Wednesday, 23 October 1996
The President (The Hon. Max Frederick Willis) took the chair at 2.30 p.m.
The President offered the Prayers.
ASSENT TO BILLS
Royal assent to the following bills reported:
Hawkesbury Racecourse Bill
Traffic Amendment (Learner Driver Supervisors) Bill
FILM INDUSTRY AMENDMENT BILL
OATHS AMENDMENT BILL
COMMUNITY LAND DEVELOPMENT AMENDMENT BILL
STRATA TITLES AMENDMENT BILL
Bills received and, by leave, read a first time.
Suspension of standing orders agreed to.
HOME DETENTION BILL
RESIDENTIAL TENANCIES AMENDMENT BILL
Messages received from the Legislative Assembly agreeing to the Legislative Council's amendments.
The following bills were returned from the Legislative Assembly without amendment:
Status of Children Bill
Innovation Council Bill
Governor of New South Wales
Petition praying that the office of Governor of New South Wales not be downgraded, and that the role, duties and future of the office be determined by a referendum, received from the Hon. J. M. Samios.
CHILDREN (CARE AND PROTECTION) ACT: DISALLOWANCE OF REGULATION
Precedence agreed to.
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE [2.38]: I move:
That under section 41(1)(b) of the Interpretation Act 1987, this House disallows the Centre Based and Mobile Child Care Services Regulation 1996, published in Government Gazette No. 99, dated 30 August 1996, pages 5132, tabled in this House on 11 September 1996.
When the Minister said in answer to a question in this House earlier this year, "The primary role of the Government in children's services is to regulate the industry," I did not believe that even he could have meant regulation without due consideration being given to the views of the industry, the capacity of the industry to respond to the regulations, and the capacity of industry to absorb the cost impact. However, that is the impact of this regulation, which commenced operation on 1 September. This regulation has all the hallmarks of being prepared by a department that has not given any priority to the issue.
The regulation should be disallowed for a number of reasons. They include the inadequacy of the regulatory impact statement, the inadequate level of consultation with service providers, the inadequate time frame for community comment, the inclusion of clauses in the regulation that were not in the draft regulation and upon which apparently no consultation occurred, the impact upon the industry of the cost of new regulations without any adequate advice as to the rationale for the changes, and, finally, the most compelling reason of all, the department's own letter, dated 9 September under the signature of Jill Herberte, Acting Director, Child and Family Services, which states in part:
The new regulations came into effect on 1 September, 1996. The department will not be enforcing these regulations with services who are already licensed under the 1989 regulations, until further advice is received regarding implementation time frames.
This is a joke. There are no transitional arrangements in the regulation. The previous regulation had a sunset clause of 31 August. When the Government was asked during the consultation phase of five to six weeks not to proceed with the new regulation because of the gross inadequacy of the whole process, it told service providers it was compelled because of the sunset clause. Yet, the department effectively said in that letter, "Ignore the changes." That was the position as at 9 September. To add further confusion to the already confused state of the industry, the department sent another letter, undated and unsigned, to the industry. The Minister, in answer to a question yesterday, referred to a letter dated 16 October. I assure the Minister that the letter I have sighted bears no date. This letter states that all service providers must comply, except in five areas. However, it also states:
As previously advised by Mrs Herberte's letter, DOCS will not be enforcing some of the new provisions of the regulation with existing services until they have had time to acquaint themselves with these new provisions.
It further states:
During this period all existing services must continue to comply with the relevant provisions of the 1989 regulations.
The letter gives a compliance date of 1 March 1997 for some of the clauses. This begs the legal question about the rights of owners. If the previous regulations have been extinguished by the new regulation, where does that leave owners or managers if an incident occurs? Without legal training I am uncertain, but I would have thought that an owner or a manager could be liable for statutory negligence, notwithstanding any letter from the department. This alone is a compelling reason to disallow the present regulation and require the Government to regazette the previous regulations until it sorts out the mess it has created. Regulation ought to be about setting a framework that is realistic, achievable and affordable; mindful that our key objective is the safety, welfare and wellbeing of the young children using the centres. The Opposition is absolutely committed to good regulation; it is not advocating deregulation, but it wants good regulation.
Let me now turn in detail to the reasons why the regulation should be disallowed. In my view, the regulatory impact statement released by the department represents the low water mark in regulation making, and makes a mockery of the whole concept of cost-benefit analysis. The Government's policy statement on legislative review in February 1995, which it has not altered, stated that as part of competition policy it should be possible to create "a policy environment in which the costs and benefits of government regulation and services provision are subject to transparent assessment". Let me assure the House that this regulation fails on that criteria. There was no adequate cost-benefit analysis; indeed, there are clauses in the regulation that were not in the draft. Let me give an example. Clause 34(2) requires that two people must be on the premises at all times. This may be a good thing, but there is no reference to it in the regulatory impact statement.
There is no information about who was consulted or whether anyone was consulted, whether it has been costed, or the rationale for the change. Not every centre is large; 44 are licensed for ten children or less. Effectively doubling the staff for the centres will add a big cost burden which parents will ultimately bear. There was no attempt in the regulatory impact statement to define what the cost impact will be. The Government should have come clean and admitted that two staff where there was previously one will cause fees to rise. The Government was quick to get on the bandwagon about possible fee rises due to Federal budget changes, but has not come clean on the impact of its own changes. Two staff may be appropriate for children's safety and protection, but operators and parents are deserving of some explanation, especially as there is no such requirement on family day carers, who may have up to seven children.
The latest letter from the department - the unsigned, undated letter mentioned earlier - in fact acknowledges that some services "having difficulty meeting this requirement will be considered on a case-by-case basis". This invites many questions. Is the department saying that economic factors may be considered? How will it determine who must conform and who is excused? The reality is that this letter is a clear admission that the department got it wrong. But where would owners or managers stand legally, even if they were exempted? There is no provision in the regulation for such a case-by-case analysis. This clause highlights another key problem: that the regulations are focused on inputs whereas the principles of good regulation should be a clear focus on desirable outcomes.
Quite simply, this is not a good regulation. The regulatory impact statement presented four options, provided a most cursory of glances at three of them in terms of adequate cost-benefit analysis, and concluded that its favoured model was option four: to roll all children's services regulations into a single regulation and then modify it to produce one new regulation. The option that everything be put on hold until the review of the Act is completed was supported by most of the industry. That is why there is such concern about the regulation, because that did not happen. Since this is all a stopgap measure until a review of the Children (Care and Protection) Act is completed, why do it at all? The regulation did not roll all exiting regulations into one and its modification is far more significant than just making a few minor adjustments. This new regulation that will potentially impose a huge cost burden on the industry, has been introduced as a temporary measure until the review of the Act is completed in 1998. That is simply not good enough and makes a mockery of the Government's interest in small business. The basis for the change was never made clear. The regulation should be disallowed, forcing the Government to redo the process.
If 1 March 1997 is the critical date for some parts of the regulation, the Government could provide a new regulatory impact statement and adequately consult all the industry. Its regulatory impact statement could even validly examine the option of no changes from the previous regulation until the Act review is complete. The department has known since 1989 that the regulation had a sunset clause of 31 August 1996 - it was originally 1995 - yet it released its regulatory impact statement and draft regulation on 30 May, with initially five weeks for community input. While that date was further extended by two weeks, it was hardly compensation for the inadequacy of the process, especially as many providers did not receive the draft until mid-June. The industry is one of small business, usually family run. The capacity of small business to respond within weeks in any fair and meaningful way to such fundamental changes as staff-child ratios, staff qualifications and increased space ratios for children, is not realistic; indeed, it borders on the unconscionable. The Minister's press release of 1 August stated:
I recognise that the time available for consultation was limited, however, the time frame was extended as much as possible.
It was limited, and neither the department nor the Minister has given any explanation for it. With a known sunset clause this process could have commenced last year. The Minister said in the House on 16 October, in answer to a question from the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby:
There is a timetable that must adhered to by law and it was adhered to in this case.
Minister, that is not good enough. The consultation was inadequate, and preparing a regulation on time is no virtue if it is poor, as this regulation clearly is. Key players were not included in the advisory reference group. Private centre providers, for example, who represent more than 60 per cent of the industry, were excluded. I am pleased that the community sector was consulted, but that represents only part of the industry. The Government may have an ideological hang-up with private providers, but they are a fact of life in the industry and they are entitled to run a business and offer affordable child care. Their treatment in this process has been nothing short of a disgrace. It is no wonder that the Premier now recognises the need for a standing committee on small business - I know there are many agendas behind that proposal, but one must surely be to fix up the mess his Ministers make. The regulatory impact statement included the comment that the "primary aim of the current review of the regulation is to ensure that appropriate mechanisms are maintained . . . while the review . . . is completed".
What if the review provides the focus for an entirely new direction? What are the changes that centres will be required to make or that new licensees will be required to provide if all is to change after the review is completed? Those questions alone pose a compelling reason for the disallowance of the regulation. The Government must demonstrate how the 1989 regulation was inadequate, or take steps to reinstate it and then adequately address the regulation process. I wish to comment on some of the features of the regulations that are causing concern among owners. Notwithstanding the letter from the Department of Community Services, the regulations effectively commenced on 1 September, and, as I will demonstrate, will cause cost increases that must be borne by the industry, but for which ultimately parents will pay.
It is clear that before the Minister approved these regulations he failed to ask how compliance would be achieved. That might be a key question suggested by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in its "how to" of preparing quality regulations, but it slipped past the Minister. In relation to schedule 1, did the Minister ask how existing services would be able to provide seven square metres of useable outdoor play space if it is not already available? Would that requirement cover small babies? What is the rationale for the change? Surely that deserves an explanation. If the previous space requirements were inadequate, how was that determined? Why was seven square metres chosen as the criterion, rather than six square metres or nine square metres? In other words, what was the basis for the change? This is bureaucratic decision making gone mad. An adequate regulatory impact statement could have demonstrated the rationale.
The schedule states that areas - plural - must be set aside for administration and private consultation. How many areas does that mean? What does "set aside" mean, anyway? If services must have food preparation facilities including a double sink, microwave, stove and refrigerator, did the Minister ask whether they are necessary if a service does not offer meals? Can the Minister explain why nappy-changing facilities are required for premises that have children under three when some services are licensed to accept 2½-year-olds only if they are toilet trained? Are flyscreen doors really necessary in all centres if plastic straps will do? Does the Minister consider that staff will enjoy the constant banging caused by little children pushing open screen doors? Can the Minister explain how much the required changes will cost centres and why they are necessary?
This is why the regulation should be disallowed. Surely the desired outcome of new regulations should be a safe, secure, affordable system. The outcome of this regulation will be either that centres will close or that costs will increase. A Rolls Royce system is fine for those who can afford a Rolls Royce, but most people will be content with a Holden. Why create something that is not affordable? One of the key provisions of this regulation involves a shift in the day-to-day operation from the owner to the authorised supervisor, effectively excluding owners from many decisions and already giving rise to tensions because Department of Community Services staff are refusing to discuss issues with owners who are not also authorised supervisors. I commend the motion to the House. [Time expired.]
The Hon. R. D. DYER (Minister for Community Services, Minister for Aged Services, and Minister for Disability Services) [2.53]: I welcome the opportunity to debate this motion to disallow the Centre Based and Mobile Child Care Services Regulation 1996. I commence by advising the House that Parliamentary Counsel has advised that should this motion succeed and the regulation be disallowed, child-care services in this State would effectively be unregulated for a minimum period of four months. Under Section 41 of the Interpretation Act the department is prohibited from re-making the regulation for that period, and the previously repealed regulations could not be reinstituted as they have been repealed by another Act, the Subordinate Legislation Act 1989.
The department could make a totally new regulation, but that would need to be done in accordance with the Subordinate Legislation Act and would take more than four months. Do Opposition members really want to take responsibility for having unregulated child care in this State? In the
context of current community concern about the safety of children in our community, and in the face of the often-repeated claims from members opposite that they have the best interests of children at heart, I cannot believe that any member of the House would seriously propagate the view that child care should go unregulated. This debate has been sparked by representations made to the Hon. Patricia Forsythe by the Association of Child Care Centres New South Wales. The association put the view to the honourable member and to many others members that this regulation will make child care unaffordable for most families.
I find it curious that the national newsletter of the same organisation claims proudly that its lobbying has resulted in the new regulations being "so watered down as to ensure that most services will be able to survive as before". That is an extraordinary statement. I completely reject any implication that the New South Wales regulations have been watered down in any way. Certainly changes to the draft regulation were made as a result of the consultation process. After all, that is what consultation is about. The extraordinary thing about this matter, however, is that the association can assert to the Hon. Patricia Forsythe and to the community generally that the regulations are prohibitively expensive and extreme but then say that the regulations pose no problems for their members.
Such conduct seems to be in the same vein as other recent actions of the association. For instance, the association recently distributed a letter to all of its member services asserting that the Department of Community Services has effectively suspended the new regulations. I am able to advise the House that that assertion is false. On 9 September the department wrote to services to allay their concerns that they may be prosecuted for a breach of the new provisions of the regulations before they have sufficient time to become fully acquainted with the new requirements and make the necessary adjustments to their service provision. The department has, in fact, developed an implementation plan for the new regulations that is intended to allow services time to comply with certain changed and new requirements of the regulation. It specifies dates upon which those new or changed requirements must be implemented by services that were previously licensed under the 1989 regulations. All other provisions of the 1996 regulations have been in force since 1 September this year.
The fact that this responsible approach to implementing change is seen by the association as unpreparedness or confusion is itself very confusing. One wonders what the reaction would have been if all services had been expected to comply with all new provisions on 1 September. The association, by taking the irresponsible action of misinforming its members, will create unnecessary confusion and may place its members in a difficult position. It must be remembered that there are penalties for not complying with the regulations. The association also asserts that the costs of child care will "go through the roof" if the regulations are introduced.
In support of that assertion the association cites: first, the requirement that two staff members be present at a centre whenever children are receiving the service will mean the end of small centres run by sole operators; and, second, a requirement for "additional space". The requirement for two staff members to be present while children are in care has been a licensing guideline in this State since 1989. Its inclusion in the regulation merely reinforces what has been common practice and a departmental expectation for the past seven years. It also brings New South Wales standards into line with those of Queensland and Victoria, both of which States have had a similar minimum staff requirement included in their regulations since at least 1989. What the association seems to be saying is that all centres will have to employ additional staff in order to meet that requirement. That is not so.
I assume that the association is really suggesting that some of its members, who are required now to employ more than one staff member because they provide care for more than 10 children at any one time, may need to change their staff rostering practices. Those services, it must be assumed, operate with only one staff member on duty early in the morning and late in the evening. That way of operating is dangerous, and the real issue here is the safety of our children. First, the requirement that at least two staff members be present at all times when children are at a centre is an essential safety measure for both children and staff. Members opposite should be aware that American research into the abuse of children in child care, distributed by the New South Wales Child Protection Council, discloses that 30 per cent of the cases investigated occurred when an adult was left alone with children in a centre.
Secondly, young children need constant supervision. It is impossible for a single person to provide the required level of supervision while engaged in other activities such as accepting a child from a parent, dealing with telephone calls, changing nappies and so on. These activities often mean that the staff member needs to move away from the children to another part of the building. The potential exists for serious harm to occur to children who are not being supervised if a staff member is, for instance, required to deal with an emergency. The potential also exists for a single staff member to have an accident, thus leaving the children unsupervised. Thirdly, what does a service provider do if, without warning, 12 children arrive at 7.30 in the morning, making it necessary for two staff members to be available even under the provisions of the 1989 regulations? Does the service provider tell the parents to take the children home and come back at eight when sufficient staff will be available? Surely no-one can believe that any provider of a service, especially as I am told that these providers
face competitive pressure, would dictate to customers that even though the service was open at 7.30 in the morning their particular child would not be welcome until eight.
Does the association think that parents never have emergencies, that people never decide to go to work early, that the routines of families are always under control and never subject to change without notice? The Centre Based and Mobile Child Care Services Regulation 1996 includes changed requirements relating to the space that must be available both inside and outside at child-care centres. The indoor space requirement is unchanged for children over two years and is actually reduced by 0.93 square metres for each child under two years. Outdoor space requirements have increased slightly. That involves an increase of 0.05 square metres for every child over two years and an increase of 2.04 square metres for every child under two years. If we look at the largest service permitted under the regulation we can more clearly understand the maximum financial impact that these changed requirements could have.
The maximum child numbers are 30 children under two and 60 children aged two or more. The impact on a proposed centre of this size would be a requirement for an additional 64 square metres of open outdoor play space, offset by a reduction of 28 square metres of indoor play space that would have been required if the service had been established under the 1989 regulation. Clearly, the blanket assertion of the association that the regulation requires "additional space" is again untrue, as is its contention that this provision will lead to child-care costs going through the roof. The association must also be aware that clause 39 of the regulation ensures that any centre licensed before 1 September 1996 will not have to comply with these space provisions unless the owner decides to renovate, extend or structurally modify the centre in some way. The space requirement, therefore, carries no cost implications for existing service providers.
New entrants into the industry will, of course, if they intend to cater for children under two years of age, have to comply with these requirements. That means that new providers, if they intend to develop a child-care centre from scratch, will have to buy a slightly larger block of land than they would have had to buy prior to 1 September this year. However, they will now need to build a slightly smaller building than they would have had to build before 1 September. It does not appear from this that the change to the space requirements will cause costs to "go through the roof". It should be pointed out that these space requirements are derived from the national standards for long day care which were agreed to by all States and Territories in 1992. These national standards were endorsed by the previous Minister for Community Services, the Hon. Jim Longley. I am very pleased to have been able to maintain the commitment entered into by the previous Government on this most important issue. The Hon. Helen Sham-Ho said during the debate on children's services held in this place on 12 October 1994:
This Government has a commitment to quality children's services. All parents will agree that the benefit to the children is paramount.
I can only commend the honourable member for these sentiments, which I assume are also held by her colleagues. It appears that the Hon. Patricia Forsythe has allowed herself to be captured by a very confused organisation intent on promoting an extreme agenda of its own without reference to the majority of the members of the industry and, clearly, with little regard to the truth. As honourable members would be aware, the Subordinate Legislation Act is the mechanism established in New South Wales to ensure the regular review of this State's regulations. Under the staged repeal requirements of this Act the following child-care regulations of the Children (Care and Protection) Act 1987 were due for repeal on 1 September 1995: Centre Based Child Care Services Regulation 1989, Family Day Care Services Regulation 1989, Home Based Child Care Services Regulation 1989, and Mobile Child Care Services Regulation 1989.
In late 1994 the State Government also approved a formal review of the Children (Care and Protection) Act 1987. Initially it was planned that the review of regulations required by the Subordinate Legislation Act 1989 would be postponed and that the regulations would be reviewed as part of the review of the Children (Care and Protection) Act 1987. However, in late 1995, when a second postponement of the repeal of the regulations was requested, it had become clear that the review of the Act would not be completed until 1998, and that the consideration of completely new regulations could not be undertaken until after that time. It was considered that to delay a review of the existing regulations for such a period was not warranted, especially given the Government's desire to ensure that all of the State's regulations were reviewed and the previous Government's commitment to the implementation by 1996 of national standards for long day care.
I wish to draw the attention of the House to the correspondence I have received on the topic of the new regulations. The following organisations have written to me to support the introduction of the regulations: KU Children's Services, an organisation that operates 130 child-care services, both funded and commercial; Sydney Day Nursery, an organisation that has been operating both funded and commercial child care for 93 years; and Community Child Care Cooperative, an organisation that represents both parents and service providers. Individual centres and parents have also notified me of their support. I am advised that officers of the Department of Community Services are working with members of the child-care industry to ensure that any issues arising from the implementation of
the regulation are identified and resolved. I am also informed that those provisions which require changes to staff rostering patterns or the development and implementation of new service policies will not be enforced prior to 1 March next year.
Policies are also being developed to ensure that staff, in particular authorised supervisors, who are currently approved but do not hold the qualifications now required for the position are not disadvantaged. These staff will continue to be approved for that particular position in their service. Services which may experience hardship as a result of their small size and the requirement for two adult members of staff to be on the premises at all times that children are present will be considered on a case-by-case basis. There are 44 centres out of the 3,000 in New South Wales which are licensed for between six and 10 children. They may be affected by this new requirement. Twenty-four of these services are funded by the New South Wales State Government. They are likely to be meeting the requirement already. Of the 20 commercial services, it appears likely that eight are operating with a single staff member. So we are actually talking about eight services in relation to this issue. All remaining services provide care for more than 10 children at a time. All of these services will already be employing a minimum of two members of staff, as required under the previous regulations. Department of Community Services staff will work with affected services to ensure that measures are put in place to ensure that the safety of both children and staff can be maintained at all times. The motion is ill conceived and is opposed by the Government. [Time expired.]
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY [3.08: I have been a member of this Parliament since 1981 and I cannot recall any issue since that time that has resulted in my being sent so much correspondence. This week I have signed more than 450 letters in reply to correspondence sent to me by people who have been heavily organised by the Association of Child Care Centres of New South Wales. I do not mind receiving letters on issues; that is a legitimate form of lobbying. However, I do object - as I have pointed out to Lyn Connolly, executive officer of the association - to receiving, as I did, 70 letters that all came from the same address and were all in the same handwriting. I certainly object to what is revealed by telephone calls to my office consequent upon my replies to correspondence sent to me, for I had telephone calls to the effect, "I never wrote to you. Why do you believe that you had a letter from me? Where did you get my name and address from?" I have explained to Lyn Connolly that that sort of lobbying is very damaging to her association and that, whatever happens, it must not occur again. However, that being said, I believe there has been undue haste in introducing these new regulations. I do not know who served on the advisory reference group.
A reading of the documentation that has been put out with the regulatory impact statement dated 20 May 1996, discussing the review process, reveals it to be talking about the advisory reference group without telling us who were the members of that group. It seems possible that some of the biggest child-care centres, those that one might describe as the most prestigious child-care centres in New South Wales, were included and consulted. It is probable that others running child-care centres did not take part in the consultation process. The problem has arisen simply because over the years there have been too many changes of Minister. This legislation originally came into place in 1987 with the passing of the Community Welfare Act and the Children (Care and Protection) Act.
In 1994 the Government approved a formal review of those key pieces of legislation. However, the review did not commence until 1995. In 1995, as we all know, there was a change of government, and a new Minister came into the department even before the review could have got going properly. It is possible that the review was not even brought to the Minister's attention until he was some months into his first term of office. The objectives of care and protection regulations are impeccable. Nobody could disagree with them. They are that children in care be guaranteed a safe environment and minimum standards of care; that the rights of children, parents and carers shall be respected and protected; and that inappropriate individuals shall not be allowed to care for children. Nobody could disagree with those objectives.
The document includes the various options. In fact, four options were given to the Minister on what the changes could be. The department decided upon, and advised the Minister to choose, option four, although the department apparently said that it would have no objection with continuing with option three as a no-change option. Some concerns brought to the attention of the Opposition by the Association of Child Care Centres of New South Wales are reasonable. For example, I totally support the association when it says that it believes that no child-care centre should have a swimming pool. I regard that as a reasonable objection. But I fully and totally support the need for two people to be on duty at all times, for all the reasons that the Minister mentioned in his contribution to this debate.
Further, I believe it is necessary to have a separate area in which parents and staff can have private conversations about any child in the centre. That should be a room or small office where parents and staff can discuss problems that may have arisen with one of the children in care. I can see absolutely nothing wrong with that. I am concerned, however, if there is to be a rapid change to the type of carers through provisions regarding qualifications of staff and qualifications of supervisors. It is necessary to have trained carers looking after children. I do not believe it is reasonable to argue that children being looked after in their own homes are being looked after by parents who are not trained to look after
those children. It is true, of course, that many people are inadequate parents and that problems can arise in the home when a child is looked after at home. Regrettably, some women do not have innate parenting skills. Perhaps life would be much simpler and better if they did.
I believe a longer period should have been allowed for consultation. Lack of consultation is a matter that has been raised over and over again. I was interested to discover, in the letter that the Association of Child Care Centres wrote to the chairperson of the Regulation Review Committee seeking disallowance of the regulation, that the association described itself as the peak organisation for approximately 350 small-business suppliers of child-care services in this State. I do not believe the provision of child care should be regarded as a profit-making business, any more than I believe that the running of a nursing home should be regarded as a profit-making business. Those who wish to invest their money in a business that will make them a profit have many opportunities to do so, but a provider of child care is not a suitable one.
Now that all those objections have been raised, there needs to be careful consideration of whether the new regulation will or will not work. For that reason, to allow more time for consultation, I support the disallowance. The Minister said in his remarks that anyone who supported the disallowance motion would be party to leaving the whole of the industry unregulated. Unfortunately, the Minister does not have the opportunity to reply to matters raised in this debate. However, my information is that if these regulations are disallowed today, all that need happen is that the Minister immediately proclaim the old regulations. There need be no gap at all in legislative provisions. There is no danger at all that child-care centres will be left in limbo without knowing what their legal position is.
Honourable members know perfectly well that in the past, when the House has disallowed regulations, Ministers have with great ease immediately reproclaimed the old regulations. I argued that procedure with the Minister for Corrective Services during the Greiner administration because it led to a ridiculous situation. I suggest to the Minister that if this motion for disallowance of the regulation is passed he has a very simple option: he could immediately reproclaim the old regulations, therefore covering the care organisations by legislation. Yesterday I asked the Minister in question time what the legal position of child-care centres was, having received the letter from the department which the Minister tabled. I did not get a full answer to that question, and that is of concern. I do not think it matters whether the department will or will not prosecute. What matters is the legal position of the child-care centres in the interim. [Time expired.]
The Hon. JANELLE SAFFIN [3.18]: I oppose the motion because if it were carried the State would be left with no regulatory provisions governing child-care service other than home care, which is covered by a separate regulation. That fact must be known to the mover of the motion because only a few days ago, on 17 October 1996, Ms Lyn Connolly, Vice-President of the Association of Child Care Centres of New South Wales, and Mr Ian Weston, legal consultant to the association, called at Parliament House and spoke with Mr Jim Jefferis, the Director of the Regulation Review Committee and Mr Don Beattie, the committee's research officer, about the association's concerns with the regulation.
They advised the director that they had spoken to various members of this House to gain support for their proposal that the regulation be disallowed. They gave the director a two-page letter containing a summary of their reasons for wanting disallowance of the centre-based child-care regulation. The six main objections in that summary were that the licensee of a service must in future ensure that at least two members of staff are present on the premises at all times during provision of service; that child-care centres now have to employ a trained cook; that the requirement for outdoor play space has been increased by 41 per cent, which in many cases would not make a great deal of difference as it would not be such a big area; that the new regulations are less flexible; that in some areas, the regulations do not go far enough; that some of the regulations are uncertain or impractical; and that in the association's view there was an inadequate review process preceding the making of the regulation and that had led to uncertainty in the industry.
Much of that is untrue because there was not uncertainty and up to that point the review process had been complied with. The Director of the Regulation Review Committee advised Ms Connolly that this regulation was listed for consideration by the Regulation Review Committee at its meeting on 23 October 1996. He said the committee would examine the adequacy of the consultation preceding the making of the regulation, as the committee does with all regulations, and other matters relevant to the objections made by the association. So at this stage the committee has not had an opportunity to consider those questions. The director suggested that the association await the outcome of the committee's scrutiny of this regulation. The last date for disallowance of this regulation is 12 November 1996, so there is still adequate time to allow the Regulation Review Committee to carry out its responsibilities.
Mr Jefferis made two further points. He said that although in a normal case disallowance of a regulation would result in the revival of the previous regulation, in this case the result would be different because the repeal of the earlier regulation was governed by the provisions of the Subordinate Legislation Act. Under that Act regulations sunset every five years and the only way to prolong the existence of a regulation affected by the staged repeal process is for the Governor to postpone the
repeal under section 11 of that Act. Postponement has not occurred in this case and it will be impossible to revive the previous regulation, as some speakers in the debate have suggested.
The legal consequence is that the disallowance of the Centre Based and Mobile Child Care Services Regulation 1996 will not lead to the restoration of the 1989 regulation. The result will be that this State will be left with no regulation governing child-care services, apart from those governing home-based services. Another serious consequence that will attach to the disallowance is that because of section 8 of the Subordinate Legislation Act it will not be possible to make another regulation which is the same in substance for a further four months. In these circumstances the present regulation could not be remade until March 1997. That may also apply to the earlier regulation if it were adjusted to be in substantially similar terms so as to fall within the prohibition.
As a member of the Regulation Review Committee I therefore strenuously oppose the motion. Whatever the merits of the case for objecting to the regulation, several reasonable and preferable options could be followed. Most of these options should be through a process of discussion between the Minister, representatives of his department and the association about the association's problems, and having regard also to any recommendations made by the Regulation Review Committee. I believe such discussions are already under way. I understand that the Department of Community Services acknowledges some difficulties with the immediate enforcement of the regulation which need to be examined and resolved. That is apparent from a memorandum sent on 22 October 1996 to the Regulation Review Committee advising that the Department of Community Services understood that the child-care industry required further time to fully implement the new provisions.
As has already been stated in the debate, the memorandum advises that the department will not aggressively enforce compliance with certain new provisions until the industry has had time to make the required changes. The specified provisions effected by this memorandum are as follows: staff currently employed as cooks in child-care services will have until 1 September 1997 to complete the required training under clause 23(3); services will have until 1 March 1997 to make available to parents the information required under clause 24(1); services which do not currently meet the requirement for two staff to be on the premises at all times will have until 1 March 1997 to meet that requirement; services will have until 1 March 1997 to comply with the requirement relating to food and drink under clause 3 of the code of conduct; and, finally, services will have until 1 March 1997 to fully comply with the requirements relating to the management of infectious diseases under clause 5 of the code of conduct.
Obviously a time factor is operating. When regulations are introduced in any industry - whether it be child care, heavy industry or whatever - it usually takes the industry some time to comply fully with all of them. That is simply a recognition of day-to-day operational matters and of real life. It is not the first time it has happened and it will not be the last. For a long time it has been government practice, no matter which party was in government. Apart from those provisions the department calls upon the industry to immediately implement all other provisions of the 1996 regulation. This initiative should assist in the resolution of some of the association's problems, although there are other ways in which the scheme could be implemented.
The department could respond by considering a regulatory amendment to the provisions. I suggest that departmental officers discuss this matter further with the Parliamentary Counsel. To conclude, I argue that the difficulties with this regulation will be resolved in appropriate discussions between the Minister, his departmental officers and the association. I commend that course to the House in preference to the course that will lead to the loss of many regulatory safeguards for children. That is exactly what we will end up with: a vacuum with everyone worried about complying or not complying. If the disallowance motion is successful, the children of this State will have no regulatory safeguards whatsoever.
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD (Leader of the Opposition) [3.27]: I will deal first with the claim made by some speakers in the debate that no regulation will be in force if the 1996 regulation is repealed. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Centre Based and Mobile Child Care Services Regulation is being repealed by clause 38 of the regulation. The 1989 regulations have not been repealed and clause 38 provides that they will continue to have effect. That deals with the furphy that has been pursued by the Government that no regulation will be in place. To put it simply, the repeal is disallowed and the existing regulations continue to have effect. The claim by the Minister that section 41 of the Interpretation Act provides that no regulation can be made for four months is also inaccurate. Section 41 of the Interpretation Act has nothing whatsoever to do with remaking regulations. From whom is the Minister taking advice on this matter? I assure him that section 41 of that Act is not the relevant section. I refer the Minister to section 8(2) of the Subordinate Legislation Act, which provides, inter alia:
(2) No statutory rule, being the same in substance as the statutory rule so disallowed, may be published in the Gazette within 4 months after the date of the disallowance -
That is very simple. But it continues:
- unless the resolution has been rescinded by the House of Parliament by which it was passed.
The Minister did not inform the House about that section. A Minister may come back to the House and say, "I intend to remake the regulations by deleting clauses 1, 2 and 3, and that will meet the concerns of the House. Will the House now rescind its disallowance?" If the Minister were to give an assurance that he would make a new regulation which would disallow or repeal the regulation in question, obviously the House would rescind its resolution and allow the Minister to proceed accordingly. The legislation contains such a provision. Furthermore, the Minister has not referred - and I suppose his advisers have not told him about this either, since he is concentrating on the Interpretation Act - to section 6 of the Subordinate Legislation Act. Had it been so, as the Hon. Janelle Saffin said, that the regulation had been repealed previously by some other rule and we were now dealing with a rule that would have resulted in a hiatus, what could have been done?
It has been argued by some of the boffins in the central agencies - I was hit between the eyes with the same advice when I was the Minister, until I pointed out to them what the law actually was - that the Subordinate Legislation Act prevents one from making a new regulation unless one complies with section 5 of the Act, which deals with regulatory impact statements. The boffins conveniently decided not to advise me - and no doubt conveniently decided not to advise Ministers in this Government - that section 6(1)(b) allows the Minister to certify in writing that the public interest requires that a statutory rule may be made without compliance with the regulatory impact statement provision. That means that, in relation to the 1989 regulation had it been disallowed, the Minister could claim that it was in the public interest to remake the 1989 regulation and to do so without compliance with section 5 of the Subordinate Legislation Act. The hiatus argument raised by the Minister against the disallowance has no substance.
The Hon. R. D. Dyer: Did the previous Government ever exercise the right to make a regulation in the public interest and then it set aside?
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD: Yes, I did.
The Hon. R. D. Dyer: How many times?
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD: I cannot recall, but I did do it. And I did so because I found out that what I had been told by the boffins at the central agencies was not right. I regret that I have to say this so strongly to the Minister, but I advise him that there is provision to allow for the filling of a hiatus, if there were a hiatus. However, the regulation that we are seeking to disallow today is that which would have repealed the 1989 regulation, and as we are disallowing that regulation today, the 1989 regulation continues to have effect.
The Hon. ANN SYMONDS [3.34]: I support the arguments of the Minister and oppose the disallowance motion moved by the Hon. Patricia Forsythe. I listened with interest to the contribution of the Leader of the Opposition, but the advice received by the Government from the Parliamentary Counsel is that the disallowance motion being carried would leave a void. We cannot afford to take risks in relation to this matter. I do not want to debate the interpretation of specific sections of Acts. The Government has received advice and it is acting upon that advice - and that is the safe thing to do so far as children are concerned. The Minister for Community Services is charged with protecting up to 300,000 children aged between birth and 5 years who use child care every year in New South Wales.
The years before children turn five are the most critical years for their learning and development. If the care and education services that children receive in those early years are of a high quality, the results are extremely beneficial. They promote socialisation, self-confidence, learning and physical development. However, if they are not of a high quality, the results can be counter-productive. They can undermine a child's self-concept and produce destructive behaviour and negative attitudes to learning. Because child care is in a position to so dramatically effect the lives of children and families, the New South Wales Government has for many years intervened in the child-care market by regulating service providers. I noted that the Hon. Patricia Forsythe was not interested in so-called Rolls Royce regulations. I believe that regulations cannot be high enough so far as children are concerned.
The Hon. J. F. Ryan: No, but you can have them so high that people cannot afford them.
The Hon. ANN SYMONDS: The regulatory regime was introduced as a response to community concern that the consequences of market failure - either failure to provide an appropriate quality service or to adequately protect the health and safety of children using the services - would be too severe to risk. In response to the interjection of the Hon. J. F. Ryan, I advise him that I can recall a time when children died in child care because of lack of regulation. The issue of what constitutes quality care is a matter of debate. The debate generally centres on questions of staff - staff-child ratios and staff qualifications - the space available for children to play in, the standard of building and equipment and the quality of interaction between adults and children. These are the central issues dealt with in the Centre Based and Mobile Child Care Services Regulations 1996.
The remaking of the child-care regulations offered the opportunity to make some improvements to the 1989 regulations - improvements that were based on the experience of service providers in administering and complying with the 1989 regulations for 6 years, and improvements that were suggested by a number of external organisations, such as the Child Protection Council. That is good enough for me. At the same time the remaking process offered the State the opportunity to implement the national standards for long day care
that the previous Liberal Government had agreed to introduce into regulation by 1996. The Government has a statutory responsibility to provide for the protection and assistance of families, children and individuals who, because of age, disability or social dislocation may be exploited or require protection from exploitation. Its regulatory role is based on the recognition of the vulnerability of these client groups. I am sure that members opposite are well aware of the vulnerability of children using child care. After all, as the Hon. Virginia Chadwick pointed out in this House on 12 October 1994:
The first and foremost target -
of State-funded child-care services -
is vulnerable families, including families with children with special needs, such as children with disabilities; children who come from families of non-English speaking backgrounds; Aboriginal families and children; single parent families; families living in isolated rural communities . . . families and children who are socially or economically disadvantaged; and families and children who are at risk of neglect or abuse.
In other words, the regulatory regime is targeted to protect children and families, who are the least powerful and the most in need of protection. The principal object of the proposed regulation is to give effect to the provisions of the Children (Care and Protection) Act 1987, which relates to the care and protection of children using child-care services. There seems to be so much concern about market availability these days and a lack of attention to the quality of care that is required for children, for which we have the responsibility. The Centre Based and Mobile Child Care Services Regulation 1996 sets minimum standards for service delivery in those services. In undertaking the remaking process the department had to balance a complex array of interest and influences in a very sensitive environment. For instance, the Child Protection Council and the royal commission into policing both produced evidence to support increased measures to protect children in child care.
At the same time there is a clear expectation that nothing will be done to increase the costs of care such that supply is limited or families with lower incomes cannot access it. Early childhood professionals cite research findings that suggest very high standards should be prescribed for the quantity and mix of equipment for use in child care and for the teaching program used, starting with babies. Service providers expect, legitimately, that they will be treated even-handedly. This can only be done by making regulatory standards concrete and measurable and so limit the discretion that can be exercised by regulatory staff. The draft of these child-care regulations was developed as a result of constant discussion and consultation with all sectors of the industry and other interested parties. The parties consulted were the Department of Health, Worksafe Australia, the Miscellaneous Workers Union, the Independent Education Union, the Institute of Early Childhood Studies, service providers, departmental staff who had been involved in administering regulation, and the general public.
The Hon. J. F. Ryan: Public servants, public servants, public servants.
The Hon. ANN SYMONDS: These are the workers in the system. During the six years that the 1989 regulations were in place, those people were consulted. The discussions centred on the improvements that could be made to the 1989 regulations. I believe that parents would be concerned that the best possible regulations be made applicable to the centres where their children are in care. In remaking the regulation, consideration was given to such issues as reducing the number of regulations by grouping them, simplifying the language of the regulations, incorporating national standards and other relevant standards, addressing anomalies and inconsistencies in the existing regulations previously identified by the community - I presume that means the community who use the child-care centres - and the department, formal incorporation into the regulations, and requirements previously provided as guidelines to the regulations.
Some of the specific changes that were made to the 1989 regulations were as a result of a direct response to representations made to the department by service providers, both community-based and commercial, most notably the Association of Child Care Centres of New South Wales. For example, the association made many representations to the department about the difficulties resulting from the lack of specificity in the 1989 regulations concerning the qualifications required for authorised supervisors and the process used by the department's children's services advisers in approving people to be authorised supervisors. They were of the view that decisions about those who could be approved to be authorised supervisors were made inconsistently throughout the State. The new regulation sets specific minimum qualifications for such staff which are in line with industry standards. This will significantly improve the consistency of departmental decisions concerning the appointment of people to the position of authorised supervisor.
The consultation process was conducted in accordance with the requirements of the Subordinate Legislation Act 1989. Advertisements were designed to notify the public that the documents were available, in order to encourage participation, and advertisements in 17 languages were placed in appropriate newspapers to allow that participation to occur. Documents were mailed to 3,000 licensed child-care services in the State and 6,000 submissions were received. Consultation was wide-ranging and every attempt was made to enable everyone who had a concern about the issue to participate in the process. I am concerned to place on the record my alarm that anyone would try to remove these safety provisions and standards which go towards ensuring that, when away from their homes, our children receive quality care. The motion makes no sense. The Government has tightened child-care regulations to improve the safety of children in child-care centres and the Opposition is attempting to frustrate those initiatives.
The Hon. J. F. RYAN [3.44]: The motion is designed to challenge the arrogance of departmental officials over the power of parents and the power of service providers in the child-care industry. When I entered Parliament I was a continuous user of child-care services for my two toddlers, who have only recently started school. It was a day-to-day experience that I had in very recent times. My wife works in the child-care industry and I have, as a result of her work, taken a great deal of interest in how that industry operates. I believe I am reasonably well qualified to speak, and have practical knowledge about, how these regulations will work in the real world. These regulations are not entirely practicable; they need to be completely rewritten. Essentially what we have been told by the Government is that this cannot be done because we had to accord with some regime and timetable established by national standards and departmental officials.
The truth is we can go back tomorrow to the standards that existed only a couple of months ago, standards that were hardly unreasonable. They had regulated the industry since 1989 and were not found to be wildly inadequate. We could go back to them while there is proper and thorough consultation with the industry in order to achieve excellent standards for child care. Members of the Opposition urge the Government to have good standards for child care. The Opposition does not disagree with that; it simply wants practical standards that people can afford and that current workers in the industry can implement. I want to deal now with a few practical issues which are important in respect of these new standards. The first relates to the issue of space requirements in child-care centres.
As the Minister explained, the new space requirements allow for the provision of 0.05 square metres for every child over two years and 2.0 square metres for every child under two years. What scientific information is there that this precise increase will provide anything more significant for children than the current standards? In respect of outdoor and indoor space, what about the condition that these regulations have to regulate not only industry as it exists now but also industry in the future? We know that the inner-city areas of Sydney are being redeveloped. Many people will be keeping their children indoors almost all of the time. Is it therefore as relevant to consider indoor versus outdoor space in Pyrmont as it might be in the developing suburb of Penrith?
Take as an example a child-care centre in, say, Campsie which already has its land space determined. The Minister has suggested that such a centre could catch up with the new space requirements when the premises are renovated. Does that mean that service providers will postpone the painting of premises; that the changing of windows from wood to aluminium, which might seal better, and the addition of a new pergola will have to wait because the centre cannot increase the space it has available? For years many centres have operated with one member of staff for the first half hour of the day in order to permit proper scheduling of their work time. There is no doubt that if changes are necessary, extra costs will be involved. These regulations ought to be thrown out. As someone who knows something about this industry, I support the motion for disallowance. The necessity for it has been outlined to the House, as has what should happen in the interim during which time those in the industry and parents should be asked to provide more practical details.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [3.48]: Call to Australia supports the disallowance motion and has received advice that, following the vote on the motion, the existing regulations would automatically come into effect; that there will be no gap. I could speak at length on this issue. I have had discussions with representatives of the Association of Child Care Centres of New South Wales, which is very concerned about the new regulations. That organisation has supplied me with a list of criticisms - a typed summary of reasons for disallowing the centre-based child-care regulation. To save the time of the House, and with the leave of the House, that document will be incorporated in Hansard.
Association of Child Care Centres of NSW
Suite 12, 2 O'Connell Street, Parramatta NSW 2150
P.O. Box 660, Parramatta NSW 2124
Telephone (02) 687 9055 Facsimile (02) 687 9066
SUMMARY OF REASONS FOR DISALLOWING CENTRE-BASED CHILD CARE REGULATIONS
Inadequate time for proper consultation with industry and parents.
The Department is supposed to assess the costs and benefits of their proposed changes. That analysis was not done properly; many of the new regulations are not workable, will unnecessarily increase costs, reduce jobs, the supply of child-care places, and reduce the availability of age and needs based developmental programs for children.
Two adults to be present at all times Reg 34(2)
* new requirement, not disclosed in Regulation Impact Statement, no cost/benefit,
* will make some smaller centres unviable, reducing choice for parents
* even 30 place centres dramatically affected,
* policy objective not clear, alternative methods need investigation/analysis.
Child Care Centres to employ a trained cook Reg 23
* new requirement, not in Regulation Impact Statement, no cost/benefit,
* is training available?, at what cost?, at what times?,
* duplicates other requirements in Schedule 2 concerning nutrition,
* creates wrong incentive - centres not "prepare" food - may not be in children's best interest - counter-productive,
* objective not clear, alternatives need analysis and consultation.
Outdoor play space Schedule 1, Cl. 1
* present requirement of 4.96 sq. m. increased by 41%, to 7 sq. m. for every child less than 2 years,
* experience shows that the existing requirement is adequate!
What analysis to justify the increase?
What impact on affordability and access?
New Regulations are less flexible, not more
* old regulation 10(1)(b) meant Minister could authorise sensible changes to the 30/60 mix of age groups ie 30 under 2 60 over 2 years and mixed year birthdays - removed from the new Reg 30!
* old reg 10(1)(b) allowed Minister to react flexibly to emergency increases in maximum numbers (eg. funeral or court attendance) - removed from new Reg 31!
In some areas, regulations don't go far enough
* Experience shows that all children 2 years and up need access to bed at about the same time - but the regulations say one bed for every two licensed places is enough. Schedule 1, Cl 7
* swimming pools should be excluded altogether! Schedule 1, Cl 13
* outdoor play space should be mandatory for all centres wherever located! Schedule 1, Cl 4
Some regulations are uncertain or impractical
* Schedule 1 Cl 9 says that fences "must prevent . . . intruders from entering the premises" could any fence achieve that absolute level?
* children do play in passageways!, why exclude passageways from the definition of indoor play place? - Schedule 1, Cl. 1(3)
* an uncosted regulation says centres have to provide "areas" for "administration", "private consultation" and "respite of staff";
what do those terms mean?
why, if needed at all, would separate areas be needed? Schedule 1, Cl. 1.
* flyscreens on back doors - picture this - 3 year old Mary going out knocks 2 year old Johnny off his feet - repeated all day long - Wide and thick plastic streamers are safe and serviceable. This regulates means - not ends! Schedule 1, Cl 14.
* taking records away from centres for copying risks losing them. Portable copy machines make this requirement outdated. Reg 15(3).
Inadequate review process has created uncertainty
* New Regulations, commenced 1 September, 1996.
On 9 September, Department, in effect, disallowed those regulations. As a result of the confusion and uncertainty created by Department, industry has to choose between the Regulations, or the Department's notice. Who is responsible if industry makes the `wrong' choice?
* It is likely that many private centres are still not aware of the impact of changes.
* Department's actions disclose:
* That it does not properly understand regulation-making or regulation enforcement.
* Nevertheless, the Department's inept handling confirms that disallowance is a practical option, pending proper assessment and consultation with industry and parents.
A strong, fair society, underpinned by a healthy and growing economy, depends on having regulations which work properly. But sensible rules, being sensibly applied, providing reasonable public protection at reasonable cost don't just happen by accident.
That is why the principles of sound regulation-making exist, and that is why Parliament should say that those principles of proper assessment of impact and proper consultation must be taken seriously.
I confirm Call to Australia's support for the disallowance motion.
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE [3.50], in reply: I thank all honourable members who contributed to this debate. The Hon. Janelle Saffin hit the nail on the head when she said that the Department of Community Services acknowledges some difficulty. That is what this motion is all about. The department got it wrong, the Minister signed off on it, and now the department and the Minister are trying to unscramble the eggs. The Opposition believes that the existing regulation should prevail until there has been adequate consultation and an attempt has been made to carry out a meaningful cost-benefit analysis, so that if fees are to rise the Government will be accountable to the community and to parents. The Opposition believes in affordable child care and that the new regulations will force costs to increase.
The Hon. Ann Symonds made the comment that we cannot have standards that are too high - the Rolls Royce standard I referred to earlier. The honourable member is correct, of course, but if child care becomes unaffordable then parents will be forced to take their children out of organised centres to untrained, unregulated, backyard operators - and by that I do not mean family day care. The regulations should be disallowed because they need to be better costed and better explained to the industry. While the Minister did a good job of bucketing the Association of Child Care Centres, I point out that the issue was first brought to my attention by ordinary centre owners, and was reinforced when I addressed the Quality Childcare Association conference in Manly on 7 September. It is not one group of people that is protesting; concern has been expressed across the industry. The parents of New South Wales deserve better than this. Small business is rightly concerned about red tape. The regulations are an example of bureaucracy at its worst. The new rules are unexplained and unjustified, unworthy of any government, and should be disallowed by the House. I again commend the motion to the House.
Question - That the motion be agreed to - put.
The House divided.
Mr Bull Mrs Nile
Mr Corbett Rev. Nile
Mrs Forsythe Dr Pezzutti
Mr Gallacher Mr Ryan
Miss Gardiner Mr Samios
Mr Gay Mrs Sham-Ho
Dr Goldsmith Mr Rowland Smith
Mr Hannaford Mr Tingle
Mr Kersten Tellers,
Miss Kirkby Mr Jobling
Mr Lynn Mr Moppett
Mrs Arena Ms Saffin
Dr Burgmann Mr Shaw
Ms Burnswoods Ms Staunton
Mr Dyer Mrs Symonds
Mr Johnson Mr Vaughan
Mr Macdonald Tellers,
Mr Obeid Mrs Isaksen
Mr Primrose Mr Manson
Mrs Chadwick Mr Egan
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
BUSINESS ENTERPRISE CENTRE FUNDING
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD: I ask the Treasurer, Minister for Energy, Minister for State and Regional Development, Minister Assisting the Premier, and Vice-President of the Executive Council whether he is aware of reports in Business Sydney of 7 October indicating that funding for business enterprise centres will be "reallocated". Can the Treasurer assure the House that the promotion and implementation of small business initiatives are safe and that the reallocation, which I understand is another term for "cut", will not occur? Will small businesses be victim to the slash and burn economic policies of this Government?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I can assure the Leader of the Opposition that the Government is very supportive of small business, not only in the general economic and financial policies which the Government has introduced but also through the specific industry assistance programs operated by my Department of State and Regional Development. I think the honourable member would be aware that funding for the business enterprise centres was always meant to be short term. The centres are not government instrumentalities; they are organisations that come from the community and are supported by government. We are attempting to change the basis of funding so that instead of those organisations receiving grants they will receive finance from the Government on a fee-for-service basis.
COMMONWEALTH-STATE AGED-CARE SERVICES TRANSFER
The Hon. PATRICIA STAUNTON: Will the Minister for Community Services, Minister for Aged Services, and Minister for Disability Services inform the House of the community feedback he has received about the Commonwealth's plans to transfer aged-care funding to the States?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I had the pleasure this morning of opening the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association annual conference in Sydney. This was a welcome opportunity to outline directly to older people the Government's policy on ageing. Not surprisingly, the issue that proved to be of the utmost concern to the CPSA delegates was the transfer of aged-care funding from the Commonwealth to the States. Over the coming months there will be much debate and many claims and counterclaims about the direction of aged-care policy in Australia. All citizens need to be aware of the changes that are being proposed and to make sure that their voices are heard in the debate. I welcome every opportunity I am given to participate directly in the debate.
In addition, the Government has already announced the formation of an aged-care reference group, chaired by my colleague the Hon. Patricia Staunton, with representatives of more than 20 relevant organisations and unions, to assist the Government in its consultation process. While the Government has agreed to participate in the discussions about the proposed aged-care agreements, no decision on the transfer of responsibilities has yet been made. I am pleased to inform the House that this morning I was able to provide the CPSA delegates with a guarantee that unless the funding package offered to New South Wales is sufficient to meet the needs of older people, no agreement with the Commonwealth will be made. It is with some modesty that I report that my assurance was received with applause. This Government is committed to equity and social justice for older Australians. We will not consent to a process that will undermine quality care for the growing aged population of New South Wales. CPSA members, along with other older people in New South Wales, recognise that when this Government gives a commitment to getting the best deal for older people it really means it.
EXOTIC DISEASE SCREENING
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL: I address my question to the Minister for Community Services, Minister for Aged Services, and Minister for Disability Services, representing the Minister for Agriculture. As the Sydney Olympic Games will result in a huge influx of overseas visitors to New South Wales, quarantine services at Sydney airport will be stretched to the limit. What measures will the New South Wales Government put in place to protect our agricultural industries from exotic diseases given that the Labor Government has closed two of the regional diagnostic veterinary laboratories in New South Wales?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I shall refer that question to my colleague the Minister for Agriculture for a response.
CONSUMER PRICE INDEX
The Hon. B. H. VAUGHAN: Will the Treasurer please inform the House about today's consumer price index results? I would particularly like to know what implications they have for official interest rates.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: This morning the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the consumer price index results for the September quarter. The figures show that the underlying consumer price index increased by 0.5 per cent during the quarter, which was very close to market expectations of between 0.3 per cent and 0.7 per cent. For the year to the end of September, inflation coasted along at 2.4 per cent, smack bang in the middle of the Reserve Bank's target range of 2 to 3 per cent. It is clear that inflation is moderating; it is down from 3.1 per cent for the year to the end of June to 2.4 per cent for the year to the end of September. Today's result is a big green light for a modest 0.5 per cent cut in official interest rates. Given the weak performance of the labour market, the 0.5 per cent underlying September quarter CPI increase shows that the economy is not growing as fast as it can. We need an interest rate cut to create jobs, and we need it now. Low inflation will of course ease wage demands as, I might add, will a cut in interest rates. With 800,000 people out of work and a poor outlook for the job market, we must act now.
ATTITUDES TO AGEING
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. PEZZUTTI: My question is directed to the Minister for Community Services, Minister for Aged Services, and Minister for Disability Services. What is the Government doing to promote in the community a positive attitude to ageing? Why has the Minister not spent the $100,000 allocated to address negative attitudes to ageing?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: Positive ageing and healthy ageing are important concepts that are being encouraged by the Government. As recently as this morning, when I was addressing the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association, I spoke on that topic, among others. It clearly is important that governments of whatever colour address that question and positively support healthy and positive ageing.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: So what are you doing?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: If the honourable member cared to listen he would have heard me say that I was promoting this concept as recently as this morning. The Government has a body called the consultative committee on ageing that advises it on ageing issues, and the Government always listens to advice it is given on this matter. There is nothing party political about healthy ageing. In fact a few weeks ago a meeting of health and community service Ministers in Melbourne agreed upon a joint commitment to promote healthy ageing issues, no matter what jurisdiction - State, Territory or Federal - might be in question. The Government has demonstrated its strong commitment to the needs of the ageing community by the maintenance of a separate ministerial responsibility on ageing and the creation of a new Department of Ageing and Disability.
It has been estimated that a total of $139 million has been allocated to the following ageing-related programs and projects in the financial year 1996-97: $134.8 million towards the home and community care program, out of a total program budget of $195 million; $4 million allocated over the next three years for the aged-care policy framework, including $2 million for the development of a New South Wales action plan on dementia; $400,000 for the continuation of the community care demonstration projects; $300,000 to continue to work cooperatively with other government departments to address the question of elder abuse in our community - a very serious but hidden problem; $1 million allocated towards developing innovative ways to fund and deliver local public transport to older people; and $100,000 towards a community education campaign to address negative attitudes towards ageing and older people. There is a problem in the media with negative attitudes to older people.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: So what are you doing about it?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: If the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti had listened, he would have heard me say that $1.1 million had been allocated to the seniors card scheme, and that $372,000 will be spent on the seniors information service, an easily accessible information telephone service specifically for older people and for those who work with or for older people. That initiative fulfils a key election promise that we made to older people. It is being managed by the New South Wales Council on the Ageing, and it has been an outstanding success. In the first two months of its operation there were more than 3,000 calls to the information service. Nearly
$1.2 million has been provided for community care services and the community care services grants program -
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: Those are frail-aged measures.
The Hon. R. D. DYER: Not at all. The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti, by his interjections, often shows his ignorance. The Government has implemented a number of other initiatives for older people since the 1995 election. It has reinstated intrastate train concessions for pensioners, something the previous Government would never do. It has also expanded the free spectacles program. It is true that some of the matters that I have mentioned assist the frail aged, but others assist with the matter referred to by the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: Not one of them does.
The Hon. R. D. DYER: The seniors information line certainly does, as do the seniors card scheme and the community education campaign to address negative attitudes towards older people. The Government is well aware of the importance of promoting positive attitudes towards older people and promoting healthy ageing, and that is precisely what this Government is doing.
ATTITUDES TO AGEING
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. PEZZUTTI: I ask a supplementary question. Would the Minister like me to put the question on notice so that he can read it and thus understand it better before he next gives an answer?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: That is a stupid question, but one we could expect from the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti.
HOMEBUSH BAY SHOWGROUND DEVELOPMENT
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE: I ask a question without notice of the Treasurer, and Leader of the House, representing the Premier. Is it a fact that the Premier unveiled the very impressive final master plan for the new showground at Homebush Bay, which will now cost $384 million? Is it a fact that the original estimates for the cost, as revealed in the Cabinet minute dated 20 August 1993, was $122 million? What is the actual cost? Why was there this large increase? How will the Government finance the additional expenditure of $262 million?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I am not aware of the initial estimated cost of the proposal, but in any event it would have been a very rough estimate and would not have been based on final designs. Honourable members who have viewed the models and photo designs of the new showground would agree that the project represents pretty good value for $384 million.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: Very beautiful.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: As the honourable member says, the designs are very beautiful. I would have to say that I am a convert to the showground going to Homebush Bay. When the Hon. R. B. Rowland Smith first mentioned it in this House I was dead opposed to it. I can recall challenging the Hon. R. B. Rowland Smith to a debate at the showground. In fact, I formed the save our showground committee. But, after a month or so, I found I was the only member and the organisation folded for lack of interest. The view I held in the early 1990s was that if the show was moved from the showground it would not be a show. Over the years I had become used to all those decrepit facilities that were falling down.
The Hon. R. T. M. Bull: They had character.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: The showground had a certain character. However, I am a convert to the view that the showground will be better located at Homebush Bay, where it is closer to the centre of Sydney's population. At the time that the Hon. R. B. Rowland Smith was proposing relocation of the show from the Royal Agricultural Society showground to Homebush Bay, Sydney had not won its bid to host the 2000 Olympic Games. I think the new showground at Homebush Bay will be a fabulous facility. The RAS show will not only be held every year in buildings and surroundings that are adequate for the purposes of the show - which they were not at the showground - but will be staged in a location that is geographically well placed and in surroundings that are of world class. Many of the facilities in the new showground will be of use during the Olympics. The main rink at the showground will be the baseball stadium. Everyone will be excited when they go to the new showground in 1998. On the question of costs, as a layman -
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: Where is the extra money coming from?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: All the money is allocated in this year's budget and the forward estimates. The $386 million is budgeted for, so the Government will not have to find any additional money to the money allocated in the budgets for this year and the next two years.
HUNTER REGION BANK BRANCH CLOSURES
The Hon. D. J. GAY: My question is directed to the Treasurer, and Leader of the Government. In view of my question yesterday regarding the closure of banks in the Hunter and the lack of action taken by the Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development, will the Treasurer enlighten the House on the steps the Government has taken to address the problems created by the withdrawal of banking facilities from regional and rural New South Wales.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I am pleased to inform the House that the Government has taken several steps to address this issue of great concern to rural communities. The impact of the loss of financial services is especially felt in small communities. Creditcare was established by the Credit Union Services Corporation Association Limited, an organisation known to everyone as CUSCAL.
The Hon. Patricia Forsythe: Are you going to the lunch on Friday?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I do not think I am.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: You went last year.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Yes, I went last year.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: You should go this year, too.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Until last year the Minister charged with responsibility for the credit union movement always gave the speech to the credit union luncheon. Notwithstanding the great interest in the speech that I gave last year I thought it would be burdensome upon the attendees at the function for the next 25 years to have to listen to me each and every year. I told them that they should not feel obliged to ask the Minister responsible for the credit union movement to address the luncheon every year. I understand that this year the luncheon will be addressed by the Premier. So I am not going. Creditcare was established by CUSCAL to enable affected rural communities to obtain access to financial services. This could be achieved by establishing their own credit union or by tapping into the services of an existing credit union. Creditcare estimates that 150 communities in New South Wales are in need of financial services. That is an incredible number.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: It really is a disgrace.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: It is a disgrace. I must agree with the honourable member. The State Government has recognised the scope of the job facing Creditcare by a grant of $200,000, which will help Creditcare ensure that the communities in need of financial services start work on regaining a financial facility. As a result of that grant two extra field officers have been employed. I am delighted to report to the House and to the Hon. D. J. Gay that today Creditcare is visiting the towns of Bulahdelah, Hawks Nest and Stroud to meet with local residents and business people and assess the potential for the establishment of credit union services. I am also informed that the Holiday Coast Credit Union is working closely with the Bulahdelah community and is waiting for the results of the Creditcare report with interest. I am sure that if local government, business, and residents work together they can meet this challenge. Yesterday the Hon. D. J. Gay was anxious to question the commitment of the Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development on the issue. I assure the honourable member that the Minister had been in touch with my office some time prior to question time yesterday and he looks forward to a positive resolution of the problem.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: What time?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I am not sure, but I suspect that Creditcare, the Hon. D. J. Gay and the Hon. Richard Face read the same newspaper article at the same time and took action.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: I was at Stroud on Saturday.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: That is good. I am very pleased. I was in Stroud on my recent two-week holiday.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: Yes, but you didn't find out about the bank then, did you?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I do not think that it had been announced.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: The inference that I read about it in the paper is wrong.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I apologise if the honourable member is offended, but he has only just found out, in the last couple of days.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: Not from the papers.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Okay. Those of us who were not in Stroud had to find out from the paper.
The Hon. J. H. Jobling: But you don't read papers.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Very rarely. The Government is soon to make a submission to the Wallis inquiry into the financial system that will take up the concerns of people living in regional and rural communities. The Government will urge the Federal Government to introduce a mechanism to force financial institutions to produce a regional impact statement when they consider leaving country towns. The Government is also asking the Wallis inquiry to keep foremost in its mind the effect that any changes to the financial system will have on rural communities.
ARMIDALE HAIL STORM
The Hon. A. B. MANSON: My question without notice is addressed to the Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations. The town of Armidale and surrounding areas have been devastated by recent storms and reconstruction is now under way. Is the Minister helping to alleviate their plight?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I have taken an interest in dealing with some of the aftermath of events in Armidale in recent times. It is true that the damage to Armidale and the surrounding area has been estimated at over $100 million. I was in Armidale on the weekend and spoke at the second
valedictory dinner for the law students of the University of New England. I observed some of the damage, which obviously has caused great distress to the people of Armidale and the surrounding area. The Premier on his recent visit to the area warned fly-by-night tradespeople to stay away. Past experience has shown that in similar situations shoddy trades work can be performed without proper regard to quality or safety. WorkCover safety inspectors are currently in Armidale inspecting the construction work that is going on in the aftermath of the storm. WorkCover has already been notified by legitimate builders that work is being performed by unregistered or unsatisfactory tradespeople.
Safety inspectors will maintain a constant presence in the area while reconstruction is under way. Those found guilty of breaches of the Workers Compensation Act or the Occupational Health and Safety Act face significant penalties, on-the-spot fines of up to $500, or prosecutions that can carry imprisonment for directors and a $500,000 penalty. Property owners should ensure that tradespeople are properly registered with the Department of Fair Trading. I am told that there is concern that builders from Queensland are arriving in Armidale without proper registration or workers compensation insurance. Obviously employers in New South Wales must have workers compensation insurance and they have a legal obligation to ensure that work is conducted safely. WorkCover inspectors are working in close consultation with the State Emergency Service, the local police and the Department of Fair Trading, and they are coordinating their expertise to stamp out any unsatisfactory, shoddy, or unsafe work practices.
ROYAL COMMISSION INTO THE NEW SOUTH WALES POLICE SERVICE PAEDOPHILE INVESTIGATION
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Community Services. In view of the broader terms of reference for the royal commission, does the Minister stand by the statement he made last Thursday in response to a question about the royal commission from the Hon. Patricia Staunton, in which he said:
The Government will not waste money on an inquiry when, as I have demonstrated, it is already righting the wrongs of the previous Government.
Does the Minister concede that under the new terms of reference the royal commission will now be investigating the role and operation of his department? Do the expanded terms of reference amount to, in the Minister's words, a waste of money?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: It is true that there has been an amplification of the terms of reference of the Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service. My comments were made in response to the Hon. Patricia Staunton in relation to calls for an inquiry into the Department of Community Services, its administration, operations and so on. The royal commission is inquiring into matters relating to paedophilia, including screening of staff and other aspects that will touch on various departments and agencies. A distinction has to be drawn between what I was saying in response to the Hon. Patricia Staunton and the question now put to me by the Hon. Patricia Forsythe. The Government has decided to amplify the terms of reference. It is clearly a matter of public importance that matters relating to paedophilia ought to be revealed and investigated.
SAFETY HOUSE PROGRAM
The Hon. FRANCA ARENA: I ask the Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations, representing the Minister for Police, a question without notice. Has the Minister seen the report in today's Daily Telegraph alleging that police often do not check the criminal background of home owners who are displaying the safety house sign? Has the Minister read that former Safety Houses Council representative Elizabeth Sloane said that she heard unconfirmed reports of children meeting undesirable people in what were supposed to be safety houses? Would the Minister investigate the matter and bring an urgent report back to the House on this important issue?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I will refer the question to the Minister for Police and obtain an answer.
REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY
The Hon. J. M. SAMIOS: My question is directed to the Minister for State and Regional Development. Given the comments in today's Australian newspaper of Peter Katz, an urban theorist and the Executive Director of the American-based Congress of the New Urbanism, that Australia could face the economic and social breakdown that had plagued parts of the United States unless the nation returned to the time-tested models of neighbourhood towns and villages, will the Minister state what steps the Government is taking to ensure that there is a strong and well-structured regional development strategy in place to ensure that suburban development is in accordance with the Premier's wishes?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Mr Katz sounds like a bit of a nut to me. I found it a little difficult to understand the question. I will read the article, and if there is anything I can respond to I will consider it.
SOUTH COAST KANGAROO KILLING
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES: I ask the Minister for Community Services, representing the Minister for Agriculture, a question without notice. Now that the three youths are being prosecuted for bashing a young kangaroo to death at Depot Beach on the
south coast, what action will the Minister take, in conjunction with his colleague the Minister for the Environment, to stop the cruelty associated with the bashing to death of over 1,000 joeys every single night in New South Wales merely to supply the kangaroo trade? Is the commercial return worth this extraordinary cruelty and the bad name it gives to Australia overseas?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I shall refer the question to my colleague the Minister for Agriculture for a considered response.
NEWCASTLE GAS PRICING STRUCTURE
The Hon. J. H. JOBLING: My question without notice is directed to the Treasurer, Minister for Energy, and Minister for State and Regional Development. Did the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce allege at a hearing on Monday before the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal - IPART - that gas costs in Newcastle could be five times as high as elsewhere in New South Wales? Will this mean that Newcastle industry, which is fast becoming a neglected stakeholder of this Government, will be called on to bear the brunt of the distorted pricing regime? What does the Treasurer and this Government propose to do to ensure that Newcastle and the Hunter are not further disadvantaged by a gas pricing structure that does not reflect competition principles?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I am not specifically aware of the submission by the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce - I take it, to IPART?
The Hon. J. H. Jobling: Yes, on Monday. Two public hearings have been held.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: As honourable members are probably aware, gas prices are set by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal. The tribunal has recently issued a draft determination for the purposes of discussion, and I understand that concerns about the draft determination have been expressed by some companies, particularly those in the Newcastle area.
The Hon. J. H. Jobling: Other people also had problems on Monday. You would be aware of that?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Yes, I am aware of that. But I think the majority of complaints or expressions of concern have come from Newcastle. As honourable members would be aware, gas pricing is determined by IPART, which is independent of the Government. The tribunal has released its draft determination for discussion purposes. I am pleased to note that the companies and organisations that disagree with the terms of the draft determination are putting their cases before the tribunal. I have to say that Professor Tom Parry, who heads that tribunal, has earned the respect of all sides of politics in New South Wales for the way in which he has conducted his job since his appointment as chairman by the Greiner Government. As with most other things, I think that everyone in New South Wales can rest assured that at the end of the day Professor Parry and his tribunal will get it right.
SAFETY HOUSE PROGRAM
The Hon. A. G. CORBETT: I ask the Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations, representing the Minister for Police, a question without notice. On 15 October the Minister for Police, in his reply to my question about the safety house program, stated that the Government is committed to the New South Wales program. Given this commitment, what police rank will the community safety and crime prevention coordinator hold in each of the four police regions? Have these established positions been filled?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I well recollect the honourable member's questions about the police safety house program, about which I know I have supplied a good deal of information to him in the past. I am not aware of the precise matters about which he now asks, but I will refer them to the Minister for Police and obtain a response to his question.
RAIL ACCESS CHARGES
The Hon. M. R. KERSTEN: I address my question to the Treasurer, representing the Minister for Transport. Further to a question that I asked yesterday regarding rail access costs, will the Minister advise whether TNT and/or Specialised Container Transport - SCT - have accepted the high access charges in New South Wales and will commence services in New South Wales?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I will refer the question to the Minister for Transport.
INDUSTRIAL AWARDS TELEPHONE SERVICE
The Hon. J. F. RYAN: My question is directed to the Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations. Is the Minister aware that the phone-in number for award wage information, 131628, is constantly engaged and that New South Wales small businesses are left wondering what wages and conditions their staff should work under? Does the Minister realise that this is preventing New South Wales small businesses from getting on with the job of creating employment in this State? Does the Minister, who prides himself on consultation, realise that his department does not have adequate resources to extend this consultation to small businesses in the State? Will the Minister act now, in spite of his Treasurer's tight purse strings, to seek to employ extra staff in the Department of Industrial Relations to cater for this gaping hole in the service provision?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I was advised some time ago of some difficulty with the telephones in relation to that service. I had rather assumed that those problems had been rectified. The question of delays in relation to award inquiries has been longstanding and endemic for all governments. One of the difficulties is that the better the service, the more people seek to use it, and there is a snowball effect in respect of the resources that the department feels obliged to provide. This afternoon I will certainly raise with the department directly the problem alleged by the honourable member.
POLICE SERVICE LANGUAGE STANDARDS
The Hon. ELAINE NILE: I direct my question without notice to the Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations, representing the Minister for Police. Is it a fact that on the advice of the New South Wales police commissioner the Minister for Police is considering an appeal to the High Court concerning the use of offensive language by police officers in the course of their duties? Will the Minister for Police, in cooperation with the New South Wales police commissioner, immediately issue an urgent directive to all New South Wales police officers that offensive language, four-letter swear words, and sexist attitudes and actions are prohibited in all New South Wales police stations? Will the Minister for Police ensure that such directive is communicated to all police recruits in training so that such an offensive aspect of the so-called police structure will be abolished?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I read with interest the reports of the judgment of the Court of Appeal, in particular the judgment of Justice Meagher, in relation to this matter. I must confess that I have not read the judgment of the Court of Appeal, although I have had it in mind for a day or so to call for the judgment and read it as a matter of interest. I understand that the Minister for Police is considering an appeal or, more strictly, an application for special leave to appeal, to the High Court from that judgment. I do not know whether he has formed a final view as to the viability of such an application at this stage. As to whether he proposes to issue any directive, or would otherwise like to consider the suggestion made by the honourable member, I shall refer that matter to the Minister for his consideration.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: My question is directed to the Minister for State and Regional Development in his own capacity and as representing the Minister for Public Works and Services. Does the Minister recall my question last week in which I expressed concern that according to businesses more than 50 per cent of tenders from government departments are not being let? Is he also aware of the concerns generated by businesses that government departments are now using the tender process as a cheap and lazy means of establishing line item costs for their budgets? Perhaps this is the reason for the large number of advertised tenders that are not being let. Will the Minister give this House an assurance that the practice will cease forthwith?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I recall the Hon. D. J. Gay asking the same or a similar question last week. I recall also that I said to him that I would refer the matter to my colleague the Minister for Public Works and Services. I have not yet received a response from my colleague, but as soon as I do I will supply it to the House.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: What about my further question?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: The addendum to the question asked last week involves an assertion, the truth of which I would have to test.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: If it is true, will you give an assurance that it will stop?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Let us wait and see what the truth is.
COBAR MEDICAL SERVICES
The Hon. D. F. MOPPETT: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Community Services, representing the Minister for Health. Is the Minister aware of a petition involving signatures of some hundreds of citizens of the Cobar district seeking the reinstatement of visiting rights to a certain doctor who has been a resident of Cobar for many years? In view of the size of the population of Cobar and the danger of accidents in the mining industry there, what steps will be taken to investigate the matter and, if possible, reinstate the visiting rights of that doctor from Cobar Hospital?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I am unaware of the precise detail of the matter raised by the Hon. D. F. Moppett regarding the doctor at Cobar. However, I shall refer the matter to my colleague the Minister for Health for a full and considered response.
INQUIRY INTO THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY: My question without notice is directed to the Treasurer, representing the Premier. Will the Minister confirm that the motion passed by this House to refer certain matters pertaining to the administration of New South Wales Agriculture to the Council on the Cost of Government has been passed on to the council? How many staff are currently employed by the council? Is this level of staffing adequate to allow the council to effectively perform its function?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I will refer that question to the Premier for a considered response.
STATE WARD ALLEGATION INVESTIGATION
The Hon. M. J. GALLACHER: My question is directed to the Minister for Community Services, Minister for Aged Services, and Minister for Disability Services. Following the appearance of witness T7 before the royal commission earlier this year, a number of former State wards came forward with allegations about their treatment when in care. Will the new terms of reference of the royal commission allow former State wards who were in care prior to 1983 to have their cases investigated? If not, why not?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: The simple fact of the matter is that the circumstances of children formerly in care are being reviewed by the Community Services Commission, which was given that task following announcements by the Premier earlier this year.
PROTECTED DISCLOSURES LEGISLATION
The Hon. J. F. RYAN: My question is directed to the Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations. Is the Attorney aware of the results of a survey conducted by the Independent Commission Against Corruption about public awareness of the Protected Disclosures Act? Is the Attorney aware that only 42 per cent of the New South Wales public sector has implemented internal reporting systems in response to the Act and that only 34 per cent have even undertaken to inform their staff about the existence of the Act? What use is the legislation if its existence is unknown? Does the Attorney agree that the Government has failed in the important task of alerting its own public servants to the existence of the legislation? What will the Attorney do to correct that failure?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I am aware of the Independent Commission Against Corruption survey in broad terms. Although I have not read it, I have read reports of it. I would have thought radical legislation of that kind would take some years to come into full force and effect. I am not sure that my reaction to the statistics quoted by the Hon. J. F. Ryan indicates any particular failure or deficiency, but I am happy to consider the ICAC report and raise it with the appropriate Ministers.
OLYMPIC GAMES ENVIRONMENTAL GUIDELINES
The Hon. I. COHEN: Will the Treasurer, representing the Minister for the Olympics, explain why there has been a breach of the legislated environmental guidelines for the green Games which state that "Sydney is committed to minimising and ideally avoiding the use of chlorine based product (organochlorins) such as PCBs, PVC and chlorine bleached paper"? In light of the availability of alternatives to polyvinyl chloride - PVC - why and how did this breach occur?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I shall refer the question asked by the Hon. I. Cohen to my colleague the Minister for the Olympics.
GOVERNMENT PURCHASING POLICIES
The Hon. J. M. SAMIOS: Is the Treasurer aware of the criticism from the former Chairman of Standards Australia that the Government's mandating of contracts that comply with ISO 9000 has gone too far? Is he aware of industry criticism about mandating compliance with ISO 9000 as part of government purchasing policies? What steps is the Minister taking to make sure that the Government reviews its purchasing policies to ensure that it has not gone overboard in requiring compliance with ISO 9000?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I admit that I am not very familiar with ISO 9000. I shall defer this question to my colleague the Minister for Public Works and Services for a reply.
COUNCIL ON THE COST OF GOVERNMENT HOTLINE
The Hon. D. J. GAY: My important question without notice is addressed to the Treasurer. Is it true that his close friend Professor Bob Walker and the Council on the Cost of Government have opened up the council to suggestions by public servants via a hotline? Will that mean that the council will also open itself up to the general public by tabling its reports, on time and for general distribution rather than for the eyes of the Minister concerned only. Will the Treasurer now use the hotline to get answers to my numerous unanswered questions on the Council on the Cost of Government? Will he further use the hotline to suggest ways in which the council can table its reports on time and make them available to the public?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I am aware of the hotline. It was publicly announced by Professor Walker and possibly the Premier some time ago. I am pleased to report that this is another Government promise that has been fulfilled. It is a suggestion that I raised as chairman of the highly effective Labor Party Wastewatch Committee between 1991 and 1993. I am glad that the Council on the Cost of Government has followed my suggestion. The council is required to table an annual report in Parliament each year, and its report has been tabled. Indeed, after it was tabled the Hon. D. J. Gay complained that it had not been tabled. There is a great deal of reading contained in the document and it will probably take the Hon. D. J. Gay a long time to complete it, but I suggest that he stick to the task.
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY: I ask a question of the Treasurer, representing the Minister for Public Works and Services. Will the Minister continue the policy of the previous Government that
guaranteed public access to all of the grounds of Strickland House, as stated in his media release of 3 September 1996? Does the plan presented to Woollahra Municipal Council for the proposed boutique hotel at Strickland House show large areas of land that will be closed to the general public, for example, the proposed tennis court and swimming pool developments? If the answer to both questions is yes, how does the Minister reconcile the two positions?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I shall refer the honourable member's question to my colleague the Minister for Public Works and Services for a considered and detailed response. I should have thought, however, that if the proposal was to use Strickland House for a boutique hotel then the hotel's swimming pool and tennis court would be only available for the guests of the hotel only, in much the same way as the hotel's dining room and guest rooms. I am not acquainted with the details of the proposals for Strickland House and I shall ascertain them from my colleague.
OLYMPIC GAMES OPENING CEREMONY
The Hon. HELEN SHAM-HO: Is the Treasurer, representing the Minister for the Olympics, aware that members of ethnic communities are disappointed that they are not involved in the Olympic Games although they worked hard in pushing for Sydney's successful bid? Does the Minister agree that Sydney's cultural diversity is something to be proud of and is a resource to be used? Does the Minister also agree that the opening ceremony and/or the closing ceremony should reflect the fact that we are a multicultural country? Will the Minister take steps to facilitate the participation of ethnic communities in the Olympic opening and/or closing ceremonies in Sydney, so that they are more reflective of modern-day multicultural Australia?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Almost all Australians are proud of Australia's multiculturalism. It is something that is not only of great economic advantage to us but also, and even more important, of great social and cultural advantage to us. As honourable members would be aware, I am not the Minister for the Olympics nor am I a member of the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, and I am not sure that my opinions as to what should happen in the opening and closing ceremonies will be particularly sought.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: Your name is Rueben, isn't it?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Yes, and I am proud of it, as I am also proud to be a descendant of First Fleeters.
The Hon. J. H. Jobling: You are going to try to have the stadium called the Michael Egan Memorial Stadium?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: No. I am directly descended from Henry Cable and Suzanna Holmes. Until very recently - in fact until 1988 - I was under the misapprehension that I was 100 per cent Irish Catholic Republican and Labor. It came as a great shock to me to realise that I was also descended from two First Fleeters, who turned out to be not only English but Protestant to boot. I have learned to cope. As I say, I very much doubt whether my opinions will be sought as to what should happen in the Olympic Games opening and closing ceremonies.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: I don't know of many Irish Catholics called Rueben.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I might dob somebody in. It is very biblical. As I have said, I am not sure that my opinions on the opening and closing ceremonies will be sought, but along with many Australians I would very much hope that those ceremonies do reflect the cultural diversity of Australia, and I will not be surprised if they do.
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
The Hon. C. J. S. LYNN: Is the Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations aware that Standards Australia has issued for public comment a draft guidelines standard for occupational health and safety systems? Is he further aware of proposals to examine the development at an international standard of occupational health and safety management systems? What role is the Government playing in the development of such a standard, what impact would that have on the need for continuing government regulatory standards, and will those regulatory standards be varied in light of the Australian standard?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: The answer to the first question is yes. The answer to the second question is that I understand that consideration has been given to international considerations in developing those national standards. WorkCover has been very active in liaising with Commonwealth officers and otherwise considering the question of national standards in that area. It is clear that increasingly in an area such as this the States cannot go their own way; they need to consider what is going on in other States. I assure the honourable member that the Government will continue to cooperate with the development of national standards and, where appropriate, incorporate them into New South Wales standards.
SEA RANCH RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES: I ask the Treasurer, representing the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, how the Minister can say, as he did in his reply to my question on Sea Ranch on 19 September, that current circumstances do not justify his intervention under section 121 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act when the developers have already breached a number of
conditions in stage one of what is now called Koala Beach? Is the Minister now saying that his election promise to stop this particularly damaging coastal development was meaningless? Is his failure to stop this development as promised because of undue pressure from a senior Australian Labor Party figure who was a friend of the developer? Is the Minister not aware that this could become as big a scandal as that which led to the Independent Commission Against Corruption 1990 report on north coast land development?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I am not in any way aware of the matter which the Hon. R. S. L. Jones raised but I will refer the question to my colleague the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning and obtain a response.
NEWELL HIGHWAY ROADWORKS
The Hon. D. F. MOPPETT: My question is directed to the Treasurer, and Leader of the Government, representing the Minister for Roads. Is the Minister aware that the section of the Newell Highway from Gilgandra to Narrabri contains some of the steepest grades on the road between Melbourne and Brisbane? Is he also aware that the nature of the terrain causes the highest accident statistics along the Newell Highway in New South Wales? In view of those facts, is the Minister prepared to undertake a cost-benefit study to ascertain the feasibility of establishing an alternative sealed route along the Castlereagh Highway to Coonamble and then northwards to Pilliga and back to Narrabri?
The Hon. J. P. Hannaford: After he has been to Crookwell.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: He has to go to Crookwell first.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I am going to Crookwell. I will be there next Monday to open a wind farm. I would have thought those seeking a location for a wind farm sought out the area where the Hon. D. J. Gay lived and said, "That is the place we want it."
The PRESIDENT: Order! I remind the Minister that the question related to the Newell Highway.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I have to say that I do not know much about that; I know about the wind farm at Crookwell. But I will find out about the Newell Highway. I am pleased that the Hon. D. F. Moppett has asked the question. It shows that he now knows where Gilgandra is. Members might recall that earlier in the year he did not know and had to ask me. He has obviously found out. I hope that I will be able to familiarise myself with the road problems of Gilgandra as soon as possible.
In view of the time I suggest that if members have additional questions they place them on notice.
TIMBARRA GOLDMINE PROJECT
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: On 25 September the Hon. I. Cohen asked a question without notice regarding the Timbarra goldmine project. I have been provided with the following response:
An archaeological report was prepared by Appleton in 1994 on behalf of Ross Mining P/L, as part of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Timbarra Gold Mine Project. The National Parks and Wildlife Service has not undertaken a formal review of the report, but has identified a number of issues in the report which required clarification and further assessment. These issues were made clear to the Department of Mineral Resources in the National Parks and Wildlife Service's submission to the EIS.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service advised in a submission to the Department of Mineral Resources following review of the EIS that the Service did not consider it appropriate that a buffer determined as a result of geological constraints be applied as a means of addressing the Aboriginal significance of the site. The determination of a 200 metre buffer was made without reference to the Aboriginal custodian for the area, Mr Eric Walker.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service has received a written application from the traditional custodian of Bold Top Mountain seeking to have the site declared an Aboriginal Place under the provision of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. The Service proposes to meet with representatives of the Aboriginal community and the mining company, to discuss the matter further. Until this meeting has been held it is not possible to consider further the nomination of the site. It is important that the Aboriginal community is involved in these discussions.
Questions without notice concluded.
JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE UPON ROAD SAFETY
The Hon. A. B. Manson, on behalf of the Chairman, tabled the following reports:
Staysafe 33 - Responses to Recommendations in Staysafe Reports of the 50th Parliament, dated October 1996, together with edited transcripts of evidence and certain submissions received.
Reports ordered to be printed.
Staysafe 34 - A 50km/h General Urban Speed Limit for New South Wales, dated October 1996, together with minutes of evidence and certain submissions received.
The Hon. C. J. S. LYNN: By leave, I wish to make a personal explanation. I draw the attention of the House to an article that appeared in the Picton News on 18 September of this year titled "Politics and Ethics - a contradiction in terms?". In the article the Hon. Dr Meredith Burgmann, as chair of the Standing Committee on Parliamentary Privilege and Ethics, was quoted as saying the following:
It would seem that the Hon. Mr Lynn MLC may be using his official resources to promote his private enterprise -
The fact is that I have never used my position as a member of this House to further my business interests, and nor would I. In a meeting of the committee held on 16 September, just two days prior to the abovementioned article, the Hon. Dr Meredith Burgmann was not willing to discuss the issue.
The PRESIDENT: Order! I remind honourable members that traditionally in this House personal explanations are serious matters and are generally heard in silence. If a member is moved to make a personal explanation, it indicates that he or she takes the matter seriously, and I entreat honourable members to honour tradition and listen to the honourable member in silence.
The Hon. C. J. S. LYNN: I understand that the committee is precluded from giving advice relating to "actual or alleged conduct of any particular person". Quite clearly the Hon. Dr Meredith Burgmann has exceeded her authority in making the remarks she did. If she has any accusations to make relating to my ethical standards, or alleged impropriety, she should refer these matters to the Independent Commission Against Corruption, and I challenge her to do so.
Pursuant to resolution business interrupted.
STANDING COMMITTEE ON STATE DEVELOPMENT
Report: Rationales for Closing Veterinary Laboratories at Armidale and Wagga Wagga and the Rydalmere Biological
Debate resumed from 16 October.
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD [5.07]: I have spoken at length on this issue twice in this Chamber and on both occasions I have done so without notes and, indeed, without much need to refer to a report which the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti had a hand in drafting. Suffice it to say that I would hope that decisions to close such facilities have been removed from government policy. The decisions were taken in the first year of office of the Government in response to the manic desires of the departmental head at the time. Those facilities were on his hit list.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: He is still there.
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD: He was there for many years under the coalition Government. In fact, under that Government he prospered. The numbers of staff in the Department of Agriculture declined by nearly 1,000 from 1988 to 1995. What did the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti do about it? Nothing. He is a latter-day convert to the needs of agriculture in New South Wales. It is absolutely hypocritical for him to make such interjections. At least the Hon. Jennifer Gardiner would have opposed some of the cuts to the department that previous agriculture Ministers indulged in when the coalition was in government. She is genuine, unlike the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti. One would have to question his genuineness in any circumstances. I am sure all members share my view that the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti jumps on various bandwagons. He had an opportunity to influence the Liberal Government on the swimming pool legislation but he quickly caved in under pressure from the Premier of the day. It is an absolute outrage for him to behave as he has. I have done more for agriculture in New South Wales than the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti and the various manic schemes for which he has tried to curry favour have ever done.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: What have you done?
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD: Over the last hour of my contribution to this debate I have made it clear that I was not happy with the decisions that were taken, and the honourable member knows that I was not happy with them. I have made many public and political statements about that.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: You would not even support the recommendations of the non-government members of the committee. You have done nothing.
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD: Madam-Deputy President, earlier the President intervened because of the level of interjection and called for some decorum in the Chamber. I am prepared to engage in a slanging match with the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti, but might I suggest that you call him to order so that I can get on with my contribution.
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Dr Marlene Goldsmith): Order! Is the honourable member reflecting on the Chair?
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD: I am asking -
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT: Order! The Hon. I. M. Macdonald might have noticed that he had the floor entirely to himself when he made his last comment. If the honourable member wishes to reflect on the Chair, he may want to reflect on that decision.
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD: I was not reflecting on the Chair. I was seeking your assistance to deal with the continual interjections of the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti.
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT: Order! The honourable member is in no need of any assistance at this moment. He may continue if he so wishes.
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD: Thank you. At least the Chamber is quiet now. On a number of occasions throughout the debate on the closure of the regional veterinary laboratories at Wagga Wagga and Armidale and the closure of the BCRI at Rydalmere I expressed grave reservations both within my party and in public, for which I received
from the Minister a set of steak knives accompanied by a nice note, which I have in my office. As I have stated on numerous occasions, I have not been happy with the Government's decision, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. The Government has not proceeded with the substantive cuts to agriculture that were foreshadowed at the end of last year. In the past year Labor's record in agriculture has improved dramatically and the Minister has capably performed his role in the implementation of policies affecting agriculture.
The Hon. E. M. OBEID [5.14]: It was the task of the committee to report on the rationale for the Government's decision, first, to decentralise the functions of the Biological Chemical and Research Institute at Rydalmere -
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: You mean break up and decentralise.
The Hon. E. OBEID: No, I mean decentralise. The second limb of the decision was the closure of the regional veterinary laboratories at Wagga Wagga and Armidale and the consolidation of regional veterinary services in New South Wales from the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute at Camden to Wollongbar and Orange. Because of the whole-of-government approach to reduce the budget deficit and acquire a surplus, the opportunity was taken by the Department of Agriculture to implement a long-held view for rationalisation of the department's services. There is no doubt that when given the opportunity to cut the budget of the Department of Agriculture in the first instance the executive of the department put forward the proposition to decentralise the BCRI and at the same time to close the services at Wagga Wagga and Armidale.
After receiving 188 submissions and hearing evidence from 65 witnesses the committee was most concerned about the effect such decisions would have on existing services in affected areas. Departmental representatives were questioned about the matters at length. However, I have no doubt that the intention of the department and the Government was not to diminish services but to reorganise them in line with budget cuts. Honourable members on both sides of politics would acknowledge that for more than 106 years the department has been attentive to the needs of the rural sector and has attempted to provide the best available services in the circumstances. I fully agree with the department's policy of providing centres of excellence. The department has, through its nine centres of excellence and many other research facilities, distributed services around rural New South Wales. However, no matter how good the policy, no matter how good the reorganisation or the intention, it was foolhardy of the department not to have consulted with and received input from relevant bodies and people throughout the rural sector.
The Hon. J. H. Jobling: It shows a disregard for rural people.
The Hon. E. M. OBEID: The department's attempt to reorganise in such a fashion has only brought a little bit of concern for all sides of politics.
The Hon. J. H. Jobling: Monumental concern for people in the country.
The Hon. E. M. OBEID: A lot of concern for the country, and that should be registered. The department and the chief executive should take heed of that concern and consult before making any future attempts at reorganising departmental facilities and services. Many submissions came to the committee from prominent organisations such as the New South Wales Farmers Association, the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association of District Veterinarians of New South Wales, the Australian Society of Veterinary Pathologists, and the Local Government and Shires Association of New South Wales, and from notable lecturers, academics and scientists. I would like to refer particularly to what was said by Sir Gustav Nossal and Dr Day of the Australian Academy of Science. I have no doubt that every submission except that of the department raised concerns about the ability of this reorganised body to deliver the desired standard of services. I will read the comments Sir Gustav Nossal made in a letter to the Premier dated 16 April:
and Chemical Research Institute
I am concerned that in the new arrangements, with staff moving to other centres, there is a risk that an Australian quarantine capability will be compromised. Each of the States play a critical role in maintaining our quarantine capacity at BCRI. It is a key institute for meeting these needs in New South Wales.
The Academy has argued in its submission to the AQIS inquiry which the standing committee also studied that future demands on our quarantine service will increase markedly, and it is vital that our research resources are harnessed effectively, particularly in the fields of taxonomy and plant pathology.
I think it fitting to say that the quarantine service is not the total responsibility of the State; it is partly a Federal responsibility. Nevertheless, we are right to be concerned about the observations of Sir Gustav Nossal, Dr Day and many other academics. It is incorrect to say that the department tried to break up the BCRI and withdraw its services. The intent of the department has been to take agricultural services to the rural sector, where they belong. The coalition, and in particular the National Party, has consistently asked that services be established in rural centres. The department has attempted to do that in a way that should restrict questions to the process rather than its intention.
A number of members have said that some services will be cut. That is not correct. Furthermore, every staff member has been offered relocation. I know that extreme difficulties are posed for some staff members who do not want to move to regional New South Wales, but at the same time relocation of the facilities will provide opportunities for recruitment of new staff members by the Department of Agriculture. Concern has been
expressed that the Biological and Chemical Research Institute will not be as efficient and effective at its new location, even though the institute will re-establish its services in the centre of rural activities. The Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby raised the problem that the BCRI site had been zoned strictly for veterinary research purposes. I am advised by the Minister's office that the University of Western Sydney is considering purchasing the site and using it for the same purpose for which it is being used now. If the sale does not go through, the Government is entitled to sell the site to recoup the cost of relocation of the facility. Hopefully it will spend any surplus funds in accordance with the recommendations of the standing committee.
It is unfair that politicians should stand in this place and criticise the workings of the department. It has a duty to service the rural sector. Honourable members, instead of being critical of the department's rationalisation process, should be encouraging the department to provide these services in the rural sector. Many reasons were put forward for the transfer of services provided by the veterinary laboratories at Armidale and Wagga Wagga. Of course the services offered at those centres were excellent for farmers within a 100-kilometre radius of the veterinary laboratories. Local farmers could telephone the veterinarians and have them come out to their properties, check their flock or stock, quickly take and deliver samples to the veterinary facilities, and have their test results within a short time.
If we could afford it, veterinary laboratories would be located throughout the State, in Broken Hill and Bourke and on the north coast, offering similar services to local farmers. But the days of being able to afford to locate such facilities next door to all clients have passed. Governments and departments cannot afford to provide every community with similar services. Farmers outside the 100-kilometre radius will not receive the same services that farmers near Armidale and Wagga Wagga were receiving. Much has been said about whether samples will arrive at their destinations in good order. The Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby referred to breakages and misplaced samples. Inevitably, samples will be broken or lost.
According to Department of Agriculture statistics, in the past 12 months about 17,000 samples were despatched to the Elizabeth Macarthur Agriculture Institute at Camden and only 10 of those came to grief. It is a commendation of our modern transport and communication systems that we expect samples collected by veterinarians to be delivered quickly and in good condition. I acknowledge that there will be mishaps and that sometimes things will not go right. It is the department's responsibility to ensure that the services and the efficiency of their delivery remain at a high standard. I am sure that the department has its heart set on providing these services in the rural sector in the most efficient manner. Anthony Moran, district veterinarian at Wagga Wagga, gave the committee a detailed example of what could happen. One of his first points was as follows:
Delays in diagnosis increase animal suffering, deaths, farmer stress and veterinarian stress.
That is true. Any farmer who has a problem with his flock or stock naturally will call out the local veterinarian to examine his animals. If as a result of the veterinary assessment a sample is taken, it could take some time for that sample to get to its destination. An efficient veterinarian, who has been called out by a concerned farmer, will not take any more time to send a sample to the EMAI at Camden than to the Wagga Wagga or Armidale facilities. In the example given by Mr Moran the difference between having a sample tested at Wagga Wagga or Armidale and having it tested at the EMAI at Camden was one day. Inevitably there will be delays, and it may take a bit longer for farmers to receive the results of their samples, but the process will be finetuned by the department. I have a great affinity for people on the land. I know that they have had it hard for many years. People on the land depend on many factors coming good for them before they can achieve the desired result.
People on the land have to face the elements and diseases - those we are trying to prevent. They also have to cope with the market, bankers and many problems in order to get a return to help them pay off their debts. The Government does not want to diminish their services or see them suffering. The Hon. Jennifer Gardiner commented on the fact that Minister Amery was from metropolitan Sydney and was not doing a good job for rural New South Wales. I assure honourable members that the farmers I have spoken to in my duty area believe that Minister Amery, like former Labor agricultural Ministers, is an ordinary bloke -
The Hon. Jennifer Gardiner: An ordinary Minister.
The Hon. E. OBEID: No, an ordinary bloke who likes to mix with people. He gets on well with people from the rural sector. I have heard many good comments about the way he listens to people and takes their concerns on board. Opposition members are trying to make a big issue out of this reorganisation. If they really wanted to help the rural community, the farming fraternity, they should support the Government's lead and support these changes. Change and reorganisation are inevitable. There is nothing wrong with a policy to establish nine centres of excellence, with each centre specialising in a particular field. We are leading the way forward. It will be beneficial for the future prospects of Australia, which has been referred to as the food bowl for Asia and other parts of the world. Reorganisation will assist farmers' fields to improve their product and, therefore, enhance sales on the local and export markets. Change and reorganisation should be embraced so long as there is no diminution of services, quality and efficiency. We should congratulate the department on putting
services at the coalface in rural districts. There is no point in the coalition saying, on the one hand, that we should have more services in regional New South Wales and then, on the other hand, complaining and crying foul when the Government and the Minister for Agriculture try to take services to the country.
The Hon. R. T. M. Bull: What about the veterinary laboratories?
The Hon. E. M. OBEID: Services have not decreased.
The Hon. R. T. M. Bull: You are decentralising the BCRI and centralising the veterinary laboratories.
The Hon. E. M. OBEID: Nine centres of excellence will be created. Services will not be diminished. They may be a little further away, and it may take a little more effort to arrange testing, but they will not be diminished.
The Hon. R. T. M. Bull: The jury is still out on that. But what about the veterinary laboratories?
The Hon. E. M. OBEID: That is what I am talking about. All veterinary laboratories do not have to be in one place.
The Hon. R. T. M. Bull: They need to be out in the field.
The Hon. E. M. OBEID: They are out in the field. That is a service that the rural lands protection boards should be providing. Their veterinarians should be out there working in close harmony with their clients on the land. They are quite capable of detecting any problems. In the interests of local farmers they will detect problems and send samples away for testing. The public interest factor must always be looked at and treated with caution. The Government has put in place measures to ensure that any evidence of disease will receive prompt attention.
The department is providing centres of excellence. Those using the services will have to pay a proportion of the cost of providing them. The Government's approach to the provision of services, not only in the rural sector, is on the basis of the user pays. It is only fair that those who are making money from their ventures should pay for the services made available to them. These specific services will still be heavily subsidised by the Government, but the time has come when people in the rural sector have to pay to have samples sent by veterinarians for testing. I reiterate that the Government and I empathise with the people on the land, and we want them to do well. We do not want to diminish the delivery of services to them. On the contrary, we will ensure that their services are enhanced.
The Hon. R. T. M. Bull: You should be the Minister, Eddie. If it wasn't for that draw from the briefcase you could have been the Minister and this would not have happened.
The Hon. E. M. OBEID: No doubt. I do not like the process and no-one on the committee appreciated the process adopted by the department. It should have talked these matters out and, after consultation, done a better job of selling the concept of reorganisation. In that way the rural community may have accepted the decision, because in essence services are not being lost. Specialist centres are being created in line with the freeing up of world trade and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The world will be looking at us to make sure that we are up to par on disease detection and other equally important matters.
I will not defend the department. No honourable member could defend the process adopted by the department. The committee received 188 submissions, all of which - with the exception of the department's submission - expressed concern about the viability of the reorganisation and whether services would continue to be efficient. This issue has put the executive director and the department on notice. The Minister is fully aware that the reorganisation process is being monitored. The moment that a complaint is made about the failure of any service, the matter will be raised with the Minister and publicly. I support the majority report of this standing committee. The time has come for the rural sector to move forward and accept these changes, to allow them to be tested and, if necessary, improved. The Department of Agriculture has given 106 years of valuable service already. I have no doubt that it will continue to monitor its services to ensure that they remain efficient and of a standard with which the rural sector is fully satisfied.
The Hon. I. COHEN [5.40]: As this was my first involvement with an inquiry conducted by the Standing Committee on State Development it was an interesting and great learning experience for me. I was able to take a first-hand look at the agricultural industry and the way in which the Government deals with problems in it. It is interesting to note that the Hon. E. M. Obeid did not defend the department and it is important to note that a number of members on the Government benches were justifiably critical of the process that brought about this change to research and veterinary institutions in this State. During the course of the inquiry on-site inspections of institutions were carried out and we saw at first hand the reality of the work being done. I witnessed the level of technical infrastructure of the Biological and Chemical Research Institute - the BCRI - and I was particularly impressed by recent upgrades undertaken by that institution.
I was interested to be informed about the day-to-day services that the institute provides, and I acknowledge the relationship between the location and the performance of those institutions. In fact, after hearing submissions from some of the scientists who gave evidence before the committee, I am concerned about that matter. It was interesting to hear the scientists speak about how they work - which is perhaps not how bureaucrats would like
them to work. The scientists are perhaps more personable than the bureaucrats. Many of them spoke about the importance of interaction on a face-to-face level. I have great respect for those scientists. I disagree with some of the work being done at the BCRI, particularly the expensive investigation into the control of bitou bush with chemicals instead of considering alternative means. I have concerns also about the intensive nature of the animal husbandry industry and animal rights issues in that industry. I became aware of the need for personal interaction. Professor Adrian Gibbs, who represents the Australian Academy of Science, said:
You do not get over it by, for example, modern communications equipment. You actually have to meet with the people, take things around and look at them. That is the way that scientific research is done. You need to have this great pool of people all working in their own ways, all interacting and putting their brains together, with the correct infrastructure of library facilities, equipment, and so on, at hand.
We saw this personal interaction when we inspected the institutes. The Green perspective is that the institutions need to progress to make the industry relevant from a humane and ecological perspective, and to create an industry for the future, rather than breaking it down to a point where we have to sweep the bits together and start all over again. It is important that we be constructive in such a situation as this. It was interesting also to see how these institutions work effectively, and their greatest areas of efficiency. Professor Adrian Gibbs further said:
Several years ago somebody in Britain did an analysis . . . of the output produced against the size of the institute the person was working in, and there was a clear correlation and it was not just a linear relationship, but an exponential one. Good ideas come from rubbing neurones together.
The Hon. R. T. M. Bull: Looking under someone else's microscope, wasn't it?
The Hon. I. COHEN: I think so, yes. After listening to their submissions I could only gather that there has been a lack of consultation on the part of the government bureaucrats in the relocation and redesign of these laboratories. We have here an interesting study between two different genres of human beings: these scientists on the one hand and the bureaucrats on the other. Perhaps we need a scientific investigation into these differences. It is clear that this level of concern by those doing the job makes for a very poor working environment, and it was clear that these moves resulted in a nosedive in the morale of workers, for both those who left and those who stayed on. I wonder how one could quantify the cost to the department of the lowering of the morale of those working in these areas.
I am greatly concerned with the concept of loss of critical mass. With the nine centres of excellence the worry is that they will be spread too thinly. Mr Michael McGuire, who is chairman of the BCRI staff committee, stated that three to four centres would be ideal, with Rydalmere being the only one fitting the bill at present. On a positive note I would like to comment on Wollongbar, which is the proposed environmental centre of excellence. This is of particular interest because of its location on the north coast and the potential for it to address sustainable agricultural issues on the north coast. The north is fast becoming a region of excellence in organic production, the sustainable agricultural industry. The unfortunate reality is that this region is also suffering from the environmental contamination of past practices. The centre has the potential to investigate and resolve some of these problems to allow the future of agriculture on the north coast to be clean and green.
The close proximity to the Southern Cross University is a bonus as that university has a great environmental focus, especially in the department of coastal management, which is considering such issues as acid sulphate soils, our northern waterways and the impact of agricultural practices on the environment. This centre has the potential to be a great asset for the north, especially given its association with the university, and I will closely watch the outcome of this rubbing together of neurones in that part of the State. I will also follow up with the Minister for Agriculture about sustainable agriculture and the role that the Wollongbar centre of excellence has to play in achieving this. In a document presented to the committee from the Minister and the department entitled "Government and Agriculture A Partnership for the Future" I was pleased to see the commitment that the Government and the department are making to environmental protection and sustainable agriculture and the acknowledgment that:
. . . the community now expects more from agricultural industries. They not only expect a continued supply of food and fibre, but also that these goods are produced by sustainable systems that do not threaten the environment. They also expect an agricultural system that respects all aspects of animal welfare, consumer protection and is consistent with sound economic management.
There are many issues deserving the attention of the new centre of excellence at Wollongbar, including environmental contamination and rehabilitation, with which the centre's staff specialising in analytical chemistry will be kept busy, chemical residue impacts on the natural environment and noxious plants. These are challenges for the State and I will be watching closely to see what role the Wollongbar centre for environmental excellence has to play with them. I am most supportive of moves to expand cost recovery for services supplied by these institutes, which was not given a fair go prior to the shuffling of these institutions. It was not properly investigated by the Government and, according to the evidence given to the committee, there were many opportunities to proceed down that road without going through a whole process of dislocation.
The move was perhaps not given the consideration it deserves prior to the breakup, but I wholeheartedly support it. Industry receives great benefit from the services that the Government offers, and if it paid for them they could be self-funding. It is there that the quality of the services meets the commitment to the consumer market. I supported the
minority report on the Biological and Chemical Research Institute closure because I do not accept that this centre can function if it is broken up. I discussed with various people from the Department of Agriculture the importance of the Sydney Basin and the fact that there would be a move away from this area. I am concerned that it is still a very big agricultural area. I was impressed by the multiplicity of small market gardens.
The Hon. R. T. M. Bull: Especially in the intensive industries - it is huge.
The Hon. I. COHEN: Absolutely. It was a very intensive form of agriculture, and I think it really comes down also to looking at the multicultural policy of this Government and the type of people and family businesses involved in these agricultural pursuits in the Sydney basin. It is important that we maintain this type of research institute. Given that time and again over a long period the bureaucracy, with many people such as Dr Sheridan, have attempted to break up these institutions, the relocation or closure of these facilities should have been properly thought out. Yet, as I understand the situation, an Act of Parliament must be passed before the site of the BCRI - I might be wrong there - and the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service site next door can be sold. This seems to be shoddy, ill-prepared information on the part of the Department of Agriculture. I took note of the types of infrastructure that were developed - the piping of the gases through the system, and the quarantine closets - and the working conditions that had been developed there. It would be a terrible shame and a considerable waste of funding if this valuable infrastructure has to be re-established somewhere else, when obviously the financial imperative has been the reason for such a drastic move by the Government.
Finally, I would like to thank members of the committee secretariat for their tireless work under extreme conditions. At the same time I am disturbed that the Minister has remained adamant, despite the committee's report. That is a great shame. As I said at the beginning of my contribution, it has been an interesting experience to learn about the role of the Standing Committee on State Development and its relevance in this process. I value that experience and look forward to participating in future investigations of the committee as a member with a deal more experience. It has left a rather bad taste in my mouth to see so many individuals and families dislocated. I believe that science in this country has been badly affected by the overall process, but I hope there will be some positive outcomes with the Wollongbar institute.
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [5.51]: As the mover of the motion that the Legislative Council Standing Committee on State Development consider the closure of the veterinary laboratories at Wagga Wagga and Armidale and the closure and dislocation of the Biological and Chemical Research Institute at Rydalmere, I believe it is pertinent that I make a few comments. First, I congratulate the committee on the work it has done. A lot of time of the members of the committee was taken up in the inquiry. It was an exhaustive process. A great many submissions had to be read, and evidence was taken in numerous locations around the State and here at Parliament House. A considerable amount of background work was also necessary to enable honourable members to understand the issues involved. It was obvious that not all members of the committee were familiar with the issues with which they were confronted.
The very efficient chair of the committee, the Hon. Patricia Staunton, obviously could not be expected to know everything about agriculture, but she undertook the task with considerable zeal. It was interesting to observe how members developed and how their minds and views firmed during the committee's investigation. There is no doubt that the two Opposition members, the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti and the Hon. Jennifer Gardiner, who both come from country areas, are familiar with the issues. Their work was excellent. They both put in many hours and had to read enormous amounts of evidence in preparation for the hearings, which were occurring from day to day. I place on record my thanks to those honourable members. The Hon. I. Cohen said that his first experience of a full investigation by the committee was a learning experience for him. He brought to that committee, as he told the House, a different perspective on environmental issues and certainly on sustainable agriculture. In particular the enormous amount of agriculture that has been undertaken, especially in the Sydney basin, should have some research capacity associated with it.
The Hon. J. R. Johnson obviously has a feeling for agriculture. He came from Murwillumbah originally and I suppose there is still a bit of country in him. The Government members on the committee handled the inquiry in an excellent manner. They showed a lot of integrity by taking on these issues, even though they knew they risked being checked by the Minister or by someone within government circles about their views on the issues. However it appeared to me, looking in from the outside, that they maintained their individuality and independence, and I congratulate them for doing so. It could not have been easy to take part in such a committee and be in a position of having to criticise the Labor Government. To do so showed considerable integrity. Everyone knows that the Hon. E. M. Obeid should have been Minister for Agriculture. He missed out in the draw, from a briefcase of all things - obviously, there are no hats in the Labor Party these days. He would have made a very good Minister for Agriculture.
The Hon. E. M. Obeid has an affinity with rural areas and an excellent understanding of rural industries. I am quite sure that if he had been successful on that fateful day when he lost the ballot
the Premier would probably have appointed him Minister for Agriculture. At least he knows something about agriculture and would have brought to that portfolio a level of understanding that is clearly lacking in the incumbent Minister. I think that is acknowledged throughout the report, and I will come to that aspect. I have plenty of time and I will cover all of these issues in due course. The Hon. E. M. Obeid is a person with a great deal of integrity. He is quite happy to cross the political line if he believes the evidence requires it. As he said in his speech, the committee received 180 submissions opposing the Government's decision, and I would think that it is this overwhelming evidence that assisted the committee to formulate its recommendations. I hope that the Hon. E. M. Obeid gets his chance to be Minister for Agriculture after the reshuffle - which I hear may be as close as Christmas. Of course, the honourable member for Clarence is also a contender.
The Hon. Ann Symonds: What has that got to do with it?
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL: It is important because we are talking about the future of agriculture, and members of the Opposition are aware that the Hon. E. M. Obeid knows something about that subject. We know, from having heard him talk on numerous occasions and from his work on the committee, that he has an understanding of agriculture. I referred to the honourable member for Clarence. It will be a dilemma for the Premier when he replaces the Minister for Agriculture. Who will be appointed? He promised the honourable member for Clarence a job on the front bench but the Hon. E. M. Obeid might be luckier in the draw from the briefcase on the next occasion. He would make a very good Minister for Agriculture. It is a dilemma that the Opposition does not have to face, but that is a subject in which it has shown more than a passing interest, as the Hon. M. R. Kersten knows.
The Opposition is very concerned about the future of agriculture under the present Minister. The Minister for Agriculture still has not come to terms with the west. He considers the west to be those areas west of Mount Druitt, and he has not been over the sandstone divide often enough to know what is going on. The Hon. Janelle Saffin comes from the north coast and knows something about rural issues. The Hon. I. M. Macdonald is, of course, a practising farmer - and that says everything. He comes from the south-west of the State and would make a very good Minister for Agriculture, but as he is a member of the wrong faction we do not expect him to gain a guernsey on the front bench. However, his participation on the Standing Committee for State Development was excellent and I thank him for it.
One has to examine the background of this motion. The first Carr-Knight-Egan budget, which was handed down on 10 October 1995, announced a $34 million decrease in agricultural funding over the next three years. The department trotted out its hoary old chestnuts, which have been around for years, on an unsuspecting Minister who was very green in the job. The Treasurer asked the Minister to cut $34 million from his budget, and the Minister said, "Of course," and phoned his director-general to ask how he should go about doing so. His director-general advised him that the department had wanted to get rid of the Biological and Chemical Research Institute for a while, so its closure would be a good start; and that they could also close down a couple of veterinary laboratories.
The Hon. Jan Burnswoods: Oh, come on! You said this would take only a few minutes.
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL: I am sorry, but there are many issues that need to be covered.
The Hon. Patricia Staunton: Why don't you talk about the issues? You haven't mentioned one yet.
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL: I shall get to all of the issues in the fullness of time. I am sorry that the Hon. Jan Burnswoods is not enjoying my speech.
The Hon. Jan Burnswoods: He does need help.
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL: I invite the Hon. Jan Burnswoods to make a contribution after I have finished. It is incumbent upon all honourable members to take an interest in what the standing committees are doing, to read their reports and to comment on them. The Hon. Jan Burnswoods should be familiar with the report of the Standing Committee on State Development and should make her comments known. The ill-fated agricultural budget cuts of $34 million were announced in 1995, and the department came up with ideas it had held for years and presented them to an unsuspecting Minister. Suddenly ill-founded decisions were made without consultation with industry or with the department at large.
The Hon. M. R. Kersten: Didn't the department set him up!
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL: Absolutely, the Minister for Agriculture was set up for all time. I did try to warn the Minister. I warned him that he did not realise what was coming. But he decided not to take advice from me, and since then he has incurred the wrath of most of the industry and most of the State's primary producers. At the moment he is still the subject of a no confidence motion in the other place. The extraordinary decision to decrease the agricultural budget by $34 million was made. The Government then announced during the Federal election campaign - because there had been another rally in Orange protesting against cutbacks in the Department of Agriculture - that a saving of $7 million was all that was needed. The Minister for Agriculture and the Premier arrived in Orange and announced that the Government did not need to save $34 million after all; that $7 million would do.
I travelled back from Orange by plane with the Minister and commented that he would now be able to revisit his decision to close the Rydalmere facility and the veterinary laboratories, given that he had already announced a redundancy program that would save the Government a great deal more than the targeted $7 million. At that time the Standing Committee on State Development was travelling around the State and hearing, from all quarters, evidence that absolutely opposed the Government's decision to close the BCRI and the veterinary laboratories. But the Minister decided to stay with his decision. His director-general and the senior echelons of his department had considered it to be all right, and he decided that he did not need to consult the industry or other departmental staff.
To the Government, the opinions of departmental officers who are not located on the top floor at the Orange office do not matter. Neither do the opinions of farmers, the New South Wales Farmers Association or the Australian Veterinary Association matter. No-one else matters, because the Minister has received advice from within his office - and he has a few number crunchers who would hardly be of assistance if one were trying to get the right advice on agricultural matters.
The Hon. M. R. Kersten: They've set him up again.
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL: Yes, the Minister was set up on 10 October 1995 when the budget was handed down, and then he was set up again. He had the perfect opportunity in March, when he announced that he did not need to go ahead with the projected $34 million in budget cuts, to revisit the decision to close various facilities. That was too much for the Minister. His advice went no further than within his ministerial office. Like everyone else, I thought that if the Minister were half smart he would wait for the release of the report of the Standing Committee on State Development. There are Government members on that committee: the Hon. J. R. Johnson, the Hon. I. M. Macdonald, the Hon. Janelle Saffin, the Hon. Patricia Staunton and the Hon. E. M. Obeid. The Minister could rely on those members to give him quality advice, not political advice. However, the Minister decided to plough on; he decided that he had received all the advice he needed.
Pursuant to resolution business interrupted.
The Hon. J. W. SHAW (Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations) [6.07]: I move:
That this House do now adjourn.
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE [6.07]: I understand that many honourable members have another commitment to attend and I apologise for delaying them, but I wish to raise a matter that is sufficiently serious to warrant the attention of the House. My colleague in another place the honourable member for Wagga Wagga has asked me to raise this issue as he is seeking the urgent intervention of the Minister for Community Services. Yesterday the only women's refuge in Wagga Wagga was closed with just 10 hours notice, and for much of my information I rely on an article that appeared in today's Wagga Wagga Daily Advertiser. The result of yesterday's closure is that eight staff were sacked and the seven women and 15 children then residing in the refuge were effectively put out.
On Monday morning staff were contacted and told to report for work at 8.30 a.m. yesterday, when they were given the shattering news. The basis for the closure is apparently that the refuge, which has been in receipt of supported accommodation assistance program funding, fails to meet various regulations. The refuge building was old. The problem, however, is that the executive committee - the staff at any rate - was apparently not told what standards the refuge fail. This was the only refuge in Wagga Wagga, and in the past 12 months it accommodated 237 women and 217 children. It is clear that there is a need for a refuge in the Wagga Wagga area. Although the standards that the refuge fails to meet have not been specified, and although the staff are prepared to say that the building is not of good quality but is clean and provides all the basic facilities, the service was closed after 10 hours notice. Where are those seeking refuge to go? They are victims of domestic violence.
The Daily Advertiser article states that in the short term another agency will be approached to provide crisis care for women - but obviously the other agency has not yet been approached. There will also be a telephone number available for people in need, but a telephone number is inadequate for someone suffering from domestic violence. I call on the Minister to urgently review the decision and to keep the centre open until adequate accommodation is found in the Wagga Wagga region. I thank my colleague the honourable member for Wagga Wagga for bringing this matter to my attention. This is a matter that should be beyond politics. A refuge should provide a good standard of accommodation, but this move is not satisfactory. This centre had been in operation for 21 years or so, and the staff and local people deserve a better deal.
Motion agreed to.
WOMEN'S REFUGE CLOSURE
House adjourned at 6.11 p.m.