Mr Speaker (The Hon. George Richard Torbay)
Tuesday 4 December 2007
took the chair at 2.15 p.m.
read the Prayer and acknowledgement of country.
DEATH OF ALBERT LILLEY, WAUCHOPE STATE EMERGENCY SERVICE TEAM LEADER
Mr NATHAN REES
(Toongabbie—Minister for Emergency Services, and Minister for Water Utilities) [2.15 p.m.]: Last Saturday it was my privilege to attend flood medal presentations in Newcastle and Wyong. At the presentations the Premier described the volunteer emergency workers who took part in the June storm and flood rescue operations as the best of the best. Today, it is my sad duty to inform the House of the passing of one of our best of the best. Last night 71-year old Albert Lilley, a member of the Wauchope State Emergency Service unit was taking part in an operation at the local racetrack to remove a tree that had been damaged in a recent storm. Albert was a fully qualified and experienced chainsaw operator, as well as a State Emergency Service team leader. After carrying out his task he decided to take a short break. I am told he became ill and collapsed. Fellow State Emergency Service volunteers carried out cardiopulmonary resuscitation and an ambulance rushed Albert to hospital where medical staff tried in vain to revive him. He passed away shortly afterwards, his wife, Jan, by his side.
Albert was an engineer who found a new career when he retired and joined the State Emergency Service five years ago. He immediately took to all the skills and became a mentor, coach and core member of the unit. Albert Lilley and his team responded to the call on the long weekend last June and spent days on flood rescue operations around the Hunter. Albert is best summed up by his State Emergency Service Regional Controller, Peter Floyd, who said:
Albert was a loyal and dedicated volunteer for over five years and was always keen to help his community. His death is a deep shock to the unit and he will be sadly missed by all.
Albert Lilley is survived by his wife, three children and five grandchildren. His passing is a terrible reminder that some volunteers pay the ultimate price for their dedication and give their lives as they give their time to help others. I am sure all members will join me in extending the Parliament's condolences to the family, friends and State Emergency Service colleagues of Mr Albert Lilley, surely one of the best of the best.
Mr ANDREW STONER
(Oxley—Leader of The Nationals) [2.18 p.m.]: I join with the Minister for Emergency Services, and Minister for Water Utilities and all members in this place in expressing sincere condolences to the family and friends of Albert Lilley. Albert, a State Emergency Service volunteer, performed an extremely important and valuable role not only in his home territory on the mid North Coast but also, as the Minister mentioned, in other areas such as the Hunter when it was beset by floods earlier this year.
Our State Emergency Service volunteers repeatedly put themselves at risk in various parts of the State where flood and tempest—such as that which occurred in Sydney yesterday—affect our everyday lives. Our State Emergency Service volunteers contribute enormously to the quality of life we enjoy in New South Wales, if by doing nothing else than giving citizens reassurance and knowledge that the volunteers will be there to help when natural disasters beset our communities. Albert's sad passing proves that our State Emergency Service and other volunteers place themselves at considerable risk every time they go forth to help the communities. On behalf of the Coalition I again join with the Government in expressing our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Albert Lilley.
On behalf of the House I also extend our deepest sympathies to Albert's family.
Members and officers of the House stood in their places.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Notices of Motions
Government Business Notice of Motions (for Bills) given.
MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE, ENVIRONMENT AND WATER
Mr BARRY O'FARRELL:
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ALLEGATION
My question is directed to the Premier. Why should woman have any confidence in the Premier's attitude to domestic violence when he waited 12 months to refer to police allegations about another of his members of Parliament hitting women, and then only because the details were leaked by disgruntled Australian Labor Party members?
Mr MORRIS IEMMA:
The position on domestic violence being totally unacceptable is unchanged and absolutely clear. The Leader of the Opposition seems to have some difficulty in understanding that domestic violence is totally unacceptable, at the same time being the arbiter on who is right or wrong. That is what he has difficulty understanding. I will leave until later the initiatives in the area of domestic violence.
Mr Chris Hartcher:
We didn't ask you about that.
Mr MORRIS IEMMA:
That is because you may not be interested. In relation to Mr Koperberg—
Mr Barry O'Farrell:
You are only interested when you are caught out.
Mr Andrew Stoner:
It's a cover-up.
Mr MORRIS IEMMA:
In response to that, he himself made it public a year ago, and a matter of an affidavit—
Mr Barry O'Farrell:
And you read the allegation a year ago and did diddly-squat about it.
Mr MORRIS IEMMA:
Yes, an affidavit that had been placed before the courts 20 years ago, matters placed before the Family Court, as the Minister says. In relation to one of the other members that the Leader of the Opposition referred to, there was a charge and a conviction. Subsequently, the former member appealed and was acquitted. In relation to another of the members that the Leader of the Opposition referred to, a colleague who sits behind me, a specific allegation was made and, to the best of my knowledge and his knowledge, no matters were placed before the courts or the police in the past. Mr Koperberg went public about the affidavit. It was an affidavit on matters that were deeply personal, distressing and bitter that had been before the courts—
Order! I ask the Leader of the Opposition to cease interjecting.
Mr MORRIS IEMMA:
—which is quite different to deciding who is wrong or right and quite different to being the arbiter, in particular following yesterday's events. The position remains unchanged about the unacceptable nature of domestic violence.
PUBLIC HOSPITAL EMERGENCY DEPARTMENTS
Ms ALISON MEGARRITY:
My question is addressed to the Premier. Can the Premier update the House on ongoing efforts to relieve pressure on public hospital emergency departments in the lead-up to the Christmas holiday period?
Order! The member for Terrigal will cease interjecting.
Mr MORRIS IEMMA:
I can provide for the House the information sought by the member and advise that New South Wales emergency departments across the State will receive an additional 35 specialist doctors this year. They will be located in hospitals such as the Children's Hospital at Westmead, Lismore, Port Macquarie, Gosford, Royal North Shore, Wyong, Sutherland, Wollongong and Auburn, and hospitals will receive additional money for more doctors. Demand on our public hospitals, especially emergency departments, is continuing to increase. We are committed to supporting our doctors and nurses with the resources they need to do their jobs, providing people who attend emergency departments with greater access to quality health care. This new staffing package will provide an additional 35 specialist emergency doctors, part of a $30 million package designed to ease the pressure on our public hospital emergency departments.
As the Minister for Health recently announced, we are investing in extra acute hospital beds—250 this year, 35 additional emergency department specialists, a recruitment campaign targeted to areas of medical workforce shortage, scholarship and education programs promoting emergency nursing as a specialty, and training networks to expand the number of emergency department professionals in rural and regional New South Wales.
For the benefit of the member for Coffs Harbour, the last time I checked Coffs Harbour was in New South Wales, the State seat that resides in the Federal seat of Cowper.
Order! The member for Bathurst will cease interjecting.
Mr MORRIS IEMMA:
The now very marginal Federal seat of Cowper. That means more beds, more doctors and nurses, and more training.
I thought the member for Coffs Harbour would have been scrutineering out in Calare. This is on top of the 1,800 extra beds that we have added to our public hospitals over the past three years. The increase in doctors since July last year means that we have increased the number of emergency department specialists by 14 per cent.
Mrs Jillian Skinner:
The only State that doesn't meet the national benchmark.
Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will cease interjecting.
Mr MORRIS IEMMA:
What was that about the national benchmark?
Mrs Jillian Skinner:
The only State that doesn't meet the benchmark for emergency doctors.
Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order.
Order! I call the member for Wakehurst to order. He has been a member of this House long enough to know the standing orders.
Order! I call the member for Murrumbidgee to order.
Mr MORRIS IEMMA:
The number in metropolitan areas has increased by 14 per cent and in rural areas by 16 per cent. Importantly for many of our hospitals, the appointment of these additional doctors means that they will now be able to gain accreditation to train emergency specialists. I refer to hospitals at Griffith, Shoalhaven, Broken Hill, Manning, Port Macquarie, Fairfield, Auburn and Blacktown. Those hospitals will now be able to provide local training for the next generation of emergency specialists.
Order! I call the member for Murray Darling to order.
Mr MORRIS IEMMA:
That is a significant investment in the rural and regional medical workforce. Evidence tells us that staff who train in the bush are more like to stay there once they have gained their skills. This investment in additional doctors will be supported by a dedicated recruitment campaign. Health services are already seeing some of the results from current recruitment efforts. New emergency department doctors have recently been recruited for hospitals in Newcastle, Gosford, Tamworth and Wollongong. In 2006-07, 1.9 million people attended our emergency departments for treatment, which represents approximately 5,000 people each and every day. Between July and October this year there were more than 659,000 visits to emergency departments across the State, which is an increase of 6.7 per cent on the same time last year.
In addition to that sort of year-around increase in demand, we know that the Christmas and New Year holiday period is the busiest time for public hospital emergency departments. A recent study of emergency department figures for each summer holiday between 2001 and 2006 indicated a 9 per cent overall increase in the number of cases each week compared with other times of the year. That primarily comprises minor cases. For example, there was a 15 per cent increase in the number of patients with less serious illnesses and injuries, a 14 per cent increase in the number of patients treated in emergency departments without needing admission to a hospital, a 12 per cent increase in the number of non-ambulance arrivals, and a 19 per cent increase in the number of patients who required only a short period of treatment in an emergency department. The study reinforces anecdotal evidence that public hospital emergency departments are often used to fill the gap over busy holiday periods when general practitioners' doors are often closed.
Order! The Leader of The Nationals will come to order.
Mr MORRIS IEMMA:
Planning for this eventuality is something our emergency departments do each year.
Mrs Jillian Skinner:
What about the hospitals that have lost accreditation?
Mr MORRIS IEMMA:
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition should give us a rundown on the accreditation process. I am happy to engage in a debate with her about it.
Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will cease interjecting.
Mr MORRIS IEMMA:
Emergency department activity increases over the holiday period and there is a reduction in demand for elective surgery. People generally choose not to schedule their operations at that time. The reduction in demand for elective surgery allows many of our hospitals to undertake vital maintenance work in operating theatres, and this year is no exception. Two operating theatres at St Vincent's Hospital will be completely refurbished during the holiday period, airconditioning work will be undertaken at Concord and Shoalhaven hospitals and essential work will be carried out at Liverpool Hospital's sterilising unit. It is important to note that public hospitals and emergency departments never close. We have the hardworking staff to thank for their tireless efforts over the holiday period. Patients needing emergency treatment or emergency surgery will always be seen in our public hospitals as we work continually with our doctors and nurses to provide better standards of care.
MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE, ENVIRONMENT AND WATER
Mr ANDREW STONER:
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ALLEGATION
My question is the directed to the Premier. After the Premier read the 11-page affidavit last year that detailed alleged domestic assaults by Phil Koperberg, why did he simply take the Minister's word that the assaults did not happen over that of his former wife and stepdaughter?
Mr MORRIS IEMMA:
That is a question I have been asked and have answered many times in the past 48 hours. I sought an explanation from Mr Koperberg and his response was not only his assertion of his innocence. The point was that it involved an affidavit that had been placed before the Family Court 20 years ago and it had been dealt with.
Ms CHERIE BURTON:
I direct my question to the Minister for Police. Can the Minister update the House on the Government's plans to continue to crack down on car hoons?
Mr DAVID CAMPBELL:
During the time that we have been members of this House the member for Kogarah and I have had many discussions about the problem of car hoons and street racing. I have also discussed the issue many times with my colleague the member for Wollongong because similar offences occur in her electorate. The community clearly understands this problem. That is why the Iemma Government is committed to providing our hardworking police officers with the powers and resources they need to keep our roads safe for all motorists. Today the Government has announced a package of tough new anti-hoon measures. These changes include increased fines and imprisonment for up to nine months for repeat street racing and aggravated burnout offenders, making parents and other car owners whose vehicles are used for street racing and burnouts responsible for the actions of drivers when those vehicles are used in repeat offences, ensuring courts do not return confiscated vehicles to offenders unless there is a case of extreme hardship, and a new wheel-clamping program that will mean hoons will have their cars immobilised and face the shame of having them dumped in their yard at home.
I hear members of The Nationals making snide asides and comments, mumbling under their breath. Yet again they are demonstrating that they talk the talk but do not have the courage to walk the walk. The community has told the Government loudly and clearly that it is sick of the dangerous and stupid behaviour of car hoons on our roads. The Government has heard that message and is acting.
Order! The member for Lane Cove will cease interjecting.
Mr DAVID CAMPBELL:
Those involved in street racing or burnouts are putting their own lives and those of others at grave risk. Often these people place more value on their motor vehicles than they do on their own lives or, indeed, the lives of others. Car hoons should be on notice that police officers are out in record numbers and offenders will be caught. In addition, they will now face harsher penalties when they are caught.
Order! I call the member for Murray-Darling to order for the second time. There is far too much audible conversation in the Chamber. The member for Cessnock will come to order.
Mr DAVID CAMPBELL:
These changes follow the creation of Task Force Taipan, which is cracking down on car hoons and other dangerous drivers. The task force will be deployed over the summer months.
Order! I call the member for Terrigal to order.
Mr DAVID CAMPBELL:
The task force will target a number of hotspots throughout New South Wales, particularly in the Sydney metropolitan area and—for the benefit of the member for Terrigal—the Central Coast. I know that the Central Coast members for The Entrance, Gosford, Wyong and Swansea will welcome that focus, even if the member for Terrigal does not. The task force will also focus on Wollongong and Newcastle. Task Force Taipan builds on the impressive results of Operation Taipan. I am advised that at the end of November, Operation Taipan had made 228 arrests and laid 262 charges, issued 1,797 traffic infringement notices, including 736 for speeding, and helped to take a number of dangerous vehicles off the streets by issuing more than 250 vehicle defect notices. I know the issuing of those defect notices is something the member for Kogarah is interested in because of discussions we have had. She knows those modified vehicles are dangerous and can cause grief.
The task force has a dedicated team of 36 police to build on these results. A range of other police resources support the task force, including highway patrol, Polair, the public order and riot squad and of course general duties police officers. The task force will involve proactive, high-visibility policing to stop illegal street racing, burnouts and reckless driving. On top of this, so far this year police have confiscated 358 cars that have been involved in this stupid behaviour. Police have often told me that in targeting car hoons, it not only keeps motorists safe, it also impacts upon other forms of antisocial behaviour. This supports a key focus of the New South Wales State Plan to foster respect and responsibility within our community. The Iemma Government is backing the New South Wales Police Force with the resources it needs to crack down on car hoons.
Order! I call the member for Terrigal to order for the second time.
Mr DAVID CAMPBELL:
At the last election, the Government committed to increasing the authorised strength of the highway patrol by an additional 150 positions. That builds on the already record numbers of police in New South Wales—an authorised strength of 15,206 police officers, all trained and all authorised with the responsibility to enforce the road laws. They are all working actively in policing, particularly in policing our road rules. We have also provided highway patrol with 50 extra highway patrol vehicles. These hi-tech vehicles are specially fitted with the latest police equipment, including roof-mounted warning lights with digital message board; radar speed detectors; in-car video systems; mobile data terminals with laptop, cabin-mounted screen and keyboard, and calibrated digital speedometers. We have provided all modern technology to back the police in their task of cracking down on illegal activities on our roads.
Technology such as this allows us to deploy highway patrol officers strategically across the State, focusing on accident and speeding black spots. The Iemma Government can assure the community that we will continue to build upon measures that will help the police keep hardworking families across New South Wales safe on our roads and protected from antisocial behaviour. The Parliament will debate this package in the future, and it will have broad support in our community because the impacts of burnouts, aggravated burnouts, car hoon behaviour, modified cars and street racing impact on residents, other road users and on families. As I said, the Government has heard loud and clear from the community and we have responded. The challenge will be for those opposite to support this legislation and this package of proposals to back the police as they go about making sure our streets are safe.
MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE, ENVIRONMENT AND WATER
Mrs JILLIAN SKINNER:
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ALLEGATION
I direct my question to the Premier. Will he rule out that the phone calls that led him to stand down the member for Blue Mountains contain new, unpublished allegations about the Minister's conduct?
Order! Members on the Government benches will remain silent.
Order! I call the member for Wollongong to order. I call the member for Kogarah to order.
Mr MORRIS IEMMA:
I was asked this yesterday. I said the matter is before the police and they will deal appropriately with this matter.
Mr GRANT McBRIDE:
My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Transport. Will the Minister update the House on rail infrastructure spending in New South Wales?
Mr JOHN WATKINS:
In New South Wales we are currently undertaking an unprecedented level of investment in every facet of our rail system—in safety, rolling stock and infrastructure.
Order! The member for Terrigal will cease his running commentary.
Mr JOHN WATKINS:
He should listen to this; there is some good oil here.
Order! The member for Willoughby will cease interjecting.
Mr JOHN WATKINS:
It is the biggest rail infrastructure investment in New South Wales since before the Second World War. As I told 700 delegates to the AusRail Plus conference this morning, we are investing $4 billion in new rolling stock for the CityRail network, $1.8 billion on our rail clearways project to untangle our rail system, and $43 million on easy access upgrades at our railway stations. We are investing $16.5 million on a trial of automatic train protection, a safety recommendation arising from the Waterfall royal commission, not to mention work underway on a billion dollar metropolitan rail expansion program and the $2.29 billion Epping-Chatswood rail link.
Order! I call the member for Willoughby to order.
Mr JOHN WATKINS:
I am exhausted just reading the list. Imagine the men and women out there doing the work. It is an extraordinary list.
Order! I call the member for Willoughby to order for the second time. The House will come to order.
Mr JOHN WATKINS:
I also made the point this morning that it is an exciting time to be in the rail business with record numbers of investment, not just in New South Wales but also throughout Australia and the world. I do not know why the member for Willoughby is so upset. She has had a good year. She won her seat in March. The local Federal member won his seat just in November, and that is not something I can claim in my electorate. I face the challenge over the summer months of getting to know a new Federal member of Parliament—new phone numbers and new ways of operating. It is a real challenge. For the benefit of the gallery, my local Federal member is Maxine McKew, which I am very pleased about.
Order! Members on the Government benches will cease interjecting.
Mr JOHN WATKINS:
This is a unique time in transport. We now have the opportunity for the States and the Federal Government to work together for the benefit of rail. No more fussing and fighting. We are going to get on with improving our rail transport system throughout Australia. I look forward to forging ahead in developing a positive relationship between New South Wales, the Federal Government and the new Minister, Mr Albanese. Today I particularly want to say a big thank you in advance to the many rail workers who will be working through the Christmas break. While some of us take time off, they will be working through those hot summer weeks, not only to deliver services for passengers but also to progress some of those major rail infrastructure projects.
To minimise disruption to the rail network we tend to do this essential work during those Christmas weeks and we try to avoid it during the busy weeks of the year. Extensive work will be undertaken on the North Shore line, the Northern line, the Newcastle and Central Coast lines, and the airport, East Hills and South lines during rail close-downs in the December-January holiday period.
Between Boxing Day and New Year's Eve, as part of the North Shore line close-down, a substantial amount of work is going to be done on the Chatswood station end of the Epping-Chatswood rail link. This has the interest of the member for Willoughby. Over the Christmas period, more than 300 people will be working on rail projects at the Chatswood, Hornsby and North Sydney stations. These are all benefits from which the member for Willoughby's constituents will benefit. Gladys, there is a Santa Claus, and he is coming to a railway station near you. I will expect a Christmas card in the next couple of weeks. We are also making significant progress on our clearways program.
Ms Gladys Berejiklian:
Tell us how much it will cost.
Order! I call the member for Willoughby to order for the third time.
Mr JOHN WATKINS:
Substantial work is underway on the $231 million Cronulla development. This month works will continue on six projects along the line, while upgrade works continue at Kirrawee and Woolooware stations. Over the next couple of weeks the Transport Infrastructure Development Corporation expects to use a 400-tonne crane to lift a bridge girder into place on the new bridge at Glencoe Street, Sutherland. Works will also continue at Hornsby station. The environmental assessments are on public exhibition for the Kingsgrove to Revesby quadruplication and Macarthur station upgrade and interchange projects.
Mr Alan Ashton:
It is all good news.
Mr JOHN WATKINS:
It is. Over December and January there will also be substantial work done on the Revesby turn back, including the new footbridge, an additional platform and a new rail bridge across River Road. All of these clearway projects are crucial to ensure that our rail network runs as smoothly as possible.
Order! The member for Murrumbidgee will cease interjecting.
Mr JOHN WATKINS:
The Iemma Government is committed to getting on with the job of improving transport services in New South Wales. There are thousands of men and women working to deliver cleaner, more comfortable, more reliable public transport for New South Wales. Again, I thank the staff and contractors, who will be hard at work and continuing our investment while the rest of New South Wales takes a break. Speaking of carefully managing investments, the member for Upper Hunter recently got himself tied up in some trouble with his mobile phone. On 26 November he told the Mudgee Guardian
I mysteriously started to receive SMS horoscope messages on my mobile phone.
It is not mysterious. If one subscribes to horoscope services, one starts receiving them. He was searching the horoscope to see who the next Leader of the Opposition would be and then he would know whom he would have to befriend.
Mr Adrian Piccoli:
It is you.
Mr JOHN WATKINS:
I am already his friend.
Order! The House will come to order.
Mr JOHN WATKINS:
It will be a Christmas of work on our transport system and again I say thank you, on behalf of the New South Wales Government, to all the men and women who do all that great work.
Order! The member for Terrigal will cease interjecting.
REVERSIBLE BRAIN INJURY SLOW TO RECOVER PROGRAM
Mr BARRY O'FARRELL:
My question is directed to the Premier. How does he justify his failure to establish a Slow to Recover Program for those with reversible brain injuries, like the remarkable 26-year-old Grayden Moore in the gallery, who was transferred to a nursing home and left to waste away to a skeletal 49 kilos because, unlike Victoria and South Australia, this Federal-State funded program does not operate in New South Wales?
Mr MORRIS IEMMA:
I am advised that Grayden is progressing on his current rehabilitation plan. The advice that I have is that there will be a further progress report from the Royal Rehabilitation Centre before the end of the year. I am further advised that the progression has occurred to the extent that he is now playing tennis again. I understand that the Moore family has been given a commitment by the Royal Rehabilitation Centre, Peter Williamson—
Mr Barry O'Farrell:
Point of order: My point of order relates to Standing Order 129 and relevance. The question went to the absence of Federal-State funded programs, not what Laurelei and Derek had to struggle to get out of the health system. They should not have had to put themselves through what they did to get care for Grayden when there are federally funded State programs available.
Order! I will ask the Leader of the Opposition to resume his seat. The Premier is directly answering the question. The Premier has the call.
Mr MORRIS IEMMA:
I am advised that the Moore family has been given a commitment by Mr Williamson, the Chief Executive of the Royal Rehabilitation Centre, that Grayden will continue to be provided with accommodation at Weemala on the same arrangements as other existing residents. As to the longer term, I am further advised that options for this will be discussed with Grayden and his parents. I am further advised that there will be six months further funding for rehabilitation for Grayden, with a support plan to be sorted out with his family.
Order! The member for Bega will cease interjecting.
Order! I place the member for Bega on two calls to order.
Order! I call the member for Bega to order for the third time.
Mr MORRIS IEMMA:
I am further advised that any need for access to the pool, gym and other therapies at Royal Rehabilitation Centre is included in the plan.
Mr GEOFF CORRIGAN:
My question is directed to the Minister for Housing. What is the Government doing to provide more homes for people in need?
Mr MATT BROWN:
I thank the member for his ongoing interest in affordable housing. The first line of attack in the war against rising interest rates and the ballooning private rental market is the Iemma Government's commitment to build and provide more affordable homes for those in need. Despite the former Federal Government's withdrawal of $1 billion in public housing funding, New South Wales is one of the few States that has actually increased its public housing stock. That demonstrates our commitment under the State Plan to help reduce the housing affordability shortage.
I am pleased to update the House on recent property development and acquisitions that will house thousands more Australians who would otherwise have struggled to find an affordable home to rent, let alone have any chance to buy their own home. In just the past five months the Iemma Government has invested millions of dollars in the purchase and redevelopment of over 140 properties across New South Wales. This week I will be calling for tenders for 10 more social housing projects in places like Toronto, Port Macquarie, Liverpool, Fairfield, St Marys and Queanbeyan. These new projects will involve the redevelopment of some 104 more properties ranging from three-bedroom units for families to bed-sitters for the elderly. Later on this financial year a further 1,100 new properties will be acquired by the Iemma Government that will house those most in need in our State.
Order! The member for Baulkham Hills will cease interjecting.
Mr MATT BROWN:
The scale of our new supply program makes the Iemma Government the largest residential property developer in New South Wales. It delivers more than double the number of homes each year compared to other large-scale developers such as Meriton or Lend Lease. Not only does this mean a massive investment across the State through new construction, it means hundreds more jobs for working Australians. On 24 November this year the Australian people elected a new Federal Labor Government. This Government takes seriously its responsibility for providing housing services to the nation. I look forward to working with Australia's new housing Minister, Tanya Plibersek. It is great that we actually now have a Federal housing Minister, something we have not seen for quite some time.
We are always looking to acquire housing stock that has no future use for its previous tenants. There is one property that qualifies in the electorate of the member for North Shore. The tenant at Kirribilli House is packing up his Wallaby shirt, folding up his green and gold trackie daks and moving out as I speak. I have noticed other properties that have recently been vacated.
Order! The member for Lane Cove will cease interjecting.
Mr MATT BROWN:
The tenants were the architects of this nation's worst affordable housing policy. If that housing policy had been put in place, it would have decimated public housing and seen tens of thousands of Australians out on the streets. Of course I am talking about the electoral offices of Mal Brough and John Howard.
Order! I call the member for Lane Cove to order.
Mr MATT BROWN:
Let us hope that members opposite start to see the error of their party's ways, and support our hard work towards finding more affordable homes for Australia's most vulnerable. At the moment they have no plan and no care. That is why we are over here and they are over there.
COFFS HARBOUR BASE HOSPITAL NURSE UNIT MANAGER FUNDING
Mr ANDREW FRASER:
My question is directed to the Minister for Health. Why did she deny Coffs Harbour Base Hospital additional funding for one extra clinical nursing unit manager for the evening shift in the emergency department, leading nurses to protest today against inadequate staffing levels and clinicians' concerns that patients' safety is being put at risk?
Ms REBA MEAGHER:
I am advised that the Coffs Harbour Base Hospital emergency department nursing staff have recently submitted a reasonable workload submission to the North Coast Area Health Service for increased staff numbers. The submission was for a nurse unit manager one on the evening shift seven days a week, a nurse unit manager one on the morning shift on Saturdays and Sundays, and a registered nurse on the morning shift from Monday to Friday. I am also advised that the North Coast Area Health Service executive have considered the submission and requested additional information in relation to activity and staffing levels with other comparable rural hospitals. The area health executive is meeting today to consider this additional information and decide on the appropriate level of staffing in the emergency department at Coffs Harbour Base Hospital.
STATE PLAN PRIORITY F2: PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
Ms DIANE BEAMER:
My question is addressed to the Minister for Ageing, and Minister for Disability Services. Will the Minister update the House on the Government's efforts to meet the State Plan priority to increase the number of people with a disability in paid employment?
Ms KRISTINA KENEALLY:
Tremendous results are coming through on the Iemma Government's State Plan Priority F2, which is increasing the number of people with a disability in paid employment and in community participation. We have set very specific targets under State Plan Priority F2.
Order! The Leader of The Nationals will cease interjecting.
Ms KRISTINA KENEALLY:
We are seeking to halve the unemployment rate of people with a disability as compared with the rest of the community. This represents about 6,000 jobs. This is an ambitious target, because the State Government does not control all the levers for employment. Indeed, employment is a Federal Government responsibility. However, at the core of our post-school programs are the Transition to Work Program and the Community Participation Program. I also acknowledge the Community Participation Program. Under State Plan Priority F2 we are seeking to increase the number of adults who participate in the community from 81 per cent to 85 per cent. This represents about 8,900 additional people with a disability participating in community activities.
At the heart of State Plan Priority F2 lie our post-school programs. Under the Iemma Government's Stronger Together Program we will introduce 6,200 new post-school places over the next five years. That is a significant growth in our post-school places.
It is unfortunate that members opposite are not interested in hearing about what the Government is doing for people with a disability—
Order! I ask members of the Opposition to cease interjecting. Continual interjections are outside the standing orders. I ask the member for Coffs Harbour and the Leader of The Nationals to cease their constant interjections. The Minister has the call.
Ms KRISTINA KENEALLY:
The attitude of members opposite does not surprise me. The last person on that side of the House who had any understanding or policy ideas about disability services was the Hon. John Ryan. And what did members opposite do? They chucked him out of Parliament, and then they tried to chuck him out of the party! But members of the House should not stress too much about the Hon. John Ryan. I can advise the House that he has found gainful employment in the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care. Members opposite may not know anyone with policy ideas, but we are happy to take on board good ideas wherever they come from.
Order! There is still too much audible conversation in the Chamber. The Minister has the call.
Ms KRISTINA KENEALLY:
The Iemma Government's Transition to Work Program is a brand new program that has been in operation for only two years. I advise the House of some tremendous results in regard to the people who have completed the program. A total of 692 people have successfully completed the Transition to Work Program. Of those, 69 per cent have successfully made the transition to paid employment, or to TAFE or other forms of higher education. A further 5 per cent have been given an extension in the Transition to Work Program. That has come about because we believe they can access paid employment and we are seeking to give them the opportunity to do that. The remaining 26 per cent have made the transition to our Community Participation Program.
Under the Community Participation Program, which is an exceptional program, the Iemma Government has fortified our community participation by increasing the number of days available to school leavers to four days for mainstream students and five days for exceptional needs students. Recently I visited Wingap, a non-government organisation that provides post-school programs, some of which are in the electorate of Maroubra and some of which are in the electorate of Heffron. I will refer to some amazing things that happen in that post-school Community Participation Program. Some of the young adults in the program work under the Meals on Wheels program delivering meals to elderly members in our community. Other Community Participation Program participants run, on a voluntary basis, a coffee shop in Surry Hills. They are learning skills, and they are participating in and being part of the community.
I am incredibly proud to be the disability services Minister at this time. At the heart of the Iemma Government's Stronger Together Program, a $1.3 billion plan, is the belief that adults with a disability have the right to live in the community, participate in the community, and access paid employment in the community. At the heart of the Iemma Government lies a conviction that it is our responsibility to look after the most vulnerable members of our community, and under Stronger Together we will continue to do that.
Question time concluded.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Mr JOHN AQUILINA
Suspension of Standing Orders: Divisions
(Riverstone—Leader of the House) [3.10 p.m.]: I move:
That on Wednesday 5 December 2007 standing orders be suspended to provide that from 10.00 a.m. until 1.00 p.m. no divisions be called.
As members would be aware, tomorrow morning a State funeral will be held for Bernie Banton, AM, which a number of members on both sides of the House wish to attend. Bernie Banton was well known to many of us over many years. I have discussed the matter with the Opposition and it has agreed to the suspension of standing orders. Members who wish to attend the funeral will do so with the approvals of their Whips. We acknowledge, however, that the Parliament must go on and legislation will be debated tomorrow. During the course of that debate quorums must be maintained, hence quorums have not been included in the motion. If members wish to divide on legislation then perhaps those divisions can be deferred and dealt with at a later hour of the day.
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI
(Murrumbidgee) [3.11 p.m.]: Some may say I am going soft by agreeing to the suspension of standing orders, but the Opposition understands the reasons for, and supports, the holding of a State funeral for Bernie Banton tomorrow. We respect the rights of members of Parliament, particularly the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition, to attend the funeral of a person who fought for the rights of employees injured during the course of their employment. We also support the standing orders that allow this type of suspension. However, the Opposition opposes suspending standing orders to allow this lazy Government to ram legislation through the House without using the proper processes set down in the standing orders that were written by a Labor member of Parliament and passed by a Labor Government. We support the suspension of standing orders as set out in the motion for tomorrow and we extend to the family of Bernie Banton our condolences. We fully support the Government holding a State funeral.
Question—That the motion be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
LEGISLATION REVIEW COMMITTEE
Mr Allan Shearan
, as Chair, tabled the report entitled "Legislation Review Digest, No. 8 of 2007", dated 4 December 2007, together with minutes of the committee meetings regarding Legislation Review Digests Nos 6 and 7 of 2007.
Report ordered to be printed on motion by Mr Allan Shearan.
CountryLink Pensioner Booking Fee
Petition requesting the removal of booking fees charged to pensioners on CountryLink services, received from Mr Greg Aplin
Hawkesbury River Railway Station Access
Petition requesting improved access to Hawkesbury River railway station, received from Mrs Judy Hopwood
Tumut Renal Dialysis Service
Petition praying that the House support the establishment of a satellite renal dialysis service in Tumut, received from Mr Daryl Maguire
Breast Screening Funding
Petition requesting funding for breast screening to allow access for women aged 40 to 79 years, received from Mrs Judy Hopwood
Hornsby Palliative Care Beds
Petition requesting funding for Hornsby's palliative care beds, received from Mrs Judy Hopwood.
Lismore Base Hospital
Petitions requesting funding for stage 2 of the Lismore Base Hospital redevelopment, received from Mr Thomas George
and Mr Donald Page
Licence Laws for Older Drivers
Petition asking for an inquiry into licence laws for older drivers and the implementation of a suitable licensing system for senior citizens, received from Mr John Turner.
Inner Sydney Bicycle Lanes
Petition requesting dedicated bicycle facilities for the entire length of William Street, and on Craigend Street and Kings Cross Road, received from Ms Clover Moore
Petition opposing the sale of animals in pet shops, received from Ms Clover Moore
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Mr JOHN AQUILINA
Suspension of Standing Orders: Bills
(Riverstone—Leader of the House) [3.15 p.m.]: I move:
That standing orders be suspended at this sitting or any subsequent sitting to permit the resumption of the adjourned debate and passage through all remaining stages of the following bills:
Child Protection (Offenders Registration) Amendment Bill 2007
Courts and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2007
Health Legislation Amendment Bill 2007
The Government gave notice of the legislation last week and delivered the agreement in principle speeches last Friday. Under normal circumstances the legislation would not be debated until Thursday, which is private member's day. However, I have moved this motion to facilitate the passage of the legislation and to ensure that we have legislation to debate during this week. They are non-controversial, miscellaneous bills, particularly the Health Legislation Amendment Bill 2007 and the Courts and Other Legislation Amendment bill, which seek to draw together a number of relatively minor amendments. I moved the motion to give the Opposition fair warning that we will bring on debate on the legislation.
When the shadow Leader of the House, the member for Murrumbidgee, responds I expect he will open both barrels. The Government is quite used to his tedious repetitive phrases on these matters. My aim at all times is to assist the transition of legislation through the House and to give members as much warning as possible of the detail of that legislation and to allow, within reason, as much time as possible for debate. I appreciate that the Government is here to govern and to make sure that legislation proceeds, and that the Opposition is here to oppose.
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI
(Murrumbidgee) [3.17 p.m.]: The Leader of the House is dead right: we oppose the motion. Our job is to keep the Parliament accountable. If the Government gave notice at the proper time the bills would be called on for debate on Thursday.
Order! The member for Monaro will cease interjecting.
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI:
We are scheduled to sit for another week. Is the member telling us that on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of next week the House will not sit? We have only three more days. Lazy, lazy, lazy! Government members do not want to work. What do they think they are paid for? They are paid to turn up in Parliament and debate legislation.
Order! The member for Parramatta will cease interjecting. I call her to order.
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI:
How fortuitous that the member for Parramatta should interject. How she loves the idea of family friendly hours! But she should not worry: she will not have to come in next week because next week's sittings will be called off. She will not be expected to do any work in her electorate. She will not be expected to—
Ms Tanya Gadiel:
Point of order: I ask that the member for Murrumbidgee speak to the substantive motion, that is, the suspension of standing orders to allow debate on legislation. The member wants to go to a Christmas party tonight. He does not want to be here debating legislation. He accuses Government members of being lazy and not wanting to work. I am away from my family tonight and I would rather spend that time debating legislation.
Order! I ask the member for Parramatta to resume her seat. I ask the member for Murrumbidgee to stay within the leave of the motion.
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI:
I am fully within the leave of the motion because this suspension of standing orders means that Parliament will not sit next week. You, Mr Speaker, are trying, and rightly so, to improve the working conditions of Parliament by introducing family-friendly hours. Yet we hear criticism from Government members about family-friendly hours. An article in the Sun-Herald
on 11 November quoted Kristine Keneally, the Minister for Ageing.
Order! The member for Bathurst will cease interjecting.
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI:
A former staffer to a Labor Minister wrote the article, so I assume she would be in the know. The article stated:
A Minister had been accused of saying she did not want Parliament to finish earlier in the evening because she would then be expected to be active in her electorate.
Fancy that! Fancy getting paid $180,000 a year and then being expected to be active in your electorate. I know there are certain standards to keep.
Order! The member for Bathurst will cease interjecting.
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI:
Another thing the Government members will not have to worry about next week when parliamentary sittings are cancelled, which by the sound of it they will be, is peak hour traffic. Why should they have to put up with peak hour traffic?
Order! The member for Parramatta will cease interjecting.
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI:
It is all right for the other 59,999 people in their electorates to have to put up with peak hour traffic, but Labor members think that they should not have to. One guess who caused peak hour traffic in Sydney to be such a nightmare in the last 12 years: the Labor Party.
Mr Michael Daley:
Point of order: I know the member for Murrumbidgee increasingly likes the sound of his own voice, but this motion has a narrow scope. My point of order relates to Standing Order 76, relevance.
Order! There is no point of order. I again ask the member for Murrumbidgee to stay within the leave of the motion.
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI:
The standing orders that we all passed at the beginning of the parliamentary term earlier this year—
Mr Kevin Greene:
We all passed them.
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI:
Exactly right, we all passed them. The standing orders state that the Government must give notice of Government legislation with sufficient time for members of the Opposition and the crossbenches to consider them, to consult with their constituents and to consult with the public. That is why those standing orders are in place. All we have seen in the past seven months that Parliament has sat is the Government constantly changing the standing orders to deny Opposition members, the crossbenchers and the public their rights. That is why the Opposition opposes this motion.
Mr JOHN AQUILINA
(Riverstone—Leader of the House) [3.24 p.m.], in reply: The speech of the member for Murrumbidgee is repetitive. It is the same speech that he has made on previous occasions. But he keeps missing the major point. The whole basis for moving suspension of standing orders is to provide the Opposition with increased opportunity to be able to go through and pursue the legislation before us. As I said before, these are not controversial bills. It is not earth-shattering legislation. Most of the bills contain miscellaneous amendments. But the Government believes the Opposition should have the opportunity to fully and thoroughly debate the bills. That is why we want to move them forward. We also want to move them forward so that we can debate legislation tonight. We are here to debate legislation. The more legislation we have to debate tonight the happier everyone will be. That is why I move this motion. I do not understand why the Opposition would want to oppose a motion that enables us to debate legislation in the House tonight. By opposing this motion those opposite are saying that they do not want to debate the legislation tonight.
Question—That the motion be agreed to—put.
The House divided.
Mr J. H. Turner
Mr R. W. Turner
Mr J. D. Williams
Mr R. C. Williams
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
CONSIDERATION OF MOTIONS TO BE ACCORDED PRIORITY
Mr BARRY O'FARRELL
(Ku-ring-gai—Leader of the Opposition) [3.31 p.m.]: Domestic violence and acts of violence against women should be beyond politics. The organisation that supports White Ribbon Day estimates that almost 50 per cent of women will be subjected to physical or sexual assaults during their lifetime. We know from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that only 36 per cent of women subjected to physical or sexual assaults will report them. One of the reasons women give for not reporting assaults is their concern that those in authority will not believe them. The answers we heard in question time today from the Premier give women across the State good cause to fear that those in authority will not believe them when they bring to their attention acts of violence against them. This is a Premier who never seems to know what is happening. This is a Premier who seems to have a policy of denial. This is a Premier who never seems to want to put information in the public domain. In the case of Milton Orkopoulos two Labor members of Parliament knew what was going on but the Premier did not, and the Premier's chief of staff knew the day beforehand what was going on but the Premier did not—
Mr Gerard Martin:
Point of order: I ask you to bring the Leader of the Opposition back to the matter he asks to be accorded priority, which has nothing to do with the matter he is canvassing now.
Order! I normally allow a deal of latitude in these debates. The Leader of the Opposition may continue, but I ask him to remain within the leave of the question before the Chair.
Mr BARRY O'FARRELL:
When allegations were raised about the member for Blacktown and a former partner—allegations raised only by female members of caucus when it suited them—
Mr Alan Ashton:
Point of order: The matter the Leader of the Opposition is now venturing into is ancient history. That matter was investigated and there was found to be absolutely no case to answer. If the Leader of the Opposition wants to raise that matter he should do so by substantive motion.
Order! I ask the member for East Hills to resume his seat.
Mr BARRY O'FARRELL:
The matter for which I seek priority is a substantive motion. For the information of the member for East Hills, the police investigation found insufficient evidence to press charges. Why? Because the woman at the centre of the allegations would not make a statement, and that goes to the heart of what I am saying: why will women not make statements? It is because of the reaction of idiots like the member for East Hills and because of the reaction of the Premier: they are not prepared to take these matters seriously.
Mr Alan Ashton:
Point of order—
Order! I ask the Leader of the Opposition to resume his seat.
Mr Alan Ashton:
Under the pretence of protecting the rights of women the Leader of the Opposition is attacking the former member for Port Jackson about what evidence she would or would not give. He should get it right.
Order! The contribution of the Leader of the Opposition is consistent with the notice of motion that is being debated.
Mr BARRY O'FARRELL:
For the information of the member for East Hills, I was simply correcting the wrong information he gave to the House. Our thesis is very clear: over a year ago the Premier, his chief of staff and the head of the Labor Party in this State—a new Senator for this State from 1 July—sat down with the member for the Blue Mountains and read an apprehended violence order.
Order! The member for Bathurst will cease interjecting.
Mr BARRY O'FARRELL:
Over 11 pages the apprehended violence order detailed acts of violence it was alleged the member for the Blue Mountains perpetrated against two women. What did Government members do? What did the Premier do? What did his chief of staff do? What did the general secretary of the Labor Party do? Did they say, "This matter should be investigated. We should get some independent verification and refer it to the police"? No. Their only reaction was to put out in the public domain the fact that an apprehended violence order existed as a political strategy to protect the member for the Blue Mountains—the man they were about to parachute into a marginal seat—from his factional opponents within the Labor Party. That goes to the heart of this motion: those opposite see acts of violence against women as weapons in their factional wars. It sends an appalling message to women across this State.
Mr Steve Whan:
Point of order: I find the comments of the Leader of the Opposition about members on this side of the Chamber offensive. I ask him to withdraw those comments, which I personally find offensive.
Order! The member for Monaro has raised a concern.
Mr BARRY O'FARRELL:
I am happy to withdraw the comments in relation to him, but the point is that the Premier knew about Mr Koperberg's history and put him into the ministry.
Mr Michael Daley:
Point of order: The Leader of the Opposition is transgressing Standing Order No. 73.
Order! The Leader of the Opposition's speaking time has expired.
Medical Device Manufacturing Sector
Mr GEOFF CORRIGAN
(Camden) [3.36 p.m.]: Nothing could have a higher priority than the Government's innovative statement on promotion of the medical device manufacturing sector.
Question—That the motion of the member for Ku-ring-gai be accorded priority—put.
The House divided.
Mr J. H. Turner
Mr R. W. Turner
Mr J. D. Williams
Mr R. C. Williams
Question resolved in the negative.
Question—That the motion of the member for Camden be accorded priority—put and resolved in the affirmative.
MEDICAL DEVICE MANUFACTURING SECTOR
Motion Accorded Priority
Mr GEOFF CORRIGAN
(Camden) [3.42 p.m.]: I move:
That this House:
(1) notes that the New South Wales Government's Statement on Innovation accords high priority to the promotion of the medical device manufacturing sector;
(2) congratulates the sector on the success it has achieved in world markets, including more than $100 million in sales following the world's biggest annual medical technology fair—Medica; and
(3) commends the Government's commitment to the medical device manufacturing sector as an example of how it is building a high-value knowledge economy for New South Wales.
One year ago the Premier launched the New South Wales Statement on Innovation. The Statement on Innovation provides a new framework for industry policy in New South Wales. It commits New South Wales to play to its economic strengths and recognises that innovation should not be confined to high-tech companies in a few sectors but should be part of our efforts to develop high value industries across the board. Manufacturing is one of five key New South Wales sectors that have been targeted for innovation-led growth in this State under the New South Wales Statement on Innovation. Medical devices are an important part of the New South Wales advanced manufacturing sector. New South Wales is home to a total of 285 medical device companies—more than 45 per cent of the Australian total. My colleague the member for East Hills will talk about one of those companies in some detail later.
In 2004-05 New South Wales medical equipment exports totalled $372 million, 62 per cent of Australia's total medical equipment exports. The New South Wales manufacturing sector is highly developed and diverse, and contributes to more than 11 per cent of the State's economy and a quarter of our exports. In tune with the New South Wales Statement on Innovation, the New South Wales Government has been maintaining a targeted approach to building a medical device sector in this State. One of the largest events on the calendar for the medical device industry is the Medica trade fair, which took place last month at Düsseldorf in Germany. Medica is the largest medical trade fair in the world and the prime showcase of medical devices and equipment for Europe and the Middle East. This year Medica featured more than 4,000 exhibitors spread across 17 product-specific halls and attracted about 140,000 registered trade visitors from 62 nations.
With the help of the New South Wales Government our medical device companies were there, front and centre. Nineteen New South Wales medical device manufacturers converged on Düsseldorf from 14 to 17 November for Medica 2007. The New South Wales Government was at Medica 2007 to support the New South Wales exhibitors and to promote New South Wales' strengths in medical devices. The Government played a leading role in supporting the construction of the Australian pavilion and assisting the continued international growth of the New South Wales medical devices industry. In fact, the New South Wales Government has been assisting New South Wales companies presenting at Medica since 2003. This has provided a unique opportunity to position New South Wales at the forefront of medical device development and manufacturing in Australia.
This year's Medica has been a terrific success. The New South Wales exhibitors at Medica 2007 included companies that have been assisted by the New South Wales Government's business support programs, the Australian Technology Showcase and the BioBusiness Program. These included Betacheck, Bioclone, ASP HealthCare, Global Medisafe Holdings, Tuta Healthcare, BMDI and General Healthcare Supplies. Preliminary results collated by the Department of State and Regional Development show that estimated sales by just six New South Wales companies at Medica 2007 have already reached $45 million—a very significant figure, which is sure to increase as more results come in.
A further five companies have now reported sales and distribution contracts valued at almost $58 million as a result of contacts made at last year's Medica. These companies are selling to customers in countries including the United Kingdom, United States, Scandinavia, the Czech Republic, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, Turkey, Poland and South Korea. All up, New South Wales medical device manufacturers have generated sales of more than $102 million for Medica over 2006 and 2007. These are solid results for New South Wales companies and testimony to the world-class medical devices being produced in this State. While we cannot identify all the individual company contracts for commercial in-confidence reasons, I would like to speak generally about some of the fantastic outcomes arising from the last two Medica trade fairs. Results from Medica 2006 include sales to countries including India, Thailand, New Zealand, Singapore, the United Kingdom, United States, Italy and Iraq.
In addition to actual sales, companies have also generated many potential leads, have entered into joint ventures with global partners and have reported other positive business results. For example, one company received inquiries from more than 56 global distributors and surgeons and reported good potential distribution leads in countries such as Belgium, Brazil, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Turkey. Another company signed a joint venture agreement to provide its services with one of Asia's largest companies.
Other locally based international success stories from Medica include St Leonards company AllVascular Pty Limited, which focuses on the research, development and commercialisation of novel medical devices and treatments for vascular surgery. AllVascular's products include the Venocuff II, which is used in the treatment of varicose vein sufferers. AllVascular currently has distributors for the Venocuff II appointed in countries including Greece, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. St Marys company ASP Healthcare designs, manufactures and distributes custom-moulded plastic products for manufacturers and provides customised sharps containers and kits to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. Australia is a leader in that field.
Other New South Wales companies involved in producing and selling products designed to reduce needle-stick injury include Newcastle company Global Medisafe Holdings, Chatswood company RiTract Limited and Sydney company BMDi Pty Limited. Willoughby company Coefficient Surgical Systems develops innovative carbon fibre hydraulic-operated operating theatre tables. Chatswood company General Healthcare Supplies develops products that improve personnel safety in healthcare and industrial environments, including disposable protective apparel, wound care, surgical supplies and laboratory supplies. Rosebery company MedCare Systems manufactures and supplies home telecare monitoring systems.
Northmead company MediVac Limited provides an integrated solution to the handling and remediation of clinical waste resulting in lower costs, improved infection control and reduced landfill waste. MediVac has developed an on-site device called the MetaMizer to convert clinical and sharps waste into sterilised granules that can be safely disposed of as general health care facility waste. Lane Cove company Tuta HealthCare manufactures intravenous equipment and the world's first disposable one-piece laryngoscope, the "Yeescope". St Leonards company Betachek Limited is a specialist in diabetes management and has developed a range of electrodes, biosensors and devices for glucose determination. Its products include a 60-second diabetes test. Marrickville company Bioclone Australia manufactures high-quality immunodiagnostic products for the medical and research laboratory markets.
Roseville company Rye Pharmaceuticals Australia develops and exports a range of Burnaid burn gels, gel dressings and burn kits to treat burns, with exports to more than 30 countries. Gosford company Prosmedix specialises in the design and manufacture of affordable, high-quality and high-performance prosthetic legs for global markets. Mosman company Acu Rate focuses on innovative flow control devices for intravenous fluids such as saline, dextrose and medical drugs—a cost-effective alternative to expensive electronic pumps. Dubbo company Maverick is a global exporter of animal biologicals to manufacturers of human and veterinary pharmaceuticals and vaccines. It supplies tissues to medical device manufacturers in Europe, Asia, Israel and the United States.
These companies are at the forefront of the modern economy and they are creating high-skilled, high-value jobs here in New South Wales. They are a key part of the vision this Government has for our State—an economy driven by knowledge and innovation. The Innovation Statement called for the Government to focus on developing capabilities in key sectors in which New South Wales has established strengths. It is about adding greater value to a sector in which this State excels and supporting and developing those industries to help them to engage at the highest level in their respective markets. The Government's presence at Medica was about doing just that. I congratulate the Government and those supporting Medica. I also congratulate the manufacturers who attended the exhibition and who did so well. They have made more than $100 million in sales during the past two fairs. That is a great result for New South Wales and Australia.
Mr JOHN WILLIAMS
(Murray-Darling) [3.52 p.m.]: I move:
That the motion be amended by leaving out all words after "That" with a view to inserting instead:
this House condemns the Government for the lack of resources being implemented in all areas of health care across New South Wales, especially rural areas.
I applaud the technological advances that have been made. Obviously, manufacturers have worked very hard to achieve those results. Unfortunately, not enough of those advances are flowing into health services in rural and regional New South Wales. We are looking forward to the release of the $2.8 billion in GST revenue collected from New South Wales that is paid to other States. The Coalition could not achieve that, but now that we have a Labor Federal Government it will happen and that $2.8 billion will come back into this State's coffers. I hope that some of it will be spent on health care, and the sooner that happens the better.
Members of the Rotary Club of Deniliquin, which is in my electorate, raised money and approached the Greater Southern Area Health Service about establishing a renal dialysis unit at the local hospital. They were told that it could not happen, even with their contribution, because the service could not get any nurses prepared to train in renal dialysis techniques. However, when the local nurses were approached they said that that was incorrect and that they were willing to do the training and to care for local patients. At the moment renal patients drive for two hours to Shepparton for four hours of dialysis and then drive home. That is eight hours a day, three days a week. If the Government is fair dinkum about supporting the introduction of new technology in rural New South Wales that is one obvious area of need that should be addressed.
We all know about the shortage of doctors in New South Wales. Urana has no doctor and faces the threat of its hospital facility being closed as a result. That is a vital issue and it must be addressed. A doctor must be employed as soon as possible not only to treat local patients but also to ensure the retention of hospital facilities. Wentworth is also without a general practitioner and the obvious suggestion is that people can travel across the road to Mildura for treatment. However, that is difficult for the sick and infirm. Many do not have transport and would be incapable of travelling that distance. The community of Hay has only just managed to employ a general practitioner. It needs two practitioners but it is having a great deal of difficulty attracting candidates. It is on a knife edge trying to provide health services for the community.
The other health issue facing my electorate is the provision of public dental services. Residents of Wentworth who want to access public dental services must drive 140 kilometres to Balranald for treatment. A coupon system allows Wentworth residents to travel to Mildura to access private dental treatment. However, the coupon value does not cover today's costs. This Government must acknowledge the increased hourly rate for dental services and provide appropriate funding so that these people are not required to travel to Balranald for treatment. The residents of Hay who need dental treatment must travel to Deniliquin, but the waiting time is about 14 months and only patients requiring emergency services are treated. That is a disgrace. Those two communities combined represent about 12,000 people and this Government cannot provide them with dental services. As a result many people are turning to the private system, although they still have to travel great distances to do so.
The new hospital at Broken Hill is a great facility and the community has been very supportive of it. During the planning stage the population of Broken Hill was declining, but now the reverse is happening. The renal dialysis unit has two chairs but it needs three. The unit is situated in a storeroom at the hospital. There is no room for the two chairs. It is unworkable. The hospital has never had a dedicated oncology unit and, as a consequence, it has a sharing arrangement with the blood bank. That is not the environment in which to treat oncology patients. A region that is growing needs facilities to accommodate a special oncology unit and a renal dialysis unit.
I have spoken often in this House about problems associated with the Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Service. People in rural and remote areas accept the consequences of where they live. One of those consequences relates to their access to medical services, and that means having to drivesometimes regularly and sometimes occasionallyto those services. Our means of supporting that travel is the Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Service. Last year the State Government spent $6.5 million on that service. However, the Queensland Government spent $26.5 million and the Western Australian Government spent about $23 million on that service. New South Wales is certainly on the low side. Our per capita expenditure on that service is a disaster. That is why we have a problem with the Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Service. The Government needs to hold a think tank to find out what is going wrong by listening to the horror stories I listen to every day from people who want to access and use the Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Service.
Home and community care is another support system that has been of great service to the disabled and the sick in rural and remote areas. Sometimes our own home and community care unit makes decisions on the spot. Sometimes it will provide a service to someone in real need. That decision is not always within the guidelines. An example is the home and community care vehicles owned by the Balranald hospital. Balranald has a lot of aged people who need to go to Swan Hill for treatment but have no means of transport. The home and community care vehicle is available to those people if they pay about $460 return.
Mr Alan Ashton:
Point of order: I am loath to do this, but the motion moved by the member for Camden supports what the Government is doing with respect to medical devices and products. The amendment moved by the member for Murray-Darling is not relevant to the motion. It is not an amendment; it is a completely separate motion. I was loath to do anything at the time, but he is now nine minutes into his speech and he is talking about rural health services. I will not say any more about it but as the debate unfolds someone will have to return to speaking about New South Wales' success in producing medical equipment.
Order! At this stage I will not rule on the point of order. However, I point out that the amendment, which is very broad, must be relevant to the motion.
Mr JOHN WILLIAMS:
You might say that, but we are talking about technologyand we want access to it. We do not want it to go overseas. We want these people to supply hospitals in rural and remote Australia. We do not want $100 million worth of sales overseas. [Time expired.
Ms CARMEL TEBBUTT
(Marrickville) [4.02 p.m.]: I am pleased to support this motion. The Innovation Statement called for the Government to focus on developing capabilities in key sectors in which New South Wales had established strength. The medical device manufacturing sector is an example of one of the growth areas of the economy. It is a shame the Opposition cannot see fit to support this motion. I would have thought it is something that all of us could sign up to—the importance of our manufacturing sector, the importance of supporting an area where we have an edge and the importance of supporting a sector that is doing fantastically well. For example, the Government's presence at Medica—the world's largest medical fair, which was held in Düsseldorf and where there were more than 4,300 exhibitors—was to support the medical device manufacturing sector. The medical device manufacturing sector achieved more than $100 million in sales following Medica.
I am surprised the Opposition has not seen fit to support this motion. It is an issue of great importance to our State and to the strength of our economy. It is also an issue of great importance to the people who work in the medical device manufacturing sector but, more importantly, it is to the people who benefit from the work done in this sector—including the making of laboratory equipment, diagnostic devices, hospital supplies, surgical equipment, biomedical devices and implants, monitoring equipment, imaging equipment, drug delivery systems, health-related software and dental equipment. There is no doubt that quality medical devices and innovative systems make an important contribution to achieving not just efficiency but also quality in patient care. We all know how important that is.
New South Wales is home to more than 285 medical device companies—that is, 45 per cent of the Australian total—including Bioclone, which is in my electorate of Marrickville. That is an excellent result when one compares it to Victoria's 29 per cent share and Queensland's 10 per cent share. Our active courting of international business and global fairs such as Medica is helping to build on our already impressive export base. In 2004-05 New South Wales medical equipment exports were valued at $372 million. That is 62 per cent of Australia's total medical equipment exports of $604 million.
Last month Sydney company Cochlear Limited was named 2007 Australian Exporter of the Year at the Australian Export Awards held in Brisbane. Cochlear, which is based in Lane Cove, is the world leader in research, development, manufacture and marketing of implantable hearing solutions. Many of us have seen firsthand the difference a cochlear implant can provide to a child and to a family's life. By 1996 more than 27,000 people in some 60 countries had received a cochlear implant. It is also known as a bionic ear. They were all profoundly or severely deaf before the implant. All owe their new hearing to technology that is being upgraded continually by Australian scientists. This is something that we can take great pride in. Recipients of cochlear implants report incredible improvements in their lives as a result of the implants. This is just one area where New South Wales companies are doing so well.
It is the sixth year in a row that a New South Wales company has taken out the top national exporter award. New South Wales companies won four other categories at the national exporter award last month, and that is more than any other State. New South Wales's leadership in medical device development can be traced back to the 1960s. It is a legacy of the Nucleus group of companies founded by Paul Trainor in Sydney in 1964. Nucleus companies were world leaders in the design, development, manufacture and distribution of cardiac pacemakers, cochlear implants, cardiac defibrillators and diagnostic ultrasounds. Companies such as Cochlear and ResMed have built on this legacy to become world-leading multibillion-dollar companies from their Sydney bases.
Other New South Wales companies are following in their footsteps. For example, Neuromonics is now marketing its innovative tinnitus treatment in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United States. It is expected to be available to 100 leading United States clinics by the end of this year. Ventracor, Sunshine Heart and Heartware are examples of world-leading heart assist technologies being developed here in Sydney. We have a lot to be proud of, a lot to be positive about, and it is timely that we congratulate the medical device manufacturing sector on its success. I would like to think the Opposition would join us in doing that.
Mr RAY WILLIAMS
(Hawkesbury) [4.07 p.m.]: Firstly, it is sad that we are discussing this motion, not the motion of the Leader of the Opposition, which dealt with violence against women, a much more important issue. Over the last few months health issues have been reported in the press and some horrific incidents have come to the fore. However, the Government merely supports innovation in technology, although no-one would argue against innovation and technology in our country.
Mr Kerry Hickey:
Mr RAY WILLIAMS:
I acknowledge support from the member for Cessnock. Whilst he has a fast mouth, it is nowhere near as fast as the car he drives around his electorate.
Mr Geoff Corrigan:
Point of order: I ask that the member withdraw those comments, which are offensive.
Mr RAY WILLIAMS:
I am happy to withdraw those comments. The member for Cessnock is a health hazard when he drives around his electorate.
Mr Geoff Corrigan:
Point of order: The member is canvassing your ruling. I ask that you draw him back to the leave of the motion.
Order! At this stage no ruling has been canvassed, despite the point of order. The member for Hawkesbury is wasting valuable speaking time by making comments about other members. If he continues to do so, points of order will be taken.
Mr RAY WILLIAMS:
I return to the important amendment and the lack of resources being put into health across New South Wales. From the way the member for Cessnock drives, he should be happy to have resources put into his local hospital; he might need them. If he drives around that dangerously, he would want to have a good hospital.
Mr Kerry Hickey:
Point of order: I ask you to rule that the member return to the leave of the motion and ask him to withdraw those comments. The Leader of the Opposition has 12 speeding tickets and the Opposition Leader of the House was caught speeding 30 kilometres above the speed limit.
Order! The member for Cessnock has made his point. I ask the member for Hawkesbury to withdraw the comments.
Mr RAY WILLIAMS:
I am happy to withdraw them.
Order! I will make a determination if the member for Hawkesbury cannot speak to the subject matter of the motion.
Mr RAY WILLIAMS:
Health resources throughout New South Wales, particularly in rural areas, are important. It disturbs me that members opposite, especially the member for Marrickville, read from bureaucratic statements that have been written for them instead of bringing real issues to the table about women such as Jana Horska and the young girl who was hit by a golf ball, was wrongly diagnosed and subsequently passed away. These issues affect residents in electorates right across New South Wales. Instead of bringing those matters to the table, we are discussing innovation and technology. Whilst I do not dispute that that is wonderful—this is a great country and there are some innovative ideas and wonderful technology—what is more important and should be debated in this House? Is it technology—and we have some wonderful companies that do not get a great deal of support in payroll tax from the Government—or the enormous problems facing health services right across New South Wales? I have just quoted a couple of those.
We have heard about issues with Penrith Hospital. My area, which is one of the fastest-growing areas of New South Wales, does not have a hospital. Residents have to leave the area and go to hospitals such as those at Penrith, Blacktown and Westmead to access health services where little children, like the child I referred to recently in this House, have to wait 12 hours for treatment. It is shameful that female members opposite do not care about ladies who suffer miscarriages or little kids who have to wait 12 hours to get service. They would rather shout abuse and ridicule instead of addressing issues that directly affect residents in their electorates. That is why I am happy to discuss these matters, and I will continue to do so because health issues are extremely important. I know it is embarrassing to the Government and Government members get upset when I raise these matters, but people are dying in hospitals, little children are suffering, women are having miscarriages in toilets and ladies who are recovering are being pushed into storerooms with the mops and buckets. I am happy to raise those matters on behalf of the residents of New South Wales.
Mr ALAN ASHTON
(East Hills) [4.12 p.m.]: New South Wales has strength across the broad spectrum of medical device innovation. That is why we are successfully selling to the world through trade fairs such as Medica. We have strength in areas including laboratory equipment, diagnostic devices, hospital supplies, surgical equipment, biomedical devices and implants, monitoring equipment, imaging equipment, drug delivery systems, health-related software and dental equipment. Indeed, Australia, particularly New South Wales, is recognised throughout the world as being at the forefront in health, diagnosis and new equipment. As my colleagues have highlighted, New South Wales is home to 285 medical device companies. That is over 45 per cent of the Australian total. That compares favourably to Victoria's 29 per cent share and Queensland's 10 per cent share.
In 2004-05 New South Wales medical equipment exports were valued at $372 million or 62 per cent of Australia's total medical equipment exports of $604 million. Our active courting of international business through global trade fairs like Medica in Düsseldorf is helping to build on this impressive export base. As mentioned by my colleague, the Sydney company Cochlear Limited was recently awarded the prestigious title of 2007 Australian Exporter of the Year. Cochlear, which is based in Lane Cove, controls 70 per cent of the global ear device market and is the world leader in the research, development, manufacture and marketing of implantable hearing solutions. This is the sixth year in a row that a New South Wales company has taken out the top national export award, with New South Wales companies winning four other categories at the national export awards, more than any other State.
Mr Daryl Maguire:
Point of order: I draw your attention to the standing orders that preclude members from reading prepared speeches. Clearly the member is following word-for-word a prepared speech.
Order! There is no point of order.
Mr Daryl Maguire:
He can only use copious notes. This is a prepared speech.
Order! The member for Wagga Wagga knows full well that the member for East Hills is referring to copious notes.
Mr ALAN ASHTON:
I have been wondering for four years when someone would refer to copious notes. I am glad that the member for Wagga Wagga has done so, but he has wasted his time. Austrade's chief executive officer, Peter O'Byrne, has pointed out that these award winners are examples of innovative enterprises driving Australia's record export performance. Companies such as Cochlear and last year's Australian Exporter of the Year, ResMed, have become world leading multibillion-dollar companies from their Sydney bases. ResMed won the Large Advanced Manufacturing Award and the Australian Exporter of the Year award at last year's 2006 export awards. ResMed was founded in Sydney in 1989 by Dr Peter Farrell, who manufactured his devices to assist people with sleep disorders and breathing.
The number of people employed by his company has now grown to more than 2,000, with 1,200 based in Sydney. It also has a presence in 67 companies. Sleep disorder breathing affects up to 20 per cent of the adult population and is a debilitating medical condition which results in chronic poor-quality sleep and severe sleep deprivation. It is associated with other serious health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and depression. In the 2006 financial year ResMed achieved revenues—
Mr Daryl Maguire:
Point of order: This is an outrageous breach of the standing orders. Clearly the member is reading from a prepared speech. I ask you to draw him back to the leave of the motion and to make a contribution using notes only.
Order! The member for Wagga Wagga has made his point. There have been several determinations by previous Speakers about members referring to copious notes. The member for East Hills is fully within his rights to continue his speech. He is referring to copious notes. If that is the best point of order the member for Wagga Wagga has got today, he has some real problems.
Mr Daryl Maguire:
Mr Deputy-Speaker, with respect—
Order! I have ruled on the point of order.
Mr ALAN ASHTON:
We will make sure that this ends up at ResMed at North Ryde tomorrow. I know something about it because my father-in-law uses one of the machines. The points of order and interruptions show that the member for Wagga Wagga and his colleagues do not care about business, small or otherwise. They do not care about success. In New South Wales we have all this growth in developments. We have this clown, the member for Hawkesbury, who is a branch stacker, a rorter, a man from the far Right and all he can talk about is speeding fines, referring to speeding fines of the Leader of the Opposition—
Mr Ray Williams:
Point of order—
Mr ALAN ASHTON:
They got away with moving an amendment that they could not move—
Order! The member for East Hills—
Mr ALAN ASHTON:
This man is a gutless wonder and everybody knows it. He is slightly better than a criminal.
Order! I will ask the member for East Hills to sit down.
Mr ALAN ASHTON:
They do not have a B grade; they do not even have a C grade. They have an S-grade team.
Order! I will ask the member for East Hills to sit down.
Mr Ray Williams:
He is a disgrace and I ask you—
Order! Before the member for Hawkesbury takes his point of order, I remind the member for East Hills that I called for order several times. The proper way for the member for Hawkesbury to seek the call to take a point of order is to stand in his place, not to jump to the lectern. He is well aware of that. What is the point of order?
Mr Ray Williams:
I ask that the member for East Hills withdraw the statement he made and apologise to me.
Order! That is up to the member for East Hills. The member for East Hills' speaking time has now expired.
Mr Andrew Fraser:
Point of order: I listened to the gross insults put forward by the member for East Hills. The member for Hawkesbury has asked for those—
Does the member for East Hills wish to withdraw the comment?
Mr ALAN ASHTON:
Order! The member for East Hills has been asked whether he wishes to withdraw the comment and he does not wish to do so. Members will resume their seats. I call the member for Camden in reply.
Mr Andrew Fraser:
You should order him to withdraw it.
Order! The standing orders do not allow that, and the member for Coffs Harbour knows that. I call the member for Camden in reply.
Order! The member for Coffs Harbour will cease interjecting.
Mr Andrew Fraser:
Point of order: Your job is to rule in this House with independence. As Deputy-Speaker of this House you have an obligation to rule the member for East Hills' comments out of order and ask him to withdraw the comments.
Order! I have already asked the member for East Hills whether he wishes to withdraw the comments and he has chosen not to. I suggest that the member for Coffs Harbour read the standing orders.
Mr GEOFF CORRIGAN
(Camden) [4.17 p.m.], in reply: I thank the members for Murray-Darling, Marrickville, Hawkesbury—I am reluctant to thank him—and East Hills for their contributions to this debate. It is rather unfortunate that the member for Murray-Darling chose to move an amendment that has no relevance whatsoever to the motion. We totally reject the amendment. It is strange to talk about rural health in relation to companies that supply medical equipment. I would have thought that the members of The Nationals and the members of the Liberal Party would be great supporters of the manufacturing sector in New South Wales and would wish to encourage them, rather than spend their time tearing them down and not supporting this motion. Why would they not support companies like Cochlear and ResMed?
Mr John Williams:
Point of order: I refer to the member's comments—
What is your point of order?
Mr John Williams:
My point of order is that there is no relevance in what the member for Camden said about my contribution.
Order! There is no point of order. The member for Murray-Darling will resume his seat.
Mr GEOFF CORRIGAN:
Thank you for that point of order—
Order! The member for Murray-Darling will resume his seat or leave the Chamber.
Mr GEOFF CORRIGAN:
I thank the member for Marrickville for pointing out to the House that those wonderful companies, Cochlear and ResMed, which do such a wonderful job promoting medical technology in Australia and New South Wales are world leaders. I am glad that at least one member on the other side, the member for Wagga Wagga, has supported these companies. I wish the other members opposite would also support them. The member for Wagga Wagga said members on this side of the House have been reading bureaucratic statements. I cannot believe he would say that about the member for East Hills, who was referring to copious notes in speaking about supporting manufacturers. We on this side of the House care about supporting manufacturers and innovation in New South Wales. We want to support companies like St Leonards company AllVascular Pty Limited, which focuses on the research, development and commercialisation of novel medical devices and treatments for vascular surgery.
Chatswood Company General Healthcare Supplies develops products that improve personnel safety in health care and industrial environments. Northmead company MediVac Limited, which my colleague the member for Parramatta was advising the House about before she had to leave the Chamber today, has developed an on-site device called the MetaMizer to convert clinical and sharps waste into sterilised granules that can be safely disposed of as general healthcare facility waste. Continuing to list these companies would simply be repeating what I have already said, and I will not do that; I would not want to offend the Opposition.
I simply wish to commend the New South Wales Government and these wonderful companies for taking part in Medica, the world's biggest annual medical technology fair. I repeat: Over the last two years we have secured more than $100 million in sales for New South Wales companies due to their participation in the fair, with the support and the active involvement of the New South Wales Government. That is a great thing. The New South Wales Government's innovation statement accords high priority to the promotion of the medical device manufacturing sector. We have amply demonstrated that today in speaking about all these wonderful companies. Gosford company Prosmedix specialises in the design and manufacture of affordable, high-quality and high-performance prosthetic legs for global markets. It is beyond me how anyone could argue against that. Why is the Opposition not supporting these companies? Why is it not congratulating the New South Wales Government on supporting these companies and winning these contracts around the world?
Mr Ray Williams:
Point of order: The member for Camden is speaking so quickly that I think he might have to distribute some of his notes around so we can—
Order! That is a ridiculous point of order, as the member for Hawkesbury knows. Everyone else is able to understand the member for Camden. The member for Hawkesbury will resume his seat. He is wasting the time of the House, as he has done continually today. Before the member for Camden proceeds, I want to say that I am disgusted by the behaviour of members on both sides of the Chamber during this debate. There is a proper way to approach a debate, and the standing orders apply. I was requested to ask the member for East Hills to withdraw a comment, and I have done that. I did not even hear the comment, but I asked him to withdraw it. I did not hear the comment because the member for Hawkesbury and the member for Coffs Harbour were shouting and trying to take points of order, without adopting the proper procedure of standing in their places. That made it difficult. Let us have a debate in a proper and reasonable manner so that everyone gets a fair say.
Question—That the words stand—put.
The House divided.
Mr J. H. Turner
Mr R. W. Turner
Mr J. D. Williams
Mr R. C. Williams
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Question—That the motion be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
INTERNATIONAL DAY OF PEOPLE WITH A DISABILITY
Matter of Public Importance
Mr STEVE WHAN
(Monaro—Parliamentary Secretary) [4.36 p.m.]: It is a pleasure to raise this matter of public importance today. The Iemma Government is committed to improving services for people with a disability across New South Wales. I was keen to bring the motion before the House today because yesterday was the International Day of People with a Disability. We know that people who live in rural and regional New South Wales can sometimes suffer from social isolation. Obviously those with a disability are often more at risk of that. That is why the Iemma Government has been working hard to ensure that all people with a disability can participate as much as possible in their communities. To celebrate the International Day of People with a Disability the Iemma Government assisted over 150 exciting events across the State. More than 1.2 million people living in New South Wales have a disability. These projects help to celebrate many of their achievements and to provide an opportunity to say thank you to those who make valuable contributions to their communities.
As part of the International Day of People with a Disability $20,000 was awarded to the winners and runners-up of a school art competition held at the Campbelltown Performing Arts Centre. The competition encouraged students to consider diversity and to focus on a person's ability rather than disability. There were a number of performances and around the State there were 21 ambassadors from the arts, sports and business worlds supporting the Don't DIS my ABILITY
campaign. The personal success stories of those ambassadors reinforce the message that people with a disability can do anything. The Iemma Government's new community service announcements are being played on YouTube and demonstrate amazing examples of many achievements made by people with a disability, including an abseilor negotiating a steep cliff in her wheelchair, a paraplegic motorcyclist riding a super bike and an amputee ballroom dancer moving gracefully with his partner. Those people are challenging the community's perception of people with a disability.
The highlights included the international wheelchair rugby, or murderball, tournament, the winner of which will be the Oceanic qualifier for the Beijing Paralympics, and theatrical workshops teaching children about disability and communication skills. Around the State we saw ambassadors, including Brad Dubberley, Australian national wheelchair rugby coach; Kurt Fearnley, seven times marathon winner; and Alex Jones, former All Saints
actor and current director of Heads Up
, a show teaching school students about disability. Last Friday in Queanbeyan we held a terrific celebration of the Festival of Ability. One of the ambassadors in attendance was a Paralympic vision-impaired cyclist who has won Paralympic medals riding with a partner on a tandem bike and who was a great speaker at the event. I want to talk a little about the Queanbeyan Festival of Ability because it was a sensational event, despite the fact that it poured with rain during the event.
The highlight of the festival was a half-hour performance by Jimmy Barnes. His daughter sang some songs as well. His drummer, who had a disability, jumped up and performed during the playing of Khe Sanh
. Jimmy Barnes gave his services for free. I thank him for performing at the festival. It was a great thrill for everyone involved in organising the event. Just as important were the other performers. The children from the Queanbeyan Public School Special Unit sang a song with the Queanbeyan Public School choir. There were many other performers and various stalls, including one that provided free massages for carers. It was a great way to help celebrate the day.
One of the other features of the Iemma Government's Don't DIS my ABILITY campaign was a screening in a Paddington cinema of Who Loves the Sun
, an award-winning drama that was screened at the Possible Worlds Canadian Film Festival. The cinema was adapted to enable people with a disability to savour the experience. Captioning was provided for people with hearing difficulties and audio was provided for people with vision impairment. Seats were removed to allow wheelchair access. The activities associated with the International Day of People with a Disability act to encourage community participation by people with a disability all around New South Wales.
I am pleased to speak about an initiative of the Iemma Government in Queanbeyan. The Queanbeyan Children Special Needs Group is a wonderful group that has been working in Queanbeyan for many years to ensure that the children have a smooth transition to school and are able to access the services they need. I recently had the pleasure of joining the Minister for Disability Services in Queanbeyan to formally announce State Government funding of $500,000 towards the group's new centre. The Queanbeyan Children Special Needs Group needs this centre. Its current premises are leased from the council. Although the premises are pleasant, it is an old building that is not specifically designed for children with special needs. Most importantly, it is located across a park with no available car parking nearby. The parents have to bring the children across the park in all sorts of weather conditions. This group of children needs a car park located nearby to provide easy access to facilities.
The new centre will better meet the needs of these children and their families in the Monaro electorate. It will be a great boost to the area. A few issues have arisen, such as finding a block of land on which to build the centre. We are still working on that. Unfortunately, there is a lack of vacant land within the Queanbeyan central business district. The centre is in addition to a new centre that has been built by a similar group in Cooma, which opened a year or so ago. Again, the State Government had the pleasure of supporting the Cooma centre, which is a purpose-built facility for children with special needs. Local young people with a disability deserve every opportunity to enjoy their schooling and participate fully in their local community. That is the reason the Government, together with community groups, is providing services such as early intervention, education, therapy and assessment services. Such services are very important in my electorate.
Part of the Government's new initiatives includes respite care in Queanbeyan and funding that has been made available recently. Members may think that a city of 37,000 people should have had this service a long time ago. However, in the past the area was able to use services in the Australian Capital Territory. Following the introduction of self-government, the Australian Capital Territory Government was under funding pressure and started to close us out of its services. Unfortunately, on occasions it did so without much notice. The State Government has now stepped in and provided funding for respite care, which is a terrific boost for families in the Southern Highlands region. Families in the area had raised this issue with me before I was elected as a member of Parliament and I took it up on their behalf. We are now seeing the results. Although these projects sometimes take time, they are worthwhile initiatives.
Other groups in the Monaro electorate that provide services include Cooma Challenge. This organisation, with State Government assistance, provides a range of services to people with a disability in the Cooma region. In other parts of the State the Government is undertaking some terrific initiatives. One in rural and regional New South Wales to which I will refer is a new Aboriginal Intensive Family Support Program, which will help Aboriginal families support a child with a disability. The new program, which will be introduced in Kempsey, Taree and Dubbo, provides short, intensive, flexible in-home services to families with children with a disability who are at risk of family breakdown. The service will work closely with families who are under severe stress to assist them to safely care for their disabled child and one another.
By working with families in this intensive way, the Iemma Government hopes to reduce the need to remove children from their home environment, coordinate ongoing support and provide positive experiences for the children. This service is part of an expansion of the Intensive Family Support Program, which was launched last year with funding under the Iemma Government's Stronger Together strategy. Eight organisations were appointed last year to provide twelve Intensive Family Support services across New South Wales, including three culturally and linguistically diverse specific services. As I said, Dubbo, Kempsey and Taree were awarded tenders in that process. They were assessed by a panel that included Aboriginal staff from the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care, and independent Aboriginal members with local community knowledge and expertise in human services.
All the programs I have mentioned complement and build on the achievements already established under the New South Wales Government's 10-year Stronger Together plan. This plan further confirms the Government's commitment to improving services for people with a disability, their families and carers. Stronger Together details how the Government will provide greater assistance and long-term practical solutions, backed by $1.3 billion in new funding over the first five years. One of the three key goals of Stronger Together is focused on promoting community inclusion—Count Me in Too—so that adults with a disability have more opportunities to participate in paid employment or in the community. During question time today the Minister for Disability Services referred to some of those initiatives. Our commitment is demonstrated through the many services and events supported by the Iemma Government, particularly this week when we celebrate the International Day of People with a Disability.
As I mentioned earlier, the International Day of People with a Disability has been a great opportunity for people in the region that I represent and throughout New South Wales to celebrate the abilities of people and to promote the Don't DIS my ABILITY campaign. One of the most pleasing aspects of the Festival of Ability in Queanbeyan was to see the hard work and enthusiasm of people with a disability in our community who were directly involved in staging and running the event. Their obvious enthusiasm makes the festival a wonderful event for all to participate in and to share their joy. I also compliment local organisations for their involvement in the festival. The Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care was intimately involved in organising the Festival of Ability in Queanbeyan. Queanbeyan City Council supported the festival and did a terrific job. I jointly opened the festival with Mayor Frank Pangallo last Friday. It was a great opportunity to celebrate the abilities of people with a disability and to thank them for the important role they play in our community.
Mr ANDREW CONSTANCE
(Bega) [4.46 p.m.]: It is my pleasure to speak on this matter of public importance. I acknowledge the remarks of the member for Monaro in relation to the International Day of People with a Disability. Yesterday 150-plus events were held around New South Wales, with the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care intimately involved in organising many of them. Many local organisations were able to celebrate this important day. The Minister for Disability Services made a statement that the day was not only to celebrate the achievements, contributions and abilities of people with a disability but also to reflect on how people with a disability can be provided with better opportunities to participate in the community. Nowhere is that more true than in regional New South Wales where people with a disability face an ongoing challenge to access the vital services they need to participate in community life.
Country people do a terrific job at the best of times. But, often, most country families that I speak to as the shadow Minister for Disability Services say they are tired of government not providing the basic services they need. I will highlight those basic services later in my speech. Obviously, the Queanbeyan community will welcome the $500,000 spend on special needs. However, it is a great shame that the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales governments have not come to some agreement on cross-border issues and the provision of disability services. It is not good enough that Queanbeyan families have had to move to Canberra to meet the residential requirements imposed by the Australian Capital Territory Government.
Jon Stanhope has no heart: He was only too happy to accept the $250 million-odd over the past five years from New South Wales taxpayers for health services, but he was not willing to provide vulnerable families in Queanbeyan and the surrounding district with access to disability services. Some families have to travel to Goulburn or even Sydney for assessments when they should be able to be carried out locally in the Canberra region. Centre-based respite care and supported accommodation present obvious challenges.
The Australian Capital Territory Government's action has been very poor, but the New South Wales Labor Government and the member for Monaro have not done enough to put pressure on it. A working party has been in place since 2004 and one has to ask if there are any outcomes as a result of ongoing discussions and dialogue with the Australian Capital Territory Government. Recently the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare handed down quite a damning report on disability services in this State: twice as many people with a disability receive accommodation support and three times as many receive respite in Victoria than in New South Wales.
The fact that families in Victoria experiencing difficulties have access to better services than those in New South Wales highlights the fact that there are holes in service delivery throughout country New South Wales. The Government can crow as much as it likes about Stronger Together—its $1.3 billion program—but the bottom line is that families are judging the program on the services they receive at a grassroots level. The member for Burrinjuck wrote to the Minister four months ago about supported accommodation in Cowra, but the Minister has not responded. A survey found that in Cowra 14 adults with a disability have carers aged 65 or older, but there is no supported disability accommodation for any of these individuals. This situation is unacceptable. The Minister must respond to the member for Burrinjuck.
Down on the coast in the Eurobodalla shire and in Ulladulla there is no centre-based respite, but the communities are lobbying hard for it. Therapy services in the State's south-east have been part of an ongoing debate, but, again, the Government has not provided an adequate response. The member for Monaro was right to have brought this matter of public importance before the House. It has revealed time and time again the deficiencies in service delivery across the State.
The member for Monaro would be interested to know that last year 1,596 people applied for supported accommodation through the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care. That is just the tip of the iceberg. In the service request register for each region, in those regions for which data is available and in regional and rural New South Wales, 475 people made requests for supported accommodation in the northern region, 88 in the southern region and 138 in the western region. These people are desperately seeking supported accommodation, but they are missing out because of the State Government's sheer and utter reluctance to provide the necessary funding.
Given his Federal campaign—in which he was unsuccessful—the member for Monaro would know only too well of Nardy House, a respite facility that is yet to be opened. It is particularly disturbing that, despite the fact we have had a world-class, fully equipped, community-built facility for two years, the Government has not found the necessary funding to maintain it. Today an agreement was reached for a partnership between the community and the Government to provide the service. This morning a press release was issued on behalf of some members of the Nardy House committee stating that they will not attend Friday's opening of the facility because, with few exceptions, the invitation from the department does not include supporters of Nardy House.
The Nardy House committee sent a list of supporters, contributors and workers to the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care so that they could be invited to Friday's launch. The committee expected 40 or 50 people to attend the opening. One of the department's invitees was Queanbeyan Council, but people who contributed hours upon hours to Nardy House are not invited. The matter has now reached a stalemate and the Nardy House committee will not attend Friday's opening by the Minister. This is yet another example of the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care not working with the community on supported accommodation. The Nardy House committee is bitterly disappointed that it has had to take this action, but people out there who have slogged their guts out for Nardy House have not been invited to the opening. It is an absolute disgrace.
I hope that the Government and the Minister can resolve this problem immediately so that Friday's opening can continue. The State Government should be absolutely ashamed of the way it has dealt with Nardy House and its committee. It is disappointing that a community that was willing to put up an innovative model in a country setting to provide services for children with profound disabilities was given the runaround by countless Ministers, including John Della Bosca, who handled the situation abysmally.
The Government must get a full handle on service delivery throughout country New South Wales, in towns such as Dubbo, Cowra and Wagga Wagga. The Government should audit these towns and work out where there are shortfalls in services. It is not good enough for families to seek information from the Government about services and to be told they have to travel hundreds of kilometres to access them. It is hard enough to have a child with a disability let alone have no services in the immediate area. It is simply not good enough that this Government continues to underfund disability services across country and regional New South Wales.
Ms LYLEA McMAHON
(Shellharbour) [4.56 p.m.]: The Iemma Government is committed to increasing employment and community participation for people with disabilities; in fact, it is a key priority of the New South Wales Government's State Plan. Plans have been put in place to increase the number of people with a disability in paid employment by about 50 per cent by the year 2016. This represents an increase of almost 6,000 jobs. Through Stronger Together—the Iemma Government's 10-year, $1 billion plan for improving disability services—we are making this a reality. Support for school leavers was increased to $74 million in the last financial year so that people in community participation programs can now receive a minimum of four days assistance a week.
In 2007 more than 800 school leavers were assessed as eligible to enter the Iemma Government's transition to work or community participation programs from January 2007. To close the gap in the unemployment rate between people with a disability and the overall community, the Iemma Government has introduced a number of strategies. One of these strategies is the allocation of $180,000 to the Australian Employees Network on Disability to fund a coordinator to increase awareness and employment opportunities in the private sector. Being part of the community and enjoying the lifestyle and recreational opportunities this offers greatly improves the lives of people with a disability.
The Iemma Government is also investing in increasing the level of out-of-home participation of people with a severe or profound disability to at least 85 per cent. Initiatives that are currently underway include investing $1 million to support sporting organisations so that they can provide opportunities for people with a disability and trialling increased supports for people with an acquired brain injury. The Iemma Government is committed to continuing to improve the quality of life for people with a disability, their families and carers across New South Wales. It should not be ignored that this Government's commitment extends beyond the boundaries of the metropolitan fringe. In my area, people with a disability and their families will benefit from additional funding of $15 million that has been provided over two years under the Iemma Government's Stronger Together program. Many organisations in my local community will benefit from this funding.
One organisation that deserves congratulations is the Greenacres Association, which I visited with the Minister some time ago at its centre in Oak Flats. Services delivered by Greenacres include post-school options, community participation, transition to work and day programs. About 150 clients access these programs. Greenacres, along with other community-based organisations, plays a major role in delivering services within the Illawarra. In the 2006-07 financial year the organisation received $2.46 million in recurrent funding and nearly $1 million in one-off grants from the State Government. The 2007-08 budget continued the roll-out of increased funding through the Iemma Government's historic reshaping of the sector under its 10-year Stronger Together strategy, which will deliver an extra $1.3 billion in funding over the first five years.
This year provides for an additional $192.5 million in Stronger Together funding following the $154.5 million provided in the first year. The 2007-08 budget has allocated a total of $764 million to fund support programs for older people, people with a disability and their carers in regional and rural areas, including $63 million in the Illawarra. I flag an important date for members to put in their diaries: next Saturday, 8 December, at 10.00 a.m. The Minister for Disability Services, the Minister for Sport and I will participate in a wheelchair basketball competition to celebrate International Day of People with a Disability. I encourage all of those who will not participate in the game on Saturday to come along and raise awareness of an important day and to watch as "Team Iemma" is victorious yet again.
Mr STEVE WHAN
(Monaro—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.01 p.m.], in reply: I thank the member for Shellharbour for her contribution to this discussion and her obvious strong representation on behalf of people with a disability from her electorate. She did a very good job. I thank the member for Bega for contributing to the discussion. He made a number of comments to which I will respond. I understand that the member for Bega has so far not accepted the offer to participate in wheelchair basketball, but he might want to do that. I have played before, but, unfortunately, I cannot participate on Saturday.
The member for Bega spoke about cross-border issues and said that I as the local member have not done enough. For the past four years I have been working to get respite care in Queanbeyan. As I said in my opening remarks, respite care is coming and it is something that is very important for the local area. Again, this is one of those stark contrasts between the Government and the Opposition, which does nothing but whinge and criticise—it never offers solutions.
The member for Bega talked about Nardy House, about which I know a fair bit from my experience in the area. He was extremely mean-spirited today: He should have complimented the Minister on resolving the issue and reaching a funding agreement for the organisation. Over the years the Government has put forward seven offers of recurrent funding, all of which the Nardy House committee rejected. The Government continues to work with the committee to make sure the facility opens. We need goodwill on all sides, but we never get that from the member for Bega because he is clearly far more interested in scoring political points than actually getting results. I know the Minister is really looking forward to opening Nardy House on Friday, so I must correct a misleading impression left by the member for Bega when he said that the committee was hoping to get 40 to 50 people to come along, which is a reasonable number of people. The problem that the department has is that the number of invitees on the list provided was more than 300.
Mr Andrew Constance:
It was 250.
Mr STEVE WHAN:
More than 300 on the information I have been given, and the department was concerned that it would be difficult to fit several hundred people into a five-bedroom house. It is a safety issue more than anything else. But I am sure that this, as with most issues in the Nardy House process, could be resolved with some goodwill and some discussion rather than someone once again trying to score political points and being too narrow and bloody-minded to give some credit where it is due. The Minister has managed to resolve this issue and will open Nardy House, which will offer much-needed services. This issue has been going on for so long that it actually predates the member for Bega even knowing about the Far South Coast. It was going on before he found his way to Bega. That is something the people in the area do not forget, which goes a long way to explaining his pathetic results in the last election.
The Government has a positive process to address and put in place more resources for disability services. The member for Bega said today that $1.3 million is not enough; the Stronger Together program is not enough—we need more. We would all, of course, like to put more in, but it is the same old story from those opposite. They come in here with the same attitude about everything. We heard it in question time today when the shadow Minister for Health said, "It is not enough" to everything that was said. They are out there in the community saying, "We need more", but at the same time the member for Bega is promising to reduce payroll tax, promising to cut land tax, and saying that we collect too much in gambling taxes.
We see the same old theme of the past four years: spend more and collect less. Those opposite want us to spend more, collect less, and leave us with a big black hole. They have no concept of government and it becomes clearer by the day that they have no capacity for government. Now that they have lost government federally, we will see them lose touch even further with the reality of government. I expect that over the next four years we will see more of the $30 billion black hole that we saw in the last election campaign. People with a disability and their carers know the difference between deliverable promises from the Government and pie in the sky rubbish from an Opposition that wants only to score political points.
ACTING-SPEAKER (Ms Diane Beamer):
Order! It being shortly before 5.15 p.m., with the concurrence of the House I propose to proceed to the taking of private members' statements.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' STATEMENTS
BANKSTOWN STATE EMERGENCY SERVICE VOLUNTEERS
Mr ALAN ASHTON
(East Hills) [5.08 p.m.]: With the permission of the Opposition Whip, I will read onto Hansard
the names of people to whom I presented medallions the other day at the Bankstown Sports Club for their great efforts on behalf of the Bankstown State Emergency Service, which has been operating for more than 30 years, when they performed voluntary service on the Central Coast, in the Hunter and Newcastle during the great floods, the cyclonic conditions, and the stranding of the Pasha Bulker
—people know the story. Tragically, nine people lost their lives in the events of that long weekend. The floods and storms caused damage estimated at $1.3 billion. During that weekend 4,000 people were evacuated as floodwaters threatened to breach the levies that protected Maitland alone. My colleague the member for Wallsend tells stories of water washing down through many streets and shops. My good colleague the member for Wagga Wagga has granted me permission to read onto the record the names of those to whom I presented awards.
The recipients were: Amro Abdelkarim; Reema Abdelkarim; Ossama Abdul-Karim; Safouh Abdul-Karim; Karim Aburashed; Ali Albayati; Richard Angel; Nell Anstee; Carole Bassam; Ian Bassam; Phillip Baxter; Ivars Bruzgulis; Jane Busby; Michael Busby; Alan Caton; Julia Chung; Margaret Croke; Scott Davidson; David Drake; Melissa Fitzpatrick; Stephen Fulton; Robert Gallagher; Stephen Goodfellow; Megan Hannon; Christopher Hansen—whom I taught many years ago, he was an excellent student and is even better as a State Emergency Service volunteer; Leslie Hardaker; Guirguis Fam; Ca Huynh; David Johnston; Phyllis Johnston; Neville Kelleher; Phillip Le; Ricardo Leiker; Bianca Little; Matthew Luks; Denise Lynch; Coralie Mahoney; Phillip Mahoney—whom I taught with at Punchbowl Boys High School and who is an excellent citizen and involved in our local community; Luigi Martusciello; Zoya Matis; Vince McCann; Stuart Miller; George Mitre; David Niven and Michelle Niven, who are at the senior end of the Bankstown service; Kelli Pearce; Janette Pennell; Vincenzo Pezzullo; Andrew Platt; Allen Reay; Katrina Roberts; Graham Tomkinson—who is the deputy senior controller of the Bankstown division and who has held a senior position there for many years; Evan Tran; Erik Trostel; Francisco Trostel; Willy Trostel, Lawrence White; Kristine Winter; and Joseph Zhong.
Members would have noticed that I did not read out 40 or 50 Anglo-Saxon names, as would have been the case 20 or 30 years ago when the Bankstown of the State Emergency Service division was established. Hopefully every community in this State has a State Emergency Service division. It is interesting to see that they are attracting people from such different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. That is what a real community is about. That list contained people from Vietnam, Arabic countries, Lebanon, Macedonia, Italy and China. Of course, that reflects the composition of the Bankstown community, and that is also true of many other electorates. The membership of the State Emergency Service is evolving with the changes in Australia's population.
I live on Georges River and have had volunteers from the State Emergency Service knock on my door during floods—believe it or not we have had them—and fires, which are more frequent. I really appreciate their work. They close roads and cut down and remove damaged trees. I was away during the Christmas break a couple of years ago and a tree fell down and smashed through my garage. The first I knew about it was when a State Emergency Service officer called and told me what had happened and that the tree had been cut up and removed—the job was done. I am sure I speak for all members when I acknowledge the voluntary service provided by State Emergency Service members, not only in Bankstown but also throughout the State. Members of the State Emergency Service attend fetes, Australia Day celebrations and so on to provide security and to facilitate access and traffic flow. They provide a great deal of support to our community and, for once, I am sure that I have the support of all members in extending my congratulations. I have been seconded by the member for Wagga Wagga.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Notices of Motions
Government Business Notices of Motions (General Notices) given.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' STATEMENTS
WORLD AIDS DAY
INTERNATIONAL DAY OF PEOPLE WITH A DISABILITY
Mrs JUDY HOPWOOD
(Hornsby) [5.15 p.m.]: I pay tribute to people who work in disability services in my electorate. However, before doing so, I acknowledge World AIDS Day, which was commemorated on 1 December. This important day is marked by the wearing of a red ribbon, the international symbol of HIV/AIDS awareness since 1991. It represents solidarity and support for people living with HIV/AIDS.
The International Day of People with a Disability slogan is Don't DIS my ABILITY. I commend those in my electorate whose efforts are acknowledged on this important day. They must continue those efforts every day of the year in support of people with a disability and their families. A wonderful celebration was held yesterday in Hornsby Mall. I extend my thanks to those who worked so hard to make it a success, including the Hornsby Shire Council, the Hornsby Access Committee, the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care, information stallholders and those who wandered through. I make special mention of the Achieve Foundation and other groups such as the Hornsby Rockets, a disabled tenpin bowling team. I was very privileged to make a short speech at the event.
The Achieve Foundation, which is a non-profit organisation that was until recently known as Hornsby Challenge, was established in 1964 and is committed to providing opportunities for people with disabilities to live and work in the community and to be recognised as equal citizens. The foundation was one of the first groups in Australia to commence deinstitutionalisation in 1985 by moving people with disabilities into community-based accommodation and employment. Today it provides employment and accommodation support services for people with disabilities. Its primary aims are choice in every-day as well as life-defining matters, the respect of other members of the community, presence in t4 December 2007he community, living and working as part of the community, competence in carrying out activities, relationships and a network of valued friendships with people in the community.
Samantha Connolly is an 18-year-old woman who has done work experience in my office over the past 18 months. I first met Samantha when she and her mother attended the playgroup that my children and I attended at the Hornsby Baptist church. Samantha was born in 1989 with hydrocephalus, which has resulted in disabilities, including vision problems. I lost contact with her family after the playgroup encounter, but I caught up with her through the St Edmund's School work experience program. I pay tribute to my staff for regularly assisting Samantha. She is a gem and has maintained her contact with my office. She is hoping to attend another fantastic non-government organisation in my electorate known as Studio ARTES next year after completing her high school education. She will be participating in art and recreation activities and she will be undertaking training for future employment. She will be given a great deal of support. Wendy Escott and Sue Byatt do a wonderful job in arranging many opportunities for people with disabilities. They have gone from strength to strength. I congratulate Studio ARTES on its achievements, including its recent art exhibition.
Ms JODI McKAY
(Newcastle) [5.19 p.m.]: I bring to the attention of the House the work of HunterNet in New South Wales. Newcastle is the home of this networking and training organisation that is a model for industry clusters nationally, a cluster that is forging new investment, new jobs and new opportunities in the Hunter. HunterNet, which began in 1992, is a self-funded, not-for-profit cooperative of manufacturers, engineers, information technology providers, electrical and consulting companies. The Federal Government and the New South Wales Government, through the Department of State and Regional Development, provided initial funding to set up the network, which continues to this day with ongoing support. The organisation provides networking, training and lobbying services for its 95 members. It has been integral in expanding the manufacturing and engineering base for the Hunter. Fundamental to its success is John McColl, the recipient of this year's Harvey Knox Award, presented in memory of the outstanding contribution to HunterNet by Harvey Knox. Today John continues to serve as chairman on the HunterNet group training company.
The manufacturing and engineering industry in Australia has experienced some difficulties in the face of increased imports. HunterNet took the lead some 15 years ago to tackle this issue by putting aside local competition and individual interests to work together for increased opportunities through collaboration and cooperation. I recently attended HunterNet's annual awards night, where MIM Management Services took out the Innovation Award, recognising its cutting edge processes and modern management technologies. MIM was also commended for its support and involvement in HunterNet projects, "Model for Action" and "Innovate the Hunter".
A significant part of HunterNet is its group training company, which was founded in 1996 to address the need for apprentices and appropriate training among its members and industry generally in the Hunter region. Over the past 10 years the company has trained around 1,000 apprentices through Newcastle TAFE. It currently has 105 apprentices and trainees, and these young, smart, capable and enthusiastic men and woman are the future of our region. Another winner on the night was Pegasus, which picked up the 2007 Training Award for the support it has provided to HunterNet. This is HunterNet at work, professional organisations supporting each other for the advancement of industry.
As members would know, it is imperative Australian companies employ best practice systems and operations to compete internationally. The importance of establishing international benchmarks in safety was recognised when Tomago Aluminium was awarded the Occupational Health and Safety Award for its significant achievement of two million working hours without losing time due to workplace injuries. A key ingredient in HunterNet's success is its ability to connect industry in the Hunter with the objective of sharing information, resources and skills. Central Coast company Avoca Engineering was awarded the Networking Award for its strong networking achievements within the HunterNet group.
Many Hunter industries are national export leaders. The Hunter is the home of Dywidag Systems International, a global business and Australia's largest manufacturer of Strata reinforcement products to underground coal and metal mining companies. The power of HunterNet also lies in its advocacy, promoting its members' skills and technologies and sourcing opportunities of benefit to the region. The organisation has successfully promoted local capability for major project tenders such as the MineHunter project, the Hawk Lead-in-Fighter project and the State Government's $3.6 billion contract for the supply of 626 rail carriages—which was won by EDI Rail at Cardiff. HunterNet has also played a key role in the region's coal loader projects to support the Hunter's $6 billion coal industry.
HunterNet aims to foster innovation in order to develop and secure the manufacturing and engineering industry in our region. The Iemma Government is committed to fostering business investment in New South Wales and is determined to create stronger regional economies. The work of HunterNet complements the priorities of the Government and the State Plan. It provides a great example of how innovative approaches can stimulate economic growth and increased opportunities for business. The State Plan places a particular emphasis on innovation. A key aim of this strategy is to increase the State's attractiveness as a location for new firms, thereby increasing private business investment in New South Wales. I commend the member companies of HunterNet for seizing opportunity through collaboration for the benefit of the Hunter and this State.
Mr STEVE WHAN
(Monaro—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.23 p.m.]: I offer the Government's congratulations to the businesses the member for Newcastle has just mentioned and to the members of HunterNet on their efforts to promote innovation and the development of the economy around the Newcastle area. It is terrific to hear the success many of those companies are having, particularly those involved in State Government contracts such as the rail carriages being made at Cardiff. I congratulate the member for Newcastle on being such a strong advocate for and passionate supporter of businesses in the Newcastle area.
NORTH COAST HEALTH SERVICES
Mr ANDREW FRASER
(Coffs Harbour—Deputy Leader of The Nationals) [5.24 p.m.]: This evening I raise a matter of grave importance to the people of the Coffs Harbour electorate and those within the catchment of the Coffs Harbour Area Health Service and the Coffs Harbour Health Campus. On Saturday I had the misfortune to meet a gynaecologist who told me some real horror stories in relation to health care at the Coffs Harbour Health Campus. As the private hospital in Coffs Harbour, Baringa, is about to close its maternity unit and upgrade the hospital in a number of areas, 120 births per annum will be transferred to the Coffs Harbour Health Campus. Currently there are about 1,000 births per annum at the Coffs Harbour Health Campus, which will increase to about 1,120. However, it does not have an antenatal service. Ryde Hospital has about 700 births per annum and it has an antenatal service.
Some two years ago the Government and the area health service trained some midwives, sending them to Sydney at the expense of the health department and money was allocated for an antenatal service in Coffs Harbour. What has happened? Nothing. That money disappeared. I am yet to be told by anyone in the health service or by anyone within government where that money has gone. It has gone to fill budget black holes. Coffs Harbour Health Campus has bed blocks in all areas of medicine second to none on the mid North Coast and probably second to none anywhere in New South Wales.
On the weekend the gynaecologist told me that recently he had in for a dilation curette a woman who was carrying a deceased foetus. She was put off for three days. On the day she was finally given the opportunity to have the procedure some trauma victims had been at the hospital so the theatre was not available. The woman was then told she would have to wait—to go shopping at the plaza and come back at 2.30 p.m. That is a tragedy. The women in this place would realise the toxic problems that could come from carrying a deceased foetus. Theatre No. 4 at the hospital was not being used at the time but could not be opened to deal with this case because the money was not there. The health campus does not have the money.
When I attended the opening of some doctors' surgeries on Friday night—for a paediatrician and other specialists—I was told that specialist lists are cancelled at short notice on a regular basis. People waiting for hips, knees, perhaps paediatric surgery, are given very short notice that the operation is put offand quite often those people have been put off two or three times before. If someone jumps the list because of trauma, others go further back on the list. In many cases these patients have fasted, on doctor's instructions, prior to attending the hospital. That is unfair to those patients and it means that a level five hospital is delivering level three services.
We have great specialists in the area but they are currently talking about moving away because they cannot get operating time. Some specialists are given two half days a week and then have half a day cancelled, as I was told by the gynaecologist on the weekend and by other specialists. It could be an ear, nose and throat specialist, an orthopaedic specialist—you name it. People are on waiting lists of 15 months, two years and sometimes three years. People are travelling from as far away as Grafton looking for a basic medical service. This is not elective surgery; these are important, necessary surgeries. However, the health service cannot provide them because, I am told, it is $9 million over budget.
Today we saw emergency department nurses on the highway with a banner stating, "We need another registrar". In fact, the number of registrars in Coffs Harbour, in comparison to other hospitals on the North Coast and in Sydney, is abysmal. We are well and truly under the quotas of other hospitals, yet the town's workload and work rate are far higher. I call on the New South Wales Government to provide immediately the necessary funding to enable proper medical services to be delivered to the Coffs Harbour health campus.
HUNTER WETLANDS CENTRE
Ms SONIA HORNERY
(Wallsend—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.29 p.m.]: Have you treated yourself to a visit to the Hunter Wetlands Centre lately? Nestled in the edges of the Hunter floodplain at Shortland, its pristine, natural, organic and self-maintaining ecosystem sits pride of place in the electorate of Wallsend. Twenty-two years ago there were four species of birds. Today this eco-jewel boasts of 211 species of birds. It is a pleasant bicycle ride from my home in Wallsend to the wetlands and I have had the pleasure of visiting the centre a number of times in the past few years. I am familiar with the kiosk, recently refurbished, with its tasty cuisine and spectacular view of the duck pond, and the lovely bush walks amongst the Australian flora and fauna, with all their starkness and beauty.
In the past a group of enthusiasts got together and lobbied Newcastle City Council to listen to them about the site. From the blood, sweat and tears of these enthusiasts, the location was returned to its natural state. Today the Hunter Wetlands Centre is Wallsend's eco-jewel. The wetlands, formerly known as the swamp, are a glorious reminder to the community of the importance of wetlands to our biodiversity. The wetlands are an important example of how we can preserve our natural ecosystems for future generations. I am sure that the Federal member for Newcastle, Sharon Grierson, and my predecessor, John Mills, will agree that a visit to the wetlands centre is a wonderful experience. In fact, John Mills has been so impressed with the wetlands that he is now a fully-fledged volunteer at the centre.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's policy for the environment is a perfect example of the Commonwealth Labor Government's goals and aspirations, and is echoed by the goals and aspirations of the Hunter Wetlands Centre. I invite Mr Rudd, Mr Garrett and Mr Brown to witness for themselves the environmental, conservation and preservation of this Wallsend gem. Members will be pleased to learn that not only is the wetlands centre environmentally sustainable, but also it is economically sustainable. The modest admission fee goes back into improvements to the wetlands centre. The many skilled and willing volunteers pick up much of the slack for maintenance. The wetlands centre is proud to be beholden to no-one. For this reason, democratic decision making takes place. These groups are self-sustaining; they are not burdened by regulations, rarely go bankrupt and are not scared by tariffs. They can go on and on. We all want to head in the direction of being self-sustaining.
Are members aware that in 2002 this eco-jewel was listed as part of the Hunter estuary Ramsar site? As member for Wallsend, I am humbled at the site's inclusion in such an auspicious listing. The world is recognising Wallsend! Ramsar has confirmed the site's worth as a world icon. I am also humbled that the wetlands centre gives us international status. Members have probably heard of the fairy story of the frog that turned into Prince Charming. Well, the Hunter Wetlands Centre was once a garbage dump—a garbage dump that has been resurrected into an eco-jewel. People will probably catch sight of a very special green and gold bell frog in their visits. This frog proudly symbolises the transformation that has occurred.
Of the thousands of visitors who frequent this pocket of heaven, it is the school education program that will sanctify the future of this sanctuary. The Shortland wetlands first opened its doors to visiting school students in 1986. Since that time the education program has welcomed approximately 150,000 students from kindergarten to year 12. Our youth are the insurance policy for the prosperity of the wetlands centre in the future. Their involvement and interest are vital. I have a tip for members interested in taking a peek into this perfect eco-system: remember the Aeroguard! Also, remember to book an informative tour guide. Many volunteers not only take time out freely but also, as members will see for themselves—don't tell anyone!—just love being there. So come and join me at the Hunter Wetlands Centre to celebrate its central, natural place in Wallsend. See for yourself what preserving the environment can do for the flora and fauna and how terrific we feel when we take time out to commune with nature.
Ms VERITY FIRTH
(Balmain—Minister for Women, Minister for Science and Medical Research, Minister Assisting the Minister for Health (Cancer), Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change, Environment and Water (Environment)) [5.34 p.m.]: I place on record the passionate enthusiasm of the member for Wallsend for the protection of the environment, not just in her area but also across the State. I commend her for her appreciation of the role that education plays in creating the conservationists of the future. I also inform the House that it is her birthday today.
INTERNATIONAL DAY OF PEOPLE WITH A DISABILITY
PORT STEPHENS ELECTORATE POLICING
Mr CRAIG BAUMANN
(Port Stephens) [5.35 p.m.]: Yesterday I attended an exciting picnic in celebration of the International Day of People with a Disability at beautiful Little Beach, Nelson Bay. I was reminded of the phrase that one so often hearsthat someone "suffers from a disability". Well, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of people with disabilities do not suffer from their disability. They suffer from marginalisation, stigma and discrimination. People with disabilities are very much underemployed in the Australian workforce, both in terms of being employed and the levels to which they are employed compared to those without a disability. The State Government has created the Don't DIS My ABILITY campaign to mark the day and raise awareness of the rights of disabled people to be employed on an equal basis with others. I recognise that this is an excellent initiative and applaud the State Government.
As Australia's unemployment level continues to drop and as the State suffers a skills shortage we must recognise and utilise the skills of disabled people, who traditionally are excluded from work, if we are to continue to prosper as a nation. Research shows that not only are disabled employees less likely to be injured in the workplace but also they tend to stay longer in each role and are more dedicated. As members of Parliament it is imperative that we continue to advocate on behalf of those who cannot do so themselves. In my first parliamentary year as the member for Port Stephens I have become acutely aware that people living with disability need more accessible pathways toward government support, especially when entering the workforce. One of the biggest barriers to employment for people living with disability is transport. There is much room for improvement in Port Stephens on this front.
Commencing my first term as a representative in this place has been a very interesting eight months for me. In March this year one of the issues that made the people of Port Stephens turn their backs on 20 years of Labor Party representation was a lack of faith in its support and delivery of police resources. In the past few months we have truly established that this is more than community perception; this is a political reality. In the wake of threatened strike action by Lower Hunter police and community pressure put on the Government on issues such as the Port Stephens Local Area Command and construction of a new Raymond Terrace police station, I look forward to positive developments on this front in the new year. I look forward to contesting an election in 2011 where the central issue is not the delivery of a basic service that every community assumes will be the Government's highest priority. I look forward to debating the future direction of New South Wales, not arguing over how we can fix past mistakes. Fixing them now means that we can look ahead and engage the community in what they want their region to look like in the future, not getting mired down in how it should be administered right now.
I congratulate the Lower Hunter police on the very successful operation they participated in on the weekendand I am not talking about the Elton John concert, although I am happy to say Sir Elton survived his visit without drama. Police officers from the Lower Hunter Local Area Command, in conjunction with Royal Australian Air Force Williamtown security personnel and a host of other government agencies, launched an operation targeting the Tilligerry peninsula, which has been plagued by antisocial behaviour in recent years. Weekly my electorate office receives calls from concerned residents about illegal trail bike riding in this region. It was also the site of a number of deliberately lit bushfires recently. Police trail bike squads and a helicopter swept the area. They recovered 70 stolen cars, issued a dozen unregistered trail bike riders with infringement notices and caught red-handed someone engaged in illegal rubbish dumping. The operation canvassed 800 square kilometres.
I congratulate Lower Hunter Local Area Commander Des Organ on listening to the community and making this operation possible. When police and the community work in concert with government great things are possible, and we can all feel as though we have made our region safer to live, work and play in. The Tilligerry is a fantastic place to live, and it has a unique lifestyle. I am very happy to see the police making sure this is not placed in jeopardy. This may be the last time I speak in the House this year. It has been a pleasure spending my first year in Parliament with many of you. I have already come to know and respect individuals on both sides of the Chamber, and I look forward to seeing everyone after a safe and refreshing Christmas holiday.
MARY MACKILLOP OUTREACH SERVICE
Ms CARMEL TEBBUTT
(Marrickville) [5.40 p.m.]: I wish to speak about a wonderful organisation in my electorate, the Mary MacKillop Outreach service. The service is auspiced by the St Vincent de Paul Society and was established in the early 1990s. It is located in the St Vincent de Paul Ozanam Village complex at Lewisham. The service is funded by St Vincent de Paul and the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care, but it also receives support from Rotary, the Department of Education and Training, and Ashfield council, among other organisations. Mary MacKillop Outreach offers pre-vocational skills training, and recreational and educational programs for people living with a mental illness and/or disability, many of whom reside in licensed boarding houses and group homes in Sydney's inner west. These people are among the most vulnerable in our society. Most have few supports and little, if any, contact with their families. Mary MacKillop Outreach provides services that are inspired by the philosophy of the St Vincent de Paul Society.
The services include centre-based day programs, daily bus outings, community-based activities, and the Men's Shed program. I had the opportunity to visit the Men's Shed, which is a social group for men. The project has a number of aims, including providing woodworking and social activities for older men living in the inner west area. It is also an informal forum in which to discuss men's issues. It helps address isolation and loneliness among men in the community, and provides prevocational-employment opportunities for people with a mental illness or disability. More than 40 volunteers meet at Mary MacKillop Outreach each week to work on a range of woodwork and upholstery projects. Bringing these people together with the aim of working with their hands and enjoying what they do also allows them to socialise and provide support to other people with a disability or mental illness.
Mary MacKillop Outreach had found that previous efforts to successfully integrate clients into mainstream groups had not proved sustainable in the main, and it was felt that a new approach was needed. By inviting retired men and veterans to join a social and woodwork activities program on site and encouraging them to mentor younger men with a disability, the service succeeded in reducing the barriers between people with a mental illness or disability and those without. The service provided one-to-one support to clients involved in manual arts and upholstery programs, and ultimately mainstreamed the endeavour successfully.
The Men's Shed program has now been expanded to provide mentoring for people with a mental illness or disability, or emotional and/or behavioural problems. TAFE-accredited Mentoring in the Community courses, supplemented by Understanding Mental Illness programs, are completed by workers who then provide one-on-one support to assist these people in achieving their goals. On the day I visited the Men's Shed, they were presenting handcrafted outdoor furniture to Centacare in a special ceremony. The tables and chairs were beautifully crafted over an eight-week period using Tasmanian oak and were donated as a gift for Centacare's employment services office in Belmore, which is currently undergoing redevelopment.
This is one of a number of projects that the Men's Shed volunteers have been involved in. Other projects include constructing a community garden shed at Summer Hill and the restoration of the antique chairs from the Ashfield council chambers. Indeed, one of these chairs has now become the chair that the mayor sits in. When I visited the Men's Shed I was also very impressed with the wheelchair program, which was originally introduced to the Men's Shed by Rotary of Caringbah. Wheelchair frames are produced from recycled bikes and the remainder of the chair is constructed from kits provided by Rotary. The wheelchairs are shipped to Cambodia, Laos, Afghanistan, Angola and East Timor for children who are suffering from polio or who have been injured in landmine accidents.
There was a great atmosphere on the day I visited the Men's Shed. The men themselves were so proud of their work, but they were also really chuffed to be able to provide support to those who are less fortunate than themselves. I met one young man who had a disability but he was absolutely fascinated with taking apart pieces of machinery and then putting them back together. I guess for some this might seem a somewhat fruitless exercise, but for this young man it gave him focus, discipline, and the opportunity to exercise some amazing skills that he had, and it kept him engaged and occupied. I was amazed at his capacity to pull apart a piece of equipment and then put it back together. This young man is one of the many clients who have benefited from the St Vincent de Paul Men's Shed program. There is no doubt that the clients who attend the Men's Shed very much enjoy their experiences and activities. The older men in the community who come along and use their woodworking skills to support others certainly get a great deal out of it as well. They are also very well supported by the staff of Mary MacKillop Outreach. I congratulate Bob Nelson, John Mara and many others associated with this commendable endeavour.
DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITY SERVICES CHILD PROTECTIONMr GEOFF PROVEST
(Tweed) [5.45 p.m.]: I condemn the neglect that the Minister for Community Services is showing towards children and their carers in New South Wales. This is my second consecutive private member's statement on the sorry state of the Department of Community Services in the Tweed, and it centres on the same young Tweed family referred to in my previous statement. The Leader of The Nationals drew attention to this child's plight during a recent question time, when he queried the Minister about his knowledge of a Tweed Heads woman alleging to her local Department of Community Services office that she suspected that a child in her care may have previously been sexually abused. The carer became concerned when she caught the child performing a sexual act on her infant brother. The child told the carer that she had performed such an act on a previous carer's grandchild, and this mortified the carer.
The carer informed her local Department of Community Services office of this issue on 8 October and requested to meet with the office manager, but she was informed on 9 October that the manager was yet to read the report. The manager informed the carer that a Department of Community Services staff member would be sent out the following day, but that did not occur. The carer waited for a short time before returning to the Tweed Heads Department of Community Services office on 12 October to see the manager, only to be told that she was out at lunch. The carer left a letter marked "URGENT" and left the office with the distinct feeling that Department of Community Services staff were avoiding her. The Minister has advised that he first became aware of this case on 13 October.
Upon finally getting in touch with the Department of Community Services manager, the carer asked her to contact the previous foster carer to inform her of the situation. The manager agreed, but she never followed up on the request. The previous carer was first made aware of the situation some two weeks later, when the current carer rang her. An article was published in the Tweed Daily News
on 14 November concerning the allegations made by the child's carer. This seemed to get the Minister moving as a meeting was arranged the next day and an appointment was made for the carer to see a sexual abuse counsellor. At the meeting the counsellor advised the carer that she could help her deal with the child's behaviour but that she could not deal with children under five, effectively leaving the carer without any options from the organisation that is supposed to protect the welfare of children. I note that no further offer of counselling has been presented to the family.
Despite the Department of Community Services being fully aware of this case, problems continue to develop and go unattended. The carer has informed me that on Saturday 1 December the younger brother of the girl, who is also in her care, approached the carer and told her that he had been sexually interfered with by his sister. The carer immediately rang the Department of Community Services Helpline, as she has been advised to do, and told the department's worker everything she knew about the latest incident. The worker was shocked that the child was not receiving counselling given her history, and she expressed remorse at the carer's situation. However, she advised that she could not authorise counselling for the child herself. As at Monday 3 December the carer had received no further contact from the Department of Community Services.
During a joint investigation response team session, a Department of Community Services worker concluded that the child had extensive grief and loss issues relating to problems with her natural mother and the numerous changes of foster carers. The department-appointed psychologist also inadvertently said to the current carer in a previous meeting that the second foster carer had "problems dealing with the child's behaviour", leading to the current carer querying why the department never sought to address these issues. The joint investigation response team stated that the child would not open up to them and that she would try to change the subject if they talked about sexual acts. The team's findings were restricted to a report which deemed that the child was not a credible witness. Present at this time was the family's former caseworker, with whom they had previously had a good relationship but who was now acting in a way that can only be described as bluntly towards them.
I am advised that the problems the mother had with this child were largely behavioural. I am also advised that the Department of Community Services became aware of the child's problems as early as November 2006, at which time the child was the subject of a matter before the Children's Court which involved representation for the child and her mother's first Department of Community Services caseworker, who made recommendations to the court. The Minister notes in his letter to me that he has known about these children since 2005, yet he has continued to sit idly by and has failed to acknowledge that their situation continues to deteriorate. The Minister has been aware of these allegations but has failed to even provide what would be deemed a satisfactory response. The carer has constantly notified the Department of Community Services but the department has never been clear and honest with her. Nor has it acted or adequately investigated her allegations.
The failure of the Iemma Government and the Minister for Community Services to address the alleged sexual assaults and the psychological issues dogging this girl and her family is sickening. In only a matter of months the child will begin mainstream schooling. No transition plan has been arranged for her and I can only imagine how uncomfortable she will be in her new environment without support mechanisms available. The Minister should stop passing the blame and get serious. I urge him to attend to this issue immediately. This case has been going on for some time and I ask the Minister from the bottom of my heart to help this poor four-year-old girl.
TRIBUTE TO PRIVATE LUKE WORSLEY
Mr JOHN AQUILINA
(Riverstone—Leader of the House) [5.50 p.m.]: It is with great sadness that I pay a parliamentary tribute to my constituent Private Luke Worsley. On 23 November 2007 Luke lost his life while engaged in an attack against Taliban extremists in the Oruzgan province of Afghanistan. I express my condolences to Luke's parents, John and Marjorie Worsley, his three sisters and brother, two brothers-in-law, two nieces, two nephews and a wonderful girl that adored him. I did not know Private Luke Worsley personally, nor do I know his family. In a public statement made just after Luke's death his father said:
We are a private family and would like that privacy to be respected at this difficult time, but we have issued these words because we want people to think of Luke the way we think of him.
I want to place on record today that we admire Luke and the great sacrifice he has made: the ultimate sacrifice of giving his life for the love of his country. Luke was a fine soldier and a man highly respected by all who knew him. Indeed, many of the soldiers he worked with would testify that his actions were so heroic that he probably saved their lives at the expense of his own.
Luke Worsley was a local Windsor man. His parents were more surprised than anyone when he decided to join the army but they are satisfied in the knowledge that he died doing the thing he loved most. He was totally devoted to the army. As Luke was growing up his parents would never had thought of Luke as a soldier but he loved the army, its discipline, training and spirit. He had the strength of mind and body, and character and will, to carry out his duties as a soldier. Many tributes have been paid to Private Worsley. Following his death the chief of the defence force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, stated:
This is a tragic day for the Australian Defence Force and most especially for Private Worsley's family and friends.
Private Worsley was on his second tour of duty to Afghanistan. He had also served in East Timor in 2003 with the 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment. He qualified as a commando in 2004 and was part of the 4th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment tour of Afghanistan for which the 4th Battalion was awarded a citation for gallantry. Air Chief Marshal Houston continued:
He was a greatly respected soldier and will be dearly missed. He was one of our finest. I am told his dedication and enthusiasm for soldiering was an inspiration to all those around him.
Today a fitting tribute was paid to Private Luke Worsley as hundreds of mourners packed into St Andrew's Cathedral in central Sydney to farewell him, including many members of the 4th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment. Lieutenant Colonel Mark Smethurst, commanding officer of the 4th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, said Private Worsley was physically fit, gifted, tough and selfless. He also said:
Luke's qualities set him above almost all other commandos.
That is high praise indeed. Lieutenant Colonel Smethurst described the night that Private Worsley died, saying that he had saved mates lives during an attack on a Taliban bomb-making compound in Oruzgan province. He continued:
Luke was the first man of the team through the door and was met by enemy forces that opened fire at close range, resulting in Luke being killed almost instantly. Luke's actions upon entering the room, warning of the enemy threat, almost certainly saved the lives of other members of his team. Luke's warrior spirit will guide bravo company until the end of our deployment.
It is sad to reflect upon the fact that the flag-draped coffin bearing the body of a soldier, also described as a loving and affectionate man, was carried from the cathedral today to Amazing Grace
. Once again I extend my condolences to his family. Whilst I respect the privacy of the family, it is fit and proper that the heroic contribution of their son should be recorded here today. I believe it is also fit and proper that we in this Parliament should pay testimony to a person who had a great love for what he was doing, a great love for his fellow man, and a person who took all the difficulties that came his way without complaint. Private Luke Worsley showed great bravery at the cost of his own life.
PITTWATER ELECTORATE PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Mr ROB STOKES
(Pittwater) [5.55 p.m.]: I endorse the comments of the Leader of the House and the sympathy he extended to the family of Private Luke Worsley. It is tragic to have a life cut short, but it is particularly humbling when it is done in an effort to save us all.
Today I inform the House about a matter of pressing concern in my electorate of Pittwater, namely, public transport. The community has participated in huge numbers in the most extensive consultation exercise on this subject ever undertaken in Pittwater. That process had its genesis during the New South Wales general election campaign, when, undoubtedly like members opposite, I spent many hours meeting passengers at bus stops throughout Pittwater early in the morning. They made it clear to me that there was a strong level of dissatisfaction with the current bus service, and I resolved to make further investigations. In June this year I distributed a survey to all 23,000 households in my electorate, asking for residents' opinions. In particular, the survey asked for their views of the current service, how frequently they use it and, in particular, what suggestions they had for improvements.
At this point it is important to emphasise that the bus service is a lifeline for many people in Pittwater; it is the only public transport linking the peninsula with the rest of metropolitan Sydney. There is an acute shortage of taxicabs and, of course, no rail service. The bus system is of vital importance, so it was to be expected that there would be a strong response to the survey. However, I do not think that my office staff or I believed for a moment that we would receive so many replies. We received more than a thousand replies, representing nearly 5 per cent of all surveys distributed. That is a much bigger response than would normally be expected for this kind of survey. It means that we have undertaken without doubt the most extensive public consultation into bus services ever carried out in Pittwater. I am sure it is comparable with any survey undertaken in other electorates throughout the State.
What was impressive was the quality of the replies. Public surveys of this kind all too often produce little more than a series of complaints devoid of any constructive criticism and lacking in positive visions for the future. In this instance nothing could be further from the truth. Most respondents did far more than merely tick the boxes. This exercise has demonstrated the Pittwater community's capacity not only to identify the challenges associated with providing a public transport service in this area, but also to produce a wealth of viable suggestions for real improvements. As well as the smaller-scale readily achievable measures, such as more express buses and greater use of pre-pay only services, it is worth noting that a significant number of respondents took the big-picture approach.
Some suggested major infrastructure projects, such as a light-rail link within Pittwater or between Pittwater and the central business district. A minority called for Pittwater to be linked to the main Sydney metropolitan rail network—with a line from Mona Vale to Gordon, for example. However, a greater number believed that one of the special characteristics of living in Pittwater was its very lack of a rail link. The responses also emphasised the need to strengthen the public transport links from Pittwater not just to the central business district, but also westwards to the major employment and educational hub around Macquarie Park. Such was the response that this exercise has resulted in a weighty document containing 36 separate recommendations for improvements to the bus service in Pittwater, both in the short term and further into the future. This report entitled "Linking Pittwater" is now complete and I would be pleased to distribute copies to interested members.
The respondents provided constructive, measured and intelligent solutions to the obvious challenges facing the bus network in and beyond Pittwater. In a way, this has provided a further challenge for the Government and transport operators. Do they have the will to take the many suggestions, ideas and recommendations on board and to look seriously at how they can be implemented to deliver a better service? It is important to remember that this exercise was not intended as merely a critique of the current service, nor should it be taken as being intentionally critical of the policymakers, the bus operators or their hardworking staff. Instead, this forward-looking report has sought to outline a vision for an improved public transport service for Pittwater in the future. As the survey has shown with great clarity, the Pittwater community expects nothing less.
RURAL HEALTH PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Mr RICHARD TORBAY
(Northern Tablelands—Speaker) [6.00 p.m.]: Over the past decade many key government and private sector services have been centralised to the detriment of small and isolated rural communities. While the argument justifying that shift might make dry economic sense to some, it makes no sense at all to the people whose access to these services has been cut. Regaining and improving that access is a question of equity, and in no field is this more important than health. Some weeks ago in Glen Innes in my electorate of Northern Tablelands travel for local people who need regular chemotherapy treatment came to a head. One patient, while attempting to find out the available options, uncovered a maze of agencies, bureaucratic restrictions and confusing eligibility criteria. She could not find a central point that provided information on the range of services available and her entitlements. Misunderstandings emerged about the risks of transporting chemotherapy patients and the lack of communication between the myriad of providers and agencies.
As a result of this confusion and representations made to me, I asked Mayor Steve Toms of Glen Innes Severn Council to chair a forum on the issue on my behalf. The Ministry of Transport coordinated the organisation of the forum, which was appreciated. In attendance were more than 25 people representing about 15 agencies, including State, Federal and local government, private transport providers and community organisations. It was the first time all these groups had come together and exchanged information and views. This in itself was a valuable exercise. The main concerns were transport for renal dialysis and chemotherapy treatment and specialist transport for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Until three years ago the New South Wales Ambulance Service provided transport for renal dialysis patients, but the patients who have been diagnosed since that time are restricted to new transport criteria. No specific funding is allocated for dialysis transport. Most people rely on family and friends. Volunteer-based services cannot commit the time—three days a week a patient—or funds, as it would mean drastic cuts to other services.
The Hunter New England Area Health Service, after consultation with ambulance and transport providers and patients and their families, developed a renal transport plan and submitted it to the New South Wales Health Department in December 2006 for consideration. To date the service has received no response. The Hunter New England Health Transport Unit can coordinate transport for financially and transport disadvantaged patients who meet the Transport for Health eligibility criteria. However, there is a growing problem within the Aboriginal and wider population. Many are not diagnosed. Under the Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Scheme, patients can claim for trips to Armidale or Tamworth but not to Inverell because they need to travel more than 100 kilometres one way. Over 95 per cent of dialysis patients use their own transport, with help from family and friends. Again, chemotherapy patients have a number of options so long as they meet stringent eligibility criteria.
Transport for Health steps into the breach when no other transport is available and uses alternative resources such as hire cars, an expensive alternative. Transport for Health is available to the financially or transport disadvantaged, but its budget is limited. Little liaison takes place between agencies, with the criteria for Home and Community Care transport restricting services to the frail aged and people with disabilities and their carers. Although this service has a number of vehicles, it relies on volunteer drivers. Misunderstandings about the risk of transporting chemotherapy patients have had an impact on the number of volunteers.
Transport for Aboriginal people to access treatment outside their local area is poorly funded, with only $12,000 allocated to four local government areas. Many Aborigines do not have a drivers licence and reliance on family and friends, which assists the rest of the population, does not apply to them to the same extent. The daily CountryLink bus service leaves very early for Armidale and Tamworth and returns very late, making it a poor option for most patients, particularly those in very ill health. Time restricts me from detailing the shortage of specialists in local towns, but the shortage means extra travel to access physiotherapy and other necessary health services. It places a heavy burden on existing services and means that many people in country towns without their own transport miss out. Regional areas need a new public transport plan with better funding and coordination between all providers. The alternative is to provide specialist services, such as chemotherapy and renal dialysis, at small hospital locations. Either way, it is an issue the Government must address urgently.
PREMER PUBLIC SCHOOL
TAMBAR SPRINGS PUBLIC SCHOOL
Mr PETER DRAPER
(Tamworth) [6.05 p.m.]: Recently it was my great pleasure to host Oxley High School year 10 student Chris O'Connor for work experience. Chris is an enthusiastic and animated young man who proved to be great company as he travelled with me around the electorate. He had an opportunity to experience life as a country member of Parliament, attending functions and meetings as well as travelling to two of the area's smaller communities to visit their local schools. I asked Chris to write a brief report expressing his views on the day. I would like to share his thoughts with the House today. Chris wrote:
On Wednesday the 21st of November, while I was taking part in work experience with Peter Draper, I travelled with him to two small communities. He was presenting a state flag, a book on protocols regarding the flag, and a book called "Australia's First Parliament" to Premer and Tambar Springs Public schools. Both these schools have less than ten students. Premer Public is about an hour and a half drive from Tamworth, and on the way we saw a lot of evidence of the ongoing drought, but also evidence of farmers still going strong and succeeding, despite the odds.
When we arrived at Premer, it looked like a great school from the outside. The grounds were well kept and tidy and you could see the groundkeeper mowing the lawns. There was no rubbish at all, save for the remains of a tree that had to be cut down for safety reasons.
When we walked in there was no one in the office, so we went to the classroom, where the Principal and her helpers were busy with the students and some visiting preschoolers who were experiencing "big school" for the day. The kids were all happy when we arrived and after the Principal asked my name, we were greeted in the way of all primary school kids, "Good morning Mr Draper and Chris."
Peter then presented the state flag and the books. Then a presentation was made to him. It was an old "beaten up" flag, to use the words of Tim, the School Captain, and the gesture was obviously appreciated by Peter.
A quick look around the classroom showed the hard work that both the students and the teachers had put in to make it look great. After a tour of the school from Captain Tim, we were given tea and coffee during recess, as well as fruit, and a slice that was made by the Principal's mother especially for the occasion, which was very welcome.
Then it was off to Tambar Springs Public School, just a short drive down the road. This has to be the most amazing school I have ever seen. It has acres of space per student, a wonderful shaded structure that towers over the small number of kids, a beautiful garden and a veggie patch. After the Principal greeted us and rang the old fashioned bell, the kids, (all eight of them) crowded around, tucked their shirts in to look their best, and the presentations of the flag and the book on Parliament were made.
Then the kids put on some great entertainment for us. The entire school sang a song then showed off their native bird artwork. However the highlight was a story read by one of the young boys, Jake Solomon, called Rain Dance that he wrote in February this year. At only nine years of age and in year 4, his writing skills are amazing, and really portrayed the problems that country communities are facing with the lack of rain.
After a quick tour we had to head back to Tamworth. On the way back we stopped on the side of the road to take a photo of 7 emus in a wheat paddock. You could clearly see the parent, but there were half a dozen babies as well, with only their heads visible, poking out above the crop. It made a great photo and capped off a really interesting day.
This work experience truly was an experience. I have just finished year ten at Oxley High School in Tamworth, a great school and one of the largest in our area. Coming from such a big school, these tiny schools seemed so different. Oxley has over 1200 students whereas Premer and Tambar Springs combined don't even have 20. Having come from such a big school I realised how easy it must be to forget these little schools and small towns in the country, and how important it is not to forget them, because they truly are special places.
Members would be able to tell from this report that Chris is a perceptive and intelligent young man. I enjoyed his company immensely and I believe he has a great future in front of him. Chris mentioned young Jake Solomon and his drought story. I would like to share this story from a nine-year-old country kid. Jake wrote:
The drought has had a devastating effect on the land and everything related to it. Everything is dry and parched because there has been no rain for years. The dams are all dried up, and all that is left is a patch of mud. The sun has made cracks and splits in the bottom of the dam. The colour is dull brown because the sun evaporated all the water away. The sky is brown and dusty, and has not had a cloud for years. A cloud of dust swirls around the sky saying we will never have rain. Day after day it is the same old thing—hot dry weather for months. All the animals and crops on the farm need water to survive. They need rain to fill the dams and keep the farm going. They need rain to help the trees and grass grow.
That sums up the situation particularly well. Jake has a good grasp of life in the country, especially when we remember that he is only nine years old. I thank the Acting Principal of Premer Public School, Judy Cameron, plus the parents, students and assistants for making us feel so welcome. I also thank the Principal, Cathie McMaster, Jodie and the students at Tambar Springs Public School for their hospitality. It was a wonderful experience for Chris and me. I very much look forward to my next visit to the district. I take on board Chris's message to remember the small places and value the small schools because they are truly important.
Private members' statements noted.
[Acting-Speaker (Mr Matthew Morris) left the chair at 6.10 p.m. The House resumed at 7.30 p.m.
CIVIL LIABILITY AMENDMENT (OFFENDER DAMAGES) BILL 2007
Bill received from the Legislative Council and introduced.
Agreement in principle set down as an order of the day for a later hour.
MOTOR ACCIDENTS COMPENSATION AMENDMENT (CLAIMS AND DISPUTE RESOLUTION) BILL 2007
Agreement in Principle
Debate resumed from 27 November 2007.
Mr MIKE BAIRD
(Manly) [7.32 p.m.]: It is my privilege to represent the Opposition on the Motor Accidents Compensation Amendment (Claims and Dispute Resolution) Bill 2007. We have considered the bill in detail and generally we support the changes to the legislation. We support anything that helps people involved in accidents, which are obviously traumatic. The process involved in the resolution of claims and disputes has become too protracted. If people are injured in an accident and are not liable they should not have to wait to access compensation to pay for their treatment or to cover lost earnings. That is the genesis of the bill. Currently some claimants wait years to resolve their claims, which is unacceptable to the Government and to the Opposition.
We are generally pleased with the content of the bill although we have some reservations, which we will go into in detail later, that primarily relate to the settlement conferences that we believe potentially introduce another layer of bureaucracy that could be overcome. The purpose of the bill is fairly simple. First, it improves efficiency in claims and dispute resolutions. Much reform was carried out to the Motor Accidents Scheme when the Motor Accidents Compensation Act 1999 was introduced. At that time the Medical Assessment Service and the Claims Assessment and Resolution Service were established. Both these services work to help resolve disputes between insurers and claimants outside of court, which is obviously of benefit to motorists. However, currently the claims and dispute resolution processes are far from streamlined and we agree they need reform.
The New South Wales Parliament's Law and Justice Committee recently completed its eighth review of the Motor Accidents Authority and Motor Accidents Council after receiving submissions from law, insurance, transport and consumer organisations and associations. The committee had a particular focus on the medical assessment service and found that claimants are currently experiencing significant delays. The committee's report stated:
The quality and timeliness of the assessments carried out by the Medical Assessment Service is critical to the successful operation of the Motor Accidents Scheme … issues raised included … inconsistencies in assessments and errors in assessments … some medical dispute assessments, particularly when subject to further assessments and reviews, can remain within the MAS system for years rather than months.
That is the primary issue and the bill seeks to address that. We should streamline and make as simple as possible people's understanding and acceptance of liability and the processing of claims.
We support the expansion of the early notification of the process to give claimants with minor injuries earlier access to compensation. Increasing the maximum amount payable through the accident notification form from $500 to $5,000 will enable claimants with minor injuries to pay for treatment and living expenses when they have incurred a loss of earnings due to the accident. The Law and Justice Committee supports increasing this amount, which has remained at $500 since the inception of the Motor Accidents Scheme in 1989. It is clearly time for a review and, hopefully, as this amount is increased more parties will be encouraged to come to the table earlier, thus avoiding lengthy delays and, most importantly, avoiding the need to clog up courts, which obviously have many important matters to deal with.
The second purpose of the bill is to remove the section in the 1999 Act that provided the insurer did not have to pay for the first five days of economic loss. I am uncertain why that provision was included in the first place. Claimants should receive compensation from their first day of lost earnings, not five days later. We give credit to the New South Wales Bar Association, which has lobbied for this change for sometime. We are pleased that section 124 of the Act will be repealed to rectify that situation. The third purpose of the bill is to require insurers to provide advance payments—when liability is admitted—to people who are struggling to make ends meet or who are in some form of financial difficulty as a result of their accident injury. We are pleased that assessors at the Claims Assessment and Resolution Service will now have the authority to award interim payments for economic loss in cases of financial hardship. This is a commonsense approach that we certainly support.
Some of our reservations relate to the concept of settlement conferences. The New South Wales Bar Association and the Law Society of New South Wales have concerns about adding another layer to the dispute resolution process, and we understand that concern. We support the idea of bringing parties together at the outset rather than waiting for claims to be assessed and disputes acknowledged, and then getting both parties together many months down the track. The concept of settlement conferences makes sense. The original Claims Assessment and Resolution Service was formed to get parties together as a precondition to commencing court proceedings, but that occurred towards the end of the process.
The proposed settlement conferences have exactly the same aim: to bring the parties together to resolve the issues, but rather than waiting until the end of the process for the current Claims Assessment and Resolution Service to kick in, settlement conferences bring the parties together at a far earlier date. Andrew Stone of the New South Wales Bar Association, believes if parties want to settle out of court they will and that introducing compulsory conferences prior to the Claims Assessment and Resolution Service adds another layer of bureaucracy. The Bar Association believes that this change will create extra work and burden for claimants, insurers and their lawyers, with little likely increase in the efficiency with which claims are resolved. The Bar Association also does not support charging parties who do not take part in conferences a penalty of up to 25 per cent of the claim. It is one thing to bring the parties together but the Bar Association says parties should not be punished if they do not wish to take part in a conference, and we support that concept.
In the implementation of settlement conferences the Government should consider using the existing infrastructure of the Claims Assessment and Resolution Service. We have an infrastructure in place and we have a bureaucracy in place; it would seem logical to extend the operation of the Claims Assessment and Resolution Service to run settlement conferences rather than introduce an additional form of bureaucracy. We ask the Government to consider that.
The second and final concern relates to the subpoena power. The New South Wales Bar Association and Law Society believe that expanding the power of the Claims Assessment and Resolution Service in accessing information is going too far. Section 100 (1) (c) provides the power for a Claims Assessment and Resolution Service assessor to direct a claimant to complete a consent or authority for the purposes of obtaining documents relevant to the claim. The concern is that this will allow a Claims Assessment and Resolution Service assessor to direct a claimant to execute what is effectively a freedom of information request. According to the New South Wales Bar Association and the Law Society these powers are more extensive than those of a royal commission. The association argues that almost any information about a person is relevant to a claim they may bring for economic loss.
Longstanding health problems, criminal convictions, domestic violence allegations or the need to care for a spouse are all items of information that might be relevant to a claim for economic loss. The New South Wales Bar Association and the Law Society are concerned that this provision gives Claims Assessment and Resolution Service assessors the power to subvert Federal privacy laws. We put those concerns on the table. We understand the sentiment of those concerns and, whilst we are not seeking an amendment to deal with those concerns, we are certainly putting the onus on the Government to take them on board and to look at the subpoena powers and determine, together with the New South Wales Bar Association and the Law Society, whether, potentially, a middle ground could be considered either as part of the legislation or of the review of the legislation.
We have certainly put the Government on notice and suggested that it is something that should be considered, together with the Claims Assessment and Resolution Service potentially undertaking settlement conferences. In conclusion, we are not seeking to make amendments to the bill in this House; however, we urge the Government when implementing the bill to take some of these reservations into account. Overall, the sentiment of improving the efficiency of claims—the time in which they are paid—is something that we support. We think that the Motor Accidents Compensation Amendment (Claims and Dispute Resolution) Bill deals with these concerns and most of the tenets contained therein.
Mr MICHAEL DALEY
(Maroubra—Parliamentary Secretary) [7.42 p.m.], in reply: I thank the member for Manly for taking part in the debate and for supporting the bill on behalf of the Coalition. In its 1999 overhaul of the compulsory third party or Motor Accidents Scheme the Government sought to reduce the cost of green slips for motorists and for those injured. The reforms sought to improve access to compensation payments, particularly for early treatment expenses, and to establish a non-adversarial climate in which to resolve claims. Our reforms also aimed to increase the proportion of the premium dollar going to injured persons, particularly those with serious injuries, by reducing scheme administration costs.
As a result of the Government's reforms to the Motor Accidents Scheme, New South Wales motorists are benefiting from significantly cheaper green slips, people injured in motor vehicle accidents are accessing compensation for treatment of their injuries more quickly and their claims are being settled more quickly. In general, scheme administration costs have decreased and legal costs have been reduced by 40 per cent. The reformed scheme is more affordable, more effective, more efficient and fairer.
Many motorists have noticed that under the State Labor Government green slip prices have fallen quite dramatically. Since the 1999 improvements to the Motor Accidents Scheme the average green slip premium for a Sydney standard motorcar has dropped from $441 to just $321. Not only has the premium dropped; it has dropped while average weekly earnings have increased. Green slip costs have fallen from 50 per cent of average weekly earnings before the reforms to less than 27 per cent of average weekly earnings in September 2007.
Last year the Government built on the success of the 1999 scheme overhaul by expanding the cover offered by the scheme. Since 1 October last year all children injured in a motor vehicle accident have been covered for their treatment, rehabilitation and care expenses by green slip premiums, regardless of whether the driver was at fault. This is a terrific reform for children injured in motor vehicle accidents. For those children suffering catastrophic injuries in a motor accident these expenses will be covered for life through the Lifetime Care and Support Scheme. Since 1 October this year any person catastrophically injured in a motor vehicle accident will have their treatment and care costs met for the rest of their life, regardless of whether they were the driver at fault. While these changes significantly extend green slip insurance benefits, some insurers are currently offering a best price for Sydney car owners aged 30 to 54 that is lower today than it was a year ago.
I turn briefly to one of the concerns raised by the member for Manly, and that is the power of a Claims Assessment and Resolution Service assessor to direct third parties to provide documents. The Act currently makes provision for a Claims Assessment and Resolution Service assessor to direct the parties to an assessment to provide documents that are relevant to the claim. Unfortunately, often the parties experience difficulty or delay in obtaining, or alternatively are not able to obtain, the information requested by the assessor. For example, quite often treating doctors will not provide medical reports, or employers are not forthcoming with payroll or employment details. This delays the progression of the assessment while the insurer or the claimant make repeated requests of third parties to provide documents.
The new provisions provide the assessor with additional power to direct a third party, such as an injured person's doctor or employer, to provide documents that are relevant to the claim. It is quite simple. These provisions will assist both parties in obtaining relevant claim information in circumstances when a third party does not cooperate with a direct request for information from the claimant or insurer. The provisions will also enable more matters to remain within the less formal Claims Assessment and Resolution Service framework rather than parties seeking exemption and commencing court proceedings to issue subpoenas and obtain information. It will also enable parties to better investigate claims and resolve them at an earlier stage of the claims process. I think the Opposition and the New South Wales Bar Association would applaud such reforms.
This year, through the Motor Accidents Compensation Amendment (Claims and Dispute Resolution) Bill, the Government is again building on the success of the 1999 Motor Accidents Scheme reform. The bill focuses on enhancing the benefits of earlier claims process and dispute resolution reforms. It continues the Government's development of the Motor Accidents Scheme from a scheme for delivering damages through the court system towards a scheme focused on restoring injured people's health and lives as well as delivering compensation.
The bill will expand the accident notification process to also include past loss of earnings, that is, lost wages, and enable an injured person to obtain up to $5,000 for treatment and lost earnings. It will also remove the current restriction on reimbursement of the first five days of lost earnings. It will promote greater efficiency in the process of resolving claims by requiring an insurer and the claimant to exchange documents concerning the claim, participate in a settlement conference and exchange offers of settlement on the claim before the claim can be referred for dispute resolution. In addition, it will provide that an insurer may require a claimant to supply information about the claim if two years and six months have elapsed since the accident or the claim will, subject to a reasonable excuse, be deemed to be withdrawn.
Further, the bill will streamline the dispute resolution processes for medical disputes and claims assessment. It will require insurers to make advance payments of economic loss entitlement in cases of financial hardship. It will provide that the standard of care expected of a motor vehicle driver is not affected by the driver's level of experience. Finally, it will provide that the Act's damages regime is a substantive law for the purposes of its application by a court in another jurisdiction. These are far-reaching and unprecedented reforms to this important regime in our society, and I congratulate the Hon. John Della Bosca on taking us down this path. I commend the bill to the House.
Question—That this bill be now agreed to in principle—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bill agreed to in principle.
Passing of the Bill
Bill declared passed and transmitted to the Legislative Council with a message seeking its concurrence in the bill.
COURTS AND OTHER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2007
Agreement in Principle
Debate resumed from 30 November.
Mr GREG SMITH
(Epping) [7.50 p.m.]: It is my pleasure to speak on behalf of the Opposition in this debate. The Opposition does not oppose the legislation, but I will make some comments. The bill amends the Coroners Act 1980, the Land and Environment Court Act 1979, the Legal Profession Act 2004 and the Young Offenders Act 1997. The Coroners Act is amended so that a coroner may continue an inquest or inquiry that has previously been terminated and adds provisions to authorise the State Coroner or his or her agent to resume or dispense with a suspended inquest or inquiry if the coroner who adjourned or did not commence the inquest is not available.
The amendment to the Land and Environment Court Act will ensure that the same privilege or immunity that applies to judicial proceedings in respect of defamation applies in relation to conciliation conferences and documents produced relating to such conferences. The bill will amend the Legal Profession Act by inserting a provision that a "legal practitioner", where the term is not so expressed in another State or Territory, of a specified period of standing is to be read as a reference to an Australian lawyer of that period of standing.
The bill also amends the Young Offenders Act in a number of ways. First, it provides that one of the objects of the legislation is to address the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the criminal justice system. It also expands the definition of "victim" to include people who as a result of an act suffer psychological harm that does not amount to mental illness or nervous shock and people who suffer financial harm other than property loss. It expands the Act in relation to a person who is or was a child when the offence was committed and who is under the age of 21 years. It provides that an investigating official has at least 14 days to consider whether a child should be dealt with under part 3 or 4 of the Act or be referred to a specialist youth officer under part 5.
The bill also provides that one of the circumstances in which an admission by a child of an offence is an admission if the child is over the age of 14 years and the admission takes place in the presence of an adult chosen by the child. It also contains a proposed new section to enable an investigating official who gives a warning to a child to give the parents of the child notice unless it would pose an unacceptable risk to the safety of the child. Furthermore, a requirement is inserted that the record of a warning that is made is destroyed or expunged once the person reaches the age of 21 years. It also contains a proposed new section to enable a person arranging for a caution to be given to a child to seek a written statement from any victim, to give guidance to the victim as to this statement, and to provide such statement to the person giving the caution. It also inserts a provision that a person proposing to give a caution may defer to do so in certain circumstances, including when the parents or guardians of the child are not available, and may choose to read out some or all of the statement.
The bill also confers the power to give a caution to the court, with the requirement that if a caution is given that the proceedings are to be dismissed. It enables a student or probationary police officer to be present with the consent of the child for training purposes when a caution is given. The bill contains a proposed new section requiring that any fingerprints obtained from, or photographs taken of, a child in connection with an offence are destroyed if a caution has been given. It also alters the provisions for youth justice conferences by clarifying that a conference administrator's obligation to appoint a conference convenor arises only when the administrator is satisfied that a referral for that purpose has been made. It also provides that a conference must be convened within 28 days rather than the current 21 days and enables a police officer to be present at a conference if consent is given. A further amendment will allow records of cautions and conferences to be divulged to authorised persons. The legislation will also place limitations on the need for a person to disclose warnings or cautions that do not apply in relation to an application by a person for employment in child-related employment. A further amendment will abolish the Youth Justice Advisory Committee.
Section 19 of the Coroners Act provides that if a person is charged with an indictable offence in relation to a death, fire or explosion, the coroner may decide not to commence an inquest or inquiry until criminal proceedings are concluded. Similarly, if the coroner forms the view during an inquest or inquiry that a person should be charged with an indictable offence, the coroner will terminate the inquest and refer the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Once criminal proceedings are either concluded or a decision has been made not to prosecute, section 20 was intended to permit the Coroner to commence or to continue the inquest or inquiry. However, a recent decision of the Supreme Court in Innes & 2 ors v NSW Senior Deputy State Coroner
 NSWSC 1209 ruled that section 20 of the Coroners Act did not achieve this.
Accordingly, the proposed amendments are intended to overturn this decision and to restore the legislative interpretation that existed prior to Innes, confirming that the role of the Coroner has not concluded when the inquest or inquiry is terminated and it is open to that coroner to continue proceedings at a later stage or, if that person is unavailable, for another coroner to do so. Prior to the amendment of the Legal Profession Act in 2004, persons were admitted as "legal practitioners". Since the enactment of that legislation, the Supreme Court admits those persons as "lawyers". Some minor amendments are made to the Legal Profession Act to tidy up provisions relating to references to "legal practitioners" in the older legislation following the enactment of the Legal Profession Act.
Under the Land and Environment Court Act 1979 the commissioner can meet informally with the parties to reach an agreement. This is similar to mediation proceedings. There is currently a prohibition on the disclosure of information in these conferences. Recently similar provisions in the Civil Procedure Act were amended to provide that the same privilege that applies to judicial proceedings in respect of defamation also applies to mediation sessions. This extends the provision to conferences in the Land and Environment Court. This is a prudent change because these mediation proceedings should be conducted with frankness and people should not have to worry about being sued.
The bill amends the Young Offenders Act to strengthen the operation of the systems of warnings, cautions and youth justice conferences as a means of rehabilitating young offenders and to deter reoffending, which is something I am sure we all want. This does not apply to very serious matters, which are usually dealt with in the Children's Court but sometimes in the so-called "adult" courts. Two reports have recently been released dealing with the provisions of this Act. The Attorney General's Department report was completed in 2002 and the New South Wales Law Reform Commission report was completed in 2005. The reports contain several pages of recommendations, some of which are implemented in this bill.
It must be noted that a 2006 Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research report found that of the young people who received a police caution for the first time, 42 per cent reoffended within five years, and the proportion of conference participants who reoffended was 58 per cent. Whilst high, these appear to be lower than those for young people who appeared in the Children's Court for the first time, which is approximately 63 per cent. The Government argues that this report shows that juveniles who receive a caution or attend a conference are notably less likely to reoffend, and accordingly this scheme is playing an important role in reducing reoffending and reducing antisocial behaviour. It must also be noted that New South Wales, as stated by this report, has considerably higher recidivism rates than are found in other States. The report also cautions that although there remains a difference in the rate of appearance in court for those receiving a caution versus a conference, this should not be taken as an indication of the relative efficacy of cautions. It is likely that most, and possibly all, of the difference reflects the fact that low-risk offenders are more likely to be given a caution instead of a conference.
This bill makes several changes to the scheme. First, a broader range of victims of crime will be able to confront young offenders at conferences. Secondly, victims will be able to have their voices heard as part of the cautioning process. Thirdly, the bill will confirm that police officers, where appropriate, can notify the parents and guardians of an offender that a warning has been administered. The Opposition would like that section beefed up so that parents are involved in the warning and cautioning systems much more closely so they can assist in the rehabilitation of the young offender. Furthermore, the list of circumstances where applicants for employment must disclose information on such interventions is expanded to include applications for employment in child-related employment. Another major amendment is the abolition of the Youth Justice Advisory Committee. It is argued by the Government that this committee has met the majority of its statutory terms of reference. Its functions shall be combined with the Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee and a new body will be formed at a later date. We look forward to hearing of that new body.
There is no doubt that the changes to the Coroners Act will restore the practice prior to Innes and are arguably in line with the initial parliamentary intention. The changes to the Legal Profession Act 2004 and the Land and Environment Court Act are beneficial. So far as the Young Offenders Act changes are concerned, if these amendments make the granting of a caution more severe, give more voice to victims and allow parents to play a greater role in monitoring their children, it will be a good thing. Similarly, by forcing young persons who are cautioned or undergo conferencing to declare that fact when applying for child-related employment later in life, it limits the risks taken. There are arguments against the amendments to the Young Offenders Act 1997. Many of the recommendations from the reports have not been covered in these amendments, but some other amendments seem to have been made in the meantime. Some people believe that cautions and warnings are soft on crime and this system ought be abolished entirely. It may be argued that it is premature to abolish the Youth Justice Advisory Committee.
Last year the Opposition introduced a private members bill seeking to involve parents more in the cautioning system and in warnings given. The amendment in this bill provides that an investigating official may notify the parents of a child that a warning has been given. There is a qualification about not doing it if the official is of the opinion that the disclosure of the warning would pose an unacceptable risk to the safety, welfare or wellbeing of the child. That should apply only in rare circumstances. Surely it is better for the parents to be aware of the breaches of the law by the child. Perhaps they will then act more responsibly in looking after the child's interests and keep a closer watch on who the child mixes with and what the child does. Apart from those comments, the Opposition does not oppose the bill.
Mr BARRY COLLIER
(Miranda—Parliamentary Secretary) [8.05 p.m.], in reply: I thank the member for Epping for his considered contribution to the debate. The Courts and Other Legislation Amendment Bill contains a number of amendments to various Acts. It is part of the continuous process of finetuning legislation to ensure it meets the needs and demands of everyone in the community. The amendments to the Coroners Act 1980 clarify the powers of the Coroner to resume inquests and inquiries at the conclusion of criminal proceedings for indictable offences. Coroners undertake the important role of assisting grieving family and friends to understand the circumstances surrounding unusual deaths and making recommendations to prevent future fatalities. Although it is appropriate for serious criminal proceedings to take precedence over coronial inquests and inquiries, these amendments ensure that a coroner can resume an inquest or inquiry, if necessary, at the conclusion of any criminal proceedings.
The amendments to the Land and Environment Court Act 1979 will help ensure that conciliation conferences are conducted without the fear of defamation proceedings being brought as a result of what should be open discussion aiming to resolve disputes. The amendments to the Legal Profession Act 2004 will clarify the meaning of older references to legal practitioners. The amendments to the Young Offenders Act 1997 will improve the operation of the system of warnings, cautions and youth justice conferences in New South Wales. This will allow a broader range of victims of crime to confront young offenders at youth justice conferences and to detail the impact of the offence on them through written statements to be read to the offender at the time that cautions are delivered. It will confirm that police officers, where appropriate, may notify the parents of a young offender that a warning has been administered to their child. It will also confirm that a young person who is cautioned or attends a youth justice conference will have to declare that fact when applying for child-related employment later in life.
The member for Epping raised the issue of notifying parents. New South Wales police have advised that investigating officers already involve the majority of parents in the warning and cautioning processes as a matter of course. This amendment merely confirms that current police practice. There may be some cases where it is not appropriate to notify parents. For example, there may be cases where the police—who are well aware of what is happening in their community and often well aware of particular families—know that a parent previously has abused the child. In their considered opinion, it may not be appropriate to notify in those circumstances. New South Wales police work closely with their local communities and often get to know the family circumstances of many young people living in that community. The Government trusts that police officers will use this local knowledge and their independent judgment to exercise their discretion under the amendments responsibly and appropriately. This amendment is consistent with the recommendations of the 2002 statutory review of the Young Offenders Act 1997.
The member for Epping also raised the issue of the Youth Justice Advisory Committee being abolished. The Youth Justice Advisory Committee was established under the Young Offenders Act 1997 to advise on the implementation of the Act. The Youth Justice Advisory Committee has met the majority of its statutory terms of reference over the past 10 years and is limited in the kinds of matters it can now advise on under the legislation. The Government has decided to combine the function of the Youth Justice Advisory Committee with the Juvenile Justice Advisory Council. Membership of these two bodies historically has been similar and there has been significant overlap in the kinds of issues they have been asked to consider. The combined body will be more efficient and flexible in providing expert advice to government on matters related to juvenile justice through a single point of reference. The Government is currently considering terms of reference for this body to better reflect the priorities of the New South Wales State Plan.
In the meantime, a range of organisations and individuals will continue to provide independent advice on justice-related matters, including the NSW Ombudsman, the New South Wales Auditor-General and official visitors. The Government has not implemented all of the recommendations contained in Report No. 104 of the New South Wales Law Reform Commission entitled "Young Offenders". The Government's reasons are set out comprehensively in the Government's response tabled on 14 November. I note that the Opposition does not oppose the bill and, in fact, made comments very much in favour of it. Police have raised particular issues but these are covered by the recommendations of the 2002 statutory review of the Young Offenders Act. I commend the bill to the House.
Question—That this bill be now agreed to in principle—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bill agreed to in principle.
Passing of the Bill
Bill declared passed and transmitted to the Legislative Council with a message seeking its concurrence in the bill.
CHILD PROTECTION (OFFENDERS REGISTRATION) AMENDMENT BILL 2007
Agreement in Principle
Debate resumed from 30 November 2007.
Mr GREG SMITH
(Epping) [11.52 p.m.]: I lead for the Opposition on the Child Protection (Offenders Registration) Amendment Bill 2007. The Opposition will not move any amendments in this Chamber but a couple of amendments may be moved in the upper House. The purpose of the bill is to amend the Child Protection (Offenders Registration) Act 2000, the Crimes (Forensic Procedures) Act 2000 and the Freedom of Information Act 1989. The offence of sexual assault by forced self-manipulation committed against a child will be a registrable offencethat is, a class 1 offencefor the most serious offences. The bill makes changes to classification as a registrable person. It provides for further circumstances in which a child protection registration order may be made. The bill extends the reporting obligations of persons and suspends reporting obligations when they are also subject to an interim or extended supervision order under the Crimes (Serious Offenders) Act.
The bill also increases maximum penalties for failing to comply with reporting obligations and for providing false or misleading information when reporting. It authorises the conduct of certain forensic procedures on a registrable person. The bill requires the approval of the Commissioner of Police before making a name change application. It makes it an offence to disclose information about a registrable person in certain circumstances. The bill exempts certain documents relating to persons from the Freedom of Information Act. It provides for a further review of the Act. A person found guilty of a single class 2 offence may be required to comply with the Act's reporting requirements. At present those persons are not required to report as long as the incident does not include a term of imprisonment or other supervision. A description is given of corresponding registrable persons and those provisions will require any person subject to reporting requirements in any other jurisdiction, including overseas and who would need to comply if still in that jurisdiction, to comply with the Act's reporting requirements. This will apply even when these requirements pre-date the original Act.
Child protection registration orders can be issued by a court even when a convicted offender has not committed a crime classed under the Act, if the court is satisfied that that person poses a risk to the lives or sexual safety of one or more children or of children generally. The bill provides that the Local Court may make a child protection registration order after the conclusion of criminal proceedings in respect of the relevant offence. At present, orders can be made only concurrently with sentencing. At present, an application must be made by the Commissioner of Police within 21 days of sentence. A child protection registration order may be made by a Local Court in relation to a person found guilty of an offence in a foreign jurisdiction and in relation to a person who has been sentenced for a class 1 offence committed before 15 October 2001. An application for such an order may be made by the Commissioner of Police at any time. A child protection registration order may be made by a court that grants bail to a person in respect of a class 1 or a class 2 offence by an alleged offender where a question of unfitness to be tried has been raised. In all cases a child protection registration order may be made only if the court is satisfied that the person poses a risk to the lives or sexual safety of one or more children or of children generally.
The bill makes provision for reporting obligations. Additional relevant personal information must be reported, including telephone numbers, Internet activity details and any other information prescribed by the regulations. The bill reduces from 14 days to three days in any 12-month period the requirement to advise of children residing at a registrable person's address and any children with whom they have regular unsupervised contact. This must be reported within three days after the change of circumstances have occurred. An initial report of a registrable person's relevant personal information must be made within seven days, instead of 14 or 28 days, in certain circumstances. A current passport, where held, must be used for identification when reporting. Reporting obligations are suspended when a registrable person is subject to any interim or extended supervision order under the Crimes (Serious Sex Offenders) Act 2006. The bill provides for increased penalties for failing to comply with reporting obligations and for furnishing false or misleading information in purported compliance with reporting obligations respectively. It introduces a maximum penalty of 500 penalty units, which is $5,500, or five years imprisonment or both, if dealt with on indictment, but lower penalties apply if dealt with summarily.
The bill includes provisions concerning change of name by a registrable person. A registrable person must gain the approval of the Commissioner of Police before applying to change his or her name in New South Wales or in other jurisdictions. This is modelled on proposed Victorian amendments. The Commissioner of Police is able to approve the name change only if satisfied that it is necessary or reasonable. The commissioner must not approve the name change if it is reasonably likely to be offensive to a victim of crime or an appreciable sector of the community, or reasonably likely to frustrate the administration of criminal justice. The bill provides a sentence, including where a court convicts an offender and does not impose any other penalty. The bill makes it an offence, with a maximum penalty of 100 penalty units or imprisonment for two years or both, for a person to disclose information about a registrable person except in specified circumstances. There is to be a further review of the Act after five years. Previously there was a shorter period and I think the amendments to be moved in the upper House deal with the period of review.
The provisions make it clear that definition changes to "registrable person" apply only in relation to sentences imposed on or after the commencement of the changes and that they do not affect the current registration of any person. Definition changes to "corresponding registrable person" extend to persons who have reporting obligations imposed under a foreign law before the commencement of the changes. The provisions also make it clear that the new types of child protection registration orders may be made in respect of persons found guilty of offences committed before the commencement of the relevant provisions. In her agreement in principle speech the Parliamentary Secretary said:
The bill introduces a requirement that registrable persons are to report to police all their active electronic communication identifiers, details of service providers, service type and any changes to those details. This includes all their active email addresses, chat room identities, as well as all landline and mobile telephone numbers. This information may assist the investigations of the New South Wales Police Force, particularly in relation to child pornography or grooming and/or procuring of children. While this additional reporting requirement will not stop convicted child sex offenders from using the Internet, it may deter persons on the register from inappropriately using telecommunications and provide an added layer of protection for children while using the Internet.
For some months the member for Manly, Mike Baird, and I have been involved in a working party that is looking at ways of adding to the protection of children who use chat rooms and other types of Internet links—an activity that most children seem to engage in, at least in their teens. The Commonwealth has provided a number of offences under the criminal code in relation to using the telecommunications system, including the Internet system, with intent to have sexual intercourse with a person. This Parliament has recently passed legislation dealing with paedophiles' grooming of prospective victims by various means, including electronic means. The Opposition is pressing for a provision that makes it an offence for a person who is on the register to make an Internet inquiry in relation to a child's chat room.
Without having to show the offender's intent to groom or to have sexual intercourse with the child, those offences are often difficult to prove based on just one surfing of the chat rooms and one instance of trying to—an unfortunate pun—chat up people on the chat room. We feel that paedophiles must be watched. People may ask: How could such a law be enforced? If police investigating these people find evidence from a computer that is used by a suspect who has used the system and the police, by way of their sophisticated methods, can identify the emails and messages sent, that might be the only offence that can be proved against the person. However, if such a provision were enacted it would be a strong deterrent. It also would provide a way of keeping the person on the register and perhaps prosecuting them for breach of other aspects of the legislation. In any event, it is an idea.
Like the Government, the Opposition is concerned about the almost infinitesimal number of alternatives that can be explored on the Internet system. We, too, wish to safeguard young people from the predators who prey upon them. Young people are often quite careless in the way they provide information on their various identification pages and so on. Sometimes they have photographs—sometimes revealing photographs unfortunately—which only spurs on these predators. We are pleased with these reforms and we do not oppose the legislation because we believe it will assist.
Mr DAVID HARRIS
(Wyong) [8.25 p.m.]: As a society we should do everything in our power to protect our children. Children are our future, and we must always have their welfare foremost in our minds. As a Parliament we should always endeavour to strengthen laws that are designed to protect our children from heinous crimes. I have become a member of, and have been involved in activities with, a group known as Bravehearts, which supports victims of child sexual assault and runs education programs to alert children to some of the issues regarding predators. Some of the statistics regarding child sexual assault shocked me, as I am sure they would shock all members of this place.
For example, an estimated 40,000 Australian children will be sexually assaulted each year. The economic cost of child sexual assault has been estimated to be between $5 billion and $7.2 billion a year. The social cost of child sexual assault is huge. Approximately 70 per cent of psychiatric patients are known to have been sexually abused as children. The statistics get even more disturbing. One in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused in some way before the age of 18 years. Extremely worryingly, a 1994 survey of 453 paedophiles revealed that they were collectively responsible for the molestation of more than 67,000 children. That is an average of 148 children per individual paedophile. I am sure there are a lot more shocking figures along those lines.
In my former role as a teacher and principal I had to deal with some cases of terrible abuse against children. Each case left me trying to rationalise the kind of society we live in today where such despicable and appalling acts could be perpetrated against children. I am therefore pleased that I can now be a participant in introducing stronger laws regarding child protection, and I congratulate the Minister and the New South Wales Government on their continuing focus on child protection issues in this State. The Government has a strong record in child protection initiatives. In 2001 it introduced the first register of child sex offenders in Australia, to protect the children of New South Wales. It is the toughest in Australia. More than 2,500 offenders are required to register details ranging from where they live and work to what cars they drive and even what tattoos they have.
The register makes sure police can keep tabs on these people, to help prevent them from re-offending against children. All those convicted of a sexual offence against a child are automatically placed on the register. Unfortunately, however, occasionally there will be additional offenders who the police believe should be subject to the same tough reporting requirements. That is why the Government has given police the ability to apply for court orders to place on the register offenders who would not otherwise be required to report. In this way it can be demonstrated that the person poses a serious risk to the safety of a child or children generally. I certainly endorse that.
The Child Protection (Offenders Registration) Amendment Bill 2007 expands the circumstances in which courts can issue child protection registration orders to require a person to comply with the reporting obligations of the Act. Under these new laws, courts will be able to issue orders when a person has been convicted overseas of a crime that would have constituted a registrable offence if it had been committed in New South Wales. By way of example, if a country's legal system does not distinguish between child pornography and adult pornography, a person convicted abroad of child pornography offences might not be classed as a registrable person in New South Wales.
Many other countries do not have the same extensive range of child protection legislation as has been implemented in recent years in New South Wales and other Australian jurisdictions. This should not be a reason for persons who commit these crimes in other countries and then move or return to New South Wales not being required to register with police while they are living in our State. The bill also gives courts the ability to place on the register offenders who completed their sentence for a class 1 registrable act—that is, one of the most serious offences listed in the Act—before the Act commenced in October 2001.
In all cases courts will only be able to issue child protection registration orders when satisfied that the person poses a risk to the lives or sexual safety of one child or children generally. This will tighten the protection that the system offers to children. The amendments seek to strengthen protection of children against crimes that take away their innocence and permanently scar their lives. As a father of two young daughters, and as a former school principal, I fully understand the need to implement measures to protect children from these predators. However, many people in our society do not fully understand the extent of child sexual assault. Any laws introduced to strengthen the provisions under which paedophiles are monitored should be endorsed and the Government is to be congratulated. I strongly support the bill.
Mr MIKE BAIRD
(Manly) [8.31 p.m.]: Like the member for Wyong, I am concerned about the protection of our children. I am a father of three children. Just over 12 months ago, I found my 10-year-old daughter talking on the Internet to someone whom we did not know. That sparked my concern about the impact of the Internet on children in terms of cyber safety. Who is out there preying on children of all ages? In order to address this problem we tried to be constructive and brought together some experts to discuss the problem and make recommendations on constructive solutions.
On 9 August 2007 we held a forum with representatives principally from MySpace, Bravehearts and the Inspire Foundation. We requested a police officer to attend but, unfortunately, he was unable to do so, but Catherine Allen, from the Police Ministry, attended. The forum participants discussed a range of issues and the outcomes are worth noting. The public perceive the online world as less safe than the physical world, even though 70 per cent of paedophilia occurs in the home. The younger generation tends to use the Internet to strengthen relationships in the physical world rather than to make new friends. However, the danger is that they perceive the Internet as a private space, whereas it is very public. Media scaremongering makes children more vulnerable to predators because parents may ban Internet use as a result.
As legislators, and leaders in the community, we have a responsibility to make sure that we do not overdramatise some of the impacts. If we banned the Internet then children would be less likely to talk openly with their parents, should an event happen such as I discovered with my daughter talking to someone she did not know. We also discovered that predators are more likely to groom children on fast-moving chat-rooms rather than on corporate-owned social networking sites where the data is monitored and can be preserved. Education campaigns need to target those most at risk and make them aware of the range of information and events available to protect our children.
I commend the Iemma Government and the Minister for taking up this issue. The first recommendation of the forum was that we make it mandatory for convicted sex offenders to register their active email account and associated Internet activities, such as those prescribed in the bill. We need to provide limitations on convicted sexual offenders and stop them from using the Internet, because right now there is no such provision. Operators of social networking websites would share the data with police and would alert the police when they find a common match and then have the offender's profile removed.
I have a concern—and I am sure the Minister will address my concern in reply—that on 10 August 2007 the Minister announced the email initiative as his. A journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald
was contacted by one of the Minister's policy advisers 10 minutes after the forum was closed and asked if he would like an exclusive on an announcement by the Police Minister about taking on the email address initiative. I said at the outset that this matter is not about politics. Protection of children must rise above political issues. It was a lesson to me about the way the Government deals with opportunistic politics in relation to these matters. We would have appreciated some acknowledgement from the Minister that the initiative actually came from a forum organised by the Opposition—by the member for Epping and me. We extended the invitation of working collaboratively together above politics in relation to this issue. Protection of children has to be first and foremost.
The Opposition believes this issue should go further. At the forum we said the Government should conduct random computer checks for convicted sex offenders. Despite the registration of convicted sex offenders' Internet addresses, currently nothing prescribes random computer checks to ascertain what they might be up to. We have the start of a net but the Opposition believes the net should be increased. We also think that the Government needs to conduct more research into the online behaviour of children and predators so intervention can be better targeted. We are in a position where it is not just about prohibition. Is there an opportunity for the State Government to look at ways of intervening earlier in children's lives and make a difference in the longer term? We need to find out who is most vulnerable and at risk and use the Internet to explore those opportunities. Studies are emerging from both the United Kingdom and the United States that can help in the prevention of child abuse and intervention to help victims before any tragic consequences arise. The bill is a great step forward in the long battle to protect our children and we welcome it. The Opposition has been moving in this direction for some time and we encourage the Government to take it that step further.
Mrs KARYN PALUZZANO
(Penrith) [8.37 p.m.]: I support the Child Protection (Offenders Registration) Amendment Bill 2007. The issue of keeping children safe is close to every legislator's heart. As a former teacher, like the member from Wyong, and as a parent and parent helper at my local school, I am concerned about the usage by teenagers and the very young of all online interactions on the Internet, not only chat rooms.
All members of this Parliament do things to raise awareness and we should not be precious about why, where and how. In 2003 I formed the Penrith Youth Forum. A small group of year 11 students decided to hold a forum on workplace issues, which they called Youth @ the Workplace. That was long before the unions in New South Wales had to respond to the former member for Bennelong's draconian legislation. The Penrith Youth Forum was talking about workplace issues long before WorkChoices came into being. I did not say the issues arose in Penrith first, and I suggest the member for Manly should concentrate on the actions of the Government that are happening now. The Child Protection Register is crucial to keeping our children safe. I applaud the New South Wales Police Force for its daily work in protecting children, investigating crimes and bringing offenders to justice. I also applaud the Minister for Police for bringing this legislation before the House.
The Child Protection (Offenders Registration) Amendment Bill 2007 introduces a number of important amendments to expand the register and further protect children across New South Wales. The member for Manly did not talk about the aspect of the bill that relates to DNA. I draw the attention of the House to the introduction of powers for police to take and retain DNA samples of persons on the Child Protection Register. I strongly support this as an excellent improvement to the New South Wales Child protection registration scheme. Before I became a member of Parliament I worked as a lecturer in education, in particular, science and technology. I know the importance of improvements to science and technology in education and as an investigative tool in various areas, particularly the New South Wales Police Force.
The bill inserts new part 7B into the Crimes (Forensic Procedure) Act 2000 to allow certain forensic procedures to be carried out on registrable persons. Having DNA samples of persons on the register will provide police with the powerful and crucial investigative tool to identify offenders and/or eliminate suspects when new sexual offences occur. This change will enable more persons who commit child sex crimes to be identified, to be found faster and to be more likely successfully prosecuted. A case study in the report to Parliament on the review of the Child Protection (Offenders Registration) Act 2000 demonstrates the importance of having DNA profiles.
The case involved a Joint Investigation Response Team investigation on the aggravated sexual assault of two young girls. The girls were walking through a park when a male approached them and ordered them to a secluded area where he began to commit a sexual assault. He fled the area when one of the young girls ran off and screamed for help. A DNA sample, which was taken from one of the girls, matched a male who was listed on the DNA database. The offender was later sighted by two off-duty police officers in a hotel, arrested and charged with two counts of detain for advantage and three counts of aggravated sexual assault.
To improve the ability of police to investigate and prosecute child sexual assault cases, all persons with reporting obligations under the Child Protection (Offenders Registration) Act 2000 would be eligible for DNA testing by police, irrespective of their sentence. This important new legislation will give police the tools they need to keep track of sex offenders who, sadly, pose a threat to the safety and wellbeing of children. The bill amends the Child Protection (Offenders Registration) Act 2000 in accordance with the recommendations in the report on the review of the Act.
Schedule 2 of the bill amends the Crimes (Forensic Procedure) Act 2000 so police have the power to take and retain DNA samples of registrable persons. Police will be able to take those DNA samples when registrable persons make either their initial report or their annual report to police, as required under the Act. Forensic testing is a powerful and crucial tool for police. By having the DNA of all persons on the register, more persons who commit child sex crimes will be identified and identified faster and there will be more likelihood of a successful prosecution. I commend the bill to the House.
Ms ANGELA D'AMORE
(Drummoyne) [8.42 p.m.]: Tragically, there are people who would do harm to our children if they had the opportunity. Therefore, it is crucial that we give the police the powers and resources they need to tackle crimes of this nature. As modern technology progresses, so too must our laws, police intelligence tools and enforcement powers. The Child Protection (Offenders Registration) Amendment Bill 2007 introduces changes announced by the Minister for Police earlier this year to require people on the Child Protection Register to notify police of their email addresses and other identifiers. This includes all active email addresses, chat room identities and landline and mobile telephone numbers.
In these days of cyber crime it is critical that the Government does all it can to protect our children when they use the Internet. The Internet is a fantastic tool and brings huge benefits to children by opening up the rest of the world and providing a wealth of information to them. But it is shocking to see how the Internet can be used to approach and harm our children. International research suggests that a large number of children are the recipients of unwanted sexual comment online. For example, a survey in the United States found that one in seven children admitted to receiving an unwanted sexual solicitation online. Child predators are known to befriend young victims and introduce them to obscene material and inappropriate sexual talk to desensitise them to sexual behaviour and make them more vulnerable to abuse.
The New South Wales Police Force has a dedicated Child Exploitation Internet Unit to detect and track sexual predators who use the Internet to lure children or to produce child pornography and images of child sexual abuse. They undertake a crucial job dealing with the most horrendous of areas. The Iemma Government continues to support the unit with a commitment to boost its numbers by seven new officers. The new measures provided for in the bill will give them the most up-to-date tools to help track down sex offenders who try to hide behind a computer screen. This is only the latest in a series of tough initiatives being introduced by the Government to protect children. New laws on procurement and grooming that were recently passed by Parliament and included in the Crimes Act 1900 make it an offence for an adult to procure or groom a child for any unlawful sexual activity.
The offences aim to capture the kinds of grooming activities commonly engaged in by paedophiles, whether online, through electronic communications or through any other means or activities, including face-to-face communication. Child predators should not be allowed to be anonymous on the Internet, and the Iemma Government is committed to giving police the powers and resources they need to keep our children safe. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr DAVID CAMPBELL
(Keira—Minister for Police, and Minister for the Illawarra) [8.45 p.m.], in reply: I thank the members who contributed to the debate—the member for Wyong, the member for Penrith and the member for Drummoyne. The members for Wyong and Penrith brought their experience as former schoolteachers to the debate. I also thank the member for Epping and the member for Manly for their contributions and note the Opposition's support for the bill. I want to respond to some comments by the member for Manly in order to correct the record. I point out that no member of my personal staff attended the forum referred to by the member. A policy officer from the Ministry for Police was in attendance, but no member of my personal staff. I also make the point that no matter how much the member may want to believe it, he should not kid himself that a decision was taken following the forum that people on the register must note their telecommunication addresses. I made that decision in my office a long time before the forum was held. The timing of the announcement was purely coincidental, as was the announcement by the then Commonwealth Government that it would spend a deal of money researching issues that the member referred to.
Regulation of the Australian telecommunications system is a national issue that rests with the Commonwealth Government. The register for child sex offenders in New South Wales is a State Government responsibility. That is why we have made these amendments to the legislation. Telecommunications generally is a responsibility that rests with the Commonwealth. I make that clear distinction. As I have said, I look forward to working with the Commonwealth Government to ensure the sensible regulation of telecommunications. I very much welcomed the advice I received on this issue and the contribution from MySpace.
The Child Protection (Offenders Registration) Amendment Bill introduces mechanical changes to enable smoother operation of the Child Protection (Offenders Registration) Act 2000. The changes were identified in the statutory review of the Act. The bill also introduces changes identified in the statutory review, which will provide police with more information when investigating and prosecuting child sex offences that may have been committed by recidivist offenders. The amendments arising from the review cover a range of issues related to the registration and reporting requirements of certain people on the New South Wales Child Protection Register.
In particular the bill allows police to take and retain DNA samples of people on the register; it extends the circumstances in which courts may issue child protection registration orders; it increases penalties from two years to five years when people breach their reporting obligations under the Act; it requires persons on the register to provide police with their email addresses, chat room addresses and any other electronic communication identifiers they may use; and it tightens reporting requirements for registrable persons by, for example, requiring all initial reports to be made to police within seven days. The total package of reforms presented in this bill will make the Child Protection (Offenders Registration) Act 2000 a more effective statutory basis to underpin the New South Wales Child Protection Register.
I thank Catherine Allen from the Ministry of Police and Emily Whitehead from my office for the efforts they put into this bill and for their continued interest in child protection issues in our State. I also thank the members for Epping, Wyong, Manly, Penrith and Drummoyne for their contributions to the debate. I acknowledge the fact that the Opposition supports the package of amendments contained in this bill. I commend the bill to the House.
Question—That this bill be now agreed to in principle—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bill agreed to in principle.
Passing of the Bill
Bill declared passed and transmitted to the Legislative Council with a message seeking its concurrence in the bill.
LIQUOR BILL 2007
CASINO, LIQUOR AND GAMING CONTROL AUTHORITY BILL 2007
MISCELLANEOUS ACTS (CASINO, LIQUOR AND GAMING) AMENDMENT BILL 2007
Agreement in Principle
Debate resumed from 28 November 2007.
Mr GEORGE SOURIS
(Upper Hunter) [8.51 p.m.]: I have pleasure in representing the Liberal and National Coalition in respect of the Liquor Bill 2007, the Casino, Liquor and Gaming Control Authority Bill 2007 and the Miscellaneous Acts (Casino, Liquor and Gaming) Amendment Bill 2007. I preface my remarks with reference to the background of the bills. In 2005 a white paper substantially redrafting the Liquor Bill was tabled, presented to the public and put out for consultation and discussion. A draft bill also existed at the time. Considerable discussion and debate ensued through to approximately June 2006.
Sometime thereafter the Government decided that introduction of the bill would be left until after the election. That was somewhat disappointing in light of the amount of work that had gone on beforehand. A year or more has passed: an election has come and gone. In winter this year a campaign was underway—particularly through very supportive press and others, including some personalities in radio—to raise the community's awareness of and engage the community in supporting the prospect of a limited deregulation of liquor licensing laws as would permit the appearance of outlets to be known as "small bars". That campaign ran for some months and the Government took all of the community's considerable views on board to fashion the bill now before us, which is quite a significant departure from the original draft bill that was part of the 2005 white paper.
The Opposition does not oppose these significant and important bills involving an omnibus rewriting of liquor licensing laws. The whole area of liquor licensing is complicated and there is a considerable range of views within the community about the existing legislation let alone a proposal of this magnitude. Therefore, legislation of this nature deserves comprehensive treatment and forensic examination by both the Opposition and the Government.
The campaign in the immediate preceding months has been conducted mainly through the media but also through an email campaign with organisations such as Raise the Bar and other people. In gauging the tone of those emails two aspects made an impression on me. First, almost all of the representations the Opposition received, whether by email or by telephone—usually by those two methods—were in favour of creating in New South Wales a small bars industry and, to a very great extent, reforming restaurant liquor licensing. Whilst the Opposition did not make too many comments, because it was such a comprehensive and complex issue and no bill had been drafted let alone introduced into the Parliament, a number of representations made by some of those people, particularly in emails, were a little misguided.
I refer to one email that commenced circulating on Monday in a campaign from the organisation Raise the Bar. The email that went out to the organisation's network elicited 19 contacts yesterday and today through to the office of the Leader of the Opposition. Mostly the contacts were by telephone; all gave their name; all gave their telephone number; and one email was in response to the email that was sent by Raise the Bar. The email from Raise the Bar stated:
Last week the new LIQUOR BILL 2007 was tabled in the NSW Parliament for everyone to read, in preparation for the debate by both houses of the NSW Parliament this week.
It's been 25 years since the last liquor bill (when Malcolm Fraser was PM!). Now the NSW Opposition is considering delaying the new bill for another year or more!
This is the critical time for the new liquor laws for NSW, if the Bill is delayed past the next two weeks, it will be held over until next year, and new licences will not be available until 2009 at the earliest.
Click here to LET THEM KNOW it's time for change
Stay tuned to our website each day as we have regular updates as the politicians have their say, and next weekend we will send out another bulletin with the weeks summary and a review for the final week of Parliament, where hopefully the Bill will pass.
We also need to raise much needed funds for the big push so please give what you can. Please also SEND TO YOUR FRIENDS, we need more people like you involved to get this over the line.
My purpose in reading that out is to highlight two significant errors. First, I do not know how anybody could have come to the assumption that between the introduction of the bill by the Minister last week and yesterday morning the Opposition intended to delay the bill—fatally delay the bill, the email almost suggests—to next year, which would cause the true implementation of this new bill to be in 2009. That is the second error, until 2009—at the earliest, it is helpfully pointed out. Unfortunately, this misinformation is unworthy of the organisation, particularly when it is asking the public to make monetary contributions. It is disappointing that this sort of misinformation is pedalled when, if the organisation had taken the opportunity to wait until tonight, it would have heard the comprehensive views of the Opposition. It would have heard—and I repeat it—that the Opposition has no intention whatsoever of opposing the bills. The organisation may well be disappointed that only 19 respondents took the opportunity to contact the Opposition.
As I said, these cognate bills rewrite liquor licensing laws in New South Wales. A new concept comes through these bills: the issue of low impact or high impact. The new concept creates a new definition, a new licensing regime, which takes into account at the application stage the question of low-impact small bars. I will refer to that as I go along, but I want to refer for a moment to the timing of the bills. I have some misgivings about the time that has been involved in the preparation of the bills, their appearance in the House and the need to pass them before the end of this year.
The bills are comprehensive. I am disappointed that drafting of the bills by Parliamentary Counsel was not finished until Monday of last week. Two nights later the Minister introduced the bills; they are about two inches thick. It takes a lot of work and a little more than a mere one or two days to digest their contents, especially when those one or two days are parliamentary sitting days and, as members of Parliament, we have a number of obligations, particularly on Tuesdays, involving party meetings and the processes that occur in addition to the sitting of the Parliament. I am thankful that the Minister has an attitude of cooperation and communication. I want to place on record my thanks to him personally and also to the staff whom he asked to engage in communication with me, particularly Mr Foggo and Mr Cox, who have briefed me on a number of occasions. It was the Minister's view that I did not need to be chaperoned even during those discussions, and I very much appreciate that.
In fact I do not know how I could have spoken tonight or drafted a memorandum for the Coalition in such a short period of time if it were not for the fact that expert members of the department were able to discuss various issues with me, answer all of my questions and bring me well and truly up to date on these comprehensive bills. During some of those briefings I expressed considerable reservations that it was originally intended, as of last week, that the bills should be presented to the House and passed without the tabling of draft regulations. It was explained to me—and I certainly understand the argument, although I reject it—that Parliamentary Counsel had prevailed upon the Minister and the department to not necessarily ask for draft regulations, given that the Government had promised the industry that there would be a consultation period, including forums and workshops.
As a result of those considerations, only when it was known whether there would be amendments to the bills would it be possible to draft what would then be the final regulations. Unfortunately, my view was to the contrary. The bills are comprehensive and the regulations would need to be comprehensive; the bills are too complicated and too important for the Parliament to be asked to pass them without sighting the draft regulations. During the Minister's agreement in principle speech a set of draft regulations was tabled. I was shown the draft regulations just prior to their tabling. Obviously I would not have had an opportunity to read the regulations until much later. I thank the Minister for that, because it has avoided engaging in a great deal of parliamentary process. Because of the need to be more transparent and to expose the devil of the detail of the regulations, Parliament should not be asked to write a blank cheque by passing legislation of this nature and perhaps leaving it to some future disallowance process. That is cumbersome, and I cannot recall regulations being disallowed in the 20 years that I have been a member of the House. Perhaps it has happened, and someone will no doubt correct me if I am wrong, but it is a rare and unusual process.
So I was even more concerned that the draft regulations should be exposed. Now that they have been tabled—and I am very thankful for that—I take the opportunity to ask the Minister if he could give an undertaking in reply, in good faith and as a matter of principle, that these draft regulations will be for all intents and purposes the final regulations, subject to administrative adjustments, errors or unforeseen matter which may arise in consultation. Having said that, I appreciate that industry will be disappointed that the draft regulations have been tabled. That would imply that if there was bad faith the consultation process is now unlikely to be as fulsome as perhaps it could have been if regulations had not been exposed. Undoubtedly, some in the industry will claim that, therefore, the consultation process is a sham. I believe it is more important, in terms of our legislative process and the role of the Parliament, to expose draft regulations even if it incurs the ire of elements of industry. That is a bit of a dilemma, but I am confident that we will be capable of working through it.
Ideally, the bills would have been introduced and allowed to remain on the table until the consultation took place. However, in one of the consultation sessions I referred to earlier the Minister explained to me, as the director of liquor and gaming did, that certainty of time is needed so that the administrative arrangements in these bills can be put in place. I accept that. Those arrangements include the establishment of the new control authority and the abolition of the old control authority, the Liquor Administration Board—they are not small matters of administration; they are quite large—in the hope that the Act would become operative on 1 July 2008, the intended commencement date. The Opposition has no objection to that and, if anything, is willing to cooperate to enable that to take place. For all intents and purposes I believe that the consultation process and the regulations will be finalised early next year and, therefore, no part of the parliamentary or legislative process will stand in the way of the Act commencing on that date.
These bills have four principal features. The legislation combines the provisions of the Liquor Act and the Registered Clubs Act, while leaving the Registered Clubs Act to deal with the governance of clubs. That is a significant philosophical adjustment. In the past there have been two liquor Acts: the Liquor Act, which pertained to hotels, and the Registered Clubs Act, which contained provisions governing the service of liquor in clubs. This legislation will apply the same liquor provisions to the entire industry. The bill will abolish the Liquor Administration Board and replace it with a new regulatory authority, the Casino, Liquor and Gaming Control Authority, which will fold the Liquor Administration Board into the Casino Control Authority. About six months ago I had the opportunity to consult with Mr Michael Foggo and the Minister about what was intended. Happily, that will now happen. It was intended that the Liquor Administration Board would be abolished and its functions would be folded virtually directly into the department.
At the time my concern was that this would expose the various public issues that arise with licensing to direct ministerial involvement and control, and even direct exposure to the political possess, including the influence of the media and talkback programs. Although the Liquor Administration Board arrangements for the governance of the liquor industry were cumbersome and ultimately led to its demise, they were at arm's length from the political process, that is, from the Minister, the department and the Parliament. That was an important aspect of the arrangement. The independence that it was able to exercise was a good feature that should not have been abandoned. I am pleased that the new control authority retains that autonomy. That will serve the Minister and future Ministers, the Government and future governments far better than what might otherwise have been enacted.
The current legislation provides for 21 licences and the bill will rationalise that to six. Even that six include a new regime for licensing of small bars and restaurants without poker machines. The legislation contains other measures, in particular the planning process, new offences pertaining to liquor, the abolition of the social impact assessment regime and the introduction of community impact statements. The legislation also proposes reform of wine producer licences and arrangements for surf clubs and other non-profit sports clubs.
The first category of licence is a hotel licence. This will apply to premises where the primary purpose is the sale and supply of alcohol. The term "primary purpose" is significant because in due course that purpose will dictate what category of licence is relevant. Hotel licences will cover a variety of hotels and bars. However, premises that do not provide gaming or sell takeaway liquor will be able to obtain a special type of hotel licence. There will be a two-tiered licence structure, that is, a hotel licence for establishments with poker machines and one for establishments without them. A seventh category would have been appropriate because those two aspects are different even though the primary purpose and the level of impact will dictate how a licence application will proceed.
Standard trading hours—that is, from 5.00 a.m. from Monday to Saturday and 10.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m. on Sunday—will be retained. Extended trading hours will be subject to a community impact statement and the prohibition on liquor trade on Good Friday and Christmas Day will be retained. I commend the Government for that, although in the immediate past a large number of extended trading hours applications has been approved. Many outlets already have extended trading hours, and those approvals will remain operative. However, new applications will be subject to the new community impact statement process.
The second category of club licence will apply to registered clubs. Existing clubs will retain unrestricted trading hours and all existing privileges. However, new applications for licensed registered clubs will be subject to community impact statements and applicants will be required to operate during standard trading hours. Again, extended trading hours will be subject to community impact statements. Registered clubs will no longer have a special place in our community. Even though existing clubs will retain their regime, new applicants will now be required to operate on a level playing field vis-a-vis hotels. I am surprised that the clubs industry did not object more strongly to this proposal. Registered clubs have a community identity and it is very important that they have community ownership and a community profile. Until now registered clubs have been very guarded and have fought hard to retain that level of separation. This legislation will water that down somewhat and create a level playing field. I am not saying that is a good thing; I am simply saying that it waters down one of the great differences that have existed.
The third category of licence is the packaged liquor licence, which is issued to liquor stores selling takeaway liquor. The conditions that apply to that licence generally remain unchanged. New licences will be subject to community impact statements, standard trading hours will apply, any extension of trading hours will require community impact statements and the same prohibitions on trading on Good Friday and Christmas Day will also apply. The fourth category of licence is the on-premises licence. This is the area in which the most novel change has taken place. It will replace existing licences for restaurants, motels, bed and breakfast establishments, theatres, universities, nightclubs, caterers, maritime vessels, airports, Governor's licences and so on. Following a community impact statement, applicants will be individually assessed by the Casino, Liquor and Gaming Control Authority, and licensing conditions will cover aspects of sales, consumption, responsible service of alcohol and so on.
This licence is not for businesses where the primary purpose is the sale of liquor. Standard trading hours will apply. By that I mean the primary purpose is the supply of food perhaps, or accommodation, but the primary purpose is not to be the supply and sale of liquor. Extensions will be permitted under the same arrangements as previously. Therefore, the sale of liquor will be an ancillary purpose, such as with a restaurant. Liquor sales can be approved, providing the primary purpose remains that of a restaurant. Nonetheless, the control authority may approve liquor sales without meals. That remains an option, but I emphasise the primary purpose aspect.
An on-premises licence will be available to operate live music and entertainment where alcohol is provided. That will replace current nightclub and theatre licences, and restrictions applying to those licences will be removed. High-impact licence applications will be subject to community impact assessments. One of two aspects warrants consideration. The first is that the Casino, Liquor and Gaming Authority will make an individual assessment of each individual applicant. That is an important aspect to note. The regime will be different from the one we learned from in Victoria. Each individual application will be individually assessed by the control authority and operating conditions—the responsible service of alcohol provisions, the provision of toilets, whatever—will be subject to approval.
It will not be a fast process. It may be a fast process if the applications were dealt with one at a time, but the thought that a couple of thousand applicants would be dealt with in a short time will prove to be illusory indeed, unless the Minister intends to hire a large cadre of staff. That needs to be pointed out so that no-one is hoodwinked into believing that this will suddenly yield up mass deregulation. I am pleased about that aspect because to do otherwise would be a little reckless, as was evident from the outcomes in Victoria. It should also be clear that in passing this legislation, the Government and the Opposition being in agreement, it is understood that conditions for each applicant in an approval will be individually assessed.
The other aspect I would like to refer to is live music. The Opposition has received a reasonable flow of representations from musicians. Of the 19 calls I referred to earlier that have been received over the past 24 hours, I believe most have been from musicians. The Opposition—and the Government also, no doubt—would like more live music and more avenues for musicians to gain experience and to make their names and so on. While the regime will be more permissive, nonetheless neighbourhood and residential amenity and the role of local government will remain. No-one should believe that there will be some sort of carte blanche approach and that live music will automatically proliferate throughout all these establishments. I believe this will remain a difficult area, not because of the music or the need to provide avenues for musicians but simply because of the important matter of urban amenity, especially if some of these restaurants are in suburban areas. That will focus the question of noise, music and neighbour ambience and amenity.
Division 5 of part 3 relates to packaged producer wholesaler licences. Those provisions will apply to wine producers, brewers, distillers and wholesalers and will allow wholesale sales to other licensees. Without going through the provisions in detail, the changes that take place within this licence will be welcomed by the wine production industry. I have a personal interest in welcoming this licence. I have always felt that wine producers have been impeded when they go to wine shows, to country fairs, farmers' markets—
Mr Andrew Fraser:
Mr GEORGE SOURIS:
AqQuip, or wherever. They can only take orders, and when they take an order it involves freight and freight costs. That most certainly inhibits orders. Under the new licence wine producers will be able to sell their wines. That is an excellent development. The ability to sell some blended wines and the abolition of the wholesale litre limit on cellar doors will also be welcome. The final category is the limited licence, which will apply to sporting clubs and community functions as well as significant State and regional events. Existing special arrangements for surf clubs will be maintained, including the selling of alcohol at functions. Surf clubs will be able to apply for an on-premises licence to sell liquor at private functions on club premises and be able to hire out the premises, subject to planning issues, local government requirements—and, of course, that brings us back to the same issue that applied to musicians, the neighbourhood amenity.
Many surf clubs are lucky enough to be located adjacent to or be part of a park or beach with some significant buffer zones. Some are even lucky enough to have a shopping centre as the nearest built establishment with a car park. That would be a very good position. Nonetheless, that issue will revolve around the main consideration, which is planning. The on-premises licence will also enable traditional coldies and sippers. Not coming from a coastal electorate I had no idea what those two words meant, but they are traditional and that tradition will be maintained. Clubs that hire out their premises will continue to conduct these events through the limited licence, which will again be subject to responsible service of alcohol provisions and the all-vital urban neighbourhood amenity provision.
I want to make a couple of other general references. They are not specific to any one category and they are not in any order. The Casino, Liquor and Gaming Control Authority will now be the responsible entity for extended trading hours, particularly when they relate to special events. Perhaps the most recent example of extended trading hours in this Parliament was the bill rushed into the House to extend the trading hours for the Rugby World Cup. In my mind the issue that came to the fore in relation to that bill was that it came before Parliament in the very week it needed to become operative. That was disappointing because the industry most certainly would have known four years before the Rugby World Cup the exact time, date and place of the quarter-finals, the semi-finals and the final.
I have long held the view that it is not appropriate to deal with legislation in that way and I did not agree with the bill, which bestowed powers on the Minister without reference to Parliament to approve of these special events. Now that the powers will go to the control authority, the issue will be kept at arms length. The Parliament can take comfort in the fact that, despite the recent legislative turmoil, we now have a better outcome than might otherwise have been achieved. We also have independence, which is important.
Each application will be determined individually. The authority must take into account conditions relating to the responsible service of alcohol and other physical aspects such as toilet requirements, which is one of the flaws that abounded in the winter debate of 2007. Arguments within the community and the media suggested that a toilet somewhere nearby was good enough, but that is definitely not the case. A coffee shop attached to a shopping centre may seek to sell alcohol after hours. Quite often the coffee shop is at the front entrance, partly outside and partly in the corridor of the centre, yet the toilet facilities may be down the side of the supermarket, maybe 50 to 60 paces away, at the far end of the building as the anchor tenant.
It is commercially impossible to keep an entire shopping centre open, with security, so that patrons can have access to toilets. It is more likely that toilets would not be used and patrons would use whatever is available, which would be very unfortunate. Some people may laugh, but it is a very important aspect and a serious concern for those who have had experience in high-profile entertainment areas. We do not want to see that type of behaviour transferred to low-impact establishments, especially in residential areas.
The abolition of the drink-dine authority is very welcome because it abolishes the 70:30 rule: licensed restaurants in metropolitan areas will no longer have to pay the $15,000 drink-dine application fee and licensed restaurants in rural areas will no longer have to pay the $10,000 drink-dine application fee. Genuine restaurants generally have a low impact on their surroundings, which bodes well for the future. However, I would not like to see restaurants that maintain their primary purpose become hotel-type venues that have a high impact on their surroundings after, say, 10.00 p.m. The department will have increased powers to deal with such occurrences, for example, by suspending or closing down businesses and by imposing punitive sanctions. I endorse that measure.
The Opposition also endorses the continuation of self-exclusion, but I do not think it will achieve its aim. The hope is that, after counselling, people will exclude themselves, the licensed outlet will be able to identify them, perhaps from a photograph at the bar, and the system will work well. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it does not work well. Last week an article in one of the Sydney newspapers revealed that self-exclusion by gamblers from Star City Casino was unsuccessful. Indeed, there is considerable evidence to show that gamblers who exclude themselves attend the casino frequently. There is also anecdotal evidence that self-exclusion does not work in the hotel and club industry, so my view is jaundiced.
I am pleased to note the increased regime of penalties, which will mean more involvement for the department in this area. The Opposition endorses increased fines and fines applying to minors. I commend the expanded powers to ban irresponsible liquor products and promotions. In this regard, I refer to packaged drinks, which contain not only quite a bit of sugar but also a high concentration of alcohol. These drinks can contain 8 per cent to 11 per cent alcohol, which is double a standard 330-millilitre to 375-millilitre bottle of beer. We have put considerable effort into the responsible service of alcohol, yet an easy and obvious way to make a significant difference, in cooperation with the other States, would be to reduce the alcohol content of packaged or combination drinks that are so readily available.
Small venues that sell liquor will have problems with patrons smoking and enforcing the responsible service of alcohol because identification checks in such venues will be particularly difficult. It is not realistic to suggest that small venues could afford to employ security people to stand outside the venue and check the identification of patrons. It would be cost prohibitive. We must have knowledge of each applicant and his or her ability to adhere to the conditions that will be imposed, particularly applicants who run small venues with few staff.
I ask the Minister in reply to tell us whether the draft regulations reflect the true Government position, which will stand the test of consultation. The most important aspect of the bills is the planning process, the abolition of the Liquor Administration Board and the replacement of social impact assessments with community impact statements.
I refer firstly to the ongoing criticism of the Liquor Administration Board. It has been said that the process is slow and cumbersome, that it is very expensive, that applicants have to invest in the services of consultants, that the fees are high, and that the board takes up to two years to consider applications. However, abolishing that regime and replacing it with the new control authority and community impact statements will not necessarily streamline the process, as would appear to be the case.
Once an application has been lodged it will take, say, six weeks—perhaps a little less, or perhaps a little more—to be assessed and finalised. The fee will be relatively low compared to the current fee; it will range between $500 and $2,000, depending on the level of impacts and so on. However, the shift of process to the applicant prior to the lodgment will move a lot of time from the post-application period to the pre-application period. The applicant will now be required to undertake all these assessments, undertake the consultation, get through whatever local government process is required to obtain a development application, if that is applicable, and then, once all that has been done—and it could be some months—lodge the application and expect a speedy process.
The Government is saying, "We will solve the problem, but we will shift it to the applicant." So the applicant, in completing the required process, will incur pretty well the same expense and play much the same role as that previously played by the Liquor Administration Board. For example, as provided in the supplementary document dealing with the planning process, which the Minister referred to in the agreement in principle speech, an applicant will be required to provide copies of the application and consult with at least the local council, the New South Wales Police Force, the Roads and Traffic Authority, commercial interests such as chambers of commerce, the Council of Social Service of New South Wales, the Department of Community Services, the local area health service, the Network of Drug and Alcohol Agencies, the convener of any local liquor accord, and occupiers of premises in the immediate vicinity—which might sound simple—and consult "voluntarily" with others such as tourism industry representatives. The applicant is also required to advertise his or her application, inviting stakeholders to comment. The process will still involve a significant time frame in mounting and lodging an application.
I have already stated that I do not believe this bill will take us down the path of the Victorian experience. However, it is instructive to note that the laissez faire approach that Victoria adopted resulted in a 96 per cent increase in the number of outlets, noise complaints increased by 60 per cent in one year—in 2006-07—and assaults increased by 17.5 per cent in the same year. Indeed, the Victorian Parliament is now considering comprehensive legislation to claw back the unregulated nature of what they have created in that State, to in many respects reimpose regulation on the industry. I believe that is an important aspect to take into account. I note that a similar situation has developed in Queensland and that the Queensland Premier has foreshadowed legislation to restrict trading hours in that State's hotels and clubs until, I think, midnight—which is a bold move but a move that obviously has come about because of the considerable social problems that have arisen through bad implementation, or perhaps bad legislation.
I have the benefit of having consulted with a number of organisations on these cognate bills. Clubs New South Wales made representations to me that it is extremely opposed to the lack of consultation on the regulations. I advised Clubs New South Wales that I would place that on the record. The Australian Hotels Association also has misgivings about the regulations "fiasco", as it calls it. The association informed me that it gained an impression from the Government that a level playing field would prevail on the responsible service of alcohol. I note that last week at the annual association awards function the President of the Australian Hotels Association referred to his belief that the Government would provide such a level playing field. I have interpreted that to mean in relation to the responsible service of alcohol and the licensing concerns involving toilets and those sorts of things.
Restaurant and Catering New South Wales is, understandably, strongly in favour of the reforms. The Liquor Stores Association is mostly unaffected by them. The Winemakers Association is strongly in favour of them. Surf Life Saving New South Wales has indicated its support for the reforms, admittedly only by way of a letter. I was somewhat surprised, however, that organisations involved with people who abuse alcohol, such as the Salvation Army and others, did not respond to my request for consultation on the legislation. I thought it was rather uncharacteristic of them to be so silent, and they remain silent. Regardless of whether it is a response to my request for consultation, a response to media comments, or a public statement, it surprises me that organisations such as the Salvation Army, the St Vincent de Paul Society and the Sydney City Mission have all remained silent on the legislation.
I am more concerned, however, that the Commissioner of Police, Andrew Scipione, and the New South Wales statistician, Don Weatherburn, also have remained totally silent on the legislation. They have autonomous statutory powers. They have never in the past hesitated to engage in public debate on liquor issues. Commissioner Scipione's predecessors and Mr Weatherburn took a prominent role in the various forums that have been held, particularly the Alcohol Summit that was held in Parliament House. I am quite surprised that they have remained silent. I think we have been deprived of what I would consider to be very valuable public views that should have been expressed. I do not believe it is too late for Commissioner Scipione and Mr Weatherburn to express their views on the reforms.
As I said, until recently virtually all the representations from the public have been in favour of whatever bill it was going to be—sight unseen, as long as it was favourable. Lately, however, a number of opposing views have started to flow through to the Opposition. I will read one, because it is typical of a number I have received. The House should be cognisant of the fact that the debate is not 100 per cent one way. As is always the case, a different aspect starts to emerge later in the debate. A few days ago I received an email—there is no need to identify the author because it is not relevant—which reads:
I am emailing you in regard to:
1. the Bill …
2. the debate to be held prior to the rise of Parliament in December 2007 …
I am emailing all state MPs as you will all be involved in the vote.
I am asking you to make sure that liquor is not more readily available to the public than it already is—eg in cafes.
I am wondering how on earth our state government could even consider the Liquor Amendment (Small Bars and Restaurants) Bill 2007—
which, of course, is not before the House but that is what the email says—
in the light of all the accidents & deaths caused on our roads because of alcohol & because of all the family stress, violence & breakdowns caused by alcohol.
I shake my head [in amazement] that our state government could even discuss making consumption of alcohol even more readily available to members of the public, especially to people who have most likely driven their cars to the café.
I have heard that the move is to allow "small bars and dining areas to rejuvenate areas in the lanes of the inner city to allow smaller venues to trade. This gets away from the large drinking barn like monopoly of big pub industries. It directs drinking to a more balanced and European style premise that can enhance the cultural value of little unused lanes etc in the inner city in particular. Lower consumption in a more cultural ambience would assist in the control of binge drinking and associated alcohol-fuelled violence."
I am sorry but I fail to see how any of this makes any difference to my concerns raised above.
If you intend to vote FOR this proposal, can you, in all conscience, offer me an explanation please?
I implore you to do all that you can to see that this issue is strongly opposed.
I anticipate the bill will pass through both Houses within a day or so, and I am sure similar views will start to be expressed in greater volume after the bill has been passed. I thank the Minister for informing me earlier today of the amendments the Government proposes to move. I place on record that I will make a couple of remarks in the Committee stage. First, we will support the proposed amendment and, second, I thank the Minister for the consultation. I conclude my remarks by saying that this is a most comprehensive bill in a most complicated area of legislation. It is not an easy issue for either political or community considerations. I hope whatever the views of the members of the public might be, they will accept and appreciate that members of Parliament on both sides of the House have given the bill a lot of consideration and thought.
Mr MATT BROWN
(Kiama—Minister for Housing, and Minister for Tourism) [9.51 p.m.]: The tourism industry has been looking forward to changes to the liquor laws for years. We have worked closely with those who work in tourism to ensure the changes increase visitors to regional New South Wales and support regional businesses. As tourism Minister, and a former small-business owner in regional New South Wales, I welcome the new liquor laws as do many others who are passionate about tourism. Phil Hele, for instance, a board member of Tourism New South Wales and founder of the Blue Tongue Brewery, said:
This is great for tourism and great for the tourism industry. It will clear the red tape and let small business get on with giving the customer what they want.
Greg Binskin, the General Manager of Tourism Wollongong, and recent award winner at the New South Wales Tourism awards, said:
These new laws will encourage people to dine outside of the peak periods of lunch and dinner thereby effectively creating the opportunity for increased expenditure throughout regional cafes and restaurants.
Allowing more venues to have better access to liquor licences will attract extra investment in business, bring in more tourists and introduce more products on to the market. The strange anomaly of not being able to purchase wine at regional wine markets or at tastings has been rectified. These new laws will also allow bed and breakfast establishments, serviced apartments and farm-stay accommodation to sell alcohol. All these changes will support small business in rural and regional New South Wales and attract more tourists to many of the wonderful destinations this State has to offer. I support the bill.
Mr MIKE BAIRD
(Manly) [9.53 p.m.]: I register the sentiment of the community that we have not had appropriate consultation. Indeed, the relevant stakeholders in the community are just starting to get their heads around this complex debate. First and foremost I think additional consultation is required and we ask the Minister to take that on board as he finalises the draft regulations. I also congratulate the member for the Upper Hunter on his comprehensive—and I think we need to use that word quite clearly—speech and understanding of the legislative provisions. I have certainly learnt many things from the member for the Upper Hunter tonight. I cannot say that every night. He outlined a very detailed proposition that has full credibility and contains a number of initiatives and ideas the Government should take on board. I also commend many in the community for their work on problems associated with liquor that we have experienced in Manly. Problems associated with liquor have been a significant issue in Manly and over the past few years many of those problems have occurred after midnight.
Manly has a number of large bars. Many people have worked tirelessly on this issue. The bill introduces something that the community supports: the spirit of the small bar. The onus is on the Government to ensure that the spirit of small bars is manifested in the final form of the regulations and does not lead to the fear that on every corner, whether it is take-away or convenience stores, liquor will be available. We endorse increasing the attractiveness of the landscape and the spirit of Manly and we congratulate the Minister on the undertaking. I will identify a few people in Manly Council who have played a key role in dealing with some of the liquor issues over the past few years. I will then raise some concerns that I want the Minister to take on board.
Three or four years ago Manly Council instituted a Manly After Midnight policy. The council looked at the closing times of licensed premises to determine whether they could be staggered. It also considered insisting that all licensed premises be a signatory to the Manly Liquor Accord. I will return to the accord and some of its initiatives. Ultimately my primary concern in relation to this legislation is the accord. Manly Council has also considered conducting noise audits of late night activities. The council has reviewed the use of multiple taxi ranks late at night. Consistent with the recommendations of the late night transport working groups, all taxi ranks should have security and their location should be advertised so that people who attend late night venues are aware where it is safe to catch taxis. The council and the safety committee investigated engaging additional security staff to patrol public places. I pay credit to the mayor, Peter Macdonald, who has played a key role in driving this initiative and other councillors who have been involved. I also pay tribute to my predecessor, David Barr, who worked on some of these issues.
Manly Council also considered how it could encourage greater diversity of family-friendly entertainment facilities in the Manly central business district. My hope is that the provision of small bars will lead to more family-friendly amenities across the landscape of Manly. Again, the devil will be in the detail of the finalised regulations. Finally, the council has made representations for increased penalties for drinking within alcohol-free zones. Manly has had a lot of problems in that regard and the council has been very proactive. There has also been significant community input. Those around The Corso area have had significant input, emphasising their concerns predominantly about trading hours and what people leave in their wake when walking home.
Under the leadership of Kim McKay the proactive policing policy has been increased. It is a brave approach for police to take because their statistics will get worse before they get better. In the past three years statistics have improved and the number of alcohol-related assaults is starting to fall. The Manly Chamber of Commerce has played a role by providing money to upgrade The Corso. The Corso and its surrounding amenities are key requirements in minimising problem behaviour. The Chamber of Commerce has made the area more attractive and improved the lighting, which helped with some of the problems.
The liquor accord has played an important role in bringing together licensees, the community, police and other stakeholders. The licensees often get a bad rap in the press. The Steyne Hotel has set an example in the community by recently banning high-intoxication drinks, the Manly Wharf bar has imposed entry restrictions on groups of people and all the licensees in the area have played a role in voluntary lockouts. All those factors—the liquor accord, the council, the chamber of commerce, the police and the community—have played a role in improving the position. I draw to the Minister's attention two concerns I have in relation to this legislation. My first concern relates to the membership of the liquor accord. Of the 180 licensees in the Manly area, less than 25 are signed-up members of the liquor accord. That is a small number. A liquor licence carries the burden of social impacts on the local community, such as security, transport and lighting issues. If all the licensees were members of the liquor accord, the accord would have an ability to fund initiatives as prescribed by the community to deal with the problems.
At present, a number of licensees are not sharing the load. In fact, only two hotelsthe Steyne Hotel and the Ivanhoe Hotelhave carried the burden of funding initiatives. The Government should include in the regulations the concept of compulsory membership or a prescription that every licensee in the community makes a contribution to initiatives, if required by the liquor accord. I note that the authority may direct a licensee to contribute to liquor accord initiatives. I believe the provision should be more definitive. If all the community—local precincts, council, liquor accord, safety committees—agrees to initiatives, a mechanism must be in place to ensure that every licensee makes a contribution. It is unfair to ask a few to carry the burden. That is my main concern in the brief time I have had to consult on the bill. I will look at the draft regulations in more detail with the liquor accord, the council and the local precincts and bring any concerns they have to the Minister.
The second concern I have relates to trading hours. Local community input into trading hours is not clearly defined in the legislation. The new standard trading hours will be generally Monday to Saturday till midnight and Sunday night till 10.00 p.m. Existing hours will be maintained. I do not seek prescribed trading hours, but the local community should be involved in setting acceptable trading hours. That should be a key factor. That also extends to the small bars bill in relation to trading hours, the impact on the community and so on. There must be more local involvement. A mayoral minute report states that the following resolution was passed:
That local Council be given a consent role in the determination of licensing hours in licensed premises.
That was the council's main concern about this bill. The mayoral minute continues:
At present, a Council has the right to make a submission to the Licensing Court in response to an application but such submissions appear to carry little weight … By giving the Council, and therefore the community, a consent role is proper and logical as the Council understands the local conditions well, appreciates the impacts felt by local residents and, as at present, picks up the "tab" for the costs associated with mitigation …
Although I support the overall thrust of the council's argument, I do not believe the local council should have the sole consent role. I believe it should be the council, local precincts and the liquor accord. The bill should provide a mechanism to determine whether a venue's trading hours are acceptable to the local community. Further, before locking in new standard trading hours, existing trading hours should be looked at. My final concern relates to surf life saving clubs. This legislation provides an excellent opportunity to support the operation of these clubs. In the Year of the Lifesaver, all the lifesaving clubs in my area—Manly, North Steyne, Queenscliff, Freshwater, South Curl Curl and North Curl Curl—require support in every capacity, particularly in relation to facilities and amenities.
Requests for grants will be made to the Minister for Sport and Recreation in due course. With this bill we have an opportunity to provide for surf life saving clubs to hold functions in the confines of their premises. The local community should support and embrace their surf clubs. Local government involvement is included in the draft regulations to allow flexibility. Approval to hold functions should not rest solely with the local government. The bill should include a provision to enable a commonsense approach by both the State Government and local government. I thank the Minister for bringing the bill to the House. I trust he will take on board these recommendations.
Ms JODI McKAY
(Newcastle) [10.00 p.m.]: I support the Liquor Bill 2007, which represents an impressive reform of the licensing laws in New South Wales. I congratulate the Minister for Gaming and Racing on the measures contained in the bill. I refer to the objects of the bill. The bill regulates and controls the sale, supply and consumption of liquor in a way that is consistent with the expectations, needs and aspirations of the community. The bill also facilitates the balanced development in the public interest of the liquor industry through a flexible and practical regulatory system with minimal formality and technicality. The bill provides the balance that is required in the community. No more has this been seen than in the inner city of Newcastle. Newcastle is a good case study. It is important when debating this legislation that we consider its practical application around the State. On weekends in the summer months up to 30,000 young people come into Newcastle to attend venues in a two-kilometre area bordered by Hunter and King streets. As the young people walk between the premises, they pass a number of derelict buildings in the inner city. There have been significant issues of assaults and antisocial behaviour, all linked to alcohol.
Parents have a right to expect their young people to come home safely. I support our young people's right to go out, have fun, take part in entertainment and visit the venues. They also have a right to come home safely. In some cases, that has not happened in our inner city. A New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research report delivered three weeks ago showed that just under half of all assaults in Newcastle are alcohol related. Crime mapping shows those assaults predominantly occurred in the inner city between midnight and 6.00 a.m. on weekends. In September this year Newcastle police recorded 139 alcohol-related assaults, compared with 99 the previous year. Following the introduction of a range of measures, yesterday's Newcastle liquor accord meeting recorded a marginal decrease in the number of alcohol-related assaults in October and November of about 2.5 per cent.
The measures include the establishment of a crime prevention partnership, which was introduced by the Premier in May this year. That initiative brings together all government agencies to look towards a solution in crime hot spots, such as Newcastle's inner city. I commend the agencies for the work they have done and I also commend members of the Newcastle liquor accord for their collaboration, cooperation and initiatives. As a result, additional late-night transport services have been introduced in Newcastle—this is about the third or fourth weekend they have been running—and two new secure taxi ranks have been located at Hamilton and in Hunter Street. Also we have seen extra Viking funding for police over the past few months. These measures are warranted and I support them. However, as it stands the legislation has not supported nor has it been responsive to the community's concern about alcohol-related antisocial behaviour in cities such as Newcastle.
In Newcastle the community, residents, business leaders and business owners have called for a curfew: a 1.00 a.m. curfew and a 3.00 a.m. lockout have been proposed. After significant community pressure the licensees agreed to a 3.00 a.m. curfew in the inner city, and I commend them for their response to community concern. In conjunction with that, the local police have undertaken a section 104 action against four licensed premises in Newcastle. I spoke to the local area commander yesterday and he informed me that since the action began in July the local police have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours gathering evidence against these licensed premises. This action is still ongoing and it is back in court next July. Division 5—sections 87 to 90 of the bill—permits the Director of Liquor and Gaming to declare lockouts and curfews to reduce patron migration between areas, and to impose or vary licence conditions. This is a good, responsive measure.
I also comment on the introduction of community impact statements set out under division 2, section 48 of the bill, which will provide a more direct form of community consultation to ensure local stakeholders are properly consulted in licence applications. The introduction of community impact statements will address concerns about the current liquor social impact assessment process, which has been criticised for being costly, time consuming, subjective, incomplete and often bewildering to residents and other stakeholders. The simpler and less costly community impact statement will gauge the potential impacts of new hotels, clubs, bottle shops, restaurants and other licensed venues on the local community.
Other measures in this bill that will be welcomed by my community include the fact that licensees and staff repeatedly caught supplying alcohol to minors and intoxicated patrons face maximum fines of $11,000 and/or 12 months jail. That is up from $5,500. Minors caught inside licensed venues or purchasing alcohol from licensed venues will face a fine of up to $2,200. These new measures are welcomed also, as are the enhanced provisions of the liquor accord. The member for Manly spoke about the liquor accord in Manly. I also commend the members of the Newcastle liquor accord who, as I said, have worked in a collaborative and cooperative way in introducing measures.
I note that in this bill accords will apply to the Casino, Liquor and Gaming Control Authority to ban troublemakers from member licensed venues. The director also will be able to require licensees to contribute funding to liquor accords to strengthen their ability to address alcohol-related problems in the community. The member for Manly raised that point and I direct him to the bill because it is included in it. Within a cluster or precinct, in sharing the burden of the initiatives posed by the accord in relation to better transport and increased security, the director will be able to require licensees to contribute funding to liquor accords. I also note the ability of resident groups to be included on accords. That is important, particularly for community and resident groups in an inner-city location such as mine. It is important that they have a voice and it is important that there is transparency in the operation of the accord. I note some criticism of accords in the past because they have not included residential community groups unless it is in a voluntary capacity or by agreement of all members of the accord. I note criticism that there has not been transparency. I certainly welcome that initiative.
Under this legislation restaurants will be able to seek approval to allow liquor sales without a meal with conditions to be determined by the new authority. The advent of new small bars and restaurants is welcome in Newcastle. We have the restaurant strips of Darby Street, Honeysuckle, The Junction, Hamilton, and inner Newcastle and this will increase the vibrancy of these areas. Importantly, it will increase choice for people who choose to go to these areas. It is great to see that will be done in a responsible manner while ensuring that there is community input.
The bills will substantially increase the opportunity for local communities and local councils to be consulted and involved in liquor licensing decisions. I had a discussion with the Lord Mayor of Newcastle yesterday, who attended the liquor accord meeting, and he is certainly in favour of many of the measures in these bills. Local communities and local councils will find the liquor licensing process simpler to understand and easier to navigate. Their views will be taken into account more readily through a system that reduces cost and red tape while maintaining due process. The package of reforms will modernise and simplify New South Wales' liquor laws to reflect the changing industry needs and community standards. On behalf of my community, I commend the bills to the House.
Mr ROB STOKES
(Pittwater) [10.15 p.m.]: Alcohol is both a blessing and a curse. As Lord Chesterton put it: No animal ever invented anything so bad as drunkenness, or so good as drink. We therefore need clear laws that promote sensible consumption of alcohol as one of the great enjoyments of life, and strong laws to proscribe the irresponsible consumption of alcohol, which is the cause of so much evil in our society. New South Wales does not have a great history when it comes to the regulation of liquor—from the Rum Corps, to the six o'clock swill, to the giant drinking barns of today, some of which are honey pots for crime and disorder.
Evidence clearly demonstrates that strong, clear liquor regulation is vital to control the adverse impacts of the irresponsible service and consumption of alcohol. For example, a recent article in the Drug and Alcohol Review indicates that more than two-thirds of assaults and street incidents in some areas are related to the consumption of alcohol. Recent research also indicates that almost 15 per cent of all recorded alcohol-related police activity involved dealing with assault. The link between alcohol and domestic violence is particularly stark. Almost half of violent incidents associated with the consumption of alcohol were domestic violence related.
Current licensing laws have not been working effectively. Recent New South Wales police data shows that 35 per cent of all offenders who had been drinking—and 60 per cent in urban areas—had been doing so on licensed premises. Half had been drinking at just 10 per cent of the premises. Current licensing laws have also been difficult and expensive to enforce. Alcohol-related crime absorbs a huge amount of police resources. For example, a recent study funded by the National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund, an initiative of the National Drug Strategy, entitled "Estimating the short-term cost of police time spent dealing with alcohol-related crime in New South Wales", found that 16.8 per cent of police time on Friday afternoons and nights is spent dealing with alcohol-related activities and 17.8 per cent of police time on Saturday afternoons and nights is spent dealing with alcohol-related activities.
It was estimated that the total salary bill across the 80 local area commands in New South Wales for, effectively, addressing alcohol-related problems was of the order of $50 million per annum. National research conducted in 2002 estimated that throughout Australia alcohol-related crime costs police services almost $650 million per annum. There is clearly a strong case for change, and this change has been a long time coming. As the member for Upper Hunter explained in rather epic detail, after a white paper process and an abortive first draft bill, the effective rewrite of the 1982 Liquor Act is now before this House.
I note that part 2 of the Liquor Bill sets out the principal offences relating to the sale and supply of liquor. I will not go into those now because they have already been covered by the member for Upper Hunter and other members. I will focus on a couple of aspects of the bill that will have particular impacts upon my community of Pittwater. First, however, I extend my gratitude to, and acknowledge the hard work of, police in dealing with alcohol-related crime in my local area command of the Northern Beaches. I record my gratitude to Doreen Cruickshank, Dave Walton, Graeme Pickering, Paul Devaney and all their officers in addressing this serious problem in my community of Pittwater.
I refer to the impacts of the Liquor Bill on Pittwater specifically. I note that there will be significant impacts upon the service of alcohol at the 11 surf clubs that provide such great service to the public at our magnificent beaches. The bill proposes two specific licence categories, which will have specific application to surf clubs largely maintaining the current system. First, clubs will be able to apply for an on-premises licence as set out in part 3, division 4. The on-premises licence will allow each club to serve liquor at private functions held at surf clubs. Of course, in applying for such a licence each club will have to first satisfy the local council that the licence will not generate adverse impacts on the amenity enjoyed by surrounding residents. I note that the member for Newcastle talked about community impact and its assessment.
Clubs will be required to ensure the responsible service of alcohol. Enabling liquor sales at private functions in a licensed and regulated environment of a surf club is clearly preferable to forcing the adoption of practices where people bring their own liquor to functions, where there is no supervision and the responsible service of alcohol requirements simply do not apply. The bills also provide that surf clubs that do not wish to serve alcohol at private functions, or where they are unable to do so because there will be unacceptable impacts on the local community, will still be able to serve liquor at weekly coldies—or, as they are called in Pittwater, sippers. I note that that is what they are called at my surf club, Mona Vale surf club. It is celebrating 85 years of service to the Pittwater community this year, which corresponds with the Year of the Lifesaver. That is terrific.
A limited liquor licence will apply to the traditional weekly drinks at surf clubs, which is a sensible recognition of an important tradition of the surf lifesaving movement and a really important part of the fabric of many coastal communities such as Pittwater. I acknowledge that the member for Waverley is in the Chamber
I am sure the same is true of his community. However, I note that clause 36 (5) (b) restricts the limited licence to Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. I point out to the Minister that many surf clubs hold their sippers on Friday evenings, after evening training on boards, skis, boats or in the gym. People go to training after work and then they like to have a beer at the club. Traditionally Friday evening is a time when sippers are held. This is an area in which I ask that the Minister consider an appropriate amendment so that the traditional Friday night coldies are included under the limited licence scheme. I think that area could be looked at.
Facilitating sensible access to liquor licences by surf clubs will really help to finance the vital work of the surf lifesaving movement, which has become increasingly expensive. Running a surf club, patrols, education and competition costs tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars each year. An inflatable rescue boat costs about $12,000, all-terrain vehicles cost up to $20,000, and manikins for use in training for a surf lifesaving certificate, bronze medallion or advanced resuscitation certificate can cost upwards of $10,000. This is a lot of money. Providing reasonable access to a limited yet flexible licensing scheme for surf club functions is a really positive step, and I welcome it.
The new category of on-premises licences will also help to foster a mature café culture where alcohol might be served without the need to serve food, provided that community impacts can be appropriately managed. There are several opportunities for this sort of business to operate in my community of Pittwater, in the booming village centres of Avalon, Newport, Mona Vale and elsewhere. Of course, any change in liquor laws brings the potential for antisocial behaviour, but it also brings hope that a better culture towards the service and consumption of alcohol might be developed. This change is long overdue in New South Wales, where the law and society have tolerated a bad drinking culture for far too long. Much consultation in regard to the regulations, to which there is constant reference throughout the bill, will still be needed. We may need to review the operation of the legislation after some time. However, liquor laws have served to create too many distortions in the way in which we serve and consume alcohol, and change such as that proposed in the bill is desperately needed.
Ms VIRGINIA JUDGE
(Strathfield—Parliamentary Secretary) [10.25 p.m.]: As a passionate supporter of all the creative industries I am absolutely thrilled about, and pleased to speak in support of, the Liquor Bill 2007, the Casino, Liquor and Gaming Control Authority Bill 2007 and the Miscellaneous Acts (Casino, Liquor and Gaming) Amendment Bill 2007. I commend the Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister for Sport and Recreation, his hardworking ministerial staff and the department for all the work they have done to bring the bills to the Chamber tonight. The Minister has eruditely talked about the wide-ranging benefits associated with this new liquor licensing framework. In my presentation tonight I would like to primarily focus on the great benefits and outcomes that this will bring to the wide range of those involved in live performance industries.
Many people that I have spoken to support the new liquor laws. All are seeking a safe place for us to not only listen to but also see and be part of live entertainment. The musicians I have spoken to are also looking forward to the modernisation of our liquor laws. For example, I have spoken recently with Paul Joseph, a musician since 1983. He has been playing professionally for more than 30 years. He is a very talented and experienced person. He has told me that in the past 15 to 30 years there has been, sadly, a steady and constant decline in employment opportunities across the board for professional players. As hole-in-the-wall venues were unable to comply with the rigorous and over-the-top licensing regime, little venues started to disappear suddenly and without explanation, without a trace. Everyone started to wonder why this was happening. Many fine musicians in this State, very sadly, lost the opportunity to find work. Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne have healthy, vibrant music scenes. It is absolutely imperative that we do not waste an instant and that we provide the environment and culture for these music scenes to grow and to flourish.
Currently in Sydney if people want to see a band it is commonplace for them to have to walk through a venue, sometimes a club, past wall after wall of poker machines, and finally find a small, stale room where they might see some live entertainment. That is very uninviting and totally inappropriate for families, especially those with small children, and for our youth. I am not criticising our wonderful clubs; everyone in this Chamber knows how much I have fought for, and try to support, the club movement. Many clubs are doing a fantastic job; they are thriving and prospering, and so be it. They put so much back into the community through their benefits scheme. We should be able to take our children and young people to see and hear affordable, good-quality live music. It is great if people can go to a venue and see someone like Justin Timberlake and cough up the $145 or so to do it, but that is not for everyone. There has to be choice.
The reforms that will come about as a result of these bills will make a profound change to our cultural heritage. Sydney was once recognised as one of the great music centres of the world. Many musicians gravitated to Sydney, even those from New Zealand. Sydney was recognised and talked about as a great cultural hub. Indeed, many of our great bands that have become internationally famous cut their teeth in this music scene, some in venues in King Street, Newtown, others in the southern and western regions. They had a chance to cut their teeth as part of the live music scene. Of course, the economic value and the export dollars that this reform will bring will guarantee wonderful benefits to New South Wales and to our city, but also will benefit the cultural environment.
Many musicians have told me that the only place they can find work is in an RSL club, which is great. They also play for corporate clients. Their choices have been severely restricted. There is a ripple effect from the thousands of fine musicians who are out of work. Many people in ancillary occupations suffer similarly because ancillary people go with live music and live venues. A musician should be financially stable just like every other talented and skilled person. One musician told me that he travels to a show, unpacks, practices, performs, prepares the pays and packs up and, excluding his travel costs—the petrol, wear and tear on his vehicle and so on—he ends up working for around about $2.50 and $5.00 an hour. That is absolutely appalling. Plumbers and sparkies can earn $75 an hour. That is good, but why can our talented musicians who have studied for years not be treated fairly? I cannot understand why members of the Opposition are not champing at the bit to support this legislation.
Not everyone fully supports it. Comments were made about insufficient consultation. The draft bill has been out for 18 months, which is plenty time for consultation. Every day that we dilly-dally limits the opportunity for musicians to improve their situation. Some members over there must live in a cocoon or a bubble; they do not know was happening under their very noses. They should take a walk around the streets and look at what is happening. Legislation will no longer stifle musicians from playing to the public and promoting their music. These reforms will provide for lively entertainment. Of course, competition will still be an aspect of the industry, and that is great because it will provide musicians with the opportunity to hone their skills, which will benefit everyone.
I also spoke with Richard Ruhle, a blues drummer and industrial organiser with the musicians section of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance. He said that the live music industry has been regulated out of existence and that these changes are a big step towards reversing that terrible situation, or at least providing the opportunity and incentive to change it for the music industry. I hope these reforms create greater competition and more opportunities in hotels, clubs and licensed venues. It would be wonderful to revert to the 1980s and 1990s, when it was possible to be part of the vibrant music scene and to watch 100 musicians playing every night in the hub of the city.
I recently organised a concert in my electorate of Strathfield—the greatest electorate in the State, although some members might disagree. One of the reasons I organised Oz Rock Rescue at Burwood Park was to provide a venue for musicians. The performers included Backsliders, Rattlesnake, a couple of young men from Liverpool and some very fine Australian musicians who did a Pink Floyd extravaganza. In fact, that act had a two-night engagement at The Basement. How many places like The Basement are there left in the city?
Ms Clover Moore:
One! The Basement.
Ms VIRGINIA JUDGE:
There are very few. Performances on both nights were sold out. My hardworking colleague the member for Sydney endorses what I am saying. She knows what is happening in the city. We need more venues at which these people can perform to vibrant audiences of people who enjoy this great music. Of course, music has a great civilising effect. It helps to build communities and to connect people. Everyone benefits from the music scene. Dave Theak, a lecturer in jazz studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, has advised me that Australia produces world-class jazz musicians and that we must make it easier to set up venues so these musicians can practise their craft. That says it all. It is great to hear support in that regard from my colleagues. They know that this legislation will facilitate that goal.
A nightclub licence in Sydney costs $60,000 under the current Liquor Act. Presently grassroots venues and alternative entertainment are not viable and that diminishes the cultural landscape of our city and our State. With the enactment of this legislation the licence fee for live music venues will be about $500. These reforms specifically encourage grassroots entertainment while also supporting larger initiatives. The creation of a new on-premises liquor licence for live music venues will bring a number of existing licence categories into a single, simpler and cheaper class that will support entertainment venues in New South Wales for years to come. That is great. These bills provide a series of eagerly anticipated reforms that will benefit the live music sector and offer public entertainment in cinemas, theatres or any other premises whose primary activity is to provide entertainment to members of the public.
Many Australians are screaming for an alternative to reality and pay television. Music lovers want live music—be it fringe, reggae, developmental, hip-hop, grunge, opera or divas. Creative industries also want live entertainment—be it Shakespeare, poetry, storytelling, recitals or stand-up comedy. Some clientele may even want to have debates and discussions at their local invite-a-politician night and spend an evening discussing representative democracy interspersed with music. Why not? The world is our oyster. These reforms will unshackle the live music industry, enhance the quality of entertainment venues, strengthen the tourism and hospitality industries and ultimately give everyone more choice.
More than 900 submissions were received during the consultation process from community organisations, the general public, local councils, businesses and industry associations and government agencies. That was a lot of consultation. Of those 900 submissions, 650 were about the struggling live music industry. I hope that these reforms will result in the revival of the village artist, the neighbourhood poet and the backyard musician. I hope that they will create family-friendly watering holes on our local street corners for neighbours to meet. They will provide a place for family and friends to celebrate and share experiences, to soothe the soul—or perhaps to enliven it—to cure loneliness or perhaps to rebel against mainstream media and large sports screens. They are fine, but we need more choice.
In 1998 the Musicians Union of New South Wales surveyed its members on why work was disappearing. The driving force behind this survey, Professor Bruce Johnson, then teamed up with Dr Shane Homan. In the 2003 they received funding from the Australia Council and the New South Wales Ministry for the Arts to prepare the "Vanishing Acts Report". The findings in that paper then informed the drafting of an issues paper for government by the Premier's Department in early 2005. Special mention must be made of the contributions of Victoria Owens, Program Manager, Music, from Arts New South Wales, who has played a major part in the implementation of these reforms, Shane McMahon from Arts New South Wales, Richard Ruhle from the Musicians Union and the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, and, of course, John Wardle. John is in the Chamber with supporters tonight. I am inspired by the enormous amount of work he has done on this issue over 3½ years. I have heard that he is a talented musician. He knows many people in the industry and I trust and have faith in his briefings. I commend him for his energy, drive and intelligence.
These new liquor laws strike a balance between community and music industry needs now and into the future. This is yet another example of the Iemma Government taking proactive steps to provide the best possible environment for all. I encourage all members of Parliament to support these necessary reforms.
Mr THOMAS GEORGE
(Lismore) [10.40 p.m.]: Before I deal with the bill I declare my interest as the part owner of a hotel and a former licensee. I also thank the Minister for the job he has done. I particularly thank the member for Upper Hunter, the shadow Minister for Gaming and Racing, for leading the debate for the Opposition and so ably explaining why we will not oppose this legislation. However, having listened to the member for Strathfield I have to make a couple of comments. She said the bill has been on the table for 18 months. If that is so I ask the Minister to declare where he has been hiding it for 18 months. We were made aware of it only last week. It was introduced into this House only last week, and the member for Strathfield should know that. Further, she said that musicians are being paid $2.50 an hour. I am a former musician. I played in pubs back in 1965 and I never played for $2.50 an hour. The music industry will certainly be provided with more venues, and I compliment the Minister for noting the work of musicians and the contribution they make to the entertainment industry and the State of New South Wales.
I speak tonight as a former hotel licensee. I want to put on the table some practical concerns I have in relation to some of the changes in these bills. First of all, as the shadow Minister and member for Upper Hunter said earlier, the Opposition will not oppose the bills. However, one concern I have, and I am sure I speak for anyone involved in the industry, is the charge or fine for licensees or employees of hotels when an underage person is found in a hotel. The maximum fine for a licensee is currently $5,500, and I am concerned that this will be doubled to $11,000 for repeat offenders. Currently the fines imposed on minors are minimal. All persons under the age of 18 would know they should not be in a hotel; they know they should not be there. What is the penalty for them? It is $50. It is a disgrace, because that is not a deterrent to anyone under the age of 18. I hope I have misread this provision, but I ask the Minister to look at it again. Minors will have nothing to lose compared with licensees.
Ms Virginia Judge:
It is the licensees who let them in when they are under age.
Mr THOMAS GEORGE:
The member for Strathfield says the licensees should not let them in if they are under 18. She ought to try to manage a hotel. I do not know of any licensee who says to any person under 18, "Come in." However, people who are under 18 have entered through windows because they could not get in the front door and then hid in the hotel, but no 16-year-old or 17-year-old could honestly say they did not know they were not allowed in licensed premises. They will tell you they are not supposed to be there, but they will do everything to be there. The supply of alcohol to these young people is the responsibility of the licensee. Again all the emphasis is on the licensee. People under 18 are not patrons, but young men and women under 18 will still try to get alcohol knowing they should not have it. For them the penalty is very little but the penalty for the licensee is exorbitant.
I want to comment on the on-premises licence. Will the Minister clarify for me whether all the staff of these premises will be expected to obtain responsible service of alcohol certification? Will these premises be expected to have toilets? I ask the Minister what arrangements will be made when he has to close down premises, such as a restaurant. Licensees of clubs and pubs and other areas have a great responsibility for moving on crowds and getting them out of their premises at closing time. I am concerned about that.
The other issue I want to raise relates to limited licences, and I notice that surf clubs are referred to. In country and regional areas show societies and sports grounds, which are usually run by trustees for land owned by the lands department, depend on having a show a year or events at the showground. Under current licensing regimes the on-costs for running functions or shows now make it unviable for show societies to have bars at those grounds. I stand to be corrected, but at the moment I understand a showground can apply for a licence and will be allowed to have two functions a year.
The Bonalbo Show Society got in touch with me earlier in the year. Because the show was on 27 April one year and the next year it was on 28 April, it could not get a licence for the next year's show because it was one day over the 12 months. It could run three functions in the one year but it was not allowed to run a bar at that show. That caused a great commercial loss to the show society. The on-costs for picnic race meetings that are held only once a year make it unviable for these race clubs to have a bar, and it is important for them to have that income. It is important not only from the income point of view but also from the point of view of providing fellowship for people at local shows so they can have a yarn about the drought or whatever.
The last point I want to touch on is the Liquor Accord. I pay tribute to all the liquor accords that are operating, especially the ones in the Lismore electorate. They have been very successful. However, I would like the premises licence arrangements to include a condition that they are part of a liquor accord. Usually, if there is a problem with licensed premises in a community you can bet London to a brick those licensed premises are not part of a liquor accord. The community benefits if the responsibilities of the premises include being part of the liquor accord. It is important for all liquor outlets to be involved. Most communities have bottle shops and liquor outlets in major shopping centres, and they operate in the early hours of the morning. Alcohol may be purchased at 8.00 a.m., yet they have no responsibility whatsoever to be part of a liquor accord. For the good of the community and the industry, it should be part of the licensee's responsibility to be part of the liquor accord. The accords that work well have been a credit to the people who take part in them, but if there are now to be more outlets in the community they should all be made aware of the problems.
Problems can arise with festivals in country towns. One example is the successful Lismore Cup held last Saturday at Lismore. The Lismore Turf Club, the hotel and clubs worked with police for the past 12 months to prepare for this race day. They provided buses and undertook crowd control, not only during the races but afterwards when people went back to the licensed premises. The success was the result of everyone working together. However, I am aware that two or three establishments do not take part in the liquor accord and do not realise the work involved in making the race day a success. There was one problem, and it involved premises that are not part of the liquor accord.
In addition, other liquor outlets that are not part of the liquor accord provide alcohol to people who take their own eskies. It is in the interests of the industry and regional communities for those outlets to have to take some responsibility as part of the licensee arrangements under the local liquor accord. I understand that certain points are lost for different offences and that the dollar amount is covered in the regulations. I am happy to have made a contribution to the debate, and I thank the Minister for finally bringing the bills forward. I thank also the shadow Minister for his effort in preparing the arguments on behalf of the Opposition.
Ms CLOVER MOORE
(Sydney) [10.51 p.m.]: I strongly support the Liquor Bill 2007, for which there is overwhelming community support. After publicly giving notice of the introduction of my Liquor Amendment (Small Bars and Restaurants) Bill, people from across New South Wales lobbied hard in support of reform. Thousands of people took part in the campaign by signing petitions, sending electronic drinks to their members of Parliament through Raise the Bar, posting comments on blogs, joining a Facebook group, or contacting members of Parliament. I would particularly like to acknowledge the brilliant efforts of the Raise the Bar group, representatives of whom are in the gallery tonight. They motivated almost 8,000 people to act. I understand that on Monday Raise the Bar got over 500 people to call the Leader of the Opposition in one day to ask him to support debate on this bill taking place this year. Their message is that it is time for change.
I have received letters from across the State, including from Terrigal, Port Macquarie, Ballina, Wombarra, the South Coast, Newcastle, and all over Sydney, and particularly from Ryde, Lane Cove, Campbelltown, Kellyville, Manly, Bondi, North Sydney, Mosman, Newtown and Waterloo. Support has come from people of different ages. Even one of my 80-year-old volunteers tells me that she looks forward to having somewhere different to go for a drink. New South Wales business representatives—including the Property Council of Australia, the Chamber of Commerce, Westfield, the Hotel, Motel and Accommodation Association, and the Chair of the Committee for Sydney—support reform. Former Prime Minister Paul Keating has publicly expressed his support for reform.
The Sydney Morning Herald
particularly and the Daily Telegraph
promoted reforms in numerous articles that engaged so many across the State. I commend the New South Wales Government and the Minister for responding to this strong community campaign and putting the public interest before vested interest. The long-awaited Government Liquor Bill and its cognate bills, the Miscellaneous Acts (Casino, Liquor and Gaming) Amendment Bill and the Casino, Liquor and Gaming Control Authority Bill, will provide an entirely new process for liquor licensing that is less restrictive, less complex, and more flexible and more affordable. It will also provide for new harm minimisation measures. The bills reduce the 23 restrictive and prescriptive licence categories to six flexible categories.
The proposed hotel licence will have the supply and sale of liquor as the primary purpose and, like my Liquor Amendment (Small Bars and Restaurants) Bill, there is a general bar licence that will apply to small boutique bars. As in my proposed small bars licence, fees for general bar licences will be $500. Although this amount has been specified only in the draft regulation, I welcome the Minister's public announcement that this will be the cost. Small bars currently have to apply for hotel licences, which cost $2,000, followed by an annual fee of $2,500, and require expensive and time-consuming social impact assessments, which can cost around $50,000. Alternatively small bars must apply for nightclub licences, which cost from $10,000 to $60,000. But small bars are neither nightclubs nor hotels.
The new cost of $500 will encourage entrepreneurs to open venues that contribute to the diversity and vibrancy of our night economy. Unlike my small bars bill, the proposed general bar licence does not create a patron limit. My bill included a patron limit because it was specifically designed to allow small bars to enter the market in the existing complex, restrictive and expensive New South Wales system, and to ensure that my small bars licence was distinct from other categories. The 120-patron limit was taken from the Western Australian small bars category. However, the Liquor Bill provides a system that small bars will be able to access. In Melbourne cheaper, more flexible licences encouraged the boutique night economy to flourish without a patron limit, and I support this provision in the bill.
For venues that have other activities such as food service or entertainment as the primary purpose, the bill proposes an on-premises licence. Business purposes will be set out in licences, and for an administration cost licensees can apply to serve alcohol while the primary business activity is not taking place. Like my small bars and restaurants bill, this will allow restaurants to serve liquor without meals, abolishing the expensive and restrictive dine-or-drink authority. While I support this new provision, I note that the authority can put conditions on licensees, including the number of drinkers allowed. I ask the Minister to make it clear in his reply that there is no intention for these authorities to reflect the dine-or-drink restrictions, which only allowed restaurants to serve alcohol without food to 30 per cent of customers, thus preventing them from becoming small bars.
I support the new fee structure for the granting of licences, particularly general bar licences and on-premises licences, which will allow smaller, lower-impact venues to enter the market. The fees, however, will be set out in the yet-to-be-finalised regulations, so there are no guarantees. I ask the Minister to assure the House that the Government intends to charge fees that encourage competition. Larger venues, however, may be the only ones able to afford the proposed fees of $2,000 and $3,000 to extend trading hours beyond midnight. Residents and police consistently report that larger venues cause greater impact on local amenity, and I recommend that the Government take this into consideration while finalising the regulations.
I welcome the decision not to extend standard trading hours for Sundays. However, I note that Kings Cross and Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, are already saturated by large, 24-hour premises, and can have extended trading on Sunday nights. In densely populated inner-city areas such as the Sydney electorate, large numbers of residents live in close proximity to licensed premises, and residents can be severely affected by commercial activities that operate across such a wide range of hours. For example, 20,000 people live within a five-minute walk from the Oxford Street precinct. Police from inner-city commands regularly report that a significant proportion of crime is alcohol related and concentrated late at night or early in the morning and on weekends. Indeed, this is what the Minister for Police and I recently witnessed on our walkaround in Oxford Street. I share community concern about the link between extended hours trading, and crime and antisocial behaviour.
Proposed standard trading hours should be reduced because 5.00 a.m. to midnight has significant potential to create impacts for residents. Standard hours should allow for operating times that are unlikely to affect residents. Beyond that, hours should reflect the likely impact of a business and its proximity on residents. I note that Queensland Premier Anna Bligh recently announced that opening hours would be cut back to 10.00 a.m. I strongly recommend that the new authority created by the legislation consider cumulative impacts of late-night trading venues when assessing applications for extended trading, and I support applying the new community impact assessment to extended trading applications.
I recommend that the bill increase the role of local government in extended trading. Councils are close to communities and know the complex issues surrounding clashes between residents and venues. Councils deal with local development applications, distressed residents and vandalised streetscapes, and are best placed to know whether extended trading hours will create impacts. I have concerns that the community impact assessment will apply to general bar licences, which do not have take-away liquor or gaming machines, and they have been the criteria for the application of existing social impact statements.
I welcome the Minister's statement that there will be different processes for low-impact applications and that measures to incorporate assessments within the planning process are being considered. The Minister also says that applicants will focus on consultation with the local community. However, the devil will be in the detail, as provisions in the bill are similar to provisions in the current Liquor Act 1982, which has been a major barrier of entry for entrepreneurs trying to set up smaller, boutique-style bars. The tabled draft regulations do not provide details on the process, although today the Minister told me that what we are looking at here is the framework and that the regulations will provide that detail.
Other licences without gaming machines or take-away liquor—including nightclubs that will have on-premises licences with the stated activity of public entertainment—will have to provide a community impact assessment only if the new Casino, Liquor and Gaming Control Authority requests it. I believe the authority should have the same discretion for general bar licences, rather than making community impact assessments automatic. Small bars, where the responsible service of alcohol can be better managed and that are not in residential areas, should not have an unnecessary burden. Small bars will be subject to a rigorous development application process through local government, including public exhibition and consultation with the whole community, who have the opportunity to address committees, with police and planners participating in the assessment process.
When the Government reviews the bill, I ask that the review include assessment of the legislation to establish whether it successfully stimulated new and smaller entrants into the market, and if it has not, that barriers be identified and addressed. In fact, I recommend that the review be brought forward to two years instead of five because this is new territory and we cannot be sure what will happen. An open, transparent and public review relatively early on would allow us to identify problems and address them appropriately.
I strongly support the proposed licensing process, which creates a new Casino, Liquor and Gaming Control Authority to replace the Liquor Licensing Court's functions of assessing and determining applications. The Licensing Court is formal, intimidating and time consuming, and both applicants and residents find the current situation onerous. The authority will be an independent, expert body, and this will make the process more accessible to all stakeholders.
Similarly, I welcome the proposed complaints process whereby the Director of Liquor and Gaming looks after complaints and has authority to impose conditions on licensees, but with decisions reviewable by the authority to ensure independence. I share community support for maintaining existing provisions for the responsible service of alcohol, harm minimisation, and increased maximum fines for venues repeatedly caught supplying alcohol to minors and intoxicated patrons. Police often report that current fines are easily absorbed by large venues and fail to act as a disincentive.
The director will be able to order lockouts, which will allow patrons already inside a venue to stay but will prevent the entry of new patrons. I really welcome this new power, which will address people queuing and lingering in entertainment precincts, which is a significant problem in my electorate, particularly in Oxford Street and George Street, and in Haymarket. It is where alcohol-fuelled violence and homophobia occur.
Powers to ban products that promote irresponsible, rapid, excessive drinking or that encourage underage drinking are also welcome. I support the requirements for venues to keep incident registers if they have extended trading hours. I also believe that licensees should keep records of incidents during all operating hours to ensure that proprietors and police are able to investigate crime and make connections between antisocial and criminal behaviour and licensed premises. Incident registers are a useful mechanism to help identify and prevent alcohol-related harm, and provide data that can help policing strategies such as the Alcohol Linking Project, which links crime and antisocial behaviour incidents to the licensed premises where perpetrators have been served.
While the bill allows for the creation of binding liquor accords with two or more parties, one of which must be a licensee, through the approval of the Commissioner of Police and the Director of Liquor and Gaming, I recommend that liquor accords be mandatory, as was supported by the 2003 Alcohol Summit. Local liquor accords have significant harm minimisation potential, with strategies based on local conditions designed to increase safety and reduce crime and antisocial behaviour, and I ask that the Government make them mandatory.
I welcome the Minister's announcement of an additional $10.8 million to help inspectors implement and enforce the bill, including support for liquor accords, working with police and industry education programs. Today I met with licensees from the Oxford Street precinct, including members of the Australian Hotels Association, as part of the Surry Hills liquor accord, and they raised with me a number of concerns about the bill. [Extension of time agreed to.
Some licensees say that the bill is being pushed through too quickly. However, we have been waiting a long time for reform—indeed, since the Olympics—with community consultation occurring almost two years ago. Some licensees are concerned that the 120-patron limit proposed by my small bars bill—which I note the Australian Hotels Association publicly opposed at the time—has been removed. As I have already said, my bill included a patron limit to allow for small bars in the existing complex, restrictive and expensive system, and in Melbourne low costs and flexible conditions successfully supported boutique-style small bars.
The Australian Hotels Association has argued that alcohol-related crime in Melbourne has increased. However, I note that the Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee in the Parliament of Victoria stated in a 2006 report on an inquiry into strategies to reduce harmful alcohol that it does not consider the laws to be "overly liberal". The committee instead suggested that harm minimisation and responsible service of alcohol provisions be strengthened. Recently I called for a street-safe task force similar to that in Victoria, where 50 officers patrol inner-city entertainment zones, enforce licensing conditions, and respond to crime and antisocial behaviour.
Some of the licensees I spoke to today said that the legislation should ensure that restaurants maintain the primary purpose test. The primary purpose test has been a major barrier to restaurants becoming bars, and the Casino, Liquor and Gaming Control Authority will be able to impose conditions on restaurants that serve alcohol without food. Licensees also tell me that they do not want residents to be a part of liquor accords. However, cooperation between residents and venue operators will encourage good neighbour policies, and I support this provision.
The city's draft late-night trading development control plan, which will go to council next week, aims to balance the role of late-night premises in Sydney's economic and social life with the rights of residents to reasonable amenity. Low-impact wine bars and hole-in-the-wall establishments will be encouraged. I understand that other councils are looking at similar provisions. The City of Sydney is conducting a number of projects to bring life back to the central business district, including measures to activate our laneways. We are working with international urbanist Jan Gehl to create spaces that people want to spend time in, and consulting residents, community groups, businesses, and cultural representatives and other stakeholders to develop a long-term vision for 2030. Small bars are an important part of these projects, for which there is widespread community support from residential, cultural and business communities.
The proposed changes will be good for tourism, live music and hospitality. Residents and councils across the State are looking for a new night economy for New South Wales—one that is diverse and in line with other cities, such as Melbourne, Auckland, Paris, Florence, San Francisco and Shanghai, to name just a few. I agree with the thousands of Raise the Bar members that New South Wales has waited too long for this, and the time for change is now. Through strong harm-minimisation measures, adequate police resources, and laws that encourage competition in the market, we can have a responsible, safe and vibrant night economy that is unique to Sydney and New South Wales. I congratulate the Minister and commend the bill to the House.
Mr RUSSELL TURNER
(Orange) [11.07 p.m.]: I support the Liquor Bill 2007 and cognate bills, and note the comments of the member for Upper Hunter and other members who have contributed to the debate. The object of the Liquor Bill 2007 is to replace the Liquor Act 1982 with new legislation that simplifies the existing liquor licensing system and regulatory framework, and enhances liquor harm-minimisation measures. The proposed Act gives effect to a number of key reforms arising out of the New South Wales Summit on Alcohol Abuse and the national competition policy review of liquor licensing legislation.
The explanatory note to the bill states that one of the principal reforms made by the bill is to rationalise the types of liquor licences that may be granted by the Casino, Liquor and Gaming Control Authority, including a new type of hotel licence, that is, a general bar licence, for bars that will not be able to sell take-away liquor or have gaming machines. That certainly will affect towns and cities such as Orange, Mudgee and Wellington in that it will give them a whole lot more opportunity. I note that most of those towns have a number of small wine bars, as well as large and small hotels. The legislation will certainly make it a lot easier for the small bars whose proprietors do not want them to be regarded as restaurants or hotels. I believe this aspect of the bill will ensure a lot more sensible and civilised alcohol consumption in country towns and cities, not just in the city areas. I refer specifically to clause 34, which refers to small-scale producers of beer, spirits, et cetera in non-metropolitan areas. It reads:
(1) A producer/wholesaler licence authorises the licensee, if the licensee carries on business as a small-scale producer of beer, spirits, cider, perry—
I checked what "perry" was, and I understand it is made from the fermentation of pears—
(c) to sell or supply the licensee's product, at any time on the licensed premises, to customers and intending customers for consumption while on the licensed premises, but only for the purposes of tasting, and
I refer this to the Minister for clarification. The New South Wales liquor reform fact sheet says, in part:
A new on-premises licence will allow greater flexibility for a variety of businesses wishing to serve alcohol—subject to responsible service of alcohol laws and restrictions on inappropriate venues.
The fact sheet goes on to say:
Boutique brewers and distillers outside of metropolitan areas can charge for tastings and make cellar door sales to the public to promote regional small business and tourism.
I would like the Minister to clarify the ability of the small brewer to actually sell alcohol to take away and not only for tastings as referred to in the bill. I had a meeting with Peter Shiells and Gary Leonard, who established the Mudgee Brewing Company in July this year, when I visited their premises. The Mudgee Brewing Company makes two very good beers, one principally from barley and the other from wheat, with 4.7 per cent alcohol content, and nicely packaged. They currently have a complication: they can sell only to other licensed premises. Their beer is selling quite well at a lot of the restaurants and hotels in Mudgee. People can walk through the brewery, they can view demonstrations of how the beer is made, but they cannot have tastings. The brewery proprietors cannot charge for tastings or allow people to taste their beer. I welcome the changes to the liquor legislation—and that is one reason I am supporting it tonight—but I would like the Minister to clarify the problem faced by the Mudgee Brewing Company. I will share with the House a little bit more of my meeting with Peter Shiells and Gary Leonard of the Mudgee Brewing Company. I received an email from them outlining some of their history, and it reads:
The idea of starting the Mudgee Brewing Company began about five years ago between two friends over a Christmas drink. Since that time a great deal of time, money and effort has gone into setting up the brewery. This has involved many facets, including the sourcing and importing of all the brewery equipment, finding the correct location and the establishment of the brewery. Not to mention the financial and project planning of the approval process. Currently the brewery is producing beer for sale to other retail liquor outlets around Mudgee, both on tap at some local hotels and clubs and for sale through bottle shops. The brewery is also open for viewing and talks to the public each weekend. This has proved very popular with hundreds of locals and tourists visiting since we opened our doors 8 weeks ago.
As I mentioned, that was roughly in July this year. The email goes on:
We have also received great support from everyone in Mudgee, both businesses and individuals. They all see the brewery as an important part of the tourist culture in Mudgee.
Most members in the House tonight would be aware of how famous Mudgee is and its great reputation as a winegrowing area. It would enhance the tourist opportunities of Mudgee if they could not only taste the fine wines around Mudgee and Gulgong but also taste the fine beer from the Mudgee Brewing Company. The email continues:
Our greatest challenge at the moment is the ability to sell our product directly to the public. You can imagine the disappointment of visitors to the brewery when we tell them that they cannot taste or buy our beer and our frustration that when they leave we lose their custom. We hold a Brewers licence that allows us to produce beer and sell it to other licensed outlets. We are not allowed to sell it in any form to visitors or even to offer them tastings, we cannot even give it away. This obviously has a significant effect on their experience at the brewery and our ability to run a successful business.
Peter Shiells and Gary Leonard go on to say that they are hoping to extend the brewery and plan to open a restaurant, which would further enhance their tourist opportunities. They mention that the building was previously a wool store and that when you enter it you can still smell some of the lanoline and wool within that building. I am sure that the smell of the hops being brewed will eventually overtake that smell. As part of their plans to open a restaurant they have applied to the Federal Government for a grant as a tourist project. I will read a press release dated Friday 6 July 2007 from the former member for Gwydir, John Anderson:
Federal Member for Gwydir, John Anderson, today announced that the Mudgee Brewing Company will receive $97,170 under the Australian Tourism Development Program. Mudgee Brewing Company is expanding from wholesaling boutique beers (in kegs and bottles) to include a café/restaurant and bar/tasting facilities on site. The grant will be used to complete Stage 2 of the business plan to fit out the café/restaurant and bar, and for construction of the kitchen and office facilities and renovation of the buildings façade.
Mr Anderson said:
I congratulate Mudgee Brewing Company for securing this funding. It is a tribute to their hard work and will bring considerable benefits to our local area … The funding is part of the Australian government's commitment to keeping our economy strong. By attracting more tourists to our local area, we can help boost the local economy by creating extra jobs and providing more opportunities for small business.
Peter Shiells and Gary Leonard are certainly contributing to Mudgee. The changes to the Liquor Act through the Liquor Bill 2007 will certainly enhance the opportunities to make their small business very successful. If we can get clarification that they will be able to sell beer to take away, as well as have tastings, that will further enhance their business opportunities. Mudgee is a town of some 8,000 people; it is going ahead. Wine and agricultural industries, as well as a number of coalmines that strengthen its economy, surround Mudgee. I appreciate anything we can do for towns in regional areas, especially towns such as Mudgee in my electorate. I look forward both to the Minister's comments and to the Minister agreeing that the Mudgee Brewing Company will be able to sell its beer, as well as have tastings within the brewery.
Mr PAUL PEARCE
(Coogee) [11.18 p.m.]: I support the Liquor Bill 2007 and the cognate bills. I congratulate the Minister and the Government on having brought forward a bill that recognises the concerns of the community in a number of areas, as well as reflecting the concerns identified in the Alcohol Summit. Naturally the success of the bill will be in its application and the details contained in complementary regulations. The principles contained in the bill are worthy of support. Like other members, I made a submission to the Department of Gaming and Racing in response to the consultation draft some 18 months ago.
In that submission I identified a number of shortcomings and matters of real concern. In particular, those aspects of the draft bill were likely to be counterproductive to the stated objectives contained in section 3 of the consultation draft in addressing binge drinking. I cited the problems experienced by my community as a result of the Coogee Palace Hotel targeting 18- to 30-year-old drinkers, with a particular emphasis on the 18 to 24 years age group in its large mid-level bar area. It is broadly recognised that the 18 to 24 years age group is most likely to indulge in dangerous binge drinking and that 18- to 24-year-old males are most likely to become involved in alcohol-related street offences and violence. It was with concern, therefore, that the consultation draft contained proposals that could have resulted in extended standard trading hours for hotels, including restricted days. Whilst I am sure the Australian Hotels Association, with its narrow concern for members' profits, supported this proposition, the Government, to its credit, has rejected the proposal.
Clause 12 retains reduced standard hours for Sunday, and clause 14 (3) continues restricted trading on the designated restricted days. Another concern I raised about the consultation draft was the abolition of the Liquor Administration Board and the restrictions proposed on third party appeal rights. Whilst the bill abolishes the Liquor Administration Board, the accompanying bills create a separate body that will exercise a range of functions similar in effect to the board. Whilst I personally favour a quasi-judicial structure, my primary concern was to retain the separation of the administrative role, and the appeal and review roles. The bills maintain this separation.
I have already referred to clause 12 and clause 14, which relate to standard trading periods, and to my support for them. Clause 16 is colloquially referred to as the "small bars" section. Whilst I have some qualms about an expansion of liquor licences in principle, I concur with the approach encompassed in the bill. The effect of it is likely to move a segment of drinkers away from the mega hotels and the accompanying gambling options into a more relaxed environment. Clause 16 (3), which prohibits gaming machines in these smaller bars, is particularly welcome. The combination of heavy drinking and the availability of gambling in late-night trading hotels currently serves to compound social problems. Properly managed, these smaller bars will, over time, lead to a change in the drinking culture in Sydney. This is to be encouraged. I found it extraordinary that the Australian Hotels Association had the temerity to suggest that the establishment of small bars would somehow cause a "flooding" and "explosion" of alcohol on the streets of Sydney. The President of the Australian Hotels Association said, "We have massive problems with alcohol-related crime."
I point out that the current problems arise from the existence of mega pubs, which in many cases are nothing more than beer barns where patrons get legless in a heavy drinking atmosphere. Of course, I am sure that this outburst from the Australian Hotels Association was not driven by the self-interest of the corporate hotel sector! The hypocrisy of the Australian Hotels Association knows no bounds. Clause 29 maintains restrictions on the sale of pre-packaged liquor on designated restricted days. I strongly support this clause. Representing a beachside electorate and having previously been Mayor of Waverley, I am very familiar with the problems that arise from excessive drinking on Christmas Day in public places. Although with a minimum of planning consumers can ensure they have an adequate supply of refreshments, the restriction on pre-packaged sales effectively prevents groups such as backpackers on Coogee Beach or Bondi Beach from restocking during the day, and minimises the likelihood of alcohol-related offences.
Clause 31 (2) prohibits the sale of alcohol by certain businesses, that is, service stations and takeaway food shops. This restriction is welcome. In the case of service stations, the availability of alcohol associated directly with motor vehicle driving is most undesirable and would have sent a wrong message to those in the community who drink and drive. Again drawing on local experience, takeaway food shops are often the late-night congregating point for persons adversely affected by alcohol and are often the place where alcohol-related violence in a public place occurs. To allow alcohol to be sold from takeaway food shops would compound the problems. I fully support the Government in its decision to restrict sales, as contained in clause 31.
Division 6 of the bill identifies a range of licences in specific classes and contains significant reforms. Like the "small bars" provisions, it has the capacity to make the culture of drinking civilised. The clauses in this division also remove anomalies that unreasonably restrict certain forms of alcohol sales, such as cellar door wine sales. Previous speakers have referred to these provisions. Division 7 contains clauses 36 to 39 and relates to limited licences. I particularly want to draw the House's attention to those provisions that relate to limited licences applicable to surf clubs. Some members of the public have expressed concern that the changes would permit the development of surf clubs along the lines of those existing in parts of Queensland.
For members who are not familiar with this issue, a number of Queensland surf clubs are essentially licensed clubs with a surf patrol area attached almost as an afterthought. If members visit Noosa, they would be familiar with the setup. Surf clubs in New South Wales do not favour this type of proposal. The relevant clauses of the bill make it very clear that a development along those lines is not possible. The provisions of the limited licence in clause 36 (5) and clause 38 (4) place significant restrictions on the nature of functions able to be conducted in surf club premises, whilst allowing adequate flexibility to satisfy members' requests for social functions and allowing a capacity for clubs to raise revenue from outside sources for much-needed club equipment. I congratulate the Minister on striking a balance that achieves flexibility with appropriate controls.
I now turn to those aspects of the bill that are of significant concern and interest to my community, that is, the regulatory and disciplinary control contained within the bill. These provisions are primarily contained within parts 5, 6, and 9 of the bill. The Liquor Bill introduces simplified and streamlined regulatory processes with a move to an administrative-based approach. A more immediate response to local community problems will be possible without the need for expensive and time-consuming legal processes in every case. The circumstances involved in action to protect the local community from problems associated with licensed premises are being widened. Regulatory control over licensed venues will be enhanced by providing new powers to the Director of Liquor and Gaming. Residents and councils will continue to be able to make disturbance complaints against licensed venues, as they do now. The existing noise and disturbance complaint process is largely carried across into the Liquor Bill 2007.
A new feature of the legislation is that the order of occupancy by a venue and residents is recognised as an issue that can be considered. Whilst I had some concerns with this proposed change in the law, I am satisfied that the provisions of clause 81 (3) when read together will ensure that this new provision does not mean that complaints are not allowed or that licensed venues will be subject to lower standards. Having those complaints dealt with by the director will emphasise the enforcement nature of these matters, which are about compliance with the requirements of the law for the responsible operation of licensed premises. Under the Liquor Bill, the Director of Liquor and Gaming will be able to issue written directions to a licensee or employee or agent concerning any matter relating to the licensed premises, including any conduct on the premises. The director will also be able to impose conditions on a liquor licence.
This will enable the director to take swift action to deal with local neighbourhood problems and community concerns associated with the sale and supply of liquor by a licensed venue. Complainants and licensees will be able to request that the Casino, Liquor and Gaming Control Authority review a decision of the director. The Liquor Bill introduces two new offences, which reinforce the need for consumers to behave responsibly in local communities. The new offences prohibit intoxicated, violent or troublesome patrons who are refused entry or who are ejected from licensed venues from attempting to re-enter the venue for a 24-hour period. Such persons must also not remain in or re-enter the vicinity of the venue for six hours unless they have a reasonable excuse as provided for in clause 77 (9).
These new provisions send a clear message to irresponsible patrons about the standards of expected behaviour. My colleague the member for Newcastle has addressed the House on liquor accords in Newcastle, and other members also have addressed the issue in their electorates. Many of the concerns raised by the member for Newcastle are common to my area. Therefore, I will keep relatively brief my comments on this most important section of the bill. Clause 131 of part 8 of the bill, "Local liquor accords", provides the definition. Clause 132 identifies the eligible parties to a local accord. Significant for local communities adversely affected by alcohol-related harm and local disamenity is clause 132 (f), which nominates "a community or residents' group" as an eligible party.
Clause 133 (3) requires that the Commissioner of Police and the director are to endeavour to ensure local liquor accords are prepared and have application throughout the State. Clause 134 nominates, without limitation, provisions that may be included in a local accord. Clause 135 identifies the powers of the Commissioner of Police and the director to vary the terms of an accord. Clause 136 identifies obligations of licensees in relation to costs associated with the implementation of a local accord. In totality, local liquor accords are given a greater status under this bill and should prove successful in local communities. I agree with the member for Sydney that liquor accords should be mandatory. I commend the bill to the House.
Ms MARIE ANDREWS
(Gosford) [11.28 p.m.]: It gives me great pleasure to speak in support of the Liquor Bill 2007 and cognate bills. I congratulate the Minister for Gaming and Racing and the State Labor Government on adopting a very sensible approach to the consumption and service of alcohol in this State. I believe that in time the more flexible and enlightened approach towards the service and sale of alcohol that is provided for in this legislation will lead to a far more mature attitude towards the consumption of alcohol. The new Act will bring the State into line with what has been the case in many countries for quite some time. The greater flexibility afforded to bars, restaurants, winemakers and tourist venues is applauded. I feel certain that it will lead to a healthy growth in the tourism industry, not only in the Sydney metropolitan area but also in the regions. It is anticipated that the economy of the Central Coast will benefit as a result of this new Liquor Act.
As members would be aware, a bone of contention among surf life saving clubs in New South Wales has been the barrier to their ability to raise funds for their respective clubs under the current licensing laws. This has certainly been the case with clubs operating on the Central Coast, particularly Ocean Beach Surf Life Saving Club and Umina Beach Surf Life Saving Club, both located within the Gosford electorate. Over the years I have made representations on the clubs' behalf seeking changes to the Liquor Act to enable clubs to hire out their venues for weddings, birthdays and other events. In this the Year of the Lifesaver it is pleasing that the surf clubs' wishes have now been granted. It is even more appropriate in view of the fact that recently both these clubs have moved into brand-new premises. The new legislation will make a tremendous difference to the fundraising capabilities of surf life saving clubs.
Retirement villages, of which there are several on the Central Coast, will also be winners under this legislation. Under new arrangements contained in the legislation, retirement villages will legitimately be able to enjoy happy hours on their premises. The Minister is to be commended for making provision for this in these bills. Antisocial behaviour associated with the consumption of alcohol is of much concern to my electorate as, sadly, I am sure it is to many electorates. The new Act will go a long way in assisting police and other authorities to maintain law and order within our communities. A significant increase in the maximum fine from $5,500 to $11,000 for supplying alcohol to minors and intoxicated persons will be an effective deterrent.
Other very important aspects of the new legislation include self-exclusion from licensed venues by persons with alcohol problems and the ability to declare an area suffering chronic alcohol abuse a restricted area for a maximum of three years with greater controls on the sale and supply of liquor. I welcome the inclusion of a new community impact statement to gauge the potential impacts of new liquor licences and applications for extended trading hours within the legislation. This process will replace liquor and social impact assessments. Incorporated in the statements, which will be prepared before liquor licence applications are made, will be the results of consultation with local councils, police, health, Aboriginal representatives, community organisations and the public.
It is a sad indictment on our society that much of the crime committed within our communities is alcohol related. I know the communities I represent cannot wait to see an end to antisocial behaviour, vandalism and underage drinking. I feel confident that this all-embracing Liquor Bill will go a long way towards combating the situation. The Liquor Bill and cognate bills represent yet another positive step by the State Labor Government to make our communities safer and more pleasant places in which to live. The responsible service of alcohol in all licensed premises and the escalation of liquor accords throughout the State are just two steps taken by the State Labor Government in the past to address alcohol-related issues. This Government has given a commitment to the people of this State to tackle the problems confronting them head-on. The Liquor Bill and cognate bills do just that. I commend them to the House.
Mr GRAHAM WEST
(Campbelltown—Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister for Sport and Recreation) [11.33 p.m.], in reply: I thank all members for their contributions in this debate on the Liquor Bill 2007 and cognate bills. I particularly thank the member for Upper Hunter, the shadow Minister for Gaming and Racing. I can assure the House that he has kept a close eye on the development of this legislation. I appreciated his forthright comments when we presented him with this bill early last week and the way he approached us in working through his issues. I also appreciated his involvement in raising many of the issues earlier on regarding probity issues and the need for an independent arbiter. I thank him for directing me to Margan's Family Restaurant in Broke. We attended a meeting with the vignerons and the owner there and had a most enjoyable afternoon with them. I must declare to the House that as a result of the recommendation of the member for Upper Hunter the vignerons gave me a bottle of one of their wines. I know they are looking forward to benefiting from this new legislation.
I thank the Minister for Tourism, who is a strong advocate for these bills. I thank the member for Manly, who I know is an active member of his local liquor accord. I also acknowledge that the Assistant-Speaker is a strong advocate of liquor accords and their development. I know he will be pleased to see the way they have thrived. The member for Newcastle is also actively involved in tackling alcohol issues in her community. The member for Pittwater gave us a brief walk through history and then spoke on his passionate subject of surf clubs, which raised issues we will have to deal with. I thank the member for Strathfield, who is a passionate supporter of the arts. She referred to a family poetry reading at a certain venue and I would be interested to see that if it eventuates. I discovered tonight that the member for Lismore is an ex-publican. I thank him for his comments, for which I have a number of responses.
The member for Sydney is a well-known advocate for change in this area. As she is also the Lord Mayor of Sydney, she will be responsible for implementing many of these changes. I thank the member for Orange, who is obviously a friend of brewers across the State, for his comments. I thank the member for Coogee, who is a member of my caucus committee and a strong advocate for harm minimisation and liquor law reforms. I also thank the member for Gosford, who is a patron of many surf lifesaving clubs in her area. I inform the member for Upper Hunter of the following precedents in the Legislative Assembly in the past 20 years: a motion for disallowance of the Legal Professional Act was determined in 1992, there were two motions for disallowance of amendments to three regulations in 1993, and there were also amendments to the rules to the Local Courts (Civil Claims) Act. So there have been a couple.
I can confirm that it is our intention that the regulations should follow the intention of what we propose today. However, I cannot confirm that the regulations will be the same because we have to go through the impact statement process. This process requires the issue of a document by the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing, which will explain in detail the proposed outcomes and regulations, will discuss options—of course, we will list the options we have produced here—and outline the pros and cons of all options, including the do-nothing option. This process will include at least a six-week period of consultation with all stakeholders. The stakeholders include industry associations, government agencies and the community. The Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing has agreed to a series of metropolitan and regional forums in this regard. All comments will then be taken into account in the final drafting of the regulation. This process will ensure appropriate consultation and that all parties are provided with the opportunity to raise any concerns—and that will include, of course, the shadow Minister.
I refer to liquor accords, particularly to whether they are voluntary or compulsory. The bill proposes that accords are to remain voluntary. However, requirements for non-members of an accord to contribute financially will be determined by the Director of Liquor, Gaming and Racing on a case-by-case basis. The Casino, Liquor and Gaming Control Authority can review the director's decision. A mandatory contribution will be considered where the accord has already agreed to contributions voluntarily. The member for Manly spoke about an accord that had 25 members actively involved. If the authority were to initiate a scheme with obvious important community benefits and if it were to approach the members who sell alcohol in the area to seek their contributions voluntarily and that was not forthcoming but the benefits to the community were greater, then obviously the director could require them to pay a levy that would help with the free-rider effect: if you are going to pay for something it is probably better to be involved in it. The fees are imposed on venues that receive benefits from high-cost accord activities, such as transport services and patron education programs, without making any voluntary contribution.
The Director of Liquor, Gaming and Racing will be able to order compliance with an accord agreement as a result of a disturbance complaint, as well as order that a non-member contribute financially when an accord voluntarily decides to require membership fees for current initiatives such as community education and transport. The member for Lismore raised a number of issues, one of which was fines for minors who enter licensed venues. I can confirm that the Liquor Bill increases the maximum fine for minors who enter restricted areas of licensed premises to $2,200 following court action. This will allow a penalty notice, on-the-spot fines, of $220 to be applied to minors in these circumstances. A $220 fine is quite a significant impost for a minor. I hope that addresses some of the issues that the member raised.
The member for Lismore also raised a number of issues relating to show functions. I was particularly concerned to hear about the plight of Bonalbo. I have visited Bonalbo with the member to open a community technology centre—I still have the mug. It was a fantastic day and a great community. I did not get to Old Bonalbo, which is up the road; I only went to Bonalbo. We assume that, without going into detail, Bonalbo probably had not applied for an annual functions licence, which would have allowed it to have more functions. It was doing it on a case-by-case basis, which restricts it. Now Bonalbo will be able to have a function licence that will allow up to 52 functions a year, which should overcome the issue. Fees would be discussed as part of the regulation consultation. At present they are $50 a day. We obviously want to keep those things low-cost, especially for picnic races, which are important to communities. I commend the member for his involvement in the liquor accord, especially the outcome and the recent successful race day. Such days are important to country areas and we want to see them thrive, especially in Bonalbo.
A number of issues were raised about surf club sippers on Fridays. The surf club social function provisions in the Liquor Bill are carried forward from the current law. These provisions allow social functions on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. Surf Life Saving New South Wales has been consulted in the development of these new liquor laws over the past few years. Surf Life Saving New South Wales has not raised concerns about the social function provisions and has not asked for an extension of these provisions to allow functions on Fridays. However, we will look at this issue further and carry out consultations with Surf Life Saving New South Wales. In some circumstances the issue may actually be covered by an on-licence. Responsible service of alcohol training was also mentioned. It will continue to be applied to all licensees and staff engaged in the sale, supply, service and promotion of liquor, and other activities on licensed premises. This will include on-premise licences. The responsible service of alcohol training will be prescribed in the liquor regulation, as is currently the case.
I now turn to comments made by the member for Sydney, particularly in relation to community impact statements on small bars where they have actually been used as a bulwark to prevent them. We recognise that there is potential for bars of all sizes that focus on the selling of alcohol to have an impact on the local community through noise, antisocial behaviour and problems associated with intoxication and irresponsible service of alcohol. Therefore, applications for the new general bar licence will be subject to the new community impact statement process. Some of the issues that will be considered as part of that process will also be considered during the planning approval process by local councils. The Government will therefore work to align these two processes as much as possible to reduce duplication. However, there are alcohol-related issues that are not considered during development applications, such as the conditions applying to a liquor licence and how alcohol is sold and supplied.
The community impact statement will assist the Casino, Liquor and Gaming Control Authority in properly considering an application in this regard, as it will be required to do under the liquor laws. Community impact statements will require consultation between applicants and local stakeholders on issues of concern before an application is made. The process has been designed to ensure that the authority is aware of the views of the local community before it makes its decision. The community impact statement process will be developed to minimise costs. It is quite different from the existing social impact assessment process for liquor licences and will not involve the preparation of expensive and complex assessments. The Government's view is that bars should not be subject to lower standards. I refer to Mudgee Brewing Company and confirm that small-scale regional brewers and distillers will be able to sell takeaway alcohol and offer tastings of the products that they manufacture. I think that addresses the concerns of the Mudgee Brewing Company, which is obviously doing great work in that community.
Members raised a number of other issues. If I have not addressed them in my reply, I am happy to address them during consideration in detail. Reference was made to ready-to-drink drinks—high-alcohol content products. I realise that there is concern about the increased alcohol content in these ready-to-drink drinks, especially as they can be potentially attractive to kids. The Australian Hotels Association and one major manufacturer and I support the reduction of alcohol content in ready-to-drink drinks but, as the member for Upper Hunter identified, there needs to be an Australia-wide approach. The Commonwealth plays an important role in this regard. I understand that the Ministers who are responsible for the States and Territories liquor regime will meet to discuss this and other issues related to these products.
I thank the many stakeholder groups for being involved at various stages throughout the process: The Australian Hotels Association; Liquor Stores Association; Independent Liquor Group; Clubs New South Wales, which I can confirm did make vigorous representations on many of the issues as well; the Restaurant and Catering Association; the distillers industry council of Australia; the New South Wales Winemakers Association; the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance—John is in the gallery—and the raise the bar organisation. I would also like to thank my caucus portfolio committee members who have provided invaluable assistance in this regard: Alan Ashton, Cherie Burton, Geoff Corrigan, Kerry Hickey, Andrew McDonald, Lylea McMahon, Paul Pearce, Tony Stewart, Ian West and Steve Whan. They, of course, will assist me in developing the regulations for this process.
Finally, I place on record that a number of the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing staff do a fantastic job in many areas, particularly in relation to the Liquor Bill. I thank Ann Ratu, policy officer; Ken Browne, assistant director of policy; Peter Cox, the principal policy officer who has been working on the liquor bills since the 2002 national competition review; and Michael Foggo, the commissioner who leads the team, who first did a draft of liquor laws, some of which is included, in 1989. I commend these bills to the House.
Question—That these bills be now agreed to in principle—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bills agreed to in principle.
Consideration in detail requested by Mr Graham West.
Consideration in Detail
ASSISTANT-SPEAKER (Mr Grant McBride):
Order! The House will consider first the Liquor Bill 2007.
Clauses 1 to 11 agreed to.
Mr GRAHAM WEST
(Campbelltown—Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister for Sport and Recreation) [11.46 p.m.]: I move:
Page 15, clause 12 (4), lines 33 and 34. Omit all words on those lines.
This amendment clarifies the operation of trading hour provisions for newly licensed registered clubs as well as for all producer on premises licences. This amendment will ensure that Good Friday and Christmas day trading for existing producer on premises licences can continue. It will also ensure that newly licensed registered clubs will be able to trade on these days.
Question—That the amendment be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause 12 as amended agreed to.
Clauses 13 to 115 agreed to.
Mr GRAHAM WEST
(Campbelltown—Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister for Sport and Recreation) [11.48 p.m.]: I move:
Pages 89 and 90, clause 116 (1) and (2), line 34 on page 89 to line 18 on page 90. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead:
(1) The following provisions apply in relation to any regulation that declares a specified area of the State to be a restricted alcohol area:
(a) the Minister may recommend that the regulation be made only if the Authority, in response to a request by a group of persons:
has recommended that the area should be declared a restricted alcohol area,
(i) who are seeking to have the area declared a restricted alcohol area, and
(ii) who, in the opinion of the Authority, represent the interests of the community in that area,
(b) the Authority may not make such a recommendation unless it is satisfied, after consultation with:
(i) the Commissioner for Police, and
(ii) the council of each local government area in which the proposed restricted alcohol area would be located, and
(iii) if the proposed restricted alcohol area has a recognised Aboriginal community—the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, and
(iv) such other persons as the Authority considers appropriate to consult (including representatives of the community that is likely to be affected by the declaration),
that the proposed regulation is in the public interest and has the support of the majority of the community that is likely to be affected by the declaration.
This amendment gives effect to community consultations, especially with the Aboriginal community. The Government is proposing that specific restrictions should be applied in communities with chronic alcohol problems. A number of areas may wish to implement these measures and the aim is that they be community led. It was proposed that they be implemented through regulations. However, in consultation—particularly with the Aboriginal community—it was made clear that the preference was for the provisions to be in the bill rather than in regulations. That is what these amendments will achieve.
Mr GEORGE SOURIS
(Upper Hunter) [11.50 p.m.]: I thank the Minister, who earlier explained the amendment, which the Opposition supports. In western parts of the State and other places in which there is a recognised Aboriginal community any proliferation of alcohol would be counterproductive to the social good. The Opposition supports the amendment, which has come from those communities. It is a good amendment.
Question—That the amendment be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause 116 as amended agreed to.
Clauses 117 to 162 agreed to.
Schedules 1 to 3 agreed to.
ASSISTANT-SPEAKER (Mr Grant McBride):
Order! The House will now deal with the Casino, Liquor and Gaming Control Authority Bill 2007.
Clauses 1 to 50 agreed to.
Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.
ASSISTANT-SPEAKER (Mr Grant McBride):
Order! The House will now deal with the Miscellaneous Acts (Casino, Liquor and Gaming) Amendment Bill 2007.
Clauses 1 to 7 agreed to.
Schedules 1 to 4 agreed to.
Consideration in detail concluded.
Passing of the Bills
Motion by Mr Graham West agreed to:
Bills passed and transmitted to the Legislative Council with a message seeking its concurrence in the bills.
That these bills be now passed.
CIVIL LIABILITY AMENDMENT (OFFENDER DAMAGES) BILL 2007
Agreement in Principle
Mr JOHN AQUILINA
(Riverstone—Leader of the House) [11.57 p.m.], on behalf of Mr David Campbell: I move:
That this bill be now agreed to in principle.
The object of the Civil Liability Amendment (Offender Damages) Bill 2007 is to amend the Civil Liability Act 2002 to make a number of amendments to part 2A of the Act, "Special provisions for offenders in custody." Last year the Government made amendments to this Act, among others, when it introduced the Crimes and Courts Legislation Amendment Act 2006. The second reading speech to that bill noted that these amendments arose from the Supreme Court case of Bujdoso v State of New South Wales
and that the amendments would be expected to overturn that decision. The Court of Appeal judgment in Bujdoso found that one of the limbs of the Supreme Court judgment, relating to section 3B of the Act, was erroneous, but decided the matter in favour of Bujdoso on reasoning that was outside the scope of the other amendments to section 26A.
A subsequent matter, State of New South Wales v Napier Keen Pty Limited
, was decided based on the Court of Appeal decision in Bujdoso. The Offender Damages Trust Fund provisions of the Civil Liability Act 2002 were inserted in 2005 to introduce a scheme to quarantine awards of damages and compensation made by a court to offenders into a trust fund, thereby enabling victims to lodge claims against them in the knowledge that the offender would not be able to dissipate the award of damages in order to avoid a claim. The Act that introduced these provisions—the Civil Liability Amendment (Offender Damages Trust Fund) Act 2005—contained savings and transitional provisions for the amendments to apply to all awards of offender damages that had not been satisfied before the commencement of the amendments, which commenced upon assent on 29 October 2005, including awards in respect of proceedings commenced and causes of action that arose before the commencement of the amendments and regardless of whether the litigation that led to the award of damages was conducted under the Civil Liability Act 2002 or at common law.
The second reading speech to the Civil Liability Amendment (Offender Damages Trust Fund) Bill 2005 noted that "this bill introduces a Government initiative that is the first of its kind in Australia". It is evident that the initiative has provided courts with scenarios that are the first of their kind in Australia, and some subsequent court decisions have failed to adhere to the intention of the amendments as advised to Parliament in the second reading speech. This bill seeks to make it unquestionably clear that the provisions of division 6 of part 2A of the Act apply to all awards of personal injury damages to offenders, without exception, from the date of assent. Division 6 provides for Offender Damages Trust Funds, while part 2A makes special provisions for offenders in custody. For the purposes of division 6 of part 2A of the Civil Liability Act 2002, the bill also clarifies when proceedings are finally determined so that the clock may begin to run on the period when damages awarded to an offender may be held in a trust fund to enable a victim of the offender to begin a victim claim against the offender if the victim so chooses.
I now turn to the detail of the bill. Section 26A of the Act, which defines terms used in part 2A, is amended to include definitions of "injury" and "personal injury damages". Although these terms are defined in another part of the Act, the inclusion of definitions of these terms within part 2A makes it clear that the limitations on the operation of that other part do not also extend to these terms when used in part 2A. Amendments to section 26M and 26R and clause 1A of schedule 1 are intended to make it clear for the purposes of part 2A and the savings and transitional provisions of the Act that proceedings are not finally determined until any period for bringing an appeal has expired and any pending appeal has been disposed of. Two of the judges in Bujdoso criticised the existing expressions of "any final determination of legal proceedings" in division 6 of part 2A of the Act. The intention of the 2005 legislation was that "final determination of legal proceedings" referred to the legal proceedings between the parties that finally determine the issue of negligence and the amount of damages. However, one Court of Appeal judge held that the "final determination of legal proceedings" occurred when the Supreme Court determined the most recent of all proceedings that led to the appeal before the Court of Appeal—namely, the proceedings that concerned what was to happen to the damages awarded upon the determination of negligence.
It is only upon final determination of legal proceedings between the parties, when a court judgment is given and damages are awarded, that the Offender Damages Trust Fund provisions may be invoked. If any subsequent proceedings are pending between the parties whereby liability or quantum of damages are challenged—such as an appeal—then the proceedings between the parties are not finally determined to enable invocation of the Offender Damages Trust Fund provisions notwithstanding the recognition in case law that judgments are final determinations of the rights of the parties, even though there be a right of appeal, and not interlocutory determinations pending exercise of the right of appeal.
Legal challenges to the application of the Offender Damages Trust Fund provisions—that is, what happens to the damages that have already been finally determined, or whether an offender is subject to those provisions—are separate proceedings that do not finally dispose of the rights of the parties between each other, since that disposition has already occurred. The Bujdoso matter in the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal was such a matter. Liability and quantum of damages had previously been finally determined in the District Court; the new proceedings concerned Bujdoso's challenge to being subject to the Offender Damages Trust Fund provisions. Therefore, the bill replaces existing clauses 25 (5) and 26 (4) of schedule 1 to the Act with new more specific clauses to clarify the operation of the transitional provisions relating to the 2006 amendments to the Act dealing with Offender Damages Trust Fund provisions, so that it will be absolutely clear that the amendments extend to cases in which offender damages were awarded before the commencement of the amendments.
New section 26D (3A) makes it clear that a dispute about whether the degree of permanent impairment of an injured offender is at least 15 per cent, which is the threshold for an award of offender damages, cannot be referred for medical assessment unless the offender has provided a medical practitioner's report that assesses permanent impairment to be at least 15 per cent. The need for this amendment has been highlighted by the Supreme Court case of Hiron v State of New South Wales
. In this matter the offender submitted medical evidence that did not contain an assessment of whole-person impairment in satisfaction of section 25C of the Act. The Government provided medical evidence, including an assessment below the 15 per cent threshold. The offender contended that the Government's medical evidence was incorrect, that this contention constituted a medical dispute, and that he was therefore entitled to an assessment by an approved medical specialist. The court found for the offender, holding that "the definition of 'medical dispute' contemplates a dispute between the parties (and not a dispute between medical practitioners) about a specified matter or a question about any of them (these matters being of a medical nature)" and that there was, therefore, a medical dispute in that matter.
The WorkCover guidelines, which are incorporated into part 2A of the Civil Liability Act 2002 by section 26D, contemplate that an assessment of permanent impairment is to be exercised by a medical professional and not to be as asserted by a litigant or legal practitioner unsupported by medical evidence. Any party needs to provide medical evidence in support of whatever contention the party proffers. On a proper construction of the guidelines, for there to be a medical dispute there needs to be competing medical reports.
The ramifications of the Hiron decision are that, without the amendments proposed in this bill, offenders and their solicitors could file process seeking damages for personal injury; cause the Government to expend significant legal and medical costs in investigating the claim, both medically and on the issue of liability; not serve any medical evidence; and then simply apply for the Workers Compensation Commission to determine the threshold question of whether the 15 per cent whole-person impairment threshold has been reached. If the assessment were determined in the Government's favour, the Government would have little prospect of recouping costs expended in relation to work done in investigating the claim since most offender plaintiffs are impecunious. Costs incurred can be quite substantial, amounting to over $20,000 in some cases simply for this preliminary aspect of determining a claim. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Daryl Maguire and set down as an order of the day for a later hour.
CIVIL LIABILITY AMENDMENT (OFFENDER DAMAGES) BILL 2007
Agreement in Principle
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
Mr GREG SMITH
(Epping) [12.04 a.m.]: I am privileged to speak on behalf of the Opposition on this bill, which the Opposition does not oppose, although it opposed previous amendments to the Civil Liability Act. The bill amends the Civil Liability Act 2002 in relation to the recovery of damages for injuries suffered by a person while an offender in custody. It includes in part 2A definitions of terms that are currently defined by reference to their meaning in another part of the Act to make it clear that limitations on the operation of that other part do not also extend to those items when used in part 2A. The bill also seeks to make it clear that a dispute about whether the degree of permanent impairment of an injured offender is at least 15 per cent, which is the threshold for an award of offender damages, cannot be referred for medical assessment unless the offender has provided a medical practitioner's report that assesses permanent impairment to be at least 15 per cent. The bill also seeks to make it clear that for the purposes of part 2A and savings and transitional provisions of the Act proceedings are not finally determined until any period for bringing an appeal has expired and any pending appeal has been disposed of.
The bill also seeks to clarify the operation of transitional provisions relating to 2006 amendments to the Act, which dealt with provisions that require offender damages to be held in trust for the payment of claims by the offender's victims, so that it will be absolutely clear that the amendments extend to cases in which offender damages were awarded before the commencement of the amendments. The aim of the bill is to overcome the effect of recent court decisions in State of New South Wales v Bujdoso
 New South Wales Court of Appeal 44
, Hiron v State of New South Wales and another
 New South Wales Supreme Court 152
and State of New South Wales v Napier Keen Pty Limited
 New South Wales Supreme Court 644
The background to the bill is that the Courts Legislation Amendment Act 2006 was introduced in part to overturn the court's decision in Bujdoso v State of New South Wales
. The changes were made to introduce a scheme to quarantine awards of damages and compensation made by a court to offenders into a trust fund, thereby enabling victims to lodge claims against them in the knowledge that the offender would not be able to dissipate the award of damages in order to avoid a claim. At that time the Coalition raised concerns about the legislation through the shadow Attorney General, the then member for Gosford.
Those concerns were based on the bill's retrospectivity and its intention to overrule one particular case. The Coalition moved amendments in the upper House that were defeated. At that time the legislation was broader and precluded claims against the Government in negligence under common law, rather receiving capped damages under the Civil Liability Act. Subsequent court cases have not followed the intent of the legislation, and this bill's intent is to make it evidently clear that provisions of division 6 of part 2A of the Act apply to all awards of personal injury damages to offenders, without exception, from the date of assent. I refer to the speech of Chris Hartcher on 15 November 2006, when he said:
It is wrong that legislation presented as general amendment legislation takes away the rights of people who have instigated Supreme Court cases. It is morally wrong.
He then referred to a case being pursued by the family of a Mr Rose, who had been strangled. The accused was charged with murder but hanged himself in Long Bay jail before he was put on trial. The family commenced a Supreme Court action which was pending before the court on 15 November 2006. Mr Hartcher commented that the amendment to the Act proposed by the bill would deprive the family of the right granted to them at law at the time they instituted proceedings. He said:
That right was to seek common law damages against the Crown for negligence in allowing this patient to be released from hospital without proper medical treatment. Under this legislation, which will be retrospective to catch these people out … the family will be forced to accept capped damages under the Civil Liability Act.
That is a misuse of retrospectivity. Retrospectivity sometimes is necessary to protect the revenue of the Crown. Sometimes it is necessary to ensure that certain classes of actions are put to account. But it is not the practice of this State where Supreme Court proceedings are already on foot to introduce retrospective legislation to overcome that Supreme Court case. The solicitors, the Bar Council and the Law Society strongly object to the bill's retrospectivity. It is that aspect of the bill that the Coalition will seek to amend in the Legislative Council.
The case of Bujdoso has a chequered career. On 16 February 1990 the respondent Bujdoso was sentenced to a term of imprisonment. On 21 September 1991, while he was serving his sentence at Silverwater Prison, he was assaulted by fellow prisoners and suffered serious injuries. After his release he commenced proceedings against the State of New South Wales on 15 September 1994 seeking damages for negligence by the State in failing to take reasonable steps to protect him from violent attack. The High Court affirmed the State's liability on 8 December 2005 and on 21 July 2006 Judge McLaughlin in the District Court awarded Mr Bujdoso damages in the sum of $175,000.
The State resisted payment of the damages on the basis that they were required to be held in a victim trust fund pursuant to division 6 of part 2A of the Civil Liability Act 2002. The proceedings in the Court of Appeal, the subject of a judgment dated 13 March 2007, sought a declaration in the Equity Court that division 6 of part 2A did not apply to him or to the award of damages in the District Court. On 5 September 2005 Justice Sully held that Bujdoso was entitled to the declaration sought on two bases. The first was pursuant to part 3B of the Civil Liability Act 2002 the provisions did not apply to the civil liability of the State in this case. Secondly, part 2A of the Act only applied to a person who was an inmate within the meaning of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999.
At the time of the injuries, pursuant to sections 26B and sections 26A the respondent Bujdoso was not an offender in custody as then defined in section 26A because at the time of his injury the 1999 Act was not in force. The State appealed against this decision on 28 September 2006 and after lodgement of the appeal, the Crimes and Courts Legislation Amendment Act 2006 was passed, which made relevant amendments to section 3B (1) (a) and section 26A (1) of the Act.
The issues for the Court of Appeal were, first, whether the State's liability was one in respect of an intentional act that was done with intent to cause injury or death so that the Act did not apply to the respondent Bujdoso's proceedings pursuant to section 3B (1) (a) of the Act as in force prior to the 2006 amendment Act. The second issue was whether the amendments to section 3B effected by the 2006 amendment Act achieved a different result. The third issue was whether the savings and transitional provisions of clauses 20 and 21 of schedule 1 to the Act, consequent upon the enactment of the Civil Liability Amendment (Offender Damages Trust Fund) Act 2005, extended the definition of "offender in custody" for the purposes of section 26B so as to cover the respondent and render part 2A applicable to him. The fourth issue was whether schedule 1, part 9, clause 26 applied division 6 of part 2A to the award of damages in the present case.
I am sure that no member will be surprised to hear that the court dismissed the appeal. This legislation seeks to clarify the intention of the Parliament to stop damages being paid to the former prisoner respondent to that appeal without the victim's damages first having been deducted. Arguments in favour of the legislation include the argument that the changes, while being retrospective and impeding the rights of individuals in jail to claim compensation, do not deviate significantly from changes proposed by the Government in the Crimes and Courts Legislation Amendment Bill 2006. The changes are also in line with community expectations that victims should have access to compensation from offenders rather than the offenders having the money themselves.
Arguments against the bill include the argument that it is retrospective and intentionally amends the law to target certain cases and preclude people exercising their legal rights in accordance with the law when they commence them. Such moves are usually only used in the most serious cases. This morning I was asked whether that means that prisoners can be injured or even brought close to death by injury and will never be able to recover damages. I think it means that victims of their own crimes have to be compensated first but then they or their relations would receive some damages at some stage. The Opposition, somewhat reluctantly but realistically, does not oppose the bill.
Mr BARRY COLLIER
(Miranda—Parliamentary Secretary) [12.17 a.m.], in reply: The bill makes minor but necessary amendments to the offender damages provisions of the Civil Liability Act 2002 following several court decisions. The amendments clarify some of the definitions in part 2A of the Act and the application of the Act to historical cases, as well as addressing a problem in the use of medical reports in offender damages proceedings. The bill makes certain amendments to part 2A of the Civil Liability Act. For example, it includes definitions of terms that are currently defined by reference to their meaning in another part of the Act to make it clear that limitations on the operation of that other part do not also extend to those terms when used in part 2A. It makes it clear that for the purposes of part 2A, and savings and transitional provisions of the Act, the proceedings are not "finally determined" until any period for bringing an appeal has expired and any pending appeal has been disposed of.
The amendments clarify the operation of transitional provisions relating to 2006 amendments to the Act so that it will be absolutely clear that the amendments extend to cases in which offender damages were awarded before the commencement of the amendments. They also make it clear that a dispute about whether the degree of permanent impairment of an injured offender is at least 15 per cent, which is the threshold for offender damages, cannot be referred for medical assessment unless the offender has provided a medical practitioner's report that assesses permanent impairment to be at least 15 per cent.
The Government has introduced a number of bills since 2005 to redress the balance of justice in favour of victims over offenders who receive awards of damages for personal injury arising from claims against the State. The Civil Liability Amendment (Offender Damages Trust Fund) Act 2005 inserted division 6—Offender damages trust funds—into part 2A—Special Provisions for Offenders in Custody—of the Civil Liability Act 2002. The object of that Act was to amend the Civil Liability Act to require that damages awarded against the Department of Corrective Services and other public sector defendants for injuries suffered by an offender in custody—offender damages—are to be held in trust and used to satisfy a claim for damages, death or personal injury suffered by a victim of an offence committed by the offender, with any surplus remaining after victim claims are satisfied to be paid to the offender. Effectively, the Act was designed to introduce a scheme whereby victims may, if they wish, take their own civil action against the offender, at their own expense, in the knowledge that quarantined funds exist to satisfy successful claims. In the second reading speech the Minister said:
Notwithstanding the limitations on offender damages imposed by Part 2A of the Civil Liability Act 2002, introduced by the Civil Liability (Offender Damages) Act 2004, the community is rightly outraged when offenders receive large amounts of compensation for injuries received in custody, particularly when the amount awarded is compared with the victims compensation available to their victims.
The community perceives such offenders to be using the law for their own purposes when it suits them, but disrespecting the law and the community in the commission of their crimes.
The Civil Liability Amendment (Offender Damages Trust Fund) Act 2005 contained savings and transitional provisions for the amendments to apply to all awards of offender damages that had not been satisfied before the commencement of the amendments, which commenced upon assent on 29 October 2005, including awards in respect of proceedings commenced and causes of action that arose before the commencement of the amendments, and regardless of whether the litigation that led to the award of damages was conducted under the Civil Liability Act or at common law. On 2 June 2005 the former Attorney General, the Hon. Bob Debus, MP, wrote to the Chief Justice seeking comments on the proposed Civil Liability Amendment (Offender Damages Trust Fund) Bill 2005. On 9 June 2000 the Acting Chief Justice, Justice Keith Mason, wrote to the former Attorney General and said:
I refer to your letter of 2 June 2005 addressed to the Chief Justice. In his absence I referred the matter to the Chief Judge at Common Law for his views. Justice Wood has indicated that there appears to be no issue touching the Supreme Court that raises any policy concern. I am of like view.
Notwithstanding the views of Justice Mason and Justice Wood, subsequent court decisions in several matters have failed to adhere to the amendments or the intention of the amendments as advised to Parliament in the second reading speech on the bill. Honourable members may recall the matter of Bujdoso, which received considerable coverage in 2005 and 2006. Firstly, in 2005 the High Court upheld the Court of Appeal's decision that Bujdoso, a sex offender assaulted at Silverwater Correctional Centre in 1992, was entitled to compensation for the State's negligence in not preventing the assault, after common law litigation which did not involve the Civil Liability Act. The matter was remitted to the District Court, the original hearing court, where he was awarded $175,000 on 21 July 2006.
The Government then attempted to apply the Offender Damages Trust Fund provisions of the Act to Bujdoso's damages award, and Bujdoso sought a Supreme Court order that the legislation did not apply to him. On 5 September 2006 Justice Sully in the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Bujdoso—that is, that his damages award could not be quarantined for his victims—and the Court of Appeal unanimously upheld the Supreme Court's decision on 13 March 2007. It did find, however, that part of Justice Sully's judgment was erroneous. In the interim between the Supreme Court decision and the Court of Appeal hearing the Government introduced further amendments in the Crimes and Courts Legislation Amendment Bill 2006, which commenced upon assent on 29 November 2006, to overcome the Supreme Court decision. The second reading speech to that bill made the Government's intention clear:
The amendments proposed in this bill to the Civil Liability Act will overturn that decision … the Court of Appeal will have to take the amendments into account when determining the application of the offender damages trust fund provisions.
The Court of Appeal did consider the amendments in its decision on Bujdoso but decided the matter in favour of Bujdoso on reasoning outside the amendments that had been introduced to overcome the Supreme Court decision. The reasoning of the Court of Appeal in Bujdoso is complex and tortuous. The three judges all used different bases to find in favour of Bujdoso, and all those bases were outside the scope of the amendments introduced by the Crimes and Courts Legislation Amendment Act 2006.
Justice Hodgson, in the Court of Appeal, held that the words "any final determination of legal proceedings" in clause 26 (3) and (4) of schedule 1 to the Civil Liability Act are not expressed with sufficient clarity to capture Bujdoso's case, and he contrasted the description of "final determination of legal proceedings" in section 26M (4) of the Act. Justice Ipp also considered unsatisfactory the meaning of "final determination of legal proceedings". The intention of the legislation was that "final determination of legal proceedings" in clause 26 (3) and (4) of schedule 1 to the Civil Liability Act referred to the legal proceedings between the parties which finally determine the issue of negligence and the amount of damages, in this case the District Court's decision of 21 July 2006. Justice Ipp, however, held that the "final determination of legal proceedings" occurred when the Supreme Court determined the most recent of all proceedings which led to the appeal before the Court of Appeal, those proceedings of 5 September 2006 that concerned what was to happen to the damages awarded on 21 July 2006.
Justice Ipp said, "Sully J's judgment finally determined the proceedings before him", which is undoubtedly true, but in the Government's view irrelevant since those proceedings could not change the finding of negligence or the quantification of the award of damages. Justice Basten, with Justice Ipp agreeing, held that the term "personal injury damages" was defined in part 2 of the Act for the purpose of part 2A and that part 2—Personal Injury Damages—does not apply to an award of damages in proceedings commenced before commencement of the Act on 20 March 2002 and, accordingly, that Bujdoso's claim, which was brought in 1994, was not for personal injury damages for the purpose of part 2 of the Act. He held that as that phrase is picked up and applied in part 2A, it follows that such damages will not be "personal injury damages" under part 2A either and, therefore, will not constitute offender damages as defined in section 26K (1).
Justice Basten observed that this reasoning was additional to the reasoning of Justice Sully in the Supreme Court decision of 5 September 2006 and was not picked up by the amendments introduced by the Crimes and Courts Legislation Amendment Act 2006. Accordingly, he held that "the conclusion reached by the primary judge was correct at the time it was reached, and is not affected by the change in the law effected by the 2006 Amendment Act". Justice Basten also held that "the whole of clause 26 should be understood to have commenced on the day of assent (of the Crimes and Courts Legislation Amendment Act 2006), namely 29 November 2006". The intention of this Act was that clause 26 commenced at the date of its earliest operation, since it includes the words "The definition of offender in custody or offender in section 26A (1) includes, and is taken to have always included, the following …"
The amendments proposed by the Civil Liability Amendment (Offender Damages) Bill 2007 seek to overcome findings made in recent court cases. Placing definitions of "injury" and "personal injury damages" in part 2A, as well as in part 2, means that any limitation imposed on the terms by part 2 of the Act does not apply to those terms when they are used in part 2A. New section 26M (4) and new section 26R (1A) in schedule 1 to the bill will ensure that it will be clear when proceedings between the State and an offender have been finally determined, and therefore that the offender is subject to the Offender Damages Trust Fund provisions of the Act.
I referred earlier to the Bujdoso judgment, with which honourable Members may be familiar. Certainly the member for Epping was thoroughly familiar with it. I do not expect honourable members to be as familiar with the matter of Hiron v The State of New South Wales,
which has led to the insertion of new section 26D (3A). In this matter, to which the Minister averted in his second reading speech, the offender submitted medical evidence but the evidence did not contain an assessment of "whole person impairment" in satisfaction of section 25C of the Act, "No damages unless permanent impairment of at least 15 per cent". The department provided medical evidence including an assessment below the 15 per cent threshold. Section 26D (3) of the Act provides:
A dispute about the degree of permanent impairment of an injured offender, a court may not award damages unless the degree of impairment has been assessed by an approved medical specialist in accordance with the Workplace Injury Management and Workers Compensation Act 1998.
The department contended that the offender had failed to provide evidence of reaching the 15 per cent threshold, and his claim should be struck out. The offender contended that the department's medical evidence was incorrect; that this contention constituted a medical dispute and he was therefore entitled to an assessment by an approved medical specialist, thus prolonging his claim in the hope of a favourable assessment. Associate Justice Malpass in the Supreme Court found for the offender, holding that:
… the definition of "medical dispute" contemplates a dispute between the parties (and not a dispute between medical practitioners) about a specified matter or a question about any of them (these matters being of a medical nature).
The offender was therefore able to bypass the requirement to provide any medical evidence, and claimed his right to an assessment by an approved medical specialist. To nobody's surprise, this assessment later found him to have a degree of impairment of zero per cent. His case was hopeless from the outset, but he persisted in the futile hope of getting lucky. He caused the Government to waste resources in investigating the claim, conducting a medical examination of the offender to submit its own estimate of his degree of permanent impairment, and then defending the claim in the District Court and appealing to the Supreme Court—all expenses that it is most unlikely to recover given the financial position of the offender. New section 26D (3A) will ensure that other offenders with hopeless cases will not be able to sidetrack the Government in the way that this offender managed to, by requiring an offender to provide medical evidence of permanent impairment of at least 15 per cent for there to be a medical dispute. I commend the bill to the House.
Question—That this bill be now agreed to in principle—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bill agreed to in principle.
Passing of the Bill
Bill declared passed and returned to the Legislative Council without amendment.
GENE TECHNOLOGY (GM CROP MORATORIUM) AMENDMENT BILL 2007
Bill received from the Legislative Council and introduced.
Agreement in Principle
Mr JOHN AQUILINA
(Riverstone—Leader of the House) [12.35 a.m.], on behalf of Mr. Nathan Rees, I move:
That this bill be now agreed to in principle.
The Gene Technology (GM Crop Moratorium) Amendment Bill 2007 was introduced in the other place on 28 November 2007 and the second reading speech appears at pages 3 to 7 in the Hansard
proof for that day. The bill is in the same form as introduced in the other place, with two amendments. The first amendment provides that the Minister make public any reasons for making an order or revoking an order under section 7A. An order under section 7A declares that a GM food crop is approved for commercial cultivation in New South Wales. In the interests of transparency, accountability and the quality of the decision-making process, it is proper that the Minister make public his reasons for approving the commercial cultivation of a GM food crop or for revoking that approval.
The second amendment aims to prevent the situation whereby a non-GM farmer whose crops are unknowingly contaminated by a neighbouring GM crop would then himself be the subject of litigation from other non-GM farmers, GM farmers, GM manufacturers or other organisations in the supply chain. The proposed amendment contains provisions along the lines of those contained in the South Australian Genetically Modified Crops Management Act 2004. New section 32A provides non-GM farmers with special protection from liability arising from the presence of material from GM food plants found in his crops when that material was introduced without his knowledge. This protection is not available if the non-GM farmer has deliberately dealt with the crop knowing that the GM food plant was present in order to gain a commercial benefit and that another person's rights in relation to that GM food plant should be recognised or protected. This ensures that a non-GM farmer cannot have it both ways, that is, benefit from the introduced GM food plant and also have protection from liability. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Daryl Maguire and set down as an order of the day for a future day.
THE HOUSE ADJOURNED AT 12.39 A.M. WEDNESDAY 5 DECEMBER 2007 UNTIL 10.00 A.M. ON THE SAME DAY.