The President (The Hon. Dr Meredith Burgmann)
Wednesday 27 October 2004
took the chair at 11.00 a.m.
of the Parliaments offered the Prayers.
tabled, pursuant to the Public Finance and Audit Act 1983, the report entitled "Auditor-General's Report—Financial Audits¯Volume Three 2004—Total State Sector Accounts", dated October 2004.
Ordered to be printed.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Postponement of Business
Government Business Notices of Motions Nos 2 and 3 postponed on motion by the Hon. John Hatzistergos.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER
(Leader of the Opposition) [11.08 a.m.]: I move:
The House divided.
That standing and sessional orders be suspended to allow a motion to be moved forthwith that Private Members' Business item No. 130 outside the Order of Precedence, relating to an Address to the Governor for papers on Operation Auxin, be called on forthwith.
Mr Della Bosca
|Mrs Forsythe||Ms Burnswoods|
|Mr Lynn||Mr Kelly|
|Mr Ryan||Ms Robertson
Order! The vote being equal, I give my casting vote with the noes and declare the question to be resolved in the negative.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders
The Hon. CATHERINE CUSACK
[11.17 a.m.]: I move:
The House divided.
That standing and sessional orders be suspended to allow a motion to be moved forthwith that Private Members' Business item No. 138 outside the Order of Precedence, relating to an amendment to the General Purpose Standing Committee No. 3 inquiry into Kariong Detention Centre, be called on forthwith.
Mr Della Bosca
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
|Mr Lynn||Mr Kelly|
|Mr Ryan||Ms Robertson|
Order of Business
Motion by the Hon. Catherine Cusack agreed to:
That Private Members' Business item No. 138 outside the Order of Precedence be called on forthwith.
GENERAL PURPOSE STANDING COMMITTEE NO. 3
Reference: Kariong Juvenile Justice Centre
The Hon. CATHERINE CUSACK
[11.25 a.m.]: I move:
That the resolution of the House of 22 September 2004 relating to General Purpose Standing Committee No. 3 meeting for the purpose of taking evidence from youth workers and staff at the Kariong Detention Centre be amended by inserting at the end of paragraph 3:
(2) That additional witnesses may be called by order of the committee.
The Hon. AMANDA FAZIO
[11.25 a.m.]: I oppose the motion moved by the Hon. Catherine Cusack for the reasons I have already outlined to some crossbench members. To put it simply, if the Hon. Catherine Cusack had wanted an ordinary inquiry conducted by General Purpose Standing Committee No. 3 into the Kariong Juvenile Justice Centre there are procedures that should have been followed. However, the honourable member chose not to follow the usual procedures in setting up this inquiry. Indeed, the motion moved by the Hon. Catherine Cusack was very prescriptive in terms of what could happen. For the convenience of the Hon. Catherine Cusack but no other committee members, she attempted to hold hearings the day after the debate in this House was to take place and on the following day. The original motion for the inquiry also named 16 people who would be invited to give evidence, which is unusual. That part of the motion was amended after lengthy debate in this Chamber, and an amendment by the Hon. John Tingle provided for the timing to be more flexible.
I have jokingly referred to the Hon. Catherine Cusack as "Princess special treatment". I am beginning to regret that I referred to her in that way only jokingly. If the Hon. Catherine Cusack wants to do things properly she should follow the procedures set down by the House. We have broad guidelines on how to refer an inquiry to a committee; those guidelines leave the determining of the timing, the number of witnesses and the way in which it is conducted in the hands of the committee itself. However, as the Hon. Catherine Cusack has pursued this most bizarre path of having an inquiry set up in such a strange way, with the committee's actions restricted to exactly what was carried in the original motion passed by the House, she should live with the consequences of her actions.
When the Hon. Catherine Cusack came to the first meeting of General Purpose Standing Committee No. 3 for its inquiry into the Kariong Juvenile Justice Centre she did not even have a list of all the additional witnesses she wanted to call, because she simply had not done her homework and was not prepared. It is about time we put the Hon. Catherine Cusack in her place and said, "If you want to have a proper inquiry into Kariong, call it in the proper manner. Don't do this sort of half-baked attempt at pursuing new ways of having inquiries called." The Hon. Catherine Cusack should do things the way they are supposed to be done; there would be no hassle and no qualms. The committee is able to organise things to suit itself. Instead, we are having this most bizarre debate today because the inquiry was formed with a most unusual set of procedures put in place by the Hon. Catherine Cusack.
I am sure that the Hon. Catherine Cusack will complain about the length of time it takes to call inquiries. That is simply because most committees organise inquiries at the convenience of the majority of committee members, not at the direction of one person who is a proxy member of the committee for the duration of the inquiry—a person who is not even a member of General Purpose Standing Committee No. 3. So I urge all honourable members to support the normal committee processes laid down by the House and reject this motion.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS
[11.28 a.m.]: I did not intend to speak to this motion and I was not delighted with the Hon. Catherine Cusack's original motion, which named 16 witnesses, perhaps putting some of their careers in jeopardy. However, in fairness to the Hon. Catherine Cusack, the Hon. John Tingle amended the original motion, which widened the scope of the inquiry to look more broadly at Kariong. So it became a much bigger inquiry. I do not believe that that was the Hon. Catherine Cusack's intention. So in a sense, as with many things that come out of this House, the final product was something of a camel. The motion has been shown to be too restrictive. The Hon. Catherine Cusack merely wanted to hear evidence from a number of witnesses; the amendment moved by the Hon. John Tingle has made it a broader issue. The terms of reference are flawed and need to be fixed.
The Hon. Catherine Cusack:
The terms of reference are not flawed.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS:
The terms of reference are limiting the witnesses to be called. We now have a lot of sour grapes from the Hon. Amanda Fazio. If this House did not spend half its time amending flawed Government legislation, we would have much less to do. However, it is not a perfect world and sometimes things are flawed. We put up with the Government bringing back flawed legislation time after time. Therefore, it is a bit rich for the Government to say that this motion is flawed and should not be corrected. It is sour grapes and stupidity on the part of the Government. We should vote to get good outcomes from General Purpose Standing Committee No. 3. That is what we all want.
The Hon. CATHERINE CUSACK
[11.30 a.m.], in reply: I shall deal with the rewriting of history and why the motion was moved in this way. During the estimates hearings of General Purpose Standing Committee No. 3 the Government moved a motion that closed down the Minister's evidence to the committee until at least after the expiry of 35 days. That motion delayed any attempt to call witnesses in relation to the Kariong matter for a minimum of two months. The Government moved that motion and virtually gagged the committee from pursuing these issues. In those circumstances, the only alternative was to bring the matter before the House. It was not some spontaneous preciousness on my part to do this; I was simply pursuing a matter after the Government had closed the only door previously available.
During debate in the House the motion changed slightly. The original purpose of my motion was to have some committee hearings to allow people to put information on the record. As the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans has said, that motion developed. For example, it was proposed that the Minister should be invited to respond to the evidence. To that end, the Hon. Amanda Fazio issued the agenda for the first deliberative meeting. That agenda requested members of the committee to submit names of additional witnesses, which we duly did. Subsequently, we were advised that technically we could not do that as a committee. Therefore, this motion was a simple solution to a technical problem and would give effect to the wishes of the committee. There was no objection at that meeting, even from the Hon. Amanda Fazio.
The intention of the House when it passed that motion was to develop this inquiry a little further. I think the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans got it right when he referred to a case of sour grapes. I have also been reminded by my colleague the Hon. Rick Colless that while a reference from the House is not usual, the House reserves the right to refer any matter it wishes to a committee. It has that power. As I said, it has been a case of sour grapes on the part of the Hon. Amanda Fazio to not support this motion and to effectively consume the time of the House to make another personal attack on me.
Motion agreed to.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA
(Special Minister of State, Minister for Commerce, Minister for Industrial Relations, Assistant Treasurer, and Minister for the Central Coast) [11.34 a.m.]: I wish to address the House in relation to workplace fatalities. Honourable members will be aware of community concern about workplace deaths, the need for appropriate penalties to ensure the punishment fits the crime and that employers have the appropriate incentives to operate their businesses safely. This has nothing to do with ideology. This is about community concern that corporations, whether they be small or large, behave in accordance with the basic principles of human decency. Where they do not, the community expects Parliament to do something about it. The community is one step ahead of some businesses and most politicians in that it realises the old trade-off between safety and commercial success is an irrelevant legacy of the nineteenth century and has no place in a modern economy. The community wants directors and managers to pay as much attention to the health and safety of their workers as they do to the dividends paid to shareholders.
If you have a safe working environment you are more likely to have a profitable company. New South Wales has one of the most robust occupational health and safety frameworks in the world—one this Government proudly introduced. We are one of the few places where workers have a statutory right to be consulted about the safety of their workplace, and where maximum flexibility exists for employers to arrange for a safe, effective and productive workplace. While the rate of incidents and injuries has been falling consistently, there are still too many workplace deaths in this State. The Government wants to ensure we have the legislative framework that provides the right incentives to employers to protect workers from risks.
As a result of this debate, we now have a protocol between WorkCover, police the Coroner and other relevant agencies to ensure that in the very small number of cases where a death is clearly a police matter, we have procedures that ensure there is sufficient and properly collected evidence for charges under the Crimes Act, if they are appropriate. While that option remains, there has been a great deal of debate about other ways of addressing this critical issue. General Purpose Standing Committee No. 1 canvassed many of the issues in its inquiry into workplace fatalities conducted earlier this year.
In November 2003 I appointed an eminent panel of legal experts including the Sydney University Dean of Law, Professor Ron McCallum, to advise the Government on the best legal improvements, particularly as they relate to workplace fatalities. On 28 June I addressed this House following receipt of the report and undertook to consult widely on its findings. The panel recommended that New South Wales introduce an additional offence in the Occupational Health and Safety Act, specifically relating to workplace fatalities, including higher penalties for first offenders. The panel unanimously ruled out industrial manslaughter laws generally and any new offence under the Crimes Act. The panel carefully explained that such legislation would be unhelpful, a retrograde step, unlikely to be utilised to any significant degree and tokenistic in nature. The panel's advice was that it would not improve the occupational health and safety of workers in New South Wales.
The Government accepts this advice. In discussion with stakeholders, the panel explained the Crimes Act would not be used as a weapon against rogue employers but, rather, it would become their shield. Rogue employers would gain comfort from the knowledge they had nothing to fear. That would be exactly the wrong outcome. On behalf of the Government, I am definitively and finally ruling out any proposals of industrial manslaughter in New South Wales. This has been a worthwhile debate but it is clear this is not the way to make our workplaces safer. The concept of industrial manslaughter will not work and that debate continuing will be a barrier to safety because, among other reasons, collaboration between employers and workers will be made more difficult.
Only a small number of industrial deaths each year are because of a complete disregard for basic occupational health and safety and common decency. In these instances, the community is demanding the potential for gaol sentences. Since the release of the panel's report in June, an extensive consultation process has involved the key stakeholders. I thank employer and union groups alike for their constructive and timely responses to the report and to record the Government's appreciation for their contribution. The panel of experts has been an integral part of the consultation process and members were generous with their time as they discussed, explained and answered the concerns of employers, unions, workers and their families. Once again I offer my sincere thanks to Professor McCallum, Peter Hall, QC, Adam Hatcher and Adam Searle.
I am pleased to announce that today I am releasing for public consideration an exposure draft bill of the Government's proposed legislative reforms to occupational health and safety laws. These reforms contained in the draft Occupational Health and Safety Legislation Amendment (Workplace Fatalities) Bill will implement the recommendations made by the panel. Following that advice and in light of the constructive comments and advice received from stakeholders in the consultation process, the Government proposes an amendment to the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000 to create a new offence with a higher penalty regime, where contravention of the Act causes the death of an employee or other relevant person. The bill provides for penalties of up to $165,000 for individuals, including directors and managers, and $1.65 million for corporations in the case of a previous offender. The monetary penalties are generally double those currently available. There is also provision for up to two years imprisonment for first time offenders and five years imprisonment for subsequent offenders. The possibility of imprisonment for first time offenders is a specific recommendation of the panel.
The bill includes an amendment to the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000 to expressly provide for five aggravating factors a court must take into account when sentencing under the Act. Those factors are that, firstly, the risk to safety was reasonably foreseeable; secondly, there were feasible measures reasonably available to the offender to prevent or mitigate risk; thirdly, the risk from the breach could have caused serious injury or death; fourthly, death or serious injury was caused by reckless or negligent conduct; and, fifthly, the employer gained a financial advantage by not implementing safe systems of work. Listing these factors in the Act will ensure that the courts must recognise the unique features of occupational health and safety laws when sentencing offenders. They will promote greater transparency and accountability in the sentencing process.
In order to ensure that the rights of individuals convicted of offences under the Act are protected, the bill also includes amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000 and the Criminal Appeal Act 1912 to allow limited rights of appeal from the Industrial Relations Commission in Court Session to the Court of Criminal Appeal. Those two limited rights of appeal are in relation to, first, acquittals that are overturned by the commission on appeal and, second, appeals against terms of imprisonment. The bill also ensures that the legislative provisions adequately support the making of an application for a sentencing guideline under the Act. The amendments put beyond doubt that convictions for offences committed under the former Occupational Health and Safety Act 1983 may be used for the purposes of making a sentencing guideline application under the current Act.
The panel also proposed a code setting out the responsibilities of directors and managers. It is clear from the consultation we have undertaken that there is a divergence of views about how such a code would work and what it would say. In view of the differing opinions, I have referred the panel's recommendation about a code of practice to WorkCover's Advisory Council to consider the panel's report and advise me on both the content and structure of such a code. I believe the proposals for reform of the occupational health and safety laws contained in the Occupational Health and Safety Legislation Amendment (Workplace Fatalities) Bill will improve workplace safety in this State. That is a necessary outcome. This debate is not simply about punishment. Any change must provide the right motivation and incentives to ensure that employers make effective changes to their workplace and to the safety culture of their business.
These reforms are an appropriate and measured response to the community's demand for safer workplaces. Hard-working, responsible employers have nothing to fear from this bill. This bill is aimed at a minority—the rogues whose indifference to health and safety results in death. The community demands that the punishment must fit the crime. These amendments have the safeguards to do so; they provide the penalties and incentives to ensure that people who leave for work can return home safely to their families and friends. A great deal of passion has been shown in this debate, understandably and rightly so. It deals with a very serious matter—the death in a workplace of someone's son or daughter, a friend or a colleague. It is an issue the Government had to resolve.
This bill resolves the issue not with a token measure, but with an effective series of amendments to ensure the health and safety of everyone in the workplace, regardless of their importance to the business, their age, their experience or their pay packet. Already a long period of discussion, inquiry and debate has ensued, concluding with this draft legislative amendment. The Government intends to proceed following a short period of consultation, but we will be guided by the major stakeholders. I look forward to hearing the views of unions, workers, employers, parents and members of the House. I believe we all want safe and just workplaces.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER
(Leader of the Opposition) [11.44 a.m.]: The Coalition is concerned about workplace fatalities and workplace safety. As we have stated on many occasions, the Coalition will support any reasonable legislation or program that will increase workplace safety. Last weekend in my area, and the area in which the Minister for Industrial Relations lives—the Central Coast—we suffered the tragic death of a 28-year-old contractor working at the Westfield shopping centre who, after cutting through wires, fell four metres to his death. He leaves behind two small children. Every member would be aware of people who have been seriously injured or have died at the workplace, whether it is a worker in a factory or a truck driver or courier on the road. We would all have anecdotes about such incidents and the memory of them stays with us for many years.
In my former role as a police officer I was called on a number of occasions to attend workplaces where people had been seriously injured or killed. One particular incident that occurred in the 1990s is permanently burned into my memory because it illustrates how quickly injuries can happen in the workplace. One morning I was called to a workplace at Somersby where people were involved in the removal of sandstone blocks to be used in the building industry. The weather was not dissimilar to this morning's—mild temperature with a morning shower. The workers were cutting through sandstone with heavy equipment and pulling out 1½ metre blocks to be taken away. As the rain came, the workers decided that it would be a good time to run back to the work shed and take a smoko.
A big, strapping young fellow in his late twenties realised he had left his cigarettes on the work site. The hole the workers had cut into the sandstone was a little more than 1½ metres long and 2½ metres across. Instead of walking around the hole, the young fellow decided to jump across the hole to pick up his cigarettes. As he jumped his foot slipped on the sandstone. He landed on his rib cage on the other side of the sandstone, was winded and dropped down into the hole. The first thing we do when we are winded is suck in air. Unfortunately, this young gentleman sucked in muddy water. The water went straight into his lungs and in a matter of seconds he was dead. I was one of the police officers who attended at the workplace and the incident burned into my memory; how quickly a person can lose his life by doing something that seems so easy and simple, perhaps lazy, but has tragic consequences.
The Coalition believes that workplace safety requires a multiple approach: education and support for employers and employees. We do not believe a purely punitive approach will achieve the desired outcome. Just as traffic safety requires education as well as penalties for breaches of the law, so does workplace safety. The exposure bill now presented by the Minister follows on two inquiries: an inquiry by General Purpose Standing Committee No. 1 of this House, whose findings seem to have been relatively ignored by the Government; and an inquiry instigated by the WorkCover Authority, whose report was presented in June this year. This bill is presented to us as the outcome of the WorkCover Authority report.
The Coalition will give careful consideration to the bill and proposes to consult widely before stating a definitive position. It is worth noting that the Government itself does not have a perfect record in workplace safety. One wonders how the McInerney report into the tragic death of a StateRail employee at Waterfall will inter-relate with this draft legislation imposing serious penalties on corporations. Another point that the draft bill raises is the question of appeals. Appeals are to be allowed to the Court of Criminal Appeal from decisions of the Industrial Relations Commission under this Act while the Government continues to refuse to allow appeals to the Court of Appeal from other decisions of the Industrial Relations Commission. The inconsistency is obvious. However, as I have stated, our overwhelming concern is the safety of every worker and we will assess the draft legislation in that light.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
I table the consultation draft bill entitled "Occupational Health and Safety Legislation Amendment (Workplace Fatalities) Bill 2004".
Ordered to be printed.
GENE TECHNOLOGY (GM CROP MORATORIUM) AMENDMENT BILL
Bill introduced, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD
(Minister for Primary Industries) [11.51 a.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The Gene Technology (GM Crop Moratorium) Amendment Bill introduces two important changes to the Gene Technology (GM Crop Moratorium) Amendment Act 2003. It brings a small but much-needed modification to the process of giving exemptions to grow genetically modified [GM] crops and it clarifies the types of conditions that can be included in exemptions. The bill is the result of 12 months practical experience with the gene technology legislation, and it will greatly improve that legislation. Before I address the details of this bill, I will say a few words about GM crops, particularly the changes that are taking place, and also the legislation governing this area.
First, the use of genetically modified crops is a worldwide movement. The adoption of gene technology in the international agricultural sector continues to expand as crop varieties with new attributes are developed. For example, one international report shows that the global area planted with such crops increased for a seventh consecutive year in 2003. It increased by some 15 per cent, and stood at 67.7 million hectares last year. Almost one-third of this area was in developing countries, where the uptake of GM crops continues to be strong. GM crops are also gaining greater acceptance in places such as the European Union [EU]. One example is the insect-resistant GM maize, which is known as "Bt11". That maize was approved for use in food in the EU in May this year. A number of other GM crops are currently being assessed for approval by the EU authorities.
We are seeing similar developments in Australia. These developments are not only resulting in better yields, they are also producing benefits for the environment. For example, the introduction of Ingard cotton in Australia in 1996 resulted in a 50 per cent decrease in pesticide application in the cotton industry. This was despite severe restrictions on the area that could be planted to Ingard. We are currently seeing the phasing out of GM Ingard cotton. It is being replaced with the improved Bollgard II varieties. Bollgard II contains two genes for insect resistance and is expected to be grown on a wider acreage. In turn, this is expected to reduce the use of pesticide even more, further contributing to the environmental benefits of GM technology.
Interestingly, the debate about GM rice in China has also moved to centre stage. The decision will surely shape the future of GM crops in the world because it will create a massive market receptive to the development, production, import and export of GM crops. At a recent conference in Brisbane, one of China's leading scientists said that China had everything to gain from GM commercialisation and little to lose. Notwithstanding that, the use of GM crops in Australia is not occurring unchecked. The release of Bollgard II cotton required the approval of the Gene Technology Regulator. That was in common with all proposed releases of genetically modified material in Australia.
The role of the Gene Technology Regulator was established under the Commonwealth's
Gene Technology Act 2000. That Act has been adopted to implement a nationally consistent approach to the regulation of gene technology in this country. The Gene Technology Regulator is currently assessing applications for trials of a number of GM crops that have the potential to address a range of environmental and human health issues. Of particular interest are the recent applications for field trials of GM wheat with increased tolerance of saline conditions or altered starch composition. These are important developments. The adoption of salinity-tolerant crops has the potential to allow the reclamation of productive land from the ongoing threat of dry-land salinity. It could also contribute to production practices that would help address the problem.
In addition, the potential to alter the accumulation of starch in core cereal species represents a significant scientific breakthrough in the area of nutritional enhancement of staple foodstuffs. The GM wheat produced by the CSIRO alters the starch composition of wheat to a form that is thought to provide significant human health benefits. These are developments that could greatly improve agriculture in this State. However, the developments are not occurring without regard for the environment or human health. As I have noted, all GM crops require a licence from the Gene Technology Regulator. The Commonwealth's Gene Technology Act
requires the regulator to consider risks to the environment, as well as the health and safety of people, before issuing a licence to grow GM crops. As a result of this legislative requirement, when the Gene Technology Regulator considers an application for commercial release or field trials, it undertakes a scientific evaluation of the possible risks that genetically modified organisms could pose to the Australian environment and the health of Australian people.
However, the regulator does not consider the impact that the release of genetically modified organisms could have on the access of Australian agricultural products to overseas markets or other trade-related issues. This is where the New South Wales Gene Technology (GM Crop Moratorium) Act comes into the picture. That legislation was passed by this Parliament in 2003. It implements the Premier's announcement of 3 March 2003 that the Government would ban the commercial production of certain GM crops in New South Wales for three years. Honourable members might recall that during debate last year I gave an undertaking that I would make an order imposing a moratorium on the commercial cultivation of GM canola. I have honoured that pledge, placing moratoriums on the cultivation of GM InVigor canola on 25 July 2003, and on GM Roundup Ready canola on 24 December 2003.
An important aspect of the New South Wales gene technology legislation is that it allows the Minister responsible to declare exemptions from the moratoria for the purpose of conducting research trials. However, these exemptions can be granted only if certain criteria are met. Importantly, section 8 of the legislation requires the Minister to seek the council's recommendation as to whether the exemption order should be made. Honourable members will recall that the composition of that council was the result of significant deliberations by this House and include an independent chair and representatives from various stakeholder groups. These include the New South Wales Farmers Association, GrainCorp, the Australian Wheat Board, the CSIRO and the Nature Conservation Council amongst others.
To this date I have sought the recommendations of the advisory council in regard to exemptions to allow the continuation of research trials of InVigor planted under the auspices of the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator. I have also sought the recommendations of the council following applications for exemptions from Bayer CropScience and Monsanto for research trials of GM canola in 2004, as well as the application to conduct a co-existence trial to test segregation protocols in conjunction with the Australian Oilseeds Federation, also to occur in 2004.
However, the applications for trials of GM canola in 2004 have identified a problem with the process for gaining advice from the council. This brings me to the first of the amendments contained in the bill. At present the legislation imposes a drawn-out, excessively bureaucratic process for getting a recommendation from the council. Under a strict interpretation of section 8, and as a matter of practice, the Minister responsible must go backwards and forwards to the council with applications for exemptions, draft orders, amendments to draft orders and recommendations. In the case of the GM canola applications this year, that process was as follows: the application for an exemption being referred to the advisory council; the advisory council making a written recommendation to approve the trials and issue an exemption order; returning a draft exemption order to the advisory council for its consideration; the advisory council proposing amendments to the draft exemption order; referring the amended draft exemption order back to the advisory council for its consideration; the advisory council formally agreeing to the amended draft exemption order; and, finally, making the exemption order.
This process took three months, is overly bureaucratic, and is not what was intended in the drafting of the bill. It was also very costly, occupying both the department's and the council's time. The intent of the legislation has always been that the Minister responsible would refer any application for an exemption to the advisory council, and seek its recommendation on whether an exemption should be given and, if so, under what conditions. After receiving this recommendation the Minister would decide whether to grant an exemption and, if so, under what conditions. This bill amends section 8 to remove the current, overly bureaucratic process, and to replace it with one that reflects the original intention. Under the amendment the Minister responsible would not be able to make an exemption without giving the council a copy of either the exemption application or details of the proposal to make an exemption order. The Minister would also be required to ask for the council's recommendation on whether the exemption should be given. These changes will greatly streamline the process by cutting out the toing-and-froing that currently goes on.
However, before I go further, I must point out that this amendment does not in any way diminish the role of the council. As I have said, it does not remove the requirement to obtain a recommendation from the advisory council before making an exemption, nor does it remove the requirement that the Minister must provide written reasons for not following the council's advice in cases where the council recommends against an exemption. Rather, the amendment simply streamlines the process. Indeed, knowing the inherent controversy that surrounds this area, I have made a point of contacting the chairman of the advisory council to consult with him on the proposed changes and he has indicated his strong support for them. I can also assure the House that I will always refer any application for an exemption order to the advisory council for consideration.
Another aspect of the current legislation that requires clarification concerns the post-harvest handling of GM product from a trial and the subsequent use of the trial site. This brings me to the second amendment in the bill. Members might recall that on 18 March this year I stated my clear intent that an exemption order would be made only with strict conditions that were to guide the post-harvest handling of GM product.
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
TRANSPORT TICKETING SYSTEM
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
I direct my question to the Minister for Transport Services. What action has the Minister taken to assure himself, and in doing so guarantee to the people of New South Wales, that the serious issues raised by the California-based Metropolitan Transportation Commission concerning the ability of Motorola, acting through its subcontractor ERG Ltd, to fulfil its $250 million contractual agreement to supply smart card technology for the San Francisco area, and subsequent claims by ERG Ltd that these issues have been addressed, have in fact been resolved? Can the Minister assure the community that all the matters raised by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in its letter to Motorola dated 10 September 2004—which included a list of nine contractual breaches on matters such as a failure to provide sufficient resources for the project, delays, staffing problems, significant operating problems with components of the system and a failure to submit reports—will not also plague smart card technology in New South Wales?
The Hon. MICHAEL COSTA:
The question asked by the Leader of the Opposition is important. I will take on board the information he has been able to derive—from what source, I do not know; I hope it was not from a competitor of the organisations involved, because it is a litigious industry—and pass it on to the people who run the Integrated Ticketing Project. We are carefully monitoring the Integrated Ticketing Project, which is an important project. However, issues always arise when new technology is implemented. We have already had some reconfiguration of the project, as the Leader of the Opposition is aware, to enable the rollout of T-cards to students under the School Student Transport Scheme to ensure the facilitation of the movement to actuals. Last week I received a report that the trial is proceeding well, which is a good sign. Clearly, however, we need to monitor our contractual relationships. I will certainly pass on the information the honourable member has provided to the relevant people who run the Integrated Ticketing Project, to ensure they use it as they see fit. Our contractual arrangements are very specific and independent of what is occurring in other countries, but it is an important source of information and we will treat it accordingly.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
I ask a supplementary question. Given that the Minister has indicated that he will pass on the concerns I have raised to those involved with the implementation of the smart card technology, will the Minister indicate whether he personally is aware of the concerns raised in the correspondence dated 10 September?
The Hon. MICHAEL COSTA:
I refer to my previous answer.
INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS SYSTEM
The Hon. IAN WEST:
My question is addressed to the Minister for Industrial Relations. Will the Minister outline the significant differences between the Federal and the New South Wales approach to ensuring that workplaces are complying with minimum employment standards?
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
I thank the Hon. Ian West for his interest in this issue. There are many clear differences between the approach of the New South Wales Government and the current Federal Government to industrial relations. The Commonwealth Government may consider that it has created a safety net of employment conditions, but that safety net is ineffective without a workable enforcement framework. One of the great strengths of the New South Wales industrial relations system is that it contains a proven compliance framework. One element of a workable compliance framework is the provision of reasonable access for unions to enter workplaces, and to represent their members in courts and tribunals to enforce award conditions. This does not occur under the Federal Workplace Relations Act.
The other element involves providing adequate powers and resources to the government inspectors who have responsibility to ensure that minimum employment standards are applied. Since 2000 the Federal Government has withdrawn its industrial relations enforcement services throughout New South Wales. For instance, the number of Federal departmental officers has been reduced from 11 to 3. If you want to see a Federal industrial relations inspector, you now have to travel to Sydney, Newcastle or Canberra.
Workers and businesses in the Illawarra, on the North Coast or in western New South Wales have no local access to Federal inspectors. I wish to record that New South Wales industrial inspectors are located in 12 offices throughout the State, working through six major contact centres. The Federal Government has also restricted the power of Federal inspectors to prosecute employers by adopting a not-to-prosecute approach for breaches where less than $10,000 is owing to a worker. The result is that in the last two years the Federal Government has prosecuted only 10 breaches Australia-wide. During the same period, New South Wales inspectors have prosecuted almost 450 breaches, and issued a further 260 infringement notices against employers who were caught breaking the law relating to their employees' rights.
Since 1996 the Carr Labor Government has recovered in excess of $30 million in back wages for New South Wales workers. An effective enforcement mechanism not only protects the rights of workers, it also protects the great majority of businesses who do the right thing by their workers regarding unfair competition by an unscrupulous few. The Federal Government has failed to provide an effective compliance regime for its minimum employment standards. It is yet another reason workers and businesses in New South Wales should be concerned about any attempt by the Federal Government to take over our great industrial relations system.
CITRUS CANKER DISEASE
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY:
My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industries. Given the potential impact of the destructive citrus canker disease on Queensland's citrus industry, what plans are in place to minimise the impact of such an outbreak in New South Wales? Given the Minister's inaction on locusts last year, is he taking seriously this most severe and dangerous biosecurity issue?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
This is a very good question.
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
We hear you have a dorothy dixer; Tony told us that.
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
I hope there is no suggestion of any collusion with the Opposition spokesman on this, because it just so happens that I have a detailed answer to this question and almost the same question from the Leader of the Opposition. The department has taken a number of important steps to give our local producers maximum protection from citrus canker. The disease was discovered this year in Queensland on 30 June and again on 5 October. Citrus canker is already rife in other parts of the world, including Florida, Southern Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa. It is a highly contagious bacterial disease that eventually causes citrus trees to stop producing fruit.
Our overriding interest in New South Wales is to protect the local citrus industry, which is worth $140 million at the farm gate and supports more than 3,000 jobs. I can inform members that no evidence of the disease has been found in New South Wales so far. This is a credit to the swift and effective response to the Queensland detection in June by the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries. As part of that response, we provided staff to assist with the national control effort. Twenty-eight New South Wales Department of Primary Industries staff, including district horticulturalists, plant pathologists and members of the New South Wales Emergency Response Team, travelled to Gayndah, in central Queensland, to assist with surveillance and tracing in the area because the disease could be directly traced to Emerald, where the initial outbreak was located. A further 10 staff worked on the New South Wales North Coast. Our plant pathologists provided expert knowledge on citrus diseases, while the response team helped to tighten biosecurity and control centre systems.
These staff are all highly trained and are ready to be deployed on short notice. They were invaluable in the control effort and may be called on again following this latest detection. I should also point out that many of the strategies that were developed previously in New South Wales for managing emergency animal diseases were adopted by Queensland to deal with citrus canker. Within New South Wales officers also began comprehensive citrus canker surveillance as part of a national monitoring program. In addition to 30 blocks already surveyed on the North Coast, a further 120 blocks will be surveyed in New South Wales during late spring and autumn. This will help ensure ongoing market access for New South Wales producers.
Timing is obviously essential in limiting the spread of any possible outbreak in the future. Movement controls are also essential. We immediately placed restrictions on the movement of all citrus products from Queensland to New South Wales following the June incident. Restrictions on the movement of citrus fruit and citrus-related nursery plants were lifted following the introduction of a process designed to protect local growers. This process followed intensive surveys in Queensland and technical consideration by the Consultative Committee for Exotic Plant Pests and Diseases. Movement is subject to carefully developed treatment and inspection processes that meet all quarantine requirements.
Finally, New South Wales will also be asked to contribute financially to the eradication of citrus canker on the original property during 2004-05. This funding will fall under existing cost-sharing arrangements within the national framework and may need to be adjusted following the second detection three weeks ago. Overall, we will contribute about 13 per cent to the total cost of the national citrus canker response. This is a good investment in the future of primary production in New South Wales. Prevention is always better than cure. I commend the staff of the Department of Primary Industries for such a professional, efficient response earlier this year. [Time expired
Order! I call the Hon. John Ryan to order.
MANDALONG VALLEY COALMINING OPERATION
Ms LEE RHIANNON:
I direct my question without notice to the Treasurer. Considering his close association with the sale of Powercoal to Centennial Coal, is the Treasurer aware that Centennial Coal has announced to the Stock Exchange that its Mandalong long wall coalmine will commence operating in January 2005? Is the Treasurer further aware that Centennial Coal announced the January 2005 starting date despite the fact that the flood study, required prior to approval being granted for long wall mining in Mandalong, has been delayed for five years? Will the Government honour the commitment given by the former Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, Craig Knowles, that the 112 conditions of consent will be adhered to before Centennial Coal commences long wall coalmining in the Mandalong Valley? Has the Government abandoned due process with regard to opening up a new mining operation in the Mandalong Valley so as to honour its commitment to Centennial Coal that once Centennial Coal bought Powercoal its Hunter operations would be given the go-ahead?
The Hon. MICHAEL EGAN:
I am not aware of any of the planning issues the Hon. Lee Rhiannon refers to, simply because they are not matters within my portfolio. But the member seems to have a bee in her bonnet about the privatisation of Powercoal—
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
Which was a breach of an election promise.
The Hon. MICHAEL EGAN:
No, it wasn't. The miners and members of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Engineering Union [CFMEU], who supported that decision to sell Powercoal, have expressed to me their absolute delight with the way things have been going since the privatisation occurred. There has been significant additional investment, as the company indicated there would be. It was that investment that was essential to ensure the jobs of these coalminers not only for the present but also into the future. They are absolutely delighted with the way things have gone. I regard these miners and the CFMEU as being unions and miners for privatisation. In respect to the planning matters, I will refer that question to the appropriate Minister and get a response.
AREA ASSISTANCE SCHEME
The Hon. KAYEE GRIFFIN:
My question is directed to the Minister for Community Services. Could the Minister update the House on the transfer of the Area Assistance Scheme from the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources to the Department of Community Services?
The Hon. CARMEL TEBBUTT:
The Area Assistance Scheme is an important scheme that provides grants to community organisations and local councils for projects that improve community infrastructure and encourage stronger communities. Since 1995 the Government has allocated $93 million to more than 1,700 projects. The Government has maintained the funding level for the scheme at $9.9 million in the 2004-05 budget. New projects will receive $5 million and the remainder will be allocated to existing grant commitments.
Over the years the scheme has consistently demonstrated its strong support for programs assisting vulnerable groups, including young people, Aboriginal communities and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Environments such as public spaces, parks, shopping centres and community facilities need to be safe for citizens and areas where the perception of safety is high. The scheme promotes environments that make the community—young people, families, and older people—feel safe and secure. The scheme also promotes creative environments where people from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds and Aboriginal people feel included. It helps to remove barriers from community spaces and facilities so that people with disabilities can have easy access.
The scheme promotes partnerships with local government and other agencies and builds on the community's expertise and initiative. It delivers real outcomes for the people who live in our many and varied communities across New South Wales. There are many great achievements of the scheme but some examples include a grant to the Toukley Neighbourhood Centre in the Wyong local government area for the first of a four-year project for an independent learning centre. The centre will provide a safe, welcoming community location where young people will have the opportunity to access technology, to study and do homework, and to make social connections with their peers and communities.
Another example is a grant to the Liverpool Women's Health Centre for the first year of a three-year project to train young women to be peer educators, with a focus on building healthy relationships and rejecting abusive relationships. A grant was made to the Green Hills Community Centre in the Kempsey shire to identify community needs and administer, co-ordinate and promote service delivery and recreational, educational and health programs in areas of high need. A grant was also made to the North Kiama Neighbourhood Centre to provide local children with opportunities to experience and understand different cultures by participating in a wide range of artistic activities and visiting places of Aboriginal and multicultural importance.
These are just some examples of the Area Assistance Scheme, which works across six regions of New South Wales. The scheme works in partnership with 46 participating councils, which employ community project officers to assist in the process of project development and the funding program. The scheme has now transferred from the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources to the new Communities Division within the Department of Community Services. This has in no way diminished the commitment to the sorts of initiatives that are funded under the scheme. To the contrary, a uniform planning approach to community development together with other allied initiatives will improve outcomes for communities in New South Wales.
The Area Assistance Scheme opened its funding round on 21 August this year and applications for funding assistance were invited from interested community organisations. When the funding round closed on 1 October over 500 new proposals had been registered. Applications will be reviewed and assessed, and it is anticipated that successful projects will be announced in April 2005. The next funding round is planned for August 2005 and more details will be available from the Department of Community Services web site.
HOME CARE SERVICES
The Hon. JOHN RYAN:
My question is directed to the Minister for Community Services. Are sufficient resources given to Home Care Service New South Wales to assist it in preventing people from inappropriately accessing aged care? Is it a fact that the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care told a 64-year-old Oatlands man that his home care service will cease tomorrow, forcing him to enter a nursing home, even though I am advised that he would be prevented from doing so if he receives two hours a day of personal and domestic assistance?
The Hon. CARMEL TEBBUTT:
Last week I did provide to the House some information on the Home Care Service New South Wales audit report, which identified some of the issues raised by the Hon. John Ryan. With regard to funding for Home Care, the obvious point needs to be made that Home Care is just one of many providers under the Home and Community Care Program. Although it provides a service across a range of areas, such as domestic assistance and personal care services—in fact, it has a reputation for quality services and is the largest provider of home and community care services—it is only one of a number of providers.
The total budget for home care services in 2004-05 is $177 million, an increase from $166 million over the last two years. Home care is principally funded through the Commonwealth-State Home and Community Care Program, which is a jointly funded program between the State and the Commonwealth. Funding for that program has increased substantially over a number of years in recognition of the high demand for the services. I do not recall that the Federal Government made any significant commitments to increase its funding to the Home and Community Care Program as part of the recent Federal election campaign.
The State Government contributes a portion of funding to the Home and Community Care Program that is unmatched by the Commonwealth, even though it is a joint funding agreement, because the Commonwealth refused to come to the party with regard to award increases under the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program [SAAP]. The Hon. John Ryan raised the circumstances of a 64-year-old man who lives at Oatlands. From the detail that has been provided it is impossible for me to respond to that issue. However, if the honourable member wants to make further details available to me after question time, I will be happy to follow up on the matter because obviously it is a serious issue.
The Hon. AMANDA FAZIO:
My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industries. Can the Minister update the House on the progress of the State's spring locust control campaign?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
Once again, I start by commending everyone involved in our locust control effort for their hard work so far. The State Government continues to expand its locust attack plan as conditions develop on the ground. Last Friday I visited another regional locust control centre in Gunnedah and inspected a local property in that area affected by locust hatchings. I have now inspected seven of these control centres and retain absolute confidence in the ability of staff on the front line of locust control. I inform members that a ninth locust control centre opened yesterday at the Deniliquin Rural Lands Protection Board [RLPB] office to help support farmers in the Murray and Riverina districts. As with the other centres, Deniliquin will be staffed by experts from both the RLBP and the Department of Primary Industries and will be backed up by a liaison officer from the New South Wales Farmers Association.
Rangers from the Department of Primary Industries and the RLPB continue to assist with the distribution of locust control chemicals through the centres. So far staff have now distributed enough ground control agents to cover more than 211,000 hectares and more is being handed out every day. The mobile depots, which we initiated in the Central West, have proved very practical in distributing treatment chemicals to more isolated areas. These units will continue to be used, where appropriate. I commend farmers for their vigilance, with more than 7,920 locust hatchings now reported across 32 rural lands protection boards, which is an increase of approximately 1,600 in the last week.
The Hon. Michael Egan:
Sorry, 1,600 what?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
In the last week 1,600 extra hatchings have occurred. In the previous two weeks there were 2,100.
The Hon. Rick Colless:
How many grasshoppers?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
It is estimated that there are about 10 billion in a swarm, so I will let someone work that out on a calculator.
The Hon. Rick Colless:
That's a lot of grasshoppers.
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
The Hon. Michael Egan:
I used to listen to Gerry the Grasshopper when I was a kid.
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
Anyone making any humorous comments in here should be very careful because the Deputy Leader of the Opposition put out a press release a week or so ago accusing me of not being serious about locusts because I allegedly made a joke in reply to the Hon. Ian Cohen when he interjected. Please refrain from interjecting because I have to treat the matter seriously or the Deputy Leader of the Opposition will take my comments and issue a press release to try to stir up division and dissent, which is totally inappropriate. Everyone in the media who attended my conference in reply to that press release thought that the statement by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was frivolous. However, to his credit, when he spoke on radio in Dubbo he made some very complimentary comments about the campaign. I just want him to put those complimentary comments in his press releases.
The locust hotline, which has been open since August, has taken an additional 280 calls to date. Locust hatchings remain largely concentrated throughout the Coonabarabran, Dubbo, Mudgee-Merriwa, Forbes, Tamworth, Narrandera and Molong areas. Farmers in the Coonabarabran RLPB reported an additional 359 hatchings in the last week alone, followed by 236 reports in the Dubbo RLPB, 242 in Forbes, 226 in Mudgee and 126 in Narrandera. In the Dubbo district we have brought in large ground rigs to help with on-ground control, where bands are too widespread for landholders to treat on their own. Aerial surveillance for bands is expected to continue in a number of boards this week, including the Narrabri, Moree, Mudgee, Tamworth, Dubbo, Forbes and Molong RLPBs. This is a painstaking process of data collection, property by property, which helps staff target locust bands as they form. [Time expired
The Hon. AMANDA FAZIO:
I ask a supplementary question. Will the Minister please elucidate his answer?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
Staff in Gunnedah told me how important the aerial work is in revealing bands that farmers may have been unable to spot on the ground. Today, weather permitting, 20 aircraft will operate as part of our locust control plan. These aircraft will help in surveying and spotting locust bands, and also possibly some aerial control where the terrain makes ground control highly impractical or bands are too widespread for effective ground control. We are starting to see some reports of scattered, low-density swarms developing in north-western New South Wales and response teams will monitor the situation closely. We will hit any swarms with aerial treatment once they reach suitable density levels.
As I informed the House yesterday, our progress so far is partly the result of co-operation between government agencies. Yesterday's example related to the close monitoring of locust hatchings on State Forests land, in conjunction with RLPBs, locust control centres and land-holders. I am sure this co-operation will continue throughout the campaign. It is still too early to guess when we may begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. All we can say at this stage is that staff are doing an exceptional job and land-holders are certainly boosting efforts as well. It is still a case of all hands on deck while the volume of reports continues at current levels and as long as farmers need fast, expert assistance and advice.
CAR DVD PLAYERS
The Hon. JOHN TINGLE:
My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Transport Services, representing the Minister for Roads. Has the Minister seen current advertisements for in-car DVD players as the latest motoring accessory? If so, has he noticed that some of these devices are specifically designed to be mounted in the dashboard of the car, that is, in view of the front seat? Given the number of distracting devices already competing for the attention of the average car driver, will the Minister investigate the desirability of allowing DVD players to be mounted and used in the front seat of a vehicle?
The Hon. MICHAEL COSTA:
This is a very important issue. The question of the Hon. John Tingle will certainly be referred to the Minister for Roads because that is his prime responsibility. However, I am aware that the Australian Road Rules provide for penalties for the use of VDU-based entertainment systems whilst a car is operating. In fact, I recall that the Roads and Traffic Authority has only recently increased fines and demerit points for these sorts of devices. Nevertheless, the Minister for Roads should provide an answer to the question, so I will take it on notice.
WILD DOG CONTROL
The Hon. MELINDA PAVEY:
I address my question without notice to the Minister for Primary Industries. What measures has the Minister taken to ensure that wild dog aerial baiting in the Yaouk-Adaminaby area will not be delayed any further? What action has the department taken to ensure any outstanding consent forms from farmers are hastily returned?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
As the honourable member would be aware, the Department of Primary Industries works with all authorities in relation to wild dogs. The direct impact of wild dog attacks on the New South Wales sheep industry is conservatively estimated at more than $8 million a year, with impacts concentrated in areas that adjoin wild dog habitats. Farmers also suffer the constant worry and emotional trauma of finding maimed and injured sheep. Wild dog problems are currently addressed through strategic management plans developed by local stakeholders. These reduce livestock attacks while supporting the conservation of dingoes and other native species such as quolls. Wild dog attacks decreased by more than 90 per cent in the Brindabella-Wee Jasper area using this approach, and similar programs are being developed for other problem areas.
This does not address the problems that can arise when drought or other factors force wild dogs out of habitats such as national parks. In this case the choice is simply whether to tackle the problem before the dogs move out of these areas or whether to wait until they are already killing sheep. For this reason, particularly in the north of the State, ground-based programs are routinely supported by aerial baiting campaigns to prevent the movement of dogs. These aerial programs are carefully planned and implemented to minimise any risk to quoll populations. Indeed, landholders consistently report that quolls do much better when foxes and wild dogs are controlled. Nevertheless, this is anecdotal evidence. I am advised that the program referred to by the honourable member has already started.
EXPORTER OF THE YEAR AWARDS
The Hon. HENRY TSANG:
Will the Treasurer, and Minister for State Development inform the House about some New South Wales Government-assisted companies that have been acknowledged for their export success?
The Hon. MICHAEL EGAN:
I can report to the House that—
I am getting tired of the inactivity of members opposite. A number of companies achieved success last Thursday night at the Premier's New South Wales Exporter of the Year awards, which are organised by the Australian Institute of Export.
What are you two carrying on about?
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
We are not talking to you.
The Hon. MICHAEL EGAN:
In that case could you turn off your microphone?
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
The Hon. MICHAEL EGAN:
It's on. Could you turn it off, because I am being distracted by your personal chitchat?
Order! In the past I have asked members who are seated in front of microphones to turn them off if they wish to engage in chitchat.
The Hon. MICHAEL EGAN:
The Department of State and Regional Development was the principal sponsor of these prestigious awards and sponsored two categories: The New South Wales Premier's Exporter of the Year, and the Regional Exporter of the Year. The Exporter of the Year award was one for the second consecutive time by Casella Estate Wines of Yenda, which also won the Agribusiness award. This Riverina-based company, which has been assisted by the Government's new Export Opportunities Program, has created the fastest growing export brand in the history of the Australian wine industry with its Yellowtail product. Indeed, I seem to remember that it is now exporting some 15 million cases of the Yellowtail wine to the United States of America. The company has gone from being a very small exporter three or four years ago to taking America by storm.
I am sure the company would do a much better job than the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
I haven't had a chance yet but it's coming soon.
The Hon. MICHAEL EGAN:
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition did have a chance because he was the member of a government that chalked up deficit after deficit after deficit—$5 billion worth of deficits, which I have been proudly paying off over the past 9½ years. Another company, Laservision of Dural, which is a star member of the Government's Australian Technology Showcase, won the Arts and Entertainment category for its multimedia technology that is lighting up Hong Kong's skyline. Other companies successful at the Exporter of the Year awards that have been assisted by the New South Wales Government include Sydney Olympic Park's BP Solar, which won the Minerals and Energy category for export sales of solar electricity technology; Barclay Mowlem Construction of Pymble, which won the Services category for its work in Asia; Newport Scientific of Warriewood, which won the Small to Medium Manufacturer category for sales of technology used in the agri-food industry sector; and Croker Oars of Oxley Island near Taree, which was highly commended in the Regional Exporter of the Year category for the sale of its carbon composite rowing oars to 25 countries. The Government continues to be committed to helping businesses access overseas markets. I congratulate all the winners of this year's Premier's New South Wales Exporter of the Year awards.
GOULBURN HIGH-RISK MANAGEMENT UNIT OMBUDSMAN INVESTIGATION
The Hon. PETER BREEN:
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Justice. Is the Minister aware that the annual report of the Ombudsman released yesterday includes information that an investigation is currently under way into certain aspects of the operation and general program at Goulburn's high-risk management unit [HRMU]? What has prompted this investigation? What particular aspects of the prison is the Ombudsman looking at? Will the Ombudsman investigate the HRMU in the context of internationally recognised standards for the humane treatment of prisoners?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS:
The honourable member is quite delusional and naive if he thinks that I have the capacity to direct the Ombudsman as to how he conducts his inquiries, and that I will divulge any information about the nature of any investigation that may be under way in the Department of Corrective Services, not the least in the high-risk management unit.
The Hon. PETER BREEN:
I ask a supplementary question. In view of the Minister's answer, will he explain why the annual report of the Ombudsman published yesterday states, "The Ombudsman is carrying out investigations into the high-risk management unit at Goulburn's correctional centre, and we are currently conducting a formal investigation into certain aspects of its operation and general program"? Can the Minister explain in general terms what the Ombudsman is investigating?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS:
The Hon. DON HARWIN:
My question is directed to the Minister for Emergency Services. Is the Minister aware that his department at the highest level refused a request from some rural fire services in the Coonabarabran district to loan tankers to transport water to local properties to help in spraying plague locusts? Will the Minister instruct his department to make tankers available to assist with the plague locust control program?
The Hon. TONY KELLY:
Obviously I am not aware of the particular instance to which the honourable member referred, and I will make inquiries about it. However, as far as I am aware, emergency services, including the State Emergency Service [SES] and the Rural Fire Service, have been assisting the Minister for Primary Industries in containing the locusts. At least two SES officers are permanently deployed in the north of the State in the Rural Fire Service, but I will make further inquiries.
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY ECONOMIC PROFILE
The Hon. TONY CATANZARITI:
My question without notice is directed to the Treasurer, and Minister for State Development. Will the Minister advise the House about the latest economic profile of greater Western Sydney?
The Hon. MICHAEL EGAN:
Last month the Greater Western Sydney Economic Development Board released a regional economic profile of the region.
The Hon. Charlie Lynn:
Labor used to have some Federal members out that way, didn't it?
The Hon. MICHAEL EGAN:
We have new Federal Labor members representing Parramatta and Richmond. The Richmond electorate has been held by the National Party since it was created. Three generations of Anthonys and we knocked them off in 2004! No more Anthonys! Not only does the economic profile of the Western Sydney region provide information on employment, education, traffic and ethnicity; it shows positive business trends occurring in Western Sydney. The region's business community makes a $49 billion contribution per year to the New South Wales economy.
Is the Leader of the Opposition saying that the Howard Government is responsible for the loss of Parramatta and Richmond? I agree with that. The region's business community makes a $49 billion per year contribution to the economy of New South Wales. Much of this comes from the Blacktown and Baulkham Hills local government areas, which are experiencing phenomenal residential and commercial growth. Blacktown has more businesses—21,708—operating within it than any other local government region. Baulkham Hills has the second-highest number of companies—21,560—located within it, closely followed by Bankstown.
The construction industry in Western Sydney is very strong. Twenty-three per cent of businesses in Western Sydney are in construction, making it the largest industry in business numbers—43,308. The property and business services industry has the second-highest business numbers, 40,360, followed by retail trade, 19,903, and transport and storage, 14,559. Manufacturing, property, business services and the finance and insurance industries are also making significant contributions to the local economy.
Many of the industries based in the greater west are growing at a much faster rate than the national average. These include advanced manufacturing, information and communication technology, biotechnology, business services and retail trade. Western Sydney is leading the way in advanced manufacturing, which is the largest employer, with 118,270 jobs, and the biggest contributor—$9,172 million—to the region's growth regional product. Retail trade is the next biggest employer, followed by property and business services, health and community services and construction. The profile points to job creation in industries such as tourism, health, personnel, information technology and business services, where employment is forecast to increase substantially over the next five years.
Western Sydney industries will be serviced by Westlink M7, a 40-kilometre motorway with dual carriageway that is being built between the M5, Hume Highway at Prestons and the M2 at West Baulkham Hills. As honourable members know, the M7 will replace the Cumberland Highway as the national highway link through Western Sydney. Not only will it provide a new route for the transport industry and take heavy vehicles off local roads, it will also set free the full economic potential of greater Western Sydney. I congratulate the Greater Western Sydney Economic Development Board for compiling this profile. It is an invaluable tool for companies wishing to invest in this fast-growing and successful region.
SMOKE-FREE WORKPLACE POLICY
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS:
My question is directed to the Special Minister of State, representing the Minister for Health. Why has phase 4 of the New South Wales smoke-free workplace policy—which was to have delivered smoke-free health care facilities, campuses and vehicles in September 2002—now had its deadline totally removed? Is this capitulation really saying that health facilities will never be smoke-free? If health facilities cannot be smoke-free, what commitment is there for the rest of the State? Why does the Quit campaign spend so little when world's best practice suggests that $50 per head per year is cost effective in reducing smoking-caused illnesses?
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
I will make inquiries of the Minister for Health and provide the honourable member with an answer as soon as practicable.
WOODLAWN TRUST FUND
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER:
My question is directed to the Minister for Local Government. Is the Minister aware that the opening of the Marulan community health care centre has been delayed as $80,000 for computers, floor coverings, curtains and other fittings has been unable to be obtained from the frozen Woodlawn Trust Fund? Is the Minister further aware that the Bungonia Progress Association has applied to the frozen Woodlawn Trust for $10,000 to fund extensions to the Bungonia village hall? When will the Minister free up funds for important community projects such as those I have referred to and for the provision of general practice and community health services in that area?
The Hon. TONY KELLY:
That is an interesting question. The Woodlawn Trust Fund is a fund of about $1 million that is under the control of three trustees—the former mayor and deputy mayor of the Mulwaree council, who are no longer on the council, and the former general manager of the council, who no longer has control of the new council. It is a completely separate trust fund, and it is not controlled by anybody except the three individuals I referred to. I have no control over the trust fund, nor does the council.
NEW SOUTH WALES FIRE BRIGADES BRAVERY AWARDS PRESENTATION
The Hon. ERIC ROOZENDAAL:
My question is addressed to the Minister for Emergency Services. Will the Minister inform the House about the 24 bravery awards and commendations presented at a ceremony at the New South Wales Fire Brigades State Training College, at Alexandria, today?
The Hon. TONY KELLY:
Today the Commissioner of the New South Wales Fire Brigades, Greg Mullins, and I presented bravery awards to 24 members of the public and fire officers, recognising their courage in two terrible incidents: the Roundhouse Childcare Centre accident, in which little Molly Wood and Sophie Delezio were so badly injured; and the Doyalson fire that claimed the lives of New South Wales Fire Brigades officer Phillip Viles and two-year-old Brent Londrigan, who was the son of a Corrective Services officer.
The awards were presented at a recruit graduation ceremony at the Fire Brigades State Training College, at Alexandria. The recruits could have no greater inspiration as they head into their new careers as firefighters than the courage demonstrated by those who came forward to receive awards today. Mrs Tracey Viles, along with her three sons, Matthew, Joshua and Luke, received an Individual Commendation for Meritorious Service awarded posthumously to her late husband, Retained Fire Officer Phillip Viles, a true hero who tragically lost his life in the battle to save Brent. Firefighter Viles responded with the Budgewoi brigade and entered a burning house on several occasions to search for the boy. He continued to make gallant efforts until he collapsed, and tragically died as a result of his actions.
Two other fire officers, Station Officer Dennis Rayner and senior firefighter Phillip Brown, were awarded the New South Wales Fire Brigades Medal for Conspicuous Bravery for their actions at the same fire. This medal is the highest bravery honour the Fire Brigades can award, with only 27 recipients in the brigade's 120-year history. The actions of these two men in the face of extraordinary danger ensure them a place in the ranks of the Fire Brigades' finest. The courage of these officers in risking their own safety surely makes them deserving of the brigades' most esteemed honour.
A number of other awards were also presented to those involved in this incident. Budgewoi and Doyalson fire station crews received unit commendations. Three members of the Carew family—Ross, Brendan and Joshua—were also commended for their attempts to enter the house to rescue Brent before the fire crews arrived. When they realised that a neighbour's house was on fire, the Carews immediately rushed to the scene. Without thought for their safety, the three family members made several attempts to enter the house to rescue Brent but were beaten back each time by intense heat and smoke. They were extremely brave and selfless, and their award today is fitting recognition of their courage.
Another terrible incident that shocked the community as much as the Doyalson fire was the accident at the Roundhouse Childcare Centre just before Christmas last year. A police officer, several fire officers and ambulance officers and members of the public were recognised today for their efforts to save young children at the Roundhouse centre. Some of the recipients entered the smoke-filled building to remove children, while others helped fire officers lift the car that had crashed through the building to free trapped and injured children. The combined actions of the emergency workers and nearby residents who rushed to the scene helped to give medical staff the best chance to secure the miraculous survival of Molly Wood and Sophie Delezio.
The common attribute amongst all those who received awards today is their selfless courage and commitment to saving others in danger. They are a credit to their families, their communities and the New South Wales Fire Brigades. I am sure everyone present today was humbled by their bravery. I, along with all members of this House I am sure, congratulate them on their achievements.
KOSCIUSZKO NATIONAL PARK MASTER PLAN REVIEW
Mr IAN COHEN:
My question is directed to the Minister for Transport Services, representing the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning. Noting that the Perisher Range resorts master plan of November 2001 is required to be reviewed in response to any new environmental studies and that the independent scientific report of May 2004 for Kosciuszko National Park is the first comprehensive assessment of the condition of the park and the pressures it faces since it was established 60 years ago, will the Minister representing the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning immediately request a review of the master plan?
The Hon. MICHAEL COSTA:
Perhaps I misunderstood the question. I certainly will not request the review, but I will refer the matter to the relevant Minister to request it.
INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS SYSTEM
The Hon. CATHERINE CUSACK:
My question is directed to the Minister for Industrial Relations. What action has the Minister taken personally to assist trade unions to move employees to the New South Wales industrial system from the Federal system, given his statement that New South Wales would be the refuge for trade unions from the newly re-elected Federal Government? Has he written to any New South Wales government departments or agencies, including State-owned corporations, requesting that they use the New South Wales industrial system for their employees in light of the glowing endorsement he gave on Tuesday? If not, why not?
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
I believe the Hon. Catherine Cusack has confused comments I have made with comments made by the Premier. To the extent that she has related my comments to those of the Premier I am very flattered because I have a great deal of admiration for the Premier. Let me put a couple of matters into perspective. Firstly, the Government's position on the Federal and State schemes has not changed. I am on the record as saying that one of the great strengths of the current situation is that employers and employees, public and private, have a choice between the two jurisdictions. That situation has not changed and will not change. Secondly, I have had a number of representations. Recently, the mining division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union made representation to me about awards in the State jurisdiction that are relevant to the employment of their members. I am unsure whether they intend to completely depart from the Federal scheme. I believe they are currently seeking advice from counsel about the relevance of State awards and the State jurisdiction in the interest of their members.
The Hon. Michael Gallacher:
You will write to them today, or this afternoon?
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
I do not intend to do that.
The Hon. Michael Gallacher:
You will pick up the phone?
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
I do not intend to pick up the phone. It is not my responsibility to go around canvassing like a spruiker for the New South Wales industrial relations system.
The Hon. Michael Egan:
You are a Minister of the Crown, not a tout.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
That is one way of looking at it. As the Premier and I and a number of Government members have said, if employers want to change over to the New South Wales jurisdiction we will do everything reasonably to secure their access to the New South Wales system. That remains a commitment of the Government. There is nothing odd about that. It was a commitment of the Government before the recent Federal election. Last but not least, this is a fluid issue because we are awaiting the full evolution of the views of the Commonwealth Government.
The Hon. Michael Egan:
The Federal Government basically wants to ban trade unions.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
Yes. I have made the point a number of times that we need to consider the Howard Government's agenda in relation to trade unions. It may want to do what previous conservative governments have tried to do—although it is probably 70 or 80 years since any government has seriously tried—that is, demolish the industrial consensus that has existed since the 1890s. If the Howard Government seeks to do so, we need to consider that the Prime Minister has decided to simply set up a legacy that is ideologically based only. If the Prime Minister announces the more moderate and sensible position—
The Hon. Michael Egan:
It will not be sensible.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
I do not believe it will be sensible, but he has demonstrated a great sense of survival. If he wants to survive and does not want to deprive Peter Costello of becoming Prime Minister in the near future, then the Prime Minister will take a significant step back from the sabre rattling undertaken by the Coalition at the end of the Federal campaign. [Time expired.
The Hon. CATHERINE CUSACK:
I ask a supplementary question. I appreciate the Minister's advice as to what he, the Premier and the trade union movement said about their intentions to create New South Wales as a refuge for unions. Would he elucidate his answer and tell us what he is doing?
The Hon. Ian West:
It is the refuge of the workers, not the unions.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
The Hon. Ian West has made a good interjection—although I acknowledge that all interjections are disorderly—that, as the Premier and I have said, New South Wales is a haven for workers' rights and entitlements. That remains the case. I have never said that New South Wales is a haven for unions. We recognise, unlike some members opposite, that from time to time employers and employees need to collectively bargain. Often, but not always, employers have an advantage in that situation and employees need the entitlement to form trade unions to collectively bargain on their behalf. We recognise, as does the International Labour Organisation and almost every civilised jurisdiction in the world—I cannot think of any jurisdiction that does not so recognise—that people have an entitlement to collectively bargain their employment rights. As the Minister for Primary Industries said, the Opposition is not taking the question or answer very seriously.
The Hon. Catherine Cusack:
It is not a serious answer.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
The Hon. Catherine Cusack says it is not a serious question. I have given the best possible answer, which is that the New South Wales Government has a system based on three principals: an independent umpire, the recognition of collective bargaining and an award safety net scheme. We have argued consistently that the Commonwealth should take the same view. A Federal system based on the same principles would have a lot more tractability. We maintain the opportunity for employers and employees to shift between the two systems and we are prepared to assist unions and employers to change over to the State system. [Time expired.
The Hon. PETER PRIMROSE:
My question is addressed to the Minister for Justice. Will the Minister provide information on the Government's actions to manage terrorist inmates and potential terrorist inmates in custody?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS:
Last Monday AAP news reported an incident that occurred in Spain in relation to which 17 people were charged with terrorist offences for plotting to bomb Spain's National Court with 1,000 kilograms of explosives. Perhaps the most alarming thing is that the terrorist cell that planned the attack was established whilst its members were inmates in custody. The ringleader was able to organise the plot from his prison cell because he could make telephone calls and send uncensored mail from his cell. Events such as these demonstrate the need for ongoing vigilance and the management of high-risk inmates, who pose a potential or actual threat to national security and the good order and security of the correctional system.
The Department of Corrective Services has been proactive in acquiring knowledge and information, particularly from overseas systems that have greater experience than our own in managing this challenge. Flowing from this information, I am able to confirm that a new management regime is being put in place in the Department of Corrective Services to deal with this particular issue. This measure was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Counter-Terrorism on 18 October 2004. Actualisation of the scheme will occur through the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Amendment (Category AA Inmates) Regulation 2004, which will create two new inmate classifications: male category AA and female category 5.
Proposed category AA is a category of inmates who represent a special risk to national security, for example, because of a perceived risk that they may engage in or incite other persons to engage in terrorist activities and should at all times be confined in special facilities within a secure physical barrier, which includes towers or an electronic surveillance equipment. All category AA inmates will be deemed serious offenders and the Serious Offenders Review Council will be a source of independent oversight and review of their classification and placement. Proposed category 5 for females is identical to category AA for males. In most cases, under this new regime any visit to an inmate that, in the opinion of the commissioner, represents a special risk to national security is to be a non-contact visit. However, in some instances, there is provision for the commissioner to allow contact visits, if he or she is satisfied a contact visit will not compromise security.
Moreover, in the interests of national security, all ordinary mail sent or received by such inmates will be opened, inspected, read and copied, with the appropriate exemptions put in place for exempt bodies and for persons to be able to seek exemptions and to be dealt with as exempt bodies. If an inmate who represents a special risk to national security addresses mail to an exempt body, the department will post the mail. If one of these inmates receives mail from an exempt body, and the two-envelope system is used, the department will contact the exempt body concerned to confirm that the exempt body did in fact send the mail to the inmate. This extra step will guard against the possibility that a person may forge the letterhead of an exempt body and attempt to send unopened mail to an inmate who represents a special risk to national security. If an exempt body fails to use the two-envelope system, the department may decide to treat the mail as if it were ordinary mail.
The experience of overseas correctional facilities indicates that terrorist inmates are adept at manipulating and exploiting complaint and review bodies and their staff. The department considers that, while there should be avenues open to category AA and category 5 inmates to make complaints, it is not appropriate that such inmates have the wide choice of avenues that exist for mainstream inmates. In line with that approach, category AA and category 5 inmates will not be reviewed by an official visitor. Their complaints will need to be directed to the State Ombudsman. In light of overseas experience, the Government is also examining further reforms of the review processes for this small number of dangerous individuals. Honourable members will no doubt understand that a precarious balance must be achieved by this regime. However, the Government will work hard to ensure that these regulations strike the appropriate balance.
The Hon. MICHAEL EGAN:
If honourable members have any further questions, they might like to put them on notice.
Questions without notice concluded.
TABLING OF PAPERS
The Hon. Tony Kelly
tabled a submission from Mr Robert Bulford, Executive Officer (Reform Program), Department of Local Government, regarding his recent visit to the Murrurundi Shire Council, dated 13 October 2004.
Ordered to be printed.
HEALTH LEGISLATION FURTHER AMENDMENT BILL
PROTECTED ESTATES AMENDMENT (MISSING PERSONS) BILL
Leave granted for procedural matters to be dealt with on one motion without formality.
Motion by the Hon. Tony Kelly agreed to:
That the bills be read a first time and printed, standing orders be suspended on contingent notice for remaining stages and the second readings of the bills be set down as orders of the day for a later hour of the sitting.
Bills read a first time and ordered to be printed.
[The President left the chair at 1.03 p.m. The House resumed at 2.30 p.m.
GENERAL PURPOSE STANDING COMMITTEE NO. 2
Report: Complaints Handling within NSW Health
Debate resumed from 20 October.
The Hon. PETER PRIMROSE
[2.30 p.m.]: Continuing from my contribution last week, chapter 2 of the report provides an overview of quality and safety in health care that has developed in Australia, and particularly in New South Wales, over the last 30 years, and the details are provided on page 5. The chapter describes the key initiatives that have been introduced in response to the need for a greater understanding of the intrinsic risks of health care. Chapter 3 examines cultural issues relevant to complaints handling, including taboos surrounding incident reporting amongst health care professionals, especially doctors. Advocates of a "no blame approach to medical error" argue that focusing on individual culpability discourages incident reporting. However, as the report notes, some commentators believe that the pendulum has swung too far away from professional accountability, with serious implications for patient safety. The final portion of the chapter seeks to identify ways to overcome some of the cultural values to incident reporting.
Recent events in the South Western Sydney Area Health Service have illustrated what happens when health workers perceive they are unable to use formal channels for incident reporting. Chapter 4 refers to the impact of whistleblowing on informants, patients, colleagues and communities. Chapter 5 refers to the relationship between resources and adverse events. While cultural issues are at the heart of patient safety, the report notes that it is important to acknowledge the link between financial and clinical resources regarding the incidence of adverse events. The final chapter, chapter 6, makes a number of conclusions, including a provisional assessment of some of the proposed changes to the quality and safety agenda and the regulation of health complaints in New South Wales.
One of the issues I found most interesting during the inquiry was one that I imagine would normally seem blatantly obvious. I refer to the heading "What do patients want when something goes wrong?" on page 3 of the report. I recall discussing with committee members how important this issue was, and we all agreed that it should go near the front of the report. As the report states, research indicates that when something goes wrong with their health care, patients want to know about it. The report cites a number of pieces of research that outline what, in my view, would normally appear to be blatantly obvious but which I believe to be a fundamental aspect and conclusion of the report. Professor Stewart Dunn, of the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Sydney and Director of ErroMed, made the following point in his evidence:
The interpretation of all literature about what patients want when things go wrong is, "Please tell us what is happening?"
In the health system this is usually referred to as open disclosure: proactively providing patients or families with a full explanation of the causes of their condition and entering discussions with patients about their future care and treatment implications. The provision of timely and frank information about an adverse event not only helps patients come to terms with their situation but, if properly managed, may reduce the likelihood that they will take legal action, contradicting the generally held view that admitting mistakes is likely to lead to litigation.
NSW Health acknowledged that many of the complaints arising from Campbelltown and Camden hospitals were due to poor communication by doctors to families about the patient's condition and treatment. NSW Health also indicated that communication is a key area in which improvements need to be made and that it is committed to this, which was acknowledged by the committee. During the inquiry the committee heard of many instances whereby either NSW Health or health professionals were believed to have failed to communicate effectively with relatives affected by adverse events. As numerous case studies presented in the report show, the failure to adequately consult with or inform patients or their families about their treatment can have far-reaching and damaging consequences.
As I indicated last week, committee members engaged in a lot of discussion and agreed on many aspects. However, some members, including myself, could not agree with the majority on some aspects. The Hon. Amanda Fazio, the Hon. Christine Robertson and I issued statements of dissent in which we indicated a number of concerns, a couple of which I will outline. With regard to chapter 3, we strongly opposed paragraphs 3.65 to 3.69 and recommendation No. 9. We argued that there is no way of making the number of serious incidents, deaths and so on, comparable across the health system in New South Wales because no two hospitals or health facilities are the same. We further argued that the recommendation could lead to a false impression about the standards of care available in respective health facilities, and could skew demands for care in an unwarranted and unsubstantiated way. Facilities that do not have an open culture of disclosure, with low reporting rates, would automatically appear to be the best, thereby promoting false confidence on the part of health consumers. Hospitals that were scrupulously honest about reporting could be perceived to be the worst, which would be a disincentive for an open culture of learning.
We asked, additionally, should the number of incidents be the measure, or is the appropriateness and timeliness of the response the critical issue? For the benefit of those who are interested in reading my contribution, I should mention that the Opposition is seeking to interject while I am outlining the report. What concerns me is that, clearly, some members of the Opposition who are interjecting have not read the report. I urge them to take the matter seriously and read the report.
The Hon. Amanda Fazio, the Hon. Christine Robertson and I also strongly opposed recommendation No. 10. The proposed benefits or outcomes of holding such a summit were not discussed, and were not supported by the evidence the committee received. A recommendation "That the NSW Minister for Health raise with his counterparts on the Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Council the concept of holding a national conference on clinical excellence" would have been more constructive. As I said last week, I thank everyone involved in the inquiry, even those with whom I disagreed. I believe it was an appropriate and very interesting inquiry that has led to a number of valuable recommendations, even though, as I have indicated, I do not agree with all of them.
Last week during his contribution to the debate the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans foreshadowed seeking leave to table some letters but at the conclusion of his contribution he did not formally seek leave. The Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans has asked me to seek leave to table the letters on his behalf, and I do.
I thank members for their interest.
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS
[2.40 p.m.]: I want to say a few words about this interesting inquiry, not because I was a member of the committee or was proxied on—because I was not—or because it is an area that I have a great deal of expertise in, but I just wanted to make some comments—
If members of the House did not speak on things that they lacked expertise in, Mr Gay, I think most of us would make very, very short speeches.
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
Speak for yourself, not for others.
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS:
I would think there would be a few more people around here who traditionally make longer speeches than I do that that might also apply to.
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Patricia Forsythe):
Order! There is too much interjection.
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS:
As I said, I want to make some comments on the report on complaints handling within NSW Health and on some of the broader issues in relation to our health system. Some interesting comments have been made by different members of the committee from their different points of view, and there are a number of very good recommendations in this report. In some respects I think it stands as an example of inquiries that perhaps start off in a quite partisan way and then the committee members work well together to produce a variety of reports.
For instance, I note that the Hon. Peter Primrose has drawn our attention to some of the recommendations that he opposed, basically because he and other members did not agree with them, but also because in some cases the recommendations had not been properly discussed by the committee. It is partly in that context that I refer to some of the remarks made by the Hon. Christine Robertson before she was unfortunately injured and has since been on leave. Those remarks are not in relation to the report itself because, as Christine has made very clear, having had a great deal of expertise in the health area and having participated to a considerable extent in this inquiry, she considers the recommendations as very important and, I think, like the Hon Peter Primrose, has expressed her support for most of them. However, she was very concerned—as were a number of us, particularly women members of the House—at some of the remarks made by the chair of the committee in the media conference when he tabled the report. Of particular concern were his remarks, which were then quite widely reported, in which he described the health system as having been run by "an old girls' network".
A number of people, including Christine and several others, have made the comment that this is a pretty offensive description, and obviously it is particularly offensive for women. But they expressed also their grave concern that in all of the variety of evidence taken by the committee, in all of the quite serious and very thoughtful attempts to examine the role of the whistleblowers, the evidence for and against some of the allegations that were being made, the problems faced particularly by new and expanding hospitals in growth areas—
I have always wanted to use the phrase "As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted", and I have finally got my chance. I was joining with Christine Robertson in expressing concern about the sexist, biased and unfortunate remarks, totally unrepresentative of the report, made by the chairperson in tabling the report and in the media conferences. I will leave it at that but I believe that committee chairs need to be most careful in the way they present reports for which they have responsibility. In this case Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes did not exercise his responsibility appropriately and I would certainly ask him to be a little more careful in future about the way in which he speaks about women.
I also wish to comment on the dissenting statements in the report: one made by the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans and one in the name of the Government members of the committee. As I said before, and as is made very clear in the opening paragraph of the statement of dissent, the Government members took a very positive approach to the inquiry and their amendments were proposed with the intention of improving the complaints handling processes in NSW Health and trying to engender an open culture of learning within NSW Health rather than political pointscoring. The Government members then go on to make a number of comments about the evidence, and so on.
I want to refer briefly to recommendations 9 and 10, which were strongly opposed. In recommendation 9 the members argued that there is no way of comparing the number of serious incidents, deaths, et cetera, across the health system in New South Wales as no two hospitals or health facilities are the same. The members went on at some length to draw attention to the naiveté of that particular recommendation. Recommendation 10—and this is the recommendation that the Hon Peter Primrose referred to at the end of his contribution—was strongly opposed because the proposed benefits or outcomes of holding a summit were not discussed at all, were not supported by the evidence received and, therefore, the members considered that the recommendation was inappropriately placed in the report.
There are a number of comments specifically about chapters 4 and 5 of the report and some comments in general that I would like to make regarding the findings. To quote the last paragraph of that dissenting statement:
The findings of the Review support the decision to operate the service as a low-risk service from the beginning. The Committee did not conclude that the maternity unit was re-opened for political motives based on the evidence before the inquiry. Rather this conclusion was politically motivated and not soundly based.
It is unfortunate that that level of disagreement amongst committee members survived to the end.
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN
[2.50 p.m.]: I speak on the report of General Purpose Standing Committee No. 2 entitled "Complaints Handling within NSW Health". I note that in relation to patient safety within the South Western Sydney Area Health Service, prior to this report there were at least six other inquiries. They were the special commission of inquiry into Campbelltown and Camden hospitals headed by Bret Walker, SC; the New South Wales Coroner's investigation into 22 patient deaths at Campbelltown and Camden hospitals; the ICAC investigation into claims of victimisation by the brave nurse informants and the conduct of the former Minister for Health, Craig Knowles; a review by the Cabinet Office looking at legislation governing the Health Care Complaints Commission; an investigation by the Health Care Complaints Commission into individual cases of unsafe or inadequate care or treatment at Campbelltown and Camden hospitals; and the joint parliamentary committee on the Health Care Complaints Commission.
However, this report is different from the above as members of General Purpose Standing Committee No. 2 were concerned that there had been no real examination of systemic issues relevant to complaints handling in the health system. The chair of the committee is quoted as saying, "We want to examine what happens when individuals within the health system raise problems, does it lead to improvements and improved quality of care, or is the treatment experienced by the nurses who raised concerns at Campbelltown and Camden typical of what happens in other areas?" An examination of whether such problems were isolated to Campbelltown and Camden hospitals or were more widespread across the health system then took place. Paragraph 1.17 made the key finding that such problems were widespread. The committee found:
There were undoubtedly serious cultural and system-related problems concerning complaints handling in South West Sydney. There was, however, no evidence that the way in which complaints were managed in this area health service was any worse than other areas. Evidence about the cultural barriers to incident reporting suggests that similar problems regarding both adverse incidents and complaint handling exist across NSW. We believe these are systemic issues, not problems isolated to one area health service.
In other words, the health system is riddled with system-related problems and, even worse, cultural problems right across New South Wales. The Government has allowed a culture to develop in hospitals where, despite the procedures in place, they must not be followed or workers will be ridiculed, lose their jobs or be severely harassed. I understand that Labor members on the committee were so embarrassed by this finding that they tried to have it expunged from the final report. This was a review of the complaints handling system within NSW Health, yet in the committee process the Australian Labor Party [ALP] tried to cover up the truth by pretending problems did not exist across the sector but that it was isolated to Campbelltown or Camden hospitals. Therefore, solutions were not necessary. This is the ALP at its heavy-handed best.
The core of the report recognises that changes do need to occur to allow complaints made by health professionals to be handled in a way that will improve the health care system and not create a culture of retribution and cover-up. The way that the Minister is alleged to have tried to come down heavily on these nurses does him no credit. When he was told that people were dying unnecessarily at Fairfield Hospital he had the nurse removed from her position, instead of trying to rectify or investigate the problem. He initiated a cocktail of thuggery, intimidation and removal. How can nurses in the system be expected to report problems when they are treated with such contempt for caring about their patients?
Premier Bob Carr should give serious consideration to calling for the resignation of Craig Knowles, although he is no longer the Minister for Health. The health sector needs a system where staff are encouraged to report incidents and learn from mistakes. In most hospitals it is not a question of having systems in place and written down; it is the fear and culture that exist in implementing them. When nurses raised concerns about problems, they were treated with contempt. The system should be designed so that complaints can be accepted, criticism received and, where necessary, improvements made to ensure the best possible health outcomes in our hospitals. Patient care should be improved and we should learn from mistakes at Camden Hospital, in particular. In addition, the Government must provide adequate resources for the running of all our public hospitals.
I turn now to Camden maternity unit. The report found that the maternity unit was opened without adequate resources or staff. I clearly recall when the unit was opened because it was done as a political stunt during the 2003 State election. In fact, only a week earlier I had written a letter to the media exposing the stunt. We also ran an advertisement stating that Labor could deliver on hospitals but could not deliver babies. The following week the Premier and then candidate for Camden, Geoff Corrigan, suddenly appeared at Camden, put their spin machine into full gear, held a press conference, which was on the front page of the Daily Telegraph
—a superb media stunt, which resulted in Councillor Geoff Corrigan, Mayor of Camden, being elected as the member for Camden. The Government knew it had to cover-up the deficiency in the unit. It was common belief that the Minister demanded the reopening of the unit before the last State election, against all medical advice. He ordered that budgets be cut in other areas to ensure that waiting list targets were met. It is unacceptable that a maternity unit could be forced to open without adequate resources and staff, and is a clear demonstration of the value the former Minister placed on patient care as opposed to political advantage.
With respect to the Chair's original question about what happens when individuals within the health system raise problems and whether it leads to improvements in the quality of care or whether the treatment experienced by those nurses at Campbelltown and Camden were typical of what happens in other areas, the sad and simple answer is yes. Those nurses were bullied directly by the Minister; some were intimated and some were encouraged not to report problems. In this case, enough is enough. The people of New South Wales need reliable, fully resourced hospitals, with mechanisms in place to deal with problems when they occur. It is time for the era of cover-up and lies in the complaints handing system in NSW Health to end.
The Hon. IAN WEST
[2.59 p.m.]: I speak on report 17 of General Purpose Standing Committee No. 2 entitled "Complaints Handling within NSW Health", dated June 2004. The reference goes to the question of the culture of learning and the willingness to share information about errors and system failures, and an assessment of whether the system encourages open and active decision making and improvement in clinical care. The committee, in its deliberations, looked at a number of issues, which are set out in the report, and the various submissions and witness lists incorporated in the report.
I shall refer to a number of matters in the various chapters of the report, particularly the issues canvassed by the Hon. Amanda Fazio, the Hon. Peter Primrose and the Hon. Christine Robertson. First, we do not believe that evidence was received to support the statewide comparisons contained in the report and we sought to delete those particular references. The committee heard extensive evidence from staff and management at South Western Sydney Area Health Service, some evidence about complaints handling mechanisms from senior management at Central Sydney Area Health Service and limited evidence about innovations in the Hunter. In view of this, and taking into consideration the issues raised in submissions received, the assertions made throughout the report about the situation statewide cannot be supported and should be removed from the report if the report is to be seen as a credible and evidence-based report.
I concur with the Hon. Amanda Fazio, the Hon. Peter Primrose and the Hon. Christine Robertson in their strong opposition to paragraphs 3.65 and 3.69 and recommendation 9 in chapter 3 of the report. There is no way of making the number of serious incidences, deaths, et cetera comparable across the health system in New South Wales as no hospital or health facility has the same particular considerations. Paragraphs 3.65 and 3.69 and recommendation 9 in chapter 3 could clearly lead to a false impression about the standards of care available in the respective health facilities and could skew demands for care in an unwarranted and unsubstantiated way. Facilities that do not have an open culture of disclosure, with low reporting rates, would automatically appear to be the best, thereby promoting false confidence by health consumers.
Hospitals that were scrupulously honest about reporting could be perceived to be the worst, which would be a disincentive for an open culture of learning. In addition, should the number of incidents be the measure, or is the appropriateness and timeliness of the response the critical issue? I concur with the Hon. Amanda Fazio, the Hon. Peter Primrose and the Hon. Christine Robertson in strongly opposing recommendation 10. The proposed benefits or outcomes of holding such a summit as proposed in recommendation 10 were not discussed, and it was not supported by the evidence presented to the committee. A recommendation that the New South Wales Minister for Health raise with his counterparts on the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council the concept of holding a national conference on clinical excellence would have been a much more constructive proposition.
I submit that paragraph 4.35 in chapter 4 should be deleted as evidence was not received that would justify the assertions made. The comments of Giselle Simmons in paragraph 4.47 should be deleted from the report. When compared to the in-camera evidence of nurses Owen and Quinn, two of the nurse informants who took their concerns directly to the Minister, Ms Simmons' comments do not appear to be representative of the Minister's response. Table 1.2 shows that Minister Knowles referred the matters raised by the nurse informants to the director-general on the very same day that he met with them, thereby triggering the investigation process by NSW Health and the Health Care Complaints Commission. This clearly demonstrates immediate response action undertaken by the former Minister in this case.
The comments in paragraph 4.6 of chapter 4 relating to the regrettable death of Mrs Yakub should be removed as this particular section of the report deals with patient deaths at Liverpool Hospital and Mrs Yakub was not a patient at Liverpool Hospital. Further, the comments relating to Associate Professor Picone are not based on fact and are part of a politically motivated attack on a well-respected senior member of NSW Health. This also applies to the unwarranted comments about her in the first sentence of paragraph 4.75, which reads:
The Committee is deeply concerned that Associate Professor Picone—
[Time for debate expired.
Motion agreed to.
STANDING COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL ISSUES
Report: Inquiry into Issues Relating to Redfern and Waterloo: Interim Report
Debate resumed from 31 August.
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS
[3.10 p.m.]: As Chair of the Standing Committee on Social Issues, I am delighted to initiate the debate on the motion that the House take note of our report No. 32, "Inquiry into Issues Relating to Redfern and Waterloo: Interim Report", which was tabled in late August. Before I talk in detail about the contents, recommendations and so on contained in the interim report, I want to make it clear that when the House referred this inquiry to the Standing Committee on Social Issues in February we were instructed to deliver an interim report and then a final report. Our final report is due on 30 November. Therefore, in some ways this debate is difficult, given that we are only able to talk about the contents and subject matter of the interim report. We are not able to talk about the work the committee has been doing since August, and is continuing to do this month and next month.
Nevertheless, I believe it is useful for the House to look at the interim report and, in due course, to debate the final report. The committee deliberately structured the interim report so that some issues were dealt with comprehensively, and we do not expect to deal with them comprehensively in the final report. On the other hand, some issues were not dealt with much at all in the interim report, and we expect to deal with them later. It is feasible for the House to debate the interim report. The issues before this inquiry are well known to the House. The inquiry originated in the context of the tragic death of a young Aboriginal man and the riot that occurred subsequently in Redfern in February this year. As I said, a little later in February the House resolved to send the inquiry to the Standing Committee on Social Issues.
In setting the terms of reference for that inquiry, the House did not ask us to inquire specifically into the riot—and it would not have been appropriate for us to do that, given the make-up of our committee and the role of standing committees of this House. Other inquiries were under way. The Coroner's inquiry, which has been completed, the internal police inquiry, which has been completed, and the Ombudsman's inquiry, which was not so much an inquiry but a watching brief over the police inquiry, focused far more on the riot, the immediate events leading up to it and the causes of the death of the young Aboriginal man to whom I referred. Our role was much more wide-ranging and focused on the fact that those more dramatic events that occurred at Redfern in February brought to the public attention, if it was needed—and perhaps in some ways it was needed—the serious problems that exist in Redfern. That was the impetus for the inquiry but not its focus. It was clear to all of us that the riot was symptomatic, a reflection of the systemic disadvantage experienced by many residents of Redfern and Waterloo.
Redfern and Waterloo are diverse communities, unalike in many ways, but both face many challenges. The indigenous communities in both Redfern and Waterloo—it is worth noting that more Aboriginal people live in Waterloo than in Redfern—face the greatest challenges. However, many other groups in those suburbs face grave challenges as well, partly because of their ethnic origin—the Russian community, for instance—and partly because of poverty and poor employment statistics. In almost every measure of socioeconomic disadvantage, Redfern and Waterloo come very low and would come even lower if it were not for the recent gentrification of those areas, particularly in various parts of Redfern. That gentrification has changed the socioeconomic indicators, but it has introduced new tensions and more difficult issues into the area. This inquiry was a great challenge for the social issues committee. We tried to focus on the important issues facing those two suburbs and, to some extent, the areas around them given that the Government's programs sometimes draw in areas such as Darlington as well.
Four main areas are addressed in the interim report, and they basically reflect our terms of reference. The first refers to various aspects of the Redfern-Waterloo Partnership Project, the body set up some time ago by the Premier as a place-based project to try to grapple with some of the problems in Redfern and Waterloo. In the report we look at the overall effectiveness of the partnership project, its consultation and communication processes, and the pace at which its programs are implemented. There is also a chapter about issues surrounding the redevelopment of the Block by its owners, the Aboriginal Housing Company. As most people know, the Block is an important iconic centre for the local Aboriginal community and for Aboriginal people throughout New South Wales, if not Australia. Many of the institutions that we regard as an intrinsic part of Aboriginal services originated in Redfern, especially in the Block. They include the Aboriginal Medical Service and the Aboriginal Legal Service. Indeed, the Aboriginal Housing Company, which owns the Block, has been in existence since 1973 and has been the owner and organiser of housing—originally some 60 houses in that area.
We also devoted a chapter in the interim report to the debate regarding the mobile needle and syringe service, which is located near the Block. Over the years it has had a number of different locations, different operating times and so on. We were specifically interested in looking at the rationale for the mobile needle and syringe service. In our report we accepted the harm minimisation principle as the rationale behind these kinds of services, but we tried to look specifically at its conditions of operation, a number of very strong criticisms that had been made of it and its impact on the community. To sum up a complex situation, it would be true to say that the mobile needle and syringe service served an important purpose, saved a large number of lives and helped to prevent a large number of illnesses by reducing, for instance, hepatitis C and HIV-AIDS transmission.
Through its location on the Block, the mobile needle and syringe service sends a signal that links Aboriginal people in Redfern with drug taking and abuse. However, we received a great deal of evidence that established clearly that most of the people who use the mobile service do not reside in Redfern. Other major issues were raised about the impact of the mobile van on the community, including its location beside a children's playground. We dealt with these issues in our report. Although this matter did not specifically come within our terms of reference, it was very much a part of the overall issues. The fourth specific area in our terms of reference relates to police strategies and resources, including violence against police, staffing and other resources and strategies to deal with robberies, drug dealing and associated matters.
I will refer briefly to our recommendations. I am sure that other committee members will refer to recommendations of particular interest to them. The committee made 22 recommendations in its interim report. The first five recommendations deal with the Redfern-Waterloo Partnership Project. The committee referred to the long-term financial commitment of the New South Wales Government and noted criticism about the lack of co-ordination between the three tiers of government—Federal, State and local—the non-government sector and the local communities. We made recommendations that focused on the need for better co-ordination. We also dealt with issues of communication and consultation with the local communities by the Redfern-Waterloo Partnership Project. We heard in evidence and through submissions a great deal of criticism of the communication and consultation strategies and performance of the partnership project. We discussed those matters in the report.
Recommendations 6 to 9 relate to the Aboriginal Housing Company. The committee discussed the need for an audit and valuation of its financial assets. Those measures are taking place. We again called for a commitment by the three tiers of government to the redevelopment of the Block by the Aboriginal Housing Company. We refer in some detail to the basic conditions that need to be fulfilled if the Aboriginal Housing Company were given the millions of dollars necessary to redevelop the Block. Those conditions include financial accountability and auditing processes. Over recent years the Government and the Redfern-Waterloo Partnership Project have undertaken considerable consultation with the Aboriginal Housing Company to achieve policies on selection and retention of tenants, maintenance and many other matters. A great deal has been achieved in this regard.
Representatives of the Aboriginal Housing Company, from Mick Mundine down, were frank in accepting the criticisms that had been made about their operation. It was clear that in more recent times the running of the organisation had improved. Nevertheless, they remain trapped because the demolition of properties to enable redevelopment of the Block has removed most of their revenue stream. So, at present, they are beset with this difficult circular situation. I repeat our call for commitment by the three tiers of government.
We received a great deal of evidence and assistance from the Sydney City Council and the mayor, staff and former staff of South Sydney City Council. Both South Sydney council and now Sydney City Council have played a major role in Redfern, which would not normally be expected of local government. The conspicuous absentee is the Federal Government. Given that Aboriginal affairs, and the financial arrangements that have existed for some time, are the constitutional responsibility of the Federal Government, it is regrettable that we have not received a submission or evidence from any Federal government agencies. We have clearly drawn attention to the need for the Federal Government to make a commitment, financially and in other ways. Recommendations 10 to 19 relate to policing issues. I will return to those recommendations when I speak in reply in this debate. Recommendations 20 to 22 relate to drug and alcohol issues. As I said, the committee is currently working towards a final report. The staff have worked incredibly well and I thank them deeply for their efforts. [Time expired.
The Hon. ROBYN PARKER
[3.25 p.m.]: On a hot evening on 14 February a community that was simmering away under enormous stress boiled over. It was of no surprise to many people. The community of Redfern was a ticking urban time bomb and all it took was one trigger. The blame for the riot that occurred that night—images of which we have seen time and again—should be sheeted home directly to the Carr Government. The Premier sits in the comfort of Governor Macquarie Tower while only kilometres away a community is spinning out of control, deteriorating in less than Third World conditions.
I express deep regret at the tragic death of TJ Hickey, the riot and the disturbing problems that were revealed in the inquiry. This inquiry was established as a result of the riot. It is appropriate that within our terms of reference we examine the reason for the riot and what happened that night. Our terms of reference include policing strategies and resources and other matters arising from the terms of reference. To say that the events on that night do not relate in any way to this inquiry is false and misleading. The inquiry provided us with an opportunity to consider in depth the complex and difficult problems of the Redfern and Waterloo communities and focus on the needs of Aboriginal communities. I am pleased that the opportunity arose to undertake an inquiry that will achieve results and provide tangible outcomes. Many inquiries into the area have taken place, a number of which were instigated as a result of this unfortunate incident. Sadly, it has taken such an incident to compel the Government to take some action.
Throughout the inquiry many people presented evidence to us. They bared their souls and shared with us their sensitive and real problems. They have been consulted over and over again until they experience participation fatigue. Still they hold out hope that something will be done for them. The many very good people working in Redfern, particularly in the non-government sector, are an inspiration to me. As is so often the case in Aboriginal communities, the strength and commitment of Aboriginal women in Redfern shines through and provides hope. I am astonished that hope remains in spite of adversity. Yet the women, such as those from the Mudgingal Aboriginal Women's Centre, battle on day after day on a shoestring budget providing support against the odds. As our report has revealed, although their budget is minute in comparison with that of the Redfern-Waterloo Partnership, they deliver a great deal more.
This community is one of the most disadvantaged communities in New South Wales, if not in Australia. Its members suffer as a result of low employment rates, high drug and alcohol misuse and poor health. But they have a richness of culture and community spirit, and Redfern is a place of great cultural significance. From the beginning of this inquiry members of the Opposition have experienced enormous frustration in trying to get to the bottom of many of the issues involved. The Government has continually attempted to manage the issues, and Coalition members of the committee have been hampered in trying to get to the bottom of what happened on the night of the riot. We are also frustrated that the Government has tabled a whole-of-government report. Our sole aim has been to get to the bottom of what happened and what can be done.
I support the notion of an interim report, but some of the recommendations need to be far harder hitting. Throughout the inquiry Opposition members of the committee tried to secure the release of the Coburn police report and the appearance of a number of other witnesses. We needed more evidence from frontline police; instead we had a great deal of evidence from people who are not at the front line in Redfern. Although the 32-point package of the Minister for Police was released during the inquiry—just before the Coroner's report was handed down—the Coburn report was not released prior to the tabling of the interim report. The policing package is comprehensive and is a devastating admission by the Minister of the extensive and the deep-seated problems facing police with regard to resources, training and powers. Opposition members were also astonished at some of revelations about drug use in the Redfern area. The needle van sometimes distributes more than 1,000 syringes a day.
Pursuant to standing orders business interrupted.
BUDGET ESTIMATES AND RELATED PAPERS
Financial Year 2004-05
Debate resumed from 20 October.
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN
[3.30 p.m.]: A few years ago the Treasurer would boast in this Chamber that Sydney had paid for the Olympics. We have certainly paid for them, but not in the way implied by the Treasurer. We paid by neglecting our responsibility to invest in basic infrastructure such as railways, roads, hospitals and schools. Investment in infrastructure is certainly not as sexy as rubbing shoulders with International Olympic Committee officials on the international stage in the full glare of the world's media, but it will come home to bite any government that neglects it. As the cracks in the wall begin to appear, the symptoms of a broken down state of affairs becomes more noticeable. Trains must creep along old tracks, break down and not run on time; hospitals cannot cope with demand, ambulance services are overstretched and people die on trolleys while waiting for treatment in a system that cannot deliver; police officers must park their cars on highways and take photographs of speeding vehicles rather than patrol because they cannot afford petrol; and commuters take to their cars because the public transport system cannot cope and new freeways become peak-hour parking lots.
We ask ourselves: Where is that old Labor Mr Fixit and working class stalwart, Graham Richardson, when we need him? I remember a successful Labor Party advertisement from a few years ago, before I was elected to Parliament, lampooning the Fahey Government. It was based on the television series The Brady Bunch
. If that advertisement were to be broadcast today, it would feature a Treasurer saying, "I don't know where the money has gone", a Minister for Transport Services saying, "It's all Bob Askin's fault", a Minister for Police saying, "But they do have nice uniforms", and a Minister for Health admitting that he feels pretty crook whenever anyone mentions the words "hospital" or "ambulance". In fact, the Government is a shaky Brady Bunch in crisis mode.
Other honourable members have analysed the budget in the other place and in this Chamber and exposed the facade of a State in despair. Because I live in Camden I will refer to a number of issues affecting people living in that part of south-western Sydney. I refer first to the Narellan Road upgrade. When the Carr Government came to office, Narellan Road was a four-lane, high-speed access road connecting Camden and Campbelltown. That road is vital because Camden does not have a railway station and locals have no alternative but to use it. This Government has presided over developments at Mount Annan, Currans Hill and so on, but the road system has not been correspondingly improved to ensure that it copes with increased traffic. The Government's solution has been to install a couple of roundabouts. The road, which provided high-speed, easy access between the two cities, is now a peak-hour parking lot. This situation has been a huge annoyance for the Government.
I spoke earlier about how the Premier suddenly appeared with his candidate at the last election to announce the opening of the Camden District Hospital maternity ward. That was front-page news. The next week—the week before the election—they rolled up again and the headline read "$30 million to be spent on Narellan Road". That was the usual spin peddled by the Government, which knew it could not deliver and had no intention of delivering. Government members believed that people in the western suburbs would swallow anything. Honourable members will remember the debacle about the removal of tolls on roads. The Premier announced the $30-million upgrade, and the locals bought it. The Labor Party candidate was elected, but not one cent has been spent on Narellan Road. The Government has made one change to the road, in addition to the two roundabouts. It will now have a set of traffic lights, which will create absolute chaos. The people of the area are asking what they have to do to get adequate facilities, because this Government is great on rhetoric but sad on delivery.
After having negotiated Narellan Road, one gets to the M5. Every day—morning and night—motorists hit the M5 East funnel. The Government calls it a tunnel, but it is a funnel—everything feeds into it. The tunnel was constructed with a two-lane western access and a two-lane northern access. No room was allowed for even a motorbike or a pushbike to be manoeuvred between other vehicles. The Minister for Roads obviously sees himself as a Rhodes scholar, but he did not pass the right test. Whoever approved the tunnel design should be cashiered; it is an embarrassment. By the time the road was opened it had already reached maximum capacity. Who analysed the figures and produced the statistics? I understand that the road builders wanted to include a toll lane, but that would have gone against the Minister's anti-toll rhetoric at the time. The people of Western Sydney who know what is going on believe that that roadway is the worst transport mistake the Government has made.
I often ride a motorbike through the tunnel. In peak-hour traffic a motorcyclist cannot pass between two lanes of traffic. Those in cars have the windows up and the airconditioning on. Stationary motorcyclists breathing in the fumes know it is not healthy. The Minister stated that one must breath the fumes for 15 minutes before they will have an adverse effect. It took me 14 minutes to get through the tunnel on a motorbike recently. This Government has been spruiking about asbestos, as it should, but it will soon face similar claims lodged by people who must spend long periods in the tunnel. It is a disgrace and it demonstrates a failure in planning for the people of south-western Sydney.
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
The man who would be Premier!
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN:
Indeed. The Government now wants to build a city at Bringelly. Does it have any plans for another railway line or roadway? No. This proposal will simply choke up the road. Honourable members opposite have been taking Western Sydney for granted for too long. They should examine what happened in the Federal election. The Federal Coalition has made great electoral inroads in that region. We might be westies, but we are not stupid. We know we are being taken for a ride, and members opposite are driving the vehicle. This issue will come back to bite them. I know they do not have the same problems in plush areas like Hunters Hill, but we working-class westies must handle them every day.
We are told to catch a train instead of using a car. Given the unreliability of public transport, that is simply not an option. The trains do not run on time, but the Government's response has been to axe 1,000 weekend suburban rail services. Again, the people of Western Sydney have been hardest hit. The Bankstown line has had 68 services cut, 41 services have been cut from the airport line and the East Hills line, 106 services have been cut from the western line and all 52 services operating on the Cumberland line were cut on the weekend, leaving no direct services between Blacktown and Campbelltown.
The Government exacerbates the problem because it cannot recruit enough train drivers and does not allocate adequate resources to bring the lines up to an acceptable standard. Cutting services affects everyone, including full-time workers, shift workers, tourists, and people playing sport. It is an embarrassment. In a modern city such as Sydney it is difficult to believe that we do not have a reliable train network, which is basic infrastructure. This will be what the Labor Government is remembered for. In April 2002 the Government had planned to introduce a new timetable, but it could not do so because there were not enough train drivers. The Millennium train was supposed to be the answer to reliable transport, but budget blow-outs and the fact that the Millennium train could not operate properly on the network has meant that this is not the case. Transport in Western Sydney is at crisis point and it is quite obvious that the Carr Labor Government does not have any answers.
I make mention at this stage of Camden hospital. A few weeks ago a very dear friend of ours and one of the pillars of the Camden-Wollondilly area suffered a stroke. That woman, Mrs Merle Kelly, devoted her entire life to the community, for which she was awarded Member in the Order of Australia [AM]. When Mrs Kelly suffered the stroke her sister-in-law made an emergency call to 000 and waited one hour for an ambulance—that is longer than it takes the NRMA to respond to a vehicle breakdown. The next crisis to overcome was that all the hospitals in the south-west were on code red. When the ambulance driver was asked about Camden hospital, Mrs Kelly's family was told that it was not a hospital and that the Ambulance Service was not allowed to take anybody there. One could imagine how the family felt, with Mrs Kelly needing such urgent care. The irony is that if you can get yourself to Camden hospital apparently it will accept you, but the Ambulance Service is not allowed to take patients there—even when they cannot get into any other hospital because of code red restrictions. I can understand why members opposite are not responding; that really is an embarrassment for the Government.
The ambulance driver took Mrs Kelly to the emergency department at Liverpool hospital, which was then registered code orange. However, it was a further six hours before Mrs Kelly was allocated a bed. For six hours this wonderful woman suffered the stress and humiliation of having to lie on a stretcher in a public area. As I said, Mrs Kelly devoted her entire life to community organisations. Over the last 40-odd years she would have worked at every fundraising campaign for her local hospitals, but when she needed such a facility she was denied it. It is a disgrace.
Another major issue affecting the aspirational people of Western Sydney is the exit tax on investment homes. The Government cannot stop itself from taxing people, and the 2.25 per cent exit tax on the sale of investment homes and the abolition of the land tax threshold is further evidence of that. The result of abolishing the land tax threshold is that land tax becomes payable on an additional 540,000 properties across New South Wales. This equates to around 300,000 additional people in New South Wales paying land tax. This hurts the mum and dad investors, the shop owners, and those who can only afford to invest a small amount. These people do not own large tracts of land, nor are they multimillionaires. They are the mums and dads who have worked very hard to save a little bit of money for the future and who have decided to invest in property as a form of superannuation. This investment is certainly not their primary income but now, for the first time ever, they will be taxed to the hilt by Bob Carr and the Hon. Michael Egan. These people will be taxed when they want to sell their property.
The other net effect of the exit tax that is now apparent is that people are investing in properties outside New South Wales. Currently there is a big interest in investing in Queensland. The Government thought it would make additional revenue with this hit on property investment in New South Wales. However, as people now invest outside New South Wales, not only will the Government not receive the 2.25 per cent exit tax, it also will not receive stamp duty. This is poor financial management.
The Hon. Amanda Fazio:
No, it's not.
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN:
Ask the public. The Government has been awash with money; it is making a fortune through the GST. The skid marks are still on the M5, where Bob Carr and the Hon. Michael Egan jumped in their cars to fly down the highway to sign the GST documents. The Government has been awash with money and it has blown it. Effectively, the property market in New South Wales has been frozen by Bob Carr and the Hon. Michael Egan, and they know it. Knowing that they have killed the property market, and knowing that this tax is a failure, they should realise that the best thing for them to do is repeal the legislation. But the Government has failed to do that, and that has simply added to its financial woes.
The latest issue is the taxing of the club industry, which will be debated in this Chamber on another occasion. The fact that the Government is now attacking its greatest community organisation—its own Labor heartland—shows that it is starting to feed off itself; it is eating its own heartland. It will put these people out of business, and it does not understand the cost of that. These people are doing a lot of the good community work that governments normally do. But now the Government will hit them with an extra tax so it can pay for a failed health system, and these people will be put out of business. The Government has lost its way. It had a great opportunity. It has been in power for a long time. It came to power when John Howard and Peter Costello came to power and set about managing the national economy in such a way that Australia survived the Asian crisis. Bob Carr and the Hon. Michael Egan have been major beneficiaries of the Federal Government's economic management. Indeed, I imagine they have a photograph of John Howard on their bedside tables before which they genuflect every night, saying, "Thank you." But they have run out of luck. They can blow only so much money, and they have wasted it all.
It is a pity, but they are tired; they have run out of ideas. The trains have stopped running, the hospitals cannot take it, and the classrooms are overcrowded. In fact, the Government should do the right thing and fall on its sword, resign as a government, and hand over to a fresh team to take over the reins. Only when that happens will New South Wales get back on the rails. The Government is out of ideas; it is old, it is tired—and it is cranky as well!
The Hon. TONY CATANZARITI
[3.45 p.m.]: I take this opportunity to contribute to debate on the budget that was brought down by the Government on 22 June 2004. The budget was very fair and was delivered by a Treasurer who does his job very well—the Hon. Michael Egan. I will now take the time to thank him for his efforts. Remarkably, the Hon. Michael Egan was able successfully to deliver a good budget for the people of New South Wales despite the added burdens placed upon this State by the Howard Federal Government, which has continued to pressure this State unfairly with the infamous Federal grants system, a system that is taking up to $3 billion a year from the people of New South Wales. Although the budget necessarily reflects this short-changing by the Federal Government, it remains a fair and good budget for the people of New South Wales and, from my point of view, the people of the Riverina.
The Carr Government has consistently proved itself by producing one good budget after another. Since its first budget the Government has cut the general government net debt by $9 billion, creating interest saving of the order of $1 billion—money that can be, and has been, put into schools, roads, hospitals and other vital services. This budget delivered the area in which I live, and in relation to which I am duty MLC, a great deal of money for improved facilities. The Treasurer announced that a healthy share of the record $7,463 million that is being spent will go to improve local services in the Riverina. Those services include new schools, new hospitals, improved railways, upgraded public housing, and the continued production of our power and water networks. These works in the electorate of Murrumbidgee include the key funding allocations of $8.2 million to be spent on local transport, the $30.6 million to be spent on local roads, and the $3.1 million to go towards the new Griffith police station.
Specifically, $3.57 million is to be spent on the Aboriginal outstation located in Griffith and $400,000 is allocated for the planning of the Griffith hospital emergency department upgrade. Also, $1 million will be spent on the Burley Griffin Way-Yenda main canal bridge replacement, a very important local issue. That is excellent news regarding safety for the local residents and those who rely on that road to meet their transport needs in the area.
In the Lachlan electorate this very good budget delivered key allocations of $12.5 million on Transport, $35 million on Roads and $3.83 million on Health. This money is going to some of the specific projects that are very important to the local areas, such as the $4 million that is dedicated to the upgrade of the Junee Correctional Centre, $500,000 for the planning of the Junee hospital redevelopment, and $2.85 million for the Young hospital and Mercy Health services co-location. As I have just indicated, local roads in the Lachlan electorate receive significant funding, and this can be seen in the $8 million allocated to the Newell Highway Ardlethan realignment, plus the $247,000 for the Wagga Wagga-Junee road widening.
I was very pleased to see announced in the budget a fantastic new project for Kooringal High School in the electorate of Wagga Wagga. This project will provide a new gymnasium for the school and convert the existing gymnasium into a movement studio, something that will significantly benefit students and teachers at the school. The gymnasium will provide a facility that will create the space for a variety of educational experiences, which can be used for practising sporting skills or for sporting competitions, gymnastics, debating, theatre productions, dancing, and also examinations. Kooringal High School will greatly benefit from its construction. Also announced for this area is $970,000 to continue the $1.1 million upgrade at the Wagga Wagga campus of the Riverina TAFE Institute, and to go towards a new learning centre that will include two multimedia production studios, an audio-visual production studio, a resource library, classrooms base, staff offices, amenities and a reception and technical support area.
Of course, a very important part of the budget every year is the allocation of funds to protective services, and, thanks to another record Emergency Services budget this year, the residents of New South Wales will be better protected in an emergency than ever before. The Government allocated a record $666 million towards the State's emergency services, an increase of 8 per cent on last year's emergency services budget. In this budget $44 million will go towards the ongoing upgrade of the State's fleet of fire engines, bushfire tankers and other emergency response vehicles. This includes $25.5 million to provide more than 200 new and high-quality reconditioned bushfire tankers for the Rural Fire Service around the State, including local Rural Fire Service districts in the Riverina.
The Murrumbidgee electorate will have two new fire engines, worth $320,000 each, delivered to the stations at Finley and Narrandera. The Lachlan electorate will have a new fire engine in the Cootamundra and Harden Fire Brigade stations; Wagga Wagga will have a new fire engine at the Turvey Park station; and the Albury electorate will have a new fire engine at both Albury North and Corowa stations. The local State Emergency Service [SES] units will also see a greater share of this budget, with Harden SES and Young SES in the Lachlan electorate each receiving a $4,000 vehicle subsidy to be used towards the cost of a new emergency services vehicle. Culcairn SES in Albury will receive a $32,500 subsidy towards a new emergency response vehicle, while in the Murrumbidgee electorate the Coleambally SES will receive $16,500 and Griffith SES will receive $10,664 towards their new emergency response vehicles. This funding for local emergency services represents a direct investment in the protection of our local families and businesses, and also, most importantly, in the safety of our New South Wales Fire Brigades, Rural Fire Service firefighters and SES volunteers.
This budget has delivered services and protection in an excellent manner for the people of our State. Despite the Federal Government's pressure, the Carr Government has once again delivered for the people of New South Wales, and I commend the budget.
The Hon. DAVID CLARKE
[3.55 p.m.]: The Labor Government of New South Wales is a monumental disaster. It presides over a State that is in disintegration and decline. It is failing in its most basic of duties: the protection of the safety and property of its citizens. It is failing to deliver the most basic of services, such as hospitals, to its citizens. It is failing to provide the infrastructure, such as railways, for New South Wales to move forward into the future. It has plunged New South Wales into chaos and an uncertain future. And what does the 2004-05 budget do? Not only does it fail to rectify or address the problems our State faces but it is also compounding the chaos.
Four months have elapsed since this budget was announced, and what has been the result? So far, it has been a lousy result for the State of New South Wales. On a Federal level, however, as a consequence of sound management of the Australian economy by the Howard Coalition Government, inflation is at its lowest for many years, unemployment is low and dropping, and Commonwealth debt is being paid off and will soon be at an end. What a healthy contrast it is to the mess created in this State by the Carr Government. As a result of its share of the GST the New South Wales Treasury has had more money pouring into it than ever before. As a result of the booming property market and increasing rates of home ownership, due to the sound economic management of the Howard Government, the New South Wales Government has had a growing avalanche of income from stamp duty and land tax, and from other taxes as well.
The New South Wales Labor Government is rolling in money as never before, yet the provision of services and infrastructure is in chronic disarray and decline more than at any other time. How is this possible? How did this situation come about? It has come about because the Government of this State is in the hands of incompetents: financial incompetents, policy incompetents and administrative incompetents. We are being governed by financial idiots. If anyone needs any convincing about that, all they have to do is look at how the State Government is discharging its duty to the people of New South Wales in protecting their personal safety and their property.
The truth is that since the Premier first came to power there has been a dramatic increase, in percentage terms, of recorded crime for a majority of crime categories. Robbery without a weapon is up by 30 per cent; abduction and kidnapping are up by 39 per cent; robbery with a weapon other than a firearm has increased by 40 per cent; sexual assaults are up by 66 per cent; goods in custody offences have increased by 74 per cent; dealing and trafficking in drugs are up by 103 per cent; possession and/or use of illegal drugs have increased by 141 per cent; extortion and blackmail have shot up by an alarming 200 per cent; and the importing of drugs has increased by an astounding 250 per cent. New South Wales has become a criminal's paradise.
Parts of Sydney are virtually no-go areas for police unless they enter in convoy strength. Some areas of Sydney are nothing less than fiefdoms controlled by marauding gangs of thugs who despise Australian society and values. Police stations are undermanned, they are being downgraded, and some are being closed down altogether. In fact, police stations are just not being built as need dictates. The decline in the number of detectives is cause for alarm, and there is no determined effort to get more police on the beat. No wonder the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that New South Wales is a far less safe place in which to live than, for example, Victoria. And what strategy is there in the budget to deal with this collapse of law and order throughout the State? The answer is: there is no strategy at all. The budget is a failure in its funding of law and order initiatives.
I do not know how the Minister for Police has the gall to even show his face to the people of New South Wales. One would have thought that he would wilt with shame and in disgrace. Our public health system does not fare any better. In what shape are our public hospitals? Everyone knows that the answer to that question is that they are in a mess. Despite dedicated staff, our hospitals suffer from a lack of facilities, with no rebuilding of infrastructure. Indeed, public hospitals are in a state of terminal decline and in many regards they have dropped to Third World standards. The Government's response, through the budget, is the usual haphazard band-aid approach that we have all come to expect from this Government.
No wonder the Premier is so desperate to transfer responsibility for the State's public health system to the Federal Government. No wonder he is so keen to dump at the feet of the Federal Government the chaotic and disintegrating system that his Government has created and mismanaged. It is rather cute of the Premier to suggest that in return for shedding responsibility for the public health system—in itself an admission of the Government's failure—he wants the Federal Government to transfer to the State its responsibility for education. I have no doubt that the Premier would relish having that control. The ideologues in the Australian Labor Party would love to have the unfettered power to reap into the State's non-government schools. In particular, they would like to get stuck into those schools that have a religious orientation.
The public transport system in this State is in total decay. Could anyone doubt that it has hit rock bottom? The system is nothing less than a scandal. It is in a shambles for a whole host of reasons, all of which stem from the Government's incompetence, not the least of which is the piecemeal, haphazard approach to infrastructure, similar to the problem with public hospitals. The budget provides no solutions to this sorry state of affairs. Decisions are made on the run. Attempts to solve problems are made only after problems have reached blow-out proportions. Train services are the worst they have ever been. Services are less frequent, less reliable and less safe than they have ever been. Late trains have become a problem of chronic proportions. The Government's response is merely to rejig the definition of what constitutes a late service and expand the time by which a train can be designated as late before it is classified as being late. What an ingenuous solution that is!
Whole communities, especially in rural and regional areas of the State, are being abandoned as their rail services are being discontinued. Promises are repeatedly made of new train lines and then cancelled—for example, the long-touted Parramatta to Epping line. Projects are announced, nothing is done for years and then the promises are repackaged and re-announced as new initiatives just prior to elections. For some time now the Government has perpetrated this fraud on the people of New South Wales. We have had the fiasco of the Millennium train, which was exposed, due largely to the good investigative work of the Hon. Greg Pearce.
The Treasurer of the State might fancy himself as some sort of economic manager. He might have tabs on himself for giving sound financial guidance to this State, but the truth is that politically he is on the nose from one end of the State to the other. He is certainly on the nose with the scores of club members in this State because of his financial shakedown of clubs through heavier poker machine taxes. No wonder some 15,000 club members from all over New South Wales demonstrated outside the Parliament only a few weeks ago! They were in a very angry mood. They were angry that their clubs were being slugged new taxes on top of those that they have already had to pay. They were angry with the Premier, Bob Carr, the Treasurer, the Hon. Michael Egan, and the State Labor Government, and they are still angry.
If the Government thinks that club members throughout New South Wales will forget about this latest financial burden that they have been saddled with and that the issue will be dead and buried by the time of the next State election, it is in for a big shock. Club members are angry that sporting facilities for youth and community service projects, especially for the elderly which their clubs finance, will have to be curtailed or, in many instances discontinued, as a result of this latest round of tax hikes needed to plug problems in our State arising from the Government's incompetence. These unhappy club members are being joined by hundreds of thousands of angry small property investors, many of them retired people, who supplement their pensions or superannuation from rental property.
These people are outraged that they will have to dip further into their pockets and hand over more of their income to the Government through added land tax. The people of New South Wales are fed up with the Government once again putting its snout into their pockets. They are fed up with being slugged with escalating taxes and charges without any improvements to government services such as transport, public health facilities or police protection of personal safety or property from criminal elements. The day of reckoning is coming. The budget of 2004-05 will prove to be one of the last remaining budgets to be headed by this Government because, on election day in 2007, time will finally be up for the Government. What the people of Australia dished out to Federal Labor in the recent election the people of New South Wales will dish out to State Labor in 2007. It is a day that I look forward to with great relish.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS
[4.05 p.m.]: As has been observed previously by some of my upper House colleagues, none more capably and ably than the previous speaker, it is somewhat disconcerting to debate and respond to a budget that was brought down months earlier. At least the Government is giving all members the opportunity to respond to the budget, something that has not always happened in previous years. This is the highest taxing New South Wales Government ever and the highest taxing government currently in the country. As an Opposition our role is to make the Government accountable. It has wasted the money that was raised over nine years of record revenues of $3.8 billion over and above budgeted revenues.
The Carr Labor Government should take a leaf out of the Federal Government's book: after its ninth budget it has delivered comprehensive tax relief to the families of New South Wales. The people of New South Wales are paying the price for the New South Wales Government's appalling level of waste and mismanagement. Today's Daily Telegraph
contains a report of an analysis carried out on the state of this State. It concludes that though New South Wales is the most prosperous and highly taxed State in Australia, it has slipped into the red, with forecasts now of a budget deficit of $555 million, an extra $176 million above Treasurer Egan's own predictions.
At the same time key services in almost every area are gripped by major structural problems and industrial pressures, which are themselves feeding into the budget bottom line. As a result of the budget, the people of New South Wales have faced an extension of the land tax base. Previously, land tax only kicked in at $327,000. Now all businesses and property investors are caught in the land tax net, which is proving to be a major disincentive for small businesses looking to invest in rural and regional areas. The Federal Liberal-National Government is about cutting taxes while the State Labor Government is about increasing taxes. Thank goodness Labor failed to gain office federally! Who would like to see Simon Crean with the chequebook in his hands?
The last financial year has seen the Carr Labor Government on a slash-and-burn exercise throughout regional New South Wales. New poker machine taxes have drawn an unprecedented reaction from both city and country club members. It has been a long time since 15,000 to 20,000 grassroots people last marched on Parliament House, if ever. Clubs in my duty electorates of Northern Tablelands and Murray-Darling provide employment, sporting and entertainment facilities, meeting venues, support for senior citizens and donations to local charities, community groups and sporting groups of all ages. There are some 2.5 million members of clubs across New South Wales and statistics show that four out of five adults have visited a club in the last 12 months. They employ more than 52,000 full-time employees, and service industry employees can be added to that number.
One must wonder who is making these decisions when one reads these statistics because all these people vote and many of the affected clubs are in Labor electorates. In my duty electorate of Murray-Darling, the Tooleybuc Sporting Club, a marvellous club, has already cut back on staff. People will move out of town because the jobs simply are not there. The club has also had to cut back on its entertainment programs. This club, along with most regional clubs, provides sponsorships to help the community, local hospitals, sporting facilities and local schools. It sponsors local children to come to the cities on educational trips, which otherwise would be impossible for children living in isolated areas. In many rural towns the club is the only meeting place if there is no town hall or other meeting facility.
We have also seen funding slashed for the Adult Training, Learning and Support Program and the Post School Options Program. The budget delivered a slap in the face to people with disabilities, and their families and carers. The Nationals quickly moved to have a motion denouncing these actions moved in Parliament, and it is listed for debate. The Government should be doing everything it can to create opportunities for people with disabilities who live in rural and regional areas. Instead, it is short changing people who are already doing it tough. Where was the money in the budget for rural businesses? Where is the Government's incentive to create employment opportunities in the bush? Every year the Coalition has called on the Government to address this issue in its budget.
High workers compensation premiums, payroll tax rates and stamp duty rates are preventing a lot of businesses from hiring more staff and are hobbling regional development. The Government needs to take its hands out of the pockets of employers and stop robbing them blind. Businesses in Northern Tablelands could employ hundreds of extra staff if they were given the right operating environment by the Government. This Government's high taxing regime makes it particularly hard for Northern Tablelands businesses to fight off their competitors in Queensland who pay lower tax rates. The latest news to come out of the Northern Tablelands is the loss to Sydney of five employees of the Government's Businesslink unit in Armidale, with 35 others to go in other areas of rural New South Wales.
Businesslink provides human resources—essentially employment—and financial advice to three government departments: community services, ageing, disability and home care, and housing. The centralisation of these jobs flies in the face of the Government's public sector employment policy of promoting employment in country areas. The relocation of the Businesslink jobs to Sydney is a result of the Government's recently announced budgetary plans to centralise business enterprise centres and area health services. Budget cuts resulting in the merger of health services, the new poker machine taxes and the town water problems were local issues that many agree resulted in a swing of 7.64 per cent to the Coalition in Broken Hill in the recent Federal election. A swing of this magnitude has never happened before in Broken Hill, which is Labor's heartland. Add to this the town of Wilcannia, which was lost to the Government for the first time in its history.
The Hon. Amanda Fazio:
Tell us about Northern Tablelands!
The Hon. RICK COLLESS:
It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge the Hon. Amanda Fazio's interjection about what happened in New England. She does not even know the name of the Federal electorate. The Labor vote was 8 per cent! Labor got 8 per cent of the vote in New England. The Labor people in Northern Tablelands were dismayed when they went to the polling booth and the booths were not even manned by Labor. That is what is happening to Labor in Northern Tablelands, Murray-Darling and Parkes. That is what is happening to Labor throughout the country. In September the Broken Hill people organised an Afternoon of Action, which was hailed as a great success. The crowds were so large that the largest venue in town could not cope with the numbers and the forum was held outside. It is interesting that the member for Murray-Darling, the Hon. Peter Black, was quoted in the Broken Hill media as acknowledging that he "had no doubt whatsoever there was a protest vote against Labor on State matters". What is that if it is not an admission by a Labor member of Parliament?
The member for Murray-Darling has been espousing with great fanfare in the media that he has procured funding from this year's budget for the Silver City Highway, which turns out to be recurrent funding, not new funding, to complete the works. The introduction of a 2.25 per cent stamp duty on the sale of investment properties, combined with the land tax changes, has put the brakes on construction and property investment in rural and city areas. Today's Daily Telegraph
article continues with leading economists Econtech predicting that New South Wales will become the slowest-growing State in Australia, largely because of the new vendor stamp duty which slugs property investors. The article claims that the controversial vendor tax is now costing the State money, with the Government netting $2 million less in September than it did in August. It is going backwards; it has not stabilised. The 22 October edition of the Sydney Morning Herald
… next year's budget faces renewed pressure after figures released yesterday show a new tax on the sale of investment properties is falling far short of expectations. The 2.25 per cent vendor tax has raised just $62 million in the first quarter—more than $100 million short. Effectively putting a hole in the budget!
This comes as no surprise to the Coalition as we could see it coming. The Government simply bungles along until something breaks, then it fixes it. There is no vision for the future. The Government is tired and arrogant. It has allowed the branch lines in rural New South Wales to break down and become unsafe. The most obvious example is the now closed Binnaway to Gwabegar branch line. Until recently some 46,000 tonnes of wheat from last year's harvest were trapped in the Baradine silo. Community anger has flared up in the district where, after four years of local farmers predicting a rail freight meltdown, they are having to watch the grain being moved out by huge trucks that are breaking up their local roads and putting pressure on bridges that are already struggling to cope with normal traffic.
These roads were not designed to carry this sort of weight. They are minor, narrow country roads built principally to carry lighter traffic. Large B-doubles hauling grain will do a lot of damage. I assure the House that the local councils—which means the ratepayers—will foot the bill, not the Government. The Government should have allocated a few million dollars to fix the bridges on the Binnaway to Gwabegar line. The Rail Infrastructure Corporation [RIC] has already spent about $400,000 on the section between Coonabarabran and Baradine, where the poor condition of the line caused a derailment. That money has been wasted because the RIC has run out of funds and cannot improve the rest of the line. The Government must allocate more money to keep these lines in working order.
Sick of waiting for the State Government to fix the Binnaway to Gwabegar branch line, Pacific National is in the process of rescuing its nine grain wagons stranded at Baradine silo; it must truck them out by road. These wagons have been stuck at Baradine since June, when the dilapidated track collapsed twice under wheat trains at Coonabarabran and was declared too dangerous for further traffic. After constant harassing from The Nationals and the local landholders, the State Government has bowed to pressure and poured $1 million into urgent repair work on the track. However, locals are concerned that it will need more funding, and that it will shut again as soon as almost 60,000 tonnes of grain are moved from the silos. An angry Baradine farmer was quoted in the Land
The State Government just walked away from railway spending in the bush and expected us to cop the extra costs and problems of having run-down infrastructure. All the main players in the grain industry want grain loaded onto railway lines and sent to port but everybody's now forced to put up a fight just to retain the limited services we've still got.
Locals estimate that about 20 grain trucks are now travelling about 400 kilometres twice a day to move grain from Baradine because the railway line is officially unsafe to use, and as many as 700 trucks a day are driving straight down the main street of Coonabarabran. There are reports of trucks forcing local traffic off roads and onto the grass verges due to their size. They hug the middle of the road as the edges have broken up, making it too unstable for these heavily laden vehicles. Despite this scenario, and despite constant questioning of the Minister in Parliament, the Minister has refused to acknowledge that there is a problem and, to the consternation of the local landowners, will not confirm if the line is to be used regularly for this year's harvest.
As was reported in last week's Land
, the Gwabegar line fiasco is the worse case scenario for branch lines across New South Wales. The people affected by this branch line are the same people having to fight the Government for their livelihoods over the Brigalow belt to keep it from being locked up as a national park. The Carr Government has placed a moratorium on logging in 500 of the forest compartments of this bioregion. Although the assessments have been finalised, the Government refuses to address the recommendations. The Pilliga forest is a vast woodland area and contains the largest cypress pine forest in the southern hemisphere. White cypress pine is an extremely durable white ant-resistant softwood timber ideally suited to timber house framing and any other use where the timber is not exposed to the elements.
Two of the major sawmill owners are battling to survive due to this moratorium, which began three years ago. The town of Gwabegar, which I mentioned in regard to the branch line fiasco, is in the heart of the Pilliga forest. It has the lowest per capita household income and the highest unemployment rate in New South Wales. Tom Underwood's cypress mill is the major employer for Gwabegar and it currently employs 20 people. All the other businesses in the town are reliant on the timber industry. This employment provides the lifeblood of the village. Tom says that due to the moratorium there is a decline in the size of the cypress stems he is able to access from forestry and he is having to source supplies from private property.
Is a great shame to see where New South Wales is heading under this Government. The Nationals want to see an improvement in the lot of country New South Wales. New South Wales stands to gain $1 billion extra in GST revenue over the next four years. Under the new tax system it will receive $113.7 million in the coming financial year, and $320 million and $620 million in the two years after that. The words on everyone's lips throughout New South Wales are, "Where has all the money gone, Mr Carr?" [Time expired.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER
[4.20 p.m.]: The 2004-05 State budget was a disappointing document indeed, with more taxes being imposed on struggling families.
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile):
Order! The background noise is making it difficult for Hansard to hear the honourable member's speech.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER:
The budget published a very poor financial outlook for the State, and it seems to be getting worse by the day. New South Wales is now the only State that taxes people when they buy an investment property, while they own an investment property, and when they sell an investment property.
The Hon. Rick Colless:
A triple debit tax.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER:
Yes, a triple bashing of people who are in property. The incoming Liberal-National government, which will be elected at the next State election, will abolish the property exit tax and reintroduce a land tax-free threshold. For many people that day cannot come soon enough. The budget papers claim that there is a 7 per cent increase in funding for New South Wales hospitals, but the budget did nothing to replace the 4,750 hospital beds that the Labor Government has closed down in the past nine years. In its budget papers the Government did not indicate any sympathy for, or apologise to, the families of the 23 people who unnecessarily died at Camden and Campbelltown hospitals. They were referred to earlier today. The Government did nothing to address the code red crisis in our emergency departments. Worse, it did nothing to offer any solution to the emerging crisis in emergency rooms—code black—which means that patients, even with life-threatening diseases, illnesses and injuries are not admitted to our hospitals.
The people of New South Wales deserve a government that will face the real problems confronting our State and deal with them head-on. They deserve a government that is focusing on delivering outcomes. They certainly deserve better than Labor's tenth and worst State budget. For country and coastal New South Wales the news was no better than for the rest of the State. It was a typical Sydney-centric Labor budget. This is evidenced by, for example, the failure to restore the Casino to Murwillumbah rail service, cuts to the road budget, cuts to more than 700 jobs in the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources, and the Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries, State Forests and Mineral Resources—an unravelling shambles.
Due to pressure from The Nationals and other advocacy groups there is to be a moratorium on some of those changes, but we will see how they work out in the end. Deferral of funding for the vital Country Towns Water Supply and Sewerage Program and confirmation of Labor's new taxes, including the extension of the land tax net and new stamp duty provisions, will hit non-metropolitan residents and those in the capital. The Government has run basic services and infrastructure in rural and regional New South Wales into the ground. Health care, education facilities, and road and transport infrastructure are a mess.
The budget further demonstrates Labor's lack of commitment to a decent health system for country areas. The supposed increase in the health budget is certainly not the windfall that the spin doctors in the Labor Party would have us believe. The funding that was allocated in the budget supposedly to reopen 500 permanent hospital beds will only reverse one-tenth of the almost 5,000 hospital beds closed by the Government since 1995. There are 65,000 people on the waiting lists and thousands fewer hospital beds than we had when the Labor Government first came to office in 1995. More than 8,500 of those have been waiting more than 12 months for elective surgery. Since the budget we have heard the news about the amalgamation of various health services. That has caused an uproar in some areas of non-metropolitan New South Wales.
The roads capital works budget has been cut by $20 million in real terms, and the Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA] bureaucrats' budget has blown out to a large degree. The problems with the RTA budget have been highlighted as a result of last week's horrific accident on the Mooney Mooney Bridge, which involved dozens of vehicles and tragically cost the life of one lady. As has been exposed in the past couple of days, the vehicle that seemingly caused the accident and was out of control on that part of the F3 was driven by an unlicensed driver and the truck was unregistered and uninsured. I suggest that there will need to be close review of the resources allocated to the RTA to satisfy its safety and regulatory inspection procedures. As someone who travels regularly on the F3 and over the Mooney Mooney Bridge, the sooner that particularly dangerous part of the Pacific Highway is attended to the better, as last week's tragic events highlight.
The budget papers reveal that the RTA spends a greater proportion of its budget on staff and administration—$1.48 billion—than it does on the construction and maintenance of roads, which amounts to $1.37 billion. The budget papers also show that the number of black spots fixed by this Government has fallen steadily from 164 in 2001-02 to 130 this year, a drop of more than 20 per cent. The Government has ignored another infrastructure problem that has been building up for years:fixing timber bridges on country roads, many of which are in a parlous state and should not be put on a seemingly endless waiting list to be upgraded. Often those bridges present serious safety problems for motorists, for school buses and for parents taking kids to school, and are stumbling blocks to the efficient transport to market of freight and agriculture products. Motorists should not be forced to negotiate crumbling, potholed roads and bridges that are downright dangerous. However, this budget provides no relief.
Country rail commuters have been well and truly dudded by the Labor Government. While money has been pumped into CityRail, the death knell was sounded for country passenger rail services. The Casino to Murwillumbah service has been axed to save a paltry $5 million a year. That decision cost a lot of North Coast jobs. CountryLink collects 38 per cent of its revenue from fares and other charges, while CityRail collects only 33 per cent. Country rail travellers feel that they are being slugged for reasons that are unclear, except that the Carr Labor Government does not care about them.
The Carr Labor Government is intent on ripping the guts out of CountryLink services, shutting down travel centres, closing rail lines and raising fares. Labor is treating country rail users like second-class citizens. We all know that infrastructure is vital to encouraging investment in regional areas, which in turn creates jobs and has positive flow-on effects for entire communities. The construction of this infrastructure creates lots of jobs and vitally boosts regional economies. The shortfall in the Carr Labor Government's infrastructure priorities is not addressed in the budget, and the deficiencies in this respect have been highlighted yet again by the Auditor-General today.
The introduction of stamp duty at the rate of 2.25 per cent on the sale of investment properties, combined with land tax changes, will put the brakes on construction and property investment in country areas. The budget entrenches the inequitable clubs tax, which will cost thousands of jobs in rural and regional New South Wales, particularly in the Tweed electorate. The Tweed electorate is one of the top 10 electorates affected by the inequitable clubs tax imposed by the maniacal Treasurer. Country and coastal communities have received a raw deal from Labor's 2004 budget. The Premier and his Labor Government have delivered higher taxes, no improvement to basic services, no plan for the renewal of infrastructure, massive job cuts in country towns, and a budget in substantial deficit and getting worse. Country people cannot understand why, when they are already being taxed more than their friends and families in other States, they are being slugged with yet more taxes.
I want to refer to some local issues. Topdale Road, which is in the Walcha shire in northern New South Wales, links Tamworth with the mid North Coast. It is a road of regional significance, yet it is partially unsealed. Sealing that link from Tamworth to the coast would relieve pressure from the New England Highway and open up the Tamworth-Peel Valley area to greater and safer traffic from the Peel Valley to the coast, down to the city and up the Pacific Highway to Brisbane. I have pursued this issue with the Minister for Roads in the estimates committee, and I will continue to do so. A couple of months ago the Minister inspected the road and promised to allocate $300,000 to repair part of it. Regrettably, as of this week Walcha shire has not received that money.
Walcha Council has lodged a proposal to the Roads and Traffic Authority to complete the eight kilometres of the road that is unsealed. The RTA has accepted the estimate and negotiations are ongoing. Because of the regional significance of Topdale Road, repairs to the value of $3 million are needed. The road needs urgent attention because it is increasingly being used by heavy transport and for safety reasons. Traffic has increased following an upgrade of Thunderbolt's Way, to which the road connects; more log trucks use the road as a result of major development in timber milling in nearby areas; and there is the safety issue of students travelling on school buses. I hope the $300,000 is allocated shortly and that the $3 million is allocated sooner rather than later. Another disappointment in the budget relates to the failure of the Labor Government to provide a much-needed communal hall at Gunnedah South Public School. I have raised this matter with the Leader of the Opposition, John Brogden, and I have visited the school.
The Hon. Eric Roozendaal:
You should have seen Barry O'Farrell.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER:
Mr O'Farrell has supported Mr Brogden on this issue. Unfortunately the Government has been slow in delivering on this project. The school, which has 570 students, will be celebrating an important anniversary in 2005. This project was at the top of the infrastructure priority list of the previous Government. Unfortunately the Carr Labor Government wiped the priority list, so poor old Gunnedah South Public School has had to wait year after year after year for this project. The community has raised in excess of $90,000 to assist the Government to build the hall. The Government says that the hall will be built in the life of this Parliament, but I have checked with the school principal and as of this week there does not seem to be any news. The planning has gone ahead and all is in readiness. But the Government is asleep at the wheel on this issue, as it is on so many infrastructure issues. From so many angles the 2004-05 State budget is very disappointing. [Time expired.
Mr IAN COHEN
[4.35 p.m.]: I speak on the budget take-note debate. For some time a theme of the Greens has been that the Government is at a turning point in its direction on environmental credentials. Currently the Government has a major problem with implementing its policy commitments and election promises. It is falling victim to the black hole of implementation. The black hole is swallowing strong and sound policy commitments and spitting them back out deformed and unrecognisable. Over the past few months we have seen many of the Government's strong environmental policies disappear down the black hole. Unfortunately, public interest, community participation and the environment suffer the consequences.
Prior to the election in March 2003 the Government promised a moratorium on genetically engineered crops. What it actually delivered are trials of genetically engineered crops up to 5,000 hectares in size. Prior to the election the Government promised an end to broad-scale land clearing. Eight months later it still has not implemented a moratorium on clearing, and we have grave concerns about the next phase of implementation. The Government has promised to take a new approach to greenhouse gases and renewable energy with strict emission targets, but it has given serious consideration to proposals for power stations that produce more emissions than ever before. So far, luckily, such proposals have been defeated by inspired community opposition, and the Government has complained about the restriction on its pursuit of expanding coal-fired power stations. One would have thought that in this day and age those types of power plants would be regarded as dinosaurs that are extinct. We need to look creatively at other methods of power production. The Government has lagged behind and not moved forward in the use of wind, solar and wave power. A fantastic opportunity exists in tidal power generation units.
The Hon. Rick Colless:
Mr IAN COHEN:
I thank the Hon. Rick Colless for that information. The Aquanator relies on tidal flow. I have seen pictures of it in the media and it is an impressive looking piece of equipment. That is the sort of creative genius that exists in the New South Wales community. Given our coastline and the nature of the communities along it, such an initiative is an effective way to create energy generation plants that are environmentally sound and extremely efficient. It is also an ideal opportunity for an export industry. The Aquanator could be very beneficial in Indonesia and a place in Bali I have visited in recent times. The Indonesian Government has transferred a diesel or oil-fired power plant to Levina Beach, on the north coast of Bali, and it is becoming a major political problem. The local residents oppose such plans, but they have very little say. The Aquanator could become an iconic export for Australia, resolve many of the problems of greenhouse gas emissions and local pollution issues, and act as an effective export commodity opportunity.
The Government has made a commitment to a package that promotes the protection of high conservation value coastal areas and sustainable development. However, the primary consultative and scientific body, the Coastal Council, was disbanded. Given the level of development along the coast and the constant pressures on it, the council was doing a good job. The Greens argued strongly against that move, but the Government saw fit to cut corners and it disbanded that very effective body. The New South Wales Government is falling victim to the black-hole syndrome across a range of major environmental policy initiatives. It is in a twilight zone of flawed and inadequate implementation of policy commitments. That is a disturbing phenomenon that signals disaster for environmental outcomes and the community.
Environmental budgets are constantly being cut. Given the expansion of the national parks estate, it concerns me to witness those cuts to the bodies that are supposed to be charged with managing our expanding conservation regimes, or supposed conservation regimes. The national parks estate is severely underfunded. It has always been the poor cousin and has received very little of funding required to police national parks. Education programs have been cut and redundancy packages have been offered in head office. Frontline national parks and Department of Environment and Conservation [DEC] rangers face losing their jobs as part of the so-called savings program. The department is trying to cope with the $30 million budget cut announced in the mini-budget. The Government was not up front about that cut; it took a parliamentary inquiry to confirm it.
Why is that no great surprise? This Government likes to delude itself with hyperbole about efficiencies and strategic readjustment, but the reality is that it has slashed funding for essential environmental programs for the second year in a row. Within the government departments charged with managing key environmental legislation and working towards positive outcomes, morale has hit rock bottom. Since the Government announced the $30 million cut to the department's budget there has been a systematic search-and-destroy mission, including the axing of programs and offers of redundancy packages. The staff in the DEC's sustainable programs division were asked whether they were interested in redundancy packages and the director general has confirmed that education programs will be cut or, in some cases, scaled down to save money.
Rangers at the national parks frontline also face job cuts, while other services in regional offices will be cut back. The staff will have to bear the brunt of this Government's hypocritical stance on environmental management. While the Hon. Bob Carr claims to be a "green" Premier his Treasurer slashes funding for departments that must manage his environmental policies. For the second year a row the Government has cut environment funding. Last year's $47 million budget cut has threatened the department's ability to deliver on key election promises, such as managing an expanded national parks estate and pursuing prosecutions for environmental crimes. This year's budget merely confirms the Government's continual commitment to "green wash" rather than a green future.
There is great fear in the community, particularly in rural areas—and the Greens are also very concerned—about the possibility of a plantations fire sale. The Government has flagged that it intends to sell off the State's softwood plantations. Any sell-off would result in huge job losses in regional New South Wales. The Treasurer must prevent that if his big-spending public works budget is to be well received. He has said that there are no plans to sell off the State's 205,000 hectares of softwood plantations and 30,000 hectares of hardwood plantations. However, a large amount of money is being spent on having them valued and seeking expressions of interest in Australia and overseas. I cannot think of many reasons to believe the reassurances of a Government which continues to hide behind its feel-good rhetoric but which blatantly pursues its selfish agenda. Those pine plantations must be in public hands because they are the key to a sustainable rural industry and they will reduce the pressure on native forests and the wood industries. Sustainable forest industries must continue to operate in New South Wales and we must reduce the pressure on native forests.
The Government wants us all to believe that threatened species will be protected as a result of the certification process that local government will pursue with funds supplied through PlanFirst. How much will councils need to adequately survey threatened species and the habitats they rely upon? No-one in the Government has been able to tell me how much it will cost; we simply hear that PlanFirst will provide adequate funding. The plan has been instituted by the Minister for Natural Resources. The first part of the process resulted in a massive exodus of expertise from local government authorities into private industry. If the money is available, how will local councils manage the program and where will they find the expertise to undertake the scientific inquiries that will be required? The Minister for Natural Resources is driving this radical change, which is similar to measures implemented about seven or eight years ago. This legislation has not been carefully considered.
Local councils will be hit with more unfunded mandates and they will not be able to cope. A number already cannot deal with the tasks handed over by the State Government because they have not been adequately funded. Local councils are staggering under the impact of having to undertake surveys and investigations. They are also being attacked. Byron Shire Council—my local council on the North Coast—has been attacked by developers and accused of being a problem because it attracts so many complaints. However, on investigation it appears that a small coterie of developers has a keen interest in councils being rattled so that its proposals are approved. That leads to complaints about councils. The State Government does not fund local government adequately and the system breaks down as a result.
The brave new world of protection for the State's threatened species depends on adequate funding, but no information is forthcoming about how much PlanFirst will deliver. We can notch up another breathtaking victory for the art of shrouding the State's budget in mystery. This Government would ensure that a private sector company was run out of town for such a lack of financial transparency. Certification is nothing less than a very broad discretion vested in the Minister for the Environment to approve the destruction of threatened species and their habitats. The Government's native vegetation reform package contains no criteria that the Minister must consider in granting certification. That represents nothing more than giving the Minister unfettered discretion to approve the destruction of threatened species and their habitats. Furthermore, that approval will apply to the entire State outside the urban area and will be indefinite. There will be no end to the approval and no systematic review of the impact on threatened species.
The community is suffering as a result of this Government's laziness and the fact that it has been in power for too long. Hospitals, particularly those in the western suburbs, are basket cases and the public transport system is in crisis because the Government is increasing the funding for roadworks. Honourable members have spoken about the terrible truck accidents on freeways. When it was opened, the New England Highway was lauded as the national transport corridor. However, a huge amount of money is being spent on the Pacific Highway. Drivers travelling between Sydney and Brisbane use the Pacific Highway rather than the New England Highway because they can cut 30 minutes from their travelling time. They are thundering down that highway in extremely dangerous circumstances, causing loss of life and terrible accidents. The pressure on truck drivers is creating a war zone on our highways. Why? Because the Government will not upgrade the New England Highway.
I had reason to drive along the New England Highway a few weeks ago and was quite amazed to see an Australia Post truck travelling along at the speed limit, in a very responsible way. It appeared that the highway reflected an ambience of safety and reasonable speed of transport. It is not like that on the Pacific Highway. I do not know how many more accidents have to occur on the Pacific Highway before we see the Government act in a more constructive way. Trucks hurtle along that highway, breaking the speed limit. I do not understand why those speeding drivers are not being caught and fined by police. The Government has the luxury of speed cameras, but of course the truckies know where they are located.
I think back at how things have changed. After some nine years of surpluses, we now have a budget deficit estimated by the Daily Telegraph
—which Michael Egan himself thinks is a great paper to read; he said so in the House—at some $555 million. I recall that before the 1995 election Mr Egan so effectively attacked the Coalition, and at that time the Coalition deserved it. I think it was via the so-called Wastewatch committee that Mr Egan hammered the government of the day. Now he is deserving of exactly the same criticism!
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS
[4.50 p.m.]: It is my pleasure to contribute to the take-note debate on this year's budget. Even though this debate is taking place some months after the Treasurer delivered his budget, it presents a good opportunity to comment on a number of matters. First I wish to pay tribute, as many of my colleagues have done, to the Hon. Michael Egan for the number of budgets he has now delivered. As Mr Ian Cohen said, in some ways it is nice that the Hon. Michael Egan has this year recognised that a surplus budget is not always the best thing in the world. It is interesting to hear some of the criticism about this that is delivered on a philosophical basis from a number of directions.
As a person who has always had reservations about the recent international fetish for surplus budgets, I am not unhappy about this year's budget. However, I note that we will all live to regret the size of the deficit budget in the United States of America and the likely effect that will have on us. The Carr Labor Government and Treasurer Egan need to be congratulated on the budget this year, which includes, for example, $400 million in wage increases to teachers and nurses—in a year when New South Wales has suffered savage funding cuts by the Howard Government, an escalating series of direct cuts to programs, and ongoing unfairness as a result of the Federal Grants Commission arrangements and the continued blindness or deliberate policy of Peter Costello and John Howard. In a climate of considerable pressure in certain areas, such as health, and a need to pay, I support totally the wage increases that have been paid to teachers, nurses and other important public sector employees. At a time of continued cuts in the Howard Government's allocation to New South Wales, the Treasurer is to be congratulated on his ninth budget.
I wish to provide a few details about some of the areas in which I have a particular interest and for which I have some responsibility. First I refer to some expenditure in the electorates that I have some role in representing as a duty member of the Legislative Council. I was pleased to see a considerable amount of expenditure allocated for capital works in Myall Lakes. Some of the projects are relatively small but highly significant. I refer, for example, to the allocation to the Aboriginal Housing Office for the purchase of two units of accommodation in Taree. The Aboriginal Housing Office is committed to improving the wellbeing of Aboriginal people throughout New South Wales. Given the size of the Aboriginal population in the Taree district and the problems the office has faced over the years, considerable focus must be placed on the needs of Aboriginal people in that area.
Another item of expenditure I am pleased will continue is the substantial upgrade of Bulahdelah Central School, which I spoke about last year. This year the school received $3.5 million for stage one of the upgrade. It is pleasing to see that important and growing school being well looked after. Another major item of expenditure for Myall Lakes is the upgrade and duplication of the Pacific Highway. Three specific projects allocated for in this year's budget are the $48 million duplication of the highway from Bundagry Creek to Possum Brush, more than $56 million for dual carriageways on the Karuah to Bulahdelah section, and a large sum of money to complete the Karuah bypass. The Pacific Highway upgrading project has taken an enormous amount of effort and a very large sum of money over the years, and it has a long way to go. I congratulate Minister Scully and the New South Wales Government on their ongoing efforts to make the Pacific Highway, which serves so many people, a much better driving experience. Perhaps more importantly, I congratulate them on their efforts to reduce the risk of death and injury from the accidents that frequently occur on that highway.
I wish to refer also to other relatively small but very important expenditure in Myall Lakes, and that is the funding under the Primary Schools Funding Program for eight schools in the electorate to help with literacy and numeracy programs. The schools are Rookhurst, Stratford, Bungwahl, Taree, Pacific Palms, Manning Gardens and Chatham primary schools, and Chatham High School. I am very glad that that program will continue. I know from local people, such as Lisa Clancy, the Labor candidate for Myall Lakes in last year's State election campaign, how important such programs can be. In some of those schools, the programs are of particular relevance to Aboriginal students.
I know many fine people in that area. I have already referred to Lisa Clancy. There are other old friends and local activists, like Marion Hosking, Pat Richards, Bernie O'Connell, and others. Some of these people have mounted very important local campaigns, and I have spoken about them in the House on occasions. The campaigns included flying the Aboriginal flag at the Greater Taree Council, and the effects of the Commonwealth Government's cuts to Medicare and bulk billing rates and the increased pressure that has placed on our public hospitals. Without such local activists our community would be the poorer. Whether they are Labor people or non-Labor people, these are the people we can rarely do without. I also pay tribute to Giovanna Kozary, the Federal Labor candidate for Patterson in the recent Federal election campaign, and to the people in the Taree, Raymond Terrace, and Forster-Tuncurry Labor Party branches for the work they put into her campaign.
There is some good news for the Epping electorate, where I also play a role. Many residents are delighted that long-awaited pedestrian bridge above Carlingford Road outside Epping West Public School is being built. An amount of $1.5 million has been allocated for that project in this budget. That school has been raising money and campaigning for that pedestrian bridge for a very long time. Carlingford Road is an extremely busy and dangerous road. I am delighted also that Pennant Hills High School, another school in the Epping electorate, will receive more than $3 million towards a material technology and visual arts facility. Melissa Collins, who played some role in putting these notes together for me, is a proud former student of Pennant Hills High School and is an ornament to the school. She and many other fine students who are products of that school do it great credit.
I shall mention also projects that have been made possible in the electorate of Ryde, the seat in which I live, by allocations from both this year's budget and last year's budget. There has been major expenditure recently on a substantial redevelopment program at Ryde hospital. A few months ago new operating theatres were completed, and $5.5 million has been spent on a new building, the new operating theatres and the refurbished old theatres. This new complex is now operating and carrying out a range of surgery. Other upgrades at the hospital include a new CT scanner, the refurbishments of the emergency department and the maternity department and the new diabetes focus.
Ryde hospital is much loved and very highly regarded by the local community. Hardly a week goes by without one of the two local papers publishing letters from local residents expressing their gratitude to the doctors and nurses of Ryde hospital and the fine service that they provide—and not only in relation to surgery. When my father broke his hip some years ago he received fantastic service from the orthopaedic section of Ryde hospital. Its focus on older people in particular ensures very fine service to the local community.
The local member, John Watkins, has helped ensure a number of improvements and enhancements for the Ryde electorate, including a considerable program of improvements to local schools and TAFE colleges. Meadowbank TAFE is currently undergoing a program for nursing, massage therapy and sport and recreation, provided at a cost of more than $9 million. The $3.3 million upgrade of Eastwood Heights Public School has almost been completed. Deniston East Public School will expend $7 million on stages two and three of its upgrade. There is considerable expenditure on a number of other local projects. I was also delighted that two weeks ago a development allocation was lodged with Ryde Council for easy access upgrades to both Eastwood and Meadowbank rail stations. Those who have seen the completely rebuilt West Ryde station, where the easy access program was carried out some years ago, will know how important those upgrades are.
There are a number of other programs I would like to mention today but, unfortunately, my time for speaking in this debate is limited. Traditionally I have said quite a bit about education in general in these types of debates. I will content myself on this occasion by referring to only a couple of areas. I emphasise, as I have on previous occasions in this House, the importance of proper funding and a proper consideration throughout Australia to higher education. I refer particularly to universities and, more particularly, to the University of Western Sydney [UWS], on the board of which I have the honour to represent this House. The UWS has suffered considerably more than any other university in the country from the cuts made by the Howard Government to education funding. The university has had to cut $10 million and 120 jobs and defer all capital works because of the funding cuts that were the result of the so-called Nelson reforms.
The Hon. John Ryan:
That is total rubbish!
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS:
It is very interesting to hear Opposition members saying "rubbish". They can see the figures for themselves; it is not a secret. The university pointed out the results of the Nelson reforms, and that was certainly sufficient to persuade the Federal Government to hand over a fraction more money—but it is nowhere near enough. Even the bribes offered during the Federal election still leave the university considerably short on funds.
I would like to congratulate the Department of Education and Training on its consultation process that is under way at the moment with the community. It is entitled "Excellence and Innovation". The documents that have been prepared by the department and the meetings that have been held—and the feedback on them—are playing a valuable role in the range of matters that are under discussion—whether the focus is on students, teachers or leaders, or whether there is support for learning and teaching or quality schools and TAFE. As I said, the reaction has been extremely positive and I look forward to it producing next year some very fine outcomes. [Time expired
Debate adjourned on motion by the Hon. Don Harwin.
The following bill was returned from the Legislative Assembly without amendment:
Retail Leases Amendment Bill.
COMMISSION FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE
The Deputy-President (The Hon. Kayee Griffin)
announced the receipt, pursuant to the Commission for Children and Young People Act 1998, of the annual report of the New South Wales Commission for Children and Young People for the year ended 30 June 2004, together with a children's version of the report entitled "Feedback 2004".
The Deputy-President (The Hon. Kayee Griffin)
announced further that it had been authorised that the report be made public.
GENE TECHNOLOGY (GM CROP MORATORIUM) AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD
(Minister for Primary Industries) [5.07 p.m.]: Earlier I was outlining the reasons for the two amendments. As I said, members might recall that on 18 March I stated my clear intent that an extension order would only be made with strict conditions that were to guide the post-harvest handling of the genetically modified [GM] product. Indeed, I specifically reviewed the handling protocols that had been put forward by Graincorp to ensure the integrity of the supply chain was maintained. I also made it very clear that I would not be issuing an exemption order unless I was satisfied that all the relevant issues raised had been appropriately dealt with.
However, as anyone who is willing to read Hansard
can readily see, several members of this House steadfastly insisted that a responsible exemption order could not be made. While I am not necessarily in agreement with the views that a number of members have voiced in this debate, I have certainly listened to what they had to say. I listened to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition when he said that he "wanted rigid and proper guidelines, with transparency and within regulatory frameworks for pre-farm, on-farm and post-farm control, liability and contingency". While I believe that such a system was well and truly in place, it had also become quite clear that those who were implacably opposed to genetic modification of any sort would exploit the well-intentioned concerns that others harboured.
No objective assessment of GM crops was ever going to be possible in this environment. The Government is not prepared to allow this issue to be used to detract from the objective consideration of more important issues associated with GM crops. The amendments proposed today have been drafted quite specifically to overcome the doubt in some people's minds. This bill introduces changes to section 8 of the Act to provide a clear definition of the conditions that can be included in an exemption order. Specifically, the amendment makes it clear that the Minister responsible can impose conditions that relate to the handling, storage, transport or other use of any GM product from a trial. The change also provides clarification that the Minister can impose conditions in an exemption order relating to the post-harvest use of a site on which a trial has been conducted.
The proposed changes provide clarity to the imposition of conditions relating to post-harvest handling of GM product from a trial or post-harvest use of a trial site. However, the changes do not extend to regulating the use or transport of GM material that is grown interstate or overseas. Related to this amendment is a further change to section 8, which the bill will amend to make provision for penalties if post-harvest conditions are breached. The penalties are the same as those already in place under the current moratorium legislation. They are significant amounts: for a corporation the maximum penalty is $137,500; for an individual it is $55,000. An individual can also face a prison term of up to two years. These sizeable penalties should act as a deterrent to anyone thinking about breaching conditions.
The amendments to the New South Wales Gene Technology (GM Crop Moratorium) Amendment Act presented in this bill make practical changes to the consultation process and ensure that important post-harvest conditions can be imposed. The amendments will significantly improve the operation of the legislation and dispel some of the doubts that my colleagues in this place may have held. Indeed, I have listened to many of the concerns raised by members of this House on this issue and through these amendments I hope to address them. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by the Hon. Don Harwin.
THREATENED SPECIES LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from 26 October.
Mr IAN COHEN
[5.12 p.m.]: When I adjourned this debate last night I had said that no amount of strategic planning or number of regional surveys could obviate the need for site-specific fauna and flora surveys. Site-specific assessment is essential because of the cryptic nature of many threatened species, the paucity of existing biological data in even the most apparently well-surveyed areas and the very large areas of vegetation that are at issue. Time and again throughout New South Wales we belatedly discover a particular plant or animal, such as the rainforest snail or other species, that is worthy of much more intense investigation.
The difficulty surrounding the timing of particular surveys has been highlighted by other members in this debate. Reference was made to a flathead snake, a threatened species that buries itself under rocks to hibernate during winter, and the difficulty associated with establishing its whereabouts unless surveys are undertaken during specific times of the year. These processes were part of the old regime to establish the whereabouts of threatened species, and they often resulted in third-party community representatives taking the initiative to protect certain species. Some developers regard this intervention and the discovery of threatened species on site as a means of thwarting what some might regard as a presumed option to develop certain land.
In my early days in this Parliament I was excited to witness the passing of threatened species legislation—the first blush of the Carr Government's environmental agenda. As the only Greens member in this House, but with the strong support of the Hon. Richard Jones, I enthusiastically welcomed the legislation. However, we now have this amending bill after almost a 10-year cycle. In that time we have witnessed some recycling, which is in keeping with the Greens' philosophy, but with this bill there is more retrograde cycling than recycling. This amendment bill actually removes many of the excellent measures passed previously in the Parliament. I believed that those initiatives would remain sacrosanct, and that we would be able to build on them. That was the Government's claim. But I noticed last night and again today that members show little interest in my comments—and that is evidenced by the level of conversation between members as I speak.
I do not expect members to pay great attention to what I say because they presume to know it all anyway as I tend to go on and on about threatened species and environmental issues. Nevertheless, last night the Treasurer and a number of The Nationals showed that they could not give a rat's bottom about threatened species; they could not care less. Their concept of threatened species is cockroaches and rats that exist in a man-made environment. We become so denatured from what is going on in a world. As people rise to positions of power their only aspiration is to gain more power. We live in an environment devoid of any real inspiration, in which values are set aside. I can see the hand of Craig Knowles all over this legislation, even though it is the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment.
Members of this establishment have a great opportunity to guide and dictate society's values, but many are so short-sighted and small-minded in their drive for more power that they do not listen to community concerns. This parliamentary institution has found an effective way to short-circuit democracy—that is, appeal directly to those with money to donate to the major parties in order to enable them to mount a successful and strident campaign. People are not encouraged to vote democratically; they are bought off through a combination of tricks focusing on insecurity and the selfish hip-pocket syndrome, which was so ably demonstrated in the recent Federal election.
The State Government is adopting the same tactic. It is effectively buying off people to make way for even more insane developments in the State, so that now we have a push towards even greater opportunities for developers, who pump finances into the coffers of this lazy Labor Government, which is not performing in accordance with the aspirations of the general public. After my contribution last night I thought, as I often do: What is the point of standing in this place and putting these concerns on the record? At least they are on the record, and I thank the Hansard staff for that. But my response to such thoughts always is, "I make these comments so that people who take the time to read them, now or in the future, will realise that environmental matters are important to some members, even in this denatured place where so many people regard the environment as some sort of joke and threatened species as something to be ignored." People can chat about something else while the concept of threatened species is being discussed, yet the concept of extinction is seen as a real issue in the community.
Recently I had the honour of attending two art launches in as many weeks. One was called Extinction Denied at the Arthouse Hotel in Pitt Street. The exhibition is still open, and I recommend that members go along and see some absolutely exquisite art works that have been donated by 30 or 40 artists, some of whom are of significant renown. Adam Cullen, the Archibald Prize winner, donated a work called Grape Ape
, which is a striking portrait of an ape in grape or purple colours. Terezka Beck from Woollahra painted a magnificent picture called Stingray
. These artists have painted pictures of threatened species both in Australia and overseas and have donated those works to the Humane Society International [HSI].
I was given the honour, and had the pleasure, of speaking at and opening this art exhibition, where some $35,000 of paintings were sold on the first night. HSI expects to collect some $50,000. It is not only the art community coming together; it is a broad spectrum of the community saying that threatened species extinction is an extremely important issue to many people in the community. Michael Kennedy and his partner, Vera Simpson, who are co-directors of the Humane Society International, arranged an extremely delightful night all about the concept of threatened species. That had a big impact. HSI has undertaken a great deal of work to make submissions to governments, and it has gone out of its way to try to have an impact on the threatened species issue globally and in Australia. It is concerned about the rate of species extinction in Australia and particularly in New South Wales.
Recently they went to Sumatra and Borneo in Indonesia, where they studied the orang-outang and other species. A very small amount of money can go a long way in those areas, for example in sustaining the veterinarians who look after, protect and rehabilitate these great apes for a year. As honourable members will be aware, the fate of the orang-outang species is threatened. As I have said before, we have a similarly high rate of species extinction in Australia and in New South Wales in particular. We are not dealing with a situation in a third world country; we are dealing with a situation in New South Wales, and we need to focus on this area. Humane Society International is doing great work not only overseas but in Australia and New South Wales in particular.
HSI has run a comprehensive nomination program for 10 years, nominating threatened species, ecological communities and key threatening processes for listing in the Threatened Species Conservation Act [TSCA] and the Fisheries Management Act. From this experience, HSI has raised a number of concerns regarding how things work. Lists of threatened species and ecological communities are incomplete. To properly implement the New South Wales vegetation clearing reforms and protect biodiversity, it is crucial that threatened ecological communities are comprehensively identified and gazetted under the TSCA. However, the lists for threatened species ecological communities are incomplete, with few communities west of the divide listed.
HSI wrote to Premier Carr and Bob Debus several times during 2003 and 2004 offering to prepare nominations and asking for resources to do so. Those letters were ignored. The New South Wales Royal Botanic Gardens is preparing a database of all threatened ecological communities across the State, and is doing it on a shoestring. There is a failure to produce recovery plans. Recovery plans are still not in place for many threatened ecological communities listed under the TSCA. Cumberland Plain was the first listing in 1997 but it still does not have a recovery plan. A draft plan has sat on the shelf for several years. Without an overarching recovery plan for the whole ecological community, which may straddle several council areas, how will councils know what the experts believe is required to protect these habitats when they prepare their biodiversity plans?
For example, what are the critical remnants that must be considered at all costs? What should be targeted for restoration? How will the Minister know what is necessary to accredit those biodiversity plans without the guidance of statewide recovery plans? In terms of the failure to produce threat abatement plans, land clearing was listed as a key threatening process in September 2001, but a threat abatement plan has not been developed. Line fishing was listed as a key threatening process in February 2004. Yet New South Wales Fisheries has not indicated when it will prepare a threat abatement plan. Shark control nets were listed as a key threatening process in November 2003. New South Wales Fisheries has not indicated when it will prepare a threat abatement plan.
Preparation of recovery and threat abatement plans must remain mandatory and be complied with. In the absence of a recovery plan by the statutory deadline, no approvals for the clearing of the threatened ecological community or habitat for the threatened species should be approved. Critical habitat listings must be meaningful. For example, the grey nurse shark critical habitat has been listed in the FMA. Fishing is still allowed to occur at most critical habitat sites, despite line fishing being listed as a key threatening process specifically because of its impact on the grey nurse shark. The grey nurse shark is probably the most endangered species in New South Wales, with as few as 300 remaining and at least one dying every month due to human causes.
Previously I reported to the House that the New South Wales Government had put out shark nets as of 1 September of this year; by the end of September one grey nurse shark in the Illawarra and one in the Hunter had been captured and killed in the nets. Supposedly grey nurse sharks are a protected species, but they are not given adequate protection although the Humane Society International has said that there are as few as 300 remaining. I have had many discussions with the Minister about the grey nurse shark species, which is on the brink of extinction. I failed to impress the previous fisheries Minister, the Hon. Eddie Obeid, about the importance of the issue, and it seems that I am failing to impress the current Minister.
We need to act. Although we may put the noses of amateur and recreational fishers out of joint, we need to act substantially to save this species from extinction in the next 30 years. Such a loss would be a shame, given that people will have more opportunities to view this major predator, which is relatively harmless to humans, in its natural habitat. I know that the Minister has swum with a grey nurse shark in a Sydney aquarium. It is a thrilling activity. It is even more thrilling to swim with these creatures out in the ocean.
The Hon. Ian Macdonald:
It's partially scary!
Mr IAN COHEN:
Thrilling and scary. I say to the Minister for Primary Industries that the mixture of adrenaline and endorphins created by swimming with such creatures is a very healthy way to calm down.
The Hon. Ian Macdonald:
I will be going again soon, so I would like you to join me.
Mr IAN COHEN:
I would be happy to join with the Minister there, but what would thrill me even more would be substantial, though simple, moves by the Minister that could really protect this threatened species, such as adequate buffer zones, but I will come to that in a moment.
The Hon. Ian Macdonald:
The issue is very much on the agenda.
Mr IAN COHEN:
I acknowledge the interjection of the Minister but I put to the House a simple solution that could go a long way, and I hope the Minister is listening.
The Hon. Ian Macdonald:
I spent all afternoon upstairs discussing the grey nurse shark.
Mr IAN COHEN:
That is satisfying to hear but with things like fishing in their aggregation zone, so much is needed to protect the grey nurse shark. The Premier and the Minister came to my area, Byron Bay, and announced the tagging of the shark, which is all well and good, but does not protect them. It is important to investigate and to do the right research but certain activities can be done now. Adequate exclusion zones around their aggregation sites is a simple activity that can be undertaken by the Government. I appreciate that the Minister has such an interest in the issue. I have a letter from Brad Bartholomew, a solicitor of the Supreme Court of Queensland, who has made an effective, simple and cheap suggestion. He says:
I have put the Queensland government and the Queensland Surf Lifesaving Association on notice that they have six months to replace the shark nets with temporary nets that the lifesavers put out around flagged areas in the morning and bring in at night.
There should also be intensive advertising that anyone who doesn't want to be eaten by a shark should swim between the flags.
That is a very simple solution, and what a way to get people to comply with swimming between the flags. Look at the benefits of hard-working lifesavers who are always trying to keep bathers in safe areas. It will give them the opportunity to say to the general public: Swim between the flags where it is netted off; swim outside the flags and you might become shark bait. They are grounds for a very effective education campaign.
The Hon. Michael Gallacher:
The problem is they will drag more sharks in and they will still come into the flagged areas.
Mr IAN COHEN:
No. The Leader of the Opposition is not capturing the essence of the moment. It is cheap, effective, gives more power to the lifesaving authorities, and it could work. This is a way we could reduce this senseless netting across vast areas of beach. The current netting does not give adequate protection. Some 30 per cent of sharks caught in the current beach netting regime are caught on the inside coming out. A temporary net for bathers would not be a complete wall of death, if you like, going back to what a former fisheries Minister, Mr Martin, said about the kingfish, which he was very concerned about at the time. It would create an opportunity to protect bathers, if they believe that sharks are such a danger—which I doubt, having swum in the surf for 36-odd years on ocean beaches that have not been netted. I still do so in my home town and I would be horrified to think of nets going up in that area. Another thing of huge importance in this issue is that early in the year migrating whales are constantly getting caught in shark nets. Time and again we have seen in the media whales being caught and people risking their lives to free them from shark nets. Brad Bartholomew goes on:
The current shark netting does not protect bathers from sharks and it creates a false impression for the public that it is safe to swim anywhere along the coastal strip where shark nets are in place. As a result a lot of people don't swim between the flags and there have been many drownings.
If the system is not changed within the next six months I intend to assist the victims or the families of victims of shark attack or drowning to bring an action against the Queensland government and the Queensland Surf Lifesaving Association for failure to take adequate precautions to prevent these tragedies.
It comes back to the point I have made in this House before: If someone is taken by a shark on a beach that is shark netted, does that make the authorities legally liable for giving the false impression of protection when it is not there? The top priority of the Humane Society International [HSI] is calling for recovery and threat abatement plans to remain mandatory and for much stronger provisions to protect critical habitat for threatened species. HSI administers Australia's most comprehensive nomination program to protect threatened species and their habitats under State and Commonwealth laws. HSI's Nicola Beynon says:
Securing legal protection for species is fruitless if the laws are not effective. HSI knows only too well how Australia's threatened species can fall through the cracks of weak legislation.
The failure of current New South Wales legislation to save threatened species from extinction is most starkly illustrated by the grey nurse shark. Numbers on the east coast appear to be as low as 300. The shark is rapidly hurtling towards extinction despite being protected since 1984. Grey nurse shark critical habitat sites are gazetted under the Fisheries Management Act, and line fishing is listed under the law as a key threatening process for that species. Ms Beynon said:
Despite securing all this legal protection for the grey nurse shark, HSI watches in disbelief as the New South Wales Government continues to allow fishing, its key threat, at the critical habitat sites, with one grey nurse shark killed on average every month.
Nine-hundred and ninety-two terrestrial species and 19 aquatic species are listed as threatened in New South Wales and the grey nurse shark is not the only species falling through the cracks in the law. If the Bill is passed in its current form, the cracks will widen and we will be saying goodbye to some species.
HSI has called on the upper House to pass amendments that will do better for the State's threatened species and prevent extinctions. We now see that the Government has another lot of amendments that will create greater problems for threatened species such as the grey nurse shark. I had the opportunity to go to an art opening at the Shapiro Gallery in Queen Street, Paddington. It was a joint exhibition by husband and wife Yoli Salmona and Alexander Sharp. It was called Nature Calls
and was a fantastic exhibition of both photographic and art work around nature's themes. Also, at the Icon Gallery at Redfern I went to the Illusion
exhibition, another exhibition that revolved around natural issues and the beauty of the environment.
The artists are saying it, and often they are the leaders in setting an example for society. They are passionately involved in the protection of threatened species and often support our conservation campaigns. But they are being ignored by the powers that be. I look forward to the Minister for Primary Industries making an announcement at a later stage in this debate. Various organisations disagree as to how many grey nurse sharks are left. But there are very few in number. We are talking about extinction in 30 to 40 years unless urgent action is undertaken to increase protection of the species.
The Hon. Ian Macdonald:
There are 461.
Mr IAN COHEN:
The Minister says there are 461, and my record states 450. So we are in that ballpark figure, which means the grey nurse shark has a fragile hold on existence. Shark net meshing is one of the key threats. The Threatened Species Scientific Committee, which is the expert committee set up to advise the Federal Environment Minister on threatened species issues, also considers shark nets have a significant impact on a range of marine mammals, including whales. The New South Wales Fisheries Scientific Committee has reported that the nets off New South Wales have caught at least 8,000 harmless sharks in the last 52 years. More than 14,000 marine animals other than sharks were caught in Queensland's nets in the first 15 years of operation. That figure includes dolphins. Having the nets in place from November to March is more than sufficient time to cover the peak swimming season.
I have previously asked in the House that the period the nets are laid out be reduced. I believe a more cost-effective and artful method of netting off the flagged areas of beaches would be far more effective in protecting both the species and the swimming population. It would be a win-win situation. Permanent enclosures have been used for many years in some calm water areas, and at some harbour beaches, such as Neilson Park, modernised nets have proved very effective. These types of nets could be put out in the ocean in the peak swimming season. The Government should consider the extension of time as a first step towards a phase-out of nets. I would be happy with a compromise in the swimming areas.
The proposed changes to the Threatened Species Act will not change this farcical situation. In fact, the proposed changes will place more pressure on threatened marine species and make them more vulnerable to extinction. The Government has spoken of time frames for recovery planning of terrestrial species, but it has completely removed this measure from the aquatic environment. There may be a hint that some sort of recovery planning should take place, but when it is to happen is a mystery as the Government has removed the time frames. Add the overwhelming evidence of the need for greater protection for marine species such as the grey nurse shark and the equally overwhelming lack of action by the Government to do so and the future is a very bleak one. If the Minister proves me wrong I will be happy to apologise to the Parliament. I will go down on my knees if it means working constructively towards saving this fantastic species. I will do anything of a non-violent nature to support the campaign. I know many people in the community feel strongly about it.
There is a significant number of threatened aquatic species. The grey nurse shark, the Murray hardyhead, the eastern freshwater cod, the trout cod, the oxleyan pygmy perch, the river snail and green sawfish are all endangered aquatic species. Their populations have been reduced to such a critical level and their habitat has been so drastically reduced that they are in imminent danger of extinction. The western population of the purple spotted gudgeon and the olive perchlet are also in great danger, and there are significant problems in the aquatic ecological community of the lower Murray River catchment and the lowland catchment of the Darling River.
When I spoke to this bill last night, I thought that all these issues should be put on the record because they represent people who have spent their lives working to protect threatened species or preserve a little piece of remnant bushland in the Western Suburbs of Sydney or habitats along our coast. These people in the community are constantly working very hard to save the threatened species. Megan Gallagher, who until recently was the fisheries coastal and marine protected area networker for the Nature Conservation Council [NCC], has been a strident advocate for the grey nurse shark and other endangered marine species. She is a passionate opponent of traditional beach netting programs and decries the decline of significant numbers of grey nurse sharks and other species. In part, a document sent by Ms Gallagher states:
By minimising bycatch and researching alternatives to protective shark meshing nets, the Grey Nurse Shark will benefit, particularly if the population increases. Other non-target species that are captured in the shark nets such as whales, dolphins, dugongs, turtles and rays would also benefit if protective shark meshing nets were reduced.
The document lists recommendations by the NCC:
NCC recommends recreational and commercial fishing is removed from Grey Nurse Shark critical habitat areas by the establishment of 1000m no-take sanctuary zones.
NCC recommends that NSW Fisheries research, develop and implement alternatives to the NSW Shark Control program (beach meshing), including public education and awareness campaigns.
NCC recommends NSW Fisheries provide dedicated funding for comprehensive Grey Nurse Shark research over the next 5 years ($2 million/year), investigating various aspects of the shark's recovery, threats and behaviour.
NCC recommends NSW Fisheries develops and implements a code of conduct to minimise disturbance to Grey Nurse Sharks by ecotourism activities and individual recreational divers.
NCC recommends NSW Fisheries provide dedicated funding for community education and information dissemination on the conservation status, legal responsibilities, species identification and threats to the Grey Nurse Shark.
In many cases, amateur recreational fishermen inadvertently catch juvenile grey nurse sharks but do not recognise the species. They capture the small sharks, which has a massive impact on the viability of this species. We need greater discussion on the issue of catch and release. I hear many stories of agonising deaths for these marine animals. Fish that are caught with fish floats are traumatised and then released. They are easy prey for other predators once they are released in a wounded condition and in shock, and those caught with fish floats can blow up and die an agonising death. More education is required on these issues. The Bankstown Bushland Society, of which I am an ongoing member, is a small group that does wonderful work. In a letter to the Premier on the threatened species reform bill, Irene Jones, honorary treasurer, wrote:
We object to the fact that there was no public consultation or review of this reform bill, prior to its tabling in parliament. When the Minister refers to consultation with stakeholders, why does he exclude community and environment groups from this process? What status does the document produced by DIPNR in 2003 titled "Community Engagement … the planning process" now have?
Whenever 'developer' and 'speeding up ' development applications is mentioned as a reason for changing legislation it is obvious that the intention is to make life easier for developers and as a result, lower the standing of threatened species and their habitat in the equation.
It is our view that the existing 8-part test, which is currently used to initially assess bushland values, has been abused in the past by developers, councils and ill-qualified 'experts' to achieve destruction of threatened species habitat for the benefit of development; especially on private land. Continuation of the use of ill-qualified people to undertake environmental studies, using a 'check-list', should not be perpetuated. Only properly qualified and accredited ecologists should do this work …
Providing incentives to land-owners (usually in rural areas only) to reserve endangered vegetation is often a matter of exchange of offsets. Developers are given approval to remove indigenous vegetation from one area to be replaced by planting in another area. There has never been official recognition of the scientific fact that the habitat qualities of indigenous bushland cannot be replicated by planting a few trees.
This government has spent years developing recovery plans for Cumberland Plain Woodland vegetation, which have never been brought to fruition. If there was genuine commitment to the protection of threatened species, the completion of these plans should have had very high priority, rather than being placed on the back-burner, presumably until this legislation goes through.
Plans such as The Southern Sydney Catchment Blueprint offer no protection to Cumberland Plain Woodland vegetation in western Sydney until 2010. So until then it's likely to be open slather on the tiny fraction of important vegetation left - the lungs of Sydney gradually being destroyed while this Government sits on its hands.
We believe that the Reform Bill will not 'uncomplicate' the process of determining threatened species but will, in fact, further complicate the process by inserting additional committees with the express purpose of reducing the number of species determined as needing legislative protection …
In some urban situations, this could mean the loss of small areas of important habitat that are surrounded by development, but form important staging posts in a biodiversity corridor.
What happens to our threatened species while these plans and mapping are being prepared? A moratorium should be placed on any development in New South Wales that is likely to have an impact on threatened species until such planning has been completed …
The proposed legislation is likely to undermine the independence of the NSW Scientific Committee, through the introduction of a Natural Resources Commission and the Minister's ability to intervene in the determination process. This smacks of political interference in the process and the current concerted effort by our politicians to disempower independent bodies and government agencies so that the politicians hear only what they want to hear and can swear ignorance when things go wrong.
My office has been inundated with letters. I admit that that is part of the Greens' efforts to highlight the issues and to spread the message in the community. A typical letter is signed by Judy Cooney and states:
It's desperate here on the North Coast watching greedy and ruthless developers razing bushland and all the endangered species therein, often with the support of local councils. It would be so much worse without State legislation putting a brake on some developments. Some of that legislation (eg Coastal Protection) already needs to have teeth rather than be simply guidelines which councils ignore. Tweed is a classic example of unfettered destruction of the natural environment. Are Sydney politicians so ignorant of what is going on in the country?
A letter from Jim Clarke states:
Wingecarribee Council was briefed this week by Rob Humphries, Manager of Threatened Species Unit at DEC on the implications of this legislation. As our Shire has considerable areas of native vegetation, not all of which is protected by National Parks, we are obviously impacted more than some City based councils.
We were advised that it would be difficult to certify our LEP for Biodiversity purposes and that money to assist with this would be very limited, (PlanFirst did not provide any funds for our recent Draft LEP) he more or less advised against us being listed.
He said that his Staff had recently been reduced in number to seven and that he had limited resources to cover NSW. The main change seems to be that Part 4 Development consents (DAs) would need an 8 part test to determine if a significant impact on a threatened species or critical habitat would be likely to occur. If so a Species impact statement would be required by a developer. Councils role would be to assess the 8 part test thereby triggering a SIS and 30 day exhibition if impact was found to be significant.
This appears to shift the onus more on to councils to vet applications and to be aware of remnant vegetation. This of course requires more resources and does not provide for the cost of preparing plans for the endangered ecological communities that remain. We have recently mapped our remnant vegetation using GIS at considerable expense but have no resources for ground truthing. Could this be yet another example of cost shifting onto Local Government?
Trevor Scott states:
Recently a review of the Threatened Species Conservation Act in NSW was commissioned by the North Coast Environment Council, in response to growing concerns by its members that threatened species of native animals and their habitats are being destroyed to make way for coastal developments. The report contains a number of case studies that demonstrate the failure of the Act to ensure adequate consultant assessment of individual development applications (DA's) and that consultants are under pressure to produce reports favourable to the developers who pay them. It tells us that local councils don't have the expertise or the data to adequately assess the conclusions reached by these consultants, on the likely impact of proposed developments on threatened species. It is apparent from the report that social and economic considerations are taking precedence at the expense of their very existence.
I am very concerned that the concept of "compensatory habitat" is being used to clear high value, old-growth forest, with lesser quality potential habitat being put forward as a substitute.
I am amazed that old-growth forests are cleared and that the Government is keen on replacing them with compensatory habitat. That habitat already exists; it does not appear after adding water. It is a functioning habitat that is saving endangered species and providing corridors. To label it compensatory habitat adds nothing to the gene bank or the amount of protected ecosystem. It is a fudge by this Government. It does not benefit the species under threat. Using it as an excuse to cut down fragile ecosystems is a furphy. It does not add anything to the conservation reserves of New South Wales. It is removing something of great value and labelling another area of similar values as compensatory habitat but adding nothing to our conservation stocks. The letter continues:
The report includes statistics on the way the Act has been administered by DEC (formerly NPWS) since its inception in 1996. Of 185 applications to "harm and pick" (formerly "take and kill") threatened species of creatures, only one was refused by the Department. That is, in 99.5 % of the cases it was determined that the activity applied for would have "no significant effect" on threatened species. With this approach it is not difficult to see why there is now a growing number of species whose survival is at risk. The Government department entrusted with their protection is allowing developers to go ahead in almost every case.
Neither State nor local Governments seem prepared to make identification and protection of threatened species habitat a priority. It is clear from the above that the problem does not lie with the Threatened Species Conservation Act. The Act in itself does provide for the protection of native animals and their habitat: it is only the will to enforce it that is missing. All the more reason why this Act should not be changed in any way.
I am concerned in particular that the proposed changes to the Threatened Species Conservation Act will:-
Adversely affect the rights of concerned citizens in that they will no longer be able to legally challenge development, planning or land clearing approvals, all of which are likely to have a significant impact on threatened species and/or their habitats.
Mean that pre-clearing surveys for threatened species will not be required, prior to clearing land for development, if an LEP has biodiversity certification.
Mean that recovery and threat abatement planning processes will be marginalised and no longer have a role in planning and/or native vegetation management decision-making.
I believe that it is wrong that socio-economics is to be elevated in the process of deciding whether the species should be listed as threatened or not. Also, if the community should lose the right to legally challenge inappropriate planning decisions, animals and plants will lose the only voices that ever speak for them, and the developers and land-clear as at risk of causing the eventual extinction of the species that this Act was designed to protect. I appeal to you and ask that you consider the case I have outlined above.
I have certainly considered it, and I know that many conservationists and many Greens have considered it. We ask that the Government seriously address these issues, which are of great concern to the community. Once again, I get my inspiration from people I have known. I first met Barrie Griffiths 24 years ago. Interestingly, Barrie Griffiths began his political activities in a tent on a beach at Middle Head in 1980 when the Greens were trying to stop the Wran Government from bulldozing a pristine beach on the mid North Coast. Middle Head was magnificent; it had frontal dunes like the Great Wall of China. Although small, the beach was untouched. Until that time the sand miners did not think it was economically feasible to sand mine it.
Middle Head is the next beach down the coast from Scotts Head, just north of Kempsey in the Nambucca shire. Interestingly, while we were fruitlessly trying to stop the police and the bulldozers, and about 80 of us ended up being arrested and carted off to the Kempsey lock-up, it made us a bit of a threatened species at that time. I distinctly recall that back in 1980 Barrie Griffiths sat in his tent and collected names to network, and he started the Greens alliance. Effectively, in 1980, Barrie Griffiths kicked off the Greens as a movement, and he did that by collecting the names of the tens of thousands of people who came to and left that camp, with the idea of being able to network in the future. He was a man of vision. Today, as a representative of the North East Forest Alliance in the Hunter Region, despite what he has seen over the years and the amount of effort he has put in, Barrie Griffiths still takes the time to write submissions to me on behalf of his organisation. In a letter to Premier Bob Carr he wrote:
I urge you most strongly to re-consider these proposed changes. You must be aware that environment groups, the Environmental Defender's Office, ecologists and other experts in these matters, and very many people in the community, are dismayed at the proposed amendments.
It is bad enough that your government, after a lengthy and expensive scientific assessment of required habitat, ignored the process and your government's commitments, in the 1998 decision to reserve barely a third of the area of habitat identified by best available data informed by expert advice, as required for species' long-term survival. Other elements of biodiversity including plants and ecological communities fared little better.
It has long been lamented that the Threatened Species Conservation Act requires significant amendment to achieve its purposes; and that substantial additional resources and powers need to be provided to the regulatory agency; and that, in short, assessment and approval processes at State and Local Government need to be greatly strengthened, to improve the bleak prospect facing a majority of our threatened fauna.
There is merit in better integrating threatened species assessment and protection in regional strategic planning; however, amongst numerous deficiencies in the proposals, the changes would result in even higher rates of loss of habitat vital to threatened species, without site-specific survey or adequate habitat and impact assessment; remove third party rights, so important hitherto in remedying many gross abuses; introduce socio-economic criteria as a basis for sacrificing habitat; weaken and threaten the independence of the Scientific Committee.
It would appear that the proposals are in large part consequential to recent changes in natural resource legislation, regulation and institutional arrangements. The content and process of these recent initiatives has been incoherent, and the measures inappropriate for the stated purposes of protecting biodiversity and natural resources, and of ensuring ecological sustainability, upon which productivity and species alike depend.
I do not think it is too late to make necessary amendments, and I urge that these be based on best available information and expert advice.
Kerry Suwald wrote:
I am writing to protest the projected changes to threatened species legislation.
Proposed changes due for debate in the Upper house next week are unacceptable as they will:
a. remove the right of community groups to challenge clearing approvals in courts;
b. set up a Socio-Economic Committee to decide priorities for threatened species recovery planning, such as "Sorry, saving this species is too expensive or bad for business."
c. interference with the independence of the Scientific Committee that determines when species are listed as threatened.
Existing legislation has never been diligently implemented and further weakening of the laws is a gift in the laps of developers who consistently put money before environmental concerns.
Government should serve the people and the environment before big business and their political donations.
Maureen Gallagher wrote:
We, the community, need the right to legally challenge inappropriate planning decisions—animals and plants will lose the only voices that ever speak for them.
I should also like to quote a former member of this House, the Hon. Richard Jones. He wrote:
In spite of the legislation being in place for years we are still going backwards at an alarming rate. Instead of weakening the legislation and making it easier for developers and farmers to destroy the habitat it should have been tightened. It really is absurd. You mentioned flying foxes—threatened yet the Government still allowed them to be shot—the red kangaroos are disappearing—the Government still allows commercial killing even when we are suffering the worst drought in a hundred years—average age is two now! There are still untold weirs and river blockages to prevent fish from breeding. Koalas are disappearing from our coastal regions. Development is still allowed up at the Tweed. Carr brandished the white shoes in the House and yet he was the one who let in the white shoe brigade up north. Marine reserves are way below what is needed to conserve species. The Government ignored scientific advice—especially on Lord Howe. It's easier to get a licence to kill native species than it is to get one to hold one. They give out licences to "cull" without checking the properties.
Richard Jones went on to say:
The bill is a great win for developers and reckless farmers.
That does not include responsible farmers, of which there are many. He continued:
The fact that there are not enough resources to prepare all the recovery plans is a shocking indictment of the Government's lack of concern for endangered species. Now we are to have "priorities"! Icons first? You cannot vote the bill down at the second reading stage as the Nationals couldn't have written a better bill but you could at least give it a go!
Richard Jones takes an ongoing interest in the issues he has been passionate about for more than a decade. The introduction of a landscape planning component to the Threatened Species Conservation Act is required to complement the site-specific assessment component, not to replace it. If the aim were to improve the overall efficacy of the Threatened Species Conservation Act for threatened species, the implementation of the current site-specific approach should have been improved, and a landscape planning component should have been introduced to bolster the strengths of the site-specific approach already contained in the Threatened Species Conservation Act. Instead, the bill will drastically undermine both the implementation and legislative power of site-specific assessments, and introduce a flawed, discretionary and poorly developed strategic-level assessment. The demise of the most basic threatened species survey will undoubtedly mean the demise of many threatened species.
Third-party appeal rights are one of the fundamental, non-negotiable linchpins of a democratic system. They go to the very heart of community participation in the legislative process. Since threatened species obviously cannot represent themselves in court, third party appeal rights in environmental law are a basic mechanism designed to allow the community to represent them. In the absence of such a mechanism, the legislative process becomes a one-way ticket for developers and other vested interests to do what they like.
Successful third-party appeals have played a vital role in securing some of the most important conservation wins of the past two decades. They have capitalised community action and catapulted conservation issues into the mainstream of political debate. This Government first came to power in 1995 on a promise to uphold third-party appeal rights for environmental legislation. It has spent most of its time since then winding them back. This latest assault is breathtaking in its audacity. Once biodiversity certification has been given to an environmental planning instrument, there will be no third-party appeal rights in relation to development approvals in the region or regions where the certification applies. Coastal communities will no longer have the right to go to court to defend threatened species. This represents an abject betrayal of the faith placed in this Government by the community of New South Wales. It sounds a death knell for threatened species conservation.
I refer to the threatened species listing and recovery planning. This bill politicises the threatened species listing process. It gives the Minister for the Environment two opportunities to interfere in the scientific assessment of "threat". First, the Minister can interfere when a nomination arrives and the Scientific Committee is deciding on priorities for determination. Second, the Minister can interfere when the Scientific Committee has decided to proceed to a final determination, by referring the listing back to the Scientific Committee for reconsideration.
This bill also ends mandatory recovery planning and threat abatement planning. In their place it adopts a priorities action statement as the primary tool to set out strategies to be adopted for promoting the recovery of each threatened species and for managing key threatening processes. However, there can be no replacement for detailed recovery planning processes. While a priorities action statement will be a useful broad tool to summarise the actions required to promote threatened species recovery, it should not and cannot replace detailed recovery plans for individual species or groups. However, there is a great risk that making recovery planning non-mandatory and promoting the Priorities Action Statement will do just that.
In regard to a social and economic veto, this bill gives undue influence to social and economic issues at the expense of threatened species. The granting of biodiversity certification for environmental planning instruments is subject to consideration of social and economic issues, and there is the establishment of a new Social and Economic Advisory Council with a broad remittance to provide advice on the "likely social and economic impacts of actions to be taken under this Act". The constitution of the Social and Economic Advisory Council includes direct representation for vested interests through the inclusion of expertise in the agricultural and industrial sectors, and no representation whatsoever from the community or the environmental sector. There is no requirement for expertise in environmental economics and valuation. On the other hand, the Biological Diversity Advisory Council is gutted by this bill and will be reconstituted at the discretion of the Minister. Its functions are severely reduced. There is no role for the environmental sector, even in terms of nominating experts to the council.
Threatened species laws have been developed throughout Australia and the world to mitigate the impacts of economic development on the environment. If economic considerations are given undue weighting within threatened species law, as is proposed here, there is almost no point having such a law in the first place: first, because economic development as we know it frequently represents a threat to species and, second, because it is almost impossible to adequately value a threatened species to give it equal standing to tangible economic measures, such as capital and profit. The only way to balance the undue influence of economics and economic development on the environment is to provide laws that protect threatened species outside of their sphere of influence. Instead, this bill seeks to make protection of threatened species dependent on its own economic consequences. Such an approach is nothing short of Machiavellian.
There are a number of other major problems with the bill. The concept of complying development is fundamentally flawed. There can and should be no such thing as complying development for threatened species. The bill includes a whole raft of defences from prosecution under the National Parks and Wildlife Act, including routine agricultural management activities, clearing of non-protected regrowth, the continuation of existing farming activities, sustainable grazing and any other activity prescribed by the regulations. It is a maze of loopholes, ambiguities and avenues to clear threatened species habitat with impunity. In urban areas the bill depends almost entirely on the establishment of comprehensive and effective local environmental plans. However, at present, the model provisions for local environmental plans are weak and not considered at all adequate to provide the core mechanism for threatened species protection in coastal areas.
There are many pitfalls and oversights still apparent in relation to biodiversity certification. For example, there is no automatic revocation of certification when either an environmental planning instrument or the native vegetation package is amended. Therefore, certification granted for an environmental planning instrument will continue even if the instrument is heavily amended, unless or until the Minister decides he might do something about it. The mechanisms that will be used to implement biodiversity certification, particularly in relation to the environmental planning instruments, are vague, ambiguous and poorly developed. In his second reading speech the Minister stated, "The bill will establish new processes to be known as Regional Biodiversity Agreements". However, the bill does nothing whatsoever to establish such agreements, even though the Minister describes them as the major vehicle through which certification will be conferred.
At the committee stage I move amendments to address the major failings and the many other problems of the bill. The bill should not pass. It is a flimsy, discretionary string from which our threatened species will dangle—and no doubt finally hang—on the whim of a single politician. It is the ultimate, unfettered subjugation of the environment to big, vested interests in this State. It would drive species to extinction, not save them from it. In combination with a whole raft of other anti-environment measures that have been implemented in the past 12 months, the passage of this bill will indelibly mark this Government as an environmental vandal of the first order.
Today the green tinge completely expires, and this Government is blanched to a sickly shade of brown. I urge all members in the House who have any concern or respect for threatened species, or even for the rights of the community, to represent them and oppose this bill. But I suppose this is all a bit too serious. I suppose we could get to the point where we are resting on the ability of governments to spin things to get a message across as they see fit—we saw much of that during the last Federal election campaign. On the other hand, we could try to get the message across to the broader community by saying, "Ease the squeeze on threatened species", or perhaps we could go a little further and say, "Keep the rates of extinction down". Maybe that will get the message across.
I utterly and fundamentally oppose this bill. I believe that this Government is abrogating its basic responsibility to the community by putting it forward at this time. It shows that the Government is bereft of environmental credentials, driven by development interests, with a planning Minister—Craig Knowles—stepping outside his portfolio and forcing his mark on this sort of bill because of some dispute with the environment Minister: some turf warfare. However, political turf is nothing compared to the environment that has to be preserved and the endangered species in this State that should be protected. Governments will come and governments will go, but the Greens will not resile from working hard and consistently—be it over generations—to protect these endangered species. I am extremely disappointed with the direction that this Government is taking.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS
[6.18 p.m.]: I am extremely disappointed by the Threatened Species Legislation Amendment Bill. Presumably it is intended to simplify the approval process for works and developments that affect the environment. However, it removes the safeguards provided by an examination of the proposal from several different points of view, under different Acts and by different departments. It gives the Minister immensely greater power in the manner of listing species as threatened. Unfortunately, this is increasingly the method of operation of the Carr Government.
The Carr Government makes lofty statements, but then produces legislation that totally contradicts those statements, giving the Minister more power while, at the same time, providing less scientific rigour in the examination of various propositions. The Government appears to want to make the process simple for developers. I received a circular from the New South Wales Farmers Association dated 7 September expressing concern about the bill. Obviously, the bill was not drafted with the aim of addressing the practical difficulties currently facing farmers.
In my contribution on 19 June 2002 to debate on the Threatened Species Conservation Amendment Bill I spoke about the importance of scientific committees, the nature of science and the need for humans to consider other species on the planet. At the time I pointed out that it was not acceptable for farmers to wipe out certain species in order to get a little more from the land. Some highly populated countries that had long histories of using land to the maximum to support populations so great that people died of famine, reduced biodiversity so that species not immediately useful to humans simply disappeared. There was no biodiversity beyond that parameter.
Australia is a developed country with pressure on its agriculture, partly because of the world population and partly because of the distortion of agricultural prices caused by the subsidising regimes of Europe and the United States of America. The economy and drought are squeezing our farmers, and the bottom line has been to get maximum productivity from the land, leaving nothing for species that are not immediately productive. If those species are judged by economic criteria alone, clearly we will go the way of overdeveloped countries, which have squeezed out animal species that are not immediately and obviously available for use by humans.
I do not intend to reiterate what I said back in 2002. Nevertheless, the key to understanding the bill is the Government's relationship with developers. There has been considerable publicity about the amount of money the Government receives from developers—discussions about the white shoe brigade and so on—but many of the Government's actions have advantaged developers. The exemption for urban lands and the ease with which species will be decimated in those areas suggest that is the driving force. Again, I cite as evidence the fact that the New South Wales Farmers Association only quite late in the piece came to an understanding about this issue. In 2002 I said that the answer was not to set scientists up as pariahs, but for scientists to talk directly to landholders in order to reach a consensus on how to preserve certain areas of land and measures to minimise the impact of farming on the ecosystems that house endangered species.
Rather than have reports or certificates prepared, discussions would be held on the practicalities of the land and its use. However, this bill will have the opposite effect. Scientific committees have been emasculated and people have only three months in which to appeal, otherwise the fiat of the Minister will last a decade. That is against any principle of science, which is not about certainty. Experiments are undertaken and certain conclusions or suggested conclusions are reached, based on probabilities. If the relationship between species is not clear, it is difficult to determine the likelihood of extinction. If the distribution of a species is not known because it has not been studied, that lack of data should not be immediately seized upon to suggest that the science is flawed and that bulldozers should be brought in as a result. That would be outrageous.
The Government is making ignorance a virtue. The heart of the bill is the creation of a biodiversity certificate [BDC], which covers all environmental approvals and is collectively called an "environmental protection instrument", which is required under various conservation Acts. One might consider the terms "biodiversity certificate" and "environmental protection instrument" as perhaps Kafkaesque. If the Catchment Management Act is involved in the approval, the BDC can cover the whole area of the catchment. This makes the BDC a very blunt instrument for dealing with what can be very local, specific issues with regard to threatened or vulnerable terrestrial communities.
Once a BDC is issued any routine agricultural activity in the area or any urban development without a planning approval no longer requires species impact statements. The life of a BDC is normally 10 years, but the Minister can extend that time. The Minister can also revoke or amend a BDC in the light of new evidence. In revoking a certification the Minister can take advice only from the Nature Resources Council and the director-general of the department. The Scientific Committee, which is established under new section 128 (2) (g) of the Act, to advise the Minister, is explicitly excluded by new section 126E (4) from giving advice on revocation.
This bill actively excludes science. It is about the Minister and the department, which is boorish ignorance enshrined in law. Ten years is far too long a period for a BDC to be valid. During that time a large number of species may be added to the list of threatened species. For instance, over the past four years, more than 200 species, populations or ecological communities have been newly listed as threatened. By definition "threatened species" includes threatened and/or vulnerable species, communities or ecosystems. The frightening thing is that without funding, scientific experiments cannot be carried out and people will not know what species is threatened. But the Minister is happy with the present regime.
The Hon. Rick Colless:
No-one would find out whether a threatened species was or was not threatened, and that is more important.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS:
I acknowledge the interjection. It is true that some species may not be threatened, but surely someone would need to find out. We need to have science to reach any sort of conclusion at all.
[The Deputy-President (The Hon. Kayee Griffin) left the chair at 6.28 p.m. The House resumed at 8.15 p.m.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS
The idea of giving the Minister greater power is of particular concern to environmentalists, who consider that listing an endangered species under the Commonwealth Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act should be based on scientific considerations only. This bill allows the Minister to set priorities for the consideration of species and restricts public input into the selection of species for consideration. Ten years is much too long for a BDC to be valid. It is important that there should be an audit or a review of any BDC after five years so that it can be adjusted, if necessary, to changed conditions. Such a review should be carried out under the supervision of the Scientific Committee. The last thing that should happen is that the public should be excluded.
This bill deletes from the Act the criteria that are used by the Scientific Committee in considering the listing of a threatened species. It leaves these criteria to be set by regulation, which is provided for in proposed section 10 (3) (a). This raises the possibility that they can be changed from time to time to suit a particular situation. This would make the listing process difficult and less certain. The important criteria should be listed in the Act. Yet the Government has done a backflip on the conservation movement to which it worked so hard to pander in the last State election. As I said before, the Government is now pandering to the developers. Effectively, not even the farmers should be considered.
Indeed, if the Government really cared about threatened species, it could make the saving of threatened species a priority. It could run competitions, encouraging people with some seed funding through local councils to plant the kinds of trees and vegetation that are necessary. Even in urban areas some threatened species could be preserved by the goodwill of the public. Alas! The Government does not have such a vision. It is the kind of position I spoke about as being necessary during my contribution to the debate on earlier threatened species legislation in 2002.
Proposed section 90 gives a great deal of power to the director-general to determine and prioritise action plans to preserve species. At the same time it obliges the director-general to consult widely and take notice of all written comments before a plan is proclaimed. This can cause very long delays before the plans can be enacted, and the plans are to be reviewed every three years. This cumbersome procedure does not make best use of the expertise provided by the Scientific Committee and exposes the process to pressure by special interest groups. It is a case of bad process. As happened with the closure of Beacon Hill High School, the real processes can be ignored and when a bad result is obtained we pick over the entrails and say, "It was not done very well." There may be a slap on the wrist, a critical comment, a remark or an article in the press, but the net result is the same: the threatened species has been damaged, and the development has gone through.
Proposed section 126L deals with the notification that a BDC has been granted for an area. This includes the director-general of the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources, the Department of Environment and Conservation and the local councils involved, but it does not include any notification in print media. The fact that such a certificate has been granted should be announced in the local press and noted in the Government Gazette
. This is a glaring omission from the bill. It is as if the Government is trying to do everything in secret—this secret Government which only last week killed the open government bill. That bill went to the other House and was sent to a committee, which dithered about it for a year and recommended the status quo.
The Government hates openness and public discussion, which is what real democracy is all about. Democracy is not about mates and developers making a deal with a Minister, not having to go through a process that will inconvenience them or cause their bridging costs borrowings to blow out. No—it is not about a nod and a wink from a mate! Proposed section 126M provides for voluntary action to be taken as one of the conditions of a BDC. This should be conditional on the person or entity agreeing to undertake that action, and signing a binding written agreement to do so. A phrase requiring this should be included in section 126M (1), and I will support amendments that seek to do so.
The idea that someone is given a huge amount of money—because that is what it boils down to—and then asks for voluntary action is absolutely absurd. Proposed section 126N stipulates the appointment of "suitably qualified and experienced persons" to prepare surveys and assessments in connection with the approval of environmental protection instruments and the granting of EDCs. It does not consider that persons with such qualifications and no conflict of interest may be hard to find. There have been unfortunate experiences with independent qualified building inspectors. Certainly, my predecessor in this place said that if building inspections were privatised we would not get the best building inspectors that money could buy. Sadly, that is the case for some inspectors.
It is very difficult to get an independent scientific expert. It is very difficult to get drug research that is reliable. The answer is simple. If you are an independent drug researcher and you do not come to the conclusion the person funding you wants, you may not get another job. If you are an independent consultant and you do not back the conclusion wanted by the person who pays you, you do not get another job. Of course, that will be the case for the suitably qualified and experienced person.
My background was in occupational medicine. In that profession if you made an assessment of a person for an insurance company, you might get a phone call reminding you that your report was not favourable to their cause and asking, "Would you like to modify the bit that is the problem for the lawyers?" They can be upfront about this. If you say no, you do not get any more work. I know; I have been there. I can honestly say that I was not for sale but a hell of a lot of people were, and many of them are frightfully respectable people. They look just like anybody else; in fact, they look a little better because they are a little better paid!
The Democrats are concerned that subsections (3) and (4) of proposed section 126N could be interpreted as imposing restrictions on what can be reported on by the inspectors. This could be overcome by inserting in subsection (4) after "in accordance" the words "but not limited by the". Subsection (4) of proposed section 24 prohibits the questioning of any final decision by the Scientific Committee about the inclusion of a species in a list of threatened species later than three months after its gazettal. At the same time, proposed section 25A requires the Scientific Committee to keep the listing under review and to determine at least every two years whether changes are needed. Recommendations and/or directions to review can come from the Natural Resources Commission or the Minister. The purpose of these sections appears to be to exclude input from concerned third parties, although anybody can recommend a species to the Scientific Committee for inclusion in the list.
We are witnessing an emasculation of the Scientific Committee, a protocol that is totally against science. Science is emerging by increments as it gets resources and gains knowledge and certainty. The Government has done a backflip on some progressive legislation that it introduced before the last election. I have been informed by the Total Environment Centre and the Nature Conservation Council that negotiations for significant amendment to the bill have failed to achieve any consensus. Therefore, I will oppose the bill.
Since European colonisation of Australia many species have become extinct—my research indicates that 26 mammals, 12 birds, 37 plants, one reptile and one invertebrate have become extinct. The extinction of species is happening, it is quite significant and extremely serious. If we simply say the extinction of species does not matter because the only things that matter are humans and money, we are living in a sad world indeed. We have the opportunity as Australians not to make the mistakes other developed countries have made in their use of every available bit of land without any consideration being given to the species. Our species are particularly interesting. They have evolved over many centuries, perhaps hundreds of centuries, differently from other species throughout the world. They are unique flora and fauna. We ought to be proud of them. We should be preserving them and not sacrificing them for a tiny bit more land and a few more dollars in the short term.
We should be working to a consensus model in consultation with the scientific community and the farmers affected. We should have plans for urban landscapes, with the community taking pride in keeping little enclaves of threatened species. Developers—perish the thought—might even pride themselves on having made a feature of an animal, bird, small reptile or butterfly that they have helped to preserve. This may be a vision for the future, but it is certainly not the vision of this Government, which is tawdry and money driven. This bill must be opposed.
Ms SYLVIA HALE
[8.27 p.m.]: My colleague Ian Cohen has spoken at length on this bill and there is no need for me to repeat the Greens' concerns about how the bill will fail to adequately protect threatened species. Instead, I wish to focus on how the legislation will impact on local government. This bill represents one of the most dramatic changes to the way threatened species planning is assessed and administered in New South Wales. The brunt of these changes will fall on local government. Councils will be encouraged though not required to prepare local environmental plans [LEPs] that take into account the status of threatened species and promote the conservation of those species and biodiversity more generally. The LEPs will prescribe, in the light of their potential impact on threatened species, the uses to which land may be put, the controls on such uses and whether consent is required before undertaking those uses. The Minister for the Environment will then have the discretion to certify the plan. Indeed, as the Minister noted in his second reading speech, "certification is a critical part of the new process". In describing the possible contents of a certified LEP, he pinpointed the very real dangers inherent in the new process:
Of course, it is expected that such an LEP will also have land appropriately zoned for various development purposes. Under this new system, any subsequent proposals for development will not require a separate site-specific assessment for threatened species as is currently required under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act or a further approval from the Department of Environment and Conservation.
The Minister's comments make it abundantly clear that everything rides upon the expertise, knowledge and goodwill that go into the making of the plan, its subsequent certification and its implementation. If the LEP is inadequate at the outset, the subsequent capacity to protect threatened species will be impaired, if not negated entirely. Central to all these processes is the provision to councils of adequate resources. But, before turning to that issue, I wish to address other manifest shortcomings in the bill. A disturbing aspect of the bill is that councils will be deprived of the opportunity to assess or monitor the individual or cumulative impact of so-called minor developments. Yet when the LEP is being prepared a council's lack of expertise, resources or time may result in threatened species being overlooked or not identified.
Exempting so-called complying developments from site-specific assessment on the basis of the untenable assertion that they will have no significant effect on threatened species is deplorable. It is all the more outrageous because it will be left to the regulations to specify just what constitutes complying development, which, as the Minister says, will comprise "the majority of applications". The potential impact of "minor" development is so important that its definition should not be relegated to the regulations but should form part of the bill so that it can be subject to legislative scrutiny and amendment.
Another failure of this bill is the absence of any mandatory requirement that a certified LEP be subject to revision at specified intervals, namely, every five years. Without this requirement, an LEP that appears to be adequate when first certified may be manifestly lacking twelve months later. A case in point is Bland Shire Council, which ABC Radio described only yesterday as having undergone an explosion of development, with the value of development applications more than doubling in the last year. The council's general manager is reported as saying that he expects development to accelerate during the next two years. Undoubtedly, rapid and unexpected development can have major repercussions for biodiversity and threatened species.
Yet it is highly likely that, in the face of development pressures and financial and personnel constraints, councils will find it easier to persist with an outdated, ineffective and irrelevant LEP that no longer offers the protections this bill envisages. For this reason, councils must be obliged to revisit and revise certified LEPs at five-yearly intervals, and even sooner if new threatened species are discovered or there is an unanticipated impact from cumulative development, whether complying or otherwise. It is no secret that councils are not the only ones to be critically short of qualified planners. The Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources [DIPNR] is reeling under the impact of restructuring, resignations and downsizing. Yet, without access to experienced, qualified personnel, councils will be in no position to draw up and implement scientifically based, reliable LEPs, or to monitor their effectiveness and relevance.
Equally impaired will be a council's ability to assess the quality of reports provided by the proponents of a development. Under the new regulations, developments that are identified as having a significant effect on threatened species will require a species impact statement to be prepared, ostensibly by an appropriately qualified consultant whose ongoing performance will be subject to assessment by an accreditation authority. But, as we have seen in the building and development industries, the accreditation system has failed abysmally to eliminate core conflicts of interest and avenues for corruption that characterise private certification.
Accreditation has not worked in those industries and there is no reason to believe it will work in relation to threatened species, despite the Government acknowledging a real need for unbiased and objective information. There is no evidence that the point-score system the Government is currently investigating will weed out either poor consultants or the development industry's ability to buy the assessment reports it requires. It is, after all, inherently foolish to rely upon private interests to provide the unbiased and objective information critical to public interest decision-making processes. Protection of the public interest and of threatened species demands that assessment reports be provided only by qualified, independent individuals who are not reliant on the development industry for their livelihoods.
As I have noted, whether or not to prepare a certified LEP is left to a council's discretion. One must ask: What will happen in cases where two local government areas overlap a single large tract of land? A case in point is the ADI site at St Marys, which overlaps Penrith and Blacktown local government areas. What happens when one council adopts a certified LEP and the other declines to do so? This is not beyond the bounds of possibility. After all, Penrith and Blacktown councils differed markedly in the importance they attached to the preservation and protection of threatened species at the ADI site. As I have said, the bill allows individual councils to choose whether or not to certify an LEP, although the bill is silent on whether the decision must be based on the presence or absence of threatened species. Leaving the decision to the discretion of councils is hardly an integrated or scientifically rigorous approach to threatened species management.
My colleague Mr Ian Cohen has voiced concerns about this issue from an ecological perspective. From a planning perspective it creates a two-tiered system: one system for councils with certified LEPs and another for those without. For threatened species and for landholders, this could well result in a more complex planning system and, ultimately, less protection for threatened species, less certainty for landholders and more frustration for councils and the community. Assessment of threatened species and endangered habitats is already a contentious part of the development consent process. For some councils it is a key source of frustration between councils, landowners and the community. Under the new development application process proposed by this bill, processing and assessment will not necessarily be any smoother or faster than under the current system, despite the DIPNR consistently saying that the impending planning reforms are aimed at streamlining the planning process and making it more transparent for all concerned.
I now turn to the most serious deficiency in this legislation. The bill has much in common with other legislation that passes through this House. Once again we see the Government imposing yet more responsibilities on local councils, with scant regard for whether those councils have the financial wherewithal, expertise or inclination to undertake the additional workload. This is a key consideration: Where will the funding come from to guarantee the effective implementation of this bill? This is a critical question that the Government has consistently failed to answer, despite it being raised by individual councils and the Local Government Association throughout the consultation period. Developing new local environment plans is a costly process. In most cases, a council will need to undertake extensive research and conduct ecological mapping, simply to develop the initial plan. Ongoing work will be required to update and maintain a plan over time and to incorporate new scientific data and species management practices. Without additional and ongoing funding, councils will be unable to establish and maintain the necessary comprehensive and up-to-date scientific data.
In his thoughtful and informed contribution to the debate, Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes commented that the Government has pledged $700,000 to councils on the North Coast to assist with biodiversity certification. He went on to say:
Though $700,000 seems a worthy amount for the North Coast councils, it may not be enough. Even if the amount is enough for supporting the certification process, is there any guarantee that the money will be used for the suggested purpose and utilised effectively?
I regret to advise Dr Moyes that he was too generous in his assessment of the Government's commitment. The amount offered was indeed $700,000, but the Minister stated , "It will commence on the Far North Coast and extend to other high-growth areas, including parts of the greater metropolitan area, the Lower Hunter, the South Coast-Illawarra and the Sydney-Canberra corridor." He went on to say that $700,000 would be made available for that purpose. The Minister well knows that that amount will be woefully inadequate to fund primary scientific research across the nominated areas.
The Government has indicated that the bulk of the funding will come from the PlanFirst levy, but it has consistently refused to say how much of the levy will be available or how it will be distributed among councils. One can only presume that the funds will not be allocated in the same local government area in which they were collected. In the 2002-03 financial year five councils collected no money at all. Although that might reflect a low level of development activity in those areas, it bears no relationship to the presence of threatened species or their need for protection. In 2002-03 the then 172 local councils collected a total of $6.9 million in PlanFirst levies, but 64 each collected less than $5,000. That is a patently insufficient amount to carry out the work required to undertake an adequate assessment, let alone species protection. The lion's share of PlanFirst contributions is levied in metropolitan areas, yet many of the most threatened species and habitats are in regional areas of the State. Of the 39 local government areas that each collected more than $50,000—the minimum amount that might be required to carry out even the most basic monitoring—29 were in the metropolitan area.
That raises very real concerns about equity and distribution. How will the funds be redistributed to different local areas? Will it be on the basis of levels of development, the number of species or the degree to which an individual species is endangered? Will councils that collect significant levies be happy to relinquish the moneys raised in their areas to other councils, especially when they are already struggling to cope with other unfunded mandates and are gearing up to deal with major changes to planning laws? For example, will the City of Sydney, which in 2002-03 in combination with the former South Sydney Council collected a total of $605,000—almost 10 per cent of the total raised across the State—be happy to forgo all the funds collected within its boundaries because the central business district has few or no threatened species? Is it reasonable to expect it to do so in light of the mounting development pressures it is facing?
We also know that there are competing demands for PlanFirst funds. These demands include references from the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources to the impending planning reform process, proposed regional strategies and funding for new LEP templates. Crucial to assessing the impact and effectiveness of this legislation is a precise knowledge of just how much money will be allocated to councils to implement the requirements of this bill. Only if they are adequately funded will councils be able to undertake the added responsibilities this legislation thrusts upon them.
If insufficient money is available, many councils will be tempted to go down a path already foreshadowed by the Minister. Councils either unable or unwilling to undertake comprehensive biodiversity assessment or susceptible to pressure from developers may choose not to seek certification of their LEPs on the pretext that, as the Minister put it, "development pressures or biodiversity values are low". In such cases, the status quo will presumably prevail despite the Government's oft-repeated contention that the current system does not work.
In conclusion, the Greens are not convinced that this bill will provide adequate protection to threatened species. Furthermore, it plants the seeds of a two-tiered and more complex approach to planning and threatened species management by creating a system of certified and non-certified LEPs. The Greens support the overall concept of including threatened species data in local environment plans, but only if it is introduced in an integrated and standardised fashion and only if it is accompanied by adequate funds for implementation. For the approach proposed by this bill to have ecological integrity, councils must be given the resources to administer, monitor and enforce the system. Without adequate funding, the legislation will simply be a smoke-and-mirrors exercise that will promote development at the expense of species loss and extinction.
Ms LEE RHIANNON
[8.47 p.m.]: I congratulate my colleague Mr Ian Cohen on his thorough speech. He has exposed the extent to which the Government will wind back protection for threatened species. My colleague Ms Sylvia Hale has demonstrated how this legislation will benefit developers. Australia has one of world's worst extinction rates and this Parliament is about to weaken the legislative framework that has gone some way to turning around that abysmal record. The New South Wales Threatened Species Conservation Act and the Fisheries Management Act are important, but we are about to see them gutted.
There are problems with threatened species management, but sadly they will not be solved by this legislation. Instead of this legislation the Government should be introducing major amendments to provide an increase in resources. We need an injection of political will to put a check on economic interests. Our environmental, social and economic needs must be kept in balance. Despite the hysterics, this legislation tips the scale away from environmental protection. Whatever the Government, the Coalition and the New South Wales Farmers Association say, many threatened species will face extinction because of this legislation. They need all the government and community help they can get, not this weak legislative framework dressed up by the Government as an improvement on the current legislation. The Government's lack of commitment to the protection of threatened species is revealed by its decision to put so many of the key aspects of this legislation into a set of new regulations that we have not seen.
When a government does not trust the democratic parliamentary process and wants to avoid scrutiny of the fine detail it opts for a big set of regulations, and that is what this Government has done. Many of the regulations are still to be finalised. These regulations will be critical to the survival of threatened species protection in rural New South Wales. Surely we should know about them. The Greens argue strongly that this legislation is a serious setback to turning around Australia's embarrassing record on wildlife protection. Australia's dubious title as the country with the world's highest extinction rate will be locked in place for decades when this bill is passed. The bill has elevated socioeconomic factors so they are out of balance with environmental imperatives. It politicises the species listing process and the so-called biodiversity certification of local government plans, and downgrades recovery plans to fit the paltry resources being made available.
Once again the Coalition and Labor have joined forces to "do over" the environment. When the bill is passed, the Government will work hard to promote this sell-out of threatened species by stating that it has ended broad-scale land clearing. The reality is that this year permits to clear tens of thousands of hectares have been issued. When the bill is passed, no-one would want to be a threatened species. Our future generations will also be among the losers. The bill is so cavalier in its approach that it cannot possibly meet the Minister's expectations: "to pass on our natural heritage to future generations in the best shape possible". That is just another example of spin, and we are seeing the Government's spin in its most compromised form when it tries to promote this bill as a plus for the environment.
The Threatened Species Conservation Act came into effect in New South Wales on 1 January 1996. In other words, after just eight years it is already being ditched. 2004 is going down as the year Labor rejected its responsibility to the environment. That is quite tragic. As I said earlier, the Threatened Species Conservation Act had important mechanisms in place. They include listing, recovery planning, critical habitat identification, threat abatement planning, and licensing processes. All these measures are essential to protect threatened species, and they can work side by side with farming practices.
One of the great lies being perpetrated here is that the Greens are against appropriate development and farming. Protecting threatened species can live side by side with those human endeavours. As my colleague Mr Ian Cohen said, the Greens' office has received considerable correspondence from people who are concerned about the bill. I would like to share with the House some emails I have received from John McCarthy, who is an environmental lawyer. John McCarthy wrote:
I am not happy with the so-called certification system for threatened species. We all saw how the certification system in respect of construction certificates was a complete failure at Sandon Point. I thought the old threatened species legislation was much better and needed to be built on. None of the cases I have worked on in the past in relation to threatened species we would now win under this new system. Who do these amendments service besides the developers? These changes and those to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act have really gutted the law. It just gets harder and harder to challenge development applications. Class Four cases are getting harder to run not only because the law is getting weaker but the procedural stuff that goes with it is more complex and beyond the reach of any aspiring litigant … it is just too technical and I have found almost impossible to explain to people. The proposed certification system is seriously flawed.
The State Labor party looks like the National party to me … it is now red flag time. I consider this situation morally and legally offensive. What is the future now? High impact developments with virtually no grounds to challenge them on. A quickened pace of the destruction of flora and fauna.
In a second email that arrived this afternoon John McCarthy wrote:
Do you think there is any connection between the pending changes to the Threatened Species Act and the notification of the lodgment of a DA by Perisher Blue today? The timing of all of this looks a little sus to me.
I think it would look very suss to a lot of people if they knew what was happening in this Parliament tonight. So what is the Government up to? What has possessed the Premier and the Minister for the Environment to so considerably desert Labor's environmental commitment that in the mid-1990s was real? The Bob and Bob show would be a joke but for the loss of threatened species that will result when this bill becomes law. In his book Thoughtlines—Reflections of a Public Man
the Premier highlights his proclamation of 100 national parks and his ban on canal estates as central to his legacy. And, indeed, they are. They were notable achievements that have gone some way to safeguarding the integrity of much of our natural environment. But these achievements were back in the Premier's first term. One would have to say the Premier has joined John Faulkner in running out of petrol. The Premier's eloquence cannot conceal that the Labor Government is turning the clock back on environmental protection.
The Premier and the Minister for the Environment will be using their media operatives to attempt to disguise the real intent of the bill. But press releases and pushy spin doctors might work with a few shock jocks. Maybe the Premier will score a positive headline out of this bill. But that will not mean that the Premier will be remembered for a progressive environmental legacy. The single biggest threat to threatened species is habitat destruction. That is what this bill will result in: habitat destruction. That is what the Premier and the Minister for the Environment are delivering to New South Wales. Bushland will be decimated to make way for urban development and native vegetation will be cleared for farming land. The Bob and Bob show is set to expose New South Wales to such damaging practices. Threatened species cannot be protected by the granting of blanket exemptions for development, or by excluding most farming activities from threatened species assessment. The Premier and the Minister for the Environment are leaving a legacy of further extinction of threatened species in New South Wales. This bill is an absolute disgrace.
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD
(Minister for Primary Industries) [8.57 p.m.], in reply: I thank all honourable members for their contributions to this debate. As the second reading speech indicated, these reforms will establish better systems so landholders, farmers, community groups, government agencies and those who develop land can more effectively contribute to protecting the State's biodiversity. We have now had nearly 10 years experience of our threatened species laws. In 1995 the Act was at the forefront of biodiversity conservation in Australia. Economic, social and conservation pressures are, however, vastly different today from what they were in 1995, and the reforms contained in this bill will meet the many new challenges by improving our threatened species framework.
Before I turn to the substantive issues raised in the debate I should stress one of the bill's key purposes. The major lesson from the experience of the legislation's operation is that too often threatened species decision making involves the winner taking all. Only one side of a dispute usually wins: either a development is prevented from proceeding or threatened species habitat is destroyed. As my colleague the Minister for the Environment and I have made clear in our second reading speeches, the fundamental aim of these reforms is to ensure that the social and economic needs of our State are balanced with the need to conserve biodiversity.
It is obvious that this balance cannot be achieved by the permanent conservation of each and every member of a listed threatened species, or the unfettered right of developers and industry to destroy them with no regard for the long-term impacts on our biodiversity. One of the most effective ways to achieve long-term protection for threatened species, and provide for responsible development and industrial growth, is through strategic planning that achieves this balance at the front end of the process. This guarantees that good conservation outcomes are achieved, and that adequate areas are set aside to develop new residential areas to house future generations as well as new economic development zones for new industries that will create sustainable jobs for our children and grandchildren.
The present law does not systematically build in consideration of threatened species issues at the beginning of the planning process. It does not operate at the time when the rules that actually decide future land uses are being developed. As things currently stand, threatened species issues are usually considered very late in the process, often only after an individual development application has been submitted and sometimes even after it has obtained all the other consents required to proceed. As a result, the system is often crisis driven. In too many cases, the debate has been reduced to a black and white decision: it is either the housing development or the orchid, the grevillea or the school hall, the factory or the frog.
The Government's bill will substantially improve this situation by allowing the Minister for the Environment, or the Minister for Primary Industries in the case of the Fisheries Management Act, to certify an environmental planning instrument as adequately conserving biodiversity within a particular area. In other words, threatened species conservation will be considered and, even more importantly, satisfactorily resolved at the beginning of the planning process when the local environmental plan, regional environmental plan or other planning instrument is being written.
As was made clear in the second reading speech, the bill requires the Ministers to consider a specified set of criteria before making a decision about whether or not to certify an environmental planning instrument. These are the likely social and economic consequences of the plan, the most efficient and effective use of available resources for conservation, the principles of ecologically sustainable development, and conservation outcomes resulting from reservation of land or through a conservation agreement. That is, social and economic needs must be balanced with conservation.
Let me illustrate how the new system will work. In recent times there has been significant community debate in the Hunter Valley about the proposed listing now under consideration by the Scientific Committee of the "Lower Hunter Spotted Gum-Ironbark Forest" as an endangered ecological community. Let me stress that currently only a preliminary determination has been made; no final decision has been made by the Scientific Committee one way or the other. However, if this listing were to be made final, the new provisions of this bill would apply to it. Let me make this absolutely clear: such a final listing would not "sterilise" all the land occupied by this ecological community. Any listing would simply mean that the potential impact on its conservation status has to be considered as one of the factors as part of the strategic land use planning for the local government areas affected by the listing.
The procedures provided for under this bill would facilitate such planning and ensure that sensible outcomes are achieved that balance the social and economic needs of the region with the need to provide permanent conservation protection for the listed endangered ecological community. In practical terms this will involve the Government assisting local councils to assess the biodiversity assets in their areas and develop an environmental planning instrument that provides certainty for both threatened species conservation and the activities of developers and industry. The end result will be a plan that provides for adequate permanent conservation zones and sufficient zones for the new housing, industry, offices and retail centres required by our communities.
Planning outcomes of this nature have already been achieved in a number of special arrangements made recently in new release areas in Western Sydney as well as in the Hunter economic zone in the area that would also be affected by any listing of the spotted gum. In other words, it is the policy of the Carr Government to work with the affected communities and their local councils to prepare a plan that would receive biodiversity certification and also ensure that new jobs and housing are provided for families in the Hunter. Of course, this is an absolute priority. As a result of this bill individual development proposals in the area certified would no longer trigger the requirements for site-specific threatened species assessments. That is, under this bill a sensible balanced outcome will be achieved: jobs and houses for the people of the Hunter and sound conservation.
During the past day several stakeholders have approached the Government asking for clarification about how the Government would resolve any disagreements that might arise between the Minister for Planning, on the one hand, and either the Minister for the Environment or the Minister for Primary Industries on the other, about whether to provide biodiversity certification to an environmental planning instrument. I can advise honourable members that the Government has agreed that if any such disagreements were to arise under the reforms of this bill there would be a clear, easy and transparent referral to the independent Natural Resources Commission for consideration.
Let me now respond to the contribution of the Hon. Rick Colless. First, the Government is committed to a regime where listing decisions are made on a scientific, factual basis. Whether or not a species is threatened is a matter of scientific fact, not arbitrary opinion. The Government does not, however, believe the Scientific Committee to be the source of all knowledge on all matters that are referred to it. Clearly, the committee is limited by the fact that its members are part-time and depend upon the goodwill of the wider scientific community to assist it with data and analysis. The bill includes a number of reforms to the operation of the committee.
First, the Minister will be able to refer a proposed final listing determination back to the Scientific Committee for further consideration before a final listing can be made. This will provide a transparent mechanism for opponents of new listings to have their own scientific information specifically considered by the committee as it considers its decision on whether to finally list or not. Second, the Natural Resources Commission and the Minister will be able to provide advice to the Scientific Committee regarding the setting of priorities for the consideration of nominations and the review of the lists of threatened species. Third, when assigning a species, population or ecological community to one of the listing categories, the Scientific Committee will be required to assess the eligibility for listing according to qualitative and quantitative criteria to be prescribed by the regulations. These will be based on the criteria used under the Commonwealth legislation, which are, in turn, drawn from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
It has been suggested that the public, in particular farmers, do not have access to information regarding listings. That is simply untrue. Copies of the final determination and the reasons for it are available to the public—without charge—on the Internet site of the Department of Environment and Conservation and through the offices of the Department of Environment and Conservation. Notices of determinations are published in newspapers circulating generally throughout the State and, if the determination is likely to affect a particular area or areas—other than the State as a whole—in newspapers circulating generally in that area or areas.
In fact, this bill introduces a raft of changes designed to increase public participation. For the first time the public will have a say in the priorities for recovery and threat abatement through the priorities actions statement. This will not be prepared through some complicated, bureaucratic process, as the Opposition would have us believe. The statement will be developed as a draft. Consultation with the public, relevant scientists and bodies will be undertaken, and only then will it be approved. Everyone gets a say in the effort directed towards conservation and recovery of threatened species. If a recovery plan needs to be prepared, one will be prepared. If there is some other process that will achieve the same or better result, a recovery plan will not be prepared. The Opposition is simply out of touch with the real world if it is suggesting that this is a complicated process.
Another of the bill's fundamental aims is to address the many frustrations that have been expressed by farmers and other rural landholders with the operation of the Threatened Species Conservation Act. The Government's goal is to streamline the current system and to provide farmers with a better framework within which to make decisions about conservation and future land use. The bill will also devolve significant day-to-day decision-making authority to local catchment management authorities in order to ensure the effective functioning of the Government's natural resource management reforms that were developed through the Sinclair committee.
Indeed, one of the key aims of the bill is to integrate threatened species laws with natural resource management laws. As many farmers would be only too aware, under the existing Act two approvals systems operate when a farmer wants to clear vegetation. First, an approval is required under the Native Vegetation Act. Second, if a threatened species, population, community or their habitat is to be affected, a licence is required under the National Parks and Wildlife Act. The operation of a dual approval system has proved unwieldy both for farmers and for the Government. The reforms contained in this bill will eliminate this dual system. The bill ensures that farmers can access a single comprehensive approval mechanism, in effect switching off the regulatory role of the Department of Environment and Conservation in regard to threatened species.
This will be on the basis of that the native vegetation reform package has been certified by the Minister for the Environment—and the Minister for Primary Industries under the Fisheries Management Act—because it provides for adequate conservation of biodiversity and threatened species. Once certification has occurred, any clearing of native vegetation that has been authorised by a property vegetation plan issued by a catchment management authority will not need to be separately licensed under the National Parks and Wildlife Act even if threatened species may be affected.
For all practical purposes the farmer's local catchment management authority will become responsible for the day-to-day administration of threatened species laws as they apply to farmers. The bill does not erode the power of the Minister for Natural Resources to approve regulations made under legislation within his portfolio. Contrary to some claims that have been made in this debate, there is no veto power over the native vegetation reform package. Certification is simply related to switching off the Threatened Species Conservation Act and the Fisheries Management Act and removing the dual approvals system to incorporate a new single system for threatened species protection.
The Legislative Council should be reminded that this is not another debate about the Native Vegetation Act, the Catchment Management Authorities Act or the Natural Resources Commission Act. It is about a bill that provides a vastly improved framework so that the community can make informed and balanced decisions about conservation and future land use, and to inspire and equip landholders, industry and the community to help restore and protect our unique biodiversity. It is also intended to address frustrations that have been expressed by participants in the assessment and decision-making processes under the current laws. These stakeholders include farmers, industry, developers and environment groups.
Before I turn to the main issues raised by the New South Wales Farmers Association, I should clarify that routine agricultural management activities [RAMAs] are already defined as constituting a defence from the regulatory provisions of the Threatened Species Conservation Act. Contrary to what some members opposite seem to believe, the bill does not change this situation. In this regard there is no difference between the current Act and what is proposed in the bill. However, since the original Act was first enacted there has been uncertainty as to whether an agricultural activity was routine. At various times I understand that farmers have argued for more specific and less specific definitions to be developed, without achieving consensus.
The bill will resolve this uncertainty by adopting the new definition of "routine agricultural management activities". This will be identical to that contained in the Native Vegetation Act. It is important to note that the bill is structured so that all the listed RAMAs will benefit from the exemption provisions whether or not they impact on native vegetation. The association has, however, raised concerns about the way in which the bill, as currently drafted, would require the development of a regulation to deal with non-native vegetation RAMAs. In particular, concerns have been expressed that this would require a definitive list of such RAMAs to be included in the regulation and that the list would, in effect, be impossible to achieve. Following discussions with the New South Wales Farmers Association, the Government has agreed to move an amendment, which will refer to such non-native vegetation activities as a "routine farming practice activity (other than clearing of native vegetation)".
This will provide a far simpler system. It will enable the regulation to be drafted in such a way that it will deal with what activities are not covered in the definition of a "routine farming practice activity", rather than what are covered. I fully expect that this will be a very short list, as it is not the Government's intention to intrude the Threatened Species Conservation Act into what are obviously routine farming activities such as spraying a paddock, collecting domestic firewood or shifting rocks that pose a real hazard to the everyday work of the farming community.
The types of matters that I would think appropriate to deal with in the regulation would be: the shooting of flying foxes or ducks for pest mitigation purposes, the overstocking of goats by property developers to clear native vegetation on prospective development sites, or the shooting of wedge-tailed eagles to protect lambs. It is my view that activities such as these cannot reasonably be included in the definition of a "routine farming practice activity" and the regulation should make this clear when it is developed. I am committed to fully consulting all stakeholders, including the New South Wales Farmers Association and conservation groups, before finalising this regulation.
This bill will address farmers' long-held concerns about the application of environmental legislation to day-to-day farming activities. The bill does not reverse the onus of proof when it makes routine agricultural management activities a defence to prosecution under the current Threatened Species Conservation Act. Routine agricultural activities are already a defence to prosecution under section 113A (3) of the existing Threatened Species Conservation Act. In practice there is no difference between the Threatened Species Conservation Act and the bill in this regard. Furthermore, the Government's published discussion paper on this bill has already made it clear that farmers will no longer require a threatened species licence for routine agricultural management activities, which has now been extended under the Government's amendments to cover routine farming practice activities.
These include clearing that constitutes a routine agricultural management activity defined in the same way as under the Native Vegetation Act 2003; a routine farming practice activity, other than clearing which is covered above; and activity that is permitted under any of the following provisions of the Native Vegetation Act: first, clearing of non-protected regrowth under section 19 of the Native Vegetation Act; second, continuation of existing farming activities under section 23; third, sustainable grazing under section 24; and, fourth, any other activity prescribed by the regulations for the purposes of this section.
In addition, under this bill farmers may obtain a property vegetation plan [PVP] from their local catchment management authority and this will be sufficient not only for the Native Vegetation Act but also the threatened species legislation. It is not intended that the provisions of the Government's own amendments to this bill, negotiated with the New South Wales Farmers Association, will exclude any activities that have been assessed within the computerised PVP developer, which has been produced to allow property vegetation plans to be given to farmers by catchment management authorities. I must, however, address the contention outlined in this debate that the property vegetation plan is the pinnacle of land clearing approval and that biodiversity certification is not needed.
These plans are developed under the Native Vegetation Act and although that Act has achieved much—for example, providing financial incentives and security to farmers—it did not, in itself, address threatened species. This bill and the proposed biodiversity certification of the native vegetation reform package under this bill are the mechanisms through which property vegetation plans will incorporate threatened species. The Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources and the Department of Environment and Conservation have been working in close collaboration with key stakeholders and catchment management authorities to create an interactive software package to assist these catchment management authorities and landholders developing property vegetation plans.
As discussed earlier, this is known as the PVP developer. The software is underpinned by world's best science on the management of native vegetation and is designed to produce property vegetation plans with workable provisions in a simple and effective way. The new system for property vegetation plans will be extensively trialled in November by catchment management authorities to ensure that it meets stakeholder expectations. Preliminary trials have already taken place in May and September. The key regulations operating under the Native Vegetation Act are being developed in a broad consultative process, including participation by the Department of Environment and Conservation and the Department of Primary Industries. I am advised that this work has progressed in a positive way and that there is broad agreement on most matters.
This process will ensure that certification of the package by the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Primary Industries will follow the agreement made between the major stakeholders, which include the New South Wales Farmers Association, peak conservation groups and key government agencies. The Government understands the concerns that have been expressed that the certification process could delay on-the-farm implementation of the natural resource management reform package if it had to await every element identified in new section 126B of the Act. This is certainly not the Government's intention. Following discussions with the New South Wales Farmers Association, I can advise that the Government will introduce an amendment to allow the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Primary Industries to certify the package, even though some discrete parts of the package may not be finalised.
The intention of the amendment is to achieve the flexibility required to enable the Ministers to certify the package no later than the end of January 2005, or at any other appropriate time ahead of the commencement of the Native Vegetation Act, based on paragraph (a) of new section 126B and any protocols and guidelines provided for in paragraph (d) that may be in existence at that time. This would allow the Ministers to confer certification even if the protocols and guidelines relating to specific activities are not finalised. The amendment will also provide for the Ministers to suspend certification of the package if subsequent changes are made to the package that have not been approved by the Ministers. This amendment effectively ensures that the Ministers must certify subsequent components of the package as defined in paragraphs (b), (c) and (d) of new section 126B.
It is untrue that this bill, and the Government amendments already provided to the Opposition, do not have the support of the New South Wales Farmers Association. I can advise the House that the Hon. Bob Debus has met with the president of the association, Mr Mal Peters, to discuss these matters, and they have resolved all major issues of concern. I might also add that meetings have been held with numerous other stakeholders to discuss the bill in detail, including conservation and local government organisations. Mal Peters has even provided a letter thanking the Government for the amendments that we will introduce and urging the Legislative Council to not delay the passage of the bill.
I now turn to some of the claims made by Mr Ian Cohen about the bill. Firstly, there is no change to the legal requirement for site-specific environmental assessment under the threatened species reforms. A new scheme—biodiversity certification—is proposed, encouraging councils to address biodiversity and threatened species in their local environmental plans. As I have already made abundantly clear, this will better address cumulative impacts and conserve larger areas. Certification will be obtained only after comprehensive surveys and assessments have been undertaken and the plan meets specified criteria. This new system allows long-term, realistic planning for future conservation and community needs. Threatened species will be addressed at this stage, but once a plan is agreed on and certified it will be unnecessary for the council to re-assess the impacts on threatened species on a site-by-site basis because threatened species will have already been addressed in the preparation of the plan.
In areas without certification, the existing system remains in place as a safety net and site-by-site assessment would be required. Requirements have been included to ensure public participation in the development of the certified plans to facilitate community involvement in conservation planning. The New South Wales Government is committed to a transparent and consultative approach. Flora and fauna consultants who carry out survey and assessment of developments and plans will be subject to a higher degree of regulation than at present, avoiding the use of biased information in decisions critical to the conservation and recovery of threatened species.
It has been suggested that the bill prevents community groups from appealing to the Land and Environment Court. This is not the case. In fact, the Threatened Species Conservation Act provides persons with a right to bring court proceedings to remedy a breach of the Act. This is note being amended. I am informed that environment groups have been concerned about appeals centering on whether or not a particular development has a significant effect on threatened species. This so-called test of significance is not altered by the bill. There will be some changes as a result of the bill that will modify when the test needs to be applied in areas covered by biodiversity certification. However, this will avoid the costly disputes in which landholders, communities, developers, and local and State government have become embroiled.
The community will most certainly still get its say, but under the bill this will be at the plan-making stage rather than for each individual development. The fact is that the impacts on threatened species conservation, including cumulative impacts, are best considered during a comprehensive process to assess the threats and consider the scientific work that has been done in a systematic way. This means that decisions will be made in a rational, pragmatic way about how to deal with the problems facing threatened species. There is no doubt that this will have far more success in achieving recovery than arguing over individual actions, which often do not have a significant effect when considered alone.
Mr Ian Cohen also alleged that there were no criteria for biodiversity certification of environmental planning instruments in the bill. This, too, is plain wrong. They can in fact be found on page 21. I will also address the honourable member's comments on the Hunter Employment Zone. It is simply not true that the conservation outcomes from the Hunter Employment Zone are developers' marketing rhetoric. Under the local environmental plan, the existing national park will be increased from 651 hectares to 1,280 hectares and another 870 hectares will be zoned for environmental protection. Another 200 hectares will be zoned for rural, special uses and heritage. Contrary to the honourable member's pessimistic account of this economic zone, this is actually a great outcome for conservation and for industry. This outcome will dramatically increase employment for the working families of the lower Hunter and provide massively increased protection for biodiversity.
As things currently stand under the legislation, there is no established mechanism, or even incentive, for these types of win-win outcomes. The normal sequence of events under the current legislation would be that each small industrial proposal would be assessed separately, disregarding the fact that the cumulative impacts can lead to an overall impact on the habitat of hundreds of species. There may be a few wins here and there, but even these are short-lived. An appeal to the Land and Environment Court may be successful, but these are then referred back and the decision made again, perhaps taking into account the impact on threatened species. However, at the end of the day the result is invariably the same—that is, the slow but inevitable loss of our biological diversity as essential development for housing and industry has to be undertaken to provide our communities with jobs and shelter.
Despite the criticisms raised by various honourable members in this debate, these reforms provide the opportunity to achieve long-lasting wins for conservation and biological diversity and at the same time provide certainty for landholders and industry. There have been some queries about the various regulation-making powers in the Act. I can again give a clear commitment to the House that there will be full and extensive consultation with all affected stakeholders before any regulations are made. However, at this stage, I refer honourable members to the debate in the other place, in which the Minister for the Environment outlined in considerable detail the proposed form and content of the regulations envisaged. I commend the bill to the House.
Question—That this bill be now read a second time—put.
The House divided.
Mr Della Bosca
|Miss Gardiner |
Reverend Dr Moyes
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Consideration in Committee ordered to stand as an order of the day.
STOCK MEDICINES AMENDMENT BILL
POLICE INTEGRITY COMMISSION AMENDMENT BILL
Leave granted for procedural matters to be dealt with on one motion without formality.
Motion by the Hon. Ian Macdonald agreed to:
Bills read a first time and ordered to be printed.
That the bills be read a first time and printed, standing orders be suspended on contingent notice for remaining stages and the second readings of the bills be set down as orders of the day for the next sitting day.
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD
(Minister for Primary Industries) [9.37 p.m.]: I move:
That this House do now adjourn.
LAKE CATHIE PRIMARY SCHOOL PROPOSAL
The Hon. MELINDA PAVEY
[9.37 p.m.]: Tonight I speak on an ongoing issue affecting the people of the Port Macquarie electorate, in particular the people of the Lake Cathie community, just south of Port Macquarie. Today I was given the privilege of meeting with the Minister for Education and Training to discuss the ongoing need for a school at Lake Cathie to provide the facilities required for the children of the young families at Lake Cathie to attend a local government school. Currently, the children of Lake Cathie have to travel at least half an hour by bus to either Port Macquarie or North Haven to attend school. The Lake Cathie community, by its own survey, estimates that more than 200 children have to travel outside the local community to attend government and private schools. This community does not have a school of its own.
Following agitation by the Hon. John Tingle and me, the Hon. John Tingle was able to arrange a meeting today with the Minister for Education and Training so he could respond to a report drafted by the Department of Education and Training entitled "The Democratic Analysis of Lake Cathie". The report was published a couple of months ago in response to repeated requests from the community at Lake Cathie for a new school. True to form, the Department of Education and Training was able to come up with the answer it wanted, which was, basically, not to put the need for a new school on the Government's capital works priority list.
The department argued its points but denied a lot of facts. Luckily, the community of Lake Cathie has a fighter in their midst. Leslie Williams, chairman of the Lake Cathie Future School Committee, is a remarkable woman. She and her husband run the local post office. Leslie has been working on this cause for so long that her children are now in high school. Although her children are no longer in primary school and attend a school in Port Macquarie, she has kept at it. Leslie has a great support network, with people like Lynn Lelean and Sharon Wilson, who are hard-working members of the community committee. Interestingly, she is also supported by the New South Wales Teachers Federation.
During the Lake Cathie demonstration in September, I stood on a stage with the Hon. John Tingle along with Wayne Webber, Regional Organiser of the New South Wales Teachers Federation, and John Robertson, Secretary of the Camden Haven Teachers Association. Mr Robertson, a school teacher, together with the Hon. John Tingle, got the crowd moving and excited. It was a great day, and the demonstration showed the high level of community support. The Minister for Education and Training responded to that support and agreed to a meeting with me, the Hon. John Tingle and the local member for Port Macquarie. At the meeting today the Minister gave us a fair hearing and said he would review the statistics provided by the committee. The committee has spent many hours deliberating over the department's report and local government statistics to provide information and data analysis to show a need for the school. Hastings Council, through Mayor Rob Drew, has also given its support to the committee.
The Minister promised to compare the figures and statistics with the department's data. We take him on good faith. Later in the day the Hon. John Tingle arranged a meeting with the Premier at which, I believe, the issue was again discussed and the Premier gave a commitment to review the situation. Again, I welcome that commitment by the Premier and the Minister and we hope they stay true to their word. I referred the Minister to documents I had received from the Department of Education and Training in response to a call for papers in this Chamber. Importantly, one of the documents that came to light as a result of that exploration was a submission written in 2000 by the department to the then education Minister, Mr Aquilina, recommending that the school be built. We argue that, if the department recommended in 2000 that a school should be built, it stands to reason that in 2004 the community is in desperate need of a school. Let us hope the forces of good overcome other forces. [Time expired.
FISHING BANS IMPACT
The Hon. JON JENKINS
[9.42 p.m.]: Recently I asked a question in this House of the Minister for Primary Industries about the value of recreational fishing. The Minister answered that he would rather achieve a balance between the two industries than drive a wedge between then. I agreed with the Minister that we should achieve a balance and that the balance should be proportional to the economic and social values of the two competing industries. In fact, these two industries do compete with each other. Much of the following information comes from an article in Fishing World,
written by Jim Harwell. We have all known for a long time that recreational fishing is a sleeping giant when it comes to economic importance. Until recently the monetary value of recreational fishing could be quoted only anecdotally. Although we have known its value for a long time, it was too difficult to quantify. Fishermen being such an amorphous group created a difficulty in terms of economic evaluation.
There were no hard facts to support the belief. That all began to change a few years ago when Brisbane-based lawyer Tom Young released a paper describing the economic worth of fish caught recreationally compared to those taken by the commercial sector. Fisho
was instrumental in publicising Young's findings, which revealed that recreational fishing was worth more than twice that of commercial fishing but had 75 per cent less impact on fish stocks. In basic terms, recreational fishers contributed more but caught less. It is now generally accepted that a single trawler has the same environmental impact as about 400 fishermen. This and other studies turned fishing policy on its head when the New South Wales Minister for Fisheries and other State Ministers openly supported the advancement of recreational fishing over commercial fishing.
Many Government members saw the vast economic potential for recreational fishing, especially in regional communities. In New South Wales there was a plan to give the State's one million fishers some say in the matter through a fishing licence scheme, a chain of recreation-only fisheries and a general reduction in commercial fishing effort. Not surprisingly these policies were not popular with the commercial sector and eventually may have contributed to bringing down the Minister. As soon as the current Minister took office he announced there would be nothing more for the recreational sector—no more fishing havens, no more buyouts of netters. His mantra was: "It's time to restore the balance."
Those who were present during question time when I asked the Minister my question will feel a sense of déjà vu. Now that NSW Fisheries has been absorbed into the super Department of Primary Industries the future of recreational fishing is looking somewhat bleak. The complete denial of the economic and social impact of large-scale fishing bans, such as the ban imposed at Byron Marine Park, is a stunning indictment of how this Government values recreational fishing. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. All politicians, however biased, respond to economic fact. If something can be proved to be economically significant and thus important in regard to votes, most politicians will find it hard not to get involved. Even a blinkered government like the present Government may well find it difficult to ignore the results of the recent economic study into the worth of the striped marlin.
A further problem is the bartering of Green preferences and backroom deals that are done in order to create these fishing bans. The report I refer to—which was funded by the New South Wales fishing licence scheme—shows without any shadow of a doubt that the value of recreational fishing far outweighs that of the commercial sector. Some preliminary figures reveal the recreational striped marlin fishery is worth 20 times that of the commercial sector. No-one at NSW Fisheries will confirm the actual figures, but we are talking about discrepancies of tens of millions of dollars. The study, which was compiled by the eminent accountancy firm Ernst and Young, offers undeniable evidence that recreational fishing is an industry of considerable worth and significance to the nation.
One can only imagine what more accessible fisheries like bream, flathead, bass, trout, salmon, tailor, kings and snapper are worth to New South Wales. We are talking about an industry worth billions of dollars to the State economy. Given the numbers involved, how can the Minister continue to ignore the fact that recreational fishing is the way of the future? How can he justify his support for the continuation of an environmentally questionable commercial fishing industry when it has been proved that it is basically worthless? The results of this economic survey mean that the Minister is morally, ethically, economically and politically obligated to ban commercial fishing immediately, at least for all billfish. It will be interesting to see whether he does the right thing or whether he just caves in to the commercials yet again. We now have good economic evidence for the balance to swing in favour of recreational fishing. The balance should be a ratio of at least 20:1.
Let us turn our attention to the science of the matter. A recent article in the Daily Telegraph
related the outstanding success of the buyout of commercial fishing licences in Botany Bay. This buyout occurred a mere two years or so ago, yet, according to the locals who know the area, Botany Bay is teeming with marine life once more. Jewfish and kingfish have returned and divers check out weed beds and gropers and sharks. "There's heaps of fish around", says the Abyss Scuba Diving group. Fishermen are expecting bonito and tuna to return to Botany Bay. This stunning resurgence has been attributed to the lack of commercial take in the bay. Any recreational fisher knew that would be the result of the buyout. The evidence is clear: the economic value of recreational fishing far outweighs the economic value of commercial fishing and they can happily coexist with fantastic environmental outcomes. The question has to be asked: Minister, why do you continue to pander to extreme green philosophy and ban recreational fishing up and down the New South Wales coast?
The Hon. PETER PRIMROSE
[9.47 p.m.]: I will briefly talk about a paper that was recently prepared by Dr Chris Briggs, a senior researcher at the University of Sydney, entitled "Lockout Law in Australia: Into the Mainstream". This is the first national study of lockouts in Australia conducted by Dr Briggs, who found that they accounted for fewer than one in ten working days lost to disputes. Virtually unheard of since the Great Depression, employer lockouts of employees in labour disputes have risen sharply in the past five years, from 1998 to 2003, at the same time that strikes have fallen to historic lows. Additionally, more than half of all long disputes, that is, disputes longer than one month, were lockouts.
Dr Briggs noted that employers, not unions, are now responsible for most of the long-running disputes in Australia. The return of the lockout has been led by the manufacturing sector, in which lockouts account for an extraordinary one quarter of working days lost to disputes. Other occupations to be locked out by their employer include medical research scientists, casino dealers and academics. The new found willingness to use industrial action represents a cultural change in employer approaches as a result of enterprise bargaining, the Workplace Relations Act and the encouragement of aggressive bargaining stances by the Federal Coalition Government. According to Dr Briggs, Australian employers have more freedom to lockout than any other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] nation.
Lockouts are legally allowed only in exceptional circumstances in other OECD bargaining systems, whereas there are few limitations in Australia. Unlike other nations, lockouts can be used offensively in Australia. Between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of lockouts precede any industrial action to coerce employees into signing Australian Workplace Agreements [AWAs] and are directed against non-union and individual workers. For example, a single worker was locked out for two-and-a-half months to pressure him to sign an AWA. AWAs are meant to be voluntary agreements between employers and individual employees. However, a series of long lockouts, some running for as long as six to nine months, have occurred in regional areas to force employees to sign AWAs. These lockouts can have devastating consequences for the individuals involved, including financial ruin, marital breakdown and mental health problems. As Dr Briggs said, these cases are rare, but they are a throw back to some of the worst excesses of the nineteenth century labour relations system. He also noted that there is no place for lockouts in a modern labour relations system.
The report recommended legislative changes to bring Australia into the OECD mainstream, including the prohibition of AWA lockouts and offensive lockouts and the enhancement of the capacity of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to resolve intractable disputes involving long-running lockouts. Dr Briggs recommends that, as a minimum, Australian lockout laws should be reformed in three important ways: first, to prohibit AWA lockouts, lockouts against non-union employees and offensive lockouts; secondly, to enhance the capacity of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to terminate long-running lockouts and to settle entrenched disputes equitably; and, thirdly, to introduce some notion of proportionality to govern the use of lockouts. He went on to state that lockouts should be legally reserved as a true weapon of last resort rather than be part of the established bargaining system.
Lockouts have emerged as a significant feature of labour disputes under the fledgling Australian workplace bargaining system. As I indicated, most other nations addressed this issue many years ago. At the same time that Australia's legislative framework was re-oriented to a decentralised bargaining system, the right to lockout was established as a simple parallel to the right to strike. The freedom to lock out was further liberalised under the Workplace Relations Act to include non-union agreement making.
EASTERN CREEK WASTE TREATMENT PLANT
Mr IAN COHEN
[9.52 p.m.]: I visited the Eastern Creek waste treatment facility in August this year with Ms Sylvia Hale and other interested individuals. We toured the site and were given a thorough explanation of how it will operate. I was impressed by the degree of treatment of the waste stream—
The Hon. Patricia Forsythe:
It uses a lot of water.
Mr IAN COHEN:
It collects water and it is re-used on site. It recycles water, much of which is extracted from putresible waste. It separates compost and uses it and gathers water as part of that process. It is an interesting concept. Sustainable waste processing facilities offer many environmental benefits compared with landfill. They decrease greenhouse gas emissions, recover much more gas—and therefore energy—they recover resources at the highest net resource value, they recover additional resources such as metal and glass, they deal with the polyethylene terephthalate that escapes the kerbside recycling program provided by local councils and they use less land and have fewer environmental impacts. The process involves mining waste to produce renewable energies and products. That kind of sustainability approach to waste is the leading edge of waste management the people of New South Wales deserve. Sydney alone creates some 7.2 million tonnes of waste and recycled material every year, of which four million tonnes goes into landfill. Sydney's households are responsible for 1.5 million tonnes of that waste. That means every person in the State creates three kilograms of garbage each day.
The adoption of this technology requires insight and foresight, and I commend Waste Service NSW in its partnership with Global Renewables for initiating the long overdue trial of this state-of-the-art waste treatment plant technology at Eastern Creek in Western Sydney. This type of process is accepted practice in the European Union. We create waste and deal with it in ways that are extremely harmful to our environment. Everyone is aware of the perils of landfill. I have spoken about them a number of times in this House. The Government has released a report revealing that we are running out of landfill space. It is therefore imperative that we adopt this technology throughout the State and, in my view, throughout the country. The fact that we are running out of landfill space is partly due to the fact that we are disposing of our waste in such an unsustainable manner. This type of treatment process and increased vigilance in waste separation techniques at source can go a long way towards resolving these problems.
Some in the Green movement believe we should not create waste. Of course, zero waste is an admirable aim, but we must evaluate the best approach to take given the current situation. We have mountains of waste and we continue to create it. The ideal way forward is not to create more waste. However, we must adapt to the situation that we have created in the safest and most environmentally responsible way possible. The process being utilised at Eastern Creek is a triumph of science and technology for the benefit of the environment. The Italian engineering in combination with the German technology leaves little to chance. Taking a mining approach to waste, the plant separates each element very carefully. Not everyone in Sydney is diligent about separating his or her garbage. The triangular shaped recycled material insignia displayed on packaging is misleading. It creates the impression that the item is recyclable. However, only after close inspection is it revealed whether the item is capable of being recycled. Much plastic packaging falls in to the non-recyclable category and must be separated.
I was impressed to see how the machinery can break open green plastic kitchen waste bags and separate the contents. This does not obviate the need to educate the community to minimise waste, to divide it and to deal with it in a sustainable manner. At the same time, recognising the massive volume of waste coming out of our western consumer society, the fact that this type of plant can extract glass, cans, plastic and paper from the bag, distinguish each element and separate food scraps and other putresible waste is impressive. It can do so without breaking the glass. The process creates streams of waste that can be recycled. Of course, the fact that it discourages waste streams at source is a negative. However, dealing with the reality of the situation, the renewables and benefits that result from this technology are green power. A plant the size of the Eastern Creek facility can produce more than 25 megawatts of electricity, and that is green power.
The Hon. ERIC ROOZENDAAL
[9.57 p.m.]: Religious freedom is valued highly by most Australians. We are an ethnically and religiously diverse nation, and the majority of us desire a society where success is possible regardless of individual creed. There are times, however, when individuals experience discrimination based on religious affiliation. There are times when ignorance and bigotry make a mockery of our claim to be a tolerant, multicultural nation. When such discrimination occurs, it is the responsibility of this Parliament to ensure that it does not go unnoticed, and that the perpetrators are held accountable. Ed Husic was the Labor Party candidate for the seat of Greenway, in Sydney's north-west, at the recent Federal election. Despite being an intelligent, hardworking candidate, and running a strong campaign, Ed was unsuccessful in his bid for the seat. Undoubtedly, demographic changes contributed to the outcome, yet it is undeniable that Ed was also the victim of a vicious and well-orchestrated attack on his religion and ethnicity.
Ed Husic's heritage is Muslim. This fact did not dissuade the Labor Party from preselecting him. The Labor Party does not discriminate on ethnic or religious grounds. Mr Husic's opponents, however, saw fit to use the fact that he is a Muslim in an attempt to discredit him. The night before the election, a pamphlet was distributed featuring a fake ALP insignia and a picture of Mr Husic, declaring, "Ed Husic is a devout Muslim. Ed is working hard to get a better deal for Islam." This was disgusting and disgraceful. The exercise was designed to inflame anti-Muslim sentiment. Given the close result that followed, it was most effective. It was a sad and disappointing chapter in Australian politics. The beneficiary of this disgraceful exercise was the Liberal Party's Louise Markus, whose booth workers were overheard urging voters to support Mrs Markus "because she's a Christian". The Liberal Party was the direct beneficiary of this flyer.
The Liberal Party, or at least a section of it, has a history of exploiting and exacerbating tensions between different ethnic and religious groups. The hard right, or "Ugly" faction of the New South Wales Liberals, has form when it comes to inflaming anti-Muslim sentiments. The appalling riot that occurred at the formation meeting of a Liberal Party branch on 5 May this year openly demonstrated the racist sentiments held by members of this faction. The incident was described by one former Young Liberals branch president as "a rabid and racist attack". Moderate Liberals at the meeting were allegedly openly vilified, simply for being Muslim. This was well documented in the Sydney Morning Herald
by David Humphries. One hard-line conservative even complained to the newspaper about the presence of prospective Muslim members at the meeting. Those behind these events were the New South Wales "religious right", principally the Hon. David Clarke.
I should make it clear that there are Liberals who have demonstrated a commitment to religious tolerance, a commitment worthy of praise. Yet these are the very members that the Hon. David Clarke is keen to see ousted from the party, as he persists with his manoeuvrings and branch stackings.
The Hon. John Ryan:
Point of order: I am always reluctant to take a point of order during the adjournment debate on a member who is obviously confined in the amount of time he has for his speech. However, the Hon. Eric Roozendaal is now proceeding to attack a member of this House. The standing orders indicate that he can do so only by means of a substantive motion.
The Hon. ERIC ROOZENDAAL:
To the point of order: In the Hon. David Clarke, we see the notion that "Christian values are at the foundation of our nation", and, as a result, those of other faiths should somehow be excluded.
The Hon. Don Harwin:
Point of order: The Hon. Eric Roozendaal is a new member. He should have it drawn to his attention that if he is to respond to a point of order relating to an attack on a member, he should confine himself to addressing the standing orders and how they relate to the point of order that has been taken.
The Hon. ERIC ROOZENDAAL:
Further to the point of order: I am merely referring to publications in the public domain, including those in the Parliamentary Library. The Hon. David Clarke's history—
Order! The Hon. Eric Roozendaal is reminded that members cannot make imputations against other members of the House unless by way of substantive motion.
The Hon. ERIC ROOZENDAAL:
The Hon. David Clarke's history
of extreme right-wing beliefs and intolerance are well documented. I refer the House to a press release, freely available in the Parliamentary Library, listing the Hon. David Clarke's achievements. It makes for interesting reading. The document mentions "links with right-wing militant organisations". It alleges that Mr Clarke—
The Hon. Patricia Forsythe:
Point of Order: Madam President, the Hon. Eric Roozendaal is now flouting your ruling. It is quite clear that he is making an attack on another member of this House. He can do that only by way of substantive motion. I ask that you rule him out of order.
Order! Again I remind the Hon. Eric Roozendaal that he must not make imputations against another member of the House. If he continues to do so, I will rule him out of order.
The Hon. ERIC ROOZENDAAL:
As I said, the document is freely available in the Parliamentary Library. It raises some alarming questions about the Hon. David Clarke and the intolerant right-wing faction of the New South Wales Liberals.
The Hon. Michael Gallacher:
Point of Order: Madam President, in the past you have shown a preparedness to direct members to obey your rulings. It is obvious that the Hon. Eric Roozendaal is flouting your ruling.
Order! I remind the Hon. Eric Roozendaal that he must not make imputations against another member of the House.
The Hon. ERIC ROOZENDAAL:
The experience of Ed Husic makes such questions all the more pertinent. It is time we knew the real agenda— [Time expired.
DEATH OF DR ELIZABETH ANNE KERNOHAN, AM, A FORMER MEMBER OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
The Hon. DON HARWIN
[10.02 p.m.]: I wish to pay tribute to Dr Elizabeth Anne Kernohan, Member of the Order of Australia. If Liz were here tonight, when I gave her full name and title she would have said in her gravelly and distinctive voice, "Call me Liz." She would not want to be reminded of her considerable achievements, because that is the sort of person she was. She was always Liz to us. As she often reminded us, Liz was a scientist. Her doctoral work was in animal science, and her career was as an academic at the University of Sydney, ultimately serving as director of the university farms campus, teaching agriculture and veterinary science faculty students.
From 1973 to 1991 Liz Kernohan served as an alderman on Camden Council, serving several terms as mayor. She was extremely popular there, she really was a local legend, an institution. Why? Because she had the deepest community roots, understanding her community and delivering for them indirectly. I had a bit to do with Liz because, for my sins, shortly after the 1988 State election the Greiner Government decided it would proceed with one of its election promises by reducing the size of the lower House to 99 seats. I had carriage of the Liberal Party's redistribution submission, and Camden was one of the seats I had in my sight. Camden had been won by 31 votes in 1988 by our colleague the Hon. Peter Primrose over our other colleague the Hon. John Ryan, but with new boundaries I knew it could be won and I knew it could help keep the Greiner Government in office. The result, I am sad to say for our colleague the Hon. Peter Primrose, was a triumph for the Liberal Party. We got the Labor majority in that seat, on 1988 figures taken from 50.1 per cent down to 44.0 per cent. Despite the gain, however, we knew we were in for a very tough fight. That is when we decided we needed Liz as our candidate, and our colleague the Hon. John Ryan became a member of this place.
Nevertheless, there was a creditable 4.5 per cent swing to the Hon. Peter Primrose in that election, which was above the 3.3 per cent statewide swing. However, courtesy of the redistribution and despite the swing, Liz Kernohan was elected for the first of three terms, and from there she never looked back. In 1995 she got 52.6 per cent of the vote, which was a 1.1 per cent swing in her favour, despite a 1.4 per cent swing against the Fahey Government. Unusually, as a sitting member she then benefited again from State redistribution, and on 1995 figures her new majority was 55.7 per cent. She needed that, because in 1999 we had a bad result; we had a 7.1 per cent swing against our party. However, Liz kept it down to 2.2 per cent in Camden. That was the result of a great campaign.
Why do I cite these statistics? Of course, to demonstrate how well Liz Kernohan performed at the local level. Liz was a success in politics because she came into Parliament with a clear focus. As she said in her maiden speech, she was all about making sure that by working within the Parliament she could do something about the future of her area and its community, and about the pressures from urban development, which she saw as a great threat to Camden. As she said in her valedictory, the protection of the Cawdor Valley from an attempt to develop that area—which would have destroyed the ambience of the Camden town area—was her greatest achievement.
She prospered as a local member because she understood that Camden, despite the fact that it was changing massively, was still a community that wanted to retain some of the spirit it enjoyed for a very long time as an historic community. In fact, as she said in her maiden speech, Camden was sometimes seen as the first country town outside of Sydney when you drove along the Hume Highway. Liz understood that people were moving to Camden because they wanted to be part of that distinctive community. I seek leave to continue my remarks beyond the five minutes allocated to me. [Extension of time agreed to.
Liz Kernohan understood that the ethos of those people moving to Camden was that they wanted Camden to be different. She understood that very well, she applied it to the way she approached all her campaigning and her work as the local member, and that was, in short, the reason she was such a political success. Apart from my dealings with Liz through the redistribution process, I also had a great deal to do with her during the last Parliament as a member of the Regulation Review Committee. Liz absolutely loved the committee, and she served eight years on it. Not many people have done that.
In her valedictory speech, she said that the Regulation Review Committee was "a committee often considered boring by non-participating members". I think that is probably right. As members of the Regulation Review Committee, we just had regulations to deal with, and they were fairly tendentious matters. But Liz thrived on poring over the detail of government regulation and applying all her technical knowledge as well as her abundant commonsense to the regulations that were brought forward by the State's bureaucracy and gazetted. She just loved going through the meeting papers that sometimes literally ran to 100 pages for even a regular meeting and used to drive the committee staff crazy.
The previous Parliament had an amazing Regulation Review Committee because it was perhaps the most bizarre collection of individuals that one could get. The committee was chaired by Peter Nagle and its members were Liz, me, Russell Turner, Janelle Saffin and Marianne Saliba. It was a great committee, and we had an absolute ball. Certainly for the first half of the previous Parliament, we all enjoyed it very much. Even the arcane subject of regulations turned out to be a lot of fun.
Liz was one of the rare people in public life who was single throughout her entire public life. As I am also a single person, Liz and I had many quiet discussions about the challenges posed by being single in public life and the difficulties of just coping in that circumstance. I always enjoyed the opportunities I had to have a quiet word with her about that. I will miss Liz. At the end of her political life, she had become so het-up about something on the Camden Council that earlier this year she decided to get herself back onto it. I think she probably achieved what she wanted to achieve, but it is sad that Liz, after having only a very short time in retirement from this Parliament, has passed away. She loved life. She loved nothing more than travelling the world and seeing different places, almost always at her own expense. I am really sorry that Liz did not enjoy a longer retirement that really belonged to her after years and years of faithful and sincere public service.
I remember all the good times we had with Liz. I extend my deepest sympathy to the very close friends that Liz had in the Camden community. May she rest in peace.
The Hon. JOHN RYAN
[10.11 p.m.], by leave: A little piece of Camden died last Thursday with the passing of the late Councillor Dr Liz Kernohan, AM. While many of us perhaps did not expect Liz to make old bones, her premature death came as a great shock. Liz was the daughter of Betty and John Kernohan and the sister of Mark. Sadly all of her family have passed away, and her family very much embodied the community of Camden. It was well said by one of Liz's council colleagues that Liz virtually donated her life to the public service of Camden. My colleague the Hon. Don Harwin has already referred to the fact that she commenced her service at the University of Sydney farms. Most of us would be aware that Liz was awarded her PhD for her work on the growth of yellow spot in milk. She went on not only to work for the Camden university farms but also to work her way up to being the director of the Camden university farms while she was also the Mayor of Camden.
Eventually Liz became the Liberal Party candidate for preselection for the electorate of Camden. One of the early times I met Liz was when I was given the task of explaining to her the rigours of the Liberal Party's preselection process. I had to explain how it was necessary for her to make a speech, outline the form that the speech should take, and indicate the manner in which she was supposed to answer questions. Although Liz had always been resolute in her belief that there was no place for party politics in local councils, she nevertheless became a member of the Liberal Party in the 1970s intake and quietly remained a member of the Liberal Party until she was asked to take on the more active role of attempting to win the electorate of Camden for the party. I think that one of my colleagues has already reminded the House that candidacy for the electorate of Camden was one of the political challenges in which I was not successful.
My task was to explain to Liz the details of Liberal Party preselection because in all the time that she was a member of the Liberal Party I do not think she had ever attended a preselection meeting. I remember that a friend of mine, Noel Hadjimichael, who still lives in the Camden area, and I explained to Liz how to make a speech. We wrote a cracker of a speech for her, and people will not be able to imagine our disappointment when Liz ignored the speech completely and spoke off the cuff. Although Liz could often give a really good speech off the cuff, that was not one of her good speeches and there was another challenger for preselection who was a member of the Camden community. Liz won preselection by only the barest margin. Nevertheless, she went on to win the electorate of Camden by a thumping majority.
Liz was also the Mayor of Camden for seven years and later became the State member for Camden. I know, as she stated in her valedictory speech, that her proudest achievement was stopping the overdevelopment of Cawdor in 1991. She did that against the recommendation of the then Greiner Government. She was also strong in her opposition to the Badgerys Creek airport proposal, which also threatened the lifestyle of Camden. She pushed the Fahey Government into buying land at Wedderburn from a Singapore-owned bank to save a famous koala colony that was threatened by a housing development proposal that was being championed by that foreign-owned bank. Liz said that her only regret in public life was her inability to organise a decent taxi service for Camden. It has to be said that Liz is unlikely to be the last public figure serving the electorate of Camden who will fail to achieve that goal. Those of us who live in Camden know how difficult it will be.
Liz was a larger-than-life character. Her gruff voice that had been seasoned by too many cigarettes matched her no-nonsense and straightforward speaking style. Liz was enormously proud of her father's war record, and he was the last member of her family to pass away. When her father passed away, the sole, minute aspect of relief was that it meant I could phone the Kernohan household and when the phone was answered would be able to say confidently, "Hello Liz." I cannot count the number of times I mistook the person on the other end of the phone for Liz's father. Liz was both a conservative and a stirrer. She hated political correctness and of course she was totally unpretentious. In public life she was everywhere and she attended everything. It was often said that Liz would attend the opening of an envelope. Constituents were as likely to see her at the shops in Camden—which is pretty much where she started her grassroots political campaigning, outside Coles—as they were likely to see her in her office. Her favourite style of campaigning was going door to door, cigarette in hand, and driving from place to place in her very loud red two-door Ford hardtop with the numberplates "EAK" to match her initials for Elizabeth Anne Kernohan. The Christmas party that she held every year was an event in Camden not to be missed.
Liz's unique appeal was demonstrated beyond question in the most recent Camden Council elections. I had the sort of joy and sort of trial of guiding Liz through the election—any election she was in. She was very particular about what she wanted to say to her electorate. Whenever a press release was to be issued to the community, it was necessary for it to be reviewed, reviewed, and reviewed again. If I had dared to alter a full stop on a page that was to be handed to the media, I would have been in very big trouble with Dr Kernohan. She was very particular about what she said and she never followed the advice of any professional campaigners.
Liz proved her unique ability in council elections when during the most recent election she won a thumping majority in her south ward of Camden without issuing a single brochure or any how-to-vote material. She simply announced to the media that she was standing and then had her friends standing at all the booths and telling people to "Vote 1 for Liz, and indicate your preferences anyway you like after that." Liz received well over 1,000 votes and her nearest rival received about half that number. It took weeks to count the ballot at Camden because every vote had been cast individually, and literally every ballot paper had to be scrutinised to ascertain the preferences.
Liz was a one-off, and she will be sadly missed. She was a patron, member and supporter of so many local societies that it would be impossible for me to list them all, but I suspect that many of them will be represented at her funeral, which will held on Friday at St John's Church at Camden. I do not think I will be giving anything away by saying that that famous red beast will be part of the cortege which will take Liz to her final resting place next Friday morning. This week her local newspaper announced her death with the headline, "The Queen has died". I know Liz was a very strong monarchist and she would probably not appreciate the headline being used in that way, but I think I know what the local media meant, and there is some truth in that sentiment. There are few people in Camden who did not know and like Dr Kernohan. Indeed, she was loved by many. She will be sadly missed by Camden Council, and certainly by her community.
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE
[10.19 p.m.], by leave: I join with my colleagues in paying tribute to Dr Liz Kernohan. I first met Dr Liz Kernohan, Mayor of Camden, in about 1989 or 1990 when she came to meet the Minister for Local Government and Minister for Planning—I was then his chief of staff—to talk about Cawdor Valley and to tell him very clearly that under no circumstances would there be development in that area, that Camden was a country community, and that there was no way that Sydney's growth was going to overtake that unique community.
Everything I had heard about Liz in the days before that meeting was reinforced by her mere presence in the Minister's conference room on that day. She was strong, she was passionate, and she was Camden through and through. John Fahey had lived in Camden and had been the member for Camden, and he had a long association with the community. The day before the meeting he told me a little about Liz coming to see the Minister for Local Government and Minister for Planning. What was interesting was that John Fahey said I would notice her red nail polish. Those who knew Liz would know that she had many unique characteristics but, despite that gruff smoker's voice—
The Hon. Don Harwin:
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE:
—and cough, the red nail polish gave a feminine touch to her persona. The day I met Liz with the Minister I listened to what she said and by the end of the meeting she had lived up to all that I had heard. We formed a strong relationship, and she telephoned us on many occasions. In 1991 Liz was one of five Liberals—with me, my colleague the Hon. John Ryan, Brad Hazzard and Kerry Chikarovski—who became the Liberal Class of '91. We entered Parliament together. We sat on a number of government advisory committees together, most notably the committee on local government and planning. Much to her chagrin—because she had had a most successful career in local government—I was appointed deputy chair of one of those committees. I do not think Liz understood why I was appointed deputy chair, and I am not sure I did either. I do not think it got any better when in 1995 I became the shadow Minister for Local Government. On many occasions I sought Liz's advice and counsel, and she was willing to give it at all times.
Throughout that period not once did she give way on her principles, and her overriding principle was the care of the community of Camden. She was possibly one of the most travelled members of Parliament I have known. She did not travel as a member of Parliament but at her own expense. Travelling was her hobby and her interest. It is not surprising that on a number of occasions friends of mine have met Dr Liz Kernohan on their travels around the world. In about 1999 some friends from Rotary on the North Shore were on a trip on the Siberian railway and found themselves sharing a compartment with Dr Liz Kernohan. That was not unusual because of her love of travelling. But she always came back to Camden.
Another of my endearing memories of Liz was her love for her father and how deeply she felt his passing just a few years ago. I was delighted earlier this year to be able to write a note to Liz when she was appointed Member in the Order of Australia [AM] for services to her community and to local and State politics, of which she was most deserving. Liz had begun to regard her new life as being partly in local government and partly back here in Parliament. She attended a couple of lunches that I hosted with some of my colleagues, female members of the Liberal Party in this place. Liz told me she wanted to be part of the team. There was something about her that had never really left this place.
So I say vale Dr Liz Kernohan. She was a truly great representative and ambassador for her community. There are few like her. She put her community first and herself second in a way that only a single person is able to do. She devoted 24 hours a day, seven days a week to her community. Her community was in many ways her child. She brought life and colour to the Parliament of New South Wales and she will be very sadly missed.
The Hon. CATHERINE CUSACK
[10.26 p.m.], by leave: Liz Kernohan was a very intelligent woman, but not one of those weak, confused intellectuals. No, Liz was bold, colourful, ambitious and, as my colleague the Hon. John Ryan said, unpretentious in her ideas, utterly honest and true to her values and education and, above all, to her community. Dr Kernohan's maiden speech began with the words:
During my election campaign I made one promise to my electorate. That was to do my best for the people I represent. I am renowned for being honest and a straight talker who calls a spade a spade, and I have no intention of changing my way of doing things.
And she kept her word to her constituents. During that speech she also paid tribute to her opponent, the Hon. Peter Primrose, and praised his work for the region. That shows her humility and confidence, which is admirable in any new member. She was a true Liberal. I quote her again:
Society is not people en masse, it is made up of individuals—and I believe in the individual. The Labor Party is always talking about the rights of the individual but never the responsibilities that are as firmly attached to those rights as people are to their shadow.
In her maiden speech Liz nailed her colours to Camden and to Liberalism. In her valedictory speech 12 years later she described herself as a "lousy Party politician", and expressed disappointment in the political processes. She continued to call a spade a spade. She commented:
Political science is a widely used term, recognised by us all as a reality. Yet science plays little part in political decisions. In politics, perceptions become reality.
I spent considerable time with Liz discussing issues such as national competition policy, which she perceived as a terrible attack on her beloved dairy industry, an industry in which she had enormous expertise. I think it distressed and disappointed her that policymakers with little expertise were making decisions that had very traumatic effects on that industry. That, of course, occurred towards the end of her career.
Liz despaired at the triumph of spin over substance, at false science used to justify fashionable theories, and it disappointed her that politics dealt poorly with these processes. In this, however, she underplayed her own achievements, which were in spite of the problems that I feel she correctly identified and resented. She is claimed by the Liberal Party to be a local legend who made a unique and crucial contribution. In 1991 Liz won the marginal seat of Camden as a new candidate when many sitting Liberal members fell by the wayside. She went on to increase her vote at the subsequent two elections, going against the trend away from our party.
Her victory in 1991, in the context of a hung Parliament, was absolutely vital to the ability of the Greiner Government to stay in office. Liz played a role in New South Wales history from day one of her parliamentary career. She was a genuine Australian character with a marvellous mind and a larrikin streak that I loved and admired. She hated political correctness and valued rational argument. I am very proud as a Liberal to share in her memory and legacy, and I thank her particularly for her integrity. I will conclude with a quote she used in both her maiden speech and her valedictory speech, which she valued greatly. It was given to her by her father. It is a quote from Hamlet
, which reads:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Liz Kernohan will be greatly missed.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER
(Leader of the Opposition) [10.30 p.m.], by leave: I congratulate Coalition members who have made a contribution in the valedictory speeches for Dr Liz Kernohan. Members have made outstanding personal reflections on her contribution and interaction between members of the team. I was not aware of some of the things that occurred between some members of the Coalition and the late Dr Liz Kernohan. Of course, those stories give an insight into her incredibly robust and, as referred to by the Hon. Catherine Cusack, Australian character and her character in this Parliament. From time to time we certainly need people like Liz Kernohan. I recognise the presence in the Chamber of the Hon. John Ryan, the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party in this House, and the Hon. Duncan Gay, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of The Nationals in this Chamber.
I shall record my observations and my interactions with Liz and the bond we formed as members of the Coalition during a difficult time. The bond of friendship I achieved with Liz during that time came about because of her genuineness and her understanding of electoral problems and difficulties on the fringes of Sydney that were experienced by her, and members from the Central Coast and the Hunter Valley, including me. As has been said, Liz Kernohan was Camden and to this day she has an incredible following in Camden. The first time I went to her home I saw the incredible painting of her in her mayoral robes. The painting is incredibly lifelike; it looks like a photograph, not a painting. One expected to hear Liz's gravely voice coming straight out of it. I would like to think that on Friday we will see that photograph of Liz Kernohan in her mayoral robes. I hope that painting plays a significant part in the celebration of her life.
Liz was someone everyone certainly learnt from. She did not always want to give advice, but if one sat back and listened to what she was saying and saw how she worked with her electorate one could not help but learn. That is a mark of the support she enjoys to this day. As said earlier, Liz will be recognised by the large number of people who will turn up to bid farewell to her on Friday. Liz had a lot of support, most certainly within the party. However, it was within her community of Camden that she enjoyed the strongest support from people across the political spectrum. I was fortunate to have met with her just a few weeks ago in Camden in her new role, returning to her local government roots. Liz was, once again, getting stuck into development and transport issues in Camden. She was incredibly passionate. One would have thought that someone who had given so much to local government previously, had become mayor and had moved on to State Parliament—where she had made such a strong contribution—would have looked forward to winding back and preparing for a more retired approach to politics.
However, it was as though she had been elected to local government for the first time. I came away from that meeting believing that Liz Kernohan was back in town. No doubt she would have continued making a significant contribution to the development of Camden, in which she played such an important role. As was said earlier, that two-door Ford Falcon with the 302 Cleveland motor certainly was Liz Kernohan. It carried the registration plate "LIZ MP". At that time members of this place would have been regarded as a little doubtful if they had personalised registration plates, but Liz got away with it. If the Greens had seen Liz driving around Camden in her two-door Falcon banger, I am sure they would have chased after her.
The Hon. Don Harwin:
She would not have cared.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
No, she would not have cared. She probably would have burned them off in her Falcon. She was an incredibly determined lady. Members of the Coalition would agree that on the occasions she rose to her feet in the party room to make a contribution it was time to sit back. Liz most certainly gave it to us, although she did not speak on every issue. Liz knew her mark and when she made a contribution about something she believed needed to be done, there was no arguing with her. She was inevitably and invariably right about what she was saying, because she had such an understanding of what the grassroots of Camden and the surrounding areas were telling her. She was a real product of her area.
Some time ago during the previous Parliament I went to visit her Camden electorate. She said, "I am going to show you my little secret." She showed me the home she planned to move into in her retirement. Not too many members would have seen it—it was a simple duplex in a retirement village, at Carrington, near the CSIRO facility where she had worked as a scientist. That home was Liz. These days most people move into a resort-style retirement village, which is a significant lifestyle. However Liz had chosen a simple lifestyle and she demonstrated very clearly her excitement in doing so. Not too many members would be aware that Liz was a pin-up girl. On her wall she had a picture of herself, quite young and wearing a sash after winning a modelling competition. I am not sure whether she won a dairy competition or a showgirl competition. She looked absolutely fantastic and proudly displayed that photograph on her wall in a time of political correctness. Again, that is another symbol of Liz Kernohan.
Another little secret she had, which the Hon. Patricia Forsythe spoke about, was her love of travelling overseas. I was blown away the day that Liz told me about her one extravagance. She used to go on Captains Choice trips, which were very expensive. She said to me, "This is what I save up for every year, to go on a Captains Choice trip." Liz showed me her photograph albums; they are so wonderful they really should be stored next door in the Mitchell Library. They are not just photo albums; they are works of art. Their layout was phenomenal. Liz spent time taking photographs. She put them onto the pages with information about what the building was, what its history was, et cetera. It was incredible to see those albums. Unfortunately, she had no children or grandchildren to whom she could pass on those albums. I hope and pray that the history and contributions contained in those albums are not lost, but are retained somewhere for people to enjoy in the future. They are phenomenal.
Motion agreed to.
The House adjourned at 10.39 p.m. until Thursday 28 October 2004 at 11.00 a.m.