Tuesday, 14 October 1997
The President (The Hon. Max Frederick Willis) took the chair at 2.30 p.m.
The President offered the Prayers.
ASSENT TO BILLS
Assent to the following bills reported:
Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill
Crimes Legislation Amendment (Procedure) Bill
REGISTER OF DISCLOSURES
The PRESIDENT: In accordance with clause 21 of the Constitution (Disclosures by Members) Regulation 1983, I table a copy of the Register of Disclosures by Members of the Legislative Council for the period 1 July 1996 to 30 June 1997 furnished by the Clerk.
Ordered to be printed.
SELECT COMMITTEE ON THE PROPOSED DUPLICATION OF NORTH HEAD SEWERAGE TUNNEL
The PRESIDENT: I inform the House that, in addition to the Hon. I. Cohen and the Hon. R. S. L. Jones, who were appointed by resolution of the House, I have received the following nominations for membership to the Select Committee on the Proposed Duplication of North Head Sewerage Tunnel, in accordance with the resolution of the House of 24 December 1997:
JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE UPON ROAD SAFETY
The Hon. J. H. Jobling, on behalf of the Chairman, tabled the report entitled "Report of the 2nd Meeting of Australasian Parliamentary Road Safety Committees and Ministerial Nominees", dated September 1997.
Ordered to be printed.
STANDING COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL ISSUES
The Clerk announced, pursuant to the resolution adopted by the House on 24 May, receipt of the report entitled "Caring for the Aged: Inquiry into Aged Care and Nursing Homes in New South Wales" dated September 1997, together with relevant minutes of proceedings, transcripts of evidence and written submissions.
The Hon. ANN SYMONDS [2.37 p.m.]: I move:
That the House take note of the report.
Debate adjourned on motion by the Hon. Ann Symonds.
COMMITTEE ON THE OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN AND THE POLICE INTEGRITY COMMISSION
The Clerk announced, pursuant to section 31FA of the Ombudsman Act 1974, receipt of the report entitled "Key Issues Arising from the Fourth General Meeting with the NSW Ombudsman", dated October 1997.
CONSTITUTION AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from 24 September.
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD (Leader of the Opposition) [2.42 p.m.]: The coalition opposes this bill. The Labor Party has a history of pursuing electoral changes for its political advantage. I remind the House of the greatest exhibition of that: the successful attempts by the Wran and Unsworth governments before 1988 to alter the membership of
both the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council. At that time Labor clearly indicated that it was prepared to alter the membership of the Parliament in the pursuit of an electoral advantage. The Government at that time had no mandate to change the membership of the Parliament. The Labor Party had not put before the people in any election manifesto a proposal to pursue the reforms it undertook in 1987.
The coalition had as part of its election manifesto in 1988 a commitment to reduce the membership of the Legislative Assembly from 109 to 99 members, as the membership had previously been. The coalition took that proposal to the people and it was subsequently elected. The coalition Government fulfilled its promise and appropriate legislation was passed. It is now about 18 months away from a State election and we are witnessing the death throes of another Labor government. The Labor Party is again seeking to alter the number of members in the Legislative Assembly. It is pursuing this objective for one reason: to achieve electoral advantage. This bill is a blatant attempt by the Labor Party to rig the 1999 election.
Prior to the 1995 election the Labor Party had not indicated that it was prepared to alter in any way the relationship between the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council or the membership of either House. The Labor Party has no mandate for electoral change. If the Government were really serious about the need for electoral reform, it should include such a policy in the manifesto the Labor Party takes to the next election. The Constitution provides that any change in the membership of the Legislative Council must receive the mandate of the people by way of referendum. There is no requirement for a referendum to change the membership of the Legislative Assembly. One would expect, however, that a government would be prepared to risk its arm and seek the approval of the people for what it intends to do.
The position of the seven Independent members will be critical in this debate. The Independent members hold the balance of power in the Parliament. As recently as a decade or so ago a leader of one of the political parties said that the role of the crossbenchers would be to "keep the bastards honest." One wonders whether that sentiment is relevant with regard to this bill or whether crossbenchers will be willing to be perceived as supporting the Government’s attempts to give itself an electoral advantage. Will a significant number of the crossbenchers say that a government without a mandate for electoral reform should be allowed to pursue such reform? Will crossbench members support the Government’s attempts to give itself an electoral advantage? Crossbenchers will be required to make a decision and they will be tested on their position at the next election. A Labor government last came forward with a proposal for electoral reform in 1986. Hansard of 30 April 1986 documents the opposition of the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby to the proposed electoral reform as follows:
The bill to increase the number of lower House members of Parliament clearly is not designed as a measure of good government. More properly it is to be described as the winter offensive of the continuing factions; a factional war between Sussex Street and the trade union club. The bills are part of a troika of legislation designed to prevent only one thing: my party gaining the balance of reason in this Parliament.
At that time Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile said:
The main purpose of the legislation seems to be political, in creating the ten extra seats, even though later reports indicate that there may be a greater split between the seats than was originally thought. As many commentators have said, the majority of those seats would be in Labor areas, such as in the western suburbs. That would increase the number of Labor Party members in the lower House and therefore increase their hope of retaining government in 1988 if there is concern that the Labor Party might lose office.
I emphasise the words "increase their hope of retaining government". Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile at that time opposed the legislation and clearly embraced the principle that a government without a mandate should not ask the Parliament to alter the arrangements particularly when the purpose of the proposal is to seek a political advantage. To ensure that the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby is fully aware that the approach of the Labor Party is always to seek to extract political advantage by manipulating the election rules I remind her of the comments she made in 1990 when the coalition sought to reduce the number of members of the Legislative Assembly from 109 to 99. She said:
The Labor Party seems to be of the view that there is something totally undemocratic and dangerous about a redistribution of boundaries and how those boundaries are drawn. Today in this Chamber the Opposition has attacked strongly the chairperson of Electoral Boundaries Commission. They believed he will show political bias. If one goes back over the years, it is perfectly obvious that a degree of bias has always been exhibited when boundaries have been redrawn. It is well recognised by expert political analysts - and I certainly do not pretend to be an expert political analyst - that when the boundaries for the 1988 election were redrawn, at the request of the Labor Party, a bias of 3 per cent in favour of the Labor Party. One can ask Malcolm MacKerras or Ernie Chaples or any other professional analyst. It is fully accepted that that is the case.
In 1986 the Labor Party sought, by electoral manipulation, to secure a 3 per cent bias in its
favour. All political analysts acknowledged that to be so. Coincidentally the Labor Party seeks a similar advantage - 3 per cent - in 1997. Material leaked by Labor Party members shows that the Labor Party wants to reduce the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly from 99 to 93 to ensure victory in 1998 with only 47 per cent of the two-party preferred vote. In the 1995 election the Labor Party won government with only 48 per cent of the vote. This bill will provide the Labor Party with an opportunity to secure government with only 47 per cent of the vote. The Hon. J. R. Johnson and other members of the Labor Party might hope that it is able to win with as little as 46 per cent. This is yet further evidence that the Labor Party will manipulate the system to seek any advantage. In 1988 the Labor Party sought, and achieved, a redistribution to give it a 3 per cent advantage; in 1997 it is seeking a similar advantage. In the Sydney Morning Herald on 23 May Antony Green wrote:
. . . Labor’s proposal for a 93-seat Assembly would see it re-elected with as little as 47 per cent of the vote.
There followed the following pertinent, and quite generous, observation:
Yet you can be sure that the self-interest of the Labor Party is triumphing over any principled adherence to the need to cut the number of politicians. When it comes to assessing the impact of electoral changes, the first principle to examine is the one labelled "What’s in it for us".
It could well be said that the Labor Party has only one principle against which it tests proposed policy changes. Its members ask themselves, "What’s in it for us?" That has been the consistent position of the Labor Party. Honourable members should reflect on the views of some commentators to this approach. On 22 September 1997 on radio station 2BL Antony Green, with regard to the suspicion that the Government would try to manipulate the redistribution, said:
. . . it would be interesting to see if the Labor Party appoint the Surveyor-General again. If they don’t then that suggests it looks like there’s some kind of rort going on to try and get the boundaries up.
Clearly the Labor Party is seeking to manipulate the commission to gain an electoral advantage.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: The word "rort" was used.
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD: Indeed it was. The Government is not consistent about such matters. As honourable members will recall, on 3 June 1996 the Hon. Jennifer Gardiner asked the Premier in an estimates committee hearing about any proposed changes to the Electoral Act. The Premier responded:
There will be no increase or decrease in the number of members this time. The number of electorates remains at 99.
Clearly the Premier implied that if there were to be a change, it would occur when the Government had a mandate to implement it. However, the Labor Party, once more with its back against the wall and facing imminent electoral defeat, is willing to rort the system, to manipulate the rules. To achieve that end the Government hoped to have Mr Dickson replaced as one of the electoral commissioners. Obviously even Mr Dixon was concerned about that situation. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 2 January reported:
The Carr Government’s hopes of benefiting from the appointment of a new State Electoral Commissioner before the next election appear to have been dashed, with an incumbent now intending to stay on . . .
The Herald has learnt that the redistribution of the State’s 99 Lower House seats, required after every second election, has been delayed while the Labor Party waited for Mr Dickson to retire this year . . .
Mr Dickson said he has no intention of retiring in the short term, "As far as I am concerned I will be here for the redistribution. It has been part of our ongoing corporate plan."
The Sydney Morning Herald of 10 May 1997, again speculating on redistributions, quoted ALP sources. It stated:
The plan’s architects at ALP headquarters claim the new spread of electorates would enable Labor, which won Government with 48.8% of the 1995 vote after preferences, to be re-elected with less than 47%.
That claim does not come from the Opposition or from any of the reputable experts in this area; it comes from Labor Party documents. Clearly, the Labor Party is seeking to manipulate electoral arrangements so that it can be re-elected with less than 47 per cent of the vote. I suppose that is why the Hon. J. R. Johnson said that they are trying for 46 per cent. The editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald of 13 May made the following observations:
The NSW Government is apparently contemplating reducing the number of State electorates from 99 to 93. It should give away this notion . . .
The plan to reduce the number of electorates will be sold as an exercise in cost-cutting . . . This argument, however, lacks merit.
. . . The real advantage of the plan as far as the Carr Government is concerned is that it could make Labor’s re-election chances more likely. A smaller Lower House could actually permit a Labor victory even if Labor received not much more than 47% of the two-party preferred vote.
That goes to show the accuracy of the document leaked from the Labor Party at that time. The Sydney Morning Herald editorial advocated that the proposed reduction of electorates would be sold as an exercise in cost cutting, and that is exactly what the Premier has sought to do. The Premier has painted this plan as an exercise in saving money by having fewer politicians but enabling him to spend more money by appointing more Ministers. That only serves to emphasise the extent to which this proposal is a rort. This proposal will have a massive impact on the representation of voters in non-metropolitan New South Wales. Figures from the Electoral Districts Commission show that the total enrolment of voters in New South Wales as at September 1997 was 3,995,851. If there were only 93 electorates in New South Wales the quota would be 42,966.
If the non-metropolitan area of New South Wales were classified to include the Blue Mountains and Port Stephens, and if the number of voters enrolled in those electorates were taken into account, the total enrolment would be 1,192,228 voters. Dividing that figure by 42,966 would provide an allocation of 27.75 quotas, or 27.75 members, to represent non-metropolitan New South Wales. In the metropolitan region, where 2,803,623 voters are enrolled, the number of quotas would be 65.25. That means that there would be 2.25 fewer non-metropolitan electorates than the 30 that exist at present. At least two members would go from regional New South Wales and, depending on allowances to be made having regard to the growth of areas and the variation factors, up to three electorates could disappear from non-metropolitan New South Wales. The Labor Party has clearly indicated that it is prepared to sacrifice the rural region of New South Wales in its attempt to secure a gerrymander of the New South Wales electorate and to rort the electoral system.
The Labor Party has indicated to the country people of New South Wales that they are expendable; whereas metropolitan voters have easy access to their members of Parliament and are able to gain ready assistance from them, the people of rural New South Wales will not have the same entitlements. For instance, the existing electorate of Broken Hill is currently 20 per cent below quota. If the quota for Broken Hill were increased to the proposed quota level, that electorate would cover almost one-half of the geographical area of New South Wales. That would be an absolutely untenable position. It is interesting to note that the electorate of Broken Hill is represented by the Labor Party. The Labor Party is clearly prepared to say to the people of the western part of New South Wales, "We will give you a member but his job will be to look after one-half of the geographical area of New South Wales, and as far as we are concerned that member is expendable."
The Labor Party’s attitude is contemptuous and is not supported by the coalition. It is interesting also to consider whether it is appropriate to drive up the ratio of voters looked after by each member of Parliament. I acknowledge that under a 93-seat proposal the ratio would still be less than that for Federal members. However, under a 93-seat proposal there would be more voters per elected member of Parliament in New South Wales than for members of any other State or Territory parliament in Australia. In terms of the number of voters per elected member of Parliament, the next closest State is Victoria with approximately 34,000 voters per member of Parliament. Under this proposal each member of Parliament would represent nearly 43,000 voters. So much for this Government ensuring adequate representation by members of Parliament! It is interesting to look at the changes made to membership in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly.
In 1904 the ratio of residents, not voters, to members of Parliament was approximately 12,000, and the number of members in the Legislative Assembly was 90. Indeed, in 1904 the number of members was reduced from 125 to 90, and it remained at 90 until 1950. If I remember correctly, New South Wales had a Labor Government in 1950, when the number of members increased to 94. The number remained at 94 until 1971 when it increased to 96; it further increased to 99 in 1973. The number remained at 99 from 1973 until 1986, when the Wran and Unsworth Labor governments - and if I remember correctly, the leader of the Government in this House was giving advice on electoral matters at that time - decided to rort the electoral system by increasing the number to 109. There was stability in the ratios until the Labor Party pursued a rort and electorally manipulated the voting arrangements. In a debate on 29 November 1990 when the coalition sought to reduce the membership of the Legislative Assembly from 109 to 99, in accordance with that Government’s mandate, the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby made the following comments:
I can well remember the totally undemocratic legislation introduced by the Labor Party in 1987. It was drawn up for one purpose and one purpose only, and that was to guarantee that it won the 1988 election.
What was said by the honourable member at that time applies equally today. It could well be said today that -
The Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby: But it did not work; that is the point.
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD: The honourable member says that it did not work. It did not work then and I expect that the people of New South Wales will reject the Australian Labor Party again in the 1999 election. But the issue for the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby, and she was not here when I made my comments earlier -
The Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby: I heard them on the intercom.
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD: I said that the Government is making these changes for one reason and one reason only: for the purpose of seeking to guarantee an electoral advantage. Whether or not it achieves that will very much depend upon the good work of Peter Collins as he leads the Opposition into government, notwithstanding the rort that the ALP is seeking to perpetrate. Are the Independent members of this Parliament prepared to lend their support to a rort? Are the Independent members of this House prepared to allow themselves to be perceived to be engaging or in fact engaging in an effort by the ALP to secure an electoral advantage? If the principle of the crossbenchers is to keep each of the major parties honest, it will achieve that by ensuring that, in areas such as electoral reform, the major parties pursue those proposals in accordance with their mandate. If they have no mandate, the proposals should be rejected by the Parliament until that mandate is received.
If at the 1999 elections either of the major parties wants to secure change to the constitution and a change to the ratios of representation in either of the Chambers, that party should be prepared to put that in its electoral proposals to the people of New South Wales during the campaign for that election. If the voters give a mandate for change, it would be inappropriate for the crossbenchers not to allow that mandate to proceed. But it would be incumbent upon the government at that time to ensure that the legislation brought before the Parliament was consistent with that mandate. I am not certain what position the Independents will take. We will have to wait and see how they decide to position themselves on this effort by the Labor Party to rort the 1999 election.
If this legislation is read a second time, I will look seriously at a number of amendments. I would expect the support of members on the crossbenches and the Government for those amendments, which will ensure that any redistribution undertaken in New South Wales is electorally fair, that the principles of electoral fairness are well and truly entrenched in this package of legislation and that the ability of any political party to manipulate the process is erased as much as is possible at this time, without major constitutional change. I will circulate those amendments to honourable members in time for consideration of the legislation in Committee either today or at a subsequent time. I do not believe that this bill should be before the Parliament. Clearly this is a proposal by the Government to manipulate and to rort the electoral process. The Parliament should not support this legislation until such time as the Government has obtained a mandate for it. It is for that reason, therefore, that I move:
That the question be amended by omitting "now" and adding at the end the words "this day six months".
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY [3.16 p.m.]: As honourable members can see, I am armed with a great deal of material although I do not believe that all of it will be used. When this debate started I was still in my office but I heard over the intercom that I was being selectively quoted by the Leader of the Opposition so I decided it would be a good idea to get out the previous speeches I have made in this Chamber on electoral changes and electoral redistribution. Since I was first elected in 1981 there have been many debates on this subject and I have a great deal of material. I believe that whenever a redistribution is suggested by any government, the Opposition of the day suggests automatically that it is a rort, an abuse of the system and is only being done to gain an electoral advantage. Therefore, it is necessary for a government to have very strict legislation in place that lays down when a redistribution may take place, who the electoral commissioners should be and the reasons for the boundaries that are drawn by those electoral commissioners.
More than 40 per cent of the lower House seats in New South Wales are malapportioned. Out of 99 seats, 40 are either above or below tolerance - and some of those seats were either above or below tolerance at the time of the last election. That is when there should have been a redistribution but, of course, it did not suit the coalition Government of the day to have a redistribution then. It is inevitable that there be a redistribution now. It simply could not be left any longer without the public, quite rightly, becoming concerned. The Government has chosen a path dissimilar to that chosen by previous governments. As has already been pointed out by the Leader of the Opposition, when in office the Labor administration, at the time of the Premiership of
Barrie Unsworth, increased the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly from 99 to 109. At that time I said, as has been quoted in this debate, that this was done by the Labor Party to gain an electoral advantage. But it did not work. They lost the election.
If one were to speak to the Labor Party apparatchiks they would say "No, it was not the 109 seats that did it; it was the gun laws." I would like to think that by altering the number of seats the Labor Party did not advance its electoral advantage one iota. Similarly, when Mr Greiner came to office in 1988 he decided to cut the 10 new seats. I am informed by the Opposition that Mr Greiner had a mandate because he told the electorate what he would do. However, he did cut the number of seats, again to screams of rage from the Opposition of the day which suggested he did it only so that the coalition could gain an electoral advantage. We are hearing that same story now. I would think that what happened in South Australia at the weekend proves that the way the boundaries are drawn is not the only thing that will impact on the result of an election. Even if that were true 20 years ago, it certainly is not true today. Practically every State in Australia has witnessed quite an astonishing phenomenon: the increase in the number of Independents and minor party candidates gaining parliamentary office. That did not occur during the 1960s or the 1970s; it only began to occur in the early 1980s.
What happened in South Australia at the weekend proves that, in spite of what the Government believes is very strong legislation, the Government will still have to rely on the Independents to hold office. I also believe that what has happened in the Federal Parliament in the past three weeks is ample proof that if there were to be an election after the major scandal of the travel rorts affair it would not matter one iota how the boundaries were drawn, because the ignominy, the opprobrium that has been poured on all parliamentarians as a result of the travel rorts affair would inevitably have an effect on the result of any election. I, too, have been reading Antony Green’s articles. I find it very interesting that the Leader of the Opposition in his remarks did not quote from the most recent article by Antony Green, an article published only yesterday in the Sydney Morning Herald, but quoted from an article written in May. Antony Green, as the ABC’s leading psephologist, wrote the article because he knew very well we would debate this legislation today. He wrote:
Depending on which side of politics you listen to, this is a sensible change that saves taxpayers money, or an outrageous rort designed to get Labor over the line at the next election.
As usual in politics, the truth lies somewhere in between. Of itself, there is no reason why cutting the number of seats should advantage either side of politics. The cross-bench members in the Legislative Council, whose votes will decide the issue, see no problem in the change in numbers, as long as the subsequent redistribution is fair.
The article goes on to talk about fairness of redistribution. The Leader of the Opposition flagged that he has prepared some amendments, which he hopes he will never have to use because he hopes the bill will be defeated at the second reading. However, I have prepared amendments also, similar to those I prepared in 1988 and 1991, to bring the New South Wales legislation into line with the Federal legislation. I am a republican; I do not support the concept of States, but I certainly support the concept of regional government. If Australia becomes a republic - I am certainly not a follower of Ted Mack - it will not mean automatic abolition of the States. It is invaluable to have certain pieces of legislation the same for the Commonwealth and for the States, and electoral legislation is one such area. It is proper that the legislation that governs the conduct of elections and the drawing up of electoral boundaries should be the same for a Federal government as for a State government. At the moment it is not. There is a set of legislation about electoral boundaries and the setting up of electoral commissions in Western Australia, there is another in South Australia, New South Wales has one and the Commonwealth Act has differences again.
I have prepared three amendments, one of which deals with changing the New South Wales legislation to ensure that the Surveyor General is a member of the Electoral Districts Commission. I was informed this morning that the amendment has been accepted by the Government. I also have an amendment suggesting that it is proper that evidence before the Electoral Districts Commission be given orally as well as in writing, and that comments on other parties’ submissions should also be made orally to the commission. I have had discussions with Antony Green, particularly on the issue of fairness. One of the documents I received from the Parliamentary Counsel today was an amendment based on section 83 of the South Australian legislation which talks about fairness. I know this is an amendment the Government is not happy with. It believes the criteria laid down in the New South Wales legislation as it stands are better, that they more truly reflect what the public wants from an Electoral Districts Commission. At page 11 of the current Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Act, section 17A, criteria for distributions, states:
(1) In carrying out a distribution, the commissioners shall, subject to complying with section 28 of the Constitution Act, 1902:
(a) have regard to demographic trends within the State and, as far as practicable, endeavour to ensure on the basis of those trends that, at the relevant future time, the number of electors enrolled in each electoral district will be equal (within a margin of allowance of 3 per cent more or less of the average enrolment in electoral districts at that future time), and
That figure of 3 per cent was one of the changes in amendments that the Australian Democrats negotiated with the Greiner Government. Section 17(1)(b) states:
(b) subject to paragraph (a), give due consideration, in relation to each electoral district, to:
(i) community of interests within the electoral district, including economic, social and regional interests,
(ii) means of communication and travel within the electoral district,
(iii) the physical features and area of the electoral district,
(iv) mountain and other natural boundaries, and
(v) the boundaries of the existing electoral districts.
The boundaries of existing electoral districts have always been of prime importance. However, they will be of even greater importance if the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly is reduced from 99 to 93. Having considered the concept of fairness and having talked with people in South Australia about the provisions of that State’s Act, I am taking further advice on whether to proceed with my amendment which reflects section 83 of the South Australian electoral Act. One of the reasons I am doing that is that the concept of fairness has been discussed by the Australian Electoral Commission, which opposed it. As yet I do not have sufficient information as to why the commission opposed it, but obviously it must have had a good reason for doing so. I was also concerned to provide certainty to those who wished to complain about boundaries that they believed had been wrongly drawn. I am sure honourable members will be aware, even if members of the public are not, that the majority of submissions to the Electoral Districts Commission come from both political parties and local government.
Almost every local government organisation will make a submission to the Electoral Districts Commission. That is what has happened in the past and that is what will almost certainly happen on this occasion because of the changes that will result from the reduction in numbers. The Opposition has claimed that members representing country electorates will be disadvantaged if the number of seats is cut. It has also been claimed that at least three country electorates will disappear. I do not know on what criteria that claim is based, but it is certainly not the belief of the political analyst Antony Green. He has stated that it is likely that only one country electorate will disappear, but apparently the Opposition does not believe that. The article by Antony Green in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald has so far been carefully ignored by the Opposition. However, it deals with two of my amendments. In his article Antony Green wrote:
The appointment of a commissioner who is a surveyor can also be tightened. Under the Commonwealth Electoral Act, but not the State act, redistribution committees must include the State Surveyor-General.
That is the amendment I have had prepared and which the Government has accepted. In his article Antony Green gives reasons why he believes that the State Surveyor General is a wise choice for that job. He stated:
This is now Mr Don Grant, who has served on the last two State redistributions. He is also Chair of the Geographic Names Board, making him better qualified than anyone in the State to judge arguments about community of interest. However, under the present rules, the Government can choose not to appoint him, despite past precedents of the Surveyor-General always serving as a commissioner.
I have been assured that that will continue to be the case. I hope that the Opposition will support my amendment, as the Government does. Antony Green stated further:
Finally, the whole issue of the political impact of boundaries could be included as part of the redistribution process. This could be by allowing the commissioners to discuss political implications, while not setting fixed criteria or by following the South Australian example, where boundaries are specifically drawn to try and insure the winner at an election must win a majority of the vote.
That led me to believe that an amendment based on section 83 would possibly not advance the cause of fairness. The cause of fairness is clearly delineated in our legislation, particularly as the first thing that electoral commissioners must do is to consider community of interest within electoral districts. I want to refer to the statement I made previously, a statement I have repeated on radio in the past few weeks, that if any political party believes the boundaries are totally and absolutely unfair it has the right to appeal against them.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: Community of interest is not fairness.
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY: That is the opinion of the Hon. D. J. Gay. If the changes laid down in South Australia result in what Antony Green describes as fixed criteria under which
electoral commissioners cannot operate, perhaps honourable members should think more carefully about the introduction of that clause into the New South Wales legislation. I want to return to what I said as long ago as 1990:
However, it was always possible, and still is possible -
and this is the part that the Leader of the Opposition omitted when he quoted my 1990 speech -
for any political party to object to the boundaries drawn by the commission before they are proclaimed. That is still inherent in the legislation. When the commission decides the new boundaries after the abolition of the 10 seats, there will be a full 28-day period during which interested members of the public and representatives of the political parties involved will be able to make their concerns known. They will be able to protest against the new boundaries if they believe them to be totally unfair. I hope that the boundaries commission will remove many of the anomalies occasioned by the creation of 10 additional seats for the 1988 election.
On that occasion I used this example, which I have used over and over again and will continue to use:
For example, there is an extraordinary anomaly in the boundaries for the seat of Upper Hunter, which now includes the town of Coonabarabran. There is absolutely no commonality of interest between Coonabarabran and other towns in the electorate of Upper Hunter. Coonabarabran has commonality of interest with Dubbo. When the boundaries were drawn, the configuration of the river was taken into account, and the electorate has a strange dog leg at the top. I do not know whether those boundaries were challenged at the time.
That is, at the time those boundaries were drawn. Perhaps they were challenged, perhaps they were not. However, it is certainly strange, and whatever we might do at this time we should certainly change those boundaries. In public debate and in the media some members of the National Party are making a great deal of comment and attacking me; they claim country people will be disadvantaged by this measure. It is therefore proper that I refer to what was said by another political analyst, Michelle Grattan. In the Australian Financial Review on 20 January this year she wrote:
The Nationals clout derives from regionally based support, the House of Representatives single member preferential voting and alliance with the Liberals. The National's raison d’etre has been to represent rural Australia. From time to time, the party flirted with broadening its base. Such attempts were always doomed. It is not as if the Nationals are going to come walking into suburbia.
But the Liberals and the ALP will walk into suburbia, along with the Australian Democrats, if the South Australian election result is any indication. Because of the creation of the north-west development sector, Rouse Hill, there will have to be in the near future another increase in the number of lower House seats to cater for the needs of the 250,000 people who will live there. Six or seven new electorates will have to be created because, no matter how far technology advances, nothing can replace the need for face-to-face meetings with constituents, particularly those with English as a second language. Unfortunately, the National Party will not make any electoral impact in those areas but I know the Opposition confidently expects the National Party to pick up Broken Hill and probably two other electorates under the boundaries that may result from the legislation. One of those electorates will be Bathurst because there is no way in the world that the Labor Party will hold Bathurst after Mick Clough retires. The National Party will possibly pick up another country electorate currently held by the Australian Labor Party.
I believe the legislation will not disadvantage the National Party to the extent that its members are loudly trumpeting, both by way of interjection in this House and also on radio. By making such claims they are suggesting, at least to me, that they believe the only reason for a redistribution is to twist the boundaries to suit themselves - not to have the boundaries drawn on the basis of commonality of interest, means of communication or physical features. Everything is dependent, of course, on the way in which the boundaries are drawn. They will not be decided by the parties alone; they will be decided by the electoral commissioners. The result will depend on how many electors decide to vote for Independent members, the Australian Democrats, the Greens or the Shooters Party. A few moments ago by way of interjection the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said, "You go and talk to the Labor Party, you will not come and talk to the Opposition."
I should like to put on the public record why I will not talk and have not been talking to the Opposition. Three members of the Opposition rang Armon Hicks. All members of this House will remember that prior to 1991 Armon Hicks was my personal assistant. He now works as a consultant for Ian Kortlang. The Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party in another place rang Armon Hicks and said, "I want an interview with Elisabeth Kirkby." The honourable member for Ermington rang Armon Hicks and said, "You have got to stop her, she can’t agree to this legislation." The chief strategist in another place, the honourable member for Northcott, also rang Armon Hicks and said, "You have got to use your influence with her," or words to that effect. Not once did any of those members come to me.
The Hon. R. T. M. Bull: You announced that you were not going to talk to anyone. Your mind was made up as soon as the announcement was made. You deny that!
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY: I did, but this legislation was on foot long before I made a statement to the press. I will tell the House exactly why I made that statement to the press. If I had sat on the sidelines and waited, I know perfectly well what the Opposition would have said, and probably may still say: "What deal have you done with the Government?" I decided to make it crystal clear to the media from the very beginning that I had considered the Government’s proposal and, after consultation with my Federal colleagues and the Federal campaign manager -
The Hon. D. J. Gay: You made up your mind without talking to us. No Nat spoke to you.
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY: That is perfectly true: no member of the National Party spoke to me. However, when I received that information about three members of the Liberal Party attempting to approach me through Armon Hicks I rang the Leader of the Opposition, and I was not a bit pleased. Any member of the Opposition who wishes to speak to me about any matter should not use someone who used to work for me but does not work for me any longer and is not a member of my party. If members of the National Party want to know why I have not come back to them, it is because of the way this matter was handled by the Opposition behind my back. It was a very silly thing to do.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: Will you talk to us now?
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY: I understand the Opposition has amendments, and I will be happy to look at them. I understand they are similar to amendments I have prepared. The Hon. R. S. L. Jones also has amendments and I believe the Greens possibly have amendments. I do not know whether the amendments to be moved by the Opposition are similar to mine but I am happy to consider them on their merits. One other point that must be made is that all of the confusion in the mind of the public, the claims of rorting and gerrymandering and all the other statements that are made on every occasion boundaries are redrawn, could be resolved very simply by the introduction of a system of multimember electorates.
Multimember electorates form part of my party’s policy but they are obviously not acceptable either to the Government of this State or to the Federal Government. I believe that as the strength of the Democrats grows, multimember electorates are likely to be introduced at a Federal level much sooner than at a State level. Let me deal with the argument about members who represent large electorates. Many National Party members who represent Federal constituencies have enormous distances to travel and enormous physical barriers to overcome to service their electorates. Some of them do so extremely successfully. If they can service that number of people I do not understand why, in a large electorate with a small population, that could not be done by a State member equally as well as it is done by those Federal members. My view, and I believe I shall not be proved wrong, is that country people will not -
The Hon. J. F. Ryan: About 100 hospitals and 300 or 400 schools! That sounds like a great job for a member of Parliament, doesn’t it?
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY: I have been a member of this Parliament since 1981 and have attempted to represent for my party the whole of the State of New South Wales. Honourable members should not talk to me about the hundreds of miles they have to travel or the number of towns they have to visit. The job of a Legislative Councillor is not the job of a local member and it is obvious that I could not visit every school in the State, but I assure honourable members that I have visited a hell of a lot of schools, local councils, hospitals and nursing homes as part of learning more about what is happening in those areas. I intend to support the bill, and I shall move amendments, which I hope will receive support, at the Committee stage. It is time to think carefully not only about changes to the electoral boundaries for the coming election but also about a system of multimember electorates.
That system is democratic and it operates in New Zealand and in many European countries. Such a system would provide fairness, because within an electorate all levels of political thought would be catered for. Whether a sizeable percentage of people in an electorate supported the National Party, the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal Party, the Greens, the Shooters Party or the Australian Democrats, all would be provided for. I believe that multimember electorates will be adopted in the long run, because they are intrinsically fair. The electoral redistribution is inevitable; the State cannot continue with the malapportionment that exists at the moment. If the Government of the day has decided that it is reasonable to have six fewer lower House members, that is its right. There was certainly no
mandate given to the Unsworth Government to increase the number of members in the lower House. I do not concede that it is possible for a government to increase or decrease the number of members of the Legislative Assembly only if it has been given a mandate to do so. I do believe, however, that there would be no mandate given to increase the number of members.
I regret to say that, despite what people may have thought of politicians 20 or 25 years ago, members of Parliament are now the lowest form of animal life. Because of the actions of only one or two members of Parliament we are all abused by radio commentators and in the news media generally. In the popular mind the actions of a few have rubbed off on every one of us. Even if people pretend that comments about travel allowances are only a joke, what has happened in Canberra has destroyed for probably another 20 years any chance of reasonable respect for members of Parliament. It will take people a long time to change their minds. I became even more convinced of that by the result of the recent South Australian election. The Labor Party lost that election because of the State Bank issue, an issue that belongs years in the past.
The Hon. R. T. M. Bull: What evidence do you have of that?
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY: The views expressed by the electorate and the increased vote for my party. Disillusioned people who had previously supported the Australian Labor Party and simply could not vote for the Liberal Party voted for the Australian Democrats. The Australian Democrats outpolled the National Party, and have done so on many occasions. Members of the National Party have spoken about fairness. The Australian Democrats have gained more primary votes than the National Party but not one seat in the lower House. The National Party would not survive as a political party unless it were in coalition. I shall make the remainder of my comments when I move my amendments at the Committee stage.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [3.55 p.m.]: On behalf of the Christian Democratic Party I speak to the Constitution Amendment Bill. The object of the bill is to amend the Constitution Act 1902 so as to reduce the number of members of the Legislative Assembly from 99 to 93 and to increase the maximum number of Ministers from 20 to 21. In support of the bill the Treasurer said in his second reading speech that reducing the number of members of the Legislative Assembly would result in a significant net cost saving. He pointed out that the estimated cost per member of Parliament is $400,000 and that the proposed reduction in the number of members of the Legislative Assembly, allowing for an increase in the ministry, was estimated to save $5 million over a four-year term. Similar statements were made by the Premier and other leading members of the Government.
The public is aware that this bill is a cynical manoeuvre to help the Labor Party win the forthcoming State election. Any claim about saving money is very hollow, particularly when it is remembered that a previous Labor Government increased the membership of the lower House by 10, a measure that would have added millions of dollars to the Legislative Assembly budget. In the Sunday Telegraph of 28 September John Laws accurately described what is proposed in the bill. His article, headed "Nero Bob chases glory", stated:
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the cynical audacity of Bob Carr’s move to cut the size of the NSW Lower House from 99 to 93. He says it’s to save money. What a joke!
The truth is, Bob knows that he and his Government are unlikely to be in power for the 2000 Olympic Games.
But Bob would do almost anything to bathe in some of that reflected Olympic glory.
Thus he’s embraced a plan by wily NSW ALP secretary, John Della Bosca, to maximise Labor’s re-election chances with a novel electoral distribution which eliminates five city seats and one in the country.
The article also stated:
The bitter-sweet irony of the Premier’s Olympian cynicism is that he knows the public is seriously disillusioned with the self-serving hypocrisy of politicians (rorts, rorts and more rorts).
So he has decided to eliminate half a dozen of them. It’s a bit like the Roman emperor feeding a few extra Christians to the lions. Same attitude to the electors, too. I still don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
But there’s one thing I should tell you, Bob: no matter what you do, the public aren’t going to fall for it.
Perhaps Della Bosca has another plan that’s fit for an emperor.
John Laws gave a perceptive description of the Labor Party’s endeavour with this manoeuvre to shore up its electoral chances at the next election. The ALP has to do something fairly dramatic because its support across the State has been so poor. Unless a measure such as this is taken, the ALP will have no hope in the election. This bill may help to increase the chances of the ALP. As other speakers in the debate have said, it may assist the Labor Party to be elected with as little as 46 per cent of the vote. Crossbench members who intend to support this bill would appear to be not terribly
worried about the principles of electoral fairness or one person, one vote. Surely it cannot be fair that one party could be re-elected with as little as 46 per cent of the vote. I rely heavily on the figure of 46 per cent; it has been worked out carefully on computers and quoted by the Hon. J. R. Johnson, who is a very accurate numbers man. The Labor Party believes it can win the next election with that percentage of the vote. When there was debate on the proposal to reduce the numbers in the lower House -
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
INDEPENDENT COMMISSION AGAINST CORRUPTION LOCAL GOVERNMENT COMPLAINTS
The Hon. D. J. GAY: My question without notice is addressed to the Attorney General in his own capacity and representing the Minister for Local Government. Will the Minister explain why, according to figures, in 1996-97 the Independent Commission Against Corruption spent 35.2 per cent of its time answering complaints from the public regarding local government - that is, four times the time spent answering complaints about police and five times that spent on complaints received about any other form of public authority? The Minister for Local Government looks after only one portfolio. Therefore, given that he has the resources of an entire department, complete with inspectors, why is he so ineffectual in addressing this incredible number of complaints from constituents? What are this do-nothing Minister and his department doing to address this situation?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: The question might be better addressed to the Minister responsible for the Independent Commission Against Corruption because allocation of its time and resources is essentially a matter for that body. I remind the honourable member that local government is a separate and distinct sphere of government and it must bear its own responsibility for the causes of complaints made against it. I am prepared to refer the question to the Minister for Local Government but I pause to say that very few people would describe the Hon. Ernie Page as a do-nothing Minister. On the contrary, the Minister is very active liaising with local government and is widely respected by people in local government from the National Party, the Liberal Party or any other party. From my observation as I travel around the State meeting representatives of local government the Minister is held in very high regard.
AGED-CARE ACCOMMODATION REFORMS
The Hon. A. B. KELLY: My question without notice is to the Minister for Community Services, Minister for Aged Services, and Minister for Disability Services. Will the Minister advise the House what effects the Federal Government’s aged-care reforms have had on frail older people in New South Wales and their families?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I thank the Hon. A. B. Kelly for his perceptive and intelligent question. The Howard Government’s mean-spirited and un-Australian aged-care reforms have been in place for just two weeks and already two women aged in their eighties have, allegedly, committed suicide, having left notes for their families expressing fears that they could not afford to enter a nursing home under the changes to the system. There is confusion and fear among older Australians faced with paying accommodation bonds of up to $200,000 to get a place in a nursing home or hostel and being forced to sell the family home to get the money for that bond. There is no security in their future. I understand why members of the Liberal Party in particular are acutely embarrassed about this matter.
The Hon. Virginia Chadwick: On a point of order. The Minister in his reply to the question is clearly reading from a document that relates to incidents of people who have committed suicide. I wonder if he would table that document and name the source.
The Hon. R. D. DYER: On the point of order. I am merely using my own notes for the purpose of answering the question.
The PRESIDENT: Order! Given the assurance of the Minister, no point of order is involved.
The Hon. Virginia Chadwick: Given that the Minister -
The PRESIDENT: Order! Is this another point of order?
The Hon. Virginia Chadwick: No, it is on the same point.
The PRESIDENT: Order! I have already ruled on that point of order.
The Hon. R. D. DYER: In the past week there have been hundreds of calls a day to the New South Wales Government funded Seniors Information Service from people worried about their future.
The Hon. Virginia Chadwick: On a point of order. Given that the Minister in his reply referred to a suicide, I would seek his assurance that these matters are not sub judice and perhaps subject to a current coronial inquiry.
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I have no knowledge of the incidents in question being the subject of any coronial inquiry.
The PRESIDENT: Order! A point of order is a serious matter. Members should not interject or heckle but should listen to the point in silence.
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I merely say that the reference to suicide arises from notes left by the people in question. The notes referred to the reasons they took their own lives. However, I am not saying that there are judicial proceedings being held into those deaths at this stage, I am merely saying anecdotally that notes have been left behind by some people claiming that the reason for their having taken their lives was their concern about the accommodation bond.
The PRESIDENT: Order! The matter is not sub judice. The Minister may proceed but I rely on him to be extremely discreet.
The Hon. R. D. DYER: In the past week there have been hundreds of calls a day to the New South Wales Government funded Seniors Information Service from people worried about their future. Some of these people have been angry, many were in tears and at least six said that they have considered suicide. The Government is in a position to know because the Seniors Information Service is a New South Wales Government funded service that gives information to older people who ring up about all sorts of matters of concern to them.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: How many?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: Hundreds. A woman in her eighties from the Blue Mountains who lives alone in her own home rang the Seniors Information Service. She was crying and confused about having to sell her home. She said that she felt a strong sense of betrayal by the Howard Government. She told the information service that she had codeine in her house and knew how to overdose. That might sound dramatic but that is the sort of call being received by the seniors information line.
Another woman was so distraught about having to rely on her daughter to financially support her in a nursing home that she had on numerous occasions told her family she would rather commit suicide than be a burden to them. A 78-year-old man in a nursing home was told that he would have to pay a bond but with no home of his own to sell he thought it would be easier to take his own life than to fight the system. This is an absolutely disgraceful situation. In some cases older people faced with the pressure of their belief that they will be required to sell their family home would rather kill themselves because the Howard Government has embarked on ill thought out changes to the nursing home and hostel sector and then has not properly explained the changes to them. Misinformation and realistic fears are causing people to take desperate action. To John Howard, a house is not a home; it is simply an asset, a death duty to be snatched away while the occupant is still breathing.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: What about your death duties?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: The Opposition is so out of touch that it does not know that death duties in New South Wales were abolished by the Wran Government.
The PRESIDENT: Order! Members who continue to interject will be named.
The Hon. R. D. DYER: A home is much more than just a home. It is a place where grandad planted the gum tree by the back fence when he came home from the war, and grandchildren still play cricket in the shade of the tree each summer. A home is where the doorpost marks the passage of children from toddlers to strapping six footers. It is where children were born and then married, and where grandma died. A home is not simply an assessment of a person’s net worth in his or her final years.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: On a point of order. The Minister is obviously reading from material. I ask him to name the source and table the document.
The PRESIDENT: Order! No point of order is involved.
The Hon. R. D. DYER: The reaction of members opposite shows that they are sensitive
about the Howard Government’s so-called aged care reforms. They realise that they have alienated the aged-care sector. As I said, that has been illustrated by the hundreds of calls to the seniors information line.
The Hon. Patricia Forsythe: Two standards of care.
The Hon. R. D. DYER: If the Hon. Patricia Forsythe, or policy-free Pat as she is known, visited such organisations as the Council on the Ageing or the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association, she would find what views are held on the accommodation bond issue. If she is game enough to visit these organisations - and I invite her to do so - she will find that the Howard Government’s so-called reforms are unpopular. To say that the new rules on nursing homes and hostels are confusing is, frankly, an understatement. The former Federal family services Minister, Judi Moylan, was dumped because she could not sell the package, yet even the Prime Minister has revealed that he does not know how it works. Last week the Prime Minister said that the elderly could consider renting out their homes to enable them to pay the bond in instalments. That illogical suggestion can be quickly dispatched.
A person would need $400 a week rent from his or her house to pay an accommodation bond of $100,000. Of course, Mr Howard forgot to mention that the rent would also be considered as income and could affect a person’s pension and other entitlements. If people took up the offer to pay the bond by instalments, they would face an interest charge of perhaps up to 8 per cent. The Federal Government was so ill prepared for the community’s reaction to these so-called reforms that it left its telephone information line understaffed, and people turned to the New South Wales Government’s seniors information line for help. It has taken three months for the Howard Government to provide enough people to answer questions about the changes.
As reports of ever higher accommodation bonds appear almost daily, one church-run nursing home group on the central coast wants up to $175,000 as bond. The Howard Government must act to rein in these excesses. The Prime Minister originally said that accommodation bonds would be about $26,000. We are now talking about bonds of hundreds of thousands of dollars in a package that has been rushed into place and bungled so badly that some older people are considering suicide as the only way out. The associated costs of these so-called reforms have been equally ill considered. As older people face life under a two-tier nursing home sector, with comfort and security only for those with expensive assets, the States must bear an increased financial burden.
The health system will be straining as people remain in hospital while waiting for a nursing home place. Community care services will be stretched to the limit. The colleagues of members opposite are making the position much worse. The fact is that this represents cost shifting from the Federal Government to State governments to the extent that more people will stay longer in hospital. More people will rely on home and community care services so that they can be cared for in their own homes beyond the time when they are due to enter a nursing home or hostel.
The Hon. J. F. Ryan is so ignorant; he does not know that the purpose of the HACC program is to prevent premature admission into acute care. The Guardianship Board will also have to make decisions in many more cases in which the capability of older people to make their own financial decisions is brought into question. Clearly, this is an appalling and unacceptable situation. The Howard Government has imposed this tax on the most vulnerable people in society - the very old, the frail and the elderly. The embarrassment of the Opposition is palpable. The sorts of things the Howard Government is doing are a clear indication of why the coalition is losing support and why the South Australian Government lost support last weekend.
PACIFIC POWER FUNDING
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD: My question without notice is directed to the Treasurer and Minister for Energy. Has Professor Fred Hilmer warned that Pacific Power requires a capital injection of between $600 million and $1 billion or it will be forced to sack 750 employees? Given the Treasurer’s historic defeat on electricity privatisation at the recent ALP conference, where will he find the money to save these jobs?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I understand that Professor Hilmer has indicated that an injection of about $500 million or $600 million for new projects and activities would mean that further redundancies in Pacific Power would be unnecessary. Certainly, new investments of that order would ensure that the 600 or 700 employees for whom there will be no work, given Pacific Power’s current activities, have productive work to do.
TAXIDRIVER INDUSTRIAL ENTITLEMENTS
The Hon. DOROTHY ISAKSEN: I direct my question without notice to the Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations. What significant changes has the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission made to the industrial entitlements of taxidrivers?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: This answer will be informative to honourable members who are interested in the industrial conditions applicable to taxidrivers. Honourable members may know that the employment of taxidrivers is regulated by the Industrial Relations Act 1996 through the Taxi Industry (Contract Drivers) Contract Determination 1984. Recently, Commissioner Connor, in the Industrial Relations Commission, handed down an important decision that impacts on the remuneration of taxidrivers. In particular, the decision prescribes the manner in which fares collected during each shift are to be distributed between the driver and the owner of a taxi.
The determination now provides for two alternative methods of payment to drivers. The first method permits the sharing of fares on a 50:50 basis between the driver and the owner-operator. The second method prescribes a maximum fixed amount that the driver pays to the owner-operator, irrespective of the total fares taken during a shift. The commission’s decision in this matter requires taxi owners to give a fresh opportunity to all their drivers to elect between these two methods of payment. It also provides protections to ensure that drivers’ contracts of bailment cannot be terminated, nor can drivers be victimised for the choice that they make. To ensure that all drivers and owners are informed about the commission’s decision, the Department of Industrial Relations has been in close consultation with the relevant industrial organisations, the Transport Workers Union and the Taxi Industry Association. As a result, both organisations agreed to undertake a publicity campaign and have produced comprehensive publications detailing the commission’s decision and promoting compliance with its terms.
I welcome the co-operation of the union and the employer body in implementing the new determination of the Industrial Relations Commission. In particular, the Taxi Industry Association has set out clearly the requirement that all drivers must be given an opportunity to elect between the two methods of payment. It has printed thousands of copies of the prescribed election form and made them available to all owners and operators of taxi cabs by mailing them to over 5,000 members. The Government has a strong commitment to ensuring full compliance with New South Wales industrial laws. Resources have been allocated to ensure that industrial parties are informed and educated about their entitlements and responsibilities. There can be no excuse for taxi owners and operators not complying with the terms of the new determination. I assure the House that, when it is demonstrated that a party has failed to comply with the Act or the industrial instruments made under the Act, the Department of Industrial Relations will take appropriate action to enforce the law.
POKER MACHINE TAX INCREASE
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL: I address a question without notice to the Treasurer. In view of the mounting concern over the negative effect of the 33 per cent increase in poker machine tax on clubs at a time when clubs are already financially burdened with the cost of upgrading to X-series poker machines and the expected cost of monitoring by the Totalizator Agency Board, will the Treasurer give an assurance that this tax imposition will be reviewed prior to its implementation in February 1998?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: No.
POKER MACHINE TAX INCREASE
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL: I ask the Treasurer a supplementary question. Did he meet last week with clubs from the Tweed valley? Did he agree to consider an economic zone for that area, and what relief is he proposing?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Mr President, that is not a supplementary question.
WORKERS COMPENSATION INSURANCE
The Hon. J. R. JOHNSON: My question is addressed to the Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations. What measures is the Government taking to ensure that employers are fulfilling their legal responsibilities with regard to taking out and maintaining workers compensation insurance?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: As the honourable member knows, workers compensation insurance is compulsory. Most members or perhaps all members of the House would agree that it is unfair that those employers who are avoiding their insurance responsibility are being subsidised by their industry colleagues. WorkCover New South Wales has
advised that these same employers who shift their responsibility onto their industry colleagues are least likely to have in place good, safety management systems. That is why WorkCover is targeting those employers who fail to insure.
Yesterday the chief industrial magistrate’s court convicted an employer who had been operating for five years without workers compensation insurance. The matter arose out of a compliance visit by a WorkCover inspector during the workers compensation blitz which followed last year’s three-month amnesty. The defendant, Good Impressions Offset Printers Pty Ltd, operated a printing business with up to 45 workers. The managing director took out a policy from 1990 to 1991 but failed to renew it. On 19 November last year a WorkCover inspector served the company with a notice to produce a workers compensation policy. Failure to renew the policy cost the company $44,000. The company was fined $800 plus costs and ordered to pay double the premium debt under section 156 of the Workers Compensation Act, an amount of $43,000. In delivering his judgment yesterday the chief industrial magistrate commented that it was very foolish not to have workers compensation insurance, given the size of the company and the potential dangers in the printing industry.
The maximum fine for failure to take out a workers compensation policy is now $22,000 for companies plus double the premium avoided, and $22,000 for directors and six months gaol. Just last month WorkCover successfully prosecuted 19 employers without policies, with total fines of $25,250 and avoided premiums of more than $53,000. There is more to come. Of the 315 matters received so far from last year’s compliance blitz, 38 have been successfully prosecuted and 50 are pending before the court. Total fines so far are $36,720 plus $12,987 in costs, and avoided premiums of $136,904. I put recalcitrant employers on clear notice that WorkCover will continue to conduct blitzes for workers compensation compliance. The Carr Government is committed to bringing down the costs of workers compensation and ensuring safe systems of work. Part of that strategy is to ensure that all employers fulfil their legal responsibilities rather than leave it for others to pick up the tab. I am pleased that the Government has the strong support of responsible employers and employer organisations.
POLICE SERVICE WAGE INCREASE
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE: I ask the Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations, representing his own ministry of industrial relations and the Minister for Police, a question without notice. Is it a fact that the New South Wales Police Association has rejected the Government’s wage offer of 16 per cent increase over a three-year period? Is it a fact that an 18 per cent increase over three years has been offered to employees of the New South Wales Fire Brigades? Does the Government agree that, given the extensive recommendation of the Wood royal commission and the high level of risk to members of the New South Wales Police Service, they are entitled to a more generous offer than 16 per cent? Will the Minister for Police offer today at his meeting with the New South Wales Police Association a more realistic level of wage increase for New South Wales police officers?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I am sure that there would be widespread agreement that police officers ought to be better paid and that, subject to obvious financial constraints, any government ought to do what it can to increase the remuneration for both commissioned and non-commissioned police officers. There are ongoing negotiations, as indicated in the honourable member’s question. I believe he is correct in saying that there are meetings this very day between the Minister for Police and the Police Association. However, I need to be cautious lest I say something that may pre-empt or, indeed, damage that negotiation process. I believe that there will be an amicable resolution of this salaries dispute or salaries disagreement, but honourable members should know that the negotiating issues extend well beyond the quantum of salary increase and go to questions of work practice and changed arrangements within the Police Service upon which I am not fully briefed but which are within the competence of the Minister for Police. The prudent course for me to take is to ask the honourable member to observe the negotiation process as it goes on during the day and perhaps during the week and to accept my assurance that the Minister for Police is negotiating in a way that is bona fide and supportive of the idea of significantly increased salaries for police officers.
POKER MACHINE TAX INCREASE
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL: My question without notice is directed to the Treasurer. Did he meet last week with representatives of clubs in the Tweed valley? Did he agree to consider an economic zone for that area, and what relief is he proposing?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Mr President -
The Hon. R. T. M. Bull: You could have answered it a little while ago.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: The honourable member should not deprive other honourable members of the opportunity to ask questions by asking bodgie supplementary questions. The two questions the honourable member asked had absolutely no relationship to one another except that they both concerned the general issue of poker machine taxes. It is true that in the most recent budget the poker machine tax in this State increased from a marginal rate of 22.5 per cent to 30 per cent. It will continue to be the lowest poker machine tax of any State, bar one, in Australia. It is true that last week I met with a deputation from Tweed Heads clubs, led by our colleague the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: And a good meeting it was too!
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: As the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti interjects, it was a good meeting. His interjections are improving dramatically! It was a good meeting and a number of proposals were put to me, including one for an economic zone for that part of the north coast of New South Wales. Obviously, I will consider those proposals, but I point out to the honourable Deputy Leader of the Opposition that the top marginal poker machine tax rate for clubs in New South Wales with poker machine surpluses of more than $1 million is 30 per cent and in Queensland it is 50 per cent.
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY LEGISLATION PENALTIES
The Hon. Dr MEREDITH BURGMANN: Could the Attorney General provide the House with a report on the impact of the Government’s move to increase fines under occupational health and safety legislation?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: Honourable members of this House know that the Government has substantially increased penalties generally. But that does not mean by any means that the only strategy pursued under our occupational health and safety policy is one of prosecution and punishment. A variety of educative and other policies designed to assist industry are being pursued by WorkCover, its inspectors and officers. Nevertheless, few would disagree that there must be penal sanctions for employers who fail to maintain a safe working environment for employees. It is worth noting the escalation in the level of penalties being awarded by our courts against management who simply fail to comply with legal requirements to ensure that workers have a safe working environment. I shall briefly refer to a couple of decisions of the Acting Chief Industrial Magistrate, Ms Pat O’Shane. On 14 August 1997 Ms O’Shane handed down a decision against a footwear manufacturer that employed a large ethnic work force but conducted its training only in English.
On 16 February 1996 an Indonesian process worker at the company’s factory was operating a heel attaching machine when her right thumb was crushed. Less than a month later, a Vietnamese process worker was using an unguarded counter moulding machine that was over 15 years old when her right index finger was crushed and subsequently amputated at the first joint. The manufacturer was convicted and fined $15,000 for each of the four charges arising from these incidents. On 12 August 1997 the magistrate fined the Lidcombe aluminium die-casting company Lawrenson Diecastings $25,000 after a worker lost four fingers and a thumb when the guard on a trimming press failed. It was found that the guard had not been maintained adequately. As it was the company’s fourth conviction in two years, it was decided that the new penalty range of up to $50,000 for prosecutions in the magistrates court should apply.
On 27 March 1997 Justice Marks of the Industrial Relations Commission handed down an historic judgment in a prosecution against Warman International Ltd, a designer and manufacturer of slurry pumps. The company was prosecuted and fined $480,000 over four accidents that occurred in a six-week period at its Artarmon factory. Three of the accidents occurred on the same piece of machinery. These fines were imposed under the old penalty regime when the maximum fine was $250,000. I should emphasise that this is not simply a criticism of some firms operating in the private sector. The sad fact is that some government statutory authorities and departments also fail to meet the legal requirements of occupational health and safety, and they too ought to be prosecuted. On 27 March 1997 Justice Marks fined the State Rail Authority $125,000 for failing to ensure the safety of one of its employees. That incident occurred in June 1994 when five employees were engaged in removing iron sheets from a stack and placing them on a rack fixed to the wall. The rack gave way and one of the employees was fatally injured.
The community is rightly becoming increasingly intolerant of people being unnecessarily injured, or even killed, at work in situations when better safety standards might have prevented the accident. In 1995-96, 181 fatalities were reported to New South Wales workers compensation insurers. The costs of workplace injuries and deaths are reflected in increasing workers compensation and
rehabilitation costs. Total gross incurred cost of employment injuries was $881 million in 1995-96. There is a moral and financial case for qualitatively improved safety standards in our workplaces. The task of government - indeed, the task of members of Parliament - is to get that message through to management so that the quality of safety provisions for working people can be enhanced.
ETHNIC AFFAIRS COMMISSION BROKEN HILL VISIT
The Hon. J. M. SAMIOS: My question is directed to the Treasurer, representing the Premier and Minister for Ethnic Affairs. Is it true that when the Ethnic Affairs Commission visited Broken Hill during the first week of this parliamentary session it was accompanied by the Premier’s adviser Jarka Sipka? Why was Ms Sipka riding shotgun on the Ethnic Affairs Commission, which is an independent statutory authority? Is it also true that Ms Sipka was on an all expenses paid trip to Broken Hill funded by the Ethnic Affairs Commission? What was the total cost of Ms Sipka’s visit to Broken Hill, including all transport, accommodation, meals and incidentals?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Jarka Sipka is the Premier’s ethnic affairs adviser. From newspaper reports I have read, I understand she did go to Broken Hill on a visit by the Ethnic Affairs Commission to that city. All I can say is that if she had not gone, the honourable member would be complaining. I am sure that her visit to Broken Hill was beneficial not only to the residents of Broken Hill but also to the Premier and his department.
COAL INDUSTRY WORKERS COMPENSATION
The Hon. B. H. VAUGHAN: Has the Attorney General and Minister for Industrial Relations noted that the Grellman report into workers compensation has recommended that consideration be given to the integration of the coal industry into the proposed new workers compensation system? Does the Attorney agree that the coal industry ought to be integrated with the workers compensation scheme? If so, would he give consideration to the integration of the inspectorate that examines mine safety, which is currently located within the Department of Mineral Resources but ought to be with the inspectorate of WorkCover?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: Important historical and industry-specific factors have justified the separation of workers compensation in the coalmine industry from the mainstream system of compensating injured workers. However, like all recommendations Mr Grellman has formulated, his suggestions in that regard will be given serious attention by the advisory committee that he recommended should scrutinise these suggestions. That advisory committee will convene in the very near future. I have already received appropriate nominations from employer and employee interest groups. Although I have traditionally accepted the separation of the coal industry, as honourable members of this House will remember from debates last year, it is part of a series of propositions that will clearly deserve at least consideration by the advisory committee. I would not be prepared to make a change to that structural position without widespread consultation with the industry parties. I make the same observation in relation to the traditional position whereby officers of the Department of Mineral Resources deal with safety issues in the coalmining industry. I would not want to change that merely for the sake of administrative tidiness, but would want to do so only if there is broad support in the industry for such an alteration.
TWEED HEADS CHILD DEATH
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE: I address my question without notice to the Minister for Community Services, Minister for Aged Services, and Minister for Disability Services. I refer to the case involving the death of a baby at Tweed Heads a few weeks ago. Was there raised with the Minister the need for an independent inquiry into the role of the Department of Community Services in that case? Why did the Minister not refer the case immediately to the Community Services Commission?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: It is appropriate that I give a comprehensive response to that question. On 1 October I formally referred this case for investigation by the independent Community Services Commission. It is quite clearly appropriate that that commission should undertake the review, as it has the independence and expertise to conduct such an inquiry. The investigation will be complementary to what has become known as the Prasad inquiry. A copy of Mr Prasad’s report has been referred to the Community Services Commission. The investigation by Mr Prasad, a former senior officer in the Premier’s Department and more latterly the head of the public service in Fiji, was initiated urgently and reported on possible disciplinary action, which I am advised is beyond the jurisdiction of the Community Services Commission. Following advice I received from the Commissioner of the Community Services Commission today, I expect to receive the
commission’s report by the end of this month. It ought to be plainly apparent to the Opposition that a number of inquiries are under way in regard to this tragic matter, and each can be described as independent. I expect that the Community Services Commission inquiry will be thorough, as was Mr Prasad’s.
CARCINOGENIC HOSPITAL FOOD
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES: I ask the Minister for Community Services, representing the Minister for Health, why hospitals routinely serve carcinogenic food to patients? Is this designed to keep the patients sick to boost the incomes of doctors, or is it merely gross negligence on the part of the so-called nutritionists and caterers in hospitals? When will the Minister undertake a thorough review of hospital food to ensure that patients are not served food which is actually harmful to their health?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: It would come as a great surprise to me if hospitals serve patients with food that is carcinogenic. I note that the honourable member has not bothered to define what carcinogenic food he has in mind. However, I shall seek a response from my colleague the Minister for Health. It might be of assistance to my colleague if the Hon. R. S. L. Jones could indicate what substances he has in mind so that the Minister for Health can direct his mind to a suitable response.
The Hon. E. M. OBEID: My question is directed to the Treasurer and Minister for State and Regional Development. What is the Government doing to encourage the development of exports from New South Wales?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I am pleased to advise the honourable member that this evening I will be officiating at the Premier’s 1997 New South Wales Exporter of the Year Awards. These awards recognise outstanding success achieved by New South Wales companies in the international marketplace. It is fitting that the Government is presenting these awards this week which, as every honourable member would be aware, is International Business Week. International Business Week is an Australiawide promotion of international trade comprising a series of seminars, workshops and exhibitions. The Government is making sure that these export events are not confined to the city, or to Sydney. On Monday the Parliamentary Secretary for State and Regional Development, Sandra Nori, opened an expo in Wagga Wagga called Winning Malaysian Trade.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: Why wasn’t I told?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: The honourable member was not told because he is sick and should be in bed; he should not have been in Wagga Wagga yesterday. Also yesterday Sandra Nori briefly attended an expo in neighbouring Griffith called the Agribusiness Food to Asia Expo. Later this week the Government, through the Department of State and Regional Development, will take part in various other export-related events in regional New South Wales, including Access America seminars in Port Macquarie, Newcastle and Gosford; an agribusiness export to China program in Tamworth; export finance seminars in Dubbo and Coffs Harbour; and an Australian agribusiness export forum in Orange. Last month the Government announced the appointment of the first two of the six new regional export advisers who will work directly with country-based firms to help them, whether they are beginning to export or expanding their exports.
Later this year the Government will take part in nearly two dozen international trade exhibitions, including two major information technology and telecommunications exhibitions; the food industry’s FoodEx and Shanghai Food Fair; the building industry’s Build and Construct Indonesia, and the Japan Furniture Fair. The New South Wales economy is very diversified. This State now generates more than half of Australia’s total exports of elaborately transformed manufactures in fields like pharmaceuticals, information technology, telecommunications equipment and industrial machinery. New South Wales firms have never had a better time to capitalise on the global marketplace. Through the Government’s involvement in statewide export awards and seminars - and with programs targeted at helping the region’s exports - we aim to secure the future of this State in the best way possible: through more trade and more jobs.
RURAL FIRE BRIGADE SERVICES
The Hon. M. R. KERSTEN: I address my question to the Attorney General, representing the Minister for Emergency Services. Is it a fact that 71 country towns are set to lose their local town fire brigade service? What steps will the Government take to ensure that response times to fires are not adversely affected in the future?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I am unaware of the matter raised by the honourable member. I will certainly refer his question to Minister Debus and obtain a prompt response.
NEW SOUTH WALES BUSINESS INVESTMENT
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS: My question is addressed to the Treasurer and Minister for State and Regional Development. Will the Minister provide the House with the latest information about business investment in New South Wales?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: The honourable member’s question is pertinent because, as I have informed the House on a number of occasions, in the past two years New South Wales has attracted more than $12 billion in business investment creating more than 60,000 jobs. More than $2 billion has come from some 70 companies that established their regional headquarters in Sydney during that time. As I have indicated to the House before, these companies include: American Express, AT&T, First Data, Cathay Pacific, State Street, Bankers Trust and Digital. Honourable members will have noted from recent media reports that the Korean company Samsung is the most recent to add its name to their number. Samsung is one of the world’s most innovative information technology companies. It will expand its Australian corporate headquarters in Sydney, creating more than 1,500 new direct and indirect jobs. In 1996 the Samsung group turned over more than $1 billion in Australia. Samsung is involved in the manufacture and sale of consumer electronics, communications equipment and computer hardware. Samsung is also a major exporter of raw materials, including non-ferrous and precious metals, coal, timber, mineral sands, agricultural products, meat and health food products.
Getting Samsung to expand its operations in Sydney is, of course, a real coup. The company is looking to broaden its investment in telecommunications in Australia with a national cellular telephone operation. It also plans to enter the Australian car market in late 1998 or early 1999. Samsung will play a major role in the Sydney Olympic Games. It will provide thousands of communication devices, including cellular phones and paging terminals, and systems support to the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games. The company will open its new corporate headquarters in the Australia Centre at the Olympic precinct in Homebush next year. Samsung selected Sydney for some very good reasons: the company found here a multilingual work force, a city with expertise in telecommunications and multimedia and an extremely competitive business climate. Need I point out to the House that in the past two years electricity prices in New South Wales have fallen on average by almost one-third for business customers.
I will be talking about it for quite some while yet, unfortunately. Sydney Water charges have been cut by one-fifth and port charges have also been cut by 15 per cent. Together these savings have amounted to more than $400 million for business in New South Wales in the last two years. I am sure I speak for every member of this Chamber when I say that we are delighted at Samsung’s decision to increase its presence in Sydney and we wish the company well in its efforts to grow and diversify.
TWEED HEADS CHILD DEATH
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK: I direct my question without notice to the Minister for Community Services. I refer to the involvement of the Department of Community Services in the death of a baby at Tweed Heads two weeks ago. Is it a fact that the Minister approved of Trevor Barnes’ appointment to investigate the case? Why was he subsequently removed?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: The clear position regarding the matter raised in the question asked by the Hon. Virginia Chadwick is that it was in fact originally announced that a senior public servant employed by the Premier’s Department, Mr Trevor Barnes, would conduct the inquiry commissioned by the Director-General of the Department of Community Services. However, it was my view that the inquiry should be conducted by a person totally independent of the department. Mr Barnes recently had undertaken other work for the department. I therefore approved of the director-general appointing Mr Vishnu Prasad to conduct the inquiry.
The Hon. J. P. Hannaford: Did you not approve of Mr Barnes in the first place?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: No. Mr Prasad is a retired public servant who has not undertaken any work previously for the department. Honourable members should be clear that the decision to commission Mr Prasad in no way reflects on Mr Barnes’ impartiality or on his ability to undertake such a task. My concern at all times was to ensure the independence and the urgency of the investigation.
TWEED HEADS CHILD DEATH
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK: I ask a supplementary question. Will the Minister therefore confirm that he at no stage approved of the appointment of Mr Trevor Barnes?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: Yes.
YOUTH RESOURCE DIRECTORY
The Hon P. T. PRIMROSE: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Community Services, Minister for Aged Services, and Minister for Disability Services. Will the Minister advise the House about a new directory of youth services developed by the Come In Youth Resource Centre at Paddington?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: This is a new and exciting project developed by the Come In Youth Resource Centre at Paddington. Recently I launched the new computer database which details a range of services and resources to help young people right across Sydney. The Come In youth resource directory was developed by the Come In Youth Resource Centre, which is run by the St Francis welfare team at Paddington in Sydney’s east. The Department of Community Services provided $14,000 funding from the supported accommodation assistance program to develop the directory. The directory includes details of each service, its address and telephone number, target group and the area it serves, and the referral section of the computer database provides appointment details, operating hours and fees, if applicable. There is also a brief description of the project and a map showing its location.
The Come In Youth Resource Centre has been operating at Paddington for more than 19 years and is an important service for young people in the inner city area as well as a vital link in the network of youth services throughout Sydney. I am aware that the youth resource directory has been distributed on disk to 2,000 youth services and I believe that it will come to be regarded as a valuable information and referral tool for organisations working with young people in inner and eastern Sydney. Youth workers who use this database will instantly expand their boundaries and will be able to quickly refer young people to appropriate services in other parts of the city. I congratulate the Come In Youth Resource Centre on its initiative. In recognition of the value of the information contained in the directory it has already been incorporated into the Department of Community Services’ computer network for use by departmental staff.
CARE OF STATE WARDS
The Hon. I. COHEN: I ask the Minister for Community Services, Minister for Aged Services, and Minister for Disability Services a question without notice. In light of the continued allegations of abuse and neglect of former State wards, does the Minister propose to announce a thorough investigation, if not an inquiry, into the past and present treatment of State wards?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: This Government is doing much more than has ever been attempted before to address the needs of State wards. The most recent initiative I would highlight is the setting up of leaving-care and after-care services for State wards. Hitherto the assumption was that State wards who had attained the age of 18 years had no further need of assistance. That is not a view I share and it is not a view that the Government shares. Accordingly, earlier in the year I launched three different leaving-care and after-care services. One is run by Relationships Australia, another is run by Centacare Catholic Community Services and another is run by Burnside. Each of those services will assist young people into the future regarding their particular needs. I was heartened by the fact that at the launch of the after-care services I was approached by a young woman who was very complimentary and grateful indeed for the provision of these services.
It is true that evidence given before the Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service and accounts given by former State wards and other children in care have raised concern about the wellbeing of some children and young people in out-of-home care. Unlike the previous non-Labor Government, the Carr Government has recognised that children in out-of-home care are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. For that reason the Premier announced a special child abuse package in April 1996. That package provided important measures designed to ensure that children and young people who are unable to be with their own parents for reasons beyond their control will be properly cared for.
I point out to the Hon. I. Cohen that the current review of the Children (Care and Protection) Act 1987, which is being chaired by Associate Professor Patrick Parkinson, is examining ways in which legislative change may assist in protecting the rights and welfare of children and young people in care in this State. Last year, in the wake of consideration of these matters by the royal commission, a service was set up by the Government, operated by Relationships Australia, which I mentioned earlier, providing a free
telephone line incorporating the functions of the help line established following allegations of abuse in care made before the royal commission. On a number of fronts the Carr Government is taking into account concerns raised by the royal commission and the needs of young people in care.
GUNNEDAH SHIRE ABATTOIR
The Hon. D. F. MOPPETT: Is the Treasurer aware of news reports that the Gunnedah abattoir has ceased operation? In view of the interest he showed in the abattoir a little more than 12 months ago and the support given by the State Government for the operation of the Gunnedah abattoir while it was under the control of the local council, will the Department of State and Regional Development contact the present proprietors to ascertain whether the suspension of operations is temporary or permanent? Could the Minister indicate what amount of money was provided to the abattoir by the Government and whether that money is at risk if the operation is closed down?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I have not been advised of the information given by the Hon. D. F. Moppett. I shall certainly make inquiries and seek the advice of the Department of State and Regional Development. Certainly I would be concerned if the suggestion made by the honourable member is correct.
If honourable members have further questions, I suggest they put them on notice.
Questions without notice concluded.
CONSTITUTION AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [5.04 p.m.]: Before question time I had been quoting expressions of opposition to this bill, which is designed to reduce the number of members in the lower House from 99 to 93. In the Sydney Morning Herald of 24 September David Humphries stated that the Government would need the support in the upper House of four crossbench members to get the legislation through. Doubt was expressed as to whether the Government would gain sufficient support from the crossbenchers because of debate on an earlier motion that there should be no reduction in the number of members of either House. That motion was passed by the House with the support of all crossbenchers.
It has been suggested to me that I should change my mind and support this bill. If something is clearly wrong and has no merit the Christian Democratic Party endeavours to be consistent in its view. I am sure that both sides of politics would, in the long run, appreciate our party being consistent, rather than changing its mind depending which way the wind is blowing. In his article David Humphries stated that the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby, representing the Australian Democrats, would back the bill; that the Hon. R. S. L. Jones had an open mind; that the Hon. A. G. Corbett, representing A Better Future for our Children party, had said he would give this bill some thought; that the Hon. I. Cohen, representing the Greens, had been awaiting the advice of his supporters; and that the Hon. J. S. Tingle, representing the Shooters Party, was not available for comment. The article of 24 September recorded the only two crossbench members who were opposed to the redistribution plan as being myself and the Hon. Elaine Nile, representing the Christian Democratic Party.
At that time I quoted at a press conference comments made by John Laws, who said, "This bill is corrupt, it is rotten and it stinks." I indicated that during the debate about the Metherell affair the Labor Party tried to prove that an attempt to affect the numbers in the Legislative Assembly was an act of corruption. As honourable members know, the claims were later rejected by the courts. The matter was referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption. Perhaps there are grounds for referring this to the ICAC if it can be proved that it has a similar purpose. George Souris, a National Party member in the other place, has already threatened to do so. He said:
Seeing the upper House has rejected this proposal in the past, I want to know what kind of picture Carr painted to the upper House members to change their mind.
That is a serious matter. It has been stated that meetings were organised by John Della Bosca and other Labor Party staff at which they came up with this plan, which has one aim: to give the Australian Labor Party an electoral advantage. That view is confirmed by a number of newspaper articles. Antony Green, in the Sydney Morning Herald of 23 May, stated:
A cut in numbers would also help Labor bottle up Liberal voters in ultra-safe North Shore seats, while swamping more marginal Liberal seats elsewhere in Sydney, and on the fringes of the metropolitan area and the Hunter Valley.
That is an accurate judgment. I believe that is how the plan was evolved. Using data from previous elections and with the aid of computers, Labor Party
machine men compiled different arrangements of voters and came up with a cleverly worked out plan to give their party an electoral advantage and the opportunity of winning the next State election even if its vote is as low as 46 per cent.
Is the Hon. J. R. Johnson confirming the 46 per cent? In any event that figure is on record. I would not want to verbal the Hon. J. R. Johnson or put words in his mouth, but I recall a discussion I had with him some years ago in which he gave the impression that if the Labor Party vote were to reduce by only two votes at a certain booth he would almost be able to work out which two voters were involved. That is how accurate he is with numbers. In her support for the bill the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby, on behalf of the Australian Democrats, showed some consistency when talking about fairness and integrity. She rightly talked about the low esteem in which politicians, particularly Federal politicians, are held at the moment because of the travel rorts. Would it not increase the cynicism of the community if it believed that this bill is clearly designed to give the Labor Party the opportunity of winning the election with only 46 per cent of the vote? How can that be politically fair? Will the bill not give the public the impression that politicians will work the system and manipulate it for a political advantage? Will it not increase the great distrust felt by the community for politicians of all parties?
The main message from the South Australian election outcome last weekend was not one of great faith in the Australian Democrats but of disillusionment with both major parties. In what might be described as a protest vote, half of the loss experienced by the Liberal Party went to the Australian Democrats and the other half went to the Australian Labor Party. That result indicated disillusionment in the electorate with the behaviour of both politicians and parties. A few senior journalists have been in and out of the gallery today. They will closely monitor the progress of this debate and will again dump a bucket on this House. They will point out that members, particularly those on the crossbench, for reasons best known to themselves, have totally changed their attitude and now intend to vote in favour of the bill. The next question is, "Why? What arrangements have been made to bring about the change of attitude?"
I am also concerned about rumours that a number of Labor Party members could lose their seats if the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly is reduced from 99 to 93. I would be concerned if this bill was targeted at members regarded by the Premier or other leading members of the Government as difficult. For example, concern has been expressed in the community that the Hon. Deirdre Grusovin may somehow finish up without a seat in the lower House as a result of this electoral distribution. I am sure the Hon. Ann Symonds, who recognises the ability of the Hon. Deirdre Grusovin, would not like to see such an admirable member of the Parliament lose her seat.
The Hon. R. T. M. Bull: The Premier would.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE: The Deputy Leader of the Opposition says that the Premier might because there has been tension between them in the past. That would be a matter of concern. I understand that Tony Stewart is also at risk of losing his seat. He is a caucus secretary and I would have thought the party would want to make certain that he retains his seat. Recently he has shown initiative by asking questions in the other place and in caucus challenging the brothel legislation and other matters. Perhaps people who question the wisdom of the Premier find themselves on a hit list with their positions very much at risk. I note also the concerns about the Electoral Districts Commission and the Surveyor General. The wording of the bill is so vague that the person to be included on the commission could simply be a surveyor and not the State Surveyor General. I do not know whether the amendments to be moved in Committee will make it clear that it should be the Surveyor General. His inclusion would at least put the redistribution on a more sound basis, and he would certainly be preferable to a hand-picked person who may have qualifications but would not be as fair minded in establishing the boundaries for the 93 new electorates. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 24 September stated:
The Upper House has already condemned any reduction in the number of MPs in a motion that was carried in May. Self- preservation is at the heart of this motion. The MLCs know that a reduction in the Lower House must also transfer into a reduction in the Upper House.
I have mentioned to members on the crossbench that they should be careful about supporting a reduction in the number of members in the lower House. The Government is good at politics and has cleverly separated the lower House and the upper House. The bill deals only with the lower House, but there is no guarantee that a bill will not suddenly arrive in this place which has the object of changing the number of members of the upper House or changing the quotas for the upper House. I know that both sides of politics are concerned, rightly or wrongly, about the future of the upper House, because on all voting
projections neither of the major parties will control it in the future. Irrespective of who wins the next election the two major parties now face the challenge, from the point of view of self-interest, of working out a system to gain control of the upper House if they win Government in the lower House.
The Hon. R. S. L. Jones: Only by referendum.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE: That is the whole point. Normally a referendum is carried if the proposition is supported by both major parties even if those on the crossbench oppose it. It may be argued in a referendum that a proposition to reduce the number of politicians would save money or that a proposal to reduce the number of members in the upper House would give stability to the State. A large percentage of the community wants stability of government; they believe that an elected government should be able to govern. A dictatorial attitude has developed in Victoria, where the Kennett Government is able to put bills rapidly through both Houses. A large percentage of the community believes that if a Labor, Liberal or National Party government is elected it should be able to get its bills through both Houses; they may lose sight of the advantage of having crossbench members in the upper House.
The Hon. R. S. L. Jones is confident that such a referendum would be defeated. If both major parties supported such a proposition and argued that it would bring stability to the electoral process and to government in this State, I would not be so confident. I remind those on the crossbench and other members of the House that the motion that was moved earlier in the year was passed without dissent. Obviously the Government did not support it, but there was no dissent or division. The key wording of the motion moved on 21 May by the Leader of the Opposition, which was supported by all crossbench members, was:
. . . that this House does not support any alteration to the 99 Members in the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales . . .
The Christian Democratic Party supported the motion. Other members have referred to a speech of the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby in which she said:
For those reasons, I support the motion. I hope that the Government will at last act in this regard.
The Hon. I. Cohen expressed the same sentiments and said:
It is a dangerous move to excise upper House members who are hard workers and to excise lower House electorates which do not quite fit in with the Government’s political agenda. It shows a general disdain for the principles of democracy.
The Hon. R. S. L. Jones said:
I support enthusiastically the motion of the Leader of the Opposition. We are aware of the hidden agenda in the reduction of numbers in the lower House, but apparently only one or two senior members of the Australian Labor Party have heard about it: a reduction of members in the lower House, then a reduction of members in the upper House in an attempt to cripple the power of the upper House to amend legislation.
He enthusiastically supported the motion on that occasion. I also supported the motion because I regard any reduction in numbers in the lower House as being linked to moves against the upper House at some other time in the future. In my speech I said:
We strongly oppose any changes to the Legislative Assembly.
To be consistent, the Christian Democratic Party maintains that opposition.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES [5.19 p.m.]: Some members of the raving right of the Liberal and National parties do not believe that crossbench members should have the right to vote on this legislation. We are told that if we dare to support a reduction in numbers in the Legislative Assembly they will introduce a package of so-called reforms that will effectively cripple the upper House. They propose that the upper House be divided into 11 constituencies of three members each to ensure that no minor party members are ever again elected to the upper House. They tell me that they intend to put this in their manifesto for the next election. It would be interesting to see how many minor parties of the right, left or middle would direct their preferences to the coalition if the coalition’s policy was to ensure that they had no representation.
The members of the extreme right of the coalition should take a look at the results of the last election when 25 per cent of voters opted for a minor party in the upper House and a large percentage voted for a party other than the major parties in lower House electorates. They should also take a good hard look at the results of the South Australian election, in which many voters also dumped the major parties. If the coalition were successful in nobbling the upper House, it would no longer function as a House of review as it would almost certainly be controlled by the government of the day. It would be a useless rubber stamp. If the coalition were successful in doing that it may as well go the whole hog and abolish the upper House altogether. Democracy would suffer as a result and
one would see a return to totalitarian government, as is operating today in Victoria and has happened in the past in Queensland.
Extreme right-wing media commentators would applaud the abolition of the upper House as it stands in the way of the emergence of an elected dictatorship, which they would prefer and are used to under their media owners. Ted Pickering told me he was proud that he had ensured that the upper House would never again be controlled by a major party. He told me, as I have mentioned in this House previously, that we saved the Government from itself. Another threat that has been made is that the Opposition would never support another amendment of the crossbench members who voted for this legislation. That is straight-out blackmail. Why are coalition members so opposed to reducing the number of members in the lower House? They claim that it would give an electoral advantage to the ALP. I very much dispute that.
It is obviously true to say that the Government believes that it would gain an advantage by reducing the number, as well as cutting the cost of government. But is that true? Surely the ALP will have no chance of winning the electorate of Broken Hill, which has suffered a reduction in voters in the past four years. If the ALP wished to retain Broken Hill it would increase the number of lower House members, as it did in 1986. Reducing the number means that the electorate of Broken Hill will become larger than it is now, pulling in large numbers of predominantly National Party voters. The ALP would surely have difficulty in holding on to the electorate of Bathurst, which would be larger, and the much-respected Mick Clough would no longer be standing. The electorate of Bathurst might well go back to the Liberals - or perhaps the Nationals, if Ian Armstrong’s home base were pulled into the electorate. The Nationals, or rather the coalition, may gain those two electorates.
It has been claimed that a reduction in the number of members will result in the loss of one country electorate and five metropolitan electorates. I do not agree, and the calculations of the Hon. D. J. Gay support that. It will mean a loss of two country and four metropolitan electorates. There will probably be no net loss for the coalition. It is difficult to predict which four metropolitan electorates will be abolished. Certainly one electorate, and perhaps two electorates, on Sydney’s north shore would go. It would be good if the electorate of Northcott were abolished and the barrel were rolled out of Parliament. However, the bill might result in the loss of the electorate of Ermington. One would certainly hope that Michael Photios is offered another electorate. He is an excellent member and he would make an excellent Premier one day. If his electorate were abolished and he were not successful in obtaining a winnable lower House electorate, I would expect the Liberal Party to ensure that he were offered one of the vacancies in the upper House that will be available shortly.
The electorate of Manly would become more interesting, depending on where it spreads. If it moved up the coast towards Narrabeen, Peter Macdonald would have a good chance of retaining the seat, particularly as he is so well known as a coastal campaigner. If it moved towards Mosman he would have difficulty persuading the wealthy Liberal voters to vote for him. It may well be that the coalition would benefit from a reduction in the number of members. However, it is impossible to tell at this stage. Honourable members who have been here for 11 years will remember the debate on the increase in numbers in the Legislative Assembly in 1986. At that time the member for Ku-ring-gai, Nick Greiner, said:
Australia is already grossly overgoverned.
He voted against an increase in the number of members from 99 to 109. He also said:
It is conservatively estimated that an additional ten members will cost the New South Wales taxpayer some $2 million a year; obviously that will increase on an indexed basis or faster than indexation. What does that $2 million translate into in areas of real need? The Health Department could employ 100 additional nurses . . .
In those days the coalition fully supported retaining the number at 99 and not increasing the number to 109. Back in 1986 the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby said that there should be quota proportional representation and that there would not be true democracy until it was introduced. She said:
. . . Mr Wrans’ self-posed question, "Do you want more politicians?" To that question I and my party are joining the public in an emphatic no.
In relation to reducing the number of members in the lower House and the upper House, Ted Pickering, the Leader of the House at the time, said:
This will save taxpayers’ money and will result in more efficient representation of the people of this State.
Referring to a gerrymander he said:
Tonight various honourable members have attempted to suggest that this Government was involved in a gerrymander. That simply could not be so under rules laid down by the previous Labor Government.
In 1990 when the numbers were reduced I negotiated with Ted Pickering to knock out an amendment that would have entrenched in the Constitution Act the number of parliamentarians in the lower House at 99. I felt that this was inappropriate as it would remove the flexibility to either increase or reduce numbers as necessary. While lower House members believe that the ratio of lower House members to upper House members should be 3:1, in my view a more appropriate ratio would be 2:1. After all, the lower House is only a rubber stamp, except on the rare occasions when Independents hold the balance of power. However, crossbench members in the upper House must at least read legislation, consult constituents and decide how they should vote.
In the lower House all members already know how they will vote before entering the Chamber. Members are told how to vote and do so without question. That is not democracy; it is executive government. Occasionally - just occasionally - members of the larger parties are able to determine the fate of legislation in the party room or at a State conference. Honourable members know how rare that is. The House of review is by far the more important Chamber for democracy. It is the place where final decisions are made on legislation and many other matters. That is the reason that we would not allow the upper House to be touched. It is difficult for only 42 members to keep up with the workload. Many of us are on several committees, as well as having to assist constituents and review legislation. On the other hand, the number of members in the lower House could be reduced to 84, which would make it a sensible ratio between the two Houses. I do not believe for one moment that it will be possible to rort the redistribution, whichever side wanted to try. I am sure that the redistribution will be fair, as it was on the last occasion. The heavy-handed threats from the coalition have steeled my resolve to support the legislation.
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [5.27 p.m.]: The House has heard some extraordinary speeches in this debate, particularly from those crossbench members who have chosen to speak thus far. I hope all crossbench members will speak in this debate because everyone in New South Wales is entitled to know the various reasons they support or do not support the legislation. This legislation can be summed up in a few words: cynical, opportunistic, a big con and a gerrymander. I cannot understand why crossbench members who have spoken in support of this legislation could not see what was coming with this cynical move from the Government. This bill is partisan legislation that attempts to entrench Labor in government after the next election. Government members and independent analysts have conceded that the bill would allow the Labor Party to govern with considerably less than 50 per cent of the vote. Indeed, figures of 46 per cent and 47 per cent have been mentioned. I cannot understand how the Independent members, and I emphasise the word "independent", did not see this coming, how they did not smell a rat. Why did the Hon. R. S. L. Jones spend so much time criticising the Opposition for opposing the legislation without offering any reason for supporting the proposal to reduce the number of members in the lower House to 93?
The Hon. R. S. L. Jones: We supported the proposal last time.
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL: I will come to that in a minute. At no stage of his contribution did the Hon. R. S. L. Jones advance any reason for suddenly supporting the proposition to reduce numbers of the lower House from 99 to 93. What he said was absolutely contrary to everything that he said in the Chamber in June. It is hypocritical of him to take the stance he has taken today, given what he said in June. There is no rhyme or reason to his 180-degree somersault in that short period.
The Hon. R. S. L. Jones: Because the upper House will not be touched.
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL: Honourable members now know that a deal has been struck between the Government and the Hon. R. S. L. Jones: if he supports the bill, the Legislative Council will not be touched. That is a dirty deal and I am sure that more dirty deals will be uncovered as time passes. The Hon. R. S. L. Jones has done a 180 degree backflip, a somersault with pike. The Government has assured him that the upper House will not be touched. The Government has no qualms about reducing the membership of the lower House by six members to save money but it regards the upper House as sacrosanct. How gullible and stupid one must be to accept such a proposition.
I am most disappointed with the Hon. R. S. L. Jones, but I am even more disappointed with the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby, whose time as a member in this place one would think would have made her street smart, as it were, about what the Australian Labor Party is up to. She must have realised that when Premier Unsworth increased the membership of the other place from 99 to 109 he did so for reason, and that was not to save money or to save the upper House; it was to try to save Barrie Unsworth as Premier and the Labor Party in
government. It did not work, but I assure honourable members that that was the reason. On a Sunday in 1986 when Barrie Unsworth announced his intentions the Leader of the Opposition at that time, Nick Greiner, immediately went on radio and said, "We will reduce the numbers to 99 when we are in office. This is a cynical move, a gerrymander." There was no gerrymander about that. We were saying to the people that a government cannot increase the membership of a House of the Parliament to 109 -
The Hon. I. M. Macdonald: The coalition would have won in 1995 had there been 109 seats.
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL: That may well be so. We may have done even better in 1991. But we gave a commitment in 1996 that the numbers would be reduced to 99, and we fulfilled that commitment. If the penalty for being honest and doing the right thing is the loss of government, so be it. In that regard the Australian Labor Party has no standing. Labor Party members are desperate to ensure that they are in office in 1999 because they know their policies have failed. They know that the privatisation issue will plague them all the way to the next election. They know they will not have any surplus cash for all of the great plans that Cabinet members have been promoting in Cabinet for the last month or so. They now know that the Premier is extremely unpopular and has no chance of being re-elected. The same can be said of his Ministers. So what do they do? They ring up John Della Bosca and tell him to come up with a plan.
The Della Bosca plan is to reduce the membership of the Legislative Assembly to 93. Why 93? Because that will maximise the Labor Party vote and ensure that the Labor Party is elected with considerably less than 50 per cent of the vote. How cynical. The Hon. R. S. L. Jones and the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby have fallen for the three-card trick. I can but imagine the conversation that took place between Della Bosca, Egan and the Independents. It probably went something like this, "We are not going to touch the upper House. We will look after you. If you go with us, we will look after you. Any legislation you want, we will look after it." The seven members on the crossbenches claim to be independent. The Christian Democrats, the Better Future for our Children, the Shooters Party, the Australian Democrats, the independent Democrat and the Green Party all believe that they are here to "keep the bastards honest", and that they are independent of the Government and the Opposition.
How often have we heard them claim that in this Chamber? But they have fallen for the three-card trick. They could not smell the rat. Some of them will support this partisan legislation that the Labor Party has introduced for the benefit of the Labor Party. In my view those who support this proposal, those who have fallen for the three-card trick, have lost their independence. They have become a partisan offshoot of the Australian Labor Party. The Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby said much about country representation. She must realise, as the Leader of the Opposition made clear in his contribution to this debate, that on a simple mathematical calculation of the total enrolment divided by the quota in non-metropolitan areas - that is, country - there will be two and a quarter fewer quotas, or seats, in country areas.
Why have the Independent members accepted the Government’s con line that there will be only one less seat? How did it come about that when the announcement was made newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald especially, ran articles about which members were going to lose their seats? How on earth did David Humphries of the Sydney Morning Herald know who was to lose his or her seat? Who did the reporter from the Daily Telegraph know? The Labor Party has already decided who will loose his or her seat. It has already been decided how the redistribution will take place, and this legislation is the icing on the cake. It is a done deal; it is all over. And who will go? The newspapers suggest: Tony Stewart, Paul Whelan, Jim Anderson, John Price, Colin Markham, Michael Photios, Andrew Humpherson and George Souris. But on whose authority? From where did the press get this sort of information? The newspapers have fallen for the three-card trick of the Australian Labor Party; they too are beginning to believe this nonsense.
Where was the independent journalism when this story broke? The Labor Party has admitted that this proposal will enhance its chances of retaining government with less than 50 per cent of the vote. The Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby went to a lot of trouble to quote from an article written by Antony Green. She said that the Opposition conveniently did not quote from an article written by Mr Green that was reported in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald. Might I suggest the honourable member did not quote Mr Green’s article of 24 September, which stated:
In broad impact, the cut would mean the abolition of two seats west of the Great Dividing Range . . .
That was his independent analysis. I say to the members on the crossbenches, "Do not believe the Labor Party; do not believe the Opposition. Talk to the analysts if you are concerned about the loss of
country representation." But they only believe what they want to believe or what they are fed by the Australian Labor Party. The article by Antony Green continued:
The announcement by the Carr Government of a proposal to cut the number of Lower House MPs from 99 to 93 is an admission that its prospects for re-election in 1999 are grim.
Under the State’s electoral laws, there must be a redistribution of electoral boundaries before the next election.
Without the proposed cut in members, this would automatically happen for 99 seats. Given that Labor won the 1995 election with an estimated 48.8 per cent of the two-party preferred vote, and that any new seats would be created in the Labor-voting western suburbs of Sydney, a redistribution on the current numbers would not change Labor’s advantage.
However, for several months, a plan has been circulating for a redistribution based on 93 seats. If the Labor Party submission was adopted, it is rumoured that the plan could deliver Labor a parliamentary majority with as little as 47 per cent of the two-party preferred vote.
Those are not the Opposition’s words, they are the words of the independent election analyst Antony Green whom the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby and other members on the crossbenches love to quote at every opportunity. It is a disgrace that because of Labor’s proposal half of the geographical area of the State will become one electorate. How could one person be expected to represent such a huge area with such diverse communities? It is a nonsense. It is outrageous. There is no problem about the Labor apparatchiks of the inner-city suburbs of Sydney making a decision to increase the size of a city electorate by one quarter of a suburb. But what about country representation? Except for Bill Beckroge, Mick Clough and Harry Woods the ALP has no-one representing the interests of country people. What does Harry have to say about all this? What does Bill Beckroge have to say about it? I am sure old Mick Clough had something to say about it. The Labor Party does not care about country people, country electorates or country communities. If it did, it would not be seeking to increase the size of electorates. It is a nonsense.
Will the Hon. E. M. Obeid’s name be put in the hat once again this time around, or will the new ministry be given to Harry Woods? Will the Hon. E. M. Obeid stand again? Labor’s announcement in the paper is totally cynical. The matter is cut and dried; it is all stitched up. Deals have been done. The Independents are happy because the upper House will not be affected. The Independents sold their souls because they are more interested in the preservation of their seats than the principle of fair distributions. The bill provides for the appointment of an additional Minister. Why does the State need 21 Ministers when, for so many years, it has managed with 20 Ministers? What is wrong with the present lot of Ministers? I realise that an extraordinary number of them are underperforming; they are certainly underutilised. They should be given more work so that they may earn their salaries, their big white cars, and their big desks.
During the Clarence by-election the Premier went to Grafton and said, "We will give Harry a ministry." When the Premier came back to Sydney to speak with the various factions about his promise he was told, "No, you will not. All the deals have been done. All the jobs have been taken. Sorry, Bob." That was 18 months ago and Harry is getting a bit sick of waiting. In typical Labor style, to solve the problem a decision was made to appoint another Minister. It is a done deal. Labor told the Independents that it is going to take more interest in the bush and, guess what, the Independents have fallen for it; they swallowed the bait. They have accepted the gerrymander of 93 seats and the additional job for Harry Woods because they have been told that the bush will be better off. With fewer rural electorates and fewer members representing rural areas, the Labor Party will need more than an additional Minister. Does Harry Woods have the No. 1 position in the faction for the position? Whoever the new Minister is, he will have to hold a safe seat as well as be prepared to do something for the people of country areas.
Perhaps the Government should reconsider the Hon. E. M. Obeid, who I suggest was hard done by last time. He was done out of a job, passed over for a most ineffective person - then and now. The Hon. E. M. Obeid remains on the backbench while others who are incapable of anything parade as Ministers. The Government is now promoting Harry Woods. It is an absolute joke! How on earth could the Government support such a decision? If the Government is serious about appointing a new Minister, it should look past the member for Clarence and get real. In her contribution the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby said that the Liberal-National Government had no mandate to reduce the numbers in the lower House to 99. She has misrepresented the situation. She does not know what she is talking about in this regard. She deliberately misled the House on that issue.
The situation was quite clear: on that Sunday afternoon in 1986 when Premier Unsworth announced there would be 109 members of Parliament in the Legislative Assembly, Nick Greiner said immediately, "The Opposition, when in government, will reduce the number to 99 at the first redistribution." There is no doubt about it; it is
well documented. This Government has no mandate to reduce the number of seats from 99 to 93. The Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby offered no argument of substance to support the proposal to reduce the number of members in the Legislative Assembly from 99 to 93. At least the Hon. R. S. L. Jones has been up-front about it. He said, "We did a deal." The Hon. R. S. L. Jones said, "We got an assurance that the Legislative Council was not going to be touched." A deal has been done and the Independents are falling over themselves to assist the Government. How can the members on the crossbench who support this cynical, partisan legislation claim to be independent?
The Hon. D. J. GAY [5.50 p.m.]: This is a most unbelievable situation.
The Hon. Jan Burnswoods: You don’t mean that.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: I do mean it. The Hon. Jan Burnswoods has the hide to laugh about her party’s attempts to perpetrate the greatest electoral rort that this country has ever seen. Even Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who was accused of rorting, could never have dreamt up anything so unbelievable and arrogant. It seems that five members on the crossbenches - members who claim to be truly independent, who claim to have an open mind about all matters and who profess to consider each proposition on its merits - will support this proposal. What is even worse, they have refused to talk further with the Opposition about this bill. When the deals were done between the Government and these Independent members, they were done in secret.
Why has the Labor Party suddenly brought back this bill, it having been rejected by the Independent members seven votes to zero only a couple of months ago? Why have the five Independents who support the proposal not talked with the coalition in the interim? Not one of those Independent members has bothered to advise this House of the reason for his or her change of heart. It may help to save their credibility and to offset the Opposition’s frustration if they were to inform honourable members of their reasons for shifting ground. If they want us to believe that deals were not done with regard to this parochial, mindless proposal, they should at least tell us what influenced them to change their minds.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile has indicated that the Christian Democratic Party will not support this bill. Why have other Independent members changed their minds? The Hon. R. S. L. Jones said that a deal was done; the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby said that she did not talk to anyone as she is a republican and she is waiting for the arrival of regional government. But she has not turned her mind to what will happen to the State in the interim, between now and her nirvana. No-one from the National Party contacted her and she has not contacted the National Party. Someone from the Liberal Party spoke with a former minder, or handler, of the Hon. Elizabeth Kirkby to try to get her to change her mind and to talk to people.
The Hon. Jan Burnswoods: Are the Nationals and Liberals not at one on this matter?
The Hon. D. J. GAY: Yes, we are, absolutely - contrary to the members of the Labor Party at the moment, who are at one only when it comes to electoral rorts. One has come to expect that any public statement from the Labor Party about the electoral system includes a reference to democracy, one vote one value and saving money for the taxpayers. But, on this occasion Labor has said, "Our people have worked out that we can win the election with less than 47 per cent of the vote" - in other words, 46 per cent. This proposal is all about winning an election. If a gerrymander is not a party winning an election with 46 per cent of the vote, I do not know what is. This is an incredible situation.
The Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby said that community of interest is about fairness. What a load of rubbish! In this instance "community of interest" means separating communities that have traditionally been one: for instance, Harden-Murrumburrah, which is near where the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby lives at Temora. Although the honourable member lives in the country, I suspect she has never spoken to anyone in the country about the concept of community of interest. This proposal is about splitting communities, not fairness. If fairness were a criterion, it would not have been possible for the Labor Party to win government with 48 per cent of the primary vote at the last election.
I repeat for the benefit of the Hon. Jan Burnswoods: I did not say that the Opposition was not responsible for the last redistribution. I said that fairness is not one of the criteria of this proposal. As I have said on numerous occasions, the best thing the Labor Party has done for the children of New South Wales is ensure that the stupidity of the Hon. Jan Burnswoods no longer influencing their minds. The honourable member knows nothing about redistribution. She should talk about matters she knows something about. She knows about rorting, as
do all the members of her party. The Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby said that the National Party would now be able to win the seats of Broken Hill and Bathurst. I suggest that if the membership of the Legislative Assembly remains at 99, the coalition will still win those seats, along with the seat of Clarence. This legislation will result in from 2.25 to 3 fewer seats for regional New South Wales - which equates to almost a 10 per cent loss. It is proposed that the electorate of Broken Hill should extend from just west of Deniliquin, through Walgett to the Queensland border; that is about half the size of New South Wales.
The Hon. R. T. M. Bull: It is more.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: The Deputy Leader of the Opposition suggests that it is more. The Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby said that Federal members of Parliament look after electorates of such size. However, she would not accept my suggestion that members of the Federal Parliament have twice the staff and twice the resources of State members of Parliament. At present that area is represented by two State members. But all that will change, and this disadvantaged area will be further disadvantaged. It is important to note that technically New South Wales is a Labor State. As Antony Green quite correctly stated in his article, a redistribution will mean that the Labor Party will be able to govern the State without holding one seat outside the metropolitan area, that is outside of Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong.
Honourable members who think they are seeing a scorched earth policy in regional New South Wales at the moment ain’t seen nothin’ yet! It comes back to one vote one value. People in rural New South Wales will now know that if a Labor Government is in office their votes will not matter, they will not get any resources. The Government has shown, through the pragmatism it has applied to this particular redistribution, that it is intent on destroying regional New South Wales. There is no hint of anything to do with democracy: it relates to winning one seat. My attention is drawn to the other part of the bribe, which is an extra Minister. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition quite correctly stated, the intention was to fix up poor old Harry. I would have thought that it would be unwise to have a Minister in a marginal seat. Harry Woods’ seat is already marginal, but if the number of seats is reduced to 93 it will be virtually abolished so far as Labor Party representation is concerned. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer and Minister for State and Regional Development has been unable to produce a green paper on the subject and unable to implement any of his promises. What difference will the appointment of a junior Minister make?
An honourable member is trying to talk to me from where he should not be able to talk to me, which I find incredible.
If the interjections of the Hon. Jan Burnswoods made any sense, I would listen to them. We have saved the children of New South Wales from her.
The PRESIDENT: Order! Members will cease interjecting. I entreat the Hon. D. J. Gay not to be provocative and to ignore interjections.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: I draw attention to the swag of Ministers who are not performing at the moment. Ernie Page has one ministry.
The Hon. Ann Symonds: He is a great bloke.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: He may be a great bloke but he is not doing anything. Brian Langton has had just about everything taken from him; Bob Martin’s name was drawn out of the briefcase before that of the Hon. E. M. Obeid - who has not yet forgiven him; Richard Amery has a single ministry that is not doing anything; and Richard Face is an absolute disaster. I would have thought that in the first instance the Premier would have considered a reshuffle and given the role to one of his better Ministers, perhaps the Attorney General or someone like him.
The Hon. Patricia Forsythe: That is too easy.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: I was struggling to find someone else. There certainly does not appear to be anyone else to undertake that new role. The Labor Party won office with 48 per cent of the vote, why does it want anything better? It is commonsense. This is a huge rort and the crossbenchers have not given a reason for changing their minds. I wish that in this democracy that group, elected with a very small percentage of the State vote, would tell us why they have changed their minds. Previously they were fulsome in their support for retention of the existing seats in the upper and lower Houses. In this instance the crossbenchers have spoken only to the Government, and the only conclusion to be drawn is that deals have been done.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile has referred the matter to the Independent Commission Against Corruption. So far as I can see that was a proper response because this issue goes beyond the Metherell incident and way beyond any suggestion of what happened in respect of the north coast inquiry. I will await the completion of the debate, but it was the proper thing to do, given that no-one has articulated any reason for that change of mind. I can assume only that they have been bought off with the promise of the passage of petty legislation. The National Party is seeking a fair go for the people of rural New South Wales. I suspect that I am not going to be a great politician in this place because I do not bear a grudge. I cannot be like Simon Crean and yell and spit across the Chamber, but I am really disappointed.
The Hon. Jan Burnswoods: What about Peter Costello?
The Hon. D. J. GAY: The honourable member does tempt me occasionally. I am sorely tempted. This situation is unbelievable and should not have happened. There is no fairness in this proposed legislation and I can only hope that it is not too late for the crossbenchers to change their minds, talk to the people in rural New South Wales and fix up this unbelievable rort that has been perpetrated whereby the people of rural New South Wales will never again be represented in a Labor State government.
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE [6.05 p.m.]: This bill represents a major issue of democracy. It concerns the future of many members of Parliament but, more importantly, it concerns the future of representation in many country towns. The bill deals with the difference between good and bad representation in New South Wales. The case presented by the Government is so weak as to be absolutely lacking in substance. Having heard the debate and the apparent shift in position of many of the crossbenchers, I went back to review what the Government said and the case it presented in favour of a reduction from 99 to 93 in the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly. Just what was the powerful case presented by the Government that caused the crossbench members to shift position from support for the motion in May to that which many of them are apparently taking today.
The motion in May was very clear and had support. As Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile said earlier, although no division was called for it was quite clear that there was strong support from all of the crossbench members. The motion in May called on the Government to immediately appoint the electoral district commissioners for New South Wales to immediately undertake the long-overdue review of the electorate boundaries for the 99 electorates in the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales. In that regard, why has there been no call by the Independent members for the commencement of the redistribution? The motion further stated that this House does not support any alteration to having 99 members in the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales and 42 members of the Legislative Council of New South Wales. What has changed? What has been this most compelling of arguments apparently presented by the Government? I went back to the second reading speech of the Leader of the Government in this House. It is a very short speech and absolutely lacking in substance.
The second reading speech consists principally of six elements of the argument. They are, firstly, that the community perceives that we are overgoverned; secondly, that the ratio of members of Parliament at all levels - Federal, State and local - to the population across Australia is amongst the highest in the world and that this change from 99 seats to 93 would merely increase by 2,500 the number of people in the electorates; thirdly, that 2,500 extra in the population of each electorate would make no difference to the workload of a member of Parliament; fourthly, that it is a logical progression of Greiner’s approach from the 109 to 99 seats; and, fifthly, that the net savings per member are $400,000 over the life of a Parliament, or $5 million.
The sixth element refers to the importance of appointing an additional Minister to make up for the lack of work by the Minister for the Olympics. There we have the six reasons, five of which are principally about the reduction in the number of seats from 99 to 93. Let me examine each of those points of view. First, there is the community perception that we are overgoverned. The community perceives many things, but that does not mean that the community is always right; and it certainly does not mean that governments should give in. In this post-modern age of cynicism the community perceives that it does not like members of Parliament at all. We certainly have not heard that the Government wants to abolish the Parliament immediately because of a community perception that we are not likeable. Comments about community perception do not rate as an argument. The Government has not said whether it believes the community perception to be correct; it has merely suggested that because there is a community perception, it should be acted upon. The community perceives that this is not a very good Government,
but I have not heard the Government offer to hand in its commission. The notion that the community perceives something and that therefore should be acted upon is illogical.
Secondly, it has been said that in New South Wales the ratio of members of Parliament to population is high by world standards and that the mere addition of 2,500 people to each lower House State electorate would hardly change that ratio. And since when has that ratio been a criterion in determining good government? In speaking of the ratio of members of Parliament to population in Australia, some people ignore the fact that one can sometimes travel for hours - even by aeroplane - without crossing a town populated by more than a small number. Australia’s population is scattered and its geography is one of the main reasons for the high ratio of members of Parliament to population at all levels of government. In this State alone many members have to leave their homes on the Monday of a parliamentary sitting week and not return before late on the Thursday night or the Friday. New South Wales and other States are large, and it is nonsense to compare the geography of Australia with that of many European countries which one can travel across within hours.
Thirdly, the Leader of the Government in his second reading speech stated that a reduction in the number of members of the Legislative Assembly would make no difference to the workload of each member of Parliament. His statement overlooked the much more important argument that a reduction in membership of the lower House would make a difference to the overall workload of the Parliament. Day after day at the end of the most recent parliamentary sittings we heard that no more committees should be established by this House. The House was considering the establishment of a select committee to focus on the work of Sydney Water. One argument put often by the Hon. Jan Burnswoods was that the workload of honourable members was extraordinary and that there were not sufficient members to man the number of committees.
The Hon. Jan Burnswoods: I said there were too many committees, actually.
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE: I shall come to that point in a moment. The Hon. Jan Burnswoods was right that we do not have a sufficient number of members for the number of committees. However, that is not an argument for reducing the number of committees. Committee work is vital to good government. It is important that the Parliament have good committees. A short time ago I looked into the number of committees that members of the lower House could serve on at present, because I believe this to be a cogent argument for not reducing the number of members of the Legislative Assembly. If later the Government could argue that additional committees not be established because there is not a sufficient number of members to man those committees, very real issues could well go without being properly inquired into, reviewed, debated and argued.
At present members of the Legislative Assembly serve on the Joint Committee on the Health Care Complaints Commission, the Committee on the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the House Committee, the Library Committee, the Joint Select Committee into Safe Injecting Rooms, the Joint Select Committee on the Threatened Species Conservation Act, the Joint Select Committee on Victims Compensation, the Joint Standing Committee upon Road Safety - the Staysafe Committee - the Joint Standing Committee upon Small Business, the Legislative Assembly Standing Ethics Committee, the Public Accounts Committee, the Public Bodies Review Committee, the Regulation Review Committee, and the Committee on the Office of the Ombudsman and the Police Integrity Commission. All of those committees require the work of members of Parliament, and all members face a significant workload when they become involved in committee work. Having sat on many committees in the term of the last Parliament, I realise how time consuming and how interesting and enjoyable the work of committees can be.
The Government’s argument that the addition of 2,500 voters to an electorate will not affect the workload of each lower House member ignores one of the fundamental roles of members of Parliament. The work of a member of Parliament involves not only work within an electorate but also the collective work of Parliament. Part of the duties of a member is to inquire into legislation and examine specific issues. It is not sufficient for one or two people to give these issues a cursory glance. The Government’s suggestion that there will be no additional workload for each member of the lower House does not wash with me. How can we measure democracy by counting populations?
Fourthly, there has been the suggestion of a logical progressive reduction in the number of lower House members. The Greiner Government reduced the number of Legislative Assembly members from 109 to 99, and it has been said that this bill will merely take that reduction a step further. What is the logic in that argument? I wonder what is the
Government’s intended next step. Does it have a number at which it will stop? Is it logical to reduce the number of members in the lower House to 93, but not to 85, 84 or 50? What is the logic in arguing that the number was previously 109, is now 99 and should be 93? The Government does not have a case. I find little to persuade crossbenchers in any of the Government’s arguments. Fifthly comes the perennial argument about saving money. How and why should we measure democracy in dollar terms? The Sydney Morning Herald editorial of 13 May reminded us that this argument would be presented. It stated:
The NSW Government is apparently contemplating reducing the number of State electorates from 99 to 93. It should give away this notion . . .
The plan to reduce the number of seats will be sold as an exercise in cost-cutting . . . This argument, however, lacks merit.
The editorial also stated:
The real advantage of the plan as far as the Carr Government is concerned is that it could make Labor’s re-election chances more likely. A smaller Lower House could actually permit a Labor victory even if Labor received not much more than 47% of the two-party preferred vote.
Those are the arguments that should have been presented by the Leader of the Government. He should have presented truth and facts -
The Hon. J. H. Jobling: Some honesty.
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE: Yes, some honesty. This bill dresses up electoral advantage in a case that has no merit. Sixthly, it has been stated by the Government that another Minister is needed because Michael Knight is committed to overseeing the Olympics. The Opposition had a view on that matter when it was put before the Parliament last year. At that time Opposition members stated that it was not appropriate that a Minister be appointed as Minister for the Olympics and be appointed to chair the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games. The Opposition was right. The Government did not say then that once it appointed Michael Knight as Minister for the Olympics it would require another Minister. The Government did not come clean.
Opposition members know that talk of the need for another Minister is an excuse; it is all about settling down some of the numbers in the Government caucus. As one of my colleagues said, this is an acknowledgment that a promise was made to the honourable member for Clarence at the time of his election. How silly the Government will look if it goes to the next election with the honourable member for Clarence still sitting on the Government backbench and with no real commitment to country people. Whether this bill succeeds or fails, the people of country New South Wales know that this Government will sell them out. It does not matter to the Government whether there are fewer members of Parliament for country areas or that it takes local members hours longer to drive across their electorates to serve their additional 2,500 people. This Government’s interest is not in rural New South Wales.
For years honourable members have listened to questions from the Hon. Jennifer Gardiner to the Leader of the Government about when he will present his white paper on regional development. On each occasion the Treasurer answered that it was coming, it was being drafted and further drafted. But honourable members are still waiting for that paper. The Government’s record in country New South Wales is weak. The Government is telling people from the country to their faces that it does not care, it does not want the country to be well represented. To boost up the numbers in some seats vast areas that country members represent must be expanded and some country seats will be abolished. The end result will be that the voice of the country in the Parliament will be weakened.
It is all well and good to measure some electorates by the numbers of people in them, but country areas of New South Wales contribute immeasurably to the economy of this State far out of proportion to the numbers of people that live there. The rural economy has been the backbone of the State’s economy for a long time, not only from traditional agricultural products but from the coal and power industries. That is important when one considers what goes on beyond the Great Dividing Range. The power industry presents real dilemmas for this Government at this time. I suspect that some honourable members on the other side of the House would not mind at all if the voice of people across the Great Dividing Range was weakened.
There has been a lot of rhetoric, but the Government has not presented good arguments for introducing this bill. I have listened to the contributions of some of the Independents who have spoken so far and who, on many occasions, present intelligent arguments about issues. I have not heard one convincing argument from them as to why they have shifted from their position in May, when they keenly supported the motion that there be no reduction in the 99 seats in the Legislative
Assembly, to their position today. There is as little logic in their arguments as there is in this bill. I urge that the bill be defeated.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER [6.22 p.m.]: As a National Party member I strongly oppose the carriage of this bill, which is formally and innocuously named the Constitution Amendment Bill but which would be better named the Carr-mander Bill. As a National Party member I am used to hearing people in the New South Wales Labor Party haranguing others about the so-called Bjelke-mander in Queensland. The Labor Party’s introduction of this bill gives me an opportunity to compare Joh Bjelke-Petersen with the latest recruit to Joh’s fan club, namely, Bob Carr. In commenting on the Queensland Labor Party’s redistribution of 1949 the new member of the Queensland Parliament, Mr Bjelke-Petersen, said:
. . . the predetermined zones and the numbers set out will mean nothing but that the majority will be ruled by the minority.
Of course, that is exactly what Bob Carr is doing now. Bob Carr can relate to that concept because this bill attempts to devise a way whereby the Government, which is in disarray - indeed, in exile from the Australian Labor Party and its own Labor movement - can save itself from almost certain death at the polls in March 1999. The bill will devise a way for the Carr-Egan Labor Government, which already governs with a minority of votes, to try to govern with an even lower number of votes after the next election. On that point it is worth quoting an article written by Mr John Laws in the Sunday Telegraph of 28 September headed "Nero Bob chases glory" The article stated:
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the cynical audacity of Bob Carr’s move to cut the size of NSW Lower House from 99 to 93. He says it’s to save money. What a joke!
The truth is, Bob knows that he and his Government are unlikely to be in power for the 2000 Olympic Games.
But Bob would do almost anything to bathe in some of that reflected Olympic glory.
Thus he’s embraced a plan . . . to maximise Labor’s re-election chances with a novel electoral distribution . . .
The bitter-sweet irony of the Premier’s Olympian cynicism is that he knows the public is seriously disillusioned with the self-serving hypocrisy of politicians (rorts, rorts and more rorts).
So he has decided to eliminate half a dozen of them. It’s a bit like the Roman emperor feeding a few extra Christians to the lions. Same attitude to the electors, too . . .
But there’s one thing I should tell you, Bob: no matter what you do, the public aren’t going to fall for it.
Those comments were written before the photographed truth dinner meeting of John Laws and the Premier when an attempt was made to get Mr Laws back on side as the Labor Party continues to go further and further down the tube. The John Laws cynicism with which the bill is regarded throughout the State is based on the suspicion that it is indeed an attempt to rig the New South Wales election due in 1999. The suspicion even extends to the possible composition of the redistribution commission to be appointed by the Government through the Governor of New South Wales.
There is already public speculation about the Government delaying the redistribution in the expectation that the current electoral commissioner, Mr Dickson, who is known as a scrupulously fair public servant and a man of the utmost integrity, would retire. But he has not. Mr Dickson made it clear to the Sydney Morning Herald, and therefore to the Government, that he is sticking around for the redistribution. There has been further speculation that the Government would sideline the Surveyor General, who is a very experienced redistribution commissioner having served on State and Federal redistribution commissions.
The perception is building that the Carr Government is a mob of desperadoes who will do anything to retain office. That perception is sharper now that the ALP leadership, the Premier and the Treasurer in particular, have been monumentally rebuffed by their own party at the ALP conference the weekend before last in regard to electricity privatisation. As the Leader of the Opposition said, the Premier sat in this Chamber during last year’s estimates committee meetings and said in answer to a question from me that there would be no change in the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly. The Premier could not have been clearer in his answer to that question and he deceived this House.
It is true that rural and regional New South Wales will be the main target of a reduction in numbers of members in the Legislative Assembly. At least two electorates over the Great Dividing Range will be wiped out because of the effects of the bill. Can the ALP find anyone in non-metropolitan New South Wales who has actually called for reduced parliamentary representation in non-metropolitan New South Wales? Nobody has called for such a reduction. On the contrary, country communities are opposed to the passage of this bill. The sop to the crossbenchers is the part of the bill that increases the size of the Cabinet with a view to
having a separate regional development portfolio. That is a soppy argument indeed. As the Hon. Patricia Forsythe pointed out, many Ministers are eligible for a major reshuffle by this incompetent Government.
One of the great features of the Carr Labor Government is its almost endless list of broken promises. In the 1995 State election the ALP had a raft of policies and undertakings, most of which have been breached. The initiative of this bill was not even mentioned as a part of the Government’s election policies or part of its mandate. Not only that but a few weeks ago, when the Government initiated a full opening of this session of Parliament, the proposal to change the Constitution Act was not even mentioned in the Governor’s Speech. Effectively, this bill therefore represents another one of Labor’s broken promises. The Labor Party did not foreshadow electoral reform but has now introduced an Electoral Reform Bill without any consultation with the people of this State. People, particularly in non-metropolitan New South Wales, have been deceived yet again.
[The President left the chair at 6.30 p.m. The House resumed at 8.00 p.m.]
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER [8.00 p.m.]: Earlier the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby divulged to the House that the Australian Labor Party, in discussions with her, had indicated that it would not be happy with changing this bill by adding a fairness test along the lines of the rules that apply in the South Australian redistribution legislation. Of course the Australian Labor Party would not be happy with that - fairness is not what it is about. If the ALP will not accept amendments aimed at introducing fairness, even more questions remain to be asked about the Government’s motivation in bringing forward this bill. The Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby quoted Antony Green, the ABC election analyst, as saying that only one country electorate will disappear if the lower House were reduced to 93 seats. However, as my colleagues, including the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the Hon. D. J. Gay, have explained, the straightforward mathematics indicate that that would be the rather unlikely outcome of a redistribution after six seats had been wiped off the map.
I respect Antony Green but he is certainly not always right. For example, he was one of the raft of election pundits who were massively wrong in their assessment of the electoral situation in South Australia in the past few days. He was totally confident that the ALP would not come anywhere near substantially denting the Liberals’ majority in the South Australian House of Assembly last Saturday. Sometimes people take a simplistic approach to these matters, as if everything can be measured in a statistical paradigm. However, that is not the way redistributions work. The danger for country electors in a New South Wales redistribution is that more truly rural and regional electorates can be sucked into what has been regarded until now as the metropolitan area. No-one, least of all the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby, can claim that that will not happen under the existing legislation. Country representation will thereby be reduced. Antony Green cannot make that claim either. Neither can the Premier, although he has attempted to do so.
The Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby came into the House with a lot of material tucked under her arm. She dragged out all her speeches on electoral reform over the years because, while listening to the debate, she had heard the Leader of the Opposition make some remarks about what she had previously said in the House on the subject. It was interesting to note that the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby omitted to quote the speech she made as recently as May this year on the specific subject of reducing the number of members in the Legislative Assembly, when the reduction of seats in the lower House was first mooted and when the Opposition in this House successfully moved a motion to oppose a reduction in the number of seats in either House. At that time the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby said this, although she decided not to repeat it to the House today:
I put on public record that the Netherlands, a tiny geographical area about one quarter the size of this State, has three elected forms of government - local, municipal and regional - as well as a state government. It is ridiculous to suggest that we are over-governed. The size of New South Wales demands the number of parliamentarians that we have at present. My one fear about the Government’s plans to reduce the number of parliamentarians in the lower House, as suggested in the newspapers in recent weeks, is that country New South Wales will be grossly disadvantaged. In country electorates - and I refer particularly to the electorates of Murray and Murrumbidgee which may be combined into one electorate - it is not possible for one member to properly look after the needs of a constituency that extends over such a vast area.
. . . Country New South Wales is being deserted in every way.
The Hon. M. R. Kersten: That’s a convenient memory lapse.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER: As the Hon. M. R. Kersten says, it is interesting that the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby put that argument in May of this year in debate on a specific motion about reducing the number of seats in the lower House, yet today she has completely and absolutely changed her mind. The Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby referred to Federal members of Parliament who service large
electorates. Obviously, she has not studied the resources provided courtesy of rulings by the Federal Parliamentary Remuneration Tribunal and implemented by successive governments of both political persuasions so that members representing vast parts of this country can hope to service the needs of their constituents. They are resourced in a particular way.
For example, members representing the far west Federal electorate of Riverina-Darling, as it used to be called - part of which is now included in the electorate of Parkes and is the largest electorate in New South Wales - are provided with two electorate offices, one at each end of the electorate. The package before the House does not contain a proposal to resource members to any extent whatever. It simply contains a suggestion that apparently one member of Parliament - namely, the member for Clarence, Mr Harry Woods - will get a white car and a ministerial office. That is meant to make up for the fact that he represents the marginal seat of Clarence and that six members of the Legislative Assembly will be deleted. The Broken Hill electorate covers 296,000 square kilometres.
The Hon. D. F. Moppett: It’s probably 296,000 times bigger than the smallest one in New South Wales.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER: As my colleague the Hon. D. F. Moppett says, it is probably 296,000 times bigger than some of the inner-city seats represented by the Labor Party. It is all very well for the Labor Party and the Australian Democrats to claim that that does not matter. They should ask the people in the western division of New South Wales if it matters. They should ask them specifically what community of interest there is between the various parts of such an electorate. They should ask the people of Ivanhoe what community of interest they have with the people of Collarenebri or the people of Brewarrina. The answer is zilch. In fact, if the residents of Brewarrina and Collarenebri were asked what community of interest there is between their part of the electorate of Broken Hill and the city of Broken Hill, they would say that on the current boundaries there is zilch community of interest, not to mention the boundaries that will be drawn after the redistribution. The Australian Labor Party and the Democrats want to stretch the boundaries even further, and the National Party utterly opposes that proposal.
The Hon. Dr Meredith Burgmann: What do you suggest?
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER: The Hon. Dr Meredith Burgmann asks what we suggest. We suggest there is nothing wrong with retaining the present number of seats in the Legislative Assembly. There is only one reason the number of seats is being reduced and that is to save an almost unsalvageable Australian Labor Party Government. The expansion of the electorate of Broken Hill will mean not only an expansion in geographic area but also the addition of about two dozen communities to that electorate for which the next member for the electorate of Broken Hill will be responsible.
The Hon. Dr Meredith Burgmann: You want to bring back Bjelke-Petersen’s gerrymander.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER: It was the Queensland Labor Party’s gerrymander. The Democrats seem to think that the National Party opposes the proposal purely from self-interest. They are completely missing the point. Regardless of whoever is the next member for the electorate of Broken Hill, that member, from whatever party he or she comes - it certainly will not be Mr Bill Beckroge of the Australian Labor Party; it is more likely to be the Hon. M. R. Kersten of the National Party - will be disadvantaged in representing that electorate and, more importantly, one member only will service an extraordinarily large area. Bearing in mind the comments of the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby, as of today the Democrats have abandoned any pretence of being concerned about rural and regional parliamentary representation. According to the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby, apparently that was because a couple of lower House Liberals from city electorates rang up a former staffer of hers and that got her offside. That might have been annoying to the Democrats, but it hardly excuses that party’s volte-face on an important issue of public policy affecting rural and regional people in this State. In May the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby said, "Country people are being deserted in every other way". It seems that the Democrats will just walk out on them as well.
The Hon. M. R. Kersten: Throw them on the scrap heap.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER: That is right. Those people have been thrown on the scrap heap. How on earth an Australian Democrat candidate can stand for election in any electorate outside of Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong, I do not know. It is a sad day for rural and regional people when a spat between a key crossbencher in this House and a couple of Liberals in the other House reduces country representation in this Parliament. In her speech in May the Hon. Elisabeth
Kirkby, as well as saying that country New South Wales would be grossly disadvantaged, said, "It is ridiculous to suggest that we are overgoverned". She gave the Netherlands as an example of a country with a four-tier system of government. Since then the new Labor Government of the Rt Honourable Tony Blair has introduced an additional layer of representation in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom now has local government elections, elections for the National Parliament at Westminster, and new elections for the Welsh Assembly. I am waiting to hear the contribution of the Hon. I. M. Macdonald to this debate. It will be interesting to hear whether he defends this policy of the Labor Party. He cannot defend the Labor Party leadership on electricity privatisation. Will he be able to defend this policy? He is waiting for me to say that Mr Tony Blair has reconstituted the Scottish Parliament.
The Hon. I. M. Macdonald: Sensational!
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER: It is sensational, as the Hon. I. M. Macdonald says. It is very good news for the Scots. So the United Kingdom has local government, national government, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. In addition, the United Kingdom voters have to elect their representatives to the European Parliament as well. Like the Netherlands, the British people now have four tiers of government.
The Hon. I. M. Macdonald: Tell us more about the Scots.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER: The new Scottish Parliament will have about 80 members and I believe it will be set up on the same site as the original Scottish Parliament.
The Hon. I. M. Macdonald: They are nearly all Labor members.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER: Yes, they are Scottish nationals, plus members of the Labor Party. In the mother of parliaments the Labor Party in office is not reducing the number of members of Parliament; it is increasing the number, not only in the national Parliament but also by adding two parliaments to the whole system.
The Hon. I. M. Macdonald: They are giving members of Parliament back to the people of those regions.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER: And the Labor Party in this State is taking parliamentarians away from the people of the regions. The Hon. I. M. Macdonald knows that people of Scotland and Wales, particularly the Scottish people, who are on the periphery of their nation are now being given parliamentary representation at a more local level. The Labor Government in the United Kingdom is extremely popular. It is providing closer and more regional parliamentary representation, but New South Wales has an unpopular, hopeless bunch of desperadoes who are taking members of Parliament away from the people in the regions of this State. This Government is out of time. Like the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby, the former democrat the Hon. R. S. L. Jones from Opossum Creek has changed his mind. In his contribution he dismissed the problem of having fewer non-metropolitan members of Parliament as being of little moment because he conceded to the National Party the electorates of Bathurst and Broken Hill.
The Hon. D. F. Moppett: And possibly one other.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER: And possibly another one, as my colleague the Hon. D. F. Moppett points out. I suppose he could have been alluding to the electorate of Clarence, which would make a complete farce of the Government’s strategy of increasing the size of Cabinet by one so instead of having a reshuffle it can tack on Mr Harry Woods in that Cabinet slot. In that way one election promise can be honoured. It is only one out of hundreds, but that is the only one Bob Carr seems intent on actually honouring. The comments of the Hon. R. S. L. Jones completely miss the point of the debate. The debate is not about rorting the electoral system so that ultimately one party or another ends up with X seats in non-metropolitan New South Wales. The debate is about decreasing the number of available seats for members of any political party, or potential members of Parliament who are not members of a political party, who may have a chance of being elected. This bill will result in a net loss to non-metropolitan New South Wales. The speech delivered by the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby last May is in complete contradistinction to the speech she delivered earlier today. What the Hon. R. S. L. Jones said on 21 May was remarkable:
My opposition to the reduction in numbers in the lower House is that country electorates will miss out. If the number of electorates were reduced to 93, perhaps one or two country seats would disappear altogether. Broken Hill would be an enormous seat . . . I would not support any reduction in the numbers because country people west of the Divide would be underrepresented. It would be very difficult to service their electorates.
Country people are so far away from the city that they already feel unrepresented, or not represented properly, because all the action happens in the city. That attitude would be exacerbated if the numbers were reduced.
I do not know why the Hon. R. S. L. Jones has suddenly changed his mind. I was interested to read an article in the Daily Telegraph of 24 September which was headed, "Premier beats seat cut revolt". Referring to the Hon. R. S. L. Jones, the article concluded:
Mr Jones admitted the ALP had offered not to cut the Upper House if it got support for its plan.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: Can you trust them?
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER: Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile asks the obvious question: "Can you trust them?" Mr Carr has demonstrated that he basically deceived the budget estimates hearing and Parliament earlier last year when he used crystal-clear words and claimed that there would be no change in the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly. The answer to the question asked by Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile is that we cannot trust them.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: He had not had his orders from Sussex Street.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER: That is right. Sussex Street was not represented at the budget estimates hearing. The Premier had a complete wing of advisers, including Mr Dickson, the Electoral Commissioner. The entire frontbench and backbench of this Chamber were filled with Mr Carr’s advisers, but one person was missing. He is not a public servant; he is paid by the Australian Labor Party at Sussex Street. He is the General Secretary, Mr Della Bosca. He was not here. He had not conveyed the directive from the ALP organisation to the Premier: to save the hopeless Government in Macquarie Street, Sussex Street believed that it had to cut out half a dozen seats to shore up votes in the western suburbs. If that meant effectively wiping out the Labor Party from non-metropolitan New South Wales, that was just too bad.
As I have said, the Hon. R. S. L. Jones has completely missed the point of the debate. The bill is not simply about rorting the electoral system; it is about reducing the number of members of this Parliament, regardless of what party they come from. Party politics is a secondary issue. The voters of New South Wales are entitled to ask the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby and the Hon. R. S. L. Jones why they have changed their minds between May and October of this year. At the conclusion of the contribution of one of my colleagues the Hon. J. R. Johnson said that there are members on the Government side of the House who have the interests of country people at heart.
Perhaps someone could name one person on the Government side of the House who has those interests at heart? I note there was dead silence in answer to my rhetorical invitation. No-one said anything. In fact, the Hon. I. M. Macdonald, who wants to be the minister for regional development, has left the Chamber. A number of crossbenchers have been absent during the second reading debate on this bill. One of them, for example, is the Hon. I. Cohen from the Greens. I will be interested to hear what he has to say about this bill. On 21 May he supported the motion moved by the Liberal and National parties that expressed the desire of the House that the numbers in neither House be changed. The Hon. I. Cohen said:
I support the motion moved relating to the review of electoral boundaries. I am concerned about the position taken by the Government on this matter. I am keen to see the Electoral Commission undertake a redistribution in a way that is free from political interference, gives maximum opportunity for democracy as we know it to be undertaken in this State, and avoids the short-term machinations of the government of the day, whatever its political persuasion, to control the situation.
He then criticised Queensland-style gerrymanders and said:
I really believe that, given the opportunity, the Executive would rule and electoral processes would be a farce. Already the Government has a clear advantage by having been elected with the support of only 48 per cent of voters . . . That is totally inappropriate.
I trust that he is a person who keeps his word. He sets great store by his reputation for integrity and for keeping his word. When the division is called on this bill it will be interesting to see on which side of the House he sits. Will he sit on the side of the House where his words mean something or will he sit on the side where his words, like those of the Hon. R. S. L. Jones and the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby last May, count for nothing. I want to refer also to the reaction from people in non-metropolitan New South Wales. I do not know anyone from rural and regional areas who supports this legislation. Perhaps Mr Harry Woods supports this proposal in his heart, but would not say that to his constituents. The editorial of the Tamworth newspaper, the Northern Daily Leader, of 24 September sums up the case against the Government as it resounds throughout rural and regional New South Wales. The editorial, which was headed "Reject Govt’s reform plans", stated:
THE State Government’s proposal to reduce the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly from 99 to 93 is not in the best interests of country people.
The public is always sceptical when political parties put forward plans to reduce the number of parliamentary representatives or to change electoral boundaries.
The public’s assumption is the changes are being proposed to strengthen the position of a political party.
The process even has a name - gerrymander.
The State Government’s proposal which won Caucus approval yesterday is being sold to the public as a means to save taxpayers $5 million a year.
The Premier, Mr Carr, has added another carrot to entice support with the announcement of the intention to establish a new ministerial position dealing with country and regional development.
No matter how it is packaged the State Government’s proposal is unsatisfactory and will be seen as a bid to strengthen the Labor Party’s position prior to the next election.
There is a level of hypocrisy in the State Government’s proposal when compared with its previous attempts to amend the structure of the NSW Parliament.
Previously, the Government proposed a reduction in the number of members of the Legislative Council but this ran into a dead end when the Government placed in jeopardy any support it might enjoy from the council’s cross benches.
In previous parliaments the Labor Party has proposed the abolition of the Legislative Council all together.
The Premier’s move to establish a ministerial portfolio for country and regional development should also be viewed with skepticism.
The Government already has a Minister for Regional Development but the portfolio does not enjoy a high enough profile and is relatively low-key which signals its priority on the Government’s agenda.
I am sure the Hon. J. R. Johnson would concede that point. The editorial continued:
The responsibility for regional development rests with the Treasurer, Mr Egan, but it would appear his treasury responsibilities consume most of his time.
The public should see these proposals for what they are - politically motivated to protect one party’s political position.
Country people should inform the Premier that they reject his parliamentary reform process and call on all the Cabinet, not just a new country and regional development ministry, to act in the best interests of country people.
That sums up the case against the bill. I did not write that editorial in the Northern Daily Leader, but I could have. The cynicism of regional newspapers is well justified. Tamworth is a progressive city and takes great interest in the regional development portfolio. Its people have noted that the Hon. M. R. Egan has failed abysmally in delivering on regional development. From that editorial they know that a separate Minister will not deliver better results. I urge the House to vote against the Constitution Amendment Bill.
Debate adjourned on motion by the Hon. D. F. Moppett.
GOVERNOR’S SPEECH: ADDRESS-IN-REPLY
Fourth Day’s Debate
Debate resumed from 25 September.
The Hon. M. R. KERSTEN [8.33 p.m.]: I listened with great interest to the Speech of His Excellency, which was delivered with customary eloquence. All I wish to say about the formal opening is that despite the beat-up it received, it served a good purpose on the day. Many of the so-called sweeping reforms of this Government, to which the Governor referred, leave a lot to be desired. During the lead-up to the last State elections the Australian Labor Party promised, among other things, sweeping reforms in law and order. A recent tour of western New South Wales showed that those sweeping reforms have yet to see the light of day.
The Bourke Chamber of Commerce and Bourke Shire Council have decided to once again erect wire mesh on shopfronts along the main street. All free-thinking, decent persons are appalled by the decision. A positive decision was taken some time ago to remove mesh from shopfronts. The reforms obscenely proposed by the Leader of the Labor Opposition during the election campaign have not materialised. The people of Bourke, Walgett and similar country towns live in constant fear of intimidation, especially from young people who seem to be almost out of control. Mr Bob Culhane, the proprietor of a huge department store in Bourke, has erected an iron cage in the middle of his store to hold designer clothing. That is one of the saddest things I have seen.
The Hon. B. H. Vaughan: That is not the only store.
The Hon. M. R. KERSTEN: It is not the only store, that is true, but it was the first store to take such an extraordinary step. What a sad state of affairs! When I asked him why he had taken this decision -
The colleagues of the Hon. Ann Symonds have said that they will fix the problem, but that has not happened. The Hon. Ann Symonds is one of my favourite people. If she wishes, I can take her to this
iron cage which has been erected smack bang in the middle of the store. Mr Culhane told me that he was sick and tired of his store being broken into and that no insurance company would provide insurance cover for his business. Many other shop owners in the main street are in similar situations. Break-ins and assault are part of daily life in these towns. Walgett suffers the same problems; it is a town built out of iron mesh! When I visited Collarenebri the owner of the motel at which I stayed gave me a key and said,"Go and let yourself into the compound." I know the Hon. A. B. Kelly has visited that area and witnessed this terrible situation. The local motel in Collarenebri looks like Stalag 17; it is surrounded by a huge mesh fence with curled barbed wire on top and two huge rottweilers patrol the yard. I am not making up a story. This is fact! Some houses in these towns have been trashed and wrecked beyond repair. Like many people in western New South Wales, I am still waiting for the promised reforms to have some impact. The lip-service paid to law and order problems sounds terrific, but reality is quite different.
The Hon. D. F. Moppett: What about the ALP conference? They were going to repeal the Parental Responsibility Act.
The Hon. M. R. KERSTEN: I thank the Hon. D. F. Moppett for his interjection. I was just about to refer to that subject. Those who had much to say about the Children (Protection and Parental Responsibility) Act should visit places such as Moree. I am sure the Hon. A. B. Kelly would be only too pleased to show his colleagues around the town; he knows what I am talking about because he has seen problems first-hand. I am not blaming the Government. I am not saying that the Government caused the problem; it did not. The problem existed when the previous Government was in office. It has materialised over a long period and is the culmination of things we have allowed to happen and things over which we have had little control. Apportioning blame will not solve anything. We have to approach the situation with a great deal of understanding and care.
I have heard the Hon. Ann Symonds talk about this matter on numerous occasions, and I respect her right to express an opinion. I have also listened to the Hon. Dr Meredith Burgmann’s views about the Children (Protection and Parental Responsibility) Act and I accept that she has her reasons for wanting the Act repealed. But that does not mean that I agree with her views. The parental responsibility legislation was an initiative of the coalition and has been trialled in Orange, where it worked very well. It should be trialled throughout the entire Western Division of New South Wales. It was not the intention of the Act that young people should be harassed or that children should be put at a disadvantage. It was not the intention of the Act that a Gestapo-like police squad should walk around with truncheons and remove children from the streets. That is just crazy talk. I am appalled when I hear about the rights of these children. What eight-year-old child has the right to walk around the streets late at night? I assure honourable members that some of the children who wander the streets of country towns all night long are as young as eight years of age. They do not have the capacity to decide whether they should be wandering the streets until all hours. Such decisions have to be made for them.
The Act, in the form proposed by the coalition, was designed as a tool for police to use properly at their discretion. Police officers, most of whom are decent, hardworking individuals, are, in my opinion, overworked and underpaid. They have an enormous responsibility and are expected to be judge and jury and to get it right every time - somewhat like politicians. I suggest politicians and police are the only two species of animal on the face of this earth that are expected to get it right every time. If a policeman makes a mistake, there is hell to pay. Police who live in small towns have to make judgments on issues that we as legislators should be addressing. We need to embrace more sweeping reforms, especially with regard to Aboriginal affairs and law and order. And there is no better place to start those reforms than in western New South Wales because the problems will not go away by themselves. Only the other day I spoke with a former president of the Bourke Chamber of Commerce who, after many years of outstanding service to the community, has reached the stage where he says he has had enough; he has given up.
Most of the stalwarts in western New South Wales, those who have led the fight, are burnt out. It is very sad, but no-one wants to live in a community surrounded by an iron cage. I have listened with interest to claims of sweeping reforms with regard to the drug problem. This evening I was privileged to listen to a number of speakers address a forum on drugs. It was indeed a sobering experience. In particular, some of my views about marijuana were dispelled tonight. I was filled with sadness when I listened to the mother and sister of Anna Wood speak with great passion about their tragic loss when Anna died from an overdose of the drug ecstasy. They are totally anti drugs, as I am.
Many brochures given to children these days give advice about how to take drugs responsibly. I
do not accept that for one second. It is a tragedy that we live in a society that produces brochures showing children how to use drugs responsibly. There is no way one can use drugs responsibly: one either takes drugs or one does not. I do not accept that drugs are a normal part of life; they are not. Drugs are not normal. They are an absolute blight on New South Wales society and I will do everything I can to preach the message that there is no safe way to use drugs. There is only one way to stop using drugs and that is to stop using them, full stop. Drugs, coupled with unemployment, play a large part in the problems associated with law and order in western New South Wales.
The Hon. Janelle Saffin: What about alcohol?
The Hon. M. R. KERSTEN: I was coming to that. I do not deny that alcohol plays a large part in the problem, but alcohol is legal - drugs are not. I am not excusing alcohol for one second. The Hon. Janelle Saffin has raised a relevant argument, and I accept what she has said. We must reconsider our approach to the consumption of alcohol. In that regard some country towns have taken action. In Brewarrina, for example, one cannot buy bottled beer, only canned beer. The reason is obvious: a can, when used as a missile, will do less damage than a bottle when used as a missile. I suppose it is a start. We must commence a program of education about drugs and alcohol. I commend the clear messages we see frequently nowadays on television about the dangers of smoking. But we should take that one step further. We should preach the message about drugs. We should be saying that marijuana is harmful and point out the harmful effects of the drug. There are 51 types of marijuana and they all have a higher concentration of carcinogens than do cigarettes, but we are not told anything about that. That is a sad state of affairs. We should also be preaching the anti-alcohol message. Alcohol must be used responsibly, and the sooner we institute basic education programs along those lines, the better off we will be.
Reference has also been made to reforms in the delivery of health. In the past week I visited many regional towns. On Wednesday evening last I attended a meeting of members of the Far West Area Health Service in Walgett. The meeting was chaired by Bill O’Neil, a decent upstanding citizen of Broken Hill. The board of the service is hamstrung with respect to service delivery. The answer one receives from those who live in the smaller regional towns to questions about what the so-called sweeping reforms have meant to them is: "What sweeping reforms? Nothing has really changed. The budget is tight and we do not have the money to do what we want to do." There has even been a downgrading of health services, especially in places such as Goodooga.
The community of Goodooga is very concerned about what is likely to happen with their health service. The already inadequate service is to be downgraded even further, a situation that is unacceptable to the local community. Quite frankly I do not blame them for feeling that way. Why should not anyone who lives in the bush, at the end of nowhere, be entitled to the same privileges as those enjoyed by those who live in Sydney? I realise that the service cannot be provided to the same standard as that in Sydney, but surely the citizens of western New South Wales are entitled to the best possible health services, the same services as are available to their city cousins. It is the right of every Australian to expect that. The Minister for Health has not delivered the reforms he promised. The Government must address these health issues. I assure honourable members that the Opposition is monitoring the situation extremely closely.
With regard to the debate that took place in this Parliament on gun laws I accepted the verdict of the umpire but I was not pleased with the outcome. In a letter I received recently a woman, whilst expressing her point of view about the anti-gun lobby, suggested that if the anti-gun lobby were to direct the same amount of zeal against those who manufacture video games and so-called educational toys as it did in pursuit of gun law reform, she would be a very happy lady. The woman, whose 18-year-old son had had a drug problem and had hanged himself, raised that matter with me because she saw advertised in a magazine an educational game called "Hangman" in which whenever one solved part of the problem a piece of a skeleton was added to the noose. One can but imagine how the parents of children who had hanged themselves feel when they come across such distasteful so-called toys.
About 75 per cent of all games in video arcades require the player to pull a trigger to shoot someone, to blow up a building or to undertake some other destructive act - the very behaviour that the gun lobby is opposed to. I agree with the woman who expressed her opposition to these games: the anti-gun lobby should pursue with the same zeal those who produce sickening video and computer games that contain nothing but carnage, mayhem, violence and murder. Those of us with children who enjoy computer games know only too well that the sounds "pow, pow; kick, kick" that emanate from the computers are the sounds made by characters in those games who are being kicked, beaten up or shot
at. I ask: what message are we sending to our children? This is an absolute disgrace but nothing is said about it.
I am on record as having argued in favour of the rights of firearms owners, and I will always argue in their favour. As I said at the time of that debate, we should have consulted more extensively with those concerned rather than agree to the ridiculous so-called reforms that were bludgeoned through the Parliament last year. We should turn our attention to the causes of the problems. When I see the movies available for hire from video shops I am appalled. No matter what might be said about ratings, kids can hire out a sickening, disgusting, violent video anywhere and at any time. That is a disgraceful state of affairs. Most computer games now on the market carry a message of violence. What are we saying to our young people? As usual we penalise the wrong people. The Government told gun owners that their guns would be taken from them. The whole issue has been a complete failure. The Government has targeted the wrong people.
I listened with interest to the Governor’s words about the so-called sweeping reforms and the wonderful improvements that have been made in youth unemployment. Government members ought to visit the part of the State in which I live to see what is really happening. The unemployment figures are dollied up to an extraordinary degree and do not tell the correct story. A person who works three or four hours a week is deemed to be employed, but surely is not. The unemployment situation is much worse than the figures indicate. It is the Government’s responsibility to address unemployment and the sense of hopelessness in our young people, especially those in western New South Wales. I make no apology for my parochialism because every day of the week I see evidence of the problems associated with unemployment. I would estimate that 99 per cent of the law and order and drug problems experienced by people in western New South Wales can be linked directly to youth unemployment. The answer is jobs.
We politicians must forget half of the stupidity that goes on in this place and concentrate on the real issues such as the need for jobs. Young people need jobs and governments need to put in place reforms that will give young people real jobs - I am not talking about asking our youth to paint rocks on the edge of a road or pick up paper. It is the responsibility of governments, including this Government, to put in place reforms and programs that will supply our youth with much-needed employment. My son was out of work for a long time and he and a couple of his friends had to go to Adelaide to find jobs. To my son’s credit, he persevered and gained an apprenticeship. At 20 years of age my son is perhaps starting his apprenticeship a little late, but it is much better to start late than never. The change in my son, the change that comes over a young person when he or she gains meaningful employment, is extraordinary.
There are very few jobs in Broken Hill or any other part of western New South Wales. One of the greatest responsibilities, if not the greatest responsibility, of any State or Federal government is to provide the catalyst, the impetus and the opportunity for our young people to find meaningful employment. Once that is done, many of society’s ills will clear up overnight. I wish to raise also an old chestnut for people from the bush. Earlier this evening the Hon. A. B. Kelly and I discussed the matters of communication and transportation to and from the bush. In many instances it is not economically viable to provide air services to places such as Broken Hill. We in the bush are no less entitled to the services enjoyed by people who live in the city. I shall continue to press for some subsidy, deregulation or whatever it takes, to ensure that people in country New South Wales are not disadvantaged by the tyranny of distance.
The other day I spoke to a grazier and his wife from my area. Recently the woman had become very ill and had to be taken to a hospital quickly. Her husband was presented with an enormous logistics problem. The recent heavy rains meant that the flying doctor could not land in the immediate area. The grazier had a great deal of trouble getting his wife to an asphalt road to make their way to a hospital. The road they had to take - the main highway between the two major centres of Brewarrina and Walgett - was closed and almost impassable. The people of the bush suffer day in and day out. The rains are welcomed and everything is fine until something goes wrong. The couple I have referred to do not live far off the road but when the wife took ill they were placed in a terrible predicament. The completion of the arterial roads in the outback of this State would be a crowning glory for any government. This Government promised to review the matter of roads in my area. At the time of the most recent election the Labor Party made a great deal of noise about the issue, but the people of western New South Wales are still waiting for the Minister’s sweeping reforms.
The Hon. Dr MEREDITH BURGMANN [9.00 p.m.]: I support much of what is in the Governor’s Speech. Most of Labor’s program is excellent but some is held back by adherence to the notion of a balanced budget and the zero debt
strategy. Members on the Opposition benches cannot take comfort from what I am saying because they too have adhered to the ridiculous notion of zero debt. The Federal parliamentary Labor Party rightly opposed Howard’s spending cuts on the grounds that the Commonwealth budget deficit would in due course be addressed by cyclical revenue growth without the need for massive spending cuts. The Commonwealth Government budget cuts have forced reductions in women’s services, operational subsidies for child care, breast cancer and mammography services and the Human Rights Commission. They have taken funding from the Office of the Status of Women, dismantled Working Nation and forced terrifyingly high bonds on to occupants of nursing homes, all in the name of bringing the budget into surplus for only the second time in Australia’s history. Who believes that John Howard’s Government is correct? Who believes that every Commonwealth budget since Federation, bar two, was fiscally irresponsible?
If a zero debt and balanced budget strategy is to be accepted as being correct, one has to believe that historically Federal and State governments have been incorrect. Why are obligations to the people of New South Wales any different? Why is it accepted that in New South Wales the present obligation to provide services to the people should be set off as a bargaining chip in budgetary negotiations? Rather than use State taxes to retire debt, this Government should use them to rectify the incredible ruin caused by the former Liberal Government. We know about the famous attacks on the State public service by the former Liberal Government and the way it ripped 60 specialist child abuse officers from the system. More hospital services should be provided in western Sydney and in country areas and more teachers and new buildings should be made available in State public schools.
All that can be achieved if the view that it is most important to retire State debt is not adhered to. The Treasurer correctly stated that this Government is a modern social democratic Labor Party governing in a mature, mixed economy at the end of the twentieth century. That is precisely why it is affordable, indeed desirable, for New South Wales to incur a degree of manageable debt. To draw an analogy, so long as household income is readily available and sufficient to address debts, for example the servicing of a mortgage, then the household debt is manageable. However, the Treasurer believes that people buy their houses with cash. The Treasurer would probably have us believe that the State Government must immediately retire all government debt. The truth is that State debt is now being reduced at a steady rate. In the last State budget many sensible tax measures were introduced to raise revenue and were referred to in the Governor’s Speech, from the throne, I suppose is the way one should put it. For instance, I was totally in support of the land tax measure - an excellent way to raise money from people who have it.
I and, no doubt, all honourable members have received letters that would break one’s heart; letters from residents of Vaucluse and Rose Bay about their houses on land worth $1 million now being subject to land tax. I have replied to all of them with great sympathy and said that there is a provision that land tax can be paid by the estate after they have died. There is no way that the Government will remove elderly people from their homes, but if someone has a home that is worth more than $1 million, they can probably afford a very sensible land tax. I totally approve of that part of the State budget. Who can say with certainty that debt retirement will precede an adequate funding of State services? It certainly will not if the Liberals are elected. If they are elected, all that the Labor Party has done to give them a properly working economy will, as usual, be ruined by them.
Long before this debate started and long after it will be finished the New South Wales Government’s obligation to protect abused and homeless young people will be intact. That obligation is undiluted by any debt reduction strategy. At the moment we are putting our adherence to an economic policy above our obligation to the people of New South Wales who are at present unemployed, homeless or abused. It is frequently stated, and I totally agree, that human rights and trade policies should not be traded off against one other. Yet we are told that the Government can only satisfy its obligations when debt is retired. Why must we continually bear the burden of keeping market analysts satisfied? It may well be that their dissatisfaction is related to their profession, and totally unrelated to the state of the Government’s finances. The satisfaction of our constituency, that is, the people who need the services which Labor governments provide, is of equal importance.
As this is the Address-in-Reply debate, I will mention briefly the way in which the opening of Parliament was conducted. I will not criticise or go into the ceremonial nature of the way in which the opening of Parliament was conducted. However, of enormous importance to me was that after members arrived in the Chamber as they always do for the opening of Parliament, I found on my seat a rather attractive document called the "Opening of the Third Session of the Fifty-First Parliament of New South
Wales by His Excellency the Governor". I discovered on the first page the words in very big print "Qantas, the Spirit of Australia: Proud to support the Opening of Parliament 1997." At the back of the program appears exactly the same logo and wording.
The opening of Parliament is now being sponsored by private enterprise and, as it would have done to most other honourable members, that shocked me. Why should we stop here? Why not put sponsorship out to tender in accordance with the national Competition Policy Reform Act 1995? Next year maybe the Parliament could be sponsored by Joyce Mayne, Super League or Quintex. We could have names and numbers on the back of our uniforms so at least people could distinguish us as we troop into the Chamber, because by then we will have uniforms, in the corporate colours. If there is to be sponsorship in a big way, why not have the Avis adjournment debate? Why not have frequent liar points for those of us who continually break election promises?
The Hon. B. H. Vaughan: Do not forget Huey Long.
The Hon. Dr MEREDITH BURGMANN: The Hon. B. H. Vaughan reminds me of Huey Long who, when asked why he had promised a school and then not delivered, said, "It’s easy. I lied." As someone recently pointed out to the Hon. B. H. Vaughan, Huey Long was then assassinated, so maybe that is not the best way to go. If the Parliament is to go into ceremonial activities, why not gain extra funding from it? If the Black Rod is required to attend, that will be an extra charge. If next year the Parliament has an opening similar to that held this year, I and many other members will walk out. I simply suggest that whoever made the decision does not make the same decision next year. If it happens again, we will not be as polite as we were this year.
The Hon. I. COHEN [9.10 p.m.]: Of great concern to the Greens, and touched on in the Governor’s Speech, is the intended introduction of the Integrated Development Assessment Bill, which will amend the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. The IDA white paper and exposure draft were released in February 1997, to which more than 500 submissions were received. The Greens have major problems with the draft exposure bill, which will result in major changes to planning laws in New South Wales. The bill is extremely regressive, and I certainly hope that the Government will change its mind on this matter. The Greens fear that the bill in its present form will reduce the community consultation and public participation provisions contained in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. The exposure draft introduces a new category of development, known as exempt development, for which no development application is required. The white paper specified that this category of development would be outlined in a State environmental planning policy that would apply to all councils. The Greens have serious concerns about this approach. The Environmental Health and Building Surveyors Association of New South Wales, EHABSA, points out as follows:
. . . most councils already have in place Local Approval Policies (LAPs) which, more often than not, exempt classes of minor work from the normal application process. However, the establishment of a blanket exemption across the State removes from democratically elected Councils the right to determine what work should be exempted for making application to the Council and what work has a genuine impact on the community and should be the subject of application and proper community consultation. What is appropriately exempt at Brewarrina may not be appropriate at Paddington or Chatswood.
The Greens agree with those comments and share the same concerns. The white paper introduces a concept known as complying development. Consent for such developments will be given by private certifiers and must be given if the development complies with relevant standards. The development application will not be able to be refused on amenity issues. The community consultation and public participation provisions relating to complying developments are dubious. Clause 85A provides:
. . . an application for a complying development certificate is to be public notified in accordance with a development control plan applying to the area in which development is proposed to be carried out.
The bill does not state whether the applicant or the private certifier will look at any community objections to the development, nor what should be done with the submissions once they have been received. On this issue the EHABSA stated:
. . . if a developer uses a private certifier then it is the certifier’s role to administer the notification process, consider objections from the neighbours and mediate a solution between the neighbour and the certifier’s client. The Minister boasts that this would be a continuation of neighbour notification. There can be no credibility in a system where the interests of the neighbours are considered by a certifier who is paid for by the developer.
The community will not have a right to appeal against a decision to approve a complying development. The EHABSA notes the problems inherent in the exposure draft with regard to private certifiers and further points out that the present
system is unregulated. The Commissioner of the Victorian Building Control Commission, Mr Croxford, has studied the New South Wales private certification proposals. He concluded that it is essential that regulation of private certifiers be genuinely independent. He said:
. . . the proposed system where professional bodies regulate private certifiers is not independent . . . This sort of half-baked system will involve massive headaches.
The Greens argue that private certification could operate effectively only with an independent and legislatively established government authority to control it and a carefully regulated system of liability insurance. The bill introduces a new category of development of State or regional significance. These terms are not defined. The Greens believe that this category will result in many more consents being given by the Minister, as opposed to democratically elected councils. The bill introduces the concept of integrated development. This category will force other bodies involved in the granting of other approvals for development, such as a licence to pollute from the EPA, to decide whether to grant the approval at the time the development application is being considered by the consent authority. The agencies may be forced to make decisions based on insufficient information and within insufficient time frames. Finally, the bill replaces the 30-odd section 90 matters for consideration with five generic heads of consideration, which will be complemented by guidelines. The Greens believe that consolidation of section 90 will impede the transparency of the decision-making process or make the factors for consideration much more complicated. The five generic heads are very broad and the guidelines are extremely complex. Section 90 was simple and most lay people understood it. The Young Lawyers Environment Committee points out:
. . . the development of mega categories will provide a convenient smokescreen behind which decision-makers can hide. Furthermore, the proposal will give less guidance to consent authorities and less opportunity for the community to seek review of the validity of conditions and to know about the basis upon which decisions have been made.
The Greens believe that section 90 should be retained in its present form. It provides helpful guidance to decision makers and the public about the matters that will be assessed as part of the decision-making process. The Governor in his Speech said that the Protection of the Environment Operations Bill would be introduced this session. In March 1995 the then new Labor Government stated its intention to introduce modern pollution legislation integrating the fragmented existing law. The Minister for the Environment promised:
. . . one of the most significant anti-pollution reforms ever introduced by government in New South Wales. Our plan is for New South Wales to lead Australia in the fight to reduce pollution emissions into the environment.
The Minister further promised that there would be provisions for "licences requiring waste reduction programs, public submissions, disclosure of hazardous chemicals and third-party appeal rights". To ensure the effectiveness of the laws the Minister claimed that the State’s environmental watchdog, the EPA, would be given a full set of teeth with which to tackle pollution problems across New South Wales. The exposure draft bill does not contain the promises outlined by the Minister for the Environment. The bill fails to allow the public any input whatever into whether a licence should be granted, renewed or amended. It fails also to allow third-party appeal rights with regard to licences. The protection of the environment policies - PEPs - envisaged by the bill will not be enforceable. The sole obligation imposed by PEPs is for them to be taken into account only when decisions are being made. PEPs will provide no more than guidance and will have no binding effect. No penalty is provided for making a decision that is contrary to PEPs. The Greens believe that PEPs should be enforceable, as are State environmental planning policies and regional environmental plans under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.
The Government proposes to introduce a native vegetation conservation bill in this parliamentary session. A white paper was recently released and submissions invited until Friday, 19 September. According to peak environmental groups, such as the Worldwide Fund for Nature, the Nature Conservation Council, the Total Environment Centre, the National Parks Association of New South Wales and the Environmental Defender’s Office, the white paper fails to include any basic standards and goals for the retention and conservation of native vegetation. This will lead to widespread native vegetation destruction, loss of habitat and a decline in biodiversity. These groups fear that the proposed legislation is about processing applications to destroy native vegetation rather than establishing new standards for conservation.
An additional concern is that the bill may allow local committees the ability to develop regional vegetation management plans that will override environmental protection zonings and SEPPs such as SEPP 14 relating to coastal wetlands and SEPP 26 relating to littoral rainforests. There is concern that no regional environmental studies will be carried out and that the National Parks and Wildlife Service and its Minister will be relegated to only an advisory role on threatened species. Plans
will be based on local government areas, potentially leading to more than 100 plans dominated by the rural lobby. The Greens will be watching closely the proposed education reforms to be implemented during this parliamentary session. We eagerly await the release of the Government’s youth policy, which is designed to improve services to young people and increase their opportunities to be involved in decision making. We also await the release of the youth suicide strategy.
The Greens will be watching closely when the Government makes its landmark statement setting out its responsibilities towards Aboriginal people. We support any genuine progress towards Aboriginal reconciliation based on justice and respect. We welcome the establishment of a children’s commission to deal with the paedophilia issue. However, we will not support the demise of the Community Services Commission, which would effectively leave disabled people without a watchdog to champion their rights. The State Government’s commitment to the implementation of the United Nations policy on conservation of biological diversity and the national strategy for the conservation of Australia’s biodiversity is to be released later this year. An embarrassingly large amount is not known of the State’s biological resources, particularly its marine resources. How many marine fish, invertebrate and algal species has New South Wales lost? How many does it currently have? We have a long way to go until we begin to know how rich this State is in marine resources. New South Wales still does not have integrated, adequate and effective threatened species conservation legislation.
In an echo of Animal Farm, some species are more equal than others. Species that spend a portion of their life cycle underwater in New South Wales are not afforded the same level of biodiversity protection and conservation as landlubberly species. Where is this legislation? When are we going to get serious about biodiversity conservation on a statewide level? The community of New South Wales really has to wonder about the commitment of the Minister for the Environment when sections of State recreational areas, such as Dharawal dedicated to preserving the natural heritage of the State, are being revoked to facilitate a private club, the Illawarra Shooters Association, whose members use the area as an access road. Perhaps it is not just marine species that are considered less worthy of protection and conservation in New South Wales. Perhaps large voting blocks in certain areas, such as the Shooters Party in the Illawarra region, are being considered as more equal than the conservation of natural heritage for future generations of Australians.
The New South Wales coastal policy, despite being promised 2½ years ago and despite being promised to embarrass the conservationists in its scope and glory, has not been released. Meanwhile, inappropriate coastal development continues unchecked by any clear direction from this Government. Cullendulla has been purchased for the announcement, and every coastal council and community is eagerly awaiting a holistic and definitive set of rules for coastal development. The coastal policy is an important part of the State’s environmental protection. More than 90 per cent of people in the State live in a coastal catchment, and an incredible amount of stress is being placed on our coastal and estuarine systems. By not releasing the policy, this Government is pandering to the coastal development lobby and leaving limited coastal lands open to exploitation. We trust that this important policy will be firmly backed by the necessary resources to implement the actions of the policy.
The recent savaging of the Department of Land and Water Conservation and the separation of coasts from the estuary management program on the rationale that coasts are land and estuaries are water sounds ominously like a return to the bad old days when land and water were managed in isolation from each other. They are not separate; they are intrinsically linked as, indeed, we are to them. The integration of the department cannot be allowed to fail due to old-fashioned attitudes and inertia to change. The sooner the coastal policy is released, the better, and we must ensure that it is well resourced. Coastal resources of New South Wales deserve better treatment than they have received to date from this Government.
The Greens welcome reforms to the water legislation and management framework. However, we are less enthused to see that the commitment to environmental flows, the minimum amount of water required to maintain a viable ecosystem, is to be restricted prior to community consultation. According to a press release of 19 August 1997 from Kim Yeadon, the indicative rules which have been provided to local communities to debate allow "a set of indicative rulings for environmental flows which will not exceed an average 10 per cent over a five-year period". What rationale or scientific figure supports the suggestion that 10 per cent of the average long-term diversions is what is required as a minimum for delivery of environmental flows? Where is the data which argues that 10 per cent is either insufficient or too much?
An Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics report into the minimum amount of water required to maintain environmental
flows in the Snowy River estimated 28 per cent of average annual flow. I do not need to remind members of this place that the Snowy River has been receiving approximately 1 per cent for the past 30 years. Apart from being deprived of water, a fundamental requirement of any waterway, the Snowy River system does not suffer the extremely serious eutrophication, salinity, turbidity and carp problems of inland river systems. It is difficult to extrapolate a figure from the ABARE study. However, it does seem likely that no more than 10 per cent averaged out over five years may be woefully inadequate to provide environmental flows to inland rivers.
A feature of the water reform package that is supported by the New South Wales Greens is the involvement of the local community in determining and implementing the water reform in their area. This reflects the community participation and involvement principle outlined in agenda 21. However, the relationship between the new water reform community committees and the total catchment management committees is unclear. We are still to hear the outcomes of the total catchment management review committee. Does total catchment management work? If not, why not? How can we improve the process? How else can we ensure that agencies and communities are co-ordinated across catchments? Again, we have the problem of some communities being more equal than others. The Snowy River catchment will not have a local community-based committee determining its management of the precious water resources of this catchment.
The Murray and Lower Darling rivers border communities will likewise be denied the opportunity to participate in the statewide process. This is a large portion of the State that will not experience the measures outlined in the water reform package. Interestingly, the catchment areas excluded from this process will be crucial once the interstate/intrastate trade of water between catchments begins. The true wealth and profit of the Snowy hydro scheme will lie with the allocation of water. Once a water market develops inland, traders on the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers will be buying water, which stands to be given to the corporatised Snowy scheme for free for 125 years.
Regarding the Sydney Harbour sewage stormwater abatement proposal, if anyone has any remaining doubts about the prevalence of tunnel vision and end of pipe solutions in Sydney Water, its latest scheme to spend $375 million on a short-term fix for Sydney Harbour should create further investigation. I was somewhat surprised to hear of Ian Kiernan’s apparent support for the scheme, but on closer inspection of the Waterways Advisory Panel report it was clear that the panel did not give a glowing endorsement of the proposal at all. The report makes it quite clear that, constrained as the panel was by the terms of reference, there were few options available - it was the only proposal for reduction of overflows which could be delivered by June 2000 - and it emphasised the point that "the proposed tunnel would not by itself guarantee a clean harbour in the time frame required by the Government".
This raises two major concerns. First, by itself it does not solve the problem. Associated improvements which were part of the longer term waterways package, relining and repair of leaky sewers, stormwater treatment, reuse and remediation, decentralisation and trial of alternative reuse technologies will still need to occur. The tunnel will not reduce the need for or scope of those programs. The proposal does not impact greatly on the swimmability of water quality for the Parramatta River, and only marginally improves recreational amenity in Port Jackson. The majority of improvements will be delivered to Lane Cove, which will gain 16 swimming days per year, and Middle Harbour, which will improve on four to 11 days per year, and that is average and site dependent.
Concern that the tunnel has attracted and absorbed many of the funds that would have proceeded as part of the program of remediation makes sense. One might even speculate on whether the tunnel represents a necessary alternative to the current northern suburbs ocean outfall system, or NSOOS, which could compare to London Bridge: it is in serious danger of falling down. Many sections of NSOOS, especially the lower sections which run in aqueducts through harbourside parks, are in urgent need of repair. The tunnel will not eliminate the need to upgrade the NSOOS unless it acts as a replacement, which means we will return to the problems of overflows in wet weather due to insufficient capacity within the system.
Second, the tunnel is not part of a total water cycle management strategy. Sydney Harbour has no total catchment management. Sydney Water does not control all the stormwater systems which impact upon the harbour. We have no responsible agency that can deliver an integrated whole-of-catchment, whole-of-government strategy that takes into account all the water, wastewater, stormwater and trade waste needs of the catchment. I question this proposal. It smacks of a short-term manipulation of community needs and wants by a monopoly to raid the public purse and carry out capital works. Sydney
Water and this Government should be ashamed at hobbling the Waterways Advisory Panel. The report will be read and commented on carefully. The committee of which I am a member believes it is time to look into the issue of this northside stormwater abatement proposal put forward by Sydney Water.
Regarding the Olympic stadium, the problem of the toxic Olympics is currently being busily buried under the progress of the Olympic construction success. After being assured that concrete encasement was the only way to treat some of the most toxic substances known to humans, the Minister for Ports, Carl Scully, is able to successfully treat contaminated soils and sediment on the other side of Homebush Bay. Encasing the chemicals in concrete for future generations was not good enough for the Minister for Ports. He has put out to tender the contract to rid the sites of these chemicals forever. His press release, dated 19 June, stated:
The Government had rejected options which involved doing nothing; removing the contaminated sediments and sealing them elsewhere; or covering them in place.
It seems that he would not share the assessment of the International Olympic Committee of the performance of his colleague the Minister for the Olympics in relation to the environment. Would it be too much to ask that this treatment process be extended to the sediment excavated for the clean, green Olympics? Recent upgrades of the Pacific Highway, especially those on the north coast, have resulted in community outrage. The State certainly needs safe roads, but that does not mean that environmental and community concerns can be bulldozed in the process. Residents, as well as conservation and commercial interests, along the Tweed River were horrified by Roads and Traffic Authority proposals which seem to be oblivious to concerns of the community. Relevant and viable community-based alternatives were not given merit and initially were rejected out of hand. A similar process was experienced almost simultaneously in Sydney with the entrenchment of the Eastern Distributor.
The Government cannot help itself. It has further invested in outmoded, underutilised motorways and the biggest thing to happen in public transport is the tram which delivers people to the casino from central railway. Real legislative reform is needed, and I hope that I can look forward to bipartisan support for the Integrated Transport and Air Pollution Reduction Bill, which ties air quality targets to future transport planning and allows for the preparation of an integrated transport strategy for Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong, with a focus on mass transport systems. I also look forward to support for an initiative to completely reform public transport options in Sydney prior to the Olympics. This city needs to become serious about public transport. Toy solutions such as the monorail and the current tram system will be completely inadequate.
Debate adjourned on motion by the Hon. Jennifer Gardiner.
The Hon. J. W. SHAW (Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations) [9.32 p.m.]: I move:
That this House do now adjourn.
ABORIGINAL DEATHS IN CUSTODY
The Hon. Dr MEREDITH BURGMANN [9.32 p.m.]: I raise the continuing problem of Aboriginal deaths in custody, which has been brought back to me during the past few weeks following the reopening of the inquest into the death of Eddie Murray. His death brought to the attention of white Australians what was happening to Aborigines in police cells and prisons not only in New South Wales but right across Australia. The current rate of Aboriginal deaths in custody is not higher than that of non-Aboriginal inmates. However, the real problem is the high rate of incarceration of Aboriginal people. The number of Aboriginal people in prison continues to increase and is now about 13 per cent of the State’s prison population. That is 29 times higher than the general population.
The number of Aboriginal deaths in custody is now higher than the number that occurred during the years investigated by the royal commission. All of the deaths that have occurred since the conclusion of the royal commission have involved non-compliance with its recommendations. The indigenous offenders action plan, which was released by the Department of Corrective Services in December 1996, gives consideration to improvements in several areas: the employment of indigenous people in planning and policy development, education and other services within prisons; reducing the rate of imprisonment by diversion from custody and alternatives to full-time custody for Aboriginal offenders; and education on indigenous cultural matters for prison staff.
Diversion from custody strategies include the funding of pilot programs run by Aboriginal community organisations which divert Aboriginal
offenders away from the criminal justice system, expanding the use of home detention programs and periodic detention especially in areas with high Aboriginal inmate populations such as Broken Hill and Bathurst, and making supervision more culturally appropriate by contracting Aboriginal organisations to provide day-to-day supervision. Next week Bob Debus will launch a mobile camp in Broken Hill, where minimum security inmates work at Mutawintji and Kinchega national parks. I inform honourable members who have not visited Mutawintji National Park that it is one of the great natural wonders of New South Wales. I hope that members of Parliament who are interested in the issue will attend the official handover next year.
The diversion from custody strategies also include developing second-chance programs for young, first-time offenders, involving work on bush regeneration, conservation of sites of Aboriginal significance and farm work. They also include keeping young people out of the criminal justice system by providing alternatives to the court system such as warnings, cautions and family group conferencing. The Aboriginal mentor program for Aboriginal youth on remand encourages young people to become involved in the community and undertake education, training, et cetera. Other improvements for Aboriginal inmates that have been carried out by the Minister for Corrective Services include the establishment of a creative work centre at Bathurst, the appointment of five additional Aboriginal official visitors, and post-release programs which provide support, counselling and referral services to Aborigines before and after release.
Courts and legal representation are often the most important matters, because keeping Aborigines out of gaol is the major issue; it is not how they are dealt with. The Attorney General’s Department has revised the training program for court staff on indigenous issues. The Aboriginal court liaison officers scheme means that Aboriginal people are employed in courts in towns with large Aboriginal communities. The Aboriginal Women’s Legal Service, which was opened in May 1997 to give legal advice and referral, has been very successful. The Attorney General will fund a public defender specifically to cope with the legal representation needs of Aboriginal people, who often go to court without adequate representation. In 1997 it is still a real problem that Aboriginal people are not properly represented in courts.
Offensive language, summary offences and similar acts will be removed. That will assist in lowering the number of Aboriginal people who are arrested. Aboriginal people are arrested 15 times more often for those offences than are members of the general population. Budget cuts by the Federal coalition Government have made life more difficult for Aboriginal people, especially in the legal system. That is mainly because of funding cuts to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, but also because of budget cuts to the Aboriginal Legal Service, and general funding reductions for legal aid. Those cuts have meant that there is less funding available to those Aboriginal people who require legal aid. Funding to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and youth programs has been cut. Approximately 60 per cent of young people in detention are Aboriginal, even though they make up only 3 per cent of the youth population. That figure is of great concern to me. The Federal Government has also cut funding to employment and training programs. Unemployment among some Aboriginal communities in outback New South Wales is over 47 per cent. That, together with the Federal Government’s negative approach to native title - [Time expired.]
CHARLES STURT UNIVERSITY
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER [9.37 p.m.]: I draw the attention of the House to the fact that during the recent parliamentary break the Charles Sturt University was named university of the year. Each year the authors of the Australian Universities Guide, Dean Ashenden and Sandra Milligan, name the university of the year and each year they use different criteria to do so. In 1993 the Queensland University of Technology won for its record on preparing undergraduates for the work force. In 1994 Monash University won for internationalising undergraduate education. In 1995 Deakin University won for using and learning about technology. Most recently, in 1996, the University of New South Wales won for providing richness and diversity in the undergraduate experience.
According to Ashenden and Milligan this year’s winner, Charles Sturt University, deserves to have a Statue of Liberty at its gates, because every year it takes into the new world of higher education thousands of people from the most improbable places and unpromising pasts: ambulance officers, Aboriginal mothers, young women from Lightning Ridge and young students from South-east Asia. The authors wrote that Charles Sturt University teaches students high standards and gives them a new start in life. It also gives them a new view of life and of themselves. In the process CSU is doing its bit to change conceptions of a university, and of excellence in higher education. Charles Sturt University is, as they say, in the Australia of Tom Roberts and Banjo Paterson, of merinos and billabongs, of floods and sweeping plains. The headquarters of the Riverina campus is in a homestead which was used by William Farrer while
he did his research and development that transformed the Australian wheat industry.
The Mitchell campus at Bathurst is another major campus, as is the third major campus, which is located on a fantastic new site at Albury. Campuses and study centres are also situated in places as far flung as Broken Hill, Goulburn and Dubbo, as well as Sydney and Canberra. The Rozelle campus in Sydney trains paramedics. The Australian police graduate college is at Manly. As I was driving through the Hunter Valley last Friday, I noticed that the College of Theology near Maitland is now also under the auspices of the Charles Sturt University. The opportunity that Charles Sturt University gives to rural kids is particularly important because by international standards the education level of Australian rural workers is poor, with around 25 per cent having completed school, university or a trade, compared with around 50 per cent in New Zealand and up to 90 per cent in Europe.
Spread across more than half of New South Wales, Charles Sturt University also reaches students across the country and around the world through its distance education programs. In this regard it has overlapped all other distance education providers in Australia. It brings to Australia students from Malaysia, South Africa, Hong Kong, India and other places. Fewer than 1,000 of the 7,000-odd new students each year come from schools with tertiary entrance rankings. Many enter on the basis of a principal’s recommendation. That means that CSU enrols double the national average of mature-age students. It has nearly 1.5 times the average proportion of indigenous students and students from poor families, and more than twice the proportion of students from rural families. More than 80 per cent of mothers and fathers of CSU students have no experience whatsoever of tertiary education. As the Charles Sturt newsletter "Billboard" wrote when the award was announced:
When the Good Universities Guide gets around to evaluating the graduates for pure courage, CSU will be a shoo-in.
The latest graduate to excel among the many heroes at the Thredbo landslide was Paul Featherstone, the paramedic who spent 11 hours in the rubble with Stuart Diver. Mr. Featherstone graduated from one of the university’s paramedic courses last year.
The award was great news for Charles Sturt University, which aims to be Australia’s premier regional university and which, in a very quick time, has made a positive contribution to tertiary education and to many individuals. I am certainly proud to have an ongoing association with this fine institution.
HERITAGE COUNCIL MANLY CONSERVATION STRATEGY
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY [9.42 p.m.]: On 8 October I received a letter from the North Head Alliance about concerns it has about decisions made by the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning. The alliance is concerned about comments made by the Minister regarding the Heritage Council’s approved conservation plan for the estate and the draft local environment plan 1996 prepared by Manly Council for the St. Patrick’s Estate. The letter stated:
1) The Conservation Plan adopted by the Heritage Council was prepared on the premise that a large part of the Estate was to be developed as housing consequent to poorly considered rezoning approvals in 1986. These approvals are clearly inappropriate for a National Estate listed property and will seriously damage its historic landscape, built heritage and natural values.
2) This Conservation Plan was prepared by Howard Tanner & Associates as the paid consultants for the developers, the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney. Howard Tanner was Chairman of the Heritage Council at the time the report was tabled, and he was present at the meeting when the matter what discussed. In our view, this is a clear conflict of interest, and raises serious concerns about the independence of the Heritage Council in this matter.
3) The Heritage Council did not consult Manly Council, as the consent authority, at any time during its consideration of the Conservation Plan, which is normal practice in these circumstances. It also neglected to take any action in the last decade to assess the heritage impact of the previous rezoning.
4) The Conservation Plan is also flawed in that it neglected to take into account the natural heritage significance of the Estate, under the provisions of the Heritage Act 1977. Given the subsequent listing of the Long Nosed Bandicoot population at North Head under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, this is a serious omission. The Plan also failed to address the National Estate listing of the St. Patrick’s Estate by the Australian Heritage Commission.
Mr. Knowles is not correct in saying that it is incumbent upon Manly Council to reach an agreement with the Catholic Church, or for that matter, any other developer. The future of the site, of such national significance, cannot be decided by a self interested developer. Councils are given the power under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act to be the consent authority on local planning and development matters...
Manly Council has consistently attempted to consult with the Catholic Archdiocese and the community to protect the significant heritage and nature conservation values of the Estate. The Church has withdrawn from negotiations with the Council and has subsequently continued to lodge further development applications, which will have a devastating effect on the Estate, facilitated by DUAP’s unwillingness to allow the public exhibition of the draft LEP (1996). A revised draft LEP (1997) has now been submitted by Manly Council under duress but does not fully protect the Estate.
We believe that it is appropriate for the Minister to issue a Permanent Conservation Order for the whole Estate as the current planning controls are clearly inadequate to protect this heritage site. This course of action would be consistent with the Premier’s vision for the protection of Sydney Harbour foreshores.
In his comment about the adequacy of Manly Council’s draft LEP of 1996, Mr. Knowles failed to acknowledge that Manly Council had the expert evidence of Clive Lucas Stapleton and Partners, Australia’s foremost heritage architects, who contradict the findings of the Heritage Council. I believe that the Minister must reconsider the whole of this development. It is not the first time that he has overridden what is necessary to preserve heritage. As this estate is so closely linked to Sydney Harbour National Park, the concerns of the North Head Alliance and of the people of Manly need to be carefully considered. This site is not suitable for housing development, and any attempt to diminish the value of such a magnificent heritage site must be stopped.
PARLIAMENTARIANS AGAINST DRUG ABUSE
The Hon. Dr MARLENE GOLDSMITH [9.47 p.m.]: More than 120 people attended the inaugural forum of Parliamentarians Against Drug Abuse in the theatrette of Parliament House this evening, including more than 30 members of Parliament. Parliamentarians Against Drug Abuse is a group of more than 40 members of Parliament from across the political spectrum who have come together to listen to the community, to the people on the front line of the drug problem, to provide a focus of support for those working to protect our children from drugs and to ensure that our political parties and Parliament are aware of the facts about drugs. The focus of Parliamentarians Against Drug Abuse is the protection of our children, and it is wary of policies of decriminalisation and legalisation that will lead to higher numbers of addicted young people. The group is most grateful to you, Mr. President, and to the Speaker in the other place, for agreeing to be its joint patrons.
Nine speakers from the forum for the prevention of drug abuse presented very strong arguments against drugs at this evening’s meeting. Councillor Warren Woodley, the president of the forum, spoke about the experience in Sweden, where earlier policies of going soft on drugs have in recent years been reversed, with a corresponding decline in drug abuse. Psychophysiologist John Anderson told the forum that marijuana is some 50 per cent more
carcinogenic than tobacco. Moreover, because it is fat soluble, unlike most other drugs, cannabis is absorbed by the brain, which contains a high proportion - some 30 per cent - of fat, with the resultant intellectual and psychological impairment. For a heavy user, such affects can be long term. Alice Wood, the sister of Anna, who died two years ago after taking one ecstasy tablet, told the meeting that she and her peers at school had believed that drugs were harmless because the drug education they received at school focused on harm minimisation, which she and her peers interpreted to mean using drugs safely. The hidden curriculum is that drugs can be used safely.
Other speakers included pharmacist John Malouf; former drug addict Hamish Fairbairn; Angela Wood, the mother of Anna; Christine Clarke, who lost a brother to drugs; and Jill Pearman, who has extensive experience in Australia and overseas of life education and other drug education programs for children. Parents at the meeting begged for better parent education on the dangers of drugs so that they can help their children by giving them the facts. A very strong message from the forum was the need for better education for children, parents and the community generally. I am grateful for the support of so many of my parliamentary colleagues who came along to the forum. I should note that the committee of Parliamentarians Against Drug Abuse consists of Peter Debnam, MP; Marie Ficarra, MP; the Hon. J. R. Johnson; the Hon. M. R. Kersten; Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile; the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti; Pat Rogan, MP; Alby Schultz, Member of Parliament; and Tony Windsor MP.
The catalyst that led to the formation of the organisation had two aspects. On the one hand an increasing number of parliamentarians have become concerned about the relentless push in some areas of the media to decriminalise and even legalise drug use. At the same time the message we have been getting from so many of our constituents right across the community, ranging from concerned citizens to pharmacological experts to families coping with drug addict members to drug workers in the field, is that go-soft policies are wrong. That message from the community was certainly reinforced by the articulate and impassioned speakers heard at the forum tonight. They left a very strong impression on me and, from conversations I have had with my parliamentary colleagues, I believe they had very much the same impact on others.
Motion agreed to.
House adjourned at 9.50 p.m.