Oxley, Quirindi is down two. That is just in my electorate—just one of the many electorates in country New South Wales disadvantaged by the Carr Government's reduction in police numbers.
Since 1995 the Carr Government's green agenda and anti-farmer attitude have strangled the productive capacity of country communities. Instead of approaching resource management in an integrated manner, Labor has created a complex and inefficient system that adds to problems rather than providing solutions. A University of New England study found that the Carr Government's Native Vegetation Conservation Act has reduced land values by 21 per cent in north-western New South Wales. This insidious legislation has also cut farm incomes by an estimated $20 million a year in the Moree Plains shire alone. On top of this, the Carr Government seems intent on ramming through water reform with as little community consultation and compensation as possible.
The cumulative impacts of the Carr Government's extreme environmental legislation are crippling rural industry. Community consultation and harnessing the community's knowledge will be a distinguishing feature between a Labor government and a Coalition government. Where Labor has ramrodded country communities, we will listen and act. For example, the Namoi groundwater task force recommended $40 million each from stakeholders—the State Government, the Federal Government and local stakeholders. The Federal Coalition Government will meet this request, while the State Labor Government tries to squirm out of its obligations with a $15 million structural adjustment payment. The New South Wales Coalition recently announced that in government it would provide the requested $40 million. I call on the Carr Government to match that commitment.
Noxious weeds cost New South Wales more than $500 million a year through impacts on the environment, primary industry and human health. This is yet another issue neglected by Labor. The contrast is clear: the Carr Government's spending on Sydney parks and gardens equates to almost $56,000 a hectare versus 9¢ a hectare to fight noxious weeds throughout the rest of New South Wales. In relation to salinity the Carr Government has been big on rhetoric but light on substance. If the Carr Government was serious about working towards a solution to this terrible blight on our land it would immediately sign off on final details of the National Action Plan for Salinity. In relation to stock theft the Carr Government has tried on a con job of giving 32 already stretched rural police officers extra duties with minimal training and calling it a stock squad. We require dedicated rural crime officers who are properly resourced to catch thieves who prey on those who make their living off the land.
The ovine Johne's disease [OJD] debate continues to rage with general dissatisfaction regarding the Carr Government's policies for managing the disease. OJD-affected producers are still waiting for the Carr Government to offer any form of support. The regional assessment process of the Brigalow belt south bioregion covers approximately 52,000 square kilometres, or more than 6 per cent, of the State. It is important to note that this assessment is entirely a State Government initiative—another aimless land grab by the Carr Government. Farmers, timber workers and local communities within the bioregion are concerned that land will be resumed and new national parks will be declared within their midst. Indeed, more national parks were flagged by the Carr Government during the Governor's Speech. Any moves to turn the Goonoo State Forest and Pilliga State Forest into national parks will cost local communities many jobs and millions of dollars in income.
The Carr Government seems incapable of recognising that it cannot continue to impose the environmental burden on people in rural and regional New South Wales alone. It fails to recognise the importance of jobs created by the timber industry and the sanctity of private property. Country New South Wales wants an understanding ear and a strong voice to represent it in Macquarie Street, not subservient Western Sydney Ministers who are beholden to metropolitan special interest groups. Health is one of the most basic of all State government services. The Carr Government's appalling record in this area is indicative of how far it has strayed from its core responsibilities. Record hospital waiting lists, critical specialist shortages, nursing shortages, low staff morale, crumbling infrastructure and an underresourced ambulance service are just some of the issues confronting country communities. For example, the New England Area Health Service is forcing a cluster system of management despite widespread concern that this will mean a reduction in staff at local hospitals.
Under the proposal Barraba is set to lose its health service manager at a time when the hospital is being refurbished. There will be a rationalisation of staff between Werris Creek and Quirindi. The Mayor of Tenterfield, Lucy Sullivan, has told the media that a previous restructure led to a reduction in jobs in smaller centres. When will this Government come to understand that treating country communities with contempt just does not work? It began when the Carr Government eliminated district hospital boards, which essentially removed community involvement from the running of local hospitals. A National-Liberal Coalition government will reintroduce local hospital boards to ensure communities have input into how their local health system is run. The critical shortage of specialists in country areas has been caused in part by the Carr Government proceeding with plans to further reduce access to local hospitals.
A report published by the New South Wales Rural Doctors Network in March last year identified the need to address work force crises, including "declining surgical opportunities, visiting medical officers' rights, transportable provider numbers and Area Health Service cost shifting". It noted "bureaucratic hurdles … access to Specialists (access and waiting times) and allied health professionals" and the need for "more health resources". This problem was highlighted earlier this year by the restrictions placed on the Orange-based ear, nose and throat specialist, Dr Peter Bryan, who regularly visits Mudgee to treat patients. The number of patients Dr Bryan has been allowed to admit overnight to Mudgee District Hospital has been cut from 10 to six per visit, his theatre operating time cut by two hours per session, and operations have been cancelled without consultation.
I note, however, that the Macquarie Area Health Service policy has been reversed thanks to a lot of pressure from many members of the community. Dr Bryan will resume his provision of services in Mudgee in the near future. A recently released clinical services plan for the Macquarie Area Health Service has decreed that specialists must come from Dubbo and not from other areas. This is a very centralist approach which is chasing away specialists who come from outside the area health service and has resulted in their being unable to provide services within the area health service's district. This is a classic illustration of bureaucratic hurdles being placed in front of a service that had the support of a visiting specialist and, in the case to which I have referred, his Mudgee colleagues and the whole of the local community.
I was very concerned to read in the media recently that a confidential consultant's report to the Carr Government recommends that the Government consider reducing ambulance services or closing stations in some small rural towns. I have called on the Premier to rule this out but have not yet heard a word. Consultants who recommend country ambulance station closures have no idea of equity of access, distance or geography. Station upgrades, new vehicles and replacement of old equipment, such as defibrillators, are vital to country New South Wales. Waiting lists continue to balloon. A snapshot of people waiting for elective surgery at the end of February reveals the following examples: Armidale 465, Bathurst 293, Broken Hill 260, Dubbo 998, Grafton 412, Lithgow 176, Murwillumbah 754, Port Macquarie 1,872, Tweed Heads 609 and Mudgee 122. What a shocking indictment of the Carr Labor Government, which promised so much in relation to waiting lists seven years ago but has delivered nothing.
This Government has failed to address the real issues with respect to recruitment and retention of nurses. Just 33,000 of the 76,000 registered nurses in New South Wales are choosing to work in our hospitals. The reasons for that include the conditions they face in hospitals, such as violence, shortages of equipment and basic supplies to treat their patients, and pay that is unequal to that of other equivalent trained health workers. Mental health services is another area that deeply concerns country New South Wales. Services are deficient and people who desperately need care are missing out. Despite the Government's promise to create 150 new beds, the 2000-01 New South Wales Health annual report shows that the number of available beds in public psychiatric hospitals has fallen from 1,095 in 1997-98 to 1,021.
Education is another bread and butter portfolio that this Government has failed to properly resource, leading to detrimental outcomes for our children. Only last week I again received reports that students in country New South Wales are enduring sweltering heat in classrooms lacking airconditioning. Not very long ago we were talking about higher school certificate students not having access to vital textbooks. A recent Productivity Commission report revealed that New South Wales has the highest student to teacher ratio of all States. In December a New South Wales Teachers Federation survey found that 32 per cent of kindergarten classes have more than 27 students, and 15 per cent of year 3 classes have more than 30 students. Clearly, public education is not meeting the expectations of this State's parents. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that in the past three years there has been a loss of 8,153 students from the public system, with more than half that number leaving in the past year. When will the Government get the message that it has to do better to resource our schools and public education? Expensive television advertisements about public education will not suffice.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Speaking Time: Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders
Motion, by leave, by Mr Fraser agreed to:
That standing and sessional orders be suspended to allow the Leader of the National Party unlimited time to complete his contribution to the Address-in-Reply debate.
GOVERNOR'S SPEECH: ADDRESS-IN-REPLY
Fourth Day's Debate
Roads received scant mention in the Labor Party written Governor's Speech. The private sector cross-city tunnel, the Federal Government funded Western Sydney Orbital, the already announced Liverpool to Parramatta bus transitway and the planning for the Lane Cove tunnel are the only projects that rate a mention. Where are the country road projects? In the last budget the Carr Government cut road maintenance funding by $14 million in real terms and it also slashed funding to the black spots program. The usual trickery of the Carr Government was evident when it announced, with much fanfare, that the increase in the Sydney Harbour Bridge toll would go exclusively to country road projects. That is a sham.
The reality is that the areas to benefit from the increased toll are predominantly Western Sydney, the Illawarra, the Central Coast and the Newcastle regions. The total amount destined for country roads is less than one-half of this Government's road budget. Country road improvements total just 46 per cent of spending instead of the traditional 60 per cent. Furthermore, it was confirmed recently that after the first two years the funds from the toll increase will not supplement the roads budget. The head of the Roads and Traffic Authority told the Western Division Group of Shires conference in Lightning Ridge that the increased bridge toll would be used to maintain the roads budget and to ensure that there was no reduction in the future. The funds will now be used on a needs basis and will not be subject to predetermined ratios.
That statement came as quite a bombshell to the local government representatives attending the Western Division Group of Shires conference. For a State the size of New South Wales it is simply not acceptable to have an inefficient freight rail system. Now that FreightCorp has been sold to a private operation it is paramount that the Carr Government start to fulfil its maintenance obligation of the tracks for which it retains responsibility. Rail lines in some areas are in an appalling state, with track over 100 years old still being used and travelling times extremely slow. A major concern is the Carr Government's decision not to continue above-rail community service obligation payments for branch lines. Over 60 per cent of the grain produced in New South Wales is received on branch rail lines. The flow-on effects could see job losses and about another one million truck movements on our roads.
Latest figures obtained by the New South Wales Opposition from the State Rail Authority, under freedom of information provisions, revealed that last year as many as one in two Countrylink trains ran late. Speed restrictions are in place along many country sections of track. Trains have to slow to speeds of less than 20 kilometres per hour in some areas because of the poor state of the network. I receive a constant flow of complaints from passengers who are attempting to travel on the Countrylink network, which has no semblance of on-time running. The very fabric of country New South Wales is being threatened by the public liability insurance crisis facing community groups, businesses and government instrumentalities. Events that have been part of communities for decades are being cancelled and businesses are closing due to soaring premiums.
The Carr Government has been aware of this problem but its inaction has allowed this problem to escalate into a major crisis. It should be noted that the State Government benefits from the increases in insurance premiums by raking in 10 per cent of each premium as stamp duty calculated on top of the GST-inclusive value. The Carr Government has already collected $40 million from public liability stamp duty. We must get on top of this issue so that community spirit and local economies are not jeopardised. This Government has become addicted to gaming revenue. Poker machine numbers have increased by 60 per cent since the Carr Government came into office. Figures released in December show that New South Wales has more than 100,000 poker machines. Last year the Government raked in $1.5 billion in revenue from gaming.
The Government's gaming policy has been in a shambles for years, marked by a lack of leadership from the Premier and the Minister for Gaming and Racing. Today the Government, through its Minister, said that it would release a discussion paper to deregulate liquor licensing laws so that corner shops, small businesses, service stations and the like would be able to sell liquor. During the day the Minister for Gaming and Racing—who had the approval of Cabinet and the Premier—saw the Premier back pedal on that policy before the issuing of the discussion paper. The inconsistencies were evident recently when the Minister for Gaming and Racing announced that the Government would not introduce further gaming reforms before the next election. But when the changes were proposed by the Liquor Administration Board in November 2000 the Minister supported those reforms and wanted them introduced quickly.
In such an important area that impacts on so many lives in New South Wales we cannot afford to have this ad hoc policy mentality. Policy by press release or policy by radio talkback is not good policy for the people of New South Wales. In summary, this Government is rapidly losing touch with the community that it purports to represent. It has lost touch, as witnessed by the Premier's recent defence of subsidising police resources for the mardi gras in Sydney while at the same time demanding that charities and other community groups in country areas pay for a police presence. Labor's heroin injecting room is another example of how far out of touch with the community this Government is. The International Narcotics Control Board recently called on Australia to close down the Kings Cross heroin shooting gallery. The United Nations body said that the injecting room and the Government that allowed it to open condoned illicit drug trafficking. It is the view of the National Party that the money wasted on Labor's experiment would be much better devoted to rehabilitation beds and prevention programs.
The Carr Government's betrayal of its promise not to privatise the New South Wales electricity industry continues. It is yet another example of the shallowness of this Government. Pacific Power International is an important part of the State-owned electricity industry. The Premier's move to privatise Pacific Power International strikes at the very heart of the Carr Labor Government's promise prior to the last election that it would not privatise the State's electricity industry. It is a complete backflip on the Government's no-privatisation policy and its much heralded claim of creating employment in regional areas. That decision puts in jeopardy 300 jobs in the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie regions alone.
It is clear that Labor will continue to recycle and reannounce projects and programs over the next 12 months in the hope that it will again be given the privilege of governing this State. It will again attempt to win public support through a mixture of public relations spin and doling out favours along political lines rather than administering New South Wales for all of its 6.5 million people. The Liberal-National Coalition will deliver a comprehensive policy package to address the needs and aspirations of people living in this State. We have fresh ideas and an enthusiastic team that is hungry to deliver for these communities.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Bartlett.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
JOHN MORONEY CORRECTIONAL CENTRE PRISONER OUTINGS
, by leave: Earlier the honourable member for Davidson asked me a question about a serious offender who was allowed to accompany four other inmates from the John Moroney Correctional Centre. I am now able to give the House some supplementary information. The honourable member for Davidson made several assertions during question time. After much research I am pleased to say that those assertions are untrue. He claimed that six prisoners from the John Moroney Correctional Centre were taken on a tenpin bowling outing without appropriate approval and warrants, and without the knowledge of the victims.
There were only five.
The honourable member was wrong on several counts. As the honourable member for Coffs Harbour just said, there were only five. Contrary to the statement made by the honourable member for Davidson, offenders were given approval for those visits and they were always escorted by a senior correctional officer. Members will recall that the honourable member for Davidson suggested that the victims were not notified. Members would be aware of the procedures in this regard. I am advised that none of the five offenders had people listed on the victims register, and therefore any such notification would have been inappropriate.
All the inmates involved in the recent excursions were minimum security offenders who were due to complete their sentences within 18 months. All were also regularly drug and alcohol tested, and have constantly submitted clean samples. Only one of the five offenders involved in these events was classified as a serious offender. He was serving a sentence of 14 years dating from 17 November 1992, with a non-parole period of 11 years. He was convicted of offences including robbery whilst armed and possess firearm. His earliest possible release date is 16 November 2003. I am advised that the Serious Offenders Review Council had recommended that this inmate be permitted to participate in external leave programs.
He was classified C3—that is, minimum security—which made him eligible for external leave programs. Before approving this reduction to a C3 classification the New South Wales Commissioner of Corrective Services determined that the offender's progression was contingent on his returning three clean urine samples over a three-month period. This target was met. In view of the prisoner's commitment to rehabilitation, I am sure the Opposition appreciates the merits of allowing inmates a gradual transition from the institutional environment of a prison into the outside community. The staging down principle, which allows long-term inmates to progress from maximum to minimum security, was established by the Nagle royal commission in 1978. It was reinforced by the judicial review of the classification process completed by Judge Martin in 1987 following the murder of Anita Cobby. In discussing the reduction to minimum security Justice Nagle stated:
There would appear to be no alternative unless the public is prepared to assume the enormous financial burden implicit in adopting a regime which, of necessity, must be both repressive and tyrannical, a regime which would most certainly result in the discharge into society of prisoners more anti-social and more dangerous. Too often it is forgotten that practically every prisoner, at some time, returns to the community.
Judge Martin determined in his review that:
As part of the principle of keeping each prisoner at the lowest appropriate rating, officers or Commissioners reviewing ratings from time to time, notwithstanding that a prisoner had an initial high rating, are justified in recommending a lower rating in appropriate cases, having regard to the development of the prisoner in all relevant aspects with the passage of time to the approach of the time when the prisoner is likely to be released, and to the desirability of the preparation of the prisoner for his/her earliest possible release. All of these facts must be viewed in the light of and balanced against the prisoner's conduct, particularly dangerousness, as evidenced by his/her crime and prior history.
Therefore, as an inmate's sentence draws to an end—and if he or she has been classified to the lowest category of minimum security in accordance with departmental processes—the inmate is sometimes allowed to participate in a range of activities in the community, often supervised by correctional officers. These activities include full-time work, attendance at educational institutions, and supervised community excursions such as sporting activities against local teams. Women inmates are also taken on escorted shopping trips to help them prepare to return to family and communal life. The escorted tenpin bowling events were therefore in line with this policy.
If an inmate is classified as minimum security, and his or her release date is imminent, the inmate is sometimes permitted to leave a correctional centre unaccompanied. However, I do have a concern that serious offenders may be reclassified to minimum security too early in their sentence. There are currently 400 male inmates and 41 female inmates who are in the lowest possible classification. Of these, only 177 are currently participating in external leave programs—out of about 7,750 inmates in the system. I have instructed the Commissioner of Corrective Services to examine this matter closely to ensure that serious offenders are not being inappropriately allowed access to day-leave provisions.
I have also asked the commissioner to investigate and provide me with advice on tenpin bowling expeditions. The commissioner has been directed to report back to me as a matter of urgency. I hope this clears up some of the inaccuracies and false implications raised by the honourable member for Davidson, and that it sets the record straight for the benefit of the House. It is important that the public confidence in these programs is not undermined by news grabs about things like tenpin bowling events. I have asked the commissioner to report on the types of events in which these inmates participate, particularly sporting events. The types of events in which inmates participate is of no great moment, but I will look at the range of events so that glib comments by the Opposition do not undermine the whole program, which, as I have said, is to prepare offenders, many of whom have been in gaol for many years, for their eventual release into the community. It is important that that adjustment process take place, for the benefit of the entire community.
Bill introduced and read a first time.
(Mount Druitt—Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Corrective Services) [8.06 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
Honourable members will recall that I first introduced this bill on 28 November last year, almost four months ago. My contribution tonight should be taken in conjunction with the references I made when introducing the bill at that time. I indicated that my intention was to leave the bill on the table for the Parliament's consideration over the summer recess and to provide an opportunity for public comment. Since tabling the bill I have received comment from many organisations and private individuals, and today I am tabling a revised Game Bill based on that feedback. Before outlining some of the major changes I have made to the bill I take this opportunity to thank all those who took the time to bring their support for, or concerns about, the bill to my attention. The submissions covered a wide range of issues. Some submissions questioned both the need for a statutory Game Council and for legislation to involve appropriately skilled, licensed, private hunters in vertebrate pest management and conservation activities.
Submissions from animal welfare and animal rights groups that are totally opposed to hunting stated that the bill should be withdrawn completely. Other animal welfare interests, on the other hand, argued that the bill as originally tabled needed to be amended to improve consistency between it and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 and the Companion Animals Act 1998. These groups also argued for stronger penalties for hunters who fail to observe the proposed code of practice for licensed game hunters. They also advised that the definition of "hunt" in the original bill could be misconstrued as condoning aggravated cruelty to animals and thereby subvert the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
The groups also asked that animal welfare interests be represented on the Game Council. Greater consistency between the bill and the pest control provisions of the Rural Lands Protection Act was sought by rural lands protection boards, the New South Wales Farmers Association and the Pest Animal Council, as well as environmental interests. The groups stressed the need to minimise misunderstanding which may arise as a result of usage of the term "pest" in the bill and in pest control orders issued under the Rural Lands Protection Act 1998.
The New South Wales Farmers Association indicated that defining goats as pest animals for the purposes of the bill may undermine the growing status of goats and goat meat as an agricultural export. It asked that the bill treat goats in a manner consistent with the needs of an expanding export industry. The Farmers Association and the State Council of Rural Lands Protection Boards asked that the bill be amended to clarify the relationship with the Wild Dog Destruction Act 1923. The Total Environment Centre argued for provisions governing public notification of the declaration of an area as available for hunting. As a result of these and other suggestions I am pleased to bring a new bill back to the House. The main changes are as follows. The definition of "hunt" has been altered to take account of concerns by animal welfare groups that the previous definition could have been misconstrued as authorising harm to animals in a manner inconsistent with the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979.
On the advice of the State Council of Rural Lands Protection Boards, the Pest Animal Council, the New South Wales Farmers Association and others, the term "pest" has been removed from clause 5 (2) and other parts of the bill to improve consistency with the Rural Lands Protection Act. Hares have also been removed from clause 5 (1) and are now classified as a clause 5 (2) game animal to take account of the fact that they are regarded as a nuisance animal by farmers in some parts of New South Wales. Private hunters and land-holders no longer require a game hunting licence to hunt hares on private land as a consequence of this change, which was brought to my attention by the New South Wales Farmers Association.
The term "feral" has been removed from clause 5 (2) to improve consistency with the Companion Animals Act. This change arose out of concerns expressed by the Humane Society International, the Cat Protection Society of New South Wales and other groups with an interest in domestic animal control under the Companion Animals Act. In a complementary change, the bill makes it clear that dingos are not game animals. A new clause has been added to indicate that the bill is subordinate to the requirements of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act [POCTAA]. This change was recommended on the basis that there is a need for a statement in the bill which makes it very clear that a future Game Act would not remove any of the obligations that the POCTAA imposes on hunters.
Many individuals and groups supported this change, including the RSPCA, the Faculty of Veterinary Science at University of Sydney and the New South Wales Animal Welfare Advisory Committee. The composition of the Game Council has been increased from 14 members to 16 members, comprising an additional member nominated by the Minister for Agriculture and an additional member nominated by hunting organisations. Clause 18 (1) (d) has been amended to make it clear that a game hunting licence is not required by anyone suppressing wild dogs as part of a duty imposed under the Wild Dog Destruction Act.
Under amendments to clause 30 the hunting code of practice now contains mandatory provisions to be observed by licensed game hunters. Failure to observe these mandatory provisions now constitutes an offence under the Act and is grounds for cancellation or suspension of a licence. These mandatory provisions will address acceptable standards of behaviour in areas as diverse as animal welfare, firearms safety, access to private and public land, and recognition of target species. Making parts of the code a condition of the licence accommodates in large part the view that the code of practice should be embodied in a regulation. Clause 35 of the bill has been amended to require the Game Council to suspend or cancel a game hunting licence if a person is found guilty of an offence involving cruelty to animals. This change ensures that anyone found guilty of breaching the code will be banned from hunting game animals on private land, and hunting any animal on all public land in New South Wales.
Furthermore, under another important change to clause 35 the Game Council has been given the power to disqualify a person from holding a game hunting licence for an indefinite period. This is in addition to its existing power under clause 29 of the previous bill to refuse to issue a licence to a person found guilty of an offence involving personal violence, damage to property, or unlawful entry into land. Under an amendment to clause 53 hunters will also be required to carry their licences while hunting game animals. It is in relation to this amendment that I acknowledge Mr Ron Rees of Mildura, who suggested this practical and, I think, very important amendment. Some honourable members would know Ron. For those who do not, Ron and his family before him have been farming in the south-west of the State for many decades. Ron has been actively involved in the West 2000 structural adjustment program and with rabbit control work in the region and occasionally sends me a hands-on report of rabbit control work in his region. My thanks to Ron Rees for this suggestion.
At the suggestion of the Total Environment Centre a new clause requiring public notification of areas available for hunting has been added. A regulation addressing public notification will also be made and State Forests and other relevant New South Wales Government agencies and other organisations will be invited to have input into this regulation as it is prepared. My investigation of many other concerns raised in submissions revealed that they are already addressed in the bill in its current form; that the bill is highly unlikely to have the stated impact, or that the issue is best addressed in other existing legislation. For example, rural lands protection boards and other pest control bodies were concerned that the bill might give hunters and land-holders the right to ignore their obligations under the pest control provisions of the Rural Lands Protection Act.
The State Council of Rural Lands Protection Boards requested that a new provision be added to the bill stating that that hunters should not interfere with or in any way adversely affect the suppression and destruction of pests under the Rural Lands Protection Act 1998. The bill does not take precedence over either the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act [POCTAA] or the pest control provisions of the Rural Lands Protection Act. It was also claimed that the bill authorised currently illegal methods of hunting, the introduction of game parks, and the re-introduction of trap shooting using live birds. This was never the case and I hope that the issue is now firmly put to rest with the reference to the need for hunters to observe the POCTAA appearing in this revised bill.
The State Council of Rural Lands Protection Boards also requested that all private hunters helping a land-holder to meet an obligation to control pest animals under the Rural Lands Protection Act 1998 be exempt from the need to hold a game hunting licence. It was always intended that land-holders hunting on neighbouring land as part of a co-ordinated pest control program should not be required to hold a game hunting licence—even if their neighbour is a public authority—while participating in that program. The bill as originally drafted provided for an exemption of this nature to be made under clause 18 (h) and provided for further exemptions of a similar nature when this is necessary.
I will ensure that a regulation exempting land-holders from the need to hold a game hunting licence when taking part in joint pest control programs is made as soon as possible, should this bill receive the support of Parliament. I also remind the House that a game hunting licence is not required by anyone hunting on private land any of those animals listed under clause 5 (2). Clause 5 (2) includes those animals that we commonly regard as nuisance or pest animals. As such, a licence would not be required by any person taking part in a co-ordinated control program targeting pigs, wild dogs other than dingos, feral cats, goats, rabbits, hares and foxes on private land.
In effect, the bill as drafted goes a long way towards providing the type of exemption sought. However, a blanket exemption for all private hunters and all game animals on private land could not be supported, for several reasons. As the House would be aware, ducks are protected fauna and can currently be hunted only if the hunter has a pest mitigation permit issued by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The Government has determined that this situation should not change under the bill. Private hunters hunting protected fauna will therefore continue to require a licence. A licence will also be required for deer and those other animals that are classed in the bill as game animals on private land.
To broaden the exemption to all hunters and to all game animals on private lands would undermine the intention of the Act, which is to require private hunters of game to hold a licence when hunting designated game animals—unless they have a good reason for not doing so. The State Council of Rural Lands Protection Boards also sought an assurance that the Act should not prevent the control of pests under the Rural Lands Protection Act when such pests inhabit a proclaimed ecological community under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1996. I am advised that the bill would not prevent control of pests in these circumstances, providing that the control program in question was consistent with the requirements of the Threatened Species Conservation Act.
The New South Wales Farmers Association asked that the bill be amended to clarify the relationship with section 7 of the Inclosed Lands Protection Act with respect to goats. I have been advised that the bill has no adverse impact on this legislation as it does not require people hunting goats on private land to be in possession a game hunting licence. Employees of public agencies hunting goats on public lands as part of their normal duties are also exempt from the need to hold a game licence. The State council also requested an amendment that required hunters to obtain the written permission of the land-holder before entering private land.
While I am sympathetic to the proposal, introducing such a requirement under this bill would create a law that applies to one group of private hunters—licensed game hunters—but does not apply to hunters of non-game animals. To create this type of difference under the law between two very similar groups of people and to effectively require a person to seek written approval when hunting game animals on private land but not when hunting pest animals on private land is not good policy. This matter is best left to other legislation which can apply equally to all hunters as appropriate. I also remind the House that if the holder of a game hunting licence enters any land when he or she is not authorised to do so, it is trespassing and will be an offence under the proposed Game Act. My inquiries also revealed that some private land-holders do not want to have to prepare written permission of this type. For those reasons I have decided not to incorporate an amendment to this effect in the bill.
I have also investigated the concern that the Game Council’s powers of delegation under clause 13 are unusually broad. I have been advised that it is standard practice for a statutory body to have this type of power. I also point out that the power to issue an occupier's licence and to issue a restricted licence cannot be delegated under this provision. These are just some of the many issues which have been brought to my attention during the public comment phase of this bill. I believe that the changes I have made to the original bill have made this a better bill and one which should be supported by this House. Before concluding today, I want to comment on some other statements that have been made about the bill, in particular the claim that the bill is purely a bill for hunters.
For example, it has been claimed that the bill allows recreational hunters to use any means at their disposal to injure, maim or kill any cats, dogs, deer, pigs, foxes, goats or other animals that cross their path. This is not the case. The Game Bill only addresses animal species which can currently be legally hunted on public and private land in New South Wales using methods currently permitted by the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act [POCTAA]. The tight gun control laws introduced by the Carr Government, and indeed all governments, since 1995 have not been affected in any way by this bill. These two points are emphasised in clause 6 of this bill. The objectives of this bill are clearly stated in both the introduction to the bill and in clause 9, which sets out the functions of the Game Council. One of the two primary objectives set out in the explanatory note to the bill is, for example:
To promote the responsible and orderly hunting of game animals on public and private land and of certain pest animals on public land.
However, the bill is not—I repeat "not"—as has also been claimed, a free ticket to shooters, hunters, and pig doggers to carry out their blood sport almost anywhere in New South Wales. The bill does not give hunters sole control over hunters' activities, as has also been claimed. This type of claim ignores the fact that the bill preserves and clarifies the existing regulatory framework and actually imposes additional regulation and controls on hunting. It has also been claimed that the bill promotes animal cruelty by allowing hunters to use any hunting method or weapon to capture and kill game animals. These people are also saying that illegal methods of hunting will be made lawful under this Act. This statement deliberately ignores the fact that no amendments to POCTAA are made in this bill. It also ignores the fact that hunters are required to abide by a statutory code of practice linked to a revocable hunting licence which, once forfeited, prevents a person from hunting on all public land in New South Wales.
Rather than undermining the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, this bill underpins it. I remind the House that I have included a clause in the bill stating that nothing in the bill affects the operation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act to underscore this fact. Also, apart from asking hunters to accept additional regulation, this bill does not give hunters everything they asked for. For example, the bill does not give hunters access to national parks and other lands identified for similar conservation purposes. In fact, as I pointed out in this House in November last year when I originally tabled this bill, it specifically excludes national park estate land from the definition of "public land". The result is that the main public lands available to hunters under the bill are State Forests and Crown lands. Private hunter access to these areas is consistent with the existing management regimes for these areas.
More importantly, casting the bill in this way ensures that an amendment to the Act would be required to provide licensed game hunters with access to the national park estate. As honourable members would be aware, any such amendment would be subject to the fullest public scrutiny afforded by legal, administrative and parliamentary processes. This feature of the bill, among others, represents a significant point of departure from the Liberal-National Coalition’s hunting policies, which favour providing private hunters with access to the national park estate. This bill does not pave the way for the future introduction of hunting by licensed game hunters in national parks any more than it allows hunting pet cats in the back lanes and alleyways of our cities and towns, which has also been claimed by some people. Also, some hunting groups asked that the Game Council, rather than the Director-General of National Parks and Wildlife, set protected game animal quotas, which includes ducks, and that these quotas be set for sporting and recreational purposes.
Quota setting is still undertaken by the director-general, and the bill specifically excludes the setting of these quotas for sporting and recreational purposes. Some hunter submissions also asked that the Game Council have the power to nominate additional species as game animals under clause 5. This has not been done. It was also suggested that the requirement for visiting private hunters to hold a game licence when hunting game species on private property should be removed. An amendment to the bill to enable individual hunting groups, rather than the Game Council, to issue the mandatory hunting code of practice was also requested. While I have been able to accommodate some of the views of hunters when preparing this bill, I have not incorporated either of these features in the bill. As I said last November, this bill primarily establishes a framework to involve private hunters more in pest animal control, particularly on public lands. As I said at the outset, many submissions made constructive suggestions, and where possible these have been incorporated in the bill. I believe that the bill I have introduced today is a better bill as a result of the public consultation phase. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Fraser.
JOINT SELECT COMMITTEE ON BUSHFIRES
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Mills):
I report the receipt of the following message from the Legislative Council:
The Legislative Council desires to inform the Legislative Assembly that it has this day agreed to the following resolution:
1. That this House agrees to the Resolution in the Legislative Assembly's Message of 12 March 2002, relating to the appointment of a Joint Select Committee on Bushfires, with the following amendment, in which amendment the concurrence of the Legislative Assembly is requested:
Paragraph 3. Omit the paragraph, insert instead:
(3) That the Committee consist of 7 Members comprising:
(a) 4 Members of the Legislative Assembly, of whom,
(i) 2 must be Government members
(ii) 1 must be an Opposition member
(iii) 1 must be an Independent member,
nominated in writing to the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly by the relevant party leaders and the Independent members respectively by Monday 18 March 2002.
(b) 3 Members of the Legislative Council, of whom
(i) 1 must be a Government member
(ii) 1 must be an Opposition member
(iii) 1 Crossbench member chosen by ballot in accordance with Standing Order 236.
2. That the Legislative Council Members of the Committee be Mr Kelly, Mr Colless and Mr Tingle.
3. That the time and place of the first meeting of the Committee be at 9.30 am on Wednesday 20 March 2002 in Room 1043.
Legislative Council M. Burgmann
19 March 2002 President
Legislative Council's amendment agreed to on motion by Mr Face.
Message sent to the Legislative Council advising it of the resolution.
JOINT SELECT COMMITTEE ON THE QUALITY OF BUILDINGS
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Mills):
I report the receipt of the following message from the Legislative Council:
The Legislative Council desires to inform the Legislative Assembly that it has this day agreed to the following resolution:
1. That this House agrees to the Resolution in the Legislative Assembly's message of 13 March 2002, relating to the appointment of a Joint Select Committee on the Quality of Buildings with the following amendment, in which amendment the concurrence of the Legislative Assembly is requested:
(3) (a) That the Committee have leave to sit during the adjournment of either or both Houses, to adjourn from place to place, to make visits of inspection within the State and have the power to take evidence and to send for persons, papers, records and things, and to report from time to time.
(b) That should either House stand adjourned and the Committee agree to any report before the House resumes sitting, the Committee have leave to send any such report, minutes of proceedings and evidence taken before it to the Clerk of each House.
(c) A report presented to the Clerks is:
(i) on presentation, and for all purposes, deemed to have been laid before the House,
(ii) to be printed by authority of the Clerk,
(iii) for all purposes, deemed to be a document published by order or under the authority of the House, and
(iv) to be recorded in the official proceedings of the House.
2. That the Legislative Council Members of the Committee be Ms Fazio, Mr Ryan and Mrs Sham-Ho.
Legislative Council M. Burgmann
19 March 2002 President
Legislative Council's amendment agreed to on motion by Mr Face.
Message sent to the Legislative Council advising it of the resolution.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Bill: Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders
Motion by Mr Face agreed to:
That standing and sessional orders be suspended to permit the introduction and progress up to and including the Minister’s second reading speech of the Racing Legislation Amendment (Bookmakers) Bill, notice of which was given this day for tomorrow.
RACING LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (BOOKMAKERS) BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
(Charlestown—Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [8.31 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The object of the legislation before us is to amend the Greyhound Racing Authority Act, the Harness Racing New South Wales Act and the Thoroughbred Racing Board Act to provide bookmakers with the option of structuring their operations as a proprietary company. Previously, the three controlling bodies of racing could register or licence only individuals as bookmakers. This proposal involves the provision of an alternative operating structure for bookmakers and also represents the implementation of one of the recommendations resulting from the review of New South Wales racing and betting legislation in accordance with National Competition Policy. The proposal continues the longstanding arrangements in this State whereby the three controlling bodies of racing are responsible for the registration or licensing of bookmakers. If they so desire, persons who are licensed as bookmakers with one of the three racing controlling bodies will be able to apply for registration as a bookmaker company with that same controlling body. This will enable bookmakers to take advantage of the considerable benefits which flow from operating a business as a company. These include more favourable rates of Federal income tax and economies of scale.
Importantly, inherent in the new corporate bookmakers structures to be permitted are several key measures to ensure that the integrity of bookmaking in this State is not compromised and that the interests of punters are protected. These key measures include, first, that only proprietary companies registered in New South Wales under the Commonwealth Corporations Act 2001 are eligible to be licensed or registered as a bookmaker company here; second, that every director of a bookmaker company is to be a licensed bookmaker in his or her own right with the relevant controlling body; and, third, that a shareholder must be at least 18 years of age and must be either a director of the company or a close family member of a director. There are safeguards inherent in the proposal to prevent any overseas gambling interests capitalising on this legislative initiative to infiltrate the New South Wales bookmaker ranks. That is one of the major centrepieces of this legislation in light of overseas interests intruding into Australia, particularly in the Territories, in recent times.
In respect of the protection of the financial interests of punters, bookmaker companies will be required by the relevant racing controlling body to carry fully secured financial guarantees at least to the same level as individual bookmakers. This proposed expansion in the range of operating structures available to bookmakers is the culmination of extensive consultation between my department, the three controlling bodies of racing and the New South Wales Bookmakers’ Co-Operative Limited. At the heart of these amendments to the legislation that governs the three controlling bodies of racing is the desire to improve the viability and long-term future of New South Wales bookmakers. Honourable members will be aware from the significant media coverage of an announcement in early March this year that a decision has been taken to abolish the State turnover tax on bookmakers. The abolition of this longstanding tax will take place from 31 March 2002 and will apply across-the-board to bookmakers betting on both racing and sport. Needless to say, both the State’s bookmakers and the racing industry generally have responded very positively to this latest initiative to boost the viability of bookmakers and hence underpin their future as an integral component of the State’s racing industry.
It gives me great pleasure to emphasise the very particular impact these two initiatives of taxation relief and the option of operating as a company will have on the State’s country bookmakers, who at the moment certainly need all the help they can get. The combined effect of these measures will greatly reduce the costs associated with running a bookmaking business and will likely encourage any bookmakers who have been experiencing borderline profitability of late to continue as part of the country racing industry. At this point it would be remiss not to flag the relevance of this legislation to a matter of extreme gravity currently facing the State’s racing industry. As I said earlier, that involves the threat posed by the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory corporate bookmakers who have established there with the sole purpose of plundering the wagering markets of the larger States. If that practice is allowed to go unchallenged, there is no doubt that the victims will be the New South Wales and Victorian racing industries.
Victoria and New South Wales supply the bulk of the Australian racing product. Honourable members should read Craig Young's article in the Sydney Morning Herald
, which was written with the help of the former shadow Minister for Gaming and Racing, about what it is claimed that practice will do for country racing. It is one of the most naive contributions I have read since I have been a member of Parliament. The former shadow Minister for Gaming and Racing is not in the Chamber but one could write on the back of a postage what he knows about racing, especially country racing. I am pleased to note that the New South Wales racing industry, as a consequence of the summit I held here three weeks ago which was referred to by Craig Young in his article, now appears to be responding to this threat in an unprecedented show of unity. The financial reality is that the racing industry in New South Wales is heavily dependent on tapping into a revenue stream from wagering turnover on its product. That revenue stream will diminish if there is a significant transfer of wagering turnover to corporate bookmakers in the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.
If this practice continues and there is loss of revenue to this State, it is the racing industry and not the State Government coffers that will suffer the loss. Therefore, if there is not sufficient money to run the racing industry, prize money will diminish, people will not buy horses, and there will no be jockeys or trainers. There are 50,000 people in this State who are directly or indirectly dependent on racing. Those facts demonstrate the naivete of the article written by Craig Young in consultation with the former shadow Minister. The fact is that country racing will be the first to lose.
The fact is that country racing is likely to be the first sector of the industry to lose. I am told by my departmental people that at this stage it is conservatively estimated that the loss to the New South Wales industry probably will be $20 million. I repeat that the Chief Executive Officer of the Totalizator Agency Board, Mr Warren Wilson, said the result will be that racing in this State will be like proprietary racing in the United Kingdom: participants will be racing for ribbons. If Coalition members think that is in the best interests of racing in New South Wales, they are as naive as the person who put the proposition that Craig Young reported on recently in the Sydney Morning Herald
For the past five years, and certainly for the past three years, I have been bringing home to my counterparts in each of the other State and Territory jurisdictions the seriousness of intrusion of major corporate bookmaking companies of the likes of the Hills and Ladbrokes into our system of racing and what will happen as a result of the transfer of the operations of the former Vanuatu corporate bookmaking entity to the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory provides almost no racing product at all. It has several race meetings and a couple of greyhound meetings a year. I say to the four honourable members opposite, who represent substantial regional New South Wales areas: If that is what you want, I can see an integral part of the lifestyle of country New South Wales and country racing in this State disappearing.
The end result of the absolutely stupid proposal reported in the Sydney Morning Herald
article by Craig Young—who will probably give me another bake, but has never given me a positive article in my life and is anti-TAB—would be to bring the TAB undone, even though the TAB raises the revenue that provides racing in this State with money to pay the owners, who in turn pay the jockeys and trainers in the horseracing industry. If the industry is dismembered, there will be no racing industry. One does not have to be Einstein to work that out. I might be emotional about the issue, but I do not want to see the end of racing, especially country racing, as we know it in this State.
I repeat, the financial viability of the racing industry in New South Wales is heavily dependent upon the racing industry being able to tap into the revenue stream provided by wagering turnover on its product. The smaller States and especially the Northern Territory, if they act like mavericks and establish themselves as areas of convenience, as is done in the Caribbean and the Bahamas, will destroy the great racing industry in New South Wales for their own short-term gain. That would be crazy. I will continue, while I am Minister, to oppose the intrusion of such operations into this State. I have done everything I can by way of legislation. Finally, the major States—namely, Victoria and New South Wales—are getting their heads together.
Quite frankly, they must withdraw their racing products, bookmakers' price fluctuations and the services offered by SkyChannel. That may sound draconian, but the fact is that if those sorts of measures are not taken the racing industry in this State will come undone. The industry's revenue stream will diminish if there is a transfer of wagering turnover to corporate bookmakers in the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. I hope sanity will prevail, at least in the Australia Capital Territory, whose Minister is coming to see me tomorrow afternoon. That is the first time in all these years that the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory have wanted to talk to me. In the past they have said they will go their own merry way.
I am also pleased that my efforts over the past several years in alerting racing Ministers of the other Australian States about this potential problem are finally starting to bear fruit. It is not a case of, "I told you so." Recent statements in the media would suggest that some other States now appear to share the concerns of New South Wales. Needless to say, the New South Wales corporate bookmaker regime proposed here does not pose the same threats to the racing industry. On the contrary, it will assist this State's bookmakers to compete against the corporate bookmakers who are setting up in the Territories and targeting New South Wales punters. Those corporate bookmakers are out to make big money, but they do not supply any of the product. They could not give a tinker's cuss about our racing industry, especially country racing in New South Wales.
Finally, in terms of the detailed arrangements under this proposed regime, a precursor to the issue of any bookmaker company registrations or licences by the three controlling bodies of racing will be the inclusion of satisfactory provisions in their respective Rules of Racing and Betting to facilitate the authorisation of bookmakers to trade as corporations. Needless to say, any such rules will complement this draft legislation. Therefore, I am very pleased to be able to introduce the present proposal. Whilst it may not seem so at first sight, this measure is very important to improve the viability of New South Wales bookmakers. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Fraser.
ROAD TRANSPORT (GENERAL) AMENDMENT (OPERATOR ONUS OFFENCES) BILL
Debate resumed from 13 March.
Mr J. H. TURNER
(Myall Lakes—Deputy Leader of the National Party) [8.46 p.m.]: The Opposition will not oppose this bill but has significant concerns about it. I will move to amend certain parts of the bill to which I will refer shortly. I will outline those concerns in my speech. Whether the bill is an admission that the Infringement Processing Bureau is hopelessly incompetent in processing its infringement notices or whether it is an admission that the Government is prepared to allow recalcitrant motorists to drive around for up to 12 months before they are brought to book are questions that have not been answered in the second reading speech delivered by the Parliamentary Secretary. The Opposition believes that the Parliamentary Secretary's speech was shallow and, therefore, asks the Parliamentary Secretary to provide more information in reply to the second reading debate.
Apparently the bill arises from police reports that some people have been manipulating the system. If that is the case, obviously those people ought to be brought to book. We cannot have people manipulating the system. The system, as outlined by the Parliamentary Secretary, was being thwarted by people nominating other people, who in turn were nominating other people in an attempt to extend the time beyond the time limit for the prosecution of infringement notices—that is, six months. The second reading speech did not mention how many such people were involved and what police had been doing to identify and apprehend people who were rorting the system. I would have thought that would be the first step taken, rather than bringing in fairly draconian legislation—legislation that could import that recalcitrants are getting on top of the system and that the Infringement Processing Bureau is not able to handle the matter.
Shortly I will give examples of how the Infringement Processing Bureau has lost the plot in many instances in dealing with people in my constituency. I am not sure that this legislation will fix the problem. I ask why police have not been targeting the scams. It was the police who brought the scams to the attention of the Roads and Traffic Authority and the Government. Rather than have a police investigation and try to target scams, it seems that the Government will use a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I should like more information about what the Government and the Roads and Traffic Authority have been doing to try to fix the problem. In my opinion, this bill is a clumsy effort to fix the problem.
The Government's reasons for reducing the period of notice to seven days need to be examined in light of the fact that a 21-day period is allowed for a statutory declaration. The bill is predicated on the fact that people could take up to 10 weeks to nominate a driver. If the nominated driver is able to refute the nomination another 10-week period could be nominated, which would take the total period up to six months. This amending bill provides for notice to be deemed to have been given seven days after it is issued, and a period of 21 days is given in which to name a nominated driver. I would have thought that the amendment would have brought the process within a six-month period, but the Government now seems to want 12 months, despite having reduced the notification periods quite considerably. For example, one period of notice has been reduced from 10 weeks to four weeks.
There is something about these provisions that does not quite gel and that begs the question whether the cause is incompetence on the part of the Infringement Processing Bureau [IPB]. In my opinion, that is probably the cause and many of my colleagues can provide examples of the bureau's incompetence and the resulting unfairness that has been borne by many of their constituents. The Opposition wants answers to its questions. I foreshadow that the Opposition will be moving an amendment to increase the period of notice after which service has been deemed to have been effected to at least 21 days. I will outline the reasons for the Opposition's amendment during the course of my speech. The Opposition will not oppose the bill because we do not want to see people who flagrantly breach the law, particularly the high-incidence offenders, get away with committing offences. Offenders need to be caught and need to be prevented from manipulating or getting past the system.
I accept that a concerted effort is being made by people who seek to manipulate the system, particularly people who are at the top end of the demerit points system and those who are high-range offenders, but the necessity of apprehending those offenders must be balanced against the inefficiencies of the Infringement Processing Bureau and the Government generally. The Opposition wants to know why a better process is not in place and why the system needs to be changed by way of legislation. Why has there not been a bureaucratic streamlining process that will allow the system to operate in a much better way? The provision for deemed service epitomises the extent to which this Government is out of touch. I am sure that the honourable member for Murray-Darling, who is present in the Chamber, would agree that a seven-day period of notice after which service is deemed to have been effected will impact significantly on a number of his constituents because many of them may have only one mail delivery a week or two at best.
Most of them vote Country Labor.
Mr J. H. TURNER:
So they might. If this legislation is passed and those constituents are caught by its provisions, they will immediately be found guilty of an infringement and have their driving licences suspended. If those people want to vote Country Labor under those circumstances that is fine. I will explain the situation in simple terms so that the honourable member for Kiama can understand it. Many of the areas represented by the honourable member for Murray-Darling have only one postal service or, at the most, two postal services a week.
Some have none.
Mr J. H. TURNER:
I thank the honourable member for his interjection—it makes my example even better. Those people will automatically be deemed to have failed to have paid their fines if no other process intervenes, and because they will automatically be caught by this legislation they will lose their licences or their registration.
Move an amendment.
Mr J. H. TURNER:
Where has the honourable member for Kiama been? I have already mentioned that the Opposition intends to move an amendment to extend the period of notice to at least 21 days to give people a fair dinkum period in which to receive the infringement notices and to give them the opportunity to organise representations that they may need to make concerning a nominated driver. The provisions of this bill will impact on many country areas of New South Wales. Obviously Country Labor will vote against my amendment; therefore, they will vote against country people. We will see what happens when the bill reaches the Committee stage. A period of seven days notice after which service has been deemed to have been effected is insufficient. The Opposition is setting out to ensure that fairness and equity prevail in relation to service of the notice.
The provisions of this bill also remove the responsibility of the police to prove service, which represents a large leap in legal doctrine. A person who does not necessarily have to be a police officer can certify with the stroke of a pen that a person has been served. That provision should be challenged. The legislation states that a person, not necessarily a police officer, can sign on behalf of the Commissioner of Police to indicate that a penalty notice has been issued. The bill is silent on requirements that ought to be met to establish a need for accuracy. As the bill is set out, a person can merely sign to indicate that a penalty notice was sent out on a certain date and the notice will be deemed to have been sent. There is no provision to identify the person certifying that the notice has been sent. The bill merely states that a person can sign on behalf of the Commissioner of Police.
The bill is not clear on the level of proof that will be required for a person to rebut the presumption that a penalty notice has been sent and received. Similarly, there is no provision outlining what will happen if a penalty notice does not arrive. Quite apart from the fact that some of the constituents of the honourable member for Murray-Darling do not have a postal service, how will the beginning of the period of notice be determined? How long does it take for notices to get through the internal processing system of the bureau? Honourable members know what a mail service is like in a large public service organisation. After a public servant certifies that the notice has been sent and the notice is dispatched, how many days elapse before the mail finds its way into the mainstream postal system? It could take two or three days, effectively reducing the period of notice to four or five days within which the recipient may respond. If a weekend intervenes, the period of notice is reduced to two or three days, but the bill is silent about what happens in those circumstances. Quite clearly, a period of notice of seven days is simply not enough.
The Opposition can clearly show that the Infringement Processing Bureau will not send correspondence or infringement notices to post office boxes. What are people who do not have roadside mailboxes to do? Those people will never receive a notice and they will be deemed to be in breach. A whole list of questions have not been answered by this bill. I will cite some examples of how my constituents have suffered as a result of a lack of information, and a lack of co-ordination in sending out notices. One of my constituents received a court enforcement order from the State Debt Recovery Office [SDRO] relating to a fine for driving without a licence. My constituent has no recollection of having received the penalty notice which was dated 1991, but he recalled having misplaced his licence in 1991 and had reported its loss to the Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA].
His inquiries enabled him to ascertain the registration number of the vehicle that he was alleged to have driven, but he had no recollection of having driven that vehicle. Obviously when he misplaced his licence, someone found it and produced it when pulled over by the police for having committed a misdemeanour. A check was not carried out to ensure that the person in the car was the person who was the holder of the licence and in any event the person driving the car could have said that the car belonged to a friend. As a consequence, my constituent could have been driving around as a disqualified driver, therefore unregistered and uninsured, but for the fact that he received notice of the order. This is a serious matter.
Another of my constituents resolved a problem today which occurred as a result of the Infringement Processing Bureau's dealings. Although the State Debt Recovery Office was very good about all this, my constituent was issued with an enforcement order for an infringement notice that was issued in connection with an alleged speed camera detection. The vehicle that was reported as incurring the infringement was not owned by my constituent, nor did he have any knowledge of who owned the vehicle. His preliminary investigations led him to telephone the Roads and Traffic Authority and it was revealed that an error had occurred in the processing of the infringement notice. My constituent was not the registered owner of the vehicle that had incurred the speeding fine and a computer error was to blame.
Notwithstanding that, my constituent had received a notice informing him that he was to lose his driver's licence and he was obliged to pursue the matter with the IPB. Unfortunately he was unable to have this matter addressed administratively and sought assistance. He had received what appeared to be a form letter as a response from the IPB. When the IPB turned down his appeal, the State Debt Recovery Office issued an enforcement order and that, owing to non-payment, led to the suspension of his driver's licence. Today the matter was resolved in favour of my constituent. The SDRO advised that the IPB had completed a review of the matter and that a formal letter of apology will be forwarded to my constituent by the IPB.
These are the sorts of stories we hear all the time about the Infringement Processing Bureau—the body that wants this legislation changed. As I said earlier, that body is incompetent. The SDRO was instrumental in resolving this matter. An officer in that department has continually said to me that he is sick to death of the IPB's incompetence. This gentleman, who has reviewed a number of matters, said to me, "Obviously your constituent has been wrongly issued with an infringement notice. Notices have been sent out incorrectly." This officer told the IPB to take my constituent's name off its list. The IPB has consistently ignored that advice and my consistent has received subsequent infringement notices. The SDRO officer to whom I referred also said to me that most problems stem from the fact that the IPB is reluctant to review complaints.
Another of my constituents received notification of the fact that his registration was about to be suspended because he had not paid a fine. He had no knowledge of that fine. After a long battle with the Roads and Traffic Authority and the IPB it was finally admitted that my constituent's number plate was identical with a Victorian number plate and that he was not liable for the fine. However, he almost had a nervous breakdown because of what he was put through by the IPB. The IPB should get its act together if it wants to change the law. One of the few luxuries afforded to shadow Ministers is unlimited time within which to debate legislation. Therefore, I will take advantage of that luxury and tell honourable members why the seven-day delivery provision in this legislation is not good enough.
For the benefit of honourable members I will relate a story about a lady who came to see me on 14 April 2000. She advised the RTA of a change of address, to which I will not refer other than to state that it is a post office box number in Warners Bay. She was asked by the RTA for a residential address. She said that she could not give the RTA a residential address as she was going overseas. A few months later she returned and, at that stage, she had not received any parking infringement notices in the mail. Two days later she went to the motor registry office and provided a residential and postal address. She changed her licence physically by the addition of a licence amendment sticker. The RTA insisted on a residential address. My constituent advised the officer that no mail deliveries were made to her residential address as she had no mailbox and that mail should be sent to her post office box number. No comment was made but it is RTA policy that residential addresses be provided.
About three months later a neighbour handed her an envelope which had been placed in the neighbour's letterbox. The letter was from the IPB returning a money order that had been sent to the IPB for the payment of a parking fine. The IPB advised my constituent that the issue had been referred to the State Debt Recovery Office. About two weeks later this lady went to the motor registry office to register a new business vehicle. She provided that office with both her post office box number and her residential address as that office had insisted that a residential address be provided. She again said that she did not receive any mail at her residential address and that the office should ensure that her post office box number was used for any correspondence. No comments were made about that other than a statement to the effect that the computer did not like post office box numbers.
A month later this lady received a letter from the SDRO which was correctly addressed to her post office box number. The letter stated that her licence had been cancelled, effective from 15 November. The SDRO, which had that lady's post office box number, was prepared to send her mail to that number, but the RTA was not prepared to do so, which resulted in this problem. Two days later she rang the State Debt Recovery Office and spoke to an officer there. He would not provide my constituent with his surname and advised her that it was against departmental policy to do so. My constituent asked the officer what was going on. She said, "Why have I not received any correspondence?" The officer said that an order had been issued on 31 May—six months beforehand. She asked why she had not received that order. The officer said that she should have received the order, otherwise it would have been returned in the mail. She asked him to what address the order had been sent.
Even though my constituent had informed everybody that she lived in Warners Bay the order had been sent to an old address in Lane Cove. She expressed surprise and asked why the order had been sent to that address as she had not lived there for a year. The officer's response was that that was the address provided to the office by the RTA. She said that she did not understand how that had happened as she had supplied the RTA with her address months earlier. The officer said that it was not the problem of the SDRO—it was this lady's responsibility to ensure that her address was up to date, even though she had been to the RTA and changed her address. Later that day she rang the SDRO and asked to speak to the supervisor as she was getting nowhere with the other officer, who was on a break. She then spoke to another supervisor who informed her that the address had been provided in the letter from the IPB and that the money should be sent to the ANZ—the bank that was used by the SDRO to receive the payment of fines. The money order that was sent was returned—this time to Warners Bay.
At that stage my constituent was distraught. I have another three pages of information detailing the process that this lady went through over a two-year period. She was not liable for the infringements; she was overseas when they were incurred. She did everything in her power to convince the powers that be that she was not liable for the fines, but she was still subjected to a great deal of angst and she lost her licence for a few days until I intervened. The IPB must clean up its act before legislation such as this is introduced. As I said earlier, I honestly believe that this is a cover-up for the total incompetence of the Infringement Processing Bureau. My colleagues and I will refer to a number of examples that highlight this bureau's incompetence.
If we agree to the seven-day delivery provision in this legislation thousands of constituents will bombard honourable members with stories such as those that I have mentioned. I referred earlier to a constituent who lost his licence. Someone picked up that licence and used it. Opposition members support this bill as they do not want recalcitrant drivers to get away. If it means extending the long arm of the law by six months that is what we will do. I will support this bill only if it is reviewed in 12 months time. When we again debate this issue in 12 months time I believe that all honourable members will be able to tell any number of horror stories. We must bring to book a bureaucracy that has been out of control under this Government.
I am concerned about other provisions in this legislation, such as the details that are to be included in a statutory declaration. The Government has not come clean in this regard. It said that it will detail in a regulation what is required in the statutory declaration. It is always a bit of a danger sign when that sort of statement is made about legislation or in a Minister's second reading speech. Why does the Government not spell out those provisions in the bill? Why does it not put those details on the table? It is cowardly for the Government to put that information in a regulation. If Opposition members are not happy with that regulation they will move to disallow the regulation. We might not achieve disallowance of the regulation in this Chamber, but we will achieve it in another place.
A fundamental issue is that this bill is based on the premise that people are using false declarations to avoid their responsibilities. They should be answerable for legitimate fines and infringements, leaving aside the matters that I have just mentioned. However, this legislation says nothing about those who are manipulating the system and pushing through false declarations. Those people who accuse others of infringements receive no penalty other than a penalty for a false declaration.
People who deliberately manipulate the system should be penalised by the imposition of demerit points. The bill is shallow and clumsy. I believe it is simply an excuse to cover up the incompetency of the bureaucracy that is in charge of enforcing infringement notices. As I have said, I would have thought the bill would have provided a penalty, over and above the Oaths Act, for people who falsify declarations so as to avoid the imposition of demerit points or the loss of their licence. It is a pretty serious situation when a person should have lost his or her licence but, as a result of the manipulation of others, is allowed to stay on the road. In my view, such a person should suffer the imposition of demerit points.
The fine for corporations that falsely nominate or fail to nominate a driver will be doubled from $1,100 to $2,200. Does anyone really think that a fine of $2,200 will be a deterrent for a large corporation that wants to keep its drivers on the road? I do not think so. I believe that provision is pretty poor. As I said, the Opposition will move an amendment to increase the deemed service of penalty notices to 21 days. It will hardly get over the precedents I have referred to, given the incompetency aspect of the bureau that is handling the matter. However, I believe it is fairer and more equitable. I am glad that the honourable member for Murray-Darling has agreed with me that that aspect should be looked at, given that his constituents do not even get mail within seven days and they would automatically lose their licence if they did not receive the penalty notice within 21 days after the filing of the declaration. The Opposition asks whether the real purpose of the bill is to get recalcitrant drivers off the streets or whether it is to clean up a mess that the Government has not been able to administer. I believe it is the latter.
(Keira) [9.12 p.m.]: The bill is not about administrative procedures but about trying to ensure that people who endanger the lives of others are not able to manipulate the administrative system to avoid facing the consequences of their actions. The bill proposes a range of measures to improve the enforcement of speed camera, red light camera and parking offences. These are offences for which the registered owner of an offending vehicle receives an infringement notice via the mail or which are left on the vehicle. Currently, the registered owner has 10 weeks to finally notify the Infringement Processing Bureau by statutory declaration that he or she was not in control of the vehicle at the time it was involved in an offence. Within those 10 weeks, the registered owner of the vehicle has the opportunity to nominate by statutory declaration the driver in control of the vehicle at the time of the offence. The nominated driver also has 10 weeks to finally inform the Infringement Processing Bureau by statutory declaration that he or she was not in control of the vehicle at the time of the offence and nominate another person as the correct driver.
This process can be manipulated by only three unscrupulous people, each using up their maximum 10-week periods so that the current six-month limitation on prosecutions for such offences expires. The New South Wales Police Service reports that a significant number of motorists have evaded paying speeding, red light and parking offence penalties by manipulating the system in this way. The Government established a working group made up of the police, the Roads and Traffic Authority and the Attorney General's Department to examine options to address these concerns. The working group made a number of recommendations, which have been adopted in the bill. The Government considers that it is appropriate to permit the registered owner or operator of a vehicle to certify by statutory declaration that he or she was not driving the vehicle at the time of the offence. This avoids circumstances of hardship and injustice.
The Government also considers that it is appropriate to permit the registered owner or operator to nominate the person who was driving the vehicle at the time of the offence, or certify by statutory declaration that, despite inquiries, he or she has been unable to identify who was driving. However, the Government believes that the manipulation of the existing system and unscrupulous delays in the identification of an offender often shields that person from fines and demerit points for which they are liable. This is of special concern in relation to the enforcement of high-range speed offences, such as speeding in excess of 30 kilometres an hour, or where the application of relevant demerit points would take the offender beyond his or her demerit point limit, normally leading to licence suspension or cancellation.
The purpose of the bill is to introduce measures that will reduce the opportunity for motorists and vehicle operators to evade prosecution for traffic offences for which they are liable. This will support the enforcement of traffic offences, particularly serious speeding and red light camera offences, and thereby promote road safety for the whole community. The bill supports road safety outcomes by extending the time in which a prosecution may be commenced for speeding, red light and parking offences from six months to 12 months. This will provide the Infringement Processing Bureau with more time to identify the responsible driver, and reduce the opportunity for the current process to be manipulated by unscrupulous operators and drivers.
The bill also supports road safety outcomes by streamlining procedures for registered owners and operators to nominate other persons as drivers of the vehicle at the time of the offence in two ways: first, to clarify that a penalty notice is served seven days after it is posted and make this date admissible in evidence—this will clarify and enforce the date by which a statutory declaration is required to be submitted; and, second, require more detailed information in statutory declarations to assist the Infringement Processing Bureau determine whether the statutory declaration is satisfactory and true. The additional required information will be prescribed in regulations. The bill also supports road safety outcomes by increasing the penalties for a corporation that has falsely nominated or failed to nominate the driver of the vehicle involved in an offence. This is designed to make it uneconomical for corporations to shield offending drivers.
The community condemns speeding and red light camera offences as unsafe and irresponsible behaviour. I wish to refer to some of the issues that have recently arisen in this regard in my electorate. Over the last few days a journal of record, the Illawarra Mercury
, has reported a number of stories about speeding problems in the vicinity of schools. As an active local member, one does not even have to read the Illawarra Mercury
to be aware of those problems. I think most members are aware of the problem that occurred at the Bulli Public School in 2000 when a young girl called Ella James was killed. As a result, the school demanded that a red light camera be installed in a reconstructed set of traffic lights, and also that an additional speed camera be installed in the vicinity of the school. Those cameras were provided. Not only did the school want those cameras installed as a means of detecting people who do the wrong thing, but it was quite clear from the community's reaction that they wanted people to be fined and the appropriate penalties to be enforced. First and foremost, the community wanted protection; they wanted motorists to slow down and to stop at a red light. But when motorists did not do that, the community clearly wanted the appropriate penalties to be enforced.
Residents have expressed similar concerns in relation to Woonona Public School, East Corrimal Public School and Fairy Meadow Public School. They want people to slow down, and they want offenders not only to be caught but also to pay the appropriate penalties. I have been working with local residents and the local traffic committee on the issue of speed in a number of areas, including Henley Road and Kirton Road, Austinmer; Rothery Street, Bellambi; Hospital Road, Bulli; and Pioneer Road, East Corrimal. The residents say they want motorists to reduce their speed, but where someone does the wrong thing they also want them penalised and the appropriate penalties to be enforced.
In recent times there has been a deal of discussion about new speed cameras to be installed throughout the State. One of the proposed locations for a speed camera is about 300 metres from my electorate office in Corrimal. Throughout all the controversy about this issue over the past week or so, not one person has said that the installation of a speed camera at that location is the wrong approach. It is well known that people speed in that area, that that speed causes accidents and that those accidents cause injuries—indeed, that on one occasion one such accident caused a death. Everyone in this location wants drivers to slow down.
The people in the electorate I represent want drivers to slow down and they want those who will not slow down, those who continue to place kids and others at risk of death or injury, to be caught and prosecuted. They do not want them to be able to wriggle out of responsibility by manipulating the system. People who work for our community and for the Government have recommended some solutions, and that is what this legislation is about. The bill will ensure that people cannot wriggle out of their responsibilities: that once they have done the wrong thing they are caught and pay a penalty. Drivers guilty of excessive speeding will face a mandatory licence suspension.
People in my local community have no doubt that speed cameras and red light cameras are proving to be important measures in improving driver education about speed and road safety, and are reducing death and injuries on our roads. The success of speed cameras and red light cameras in promoting road safety outcomes for the whole community should not be undermined by the actions of unscrupulous drivers who seek and are able to manipulate the existing system to evade fines, demerit points and the licence suspensions or cancellations that would normally apply to their offences.
The proposals in this bill will restrict the ability of traffic offenders to evade prosecution and will promote important road safety outcomes consistent with the Government's commitment to improve road safety. For all those reasons, I commend the bill to the House as an appropriate method to ensure that some of these very important social goals are met, rather than as an excuse to whinge about aspects of the administration of other areas of responsibility. This is about road safety. It is about avoiding accidents, injury and death. I commend the bill to the House.
(Coffs Harbour) [9.21 p.m.]: I do not oppose the bill but I advise the Government that I do not necessarily support it. The majority of the speech made by the honourable member for Keira was prepared by the Minister's office, but he got it wrong. The Opposition supports the full force of law being brought down on drivers who knowingly break the law and flout the law. This legislation will not, as the honourable member suggested, stop people speeding and running red lights. The legislation is about collecting revenue that people have not paid when bills are sent to them. Catcalls are coming from members on the Government side, but let us look at new subsection (4A) of section 43, which provides:
For the purposes of subsections (3) and (4), it is presumed that a penalty notice served on a person by post is served on the person 7 days after it is posted …
This could be for a red light or speed camera infringement. The bill provides that after the notice is posted it is presumed that the person has received it. I speak on this matter tonight to bring various examples before the House—as I have done previously by way of private member's statement—of what goes on within the Government, the Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA], the Infringement Processing Bureau and the Debt Recovery Office. The first example I wish to refer to is that of Mrs Alexandra Ford of Toormina. In June 2001 she wrote to me and said that she received an infringement notice which said basically "Pay up or you are gone". If she wanted to get out of it she had to pay $50 to have the matter heard by a court. If she did not want her licence cancelled or suspended she had to pay the fine. The offence occurred in 1992, and she received the notice in 2001. The fine related to vehicle AAU 02B, a vehicle she had never owned. The vehicle was owned by Mr Alex Ford—not Alexandra Ford—who resided in Victoria.
What does this have to do with the bill?
This person was deemed under the current system to have committed an offence and stood to lose her licence. This is what this Government should be attending to, not making it even more likely for this sort of thing to happen. This woman was a nervous wreck when she came to me. She had never had a driving offence but was deemed by the State Debt Recovery Office and the RTA to have committed an offence nine years previously.
Point of order: I was under the impression that the honourable member for Coffs Harbour was supporting the bill. He seems to be speaking against the bill.
Madam ACTING-SPEAKER (Ms Beamer):
Order! There is no point of order.
I will make sure that the honourable member's comments go to his constituents. The trouble is that government members are becoming very arrogant and are not listening to people like Mrs Ford, who are getting done over by clowns like him in government departments. This legislation is not doing anything to address the problems these people have. At the eleventh hour these people decided that what Mrs Ford was saying was correct.
She didn't pay the fine.
She did not pay the fine; she did not have a fine to pay! The system rectified it because on 13 June we had it withdrawn by phone. On the next day her licence was going to be cancelled. If it was not for me as local member, and the activities of my staff, that woman could have lost her licence because of the deeming system that the Government wants to extend by this legislation. I refer also to a man who is a commercial motor vehicle owner, a motor vehicle repairer and mechanic in Coffs Harbour. In August 2001 he received notice of a fine of $200 for an infringement that occurred in 1997. He said he received a response from a female at the State Debt Recovery Office advising him that the investigation had found that the vehicle was registered in Victoria to a Robert Bullivant. Mr Bullivant's letter stated:
I replied that I have never lived there or own any vehicles registered in Victoria. She then asked for my licence … She then replied that it was a heavy vehicle licence. I said "that's right". She then told me that they had determined that I was an interstate truck driver.
Mr Bullivant continued:
I then replied that I was not and explained that I had been a motor mechanic for 42 years and needed the licence to test heavy vehicles in the course of my business. Which is repairing cars and trucks. She then said she would send me a form, which I was to fill out and return it with $50.00. Which was not refundable, if I wanted to go to court. I was in total disbelief at this stage and told her that it was becoming ridiculous, her reply was "well you chose to ignore the first infringement notice in 1997" my reply was "if it was sent to Robert Bullivant in Victoria, then I would never have seen it".
Someone from the RTA, the Infringement Processing Bureau or the State Debt Recovery Office decided that Robert Bullivant was going to lose his licence because he had not paid a fine that was never sent to him in the first place. If a deeming clause is introduced which provides that a notice is deemed to have been received if it was posted seven days previously, this sort of nonsense will continue and increase. Anyone who gives false information to the Infringement Processing Bureau, the State Debt Recovery Office, the RTA or the police should be dealt with by the full force of the law. I have no problem with that, but this legislation is broadening the problems that can occur. I became aware of another example only this week from Greg Mackenzie, who owns Coffs Harbour Rent-A-Car. On numerous occasions over the years people have rented cars from Mr Mackenzie and have committed offences. A process is followed, and normally the problem is resolved. Mr Mackenzie wrote to me about two infringement notices he had received. In relation to the first infringement notice he wrote:
Good Morning Andrew
I would very much appreciate your assistance regarding two infringements that renters have incurred whilst driving my vehicles that are now in the hands of the State Debt Recovery Office …
On or about 15 Feb 2001 I received a Tax Invoice from the RTA for the cost of towing my Commodore WKJ 149 from a Freeway. On or about 15 March 2001 I received a reminder regarding this account. As advised by them I completed a Statutory Declaration stating the particulars of the person who had the car on rent and faxed it to them on 22 March 2001. I assumed I would hear nothing further. On Friday Feb 01, I received the above Enforcement Order, on Feb 04 I rang the SDRO advising them of what I had done and to have this order cancelled, they referred me to the TIB who then referred me to the RTA as this was not a traffic infringement but an invoice for towing. I rang the RTA who confirmed that they had received the stat dec but had failed to act on it and as a result my only courses of action were to either pay the fine in full and try and recover the money from them or make application to have the matter heard in Court at a non-refundable cost to me of $50. I assume I would also incur court costs as well. I see no reason why I should in any way be further inconvenienced or should incur any costs whatsoever for a RTA stuff-up. I have attached copies of relevant documents.
In relation to the second infringement Mr Mackenzie wrote:
The first I knew of this infringement was when I rang the SDRO on 04 Feb 02 regarding the above, I explained that I had not received either the original notice or the reminder that they normally send out, they referred me to the TIB who, despite assurances that I would provide, on a stat dec, particulars of the person who had the vehicle on rent at the time of the offence, advised that as the matter was now in the hands of the SDRO the only options are the same as above. They almost accused me of lying about not receiving the notices. I have been in the rental car business since 1984, I have received hundreds of infringements incurred by renters and have never failed to follow correct procedures, why would I suddenly decide to ignore this one?
I have already spent hours on the telephone trying to sort this out. Having these matters heard in courts is not only a waste of the courts time and money but will also have me incur the added expense of having someone fill in for me whilst I attend court.
I am asking for your urgent assistance, if these matters are not solved by 17 Feb 02 the SDRO will cancel my fleet registration facility with the RTA.
Members opposite cannot understand the relevance of the deeming rate provision. This small business man in Coffs Harbour is struggling to make a quid; because of the deeming rate provision in the bill—
Was his licence cancelled?
We have not yet had a response from the Minister. The Minister has failed to respond, although we sent urgent representations to him. This person is facing bankruptcy because of the ludicrous recovery procedures undertaken by government departments. Indeed, the Government wants to expand those procedures by putting this legislation in place. If this legislation is put in place the people to whom I have referred will go broke. I am telling the Government that it should lift its game. If the Government wants to introduce legislation it should introduce legislation that is reasonable. The examples I have given the House go back to 1992. They are a clear indication that the Government is out to get money, and nothing more. Why is the Government chasing people for parking fines that date back to 1992?
While chasing these people the bureau made blunders, firstly, by sending notices to people who live in Victoria and, secondly, by getting a person's name wrong—in one case the name changed from Mrs Alexandra Ford to Mr Alex Ford—and then threatened people with loss of licence. If it were not for my intervention and that of my staff, these people would have lost their licences. Let us assume that these people did not receive infringement notices or they simply paid the fines. They would have a mark on their licence which was not justified. Indeed, if they did not receive an infringement notice they could find themselves driving unregistered and uninsured. The government departments that handle these matters at present do so poorly and ineptly. The present system is almost impossible to change, even with ministerial intervention. My final example comes from Mr Van der Waal of Korora. His infringement notice was sent to a post office box. In his letter he stated:
I ceased to use this PO box eight years ago. All other correspondence from the RTA has been sent to the correct residential address, which is on my licence, all my registration papers for this period of time also correctly delivered—
He was guilty of the offence but the infringement notice was sent to an address that did not exist—
I offered to pay the original fine today as I am a sole parent and am reliant on my car for employment. My financial status at the present time is stretched and I have no family in this area to assist me. I am independent and employed. I am extremely concerned that a mistake made by the RTA in mailing an infringement notice to the wrong address has cost me excess money, the total fine now amounting to $208.00.
The fine increased from $118 to $208. That sort of nonsense happens. The honourable member for Keira said that a committee had examined the legislation and made recommendations. However, those recommendations do not address the issues I have raised in the House tonight. I implore the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Transport to speak to the Minister responsible for the RTA and the Minister for Police to ensure that this sort of nonsense does not continue. Despite what the honourable member for Keira said, drivers will continue to speed, and those who continue to speed deserve the full force of the law. This legislation is all about collecting revenue. It is nothing more than a money grab, as are speed cameras. We want legislation that will ensure that people who break the law and do not pay their fines, not innocent people, face the full force of the law. It is a disgrace that previous legislation and this bill impact on innocent people.
(Kiama) [9.36 p.m.]: I support the bill. I am pleased that two members of the Joint Standing Committee upon Road Safety are present in the Chamber tonight: the chair of the committee, the honourable member for The Entrance, and the honourable member for Keira, who is a distinguished member of the committee. The honourable member for Coffs Harbour put forward some bizarre arguments. First, he said that infringement notices had been sent to the wrong post office box. I understand from the honourable member's comments that the post office box was not the wrong post office box but that it ceased to exist eight years ago. That is when the conservative Government was in charge of administering the State. If the Coalition Government's bureaucracy could not organise the correct posting address, I do not know why the honourable member is now trying to discredit the Carr Government.
We could go on all night about problems with bureaucracy. It is the role of local members to look after their constituents and ensure that their points of view and the facts are raised with the correct bureaucracy because things do go wrong from time to time. Unfortunately, the honourable member for Coffs Harbour decided to spend all his time telling a few stories from his electorate without addressing the substance of the bill—a bill, I might add, that the Coalition has agreed to support. The Road Transport (General) Amendment (Operator Onus Offences) Bill has a number of provisions. Its primary emphasis is to ensure that the roads in this State are made safer. This bill provides for an increase in penalty for a corporation that is the responsible person for a vehicle and that fails to nominate, or fails to exercise reasonable diligence to ascertain, the person in charge of the vehicle.
The bill provides for the doubling of penalty points for a corporation that fails to exercise reasonable diligence, and that is sensible. Owners of corporations cannot hide behind corporate veils when their cars are being driven by other people who commit traffic offences. Only yesterday I was at Lake Entrance Road in the Kiama electorate where a young boy who attended Warilla Public School was run over by a car and subsequently died. There can be no harsher penalty for those who commit traffic offences than that proposed by this bill. Our streets are not as safe as they should be, particularly around schools, and the bill targets those areas. Last Friday after the Minister had introduced the bill I listened to talk-back radio, and almost every caller said that receiving a traffic infringement notice through the mail had curbed their driving behaviour. The bill will provide for installation of speed cameras around the State, and will empower police to make sure that our roads are safer. It is a bill that will save lives, and I strongly support it.
(Wakehurst) [9.40 p.m.]: As earlier speakers have indicated, the Opposition does not oppose the bill but does have some concerns about it. As a former Chairman of Staysafe I say that there have been some rowdy interjections by the current Chairman of Staysafe, the honourable member for The Entrance, no doubt because of his enthusiasm for road safety. Obviously both sides of the House support the concept of speedy and appropriate imposition of penalties on drivers who speed. Sadly, it is necessary to have an appropriate deterrent for drivers who speed in order to try to deter them from speeding and also to deter others from speeding. This bill is largely uncontroversial.
The only issue that is of some concern to the Opposition is new subsection (4A) of section 43, which deals with deemed service within seven days. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary for Roads, who is in the Chamber, to clarify the issue in relation to the deemed service provisions. I am struggling with those provisions because, as a basic concept, a deemed seven-day service is a problem with regard to infringement notices and summonses relating to road safety matters that have serious consequences. The service of such summonses for speeding and red light offences can lead to serious consequences. Those serious consequences are essentially created by revenue recovery mechanisms that can lead to the cancellation of a licence and, as I understand it, a registration.
An individual who has allegedly committed a road safety offence and receives an infringement notice—whether that is actual or deemed service or actual or deemed receiving of that notice or summons—at some point in the cost recovery process may have his or her licence or registration cancelled. Mention was made of an earlier government having imposed these requirements, and that is quite right But over the years there has been, on the one hand, a substantial recovery of fines, while, on the other hand, some grave consequences have flowed to individuals. Some individuals, in many cases in quite unfair circumstances, have found themselves without a licence and without registration of their vehicle, apparently because their infringement notice was not drawn to their attention.
Despite the enthusiasm of the earlier debate, there is no doubt that it is and should be a concern to the community that individuals can end up driving a vehicle while they are unlicensed. It is an offence to drive whilst unlicensed and unregistered, and it can have serious consequences if they are stopped by police. Whilst we have a desire to recover the revenue to which the State is entitled, I am uncomfortable with the way this matter has evolved over the past eight years. I am not sure that it can be argued from a road safety point of view in the sense that for any serious deterrent to occur it is a basic premise that the penalty has to be imposed fairly quickly following the offence and that drivers must be aware of it. If the structure of the legislation is such that drivers do not become aware of the offence, possibly in some cases for years, it does not achieve the road safety outcome that we want to achieve. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary for Roads precisely what the seven-day deemed service means.
This bill seeks to amend section 43 of the Road Transport (General) Act 1999 by inserting after subsection (4) a new subsection (4A), which provides that if a person is served a penalty notice by post then there will be a deemed service effectively within seven days after the notice is posted out. I am not quite sure why that is necessary when one looks at division 10, Section 44 of the current Act. That division describes the service of documents on persons generally—not corporations—and states:
(1) Any document that is authorised or required by or under the road transport legislation to be given to or served on any person (other than a corporation) may be given or served:
(a) personally, or
(b) by means of a letter addressed to the person and sent by post to the person's business or home address, or
(c) by means of a letter addressed to the person and left at the person's business or home address with a person who appears to be of, or above, the age of 16 years and to reside at that address.
There is nothing particularly exciting about that provision; it is found in quite a lot of legislation. It seems to state that if a document is going to be served by post, that is, by means of a letter addressed to a person and sent in the post, then in effect there is a deemed service at some point. The original 1999 legislation does not clarify at what point that deemed service is, although I know other legislation talks about the Service and Execution of Process Act, which, from memory, deems process to be served within about three days. I am not sure why it is necessary to have this seven-day deemed service. It certainly appears that the Government and its advisers think it is necessary. I seek advice from the Parliamentary Secretary as to why it is necessary.
I raise one issue. Whether section 44 of the current Act effectively provides for deemed service without necessarily specifying a time, or whether process is deemed to have been served seven days after its posting, as proposed by the bill, the consequences are fairly grave for the individuals who are the subject of the deemed service provisions. Indeed, this amendment could create the sort of problem that some of my colleagues have spoken about in this debate tonight. All members of Parliament have constituents constantly telling us that they did not receive a summons or notice, or did not know they had been fined, or had lost their licence or that the registration of their cars had been cancelled. Perhaps this one further step makes current bad process even worse.
If grave consequences did not flow from deemed service, I would have less difficulty with the provision. But there are quite grave consequences of deemed service. For instance, a person may drive a vehicle that is unregistered or drive while not licensed. Therefore, I am not sure that it is appropriate for a government of any political persuasion to deem service after seven days, then in effect expect someone who may not have received process at all to be able to make a statutory declaration within 21 days that they were not the driver of the vehicle at the time of an offence. How could that person possibly make a response within the further 21-day provision contained in subsection (4) of section 43? I choose that section merely as an example. It is a provision of the original Act, and it is not sought to be amended by the bill that the House is considering tonight. I read the provision:
(4) Duty to inform if person not driver of vehicle committing camera-detected traffic light offence or camera-recorded speeding offence
A person who:
(a) is served with a penalty notice or a summons in respect of a camera-detected traffic light offence or camera-recorded speeding offence, and
(b) was not the driver of the vehicle to which the offence relates at the time the offence occurred,
must, within 21 days after service of the notice or summons—
Remember, the provision is for deemed service after seven days, though there may not be actual service—
supply by statutory declaration to the authorised officer under section 15 (in the case of a notice) or the informant (in the case of a summons) the name and address of the person who was in charge of the vehicle at the time the offence occurred.
Therefore, someone who happens to own the offending vehicle is deemed to have received a summons or an infringement notice seven days after it was posted out, and then has 21 days in which to respond. Presumably that 21 days commences after the seven days, although the legislation and the amendment are silent on that point. That person may never have received the summons or infringement. At the expiry of that 21-day response period the owner may have no avenue of address under the amendment or the bill. I do want to be negative when my Labor colleagues are speaking about this as a road safety issue, but the Parliamentary Secretary must clarify that matter. I hope he will do so tonight because this bill will go to the Legislative Council. Simply delivering a spiel that some bureaucratic at the Department of Motor Transport has given to the Parliamentary Secretary to distribute to some Labor members who have spoken in this debate tonight is not sufficient.
I might say before my speaking time expires that I have had numerous complaints over the years about these sorts of provisions. I am worried that this sort of deeming provision will have a greater effect on some people who have particular problems. A woman came to see me. She had a post office box, and it was through that box that documents were served upon her. This woman had a baby. Her relationship had broken up. She was quite distressed and was moving from friend to friend when she came out of hospital stressed from having the baby and having her partner walk away. It was a considerable number of weeks before she got round to opening her post office box and discovering that action had been taken against her licence. That, of course, was well after the event.
I remind the House that some women suffer from those sorts of issues. They suffer from family issues. The birth of a baby can cause great disruption in a woman's life. But other issues are involved. People with psychological problems or people who are just busy may not see process within seven days of it being posted. A deeming provision that has such a grave consequence as forming the basis for taking away someone's licence or of cancelling their registration is over the top, unless the need for that action can be clearly justified to the community. I suspect that the community would regard this more as a revenue-raising exercise than a road safety issue, unless the Government or the Parliamentary Secretary can address those issues. This sort of action tends to smell a little of the Government wanting to raise as much money as possible. I do not walk away from the road safety imperatives, but provisions must be fair and reasonable and they must be seen to be so by people who may receive such process.
(The Entrance) [9.55 p.m.]: I acknowledge that the honourable member for Wakehurst, Mr Brad Hazzard, is a former chairman of the Staysafe committee. The honourable member for Bega, Mr Russell Smith, is a current and long-serving member of the Staysafe committee. The honourable member for Keira, Mr David Campbell, was very much involved in dealing with road safety round schools as a result of a tragedy that occurred in Bulli more than a year ago. I agree with the amendment proposed by the Road Transport (General) Amendment (Operator Onus Offences) Bill.
The Road Transport (General) Act 1999 was introduced to provide for the administration and enforcement of road transport legislation and includes provisions governing the liability of the registered owner of a vehicle at the time it is involved in traffic offences, that is, operator onus offences. If the registered owner was not in control of the vehicle at the time an offence is committed the Act requires the owner to finally inform the Infringement Processing Bureau of this within 10 weeks from the date of the offence. The registered owner also is required to nominate the person driving the vehicle at the time of the offence, where that can be reasonably determined.
The Justices Act excludes prosecutions for offences after six months. That is the kernel of the debate on this amendment. The police advise that significant numbers of motorists escape paying speeding, red light and parking offence penalties by continuously and falsely nominating the driver of their vehicle until the six-month statutory time for prosecution has elapsed. I am sure honourable members of this House who are lawyers would appreciate how easily that could be done. Under current arrangements the six months would expire if three people waited their maximum 10 weeks each before notifying the Infringement Processing Bureau that they were not in control of the offending vehicle. This is the problem sought to be dealt with by this amendment of the Act.
At present people are wilfully abusing the intention of the Act. This bill tidies up the Act so that its intention can be fully implemented. Also, this amendment will improve road safety in our community. I might point out that it has been my experience with the Staysafe committee that this matter has bipartisan support in this Parliament. Delaying the identification of an offender until after the six-month period has expired can shield a person from fines, or the allocation of demerit points where that could result in the loss of a licence. Those delaying tactics are designed to avoid the loss of a licence. Those who would accumulate such a number of demerit points would not be treating their licence with the respect that it deserves. That delaying tactic can also shield the person from licence sanctions.
This proposal has been developed by the Roads and Traffic Authority, the Police Service and the Attorney-General's Department. The proposed amendment will increase from six months to one year the period during which proceedings for a parking offence, camera-detected traffic light offence or a camera-recorded speeding offence may be taken. The amendment will also improve and streamline the procedures under which a person responsible for a vehicle is required to nominate the person in charge of the vehicle in respect of an offence. Honourable members would be familiar with a case reported recently in the media. In that case the owner of a company nominated a deceased person, namely his wife, as the driver of the vehicle and the holder of the licence at the time that the offences occurred.
The Government has received clear indications that these types of offences are occurring in the community, and other examples have been cited by other speakers during this debate. The bill will also increase penalties applying to a corporation from $1,100 to $2,200 when a corporation is the responsible person for a vehicle and fails to nominate or fails to exercise reasonable diligence to ascertain the person in charge of the vehicle in respect of offences. From personal experience I know—and I am sure that many other honourable members who have connections with people in business also know—that some businesses have a rotation policy that applies to offences involving corporate vehicles whereby the demerit points are distributed equally or fairly, as people associated with the businesses perceive it, among drivers of vehicles within the company. That is a fabrication, but it is something that happens in the real world.
Name the companies.
The honourable member for Baulkham Hills should name the companies because he is well connected with business. When the honourable member has the opportunity to speak during this debate, he should deny that that happens.
Give an example.
I have already given an example. If the honourable member had been listening, he would have heard me cite examples of matters that were reported in newspapers only a week ago. In the first place the honourable member was not listening and in the second place he has his eyes and ears closed.
It's all Labor hypocrisy. You don't know what you're talking about.
The hour is late and obviously the honourable member has not been listening. It is equally clear that he does not read the newspapers or listen to the news. An operator onus offence is one in which being registered as the operator of a vehicle is sufficient to impose responsibility for certain offences committed by a driver of the vehicle. The Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA] was asked to convene an interdepartmental working group on operator onus traffic offences. The group's membership included representatives of the RTA, the Police Service and the Attorney General's Department and was a combined effort on the part of public sector agencies that are responsible for these matters to come up with a way of dealing with the abuses that currently exist. Any vehicle operator may escape the consequences of an operator onus offence either by identifying someone else as the driver or by certifying that, despite inquiries, he or she has been unable to identify who was driving.
The Infringement Processing Bureau acknowledges that while a proportion of the infringements are genuine cases in which an offender cannot be identified, a high proportion become stale as a result of evasion. Evasion of offences is occurring and its incidence is recognised in the community. As I said earlier, delaying the identification of an offender can shield that person from the imposition of fines and, more importantly, the allocation of demerit points. The purpose of this legislation is to cut out abuses that exist in the system. Abuse of the system is widespread in the community, notwithstanding that members of the Opposition have not heard about it, and has been reported in the media repeatedly.
This legislation is all about improving road safety within the community and I am sure that every honourable member of this Parliament is committed to that outcome. If members opposite refuse to support the bill, effectively they are saying that they are not concerned about road safety in our community. Recently the honourable member for The Hills and I attended an innovative training program for young drivers where topics such as the issuing of a licence and the significance of a licence in the eyes of people in the community were discussed from the point of view of making our roads safer. The honourable member for The Hills gave a good example of the importance of road safety to people in our communities. The people of his electorate have demanded that representatives of government and parliamentary representatives act in unison to produce better road safety measures. I believe that this amending bill is important to the community and important to road safety. It is also important that the House supports it.
(Baulkham Hills) [10.03 p.m.]: This legislation is not opposed by the Opposition, because, in common with the honourable member who preceded me in this debate, the Opposition does not wish to frustrate due process and enable people who have committed offences to escape liability and responsibility for offences. Having said that, I should also say that the core or basis of our whole judicial system is the concept of a fair go and what was originally termed the presumption of innocence. As far as I know, the courts still exercise their responsibilities in accordance with the fundamental principle of the presumption of innocence. However, the honourable member who preceded me in this debate did not seem to understand the meaning of the presumption of innocence. I assume, giving him the benefit of the doubt, that that is because of ignorance.
Members of the Opposition are simply of the view that there has to be some balance between the responsibilities and rights of a citizen in a democracy. Notwithstanding the efforts of Government members from time to time, New South Wales is still a democracy. The matter that concerns the Opposition is a procedural one which has certain ramifications that may be potentially disastrous for some individuals. The Liberal Party might be a little old fashioned and naive, but its members still believe that people have rights and that those rights may be challenged by the provisions of section 43, which reads:
For the purposes of subsections (3) and (4), it is presumed that a penalty notice served on a person by post is served on the person 7 days after it is posted...
The Opposition believes that provision—namely, that seven days after the notice is posted it is deemed to have been received by the person named in the notice—is unfair for the reasons outlined by the honourable member for Wakehurst. In common with many other processes, the mail delivery service is not perfect and for a number of reasons people may not receive the notice. As a result of this bill, they will be deemed to have received the notice, and the wheel will turn to the extent that they will end up losing their licence. I know of a case involving Mr Martin John Sedger of Baulkham Hills, who held a driver's licence. He was advised that his driver's licence had been cancelled. Upon investigation it was discovered that the cancellation related to a failure to vote at the most recent State election and a failure to respond to a jury summons. They are not offences under the Motor Traffic Act. He stated that he did not receive a summons because in one instance he was overseas when the most recent State election was held and was unable to vote and in the other instance, despite having notified the Sheriff's Office of his change of address, the jury summons was sent to his previous address. Those examples highlights the virtues of personal service.
For many years, for important matters of this type—that is, matters of a somewhat criminal nature—it was necessary to effect service by personal means. I can understand the cost implications and impracticality in some instances of personal service, but the nature of personal service emphasises the importance of a person having the benefit of personally receiving a notice and of being aware of a case that must be answered lest matters occur in that person's absence and an adverse finding is recorded. In contrast to that, under the provisions of this bill, people who do not receive service of the notice will lose their licences. Members of the Opposition simply say that the period of seven days notice after which service is deemed to have been effected is inadequate. The Opposition proposes to move amendments at the Committee stage.
On Mr Sedger's behalf representations were made which indicated that he had not received the summonses and, in fairness to the agencies involved, it must be acknowledged that they withdrew the fines. One might think that Mr Sedger would have been quite pleased with that result, and he was, until he later checked his licence and discovered that the cancellation was still noted on his licence, even though the penalties had been withdrawn and the offences had been expunged. In spite of the fact that he had not paid any penalty, the notation on his licence still indicated that at one stage his licence had been cancelled.
Mr Sedger believes that that is fundamentally wrong. His licence was cancelled when he was not aware of the nature of the case. That emphasises how important it is for people to be given an opportunity to refute a statement that has been made or a penalty notice with which they have been served. Mr Sedger referred this matter to the Ombudsman, who is looking into it. I made representations on behalf of Mr Sedger to remove that cancellation notation on his licence. Honourable members would be aware that when people apply for an insurance policy, they are asked whether their licences have been cancelled or suspended or whether they have been disqualified from driving. If Mr Sedger were asked those same questions he would have to reply that his licence had been cancelled through no fault of his own. A government agency accepted that fact, but that is not the way in which this issue has been viewed by the Roads and Traffic Authority. That is all the more reason why the Opposition's amendments should be accepted. The Parliamentary Secretary for Roads wrote to me and said:
The Fines Act 1996 provides that the State Debt Recovery Office (SDRO) may direct the Roads and Traffic Authority to suspend a driver's licence and not to conduct certain licensing or registration business with fine defaulters. In Mr Sedger's case the SDRO directed the RTA to suspend his driver's licence on 5 October 2000 as he had not paid the amount owing as requested in the SDRO's Enforcement Order 214164693. On 11 October 2000 the SDRO directed the RTA to lift the suspension thus restoring Mr Sedger's licence.
Those are the facts that I outlined earlier. The critical issue is that people should be given a reasonable time within which to respond to penalty notices and they should be given adequate notice of any cases that they are required to face. When speeding and red light camera infringement notices are issued many people are not aware that they have been apprehended or that they have committed an offence. The Parliamentary Secretary for Roads also said:
The RTA has considered the matter of expunging details of Mr Sedger's licence suspension from his driving record in light of your representations. As you know, the law requires the RTA to keep an accurate record of a person's driving history. Unfortunately, because Mr Sedger's licence was suspended by the RTA in accordance with a lawful direction to do so by the SDRO, the RTA cannot meet the request.
As I said earlier, the Ombudsman has taken up this matter on behalf of Mr Sedger. The RTA is simply stating that a mistake has been made. It acknowledges that Mr Sedger did not receive the necessary documents and that the penalty should be lifted. The RTA has cancelled his licence and it is not prepared to remove that cancellation notation. So it appears as though, for the rest of his life, Mr Sedger will have a notation on his licence to the effect that it has been cancelled. He will have to disclose that fact to anybody who asks whether his licence has been cancelled and he will have to explain—and I do not think that his explanation will be believed—that it was a mistake.
The RTA, which has adopted this hard line, should give people adequate notice of the fact that they have been issued with a penalty notice. That is an important matter of principle. Opposition members and members of the Staysafe committee believe in saving lives. People must not be able to take advantage of loopholes in the law. They must not be allowed to manipulate the system and be exempt from prosecution. That is fundamentally wrong. Drivers in our community should be given adequate time within which to answer any case against them. Some people who receive a red light camera infringement notice or a speeding ticket might not be guilty of an offence. As I said earlier, we live in a democracy where people are presumed innocent until they are proven guilty.
I understand the principle behind this legislation and I believe that people should not be able to circumvent the legislation. However, I also believe that this legislation undermines the rights of citizens and their right to the presumption of innocence. People can get caught in a vicious web which places their livelihoods at risk. That is especially so if they lose their licences. They could be faced with enormous legal bills and they could be forced to approach members of Parliament to assist them in overcoming problems that should never have arisen. I do not believe that the Roads and Traffic Authority is ahead on this issue. The RTA could have resolved this issue if it had sent Mr Sedger the appropriate documents. It was not necessarily the job of the RTA to send out those documents; it was the duty of other government agencies. The Opposition believes that its amendments would be fairer for all parties concerned.
(The Hills) [10.16 p.m.]: I listened with some interest to the contribution of the honourable member for The Entrance. However, I took exception to his suggestion that road safety is not a bipartisan issue in this Parliament. Nothing could be further from the truth. A few weeks ago I went to the launch of the U Turn the Wheel program for young drivers at the Honda establishment at St Ives, at which both the honourable member for The Entrance and I spoke. There was no daylight between the two of us in supporting that program. The honourable member for The Entrance spoke earlier about road safety and suggested that the Road Transport (General) Amendment (Operator Onus Offences) Bill is a perfect solution to a problem that the Government has identified. It is presumptuous of him in the extreme to suggest that the Opposition does not have a role in attempting to point out some alternative strategies that could be adopted that would make the bill fairer to all concerned. That is what we are here to do. It is true that the legislation has been introduced not only because people are apparently flouting the law, but because companies are flouting the law. I might add that the honourable member for The Entrance did not at any stage give specific examples of these companies.
He made allegations.
He made allegations without substantive back-up documents. We gave him every opportunity to back up his allegations. If people are rorting the system and getting away with it, clearly it is appropriate for this Parliament to address that issue. It is also true that the heavy reliance of the Government on red light cameras, radar and speed cameras and what might be called remote policing is making this issue even more important to it. The Government recently announced that it would install an additional 56 speed cameras across the State, including one in my electorate and one just outside my electorate—that is, two in The Hills district. One will be on Castle Hill Road and one will be at Pennant Hills Road at Carlingford. Anything that will slow down the traffic on Castle Hill Road would be supported by most of my constituents. It is also true that nothing acts more as a deterrent than a marked police car on the roads.
It is interesting to note that in 2001 the number of speed camera fines more than doubled to 460,067, whilst at the same time the number of traffic tickets issued personally by police dropped by 47,000. That is the nub of the problem. Indeed, it is why people—including the honourable member for Coffs Harbour—are suggesting that the Government is more concerned about revenue raising than road safety. I wish to corroborate some of the comments made by members on this side of the House. Most of us have had similar experiences with regard to constituents who have lost their licences, stood to lose their licences or had their cars deregistered as a result of non-service of documents. That is the nub of the Opposition's objection to the bill. We certainly do not object to the notion that people who have committed an offence should pay the appropriate penalty and have the appropriate demerit points imposed, and that those people should be identified. But, as I said earlier, we need to ensure that the system is fair in all cases. New section 43 (4A)—the deeming provision, if you like states:
For the purposes of subsections (3) and (4), it is presumed that a penalty notice served on a person by post is served on the person 7 days after it is posted, unless the person establishes that it was not received by the person, or was not received by the person within the 7-day period.
A number of my colleagues have expressed their concerns about the seven-day provision. Indeed, the honourable member for Myall Lakes foreshadowed an amendment in that regard. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary what process the person to whom the penalty notice is sent has to use to establish that the notice was not received by him or her. The onus is always on the person who is deemed to have received the document. The honourable member for Baulkham Hills cited the example of Mr Sedger of Baulkham Hills, who had been called up for jury duty, had not received the notice and as a consequence lost his licence. It is recorded for ever and a day in the files of the Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA] that Mr Sedger lost his licence. I had to deal with a similar case recently, which suggests that this is not a rare occurrence.
Although a constituent was not sent a notice for jury duty, the State Debt Recovery Office sent him a bill for $1,100. Further, he was threatened with loss of his licence and told that the RTA would not renew his licence if he did not pay the $1,100. One might say: So what? My constituent had previously turned up for jury duty on four occasions, and within the previous 10 years he had served three weeks on a jury in a criminal trial. I believe that my constituent had certainly shown goodwill—indeed, more goodwill than a number of other people—and yet the Government was not prepared to believe him. The Government did not want to believe he was telling the truth when he said he had not received the summons for jury duty. The consequences that flowed from that are very similar to those referred to by the honourable member for Baulkham Hills.
The fact is that from time to time there are problems with the postal service: things can go wrong. For example, there may be a change of address, very occasionally letters are lost from the mailman's bag and letters are stolen from a person's letterbox. Clearly, it is illegal to steal letters, but that sort of thing is not unknown. The only way one can guarantee service of a notice on an individual is either by way of personal service—which, although it is provided for in the Act, has cost implications—or by registered mail. A constituent of mine, Mr Malkit Banwait of West Pennant Hills, recently emailed me to ask why in this country, unlike many other countries in the world, governments do not make greater use of registered mail to serve fines and other important material on citizens.
It is not simply a matter of saying we will make the deeming period longer. In terms of procedural fairness, it is a matter of saying that if a notice is served personally or by means of registered mail, there is proof beyond reasonable doubt that the notice was served. I would like to hear the Parliamentary Secretary's comments on that. I believe that the additional cost involved would be minimal, given the amount of revenue garnered by the Government from fines and the cost to the Government of enforcing fines—a matter that the honourable member for Baulkham Hills alluded to—where the notice has not been served appropriately on the individual. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to address those matters, because they go to the nub of the matter. As I have said, it is all about procedural fairness for the people of New South Wales.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Whelan.
The House adjourned at 10.28 p.m.