Wednesday 8 March 2006
The President (The Hon. Dr Meredith Burgmann)
took the chair at 11.00 a.m.
The Clerk of the Parliaments
offered the Prayers.
SELECT COMMITTEE ON TOBACCO SMOKING
the receipt of the following message from the Legislative Assembly:
The Legislative Assembly, having had under consideration the Legislative Council's message dated 28 February 2006, wishes to advise that the Legislative Assembly agrees with the resolution relating to the appointment of a Joint Select Committee on Tobacco Smoking in New South Wales and fixes Thursday 9 March 2006 at 1.00 pm in room 1108 as the time and place for the first meeting.
Legislative Assembly John Aquilina
8 March 2006 Speaker
announced the receipt, pursuant to the Public Finance and Audit Act 1983, of a performance audit report of the Auditor-General entitled "The New Schools Privately Financed Project", dated March 2006.
Ordered to be printed.
FIREARMS SAFETY AWARENESS TESTING
Production of Documents: Order
Motion by Ms Lee Rhiannon agreed to:
That under Standing Order 52 there be laid upon the table of the House within 14 days of the date of the passing of this resolution the following documents in the possession, custody or control of the Cabinet Office, NSW Police, the Commissioner of Police, the Ministry of Police or the Attorney General's Department relating to the Firearms Safety and Training Council Ltd [FSTC] or the NSW Shooting Association Ltd [NSWSA]:
(a) any document which refers to the contract under which FSTC administers firearms safety awareness testing for people applying for firearms licences,
(b) any document which refers to the new contract to be entered into in 2006 for the provision of firearms safety awareness testing for people applying for firearms licences, and
(c) any document which records or refers to the production of documents as a result of this order of the House.
AUSTRALIAN TARGET SHOOTERS CLUB APPROVAL NUMBER
Production of Documents: Order
Ms LEE RHIANNON:
I seek leave to amend Private Members' Business item No. 186 outside the Order of Precedence by omitting "licence" wherever occurring and inserting instead "approval number".
Motion by Ms Lee Rhiannon agreed to:
That under Standing Order 52 there be laid upon the table of the House within 14 days of the date of the passing of this resolution all documents in the possession, custody or control of the Commissioner of Police, NSW Police, the Ministry of Police or the Attorney General's Department regarding the approval number granted to the Australian Target Shooters Club, including but not limited to:
(a) any briefing documents by the Commissioner of Police, NSW Police and the Attorney General's Department which provide notes, comment, opinion or advice, including expressions of concern, opposition or support for the application for an approval number; and
(b) any document which records or refers to the production of documents as a result of this order of the House.
LANE COVE TUNNEL
Production of Documents: Order
Motion by the Hon. Duncan Gay agreed to:
That under Standing Order 52 there be laid upon the table of the House within 14 days of the date of the passing of this resolution, the following documents, excluding any photographs, technical drawings, maps, plans, designs or specifications, in the possession, custody or control of the Premier, the Premier's Department, the Cabinet Office, Treasury, the Minister for Roads, or the Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA], created since the order of the House of 25 June 2005 relating to the Lane Cove Tunnel:
(a) all correspondence, memorandums and general communication between the Roads and Traffic Authority, the Minister for Roads, the Premier's Department, the Lane Cove Tunnel Consortium and any other parties, relating to contracts for the Lane Cove Tunnel project, and
(b) any document which records or refers to the production of documents as a result of this order of the House.
GENERAL PURPOSE STANDING COMMITTEE NO. 3
Extension of Reporting Date
Motion by the Hon. Don Harwin, on behalf of the Hon. Greg Pearce, agreed to:
That the reporting date for the reference to General Purpose Standing Committee No. 3 relating to the Budget Estimates and related papers be extended to Thursday 6 April 2006.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Withdrawal of Business
Private Members' Business item No. 162 outside the Order of Precedence withdrawn on motion by the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Postponement of Business
Business of the House Notice of Motion No. 1 postponed on motion by the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans.
INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS AMENDMENT BILL
PUBLIC SECTOR EMPLOYMENT LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA
(Minister for Finance, Minister for Commerce, Minister for Industrial Relations, Minister for Ageing, Minister for Disability Services, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [11.11 a.m.]: I move:
That these bills be now read a second time.
I seek leave to incorporate the second reading speech in Hansard
as it has already been delivered in the other place.
I bring before the House today an issue that starkly distinguishes the values of the Labor Government from those sitting opposite.
These Bills are one plank of the NSW Government's response to the Commonwealth's divisive Work Choices legislation, which is a direct attack on the working conditions and living standards of ordinary Australians.
It is an attack supported by the Opposition in this State. The so-called Work Choices legislation offers no choice, no protection, and will lead to confusion and complexity for both employers and employees.
Under the Work Choices legislation, all foreign, trading and financial corporations will be forced to operate under Work Choices—they will have no choice.
The Commonwealth has sought to base the legislation on its constitutional power to legislate in relation to foreign, trading and financial corporations. The NSW Government believes that the Work Choices legislation goes beyond the scope of this constitutional power. For this reason, the Government has launched a challenge to the legislation in the High Court. The High Court has indicated that this will be heard in May 2006.
The Work Choices legislation represents an unprecedented attack on the working conditions of ordinary Australian workers. It is an attack on family living standards.
What will employees get from Work Choices?:
• A substandard range of statutory protections to replace what were once comprehensive awards and agreements.
• The potential for a lower real minimum wage, if the Fair Pay Commission drives down pay rises.
• Protracted disputes with employers over wages and working conditions.
• A sidelined Australian Industrial Relations Commission without the ability to deal with industrial disputes easily and expeditiously.
By contrast, the NSW Labor Government supports an industrial relations system that promotes fairness and equity, and supports employers and employees in making decisions about the workplace. That is why the Government is introducing these Bills.
The Industrial Relations Amendment Bill makes three important amendments to the Industrial Relations Act 1996 to extend additional options and protections to those who are transferred to the federal industrial relations system by the Work Choices legislation.
The Bill does not add anything new in substance to employee and employer rights and obligations. Unlike our federal counterparts, we're not trying to interfere with the industrial arrangements that the parties have entered into. What we are doing, in fact, is attempting to maintain the rights and obligations that employees and employers now enjoy, before Work Choices rolls over the top of them.
So what are we proposing to do?
Firstly, the Bill will give industrial parties a further option for making and maintaining co-operative industrial arrangements outside the Work Choices system. A critical part of such arrangements is access to a means of negotiating and settling the disputes which inevitably arise from time to time.
Work Choices guts the role of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in dispute settling, and specifically prohibits it from being much more than an adviser to the parties. This is so, even if the parties agree to give the federal Commission a stronger role.
The Bill provides that, if the parties conclude a common law deed of arrangement, and they agree to give the NSW Industrial Relations Commission a role in resolving disputes about the application of the deed, then the Commission will be empowered to do so.
This gives the parties another option for making agreements if the state system is no longer available, and provides them with ready access to an expert tribunal as a means of supporting a co-operative industrial relationship.
The Bill further provides that those enterprise consent awards that currently apply to constitutional corporations will cease to operate, and will be replaced by enterprise agreements in the same terms as the previous award.
Given that enterprise consent awards are made with—and cannot be made without—the consent of the parties, they are in substance no different from an enterprise agreement, and so should be treated as such.
As a result, such agreements will be transferred to the federal industrial relations system in a form that protects the agreed conditions to the maximum extent possible. This is in the interests of both the employers and employees because it protects the integrity of the agreement that they have made.
Thirdly, the Bill proposes some minor administrative amendments to the Industrial Relations Act 1996 to make it easier for the NSW Commission to respond to the needs of industrial parties.
This will be done by amending section 159 of the Act to clarify that the general power of the President includes a specific power to determine the way in which a matter or a class of matters is listed before the Commission, and to determine the allocation of matters or the way in which such matters are to be included.
In addition, the Bill will amend section 156 (2) of the Act to provide that a Full Bench of the Commission must include at least one Presidential Member and at least one member who is a Commissioner or—if no Commissioner is available—one non judicial Presidential Member. This will open up the membership of Full Benches so that non-judicial Deputy Presidents may be used to fill the non-judicial role on a Full Bench, where no Commissioner is available.
In the immediate term, these proposals will allow the President to prioritise matters likely to be affected by the commencement of Work Choices. In the longer term, the Commission's capacity to deal with emerging industrial relations issues will be improved.
The reality is that Work Choices severely restricts the choices available to employers and employees. It will be vastly more complex to work with and it will be more costly for all parties involved. This Bill aims to mitigate some of those effects for those NSW employers and employees who will shortly be conscripted into the federal industrial relations system.
I now turn to the second Bill that the Government is introducing into the House. The Public Sector Employment Legislation Amendment Bill will make certain public sector employees the direct employees of the Government, rather than individual statutory corporations.
The Government believes that about 45 per cent of the NSW public sector may be exposed to the Work Choices legislation. In particular, there are a range of public sector organisations that are statutory corporations and which could be characterised as trading or financial corporations for.the purpose of the Work Choices legislation.
A number of these organisations employ key frontline staff, such as nurses and allied health workers in the Health area, and teachers in TAFE institutions.
The Government has a choice in how it employs its staff. And our choice is to take direct action where we can—to protect the working conditions and living standards of our own public sector employees.
Work Choices does not apply to the direct employees of the Government of NSW. Therefore, by transferring public sector workers to direct Government employment, we are ensuring the continued application of the State industrial relations system for key frontline employees, such as:
• ambulance staff, and
• TAFE teachers and support staff,
• Home Care workers, and
• other employees of statutory corporations.
About 45 per cent of the public sector (school teachers and support staff, police, fire-fighters, and other Crown employees) will not be covered by Work Choices. This is because they are already employed by the Government in the service of the Crown, and not by a corporation.
At this stage, the employees of State Owned Corporations have not been included in this Bill, and the Government is considering all available options for protecting their employees from the deleterious effects of the Work Choices legislation.
The Public Sector Employment Legislation Amendment Bill amends the Public Sector Employment and Management Act 2002, the Health Administration Act 1982 and the Health Services Act 1997, and makes consequential amendments to the legislation establishing various statutory corporations.
Generally, the Bill removes the existing employment powers of the public sector corporations listed within it, and provides that the employees of these corporations will instead be employed by the Government of NSW in the service of the Crown under a new Chapter 1 A of the Public Sector Employment and Management Act.
The Bill makes it clear that the transition from employment by a public sector corporation to employment by the Crown will not change the terms and conditions under which these staff are employed, and will not break the continuity of their service.
With the exception of TAFE administrative staff, the Bill does not make any public sector employees into public servants.
Schedule 1 of the Bill amends the Public Sector Employment and Management Act to create a new 'Government Service of NSW', which will consist of people employed by the Government of NSW in the service of the Crown. Staff within the Government Service will be assigned to public sector corporations to enable them to exercise their functions.
The NSW Government will employ staff in Divisions of the Government Service. A new Schedule to the Act will list the Divisions of the Government Service. Part 1 of the Schedule lists the Public Service Departments, and Part 2 lists the Non-Public Service Divisions within the Government Service.
In practice, the staff currently employed by each statutory corporation will form part of the Division that is assigned to assist that same corporation in exercising its functions.
Part 3 of the Schedule lists the Special Employment Divisions within the new Government Service. The employment of staff within these Divisions is subject to the limitations specified in relation to those staff. This Division is intended to preserve the effect of existing powers which statutory corporations have to employ outside the Public Sector Employment and Management Act, such as powers to employ casual staff.
The Bill does not include the Teaching Service, the Police Service or Parliamentary Staff, although these will continue to be defined as 'public sector services' under the Act. The Health Service will not be included in the Government Service, but its staff will be transferred to Crown employment through amendments to health-specific legislation.
Each Division of the Government Service will have a 'Division Head' who will exercise the Government's employment functions in relation to that group of staff.
The person holding the position of Division Head will be listed in Schedule 1 to the Act. In relation to Public Service Departments, the existing Director-General or Chief Executive Officer will be the Division Head. In relation to other public sector corporations, the Division Head generally will be the existing Chief Executive Officer.
Schedule 1 also contains a number of transitional provisions in order to facilitate the smooth transition of staff into the NSW Government service, and ensure that their current employment terms and conditions are transferred to the new employer.
In particular, provision is made to ensure that the accrued annual leave, extended service leave, and sick leave are transferred to the new employer. Further, if a Federal award or agreement applies to an employee prior to the changes, the terms and conditions of the award will be carried over as a State instrument. The new arrangements will also preserve the current rights of employees to access appeals tribunals.
As the Public Employment Office is a statutory corporation, it has been decided to de-corporatise that organisation to be absolutely certain that it will not be covered by Work Choices.
Therefore, the Bill abolishes the Public Employment Office, and replaces it with the 'Director of Public Employment', who will be the Director-General of the Premier's Department. The Director of Public Employment will have the same powers and functions as are currently held by the Public Employment Office.
In addition to amending the Public Sector Employment and Management Act, the Bill also inserts a new Part 1 into Chapter 9 of the Health Services Act, dealing with the employment of staff in the NSW Health Service. The Bill provides that existing public healthy sector employees also will be employed under this Part by the Government of NSW in the service of the Crown.
• Staff will be employed within the NSW Health Service to enable the following health sector organisations to exercise their functions:
• Area health services and statutory health corporations, and the public hospitals that they control;
• Prescribed affiliated health corporations, in relation to recognised establishments and recognised services;
• The Health Administration Corporation; and
• The Director-General of Health, in relation to ambulance services, and the provision of health support services to public health organisations and the public hospitals that they control.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER
The Bill provides that the Director-General of NSW Health may exercise the Government's employer functions on its behalf in relation to the staff employed in the NSW Health Service.
Again, consequential provisions ensure that all staff who become members of the newly constituted NSW Health Service will continue to be employed in accordance with the terms and conditions that applied to them as members of staff of the statutory corporation concerned. The Bill does not change the salary, wages or employment conditions of these employees.
Special issues arise in relation to affiliated health organisations. These are non-government religious and charitable organisations, some or all of whose establishments or services are recognised as part of the public health system. The Health Administrative Corporation is currently the representative employer for these organisations.
Given the non-governmental nature of these organisations, the Bill provides that organisations may become 'declared' affiliated health organisations by being prescribed as such in a regulation. However they will not be prescribed if they do not concur.
The staff of 'declared' affiliated health organisations also will be employed in the NSW Health Service by the Government of NSW in the service of the Crown. A provision has been included in the Bill to ensure that only NSW Health Service staff whom the declared organisation considers will respect their health care philosophy will be able to work in their recognised services or establishments.
Whether or not an organisation is 'declared' by regulation for public health sector employment purposes will not affect its status as a public health organisation under the Health Services Act. 15.
Non-declared organisations, which are funded as part of the public health system, will be required as far as possible to provide terms and conditions of employment for their staff, which mirror those for the NSW Health Service. Regulations will also be developed to facilitate mobility between non-declared organisations and the NSW Health Service.
In relation to the Ambulance Service, additional changes are necessary to preserve the exempt benefits for its employees under Commonwealth fringe benefits tax legislation. These are contingent on the staff being employed by the body charged with providing public ambulance services.
Therefore, the Ambulance Service of NSW will no longer be a statutory corporation but will still retain its distinct identity as a Service. The Service will continue to comprise the highly professional group of staff dedicated to providing ambulance services for the people of NSW—however, they will be transferred to the NSW Health Service to form a distinct and separate Service with in it.
The Bill repeals the Ambulance Services Act 1990, and inserts a new Chapter SA into the Health Services Act 1997, which will instead establish and regulate the Ambulance Service of NSW.
In future, the Director-General of Health will exercise the functions of employer of Ambulance Service staff and will also be vested with the statutory responsibility for providing ambulance services. Day to day operational management responsibility will continue to reside with the Chief Executive, and in all practical respects the Ambulance Service of NSW will continue to operate as it currently does.
Schedule 3 of the Bill contains a set of amendments to the Health Administration Act 1982 that are required as a result of the changes to the NSW Health Service.
Schedule 4 contains a set of amendments to the legislation constituting the various statutory corporations covered by the Bill. These provisions expressly remove the power of the statutory corporations to employ staff. These corporations will instead draw on the employees of the Government Service of NSW to enable them to carry out their functions.
The New South Wales Labor Government strongly opposes the Commonwealth's Work Choices legislation, and the impact it will have on the working conditions and living standards of ordinary Australians. These Bills represent just one aspect of the Government's response to that legislation. They are strong measures that represent Labor's strong commitment to protecting fairness and equity within our community. I commend these Bills to the House.
(Leader of the Opposition) [11.12 a.m.]: I lead on behalf of the Opposition in debate on these bills. In so doing I begin by asking the question: Where is the urgency in relation to this legislation? The Government has not sought urgency in a formal sense, but yesterday's notice paper made no mention of this industrial relations reform legislation. There was no suggestion of urgency in relation to this legislation in the hours leading up to yesterday's 12 o'clock press conference, headed up by the Premier, Morris Iemma. It was not until much later in the afternoon, in fact not until yesterday evening, that the legislation hit the deck. It is interesting to examine what is happening in regard to this legislation and to compare that with what is happening in particular in the public sector and the sense of urgency that exists there—but only in the minds of public servants and in the minds of the public.
It is interesting to contrast the sense of urgency in regard to this legislation with what occurred yesterday at the press conference and the announcement by Premier Iemma and Carl Scully, the Minister for Police, on the issue of the rebirthing of stolen vehicles. It is equally interesting to note that 10 months ago the Minister for Police made the very same announcement, citing a sense of urgency and the need to get this legislation before Parliament, not the industrial relations legislation, but an important area of criminal activity—the rebirthing of stolen cars. Only 10 months ago we were told that the legislation would be before Parliament in 2005, that it was a matter of urgency, and one that needed to be dealt with immediately.
Yesterday we heard the same announcement. In fact, the rebirthing of vehicles announcement was reborn yesterday, and no sense of urgency was conveyed during the past 10 months. Let me assure honourable members that one has only to speak to people in the community who have had their vehicles stolen to know that motor vehicle theft in New South Wales is an urgent issue. There is no doubt that motor vehicle theft can be attributed to clearly defined organised gangs. It took 10 months for the Government to act on something so urgent and we still do not have the legislation before us. That legislation is important because it relates to the working conditions of police officers who are dealing with highly-organised criminal gangs that are ruthless in their activity.
Once again the Government has been caught out making an announcement it made 10 months earlier, at which time it emphasised that the legislation was urgent. Once again it has failed to come up with the goods. With regard to the legislation before the House the Minister, a few moments ago—for the first time that I can remember in regard to industrial relations legislation—sought not to add to the contribution made by the Minister in the other House. He chose not to contribute to the debate and put forward his personal reflections and views on this legislation. He declined, instead sitting down after having the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard
because the speech had already been delivered in the Legislative Assembly. Where is the urgency? What has been put before the Government to cause it to bring this matter before the House at this time when no mention was made of it when the House resumed yesterday afternoon?
It is important to examine another area relating to the working conditions of police officers. It is an issue that I, as shadow Minister for Police, regard as urgent. It is an issue that the Government has recognised as urgent but one in respect of which it has failed to produce the goods. I am referring to the provision of Tazar stun guns. The Government is considering a trial of Tazar stun guns, but if honourable members were to research this matter they would learn that the Government first made an announcement in regard to the trialling of Tazar stun guns back in 1998! This is a serious occupational health and safety issue relating to the working conditions of the men and women in the NSW Police but this Government has been caught out again dragging its feet. There is no sense of urgency about this matter. Despite claims that something needs to be done, the Government has not produced the legislation.
Today the Government introduced legislation earmarked as urgent but defined by its own lack of preparedness. There has been no consultation in New South Wales relating to the Government's proposal. It simply pulled this legislation out of the hat yesterday. In an endeavour to try to get some currency as it slips further and further down the black hole of its own neglect and incompetence, it plucked this one out of the hat yesterday. I ask the Minister: Whom has he consulted? Where is the Government's support for this issue in the wider scheme of things? I think it is fair to say—and I do not believe that the Minister would have the temerity to challenge me on this—that the Federal Government had the courage of its convictions and put out the legislation for public consultation.
Regardless of whether people liked it or did not like it they had an opportunity to look at it. Every man, woman and child in this country had an opportunity to participate in the debate—unionised, nonunionised, employee and employer, the lot! Everyone was involved in the debate and everyone had an opportunity to consider it. We have before us today something in respect of which there is no evidence of the Government coming forward with any examples of consultation. It has involved only a very small number of mates or people within the unions.
The Minister said, "the cops", which is interesting because I spoke to some police officers this morning. I asked them whether they had heard about this legislation and they do not know a thing about it. I do not know which cops the Minister is referring to. He is obviously not talking to the real ones who are on the front line because they do not know what is happening here. They know about the federal legislation because the Federal Government had the guts to stand up and say, "This is what we are proposing." But slippery Sam opposite merely says, "This is urgent. We need to get this before the Parliament. We have not consulted with anyone."
The Government has not spoken to anyone, apart perhaps from a few mates in the Labor Council. In a desperate attempt to grab some currency and become relevant the Government said, "Let us come up with something." I go back to the point I made at the commencement of my contribution: Where is the urgency? Where is the consultation? Has the Minister spoken to farmers? Has he spoken to nonunionised workers?
The Hon. John Della Bosca:
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
The Minister said yes, he has spoken to farmers. When I refer to farmers I am not talking about the Minister for Rural Affairs and his mates in Country Labor; I am talking about farmers who have a bit of dirt under their fingernails, who are out there working on their properties. The Minister said he has spoken to them. I am talking about speaking to them face to face, not through a medium or through a ouija board, and saying, "This is what we are proposing." There has been no debate whatsoever on the Government's proposals.
At the beginning of debate the Minister had the opportunity to say, "I am the Minister for Industrial Relations in New South Wales and this is what I stand for". Forget the pathetic contribution of the Deputy Premier, John Watkins, in the Legislative Assembly. The Minister for Industrial Relations had the chance to show what he is made of by making a personal contribution to the debate. But he did not do that. Instead he simply said, "It has already been said before; here is the legislation. Now pass the beer nuts and let us move on." The Minister showed no interest in these bills. Of course, he will reply to the second reading debate, as he tries desperately to prove that he is interested. But if the Minister were dead-set serious about these bills he would have contributed already to this debate. The fact is that Labor members have nothing to add. They have no sense of urgency and nothing to contribute because there has been no consultation on this matter.
It is important to put into perspective the current situation in New South Wales. The Government is trying to rebadge itself as the workers' friend. We have to give it to Government members: they are good. If we take our eyes off them for a moment, they move and slip around. I like that: The Labor Party is the workers' friend. Remember how the workers' friends treated the workers—their support base—a few years ago, when the Premier stood at the front of Parliament House and gave them the peace sign in reverse? Those workers were concerned about the lack of consultation in relation to workers compensation reforms.
The Hon. John Della Bosca:
They weren't concerned about that at all.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
Apparently they were not concerned about that. Sleep easy, the Hon. John Della Bosca is in charge. Be calm, little children, Della is here to look after you; everything is fine. The fact is that workers did not trust Labor then so how, in heaven's name, can they trust Labor now? When was the last time a senior Minister—or, for that matter, any Minister or even a Labor member of Parliament—put up his or her hand and said, "I am responsible; I made a mistake"? It does not happen. Instead the Government ceremonially rolls out some unsuspecting public servant, who is usually a couple of rungs below Labor's mates on the ladder. Labor's mates are all at the top of the tree. They have their noses in the trough, enjoying all that is available to them on the gravy train of State Parliament. The Government marches out an unwitting underling at some public meeting to be hung, drawn and quartered. It makes an example of that lowly public servant to dispel the belief that the Government is not acting. That happens time and again.
We saw what happened to Paul Forward and we see what happens to police officers. The Government is never at fault when something goes wrong. Labor never interferes or does the wrong thing; it just drags out some police officer to be humiliated. How can we forget what happened to Dennis Bray, a most hardworking police officer? The Government thought it could get away with it by removing him from his position. But the officers of NSW Police—the morale and confidence of whom Labor members continue to undermine—had had enough of the Government's political interference in senior levels of the force and they said, "No way; we have had enough". The Government was then forced to try to weasel its way out of trouble by suggesting that it did not remove Dennis Bray from his position; it simply gave him the weekend off and then put him in a new position to complement the work yet to be done.
The Government does not like public servants; it shoots them. The Government gets rid of public servants. So much for the suggestion that Labor is the workers' friend! It is a shame that the Treasurer is not in the Chamber, because he is a real favourite of the workers. He was here when the workers compensation reforms were being debated in Parliament.
The Hon. John Della Bosca:
He was not, actually.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
At the time he was in the process of moving from the Labor Council to Parliament. It was remarkable what little the fighter for the workers and the union movement said about those reforms. The Hon. Michael Costa said nothing because he had a secret plan. That plan is not so secret now because the Hon. Michael Costa ran off at the mouth at a function one night and said that New South Wales had one or two public servants too many. In fact, it was a bit more than one or two: it was 20 per cent too many from a work force of 340,000.
Ms Lee Rhiannon:
So you had to outdo him, didn't you?
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
It is interesting to hear the cheap points that come from the land of irrelevancy that is the Greens bench. I will come back to the Greens in a moment. The difference between the Liberal-Nationals Coalition and the Labor Party and its left-wing branch, the Greens, is that we will work with public servants to ensure that there are no sackings.
Members opposite laugh but I remind them of the words of the Hon. Michael Costa, who let fly about the 340,000 public servants in this State and said that that was 20 per cent too many. He said that it was going to fall to him, as Treasurer, to do something about it. Armed with an axe, he is working his way, quietly but surely, through the public service. The Hon. Michael Costa is the masked avenger for the Australian Labor Party. But he wears two masks: one for each face. The Hon. Michael Costa wears one mask for his mates at the Labor Council, where he is the workers' friend, and another mask in caucus, where he gets out the chainsaw. The blood must be all over the floor when the Treasurer has finished chopping away at public servants. He does not care.
The difference between the Liberal-Nationals Coalition and the Labor Party and the left-wing Greens is that they want to sack public servants, full stop. We want to restructure the public service over time as officers leave the service. That restructure will take time but it will happen. The public sector will not fall for the Government's rubbish. Public servants know that the Government is not concerned about their interests in any way. Look at what Labor did to them in the area of workers compensation. The Government reformed workers compensation but did not consult the workers about it. They did not feel that they were part of the process. The Government simply said that workers were ripping off the system so it was going to do something about it. Many people are doing it tough but the so-called workers' friends show them no compassion. In my shadow portfolio of Police—
The Hon. John Della Bosca:
The lowest incidence of injuries and fatalities in 17 years.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
That is an interesting comment. I recently took the opportunity to visit some of the workplaces in which police officers must perform their duties. I am glad that the Hon. Tony Catanzariti is in the Chamber because he comes from the south-west of New South Wales and I recently met police in Moama and Deniliquin. The working conditions of those police officers are an absolute disgrace. The cracks in the wall of Moama police station are so big that people do not have to use the Eagle phone to talk to officers: they simply speak through the cracks. Daylight shines through the cracks and into the police station. I also visited some police residences in Moama. The only thing keeping the panes of glass in the windows is the paint. The white ants have eaten everything else; there is nothing there. Thank God this generous Government provided lead-based paint to hold together the panes of glass!
At a police residence I saw massive pieces of lead-based paint falling off the walls of a child's bedroom. These complaints are all falling on deaf ears because the Government is simply not interested. When the Government talks about workers' rights it should look at its own bailiwick and the conditions in which police officers work and it will know it has failed them. Recently the Minister admitted there has been 10 years of neglect in police stations and police premises—
The Hon. John Della Bosca:
I think he said no Minister had ever taken responsibility.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
Of course he did not take responsibility, because he said it was somebody else's fault. This neglect did not occur during his shift but during somebody else's. Once again the Government has flicked out the ball and made sure it keeps moving around. Joe Tripodi is here one moment and gone the next. It is like the three shell trick—
The Hon. John Della Bosca:
He's always there!
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
The Minister rightly interjects that Joe Tripodi is always there. He is one of the men who stands behind the curtain behind the Premier—one of the men who puts his hands up the Premier's jacket. Joe is one of those men who is controlling the strings of the puppet but he is not the only one. One cannot ignore for one moment the contribution of the Hon. Eddie Obeid and Mark Obeid from the Labor Party, who also control the puppet. They all control the puppet but no-one takes any responsibility. The only people who are taken out, and made an example of, are the public servants.
There has been no urgency in relation to this matter. The public servants in this State know how the Government has mistreated them and ignored them over the years. Any last ditch attempt by the Government to try to suggest that it is serious about looking after the workers in this State will fall on deaf ears because they have switched on to the Government. The most disappointing fact is that despite the Government's efforts yesterday to try to get some currency, it got nowhere near it. I feel sorry for the Labor Government because it is on its way out.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE
[11.32 p.m.]: The Christian Democratic Party supports the Industrial Relations Amendment Bill and the Public Sector Employment Legislation Amendment Bill. Employees in the public sector are effectively summed up by the words "in the service of the Crown". Last night the House debated removing the word "Crown" from the oath of allegiance taken by members of Parliament.
The Hon. Peter Breen:
It was the Queen. The Queen is not the same as the Crown.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE:
Yes, it is. The Queen is the Crown.
The Hon. Peter Breen:
No, it is not. The Queen is a person.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE:
The Queen wears the crown. The Queen is the Crown. This hypocritical legislation reassigns all employees of the State Government. As the overview states, the bill:
(a) removes the employment functions of certain statutory corporations that currently employ their own staff (such as the RTA, STA and the TAFE Commission) and provides instead for the staff to be employed by the Government of New South Wales in the service of the Crown, and
The reference to the Crown is repeated through the legislation. The Government, in the service of the Crown, will employ employees in public health—for example, area health services and, as noted in schedule 5 to the bill, the staff of the ICAC—and existing provisions relating to arrangements for other staff are retained. It is hypocritical of the Government to propose to remove references to the Crown by changing "Crown land" to "State land", and to remove the royal symbol—not a Queen Elizabeth symbol—in this Chamber and in other places.
For political purposes the Government has identified this loophole and put employees under the service of the Crown so they will not be affected by the Federal Government's WorkChoices legislation. This bill is merely a device to achieve the Labor Government's objective to maintain control over all public servants and not give them an opportunity to have a role in work choices. Maybe some public servants prefer to negotiate individual contracts perhaps to improve their financial return within their government department, which this legislation prevents.
The Industrial Relations Amendment Bill is a more positive piece of legislation that deals with a number of practical matters. It clarifies the unfair contracts jurisdiction of the Industrial Relation Commission [IRC] of New South Wales; it allows the Supreme Court to supervise the jurisdiction of the Commission in Court Session after the processes of the commission are complete; it changes the name of the Commission in Court Session; and it allows the commission to extend the time in which an unfair contract claim can be brought.
The Court of Appeal was concerned that the IRC wrongly decided on cases about commercial contracts that were outside its industrial jurisdictions and that those judgments could not be appealed against. To avoid the effect of section 179, the Court of Appeal decided to allow parties to bring cases before it as soon as proceedings had been filed in the IRC because the IRC had not yet made a decision; section 179 did not apply. However, the problem with that approach was that employees could be put at a significant disadvantage if they were forced to bear the expense of running a case in the Court of Appeal rather than in the IRC. The Court of Appeal is considerably more expensive than the IRC, and cases generally take longer to hear and often provide no remedy. The IRC was designed to be a quick and inexpensive forum for settling workplace disputes.
That is why the Attorney General convened a working party—chaired by Acting Justice Stein of the Court of Appeal and comprising representatives of the Law Society, the Bar Association, Unions NSW, and Australian Business Ltd—to inquire into and report upon the operation of the sections of the Industrial Relations Act dealing with the privative clause and unfair contracts. The Industrial Relations Amendment Bill puts into effect a number of recommendations of that working party.
The bill will amend the Industrial Relations Act 1996 to clarify that where there is a contract by which work is performed in an industry, any related condition or collateral arrangements may also be reviewed by the commission, and may be varied or declared void within the commission's unfair contracts jurisdiction. The bill also changes the name of the "Industrial Relations Commission in Court Session" to the "Industrial Court of New South Wales". The bill extends, with the leave of the commission, the time in which an unfair contract claim can be brought. We support both bills, but I note the hypocrisy of the Public Sector Employment Legislation Amendment Bill 2006.
Ms LEE RHIANNON
[11.38 a.m.]: Madam President—
The Hon. John Della Bosca:
I hope you are going to make more sympathetic remarks.
Ms LEE RHIANNON:
Absolutely, Minister. The debate has been a bit of a worry. The Greens support the bills but are considering moving an amendment because of our concern that some other sections of what all would probably regard as public sector workers, in a wide definition of the term, should be picked up by and given the protective coverage of this legislation. First, I congratulate the Government on challenging the Federal WorkChoices legislation in the High Court. I understand that that case will be heard in May. The Greens regard that as a very important step, but it is only one of a range of diverse responses necessary to give workers, their families and those they support the protection that can be afforded them at the State level.
I want to comment on the Federal industrial relations approach, and in particular the Fair Pay Commission. This is just one of the many rorts the Federal Government is trying to foist on the workers of this country, trying to con them that the Government is trying to do the right thing. The so-called Fair Pay Commission is modelled on a like body in Britain, but at least that country is honest and calls it the Low Pay Commission. The Federal Government body is a replica of the Low Pay Commission, but our Federal Government resorted to spin and deception, which characterises all aspects of this WorkChoices legislation. Therefore the Greens are pleased to work with the Labor Government of New South Wales to endeavour to bring some fairness and equity to working relations in this State.
This is able to be achieved because the WorkChoices legislation does not apply to direct employees of the Government of New South Wales. So we must ensure that a whole range of workers are regarded as direct employees of the Government of this State, so that protections can be put in place for them. I understand that the bill will give industrial parties a further option for making and maintaining co-operative industrial arrangements outside the WorkChoices system. An obvious part of those arrangements is access to a means of negotiating and settling the disputes that inevitably arise in workplaces from time to time.
The bill provides that parties will have ready access to an expert tribunal as a means of supporting a co-operative industrial relationship. The Greens certainly support the umbrella that is being provided by this legislation to cover more New South Wales workers, but our main point is that more workers need to be brought under the umbrella. That is particularly so with local government workers and employees of some State-owned corporations who have not yet been picked up by this legislation. So the Greens support the sentiment of the bills.
The New South Wales Government's response to the Federal Government's WorkChoices legislation is telling. These bills are being dealt with too quickly. It is unfortunate that more time has not been allowed for discussion of them. The New South Wales Government has known for a long time that March was the critical month for workers in New South Wales who would fall foul of the WorkChoices legislation. Surely we could have been given more time to consider the bills. It could have been out in the community for a number of months for discussion and consideration. I do not believe that the New South Wales Government is doing all it can to protect more New South Wales workers from the ravages of the Federal Government's WorkChoices laws.
I want to speak about the non-government, religious and charitable organisations that will now be deemed to be Crown employees by consent. In the second reading debate last night the Deputy Premier made the following remarks about those workers:
Special issues arise in relation to affiliated health organisations. These are non-government religious and charitable organisations, some or all of whose establishments or services are recognised as part of the public health system … Given the non-governmental nature of these organisations, the bill provides that organisations may become declared affiliated health organisations by being prescribed as such in a regulation. However, they will not be prescribed if they do not concur. The staff of declared affiliated health organisations also will be employed in the NSW Health Service by the Government of New South Wales in the service of the Crown.
This point begs the question: Why is the Government going out of its way to provide coverage for employees of non-government religious and charitable organisation but appears to be not doing the same for employees of State-owned corporations, or for local government employees or other workers? As far as I can see, the best that we have is this statement from the Minister:
Further consideration will be given to extending [this] policy to State-owned corporations at a later date.
The Greens find that statement worrying. I ask the Minister, in his reply to the debate, to clarify where the Government is heading with this aspect of the bill and the problems faced by a sizeable section of the New South Wales work force. The Greens will move amendments to this legislation which, if passed, will ensure that the New South Wales Government also gives local government employees the status of Crown employees. These amendments would require the Premier and the Government to introduce legislation in both Houses of the Parliament no later than 7 April 2006; to, as far as practicable, convert the employment status of New South Wales local government employees to that of New South Wales Crown employees; to take similar legislative action that would shield local government employees from the reach of the Federal Government's Workplaces Relations Act; or to provide written reasons, including legal advice, to the Parliament explaining why that is not possible.
I will give one example to demonstrate why those amendments are clearly necessary. To do so, I will relate some information that the Greens have about the Hunter. Large sections of the work force in different parts of New South Wales will be vulnerable to the WorkChoices legislation. We believe that the Labor Government should have by now offered protection to those sections of the work force but it has not given a good reason why it has not done so. All local government workers across the State are still vulnerable, and that makes this one of the most urgent matters the Government needs to address. For example, the following are the numbers of workers in local councils that will remain vulnerable: 1,230 in Newcastle, 1,038 in Lake Macquarie, 70 in Dungog, 96 in Gloucester, 350 in Great Lakes, 150 in Muswellbrook, 326 in Maitland, 285 in Cessnock, 376 in Port Stephens, 101 in Scone, and 198 in Singleton. That is more than 3,000 workers in the Hunter alone. Surely they should have been given protection by now.
I cited those numbers to underline that a large section of the work force in New South Wales will miss out on necessary coverage when this legislation becomes law. Then there is the unclear position with State-owned corporations. I must admit that I have not had time to check which of the State-owned corporations are covered and which are not, so maybe some of these corporations are brought under this legislation. However, I know that not all of them are covered. A considerable number of workers in State-owned corporations will be left in the vulnerable position of their colleagues in local councils.
In the Hunter alone, the Hunter Water Corporation has 128 workers, Macquarie Generation has 608, the Newcastle Port Corporation has 99, and Delta Electricity has 728. That totals more than 1,500 more workers, and some of them will not have the protection devised by the Government and included in the Industrial Relations Amendment Bill and the Public Sector Employment Legislation Amendment Bill.
This is very worrying. We have not been given a clear explanation. I acknowledge that I have not had the opportunity to go through the bill fully because of lack of time, but we require a much more detailed explanation. I very much hope not only that the Minister will give us a clear explanation in his reply, but that he will support our amendment, which does not lock the procedure in place but requires the Government to develop a procedure to protect the workers the Government says it is committed to protecting. It is pleasing that we are able to work on the legislation, because we certainly need something to combat WorkChoices, which will do so much damage to the fabric of Australian society.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS
[11.50 a.m.]: I support the bills, which, as has been pointed out, were introduced quickly. I apologise that I am not better prepared, but having seen them only half an hour ago it is difficult to assess them properly. The bills provide that people covered by New South Wales public service awards will not come under the Federal Government WorkChoices legislation, which has been much criticised. It is important, and it is worth noting, that the Howard Government has based its aggressive reform process on ideology rather than evidence. It is bad government. The only guaranteed outcome is that the poorest workers will suffer. In a sense we will have globalisation as our lowest paid workers move towards the wages paid in China or Bangladesh to be competitive.
Workers at the top will be very sought after and will have huge wage rises. We have seen progressively a huge change in the number of multipliers between the poorest workers and the richest workers. I do not have the figures at my fingertips, but the American marine from AMP who demolished the share price and took $17 million as his prize set a new benchmark for chief executive officers to say that they were worth a fortune, no matter what they do. The payout heralded the drop in Australian wages for the lowest paid.
In 1985 I received a Public Service Fellowship to study workplace absence. I travelled through Japan, Sweden, Canada and the United States of America assessing industrial relations systems and the reasons why people were and were not absent from work. It was interesting to note that "absenteeism" was a pejorative: it suggested that the worker is absent because of laziness. Certain industries have very high rates of absenteeism. The American car industry grappled with up to 10 per cent absenteeism in some areas at some times. But if one considers the ergonomics of what they were asked to do and the positions in which they were doing it—for example screwing on exhaust pipes in an upside-down position, which caused their shoulders to ache—a lack of social support and a lack of child-minding facilities, it is not surprising. For example, if parents' shifts did not coincide, one had to take time off to look after their children. The key point was that the more that workers were in control of their destiny the better their attendance records were.
In about 1991 I did some interesting research at Sydney Water, which revealed that although absenteeism was assumed to be higher in lower-paid and blue-colour groups, which it was, the cost of absenteeism per employee in the female work force rose to about $35,000. Although less than 10 per cent of workers had salaries above $35,000, in salaries up to $35,000 the total cost of absenteeism kept rising. In other words, although people at the top were absent for fewer days than those at the bottom, they cost the organisation more for the same number of days because their wage rates were higher.
The absence increased in cost per employee above the ninetieth percentile of salaries. In the male work force it rose to above $50,000, which also was above the ninetieth percentile. Although managers were happy to say, "Those lazy employees take more days off than I do," the fact that they earned extra salary meant that the days they took off were more expensive to the organisation than the days the lower paid workers took off. The idea that people at the bottom are lazy and have to be bashed into submission is paternalistic.
When I spoke to Americans at the School for Workers in Madison, Wisconsin, they could not believe how fortunate Australia was to have an award system that guaranteed a certain amount of holidays, a certain amount of sick leave and some discretion to approve additional sick leave, for example in the case of a person who had been a good worker for years. If that person had a heart attack that required more than the statutory amount of sick leave, they could appeal and the boss could say, "That's fair enough. Over the broad picture of your total work life you have given a lot of service and you haven't taken a lot of sick leave. We will grant you extra sick leave."
Whenever I tried to visit unions in America, often they were not allowed anywhere near the plants. They were literally being run out of a broom cupboard. Whenever I asked about pay and conditions they would draw from their back pocket—like someone pulling a gun from a holster—a little fat book that was their contract, which outlined how many sick days they were entitled to. If they took any more than their entitlement it was entirely at the discretion of management to sack them. That was the common practice. Everything was extremely legalistic. The deal the Americans were getting was very bad. The working poor were extremely disadvantaged.
When I went into restaurants in America the tip theoretically was 10 per cent, but it was regarded as so mandatory that it was included in the bill and I had to tip on top of that. Many of the people working in restaurants were illegal migrants who did not have green cards. They were paid virtually no wages and so they relied on their tips. Without their tips they could not survive. Last year when I was away with a committee we got the bill for breakfast and we tried to pay the actual figure on the bill. We were nearly lynched trying to get out of the restaurant. If you do not pay a 15 per cent tip, which is the absolute basic, the staff will not let you leave. The charge is actually 15 per cent more than the figure written on the bill. It might be discretionary, but only in theory. America has a private health insurance system and a very limited Medicare system.
The Federal Government is undermining our Medicare system and taking away its universality. Of the 250 million Americans, 100 million are either uninsured or cannot afford to have a significant illness without going bankrupt. More than one-third of the American population has totally inadequate health cover. America is the wealthiest country in the world and spends a greater percentage of gross domestic product on its health system than any other country in the world, which highlights the degree of inequity. Everyone in Australia is happy about the rise in house prices, but if you do not have a stable job and you ask for a loan you will not get very far. You will not get a loan. As investments in real estate are made, people who do not have stable employment—or if the bank is not sure that their employment is stable—cannot get a home loan regardless of their salary.
Unemployed people cannot join in the prosperity. It is an irony in my own life that I have worked hard as a doctor but I have never been particularly materialistic, although I think I have done quite a good job in putting people's health before my own payment. I can afford to do that because I have been reasonably paid, but it is interesting that my house has made more money than I have. That shows how fast real estate prices have risen in Sydney over the past 20 years. If a person is an employee without stable employment, that person will never get to have a house, so they are perpetually locked into renting. It is institutionalised poverty.
In an article in yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald
, Ross Gittins examined unemployment in the United State of America versus Australian unemployment rates. This is an interesting matter to examine because some years ago there was an article by Maximilian Walsh, who is a finance journalist, which trumpeted the wonderfully low unemployment rate that existed in the United States of America. Having been to the United States of America, I knew the difference between the Australian unemployment rate and unemployment rate in the United States of America. At that stage the Australian Bureau of Statistics worked out the unemployment rate as a reasonable figure to best reflect the real situation. The United States of America's definition of unemployment was that if a person had any regular employment, even one hour per week at, for example, the local milk bar or checkout, that person was classed as employed. So, not surprisingly, the statistics for the United States of America looked a lot better than Australia's.
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
COMMONWEALTH GRANTS COMMISSION GOODS AND SERVICES TAX ALLOCATIONS
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER:
My question without notice is directed to the Treasurer. In answer to a question asked in the House on 2 March 2006 he said:
The New South Wales Government has spoken to the Opposition about the GST. Indeed, I can confirm that I have spoken to a number of shadow Ministers about the GST.
Will he outline to the House which Federal shadow Ministers he has spoken to, and what their responses were?
The Hon. MICHAEL COSTA:
I do not intend to outline to the House whom I have spoken to. I am entitled to have discussions with whomever I like without having the Opposition knowing the purpose of my discussions. But let me say that the question does not deal with the principle that I made those comments in response to, and that is the powers of the Federal Treasurer to make adjustments to the Commonwealth Grants Commission formula for the GST to ensure that New South Wales gets a fair share of the GST. I was intrigued to read in the Sydney Morning Herald
that the Federal Treasurer is already back-pedalling on his inquiry into taxation.
The Hon. Michael Gallacher:
Point of order: The Minister is entitled to make a ministerial statement after question time, and I welcome his doing so, but the question was very specific. It related to the shadow Ministers that he had spoken to. Arising from his own admission in relation to the GST last week, we are simply asking him to indicate the shadow Ministers he spoke to and their responses to his proposition.
Order! While I have ruled on many occasions that Ministers may make general comments about a subject when answering a question, I have also ruled that their answers are required to be relevant. The Minister may continue.
The Hon. MICHAEL COSTA:
In relation to the GST, as I have pointed out, the GST has an incidence of unfairness toward New South Wales as a result of the Commonwealth Grants Commission arrangements. As I said on the occasion when the Leader of the Opposition had asked the question, the Federal Treasurer has the full authority and legal and constitutional power to alter the GST in favour of New South Wales. Clearly the Opposition has no influence with the Federal Treasurer. Members opposite purport to represent New South Wales taxpayers, either in their constituencies, or in general through the Legislative Council, yet they cannot influence their own Federal Treasurer to make sure that New South Wales has a fairer share of the GST.
As the Leader of the Opposition knows, the Federal Government currently is constituted by the Coalition that the Leader of the Opposition in this House happens to be a member of. If he is serious about helping taxpayers in New South Wales, he ought to speak to the Federal Treasurer and point out that the current arrangements applying to the GST are not fair to New South Wales. We are getting ripped off. We pay 34 per cent of the GST and get back only 28 per cent. By any standard, that is a rip-off. Clearly, if the Leader of the Opposition were to address that issue, he would be doing something beneficial for this State rather than asking questions that really have no relevance to what the public of New South Wales is interested in.
The honourable member for Vaucluse has made a range of comments about what he believes the Opposition's policies will be, if they are successful at the next election. We know that is not likely to happen. Not only that, we also know that, going into the election, we will hold them accountable for the $22 billion in expenditure that they are already committed to, and we will be asking the fundamental question: How are they going to pay for this, particularly as they are reluctant to do anything in relation to the GST? I welcome the honourable member's question.
NEW SOUTH WALES—AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY RECIPROCAL HEALTH SERVICES
The Hon. KAYEE GRIFFIN:
My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Health. Will he inform the House of the status of interstate flows between New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS:
I am very pleased that the Hon. Kayee Griffin has asked me this very important question regarding the Greater Southern Area Health Service and flows to the Australian Capital Territory for treatment of New South Wales residents. It arises from a press release which was issued by the honourable member for Bega, who yet again has demonstrated the complete ignorance and incompetence of the Opposition in relation to issues that potentially affect electorates such as his. He stated, "I would like to hear how the Minister justifies this spend". I will be happy to justify the spend to the Australian Capital Territory health system.
It arises as a consequence of an Australian Health Care Agreement, which requires each State and Territory to reciprocate medical services for each jurisdiction's citizens. Indeed, we have no choice in relation people who go to Canberra for treatment. Similarly we have to treat those people from the Australian Capital Territory who come to New South Wales for treatment. If New South Wales attempted to put up some form of barrier to prevent people from either jurisdiction from accessing services, we would potentially lose our Commonwealth funding under the Australian Health Care Agreement.
I am sure all honourable members will recall that that was the agreement that New South Wales was either forced to sign or lose up to $1.1 billion of Commonwealth funding for hospitals. This is the same agreement that gave New South Wales $278 million less than we received under previous agreements and the agreement which resulted in New South Wales funding from the Commonwealth declining even further, by some $114 million over five years of the agreement. That is the same agreement as has resulted in New South Wales now contributing $1.63 for every one dollar of funds which the Commonwealth provided last year.
If the honourable member for Bega had bothered to make a few inquiries about this issue, he would have had explained to him the circumstances under which that Australian health agreement operates and saved himself the embarrassment of issuing a media release about $244 million going to Australian Capital Territory health.
I see the Hon. Patricia Forsythe is still with us. The agreement is one of the reasons why we are building the Queanbeyan hospital, or rebuilding a Commonwealth hospital. I might add that the Queanbeyan hospital will be a terrific hospital. The only problem with the Queanbeyan hospital is that its construction will be limited because when the Coalition was in government, it sold off most of the land around the hospital, which prevented it from having a better footprint than would otherwise be the case. I have made the point that under the Australian Health Care Agreement it is true that the Australian Capital Territory receives a generous payment from the New South Wales Government—much more generous than I would like.
The Hon. Melinda Pavey:
But the Australian Capital Territory does not want you any more.
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS:
Oh, yes they do. I can tell the Hon. Melinda Pavey that the only way that system stays afloat is because of the money we give them. This is a fact of life.
The Hon. Melinda Pavey:
That is not what their Minister said.
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS:
I am prepared to offer to take over the Australian Capital Territory system. I would be more than happy to take it over if they want to do that because I can tell the Hon. Melinda Pavey that it is one of the most inefficient systems, although not quite as inefficient as two hospitals the Commonwealth ran, Concord and Heidelberg in Victoria. They were the Fawlty Towers of the health system before they were handed over to State control under the New South Wales and the Victorian governments.
It is about time that members opposite understood the issues in relation to health services that affect their constituents. The Australian Capital Territory Government has, for some time, been charging us large amounts of money for the services they provide. We are under a limited capacity to be able to deal with that, although we are examining arbitration to try to have this matter resolved. The charges that they are inflicting on this State, which we cannot control because of the Australian Health Care Agreement, are exorbitant.
TILLIGERRY CREEK OYSTER INDUSTRY
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY:
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Primary Industries. Is the Minister aware that Tilligerry Creek oyster growers are going broke through no fault of their own because faulty septic tanks in the Port Stephens area have contaminated the water? Despite claims made by Premier Morris Iemma and the Minister that the blame lies squarely with the local council, is the Minister aware that the council has legal advice that states that it is not responsible? The oyster growers pay rent to the State Government for the oyster leases, so why does the Minister shrink from his responsibility to keep the industry afloat in Port Stephens?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
I am glad that the honourable member has asked me that question. This issue has been discussed considerably over the past few months, and the Opposition has weighed in on it. I make it very clear that legal advice obtained by the State Government is that it is not responsible for the pollution that has been found in Tilligerry Creek.
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
Who are you going to blame this time?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
Wait a second! The pollution is related to sewerage systems on the back of the growth of housing in the area. It is clearly a local government responsibility, involving sewerage in the area. For the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to try to suggest that the Government has some sort of responsibility for that pollution is totally erroneous. The local government has a clear legal liability. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition knows nothing about the law, and everyone in this place knows that. The Government's legal advice is quite clear. The local government is responsible for the sewerage system in that area. The oyster growers in the area have septic tanks, and the local government is responsible for cleaning those several hundred household septic tanks and keeping them up to standard.
The Hon. Tony Kelly:
And they license them.
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
As the Minister for Rural Affairs has pointed out, the local government has inspected the tanks and found that hundreds do not comply, and that is the problem in Tilligerry Creek. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition should be thinking about the State; that is, that the Government should not take on legal liability for a matter that should be dealt with by local government. That is the correct, legal approach and that is what is happening.
CAMPBELLTOWN HOSPITAL AND MS SHARON BROPHY
Ms SYLVIA HALE:
I direct my question to the Minister for Health. I refer to the recommendations contained in the Deputy Coroner's report into the death of Ms Sharon Brophy at Campbelltown Hospital in March 2004. On 10 November 2005, the Sydney Morning Herald
reported the Minister as stating:
… we will take up all of these recommendations [from the deputy coroner] and embrace them.
Have all the recommendations of the Deputy Coroner now been implemented? If any of the recommendations have not been implemented, which ones have not, and why not?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS:
Many of the issues that arose in the Brophy case had been addressed prior to the Deputy Coroner handing down that decision. Specifically, the issue of whether a patient has not been seen within the applicable triage time was reassessed at the time, and NSW Health had put that in place through the clinical initiatives of nurses. The Coroner also made some general observations in relation to having more doctors and more nurses. Of course, no specific targets were put down in the Coroner's decision but he certainly raised that issue and I am happy to endorse it. The Government is doing everything it can do acquire more nurses and doctors, but we are constrained because in the mid-1990s the Commonwealth decided as a cost-cutting exercise to reduce the number of training places, particularly for nurses but also for doctors. So, the Government had to recruit from overseas in order to meet additional demands.
Other issues were raised in the Coroner's decision relating specifically to pathology tests—in the case referred to they were obtained by the general practitioner—and the need to transmit those pathology tests to hospitals as early as possible so that the hospitals have that relevant information. Again, that is a very important issue and one that the Government has to discuss with general practitioners. Those matters, I add, ultimately will be subsumed by the electronic health record, which the Greens have opposed. The Greens have run a campaign against the Government establishing pilots for electronic health records, which would gather various pieces of information from general practitioners and other health professionals so that the hospitals, when they have to treat someone in an emergency capacity, are able to access those details. In light of the question raised by Ms Sylvia Hale, I hope she will go back to her caucus and revise the attitude of the Greens to electronic health records. It is a very important initiative and deserves to be embraced.
NOXIOUS WEEDS CONTROL
The Hon. TONY CATANZARITI:
My question is addressed to the Minister for Primary Industries. Will the Minister update the House on the Government's efforts to tackle noxious weeds in New South Wales?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
Weeds threaten productivity, influence our economic viability, pose human health risks and are a major threat to our unique biodiversity. Every year weeds cost Australia's agriculture—
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
Why has it taken eight months?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is wrong. He should just listen for a while, and he will find out how wrong he is, as usual. The cost of our nation's winter cropping systems alone is roughly $1.2 billion.
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
It has taken six months.
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
No, just listen; you do not want me to bring it out too early. In New South Wales weeds cost our farmers an estimated $600 million each year through lost production and control measures.
The Hon. Rick Colless:
Is that why you rev it out at peak times?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
The honourable member talks about being revved up. Every time he comes to the podium he is revved up. The impacts on our waterways, fishing industries and forest industries are equally as profound. To help local communities tackle the problems, the New South Wales Labor Government has allocated more than $70 million in noxious weeds grants over the past 10 years to help local communities manage noxious weeds incursions. This financial year alone the allocation was $7.6 million. Earlier this week the Opposition was ranting and raving, as usual, about this year's funding, making all sorts of false assumptions, proving once again that they are out of touch.
Of the $7.6 million allocated this year, $4.4 million has already been allocated to 99 local weed control authorities. Furthermore, that $4.4 million was issued in October 2005 to support ongoing weed control projects and operational needs. An additional $3.2 million will soon be provided to those groups to support new projects that were not in place last year, or for additional needs. By providing the funding in two tranches the Government is helping to expedite payments to local organisations, giving them more security. As I indicated previously, the process of providing a second tranche of funding is well and truly under way.
I remind the Opposition that an independent Noxious Weeds Advisory Committee reviews all submissions for noxious weeds grants. That group includes representatives from the NSW Farmers Association, the Shires Association, Local Government Association, rural lands protection boards, catchment management committees and various government departments. When the committee approves projects, the State Government provides funding on a dollar-for-dollar basis with the local control authorities. Project agreements for the remaining $3.2 million have been sent to the relevant local weed control groups. Once those agreements are signed and returned—in other words, there is an agreement process, and it has been in place for a while—the money will flow. I have no doubt that the weed control groups will make it a priority to get their agreements back to us.
I point out that noxious weed funding under the New South Wales Labor Government has steadily increased in recent years. This year's allocation of $7.6 million is up from $7 million in the 2002-03 financial year and $7.4 million last year. It is also $2 million more than the level of funding provided by the Coalition when it was last in government.
FISHING INDUSTRY BUYOUT
The Hon. JON JENKINS:
My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industries. What is the Government's policy and position on buyouts for shared and other fisheries? Does the Minister or his Government have any estimate of the potential compensation claims for shared and other fisheries? If not, will Minister provide this House with an estimate of any potential compensation claims for shared and other fisheries? Will the Government give an absolute assurance that it will guarantee any and all moneys needed in case a buyout is required in the future for any reason, such as the current shambles in Sydney Harbour or current or future marine parks?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
I think the honourable member has got his question somewhat confused. In relation to marine parks, and the $5 million available for compensation in relation to Sydney Harbour, that is a specific funding grant to purchase specific licence holders in certain areas, such as marine parks and Sydney Harbour. In relation to share-managed fisheries, no current buyout policy is in place. As I understand the process, and it is under way at the moment, shares are allocated within that fishery between the current licence holders on the basis of history of use. Once that process is sorted out, in effect that fishery is covered by the allocation of shares. There is a need, I believe, for some buyout in commercial areas outside of marine parks and also Sydney harbour. We are working with a number of different bodies to put a plan in place, including the recreational fishing trusts.
POLLING BOOTHS DISABLED ACCESS
The Hon. JOHN RYAN:
My question is directed to the Minister for Disability Services. What advice did the Minister or his department give to the State Electoral Office or its commissioner about its plan to support people with disabilities at the 2007 State election? Is the Minister aware that the New South Wales Electoral Commissioner has plans to establish a separate and segregated voting centre for people with disabilities? Why is the commissioner not trying to achieve the objective of the Disability Services Act and make all polling places disability accessible? Did the Minister or the New South Wales Electoral Commissioner consult the disability sector about this plan? If so, what was the response?
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
I have to say that it is possible, in fact it is very likely, that my agency was consulted about preparations for the 2007 election and the provisions that may or may not be part of the New South Wales Electoral Office's plans in relation to disability access. I would expect that to be so. I would be disappointed with the electoral commissioner if that had not been the case. I will make inquiries about the substance of those consultations and advise the honourable member in the House as soon as practicable. I can say that the New South Wales Electoral Commissioner had not consulted me about those matters. As part of the process of getting a briefing on the State of any discussions between the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care and the New South Wales Electoral Commission, I will offer my views on the matter.
NORTH COAST FLOODING
The Hon. GREG DONNELLY:
My question without notice is for the Minister for Emergency Services. Will the Minister update the House on the efforts of the State Emergency Service to assist residents affected by floods on the North Coast?
The Hon. TONY KELLY:
I thank the Hon. Greg Donnelly for his continuing interest in the North Coast of New South Wales. I again thank members of our emergency services in the State's north for their hard work over the past week and, indeed, throughout this summer. Members of the State Emergency Service [SES] have been kept particularly busy since last Thursday when torrential rain began falling in the Bellinger, Orara and Nambucca river catchments. With an average of 170 millimetres falling across the Bellingen district within 24 hours and steady rain continuing over the next three days, widespread flooding throughout the valleys of this picturesque region was inevitable. I inform honourable members that today the Government has declared the Bellingen, Coffs Harbour, Nambucca and Clarence Valley shires a natural disaster area. This triggers a range of assistance for residents, business owners and councils where properties were damaged. In particular, this will ensure the councils will be reimbursed for the cost of repairing public infrastructure, including local roads and bridges damaged by fast-flowing floodwaters and debris.
A number of local roads were cut, including the bridge across the Bellinger River in Bellingen and the main thoroughfare, the Waterfall Way, isolating the town's 2,500 residents from the coast. By Friday afternoon, up to 15 low-level crossings and bridges were under water in the upper Bellinger valley. The floodwaters peaked at the Bellingen Bridge around 1.00 p.m. on Friday, with the bridge able to be reopened by Saturday morning. In nearby Thora, the river peaked at 6.7 metres on Friday morning with major flooding. Rural property owners upstream of Thora in the Darkwood area remained isolated until Monday morning. More than 100 SES volunteers from nine units were on the ground to assist the residents of Bellingen and the surrounding communities with evacuations, road closures and damage from minor flooding. A caravan park at Repton, near Urunga, was evacuated to escape rising floodwater, horses were rescued from flooding paddocks, and SES volunteers were able to ferry vital blood supplies to Bellingen Hospital.
In all, nine SES flood boats were at the ready for evacuations and to provide food and medical supplies to stranded residents, if needed. Helicopters also were available for these operations if required. Further north, heavy rains and winds lashed the Northern Rivers and Tweed regions as well, without causing the same amount of damage as in the four shires covered by today's disaster declaration. The SES received about 50 calls for assistance in its Richmond Tweed division and volunteers from five units were busy clearing trees off roads, tarping roofs and helping with other minor flood damage. The emergency services have rescued a number of people from vehicles in floodwaters over the past week and I would again caution people against driving through floodwaters, which can be unpredictable and dangerous.
This week's rainfall comes on the tail of one of the North Coast region's wettest summers. I understand some towns recorded their wettest January for 40 years. This has meant many hours of hard, wet and hazardous work for local SES volunteers over the past eight weeks. Extraordinary rainfall from 18 to 20 January led to widespread flash flooding in Lismore and the surrounding region. The Government has also declared this event a natural disaster, covering Lismore City and the Ballina, Byron, Kyogle, Richmond Valley and Tweed shires, in order to assist the community with the cost of repairing damage, particularly to public infrastructure. Around 200 SES volunteers turned out to respond to more than 150 calls for help. As usual, they were assisted by members of the NSW Fire Brigades and the Rural Fire Service, along with local police and council personnel. The emergency services assisted councils with several road closures, including the Bruxner and Pacific highways, and sandbagged shops and homes. I know the House will join with me in thanking the SES volunteers for their help.
PRIMARY SCHOOLS M15+ FILMS PRESENTATION
Reverend the Hon. Dr GORDON MOYES:
I ask the Minister for Health, representing the Minister for Education and Training, a question without notice. Is the Minister aware of conflicting policies on the presentation of M15+ films to primary school students? In particular, is the Minister aware that the latest excursion policy released in 2004 allows for M15+ films to be shown to primary school students while a more detailed memorandum to principals, entitled "Use of Videos in Schools", that currently remains in force, expressly forbids showing M15+ films to under-age children? Is the Minister aware that the conflicting policies have created much angst and some confusion between parents and principals? What is the correct policy on showing M15+ films to primary schoolchildren, most of them under 11 years of age, when the law says they must be restricted to people over the age of 15 years? What will the Minister do to correct the discrepancy?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS:
The last time I visited this issue was when I was Minister for Justice and looking into what ratings we gave prisoners in respect of the videos they saw in prison. I cannot say that I am familiar with the school policy, but I will take the question on notice and obtain an answer from the Minister for Education and Training.
M5 EAST TUNNEL AIR POLLUTION
The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN:
I direct my question without notice to the Minister for Roads. Is the Minister aware that every day more and more cars are jammed into the M5 tunnel, causing massive traffic blockages? Is he also aware that motorcyclists trapped in what is now regarded as a tunnel of toxins are exposed to what a CSIRO atmospheric research scientist, Dr Peter Manins, has claimed to be one of the worst examples of environmental practice in the world? Will the Minister now admit that the use of the tunnel by motorcyclists is a health hazard? What is the Minister going to do to fix it?
The Hon. ERIC ROOZENDAAL:
The Department of Planning conducted an audit of compliance with the M5 East planning conditions. That audit highlighted different interpretations by the Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA] and the department regarding planning conditions for portal emissions. The audit recommended that the Department of Planning and the RTA develop protocols on portal emissions. The RTA and the department are considering these recommendations carefully. At present portal emissions are initiated when the in-tunnel carbon monoxide levels increase above normal levels because of accidents or breakdowns as well as during overnight maintenance. Portal emissions are used around the world to manage air quality in tunnels. In New South Wales they are already allowed in the harbour tunnel and on the Eastern Distributor. Recordings from in-tunnel monitors, the ambient monitoring network for the M5 East and monitors near the tunnel portals show that the air quality has been well within world standards. I am aware of media reports concerning the ventilation system in the M5 East tunnel and I will continue to monitor the situation.
HUNTER REGION ROAD INFRASTRUCTURE
The Hon. PENNY SHARPE:
My question is addressed to the Minister for Roads. Can the Minister give the House the latest information on the New South Wales Government's efforts to improve road infrastructure in the Hunter?
The Hon. Melinda Pavey:
It's under "H" for Hunter.
The Hon. ERIC ROOZENDAAL:
Every time I get up there is a squawk from my fans on the Opposition back bench. It is embarrassing.
The Hon. John Della Bosca:
I think there's a few galahs in the Chamber.
The Hon. ERIC ROOZENDAAL:
Indeed. I thought it was a galah, but galahs do not squawk. I thank the Hon. Penny Sharpe for her question and acknowledge her ongoing interest in this matter. On 21 February I accompanied the Premier, Morris Iemma, and the honourable member for Lake Macquarie, Jeff Hunter, on an inspection of the progress of the State Government's $41 million Five Islands project. I was in the Hunter to attend a meeting of the State Cabinet in Maitland and had the opportunity during the inspection to meet some of the workers on the project.
The Five Islands upgrade will be a major boost for the region. The existing road and bridge were built in 1973 and much has changed since then, with the region growing by 6 per cent each year. Improved access is essential in order to cater for the area's booming population. Some 30,000 vehicles use the road each day and this major upgrade will be a bonus for the booming western edge of Lake Macquarie and the Hunter in general. The project will see access improve from one lane to two lanes in each direction. This means that, instead of being stuck in single-lane traffic, motorists travelling to and from Lake Macquarie will have two lanes in each direction.
Overall, the upgrade of Five Islands Road will provide a four-lane divided carriageway along a 1.7-kilometre stretch of road and two new bridge crossings over Cockle Creek. It will also provide an upgrading of the existing two bridges over Cockle Creek and an additional left-turn lane from The Esplanade into Five Islands Road, improving traffic flow at the intersection. As well as significantly improving traffic flow, it will reduce delays and improve safety for all road users, including cyclists and pedestrians. An underpass will be constructed beneath the southern bridges to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists. This new underpass will connect Tulkaba Park to the Lakeside Pathway. The area will be landscaped progressively through the project. In line with commitments made during the project's environmental impact statement process, creation of a new wetlands habitat is also under way.
Construction works are undertaken according to very strict environmental conditions as Cockle Creek and the surrounding land have been contaminated by previous industrial activities. Heavy metal contaminants are embedded in the creek sediments so it is important to minimise their disturbance. I have been told that the creek is so polluted that the creek bed could be mined for metals. The RTA has faced quite a challenge in managing the environmental issues, and I think it has proceeded in a most efficient and effective manner. To complete this work the bridge construction is carried out within floating sediment curtains to ensure that any mobilised sediments are retained close by. The project is on track for completion next year. Right now the workers are constructing the bridge over the north arm of Cockle Creek and continuing with the southern roundabout. The next phase of work involves the construction of the northbound road surface. Motorists and river craft have been advised of increased construction vehicle movements, speed restrictions on Five Islands Road, and barges and work boats on both arms of Cockle Creek.
The New South Wales Government is committed to providing the Hunter with quality road infrastructure. More than $178 million was allocated in the roads program to the Hunter region in 2005-06. In total, across the Hunter $81.3 million was allocated for road development; $4.6 million was allocated for traffic management projects; $9.4 million, for road safety initiatives; and $83.1 million, for maintenance of State roads. That is a 16.5 per cent increase on the road funding allocated to the region in 2004-05.
MOBILITY PARKING SCHEME
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE:
My question is directed to the Minister for Roads. Is it a fact that hundreds of cars bearing disability permits are being parked illegally in Sydney so that their drivers can avoid paying parking fees and avoid time limits? Is it a fact that on 31 January and 3 March 2006 more than 10 cars with disability stickers were parked all day in Napoleon Street, Sydney? From observations, the drivers of those cars appeared to be businessmen with no disabilities. What urgent action will the Minister take to stop this misuse of disability stickers and disability parking spaces? Will the Minister direct the Roads and Traffic Authority to act urgently to prevent the continuing abuse of disability permits?
The Hon. ERIC ROOZENDAAL:
I am advised that the Mobility Parking Scheme [MPS] was relaunched in September 2003. This followed extensive consultation with Privacy NSW, the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care and peak organisations. Improvements included a licence-style MPS card bearing the photograph of the cardholder, unless exempted. The penalty for parking without an MPS card in spaces signposted for people with disabilities and other misuse of an MPS card is currently $375. A penalty of up to $2,200 may be imposed by a court. On 20 February this year Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA] officers met various peak organisations representing people with disabilities and others. The meeting supported changes designed to help genuine disabled people avoid making unnecessary visits to motor registries and to find ways of identifying ineligible people who have been issued with MPS cards.
However, I share community concerns regarding the abuse of the scheme by a minority of people. For this reason I will be working with the RTA and peak disability groups to develop new ways to crack down on the actions of this minority. The Government's goal is to remove rorting from the system without unfairly penalising genuine disabled drivers. It is important that Opposition members understand that the Government does not want to disadvantage people who need these passes. We must discuss the matter carefully with them and work out a way through.
The Hon. Catherine Cusack:
You need to stop the rorting.
The Hon. ERIC ROOZENDAAL:
Of course we need to stop the rorting; that is obvious.
The Hon. Catherine Cusack:
You need to do something.
The Hon. ERIC ROOZENDAAL:
That is why we are sitting down and working with the relevant groups to find a better resolution. The Government does not believe in taking unilateral action.
DARLING RIVER WATER ALLOCATIONS
The Hon. RICK COLLESS:
My question is directed to the Minister for Natural Resources. Does the Minister now concede that the Government's previous announcement that water allocations to the irrigation industries on the Darling River between Mungindi and Menindee would be reduced by 67 per cent has resulted in at least one major business and exporter being forced into voluntary receivership as a result of falling equity and an untenable debt-to-equity ratio that required them to trade insolvent? When will the Minister complete the review of the proposed cap of 173 gigalitres for this section of the Darling River, which the industry has been calling for for the past two years, and finally end the uncertainty that all businesses between Mungindi and Menindee are facing?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
I am glad that the Hon. Rick Colless asked that question because he listened to some of the announcements I made in Broken Hill on Monday morning. I made some very clear statements then about the Barwon-Darling cap, which was a proposal put forward under the Murray-Darling Basin Commission arrangements by former Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, and the former New South Wales Minister for Natural Resources, Craig Knowles. In July last year they proposed a cap of 173 gigalitres, based on history of use on the Barwon-Darling section of the river. The 173 gigalitres was based on a realistic assessment of what was used, not the entitlement. The Hon. Rick Colless wants to jump up and down about this matter, but he ignores the fact that the Commonwealth was involved in determining the cap and has been anxious to enforce it across all irrigation areas in this State. He has ignored the fact that this is a Commonwealth-State initiative and that the former Minister for Natural Resources issued a joint, Commonwealth-State, statement.
The Hon. Rick Colless:
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
It was a joint statement! It is completely misleading for the Hon. Rick Colless to say that the cap of 173 gigalitres applied last year by the Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, and Mr Craig Knowles was somehow responsible for the collapse of Back O'Bourke Fruits. The crops of Back O'Bourke Fruits were destroyed because January 2006 brought with it the hottest temperatures ever recorded in that region for a consistent period of time. During the past three or four years, Back O'Bourke Fruits received from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and then from the Department of Natural Resources heavy concessions for water usage of 80 days—not one, two or seven days—and that helped it survive that period.
The fundamental problem for Back O'Bourke Fruits was that it invested heavily in permanent horticulture without adequate on-farm storage on an unregulated river. It is difficult to guarantee supply commensurate with the level at which it was committing investment, given the flow regime and seasonal nature of the Darling, the Barwon and other northern rivers. That is undeniable. Furthermore, the Hon. Rick Colless ignores the fact that over the past four years New South Wales has been in the grip of a 1-in-100 year drought. In fact, this morning I read that over the past 56 months the level of flow down the Darling River has been the worst ever recorded. The Hon. Rick Colless should not play politics and attempt to sheet home to this Government blame for the collapse of Back O'Bourke Fruits. To do so is misleading and mischievous and completely ignores the fact that the cap is a joint initiative of the Commonwealth and this State.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS LEGISLATION
The Hon. PETER PRIMROSE:
My question is addressed to the Minister for Industrial Relations. Will the Minister inform the House of the effects of the Commonwealth's WorkChoices legislation on New South Wales families?
The Hon. Michael Gallacher:
Point of order: There is a debate currently before the House relating to industrial relations reforms. This question is clearly out of order.
The Hon. PETER PRIMROSE:
To the point of order: I am asking about the general effects of legislation on New South Wales families. I am specifically not asking a question relating to the legislation that is before the House.
The Hon. Michael Gallacher:
Further to the point of order: The question clearly relates to industrial relations and its impact on families in New South Wales, which is the subject matter of a debate that is currently before the Chair. The question is clearly out of order.
Order! The Minister may answer the question and make general comments about the situation but must not refer to the legislation that is before the House.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
I do not intend to do that. The dark mills of Howard's decision-making has been exposed by one of its own key people. Senator Nick Minchin, Leader of the Government in the Senate, and the Minister for Finance and Administration, has said what many Australians already fear. The third most senior member of the Howard Government was a keynote speaker at the mysterious and extremist H. R. Nicholls Society's twenty-seventh conference. Senator Minchin was honest to admit the Commonwealth's so-called WorkChoices legislation is deeply unpopular. He acknowledged that the New South Wales Government's challenge to WorkChoices before the High Court had a real chance of succeeding.
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
Point of order: The Minister is clearly canvassing matters that are the subject of bills that are before the House. In fact, he said in the third paragraph of his second reading speech:
These bills are one plank of the NSW Government's response to the Commonwealth's divisive WorkChoices legislation, which is a direct attack on the working conditions and living standards of ordinary Australians.
And that is precisely what he is talking about at the moment.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
To the point of order: The honourable member is clearly wasting the time of the Chamber and does not want to hear my answer. I have followed your ruling, Madam President, to the letter. I am not referring to matters that are before the House.
Order! I cannot give a ruling that makes it impossible for members to discuss industrial relations in New South Wales. A sensible approach must be taken to this matter. General statements made by a Minister in a second reading speech are not necessarily statements related specifically to legislation. The Minister is in order provided he makes general comments about the situation in New South Wales. If he attempts to canvass the specifics of legislation that is before the House, I will rule him out of order.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
Senator Minchin let the cat out of the bag when he said that WorkChoices had not gone far enough and that more legislation will be coming. The H. R. Nicholls Society cheered him. What is the agenda? WorkChoices, in the eyes of this society, failed to immediately reduce minimum wages. Des Moore, Director of the Institute for Private Enterprise, described this failure as "the worst feature of the new legislation"—that is, that the legislation did not immediately reduce the minimum wage. The president of this dark, mysterious and malignant society referred to Christmas Day and Easter as "so called icons" and then said, "Will Ramadan be next?" I do not know whether I am more disgusted by the un-Australian sectarian nastiness of his comment than I am outraged by his disregard for cultural institutions.
Already New South Wales workers are being stripped of entitlements. Now, thanks to the honesty of Senator Minchin, families in this State know working conditions and living standards will be further attacked. The New South Wales Government will defend those conditions and standards. What will the Opposition do? The honourable member for Vaucluse will not stand up to Canberra's plans to strip conditions from nurses, teachers and ambulance officers. He is part of the Howard Government's WorkChoices agenda and part of this secret, spiteful campaign against family living standards and hard-won working conditions.
Senator Nick Minchin told the H. R. Nicholls Society a much more aggressive attack on working conditions was needed. Minchin was not alone. There was another keynote speaker at the H. R. Nicholls Society conference. Who was the H. R. Nicholls Society's guest of honour at that dinner? In a coincidence stranger than fiction, the guest of honour was the honourable member for Vaucluse! What he said behind closed doors we will never know. [Time expired
The Hon. PETER PRIMROSE:
I ask a supplementary question. Will the Minister please elucidate his answer?
Order! I call the Hon. Peter Primrose to order.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
What did he say to a group that wants legislation to reduce minimum wages and remove anti-discrimination legislation and regards Christmas Day as just another working day?
Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
The honourable member for Vaucluse has already pledged to cut 29,000 front-line workers in the public sector. H. R. Nicholls members will be cheering him even more. What else is planned for working families in this State? I call on the honourable member for Vaucluse to come clean and tell the families of this State what his plans are.
MIDDLE EASTERN GANGS
The Hon. DAVID OLDFIELD:
My question is addressed to the Minister for Roads, representing the Minister for Police. Is the Minister concerned by reports of numerous attempts by a female teacher from Cronulla High School who, to no avail, alerted police to serious incidents involving violence and harassment by Middle Eastern gangs in the days leading up to last December's protests? Is the Minister concerned by reports that, after witnessing an attack by a Middle Eastern gang on a local Cronulla man, the same teacher was ignored by police despite being able to provide the complete details of the number plate of the getaway car? Is it correct that these attacks, which preceded the protests at Cronulla, were not followed up by police despite witnesses being willing to give descriptions of the attackers and the complete details of the number plate of the getaway car? If these reports are accurate, why are police being commanded to overlook such assaults? Might the protests at Cronulla on 11 December not have occurred if police had felt able to pursue Middle Eastern gangs?
The Hon. ERIC ROOZENDAAL:
I thank the honourable member for his question, which I will pass on to the Minister for a response.
SUB-ACUTE FAST TRACK ELDERLY CARE PROGRAM
The Hon. HENRY TSANG:
My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Health. Can the Minister acquaint the House with the Sub-acute Fast Track Elderly Care program?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS:
I thank the honourable member for this very important question. The challenge of an ageing population is at the planning forefront for the future provision and delivery of health services in New South Wales. The number of people 75 years and over in New South Wales is expected to increase from 394,076 in 2001, to 544,327 in 2015. In 2004-05, people between the ages of 65 and 75 years occupied 16 per cent of all acute bed days, and those over 75 years occupied 30 per cent. Hospitals are also seeing an 8 per cent annual increase in emergency department attendances by patients over 80 years of age. People over 75 years of age suffer from the heaviest burden of disease and disability, and have the highest rate of hospital admissions once they present to the emergency department.
For the period 2003-04, the approximate public hospital cost for persons aged 75 years and older was $771 million. The demand for health services will only increase with rising numbers of older people with chronic and complex needs. The salient problem is access of appropriate aged care facilities for community support systems at an early stage that can avert the ultimate need for hospital admission. As a result, the Government has developed an innovative and targeted health services trial for older people.
The Sub-acute Fast Track Elderly Care program—or SAFTE Care, as it is known—is based on research undertaken by geriatrician Dr Tuly Rosenfeld from the Prince of Wales Hospital. Dr Rosenfeld identified a number of milestones experienced by older people where, if a specific range of service supports could be provided, there would have been a reduced need for hospital admission for those who were over 75 years of age. The need to attend hospital would have been averted by intervening earlier—when the health of those older people was just beginning to deteriorate—using better co-ordination of services in the community.
SAFTE is a $4 million year-long pilot program aimed at minimising the need for older people to be admitted to hospital, and improving older peoples' quality of life. It is taking place at St George, John Hunter, Hornsby and Queanbeyan hospitals, where partnerships will be developed between the community and hospital sectors. The SAFTE program teams will be co-ordinated by the geriatric services and community care case managers from the four pilot hospitals. The teams will visit older patients at home when early warning signs of deterioration occur, providing rapid assessment, diagnostic tests and diagnosis, and facilitating timely access to support services. Patients will be flagged to these teams by general practitioners, aged care teams or other community service providers. The SAFTE program provides the capacity for area health service staff to jointly manage care with the general practitioner and non-health service providers.
The four sites will test the program in a tertiary setting with large numbers of older people presenting to emergency departments, the metropolitan district hospital in a population with high numbers of elderly people, and a rural site where older people travel long distances for care. This new program means better care for older people and less demand for acute services. The program better integrates hospital services, community services and general practice so that patients receive the right help at the right time. The program will be fully evaluated over the 12-month period to develop effective ways for it to become available to all older people. It is a shame the Commonwealth could not match our commitment to delivering the SAFTE program. I specifically wrote to Minister Abbott asking for Federal Government assistance in the rolling out of this program to additional sites if necessary. Mr Abbott has declined to provide such funding. Indeed, he has not even responded to my letter.
HOLSWORTHY ARMY BARRACKS ASBESTOS CONTAMINATION
The Hon. ROBYN PARKER:
My question is directed to the Minister for Emergency Services. Can the Minister assure this House that he took all reasonable precautions to ensure that Emergency Services personnel were not exposed to asbestos dust at the Holsworthy Training Centre?
The Hon. TONY KELLY:
I thank the honourable member for her question on this important matter. The Government's top priority is to ensure information and support are provided to all people who have worked at or visited the site. I am advised the Holsworthy army base site has been sealed off and that WorkCover and the Department of Environment and Conservation have been notified. NSW Fire Brigades has implemented a health and welfare plan to provide assistance to those individuals, and support and information services are in place, including a dedicated 1800 information line. Firefighters were advised last week, along with unions and other agencies, including I think ambulance and a number of others that have used the site. I am advised that the matter is now subject to a number of investigations, including by WorkCover. Therefore, it would not be appropriate for me to speculate until those investigations conclude.
I am advised a preliminary scientific assessment received by the commissioner on 6 March showed the risk to be generally considered low. So that preliminary assessment, which the commissioner arranged and was received on 6 March, showed the risk to be generally low. The commissioner has sought further testing as well as independent advice on remediation of the site. NSW Fire Brigades will consult closely with WorkCover, the various unions involved and the Department of Defence on the future management of the site. I am advised that Fire Brigades has a full complement of firefighters trained in urban search and rescue and that any planned training courses can be conducted at other sites.
LAKE COWAL GOLDMINE CYANIDE TRANSPORTATION
Ms LEE RHIANNON:
I direct my question to the Minister for Mineral Resources. Given the announcement that mining will commence on 27 March at the Lake Cowal cyanide gold mine at West Wyalong, what route is being used to truck the cyanide to West Wyalong, which communities will have cyanide trucked through them, and if the Government is unwilling to release this information why is the Government being so secretive about this issue?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
This matter would have been quite clearly dealt with in the environmental impact statement and related assessments. However, I want to deal with a couple of the issues raised in this question by Ms Lee Rhiannon. Often, I find the member's statements are somewhat exaggerated and certainly go beyond the actual facts. The member will find that issues related to the transport of cyanide and any material relevant to the mining proposal will have been well and truly covered in the environmental impact statement, so I believe such materials would be safe for transport. After all, similar substances have been used in the mining industry and other industries for many years for which protocols have been put in place to ensure the safety of the public.
Ms LEE RHIANNON:
I ask a supplementary question. Considering that this information is not available in the environmental impact statement and that the Minister said he is confident it is safe, will he provide details of which route the cyanide will be trucked along and the basis on which he says the cyanide will be dealt with safely?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD:
In the near future I would be happy to release the appropriate information and make it available. However, all that will happen is that Ms Lee Rhiannon will rattle up every landholder in the area to say something deleterious will impact on them in a reinforcement of the "not in my backyard" syndrome. That is the way in which some people like to conduct enviro politics. I do not know how she will do it. Late last June I said I hoped that the web site of the Greens would be altered so the fish shown outside BHP Billiton, which allegedly were caught in the river, would be removed. As I pointed out to the House at that time, the site was around 100 kilometres inland and one does not find sea mullet, trevally or yellowtail up there. The fish were officially detected in a photograph and identified by our scientist. When I release the appropriate information on the mining site I hope Ms Lee Rhiannon does not treat it with the same disrespect for the truth. I inform the honourable member that this matter falls largely within the ambit of the Minister for Planning. I will refer her question to him.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA:
If honourable members have further questions, I suggest they place them on notice.
Questions without notice concluded.
[The President left the chair at 1.02 p.m. The House resumed at 2.30 p.m.
ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING AND ASSESSMENT AMENDMENT BILL
Bill received, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Motion by the Hon. Henry Tsang agreed to:
Second reading ordered to stand as an order of the day.
That standing orders be suspended to allow the passing of the bill through all its remaining stages during the present or any one sitting of the House.
GENERAL PURPOSE STANDING COMMITTEE NO. 2
Report: Operation of Mona Vale Hospital
Debate resumed from 9 November 2005.
The Hon. CHRISTINE ROBERTSON
[2.32 p.m.]: The report on the operation of Mona Vale Hospital reflects a lot of the work carried out by general purpose standing committees, which have great difficulty achieving positive outcomes. Despite the tone of polite concern expressed by some members who contributed to this debate, the ulterior motive for holding this inquiry in the first place was never far from the surface. This inquiry was about planning for the future health care of the people of northern Sydney. There is a basic premise about role delineation and what individual hospitals can and cannot do. A big part of the quality program is not having major problems occurring in hospitals that do not have, and never will have, the level of service and clinical procedures required by some sick people. That level of service includes some kinds of surgery, perhaps for an intubated person who is unconscious and requires intensive care, or a sick child who needs a level of treatment that can be provided only by an individual hospital.
The available level of service is an incredibly important component of country health care planning. Every time an inquiry of this type is carried out we further put at risk work that general practitioners, health service providers and communities are doing in country areas to try to ensure that appropriate services are available. Hospitals are divided into community hospitals, district hospitals and referral hospitals, which are mostly metropolitan for obvious reasons. They require a core and a high level of expertise in order for those services to be delivered. It took quite a while for the committee to work out exactly where the issues were sourced and I am not sure whether that was ever identified. The committee has not documented that source but it did identify certain clinicians, in the Mona Vale area for example, who wanted to do fairly high-level procedures in their hospital—procedures that they had carried out for many years.
When dealing with this topic it is important also to recognise the changes to quality in health. No longer are appendectomies undertaken at Berry hospital, which did those operations when I was a child. An appendectomy requires anaesthetic administered by an anaesthetist and backup services to ensure that nothing goes wrong. That can no longer happen in smaller community hospitals, which have a very special function. I return to what happens in city hospitals. The same function is carried out in community or district hospitals as is carried out in the city, that is, to assess and provide initial care. It is essential that hospitals know exactly where a patient has to go to get the service that he or she requires. Doctors and nurses must know where those services are available and the hospital administration has to be mindful of what it can deliver.
During this inquiry a local government group and a community group informed the committee that they understood role delineation, that they had undertaken that task at Mona Vale Hospital and that they were going to resolve all the committee's problems. This inquiry was not about the Government; it was about a lot of very interesting pressure groups, both clinical and community, and the work done by individuals to divide that community. During debate on this report it was interesting to hear that the Government had divided the community. The Government was not there with its support groups to ensure that the community maintained its divisions.
Another issue that was raised related to community consultation. It appears from the evidence and from the report that there was a great deal of community consultation. It was not necessarily about what people wanted to hear or what satisfied them, but there was a great deal of community consultation. The committee received recommendations regarding community consultation, which have been outlined in the dissenting report. I believe the dissenting report is more accurate in working through those issues. Particular factions and groups within those communities ensured that it was incredibly difficult for the committee to achieve an outcome.
The health service, which played the role of both consultant and health service, carried out massive community consultation. No matter where one enters the health service the same outcome is achieved. If one enters the health service in Mona Vale Hospital with a level two emergency—Mona Vale Hospital has only an emergency theatre and a high-dependency unit for intensive care—and one requires major surgery and intensive care from doctors and clinicians, one needs to know that it is possible to be transferred to Royal North Shore Hospital, which provides the necessary services. The planning processes that are being worked through in northern Sydney are very detailed. It is fortunate that some time ago New South Wales produced a major metropolitan health plan that health services are working towards.
That plan outlines what services will be provided in various areas. In some cases it means that transplant units will not be available in every tertiary hospital but will be at a hospital with the highest level of expertise. When all those levels of expertise are combined the outcome is beneficial for patients. The same thing happens in district and community hospitals as different levels of service are provided by each area health service. Health planning in no way discredits any of those levels of service. The services provided in a community hospital or in an accident and emergency service are for assessment and maintenance in order to transfer to the next level of service. That is just as important as a tertiary hospital.
Throughout the committee's inquiry it was inferred that that was not so. Several witnesses—most of them clinicians but some had been involved in the metropolitan health plan and were responsible for deciding what levels of service should be provided by individual hospitals in the North Shore area—told the committee what level of service should be provided and where. They spoke about the right doctors and the right back-up services not being available. That does not mean we should not construct buildings that will not fit them in; it means we have to have clinicians who adequately deliver those services.
The committee heard from some very fine members of the community—I mean all of them; I am not making a value judgement on where they came from—who honestly believed that what they were saying was how it should be. We heard from clinicians who most definitely wanted to have in their patch what they believed was appropriate to enable them to deliver the services they wanted to deliver. It was a very mixed, mishmash of evidence in the long run. In my opinion the committee was very hard-working; we worked well together and managed to avoid any hostility. We spoke to each other and discussed the issues and I believe that each member of the committee understood and accepted the points of view expressed by other committee members. There was no animosity in relation to the way that the committee operated.
Our regret is that the committee did not produce a document that would reinforce good health services for the future of the people of northern Sydney. In a way we produced some divisive recommendations that reinforced the problems that already exist in the northern Sydney communities. I come from the country and I accept that places such as Tamworth and Armidale work together when it is convenient to do so but basically do not like each other and make sure that people know we do not. It was interesting to work with a community in Sydney, where the suburbs are doing much the same thing; where politicians and the communities endeavoured to ensure that they were each the most important.
The committee made recommendations about preferred sites that, in fact, we did not have the skills base to deliver on. If not recommendations, there were inferences that perhaps this or that would be the best site. I believe that in respect of some of this committee work we did not have the skills to deliver our recommendations. I urge honourable members to read the entire report, including the dissenting report.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS
[2.42 p.m.]: This was a very significant inquiry into services offered by hospitals on the northern beaches. The problem with the northern beaches area is that, although it not a long distance geographically from its major hospital—which is the Royal North Shore Hospital—the transport from the peninsula is poor. It is well known that there should be tracked transport, probably across the Spit Bridge or perhaps linking in with the Chatswood rail line so that people from the northern beaches can get to the Royal North Shore Hospital.
There is little doubt that the Government—through the former Northern Sydney Area Health Service, now known as the Northern and Central Coast Area Health Service—wanted to consolidate Mona Vale and Manly hospitals on a new site. The preferred site seems to have been Dee Why, which has the disadvantage that it is a quite small site, is quite rocky, is in the shopping centre and already has a traffic bottleneck that would get considerably worse if there had to be additional parking and hospital facilities on the site.
The Save Mona Vale Hospital group made no bones about its agenda. It wants to save its hospital. It is a magnificent hospital on the coast, associated with a golf course and on a fairly large amount of land. I think the group's fear that the Government's agenda is to sell the land is valid. There is no dispute that the Manly Hospital site is not a good place for a general hospital. It is away from the main stream of traffic, is on a peninsula, on top of a hill, and is quite difficult to access because the bus service is not good. One point that was continually made during the inquiry was that all hospitals now cannot offer all services. There was a great deal of discussion about the level of service and functions that can be offered.
Hospitals in the public sector seemed to say, "Well, it does not have critical mass. If we cannot staff the intensive care unit, we will have to close it down." Meanwhile, around them a galaxy of small private hospitals with way below the theoretical mass needed for a public hospital, and with nothing like the intensive care staffing of the public hospital, are doing very nicely, thank you. I believe that the arguments that hospitals must be closed simply do not hold water, but there does need to be an intelligent division of function. That is certainly true if a hospital is to offer intensive care services and 24-hour surgery—which, of course, is needed if it offers obstetrics. We have now reached the point where people do not tolerate deaths in childbirth. They want to know that if they need an emergency caesarean it can be performed. That can only be done if anaesthetists and operating theatre staff are based there and are ready to go almost at a moments notice.
While it would be desirable to have a single hospital on the peninsula, I think it would also be possible to have Mona Vale Hospital as the hospital and improve the transport from Manly to the North Shore. I am of the view that the Government does not want to think beyond that. The health system thinks within its silo and the Government's transport planning is within a completely different silo. The health people say, "Assuming that the transport from Manly to the North Shore remains as bad as it is now, therefore we have to build one hospital rather than two." Rather than retain Mona Vale Hospital and take Manly people to Royal North Shore Hospital, which could happen only if there were decent transport, the health system planning assumes that it is impossible to go from the bottom end of the peninsula to the North Shore.
It might be said that Royal North Shore Hospital is at capacity. I believe that the site has been extremely badly managed. The hospital has gone into decay at an almost extraordinary level. This sort of neglect is very worrying. In a sense, the committee was faced with considered recommendations about why a hospital was needed for the peninsula, but within a frame of reference of transport constraints set by a government that engages in very poor transport planning. In my view that framework influenced the committee's report.
The Government's consultation process was flawed. The Government did not want to know what the Save Mona Vale Hospital people wanted. That is understandable. The Government knew that the Save Mona Vale Hospital people wanted to save Mona Vale Hospital. It knew that they wanted to build one hospital instead of two. Given that you cannot staff two intensive care units, and that if you are to offer 24-hour services you are better off with one hospital than two, I think the Government had undertaken enough consultation within that framework to know that it was not going to get consensus and it therefore withdrew from the consultation process. In a sense one can understand that.
There were some aspects of the committee hearings that were very worrying. Why Neverfail Springwater Limited, which I understand is a branch of Amatil, ceased to supply bottled water to Manly Hospital because NSW Health had not paid its bill was a source of some anxiety. Departments that do not pay their bills are the bane of a private contractor's existence. It is certainly worrying that the Government operates so close to the bone. An expert who does cardiac testing on behalf of general practitioners at Mona Vale Hospital told the committee that any bill of more than $7 must be forwarded to the chief executive officer, who travels from Nowra three days a week to manage the hospital. She said she had to wait until the next financial year to purchase the paper she needed to send letters to GPs about the cardiac testing she had performed. As I said earlier, a water company withdrew its product because the area health service was a bad debtor. I think that speaks volumes about the state of the health service in New South Wales and how precarious the situation is.
We talk about waiting lists and triaging—which is rationing by another name—but this is another problem. Intensive care staff have performed some absolute heroics, working extraordinarily long hours, in an effort to meet the service deficit. It is not clear where the new hospital should be sited on the northern beaches. No-one suggests establishing a decent tram service across The Spit, although I gather that the tunnels extend to Neutral Bay so the trams could be reactivated. That would be a realistic public transport option for travelling from the lower end of the peninsula to a rebuilt North Shore hospital. But that option was played down during the inquiry.
The committee recommended saving Mona Vale Hospital and preventing the Government's sale of the site on which it stands. But the Government has made no commitment to preserving the site, and that is extremely disappointing. Residents on the northern part of the peninsula believe the Government is not doing enough to resolve this matter. Indeed, they felt so strongly about this issue that they elected Alex McTaggart as the member for Pittwater. The people of Manly are not quite so passionate about this matter. They acknowledge that Manly hospital must be replaced and they are looking for an alternative hospital site. I think they would prefer that site to be on the peninsular, which is an understandable reaction. In a sense, Manly residents have internalised the poor transport services that are a legacy of this Government.
It was suggested in the media that I had asked personal questions of a witness during a committee hearing. One witness claimed to speak for a community group and I asked about her relationship with people from the hospital, who were speaking with the naked interests of Manly hospital in mind. I certainly did not intend to ask personal questions; I was simply attempting to ascertain the relationship between the staff of Manly hospital and the representatives of the community group concerned, which, from memory, was called Better and Equitable Access to Community and Hospital Services. The inquiry was most interesting. It is important to integrate hospital and transport planning. [Time expired
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE
[2.52 p.m.], in reply: I thank all members of General Purpose Standing Committee No. 2 who have contributed to the take-note debate on the operation of Mona Vale Hospital. This is report No. 19 of the committee, and I think all committee members made a contribution to it. I found the Hon. Christine Robertson's remarks most interesting. Committee members are aware of the intense and passionate interest she takes in health issues, arising from her professional background. We value her input and her gentle reminders when we appear not to grasp what she considers to be matters of fundamental policy. However, the lecture today perhaps went a fraction too far. I think committee members understand role delineation. We appreciate that all hospitals cannot offer all things to all people—even at Mona Vale and on the northern beaches as a whole.
Notwithstanding that, this Government has made no real commitment to progressing this issue. There has been a lot of talk and consultation but, despite its cost—the consultation process extends back to about 2000—talk is cheap compared with investing in upgrading existing hospitals or constructing new ones. The Government has almost consulted this issue to death. Despite the best efforts of the excellent staff at Mona Vale Hospital, it is almost a case of death by neglect at that facility. The hospital lacks fundamental resources and the Pittwater community, the auxiliary and so on have been forced to raise funds to provide basic hospital equipment and services. Those people are most concerned about the future of the hospital.
That is why in its final recommendation the committee is seeking a real commitment from the Government regarding the future of the Mona Vale site. What is to happen not only to the hospital but to the land on which it sits? That issue is as topical today as it was when we accepted the reference in December 2004 and when the committee tabled its report in May last year. The people of Pittwater are most concerned that the Government has a hidden agenda and wants to sell the Mona Vale Hospital site. But they will not stand for it. I made that point in an adjournment speech in the House only last week, and I reiterate it this afternoon.
As to role delineation, I remind the Hon. Christine Robertson that the committee considered what residents from each local government area thought about the preferred location of a general hospital on the northern beaches. Some 82 per cent of Pittwater residents overwhelmingly endorsed the Mona Vale site, as did 24 per cent of residents of the Warringah local government area and 7 per cent of the Manly local government area. That means that 35 per cent of the northern beaches community support the Mona Vale site. Some 28 per cent supported the proposal to site a hospital at Brookvale and 25 per cent favoured a Frenchs Forest site.
We acknowledge that northern beaches residents are not unanimous in their view about a future site. The Liberal-Nationals Coalition generally accepts that one level-five hospital and one complementary hospital are needed. However, we make it clear to the Government that the future use of the Mona Vale Hospital land is integral to any final decisions that are taken on this matter. Its purpose must be health related. We believe also that Mona Vale Hospital should be upgraded. Millions of dollars should be spent on the emergency department and the many other facilities that the community believes it deserves.
The Hon. Christine Robertson used the work "divisive". Although a minority report was produced—I acknowledge that—I believe that committee members have learned to work well together. Our responses focused on the issues and our report is issues based. All members made a contribution to the inquiry. I know that the Government is not a fan of general purpose standing committees: it would prefer to do whatever it wants without any so-called "interference" from Parliament. But the fact is that these committees make a contribution. They enable us to hear from those in the community who have valid points of view. I think it is good when developing public policy to give expression to the views not merely of bureaucrats—we heard from numerous officers of NSW Health and Northern Sydney Central Coast Health—but of all those with an interest in the issue. The committee heard evidence from clinicians, medical specialists, nurses and others with a general interest in this matter.
In this debate our committee has shown its interest in the issues specific to the Mona Vale Hospital site many of which are relevant about the siting of hospitals and the delivery of health services right across the State. I share with my rural colleague members of Parliament the Hon. Christine Robertson, the Hon. Melinda Pavey and the Hon. Tony Catanzariti, who was not able to contribute to the debate, a strong understanding of the delivery of health service to get the best hospital services across vast distances and to small population centres. They bring a particular perspective to the debate around Mona Vale Hospital as they are well aware of issues to do with other hospitals. I thank all honourable members of the committee, and I ask the House to appropriately take note of the operation of the Mona Vale Hospital report of General Purpose Standing Committee No. 2.
Motion agreed to.
COMMITTEE ON THE HEALTH CARE COMPLAINTS COMMISSION
Report: 10th Meeting on the Annual Report of the Health Care Complaints Commission
Debate resumed from 7 June 2005.
The Hon. DON HARWIN
[3.01 p.m.]: The committee's report on the Annual Report of the Health Care Complaints Commission tabled last June is the first joint committee report of which this House has taken note. In fact, it has taken since June for this House to work through the notice paper to debate this report this afternoon. The change featured in our most recent revision of the standing orders of this House and the plain English-speaking standing orders we adopted about a year ago to enable us to debate joint committee reports for one hour each week. A great many honourable members of this House serve on joint committees but previously they could not report on their work in the same way as they do in take-note debates about reports of the Legislative Council standing committees and general purpose standing committees.
I will make a few brief remarks on the report: I do not serve on the committee but nevertheless I did not want to let the opportunity pass without putting my view, given that this is the first opportunity for such a debate. The 2003-04 financial period covered by this report was one of great political challenge for the Health Care Complaints Commission [HCCC]. In addition to tackling an unacceptable backlog of investigations, during this period the HCCC embarked on the investigations into Camden and Campbelltown hospitals. The Government tackled those issues with a massive emergency injection of—wait for it—$5.7 million in additional funding, and it also dismissed the commissioner. The reform agenda of the interim commissioner and the significant budgetary increase resulted in some reduction in the level of backlog cases. This stated achievement formed the core of the annual report, and also dominated the committee's consideration and discussion of the report.
Unfortunately, in my view, the committee appears to have glossed over the report's considerable shortcomings. Earlier joint committee reviews identified the need to develop a more comprehensive suite of key performance indicators. However, Mr John Chan Sew, a consultant to the HCCC, whom the committee asked to produce an independent review of the annual report, determined that the 2003-04 report made little demonstrable progress on this point. Mr Sew highlighted that the key indicators remained substantively similar to those used in previous years and described them as being quite limited in scope. His assessment was that the approach did not enable a clear picture to be provided of what the commission set out to achieve, nor allow for an adequate assessment of the achievement of its goals.
While this report demonstrates the commission's achievements in strictly numerical terms, for example, from the material disclosed in the annual report, it is particularly difficult to make a meaningful assessment of whether the stated achievements have met a high standard. Given the urgency with which Mr Sew raised this shortcoming in his review of the HCCC annual report, I am surprised that the issue was not addressed in greater detail in the committee's report. The standard of performance assessment remains an important issue for the HCCC annual report. This aspect of subsequent annual reports should be examined carefully in joint committee reviews and the House should continue to take note of the tabling of these review reports, with particular attention paid to the adequacy of the key performance indicators chosen.
The Hon. CHRISTINE ROBERTSON
[3.05 p.m.]: It is with great pleasure that, as Deputy Chair, I serve on this committee with the Hon. David Clarke and the Hon. Dr Peter Wong, each of whom take their role incredibly seriously. The 2003-04 financial year saw significant changes and improvements in the New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission [HCCC]. The departure of Commissioner Adrian in December 2004, the appointment of Mr Grant, and the subsequent appointment of Judge Kenneth Taylor as Acting Commissioner were marked by a new focus on the priority areas of addressing serious complaints and aligning the activities of the commission.
Legislative change in November 2004, and focusing the work of complaint resolution officers—former patient support officers—coupled with increasing the number of internal medical advisors, all reflect the adoption of recommendations made by the committee. The terms of reference allow a strong role in how the HCCC operates and is managed. Former patient support officers are now referred to as complaint resolution officers to highlight their impartial role in the resolution of complaints, and to address the perception that they are advocates for patients.
A director of assessments and resolution has been recruited and is responsible for the conciliation registry and complaint resolution officers. The health conciliation registry is now under the administrative and managerial control of the commission and is co-located with the commission. The committee's concerns about the co-location of the two offices are partly addressed by modifications to the commission's premises, which will permit a separate entrance from the registry. It sounds odd to add that as commentary on the work of this review, but the committee received several representations about the process to ensure that in future both organisations work properly under the same roof.
Previous recommendations about the autonomy of the registry are addressed by committee recommendations about a separate section for the activities of the registry in the annual report and separate meetings with the committee. The overall effect, and the initial aims of the legislative reform, was to refocus the commission on investigating serious complaints and realigning the activities of the commission. Given the tumultuous time the commission was experiencing when Judge Taylor's appointment was made, and the fact that the annual report covers only three months of his appointment as acting commissioner, the committee is of the view that he is to be congratulated on his stewardship of the commission and on the comprehensive nature of the feedback provided to the committee.
Some of the progress of the commission can be attributed to a significant budget enhancement of $5.7 million, which facilitated the appointment of additional investigators and the establishment of a specialist team to deal with matters arising from complaints about Camden and Campbelltown hospitals. The reduction in the backlog of cases was very significant, and on 28 February 2005 it stood at 15. The inquiry into the Macarthur health service resulted in 139 open investigations on the matter before the commission in July 2004. This caseload was down to 29 on 3 March 2005—a lot of hard work. At its peak the total number of backlog cases was 448, which warranted Judge Taylor's nominating this issue as the largest problem he faced upon his arrival.
Between July and December 2003 the average number of investigations completed per month in the commission was 19.5. Between July and December 2004 it was 89—four times the original productivity level. It was Judge Taylor's view that benchmarking the commission's performance would mean setting the goal of finalising 80 per cent of current complaints within 12 months. The commission's case management system is likely to be greatly enhanced by the introduction of the casemate computer system in March this year. Casemate will assist data collection, including the reporting of demographic data on complainants. The effectiveness of the system will be of interest to the committee.
Mr John Chan Sew, a consultant to the committee, undertook a review of the 2003-04 annual report of the New South Wales HCCC and noted that previous deficiencies in the commission's reporting have not been addressed. Commission representatives conceded that there had not been a concentration on performance indicators but that the situation would be rectified. The committee will concern itself with the setting and monitoring of key performance indicators by the commission.
Of some concern to the committee is the removal of statistical information that previously appeared in the main body of the report to the appendices without an explanatory narrative. Information about the commission's internal committees was also missing from the report, although it had been included in previous reports. A commitment from commission representatives to generate and publicise planning documentation was made and explanations given for the absence of some planning documentation, like a five-year strategic plan. The committee will continue its work of monitoring and reviewing the commission's work and will pursue specific issues raised in the tenth meeting on the annual report of the Health Care Complaints Commission. The committee had its eleventh meeting in relation to those functions today.
I am not sure that this is the appropriate time to address this matter, but as the Hon. Don Harwin has dealt with the issue of joint committees, I will mention a difficultly posed for committee members who are members of this House. The difficulty is that committee meetings are almost always held at times when this House is sitting. Members of this House are very dutiful and attend to their duties in the House as expected when it sits. Consequently, the poor scheduling of committee meetings makes our lives somewhat more difficult. I would like to place on record a plea to the chairs of joint committees—who I think in all cases are members of the other place—to give consideration and pay due respect to the proper functioning of this Chamber when setting meeting dates.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS
[3.12 p.m.]: I do not serve on this committee, although I have taken a great deal of interest in medical malpractice or negligence and quality control problems in the health system. I have some practical experience of those matters, having been a surgeon and having worked in the British national health system. As well, I have some experience of the bureaucratic systems of Sydney Water and of Veterans' Affairs, where I observed the interaction between management and front-line medical staff regarding resources and the difficult relationship they had.
As has been pointed out, the Health Care Complaints Commission [HCCC] had tumultuous times, and the matter was brought to a head by allegations made by whistleblower nurses, as they were known, about the Macarthur Area Health Service and, in particular, delays in dealing with the 139 cases that Nola Fraser mentioned. If one were being honest, one would say that the model followed by the HCCC prior to the complaints made by Nola Fraser was: Well, there are some complaints, but they relate mainly to communication problems, and if we sort out the communication problems we will find a few bad apples and we can deal with them by referring them to medical boards, and possibly on to medical disciplinary tribunals. I think that was the resource level, and I think the HCCC was regarded as an advocacy body for the miscommunication efforts and/or negligence of the doctors. That model is quite flawed.
The Hon. Jan Burnswoods:
Point of order: There are two points to my point of order. The first relates to relevance. The point I make is one that I have discussed with the Clerk, because I am conscious of its relevance to a number of other matters. This debate is about a report. It is a take-note debate on the report of the tenth meeting on the annual report of the Health Care Complaints Commission. It is not a debate on the annual report of the commission; it is a debate on the material contained in the report, and that is, overwhelmingly, transcript. So, firstly, it is not appropriate for the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans to use this debate to discuss issues relative to the Macarthur region or the Camden or Campbelltown hospitals.
The second point—I suppose I am talking to it already—is that this House has a very specific set of rules relative to take-note debates. In that regard, I draw attention to Standing Order 232. An hour is set aside to discuss committee reports. The fundamental rule is that members discuss reports. I think the Hon. Don Harwin made it very clear in speaking to this report that this is the first time the House has debated a report of a joint committee. That is one significant matter, and perhaps we should have specific procedures in relation to it. But more serious, I think, is the fact that when we are talking about reports of oversight committees—as this report is—we are not debating the report of a body outside Parliament; we are debating a report of a parliamentary committee.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS:
I wish to raise a point for clarification. Is there a time limit for the making of points of order? I deeply resent my time being taken up by this lengthy waffle.
The Hon. Jan Burnswoods:
Madam President, I am making a very serious point.
The Hon. Charlie Lynn:
No, you are not; you are waffling.
The Hon. Jan Burnswoods:
And I have not finished making my point of order.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS:
You are exhausting my time.
The Hon. Jan Burnswoods:
I repeat, Madam Deputy-President, it is a very serious issue for this House to consider whether it is debating reports of outside bodies or reports of parliamentary committees. This is an issue that, in all our interests—and I repeat that the Hon. Don Harwin has commented that this is the first time the this House has debated a joint committee report—needs to be discussed and decided.
The Hon. Don Harwin:
To the point of order: I read directly from the chairman's foreword in addressing the first point of order raised by the Hon. Jan Burnswoods:
Similarly, substantial progress has been made in clearing the investigations resulting from the inquiry into the Macarthur Health Service. In July 2004 the commission had 139 open investigations in relation to this inquiry. Judge Taylor informed the committee during his appearance on 3 March 2005 that the number had been then reduced to 29.
That is exactly what the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans has been discussing. With great respect to the Hon. Jan Burnswoods, quite apart from the fact she has taken up two or three minutes of the speaking time allocated to the honourable member, there is no substance to her point of order. And the second point she raised was not even a point of order.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS:
To the point of order: The format for speeches that I always use in this Chamber is to start with the general and proceed to the particular, so that I talk about the functions of committees as they might be, and then as they have been observed in the quantification mentioned in this report. I have spoken about the 139 complaints raised by Nola Fraser, and then what the functions of the committee ought to be, in a very systematic fashion. I resent the suggestion that I would be denied the opportunity to talk about the overall functions of the HCCC, which a committee of this Parliament is supposedly oversighting.
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Kayee Griffin):
Order! I remind members that the House is debating the report of the tenth meeting on the annual report of the Health Care Complaints Commission. To ensure their remarks are relevant to the debate, they should confine themselves to matters raised in that report, including comments made in either the transcript of the committee meeting or the report. I urge honourable members to confine their remarks to the matters raised in the report.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS:
The model articulated by Judge Taylor assumes a certain system of dealing with complaints from the HCCC as a stand-alone body dealing with a series of complaints. As to the function of the body—which goes to what the functions of the body should be—should we have a stand-alone system, and to what extent should it integrate with complaint systems within the health system as part of a no-fault model?
The defence offered for the position taken by Amanda Adrian prior to being sacked was that she was using an aviation-like risk management model as opposed to a legalistic model. The point was made that if complaints are solved at the hospital level, the systemic level, the grassroots advocacy level within the hospital, and complaints against the health system integrated with quality control measures through the Clinical Excellence Commission, they will never come to the attention of the HCCC. Although it is interesting to read in the report the number of complaints lodged with the commission, some of the systemic issues—such as the delivery of quality health; resourcing doctors, who then attempt to fill shifts and provide the expertise needed for their roles—must be considered also. To ascertain the number of complaints and gauge how quickly they are addressed is certainly a key performance indicator, but a huge problem exists because the HCCC is not able to look at systemic issues, such as the management of trouble within the hospital system—and that was what Amanda Adrian was trying to address.
Amanda Adrian was criticised in the Walker report for not meeting her statutory requirements: she thought of herself as being in charge and she tried to use her knowledge of risk management systems to achieve what she thought a health care complaints commission should be. Because of his training, the model expounded by Judge Taylor goes back to a more legalistic basis. I am not certain that this is the right model for safety management theory. Looking at these tables and the good work of the commission in investigating complaints and the good work of the committee oversighting the commission, I am still sure that a no-fault system, systems analysis and an integration of problem prevention within the health system is the right model. If the result in New South Wales is that whistleblowing will prevent a repeat of the Queensland Dr Death scenario, it will be a good thing, but I am not sure that just stopping "Dr Deaths" will be an optimal outcome.
The Hon. DON HARWIN
[3.22 p.m.], in reply: I congratulate the Deputy Chairman, the Hon. Christine Robertson, on her remarks, which were to the point. In particular I was pleased to hear her focus on key performance indicators. At least in that respect she supported the comments I made when I opened the debate. She expressed concern about the current practice of joint committees of the Parliament being convened under the standing orders of the other place and not the standing orders of this Chamber. Under the standing orders of the Legislative Assembly, its members may serve on committees during sittings of that House, whereas in accordance with the standing orders of this place Legislative Council committees are not permitted to attend committee meetings during sitting times. That creates a number of problems for members of this House and perhaps we should consider a change in that regard. However, having said that, I put on the record that for a very long period the lower House has not been prepared to entertain any such consideration.
The Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans made some very pertinent points, indicating that he understands the issue. I suggest that, contrary to the point of order that was taken on the honourable member, throughout the report of the annual meeting there is reference to discussion of precisely the matters to which the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans referred. The very idea that during discussion of committee reports honourable members can be precluded from making remarks about what the committee might not have looked at but should have looked at if it had a specific reference, is a complete nonsense. Madam Deputy-President, I invite you to reflect upon that comment also.
Motion agreed to.
COMMITTEE ON CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE
Report: Review of Child Death Review Team Report: Suicide and Risk-taking Deaths of Children and Young People
Debate resumed from 7 June 2005.
The Hon. DON HARWIN
[3.24 p.m.]: Last June the Committee on Children and Young People, on which I used to serve but no longer serve, tabled its review of the Child Death Review Team report into suicide and risk-taking deaths among children and young people. The Child Death Review Team investigated the cases of all deaths by suicide and risk taking among children and young people in New South Wales during the period January 1996 to December 2000. The study findings indicated a variety of avenues for the prevention of further such deaths. The review team's report included a list of study findings that were not recognised within the New South Wales Suicide Prevention Strategy and recommended that the strategy be updated to reflect those findings.
In late 2004 the committee investigated the status of the report's findings and measures being undertaken to improve prevention and intervention. Both Ms Gillian Calvert, Commissioner for Children and Young People and convenor of the Child Death Review Team, and Professor Beverley Raphael, Director, New South Wales Centre for Mental Health, gave evidence to the committee in public hearings and provided written responses to questions taken on notice. My colleague the Hon. Melinda Pavey now serves on the committee. She heard the evidence and questioned the witnesses. I look forward to hearing from her in this debate.
The Hon. MELINDA PAVEY
[3.26 p.m.]: It is with pleasure that I speak in this take-note debate on the report entitled "Review of the Child Death Review Team Report: Suicide and risk-taking deaths of children and young people". In March 2005 the Committee on Children and Young People took evidence from Gillian Calvert and Professor Beverley Raphael. I realise that some time has elapsed between the giving of evidence and the tabling of the committee's report on this review, however, it is important to detail, from the perspectives of all members of the committee, some of the more interesting findings relating to the 187 children who died between 1996 and 2000 as a result of suicide or risk-taking activities.
From 1996 to 2000 a total of 1,814 children aged between 12 and 17 died. Of that number, 23 per cent, or 187, died as a result of suicide or risk-taking activities. Of those 187, 80 committed suicide. Interestingly, the majority of the 80 who committed suicide were female. Some 66 per cent of children who died as result of suicide or risk-taking activities were from dysfunctional families. It is our job as members of Parliament to determine whether the Government is delivering services appropriately to try to prevent so many young children in this State from dying every year, and to decide whether a change in policy direction might provide better outcomes. The executive summary of the report points out that 38.5 per cent of the children and young people who died were living in intact and biologically related families at the time of their deaths.
The report points out that this figure proportionately is substantially lower than figures for the population of New South Wales. In 1997 in New South Wales, 69.6 per cent of all children and young people aged 12 to 17 years lived with both biological parents. That is an interesting statistic and an interesting way to present it. The corollary of that would be that children and young people are much better off with their biological parents than they are without them, and I do not think anybody would argue with that in its totality. But I think some may have a different opinion when they are made aware of some of the biological parents that children in New South Wales are left with.
I hear scoffs and comments of "disgusting" from across the Chamber, and that is part of the problem. We are not actually allowed to talk about such issues openly and to look beneath some of the problems to examine issues associated with why children are dying across this State. Of the 124 children and young people who died as a result of risk-taking activities or suicide, 80 died by suicide—that is 72 per cent of all suicide cases—and 38 died as a result of risk-taking activities, such as drug overdose or car accidents involving risky behaviour. Intent was unable to be determined in relation to six deaths.
I take this opportunity to read from some of the evidence that was provided and from the chair's findings. Findings of the Child Death Review Team report provide a basis for finetuning policies, practical programs and service provision to minimise the likelihood of young people feeling driven to take such desperate measures. Committee members would agree completely with that. I also flag that a question was put to Gillian Calvert that the Child Death Review Team noted that the Department of Community Services [DOCS] is conducting a literature review and redesigning its data capabilities in relation child deaths. When asked whether both projects had been completed, the commissioner replied that, at that point in time, she was not aware that research had been completed by DOCS—something that I would have thought was particularly important.
Another interesting finding is that in 185 cases of the death of a child as a result of high risk-taking activity or suicide, only 40 children had contacted their school counsellor. That statistic is worth remembering. Perhaps the school counsellors in our public education system—and I was a student of the public education system, which provided a school counsellor at the school I attended—cannot easily be approached by students who are experiencing problems. That is something certainly worth considering.
During the hearing we discussed adoption practices and whether the Government was adhering to its own 2001 legislation. The purpose of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Amendment (Permanency Planning) Act, which was enacted in 2001, was to assist the courts and the Department of Community Services to make hard decisions when children are being abused and neglected by parents.
Pursuant to standing orders business interrupted.
INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS AMENDMENT BILL
PUBLIC SECTOR EMPLOYMENT LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS
[3.33 p.m.]: Earlier I mentioned that unemployment figures for Australia and America were calculated differently in that an American who has regular employment, even only an hour a week, is regarded as being employed whereas in Australia the Australian Bureau of Statistics works on the basis of a full-time job being a job for 25 hours a week. Because of that Australia's unemployment rate always looked worse than that of the United States of America. During that period Maximilian Walsh wrote an article in the Sydney Morning Herald
pointing out how badly we were doing compared to the United States of America. I wrote to him and pointed out that the definition of "unemployment" was quite different in the two countries, but he did not reply.
The point was not lost on others, though, and Australia redefined "unemployment" closer to the definition used by the United States. Whether that came from a standard definition used by the OECD countries I am not certain, but it would be interesting to find out. Since that time Australian rates of unemployment have been much lower. It would be very interesting to know what our unemployment rate has been since "unemployment" was redefined. I believe "unemployment" was defined in a far more limited fashion so that "underemployment" was included as employment, thus the Australian figures looked much better.
There is some political sensitivity associated with this issue and the fact that John Howard boasts about increasing employment. There has been some casualisation of labour, which means that people receive some remuneration. However, they subsequently may become ineligible for benefits and be worse off at the bottom end of the scale because of that redefinition. That is very worrying. It is similar to the way the Government has redefined the term "on-time running of trains", which the media appears not to have noticed. There has been considerable media comment about the great improvements in the on-time running of trains. If a train fails to stop at all intermediate stations to meet its timetable, it will be seen to arrive at its destination on time. But clearly that practice is unsatisfactory from the point of view of people waiting at the intermediate station at which the train did not stop. Of course, they have to wait until the next scheduled train service arrives.
A recent article by Ross Gittins examined the unemployment rate in the United States of America and compared the employment rates of the United States of America and Australia. When I visited the United States of America to study workplace absence in 1985, I found that the Americans were very impressed by the fact that Australians received what amounted to a living wage and had far better pay and conditions for employment for permanent employees. Since that time there has been an immense casualisation of the labour force in Australia, but still, interestingly, from a practical point of view Australians who have a job are more likely to be able to raise a family and acquire their own home than Americans are.
In Australia it was not a big hassle if consumers did not tip, because here people were able to live on their wages. However, in the United States of America wages were derisory. Much of the labour in the United States was provided by an illegal labour force comprising people who had entered the country illegally from Mexico and other countries. That widespread, illegal labour force relied heavily on tips. That they were illegal immigrants with very low bargaining power pulled the whole wage structure down towards at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. The effect of that on tipping practices, job security and perhaps the entire social fabric was certainly very great.
In contrast to that, a stable and employed society has a glue which holds it together and in which its people are stakeholders. People who are marginalised, however, are more desperate. If we have a survival of the fittest mentality, then of course in some dark alleyway someone will say, "Well, you have a survival of the fittest ethos. Your survival of the fittest is based on who has a job and can keep the boss happy. My survival of the fittest is based on who can grab the wallet and who is the strongest in this back alley in the dark." In a sense an ethos that is created at the top of the scale is often quite differently interpreted at the bottom of the scale. These factors should be borne in mind as we examine various social pathologies.
The Democrats adopted a holistic view a long time ago. The Howard Government has based its regressive reforms on ideology rather than on evidence. The evidence provided by the article written by Ross Gittins suggests that Australia is doing just as well as the United States of America in terms of employment.
The fact that we have had a decent wage structure for our lower paid workers has not adversely affected our international performance. If one were contemplating why the Australian economy does or does not perform well, my view would be that the additional complexity imposed by different State and Commonwealth governments with different regulations covering companies would clearly be an impediment to Australian industry. I believe that is a far more significant impediment than the fact that people at the bottom of the employment spectrum obtain a decent wage. The article by Ross Gittins in yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald
clearly made that point. The Howard Government could have negotiated with the States for a unitary system, I think with some benefit. However, it performed so aggressively that the States are now passing legislation to try to put workers who are deemed State employees—workers in many public service organisations and statutory corporations, which previously were public service organisations—under State awards and thus protect them from the Howard Government's WorkChoices legislation.
John Howard did very well at the last election. I believe he blackmailed people because they were concerned they would not be able to pay off their mortgages. The family home had been so favourably treated by the taxation system that there was a most unwise national resource allocation or concentration—
Madam Deputy-President, I ask you to ask interjectors to desist.
Madam DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Kayee Griffin):
Order! I remind members that interjections are disorderly at all times.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS:
The distorting effect of so much money going into real estate resulted in people pushing up the price of real estate and that has made housing affordability more difficult. People in the marginal electorates have taken on far greater mortgages and John Howard has convinced them that he will keep down the interest rates and that they will not rise while he remains in power. In a sense, he has locked us into riches in real estate and that has had a big effect on the national economy. Perhaps the boom created by the growth in the economies of China and India—
Madam DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Kayee Griffin):
Order! Conversation between members across the Chamber disturbs the concentration of the member with the call. I again remind members—and that includes the Deputy Leader of the Opposition—that interjections are disorderly.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS:
John Howard might have succeeded. The economy is booming and he has got credit for that. It would have been far better for the Commonwealth Government to come to an agreement with the States on the content of a unitary system rather than having this radical and unprotected situation for people at the bottom of the employment pile. It will have an immensely deleterious effect on the fabric of Australian society if we take away from lower paid workers their ability to participate in the benefits of society and a huge working poor will develop. Some people might say, "I am working harder and harder for virtually nothing and others who work the same hours as I do receive outrageous wages."
Some time ago I used to take my son to a childcare facility in the city. That facility could not retain its staff despite the fact that it charged a fee of $62 a day for each child. Childcare workers' wages were extremely low, thus compelling them to commute long distances out of town—the only place where they could find affordable housing. As soon as they obtained jobs nearer their homes they had no need to travel into the city. Cleaning staff and those people who perform more menial tasks have the same problem, so it is hard to find people who are willing to perform those tasks. It could be argued that that will push up wages, but that is cold comfort in this race to the bottom. If cleaners are paid a reasonable wage that will not bankrupt organisations that are competing in the environment. A comparison of employment figures in Australia with the figures in the United States of America suggests that that is the case. So I find important the small increment that is being paid to people at the lower end of the scale for a higher participation rate.
For nine years the Australian Democrats was the only party to stand in the way of the Howard Government's passing its industrial relations reforms. People in the union movement and members of the Labor Party do not wish to admit that these so-called legislative reforms or changes—I am not sure whether I should use the word "reform" to describe what John Howard is doing—were passed only after the Democrats lost the balance of power. In 1996 the Democrats supported some changes, after 176 Democrat amendments restored a fairer balance. Those 1996 reforms occurred at a time when the economy was not booming, as it is in during the passage of this latest tranche of reforms.
Those 1996 reforms were negotiated with the Democrats under the leadership of Cheryl Kernot who, at that time, was not particularly pro-union. The Labor Party greatly criticised Cheryl Kernot, but that did not stop her from jumping ship and going onto the Labor team. Her crime—supporting the 1996 industrial relations tranche of reforms—could not have been such a big issue for the Labor Party, because it certainly embraced her when she joined. The fact that the party treated her poorly when she got there seems to be par for the course when we consider recent happenings in the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party.
So it is a bit rich for members of the Labor Party to criticise the Democrats. Honourable members should remember that the balance provided by the Democrats, and the fairness they brought to this debate, is extremely relevant and important. It was also a bit rich for the Leader of the Opposition to go on about the behaviour of former Premier Bob Carr, who gave victory signs as he snuck into Parliament House from the State Library through the car park when the workers compensation legislation was being debated in 2001. One might ask: How did that workers compensation legislation get through? Crossbench membership was quite delicately balanced and there was no guarantee that it would go through. What happened? The Liberal Party said, "Beauty mate. We will support you. We will criticise you for not looking after the workers, but we certainly will not look after them—no sir, not us! We will support the legislation." The legislation, which was passed, received the support of both Liberal and Labor members of Parliament.
There was a very good chance that, with the support of members on the crossbenches, the Liberals could have prevented those reforms and we would have had a better workers compensation system. I have said in many debates on workers compensation that we could have had a system that gave workers a fairer deal. However, that has never been done. Workers compensation is seen as an insurance and money problem when it is a safety, human, injury and medical problem. That reflects no credit on either of the major parties in this House. John Howard's reforms had to wait until he had complete control of the Senate, where I believe ideology triumphed over good policy. I support these bills because we are trying to achieve some sort of balance. It is ironic that it is only in the New South Wales public sector that we can retain an equitable arbitration system. Of course, the Fair Pay Commission is an unknown quantity.
No doubt a number of members of this House would have seen the program on the 7.30 Report
about the new head of the Fair Pay Commission, heard about his interest in organ music and the church, and his academic credentials. As he put it, he has a clean slate in relation to his experience of lower paid workers and their life troubles. It will be interesting to see how he responds, within that ethnical, religious and academic framework, when he confronts those issues. The Fair Pay Commission that he is to set up will be an academically run body. It is about to be given form within the framework of the legislation. If this man is too kind there is the possibility that he will be replaced. It will be interesting to see what happens if the market has a huge amount of say, as opposed to considerations of equity and the need for a minimum wage. In my view the framework is doctrinal and worrying. The Australian Democrats support the bills, which will mitigate the effect of the federal legislation for at least some workers.
The Hon. GREG DONNELLY
[3.50 p.m.]: I am pleased to make a contribution to the debate on these important bills. It was challenging for most Government members to watch the Leader of the Opposition maintain a straight face during the course of his contribution to the debate this morning. He was so solemn, so sure and so passionate about the position he was presenting. We sat back and wondered how he could possibly be saying so much in his contribution. He questioned why this legislation was before the House. It is very clear. I can think of 186,000 reasons why these bills are before the House. This legislation will be the first stage in protecting many workers in New South Wales from the pernicious effects of the Commonwealth legislation. Immediately after the Public Sector Employment Legislation Amendment Bill is passed, 186,000 workers and their families will be protected from the direct king hit of the Howard Government's legislation.
In commenting on the legislation, which will affect so many workers in this State, I will confine my observations to a few key themes that run through the Commonwealth Act. The Act is very comprehensive. It is radical legislation and time will not permit a complete critique of it, but I will attempt to break it down into some key themes and comment briefly on them. The first key issue is that the new Act radically changes the way in which the wages and working conditions of employees will be determined. We all know that the award system has been around for a long time, and that it provides a comprehensive set of wages and working conditions for employees. Flowing from that award system in the past have been agreements, collective or otherwise, and Australian workplace agreements, but in all instances those agreements had to be tested using a no-disadvantage test that compared proposed agreements with the underpinning awards.
The new legislation is most significant because it basically disposes of the no-disadvantage test. We now have a situation whereby, going forward, workers will only have their wages and conditions tested against five basic entitlements. In other words, the award system is put into the shredder, leaving five minimum statutory entitlements. All that any employer in Australia will have to do is ensure that those five minimum entitlements, and nothing else, are met. I will just recap on those five entitlements. There will be a new or hourly rate of pay, yet to be determined. There will be four weeks of annual leave of which two weeks can be cashed out. There will be 10 days of personal and carer's leave, which will include an employee's sick leave, plus two additional days of carer's leave, which will be unpaid, and two days of paid compassionate leave. There will be 52 weeks of unpaid parental leave. Fifthly, and finally, there will be a maximum of 38 ordinary hours to be worked, but that is to be averaged over a 52-week period.
That is all that employers will have to meet as a minimum in the future. Nothing other than those five entitlements will have to be met by an employer who engages employees in the future. That, of course, raises the issue of what can be left out. We could spend a long time talking about what can be left out, but let me perhaps just touch on a few points. With regard to key issues that can be left out under the new Commonwealth legislation, the whole notion of working one's hours over five days a week will completely disappear. Under the new legislation there will be absolutely no prohibition on employers engaging a person to work seven days a week—in fact continuously if they wanted to, because there is no obligation to provide any breaks for an employee by way of days off. It is quite possible that employees could be put on a rostering arrangement where they worked one day after another, perhaps given a day off here or a day off there between shifts, but no fixed roster.
Just think about that for the moment. It is virtually being on call and required to work at the whim of an employer who may ring up and say, "Come in." The next issue worth reflecting on is the minimum number of hours to be worked in a day, or indeed the maximum number of hours to be worked in a day. Most awards provide for some minimum and some maximum hours, which seem to be a reasonable thing. One would think it unreasonable to require an employee to work 12 hours a day, day in and day out, but under the new "NoChoices" legislation, that will be the situation. People will have no choice. They could be required to work 12 hours, or 13 or 14. In fact, they could be required to work 24 hours in a day and nothing in the legislation prohibits that.
Another issue is what happens to a person with regard to public holidays. Senator Barnaby Joyce from Queensland made great play of this in the Commonwealth Parliament. He talked about protecting certain iconic public holidays. Honourable members will be aware that some protection will be afforded by the legislation with regard to some public holidays, but that protection relates to the issue of being required to work on the public holidays; it does not deal with the issue of wages for public holidays. Entitlement to a day's pay for an employee who takes a day off on a public holiday is not covered under the new legislation. In other words, employees who do not work on a public holiday may not be paid for taking the day off, which is pretty extraordinary. At the moment under collective agreements and awards, when an employee takes a day off that coincides with a public holiday, that employee receives a full day's pay. That may not be the case in the future for many workers.
The notion of having a tea break after working four or five hours, which seems to be a reasonable proposition, is also no longer a requirement. Under the new legislation a person can be required to work for any number of hours with no entitlement to a rest pause. The 17½ per cent annual leave loading that many workers enjoy—an arrangement that has been in place for many years—is not a requirement under the Commonwealth legislation. You can bet your bottom dollar that it will be hooked out of employees' work arrangements very quickly once the new legislation gets under way. The issue of penalty rates and shift loadings, a common award entitlement and an entitlement in agreements, will also disappear very quickly. The new Commonwealth legislation provides no protection with regard to those types of entitlements. Once again, employers in many industries will move quickly to take away those entitlements from workers.
The other issue worth mentioning, which is no longer a requirement under the Commonwealth legislation, is the right for employees to know what they are employed as. It is generally the case that people understand they are employed on a full-time basis with a full-time job, or part-time, or as a casual. That provides employees with at least some certainty about what their workplace arrangements are. Under the legislation the whole notion of having a contract of employment can simply be reduced to being employed on an hourly arrangement. So an employer is not required to tell workers whether they are employed full time or part time or casual. People could be employed notionally and told, "This is your rate of pay, this is what you will be reimbursed and that is the end of the matter." Employers are not obliged to give employees any certainty regarding their employment contracts.
It is clear from those few examples the devastation that removing the no-disadvantage test will cause. But things are even worse. The legislation provides for only five basic entitlements, but the Office of the Employment Advocate has no means of checking whether those minimum requirements are met. Under the legislation the employer is required only to submit to the Office of the Employment Advocate a declaration that the minimum employee entitlements are being provided for in the workplace. As bad as the old no-disadvantage test was—and I do not endorse it at all—at least it allowed for a test regarding award rates and conditions. When that test was done the Office of the Employment Advocate was obliged to scrutinise the submitted agreements to ascertain whether they met the minimum requirements. But that will no longer occur. In future employers will probably submit electronically forms outlining an agreement and stating that it meets the minimum requirements. Those forms will then be filed, not in a filing cabinet but on a computer hard drive somewhere, and that will be the end of that. No-one will ever test to see whether the provisions are being met. It is pretty obvious even to Blind Freddy that that is a recipe for disaster. The comprehensive wage and working conditions of many workers will unravel very quickly in the not too distant future.
Workers in New South Wales, and indeed around Australia, have enjoyed good unfair dismissal rights. That is no exaggeration. Workers who had been treated unfairly had the opportunity to go to the umpire—the commission—and argue their case. The commission would adjudicate on the matter and decide whether the workers had been given a fair go. John Howard crows constantly about how he is in touch with the common people and the workers. He claims to believe in a fair go for all. But is it fair that employers can act unilaterally against a worker and terminate his or her contract of employment for no good reason? Is it fair that such an action is not contested? That is the brave new world of "NoChoices".
Under the new legislation employees of corporations with fewer than 100 workers will lose their right to pursue unfair dismissal claims. It is gone; it is over. When the new legislation kicks in about four million workers in this country will lose their right to contest their dismissal when their employer treats them unfairly. I cannot reconcile that with the notion of a fair go for all. Some might say that, as an ex-union official, I bring some baggage to this debate. But let us consider some of the comments made about the Federal legislation. In September last year the Chief Executive of the Australian Industry Group, Heather Ridout, was quizzed about the change to the unfair dismissal laws and its impact on Australian employers. She admitted that there was no substance to the claim that removing the right to contest an unfair dismissal would lead to a substantial increase in employment. During a television interview Ms Ridout said:
You are not going to go around putting on more people just because the unfair dismissal termination laws have changed … So I really never accepted those figures.
Ms Ridout, who represents a large employer organisation, admitted in September last year—in the midst of the industrial relations debate—that removing the right of employees to contest unfair dismissals would do nothing to improve employment. That argument is a sham. It is not true. Removing that employee right will have no demonstrable impact on improving employment opportunities in this country. Furthermore, at a major industrial relations conference last year the highly regarded Professor Mark Wooden—who had previously been a strong supporter of the Federal Government's industrial relations policy—considered the change to the unfair dismissal laws, and said:
Among larger businesses, the gains are likely to be small or even negative. The cost, on the other hand, is great uncertainty and insecurity for some Australian families, directly contrary to the aims of the reform agenda.
So while John Howard and the Coalition were arguing that the new Federal industrial relations legislation was necessary to enhance the general economic environment in Australia, to provide more employment opportunities and so on, others were saying exactly the opposite. They said that removing employees' unfair dismissal rights would not improve employment opportunities substantially. In fact, they said that the new legislation would have the opposite effect by causing extraordinary and profound insecurity among workers throughout Australia.
Wage fixation is a most important issue. We have enjoyed in this country a quite unique wage-fixing system—which, I might add, the unions have not always been happy with. National and State wage case decisions have not always produced the wage increases that the unions desired. In fact, I cannot think of too many occasions when the Australian Council of Trade Unions or UnionsNSW secured the full amount of the claims that they put before their respective tribunals. The fact is that the tribunal system in Australia through the wage-case mechanisms has enabled workers—skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled—who are covered by awards to get a fair shake when wage increases are considered. Why is the Federal Coalition Government—with the full support of its counterparts in New South Wales—supporting so strongly the new Australian Fair Pay Commission? The reason must be that it will create a new arrangement that will produce wage increases that are lower than those that employees received under the tribunal system.
Let us examine the facts to identify the difference between reality and the Howard Government's rhetoric. If the Federal Government's claims in national wage case hearings in the past nine years had been successful Australian workers would be $50 worse off than they are at present. Fortunately, the commission decided ultimately in favour of the increases and against the Federal Government's claims. That simple analysis gives us the full picture. That is why the Howard Government stripped the commission of its wage-fixing powers—which it simply did not like—and created a new body called the Australian Fair Pay Commission, which it expects will deliver lower wage outcomes.
We can speculate for a long time about what the increase from the Australian Fair Pay Commission is going to be. Of course, to be fair, the Australian Fair Pay Commission has not heard the first set of arguments and presentations to determine what the increase will be. Up until now the national wage case has been an annual event when workers have been assured of receiving wage increases. if not every 12 months, very close to it. The new Australian Fair Pay Commission will not be required to conduct an annual review. In fact, quite specifically the Australian Fair Pay Commission will only from time to time—I emphasise from time to time—consider making adjustments to minimum rates of pay. Honourable members can understand what that means.
We know that the Australian Fair Pay Commission, on the very best case scenario, will only produce its first decision at the back-end of this year or, indeed, early next year, which will lead to some increase in minimum rates of pay. Under the old system, from about May or June this year, workers would have expected an annual increase through the national wage case—because that is when it was heard and the outcome was determined last year. But we will have a slippage of approximately six months or more. We all know that that slippage means a reduction in people's pay because of the ongoing incremental increase of inflation. We know that if the next wage increase is pushed further into the future, there will be a reduction in the real take-home pay of people.
That is the precise reason why the Howard Government, fully supported by the Coalition in New South Wales, decided to strip away from the commission its wage fixing powers and put them into a new body, essentially a bureaucratic body, which will only from time to time look at making adjustments to minimum rates of pay. Even though the pernicious "NoChoices" legislation has not yet got under way, we know there is a slippage of at least six months for ordinary workers, on the very best scenario in getting a wage increase.
In relation to gutting the role of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, which is the only way I can describe what has happened, it is worth reflecting on what happened in 1996. The stripping away of the power and jurisdiction of that institution has not just happened under the current legislation; it goes right back to 1996 and to the introduction of the Workplace Relations Act. We well and clearly remember the damage Mr Peter Reith did through that legislation.
The Hon. Patricia Forsythe:
There have been three elections since then. The people of Australia support what—
The Hon. GREG DONNELLY:
No; industrial relations reform was not put to the people in the lead-up to the last Federal election. In fact, a deliberate silence was visited on the whole issue and it was only when it secured a majority in the Senate that the Government moved so quickly to introduce these industrial relation changes. In relation to the 1996 legislation, the then commission's power to require an employer to negotiate with a union in good faith, and vice versa, was removed. One wonders why. It seems sensible that if parties are having difficulty resolving an issue both the employer and the employee should seek some direction in terms of requiring the other party to deal with acting in good faith, but that was removed.
At that time a very comprehensive number of entitlements in Federal awards was stripped back to 20. We also had the so-called paid rates award, and the power of the commission to deal with rates of pay above the minimum, also removed. I could provide a long list of other matters that were taken away from the commission, but the above points are an indication of what was removed at that time. It would take me all afternoon to examine and systematically address all the matters that have been removed under the new "NoChoices" legislation. However, I will touch on a small number.
The first is the wholesale removal of the commission's power to certify either union or non-union negotiated agreements. The issue is that even if parties genuinely enter into agreements, that is, the union and the employer, or an employer directly with his/her employees, the commission will have no scrutiny power over those agreements. In other words, those agreements will not come before a tribunal and be objectively scrutinised to see that they are okay, that they meet minimum requirements under the legislation, and that they have been freely entered into.
No, that now disappears completely and like the pernicious individual Australian Workplace Agreements, both non-union and union agreements will be simply pushed off to the Office of the Employment Advocate [OEA], where they will not even be scrutinised but merely filed electronically. They will simply be emailed to the OEA, ticked off as having been received by pressing a key on the keyboard on a computer, and filed into cyberspace.
There can be no doubt about the effect the legislation will have on individual workers. I invite honourable members to look closely at the survey conducted by the University of Sydney on the Court Liberal Government laws passed in Western Australia. I do not intend to go through that research in detail but it is well worth honourable members' doing so because the survey examined 200 Workplace Agreements entered into at that time.
The analysis of the Western Australia experience showed that in 1994 to 1996 about 5 per cent of employees were on agreements that provided ordinary rates of pay below the award. By 1998 that figure had increased considerably to 25 per cent. Of those agreements, 75.5 per cent contained no pay increases, 67 per cent did not contain overtime provisions, 74 per cent contained no penalty rates for working on weekends, 78 per cent had hours of work as Monday to Sunday, meaning that people could be worked seven consecutive days, and only 3 per cent contained annual leave loading.
I conclude by noting that we will not have to wait to see the effects of this vicious Federal legislation—which still has not commenced because the Commonwealth Government is deliberately refusing to gazette the regulations, in order to spike the High Court case that is to get under way in May—because it has already been tried in another State, in the 1990s. That State had a Coalition government, and the impact of such legislation on ordinary workers is there for all to see.
The Hon. IAN WEST
[4.20 p.m.]: I am pleased to support the Public Sector Employment Legislation Amendment Bill and the cognate bill. I support the comments of my colleagues the Hon. Greg Donnelly, the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans and others who have spoken in support of the legislation and in Opposition to the WorkChoices—no choices for workers—legislation that has been put through the Federal Parliament and is the subject of a High Court challenge. That Federal legislation is currently being rolled out in the community by employers who are conscious of the fact that its impact on the Australian work force will be draconian and will have a serious effect on their morale, their tenure and their security, and will undermine social cohesion in the community at large.
The Federal legislation has highlighted the need in New South Wales for a safety net to protect as many workers and employees as possible. The Federal Act has destroyed the social fabric of our community. It is not a matter of sitting around and waiting to see the serious and adverse effects of that Federal legislation; those effects are already being felt, and even more so day by day by tens of thousand if not millions of workers. The tenets of a fair go, of equality between employees and employers in the workplace, and of some semblance of equality in the bargaining process have been absolutely decimated by the Federal legislation. I congratulate the State Minister and the New South Wales Labor Government on introducing the legislation in an effort to redress the effects of that cruel Federal legislation.
The ability of people to exercise their right to freedom of association, to collective bargaining, and to access an independent umpire, and the entitlement of the work force generally to engage in collective bargaining with a view to a common rule award, an industry award, and an award that ensures fairness and equity for not only the workers but the whole of the industry in which they work, has been a tenet of our industrial relations system and part of our social fabric for many, many decades—indeed, since the passing of the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Act of 1904 and the corresponding legislation establishing State jurisdictions.
The Federal WorkChoices—no choices for workers—legislation has pitted individual worker against individual worker but, more insidiously, the individual worker against their employer. Loyalty is out the window, and employment relationships will have no more import than buying a packet of chips at the local shop. That will lead to employers and employees losing out badly. Those most affected by the Federal legislation are the marginalised, the young, and females, who, in the main, are in the most vulnerable of occupations. Their ability to bargain is further diminished and will be utterly decimated when they are required to bargain individually. So the wages and conditions of the female work force are falling further and further behind. WorkChoices is affecting our skills base, and it is absolutely decimating apprenticeships.
What about the immigrants, those who come from lands afar to this great southern land in pursuit of a better life? What do they find? They are pitted against an employer who has access to every conceivable resource and professional body for advice: lawyers and others professionals who understand how the industrial relations system works and how the Federal WorkChoices—no choices for workers—legislation works. It has some 700-odd pages, together with another 700-odd pages of regulation.
What about the immigrant workers who come to this country, have language difficulties, and do not know abut or cannot understand the Federal legislation they are supposed to be working under? Are they expected to bargain individually with an employer regarding wages and conditions? Anyone who believes for one moment that that person is in an equal bargaining position with their employer believes in the tooth fairy at the bottom of the garden and Santa Claus. Apparently some in this place believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden and Santa Claus.
Leaving them aside, I would say that the vast majority of members of this House would appreciate that the Federal Government's assertions about so-called equality in the bargaining process is nothing but a con job. It knows that. Everyone knows it. We all know that the only way to ensure any semblance of equality in a bargaining process is by allowing workers to collectively bargain. You do not have to be a Rhodes scholar to work that out; anyone with half a brain can comprehend how the Federal legislation works.
The impact of the Federal legislation on the family is absolutely draconian. John Howard, the battler's friend, is now showing his true colours. Who is his target? It is workers who rely on the safety net, workers without sufficient bargaining power in the labour market to secure an enterprise bargain. In the main they are women trying to balance paid work with family responsibilities, and young people trying to gain a financial foothold. Currently the safety net, which is presided over by the State and Federal industrial relations commissions, is that piece of the jigsaw and that democratic part of the wage system that maintains the country's ethos of fairness and equity
As I said, WorkChoices—no choices for workers—does not provide for collective bargaining. It pits individuals against bosses. But for many women, young people and casual employees the absence of collective bargaining, or a national minimum determination via a proper process, inevitably means a fall in their real wages and more hours worked for less money. The Federal Government is putting the boot into Australian workers and their families.
Over the years the State and Federal industrial relations commissions have played a crucial role as independent umpires in establishing important protections for working parents. The right to 52 weeks unpaid maternity leave, which was granted in 1979, and the right to five days paid carers leave to care for a family or household member, which was granted in 1995, are now the established standard in the community. Recently the Australia Industrial Relations Commission continued along this socially responsible path with its decision to provide women with the right to request part-time work when they returned from maternity leave, or to request an additional 12-months parental leave. Unfortunately, it may be the last decision of its kind, with commission test cases becoming a thing of the past under Federal Government changes.
It will be up to disempowered workers to negotiate new family-friendly provisions, and we know what an uphill battle that will be without a collective organisation representing them before an independent umpire. The Federal Government has decided not to include the new award standard for parental leave in the new legislated minimum standards. The provisions that have been allowed are so skeletal that most of them probably are not even worth worrying about. The 38-hour week is an example. It is an insult to the intelligence of the Australian work force to tell them that they have a 38-hour week averaged over 52 weeks. It is no wonder that day by day people are becoming more and more disillusioned with the lies and deceit coming from the Federal arena.
The provisions of WorkChoices, especially those that promote individual contracts based on minimum conditions at the expense of collective bargaining, will have an absolutely devastating impact on families. A Parliamentary Library research paper on work and family policies as industrial employment entitlements published in 2004 confirms that Australian workplace agreements [AWA] are likely to result in increased working hours. The paper concluded by claiming that the idea that AWAs enhance work and family policies is based on patchy evidence, and that, instead, AWAs are more likely to be used to extend work hours than to reduce them. That is being polite and diplomatic.
Since the legislation has come into existence I have not been able to find a workplace agreement that has reduced working hours. I challenge anyone to provide me with a copy of a workplace agreement that has reduced working hours. I would be extremely pleased to see one. When you add the additional pressure that will be experienced under the fire-at-will unfair dismissal exemptions, the capacity to balance work and family responsibilities recedes rapidly. Research conducted by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations showed that Australian workplace agreements do little to assist workers to balance their work and family responsibilities. The research showed that in 2004, 93 per cent of private sector employees on AWAs had no additional family-friendly rights in their individual agreements. I would love to see the 7 per cent who supposedly are enjoying additional family-friendly rights.
In a family impact statement produced to fill in the void left by the Federal Government when it introduced the legislation Don Edgar, a noted academic in the field of family studies, said that in the nexus between family needs and appropriate wage rates the proposed changes are a recipe for a more savage workplace, a less caring society, and an individualistic, competitive, auction room with no collective spirit.
The Federal Government's bill has—not will—adversely affected women, who, as a group, are more likely to be award dependent and less likely to have bargaining power to achieve fair and decent outcomes. I know that to balance the debate we say that individuals who supposedly have more bargaining power will be in a position to achieve fair and decent outcomes. I would be interested to hear from women who are in a position to bargain individually for increased wages and conditions in their workplace. I would be interested to hear how they went about it and the unique bargaining powers that enabled them to increase their wages and conditions.
It would be interesting to hear what unique abilities these women—these individuals working in a workplace in which they have little or no bargaining power—have that put them in such a strong bargaining position. Women still carry a disproportionate responsibility for caring for families and household responsibilities. When women are forced to bargain from the reduced position of the Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard [AFPCS] they will face the prospect of being forced to trade away pay and other conditions to obtain conditions such as leave for family purposes and flexible hours. In this brave new world of so-called freedoms and choices people have to bargain away what they already have in order to achieve something else. Usually they bargain away something that is more valuable than what they get.
For example, if I am asked to bargain away a week's annual leave in return for a pay increase, a week's annual leave that I receive every year at my current rate of pay, anyone who thinks about it for a moment will know that what I am bargaining away is worth a hell of a lot more than a monetary increase in my hourly rate of pay, which is completely and utterly eroded by inflation over time. But what is not eroded is the fact that I will lose one week's pay forever, every year, at whatever the current rate of pay might be. The so-called bargaining arrangements have invaded and colonised the industrial relations process to such an extent that employers must be smiling from ear to ear about the gains they are making. I have great pleasure in supporting these bills, which I commend to the House.
The Hon. HENRY TSANG
(Parliamentary Secretary) [4.40 p.m.], in reply: On behalf of the Government I thank all honourable members for their contributions to the debate. The Howard Government's WorkChoices legislation compels all incorporated employers in New South Wales and their employees into the Federal industrial relations system—without their consent. This legislation is complex and prescriptive, being up to five times larger than the State Industrial Relations Act. The legislation dictates to employers and employees the types of matters that they can, and cannot, agree on in agreements, while at the same time cuts important conditions from the industrial awards underpinning such arrangements.
Under WorkChoices, incorporated employers with fewer than 100 employees will be able to sack their employees unfairly and employees will have no recourse to the Industrial Relations Commission. Further, unscrupulous employers will be in a position to foist on their employees workplace agreements that remove hard-won conditions, including weekend penalty rates and uniform allowances. This legislation is an attack on the right of working Australians to a fair go. It is a blatant power shift in favour of employers and will result in a more acrimonious and divisive industrial relations environment. The losers in this new WorkChoices environment are likely to be decent, ordinary hardworking Australians and their families. The New South Wales Government opposes WorkChoices as an inflammatory system of regulation that will restrict the choices available to employers and employees, and remove important protections from employees from all walks of life.
With respect to the urgency for the bill, the short time frames have been dictated by the Federal Government. Without any clarity about the commencement of WorkChoices or the content or timing of the WorkChoices regulations, we have been placed in a situation where this might be our last opportunity to provide a legislative response to WorkChoices to the extent that we can. Our preference would have been for a more measured and considered approach after seeing the regulations.
With respect to the public sector, the Government is legislating now to ensure that those public sector employees who could be covered by the WorkChoices legislation will remain within the State industrial relations system. By having the bill passed prior to the commencement of WorkChoices the Government is seeking to avoid any potential confusion or complexities. The passing of this legislation will ensure that these workers are not transferred to the Federal industrial relations system. With regard to the industrial relations amendments, identifying consent awards as agreements for constitutional corporations is particularly time critical. For these provisions to have effect they must be enacted before WorkChoices commences. If they are not, there are potentially hundreds of agreements for future wage increases that have been reached between parties at the enterprise level that will be lost.
As has been explained, the Industrial Relations Amendment Bill proposes three amendments to the Industrial Relations Act 1996. The first of these is that if the industrial parties, employers and unions, negotiate a common law agreement or arrangement, and they agree to give the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission a role in resolving disputes about the application of the agreement or arrangement, then the commission will be empowered to have that role. It should be emphasised that the source of the commission's power in these sorts of cases will be the agreement or arrangement, and the agreement or arrangement alone. The commission will not be deploying its conciliation and arbitration powers under the Industrial Relations Act 1996 at large but will exercise those powers that the industrial parties confer on it by means of the agreement or arrangement. What the commission will be doing is providing its vast expertise and experience in resolving and settling disputes.
This is a useful tool in two main ways. Firstly, it gives the parties another option for making agreements if the State system is no longer available and they do not want to use the WorkChoices system. Secondly, it gives the parties ready access to an expert tribunal as a means of supporting a co-operative industrial relationship. These arrangements will be governed by a new section 146A of the Act, and it will be observed that the scheme involves: industrial parties agreeing in writing that a dispute concerning conditions of employment or engagement may be referred by either contracting party for resolution by the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission; the commission's exercise of powers in resolution of the dispute being only as specified in that referral agreement; the commission's powers encompassing conciliation and arbitration of a dispute and the granting of specific unfair dismissal or unfair contracts relief; and any resultant commission decision being binding on the parties only in so far as the referral agreement operates to make it so binding.
Proposed new section 146A does not in any way concern itself with the mechanics, practicalities and Industrial Relations Act enforcement of a drafted referral agreement. Certainly it is envisaged that a typical referral agreement to which proposed section 146A will apply may contain the following features: copying of the terms of existing applicable New South Wales industrial instruments within the agreement as enforceable provisions, notwithstanding that the WorkChoices legislation has acted to render such an instrument inoperative for the parties in the New South Wales industrial relations scheme, including conferral upon the commission of all the dispute resolution functions found in the relevant State award or agreement; conferring jurisdiction on the New South Wales commission, upon reference by a party, to conciliate, arbitrate or otherwise hear and determine proceedings in respect of a dispute; providing that a party is not to take objection to the conferred jurisdiction of the New South Wales commission; incorporating resultant New South Wales commission decisions as a provision of the contract and enforceable thereunder; and empowering a union to commence proceedings on behalf of a worker relating to an alleged breach of the contract.
The second amendment to the Act proposed by this bill is that those enterprise consent awards in the New South Wales system that will be affected by WorkChoices are to be deemed enterprise agreements. This is aimed at ensuring that they transfer into the WorkChoices system with the maximum advantage to the employees and employers subject to them. By way of background, a State award transferring to the Federal system does so as a Nominal Agreement Preserving a State Award [NAPSA]. Amongst other things, this means that any future pay rises agreed by the parties as parts of the award are specifically prohibited by the WorkChoices legislation. Given that agreed future pay rises are a common feature of such consent arrangements, this nasty legislation will deprive employees of pay rises genuinely and legitimately agreed to, and will deprive employers of the certainty of knowing what pay rises they are committed to, safe in the knowledge that no extra claim will be made.
By contrast, future pay rises in a State agreement transferring to the Federal system remain untouched, so there is an obvious advantage in being subject to a State agreement rather than an award. Given that enterprise consent awards are made with, and cannot be made without, the consent of the parties, in substance they are no different from an enterprise agreement, and so should be treated as such. The bill, therefore, contains a provision deeming awards of this nature to be State enterprise agreements. The bill allows also the nominal expiry date to be the date already agreed to by the parties, so that, in contrast to WorkChoices, their wishes are not simply ignored and overridden. The third and final set of amendments propose some minor administrative amendments to the Industrial Relations Act 1996 to make it easier for the New South Wales commission to respond to the needs of the industrial parties.
That will be done firstly by amending section 159 of the Industrial Relations Act 1996 to clarify that the general power in that section includes a specific power to determine the way in which a matter or a class of matters is listed before the commission and to determine the allocation of matters or the way in which such matters are to be included. Secondly, it is proposed to amend section 156 (2) of the Act to require that a full bench of the commission must include at least one presidential member and at least one member who is a commissioner or, if no commissioner is available, one non-judicial presidential member. That would open up the membership of full benches so that non-judicial deputy presidents may be used to fill the non-judicial role on a full bench.
In the immediate term, those proposals will allow the president to prioritise matters likely to be affected by the commencement of WorkChoices. In the longer term, the commission's capacity to deal with emerging industrial relations issues will be improved. The paramount concern of this bill is simple and straightforward: to address what we think are the most critical issues that need to be dealt with before WorkChoices starts. Above and beyond that, there are many issues that may well require a legislative response after WorkChoices starts, and that is something that the Government will think about very carefully over the next few months. We are doing this not because we want to but because we have been forced to. We can see no other way of protecting workers in New South Wales from the worst excesses of the Federal Government's WorkChoices legislation.
I refer now to the Public Sector Employment Legislation Amendment Bill. The Leader of the Opposition spent some time addressing the position of police, particularly why the Police Association of New South Wales had not been consulted. I make it clear that the Public Sector Employment Legislation Amendment Bill does not cover police. Police officers are employed by the Government of New South Wales in the service of the Crown. Police officers work for NSW Police, and NSW Police is not a corporation. Only employees of statutory corporations need to be protected from WorkChoices. New South Wales police will not be covered by the Federal industrial relations system. New South Wales police will continue to be part of the New South Wales public sector and have rights to mobility and recognition of service for leave entitlements. I am pleased to be in a position to assure the Leader of the Opposition that the New South Wales police service and the Police Association of New South Wales not only had every opportunity to be consulted about the bill but also have lent their full support to the proposals.
I now address the concern of Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile with reference to Crown employment. The Government has used the phrase "the Government of New South Wales in the service of the Crown". That wording is currently used in section 5 of the Public Sector Employment and Management Act and has an established meaning in case law. The Government has used the existing wording of the Act so as not to affect the application and interpretation of the existing legislation. There is nothing inconsistent in the use of that wording, nor is the Government being opportunistic in relying on "Crown employment" as a means of protecting New South Wales workers. The key to having New South Wales public sector employees outside WorkChoices is to not have staff employed by constitutional corporations. The legislation could have quite easily specified instead that staff were employed "by the Government of New South Wales in the service of the State" and probably would have the same meaning, and would have achieved the primary effect of insulating workers from WorkChoices.
I refer now to schedule 3 hospitals. Comparisons have been drawn between prescribed affiliated health organisations, State-owned corporations and local councils. The bill already proposes to cover prescribed affiliated health organisations that are religious and charitable institutions that deliver health services as part of the public health system. Those bodies are currently part of the New South Wales Health Service. Further, a Crown body—the Health Administration Corporation—is currently responsible for certain employment-related functions in relation to those staff. Inclusion of those entities is largely seeking to maintain the status quo. It is also important to point out that the bill does not automatically cover those institutions. They need to be prescribed in the bill with the agreement of the institution. That approach has been adopted in recognition of the private status of these institutions each organisation will need to make a decision based on its own circumstances.
The bill does not currently cover State-owned corporations. Unlike the public sector corporations covered by the bill, State-owned corporations have unique structural arrangements and the legislation establishing State-owned corporations do not represent the Crown. They are intended to operate as commercial entities, and they largely operate at arm's length from government. One effect of transferring the employees of State-owned corporations to Crown employment is that it will also transfer various employment related liabilities to the Crown—possibly having an impact on the budget. Therefore, the implications of transferring State-owned corporation employees to Crown employment will need to be carefully considered. The Government considers that there may be other, and possibly more suitable, arrangements that recognise the unique structural arrangements of State-owned corporations.
The Government is committed to exploring all reasonable means to protect the employees of State-owned corporations from exposure to WorkChoices. I expect to be in a position to make an announcement with regard to that shortly. I should point out that employees of State-owned corporations can avail themselves of the common law agreement proposals contained in the Industrial Relations Bill in order to preserve many of their entitlements and access to the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission. The bill does not cover local government employees because they are not part of the State Government public sector. There is established case law that makes it clear that they are not Crown employees. If local government were to be included in this bill the State Government would become the employer. As a consequence it would also become liable for various matters including occupational health and safety, workers compensation and superannuation. It would also become legally liable for actions of the staff of local councils.
As the Minister said in the House last week he has had discussions with local government unions including the United Services Union and Unions New South Wales in a genuine attempt to protect local government employees, councils and shires and the public who rely upon their services from the impacts of WorkChoices. Discussions are continuing as late as today, involving also the Minister for Local Government, in an attempt to find ways, without taking any liability for the State Government or overly complicating the employment arrangements for local government and the employees themselves, to underline some protection for them from the Howard Government's WorkChoices legislation. I would also remind the House of the access to the common law agreement proposal that was referred to in debate today. I commend the bills to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bills read a second time.
Consideration in Committee ordered to stand as an order of the day.
ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING AND ASSESSMENT AMENDMENT BILL
The Hon. HENRY TSANG
(Parliamentary Secretary) [5.03 p.m.], on behalf of the Hon. Michael Costa: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard
I am pleased to introduce the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment Bill 2006. The Bill will amend three Acts to achieve important planning objectives, which include:
• reducing delays and costs in the assessment of development applications;
• helping to coordinate local and State planning controls; and
• ensuring the timely and efficient supply of infrastructure and services to support growth and development in land release areas and other important sites.
This Government has undertaken the biggest overhaul of planning laws in 25 years – slashing red tape on development and encouraging jobs and investment in NSW.
This Bill is the next logical step in our program of planning reforms.
When it comes to planning - the State is well advanced in putting its own house in order. In 2005 considerable changes were made to the way that State Significant Projects would be assessed. Changes included:
• Reducing the number of planning instruments into a single State Environmental Planning Policy
• Removing the need for up to 15 different approvals and licences to be replaced by one assessment and approval
• Handing back responsibility for hundreds of smaller decisions to local councils
• Introducing concept approvals and Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels
• These changes demonstrated the Government's determination to take decisive action in ensuring that major projects in NSW can be assessed and determined in the most efficient and robust manner.
But only about 400 major development and infrastructure projects are determined by the Minister in one year, while Councils in this State are faced with 300 times that number.
152 councils deal with approximately 125,000 DAs lodged every year. That's an average of 340 a day!
While most councils do a good job in dealing with these pressures, a small number do not.
The State can't stand idly by when some councils repeatedly fail to make timely and reasonable planning decisions.
Good planning and environmental outcomes do not require interminable processes and delays.
This Bill is part of the Government's ongoing work to ensure that there is greater certainty and efficiency within all levels of the planning system.
I will now turn to each component of the Bill.
Planning Assessment Panels and Planning Administrators
The Bill expands the existing provisions for Planning Administrators and provide a new power to appoint Planning Assessment Panels.
These amendments will help the Government respond to community concerns about council performance in planning and development. One of the biggest concerns relates to increasing delays in the assessment of development applications by councils. Councils are meant to process most DAs within 40 days. In 2001-02, a third of NSW councils took longer than 40 days on average, and the worst-performing council took an average 116 days. By 2003-04, 40 per cent of councils failed to meet the 40 day deadline. The worst performer took an average 159 days. These delays create significant costs for developers and the community in general.
There are also significant concerns with excessive legal expenses being incurred by many councils, in relation to planning and development costs. The legal bill for NSW councils jumped by 40 per cent to over $33 million in the two years to 2003-04. In 2003-04, one council spent over 50 per cent of its planning budget on legal expenses. This is taking ratepayer funds away from councils' other priorities.
The misuse of planning controls also raises concerns. Some councils ignore development standards to approve inappropriate development, such as large waterfront houses that contravene development controls. Other councils refuse appropriate development, despite compliance with development controls and endorsement from council officers. Other councils inappropriately subdivide prime agricultural land for rural residential development, resulting in the loss of important farming land, which we need to sustain our economy.
There are also concerns about councils' local environmental plans – their LEPs. There is evidence that some councils have prepared LEPs to rezone land solely on the basis of requests from developers rather than proper strategic planning work. Other councils have failed to prepare LEPs as directed by the State Government, while others have prepared LEPs that are too prescriptive, out of date or with insufficient regard to the correct process under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act).
The Bill will make it easier to address situations like these. If a council is failing in its planning and development responsibilities, the Minister for Planning will be able to appoint a Planning and Assessment Panel to perform the council's functions. Panels will be an additional option for intervening in local development and will only be used in exceptional circumstances. Panels may be used instead of, or in addition to, Planning Administrators, which the Minister can already appoint in certain circumstances. Panels will help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of local decision-making without having to bring developments into the State assessment process. This should reduce requests for the Minister to 'call in' developments as major projects under Part 3A of the EP&A Act. There have been a substantial number of these requests in recent times.
Planning Assessment Panels will consist of three to five people with skills and knowledge in planning and development matters, and may include representatives from the local community and/or the local Mayor. Panels will have procedures to ensure they are accountable for their activities. They will be able to perform a council's consent authority role, or its role in preparing environmental planning instruments. Panels will be subject to the Minister's direction and control in all of these roles, except the determination of development applications.
The Bill will allow the Minister to direct councils to submit reports on their performance. My Department will consult with the Local Government and Shires Association and other relevant stakeholders on the development of a performance reporting system for DA assessments and other relevant matters. This system will acknowledge that while most local development applications should be dealt with within one to two months, some DAs can be controversial or complex and require detailed assessment and considerable consultation. Any reporting system will need to reflect these variations and will enable the Minister to reach an informed view on a council's performance. It will also enable a targeted and practical response if performance is unsatisfactory.
The Bill provides that Panels may be appointed in a range of other circumstances, which include:
a) if a council has not complied with its obligations under the environmental planning legislation;
b) if the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) recommends the appointment
because of serious corrupt conduct by a councillor; or
c) if the council agrees to the appointment – because some councils may themselves recognise that they need assistance.
The Bill also clarifies and expands the Minister for Planning's existing powers to appoint Planning Administrators. The Minister may already appoint a Planning Administrator if a council does not comply with its obligations under the planning legislation or if the ICAC recommends it. The Bill provides that, as with Panels, a Planning Administrator may also be appointed if a council is performing poorly, or if the council agrees. Administrators may perform any of a council's functions under the EP&A Act.
If a Planning Assessment Panel or Administrator is appointed, the Minister will be able to specify matters that must be administered, along with their priority. This will enable the Minister to target the Panel or Administrator's work to particular areas. For example, a Panel could be appointed to look at residential development, or to assess applications that have not been determined after a certain period of time.
The Bill also includes provisions to ensure that Panels and Administrators have sufficient resources and powers to be effective. The Minister will be able to direct councils to provide Panels or Administrators with staff and facilities. It will also be possible to make regulations regarding the appointment of staff, or the payment, by the relevant council, of the Panel or Administrator's costs. The Bill also provides that a penalty may be imposed if a councillor or a council staff member obstructs a Panel or Administrator.
Special infrastructure contributions
I now turn to the Bill's amendments to strengthen the Government's ability to deliver infrastructure, amenities and services in new land release areas and other areas where there will be coordinated growth and development. In such areas, developers may undertake intensive, simultaneous development. This creates a need for councils and the State to concentrate funds to ensure that infrastructure and amenities are available to complement such development. This Bill will ensure communities established as a result of such development are supported by appropriate and timely services and facilities.
The amendments will allow the Minister to specify areas where infrastructure and services must be delivered hand in hand with development. In these areas, the State Government will be able to raise a development contribution, known as a "special infrastructure contribution". Special infrastructure contributions will be collected in "special contributions areas", which will initially consist of land in any growth centre declared under the Growth Centres (Development Corporations) Act 1974. These areas will be listed in a schedule of the EP&A Act, which can be amended at any time to create, amend or repeal a special contributions area.
The Minister for Planning will set the nature and level of special infrastructure contributions. The level of each contribution will reflect the cost of providing infrastructure, services and amenities in an area. The Minister will consult with the Treasurer if the cost of particular infrastructure item exceeds $30 million. The contribution may also be a percentage of the cost in respect of development or a class of development. As with section 94 contributions, developers will be able to provide the levy as a monetary contribution, works in-kind, or by dedicating land.
The State Government may spend special infrastructure contributions on the capital and recurrent cost of public amenities and services, affordable housing, transport and other infrastructure, as well as environmental conservation. Importantly, the Bill provides that special infrastructure contributions may be spent on the provision of infrastructure outside a special contributions area, but only if the infrastructure and amenities provided arise as a result of development within the special area. This is necessary to provide sufficient legal certainty that special infrastructure contributions can be used by the State Government to provide infrastructure outside the locality of a development, such as public transport or environmental offsets that are required because of the development within a special area.
The ability to use special infrastructure contributions for infrastructure beyond the boundaries of a special contributions area is an extension of existing arrangements. These already enable the Minister to fund regional infrastructure through environmental planning instruments that require 'satisfactory arrangements' for infrastructure to be reached before the development can proceed. Usually, developers meet the satisfactory arrangements test by entering into a planning agreement. But these existing measures may not be sufficient to meet all of the infrastructure needs in some areas. For example, planning agreements are most effective for large parcels of land, owned by one or only a few owners. They are cumbersome when land ownership is fragmented, such as in the land release areas. Reliance on negotiating planning agreements could delay the provision of infrastructure.
Special infrastructure contributions will be in addition to contributions that may be levied by councils under section 94 or 94A of the EP&A Act. They will only be collected where it is reasonable to impose an additional levy because of the extent and urgency of the area's infrastructure requirements. For example, special infrastructure contributions will be collected for the major infrastructure and services needed in the North West and South West Growth Centres. In these areas, immediate and significant infrastructure expenditure will be required. Special infrastructure contributions will provide the Government with a secure source of funds to provide that infrastructure at the right time and in the right sequence. This is about planning for growth in a more effective way, especially in areas where public services and amenities are needed before residents and businesses start moving in.
The Bill also prevents the imposition of section 94 contributions for the same purpose as special infrastructure contributions. This will prevent any "double dipping" for the same infrastructure and services, and ensure that the combined total of local and State contributions in these special areas is fair, balanced and reasonable.
In special contributions areas, it will not be possible to raise fixed development consent levies under section 94A of the EP&A Act, or to enter into planning agreements, without the consent of the Minister for Planning or the relevant development corporation. Nor will it be possible to levy contributions for affordable housing, under section 94F of the EP&A Act, in the special contributions areas. This is because special infrastructure contributions may be used to fund affordable housing.
Special infrastructure contributions will be imposed as conditions of consent by the Minister, or by another consent authority at the Minister's direction. This means that councils will be able to collect special infrastructure contributions along with their own section 94 and 94A contributions. This means that councils can collect development contributions, on the Government's behalf, using the streamlined and efficient system that councils and the development industry have used for many years.
In the event that a council neglects to impose a special infrastructure contribution as a condition of consent, the Minister will be able to impose the condition on the council's behalf. In addition, a consent authority will not be able to modify a condition requiring the payment of a special infrastructure contribution, unless the Minister approves the change.
A Special Contributions Areas Infrastructure Fund will be set up to receive and distribute special infrastructure contributions. This fund will be administered by the Director-General of the Department of Planning in consultation with the Secretary of NSW Treasury. Deposits into the Fund will include:
• monetary special infrastructure contributions;
• the proceeds of the sale of any land dedicated as contributions; any money appropriated by Parliament; and
• the proceeds of investing the Fund's money.
The pooling of contributions in the Fund will enable the Government to take advantage of economies of scale in providing infrastructure. Payments from the Fund will only be permitted for public authorities that provide infrastructure or for administrative expenses.
Debate adjourned on motion by the Hon. Don Harwin.
The ability of the Fund to pay public authorities for providing infrastructure is an important
change. This is because it will allow special infrastructure contributions to be transferred directly to the relevant body that has, or will, provide infrastructure. For example, funds for roads can be provided directly to the Roads and Traffic Authority; funds for hospitals can be provided directly to NSW Health; and funds for environmental conservation can be provided directly to the Department of Environment and Conservation. While this makes sense, the Act does not currently allow contributions to be transferred like this.
It will not be possible to appeal to the court against the nature and level of special infrastructure contributions, or against a condition of consent that requires the payment of a special infrastructure contribution. This is necessary to ensure the security of funds for essential infrastructure. Challenges can delay the flow of contributions and, if successful, affect the State's capacity to provide infrastructure. It is important to note, however, that the Bill requires the level of special infrastructure contributions to be reasonable, having regard to the cost of infrastructure required as a result of development. Also, nothing in the Bill affects the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to hear appeals. This means that a person may still have an action to initiate in the Supreme Court, for example, based on a matter of administrative law.
I now turn to the proposed amendments relating to contributions plans. Contributions plans must be prepared by councils before they can collect development contributions under section 94 or 94A of the EP&A Act. The Bill will enable the Minister to direct a council to make, amend or repeal a contributions plan within a certain period of time. The Minister will also be able to make, amend or repeal a contributions plan on a council's behalf if it does not act as directed, or if the council agrees. To help the Minister determine whether to intervene in a contributions plan, the Bill also requires councils to submit a copy of each contributions plan as soon as practicable after it has been approved by council.
These amendments will help ensure that contributions plans are in place to complement the timing of development. They will also help coordinate infrastructure provision between neighbouring councils and with development corporations. They will maximise efficiencies in the use of contributions by enabling funds to be pooled and applied progressively to different purposes. And they will prevent contributions being used for inappropriate purposes, and ensure a reasonable total of local and State contributions.
It will not be possible to appeal to the Land and Environment Court against contributions determined under a contributions plan if that plan is made or amended by, or at the direction of, the Minister. The Bill also excludes appeal rights against the process for making, amending or repealing a contributions plan by, or at the direction of, the Minister. This will help secure the certainty of funds so that important infrastructure programs can be implemented. It will also prevent councils being challenged on matters that are beyond their control. As with special infrastructure contributions, the Bill does not affect the ability to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Development Control Plans
The Bill also contains amendments relating to development control plans - DCPs. The amendments will enable the Minister to direct a council to make, amend or revoke a DCP. If the council fails, or is unable, to act as directed, the Minister may make, amend or revoke the DCP. This reinforces recent legislative initiatives to streamline planning controls and introduce greater certainty for communities and developers.
The Minister's ability to intervene in a DCP will also introduce greater certainty. At present, the Government prepares regulatory impact statements when it introduces new regulations. However, councils can introduce new development standards without the same level of analysis. This means that councils can use DCPs to introduce onerous and inappropriate controls without sufficient public scrutiny and, at times, in conflict with other planning and development objectives. The community expects the Government to prevent councils from implementing regulatory requirements that have not been properly analysed. However, at the moment, the Government is powerless to do this.
The amendment will allow the Government to act to prevent adverse outcomes of inappropriate regulatory controls. For example, a council's DCP may be amended because it conflicts, or prevents compliance, with government policies. I am aware of a recent example where a council implemented a DCP that circumvented nationally agreed building standards. These amendments may also help ensure consistency in development controls across council borders as the new sub-regional and regional strategies are developed.
The Bill contains further amendments to support the provision of infrastructure and services in growth centres. These changes will amend the Growth Centres (Development Corporations) Act 1974 to require a development corporation to submit an annual Statement of Business Intent for the approval of the Treasurer and the Minister for Planning. The Statement will set out the corporation's business plan for the year ahead, including its objectives, proposed activities, performance targets and accounting policies. It will also set out the corporation's proposed activities in relation to special infrastructure contributions. Development corporations may also be required to submit occasional reports on other matters. These changes will ensure better accountability for development corporations and assist the Government to monitor and approve arrangements for the timely and coordinated provision of infrastructure and amenities in the growth centres.
While a minor change, I note that the Bill enables the Minister to appoint a Chief Executive of a development corporation that is not the Director General of the Department of Planning.
I now turn to some amendments to the Redfern-Waterloo Authority Act 2004 (RWA Act). The RWA Act includes provisions relating to major projects subject to Part 3A of the EP&A Act. These provisions relate to: the delegation of consent authority functions; development contributions; and the application of the Heritage Act. However, development that is not subject to Part 3A will also occur in Redfern-Waterloo. Therefore, the Bill will extend these provisions to development subject to Part 4 of the EP&A Act – that is, development worth less than $5 million. These amendments are consistent with provisions in the Bill that were inadvertently amended by the Planning Reform legislation last year.
The RWA Act allows the Minister for Redfern-Waterloo to sub delegate approval and consent authority functions to the Authority or the City of Sydney Council. The Bill will also enable these functions to be sub delegated to an employee of the Authority. While minor, these amendments will enable the efficient and expedient assessment of development applications.
The Bill also amends arrangements for consultation with the Heritage Council regarding the alteration of any item on the State Heritage Register. Currently the Minister must consult the Heritage Council before determining that the proposed alteration is necessary. At present, the Minister cannot delegate this function. This is not a practical or efficient means of rejuvenating Redfern-Waterloo. The Bill will therefore allow these consultation and assessment functions to be delegated. This will not detract from the existing arrangements for consultation, assessment and decision making on heritage matters.
The Bill also clarifies the Minister's powers of land acquisition regarding Crown land. Currently, the Act only permits the Authority to acquire Crown land vested in 'public authorities'. However, some Crown Land is vested in the relevant Minister, and a Minister is not generally considered a 'public authority'. Therefore the Bill clarifies that the Minister administering the Crown Lands Act 1989 may transfer the ownership of Crown land within the Redfern-Waterloo Authority's area of operations to the Authority.
The amendments also expand the 'public authorities', from which the Minister is empowered to acquire land, to include Government departments, State Owned Corporations, statutory bodies, public authorities and Chief Executives Officers as defined by the Public Sector Management Act. This will help prevent any limitation to the Redfern-Waterloo Authority's ability to achieve its objectives to revitalise Redfern-Waterloo. It should be noted that the amendments do not extend the Authority's powers to acquire lands vested in a council.
Finally, the Bill makes some consequential amendments relating to special infrastructure contributions.
The EP&A Amendment Bill comprises a range of practical and reasonable measures designed to improve efficiency, promote consistency and to further streamline planning and development.
The Government is a strong defender of the role of local government in this State. NSW councils provide important services to ratepayers and employment for 40,000 people.
But the State should not just stand idly by when some councils repeatedly fail to make timely and reasonable planning decisions.
Delays in particular have been creeping up in some areas and this is causing frustration – from residents wanting answers on simple home renovations, to investors who want to create more jobs and prosperity for NSW.
Council DAs are the building blocks of our economy.
The Iemma Government wants more building and less blocking by councils.
That's why these reforms are necessary – and we make no apologies for continuing this push to cut red tape, improve efficiency and create a sound basis for business and investment in NSW, while at the same time ensuring that our environment is managed and protected in an appropriate manner.
I commend the Bill to the House.
The Hon. HENRY TSANG
(Parliamentary Secretary) [5.05 p.m.]: I move:
That this House do now adjourn.
SINGLE DESK MARKETING OF AUSTRALIAN WHEAT
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY
(Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [5.05 p.m.]: Last week the great John Howard celebrated 10 years as Prime Minister. His approval rating for February was 52 per cent. Compare that approval rating with that of the wheat single desk. According to a survey reported in the Land
newspaper, the single desk has an approval rating of 80 per cent. At a successful rally held in Parkes last Friday 100 per cent of the 600 farmers in attendance supported the single desk when it was put to a vote. It has been used to sell our wheat since 1939—almost 70 years! I am sure that even our great Prime Minister would appreciate a record and an approval rating like that.
The Australian Wheat Board's single desk has proved to be effective over a very long time in selling Australia's wheat to the world. Despite the work of Beazley and Rudd, it is interesting to note that the Australian Wheat Board still has an approval rating of 72 per cent. Compare that rating to the approval ratings for Beazley, 42 per cent, and Rudd, 31 per cent. It is pretty interesting. Before the single desk, world wheat merchants colluded to force prices down for their own profit margins. Farmers needed a fair price to survive—a price that only the single desk could deliver, and has delivered. Now the world's merchants are again looking to seize control and destroy the single desk.
Who among the members of this House believe that the disinformation peddled by Kim Beazley and Kevin Rudd in 100-odd questions has not had its origins in multinational companies and Australia's American competitors? That is right. I am sure not one member would believe that the information did not come from that source. Gutsy Mark Vaile went to a war zone last week to sign a deal to protect Australia's wheat sales, while Kim Beazley was not game to go to Melbourne to protect struggling Simon Crean—not that Simon needed Kim's help anyway. Once again we have the "can-do" and "will-do" Nationals and the "won't-do anything" and the "try-to-pull-them-down" Labor Party.
The New South Wales Deputy Premier, John Watkins, is in the same league as Beazley and Rudd. He will not even make a decision on the future of grain rail lines. His reason? The Cole inquiry. He has indicated that because of the Cole inquiry he will not be making a decision for 12 months or so. Frankly, it is just a load of rubbish! He should resign his post as Minister and get a job writing fiction at the National Institute of Dramatic Art. The Labor Party could not be bothered showing up to the Save the Wheat Single Desk rally in Parkes last Friday. Not one Country Labor member from the area—not the Minister for Rural Affairs, the Minister for Primary Industries or the Hon. Tony Catanzariti—attended the rally. The only contribution was a media release from the Minister for Primary Industries to the effect that it was wrong for The Nationals to attend. We challenge him to support the single desk and to attend some of the rallies supporting the single desk.
The Nationals are 100 per cent behind Australia's grain growers and the single desk, and we are willing to stand with them to show our support. If the Labor Party really does support the single desk, it should do more than allow the Minister for Primary Industries to issue a media release accusing Mark Vaile of making his trip to Iraq just for show. So just what did result from that trip to Iraq that the Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Labor Party in the Federal Parliament said was "just for show"? I will tell honourable members what resulted of it. Iraq has indicated that it will buy 350,000 tonnes of Australian wheat in the current tender. That is 350,000 tonnes of wheat more than it was going to buy and would not have bought if Beazley and Rudd and Labor had had their way. It was hardly a trip for show. It was actually a trip that indicated that people care and are willing to have a go to protect the people of this country. Well done Mark Vaile, and may the single desk continue.
The Hon. DAVID OLDFIELD
[5.09 p.m.]: Today it has become apparent to the population at large that the embattled New South Wales health system has had imported infectious diseases added to its list of woes. This is not news as such. What is news is that these matters are now openly disclosed in newspapers, discussed on radio and seen on television. Most will think it began with today's report in the Daily Telegraph
entitled, "Exotic disease outbreak warning", closely followed by the excellent work of 2GB, particularly announcers Alan Jones and Ray Hadley. Concerned Australians such as Dr Rodney Spencer have been trying to alert the public to infectious diseases imported by inappropriate immigration for some 20 years. Even I have been consistently outspoken on the problem for nearly 10 years—indeed, I suggest that since the late 1990s no-one has been more on the front foot on this issue than I. It is cold comfort now to have these issues making it into the mainstream media, especially when we consider how much infectious disease has already been imported. Today's disclosures are the result of a recent surge of African refugees who, as the New South Wales Minister for Health stated:
… are arriving with a range of complex health problems rarely seen in Australia.
According to the Daily Telegraph
… since May 2005, the Refugee Clinic at the Children's Hospital Westmead saw 93 patients from Africa, with 34 per cent referred to specialists.
The Minister for Health, the Hon. John Hatzistergos, is quoted as saying that "this may only be the tip of the iceberg". Unhappily, I confirm that he is absolutely right: it is just the tip of the disease iceberg and Australia is the Titanic
. Even the Australian Medical Journal
as far back as 1992 contained surveys of inner-city Sydney schoolchildren showing that 27 per cent of those born overseas carried tuberculosis.
Perhaps the matter that should anger Australians most is that, whilst the current crop of commonly infected Africans has highlighted this matter for the public at large, this issue has been building for decades through inappropriate immigration. Even today only a small percentage of those coming into Australia are properly screened for infectious diseases. Worse, the web site of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs discloses that those who are under 15 do not get tested for HIV-AIDS and those who are under 11 do not get tested for tuberculosis. Is anyone seriously suggesting that AIDS does not strike until a person is 15 and that tuberculosis does not strike until the age of 11? These deadly infectious diseases are common amongst young Africans. Worse still, a test disclosing that a person has HIV-AIDS still does not preclude entry into Australia.
No level of sympathy for the predicament these people face justifies the dangers that they pose to Australians. It is all very well to feel sorry and to want to help them, but that help should not include endangering countless Australians by knowingly importing deadly incurable diseases. Government policy pays more attention to protecting Australian animals and plants than the Australian people. Consider the Government's efforts to stop the introduction of animals infected with diseases such as rabies, yet the basis of a human epidemic has been hitting our shores unchecked for years. On the issue of infected Africans, more than 20,000 have been brought to Australia in the past three years and the immigration department web site shows that its emphasis remains on Africa. Is it nuts?
HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis and other infectious diseases with strains previously unknown in Australia are easing their way into our everyday lives and assaulting our already strained health system. Are infected refugees jumping the queues at our hospitals in the same way as they jumped the queues at our borders? By failing to bar the contagious from Australia our immigration policies are discriminating against our people. Those who built Australia are being endangered by those who have nothing to offer Australia except disease and infection. If people are not worried for themselves they might like to consider who their children or grandchildren are at school with or who might bite them, spit on them, breathe on them or, for that matter, simply share a drink with them. There is no sustainable excuse for allowing infected persons, refugees or otherwise, to enter Australia. Regardless of the steps that need to be taken to address the current infection, the first actions are clear: Shut the gate, close the door and do not let them in.
TWEED ELECTORATE THE NATIONALS CANDIDATE
The Hon. CHRISTINE ROBERTSON
[5.14 p.m.]: All politics is local. That is something that I have always believed and, to me at least, it seems to stand to reason. It is important when selecting political candidates to pick a local: someone who understands the community, someone who understands the issues that the community faces and someone who has local support. Sometimes political parties ignore that rule to their peril. The Liberals ignored their local members late last year during the Pittwater by-election and imposed an outsider. And we all remember what happened next, do we not? There was a 25 per cent swing against the Liberals. Twenty five per cent is a lot. Twenty five per cent is embarrassing—very embarrassing. One would think 25 per cent would be enough to make the point that a party should not impose outside candidates but allow the locals to have their say in a transparent preselection process. Twenty five per cent is so much that one would think it would make the point to the Coalition that it should not impose candidates against the locals' wishes.
For the past four years Warren Polglase, the former Mayor of Tweed Shire Council, has wanted to stand as a candidate for The Nationals at the next election. He has not made a secret of it—everyone knew it. He said so on many occasions. According to the Tweed Daily News
Mr Polglase has confirmed he will seek pre-selection, a move widely tipped for months.
"I'm going to put my name forward and we will see what the outcome of that is" he said.
Mr Polglase was not the only person interested in preselection. Another such person was Telstra linesman Ian De Mol, who stated that he would also like to run. The Leader of The Nationals, Andrew Stoner, knew that many candidates were jockeying for preselection. When Mr Stoner visited the Tweed in January this year he told ABC radio:
Tweed will be a hotly contested preselection—we have the Mayor and I'm aware of some other very high quality candidates who are quite interested. I'm heartened by the calibre of people who are showing an interest and I'm sure it will be a very strong contest come March.
Mr Stoner also, admirably, reminded the Tweed Daily News
that the "hotly contested preselection" was ultimately the locals' decision. He said:
I encourage candidates to step forward … and the local membership will decide on the best candidate.
When Mr Stoner left the Tweed in late January this year the stage was set for an exciting, robust, but ultimately fair and honest preselection within The Nationals to decide on its candidate for the Tweed.
But something very strange happened. On 27 February, last month, the Tweed Daily News
carried the headline "Provest to take fight up for the Nationals". The article said:
When nominations closed for the pre-selection on Saturday, Mr Provest was the only name put forward, making his nomination as the Nationals candidate little more than a formality when the Tweed branch holds its preselection meeting on February 25th.
What does it mean: "the only name put forward"? A little over a month before the Leader of The Nationals was referring to it as a "hotly contested preselection". He said it would be a "strong contest". Candidates were coming out of the woodwork seeking local endorsement. But then all of a sudden they pulled out and Mr Provest's name was the only name put forward. But the plot thickens. The Tweed Daily News
Mr Provest confirmed he had been asked to stand as the Nationals candidate …
Who asked him to stand? All of a sudden the locals did not get a say. Their right to select a candidate was thrown out the window. I believe the Sydney head office of The Nationals had some role in all this and I would like to know exactly what it was. I would like to know whether inducements were offered and whether threats were made.
How did the Sydney head office of The Nationals manage to turn what Mr Stoner called a "hotly contested preselection" into a single-candidate nomination? What did it do? Almost everyone in The Nationals is keeping quiet about this matter and covering it up. But Mr Polglase is not. Mr Polglase has had a bit to say. Do honourable members know what he said in last week's edition of the Tweed Sun
? He said that it was time for a good Independent. He continued:
The Hon. Don Harwin:
Someone with more passion for the Tweed than someone controlled by a political party.
Point of order: The Hon. Christine Robertson is demonstrating through her adjournment speech that she is not aware of the standing orders of the House. She has made several allusions to members in the other place and made reflections that, according to the standing orders, should be made only by way of substantive motion. The Hon. Jan Burnswoods has been lecturing honourable members on this subject all day. The Hon. Christine Robertson should be directed to comply with the standing orders.
The Hon. CHRISTINE ROBERTSON:
To the point of order: I most definitely was not slagging off any member in the other House; I was just making factual statements about what actions had occurred and what was printed in the press. There was no deliberate slagging of any member in the other House. If there is an inference in the point of order—
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile):
Order! The member's time has expired.
The Hon. CHRISTINE ROBERTSON:
I am permitted to continue in a point of order, as has occurred on many occasions when I have been in the chair. I cast no aspersion on any member of the other House. If the Hon. Don Harwin wants to cast an aspersion I believe it has been cast. I do not believe I cast aspersions on anybody.
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile):
Order! Earlier, a point of order was taken regarding statements about members of the other place. I draw the attention of honourable members to the provisions of Standing Order 91 (3):
A member may not use offensive words against either House of the Legislature, or any member of either House, and all imputation of improper motives and all personal reflections on either House, members or officers will be considered disorderly.
The Hon. DAVID CLARKE
[5.20 p.m.]: The proliferation of graffiti perpetrated by graffiti criminals is becoming a problem of epidemic proportion right across New South Wales, and nowhere more so than in the Penrith and Mulgoa areas of Western Sydney. Let us make no mistake about it: those who engage in defacing public and private property with graffiti are common criminals. We have now reached a stage where graffiti criminals act with immunity and brazen arrogance as they go from property to property defacing everything they can with their visual pollution.
Individuals and families who find their homes, their place of business and even their motor vehicles being sprayed with unsightly graffiti are incurring many millions of dollars of additional expense. We even had the infamy of graffiti being sprayed over the Anzac War Memorial in Hyde Park. Graffiti is very costly and difficult to remove. More often than not it leaves unsightly telltale signs even when it has been removed. Everyone suffers from graffiti crime. Our neighbourhoods take on an ugly appearance and we all incur expense as a result of its removal. Insurance premiums are pushed higher and an increasing proportion of the taxes we pay to local, State and Federal governments is swallowed up in paying for the removal of graffiti from public property.
In 2004 the Bureau of Crime Statistics recorded 411 graffiti incidents in inner Sydney, 3,767 in the Sydney metropolitan area and a total of 6,319 for New South Wales as a whole. What about the thousands of incidents that are not even reported? There could well be 10 unreported incidents for every incident that is reported. Genia McCaffery, President of the Local Government Association, recently complained that local councils were being undermined in their losing battle against graffiti by lax anti-graffiti legislation. She complained that offenders under 18 are allowed three cautions in six months before they are even referred to a youth justice conference and that this system was a failure. She called on the State Government to make it easier for police to arrest and prosecute offenders.
Why is the State Labor Government failing in this area? What is it doing about this antisocial criminal behaviour? After all, it is the duty of the State Government to maintain law and order and to protect our property, both public and private. In fact, that is probably its most important duty. What has been the response of the State Government to the graffiti epidemic? Apart from failing to give the law some teeth in this area and continuing to take a feeble, weak and anaemic approach, it disbanded the graffiti task force. It got rid of the body that was the spearhead of the anti-graffiti campaign. It gutted that highly efficient and specialised unit. Why did it do that? The truth is: who knows? What motivates this Government to do the stupid things that it does? Who would ever know?
It certainly is true, however, that this Government has for some time faced a financial crisis brought about by its financial mismanagement. It has been on a slashing and cutting binge that has not left any department untouched and has left services to the people of New South Wales greatly reduced or in tatters. The State Government says this is not true but the people know that it is true. Through inefficiency, incompetence and lack of foresight it now cannot make ends meet. For years it coasted along overlooking the need for infrastructure and now this neglect is coming back to haunt it.
Let us take law and order, for example. That is an area the Government has been downsizing for years. The police are clearly underresourced. They have not been getting the backing they need and that the general public demands. In any event, for whatever reason—cost cutting, stupidity or miscalculation—the graffiti task force was abolished, and just look at the result. As I indicated earlier, the continuing proliferation of graffiti in the Penrith and Mulgoa areas has become explosive. Recently, Penrith council assets manager, David Burns, was widely reported as stating:
There has been an explosion of graffiti in Penrith and across New South Wales in the last year. No-one knows why it is happening but the community is calling for action.
Penrith Councillor Mark Davies said "Graffiti was making the place look like a third world slum." Penrith Councillor Steve Simat joined in protesting and pointed out that "Graffiti was now a problem in the St Mary's CBD". The real problem is the State Government's failure to ensure there is an aggressive policy to stop graffiti crime and apprehend and punish the offenders. What a brilliant way the Government has found to deal with the problem—by abolishing the graffiti task force altogether. In tackling the issue head on, Opposition Leader Peter Debnam said, "Youth crime problems are as a result of Labor's softly-softly approach to crime and antisocial behaviour."
Among the many specific proposals put forward by Peter Debnam to deal with this problem, he has committed the Opposition to reinstating the graffiti task force and strengthening related penalties and powers of magistrates. He has also undertaken to reinstate the 600 police slashed by Labor; re-empower police in relation to arrest and search with an urgent reform of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act; strengthen the role of the Judicial Commission to make judges and magistrates more accountable to the community; reduce to one warning and one caution for young offenders to get rid of Labor's unlimited warnings and three cautions; and reduce NSW Police ministry bureaucracy and police media spin doctors by 70 per cent, and transfer savings to the front line. The people of Penrith, Mulgoa, Western Sydney and indeed New South Wales are demanding action. Come the next election Peter Debnam and a Liberal-Nationals Coalition will answer their call and deliver action against graffiti criminals.
MOTORWAYS E-TAG USE
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS
[5.25 p.m.]: I have asked a number of questions in this House about, and I have drawn attention to, failings in technology, in particular, in regard to the use of e-tags by motorcycles on motorways. Today I received a copy of a letter written to the Minister by motorcycle rider Mr Anthony Morizzi, from Ryde. He refers in that letter to the problems he experienced trying to pay the toll on the M2 with an e-tag. He said:
I am writing to ask your opinion on what I should do about a situation which arose from me attempting to pay the toll on the M2 motorway while riding a motorcycle.
I have an active and functional E-Way account and E-Tag, which I use regularly …
I approached the toll-booth on the M2 travelling west at approximately 7pm on the 9th of February 2006. I had my E-Tag in the upper pocket of my Gearsack brand motorcycle luggage (a bag which sits upright on the pillion seat).
When I got to the toll-booth, the light remained red and the toll-booth operator asked me to pay my toll. I had expected the E-tag to be detected and the toll deducted from my account. I showed the E-Tag to the woman in the booth. She told me that I could not use the tag and had to pay the toll in cash. This is of course, ridiculous and defeats the purpose of an E-Tag.
I asked her to deduct the toll from the E-Tag account. She told me that the sensor must have failed to detect the E- Tag, so I now needed to pay for the toll with cash. I asked why she could not now deduct the toll from the E-Tag account. She said the sensor for the tag was 10 metres back, but I was "not supposed to go out there". She declined to answer just how we were to resolve this.
I asked the toll-booth attendant what I was supposed to do, to pay the toll correctly with my E-Tag. She suggested that I hold my E-Tag out with one hand as I approach the toll plaza.
In the view of the Minister, is this a safe practice, to require this of a motorcycle rider? A bigger problem awaits the rider on the other side of the toll-booth, while attempting to return the E-Tag to the pocket, riding one-handed in the merging traffic lanes.
The advice provided by the booth operator contradicts advice on the M2 website, yet email and telephone advice is not consistent with either. None is practical or useful.
The toll-booth attendant could offer no suggestions as to how I might pay the toll properly and safely …
At this time, I dismounted my motorcycle and walked back past the patiently waiting cars towards the sensor. When I got under the sensor, the tag beeped. At this stage it appeared to me that I may have now paid the toll twice. I have no way of knowing if the tag beeped as I rode towards the booth in the first place, as it is impossible to hear the tag on a motorcycle and therefore not possible to know if the toll has been paid or not.
Can the Minister please advise me whether it is in fact illegal to use an E-Tag on a motorcycle to pay a toll? In this answer, please provide a definitive interpretation to Roads (General) Regulation Sec. 23(l)(d)(i), as it appears the lack of an audible signal to a motorcycle rider makes an E-Tag illegal to use.
Is it possible for the Minister to assist my approach to the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission that the toll road operator has misled me in advertising and method of doing business, to delude me into believing that use of an E-Tag is legal and fit for purpose? I would value the Ministers' views on this subject.
E-Tag Not Recognised by Toll Collection, Again
I then returned to my motorcycle and told the attendant that the tag had beeped and that I have definitely now paid the toll. She told me that the payment had not gone through and that I had still not paid the toll. At this stage I asked to see her supervisor.
When the supervisor arrived, I asked him what it was that motorcyclists were supposed to do, in order to use the E-Tag system correctly. He said that I had to attach the E-Tag to the inside of my motorcycle windscreen. There are many problems with this solution;
• There is no bracket available to attach an E-Tag to a rounded motorcycle windscreen.
• The E-Tags are not weather proof.
• The user would receive no indication that the toll had been paid, as the indication is an audio signal, or "beep".
• The E-Tag would obscure my vision of the instruments on my motorcycle, rendering it less safe by addition of the E-Tag.
I note that no toll road operator provides in their Terms and Conditions of use, or fitting instructions, any reliable or useful advice for fitting an E-Tag to my model motorcycle that will not result in damage to the E-Tag or demand an unsafe practice by the rider …
The supervisor then asked me to ride forward so that he could record my number plate in order that he could give me a deferred payment notice. I refused to do this for three reasons.
1. I had already done everything possible to pay the toll with my E-Tag, just like any other motorist.
2. I believed I had already paid the toll twice and I was now being asked to pay a third time.
3. The technology failure is the problem of the toll road operator. It is not my role to take responsibility for, or be inconvenienced by their failures in planning or provision of functional technology.
The supervisor then left the booth and recorded my licence plate number. He then asked me to take the notice and pay the toll by credit card over the telephone when I got home.
I refused to take the deferred payment notice for the reasons that I have outlined above. In addition, I was offended at the proposition, as it is simply externalising of responsibility by the toll road operator. Further, the toll charge for motorcycles is unreasonably high … [given the] weight or environmental impact compared to a car. Can the Minister please help me understand why a motorcycle is charged the same toll rate as a car?
The New South Wales Government policy on cashless tolling is obviously flawed or poorly implemented.
… I have done my best to fulfil my obligations and use the M2 and its E-Way system as any other honest motorist would …
I am also keen to hear what your advice is in relation to the situation I describe, as it appears I will most likely be engaged in legal argument with the M2 operators over just how many tolls I actually paid on the 9th February.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS LEGISLATION
The Hon. PETER PRIMROSE
[5.30 p.m.]: Employers in the community sector should not assume that they can throw their employees into John Howard's dog-eat-dog world of individual contracts, reduced conditions and no independent umpire. Despite the claims of the Federal Government's outrageously expensive saturation advertising, the system is not unitary and it is not simpler. The community sector is WorkChoices protected. As far as the New South Wales industrial system is concerned, the primary effect of the so-called WorkChoices legislation is that constitutional corporations, along with the employees who work in them and the employers who run them, will be unilaterally transferred to the Federal system.
A major feature of WorkChoices is its controversial reliance on the "corporations power" in the Australian Constitution, which is the subject of numerous High Court challenges. The legislation simply defines a constitutional corporation as a "corporation to which paragraph 51 (xx) of the Constitution applies", which enables the Commonwealth to make laws with respect to "foreign corporations, and trading or financial corporations formed within the limits of the Commonwealth." The issue of whether a corporation is a constitutional corporation is complex and contested, and will usually depend upon whether or not it trades by buying and selling goods and services.
Recent analysis by the Queensland Government has suggested that the proportion of workers in all sectors of the economy who will be covered by the new Federal system may be less than 60 per cent in some States. So, despite the hype, the Orwellian WorkChoices legislation in fact does not create a single system, as a large sector of the economy is not caught. Only a very small minority of employers in the community sector can be characterised as constitutional corporations, and so most are not covered by John Howard's extreme new industrial relations laws. Workplaces in this protected sector include women's refuges, youth refuges, disability services, family support services, drug and alcohol services, and many other agencies. As a consequence, employees in such services should not be misled into signing Australian workplace agreements, which will simply undermine their award and put at risk their protections against unfair dismissals.
Sally McManus, Secretary of the Australian Services Union of New South Wales, is campaigning hard to make sure that community and welfare workers know that their rights are protected from the worst excesses of WorkChoices. Ms McManus recently told one group of community workers:
The Community Sector is WorkChoices protected. This means that your award stays in place, and bosses can't offer Australian workplace agreements. Despite the Howard Government's misleading advertising blitz, workers in the Community Sector do not have to be trapped in the WorkChoices jungle.
A typical example is a community-based management committee at a neighbourhood centre. The committee may be registered under the Associations Incorporation Act 1984 but it is not a constitutional corporation. The State award will still apply to its employees. The New South Wales industrial relations system is co-operative, productive and efficient. It has served the community sector well, and will continue to do so, in maintaining the award safety net, while also providing an effective dispute resolution process for voluntary management committees.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING STRATEGY
Ms SYLVIA HALE
[5.33 p.m.]: Even though New South Wales has many advantages, it is now lagging far behind other States and Territories when it comes to social programs and progressive reforms. We are awaiting the Government's Affordable Housing Strategy, due for release in August, in the hope that, finally, some decisive action will be taken to increase the supply of affordable housing in New South Wales. The New South Wales Government should take note of initiatives by Labor governments in other States and Territories. Those Labor governments are doing a far better job on housing than the sluggish half effort we see here in New South Wales.
South Australia has a 10-year housing plan. New South Wales does not. The South Australian Government has set a target of 15 per cent of affordable housing in new developments. This is double the New South Wales Landcom target of 7 per cent, and five times the Government's 3 per cent affordable housing requirement at Green Square. The South Australian Minister for Housing, Jay Weatherill, recently opened a new facility at Port Augusta providing safe, short-term accommodation for visiting Aboriginal people from outlying communities. In Western Australia a social housing target could be included—
[Time for debate expired
Motion agreed to.
The House adjourned at 5.35 p.m. until Thursday 9 March 2006 at 11.00 a.m.