Tuesday, 25 November 1997
The President (The Hon. Max Frederick Willis) took the chair at 2.30 p.m.
The President offered the Prayers.
ASSENT TO BILL
Assent to the following bill reported:
Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Bill
FISHERIES MANAGEMENT AMENDMENT BILL
POLLUTION CONTROL AMENDMENT (LOAD-BASED LICENSING) BILL
Bills received and, by leave, read a first time.
Suspension of standing orders agreed to.
STANDING COMMITTEE ON LAW AND JUSTICE
The Hon. B. H. Vaughan, as Chairman, tabled report 6 entitled "Report on the Inquiry into the Family Impact Commission Bill", dated November 1997, together with minutes of proceedings and submissions.
Report ordered to be printed.
REGULATION REVIEW COMMITTEE
The Hon. Janelle Saffin, on behalf of the Chairman, tabled the report entitled "Report upon Principal Statutory Rules in Stages 11 and 12 of the Staged Repeal Programme under the Subordinate Legislation Act 1989", dated November 1997.
Ordered to be printed.
NUTRITION FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
Adjournment (S.O. 13)
The PRESIDENT: Order! I have received from the Hon. Patricia Forsythe a notice under Standing Order 13 of her desire to move the adjournment of the House to discuss a definite matter of public importance, namely:
The Government’s failure to put in place policies, guidelines and standards for the nutritional and feeding needs of people with disabilities, contributing to the deaths of up to 41 people with intellectual disabilities during the past three years living in Department of Community Services large institutions.
Question - That the matter is urgent - put.
The House divided.
Mrs Arena Ms Kirkby
Mr Bull Mr Lynn
Mrs Chadwick Mrs Nile
Mr Cohen Rev. Nile
Mr Corbett Dr Pezzutti
Mrs Forsythe Mr Ryan
Mr Gallacher Mr Samios
Miss Gardiner Mr Rowland Smith
Mr Gay Mr Tingle
Mr Hannaford Tellers,
Mr Jones Mr Jobling
Mr Kersten Mr Moppett
Dr Burgmann Mr Obeid
Ms Burnswoods Ms Saffin
Mr Dyer Mr Shaw
Mr Egan Mrs Symonds
Mr Johnson Mr Vaughan
Mr Kaldis Tellers,
Mr Kelly Mrs Isaksen
Mr Macdonald Mr Manson
Mrs Sham-Ho Mr Primrose
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Urgency agreed to.
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE [2.47 p.m.]: I move:
That this House do now adjourn.
This issue is very serious. Notwithstanding all of the bills and other issues before the House, the deaths of up to 41 people in the past three years in Department of Community Services large institutions must be addressed by the House today. I do not know whether the Minister for Community Services has ever been compared to a Roman emperor, but all I can say to him after reading the reports - Government reports, reports to the Government and reports commissioned by the Government - is that Rome is burning and very little is being done about it. The only conclusion one can draw after reading the most recent report of the Community Services Commission and the report of the Auditor-General is that the community services portfolio is crying out for leadership, direction, commitment and human compassion. There has been none of that under the Minister for Community Services and this Government.
The report released yesterday by the Community Services Commission entitled "Report on Nutritional and Mealtime Practices for People with Developmental Disabilities in Residential Care: November 1997: Following Monitoring by the Community Services Commission 1996-97" presents a litany of excuses from the Government and a litany of failures to put policies in place and to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable in our community, those who depend for care completely on the Government through its Department of Community Services institutions. There can be no excuses. The Minister can present no reasoned argument to explain the conclusions that have been drawn in the report.
The Community Services Commission is not alone in presenting an unfavourable report. The report on large institutions released earlier this year by the Auditor-General and the report on the outcome of that report released only two weeks ago in the second volume of the Auditor-General’s report are also unfavourable. The Opposition is often accused of scaremongering and playing politics, but it is not necessary for me or any other Opposition member to go beyond the words contained in those reports to demonstrate that the Department of Community Services, the Ageing and Disability Services Department and the Government are failing in the fundamental duty of caring for and protecting people with intellectual disability.
I shall provide for honourable members a breakdown of the history leading to the present position. The Minister is fond of blaming the previous Government for everything that goes wrong. In 1993 the coalition Government commissioned a report to examine the problem of developmentally disabled people in residential centres being underweight. That report examined a number of institutions and revealed that 15 per cent of residents were underweight and 50 per cent were overweight. The report was carried out on behalf of the Government by the health promotions unit at Royal North Shore Hospital - a unit funded by the Department of Community Services but closed by this Minister. There can be no justification for the closure of that unit, which provided excellent support to the department.
The former coalition Government put in place at Stockton in the Hunter region a renourish program designed to test what had been demonstrated by the underweight report. In other words, the coalition attempted to correct some of the problems. It is clear that from 1993 the Labor Government had before it some of the problems and some of the solutions. The report recommended the appointment of dietitians for residential centres and for community-based clients; it referred to the importance of training centres for dietitians in developmental disability nutrition; and it recommended that the Department of Community Services and the Department of Health jointly fund a paediatrician-dietitian position in developmental disability to be based at the children’s hospital. They were very clear recommendations, and based on a report that would have shocked any government at the time.
The report identified gastro-oesophageal problems and problems associated with insufficient energy leading to low food intake, lack of appetite; inappropriate timing for meals; low palatability of the diet; chronic underfeeding, chewing and swallowing; and the inability of residents to ask for more. It noted that insufficient time was allowed for meals; the fact that the diet was often of low nutrition density; staff misconceptions about the problems; inability to quantify the problems; stereotyping of the clients; and staffing convenience. At page 6 the report on the problem of underweight people living in residential centres for the developmentally disabled stated:
The system of care in the residential centres is highly structured in terms of staffing and procedures. This may be perceived as presenting a problem of inflexibility and thus be an obstacle to adequately addressing the problem of underfeeding of clients.
The report reveals that what was involved was a system based on large institutions in which people are treated across the board in some sort of mass and where their needs as individuals are not taken care of. The report demonstrates that the institutions are failing because the Government has not put in place appropriate policies, standards and guidelines - the Community Services Commission report highlights that most clearly. The 1993 report detailed the bases of the problems for the Government to act upon and, as a test, the former Government set about correcting the problem in one area, the Hunter region. The response from that test was overwhelmingly positive. On any criteria the renourish report suggested the direction in which a government could move.
The report should not have been ignored: it should have been acted upon by this Government. The report concluded that some of the most severely underweight cases increased in size by seven per cent, or up to two kilograms in weight, after 12 months. One aspect that has emerged from the report - and the reason I have raised this issue today - is the fact that there has been no attempt on the part of the Minister or his department to repeat the program in other areas of the State, or to hire seven full-time dietitians as recommended in the original report. There has been failure - failure at every turn! The problem was notified and an attempt was made to show how it could be solved, but what happened under this Government? The response has been minimal. The Minister attempted to tell this House on 6 December 1995 that things were in fact happening, that it was all okay and all under control - "Trust me, I am the Minister." In response to a question from a member on the Government benches in relation to the issue of dietary and nutritional problems in large residential units, the very issue that has been the subject of this report and the very issue that honourable members are debating today, the Minister stated:
The problems identified in institutions . . . have been addressed.
Have been addressed, not will be addressed. In other words, there were no more problems. On any reading of the Auditor-General’s report for this year and the recently released Community Services Commission report it must be said that the Minister was wrong or was given misleading advice by his department. The Minister concluded his answer on 6 December 1995 by stating:
As the House will appreciate, the department has, in fact, taken up the issues raised in the 1993 report and has acted responsibly to ensure that the dietary needs of residents are met comprehensively.
An examination of the analysis of some of the institutions that the Minister highlighted on that occasion reveals that that is far from the case. Although the Stockton centre employs two dietitians, it is the exception to the rule and is the only Government-funded nutrition service. An analysis of the other institutions demonstrates that some of the information provided to the Minister on that occasion was clearly an overstatement of the situation. For example, Woodside centre borrows a dietitian from a local public hospital on one day a month and the Grosvenor centre, which cares for some of our most disabled young people and children, retains a dietitian to assess residential clients on an annual basis.
Let me move on to what has happened since then. I give the Minister some credit for having provided the Western Sydney Intellectual Disability Support Group, that is, the parents support group, with a grant of $20,000 for a nutrition project, the results of which were released in July 1997. The report highlighted exactly what the 1993 report highlighted, that is, that there are very serious problems because people with very different forms of disability who do not all have the same problems are accommodated in one institution, They are individuals being treated as if they have the same problems as everyone else around them, and their needs are not being considered. If that is not so, how does one explain why so many residents are underweight and so many are overweight? How can 41 deaths in the past three years from bronchial pneumonia be explained? The heart of the problem of pneumonia for many of these patients is that they swallow food the wrong way. They cannot explain a problem or why they feel discomfort. They need special speech therapy, special diets and individual assessment.
Far from suggesting that we have got it right, the nutrition project highlights what needs to be done. The $20,000 provided for that project is the best the Minister has been able to do. At this point I pay tribute to Jeanette Moss, who is probably one of the strongest parents I have met, an outstanding lobbyist and a person with a good understanding of the nutrition problem. She was obviously able to persuade the Minister to further test the issue. No more evidence is needed.
The 1993 report and the overseas studies provide the evidence that specific policies, guidelines and programs are needed to deal with the problem. The $20,000 was the one light on the horizon, and it would be pleasing if the Minister were able to say that as a consequence of the provision of that funding all institutions will have
access to a dietitian and to regular appraisal, assessment and monitoring - and by "regular" I do not mean once a year or even once every three months. It is not good enough for these people to be treated as they are. No-one else would be treated in that way. There would be a major public scandal if 41 people in the care of any other government department died over three years in circumstances that were not adequately explained. Let me refer to what has been said about institutions, because hundreds of people are being cared for in large institutions in an inappropriate setting for their individual needs. However, for many of them that is the system that is in place and we have to make the best of what we have got. In his report on large institutions the Auditor-General said in his conclusions:
The report indicates that practices in both government and non-government centres failed to protect adequately the human and legal rights, safety and dignity of residents.
In this debate I am focusing on government institutions, but the Government should give leadership and set standards for others. Can honourable members imagine any other setting in which a report could be issued suggesting that the Government has failed to adequately provide residents with human and legal rights, safety and dignity without there being a major outcry? In his report the Auditor-General focused specifically on nutrition, health and hygiene. He highlighted the fact that meal arrangements provide residents with little choice or flexibility. He said:
Few centres have standard arrangements for accessing support to meet important needs of residents such as dietary and nutritional advice, physiotherapy and speech therapy.
That is what this debate is about: despite the evidence and the reports, a systemwide approach to physiotherapy, speech therapy, and dietary and nutritional advice is not in place. The Auditor-General examined some specific problems. He said:
Meals are provided on a fixed schedule with limited time to eat. Generally resident eat in groups. There is limited choice of foods . . .
While all centres accommodate people who are physically or medically frail . . . access to special dietary advice for individual residents or to assist with meal planning is limited . . .
Centres report varying levels of accessibility to generic services.
The performance audit report entitled "Large Residential Centres for People with a Disability in New South Wales" was released in June this year and highlights a disgraceful abrogation of responsibility by the Government. If that report does not suggest that the Government ought to be condemned for the way it has failed to set standards and implement policies for the treatment of people with disabilities, I turn to volume 2 of the Auditor-General annual report, which was released this month. The Auditor-General notes that the Government has provided no response to the performance audit report into large residential centres.
The Auditor-General suggests that when the performance audit report was being prepared, neither the Minister nor the Directors-General of the Department of Community Services or Aging and Disability Department provided any comment for inclusion in the report, although a copy of the report was provided to those persons for comment prior to tabling. He noted also that there has been no response subsequent to the report being tabled. The Minister ducks for cover at every turn. He will not respond to the Auditor-General or to the Community Services Commission. The Minister is responsible. He has to provide the guidelines and set the policies, but he chooses to ignore the media and leaves it to the bureaucrats to provide the answers.
I now turn to the most damning of all the reports: the report of the Community Services Commission. The commission has undertaken a monitoring process of people in institutions which has been focused on nutritional and mealtime practices. What appears on page 7 impressed on me the importance of putting in Hansard the record of the Government. I have said that this Government has not put in place any policies, guidelines or standards. For that claim I rely upon the Community Services Commission. In undertaking the monitoring process to which I have referred the commission asked the department and all of the seven centres to provide any documents that could meet the description of policies, guidelines or standards.
The report reveals that only three centres provided any documents. The department did not provide any documents and the commission noted that two of the documents seemed to be systemwide guidelines. One was a director’s memo that was issued in July 1991, when the coalition was in government. Another was entitled "Management of Eating and Drinking Disorders", which is dated October 1994. So two of the three documents were clearly systemwide documents and the other does not even have a date. However, they date back to the time the coalition was in government. What action have the Government and the Minister taken?
The report of the commission notes that the department has since issued policies for working with people with disabilities. It notes also a comment from the Ageing and Disability Department that it is in the process of developing a manual, policies and practical guidelines for service providers. The Government has been in office for nearly three years and the department is only now taking those steps. The commission concludes that, like the Department of Community Services policy, the document being prepared by the Ageing and Disability Department contains only brief guidelines regarding diet. So on the issues focused on in this debate - nutrition, diet, dietitians, and the role of speech therapists - there are only brief guidelines.
The report refers to the issuing by the Department of Community Services of its policies for working with people with disabilities, which include a policy entitled "Healthy Lifestyles". The report says the policy is geared towards residents’ exercise of choice and does not in detail refer to nutrition. What is the Government’s record on the key issue on which this debate is focused? The report of the Community Services Commission demonstrates clearly that there are no systemwide policies, guidelines or standards in place. The commissioner looked at the initiatives and outcomes from the Hunter and western Sydney regions, both of which have had access to these programs, and concluded that there is a need for a systematic statewide policy and practice response to the nutritional needs of people with multiple disabilities. That is the issue. No such policy is in place at present. The commissioner stated:
It appears that there are no policies or guidelines to ensure that residential services establish and use appropriate practices in nutrition, weight monitoring, and mealtime practices, nor an overarching framework to ensure that the nutritional needs of people with significant disabilities are appropriately considered and met.
They are not my words or the words of the Opposition; they are the words of the Community Services Commission - the watchdog, the monitor. However, the Opposition concurs that all the evidence points to the fact that the Government is failing people with disabilities in large institutions. The commissioner noted that over the past three years 103 people in institutions have died - the Opposition appreciates that many of them were elderly - 41 of whom are reported to have died from respiratory illness such as bronchopneumonia. The Opposition is focusing on those 41 deaths in this debate. The commissioner noted that five of the 41 are reported to have died specifically of aspiration pneumonia and that a further two died after choking on food. He noted also that information on the causes of death provided to the commission varies. I am sure the Minister will take up that matter in his contribution.
There are clear links between the food that people consume, the way it is consumed and bronchopneumonia. All the evidence from overseas and Australia points to the fact that people are at risk if their individual needs are not met. The focus must be not only on the deaths of these people but also on the overweight or underweight people in institutions who are suffering from malnutrition. The idea that in our society people in government do not care that people are suffering from malnutrition would be a scandal in any other area of life. The Government seems to believe that because these people have disabilities the problem can be swept aside or under the carpet. It cannot. Each member of this House has individual needs. People with disabilities have the same needs, perhaps more so because of the range of disabilities they suffer from.
The report contains many findings relating to issues such as the provision of hot breakfasts. The commission noted that only four of the seven centres audited provide hot breakfasts at least once a week. That needs to be highlighted because earlier reports clearly showed that underweight residents need to be targeted for hot breakfasts. Indeed, the fact that people do not get sufficient nourishment is often linked to the provision of continental breakfasts. The commission further noted that meals are served at regulated times, some institutions do not conform with existing guidelines when guidelines exist, and many institutions do not serve meals within recommended periods. The report clearly shows that institutions have staffing problems. In some centres staff have their meals at the same time as residents. So who is caring for the residents while they eat? Who is watching them, ensuring that they do not choke?
In one institution shift changeover occurs at 6.30 p.m., which is the time the residents have their meals. Clearly, that disrupts mealtimes for residents. The commissioner said that during the audit it was noted that staff breaks often occur around the same time as resident mealtimes. These are not major problems that require megadollars; they require clear guidelines, direction and some leadership from the Government. If staff must be available to assist the residents, why are there no guidelines stating that? Why must a report from the Community Services Commission point out what anyone would regard as fairly basic standards? The commissioner said:
Information from Community Visitors also indicates that in at least 3 centres, staff meal breaks do occur at the same time as resident meal times, effectively lowering the number of staff available to assist with feeding of residents.
How can we ensure that these people are being well cared for when not all the staff are on duty at the appropriate time? The staffing problems outlined in the report would be easy to solve with some goodwill between the staff, the unions and the Government. However, they have not been solved since the Minister has been in office. I assure honourable members that the outstanding issues of concern in this report are much the same as those in the 1993 report. This report states that 33 per cent of residents in the western Sydney disabilities area are overweight and 9.8 per cent are obese. The underweight report shows that 50 per cent of people were overweight. So this report contains much the same statistics as the 1993 report.
Despite the Minister’s commitment in this House in December 1995 that the issues were being addressed, the conclusion to be drawn from this report is that the issues are not being addressed and standards are not in place. Centres cannot provide clear policies. If policies are in place why were they not provided to the Community Services Commission? Why did the Government not respond to the Auditor-General in June? Why has the Government not responded since June, as the Auditor-General noted? The issue in question is the provision of policies, standards and guidelines. The Minister cannot claim that the problems relate to resources because not all the issues highlighted in the report relate to resources; they relate to practice.
At the end of the day the community demands that standards to be set and monitored, and that people with disabilities, whether they live in large institutions, in community care or at home, have access to similar standards of care. We should not put people who rely on government care into institutions and then have to face reports that suggest the Government is failing in providing basic care to the most vulnerable. I do not know whether it is a question of the Government caring, but it must care.
The Hon. R. D. DYER (Minister for Community Services, Minister for Aged Services, and Minister for Disability Services) [3.17 p.m.]: The first vital fact for the House to grasp is that the standards and difficulties referred to in the remarks of the Hon. Patricia Forsythe did not commence or first come into evidence in April 1995 when this Government took office. In fact, the matters are longstanding and clearly need to be addressed. The plain fact is that the previous Government chose not to address these matters in any way at all. Its record on this matter, as on most matters, is shameful. We need to start with that basic fact. The previous Government did nought to address this issue; the present Government is doing much to address the issue of the nourishment of people who live in large residential centres operated by the Department of Community Services.
The nutrition levels of clients of the Department of Community Services is clearly an important issue in the provision of appropriate care to those clients. The Community Services Commission has furnished a report dealing with the nutrition and mealtime practices for people with developmental disabilities in residential care. That report shows that a multidisciplined approach is needed to address what is an undoubtedly complex problem of appropriate nutrition for people with significant disabilities. I am advised that officers of the Department of Community Services are assessing the report and its recommendations, and discussions have been initiated with the Ageing and Disability Department to address the recommendations set out in the report. I will advise the House when that process is complete. The report furnished by the Community Services Commission states:
41 individuals are reported to have died from a respiratory illness such as bronchopneumonia. Of these, 5 individuals are reported to have died specifically of aspiration pneumonia. A further 2 people died after choking on food. Information on cause of death provided to the commission varies, but includes coronial findings, autopsy reports and death certificates.
I point out that media reports relating to the findings of the Community Services Commission are incorrect. With regard to the media reference to 41 deaths being due to malnutrition, the commission’s report states at page 5:
. . . the information available to the commission is not sufficient to identify which of the deaths from respiratory illnesses are related to malnutrition or dysphagia. . . .
For the benefit of honourable members, dysphagia is difficulty in swallowing. It should be made clear as well that the figures set out in the report also include the deaths of people in non-government care. The report states at page 22:
. . . there is some evidence that people in non-government care may be even less likely to have access to needed expertise and assistance, than their peers in government centres.
On page 2 of the nutrition report the Community Services Commission applauds the recent report by the Western Sydney Intellectual Disability Support Group and supports the recommendations made. The Carr Government provided a grant of $20,000 in response to a proposal from the Western Sydney Intellectual Disability Support Group to undertake a co-operative project with the Western Sydney
Developmental Disability Service - WSDDS - to assess the nutritional needs of residents of that service. I agree with the Hon. Patricia Forsythe that Mrs Jeanette Moss is certainly a fine human being and a good advocate for the disability sector. I have had great pleasure in working with her over the years, including in her current role with the Western Sydney Intellectual Disability Support Group. I was pleased to be able to approve the grant of $20,000 for the purpose I have mentioned.
Perhaps I should explain that both the Rydalmere Centre and the Marsden Centre are part of the WSDDS, which is operated by the Department of Community Services. The WSDDS provides accommodation and specialised support services to 470 residents with developmental disabilities. The Western Sydney Intellectual Disability Support Group was formed in 1989 through the amalgamation of the Marsden and Rydalmere parents and friends associations, and 90 per cent of the members of the group have a family member with an intellectual disability. Historically the WSDDS and the Western Sydney Intellectual Disability Support Group have worked together to improve the services provided to residents living at Rydalmere, the Marsden Centre and the Marsden Rehabilitation Centre.
The nutrition project is an example of the co-operative and congenial result that one might expect from the relationship of those two bodies. Certainly much progress has been made in promoting better nutrition in the WSDDS. I emphasise that it is important to remember that malnutrition affects people who are both underweight and overweight. The media tends to focus only on the condition of those who are underweight. It is professionally recognised that there is an increased risk of malnutrition and death due to respiratory disease in those with developmental disabilities. That can be compounded by their medical conditions and their behaviour patterns. To identify those who required further nutritional assessment, 428 residents living in the service were screened. That screening showed that 48 per cent, or approximately half, were within an acceptable weight-for-height range; 12.6 per cent were low in weight-for-height; and 33.2 per cent were high in weight-for-height - in other words, they were overweight.
It should be noted also that those results are generally similar to those available for the wider population. To confirm that point, at least in part, I remind the House that the National Heart Foundation of Australia undertook a risk factor prevalent study in 1989. The latest data for that type of study shows that in the general Australian population 38.6 per cent of men aged between 20 and 69 years were overweight and 9.3 per cent were obese, a total of 47.9 per cent. That is, in that wide age group a little under half were overweight and almost 10 per cent were obese. In addition, 22.4 per cent of women aged from 20 to 69 years were overweight and 11.1 per cent were obese, a total of 33.5 per cent or approximately one-third. So approximately half of all men and one-third of all women between those ages were either overweight or obese.
That finding of the National Heart Foundation is comparable to the findings of the Western Sydney Intellectual Disability Support Group nutrition project. A preliminary report in July made a number of recommendations to the WSDDS which are to be followed up by a final assessment by consultants by the end of this year. The service has responded by providing the equivalent of a full-time position for a dietitian, who is currently working the equivalent of three days a week, and additional speech pathologist sessions to assist with residents who are identified as having difficulties in swallowing and feeding. A multidisciplinary team approach for nutrition support has been established, and is committed to improving the quality of care for residents and implementing recommendations from the nutrition report.
I am advised that an obesity clinic is being established and that special diets have been developed to address the specific needs of individual residents. Progress will be re-assessed by the end of the year. I am also advised that a nutrition policy has been developed to ensure that correct nutritional levels are maintained so that residents who are at risk from oral feeding can be identified. To illustrate the activity that is taking place in various residential centres within the Department of Community Services, I refer honourable members to a response I gave to Mr John Jacobsen, Chair of the Council for Intellectual Disability, by letter dated 7 October. I advised him that the WSDDS has undertaken a review of its food services following consultation with stakeholders, including parents, the Western Sydney Intellectual Disability Support Group, staff and union representatives. The favoured course of action is proceeding with a streamlined version of the current arrangements.
In relation to the Riverside Centre at Orange, I am advised by the area manager of the central west region of the Department of Community Services that recommendations for food supplementation in the form of full cream and yoghurt on cereals, margarine on main-course vegetables, polycose dietary supplement on vegetables and sweets, or in milk, and malt powder on ice cream and in beverage
form have been fully implemented. The Hon. J. F. Ryan smiled when I referred to the food substances. When we get down to basics, appropriate food must be provided to clients and appropriate arrangements must be made to ensure that clients can swallow and consume the foods supplied. Other private consultants have endorsed the recommendations of Ms Lyn Stewart when individual clients were referred to them.
In respect to the Grosvenor Centre in the western suburbs of Sydney, initially the recommendations were considered by the Grosvenor nursing managers in 1993-94. Who was in government then? It certainly was not this Government, and I certainly was not the Minister responsible. The recommendations were subsequently implemented through negotiations with the centre’s cook after the menus were reviewed by an independent paediatric dietitian, Ms Deborah Foote. I advise the House that further reviews regarding the Grosvenor Centre occurred in 1996 and 1997. In March 1996 Maggie Aitken, consultant dietitian, reviewed food and nutrition at the Grosvenor Centre. Her report identified, by individual units, the issues which needed to be addressed and provided suggested menus. As a result of that review in-service training was held in April 1996 with staff at Gower Street, which is a facility associated with the Grosvenor Centre. The director of nursing was requested to implement the recommendations of Ms Aitken.
In June this year Ms Aitken reviewed the food services, again by unit, and again made a number of recommendations to the director of nursing. To date action taken and planned includes that the views of staff and patients be sought in a questionnaire about food preferences of residents and that the menu be subsequently reviewed. The questionnaires have been returned, and the director of nursing will implement the recommendations by the end of this year. The recommendations include a formal procedure to monitor weight against height to determine the minimum acceptable weight, given medical conditions. I am advised that the Hunter Regional Developmental Disability Service has implemented a significant number of the recommendations of the original report and has developed a multidisciplinary approach to further develop services.
I hasten to point out that the Hunter service is the largest single service in the State, encompassing the Stockton Centre, the Kangara Centre at Lake Macquarie and the Tomaree Centre at Port Stephens. When one aggregates those three facilities, the Hunter is the single largest service dealing with developmental disability in the State, so far as large congregate institutions are concerned. Mr Jacobsen has been advised that the Hunter service is currently taking steps to replace a speech pathologist, as ongoing assessment and management of swallowing difficulties requires the combined expertise of a dietitian, an occupational therapist and a speech pathologist.
I point out to any honourable member who has not visited a large residential centre that deals with people with disabilities that many clients are very severely affected with multiple disabilities, both intellectual and physical. It really is a matter of some difficulty, in some cases, to address the problem sufficiently to ensure that no dietary problems arise. That is not a reason for saying that the task should not be undertaken; clearly it should, and it is. However, it remains true that many people have dietary problems that arise out of factors such as difficulty with swallowing. Dietitians at the Hunter centre are currently trialling the validity of a four-question nutrition screening tool, called Nutrinet, compared to a nutrition assessment tool known as SGA - subjective global assessment - to more quickly identify the nutrition problems and place the client on the nutrition decision tree path.
Hunter centre dietitians are currently installing individualised feeding program summaries into residential units. The summaries integrate the dietitian, the occupational therapist and the speech pathologist’s assessment and management plan, and guide the action of direct-care staff. The Hon. Patricia Forsythe had something to say about the dismantling of a facility at the Royal North Shore Hospital after the Government took office. She failed to explain that in conjunction with that decision I decided to set up a centre for developmental disability studies - the first centre of its kind in this State. That centre is located at the Royal Rehabilitation Centre at Ryde, which I opened in April this year. That centre is a joint initiative of the Government, through the Ageing and Disability Department, the Department of Health, the Spastic Centre of New South Wales, the University of Sydney, Macquarie University and the Royal Rehabilitation Centre at Ryde. It promises to become a most important and significant institute of learning, focusing on developmental disability issues.
The aim of that centre is to provide leadership, research, teaching and practice that will inform and improve the provision of services to people who have developmental disabilities and also for their families and carers. The centre will have an emphasis on the practical application of information in its possession as a result of its research and
activities, with the provision of technical assistance and advice covering health, community support and other matters relevant to people with intellectual disability. That support can be given directly to organisations and individuals. Professor Parmentier, who holds the foundation chair of developmental disability at the University of Sydney, is the inaugural director of the centre. Anyone who knows Professor Parmentier would be satisfied that he is well qualified to be the director of that centre. I would not like honourable members to either think or believe that nothing was done to replace the previous limited facility, particularly in geographic terms, available at Royal North Shore Hospital.
I assure the House that the Centre for Developmental Disability Studies is not an ivory tower, it is not a purely research-based institution; it does research but does so with a view to practical application in the field. I certainly do not underestimate the importance or complexity of the issue of nutrition provided to people with intellectual disability in residential centres, including large residential centres operated by the Department of Community Services. However, I point out that the members sitting opposite - and long may they do so - systematically destroyed services and ignored critical issues during their seven years in government. This Government has a long list of enhancements not only in developmental disability, but in child protection, substitute care and other areas that are the responsibility of the Department of Community Services. The previous Government systematically abandoned such services.
One needs only to refer to the coalition’s wrecking activities regarding child protection and the removal of 60 child protection specialists - positions I have re-established since I have been Minister. Other examples include the 1,000 staff the coalition took out of the department and the closure of 25 per cent of offices across the State. I could go on and on about the deplorable record of the previous Government. Now that its members are in opposition they pretend that they are purer than the driven snow and that they have the answers to the problems they created by their destructive activities when in government. This is the first Government to make any attempt in any systematic or concerted way to address the issues highlighted in the Community Services Commission report. I do not have a history of ignoring commission reports. For example, I need only refer to the commission’s report early this year regarding the Hall for Children. I acted promptly to close that unsatisfactory facility and to obtain the necessary funding to replace it. That is one of many initiatives I have taken in response to a report of the Community Services Commission.
The Community Services Commission report on concerns relating to nutrition and mealtime practices will certainly be followed up by the Government. However, it is not just a matter of following up issues. As I said earlier, the Government has done much already throughout various institutions to address justifiable concerns about nutrition affecting people with intellectual disabilities. I agree that it is by no means a completed task, but the situation has improved and I am determined to ensure that it continues to improve. The Government has a sound record - as I do - of implementing recommendations of the Community Services Commission. This recent report furnished to me by the commissioner certainly provides a detailed blueprint to improve the nutrition services affecting people with disabilities throughout the New South Wales community services system.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [3.43 p.m.]: The Christian Democratic Party supports the motion and shares the concerns expressed by the Hon. Patricia Forsythe and the Minister. I am sure all honourable members are distressed and shocked to learn that 41 disabled people in institutions have died in the past three years as a result of health problems associated with malnutrition or poor eating habits, as revealed in a report prepared after monitoring by the Community Services Commission for the 1996-97 year. It has just been released and, as would be expected, it received media coverage. On Saturday, 22 November the Sydney Morning Herald stated:
The Community Services Commission, an independent watchdog, said it was "disturbing that four years after a major survey on the underweight problems in disability institutions, the State still lacked a systematic plan to minimise the risks of malnutrition.
Failure to tackle the problem left private institutions and the State Government "exposed to legal action for damages".
Obviously, that would add to the pressure on the Government to do something about this serious matter. However, governments should not act merely because of the threat of legal action. As the Government must act responsibly in its leadership of the State, likewise it must act responsibly in doing all it can to ensure that homes for people with disabilities function at the highest level of efficiency and provide care with compassion and love. I accept the Minister’s statement that though the report refers to matters of considerable concern, it indicates that the matters are not new. The monitoring program was put in place to ascertain whether the problems identified in 1993 - which would have been under the former Government - had been corrected. Though the identified problems are not new, the Government is not absolved of any responsibility to
take action to rectify them. The question is whether some of those lives were lost because of funding cutbacks, reductions in staff numbers or other matters that aggravated health problems.
It may be more difficult to ascertain how many disabled persons in such institutions suffer various forms of respiratory and other health problems that are the result of insufficient care and staff shortages. Our attention probably should be focused on a number of areas. Death is certainly one way of getting everyone’s attention, but attention must be given to the everyday quality of life individuals experience in these institutions if, as has been suggested, out of more than 100 deaths in the same period, 41 people have died as a result of health problems. People with disabilities in the older age bracket often die because of the normal progression of health problems. Because 41 people died does not mean that the Government has been negligent. Some may have died regardless of inadequate care and insufficient staffing - we will never know. The report states that of the 41 deaths seven were the result of people choking or inhaling food into their lungs, and 34 were the result of respiratory illness such as bronchopneumonia.
In the provision of care systems for the aged disabled, there is difficulty finding appropriate, compassionate staff to administer care. My daughter worked in one such institution for a number of years. She has shared with me the practical problems and distress she experienced caring for people who were incapable of brushing the flies away from their mouths. One does not tend to think much about practical difficulties such as those until one sees a number of disabled persons experiencing them. There is also the practical problem of feeding people who are disabled in such a way that they gain nutritional value from the food. While it is important to ensure that food is prepared correctly, it is also important to ensure that staff are skilled enough to help a disabled person eat the food. A great deal of time may be taken assisting someone to eat a spoonful of food. Sometimes it is not easy to help disabled persons take food into their mouths and have them chew it in order that the food may be digested.
A shortage of staff at an institution may mean that a disabled person is allocated perhaps five minutes before a staff member has to move on to someone else. That may not be sufficient time for a person to take an adequate amount of food. I would be among the first to acknowledge that there is no easy solution. The Government may have to concentrate more on finding staff that have proper training and ensuring that they have the motivation to help disabled persons. Staff members work under difficult conditions, and I do not want to appear to be attacking every individual who works in large institutions. Many staff members are highly motivated and perform a valuable service to the community. Others may have lost motivation and interest, and merely fulfil the minimum requirements of their shift. Correct supervision would determine whether those staff members should stay in employment or be replaced.
Recently I read of a visitor to one of the centres asking why residents always seemed to be looking towards the door and being told by the person in charge of the institution that many of them were waiting for someone to come to visit them, longing for a visit from a member of the family. It may be that a resident has no immediate family. Many of the residents are not young and their parents may not be alive, but it may be that there are other members of the family who should be involved in their care. I would encourage the Government to do as much as possible to ensure that family members are informed about the condition of residents and are encouraged to show interest and concern, which can help to motivate a disabled person and can also provide a form of outside monitoring.
If a visiting family member were aware that a disabled person was suffering from bronchopneumonia, he or she could ensure that action was taken by the staff. Staff members should be aware of any difficulties residents may have, but there is nothing like the attention that a family member would show if a loved one was suffering from discomfort; worse, was suffering from malnutrition; or, worst of all, was at the point of death. I wonder how many of those 41 persons who have died had someone visit them and show some care. I realise that there is no simple solution. The Christian Democratic Party has been working on a policy principle that governments should spend more time trying to develop caring programs that involve families. While some programs may appear to cost more initially, they could well save money in the long term. We should investigate whether it is possible to provide assistance for families to provide accommodation and even nursing care for disabled persons in the home.
The aim should be to break nursing care down to smaller units, ideally into family units. It will not always be the case that family members are still alive or are willing to assist in the care of a disabled person. Some people will not want the responsibility of caring for a disabled person. That is a tragedy, but they cannot be forced to take that responsibility.
That is a matter the Government could explore. Counsellors and others might perhaps encourage family members to be involved in providing back-up to professional staff. The Community Services Commission report on nutritional and mealtime practices stated that the commission determined that ongoing monitoring was required for several reasons. Monitoring has, of course, been undertaken from 1993 for those reasons. The report stated at page 1:
The commission determined that this issue required ongoing monitoring for the following reasons:
the serious and potentially life threatening risks faced by people with multiple disabilities in being poorly nourished and chronically underweight
the high level of dependency of such people on their carers and their associated inability to redress such a situation themselves or to bring it to the attention of others; and
the systematic nature of the issues raised in the Underweight Report.
Those factors indicated a pressure on staff. I remember my daughter saying that at the institution where she worked - which I do not wish to identify - she was criticised by supervisors for spending too much time with a disabled person and was told to move on to help another disabled person. Sometimes staff want to provide the proper care but if there is a shortage of staff their supervisors may not allow them to spend adequate time with an individual disabled person. Disabled persons cannot properly be termed "patients", although if they become ill through reasons of malnutrition they become disabled patients. The Community Services Commission report at page 3 described the scope and nature of the problem in the following terms:
While figures vary as to the extent of underweight status in the population of people with significant disabilities, recent local research provides enough evidence to confirm that it is an issue warranting systematic attention. Findings from within NSW government large residential centres in the past 5 years include . . .
feeding of people with significant disabilities even more difficult than under "normal" circumstances.
I emphasise the reference to "large residential centres", which could point to part of the problem. The report at page 5 stated:
The impact of malnutrition can also become life threatening where the consequent reduction in muscle strength leads to silent aspiration of food (as the person loses the ability to gag and cough) and reduced ability to fight any subsequent respiratory infection (due to impaired immune systems). For people whose disabilities mean that they experience difficulties in swallowing (dysphagia), this risk is even greater:
The Sydney Morning Herald referred to this section of the report, which at page 5 further stated:
Of the deaths of people with a disability in the case of the Department of Community Services reported to the commission over the past 3 years (103 total), 41 individuals are reported to have died from a respiratory illness such as bronchopneumonia. Of these, 5 individuals are reported to have died specifically of aspiration pneumonia. A further 2 people died after choking on food. Information on cause of death provided to the commission varies, but includes coronial findings, autopsy reports and death certificates.
It appears that there is sufficient evidence to warrant the House to be greatly concerned about the matter. The report also stated at page 5:
The dietitians involved in the above projects [that is, monitoring] all stressed that while there was a very high risk of malnourishment in the populations of people with significant disabilities, these risks could be managed: "malnutrition is preventable in this population."
It was noted:
. . . that "many of the factors influencing the low weight status of the underweight residents are factors open to modification and amelioration."
I am sure that is the reason the Hon. Patricia Forsythe raised this matter today, to help the Government recognise that this must be a priority in developing policies, protocols, and guidelines so that matters of concern are identified. The report of the Community Services Commission is good, thorough and helpful, although the news contained in it is bad. The report at page 23 drew attention to the need for people to receive adequate nutrition to maintain a healthy physical state. [Time expired.]
The Hon. J. F. RYAN [3.58 p.m.]: It is my pleasure to support my colleague the Hon. Patricia Forsythe in this matter. It is a disappointment to the Opposition that a report such as this should appear before the Parliament. The report identifies many areas of patent neglect, particularly by the incumbent Government. The Government has said that it inherited this problem. There is some truth in that assertion, but the Minister should recognise that the Government has been in office for 2½ years. Reports have been gathered and are now gathering dust. It would appear that in November 1997 it is still possible to undertake a review of nutritional practices in this State’s major institutions and find glaring inadequacies. That is not good enough.
The Minister said he has made provision for the developmental disability service in western Sydney. That is good, and there is no doubt that much of his contribution today reflected the benefits that have flowed from the grant made to that centre
approximately 12 months ago. The report demonstrates beyond doubt that that has resulted in some benefits that need to be reflected right across the State. The other point that the Opposition wishes to make is that this report emanated from the Community Services Commission. That commission has provided a report about something as vital as the feeding of people with disabilities in institutions. The Minister has not been prepared to give a guarantee that he will not gut the Community Services Commission as a result of the recommendation of the police royal commission relating to a Children’s Commissioner. The Government is actively discussing at this time proposals to dismantle the independent watchdog for people with disabilities provided by the Community Services Commission, and the -
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
The Hon. R. T. M. BULL: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Community Services, representing the Minister for Gaming and Racing. Why has the new gambling helpline number let to a Melbourne organisation in May never been publicised? On the eve of the spectacular opening of the Star City Casino, why is this new number still the best kept secret in town?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: Without in any way accepting the veracity of the allegations made in the question, I will refer it to my colleague the Minister for Gaming and Racing for a response.
MOUNT PENANG JUVENILE JUSTICE CENTRE PRINTING SHOP
The Hon. A. B. MANSON: My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Community Services, Minister for Aged Services, and Minister for Disability Services. Further to the question asked in the House last Wednesday by the Hon. M. J. Gallacher relating to the Mount Penang Juvenile Justice Centre printing shop, will the Minister advise the House of any additional details in relation to this matter?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I am able to confirm that, as I advised the House last Wednesday, there is a very successful print shop at the Mount Penang Juvenile Justice Centre and it does print the Kariong Connection which is the newsletter of the Kariong Neighbourhood Centre. It is not, as the Hon. M. J. Gallacher suggested last week, the Kariong Progress Association’s newsletter. As with most of the questions asked by the Hon. M. J. Gallacher, there was virtually no truth in any of the statements made. His suggestion that this matter should be referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption is as ridiculous as the honourable member himself. The Kariong Connection is produced in the print shop of the Mount Penang Juvenile Justice Centre on a cost-recovery basis. Not one cent of taxpayers’ money is contributed by the centre for the production of this publication. Far from it being a journal publishing political propaganda of Federal and State Labor members, I notice in more recent issues that propaganda from Mr Jim Lloyd, the local Federal Liberal member, has been published.
The Hon. M. J. Gallacher: A good member.
The Hon. R. D. DYER: A better member than the Hon. M. J. Gallacher, who cannot get his facts right. Production of the Kariong Newsletter is particularly useful for the young men working in the print shop. It allows practice of a number of printing-associated skills including typesetting, layout, photograph reproduction and the meeting of deadlines. Productions of this kind, including as they do information for the local community, are to be encouraged rather than cheapened by the ill-informed grandstanding of the Hon. M. J. Gallacher. I invite the honourable member to have the decency to make rudimentary checks before asking questions in this House. If there was an independent commission against incompetence, I assure the honourable member that he would be the first member that I would refer to such a body.
HUNTER ADVANTAGE FUND
The Hon. D. J. GAY: My question is directed to the Treasurer, Minister for Energy, Minister for State and Regional Development, Minister Assisting the Premier, and Vice-President of the Executive Council. Given that he and the Federal Government have an agreement that there will be no politicising of the Hunter Advantage Fund for funding of any project in the Hunter region, why was this agreement broken yesterday by the Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development when he alone announced that Comsteel would move its works from Waratah to Kooragang Island? Given that the Comsteel group has not finalised its decision to move to Kooragang Island, and is due to meet on 13 December to finalise its $130 million funding commitment for the move, will the Minister pull into line this out-of-control Minister, who has seriously breached agreements between him, the company and the Federal Government?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I am not aware of any comments made by my colleague the Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development.
PORT KEMBLA STEELWORKS EMERGENCY
The Hon. B. H. VAUGHAN: I direct my question without notice to the Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations. Yesterday’s explosion at BHP’s Port Kembla steelworks had the potential to be a major safety problem. Will the Minister inform the House what action is being taken to investigate the safety standards at that plant?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: As I am reminded by the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti, it is great news that no-one was injured in that significant incident. This morning the head of WorkCover’s Wollongong office and other WorkCover safety inspectors attended a meeting with BHP’s chief occupational health and safety officer and other senior people within the risk management division of that corporation. I am informed that at that meeting WorkCover reviewed the emergency evacuation procedures that were carried out yesterday, and discussed methods of investigating the cause of the malfunction and procedures for returning to work. Honourable members will no doubt be aware that the emergency happened at about 9.00 a.m., reportedly at a change of shift when many workers were moving around the plant. At this early stage of investigations, it appears that a transformer malfunction caused localised or spot fires in cable ducting around the plant.
Newspaper photographs of the incident may have misled some honourable members. I am informed that the loss of power automatically trips the emergency shut-down of blast furnaces and other key plants. The coke ovens automatically vent to the atmosphere and igniters on top of the stacks automatically burn off the gas rather than allow raw gas into the atmosphere and surrounding areas. Approximately 3,000 workers were evacuated from the plant - which, I might add, covers approximately 5 kilometres. At this stage it appears that there were only two minor injuries: a firefighter suffered minor smoke inhalation and one BHP worker received a cut to the hand when he fell during the evacuation. In light of the circumstances, we should all be relieved that they were the only injuries.
I acknowledge the efforts of all those who took part in yesterday’s incident, in particular BHP’s occupational health and safety officers, the fire brigades, the ambulance service, the Police Service, officers of the Environment Protection Authority and WorkCover safety inspectors. WorkCover informs me that BHP has commissioned independent consultants to investigate the causes of the transformer malfunction. WorkCover is currently liaising with BHP’s senior risk management officers so that BHP ensures no worker is put at risk in the process of bringing the plant back to full operation. They will continue to monitor the report into the cause of the accident.
HUMAN TISSUE ACT REVIEW
The Hon. A. G. CORBETT: I ask the Minister for Community Services, representing the Minister for Health, a question without notice. I refer to the review of the Human Tissue Act discussion paper entitled "Assisted Reproductive Technologies" released by New South Wales Health in October this year. Given that, at the moment, private fertility clinics are required to keep records relating to sperm donors in New South Wales only for up to 10 years after the time of donation of the sperm, and given that a legislative response to the discussion paper may be years away, will the Minister undertake to prevent destruction of private clinic records relating to the use of assisted reproductive technologies pending the outcome of the review of the Human Tissue Act? If not, why not?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I am informed by my colleague the Minister for Health that the Department of Health advises that the National Health and Medical Research Council’s ethical guidelines on assisted reproductive technology state that clinics should arrange for donor records to be maintained indefinitely. In addition, under the Fertility Society of Australia’s code of practice a permanent record is to be kept of all procedures. Although the guidelines are not enforceable under legislation, the department considers that those clinics known to it are likely to be complying with them. Schedule 4 to the Human Tissue Regulation 1995 provides that records relating to sperm donations must be kept for not less than 10 years from the date of donation. When a donor is less than 20 years of age at the time of donation, the records must be kept until such time as the donor reaches 30 years of age.
Department of Health policy as set out in circular 96/88 requires public hospitals to retain all records relating to assisted reproductive technology for 35 years when a child is born, or if a pregnancy is achieved and it is not known whether a child is born. The Human Tissue Act is currently under
review, a discussion paper having been circulated in October this year. The department is committed to extensive consultation with stakeholders before any amendments are made. The keeping of records is a matter which has been noted for comment in the discussion paper, and the department will consider all submissions on this matter before recommending any legislative change.
The Hon. A. G. CORBETT: I ask a supplementary question. Given the concerns that at present private clinics may not be complying with the ethical guidelines of the National Health and Medical Research Council and the code of practice of the Fertility Society of Australia, will the Minister give a commitment to advise private clinics of the guidelines and the code and to examine any reported incidents of breaches with a view to taking action to prevent the destruction of records pending the review of the Human Tissue Act?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I will refer the supplementary question to my colleague the Minister for Health for a suitable response for the Hon. A. G. Corbett.
ELECTRICITY GENERATOR BIDDING STRATEGIES
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD: My question without notice is directed to the Treasurer, Minister for Energy, Minister for State and Regional Development, Minister Assisting the Premier, and Vice-President of the Executive Council. How much has the Government paid London Economics to undertake a review of the bidding strategies of New South Wales electricity generators? Did the study include an assessment of their market power? If so, what were the findings of that report?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I will take that question on notice.
The Hon. E. M. OBEID: My question without notice is directed to the Treasurer, Minister for Energy, and Minister for State and Regional Development. What is happening in New South Wales to promote the use of renewable energy?
The Hon. Patricia Forsythe: Follow Victoria.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Victoria is not doing anything about renewable energy. Just yesterday my Parliamentary Secretary, the honourable member for Port Jackson, who was described in the media as the Parliamentary Secretary for Energy - she is not only that but she is also the Parliamentary Secretary for Treasury and for State and Regional Development - officially started Australia’s largest single wind generator, built by EnergyAustralia on Kooragang Island in Newcastle. That is the first commercial wind generator to be connected to the electricity grid in New South Wales.
The turbine will generate enough electricity to supply about 4,000 customers, and will prevent the release of approximately 1,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year. The turbine is 50 metres high and has 22-metre long blades. I am informed that aesthetically it is quite a remarkable structure. It is particularly significant that this new wind generator has been installed in an area which is well known for its fossil fuel resources. Newcastle City Council has stated that its ambition is for the Hunter to become an international centre for sustainable energy industries. Certainly this wind turbine is a small step, but it is a highly symbolic one in the week leading up to the international conference on climate change in Kyoto.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: Crookwell is still in the Land and Environment Court and the Government announced it 12 months ago.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I am advised that Crookwell, which will be Australia’s largest wind farm, will begin operating next year. We are almost at the end of 1997 and next year, of course, is 1998. The opening of the largest wind generator at Kooragang Island yesterday was a small but highly significant step. It symbolises the New South Wales Government’s commitment to tackle the issue of greenhouse gases head-on. As the Premier said in the Legislative Assembly last week, there does not have to be a choice between jobs and the environment; we can have both.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: Who owns it?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: EnergyAustralia.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: It is not owned by the Government? Are you the major shareholder, one of two shareholders?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I would have thought that I could be called the major shareholder. I am one of two shareholders of EnergyAustralia; the other is my colleague the Minister for Police. As the Premier said, it is not a choice between jobs and the environment. Honourable members will be aware that the Government has established the Sustainable Energy Development Authority - now known by
everyone as SEDA - to promote development in the use of sustainable energy technologies in homes and businesses. SEDA has initiated a number of programs to help companies such as McDonald’s, Honeywell, Telstra, Hungry Jack’s and Mirvac. SEDA is demonstrating a so-called passive solar design at the Sydney 2000 Olympic village. There is a rapidly growing demand for sustainable energy, and householders have shown an increasing preparedness to pay a bit more for it. EnergyAustralia has led the way with the introduction in August 1996 of its pure energy program offering customers environmentally friendly energy. I wonder how many members of this House have signed up for that. I know the Hon. R. S. L. Jones is not a resident of Sydney - do you have a residence in Sydney?
The Hon. R. S. L. Jones: No, I am resident in the north.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Do you have a residence in Sydney?
The Hon. R. S. L. Jones: I have a place in Sydney.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Do you pay your electricity bill to EnergyAustralia?
The PRESIDENT: Order! The Minister should answer the question, rather than ask questions of other members.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: That is true, but I want to make sure that people like the Hon. R. S. L. Jones and other honourable members who have a residence in Sydney are purchasers of the pure energy product made available by EnergyAustralia.
The Hon. Patricia Forsythe: Are you?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Most certainly; I am signed up for 100 per cent pure energy. Is the Hon. Virginia Chadwick signed up for this product?
The Hon. Virginia Chadwick: No.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Well, the honourable member should be ashamed of herself.
The PRESIDENT: Order! The Minister will answer the question and cease interrogating other members.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Honourable members may have seen the television commercials for green energy, funded by the Government through SEDA. Since April more than 11,400 households have signed up and the Government is aiming to have 5 per cent of households, or about 140,000 households, signed up by the end of 1999. I urge all members, Mr President, yourself included, who are customers within the EnergyAustralia catchment area to sign up for this product. The Kooragang Island wind turbine, which is worth around $26 million, is just one of many renewable energy products being developed in New South Wales to meet this demand. Others include EnergyAustralia’s 200 kilowatt farm at Singleton and two other solar power stations, one at White Cliffs near Broken Hill and one near Queanbeyan. As I pointed out earlier, next year Australia’s largest wind farm will begin operating at Crookwell near Goulburn.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: Will the Minister visit Crookwell?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I visited Crookwell when the Government launched the wind farm earlier this year. I was sorry that the Hon. D. J. Gay was not there to greet me. These technologies are commercially viable and environmentally sensitive, and they place New South Wales at the forefront in fighting greenhouse gas emissions in Australia.
The Hon. J. H. JOBLING: I direct my question to the Treasurer and Minister for Energy. In view of his comments relating to wind and green power, will the Treasurer tell the House whether all government departments and agencies have signed up to take green power? If so, when will they do so? If they have not signed up, why not? When will the Parliament sign up?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: The Hon. J. H. Jobling does not understand that I do not run this Parliament. I propose to the Parliament every year an appropriation for the purposes of the running of the Parliament and that appropriation is approved every year. But I do not run the Parliament. The honourable member should at least work out who runs the Parliament.
The Hon. J. H. JOBLING: I ask a supplementary question. Has Treasury signed up for green power?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I will certainly ascertain whether it has.
ALBURY CITY HALF-DAY HOLIDAY
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD: I direct my question without notice to the Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations. Will the Minister inform the House of the result of his consideration of the request by Albury City Council for the
approval of a local half-day holiday for the city of Albury in celebration of the running of the 1998 Albury Gold Cup?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: The Hon. I. M. Macdonald has visited Albury and has made representations to me on this particular matter. He has been active in that area, as he is active in many rural areas in New South Wales. Albury City Council made a request to the Government, and in particular to me, to give effect to this local half-day holiday. Following an initial written application by Albury City Council and consultation on the subject between the council and the Department of Industrial Relations, I can advise the House that I have decided to appoint a public holiday in the city of Albury on the afternoon of Friday, 27 March 1998, to coincide with the Albury Gold Cup race meeting. This appointment will be formalised in a ministerial notice under the Banks and Bank Holidays Act 1912 which will be published in the Government Gazette in December of this year.
This will be the first time that a local half-day holiday has been appointed for this occasion. In making my decision I acted on the advice of the Department of Industrial Relations, which informed me that 12 other New South Wales local government areas have had authorised local holidays in 1997 in connection with horseracing carnivals. Indeed, I am further advised that 27 separate regions in the State have appointed 1997 holidays to celebrate a show, a race day or a theme festival. These local holidays are intended to focus community support in celebration of an important local event. In fact, the Albury local half-day holiday will help to celebrate a heavily promoted sporting festival held over a period of weeks, representing an attempt to both advance the city’s attraction to tourists and bolster local trade.
In the Albury City Council submission on the matter the council's general manager said that the Albury-Wodonga festival of sport features some 200 events over six weeks, with more than 100,000 competitors and spectators taking part and an estimated $3 million being injected into the local economy. The Albury Gold Cup concludes that festival in a celebratory manner and involves the attendance of festival sponsors and national sporting dignitaries and the conduct of such events as a food fair, fashion prizes and major competitions for patrons. Moreover, Albury Racing Club is one of the most progressive racing clubs in rural New South Wales and the Gold Cup meeting now enjoys a reputation as one of the best. In relation to the employment situation, I indicate to honourable members that an appointed half-day holiday under the relevant legislation, apart from compulsorily requiring the closure of local banks, has a wider effect only in so far as industrial awards, agreements or contracts of employment confer a right of paid absence or penalty wage rates in lieu for the particular employees on that half day.
In the absence of such express coverage within an applicable industrial agreement, the conferring of the benefit of a local half-day holiday to employees is within the discretion of individual employers. Accordingly, the application of any local half-day holiday will vary between particular commercial and industrial sectors and, moreover, within those sectors, between enterprises. It is pleasing to note that Albury Racing Club, in conjunction with a number of unions in the region, will be using part of the racetrack for the conduct of union picnic days to be held in conjunction with the Albury Gold Cup. This will enable many union members to participate in this significant social occasion in the Albury region. Because of the novelty of an Albury local half-day holiday and the uncertain employment effect, I inform the House that the 1998 appointment is on a trial basis only. Accordingly, the council has been informed in writing that a future application covering a 1999 date requires the council’s submission of a complete assessment of the 1998 holiday with a clear indication of continuing community support and/or opposition on the issue.
ALLEGED THREATENING CORRESPONDENCE TO THE HONOURABLE FRANCA ARENA
The Hon. FRANCA ARENA: My question without notice is addressed to you, Mr President. Have you seen the letter I received this morning signed by the Gay Men’s Defence Committee, which was circulated to all members of the upper House, that contains threats to my family and a threat to me of blackmail? Can any action be taken by the House on a matter relating to privilege of a member?
The PRESIDENT: Today I received from the Hon. Franca Arena a communication marked "Personal and Confidential". Therefore, I am not at liberty to refer to the contents of that communication. However, the matters contained in the communication given to me by the honourable member raise some extraordinarily serious issues relating to privilege and contempt. I currently have this document under consideration, and it is my intention to make a statement to the House in that behalf tomorrow.
DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT OFFICER EMPLOYMENT
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Community Services, Minister for Aged Services, and Minister for Disability Services. Is the Government proposing to sack all Department of Community Services district officers and to re-employ them on a contractual basis? If so, has the proposal been discussed with the Public Service Association? Is the purpose of the proposal to avoid the problem of the Government’s failure to reach an agreement on efficiency savings with departmental officers?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: That is the most ridiculous question the Hon. Patricia Forsythe has ever asked. The answer is in the negative.
The Hon. Dr MEREDITH BURGMANN: My question without notice is addressed to the Attorney General. Will the Attorney inform the House about the role and functions of chamber magistrates in New South Wales and the current review of them?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: Honourable members may be interested to know that New South Wales is the only State which currently provides a chamber magistrates service. There are 17 full-time magistrates located at the larger court registries in Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong and the central coast, and a part-time chamber magistrates service is provided by the clerk of the court at a further 96 locations across the State. Chamber magistrates have operated in New South Wales courts since 1880. To a large extent their role and functions have evolved over time and have not been clearly defined. That has led to some confusion and the potential for misinterpretation, particularly about whether chamber magistrates provide advice on legal matters.
That confusion has also resulted in a number of complaints and the making of ex gratia payments to clients who have alleged that they have been disadvantaged as a result of being given "inappropriate legal advice". The view of the Attorney General’s Department has always been that staff should never give information in a way which could be construed as a recommendation to take a certain course of action or adopt a certain line of conduct. But other government and non-government agencies advise members of the public that chamber magistrates provide legal advice. That can create difficulties for both clients and chamber magistrates.
A chamber magistrate has no judicial role but assists members of the public with legal and legally based problems by providing information on court procedures and processes and the options available to resolve matters. They can also assist clients with preparation of documents required to initiate matters in the Local Court. Chamber magistrates also provide assistance to members of the public who have problems which require referral to more appropriate community support or assistance agencies. A working party has been established to develop a new position description for chamber magistrates which articulates the duties, responsibilities and boundaries of the position.
That description will include issues of accountability, discretionary decision making, and legal obligations. Recommendations will be made in regard to ongoing training needs and professional development for chamber magistrates. The working party will also review the placement of chamber magistrates to ensure that they are located in the areas of greatest need and demand. Terms of reference have been developed and the working party established following a call for expressions of interest from departmental staff. The working party has representation from full-time and part-time chamber magistrates and clerks of the court, from large, medium and small courts, as well as a balance of membership from metropolitan, regional and country areas.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: Is there any suggestion for a new name?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I am being subjected to continual interjections from the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti about what their name or title should be. That is not a top-priority issue in the reconsideration of the role of the chamber magistrate. As someone once asked, "What’s in a name?" The Government will be more concerned with the duties, responsibilities and boundaries rather than the nomenclature.
The Hon. J. P. Hannaford: And questions of liability.
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: And perhaps questions of liability and the like, as the Leader of the Opposition says. The working party will develop an initial options paper, which will form the basis for consultation with key external stakeholders - that is not a word that I find particularly attractive, but one that I gather we must use these days - to obtain a client perspective. Advice will be taken from the
legislation and policy division of the Attorney General’s Department, a very competent division, and, where appropriate, from the Crown Solicitor. The options paper will be distributed to all Local Court staff for comment. The review is expected to be completed by the end of February next year, for implementation during the latter half of 1998.
ELECTRICITY INDUSTRY PRIVATISATION
The Hon. J. M. SAMIOS: Is the Treasurer examining proposals for the partial privatisation of the electricity industry? Will he give an assurance that a partial privatisation will not reduce the value of the remaining government-held share of the industry?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: As honourable members are aware, I have been examining proposals - in fact, I have been making proposals - for privatisation of the electricity industry since May. What was the second part of the question?
The Hon. J. M. SAMIOS: Will the Treasurer give an assurance that a partial privatisation will not reduce the value of the remaining government-held share of the industry, that part which is not privatised?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: No, I could not give an assurance of that nature, because the honourable member is dealing with a hypothetical situation. But I can understand the theoretical basis of his question. In any sale process - and I point out there will, of course, be no sale of any electricity assets unless and until my party gives me the go-ahead - one has to make sure that the assets are sold in a way that maximises their value to their owners, the taxpayers of New South Wales.
The Hon. J. M. SAMIOS: I ask a supplementary question. Is it a fact that recommendation No. 1 of the report of the Hogg inquiry was that only privatisation of the entire electricity industry should occur and that partial privatisation of some of the electricity industry is not supported? Will the Treasurer give a steadfast guarantee that he will not partially privatise the New South Wales electricity industry, even if an Australian Labor Party State conference approves partial privatisation?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: The first part of the question need not have been asked, because the Hogg report is a public document and the honourable member can read it himself. Other than that, I am not in the business of giving the Hon. J. M. Samios assurances about what I might propose next month, next year or next decade.
SUBSTITUTE CARE SERVICES
The Hon. ANN SYMONDS: Will the Minister for Community Services advise the House of the move by the Department of Community Services to seek expressions of interest for intensive substitute care services?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I readily acknowledge the lengthy and sustained interest of the Hon. Ann Symonds in substitute care services for children. I can advise the House that as at lunchtime today the Department of Community Services had received 40 inquiries from agencies interested in contracting to provide care for children and young people who need intensive services. That interest follows a small advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald last Saturday seeking expressions of interest from agencies interested in providing intensive substitute care services. The level of interest makes a mockery of the claim by some of the agencies which are unwilling to renew their contracts that the level of funding on offer is insufficient to support young people at an acceptable standard.
Four of the existing agencies - Marist Community Services, St Saviour’s Neighbourhood Centre at Goulburn, Stretch-A-Family, and Centacare Group Home at Wagga Wagga - have all indicated to the department that they will continue to provide services under new contracts. Many of the inquiries resulting from the advertisements have come from highly respected smaller agencies which already provide these types of services. Some service providers and agencies have contacted my office and advised that they would happily provide the services for the funding offered by the department. Many small agencies in this State provide care for children and young people with far less funding from the Government.
The agencies that do not want to renew their contracts have alleged that the level of funding offered to them by the department is less than the funding allocated for the placement of young people from Ormond and Minali youth centres. That is absolutely incorrect. Planning at this early stage indicates that the placement of these young people is estimated to cost between $40,000 and $69,000 per annum. That is potentially as much as $30,000 cheaper per person than the offer made to the contracted agencies. Most of these young people are in care for crisis or short-term placements, and
comparing the cost of their care with that of children in the intensive services is like comparing chalk with cheese.
Recent media suggestions that the department’s call for expressions of interest is competitive tendering is ludicrous. What would they have the department do? These services have refused to negotiate further with the department. The Government has about 40 children and young people in its care and the services have threatened to hand them back and refuse to provide the services for the funding on offer. The Government has a responsibility to find alternative services for these young people. What else should it do: leave them on the streets?
This dispute is about the care of a group of children who are vulnerable and at risk. The department has offered approximately $69,000 per child per year for their care. Obviously some agencies share my view that this is a reasonable level of funding. As I said in the House last week, unlike my predecessors opposite I have a real commitment to the children and young people in our care. I will ensure that the department develops appropriate placements for each child. I respect the commitment of the agencies that are unwilling to negotiate individually with the department, and their quest to provide the highest quality care for children. However, I must provide a whole range of services which are both fair and equitable to all children and to all service providers from within a finite budget.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE: I ask the Minister for Community Services, representing the Minister for Health, a question without notice. Is it a fact that the National Health and Medical Research Council has released its damning report on the harmfulness of passive smoking, which found that passive smoking kills a large number of people through increased risk of lung cancer and heart disease, in addition to the 19,000 deaths each year of active smokers? Did the report also find that passive smoking aggravates asthma in more than 46,500 Australian children each year? Considering the comments of Professor Richard Larkins, Chairman of the NHMRC, that research shows that passive smoking is a danger to the health of the community, what action is the Government considering to reduce the negative health effects of passive smoking in our community? Considering these findings on passive smoking and the Federal Government’s announced commitment to a national response for smoke-free public places legislation, will the Carr Labor Government now take the initiative to review its position on the implementation date of the Christian Democratic Party’s Smoking Regulation Act by introducing smoking bans for enclosed public places from 1 July 1998, rather than after the year AD 2002, with the Minister having the power to grant genuine exemptions and extensions where a large institution or club, et cetera, may require more time?
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I certainly have noticed press reports dealing with passive smoking and a recent report of the National Health and Medical Research Council. Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile has asked a detailed series of questions to which I shall be delighted to obtain a reply from my colleague the Minister for Health.
HONOURABLE MEMBER FOR CLARENCE
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK: Will the Treasurer advise the House of the correct title of the honourable member for Clarence? Is he the Parliamentary Secretary for Rural and Regional Affairs? If so, how is his role distinguished from that of the honourable member for Port Jackson, whose title is Parliamentary Secretary for State and Regional Development?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Earlier in question time my colleague the Deputy Leader of the Government, the Hon. R. D. Dyer, said that the question he had been asked by the Hon. Patricia Forsythe was the silliest she ever asked. The question that the Hon. Virginia Chadwick just asked me is the silliest she has ever asked me. The precise title of Harry Woods as Parliamentary Secretary is a matter of public record.
The Hon. Virginia Chadwick: No, it is not.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I am sorry, but it is. Mr Woods is Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier in rural and regional affairs. Sandra Nori, the honourable member for Port Jackson is my Parliamentary Secretary.
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK: I ask a supplementary question. On 29 May was Mr Woods described as Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier? On 2 July was he described as Parliamentary Secretary on Rural Affairs. On 22 August was he described as Parliamentary Secretary for Food Industry Development? On 28 October was he described as Parliamentary Secretary on Rural and Regional Affairs? Which title is correct, and is this why he has been given a car?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: He is all those things.
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS: My question is directed to the Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations. Is the Minister aware of two recent judgments relating to industrial accidents which have led to the highest factory fine ever being handed down by the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: One development in the labour market is the growth of employment agencies, or labour hire firms. Honourable members might have noticed that former Justice James Macken has written extensively about the phenomenon of companies that are basically in the business of supplying labour or skilled employees to clients. A recent judgment is of significance in dealing with that development as it relates to occupational health and safety. Today Justice Hungerford of the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission imposed fines totalling $50,000 on Drake International, the employment agency that hired two of the workers injured at Warman International Ltd in mid-1995.
Honourable members may recall that in March this year Warman International Ltd was fined $485,000 by the Industrial Relations Commission. That related to five accidents over six weeks at its Artarmon factory. The accidents caused the workers, several of whom were backpackers, to suffer hand injuries involving the amputation of fingers. That decision is currently under appeal. WorkCover also pursued the matter against the employment agency under section 15(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in addition to its charges against Warman International. Justice Hungerford took into account the deterrent effect in imposing today’s penalties. In one of the two judgments relating to these matters today Justice Hungerford said that he considered insufficient the defendant’s plea of reliance of Warman as the client to take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of all persons engaged at its premises. That is the important point in the development of the law of safety. The obligation, if this judgment be correct, vests not only in the employer but also in the employment agency, which has been the subject of the penalty in this judgment. Justice Hungerford said:
True it may be that Warman itself may have offended against the Occupational Health and Safety Act, but this does not, it seems to me, lessen the seriousness of the offences committed here by the defendant as the employer.
It is that feature of this case which gives to the assessment of a penalty such a degree of importance as will encourage employers in a business similar to that of the defendant to implement appropriate steps to ensure the safety of their employees whose labour is hired to third parties and at the same time to deter employers from failing to take such steps.
The judgment sends a clear message to anyone responsible for the hire of workers, whether they be direct employers or intermediaries such as labour hire agencies. The onus is on such agencies to ensure the health and safety of the workers they engage to fulfil the hire contracts with their clients. The circumstances of these cases mean that agencies should ensure that workers receive appropriate training for the work they are expected to perform on the client’s premises. Obviously those responsibilities should be taken seriously, because prosecutions can ensue.
TWEED AREA CLUBS ECONOMIC ZONE
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. PEZZUTTI: My question is directed to the Treasurer. Is it a fact that he and I had a meeting on 8 October with representatives of clubs from the Tweed? Did the Treasurer agree to consider an economic zone for that area and promise to have an answer within six weeks? Is the Treasurer aware that my office has contacted his office several times to remind him of this important procedure and has received no return calls? Does the Treasurer have an answer, considering that it is now seven weeks after that meeting?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I have correspondence on my desk to some of the clubs from which representatives were brought by the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti to see me. That correspondence is awaiting my signature and I will probably sign it later in the day. I will furnish the honourable member with a copy and if he wishes to raise the matter in the House he may do so.
COMMUNITY ACCESS TO NATIONAL PARKS
The Hon. I. COHEN: I ask the Attorney General, representing the Minister for the Environment, whether the Government will ban the Gondwana program from promoting activities which can adversely impact on national parks? Will the Government protect core park areas from access by four-wheel drive vehicles and other high-impact users? Does the Government reject the use of national parks for commercial exploitation?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I shall refer that question to my colleague the Hon. Pam Allan and obtain a reply for the honourable member.
COAL REJECT ROYALTIES
The Hon. J. H. JOBLING: My question without notice is directed to the Treasurer. Given that legislation was passed last year providing for low royalties to be paid on coal reject, why is the Government delaying approval for payment of low royalties to the Warkworth coalmine and the Redbank generation project?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: My understanding of this matter is that the decision on royalties is made by the Minister for Mineral Resources after seeking concurrence of the Treasurer. The Minister has sought my concurrence to relief on royalties, which arose because of a change in the proposed arrangements.
The Hon. J. H. Jobling: You wanted to charge full rates to start with, if you recall the debate in this House.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: No, that is not my recollection. In any event, I have indicated to the Minister for Mineral Resources my concurrence to relief being given on the royalties that apply to the waste matter which will be used as part of the generating supply.
ELIZABETH STREET, SYDNEY, ABORIGINAL SACRED SITE
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY: My question without notice is directed to the Treasurer, representing the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning. Will the Minister inform the House what recommendation the Heritage Council made to him on the exemption order for the building which is known as the Cyprus Hellene Club and which is wanted by the Aboriginal community? Why has the Minister not announced a decision on the recommendation and when does he intend to do so? Why is the Minister pursuing this matter in the Land and Environment Court at great public expense when there is now an admission that the controversial exemption order was problematic legally? Is it not a fact that there are legal problems in the way exemptions have been applied when a permanent conservation order is made over the whole site with a positive covenant on the facade?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I shall refer the question to my colleague the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning and try to obtain a detailed response as soon as possible.
CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS
The Hon. M. J. GALLACHER: My question without notice is directed to the Treasurer, representing the Minister for Transport. Is the Minister aware that so far this year nine central coast residents have committed suicide by gassing themselves in their own cars? Is the Minister aware of the recommendations of the Victorian Government task force into suicide and carbon monoxide poisoning? What action is the Minister taking to ensure that legislation is introduced as a matter of priority to force new vehicle manufacturers to install carbon monoxide detectors which shut down an engine when CO levels within the car reach a certain level and baffles in exhaust pipes which prevent hoses from being inserted, in line with the recommendations of the Victorian task force?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I shall refer the question to my colleague the Minister for Transport.
ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING AND ASSESSMENT LEGISLATION
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES: Has the Attorney General had discussions with the Land and Environment Court concerning the impact of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment Bill on the resources of the court? Has the Attorney made an assessment of how many objections are considered by councils monthly which would become complying or exempt applications under the legislation? Is the Attorney aware that objectors to developments who have been denied their rights to public participation, which have been stripped off them by this legislation, will turn to the Land and Environment Court, local members of Parliament, the media and direct action? Is the Attorney also aware that lawyers throughout Sydney are rubbing their hands in glee in anticipation of the legislation providing them with a very lucrative livelihood in the future?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: The Attorney General’s Department has held discussions with the Chief Judge of the Land and Environment Court, Her Honour Justice Pearlman, in relation to the possible impact of the proposed amendments on the resources of the Land and Environment Court, which is now happily housed in good premises in Macquarie Street. Those discussions indicated that it was not possible to identify the specific future resources the court may require as a result of the proposed changes, but that the impact would be mid
to long term, thus enabling a period of assessment to be carried out.
I understand that the proposal has the potential to result in some increased workload for the Land and Environment Court and may result in objectors turning to some of the other avenues identified by the honourable member, although I predict that only in a cautious way because the extent of the effect in that regard remains to be seen. As to the honourable member’s question about the prospect of lawyers in Sydney rubbing their hands in glee, I can only say that I have no evidence of such a phenomenon. One would presume that lawyers contemplated the prospect of new legislation and possible legal points that might arise from it. I cannot and do not affirm that any such activity is occurring in the offices of solicitors or barristers in Sydney.
WORKCOVER SCHEME PRIVATISATION
The Hon. HELEN SHAM-HO: Will the Attorney General confirm that he supports the privatisation of WorkCover, as reported recently in the media? If the reports are correct, when will the Minister do so? If not, why not?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: The use of the word "privatisation" in relation to WorkCover is something of a misnomer and raises all kinds of pejorative connotations, particularly for those in my party. We prefer to call it a proposal of risk transfer from the Government to the private insurance industry. I do not have a concluded view abut it. Mr Grellman recommended it strongly, and it is the subject of intense negotiations with the insurance industry, employers and the trade union movement. I will go so far as to say that the proposition is worth exploring and it may have some positive benefits for the WorkCover scheme. I assure the honourable member that the Government and WorkCover are working intensively on this proposal at the moment. I view the proposal in a positive way without having formed any concluded view about it.
SCOTLAND AGENT-GENERAL APPOINTMENT
The Hon. J. M. SAMIOS: Is the Treasurer aware that the Scots Australia Council wrote to the Premier last October requesting the appointment of an agent-general to be resident in Edinburgh in time for the opening of the new Scottish Parliament? Does the Treasurer not agree that such an appointment would do much to acknowledge the strong commercial and cultural links between Scotland and Australia? Will the Treasurer indicate when he expects to make such an important appointment?
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Scotland is a most important part of the United Kingdom, but the Government has no intention of appointing an agent-general to Scotland or to the United Kingdom. In fact, it got rid of agents-general in London.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: Shame on you!
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Some other States can have agents-general with huge entourages and staff to entertain visiting members of Parliament, but the Government does the real work to be done in conjunction with Austrade. When the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti goes to Scotland and London he will have to find his own transport because the Government no longer has agents-general to provide services for travelling members of Parliament.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES: My question without notice is directed to the Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations. Now that the coalition, Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile, the Hon. Elaine Nile and the Shooters Party have decided that it is acceptable to gaol teenagers for a single puff of marijuana, what can the Minister do as a compassionate Attorney General to keep young marijuana offenders out of gaol, where they are at severe risk of sexual abuse by rapists? Can hard-line magistrates who insist on gaoling first offenders for marijuana smoking be counselled about the horrifying risk of sending young people to gaol?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: We can only leave this to the good sense of the judicial officers and hope and anticipate that they exercise an appropriate degree of compassion and discretion in these matters.
NATURAL HERITAGE TRUST
The Hon. D. J. GAY: Will the Attorney General, representing the Minister for Land and Water Conservation, explain why the new Federal heritage moneys are going to the total catchment management groups rather than to the councils? Is it true that these Federal moneys are being spent on existing State Government programs and not new heritage programs? Where is the money being spent that was to go to existing total catchment management programs?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I shall refer this question to the Minister for Land and Water Conservation and obtain a response.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: If honourable members have further questions, I suggest they put them on notice.
TOXIC FISH CONTAMINATION
The Hon. R. D. DYER: On 21 October the Hon. I. Cohen asked me a question concerning toxic fish contamination. I have been supplied with the following answer:
Two diseased fish, a luderick from Newcastle Harbour and a flathead taken from Lake Macquarie, were received at the Newcastle Fisheries Office on 13 and 16 October 1997, respectively. The fish were frozen and despatched to the Regional Veterinary Laboratory at Wollongbar for further examination.
The luderick had pale fleshy swellings in the skin and subcutaneous tissues extending into underlying muscle, consisting of malignant cancerous cells and associated fibrous tissue. These were quite clearly malignant tumours but the cause could not be determined. All other major organs appeared normal, and there was no evidence of tumours in the liver which is a primary indicator of environmental carcinogens.
The flathead was afflicted with non cancerous fibrous swellings in the skin and underlying muscle and the findings suggested that they were an inflammatory response to parasitic worms.
The two fish were handed in separately, and the discoveries were coincidental and unrelated, and as there have not been any other reports of similar lesions, it is unlikely that there is any widespread problem in the populations.
While the causes for the blisters are not positively identified, common sense would suggest that eating any damaged or diseased fish would not be recommended.
With regard to toxins, I can only assume that the Honourable Member is referring to the reported levels of selenium in fish in Lake Macquarie. This matter falls within the jurisdiction of the Minister for Health, and it would be appropriate to refer questions of this nature to the Hon. A. Refshauge, MP. In respect of local industries I would suggest that questions relating to sandmining be addressed to the Minister for Land and Water Conservation, the Hon. K. Yeadon MP, and in respect of power generation, questions be referred to the Minister for Energy, the Hon M. Egan MLC.
NSW Fisheries monitors the incidence of diseases and fish kills, and any diseased fish or significant fish kills should be reported to the nearest Fisheries Office.
BROKEN HILL BASE HOSPITAL PAEDIATRIC SERVICES CO-ORDINATOR VACANCY
The Hon. R. D. DYER: On 23 October the Hon. M. R. Kersten asked me a question concerning a vacancy at Broken Hill Base Hospital for a paediatric services co-ordinator. I have now been supplied with the following answer:
The Far West Health Service advises that appropriate procedures were followed in the recruitment process for the position of co-ordinator of paediatric services at Broken Hill Base Hospital. The position was not filled as the two candidates invited to interview withdrew their applications.
Two independent consultant paediatricians were brought to Broken Hill as members of a panel for the wider process of recruitment of paediatric staff. The Health Services advises that the total costs of their involvement in the wider recruitment process were those of airfare and subsistence.
Questions without notice concluded.
NUTRITION FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
Adjournment (S.O. 13)
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
The Hon. J. F. RYAN [5.02 p.m.]: As I have said, I can think of no issue more serious or more important for the Parliament to examine than that of whether people in large State-owned institutions are dying as a result of malnourishment. The Minister responded to the motion moved by the Hon. Patricia Forsythe with a speech as pedestrian as any I have heard him give. He began by having a crack at the news media for reporting that in the past three years 41 people have died through malnutrition. The Minister said that the number was not as high as 41 because that was the total number of people who had died from a respiratory illness. Of course it is true that not every person who died of pneumonia in a congregate care institution suffered from malnutrition. But the way in which the press choose to report the issue is not what is important.
The Community Services Commissioner in mentioning that figure meant to portray that people still die in our institutions as a result of malnutrition, which is something that should not occur in 1997. One death resulting from malnutrition in our institutions is one death too many, because that cause of death is highly preventable. The Community Services Commissioner notes that five individuals he reported on died specifically of aspiration pneumonia. In my view, it is highly likely that those deaths were nutrition-related, because people with disabilities tend not to put much in their mouths other than food and drink. Page 7 of the report of the Community Services Commission contains a litany of the inadequacies that still exist in the Department of Community Services.
The Community Services Commissioner asked the department to provide policies, guidelines and standards - a basic request. The department was not able to provide anything that came close to meeting that description. Only three centres provided any documentation that could be viewed as coming close to meeting that description. It is interesting to note the nature of that documentation. The Minister’s department was asked to open its drawers and provide documents representing its statement about nutrition for people in care. One of the documents provided was a 1991 memorandum specifying that mealtimes in large residential care centres should not occur earlier than 7.00 a.m. for breakfast, 12.00 noon for lunch and 6.00 p.m. for dinner. What a progressive document! The department also provided an undated memorandum dealing with food service standards, largely related to menu planning and food choices.
It is all very well for the Minister to say that he inherited an inadequate situation, but he has had responsibility for that portfolio for nearly three years now. He has had on his desk a report about this issue prepared in 1995 by Lyn Stewart. The best that his department has been able to produce about this most serious and important matter, however, is a couple of mouldy old memoranda about mealtimes in large congregate care institutions. I would agree with the Minister if he were to say that the best answer to the problem is to start devolving congregate care institutions and moving residents from those institutions into community settings. That would be the best option for dealing with this issue. There is no doubt that when people with disabilities are cared for in smaller settings the staff are able to address much more closely their specific needs such as nutrition, given the provision of adequate attention.
That is not going to happen in the short term, despite the requirements of the Disability Services Act. I do not recommend that the Minister simply turf people out into the community without the provision of necessary support. This issue will need to be addressed over time. It is obvious that this matter is not being addressed properly. The report the Minister received in 1995 drew his attention to the need for adequate policy and practice frameworks within the department that specifically addressed the needs of people with disabilities. All the Minister has in response is a memorandum relating to mealtimes. The 1995 report drew attention to the need to ensure access to expert and specialist assistance from dietitians, nutritionists and speech pathologists who were available in the institutions to provide general advice and to address the specific needs of clients. Very little is happening in that regard.
The report pointed to the need for appropriate staff training in nutrition and feeding issues. Training was needed, for example, in helping people to an appropriate sitting position to ensure that they did not choke on their food. The report drew attention to the need for regular and comprehensive screening of people at risk, to ensure timely and appropriate intervention. The Minister was also told of the need for mechanisms to address organisational barriers, to provide nutrition and feeding support for people in care, and to address issues such as adequate staffing ratios - to ensure that when necessary people were watched when eating - and the impact of staff changeover at mealtimes and staff taking breaks at mealtimes. It was pointed out that staff changeovers or breaks at mealtimes sometimes disrupt the feeding habits of people in congregate care.
The commission’s report and its attachments show that our large institutions have not yet started to grapple with these issues. It is obvious from the responses to questions in a survey sent to institutions by the Community Services Commission that some of those who manage the institutions and have responsibility for nutritional care do not understand the basic requirements to address the issue. Institutions were asked what staff training was provided. The report indicates that at the Grosvenor centre, an institution that cares for 44 children and young adults, there is no current policy for nutrition and no recent formal training except for a course provided near the institution three years ago. The Riverside centre, which cares for 75 adults, reported that approaches were being made to staff development with respect to the conduct of refresher courses on the issue. There is no indication of a consistent and thorough staff training system at that centre, despite the fact that it cares for 75 adults.
The Strathallen Centre at Mittagong, which has responsibility for about 50 adults, stated openly that no specific training in nutrition was offered to staff. I draw to the Minister’s attention the fact that I suspect that some of these institutions are taking their eyes off the ball in relation to these issues because the Government is working towards the closure of some of the institutions and, for that reason, they are perhaps not as focused on the issues as they should be. The Lachlan Centre, which caters for 77 adults, continues to have its lunch and dinner times too far apart. On two days clients are left in those places without a meal for up to six hours. There was no indication of whether a hot breakfast is provided. The Community Services Commissioner was told, in response to a question about the provision of staff training, that it was a standing item on unit team meetings for all units. There was no response at all in regard to whether anything is
done to compensate for the fact that residents may be unable to indicate that they are hungry.
I agree with the Minister that the Western Sydney Developmental Disability Service appears to be more up to speed in respect of this issue than others, according to the report of the Community Services Commissioner. However, in response to a question about whether they were able to address the needs of people who were unable to convey to staff the fact that they were hungry, staff from that organisation said that the residents were able to have second helpings when they requested it. That indicates to me that they did not understand the question asked by the Community Services Commissioner, who was asking not about the residents who were capable of indicating that request, but about the many people who are incapable of communicating that they are hungry. They are not going to ask for a second helping.
With regard to the provision of breakfast, which I understand from the report by Lyn Stewart was an important means of ensuring that residents had adequate nutrition, the Riverside centre at Orange was able to provide a hot breakfast only on Sundays. In addition, weight monitoring at Riverside occurs only through annual medical checks, which are conducted for the purpose of calculating medical doses. Riverside was one centre referred to by the Minister as having nutritional programs in place which put it at the forefront in regard to nutrition. The point made by the Community Services Commissioner is that the issue is not being addressed in our institutions. The inadequacies that he has pointed out are so basic and so fundamental that clearly there is a need for the Minister to ensure, through the services of the Ageing and Disability Department and through the Department of Community Services, that this matter is being addressed. I challenge the Minister to report to this House in, say, six months or 12 months in response to the issues raised by the Community Services Commissioner.
The report is proof positive of the need for an independent watchdog on disability services. The Minister has had many disagreements with the Community Services Commissioner and, to some extent, that is to be expected. The Ombudsman does not always get on with the Premier or the Minister for Police, and the Treasurer does not always get on with the Auditor-General. It is to be expected that there will be healthy tension between the responsible Minister and the independent watchdog - although I would have to say that when a Minister commences to communicate with the independent watchdog through press releases, it is an indication that the relationship is worse than it ought to be. We need an independent watchdog to look after people with disabilities. The independent watchdog should not be gutted of funds, as has happened under this Government, and it should certainly not be dissolved in order to make resources available for a children’s commissioner. As important as a children’s commissioner is, the Community Services Commissioner has indicated beyond doubt in his report the importance and necessity of his role. I look forward to the possibility, during the next 12 months, of the Minister addressing the issue of nutrition in large congregate care institutions as a matter or urgency.
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY [5.14 p.m.]: I support the motion. It does not give me any pleasure to contribute to this debate. It seems, given the matters referred to in the report of the Community Services Commissioner, that we are living in Dickensian England. What is happening in some of our institutions could be taken straight from the pages of Oliver Twist. We should have reached a stage by now in which people with disabilities, who are forced to live in such circumstances because there is no other way of caring for them, obtain better care, and certainly better individual care, than the report indicates is being provided to them at the moment. As has been pointed out already, 41 disabled people living in institutions have died in the past three years as the result of health problems. Seven people died from choking or inhaling food into the lungs and a further 34 died from a respiratory illness such as bronchopneumonia.
It is no use the Minister for Community Services, Minister for Aged Services, and Minister for Disability Services attempting to say that some of those 34 residents may have died from bronchopneumonia anyway. There is no doubt that this report proves that their condition was exacerbated by the type of attention they received in institutions. How could it be otherwise, given that in one institution one nurse was responsible for as many as nine residents who might require help with feeding? In at least three centres, staff meal breaks occurred at the same time as the residents’ meal breaks, thus fewer staff were available to assist. Anyone who has visited such institutions and seen first-hand the severe disabilities from which some residents suffer - particularly those in Stockton hospital, which is outside Newcastle - will know that many need one-to-one feeding. It is not possible for them to be adequately fed unless they have one-to-one feeding.
Such considerations are completely unrelated to the issue of the number of hours between meals;
they are related to the individual care that many of the people require. The Minister can say as often as he likes, "I inherited these problems. All of this happened during the previous administration when these institutions were severely understaffed and were allowed to run down." The fact remains that the present Minister has been in this portfolio since the 1995 State election - almost three years. Of all those in his care, people suffering from severe disabilities should have been his number one priority. I know for a fact that the Council for Intellectual Disability has brought these matters to the attention of the Minister time and again. The report expresses the problem succinctly on page 1, which states:
The commission determined that this issue required ongoing monitoring for the following reasons:
•the serious and potentially life threatening risks faced by people with multiple disabilities in being poorly nourished and chronically underweight
•the high level of dependency of such people on their carers and their associated inability to redress such a situation themselves or to bring it to the attention of others; and
•the systemic nature of the issues raised in the Underweight Report
The last mentioned report dates back to 1993. As an assiduous and hard-working shadow minister, which I know the present Minister then was, I cannot believe that during 1993 and 1995 he did not study that report very carefully. What sticks out like a sore thumb is that it was necessary for the Director of the Department of Community Services to issue a memorandum in July 1991 specifying that "mealtimes in large residential centres shall not be earlier than 7.00 a.m., 12 noon and 6.00 p.m.", when it was quite obvious that the practice before then was that the evening meal would be served at about 4.00 p.m. From having visited these centres I know that that was indeed the practice, as it made it easier for staff to hand over to the night staff and then go home. At that time a review was conducted also into food standards and services dealing with menu planning and food choices. It seems absolutely clear that little had been done in this regard prior to the Minister taking office in 1995, and certainly very little has been done since. The report states:
The analysis of individual food intake records highlighted the following issues:
•nourishment levels between meals was low
•dietary supplements were sometimes misused
•energy intakes were low for some clients
•low nutrient density of food was an issue
•total volume of intake was low for those people who had difficulty feeding
That relates to how much time staff spend with individuals who find it difficult to feed themselves and the amount of assistance that is provided to them. The report concluded:
For people with multiple disabilities who are "difficult" to feed, a lack of food intake can lead to a vicious and life threatening cycle of poor or incorrect feeding, insufficient food intake, food refusal or loss of appetite, weight loss and subsequent physical poor health. Undernourishment and its ensuing health implications are not the only risks faced by people with multiple disabilities. A more immediate (but related) risk is that of respiratory infections, choking, and possible death as a result of aspiration when food is provided incorrectly, or in the wrong form.
This is a damning report, and I hope the Minister acts immediately to rectify the concerns detailed in it. Attached to the report is a letter dated 24 August 1995 to the past Director-General of the Community Services Commission which surely must have been brought to the Minister’s attention. It states:
Concerns about the quality of food and meal preparation in group homes, especially over-reliance on dried and canned food, and use of food as part of punishment and reward regimes.
Punishment regimes should not be in place for people who suffer from multiple disabilities. If that is happening, action should have been taken to rectify the matter at least two years ago. The letter continues:
•Concerns that in some units in residential centres, where residents are able to feed themselves there are issues of mealtime practices where residents fight for food, or gorge themselves, in response to inadequate food provision.
•Concerns that residents in large residential centres who do not wish to eat at the same time as, or together with other residents, are denied access to a meal altogether.
Do the Minister and the department not realise that we are dealing with people suffering from multiple disabilities who cannot be expected to follow the same regime that is followed by, say, schoolchildren who have all their faculties and are physically normal, living in a residential accommodation? Often in home situations some family members eat meals at different times from those of other members of the family. I know that for up to 35 years or longer some people have been living at Tomaree Point: it is home for those people. Surely they have a right to take their food and eat their meal at a time that is suitable to them. They are not inmates in a corrective institution, but they are being treated as though they are.
Another frightening aspect of the report is appendix 2, which profiled residential centres. There are far too many residents in the three centres referred to. In the Hunter Region Developmental Disability Service centre there are 710 residents; Peat Island has 125; and the Western Sydney Developmental Disability Service centre has 488. These are very large numbers. When the analysis information questionnaire relating to residential centres was brought to the attention of the officers running those centres no responses were received. It was ignored. What will happen if the commissioner does not monitor the level of care for the developmentally disabled in residential care? The questionnaire sought responses with regard to slowness of eating by people with chewing and swallowing problems. It suggested that residents most at risk of being underweight and undernourished were those who were unable to communicate a desire for extra food. Those in charge of residential centres for the developmentally disabled such as Norfolk and Seabreeze have not responded. That is a most unsatisfactory situation.
Staff must be able to recognise the impact of major tranquillisers on metabolism. How many people living in these institutions are on major tranquillisers and why? Are tranquillisers being used as a method of control to make it easier for staff to cope with the number of residents? Another matter raised was that of pureed or minced food, which was regarded as unpalatable, especially when the different foods were mixed together by the staff. The department has outsourced many of the meal services. The meals are now prepared in central kitchens and brought to the centres. Some are not suitable for people who have difficulty feeding themselves and swallowing food. The solution is not simply to mash the food into a gooey, porridge-like mess and expect people to eat it and live in a healthy state. That is totally and absolutely unsatisfactory. The report deals with one of the most important matters to come before this House. I hope that rather than apologise for the state of affairs and attempt to shift the blame onto the previous administration, the Minister tries to change the situation. I hope he goes to Cabinet and demands more funds for his department. The developmentally disabled aged are the least privileged people in our community and they deserve the best assistance we can provide. They do not deserve to be treated in 1997 as Oliver Twist was treated in England in the 1800s.
The Hon. FRANCA ARENA [5.29 p.m.]: I congratulate the Hon. Patricia Forsythe on bringing this matter to the attention of the House. I listened carefully to the contributions made by honourable members. It is unbelievable that this kind of thing is still happening in Australia in 1997. It is a shocking shame and is an indictment of our society and of all of us. The Minister tried to pass the buck by saying that the previous Government was to blame for these problems. However, it was pointed out that he has been in office for 2½ years. I know that things cannot change overnight. What suggestions has the Minister given the House or what positive initiatives has he taken that will change the conditions of developmentally disabled residents in institutions?
The Hon. R. D. Dyer: I mentioned them in my speech.
The Hon. FRANCA ARENA: Not many of them caught my attention. I did not hear the Minister say that the people working in these places should be better paid. As has been said, care of the residents in these institutions is incredibly important. It is difficult for people to work in this area; it is heavy and difficult work. People looking after residents with these types of needs must be well paid. I decided to speak today because of my concern not only about the nutritional needs of these people but because of the physical and sexual abuse of people with developmental disabilities in residential care that has come to my attention in the past few months. I am angry about it. These people are being abused both physically and sexually in every way. What does it say to the community when these things happen and the Government turns the matter into a political football by saying that it has been in government only 2½ years and blames the previous administration?
We are all responsible for this abuse. We should take great care of these people with needs. I urge the Minister to provide greater assistance for the people who work in these areas. It is essential to have dedicated, better paid people working in better conditions in this field. The Hon. Patricia Forsythe made a good point about the time when residents eat their meals and the time when staff eat their meals. Simple changes like co-ordinating mealtimes need to be made. It does not cost much to make such important changes. Once again, I congratulate the Hon. Patricia Forsythe on moving this important motion. I also congratulate honourable members who have spoken to the motion. I hope that changes are made quickly in this area.
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE [5.32 p.m.], in reply: I thank honourable members who
contributed to the debate: the Minister for Community Services, Minister for Aged Services, and Minister for Disability Services, Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile, the Hon. J. F. Ryan, the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby and the Hon. Franca Arena. Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile made a valid point which sums up much of this debate. He referred to the experience of his daughter who had highlighted how long it takes some people in institutions to eat their meals and how difficult it is for some of them to swallow. The Community Services Commission report shows that the present system is based on rigid staff rules that do not allow for individual needs to be met. Today the House is asking for guidelines, standards and policies that allow for the individual needs of these people to be considered, notwithstanding that they live in large institutions. It is irrefutable that only three centres could provide the commission with any of their guidelines and policies. One could say that there is a serious policy vacuum which is highlighted in this report.
Neither I nor any other honourable member of this House underestimates the task at hand. However, the Government must undertake that task. There have been many reports about the need for action and now there is much evidence that the Government has not acted on those reports. The previous Government’s record is not the focus; the Minister’s record is the focus because he positioned the high bar when he told the House in December 1995 that the problems identified in institutions where residents were reported as being underweight, or where further improvement in meal preparation was required, have been addressed. On that occasion the Minister further said that he had acted responsibly to ensure that the dietary needs of residents were met comprehensively. The weight of evidence put forward today suggests that, notwithstanding that advice to the House on that occasion, the problems have not been addressed and the individual needs of residents have not been met comprehensively. Indeed, what the Minister said at that time was no more than mere words.
How many more reports are needed before the Government accepts that clear policies covering the whole system are necessary? The progress made at the western Sydney developmental disability service proves that point. Systemwide policies, guidelines and standards are needed. On-site specialists in nutrition are required, not at one centre but at all the big centres. The Minister missed the point of today’s debate. For example, he quoted individual case studies of what has been achieved in some institutions. I refer in particular to Riverside at Orange. The Minister highlighted the fact that a new diet had been put in place at Riverside; he referred to yogurt, whole milk and things like that. The issue is not so much the food per se but whether the centre has access to diet and nutritional advice.
I have been told that Riverside does not access the nutrition service supplied by the central west area health service. The issue is not whether the food is available but whether the food that is available is appropriate for each of the residents. It is all well and good to suggest that milk and yoghurt might be available. But what if a resident is intolerant to whole milk or dairy products? Food must be made available to meet the individual needs of all the residents. The Minister suggested that he does not ignore reports. However, the Community Services Commission annual report tabled in the other House two weeks ago refers to the "Who cares?" report of March 1996 relating to recruitment and staffing in residential care facilities. Page 14 of the Community Services Commission report states:
The Cabinet Office co-ordinated a number of meetings with CEOs of human service departments and the Commissioner, Roger West to discuss the report’s implications, to date there has been no formal government response to the report and many of the problems uncovered by the inquiry still exist.
There is evidence that the Government’s response to many of the reports is tardy at best. I do not have confidence in the Minister’s assurances that he hears the message every time the Community Services Commissioner provides it, because recent experience suggests that it is more a case of shooting the messenger than taking on board the message. Recently the Community Services Commissioner made the extraordinary admission that his only correspondence with the Minister was by press release. In conclusion, a series of reports all point to the need for a systemwide response that focuses on the individual needs of people.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [5.38 p.m.]: I move:
That standing and sessional orders be suspended to allow the moving of a motion forthwith that general business order of the day No. 2 relating to membership of the Standing Committee on Parliamentary Privilege and Ethics be called on forthwith.
The House divided.
Ms Arena Rev. Nile
Mr Bull Dr Pezzutti
Mrs Chadwick Mr Ryan
Mrs Forsythe Mr Samios
Mr Gallacher Mrs Sham-Ho
Miss Gardiner Mr Rowland Smith
Mr Gay Mr Tingle
Mr Kersten Tellers,
Mr Lynn Mr Jobling
Mrs Nile Mr Moppett
Dr Burgmann Ms Kirkby
Ms Burnswoods Mr Macdonald
Mr Cohen Mr Obeid
Mr Corbett Ms Saffin
Mr Dyer Mr Shaw
Mr Egan Mrs Symonds
Mr Johnson Mr Vaughan
Mr Jones Tellers,
Mr Kaldis Mrs Isaksen
Mr Kelly Mr Manson
Mr Hannaford Mr Primrose
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion for the suspension of standing and sessional orders agreed to.
Order of Business
Motion by Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile agreed to:
That general business order of the day No. 2 relating to membership of the Standing Committee on Parliamentary Privilege and Ethics be called on forthwith.
STANDING COMMITTEE ON PARLIAMENTARY PRIVILEGE AND ETHICS
Debate resumed from 20 November.
The Hon. J. W. SHAW (Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations) [5.46 p.m.]: In case it has not been made clear, I now make it crystal clear that the Government opposes the adjustment of the composition of the Standing Committee on Parliamentary Privilege and Ethics to deal with a particular case. It is clear by its title and character that it is a standing committee, and its composition should not be adjusted on an ad hoc basis. On 24 May 1995 the committee was established by resolution of this House and its composition was fixed by agreement. There was no debate, no dissension, and no discussion about its composition. It was intended to be an ongoing committee as constituted by that resolution, to deal with any and all matters that were referred to it. The Cavalier committee, which dealt with parliamentary privilege, recommended that a standing committee on parliamentary privilege be established by each House of the New South Wales Parliament. Pursuant to that recommendation, the Standing Committee on Parliamentary Privilege and Ethics was established soon after this Government was elected in 1995.
The committee has a judicial role, or at least a quasi-judicial one, to determine matters upon their merits on the facts and circumstances that are presented before it. So its role is analogous to that of a court. It would be quite wrong, and contrary to principle, if the constitution of a court were varied depending upon the case which came before it. The integrity of the process is maintained only if the composition is not related to the case or reference before the court or the committee. The Government opposes the proposition on principle, not because of a personal view about committee membership. Justice must be done and must be seen to be done. The committee should maintain its established composition; it should not be adjusted for any particular case or circumstance. Therefore, the Government opposes the proposition before the House.
The Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby: Mr President -
The Hon. D. J. Gay: On a point of order. The Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby has already spoken in this debate, and cannot speak twice.
The Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby: On the point of order. This new motion was brought before the House this afternoon by contingent notice, after the previous motion had been defeated. This is the second time that Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile has brought on this motion.
The PRESIDENT: Order! I uphold the point of order. The matter being debated is not a new motion. The Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby has spoken already in this debate and cannot speak again.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES [5.51 p.m.]: It is clear that this motion by Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile is very divisive; the motion to have it brought on at this time was won by only one single vote -
and that was the vote of the Hon. Franca Arena, again. Of course, she and Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile believe that she is very much affected by this motion. The very fact that the motion is so divisive is sufficient reason for not changing the composition of this standing committee. It is very unusual to change the composition of a standing committee such as this, as the Attorney General said, for just one inquiry. The fact that this motion is so divisive means that the committee with Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile as a member would also be divisive. This man, after all, believes that the earth was created some 8,000 years ago and that dinosaurs never existed; he wants to make alcohol and tobacco illegal, starting with a prohibition on advertising; he wants to make homosexuality illegal. He has very extreme views. He thinks it is acceptable to gaol young people for a single puff of marijuana and probably supports the National Party policy of a minimum term of one year’s gaol for smoking one joint.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: On a point of order. I ask the honourable member to withdraw that remark. It reflects upon me and is in breach of Standing Order 80. He said I want to put young people in gaol for taking one puff of marijuana.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES: On the point of order. Last Thursday evening Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile voted to allow young people who have had one puff of a marijuana joint to be gaoled. That vote was very specific and the honourable member supported it. Young people will be gaoled as a result of that vote, which resulted in the Government’s bill being defeated.
The PRESIDENT: Order! No point of order is involved. There may have been, at best, a misrepresentation, which Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile may wish to deal with by way of personal explanation. I entreat the Hon. R. S. L. Jones to refrain from exaggeration.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES: Another thing that Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile believes is that a young person who has sexual relationships with a person 17 years old is a paedophile. He has totally distorted and extreme views. A committee which has to consider very weighty matters in a non-hysterical way will have great difficultly if a man with such extreme views is a member of it.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: How did you make it on to the committee then?
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES: Well, asking Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile to be on that committee is like asking Pauline Hanson to settle a native title claim or asking a flat-earther to be a navigator on an around-the-world voyage. He has already insulted the committee by saying that the matter will not get a fair hearing unless he is a member of the committee. That is an insult to each and every member of the committee. Last Friday, in a press release, he also insulted honourable members. He insulted the Hon. Dr Meredith Burgmann, the chairman of that committee, by referring to her as the socialist left-wing member of the Australian Labor Party. He also insulted me by telling me, as a member of the committee, that I had sold my soul to the ALP Government on the gerrymander bill in return for my vote on the pro-marijuana bill, which is totally untrue.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile is unable to discern the truth from lies. He made a totally untrue statement in his press release. This extreme man wants to become involved in the privileges committee, which should hear matters in a calm way. I doubt that that would be possible if he were a member. The committee met yesterday for a couple of hours and considered a number of matters. The committee has made decisions, which I cannot talk about, obviously. If Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile is able to gatecrash that committee it will have to go back to scratch and maybe make other decisions. It will waste time and public money by starting again. Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile will be able to attend the hearings, even in-camera hearings, as will any member of this House who wishes to do so.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: Wrong.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES: Obviously Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile is unaware that the standing orders allow members to attend those hearings, but they cannot attend deliberative meetings. What message will be sent to the community by having Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile gatecrash this committee? Clearly the community will know that he has been made a member of the committee to influence its outcome. To the community it will appear as bias, an attempt to stack the committee. He has already told us that the Hon. Franca Arena will not receive a fair hearing unless he is a member of that committee. It is surprising that the coalition is supporting a move which will water down its representation on the committee. After all, it will have only two members on this committee of nine, if this motion is successful. Clearly there is another agenda - a hidden agenda - and I wonder what Peter Collins thinks of the coalition supporting Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile’s gatecrashing efforts.
Peter Collins will regard upper House coalition members as hostile to him, and he may well be right. Certainly there are members opposite who are strong supporters of Kerry Chikarovski; they know that the motion moved by the Hon. C. J. S. Lynn, who is a strong supporter of Kerry Chikarovski, had a destabilising effect on the Liberal leadership. There is little doubt that the supporters of Kerry Chikarovski are hoping fervently that there will be evidence of a cover-up. The Chikarovski supporters are behind this move to support Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile becoming a member of the committee. This is clearly part of a bitter power struggle between the extreme conservatives and the moderates in the Liberal Party. Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile is merely a pawn in their struggle.
The Leader of the Opposition in this House is merely a hapless bystander, knowing he has lost his chance to become leader, and possibly Premier. The ultra conservatives held him in check in his attempt to grab Lane Cove. This issue is not as simple as it sounds. Clearly the Chikarovski supporters have another agenda: they support Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile and hope to get rid of Peter Collins. It will be interesting to see what happens after the committee’s deliberations. I hope honourable members will not support this motion. It will load up the committee with a very extreme man and will be very divisive. The committee will have to go back to scratch.
The Hon. A. G. CORBETT [5.57 p.m.]: Currently I cannot see any justification for the privileges and ethics committee, which has been established for many years, not continuing to conduct this most important task with its current membership. What can Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile offer or contribute which could not be otherwise done by the current membership or by the procedures already in place for other members to have some input into the inquiry? Nevertheless, I await Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile’s contribution to this debate to explain his motives both short- and long-term. I await to hear what positive and objective contribution he believes he can make - I am sure it will not contain any personal attacks on members for their stance on any issue.
The Hon. ELAINE NILE [5.58 p.m.], in reply: I thank all honourable members who supported my motion and the amendment. I conclude my brief remarks so as not to delay the business of the House, as the merit of the motion is obvious to all honourable members.
Amendment agreed to.
Question - That the motion as amended be agreed to - put.
The House divided.
Mrs Arena Mrs Nile
Mr Bull Rev. Nile
Mrs Chadwick Dr Pezzutti
Mrs Forsythe Mr Ryan
Mr Gallacher Mr Samios
Miss Gardiner Mr Rowland Smith
Mr Gay Mr Tingle
Mr Hannaford Tellers,
Mr Kersten Mr Jobling
Mr Lynn Mr Moppett
Dr Burgmann Ms Kirkby
Ms Burnswoods Mr Macdonald
Mr Cohen Mr Obeid
Mr Corbett Ms Saffin
Mr Dyer Mr Shaw
Mr Egan Mrs Symonds
Mr Johnson Mr Vaughan
Mr Jones Tellers,
Mr Kaldis Mrs Isaksen
Mr Kelly Mr Manson
Mrs Sham-Ho Mr Primrose
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion as amended agreed to.
JOINT SELECT COMMITTEE INTO SAFE INJECTING ROOMS
The PRESIDENT: Order! I report the receipt of the following message from the Legislative Assembly:
The Legislative Assembly desires to acquaint the Legislative Council that it has this day agreed to the following resolution -
That the reporting date for the Joint Select Committee upon Injecting Rooms be extended until 23 December 1997, and the Legislative Assembly requests that the Legislative Council pass a similar resolution.
Legislative Assembly John Murray
25 November 1997 Speaker
EDUCATION REFORM AMENDMENT BILL
The Hon. J. W. SHAW (Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations) [6.09 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
Mr President, this legislation establishes a secondary school curriculum and system for certifying student achievement which can meet the needs and expectations of the community as Australia enters the twenty-first century.
It is the culmination of the most extensive process of consultation on the scope and purpose of secondary education since the Higher School Certificate was first introduced more than three decades ago.
The Australia of today is a vastly different place compared to that of 1967. Thirty years ago, only 20 per cent of school students chose to complete the post-compulsory years of secondary education. Today, almost 70 per cent of students stay on to sit for the Higher School Certificate. The steady increase over time in the number of students completing their secondary education has placed increasing pressure on the HSC to meet a growing diversity of needs. At the same time, the pace of change in society means that students face pressures and challenges which did not exist when the HSC was first established.
In these circumstances it was clearly incumbent on the Government to initiate the most wide-ranging and comprehensive discussion on the nature and purpose of secondary education since the HSC was established. In doing so, the Government has honoured its pre-election commitment to revitalise the HSC and the curriculum that underpins it. The Government’s vision for the Higher School Certificate is that it be founded on rigour, fairness and relevance to the needs of all secondary school students. This Bill will ensure that this vision is realised.
The Bill is the first stage in implementing the key directions and recommendations contained in the Government’s HSC White Paper, Securing Their Future. The White Paper was developed after consideration of Shaping Their Future: Recommendations for Reform of the Higher School Certificate. Shaping Their Future is the report of the review of the Higher School Certificate carried out by the eminent educator Professor Barry McGaw, Director of the Australian Council for Educational Research.
In preparing his report Professor McGaw was assisted by an Advisory Group. The group comprised members representing a very wide cross-section of the community. Members were drawn from the secondary and higher education sectors, government and non-government schools and parent groups. The group also included teachers, principals, business people and education administrators.
The basic directions for the Review were clearly expressed in the Government’s pre-election policy statements. These directions included providing an HSC that rests on a coherent and comprehensive secondary curriculum; establishing fair and valid assessment practices; providing the framework for clear reporting on what students know, understand and can do; and developing an HSC that comprises a clear and acceptable basis for gaining access to future learning.
On establishing the review, the Government laid down a number of principles to guide discussion. These included retaining the HSC as a rigorous, competitive, externally-based end-of-school credential; establishing a marking system that is fair, transparent and capable of being clearly explained; ensuring that the marking system is free of bias against particular subjects or groups of subjects or candidates; a reporting system that accords with contemporary community understandings of what marks mean; and ensuring that the HSC provides a quality grounding in knowledge and skills for further study while, at the same time, ensuring that it provides an appropriate platform for students wishing to pursue vocational or on-the-job training.
The Review undertook a wide-ranging process of public consultation. The Review Green Paper, Their Future, Options for Reform of the Higher School Certificate, prepared the way for comprehensive and informed public discussion on the issues raised in the terms of reference.
The Green Paper was widely available in printed form, on CD-ROM, and on the Internet. It involved Government and Non-Government schools and consultation with a wide number of organisations.
There were 38 public meetings in 24 metropolitan and non-metropolitan locations. All public meetings were attended by members of the Review Secretariat and Advisory Group and in many cases by Professor McGaw himself. Professor McGaw addressed an even greater number of conferences and professional and community gatherings. Many schools and communities held their own meetings prior to responding to the Green Paper. More than one thousand written submissions were received by the Review team.
Mr President, the Government entered this careful consultation because it approached its task with an open mind, with a view to responding to the wishes of the community. As the outcome of this process, the Bill represents a clear consensus among the education and broader community on fundamentals such as the purpose of the Higher School Certificate, the nature and scope of the secondary curriculum, and the measurement and reporting of student achievement.
Mr President, the Government has honoured its promise to provide for a Higher School Certificate that parents, students and the wider community can understand. This legislation will ensure that students are assessed fairly and validly on what they know and can do. It will establish clear links between secondary education and the post-school pathways of education, training and employment.
Clause 1 of Schedule 1 of the Bill for the first time makes the objects of the Higher School Certificate clear and explicit. By specifying the purposes of the Higher School Certificate in legislation for the first time, the Government is providing clear guidance for curriculum and assessment planning in the years ahead. I believe the overwhelming majority of the community will agree with these purposes. They are clear and powerful statements detailing the function of senior schooling. To summarise, they include:
•intellectual development of students including capacity to manage their own learning, work with others and respect cultural diversity
•preparation for further education and the work force;
•certifying the achievements of school children.
•fostering the social, moral and spiritual development of their students in Years 11 and 12; and
•encouraging all students to complete 13 years of schooling, unlike the current system which was designed on the assumption that the HSC would only be undertaken by a minority of students.
The Government believes the interests of our young people are best served if they stay on to complete Year 12. Changes to the curriculum arising from this Bill will focus on enhancing continuity across Years 7 to 12 and will facilitate bridging the gap that currently divides Year 10 and Year 11.
A second aim to be addressed in Section 6 will be to foster the intellectual, social and moral development of students in ways which will benefit them for the rest of their lives. This aim will be furthered in several ways.
Firstly, apart from encouraging the development of knowledge, skills, understandings and attitudes, the HSC will aim to develop in students a capacity for life-long learning. It will foster in students a desire to continue learning after they leave school and, as a corollary, courses will foster in students the capacity to manage their own learning.
Mr President, in an environment increasingly characterised by rapid change in traditional employment patterns and career paths, it is essential that our education system prepares young people to be as flexible and receptive as possible to change throughout their working lives.
While the importance of the HSC to students’ further education and training cannot be over-emphasised, the HSC curriculum also has an important social dimension. Education must be about inculcating in students those values and attitudes which will enable them actively to participate in and contribute to society as Australian citizens. Section 6 therefore provides that the HSC will foster in students the capacity to work with others. The HSC will also aim to foster respect by all students for the cultural diversity of Australian society. I am proud that this legislation acknowledges our cultural diversity as a fundamental value of NSW education.
The amendments to section 6 will also make clear an obligation to provide formal assessment and certification of student achievement. This reaffirms the Government’s clear commitment to the assessment and reporting of student achievement against explicit standards. It will provide the legislative base for a system that will equate the methods of reporting achievement with concepts clearly understood by the whole community.
There is one more object for the Higher School Certificate that cannot be overlooked. Section 6 states that the HSC will provide a context for schools to foster the physical and spiritual development of students. This gives concrete expression to the principle that the HSC should be about educating the whole person. It recognises the diversity of schools in our state and their right to interpret the curriculum in terms of the values and beliefs of their school communities.
Mr President, one of the reasons for defining in legislation the purposes of the Higher School Certificate is to provide a strong conceptual base for future development of secondary courses. The curriculum for the Higher School Certificate must be designed to achieve the purposes set for secondary schooling. In this sense the Government intends to provide for a more structured, coherent and cohesive approach to the development of individual subjects. Each course should be developed in terms of a clear understanding of its role as part of the whole curriculum and should meet clearly-defined standards of rigour and subject integrity.
Section 12 of the new Act will achieve these aims by ensuring that each course developed or endorsed by the Board of Studies meets a range of explicit quality criteria.
The amendments contained in item  of Schedule 1 of the Bill mean that section 12 will stipulate that for any new course, the Board must provide satisfactory evidence on the need for the course and an assurance of its quality.
This means that each course proposal must contain a detailed explanation of the subject content. It must contain a clear rationale and statement of purpose. There must be evidence of how the course has been informed by national and international best practice and that the learning outcomes have been set at an appropriate standard. There must be clear evidence of demand for the course and advice about the relationship of the course to existing subjects. To ensure that the Board takes account of resources and other implications for schools, each proposal must also include an analysis of such things as the likely impact on school timetables, evidence of the availability of appropriately qualified teachers; and that the course can be taught and examined within the resources usually available to schools.
Mr President, the amendment to section 12 ensures that responsibility for defining these criteria rests with the Minister for Education and Training. This is to ensure that determining the criteria which subjects should all meet is the responsibility of the Government. It provides for a clear and logical separation between the Minister’s responsibilities to represent the views of the broader community in setting appropriate standards and expectations of syllabuses and the Board’s obligation to meet those standards and expectations.
Item  of schedule 1 of the Amendment Bill also replaces references in the current Act to Key Learning Areas for Years 11 and 12 with references to patterns of study determined by the Minister on the advice of the Board. The Government accepts arguments emerging from the consultation process that the key learning area framework has been of doubtful benefit in terms of prescribing appropriate patterns of study for the senior secondary years of schooling and that it has hampered efforts to develop and deliver a coherent curriculum. The amendment therefore removes references to the key learning areas for Years 11 and 12 and allows the Minister, on the advice of the Board of Studies, to determine requirements for the Higher School Certificate.
I turn now to the part which the School Certificate plays in secondary schooling and its relationship to the Higher School Certificate.
Mr President, the Government is committed to restoring significance and purpose to Year 10 studies. Many submissions to the HSC Review were strongly critical of the fact that the School Certificate is not preparing students adequately for study at Higher School Certificate level. The apparent lack of challenge posed by Year 10 studies for most students also emerged as a clear theme.
To address the problem, the Government intends to provide students with a credential that reports meaningfully on their individual achievement. At the same time, the Government will move to ensure that the credential rests on a curriculum that provides a strong foundation for further study in Years 11 and 12. This foundation is needed for successful study of the range of subjects that comprise the Higher School Certificate. It is also necessary to provide a basis for achieving two of the important purposes set out for the HSC - helping students prepare for full and active participation as members of the community and developing their respect for our cultural diversity.
Item  of schedule 1 of this Bill amends Section 94 of the Act to provide for the discontinuation of the use of Reference Tests and their replacement with statewide tests in English literacy, Mathematics, Science, and in Australian History, Geography and Civics and Citizenship. The tests in each of these areas will be based upon Board of Studies curriculum and will be reported in terms of the standards achieved by students.
The Government has accepted an amendment moved in the lower house to change the term "Civics" to "Civics and Citizenship". Certainly the two spheres are closely linked, and it was clearly always the Government’s intention that the ambit of civics cover the issue of the skills, knowledge and attitudes required to be an effective citizen in our democracy.
The tests will challenge schools and students to achieve high standards in those areas of learning which are of fundamental importance to further study or other pathways beyond Year 10. The Government has an obligation to encourage every student to attain a satisfactory standard of achievement in the core areas of learning. Testing of these core areas will provide strong impetus for schools and students to place appropriate emphasis on these subjects during the compulsory years of education and will ensure that students who proceed to Year 11 are appropriately prepared for the demands of Higher School Certificate studies.
The specification of testing in Australian History, Australian Geography and Civics and Citizenship fulfils a pre-election commitment to ensure that the study of Australian social and political institutions forms part of the experience of every school student. The curriculum on which the tests will be based will aim to help students gain a clearer understanding of what it means to be an Australian. It will also help our young people to develop a sense of community spirit and a clear appreciation of their rights and obligations as adult citizens.
Although the precise definition of the scope of Civics and Citizenship education will be a matter for the Board of Studies to determine, it may be helpful to outline some of the areas the Government sees as covered by the concept.
The fundamental aim of Civics and Citizenship is to prepare our young people to be full and active citizens and to help them appreciate the unique qualities of the Australian nation.
We now live in an Australia where one in four families has a language background other than English. In this context, it is our common citizenship which binds us together as a single nation.
Our unique identity as a nation depends crucially on the diverse backgrounds of our people.
All of us need to know about the structure of Australian Government. We need to appreciate the security provided by the separate arms - the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The judiciary is crucially important in securing individual freedom under the rule of law. At the same time, the fact that we, unlike the US, have an elected rather than appointed executive cements the fundamental concept of accountability by decision makers to the people.
We must properly acknowledge the importance of our British heritage and the adaptation to Australian circumstances of its institutions of law and Government.
Despite some shortcomings in these institutions, we should recognise that they originated in what was arguably the world’s first liberal democracy.
We should also acquaint students with the Western European cultural heritage of which Britain then formed a part.
At the same time we must acknowledge the social upheaval, conflict and injustice in our history over the last 200 years as Aboriginal society has collided with cultures from the rest of the world. We must acknowledge that it is this too which shapes our national identity and that how we resolve it will shape our future identity.
As well, our students should understand those aspects of the Geography which make us unique as a nation - the way the composition of our soils has given us a unique flora and fauna; the way the oceans and land masses affect our climate; the way our vulnerability to fire has shaped our environment; and the way these factors and our location in the world mean we interact with other nations.
These turbulent, at times conflicting patterns, are among the things students should understand as they prepare to become active citizens.
Although many of these things have been taught at one time or another in the school curriculum, until now we have not explicitly said that we expect such understandings to be among the core expectations of schooling.
The Government sees much of this knowledge and understanding being achieved in the context of learning about Australian Geography and History. We do not envisage Civics and Citizenship as an additional subject within the curriculum. While Australian Geography and History have been compulsory for the last few years, the fact that most students currently study those subjects in year 7 and 8 has meant they have been taught at a less sophisticated level than would be possible in years 9 and 10. Placing the external examinations at the end of year 10 will help to ensure these subjects are treated more seriously.
Mr President, having outlined the principles that have informed those Sections in the Bill relating to the School Certificate and Higher School Certificate, I now turn to the Schedule 2 which contains amendments relating to the Board of Studies.
Under item  of Schedule 2, the current Act would be amended to provide for the appointment of the President of the Board on either a full or part-time basis. At present the President must be a full-time officer.
This replaces an unwelcome limitation on the role of the President. It limits the pool of available candidates to those prepared to take on the position full-time. As well, it allows for a blurring of the responsibilities of the President and General Manager of the Board. It is only the good will and
professionalism of the past and present occupants of those positions which has prevented this becoming a serious problem.
The Government sees the role of President of the Board as having a long-sighted strategic view of the shaping of schooling. It is the General Manager who should focus primarily on the day-to-day management.
The Government recognises that there may be some individuals who are eminently qualified to fill the post of President, but who are unable to offer a commitment on a full-time basis. In such circumstances a part-time appointment may be the most appropriate means of securing the services of an outstanding individual. This flexibility would be critical in terms of the future operation of the Board and to reinforce the importance of the Board as an independent body.
Item  of Schedule 2 enacts a new section 101A which provides for the appointment of an Acting President. The current Act has no provision for the appointment of an acting or interim President during the period between the departure of one President and the selection and appointment of another. Since the selection process for positions of this nature can and probably should take some months, it is clearly essential that the legislation provide for continuity of leadership of the Board of Studies while that process is completed and when for whatever reason the President is absent.
Item  of Schedule 2 of the Bill allows the President of the Board to appoint Board committees with the approval of the Minister. This once again ensures the Minister, who is publicly accountable for the running of the Board, has some capacity to influence the efficacy of its operations, while in no way detracting from the independence of its deliberations.
Items  and  of Schedule 2 of the bill amend Schedule 1 of the Act in relation to the representation of certain interests on the Board of Studies. The existing Act allows for the Board to include as far as practicable members who have professional experience or demonstrated interest in the education of girls. Mr President, as Honourable Members will be aware, it is crucial that we ensure that the educational interests of both girls and boys are effectively represented in the deliberations and decisions made by the Board, and that the full range of gender issues affecting students is considered. The Bill therefore refers to gender issues in education rather than to the education of girls.
Mr President, the last matter concerning the operation of the Board of Studies on which I wish to speak concerns the commitment of individual members to the interests of the Board. A shortcoming of the present Act is that it does not explicitly address the extent to which members are to identify with the interests of the Board as an independent public body. As Minister for Education and Training, I am committed to the principle of an independent Board with the capacity to provide the Government with expert and unbiased advice from its own unique perspective. The Board has a responsibility to address the needs of all students in all schools and it is important that members are seen to place this duty ahead of any sectional concerns.
Item  of Schedule 2 amends the existing Clause 3A of Schedule 1 in the Act to include a clause which makes this responsibility clear. It states clearly and unambiguously that the first loyalty of a member is to the Board and that in the event of a conflict of interest, members are to give preference to the interests of the Board.
This provision does not in fact change the law but is already part of the existing law relating to the responsibilities of members of statutory boards. Members may recall a famous judgement some years ago involving the Board of Fire Commissioners. While I do not propose to relate particulars of the judgement, it clearly established in law the notion that members of statutory bodies must show their commitment to the interests of that body. The Government believes that this principle is of critical importance in ensuring that the Board’s deliberations are seen to reflect the firm commitment of each member to the interests of all students. The purpose in including them in the Act is to make sure members of the Board are explicitly aware of their legal obligations.
Mr President, the changes which I have outlined impact on a number of other Sections of the Act. I would like to refer briefly to those changes which are of particular interest or importance.
Schedule 3 of the Bill enacts a range of miscellaneous amendments to the Act.
Schedule 3 changes the name of the Act to the Education Act. The Education Reform Act was a title borrowed from the United Kingdom. It does not properly characterise the function of the Act. It was a political gesture by the former Government to suggest the function of the Act was to change education. It is time we were more honest. The purpose of the Act is to lay down the continuing legal framework for Education in this State, and therefore its proper title should be the Education Act.
Item  of Schedule 3 refers to the restriction on publication of results of School Certificate and Higher School Certificate candidates. The purpose of the amendment is to remove an anomaly in the current Act which gives the Minister a regulation making power in relation to Basic Skills Tests but not for the School Certificate or Higher School Certificate.
The Government has accepted an amendment in the Legislative Assembly to provide that the Minister is to bear in mind the potentially adverse effects of "any inappropriate public disclosure of the results".
Provision will be made for regulations relating to the extent to which the results of the School Certificate and the Higher School Certificate may be publicly revealed or must be kept confidential. At present, such regulations are required to be made only in relation to the results of basic skills testing. Clearly, a regulation of the type provided for is necessary and appropriate and was acknowledged as such by the former Government.
Items  and  of Schedule 3 comprise savings and transitional provisions consequent on the enactment of the Act.
Schedule 4 of the Bill excludes the Department of Training and Education Co-ordination from the operation of the Freedom of Information Act 1989 in relation to the functions carried out by that Department pertaining to the storing of, reporting on, or analysing information with respect to the ranking or assessment of students who have completed the Higher School Certificate for entrance into tertiary institutions. The universities are similarly excluded for functions relating to dealing with such information.
This gives effect to the decisions in the White Paper regarding the use of examination information which were recommended by Professor Barry McGaw following the virtually unanimous view of the education community that the publication of the
Tertiary Entrance Rank was educationally harmful, misleading and inaccurate.
As a tool for accountability, the Tertiary Entrance Rank is so poor as to be counter-productive. There are other better, more sophisticated, more reliable, more stable and far more justifiable measures for giving parents and the community reliable information about how schools are performing.
As Professor McGaw pointed out in Shaping Their Future, the current TER calculation produces an artificial precision. It receives course results on a 1000 point scale but after scaling produces a 2000 point scale. In other words - more information comes out of the calculation than went in. As well, in many courses there is clustering of student performances and scaling produces an artificial impression of the level of difference.
If decisions and judgements about schools were made on the basis of this calculation, false claims could be made about some schools being better than others.
Furthermore, Professor McGaw clearly showed that the meaning of the TER value changes over time because of the changing proportion of the cohort which is eligible for the TER. A TER value of 50 in 1993 would be equivalent to a TER value of 44.7 in 1996.
At the same time there is a public understanding of the TER which assumes that a rank below 50 is a fail mark. This is despite the fact that the system inevitably produces 50 percent of its candidates above and below a rank of 50. If all of the world’s Nobel laureates did the HSC - half of them would get a TER below 50.
Almost 400 public submissions called for the TER to be abandoned. This reflects a general concern about the distortion of the TER.
Consider the list of organisations within the education community supporting the confidentiality of the Tertiary Entrance Rank:
•The Joint Council of Professional Teachers Associations
•The Secondary Principals’ Council
•The Association of Heads of Independent Schools, Australia
•The Catholic Education Commission
•The Anglican Education Commission
•The Association of Independent Schools
•The Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations
•The Parents Council
•The Council of Catholic School Parents
•The Federation of School Community Organisations
•The NSW Teachers Federation
•The Independent Education Union
•The Ethnic Communities Council
•The NSW Vice Chancellors’ Conference.
•The Department of School Education
•The Board of Studies
•The Technical and Further Education Commission
Such unanimity on an educational issue is virtually unprecedented. And it is based on very sound educational argument.
This Government was elected on a policy to provide more meaningful and honest information to parents about the performance of schools, but specifically promised to do so in a way which did not involve the creation of league tables.
A League table is an ordered ranking of schools on the basis of a single numeric indicator.
This Government does not believe league tables are an appropriate way to achieve accountability to the public about the performance of schools. Indeed, the international literature on this subject provides clear grounds to conclude that such a practice is counterproductive to achieving the very thing which it is intended to achieve - school improvement.
The experience in the United Kingdom and the United States is that league tables have the effect of labelling individual schools as failures.
The Times Education Supplement of February 21 1997 indicates that the UK’s independent Office for Standards in Education prepared a report indicating that labelling schools as failures was counterproductive and "appeared further to demoralise schools already struggling with basic problems." This is particularly so if it does not take account of the particular conditions of the school as raw HSC results or Tertiary Entrance Rank results without the surrounding context cannot do.
Other international experience confirms the unfairness of league tables. As the world renowned experts in measurement of public sector performance, Goldstein and Thomas say:
"League tables do not provide an indication of the amount of improvement made by students, nor do they take account of schools’ different starting positions"
(Goldstein, H and Thomas, S (1995) Value Added: What next? University of London: Institute of Education, Paper.
This criticism is directly applicable to the publication of school-by-school TERs.
Moreover, league tables are notoriously misleading. They falsely attribute differences in the performance of schools, and the public is likely to ignore measurement error. As Goldstein says:
"At best they can only be used to identify schools which are well above average, about average, and well below average"
And as the Blair Government’s new head of the Standards Council, Professor Michael Barber says:
"We can’t reduce a school’s performance to a single number. Several indicators are necessary."
(Quoted in Johnston, C (1997) The Numbers Game, Australian Education, Autumn, Page 34.)
These people are measurement experts who fulsomely promote the idea of school accountability. Yet they acknowledge that school accountability must be done fairly and properly - taking account of the expert literature in the field.
This Government does not claim all schools are equally effective. Nor do we shy away from allowing the public to be fully and responsibly informed about those differences. But we do so through the mechanism of a full report on each school’s achievements, where appropriate in comparison to statewide standards, but placed within the context and environment in which the school finds itself.
This is seen in the new Annual School Reports which give parents more detailed and genuine information about the performance of each school than they have ever had in the past.
This change does not prevent the Government from conducting value-added analysis of the performance of schools. Indeed, we are fully committed to doing so. Such analysis can be based on the HSC results rather than the TER.
The Department of School Education, which has some of the foremost expertise in this subject, has designed its statistical systems in relation to school accountability and annual reporting to produce value-added analysis under the Government’s proposed structure.
It will also be quite possible to recognise and commend the performance of top students in the HSC. But this can be done on the basis of HSC marks achieved in each subject rather than through the TER. Indeed, the Government has already announced that it will make available the names and schools of students achieving above 90.
The case is overwhelming. There is no public interest in releasing the TER results which cannot be satisfied better with alternative measures of performance. And there is the public risk of unnecessarily creating school failure.
Section 103 clarifies the process by which the Board establishes its committees and the way in which members of those committees are appointed. It specifically identifies the President as the person responsible for making appointments to committees and places a requirement on that person to ensure that prospective members have the capacity to make a useful and constructive contribution. Where the establishment of committees is concerned, the President is to seek the approval of the Board and the Minister. This will ensure that new committees are established in accordance with the preferences of all key stakeholders.
I wish to emphasise that this is only the first stage in the implementation of the Government’s White Paper. I have established a task force which has responsibility for the ongoing implementation of the Government’s policy. It is possible that further legislation may be needed next year following current investigations and consultation.
Mr President, this Bill represents a significant watershed in the history of education in New South Wales. It presents the legislative framework under which the School Certificate and Higher School Certificate can meet the needs of our community into the 21st century. This Bill provides our schools and students with clear vision for the future and lays the basis for a curriculum and reporting system founded on rigour, standards and relevance.
Mr President, I commend the Bill to the House.
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK [6.10 p.m.]: If amendments have been made to a bill in the other place, it is the traditional procedure that the responsible Minister delivers a second reading speech in this place. In addition, the Government has said that it plans to move amendments to the bill. It would have been a courtesy to the House for the Minister to have presented a second reading speech foreshadowing those amendments. However, that is not to be and in many ways it does not surprise me. When I examined the amendments proposed in this bill I made an extraordinary discovery. Typical of this Government’s small-minded approach to many aspects of so-called education reform, one of the profound amendments proposed by the Government is to delete the word "Reform" from the Education Reform Act 1990. That is typical of the changes proposed by the Government in the bill.
The bill aims to reform the curriculum for the higher school certificate, school certificate examinations and assessments, the Board of Studies, and the publication of results of the school certificate and higher school certificate. It proposes to amend the Freedom of Information Act to exempt certain documents relating to tests and examinations carried out in schools. All of those matters are worthy of consideration and many of the alterations, depending on the nature of the amendment proposed by the Government, are worthy of support. Those of us who are interested in education are well aware of the significant review of the New South Wales higher school certificate undertaken in the past 18 months or so by Barry McGaw and the Australian Council of Education Research on behalf of the Government. The Government gave a clear commitment that amending legislation would be brought to the Parliament following consultation on the review.
In many ways this bill, important though it may be in relation to both the higher school certificate and the school certificate, appears at first blush to be something of a clayton's bill. The Hansard record of the debate in the lower House shows that the Minister for Education and Training stated that many of the matters raised by the shadow minister, Stephen O’Doherty, were not dealt with in the bill. The public debate over recent times has related to issues such as whether three-unit subjects should be included in the higher school certificate and whether different methods of assessment should be considered. When those issues were raised by the shadow minister the Minister stated in "quite specific terms" that nothing in the bill created two-unit or three-unit subjects, and that the three-unit debate is not part of the bill but was being looked at in curriculum investigations.
It appears to me to be somewhat clayton-like for the Government to claim that it has profound amending legislation coming before the Parliament after almost two years of review and study and then for the Minister to say that a major aspect of debate such as the creation of two-unit or three-unit subjects has nothing to do with the bill. In relation to higher school certificate reform the Minister
stated that he was keen and willing to pursue investigations somewhat further before making a definitive determination about the direction the Government should take. When speaking about the Board of Studies the Minister in the other place stated that the nature of the board is not referred to in the bill and that he wanted to make it plain that nothing in the bill related to the composition of the board.
The Minister and the Government cannot claim that this is major framework legislation that changes the nature of the school certificate, the higher school certificate and the Board of Studies if the Minister says that it has nothing to do with such important framework matters as the composition of the Board of Studies and the creation of three-unit subjects. As I said, at first blush the bill appeared to be something of a clayton’s bill that the Minister introduced because he was so late in delivering on the education reform that he had promised. I thought he had introduced this legislation because he was embarrassed and felt that the Government should be doing something as a result of the McGaw report. Upon reflection, however, I realised that the Minister was somewhat misleading in his comments in the lower House because this framework legislation is in fact a framework.
Examination of the McGaw report shows that the amending bill provides the Minister with a mechanism to basically do whatever the Government wants in relation to the school certificate, the Board of Studies, or assessment, testing and reporting. As I said, the Minister was somewhat disingenuous when he suggested in another place that many of the matters that are critically important to the education community have nothing to do with this bill, because they do. The first of the amendments proposed by the Government relates to the areas of study for the higher school certificate. I would not suggest for one minute that there are not aspects of the higher school certificate that should be investigated and changed.
I shall give a couple of examples to sustain that position. First and foremost, whether by rhetoric or reality, both the Government and the Opposition want the higher school certificate to be a world-class credential that covers the range of students that is increasingly going on to year 12. The trend for students to spend more time at school should be encouraged, but it is important that the higher school certificate have intellectual rigour. In recent years there has been a most alarming movement of more able students out of the more rigorous courses down to two-unit or, more generally, one-unit courses. That has scarcely encouraged academic rigour and, therefore, it most certainly has not fulfilled one of the great aims of a first-class higher school certificate. But it has done more damage than that because by moving more able students out of more rigorous subjects down into two-unit or more general subjects, it has skewed the results and, in effect, not given an accurate reflection of the work and capacity of those more average, moderate or less able students.
On almost every ground that one could conceive, the trend for fewer and fewer able students to undertake the more challenging areas of higher school certificate study should have been addressed by whichever party was in government. I agree with the Government about the absolute necessity for some review and redress of that problem. Only time will tell whether the Government’s proposal to move to two-unit studies is the solution. My nervousness is due to the fact that, unless other mechanisms are put in place, all that is happening is that the deckchairs are being shuffled. Unless some other mechanism is put in place, absolutely nothing will prevent more able students from moving down from those two-unit areas into less challenging areas of study. One suggestion I put to the Government is that it should be working hard with tertiary institutions.
I know that some become anxious about the nexus between universities and schools on the one hand and universities and the higher school certificate on the other, but it seems to me that if the rigour and challenge are to be returned to the higher school certificate, and if able students are to be encouraged to undertake more challenging subjects, there has to be something in it for them. As a result, it seems to me that, for want of something better, there should either be prerequisites for courses or greater academic recognition for some of those subjects. I am trying to say that merely shuffling the education deckchairs by changing the units of study will not correct the downward drift that is now so evident of more capable students opting not to undertake the more rigorous subjects. At the other end of the education spectrum, I object strongly to the somewhat blanket opposition to some of the one-unit courses. General studies is one course that immediately springs to mind.
There is much more sense in making a two-unit general studies course out of a one-unit general studies course than in abandoning it altogether. It is an extremely popular course with a great deal of relevant content. Qualified teachers and source material are available to teach the course, and in my view it makes more sense to move it up rather than out. The first of the Government’s amendments
relates to a number of matters to which the Opposition does not strongly object. It deals with a curriculum structure that encourages students to complete secondary education. That is and has been coalition policy for years, and in fact states the obvious. On many occasions I have spoken about the tremendous changes that have occurred in the past decade or so. When the higher school certificate was first developed it was a credential to prepare young people for university and 70 per cent of our young people left school after year 10.
That trend, of course, has been reversed and any movement to offer a broad breadth of curriculum choice, a well-rounded education catering for the interests and needs of all students, is not only a wise education move but will also encourage more students to stay on at school. I certainly have no disagreement with the other objects of the bill. However, I do not believe - and this is not a criticism - that those objects contain anything that is not already good education policy and practice: it confirms the existing realities and the bleeding obvious. However, the next amendment proposed by the Government will result in a great change to key learning areas. I note that the Minister in another place paid tribute to the work of Sir John Carrick and his committee, who were the original proponents of the key learning areas and the K1-12 concept in New South Wales.
The consequences of the proposed reforms of the education system were momentous and everyone conceded that the reforms would take at least a decade to work their way through and be absorbed into the system. It is a non sequitur for the Minister to praise the work of Sir John Carrick on one hand and to fiddle around with key learning areas on the other. I am well aware that in our high schools there are a number of unreconstructed teachers and school principals who are either worried about subject matter and timetable problems or who do not like change. They have never liked having to fit in key learning areas, particularly across years 11 and 12. However, is that a reason to abandon key learning areas when the momentous change was made less than 10 years ago? Perhaps it is, and in some ways I am the one who is unreconstructed.
The Hon. Jan Burnswoods: I cannot believe that.
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK: The Hon. Jan Burnswoods is a great proponent of a broad breadth of curriculum choice, if not of key learning areas. Even if one could mount an argument for the removal of key learning areas, hence a move to specialisation in years 11 and 12, the drift downwards that will inevitably flow from that is absolutely unjustified. Schools that have difficulties with staffing, timetabling and so forth will give consideration to what they can offer without key learning areas in years 11 and 12. So the abandonment of the key learning areas in those years will have a downward drift effect and there will be lip service, a token approach, to key learning areas in those earlier years. That will have a negative impact on education. In addition, it is premature, bearing in mind that it is only a few years ago that key learning areas were introduced. Before they are even fully operational within schools, they are to be dramatically changed. Apart from anything else, I would have thought that our schools are sick of change.
As with many things in life, there is no point in changing for the sake of change or because it seemed like a good idea at the time. The streaker’s defence is not good educational policy or an excuse for educational policy that uses children as guineapigs. It is not the most ideal way to get the best educational results and provide the best education for our children that every couple of years a different Minister tries to make his or her mark by introducing new educational reform legislation. The Minister has abandoned key learning principles in the higher school certificate, whereby the courses of study will be determined by the Minister on the recommendation of the board. Instead of a sound education for our children providing a breadth of study across different areas of educational knowledge, the pattern of the breadth of study will be determined by the Minister and the board. How can that be a significant educational advance?
[The Deputy-President (The Hon. J. R. Johnson) left the chair at 6.31 p.m. The House resumed at 8.00 p.m.]
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK [8.00 p.m.]: Whatever changes to the higher school certificate are proposed by the Government, one underlying principle - which I should have thought is beyond politics - must be adhered to. Whatever model is proposed, whether by the Labor Party or the Liberal Party, it must be achievable in all schools across all sectors of education, without prejudice to the size of the school and regardless of its location and clientele. At this stage of the Government’s deliberations I remain unconvinced that that underlying pedagogical principle is achievable. If the Government wishes to move from the current configuration of units of study, I would seek a guarantee that the Government knows from its trials that what it proposes is achievable in all schools regardless of their location and size, and that
it is accessible to all students without prejudice. I doubt that that is the case. That is not to say that it might not be if the proper modelling is done and if appropriate measures are put in place.
My nervousness about these changes is attributable to the fact that if modelling work is not done, our education system will be put at grave risk. Not enough has been done by Professor Barry McGaw, the Minister or any advocate for these changes to convince me that a move to another configuration of unit courses will not prejudice schools based in some regional locations and those with a small number of candidates for the HSC. I certainly am aware, given the interest that has been aroused in the non-government and selective school sectors, that even in selective and private schools with large candidatures - and hence a better configuration to play with in terms of subject and teacher allocation - there is considerable apprehension about what is proposed. They believe it cannot be achieved.
I will not read onto the record the detail of a survey conducted at the James Ruse selective high school. The results show the impossibility of the proposal from a timetabling perspective and from the point of view of the number of units a student might wish to take. The proposal would, in many ways, be physically and fiscally impossible at a school like James Ruse. I use the example of James Ruse because it is a selective school with a very large candidature. In small country schools at which students have been encouraged to stay on to year 12 - a school with only a half a dozen or even fewer candidates for the HSC - there will not be the number of teachers available to allow students the same subject choice. I would not say that the current system is perfect -
The Hon. R. S. L. Jones: Even after your years as Minister?
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK: Even after all my years as Minister I would not say that it was perfect.
The Hon. R. S. L. Jones: I am disappointed in you.
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK: It is the truth.
The Hon. R. S. L. Jones: Did you fail?
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK: No, the coalition did not fail, but it did not have a perfect system either. Even in an imperfect system, however, any changes that are made must be made for the better. The recommended changes to the school certificate were well outside the terms of reference of the McGaw reference. Even so he chose to report upon them and the Government chose, for whatever reason, to allow him to do so. In 1994 the previous Government instituted a review of the school certificate. I am on the record as saying that the school certificate is anachronistic, that a school certificate that was designed at a time when 70 per cent of students used it as an exit credential is of little relevance in today’s world. Nowadays only 30 per cent of students go on to university. I believe that examinations on such topics as Australian history, and civics and citizenship will be of considerable value.
I simply state that the changes had little relevance in the real world at the time they were proposed. The designated time frame was an impossibility. There has been considerable discussion between the members on the crossbenches, members of the Opposition, government advisers and the like about our desire to slow down the process - not to stop it but to make it work. The Government’s proposals are totally unworkable. Despite the fact that the Minister deigned not to make a second reading speech, I understand that the Government now proposes an amendment. In the absence of the Minister’s second reading speech in this House, I can only rely on last Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald, which is a pretty funny way of doing business in a House of review, I suggest. Using last Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald as a model for what the Minister would have said had he deigned to make a speech, I understand that the Government is now proposing that the changes be made in 2001. If that is not correct, perhaps the Minister in his reply to the second reading debate will state the Government’s intentions. If that is the position, the Opposition will move to amend that provision in Committee.
Despite what the Opposition believes is the Government’s position now, there has been much discussion about whether a select committee of this House, a joint parliamentary committee or, indeed, other mechanisms should review the process and slow it down. If the Sydney Morning Herald is correct and the changes will be made in 2001 - and, sadly, that is the only material I have to rely on - I strongly urge the Government to listen to the education community and the Catholic Education Commission in particular, which have said that preparation of and trialling the syllabus, training teachers and preparation of material should sensibly be moved to 2002 as all this could not be achieved in 2001. The Government proposes to amend the
provisions relating to the position of President of the Board of Studies. The Opposition is strongly opposed to the Government’s proposal to make the position of the President of the Board of Studies a part-time position. There are many reasons for opposing that proposal but in the interests of time I shall refer to only one simple practicality.
It has been reported that nominees to positions as general members of the Board of Studies are looking at spending an average of 1½ days a week reading board papers, attending committee meetings and attending to a variety of other matters relating to the board’s work. If general board members spend an average of 1½ days a week on board work across the year, how can the position of President of the Board of Studies be engaged only part time? It cannot be done. The Opposition plans to oppose that proposal for one simple reason. My colleague Mr O’Doherty and I cannot work out how an amendment can be worded to provide that the position of President of the Board of Studies will be a part-time position and the person who takes up the position will not have a full-time job otherwise. That is the only real way the President of the Board of Studies could carry out his duties. The work of the President of the Board of Studies is such that someone with a full-time job - for example, a professor at a major university in New South Wales who has onerous duties and responsibilities - could not possibly devote the necessary time to the position.
I could imagine a retired person accepting an appointment as part-time President of the Board of Studies. But in that case the Government would be getting a board president. I maintain, however, that the duties of the board president are so onerous and wide ranging that they could not be performed successfully by a person engaged part time. Of course the education community is always rife with rumours, and I am sure the names of the usual suspects, in the Casablanca sense, have been suggested. However, I am sure the Government would not be so devious as to appoint any one of them as President of the Board of Studies; their responsibilities and duties in other quarters would put them well out of consideration. The position of President of the Board of Studies should be full time.
The bill recognises that we have made progress on gender equity. It is right and proper that we have spent valuable time raising issues relating to the education of girls in our schools, but much more work still needs to be done. My colleague Stephen O’Doherty chaired a committee, on which my colleague the Hon. D. F. Moppett served admirably, that examined education for boys. It is important to progress the broader gender education issues. Honourable members would be aware that considerable concern has been expressed about the structure of committees. Do the Government and the Minister really think that they can impede the work of the board with regard to committee appointments? Some of my colleagues on the crossbenches are eager to move amendments in that regard. The Opposition will take enormous pleasure in supporting those worthwhile and useful amendments, however unpleasant they may be for the Minister of the day.
Some members of the crossbenches plan to move amendments to clause 3(a), which is a fairly heavy-handed amendment to the Act, and the Opposition is more than happy to support those amendments. I refer now to the publication of results. I do not intend to traverse the ground that has been admirably covered by several of my colleagues in another place; it is well documented. No-one would have derived any pleasure from the Mount Druitt catastrophe last year, but on balance the community has a right to know what is happening with more than $5 billion of taxpayers’ money, and with the education of their children. They do not need to know it by tabloid sensationalism or league tables, or by pitting one school or one student against another.
The community has a duty to our children - I sound like another honourable colleague, and I do not intend to do so - generation after generation to know whether standards in history, mathematics or English are rising, falling or remaining the same, so that we can have an intelligent debate. More than $5 billion a year is spent on education in New South Wales, and apart from the rantings and ravings of the populist press on any given issue there is no mechanism by which we can say that standards are rising, falling or remaining the same. It is imperative that the Government makes a commitment - and I wish I had done it - to give some substance to our educational debate. We say we have a great education system, and we do; we say our children are better educated than their fathers and mothers were, and they are; and we say our standards are rising, and I believe they are - but there is no mechanism by which we can prove it. It is imperative to put some rigour into the education debate. Despite our fears and misgivings about some parts of the bill, the Opposition will not oppose it.
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS [8.23 p.m.]: In speaking to the Education Reform Amendment Bill I refer to the work of Professor McGaw and the process leading to the bill’s introduction. I shall
make a few historical comments also. I am pleased the Opposition will not oppose the bill, although the Hon. Virginia Chadwick sounded rather negative in her contribution. Some of the issues on which she concentrated do not go to the heart of the matter. The bill has been widely agreed to because of the Government embarking on a lengthy process of consultation because of the requirement to change the higher school certificate, dating from its election to office in 1995; the appointment of Barry McGaw to carry out the review of the HSC; and the release of green and white papers.
No-one - and certainly not the Hon. Virginia Chadwick, speaking as a former Minister for education - could deny that the higher school certificate is very much in need of reform; it has been in existence for 30 years. The scheme on which it was based was adopted in 1961-62. Many would say that although Sir Harold Wyndham and his committee worked through the early 1950s and reported in 1957, investigations were conducted during the 1930s and had it not been for the country’s economic situation during the Great Depression and the Second World War the system may well have been implemented much earlier. That process took a long time.
In the space of 2½ years the Government has proposed change to the senior years of secondary education, and I congratulate it on that initiative. In that time there has been detailed consultation, through the work of Professor McGaw and the Department of School Education, with principals and teachers, parents, government and non-government schools, bodies which run the various school systems, universities, and anyone else who has an interest in the system. When I listened to the Hon. Virginia Chadwick and read the words of the shadow minister in the lower House, it struck me that the Opposition is distinctly schizophrenic on this legislation. On the one hand it criticises the Government for taking too long to get this package in place, but on the other hand it complains about things being rushed.
Stephen O’Doherty referred to his concern that reform of the higher school certificate must be evolutionary and not revolutionary. It is not often that this Government is accused of being revolutionary, and I cannot believe that he meant that. I shall briefly refer to the heart of this legislation and the problems it is designed to address. In the first place, the higher school certificate and the whole system of secondary education of which it is the apex have been in existence for 30 years. As the Hon. Virginia Chadwick said, when it came into existence those seeking secondary education were completely different from those who seek it now. The honourable member referred to a 30 per cent retention rate, but in fact it was much lower than that.
About 15 per cent of students who commenced secondary education completed it. Nowadays 60 per cent, 70 per cent, 80 per cent and in some areas well over 90 per cent of students now complete their secondary education. The HSC that was designed by Wyndham as a university entrance examination for a small collection of students has become the normal leaving examination of the overwhelming majority of students. The system in New South Wales has failed to catch up with that fact. Some stakeholders, particularly universities and to some extent private schools, have been loath to accept the implications of the change in the number and interests of students undertaking education. No-one could disagree that the time to do something about the higher school certificate and the tertiary entrance ranking is long overdue. Essentially they were distorting the kind of education students got, the subject choices they made and their pursuit of marks, which further distorted the chosen levels in particular subjects.
Honourable members have heard a lot about the way in which the complexities of marking and scaling processes encouraged students to choose not challenging subjects but less-challenging subjects in order to boost their marks. The legislation goes a long way towards restoring to the higher school certificate a range of subjects which can be carefully chosen and approved by the Minister, and a series of marking changes which, I hope and expect, will prevent students from making choices based simply on their desire to maximise their marks. Instead they should make choices according to their interests and capabilities; and that will enable a proper emphasis on subjects such as English - which is long overdue - and on vocational courses, which will certainly make it possible for students who are intending to go to university to make appropriate choices.
The Hon. Virginia Chadwick earlier made some interesting comments - interesting not least because clearly they were her personal opinions, even in 1994 when she was the Minister - regarding the school certificate. It was curious to hear a speech from the former Minister telling us not about her beliefs and actions as Minister but about her personal views in 1994. That says something about the rather low standard of decision making by the Hon. Virginia Chadwick and her predecessor, the unlamented Terry Metherell. It also says something about the difference between their real beliefs at the
time that they were in charge of the education system and what they placed on the public record.
I ask crossbench members to be aware of the implications of the admission by the Hon. Virginia Chadwick that her personal views in 1994 were different from her public views as Minister and different from those of the former Government. That same comment could be made about a number of her statements tonight. The Hon. Virginia Chadwick asked questions which seemed contradictory, negative or nitpicking. For instance, I refer to her attempt to criticise the Government for referring the debate about three-unit and two-unit courses for further study. On the one hand the Hon. Virginia Chadwick, and Stephen O’Doherty in the lower House, criticised that reference, but on the other hand they do not think that that decision should be hurried.
Similarly, the attack on the Government’s remark that this is major framework legislation seems strange. The Hon. Virginia Chadwick and Stephen O’Doherty say that it is not framework legislation if everything is not in it, but they do not want certain things in it, for instance decisions about two-unit courses. This is a classic case of the Opposition opposing for the sake of opposing. In that context I draw attention to the petty remarks about the clause which deletes the word "reform" from the title of the current legislation. Legislation dating back 110 to 115 years has always been regarded as the framework for the system. The introduction of the word "reform" by Terry Metherell distorted that by making it appear that there was one piece of legislation which changed, reformed or altered the principal legislation. It is better in any portfolio to leave those value-laden words out and to simply accept legislation as covering the field; certainly that is what this bill does. Finally, I will say something about reaction, particularly by universities, to the changes. Indeed the word "reform" is appropriate in relation to the vexed problem of university entrance.
As honourable members will be aware, I am a member of the board of the University of Western Sydney. I was delighted that the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Western Sydney welcomed these changes and stressed their value for selecting the most appropriate students for university entrance. The vice-chancellor and others from the University of Western Sydney were strongly critical of the remarks of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales and the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney, and drew a clear line between the interests of people speaking on behalf of the so-called elite universities with their interest in perpetuating the enrolment of students from certain schools and certain backgrounds against the far more democratic and egalitarian universities, such as the University of Western Sydney, which have an interest in fostering the best performance by all students. Those more democratic universities recognise that the old system of tertiary entrance essentially favoured students from more privileged backgrounds and students with the ability and resources to manipulate their subject choice in order to achieve certain results.
It certainly gives me pleasure to join with people from the University of Western Sydney in helping to overcome a very conservative university and the elite private school dominated and examination ridden management of the higher school certificate and its predecessors. For too long what has happened in the school system has been dominated by the examination at the end of 12 years of schooling. These changes to the higher school certificate will make it a strong examination which will suit the interests and needs of the whole range of students who sit that exam. Retention rates are higher than they were in the past. We must ensure that, whether students go on to universities, TAFE or jobs, the higher school certificate provides a suitable end point to their studies without distorting the kind of work they do while at school.
It gives me great pleasure to support this legislation. It will produce a much fairer and more equitable system in New South Wales. It will overcome some of the inequities between students in the city and in the country, in selective and specialist schools compared to comprehensive schools, and between students of different gender. The bill makes provision for a more open and more responsive higher school certificate that tries to avoid the pressures placed on students from universities and the sort of public league-table competition. It can only be the best for our students and in turn for our community.
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY [8.41 p.m.]: The Australian Democrats have some concerns and misgivings about the Education Reform Amendment Bill. I will not weary the House with the total list of those I have consulted about this legislation, but they include the University of Sydney, the University of New South Wales, the New South Wales Parents Council, the higher school certificate task force, the Secondary Principals Council of New South Wales, the Association of Independent Schools, the New South Wales Teachers Federation, the Board of Studies, the Catholic Education Commission, the Head of the School of Mathematics of the University of New
South Wales, the Council of the New South Wales Professional Teachers Association, the Chair of the Academic Senate of the University of Western Sydney, the Charles Sturt University, the University of Wollongong and the University of Technology, Sydney.
My staff and I spent some time researching the legislation. The bill goes back to 1996 when Professor Barry McGaw, Director of the Australian Council for Educational Research, was commissioned by the Minister to produce a green paper entitled "Their Future, Options for Reform of the Higher School Certificate", which was released about 18 months ago. After public consultation, in March 1997 Professor McGaw released his final report entitled "Shaping Their Future: Recommendations for Reform of the Higher School Certificate". The subsequent Government white paper entitled "Securing Their Future" was released in August 1997. The overview of the bill in the explanatory note sets out the main purposes of the legislation as follows:
(a) to change the requirements for the curriculum of the Higher School Certificate, and
(b) to change the requirements for the examination or other assessment of candidates for the School Certificate, and
(c) to enable the President of the Board of Studies to be appointed on a full-time or part-time basis, and
(d) to require regulations to be made relating to the extent to which School Certificate and Higher School Certificate results may be published or are to be kept confidential, and
(d) to exempt from the Freedom of Information Act 1989 information relating to the tertiary entrance ranking or assessment of students who have completed the Higher School Certificate.
I shall first address some general concerns about the Education Reform Amendment Bill. The bill appears to be the first in a phase of amendments based on the government white paper entitled "Securing Their Future", and I shall address also some of that document’s more controversial recommendations. The first concern is the timetable for this legislation. Some community groups have voiced concern at the haste with which the Government is proceeding with these reforms, indeed, creating expectation of endorsement before addressing a number of fundamental structural uncertainties.
While the Minister is asking for carte blanch on a new pattern of study, exactly what this entails needs to be spelled out and not left undisclosed. Important criteria required for consideration of the legislation, such as evidence that the resulting higher school certificate will be stronger, are not yet forthcoming. As the proposed methods for HSC changes are not spelled out in this phase of the legislation, unfortunately it is only possible to speculate on recommendations contained in the Government's white paper. Of course, it is that white paper that continues to generate widespread concern, in particular in regard to the introduction of new course structures - two unit standard and two unit advanced level - and the implication of their introduction on English, mathematics and science courses.
The second concern is about the resourcing of recommendations. The third is whether secondary schools will be able to meet equitably the demands of students and the community which flow from these reforms. At this point I shall quote respected educationalist Professor Ken Eltis, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney. He was commissioned by the Government to review curriculum reform for years K to 10. He said:
A new HSC in the Olympic year may sound like a great idea, but the achievement of such a goal required curriculum reform in the shape of new syllabuses, new examination procedures and will require super-Olympic performances. There would be about 18 months to complete the task.
Although the stated aims of the HSC reforms are to ensure acceptable standards, to simplify course structure and to increase the rigour and quality of the curriculum - of course, they are very important aims, and might be called noble aims, which the Australian Democrats support in principle - considerable, serious and consistent doubt exists across the range of professional, academic and community groups that the white paper changes will not achieve this goal. The most important misgiving is the heavily anticipated abolition of three-unit studies. Professor Gavin Brown, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney said:
. . . unfortunately, it is my belief that the current proposed method will fail . . . the curriculum change forced by the 2 unit structure is a great worry - mathematics is likely to be a mess, and across the board real standards may fall even though students appear to attempt more advanced course. The time frame for further work on these problems is desperately short and it is important that discipline experts are involved as well as practising teachers and educationalists.
I turn to specific concerns about the higher school certificate review. In my opinion the most important issue is what the new curriculum structure is to be. The key recommendations for changes to curriculum structure that appear in the Government’s white paper "Securing Their Future" look highly likely to be endorsed through legislation, but at a later date. The Australian Democrats have been informed that
the curriculum model investigation that began recently will report back to the Board of Studies in December. The Minister for Education and Training will subsequently make a decision on the curriculum to apply in the future. The question I put to honourable members is: why has it not been possible to delay this legislation until the curriculum model investigation is finished with its consideration of three-unit courses? While the Government admits the significance of the proposed changes and admits that it wants a detailed investigation of the implications before making a decision, members of the Legislative Council are required to endorse the legislation prior to the Government’s final decision about which curriculum structure will apply in the future. Even then, we are advised, a second process will begin: investigation into the arrangements for each course for each subject to evaluate the integrity and standard of each course.
I accept that Professor McGaw’s report rightly draws attention to the heterogeneous nature of subjects across the current system. By that I mean the cross-over and duplication of curriculum across subjects. However, there is the real danger that the replacement of the two-plus-two option will not strengthen the higher school certificate. Mathematics is the subject that seems to have the most to lose from the recommendations to dismantle three-unit courses. The possibility of dismantling three-unit courses in mathematics has attracted the most submissions to my office. Professor Gavin Brown, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney, in a letter to Dr Jim McMorrow of the higher school certificate task force stated:
The NSW HSC currently has a high reputation, including overseas. There are current difficulties over English which should be fixed, but the present arrangements in Mathematics gives us an advantage over other States.
The independent schools’ heads of mathematics in the "Threat to School Curriculum" letter to the Minister for Education and Training stated:
The present excellent HSC courses in Mathematics have been developed carefully over many years in response to need. They serve the students well in providing courses at various levels of mathematical ability. They are one of the best features of the current HSC and must be preserved.
I turn to the proposed abolition of one-unit subjects such as studies of religion, general studies and physical education. The white paper recommendation to abolish general studies as a one-unit subject option is disappointing. The large number of students who choose this course is an indication of its beneficial, interesting and challenging nature. Professor Ken Eltis, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney, in the publication "Re-Shaping the HSC: approach with care" stated:
Schools will need to look very carefully at the implications of such increase in standards for the broad student population, as one way of presently addressing their needs in some subjects will have been removed, as will General Studies.
The groups opposed to the abolition of general studies are the University of Western Sydney, the University of Sydney, the New South Wales Parents Council and the principal of the Pacific Hills Christian School at Dural. The standard two-unit and advanced two-unit proposal would, of course, have an effect on higher education courses that are based on a certain degree of prerequisite knowledge and levels of attainment, for example, in commerce, science, economics and engineering. Representatives of universities have expressed concerns that students would have to make up the difference and would have to be offered catch-up classes. Professor Gavin Brown, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney, stated:
. . . either alienate the low-achievers or severely under-extend the higher achievers . . . there would be a massive drop in pre-university preparation . . . In this university [the University of Sydney] the great majority of students have studied at least 3 unit level and our programs have been developed on that basis. We lack the resources to mount the massive remedial programs which will be required if the present proposal proceeds.
It has been put to me also that if three-unit courses are deleted, students who wish to enrol in mathematics, engineering or science degrees will have to undertake a bridging course when they get to university. I believe this to be cost shifting. The bridging course would not have to be offered by the State Government; it would have to be offered by the university. Under the present regime, and given what is happening in Canberra, that means that the student will have to pay for the course and it means that the university will have to take on extra staff to provide the course. The bridging course will be a cost to both the student and the university. Happily for the Minister in this State, it will not be a cost to the State. That is totally inequitable.
It is interesting to note the way in which the universities are split. The bodies opposed to the deletion of three-unit courses are the Catholic Education Commission of New South Wales; the New South Wales Parents Council; the Wollongong University; the University of Sydney; the University of Technology, Sydney; and the University of New South Wales. Only two groups support the deletion: the Secondary Principals Association and the University of Western Sydney. I do not deny that the Government’s acknowledgement of current
equity and assessment problems has merit. The existing scaling of two-unit and three-unit subjects does little to reward students who attempt a more demanding level of study. However, that problem will be exacerbated where students will not have access to a higher scale of schooling because they may only be offered a standard level course at their school. The question I put to the few honourable members who happen to be sitting in the House -
The Hon. M. R. Egan: I am here.
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY: I am pleased that the Treasurer and Leader of the Government is in the House. The question I pose is how the Minister can guarantee that no student in rural and smaller schools will not be disadvantaged? I ask the question because I come from a rural area in New South Wales and I know the principals of many of the schools in that area. I have visited the schools and have been made aware of some of the problems facing them. I do not wish to see any discrimination, particularly at this time, against students who attend high schools in smaller rural towns in New South Wales. The whole of the higher school certificate, or indeed the school certificate, cannot be predicated on what happens in metropolitan schools, because that would be grossly unfair and grossly discriminatory.
The Government’s proposal to offer 50 out of 100 as a pass for a subject is supported. However, I believe it has to be qualified with information and detail regarding the maximum score attainable for a student sitting in a standard class. That assumes that the advanced course will be offered at another school. As I said at the beginning of my remarks my staff and I have had discussions with various members of the community and with education professionals. It is most unlikely that smaller schools will be able to offer advanced courses from within their existing resources. Once again, that will potentially widen the disparity between rural and urban schools. At a practical level that may mean that fewer students will participate in advanced courses other than science and mathematics.
I understand that the major equity issue is currently being addressed by the student course and timetabling investigation that was set up by the Board of Studies in October specifically to examine the capacity of schools to meet student demand for advanced units. Why is the Government proposing these legislative changes before these very real concerns can be dealt with? The outcome will be that many schools will not have the capacity to offer both standard and advanced courses. That will result in a reduction in subject choice at some schools, and that in turn will draw students away to the larger schools that have a greater range on offer. That will probably alleviate the situation for students living in the metropolitan area, but it will make it much more difficult for students in rural areas. I believe that is one of the major problems with the legislation before the House. Professor John Mant, the former Chair of the academic board of the University of Sydney, suggests that schools that do not have a minimum enrolment of 100 students in each of years 11 and 12 will be disadvantaged.
In light of that, the findings of the aforementioned Board of Studies investigation will be of great interest. Will the investigation produce a formula that will indicate to schools exactly what their minimum enrolment in the higher school certificate must be for the school to be able to meet the demand of the students? Will schools that fall below the line be required to teach composite classes? Composite classes may have some use in earlier years of schooling, but they have no place in year 11 or year 12. If the government school system is so short of teachers that composite classes in years 11 and 12 are necessary, I despair at what is happening to government education. No wonder so many parents, even parents with inadequate means, are now attempting to meet their children’s needs by putting everything they can into moving their children out of the government school system and into private schools.
I know many parents who are stretching every sinew, every muscle, to get the very best for their children, which they no longer believe they get in the government school system. To me, as a Democrat, that is a disgrace because the Democrat policy from the inception of the party has been that the government school system should be so strong that no parent would ever believe it necessary to send their children to a private school. That is the party’s philosophy on education but, regrettably, it is no longer being met. Even within larger urban school environments, disadvantaged schools may only be able to offer standard units, while advantaged schools may only offer advanced units, possibly mainly because of parental pressure. If that were to happen, there would be no equity in education. That point was brought to the attention of my staff by the University of Western Sydney in the following terms:
. . . unlikely that smaller schools, especially in rural areas, will be able to offer the 2-unit advanced courses from existing resources. If it can be demonstrated that the capacity of these schools to meet student demand for advanced units cannot be met, there is a major equity issue to be addressed. This very real concern must be answered in advance.
That concern has not been answered in advance and the House is being asked to pass this legislation before the end of the current parliamentary session. That is the basis of my concern about the legislation. Indeed, at one point it had been my intention to oppose this legislation, because I do not believe it will achieve what the Government wants to achieve. It will certainly not achieve what the majority of students in years 11 and 12 and their parents want. It is pointless for me to oppose the legislation but I have the right and the duty to put my concerns very firmly on the record. I again draw to the attention of the House that the legislation as presently drafted leads to what is to me a most unwelcome suggestion that the so-called reforms of the Minister will lead to more composite classes due to the expense and to the shortage of skilled teachers.
The non-viability of teaching standards and advanced curriculum in the same class should be obvious. It has been debated over the years. I seek an unequivocal assurance from the Minister in reply that composite classes will not be implemented. That assurance should form part of the Minister’s reply so that in future it forms part of the interpretation of the Act. I will be pleased to get that assurance but, frankly, I am not holding my breath because I do not believe I will get it. The question of resources is quite separate from the question of what curriculum structure is to be adopted. Has a costing analysis been undertaken by the higher school certificate task force or by the Government? An amount of $24 million has been mentioned but will that be sufficient? How much will be needed for schools to prepare teachers and parents for change? Returning to the report "Reshaping the HSC", Professor Ken Eltis stated:
. . . the Report is very silent on the resourcing of recommendations and in this particular area, so clearly seen as one in need of greater support to enable secondary schools to match the needs of both students and the community, the resource issue is of paramount concern.
He is absolutely correct. In the current environment consideration must be given to the method of how best to select students for university. Positions are being made available for full fee-paying undergraduates and surely an even greater emphasis needs to be placed on ensuring equality of access. That is what should happen when a Labor government attempts to reform the HSC and the school certificate in government schools. I am perfectly well aware that preparation for university entrance is only one outcome of the HSC. There should be no suggestion, however, that university requirements determine the make-up, directions and outcome of the HSC.
However, unlike the Minister in another place - and I refer honourable members to page 59 of the Hansard proof of 11 November - I accept the concerns being put forward by a large number of universities in New South Wales, which suggest that the HSC changes may force universities to set their own requirements for university entrance. In 1990 I said in this House that I believed in the absolute necessity of a common exit examination. In Hansard of 15 May 1990 the following appears:
I firmly believe that if we are not to have a common high school exit examination in this State, we will perpetuate the inequality that already exists between students attending expensive private schools and students attending State schools. Another facet to that argument is that if we develop a diversity of exit examinations, the universities will then set their own entrance examinations. That move has been canvassed already by various vice-chancellors. That will result in a return to each university setting its own matriculation examination. That would not be in the best interests of students.
Professor Gavin Brown, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney, has said:
. . . the present proposals would be so costly in terms of remedial action, I take seriously the proposition that many schools would seek an alternative and that the universities might be obliged to canvass a different form of entrance examination.
Professor John Niland, Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales, has said:
Universities in NSW will have to seriously consider additional methods of selecting year 12 students if the more contentious reforms are adopted by the State Government . . . the reforms being contemplated threaten the integrity of the HSC for university selection.
It is interesting to reflect on the fact that opposition to the changes to the HSC come from the University of Technology, Sydney, the University of Wollongong, the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales. Only two universities support the changes: the University of Western Sydney and the Charles Sturt University. With the overwhelming body of academic opinion against the proposed changes, surely the Government is aware that it ought to have given more consideration to the changes before introducing the bill. The Government should think again about the implications of what it is trying to achieve. Many possible alternative entry requirements are being considered. Indeed some of them already exist within the current system.
They include recasting admission criteria to provide incentives for advanced study; groups of universities developing their own selection system for admission to particular courses; and the establishment of prerequisites. Indeed, that has
already happened at the Curtin University in Western Australia, which already constructs its own tertiary entrance ranking for entry into engineering consisting of scores in two-unit mathematics and two-unit science. Another possible alternative entry requirement is the institution of a foundation studies certificate, as is currently required for international students attempting to enter the University of New South Wales. That effectively adds a year to a degree. That is serious because our students now have to pay for their university degrees - if not up front, at least by an imposition on their tax burden when they graduate.
Another alternative is encouraging universities to consider reducing their admissions index to eight units to give the 10-unit HSC a chance. That would allow, of course, an option much like the A levels in the United Kingdom, in which students only have three subjects to study. The final alternative relates to questions that should be answered by universities such as the number of units, how to include vocational subjects, the minimum of English units and how to compute the TER. Those questions require much further research. These concerns have been brought to my attention by those I mentioned previously and others.
I have taken a great deal of trouble with this legislation. I have received many submissions from professional and community groups. I have the material generated in the press about the proposed changes and I have the Hansard record of the debate in 1990, seven years ago, when the House was considering the same matter. I will not weary the House at this time with my views on the amendments to be moved by the Government or by the Greens, or the letters I have received from the Office of the Director-General of School Education and the office of the managing director of TAFE. I shall refer to those matters in Committee. I have probably said enough at this time to make it clear to honourable members that I am most concerned about the direction the Government is taking. It was my understanding earlier this evening that the Hon. A. G. Corbett proposed to move an amendment that would have separated the bill into two parts and that only the changes relating to the higher school certificate and the Board of Studies would have been debated at this time and that the changes to the school certificate would be sent to a select committee of this House. I understand that he does not now intend to move that amendment.
I would not have supported such an amendment because I cannot see the logic of referring part of the bill to a special committee for further consideration when the Government is not prepared to wait for the committees set up by the Minister to report or for those reports to be considered before the legislation and the changes to the higher school certificate are considered. It would be equally legitimate to send the bill to a select committee, to allow that committee to take all the necessary evidence, and to defer these changes at least until the expert committees set up within the department have reported to the Minister. I know perfectly well that anyone who reports to the Minister is reporting only in an advisory capacity. Therefore, it is perfectly feasible for the Minister to ignore anything that his advisers may say - and Ministers frequently do so.
The House is now dealing with some of the most important issues it will ever have to deal with. We are debating the education of our young people and their ability to compete not only in a market that reflects South-east Asia or Australia but in a global market, in which our young people will have to compete with students from America and Europe as well as students from South-east Asia. Students from South-east Asia are extremely well qualified to deal with everything in two languages. Students from China, Korea, Singapore and Thailand all have English as their second language after their native tongue. Students educated in Great Britain or in any other European country have at least two second languages. Students in Great Britain have German and Russian as second languages.
Students born in Europe and not in the United Kingdom all have English and they probably have two other European languages as well. Those with science, economics or engineering degrees will be competing with our young professionals on the world stage. Our students must be provided with equal opportunities. If they are not, we will be lost. I have pointed out these concerns to the Minister’s advisers today and previously at some length. I am simply putting them on the parliamentary record because that is the proper place for them. I have serious concerns about the bill. I will be considering all the amendments proposed by the Government, the Opposition and the Greens. I do not believe that the bill should be passed by the House without amendment.
The Hon. D. F. MOPPETT [9.25 p.m.]: At the outset I must say that it is a daunting privilege to follow my colleague the Hon. Virginia Chadwick, who led for the Opposition on this critical bill. She has an enviable reputation as a parliamentarian and as a stateswoman. However, she will be best remembered for her contribution to education in New South Wales during the period when she was Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs.
That period was marked by steady progress and the maintenance of enviable standards of education in this country. During that time many students came to Australia and, indeed, to New South Wales to further their studies and, in particular, to obtain the higher school certificate - a certificate of educational achievement that is recognised throughout the world.
The Opposition recognises that the Government announced its intention to reform education, in particular the higher school certificate and the tertiary entrance ranking system, as part of its election campaign. Therefore, we accept that the Government has a mandate to bring about change. The Government’s charter of review document set down the guidelines for the McGaw inquiry, and eventually Professor Barry McGaw and his team produced a report. The Government’s white paper, which has been referred to by other honourable members, was entitled "Securing Their Future" and Professor McGaw’s report was entitled "Shaping Their Future: Recommendations for Reform of the Higher School Certificate". The titles of those documents proclaim lofty ideals and worthy aspirations, and the Opposition certainly has no argument with that. However, after all that, it is true to say that the legislation is an anticlimax.
The bill will be noted more for what it does not say than for what it does say. Experts in the development of education programs will claim that that is the way education legislation is framed: it is enabling in nature rather than specific in detail. But in this circumstance it is fair to say that members of the public in particular, and certainly members of Parliament, are uneasy about the process of reform. Other speakers have referred to the substantial changes that will take place to the school certificate. As I said earlier, the principal focus of the Government’s reform in its election announcement was the higher school certificate and the tertiary entrance rank. Nevertheless, the charter of review included a review of the school certificate. Professor Barry McGaw covered that subject thoroughly and recommended that the school certificate be scrapped.
The Government in its wisdom decided not to scrap the school certificate but to strengthen it. I am sure many members would agree with the decision not to scrap the school certificate but to make sure it is a worthwhile document. Item  of schedule 1 describes how it will be restructured to cover the key subject areas of English literacy, mathematics, science, Australian history, and Australian geography and civics. That is an unexceptional list of endeavours for students entering the formative years of their post-primary education - the junior secondary years - but it is obvious that the curriculum will take some time to prepare. The proposal was to take effect in 2001, but the curriculum has not been worked out; it is yet to be decided how it will be developed. A great deal of work is yet to be done. The curriculum would need to be developed during 1998 and introduced for students who are embarking on year 7 in that year. It is essential that the date be extended to 2002.
My sentiments are echoed strongly by the Catholic Education Commission, which believes it would be impossible to present, draft, approve and introduce the curriculum, and train teachers so the subjects can be presented by 2001. Students will have embarked upon their school certificate studies while the curriculum is being developed. The school certificate is supposed to be a testament to the achievements of students over four years. It is technically impossible for the 2001 deadline to be met. The Opposition will move, by way of amendment, that the time be extended to the year 2002. My colleagues are dismayed that although the Opposition’s amendments are widely available, the Government’s amendments appear to be available only to certain members of the House.
The Hon. Virginia Chadwick: There was no second reading speech.
The Hon. D. F. MOPPETT: Considering the amendments and the seriousness of the bill, it is a shame that the second reading speech was not delivered to the House and that the Government’s amendments have not been circulated. The importance of this issue cannot be overemphasised. The higher school certificate is, for many students, the key with which they enter adult life. It marks the parameters of the careers they can choose, the achievements they can set as their goals, and it is vital that confidence in the higher school certificate is retained amongst members of the general public and amongst people overseas, who will judge our students on this global playing field.
The McGaw report referred to proposals for setting out the purposes of the higher school certificate, and that has been covered in the bill. Again, they are unexceptional, although the objectives which refer to inculcating in students an appreciation of our multicultural community could have been more elegantly expressed. Nevertheless, the Opposition does not take exception to them. Recommendations were made about the curriculum, and I have said that in relation to the school certificate the development of the curriculum is the key. In regard to the higher school certificate it is even more important, and the final success or otherwise of the proposed reforms to the higher
school certificate will depend upon the nature of the curriculum.
When the curriculum is considered in conjunction with the assessment and reporting proposals, it will be recognised that it is vital that people understand the curriculum and the process of assessment and reporting. If the assessment process is going to change from a cohort-based to a standards-referred process, those standards will need to be set out in advance, clearly understood, and developed as part of the curriculum. That is well down the track. We have been asked to take this bill on trust. A number of areas have been covered in regard to vocational education, choice of subjects, and the span of secondary schooling, none of which is referred to in the bill. Nevertheless, we can expect that the blueprint that was set out in the white paper "Securing Their Future" will be an indicator of the Government’s plans for reform in these areas.
I shall now refer to the proposed changes to the tertiary entrance rank. There has been considerable agitation amongst the general public about the way in which students have become almost hypnotised by the TER and the necessity to fight tooth and nail for that last percentage position. They are marked down to one-hundredth of a percent, and students realise that they have to fight for their careers. I agree with many parents who think that undue stress is placed on students in many situations. It is equally true that if students do not face stress at the time, they will face it sooner or later. Parents also think that students are being provided with something at the end of their school career that no-one takes any notice of.
One key issue advocated by Minister Aquilina is that the equivalent of the tertiary entrance ranking will have a new name, a new acronym will be coined. However, it will be just as stressful for students. Also, there is an almost implied advocacy for some students not to apply for a ranking. The Hon. A. B. Kelly has employed many people in local government and he knows that 10 or 15 years down the track when someone applies for a competitive job the employer will say to a prospective employee, "You went to school in the years when the TER applied. How did you go?" When the prospective employee says, "I decided not to apply for it, because I did not want to go to university," the employer will wonder why the applicant did not apply for a TER. He will think: did he not think he would be able to achieve even a moderate score?
The potential employee will be greatly disadvantaged if he did not get a TER. There is no euphemism that can be produced to give a soft option to the university entrance qualification. At the end of the day only so many places are available and a lot of gifted students are studying like mad to gain entry to university. Someone will have to make the decision about who qualifies. The community needs to change its expectations so that even if a person has not qualified for the prestigious faculties of law or medicine they are not considered to have failed but rather are recognised as productive units of society who have been provided with balanced and stimulating secondary education. People in the city know how competitive education is, but I assure honourable members that country people, who are living in what could be described as economically depressed communities, regard education as the passport for their children to seek more rewarding, fulfilling lives, to move around and take up the many opportunities offered by modern society.
The Hon. Virginia Chadwick: Not only the country, but in western Sydney too.
The Hon. D. F. MOPPETT: Yes, western Sydney is the same.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: And Mount Druitt High School.
The Hon. D. F. MOPPETT: Yes, Mount Druitt High School is another example. However, I am more concerned that country families understand the proposed changes, that they remain confident that the interests of students are paramount and that there is no hidden political agenda in the provision of education. I have been associated with the development of education policy in the National Party - and the former Country Party - virtually since I became a member of the organisation, although I do not know why. I remember producing a document in which the party proclaimed that education and the setting of standards were developed in essentially a professional manner. In other words, the peer group of teachers and educators provided the lead and the technical expertise in this area.
The last thing we wanted was for the setting of educational standards to become a political football, something that changed with the change of government and that suited the ideology of political parties. I desperately hope that that will not be the case on this occasion and that after considering these amendments honourable members will send to the Minister a message urging him to be extremely cautious in developing those aspects of reform that are not spelt out in the bill. As I said at the outset, more is left unsaid in this bill than has been said, yet future generations of children rely heavily on it.
The Hon. FRANCA ARENA [9.46 p.m.]: I echo the words of the Hon. D. F. Moppett: for country people education is a passport. More specifically for Aboriginal children and children from ethnic and disadvantaged groups, education is the only passport to a fulfilling life. I have always had an interest in education. Unfortunately, I have not been able to study this important bill in detail, especially the many proposed amendments. That is not because of lack of goodwill on my part. As a member of the crossbench I have to look in detail at all legislation that comes before the House. All other members on the crossbench have staff to conduct research for them. On 13 November I wrote to the President asking for assistance, at least for the last few weeks of this month. On 18 November the President wrote to me telling me that as a matter of urgency he would ask the Clerk to make representations to the Treasurer. I had thought it was the Treasurer’s fault that I had not received a reply. However, today the Clerk advised me that the President’s letter was still in his office. By the time I get an answer Parliament will have risen and I will not need assistance.
I am quite upset about this and I think it has been done without the goodwill that is required of this House. Mr President, on 18 November you said you would write to the Treasurer about my request as a matter of urgency. Given the time that has elapsed, if you consider your actions as having been done with urgency, I do not know what "slowness" means. If I were mean spirited, I would refuse to consider the legislation on its merit and vote against it. But I am not mean spirited; education is extremely important and I will do my very best with the limited time and resources that I have at my disposal, and make a decision about the bill. I have only a secretary, who is a wonderful girl; but I do not have a researcher. I can think of few other areas of government that have been subjected to as many changes as education.
The Hon. Virginia Chadwick: Have you been provided with copies of the Government’s proposed amendments?
The Hon. FRANCA ARENA: I have some from the Greens and the Opposition, but I do not have the Government’s amendments. I have not had a lot of time to consider those that I have. Practically every year changes are made to the education system; I do not dispute that some are needed. Education authorities, principals, teachers and students must despair at the frequency of changes. I support the Education Reform Amendment Bill, but I will certainly look in detail at the amendments proposed by the Opposition, the Government and the crossbenchers.
I am concerned about the position of the President of the Board of Studies, whether it will be a full-time or part-time position. I was a commissioner for education when the Education Commission was set up in 1980. At that time all commissioners were engaged part time but the position of president was a full-time position. It was not the most ideal situation to be a part-time member. At least the president was engaged full time and could take charge of the bureaucracy. My preference would be for a full-time president of the board. A letter on the letterhead of the Catholic Education Commission, which I presume was sent to all members, stated:
The Commission strongly opposes any amendment to refer all or part of the Bill to a Joint Select Committee. To do so would be both unfair and disruptive to the interests of students, teachers and parents who are already involved in the process of implementing the government’s changes to the School Certificate. The Commission supports the government’s changes to strengthen and enhance the School Certificate curriculum and assessment program. Although the School Certificate is not part of the terms of reference of the McGaw Review it was extensively discussed and analysed throughout the lengthy process of the review.
The commission also offered an opinion about some of the proposed amendments. I shall not refer to them; I have not yet made a final decision. I shall certainly take into consideration the recommendations of the Catholic Education Commission and the Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations, another organisation for which I have great respect and that I hold in high esteem. Warren Johnson, executive officer of the federation, wrote to honourable members in the following terms:
We urge you to support passage of amendment No. 2 of the above mentioned paper. We fear that, if referred to a Parliamentary committee, the provision will become more prescriptive and will bind the Government and secondary school students to a testing regime that satisfies the prejudices of media and other pundits keen to pillory kids and schools while delivering little of educational benefit to students.
Secondly, we are concerned that delay of the amendment’s passage will exacerbate the uncertainty present in the school sector as a result of the significant changes to the secondary school curriculum and accreditation being contemplated.
I shall give due consideration to the opinions of such bona fide organisation and to the amendment proposed by the Teachers Federation. Education is of vital importance. Without it our children would have no future. Given the advances in technology, without a good education our children will have no future. I support the bill. I shall certainly examine the amendments in detail.
The Hon. A. G. CORBETT [9.52 p.m.]: The Education Reform Amendment Bill generally continues the fine record of consultation on changes to the education system followed by this and the previous Government. Merits of particular reforms may be debated, but the thorough and painstaking manner in which they have been investigated and decided upon cannot be faulted. This certainly is as true of the McGaw review during the past two years as it was of the last major review of New South Wales education - which was conducted by the Carrick committee - during 1988 and 1989. Generally, students, teachers, parents and the community of New South Wales have been well served by the Education Reform Act, which was the result of the Carrick review. It was passed not without considerable debate by the community and by the Parliament at a time of particular controversy in education, both here and in other States, when educational philosophies and systems were in the process of being reviewed, revised and even challenged.
While the bill ranges more broadly than the higher school certificate, given the focus of the McGaw review I shall concentrate my remarks on that aspect of the bill. No doubt for many students the New South Wales HSC has been and continues to be a fair, relevant and rigorous examination, but changing social and economic conditions have meant that this is certainly not the case for all young people. The challenge has been to retain the valuable aspects of the HSC for those students for whom it is appropriate, while different courses and learning options offering equally interesting, meaningful, productive and relevant education are provided to other students. Therefore, given the relative stability of the HSC in these changing circumstances, it is appropriate that it be subject to periodic review, reform and renewal. In his second reading speech the Minister indicated that these amendments to the Education Reform Act are the result of the most extensive consultation since the HSC was introduced in 1967.
This process is fitting given that while the HSC has remained substantially unchanged, the social and economic environment that affects the HSC and secondary education generally has changed enormously over that time. Even the short period of time since the Carrick report has seen considerable upheaval in the state of education, training and employment in this State. For instance, in 1989, the Carrick committee, and its subsequent report, gave considerable attention to what was then the relatively new phenomenon of large numbers and high rates of students staying on to years 11 and 12. The report recommended that the range of courses available to students be increased and that attention be given to ensuring that the curriculum, credentials and the co-ordination of resources met the needs of the ever-increasing number of students.
The record of successive governments in addressing the interests of young people beyond their compulsory schooling has been mixed, but there has been at least an awareness that attention must be paid to the needs of those students. For example, the Pathways program is acknowledged as having brought greater flexibility and diversity to the delivery of education and training for young people. Despite, or perhaps rather because of, the success in encouraging young people to stay at school, we are now faced with the increasing challenge and responsibility of providing education that is, in the words of the Minister for Education and Training, rigorous, fair and relevant to the still growing number of students completing post-compulsory secondary education. For well over a decade young people have had fewer employment options open to them - a trend likely to continue for the foreseeable future - and access to post-school education and training has become extremely competitive.
If we consider the various fees proposed to be introduced by various universities, further study and the attendant personal and professional rewards could be further denied to young people through their personal circumstances. As we consider reforms to ensure that the HSC remains relevant for the increasing number of students taking on higher secondary students, we are observing other trends that indicate access to employment or further study and training will be further curtailed. While there are serious implications for the delivery of education services arising from higher retention rates, it should be noted that rates of students staying on to years 11 and 12 have fallen slightly each year since 1992, from a peak of 77 per cent in that year to 72 per cent in 1996. This decline in retention rates seems to indicate a natural levelling off with some young people now recognising that years 11 and 12 may not meet their educational and vocational needs. This decline should have indicated the need for a range of education and training options other than the HSC.
Instead, in all likelihood this downward trend will be partly arrested and reversed by the changes proposed by the Commonwealth to social security and educational allowance payments for young people. These changes will virtually guarantee increased - perhaps universal - retention rates for the foreseeable future. The Commonwealth Parliament is currently debating legislation providing for a common youth allowance. The allowance will only
be paid to 16- and 17-year-olds engaged in education and training, which means that, on figures compiled by the Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs, up to 27,000 young people across Australia will have to re-enter education and training in order to access income support, and 12,000 will seek to enter years 11 or 12. What has not been clarified in the debate on the common youth allowance is the impact of the likely increase in student numbers on education resources, and the value to students, employers and the community of increased numbers of young people with higher school certificate qualifications.
A recent study argued that one consequence of climbing retention rates in the past decade has been to reduce the value of completing post-compulsory secondary education. Up until the mid-1980s possession of a HSC would almost certainly guarantee entry level employment, but the number of students now completing year 12 means that it simply is not possible to offer employment to every job seeker with an HSC. Similarly, growing retention rates have not been matched by growth in the number of post-school education and training options. We are faced with the problem of a significant cohort of students with post-compulsory secondary education but no immediate prospects of further education, training or employment. While the changes to the higher school certificate foreshadowed by the white paper and the subsequent Government response are generally appropriate, they do not deal sufficiently with the broader question of delivering appropriate education and training options to those young people for whom the current system is not necessarily relevant, even with the reforms and refinements of recent years, such as the Pathways program.
Not one Australian government, Federal or State, has yet been able to address satisfactorily the fundamental issue of providing appropriate post-compulsory education and training to the increasing number of young people who may not go on to further education and training, and who may have to rely on numerous part-time and casual jobs before finding employment security. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the current education system is unable to provide these young people with the personal and vocational skills which will serve them well in their transition to full-time employment. This challenge remains despite the reforms proposed by the Government. It is fair to say that this bill establishes the groundwork for further reforms to the education system in general, and the higher school certificate in particular, without detailing those changes. In some instances it broadens the role of the Minister in determining the future of the HSC, the role of the Board of Studies and the appropriate manner for reporting educational results. This may be more appropriate than having an in-depth and substantive debate in the Parliament about the content of the curriculum, but a note of warning needs to be sounded.
The Government’s reform agenda needs to be carefully monitored to ensure a proper balance between its policies and the needs and interests of students and their communities, and that the broad consultative and accountability features of the current system are not lost or compromised. The white paper "Securing Their Future" foreshadowed limited legislative change to the higher school certificate, and the bill contains most of the amendments suggested by Professor McGaw. By and large, with a few significant exceptions, the reforms contained in the bill are consistent with the suggestions offered in the white paper. Changes to the reporting of results and the public availability of those results are important aspects of those reforms, which are particularly appropriate given the scrutiny given to those issues during the past year.
The foreshadowed changes to the reporting of educational results - in particular, the abolition of norm-referenced scaling procedures and the associated tertiary entrance rank - provide us with the opportunity to see education, especially post-compulsory secondary education, more independently from university entrance requirements. The Government has indicated that assessment and reporting, instead, will focus on what students know, understand and can do. The Government, confirming the recommendation made by Professor McGaw, has decided not to centrally report key competencies achieved or obtained by students. Instead, the Government has held out the possibility that schools may report their students’ skills and progress in considerable detail. This should be encouraged, particularly as we move away from the inadequate but nevertheless broadly recognised tertiary entrance ranking.
In the absence of an overall comparative score or rank, students leaving school should, in addition to the proposed course result sheet, be provided with a detailed report outlining their personal, social and vocational skills and competencies. At this point, I acknowledge the continued assistance and co-operation - and the ongoing constructive discussions involving the Minister’s office and me - of the Board of Studies and the higher school certificate task force during consideration of the bill. The opportunity has been taken to canvass some of the broader issues associated with this reform package, and I appreciate the patient and diligent manner in which the discussions have been conducted.
It is important to recognise that the amendments contained in the bill merely anticipate the important and substantial changes to the higher school certificate to be implemented by the Minister and the Board of Studies. It is the detail of those changes that will have the most impact on students, teachers and their communities. Given their likely impact, it is the substance of those changes that should be better understood and appreciated by the Parliament and the community. This bill sketches the outline but leaves the broad strokes and fine brushwork to others. Without having the opportunity of viewing the finished work, I support the start to the renewal and reform of the higher school certificate presented by the bill.
The Hon. I. COHEN [10.04 p.m.]: I support this bill. The Hon. D. F. Moppett astutely recognised the demeanour of the bill in his description of it as enabling rather than detailed legislation. The bill is a beginning and, it is to be hoped, a step in the right direction, without defining an exact position. Education, including secondary education, is an issue very close to the hearts of all honourable members, and so it should be. Education is central to the development of our children, to the values of society and to opportunity and quality of life, which are part and parcel of this country’s proud heritage of opportunity for all to adequate and complete education.
The Hon. D. F. Moppett: Who will teach the teachers?
The Hon. I. COHEN: Indeed. Thirty years ago some 20 per cent of schoolchildren chose higher education in school, in the form of the leaving certificate and subsequently the higher school certificate. Today some 70 per cent of students stay to sit for the higher school certificate. Much of the increase in numbers can be explained by reason of necessity. Jobs are scarce, as are other opportunities, and people realise that they need to maximise their opportunities if they are to be successful in life. The Government has a responsibility to initiate effective, wide-ranging educational reform so that education is of relevance to a much broader spectrum of the school population than may have been the case when most honourable members went through the secondary education system. A great number of subjects are taught now that did not exist when I was at school, which is of advantage to students.
I am greatly interested in the subjects of social studies and general studies. Given that there are so many more people at school, it is important that the secondary school system provide a basis for all aspects of adult life. Employment and university are just two of those aspects. Today, more than ever, students need a well-rounded education. Choice of subjects should be broadened so that the education system produces citizens who have a better understanding about many aspects of society. I applaud the introduction of civics as a step in the right direction. I am also pleased that general studies is to be reinstated as a two-unit subject. It is my understanding that the subject of general studies has been removed from the senior curriculum, which is currently the year 11 preliminary course and the higher school certificate course in year 12.
The Greens support the reinstatement of general studies as a two-unit subject. At present it is a one-unit subject. From a Green perspective it is extremely important that general studies be given a position in the education system that reflects the importance of those areas of education. For too long we have been training technocrats, for too long we have been giving an advantage to those who have an affinity with the sciences and mathematics and for too long we have viewed as unimportant those areas of social studies which are integral to a well-rounded education.
The Hon. Virginia Chadwick: So you’re supporting that as a two-unit course?
The Hon. I. COHEN: Yes. Emphasis should be placed on the subject of social studies, which provides an arena in which to focus on social, political and environmental issues for discussion at a young adult level.
The Hon. Patricia Forsythe: People have to think about those issues.
The Hon. I. COHEN: That is correct. The nuclear debate, the environmental debate, republicanism, Aboriginal issues and so on can be raised in that course.
The Hon. D. F. Moppett: Steady on about republicanism.
The Hon. I. COHEN: Regardless of one’s views on a particular matter, discussion about such issues in a general studies course would hone students’ ability to debate them.
The Hon. R. S. L. Jones: And make rational decisions.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: Without the assistance of drugs.
The Hon. I. COHEN: I thank honourable members for their assistance with my speech, it is very much appreciated. Discussion of those issues in a general studies course will enhance debate. It may create more training for a new generation of politicians who may find their way into this type of environment and be effective. When I was at school I went through what I would call a course of training rather than a course of education. A great deal was missed in what was a very rigorous academic syllabus, and that was a great tragedy. I do not consider that I started my education until I went to university, and a considerable amount of that education was outside the established curriculum, participating in debates that took place in that institution.
General studies is an important subject and young people should be given the opportunity to become involved in it. The issues that I have mentioned can and should be taught as an integrated part of other subjects, but in reality they may not be covered by the teachers in those other subjects. The teachers who took the general studies classes were usually from the history, English and social science areas and were, from the Greens perspective, socially aware and less inclined to examine the technical side of things. That has certainly been of assistance in raising the profile of significant issues during the past 20 years. I came to this view after discussion with an old friend, Milton Brown, who underwent teacher training at the same time as I did. He has been involved in the secondary school system and is now a subject master at Barrenjoey High School. After discussions with someone who has been at the coalface of teaching for many years, I have found it edifying to learn of the types of problems that are involved and the wise advice that is available for dealing with them.
Professor McGaw undertook a comprehensive public participation process, and to that end he is to be commended. The school certificate testing regime which seems to have come out of this process of public participation is quite satisfactory. The tests will add rigour to the year 10 curriculum and prepare students for years 11 and 12. The regime will overcome the current problem of students treating the existing reference test, held midway through year 10, as a low-status test because they do not receive individual results. As I understand it, the tests will be held in November and will activate the second half of the year for year 10 students. That will put an end to the practice of some highly resourced schools gaining an unfair advantage for their students by commencing higher school certificate studies in the second half of year 10.
By and large, the reforms to the school certificate are quite reasonable. Another issue that has been of great interest to me relates to civics and citizenship studies. I became quite concerned when I first heard that civics was to be taught in geography and history classes. I believed that in some way that may have been inappropriate but, having talked to my friends in the education system, I understand that it is extremely important that students consider citizenship issues as they relate to commerce subjects. I may well change my mind about the concept of civics being taught in the various disciplines so that it is not all part of a history subject. Given that geography teachers often teach commerce, civics will be introduced in relationship to business principles and commerce, leading to economics and I think that is appropriate.
The Hon. Virginia Chadwick: Especially civics and citizenship.
The Hon. I. COHEN: Civics and citizenship, yes, but taught between the two syllabuses, between the geography and history departments. Although I was rather concerned about that in the beginning, I now perceive that there is certain merit in it. In respect of the higher school certificate there could be an averaging out process in certain areas. I may be wrong, but on the information I have I am concerned that although some courses are currently allocated 150 hours a year the new courses will have only 120 hours a year. That should be of concern to all those who are interested in this issue. For example, the economics course will be written in as one course to cope with all levels. If it is whittled down from 150 hours a year that could lead to an oversimplification of the issues involved. What concerns me and teachers who were trained at about the same time as I was is that this might be a convenient way to solve a potential teacher shortage in the near future. I would be interested to hear if there is another perspective to this.
With the prospect of there being a significant number of retirements by the year 1999, there could be a shortage of teachers and it may be that these courses would be reduced from 150 to 120 hours coincidentally blending in with the reduction in the number of teachers in the system. There is a significant potential problem involved in that we might thereby have education by convenience. Of course, those who will suffer are the students who find themselves in large classes with fewer hours devoted to specific areas of study. I acknowledge that the amount of time involved is not significant, given the rigours of the modern education system. I have an interest in environmental studies and their integration into the system.
My understanding is that environmental economics are to be taught only in the one-unit section of the curriculum. It is possible that that subject could be streamlined so that very little environmental economics are taught, and that would be a significant problem. I have received information from a variety of sources. One source that I do not believe has been mentioned so far is the New South Wales Teachers Federation, which takes a very active interest in these issues. In a letter addressed to me and dated 6 November, John Hennessy, the General Secretary of the Teachers Federation, stated:
The Federation is concerned about legislative changes that would narrow the range of subjects and courses that students are required to select from in their HSC preparation . . . The existing Act requires students to select courses from a range of subject groupings which thereby guarantees breadth and balance in their curriculum choice.
. . . The purpose and content of the new School Certificate are as yet unclear and should be evolutionary. Hence to "lock" a particular educational philosophy in with a specific legislative base may prove counterproductive. The Teachers Federation considers it essential that there be much professional and community input into the new School Certificate before it is finalised. Other, non-legislative forms of exercising the Government’s intention would be more appropriate.
Mr Hennessy went on to refer to the Board of Studies and stated:
Amendments to the legislation appear to provide extraordinary power for the Minister for Education with the potential that a Minister might exercise undue influence over the statutory Board. The President of the Board sits firmly under the Minister and the President is vested with an excess of power over the operations and conduct of the Board.
The proposed amendments are silent in respect of the Government’s intentions in relation to the composition of the Board of Studies. A representative Board with sufficient teacher input and with the public sector of education represented in proportion to its role in education provision would be essential.
It would be a retrograde step to attempt to legislatively enforce the concept of "loyalty to the Board" thereby replacing the responsibility of parents, teachers and other members of the education community to give clear advice based on one’s background and perspective. Such a loyalty oath approach is not conducive to sound public policy formation in education.
He went on to state that schedule 2(7) provides such a difficulty. Regarding students’ rights to privacy, the letter continued:
The Teachers Federation strongly supports those measures which would guarantee the educational privacy of young people and their communities in respect to their performance in statewide testing programs. The consequent amendments to the FOI Act 1989 and to the Education Reform Act 1990 seem appropriate means to achieve these goals. The Minister is right to observe as he does in his Second Reading Speech that this view is shared by the overwhelming majority of the educational community and the public.
The letter further stated:
There is no clear exposition as to what "English-literacy" might be even though a statewide test in it is to be legislatively enacted. It is inevitable that what is tested will be taught but it is a more natural sequence to develop proposals about what is to be taught before deeming what is to be tested. The same concern applies to the hybrid test in "Australian History, Australian Geography and Civics".
If I understand correctly, there have been discussions about who will be the President of the Board of Studies and whether it will be a figurehead bureaucrat or a part-time person with a great deal of experience in related areas who would take on a presidential type of role. I find the argument for a part-time position to be unconvincing and believe it should be a full-time position filled by a bureaucrat experienced in the education field who could exert considerable energy and expertise on matters appropriate to what is being discussed. Like the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby, who put forward the position of the Australian Democrats, as a Green I also support the government school system. Parents should not have to send their children to private schools. However, the choice is available obviously to cater for the various styles of education but the academic and broad spectrum education standing of public schools must be maintained, and indeed bolstered, so that those schools are of world class and world standing and parents do not have a desperate need to send their children to private schools instead of going through the public schools system.
The Greens will support that system in every possible way. I share the concern of the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby about composite classes. This is enabling legislation rather than detailed legislation. A lot of questions are left unanswered. I look forward with great interest to the developments of education under this new reform. Hopefully positive feedback will be received from interested parties, including the Teachers Federation and parent groups, so that this State will have a successful education regime that will be of great benefit to future generations. It is essential to move forward with reform so that the citizens of this country are well educated and aware of what is going on. The should also be able to understand and discern the implications of the information they hear from, dare I say, the more sophisticated - or more likely confusing - mass media that often veil the information in so much newspeak. A well educated and sophisticated listener, observer or reader needs to be able to deal with the rigours of modern society which often does not tell the truth.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES [10.24 p.m.]: I support the bill, though I have some reservations about it and will be supporting a number of amendments subsequently. I agree with other honourable members that education is the single most important thing with which government is involved. It is more important by far than any other matter, with the possible exception of health. After all, our future as a nation depends on our education system. I acknowledge the work that has been done by Barry McGaw. He and his assistants should be congratulated on producing a very thorough report. The 26 individual recommendations made in the report amount to a comprehensive review of one of the most delicate and controversial portfolio areas.
I note that although the Education Reform Amendment Bill incorporates several of the McGaw recommendations, a number of key recommendations are conspicuous by their absence. I hope that the Government has the courage to bring more of the recommendations of the report before Parliament for debate. One of my major concerns with education policy is to ensure that school leavers receive a diverse education. It is vital that they have a broad range of knowledge and skills in order to find work in an increasingly competitive workplace - not solely for work but also to prepare for life in general. Education policies must prepare children for a dynamic, mobile and fast-moving labour market.
The reality is that in the future our children will probably work in several different fields, in several different jobs and in several different geographic locations. Whereas yesterday the labour market was characterised by stability and a job for life, today and in the future children must prepare for a rapid succession of different jobs punctuated by periods of retraining and reskilling. Education policies must give children the skills and knowledge that they will need to adapt to tomorrow’s labour market. Above all, they must learn how to learn. School is no time for specialist education in one or two narrow fields of expertise. That is why I believe that students who sit for the HSC must study a broad range of subjects in a number of different disciplines. This is also why I will support the Government’s amendments which provide that the Minister will ensure diversity in the curriculum. I am very pleased to note that civics is included. The Hon. Virginia Chadwick may remember that when she was Minister for Education I asked her a question about ethics.
The Hon. Virginia Chadwick: That is right, so it has been an interest of yours for a long time.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES: I wondered where ethics was being taught. It was not being taught anywhere and because of the failure of churches and parents children were not being taught how to behave, how to treat each other, how to be honest, how not to tell lies, how not to rob and all the other matters normally taught either at home or by religious teachers. Those holes need to be filled now.
The Hon. Virginia Chadwick: That is what the concept of citizenship as well as civics will hopefully encompass.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES: I sincerely hope so. It is really very important indeed. From my point of view that is the single most important part of the curriculum.
The Hon. Virginia Chadwick: I acknowledge it has been an issue for you for a long time.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES: Indeed, and I have seen the huge gaps. That is why there is such a high crime rate, because of lack of understanding of how other people feel, for example, when they get robbed, why young people should not take drugs, why it is bad for them, et cetera. They need to be taught that now in school and told the truth about everything, whether it be nicotine, alcohol or marijuana, and not lied to as they are so often these days. Another concern relates to the amendments proposed to the school certificate. I support the teaching of the subjects enshrined in the legislation, and I support the diversity which they bring to the curriculum.
However, I am concerned that no syllabus seems to have been written and that examinations in subjects such as English-literacy will be computer marked. My final concern involves the amendments relating to the Board of Studies. The Board of Studies must work closely with the Minister to set and supervise a curriculum. There must be healthy tension and an even distribution of power between the two bodies. The Teachers Federation argues strongly that the proposed amendments will unevenly distribute power in favour of the Minister and away from the Board of Studies. Although there will be no sudden and massive shift of power, the amendments will give the Minister a greater degree of power over the board.
I will support amendments to restore the balance of power. I am particularly concerned that proposed new section 103 of the bill gives the President of the Board of Studies the power to
appoint committees and members of committees. Previously this was the function of the board, not the president. Although the amendment seems innocuous, it must be pointed out that these committees play a vital role in setting and monitoring curriculum. Currently, ten committees advise the board on issues as broad as curriculum, syllabus, finances, and examinations. It is vital that the composition of these committees is not stacked nor unduly influenced by the president or a Minister. Bearing in mind how important education is to all honourable members, with those few words I give broad support to the legislation.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [10.29 p.m.]: The Christian Democratic Party supports the Education Reform Amendment Bill, which amends the Education Reform Act 1990 with respect to the curriculum for the higher school certificate, school certificate examinations and assessments, the Board of Studies and the publication of results of the school certificate and the higher school certificate. It also amends the Freedom of Information Act 1989 to exempt certain documents relating to tests and examinations carried out in schools. The Christian Democratic Party supports the Government’s stated objectives. So far as we are able to interpret the bill, we believe it will help to develop the Government’s policy of improving education standards by promoting the correct subjects for the higher school certificate and school certificate courses and by promoting various types of testing that show the effectiveness of education in local State schools. Like other speakers, we do not see any great merit in deleting the word "reform" from the title of the Act. That issue is only minor but it is an issue of principle.
The Hon. Elaine Nile and I were very involved in debate on the Education Reform Bill that was introduced by the coalition Government. There was a great deal of opposition to and noise about that bill. It was important to us to have that important hallmark bill passed as many confusing things had happened under the previous Labor Government and the former Minister for Education, Mr Cavalier. We believe that some of the policies promoted by Mr Cavalier were the reason the Labor Government lost the election. Those policies were of great concern to and upset many parents. Parents mobilised because of Mr Cavalier’s policies. His policies resulted in a greater interest in education as parents became concerned about what he was doing in education. Mr Cavalier’s policies, particularly those relating to the Christian school movement and the hit list that had been published in the Sydney Morning Herald, the first anyone knew about his proposed changes, aroused the school community and parents in particular and, I believe, led to the defeat of the then Labor Government. That provided the basis for the coalition Government to introduce the Education Reform Bill. That important bill was part of a coalition election promise and its introduction fulfilled the coalition’s commitments to the community.
The Christian Democratic Party agrees with the Minister for Education and Training, Mr Aquilina, on several matters. The Hon. Elaine Nile and I have been involved in education issues since we were elected to Parliament. I was elected to Parliament in 1981 but since I became the full-time director of the Festival of Light community standards organisation in 1974 we have always tried to maintain a close interest in education. The breakdown of the State education system gave birth to the dramatic growth of the Christian school movement in New South Wales. If the previous Labor Government and other governments had been more sensitive the Christian school movement would not have grown so rapidly and many non-working mothers would not have made the sacrifice and undertaken menial jobs to earn the money to send their children to Christian schools. Many parents who were angry about the changes to the State education system believed it was important to make any sacrifice necessary to give their children the best education possible.
I am not talking about the wealthy elite schools, the so-called church schools or the independent schools, but the smaller Christian schools and, of course, the establishment of the great Catholic school system prior to that. In using that terminology I am not suggesting in any way that the Catholic system is not a Christian school system. Newer schools simply used the terminology of Christian schools rather than Protestant schools. That is not a reflection on the great Catholic school system which is also a Christian school system. I suppose one could call them the Catholic Christian system and the non-Catholic Christian system. The Christian Democratic Party agrees with the Minister on a couple of matters. We are pleased that he has responded rapidly to some of the matters raised in the community. Other speakers tended to use their remarks to debate education as a whole; they did not restrict themselves to the bill. The Minister is doing all he can to improve education and the Christian Democratic Party supports that.
It is not always possible for the Minister to directly control education because the existence of the Board of Studies, committees and so on has in some ways created a deliberate gap. However, that gap should not be as wide as it has been in the past.
I hope the Minister for Education and Training will play a positive role and have a right to give leadership to education in New South Wales. We are pleased that the Minister took up the issue of the quality of such novels and plays as Top Girls being included in the curriculum. For various reasons that publication could not be removed instantly from schools because of the structure of the curriculum and so on. The Minister’s comments in opposition to the publication strongly mirrored the concerns of average parents in New South Wales. We are pleased that the Minister responded rapidly to the discovery that some teachers were teaching witchcraft in New South Wales primary schools.
The Hon. Ann Symonds: What?
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE: The teacher may have regarded witchcraft as a frivolous matter, as perhaps the Hon. Ann Symonds does. However, the Christian Democratic Party raised that matter in the Parliament because parents were deeply aggrieved about it. In one case parents found in the work folder of their son various sheets on which he had been working in class that clearly had decorations dealing with witchcraft. The actual matter on the page showed that the child had been taught how to cast spells and he cast a spell on his three-year-old brother.
The Hon. Ann Symonds: Did it work?
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE: The Hon. Ann Symonds, who is a convent-trained girl, asks whether the spell worked. She may be pleased to know that it did work: the three-year-old boy cannot walk. It is not a matter for mirth and laughter. The Hon. Ann Symonds might like to talk to the parents about it. No-one knows why the little boy cannot walk - whether it has some demonic aspect, whether it is psychological or whether, when the older boy told the younger boy that he had put a spell on him, it created a mental block in the younger boy’s mind that affected his ability to walk. The older boy cast a spell on his younger brother that he would not be able to walk, and the younger boy cannot walk.
The Hon. Ann Symonds: I find that very disturbing.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE: So did Mr Aquilina. That is why I raised the matter in the House. Mr Aquilina interpreted it in that way and responded.
The Hon. Ann Symonds: I hope you will forgive my earlier hilarity on the matter.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE: I realised the honourable member did not know the full story so I thought I should finish it. Some things are more serious than they appear to be. The parents should not be criticised. Obviously, they are very angry and are grieving about the whole matter. We appreciate the sensitivity shown to these issues by the Minister. The Minister in his second reading speech said that 30 years ago only 20 per cent of school students chose to complete the post-compulsory years of secondary education. I do not know whether many other students chose to leave when they were 15. I left school when I was 15. I had no choice about staying at school, as no economic support was available for me to do so. In those days no matter how intelligent their children were - perhaps they could have even done well at university - parents did not have the option, because of the financial structure, of sending them to university. The children had to enter the work force, as a number of members of this House probably also did. That was normal. There was no sense of failure or a problem with the student. One was glad to complete schooling, pass the intermediate certificate, and start work as soon as possible, which I did.
There may be some degree of puzzlement as to why that occurred. In those days one could leave school and consider different types of jobs to take. In other words, there were employment opportunities. Today it seems that many students cannot get jobs when they leave school and a large number of them are out of work. Even though those days were tough, there were many job opportunities for students and they were prepared to take any job. When I went to the Commonwealth Employment Service, as it was in 1939, the only job available was as a junior storeman in a warehouse. Although I passed my intermediate certificate reasonably well and had completed a commercial intermediate high school course at Crown Street Commercial High School and at Cleveland Street. I concentrated on accountancy and bookkeeping, which were a great help to me in later life. But after leaving school at 15 one does not get a job as a bookkeeper; one takes whatever job is available. I started work as a junior storeman at a big warehouse at Mascot airport. Much of my time in the morning was spent sweeping the warehouse.
The Hon. Virginia Chadwick: Cleanliness is next to godliness.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE: Yes, but that did not help me, because I was asthmatic. I became a very good sweeper. I used to sweep large rows of shelving; I can still see them. In those days
employers were very astute, and if they saw an employee who had some initiative and some brains it was not long before that employee was given some office work to do. Once they found that I had some ability it was not long before I was transferred into the office and rapidly rose to the position of assistant to the manager. In those days the majority of students left school at 15, but I am pleased that almost 70 per cent of students now remain at school and sit for the higher school certificate. That has resulted partly from the policies of the coalition Government, which were not given sufficient acknowledgment when they were implemented.
In these days of high-tech computerisation, our students have to have a high standard of education if Australia wants to compete with other nations. However, as other speakers have said, that does not mean every student has to go to university. Without necessarily attending university, students can undertake a range of courses involving tertiary standards and become qualified. In its education policy the Government should encourage students to believe that every vocation is important. The Labor Government should be expert in encouraging students to believe that work involving one’s hands, such as electrical plumbing work, is equally as important as operating a computer in a bank. Labor governments in the past obviously believed that because that is where it obtained its support. It is a pity that many students today believe they have failed if they do not obtain into a white-collar position but merely become an apprentice. An unfortunate attitude has developed, although not among young people. They have become aware of it through the media and from society in general.
The Hon. M. R. Egan: And their parents.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE: And their parents as well. If the parents were aware of the wages of a plumber they might realise that it is not a dead-end job. I am sure that in the overall development of policies, Mr Aquilina will encourage such training, which used to be the focus in technical high schools. The Christian Democratic Party supports the vision, as the Minister explained it, for the higher school certificate that is to be founded on rigour, fairness and relevance to the needs of all secondary school students. Other speakers have said that the bill appears to be a policy bill without all the nuts and bolts necessarily included in it, and that is understandable. The bill will ensure that the vision is realised.
The Christian Democratic Party supports what the Minister for Education and Training and the Premier have said about high standards, getting back to basic subjects and testing those subjects. Their comments have aroused the Teachers Federation and other groups to opposition, but I believe they are on the right track. That is what the community wants as well. The Premier is not making those comments to make himself popular and we encourage him not to be diverted from what he believes in his heart and to follow that through with government policy as much as possible. The Christian Democratic Party agrees with many of the Premier’s public statements in regard to education.
The bill has resulted from a wide ranging process of public consultation. The green paper, which was entitled "Future Options for Reform of the Higher School Certificate", prepared the way for comprehensive and informed public discussion on the issues raised in the terms of reference. The green paper was widely available and has resulted in widespread consultation and submissions. Thirty-eight public meetings were held in 24 metropolitan and non-metropolitan locations. All public meetings were attended by members of the review secretariat and the advisory group. The review team received more than 1,000 written submissions. There has been a great deal of planning, research and consultation, and this bill is the result.
Members of the Christian Democratic Party were briefed by officials of the Department of School Education and the chairman of the Board of Studies. They were concerned about some of the suggestions that had been made, such as referring the bill to a select committee. I understand that proposal has now been dropped by the crossbench member who had planned it. The problem is that the Government, the department and the Board of Studies have to plan for the future. In some ways it can be said that the planning is well under way and that this bill will help to implement it. To put it to one side would lead to massive confusion in schools at the beginning of the next education year, and the Christian Democratic Party would not support any action that would cause such confusion. Minor differences with regard to detail can be rectified as time goes on, but this bill is part of a process and blocking it would have a harmful effect on the education system of this State.
It would also be a blow to the morale of teachers, who have taken a battering over the years. If they were unclear about where they were going, the teaching profession would be further demoralised. I use the word "profession" deliberately, because the Christian Democratic Party regards teaching as a profession. I have stated that a number of times in this House and the Christian Democratic Party would support the Government in
any action it takes to restore the sense of teaching as a profession. It seems to have been lost somewhere along the track, and it is important that it be restored. The bill will assist in achieving that.
Proposed new section 12 stipulates that the board must provide satisfactory evidence of the need for any new course and an assurance of its quality. That means that each course proposal must contain a detailed explanation of the subject content as well as a clear rationale and a statement of purpose. There must be evidence of how the course has been formed by national and international best practice, evidence that the learning outcomes have been set at an appropriate standard and clear evidence of demand for the course and advice about the relationship of the course to existing subjects.
The Christian Democratic Party supports those principles. We understand that that means there will be no more surfboard riding and other mickey mouse courses. Surfboard riding courses can be offered by the surf-lifesaving movement, et cetera, but such courses should not be a priority in the high school system. Mickey mouse courses should not take up valuable time within the school sector, because one of the problems is finding the time to provide the kind of education that every child should get. The addition of any courses that do not have priority or importance obviously weakens subjects that are important. The legislation deals with the school certificate and we are pleased that the Government has retained it. The school certificate is equivalent to the intermediate certificate, which I mentioned earlier. At the time I received the intermediate certificate, that is what the majority of students received. We were all proud to have it, and it would be a pity if there were a downgrading of the school certificate.
Some students may not be able to continue their education. Some may wish to leave school after completing the school certificate and move on to another type of training or education, perhaps an apprenticeship. With a school certificate students can take up further education at a tertiary level, although not at university. They will not be a loss to the education system if they plan to go on to further study. But if they leave school at 15 years of age and go on unemployment benefits that is of no benefit to themselves or the community. The Christian Democratic Party is pleased the Government has retained the school certificate and, as the Minister said, the Government is committed to restoring significance and purpose to year 10 studies. Many submissions to the HSC review overlapped into the area of the school certificate and were critical of the fact that the school certificate did not adequately prepare students for study at higher school certificate level.
Some people wanted to scrap the school certificate. It should not be scrapped; it should be made more effective. Historically, once these things have been developed and used they should not be changed drastically. The HSC and school certificate have become part of the State’s culture and are relevant to students over the years. They often ask each other what marks they received in the HSC; the terminology that has developed means a great deal to them. There should not be a rash scrapping of either the higher school certificate or the relevant terminology. Various generations of students will still be able to relate to one another, and so will employers when they get to know what the documents mean.
The legislation provides for the discontinuation of the use of reference tests and their replacement with statewide tests in English literacy, mathematics, science, Australian history, geography and civics. The tests in each of those areas will be based upon Board of Studies curriculum and will be reported in terms of the standards achieved by students. The tests will challenge schools and students to achieve high standards in those areas of learning that are of fundamental importance to further study or other pathways beyond year 10. The policy obviously has to be implemented and followed through. The Christian Democratic Party supports the objectives. There has been great concern in relation to English literacy that children have graduated with a poor reading ability. If they cannot read, how can they further their education to obtain better employment and increase their quality of life?
For some reason the Government moved away from that objective, and I am pleased it has become a renewed priority, together with the basic subjects of mathematics and science. In this day and age when more and more emphasis is placed on computers, the automation of factories and the development of industry students will have to have a high level of understanding and skill in mathematics and science if Australia is to maintain its national growth and compete with South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines and other Asian countries, which seem to understand the importance of those subjects. The Christian Democrats are pleased that some degree of importance is to be restored to Australian history. I have had discussions with history teachers who believed they were almost being phased out of the education department. I am pleased that priority has now been given to history, as well as geography. Students should learn about our unique nation from the south, which could
perhaps be more related to Canada, through the desert in the centre to the tropics in the north. From what I have read Australia is one of the most geographically unique countries in the world. It has a wide variation of land development and students should be taught about that and understand it.
The Christian Democrats are pleased that civics has been included. Specific testing in Australian history, Australian geography and civics fulfils a pre-election commitment to ensure that the study of Australian social and political institutions formed part of the experience of every school student. Some people are frightened that if civics is improved or given greater priority it may produce more propaganda rather than factual information. From what I can gather, Mr Aquilina is moving in the direction of providing general information under the heading of civics, not political information for either the Labor Party or the coalition. Obviously the beliefs and historical background of various political institutions would be part of that course without necessarily seeking to brainwash students into one form of political belief. Some of us were concerned that when Mr Keating spoke about civics he meant it to be a pro-republican course of study. Obviously any course should include information about how republics such as the United States of America work, and how constitutional monarchies such as Thailand and Scandinavian countries work.
Students should learn about that as well as Australia’s history. I am pleased that there has been an emphasis on ensuring that students understand Australia’s history. Some members of the New South Wales Teachers Federation would object to that, but I am pleased that the Minister said that he wants to teach students the importance of our British heritage. That is almost like using swear words today. Do people believe Australia came out of the blue? History cannot be changed, although some people may not like the British or the convict era during the settlement of Australia. Some Aboriginal people are certainly not happy with Australia’s early history and described it as an invasion. I have always said that I cannot understand how the first invasion fleet arrived not with soldiers but with convicts, with prisoners in chains. It was certainly not an invasion fleet. Australia was the dumping ground for British convicts.
The Hon. J. R. Johnson: Not only British.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE: British, Irish, Welsh, Scottish and other nationalities. It is important that those aspects of our history be taught in our schools. The Christian Democratic Party supports the Government’s statements and commitment to do that; it is for the benefit of the students. We support the bill and will examine the amendments. We will consider whether the amendments are constructive, obstructive or destructive and that will influence our response to them. We do not want to do anything that will undermine the positive steps the Government is seeking to take in the legislation.
The Hon. J. W. SHAW (Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations) [11.00 p.m.], in reply: I thank all honourable members for their contributions to this complex and important debate. I should like to reply first to the observations of the Hon. Virginia Chadwick. Key learning areas do not work in the way they were intended; they force students and teachers to engage in subjects in which they have no interest. Moreover, the breadth of study is not guaranteed. New vocational subjects do not fit neatly into existing key learning area groupings. Principals of government and non-government schools were virtually unanimous in their belief that key learning areas should be deleted for years 11 and 12. I am informed that principals are particularly concerned about the inflexibility of timetabling that key learning areas can cause. The Act does not prevent a change of structure in the curriculum. The Education Reform Amendment Bill is not about changing the curriculum structure; it is merely an enabling bill. The Government continues to consult on the actual curriculum structure.
The 2001 implementation date for the school certificate tests was agreed to by the Board of Studies after widespread consultation with the education community. Any change to the planned timetable would cause enormous confusion and disruption in schools. The Minister gave a guarantee in the Legislative Assembly of the Government’s commitment to reporting on educational standards. That is the very reason the Government is moving to a standard referenced system as compared to a normal referenced system. The point raised by the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby about the abolition of three-unit studies is not relevant to the bill. None of the universities that expressed concern about the structure has opposed the bill. It is not the role of Parliament to determine the curriculum; that role is properly designated by Parliament to the Board of Studies. The curriculum structure will not be based on an assumption that composite classes - that is, classes in which more than one syllabus is taught - will increase beyond the existing level. Quality of access will be a key criterion for the new structure. The bottom line is that the changes about which the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby or the universities expressed concern are not contained in this bill.
In response to the observations of the Hon. D. F. Moppett the Government says that Professor McGaw did not recommend scrapping the school certificate; rather he recommended renaming and upgrading it so that students received their own examination marks. This is precisely what the Government has done. The Hon. A. G. Corbett spoke about reforms. The Government acknowledges the need to monitor progress of education reforms. Indeed, this is reflected in the substantial curriculum investigation currently being undertaken by the Board of Studies. The Government has taken a responsible decision to further explore the proposed curriculum model prior to making a decision about the future of courses, including three-unit courses.
It is acknowledged that the white paper did not foreshadow and does not require substantial legislation. In answer to the Hon. I. Cohen the Government says it is correct to view the bill as an enabling bill to give effect to the white paper proposals. No compulsory testing will take place without preparation based on learning from relevant curriculum documents. In response to the comments of the Hon. R. S. L. Jones the Board of Studies advises that school certificate testing will not be limited to multiple-choice questions that are able to be marked by machine. Tests will include relevant components that are open-ended and require written responses. The existing higher school certificate examination infrastructure will be used to provide economies of scale to facilitate the sitting for and marking of school certificate tests.
The Minister has the responsibility to ensure that resources are not wasted by the proliferation of committees. The legislation provides a balance between ensuring this and the capacity of the board to determine a suitable and appropriate committee structure. The Opposition has foreshadowed an amendment. The Catholic Education Commission has advised strongly that it opposes any delay in progressing the legislation. The commission opposes any amendment that would prevent tests in English, mathematics and science from proceeding before 2002. I sat for the first higher school certificate under the system devised by Dr Harold Wyndham. I sat for the higher school certificate in 1967 and for the school certificate in 1965. At the start of each year I waited anxiously for the textbooks to arrive, as they belatedly did. Professor Messel’s textbook on science took some time to get to us, but when it did we devoured it, we were stimulated by it and life was good.
The Hon. Virginia Chadwick: It was introduced in a terrible rush and you did not have a textbook.
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: As the Hon. Virginia Chadwick says, and I agree entirely, we did not have the textbooks until well into the year, but we had some very good teachers in the State school system. We battled on and we did not do too badly at the end of the day. I express confidence that this bill will further refine and improve those fundamental reforms formulated in the early 1960s. I commend the bill.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
ASSENT TO BILLS
Assent to the following bills reported:
Sports Drug Testing Amendment Bill
Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition (New South Wales) Amendment Bill
Trustee Amendment (Discretionary Investments) Bill
Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games Amendment Bill
JUSTICES AMENDMENT (PROCEDURE) BILL
Message received from the Legislative Assembly agreeing to the Legislative Council’s amendments.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN (Treasurer, Minister for Energy, Minister for State and Regional Development, Minister Assisting the Premier, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [11.08 p.m.]: I move:
That this House do now adjourn.
CALL TO AUSTRALIA PARTY NAME CHANGE
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY [11.08 p.m.]: Earlier today Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile was successful, in his own words, "after more than two years of lobbying" in being elected by Parliament as a member of the Standing Committee on Parliamentary Privilege and Ethics. Of course, that committee will investigate the claims by the Hon. Franca Arena of a paedophile cover-up. On radio this morning Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile said that he was member of a recognised party in the Parliament and, therefore, he should have representation on the committee. He also said that any group with two or more members elected to the Parliament is recognised as a party.
He went on in that interview to say that he was the only crossbench party in this Parliament that was so recognised. He said words to the effect that the Australian Democrats are nothing because they have only one member. I point out to honourable members that when Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile changed the name of the Call to Australia Party to the Christian Democratic Party he did so because he was changing the name as a member of the Call to Australia Party in the Parliament. But what he has not told the House is that at the same time the Hon. Elaine Nile changed the name of the Call To Australia Party to the CTA Child Protection (Elaine Nile) Party, and that is now so registered.
I would contend that neither Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile nor the Hon. Elaine Nile form one party; they are leaders of two separate parties, one being the Christian Democratic Party and the other being the CTA Child Protection (Elaine Nile) Party. I do not know whether the Hon. Elaine Nile or Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile reported this change of name for their party to the President, as protocol suggests - I should hope that they both did. My understanding is that the Hon. Elaine Nile did not, and it is for that reason that I opposed Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile attempting to put himself on the Standing Committee on Parliamentary Privilege and Ethics.
I opposed that move for another reason also. This issue of Family World News, a publication put out by Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile, makes it obvious that he is partisan to the cause of the Hon. Franca Arena. The front cover of this newspaper shows a picture of Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile and the Hon. Franca Arena. It was for that reason and that reason only that I believed it completely improper that he be admitted to the Standing Committee on Parliamentary Privilege and Ethics. I point out to honourable members that in this journal - issued by a party which, according to its masthead, promotes values and ethics - Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile makes a statement about the Australian Democrats. He states:
It is also very clear that politicians have been guilty, both in the Liberal-National Parties and the ALP. There has also been a Federal Police Investigation into the Australian Democrat’s claims for election funding.
That is perfectly true, but what Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile did not say is that, after four years of investigation, the Australian Democrats were cleared and no charges were ever laid against them. Yet Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile continues, after knowing that, to promote in his journal -
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: I don’t know that.
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY: Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile could not have failed to know that, because it was a matter of news media comment at the time. For a party that promotes itself as supporting ethics, the honourable member shows a total breach of ethics. I ask Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile to publish a refutation of that statement in the next edition of his journal.
COOKED CHICKEN MEAT IMPORTATION
The Hon. A. B. KELLY [11.13 p.m.]: This evening I wish to speak about the importation of cooked chicken meat. On 7 November John Anderson, Federal Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, unveiled plans to allow the importation of cooked chicken meat into the Australian market. This move not only places Australian producers at an extraordinarily comparative disadvantage but also significantly increases the risk of Newcastle disease and infectious bursal disease - IBD. Mr Anderson agreed to the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service protocol that requires imported meat to be cooked at 70 degrees for 143 minutes as a measure against importing diseases.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: How can you prove that happened?
The Hon. A. B. KELLY: Exactly, if such tests were conducted in Thailand, how could one prove that the meats had been cooked at 70 degrees for 143 minutes? Independent tests at Weybridge in the United Kingdom found that cooking at 70 degrees fails to rid the meat of disease, even after 300 minutes cooking time. An AQIS press release stated, "tests on Infectious Bursal Disease Virus have indicated that the previously determined cooking regime would not totally inactivate the strain of the pathogen." While raising the temperature to 80 degrees could eliminate the risk of both diseases, the Federal Minister has chosen that the protocol be firmly set at 70 degrees, to allow the importation of meats from Thailand.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: And how is one to know that that happened?
The Hon. A. B. KELLY: As Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile has pointed out, who will check that the protocol is adhered to at some backyard operation in Thailand? John Anderson is apparently putting pressure on AQIS to retrial the process, because he believes a temperature of 70 degrees to be too high and wants the import protocol to be relaxed even further. The risk of disease is further exacerbated by the complete lack of provision for disease-free area certification in the exporting
countries. For the benefit of honourable members I present the example of fruit exports from Griffith. If one fruit fly is found in an orange from Griffith that is deemed to be okay, but if five fruit flies are found then all exports from Griffith must cease. In Thailand, so long as the meat is cooked at 70 degrees, it will not matter how much IBD runs rampant outside a factory.
The poultry industry produces more than 460,000 tonnes of chicken meat each year, is worth $2 billion annually and employs 15,000 people. According to the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, most of the production is consumed domestically and the importation of cooked chicken products will seriously challenge the viability of the Australian industry. The ramifications of the easy importation of contaminated meat products into Australia are extremely serious. The spread of disease to Australian farms could be devastating. Somebody eating a chicken sandwich might decide that it did not taste right and throw it away. Next, seagulls could eat the sandwich and subsequently die.
The economic impact of the policy will be equally damaging. The Thai industry has a tariff level of 45 per cent, compared with the Australian tariff level of 9 per cent. After costs are factored in, Australian producers will be operating under absurd conditions. Of two Federal departments, one promotes import replacement and the other, AQIS, promotes the imports. That is what the Federal Government calls a level playing field. Bartter Enterprises at Griffith currently has 1,500 staff and a weekly payroll of $900,000. The same number of staff would cost a Thai company only $45,000 per week. Thai exporters to Australia would have an advantage of approximately $850,000. The difference in import tariffs between those in Thailand and those in Australia will make it extremely difficult for Bartter Enterprises to continue. As I have said Bartter Enterprises currently employs 1,500 people. At present it purchases more than 100,000 tonnes of grain in the Griffith area. So the importation of cooked chicken meat will affect not only the chicken farmers but also the grain producers of the area. The Federal Minister has reneged on his commitment to Australian producers. In January the Minister stated:
The Government will finalise options for structural adjustment assistance to affected industries and regions with a view to announcing a package when quarantine processes are finalised.
But Mr Anderson in his November press release - after much consideration - decided:
The Government does not see a need for structural adjustment assistance for the domestic market.
RECONCILIATION FOR YOUNG AUSTRALIANS PROJECT
The Hon. HELEN SHAM-HO [11.18 p.m.]: On Sunday, 23 November I attended a very important occasion, the presentation of the reconciliation for young Australians project by Guides Australia and the Scouts Association of Australia, two organisations representing young Australians. This important project was funded by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation to the sum of $60,000, but its value cannot be summed up in monetary terms. The presentation of the project was very spirited. It was attended by the Hon. Senator John Herron, Federal Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs; Mr Daryl Melham, shadow minister for Aboriginal affairs; my State colleague, Mr Colin Markham; Dr William Wells, Chief Commissioner of Scouts Australia, who flew all the way from Melbourne; and Mrs Sue Conde, Assistant Chief Commissioner for Australia of Guides Australia.
This project is important because young people are our future and the success of reconciliation rests in their hands. I congratulate the chairman of the Joint Steering Committee, Graham Padgen, and the many members of that committee. The overall aims of the project were to educate young people about indigenous culture and issues, encourage an understanding of cultural difference, establish and maintain existing connections between the two youth associations and indigenous people in Australia, and develop a program of activity which can be utilised by other community-based youth organisations and schemes. This huge publication will be printed in the new year, but the joint steering committee lacks funding for that purpose. I hope it can obtain funding from the State Government because it is important that the book be printed and distributed.
The kit contains a wealth of information and material dealing generally with reconciliation, traditional indigenous Australian society, indigenous Australia today and community development. Included in the kit are in excess of 200 individual activities, some of which call for the involvement of members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. In addition, guidance is provided for making contact with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and there are detailed lists of books, newsletters and videos that may be sourced to assist in the learning process. Although the kit is targeted at young Australians between the ages of six and 18, the activities have been categorised not necessarily into specific age groups but according to
the level of complexity and planning required to achieve the outcomes recommended. The kit has been researched, developed, written and designed by a team from the University of Technology, Sydney.
Most important is the commitment by the two organisations to reconciliation between indigenous Australians and other young Australians. Guides Australia and the Scout Association of Australia will be promoting a joint guide-scout Aboriginal reconciliation badge. The badge may be obtained by a unit, patrol or individual after completing eight activities, with at least one selection from each of the four modules that the kit contains. Young people may choose the activities that best suit their needs and should be a challenge for them individually or as a group. I look forward to the production of the kit in the new year. I was a girl guide and I know what is required to earn a badge. I believe the reconciliation process will be further enhanced through these activities. [Time expired.]
CALL TO AUSTRALIA PARTY NAME CHANGE
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [11.23 p.m.]: I wish to respond to the vicious attack by the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby on my name and the name of the Christian Democratic Party and, to an extent, the name of our former party, Call to Australia (Fred Nile) Group. I shall place on record what in fact happened. As honourable members know, I announced that the Call to Australia Party had changed its name. The party was registered at the Electoral Office as "Call to Australia (Fred Nile) Group". The maximum number of words that can be used in a political party name is six. Obviously, there can be as few as three, as in the Australian Labor Party, but we availed ourselves of the maximum number of words in order to include the words "Fred Nile" for identification purposes. When we applied for a change of name we merely deleted the three words "Call to Australia" and replaced them with "Christian Democratic Party". We were shocked when we were advised by the New South Wales Electoral Commission that, even though we had previously registered the name "Call to Australia", once the party’s name had been changed to the Christian Democratic Party it was open to another person to register the name "Call to Australia". Apparently there is no regulation to prevent that course and it may be that the electoral laws should be amended accordingly. For example, it is possible that the Labor Party may consider changing its name to "New Labor".
The Hon. M. R. Egan: It will not.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE: That is the rumour. I know Labor has registered the name in Canberra, which may have been an attempt to protect the name of the party. "New Labour" is the name Prime Minister Blair uses for his party in the United Kingdom. We were shocked by the Electoral Commissioner’s statement and we asked what we could do to protect the name. We were advised that even though we might not campaign under the name, to stop someone else from using the name we had to register it. We asked how that might be done and the Electoral Commission’s policy - which is the reverse of what one would normally expect - was to put the letters "CTA" in the register of political parties and list the official abbreviation of the party name as "Call to Australia". The Electoral Commissioner said that that would be sufficient and that no-one could use the name "Call to Australia".
We followed that advice merely to protect the name but, in reality, the Hon. Elaine Nile and I are both members of and active in the Christian Democratic Party, as proved by the literature and policy statements. No material is published promoting the Call to Australia Party because, in our opinion, it has been disbanded and its successor is the Christian Democratic Party. There was no attempt to deceive voters or mislead the House. If we had not done what we did, any group that is anti Fred Nile, such as a homosexual solidarity group or marijuana groups, could have registered the name "Call to Australia" and campaigned in the March 1999 State election using the name. We hope all voters know that we have changed the name of our party, but it is possible some elderly voters might see the name "Call to Australia" and say, "That is Fred Nile. I will vote for him", when in fact they would be voting for a group totally opposed to Fred Nile and to the party’s position.
Honourable members may consider that we overreacted but we had been involved in a conflict with a pornography pusher in Sydney who registered the name "Festival of Light". When I asked how that had been permitted, the corporate affairs commissioner said, "You did not register the name as a business." I said that we had not registered the name as a business because it was a lobby movement. He indicated that that had left a gap in the records of the Corporate Affairs Commission. Another individual had registered the name "Festival of Light" with the intention of producing pornography under that name. We received a letter advising us that we could no longer use that name because it had been registered as a business name.
We experienced a lot of heartburn and finally were blackmailed by the person who had registered the name, a prominent producer of pornography, who said that we could continue to use the name if we paid him $1,000. In order to avoid considerable legal costs we finally decided to give him $1,000 so that we could use our own name. There are unscrupulous people who will take advantage of a genuine mistake. That is why we followed the advice of the Electoral Commission and retained the name on the record as an abbreviation. We do not propose to use the name, and neither the Hon.
Elaine Nile nor I will conduct any campaign under that name. To that extent it is similar to a shelf company; it is simply a name on the shelf, but if it creates problems for the House we will be happy to make what adjustments we can to ensure that no-one considers that we have been deceitful in regard to this matter. [Time expired.]
Motion agreed to.
House adjourned at 11.28 p.m.