Wednesday, 31st March, 1993
The President (The Hon. Max Frederick Willis)
took the chair at 2.30 p.m.
offered the Prayers.
COMMUNITY SERVICES (COMPLAINTS,
APPEALS AND MONITORING) BILL
DISABILITY SERVICES BILL
RURAL LANDS PROTECTION
(MISCELLANEOUS AMENDMENTS) BILL
STOCK MEDICINES (AMENDMENT) BILL
STOCK (CHEMICAL RESIDUES)
Formal stages and first readings agreed to.
INDEPENDENT COMMISSION AGAINST CORRUPTION
Report: Integrity in Public Sector Recruitment
, in accordance with section 78(1) of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act, laid upon the table the report of the Independent Commission Against Corruption on integrity in public sector recruitment, dated March 1993.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Precedence of Business
Motion by the Hon. J. P. Hannaford agreed to:
That during the present session and unless otherwise ordered:
(1) Government Business shall take precedence of General Business on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and after 4.15 p.m. on Thursday each week:
(2) General Business shall take precedence until 4.15 p.m. on Thursday each week.
Petition praying that the Forestry Commission of New South Wales be reformed in accordance with the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee and that the House urge the Government to act immediately for the good of our environmental heritage and the health of the plantation timber industry, received from the Hon. R. S. L. Jones
Steel-jawed Leg Hold Traps
Petition praying that the House legislate to ban totally the manufacture, sale and use of steel-jawed leg hold traps in all areas of the State as they cause great suffering to all animals and birds, both target and non-target, caught in them, received from the Hon. R. S. L. Jones
Container Deposit Legislation
Petition praying that because of the detrimental effect of throw-away packaging on the environment, legislation be introduced imposing a mandatory deposit on all containers sold in New South Wales, received from the Hon. R. S. L. Jones
STOCK MEDICINES (AMENDMENT) BILL
STOCK (CHEMICAL RESIDUES) AMENDMENT BILL
The Hon. R. J. WEBSTER
(Minister for Planning, and Minister for Housing) [2.39]: I move:
That these bills be now read a second time.
I seek leave of the House to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard
These bills provide a legislative framework for the control of use of stock medicines in New South Wales where it becomes necessary to implement control measures as a matter of urgency. For general use of stock medicines the Stock Medicines Act 1989 will continue to operate, but where controls which are peculiar to a particular stock medicine or class of stock medicine are required, the provisions of these bills will be brought into play. Honourable members may be aware of publicity recently given to requirements imposed by the European Community on Australian beef and offal exports with regard to the use of hormonal growth promotants, or HGPs. The EC has indicated that it is dissatisfied with the system by which cattle in Australia which have been treated with HGPs are identified.
The EC has stipulated that beef products entering the EC must originate from stock which have never been treated with HGPs. The EC requires that countries accredited for export to the EC maintain a system for identifying HGP-treated stock which is based in legislation and which is both auditable and enforceable, with severe penalties for producers who fail to comply. Australia currently exports each year approximately $85 million worth of beef products to the EC. Approximately 30 per cent, or $26 million worth of production, originates in New South Wales. In 1989 a national certification system was introduced for HGP-treated and untreated cattle. An EC reviewer in October-November 1992 assessed this system and found serious shortcomings. A new nationally agreed scheme has since been developed, for which these legislative amendments are necessary.
Another EC review team visited Australia in December 1992 and endorsed this new proposal. This endorsement means that Australia can continue to provide product to the EC until June 1993. In early May 1993 a further EC review team will visit Australia to ensure that our new scheme is in operation. If this review concludes that Australia has failed to introduce the agreed scheme, our $85 million per annum beef exports to the EC will cease in June 1993. The requirement of the EC with respect to HGPs is just one example of the increasingly specific regulatory requirements which are being imposed on the use of stock medicines by our trading partners as a condition for continued access to their markets. Similar strict requirements may be required in the future to regulate the use of other stock medicines both in the domestic and export markets.
The Australian cattle industry, by retaining access to the EC
market, will maintain its reputation as a credible, market responsive industry which can adjust to new challenges. The changes will also allow other sectors of the cattle industry to continue to use HGPs and to obtain the benefit of these products. The regulatory controls required for the use of specific stock medicines, or to satisfy the requirement of particular markets, cannot be anticipated precisely. Orders under the Stock Medicines Act should provide for necessary controls to be imposed quickly at any or all points from the sale of products to their eventual use. The proposed amendments provide for these controls, as well as requiring registration of wholesalers and retailers of HGPs. They also require permanent identification of HGP-treated cattle by ear punching.
The effect on trade with another country is a legitimate reason to impose additional regulatory controls on the sale and use of stock medicines. This has been recognised in the Commonwealth Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Act 1988, where a clearance to register an agricultural or veterinary chemical product can only be issued if the Australian Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Council is satisfied that the product would not unduly prejudice trade with another country. The Stock (Chemical Residues) Act contains many of the powers necessary to enforce a credible declaration system that differentiates between HGP-treated and non-treated animals. The current definition of a "residue", as defined under this Act, is insufficient to cover HGPs. It is necessary to ensure that HGPs and other substances which may impact on trade in the future can be dealt with under this Act.
The recommended amendments are required to give immediate effect to an enhanced regulatory mechanism for the control of HGPs which makes it an offence to make a false declaration with regard to residue status of livestock and provides severe penalties for such an offence. This mechanism has been formulated by the Animal Health Committee of the Standing Committee on Agriculture for national implementation and is the result of extensive industry consultation. The formulation of these amendments has involved much industry consultation. Groups involved nationally have included the Cattle Council of Australia, the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Association of Australia and the Veterinary Manufacturers and Distributors Association. Groups involved at the New South Wales level have included the Stock and Station Agents Association, the Cattlemen's Union, the executive council of the Rural Lands Protection Boards, the Meat Industry Authority, the Farmers Association and the Dairy Farmers Association.
The enhanced regulatory system for HGPs will require the establishment of an information database and associated administration, as well as increased inspectorial activity in auditing key steps in the regulatory process. The proposed amendments will allow all or part of the costs incurred in such administration to be recovered from permit fees for those wholesalers and retailers who wish to trade in HGPs. These increased costs are likely to be passed on to the producer by way of price increases for HGP products.
I commend the bills to the House.
The Hon. B. H. VAUGHAN
(Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [2.40]: The alternative government supports the Stock Medicines (Amendment) Bill and the Stock (Chemical Residues) Amendment Bill.
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL
[2.40]: It would be a pity if this legislation went through this Chamber without a word being spoken about it. Although I agree with the Opposition's sentiment that it totally supports these bills, the Opposition could have devoted a little more attention to its research, and to the issues involved. Hormonal growth promotants have been available in Australia for a number of years for the fattening of cattle, especially young cattle. They have been very successful with stock going into feedlots throughout Australia, and until last year had wide acceptance throughout the world. In October-November 1992 the European Community reviewed Australia's hormonal growth promotants and the beef and beef products exported into their countries from Australia.
Following that review the EC found serious shortcomings in our national certification system, which was implemented in 1989. It is very important that we in Australia, and indeed in New South Wales, do something about this. The beef industry earns $85 million from exports to the European countries, and of course this is a growing market, which we must do everything to protect. In December the EC review team endorsed a proposal to continue the system until June this year, when all exports to European countries will cease unless we do something about it. The Government of this State has chosen, in conjunction with other States, to introduce legislation to enable certification and identification of stock that have been treated. Stock that is free of hormonal growth promotants will be recognisable eventually by a tail tag, and in the interim by pink paint on the rump of the beast.
Many honourable members feel that the system has been generally unsatisfactory because only a very small percentage of cattle in New South Wales are treated by HGP. A great majority of stock going into the saleyards will have to be identified as being clean, as against the HGP cattle which do not have to be identified. Unfortunately this measure was agreed to with the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service and the European Community review committee. The Government does not agree with this arrangement, but cannot do anything about it. This unsatisfactory arrangement will be resolved when the new tail tagging system becomes available. Different tail tags will be available for cattle with HGPs, with a different colour used to distinguish cattle that are clean. Eventually it will be resolved, and it is extremely important that it be resolved. This important beef market must be protected, particularly the by-products, which form the major portion of beef exports to the EC. I commend the Government for its action. It must be made to work; if it does not work by June 1993 this market will be lost. I commend the bills to the House.
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY
[2.44]: The Australian Democrats support the Stock Medicines (Amendment) Bill and the Stock (Chemical Residues) Amendment Bill. The impetus for this legislation comes from the European Community assessment of the inadequacy of the Australian system of identifying stock treated with hormone growth promotants. The EC will purchase only beef products from stock that have never been treated with HGPs. Therefore, Australia must comply if it wishes to retain its access to the European market.
Concern about the effect of HGPs on food animals in Europe began with the use of diethylstilboestrol, a stilbene compound. DES was proved to be a carcinogen and was banned as a growth promotant. However, it could still be used for treatment of small animals - animals not intended for
the food chain. Nevertheless, in 1980 in Italy, high levels of DES were found in a veal-based baby food. It was assumed that this had occurred because of direct injection of DES into muscle tissue or by intramuscular implant in veal calves. Unfortunately, this misuse of an illegal drug led to secondary sex characteristics in babies. Naturally, this caused great concern among consumers.
The main risk to people from the use of HGPs in the production of meat arises from their incorrect implantation. When animals are correctly implanted - that is, in the ear; in a non-edible part of the carcass - and with strict observance of withdrawal periods, the levels of hormonal residues are minimised. Nevertheless, there is considerable debate about whether even these levels are safe, and further research in this area certainly needs to be done. But what ultimately concerns us today is that the EC has banned the use of HGPs with export meat. The legislation will amend the Stock Medicines Act to allow the Director-General of the Department of Agriculture to make regulatory orders in relation to stock medicines on the grounds of a possible adverse effect on trade in stock or stock product.
These orders will relate to the sale and use of products, the permanent identification of HGP treated cattle, the making and keeping of records relating to stock medicine treatment, and the registration of wholesalers and retailers of HGPs. The bill also contains new provisions relating to the conditions on which an inspector may enter premises. The legislation will amend the Stock (Chemical Residues) Act to cover HGP treated animals. It will now be an offence to make a false declaration about treatment with any medicines named in the Act. Through the ability to examine records and stock, inspectors will have increased powers to monitor the use of HGPs. I am delighted that the Government has seen fit to introduce this legislation, because those involved in the beef cattle industry have been aware that unless the use of HGPs is phased out in Australia, we might lose an important market. I congratulate the Government on introducing the legislation, which has my full support.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE
[2.48]: Call to Australia supports the Stock Medicines (Amendment) Bill and the Stock (Chemical Residues) Amendment Bill. The objects of the Stock Medicines (Amendment) Bill are to extend the powers of the Director-General of the Department of Agriculture in relation to the sale and use of stock medicines; to impose conditions on the exercise of an inspector's powers of entry; to enable the director-general to waive certain fees; and to make other provisions of a minor, consequential or ancillary nature. The extension of the powers of the director-general in relation to stock medicines will apply to any stock medicines, such as hormone growth promotants, which may have an adverse effect on trade because of the concern that has been expressed by some member countries of the European Community.
The bills will provide a legislative framework for the control of the use of stock medicines in New South Wales where it becomes necessary to implement control measures as a matter of urgency. For general use of stock medicines, the Stock Medicines Act 1989 will continue to operate, but where controls that are peculiar to a particular stock medicine or class of stock medicine are required, the provisions of these bills will be brought into play. Call to Australia has much pleasure in supporting the bills.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. PEZZUTTI
[2.50]: I support the bills, but I wish to say that they are totally unnecessary, in that the Europeans are asking us to identify cattle that have been treated with hormonal growth promotants. Growth promotants do not cause damage to people who consume the product. We are doing this only to protect our industry. It is totally illogical that we should have to do so, but we are forced to do so by a lot of illogical Europeans who do not understand that hormonal growth promotants improve the quality of the beef that is presented to them on their tables. For that reason, our cattle will wear pink or purple tail tags to show how stupid the Europeans are. But as long as they keep eating our beef, terrific.
The Hon. R. J. WEBSTER
(Minister for Planning, and Minister for Housing) [2.51], in reply: I thank all honourable members who have contributed to the debate. This legislation is obviously very important to Australia and its primary industries. Once again, I have to express my amazement at the lack of interest that the Australian Labor Party has shown in this very important legislation. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition spoke very briefly in this debate but there were no other speakers from the Opposition. That indicates to me, and should indicate to the people in the community, just how little concern the Labor Party has for our primary industries, when on a piece of legislation as important as this it can muster only a handful of speakers. Even the Leader of the Australian Democrats spoke about these bills for a few minutes. The Australian Labor Party does not know, or does not care, or is not interested. It is a sad indictment of our political system in Australia that the nation is so divided between country and city. The Labor Party clearly considers its power base to be in the city, and has completely disregarded rural issues - to the extent that it contributed only a handful of words to this debate. With those few words I thank honourable members who contributed to the debate on the bills - Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile, the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby, the Hon. R. T. M. Bull and the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti. I commend the bills.
Motion agreed to.
Bills read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
COMMUNITY SERVICES (COMPLAINTS, APPEALS AND MONITORING) BILL
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK
for Education and Youth Affairs, and Minister for Employment and Training) [2.53]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard
This bill represents the most far-reaching reform and improvement to client and service provider relationships, complaint and grievance handling and service provision monitoring of any community service legislation in Australia.
This legislation establishes an independent Commissioner for Community Services who will monitor the standard and quality of service provision of all services funded for the provision of community services. The guiding principle will always be the best interests of the client and of the individual. The commissioner has power to investigate, to promote and facilitate alternative dispute resolution procedures, to report upon complaints and to monitor the standards of service provision. This legislation is a landmark advancement of the Government's commitment to the principles outlined in "Facing the World". It provides a customer focus - I emphasise a direct focus on customers - in the provision of services.
The community services area is one of the most important areas across government for good client relations. It is an area that focuses on assisting people who are disadvantaged in our community. It is therefore very important that every effort is made to assist clients with complaints and grievances quickly and to provide a powerful framework for service providers to enhance their abilities to provide such a responsiveness. In addition to providing a basis for improving complaints and grievance resolution, a major aspect of this legislation is the monitoring of the quality and standard of service delivery itself. This bill provides general powers for the commissioner to monitor the standards of services to people in the care of the State, particularly those services for children who are wards of the State. I will return later to the powers, duties and responsibilities of the Commissioner for Community Services.
The bill also will establish, under the commissioner's administration, a major program for community visitors to all services that are funded or provided as residential care services for community service clients. These community visitors will provide residents of these services with an independent person who can provide a sympathetic ear for any needs, concerns or difficulties that clients may wish to share with someone who is not directly involved in the delivery of those services. Community visitors will also provide a basis for safeguarding against forms of system abuse by their ability to view the operations of all residential services. They will have powers to inspect records, talk to staff and management of services and advocate for the clients of the service with the service provider.
The visitors report to the Commissioner for Community Services and, therefore, matters of significant concern can be pursued by the commissioner. The bill also provides for the establishment of a Community Services Appeals Tribunal. The proposed tribunal is a revamping of the existing Community Welfare Appeals Tribunal and provides for a significant extension of the existing tribunal's jurisdiction. In the community services area an Administrative Appeals Tribunal provides a significant safeguard in an environment which is based upon many decisions which are, by the nature of the matters being dealt with, value judgments against criteria established by law.
I emphasise that although this bill establishes a new organisational framework for complaints, grievance resolution and monitoring of services, it is not the intention to promote a super bureaucracy to address these matters. This organisational framework is aimed at creating a safety net and providing a basis for motivating all agencies to improve client responsiveness. In the end it is a framework to assist in improving the relationships between service providers and their clients or customers. In essence, complaints and grievances are an opportunity to improve services to clients. The organisational framework in this bill provides a motivation for service providers, a safety net for clients and an educational and information base to assist the sector in developing improved processes for clients.
I wish now to deal with some other specific provisions of the legislation. The community sector was very keen in its representations for the Commissioner for Community Services to be an independent person and body. We have made this happen. This legislation ensures the community sector's desire for an independent commissioner. The community sector wanted the commissioner to have the power to report to Parliament. We have made this happen. This legislation provides for an annual report to Parliament and for special reports to be made to Parliament. The sector was concerned about the appointment and security of tenure for the commissioner. We have made this happen. This legislation makes specific provision for consultation on appointment and for specific heads of power for the termination of any appointment. There was concern that the commissioner not be subject to ministerial direction in the commissioner's investigation of complaints. We have achieved this.
This legislation does not make the commissioner subject to ministerial direction on the investigation of complaints. The commissioner also has his own budget and staff. The sector expressed concerns with regard to visitors' powers and a wish to have the community visitors empowered to inspect records relating to clients, the power to talk with staff and management and the power to seek assistance from the commissioner. Again we have achieved this. Community visitors have the power to inspect records, to speak to staff and management of residential services and, finally, the visitors themselves are under the direct supervision of the commissioner and report to the commissioner. The community services sector also wanted the commissioner to have a monitoring role on service systems. We have delivered.
This legislation provides for the commissioner to monitor the provision of services. The disability sector was particularly concerned to ensure that any breach of the principles under the Disability Services Bill could be independently adjudicated. We achieved this. This bill provides for the tribunal to determine breaches of the principles of funding and it can overturn any decisions that do not comply with those principles. The Commissioner for Community Services can also monitor the principles and application of principles under the Disability Services Bill. The sector desired that the commissioner have the power to investigate, to initiate inquiries, to obtain subpoenas and search warrant powers, the ability to require a report on actions taken on the commissioner's recommendations, the ability to refer matters with recommendations for action, to provide annual and special reports to Parliament and for the bill to provide for the power to protect people against retaliation for making complaints. The Government has delivered. All of these have been addressed in this bill.
I should like now to turn to some of the especially innovative provisions of the bill. This is the first legislation in this State, and possibly in Australia, to feature alternative dispute resolution techniques as a method for dealing with conflicts and grievances. Such techniques can include conciliation, but there is an increasing awareness of other techniques such as mediation, arbitration and expert appraisal. There are also provisions about representative actions in this bill. They allow for cases with similar issues to be joined to save time, money and effort in litigation. There has been much public debate lately about the independence from government of some statutory officeholders. This bill provides for public input during the appointment for the key personnel of the complaints and appeals system.
The bill also sets out the very specific circumstances in which those officeholders can be dismissed. The commissioner is given very wide powers to report on matters within the commission's responsibilities to the Minister and to recommend that such reports be tabled in Parliament. These provisions demonstrate that the new system is one which has teeth. It clearly empowers the commission and the tribunal to be effective in reviewing not only government decisions but those of bodies
funded by the Government to provide services in the community services area. On the other hand, the legislation sets out the primacy of responsibility of the elected representatives of the people for policy determination and resource allocation.
This bill has as its focus the rebalancing of the relationships between the consumers of community services and the agencies responsible for the delivery of those services. The Government is also reviewing its relationship with non-government service providers through the variety of licensing arrangements administrated by the Department of Community Services. There are aspects of that relationship that are quite different from those which arise from a funded service relationship. Because of that review the Government feels that it would be inappropriate at the moment to include licensed services in the new complaints and appeals system other than to continue the existing specific rights of appeal in respect of decisions made on the issue or suspension of licences.
The community services portfolio is one in which the relationship between the Government or agencies funded by the Government and their customers is of particular importance, since many of those who receive services in this area are disadvantaged in one way or another. The delivery of community services has always involved close partnership between government and non-government agencies. The people of this State have, in the main, been well served by this partnership. There has been a proud history of philanthropic endeavour for the benefit of disadvantaged people within the community, by both church and secular organisations developing innovative ways of providing new programs and services that respond to the emerging needs of a changing society.
The Government has taken a number of steps to strengthen this relationship between the Government and non-government service providers. This proposal has been facilitated by extensive independent research undertaken during November and December last year, which revealed that the primary concern of users of community services is to find a solution of their problems in a way that does not prejudice the continuing delivery of services. They were also concerned about the possibility that they could get caught up in a time-consuming, complicated and unfriendly process where, frankly, the remedy may be worse than the complaint. It is against that background that the Government brings forward the proposals in this bill.
Last year a working party of representatives of various community groups and officers from the Department of Community Services produced a report on complaints and appeals mechanisms for community services in New South Wales. During November and December 1992 the proposals outlined in the working party report were given extensive public exposure with a vast consultation program. Meetings were held in nine city and country locations from which some 27 hours of audiotape and approximately 100 discussion charts were produced. A questionnaire was distributed and invitations were extended to members of the public and groups to make submissions to the department on what they saw as the desirable characteristic of a complaints and appeals system for community services.
In addition to this public exposure and consultation, a number of special purpose focus group meetings were held to obtain input from client groups that may not have been adequately represented at the public meetings. And a two-day phone-in was held by the Department of Community Services to further tap public opinion. This is one of the most widely consulted on pieces of legislation, if not the most widely consulted on piece, ever to be presented to the New South Wales Parliament. And consultation in a very real sense is very much what the legislation is about.
Too often we are reluctant as human beings to make ourselves vulnerable by acknowledging that we do not always get things right. There is always scope for improvement in the way in which we serve the needs of our clients. The trouble is that we become defensive about any possible criticism and so, when that criticism comes, we do not learn from it. Here is the heart of the matter. If we take seriously the view that the needs of the consumers of government services are paramount, then we will want to make it easy for our clients to express their concerns. We will want to have in place processes that will allow us to take those views into our thinking about service delivery so that, where possible, the services that are delivered will more closely reflect the needs of our clients.
This is not such a radical idea. There are those in both the private and the government sectors who have been following this philosophy for some time. But there are some agencies, government and non-government, that have been slow to embrace this view of the relationship between the service provider and the client. This legislation will encourage those who have already embraced this philosophy. It will also challenge those who have not.
The underlying theme of this bill is that approximately 75 per cent of all complaints concerning the delivery of community services in this State could be adequately resolved at or close to the point where those services are delivered. Accordingly, there are provisions in the bill designed to encourage both government and non-government service providers to develop arrangements for handling complaints in an effective and objective way at the local level. Regrettably there are always some matters that, despite the best will in the world, cannot be resolved other than by some process of adjudication. For many years courts and tribunals have been set up to provide that adjudication. There has been such a tribunal in the community services area.
This bill proposes to reconstitute that tribunal to make it more effective, to widen its jurisdiction, but most importantly to ensure that the use of the tribunal is a last resort not a first resort. As I said earlier, we need to be careful that in dealing with the concerns of our clients the remedy is not worse than the complaint. We are all too often reminded that there is such a thing as "systems abuse". It is vital that those who use community services, or those who are friends or relatives of those users, can express their concerns about those services without fear or retribution. This will require some change in culture but I am confident that there is a great deal of good will in the community services sector for this legislation. That good will is the main ingredient outside this legislation that will ultimately guarantee the quality of service which is the desired outcome from the initiatives taken by this Government.
I would like to thank some of the many people involved in the implementation of this legislation, particularly the members of the working party: Ms Roslyn Williams, Principal Solicitor, Department of Community Services; Mr Adrian Ford of the Benevolent Society; Mr Jim Simpson of the Disability Council of New South Wales; Ms Bronwyn Moye of the Safeguards Coalition; Patrick Parkinson, representing the Child Protection Council; Mr Michael Hogan from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre for his advice and counsel during the development of the bill; and Ms Lyn Gain from the New South Wales Council of Social Service.
From the Department of Community Services, I would like to thank firstly Mr David Marchant for his tireless and highly effective work in bringing this historic legislation into reality; Mr Malcolm Squire for his diligence and professionalism on the working party and in the details of the legislation; Mr John Butcher, Ms Sue Mattick, Ms Meg Zvirbulis, Mr Lyn Houlahan, Mr David Sherlock and Ms Joy Woodhouse for their contribution to the working party and to the extensive public consultation.
I would also like to pay tribute to the work of Mr Chris Passanah and the department's corporate relations branch for their efforts in facilitating the public consultation program. This has been very much a team effort. There are many others whom I cannot name individually who have contributed significantly to this legislation and on behalf of the Government I thank them all for their efforts.
I commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. B. H. VAUGHAN
(Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [2.54]: I speak to the Community Services (Complaints, Appeals and Monitoring) Bill.
As honourable members heard the Minister say, this bill may be cited as the Community Services (Complaints, Appeals and Monitoring) Bill 1993. The objects and principles of the Bill are as follows:
(a) to foster, in community services and programs, and in related services and programs, an atmosphere in which complaints and independent monitoring are viewed positively as ways of enhancing the delivery of those services and programs;
(b) to provide for the resolution of complaints about community services and programs, especially complaints by persons entitled to those services, by families and by persons advocating on behalf of persons so entitled or families;
(c) to encourage, wherever reasonable and practicable, the resolution of complaints at a local level;
(d) to encourage, wherever reasonable and practicable, the resolution of complaints through alternative dispute resolution;
(e) to provide independent and accessible mechanisms for the resolution of complaints, for the review of administrative decisions and for the monitoring of services, programs and complaint procedures; and
(f) to encourage compliance with the objects, principles and provisions of the community welfare legislation.
The following principles must be observed in exercising functions under this Act:
(a) the paramount consideration in providing a service for a person must be in the best interests of the person.
There is a lot more I would like to say about this legislation.
The Hon. J. F. RYAN
[2.58]: I support the proposal for an appeals and complaints mechanism for community services decisions in New South Wales. I am sure the Government appreciates the remarks that have so far been made by the Opposition about the bill. I am sure that, as it did in another place, the Opposition is likely to support this bill wholeheartedly and wholesomely. It is not an unreasonable description of the bill to say that it is one of the most far-reaching pieces of community services legislation to have been introduced in New South Wales in many years. The most important aspect of the legislation is that it provides a dispute-resolution mechanism for many complaints and misunderstandings that arise in the provision of services to people with disabilities.
In that regard it aims to be legislation that tries to solve these problems rather than direct itself to issues as to who might be right or wrong. In many instances people who make complaints are hampered by the process of making complaints, and sometimes are damaged far more by the process of having their complaints heard and adjudicated on than by the injury or the problems they were seeking to complain about. In this regard, the bill, as I have endeavoured to explain to the House, is a very far-reaching piece of legislation and an example of caring action taken by the Fahey Government.
Debate adjourned on motion by the Hon. J. F. Ryan.
JOINT SELECT COMMITTEE UPON POLICE ADMINISTRATION
Report: Resignation of Minister for Police and Emergency Services
The Hon. D. J. GAY
[3.0]: I desire to lay upon the table of the House the first report of the Joint Select Committee upon Police Administration entitled "The Circumstances which resulted in the Resignation of the Honourable E. P. Pickering, MLC, as Minister for Police and Emergency Services", dated 31st March, 1993, together with the proceedings of the committee and evidence taken before the committee.
Ordered to be printed.
The Hon. D. J. GAY
, by leave: I pay tribute to the staff of the committee who undertook the bulk of the work - the Clerk, Mr Mark Swinson; Mr John Cook and Peter Payne from the Cabinet Office; and Mr Bill Dunbar and Mr Patrick Manning, who were assisted by Virginia Patterson, my research officer. Our final decisions were made at 7.30 p.m. on Monday evening of this week. Staff from the secretariat put the report together and at 11.30 last night we presented the report to the printer. I pay tribute to Pat and Lyn of the printing office for printing the report. I thank also Bob Davey, and the people from Hansard, and Alan Beverstock from security.
Honourable members will recall that following the statements of the then Minister for Police and Emergency Services in the House on 17th September, 1992, on the Angus Rigg matter the following occurred: Mr Pickering appeared on the "A Current Affair" program that same night to respond to some of the issues that had been raised the previous evening when the initial program on the Angus Rigg matter had been presented. The Commissioner of Police made a radio broadcast at Wagga Wagga early on the morning of the next day and said that accurate, timely and comprehensive advice had been provided to the then Minister's office on the Rigg incident the very next morning, that is, 16th July, 1991. Mr Lauer held a media conference at Campbelltown that same afternoon, 18th September, 1991, and reaffirmed that advice on the matter had gone to the Minister's office the day after the incident.
Two broad issues arose as a result: first, had the then Minister been adequately briefed as claimed; and second, was the commissioner justified in making the statements. On the question of whether the Minister had been briefed, the committee looked at the range of documents which were said to have been provided either to the Minister or to his office. First, there was the media briefing document of 16th July, 1991, which was the foundation for the commissioner's claim on radio and television that accurate, timely and comprehensive advice had gone to the then Minister's office the day after the incident at Milton. This was said to have comprised a running sheet with a synopsis of news items as well as information on present and future activities of the police media unit, and press cuttings from the two major Sydney
newspapers. In addition, there was said to have been a critical issues briefing cover sheet, a report from Sergeant Peters of Milton, and a draft press release, all relating to the Rigg incident which occurred the day before.
The critical issues cover sheet, the Sergeant Peters report and the draft press report, together with the cuttings, were said to have been sent by facsimile transmission to the then Minister's residences in the early hours of 16th July, 1991. With regard to those facsimile transmissions, there was a lack of corroborating evidence that the transmissions had been made. It was of concern to the committee that the Police Service could not produce facsimile transmission reports, or conclusive advice from Telecom to substantiate its claims. In light of the evidence and the circumstances that the then Minister was on holiday and had been away from his residences for about a week at the time, the committee resolved that any facsimile message sent to his residences on 16th July, 1991, was not in any way a communication with the then Minister.
The matter of the media briefing document was a difficult one for the committee. It needed to determine what documents were actually sent to the then Minister's office on 16th July, 1991, with the synopsis and the cuttings. On the one hand there was the evidence from the Police Service personnel that they consisted of the synopsis or running sheet, the press cuttings, the critical issues briefing cover note and the Sergeant Peters report and the press report. The last three all related to the Rigg incident. On the other hand, the former Minister and his staff maintained that they had never seen or heard of a critical issues briefing cover note before the matter of the Rigg briefings came to prominence. They also said that material in that form had never been sent to Mr Pickering's office; occasionally a press release or a police occurrence pad entry would be attached to the media briefing, but never a police operational report of the nature of the Sergeant Peters report.
The committee failed in its attempt to resolve the issue conclusively. A major difficulty were the gaps in the records maintained by the police media unit. The committee considered that there had been totally unsatisfactory administrative practices in operation in this respect. From what could be ascertained, it was rare, if at all, that police operational material of a kind similar to the Sergeant Peters report was attached to media briefing documents. In addition, the committee found only a few critical incident briefing notes attached to file copies of media briefing documents within the police media unit. There appeared to be only five between 17th April, 1991, and 31st December, 1991, when the practice of completing these cover sheets was discontinued. In each instance the report on the critical incident was typed on the cover sheet. There was no instance of the attachment of a Sergeant Peters type record.
In light of the conflicting evidence and the paucity of records, the committee nevertheless concluded that on the balance of probabilities it was likely that the material that went to the then Minister's office on 16th July, 1991, did contain the critical issues cover sheet, the Sergeant Peters report and the draft press release. The committee believes that the media briefing material that went to the then Minister's office on 16th July, 1991, was sufficient preliminary advice for the day after the Rigg incident. However, the committee found it totally unacceptable that no follow-up advice of an accurate, timely and comprehensive nature was provided by the Police Service to the then Minister nor, conversely, had been requested from Mr Pickering by his own personal staff. As mentioned, Mr Pickering was on holiday at the time. However, he attended briefly at his office on the afternoon of 16th July, 1991, for a National Crime Authority meeting before returning to his holiday.
The commissioner, who saw Mr Pickering before the meeting, did not mention the Rigg incident. The committee believes that the chances that Mr Pickering actually saw the 16th July, 1991, media briefing document are remote in the extreme. The committee believes that the Police Service had an obligation to provide a more substantial briefing for the then Minister within an appropriate time frame. The committee believes that the Police Service could only rely on the media briefing document as a precursor to further advice. The committee also believes that there was an obligation on the then Minister's press secretaries to ensure that he received follow-up advice within an appropriate time frame and that they did not take proper advantage of the material contained in the media briefings. The committee also believes that a review should be undertaken of the role and responsibilities of the police media unit in terms of the provision of services to both the Police Service and the Minister for Police.
The attention of the committee also focused on other documents which the Police Service contended had been brought to Mr Pickering's attention and contained information on the Rigg matter. Of major importance was the suggestion that the then Minister had been handed the internal affairs staff workload analysis report for July 1991 during a meeting between the then Minister and the assistant commissioner, professional responsibility, in August 1991. This report contained a reference to the Rigg investigation which was then in progress, including that it was believed that Angus Rigg had suffered irreversible brain damage. The production of evidence in this regard was to show that the then Minister had received a second briefing, including some advice about Angus Rigg's brain damage.
Again, the evidence was voluminous and conflicting. There was an absence of corroboration of the evidence of the Police Service's witnesses because of lost or missing documents. The committee was unable to determine with any degree of certainty whether Mr Pickering had received that report and resolved to disregard it in terms of whether it came to the then Minister's attention as a form of briefing on the Rigg matter. The Rigg matter appeared only once in the report of July 1991. If it was important enough
to mention this one time, the committee wondered why it did not appear in subsequent reports, as the investigation was ongoing. The committee believes that the fact that this did not occur should receive consideration. The failure to provide follow-up in reports was most unsatisfactory in the light of the brain damaged condition of Angus Rigg.
The committee also considered the media briefing document of 26th August, 1992. The interest of "A Current Affair" in doing a story on Angus Rigg was clearly set out in that document. One of Mr Pickering's press officers had highlighted, amongst other things, the reference to the "A Current Affair" story on the document and had placed it in Mr Pickering's in-tray. There is no dispute that Mr Pickering saw the document, as it had one of his blue "post-it" stickers attached, with a note in his handwriting. Its discovery prompted his resignation from the ministry of 21st October, 1992. Mr Pickering had told the Parliament that he had no knowledge of the Rigg issue. In the light of the discovery of this document that was clearly incorrect. Although the incorrect statement was unintended, Mr Pickering said that he thought he had a duty to the Government to resign.
The media briefing of 26th August, 1992, contained a clear warning that "A Current Affair" was looking to do a story on the Rigg matter, but it evoked no response whatever from either the Police Service, which had received the advice, or the then Minister's personal staff. The committee is of the belief that as at 26th August, 1992, there was more than adequate time for the Police Service to brief Mr Pickering on the Rigg matter in preparation for the "A Current Affair" program. The assistant commissioner, professional responsibility, took appropriate action by putting the police media unit on notice, but the focus at the time was on the suppression order imposed under the Police Regulation (Allegations of Misconduct) Act - the PRAM Act.
The committee believes that more could have been done by the Police Service personnel, particularly the Office of Professional Responsibility, the police media unit and the commissioner's office, to clarify the thrust of the "A Current Affair" interest. The Ombudsman's office had made the effort to contact the assistant commissioner, professional responsibility, about the "A Current Affair" interest and it would not have been unreasonable for inquiries to have been made directly of "A Current Affair", given the warning and the knowledge that the investigation at that time had dragged on for 14 months.
The committee believes that it was not unreasonable for Mr Pickering to have asserted, as he did, that at least some inquires of the police records and of "A Current Affair" should have been made. It is also not unreasonable for the commissioner to have argued that it was a two-way street - that the then Minister's staff should have ensured that the Police Service was looking to undertake damage control as anticipated. Mr Pickering could not have failed to see the briefing of 26th August, 1992, because of his handwritten note to his senior press secretary. The committee believes that Mr Pickering is equally to blame in not recognising its importance or recalling its existence. In the latter respect, through his resignation he has paid the penalty for having misled the Parliament.
The committee next turned its attention to the media conferences, of which there were three: first, Mr Pickering's interview on "A Current Affair" on the evening of Thursday, 17th September, 1992; second, Mr Lauer's interview on Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio at Wagga Wagga early the next day, Friday, 18th September, 1992, when he mentioned the accurate, timely and comprehensive advice which had gone to the Minister's office the morning after the Angus Rigg incident; and, third, the Campbelltown media conference which had been arranged by the police media unit for 4.30 p.m. that same afternoon in light of the considerable media interest which had arisen on account of the commissioner's comments on radio at Wagga Wagga that morning.
By late in the afternoon on Thursday, 17th September, 1992, the commissioner had received by fax the unedited Hansard
extracts of the then Minister's speeches in the House earlier that day, together with a copy of the media briefing of 16th July, 1991, which contained the reference to the Rigg matter. Mr Lauer watched the "A Current Affair" screening that night when Mr Pickering appeared to respond to the story of the previous night. The commissioner saw Mr Pickering's remarks in the Parliament as a dressing down of Deputy Commissioner Stirton and the other police involved. He was aware that the then Minister's statement was wrong - about it being the first time that he had heard about the tragic events.
The committee believes that, when coupled with the then Minister's statements on "A Current Affair" that evening and Mr Lauer's then extremely poor relationship with Mr Pickering, where any kind of personal communication had all but ceased, Mr Lauer took a decision to make a public correction if the opportunity arose. This did arise during the radio interview at Wagga Wagga. The committee accepted that Mr Pickering responded honestly and openly to the questions asked of him by Jana Wendt on "A Current Affair" on the Thursday night. The committee accepted that Mr Pickering was aware that some material had come to him on the Rigg incident on 16th July, 1991, but he had not then seen a copy of the material and was not in a position to make a correction there and then.
The committee also accepted that Mr Pickering was not aware on the Friday that it was being alleged that the material sent to his office that day by the Police Service was exactly the same as that supplied to him on 16th July, 1991. The pink that he received was ambiguous and the committee accepted that Mr Pickering would not have issued a press release that afternoon standing by his words to Parliament if
there had been any doubt in his mind that he might have misled the Parliament. The committee also accepted that the concerns which the commissioner had expressed at that time were genuine - that there would continue to be a "cloud of suspicion" hanging over the police officers who were associated with the incident at Milton involving Angus Rigg.
However, the committee considered that those concerns had been coloured by the relationship which then existed between Mr Lauer and Mr Pickering and that those concerns were not widely held in the community at that time. The committee felt that if there was any suspicion of a police cover-up it related to the subsequent investigation which had not reached any finality. The committee believes that the commissioner in his Wagga Wagga radio interview could have lifted any cloud of suspicion without raising the matter of a briefing. The committee believes that the proper course would have been for the commissioner to have sought a meeting in private and then to have the Minister correct or retract his earlier statement.
In any event the commissioner should have conveyed his concerns to the then Minister by telephone and discussed with him what his intentions were, before going public. What was not said rather than what was said at Campbelltown was widely interpreted as challenging the then Minister. That neither of them would speak to the other on the telephone whilst the commissioner was en route from Wagga Wagga to Campbelltown, with their respective media officers conveying messages, was to the committee almost beyond belief. So too was the situation where Mr Pickering asked his media officer to direct Mr Lauer not to hold the Campbelltown conferences, which was watered down to "strongly advise" when conveyed.
The commissioner told the committee that he would have obeyed a direction from the then Minister, but the committee is in no doubt that he would not have obeyed anything less. The committee has questioned the commissioner's judgment that he thought he could have contained the matter at Campbelltown. The focus of the media was almost immediately on the commissioner's relationship with Mr Pickering, and with the contribution made by way of an edited version screened on "A Current Affair" that evening the matter virtually became a single issue which took on a life of its own.
The committee then focused on the conference that the then Minister and the commissioner had at the Avery Building on the Saturday - that is, the day after the Wagga Wagga interview and the Campbelltown conference. The commissioner had his media officer with him and Mr Pickering had three of his personal staff. The commissioner suggested a private meeting with staff excluded to discuss the matter of the provision to the then Minister of the internal affairs staff workload analysis report for July 1991, which I earlier mentioned and which contained a reference to the Rigg matter.
There is a difference between Mr Pickering and Mr Lauer over what occurred at this private meeting. The commissioner put it that he wanted to be more flexible and allow the then Minister room to manoeuvre; also that there was not a need to address the internal affairs report there and then, but that Mr Pickering would need to turn his mind to it in the near future. Mr Pickering for his part already believed that he had not received this report, and there was the question of an independent witness, the Inspector-General, who Mr Lauer believed had been present when the report was alleged to have been given to the then Minister. The interpretation put on the conversation by Mr Pickering was that Mr Lauer was making "a sinister" suggestion by offering to keep the internal affairs report confidential to bring him under the commissioner's control and turn him into a "yes-man". The commissioner strongly denied this.
On the evidence presented, the committee was unable to substantiate the "sinister" inference suggested by Mr Pickering. However, the committee believes that what Mr Lauer said to Mr Pickering constituted a threat by Mr Lauer. The committee believes that the evidence it received tends to substantiate Mr Pickering's claims of the substance of the private conversation. It has accepted that on the balance of probabilities the conversation went generally along the lines that Mr Pickering's evidence had indicated. The committee believes that at the conclusion of the so-called private meeting both men would have known that their relationship had irretrievably broken down and had been for some time.
The committee also looked at the so-called inadequate brief which was compiled by the Police Service in answer to a request made prior to the "A Current Affair" on the Rigg matter on 16th September, 1992. This had been sought around 12.30 p.m. on that date from the then Minister's office as there had been some advance advice conveyed about the program. It was not provided to the then Minister that day and he was left to view the program without the benefit of a brief. In view of the nature of the program he immediately realised that questions would be asked about the issue in the Parliament the next day.
That the brief was inadequate was not contested, and the committee has reached a number of conclusions about the poor performance of officers of the Police Service in failing to get an adequate briefing to their Minister. The committee has concluded also that the then Minister was completely justified in rejecting subsequent advice to him that he should inform the House that a full report would be available to him a week later. The suggestion that the Parliament and the people should wait a further week for advice is totally unacceptable. It treats the parliamentary process with contempt and cannot be justified. The rejection of the advice led to the then Minister's answer to Mr Mutch's question in the House, at which time Mr Pickering was critical of the
The committee believes there was justification for that part of the criticism concerning the inadequacy of the briefing. The committee also believes that the answer to that question and the ministerial statement Mr Pickering made in the Parliament later in the day formed an important factor in the subsequent actions taken by the commissioner and influenced his decision to make a public statement on radio at Wagga Wagga. The committee believes that the inquiry should have been made well in advance of the broadcast in light of the warning which had been given through the Ombudsman's office and the mention in the media briefing of 26th August, 1992, to which I have already referred. The committee has been critical of both the Police Service officers and the former Minister's personal staff in this regard.
The committee examined a number of other issues. It looked at the question of delay in relation to the forensic testing of blanket strips allegedly used in the hanging. Also it looked at a series of issues in order to determine how they might have impacted on the relationship between the commissioner and the then Minister. It looked at the commissioner's southern tour and concluded that the Minister was never properly informed of Mr Lauer's proposed absence. It looked at the appointment of Mr John Marsden to the Police Board in terms of the souring of the relationship. It has in fact devoted the whole of the second part of the report to the manner in which the relationship appeared to go wrong, and the committee sees fault on both sides.
It has not chronicled each of the major events with a view to apportioning blame and does not attempt to do so. But comment has been included where the committee believes it to be appropriate. It seemed to the committee that there were two issues which were more important than others in the falling out between the two men. The first was over the matter of gun laws in the wake of the Strathfield tragedy. The second concerned the attempt by the then Minister to have Chief Superintendent Jarratt seconded to the State Rail Authority. The committee saw that as patently unjust. The then Minister found himself in a very difficult position following a confrontation with the Police Board in January and again in July 1992, which was primarily concerned with his desire to remove Mr Jarratt from the policy development area of police administration.
The committee looked also at the area of drug security; that is, the prevention of corrupt activities in the Police Service by way of accomplishing improvements in the manner of handling and storing seized drugs. This was an area that the then Minister took on with vigour when he became Minister in 1988, and it is one in which very considerable progress was made. However, the then Minister became most concerned at the rate of progress that was being made. Mr Pickering's interaction with officers in this area and other areas of police administration was such that he created an atmosphere of suspicion. If there was delay or there was not agreement on particular courses, then there may have been suspicion over motives which could have been associated with corrupt activity.
The then Minister's robust style and occasional polarising actions put great strains on the Minister-commissioner relationship. The then Minister did not foresee how harmful some of his remarks and or actions were to a vast majority of police officers and just how deeply some were resented. The committee has been critical of Mr Pickering on this account. The committee was generally not impressed with the speed and efficiency with which administrative tasks are accomplished in the Police Service and believes that there should be an urgent comprehensive review of all administrative procedures.
The committee has noted particularly the delays that are occasioned in the passage of material through the chain of command. The committee gave very careful consideration to the transgressions against the then Minister, Mr Pickering, by the Commissioner of Police, Mr Lauer, as evidenced in the report. With the exception of Mr John Hatton, the committee believes that Mr Lauer's actions were not such as to justify his removal from office. The committee has recognised that it is the Government's intention to introduce legislation at an early time to amend the provisions of the Police Service Act and that part of the proposals is concerned with an employment contract and a performance agreement for the Commissioner of Police. The committee is also aware that the proposed legislation will alter the conditions of employment so that the commissioner may be removed from office by recommendation of the Minister to the Governor in Council with the concurrence of the Chairman of the Police Board.
I wish to add one other matter. In Mr Hatton's dissenting report, which was compiled by Mr Hatton when faced with the committee's report, on page 10 there is a misquote. It reads, "On the evidence presented, the Committee has been able to substantiate the "sinister" inference suggested by Mr Pickering". Quite obviously, it should read, "On the evidence presented, the Committee has been unable to substantiate the "sinister" inference suggested by Mr Pickering". It is a typographical error in Mr Hatton's report. This is the first report of the committee. The committee will be reporting on the first part of its reference at a later date.
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
The Hon. R. S. L. Jones:
I wish to make a personal explanation. Yesterday in this place I made some comments which can be construed only to be unparliamentary. I made comments about my colleague the Deputy Leader of the Opposition which I now regret making. They were made in the heat of the moment after comments by the honourable member about the Australian Democrats which I took personally, which I probably should not have done.
I made personal comments about the honourable member which were quite unjustified. Not only were the comments unparliamentary; they were also incorrect. He is not what I said he was in this House, which I do not intend to repeat. I apologise to the House and, in particular, to my honourable colleague the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for those comments. In future I shall try to keep my comments more parliamentary and not get caught up in the heat of the moment.
The Hon. B. H. Vaughan:
Mr President, I appreciate the most gracious comments of the Hon. R. S. L. Jones. The House might remember that he was well and truly provoked by my good self.
COMMUNITY SERVICES (COMPLAINTS, APPEALS AND MONITORING) BILL
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
The Hon. J. F. RYAN
[3.34]: This bill is one of the most far-reaching pieces of legislation to be designed for the community services area. Its centrepiece is the appointment of a commissioner to hear complaints of people with disabilities seeking to use services offered by the Department of Community Services. It will also give the commissioner a role in advocating for people with disabilities or people who suffer significant disadvantage in our community at present. The bill provides that the commissioner will be independent in his investigation and resolution of complaints. He will be able to report to Parliament through the Minister if a service does not respond to one of his reports. The commissioner will be able to monitor services as well as deal with complaints. There is specific provision in the bill to allow the commissioner to monitor services to our State wards.
The commissioner will also be able to investigate complaints on his own motion, recognising that sometimes people with disabilities are not able to speak for themselves or recognise a level of systematic abuse across the sector. The commissioner will report annually to the Parliament and will be able to provide special reports to the Minister for tabling in the Parliament. In every respect the commissioner will have all the necessary powers that he would be expected to have to successfully deal with complaints by people with disabilities seeking services from the Department of Community Services or funded by the Department of Community Services.
In some way this bill accords with another bill that will be presented later in the sitting which also seeks to make government services right across the board more responsive to the needs of people with disabilities. Before presentation to the House the bill was the subject of intense community consultation, commencing in November and December 1992. The vast consultative process throughout the State included public meetings, the distribution of questionnaires, invitations for submissions and independent and formal research and a two-day phone-in. Meetings were held in nine city and country locations. If I remember rightly, at least two of those meetings were held in the western suburbs of Sydney. A number of meetings were held in rural locations. There were 27 hours of audio tape and approximately 100 discussion charts produced. In addition to this public exposure and consultation a number of special purpose focus groups obtained input from client groups who may not have been adequately represented at the public meetings.
The feedback from all this consultation revealed that the primary concern of users of community services is to find a solution to their problems in a way which does not prejudice the continuing delivery of services. They were also concerned about the possibility that they would get caught up in a time consuming, complicated or unfriendly process in which the remedy might be even worse than what happened to the person making a complaint. The Minister and the Government are to be commended for this legislation because of its compassion and usefulness to the people whom it seeks to serve. As a member of the Liberal Party of Australia I affirm that this legislation is very much in accord with the philosophy of the coalition parties. One of the most fundamental beliefs of the Liberal Party is the importance of the individual, regardless of that person's circumstances in our community. I would not want to suggest that these principles are unique to the Liberal Party of Australia; they are undoubtedly held by all parties represented in this Chamber. Nevertheless, the importance and the needs of the individual have a special focus within the party that I represent. This legislation seeks to make those aspirations held by the Liberal Party and the people of New South Wales particularly applicable to people with disabilities.
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Franca Arena):
I acknowledge the presence in the gallery of Mr Ali Kazak, Palestine Liberation Organisation representative in Australia and the Pacific. I welcome him to Parliament House.
COMMUNITY SERVICES (COMPLAINTS, APPEALS AND MONITORING) BILL
The Hon. J. F. RYAN
[3.40]: One of the best features of this proposed legislation is that it seeks to foster not only an environment for the investigation of complaints that people with disabilities might have - it does not seek to foster an environment where the concern primarily is who was right or who was wrong - but also a climate in which the sector which is providing those services creates a culture in which the problems of people with disabilities will be recognised and addressed at the time such problems
arise, to the best advantage of the people we are seeking to help. It is the creation of this culture within government services that I believe will be the most important legacy of this proposed Act. This bill will very much change the way in which the Department of Community Services seeks to serve people with disabilities. It will foster an atmosphere which will be felt right across the spectrum of government services.
I digress momentarily to draw attention to the very vexed question of complaints against police officers and how often concern has been expressed about the rather prolonged investigation of such matters by the Ombudsman. Such investigations are rather long and are concerned with reaching a finding on whether complaints are able to be sustained. Frequently the person involved in the whole procedure, the person making the complaint, feels somewhat distanced from the process. He or she is usually not satisfied with the conclusion reached or the fact that the finding takes so long to be arrived at. It seems to me that a great deal of good could be achieved by applying the procedure of alternative dispute resolution to government enterprises, which is what the legislation proposes.
Provision for alternative dispute resolution, as is outlined in this bill, is unique to this State. It is a unique concept for the resolution of complaints in government services right across this country. The Minister for Community Services, Mr Jim Longley, is to be commended for taking this first step of drafting legislation which I am sure will become a feature of other complaints and dispute resolution facilities right across the board of State Government services. Other features of this bill are that the commissioner will be required to establish a program of community service visitors who will report directly to him; they will visit and inspect all residential services provided by the department or services funded by the department. This is in keeping with trying to create a culture of service rather than a concern about rights or wrongs. These visitors will form a type of quality assurance team in respect of services provided by the Government, and they will indeed be welcomed by people with disabilities.
It must be acknowledged that not every complaint is able to be happily resolved by means of a conference between the person making the complaint and the people providing the service. As a result, the bill proposes an independent community services appeals tribunal to be set up for the hearing of administrative appeals on licensing decisions by the director-general or the Minister; or about regulatory decisions which affect a person's ability to pursue their trade; for example, whether they are child care services, services provided by boarding-house operators or foster carers. This legislation is far-reaching and unique, not only in its format but also in its ambit in terms of providing services for people with disabilities across the State. This legislation seeks to advance the rights of people with disabilities, and I am pleased that it has been endorsed by almost every service and peak group representing people with disabilities.
I report to the House that when the Minister in the other place made his second reading speech on this bill towards the end of the evening, it was unusual at that time of the evening for the public gallery to be as packed as it was. The visitors' gallery was absolutely packed with people who had arrived to hear the second reading speech on this legislation read in the Parliament. Strictly speaking it was a display of unparliamentary behaviour when at the end of the Minister's second reading speech those in the gallery burst into applause. Those people cared very much about this legislation and supported it. They were a broad range of people, some of whom had disabilities themselves. It is unusual to see a piece of legislation so welcomed by the people it will serve. It was a very moving experience to watch the events in the other House take place. This legislation deserves the support of all members of this House because it is based on such extensive consultation; because it is so innovative; because it seeks to promote the rights of people with disabilities; and, most of all, because it has the support and endorsement of those groups who seek to represent people with disabilities. It is legislation of which members on this side of the House can be deeply proud.
The Hon. HELEN SHAM-HO
[3.46]: I support the Community Services (Complaints, Appeals and Monitoring) Bill. A moment ago the Hon. J. F. Ryan indicated the overwhelming reception given to this bill by the people of New South Wales. This bill seeks to reform and improve client and service provider relationships; complaint and grievance handling; and service provision monitoring. These important reforms will apply to all consumers of community services as well as people with disabilities. This bill goes hand in hand with the Disability Services Bill, which is also before the Parliament. These two bills have arisen out of the Commonwealth-State disability agreement, signed by all States and the Commonwealth in July 1991. That agreement provided for the rationalisation of the administration of services for people with disabilities, between the two levels of government.
The States were to pass legislation complementary to the Commonwealth Disability Services Act 1986. That Act was landmark legislation, as has been stated by the Minister for Community Services, the Hon. Jim Longley, and the Hon. J. F. Ryan, in that it enabled significant social change for people with disabilities, enshrining their right to live, work and enjoy their recreation in the community, like all other Australians. I am especially supportive of the major aims of the proposed legislation - increased efficiency and, in particular, alternative conflict resolution. These areas have been recognised as major deficiencies in the Commonwealth-State disability agreement. Implementation of the reforms to conflict or dispute resolution will ensure a far more flexible approach to the investigation and resolution of complaints and appeals in the community service sector. This is seen
by many in the disabilities community as an essential element in any change to the present arrangements. I join with the Hon. J. F. Ryan in commending the department for the extensive consultations it carried out in the community to ensure all the necessary input was received.
There is ample evidence that over the last 10 years there has been great progress in many areas of dispute resolution in the community. This is an area of particular importance to me because of my background in social work and my legal experience. Community justice centres have been established. I was one of the first to become involved in the pilot project for such centres, a project initiated by the former Labor Government. The Commercial Disputes Centre, the health complaints unit, the Tenancy Tribunal and the Consumer Affairs Tribunal have also been established. The bill provides for an independent Community Services Commission and commissioner, and a Community Services Appeals Tribunal will replace the Community Welfare Tribunal. In his second reading speech delivered on 11th March, the Hon. Jim Longley, Minister for Community Services, said that the bill, which contains these alternative dispute resolution proposals, is landmark legislation for New South Wales and, possibly, Australia. I agree with the Minister. I join with the Hon. J. F. Ryan in commending the Minister for introducing the legislation.
Such reforms are of vital importance to the disadvantaged members of the community. More and more people with disabilities are living in, and contributing to, their communities in very real ways. In return, they are able to enjoy lives similar to those enjoyed by other Australians. But for many people with disabilities that is not yet the case and they depend on both government and non-government services for their daily existence. Instances of abuse and injustice exist in all human service systems, and legislation enshrining fine principles is meaningless unless there are ways of forcing service providers to meet standards and rectify abuses. Bearing that in mind, I can confidently say that the legislation is outstanding and innovative. Mechanisms independent of service providers for the protection of consumers are one of the basic tenets of a democratic society. As people with disabilities are one of the most vulnerable groups in our society, these safeguard mechanisms are an urgent requirement. I might say they are even a right.
The proposed legislation seeks to meet that requirement. It will allow the community to raise, and have resolved, complaints against service providers; to appeal against major administrative decisions; and to monitor the quality of services. The provisions of the bill will apply to all members of the community, not only the disadvantaged. The provisions of the bill will be administered through the newly appointed commission and independent commissioner. The Hon. J. F. Ryan has already outlined the procedure fully. I should like to add that the commissioner will be empowered to monitor the standard and quality of the provision of all funded community services. This will apply particularly to services for children who are wards of the State. The commissioner will also investigate, promote and conciliate on serious complaints about programs or services and will advise the Minister, Parliament and the community of major issues relating to services standards and the rights of consumers.
The proposed Community Services Appeals Tribunal will provide a significant extension of the existing tribunal's jurisdiction. It will be able to encourage the resolution of complaints in a less formal way than before. The tribunal will ensure that legally binding decisions are made when all other methods have failed. An important function of the commissioner will be to develop a community visitors program for all services funded or provided as residential care services for community service clients. The Hon. J. F. Ryan has already said that these visitors will provide independent advice for adults and children alike. They will safeguard against system abuse and will report to the Commissioner for Community Services. The proposed reforms in the Community Services (Complaints, Appeals and Monitoring) Bill are a major contribution by the Government to community services. They demonstrate a recognition by both the community and the Government of the need to work together to achieve real and lasting benefits for people with disabilities. I wholeheartedly support the bill.
The Hon. R. D. DYER
[3.54]: The Opposition welcomes and strongly supports the Community Services (Complaints, Appeals and Monitoring) Bill. Government speakers in this debate have set out the brief history behind the emergence of the legislation, and I agree with what they have said. On behalf of the Opposition, I should like to say that this bill, welcomed as it is by the Opposition, has emerged from a lengthy and intensive period of consultation between the Government and community bodies, particularly peak bodies representing the disability community. I refer in particular to two organisations: the New South Wales Council for Intellectual Disability and People with Disabilities. Those disability bodies have sought the strongest possible legislation to provide for effective mechanisms to deal with complaints, appeals and the monitoring of services provided not only to the disability community but right across the community services portfolio.
The feeling of the peak disability bodies to which I have referred was so strong that they took the view that the bill before the House should be debated and enacted at the same time as the bill the House will consider, presumably later today, that is, the Disability Services Bill. Their view was so firmly held that they were prepared to delay the other measure, the Disability Services Bill, even if that had the consequence, as it would have had if the bill were not enacted prior to 30th May this year, that the State of New South Wales would lose Federal funding -
The Hon. Helen Sham-Ho:
About $6.8 million.
The Hon. R. D. DYER:
As the Hon. Helen Sham-Ho correctly says, New South Wales would have lost Federal funding totalling about $6.8 million. That funding would have flowed from the Commonwealth Government to the New South Wales Government under the terms of the Commonwealth-State disability agreement, which was reached between the Commonwealth and all of the States and Territories in July 1991. I do not suggest for one moment that the disability community would have lightly contemplated that result, because clearly it is in its interests and the interests of the people it seeks to serve and represent that the maximum amount of funding should be available for disability services in this State.
The Hon. Helen Sham-Ho:
It is very important.
The Hon. R. D. DYER:
As the Hon. Helen Sham-Ho suggests, it is a matter of great importance. It is of such importance that the disability community was prepared to forgo those funds flowing to the State of New South Wales on the basis that it wanted strong complaints, appeals and monitoring legislation to be put in place. It is relevant to note that this legislation or its counterpart does not exist anywhere else in Australia at this time. I always believe in giving credit where it is due, and I believe that the Government is entitled to congratulations or a pat on the back for introducing this particular bill.
The Hon. Helen Sham-Ho:
The Hon. R. D. Dyer is always very fair.
The Hon. R. D. DYER:
I try to be fair; and I am happy to say that. Because I try to be fair, I express some disappointment about the procedural hiccup that occurred earlier this afternoon when I was not in the House, because the Government's program listed this matter for debate at 8.30 p.m. this evening. I regret the situation that then ensued and I take the view that the Opposition is entitled to at least minimal courtesy as to the time that legislation is called on for debate. In any event, I believe I have made the point that the legislation is seen by the disability community in particular as being absolutely vital to the interests of those organisations and the people they represent.
The concerns of the disability community that these bills should be linked was so strong that those organisations asked me to arrange for there to be moved in another place an amendment to tie together the Governor's assent to this bill and the other bill - the Disability Services Bill 1991. In the event, it has not proved to be necessary for the Opposition to proceed with that course and to move the amendment, because during the course of debate last night in another place the Minister for Community Services gave an assurance on behalf of the Government that the two pieces of legislation would be assented to together.
Order! Pursuant to sessional orders, business is interrupted for the taking of questions.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
HOMEFUND BORROWERS ASSISTANCE
The Hon. M. R. EGAN:
My question is directed to the Minister for Housing. Did the McMurtrie review advise the Government in December last year that 119 HomeFund families had lost their homes without being given their contractual rights to reduce their loan repayments to 27 per cent of their gross income? Why has the Government not addressed that terrible injustice, and why is compensation for those 119 families not part of the Government's relief measures announced on Monday of this week?
The Hon. R. J. WEBSTER:
I am aware of a great deal of misinformation that has been spread by the so-called shadow minister for housing, who is sitting in the President's Gallery. It is fair to say that the advice I have from the Department of Housing is that matters relating to the 27 per cent and compensation are being addressed as they are brought to the attention of the department. The department has circularised the co-operative housing societies, who, as the Leader of the Opposition would know, are responsible for issuing and dealing with HomeFund loans. As those matters are brought to the attention of the department they are being dealt with. I have made this offer to Deirdre Grusovin on many occasions, but, as she has always been wont to do, she has selectively used the resources of my office and of the Department of Housing to suit her political purposes; not necessarily to assist the people that she purports to help.
The Hon. R. D. Dyer:
What do you mean by that?
The Hon. R. J. WEBSTER:
I mean exactly what I said. I am saying to the honourable member and to the honourable member for Heffron, who is in the gallery, that if she has a problem with HomeFund borrowers who are not being assisted by the co-operative housing societies, if she has names and addresses, she should bring them to my office, and my department will assist them if it is possible to do so. What I do not like, and what really gets up my nose, is the honourable member for Heffron going into the public arena, aided and abetted by her friend, and telling fibs about what this Government has or has not done in regard to HomeFund. I have said to the honourable member -
Who started HomeFund? It is very interesting. One of the former members of the Opposition happened to say -
This has brought a reaction from members of the Opposition, because they feel guilty about it. A former Labor Party member of Parliament told me recently that he warned Neville Wran when he set up HomeFund or its equivalent that some of these problems would occur, but Wran dismissed them out
of hand. Well, some of them have occurred, and I am dealing with them as Minister for Housing - with no help whatsoever from Deirdre Grusovin, who continues to go around telling pork pies in an attempt to gain political points at the expense of people who may or may not be in difficulties because of the recession or other factors. I say to the honourable member for Heffron that if she knows of people who have not been properly compensated for the 27 per cent as they were supposed to have been, if she gives me names and addresses, I will deal with those matters.
BUILDING INDUSTRY COLLUSIVE TENDERING
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL:
I address my question without notice to the Attorney General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Vice-President of the Executive Council. The Gyles royal commission identified collusive tendering as a problem in the New South Wales building industry. Can the Minister say what is being done to stop the practice of collusive tendering?
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD:
Honourable members will recall that the Hon. R. T. M. Bull was a member of the Standing Committee on State Development, which inquired into the building industry, and during that period he showed a considerable interest in this matter. The report of the Royal Commission into Productivity in the New South Wales Building Industry identified the widespread practice of payments known as unsuccessful tender fees. Royal Commissioner Holland concluded that the agreement by tenderers to include the amount of unsuccessful tender fees in tender prices, without disclosing that to the client, was an illegal practice.
In 1991, the Public Works Department began seeking recovery of those illegal fees from contractors on Government projects. In August 1992, Premier Fahey requested all other Government agencies to seek recovery of unsuccessful tender fees that contractors had included in Government tenders between January 1986 and December 1991. Since that time Government agencies have pursued recovery of such fees from contractors engaged in the practice on Government projects. I am pleased to be able to inform honourable members that agreements are in place for approximately $4 million of public moneys to be recovered so far by the New South Wales Government from more than 40 contractors.
The code of practice for the construction industry, which I released in October last year, provides for the imposition of sanctions by Government agencies on contractors who are involved in collusive tendering, including agreements to pay unsuccessful tender fees. The sanctions can effectively prevent those contractors from tendering for any Government work. In respect of past agreements to pay unsuccessful tender fees, the Government is pursuing recovery to the fullest extent possible, including legal action where necessary. In relation to one major project revealed by the royal commissioner, the Government has already commenced legal action. To ensure that the Gyles royal commission findings are acted upon, including the recovery of tender fees, action will be co-ordinated by the construction policy steering committee and the building industry task force, both of which were established to ensure that the royal commission recommendations are implemented.
Honourable members should note that the Federal Government is following the New South Wales lead and has also developed procedures in relation to the recovery of moneys where there is evidence that fees were paid to unsuccessful tenderers by contractors who have tendered for Federal Government projects. The Federal Government has informed the New South Wales Government that it will not in future award a contract to any contractor involved with unsuccessful tender fees until matters relating to each project are resolved to the Federal Government's satisfaction. The principal means of satisfying the Commonwealth was by repaying the money to it. If no money was due, the contractor had to produce evidence that the contractor was co-operating with the Trade Practices Commission. Any contractor who failed to respond to the Commonwealth's request was not permitted to tender for Commonwealth work. The Federal Government has advised me that approximately $6 million has already been recovered by the Commonwealth from Commonwealth contractors.
The Hon. J. R. Johnson:
In New South Wales?
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD:
In New South Wales $4 million has been recovered. So far $10 million has been recovered by governments from contractors who were pursuing illegal practices to the detriment of the taxpayers.
The Hon. J. R. Johnson:
Is the Commonwealth's share $6 million, $10 million, or what?
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD:
No, it is $6 million nationally. The Victorian Government is considering establishing mechanisms to prevent illegal collusive tendering practices, and is moving towards the recovery of fees already paid by contractors to unsuccessful tenderers. The actions of this Government to recover unsuccessful tender fees have set the pace and standards throughout the country. This means that the Government has already recovered and will continue to recover millions of dollars of taxpayers' moneys that was wrongfully added to the cost of public projects. By ensuring that this practice ceases, the benefit to the public purse in future years will be enormous.
In order to protect public moneys and to obtain full recovery of unsuccessful tender fees it is imperative that we adopt a whole-of-Government approach. This philosophy, in conjunction with the construction policy steering committee and the building industry task force, will ensure success with long-term improvements in the building industry in
New South Wales. Our Government has sent a clear message to the building and construction industry that improper practices will not be tolerated and that the Government is committed to creating an industry that is inherently honest and efficient. If contractors breach the Government's code of practice they will not be permitted to tender for any government project.
SUNDAY RETAIL TRADING
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE:
I ask the Attorney General and Minister for Industrial Relations a question without notice. Is it a fact that Sunday trading has now become a widespread reality in New South Wales through the abuse of the tourism provision of the shopping hours legislation? Has the Government the courage to state its policy and support for Sunday trading, rather than use this backdoor method? Will it organise genuine community consultation on the desirability of this United States style seven-day, 24-hour trading in New South Wales, which is severely disrupting Sunday as a religious day of worship and as a family day of rest, and putting unfair pressure on shop assistants who do not wish to work on Sundays?
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD:
On 9th December, 1988, the Factories, Shops and Industries Act was amended to allow general shop retailers to trade without restrictions from Monday to Saturday. The Government has allowed Sunday trading opportunities to shopkeepers in a number of country towns and most Sydney metropolitan suburbs through the application of section 78 of that Act. That gradual deregulation process has been implemented by granting exemptions to shopkeepers who have applied under the tourist visitor or the significant public demand criteria determined by the director-general of the department. Exemptions were granted after careful consideration of the merits of each application and of the welfare of the retail industry and added employment opportunities.
Since 1988, general exemptions have been given under section 78A of the Act to shops selling furniture, electrical goods, or hardware to trade on Sundays upon application to the director-general of the department. In 1990, after consultation with industry organisations and in response to public demand, the Act was amended to allow general shops to trade on the two Sundays immediately prior to Christmas Day each year. Except in recognised tourist and holiday resort areas that are gazetted as such under section 89B of the Act, general shops are not permitted to trade on certain days of the year. In 1991 a suspension order was made under section 85A of the Act to allow general shops to trade on the Australia Day public holiday. Owing to the success and the public acceptance of the action of this Government, further orders have been made to remove the restrictions. I understand that at present the three most popular days for shopping are Thursday night, Saturday and Sunday. Sunday is now seen as a general day out for the community and many families dine in shopping centres.
The Hon. Ann Symonds:
No, the family that shops together stops together.
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD:
I do not know if that is the approach that you take. Clearly, deregulation of shopping hours has been well received right throughout the community. This is indicated by the extent to which the community is making use of the available opportunities. As to whether we need do anything further about community consultation, as I understand it exemptions are not granted without an indication that there is general local community support for the deregulation.
HOMEFUND BORROWERS ACCOUNTS DELAYED CREDITING
The Hon. B. H. VAUGHAN:
I direct my question without notice to the Minister for Planning and Minister for Housing. Has every case filed and heard by the Consumer Claims Tribunal with regard to HomeFund borrowers and the delayed crediting of their accounts been won by the borrowers; and has this resulted in the Government now undertaking to compensate those affected by what was clearly an illegal practice? Did the McMurtrie review state that this practice was in accordance with the mortgage documentation, when clearly of course it was not? Will the Government now concede that John McMurtrie, whom the Minister recently appointed Chairman of the Water Board, was not qualified to undertake a proper investigation into the HomeFund scheme and to implement the October 1992 recommendations of the Trade Practices Commission?
The Hon. R. J. WEBSTER:
The answer to the last part of the question is, of course, no. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition may not know that Mr McMurtrie was defamed by Deirdre Grusovin, who subsequently had to withdraw that defamation. I should hope that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition or she would not seek to compound that defamation outside this Chamber by casting any more aspersions upon Mr McMurtrie's character. If we are to talk about people's credibility, I should have thought that Mrs Grusovin's chief advisers's credibility, not that of McMurtrie, would have been the credibility most in question in this House.
The Hon. B. H. Vaughan:
Why do you not say that in this House?
The Hon. R. J. WEBSTER:
I have already, and I will again when I choose to. Obviously those claims before the tribunal were not all successful. I have a record of which claims were and which claims were not, including one unfortunate couple who took the advice of the shadow minister for housing and her adviser, went to the tribunal instead of taking a settlement, and suffered a bad loss. My big problem is that the shadow minister for housing shamefully parades these people before the cameras, even in a shadow cabinet meeting, names them, makes false declarations and accusations about their dealings with
HomeFund, and yet I, as the responsible Minister, am precluded by the Privacy Act from responding with the truth and the facts. She knows that, as it has been ruled upon by the privacy committee. I am not in a position to release the true facts. She knows the lies that she has told, and he knows as well the lies that he has told. "The Investigators" program last night was one of the most disgraceful programs I have ever seen on television. I was not allowed to go on that program because they told me they could not give me a block of time in which my remarks would be telecast unedited. It then went on with a rehash of the same old half-truths about the HomeFund scheme, yet it was not prepared to give me, as the responsible Minister, three or four minutes of unedited time so that I could put the Government's point of view.
The Hon. B. H. Vaughan:
You just were not prepared to be interviewed; you did not want to answer the questions.
The Hon. R. J. WEBSTER:
No, that is not the case at all. I am not quite sure what the line of this questioning is; it is obviously designed to somehow add some credibility to the remarks of the shadow minister for housing. I will be making some comments about her and her adviser at a later date. It is sufficient to say that the Government has put forward a package which has been recognised by the vast majority of people in the community as one which will give genuine relief to HomeFund clients who are suffering largely because of the recession. I assure the House that we will be constantly reviewing the relief measures being given to HomeFund clients; where and if additional measures need to be given, we will give them. I will not stand by and listen to lies and half-truths being told by the shadow minister for housing. I think the way in which she has tried to parade the misfortunes of people before the cameras for gross political gain - that is all it is - is disgusting. As in the past when she has tried this sort of action, it will invariably backfire on her. I am not going to say any more about that at the moment, except that when I do have my say about her and Mr O'Keefe, they will be sorry for their actions.
MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND PRIVACY COMMITTEE
The Hon. B. H. VAUGHAN:
I ask a supplementary question. I ask the Minister for Planning and Minister for Housing to which privacy committee he refers, that being the committee which made the finding favourable to him. When was that finding made?
The Hon. R. J. WEBSTER:
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition would be aware of the findings that have already been made with respect to the former Minister for Housing and the Premier. They are well documented.
LANDCARE AND ENVIRONMENT ACTION PLAN
The Hon. D. F. MOPPETT:
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs and Minister for Employment and Training. Will the Minister inform the House how many young unemployed people in New South Wales are being assisted by the Landcare and Environment Action Plan? What do LEAP projects involve? How do they benefit the unemployed?
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK:
I thank the Hon. D. F. Moppett for his question and for his continued interest in young people in New South Wales, particularly the unemployed and those seeking assistance to obtain employment and further training. The Landcare and Environment Action Plan, LEAP, is a unique opportunity for the young unemployed aged between 15 and 20 to obtain vocational training allied with formal study. LEAP offers them temporary work on a project of environmental or conservational significance and formal training in that area. So far in New South Wales 1,430 people have been offered an opportunity to take part in LEAP, 89 projects have been approved, and $7 million in funding has been provided by the Department of Employment, Education and Training.
The projects include the Water Board offering 100 unemployed higher school certificate leavers from Sydney's west the chance to help regenerate bushland at Prospect Hill. Participants will undertake a TAFE course in conjunction with the University of Western Sydney, which could lead to entrance to the university. After 350 hours of tuition, these young people receive a certificate of environmental technology. Another innovative program is being undertaken by the National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour to provide skills to young people through the restoration of an 1870s lighthouse. That is an interesting project. Similarly, the Jenolan Caves Trust will restore walking tracks and improve reserves by weed eradication. The Orana Community College is undertaking a project at the Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, to develop a native flora and fauna sanctuary.
This is the sort of vocational training these young people will receive under the LEAP scheme. Their formal training will complement the practical work undertaken and give them certification and credits at TAFE or universities, with the option of further study. These young people will receive a magnificent start to their working life, gaining both practical and theoretical training which otherwise would not have been available. Projects such as LEAP provide crucial assistance to young people whilst also benefiting the economy and the environment. I am delighted that young people can benefit from this important plan. I thank the honourable member for his continued interest and his question.
The Hon. ELAINE NILE:
I direct my question without notice to the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs and Minister for Employment and Training, representing the Minister for Health. Is the
Government taking precautions in view of the recent warnings of the resurgence of tuberculosis in Australia? In August 1992, screening for the first time in 15 years of Sydney schoolchildren for tuberculosis found that of the 1,072 children screened, 13 per cent tested positive. Will the Minister supply me with the latest figures for New South Wales, as it appears that the Minister for Health does not view this matter as seriously as Dr Kevin Dwyer of Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital, Melbourne?
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK:
I will forward the question to my colleague the Minister for Health for a detailed response from his department. However, I take the opportunity to say that the Director-General of the Department of School Education advised me that during 1992 we had 15 cases of tuberculosis in children of compulsory school age - and one child with tuberculosis is one child too many. We had 15 cases of tuberculosis, but we have three-quarters of a million students. We have a problem, but if we can contain it now we can avoid it becoming serious. All of the children who had tuberculosis in 1992 resided in the Sydney metropolitan area; seven were born in Australia and eight were born overseas. In relation to action being undertaken by the Department of Health, I will refer the question to my colleague.
SCHOOLS MULTICULTURAL POLICY
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE:
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs and Minister for Employment and Training. Will the Minister explain to the House the elements of the New South Wales Government's multicultural policy for schools? What is the purpose of the policy?
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK:
It is true that this Government places a high priority on ensuring that there is equal opportunity available to all citizens in New South Wales, including people of non-Anglo-Saxon background, who now comprise about one-third of our total school population. In some schools, they make up 80 per cent or 90 per cent of the population. It is therefore important to have a multicultural education plan, strategy and overall policy endorsement to ensure that the needs of all children in our schools and educational facilities are met. Additionally, it is my earnest belief that all children benefit from exposure to an understanding of multicultural issues. It is not just an issue specific to those of non-English speaking backgrounds.
Community liaison officers are now working in schools in each region and are more highly concentrated in areas of greatest need. Community liaison officers to whom I have had the pleasure of speaking tell me that, in addition to their work within the general school community, increasingly their activity is community based. People who have suffered trauma prior to coming to Australia or whose background has little tradition of involvement with public structures such as the Department for Education have a great fear of dealing with people they perceive to be in authority, particularly when lodging complaints. Much work needs to be done in the community to overcome those hesitations so that people of non-English speaking background do participate in the life of their schools.
The policy has many other important aspects. Though it is not directly related, I note the huge success of the Ethnic Skills Board and the Saturday school program. I also note the ever-increasing pace of introduction of languages other than English, particularly priority languages. All those programs mesh together and, enhanced by a multicultural education plan, help to make our schools in New South Wales the envy of many States and other countries whose populations do not have as much richness and diversity as our community, which enhance our children's education in our schools.
HOMEFUND LOANS REPAYMENT CRITERION
The Hon. DOROTHY ISAKSEN:
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Planning and Minister for Housing. Why are HomeFund loans still being sold to low-income families on the basis that their disposable incomes will increase at a compound rate of 4 per cent per annum, when economists state that such annual rates of growth will not occur? Does this therefore constitute unconscionable conduct within the meaning of the Fair Trading Act, and if so will the Minister give an undertaking to the House to stop the continued sale of HomeFund loans until such time as the loan products are reviewed?
The Hon. R. J. WEBSTER:
I am disappointed in the Hon. Dorothy Isaksen for being so cynical in her question. The Labor Party is against low-income earners buying their own homes. The honourable member should look no further than the building industry. As Deirdre Grusovin is present in the gallery, I shall tell a little story. She was ticked off by her leader because he was weighed upon by the building industry and the building unions because her undermining of HomeFund was having a serious impact on the building industry and on the employment of good card-carrying members of the Labor Party.
The Labor Party has set out, through Deirdre Grusovin, to systematically undermine the building industry in this State by trying to destroy HomeFund. While ever there is a conservative government in this State we shall do our best to help low-income earners buy their own homes. That is one of the fundamentals of our policy, though I thought it used to be a policy of Labor. But Deirdre Grusovin has offered nothing in return for destroying HomeFund - not a thing. She wants to destroy HomeFund. She wants to take people out of their homes. She wants to ensure that no low-income earners have the opportunity to buy their own homes. The Government will not stand by and let that happen. All this nonsense about the Fair Trading Act and so
on is exactly that - nonsense.
As far as I am concerned as the Minister for Housing in this Government, we shall continue to assist low-income earners to buy their own homes and to stay in their own homes with their HomeFund loans. The actions of Deirdre Grusovin - who has now left the Chamber - and her adviser are absolutely disgraceful. To advise a couple to go before a tribunal for political purposes, when that couple had been offered a $5,000 settlement by the Department of Housing, and then to see that couple get nothing - members opposite should not shake their heads, because what I say is true - is an absolute disgrace. They have used people for politics. They are not interested in helping people. Deirdre Grusovin's adviser ought to know all about how to hand out bad HomeFund loans, because he was responsible for a few of those in his former occupation.
The Government is about helping people. The HomeFund package that was announced this week will go a long way towards helping everyone who is disadvantaged, principally by the recession but also by other extraneous factors, in the HomeFund scheme. But I have said all along that of course there are problems with HomeFund. McMurtrie recognised them and I acknowledge them. We have put a package up-front. What I am not going to do, however, is destroy the HomeFund scheme - which is exactly what that woman wants to do. While ever I am Minister for Housing, I assure honourable members that will not happen.
The Hon. M. R. Egan:
On a point of order. References by the Minister to "that woman" are most unparliamentary. The Minister, throughout his three answers thus far, has been provoking a member from the other House who is sitting in the gallery. The Minister should address his remarks to the Chair, he should not be provocative and he should not use unparliamentary language.
Order! No point of order is involved, but I would entreat the Minister not to address remarks to persons in either my gallery or the public gallery, who have no right of reply. The Minister should address his remarks to the Chair.
HOMEFUND McMURTRIE REVIEW
The Hon. Dr MEREDITH BURGMANN:
I direct my question without notice to the Minister for Planning and Minister for Housing. Is the Minister aware that the investigation of the five Trade Practices Commission case studies in support of claims by HomeFund borrowers of misleading, deceptive and unconscionable conduct was subcontracted to the Department of Housing? Why was there no independent review of those case studies? Will the Government now concede that John McMurtrie did not conduct his review in an impartial manner?
The Hon. R. J. WEBSTER:
I believe I have answered that question. I am not proposing at this point in time to enter into debate on matters which have been thrown up extraneously by the Hon. Dr Meredith Burgmann on behalf of other people. It is fair to say that every genuine case that has been brought to my attention, both by the McMurtrie inquiry and through representations, has been dealt with and will be dealt with by the rescue package that is presently out in front of the public.
FORMER MEMBERS' SUPERANNUATION ENTITLEMENTS
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES:
I ask the Attorney General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Vice-President of the Executive Council, representing the Premier and Treasurer, the following question without notice. Why has the Premier not replied to my letter of 25th November, 1992, in which I pointed out that the previous Leader of this House, the Hon. E. P. Pickering, as reported in Hansard
on 20th March, 1991, said that members whose terms were cut short as a result of the Constitution (Legislative Council) Amendment Bill would be deemed to have served seven years for superannuation purposes? Why has not the Hon. Marie Bignold received even one cent of compensation since having her term cut short nearly two years ago? Why has the Government not fulfilled the promise made personally to me, and reiterated by the previous Leader of the House in this Chamber, to compensate members who had their terms cut short as though they had served seven years? Why has your Government not yet fulfilled this promise, and when does it intend to do so?
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD:
I am not aware why the Premier has not responded to the honourable member's letter but I shall find out and let him know. I understand that an offer of moneys as compensation has been made to the Hon. Marie Bignold. That offer was not acceptable and discussions in relation to the matter are taking place. In fact, recently I had discussions with the Premier's Department on that matter and I understand the matter is receiving further consideration.
HOMEFUND BORROWERS ASSISTANCE
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS:
My question is directed to the Minister for Planning and Minister for Housing. Has the number of HomeFund families two or more months behind in their payments increased by a staggering 14 per cent to 3,100 during the two months ended February 1993? Does this therefore mean that some 6,000 families will be facing eviction by the end of the year? Will the Government's rescue package help any of those families keep their homes? If not, what measures does the Government propose to take to prevent those families from losing their homes?
The Hon. R. J. WEBSTER:
I thought the Tivoli closed 20 years ago. The laughable accusations that are brought into this House by honourable members on behalf of people outside are unfortunate. The answer to the honourable member's question about the number of evictions is, obviously, no. Once again, the implication in her question is designed by the Labor Party to undermine the HomeFund scheme. Tens of thousands of people write letters to me
saying, "Minister, you are not going to get rid of HomeFund, are you? I am happy with my HomeFund loan. I would never have been able to buy a home without HomeFund". People on the other side are spreading poison, deliberately trying to exploit people and their difficulties for political purposes. It is disgraceful. I make no bones about it. When I was Minister for Family and Community Services in the lower House I was shadowed by Deirdre Grusovin. She used exactly the same tactic of using people in difficulties for political purposes to try to embarrass the Government. It did not work then and it will not work now.
BUILDING WORKERS ENTITLEMENTS
The Hon. J. M. SAMIOS:
My question is directed to the Attorney General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Vice-President of the Executive Council. Some members of this House are aware of picketing by building workers in the Sydney central business district. We have been informed of similar action in Singleton and Richmond. Workers claim they have been put out of work and should be paid their outstanding wages, holiday and overtime pay by the head contractor on these projects. What is the status of these workers? Who is responsible for paying them their entitlements if they have any? What was the position of the Gyles royal commission on this sort of action?
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD:
The issue raised by the honourable member is very important. The picketers are members of the Building Workers Industrial Union who are former employees of the failed bricklaying company Dionfield. Dionfield was placed in liquidation on 11th December, 1992. The petitioning creditor was the Australian Taxation Office which claims to be owed approximately $42,000, but I believe there are numerous other creditors of Dionfield. The winding-up action started in June 1992. The employees of Dionfield have been instructed to begin work on three sites at Richmond, Singleton and in the Sydney central business district with the head contractor being the company Stuart Brothers. As was required, a series of progress payments was made to Dionfield by Stuart Brothers.
On the Richmond site alone, Stuart Brothers paid the Dionfield company $30,000 on 2nd November, 1992; $3,578 on 15th and 16th November 1992; and $46,260 on 28th November 1992. On 17th December the director of Dionfield attempted to make an agreement with Stuart Brothers for an advance payment on the Richmond site. Stuart Brothers agreed and on 17th December an advance payment of $42,000 was paid to Dionfield and the directors stated in a statutory declaration that the money received was paid out in full by way of wages to the employees of Dionfield. The next day industrial action was started by the employees of Dionfield in the form of pickets on both sites demanding that certain payments claimed to be outstanding be made to the employees.
Dionfield's contract was terminated by Stuart Brothers on 4th January. Because Dionfield was already insolvent it seems likely that at least part of the $42,000 advance payment should have gone to the liquidator, but a statement of affairs has not been submitted to the liquidator. This seems to be due not only to the reading and writing defect which was claimed by the director of Dionfield but also to the fact that he uses at least two names, has four known addresses and is difficult to locate. The New South Wales building industry task force has investigated this case and has referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Securities Commission. Compulsory powers are available to the ASC which gives it an investigative role superior to that of the BITF. The matter was referred so that the question of whether the Commonwealth had been defrauded could be addressed. In the meantime, although the onus for the employees in this situation falls clearly at the feet of the Dionfield director, industrial action is continuing on the three sites.
It appears from the actions being taken by the BWIU in this case that it is attempting to force an employee takeover on the three New South Wales building sites. Employee takeover occurs when pressure is brought to bear on a head contractor to re-employ employees made redundant by the failure of a subcontractor. This is what is happening on three building sites in Singleton, Richmond and the central business district, where former employees of the liquidated subcontracting company Dionfield are attempting an employee takeover against the head contractor, Stuart Brothers. Employee takeover was identified by the Gyles royal commission as a practice which was "contrary to common sense and sound commercial and industrial principles and should be firmly resisted in all forms". The New South Wales Government supports this finding of the royal commission and will ensure that this practice does not occur on New South Wales public sector sites, except in the unusual circumstance where such a takeover is consistent with a client and head contractor's assessment of what constitutes good commercial practice.
I call on all employers to embrace the findings of the Gyles royal commission and put an end to inefficient practices in the building industry. The BWIU is aware of its standing on this issue but is pushing ahead with its claims against Stuart Brothers. The Government will not tolerate this type of pressure by unions to influence commercial decisions. The Government is also concerned that the failure of Dionfield may have deprived employees of their entitlements. I sympathise with the people who find themselves out of work because of liquidation and who have not been paid because of a slow Federal Government. But I believe their interests would be best served by pursuing their claims through legitimate and available avenues rather than through the current extreme action by the BWIU. It is inappropriate for the BWIU to claim payments from Stuart Brothers under custom and practice. The law clearly outlines union entitlements in these matters, and a union should adhere to the law.
Liquidation action against the subcontractors was initiated by the Australian Taxation Office and
payment of the subcontractor employees is the responsibility of the appointed liquidator. There is little the New South Wales Government can do. The main problem now confronting Dionfield employees is the Federal Government's years of inaction on the issue of the taxation office receiving priority of payment over employees when a company goes into liquidation. The New South Wales Government has long believed that the rights and payment of workers should be paramount when a company is declared insolvent. Unfortunately, the responsibility for the payment of debtors in cases like this lies with the Federal Government. Under the present Federal Income Tax Assessment Act, which overrides the Corporations Act under which employees' claims are paid in full before any distribution is made to the trade creditors or financiers, the tax office has first right over creditors to collect back taxes owed to it when a company becomes insolvent.
The Keating Government has indicated that it intends to reform the law in that regard, to change its tax office's practices. It says the legislation will be passed in the May session and will come into force from 1st July this year. Whilst I welcome this anticipated change in legislation, the Federal Government will recognise that it has a problem which can be addressed now. It should give an instruction to the Taxation Office that it should forgo making its claims for taxation in advance. The Federal Government has clearly indicated that it intends to change the law and it should get the Taxation Office to act now so that people who are missing out on their wages can be given priority over the Taxation Office.
That is something it should be able to do now. The New South Wales Government has been pursuing this claim for ages. I am pleased that the Federal Government has now agreed to adopt the approach urged on it by the State Government. I note the proposal is to introduce the change from 1st July. I hope the proposal is not to make it totally prospective; that in respect of those issues where the taxation office has not exercised its right to take money in priority to the claims of employees, all of those claims can be dealt with so that the employees are able to be paid with priority over the taxation office. I am sure the Hon. A. B. Manson would be supportive of my claims in that regard.
STORAGE OF CHEMICALS
The Hon. J. H. JOBLING:
My question is directed to the Attorney General. As a long-term member of the State Emergency Service I am concerned about the growing number of industries storing chemicals on site. Will the Minister tell members what is being done to provide and upgrade information on safe chemical storage and the use of chemicals to industry, and to ensure that workplaces where chemicals are stored are safe for employees?
The Hon. Virginia Chadwick:
That is a good question.
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD:
It is a good question, as the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs said, and is one that appropriately should come from the honourable member because of his longstanding interest in the State Emergency Service. The honourable member is correct when he says that the increased incidence of stored chemicals poses a potential danger, not only to employers but to employees and the general public as well. Because of this concern, I have approved additional resources for the New South Wales WorkCover Authority more readily make advice available to business and to industry on the proper and safe use of dangerous goods. These additional resources include an increased number of industrial safety inspectors with enhanced qualifications to investigate reported breaches of the Dangerous Goods Act.
The first 24 WorkCover inspectors from a final total of 110 have completed advanced courses and have been given increased legal status which allows them to enforce the Act. These inspectors will also carry out duties including policing workplaces and protecting employees and the public from illegally stored chemicals and unsafe work practices involving dangerous goods. At present only a small number of inspectors specialise in dangerous goods. By training all inspectors in this area, WorkCover will provide a more efficient and effective service. As I indicated, 110 inspectors will be qualified. The increase in authorisation is also in line with the concept of multiskilling for all inspectors within the regional operations division and the risk management services division of WorkCover. This means that more inspectors will be qualified to inspect breaches of the Dangerous Goods Act throughout New South Wales. The WorkCover Authority is carrying out training of its officers in batches of 12, and already 24 inspectors have had their qualifications increased. Another 12 have now finished their training; today I signed the forms to approve their appointments.
The Authority has also committed $1 million to ensure that an effective database is established under the Dangerous Goods Act. It is envisaged that the database will be operational in the first half of this year. It will mean that WorkCover will provide government agencies, such as the Fire Brigade, the Environment Protection Authority and the Department of Planning with detailed information to meet their specific requirements. Detailed amendments to the Dangerous Goods Regulations to enable information to be legally obtained to establish that database will pass through Parliament later this year.
This development involves expanding the chemical database for New South Wales from 17,000 sites to about 50,000 sites and more than 100,000 storage depots. In addition to amendments to the Dangerous Goods Regulations, the Hazardous Substances Regulations and Codes will be introduced to ensure that employers assess, identify and control risks associated with hazardous chemicals and will require employers to establish procedures for the labelling of chemicals on site, to provide emergency plans, placarding, chemical registers and material safety data sheets on the sites. New South Wales has led the way in chemical management and safety. The Government has done this with the safety of New South Wales people in mind. No doubt the rest of Australia will follow the example set by this Government.
HOMEFUND BORROWERS ASSISTANCE
The Hon. E. M. OBEID:
My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Planning and Minister for Housing. Did the Minister advise the House recently that the Government had taken all necessary measures to ensure that all HomeFund families with subsidised loans had been given their contractual rights? Are approximately 600 HomeFund families on reduced repayments, yet considered to be three or four months behind in their payments? Will the Minister give an undertaking to this House that the loan accounts of those 600 families have been correctly reassessed and, if not, will he suspend all legal action against them until a proper review of their accounts has been completed?
The Hon. R. J. WEBSTER:
I wonder if that is the question that the Leader of the Opposition handed back, because if ever there has been a flop in question time in this House, then this pretty poorly co-ordinated little attack this afternoon has been it, and members opposite know it. I announced a package of relief measures earlier this week. The Premier announced a package of relief measures before Christmas, which are designed to assist all of those HomeFund clients who are in genuine need. I am not going to answer questions from the Opposition which are based on false premises, false statistics or false assumptions, which, of course, most of the things it has been saying about HomeFund are.
The Opposition has not been able to sustain a lot of this nonsense in the courts. The Opposition is trying to bring a private member's bill before the lower House which it hopes will retrospectively change circumstances to justify some of the things that have been said. The truth is that that legislation is not going too well either, because there has been an overwhelming outcry from everybody out there in the community remotely interested in the bond market, HomeFund, housing finance, building, and everything else, that the bill is flawed, poorly drafted and will not assist HomeFund borrowers. I am about helping those people who need assistance. I assure the honourable member that is exactly what I am doing.
NEWCASTLE CONTAMINATED WASTEWATER DUMPING
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY:
My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Planning, representing the Minister for the Environment. Is the Minister aware that a Newcastle chemical company has been labelled "environmentally irresponsible" after dumping wastewater with a high lead content in its grounds in 1990? Is the Minister also aware that the company has been fined $68,000, plus costs, on six charges? Will the Minister explain to the House how it was possible for the company to discharge 26,000 litres of contaminated waste water a day, on around eight days of every month for nine months in 1989? Will the Minister further explain why no charges had been laid against the company over the gross breach of environmental safety guidelines? Will the Minister assure the House that the Environment Protection Authority will be more vigilant in future?
The Hon. R. J. WEBSTER:
I thank the honourable member for her question and I can assure her I will get an answer in the near future, which will be equally as long and as detailed as her question.
EASTERN CREEK LAND PURCHASE
The Hon. P. F. O'GRADY:
I direct my question without notice to the Minister for Planning. Is it a fact that in an out-of-court settlement on 25th March, the Department of Planning paid $2.8 million, including costs, for land at Eastern Creek for which it was previously prepared to pay only $1.65 million? How can the Minister justify the waste of another $1.15 million on Eastern Creek?
The Hon. R. J. WEBSTER:
Because of the time I will not give a long answer to that question. I will merely say that I once described Eastern Creek as the jewel in the crown of western Sydney. The accuracy of that description is being rapidly confirmed. The Opposition's mates in the councils of western Sydney come to me all the time and say, "Minister, why does the Opposition in Macquarie Street keep bagging Eastern Creek? We like Eastern Creek. We like the amount of money that you as Minister for Planning are spending from the Sydney Region Development Fund on buying open space corridors throughout western Sydney to help our constituents. Why is the Labor Party continuing to criticise?" Obviously the Department of Planning buys thousands of acres of land each year. I will look into the question asked by the honourable member. I hope to be able to supply him with an answer tomorrow.
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD:
If honourable members have further questions, I suggest they put them on notice.
GOVERNOR'S SPEECH: PRESENTATION OF ADDRESS IN REPLY
The House proceeded to Government House, there to present to the Governor their Address in Reply to the Speech His Excellency had been pleased to make to both Houses of Parliament on opening the session.
The House having returned
reported that the Address in Reply to the Governor's Opening Speech had been presented, and that His Excellency had been pleased to give thereto the following answer:
31 March 1993
Mr President and Honourable Members
of the Legislative Council,
It gives me much pleasure to receive your Address and to convey my appreciation of your affirmation of sincere allegiance to Her Most Gracious Majesty The Queen of Australia.
I am also glad to have your assurance that earnest consideration will be given to the measures to be submitted to you.
I have every confidence that your earnest labours will conduce to the general welfare and happiness of the people of this State.
NOXIOUS WEEDS BILL
Bill received and read a first time.
Suspension of certain standing orders agreed to.
COMMUNITY SERVICES (COMPLAINTS, APPEALS AND MONITORING) BILL
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
The Hon. R. D. DYER
[8.35]: Prior to question time I expressed the Opposition's firm support for this bill and congratulated the Government on its introduction. I also outlined the origins of the bill, emanating as it does from the disability community in the main. That does not in any way downplay the role of the Government in negotiating with the disability sector and others in the community. The Government is entitled to credit for bringing the bill into the Parliament. I also dealt with the importance that the peak disability bodies attach to the Community Services (Complaints, Appeals and Monitoring) Bill. I had explained that their concern was so strong that they wished, virtually at all costs, that this measure pass through the Parliament and be assented to at exactly the same time as the Disability Services Bill.
The Opposition had given some consideration to moving an amendment to the Disability Services Bill which would have had the effect of requiring that bill and the bill presently before the House to be assented to at the same time. However, the Opposition did not proceed with that amendment in another place on the basis that the Minister for Community Services, the Hon. Jim Longley, gave an oral assurance in another place last night that in any event the Government would be arranging for the two bills to be assented to at the same time. That assurance having been given, the Opposition is satisfied and will not proceed with its proposed amendment. It is interesting to note that the peak disability bodies were so keen to have this legislative package on the statute book that they were willing to lose some funding which would have flowed to New South Wales - a sum of $6.8 million from the Commonwealth Government to the State Government - if the Disability Services Bill had not been enacted by this Parliament and assented to prior to 30th May this year. The matter I am referring to has been resolved. The Opposition is very happy about the settlement which has been reached.
Although the Opposition welcomes this bill and what it contains - I will deal with that shortly - it has some concerns as to what the bill does not contain. Those matters were referred to by the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs and Minister for Employment and Training in her second reading speech and the Minister for Community Services in another place. The measure before the House deals with services which are provided or funded by the Government; the structures set up by the bill do not deal with non-government service providers which are not administered or funded in any way by the Department of Community Services. I refer to licensed services, which include boarding-houses and hostels, as they are often called, which are provided for people with developmental disabilities.
The Minister said in her second reading speech that the Government is reviewing its relationship with non-government service providers through the variety of licensing arrangements administered by the Department of Community Services. The Minister also said that it was the Government's view that it would be inappropriate at the moment to include licensed services in the new complaints and appeals system other than to continue the existing rights of appeal in respect of decisions made on the issue or suspension of licences. That being the case, licensed services do not attract the benefits that flow from the structures to be established by the bill. I wish to refer briefly but strongly to a matter of controversy that has arisen in particular since last weekend. This matter has been mentioned in debate in another place both by my colleague the honourable member for Heffron, the Hon. Deirdre Grusovin, who led for the Opposition in that House, and also by the Minister for Community Services, the Hon. Jim Longley.
I was pleased with the Minister's detailed response. However, I was absolutely astounded and shocked by an article on the front page and centre pages of the Sun-Herald
last weekend under the headline "Hostel of Horror". The Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby asked the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs and Minister for Employment and Training in this House only yesterday a question without notice about this matter. It is apparent to me and to the Opposition that this matter has quite a history. I do not pretend that Carynia Oaks is the only such establishment where abuses are occurring. I wish it were the only place where abuses are occurring but regrettably that is not so. I quote from the reply of the Minister in the other place on the subject of Carynia Oaks:
There is a record of allegations regarding financial, sexual and physical abuse and mistreatment of residents at Carynia Oaks dating back to 1985. In all cases these allegations have been investigated by the department and, where appropriate, referred for investigation by the police. In its capacity as a licensing authority for such establishments, the department has been working with the management and staff at Carynia Oaks to ensure that adequate and appropriate standards of supervision and support are met.
I am concerned about not only the longevity of the matter - the Minister himself referred to the history of the matter dating back to 1985 - but also the fact that little appears to have been done apart from this institution being placed on a six-monthly licensing term, unlike most other institutions, which operate from year to year on a 12-month licence. That indicates the level of concern held by the Government about conditions at the institution. I note, though, that a report in the Newcastle Herald
only yesterday referred to that institution having 154 residents and only 12 full-time and part-time staff. It does not take a terrible effort to imagine, given that people with
intellectual disabilities often have relatively high support needs, that a staff totalling 12, some of whom work only as part-time employees, are unlikely to be able to care satisfactorily for 154 developmentally disabled residents. Even if abuse did not occur, neglect would be almost inevitable. Since last weekend I have been approached by various groups expressing concern about this matter. As recently as today the Leader of the Opposition has been written to by the Intellectual Disability Rights Service, which operates out of the Redfern Legal Centre. I quote one sentence only from that letter:
We have been informed by people with an intellectual disability, their families, advocates and service providers, that the abuses and lack of respect for the rights of people with an intellectual disability which had been identified at Carynia Oaks are prevalent in other boarding-houses and hostels.
That is most disturbing. Over the years cases of abuse have occurred, for example in boarding-houses or hostels in the upper Blue Mountains area. Allegations of abuse have been made in the past about a number of such facilities located in places such as Katoomba, Leura and Wentworth Falls. I would like an open public inquiry to be held by the Government in regard to this matter. But at the very least I ask the Government to direct its mind to some uncommenced provisions of a statute enacted by the previous Labor Government in 1987 known as the Disability Services and Guardianship Act. Part 8 of that Act deals with the licensing of residential and occupational centres. I regret to advise the House that, for some reason I do not understand, those provisions remain uncommenced at the present time, about six years later.
My concern about licensing would therefore be on two levels. First, the existing licensing provisions appear not to be enforced with sufficient rigour. Second, the upgraded licensing provisions to which I am now referring are not enforced at all, by definition, because they remain uncommenced. I shall not say anything further at this stage regarding these hostels or boarding-houses. But this important matter will be given considerable attention by various bodies representing those with disabilities, including the New South Wales Council for Intellectual Disability, which is not known to hide its light under a bushel. I am sure that council will be quite vocal in that regard. I hope something can be done to address this matter. We are talking about human beings with human rights and human needs. If such people are being neglected or, even worse, abused in various fashions, that greatly concerns the Opposition and no doubt all decent people.
I make a plea in particular to the Minister in another place to direct his attention and that of his department to an early start of the review to which he referred in his second reading speech. The bill sets up a most worthwhile structure that will be of great advantage to people with disabilities and also to those who need to access the services of the Department of Community Services. Concern about the measure has been expressed to the Opposition not only by the disability bodies to which I have referred, such as the New South Wales Council for Intellectual Disability, but also by the Health Consumers Association. The basis of their concern, which has been expressed to the Opposition not in writing but only in the form of telephone calls, is that they believe the bill departs in some respects from the Westminster principle of responsible government. My answer to that is quite simple and very direct: hitherto, vulnerable people who have needed the services of the Department of Community Services, including but not limited to people with an intellectual disability and other forms of disability, have not had a forum in which they can readily air their grievances.
Over the years the Minister - not the present Minister - and the department in various guises, whether it has been called YACS, FACS, DOCS or whatever abbreviation or acronym might have been used, have been there. It is all very well for a body such as the Health Consumers Association to talk about the Westminster principle but we must consider what redress or recourse people in fact have had under the structures that have existed. They have had very little. No one would suppose that Ministers of the Crown, busy as they are, can possibly personally conduct an investigation into a complaint. That is absolutely out of the question. More people are available in the department but if the department in effect is asked to investigate the delivery of services by it that is hardly a satisfactory way of proceeding. So I discount what has been put to me regarding the Westminster principle as it applies to the Commissioner for Community Services established under this bill.
The Government cannot be criticised for lack of consultation with community services interest groups or disability interest groups. Over a period of many months the Government has been consulting. It held forums around the State at various advertised locations. All people have had their opportunity to have a say. There was nothing secret about the process. The Opposition considers that the structure set up under the bill is necessary and appropriate. Consumers were given various options. Surveys were conducted by the Government with the convening of forums, and the bodies involved circulated their members to gather their view as to the form of the structures. For example, alternative propositions were put regarding establishment of a Commissioner for Community Services or an Ombudsman (Community Services). The groups, in their wisdom, opted for a Commissioner for Community Services.
The Ombudsman, if I may say so - I know him well - is overloaded. He has oversight of police, prison, local government and government department matters. If anything, he is underresourced and underfunded. I hope the Government will adequately resource the Commissioner for Community Services. There is to be one commissioner. The bill refers to a commission, but it is to be constituted by a commissioner. Assuming that there is adequate resourcing - I am sure there will be - the commissioner will be able to do a proper and
appropriate job on behalf of those who complain to him or to her, whoever the appointee is.
Clause 8 provides for the appointment of community visitors. There is a model for this in the prison system which works fairly well, although perhaps not as well as it might. It is important that in an institution where there are vulnerable people in a relatively enclosed environment there is community access to ensure that all is above board and abuses are not occurring. Clause 8 of the bill gives the community visitor substantial and wide powers of entry and the power to take extracts from records, to inspect records, to speak to people privately and so on, and to furnish an appropriate report to the Minister. I stress the importance of that provision: reports are to go to the Minister and the commissioner. In that respect what has been put to the Opposition in regard to the Westminster principle is patently nonsense, because community visitors will be answerable to the Minister, who in turn is answerable to the electors of the State.
Clause 11 deals with the review of the situation of a person in care, which can include a child in care. Last weekend a woman telephoned me on behalf of the foster care association to express concern about this provision. It seems entirely proper that the commission, either on application or on its own initiative, should be able to review the situation of a child in care or a person in care. Foster care relationships can break down. Unsatisfactory relationships can develop. I see nothing wrong with - in fact I see great merit in - the commission having jurisdiction to review the situation of a child or a person in care. The bill sets out the procedure for the making of complaints. This is deliberately drawn in a wide way. Clause 13(1) provides that a complaint may be made by any person - I stress that term - who demonstrates to the satisfaction of the commission that he or she has a genuine concern in the subject-matter of the complaint. A complainant does not have to be affected by the circumstances complained of. A relative, parent or some such person - an advocate, not a legal advocate but an advocate in the more general sense - will be able to lodge a complaint.
The bill has interesting provisions for alternative dispute resolution by the Community Services Commission. People called "solution facilitators" are to be employed by the commission. That is not a term I have previously heard. Perhaps New South Wales and Australia could do with more solution facilitators. It is a very worthwhile concept. I hope these solution facilitators - a more common expression would be a mediator - will be able to bring the parties together to arrive at a commonsense solution, which is obviously what is intended, with a minimum of procedural formality and legality so that the sort of complaints that will arise can be settled in the most expeditious and least expensive way.
It is important to note, again in regard to the criticisms that were made concerning the commission, that clause 40 of the bill provides grounds of appeal. A person may appeal to the tribunal established by the bill, which is the successor to the present tribunal established under the existing legislation. The new body is to be known as the Community Services Appeals Tribunal. An appeal may be made on any ground expressly provided for by the community welfare legislation; on the ground that an investigation of a complaint being conducted by the commission is beyond its powers; on the ground that a decision of the commission was beyond its powers; against a decision that was made by the Minister, the director-general of the department or a service provider and is of a class prescribed by the regulations for the purposes of this particular provision. Interestingly, an appeal is also available against a decision made by any other State Minister, Commonwealth Minister or any public authority, if it is within a class of decision that, with the consent of that Minister or public authority, is prescribed by the regulations for the purposes of this section.
Wide provisions are made as to who is entitled to mount that appeal. I also indicate to the House that a party to the proceedings before the tribunal has the right of appeal to the Supreme Court on a question of law against any decision of the tribunal. The appointment of the Commissioner of Community Services will be crucial to the success of this legislation. The commissioner must have a commitment to the objectives of community welfare legislation and skills in solving problems about access to and use of community services. That person will hold office for a period not exceeding five years. In turn, the success of that official will very largely depend upon the extent to which he or she is resourced. At this point it is somewhat difficult to predict what calls will be made upon the commission or the commissioner, because no one can say in advance of the event how many people will have recourse to that facility. Nonetheless, it is important that the Government should ensure that the commissioner is provided with adequate resources, both staffing and otherwise.
The final structure to be established by the bill is the Community Services Review Council, which is a body comprising part-time members, including the Commissioner for Community Services, the director-general of the department, the Ombudsman - I stress that the Ombudsman is involved - the President of the Guardianship Board, the president of the tribunal to which I have just been referring, the Public Guardian and six persons appointed by the Minister. The Review Council is to encourage co-ordination of functions between the tribunal, the commission, the community visitors and the other persons; in other words, to make sure that the system works well in practice.
Clause 109 of the bill provides for meetings of the Review Council. I have some concern regarding the procedure of clause 109, and I raised it with the Minister's advisers during the briefings I had regarding this bill and the next bill to be debated in the House. Incidentally, I express my thanks to the Government for those briefings, which have assisted
my understanding of this bill and the Disability Services Bill. I have some concern that clause 109 does not provide for the frequency of meetings of the Review Council. Theoretically they might meet only once each alternate pancake day, although I do not suggest for one moment that that would be the case. I would like to think that the Review Council will meet at least quarterly so that it can do a proper job co-ordinating the functions of the various bodies that I have been describing.
It is not my intention or wish to delay the House. I said at the beginning that the Opposition supports this bill. I said that strongly and I adhere to it. The Opposition does not wish to move any amendments to the bill. We are delighted that the community services sector has prevailed on the Government to enact this legislation, which to my knowledge has no parallel in any State or Federal legislation in this country. This is a worthwhile initiative that deserves the support of the House.
I should like to draw to the attention of the House the presence in the public gallery this evening of a gathering of the Fellowship of the First Fleeters. I make this announcement because the Legislative Council, as the first parliamentary Chamber in Australia, would have heard many contributions from many of their ancestors and others who came to Australia in the first fleet.
COMMUNITY SERVICES (COMPLAINTS, APPEALS AND MONITORING) BILL
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY
[9.7]: The Australian Democrats congratulate the Minister for Community Services for introducing this bill in tandem with the New South Wales Disability Services Bill. The proposals contained in the bill for independent complaints, appeals and monitoring mechanisms are indeed ground breakers and should go a fair way to giving greater power to consumers of community services. When I entered the Chamber this evening my colleague the Hon. R. D. Dyer was bringing to the attention of the House the situation that exists currently at Carynia Oaks, a hostel west of Lake Macquarie. Carynia Oaks is less than 10 minutes driving distance from my home, and I have lived in that area for the past 20 years. There are several hostels in that area where people who are developmentally disabled live. They have been taken out of an institution and put into that type of accommodation. However, there is absolutely no doubt that the situation at Carynia Oaks is totally and absolutely unacceptable. I am informed that there are 151 residents there; the Hon. R. D. Dyer said that the number was now 154.
The Hon. R. D. Dyer:
That is according to the Newcastle Herald
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY:
I know where their accommodation is. It is off the main road that leads to my home, to my property. I have driven up there and observed it from the outside. I see the inmates of that hostel walking up and down the road every time I drive along it. A few weeks ago a very serious incident occurred when an elderly resident of Carynia Oaks decided that he was totally unhappy there and that he would leave. It was six weeks before he was found. During that period, the police, local bushfire brigade and local residents searched high and low for this man. He was elderly, he had been born with a developmental disability and had been cared for by his parents until their death. While they were still alive, he had done odd jobs in the bush and on a nearby dairy farm. On the death of his parents, he was transferred to the care of his elder sister until her death. It was only on her death, in late middle age, that the Guardianship Board - I assume - decided that a hostel would provide suitable accommodation for him; and they put him in Carynia Oaks.
Never before in his life had he lived in a hostel; he had always lived in a warm, caring family environment. He does not like living in Carynia Oaks, so from time to time he goes bush. On this occasion he went bush for six weeks. The police did not find him; the staff of Carynia Oaks did not find him. A neighbour and friend of mine with whom I am closely associated in the running of my property actually found him. This gentleman had built himself a humpy in a neighbouring paddock and had been living there. He had been eating mushrooms or anything else he could forage. At night, after dark, he had returned to Carynia Oaks, broken into the kitchen, stolen more food and gone back to his humpy in the paddock. During that time he lost a considerable amount of weight.
I now pass him on the road every single time I drive from my home to Sydney. As I explained to one of the Minister's advisers, he is now looking rather like one would imagine Gandhi looked - he is skeleton-like. When my neighbour found him, he spoke to him and gentled him: "Come on, mate, come with me, I will give you a cup of tea". He took him back to his home, gave him a cup of tea and some food and talked to him. We then began to learn more about his feelings. He is absolutely helpless. His pension is taken away from him. He does not have the capacity to understand what avenues of complaint are open to him and, much against his will, he has been placed in a hostel like Carynia Oaks.
I contend that that is totally and absolutely unsatisfactory. He is able to care for himself up to a point. He has received only a little education. He is certainly not able to fight for himself. He does not deserve to be put into a totally unsatisfactory hostel with 151 or 154 other residents. I cannot believe it would not be possible for the Department of Community Services to find a group home for him
where he could live with perhaps four or five other people in a more congenial and family-like environment. When the Government made the decision that people with disabilities were to be taken from institutions and put back in the community, I did not understand that to mean that they would then be moved into a for-profit hostel with an absentee licensee and a highly unsuitable manager. In my opinion that is just as bad as being in an institution.
The Government must come to grips with that problem, because I am certain Carynia Oaks is not the only institution of that type in New South Wales. The department's attitude of "We know it is unsatisfactory so we will license it for only six months; we will not give it a longer licence" does not address the problem. I make a public plea to the Minister, as I have made to him privately through his advisers, to look into the situation and find alternative accommodation as a matter of priority.
Therefore, the importance of complaints, appeals and monitoring mechanisms cannot be overstated. As I have just pointed out by means of but one example, consumers of community services are vulnerable because of their age and the extent of their disabilities. They often lack the confidence or ability to redress wrongs committed against them if their rights are infringed. Frequently the courts are inaccessible to them. They may put off taking action because they fear retribution if they complain. In the October 1992 newsletter of the Council for Intellectual Disabilities, Jim Simpson cited a number of examples where rights protection legislation is necessary. I should like to quote briefly from those examples.
The first example is where a resident of an institution received bad bruising. He told his parents that he was punched and kicked by a nurse. The parents spoke to the director of nursing, who said that the nurse denied it and therefore nothing more could be done. The parents felt that taking the matter any further within the department would only lead to their being labelled as troublemakers and make it harder for them to gain co-operation from the staff for anything at all. So that was the end of the matter. In another example two residents of a house became close friends and began to talk of marriage. At this point management moved them into different houses and restricted their access to each other, therefore denying them the natural support and solace that individuals who do not suffer from developmental disabilities are able to obtain.
In both of those examples, people were treated unfairly, but at the time this newsletter was written there was nowhere they or their families could go to get justice. Only a strong disability services law and a rights protection law will solve these problems. I hope that the bill before the House will achieve that. It is clear that monitoring mechanisms are essential, because consumers themselves may be unable to make complaints. Moreover, these mechanisms will help to review and improve service standards. Finally, the new structural arrangements, under which the Department of Community Services is the main funder of disability services, make a consumer check on bureaucratic power necessary.
The independence of the complaints, appeals and monitoring mechanisms is extremely important, because of a conflict of interest in having the Department of Community Services investigate itself and because of a fear that complaints by consumers will lead to their being downgraded. It is obvious that central to the effectiveness of the complaints, appeals and monitoring mechanisms is the appointment of an independent Commissioner for Community Services, who will monitor the standards and assess the policies and practices of the Department of Community Services and its functionaries under the community services legislation.
The independence of the office of the commissioner will be achieved by its having its own budget and its own staff. Also, the commissioner will be appointed for a fixed number of years and may be removed during that time for misbehaviour, incompetence or incapacity. The commissioner's powers will include the power to investigate complaints, to initiate inquiries and to issue subpoenas and search warrants; the ability to require a report on actions taken on the commissioner's recommendations, the ability to refer matters with recommendations for action, the ability to make annual and special reports to Parliament, and the ability to protect people from retaliation for making complaints. As the Hon. R. D. Dyer has already pointed out, a community visitors program under the administration of the Commissioner for Community Services is to be established to monitor service delivery. Community visitors will have the power to interview residents and staff in private. Other powers include the power to inspect records, and to provide the Minister and the commission with advice or reports.
The bill will contain mechanisms to implement alternative dispute resolution in an attempt to resolve complaints as quickly and informally as possible. The Community Services Commission will have a solution facilitation division to which complaints may be referred. The bill also establishes a Community Services Appeals Tribunal, which will have the power to determine breaches of community welfare legislation to ministerial level. I believe that this is a very important point. The tribunal will be able to overturn decisions and replace them with legally binding ones when all other methods of dispute resolution have failed.
Finally, the bill establishes the Community Services Review Council, which will comprise the independent Commissioner for Community Services, the Director-General of the Department of Community Services, the Ombudsman, the President of the Guardianship Board, the President of the Tribunal, the Public Guardian and six members appointed by the Minister. The functions of the review council will be to encourage the co-ordination of the functions of the tribunal, the commission, the community visitors and other people involved in the provision of community
services, and in addition to provide the Minister with strategic advice on the operational effectiveness of the appeals and monitoring system.
I have one reservation and that is that the home care and services provided under the Home and Community Care may not be covered by the commissioner, because they may be provided by departments other than the Department of Community Services. I have a feeling that that may turn out to be a hole in the new protection being afforded to people with disabilities, the aged, and other HACC clients. I would ask the Minister in reply to address that very real concern. As the Hon. Ron Dyer has said, there is absolutely no denying that this legislation, in conjunction with the Disability Services Bill, marks a significant step forward for people with disabilities. The mechanisms in the bill provide the means by which the rights mentioned in the Disability Services Bill may be enforced in a positive and meaningful manner. I hope that the Government maintains its commitment to the complaints and appeals mechanism, and I hope also that the Government will ensure that adequate resources are provided for that tribunal every year.
The bill has the support of the community sector. I hope, therefore, that the co-operative relationship between that sector and the Minister, which has been in evidence throughout the development of the bill, will continue. Proof of the step forward is that it has been possible over a period of months to have lengthy negotiations and discussions with the Minister, that the concerns on both sides have been taken into account, and that this legislation - which I support - has as few problems associated with it as is possible in any legislation. I have great pleasure in supporting the bill.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE
[9.24]: Call to Australia has pleasure in supporting the Community Services (Complaints, Appeals and Monitoring) Bill. As has been mentioned by other speakers, it is a very important and unique piece of legislation that will put New South Wales in the forefront of the provision of services for disabled persons. This legislation is the most significant reform of client complaint or grievance handling ever introduced in Australia. I should like to put on the record Call to Australia's concern and support, and congratulations to the Minister for Community Services and Assistant Minister for Health as the Minister responsible for the legislation.
I believe the legislation sets a good example and is a model example of the Fahey Government approach to be followed by other Ministers. It demonstrates a caring and compassionate Minister, one who has shown his willingness to listen and who has displayed a genuine interest in and concern for the people of this State, particularly those who come under his portfolio. It will be a genuine bridge between the Government and the community and demonstrates something that is very important: that elected governments must realise that they are the servants of the people, not their masters. I believe that the Minister who has introduced the legislation recognises the need to be a servant of the people, especially a servant of those in our society who are disadvantaged or disabled.
The Community Services (Complaints, Appeals and Monitoring) Bill and the Disability Services Bill are a tribute to a caring Minister, and certainly reflect what I believe is a very important aspect of government, the caring face of government. We heard some of those terms used after the recent Federal election, which the coalition lost. There has been an ongoing review of that failure and the point has been made, and I believe it is valid, that it is not sufficient just to talk about economics or business or profits. Though they are important aspects of our society because they provide the revenue which in turn provides services in areas of need, there also has to be a human face to government and to legislation. That may be one of the reasons, perhaps, for the coalition's failure in the recent Federal election - not because it did not have that face, but because it failed to show it to the public.
It is important to have legislation of the type proposed because, unfortunately, there have been times when governments, Ministers or public servants in important positions in government departments - those who are often called bureaucrats - have been criticised. There has been evidence of that. I am not speaking particularly of the Department of Community Services; bureaucrats in many government departments have shown an attitude that has not been positive, which perhaps has appeared to be uncaring and thoughtless. It has perhaps been unintended, but their actions have been interpreted in that way. There has been mention already of some of the practical problems that have occurred, including the very sad case referred to by the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby. I am sure that all honourable members share her concern. The Richmond report dealt in part with disabled people in some of the centres at Ryde. It was said that actions were being taken and decisions made supposedly for the benefit of the disabled.
Some disabled people are distressed by one major omission from those discussions, so far as I could ascertain - that no one consulted them. No one
took the trouble to find out what they wanted or what they thought about some of the proposed changes. No one spoke to the people who would be directly affected by those changes. It is almost as though well-intentioned bureaucrats thought they knew what was best. Some policies that were put in place have had tragic results. Not only have disabled persons been poorly treated, but in the past couple of years disastrous fires in some of these places have resulted in deaths of residents. Some disabled persons expressed concerns about being told where they were going to be moved and when they were going to be moved. Often they were not clear why they were being moved, or where they were being moved, and there were no clear plans or provisions for future suitable care and accommodation.
One could argue that this complaints procedure is long overdue, and that there would have been genuine cause for complaint at that particular time. Those of us who have reasonably good health often talk to the carers rather than the persons who are being cared for. The carers, again with good intentions, state what they think is good for the people for whom they care, but it is important to speak to the disabled or handicapped persons. Often handicapped people experience frustration when their bodies do not respond to the orders of their brains. They are quite intelligent and have good thought processes but they cannot respond in the way they should, with the rapid speech to which those who have the ability to speak are accustomed. When people listen to them they jump to the conclusion that those handicapped people have mental disabilities, and they do not have the patience to wait for them to express what they really feel.
Those of us who have the ability to speak and listen should demonstrate more patience. Obviously disabled people experience a great deal of frustration at that point, which increases when people around them do not spend time to listen to them. It may take some time before they finally communicate what they want, but it is important that they be given that opportunity. Staff of government departments, institutions and places of care should be encouraged to have an attitude of care and patience when dealing with handicapped people. During the International Year of the Disabled Persons in 1981, when Mother Teresa visited Australia, I had the privilege of witnessing the great expressions of joy of thousands of disabled persons when she met with them in Parramatta Park. I think about 9,000 people attended on that occasion and thousands attended at Mount Druitt and at other venues. Her deep love and care for these persons radiated. It was a great time of inspiration, of love in action and a true caring attitude. I know is not always possible for public servants to demonstrate such care, but we must do all that we can to encourage it.
I congratulate the Minister on this legislation. I am sure it marks the beginning of similar legislation being introduced into the Parliament in due course, covering various areas of need, concern and care that affect the family, children, and so on. I believe this will be a positive contribution towards the quality of life in this State. This legislation is the most significant reform of client complaint or grievance handling ever introduced in Australia. In the past governments have been loath to open the door to these situations because they become vulnerable to those complaints and have to deal with them. It is far better to have a caring and listening government, one that is prepared to be realistic and deal with real areas of need. Through this proposed mechanism I hope the basis for complaint will be eliminated, that problem areas and perhaps unsuitable people involved in this area will be identified, so that in due course we shall have fewer complaints.
An independent Commissioner for Community Services will monitor complaints, grievances and services to clients of community services. By dealing with those complaints, we shall further reduce complaints. The commission's staff will cover the Department of Community Services and all services funded by the department. The Commissioner for Community Services will establish a program for community visitors who will report direct to the commissioner. They will visit and inspect all residential services or services provided or funded by the department. Obviously those visitors must listen to the residents at those locations and not merely to the carers or staff who may interpret what they think are their concerns.
In addition, an independent community services appeals tribunal will be set up to provide for administrative appeals on licensing decisions by the director-general or the Minister or regulatory decisions which affect a person's ability to pursue his or her trade, such as child care services, boarding-house operators, foster carers and so on. The legislation also provides for the new concept of alternative dispute resolution techniques to be used to resolve grievances or complaints. I understand that this is the first time that legislation providing for that approach has been introduced, for which I congratulate the Government. The object of the legislation is to have quick resolution of clients' concerns rather than drawn out inquiries which may take months to decide who is right or who is wrong.
The legislative arrangement is aimed at changing a culture for all service providers to the pro-active role of resolving clients' concerns. It is aimed at having 75 per cent of grievances resolved at a local level. The commissioner, as a result of consultation, will be independent, and again the Government has taken a courageous step forward. Governments do not like to have independent commissioners, as we have witnessed with the Independent Commission Against Corruption. I believe the Government is to be congratulated on having the courage to establish an independent commissioner to investigate and resolve complaints.
The commissioner can report to Parliament, via the Minister, if a service does not respond to a report. The commissioner can monitor services, as well as deal with complaints. There is specific provision to monitor services to wards. The commissioner deals with complaints concerning services funded or administered by the Minister for Community Services. The commissioner may also act as advocate for disadvantaged persons across government. His role includes educating and informing service providers - I use the word "carers" - across government on service provision for disadvantaged persons. The commission can investigate on its own motion. The commissioner can seek subpoenae or search warrants from local courts. The commission has the power to require service providers to report on action taken on its recommendation. The commissioner reports annually to Parliament and can provide special reports to the Minister for tabling in Parliament. They are some of the main aspects of the bill before the House and I
commend the Government for that.
I understand that the commissioner will be appointed by the end of 1993 and will set up the commission. As I said, the commissioner will be the administrative support for the community visitors and will be appointed via a public process. It is planned that the independent community services appeals tribunal will be established by the end of 1993. Its membership will be drawn from the community and legal arenas. That timetable gives encouragement to the people affected by this legislation. It is not something in the distant future; it is anchored in a real timetable. It will be implemented and in a short time there will be a great deal of benefit to the people who are affected by this legislation. We commend the Government for this legislation and give it our full support.
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK
(Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, and Minister for Employment and Training) [9.42], in reply: I thank all honourable members for their contributions on what is clearly a most important piece of legislation. Many people have indicated that the legislation is, in "Yes, Minister" terms, courageous. It is landmark legislation; we are taking a step with little guidance. It is unique in Australia. There are no known precedents or examples elsewhere that we can turn to, to try to ascertain what the result will be. However, there is support, excitement and good will on all sides of this Chamber and the other Chamber. I thank Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile and the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby for their support. There is bipartisan support; all sides of the political spectrum want this legislation to work and to achieve the goals which are agreed to across the spectrum. That gives this exciting, new, different and brave legislation its best possible opportunity for success.
It would be remiss of me if I did not acknowledge that there are two other important components of this legislation which will be absolutely critical to its success or otherwise. I feel that it will be successful, for a lot of work has gone into it to ensure its success. In the same way that there is bipartisan support for the legislation, there has been extensive consultation - more than ever on a piece of legislation of this kind - and rightly so. I acknowledge the contribution of many individuals and organisations, not only to the legislation itself - although the consultation on that has been exhausting and exhaustive - but over a long period the building blocks have been put in place - whether in the statement of principles for people with disabilities or the establishment of the original community welfare appeals tribunal, fondly known as CWAT.
The Hon. R. D. Dyer:
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK:
It has in fact been the subject of debate between the Hon. R. D. Dyer and me over a long period. Each of those building blocks has led us forward to where we are this evening with this landmark legislation. At each step along the way an enormous contribution has been made by individuals and groups. If the same support, encouragement, constructive criticism and good will can take us forward into uncharted territory, I have no doubt that we shall see goals being achieved by this legislation. All the good will in the world, all the work that has been undertaken and all the high hopes that we have for this legislation will come to nought if we do not achieve its fundamental goal - to serve our clients well. That will be the true test. It will not be an administrative test of procedures per se, how carefully crafted the legislation may be or the structure of other support mechanisms. The true test of the success of this legislation will be in how it serves our clients. I have great confidence that it will have positive support over a long period.
There has been concern in relation to the inclusion of the Community Services Commission in schedule 2 of the Public Sector Management Act. It is my understanding that the community sector wants an assurance that the Government will set up the Community Services Commission under the Public Sector Management Act. On behalf of myself and my colleague the Minister for Community Services and Assistant Minister for Health I say that but for a procedural technicality, the inclusion of the commission as an administrative office would have been achieved by one of the Government amendments moved in Committee in the Legislative Assembly. It was always the Government's intention to give the commission the independence from the Department of Community Services which the establishment of a separate administrative office would achieve.
The community sector has the Government's assurance that this action will be taken as soon as the Government has settled with that sector the implementation processes to get this important legislation into operation. I have said that so there is no misunderstanding about the assurances which have been given. In conclusion, I thank all the people from the department and the community sector who have spent so much time on this legislation and placed such great hopes in it. I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
The Hon. R. D. DYER
[9.53]: During the second reading debate I asked the Minister a question or commented about the Community Services Review Council. I dealt with the constitution of the council, as set out in clause 107, the functions of the council, in clause 108, and in particular the meetings of the review council, in clause 109. I made the point that, on my reading of the bill, the council would have no requirement to meet at any particular interval. If I am correct in that regard, could the Minister advise me about the Government's intention? During the second reading debate I said, for example, that I would not
like to think that the council would meet at intervals greater than say each quarter. Could the Minister furnish the Committee with any information on that particular aspect?
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK
(Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, and Minister for Employment and Training) [9.55]: Clause 109(1), at page 42 of the bill, provides that as soon as practicable after the review council is first constituted, the chairperson is to convene a meeting at which the council is to decide the procedure for calling a meeting and the quorum and procedure of a meeting of the council. That clause makes clear that a meeting is convened at which the review council determines the procedures for calling a meeting and, presumably, the regularity of meetings thereafter. Clause 109(1) imposes a specific duty of deciding the procedure for calling a meeting of the review council. I should have thought that duty would include making decisions about the frequency, nature or length of such meetings. After reading the provisions in the bill about membership of the review council, I could not imagine its members not taking seriously their responsibility to determine the appropriate nature, length, and regularity or frequency of meetings throughout the year. I understand the concern and interest of the Hon. R. D. Dyer, but the bill gives members of the council a charter to meet, as soon as practicable after the council is first constituted, to decide their own procedures including, I should have thought, the regularity of meetings. I have full confidence that the concern underlying the honourable member's question will be addressed.
Part agreed to
Bill reported from Committee without amendment and passed through remaining stages.
DISABILITY SERVICES BILL
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK
(Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, and Minister for Employment and Training) [10.0]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave of the House to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard
Mr President, I am pleased to present a landmark piece of legislation which will be a significant positive advancement for the well-being of people with disabilities, their families and their carers.
Mr President, the bill will promote the interests of people with disabilities by ensuring that people with disabilities have the same basic human rights as other members of our community.
The bill demonstrates this Government's commitment to the spirit and intent of the Statement Of Principles For People With Disabilities And Their Families first issued in 1989.
It provides a framework for these principles to progressively overarch activities of government.
The bill reflects the reasonable expectations, hopes and aspirations of people with disabilities. It is an affirmation that people with disabilities are full members of the community.
The bill also imposes an obligation to ensure that all programs and all services which the Department of Community Services provides either directly or indirectly through funded non-government organisations conform to the principles and the applications of principles which set out the rights of people with disabilities.
This obligation to preserve the rights and respond to the needs of people with a disability will be expressed in the development and execution of policy and the development and delivery of services.
The development of this bill has occurred in close co-operation and consultation with peak disability consumer organisations, service providers and people with disabilities.
This reflects the care and commitment of the Government to ensure that attention is paid to the interests of those persons and groups who are most vulnerable, and who have experienced impaired access to opportunities taken for granted by most members of our community.
The Disability Services Bill is therefore a central tenet of the Fahey Government's Social Reform Agenda.
This bill is both progressive and reformist.
It recognises, in the context of a recession, the need for far-reaching reform which touches the everyday lives of people with disabilities in our community.
This is a bill which will empower, educate, and which will enshrine tangible changes to the Government's delivery of services to the people of New South Wales.
Mr President, the Disability Services Bill is an important part of the structural reform agenda of this Government.
Before the first of the Special Premiers Conferences, which directly addressed the rationalisation of roles and responsibilities of Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments, New South Wales was a strong and influential proponent of functional reviews which had as their objectives the streamlining of administration; the elimination of wasteful duplication of effort; and, the enhancement of public accountability for services provided or funded by government agencies.
The Commonwealth-State Disability Agreement is one of the first demonstrations of the rationalisation of responsibilities, resources and accountabilities by the Governments of Australia.
The agreement was accepted in principle by all States and Territories in October, 1990 and subsequently signed by the Prime Minister and all State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers on 30th July, 1991.
It represents a significant structural reform and provides the basis for a more sensible division of responsibility between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories in respect of the administration and funding of services for people with a disability.
The arrangements amount to a significant realignment of functional responsibility between the two levels of Government and present important opportunities to redirect effort from burdensome and duplicative administration into the provision of new services to address unmet needs in our community.
The agreement provides a framework for the realisation of greater effectiveness and equity in the planning, distribution and targeting of services for people with disabilities, and their families and carers.
At the signing of the agreement, this Government gave a commitment to use every endeavour to pass legislation complementary to the Commonwealth Disability Services Act 1986.
Passage of the bill now before the House will fulfil that commitment and will enable the implementation of the agreement in New South Wales.
The Disability Services Bill embodies the objects, principles and objectives of the Commonwealth Disability Services Act 1986.
However, in consideration of the views expressed by the
community, the Disability Services Bill being presented enhances and expands the meaning and intent of the original principles and objectives.
Mr President, it may be of some assistance if I briefly recount the consultation that has been undertaken and which has led to the bill now before the House, the most extensive and intensive consultation process I am aware of in my entire term in Parliament.
In November 1990 the Department of Community Services released a discussion paper entitled "Framework for the Funding and Operation of Disability Services". It was issued to obtain community views on the proposed model for the rationalisation of roles and responsibilities for disability services in Australia.
The Department of Community Services received forty four (44) written submissions in response to this document.
A majority of the submissions stressed that the enactment of complementary legislation was essential before any realignment of responsibilities between the two levels of Government.
A significant number of submissions also expressed the desire to see State legislation which was stronger than the Commonwealth Act and with clear provisions for enforceability.
A majority of submissions also called for the creation of independent, impartial and accessible mechanisms for the investigation of complaints and the review of administration decisions.
The views expressed in these submissions were later echoed in written and verbal submissions tendered in response to two further discussion papers entitled "A Focus on Outcomes", published in November 1990, and "Suggestions for Change", published in February 1991.
In mid 1992 a working party was formed, comprising representatives from major client advocacy groups and from the Department of Community Services.
The working party coordinated a comprehensive consultation process involving eight public meetings in urban and non-urban areas of the State, the distribution of a questionnaire, and a widely publicised "phone-in".
Mr President, I am pleased to advise this House that the views expressed by consumers and their representative peak organisations have received careful consideration in the drafting of the Bill.
I will outline some provisions of the Disability Services Bill which are particularly important in the view of people with disabilities, their families, their carers and their advocates.
The bill will provide for an overarching effort across government by requiring public authorities to prepare, publish and implement disability services plans to further the principles of the Bill.
This is a tangible and effective response to the need for the principles of this bill to apply across government. The bill will improve the Commonwealth definition of a person in the target group as being a person who has a disability, however arising.
This ensures that all persons with a disability are covered by the legislation.
Definitions of disability in existing Commonwealth and State Legislation have resulted in the denial of services to certain persons with disabilities, most notably persons who have a disability as a result of a traumatic brain injury.
The inclusion of the words "however arising" after the word "disability" in the definition of the target group will ensure that such persons are not selectively excluded from coverage and thereby also excluded from access to services.
The Bill will provide also that individuals as well as organisations are eligible to receive funding.
Such a provision is essential to the Government's commitment to eliminate arbitrary structural and systemic barriers to access and to ensure that services are truly responsive to the needs of consumers.
Although the Commonwealth Act previously had not made provision for this, it has now been amended to include such a capacity.
I would draw to your attention, Mr President, that all complementary legislation enacted in other States and Territories to date now contains such a provision.
New services to persons that are provided or funded by the Department of Community Services will be required from the outset to comply with the principles and applications of principles set out in schedule 1.
Existing services must either comply within two months or must undertake to prepare and publish within two years a transition plan which sets out how and when the service will comply with the principles and application of principles.
This is a tangible and effective response to the need for the principles of this Bill to apply across government.
The rights of people with disabilities will be protected in two ways.
Firstly, the Complaints and Monitoring Mechanisms provided in the Community Services (Complaints, Appeals and Monitoring) Bill 1993, will be available by virtue of provisions in that bill, which the House will be considering.
Secondly, provisions within this bill ensure that the Community Services Tribunal will have jurisdiction to review disputed funding decisions to ensure that they have been made in accordance with procedural requirements and the principles of the bill.
Mr President, there is a clear and important linkage and nexus between the proposed disability services legislation and legislation to give effect to complaints and appeals mechanisms.
In view of the greatly augmented role of the State in the administration and funding of disability services under the Commonwealth-State Disability Agreement, consumers regard the introduction of effective and accessible Complaints and Appeals Mechanisms as an essential safeguard to the obligations and rights in this Bill.
Mr President, the Government recognised this concern by introducing the Community Services (Complaints, Appeals and Monitoring) Bill.
Mr President, the statement, "Facing the World", emphasised the necessity for government programs and services to take into account the views of the consumers of those services.
The Disability Services Bill has been shaped through extensive consultation with affected interest groups and, in my view, reflects the optimum balance of consumers' desires and the Government's need to proceed responsibly and with full public accountability.
I trust, Mr President, that it will be clear to all that this and its partner bill are a dramatic advance on the complementary legislation already passed in Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, Western Australia and the A.C.T. and recently tabled in the South Australian and Northern Territory Parliaments.
Passage of the Disability Services Bill is not only essential to effect the implementation of the Commonwealth-State Disability Agreement, it is also essential to retain the full confidence of people with disabilities in the manner of execution of the agreement and as a clear affirmation of the Government's commitment in this area.
The Government has responded to the legitimate concerns and expectations of people with a disability in drafting this Bill.
It is now necessary to proceed with this legislation and the subsequent implementation of the Commonwealth-State Disability Agreement.
It is the Government's view that these initiatives deserve the support of all members of this House.
I commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. R. D. DYER
[10.1]: The Opposition supports the Disability Services Bill. The brief
background to this bill is that on 30th July, 1991, the Commonwealth and each of the State and Territory governments entered into what has become known as the Commonwealth-State disability agreement, or for short the CSDA. That forms part of a continuing process of reordering arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories so that there is a more rational arrangement between the major tiers of government. The Commonwealth-State disabilities agreement allocates responsibility for service relating to vocational training and employment for persons with disabilities to the Commonwealth and services relating to accommodation, support, respite care, independent living training, recreation and information to the States and Territories. That is the basic agreement or accommodation that has been reached between the Commonwealth and States and Territories regarding the sharing of responsibilities for matters relating to disabilities. The agreement provides for the basis on which those services, whether accommodation or employment related services, are to be funded.
Most importantly from the view of the New South Wales Government, the agreement provides for substantial payments by the Commonwealth Government to the States and Territories. New South Wales has agreed under the CSDA to develop disability services in accordance with its obligations contained in the agreement and in particular to enact legislation complementary to the Commonwealth legislation in this area, the Disabilities Services Act 1986. The State complementary legislation is required to become law by 30th May this year in order to attract Federal funding. The Government will clearly reach the deadline. Perhaps it had some doubts along the way in regard to the tortuous negotiations in which it was involved. The other States and Territories enacted complementary legislation long ago. I by no means say that in the form of criticism of this Government.
The reason the legislation in the other States was enacted relatively expeditiously was that the other States were not troubled - if I can use that expression - by the need to have detailed negotiations with disability and other groups regarding the complaints, appeals and monitoring legislation which the House has just passed. It is to the credit of the Government and the community groups involved that on each side they were far-sighted enough to recognise the importance that should attach to the enacting of strong complaints, appeals and monitoring legislation. In addressing the previous measure I said that we are dealing with people who are essentially vulnerable and whose rights need support and protection. In a sense they will be given a voice, the power of articulation, by virtue of the machinery set up by the complaints, appeals and monitoring legislation the House has just been considering.
Federal funding will flow from the Commonwealth to the States and Territories and the Ministers for community services in the States and Territories will have the duty of providing and funding designated services directly to persons with a disability or indirectly through other persons and bodies, of which there are a substantial number. Some existing disability services, including government services and services provided by the non-government sector, will not comply with the standards laid down by this bill. The bill contains schedules which refer to principles and applications of principles. At this late hour I will not deal in any detail with those principles and applications of principles; suffice it to say that the legislation has to be administered and applied in a way that accords with those principles and applications of principles. We are familiar with preambles to statutes, constitutions and bills of rights which set out various objectives.
This legislation sets out various objectives which are expressed in the form of principles and applications of principles. The most general and perhaps the most important principle is the first one, (a), which provides that persons with disabilities are individuals who have the inherent right to respect for their human worth and dignity. That should not even need stating but it has been stated and, to the extent that it and other similar principles are set out in schedule 1 to the bill, the government of the day is obliged, and the Minister is obliged, to administer and fund services consistent with the standards laid down by the bill. Where a government or non-government service does not comply with the standards laid down by the bill the Minister may require what is known as a transition plan to be prepared by a designated service. Leaving non-government agencies aside, members of the House familiar with these matters would be well aware that some government facilities such as Stockton Hospital need updating in a big way. I recognise that there is a price tag attaching to this but the Government cannot escape its responsibilities, and neither can the non-government services.
To bring these institutions up to date, the Minister may require a transition plan to be prepared. In that event the service will be required to indicate the date by which it will comply with the statutory requirements and the measures that will be taken to ensure compliance by the specified dates. An equally important provision of the bill is that public authorities - government departments and declared authorities - are required to prepare plans to encourage provision of services to people with a disability in accordance with the principles contained in the bill. If I might draw a parallel, I would suggest that the plans could be compared to equal employment opportunity plans, which are now common in the public and private sectors, so that women, to take one example, are given a fair go in terms of public or private employment.
Equally, public authorities, including government departments, are required to encourage the provision of services to people with disabilities and to prepare such plans. It will be understood that in some government departments it will take considerable time and cost to achieve the objectives. For example, one can envisage the expense and difficulty that would be involved for the Department of Transport because of
rolling-stock which does not align with a railway platform. There is legislation in the United States of America - the Americans with Disabilities Act - which is very radical and does require that sort of thing to happen. I do not pretend that this Government or any other government can meet that objective overnight. At least to the extent that the bill requires that plan to be developed, there is a step forward even to the extent that the plan itself is prepared. Considerable attention has been given to this matter by the Government, the Opposition and the peak disability groups. Clause 9(1) of the bill, as first drafted and as appears in the first print of the bill, provided:
A public authority is to prepare a plan to encourage the provision of services by that authority in a manner that furthers the principles and applications of principles set out in Schedule 1.
As a result of discussions by the Government and its advisers with peak disability bodies and views expressed by the Opposition, clause 9(1) was amended in another place to read:
A public authority is to prepare and make provision for the implementation of a plan to encourage the provision of services by that authority in a manner that furthers the principles and application of the principles set out in Schedule 1.
The essential difference between the first version and the one I have just read is the inclusion of the words "and make provision for the implementation of a plan". Originally it was simply expressed as "prepare a plan". The Opposition welcomes the fact that the Minister in another place agreed to insert that change in clause 9. The Minister also agreed to other amendments being inserted in the bill. However, the Opposition was seeking a further amendment which would have involved the deletion of words "to encourage" and the substitution of the word "for". The effect of that simple amendment would have been that a public authority, in addition to making provision for the implementation of a plan to encourage the provision of services, would have been preparing plans for the provision of services, which would have further strengthened the provision.
The Government has indicated in no uncertain terms to the Opposition that if it were to proceed with that amendment, the Community Services (Complaints, Appeals and Monitoring) Bill would have been jeopardised and possibly would not have proceeded through this Parliament. I am not prepared to allow such an outcome to be on my head. For that reason at the Committee stage I will not proceed with the amendment I have circulated; I want to make it clear that that is the basis on which the Opposition will not proceed with the amendment. I would not like it to be thought that I circulate amendments for fun; I seek to take a responsible position.
The Hon. D. F. Moppett:
You just cannot help yourself.
The Hon. R. D. DYER:
I cannot help myself in that regard. I would be mortified to think the disability groups and non-disability groups who access the services of the Department of Community Services would not have the benefit of that complaints, appeals and monitoring legislation. As that legislation has passed through both Houses of this Parliament, those groups will have that access. The Minister may approve the provision of financial assistance to provide designated services to persons and organisations but on terms that outcomes and performance indicators must be specified - which is very proper. We are dealing with public moneys and it is appropriate that the Government should be satisfied that the outcomes and performance indicators are known and specified. The Government is entitled to require that those outcomes and indicators are monitored and met.
At intervals of not more than three years the Minister is required to conduct a review to determine the extent to which each eligible organisation in receipt of financial assistance has complied with the terms and conditions on which that assistance was given. The Minister must also determine the extent to which the outcomes required by those terms and conditions have been achieved. They too are very proper provisions which have the support of the Opposition. A very important provision of the bill is set out in clause 10 relating to financial assistance. In other provisions of the bill regarding financial assistance - in particular clause 16 - the Minister is empowered to terminate future, and I emphasise future, instalments of approved financial assistance at any time. Clearly it would be inequitable for past amounts to be recovered; that would be too harsh altogether. I believe it is appropriate where any malpractice occurs, or where an organisation is not doing the right thing, that the Minister should be able to place that organisation on notice to show cause why that assistance should not be discontinued.
The bill contains natural justice provisions to the effect that not only must notice of the proposed termination of the financial assistance be given, together with the reasons why the Minister intends to so act, but that person or organisations must be given a reasonable opportunity to make submissions to the Minister. Appropriate safeguards are included in the bill in that regard. The Opposition had in mind to move - although we never circulated it either here or in the other place - for the insertion of a new clause 10(3) to this effect:
Approval shall not be given for the provision of financial assistance to an eligible organisation that can hand over profits to its owner or members unless the Minister is satisfied on reasonable grounds that there is no non-profit eligible organisation that could provide the proposed services in a way that produced equal outcomes for persons in the target group.
It may well be that the Opposition and the Government have a different political philosophy in that regard. Though the Opposition has consulted the peak disability bodies in particular, I am not seeking to press the Opposition's view in that regard. However, I ask the Minister's advisers to indicate to the Minister what the Government's intention might be in regard to the provision of financial assistance in the circumstances I have mentioned. What regard would the Government have for an organisation which is run for profit and a non-profit organisation which were able to provide equivalent outcomes for persons in whatever the target group happened to be? What
criteria would be applied to determine whether financial assistance should be provided to an organisation run for profit as opposed to a non-profit organisation, assuming that there are equal outcomes as between these groups?
The Hon. J. F. Ryan:
That means there are winners both ways.
The Hon. R. D. DYER:
The for-profit group might be a winner also. The Government might be a winner in the sense that if the outcomes are equal the Government cannot lose. However, I would like some indication from the Government as to the applicable criteria in that event. As a general rule, most people consider that public funds should be provided to a more or less philanthropic non-profit organisation rather than the reverse, but I invite the Government's advisers to make some brief comment regarding that particular matter. I mention also that an appeal may be made to the Community Welfare Appeals Tribunal on various specified grounds contained in the bill relating to the provision of financial assistance.
Finally, and very importantly, as with the previous legislation before the House the Minister has a positive statutory obligation to review the legislation after the elapse of five years from the date of assent to the bill and to table in both Houses a report on the outcome of that review within a further period of 12 months. That provision has cropped up in various legislation introduced by the Government. It is an appropriate provision and could not be characterised as being a sunset provision, because that would bring the legislation to an end at the conclusion of a stipulated period. On the other hand, such a provision imposes a positive obligation on the Minister and the Government to engage in a serious review of the objectives, principles and administration of legislation after a period of five years.
Such a provision is a useful audit exercise, shall we say, which is to be welcomed both in this legislation and in the Community Services (Complaints, Appeals and Monitoring) Bill, which has already been passed by the House. The Opposition warmly welcomes this bill. We also welcome the fact that the Government continued to consult up until the last minute. I had proposed various amendments, some of which have been subsumed in one form or another by Government amendments and some of which have not been accepted. I do not cavil at that but I do say that at all stages I sought to play a constructive role by acquainting the Government with my intentions. I kept no amendment secret from the Government. I considered that to be my duty because I wanted the best possible outcome from this legislation for the community groups. It is always possible to claim that legislation might be even better, but we live in a real world. I believe the combination of the procedure I adopted and the Government's own consultation process has achieved a good result in the form of this important legislation.
The Hon. HELEN SHAM-HO
[10.23]: I support the Disability Services Bill. I am sure all honourable members will agree that this bill is necessary legislation to provide services for people with disabilities. As has been said, it will give effect to a key provision of the Commonwealth-State disability agreement - the CSDA. The bill includes objectives and principles and the way those principles are to be applied when organisations provide services. The Hon. R. D. Dyer has set those out clearly. The applications of principles in the bill will guide the development of policies, programs and services for people with disabilities and their families, and for carers in New South Wales. I have been advised - and this has already been pointed out by the Hon. R. D. Dyer - that the failure to introduce and pass this legislation this financial year will result in a one-off forfeiture of $6.8 million in transition funds under the CSDA.
I am pleased that the deadline will be met, because any funding will help the disabled community. The principles in the bill affirm that people with disabilities have the same basic human rights as other members of Australian society. I agree with what has been said by the Hon. R. D. Dyer in that regard; it is so obvious that it need not be stated. The principles relate to how the basic human rights of people with disabilities are to be recognised in the operation and delivery of services. I have always maintained that these members of the community must be treated with equity, as every other member of the community is treated. Of course, there can be principles of which many people are unaware. I would like to place on the record the principles and applications of principles as set out in schedule 1 to the bill, because often people do not have copies of those principles. If I read them on to the record, people will find it easier to obtain a copy of the principles from Hansard
. They are:
1. Persons with disabilities have the same basic human rights as other members of Australian society. They also have the rights needed to ensure that their specific needs are met. Their rights, which apply irrespective of the nature, origin, type or degree of disability, include the following:
(a) persons with disabilities are individuals who have the inherent right to respect for their human worth and dignity;
(b) persons with disabilities have the right to live in and be part of the community;
(c) persons with disabilities have the right to realise their individual capacities for physical, social, emotional and intellectual development;
(d) persons with disabilities have the same rights as other members of Australian society to services which will support their attaining a reasonable quality of life;
(e) persons with disabilities have the right to choose their own lifestyle and to have access to information, provided in a manner appropriate to their disability and cultural background, necessary to allow informed choice;
(f) persons with disabilities have the same right as other members of Australian society to participate in the decisions which affect their lives;
(g) persons with disabilities receiving services have the same right as other members of Australian society to receive those services in a manner which results in the least restriction of their rights and opportunities;
(h) persons with disabilities have the right to pursue any
grievance in relation to services without fear of the services being discontinued or recrimination from service providers;
(i) persons with disabilities have the right to protection from neglect, abuse and exploitation.
Clause 2 of schedule 1 relates to the applications of principles. I would like to read it on to the record also.
2. Services and programs of services must apply the principles set out in clause 1. In particular, they must be designed and administered so as to achieve the following:
(a) to have as their focus the achievement of positive outcomes for persons with disabilities, such as increased independence and integration into the community;
(b) to contribute to ensuring that the conditions of the everyday life of persons with disabilities are the same as, or as close as possible to, norms and patterns which are valued in the general community;
(c) to form part of local co-ordinated service systems and other services generally available to members of the community, wherever possible;
(d) to meet the individual needs and goals of the persons with disabilities receiving services;
(e) to meet the needs of persons with disabilities who experience an additional disadvantage as a result of their gender, ethnic origin or Aboriginality;
(f) to promote recognition of the competence of, and enhance the image of, persons with disabilities;
(g) to promote the participation of persons with disabilities in the life of the local community through maximum physical and social integration in that community;
(h) to ensure that no single organisation providing services exercises control over all or most aspects of the life of a person with disabilities;
(i) to ensure that organisations providing services (whether specifically to persons with disabilities or generally to members of the community) are accountable to persons with disabilities who use them, the advocates of those persons, the State and the community generally for the provision of information from which the quality of those services can be judged;
(j) to provide opportunities for persons with disabilities to reach goals and enjoy lifestyles which are valued by the community generally and are appropriate to their chronological age;
(k) to ensure that persons with disabilities participate in the decisions that affect their lives;
(l) to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to advocacy support where necessary to ensure adequate participation in decision-making about the services they receive;
(m) to recognise the importance of preserving the family relationships and the cultural and linguistic environments of persons with disabilities;
(n) to ensure that appropriate avenues exist for persons with disabilities to raise and have resolved any grievances about services, and to ensure that a person raising any such grievance does not suffer any reprisal;
(o) to provide persons with disabilities with, and encourage them to make use of, avenues for participating in the planning and operation of services and programs which they receive and to provide opportunities for consultation in relation to the development of major policy and program changes;
(p) to respect the rights of persons with disabilities to privacy and confidentiality.
That is the end of schedule 1. It is important to have it on the record so everyone is aware of what is proposed. Any breach of those principles will be independently adjudicated under the Community Services (Complaints, Appeals and Monitoring) Bill, which this House has just passed. As I said earlier when speaking to that bill, the two bills are closely linked and complementary to one another. The reforms could not be enacted without the passage of the Community Services (Complaints, Appeals and Monitoring) Bill. The two bills are milestones for the disabled community, supporting services planning, development and delivery, and will provide for unprecedented accountability to consumers of services. The Government is to be commended because it has amended many of the initial proposals after extensive consultation with the disabled community. It demonstrates the commitment of the Government to listen to the people and to provide services according to the needs of the people.
The bill will complement the Commonwealth's Disability Services Act 1986. Its passage is essential for the implementation of the Commonwealth-State Disability Agreement in New South Wales. In giving effect to the key provisions of the agreement, it will rationalise the roles and responsibilities of the States and the Commonwealth in the funding and administration of services for people with disabilities. The Hon. R. D. Dyer has already told honourable members that the agreement was signed on 30th July, 1991. Indeed, it was the commitment of the former Premier, Nick Greiner, to enact complementary legislation to that of the Commonwealth. As the Minister for Community Services and Assistant Minister for Health said in his second reading speech on 11th March:
The Commonwealth-State disability agreement is one of the first demonstrations of the rationalisation of responsibilities, resources and accountabilities by the Governments of Australia.
It is true that it has very much simplified the relationship. Some honourable members may not be aware that the latest statistics show that more than 16 per cent of the population has a disability. Together with their families and carers, the number of people affected by the proposed reform approaches one in four people. Hence the reforms that the bill seeks to implement will have far-reaching effects on a large proportion of the community. The provisions of the bill result largely from nine open consultations with the community and specific groups. It recognises the need for the community and the Government to work together to achieve real and lasting benefits for people with disabilities.
I am especially supportive of the legislation's aim to reduce duplication between the Commonwealth and the States. Only recently I was advised by the Department of Community Services that, in respect of the home and community care program, which was funded by the Federal Government, an estimated $11 million of administrative expenses are wasted because of duplication between Federal and State departments.
It is an extreme waste of resources and funds for the Federal Government to regulate and control State departments once it has allocated the funds. I am, therefore, pleased to note that duplication of administration will be minimised by this proposed legislation. It will also simplify relationships between government services and the people using them.
Another important aspect of the proposed bill is that it will ensure that services become more responsive and accountable to people with disabilities, their families and carers, and that they meet appropriate standards. In respect of this bill, as with the Community Services (Complaints, Appeals and Monitoring) Bill, the Government is to be commended for wide community consultation; and the department is to be commended for the exhaustive survey it conducted of many community groups in order to gather all the relevant information and suggestions for the legislation.
The working party comprised officers of the Department of Community Services, the Department of Health, the Disability Advisory Committee and representatives of peak groups in the disabled community. The result of the comprehensive consultation is expressed in the bill before the Parliament. The complaints and monitoring mechanisms will be provided under the Community Services (Complaints, Appeals and Monitoring) Bill, which this House has just passed. Therefore, appeals regarding funding decisions will be made to the Community Services Appeals Tribunal, which will ensure that decisions have been made in accordance with procedural requirements and the principles of the bill.
I am sure honourable members will agree that this far-reaching and necessary legislation on appeals mechanisms, and the definition of target groups to cover any person who has a disability, however arising, will put New South Wales ahead of other States in respect of the complementary legislation already passed. It needs to be noted that this particular legislation had bipartisan support and was passed without amendment. It shows that political parties can co-operate. I support the bill.
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY
[10.38]: The Australian Democrats support the Disability Services Bill. As honourable members have already pointed out at some length, people with disabilities are one of the most vulnerable groups in society. The bill, in tandem with the Community Services (Complaints, Appeals and Monitoring) Bill, has the potential to safeguard the rights of people with disabilities, to improve service delivery and to help rectify the structural disadvantage faced by people with disabilities. For too long people with disabilities have been treated as second-class citizens. The two bills are the Government's opportunity to show that it is one of the most progressive in the world on disability issues.
The Disability Services Bill lays the foundation for the State Government's new responsibility for services for people with disabilities. It is an important step forward in many areas. I heartily congratulate the Minister on consulting with people with disabilities, their carers and their organisations and for listening to their needs. The bill includes a statement of principles and applications of principles, stating the human rights of people with disabilities and what services should do to ensure that those rights are respected. It states that the Minister has a duty to ensure that services conform to the objects, principles and applications of principles of the bill. Under the bill the Minister must undertake a formal review of each funded service at least every three years. The Minister must also consult with a funded service before withdrawing funding.
The bill also provides for funding for research and development activities and for people with disabilities to be funded so they can buy services for themselves. However, I wish to place on record that there are significant omissions in the bill. I hope they will not have too serious an impact on the effectiveness of the legislation. One of the most important principles of disability services legislation is that it must be overarching. In other words, it must apply to all programs and services provided, funded or licensed by any government agency. A major shortcoming of the first print of the bill was that it covered only specialist disability programs and services; it did not cover generalist services provided by public authorities. I suppose the assumption was that either people with disabilities do not use generalist services or that generalist services need not make any effort to ensure equality of access for people with disabilities.
I am pleased that the Minister, after consultation, has amended the bill to cover generic as well as specialist services. Obviously, this will help to rectify some of the structural injustices perpetuated against people with disabilities. Another major flaw in the original bill was the fact that there were no provisions which required existing services to comply with the Act and further the principles and applications. Although services had two years to prepare their transition plans there was no time frame for their implementation. Once again I am happy that the Minister has addressed this issue. The bill now provides that existing services must prepare transition plans and indicate the earliest practicable date by which the service will be in conformity with the principles of the Act. Furthermore, the Minister has amended the bill to ensure that services must consult with clients when drawing up their transition plans.
There was also concern that the original print of the bill made no mention of public authorities having to report on progress made on implementing plans to bring their services in line with the Act. This is necessary to ensure proper accountability. Such reporting is already a requirement of equal employment opportunity legislation. This has now been rectified. In the original bill clause 16 was phrased in such a way that it would allow the Minister to terminate funding even where a service was fully complying with its contract. However, again this has been partly rectified by making it clear that notice must be given to and submissions received from
eligible organisations regarding the proposed termination of financial assistance.
In spite of the many improvements to the bill, which were made in another place, I still have a few remaining concerns and queries about it. I am still concerned that the Government has not felt it necessary to include in the legislation the principle that people with disabilities have the right to support, which allows the maintenance of the family unit and informal networks of support. People with disabilities should have the right to live within the family unit if they wish and have access to the love and support which only family and friends can provide. Also of concern is the fact that geographical location is not identified as a source of additional disadvantage in the list of applications in the bill. For example, people with disabilities living in isolated areas face many problems with access to a range of services and may need transportation. People with disabilities should also have access to an independent advocate, not just an ordinary advocate, where necessary, to ensure their participation in decision-making about the services they receive.
Furthermore, the Department of Community Services does not appear to be subject to the same standards of accountability as funded services. For example, there is no provision for the review of departmental services and the provisions relating to the restriction on termination of funding are not applicable to services provided by the Department of Community Services. This is something the Government will have to consider for the future. The Government has provided no qualification on the provision on funding for private companies. I believe, as a matter of principle, that private for-profit organisations should be funded only if they can provide a better service than an equivalent non-profit organisation. Apart from what I would describe as the morality of the whole issue of seeking to make a profit out of services for the disabled, why should the Government be subsiding profit-making organisations to provide services that are no better than those that could be provided by a non-profit organisation? Given what the Government has done over Port Macquarie hospital, I am most concerned that the Government will begin a push for privatisation in its community services for the disabled. Having put these reservations on the record, I congratulate the Minister on introducing the bill and give it my full support.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE
[10.47]: The Call to Australia group places on record its total support for the Disability Services Bill. This is an excellent piece of legislation. It reflects the caring and compassionate policies of the Department of Community Services under the Minister for Community Services, the Hon. Jim Longley. I commend him for this initiative and for the widespread community consultation with people directly affected by this legislation. This consultation has ensured as much unity and co-operation as possible. Those ongoing discussions and the changes that have been made to the legislation have ensured that tonight this legislation will pass through this House without amendment. That demonstrates a spirit of co-operation on the part of the Minister and his department and those people representing various interest groups that have a deep interest in this legislation.
The Disability Services Bill was originally tabled in the other place on 11th March. Like the Community Services (Complaints, Appeals and Monitoring) Bill this is a landmark piece of legislation which will significantly enhance the well-being of people with disabilities, their families and carers in New South Wales. The bill will promote the interests of people with disabilities by ensuring that they have the same basic human rights as other members of our community. As I have said, this bill demonstrates the Government's commitment - this is illustrated by the Department of Community Services and by the Minister for Community Services - to the spirit and intent of the statement of principles for people with disabilities and their families which was first issued in 1989.
The bill reflects the reasonable expectations, hopes and aspirations of people with disabilities. It is an affirmation that people with disabilities are equal members of the community. As other speakers have said, this bill is similar to initiatives at the Federal level. The Commonwealth-State disability agreement was signed by the Prime Minister, all State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers on 30th July, 1991. Its purpose was to bring about an important rationalisation of responsibilities, resources and accountability by Australian governments.
The agreement provides a framework for the realisation of greater effectiveness and equity in the planning, distribution and targeting of services for people with disabilities, their families and carers. When that agreement was signed the New South Wales Government gave a commitment to use every endeavour to pass legislation complementary to the Commonwealth's Disability Services Act 1986. The bill before the House now fulfils that commitment, and will enable the implementation of the agreement in New South Wales.
In mid-1992 a working party comprising representatives from major client advocacy groups and the Department of Community Services was formed to agree on the form and content of proposed complementary legislation. The working party co-ordinated a comprehensive consultation process involving eight public meetings in urban and non-urban areas of the State, the distribution of a questionnaire, a widely publicised phone-in, and special focus discussions with the ethnic community and people with an intellectual disability. Subsequently the views expressed by consumers and their peak organisations received careful consideration in the drafting of this bill.
The bill contains a number of important features. During debate the Hon. R. D. Dyer foreshadowed an amendment to clause 9, to change the words "a plan to encourage the provision of services" to "a plan for
the provision of services". His concern was that the clause needed strengthening, so that it could not be taken to mean merely encouraging. I note that clause 9(2) provides, "Such a plan is to be prepared as soon as practicable after the commencement of this section but no later than two years after that commencement".
Clearly, this legislation is not merely window dressing. Actual plans will be prepared and persons in charge of the various areas affected by this legislation will be required to immediately prepare a plan for the provision of services. In due course I should like the Minister to confirm that, so that any fears that organisations may have will be allayed. They may think that the clause is a little vague, that some bureaucrats may postpone action for as long as possible, and that the benefits of the legislation will not be enjoyed by those who should receive them as quickly as possible.
It has been said that it would be financially impossible and impractical to provide transport to cater for disabled persons, in particular paraplegics and others who are confined to wheelchairs. I believe a timetable could be drafted to deal with that issue, taking into account the availability of funds and the cost. It may not be possible for all buses to be equipped to take wheelchairs but perhaps every tenth bus could be. A timetable could be produced and made available to disabled persons so that they could arrange their personal, social or business plans to fit in with the availability of that transport.
At present disabled persons cannot do this. A phased-in plan could be implemented without presenting the Government with a tremendous financial burden, particularly in the current economic climate and the State's growing deficit. The Government's financial situation should not be used as an excuse to do nothing. There should be a progressive implementation of plans in all areas that affect disabled persons over a period of time, and they should be informed of those plans to see how they can co-operate so that they would receive some benefits from them over a period of time. It is important to give an assurance that a definite plan for the progressive provision of services for disabled persons will be implemented.
The other matter I refer to is schedule 1 - Principles and Applications of Principles. Recently I received a submission dated 23rd March from Dr Vera Murray, Director of the Institute of Family and Childhood Studies, which is apparently associated with the Macquarie University. I shall not move an amendment because I do not wish to delay the passing of this bill, but in due course, either through regulations or amendments, it may be possible to address Dr Murray's concerns. Her letter reads:
I write to you both to highlight a matter of concern to the Institute. The NSW Disability Services Act is currently before the Parliament, and I understand will be debated very soon.
The following Principles should be added to Schedule 1 of the new Act, that has been tabled by the Government. Could you please try to have them added.
They always leave out children and the family, and yet the Premier Mr John Fahey, has stated that the _family_ is very important. This Act will cover services to families and their children, who "some" would advocate terminating, but whom are surely all God's children. The rest of it seems quite good, and I am sure that others will have strengthened it.
Unfortunately, from tomorrow I will be overseas attending a conference in the UK, but I am sure that both you and Mrs Nile will give this your kind attention.
An attachment to that letter contains the two principles that she would like added to the legislation. The Government may take note of them. I am sure they agree with the Government's philosophy and principles. The first one is, "Persons with disabilities have the right to support which allows the maintenance of the family unit and their informal networks of support". The second is, "Children with disabilities have the right to be supported in an appropriate family setting, the right to respect for their evolving capacity for independence, and the right to any guidance they may need". I pass those on to the Government as requested.
I commend the Government for the principles set out in the bill. I shall refer to one or two principles that should have special emphasis. Principle 1(a) reads, "Persons with disabilities are individuals who have the inherent right to respect for their human worth and dignity". Principle 1(c) reads, "Persons with disabilities have the right to realise their individual capacities for physical, social, emotional and should have intellectual development". Similar principles have been drawn up at different times by different organisations, and one which rang a bell with me is principle 2 of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child. It is:
The child shall enjoy special protection, and shall be given opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity.
I request the Government to add the wording as soon as possible, at least the spirit of the wording. The matters referred to - physical, social, emotional, and intellectual - obviously should be included, and I strongly urge that the word spiritual be added because people with disabilities should still have the right, for example, to select the church of their choice in which to worship, to meet their spiritual needs. That is another area that affects people with disabilities. Sometimes churches do not provide facilities for disabled people Most churches, because of their design, have a large number of steps at their entrance. New churches provide access for wheelchairs, but a number of older ones do not. It is another important area of which the Government should take note.
The Call to Australia group supports clause 1(i) which states: "persons with disabilities have the right to protection from neglect, abuse and exploitation." That results from the very sad case that has been receiving media attention. Following the request from the organisation, schedule 1, clause 2(m), under "Application of principles", picks up the point made about the family. It reads: "to recognise the importance of preserving the family relationships and the cultural and linguistic environments of persons
with disabilities;". That might be the Government's answer to the earlier request to include the reference to the family. I am pleased also that in the "Applications of principles," clause 2(e) states: "to meet the needs of persons with disabilities who experience an additional disadvantage as a result of their gender, ethnic origin or Aboriginality;". That is an important aspect and I am pleased that the Government has included it in the measure dealing with applications of principles.
With those observations, the Call to Australia group is very pleased to support the bill. I commend the Government and the Minister for their willingness to co-operate with individuals and relevant peak organisations concerned with this area, to be engaged in genuine consultation to enable the bill to be brought before the House tonight, not requiring amendment, and for the Government to demonstrate in its practical way its caring and compassionate concern for the people of our State. The Call to Australia group is very pleased to support the bill.
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK
(Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, and Minister for Employment and Training) [11.3], in reply: I thank all honourable members for their contributions to this important debate. Though the hour is getting a little late, it would be a pity for the two bills not to be interrelated in a philosophical sense and in their application to services and their questioning of the quality of services. It has been an excellent debate in terms of the agreement from all sides of the Chamber about the importance of the bill and the desirability of, in a sense, joining the debate on the two bills and ensuring the bipartisan passage of the bill through the House. In that spirit I would like to comment on one or two matters that have been raised in debate.
I refer to the comments made by the Hon. R. D. Dyer. Some of his concerns prompted him to move an amendment to the bill, an amendment that was not acceptable to the Government. The amendment proposed by the Hon. R. D. Dyer would have been, in clause 9, to omit the words "to encourage" and to substitute the word "for" on line 28. That matter has been referred to in the contribution of other honourable members as well. The clause clearly refers to public authorities preparing and making provision for the implementation of plans to provide their services in a manner that furthers the principles and application of principles set out in the bill. These principles embody the concept of equal access to all Government services by people with disabilities. The Hon. R. D. Dyer thought that the way to proceed was to strengthen the obligation of public authorities by removing any suggestion that the authorities merely have to encourage the provision of services.
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Dr Marlene Goldsmith):
Order! If the Hon. Jan Burnswoods wishes to conduct a conversation near the public gallery, she should leave the Chamber to do so.
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK:
I am not in any way trying to put words in the mouth of the Hon. R. D. Dyer. I think he clearly would have sought to strengthen that clause, but that would have given a more immediate and, in a sense, inflexible obligation to provide services in this way. For that reason, the Government has some difficulty with that and believes that any responsible government has to have some control over the allocation of resources. In the spirit in which this debate has been conducted, I give an assurance on behalf of the Government that it takes seriously the need for plans prepared by public authorities in accordance with this clause to be realistic and timely.
The clear intention of the Government in including the obligations under clause 9 is that in the preparation and implementation of these plans, public authorities will be accountable as all government bodies are, or at the very least are meant to be. They are accountable for giving effect to the philosophy and policy of the Government. The plans must be made available to the public. They will be subject to the usual scrutiny in Parliament and elsewhere. The Government and the Opposition have gone to extraordinary lengths in discussions surrounding the bill and in the complaints legislation debated earlier this evening. It would be a tragedy indeed if the co-operative approach on these matters were to fail virtually at the eleventh hour. The losers would be the people we seek to assist and for whom I believe there is unanimity of view across the Chamber. I am particularly glad that good will and concern has resulted in the Hon. R. D. Dyer agreeing, in that spirit of co-operation, not to proceed with the amendment that I know was of great concern to him.
Questions were raised about whether financial assistance should be given to non-government community organisations in preference to private-for-profit organisations. This matter was raised by the Hon. R. D. Dyer but in a different form. The same type of question was raised by the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby. The bill requires that certain terms and conditions must be satisfied in the funding agreement; these include the outcomes to be achieved for persons in the target group and the performance indicators to be used in measuring these outcomes. The bill is therefore oriented towards ensuring that funding will deliver measurable, positive results for people with disabilities.
The orientation in itself requires that funding be determined not by the nature of the organisation but by its capacity to deliver service of a high quality and to achieve the outcomes that we would all desire. The Hon. R. D. Dyer posed the hypothetical situation where both organisations could be equal in terms of outcomes yet one could be a community-based organisation and the other could be a for-profit organisation. He wanted to know, in that hypothetical situation, who would be asked to deliver the service. I guess we would simply look at the cost of the service. In some cases the cost of the service would be better determined by the community organisation and in other instances a profit-oriented organisation would be better. At this stage I could not possibly decide on an individual service and say which would
be more likely to succeed. In the case of both outcomes being equal - even that is problematic - we would look at the cost of the service. The criterion is the provision of the service and the outcome being achieved, not the cost of the service per se.
It is also important to ensure that the same test of accountability is applied to both sectors. I know that people question whether government departments, including the Department of Community Services and the Department of School Education, are subjected to the same rigour and level of accountability as is expected of the community sector and the private sector. That is a fair concern. It will be an interesting test. Is it not for the Department of Community Services to ensure that it is fair dinkum and that the same test of accountability with respect to the provision of services is equally applied across the board? I think that policy decision is long overdue. I am sure that the next few years will be interesting as we try to ensure that equal levels of accountability are applied.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile raised a question with respect to the rights of people with disabilities to live with their families if they so choose. In the principles for people with disabilities, to which the honourable member referred in his address, the right of people with a disability to choose their lifestyle, including their accommodation, is included. The principle states:
persons with disabilities have the right to choose their own lifestyle and have access to information, provided in a manner appropriate to their disability and cultural background, necessary to allow informed choice.
That is embedded in the bill. Clause 2(m) states:
(m) to recognise the importance of preserving the family relationships and the cultural and linguistic environments of persons with disabilities.
I agree with Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile that it is important for people to be able to make choices - for a large number of people a choice is to live within their family setting. The Government hopes that for the overwhelming majority of people that is the correct choice. The point is that it is their choice and it should be an informed choice. Hence, the Government has an obligation to ensure that people with disabilities have the capacity to be provided with the information and be supported to make that sort of informed choice. There is agreement on that matter. I thank all honourable members for their contributions to this debate and the debate on the bill previously before the House. It is gratifying that on such landmark legislation, where we are entering uncharted territory, we have bipartisan support. There is an air of excitement and good will towards the legislation and the people it seeks to assist. It gives me great confidence for the future. I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD
(Attorney General, Minister for Industrial Relations, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [11.16]: I move:
That this House do now adjourn.
KING GEORGE V HOSPITAL APPOINTMENTS DISCRIMINATION
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS
[11.16]: Last December a group of women, the King George V Womens' Advocacy Group, wrote to Professor Shearman as follows:
We are a group of women concerned with what we believe to be a blatant case of gender discrimination at King George V Hospital.
The recent proposed appointment of seven male registrars for 1993 epitomises the inequalities that exist for women in this hospital and the enclosed petition indicates that the situation in King George V is not an isolated one but one that impacts on the community it serves.
The issue of registrar appointment in 1993 was the catalyst for our group to take action in an attempt to encourage change. We feel that there is a need for an overall review of attitudes and practices in King George V to reflect the improved attitudes towards women in today's society. We also believe that medical appointments should be made in accordance with structured guidelines based on Equal Employment Opportunity principles.
As an initial response we ask that there be a review of 1993 registrar appointments to correct the gender imbalance as well as an assurance that all attempts will be made in future to ensure that women medical officers are well represented at registrar level at King George V.
Today two basic questions were asked: is it true - of course it is - that three women trainee obstetricians were thrown off the training program at King George V last year? Why has there been a failure on the part of the Minister for Health to release a report on the fact that there are no women obstetric registrars at Sydney's leading mothers' and babies' hospital? Sydney's leading hospital for mothers and babies, King George V, has seven trainee obstetricians - they are all male.
This issue questions the adequacy of women's health services in this State. It goes to the heart of this Government's commitment, or lack of it, to equal employment opportunity principles. The hiring practices of King George V have been under investigation since November last year for its failure to appoint any female doctors as registrars for this year's trainee program. Three experienced female obstetric registrars were not offered re-employment; they were thrown off the only program that would have enabled them to become specialist obstetricians.
The Minister for Health has had a report on this issue for almost two weeks but has failed to release it to the public. Clearly he is attempting to whitewash the matter and do nothing. In another place today he said, "We are currently discussing it with the royal college and when we have final results of that report I will announce it to the public at the appropriate
time". The Minister does have the final results of that report and the appropriate time is now. A petition has been circulated by the hospital's women's advocacy group calling for women to be given the choice of being treated by a female or male doctor. The petition has received 1,500 signatures. Of all the obstetricians in New South Wales only 7 per cent are female. The President of the Muslim Women's Association, Ms Maha Krayem Abdo, was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald
on 15th December, 1992, as having said:
There is strong evidence that Muslim women and their babies are potentially at risk due to the fact that they are not presenting themselves at hospitals early in their pregnancy because almost all of the hospital clinics registrars and doctors are men.
We are of the view that the absence of a female obstetric and gynaecology registrar at King George V in 1993 will be catastrophic for women generally and Muslim women in particular.
We hear much about the glass ceiling blocking women's promotion in the corporate world. Among medical specialists the glass is just as thick. This Government is no equal opportunity employer; neither are the royal colleges. The royal colleges and the teaching hospitals determine how many juniors make it to the highly sought after trainee specialist programs, which are mandatory before qualification as a specialist. Women are grossly underrepresented across the board. The specialty with the highest proportion of women is dermatology, but only about one-third of Australia's 220 skin specialists are women. This situation requires urgent action. The Minister must intervene. The King George V report must be released as a matter of urgency. Further to that, the Government must take action to ensure that women trainee specialists are given a fair go and not blocked at every turn from taking their place in the medical specialties.
SUNDAY RETAIL TRADING
The Hon. ELAINE NILE
[11.21]: I wish to speak about the dramatic expansion of Sunday trading in New South Wales. Everywhere one travels in New South Wales, in every shopping centre one finds large signs advertising that the big department stores and huge shopping centres are open for business on Sundays. It is obvious that without any public statement having been made by the Government and without any public debate on the advantages or disadvantages of Sunday trading, that type of trading has been introduced in New South Wales by stealth. This secretive policy of gradualism is clearly designed to prevent the mobilisation of public opposition. When similar changes were proposed for the introduction of Sunday trading in the United Kingdom a fierce public debate ensued and is ongoing. That debate has prevented the introduction of widespread Sunday trading in that country. What are the effects of Sunday trading? How does it affect family life? How does it affect Sunday as a day of worship, as a family day of rest or recreation? How does it affect shop assistants who are required to work on Sundays?
Mrs Jane Powell of Helensburgh is one person who has been discriminated against because of her religious convictions. Mrs Powell claims her beliefs led to the loss of her job as a sales assistant at a store in Westfield Shoppingtown, Miranda. She said she refused to work on Sunday because it was a day to respect God and to be spent with her husband, Jim, and children. She has twin sons, Jason and James, and a daughter, Jannine. She said her boss was aware that she did not want to work on Sundays because of her religious convictions. But when she arrived at work on 18th January management told her she could no longer continue to work full-time five days a week. Mrs Powell said that she was offered casual work of 15 hours on three days a week, Monday, Saturday and Sunday being the nominated days. She refused and is now without a job.
Mrs Powell is now preparing to take her case before the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board. She said, "Because I said I couldn't work those times, I was told to leave there and then. I started there about two years ago and there were no problems with my work. A lot of the stores around here have started trading on Sunday, but we were told it would not be compulsory. I said right from the start I would not work on a Sunday and there didn't seem to be any problems with this". The offered casual employment of 15 hours a week, which was to have started immediately, was unacceptable to Mrs Powell. A company representative responsible for employees at Miranda and other retail outlets was unavailable for comment.
According to the New South Wales Department of Industrial Relations, Employment, Training and Further Education most shops must obtain permission to trade on Sundays and pay penalty rates. But an employer could terminate an employee's service in accordance with the applicable State or Federal award. Under most awards employers have the right to ask their employees to work on Sundays. This factual case of discrimination proves my point: Sunday trading should not have been introduced by the backdoor method without public consultation and an effective debate on legislation that is approved by both Houses of the Parliament of New South Wales.
PARKES ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
The Hon. D. F. MOPPETT
[11.25]: The town of Parkes and surrounding district are supported by a very energetic, resourceful and self-reliant community, which has undertaken admirable initiatives for exciting economic developments. The economic developments are threefold. Recently, final approval was given for the development of a mining operation in the Parkes district. The North Parkes Mine, about 30 kilometres north of the town, will commence operations almost immediately. That mine, from which gold and copper will be extracted, is expected to last about 20 years, and at peak production will employ about 300 people. Another initiative is for the further processing of wool produced in the district and surrounding areas, and plans are afoot to build a commission-based top producing plant. This initiative has reached a critical
stage of planning and development. It is hoped that the plant will be in operation at the end of this year and that tops will be produced by early 1994.
Other economic development has occurred in the hospitality industry, with the establishment of an international standard motel and a McDonald's outlet. Those facilities, together with the existing Pizza Hut and other services in the town, will help to cater to the growing number of tourists travelling along the Newell Highway seeking the pleasures of the Central West of New South Wales. This good fortune has not been regarded by the people of the Parkes district as just good luck. The community has developed a number of admirable initiatives which deserve congratulation. The community has shown leadership and co-operation in developing a committee to perfect in their town joint school education and technical and further education programs. Similar programs are
being developed in other areas of the State but in Parkes they are being targeted in particular at the economic opportunities unfolding in front of that community.
I commend in particular Mr Malcolm Stacey, the principal of Parkes High School, and Mr Ken Engsmyr, the manager of Parkes TAFE, for their part in the committee, which includes shire representatives, parents and students as well as representatives of the motel and mining industries and other sections of industry in the town. The committee was formed with the aim of developing relevant programs in the school to give children the best possible opportunity to fit themselves for opportunities which are opening out before them. The committee is keen to pursue recent directions taken which will encourage competency-based training, part-time study, credit transfer between the higher school certificate and TAFE, and work-based learning.
These initiatives should serve as examples to other communities throughout New South Wales which have similar opportunities available to them. The main thrust of the committee's work has been to develop ways in which a vocational HSC can effectively meet the needs of those students who enter years 11 and 12 with no intention of entering university or the professions. That thrust is particularly relevant to communities in the Central West. The committee has already developed a four-unit hospitality course in which some of the students are already engaged. The aim of the course is that students will come out at the end of their HSC with worthwhile experience which can be converted, with subsequent study, into an employable training certificate that will give them possibilities for employment in Parkes and elsewhere in the State. The major new initiative is a four-unit course based around the wool, metals and manufacturing industries, which is being developed in conjunction with potential employers of the district. That exciting prospect could give a lead to other areas in providing a work force competent to take advantage of economic developments and giving the youth of the district the opportunities they deserve. [Time expired
Motion agreed to.
House adjourned at 11.30 p.m.