Lieutenant-Governor's Speech: Address-in-Reply
|About this Item||Subjects||Education; Electoral Law; Electricity; Hospitals; Industrial Relations; Juvenile Crime; Parliament: New South Wales; Police: New South Wales; Public Housing; Public Service: New South Wales; Public Transport; Rural Industry; Schools; Tax: Land; Training Schemes; Governors; Australia: History; Skilled Labour; Vocational Education and Training; Apprentices; Aged; Privatisation
||Speakers||Pearce Mr Paul; D'Amore Ms Angela; Acting-Speaker (Ms Marie Andrews); Stoner Mr Andrew; Hancock Mrs Shelley
||Business||Business of the House
First Day's Debate
Mr PAUL PEARCE (Coogee) [7.30 p.m.]: I move:
That the following Address-in-Reply to the Speech which His Excellency has addressed to both Houses of Parliament on opening this session of the Parliament of New South Wales be now adopted by the House:
To His Excellency the Hon. J. J. Spigelman, Companion of the Order of Australia, Lieutenant-Governor of the State of New South Wales in the Commonwealth of Australia.
May it Please Your Excellency—
We, the Members of the Legislative Assembly of the State of New South Wales, in Parliament assembled, desire to express our thanks for Your Excellency's Speech, and to express our loyalty to Australia and the people of New South Wales.
We assure Your Excellency that our earnest consideration will be given to the measures to be submitted to us, and that we will faithfully carry out the important duties entrusted to us by the people of New South Wales.
We join Your Excellency in the hope that our labours may be so directed as to advance the best interests of all sections of the community.
I congratulate Justice Spigelman on the manner in which he carries out his responsibilities in the absence of the Governor, Professor Marie Bashir. The Governor is a hard act to follow. I am sure that every member of this House would agree that the Governor is well respected in our community for the selfless manner in which she carries out her role—which she fulfils with compassion and dignity. As many of my fellow members of Parliament will attest, it is not uncommon to see Her Excellency at multiple functions in a single day. She has a natural empathy for the diverse elements that make up our New South Wales community.
Similarly, I cannot let this opportunity pass without thanking the Lieutenant-Governor for the wise observation that he made in his other role as Chief Justice. He was reported recently as calling on all of us in this place to respect the role of the courts in the administration of criminal justice. After hearing the intemperate remarks of the Leader of the Opposition during the past sitting week, I concur with Justice Spigelman that the job of sentencing those persons convicted of a crime is best done by experienced people:
… who are not subject to the transient rages and enthusiasms that attended the so frequently ill-informed, or partly informed, public debate on such matters.
I am honoured to move the adoption of this House's Address-in-Reply to the speech delivered by the Lieutenant-Governor on behalf of the Governor on the occasion of the opening of the second session of the Fifty-third Parliament and to lead the debate on behalf of the Iemma Government. The occasion of the Lieutenant-Governor's speech was also significant in that it marked the sesquicentenary of responsible government in New South Wales. In these times when public respect for the political process and politicians is portrayed by elements of the tabloid press as being at an all-time low, it is worth remembering what a significant event the granting of responsible government to the colony of New South Wales by the British Parliament, sitting as the Imperial Parliament, was.
It is also worth recalling how significant the consequences of that decision have been not only for Australia but for the advance of democratic forms of government throughout the world. The Premier described the early days of the New South Wales legislature as a laboratory of democracy. Even a cursory glance at the advances in democratic participation in government will confirm this view. Take the extension of the right to vote—a basic element of a democratic system of government. New South Wales, by extending the franchise from the original limited franchise for male property owners to full male suffrage in 1858 and finally female suffrage for women over the age of 30 in 1902, was among world leaders in this reform.
As a result of that broadening of the franchise members of Parliament had to respond to the concerns of ordinary voters, not merely those of the rich and powerful. Concepts such as the legislated basic wage and a fair system of arbitration were two consequences. Other social reforms followed by legislation. In the 1920s under the first Lang Government the New South Wales Legislative Assembly passed a bill to abolish the death penalty only to see it thwarted by that bastion of reaction and privilege, the Legislative Council. However, the Government's solid electoral support overcame those same forces and it was successful in introducing three far-reaching measures: the Forty Four Hour Week Bill, the Fair Rents Amendment Bill and the Widows' Pensions Bill. I put it to honourable members that these reforms and the many achieved by subsequent, usually Labor, governments would never have occurred without the vigorous democratic institutions in the State.
Many of us smiled with wry amusement on Monday as Justice Spigelman recounted the issues facing that first government in 1856—shortages of skilled labour, a housing boom and the pressing need for public infrastructure. It sounded strangely familiar to our ears in 2006. It is a credit to the Iemma Government that it has responded so vigorously to those challenges. On Monday the Premier announced a significant change in our education system that will encourage pupils who want to follow a trade to commence apprenticeships and traineeships in years 11 and 12. This will be made possible through trade schools, of which 10 will eventually be established. In a very positive way the Iemma Government is seeking to address the skills shortages facing Australia. Rather than seeking to bring in overseas workers on short-term contracts and employing them at rates below those paid to Australian workers, the New South Wales Government will train our kids so that they have secure future employment prospects and our nation will have a supply of skilled workers to maintain our economic wellbeing.
Contrast that approach with the one adopted by the Howard Government, which has actively sought to discourage young people from pursuing their career goals by making tertiary study unaffordable or by limiting the number of student places available in courses where there is a drastic skills shortage, such as nursing. While some in the community see Australia's future as being some sort of giant quarry or the provider of stable financial services to globalised business, it is the core manufacturing industries in metals and engineering, the construction industry and service industries such as hospitality and health care that will provide real employment to Australian workers.
In my electorate of Coogee, both the hospitality and retail sectors are significant employers. Frequently at meetings with various Chambers of Commerce in my electorate, I hear the refrain from members that they are having difficulty in securing suitably skilled staff. As a consequence, the skilled staff shortage is often addressed by short-term employment of travellers. This source of labour is by its very nature likely to be erratic. It is surely preferable to train our local kids in those very transportable skills that exist within the hospitality and specialised retail sales sectors of our economy.
Bordering on my electorate—and what will be within my electorate after the next election—the Prince of Wales Hospital, the Royal Women's Hospital and the Sydney Children's Hospital are major employers. Overall, in excess of 5,600 nurses have been recruited to New South Wales hospitals over the past four years. In the paediatric wards of the Sydney Children's Hospital, the efforts of the Government to attract qualified nurses is very apparent. I can only praise the incredible levels of skill and commitment displayed by nursing staff, both local and overseas recruits. But fine nurses alone cannot deliver a world-class health system. The technical equipment must also be provided.
The Iemma Government has committed to spend significant sums of money in paediatric critical care. It was my pleasure to accompany the Premier and the Minister for Health on a recent visit to the Sydney Children's Hospital, where a commitment was made to purchase specialised monitors and ventilator units for use in the paediatric and neonatal intensive care unit. The Iemma Government has also taken up the challenge to address mental health services. It is working with the other governments in Australia to develop a comprehensive national program. In appointing a Minister with portfolio responsibility for mental health, the Iemma Government has indicated its intention to focus on this area of public policy, an area that is all too often neglected. For too long, mental health services have been thrown back on to the families, supported only by voluntary and charitable organisations many of whom, I might add, do a magnificent job in a difficult environment.
In my electorate, the B. Miles Women's Housing Scheme exists to provide medium-term supported accommodation for women, without dependent children, who are experiencing a mental illness. This organisation provides an incredible level of support for those women. The goal of the service is to provide tenants with the opportunity to develop skills and confidence to live independently in the community. The support workers at B. Miles amaze me with their energy and commitment. The Department of Community Services, through the Supported Accommodation and Assistance Program, funds this facility. But needless to say more funds are always needed. With this in mind I encourage service clubs and individuals to consider B. Miles in any fundraising they might be looking at.
I take this opportunity to place on record my thanks to the newly established Coogee Lions Club that made a generous donation to B. Miles in its inaugural 2005-06 program. Similarly, to my near north, in Bondi, Fran Wooten and her team at the Norman Andrews House do miracles with minimal resources for street people who suffer from a combination of mental health and substance abuse problems. The service is financially supported by the Uniting Church, through the Chapel-by-the-Sea and Waverley Council. It is also supported by local businesses and service clubs. Many of those suffering from mental illness are either homeless or in inadequate accommodation.
The Government's commitment in public housing should bear fruit over the next few years. However, real inroads into housing availability and affordability for those most in need will not occur until the Federal Government recognises its responsibilities in this area. The consequences of the effective cessation of capital funding for new public housing since the election of the Howard Government more than a decade ago, can be seen around the streets of Sydney. The property industry also has a part to play in addressing homelessness and lack of affordability. It is time that property developers recognised that speculative profits have a real human cost. The acquisition of a boarding house that is then demolished or converted into luxury units often means that some very vulnerable people are put on to the street.
For the information of the House, I cite one recent example. A developer submitted an application to convert a boarding house in Wood Street, Randwick, which currently has 10 boarding house rooms, into seven strata units. The residents of the boarding house are likely be tipped out. Whether or not the proposed strata units come back on to the market as rental units, it is fair to assume that the current occupants will certainly not be purchasers and will most likely not be renters. There are few options for them in the near vicinity to find comparable alternative accommodation.
The list of alternative accommodation options provided by the developer was, in my opinion, a joke in poor taste. The majority of premises on the list were for shared accommodation, often in rented flats, simply not suitable for the average resident of a boarding house. As I have raised before in this House, the rights of boarders and lodgers must be recognised as a form of tenancy and covered by provisions in the Residential Tenancy Act. I draw to the Government's attention the recently developed Occupancy Agreement Model of legislation developed by the Tenants Union. For those in the bureaucracy and the property development industry who still argue against providing for and recognising the rights of boarders and lodgers, I refer them to the recent Australian Capital Territory legislation known as the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act.
The Iemma Government's commitment to public education is well known. The success of the program for refurbishment or rebuilding of public schools around this State is widely recognised. I doubt whether there are any honourable members in this place in whose electorate there has not been improvement made to their local schools as a consequence of that program. The importance of our highly skilled teaching staff has been recognised by the Government in agreeing to significant wages and salary increases. By undertaking negotiations under the award system, benefits flow in both directions. It makes for an interesting contrast with the approach by the Howard Government that is clearly keen to see any benefits flow only to employers. However, like our nursing and medical professionals, our teachers need the facilities and equipment to maximise the educational outcome for our children.
In my electorate of Coogee, I am fortunate to have some of, what I believe to be, the best primary schools in the State. Be it the broad educational opportunities offered by Bronte Public—my old school—Clovelly Public, Randwick Public or Coogee Public schools, all with large and growing pupil numbers, or the more personalised education provided by the smaller Waverley Public or Rainbow Street schools, what is common is the skill and commitment of teachers and provision of the necessary resources. The teachers are ably supported by the incredibly active parents and citizens associations. Having been a president of a parents and citizens association, I know very well the amount of time and commitment that is needed.
Unusually, I do not currently have any State secondary schools within the electorate of Coogee, although that will change after March 2007, when Randwick Boys and Randwick Girls schools come into the electorate. I look forward to working closely with both schools to ensure that they obtain any equipment or facilities they may need to ensure the continued high standard of education provided. In discussing education in my area, I could not fail to mention another State secondary school in the neighbouring electorate of Vaucluse, a school that many students from my area attend.
That, of course, is Rose Bay Secondary College. What a magnificent achievement in State education. The two campuses of Dover Heights High and Vaucluse High were first administratively amalgamated, and are now physically amalgamated on the magnificent Dover Heights High School site. The combined school, known as Rose Bay Secondary College, will have a total enrolment of some 1,250 students. Initially it was expected that it would take several years to reach that number. It now appears that it will be reached within 18 months. It is a school that provides the highest standards in public education, offering a range of educational opportunities often associated in the public mind with the non-government school sector. And the parents of the eastern suburbs recognise its benefits. The Iemma Government and the current Minister for Education, Carmel Tebbutt, stand to be congratulated on this tremendous achievement. It is something that could only have occurred under a Labor Government.
On Monday in his speech the Lieutenant-Governor made reference to industrial relations and the impact of the changes introduced by the Commonwealth. Those changes are not only inherently unfair and seek to unfairly tip the balance in favour of corporations, but they also seek to undermine the very foundations of the constitutional division of powers envisaged by the Federation. The laws, should they be upheld by the High Court, will see vulnerable workers lose those conditions which are essential to living a dignified life, and which give them the financial capacity and the time to work in the many community organisations that provide the backbone of much of our social capital.
The Iemma Government is opposing these laws. In addition, the Government will maintain a State-based system for our many essential public sector workers. This is important in a seat like Coogee, where a significant number of workers are employed in the public sector. It is clear from the equivocation of members of the Opposition that, given the opportunity, they would sell these workers out. The Leader of the Opposition is the great equivocator on this issue. Indeed, based on the his pronouncements and equivocations on this issue, one would think he was auditioning for the role of the porter at the gate in the opening of scene III Act II of Macbeth. [Extension of time agreed to.]
I have referred previously to the many people in the Coogee area who give of their time and energy to our community. I have referred to B. Miles and others engaged in supporting the vulnerable in our community. I have referred to the service clubs, including the Coogee Lions, who have just celebrated their first birthday, and the Bondi Lions, who are about to celebrate their fiftieth. The Rotary clubs of both Randwick and Bondi Junction can be depended upon to roll up their sleeves and pitch in to help in our community. I have mentioned the parents in the parents and citizens and parents and friends associations whose energy is so important to the education of our children in both the government and non-government sectors.
But possibly one group that exemplifies this selfless commitment to the community in my beachside electorate is the surf clubs. I am honoured to have four of the greatest surf clubs on the east coast in my electorate. Three—Bronte, Tamarama and Clovelly—have already celebrated one hundred years of life-saving service to the community. The fourth, Coogee, turns 100 next year. Apart from providing essential life-saving patrols on the beaches, keeping those beaches safe for locals and visitors alike, they also provide sporting and competition opportunities for our youth. When we talk about respect and responsibility, that sense of community the Lieutenant-Governor referred to in his address, the surf life saving movement springs to my mind.
On Sunday evening I had the pleasure of attending the prize giving at the Coogee Surf Club. What a great night, and what a tremendous group of women and men, young and old, comprise that club. To give the House a few statistics: in the season just completed, the club made 75 rescues, dealt with 11 spinal injuries and took 500 preventative actions, not to mention dealing with 532 bluebottle stings. They patrolled in excess of 9,800 hours. No lives were lost during patrolling hours. That magnificent effort was replicated by the other three clubs in the electorate of Coogee. On behalf of my community, I want to place on record my heartfelt thanks to all the surf club members and in particular the hardworking club executives, trainers and assessors. The Government recognised the importance of the movement, and the clubs in the electorate of Coogee in particular, by opening the season with the Raise the Flags event at Coogee. I had the pleasure of attending this important event with Minister Sandra Nori. The Government has also given direct financial support to the clubs to assist in the recent refurbishment of the Clovelly club and in the soon to be commenced works at the Coogee club.
Much time is spent in this Chamber discussing law and order. When the Leader of the Opposition enters the debate proportionality, and often reality, go out the window. He never allows the facts to come between himself and a headline. The facts are clear. In most areas of crime, all the trends are downwards. In the most important categories of serious offences against the person, New South Wales is an increasingly safe place to live. In spite of this, many in our community feel unsafe. There are a number of reasons for that, including, ironically, the greater availability of information and the often extreme comments of the some media commentators, who seem to delight in exaggerating a single incident into a general problem.
Notwithstanding that, there is a category of crime that needs to be addressed, that is, street offences, including mindless tagging-style graffiti. Recently the Minister for Fair Trading introduced a bill that seeks to limit access to spray cans. That bill passed through this House last night. It is a welcome initiative that will, hopefully, reduce access to these products. The impact of the mindless tagging can be seen on many public and private buildings. The Coogee basin has a specific problem that arises from its 30 or so liquor licences, including two very large hotels. Into this mix is added a large backpacker tourist trade. The combination of wide availability of late-night—or, should I say, all-night—alcohol and young, usually male travellers, creates a difficult environment for businesses and residents. Rarely does a week go by without another resident or business owner raising with me problems they are experiencing due to alcohol-fuelled incidents in Coogee. These incidents range from a disturbed night's sleep, to urinating in garages, or vomiting over fences by drunken yobs, to broken windows in business premises near to one of the hotels in Coogee, through to assaults.
I have recently made a detailed submission on the draft liquor bill. I encourage the Minister and his department to consider the issues and suggestions I have raised as I believe that, if adopted, they will strengthen the community's hand in better addressing problems arising as a result of licensees who look for the dollars and ignore their broader social responsibilities. I emphasise that I am in no way being critical of the police at the Eastern Beaches Local Area Command. Superintendent Phil Rogerson and his team do a great job. The crime statistics in most categories are trending down. That demonstrates the quality of our local police and the effectiveness of their use of intelligence in targeted policing. However, there is no doubt in my mind that the job of police in Coogee is made more difficult by the impact of alcohol.
Certain licensees in Coogee could do more to assist the situation on the ground. They could change the target demographic of their businesses. Currently, by its own admission, 60 per cent of the patrons of one major hotel are in the 18 to 24 year age group. All criminological studies indicate that this is the age group most likely to engage in binge drinking and consequential drunken misbehaviour. Yet that is the admitted target demographic. In addition, the major hotels should consider reducing hours of trade, not seek to extend them. At the very least the local liquor accord should consider a more rigorous lock-down regime to prevent the drunken movement between establishments. Randwick council needs to look at the appropriateness of the current trading hours permitted in those businesses that provide early morning points of congregation for often intoxicated young males.
Public transport has received significant exposure recently. A vigorous public debate is under way, and that is to be encouraged. The Iemma Government has responded in a systematic manner to the issues identified in that public debate. There is a significant financial commitment to upgrading of the rail infrastructure of CityRail. That investment seeks to untangle the network that has evolved over the past century. There is also a massive investment in airconditioned carriages. In my seat, the major works at Bondi Junction are reaching a conclusion. Those works will have the direct effect of significantly increasing the capacity of the line. That will further encourage the already substantial use of public transport in Coogee. Bondi Junction has the best modal split of public to private transport of any urban centre in Sydney. The bus services within the electorate of Coogee and cross-country services are well patronised and reliable. Whilst many people in my electorate, including me, would like to have light rail options explored for our higher density suburbs and destinations, the Government should be commended for the quality of public transport in the electorate of Coogee.
In conclusion, I take advantage of the opportunity afforded in addressing this motion to place on the record my utter disgust that the Prime Minister of this country should seek to promote the use of nuclear power in Australia. Nuclear power generation cannot be divorced from either the lack of options for disposal or storage of highly radioactive nuclear waste or the use of enriched uranium or plutonium for nuclear weapons. Rather than confront wasteful energy practices or encourage investment in clean alternative energy sources, the Federal Government seems determined to take us headlong into the nuclear industry. My electorate of Coogee has many residents with a strong sense of social and environmental responsibility. That is reflected in their concern over this absurd suggestion. In over 23 years in public life, I have rarely experienced so many constituents in such a short time speaking to me or emailing me and expressing their disbelief that any government would seriously contemplate this course of action. I commend the motion to the House.
Ms ANGELA D'AMORE (Drummoyne) [8.00 p.m.]: I second the motion moved by the honourable member for Coogee. I am honoured to be the second speaker in support of the House's Address-in-Reply to the speech of His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor on the opening of the second session of the Fifty-third Parliament of New South Wales on Monday 22 May. The citizens of this State are well served under the leadership of His Excellency the Hon. James Spigelman, AC. This year marks the 150th anniversary of responsible government in New South Wales. I thank the Premier, Morris Iemma, for the opportunity to second the motion. As the State member for Drummoyne since March 2003, I have taken great pride in representing the electorate and the residents who live within its boundaries. The needs and expectations of the local families and community are my first priority as their local member of Parliament.
We are blessed in the State seat of Drummoyne to have Concord Repatriation General Hospital, what we call the jewel in the electorate. It is a 500-bed teaching hospital, which, in recent years, has had a $130 million capital investment to make it a state-of-the-art hospital in the inner west. Residents have always told me that ensuring Concord hospital is well resourced is a major priority. The Lieutenant-Governor highlighted in his Opening Speech the reduction in elective surgery waiting times in public hospitals. Delivering consistent high-quality health care is tough. The staff at Concord hospital know that and do it well. Throughout the past year, nurses and doctors have worked hard to reduce the amount of time patients spend in the emergency department before returning home, or being admitted to hospital for further checking.
This year there has been a dramatic reduction in Concord hospital's waiting lists, despite record numbers of patients seeking emergency treatment and an ageing population requiring greater care. The number of patients waiting for more than 12 months for elective surgery at Concord hospital has been reduced by 75 per cent, from 336 patients in March 2005 to 84 patients in March 2006. In March 2006 there were 2,216 attendees at Concord hospital emergency department, an increase of 9.3 per cent on the same period last year. Concord hospital also is experiencing an increased number of more serious cases presenting to the emergency department—in fact 2.1 per cent more than for the same period last year. The total surgical waiting list at Concord hospital has been reduced by 8.5 per cent between March 2005 and March 2006.
The dedicated and hardworking staff at Concord hospital deserve credit for this great achievement. I commend the General Manager, Danny O'Connor, and the Director of Nursing, Merrita Richardson, for their outstanding leadership. But this also illustrates that the Iemma Government's $115 million Predictable Surgery Program to target elective surgery waiting lists is getting results. I note my disappointment at the Opposition for trying to smear the reputation of this wonderful hospital by suggesting that elective surgery lists have not been reduced. While the results at Concord hospital are encouraging, there is always more work to be done. I have always been a strong advocate of nurses, having been an officer of the New South Wales Nurses Association prior to becoming a member of this House.
I hope that one day the Federal Government will recognise the benefit of increasing registered nursing positions at our local universities, rather than starving the public health system of registered nurses. However, I commend the State Government for having the highest paid nurses in Australia. They deserve every cent they get and more. The number of open beds at Concord hospital has grown, as has the number of outpatient services provided by the hospital. The new $7.5 million aged care precinct, which opened at Concord hospital in December, will enable residents to access aged care services locally. The high-quality research and care at the hospital will help ensure that local elderly residents have the healthiest future.
The new aged care facility includes 100 aged care beds; a day hospital offering physiotherapy, occupational therapy, social work and speech therapy; clinics for bladder problems, bone and joint services, amputees, Parkinson's disease and chronic pain management; and a community aged care and rehabilitation service. Our seniors represent approximately 12 per cent of the population. They deserve the best possible care, and I will always ensure they get it. A much-needed $2.8 million magnetic resonance imaging [MRI] machine was installed at the hospital, eliminating long waits for patients who required access. The MRI machine is used to produce a three-dimensional computer image of organs, muscles, nerves and body tissue to reveal tumours and other conditions that otherwise are undetectable. The MRI machine can also be used to explore brain function and structure, leading to more accurate diagnoses in psychiatric conditions.
I commend the work of Dr Lloyd Ridley, Director of Radiology at Concord hospital, for his commitment. We have all been touched by a family member or friend who has cancer, but the difference in the inner west is that we have a $13.5 million cancer research unit, headed by Professor Clarke, to test new cancer drugs and complementary therapies, and to undertake clinical trials to give our loved ones the best chance of survival. I also thank the director of the burns unit, Dr Maitz, and his multidisciplinary team, which is considered by his colleagues to be one of the best in Australia. They did amazing work in looking after the burns victims after the Bali terrorist bombings, and Sophie Delezio. I acknowledge that the State Government has provided an additional $500,000 to open an extra theatre in the Concord hospital burns unit.
This year at Concord hospital the Premier, Morris Iemma, announced, in the presence of Bernie Banton, a tireless asbestos campaigner and a victim of asbestos-related disease, the construction of a $6.9 million laboratory at the hospital to research asbestos-related diseases. The state-of-the-art facility will be located adjacent to the Anzac Research Institute and will conduct clinical research into more effective treatment, early diagnosis and increased life expectancy for sufferers. Asbestos was a common building material for decades, and it is still present in many thousands of homes and other buildings around New South Wales. Each year another 350 new cases of asbestos-related disease are diagnosed in New South Wales, even though the widespread use of asbestos in New South Wales ceased in the 1980s. It is expected to be 30 years before the number of new cases starts to fall.
The construction of a research institute is a practical and compassionate initiative to help alleviate suffering, find better treatments and work on early diagnosis. It is anticipated that the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute will focus initially on developing non-invasive blood tests for asbestos-related cancers, establishing the biological role of potential new co-carcinogens in the development of asbestos-related cancers, and increasing life expectancy and the more efficient and effective use of health resources. New South Wales government agencies also have an important leadership role to play in ensuring compliance with their obligations when asbestos is discovered or disturbed during capital works upgrades.
Australia has one of the highest rates of asbestos-induced diseases in the world, and New South Wales has the highest number of cases in Australia. Asbestos was used widely throughout the last century, particularly in manufacturing, building, construction and refinery processes. A new charitable foundation will be established to operate the new research institute. I thank Russ Collison and Nick Allen from the Australian Workers Union, Paul Bastion from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and Andrew Ferguson from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union for their work on and commitment to this issue.
The Iemma Government's commitment to upholding the highest standards in a quality learning environment is certainly evident in schools within my electorate. The New South Wales Government has a proud history of providing the best possible education for our children, resulting in some of the highest leading benchmarks in the world. One of the keys to our success is our commitment to providing the best possible learning environment, coupled with highly trained teachers, the teaching of a robust curriculum and capital investment. That commitment is evident in the $10.1 billion that will be spent on education and training in New South Wales in this financial year alone. Drummoyne schools have been the big winners from this commitment. We have received close to $1.3 million in capital works grants in the past six months, with more to come.
Some $218,907 has been allocated to 11 public schools to provide proper support programs for students with special needs. Schools can use those funds for extra teacher time, to employ teachers' aides, or for additional training to assist their staff. An increasing number of students with disabilities are seeking enrolment in regular classes in regular schools. I am committed to meeting the needs of all students with disabilities. Unlike the Liberal Government, which shut two local schools in my electorate—Drummoyne Public High School and Lucas Gardens Disability School—during its last term in government, the Iemma Government continues to provide capital investment to my local public schools.
The projects include $150,000 for a toilet upgrade at Concord Public School, $134,280 for a security fence and $415,000 for lift installation at Concord High School, $60,000 for an upgrade of the school entrance and signage at Five Dock Public School, $50,000 for a covered outdoor living area at Mortlake Public School, $100,000 for a library and administration office upgrade at Drummoyne Public School and $30,000 for a site development plan at Dobroyd Public School. I am delighted that work on those important projects has begun at schools in Drummoyne. However, I will continue to identify school capital works requiring funding and lobby the Minister for Education and Training to secure those funds for our local school students. I look forward to further funding in the upcoming budget.
Madam ACTING-SPEAKER (Ms Marie Andrews): Order! There is too much noise on the Opposition benches.
Ms ANGELA D'AMORE: The Iemma Government is also meeting its commitments to catholic school education. I was extremely pleased to receive confirmation from the Minister for Education and Training of provision of assistance under the State Government's School Building Interest Subsidy Scheme to All Hallows Catholic Primary School, Five Dock, which will be provided with subsidies totalling up to $800,000 to meet the construction of two activity areas, administration and staff facilities, and storage areas. I commend the principal, Lea De Angelis, and staff for their outstanding work in educating our local children.
Recently Domremy College, Five Dock, received more than $21,000 from the New South Wales Government under the scheme for the refurbishment of the main building, senior block and science laboratories. I thank the principal, Mrs Vicki Lavorato, for her contribution to this wonderful Catholic girls school. I was able to inspect the upgrades at the Mother's Day Mass I attended on Friday 12 May at the school. The interest subsidy scheme is vital to our local Catholic schools to assist in funding approved capital works to provide increased places and associated buildings.
Madam ACTING-SPEAKER (Ms Marie Andrews): Order! There is too much noise on the Opposition benches. Opposition members will have an opportunity to contribute to the debate at a later stage.
Ms ANGELA D'AMORE: An additional 11 teaching places have been created, and three new classrooms built in the Drummoyne electorate as part of the Iemma Government's landmark class size reduction program. Schools to receive the new classrooms are Concord West Public School and Strathfield North. In 2003 the New South Wales Government pledged to reduce class sizes for kindergarten, year 1 and year 2, to ensure that our youngest students get the highest standard of education.
The Iemma Government's class size reduction program represents a $650 million investment in the State's public education system. Our children have been given a head start in life as a result of that initiative. The first three years of school are very precious, with children learning fundamental skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic. For decades to come, the community will benefit from this significant investment in the early years of schooling. Giving our children a head start is the best possible investment we can make. The feedback I am receiving from teachers, parents and principals is that the reduced class sizes are improving classroom morale, education standards and the care that each student receives.
Recently the Premier announced funding of $80 million to create 10 new dedicated trade schools with school-based apprenticeships and traineeships for Higher School Certificate students. It is a well-known fact that our economy is facing skills shortages in groups such as carpenters, chefs, automotive technicians, sheet metal workers and aged care workers. Our local schools can play a vital role in making sure that we have a skilled work force in those fields. The trade schools will be attached to existing high schools and TAFE colleges, and will allow students to take part in school-based apprenticeships or higher-level training while completing their Higher School Certificate. That means that New South Wales will have job-ready graduates available more quickly to work in areas in which there are key shortages. That will build on the Government's existing support of apprenticeships and traineeships in New South Wales.
This year EnergyAustralia welcomed 144 new apprentices at Homebush in my electorate. Residents from the inner west are part of the largest intake of apprentices ever for that company. We are facing a severe skills shortage in trades right across the country, and it is great to have EnergyAustralia plugging the skills gap by employing and training our young people. Apprenticeships are a great way for young people to learn new skills and develop long-term careers. Local workers will be employed in frontline services, such as power pole and electrical wires maintenance. The apprentices will have the opportunity to train as line workers, electricians, cable joiners, motor mechanics and vehicle body builders. It is a great opportunity for young people to be part of a leading company in a growing industry, and to continue to do their region proud.
I was pleased to attend the intake of apprentices at Homebush only a few weeks ago. I welcomed local apprentices Chad McCullum from Haberfield, Daniel McRimmo and Sergei Zaitzev from Ashfield, and we were able to witness first-hand training sessions and a demonstration of the nature of work and safety procedures. Special thanks go to the managing director of EnergyAustralia, Mr George Maltabarow; the technical trainer, Mr Aaron Carter; and Mr Anthony O'Brien. At Rhodes in my electorate, we also have the Corporate Partners for Change Program, which is an initiative of the office of the Minister for Western Sydney, in partnership with the Department of Education and Training, the Electro Skills Centre and the Electro Group, industry, the unions and the community.
Training funds are provided by the New South Wales Department of Education and Training. Graduates are employed in electrical trades, disability work, business administration, aged care and nursing, and child care, thereby helping employers to meet a growing demand for skilled staff. In May this year the Minister for Western Sydney and I visited a group of apprentices who had begun the electrical trades course under the Corporate Partners for Change Program, which has launched careers for more than 460 people in a variety of industries. In the past seven years the Rhodes Electro Skills Centre has hosted 12 courses for over 150 Western Sydney young people. I acknowledge Norm Cahill from the Electro Group for his commitment to the program.
Almost 120 graduates have been employed in the industry as a direct result of the program, which is an outstanding result for an industry that is facing real skills shortages. The program has a remarkable 80 per cent employment success rate due to its strong link with companies that have helped to design the training content and offer real job opportunities. The program also has the strong involvement and backing of the Electrical Trades Union. The training and on-the-job work experience ensures that graduates have high prospects for jobs with corporate partner employers who need skilled workers. The corporate partner, the Electro Group, has helped to design the training and to select students for the current program. The company is a host employer which contracts out successful graduates to other partners including Integral Energy, EnergyAustralia, Agility Services, Sydney Water, O'Donnell Griffin, K. R. Sheathers, FDC Technologies and the Rail Infrastructure Corporation. I look forward to attending many more graduations.
There are many stories in my local area of residents requiring home and community care services such as Meals on Wheels, domestic assistance and transport. The Lieutenant-Governor referred to the Iemma Government's strong commitment to providing $178 million to facilitate the provision of such services. In New South Wales there are 178,000 vulnerable people with a disability, as well as the frail aged and their carers. The frail aged and people with a disability in my electorate will benefit following the release of $90,000 for local home care services. Under the recurrent growth funding for the Home and Community Care [HACC] State plan, some agencies will be able to do more to help the most vulnerable in my local community.
The Wesley Home Maintenance and Modification Service has received $50,000 to make people's houses safer through the installation of equipment, such as railings and hoists, and the Uniting Church of Australia in New South Wales has received $40,000 to provide social support services. The extra funding will ensure that those organisations are able to deliver as much assistance as possible to frail older people and people with a disability in my electorate. This program helps to create caring communities and fulfil the wishes of all New South Wales residents, as well as people with a disability who are increasingly seeking to live as independently as possible while maintaining a good quality of life. The program includes $9.8 million in recurrent growth funding to enable 199 HACC service providers to improve the level of support they are able to offer across the State. This represents an increase of 11.8 per cent over the 2004-05 budget and a four-year enhancement of $221 million.
His Excellency referred to the Government's commitment to securing the State's water supply, which is an important issue for our local communities. A detailed plan by the Iemma Government to secure this State's vital water resources, including a massive increase in water recycling, is welcomed. I welcomed a visit from the Minister for Water Utilities to one local school in my electorate, the Abbotsford Public School, which recently installed a rainwater tank. Since the Rainwater Tanks in Schools Rebate Program began in April 2004, 82 schools have installed rainwater tanks.
Mr David Campbell: And what a fine public school it is.
Ms ANGELA D'AMORE: The Minister is right. Schools have received $200,000 in rebates and are helping to save 17 million litres of water a year.
The Leader of The Nationals should be ashamed of himself.
Mrs Shelley Hancock: He isn't.
Ms ANGELA D'AMORE: The Leader of The Nationals can speak for himself. He does not need a woman speaking for him. The Government is giving schools across Sydney additional help to install rainwater tanks as a practical way of saving precious drinking water and teaching students how to use water wisely. During the past four months an additional 45 schools have received rebates of up to $2,500 for installing rainwater tanks. Recent changes to the program have helped more schools to install tanks. The Rainwater Tanks in Schools Program is part of the Government's plan to help to save more than 145 billion litres of water a year. [Extension of time agreed to.]
I encourage as many schools and householders as possible to take part in the rebate program to help to ensure the long-term security of our water supply. I am pleased to note that the Russell Lea Infants School was one of the first sites in the electorate of Drummoyne to install a rainwater tank. I also note that only two weeks ago the school celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary. I took great pleasure in officially opening the school's fete on 13 May. The school is one of the few remaining infants schools in the State. I extend my congratulations to the principal, Lesley Pike, who recently celebrated her thirtieth anniversary as a teacher and principal at this wonderful local school. What a marvellous achievement! The people of the Drummoyne electorate have done a great job in helping to save more than 150 billion litres of water over the past two years. In the suburbs of Haberfield, Drummoyne, Concord and Five Dock, to name a few suburbs that have received pipe upgrades in the Drummoyne electorate, 2,150 metres of pipes will be replaced through a capital investment of $1.2 million by the State Government. That upgrade will mean a more reliable network of pipes throughout the electorate and less water lost from leaks.
The electorate of Drummoyne has enjoyed a housing building boom due to industry being moved from our wonderful foreshore and given back to our local community. Since July 2004 all new homes and community estates have been required to implement the building sustainable index program, which ensures that each new home that is constructed will reduce mains water use by 40 per cent and greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent. People are free to choose how they meet the target. They may install a combination of rainwater tanks, dual-flush toilets or water efficient shower heads and fittings. I certainly welcome the implementation of programs that encourage recycling and effective water usage, rather than wastage.
I commend the Lieutenant-Governor for highlighting in his speech the State Government's challenge in the High Court to the Commonwealth's WorkChoices laws. The battle the New South Wales Government is currently engaged in with the Howard Government over the Federal Government's radical workplace changes is the most important battle since Federation. At stake is our social fabric, which is based on the principle of the fair go, and the lifestyle and living standards of millions of Australian workers and their families. For the first time in our history, we risk delivering a workplace to our children that is in worse shape than the one we inherited. The New South Wales Government is taking a stand of behalf of New South Wales workers and their families because John Howard's ideological crusade will reduce the level of real wages through the low pay commission; remove penalty rates, shift loadings, holiday leave and other entitlements; remove protection against unfair dismissal; remove protections for vulnerable workers, including protection from exploitative arrangements; and severely limit the independent role of the Industrial Relations Commission and its exercise of broad dispute-settling powers.
That is why the Iemma Government initiated a High Court challenge against the WorkChoices laws. We have now been followed by all the other States and Territories, as well as unions in New South Wales and Queensland. We are united in our opposition to those laws. We believe that they are bad laws not only in their operation and effect but also because they are invalid and not permitted by the Constitution of this country. The ultimate opposition to WorkChoices is the High Court challenge initiated by the New South Wales Government.
For more than a century national industrial relations laws have been based on the constitutional power intended for that purpose. The interaction of the State and Federal industrial relations systems has given this country a system of fair, sustainable and productivity enhancing awards and agreements. Awards and agreements are made to fit the needs of the industry or occupation with which they are concerned. This is to be contrasted with the one-size-fits-all approach inherent in the establishment of five minimum conditions in the Howard Government's WorkChoices legislation.
The New South Wales Government is represented by a high-powered legal team that will argue that the corporations' power cannot be read in such a way as to support the WorkChoices legislation. A decision is expected at the end of this year. Many nurses from the private sector have approached me because they are concerned that, under WorkChoices, achieving wages and conditions parity with public sector nurses in our public hospitals will be almost impossible if the State Government loses its ability to negotiate public hospital nurses terms and conditions. Yesterday I saw an article stating that child care workers are being paid up to $313 a week less than they were promised just two months ago. Operators of Childs Family Kindergarten, which runs 37 centres across New South Wales, are offering employees contracts that cut between $138 and $313 from their weekly pay, as the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union President, Mr Jim Lloyd, has said.
It was only two months ago that almost 15,000 child care workers won a minimum pay increase of $86 per week after the Industrial Relations Commission found that the pay of workers in the female dominated industry was undervalued. New Federal workplace laws are allowing employers such as private sector child care operators to offer Australian Workplace Agreements, deny child care workers pay increases, and remove sick leave entitlements, rest breaks, annual leave loading, supervisor allowances, first aid allowances and overtime provisions.
My experience with the Office of the Employment Advocate is that it is a joke; it is simply a rubber stamp to lower workers' terms and conditions of employment by effectively lowering the principles of the no-detriment test of the State Industrial Relations Commission when determining awards and enterprise agreements. I say this with great confidence, as I negotiated many enterprise agreements on behalf of nurses. I understand the system well as I worked within its parameters for many years. In his Opening Speech the Lieutenant-Governor also outlined the Government's achievement in announcing 11 tax cuts in nine months.
Mr Andrew Stoner: Point of order: The standing orders provide that members may refer to copious notes but should not read from a prepared speech.
Madam ACTING-SPEAKER (Ms Marie Andrews): Order! There is no point of order.
Madam ACTING-SPEAKER (Ms Marie Andrews): Order! The Leader of The Nationals will resume his seat. He will have an opportunity to contribute to the debate at the appropriate time.
Madam ACTING-SPEAKER (Ms Marie Andrews): Order! The Leader of The Nationals will resume his seat. The honourable member for Drummoyne may continue.
Ms ANGELA D'AMORE: In August 2005 Premier Iemma announced the abolition of the 2.5 per cent vendor duty tax. He made that announcement at Breakfast Point, in the electorate of Drummoyne, and I thank him for that. That was a welcomed tax cut after months of lobbying by many Labor backbenchers, including myself. Residents and investors had told me that the tax was a handbrake on the economy and a burden on first home buyers and small investors.
The second welcomed announcement by the Iemma Government was the reinstatement of a tax-free threshold of $352,000 in relation to land tax. That legislation will mean that 2,334 fewer properties will be liable for land tax in the Canada Bay local government area. That is great news for thousands of mum and dad investors who have made modest investments in properties. It provided a further $53 million in land tax relief to New South Wales residents.
The seat of Drummoyne has an extensive small business sector with the Victoria Road-Lyons Road shopping strip at Drummoyne; the Great North Road, Five Dock, shopping strip; the shopping strip of Majors Bay Road, Concord; Ramsey Road, Haberfield; and the newly built Rhodes Shopping Centre. The 15 per cent reduction to workers compensation premiums by the Iemma Government was welcomed by many small businesses in my local area. It means that 250,000 employers in New South Wales will share in a $290 million reduction in premiums per year, with 92 per cent of New South Wales employers now protected from an increase in their workers compensation premiums. This shows that the Iemma Government is working hard to reduce the cost of doing business in New South Wales.
Recently I attended a business dialogue luncheon with the Minister for Small Business. Many small businesses have complemented the State Government on reducing workers compensation premiums. They could see the benefits. The directors of the IGA Supermarket at Breakfast Point, Tim Prichard and Richard Barkus, who provide employment for 70 people, were more than happy to welcome this announcement on site on 29 March 2006 with the Minister for Commerce, John Della Bosca, and Premier Iemma. Businesses such as the IGA Supermarket at Breakfast Point will see a benefit to their bottom line with the reduction in workers compensation premiums. The New South Wales scheme has a target premium collection of 2.17 per cent of wages, which makes it the third-lowest of the eight State and Territory jurisdictions.
In late March 2006 the New South Wales Government and Clubs New South Wales agreed to new gaming tax rates to apply to poker machine revenue in clubs between 2006-07 and 2011-12. That arrangement will assist many of my local clubs, such as Five Dock RSL and Concord RSL. The Drummoyne Sailing Club Manager, Ben De Graf, had on many occasions brought his concerns in relation to the poker machine tax to my attention and is a strong advocate on behalf of the Drummoyne Sailing Club membership. He has certainly welcomed this announcement.
I thank also the General Manager of Canada Bay Club, Nabel Scrawan, for sending a letter to the club's membership welcoming the reduction in poker machine tax. Under that package, clubs with a poker machine profit of $l million or less will now pay no poker machine tax, which I think is a great victory for our smaller community clubs. That means that nine clubs in the seat of Drummoyne can now earn up to $l million in poker machine revenue and not pay a cent in tax. That tax cut can now be reinvested in member services and facilities.
The Inner West Community Cabinet held an afternoon tea at Drummoyne Rowing Club on Wednesday March 21 2006, where the Premier and Cabinet Ministers were able to meet and greet more than 80 members of my local community. It is my understanding that that was the first time that residents in the seat of Drummoyne had had such an opportunity, and I thank Cabinet for agreeing to my request. It is very important to me that my local residents have access to Government Ministers, which allows them to raise issues that are important to them. It is part of responsible government to hear at first-hand of concerns and issues from everyday people. My residents told me that was the first time they had had such access to government and how much they enjoyed the afternoon. I thank Molly Wark and Professor Christine Deer for attending the afternoon tea and for their kind words.
The Cabinet meeting also gave us the opportunity to honour and recognise two members of our local community with the Premier's Community Service Award. The Premier presented Mr Rusty Priest, OM, with the award for his tireless work with the veterans' community, and Dr Kritharides was honoured for his groundbreaking research on cardiovascular disease at Concord hospital. I extend my thanks on behalf of the Cabinet and my local community to the General Manager, Mr Lew Gemell, and the President, Mr Jeff Andrews, of Drummoyne Rowing Club for their hospitality.
The last point I wish to touch on is the GST distribution by the Federal Government to the people of New South Wales. We all know that the people of New South Wales are being ripped off by the Federal Government to the tune of $3 billion each year. Image what New South Wales could do with the additional $3 billion we pay every year! But it is not returned to us. We could, for example, improve and increase public transport, an issue that is frequently raised by local residents—and so it should be. We could halve land tax, provide more incentives to cut payroll tax and bring a lot of our capital projects forward. That would benefit every member of this Chamber, whether Labor, Liberal or Independent. It is sad that members opposite do not realise that. The Federal Government has kept this money, and it has hit the public a second time at the cost of State grants by forcing everyone to pay GST.
I turn now to the New South Wales Government's record. New South Wales continues to cut taxes, but the Federal Government continues to increase them. The simple fact is that the Iemma Government has abolished more taxes, although the Federal Government continues to short-change us by $3 billion in GST revenue. That tax rip-off allows Howard and Costello to create an illusion of economic management, but that is not the reality. Their budget surplus hides a legacy of missed opportunity and stalled reform, particularly in the areas of roads and public transport.
John Howard and Peter Costello take more tax from average families than they need and then force those families to line up and hold out their hand to get some back. We have a Federal taxation system that puts everybody on welfare. The Family Payments system, in particular, is a disgrace. The Liberal Party talks about low taxes, small government and dignity for average families, but it has created a massive bureaucracy devoted to making all families welfare dependent. Businesses battle through thousands of pages of tax regulation. Real tax reform requires the Federal Government to take responsibility for taxation, not hide from it. I commend the motion to the House.
Mr ANDREW STONER (Oxley—Leader of The Nationals) [8.30 p.m.]: It is a pleasure to be given an opportunity to speak on the occasion of the sesquicentenary of the New South Wales Parliament. We have come a long way since 1856, which was when the people of New South Wales elected their first Parliament under what is said to be a system of responsible government. Some of the first steps to Australia's foundation took place right here in New South Wales. Once the Constitution was drawn up for this Parliament, increasing the authority of what was then the colony of New South Wales, we were well on our way towards implementing the great ideals of democracy and putting them into place to decide upon our own affairs.
In this Parliament today we stand at the historic heart of Australian self-determination. The ability of Australians to help themselves, rather than rely on the goodwill of others, is a value that stands strong in this country today. Some might argue that in the past and in the present there is no more important place in New South Wales than this House, as this is where decisions are made for the people of this State to live by. It is a privilege to be part of this proud process and I look forward to being part of it for a long time to come.
I state for the benefit of future generations who might read this speech Hansard that it is an honour and a privilege to be a member of the New South Wales Parliament representing the electorate of Oxley. With its pristine beaches and outgoing people, Oxley is the premier electorate in what was once the premier State. I add that by this time next year Oxley will have been demoted. It will no longer be the premier electorate; rather it will be the deputy premier's electorate in a Debnam-Stoner government. We will again make New South Wales the premier State of Australia. Looking back, 150 years is a long time. Over that time this House has certainly seen its fair share of fine representatives.
As the Leader of The Nationals, it is appropriate that I take this opportunity to remember the fine contributions that country-based members, particularly the Country Party, the National Country Party and Nationals members, have made to this House. Since its formation in 1922, this great party has fought to protect the interests of rural and regional Australia. While the world has changed significantly in the subsequent 84 years, The Nationals' reason for being has not. We formed as the coming together of a loose coalition of country Independents who realised that they could best deliver for their communities by working as a team. It is only with a united front that we can apply the sustained pressure needed on a Sydney-centric administration to achieve real and long-lasting results. Honourable members should reflect on the words of our first leader, Sir Michael Bruxner, who said:
This Party was the only one which had grown from a policy; all the others had built up organisations and looked for a policy.
Its policy was to look after and better the interests of country New South Wales. Sir Michael also set a high benchmark for the party, one that is equally as applicable in 2006 as it was in 1926. He said:
We are one of the fortunate peoples on God's earth. We have the most wonderful country and climate and it will be our own fault if we do not keep it worthwhile.
I am often asked, as are all members of Parliament, why I entered public life. I think these words offer as good an answer as any. New South Welshmen and Welshwomen are amongst the most fortunate in the world. We enjoy economic prosperity, freedom from tyranny and war, a natural environment that is second to none, and a healthy and vibrant democracy. When I was growing up my father told me, "Andrew, this is the best country in the world." He had trained in Canada and fought during the Second World War in bomber crews in Europe, in North Africa and also in Burma. He had travelled extensively, so he was well placed to make that comment.
I firmly believe that we in New South Wales live in the best part of the best country in the world. The Nationals in New South Wales will fight for this generation and for future generations to protect our great blessing. By doing so we confront a number of challenges. I said earlier that The Nationals have always rallied against a Sydney-centric view in government. Over time we have certainly had our challenges. Speaking generally we must recognise the nature of representing constituents in places so far removed from the halls of Macquarie Street. The lengthy time travelling on unsafe roads and extended time away from family made representing the country a very tough task indeed.
However, The Nationals members always knew that it was a worthwhile task to take the bush to the city. Our party has always been prepared to make those sacrifices. Thankfully, advances in technology have made distance and time less of an issue than they were in the early years of the Country Party and subsequently the National Country Party, the National Party and The Nationals. But things can still be tough. Just as our earlier members showed the way, our current team relishes the job and looks at these challenges as an opportunity. If the challenge of being in two places at once—in Sydney and back home in the country—is an issue for us, we know it is something we need to do to save our core constituencies from having to do it, and we will fight hard to do this to the best of our ability.
I will now refer to some specific challenges that we have faced over time and that we will continue to face. One notable fight was against the electoral legislative changes rammed through in 1979 by Labor Premier Neville Wran. Those changes abolished the weighting of rural electorates where the maximum permitted variation from the quota was fixed at 10 per cent. That change was put in place to disadvantage the only party that truly stood for country New South Wales and, in doing so, it made the battle to represent rural and regional New South Wales all the harder. Country members are forced to represent large areas and towns and cities that often share little in common.
One example is the electorate of Murray-Darling, which I visited just recently for AgFair in Broken Hill and a number of other events. That huge electorate encompasses the predominantly mining town of Broken Hill but also agricultural towns such as Wentworth and Bourke. There are clear challenges in representing such diverse constituencies. Ultimately, it is to the detriment of the communities that comprise rural New South Wales, who find it more difficult to access their parliamentary representatives than do people living in compact, accessible city electorates.
Unfortunately, it is evident from the Lieutenant-Governor's Speech on Monday that little has changed under the current Labor administration. Non-metropolitan New South Wales continues to be overlooked and ignored by this Labor Government. The Lieutenant-Governor talked about the need to pay attention to the needs and growth of Newcastle, Wollongong, Gosford, Parramatta, Liverpool and Penrith, but he neglected to mention some of the fastest growing regions of New South Wales, including the beautiful North Coast and towns such as Tweed Heads, Lismore, Ballina, Byron Bay, Nambucca Heads in my electorate, Hastings and Port Macquarie, not to mention the South Coast, where growth is also strong and the challenges of growth are equally important.
The myopic outlook that is so typical of the Sydney-centric administration only serves to entrench the idea that NSW stands for Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong in the eyes of this Labor Government. This is a theme that plays out far too often in this Government's policies. It continually overlooks and ignores the issues in rural and regional Australia. That is why The Nationals strongly oppose Labor's rushed fire sale of Snowy Hydro Limited. The Snowy scheme was visionary for its time. It involved a massive infrastructure investment that has paid off for subsequent generations and is set to pay off for many more to come. The scheme was built with blood, sweat and tears—indeed, 130 or more workers died during its construction. The scheme controls the management of water as well as peak power in this great State of New South Wales.
Some country-based Government members who call themselves Country Labor members have made some disingenuous remarks about the sale of Snowy Hydro. For example, the honourable member for Monaro says in his electorate that he is not in favour of the privatisation of Snowy Hydro Limited. However, when given the opportunity in this place to oppose or halt the sale pending the outcome of the parliamentary inquiry The Nationals established, he has consistently failed to do so. He has not crossed the floor; he has voted with his Sydney-centric colleagues.
Today the honourable member for Monaro said on the 8.30 a.m. news on ABC Radio South East that although he professes to oppose the sale he has registered to receive a copy of the prospectus and is considering buying shares in the company. Country people do not want to hear that from someone who represents them and their interests. The honourable member for Monaro said earlier today by way of personal explanation that he would definitely not buy shares. But during the 8.30 a.m. news on ABC Radio South East he said:
From my point of view for someone who is so vehemently opposed to selling the thing, I guess I'm not sure whether I'll end up buying shares or not, but that's a decision that everyone should make for themselves.
That is about as clear as porridge. Is the honourable member for or against the sale? If he intends to obtain the prospectus and is considering buying shares, he must not be too opposed to it. He continued:
But there's a lot of people in the community who have said to me "I don't want you to sell Snowy Hydro, but if it's sold I'm interested in buying shares" and that's a perfectly legitimate decision for people to make.
The honourable member for Monaro has failed to make good on the promises he has made in his electorate and to vote against the sale of Snowy Hydro Limited in this place, but he is interested in purchasing shares in the company. He is trying to spin his way out of trouble. If he sits on the fence for much longer he will surely do himself a damage. In representing country New South Wales The Nationals are absolutely opposed to the rushed fire sale of Snowy Hydro Limited. The Government is supporting the sale for all the wrong reasons. Its support has to do with the budget crisis of the Government's own making and its inability to control expenditure in this State. The sale of a great income-producing asset such as the Snowy Hydro scheme would be a travesty.
But, as I have said before in this House, what can we expect from a Government that takes its lead from the six o'clock news? Do we need to force regional issues onto the Premier's Sydney television set before he will sit up and take notice? Last week I launched a petition calling for more police in regional New South Wales. Law and order is a major issue confronting country New South Wales. In April this year a University of New England academic, Professor Kerry Carrington, published a book entitled Policing the Rural Crisis. She found that rural communities have rates of violent crime that are well in excess of the State average. This research comes on top of anecdotal evidence that country members hear every day from their constituents.
The great irony is that against this backdrop of increasing crime, the Labor Government has cut police numbers in country areas. Since 2003 more than 600 police have been cut from police stations across New South Wales, and more than half of those cuts have been made in police stations outside Sydney—even though country areas constitute only one-third of the State. Clearly, rural and regional New South Wales are being forced to pay for the Iemma Labor Government's financial mismanagement and looming budget crisis. But of course the Government's neglect of regional New South Wales is not limited to policing. If the Premier and his Ministers took the time to travel within the State rather than abroad they would realise that there is a health crisis across New South Wales. And no-one is feeling this more than our country hospitals.
As recently as March, hospitals such as Kempsey in my electorate of Oxley had a waiting list of more than 254 people. However, this outrageous figure was dwarfed by the waiting lists of 1,238 at Lismore hospital and 1,707 at Coffs Harbour hospital. These unfortunate results were delivered by a party that rode to power on the back of a commitment to halve hospital waiting lists. Whilst the current Premier governs by, and for, his political base in Western Sydney and continues to distance himself in the media from the failings of his predecessor in this area, all of us in this place know that he cannot escape the failures in Health because he was the Minister for Health from April 2003 until he became Premier.
Another area of neglect is country roads. Roads and Traffic Authority statistics reveal that more than 60 per cent of road fatalities occur on country roads. There must be an improvement there. We can begin by spending more on capital works and less on a bloated bureaucracy that has removed itself from its core business of building new roads. Unfortunately, according to a document leaked from the Treasurer's Office, the recent commitment by the Minister for Roads to finally install flashing lights in school zones across New South Wales will be met at the expense of capital works on roads elsewhere in the State. That is an absolute disgrace. The Government should find new money to fund the installation of flashing lights in school zones. That work cannot take place at the expense of improvement to existing roads, particularly country highways, on which too many people are dying.
As Leader of The Nationals I give my word to country and coastal New South Wales that a Nationals-Liberal Coalition government will ensure that NSW stands not just for Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong but for all of the State. Under a Debnam-Stoner government NSW will stand for Narrabri, Southern Highlands and Wilcannia; Nambucca, the Snowy and Wagga Wagga; Narrandera, Scone and Wellington—and everywhere in between. Using where I stand in this Chamber today on Sydney's Macquarie Street as a starting point, I promise that NSW will stand for North Coast, South Coast and west of the divide, as there is more to New South Wales than just Sydney.
Last year Deakin University undertook a measure of the personal wellbeing of Australians. It was attempting to test the idea that quality of life cannot be summed up simply by looking at our bank balances. It discovered what members of The Nationals already know. The study concluded that wellbeing is not just based on economics, and that more money will not necessarily make us happier. Furthermore, population density and wellbeing are inversely related. More often than not, people in country towns and regional centres can be happier than those in the big cities. What really drives wellbeing is the sense of community and relationships throughout country New South Wales. This involves how we communicate and connect with our families, friends and neighbours.
Deakin University discovered what any member of The Nationals could have told its researchers. We live in and represent country and coastal New South Wales because we love it. We know that towns like Narrandera, Lismore and Kempsey are strong, vibrant communities that offer a good environment in which to raise families and educate our children. We enjoy a friendly place in which to work, live and run our businesses. We all live in great regional communities. We know they are great, and we will continue to fight Sydney-centric governments to keep them that way.
Mrs SHELLEY HANCOCK (South Coast) [8.50 p.m.]: I respond to the Speech of the Lieutenant-Governor that was delivered as part of the sesquicentenary celebrations of this Parliament to a joint sitting of Parliament last Monday. I was, to say the least, disappointed with the Speech—and I do not in any way blame the Lieutenant-Governor since he was obviously directed by the Government to deliver it. I gather from comments of my colleagues that that is exactly what happens each time such an event occurs. But it was obviously a Speech not befitting a sesquicentenary. I would have preferred to hear a lot more about the history and richness of the colony and how we have emerged from the early days.
However, the Speech was full of lies and spin and so typical of the way this Labor Government is desperately trying to deceive the people of New South Wales, and convince them that it should be given another chance for another reign of terror for another four years. I can tell you, Mr Deputy-Speaker, the people of the South Coast will not believe a word if they read the Speech because they are fed up with this Government. I am sure they are typical of people throughout New South Wales who watch the desperate antics of this Government on television every night trying to cover its tracks and to cover up its budget black holes, but they too have had enough. I turn now specifically to the Speech delivered by the Lieutenant-Governor, in particular, the paragraph headed "Ports, rail and other infrastructure" which, amongst other things, states:
The first of more than 730 new air-conditioned rail carriages will enter service this year.
The Speech continues:
The new carriages will consolidate the success of new rail timetables, which have seen greatly increased levels of reliability in the rail system …
That is not the way the residents of the South Coast see either the reliability or the success of the new timetables, or anything else to do with the South Coast rail system. I have received so many letters over so many years about the problems. Recently I received a letter from a constituent, Mrs Gregory of Mollymook, who travels fairly regularly to Sydney, and records her trip in diary form. She sent a record of two days to me. In relation to airconditioning and reliability referred to in the Speech, she wrote:
1. Wednesday 3 May 2006
8.10am train from Bomaderry to Central
By Kiama, due at 8.38am, the two carriage rail motor was full.
By Oak Flats, the aisle was packed with standing commuters.
At Dapto, we had to leave the rail motor and board another train to the city. It was a four carriage train which immediately filled. There were further pick-ups en route.
At Hurstville where I alighted, the train was 12 minutes late.
"Not very late", you mutter. Had I relied on a connecting bus at 11.47am, I wouldn't have caught it (if it were on time!). That would have meant standing in the street till 12.17pm after being on the move since boarding a coach at 6.50am. However, I was met but my friend had to park in limited parking for 12 extra minutes.
There are only a few trains that commuters from Bomaderry can catch to reach the city of Sydney by lunch time. Surely you could increase the number of carriages of the rail motor and increase the carriages on the train from Dapto to Central.
She wrote about her next experience:
2. Tuesday 16 May 2006
3.38pm train from Central to Bomaderry
I was in the second of four carriages, carriage number 9172.
It was hot—
It was 16 May but it was hot—
By Hurstville, other commuters had removed clothing. (There is a limit to what can be removed with decency!!!) The windows had begun to fog up. People were wiping their brows and fanning themselves.
As we approached Sutherland, I told some nearby passengers I'd see if the guard's compartment was in the carriage. It wasn't. Some passengers joked about the free sauna. A teenage boy who was alighting, said he'd speak with the guard. I jumped off at Sutherland and hastily spoke to the station assistant and asked him to speak with the guard or driver. Another passenger walked through to where the guard was and was told it was the same temperature for the entire train.
Thus we sweltered all the way to Kiama where I handed a scribbled note to the station master asking that a complaint be logged. He briefly joked but there was no time for any discussion as the motor service was awaiting departure.
I didn't have a thermometer, I guess the temperature was about 40 degrees Celsius.
I appreciated the near A4 size logic puzzle book as it became a fan.
The serious side to this is the effect the high temperature could have had on the elderly passengers. Many appeared to be asleep. I tried to observe some nearby elderly women in case they needed medical attention. Fortunately for you, that wasn't necessary on the train …
I handed in at Kiama, then you need to ascertain where this rolling stock is today, check it and withdrew it from service immediately so other commuters don't have to endure what we endured yesterday.
That letter was sent to the Minister for Transport. Mrs Gregory has written before and I am sure the response to her concern will be the same response that I get every time I write on behalf of my constituents_that is, one that talks about the amount of investment by this Government in rail infrastructure, the Bondi turnback and airconditioned coaches. The letters never ever address the specific concerns of people such as Mrs Gregory of Mollymook.
So much for comfort and reliability: it is simply a lie and does not occur on the trains of the South Coast. Earlier I referred to the hundreds of letter I receive. Now, long after the new timetable, people have to endure longer travel to Sydney, packed rail carriages because there are less of them, and no toilet facilities for the entire journey. One elderly Berry lady witnessed three youths who, faced with no toilets on the carriage, simply urinated in the corner of the carriage for all to see, the effect of which the other passengers had to endure for the rest of the journey. That is disgusting on the South Coast rail line.
The new timetable will give us fewer services than ever before; they will be slower and we will have the usual track maintenance, which nobody believes is really for track maintenance at all. We will have buses replacing trains, the elderly struggling to change from train to bus to train, and carriages that are Third World standard. Recently I read, I think in the Sydney Morning Herald, the interesting comments of Geoff Lambert, a timetable expert who found that more trains ran during the Great Depression on the Illawarra line than today. Of course, there were differences and different reasons for that occurring but that underlines the fact that for a long time not much has been done to enhance the South Coast rail line. People are being more and more discouraged from using rail services and that provides justification for the Government to make more cuts to the service. This is the truth. It is not the fact that we have better services, because we do not. I refer to the part of the speech in relation to police and law and order in which the Government's spin says we all have the right to live in safe communities:
The right to live in safe communities—free of fear and the threat of crime—is another fundamental requirement for social wellbeing.
I have spoken before in this place on the issue of police numbers in the Shoalhaven Area Command and how local police are struggling to cope with the rising, not falling, levels of crime—so much for feeling free of fear and having the right to live in safe communities. I now turn to comments of people who live in various towns and villages on the South Coast regarding how safe and how free of fear they feel. A lady from Glebe wrote on behalf of her 87-year-old mother who lives at Culburra Beach. She wrote before to Mr Costa but got an unsatisfactory reply. She wrote again to the Minister for Police and is still awaiting a reply. She said that despite any assurances about what would happen in Culburra Beach:
… the same behaviour is still continuing, mostly on a Friday or Saturday night as it has been for the past 5 years. Large gangs of young boys and girls some apparently as young as 14 or 15 are holding the town to ransom. They are drunk, possibly some also on drugs, they congregate at the beach front near the surf clubhouse or in public spaces, parks, anywhere really: they brawl, play unacceptably loud music, ride wheelie bins, tip rubbish everywhere, use foul language and destroy property. Just last Saturday night in a drunken spree they damaged my mother's letter box, (for probably the 6th time), invaded the yards of residences where they sat drinking, tore down a fence, attacked each other with palings, threw a brick through the window of another elderly woman's home, threw a letter box through another window, broke bottles, damaged road signs and other public notices.
So much for people feeling safe and secure in their communities. And this is the beautiful, quiet Culburra Beach we are talking about. This sort of behaviour has been going on for five years—that is, for five years people at Culburra Beach have been frightened to go outside at night. A resident of Sanctuary Point has written to me about antisocial behaviour there:
Again we need to bring this unpleasant matter to your attention. The last four Fridays have been unbearable, with youths drinking, rampaging, yelling, disturbing the peace. Friday 13 January saw newspapers from the newsagent strewn across a large area.
The writer goes on to talk about:
… the usual drinking and yelling, plus a fire was lit on the actual skate bowl using a ready supply of kindling from adjacent bush.
She went on to talk about:
… drinking, yelling, the "youths" imitating police with a possible megaphone plus some sort of "toy siren". The amount of noise was so loud every neighbour rang the police.
It also woke our young boys, who wanted to know why the "police didn't take the naughty people away". They were crying…
There was also a car in the distance, with the horn beeping monotonously for quite some time. The letter goes on and on. So much for the safety referred to in the Speech of the Lieutenant-Governor about our right to feel safe and secure in our villages. That was Sanctuary Point. I turn to Callala Bay, one of the most beautiful villages in the South Coast area. The writer of this letter talks about the thousands of law-abiding people who have lived happily in the coastal villages of Jervis Bay for many years, but now are in constant fear for the safety of themselves and their property due to growing lawlessness among young thugs, who have literally taken over the streets. The letter continues:
Over many months now teenagers have been roaming the streets from around four in the afternoon …
They have absolutely no regard for anyone else and their aggressive actions have some residents fearing for their lives.
It is not very pleasant for me, as a relatively new member of this place, to receive letters about people living in fear of their lives. And these are just a fairly small selection from the kinds of letters I received. What can I do? I meet regularly with police and ask for an increase in police patrols in the areas. But, at the end of the day, as I have said in this Parliament several times before, it is all about police numbers—whether the Government wants to hear that or not.
Police in the Shoalhaven Local Area Command are now admitting that they are struggling to cope with the rising levels of crime. In 2003, police numbers in the Shoalhaven area command numbered 137. The latest count is 131—6 less than in 2003. The Government's so-called authorised strength—we do not know what that means, or how it is calculated—is 121. Thus it is the Government's intention to reduce by 16 the number of police in the Shoalhaven in 2003. This Government cannot be serious. Nor can it be taken seriously when it announced recently it would recruit an additional 700 or so police. The fact is that the Government increases recruit numbers at election times, then spends the following four years driving down police numbers. I know that, because I watch police numbers carefully, and I watch recruitment numbers carefully, so that I know what is going on and how that affects the police force in my electorate. I do not like seeing headlines as appeared in the South Coast Register entitled "Weekend war zones", with the by-line:
As the State Government moves to further cut police numbers in the Shoalhaven, residents of our coastal communities are living in fear, with many elderly people barricading themselves in their homes. Assaults, brawls and vandalism have become regular occurrences as teenagers run riot, and residents are fed up.
There is more. Every second week there are stories about the kinds of things happening in the most beautiful and pristine villages one could possibly imagine. Another article states:
Every Friday and Saturday night [a lady] locks the doors of her Culburra Beach house as soon as the sun goes down.
The 70-year-old isn't the only resident of the beachside suburb who fears for her life as gangs of youths wander the streets each weekend, vandalising homes and businesses and assaulting anyone who stands in their way.
In no way is this meant to be critical of the Shoalhaven Local Area Command. Anyone who would make such an assertion does not understand the good relationship I continue to have with all of the police officers within the Shoalhaven area command. I meet with them regularly. I know their frustrations. I know they are trying to do the best they can. But the fact is that a centralised model of policing—introduced by Commission Peter Ryan in about 1997—leads to a centralised command, such as in Nowra, about an hour away from some villages. If something serious occurs in a village such as Currarong in the Shoalhaven, it takes a whole hour for police to reach the area.
The response of the Government has been to reduce police numbers at some outlying police stations, such as Culburra, Sussex Inlet and Berry—in the electorate of the honourable member for Kiama. All have suffered a reduction in police numbers. Instead, everything is centred in Nowra. This demonstrates a basic lack of understanding about the geographical challenges of not only the South Coast but the electorate of Bega, and I daresay the electorate of Kiama as well. Police are doing the best they can.
I must refer to one of the most disturbing letters that I have ever read. It appeared just after the Cronulla riots. It disturbed me because I am the mother of a police officer. I worry about my son every day, every shift. Until I know he is home, I worry about his safety. It is natural for a mother to be that way. He does not worry about his safety, because that is the way he is: he is there to do the job, and he loves it. This letter, published in the Daily Telegraph on 14 December, really worries me. It is written by an anonymous police officer. I have to record this in Hansard because I am very disturbed to think that police officers with 17 years service in the force may be feeling this way. The article is entitled "I'm a police officer—and I am scared". I quote from the letter the officer wrote and distributed during the Cronulla riots:
I am a NSW police officer with more than 17 years' experience and I tell you that I am scared.
I am scared to do my job and I don't blame the community for taking the law into their own hands.
In the late '80s when I first joined the police force, I saw how the old school police did things. I agree there was corruption and things had to change—
we would all have to agree with that—
but what the Government, judicial system and ultimately society did to the police force was just disgraceful.
The officer proceeds to talk about how things were done in the old days. I do not condone or agree with some comments people make about policemen giving young people a boot up the backside. That is not a solution. But we do need a solution to help police officers in the field, who really are struggling. I have talked about thugs on the South Coast and how they are terrifying people. This police officer goes on to say:
If we want to move these thugs out of the area, we have a very strict procedure we must follow.
We have to announce our name and place of duty. The thug laughs and starts calling us by our first name.
We have to tell them why they have to move on. We have to warn them that if they fail to move on, they may be arrested. If there is more than one thug, we have to do this to each one.
They tell us they don't speak English, start stating their rights and call their friends by mobile phone to come to the location.
The process we have just started doesn't work with a drunk who wants to argue—it just makes it more confusing.
We have to make detailed notes of the conversation and caution them not to say or do anything in case it incriminates them.
Each time we use a power, we have to tell the hoodlum what it is and why we are doing it.
From the very outset, they have the upper hand and it continues. They have the real power … we have pretend power.
That is a pretty disturbing account from a police officer with 17 years experience. The officer who wrote this letter goes on to talk about the court systems, the local magistrates, the general confusion and frustration he has about his job, and not being permitted to do his job. He wants to arrest people and see them punished for making life miserable for others. He talks about the promotion system, and about management. At the end of his letter he says:
The police out there have poor morale, equipment and training. We aren't united as a team—everyone has their own agenda and we are scared.
We have the weak, ambiguous powers the Government says we have to have and a judicial system that just defies logic.
I totally understand why young men feel they have to take the law into their own hands. I don't trust, and have very little loyalty in the police service and the court system.
That is a sad indictment of the Government's actions of taking away police powers. It is a sad indictment of its disregard for the people and their concerns about police numbers on the South Coast and other areas of rural and regional Australia. I am sick and tired of having to stand in this place and ask for more police. There were 137 in 2003, and it is the Government's stated intention to slash that number to 121. The real number is 104 because on any given day some 30 officers may be off sick or injured.
Debate adjourned on motion by Ms Kristina Keneally.