Wednesday, 13 November 1996
Mr Speaker (The Hon. John Henry Murray) took the chair at 10.00 a.m.
Mr Speaker offered the Prayer.
BOARD OF GOVERNORS OF THE CHARLES STURT UNIVERSITY
Appointment of Representative
Motion by Mr Aquilina agreed to:
That William Harmon Beckroge, member for Broken Hill, be elected as the representative of the Legislative Assembly on the Board of Governors of the Charles Sturt University, in place of Ralph James Clough discharged, in pursuance of the provision of section 9 of the Charles Sturt University Act 1989.
STATUTE LAW (MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS) BILL (No. 2)
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr FACE (Charlestown - Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [10.01], on behalf of Mr Whelan: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The Statute Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill (No. 2) continues the well-established statute law revision program that commenced in 1984. The statute law revision program is recognised by all members as a cost-effective and efficient method of dealing with amendments of the kind included in the bill. The form of the bill is similar to that of previous bills in the statute law revision program. However, this bill includes a schedule of minor amendments that are consequential on the enactment of the Industrial Relations Act 1996. The remaining schedules to the bill are well known.
Schedule 1 contains policy changes of a minor and non-controversial nature that the Minister responsible for the legislation to be amended considers to be too inconsequential to warrant the introduction of a separate amending bill. The schedule contains amendments to 25 Acts and two regulations. I shall mention some to give honourable members an indication of the kind of amendments that are included in the schedule. The amendment to the Energy Services Corporations Act 1995 omits transitional provisions that provide that in any other Act or instrument a reference to Pacific Power extends to a new electricity generator constituted under that Act, and that a reference to a former electricity distributor extends to a new energy distributor. The omission of those provisions will mean that such constructions will not automatically be applicable, but can be achieved by the making of a regulation, where appropriate.
The Freedom of Information Act 1989 is amended as a consequence of the reorganisation of the administration of State public sector superannuation schemes affected by the Superannuation Administration Act 1996. The amendment includes the Axiom Funds Management Corporation in the schedule of exempt bodies in schedule 2 to the Freedom of Information Act 1989, but only in relation to the exercise of investment functions on behalf of trustees of superannuation funds. The bill makes a number of minor amendments to the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. At present, the Director-General of National Parks and Wildlife has the power to authorise a person to harm certain animals or to take certain action in relation to trees or native plants. Such authorisation also authorises the person to do certain things that would otherwise be prohibited by the Act, including discharging a prohibited weapon in a national park or historic site. At present this additional authorisation is limited to acts done in connection with the harming of the animal.
The amendments to section 171 of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 will extend that exemption to cover all acts done in connection with the authorised harming of certain animals, felling of trees or picking of native plants. This amendment will not in any way encourage the use of prohibited weapons in national parks; the intention is merely to rationalise the rights attached to an authorisation. The Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Act 1966 is amended to bring the wording of a recently amended definition into line with authorities issued under the Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Regulation 1994, which is also amended for that purpose. Other amendments in schedule 1 include amendments to the Public Authorities (Financial Arrangements) Act 1987 so as to validate certain transactions and arrangements entered into by public authorities that had the approval of the Treasurer to effect financial adjustments. The amendments also update the statutory definition of a "financial adjustment".
The Subordinate Legislation Act 1989 is also amended to postpone the repeal of three regulations - General Traffic Regulations 1916, Motor Traffic Regulations 1935 and General Traffic (Pedestrian) Regulations 1937 - until 1 September 1998. Those regulations will otherwise be automatically repealed on 1 September 1997. The postponement will allow for the existing regulations to continue in force until the introduction of the national road transport scheme, which is expected to be finalised by the Commonwealth in 1997. The Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 is amended to clarify certain matters. In particular, the amendment to section 35 of that Act omits superfluous words relating to the review of the
status of a provisional listing. That amendment is of a statute law revision nature and does not diminish the power of the scientific committee to review the status of provisionally listed species.
The last schedule 1 amendments that I shall mention are those to the Superannuation Administration Act 1996. Section 67 of that Act provides for the SAS Trustee Corporation to determine disputes arising under certain State public sector superannuation schemes, including the scheme established under the Police Regulation (Superannuation) Act 1906. Before the enactment of the Superannuation Administration Act 1996 the analogous provision in the now repealed Superannuation Administration Act 1991 provided that disputes relating to whether or not a police officer was hurt on duty were to be dealt with exclusively by the Commissioner of Police. The bill includes an amendment to section 67 to restore that position. That amendment has effect from the date of introduction of this bill, but will not prejudice any dispute presently being considered by the SAS Trustee Corporation.
Schedule 2 deals with matters of pure statute law revision consisting of minor technical changes to legislation that Parliamentary Counsel considers are appropriate for inclusion in the bill. Examples of amendments in schedule 2 are those omitting unnecessary material and those updating references to statutory bodies and statutory office holders. Schedule 3 continues the process of removing the gender-specific language that remains in many current statutes that were enacted before the policy of using gender-neutral language in legislation was implemented. That policy has been in force in this State for more than 12 years. I have already mentioned that schedule 4 contains amendments that are consequential on the enactment of the Industrial Relations Act 1996. The schedule also includes minor amendments to the Industrial Relations Act 1996.
Schedule 5 contains an amendment that transfers savings, transitional and other provisions of possible ongoing effect from certain amending Acts to the relevant principal Act. The transfer of such provisions permits the repeal of the amending Acts concerned because other provisions have been incorporated in reprints or are spent. Those repeals mean that the obsolete legislation concerned need not be included in any database of New South Wales legislation in force. Schedule 6 contains repeals. It repeals three categories of amending Acts: those that are no longer of practical utility; those whose amendments have been incorporated in reprints or that amend repealed Acts; and those whose savings, transitional and other provisions of possible ongoing effect are transferred to their parent Act by schedule 5 to this bill.
Schedule 7 contains provisions dealing with the effect of amendments on amending Acts, savings clauses for the repealed Acts and a power to make regulations for transitional matters, if necessary. The various amendments are explained in detail in explanatory notes set out beneath the amendments to each of the Acts concerned. Rather than repeat the information contained in those notes, I invite honourable members to examine the various amendments and accompanying explanatory material and, if any concern or need for clarification arises, to approach me or the Minister for Police on behalf of the Attorney General regarding the matters raised. If any particular matter of concern cannot be resolved and is likely to delay the passage of the bill, the Government is prepared to consider withdrawing the matter from the bill. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Ms Ficarra.
BUSINESS FRANCHISE LICENCES (TOBACCO) AMENDMENT BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr FACE (Charlestown - Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [10.11], on behalf of Mr Knight: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
This legislation had its genesis in the New South Wales tobacco and health strategy 1995-1999, which was published by the Drug and Alcohol Directorate of the Department of Health in May 1995. As noted in the strategy document, smoking is recognised as the largest single preventable cause of death in Australia. It has been estimated that there were 19,180 tobacco-related deaths in 1989, representing 15 per cent of all deaths and 72 per cent of drug-related deaths. The strategy was prepared in consultation with a range of organisations, both government and non-government, and represents an agreement between key stakeholders on the strategies to be implemented and the outcomes to be achieved over five years. In particular, it sets out strategies which are directed at the reduction of tobacco-related harm in New South Wales. It also reflects the priorities and harm minimisation approach adopted in key government policies such as the New South Wales drug strategy 1993-1998 and the national drug strategy 1993-1997. The legislation seeks to support a number of the strategies identified in the New South Wales tobacco and health strategy, and I will shortly table an extract from the strategy document for the assistance of honourable members.
I turn now to the key aspects of the bill. The bill seeks to establish the regulatory objects of the Business Franchise Licences (Tobacco) Act and demonstrate its place in the scheme of regulation and control of tobacco products. This has been achieved by incorporating in the Act guiding principles which form the rationale for regulating the use, supply, availability, storage, control and promotion of tobacco products. These same
principles are the rationale for the various pieces of tobacco regulation legislation defined in the bill. The relevant legislation includes legislation which regulates the sale of tobacco to minors, tobacco advertising and tobacco promotion activities.
Compliance with these various pieces of State and Commonwealth legislation will be made a statutory condition of every licence. The consequences of a breach of those conditions may include the suspension and subsequent cancellation of a licence, or refusal to issue or renew a licence by the Chief Commissioner for Business Franchise Licences (Tobacco). In the case of a licence held by a company these powers may be applied, in the case of a breach by a director, by an officer of the company as defined in the Corporations Law, or by a significant shareholder. In the case of a licence held by a trust, these powers may be applied in the case of a breach by either the trustee, as holder of the licence, or by a manager of the trust.
In recognition that tobacco is an addictive drug, the bill will enable the chief commissioner also to cancel or refuse a licence in the case of a conviction for certain offences which indicate that a licensee is not sufficiently trustworthy to be involved in the distribution of such a drug. The relevant offences are those involving an element of dishonesty or which are punishable by imprisonment for six months or more, including similar offences committed outside New South Wales. In any case where the chief commissioner is empowered to suspend, cancel or refuse to issue or renew a licence, a licensee will be able to avoid such consequences by removing the offending person from a position of power or significant influence. Alternatively, the licensee will have the right to appeal to the courts against decisions of the chief commissioner. Once the Government establishes a New South Wales administrative appeals tribunal, there will be a right of appeal to that tribunal.
The bill seeks to increase the fixed fee for a licence from $10 to $100. The revenue from this increase will help to offset the additional resources required to administer the legislation, particularly in relation to enforcement of the tobacco regulation legislation. It will also offset the additional costs associated with a three-yearly renewal process for a retailer's licence which the Government intends to introduce in the near future. That is, retail licensees will be required to reapply for a licence every three years. This process will be specified in amendments to the regulations, which will be made after this bill becomes law.
The bill will also allow for the establishment of a public register containing information regarding licensees, which will be maintained by the chief commissioner. The register will contain specified information including the location of outlets selling tobacco to the public, and the conditions applying to particular licensees. In addition licensees will be required to display a copy of the relevant licence on licensed premises from which tobacco is sold to the public. These measures will increase public scrutiny of the tobacco industry and should achieve a higher level of compliance with the tobacco regulation legislation relating to tobacco advertising and promotion and the prohibition on selling tobacco to under-age persons. The bill contains provisions which are designed to limit the supply of discounted tobacco as a result of avoidance of licence fees.
Proposed section 50A is directed at retiring licensees, who, because of the nature of the licensing legislation, and constitutional restrictions on the power of State governments to impose direct taxes on goods, are able to avoid paying licence fees in respect of sales made in the last two months of trading prior to surrendering a licence. The proposed section will limit the extent of discounting of tobacco products by a retiring wholesale licensee. This will not have a direct impact on revenue since no licence fees are payable in respect of sales in the last two months of operation by a retiring licensee. However, the provision will assist the public health objects of the Act by restricting the supply of discounted tobacco. I commend the bill to the House, and I table a summary of its provisions, together with a copy of section 3 of the New South Wales tobacco and health strategy 1995-1999, for the assistance of honourable members.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Kerr.
VALUATION OF LAND FURTHER AMENDMENT BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr YEADON (Granville - Minister for Land and Water Conservation) [10.19]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The introduction of this legislation to amend the Valuation of Land Act 1916 represents a new way of obtaining valuations for land in New South Wales. It is a significant departure from the current practice. It is all about a new way of obtaining land valuations which are necessary for statutory purposes such as the base for local government rating, State land tax and just terms compensation determinations, a new way which introduces competition in the procurement of land valuation services. This amendment bill clarifies the role of the Valuer-General. In doing so it removes the potential for conflict of interest to arise whereby the provider of land valuation services regulates the provision of those services, the so-called poacher and game keeper problem. This also enables greater independence in the process of review and ruling upon objections to land valuations by members of the public.
This amendment bill also provides for the introduction of competition in the purchase of land valuation services in a manner consistent with the Government's service competition policy and enables the State to comply with the national
competition policy reforms agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments. The exposure of the statutory monopoly valuation activities of the Valuer-General's Office to competition will promote efficiency in the delivery of valuation services and ensure that the required valuations are provided in a manner consistent with industry best practice at minimum cost. Cost savings achieved through competition will reduce the subsidy required from the Consolidated Fund to support the Valuer-General and may be transferred in lower charges to local government and ultimately to ratepayers. Competition in mass valuation services also allows local government to participate in the selection of valuation service providers and removes the need for price regulation through the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal.
To give effect to these reforms the Government will, upon assent to the legislation, separate the regulatory and commercial activities currently provided by the Valuer-General's Office. The separation is to be achieved by establishing the State Valuation Office within the Department of Land and Water Conservation to undertake commercial mass valuation activities. The regulatory functions will continue to be performed by the Valuer-General, who will report directly to the Minister for Land and Water Conservation. Further, commencing with the 1997 valuation cycle, competition will progressively be introduced in the purchase of mass valuation services for the Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle metropolitan areas through an open tender process.
Competition has been confined to these regions as it is anticipated that a contestable market for the provision of mass valuation services might already exist in the Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong metropolitan areas. There are, however, legitimate concerns about introducing competition to mass valuation services in country areas. These concerns arise over the viability of regional contracts without significant price increases to councils and the Office of State Revenue, the thin nature of these valuation service markets and the complexity that would arise in relation to the probity of valuations provided by local valuers. These factors militate against contemplating the application of competition in these regions. Consequently, the State Valuation Office will continue to provide valuation services to country areas and progressively will be required to compete with the private sector for valuation contracts offered by the Valuer-General.
I shall now outline some of the key features of the amendment bill to explain how effect will be given to these reforms. The bill provides for the organisational separation of the regulatory functions from the provision of commercial valuation services. This is achieved in proposed section 4 by establishing the general role of the Valuer-General to encompass exercising functions with respect to the valuation of lands in the State, to ensure the integrity of valuations under the Act and to be the custodian of valuation rolls and lists under the Act. The regulatory and contractual role of the Valuer-General is further defined and clarified in proposed section 9, in which the functions of the Valuer-General are outlined in proposed subsections (1) and (2). They include:
(a) to establish and maintain valuation rolls and lists under this Act, and for this purpose to maintain such databases as the Valuer-General thinks appropriate,
(b) to enter valuations on such rolls, lists and databases on the basis of valuation recommendations made under this Act,
(c) to enter into, manage and monitor valuation service contracts,
(d) to make valuations of land as required by or under this or any other Act,
(e) to deal with objections and appeals against valuations under this Act.
On behalf of the Crown, the Valuer-General may enter into contracts in connection with the exercise of the functions of the Valuer-General. In proposed section 13G provision is made for the State Valuation Office, which will comprise the valuation service capabilities formerly located within the Valuer-General's Office, to enter into contested and uncontested valuation service contracts with the Valuer-General; for the Director-General of the Department of Land and Water Conservation to enter into contracts and to do anything else on behalf of the State Valuation Office for the purposes of the Act; and for the director-general to delegate functions under the section to any public servant employed within the State Valuation Office. The general role and functions given to the Valuer-General and the provisions allowing the State Valuation Office to enter into valuation service contracts with the Valuer-General establish the organisational separation of the regulatory functions from the provision of commercial valuation services.
Proposed section 13A makes provision for the Valuer-General to negotiate and enter into contracts for the procurement of land valuation services. The section will also establish basic terms and conditions for inclusion in valuation service contracts and establishes that contract valuers are not agents of the Valuer-General, except where expressly provided for in the contract or under the Valuation of Land Act or any other Act. The basic terms and conditions of valuation contracts outlined in the proposed section include setting out the principles and methods according to which valuation services are to be carried out, incorporation of performance indicators to assist with assessing the efficiency and effectiveness of the valuation services that have been carried out, identifying the persons and their qualifications to perform certain valuation tasks, regulating the manner in which specified functions are to be exercised, imposing restrictions on the performance of specified functions, authorising contractors to exercise functions or discretions belonging to the Valuer-General, and setting out the contract valuers' obligations in assisting the Valuer-General, particularly in relation to objections and appeals.
Proposed sections 13B and 13C specify the types of valuation contracts to be made available. They will enable the Government to stage the competitive tendering of valuation services and identify the types of persons who can submit tenders for contested valuation service contracts. Specifically, the two kinds of valuation service contracts to be made available are those to be contested through open tender and uncontested contracts offered to the State Valuation Office. The State Valuation Office may also compete for contested contracts with private sector valuers. The Minister may direct the Valuer-General to invite tenders for contested valuation service contracts in specified parts of the State and/or for specified purposes. To submit a tender for a contested valuation service contract, a contractor, or at least one of its directors or employees, must be a qualified person within the meaning of the Valuers Registration Act 1975.
Proposed section 13D allows the Valuer-General to negotiate and enter into uncontested valuation service contracts with the State Valuation Office in areas not made available to competition and for areas made available to competition for which there are no successful tenderers. Proposed sections 14A and 14B establish the relationship between the Valuer-General in performance of his regulatory responsibilities and the valuation services purchased from the contract valuers. The Valuer-General will continue to make the valuations required under the Act. Contract valuers may exercise any relevant functions or discretions that belong to the Valuer-General in formulating a recommendation in connection with a valuation. The Valuer-General may then make a valuation on the basis of a contractor's recommendation. In making a valuation, the Valuer-General is required to monitor and make general assessments of the standards of accuracy of recommendations. Further, if a contractor fails to make a recommendation or to revise it, the Valuer-General may make the valuation or valuations concerned without the need for such a recommendation.
Alternatively, the Valuer-General may enter into an uncontested valuation service contract with some other contract valuer to provide relevant recommendations. The legislation also contains provisions relating to the monitoring of contract valuers and termination of contracts. Proposed section 13E will allow the Valuer-General to terminate contracts at any time, subject only to the terms of the contract. In proposed section 13F the Valuer-General is required to monitor the standard of valuation services provided under valuation service contracts and to make assessments of the contractor's compliance with procedural and other requirements of the Act, the regulations and the relevant valuation contract. Sections 15 and 74 of the Act have been amended to extend the powers previously conferred on the Valuer-General by those sections to include contract valuers when performing their contracted valuation tasks.
The legislation also makes provision in amendments to the Valuation of Land Regulation 1996 for the Valuer-General's administration of the process for responding to objections and appeals lodged by affected parties to correspond with similar appeal provisions in other State taxation legislation. As I mentioned previously, the contracting of valuation services will be introduced progressively in the purchase of valuation services for the Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle metropolitan areas, commencing with the 1997 valuation cycle. The progressive introduction of competition in these areas will allow the Government to test and foster the development of the market for valuation services. Further, it will allow for the impacts on the present staff of the Valuer-General's Office to be staged.
The Government's service competition policy will apply to staff affected by the competitive contracting of valuation services. This policy requires preference amongst the private sector bidders be given to those who provide employment opportunities for existing Valuer-General's Office staff, subject to satisfaction of value for money and other relevant requirements. Finally, where in future it becomes necessary for staff to be displaced to alternative activities they will be assisted according to the Government's policy on managing displaced employees. This policy is based on the premise of no forced redundancies. It provides for redeployment and voluntary redundancy of displaced employees. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr D. L. Page.
POLLUTION CONTROL AMENDMENT BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Ms ALLAN (Blacktown - Minister for the Environment) [10.31]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The Government is committed to protecting, restoring and enhancing the quality of the environment while having regard to the need to maintain ecologically sustainable development. This commitment can only be fulfilled if an integrated, holistic approach is taken to regulating pollution arising from activities licensed by the Environment Protection Authority. The purpose of the Pollution Control Amendment Bill is to clarify the powers of the EPA in this regard. The bill has two main purposes. The first is to amend the Pollution Control Act to clarify the power of the EPA to attach cross-media conditions to licences. The second is to validate all such conditions attached to existing licences issued by the EPA. Generally, under the Pollution Control Act licences are issued in three circumstances: firstly, where premises or equipment are listed in the schedule to the Clean Air Act; secondly, where premises are listed in the schedule
to the Noise Control Act; and thirdly, where a person is conducting an activity that pollutes waters contrary to the Clean Waters Act. The need to obtain a licence, therefore, arises due to requirements set out in an Act relating specifically to air, water or noise pollution.
When a licence is required under either the Clear Air Act, the Clear Waters Act or the Noise Control Act, it has been the long established practice of the EPA and its predecessor, the State Pollution Control Commission, to impose conditions on that licence regulating all pollution associated with the relevant activity. For example, if a licence is required under the Clean Air Act, it has been the practice of the EPA to impose conditions which control not only air pollution, but also, where appropriate, the impact of noise pollution and water pollution. Conditions of this sort, which control forms of pollution other than that for which the licence was required, are commonly referred to as cross-media conditions. It is estimated that up to 20 per cent of EPA licences have cross-media conditions. This integrated, holistic approach to the regulation of polluting activities is vital to the proper protection of the environment. The approach is based on the provisions of section 17D(4) of the Pollution Control Act, which provides that when exercising its licensing powers the EPA shall have regard to the pollution being or likely to be caused. The term "pollution" is defined to include air and water pollution, offensive noise and pollution of any other kind affecting any part of the environment.
In late August 1996, in the case of the Environment Protection Authority v Cleary Brothers (Bombo) Pty Limited, the Land and Environment Court held that, despite the wording of section 17D(4), cross-media conditions in licences issued by the EPA are invalid. The effect of the court's decision is that when imposing licence conditions the EPA is only able to consider the kind of pollution for which the licence is required. For example, if a licence is required under the Clean Air Act, the licence conditions will only be able to control air pollution. The Government considers that the effect of the court's decision needs to be overcome. If it is not, the ability of the EPA to properly regulate polluting activities will be severely compromised.
The bill therefore replaces section 17D(4) of the Pollution Control Act with section 17BA. Subsection (2) of section 17BA provides that in exercising its functions relating to licences the EPA must take into consideration pollution of all kinds caused or likely to be caused by the activity conducted or to be conducted by the applicant or licensee. Subsection (3) of section 17BA explicitly empowers the EPA to impose conditions on a licence regulating all such pollution. The effect of the court's decision in the Cleary Brothers case is that the cross-media conditions on up to 20 per cent of EPA licences are invalid. This would create a major gap in the control of significant sources of environmental harm. Clause 4 of the bill therefore validates all cross-media conditions attached to existing licences, with the exception of the licence the subject of the decision in the Cleary Brothers case. The bill furthers the Government's strong commitment to ecologically sustainable development and the protection, restoration and enhancement of the environment of New South Wales. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Hazzard.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT AMENDMENT (NUDE BATHING) BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Ms ALLAN (Blacktown - Minister for the Environment) [10.37]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to permit nude bathing at certain designated beaches in some national parks and in the sea adjacent to them. The object of the bill is to amend section 633 of the Local Government Act 1993 so as to specifically allow five designated beaches and the sea adjacent to them to be used for the purposes of nude bathing. These designated beaches, which will be listed in section 633 of the Local Government Act, are as follows: Lady Bay Beach, which is also known as Lady Jane Beach; Cobblers Beach; Obelisk Beach; Werrong Beach; and Samurai Beach. The land area of each of these designated beaches is situated within a national park. As a result of this bill, each of the designated beaches will be able to be lawfully used for the purposes of nude bathing without any need for the relevant local council to erect a notice allowing nude bathing at the beach concerned. The bill also provides that a local council notice under section 633 cannot prohibit the use of a designated beach for the purposes of nude bathing, and that any such existing notice has no effect at these designated beaches.
Many people of all ages in the community enjoy nude bathing as a recreational pastime. It is entirely appropriate that these people are able to enjoy their pastime at suitable beaches. Unfortunately, in the past there has been some uncertainty as to whether nude bathers, or naturists as they are called, would be able to enjoy their pastime. This will no longer be the case; the designation of these beaches for nude bathing will be enshrined in legislation. Owing to the public demand for nude bathing, in the late 1970s the New South Wales Government under Premier Neville Wran announced that certain beaches within national parks, being beaches that had traditionally been used for nude bathing, would be officially declared as nude beaches. These beaches were Reef Beach and Lady Bay Beach, both in Sydney Harbour National Park, Werrong Beach in the Royal National Park and Samurai Beach in Tomaree National Park.
However, it would appear that the statutory power to regulate nude bathing in actual fact lay with local councils. That was confirmed by the Local Government Act 1993. Section 633, subsection (2) of the Act states:
A person who is in public view in the nude in any place referred to in subsection (1) -
being a public bathing place under the control of a council, a river, a watercourse or tidal or non-tidal water, the sea adjacent to an area, or a public place adjacent to any of those places -
is guilty of an offence unless a notice erected by the council at the place allows the use of the place (or part of the place) for the purposes of nude bathing.
Subsection (4) of section 633 permits councils to erect a notice to allow the use of a place, or any part of a place, open to public view for the purposes of nude bathing. Therefore, the responsibility of councils currently extends to beaches within the national parks and wildlife estate. Accordingly, those members of the New South Wales community who enjoy the pastime of nude bathing have been dependent on the goodwill of individual local councils to ensure that they can enjoy nude bathing. Some members of the community may be concerned at the prospect of nude bathing occurring in close proximity to their place of residence and may voice these concerns with their local council. While local councils are elected to serve the interests of local areas, the State Government has been elected to serve the interests of all people in New South Wales.
This legislation will ensure that nude bathers have unrestricted access to some popular nude bathing beaches which have traditionally been used for this pastime for many years. Under the Local Government Act, local councils will retain the general responsibility for regulating bathing in a public place, including at the beaches designated in this bill for nude bathing. The Government recognises that individuals in the community have a right to commune with nature in a natural state. I have received many items of correspondence from members of the community who represent the views of families - including mothers, fathers and children - and who support nude bathing in certain areas. The beaches designated for nude bathing are suitable for this activity. They possess certain characteristics which make them ideal for nude bathers while protecting the sensibilities of those in the community who are offended by nudity.
These beaches are all within the national parks and wildlife estate. This means that naturists can enjoy their pastime in a natural setting. This is important as, for many nude bathers, a large part of the attraction of this pastime is the feeling of being closer to nature. The designated beaches are not directly adjacent to residential areas. Some members of the community are sensitive to nudity or opposed to nude bathing. For this reason, it would be inappropriate for designated beaches to be immediately adjacent to residential areas. The designated beaches are accessible to those who may wish to use them, but sufficiently inaccessible so as to discourage mass visitation or accidental visitation by people who do not wish to partake in the pastime of nude bathing or who may be offended by nudity. As I have already pointed out, each of the designated beaches is within a national park. Direct access by motor vehicle will not be possible and users of the beaches will have to use a walking track through the national park.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service will erect signs at each beach to make sure that people are aware that the beach is designated for the purpose of nude bathing. The National Parks and Wildlife Service will also identify the beaches as being designated for nude bathing in publications such as pamphlets. The designated beaches are beaches where nude bathing has traditionally occurred. I would like briefly to describe the attributes and history of each of these beaches. Werrong Beach is a small, isolated beach off the coast track in the Royal National Park. The nearest residential area is the township of Otford. It is in the local government area of Wollongong City Council. The beach was publicly announced as a beach designated for the purpose of nude bathing by the then Minister for Lands, the Hon. Paul Landa, in 1977. It was already being used for nude bathing at that time and has been continually used for nude bathing to the present time. There are numerous other attractive beaches within the Royal National Park, such as Garie Beach, Wattamolla Beach and Marley Beach, that will be available for the purpose of clad public bathing.
There are numerous other wonderful beaches along the Illawarra coastline, just south of Werrong Beach, that will continue to be used by public bathers. Samurai Beach is a small beach in Tomaree National Park and forms part of One Mile Beach several kilometres from the small town of Anna Bay. It is within the local government area of Port Stephens. Like Werrong Beach, this beach was publicly announced as a beach designated for the purpose of nude bathing by the Hon. Paul Landa in 1977. It was already being used for nude bathing at that time and has been continually used for nude bathing to the present time. In summer Samurai Beach is, arguably, the most popular naturist beach in New South Wales. The Port Stephens area has many other wonderful beaches available to public bathers.
The other three designated beaches are within the Sydney Harbour National Park. Lady Bay Beach, which is also known as Lady Jane Beach, is at South Head, in the local government area of Woollahra Council. Lady Bay Beach was publicly announced as a beach for unclad bathing in 1976 by the then Premier, the Hon. Neville Wran. The use of this beach for nude bathing goes back over 20 years and is well known to the general community. Council currently permits nude bathing at the beach, subject to persons confining their nudity to the beach and to the water. Grassed areas, rock and
bushland near the beach are prohibited to nudists. The beach is well protected from the nearest residential areas and its use does not contribute significantly to local traffic congestion.
Obelisk Beach and Cobblers Beach are also located within the Sydney Harbour National Park on the other side of Middle Head and are within the local government area of Mosman. These beaches have had informal status as nude bathing beaches for approximately 20 years and are promoted as such in some international travel brochures. They are well protected from residential areas by distance, the national park and the adjacent military reserve. It is likely that some of the Commonwealth military land will be developed for residential use, but the beaches will remain secluded. The National Parks and Wildlife Service will undertake works at Obelisk Beach to improve its facilities. Reef Beach, which is in the Sydney Harbour National Park near Manly, will not be a designated beach. The Government's policy expressed prior to the election was to designate Reef Beach as a beach for nude bathing because of its long history as a beach used for that purpose.
The Government has decided that Reef Beach is more valuable as a recreational resource for the general population rather than as a nudist beach. Ample provision is made for nude bathers in Sydney with the designation of Lady Bay, Obelisk and Cobblers beaches as well as Werrong Beach in the far south of Sydney. The National Parks and Wildlife Service was directed by the previous Government to undertake significant works at Reef Beach following the decision of Manly Council to prohibit nude bathing. Some $90,000 was allocated by the then Government for track construction, bringing the Manly scenic walkway on to and across Reef Beach; for refurbishment of toilet facilities; and for bush regeneration. Many local residents have volunteered their time and effort to the bush regeneration work at Reef Beach and I recognise their contribution in this respect. The beach and the Manly scenic walkway have proved to be enormously popular with the local community. This has significantly changed recreational use patterns at Reef Beach and therefore I believe that if nude bathing were to be permitted at Reef Beach it would inflame conflict between bushwalkers, local residents, local councils and naturists.
I pay tribute in particular to the Free Beach Association, which is led by Mr Bob Reed. Although the association has campaigned for many years to return Reef Beach to the status of a nude beach, the association has taken a responsible approach to the Government's decision not to return Reef Beach to that status. This morning I was listening to Bob Reed on the Jenny Brockie show on radio 2BL. While he expressed some disappointment that Reef Beach would not be returned to its nude beach status he was certainly very pleased that the Government had decided to expand the number of legal nude beaches in Sydney, Wollongong and Port Stephens. The Free Beach Association, one of the most important associations that represents naturists in this State, has exhibited a maturity in this debate which has sometimes been lacking in the groups that have traditionally opposed Reef Beach being used as a nudist beach. The attitude of Manly Council, the honourable member for Manly, Dr Peter Macdonald, and some local residents in Balgowlah has been a great deal less mature than the eventual response from the Free Beach Association to the Government's decision.
I turn briefly to the provisions of the bill. Clause 1 sets out the short title of the proposed Act. Clause 2 provides for the commencement of the proposed Act on a day to be appointed by proclamation. Clause 3 is a formal provision giving effect to the amendments, which are set out in schedule 1, to the Local Government Act 1993. Schedule 1 amends section 633 of the Local Government Act 1993 in the manner described in the overview of the bill. This legislation is extremely important. It secures the right of nude bathers to enjoy their legitimate pastimes at these designated beaches. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Hazzard.
ENVIRONMENTAL LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (ENFORCEMENT) BILL
Debate resumed from 30 October.
Mr NAGLE (Auburn) [10.51]: This important bill, which closes certain loopholes, has been a long time coming. It provides for the imposition of heavy penalties on those who pollute the environment. Parramatta River and Duck River are both located in my electorate. Over the years both of those rivers have been heavily polluted. I well remember the old PAACAL site, which has now become Wilson Park. During the 30 years the company occupied that site it dumped huge quantities of pollutants into the Parramatta River. The company then swapped land with Auburn Council; it took three former soccer fields in exchange for the old PAACAL site. Everyone in the electorate of Auburn thought that obtaining a large tract of riverside land was a great bargain. Funding was then obtained from the State and Federal governments to establishing Wilson Park, which has barbecue facilities, bicycle tracks, walkways and appropriate soccer fields. About 5½ years ago council officers informed the council that they had a burning feeling in their hands when they were working in the garden area of the park. PAACAL had concealed huge quantities of dangerous toxic materials on the site of the park. Unfortunately, the PAACAL company is no longer in existence.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the Minister for the Environment and the member for Wakehurst want to conduct a discussion, they can do so outside the Chamber but not while debate on the bill is proceeding.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have just asked the member for Wakehurst to do something and he has disobeyed the Chair. He will resume his seat.
Mr NAGLE: It is estimated that it will cost $50 million to clean up Wilson Park. That park belonged to the people of my electorate and to the people of Sydney. During the years the company polluted the site it should have been prosecuted, but it was not. The bill will close loopholes such as those that allowed PAACAL to avoid its responsibility to maintain the environment of the Sydney basin. The legislation will enable the Environment Protection Authority to prosecute companies and individuals for environmental offences under new legislation currently before Parliament. The Minister for the Environment has proposed changes to State pollution control laws which will extend the existing limitation periods within which the Environment Protection Authority can bring criminal proceedings for environmental offences. It is about time this legislation was introduced. For seven years the previous Government did little to protect the environment. It has taken the Minister for the Environment in a Labor government to introduce strong penalties for those who destroy the beautiful environment of Sydney.
The Environmental Offences and Penalties Act sets out limits within which criminal proceedings can be started for offences against pollution control legislation. For most environmental offences the time limit is 12 months from the date on which the alleged offence occurred, while a three-year limit applies to certain serious offences, such as the wilful and unlawful dumping of waste which causes environmental harm. The time at which an act of pollution - for example, the dumping of toxic waste into Duck River or Parramatta River - was committed may not be able to be identified. However, ultimately the time of the offence may be traced. A local company which borders on the river may have dumped excess waste. I will not name the companies that have done so in my electorate because organisations such as Shell and other factories in the area have done a great deal to solve the problem of the pollution of Parramatta River and Duck River. That is to their eternal credit.
The problem is that the exact time of the unlawful dumping is not known. The Environment Protection Authority may take some time to become aware of the high level of contaminants in rivers or creeks. The legislation provides for a three-year period in which to initiate proceedings for serious offences. For minor matters the time limit will be 12 months from the date on which the alleged offence occurred. It is often difficult to determine exactly when pollution occurs, and the bill extends the time limits in which proceedings may be initiated. The honourable member for The Hills loves Sydney, the environment and the rivers, and he does not want those who dump all their rubbish into our rivers and our atmosphere to get away with it.
The bill provides that the time limit will not commence until an offence is detected by the authorised officer. That is another step forward, because it means that the three-year limitation period will commence at the time of detection. The bill also clarifies the powers of authorised officers to enter premises to collect evidence of past pollution incidents. These changes will help to ensure that polluters are made to pay for the damage they cause. There is a medical waste incinerator in my electorate, and for a long while there were a great many problems with it. It took a great deal of hard work over a long period by the Federal member for Reid, Mr Laurie Ferguson, myself and the local council to finally convince those responsible for the incinerator that they needed to take their environmental obligations more seriously. Ultimately they did that by putting on extra scrubbers. Those responsible for the incinerator would have been prosecuted under the bill for any type of pollution that they caused in the electorate.
In electorates such as mine, which is zoned one-third residential, one-third commercial-industrial and one-third for recreational and passive use, these types of problems do arise. But through the good offices of the Minister for the Environment, the environment will now be better protected and those who pollute the beautiful city of Sydney will be prosecuted. They should not believe they will get away with it because they will not. The message will go out to all the big Sydney firms that are involved in chemical, hospital and other waste that they will no longer get away with dumping their pollutants into the rivers of Sydney or releasing toxic gases into the atmosphere.
The Government is committed to overhauling the State's existing pollution control legislation, some of which is more than 35 years old. A new bill to be called the Protection of the Environment Operations Bill is being finalised. The Government expects to release an exposure draft of this bill and a green paper explaining it for at least three months public consultation later this year. Clearly, that bill is another major project in relation to the protection of the environment. Clause 3 of the bill amends section 12 of the Environmental Offences and Penalties Act to change the period in which criminal proceedings need to be started. The objects of the bill have been set out in the objects of the bill as follows:
(a) to extend the limitation period within which proceedings for offences against the environmental legislation must be instituted -
I have already spoken about that -
(b) to make it clear that authorised officers may enter premises under the environmental legislation if the officer suspects that pollution has been caused in or from the premises (at present the power of entry applies in some cases only if the officer suspects that pollution is being or is likely to be caused), and
(c) to make it clear that authorised officers may require an occupier of premises under the environmental legislation to produce records if the officer suspects that pollution has
been caused in or from the premises (at present the power to require the production of records applies only if the officer suspects that pollution is being or is usually caused).
The Act specifically gives wide-ranging powers. Honourable members will know later whether the Opposition will support the bill but it is hoped that it will. I assume that good reasons for opposing this legislation would have been taken into account when negotiations were being made through the shadow minister for the environment, the honourable member for Wakehurst, Mr Hazzard. It would be a shame if this good legislation is not passed unanimously for the betterment of the people of New South Wales. This bill will not in any way inhibit industry, but it will make industry understand its responsibilities to the Australian community, the people of New South Wales and particularly the people of the Sydney Basin. The Opposition needs to take that responsibility on board.
It is important that the Government review all parts of the State's pollution laws in such a way that they will affect the operation of industry but at the same time protect the environment. The ability to nominate the day on which evidence of an environmental offence came to the attention of a relevant authorised officer is crucial point in any prosecution. This would apply equally to breaches of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act or the Crimes Act, because the statute of limitations applies. For very serious crimes such as murder and rape there is no statute of limitations but there are limitations on other crimes from the date on which the offence took place. Under this legislation the relevant date will be when the offence was recognised by the department, and that is a great step forward.
It is always open for the defendant to show that a matter came to the attention of the relevant authorised officer at an earlier date and that as a result proceedings have not been brought within time. However, it is not appropriate that polluters escape liability merely because an offence has gone undetected for a number of months or even years. As I said about the PAACAL site at Silverwater, if these laws had been in place in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s we might have been saved the disgrace of having to spend $50 million to clean up the mess caused by a tar-producing company in polluting Parramatta River, and having to build enormous concrete walls to protect the river from the seepage from Wilson Park. I tried very hard to persuade the former Minister for the Environment, the honourable member for Gosford, that something had to be done about Wilson Park, but the best he ever did was to allocate $200,000.
This Minister has taken the matter quite seriously and knows that Wilson Park is a real risk to the community, and something will be done about it in the next couple of years. Under the existing pollution control legislation, authorised officers have the power to enter premises and seize documents, and that is a great step forward because documents can be shredded, destroyed or altered. I recall going to one place in my electorate with the Federal member for Reid after serious complaints had been received. I was taken upstairs and shown documents that showed the time at which trucks entered and left the premises. Those documents showed that at the time when this problem occurred there were no trucks on the premises.
The documents showed that between noon and 6 p.m. there is never a truck on the premises. However, whilst we were present a truck arrived and unloaded rubbish into the incinerator. Both the Federal member for Reid and I thought that was quite strange, considering that we had already been shown a book that said there are no trucks on the premises between noon and 6 p.m. When we raised that matter the representatives of the company very quickly said, "We deliberately got that truck in there so we could show you the material being burned." But we had gone there to discuss something else, not to watch them burning material.
Be that as it may, that company has fixed up its act. It has put scrubbers on its chimneys and as a consequence there have been no complaints from my residents, the local council or the Environment Protection Authority about violations. I must say that if the Shell Company of Australia Limited and this other company have a problem the first thing they do is inform me that they have, say, a breakdown and are rectifying it. Those companies take their responsibilities quite seriously. I am disappointed that we do not know whether the Opposition will support this great legislation, but no doubt the honourable member for Wakehurst will soon tell us. He may say that it is good legislation and support it. I support the bill, and I commend it to the House.
Mr HAZZARD (Wakehurst) [11.05]: I lead for the Opposition in speaking to the Environmental Legislation Amendment (Enforcement) Bill. The Opposition shares the concerns of the community that every reasonable step should be taken to stop the pollution of our environment, which can come from many sources. This legislation primarily addresses industry sources, although interestingly it covers the Clean Air Act, the Clean Waters Act and the Noise Control Act. There might well be a range of sources that are contributing to pollution. In her second reading speech the Minister said that some pollution control legislation in New South Wales is more than 35 years old. Certainly the coalition supports the concept of revisiting environment legislation to ensure that steps are taken to recognise today's environmental legislation needs. I am a little disappointed that the Government has been so slow off the mark to address some of the promises it made to the community prior to March 1995.
The Opposition has some difficulties with this legislation. The Opposition would dearly like to encourage industry and business to join with the Government and conservation groups to improve our environmental quality, whether it be water, air, land or noise. The problem with this legislation is that
rather than encourage a partnership between business, industry and the other relevant parties, it attacks industry. This legislation is likely to cause industry to go into its shell and not encourage it to be a full partner in taking steps to minimise and eradicate pollution. The Opposition was quite concerned to ensure that there was consultation with all relevant groups. It spoke to environmental groups including the Environmental Defenders Office, the Total Environment Centre and others. It took the additional step of talking to business because it believes, as I said earlier, that there has to be a partnership and goodwill between the various participants to try to eradicate pollution as far as is practicable.
The Opposition was therefore somewhat surprised to find that this Government that has spoken so readily about wanting to be consultative had, in fact, consulted absolutely nobody in industry. In other words, the Government is quite prepared to recognise that industry may be a major contributor to pollution, but it has not made the effort to discuss with industry reasonable measures to reduce pollution and ways in which various industry groups can be brought together under the umbrella of a joint attack on pollution. Indeed, the various industry groups that the Opposition consulted were angry that the Government had failed to consult them. I would encourage the Minister for the Environment, when considering future environmental legislation, to take a broader view, not to take an ideological, singular view and rule a line on those it consults.
The Opposition believes that all players should be consulted so that a balanced view can be gained on environmental issues. In fairness, I acknowledge that the environment groups that the Opposition spoke to did not oppose this legislation; indeed, they were supportive of it. But if the coalition had been in government, following initial discussions with various environment groups and industry it would have brought both groups together to establish common ground and the dedication of a partnership in an endeavour to address the pollution problem. Last week staff from the Minister's office were helpful - indeed cooperative - in organising for me a briefing with an officer from the Environment Protection Authority. But that was just the start. Perhaps communication was not good and the Minister believed I had been fully briefed. The upshot is that the Opposition has not had ample time to consider this legislation, to consult, and to come up with meaningful amendments to it. That was exemplified this morning when one of the Minister's senior staff offered to have EPA officers go through a number of other issues with me when the matter was called on in the House.
I appreciate that there is pressure in this place. It is a difficult environment, with a number of players operating at all levels. Undoubtedly the Leader of the House wants legislation to be passed before the end of the year, and the Minister would like this legislation to be passed. To that extent I acknowledge that problems exist. However, something as fundamentally important as how the Government is going to address pollution in our environment does not deserve to be rushed through like a steam train heading towards some inevitable destination, when there is a way to slow that train down and make sure it arrives safely at the station and achieve better results.
I suspect that given the time and the opportunity to cut through the ideology, the Minister for the Environment may well have said that some issues could be revisited. But because of the practicalities of this rather insane place, we have to deal with this legislation without the benefit of those consultative processes and full discussions - to the detriment of the people of New South Wales. In any case, I thank the Minister's staff, who attempted consultation. I thank Senior Police Adviser Dick Sheppard, Salina O'Connor, and Chris McElwain, an officer of the EPA, for their assistance in trying to enumerate the various aspects of this legislation, at least from the Government's viewpoint.
Ms Allan: They had an uphill battle.
Mr HAZZARD: They certainly did. I came to this legislation with a degree of acceptance; when I went through the details of it I had some concerns, but when I spoke to industry and other groups about it I became quite concerned. The minimisation of pollution can only be assured by a partnership between those people and industries that are likely to pollute. Big sticks should be used to deal with offenders, in particular those who offend more than once or twice and do not make reasonable efforts to clean up their act. No society, particularly New South Wales, is prepared to accept that pollution is an everyday part of our life. We do not want it, and there must be a spirit of goodwill and partnership to proceed to that end.
The current legislation provides that in the case of summary pollution incidents that might otherwise attract summary penalties, an authorised officer, usually an EPA officer, must bring proceedings within 12 months of the date of the incident. It also provides that in the case of more serious pollution incidents the authorised officer, again usually an EPA officer but sometimes a local council officer, must bring proceedings against the polluter within three years of the incident. Apparently, for some time the EPA has taken the view that it would like to extend that time and give itself more leeway to institute proceedings.
The Opposition does not oppose that concept. It could live with the EPA being given more time; it could live with it if the time was definite; it could live with it if those times were discussed with industry and conservation groups, so that a result was achieved that everyone thought was reasonable. But the Government proposes in this rushed legislation that for pollution incidents that attract summary penalties - cases in which action must be taken within 12 months - action can be taken within 12 months of the incident first coming to the attention of the authorised officer. For more serious
pollution incidents, the EPA or the endorsement agencies will have to take proceedings within three years of the incident first coming to the attention of the authorised officer.
What will be the effect of that? First, inefficiency in the EPA will be encouraged because it will know that the heat is off and that it will not have to work as quickly to deal with pollution incidents or proactively look for them, which is a worry. Second, it will mean that if an EPA officer is advised of an incident that occurred five or six years ago, when community and industry knowledge was not as great as it is today, that officer could deal with the incident because it comes within the 12-month limit in the case of a summary matter, or the three-year limit in the case of a serious matter. Where is the justice for industry? The Minister and the Government would say, "Anything justifies the means. Let us get these terrible polluters." The Opposition agrees with that approach, provided the Government complies with the basic rules of law and natural justice and acts with a reasonable level of fairness to the people involved.
If the Government had extended the maximum time limit to four years, five years or six years under the statute of limitations the Opposition could have lived with that, but to have no time limit, to be able to go back 20 years, is absolutely crazy. Proposed section 12(6) flies in the face of all the principles of reasonableness that normally apply to the introduction of new laws. It provides that the legislation is retrospective. For heaven's sake, that is ridiculous! In other words, proceedings may be taken in respect of offences committed not only after the commencement of this legislation but prior to it. It is clearly the intention of the Government to embark upon an industry witch-hunt. As much as the Opposition wants to be as pro-active as possible on environmental issues, as much as it wants the environment cleaned up, it will not behave like a blinded ideologue and support legislation that clearly is a damnation on a whole section of our community and denies the basic fundamental rights of knowing what one is responsible for. The bill happily makes the proposed legislation retrospective, and the Opposition does not accept that.
If the Government accepts that industry needs to be encouraged and needs to be a partner in the process of stopping pollution - and I believe that on occasions, albeit rarely, the Government has accepted that - the legislation should not be retrospective. If a company conducts a voluntary study and audit of its problems, which as I said might have occurred five, six or 10 years ago, and if it addresses them, it should not be penalised. The company may do the right thing, try to address its problems and maintain its records for future reference to ensure that the same problems will not recur. But under the proposed legislation an officer from the Environment Protection Authority, having received a complaint, can within 12 months or three years respectively of first having received the complaint, visit the company and go through its entire records. At almost any time an EPA officer, on the strength of a complaint, will be authorised to visit a company and dig through the documents in its filing cabinet and on that basis institute proceedings against the company for past incidents of pollution; they do not even have to be contemporaneous.
With some incidents it would perhaps be appropriate to institute proceedings, but the downside of such an approach is that companies will not want to investigate their pollution problems. They will certainly not keep records with a view to making things better, because they know that big brother, under the Premier and the Minister for the Environment, will be out there with big sticks looking through their filing cabinets, doing all sorts of unfair and unreasonable things. The Opposition is totally supportive of any reasonable steps to encourage business to be partners in a quest to stop pollution. But it is counterproductive if, in this transition phase, the Government is able to kick companies and destroy incentive by giving the EPA carte blanche to look at records.
Only a few weeks ago the Government introduced legislation to establish a register of accredited auditors to examine contaminated land. The legislation was largely supported by the Opposition, following a great degree of consultation. In the course of discussions it was made clear that the Government seemed to have a desire to encourage industry and that voluntary audits of contaminated land, voluntary acts by companies to try to clean up their acts, would not result in the Government looking over their shoulder and wielding a big stick. This proposed legislation is far worse than that situation. It seems as though the Government is all over the place like a dog's breakfast. It does not know which direction it should take to bring about a reduction in pollution. From this point the only way we will achieve a substantial reduction in pollution is with the goodwill of everyone involved in the process. One does not achieve goodwill if one does not talk to people.
Only half an hour ago I spoke to representatives of the Australian Chamber of Manufactures, which consulted 22 New South Wales companies. Its representatives told me that despite a letter to the Minister for the Environment yesterday telling her that it wanted to consult on this issue, it had received not one phone call. The Government must have some sort of financial restrictions. Is this the way it will balance its budget? It does not make phone calls to consult anybody. Guess who told the Australian Chamber of Manufactures about the legislation? Was it the Government? No, it was not. Who was it?
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Gaudry): Order! The honourable member will address his remarks through the Chair.
Mr HAZZARD: It was the Opposition that notified the various industry groups that this legislation was coming before the House. Indeed, the
Opposition was not told until last week when the Minister made the announcement that this legislation was coming before the House. No consultation had taken place. During my time as shadow minister for the environment a great deal of consultation occurred with the Acting Minister for the Environment. I would have thought that it was reasonable at least to consult with the Opposition about something on which there should be a collaborative effort: a reduction of pollution in our society. Blind ideology should not close off consultation and discussion. The Opposition notified the Australian Chamber of Manufactures, along with various environment groups. However, it is acknowledged that the bulk of the environment groups appeared to have been involved in discussions. But the people who are at the coalface of this issue were not notified at all. The Australian Chamber of Manufactures did not write to the Minister until Monday. In a letter dated 11 November 1996 addressed to the Hon. Pam Allan, Minister for the Environment, the chamber said:
The Australian Chamber of Manufactures has recently become aware the Environmental Legislation Amendment Enforcement Bill 1996 is currently before Parliament. We are disappointed not to have been consulted on this bill. Our major concerns are:
•Use of voluntary audits: - As you are aware, ACM has for many years promoted and advised manufacturing industry to undertake voluntary examination of their environmental performance. In the past, you have supported this approach.
In other words, the Australian Chamber of Manufactures is simply stating what the Opposition is saying to the Minister today - that the Minister should have immediately instructed her department to put this bill on hold. The Government has indicated that the House will sit for another three weeks. It could sit for five weeks; the Opposition is happy to stay until Christmas. This bill could have been dealt with next week, thereby allowing some consultation on this particular issue. The Chamber of Manufactures also addressed the issue of retrospectivity in its letter, stating:
By exposing confidential records and voluntary audits to seizure, the Environmental Legislation Amendment Enforcement Bill 1996 has unintended consequences which negate this voluntary approach.
•Retrospectivity: - ACM objects to Schedule 1 12(3) which states:
". . . must contain the date on which evidence of the offence first came to the attention of any relevant authorised officer and need not contain particulars of the date on which the offence was committed"
EPA officers could discover past incidents and prosecute through a company's own records over matters which occurred even before the proclamation of the environmental law under which the company is being prosecuted.
The chamber was simply stating that the sort of issues I have raised in this debate are real issues to its members, who are major players in New South Wales and are employers of many people in New South Wales. As a group the chamber is interested in reducing pollution and it asked the Government to meet with it and discuss the bill. Of course, the answer was deafening silence. The chamber issued a press release on Monday - just in case the Minister had not seen the letter, though I believe he probably has - which stated:
The Australian Chamber of Manufactures has warned that proposed new environmental laws in New South Wales would significantly increase the legal risks of operating in that State.
Translate "increase the legal risks of operating in that State" to mean that business will not want to come to New South Wales and if it has the opportunity it will go somewhere else. The Premier went to England two weeks ago at the expense of the taxpayers and told companies in England to come to New South Wales because his Government provides a great environment for business. Well, they can all go down to Victoria; Jeff Kennett will have them. If one of those English companies rang the Australian Chamber of Manufactures and asked what it is like to operate in New South Wales, there is no way it would get the answer that it is worthwhile coming. The chamber would answer that in New South Wales when major issues arise business cannot even get to talk to the Government.
The Premier fills the newspapers with stories about the Government doing the right thing by business and yet in major areas of interest, for example, the environment, the Minister for the Environment will not even talk to interested parties. Ideology is put up like a huge barrier and the debate is stopped. As I said, the Opposition would dearly love to make the environment pollution laws work. It would dearly love to have the opportunity to consult with industry and with the significant and important players in the conservation movement who have contributed so much to good environmental law in New South Wales. The Opposition would have liked to have the time to discuss these issues in detail with many different groups such as the Nature Conservation Council, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Total Environment Centre, the Environmental Defender's Office and the World Wide Fund for Nature. But what chance did it get? Next to none, because the legislation was introduced only the week before last with no forewarning, no discussion and no effort to ensure workable outcomes.
For that reason and that reason alone, because of the ridiculous approach of this Government to the issue, the Opposition is now forced to oppose the legislation. It is not something I am happy about because the Opposition would like good, substantive, workable environmental laws but instead we have pathetic laws which will be counterproductive. No doubt the legislation will pass through the House because the Government has the majority, albeit ever so slight. But the issues involved will probably cause industry not to be a partner with this Government in endeavours to reduce pollution.
This bill sends a clear message to a major section of our community that this Government has not the slightest interest in discussing this or trying to reach a middle ground. It is about conflict; it is about blind ideology; and it is about proposing legislation for the sake of getting it through the House urgently. I know the honourable member for Keira is keen to speak, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say, but I want to add one final point. I understand that these proposals have been put to two previous Ministers who were across their portfolios, one of whom the Minister for the Environment has said good things about on occasions in this House.
Mr O'Farrell: Chris Hartcher?
Mr HAZZARD: Not the honourable member for Gosford. The Minister does not tend to say good things about him. This proposal was rejected by the other Ministers, who were across their portfolios and understood the importance of a partnership to attack the problems of pollution. Unfortunately, the Minister for the Environment has been duped either by her own blind ideology - and I hope not - or by the blind ideology of departmental officers from the Environment Protection Authority and other areas. She has been prepared to accept the proposals as good law. It will not be good law; it will be counterproductive and will not work. The Opposition opposes the bill.
Mr MARKHAM (Keira) [11.37]: It is great to have the opportunity to be able to support the Minister for the Environment in this very good piece of legislation. I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward this legislation because as far as I am concerned not enough can be done to make sure that future generations are not poisoned by the pollution of companies. The honourable member for Wakehurst referred to the Premier's visit to England to successfully drum up business for this State. The honourable member said that the English companies will race off down to Victoria. But it seems odd that the changes contained in the bill with respect to limitation periods are not unique; similar provisions exist under Victoria's environmental protection legislation. If the Opposition believes that this legislation will drive business out of New South Wales and into Victoria it has got it absolutely wrong.
Let me make some comments about the industrial area that I represent, which generates massive wealth for this State. I do not know whether the north shore of Sydney ever has any industrial pollution but pollution in the industrial area of Port Kembla is brought to my attention on a daily basis. In particular, in relation to the coke works at Corrimal, which are owned by Illawarra Coke Company Pty Limited, on 9 August I wrote to the EPA about an incident of poisoning of the atmosphere which disrupted schoolchildren at the local high school who were sitting for their trial higher school certificate examinations. In fact, a number of those students had to go home, along with a number of teachers, because the obnoxious smell that inundated the classrooms for a couple of days made them sick.
Mr Hazzard: How will this legislation help that?
Mr MARKHAM: I do not care how it does it. If the Government can put anything in place to stop it, I will always support it, unlike the Opposition, which only protects polluters.
Mr Hazzard: How will this legislation solve that problem?
Mr MARKHAM: The Opposition is protecting polluters by opposing this legislation. I want to make sure that the kids in my electorate live in the healthiest environment possible. The Environment Protection Authority responded to the concerns I raised as follows:
The EPA shares your concerns about the downwind impact of the Coke works on the surrounding residential area. Planning decisions made in the past mean that there is very little buffer available to protect residents from plant emissions. As you may be aware the severity of emissions is usually associated with strong winds which prevail during this time of year. Efforts to improve the level of environmental performance by the plant using both technical and operational means will continue to be a high priority issue for the EPA.
The EPA carried out an investigation of the Coke works on the morning of 9 August 1996 -
so, officers moved swiftly when I contacted them to investigate what was going on, but in other areas companies sneakily try to hide pollution activities by releasing emissions at night when the local member does not have the opportunity to bring it to the attention of the EPA -
following notification of a number of complaints from local residents. The EPA found that charging and pushing operations on C1 Battery were being carried out according to the conditions of the Company's Pollution Control Licence and that the existing controls were not adequate to prevent fugitive emissions escaping from the boundary of the premises. The recently installed dosing equipment to reduce odour in the quenching emissions was also operating properly.
But that still did not overcome the problem of young children and teachers being gassed at a high school half a kilometre away. It is important that these amendments are introduced now. The Government is progressing its review of the State's pollution laws, but that will take time. In the meantime the EPA must be properly able to enforce existing pollution control laws because I have no doubt that some businesses are flouting the law. The Illawarra Coke Company Pty Limited has just taken over operations from CRA and at least has tried to address the problems associated with coke-making in a residential area. I have undertaken a number of inspections of that coke factory and attended a number of public meetings, but the problem still exists. A considerable amount of money has been spent on installing a hydrogen peroxide infusion system in the dousing operations of the quenching tower. At my request the Minister for the
Environment organised, through the EPA, an inspection of the quenching operation. This new system has reduced rotten egg gas odour emissions by 80 per cent. Anyone who has experienced the smell of rotten egg gas would appreciate that even with an 80 per cent reduction, the remaining 20 per cent is quite evident.
Whenever the wind blows from the south-west or the west, the odour problem occurs. At least Illawarra Coke Company has tried, and continues to try, to alleviate the problem. The Minister is aware of those efforts and has granted an exemption on certain aspects of the company's licence so that it can continue to operate and employ 60 people. The management of the Corrimal coke works is aware of the problem and has set up a community consultative team to inform the community of what it is doing. The four people on that team are Valerie Hussain, who has lived in the Corrimal area for 20 years; Bruce Pleasant, who has lived in the area for 40 years and whose children attended local schools; Carolyn McQuiggin, who is from Corrimal High School; and Mal Golledge, who is the stationmaster at Corrimal station, which is adjacent to the coke works. On numerous occasions Mal has indicated to me that at times he is subjected to horrific odours from fugitive emissions that have escaped the coke works boundaries.
Those team members will meet regularly and inspect the coke works regularly. Positive things are happening with reducing pollution emissions from industry only because I, the local member for Keira, am vigilant in taking up the concerns of local residents and impressing upon the company that it must be a greater corporate citizen with greater respect for residents, particularly schoolchildren, in that area. This is positive legislation and will go a long way to ensuring that those who try to get away with polluting are brought before the law. On 23 June 1995 the Land and Environment Court fined Illawarra Coke Company Limited $20,000 and ordered it to pay legal costs of $8,715 for an offence under the Clean Air Act. The offence related to the emission of thick smoke from the coal coking works operated by the company at 27 Railway Street, Corrimal, on 21 September 1993. At that time the operations were owned by CRA, which has since ceased coking operations in the Illawarra and is also trying to get out of coal production in the Illawarra.
Mr Hazzard: How will this legislation help?
Mr MARKHAM: The honourable member protects polluters and will argue that point all the time. I am here to make sure that polluters are brought before the law. I support the Minister for the Environment on this positive and worthwhile amending legislation. Regardless of what the honourable member for Wakehurst says in his tirade in protecting polluters, bad luck. The ability of prosecutors to nominate the day on which evidence of environmental offences came to the attention of the relevant authorised officer is crucial to the smooth working of the proposed amendment, otherwise prosecutors will be forced to call evidence from all its authorised officers to show when a matter first came to the attention of one of its officers. Clearly, this would be a needless waste of resources and time. By introducing this bill the Government is ensuring that our environment can be better than it is now.
Mr Hazzard: Does the honourable member believe this, or is he just reading a speech?
Mr MARKHAM: The Government knows the views of the honourable member for Wakehurst and the Opposition. The Government, the Minister and I are ensuring that businesses in this State operate in the most environmentally friendly and environmentally sound way. This legislation will keep businesses on their toes; it will ensure that they do not pollute the environment. I do not know how often the honourable member for Wakehurst visits schools in his electorate to listen to what the kids are saying about pollution and the environment. The kids are asking governments and legislators to protect the environment. They see and know what happens. They know that if the Government does not legislate they will have the legacy of a polluted environment.
Mr Hazzard: The honourable member and I agree on that, but the Government should do it properly.
Mr MARKHAM: It is being done properly; it is being done in a proactive way. I again applaud the Minister for the Environment for bringing forward this legislation. She has my total support. If members opposite had any understanding of and feeling and respect for the kids in New South Wales they would support the legislation too.
Mr RICHARDSON (The Hills) [11.51]: The honourable member for Keira made a most interesting and edifying speech about the coke works in his electorate and the problems associated with it. All honourable members would sympathise with the predicament in which the honourable member found himself. Indeed, they would applaud the fact that he has been vigilant in identifying instances of pollution, bringing them to the attention of the Environment Protection Authority and getting the EPA to take action. As I listened to the honourable member speak for 14 minutes I honestly thought that he was speaking for the Opposition and against the bill because he said, "I do not care how the bill does it as long as it does it." The honourable member said that the existing provisions - this bill has not been passed, it has not been proclaimed and it is not an Act of Parliament - served him, his constituents and the schools in his electorate well. He said that the provisions dealt with the problems relating to the coke works in his electorate.
Clearly, the honourable member does not understand the bill and what it means. He simply listed the litany of problems associated with the coke works and then made the telling statement "I do not care how the bill does it". The Opposition
cares about the legislation and its effects. Certainly, in this instance, the Opposition cares about the effects of the legislation on the State economy. The Opposition cares about the effects of the legislation in terms of making the Environment Protection Authority less efficient than it is at present, because the bill is likely to make EPA officers slapdash in their approach to environmental issues.
Mr Hazzard: Relaxed.
Mr RICHARDSON: As the honourable member says, the bill will make them relaxed. Quite frankly, it is likely to be counterproductive. I do not understand why the Government has chosen to bring in this bill now. The intention in this legislation appears to be to address a specific problem relating to waterways. According to the Minister's second reading speech, in the judgment in Environment Protection Authority v Bathurst City Council, which was handed down in November 1995, the court decided that for offences involving the pollution of waters the offence is complete when the pollution occurs. In other words, time will begin to run the moment that any pollutant enters the waters and changes the environmental condition of those waters. The difficulty is that a prosecutor may not be able to show exactly when this event occurred and so cannot prove that he or she has brought the prosecution within the appropriate time period.
The honourable member for Keira did not say that. He said that Environment Protection Authority officers had clearly identified the problem and were able to act on it immediately. So far as I can tell, the Minister for the Environment is using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut, because this bill does not simply tackle the issue of water pollution; it is all-encompassing. The bill also amends such Acts as the Noise Control Act. If members opposite can tell me how the introduction of retrospective legislation to amend the Noise Control Act will benefit the environment of this State - so that a company that created unacceptable noise on business premises 10 years ago can be prosecuted now - they do not understand what government is all about. The retrospectivity of the bill is absolute anathema to Opposition members.
I am sure that many Government members would be appalled by the notion that companies will be placed in legal jeopardy because, essentially, the statute of limitations will be extended for all time. Theoretically, under this legislation a company could be prosecuted in the year 2100 for an offence committed now, so long as adequate proof could be provided. The honourable member for Oxley believes that he will be here but the rest of us will not - and company officers may well have changed in that time. Essentially, the bill is anti-business. Indeed, as the honourable member for Wakehurst said, the Government has shown consistently since it came to office in March last year that it is anti-business. It has shown its credentials through the Waste Minimisation and Management Act. On the weekend the Government was severely criticised for aspects of that Act. Business is criticising the Government for this bill.
Mr Allan Handberg, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Chamber of Manufactures, is horrified by this bill and its implications for business in this State. Mr Handberg wrote to the Minister for the Environment two days ago on this matter. Of course, he has not received a response. One would not expect a response because the Minister does not want to concern herself with legitimate considerations about her legislation. She is simply following her doctrinaire approach to environmental issues. In his letter to the Minister Mr Handberg made this point:
ACM has for many years promoted and advised manufacturing industry to undertake voluntary examination of their environmental performance. In the past, you have supported this approach.
The Opposition consulted the Australian Chamber of Manufactures and the Green groups about these proposals, and it supports the notion that business should be responsible for cleaning up its act. Although that approach has not proved to be perfect, it has proved beneficial to the environment in the past. In future companies will run the risk of their confidential records and voluntary audits - companies are not required to carry out audits; they carry out audits in negotiation and agreement with the Australian Chamber of Manufactures - being exposed to seizure by EPA officers, who can enter company premises at any time.
Mr Hazzard: No privacy in the company whatever.
Mr RICHARDSON: They have no privacy whatsoever. The Government and the Environment Protection Authority have previously stated that voluntary audit information will not be used by the EPA in a prosecution unless it is brought into evidence by the defendant. Of course, that will not be the case now.
Mrs Lo Po': What are they scared of?
Mr RICHARDSON: The bill empowers officers of the EPA to enter any office, seize any documents they wish and use them in evidence against a company. I will take up the point raised by the Minister for Fair Trading, and Minister for Women, who is at the table. She asked what the companies are scared of. It is not a matter of what the companies are scared of; it is a matter of what we are all scared of. The companies are obviously all scared of the Labor Party, and they will not be willing to carry out the voluntary audits they have been carrying out in the past. So the legislation will result in worse environmental outcomes for the people of New South Wales. Mr Handberg from the Australian Chamber of Manufactures further said:
The EPA rules when an offence is brought to trial. The defendant has no ability to verify when the incident was discovered as EPA records are not publicly available.
That is another problem in the legislation. An EPA officer can miraculously discover at some time or another that an incident of pollution has occurred. The prosecution can then start from that time. Under the legislation there is no requirement for that officer to verify that the information came to him at the time he said it did. Once again, this will encourage gross inefficiency within the EPA. Mr Handberg alluded to that when he said:
EPA inefficiencies in bringing persons to trial are encouraged under this approach as there would no longer be an imperative to deal with offences when they occur.
Mr Handberg also said:
. . . current NSW environmental legislation is adequate as existing legislation allows:
•reverse onus of proof by defendants;
•strict liability on tier two offences;
•environmental offences are deemed criminal offences; and
As the honourable member for Keira pointed out, the existing legislation does the job. No Government speaker has put forward any compelling argument about the need to introduce this legislation at this time. The Government intends to release an exposure draft of the Protection of the Environment Operations Bill and a green paper by the end of this year.
Mr Hazzard: We will not see it.
Mr RICHARDSON: The honourable member for Wakehurst suggests that we will not see it. I hope that the Minister for the Environment will give us adequate time to read the bill. The draft bill is supposed to be available for public consultation for a three-month period. What will this legislation achieve over that six-month period? Why was it imperative for it to be introduced at this time? The Court of Appeal delivered its judgment in the matter of Environment Protection Authority v Bathurst City Council in November 1995. The issue has been dealt with. What imperative is there for the Minister to introduce this legislation now? Why does the bill apply to the Noise Control Act? What need is there for it to apply to that Act?
I understand that there are serious ongoing concerns relating to pollution of water or pollution of the air. Where does the Noise Control Act fit into the bill? The Minister did exactly the same thing with the Waste Minimisation and Management Act. It is enshrined in that Act that discharges of pollution into the water and the air and waste going to landfill will be reduced by 60 per cent. Even though we challenged the Minister during debate in this House, she gave no explanation as to why those provisions had been included in that Act. The Opposition certainly opposes this legislation. We do not believe it will do what the Minister has suggested it will do. A more appropriate course of action would be to wait for the Minister's new draft bill and the green paper. They should be available for the community consultation that the Minister has so manifestly failed to carry out in respect of this legislation.
Ms FICARRA (Georges River) [12.05]: It pains the coalition to oppose the Environmental Legislation Amendment (Enforcement) Bill, because generally it supports the universal objective of identifying and prosecuting polluters. The Opposition objects to the way the legislation has been rushed through this House without consultation. It had similar concerns about the waste minimisation legislation, which is proving to be difficult to comply with. Local government bodies everywhere are objecting to the fine print in that legislation, just as they are objecting to the fine print in this legislation.
The legislation extends the limitation period within which proceedings for offences against the environmental legislation must be instituted to within three years of a pollution incident. It empowers authorised officers to make inspections if they suspect that pollution has been caused in or from particular premises. The Minister made it clear in her second reading speech that the intention of the legislation is to increase the likelihood of successfully prosecuting polluters even when pollution occurred at some time in the past. That is very altruistic and publicly it sounds terrific. However, the coalition is concerned about the fine print in the bill and the methodology of such environmental altruism. The principle is fine but the bill will fall down in the fine print and in its delivery, in a manner similar to the waste minimisation legislation.
In my inaugural speech in this House I said that my major concern was the environment, particularly water quality in the Georges River electorate. I have a good relationship with the Georges River Catchment Management Committee, which is doing a fantastic job, as are many other catchment management committees throughout the State. The members of those committees are community representatives, industry representatives and users of the rivers. Members of those committees have said to me that they are upset that they are never consulted on issues such as this to ensure that the legislation actually works and to ensure that particular objectives are achieved. The Georges River Combined Councils has established an estuary management committee. That committee is doing fine work and is considering establishing a Georges River keeper to be funded by the nine local councils that border the Georges River.
I congratulate three people on their efforts in this area: Councillor Graham Starke, President of the Georges River Combined Councils; Ross Stewart, Deputy Mayor; and Councillor John Griffin from Hurstville City Council. That is an example of local government, communities and industry all working together, sensibly consulting on and investigating various matters. In those circumstances the likelihood of a particular proposition succeeding is
far greater. The coalition has no sympathy for polluters. It supports the work of the Environment Protection Authority, but wants to ensure that any legislation that is enacted is workable. The Opposition is concerned about paragraph (a) of the objects of the bill, which states:
•the power to require information by companies and individuals.
To extend the limitation period within which proceedings for offences against the environmental legislation must be instituted so as to enable proceedings to be instituted within the requisite period after evidence of the offence first comes to the attention -
and that is the significant part of the paragraph -
of any relevant authorised officer under that legislation (instead of only within the requisite period after the commission of the alleged offence) . . .
What does that really mean? Will a lot of vindictive moves against companies and industries being investigated by the EPA be fast-tracked? That probably will not happen, because the EPA would have to justify that. Regardless of whether the older methodology or the proposed methodology is used, clear-cut evidence is needed that will stand up in a court of law. If someone is unduly challenged he or she can go to the courts and fight it, as many have done - and many have won. Retrospectivity worries the coalition. I believe it is un-Australian. The coalition has said many times that it would be better to get industry working hand in hand with the Government. Prosecutions become shaky if they are left unattended for some time.
Past experience has shown that evidence in such cases does not stand up in court and many prosecutions have failed. As the honourable member for Wakehurst has said, the bill could encourage tardiness in investigations. Officers of the EPA do not act as quickly as they should, perhaps because resource allocation has been minimal. Instead of asking for adequate resources they wait for time to go by and evidence becomes more flimsy. The concept is fraught with a great many difficulties. Paragraph (b) of the objects of the bill states:
(b) to make it clear that authorised officers may enter premises under the environmental legislation if the officer suspects that pollution has been caused in or from the premises (at present the power of entry applies in some cases only if the officer suspects that pollution is being or is likely to be caused),
That is reasonable. Only if the officers suspect that it is likely or reasonable should they enter the premises. If that is not so, what is the point of this legislation? The legislation is not giving the officers any powers in addition to those they already have. If solid evidence is available that is when the EPA officers should enter premises. The Opposition and the Chamber of Manufactures, which consulted 22 of its members, both believe that the current legislation is sufficient. The Opposition is concerned about victimisation. One would hope that the EPA officers are professional enough not to indulge in victimisation. However, in the past there have been cases in the bureaucracy in various departments in which it has happened. It is unclear to me why paragraph (c) is included in the objects of the bill. It states:
(c) to make it clear that authorised officers may require an occupier of premises under the environmental legislation to produce records if the officer suspects that pollution has been caused in or from the premises (at present the power to require the production of records applies only if the officer suspects that pollution is being or is usually caused).
What is wrong with that? That is justifiable. So far as I am concerned no proof has been presented to justify any changes to the current law. There has been no proof of cases having failed that would have succeeded if the provisions of the bill were in place. This bill is populist legislation and gives little thought to the accountability of authorities for their actions. Strong grounds must be available before officers enter company premises, demand to inspect records and put company personnel through all sorts of hassles. If EPA officers are not on absolutely solid ground, they should not be wasting their time or the company's time. The coalition is most upset that consultation has not occurred. An article that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 19 June was headed "Pollute and pay policy tougher". The coalition supports many of the sentiments in that article, which stated:
NSW industries face an increase in pollution tax next year under a plan to make business pay for environmental clean ups.
Industries which continue to be heavy polluters will be charged according to the amount they produce, under new laws to come into effect this year.
All industries and businesses will have restrictions placed on them which will limit the amount of pollution they can emit.
They are fine sentiments and I hope there will be more consultation as to the fine print of that legislation than has occurred in this case. The coalition supports the imposition of restrictions on polluters. The wrongdoers in industry should be dealt with in a tougher way. They should be responsible for cleaning up the mess they make, but let us consult more widely with industry and let us not have messy legislation such as the waste minimisation legislation.
The Government should increase the allocation of resources to control stormwater runoff, which is the biggest polluter of our waterways. Particular assistance should be given to local government to fund the installation of gross pollutant traps. Hurstville and Kogarah councils have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the installation of such traps. The State Government should allocate more resources for the installation of those traps. The intention of the legislation is fine. However, the fine print and the methodology is flawed. More consultation is needed to meet community expectations in relation to environmental pollution. It pains me to say it, but the coalition must oppose the legislation.
Ms ALLAN (Blacktown - Minister for the Environment) [12.14], in reply: I thank honourable members from both sides of the House who contributed to the debate. There was certainly some confusion in the speeches made by those on the
other side of the Chamber about the intent of this legislation. Some of that confusion certainly came through in the press release from the Australian Chamber of Manufactures. I will address that matter in a moment. The mentor of the honourable member for Wakehurst, the Hon. Tim Moore, a former Minister for the Environment in this State, would have hung his head in shame had he been listening to the speech of the honourable member for Wakehurst.
I hate to offer a history lesson at this time but it may be appropriate. I would rather get it over with now than spend part of every speech about environmental legislation in this Parliament in the next few years going over the same ground. One of the reasons New South Wales has a very tough set of environmental protection laws is that at the time they were introduced the responsible Minister was very keen to take on both the private and public sectors in this State to make sure that the laws of this State were the strongest in the country. Those laws had two architects, and one was the mentor of the honourable member for Wakehurst, the Hon. Tim Moore. I am proud to say that he was on the right track and he received a great deal of support from the then Opposition when he introduced those laws. The other architect of the tough environmental laws in this State is another former mentor of the honourable member for Wakehurst, the Hon. Terry Metherell.
Mr Hazzard: How many mentors have I got?
Ms ALLAN: The honourable member for Wakehurst has only two mentors, and their functions have been extremely limited. Nevertheless, they were responsible for two important processes in this State: tough legislation, and a important authority, the Environment Protection Authority, which was able to enforce those laws. The current Opposition cannot now bleat about tough environmental protection laws when its own members were the co-architects of those laws. Several years down the track from the time those laws commenced to operate the EPA has acknowledged that they have some weaknesses. These amendments are an attempt to consolidate and improve those laws.
Frankly, I was surprised that the Opposition spokesperson on the environment devoted his entire speech to the concerns of industry. As a sideline we should perhaps talk about what industry thinks about this legislation, but why is the person responsible for environment protection on the other side of the Chamber spending all his time talking about industry's concerns about this issue? The honourable member for Keira accused Opposition members of being protectors of pollution. That is not a rash statement; it is an appropriate statement based on the performance of the current shadow minister for the environment.
I do not want to tell him how to do his job, but I will. In this Chamber the shadow Minister for the environment does not do his job by protecting the concerns and, in some places, the ignorance of industry. He should articulate the concerns of the conservation movement and seek to protect the environment. That is the job of the shadow minister for the environment. He should not merely be the stooge of a ill-informed sectional interest group in this State. The former Government brought forward legislation for tough penalties for environmental offences and for the protection of the environment. The former Government created the current EPA with the help of the then Independent in this Chamber, the Hon. Terry Metherell. It is now obvious that there are limitations in that legislation and it is entirely appropriate for the Government and the EPA to make recommendations about how the legislation should be improved. It is important that the amendments in the bill be dealt with now.
Mr Hazzard: Why?
Ms ALLAN: I am about to tell you. If he did not listen in the first place, perhaps I should reiterate for the benefit of the honourable member for Wakehurst that the Government is undertaking the review that has already been mentioned in the debate in preparation for the second stage of the environment protection legislation. Although the Opposition may not acknowledge this, the Government and industry acknowledge that it takes time to ensure that adequate consultation takes place.
I just heard a note of hysteria from the honourable member for Wakehurst.
Mr DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! The member for Wakehurst has had the opportunity to speak in the debate and will remain silent.
Ms ALLAN: Medication is available for the problem. In the meantime, while the Government continues to improve the overall package of the State's pollution laws it has to ensure that regulatory authorities like the Environment Protection Authority can still do their job properly. That is what this legislation is all about. The legislation is based on legislation that exists both in Australia and overseas. Under section 63A of the Victorian Act, the EPA may start criminal proceedings for certain environmental offences within one year of obtaining evidence which the EPA considers sufficient to warrant prosecution.
The New South Wales Government has decided not to replicate the Victorian provision as the time limit in that State will apply only when the Victorian EPA determines that it has sufficient evidence to commence prosecution. The Government believes that in practice such a provision gives little guidance on when time limits begin, and could result in confusion and controversy. Despite the allegations made by the honourable member for Wakehurst, which were backed up by his colleagues, the Government does not want to create more confusion, controversy and unpredictability for industry in this State. A provision similar to that proposed in this bill exists in Ontario's Environment Protection Act.
Section 148 of that Act provides that criminal proceedings may be commenced within two years of the date on which evidence of an offence first comes to the attention of an authorised officer.
That provision forms the basis of the provision in this bill. Under the provisions of the existing pollution control legislation authorised officers have the power to enter premises or obtain documents when pollution is being caused or is likely to be caused in or from those premises. However, they are not explicitly given the power to enter premises or to obtain documents when the pollution has occurred wholly in the past. Such an incident may clearly need to be investigated. Not one of the three members opposite who spoke in the debate acknowledged that possibility. They adopt the attitude that it is out of mind and therefore it is not relevant; they should not think about it if it happened in the past. That is not good enough in this day and age. The Government has introduced a bill to amend the relevant Acts to ensure that authorised officers of relevant organisations - not an environmental cavalry of volunteers, but authorised officers - have the power to investigate past pollution incidents, which, of course, may still have an impact on the environment.
The ability of prosecutors to nominate the day on which evidence of an environmental offence came to the attention of a relevant authorised officer is crucial to the smooth working of the proposed amendment. If prosecutors were not able to do that they would be forced to call evidence from all their authorised officers to show when a matter first came to the attention of one of their officers. That is obviously a waste of resources and time. Unlike members opposite, I am well aware that no section of government - certainly not the environment portfolio - has unlimited resources. Our resources should be used wisely and effectively. It will always be open to a defendant to show that a matter came to the attention of a relevant authorised officer at an earlier date and as a result proceedings have not been instituted within time.
Mr Hazzard: How do they do that? Tell us how they do it. You should have the courage of your convictions and tell us.
Ms ALLAN: Was the honourable member for Wakehurst not told in kindergarten that he cannot listen and talk at the same time? It is not appropriate that polluters escape liability merely because an offence has gone undetected for a number of months or years. There is a crucial difference between the view of the Government and the view of the Opposition. Why should those who are responsible for something that happened in the past, whether it was months or years ago, escape prosecution? The Government, the EPA and many members of the community certainly do not believe they should. The Opposition believes they should, and that is an appalling statement of its commitment to environmental protection.
Much of the debate has revolved around a statement by the Australian Chamber of Manufactures concerning this legislation. Contrary to the allegations made in the Chamber, I am aware of a press release of 11 November issued by Allan Handberg, on behalf of the Australian Chamber of Manufactures, who has already been mentioned in the debate. My office has received a letter from the Australian Chamber of Manufactures, and some concern has been expressed in this debate that the letter has not been replied to. I have news for the Opposition. The letter was written on 11 November and was received today, 13 November. It is unlikely that a reply could have been sent in that time frame.
If the Opposition has a copy of the letter as well as the press release, I suggest that the Australian Chamber of Manufactures go back to the drawing board and get its communications in order. My office does have telephones, and the chamber has not telephoned, though it has obviously been hot on the phone to the Opposition. If the Australian Chamber of Manufactures and Mr Allan Handberg have a pressing concern about a matter such as this it would have been appropriate to contact my office.
Mr Hazzard: They contacted you and you haven't rung back.
Ms ALLAN: The honourable member for Wakehurst is still not listening. He is still back in his pre-kindergarten days, talking and not listening, then coming to a conclusion that is invariably wrong. If the Australian Chamber of Manufactures is concerned, it should pick up the telephone occasionally, not only to talk to its mates in the Opposition but to talk to people in the Government. As it turns out, many of the concerns of the Chamber of Manufactures are not valid. I refer particularly to the use of voluntary audits, which are raised in the letter received by my office today.
Mr Hazzard: It was faxed to you on Monday afternoon.
Ms ALLAN: I am sorry that the honourable member for Wakehurst seems to know more about the use of telecommunications by the Australian Chamber of Manufactures than the chamber knows. He has to do his job for the environment broadly; he cannot do it for one sectional interest within the community. That is not his job. He should learn his job; that is what he is paid for. The EPA already has the power to obtain documents relating to pollution caused at particular premises. As I have already said, it does not have the power to obtain documents about one-off past pollution incidents. That is what the legislation seeks to address.
The Government is concerned that the Australian Chamber of Manufactures is confusing the purpose of the legislation with its concern that the Government will start seizing voluntary audits from companies. That is not the case. It is not the policy, practice or intention of the Government or the EPA to compulsorily require voluntary audits. I spend considerable time talking to industry
representatives, and I regularly talk about the fact that the Government wants to encourage industry to audit its own operations environmentally. The Government understands that if it had unfettered access to those voluntary audit documents industry would be discouraged from undertaking such audits.
Industry knows that is not the intent of this legislation. It is not the intent of the second stage of the environment protection legislation that is currently being discussed with industry to require voluntary audits to be carried out. Allan Handberg might not know it, but industry as a whole knows it. It is government policy that voluntary audit documents should be protected to encourage industry to carry out such audits. I give that assurance to industry and to the Opposition, although I do not expect the Opposition to fully understand it. The Environment Protection Authority has power to access the documents even without the amendment, but it is not EPA policy to access them.
The other issue raised by the Australian Chamber of Manufactures relates to retrospectivity. It is important that the new limitation period apply to serious past offences, which may go undetected for a long time or may take considerable time to investigate thoroughly. There may be deliberate discharges to complex stormwater systems, but what about natural underground water systems? What about pollution that might occur there over a long time, yet remain undetected? This is a complex issue. We cannot assume that there has been no pollution simply because of the exhaustion of the time frame established by the courts. and because any offence is now covered by the current legislation. Past environmental offences have to be dealt with. That is the philosophy of this Government; it is not a blind ideology but a commitment to ensure that the environment is thoroughly protected.
This measure does not provide for retrospectivity in the traditional sense. It does not make a previously lawful activity unlawful. Rather, it enables appropriate action to be taken against those who have committed environmental offences in the past. Another issue of concern discussed at some length by a number of members opposite was the possibility of the legislation encouraging inefficiency. I do not believe there is inefficiency at present. Occasionally greater speed in dealing with a matter would have been appreciated, but generally speaking delays have not been attributed to inefficiency. The legislation will not encourage inefficiencies. The Environment Protection Authority will continue to investigate and prosecute offences in a timely manner. The Opposition is short-sighted in opposing the legislation, and signals a major change of direction in its commitment to tough environmental legislation in this State. That is a heritage and a practice that people in the previous Government, particularly the former Minister for the Environment, Tim Moore, were very proud of. In fact, he incensed industry because he was so concerned about ensuring that this State had the best environmental laws. It is not appropriate that we retreat from that, and it is not appropriate that his party chooses to retreat from it. I commend the bill to the House.
Question - That this bill be now read a second time - put.
The House divided.
Mr Rixon: On a point of order. When the doors were locked the honourable member for Bligh was on the Opposition side of the House.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Chair was not aware of that.
Mr Rixon: When the door was closed the honourable member for Bligh was on this side of the Chamber. She has now moved across to the other side.
Mr Beckroge: On the point of order. It is quite obvious that the honourable member for Bligh made an error, and I ask you, Mr Speaker, to recommit the division and ring the bell for 10 seconds.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The standing orders do not allow for that. The honourable member for Bligh will abide by the standing orders and sit where she was when the doors were locked, on the Opposition side. The count will continue.
Ms Allan Mr Markham
Mr Amery Mr Martin
Mr Anderson Ms Meagher
Ms Andrews Mr Mills
Mr Aquilina Mr Moss
Mrs Beamer Mr Nagle
Mr Crittenden Mr Neilly
Mr Debus Ms Nori
Mr Face Mr E. T. Page
Mr Gaudry Mr Price
Mr Gibson Dr Refshauge
Mrs Grusovin Mr Rogan
Ms Hall Mr Rumble
Mr Harrison Mr Scully
Ms Harrison Mr Shedden
Mr Hunter Mr Stewart
Mr Iemma Mr Sullivan
Mr Knowles Mr Tripodi
Mr Langton Mr Watkins
Mrs Lo Po' Mr Woods
Mr Lynch Mr Yeadon
Dr Macdonald Tellers,
Mr McBride Mr Beckroge
Mr McManus Mr Thompson
Mr Beck Mr O'Farrell
Mr Blackmore Mr D. L. Page
Mr Brogden Mr Peacocke
Mr Chappell Mr Phillips
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Photios
Mr Cochran Mr Richardson
Mr Collins Mr Rixon
Mr Cruickshank Mr Rozzoli
Mr Debnam Mr Schipp
Mr Ellis Mr Schultz
Ms Ficarra Mrs Skinner
Mr Fraser Mr Slack-Smith
Mr Glachan Mr Small
Mr Hartcher Mr Smith
Mr Hazzard Mr Souris
Mr Humpherson Mr Tink
Dr Kernohan Mr J. H. Turner
Mr MacCarthy Mr Windsor
Mr Merton Tellers,
Ms Moore Mr Jeffery
Mr O'Doherty Mr Kerr
Mr Carr Mr Armstrong
Mr Clough Mr Downy
Mr Knight Mr R. W. Turner
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Mr HAZZARD (Wakehurst) [12.43]: I just indicate in this Committee phase -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The House is now on the third reading of the bill.
Ms ALLAN (Blacktown - Minister for the Environment) [12.43]: I ask leave of the House to move the third reading of this bill forthwith.
Ms ALLAN: I move:
That this bill be now read a third time.
Mr Hazzard: On a point of order. I had indicated a few seconds ago to you, Mr Speaker, that I wished to go into Committee. The Minister is now moving that the bill be now read a third time. I ask you to rule on the basis that I had sought the call to go into Committee.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The House was asked if leave was granted to move the third reading, and leave was granted. The Chair is bound by the wish of the House, not by that of an individual member.
Mr Hazzard: Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is the decision.
Mr Hartcher: On the point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have ruled on the point of order.
Mr Phillips: On another point of order. Mr Speaker, before the call for leave to proceed to the third reading I stood in my place and indicated that the Opposition wanted to go into Committee. You looked me fair square in the eyes, then ignored me and proceeded to put the question on the third reading.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! What the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has said is perfectly correct, but the procedure is that leave is either granted or it is not granted. The honourable member has been told explicitly that leave was granted to move to the third reading and that is the stage the House is at now.
Question - That this bill be now read a third time - put.
The House divided.
Ms Allan Mr Martin
Mr Amery Ms Meagher
Mr Anderson Mr Mills
Ms Andrews Ms Moore
Mr Aquilina Mr Moss
Mrs Beamer Mr Nagle
Mr Crittenden Mr Neilly
Mr Debus Ms Nori
Mr Face Mr E. T. Page
Mr Gaudry Mr Price
Mr Gibson Dr Refshauge
Mrs Grusovin Mr Rogan
Ms Hall Mr Rumble
Mr Harrison Mr Scully
Ms Harrison Mr Shedden
Mr Hunter Mr Stewart
Mr Iemma Mr Sullivan
Mr Knowles Mr Tripodi
Mr Langton Mr Watkins
Mrs Lo Po' Mr Woods
Mr Lynch Mr Yeadon
Mr McBride Tellers,
Mr McManus Mr Beckroge
Mr Markham Mr Thompson
Mr Beck Mr O'Farrell
Mr Blackmore Mr D. L. Page
Mr Brogden Mr Peacocke
Mr Chappell Mr Phillips
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Photios
Mr Cochran Mr Richardson
Mr Collins Mr Rixon
Mr Cruickshank Mr Rozzoli
Mr Debnam Mr Schipp
Mr Ellis Mr Schultz
Ms Ficarra Mrs Skinner
Mr Fraser Mr Slack-Smith
Mr Glachan Mr Small
Mr Hartcher Mr Smith
Mr Hazzard Mr Souris
Mr Humpherson Mr Tink
Dr Kernohan Mr J. H. Turner
Mr Kinross Mr Windsor
Mr MacCarthy Tellers,
Mr Merton Mr Jeffery
Mr O'Doherty Mr Kerr
Mr Carr Mr Armstrong
Mr Clough Mr Downy
Mr Knight Mr R. W. Turner
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a third time.
[Mr Speaker left the chair at 12.54 p.m. The House resumed at 2.15 p.m.]
Governor of New South Wales
Petitions praying that the office of Governor of New South Wales not be downgraded, and that the role, duties and future of the office be determined by a referendum, received from Mr Armstrong, Mr Beck, Mr Blackmore, Mr Brogden, Mr Chappell, Mrs Chikarovski, Mr Collins, Mr Cruickshank, Mr Debnam, Mr Ellis, Ms Ficarra, Mr Fraser, Mr Glachan, Mr Hartcher, Mr Hazzard, Mr Humpherson, Mr Jeffery, Dr Kernohan, Mr Kerr, Mr Kinross, Mr MacCarthy, Mr Merton, Mr O'Doherty, Mr Peacocke, Mr Phillips, Mr Photios, Mr Richardson, Mr Rixon, Mr Rozzoli, Mr Schipp, Mr Schultz, Ms Seaton, Mrs Skinner, Mr Slack-Smith, Mr Smith, Mr Tink and Mr R. W. Turner.
Tweed District and Murwillumbah Hospitals
Petition praying that funding for the Tweed District and Murwillumbah hospitals be increased, received from Mr Beck.
Northern Sydney Area Health Service
Petition praying that additional funding be provided urgently to the Royal North Shore Hospital and the Northern Sydney Area Health Service, received from Mrs Chikarovski.
Petition praying that the number of police in the Moree area be increased, and that police be given the power to pick up juveniles and deliver them to their homes or to a safe place, received from Mr Slack-Smith.
F3-M2 Link Road Land Sale
Petition praying that the Government reconsider its decision to sell off land set aside for the link road between the end of the F3 and the M2, received from Mr Hartcher.
Bowral Railway Station Pedestrian Crossing
Petition praying that the Roads and Traffic Authority provide a safe crossing from Bowral railway station across Station Street, received from Ms Seaton.
Fassifern XPT Service
Petition praying that Fassifern be included as a station on the Brisbane to Murwillumbah XPT service, received from Mr Hunter.
Hunter Sewer Service Access Charge
Petition praying that the parameters of the sewer service access charge of the Hunter Water Corporation be modified, received from Mr Hunter.
Beresfield District Mining
Petition praying that the mining exploration licence granted to Donaldson Projects to explore on the site west of Beresfield be withdrawn, received from Mr Price.
REORDERING OF GENERAL BUSINESS
Proposed Cooma Prison Closure
Mr COCHRAN (Monaro) [2.24]: I move:
That general business notice of motion No. 49 be reordered to have precedence on Thursday, 14 November 1996.
The presence of the gaol in Cooma is estimated to be worth $10 million a year to the town's economy. The Minister's decision to close the gaol will have a dramatic effect on Cooma's economy. Precedence should be given to my notice of motion tomorrow so that the views expressed by the people of Cooma can be heard in debate. It is critical that my motion be given precedence so that the anger and frustration that 2,500 people showed yesterday in Cooma can be expressed in the Parliament. There is no reason
that the Minister should not hear the reasons why the gaol should remain open. He has deceived and lied to the people of Cooma.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Monaro has three minutes to put his case before a vote is taken. Members should refrain from interjecting and afford the member the courtesy of being heard in silence.
Mr COCHRAN: Debate on the issue will expose the fact that the gaol produces $2.5 million through an efficient textile manufacturing business, trading as Texcon, to offset the operating costs of the prison, which are assessed at about $3.5 million. The people of Monaro deserve to be heard on the issue. The Minister has refused to talk to them and has treated them with utter contempt. He refuses to acknowledge, as did his predecessor and former Minister for Corrective Services John Akister, that the gaol is an important part of the fabric of Cooma's economy. The people of Cooma have demanded that the Minister take heed of the direction he is taking.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Minister for Agriculture to order.
Mr COCHRAN: This is symptomatic of the problem of the Carr Government in not understanding the people in rural New South Wales. This is the year - [Time expired.]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the member for Londonderry to order.
Question - That the motion be agreed to - put.
The House divided.
Mr Beck Mr O'Doherty
Mr Blackmore Mr O'Farrell
Mr Brogden Mr D. L. Page
Mr Chappell Mr Peacocke
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Phillips
Mr Cochran Mr Photios
Mr Collins Mr Richardson
Mr Cruickshank Mr Rixon
Mr Debnam Mr Rozzoli
Mr Ellis Mr Schipp
Ms Ficarra Mr Schultz
Mr Fraser Mrs Skinner
Mr Glachan Mr Slack-Smith
Mr Hartcher Mr Small
Mr Hazzard Mr Smith
Mr Humpherson Mr Souris
Dr Kernohan Mr Tink
Mr Kinross Mr J. H. Turner
Mr MacCarthy Mr Windsor
Dr Macdonald Tellers,
Mr Merton Mr Jeffery
Ms Moore Mr Kerr
Ms Allan Mr Martin
Mr Amery Ms Meagher
Mr Anderson Mr Mills
Ms Andrews Mr Moss
Mr Aquilina Mr Nagle
Mrs Beamer Mr Neilly
Mr Carr Ms Nori
Mr Crittenden Mr E. T. Page
Mr Debus Mr Price
Mr Face Dr Refshauge
Mr Gaudry Mr Rogan
Mr Gibson Mr Rumble
Mrs Grusovin Mr Scully
Ms Hall Mr Shedden
Mr Harrison Mr Stewart
Ms Harrison Mr Sullivan
Mr Hunter Mr Tripodi
Mr Iemma Mr Watkins
Mr Knowles Mr Whelan
Mr Langton Mr Woods
Mrs Lo Po' Mr Yeadon
Mr McBride Tellers,
Mr McManus Mr Beckroge
Mr Markham Mr Thompson
Mr Armstrong Mr Clough
Mr Downy Mr Knight
Question so resolved in the negative.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Order of Business
Motion, by leave, by Mr Whelan agreed to:
That on Thursday, 14 November 1996, standing and sessional orders be suspended to allow at 11.00 a.m. debate being interrupted for consideration of Government business notice of motion No. 1 concerning Aboriginal reconciliation, with the following time limits for debate:
Premier 20 minutes
Leader of the Opposition 20 minutes
8 other members 10 minutes
STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC WORKS
Resignation of Member
The Clerk advised the House that Peter Alexander Cameron Macdonald, member for Manly, had resigned his membership of the Standing Committee on Public Works and that he had received a nomination from Antony Harold Curties Windsor, member for Tamworth, to fill the vacancy for an Independent member on that committee.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
PRISONER HORSERACING TIPS
Mr COLLINS: I address my question to the Minister for Corrective Services. Why has the Minister failed to investigate claims from a senior prison official that seven prison officers at Cessnock gaol have bet on horseracing tips provided by prisoners?
It gets better!
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister is entitled to hear the question in order that he might answer it. A number of Government members are making it very difficult for the Leader of the Opposition to be heard and they will cease interjecting.
Mr COLLINS: With at least eight races providing an almost 100 per cent success rate and thousands of dollars in winnings for the officers, will the Minister order an immediate investigation?
Mr DEBUS: The Opposition and its leader are, perhaps as usual, six months behind the times. I have not failed to investigate those allegations, salacious as they are. They have been investigated by the internal investigation unit of the Department of Corrective Services at some length. In order to ensure full autonomy of this investigation it has been referred to an independent barrister, who is at present reviewing the results of that investigation. I await those results with great interest.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Honourable members will refrain from interjecting.
Mr DEBUS: If the Leader of the Opposition has any information, perhaps he would be good enough to give it to me, to the department or to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Mr Collins: Who is the barrister?
Mr DEBUS: The barrister's name is Anderson.
POLICE SERVICE NUMBERS
Mr McMANUS: My question without notice is directed to the Premier, Minister for the Arts, and Minister for Ethnic Affairs. What steps has the Government taken recently to improve the effectiveness of the New South Wales Police Service?
Mr CARR: Yesterday I advised the House of this Government's commitment to the reform of the New South Wales Police Service with the adoption of the immediate measures interim report of the royal commission. Today I am pleased to inform honourable members of another initiative - one that will be welcomed, I am sure, by all members of the House, that is, an increase of 100 in the number of authorised funded positions in the New South Wales Police Service - 100 additional police.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Members should listen to answers in silence. When a Minister moves to the rostrum to answer a question that is not a signal for members to talk amongst themselves. If members are not interested in the subject matter of a question they may use any one of the four exits from this Chamber. However, if they remain in the Chamber they should be courteous to the Minister with the call and listen to the answer in silence.
Mr CARR: This is an important step in implementing this Government's election commitment to increase the authorised strength of the service to 13,407 by the end of 1998. As of today, with the attestation of almost 200 new police, there are 13,207 police in New South Wales. This is a record number of police in the State. Honourable members will be aware that before the last election the Labor Party made a further commitment to put more police where crime is worse. Today's allocation of additional positions will go to the top 25 high crime patrols. The new positions will go to the areas with the highest crime levels. The central coast, western Sydney and the inner city will have an immediate increase in authorised police.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Gosford to order.
Mr CARR: Patrols in Dubbo, Nowra and the Newcastle area will also have their authorised strengths increased in recognition of their heavy workloads. This also adopts the commissioner's recent policy of putting more police in tourist locations. Bondi has already received more police, and with today's allocation the inner city and the south coast will as well. Earlier today the Minister for Police attended the attestation parade of class 266 at the New South Wales Police Academy at Goulburn. Classes 266 and 264 will be distributed around the State to country areas such as Bathurst, Orange, Dubbo and the southern highlands, which will benefit from a distribution for the first time since 1989.
At this point I would like to respond to recent comments made about the future of the New South Wales Police Board. It is the view of the royal commission that the Police Board, despite the best endeavours, has failed. The board admitted in its submission to the royal commission that it has had no measurable impact on corruption in the Police Service.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ermington to order.
Mr CARR: Gary Sturgess resigned from the Police Board on 4 September. He cited as one of the reasons for resignation that the board was not able to adequately function because it had no independent source of advice, no powers to carry out investigations of its own and no resources. He was
right. That is why the Government has established the Police Integrity Commission, an altogether new body with comprehensive powers, described as being effectively a standing royal commission. The Police Integrity Commission has those powers. Its principal function, of course, is to detect, to investigate and to prevent police corruption. Unlike the Police Board it is independent of the Police Service and has extensive powers of investigation. This Government is determined to ensure that the commission has adequate resources. I announce today that the Government has approved a budget for the commission for 1997-98 of $12.4 million.
Under the new arrangements being proposed the Commissioner of Police will be obliged to seek advice from the Police Integrity Commission on all senior appointments and will at last have a system which allows adequate and independent checks of senior police appointments. Recent comment that the reforms proposed by the royal commission and endorsed by this Government give the Commissioner of Police unprecedented powers - make him, it is suggested, the most powerful police commissioner in the State's history - are simply not true. The Government wants the commissioner to have adequate powers to carry through the reforms, but the fact is that in the landscape now is the Police Integrity Commission. It is an addition; it did not exist in the past. It has considerable powers and it has the resources to do the job. The commission sits there equipped to take on its important tasks and responsibilities.
The question is: with a Police Integrity Commission established by this Government with, I acknowledge, the support of all honourable members of the House, is there a need for a Police Board? I am opposed and the Government is opposed to having unnecessary Government bodies when, as is the case here, their functions have been taken over by a new body. Why persist with the antiquated structure when there is a new body taking on new responsibilities, filling the vacuum and doing the job? To put it simply, there is no remaining role for the Police Board and it will go. The Police Integrity Commission, designed to be far more effective, will take over its most important roles and responsibilities.
Mr Jeffery: Bring back Anderson as the member for Liverpool.
Mr CARR: The honourable member for Oxley wants Ted Pickering to come back.
Mr Jeffery: No, I want Anderson to come back to Liverpool.
Mr CARR: An Opposition locked in the past. The honourable member for Oxley says, "Bring back Ted Pickering." Can honourable members believe it? The Government is carrying out these reforms and all the honourable member for Oxley can say is to bring back Ted Pickering. What a joke! I make no reflection on those who made a contribution to the work of the board. Those individuals have done their best. There can be little doubt, however, that the design of the Police Board is flawed. It does not meet the needs of 1996 as revealed by the work of the royal commission. It has been given functions which it could not carry out, and there is no place for it in the police administration as it is being redesigned.
PRISONER HORSERACING TIPS
Mr SOURIS: I direct my question without notice to the Minister for Corrective Services. Did officers at Cessnock gaol win $2,500 on a bet after ringing the gaol from their homes to obtain betting tips from prisoners? Has the Minister acted on the evidence that those betting tips were provided by associates of entrenched criminals Nick Paltos and the late Lennie McPherson?
Mr DEBUS: The Deputy Leader of the National Party has not had time to change his script. Did he not hear the answer to the last question? It is perfectly clear that the matter has been under investigation for months.
Mr Souris: On a point of order. The Minister thinks I asked whether it has been investigated. The question was has he acted on the information.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No point of order is involved.
Mr CRITTENDEN: I address my question without notice to the Minister for Education and Training. What is the Government doing to inform school principals of their rights in respect of problem students?
Mr AQUILINA: The honourable member for Wyong is a member of the Government's backbench education committee and always expresses a keen interest in educational matters. I am sure that members of this House will share my outrage and horror about the incident that occurred yesterday at Hunters Hill High School. I will not go into the details because the matter is under police investigation, but a year 8 student was stabbed in the shoulder by another student. Yesterday's incident is very much the exception in New South Wales schools. Since last year there has been a 64 per cent drop in violent incidents in government schools. No government has done more to tackle school violence than this Government has done.
Under my instruction the Department of School Education has given principals more power to suspend or exclude problem students. The department has required all schools to update their discipline policies to ensure that they meet today's needs, and in conjunction with the New South Wales Police Service the department has supported teachers who want to take out apprehended violence orders against threatening students and parents. Yesterday I announced that violent or potentially violent high school students will be housed at a new facility in the Marrickville area.
I also instructed the Department of School Education to fast-track the identification of antisocial and emotionally disturbed students in the State's 460 secondary and central schools. Forty specialist teams, in total 120 people, will visit all State schools to identify the so-called problem students. They will prepare special in-depth, case-by-case programs to deal with them. My message is clear: schools are not havens from the law. Today the Department of School Education will begin a major education campaign aimed at informing the State's 2,226 principals of their rights in dealing with so-called problem students. Last week I advised the Department of School Education that principals must be fully aware of the options available to them to deal with aggressive behaviour by students and to ensure that appropriate action is taken.
Principals now have unprecedented power to suspend, exclude or recommend expulsion of problem students. Principals can require students to carry out work or services to repair or compensate for damage. Principals have the power to establish time-out or isolation rooms for difficult students and to conduct bag searches if they suspect that they contain weapons or illegal drugs. If weapons are found, police will be called and the offending student will be suspended immediately - no ifs, no buts, no maybes.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai to order.
Mr AQUILINA: If a student refuses to cooperate with a bag search -
Mr O'Doherty: On a point of order. It has become the habit -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! What is the point of order?
Mr O'Doherty: If I cannot get out more than five words -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have asked what is the point of order?
Mr O'Doherty: The point of order is that this is a ministerial statement. It has become the practice of the Minister -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister for Public Works and Services will remain silent,
Mr O'Doherty: The standing orders provide that the purpose of question time is to elicit information. The information required related to what the Government was doing to inform principals. The Minister has given us a very narrow answer. The rest of the answer is a long statement about government policy and therefore it is properly the province of a ministerial statement.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No point of order is involved. The Minister is giving a background to the implementation of the policy; he is not actually presenting the policy.
Mr AQUILINA: The honourable member for Ku-ring-gai, more than any other member, could do with some education, and that is precisely what I am attempting to do. The honourable member questions my point. I do not want to be mean to the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai, not one little bit, but I have to say there is something wrong when the shadow minister for education issues a press release with 16 abbreviation, punctuation and grammatical errors.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Premier will resume his seat. The House will come to order. The Premier is totally out of order, as is the honourable member for Monaro. The Minister may make passing reference to the document but he cannot wave it around and present it to other members of the House. The Minister will resume his reply in a dignified manner. I call the honourable member for Wakehurst to order.
Mr AQUILINA: I seek leave to table the document.
Leave not granted.
For the information of the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai, the Carr Government is spelt with two "r"s, not one. For the benefit of the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai, I repeat what I said earlier. Principals now have unprecedented powers to suspend, exclude or recommend expulsion of problem students. Principals can require students to carry out work or services to repair or compensate for damage caused. Principals have the power to establish time-out or isolation rooms for difficult students and, again for the edification of the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai and others, principals have the power to conduct bag searches if they suspect that they contain weapons or illegal drugs.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai to order for the second time.
Mr AQUILINA: If weapons are found, police will be called and the offending student will be suspended immediately. If a student refuses to cooperate with a bag search, principals are empowered to call police. My message to all principals is that they have my support and the support of the Government in dealing with violent or problem students. To problem students I give this message: if you threaten or hurt other students, or prevent other students from learning, remember that your place can be made vacant. Shape up or ship out, because that is precisely what the policy is all about. Schools are not welfare agencies.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no need for members to respond in that manner.
Mr AQUILINA: Again, I stress that schools are not welfare agencies. Problem students cannot use schools as havens from the law. They will feel the force of the law if they step outside lawful behaviour. I will save the press release for another day.
HOTEL POKER MACHINES
Dr MACDONALD: I direct my question without notice to the Premier. Will he detail the adverse impact the gaming package will have on community benefits provided by the club industry? Will he name the 37 Labor members of Parliament who voted for the package in caucus?
Mr CARR: The package is before the House. It will be debated here and I would have thought that would provide an ideal opportunity for the Minister to -
Mr Cochran: On a point of order. The Premier has just admitted that the matter is before the House and that it should not be debated in question time. Therefore, the question is out of order.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Premier may answer the question if he wishes.
Mr CARR: The Minister will be delighted during that debate to spell out how the new tax scales will help more than half the State's registered clubs, especially smaller clubs and especially those in rural New South Wales. I understand that the package will be supported by the Opposition.
Dr Macdonald: It is all about cost.
Mr CARR: It is a balanced package.
Mr O'Farrell: How much will a schooner cost?
Mr CARR: The honourable member for Northcott asks how much a schooner will cost. He certainly knows the answer to that. While you are at it, you can quiz him about the cost of a pound of pork sausages.
Mr NAGLE: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Transport, and Minister for Tourism. What is the Government doing to improve the training available to taxidrivers in New South Wales?
Mr LANGTON: I thank the honourable member for Auburn for his question.
Mr Photios: Tell us about the baby capsules.
Mr LANGTON: It is interesting that every time a Minister gets on his feet, there is a yap, yap, yap from the honourable member for Ermington.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister will address the question.
Mr LANGTON: It would be nice to get a question from him but I have not had one this year. On 23 May this year I announced the beginning of a new era for the taxi industry in New South Wales. That announcement followed a call for action from groups which ranged from the Taxi Council to tourism industry representatives. As disparate as these bodies may seem, the message was the same: the taxi industry is an integral part of public transport in New South Wales, and it needs to be seen as such. For that reason the Government introduced a taxi industry reform package designed to make drivers safer, to improve service to customers and to make sure that the New South Wales taxi industry ranks among the best in the world.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for The Hills to order. I call the honourable member for Baulkham Hills to order.
Mr LANGTON: The package included driver safety protection measures, the need for better communication skills, on-road testing of driving skills and locality knowledge, cleaner and safer taxis and better training. It is clear that taxidrivers seeking to provide a world-class service to their customers deserve world-class training to assist them. That has not been the situation for some time. In 1994 the former Government dissolved what was known as the Taxi Industry Training Board set up to promote and develop training in the industry. The former Government considered that such an organisation was no longer necessary. However, the public and the drivers beg to differ.
Between May 1995 and April 1996 more than 4,300 complaints against taxi services were received by the Department of Transport and the taxi complaints hotline. Almost 40 per cent of the complaints related to discourtesy, incivility or impropriety, while another 22 per cent related to driver incompetence or other driving categories. But it is unfair to expect a superior level of service if drivers are not properly trained to provide it. I am pleased to announce to the House today that the Government has moved to ensure that such training is provided. Following consultation with the Taxi Council and the Transport Workers Union, the Government has established a new taxidriver training committee to examine that very issue. The committee will comprise representatives of the Department of Transport, the New South Wales Taxi Council, the Transport Workers Union and an independent training expert.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I ask the honourable member for Port Jackson and the honourable member for Bega to remain silent.
Mr LANGTON: The committee will meet regularly to examine the adequacy of all current training procedures for taxidrivers, to identify problem areas and to develop a new curriculum. The most important brief of the committee will be to ensure that drivers are properly prepared for what is a particularly demanding job and that they are able to provide the world-class level of service that is vital to customers and the industry as a whole. For example, it is a matter of commonsense that a driver who cannot communicate with his or her customers, or who cannot locate the destination required, is most unlikely to provide a good service.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Wakehurst to order for the second time.
Mr LANGTON: The taxidriver training committee will be chaired by a noted expert in training systems for the various transport industries. Mr Adrian Denyer is the Executive Officer of the New South Wales Transport and Distribution Industry Training Advisory Board.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Badgerys Creek to order.
Mr LANGTON: Mr Denyer has the full endorsement of both the taxi industry's peak body and the Transport Workers Union. He has accepted the Government's invitation to assist the Government in his role as chairman. The new taxidriver training committee has already commenced its work to ensure the training curriculum is both tougher and more appropriate for the needs of both taxidrivers and their customers. Extensive public debate has taken place on the skills of drivers from non-English speaking backgrounds. Earlier I mentioned the importance that good communication plays in providing a world-class taxi service. Today I would like to highlight one initiative designed to improve communication and to provide a service not only to local customers, but to visitors to this State and to this city in particular.
The initiative by the New South Wales Taxi Council involves the provision of removable national flags and language signs for multilingual drivers in the Taxis Combined Services fleet. The signs provide a new way for international visitors to quickly and easily identify the driver best able to provide them with the highest level of service. They are also designed to assist local taxi passengers to recognise drivers who are fluent in another language - a talent of which we should all be justifiably proud, as should taxidrivers. A large range of languages are already available and stickers will be displayed in the appropriate taxis. Taxis Combined have already adopted the scheme. Other networks are being encouraged by the Taxi Council to follow suit. Taxis Combined has acted quickly in the spirit of reforms announced by the Government. I look forward to continuing improvement in the industry for both drivers and customers across the State.
MAITLAND GAOL INMATE ASSAULT
Mrs CHIKAROVSKI: I ask the Minister for Corrective Services a question without notice. Why did his department fail to investigate a claim by a prisoner, supported by a nurse and other inmates, that he was choked and hit by officers at Maitland Gaol? Do his department and the Government routinely ignore prisoners who sustain injuries such as bruising to the neck and wrists?
Mr DEBUS: I think I am entitled to just a little more information than that.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Minister for the Environment to order.
Mr DEBUS: I think it would be reasonable to give me an inkling of what it is you are actually asking about.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will cease interjecting.
Mr DEBUS: You really are a joke. It is true. However, if you are prepared to give me -
Mr Cochran: On a point of order. The Minister is directing his comments at the honourable member instead of through the Chair.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Monaro is correct. However, the difficulty the Chair faces is that the honourable member who asked the question has continued to interrupt, and the Minister obviously is responding to those interruptions. The honourable member for Lane Cove should refrain from interjecting.
Mr DEBUS: The best indication of my seriousness about investigating any untoward event in the prison system is my recent announcement of the appointment of an inspector general whose purpose will be to ensure the probity of any investigation.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order for the second time.
Mr DEBUS: If the best the honourable member for Lane Cove can come up with is an anonymous, unsourced -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Vaucluse to order.
Mr DEBUS: - and quite extraordinarily imprecise allegation of that sort -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ermington to order for the second time.
Mr DEBUS: - she had better think again.
Mr PRICE: My question without notice is to the Minister for Fair Trading, and Minister for Women. What action is the Government taking against unscrupulous motor vehicle dealers who interfere with odometers?
Mrs LO PO': I commend the honourable member for Waratah, who is a very active member of the backbench fair trading committee. Odometer tampering to misrepresent the condition and value of pre-owned cars is a crime. It is the basest kind of deception and runs directly counter to the fundamental principles of fair trading. It is also intended to mislead a prospective car buyer about the true condition of a vehicle. The distance a vehicle has travelled is a key indicator of the wear and tear it has been subjected to. Misrepresenting the mileage when selling cars is, therefore, the most devious and dishonest of fraudulent practices.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Murwillumbah to order.
Mrs LO PO': I have a simple message for the sharp operators who think they can get away with this type of shonky dealing in New South Wales. If we catch you, you will pay dearly. My department is vigilant in detecting and investigating odometer fraud. I am pleased to tell the House about a recent successful prosecution.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Gosford to order for the second time. I will remove from the Chamber the next member who interjects, irrespective of the number of times the member has been called to order.
Mrs LO PO': The prosecution was brought by the Department of Fair Trading against a trickster from Raymond Terrace, which is near Newcastle. Rawdon Campbell Craig of Raymond Terrace recently pleaded guilty in Raymond Terrace Local Court to one count of unlicensed motor dealing, two counts of odometer interference and three counts of falsely representing the history of a motor vehicle. Mr Craig's unlicensed dealing activity was uncovered after a consumer lodged a complaint with the department's Newcastle office about the condition of a car bought from him. Among the cars Mr Craig bought and sold were three that had been previously used as taxis. On 10 September 1994 he bought two 1988 EA Ford sedans from a taxi service. For one he paid $5,500, which had an odometer reading of 520,998 kilometres.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Serjeant, remove the honourable member for Baulkham Hills.
[The honourable member for Baulkham Hills left the Chamber, accompanied by the Serjeant-at-Arms.]
Mrs LO PO': I shall tell the honourable member the end of the story later. For one vehicle Mr Craig paid $5,500, and the odometer read 520,998 kilometres, or more than half a million kilometres. The following January he advertised it for $8,950, stating it had low kilometres. The only low thing about this transaction was Mr Craig's standard of ethics and honesty.
Ms Allan: They're defending him.
Mrs LO PO': It is amazing. No wonder Tony Packard was one of them! Mr Craig told a consumer that he had bought the vehicle at auction, that it had been a police inspector's car and had only 94,000 kilometres on the speedometer. In all the annals of shady and shonky dealing, this case must take the cake. His windback on the vehicle was approximately 427,000 kilometres. That is more than the distance to the moon.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The House will listen to the answer in silence.
Mrs LO PO': I can inform those members who are ignorant of the facts that the moon is 380,000 kilometres away. Mr Craig bought the second former taxi for $6,300 and wound the speedometer back, but this time he was very moderate. He only wound it back by 298,000 kilometres.
Mr Collins: Half the distance to the moon.
Mrs LO PO': Two-thirds, to be exact. He told a buyer who paid $9,600 that his stepmother had only driven it down to the local shops. Mr Craig was ordered to pay a total of $11,436 in fines, costs and compensation. The price of a true fair trading environment is eternal vigilance and energetic enforcement of the law. I assure the House and the public that the Government will continue to strive for eternal vigilance.
Mr O'DOHERTY: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Education and Training.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Minister for Public Works and Services to order for the second time.
Mr O'DOHERTY: How many high schools will lose teachers next year as a direct result of the Government's pay deal with teachers?
Mr AQUILINA: I would have thought that a member who purports to take an interest in education matters would by now have studied in minute and accurate detail the agreement reached between the Teachers Federation and the Government. As was indicated, the settlement of the teachers salary dispute provided for a 16 per cent pay increase for teachers leading up to the end of June 1999, which makes teachers in New South Wales the best paid teachers in Australia. A teacher starting out receives $35,000 per annum, most teachers receive $50,000, and principals receive up to $81,000. I know there are many backbenchers in this House who are saying to themselves, "$81,000 a year?" I think a few backbenchers would like to be paid that salary.
The Teachers Federation claimed that one of the things it wanted to establish was parity with backbench members of Parliament. That is exactly what the Government has given them but the Government indicated there would have to be some reforms within the school system. Some of those reforms are being negotiated at this very minute. One reform related to the reclassification of the formula for years 7 to 10 schools, and meant that some schools would have lost approximately two or three periods a week. That is what the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai is talking about. I challenge anyone to produce definitive evidence that a cut of two or three periods a week in a school with approximately 70 teachers will have any impact whatsoever on the educational values of that school.
Mr O'DOHERTY: I ask a supplementary question. Will the Minister now admit that by cutting $55 million from the staffing budget 362 effective full-time positions will be lost?
Mr AQUILINA: The claims by the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai are hogwash. As he well knows, the cuts of $55 million will have no impact whatsoever on class sizes or on the capacity of this State to provide the best educational system possible through its government schools.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai to order for the third time.
Mr AQUILINA: It is an education system of which I am proud to be the responsible Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Davidson to order.
Mr AQUILINA: It is an education system that has delivered the Government's promise to make New South Wales teachers the best paid in Australia. The claims by the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai are hogwash. He knows they are hogwash, and there is no way he can justify them.
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE FEMALE STAFF RECRUITMENT
Ms ANDREWS: My question without notice if directed to the Minister for Agriculture. What is the Minister doing to promote the employment of professional women in New South Wales Agriculture?
Mr AMERY: I commend the honourable member for Peats not only for her interest in agriculture, but also for her interest in furthering the involvement of women in agriculture and in decision-making processes of government. It is pleasing that the honourable member for Peats has asked such an important question. The Government takes seriously the issue of employment opportunities for women in New South Wales Agriculture, as well as in other fields, and has been keen to initiate reforms. Since I became Minister I have sought, wherever possible, to elevate the status of women, particularly in the portfolio I represent in this House. Early in the life of this Government I discovered that of 456 directors of rural lands protection boards, only 12 were women. After raising that issue at various places throughout the State I am pleased to say that without any action being taken, that number has increased to 16 in the last 18 months.
In an attempt to increase the number of women directors on rural lands protection boards, the Government has allocated approximately $100,000 to raise community awareness of the need for greater representation of women. While the appointment of women to board positions is progressing slowly, the same cannot be said for the employment of professional women in New South Wales Agriculture. The recently announced recruitment drive for professional officers for the department has had amazing success for women seeking professional careers in agriculture. New South Wales Agriculture is presently in the process of recruiting approximately 130 professional officers for positions in agronomy, and as livestock extension officers, veterinarians and, of course, horticulturalists. Of the 46 officers so far employed, 25, or 54 per cent, are women. In the past six months New South Wales Agriculture has employed more professional women than it did in the previous 25 years. That is a great achievement for the department.
These young women have been selected on merit and they represent some of the finest science graduates from our universities. The face of agriculture in New South Wales is obviously changing, and I am sure that everyone will agree that it is changing for the better. Today, together with the Minister for Women, I had the pleasure of meeting six of these new recruits to the department, who are present in the gallery today. The new recruits will give New South Wales Agriculture a long overdue injection of new ideas and enthusiasm. The average age of staff in the department is currently 47. In 10 years or so the department will face a major shortage of experienced staff unless action is taken now to bring new graduates from our universities into the department.
Our new recruits, the majority of whom are women, will give New South Wales Agriculture the ability to continue its role in research and in providing advice to farmers at a very high standard. The Government is proud - and I am certainly proud - of the department's record as far as women's issues are concerned. New South Wales Agriculture should be congratulated on its efforts in elevating the status of women. In conclusion I repeat that more professional women have been employed in the department in the last six months than there were in the last 25 years. Perhaps that is an indictment on the culture in the system. The Government will continue its program to increase the number of professional women into the department, but its overall strategy to ensure women take places on decision-making boards, such as rural lands protection boards and various marketing boards, will be pursued. I am confident that at the end of the Government's first term of office, there will be a dramatic improvement in the number of women represented in all fields of New South Wales Agriculture.
Questions without notice concluded.
CONSIDERATION OF URGENT MOTIONS
Medical Graduate Medicare Provider Numbers
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Premier, Minister for Health, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) [3.27]: My motion to condemn the Federal Government's limitation of provider numbers for doctors, the resultant increase in the costs that will shift to New South Wales, the truncation of career paths, and the difficulty in recruiting medical practitioners to rural areas deserves urgent consideration by this House. Today
junior doctors are taking industrial action throughout the nation. They are campaigning against the Federal Government's decision, which has the support of all Liberal States but does not have the support of this Government. This motion should be considered urgently to support the campaign of those junior doctors.
Mrs CHIKAROVSKI (Lane Cove) [3.28]: The Carr Government was elected in March 1995 on a platform of an absolute and total commitment to law and order. The Labor Party promised to be tough and hard and to bring back to New South Wales a real commitment to ensuring that when prisoners went to prison they stayed there and were treated in a way the community has come to expect. But most importantly, Labor said that prisons in this State would be run effectively -
Mr Gibson: On a point of order. It is with reluctance that I take this point of order, but this crowd, the Opposition, will never learn. Opposition members talk about standing orders. The standing orders are clear: the honourable member is entitled to put her case before the House on whether her motion is more urgent than the motion of the Deputy Premier. She is not allowed to move into the substance of her debate.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I understand the substance of the honourable member's point of order. I will hear a little more from the honourable member for Lane Cove before ruling on the matter.
Mrs CHIKAROVSKI: This motion is urgent because prisoners are escaping from New South Wales gaols at a greater rate than in the past five years. The people of New South Wales have the right to demand that their Government will secure prisoners in gaol and not put the public at risk. They want to be able to walk the streets knowing that those convicted of crimes will stay behind bars. They do not want another George Savvas; they do not want Peter Schneidas wandering around the casino gambling. Members of the public do not want prisoners to be escaping from prison and putting their safety at risk. The motion is urgent because the Auditor-General has said that under this Government prison escapes have increased by 35 per cent. Under this Government more people are escaping from gaol. That means not only that more escaped prisoners are on the streets but that public resources -
Mr Gibson: On a point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I anticipate the point or order and I uphold it.
Mrs CHIKAROVSKI: This motion is urgent because the people of New South Wales need to know that the blow-out in the Department of Corrective Services budget has meant that the department has not been able to maintain prisoners in gaol. The Government has spent more money but it still cannot keep them in gaol. It is in the public interest for the people of New South Wales to understand that the Minister is incompetent. Not only have prisoners escaped from gaol under this Minister; the Minister does not know what is happening in his department. He has a problem with escapes and with assaults.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is starting to stray from the leave of the debate.
Mrs CHIKAROVSKI: The attention of the people of New South Wales should be drawn to the fact that the Government is incompetent and has broken its promise that it would be tough on crime. The people need to understand that the Government has broken every promise it made in relation to law and order, and that it is soft on crime. They need to understand why, whenever a prisoner escapes from gaol, the Minister for Corrective Services says, "He has family problems." What sort of problems did George Savvas have? The people of New South Wales are entitled to believe they are safe in their homes and on the streets. They are entitled to understand that they will not be shot at in the street whenever prisoners are transported. The people of New South Wales elected a government that said it would be tough on crime, but it is not. The Minister is the Basil Fawlty of corrective services. The people are entitled to know that he has lost control of his department. I commend my motion to the House. I look forward to the opportunity to tell the people of New South Wales how much more there is to be told about this incompetent and totally irresponsible Minister.
Question - That the notice for urgent consideration of Dr Refshauge be proceeded with - put.
The House divided.
Ms Allan Mr Martin
Mr Amery Ms Meagher
Mr Anderson Mr Mills
Ms Andrews Ms Moore
Mr Aquilina Mr Moss
Mrs Beamer Mr Nagle
Mr Carr Mr Neilly
Mr Crittenden Ms Nori
Mr Face Mr E. T. Page
Mr Gaudry Mr Price
Mr Gibson Dr Refshauge
Mrs Grusovin Mr Rogan
Ms Hall Mr Rumble
Mr Harrison Mr Scully
Ms Harrison Mr Shedden
Mr Hunter Mr Stewart
Mr Iemma Mr Sullivan
Mr Knowles Mr Tripodi
Mr Langton Mr Watkins
Mrs Lo Po' Mr Whelan
Mr Lynch Mr Woods
Mr McBride Mr Yeadon
Dr Macdonald Tellers,
Mr McManus Mr Beckroge
Mr Markham Mr Thompson
Mr Beck Mr D. L. Page
Mr Blackmore Mr Peacocke
Mr Brogden Mr Phillips
Mr Chappell Mr Photios
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Richardson
Mr Cochran Mr Rixon
Mr Collins Mr Rozzoli
Mr Cruickshank Mr Schipp
Mr Debnam Mr Schultz
Mr Ellis Mrs Skinner
Ms Ficarra Mr Slack-Smith
Mr Fraser Mr Small
Mr Glachan Mr Smith
Mr Hartcher Mr Souris
Mr Hazzard Mr Tink
Mr Humpherson Mr J. H. Turner
Dr Kernohan Mr Windsor
Mr MacCarthy Tellers,
Mr O'Doherty Mr Jeffery
Mr O'Farrell Mr Kerr
Mr Clough Mr Armstrong
Mr Knight Mr Downy
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
MEDICAL GRADUATE MEDICARE PROVIDER NUMBERS
Consideration of Urgent Motion
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Premier, Minister for Health, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) [3.42]: I move:
That this House condemns moves by the Federal Government to limit provider numbers for doctors, which will result in considerable cost shifting to New South Wales, truncate the career paths of our young doctors and make it even harder to recruit medical professionals in rural areas of New South Wales.
Doctors in public hospitals in Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong are today taking industrial action against the moves by the Howard Government to limit Medicare provider numbers. The ramifications for New South Wales of these moves by the Federal Minister are enormous. There are three main areas of concern: first, the cutting of Medicare provider numbers will result in significant cost shifts from the Federal Government to all State governments; second, a reduction in Medicare provider numbers will make it more difficult to attract doctors to rural parts of New South Wales; and, third, by cutting the provider numbers the Federal Government will truncate the careers of young doctors.
The Federal Government is not only pulling the plug on medical graduates; it is secretly turning off the funding tap for New South Wales hospitals. Industrial action is an extreme form of protest for members of the health system to take. Doctors in the public health system are committed to the care of their patients, and the withdrawal of services is a decision that they do not take lightly. Members of the medical profession have taken industrial action in the past, but the nationwide action they are taking today certainly should be taken into consideration by this Parliament. I will now address the three major areas of concern to New South Wales with regard to the limitation of Medicare provider numbers.
I refer first to the cost-shifting from the Federal Government to the New South Wales Government. The direct result of the limiting of Medicare provider numbers will be fewer general practitioners in the health system. General practitioners are the front line of our health system. Patients mainly seek care first from GPs in the health care system; hundreds of thousands of patients seek treatment from their local doctors each year. The vast majority of those patients are bulk-billed by doctors for the service provided. Under the Medicare principles, that cost is obviously covered by the Federal Government, as it should be. But if provider numbers are reduced, as the Federal Government intends, the number of general practitioners will also fall. In addition, more GPs will stop bulk-billing, as they have threatened to do, and their consultation charges will be based on the schedule fee, or higher.
The direct effect of this will be that many patients who at the moment receive a free service from their GP will either have to pay directly out of their pockets for service from their general practitioner or - as many will choose to do - go instead to the emergency departments of our public hospitals for their primary health care. As soon as a patient goes to an emergency department for primary health care the costs are incurred by the New South Wales Government rather than the Federal Government - a direct cost-shifting from the Federal Government to the State Government. The Federal Government is not only shifting its responsibilities; it is shifting the burden of the cost of those patients, and that will result in further problems being generated because emergency departments are not designed for the type of care that general practitioners provide.
The role that general practitioners play is different from that played by emergency department specialists. We should be encouraging patients to use their GPs appropriately and not attend accident and emergency departments for the services that general practitioners provide. There is no doubt that the Federal Government's secret agenda of limiting provider numbers is to reduce its health spending. However, its agenda is not that secret. On many occasions we have heard the Federal Government talk about further cuts to its health budget. Those cuts are not so much to the Federal budget as to State budgets. Opposition members should not support the Federal Minister's proposals despite the fact that every Liberal government, every National Party government and every coalition government in this nation supports the Federal Government. It is
important for all honourable members to show clearly that they are opposed to this limitation of provider numbers.
The second problem, of attracting doctors to rural New South Wales, will be exacerbated by this decision. We all know of the difficulty of getting specialists, GPs and health professionals to work in rural New South Wales. We must recognise that this problem is not limited to New South Wales; it is a problem that is faced by all States throughout this nation and by all developed and developing countries. If the number of provider numbers is restricted it will be more difficult to persuade doctors to work in rural New South Wales. Fewer doctors will be working in the system in general practices; they will choose to work in metropolitan areas and not in country towns or in villages across this State that rely heavily on the medical advice and assistance provided by local doctors.
Medicare plays an equally important role in New South Wales in ensuring that patients have access to primary health care free of charge. If we reduce the number of provider numbers we will reduce the number of general practitioners and we will reduce the number of general practitioners working in rural New South Wales. Ultimately, this will deny people who are living in rural areas the basic health care to which they are entitled. The third problem that I have highlighted is the truncating of the career paths of our young doctors and medical graduates. The central issue concerning provider numbers is that thousands of young medical graduates and doctors will be adversely affected by any cuts. This issue is not about slowly turning off the tap or saying that those who go into medicine next year will have to face a new regime. The Federal Government is saying that those who have already worked for six years to obtain their medical degree - taxpayers have invested quite heavily in their education and should be able to benefit from their experience and training - will now not have a chance to use it. The Federal Government is playing with the careers of our medical graduates and young doctors in a way that we have never seen before.
The Federal health Minister is saying to medical students, "Keep on studying, but you may not have a job at the end of it." Some have argued that doctors should not be guaranteed a job at the end of their medical training. I think it would be quite irresponsible of us to train such large numbers of GPs without ensuring that we can benefit from that training in the most appropriate way. If we want to reduce the number of general practitioners or other specialists, we should not reduce the provider numbers but to look at medical intakes and determine what those intakes should be. What kind of message is that to send to people who devote years of hard study to achieving their career goals? What kind of message is that from someone who was in the same position as these graduates not so long ago? The Federal health Minister should look back on his own career and see what he is doing to those who are following in his footsteps.
The Federal Government seeks to deny many of these young graduates a livelihood, a career, the use of the expertise they have gained at the expense of taxpayers, and, during their clinical years, the generosity of patients who allowed the graduates to examine them and learn from their misfortunes and illnesses. There is much more to this issue than meets the eye; it is not just about denying a career to a young medical graduate but about further cuts to health funding in New South Wales that will impose an extra hardship and burden on people living in rural areas.
The Federal Government intends to cut some $73 million this year alone from our public hospitals because they say there is cost shifting, but the Federal Government is cost shifting to us. This is in addition to the cessation of the dental health program, which will deny dental health care to some 200,000 people, particularly in rural New South Wales. Every decision the Howard Government has made on health care has turned out to be a dismal failure. I urge all honourable members to join together in telling the Howard Government to reverse this decision.
Mrs SKINNER (North Shore) [3.51]: The Minister has an extremely short memory. On 24 September, just a very short while ago, I raised a matter of public importance on this very topic. In that debate I acknowledged the need that the Federal Minister was addressing - the problem of the oversupply of general practitioners, particularly in metropolitan cities around Australia - and I voiced some of the Opposition's concerns about the way this was being done. At that time the Minister berated me; he used his usual cynical language and tried to turn the attack on me. I therefore find most interesting his comment today that the student intake should be reconsidered.
Dr Refshauge: I did not say that.
Mrs SKINNER: I quote from Hansard of 24 September, when the Minister said:
The reducing of those numbers will effectively lead to the closure of one medical school in New South Wales. I challenge the honourable member for North Shore to nominate which medical school she will close. Will it be in the Hunter, at Sydney University or at the University of New South Wales?
I now challenge the Minister to tell me which university medical school he will close.
Dr Refshauge: I did not say we should do it; use your ears. Dopey, dopey, dopey.
Mrs SKINNER: The Minister said exactly what I said, just as his Federal Labor health ministerial colleagues said in years past.
Dr Refshauge: Dopey.
Mrs SKINNER: Mr Speaker, it does not matter how many times the Minister uses the word "dopey" at me across the Chamber; he cannot overcome the fact that he has made a terrible blunder because he did not read Hansard of a few
weeks ago. However, I have read it again and I stick to my guns. The issue is a real one and the Federal Minister is to be congratulated for addressing it, but I have concerns about the impact of what is being done. As I said in September, my concern is about fairness, particularly for the students who are now in training and for young interns who have made the decision to study medicine. They chose to dedicate their lives to medicine in the belief that when they graduate they will be able to practice.
When I spoke in that previous debate I asked the Minister to address those matters and to look at their impact on country New South Wales. I am delighted to say that the Minister has considered some of my suggestions. I suggested then that the Minister consider restricting the number of overseas-trained doctors who are given Medicare provider numbers, as a way of reducing the number of doctors in Australia, and that has happened. I understand also that the Federal Government has provided a package of $20 million each year to assist in medical work adjustment, particularly to support rural practices, and that is a very positive step.
I understand that the Federal Minister will consult the profession and other key stakeholders on this package. I hope that the New South Wales Minister has the capacity to join in the discussions to see how those issues might be addressed in order to advance what is a real problem in country New South Wales. From discussions I have had when visiting country towns I know that there is a real problem. Nowhere is that more evident than in Wagga Wagga, where I spent some time recently. Honourable members will recall that Wagga Wagga hospital had the greatest debt last year - $4 million.
The newly appointed chief executive officer of the region could give me no guarantee that there would not be a major budget blow-out again and that beds would not be closed. At that hospital doctors told me of the plight of patients who cannot get treatment in the country not only because of the lack of doctors but because of the lack of capacity at the hospitals to provide beds and perform operations because this Minister has not provided sufficient funds to enable the hospitals to operate effectively. This Minister has a nerve to move a motion of condemnation about the action taken by doctors today when for weeks doctors around New South Wales have been protesting loud and clear about the actions of this Minister. The Minister does not seem to hear what doctors out in the field are saying so let me remind him and some of his colleagues. The Minister has claimed Liverpool Hospital as one of his special hospitals.
Dr Refshauge: On a point of order. The motion is quite specifically about provider numbers and their effect. Certainly that allows a certain amount of latitude about junior doctors, medical students and rural health services, but Liverpool Hospital is not relevant in the context now referred to by the shadow minister. I ask that she be directed back to the motion.
Mrs SKINNER: On the point of order. During the debate the Minister talked about strike action and action that doctors were to take. I am about to talk about the strike action and actions that doctors are taking in relation to their dissatisfaction with the Minister. That is pertinent to this debate.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no point of order. The terms of the motion are broad and allow for wide-ranging debate.
Mrs SKINNER: The Minister referred to industrial action that doctors are taking in this regard. This House needs to be very well aware of industrial action taken by a wide range of health professionals over many months, not just today. In fact, their concerns are much broader than the subject of this motion. I move the following amendment:
That the motion be amended by leaving out all words after the word "House" with a view to inserting instead "notes the proposal by the Federal Government to limit Medicare provider numbers for doctors."
I also indicate the concerns raised by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. It is very interesting that that college supports the Federal Minister because it has been concerned about the lack of vocational training for people who have gone into general practice in the past. The college believes that such training is important, particularly for doctors in country areas who work in isolation without access to peer support; that they should have training to give them extra skills to work as general practitioners. It is imperative that people have access to trained doctors, and that is happening under the Federal Minister. He will restrict provider numbers to doctors who have already graduated and already hold a provider number and to those in training. That is a very important plus from the Federal Minister. A fighting fund is being set up for Nepean Hospital by doctors in that area, not to fight the Federal Minister but to fight the State Minister and the Carr Government for their total failure to provide for the patients not only of Nepean Hospital but of hospitals across the State and for rejecting any suggestion by doctors that the Minister meet with them and genuinely attempt to meet the needs of their patients.
Doctors and nurses went on strike at St George, Royal North Shore and Illawarra hospitals because the Minister has failed to provide funding to enable sufficient beds and operating theatres to open. Waiting lists are growing enormously in areas where funding is not being provided. Another cause for dissatisfaction amongst doctors is the lack of information provided about budgets and funding. It is fascinating that doctors in hospitals ring me to ascertain their hospital budgets and area health service budgets. This Minister prefers to be secretive and not to provide information. A response to a freedom of information request that I lodged has been partly blanked out. What does the Minister have to hide?
Mr MILLS (Wallsend) [4.01]: The recent decision of the Federal coalition Government should be condemned by this House. I have never heard such a wishy-washy response as that of the honourable member for North Shore in trying to find excuses to back up her contention that the Federal Minister should not be condemned. She moved:
That the motion be amended by leaving out all words after the word "House" with a view to inserting instead "notes the proposal by the Federal Government to limit Medicare provider numbers for doctors.
What a pathetic excuse for the Opposition's inability to understand that the decision by Dr Wooldridge, the Federal Minister for Health and Family Services, poses a threat to the careers of young and new doctors in Australia and to their future patients. The Minister has given some details about the proposals, and my colleague the honourable member for Clarence will provide more details. Dr Wooldridge's policy will ultimately not only mean fewer doctors to care for patients in New South Wales but will limit the way in which medical graduates can pursue their careers. Doctors do not have a history of taking industrial action lightly. It can only be assumed that our new young doctors are very worried about the effect of the Federal Government's proposal on their future patients. Last week I was told about industrial action in the Hunter region. In a message of support to resident medical officers who were opposed to the Federal Government's plans to reduce the numbers of new doctors I said:
Dr Wooldridge should take his proposals back and think about the situation more imaginatively.
We need doctors practising in rural and non-metropolitan NSW and outer-western Sydney, and those practising private medicine in those areas need Medicare provider numbers.
Best wishes for your campaign.
I am fascinated by the way the honourable member for North Shore rattles on with interjections, although when she spoke she was given great courtesy by members on this side of the House. I am particularly fascinated by the way she interjects about purely State matters when the motion relates specifically to a Federal matter. The effect of the decision on rural communities should cause great concern among all members of this House. Governments on both sides of the political fence have had to grapple with the problem of the rural medical work force over many years. By this decision, the Federal Government has effectively pulled the rug out from under New South Wales. The efforts of the Carr Government to address the rural medical problem, as they have been well expounded in this House on other occasions, will be eroded by the harsh and unwarranted decision of the Howard Government. There is clearly a method in its madness: its provider number policy will result in significant cost-shifting to New South Wales.
If patients in rural communities do not have access to general practitioners they will be forced to use the emergency department of their local hospital, and the State will bear the cost. The effect of the Federal Government forcing extra training on doctors - to an unspecified extent at this stage - will be to produce more specialists and fewer GPs. Honourable members are aware of the higher consultation fees scheduled for specialists, so medical costs across the nation will increase significantly. Whilst cost is a serious factor, human factors are of greater concern to the Government. Interaction between patients and their GPs is vital. Local GPs are respected and valuable members of most rural towns. If our medical students are faced with barriers to entering general practice they will be left with no alternative but to stay in the public hospital system.
It is unfair to tell medical students who have put in many years of university study that they will now have to reconsider their future. Our female medical graduates will lose the flexibility they had to pursue a career and perhaps also raise children. There is no doubt that the decision by the Federal Government is harsh and unworkable. Our rural communities stand to lose the most, but it is our medical students who are feeling the first blow. By the stroke of a pen their career path has been radically clipped. They no longer have the freedom to choose. I commend the motion to the House.
Mr GLACHAN (Albury) [4.06]: It is strange that this House is debating this motion and the Government appears to be trying to pass on to the Federal Government the buck for any problems in rural New South Wales. It is hard to understand the Government's line of reasoning. The problem of general practitioners in country areas is of long standing; the situation has been desperate for a long time. I would like to know if the Government is giving any credence at all to the Federal Government's package of $20 million a year to encourage general practice in country areas. That should be commended rather than condemned. Many country areas are desperate for doctors and are prepared to spend large amounts of money to attract GPs. The Government cannot be addressing the problem very vigorously, because there is not much in the way of results to show for what it has done so far.
Dr Refshauge: That is your Government.
Mr GLACHAN: Any government. It is a desperate situation. It needs to be worked at and a vigorous effort must be put into it. I am also concerned that we are debating what the Federal Government is doing about health in country New South Wales, while this Government has made a fair fist of putting country health services almost in a situation of crisis. In the Albury electorate excellent hospitals are being handicapped. Beds are being closed because there is not enough money to provide the services that people desperately need. Wards are closed in the Albury Base Hospital. There has been
a huge change in the area health services. Albury Base Hospital has been lumped in with Wagga Wagga hospital, which has a $4 million deficit. How will that affect Albury Base Hospital?
It is all right for the Minister to shake his head and say it will not affect the money that goes to Albury Base Hospital, but when the board members of the greater Murray health district decide where the money will go, they will have a big incentive to send a lot of it to Wagga Wagga to overcome its deficit. I am concerned that Albury Base Hospital might miss out. Condemning the Federal Government will not help doctors in rural areas. If doctors are not given a provider number they will enter the public health system and work in our hospitals. Will that not be a good thing? Do we not need them? Does the public health system not need them? I put it to the Minister that the public health system needs doctors and that they would be of great benefit to the community working within the hospital system.
I believe that the people of New South Wales go to the doctor more than people in almost any other area of the world, that they go into hospital more than people in any other part of the world and that they are not as healthy as people in any other part of the world. A number of issues need to be addressed before we condemn the actions of the Federal Government. This State Government is skirting around the issues. Big issues are at stake, and we need to gravely and seriously consider a number of them before we condemn the Federal Government. I am sure the Minister would agree that overservicing is a major problem, which diverts a lot of money from health areas that desperately need it. To a large degree it is a waste of resources that are desperately needed elsewhere. I put it to the Minister that rather than condemning the Federal Government he should consider what he can do to encourage general practitioners to practise in the country to give country people, who are now second-class citizens in health terms in New South Wales, a fair go. That would do more good than his sitting here today condemning the Federal Government.
Mr WOODS (Clarence) [4.11]: The Government really did not expect the Opposition to condemn the Federal Government; that would be beyond expectations. But honourable members opposite are duplicitous and contradictory of each other. On the one hand the honourable member for North Shore said that she thought of these concerns first. She quoted from Hansard. She said she was concerned about the decisions made by the Federal Government. She was really worried about them. She raised them with the Minister. Now she says that she does not want to condemn anybody, but just wants to note the matters. Does she have concerns or does she not? If she had concerns she would say something meaningful, rather than merely noting it.
The decision of the Federal Government is, in part, designed to reduce the number of general practitioners. Whilst it might be argued that overall there is a surplus of GPs and the Federal Government considers its action a way of reducing that number, one must bear in mind that the reasoning of the Federal Government is to reduce its Medicare bill. The Federal Government has to foot the bill for Medicare, and it will reduce it. But it is also undeniable, and recognised by the Opposition, that rural areas have a shortage of GPs and that this decision by the Federal Government will make that situation worse. The honourable member for Albury said that $20 million is available to fix the problem, but it is widely recognised that money has not fixed the problem in the past. It is not about incomes of doctors in the bush. It is well documented that money is there to be made.
In fact, the problem for doctors in most country towns is not the number of customers or the level of income; rather, it is that doctors have too much work, too many duties, and they are overburdened by them. Social issues and education also play a great part. It is clear that the decision by the Federal Government underlines the dominance of Costello and Fahey and their departments - econocrats in the Department of Finance and Treasury - over Wooldridge and his recognition of the needs in health services, particularly for rural people. One is quite easily able to see that it is once again the dominance of the bean counters in Finance and Treasury, supported by Costello, Fahey and Howard, over the real needs of the people.
The decision of the Federal Government clearly demonstrates that it values the needs of the budget. In other words, it has put the priorities of quickly reducing and balancing the budget over the health needs of people in country Australia. That demonstrates the obsession of the Federal Government with bean counting at the expense of the health of the people of Australia, particularly rural people. The decision also underlines the John Howard agenda. Regardless of what he said during the election campaign about his support for Medicare, his previous statements over many years underline his objection to Medicare and to a universal health system. In a couple of years this decision will be seen with a range of other decisions taken by the Federal Government as part of the dismantling of Medicare. It is part of the Howard agenda.
In a couple of years time any resemblance Medicare has to a universal health system will be gone. The name might be the same, but its universality will be gone. All honourable members know that this decision of the Federal Government will be part of the demise of Medicare, as will other subsequent decisions that the Federal Government makes. It is committed to dismantling any universal health system. Country people in small and isolated communities need general practitioners. But this
decision will make it more difficult for small towns without a doctor to attract a doctor. For medium-size and larger towns, which already have some doctors, or a shortage of doctors, it will exacerbate the problem.
In my town of Yamba the local general practitioners are overworked. Yamba could be considered a rather attractive place to live, yet it is still very difficult to attract doctors. Doctors in hospitals is not necessarily an answer for Yamba. It is a fair distance from the hospital, and it is the local GP that does the bulk of the work. Iluka has also had difficulty for a number of years retaining one doctor. If the honourable member for North Shore has genuine concerns, which she said she had - she said she raised them first - it is duplicitous in the extreme for her to stand here and say that all we should do is note it.
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Premier, Minister for Health, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) [4.16], in reply: I thank the honourable member for Wallsend and the honourable member for Clarence for their contributions to the debate. I am stunned by the duplicity and hypocrisy of the honourable member for North Shore, who a few months ago said, "When the Federal Government makes a wrong decision, I will tell them." This was a wrong decision, but all she said here was, "Really, it is understandable, and it is not too bad an idea. We will not say it is wrong, all we will do is note it." It is about time she stood up for what she really believes. What does she really believe in? She believes only in self-promotion. She has not said one thing today that shows any concern for the doctors. She has not said one thing today that is backed up by her history of supposedly supporting junior doctors. What did she say about cost-shifting to New South Wales? She said nothing about it.
Obviously, she is quite happy for the Federal Government to move away from provision of service and leave it to the State Government. Her leader and her deputy leader, when health Ministers, said it was the wrong thing to do. Apparently there is a change of Liberal policy because, by her absence of mentioning cost-shifting, she very clearly says that cost-shifting from the Federal Government to the States is okay. Why was it that her leader and deputy leader, day in and day out, used to raise cost-shifting as a major issue facing the New South Wales public health system? The Opposition spokesperson on health now says that it is not even an issue worth mentioning here when clearly there is evidence that cost-shifting will become a reality. She has no credibility at all in health because she has no credibility amongst her colleagues, and no credibility amongst the people of New South Wales. It would be worthwhile her checking in to see Bill Gibson about a cochlear implant because it seems to me that there is some neurosynaptical problem between the external ear and the brain. To come into this House and misquote what we have said shows that she is either a liar or she is a dope. I will leave it for her to explain what it is.
Mrs Skinner: On a point of order. That kind of language is totally unacceptable. Mr Speaker, I believe that you should ask the Minister to withdraw and apologise.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I ask the Minister to withdraw the remark that the member is a dope.
Dr REFSHAUGE: I withdraw the remark that the member is a dope.
Mrs Skinner: On a point of order. The Minister was flouting your ruling then by the way in which he withdrew that remark.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, he was not. The member will resume her seat.
Dr REFSHAUGE: It is about time that the honourable member for North Shore -
Mr Kerr: I clearly heard the Minister describe the member and give her the choice as to whether she is a liar, which is unparliamentary, or a dope.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I only asked him to withdraw the remark that she is a dope. He has done that.
Mr Kerr: But the ruling has left the option that the honourable member is a liar, which is unparliamentary.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I only asked the Minister to withdraw the inference. My understanding is that the Minister did not say the honourable member for North Shore is a liar. I will ask the Minister to indicate whether my recollection is correct.
Dr REFSHAUGE: I remember saying that the honourable member is either a liar or a dope and it is up to her to choose.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! To placate all honourable members, if the inference is that the Minister did call the honourable member for North Shore a liar I ask him to withdraw that remark.
Dr REFSHAUGE: I am happy to withdraw both. It is unfortunate that the honourable member for North Shore has shown absolutely no interest in the cost-shifting issue, despite it being raised regularly by the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. We now know where she stands. She raised nothing about the careers of young doctors, despite talking to young doctors and saying she cares. The young doctors, after reading the honourable member's remarks in Hansard, may make unparliamentary assessments about her. The honourable member for Albury found it hard to understand the Government's reasoning that provider numbers will make it more difficult to get general practitioners in country areas. I invite him to my office and I will explain the rationale behind that reasoning. [Time expired.]
Question - That the words stand - put.
The House divided.
Ms Allan Mr Martin
Mr Amery Ms Meagher
Mr Anderson Mr Mills
Ms Andrews Ms Moore
Mr Aquilina Mr Moss
Mrs Beamer Mr Nagle
Mr Carr Mr Neilly
Mr Crittenden Ms Nori
Mr Debus Mr E. T. Page
Mr Face Mr Price
Mr Gaudry Dr Refshauge
Mr Gibson Mr Rogan
Mrs Grusovin Mr Rumble
Ms Hall Mr Scully
Mr Harrison Mr Shedden
Ms Harrison Mr Stewart
Mr Hunter Mr Sullivan
Mr Iemma Mr Tripodi
Mr Knowles Mr Watkins
Mr Langton Mr Whelan
Mrs Lo Po' Mr Windsor
Mr Lynch Mr Woods
Dr Macdonald Mr Yeadon
Mr McBride Tellers,
Mr McManus Mr Beckroge
Mr Markham Mr Thompson
Mr Beck Mr O'Doherty
Mr Blackmore Mr O'Farrell
Mr Brogden Mr D. L. Page
Mr Chappell Mr Peacocke
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Phillips
Mr Cochran Mr Photios
Mr Collins Mr Richardson
Mr Cruickshank Mr Rixon
Mr Debnam Mr Rozzoli
Mr Downy Ms Seaton
Mr Ellis Mrs Skinner
Ms Ficarra Mr Slack-Smith
Mr Fraser Mr Small
Mr Glachan Mr Smith
Mr Hartcher Mr Souris
Mr Hazzard Mr Tink
Mr Humpherson Mr J. H. Turner
Dr Kernohan Tellers,
Mr Kinross Mr Jeffery
Mr MacCarthy Mr Kerr
Mr Clough Mr Armstrong
Mr Knight Mr Schipp
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
FISHERIES MANAGEMENT AMENDMENT (ADVISORY BODIES) BILL
PUBLIC SECTOR MANAGEMENT AMENDMENT (MOBILITY) BILL
TRAFFIC AMENDMENT (VEHICLE IDENTIFICATION) BILL
TRANSPORT ADMINISTRATION AMENDMENT (LIGHT RAIL) BILL
Motion by Mr Whelan agreed to:
That standing orders be suspended to allow the bills to be brought in and proceeded with up to and including the Ministers' second reading speeches.
TRANSPORT ADMINISTRATION AMENDMENT (LIGHT RAIL) BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr LANGTON (Kogarah - Minister for Transport, and Minister for Tourism) [4.31]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The Government has developed this legislation to facilitate the introduction of modern light rail transit systems in New South Wales. The fundamental aim of these measures is to place light rail projects on the same footing as other public transport systems. It is a generic piece of legislation providing a framework for light rail development, construction and operation. At the outset, I must make it clear that this legislation is not about approving any extensions to the Ultimo-Pyrmont light rail project. I understand that some Sydney businesses have expressed concerns over the proposals to extend light rail into the Sydney central business district.
Let me assure the House that this legislation in no way grants approval for those or any other proposed extensions. As a matter of policy, the Government would not proceed with any major transport infrastructure project without full community consultation and preparation of environmental impact statements. As I am sure honourable members are aware, the Ultimo-Pyrmont light rail transit system is now being built as the primary public transport mode to serve the city west area. It will run from Central station to the fish markets, providing reliable, fast and accessible public transport and is already a catalyst for urban regeneration in the Ultimo- Pyrmont area. With the Ultimo-Pyrmont system scheduled to be commissioned and to commence operations in the first quarter of next year, legislative and regulatory gaps need to be filled. In addition, the absence of a legislative framework for the development of the Ultimo-Pyrmont project highlighted areas of uncertainty and inefficient processes, which would act as deterrents to further light rail development.
This bill covers practical issues such as interaction between light rail and other vehicles, third-party insurance coverage and powers for
removing obstructions to light rail services. As trams have not operated in Sydney since 1961, it is no surprise that these vehicles are not recognised by the Traffic Act. The amendment of the Act will confirm that the normal road rules can and will apply to in-street light rail operations. The bill also makes provision for the removal of vehicles obstructing a light rail service. It allows action to be taken to clear the route, similar to removal of vehicles blocking clearways, in order to ensure the reliability of the system for the public.
The compulsory third-party insurance scheme is to be extended to light rail vehicles to place them on an equal footing with other road-based public transport. A system to discourage fare evasion similar to that already available to State Rail is included. The bill will allow "authorised officers", including staff of a light rail operator, to issue infringement notices with fines paid into consolidated revenue. Light rail development has regional and State significance, as it is a means of further improving the public transport network and implementing the Government's urban planning policies. However, there is a lack of a clear, workable and comprehensive statutory framework for light rail development.
There is a need for critical elements of decision making to be brought unequivocally within the control of the State Government. A key weakness in the development of the Ultimo-Pyrmont project was the decision to proceed without a specific legislative and regulatory structure for light rail. This resulted in project development processes that are highly complex and therefore more costly and time-consuming than necessary. These difficulties were principally caused by the lack of a single government body with the power to facilitate light rail transit, the consequent need for a complicated legal structure to gain control of the light rail corridor through the State Rail Authority, and the requirement for multiple development and construction approvals.
This bill establishes a new division of the Transport Administration Act to give the Director- General of the Department of Transport responsibility for the development of light rail. The director-general is to have land acquisition powers to fulfil this and other responsibilities under the Transport Administration Act. Light rail systems usually operate at least partially on roads. Accordingly, the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Roads will be able jointly to make part of a road a light rail corridor under the control of the director-general of transport. Once the corridor has been declared, the director-general would be permitted to create a light rail easement over the road to construct, maintain and operate light rail systems in the corridor.
No compensation would be payable to the relevant roads authority for acquisition of this land interest, though compensation would be payable if a private road were acquired. The public would generally continue to have the right to use the road in conjunction with light rail. The director-general would have the power to authorise a light rail operator to use or have the benefit of the light rail easement and other land interests acquired. The first light rail easement to be created will be the light rail corridor through Hay Street to replace existing land agreements with Sydney City Council and the Darling Harbour Authority for the Ultimo-Pyrmont light rail system.
It may be necessary for urban design, heritage or engineering reasons to support electric catenaries from buildings or other structures such as street lights rather than from freestanding masts. In those cases, there must be a straightforward means of acquiring the necessary rights to avoid unnecessary costs and delays. Property owners will be entitled to compensation for any damage caused by construction or the supports. The Roads Act is being amended to ensure that, once a light rail route has been declared, the affected roads authorities do nothing inconsistent with the development and operation of the light rail. The director-general of transport is to be given powers of temporary access to land for construction of light rail systems.
The Ultimo-Pyrmont project is subject to planning consent under three planning instruments from the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, the Darling Harbour Authority and the central Sydney planning committee. The linear nature of a transport corridor potentially subjects any other light rail project to similar planning consent complexity. The Crown is expected to be the applicant-proponent for future light rail projects, irrespective of whether the projects are publicly or privately funded. Accordingly, light rail projects are to be an "activity" under part 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.
Developments incidental to the development of a light rail system such as subdivision of land titles to create an off-street light rail corridor are also to be covered by part 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. As a matter of policy, environmental impact statements will be prepared for future light rail projects. The bill contains a number of provisions which provide significant opportunities for consultation on light rail matters. As mentioned earlier, any specific light rail proposal endorsed by the Government would need to be assessed under the provisions of part 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. The environmental impact statement process under this Act requires the undertaking of full public consultation.
The Department of Transport will also be required to spell out, in its annual report, its objectives for light rail, its strategies for pursuing those objectives and its progress in meeting those objectives. This is a further demonstration of the Government's commitment to public consultation on significant public transport infrastructure projects. These provisions will complement existing
legislation, particularly, the Transport Administration Amendment (Rail Corporatisation and Restructuring) Act, which established the Public Transport Advisory Council. The council, which is expected to hold its first meeting in December this year, provides advice to the Public Transport Authority and me as Minister for Transport on any matter within its functions, including light rail.
The Public Transport Advisory Council provides an appropriate means of consultation with the community about the broader, long-term strategies for light rail and, indeed, all public transport. The bill contains a number of other provisions intended to ensure light rail systems are not disadvantaged, particularly relative to other public transport modes. Service authorities are to be compensated for reasonable costs to alter service conduits affected by the construction of light rail systems. Light rail systems will be exempted from stamp duty and land tax. In addition, light rail corridors, but not facilities such as depots, will be exempt from local government rates and local government charges will be limited.
The Roads and Traffic Authority will be responsible for issuing engineering approvals for on-street infrastructure. The director-general of transport is to report annually on public transport facilities including light rail. The bill also includes a number of regulatory provisions and consequential amendments to existing legislation. When trams last ran in Sydney, they operated under a mix of provisions of the Transport Act 1930 and parts of the Railways Act 1912, both of which were abolished in 1988. This bill not only restores a legal framework for the development and operation of light rail systems; it represents a huge improvement on previous arrangements. The bill will provide certainty for the Government when considering light rail as another way to improve our public transport network. I commend this bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Photios.
FISHERIES MANAGEMENT AMENDMENT (ADVISORY BODIES) BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr MARTIN (Port Stephens - Minister for Mineral Resources, and Minister for Fisheries) [4.40]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
From the beginning of my term of office as Minister for Fisheries it was clear to me that effective consultation with the commercial fishing industry, recreational fishing interest groups and the community in general would be vital to ensuring informed, relevant and effective fisheries management in New South Wales. It was also clear that the peak industry bodies as currently prescribed in the Fisheries Management Act were no longer able to serve the function for which they had been created, that is, to act as a liaison body between fishers and me, and to provide sound advice to the Government. Therefore I instituted a review of fisheries consultation in New South Wales. The review was conducted by the Director of Fisheries, Dr John Glaister, earlier this year. That review found that the Commercial Fishing Advisory Council - CFAC - had been unable to distinguish its role as adviser to me from an assumed role as industry advocate.
The review also found that the Recreational Fishing Advisory Council - RFAC - had failed to address the concerns of the broader angling community, instead becoming primarily a resource allocation interest group. The review found that there was an urgent need to clearly separate the role of providing expert advice to me and the fishery specific consultative role of providing the two-way flow of advice and a forum for negotiation on day-to-day and long-term commercial fishery planning and management issues. I have now acted on all these recommendations. The Fisheries Management Amendment (Advisory Bodies) Bill removes the ineffective entities CFAC and RFAC and provides for improved consultative and advisory bodies.
I must stress that the removal of these superseded bodies in no way reflects on those committed individuals who unselfishly gave their time and energy to represent their industry. That commitment is recognised in this amendment, which provides for any previous CFAC or RFAC member, if otherwise qualified, to be eligible for appointment to any future committee. With regard to the ministerial advisory role, I have now established advisory councils to provide the expert advice I require when considering matters relating to commercial fishing, recreational fishing or fisheries research, habitat management and stock status. These councils are expertise based, and staggered membership terms will ensure that the skills and experience base of the committees is maintained over time. This amendment bill provides for the statutory recognition of these bodies.
With regard to the consultative role, all fisheries in New South Wales will shortly be managed as share management fisheries or restricted fisheries. There is a need for fishery specific bodies to collaborate with the department in developing management rules for each fishery. This role will be paid by management advisory committees, known as MACs, for each of the fisheries. This amendment provides for the establishment of management advisory committees. Management advisory committees are already in place for the abalone and rock lobster fisheries. They are working with the department to develop future management rules and management plans for these fisheries. The amendment will also ensure the continuity of the share management fishery advisory committees to ensure that the management planning process continues uninterrupted.
The first restricted fishery committee, for the ocean haul fishery, has been elected and has already met. Management advisory committees will be formed for the remainder of the commercial fisheries as soon as the fishers involved in each are identified through the restricted fisheries implementation process currently in progress. As soon as the fishers involved are identified, elections will be held and the specific task of finalising the management plans for each fishery will proceed. This amendment provides the power to regulate the formation and operation of the management advisory committees. I have not forgotten the advocacy role. There is an obvious need for a lobbying body to represent and to speak for the New South Wales commercial fishing industry on issues outside the management sphere. While that function may be filled by a body such as the New South Wales Seafood Industry Council in the future, I have facilitated the formation of the Transitional Commercial Fishers Council to immediately assume the role of representing commercial fishers and to assist with providing delegates for various committees when the issues being considered are outside the sphere of fisheries management but affect commercial fishers.
While I recognise the need for this body to remain independent, I have provided every assistance in conducting elections of delegates and organising meetings of the Transitional Commercial Fishers Council to ensure that the commercial fishing sector is not left without representation during the transitional period. The draft constitution for the council will be circulated for industry comment in the next issue of NSW Fisherman magazine. Commercial fishers can decide for themselves what direction they wish to take with their representative body. The Fisheries Management Amendment (Advisory Bodies) Bill has been designed to facilitate the restructure of the consultative framework outlined in the Fisheries Management Act and to provide for collaboration so that the Government, fishers and all interest groups in the community can work together to manage the fisheries resources of New South Wales. I commend this bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr J. H. Turner.
PUBLIC SECTOR MANAGEMENT AMENDMENT (MOBILITY) BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr WHELAN (Ashfield - Minister for Police) [4.46], on behalf of Mr Carr: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The object of this bill is to amend the Public Sector Management Act to facilitate the transfer of officers in the public sector. The public sector for this purpose includes departments and public authorities. The Government is committed to the redeployment of displaced employees within the public sector as the preferred approach towards assisting employees affected by structural change. Government policy on this is clear. However, recently it became apparent that there are limitations in the statutory basis for implementing the redeployment policy. While it is possible to redeploy displaced employees within the public service, there is no clear statutory basis for the redeployment of public servants to public authorities outside the public service. Nor does the legislation authorise the transfer of employees of public authorities into the public service.
The bill is designed primarily to remove these obstacles to the redeployment of public employees within the public sector. The mechanism proposed is a scheme for the employer-sponsored transfer of officers. The scheme will allow for the redeployment of displaced employees by permitting public servants to be transferred to public authorities, for employees of public authorities to be transferred to the public service, for the transfer of employees between public authorities and for the transfer of senior executive service officers to a lower position if the officer agrees. In all cases there must be prior consultation with the employee; the Public Employment Office must agree that the transfer is in the interests of public administration; and the relevant department head and head of the public authority must concur before the transfer can be effected.
A case that illustrates the barriers that the bill is intended to overcome is the proposed relocation of up to 600 staff from the Technical and Further Education Commission to the Department of Training and Education Co-ordination. The work performed by these staff would more appropriately be performed in the department than in the commission. However, there is currently no mechanism by which staff may be transferred except by competing for publicly advertised vacancies. It is clearly unacceptable and unnecessary that public employees should have to recontest the same positions when, to give effect to appropriate administrative arrangements, it is necessary that the positions be relocated between organisations. The bill will overcome that difficulty.
It is a well-established practice that transfers of public employees should occur at existing salary rates. However, the additional flexibility in setting remuneration in the public sector in recent years, resulting from decentralisation of authority and the outcomes of enterprise bargaining, means that variations in salary rates can act as an obstacle to redeployment and transfers for other purposes. The bill proposes that references to an officer's existing salary may be interpreted in accordance with guidelines issued by the Public Employment Office. The result will be that where a minor variation in salary is necessary to effect a transfer, that will not be an impediment to transfer. Where there is a slight increase in salary resulting from the application of the guidelines, the bill contains a provision which will prevent this from giving a right of appeal to the Government and Related Employees Appeal Tribunal.
To ensure that transfers under the scheme are for appropriate purposes, that staff consultation occurs and to facilitate any associated industrial negotiations, the approval of the Public Employment Office will be required. Under revised administrative arrangements the functions of the Public Employment Office are performed under the direction of the Director-General of the Premier's Department. The scheme will significantly improve the opportunities for mobility of public employees within the public sector. The mobility scheme already contained in schedule 5A to the Act will automatically extend to transfers under the new scheme. The result will be that any staff transferred will retain such entitlements as annual leave, sick leave and maternity leave.
Where State-owned corporations do not participate in the mobility scheme, negotiations will be necessary on the terms and conditions to apply to staff transferred to a corporation. The bill also provides for several changes in the employment scheme applying to senior executives. It will be possible to transfer senior executive officers to positions with lower remuneration, but only with their consent. This will overcome technical obstacles to the redeployment of senior executives where the transfer is in the interests of the organisation and agreed to by the officers concerned. The bill will also remove an unintended restriction on the transfer or appointment of an unattached public service executive officer to another position. As the Act stands a public service executive officer may only be transferred to another position if the officer already occupies a position.
The result is that when an executive officer is unattached, it is not possible to transfer the officer to another position. This results in unnecessary administrative action where it is appropriate that the unattached officer should be appointed to another executive position. Similar amendments are proposed to several provisions which do not adequately deal with the circumstances of unattached executive officers in the public service. The bill represents a further step in the Government's program of reform of the New South Wales public sector. The initiatives further the objectives of improving mobility for New South Wales public employees and removing existing impediments to effective personnel administration. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Phillips.
TRAFFIC AMENDMENT (VEHICLE IDENTIFICATION) BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr WHELAN (Ashfield - Minister for Police) [4.55], on behalf of Mr Knight: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of the bill before the House is to reduce vehicle theft in New South Wales by making it harder for car thieves to launder stolen vehicles through the motor vehicle registration system. Stolen vehicle activity is a major community problem. The annual cost of car theft in New South Wales in 1994 was estimated to be $178 million, $27 million more than in 1993. Approximately 135,000 vehicles are stolen in Australia each year. About 23,000 of those vehicles - or 16 per cent to 17 per cent - are never recovered. The vehicles not recovered may be, for example, transported from one State to another, exported overseas, dismantled for spare parts, or dumped. Another possibility, and one which this measure aims to stop, is that stolen vehicles may be registered using the identification numbers, such as chassis numbers, of vehicles which are already written off. They are then sold to unsuspecting, innocent buyers.
The scheme outlined in the bill will require the provision of information to the Roads and Traffic Authority, which I shall call the RTA, on written-off, wrecked or disassembled vehicles which can then be used to reidentify stolen vehicles. This information will need to be provided by auto insurers, motor dealers and auto dismantlers. In addition, the scheme will require the identifiers of very badly damaged unrepairable vehicles to be marked never to be used again. The theft and resale of stolen vehicles works as follows. The thief needs to acquire the identification numbers of a non-stolen vehicle as cheaply as possible. This is typically done by purchasing a damaged or wrecked unregistered vehicle from an insurance company auction. Alternatively, the vehicle and its identifiers could be bought from a wrecker. The thief then steals a similar make and model vehicle, in as good condition as possible, and substitutes the identifiers from the damaged vehicle. This is a process commonly known as reidentification. The reidentified vehicle is then presented to the RTA or its counterpart in another jurisdiction for reregistration. Once registered, it is on-sold privately to an unsuspecting buyer, usually at a good profit.
As I have said, the scheme outlined in the bill is designed to combat this process. The scheme is an extension of a voluntary scheme already in place. In 1994 the RTA introduced a voluntary written-off vehicle register in conjunction with the Insurance Council of Australia, its member companies and the GIO. The purpose of the written-off vehicle register is to help detect reidentified stolen vehicles prior to registration. Briefly, insurance companies now voluntarily notify the RTA of vehicle identifiers from damaged non-stolen vehicles offered for sale through the insurers' outlets, so that the identifiers cannot be used to reidentify stolen vehicles. When an unregistered vehicle is presented to the RTA for reregistration, its identification numbers are checked against the numbers on the written-off vehicle register. If the numbers are on the register, the vehicle is subject to an examination before it is allowed to be reregistered. Vehicles which appear to have had identifiers tampered with or appear not to have been repaired consistent with the damage reported are referred to the police for further checking.
The written-off vehicle register is therefore intended to alert the RTA to possible reidentification before registration is granted to the suspect vehicles. The current written-off vehicle register has three problems. First, it is purely voluntary and insurance companies do not necessarily comply with the request to provide the information prior to selling the vehicle. Second, it does not include those damaged vehicles which are not insured or are self-insured. It is difficult to estimate the numbers of uninsured and self-insured vehicles but it is assumed to be about 20 per cent. Third, it does not allow the RTA to require the identifiers of high risk vehicles to be removed and destroyed prior to the sale of the vehicle. The legislation before the House will make it mandatory for auto insurers to notify the RTA of the identification numbers and will enable regulations to be made to require the provision of other information, such as the extent of the damage of wrecked vehicles, prior to their sale. It will also compel motor dealers and auto dismantlers to inform the RTA about vehicles known to have been written off and vehicles being dismantled.
The latter proposal will assist in reducing the potential for self-insured and uninsured vehicles to be used to reidentify stolen vehicles. The proposed legislation would also give the RTA the right to require the identifiers to be defaced or removed from the vehicles thought most likely to be used to reidentify stolen vehicles. The RTA will then mark these identifiers on its database as never to be used again. The scheme will initially focus on insurers, motor dealers and auto dismantlers and on vehicles less than 15 years old. The proposed legislation is designed to be flexible, so that the minimum administrative burden is placed on legitimate industry, while allowing the scheme to be adjusted by regulation to meet changing car theft trends. The scheme outlined includes penalties for the non-notification of the necessary details, for incorrectly notifying details, for notifying those details too late, for providing false or misleading information, for unauthorised access or interference with the register, for unauthorised disclosure of information and for failing to remove or deface particular identifiers. The legislation before the House should make it substantially harder for thieves to reidentify stolen vehicles and launder them through the RTA registration process. This will reduce the cost of car theft to the community of New South Wales. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Phillips.
REGULATORY REDUCTION BILL
Suspension of standing orders agreed to.
Debate resumed from 30 October.
Mr PHILLIPS (Miranda - Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [4.59]: The Regulatory Reduction Bill is clearly another example - and honourable members have seen many during this session of Parliament - of a government that just cannot get it right. The Government inherited a number of good ideas from the previous Government but it just does not know how to implement them or follow them through. The bill is a clear example of a government that has no intention of turning its rhetoric or its policy statements into action. The object of this bill is:
. . . to reduce the level of regulation in New South Wales by abolishing the requirements for certain licenses, certificates and other forms of authorisation.
The bill removes the need for individuals and businesses to have licenses to undertake particular commercial activities. The bill removes only 35 licensing categories from approximately 250. That sounds a very good objective. It is a process started by the former Government. It has been followed through with the Council of Australian Governments, the Federal Government and State governments. The current Government has an obligation to follow through and to implement it. Twenty months after the Government came to office only 35 licensing categories will be removed. They are minimal changes as I will point out later in this debate.
The bill results from the national competition policy which was ratified after the meetings of COAG in 1991 and in 1995. In response to the first COAG meeting the Vocational Education, Employment and Training Advisory Committee, which is better known as VEETAC, was commissioned to review partially registered occupations. In response to the 1995 COAG meeting, the Government signed its wonderful yellow book entitled "NSW Government Policy Statement on Legislation Review". It is hard not to agree with almost everything in it. Clause 1.5 on page 1 states:
One of these principles requires jurisdictions to review legislation "that restricts competition" between 1996 and 2000. The Agreement indicates that legislation should not restrict competition unless it can be demonstrated that the benefits to the community as a whole outweigh the costs and that the objectives of the legislation can only be achieved by restricting competition.
The key words are that one must be able to demonstrate that the benefits to the community as a whole outweigh the costs. Clause 1.8 on page 2 of this wonderful document is where the crunch comes. It states:
A key element to the success of the process is the involvement of business and community. Consistent with the Agreement -
This is the agreement that the Government made with the Federal Government and with other States -
. . . it is NSW Government policy to ensure that review processes take into account the full range of public benefits and that all views are thoroughly considered in regulatory reform.
The document talks about the involvement of business and community, about consistency, about the Government's policy and about looking at the
full range of public benefits and at all views. That is the policy statement of the Government. But it is not only mentioned once. On page 4 under "Review Methodology" clause 2.12 states:
NSW agencies undertaking reviews will undertake consultation with interested groups and affected parties to ensure that all aspects of the public benefit are considered.
Once again the Government stressed in the rhetoric in its policy statement that it will undertake consultation with interested groups and affected parties.
Mr O'Farrell: Another lie.
Mr PHILLIPS: That is clearly another lie.
Mr Aquilina: What are you talking about?
Mr PHILLIPS: The Minister for Education and Training is having enormous problems in his own portfolio. He probably does not really understand what this bill is about.
Mr Aquilina: You do not know what you are talking about.
Mr PHILLIPS: The Minister is the one who is interjecting. Why does the Minister not read the bill and find out what is in it, or just sit there and listen?
Mr Aquilina: You can't go round telling lies.
Mr PHILLIPS: I cannot go round telling lies! The document is entitled "NSW Government Policy Statement on Legislation Review". It is dated June 1996 and it emphasises consultation with business and community and talks about public benefit. That is what the Government has stressed. The bill changes a range of licences in the real estate industry; licences for business sales representatives, artificial breeding operators, artificial breeding instructors, motor vehicle loss assessors; motor vehicle sport and recreation permits; milk graders certificates; and licences for hairdressers, air conditioning installation, security, and butter makers and cheese makers. That is good, but one would have thought from that policy statement that there would have been consultation.
Government members probably would not understand but the Opposition often gets suspicious about the intent of the Government, so Opposition members picked up the phone, rang some of these organisations and said, "Are you aware that the Government has introduced this bill to get rid of 35 licences? Have you been consulted?" Surprise! Surprise! Almost all of them had not been contacted or consulted and were unaware of the legislation until they saw the press release. The complaint of the real estate and business sales representatives is about lack of consultation. Artificial breeding operators complain about farmers not being consulted; they are concerned about the lack of consumer protection. The artificial breeding instructors are also concerned that farmers were not consulted and about the lack of consumer protection, which is a fundamental part of the Government's policy.
Motor vehicle loss assessors were not consulted but a licence of $41 is paid for life without review so there is no benefit to consumers, so that is the end of that one. There is no problem with motor vehicle sport and recreation permits because the permit is not issued anyway. There is no problem getting rid of a milk grader's certificate because milk is not graded any more; a big change. Hairdressers said there is no problem because removal of the licence will break the TAFE monopoly. That is a good move but once again there was no consultation. The airconditioning installation industry is covered by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The security industry is awaiting consultation. Butter makers and cheese makers have no comment at the moment because they want to see the information in the bill.
If the Minister for Education and Training had been listening to this debate he would understand that a vital part of this licensing regulation review program, which is in the Government's policy and which the Government signed with other States and the Commonwealth Government, stressed the need for consultation and to ensure that changes occur in the public interest. How can the Government conduct a licensing review unless the organisations that will be directly affected are consulted? How can one be sure that the Government is acting in the public interest unless it consults on these issues? The Government should be damned for failing to do that. Although the coalition agrees with many of the examples given by the Premier in his second reading speech such as the cumbersome nature of 10 separate licences for tradespeople who erect fences, the bill deals only with 35 licences out of 250.
As I have said, there has not only been a lack of consultation, or no consultation in some cases, but there has also been no test of public benefit. A myriad of the other licences are regarded as unimportant, but the Government and the Premier are trying to champion the bill as a major reform in the deregulation of the industry. Once again it has backfired. It is not that at all. The coalition is concerned that the Government has not approached the relevant industry bodies to have true consultation, or if it has there is very little evidence that it has addressed any concerns at all. The Government is in breach of its own policy statement, which was clearly outlined in its yellow document. The coalition contacted the Motor Vehicle Repair Industry Council, which only became aware of the proposed licensing changes by way of the Premier's press release. It was highly critical of the level of consultation.
The Motor Traders Association of New South Wales was not consulted. The Minister for Fair Trading referred during question time this afternoon to the need to ensure that consumers are properly protected from shysters in the motor vehicle industry. But when it comes to changing licences, did the Government consult with the motor vehicle industry or with the association that has a vested interest in ensuring that shysters do not blight its
industry's name? No, there was no consultation at all. The Real Estate Institute of New South Wales has not been consulted by the Government, and was alarmed about that. The NRMA is adamantly opposed to the Government's proposals to get rid of some motor trading licences.
The NRMA represents tens of thousands of motor vehicle consumers in this State, but was not consulted about this fundamental change. What is the Government doing? Bureaucrats and officers are allowing Ministers to introduce legislation without ensuring that business bodies and consumers are properly consulted to ensure that it is in the interests of the people. The Government has a responsibility to consult, but it is not. The New South Wales Farmers Association has grave concerns about some elements of the bill and is alarmed at the lack of consultation by the Government. The Government has no farmers amongst its members. The member for Mount Druitt, the Minister for Agriculture, is the closest it has to a farmer. Mount Druitt is about as far as west as they go. The Government has not done its work. The Opposition has contacted each of the associations to ascertain their views. The Real Estate Institute of New South Wales said in a letter dated 13 November:
I refer to discussion . . . regarding the introduction of the Regulatory Reduction Bill 1996 and the sections of this Bill pertaining to the abolition of the provisions of the Property, Stock & Business Agents Act for the registration of real estate and business salespersons.
The Real Estate Institute is absolutely stunned that the State Government would take this action without consultation with the Industry and without regard to the public interest.
The Real Estate Institute says that the Government has not had regard to public interest, which is a fundamental part of its policy. The letter continues:
Indeed, the Bill has been introduced without consultation to the Property Services Council, the statutory authority -
a statutory authority by legislation, by an Act of this Parliament -
charged with providing policy advice to the Minister on such matters.
The Minister has not even approached the Property Services Council for advice on the bill. The Government is incompetent in its administration, and we constantly see examples of that incompetence. I have received from the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales a 2½-page document outlining its concerns about the public not being protected if registration and licensing of real estate sales staff is not maintained. It is concerned about standards and about ensuring that shysters do not get into the industry. It is concerned about the trust placed in real estate agents, and states:
It is estimated that the total trust funds handled by the profession in this State exceed $2,000,000,000 each year.
Under the provisions of the bill real estate sales staff will not have to be licensed. They will not be required to have certain educational qualifications and a check will not be made of their criminal record. People tend to sell their homes on average every seven to 12 years, and when they do so they will not know whether the people they deal with are properly licensed, properly educated or have been checked out. Is the Government acting in the public interest? If it has a case to put forward it should pursue it.
The Opposition will not delay the bill because, of the 35 licences affected, a number need to be dealt with. However, the Opposition calls on the Government to withdraw the bill and consult - to do what it said it would do in its policy statement, and what it is required to do under the Council of Australian Governments agreement: to consult before the bill goes to the upper House. The Opposition reserves the right to move amendments in the upper House following consultation with all relevant bodies. The Opposition does not oppose this legislation at this stage.
Mr McManus: After all that.
Mr PHILLIPS: Remember who has the numbers in the upper House. The Opposition will consider amendments in the upper House. You people should consult, and do what you said you would do.
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' STATEMENTS
NORTH HEAD PLANNING POLICY
Mr HUMPHERSON (Davidson) [5.15]: I express my support for the Bear Cottage hospice. Many of my constituents, and indeed the whole of the State, have an interest in this much needed project for families, and particularly for children, who have terminal diseases. It is needed not only for the people of the Manly area and the peninsula but for others throughout the State. I commend John Yu, Dr Michael Stephens, Alana Daley, and Gary Pemberton, to name but a few of the many friends of Bear Cottage.
I am pleased to acknowledge the intervention of the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, which I called for shortly before he made his move on 18 October. It was clear that Manly Council was not going to progress the project. It had been deceptive in delaying the project for nine months, since February when it first considered it. At that time the council said it would support Bear Cottage being located on land east of Fairy Bower Road. Yet in mid-October it dropped a bombshell and produced a draft local environmental plan requiring it to be built on a site south of Darley Road, which was previously rejected by the Friends of Bear Cottage.
Manly Council secretly pursued other options for eight months, in stark contrast to its public position. It betrayed the community and the families
who would benefit from the cottage. On that basis I sought ministerial intervention. The Friends of Bear Cottage also consulted the Minister and expressed their concerns to him. I commend the Minister for intervening in the matter and resolving it. I express my concerns about Manly Council. The residents and friends party is beholden to the local precinct committee - a creation of that group, which now owns it - and on this matter denies the broader public interest. Manly Council acted in a deceptive and underhanded manner. In a letter to the mayor of Manly Council, Sue Sacker, on 2 February I said:
I concur with the consultative approach taken by all on this project. In view of its regional significance, however, determining weight should be given to the supportive opinion of the broader community.
I have no doubt that there is great community support for the Bear Cottage project. The Friends of Bear Cottage were left with no option but to withdraw from the working party after the council released its local environmental plan. Councillors on that working party - the Mayor, Sue Sacker, the honourable member for Manly and Sandy Missingham, all three from the residents and friends party on Manly Council - had not acted in the interests of Bear Cottage. Gary Pemberton was quoted in the Manly Daily of 18 October as saying:
We take the view the working party ceased when the council decided to secretly pursue other site options outside the party . . .
In an article in the Northern Beaches Weekender of 18 October he is quoted as saying:
We can't keep spending donor funds and using up time to chase their whims.
The Friends of Bear Cottage submitted compromise options in September and indicated a preparedness to move in that direction, but Manly Council did not accept the proposals. Behind a public facade of support, for nine months the council actively sought to delay, obfuscate and undermine the project. The residents and friends members on the council have been less than truthful in their public statements of support. The honourable member for Manly and Ms Sacker have been deceptive in their public dealings and have perpetrated a myth of support for eight months, but in fact have been betraying the hospice and all who would benefit from it. The council has undertaken what I believe to be a deliberate and treacherous act to delay the project. It is commendable, therefore, that the Government and particularly the Minister have acted to pursue the rezoning of a site for the hospice that will suit its long-term needs. I trust that all members of this House will support the action taken by the Minister.
Mr KNOWLES (Moorebank - Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, and Minister for Housing) [5.20]: I appreciate the kind words of the honourable member for Davidson and his acknowledgment of the efforts of the Government in pursuing the early resolution of the Bear Cottage issue at Manly. I would like to acknowledge the many hundreds of letters of thanks and support I have received from all over Australia since the Government announced its decision to intervene if Manly Council did not proceed of its own volition. I would also like to acknowledge the bipartisan support received by the Premier from the Leader of the Opposition on this issue, as well as the many letters of thanks and support I have received from members on both sides of the Parliament.
Contrary to the assertion by the honourable member for Davidson, I would also like to thank the honourable member for Manly for his constructive efforts over the week of negotiations. It is in no small part due to his efforts that the construction of Bear Cottage in Manly will proceed quickly to fruition. As the old saying goes, "Success has many fathers. Failure is an orphan." If there is somebody to be singled out among the friends of Bear Cottage it must be Gary Pemberton, who has worked tirelessly and assiduously over the past nine months to try to bring some sanity to what was becoming a ludicrous debate. A work plan is now in place to have Bear Cottage ready to be established by the end of this year. All planning approval will have been given and all boxes will have been ticked. However, this is an opportunity for me to sound a note of warning to Manly Council. If it strays one inch from the agreed timetable, if it seeks to delay or procrastinate in any way, the commitment I made a week or so ago will be enacted: I will have no hesitation in taking control of the site and dealing with the application myself. [Time expired.]
COMMONWEALTH-STATE HOUSING AGREEMENT FUNDING
Mr RUMBLE (Illawarra) [5.22]: Today I wish to raise an important matter concerning the proposed changes by the Federal Government to the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. The proposed changes have caused alarm and worry for thousands of Department of Housing tenants. Concerns of public tenants include being forced from their homes to other areas because the valuation of the property at their current address has increased dramatically. The Commonwealth Government plans to cut $500 million from New South Wales and other States, which represents a one-third cut in the national housing budget. The approach of the Commonwealth is that public and private tenants in receipt of social security pensions and benefits will receive a housing subsidy to meet part of their rent.
The Commonwealth would cease paying grants to the States to assist with the construction and improvement of public and community housing. States would be expected to charge market rents to public tenants. The Commonwealth has promised that existing public tenants will not be financially disadvantaged by the reforms, and that new public tenants should not have to pay more than 25 per cent of their income in rent. I would like to contrast that with the current position in New South Wales where tenants are only obliged to pay a maximum of
20 per cent of their income in rent. The demand for public and community housing is likely to increase, at least in the short to medium term. Groups for whom the private rental sector is unlikely to provide an acceptable housing solution include people with disabilities, Aborigines, and older people who need security in their housing. The important element of the proposed reforms will be the adequacy of the rental subsidy.
Analysis of the New South Wales rental market indicates that low income earners make up approximately two-thirds of the total rental market. As far as New South Wales dealing with the Commonwealth is concerned, little detail has been provided on the subsidy policy to apply to existing public housing tenants and to recipients of other forms of assistance under past and present Commonwealth-State housing programs. Overseas experience has shown that when the subsidy is paid directly to tenants rather than to providers, housing outcomes may be more limited and rent arrears may increase significantly. Any proposed agreement with the Commonwealth Government must allow for sufficient capital investment for stock improvement. The only way a cash payment system will work is for the Commonwealth to maintain funding and allow the States to increase the supply of affordable housing. One concern is that the Commonwealth will only guarantee funding for one year, which will result in the construction of 3,000 fewer buildings in New South Wales with a loss of 4,000 jobs in the building industry.
Paying public housing tenants a direct subsidy in the form of a payment from the Department of Social Security is also a concern. Dr Larry Murphy from the Auckland University has noted that a similar scheme operating in New Zealand since 1991 led to people being forced to pay half their income in rent. Dr Murphy said that the situation resulted in the growth of ghettos in New Zealand. The Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, and Minister for Housing has done a wonderful job for the tenants of New South Wales in trying to determine from the Commonwealth Government what its policies really are. He has tried to assist by seeking to ensure that present and future tenants get a good deal. Has the Minister been able to extract any further information from the Commonwealth Government in relation to its scheme? Can he provide any information that would allay the general concerns of the tenants of the Department of Housing?
Mr KNOWLES (Moorebank - Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, and Minister for Housing) [5.27]: I congratulate the honourable member for Illawarra on raising one of the most fundamental national issues in relation to how we regard ourselves as a society. People in need of affordable housing or supported accommodation need the support of governments. John Howard's plans will inevitably result in increased rents, increased levels of homelessness and, in the short term, a downturn in the residential construction sector. In response to the member's inquiry, I can inform the House that three ministerial council meetings have taken place. On each occasion the Federal Minister, Senator Jocelyn Newman, has attempted to buy time, to defer and to ask for more time to further explore the issues.
The Federal Government has a policy to remove capital from the States and to provide a direct subsidy, similar to policy in the United Kingdom or New Zealand, where gross failures in the system, and consequent increased levels of homelessness and rents, have been clearly demonstrated. I would like to be able to tell the House and the honourable member for Illawarra what the Commonwealth Government's plans are but at this stage it has not put anything on the table. We have got it out from under the table and up to the table, but until such time as the Federal Government puts its proposals on the table public housing tenants right across Australia, not just in New South Wales, have a right to be concerned. Based on the level of subsidies outlined by the Commonwealth Government, public housing tenants will not be able to afford their rents, particularly in Sydney and in high urban rental areas of the Illawarra and the Hunter. This is a matter of national importance. The Opposition in this place is silent on its position, with the exception of the Leader of the National Party, who has supported me in writing. I do not know what the honourable member for Oxley is doing about it.
Mr Jeffery: You are scaremongering.
Mr KNOWLES: If I am, so is the Leader of the National Party. I call upon the Opposition to back this State and fight for a better deal for the public housing tenants of New South Wales. [Time expired.]
STATE WHEAT CROP
Mr PEACOCKE (Dubbo) [5.30]: Most honourable members of this House will be aware that my electorate and adjoining electorates are in the centre of the vast wheat growing area of New South Wales. They will also be aware that this is possibly the best season in the past 30 years for wheat growers of my area and in large parts of Australia. Over the past decade to 15 years family farmers throughout the length and breadth of Australia have had a most awful economic recession. They have been through droughts and low or wildly fluctuating commodity prices; they have been slaughtered by the banks with high interest rates and have endured enormous problems created by the Australian financial system, particularly under the Keating Government. For a number of these farmers, this year is their first opportunity in many years to recover, at least to a degree, after years of privation.
The crops in my electorate are extremely good; they appear to be capable of very high yields and harvesting has now started in the northern part of my electorate and down further towards Dubbo. My
concern today is that this season has also been very wet. Rain has been forecast for tomorrow in the northern part of my electorate. Yet this year, as occurs every year with a wheat crop in my electorate, the Roads and Traffic Authority inspectors are on the road in droves and are harassing the farmers who are desperately trying to get their wheat off and into the silos before the rain comes and deteriorates the wheat to a marked degree. All honourable members understand that the RTA has a job to protect the State roads. We all know that overloaded wheat trucks can cause considerable damage to roads. But I am informed by a number of my constituents today that they are being harassed by the RTA inspectors. Their major complaint is not being booked for overloading but being held up for considerable periods of time when delivering their wheat to silos by a large number of RTA inspectors stopping vehicles to check their weight.
That may seem a minor complaint to people who do not understand, but it is not. Farmers load their trucks, drive to the silos and may have a long wait until their wheat is unloaded. In this context, a delay of an hour or two caused by RTA inspectors may result in a loss of many thousands of dollars if farmers cannot get their wheat into the silos before it rains. I am not being childish about this. I am not accusing the RTA inspectors of anything except perhaps undue harassment of these unfortunate people who are merely trying to make a living and recover their economic situation after years of privation and problems. I ask the Minister for Roads to review this situation and to request the RTA inspectors to exercise some tolerance for the sake of these unfortunate people who have suffered so much over a long period of time.
Mr Cruickshank: Little Hitlers.
Mr PEACOCKE: Indeed, they can be little Hitlers, using authority with a great lack of fairness. This is a critical situation for my constituents; they deserve better. I ask the Minister to take the appropriate action and ask the inspectors to adopt a more tolerant and reasonable action and not persecute these people.
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE HOLSWORTHY LAND
Mr McMANUS (Bulli) [5.34]: I refer to a matter of extreme urgency regarding Holsworthy airport. I am disappointed that once again the Deputy Leader of the Opposition did not accept my offer to remain in the House to hear about the effects of the new proposal for Holsworthy airport, which relate not only to my constituents but also to those in the Sutherland shire. In recent weeks the Federal Government has advised of two runway options at Holsworthy, both of which are in direct contrast to there having been no proposal for an airport whatsoever some ten years ago. The biggest concern for my constituency, if this proposal goes ahead, is that all of the Sutherland shire and certainly the northern suburbs of Wollongong will be adversely affected by a range of issues. I note that the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, and Minister for Housing has the same concerns about this travesty of justice.
I am also concerned that in all of the deliberations about Holsworthy airport and the concerns of my constituents in the Sutherland shire and the northern sector of Wollongong, on no occasion have any of my State colleagues stood in the House to defend their constituents on this matter. The time has come to put the runs on the board, and for my State colleagues to stand up with the Ministers and members whose electorates are adversely affected and ensure that the Holsworthy airport proposal is knocked on the head once and for all. I will not give this up without a fight. The people of Engadine and Helensburgh are now the victims because the new design plan which has come from the Federal Government in recent days indicates that the airport will operate 24 hours a day and that there will be some 360,000 flights per year over the skies of the Sutherland shire and the northern sector of the Illawarra.
As Danna Vale, the Federal member for Hughes, said, Goulburn is not designated for an environmental impact statement, as is the Holsworthy site. In 1986 Goulburn was a high priority as an airport site, and yet the Federal Government has decided on a proposal for an airport at Holsworthy, which 10 years ago ranked ninth out of 10. What has happened? The Federal Government has decided to undertake an environmental impact statement on Holsworthy but not on Goulburn. Might I say to members who are seeking to interject that the reason Goulburn is not being considered may be because the Federal transport Minister, Mr Sharp, is the Federal member for the Goulburn area. Also, there was a public meeting in Goulburn some months ago and, as shown on Prime television, 150 people turned up.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Murrumbidgee will cease interjecting.
Mr McMANUS: At Goulburn 150 people turned up and four people voted against the airport. The people of Goulburn want the airport but cannot get it from the Federal Government. The people of the Sutherland shire and Illawarra do not want the airport but are having it thrust upon them. The biggest danger with the proposed airport at Holsworthy is to the environment. Billions of dollars have been spent on a water treatment plant in this region, by this same Minister I might add, to ensure that we have clean water to serve not only Helensburgh but also the Sutherland shire. The Federal Government is negating all of that good work by proposing that planes fly over the Woronora catchment, thereby destroying the environmental sensitivity of Heathcote National Park and Royal National Park, and the water quality that this Government has spent billions of dollars on to protect. That is absolute lunacy and we are not giving up.
On Sunday, 24 November a major rally will be held at Waratah Park, Sutherland, at which similar attendance numbers to those at rallies held at Wattle Grove some time ago are expected to protest against the Federal Government's action. A meeting will be held with Wollongong City Council and its lord mayor, David Campbell, at Helensburgh community hall at 7.30 p.m. on 22 November to discuss this issue. Helensburgh has never been mentioned in connection with the second airport. Now that the Federal Government has proposed alternative flight paths, Helensburgh has now been incorporated into the problem. This is a serious political decision based on the fact that it affects Labor electorates. The Federal Government wants to dump all of this junk in Labor electorates. My colleagues in the Sutherland shire, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Cronulla and the honourable member for Sutherland, will be in for a shock because this issue will be driven home like never before. Danna Vale will not have their support; she represents a marginal seat, but is obviously inefficient as she cannot put forward the needs of her electorate to her Federal Minister.
Mr KNOWLES (Moorebank - Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, and Minister for Housing) [5.39]: The honourable member for Bulli must be congratulated on his tenacious defence of his constituents against this foolish proposal. John Howard's plans to build a 24-hour international airport simply mean a lifestyle disaster for hundreds of thousands of residents and families of the Sutherland shire and south-western Sydney. It is a foolish plan because we know that when Holsworthy was assessed over the last 25 years it was rejected out of hand every single time on every environmental, social and economic criterion. The Kinhill study in 1985 listed it ninth out of 10 possible sites. As a consequence, we can only ask why John Howard seeks to inflict the uncertainty, fear and worry on the hundreds of thousands of families in the Sutherland shire and south-western Sydney of a proposal that has failed every time it has been discussed.
Why does John Howard seem hell-bent on trying to justify the impossible by forcing a 24-hour international airport down the throats of the people in that region? This 24-hour international airport will have, to start with, the capacity to carry 360,000 aircraft movements each year and 30 million passengers. The proposal being considered must consider future expansion from that baseline. If anybody thinks this proposal is anything other than a nightmare, a lifestyle disaster for those who legitimately moved into those areas expecting some quality of life, they are kidding themselves. Those 360,000 aircraft movements each year will mean an aeroplane over houses every 70 seconds. Every 70 seconds, 24 hours a day, jumbo jets will pass over residences at no more than 2,000 feet.
HYAMS BEACH TENNIS COURT
Mr ELLIS (South Coast) [5.41]: I bring to the attention of the House a matter concerning the residents of Hyams Beach, namely, the provision of a tennis court. It takes about 40 minutes to travel by road from Nowra to Hyams Beach. Hyams Beach is basically a holiday village where fishing is the main recreational pursuit. It has a population of about 200 people, a significant proportion of whom are elderly and retired. It has a general store and that is about it. There are no commercial or recreational facilities to entertain the locals, no police station, no ambulance station, no taxi service, no bus service, no pub, no club, no school and no sports fields. Hyams Beach is an isolated community constrained by the waters of Jervis Bay and national park bush. Without an interest in aquatic sports or bushwalking, the only option for entertainment is television.
As a step towards expanding much needed recreational facilities, 12 years ago the locals started talking about building a single tennis court. Given the isolation of this village, it was considered that such a facility would provide social and physical benefits for residents; at least it would expand their limited choice of recreation. The proponents of the tennis court started on a long road of frustration, obstruction and confusion as they tried to find a suitable site. Over a period seven sites were considered and disqualified for numerous reasons. Finally in 1994 a site on the outskirts of the village was selected and proposed. Part of the site was within the bounds of the village while the balance was located within the soon to be declared Jervis Bay national park.
The tennis club committee and Shoalhaven City Council negotiated with the National Parks and Wildlife Service to excise that portion for the tennis court from the proposed boundary of the national park. In July 1995 written confirmation was received from the local office of the National Parks and Wildlife Service and reaffirmed by Shoalhaven City Council, which approved the development application. In good faith Shoalhaven City Council continued its plans to develop the site and residents continued fundraising in anticipation of the adjustment being made to the proposed boundary to allow the court to be built.
When the park was gazetted it was discovered that the National Parks and Wildlife Service had failed to make the adjustment as promised. After the oversight was noted, many discussions took place between residents, council and the National Parks and Wildlife Service to attempt to overcome the problem. From these meetings both council representatives and residents felt a solution had been found through a system of licensing. A few weeks ago Shoalhaven council received a letter from the Minister for the Environment stating that a licence would not be issued for that portion of the tennis court falling within the national park.
The tennis court has a surface area of 657 square metres; the portion the Minister has denied the residents is a minuscule 285 square metres, or 43 per cent of the tennis court. Residents have asked the Minister to excise 285 square metres from the many thousands of hectares declared as national park, but she has refused. This decision reneges on the undertakings given previously by the Minister's department. Both residents and the council are bewildered at this sudden turnaround. There is no rational explanation for the decision. I call on the Minister to rescind her decision and allow the licensing of the tennis court.
The Shoalhaven has 466,000 hectares, of which 366,000 will never be developed. More than 60 per cent of the Shoalhaven is under the control of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The Hyams Beach community has no sporting or recreational facilities and nothing to do but walk through national parks, though that is appreciated. The residents are merely asking for a tennis court. For 12 years they have attempted to get this tennis court built. They were promised that the boundaries of the proposed national park would allow 285 square metres on which to build the tennis court. The Minister has not honoured that promise. Have we moved that far down the track that 285 square metres of a national park cannot be provided for a community to build a tennis court, particularly when the department that controls the area promised to make it available and then reneged on the promise when the park boundaries were gazetted?
GUN LAW REFORM
Mr NEILLY (Cessnock) [5.46]: It is appropriate that I speak on the eve of another significant meeting of the Australasian Police Ministers' Council, to be held on 14 and 15 November. This meeting will be the last to enable appropriate laws to be implemented, to acknowledge problems created by laws drafted to date and also to consider the practical application or implementation of those laws. Resolution 6 of the Australasian Police Ministers' Council meeting on 10 May concerned training. That meeting agreed on the development of a uniform national protocol for the training of applicants for licences and the establishment of a working party to determine the training that ought to take place. For that training to occur, there must be venues at which it can be undertaken. In the past those venues have mainly been provided in this State by clubs affiliated with the National Rifle Association of Australia.
Also, in relation to the regulations associated with New South Wales legislation, recognition must be given to the clubs that will have to adhere to requirements laid down by the Commissioner of Police. What has not been appropriately considered as yet is how those clubs will be financed to enable them to provide appropriate facilities when their existing facilities do not meet the stipulated training requirements. Additionally, it must be borne in mind that many of those with category B licences, the recreational shooters, must seek permission to shoot on properties. With the advent of rabbit calicivirus and the consequent diminution of rabbit numbers, recreational shooters will be returning to target shooting clubs, whose resources will be strained as a result. Therefore I believe it appropriate to consider how the governments of this State and of the Commonwealth might assist clubs in preparing to cope with the influx of shooters and provide the facilities necessary to undertake appropriate training.
The Australasian Police Ministers' Council meeting to be conducted over the next two days ought to consider the position of hunters as opposed to recreational shooters, because hunters are a category of shooter not yet appropriately attended to. I refer to hunters such as those belonging to organisations of the ilk of the Australian Deer Hunters Association and international hunters who belong to organisations such as the South Pacific chapter of the Safari Club International, whose members in many instances only shoot overseas. I believe it would also be appropriate for the Minister to continue to pursue the case he has advocated at previous meetings of police ministers on behalf of clubs affiliated with the National Rifle Association, seeking special consideration for their cause, in particular seeking that the Commonwealth continue its recognition of those clubs under the Defence Act.
Finally, I regard it as appropriate, given the draft regulations that have been released in New South Wales - in this case regulations associated with category B licence applicants - that the intent of the police ministers resolution on 10 May this year relating to the necessity for those shooters to obtain written permission of property owners be finally resolved. The 10 May resolution does not signify to me that category B shooters would need to seek written permission from the owners of each property on which the licence holders shoot. However, that is the way in which the New South Wales regulations have been drafted. I urge caution in that matter because I have encountered circumstances in which shooters have been called out to eradicate wild dogs. It would be ludicrous, where dogs have been attacking goats and causing devastation of a herd of goats, if shooters had to obtain written permission before shooting the wild dogs. [Time expired.]
Mr WHELAN (Ashfield - Minister for Police) [5.51]: I thank the honourable member for Cessnock for another valuable contribution on this vexed and previously troublesome issue relating to firearms. He raised several interesting points. I assure him that when the Australasian Police Ministers' Council meets on Thursday and Friday of this week - I cannot be there on Thursday because the Opposition will not grant pairs - I will be pursuing agenda items relating to the military rifle clubs issue. Whilst that issue is more relevant to New South Wales than to other States, police ministers from other States have expressed a great deal of sympathy in respect of whether the Commonwealth will accept
responsibility for the Australian rifle club movement and its supporters, rather than transferring responsibility for that movement overnight without giving clubs operating in New South Wales an opportunity to involve themselves in that process. All national rifle clubs want to be law abiding and observe the decisions that have been made by the police ministers.
The honourable member for Cessnock made a valid point in relation to the finances of rifle clubs. That is another matter left in abeyance by the Commonwealth. Finance for those clubs has been a troublesome issue, but hopefully all of those problems are behind us. However, the honourable member raised a good point when he said that it is incumbent upon governments Australiawide, including the New South Wales Government to provide finance to enable rifle clubs to provide rifle ranges that they desire and that meet safety requirements. Military rifle clubs have a long and outstanding history. The regulations are open to discussion, as is the bill that was tabled in this House three weeks ago. [Time expired.]
ISOLATED PATIENTS TRAVEL ASSISTANCE SCHEME
Mr CRUICKSHANK (Murrumbidgee) [5.53]: I speak about a matter of grave concern in the Murrumbidgee electorate. It may not be an issue in all parts of New South Wales but it is in the Murrumbidgee electorate. I refer to the isolated patients travel assistance scheme. The number and type of complaints that honourable members receive from constituents, most of whom are serviced from Albury, could only lead to the system of payments being described as a mess. I understand that patients serviced by the Orange office administering the isolated patients travel assistance scheme receive their payments within 10 days. The Albury office takes up to six months to process refunds under the scheme.
I inform the House that the people who come to honourable members with complaints are not exactly Rockefellers; many of them have had to travel long distances within the electorate, some travelling hundreds of kilometres from isolated areas to get to the airport to go to Sydney for medical services. A man who came to see me on Monday this week was one of a long line of persons very concerned about delay in receipt of refunds. These people need this money to pay their travelling costs. Often, they need their money as quickly as possible to pay for accommodation, particularly when they are travelling from remote country areas to undergo traumatic cancer treatments.
I ask honourable members to bear in mind that there is no public transport in our part of the State. In city areas patients can catch a train, bus or ferry to get to their destinations. We in the country do not have those transport facilities. We are concerned about the number of reasons given as to why payments cannot be made more promptly. On some occasions patients are told that the delays are due to budgetary problems. We accept that. But an inquiry made of another person from the Albury office could be met with the explanation that the computer has broken down. On other occasions the excuse relates to staffing problems.
If Albury has staffing problems, why is the Orange office not suffering from staffing, budgetary and computer problems? I repeat, the Orange office can deliver refunds within 10 days; my constituents have to wait up to six months. Many of these people are chronically ill. Families must look after their disabled members and have enough costs to bear without having these sorts of problems hanging about their necks, being delayed with refunds. They should expect their refunds to be made a fortnight or three weeks after incurring the expenses associated with their journeys. I should like the Minister for Sport and Recreation to convey my concerns to the Deputy Premier and Minister for Health. I apologise for not informing the Minister that I would be raising this matter in the House, but I would be grateful if my concerns could be relayed to the Minister.
The Minister can be put in touch with those living in isolated areas who are being disadvantaged; they have a real grievance. These are life and death situations for them. In the scheme of things, the rather paltry concept of people not being able to obtain refunds for expensive journeys undertaken is fairly grim. I am not for a minute saying that it is the Government's fault, but I am saying that many of our friends in the public service need a shake-up every so often. The inconsistency must be highlighted. Apparently in some parts of the State refunds can be obtained within 10 days; in my area people can wait up to six months. That is an egregious situation for those living in remote areas who are ill.
Ms HARRISON (Parramatta - Minister for Sport and Recreation) [5.58]: I will ensure that the Minister for Health is aware of the issues raised by the honourable member for Murrumbidgee. Obviously the issues are of concern. I am sure that the Minister will be equally concerned about the issues and deal with them. The Minister may need further details, which I am sure the honourable member will provide.
MAIN ROAD 217 UPGRADE
Mr HUNTER (Lake Macquarie) [6.00]: The Lake Macquarie community is concerned about the condition of Main Road 217, and believes that funding is needed to undertake improvement works along the main road. About 18 months ago a route development study, funded by the State Government to the tune of $100,000, was undertaken on Main Road 217. Recently a draft route development plan was released for public comment. Before I outline the details of that plan I shall outline the areas serviced by Main Road 217, how the study was conducted, the aims and objectives of the study and
some community issues that were raised. Main Road 217 is a major arterial road in the cities of Lake Macquarie and Newcastle, and provides a vital link to the residential, commercial and recreational areas on the western side of Lake Macquarie. It runs east of and approximately parallel to the F3 freeway and is a State road linking the F3 with Toronto and Newcastle. In fact, it runs from Morisset in the south to Wallsend in the north.
Also included in the study were sections of Main Road 223, that is, the main road linking Main Road 217 to Cardiff and Glendale Drive in the electorate of Wallsend. I am sure that the honourable member for Wallsend is keen for funding to be provided to improve the parts of the road in his electorate. The planning process and the actions recommended for Main Road 217 have been developed with a high level of community input. During the preparation of the development plan four workshops were held with representatives of the local community, users of the road and relevant State and local authorities. The workshops identified the issues of concern to the stakeholders and reviewed a range of potential treatments that would address those issues. The community also had the opportunity to provide written comments during the study.
The community identified that an overall strategy was needed to improve the amenity for those living along the route, such as improved access, reduced noise, improved safety and adequate capacity for anticipated traffic growth. Safety should be a high priority and capacity should be improved, with more overtaking and passing opportunities from the twin viewpoints of capacity and safety. The community raised a number of concerns about environmental factors, which should be seriously considered. As I said, a draft plan has been released. A number of priorities have been identified for major enhancement works, including the area of Main Road 217 between Reservoir Road and Henholm, and between Cardiff railway bridge and the crossroads. As I said earlier, that area is within the electorate of Wallsend. I am sure that the honourable member for Wallsend, who is in the chair at present, is keen for that road improvement to be given higher priority on the list. I believe that he has made a submission on that point.
The plan includes a recommendation to upgrade Main Road 217 between Speers Point and Booragul, with progressive improvements further south and passing lanes in several locations on the southern end. In the southern area of Lake Macquarie, the draft plan recommends that there be a main street program for the Morisset shopping centre. I certainly support all the proposals that I have outlined. However, the report also recommends that approximately $4 million per annum for 10 years must be allocated to cover the works outlined in the plan. Further, approximately $500,000 per year will be required to maintain the current condition of the road, and $800,000 will be required to improve its condition so that all the road meets the corporate targets of the Roads and Traffic Authority. I am concerned that this project will have to compete with other routes and programs funded by the RTA, and that is why I have raised the concerns of the local community - concerns echoed in the Lake Macquarie News editorial on 13 November 1996. I ask the Minister to ensure that adequate funds are allocated in next year's budget to ensure that the development plan for Main Road 217 is implemented.
TAXI CHILD RESTRAINTS
Mr RIXON (Lismore) [6.05]: I draw the attention of honourable members to the concerns of parents of young children, suppliers, and taxi owners and drivers about the use of child restraints in taxis. These concerns arose following the recent passing of a law relating to the requirement that taxis use child restraints in the transportation of infant children. Parents of young children, suppliers, and taxi owners and drivers believe that there are serious flaws in the practical application of the law. The recent edition of the NRMA publication Open Road stated:
All restraints are safe, but some are safer than others. You need to use the right restraint for the child's size and also choose one which fits your car.
This necessarily suggests that a taxi must carry a number of restraints so that one will be readily available to suit the particular age of the current passenger. The practical implications of a taxi carrying a newborn child on one trip and then, say, a 10-month-old or two-year-old child on the next trip are significant. Those three children have different needs and require a different seat or a convertible car seat to be changed from the baby position to the toddler position. Seats would need to be swapped or adjusted with shoulder straps and fasteners repositioned. Such an exercise could take up to 20 minutes to execute. Taxidrivers wish to comply with the law but do not always understand that any old child restraint does not always supply the safety and protection sought. Second-hand seats especially may have flaws that cannot readily be identified and may only compromise the child's safety.
In many parts of the State there are RTA accredited child restraint fitting stations that could help with these problems. Perhaps the initial installation could be carried out at these stations, with annual inspections at vehicle registration time. There are concerns that at present there is no requirement for an owner-purchaser of a child restraint to consult a centre, and no real obligation to correct problems that may be highlighted by a fitting station. The problem of hygiene is often raised as it is inevitable that accidents of various kinds will occur when numerous infants use the same restraint. Despite there being an extensive amount of literature on the subject, there is still much confusion on the issue of child restraints and safety in a vehicle. Parents expect a reasonable level of safety from the restraints being used, but in many cases those expectations are not being achieved.
If the problem is to be adequately addressed a number of questions need to be answered. Should taxis carry one, two or three restraints to allow for children of different ages and families with more than one child? Who should pay for the restraints? How will the capsules be kept clean and hygienic? Who should supply liners for the capsules? Is only the taxi industry to supply seats, or will bus companies, hire car companies and minibus operators be made to comply as well? Should travellers be asked to provide their own capsule? Before the regulation was introduced I wonder whether the accident history of taxis, including third-party personal claims involving taxis and young children, were investigated. I ask the Minister for Transport to carefully consider the concerns of people about the use of capsules and child restraints. Perhaps the Minister, after a period of time, could look at what has happened and perhaps suggest improvements that may need to be made.
Mr LANGTON (Kogarah - Minister for Transport, and Minister for Tourism) [6.10]: Once again the honourable member for Lismore did not have the courtesy to tell me he was going to raise this matter. The regulation concerning child restraints in cars, taxis or any other vehicle is a matter for the Minister for Roads, not for me. However, as Minister for Transport I do have the carriage of regulations relating to taxis as such. I am surprised that the honourable member was prepared to read out another piece of rubbish that he has received from one of his disgruntled taxidrivers - there will always be a couple. The New South Wales Taxi Council has fully accepted the Government's package on this issue, but taxidrivers come up with all these ridiculous arguments about what will and will not work. Every new Falcon and Holden vehicle manufactured in Australia has two anchor points for child restraints. One bolt has been provided free of charge by the Roads and Traffic Authority and fitted to every taxi so that a restraint can be fitted. If taxi owners want to buy another bolt and put in a second restraint they can do that.
The simple fact is that a child is in just as much danger travelling in a taxi as in any other vehicle. If members like the honourable member for Lismore are prepared to put at risk the lives of infants in this State while travelling in a taxi, so be it, but I and the Government will not. We believe we have an absolute responsibility to protect the lives of children and infants in this State whether they are travelling in a taxi or any other vehicle. The honourable member should not suggest this business about capsules in buses. That is one of the red herrings put forward by a few disgruntled taxidrivers. The Government will not accept that. The New South Wales Taxi Industry Association accepts the package, as does the New South Wales Taxi Council. More than 300 taxis in Sydney now have capsules fitted, and that is a major advance supported by almost everybody in the State to protect the lives of children. [Time expired.]
DEATH OF Mr TED CHALLENGER
Mr NAGLE (Auburn) [6.12]: I wish to place on record a eulogy I delivered for the late Ted Challenger at St Peter Chanel Catholic Church, Berala, on Monday, 21 October. The great poet, writer and fighter for the working man, Robert Louis Stevenson, once profoundly said, "So long as we are loved by others, I should say that we are almost indispensable, as no man is useless when he has a friend." Ted, all his life, was not without friends. I first met Ted in the early 1960s when he and I were members of local Australian Labor Party branches. I was elected to Auburn Council in 1970. Ted won preselection for the council in 1973 to replace a Labor councillor who had resigned. He spent the next 18 years on the council, except for a short three-year period when he was temporarily retired by the voters. He served with me until 1976 and thereafter I did not stand for council, but in 1977 my father, Hylton, was elected to the council. He and Ted formed a close friendship with their respective wives, Veronica, my mother, and Beryl, Ted's wife. They socialised together. They travelled on council business together and Beryl and Ted would visit my mother after my father died. In fact, Beryl helped my mother a lot before she died and my family appreciated that help.
In 1974 I recall when Ted and I were at a Lions meeting he told me how he and his father went to Auburn police station in 1932 and were shown 33 new .303 rifles which were to be used against the local people if Jack Lang was sacked by Sir Phillip Game, the then British Governor of New South Wales. Ted told me about the depression years and the soup kitchens in Lidcombe. The suffering of his fellow Australians in the depression years left a deep impression on his mind and that is why he was Labor, true blue. Former Prime Minister Paul Keating called the people of western Sydney true believers. Well, Ted was a true believer. Because of Ted's long history with the Lidcombe area, he was able to relate many stories about the area and its people. As I like history, it was interesting for me to listen to Ted's stories.
Ted's 75 years of life was filled with a hard youth, a bitter depression and a pitiful and vicious second world war. But after the war he was able to get a job with the railways, working long hours and very hard. He met Beryl and they had two daughters, Jill and Kym. In the last years of his railway life he had a very interesting job as a teacher in railway safety. This required Ted travelling all over the State teaching his fellow workers a program called safety first systems. It was a job that he loved and it topped off his working career. He was in his element and he loved the work. Ted was always loyal, but over the last few years Ted was upset with the Australian Labor Party and it was unfortunate that someone he trusted misled him about his friends in the Labor Party.
Irrespective of this minor problem, Ted received the New South Wales community service award for services to the local community and local government. He deserved the award and he had definitely earned it. He also received the accolades of his fellow citizens for the work he did for the community. Ted enjoyed his life, drinking at his favourite hotel at Berala and also his time at council meetings. He was President of the Berala branch of the ALP and delegate to the ALP State electorate council. I remember the many times we handed out how to vote cards. In December 1975, after that day of infamy when Whitlam was sacked as Prime Minister, on a boring, wet, miserable cold day Ted handed out how to vote cards. Ted had a great many friends and it is unfortunate that many of those friends have also passed away. However, I am sure that he is now with his beloved Beryl enjoying her companionship and with my father talking about politics and old times.
Sir Samuel Johnson, the great English philosopher, proclaimed, "It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives. The act of dying is not important, it lasts so short a time." I remember what was placed on my mother's headstone when she died: "To live in the hearts of those left behind is not to die". Ted lives in our hearts. He lived life to its fullest. It was good and we are all a little better for knowing him. Ted lives on in his children, Jill and Kym, his sons-in-law and grandchildren. Ted lives in the hearts of his friends. To Ted's brother Jack, his nephews and nieces and Beryl's sister, all I can say is, God go with you and remember Ted gave happiness to all of you and to all of us. I am eternally indebted to and I thank Jill and Kym for allowing me to deliver that eulogy on that day. It was a great honour. I say goodbye, good friend.
Private members' statements noted.
[Mr Acting-Speaker (Mr Mills) left the chair at 6.16 p.m. The House resumed at 7.30 p.m.]
REGULATORY REDUCTION BILL Second Reading
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
Mr SHEDDEN (Bankstown) [7.30]: I support the Regulatory Reduction Bill. As Chairman of the Regulation Review Committee of New South Wales I am only too well aware of the continuing need to reduce regulation in this State. Over the past eight years the Regulation Review Committee has been able to bring about a 50 per cent reduction in statutory rules through the State's repeal program and regulatory impact statement assessment requirements under the Subordinate Legislation Act 1989. These are, of course, the subordinate instruments made under the principal Acts. As yet there is no system or procedure for the staged repeal of obsolescent Acts or a requirement for regulatory impact statements for bills in this State.
The bill seeks to amend several Acts and the regulations made under them to delete certain licensing and other regulatory controls. Schedule 1 to the bill contains amendments of Acts and schedule 2 to the bill contains amendments of regulations. These amendments make a significant improvement to the regulatory burden of industry in this State. However, no-one would suggest that the amendments to the 15 regulations listed in schedule 2 to the bill would complete the regulatory reductions required in New South Wales. My committee notes that the Government separately released a regulatory innovation paper in May this year. That paper identifies a range of ways in which the objectives of regulations can be met. These strategies include performance-based regulation where a regulation specifies what the performance standards are and how the results will be monitored. That gives industry an opportunity to achieve those goals by the most efficient means available.
Another strategy is negotiated rule making. That takes consultation with industry a step further by providing an opportunity for persons and organisations that will be materially affected by a regulatory proposal to reach agreement on the principles of the regulation before it is drawn up. Further strategies are class exemptions for small business, regulatory flexibility and third party certification. These innovations will need to be accompanied by an appropriate training program for the relevant departmental personnel in handling these new techniques. My committee found that, when the Subordinate Legislation Act was introduced in 1989, the training program was grossly inadequate and that led to major problems in the resultant regulatory impact statements. The committee is still experiencing difficulty in convincing departments of the need to assess regulations before they are drafted.
This bill must be regarded as a further positive step towards the reduction of regulations in this State. However, it must be seen in the context of the need for greater systemic reform to the regulatory picture in New South Wales. As my committee has indicated in several reports, the major part of this reform will be the introduction of a scrutiny of bills committee for New South Wales. The committee and its sister committees from around Australia, in their latest report on the scrutiny of national schemes of legislation, indicate that there is a pressing need for the introduction of effective parliamentary scrutiny mechanisms for the development of national scheme legislation. It is likely, as we head towards a new millennium, that there will be far greater recourse to national scheme legislation.
One of the options recommended in the report is for the scrutiny of bills committees from the parliaments of Australia to form a national committee so that they can scrutinise national scheme bills early enough in their development to make a useful contribution without delaying the passage of those bills. The adoption of a scrutiny of
bills committee for New South Wales will further the Government's agenda, of which this bill is a part, and enable it to review all legislation that adversely affects competition in line with the national competition policy reforms agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments, or COAG, in April 1995. I commend the bill.
Mr CRUICKSHANK (Murrumbidgee) [7.35]: I thank the House for giving me an opportunity to speak in support of the Regulatory Reduction Bill. Who could possibly oppose a bill with a title such as that? However, some Opposition members who have reservations about the bill will make their reservations known in another place. The purpose of this bill is to reduce unnecessary regulation by removing the need for individuals and businesses to have particular licences to undertake commercial activities. I will say a little more about that later. No-one could oppose such a worthwhile objective. However, while I was listening to the Premier's second reading speech on 30 October I felt a wave of deja vu which took me back to a report presented to this House on 11 February 1987.
Report No. 1 of the Select Committee upon Small Business entitled "Regulation and Licensing" was chaired by the present Minister for Police, the Hon. Paul Whelan, during the term of the former Labor Government. That report contains some conclusions that are surprisingly similar to the objectives of this bill, which has been presented as a recent initiative of this Government. The Government has taken this initiative because of former Premier Nick Greiner's contribution in setting up the Regulation Review Committee as a statutory parliamentary committee with real teeth, not just an ad hoc committee. On page 92 of the report to which I referred earlier - the report of the Select Committee upon Small Business into regulation and licensing in New South Wales - is the following conclusion:
The Committee considers that there needs to be a review of overall licensing operations, and consideration of the impact on businesses prior to introduction of new licensing imposts. However, the review will need to be undertaken in two phases, initially to have all licences considered within each portfolio area to identify those which are necessarily followed up by a later review on industry bases to reduce the overall licensing burden on individual industries.
The sentiments and program for reform set out in the committee report from which I have just read are excellent. They are possibly even more thorough than the program which led to the introduction of the present bill. That issue aside, I support the objectives of this bill, although it comes with no assessment of its costs and benefits and, as was pointed out earlier by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who led for the Opposition in debate on this bill, many of the matters upon which the Government has placed an emphasis are redundant anyhow. The Premier in his second reading speech said, "The bill will result in significant cost savings" - a matter which has been referred to on many occasions. Can the Premier tell this House whether the costs and benefits of this measure have been quantified by his department, as cost savings to small businesses are the central objective of this measure.
If the department has not clarified those cost savings the Premier might be able to tell us about the method his department used to select the licences which are being repealed. As I said earlier, reference has already been made to the reasons that those licences are being repealed. Licences are being repealed without the consultation that is required - an essential requirement in the Subordinate Legislation Act. That initiative is somewhat disenchanting in that it has been presented to us by the Government as something new and fresh when the Chairman of the Select Committee upon Small Business, the Hon. Paul Whelan, and other committee members did the work that was necessary all those years ago. When the Minister replies to debate on this bill he might be able to clarify the relationship between the work of his committee and what is now being presented in this House in new clothes.
Ministers and shadow ministers should get firmly into their minds that there is a world of difference between licences and regulations. The Regulation Review Committee is often asked why it has not done something about a particular licence. The committee's reviews are done chronologically. That approach has worked successfully to date, except that Ministers in successive governments have tried to water it down because they and their departments have not got around to examining the relevant regulations. They try to dish them up in the same form as they were before. That is obvious to the committee and it rejects them. That earns the Regulation Review Committee much approbation from Ministers. They want to know who the committee is working for, whose side it is on, and what it thinks it is doing. The Ministers think they are gods when it comes to making regulations, but they do not have any intention of examining regulations and submitting new regulations in an itemised way.
Mr Phillips: If you are upsetting them, you must be doing your job properly.
Mr CRUICKSHANK: That is a blast from the past, because the Deputy Leader of the Opposition might have been one of the Ministers. I certainly remember that on previous occasions the former Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Tim Moore, believed that the committee was most impertinent in disallowing some of his regulations because they were the types of regulations that the Regulation Review Committee and the Subordinate Legislation Act were set up to thwart. Successive governments and Ministers have had to learn that both regulations and legislation will be scrutinised more and more, and the sooner it is done the better. For too long the public has not been included in the assessment process. Some gestures have been made, but by and large the public have not been included in the assessment of regulations.
The relevant Acts are debated endlessly backwards and forwards. They are delayed, debated again and voted upon, but the regulations are then made. Unless there is constant vigilance on the part of the Regulation Review Committee, heaven knows what the government of the day will try to slip through some time after midnight. I support the bill because it is a step in the right direction. Members of this House will have to get used to the idea that there will be greater scrutiny not only of regulations and licences but also of legislation. The present members of the committee do not take it upon themselves to review particular licences on the basis that they have been mentioned to the committee. The purpose of the Regulation Review Committee is to accept submissions from anyone at any time. If a person has a problem with a licence, that person can submit the matter to the Regulation Review Committee for investigation.
At the moment the committee is examining a regulation relating to the caging of animals in experimental situations. It is taking a long time to examine the regulation, but it has not taken half as long as the responsible Ministers have taken. The regulation came through from the previous Government; Ministers take far too long to consider these matters. I do not know why. Perhaps they do not want to make decisions. The committee is happy to investigate these matters on behalf of the relevant departments. Unfortunately, the public does not generally make use of the committee. All members should expect that there will be a call for greater scrutiny not only of regulations but also of legislation.
Mr WHELAN (Ashfield - Minister for Police) [7.45], in reply: The Government thanks all honourable members who have contributed to this interesting debate.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Order of Business
Motion by Mr Whelan agreed to:
That standing orders be suspended to allow:
(1) The Police Legislation Further Amendment Bill, notice of which was given this day for tomorrow, being brought in and proceeded with up to and including the Minister's second reading speech:
(2) the Strata Schemes Management Bill and cognate bill being brought in and proceeded with up to and including the Minister's second reading speech; and
(3) the resumption of the adjourned second reading debate on Government business orders of the day Nos 5, 13 and 14.
POLICE LEGISLATION FURTHER AMENDMENT BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr WHELAN (Ashfield - Minister for Police) [7.46]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
This bill marks another milestone in the Government's support for the Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service and signals its continuing commitment to lasting police reform. The royal commission has released a further report which deals with immediate measures for the reform of the Police Service of New South Wales. In the report, Mr Justice Wood says that the royal commission has "arrived at the conclusion that the reform process could be unacceptably impeded if certain changes are not implemented forthwith." The Government has accepted the royal commission's call for action and this bill gives legislative force to the royal commission's recommendations. The provisions of the bill have the full support of both the royal commission and Commissioner of Police, Peter Ryan. I believe they deserve equal support from the Parliament. I was pleased to note the endorsement of the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow police minister of the royal commission's recommendations.
The royal commission has foreshadowed that its final report will contain wide-ranging recommendations for reform which will address virtually every aspect of police culture and practice. However, the commission believes that certain immediate measures are needed to prepare the way for these wider reforms. The royal commission also believes that immediate action is required to give the new police commissioner the opportunity to act before any opposition within the service has the chance to entrench itself. Immediate action will also build upon the momentum for change which exists from both inside and outside the service. The evidence presented before the royal commission makes it imperative that major reform of the Police Service be achieved, and achieved quickly. The revelations of the royal commission have shocked and disgusted the people of New South Wales and left the vast majority of honest police ashamed. Urgent action is required to put in place mechanisms to avoid a repetition.
The need for change has been acknowledged by the service itself and recognised by all parties who attended the round-table discussions organised by the royal commission. Prominent in those discussions were the three industrial associations whose members are employed by the Police Service. Indeed, the largest of these, the Police Association, has devoted much of its time, commencing with its biennial conference in May this year, discussing the need for change. The royal commission, and indeed most commentators, have agreed that the will for change must come from within. I am pleased to
advise that the desire for change not only exists but is strong, particularly amongst the front-line officers whose interests have been so long neglected by the old discredited management regime.
For some time now, members of the Police Service have been engaged in discussing the direction of change. As a joint initiative of the royal commission and the Government, a police reform committee was established, chaired by Dr Peter Crawford, with a mission of discovering ideas from within the service. The committee established seven action teams which developed proposals for a discussion document that has been circulated throughout the service. This blueprint document, called "Towards a New Police Service", provided the focus for the royal commission's round-table discussions and has been the subject of 124 facilitated sessions catering for in excess of 2,000 members of the service. Arising from the discussion process, the royal commission has reached a position where it believes a vision of the future is available. In its immediate measures report, the royal commission says a general acceptance has emerged of certain premises that will underline the final report.
These include: policing involving a compact with the community in which high standards of professionalism and service are expected and adopted from within; the notion that the service is a law unto itself is unacceptable; the negative aspects of the police culture identified in the public hearings have no place in a police service that makes claim to professionalism and public respect, nor do those police who have ascribed to that culture and demonstrated themselves to be corrupt have any place within the service; there is a need for radical change, and a current momentum for reform exists that should not be lost; the worth of each individual as a member of a high performing professional team should be recognised; management should be based upon modern concepts of leadership, rather than insistence upon blind obedience to authority; a primary focus of the service should be patrol level policing, accompanied by supervision that adds value, and local responsibility for quality of service and for integrity; the system of appointment and promotion within the service should be one that outlaws patronage and favouritism, and encourages appointment of the best person for the job; the position held should reflect true responsibility and accountability for quality of service, and integrity, and should not simply represent a rung in a hierarchy of authority; equally, salary entitlement should reflect the responsibility of the position and not simply a rank; greater flexibility should exist to permit the police commissioner and his management team to deal with matters of staffing and the allocation of resources and also to deal with discipline in a quick, fair, straightforward and managerial way, without undue procedural or bureaucratic restraints; stringent external audit should exist, alongside internal acceptance of responsibility for discipline and anti-corruption measures; and an external audit process to monitor implementation of the final report, and the continuing performance of the service, is essential.
The steps recommended in the immediate measures report, and as a consequence contained in this bill, are directly aimed at giving the police commissioner the unfettered power to restructure the service to meet the expectations of the royal commission, the community and the majority of the service for change. As such, the changes proposed should be welcomed by all forward-thinking members of the service. The changes will enable the commissioner to set the future direction of the service towards enhancing the patrol as the centre of service delivery and move away from the bureaucratic inertia found in the current organisational superstructure.
The commissioner will be outlining details of his proposals in evidence to the royal commission next week. The thousands of hardworking and honest members of the Police Service have nothing to fear from these proposals. To the contrary, their prospects will be enhanced. Rather it is the enemies of promise: the corrupt, the lazy and the incompetent, who have for so long stood in the way of change, who should receive the clear message that there is no room for them in the new Police Service. The bill vests very significant powers in the New South Wales police commissioner. This is not a step which has been taken lightly. However, it is a recognition that to be a modern organisation, the Police Service needs clear direction from a chief executive office with power to manage the people and resources of the service in an open and accountable manner.
Put simply, in Peter Ryan the Government has appointed a police commissioner who has a genuine commitment to reform. It believes that Mr Ryan must be given the tools to bring about the reforms which are so obviously necessary. It should be noted that the powers to be given to the police commissioner are, in reality, very similar to those exercised by commissioners of police in other jurisdictions in Australia and indeed by other chief executive officers in the New South Wales public sector. Like the royal commission, the Government is conscious that a close watch will need to be kept on the effectiveness of the statutory powers and accountability of the police commissioner.
In this regard, the Government agrees that an annual review is appropriate and will be discussing audit and review proposals with the royal commission prior to its final report. As the commissioner will in effect be given the powers of a public sector CEO, it is proposed that he or she should be appointed and removed in a similar fashion by the Governor, on the recommendation of the Minister. The Minister will be required to consult in both processes with the Police Integrity Commission. Once again, this is similar to the situation in other jurisdictions and is supported by both the royal commission and Commissioner Ryan.
The bill enhances the role of the Police Integrity Commission in protecting and preserving the integrity of members of the service.
In particular, the Police Integrity Commission's input will be essential in any decision relating to the appointment of police officers of any rank. As a consequence of the royal commission's recommendation to give the police commissioner all employment responsibility in the service, and the fact that integrity issues rest with the Police Integrity Commission, the royal commission has recommended that the Police Board be abolished. The Government has accepted the royal commission's logic after careful consideration. The Police Board operated most effectively in its early days, but during the coalition years its powers were largely emasculated following the Lauer-Pickering affair.
In more recent times, its major achievements have been the recruitment of Commissioner Ryan, the work done by its SCORPIO and police reform sub-committees, as well as the invaluable work done in the education and training field. This later work will continue through the mechanism of ministerial inquiries established by the bill. Following the abolition of the board the Government will be closely monitoring the royal commission's proposals for community input into policing, as it believes a community window into the service is essential for both the service and the community. Whilst the Government has accepted the royal commission's recommendation to abolish the Police Board I would like to pay tribute to the contribution and commitment of past and present members of the board - especially the present members, who have themselves participated willingly and valuably in the reform process.
I now turn to the specifics of the bill, the majority of which centre on processes for the appointment and dismissal of members of the Police Service. A number of the provisions in parts 5 and 6 of the Police Service Act have been amended as a consequence of the abolition of the Police Board and the transfer of responsibility for appointments, as the employer, to the commissioner. The bill provides for the most senior members of the Police Service - the deputy and assistant commissioners - to continue to be appointed by the Governor. These appointments will be made on the recommendation of the commissioner and with the approval of the Minister.
All other members of the Police Service senior executive service will be appointed by the commissioner, and will hold a contract with the commissioner. This will ensure that the commissioner has a free hand in the selection of senior officers who will hold much of the responsibility for turning the Police Service around. It should be noted, however, that the transitional provisions of the bill provide for all existing contracts between senior executive officers and the Police Board to be deemed as contracts held with the commissioner.
All non-executive members of the Police Service will also be appointed directly by the commissioner. This is really only a significant change for non-executive commissioned officers who had previously been appointed by the Governor on the recommendation of the Police Board. The Police Integrity Commission will, however, have a role in appointments. Before making any appointments to any position, the commissioner will be under a duty to seek information from the PIC on the integrity of the proposed appointee. In the case of an executive officer, the PIC will be obliged to provide an integrity report on the basis of the information that it holds.
In respect of non-executive appointments, the PIC will have that right, but not an obligation, to furnish such a report. The existence of the discretion ensures that the PIC has the capacity to protect confidential investigations if necessary. In 1994 section 65A was introduced into the Police Service Act to allow the appointment of persons from outside the Police Service into specially designated positions. Regrettably, this section has not been used to anything like its full potential, because the former management of the service used the complicated legislative arrangements as an excuse for doing little.
The royal commission has recommended that lateral recruitment be an option available in respect of every position in the Police Service. The bill therefore amends all sections of the Act that are a barrier to external recruitment. This will give the service no excuse for not selecting from the widest possible pool. Given that lateral entry into the Police Service will then be available in respect of any position, section 65A becomes redundant and it is repealed. The potential pool of applicants may have expanded, but the principles governing appointments have not. Superior merit and integrity will still be the key to appointment.
A further recommendation of the royal commission is the abolition of the concept of authorised strength. The royal commission has emphasised that the commissioner should be free to deploy resources in the best interests of the Police Service. This means that many jobs now done by police which do not require police powers will be available to civilians. The royal commission has also pointed out that police strength is not a meaningful measure of police effectiveness. Hopefully this will remove from the New South Wales political life the unedifying spectacle of a bidding war on police numbers. Instead the commissioner will be able to deploy the best available resources, whether police or civilian, according to operational need.
Section 9 of the Act currently provides that the total number of police and administrative officers that can be employed in the Police Service is that set each year by the Treasurer. This section clearly runs contrary to the recommendation of the royal commission, and it will be repealed. In future, the commissioner will have a free hand to determine how to best serve the needs of the community.
Naturally, the commissioner's decisions will need to have regard to budgetary constraints. He will be expected to manage, as must every manager, within the budgetary allowance for the Police Service. I will also be requesting that the Police Service work with the Sub-Committee on Response Policing in Operations to establish, in the royal commissioner's words, "more meaningful measures of police effectiveness".
One of the most important tools necessary for the effective management of the Police Service is the capacity to rid the service of the deadwood. The commissioner cannot be held fully accountable whilst forced to retain the services of those who fail to live up to expected standards of competence, integrity or conduct. Yet the processes for terminating the employment of members of the Police Service seem designed to thwart any attempt to remove anyone, even those convicted of criminal offences. The royal commission has made it very clear that this situation cannot continue, and it will not continue.
This bill will provide the commissioner with the statutory authority to remove from the Police Service any officer in whom he ceases to have confidence. This sends a clear message to police whose dedication is less than total: shape up or ship out! This power is the cornerstone on which the new Police Service will be built. It signals the end of the road for both the corrupt and the non-performers, and a new beginning for the dedicated, hardworking and honest. The vast majority of police are of course hardworking and honest. They are constantly let down by the corrupt and incompetent. It is essential that these undesirable elements are removed to allow talent to blossom and performance to improve. The Government recognises that the authority to terminate employment under the commissioner's confidence provisions vests considerable power in the commissioner. It also recognises that this means that checks and balances are required to ensure that it is only used as it is meant to be, and is neither exceeded nor abused.
As outlined by the Premier yesterday, an officer will be removed only for loss of confidence after having had the opportunity to address the matters that the commissioner has identified as causing his concern. The commissioner will be required to take into account anything that the officer puts to him, and will be required to state reasons for his loss of confidence in the event he issues an order removing the officer from the Police Service. The officer will, of course, have a right to seek a review of the commissioner's decision. The grounds for review are spelt out in the bill, as are the procedures under which the review will be conducted by the Supreme Court.
Last year the Government acted promptly to ensure that the corrupt officers being exposed by the royal commission could be quickly expelled from the Police Service. It did this by introducing the summary dismissal provisions of section 181B. That provision has served its purpose and a number of officers have been dismissed under it. However, it takes little insight to realise that any officer whose integrity is called into serious doubt by the ongoing probing of the royal commission will be required to show cause why the commissioner should continue to have confidence in him. Recourse to the summary dismissal provisions will therefore not be necessary and section 181B can be repealed.
I now wish to mention some other sections of the bill that have a bearing on the employment of members of the Police Service, specifically the provisions that will introduce drug and alcohol testing, integrity testing, and requirements for the provision of financial and integrity statements. With the support of the royal commission, a targeted integrity testing program is currently in use in the Police Service as a corruption detection and prevention device. To allow such testing to be conducted without technical contravention of offences such as the public mischief offence under section 547B of the Crimes Act, the bill inserts section 207A into the Act. This section will provide a measure of protection for those conducting authorised integrity tests should they face prosecution for certain offences as a result of any action or omission that occurred during the course of an integrity test.
The duties of police officers require them to exercise extensive powers and discretion, and to have control of vehicles and weapons. The community expects that these duties will be undertaken in a clear-headed way. It is also entitled to insist that they not be undertaken while an officer is under the influence of either drugs or alcohol. However, evidence from the royal commission has confirmed that there are problems of both alcohol and drug abuse within the ranks of the Police Service. It has also shown that this abuse is often linked with corrupt activity and that, at least in some quarters, alcohol is regularly consumed whilst police are actually on duty. Honourable members will be aware that last year the Government sought to introduce random breath testing for police officers on duty, but the bill lapsed when Parliament was prorogued.
This bill picks up that initiative for both drugs and alcohol. It will provide for the random and targeted testing of on-duty police for both drugs and alcohol. It will also provide for the introduction of a code of conduct for police with respect to the use of drugs and alcohol. The bill also provides for police officers to be required to provide financial and integrity statements to the commissioner. As explained in the royal commission report, this will allow the commissioner to satisfy himself that the assets of an officer have been lawfully acquired and the officer is not engaged in corrupt activity or in receipt of unexplained or inappropriate income, if there is reason to believe that the officer is living beyond his or her means. These provisions will implement the bulk of the recommendation of the immediate measures report.
The Government will also shortly be introducing a bill to regulate police powers of detention after arrest, and in the first parliamentary session of 1997 will bring forward legislation to regulate covert operations. The Government will also be giving consideration to how best to facilitate the early disengagement of officers. Finally, I turn briefly to some miscellaneous provisions of the bill which have been introduced in light of the provisions of other legislation. Section 20 of the Protected Disclosures Act makes it an offence to take detrimental action against a person who has disclosed the misconduct of a colleague. There is some doubt as to whether this provision would protect police internal witnesses in all circumstances. The offence has therefore been mirrored under the Police Service Act so that there can be no doubt that every protection possible will be available for those honest officers reporting the improper and corrupt dealings of those unfit to be police officers.
There are a number of sections in the Act which contain age restrictions in respect of employment-related matters. An exemption was made for these provisions under the Anti-Discrimination Act when the age discrimination provisions were first introduced. It is now proposed to repeal or amend the offending sections. It is also proposed to amend the Act to prevent new appointees to the senior executive service - SES - from opting to reserve a right of return to the public sector in the event that their SES appointments are terminated. An amendment identical to that now proposed was made to the Public Sector Management Act in 1995.
This is important legislation which signals that neither the Government nor the royal commission believes that reform of the Police Service can wait until the royal commission's final report. Urgent action is required to get the reform process moving and give the commissioner power to make appointments and rid the service of undesirable elements. The bill implements the royal commission's recommendations. It is a further indication of the Government's support for the royal commission; support which started on the day John Hatton moved his motion to establish the royal commission; support which will continue up to and following the royal commission's final report. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Tink.
Debate resumed from 30 October.
Mr TINK (Eastwood) [8.05]: The Opposition does not oppose the bill, the purpose of which is to standardise the procedures by which all fines, including court fines and penalty notices, are imposed and enforced, and consolidate them in a new Act. The bill creates the State Debt Recovery Office to manage the new procedures and to act as government debt collector. It enables the Roads and Traffic Authority to suspend or cancel any driver's licence or vehicle registration of the fine defaulter, regardless of whether the fine is for a traffic offence.
The bill follows on from a 1994 report of the Auditor-General which indicated that a very large number of infringement notices were outstanding and, in many instances, would remain unpaid. The bill attempts to deal with the issue of how payment might be obtained in a practical way over time or, in lieu of payment, goods seized. It also follows recent research by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research which resulted in a recommendation that the current enforcement system should operate with greater certainty and efficiency, informing defaulters of their obligations and the consequences flowing from a failure to meet them. The State Debt Recovery Office was set up to oversight this work. It will notify offenders that they have 28 days in which to pay a fine and that failure to do so will result in the person's licence being suspended or registration cancelled.
The Opposition believes that the legislation contains a number of draconian provisions in relation to the cancellation of licences. Strictly speaking I suppose that driving is not a right but a privilege. However, to all practical intents and purposes, many people - particularly those who rely on their licences to drive to and from work - have a perception that driving is a right. In the context of the administration of the Act, I hope that that type of consideration will be given full weight before action is taken. If the State Debt Recovery Office has uppermost in its mind that a driving licence is a privilege, there will be some early and fairly significant difficulties with the implementation of the Act. The Opposition will watch that aspect very closely. The Opposition acknowledges that there is a significant problem in respect of fine defaulting. The report of the Auditor-General indicated that the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has suggested a program of follow-up to deal with the problem. The Opposition will not stand in the way but, particularly in relation to the cancellation of driving licences, the way in which that issue is approached and the philosophical or in-principle approach taken by the SDRO will determine the success or failure of this legislation.
If the State Debt Recovery Office is too heavy-handed, and if the concept of a licence being a privilege is its primary focus, there will be many problems. I hope it does not follow that course. I hope that the knowledge that it has that sort of power in the background will act as a significant deterrent to people who will concentrate their minds on paying their fines - with, as appropriate, time to pay. I hope that is how it works. I express the same view in connection with the seizure of goods. That can be an extremely draconian remedy and there plainly has to be some commonsense used in determining how to apply that provision.
If certain goods are seized there will be problems with such people trying to earn a livelihood. It is well known in bankruptcy law that some goods and some sources of income are treated in a different way to other goods and other sources of income precisely because they help people to earn an income - in this case to help pay fines. One assumes that some commonsense will be applied as well. With those reservations the Opposition does not oppose the bill. Hopefully these measures will address the problems outlined by the Auditor-General and commonsense will be used in the implementation of the legislation.
Mrs LO PO' (Penrith - Minister for Fair Trading, and Minister for Women) [8.10], in reply: I thank the honourable member for Eastwood for his contribution.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
MARRIED PERSONS (EQUALITY OF STATUS) BILL
Debate resumed from 30 October.
Mr TINK (Eastwood) [8.11]: The Opposition supports the bill, the objects of which are to confirm and extend the equality of legal status to married persons established by the Married Persons (Property and Torts) Act 1901 and to repeal the Married Persons (Property and Torts) Act 1901. At common law married women are not legally capable of owning property, cannot sue their husbands in tort and generally do not have a legal identity that is independent from that of their husbands. The Married Persons (Property and Torts) Act 1901 addresses these issues.
The proposed Act differs from that Act in that it includes a general statement declaring that a married person has legal capacity as if the person were not married and enjoys a separate legal personality from his or her spouse; it enables spouses to sue each other in tort generally rather than confining this right as is the case under the 1901 Act; it removes certain provisions that are now dealt with by other legislation; and it makes specific provisions for the ownership of housekeeping payments and actions against a spouse in relation to fraudulent investments, and abolishes the agent of necessity rule. The heart of the bill is the proposition that a married person is entitled to retain a separate legal personality and capacity similar to the personality and capacity that is held by a single person. It is of some interest that New South Wales and Western Australia are the only Australian jurisdictions which have not adopted the changes outlined so far.
The bill recognises that women have an entitlement to a separate legal capacity and legal identity notwithstanding their marriage commitments. On that basis in particular the Opposition supports the bill. As a word of caution, it may well be that these extra provisions create more opportunities for legal challenges and may in some ways complicate the legal proceedings of those going their separate ways. I hope that is not the case and that the provisions operate to acknowledge the separate identity of people in a positive way rather than be primarily used as tools in matrimonial break-ups to create new causes of action. If that became a primary focus of this legislation it would be a sad thing. The Opposition supports the bill for its positive aspects and hopes that the negative aspects will not predominate.
Mrs LO PO' (Penrith - Minister for Fair Trading, and Minister for Women) [8.14], in reply: I thank the honourable member for Eastwood for his participation in the debate, particularly his remarks about women, which I totally support.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
LEGAL PROFESSION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 2)
Debate resumed from 30 October.
Mr TINK (Eastwood) [8.15]: The Opposition supports this bill, the object of which is to make a number of miscellaneous amendments to the provisions of the Legal Profession Act 1987 dealing with complaints against legal practitioners, the fixing of legal fees and other costs, the procedure for assessment of legal fees and costs, the Solicitors' Fidelity Fund, the Solicitors' Mutual Indemnity Fund, the admission of legal practitioners, and a number of other matters. The bill also abolishes the common law offence of being a common barrator and makes minor amendments to the Defamation Act 1974. The Legal Profession Amendment Bill (No. 1) was introduced by the Minister for Police in this House but was abandoned and superseded by this bill.
The bill before the House does not add any new matters to the previous bill but has deleted several matters which will now be the subject of further consultation with the Law Society and the Bar Association. I understand that no particular concerns have been expressed by the Law Society or the Bar Association. Any matters that were of concern have been removed from the bill. The bill pursues matters that had their genesis in legislation introduced by the former Government. Significant legislation amending the governing of the legal profession was introduced by the Fahey Government. There was a fair amount of opposition at that time and many people in the legal profession predicted that draconian changes would result.
Time has shown that the operation of the legislation has not been nearly as bad as was anticipated, and the operations of the Legal Services Commission have assisted to diffuse much of the criticism. In many instances the perception rather than the reality has had to be dealt with. It was acknowledged at that time that the original legislation would have to be finetuned, and this bill is part of that finetuning, and is a continuation of those processes that were commenced by the Fahey Government. The Opposition supports the changes and notes that there is more to come, but that is subject to further consultation with the Law Society and the Bar Association. On that basis the Opposition supports the bill.
Mrs LO PO' (Penrith - Minister for Fair Trading, and Minister for Women) [8.18], in reply: I thank the honourable member for Eastwood for his contribution. He certainly brings his legal experience to the debate.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
STRATA SCHEMES MANAGEMENT BILL
STRATA SCHEMES MANAGEMENT (MISCELLANEOUS AMENDMENTS) BILL
Bills introduced and read a first time.
Mrs LO PO' (Penrith - Minister for Fair Trading, and Minister for Women) [8.20]: I move:
That these bills be now read a second time.
These bills are the most important initiative to be proposed for the management and operation of New South Wales strata schemes in over 20 years. Although the 1973 Act has been amended many times it is clearly evident that there are still many shortcomings in the current laws which need to be addressed. The bills take account of the many changes which have taken place in the development of strata buildings over the last two decades. Once, strata schemes were limited to the traditional blocks of flats found in many city and regional locations around this State. This is not the case any more. Strata title developments now include buildings used for a diverse range of purposes, including commercial and office buildings, industrial complexes, shopping centres, mixed-use developments and retirement villages. Villas and town houses have been developed under strata title. There has also been a proliferation of two-lot strata schemes. Many of these events could not have been envisaged when the Act was originally drafted.
The provisions contained in this bill have been through a most rigorous consultation process. An exposure draft, taking into account recommendations of the Strata Titles Act Review Committee, was released in March this year for public comment and discussion. There was great interest in the proposals and more than 300 submissions were received, covering many aspects of the proposals. While it is obvious that not all of the suggestions could be incorporated, all were considered, and this resulted in some further refinement of the bill. The participation of so many groups and individuals in the consultation is to be commended. There has been a common will to make this legislation relevant, balanced and workable. Also, the review committee has had the opportunity to take part in the development of the bill.
The committee includes representatives from all of the key interest groups: property and home unit owners, tenants, the real estate industry, strata managing agents, the legal profession, the retirement village industry and resident groups. This has been an extremely helpful process, ensuring that the views of a wide range of stakeholders have been taken into account. A large segment of the New South Wales community is affected in some way by this legislation, either living in, owning or managing a strata title property. The benefits of this revised legislation will be far reaching. There are now about 45,000 schemes housing perhaps a million people, and it is clear how significant these new laws are going to be. It is expected that a high proportion of all residential buildings constructed over the coming decades will reflect the tendency towards urban consolidation, and strata title is likely to be used in respect of smaller parcels of land.
A feature of this bill is its readability. Its plain English style is a major initiative. The constant use of the strata laws by people running their own buildings needs to be supported by a user-friendly Act. Much of the old legalistic language has been replaced with simple terms. For example, "body corporate" becomes "owners corporation", "council of the body corporate" becomes "executive committee", and "proprietor" becomes "owner". However, in this speech, in explaining these legislative reforms, I have continued to use the existing terminology where appropriate. The current Strata Titles Act, through amendment over the years, has become somewhat disjointed with related provisions being scattered throughout the Act. This has been rectified and the Strata Schemes Management Bill is in sequential and logical order for ease of use and reference.
Even the title of the bill is significant. It is made clear, by the use of the title Strata Schemes Management Bill, that this bill deals with the management and administration of strata schemes rather than the development and subdivision issues. The current Act includes the development and subdivision aspects in the first half of the Act, which is under the administration of my colleague the Minister for Land and Water Conservation. The management and dispute provisions are in the second half, which is under my administration. The management and dispute provisions will now stand alone under a separate statute under my administration. This will reduce confusion among the public on who administers the laws applying to these quite different aspects of strata title schemes.
The Act for which the Minister for Land and Water Conservation will continue to be responsible will be called the Strata Titles Freehold Development Act 1973. The rating and taxation provisions in the present Act will remain in the development Act. Another improvement is to combine the management and dispute provisions applying to strata leasehold schemes with the same provisions for ordinary strata schemes. There is no need to have separate laws for the management of a strata scheme because it is on land leased from a government authority. The requirements are almost identical and the new bill takes account of this. Where special circumstances apply to strata leasehold schemes, these are provided for. The Strata Titles (Leasehold) Act will disappear as far as management and dispute provisions go. The subdivision parts will continue to be administered by the Minister for Land and Water Conservation and will be known as the Strata Titles Leasehold Development Act.
The bills make some fundamental and important changes to the role of bodies corporate in administering their schemes. There are to be new, more flexible by-law arrangements; much more appropriate ways of dealing with the inevitable disputes which arise within strata schemes; and streamlined meeting procedures. There is to be a new, more responsive role for the commissioner, and a restructured Strata Titles Board - now to be known as the Strata Schemes Board. The provisions of the legislation will apply to all existing and future strata schemes except for the model by-law arrangements, which I will explain later. I would like now to outline the details of the Strata Schemes Management Bill.
The bill includes major changes to the way disputes which arise in strata schemes are resolved. Up until now, parties have been able to make an application directly to the Strata Titles Commissioner for an order against the person, body corporate or organisation with whom they are in dispute. To encourage the resolution of disagreements before they develop into major disputes, there will now be a requirement for an attempt at mediation before an application for a formal order can be dealt with. This is an initiative of considerable significance, as mediation provides a genuine opportunity for problems to be worked out at an early stage and for maintaining harmony within the scheme.
Mediation services will be provided by the Strata Titles Commissioner - now to be known as the Strata Schemes Commissioner. Other mediation facilities approved by the commissioner will also be available. The bill recognises that mediation should not be obligatory in those circumstances in which it is inappropriate. However, formal adjudication of a dispute will generally not be available unless there is some genuine attempt at mediation. Mediation will not be required when the Strata Titles Board is dealing with an appeal. The other major change is that the commissioner will no longer have an adjudicative role. This recognises that there needs to be a clear separation between the information-mediation role and the adjudication function incorporated in the bill.
The majority of matters that reach formal adjudication will now be the responsibility of the new special position of adjudicator. Several adjudicators will be appointed. The adjudicators will be completely separate from the officers carrying out the commissioner's role under delegation. This will remove any possible conflict of interest. Members of the Residential Tenancies Tribunal will be appointed as adjudicators. The new adjudicators will handle a much greater range of disputes than the commissioner does at present, including most matters currently dealt with by the Strata Titles Board. The only matters which will be left for the exclusive jurisdiction of the board will be authorising certain acts of the body corporate during the initial period of a strata scheme; reallocating unit entitlements; varying or revoking its own orders; rehearing its own cases; appeals against decisions of the adjudicators; matters directly referred from the adjudicators; and the imposition of fines.
Giving the board the power to impose fines for breaches of its own orders or the orders of the adjudicators is an important improvement. At present penalties for non-compliance with an order are applied by the Local Court. By giving this task to the Strata Schemes Board in the form of a civil fine-making power, the process is made more direct and relevant. The maximum fine has been increased from the present $500 to $5,000. The $500 maximum has remained unchanged since the Act began in 1974 and clearly offers no incentive to people to comply with orders. When the fine is being issued because of a breach of an order and damage to common property is involved the board will be able to award part or whole of the fine to the body corporate as a means of compensating the body corporate for the damage.
If a fine owed to the body corporate by a lot owner is unpaid, provision will be made for it to become a charge on the owner's lot until the fine plus interest is paid or recovered. The board will have the same power to award costs in instances in which a fine is issued as exists in the Local Court at present when a penalty is imposed over a breach of a commissioner or board order. It is important that the same framework is provided for the enforcement process. However, the board will not have a general power to award costs and the only other instances will be when an application is considered to be frivolous, vexatious, misconceived, lacking in substance or not within the jurisdiction of the board, or for fees incurred in an application about reallocation of unit entitlement.
An innovative and completely new approach to the resolution of by-law disputes is included in the bill. When by-laws continue to be contravened and the body corporate is unable to get offenders to change their behaviour, the only option available at
present is to seek an order against the person. In the new bill bodies corporate will be given the additional option of serving a notice to comply with a by-law on the owner or occupier involved. An example is the case of someone parking on common property without approval. When a notice has been served and the person continues to breach the by-law about parking, a fine of up to $500 may be imposed by the board. There will be a 12-month limit after the alleged breach of a notice to go to the board for the setting of a fine.
I want to stress that we are not introducing a concept of on-the-spot fines nor encouraging body corporate officials to patrol corridors and driveways with a book of notices to comply in their hands. Some specific steps will be taken before a fine is imposed. It will have to be established that there has been a by-law breach, service of the notice will have to be proved and the board will need to be satisfied that there has not been compliance with the notice before the fine will be applied. I am confident that a proportion of by-law disputes will be able to be resolved by these provisions and escalation into more serious conflict will often be avoided. Any initiatives to minimise conflict within any groups of people will, in my opinion, have wide community support.
Members of the Residential Tenancies Tribunal will constitute the Strata Schemes Board and will deal with matters throughout the whole of New South Wales as does the tribunal at present. Strata titles disputes will be removed from already heavy Local Court lists in regional and country areas. When an issue has to go to the board, everyone involved will be treated the same whether they live in Sydney or elsewhere. This is an important improvement. A registry will be established to service the adjudicators and the board. All applications will be made through the registry. An anomaly in the present laws arises when there is a dispute between adjoining strata schemes. In urban areas it is common for two or more schemes to be immediate neighbours, yet resolution of boundary-type disputes between them cannot be facilitated under the 1973 Act. We have addressed this and the commissioner will have the power to mediate certain disputes, for instance about drainage between contiguous schemes.
The adjudicators will also be able to make orders about disputes over some common boundary issues when the schemes are contiguous. In both circumstances these provisions will apply when the respective schemes agree. These new provisions will not extend to interference by one scheme in the oversight of by-laws by another scheme. It would not be possible, for instance, for the resident of one scheme to seek an order against someone in the building next door about washing hanging on clothes lines or annoyance from barking dogs or screeching pet cockatoos. These are matters to be resolved within the strata scheme concerned.
A new discretion given to the board and to the adjudicators when dealing with an application for an order is to be able to dismiss the matter when the applicant is in levy arrears. The frustrating scenario when an owner seeks to obtain an order against the body corporate about repairs to common property, but is unwilling to contribute to the body corporate funds to enable the work to be done, will now be able to be addressed. If the board or adjudicator considers it appropriate, the application can be dismissed. Of course if there is valid reason for the levy arrears, the adjudicator or board will be able to take specific circumstances into account. There will be some refinement in the extent of the order-making powers of the adjudicators and board. The adjudicator will not have the power that the commissioner did to award up to $500 in compensation arising from a dispute.
There was concern that some people used this provision to double-dip by making a claim on their insurance policy for repairs and at the same time seeking damages under the strata laws. This temptation has been eliminated. At present there is no power for the commissioner to give retrospective approval for alterations carried out to common property without body corporate consent. This has caused problems because it is not clear whether additions are legal or who is responsible for their upkeep, particularly when the work may have been done some time ago by a previous owner. The adjudicators will be given both the power to order that the body corporate consent to work even though it may have already been carried out, and to order who is responsible for future repairs and maintenance. This provision is in no way intended to encourage people to carry out work and then ask for permission later.
The conduct of the parties involved will be able to be taken into account by the adjudicator. An owner deliberately flouting the rules could be ordered to remove an alteration he or she has carried out without approval. There is no specific power at present for an order to be made allowing the body corporate access to someone's lot to permit important work to be carried out to common property. The adjudicator will now have the power to make such an order when an owner will not allow access. At present the date of the annual general meeting of the body corporate must be held between 11 to 13 months of the anniversary of the first AGM. This is unnecessarily restrictive.
Flexibility over annual meeting dates has been introduced by allowing the adjudicator to vary the date of future meetings. This is of particular significance in a strata title retirement village when there are two annual meetings at different times each year and two sets of accounts to be approved. It may be convenient in these instances for both meetings to be held at the end of the financial year. The board is to be given a new power to rehear matters in the same way that the Residential Tenancies Tribunal can under section 110 of the Residential Tenancies Act when, for instance, a
party may not have received notice of the original hearing. This will be in addition to a general ability of the board to vary an order for the purpose of correcting it, clarifying it or extending time.
The new provision is not meant to be a de facto appeal. It is intended only for those situations in which there are reasonable grounds for the rehearing. A problem sometimes arising in a strata scheme is the effect that the use of a lot has on the body corporate's building insurance premiums. There have been cases in mixed-use schemes in which one lot is used for commercial purposes when there is an added insurance risk, for example a shop where cooking is being carried out. The insurance risk arising from the shop may be the basis of a much higher premium than would normally be the case, yet the owner of the residential lot may have to contribute an unreasonable share of the cost. There will now be means for the parties to agree on a more equitable share of the insurance premium costs in these circumstances. When it is considered that an owner has unreasonably refused consent to a variation of respective contributions for the insurance premium, the adjudicators will have the power to vary the levies payable.
As outlined already, the commissioner will be given new responsibilities under the bill. In addition to the mediation role already referred to, the commissioner will have specific information and investigation responsibilities for the first time. While the commissioner has provided free information services since the 1973 Act began, this has never been a function under the legislation. A particular focus will be on the production and distribution of information to those moving to a strata scheme for the first time. There are obvious differences in living in a strata community which need to be made widely known in advance so that the likelihood of later disputes and misunderstandings are minimised. The commissioner will also have to present an annual report each year on his or her operations. Public disclosure of this information is an important improvement. To ensure that matters of public interest are monitored, the commissioner will also have a new power of intervention in proceedings of the Strata Schemes Board. There will be occasions when a potential decision of the board could have a wide and significant impact. The commissioner will be able to intervene in and become a party to the proceedings in the public interest.
I now turn to changes in the administrative responsibilities of bodies corporate. A number of refinements have been made to better reflect the important role that the body corporate has in administering its strata scheme on behalf of each of the owners. There are increased responsibilities in the management of the body corporate's finances, in providing for future expenditure and in insurance matters. Also, meeting procedures and associated administrative duties have been modernised and streamlined. New options have been provided to assist in the reduction of instances of owners falling into levy arrears. At each annual general meeting, the body corporate will be required to estimate its expenditure for the year ahead and to determine amounts needing to go in the administrative and sinking funds. It is made clear that this is the role of the full body corporate rather than just the members of the council.
The fact that the sinking fund is for future expenditure of a capital nature while the administrative fund is to meet recurrent day-to-day expenses is made clearer. Also the requirement to establish an additional account for special levies - that is, when a special purpose contribution over and above original predictions is required to be collected - has been removed. Levies of this nature will now also go in the administrative fund and unnecessary duplication of accounting records will be avoided. The body corporate has always had an absolute obligation to maintain its property even though it may have no longer had a need for it. This inappropriate restriction has been lifted although it will need a special resolution of the body corporate - that is, when no more than 25 per cent vote against it - to do so.
To ensure that there is a remedy for those situations in which a body corporate might unreasonably decide to stop the upkeep of any item it is responsible for, the adjudicators will have the power to make an order overruling the body corporate's decision. It is essential that buildings in strata schemes are covered by adequate insurance. This will ensure that unit owners are properly protected against financial loss. The body corporate will have to obtain a valuation of their buildings at least each five years and insure, as a minimum, to the level of the valuation. While on the issue of insurance, I point out that the bill increases the minimum amount of public liability a body corporate is required to be covered for from $5 million to $10 million to make sure that a large court award for personal injuries can be met. The regulations will adjust this amount further as is necessary.
Another change on the insurance aspect is that it will now be compulsory for each body corporate to have on the agenda of every annual general meeting special items about insurance. They will require the consideration of whether insurance policies covering the body corporate for office-bearer liability and for misappropriation of funds should be taken out. We are not forcing bodies corporate to enter into these additional forms of insurance cover but believe that it is important for the owners to be reminded each year about the option of having this extra insurance protection. It is something worth thinking about. If the body corporate elects to have this insurance, the cost of the premiums is to be borne by the body corporate and not the office-bearers personally. One of the continuing uncertainties under the current Act is the extent to which a body corporate can go in having other organisations and individuals carry out its functions.
There has always been some uncertainty about the effect of the present section 78, which only permits the delegation of powers, authorities, duties and functions of the body corporate to a licensed strata managing agent, as opposed to the present by-law 2. By-law 2, which is a mandatory by-law and cannot be altered, allows the council of the body corporate to employ others, as it sees fit, in connection with the exercise of the body corporate's functions. There is a view that these provisions contradict each other. The way these two provisions relate to each other certainly needs to be cleared up once and for all, and I believe that the bill has done this and reflects the original intention of both provisions. It has been dealt with in this way.
The body corporate's decision-making responsibilities under the legislation are important and are not meant to be made by anyone else. For instance the decision to paint the building or refurbish the foyer is one for the body corporate itself. A painter could not walk off the street and decide to paint the building on the body corporate's behalf. Only the body corporate has that decision-making power unless it decides, or the Strata Titles Board decides, to delegate the decision-making power to a licensed strata managing agent. However, there is a difference between having the power to make a decision about painting the building and actually carrying out the work. The bill clarifies this separation. Only the body corporate or a licensed strata managing agent who has had the role delegated to him or her, and is accountable, can make the decision to paint the building.
However, the body corporate can use the painter who walked off the street to do the work and the painter can decide how to go about the work. It will be clear that the body corporate, or, when it does not specifically restrict it, its council, can use appropriate persons including retirement village managers, property managers, caretakers, handypersons and others to assist it in its role under the legislation. However, it cannot shed its ultimate responsibilities to anyone other than a licensed strata managing agent. The main reason for strata managing agents having this status under the Act is that owners in strata schemes who use licensed agents are protected financially by the Property, Stock and Business Agents Act through the compensation fund. There are also education and competency requirements applying to licensed managing agents.
It is the financial aspects that are critical. I would be most concerned if the body corporate were able to delegate its functions to other persons who did not have the same level of financial protection. I concede that there may be special circumstances which exist in strata title retirement villages or commercial developments in which much of the day-to-day administration is carried out by the village manager or on-site manager because they have skills in this area which a licensed strata manager would not have. I am not saying that these special managers will not continue to have specific and important roles to play in the running of various strata schemes, but I emphasise again that we are making it absolutely clear that delegation of a body corporate's functions and powers is a serious issue and, when it occurs, it must be limited to those circumstances in which individual owners of units in the scheme are adequately protected.
The old by-law 2 has now been included in the body of the legislation. Also, the previous reference to the council of the body corporate being able to employ servants and agents has been changed to refer to this function generally resting with the body corporate itself. The way it read before it seemed to imply that this role was reserved for the council only, which is totally inappropriate. It should be something for the body corporate to control. If it wants to let the council look after these administrative arrangements that is allowable, but any suggestion that only the council has these powers needs to be removed. Any remaining questions about the extent of the role of a retirement village manager in a strata title retirement village will be considered during the review I have announced of the retirement village industry. I am aware of some of the concerns that the industry has and I am willing to listen to them. However, I consider that these are largely matters which cannot be accommodated in this strata schemes legislation. They will be considered during the retirement village review.
I would now like to move on to a range of initiatives which both streamline and overhaul the meeting processes for body corporate and council meetings. First of all, the quorums for all body corporate meetings will be reduced from 50 per cent of owners, personally and by proxy, to 25 per cent. This is to overcome some of the difficulties which arise in obtaining a quorum in those schemes in which there is a high proportion of absentee owners or when there is insufficient interest to make the 50 per cent level. It will help to avoid time-consuming and costly deferrals of meetings. If the meeting has to be adjourned when there is still no quorum after half an hour, it will no longer have to be held exactly a week later. There will be some flexibility which will allow the fixing of the meeting at a time when better attendance is anticipated.
Also the quorum provisions will now have to be on the notices about the meetings, thus warning those who do not regularly attend meetings that decisions may be made in their absence. For very small schemes there will have to be a minimum of two owners making up a quorum. Clarified in this bill also is the fact that there must be a quorum present for all motions voted on. In the past there has been some doubt about what happens when some of those people making up the quorum leave the meeting before it ends and individual motions are passed by less than the required quorum. The current Act does not specifically permit the adjournment of body corporate and council meetings. This deficiency has been remedied in the bill.
A compulsory item on the agenda of each annual general meeting will be consideration of the appointment of an auditor. Appointing an auditor is often a very prudent move, particularly in a large strata scheme and owners should be reminded of the option. If an auditor is appointed, any subsequent audit of financial records will have to be in accordance with Australian auditing standards. To save the body corporate extra paperwork, it will no longer have to notify mortgagees about meetings unless there is an item on the agenda requiring a special or unanimous resolution.
The provisions about proxy voting have been changed. It is an issue on which strong views are held and many submissions on proxy voting were received during the consultation process. The bill provides a sensible balance to allow owners to give proxies to persons of their choice yet places some limitation on the life of a proxy. People should not give their proxy vote to someone and then forget about it. They will have to renew it annually and a proxy will be valid for only 12 months or for a maximum of two consecutive annual general meetings.
It will be clear that when several proxies have been given only the latest valid one can be used. The standard proxy form to be prescribed under the regulations will make it clear that proxies can be utilised for specific instances only or be of a general nature to be exercised whenever a vote is taken. There will also be an opportunity for owners to express how they want their proxy used when voting on the appointment or the continuation in office of a strata managing agent takes place. There has been concern at the way some managing agents use proxies to reappoint themselves for a further period. Owners will be reminded that they should give some special thought to this issue if it is of concern to them.
To catch up with the technologies of our age, communication with the body corporate will be permissible by facsimile and by other modern means. A vote taken at a body corporate meeting is usually on the basis of one vote per lot. However, if a poll is demanded by any of the owners the votes are counted on the basis of unit entitlement. So, those with a higher unit entitlement, who would also be paying higher levies, have a more valuable vote. At present, the poll voting situation applies only to resolutions but not to election of the council. This anomaly has been rectified in the bill and there will now be provision to allow for a poll when the election of a council is taking place.
There are also some new provisions about body corporate council meetings. To recognise the fact that some modern strata schemes do not have anywhere on common property to put up a notice board and so cannot notify owners about upcoming council meetings via a notice on the board, at least 72 hours written notice will now have to be given when there is no notice board. Notice of the meeting and a copy of the agenda will have to go to all owners and not just council members. This will ensure that people who are not on the council are not denied details of the business of the council because there is no notice board.
There is a small change in the quorum level for council meetings. It will change from a majority of council members to 50 per cent. To make sure that circumstances do not arise in which two council meetings, each with 50 per cent of members, meet in opposition to each other, both meetings will be invalid in such a situation. The bill also contains a number of initiatives which will make administration of body corporate business more effective. The first aspect is in encouraging the prompt payment of levies by the owners in the scheme.
A body corporate will now be able to offer a 10 per cent discount on levies payable if they are paid before the due date. However, this is up to each body corporate to decide. It is not compulsory, but some will find it an attractive option to encourage tardy payers to get up to date with their payments. It is a system which has worked well in Queensland for a number of years and there is no reason why it will not be effective in New South Wales for those adopting the idea. Any suggestion that it will complicate budgeting and financial planning by the body corporate is nonsense.
The sensible approach would be to prepare a budget on the assumption that everyone will get the discount. If anyone pays late, the body corporate may end up with a surplus. There will be a month allowed after the levy is due before interest is payable. Maximum interest of 10 per cent per annum will be able to be charged for late payment. The level of interest will be able to be adjusted as necessary through the regulations. The body corporate will be able to waive interest but not reduce or increase it. The new arrangements simplify the current two levels of interest for late payment of levies.
When going to court to recover unpaid levies plus any interest due, the body corporate will now also be able to recover the cost of the action. It is unjust that the other owners in the scheme who have kept their levy payments up to date have to foot the bill for any court action against someone failing to pay up. The bill recognises that there are many self-run strata schemes and that the office bearers often take on time-consuming responsibilities on behalf of their body corporate. The present legislation is silent on the issue of rewarding office bearers financially, but it has been cleared up in this bill.
Where appropriate, office bearers will be able to be paid an honorarium for services provided during the previous year. Payment cannot be in advance. I stress that these honorarium provisions are not intended to be used as an improper means of getting around the use of licensed strata managing agents, where this might be required. Owners who rent residential units to tenants are required under both the current strata and residential tenancies laws to provide their tenants with copies of the by-laws in
force for the scheme. This is an important responsibility as it is essential that all occupants of a scheme understand the rules governing behaviour and activities within the building and on common property.
Antisocial behaviour by anyone, whether tenants, owners or visitors, can make life a misery for other occupants and the significance of the by-laws needs to be reinforced. Those who do not provide their tenants with a copy of the by-laws will be subject to a penalty for the first time. There will also be a penalty for failing to notify the body corporate about leasing arrangements. This is to correct an anomaly whereby the body corporate is subject to a penalty for not keeping its strata roll accurate, yet there is no penalty for those who have the information but fail to give it to the body corporate. Where a mortgagee takes possession of a lot in a strata scheme, the mortgagee will now have to notify the body corporate of this event.
This is a further refinement of the law to ensure that the body corporate has accurate and up-to-date records wherever possible. Other information which must be given to the body corporate is where the use of a lot changes. A requirement to notify the body corporate of a change in use will be included in the model by-laws and in the by-laws applying to existing schemes. The information about a change in use is important as there may be an impact on the body corporate's building insurance risk. The body corporate's insurance cover may be under some threat if a change in risk is not passed on to the insurance company. Individual unit owners need to understand the importance of notifying the body corporate where there is a significant change of use of the lot.
Many industrial complexes are under strata title and the change in use of a unit from an activity such as the assembling of electrical appliances to the manufacture of paint or storage of chemicals may substantially change the insurance risk. The body corporate must be advised about this so that its insurer can be notified. To overcome difficulties encountered by bodies corporate where owners of units live overseas, an Australian contact address will now have to be provided for service of notices. An owner who has an intellectual or physical impairment, is illiterate, is unable to read or write English well enough, or who is absent from the unit, will be able to appoint someone to be an agent for serving notices and other documents. The special needs of such a person will be better addressed by this welcome provision.
There are sometimes concerns by mortgagees over the currency of the certificate provided by the body corporate to prospective purchasers of a lot in the scheme. To overcome these concerns, the bill provides that the certificate is able to be issued in favour of the mortgagee as well as the purchaser. One of the major initiatives in this bill is to allow more flexibility in the use of by-laws, and to encourage the adoption of by-laws more appropriate to the nature of individual strata schemes. Too often in the past, bodies corporate simply accepted the by-laws included in the legislation without giving any thought to how well they fitted their scheme. While the by-laws in the current Act might be acceptable for the average block of residential units, they often have no significance to commercial developments, office blocks or retirement villages.
After all, what use is a by-law about hanging out washing in an office building? What is the point of a by-law about resident children playing on common property in a retirement village? How ridiculous is a by-law preventing the keeping of animals in a shopping complex if one of the shops is a pet store? These situations arise when the standard by-laws are simply adopted without any consideration being given to how relevant they are. This is clearly unsatisfactory and we are going to ensure that these circumstances are minimised in the future. There will now be a range of models from which by-laws can be selected depending on the type of scheme involved. Six models are to be available and these will relate to the special aspects of residential schemes, mixed use schemes, commercial-retail schemes, industrial schemes, hotels-resorts and retirement villages. The models will be in the regulations.
The contents of the models will reflect the types of matters which need to be addressed in the various types of strata developments. A strata scheme will not be able to be registered unless one of the models or alternative custom designed by-laws are selected. The Land Titles Office will be able to refuse registration if no by-laws have been nominated. There will be no fundamental change to the by-laws applying to strata schemes already in existence. They will remain under the arrangements they have at present although, of course, amendments can always be made at any time if the body corporate chooses to do so.
I am hoping that there will be a more conscious effort made by developers to tailor by-laws to fit individual circumstances. There is a great opportunity for some innovation and I believe that it would be of great benefit to people if they could buy into a strata scheme where the by-laws reflected particular aspects of that scheme's approach to day-to-day issues. The model by-laws will ensure that there is a range of selection available, and we will not continue to have the absurd situation where an office block strata scheme operates under by-laws designed for home units. However, there will still be room for further refinement where a strata scheme wants to make variations of the models. For instance, the by-laws adopted may include specific rules about the keeping of animals. It would seem to me that there is a genuine opportunity for developers who want to capture a ready market of potential residents who have animals as companions, but live in uncertainty about the attitude of their bodies corporate in giving or withdrawing permission.
There has been some suggestion that we are changing the position for people currently keeping animals - this is not the case. Those who are keeping pets with the permission of the body corporate can continue to do so. I want to stress that the Government recognises the companionship provided to many people in strata schemes by their animals. Those residents who are responsible and comply with the by-laws have nothing to fear. The standard by-laws in the current legislation include 11 that are compulsory and 18 that are not. The mandatory ones, which deal with the functions of office bearers and council meetings, have now been included within the body of the bill and do not appear in a separate schedule. This removes any doubt as to their effect and reinforces the fact that they cannot be altered.
The bill takes special account of circumstances where children live in strata schemes. By-laws restricting the occupation of residential strata schemes by children will be forbidden. Also, security measures taken to ensure the safety of children, for instance from falling from balconies, will be automatically permitted. The body corporate will not be able to prevent an owner or someone authorised by the owner from taking these measures. Any steps taken will naturally have to be of an appropriate standard and in keeping with the appearance of the building. By-laws are meant to be sensible rules for community living, but there are some issues which transcend nit-picking matters like complaints about people drying their washing in the enclosed portions of their courtyards. While the unscreened drying of clothes in areas exposed to public view can sometimes detract from the appearance of a building, the broader public issues must also be taken into account. This Government will not encourage by-laws which prevent the use of sunshine for drying clothes. We do not want to force people to use electric dryers. There are enough concerns already about non-renewable energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
As I indicated earlier, a body corporate will have additional means at its disposal in obtaining compliance with the by-laws it adopts. With the power to serve notices to comply with by-laws and the subsequent $500 maximum penalty for non-compliance with the notice, I am sure that the by-law provisions under the bill will be a great improvement. The bill also recognises that there are some unique issues which arise in small strata schemes and in strata title retirement villages. Some special provisions have been included to take account of these matters. Two-lot strata schemes where the buildings in one lot are physically detached from the buildings in the other lot will not have to establish a sinking fund, nor will the body corporate be required to take out building insurance provided both owners agree. This will allow for each owner to arrange their own building insurance. Where there are common property buildings, in addition to those within the two lots, the exemption from taking out building insurance will not be available.
In all two-lot schemes, the owners will be automatically deemed to be the council, thus avoiding an unnecessary election process. About 50 retirement villages have been developed under strata title. The current Act does not always easily fit the combination of a complex designed for aged persons with associated services, to the functions and responsibilities given to the body corporate under the strata laws. There are instances where the respective roles of the village management, the body corporate and the strata managing agent seem to overlap and uncertainties arise over responsibilities. While some of these matters are deeper issues, which will be examined in the review of the retirement village industry which my Department and others are undertaking, there are a couple of steps which have been taken to resolve some uncertainties.
Firstly, strata title retirement villages have been specifically recognised in the bill and retirement village is defined in accordance with the Retirement Villages Act 1989 and the Retirement Village Industry Code of Practice. Secondly, it is made clear that the accounting records and financial statements for a strata scheme, that is, a retirement village, will have to identify the charges being made for ordinary body corporate levies and those for village service charges. There is sometimes a merging of these amounts and owners are not able to differentiate what they are being charged for services provided for aged care as opposed to the body corporate's normal administrative expenses.
Thirdly, one of the real practical difficulties has been differentiating the respective roles of the strata managing agent and the village manager. This is very significant because, as I outlined earlier, the body corporate may only delegate its functions and responsibilities to a licensed strata managing agent. However, it is recognised that much of the day-to-day expertise in running a retirement village is possessed by the village manager, so this has been taken into account. The bill makes clear that there is a distinction between the quite different roles of the strata managing agent, who can be delegated certain powers, and the retirement village manager, who cannot and who is employed to provide special services to aged persons.
A change has been included in the bill to apply to what is known as the initial period, which is the early stage of a strata scheme's existence. It is the time between the registration of the scheme and the point at which one-third of the lots in the scheme have been sold. The developer, or original proprietor, is restricted from taking certain decisions in that period when a minority owner could be adversely affected. This is to prevent the introduction of unfair by-laws, altering common property or getting into a position of large debt. The only way to get exemption from the restrictions is to obtain an order from the Supreme Court. It is a clear consumer protection issue and although there have been calls to remove the concept of the initial period, it has been retained. However, in recognition
of the potential cost and time involved in going to the Supreme Court, the bill provides that applications may be made instead to the Strata Titles Board. Consumer protection remains but where there is a justifiable reason to seek a lifting of the initial period restrictions, the process will be less difficult.
The new legislation will include savings and transitional provisions dealing with applications for orders still to be finalised, unpaid levies and previous decisions of bodies corporate. The regulations to commence at the same time as the legislation will include provisions about application fees, mediation processes, records to be kept and, of course, the model by-laws. Through a cognate bill a number of parallel amendments to the Community Land Management Act are also to be made to ensure that relevant improvements included in this bill flow on to the administration of community schemes. The Strata Schemes Management Bill is poised to revolutionise the way strata schemes in New South Wales are administered. It is positive, constructive legislation which will receive extensive community support. The bill paves the way towards effective management of strata title developments into the next century. I commend the bills to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr J. H. Turner.
LIQUOR AND REGISTERED CLUBS LEGISLATION FURTHER AMENDMENT BILL
Suspension of standing orders agreed to.
Debate resumed from 12 November.
Mr SLACK-SMITH (Barwon) [9.14]: I lead for the Opposition, which will not oppose the bill. The bill has created much controversy and has been the subject of much public debate. It will amend the Liquor Act 1982 and the Registered Clubs Act 1976 to restructure gaming machine and taxation arrangements relating to hotels and registered clubs. The overall package provides taxation relief to small- and medium-sized hotels and registered clubs to ensure the future balanced development of the hotel and club industries. The package is directed at arresting the declining profitability of the New South Wales hotel industry by better positioning that industry to meet the demands of the wider hospitality market in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympic Games.
The Opposition has some concerns about the bill, but will not oppose it in this House, mainly because it does not have the numbers. Amendments will be moved in the other place which will result in a win-win situation for New South Wales clubs and hotels. The Opposition's concern has always been for small clubs and hotels not only in major cities, but also in small towns. In the Barwon electorate there are more than 40 hotels and more than 40 clubs ranging from football and golf clubs to bowling and tennis clubs. They are all small clubs that work towards helping the community. Some of the roles of rural hotels and clubs are similar, yet different. They are places for meetings, functions, fundraising events and social gatherings. In some towns the pub forms the focal point, and in other towns the club is the focus.
The bill favours hotels; clubs are the losers. Each hotel will be permitted to operate up to 30 gaming machines, of which 15 will be poker machines and 15 will be approved amusement devices. Everyone is aware, of course, that people drift from one hotel to another, from hotels to clubs, from clubs to pubs and from clubs to clubs. No-one has been able to ascertain the effect of this bill on both types of organisations. New South Wales hotels and clubs play an important role in our society. As I said earlier, often those roles are different, yet often they are the same. In many small country towns the first building erected was the pub. The town emerged around the hotel. Pubs have played an important role in the building of our country. I have often had a good time in hotels, and I have also had an enjoyable time in clubs. The Opposition will not oppose the bill but will move a number of amendments to it in the upper House. The object of the bill is to amend the Liquor Act 1982 and the Registered Clubs Act 1976 to extend the 1 per cent concession rate on poker machine profits to the first $200,000 of those profits, compared with the current threshold of $100,000. That will be fairer for the smaller, battling clubs throughout New South Wales. They will benefit greatly from this tax concession.
The new scale of duty will benefit 25 per cent of clubs in the lower echelon throughout New South Wales. This legislation will put them in a win-win situation. It will be important to consider 12 months down the track the level of gaming in New South Wales. I do not believe New South Wales can increase its level of gaming machines and gambling activities; we are already the largest gamblers in the world. The addition of a $20,000 prize for a $20 bet on stand-alone machines and provision for a $500,000 prize on in-house linked machines will go some way towards making competition between hotels and clubs fairer. The tax reliefs provided for the smaller clubs in our communities, plus the provision for increasing the number of gaming machines in New South Wales hotels, hopefully will enable both industries to co-exist with financial stability for a long time into the future.
Mr WATKINS (Gladesville) [9.22]: I thought I should take the opportunity to speak in this debate and outline my views on the gaming machines and tax package introduced by the Minister for Gaming and Racing. However, several aspects of the package cause me concern. I have taken a high-profile stand in opposing those aspects, and I spoke strongly in caucus about those provisions. In that meeting I outlined clearly to my colleagues what my concerns were. I take this opportunity to do similarly before the Parliament. To begin with, I must acknowledge the need to address the concerns of the club and hotel industry in New South Wales.
Many smaller clubs and hotels in the city, but especially in the bush, are facing an uncertain future. Their profitability is down, and I understand that many face the reality that they will soon go to the wall. That will have a major impact on the lives of many people and on local communities. The life's work of some people, the employment prospects of others, and the viability of industry in small towns are inextricably linked to the future of their struggling clubs and hotels. Everyone in the industry recognises that harsh reality, and most parties have been pushing for answers that will allow the least disruptive future and the lowest economic impact. I understand that the package outlined in this bill seeks to address those concerns. My very real fear is that the answer that has been found is flawed in too many ways.
My electorate of Gladesville has the normal range of the industry. It has four hotels, two of which are struggling. It has 11 clubs in the immediate area, and a few of those are very large, such as the North Ryde RSL Community Club and the Ryde-Eastwood Leagues Club. The electorate has a middle range of clubs, such as the Gladesville RSL, the Ryde Ex-Servicemen's Club, and the Gladesville Bowling and Sports Club. Then it has a range of smaller clubs, such as the Ryde Bowling Club, the North Ryde Golf Club, and the Putney Tennis and Bowling Club. Some smaller clubs are struggling, but the largest are doing very well.
Common to all clubs is the commitment to the area by the clubs and their management and directors. Those clubs are valued by the local community. As such, my electorate is a microcosm of New South Wales, where the club industry is a unique and valued industry close to the lives and affections of millions of people. The reason the club industry is so valued is made crystal clear in the electorate of Gladesville. As well as the clubs being places for people to congregate for good fellowship and entertainment, several of the clubs in the electorate are RSL clubs. The value of those clubs is apparent to all members of this House, but it is never clearer than on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day. The special affection for them held by the veterans is very much a part of our history as a nation.
All of these clubs provide employment for hundreds of local residents, especially many young people. But it is the services that the clubs provide to supporting local charities, established national charities, local church organisations, local primary and high schools, sporting clubs, bushfire and State Emergency Service brigades, health care facilities, aged care groups, scout organisations and a whole range of other community organisations that make clubs especially valued in the local community. Everyone, from the under-five children playing in the local baseball team to the lonely, aged people seeking meals on wheels or care in our local hospitals, can point to one of the local clubs as the source of much of their support and succour.
Local clubs in the Gladesville electorate have a membership of more than 70,000. That means that almost every family in my electorate is touched by the local club industry. That is why I am deeply involved in this debate and why I have taken such a high-profile stance in advising the Minister for Gaming and Racing, the Premier, Cabinet and caucus about my concerns. I have several of them. I am, first, concerned that the provision of poker machines in hotels will not help the ailing hotels in my electorate, those across Sydney or those in New South Wales. If this package is not successful in that regard, what will be the next step? There is no way that the Government could tolerate further introductions of poker machines into hotels beyond this package, so other more creative steps will need to be taken if this package does not work. I know of no-one in the club industry who wishes local hotels to fail. I am worried that those smaller, struggling hotels will still be struggling after the impact of this package is realised.
I am especially concerned at the smaller and middle-range clubs in the Gladesville electorate. I know that the reduction in tax on those clubs is meant to breathe new life into them and protect them against a drift of poker machine gambling into hotels. Again, I fear that $10,000 or $20,000 less each year in tax will not provide the protection that these clubs need. If they continue to struggle under the new regime of tax, what further measures will we introduce? Finally, I am especially concerned at the impact that the package will have on the larger clubs in the Gladesville electorate, especially the North Ryde RSL Community Club and the Ryde-Eastwood Leagues Club. They are faced with a double impact: increased competition from hotels, and increases in tax. The two clubs to which I have referred will be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra tax. That must impact on their support for members and the local community.
North Ryde RSL Community Club, for example, gives about $445,000 per annum to a whole range of charities and organisations. Some of those are within the club but still serve the needs of the local community. An increase in the club's tax of more than $200,000 will cause the club to reconsider what support it can give to the community. This is where I fear the community, my constituents, will miss out. That is not something that the management and directors of those large clubs look forward to with any pleasure. They are good men and women, voluntarily doing their best for the local communities, but they are now facing the blunt reality of great need in the community and less funds to service those needs. I can only hope they find a way to continue their wonderful support for my local community.
My concerns are real and deeply felt. This bill will pass this House and become law if it is passed by the upper House. I can only appeal on behalf of the clubs and the men, women and children and families of my electorate that the Minister monitor very closely the impact of this package. I appeal to
him to act quickly and decisively to reduce the impact on these clubs if the intentions of the package are not achieved. If a supplementary package is necessary, I appeal to the Minister to guarantee that he introduce that quickly to ameliorate any damage that has been done. Today I have written to all clubs in my electorate to ask them what else can be done to assist them cope with the package. I have asked them to come forward with suggestions that I can take to the Minister and Cabinet. I will continue to represent the interests of all my constituents as strongly as I can. The 70,000 members of local clubs expect and deserve nothing less.
Dr MACDONALD (Manly) [9.29]: When I hear impassioned speeches from the honourable member for Gladesville I am glad that I am not a member of a political party; he will not be able to vote with his heart, which must be difficult. I do not support this bill. Frankly, the Government is morally dishonest. It is sheltering under the argument of parity between clubs and pubs. This bill is about further revenue raising. It will result in more social cost and personal pain. It will create a leapfrog phenomenon: as pubs get more, clubs will want to install more gaming machines. Undoubtedly, the impact of this bill will be enormous. The Premier has joined in this hypocrisy because an article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 13 April 1996 stated:
. . . the Premier . . . said on radio that his government would rid the State of casinos and the "sickness" of Government revenue raised by gambling - if it could.
"I think it is a sickness that in our country and in the United States there has been this increasing dependence on casino gaming as a source of revenue at the State level," he said. "There is no argument against casino gaming and the over-dependence of State budgets on gambling that I don't find myself agreeing with."
The article points out that the New South Wales Government extracts revenue of more than $1 billion a year from gambling. That is more than 10 per cent of all taxes, fines and fees levied by the State. Incidentally, only a small amount of that $1 billion is used to fund the problem side effects of gambling. That was recognised by Sir Laurence Street when he inquired into the introduction of casinos. In his report entitled "Inquiry into Casinos", dated November 1991, Sir Laurence Street said:
Casinos will increase the number of gamblers and problem gamblers.
This bill will have exactly the same impact. This issue was debated in 1992 and 1993. If gambling is to be available in New South Wales it should be restricted; it should not be allowed to continue to spread, with all its adverse impacts. Gambling should be restricted to non-profit community-based clubs, which at present distribute about $156 million - that is a conservative estimate - in community benefits and grants. Gambling has serious adverse impacts which have been totally ignored by almost all honourable members in this debate. It is unlikely that many honourable members will speak in defence of those who suffer from the impacts of gambling.
It has been estimated that gambling adversely affects one in 10 people. Indeed, it has been estimated that the ill effects of gambling cost society more than the ill effects of smoking. As far as I know, governments do not actively promote smoking, but in this bill the Government is actively promoting the expansion of gambling into pubs. This bill will have an effect on pubs, and honourable members can be assured - I received confirmation of this today - that clubs will respond by expanding their gaming activities. And so it goes on. It is a catch-up situation. When it was in Opposition, the Australian Labor Party recognised that, because in April 1993 it sought to reduce the number of gaming and poker machines in casinos. When the coalition Government proposed 1,500 gaming machines in casinos the present Minister for Gaming and Racing suggested that the number be reduced to 500. The Labor Opposition recognised the impact of casinos on clubs, on the extension of gaming and on the State. The three Independents supported the bill introduced by the honourable member for Bligh to prohibit gaming machines in casinos, but the bill did not receive support. It could be argued that this bill is unconstitutional because section 5 of the Constitution Act states:
The Legislature shall, subject to the provisions of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, have power to make laws for the peace, welfare and good government of New South Wales in all cases whatsoever.
The lotteries legislation in 1930 and 1931 provided for the trial of poker machines. That legislation was justified on the basis of providing funding to hospitals, but that tenuous link has gone. Moneys now go immediately into consolidated revenue. The average loss to people eligible to gamble in New South Wales is $646.70 a year, of which they contribute $223.85 to the Government's coffers. It is well documented that gaming is associated with welfare problems. That is why arguably this bill is unconstitutional.
It has been estimated that the ill effects of gaming cost New South Wales $48 million a year in loss of productivity, unemployment, court, prison and police costs, bankruptcy, divorce and all the acute treatment measures needed for the ill effects of gaming. In 1991 Keys Young Proprietary Limited studied the social impact of gaming and found that 0.5 per cent of the New South Wales population, or 21,000 people, have severe gambling-related problems. Honourable members have not spoken on their behalf. New South Wales has the highest incidence of ill effects from gaming in Australia, and Australia has the highest expenditure per capita on gaming in the world. That has been recognised tacitly by the coalition, whose members have been just as bad in this debate as they were when in government. They speak of double standards. The coalition is - excuse the pun - having a bet each way on this bill. Coalition members have spoken in support of the bill, but the Hon. Richard Bull issued a press release entitled "Opposition Calls for
Gaming Inquiry". In other words, the Opposition wants to look good and feel good. The coalition has recognised the social impacts of gaming, because its press release stated:
The Opposition Party meeting this morning overwhelmingly resolved that a Commission of Inquiry should be established into the level of gaming in NSW.
Shadow Gaming Minister Richard Bull said the Inquiry will meet widespread concerns in the community in relation to the level of gambling in this State.
What a joke! A commission of inquiry telling us that gaming in the State will expand under this bill is not necessary. The coalition has asked for an inquiry because it wants to look good. The press release further stated:
Mr Bull said the Inquiry will be expected to look at . . . the number and types of machines available throughout NSW in hotels, clubs and the Sydney Harbour Casino; the equality of the community benefit levy . . .
The coalition Government established the casino with 1,500 gaming machines. However, when the Government introduced this bill the coalition called for a gaming inquiry to make it look good. Why is the coalition supporting the bill if that is the case? A social impact study should have been commissioned before the bill was introduced. The Minister's second reading speech did not mention what the social impact of this measure will be. That is a disgrace. Another matter of concern is the impact of the bill on clubs. To his credit, the honourable member for Gladesville outlined this concern as it relates to his electorate. I have received many letters from constituents in my electorate. I also received an absolute beauty of a letter from the Baulkham Hills Sporting Club Limited, which is not in my electorate. In that letter the secretary-manager of the club said:
. . . why the Government is giving in to the hotel lobby but can only assume it is for the additional tax money it expects to get from the extra ADD's and Poker Machines that will be installed in hotels. The publicans will be laughing their heads off with the value of goodwill being handed to them when they on-sell, not to mention the instant personal wealth they can now achieve. I wonder if the Cabinet factored in the reduced tax clubs would be paying because of loss of turnover in the more competitive environment. I wonder if the Cabinet considered the ramifications of clubs reduced ability to support charities, sport and cultural activities in the community.
The letter further stated:
All this to make a wealthy publican wealthier!
Interestingly, pub machines make 50 per cent more than club machines. The secretary-manager of the Baulkham Hills Sporting Club is so angry that he said:
I will do all in my power and the power of the club movement to bring the Government down.
That is not untypical of the mood that exists at present. I surveyed the 16 clubs within my electorate and found that the smaller ones, about nine or 10 of them with fewer than 20 machines, basically do not care about the legislation. It will not affect them particularly. There will be an offset between the tax benefits and the loss from gaming for the few machines they have, but they do not feel particularly strong about the legislation. The medium and larger clubs, such as the Harbord Bowling Club, Manly War Memorial, the Fishermen's Club, Balgowlah Returned Services League Memorial Club and Harbord Diggers strongly oppose it. They recognise that the profits will go to the private sector and that the revenue for the non-profit making clubs, which donate their surplus revenue for community benefit, will reduce. I have a letter from Balgowlah RSL Memorial Club that reads:
It is outrageous to think that a Minister is prepared to alter the status quo and deliver windfall gains to the hotel industry at the expense of the club movement generally in this state. The obvious outcome will be to divert revenues away from clubs and into hotels, thus eroding the ability of the club movement to sustain its current level of community funding for sport, charity, aged care and hospitals.
The Harbord Diggers said in its letter to me:
The Committee of Management of Harbord Diggers don't understand the reason for these changes and it would appear that Community On Gaming is losing its concessions and its privileges and its ability to support the community. They think the Club Industry has been compromised in the name of privately owned gaming and private entrepreneurs.
The next part is interesting:
It appears extremely Un-Labor to have this type of transformation of wealth, from the community to private entrepreneurs.
In the past 10 years Harbord Diggers, the biggest club in my electorate, donated $1 million to Manly hospital. I attended a function on Friday where that club pledged $500,000 for the next five years, that is $100,000 a year, for a new cat scanner, and at present it is donating $350,000 a year to the community in the form of benefits. With the additional tax the club will have to pay of $242,000 plus the loss of revenue, this community benefit may be reduced to almost nothing unless, of course, there is more leapfrogging. The provisions of statewide linking and interactive gaming are merely sweeteners for the bitter medicine clubs are required to swallow in losing their rights to hotels. The Registered Clubs Association has argued in its submission for further concessions. It is talking about bigger bets, bigger links and unlimited multiterminal machines, and of course it is all about catch-up whereby there will be more and more gaming machines in hotels and clubs.
The legislation is absolute madness so far as I am concerned. All it appears to do is to satisfy the hotel industry. If clubs do not get those extra concessions they stand to lose about $100 million a year. As I say, clubs provide enormous benefits that members of Parliament would be able to list within their own electorates but on a broader front it should be placed on record that clubs give the New South Wales Institute of Sport $1 million a year and the Australia Day Council $100,000 a year. The Sydney 2,000 Olympic Bid received $250,000 and the Paralympics $120,000, and so it goes on. I call on
the Minister to abandon this immoral and disgraceful gaming package. If there are minimum reforms necessary within the club movement or the club industry, such as the adjustment of tax scales, the linking of machines and the regulation of the types of machines, so be it. Go ahead and do that but do not sell out the club industry to the hotel industry. Clubs will never be the same and, indeed, hotels will never be the same because of the impact of this legislation. Certainly society is moving down the path of darkness to more and more gambling and its social impacts. The bill is unconscionable.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I acknowledge the presence in the gallery of representatives of the Maroubra Dads Army Surf Club, especially the ski group with which I have some affinity, and also the Cherrybrook Chinese Community Association.
Mr HARRISON (Kiama) [9.44]: I am one of the 25 members of the parliamentary Labor caucus who voted against this proposal. Unfortunately I have to support the proposal that is before the House but my conscience requires that I place on record just how I feel about what is being proposed, and I intend to do just that. I have nothing personal against publicans as a whole. In the electorate that I represent I have had a deputation in the last few days from publicans and, in what I like to think is my usual style, I put right on the line where I stood with them. I said something along the lines, "There is good news and bad news. The good news is that I think you are going to get your way and the bad news is that I am going to vote against it in the caucus and do anything I can to defeat it." They copped that okay.
Two publicans that are known to me from the Albion Park Hotel and the Warilla Hotel are pretty good blokes. They both contribute a lot of money to local sporting activities and so on. Having said that, they do it either because it makes them feel good or because they think it is good business practice. They do not have to do it and that is where they differ from the mutual clubs, who are obliged by the legislation under which they were set up and under their constitutions to distribute their profits for better amenities to club members or to local charities and local sporting groups and so on in general to the local community.
When this matter has been discussed at the Australian Labor Party branches that I have visited in the Kiama electorate, I have not struck one ALP member who has indicated support for the proposed changes, so in that regard at least those ALP members are keeping the faith. I kept faith in caucus and did what was expected of me and I think to some extent I am keeping faith tonight by placing on the record how I feel. In New South Wales in the last couple of years 20 clubs have gone to the wall. They are: Australian Kiwi international, Canobolas, Balmain-Rozelle Returned Services League, Moree bowling, Balranald golf, Moby Dick surf life saving, Austinmer soldiers, Cooma bowling, Queanbeyan rugby union, Victoria Park bowling, Brunyarra, Moree, Tocumwal bowling, Bankstown businessmen's, Apia, South Tweed Heads rugby league football, Terranora Lakes country, Wagga Wagga city bowling, Tweed Heads rowing and aquatic and Tweed water sports, and Corowa bowling. As well, a number of other clubs in New South Wales are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and we do not have to make much of a wave to push them out backwards.
Clubs are disadvantaged by the existence of a five-kilometre limit on their patrons. Patrons who live within five kilometres of a club and wish to drink or engage in social activity there must join the club. If they live within five kilometres or any distance at all from a hotel, that restriction does not apply. If they live within close proximity of three clubs that they wish to visit, they are lumbered with the additional expense of having to join those three clubs. But there is no such restriction in the case of hotels. The Shellharbour Bowls and Recreation Club, which is located in my area, has suffered a loss in revenue in each of the past three years. That club, which has nine poker machines, has a total revenue of less than $100,000 per annum. The new taxation scales will be of no benefit to that club or to many clubs in similar circumstances.
Under this legislation the landlords of large and profitable hotels, many of them overseas investors and entrepreneurs, will be handed millions of dollars in windfall profits as the value of their freehold and their rental revenues increases. A club licence is not transferable and club profits have no bearing on the value of its freehold. However, the value of a hotel freehold is directly related to a hotel's income. Clubs are mutual organisations which cannot distribute their profits to members. They exist only to provide amenities for their members and the community. The hardest hit among the clubs will obviously be small clubs throughout country New South Wales, such as bowls clubs and golf clubs - organisations that are already struggling but are regarded as the social heart of many small town communities.
Another point to remember is that this legislation will limit the number of gaming machines to 30 per hotel, but a proprietor who owns five hotels could own and control 150 gaming machines. A lot of money would be going into the pockets of a small group of people, or individuals. I truly believe that substantial revenue will be lost to mutual clubs and, accordingly, to sport and the community if more gambling dollars are diverted into the pockets of private individuals. Other speakers in debate on this bill have referred to the gambling dollar. This State has reached saturation point with gambling. There are all sorts of ways in which people can gamble - from the taking of a humble lotto ticket to betting on football, betting on horseracing, betting on poker machines or betting at the casino. If additional money is to be sunk into the gambling morass it will probably come from clubs, which will eventually be forced to reduce the amount of money that they spend in the community, or it will come
from the pockets of people who can ill afford to lose it, resulting in wives going without new dresses or children going without new pairs of shoes. That possibility is frightening.
It is one thing for members of the Opposition to talk about some sort of a review 12 months down the track, but it is another thing to recall, as the honourable member for Manly pointed out, that the former Government, which permitted the operation of 1,500 gaming machines at the casino, wanted to establish an additional casino in Sydney. That same Government tried to impose a club turnover tax - a tax similar to that which has been imposed in hotels. That proposal was defeated only because of the action taken by the Independents and the Labor Party in a hung Parliament. Opposition members have chosen not to oppose this legislation, but all that I read into that is that they are living up to their record. The Opposition believes in supporting private enterprise; it is not known for its support of mutual organisations. However, the Labor Party supports mutual organisations.
Tonight I express my extreme disappointment at the fact that this House is supporting private enterprise at the expense of mutual clubs. I believe that a substantial amount of revenue will be lost to mutual clubs. Sporting and other organisations will suffer after the introduction of this legislation. I do not enjoy criticising the actions of a Government of which I am a part. However, I believe that I must place on the record my feelings about this matter. I am not a drinker or a great social animal. I do not go to clubs other than to attend functions of one sort or another. I found out early in life that I was not a good drinker; I do not handle alcohol very well. For that reason the best thing I can do is not partake of it. I do not believe that any other country has a club organisation similar to the one to be found in New South Wales, and I do not say that lightly. I have taken visitors from other parts of the world for a night out at a club. They were amazed that meals did not cost an arm and a leg and that drinks could be obtained at a reasonable price. People attending clubs are not pestered and annoyed by drunks or troublemakers, as they are evicted from the clubs. It does not cost very much at all to be entertained. People can play poker machines and any profit that is made goes into the provision of amenities for members or the community.
There is nothing in Australia or in the world that equals the club organisation in New South Wales. However, it appears as though this House will vote unanimously to enable the passage of this legislation. If any damage is done to the club movement in this State and small, struggling clubs are no longer able to operate I will be very upset. As I said earlier, it gives me no pleasure to criticise or to vote for this legislation that has been introduced by a Government of which I am a part. However, that is the party system and those are the rules that I have always accepted as a member of a political party - a party to which I owe much. Quite aside from that, it is a matter of extreme disappointment to me that mutual clubs, which recognise and assist the needs of local communities, might suffer a loss of revenue - money which will be diverted into the pockets of large hotel operators or overseas entrepreneurs, not into the pockets of small hoteliers, who will not be able to afford to upgrade their facilities or their betting machines.
Mr PHILLIPS (Miranda - Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [9.58]: The honourable member for Kiama referred to the difficulty that he is experiencing in supporting this bill. He has been caught up in the party system. The honourable member for Kiama should take some comfort from the fact that some members of the Opposition do not overwhelmingly support this legislation. If a conscience vote were taken on this issue, both the honourable member for Kiama and I would be rolled, as the majority of honourable members support this bill. Members from both sides of this Chamber have expressed deep concern about gambling and the direction that gambling is taking in this State. Let me go back to the genesis of this legislation. We all know that this bill was introduced because of a grubby little deal that was done prior to the last election. I say that with all due respect to the Minister. We all know that leading up to an election the hotels and clubs line up in front of every parliamentarian's door to look for the highest bidder -
Mr Harrison: Not mine.
Mr PHILLIPS: With due respect, the honourable member for Kiama is correct. I am not talking about every hotel, every hotelier or every club organisation; I am talking about the major associations and those who are championing their cause. Their job is to go out and beat up politicians and up the ante to get the best deal for their clubs or hotels. Everyone understands that. Having been a member of this Parliament for over 12 years, I believe that the practice of bidding and overbidding has to come to an end. All honourable members, including the Minister, know that this bill will not draw a line in the sand. As we approach the next election and as the provisions of the bill settle in, those associations will be back, crying poor mouth again and someone will have to find some other way to up the ante for the gambling dollar.
Governments of the day are not just passive dealers in this game. Every government has a responsibility and drives for what it calls the sin tax. Governments want the gambling dollar to bail them out of their financial problems. This Government is in the same position as governments in the past have been. The Minister, in his second reading speech, said that the legislation is about getting more money for hospitals, schools, roads, and everything else that needs to be done. The big clubs, the big pubs and the Government collude basically every three or four years and up the ante for the gambling dollar that the community puts into various coffers. For that reason, upon which I will expand later, I strongly support taking control of gambling away from
politicians. It is about time serious consideration was given to the establishment of a gaming commission. That is why an amendment will be moved in the other place to establish such a commission, which will put governments and politicians at arm's length from the grubby little game that has been played for decades. That will result in a fairer and much more sensible approach to gambling in this State.
The bill further expands gambling in this State. New South Wales is becoming, if it has not already become, the Nevada of the South Pacific. Over the last couple of years the "Casino" neon signs have been put up in front of the hotels; more such signs will be put in place as hotels start to become more and more dependent for their survival upon the gambling dollar. This bill further accelerates the move in that direction. I realise that legislation has been introduced to control the use of the word "casino" because this State now has the Sydney Harbour Casino. But proprietors will find some way to enable them to put up pretty neon signs in front of their hotels or gambling institutions to attract the gambling dollar. This legislation will expand community access to the gambling dollar.
Clubs will also be winners from this legislation. They will get access to a greater range of networked machines, higher tech machines, greater jackpots, greater attractions and different games that will make it much more attractive for people to gamble, thereby increasing the takings for clubs. Members should not delude themselves: this bill will increase revenue from the gambling dollar for clubs, hotels and the Government. Much has been said in this debate about the contributions hotels and clubs make to the community. Advertisements in newspapers have gone to extremes, as advertising campaigns tend to do, in publicising the respective contributions that clubs and hotels make to the community. I have no doubt about whether hotels or clubs make the greatest contribution to the community benefit. I do not hold that against hotels. Hotels are simply a different business, and they service a different part of the community with a different need. Clubs serve a greater need in the community. That is why they were formed. People with mutual interests - whether in golf, bowling, the Returned Services League, trade union clubs or football clubs - joined to form clubs that would meet their particular needs.
I have an extremely good relationship with the clubs and hotels in the Miranda electorate. I believe that they try to ensure they do the best thing for the community. The Miranda RSL Club provides an enormous amount of community benefit. Obviously, members of the Gymea trade union club would not be on my side of the political fence, but I have never been made to feel unwelcome in that club. It provides an excellent service to the community and is most successful. The Miranda RSL Club is an example that is mirrored in many clubs in New South Wales. The club sponsors about 40 affiliated clubs and societies in the Sutherland shire at a cost of approximately $68,000 per annum. In comparison, the Miranda Hotel spends about $15,000 per annum on sponsorship. The club gives tremendous support to the women's auxiliary, the youth club, the senior members club, the day care club - a wonderful network of people who give up their time to bring the elderly and the lonely to their local hall - the golf club, the women's bowling club, the men's bowling club, the cricket club, the dance club, the snooker club, Toastmasters, old-time dancing, the bridge club, the darts club, and others.
The Miranda RSL Club has donated funds to the Lions Club of Gymea, Legacy, Probus, Rotaract, Cronulla junior rugby league, the Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Soldiers Association, the Rotary Club of Miranda in Caringbah, the National Safety Council and Neighbourhood Watch. It supports Toastmasters Youth Leadership, national seniors associations and schools. The club runs a wonderful program at the local high schools close to Anzac Day. Some of the club's senior members, its war heroes, with the support of the club, go to the schools and talk to the students about war history. The Miranda RSL Club makes many services available for its members. It has given many donations to organisations in the community, including the Autistic Association, the Ted Noffs organisation, the Sutherland hospital, the Calvary Hospital, the National Heart Foundation, De La Salle junior rugby league club - and the list goes on.
Miranda Hotel sponsors sporting teams, some of which my sons play in, and it is a great pub - Seafarers, Sutherland baseball, Caringbah gridiron, Sutherland district rugby, Cronulla leagues and the list goes on. Honourable members will notice that the Miranda Hotel supports sporting clubs, which is the general rule. Occasionally a hotel may support network supports such as aged-care centres, day-care centres and senior clubs. I am sure that my experience of clubs is duplicated many times around the State, that is, that they provide a much greater community service than hotels provide. I want to emphasise that the Opposition and I will strongly support an inquiry into gaming, as will be proposed by amendments to be moved in the upper House. The Opposition will work towards the establishment of a gaming commission to ensure a more sensible approach to gaming in this State, to take it away from the leap-frogging game that is played amongst political parties and politicians and between the clubs.
In the short time available I stress that after talking to members in this Parliament I have to send a strong message to hotels and clubs. My impression is that members are a little bit sick and tired of the Registered Clubs Association being at war with the Australian Hotels Association. Those bodies cannot sit together as an industry body and work with governments or with political parties. It is very hard to even get them into the same room together to talk about the industry and the direction in which it is going. That has to come to an end. Those bodies have to become much more professional in their approach in terms of their community responsibility.
That would serve their organisations, this Parliament and the community much better. I do not mind saying, as I rarely do in this House, that I got rolled on this matter but I do not think the fight is finished. There is a long way to go in the future towards getting a much more sensible approach to gambling in this State.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Extension of Sitting
Motion by Mr Face agreed to:
That the sitting be extended beyond 10.30 p.m.
LIQUOR AND REGISTERED CLUBS LEGISLATION FURTHER AMENDMENT BILL
Mr SMALL (Murray) [10.13]: I speak in debate on the Liquor and Registered Clubs Legislation Further Amendment Bill. I thank the Minister for Gaming and Racing, the Hon. Richard Face, for visiting my electorate approximately six weeks ago and for bringing with him two of his senior staff members, David Williams and Jeremy Anderson. I was pleased that the Minister was prepared to come and meet with representatives of a number of clubs and hotels and to establish what is happening in my electorate. This legislation will create some difficulties. I am disappointed about the provisions that will change the rules applying to gaming machines, in particular those provisions to allow poker machines in hotels. I would like to see another form of gaming machines operating in hotels. I would prefer to see some form of tax concessions. I know that all governments - the present Labor Government and the former Liberal Government - have benefited from taxation revenue from club and hotel industries which have made a tremendous contribution to this State.
If greater tax concessions were afforded to clubs and hotels money could be spent on employment and wages which will benefit clubs and the community. My electorate stretches for 1,341 kilometres along the Murray River border. Honourable members would be aware that up until three or four years ago New South Wales benefited from the green belt of club industries on the New South Wales side of the Murray River. I will nominate those towns along the border where big club industries are located. Among the magnificent clubs that have faced and are facing extreme difficulties are: Corowa, Mulwala, Barooga, Tocumwal, Moama, Barham, Murray Downs, Tooleybuc, Euston, Coomealla-Dareton and Wentworth. Those 11 towns are part of the green belt to which I have referred. Most of the 21 clubs in those areas are bowling clubs, golf clubs and RSL clubs.
Clubs some distance from the Murray River have experienced difficult times, as they do not have the big tourist attraction of the river. Some of the 44 clubs in that area include clubs in: Balranald, Hay, Moulamein, Wakool, Mathoura, Deniliquin, Finley, Jerilderie, Berrigan, Urana, Lockhart, Rand and Oaklands. Those clubs do a magnificent job. Most of the clubs situated some distance from the Murray River have had it hard for a long time. Even some of the directors in those clubs work within the clubs as volunteers. The legalisation of gambling machines by the Victorian and the South Australian governments has had a devastating effect on New South Wales. To be fair, New South Wales had a wonderful start. We have been able to erect all the necessary buildings and provide all the necessary facilities. Golfing greens and bowling greens, which require a lot of maintenance, provide wonderful recreation facilities and attract a lot of attention from tourism.
Victoria has gained enormously since the introduction of gambling machines as a large number of people have been able to be employed. There are more employees living in Victoria who are working in New South Wales clubs on the northern side of the river. Jeff Kennett, the Premier of Victoria, legalised gambling machines. Gambling machines have also been legalised in South Australia. This has had a devastating effect on the bowling clubs in Corowa and Tocumwal and on the services club at Wentworth. Two of those clubs, which are suffering enormously, have gone into receivership. The bowling section of one club is still operating but no other services are being provided. I sincerely hope that the services club at Wentworth, which is having a difficult time, can pull through. All the other clubs are generally feeling the pinch. In the Murray electorate there are a number of hotels in smaller towns. Hotels are located in the towns to which I referred earlier and also in smaller areas such as Pooncarie, Homebush, Booligal, Maude, Booroorban, Pretty Pine, Kyalite, Conargo, Rennie, Lowesdale, Balldale, Daysdale, Coreen, Pleasant Hills, Blighty, Boree Creek and Gol Gol.
The electorate of Murray has 17 villages which have hotels but not clubs. Overall there are approximately 44 clubs and 70 hotels and a balance needs to be struck. Many of the hotels provide funding, mostly for sporting organisations such as football clubs or tennis clubs, but the club industry is a powerhouse industry that generates an enormous amount of funds. In about 1981 or 1982 when I was Chairman of the Nursing Home Foundation, that foundation was endeavouring to organise enough funds to build a new nursing home in Deniliquin - and we were successful. I approached the Deniliquin RSL Club, which immediately provided $100,000 to assist. During that year it provided another $35,000 for the provision of improved facilities at Deniliquin, that is, for hospital equipment for the treatment of heart problems.
The club industry has built many sporting facilities for the enhancement of tourism and for the benefit of the local community. The membership of the clubs is huge and ranges from 4,000 members to 12,000 members in the electorate of Murray. This is difficult legislation. I know the Minister is doing what he believes is in the best interests of the industry, but the fact is that one group is being played off against the other. I know that is not the intention of the legislation, but that is what has happened within the community. That is why, at the outset, I seek the provision of tax concessions for the hotel and club industries. I know some smaller clubs already receive tax concessions but tax concessions generally across the industry would generate more funds within the townships which, in the long run, would be returned to the Government. I believe the Government is going down the wrong track.
Hotels have existed for many, many years but the club industry has developed as a result of legislation. There is no doubt many clubs are magnificent; they encourage tourism and provide restaurants and bistros for excellent dining. Of course, hotels have the same opportunity but in the electorate of Murray three hotels have closed because of lack of service - Hatfield, Oxley and Milbrulong. In response to Opposition concerns about this legislation, the Hon. Richard Bull, the shadow minister for gaming and racing, has suggested that a commission of inquiry be appointed. Frankly, I do not think that is such a bad idea. The last speaker, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, suggested that perhaps members of Parliament should get right out of this game; that an independent organisation should examine the hotel and club industries and make recommendations. That also sounds like a very reasonable suggestion.
As a member of this House I am concerned about the legislation, as I am sure many honourable members on the Government side are concerned about it. The concern is mutual, as is the desire to find a better way to deal favourably, beneficially and more equitably with clubs and hotels throughout the State. I said that the Minister had been good enough to visit the electorate of Murray. He talked to representatives from the harness racing and horse racing industries, which need a lot of assistance. The Minister is a good listener. I congratulate him on visiting the electorate and listening to what my constituents had to say. I believe this package falls short of what is needed. Local communities in country areas are facing very great hardship in the present economic conditions. South Australian and Victorian gambling machines are making conditions difficult in New South Wales.
As members of Parliament we have a duty of care to try to do whatever we can to help the clubs and hotels in New South Wales. Isolated areas are affected because of the lack of tourism opportunities; there are fewer dollars to spend because of unemployment and other economic factors. Country areas have been hardest hit and we cannot afford to have more and more people moving from the country to the larger urban rural cities. That would be a disaster. Having said that, I congratulate both the club and hotel industries for the work they do and for the benefits they provide. Members of Parliament need to get their act together to ensure that, whatever happens, it will benefit both groups equally by way of employment and the generation of funds within the community. I look forward to amendments that will be introduced in the upper House - and perhaps by the Minister for Gaming and Racing in recognition that what he has proposed is not exactly right and will never be right. The point is we must do all we possibly can.
Ms FICARRA (Georges River) [10.26]: This bill which will amend the Liquor Act 1982 and the Registered Clubs Act 1976 has been controversial and socially disruptive. The Registered Clubs Association has been pitted against the Australian Hotels Association, two strong, powerful lobby groups pulling and tugging at each other. It has set patron against patron, and it has set member against member within their own party room. The coalition party room is as controversial as the Government party room, and unfortunately some of us are on the losing side. I wish to voice my strong displeasure at any increase in gambling devices in this State. The adverse economic and social consequences of an increasingly United States, Las Vegas or Nevada mentality and lifestyle will only cause more individual and family social upheaval and heartache. That heartache will be picked up by many charitable and government-run welfare institutions and organisations. I believe that the Government should investigate a limitation on the expansion of gambling devices and outlets. This bill is motivated by greed and the desire to get extra dollars to help the deficit budget, to help the funding of the roads, tollways and hospitals that are in need of dollars. However, I believe the public draws a line at how those dollars are raised.
I am most supportive of the coalition's amendments to the bill that will be moved in another place by the Hon. Richard Bull, in particular the amendment advocating a comprehensive review of New South Wales gaming. This is not just a wishy-washy plan to put the legislation in a corner and forget about it until the next election or the election after; it is a plan to take the decision away from politicians and the major parties that seem to be always kowtowing for votes. We need objectivity, professionalism and social responsibility in the gaming issue. Such a review should cover both gaming machines and gaming outlets. Indeed, future New South Wales governments should seek a comprehensive auditing and accountability process involving all gaming outlets within the State, via the proposed commission of inquiry into gaming. I sincerely hope that the political will to establish such a commission will prevail, for the sake of objectively addressing the social and economic consequences of this State's gaming legislation - past, current and future.
The coalition amendments will seek a review of changes after 12 months of operation to monitor their effects on clubs and their profitability, and community service consequences. Honourable members are aware of the valuable contribution of clubs to the community. There is a big difference between pubs and clubs. Pubs operate as private enterprises. A small minority put something back into the community, but in a very small way compared with clubs. Clubs are non-profit organisations and all the money they earn is either poured into charitable causes or community causes, or into improving club facilities, thereby looking after the patrons, many of whom are pensioners - particularly in the Georges River electorate. An additional amendment abolishing the 1 per cent tax duty on smaller clubs with annual gaming machine profits of up to $100,000 will assist some of the smaller clubs, and I support that amendment. Overall this bracket represents 25 per cent of the total number of clubs in New South Wales. Many smaller bowling clubs in the electorate will benefit from that amendment.
I pay tribute to the many clubs in my electorate and to the outstanding contribution they have made to community life over their many years of operation. I pay tribute principally to the Illawarra Catholic Club; the Masonic Club; Mortdale, Hurstville, Oatley and Penshurst RSL clubs; Hurstville, South Hurstville, Mortdale, Penshurst and Kyle Bay bowling clubs; and the Grandviews Bowling and Recreation Club at Peakhurst. I specifically highlight the contribution made by the Illawarra Catholic Club. The club's assistance to the community over the past three years alone has been a staggering $4.4 million. The St George area has reached saturation point in relation to gaming machines. Under this legislation a further 700 machines will be able to be introduced into the 34 hotels within the St George area.
Yesterday I received correspondence from the Illawarra Catholic Club, signed by Mr Bernard Harley, President; Councillor Merv Lynch of Hurstville City Council, Vice-President; and Mr Kevin Greene, Vice-President. Those outstanding members of the board have worked tirelessly in the community. They have outlined the consequences of the bill as it relates to the club's community activities, and much of the information I quote is from that letter.
The Illawarra Catholic Club has always been extremely conscious of community needs. The club has won the community service award in the Club of the Year awards in each of the 12 years that it has been nominated during the award's 13-year history. It caters for the needs of over 19,000 members. Eighteen years ago the club started providing two-course meals, at both lunch and evening sittings, seven days a week, for the needy of the district. The club has often been complimented on its good work following that decision by civic leaders at local, State and Federal levels. It has reduced the burden on Meals on Wheels and has been instrumental in encouraging elderly people to leave their lonely existence to attend the club and meet and greet others in a friendly, social atmosphere.
As many honourable members would know, the St George area has the highest proportion of aged persons in the State. The Illawarra Catholic Club must maintain a net profit of about $1 million in order to service and reduce debt commitments. Tragically, because of the perceived threat to the continuing viability of the club by the Government's proposed actions, the club has decided it can no longer afford to subsidise meals as it has in the past. The club is considering increasing the price of meals from $1 to a possible $4 or eliminating them altogether. The club will perhaps cut out the one million $1 subsidised meals to pensioners and the needy from 1 January 1997, posting a prominent notice in the foyer of the club immediately following the Government's decision, advising members of the reason for the decision.
That action is considered by the board of directors of the club to be necessary and prudent because it estimates a loss of almost $1 million in extra tax and revenue being diverted to the 26 hotels in the immediate vicinity of the club. The club needs a surplus of $1 million each year to subsidise its two bowling clubs, and to service the debt it has just undertaken to build a second club at Menai because of the lack of facilities for its many members who reside in that area and have to travel to Hurstville. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred to donations made by Miranda Returned Services League Club.
The Illawarra Catholic Club donates approximately $15,000 per annum to the St Vincent de Paul Society; the bushfire brigade relief, $5,000; Knights of St George heart association at St George Hospital, $2,000; and the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney charitable works fund, $250,000 to $300,000. It donates to the children's hospital and to a day-care centre in the Philippines. It donates to the Calvary Hospital, the hospice in the St George area, $5,000; the New South Wales Society for Children and Young Adults with Physical Disabilities, $1,000; St Francis Xavier's School at Arncliffe, $2,000; Illawarra Catholic Club youth sports club, $15,000; and St George cancer care lodge, $2,000. The list goes on.
Sizeable donations are made to the Hurstville Aquatic Leisure Centre, the rock eisteddfod and St John's Ambulance, and for school student bursaries of $1,000. The Illawarra Catholic Club youth sports club provides sporting facilities for the youth of the district up to 16 years of age. Membership of the club is not restricted to children of members or to Catholics. The club caters to those interested in netball, cricket, tennis, basketball and rugby league. Over 1,000 young people participate in that club's activities. During Senior Citizens Week Hurstville City Council sponsors dinners for senior citizens in the Illawarra Catholic Club in recognition of the
aims of the State Government, and Hurstville Council City Council heavily subsidises such dinners to the tune of $1,500 a year.
The Registered Clubs Association provides $1 million per annum to the New South Wales Institute of Sport, which will amount to a total of $6 million from 1995 until the 2000 Olympics. It provides $100,000 to the Australia Day Council and $120,000 to the Paralympics, and provided $250,000 to the Sydney Olympic 2000 Bid. All honourable members are aware of the value of clubs. Because of this legislation the Illawarra Catholic Club will have to cut out many of its services.
Further, the new multiterminal machines which this legislation will allow were recently on show at an AGE exhibition at a cost of $500,000 to $1 million per machine. How many clubs can afford those machines? I am concerned that the proposed package of benefits for small hotels, particularly in the Sydney metropolitan area, will still be insufficient to lift them out of their economic gloom. Changing demographics have had a detrimental effect on smaller hotels, often because factories or industrial premises in the immediate vicinity have moved or retailing areas have changed in nature, resulting in shifts in population. These concessions will not benefit smaller hotels, but will benefit larger commercial hotels. A large number of smaller hotels would not have the space to accommodate 30 machines without returning to the old days of drinkers using the footpaths outside hotels. A KPMG analysis shows that if hotels are allowed to operate the same types of machines as the clubs the funds will be syphoned away from clubs. As we know, the revenue will go down and community and club facilities will suffer.
What has happened to suggestions of a community levy on hotels, as mentioned in one of the Minister's press releases? The legislation would be more palatable if such a community levy were imposed on all gaming outlets - the pubs and the clubs - and we should continue to lobby for that. I know that pubs in rural areas fulfil many community needs, and I wish that such were the case with most of the pubs in the Sydney metropolitan area. It is regrettable that so much community friction has been caused by this legislation. I urge the Government to accept the coalition's amendments. It is obvious that the numbers on both sides of the House are sufficient to have the bill passed, but I believe that proper and sincere consultation could have achieved more of a win-win situation, with both the clubs and the pubs being happy with the compromise.
The Registered Clubs Association certainly has no problems with the tax changes for the hotels. So far as threats by the RCA to publish the names of honourable members who do not support its objectives are concerned, I realise that there will probably be no division on this bill but I think the association realises who is who in the zoo. If we underestimate the lobbying and political capacity of the RCA, we do so at our own misfortune. I strongly urge the Government to support the amendments and support a call for a review of the legislation in 12 months. We owe it to the communities we represent to examine New South Wales gaming before the next State election and take seriously the consequences of this legislation. I am disappointed that it appears that the bill will sail through the House.
Mr BLACKMORE (Maitland) [10.41]: I am concerned about the amount of gambling that goes on in this State. I take the honourable member for Manly up on a comment he made, and point out that I was in opposition in the Liberal party room debate on the introduction of casinos. I would hate to have a casino located in the Hunter Valley. I ask the Minister for Gaming and Racing whether licensed restaurants will be the next group to want to install poker machines at various premises. Why should licensed restaurants not feel entitled to install poker machines? I remember a poker machine being operated illegally at a restaurant at Maitland. I support the amendments proposed. I believe that there is a need for a commission of inquiry.
The Minister would be well aware of the campaign waged in Maitland in 1994 during which more than 400 hoteliers turned up at a meeting held in a hotel protesting against the former Government's cross-legged restaurants and motels that did not have a dining room being able to sell alcohol at retail prices. I well remember, as part of that campaign, a full-page advertisement that named me. It is such a shame that both sides of the industry, the Registered Clubs Association and the Australian Hotels Association, should be at each other's throats. That is not good for any industry; it is not good for business. The debate on the bill is becoming emotive and is getting out of hand. The Sunday papers have provided classic examples of the advertisements for and against this bill.
Where do Government members stand in this debate? According to today's Newcastle Morning Herald, six of the eight Government members in the Hunter Valley have reportedly voiced their opposition to this bill. Six members from the Hunter agree with what I am saying, that the club industry is paramount. Why is there a need to allow for the installation of poker machines in hotels? The Minister would remember better than I that when the late Ken Booth, former member for Wallsend and a former State Treasurer, was first approached about the introduction of card machines to hotels the word was given that hotels wanted nothing more than card machines. We have seen the call go from five card machines to 10 card machines and now to 15 card machines plus 15 poker machines. Will the provision under this bill be sufficient for the hotels? Of course not. In a couple of years the hotels will be back asking for something else.
The argument put by the hotels is based on a supposed level playing field. The playing field will not be levelled. There will always be competition,
that is what it is all about when one is dealing with consumers. There will be competition as to who provides the most comfortable premises and the best service. I am not a beer drinker, but I recognise the importance of a licensed premises providing fresh beer, washing out the pipes, and offering inviting surroundings and pleasant service. That is the way the community wants things to be. In my 16 years of operating a service station I had to meet the demands of my consumers. People wanted cheaper petrol, and they had to be accommodated. Regardless of what has been said by the Australian Hotels Association, this bill will not level the playing field. Just after the announcement of the Cabinet decision I read a newspaper report that the AHA wants the maximum number of machines to be increased to 50 and has said that it will be back. The association will be back.
Private enterprise has rights as well, and I am sympathetic to publicans and hoteliers. Next to newsagents and service station proprietors, publicans are some of the most hard-working people. In most cases a hotel is run by a husband and wife, a family team, and they work extremely long hours. They get up very early to prepare the hotel and they get to bed late at night. Late-night trading has been extended to 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. to accommodate the belief of publicans that such trading was necessary for their survival. I am concerned that the description in the bill is not informative enough. It is stated that five machines will be permitted in the general bar area. I wonder what that means. Does it mean five card machines and five poker machines or does it mean a mixture of machines up to a total of five?
A hotelier told me today that he believes hotels will turn the card machines to the wall now that they are to be permitted to install poker machines. A check around the Maitland city area today revealed that 17 hotels out of 19 contacted would like poker machines. Only two hotels said no to poker machines. I guess I come from an old school. When I reached the age at which I was allowed to go into hotels, clubs had not reached their prime. In those days it was the hotels that we went to for a drink, for social outings and, most important in country areas, for accommodation. These days there is not such of an emphasis on accommodation in country hotels. The hotels have to keep up with current trends to make a living and their focus has shifted to the price of beer and the proceeds that can be made from sale of spirits and wine.
Now, of course, clubs play an important role in the community. Members on both sides have talked in glowing terms about what the clubs have contributed to our communities. I agree with what has been said. The Minister would also agree, having knowledge of and having served the industry for a long time. I am concerned that there may not be sufficient constraints to stop foreign consortia from buying up blocks of 10 hotels and trying to convert them to mini casinos. I realise that there will be a liquor licensing agreement but I also believe that people will consider purchasing blocks of 10 hotels and installing 30 machines in each hotel - and they will have the money to do so.
I am a little surprised that there has not been a great deal of talk about the feelings of workers clubs as regards this legislation. Workers clubs, and I think particularly of those at Cardiff and Newcastle, are tremendous community facilities. Their auditoriums are especially impressive; one would be lucky to find public halls that would be of comparable size. I wonder whether any of us has listened to what the community wants. We have listened to what the Registered Clubs Association and the Australian Hotels Association have said, but have we listened to what the community has said? I have not been approached by any community members to give me their opinion. Industry should be held accountable in regard to gambling. I support the amendment to set up a commission of inquiry, because gambling is of grave concern.
As members of Parliament we have all dealt with church groups that provide aid by raising money to help out people who have gambled or who have indulged in alcohol, yet we are now debating legislation that will allow gambling to expand. One only has to consider what has happened to PubTAB: it has been removed from a number of country hotels because of insufficient turnover. Hotels want to be able to encourage people to go to hotels: they can have a bet and now they can play a poker machine as well. It is up to the individual if he or she wishes to gamble. I am not a gambler. I would not know how to place a bet at the TAB, but I cannot speak for others who may wish to gamble. That is an individual right and it is not up to me to tell people what they should do with their money. I was taken aback when the honourable member for Manly said that on average $646 per capita per year goes in gambling. Community groups such as church groups, the Salvation Army and the St Vincent de Paul Society, et cetera, deal with community problems caused by gambling. It is high time we examined gambling on a broad scale to analyse its effects on families in New South Wales.
I have reservations about four small clubs in the Maitland area, but I will not go so far as to say that poker machines in hotels will be the reason for their downfall. In some small clubs the tax concession will be beneficial. But once legislation is passed it is too late to review the situation in 12 months - the horse has bolted. Once one has given the money, it cannot be retrieved. In overseas countries gaming proceeds are put back into community benefits, and I believe that should happen here. I could gladly support that. The community could receive many benefits, not only from clubs but from revenue raised from all forms of gambling. I have spoken to representatives of the East Maitland Bowling Club, a very large club in my area, who realise that even with tax concessions the club will still have a tax bill of approximately $12,000 more than it currently is. East Maitland
Bowling Club is a large club and it is growing. Its membership has increased from 15,000 to 30,000. The increase in membership of the club is affecting the Hunter River Hotel. The hotelier believes that he requires poker machines to compete. Similar situations are occurring everywhere.
Hoteliers believe that poker machines in hotels will level the playing field, but they will not. Mr Lopez, the publican of the Windsor Castle Hotel, has five machines in his general bar area, but will have to extend the premises at a cost of $200,000 or $300,000 if he wishes to buy other machines. It is a decision he will have to make. More poker machines in the hotel will not provide the return he enjoyed prior to the expansion of the East Maitland Bowling Club. I do not support the bill. I feel sympathy for the Minister because he has an obligation to try to make the situation more tenable. I support what other speakers have said: no matter who is in government, how long will we put up with peak groups applying pressure every time there is an election until they find someone who will relent. Enough is enough! We should at least stand back and review the industry to consider what it is costing New South Wales and the families of New South Wales, and the damage it is doing to families. I urge the Government to support the amendments, particularly the amendment seeking to establish a commission of inquiry.
Mr KERR (Cronulla) [10.55]: To a large extent the bill is a tragedy because of the division it has created in the liquor industry. It is necessary to fully examine the roles of hotels and clubs in our society. No-one would deny that the cost to the hotel industry and the problems associated with the club industry should be addressed in a sympathetic way. The community has benefited from both the clubs and from hotels. One needs to reflect on the history of hotels throughout the century. In my electorate the various hoteliers have done a great deal of community work. I mention particularly Kay and Graham Warren, and I note that the honourable member for Sutherland is in the Chamber. I mention also John Ryan, who went to university with the Leader of the Opposition, and Boyles Hotel, which has helped so many worthy causes in the Sutherland area. It is a tragedy that this division has occurred.
During my time as Chairman of the Ministerial Liquor Advisory Council a genuine attempt was made by the liquor industry to deal with a number of the anti-social aspects associated with drinking. The previous Government - and I am pleased to see that the present Government has continued its work - mounted a very well thought out and deliberate campaign against under-age drinking, which is a major problem in our community. I have drawn attention to it previously. The hotel industry is under a number of pressures. I was a member of a delegation that met with the former Minister in relation to costs. The legislation is no panacea for the hotel industry. When one remembers that the anticipated revenue raised from poker machines will be in excess of $1 million, those who will benefit from the introduction of poker machines in hotels will be the Government and a number of large hoteliers. However, the core problem of revenue received by the Government from poker machines in hotels has to be examined.
A number of speakers have mentioned the social harm occasioned by excessive gambling, and I believe no-one in this House would seek to deliberately increase the proliferation of gambling. All honourable members are aware of the human cost of gambling to families. I am sure the Minister for Gaming and Racing is aware of what gambling can do to family lives, and I am sure that over the years he has assisted a number of families in the Hunter area that have been affected by such problems. As a community we need to look seriously and objectively at gambling. The Opposition in another place will move amendments in relation to a commission of inquiry to determine the extent of the problem and to enable people to participate in addressing the problem. I mentioned what a number of hoteliers in the shire have done for the community, and I will not detail the projects undertaken because they are extensive. The Cronulla Sutherland Leagues Club, which is probably the major club in my electorate, has undertaken considerable projects, including one for Woolooware High School. The various Returned Services League clubs and bowling clubs have also provided community services over the years.
As I said, the legislation will provide a windfall for certain hoteliers, and certainly a windfall for the Government. But it does not address the underlying problems in relation to both the hotel industry and the club industry which have to be looked at. The bill will increase the opportunities for gambling in our society. We have to look at the whole area of gambling. I have spoken in this debate but I believe the debate in the other place will be considerably more meaningful: the Opposition will move amendments in the hope of improving aspects of gambling and will take a closer look at the hotel and club industries.
Ms SEATON (Southern Highlands) [11.01]: I am very pleased to be able to speak in the debate. Other speakers have already canvassed issues such as gambling and its effects on our community and the details of the bill, but I wanted to take this opportunity to bring to the attention of the House the contribution made by members of the Australian Hotels Association and the Registered Clubs Association in the Southern Highlands and to highlight the community services that are provided by both groups in many different ways. We need them both, particularly in country New South Wales, which occupies a large part of my electorate. I am pleased that smaller clubs, especially in country New South Wales, will make important gains from the coalition's amendments to the Government's legislation which seeks to broaden the availability of gaming machines to hotels.
I shall talk first about the undoubted contribution made by members of the Registered Clubs Association in my electorate. There are concerns in the community, particularly in the Goulburn area, about the long-term viability of some of the smaller country clubs. I am sure the Minister is aware of some of these. This concern is not new but it is increasingly serious, particularly following a long rural recession and drought. A good example is the Goulburn Bowling Club, which exists only by virtue of cross-subsidy from the Goulburn Return Services League Club. The Mittagong RSL Club does a wonderful job as a focus for the community in many ways. It is the location of regular blue light discos, which give a focus for many youth activities in the area. It was also the venue for a recent drug education evening which was attended by 700 parents and children who had gathered to hear information about drugs.
Other clubs in the region also do an important job in providing community facilities in towns and the far-flung villages in my electorate. Often the local club is the only place where the community can gather to hold community events. I should like to inform the House of some of the major contributions to the Goulburn community made by local clubs. The Goulburn Railway Bowling Club has provided contributions to many health support organisations such as the New South Wales Cancer Council and the cystic fibrosis organisation, and to the drug awareness scheme. Support has been provided for local competitions in hockey, darts and touch football. I attended the recent touch football festival which attracted 40 New South Wales clubs to Goulburn. The festival was sponsored by Goulburn hotels and clubs. The Goulburn Railway Bowling Club is also a strong supporter of the St John of God palliative care unit, which provides essential services to the people in Goulburn and the region. The club provided money for the police and friends annual bowls day and for a heart monitoring machine at Goulburn Base Hospital.
The Goulburn Workers Club is also a major contributor to many community projects. It has made donations of several thousands of dollars, one of which was to the Goulburn Women's Hockey Club. Money was also provided for the Goulburn Touch Football Association, the darts open tournament and the Mulwaree High School Remembrance Library, which many people in Goulburn await the completion of. Money has also been provided for the conversion of the Goulburn Olympic pool into a heated indoor pool. Anyone who has enjoyed the winter temperatures of Goulburn will know how important that project is. The community has raised $217,000 for it and the council and the Federal government have also contributed. The Goulburn Workers Club has contributed $5,000 and the Goulburn Soldiers Club has contributed more than $15,000. We are still waiting for a commitment from the State Government to provide the remainder of the money necessary for the heated pool project.
A major project of the Goulburn Workers Club has been to provide a fully maintained sporting facility at the Workers Arena for hockey. It is called Hockey Park. It is floodlit and an all-weather facility. We hope that the hockey facilities will be a factor in attracting foreign visitors to New South Wales in the lead-up to the Olympics to undertake pre-Olympic training at Goulburn. It will be the centrepiece of an inventory to be produced by Goulburn to attract people to the southern highlands area. I also note the contribution of the Goulburn Soldiers Club, which is a magnificent club on the edge of Belmore Park, the centre of Goulburn. It has been a major supporter of touch football. In addition to providing funds for the indoor heated pool it has provided funds for various charities. It has contributed to the Goulburn fun run, which is a big event, and has provided money to Goulburn West school, the Salvation Army and the police boys club. The list goes on and on. I commend all the people who have made the contributions possible.
We must not forget the contribution to the community of members of the Australian Hotels Association in Goulburn and the surrounding area. The Astor hotel in Goulburn gave $16,000 to local sports clubs in the last year or so. Hotels in the Goulburn area recently gave $5,000 to Greening Australia, Legacy and CareFlight. People of the southern highlands know how important CareFlight and other aeromedical retrieval services are to the area. Many people owe their lives or the lives of their young children to CareFlight and Child Flight. The 11 hotels in the Goulburn area have given between $90,000 and $100,000 to sporting bodies in the last 12 months. On any estimation that is a spectacular effort. The Australian Hotels Association estimates that about $30 million per annum is given by rural hotels to charity and community organisations. At a time of rural recession and drought such a contribution is more even significant.
An approaching major festival, again sponsored by a local Goulburn hotel, is the blues festival to be held in January or February. We hope it will draw thousands of visitors to Goulburn. The benefits of the increased numbers of people will be shared by businesses, hotels and everyone in Goulburn - assisting the region enormously. There are high hopes that with such sponsorship the event will develop into a renowned regional musical festival. Tarago is a very small town with a huge community spirit. The Loaded Dog, which is a great pub, is the focus of the town. In recent years it has contributed around $9,000 to local sporting facilities. The Tarago Sports Association has high hopes of producing a sports facility near the centre of town. It is doing a lot of its fundraising through the goodwill and spirit generated around the local hotel. I look forward to hearing of progress from the Tarago Sports Association when I attend the gymkhana at Tarago over the weekend.
This is not an exhaustive list and I would not want it thought that I have omitted an establishment because its contribution was not worthy. The hotels
and clubs in my region have made an enormous contribution to community activities. I could mention many more but there are so many people and so many contributions to mention that I do not have the time. This is an opportunity to congratulate all of those involved in club and hotel fundraising activities, particularly in country communities such as mine, which would be all the poorer if it were not for their generous donations and sponsorships.
Mr DOWNY (Sutherland) [11.10]: Because of the late hour I do not intend to take up too much of the time of the House, but on behalf of the Opposition it is important that I concentrate on a couple of the amendments that the Opposition proposes to move in the upper House and also speak about some other changes concerning gaming machines which I understand, as does the shadow minister, can only be made by regulation. Before I do that, it is important to put this issue in perspective. My colleague the Deputy Leader of the Opposition put it in perspective when he said that for many years the whole issue of clubs versus pubs has been a political football. That is not the case just with this bill; it goes back to the previous Government, the Government before, and possibly the Government before that.
The old saying that you reap what you sow applies to the club and pub industries because their peak organisations always do what they can to ensure that their respective industries have some pre-eminence in the local community. Looking at the history of pubs and clubs, both are icons of our culture in very different ways. Pubs, or hotels, have been around for many years. Originally they were meeting places where men, and later men and women, gathered to socialise. Clubs were established as a means of providing facilities for the community, and that remains their pre-eminent role. Both pubs and clubs perform an important role in our community and, as such, both must be supported. It is hoped that the Opposition's proposed amendment to establish a commission of inquiry will remove from the political process the whole question of gaming in our community, so it does not become a question of bartering or competition between one side and the other.
I am sure the Minister is more than aware of this because during the time of the previous Government it was often perceived by the hotel industry that the club industry was pre-eminent and had the ear of government. With this legislation we have seen that the club industry has the same opinion - that the hotel industry has the ear of government and that the club industry has missed out. The Opposition believes that if the Minister had consulted more with the club industry, it is possible that this situation might not have arisen. The Opposition seeks in another proposed amendment that the club industry gets what it perceives to be a fairer deal.
As I understand, those amendments cannot necessarily form part of this legislation. In particular, I refer to the increase in the bet limit from $10 to $20 and an increase in the jackpot limit on stand-alone machines and in-house links from $10,000 to $20,000 and $100,000 to $500,000 respectively. I also understand - and the Minister will correct me if I am wrong - that the Minister is prepared to look at the proposals that have been put forward by the Opposition and make the appropriate changes to the regulations; and also look at the whole question of a commission of inquiry into gaming in this State. I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say on that matter.
Much has been said tonight about the relevant merits of clubs and pubs. The honourable member for Cronulla mentioned two hoteliers, one of whom has a business in my electorate. The two clubs in my electorate and the hotels, be they the Jannali Inn, Boyles Hotel, Royal Hotel, Bangor Tavern or even the lamented and very historic Como Hotel, which burned down some two weeks ago, all perform an important part in the community and contribute to it. They all provide means for raising funds for community organisations. I would hope in the future that we see in this State a more balanced debate and get away from the us versus them mentality. We must support both hotels and clubs in our community because as members of Parliament we recognise that they perform important roles in our community.
Mr FACE (Charlestown - Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [11.15], in reply: I thank honourable members opposite for their contributions. I will reply first to the honourable member for Sutherland, who spoke on behalf of the Opposition about various amendments to be moved in another place. I am not deprecating his remarks when I say that both industries have always had my ear. I can assure the honourable member that consultation did take place with the Registered Clubs Association, after there was a situation of no cooperation whatsoever because it did not want any change. I will not get into that argument tonight other than to say the only time the major club peak body is ever satisfied with the consultative process is when it gets its own way. I agree with the honourable member that we could have reached a better situation.
I indicate to the Opposition tonight that the Government will agree to a few of these amendments. They were offered to the Registered Clubs Association weeks ago but now, at the eleventh hour, it has realised what the legislation was about, even though it had been told many times by me and by officers from the department and the ministry. Its mentality that it has a God-given right to have everything has never changed, whether dealing with this Government or with the Opposition when it was in government. For the last five months I have dealt with this matter. As to the Opposition's proposed amendment to remove the $1 duty on
clubs that earn profits from poker machine operations of less than $100,000 per year, under the current arrangements all clubs that earn profits up to $100,000 are required to pay duty at the rate of 1 per cent. The bill will extend the concessional rate to all clubs that earn profits up to $200,000, and this will enable a further 190 clubs to gain benefit from the 1 per cent concessional rate.
The major thrust of the Government's legislation is to provide fairness and equity. In the last few days both sides of the House, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the other place, as the Opposition spokesman, and I have indicated our aim to help small clubs. I said in my speech last night, and I make no apology for it, that it became evident to me in my latter term as Opposition spokesman and now as Minister that small clubs need help. It was announced as a matter that was under consideration right from the word go when this issue was first raised. The Opposition talked about consultation but the Registered Clubs Association did not want a part of it. The amendment now proposed by the Opposition means that 400 clubs that currently earn profits of less than $100,000 will not pay any duty on their poker machines. That was offered to the Registered Clubs Association some weeks ago by my director-general and reiterated by me but was not accepted, on the mistaken belief that clubs ought to be seen to be paying some tax.
I ask whether the Registered Clubs Association is really fair dinkum about trying to save little clubs? The Government offered to include that measure, and I am happy to accept the amendment. It makes commonsense to me and makes administrative commonsense, as my director-general pointed out. I am grateful to the honourable member for Murray for accompanying me on a visit to a number of clubs in his electorate, and, as he could attest, a lot of those clubs would only have to declare on a form that they do not have a claim. From my point of view, and that of the department, that would save secretaries of small clubs a lot of work. Given the progressive nature of the taxation system, it will mean that all registered clubs will gain as the increased concession flows on. In the consultation phase with the Registered Clubs Association, which preceded this bill, an option of this nature was discussed and developed with the Registered Clubs Association. Its response was that it should pay some tax.
In line with that advice the bill proposes the smallest possible rate of 1 per cent for clubs earning poker machine profits less than $200,000; and the Government is prepared to consider further the amendments outlined by the Opposition and will take the initiative of introducing these amendments to the bill in the Legislative Council - which I can do by regulation anyway. I congratulate the Opposition on that amendment; it is a good and sensible measure that should have been agreed to by the RCA in the first place. The Opposition has referred to the proposed establishment of a commission of inquiry into the level of gaming in New South Wales. I note from the press release issued earlier today by the Opposition that the proposed matters that the commission is to examine include the social impact of gaming on the community, the number and types of machines available throughout hotels, clubs and the casino, the equality of the community benefit levy, and the accountability of gaming outlets to the public.
While I am happy to look further at the desirability of conducting an examination of this kind - as I indicated to the shadow spokesperson this afternoon - it is important that I point out that the Government has taken significant steps in relation to these matters. For example, I remind honourable members that the community benefit fund established by the Casino Control Act has already funded an extensive examination of the social impact of gaming. The study relates to the socioeconomic effects of gambling on individuals, families and the community, including research into the costs of problem gambling. Currently tenders have been called to provide for a telephone number in New South Wales so that people can have access in a way they have never had before to help with addiction and gambling dependency. I commend the report, which was published in January 1996.
In addition, the first round of funding from the community benefit levy resulted in grants totalling $1.45 million for 18 projects dealing specifically with problem gambling and other community services. On Friday I will launch a project by the Newcastle City Mission, which will receive $177,000 over three years. This service will provide counselling and support services to problem gamblers in Newcastle. In relation to gaming machine matters, I assure honourable members that the legislative package that is presented to this House for consideration has been developed following exhaustive consultation with all relevant industry groups.
I repeat: I am happy to look further at the commission of inquiry proposal once I have had the opportunity of examining the specific amendments, which I understand will be moved by the Opposition in the Legislative Council. Today I gave an assurance to the Hon. Richard Bull that together we will look at the terms of reference to see if they can be accommodated in a way that will assist gamblers in this State. The increased bet and prize limits for clubs, as proposed by the Opposition, is a maximum bet of $20 for stand-alone gaming machines that are operated by the registered clubs, with a maximum prize limit of $20,000. In addition, the proposed amendments will increase the maximum prize of an in-house linked progressive jackpot system operated by registered clubs to $500,000. These proposals do not relate to gaming machines operated by hotels.
Under present arrangements the maximum bet limit for gaming machines in clubs is $10, and the prize limit is $10,000. Further, the maximum prize in the in-house linked system is currently $100,000. Honourable members should note that these current
restrictions are not contained in any legislative form, but are provided for in the technical standards for gaming machines approved by the Liquor Administration Board. In line with this, it is not desirable that these matters of detail be included in the principal legislation. However, I am prepared to give further consideration to the increased bet and prize limits for stand-alone machines in registered clubs as part of the regulations to be made under the amending bill. This will be done during the implementation phase of other substantive gaming and taxation measures proposed in the bill.
At the same time, I have reservations about providing for an increase in the maximum prize limits for in-house club links to $500,000. This provision will be further considered. I indicated to the shadow spokesperson this afternoon that I am not in total agreement with the Opposition that to lift the $500,000 limit could jeopardise calling for expressions of interest for statewide linked progressive machines. These machines are likely to give great assistance to small clubs, but if I lift that limit above $500,000 there may not be any incentive for larger clubs, which will need to be pooled into the large statewide progressive machines. Therefore the Government may lose a golden opportunity to do something for the small clubs. I ask members of the Opposition to consider that proposal. If I reject it, I do not do so simply because it is an Opposition proposal that I do not like, but upon the best advice I have received.
At this stage I have indicated to the shadow spokesperson that I have grave reservations about this proposal because it may not deliver to the small clubs the benefits that will flow to the large clubs through the statewide progressive systems. That is about the only way that we can offer immediate relief, other than to change the thresholds that have been agreed to as well as the supplementary provision, which I will agree to in its amended form. Honourable members have expressed concern about multiterminal gaming machines - MTGMs. These machines are devices with a number of player terminals which are designed to be played by more than one player at a time. Common features of MTGMs are that the outcomes of the games are generally determined by a central computer and the method of play by, and the prize payable to, one player of an MTGM is usually independent of another player on the same unit.
Two general types of MTGMs are known to have been developed by Australian and overseas manufacturers; one simulates a horse or related racing game, and the other simulates casino-style table games, for example roulette, blackjack or craps. I indicated to the honourable member for Murray during my recent extensive tour with him that this provision may give some relief to the clubs in his electorate. Some clubs do not understand that if they build large buildings they could be in financial trouble. The casino legislation in Queensland, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory does not allow table game machines. That is not the case in this State and therefore some relief may be gained by clubs in the honourable member's electorate. The issue of the operation of MTGMs in New South Wales is being examined by the Liquor Administration Board.
A number of issues have arisen during this examination. Some big clubs have claimed that I was procrastinating on this issue when I said I would like to trial one machine in a club for six months. I give a clear indication that it is possible to introduce machines fairly quickly. My reservations about these machines were based on concerns about how the player terminals on an MTGM should be treated for the purposes of registration and duty collection. The board has advised the industry that it is considering the conduct of a trial of the devices to assess relevant regulatory matters, for example, how they can be secured. In any trial that demonstrates that devices are secure and their integrity can be safeguarded, it is appropriate in view of their nature that they be treated differently to conventional gaming machines. In this regard the bill proposes that the following matters be addressed. Each player terminal on an MTGM is regarded as a single gaming machine for the purpose of registration and duty collection. If there are 20 on the terminal, they are 20 individual machines.
The MTGMs will only be operated by a registered club and will be prescribed by the regulation at this time. I am still considering the appropriate maximum number. Registered clubs will operate MTGMs and will be required to pay a separate premium profit-based rate of duty on MTGMs of 30 per cent. A maximum limit on single bets and jackpot prizes for MTGMs will be prescribed in the regulation, but it is envisaged that limits will be set at $100 and $500,000 respectively. Again this relates to what I said earlier about high betting limits. If they are to be attractive, I have grave reservations about increasing single stand-alone limits and limits within the club when a new concept is coming on line that will help the big club and link with what will happen with the smaller clubs. Some agreement should be reached on this reasonable deal.
In relation to gaming machine number limitations in hotels and the general nature of MTGMs, it is not the Government's present intention to provide MTGMs for hotels. That is another furphy that has been thrown around in the last few days. The Government does not intend to bring MTGMs into hotels at present. Honourable members have been sincere in their comments about the impact of hotel enhancements on registered clubs. Under the proposals in the bill all but the 162 largest and most profitable of the approximately 1,500 registered clubs will pay less duty. I shall give a few examples in a moment of how some electorates will be affected.
Clubs will gain access to a number of gaming enhancements that have been outlined in the bill, including interclub links and MTGMs. Honourable
members should be aware that total poker machine profits from all registered clubs in 1995-96 were approximately $2,000 million. This represents an increase from approximately $1,400 million in 1991-92 and a percentage increase of almost 30 per cent in four years. One can clearly see the problem the Government faces because of considerable profit decreases in hotels. Basically it all happens in clubs. The profits are absolutely staggering and graph information reveals an horrendous disparity. One can understand why small boating, bowling and sporting clubs experience difficulties.
In its criticism of this package the Registered Clubs Association has claimed that $418 million of this profit, that is approximately 21 per cent, will be transferred to hotels if they get access to poker machines. While it is acknowledged that providing access by hotels to poker machines may result in some unquantifiable adverse impact on registered club revenue, it is not expected to be a significant impact for the reasons that I shall now give. First, revised taxation arrangements will provide significant off-setting benefits to smaller and medium-size clubs, which I have already described. A club earning an average annual poker machine profit of $1.3 million will pay 7.9 per cent less duty. This represents a reduction of $21,500 per year, from $271,000 to $249,500. Of course, that will be slightly increased following the agreement reached tonight. A club earning $200,000 annual poker machine profit will pay 91.5 per cent less duty. This represents a reduction of $21,500 per year, from $23,500 to $2,000.
These are substantial amounts of money for the little clubs such as the honourable member for Murray instanced - a club having difficulty affording a greenkeeper. Second, the gaming enhancement measures for all clubs - interclub links and multiterminal gaming machines - are expected to maintain and increase club attractiveness to patrons: the new generation. Third, restrictions that apply to hotels taking up poker machines, that is, the coupling arrangement and the requirement for a dedicated gaming room or rooms, are likely to limit the overall roll-out of those machines into hotels. I stand to be corrected, but the Government anticipates on the figures it has extrapolated that there will probably be about 8 per cent, approximately 160 hotels, that will take up the 30 machine option. They will be hotels in the major central business district areas and areas where hotels need to be brought to a reasonable standard and to offer a variety of services.
Fourth, my department has established beyond doubt that clubs and hotels have their own customer segments. It is not anticipated that there will be a significant flow of club patrons who would take their business to hotels to play the same machines. Fifth, the last major gaming concession provided to hotels - an increase from 5 to 10 video poker machines in 1989 - had little adverse effect on club poker machine profitability. At that time poker machine duty revenue increased by the following percentages in each year: in 1990-91 duty revenue was up 5.1 per cent over the previous year; in 1991-92 it was up 3 per cent; in 1992-93, 4.2 per cent; in 1993-94, for some unknown reason it increased to 12 per cent; and in 1994-95, in the years that approved amusement devices showed a substantial downturn because of player appeals, it increased by 14.7 per cent in this State. So far this year revenue is up 9.2 per cent.
Sixth, while a complete analysis of the impact of the Sydney Harbour Casino on the club industry has yet to be undertaken, reliable anecdotal information suggests that any adverse impact that may have occurred has not been significant. When the casino opened, the previous Government and I could not believe the suggestions that were being flaunted about the likely impact on other businesses. Since the introduction of this bill only one claim, which has been withdrawn, was made on the safety net in the period since its existence. In other words, no club has been able to prove it was adversely affected when the casino commenced operations. The figures I extrapolated for the five major clubs in the vicinity of the casino showed that the profit of one club had increased by 22 per cent over the previous year. This probably represents the fact that people are moving around near those club premises. The horror stories just never eventuated. I am advised that no club has made formal application for taxation relief under the safety net scheme.
Finally, any revenue that may be lost from clubs to hotels will be taxed at the higher hotel marginal duty rates which, in the main, are nearly double those that apply to clubs in this State, which enjoy the lowest duty rates in Australia. I should like to mention a couple of matters for the information of those honourable members who have contributed to the debate. Over the last few weeks and months many things have been said about people. I do not propose to go into the detail, but I place on record that I have never owned, and I have no intentions of ever owning, a hotel or had an interest in one. A check of my family records revealed that many years ago my great grandfather had an interest in a hotel, but certainly Jack Richard Face has not. It is a pretty desperate measure for one section of the industry to continue to peddle the story, unfortunately in my electorate, by publicly accusing me of owning three hotels.
I do not own a hotel, I have no interest in one and no immediate member of my family ever has, other than my great-grandfather owning part of the Gresham Hotel at one stage. I wish he did now, because I certainly would not be here. The honourable member for Gladesville has been concerned about many things. The North Ryde RSL Club has certainly given him curry over the matter. I do not propose to refer to the totally false figures that club has provided. It is unfortunate that the stage has been reached when people have been threatened. I would like to inform the honourable member for Manly that this is not a dishonest measure. It is revenue neutral. In each industry there is no extra tax, not even foreshadowed by this measure, other than that applying to multiterminal gaming machines. I am hopeful that any extra
money that is raised will go to hospitals and schools. I think all honourable members would agree with that.
I have covered the measures that relate to gambling dependency, however I would be the first to agree with the honourable member for Manly that we should be doing more. I hope we will do more in the future. I have answered his concerns about the casino. As far as large clubs are concerned, I have extrapolated some figures for the information of the honourable member. In the Manly electorate there are 19 clubs, only one of which will pay more in duties. That is Harbord Diggers Memorial Club. It will pay $227,437 in duties. I am not making any criticism when I say that that $227,437 is on a profit of $13,563,000 per annum. I have not got the percentage, but I consider it fair that that is all the Harbord Diggers will pay, while 18 other clubs in the Manly electorate will get a tax reduction.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Miranda, made a number of comments that I have taken on board. I have extensive notes that I could use in response to his comments, but instead I will give him an idea of the impact of the package on clubs in his electorate. The Miranda RSL Club will pay 0.75 per cent more in tax, or approximately $40,000 more per annum. That is on a total club profit of $5.192 million, a substantial profit. On the other hand, four clubs in the Miranda electorate will benefit from the package: the Gymea Bowling and Recreation Club, Sylvania Bowling Club Co-operative Limited, the Miranda Builders and Businessmen's Club and the Kareela Golf and Social Club, each of which will receive between $21,000 and $22,000 in tax benefits. I am sure the honourable member would agree that those figures show clearly the benefits in the Government's proposal.
For the benefit of the honourable member for Murray, I should point out that eleven clubs in his electorate will pay more in tax, but twice that number will pay less tax. The idea behind the bill certainly will benefit clubs in his electorate. The honourable member for Maitland put up the fanciful suggestion that licensed restaurants would be getting poker machines. That is not the policy of this Government. I do not know whether any future Government would consider such a proposal. I will not respond to every matter raised by the honourable member, but I would say that he will not have much to worry about: four clubs in his electorate will pay no more tax, and the other eleven on my list will pay less tax.
I regard it as remarkable that one club was writing letters everywhere claiming that clubs would not be making grants as a result of this package. One person from a JP organisation that I telephone told me that that club did not give his organisation anything anyway. He said, "They let us use a room. That is the extent of the contribution the club makes." I am not criticising the club about its level of assistance to community organisations, but I suggest it is a bit rich for it to write letters criticising the package and claiming that local JP organisations will go down the drain because they will lose club contributions when that was the extent of the support it provided to local organisations.
In responding to the comments made by the honourable member for Southern Highlands I make reference to the Goulburn Services Club. I mention it because it is one of the responsible clubs. It realised there was a problem in the area and it took over the local bowling club. It is a pity that more clubs do not follow suit. The Goulburn Services Club could see that the bowling club was floundering. There was not room for all clubs to operate profitably. I believe there will be many more such amalgamations in the future. The Government will encourage appropriate amalgamations, and will even assist with sensible amalgamations so that clubs do not go to the wall. For many golf and bowling clubs, that is the sensible way to go, and the Government should be making it easier for them to amalgamate. I thank all honourable members for their contributions to the second reading debate.
Question - That this bill be now read a second time - put.
Division called for. Standing Order 191 applied.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
MINING LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from 30 October.
Mr MARTIN (Port Stephens - Minister for Mineral Resources, and Minister for Fisheries) [11.49], in reply: Following the second reading debate on the bill the Government has had lengthy negotiation with the shadow minister, and as a result amendments will be made to the bill in Committee. Those amendments, which have been circulated, result from an oversight regarding the maximum penalties able to be imposed by this legislation. Currently the Mining Act 1992 requires that an application for a mining lease and any lease issued must specify a mineral. It is not appropriate to specify a mineral in the mining lease when the only activity proposed is the carrying out of a mining purpose, for example, the construction of a dam or road.
It has been suggested that a mining lease could be granted for a mining purpose many kilometres from the actual mining operation, and that the mining lease could be granted without obtaining the necessary development consent or without taking into account the requirements of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. I assure
honourable members that the amendments will not result in the granting of a mining lease for mining purposes, except in conjunction with, or adjoining or near mining operations. The provisions do not operate in such a way as to circumvent the need to comply with the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. I emphasise that this proposed amendment is designed only to clarify the activities proposed and authorised. In other words, the status quo is maintained in relation to obtaining necessary consents and having regard to environmental issues.
Mr J. H. Turner: We will not be going home until at least 5 o'clock.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Myall Lakes will remain silent while the Minister is in reply.
Mr MARTIN: The shadow minister has introduced legislation to address the matter of ratting, which is of major concern to honourable members on both sides of the House. The Government accepts that ratting is a major problem. The proposed amendment has been brought about by an oversight. Originally the bill provided that the maximum penalty would be 500 units, but that will increase to 1,000 units. As I said, the penalties provided in the bill were arrived at in consultation with the Attorney General. The penalties proposed by the shadow minister are outside the jurisdictional limits of both the Local Court and the District Court. Section 440AA of the Crimes Act provides that the maximum penalty that can be imposed upon a person convicted on indictment is $100,000. In line with that, I intend to move in Committee that the maximum penalties on indictment be $100,000, instead of $50,000 as originally proposed for offences under proposed sections 12B, 12C and 12D.
As to the operation of proposed section 175B, the time period of six months was specified in order that natural justice and procedural fairness could apply. This will enable a person against whom an exclusion order is proposed to make representation as to the ambit of that exclusion order. In relation to fossicking, the provisions of clause 10(1) of the Mining General Regulation, which prevent a person from fossicking on lands the subject of an authority, except with the consent of the holder of the authority, have now been incorporated in the legislation.
Mr Rozzoli: On a point of order. I seek clarification. I understand that the Minister is the only member to have spoken in this second reading debate. Because of the way in which the debate was brought on, no Opposition member or Government member, other than the Minister, has spoken. As there have been no other speakers in the debate, the Minister cannot speak in reply because there is nothing to which he can reply.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am advised that the Minister may speak in reply if he wishes to foreshadow amendments to be moved in Committee. The Minister is in order and may proceed.
Mr MARTIN: If that is the interpretation of the honourable member for Hawkesbury, who is a former Speaker, I am happy for the bill to be dealt with in Committee and to have the matter finalised this evening. I am happy to proceed in whichever way the House decides.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister will continue his reply.
Mr MARTIN: Today members in the upper House and the shadow minister brought several anomalies to the attention of the Government. In the spirit of bipartisanship I shall be happy to move in Committee these amendments to tidy up the provisions. As there is no regulatory regime governing fossickers in New South Wales, apart from the provisions in clause 10(2) of the Mining General Regulation, I shall move in Committee that clause 10(2) remain in the regulation until such time as a regime can be established.
With this legislation, the protection afforded to owners and occupiers in relation to dwelling houses and gardens will be clarified so that the protection zone of 200 metres and 50 metres respectively applies, regardless of whether the garden or house is situated on the land subject to the authority. Furthermore, amendments relating to the setting of fees, security deposits, compensation on mineral claims, the period during which renewal of mineral claims can be sought and the consolidation of mining leases will result in the aforementioned being streamlined. In addition, a number of drafting anomalies will be removed. All of the above will ensure that mining in New South Wales remains a viable and important economic activity for the State. I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and committed.
Progress reported from Committee and leave granted to sit again.
CHILDREN (CARE AND PROTECTION) AMENDMENT (DISALLOWED REGULATION) BILL
Bill received and read a first time.
Mr MARTIN (Port Stephens - Minister for Mineral Resources, and Minister for Fisheries) [12.01 a.m.], on behalf of Dr Refshauge: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
This bill was introduced and passed in the upper House today and the second reading speech will appear in the Hansard galleys. As the bill is in the same form as that introduced in the other place, I commend it to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Hartcher.
CRIMES AMENDMENT (COURT FINGER-PRINTING SCHEME) BILL
Bill received and read a first time.
Mr MARTIN (Port Stephens - Minister for Mineral Resources, and Minister for Fisheries) [12.02 a.m.], on behalf of Mr Whelan: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
This bill was introduced in the other place on 30 October and the second reading speech appears in the Hansard report for that day. As the bill is in the same form as introduced in the other place, I commend it to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Hartcher.
The following bills were returned from the Legislative Council without amendment.
Emergency Legislation Amendment (Offences) Bill
The following bill was returned from the Legislative Council with amendment.
Superannuation Legislation Amendment Bill
Harness Racing Legislation Amendment Bill
Police Service Amendment (Commissioned Officers) Bill
Taxation Administration Bill
Taxation Administration (Consequential Amendments) Bill
New South Wales Crimes Commission Amendment Bill
House adjourned at 12.04 a.m., Thursday.