The Speaker (The Hon. George Richard Torbay)
Thursday 21 October 2010
took the chair at 10.00 a.m.
read the Prayer and acknowledgement of country.
COMMUNITY JUSTICE CENTRES AMENDMENT BILL 2010
Message received from the Legislative Council returning the bill without amendment.
COASTAL PROTECTION AND OTHER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2010 (NO. 2)
Message received from the Legislative Council returning the bill with amendments.
Consideration of Legislative Council's amendments set down as an order of the day for a later hour.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Notices of Motions
General Business Notices of Motions (General Notices) given.
DRUG MISUSE AND TRAFFICKING AMENDMENT (MEDICALLY SUPERVISED INJECTING CENTRE) BILL 2010
Agreement in Principle
Debate resumed from 20 October 2010.
Mr BARRY O'FARRELL
(Ku-ring-gai—Leader of the Opposition) [10.05 a.m.]: I oppose the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Amendment (Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2010. Why is this legislation being introduced now? We know that under previous legislation the medically supervised injecting centre trial was not due to finish until next year. We know also that under previous legislation the evaluation report was not due until next year. In an attempt to cobble together some sort of coalition to get her across the line at the next election, Kristina Keneally, again, is prepared to play politics with something that should be above politics—that is, the scourge of drug addiction and the way government tackles drug addiction. Once again, we see a Government obsessed with political interest, not public interest. When John Della Bosca, the then Special Minister of State, introduced the Drug Summit Legislative Response Bill in 1999 he stated:
The model that will be trialled for 18 months aims to save lives and reduce the spread of disease, but especially focuses on providing a gateway for referral to treatment and counselling. Its effectiveness will be clinically assessed on all those grounds. This is a centre for rehabilitation, a centre for treatment, a centre for counselling and referring—it offers a gateway to treatment. It offers those who have reached the extreme end of injecting drug use a continued option for rehabilitation and treatment.
This Government, through that Minister, set two goals for the drug injecting facility at Kings Cross: firstly, to save lives and, secondly, to provide that gateway—an opportunity for people to get off their terrible addiction. Having read the evaluation report, I accept the argument that this facility has saved lives. Over the period the facility has operated, the number of deaths from drug overdoses around Kings Cross has fallen—not eliminated—but so too, thankfully, have drug deaths across New South Wales. Drug death figures in 1998-99 across New South Wales were in the order of 400-odd. The number now is down to something like 60 drug overdose deaths across this State, with a comparable reduction in the Kings Cross area.
Two goals were set for this facility. If government sets two policy goals, its obligation is to deliver both. For the third time in speaking on legislation about the medically supervised injecting centre I am again drawing attention to the failure to ensure that the centre lived up to the stated goal of being a gateway for referral to treatment and counselling to try to assist people to get off their terrible addiction. We should have all held to that goal. The evaluation report makes clear that all clients are offered a referral to drug treatment as part of their initial registration. Since the opening of the centre in 1999, there were 12,050 offers of referral to drug treatment. Clients accepted 8,508 referrals, or 70 per cent, between May 2001 and April 2010. Of those who accepted referrals, 3,871, a third, were for drug dependence treatment, which was, essentially, the second goal set for this facility by Mr Della Bosca in his speech on behalf of this Government in 1999.
Other referrals related to health issues, which might have been about HIV, hepatitis C, social welfare and other issues, including housing, homelessness and the like. There were instances where clients stated that they wanted to proceed with a drug treatment referral but the referral was not able to be completed because no drug treatment place was available. I acknowledge that in her comments yesterday, the member for Sydney used the opportunity to argue that as the KPMG report had identified that waiting periods were a key barrier to treatment, funding of public drug services should be increased so that those ready to start treatment are able to do so. I participated in the Drug Summit and remember Professor Peter Baume talking about the magic moment when people who have faced addiction or are dealing with addiction will be ripe to move into services that ultimately may get them off that addiction. Yet what this report confirms is that people can register at this centre and experience what Peter Baume called that magic moment. However, as the member for Sydney noted, because of a lack of funding for treatment and other programs, that moment can be missed.
I note that the member for Sydney made a fair argument about this point, because, as she said, as a result of the preventable overdoses avoided by the operation of this centre, the Government saves an estimated $1.1 million a year. So this facility is not just saving lives, which I accept; it is not just stopping overdoses, which I accept; it is also saving money—$1.1 million according to the report cited by the member for Sydney. However, is that money going into the provision of drug treatment services that enable clients of this facility, when referred, to take up the service? The answer is no. That is not just my view; it is the view of the report, and it is the view of the member for Sydney, even though we have entirely different views about whether this legislation should be supported. The Premier has said:
This centre has reached out to people who would not otherwise access medical services and drug treatment services. It has brought them into contact with those services. It has assisted people to put their lives in order.
That is not true. That is not just my conclusion; it is also the conclusion of the member for Sydney. So, rather than another starry-eyed, made for television moment or line in a speech, I would encourage the Premier to read the report. I also encourage her to talk to the member for Sydney, and, importantly, ahead of next year's State election campaign, I encourage her to put funding into services that will enable those who use this centre, who want to beat their addiction, who want to get access and are prepared to pursue access and treatment through drug rehabilitation services, to get them the help they deserve to rid them of their addiction.
From 2008 onwards, the injecting centre collected information on attempted alcohol and drug treatment referrals where a client had agreed to commence drug treatment but the referral was not progressed. I am pleased they have done that, because that answers the criticism I had the last time I spoke in this House about referrals being made but no-one bothering to follow through to see whether those referrals were accepted and to see what the results of those treatments were. In 2009, there were 85 attempted drug and alcohol referrals; that is where a person accepted a drug referral but due to factors such as timely access, location of the drug treatment place and availability, the referral could not be progressed. In 2010, there were 155, almost double, attempted drug and alcohol referrals that could not be progressed.
One may think they are small figures, but they are high when considering the referrals for drug dependence treatment in those same years. In 2008-09, there were 360 people referred to services for drug treatment. Of those people, 85 could not be progressed, for reasons that include a lack of funding, a lack of availability, a lack of suitable location for service, a lack of access to get into those services. In 2009-10, there were 322 people referred for drug treatment, but in that year, 155 people, almost half, accepted a referral but it could not be progressed for the reasons that I have outlined.
My concern about this centre is not that it does not meet the first goal, not that its staff are not well motivated about meeting the first goal, but that the second goal, the goal of being a gateway to services to try and assist people to escape the terrible scourge of drugs is still not being met. I know at a time of question marks about whether governments honour deals, this is an area where that should never be a question. In an area like this, and other areas, whether it is mental health, whether it is community services, there should be no politics, and no attempt at spin. There needs to be brutal honesty if we are to tackle what is a complex problem within society. We will not solve it if we pretend that both goals are being met. We will not solve it if, as the Premier has, we ignore the fact that people who are meant to be able to be referred by this facility to drug treatment programs cannot access those programs because of a lack of funding, something I note again the member for Sydney was honest enough to address.
I have two more points that I want to touch on. Listening to the debate yesterday, I was amazed by the contribution of the member for Toongabbie. I was amazed not because of his views—he will vote on the issue according to what he believes from a public policy perspective and also from a personal perspective. I was amazed because he revealed—I believe for the first time—that after the Drug Summit and before the Drug Summit Legislative Response Bill was introduced by the Special Minister of State, the Carr Government undertook focus groups. So we had a drug summit that involved members of Parliament, members of the community, and professionals. Conclusions were reached, which the Premier's Department and the Health Department then considered. But, before a response was made, before a bill was drafted, before Bob Carr and John Della Bosca, as the appropriate Ministers at the time, went out and said what the State Government was going to do, focus groups were held. Not just one focus group, not just two, but, according to the speech yesterday by the member for Toongabbie, many focus groups, some of which, as he said in his speech yesterday, he sat through.
My fear today is that there was never meant to be a second goal for this centre. My fear is that the claim of it being a gateway to referral for treatment to get victims off their drug dependency was not a real goal that was genuinely committed to by this great Government, but was a piece of focus-driven response to try to get this controversial legislation through the Parliament and through the community. I said at the outset that this legislation is here today, a year ahead of schedule, only because the Premier and the Labor Party are trying to play politics, and what the former Premier and the member for Toongabbie revealed yesterday is that they have always played politics with it. There was politics at the start with those wonderful focus groups that almost destroyed the Federal Labor party in the recent Federal campaign.
That is not the way to run health policy. It is not the way to run drug policy. Policy and programs should be evidence based, not based on the views of 12 people in a marginal seat and their attitude towards the government in office. Both the Premier's action in bringing forward this legislation early and the former Premier's revelations yesterday about focus groups condemn the State Labor Party, which is only ever interested in politics and political survival. Time and time again in relation to drug addiction treatment and other matters that are perhaps more mundane, Government members have demonstrated their preparedness to sacrifice public interest and good outcomes for the sake of personal aggrandisement, personal success and their party's success.
I oppose the legislation because it fails to meet both the goals set down by the Government when the medically supervised inject room began. And I oppose it because of my concerns that the State's harm minimisation policy pays too little attention to advocating no drug use and rescuing people from their terrible addiction but pays too much attention to managing the addiction. I also oppose the legislation because I do not believe there is any safe level of drug abuse. I think this legislation sends the wrong message.
Mr ROB STOKES
(Pittwater) [10.20 a.m.]: My contribution to debate on the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Amendment (Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2010 will be brief. I am aware that the Government wants conclusion of this debate and that a number of my colleagues wish to participate. My contribution will be brief also because the Government is not allowing Labor members to vote according to their conscience.
Mr Mike Baird:
Mr ROB STOKES:
Indeed. The result of this debate is pretty well determined. Nevertheless, it is important that I exercise my right to speak on behalf of my community because this bill concerns a difficult and very vexed issue. I know the people of Pittwater want to understand the basis upon which I have chosen to exercise my conscience in relation to the bill. I note the objective of the bill is to amend the principal Act to enable the medically supervised injecting centre in King's Cross to operate on an ongoing basis. I also note that the trial period for the centre, which began on 1 May 2001, is due to expire on 31 October 2011. I note that a considerable amount of time remains in which the Government could have brought forward this legislation, but the Government, in its wisdom, has decided to bring on debate now.
I note, as did the Leader of the Opposition, the figures published in the fourth report produced by KPMG into the medically supervised injecting centre at Kings Cross. The statistics in the report show that the centre is a very busy place. There are more than 12,000 drug users registered with the centre. There have been more than 600,000 medically supervised injections and more than 3,000 overdoses managed on site. There have been no deaths on site and within the centre. There have been more than 8,000 referrals, almost half of which have related to drug treatment. Clearly, the centre is a busy place, operated by a compassionate, competent and diligent staff. It is also clearly achieving some good outcomes for people in desperate need.
I am not suggesting that this is not a centre operated by good people who are trying their best and achieving some good outcomes. The question for me, as I believe it is for every member of this House, is this: when dealing with scarce taxpayer funds, is this the best possible use of the limited funds we have? It is not a question of whether this is a good outcome. It is a question of whether this is the best outcome. I cannot look the community of Pittwater in the face and tell them that the best use of taxpayer funds is assisting drug addicts and their families to deal with drug-related problems in my community of Pittwater and in other communities across New South Wales. I really cannot go to my community and tell them that continuing to spend more than $2.5 million each year well into the future is money best spent on managing addiction, on preventing addiction, and on healing addiction. My conscience simply will not allow me to suggest that this is the best possible way to spend such a great deal of taxpayers' money.
I cannot tell the people of the Pittwater community that this is money best spent on health services when my community's local hospital at Mona Vale is continually being targeted for service cuts and cost-saving measures. I cannot say that this is the best possible use of health dollars when my local hospital's maternity ward has been shut down because of cost-cutting concerns. I cannot tell my community of Pittwater that this is the best possible use of limited taxpayer funds when funding has been cut to palliative care services provided to people who are terminally ill at Mona Vale Hospital. I cannot tell the people of the northern beaches that this is the best possible use of taxpayer funds when the Government is reneging on its commitment to give money to terminally ill children at Bear Cottage. I cannot tell the community of Pittwater that this is the best possible use of scarce taxpayer funds when elderly and vulnerable people on the northern beaches have to travel away from the area to seek specialist medical services that are not available within their local community.
I cannot tell people I represent that the Government's legislation constitutes the best possible use of taxpayer funds when there is clear evidence from the KPMG report that so many of the referrals made to users of the centre will be ineffectual because there are no rehabilitation services available to which to refer them. I cannot tell the people of Pittwater that this is the best possible use of taxpayer funds when the Drug Arm van, which was a constant feature in the northern beaches for several years, has been removed because of a lack of funding. I cannot say it is the best use of funds when Point Zero, which does an excellent job in providing services to vulnerable young people on the northern beaches, is struggling for funds. Those service providers are missing out on funding while the Government spends more than $2.5 million each year on a service that I do not believe represents the best possible use of taxpayers' money. I cannot say that this is the best possible use of taxpayer funds when there is a safety fence around my local hospital because the windows are falling out of the paediatric ward. I just do not believe that this legislation represents the best possible use of taxpayers' funds.
Dr Andrew McDonald:
Point of order: The member for Pittwater is misleading the House. The medically supervised injecting centre is funded by proceeds of crime rather than by the taxpayer.
ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr David Campbell):
Order! While that is an interesting interjection from the Parliamentary Secretary, it is not a point of order. However, I am sure it is valuable information for the debate.
Mr ROB STOKES:
I am pleased to address the interjection. I would much prefer that the proceeds of crime be spent on providing desperately needed central health services than on the medically supervised injecting centre. The Pittwater electorate I represent is crying out for scarce funds for the provision of basic medical services. The Government simply is not spending enough money on the provision of basic medical services. I believe that we first should be focusing on measures that provide the best outcomes, and then provide good outcomes, if that is possible. We are not meeting our core responsibilities. That is what this Parliament should be focusing on before it starts worrying about other issues.
When rehabilitation services become fully and properly funded and when basic services such as maternity services and palliative services for the terminally ill become fully and properly funded, then we can engage in this type of debate. My objection to this legislation is not philosophical; my objection is utilitarian. There is only so much money available for this Parliament to disburse and with which the Government can implement its policies. I frankly believe we have important needs for critical services and should be directing taxpayer funds to meet those basic services first.
If the Uniting Church or some other non-government organisation wishes to apply funds to the operation of the centre, I would happy to entertain that proposal. When legislation relates to expenditure of public money on a medically supervised injecting room, in all good conscience I cannot go to my community and say, "Look, the Government's taking away your maternity service, but that's okay because they're operating a medically supervised injecting room." In my view, the priorities inherent in this legislation are all wrong. We should be focusing on the best outcomes, not just on good outcomes.
Mr GREG SMITH
(Epping) [10.30 a.m.]: I speak on the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Amendment (Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2010. Drug addiction reduces the dignity of the human person and it is wrong for a government to cooperate in the evil of reducing the dignity of those people. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights speaks of the inherent dignity of the human person. Governments are supposed to ensure that people reach the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. To enact legislation that allows people to harm themselves—and I submit that every time someone ingests heroin or any other illegal drugs they harm themselves and the community—makes them less able to live normally, to aspire to serve the community and work for the benefit of the community.
I support the concept of the Drug Court and its expansion. There is only one Drug Court that serves the Sydney area and it is limited to the south-west and western areas, so drug addicts in other parts of Sydney do not have access to that court. Drug rehabilitation programs are widespread and would benefit from the provision of more funding. Money being allocated to the drug injecting room would be far better utilised being directed towards those programs. The law of the State should continue the total prohibition on administering prohibited drugs, which was the intention of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 when enacted. In his second reading speech on 26 November 1985 Labor Attorney General Terry Sheahan stated:
The Bill now before this House is the final legislative measure in the Government's integrated strategy to attack drug misuse and trafficking.
He referred to what Premier Wran had described as a full-scale war on illegal drugs. He said that the bill created a new self-contained code for criminal drug offences. He drew the distinction between the public health concern of regulating the medical and pharmaceutical use of drugs and the serious criminal activity that involves the distribution and use of prohibited drugs. He referred to a new scheme and concluded:
The provisions have been specifically created to attack the drug problem at its heart by providing severe, punitive sanctions for persons who involve themselves in the distribution and sale of hard drugs. Under the Government's new programme let the drug entrepreneurs beware. If they now supply drugs: they will be hunted down with sophisticated weaponry; when caught they will be vigorously prosecuted; when convicted they will be stripped of their ill-gotten gains; when sentenced they will face the most severe penalties that the Courts can impose.
I make the comment that drug suppliers are encouraged by the injecting room. They can supply drugs to the users of the injecting room and see the prohibition as being weakened by the intent to make the drug injecting room permanent. In 1998 the Carr Government accepted the recommendations of the Wood royal commission into police and introduced a bill to make it an offence for a person to supply any prohibited drug other than cannabis for financial or material reward on three or more separate occasions during a period of 30 consecutive days. The bill provided for a maximum sentence of 20 years jail and substantial fines. The then Minister stated that the new offence plugged a potential loophole under the existing law and that it targeted dealers who have organised their affairs in such a way as to limit the full effect of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985.
It could be argued that dealers who carry small quantities of prohibited drugs can avoid serious penalties under the Act as the penalty structure is largely based on quantities. These changes also targeted drug users who acted as couriers to finance their habit but who avoided prosecution or serious penalty for small amounts. These are the same people who use the drug injecting room. These and other changes made to tighten the drug laws were beneficial in the fight against the drug menace and the Coalition supported them. In my view the Kings Cross injecting room does nothing to reduce the menace of hard drugs, despite the good intent of those working there. The injecting room defies the purpose of the United Nations Single Convention 1961 to which Australia was a signatory, along with many other nations.
The adoption of this convention was said to be regarded as a milestone in the history of international drug control. The single convention codified all existing multilateral treaties on drug control and extended the existing control systems to include the cultivation of plants grown as the raw material of narcotic drugs. The principal objectives of the convention are to limit the possession, use, trade in, distribution, import, export, manufacture and production of drugs exclusively for medical and scientific purposes and to address drug trafficking through international cooperation to deter and discourage drug traffickers. The convention also established the International Narcotics Control Board, merging the Permanent Central Board and the Drug Supervisory Board. New South Wales seeks to weaken the fight against drugs—indeed it has already done so by having a temporary centre—both in Australia and internationally by condoning and maintaining the Kings Cross injecting room. The parties to the convention, including Australia, agreed with the preamble, which, inter alia, states:
Recognizing that addiction to narcotic drugs constitutes a serious evil for the individual and is fraught with social and economic danger to mankind,
Conscious of their duty to prevent and combat this evil,
Considering that effective measures against abuse of narcotic drugs require co-ordinated and universal action,
Understanding that such universal action calls for international co-operation guided by the same principles and aimed at common objectives.
They agreed that they would take such legislative and administrative measures as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of the convention within their own Territories and to cooperate with other States. Article 36 sets out penal provisions that the parties would adopt to stop cultivation, production, manufacture, extraction, preparation and possession—which applies to every person who uses the injecting room—of hard drugs, and states that action contrary to the provisions of the convention be punishable offences. New South Wales, under the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act, has created offences for administering drugs as well as possessing drugs. For some reason that legislation applies to 99.99 per cent of the State but it does not apply to the Kings Cross injecting room. What a joke that makes of the prohibition.
The latter provision in the single convention in no way condones or immunises the self-administration of prohibited drugs at an injecting room. Such self-administration is an anathema to the objects of the convention; that is, it flies in the face of the objects of the convention. The International Narcotics Control Board confirmed its regret at the establishment of the Kings Cross injecting room in its 2002 annual report and stated that "such facilities run counter to the provisions of the international drug control treaties". The High Court and the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal have emphasised the importance of the single convention in the fight against drugs.
For example, in Ridgeway v The Queen
in the High Court, Justice Toohey found that Australia was a signatory to the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961 and enacted the Narcotics Drug Act 1967 of the Commonwealth in pursuance of the convention. Article 35 of the convention provides that, having due regard to their constitutional, legal and administrative systems, the parties shall make arrangements at the national level for the coordination of prevention and repressive action against illicit drug trafficking. The balance of article 35 emphasised cooperation between the various countries to stop drugs being proliferated and being used. In R v Courtney-Smith
in 1990 the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal referred to the scope and purpose of the legislative scheme, in order to give the word "importation" a broad interpretation, rather than a narrow interpretation. The joint judgement said:
The relevant provisions of the Customs Act were enacted to give effect to the Single Convention on the Narcotic Drugs Act 1961.
I suggest that the relevant provisions of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act had that same purpose. The judgment continued:
Its clear purpose is to strike at the illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and their penetration of the Australian society. Because Australia is an island, that penetration will normally occur through importation of such drugs.
In Adams v The Queen
in 2008, concerning an argument that MDMA was less harmful than heroin, the High Court said:
The social evils of trading in illicit drugs extend far beyond the physical consequences to individual consumers. As the Victoria Court of Appeal pointed out in R v Pidoto and O'Dea, "questions arise as to whether the perniciousness of a substance is to be assessed by reference to the potential consequences of its ingestion for the user, or its effect upon the user's behaviour and social interactions, or the overall social and economic costs to the community".
The Ridgeway case involved a controlled importation by an informer courier under Australian Federal Police and Malaysian police protection. The High Court ruled that this practice was illegal and emphasised the following principle of law. In A v Hayden
, a former Federal Treasurer, Chief Justice Gibbs, observed:
It is fundamental to our legal system that the executive has no power to authorize a breach of the law and that it is no excuse for an offender to say that he acted under the orders of a superior officer.
While subject to constitutional limits, this Parliament may enact legislation to immunise what is otherwise criminal, this should only be done in exceptional cases that are clearly for public benefit. [Extension of time agreed to.
In my submission the operations of the injecting room do not warrant a departure from the normal principles. Dr Lucy Sullivan, in a research article entitled "King's Cross 'Safe' Injecting Centre Fails to Reduce Drug Overdose Deaths", under the heading "Clients, Attendance and Injecting Habits" found:
In order to understand the failure to reduce drug overdose deaths, one needs to take into account the general pattern and reach of client registrations and attendance at the Centre, and also the characteristics of client injecting behaviour.
From May 2001 to April 2007, 9,778 injecting drug [ID] users registered at the MSIC. This makes an average of 138 registrations per month. The rate was higher in the early days of operation—210 per month from May 2001 to October 2002, but only 86 from January 2005 to April 2007. Visits for injections over the six year period totalled 391,170, making a daily average of 181 visits. In the initial reporting period—May 2001 to October 2002—the daily average was 105, but doubled to about 200 thereafter.
While these figures sound impressive, they represent only a tiny percentage of the clients' drug use.
That must be emphasised. The article continued:
Thirty-eight per cent of total clients reported on registration that they injected at least once daily, with 47 % less than daily (10% quite infrequently); for 5% these data were missing. More detailed information on injecting frequency is provided in Report No 1: Among registrants from May 2001 to December 2004 (75% of the total), 9% mostly injected more than three times daily, 15% two to three times daily, 15% one daily, and 36% less than weekly; 6,379 of the then 7,379 (86% ) registrants had injected in the last month.
This is the important part:
Although not highlighted in the Reports, these figures indicate that most clients did most of their injecting elsewhere than the MSIC. For the period of the first Report, the average of 164 visits per day averages at only 29 total visits per client over a period of approximately 1,300 days, which represents a visiting rate of once per 44 days. As 38% of clients reported injecting at least once daily, and 61% at least weekly, obviously most client injecting went on elsewhere.
For the MSIC to fulfil its aim of preventing overdose deaths, it would seem important that clients should do the major part of their injecting at the Centre. If injecting at the Centre is for the most part episodic, then the major part of their injecting practice will continue to lay them open to the risks they suffer if no such Centre is in existence.
The final Report states that only 23% of clients lived locally. This fits the picture created by the attendance figures, that the majority of usage was of an ad hoc convenience nature, serving the ID user passing through and preferring somewhere private to inject; and that it was not integrated into the injecting lifestyles of the majority of clients in such a way that it could be expected to impact significantly on their health and safety.
Dr Lucy Sullivan concluded her paper:
Why is the Injecting Centre ineffective?
As already pointed out, the statistics of total registered client numbers and total visits in six years of operation suggest a very random and occasional usage of the MSIC which it would be hard put to have any significant effect. They indicate that the MSIC was largely used by clients on an ad hoc or purely convenience basis, and not as a means of improving their health and safety as ID users.
Support for this interpretation is provided by the statistic that only 23 per cent of registrants lived locally, in postcodes 2010 and 2011, and that 72 per cent were not users of local intravenous drug user services, for example, free needle distribution points. Thus 75 per cent lived elsewhere, were only passing through, and used the medically supervised injecting centre as a stopgap, which would have no permanent effect on their intravenous drug habits. At the time of the opening of the medically supervised injecting centre a significant factor for intravenous drug users' welfare came into play, namely, the extreme fall in the availability of heroin at the end of 2000, and an only partial recovery thereafter. As a result, it has become absolutely clear that overdose deaths fall when there is a fall in heroin use, not as a result of the occasional use of a safe injecting centre. And it seems that the voluntary use of such centres will only ever be occasional.
This outcome effectively disproves the much-vaunted claim of the drug legalisation lobby that making illegal drugs freely available would dissipate their harmfulness. Given the belief that withdrawal of a heroin habit is a dangerous and difficult process, on the face of it, it is surprising that it was apparently achieved so readily by so many when heroin became unavailable; and the rebound, with the return of supplies, was to much lower than the former level. The so-called trial of the medically supervised injecting centre supports the common sense view that restriction of access to drugs, in which illegality plays a major role, is crucial to the prevention of drug overdose deaths. For those reasons I cannot support this legislation. I believe that the operations of this room should be ended and the money transferred to at least a second Drug Court in Sydney.
Mr DAVID CAMPBELL
(Keira) [10.49 a.m.]: As a fresh-faced member of this place in 1999, like you, Mr Acting-Speaker, I attended the Drug Summit. I had my eyes opened to some of the issues concerning illegal drug use and the implications it had for the community; in many ways it reinforced what I understood to be the case. Nevertheless, the Drug Summit was a significant success in shining a light on the issues and providing an opportunity for not only members of Parliament but also advocates for harm minimisation and advocates for stronger penalties to come together and contribute to debate on the issues. What came out of the Drug Summit was an agreement and understanding that there should be a trial of a medically supervised injecting room. Of course, from the outset the Coalition has been trying to undermine the trial and stop it. I guess that is the way it is. We know that the former Prime Minister, John Howard, did everything he possibly could do to ensure that the trial never got started.
But we cannot deny the facts that have come out of the trial. The facts that have come out of the trial and that have been placed on the record in this debate, and which have been reported by the independent review undertaken by SAHA International, are that there have been improvements in the drug culture in Kings Cross, a reduction in overdose deaths, improvements to treatment and counselling, a reduction in users injecting in public places, and a reduction in the spread of blood-borne diseases. As a result of the trial, we have seen improvements for people who, tragically, have become drug addicts. We have seen many of them supported by this work.
We also cannot deny the fact that as a result of the trial there has been a reduction in crime. It is important that we acknowledge that in this debate. Superintendent Tony Crandell, the Kings Cross Local Area Commander, recently described how his officers have encountered far fewer cases of drug overdoses in the back lanes of Kings Cross since the centre started operating. There is also evidence of positive outcomes for residents and business owners in the Kings Cross area. Improvement in public amenity in the area is evident, with the proportion of residents who reported having observed public injecting falling from 55 per cent in 2000 to 27 per cent in 2010. There are also trend statistics from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research that show fewer robberies and crimes are now committed in the Kings Cross area.
Based on fact, rather than on entrenched emotion, it is obvious that there has been an improvement in the lot for addicts, an improvement in the lot for businesses and residents of that area, an improvement in the lot of crime-fighting staff in that front-line police are not confronted in the same way they were in the past, and an improvement in the lot of front-line emergency service workers such as ambulance workers who are not in the back lanes day in and day out trying to revive people who have overdosed. Through all of that, clearly there has been a reduction in health costs. Obviously a reduction in health costs means an improvement in the overall health budget, because the money is redirected.
It is important to point out that the health budget does not fund the medically supervised injecting room; the funding comes from the proceeds of crime account. In other words, crooks involved in drug-related crimes and other crimes are paying for the sorts of improvements that have been independently reported by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, KPMG and SAHA International. For those reasons I believe it is incumbent on members of this place, particularly those who have been in a position, as I have, to have the opportunity to follow the debate about whether we should set up a medically supervised injecting room as a trial and the evaluations of the trial over the period it has operated, to vote to conclude the trial of this valuable and worthwhile service and to put it in place permanently.
It is important to point out that this legislation does not set any precedents; it continues to say that this service, which has made a difference as I have described, remains as the only such service in New South Wales. It is also important to point out that the medical profession, as I understand from this debate and from information I have received, strongly supports the measure. It is a little disingenuous of some of those who oppose the establishment of the medically supervised injecting centre on a permanent basis to suggest that there are no health benefits in having such a facility, when clinicians and other medical staff involved in the care of addicts are saying they think the centre is worthwhile and that it should become a permanent fixture, as part of the health, social and community services that a civil society provides for addicts.
I do not agree with the member for Epping on many matters. I think anyone who reads Hansard
will see that that is the case. However, the member for Epping spoke strongly about the need to get stuck into the traffickers and crims. I certainly endorse that sentiment. By doing that, we can seize some of their assets, the money will go into the proceeds of crime account, and that will help pay for the sorts of services the centre will provide on an ongoing basis for the victims of traffickers' crimes, the addicts who are, for whatever reason, not able to kick their habit. We see through the independent statistics regarding the trial that more and more addicts have been using the centre as a gateway to other levels of treatment, to improving their health, and to counselling. We trust that more and more of them are ceasing to be addicts. That can only be a good thing for them, their families, the people around them, and indeed the broader community. It is with a sense of confidence, having watched this debate from 1999 at the Drug Summit, that I am able to take part in this debate and commend the bill to the House.
Ms PRU GOWARD
(Goulburn) [10.57 a.m.]: I thank Dr Marianne Jauncey and the staff of the medically supervised injecting room for hosting a visit on Tuesday morning this week and for their enthusiastic and sincere support for the work they do, as I guess one would expect. At the outset I indicate that I certainly support efforts to discourage and address drug use. I acknowledge that mental illness and childhood trauma, particularly sexual trauma, play a huge role in the development of drug addiction, and that drug addiction is an extremely difficult issue to deal with and a very difficult illness to overcome—and it is an illness. It does not surprise me at all to learn that many of the clients of the medically supervised injecting room are long-term users; I think their average span of drug use is 10 years.
I also acknowledge the importance of breaking the cycle of drug abuse in families, for the sake of children. As the shadow Minister for Community Services, which encompasses child protection, I acknowledge the devastating role drug addiction plays in children's lives and the importance of addressing drug addiction. I guess that is why, after considerable thought and agony, I have concluded that I do not believe the medically supervised injecting room is the right answer, and therefore I do not support the legislation.
Those of us who deal in the drug addiction area know how complicated it is and how many programs and attempts are needed to move somebody from drug addiction to a life free from drugs, or free from dependence on drugs. Many different programs and approaches are often necessary. The question is: Is the right answer to have one legally approved injecting room in one place in Sydney servicing 4,500 people? Are there other ways to do it? It is one injecting room in one area, remote from other support services. The centre said they referred those who wanted it to other support services and to a methadone program at the old fire station. In a sense, it is very much a stand-alone facility and, as Dr Jauncey said, it is intended to be seen as such because its primary aim is to keep addicts alive. Are there better answers? Is this even the right answer?
I have no doubt that anything that legalises heroin use, even in this limited fashion, in a sense normalises it. I certainly believe it de-polices heroin. It takes the pressure off the police and discourages them from chasing the dealers and those who trade in this terrible business. I attended the centre at 7.30 a.m., when it was closed. I understand that it is not open in the evenings either. However, I also visited early on a working day when the centre was open. I have been a journalist for a long time and, at my age, one would expect that I have seen a bit. I have absolutely no doubt that Kings Cross Station and the area around the injecting room was crawling with dealers and people doing drug deals. I noticed no police. I do not see that there has been any increase in the arrest rates of drug dealers and drug suppliers in Kings Cross, yet the centre has 69,000 visits a year. I understood from Dr Jauncey that addicts need to get their supply fairly close to where they use it, so I imagine that the huge number of dealers I saw—and whom others say anecdotally they have observed—feature in the equation. I am surprised that there has not been an increase in the number of arrests for supply of drugs in Kings Cross when such a huge number of people are now using them.
The centre began with 200 registered users and it now has 10,000, which is a large number of people dealing in drugs in a fairly small geographic area. I would have thought it would not be too difficult for police to make an arrest there if they wished to do so. However, because of considerations in relation to people using the centre, it seems that police have one rule for dealers outside the area and another rule for those in Kings Cross. Therefore, it is not surprising that there is a honey pot effect. The public policy questions the Opposition wants to ask—I am not particularly interested in the morality of the issue other than the fact that I can see the centre is normalising heroin use to some extent, which certainly raises conflicts for police—are the obvious. Does the centre reduce the death rate from overdoses? Does it reduce the overdose rate and the need for medical attention? These are economic questions. Does it discourage drug use? Does it put people back on the track to rehabilitation?
Those questions should be asked not only of this program but of any drug rehabilitation program. As $2 million or $3 million is spent on this service I would have thought it would be absolutely gobsmacking if there had been no reduction in death rates, overdose rates or ambulance use in the area. The question is: Could that money be put to better use? If this program is the answer, is it still the right model? Would we be better off if the centre were part of the local St Vincent's Hospital—that is what the businesses in Kings Cross advise me they would like to see—or on the fringes of the hospital so that medical emergencies could be attended to very quickly? I return in a moment to the attitudes of businesses in Kings Cross.
We are still not able to address risky behaviour. The surveys show that only one in 36 hits by addicts who use the service are taken at the centre. So there is a huge opportunity for overdoses and deaths—although most hits do not lead to fatalities. What have we achieved? I hope we have achieved something, but the question remains: Could we do better using other programs? Why have we fixated on this particular program when, as I am sure it was determined at the Drug Summit, we need highly integrated, local service delivery that is clearly focused on recovery, not just on sustaining somebody's life? I understand that the centre will cost $20 million over 10 years. The current funding is $3 million a year and, like several other members, I observe that that money would be well spent on either drug addiction services, or indeed other health services.
Frankly, we can argue all day about the medical benefits of this model compared with others. I note that even the academics agree. For example, the very respected National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre based at the University of New South Wales has expressed clear concern. I am not surprised that doctors and clinicians support the centre. Of course, they see immediately that somebody is alive and that some of their clients are being referred to other services, which they accept. However, the job of the Parliament and the Government is public policy, and public policy is about making choices between possible solutions to find the most cost-effective and applicable within the values of the society that that Parliament serves.
I do not think it is fair to say that this program has not had consequences for Kings Cross. According to the owner of a coffee shop with whom I spoke, needles are so thick on the ground in Bayswater Road that they clog the drains around his premises. He also has to clear them from his car park of a morning after people shoot up there at night. All retailers are concerned about the large number of dealers and addicts who stay in the area for a lot longer than the 30 minutes a day they spend at the centre for their safe injection. It is the view of many retailers and landowners that that has besmirched and damaged the reputation of Kings Cross. I think in public policy terms a question mark still hangs over this program. Are there better ways to do it? Is the fact that there has been a reduction in the number of deaths proof that that is the only way to achieve that outcome when there is so much concern about other aspects of the program—particularly, it seems to me, the impact on policing?
I conclude by referring to the businesses and landowners in the Kings Cross area. They asked me to meet them—they said they had never been visited by a parliamentary delegation. They have finally decided to come out and express their opposition to the centre. The local chamber of commerce essentially went broke fighting the original decision, so there is no longer an official business group. However, I certainly saw a lot of individual business owners and landowners. They strongly challenge the survey findings that 70 per cent of local businesses accepted the centre and believed that it reduced the number of needles in the street. The area surveyed took in the 2010 and 2011 postcodes—areas that extend from Kings Cross through parts of Elizabeth Bay, Potts Point, Woolloomooloo, Surry Hills and all the way to Central Station. As we know with earthquakes, the further you are from one, the less concerned you are about it. I suspect that claiming a 70 per cent support rate from business means including people in Surry Hills and Woolloomooloo because the Kings Cross businesses, almost to an owner, opposed the centre.
I received a survey of 65 properties that revealed that 63 opposed the centre, one was unwilling to give an answer and another thought it might be a good location. All the owners were prepared to sign the petition, and 97 per cent of them wanted the facility removed. They felt that the centre could be moved somewhere else—for example, co-located with a medical facility. They considered that putting it in the middle of Kings Cross was extraordinarily damaging to their business and land values for the same reasons that many of us do not like the idea of the injecting room: it attracts dealers and addicts who stay in the area all day, to the detriment of others. There has been a heroin drought and an increase in the use of sniffer dogs. These are perhaps some of the reasons why the rate of heroin use in the area has not increased—as it has across New South Wales—over 10 years.
Almost every premise on Darlinghurst Road, Nos 1 to 21 to 111, wants the injecting centre removed, as do those at Nos 2 to 36 Bayswater Road and Nos 7, 10, 11, 17, 24 and 36 Kellett Street. The owner of No. 3 Roslyn Street and the people at Nos 127 to 139 Macleay Street want it removed. They are seeking its removal not because they do not like drugs or have some moral problem with the centre, but because they believe it is bad for business. It is bad for business because it is a honey pot that attracts dealers and users from around the State, denying this wonderful vibrant old area the future economic growth that they consider it deserves. It is a great pity that the 70 per cent survey conflated the issues and included people who clearly are not directly affected by the injecting room. This is a program that has been tried. We know not enough about it. What we do know is that the program has de-policed heroin use in the immediate area at least, and encouraged a huge number of users other than the original 200 to view Kings Cross as the place to come to experiment with drugs, confident that they will be saved by outstanding public servants. That is not enough reason to support the program.
JOINT SELECT COMMITTEE ON PARLIAMENTARY PROCEDURE
Acting-Speaker (Mr David Campbell)
tabled the report entitled "Reforms to Parliamentary Processes and Procedure", dated October 2010.
Ordered to be printed
INDEPENDENT COMMISSION AGAINST CORRUPTION
Acting-Speaker (Mr David Campbell)
tabled, pursuant to section 78 of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988, the report of the Inspector of the Independent Commission Against Corruption for the year ended 30 June 2010.
Ordered to be printed
DRUG MISUSE AND TRAFFICKING AMENDMENT (MEDICALLY SUPERVISED INJECTING CENTRE) BILL 2010
Agreement in Principle
Mr ANDREW FRASER
(Coffs Harbour) [11.13 a.m.]: I will not be supporting the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Amendment (Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2010 for a number of reasons that I will detail in a moment. However, it does not mean that I do not support the staff of the Kings Cross injecting centre o the great job they do. Lives have probably been saved because the centre is there. About 10 days ago my wife and I went to Sherwood Glen, which is in the electorate of the member for Clarence, Steve Cansdell. Sherwood Cliffs and Sherwood Glen, which is yet to be opened, are drug rehabilitation centres. The centres' leading lights are John Pierre Reifler and his wife, Honi. They do a fantastic job.
In fact, their success rate in rehabilitating hard drug users is over 70 per cent. The sad part is that they cannot accept government money. Why? The moment they accept any money from the State or Federal governments they will be instructed how to run their programs. It has been proved in the past that rehabilitation programs run by the Government probably rely more on methadone than on drying people out, giving them the love and care they need and putting them back into society. I do not claim that methadone clinics have not done that, but people on methadone are pretty well reliant on those programs for the rest of their lives. In fact, methadone is more addictive than heroin.
Sherwood Cliffs provides rehabilitation services to eight single men and two married couples. The new centre, which hopefully will open in January, will be able to cater for 14 women or seven women with children. The care, love and consideration that addicted persons receive at those centres is second to none. Interestingly, every time you go there you meet rehabilitated drug users. I chatted with one the other day—I will not name her—about the injecting centre at Kings Cross. That lass told me that when she was in Sydney—and she still knows people in Sydney who use drugs—people would use the injecting centre to a fairly major extent to experiment with new drugs. If people have something new that someone has recommended they will go to the centre to try it, knowing that they will receive great medical care if the drug has an adverse effect. In her words, once they realise it is safe—and I use the word "safe" advisedly—the vast majority tend not to return to the centre and inject at home.
I commend the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Epping and the member for Vaucluse for their well-researched contributions to the debate. Referrals from the injecting room to detoxification centres are minuscule compared with the number of people who use drugs. I understand that people cannot get off drugs—I was addicted to cigarettes for many years so I know it is damned hard for anyone to get off drugs, even more so opiates or heroin—but there is a huge hypocrisy in the legislation. People are referred to detoxification and rehabilitation through drug courts, yet there is no compulsory referral from the injecting centre. That concerns me. Police have discretion in relation to small amounts of heroin. I have a unit at Potts Point and I often walk past the injecting centre. I see those who gather around the centre and observe deals being done. The dealers are smart enough to carry only small amounts of heroin, and the police obviously use their discretion. In the lead-up to this debate I noted that someone was charged, which I think has a political stench to it. But the reality is that discretion is exercised in Kings Cross, but not in the electorate of Coffs Harbour or in other areas of New South Wales.
I support the member for Vaucluse, who referred to the hypocrisy of Labor members who have come into the Chamber, one after the other, to support the legislation but who have not put their hands up and said, "We'll have one of these in our electorates". We all know what has happened in the past—and probably still does—when a new methadone clinic is mooted for a country town. The covers come off and there is huge angst in community at the idea of just a methadone clinic. No-one wants an injecting centre in their electorate. The headline in today's Coffs Harbour Advocate
is "Needle Anger". The sub-headline reads, "Community demands authorities rethink sharps bins locations". Members have only to walk 20 paces from this Chamber and they will find a male toilet with a sharps bin, and I guess the female toilet is the same. But if anyone lights up a cigarette in those toilets they will be charged under law for smoking on premises where cigarette smoking is banned. I understand that the sharps bin could be utilised by people who are diabetic, but a sharps bin basically gives an indication that heroin use in this building is okay.
The four-year-old child referred to in the newspaper article suffered a needlestick injury in Coffs Harbour the other day. Where did he get it? He got the needlestick injury at a preschool playground because someone had failed to properly dispose of a heroin injecting needle at the playground. Once again, if someone lights up a cigarette at a preschool playground the full force of the law will be visited upon them, but if someone injects heroin and does not dispose of the needle properly in the sharps bin that is provided at the playground, the weight of the law does not come down on them. That really is rank hypocrisy. On the one hand, we are discouraging people from smoking and talking about the cost of medical care; but, on the other hand, we say nothing about the cost of medical care for people who have an addiction to drugs.
During the debate in this House when the injecting room was originally proposed it was mentioned that the cost of methadone clinics, including pathology, was absolutely huge. It would equate to the costs of smoking across the board. The hypocrisy around this issue is unbelievable. Drug use in the Coffs Harbour electorate is probably among the highest in the State, not just marijuana but also harder drugs—be they opiates, heroin or what have you. I do not believe we are doing enough in the way of rehabilitation. I would much rather see the budget that is being expended on the injecting room be given to people like John and Honi Reifler for the great work they do. Their success rate is better than 70 per cent. They put these people back into society and monitor them. Their success rate is between 70 per cent and 80 per cent, although some people who are cured come back later for further treatment. I think with every addiction, be it alcohol, cigarettes or drugs, there will be those who need to return for further treatment. John and Honi's work is a shining light in this area yet they cannot get government funding because of the restrictions placed on it and because bureaucrats do not agree with what they do.
Whilst I commend the staff at the injecting centre for their work I do not believe the money is being spent in the right way. I commend them for the great job they do and the lives they have saved, but I would much rather see money spent on rehabilitation. I would much rather a message be sent that drug use, especially intravenous drug use, is dangerous. If we did that perhaps we would have fewer headlines such as "Needle Anger" and fewer stories such as the one about the four-year-old who was spiked with a discarded needle at a playground where there was a sharps bin. That just blows me away. It is a case of extremes—there is a sharps bin but not an ashtray. That is just bizarre. I cannot support the legislation. As the Leader of the Opposition said today, the bill has been rushed into Parliament 12 months before it was required, and one must look at the Government's motives for doing that. Why have we not had an opportunity to properly assess all the reports on the centre? Why is it so imperative that we pass this legislation in the last weeks of the parliamentary session under this dying Government? Why are we not looking at much better programs that would not only discourage drug use but also rehabilitate those people who are addicts?
Mr MICHAEL RICHARDSON
(Castle Hill) [11.24 a.m.]: The Drug Misuse and Trafficking Amendment (Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2010 is aptly named because it is all about drug misuse being aided and abetted by the State of New South Wales. That has always been an extraordinary proposition. Statistics can be made to do anything you wish, and that was certainly the case with the statistics presented by the Deputy Premier in her agreement in principle speech. She was highly selective in what she quoted and in the emphasis she placed on those statistics. She said that since the centre opened in May 2001 there had been 609,177 visits by 12,050 registered clients, with 3,426 drug overdoses successfully managed and 3,871 referrals to drug dependence treatment. The numbers sound impressive until you analyse exactly what they mean and relate them to statistics for injecting drug users elsewhere in the State.
For starters, the rate of overdoses among heroin users across Australia is two for every 10,000 injections. The rate at the injecting room is 56.2—that is, 28 times the average across the country. That is consistent with the Drug Free Australia analysis in the 2003 evaluation of the centre, which found the rate of overdoses inside the centre was 36 times that outside the centre in the streets of Kings Cross. The reason is pretty simple to work out. Drug users are going to the centre and experimenting, using higher quantities of heroin or polydrugs, knowing that if they overdose the staff will revive them. The injecting room is actually encouraging unsafe drug-taking practices in my view, and that is something everyone in this Chamber should abhor.
Of course, heroin is far from being the only drug injected at the centre. In fact, according to some statistics I have, it accounts for only 27 per cent of injections at the injecting room. Drug addicts are in fact shooting up prescription opioids such as oxycodone, better known as OxyContin, twice as often as they are injecting heroin. The statistics are very interesting. According to information I have for the injecting room, in the three months between 1 February and 30 April 2010, there were 4,480 injections of heroin, 1,061 injections of cocaine, 602 instances of benzodiazepines injections, 325 injections of amphetamines and 104 instances of heroin/cocaine combination injections, but injections of other opioids, primarily prescription drugs, totalled 9,193.
That is consistent with something that happened to me last year. Members will be aware that I was involved in a very nasty motor vehicle accident. When I was discharged from Nepean Hospital I was given some MS Contin to take home to relieve the pain. A week later I went to the Mater Hospital to have my shoulder operated on and I woke up the next day having some difficulty breathing. A physician was called in to examine me and found one of the problems was that the MS Contin was suppressing my breathing reflex. That was one reason why I was having difficulty breathing. The physician said, "We're going to take you off those tablets and put you onto something else." I asked, "What should I do with the MS Contin tablets? He replied, "You can flush them down the toilet or you could take them up the Cross. You'll get a good price for them up there." It seemed funny at the time, but I think it is very relevant in the context of the bill we are debating now. The fact is that I could have taken those tablets to the Cross, sold them and got a good price because there are plenty of addicts there who will buy them, knowing they can go to the injecting room and inject them "safely".
One of the riskiest substances addicts inject is methamphetamine, or ice, which we know can create psychotic episodes. I cannot understand why any government would want to be encouraging people to shoot a dangerous drug like this into their veins. A former director of the injecting room, Dr Ingrid van Beek, said in an article in the Daily Telegraph
on 10 September 2006:
Ice changes people's behaviour in such a dramatic way and can be quite scary. People become incredibly strong and quite aggressive, and that's what makes the impact of this drug greater.
Long-term ice abuse can cause addiction, anxiety, insomnia, mood disturbances, violent behaviour and psychotic symptoms such as paranoia, hallucinations and delusions, such as the sensation of bugs calling under the user's skin. Ice addicts may lose their teeth abnormally quickly—a condition known as meth mouth. One-third of Australia's ice users are addicted, and the psychotic symptoms can last for months or years after methamphetamine use has ceased. We know it is a significant contributor to violent crime. I understand there have been attacks on the staff at the injecting room by people who have injected ice into their veins. I cannot understand why this State would be encouraging that. The injecting room has not saved lives. The Daily Telegraph
published an article to that effect on 5 January last year, entitled "Kings Cross Injecting Room fails to reduce overdose death rates". The article said:
The Kings Cross safe injecting centre made no difference at all to overdose death rates in its local area in its first five years of operation. Statistics show death rates from drug overdose in the area around the injecting room are no less than in other areas across NSW.
Between the period May 1, 2001 and May 1, 2006, deaths fell from an average four a month to one a month in the two post codes adjacent to the injecting centre. But elsewhere in the state there were also sharp falls—from an average 28 deaths a month to eight.
The centre's lack of success in saving lives clashes with its stated primary objective "to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with drug overdoses".
I certainly believe that is the case. The number of referrals from the centre for treatment, 3,871, sounds good. The Minister said:
The centre has been increasingly successful in getting a marginalised group of injecting drug users to treatment.
But what does this number of referrals represent? It is just 0.6 per cent of total visits to the centre—that is, 6 in 1,000 visits to the centre result in a referral. And there is no mention whatsoever of whether or not the drug users went for treatment, or indeed how successful that treatment was. That 0.6 per cent referral rate, until now, is in fact lower than the 0.7 per cent referral rate for drug treatment achieved up to 2007. So the centre is actually becoming less, rather than more, effective at treating people for their addiction. And in 2007 only one-third of those referred for treatment were actually referred to a rehabilitation program. So we are talking about 0.2 per cent of visits—that is, 1 in 5,000—resulting in the drug user going into rehabilitation. That is a pathetic figure. Frankly, I am amazed at the gall of the Deputy Premier in describing the centre as "successful" in this regard.
When he introduced the bill that established the injecting room in 2001 the then Special Minister of State, John Della Bosca, said it would provide a gateway for referral to treatment and counselling. This morning we heard the Leader of the Opposition speak about that objective of the centre. Clearly, the centre has failed abysmally in that regard, and we now have 9½ years of statistics to prove that. It costs around $3 million a year to run the centre—enough to fund 400 rehabilitation places a year, or 3,600 over the nine years that the centre has been operating. Surely, that would have been a better use of the money lavished on the centre, than having doctors and nurses demonstrate allegedly "safe injecting practices" to their "clients". In 2001 John Della Bosca also said:
The Government has received advice from the Attorney General's Department that the 1961 UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs, as amended, to which Australia is a signatory, allows the possession and use of illicit drugs for medical and scientific research purposes, including controlled clinical trials.
That was the pretext on which the injecting room was set up—that it was a controlled clinical trial. What the bill seeks to do is make that controlled clinical trial a permanent fixture. I really do not understand how that can be justified. Is not Australia still a signatory to the 1961 United Nations Convention on Narcotic Drugs? Or has Julia Gillard changed the rules so far as that matter is concerned, in addition to so many other things on which she reneged in her brief time as Prime Minister? Remember, what is happening here is that the State is not only condoning but encouraging an illegal activity. That is not what one would believe from listening to the supporters of this bill. I ask the Minister how many kids who have never injected before have gone to the injecting room to learn how to inject "safely". Does the KPMG report cover this issue?
The Deputy Premier also claimed that 70 per cent of local businesses support the centre. We have been down this road before. That statistic comes from a University of New South Wales evaluation in June 2006. The trouble is that the only businesses surveyed were those that were still existing. At the time, there were a massive number of vacant shops in Kings Cross as business owners had voted with their feet, and they were not surveyed. Nobody went out there and asked them why they had left, and what they thought of the injecting room—because, of course, that would not have supported the conclusion that the university and the Government wanted to reach. The fact that theft-related crime in Kings Cross has fallen since the injecting room has opened its doors is neither here nor there; it has fallen in many other parts of the State too, consistent with the overall drop in heroin use. Whether that is due to a heroin drought or changing fashion amongst drug users, I do not know. The Minister said:
The Government believes it is important to maintain the positive outcomes that have been identified to date.
I hope I have demonstrated conclusively that there really have been no positive outcomes. This is an experiment that has gone hopelessly wrong. It is a waste of $3 million a year of taxpayers' money. It sends the completely wrong message to young people in particular. We should be spending this money on rehabilitation and treatment, not on encouraging drug use.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Motion by Mr John Aquilina agreed to:
Suspension of Standing Orders: Routine of Business
That standing orders be suspended at this sitting to permit Government business to take precedence of general business prior to 1.30 p.m.
DRUG MISUSE AND TRAFFICKING AMENDMENT (MEDICALLY SUPERVISED INJECTING CENTRE) BILL 2010
Agreement in Principle
Mr MALCOLM KERR
(Cronulla) [11.36 a.m.]: I speak against the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Amendment (Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2010. I was a member of the committee that examined this issue and basically recommended against establishment of the centre. The then Government said it would not be set up. That was when Dr Refshauge was Minister for Health. The difficulties with the centre have been outlined, and I would join with others regarding what is done there and the work done by the staff. Nevertheless, as other members have said, the only way people will stop using drugs is if they are motivated to do so.
The money being spent on this centre would be better spent on other programs and projects. That those programs and projects are starved of funds shows that this State is failing to help drug addicts. I do not disparage any of the speeches that have been made today, including that of Parliamentary Secretary Mr David Harris, who is at the table. Nevertheless, when it comes down to it, members supporting the bill condone illegal drug-taking. I have been provided with additional material on injecting rooms by a constituent, Mr Neil Hills. He makes a number of points. I need not relate the statistics to the House. He states:
Drug addicts are no different from other people who suffer alcoholism or tobacco dependency. There is safety in numbers. It empowers them when they are around other people who have the same dependency they have.
The centre encourages people to believe that injecting can be done safely. Of course, no member of this House has tried to justify the taking of heroin and the impacts that that has on a person's health. Leaving aside any questions of morality, and simply speaking to the utilitarian functions of the State and what the State will do and condone, this injecting room condones an illegal activity. We should all be aware of that in trying to fight the scourge of drug-taking in our community.
Ms CARMEL TEBBUTT
(Marrickville—Deputy Premier, and Minister for Health) [11.39 a.m.], in reply: I thank members for their thoughtful and passionate contributions to this important debate. It is both understandable and reassuring that debate on the best way to combat the illegal drug trade, and to prevent and treat addiction, generates significant emotion. The loss of any life through drug abuse is tragic, and the harm caused by illegal drugs reverberates throughout families and communities across New South Wales. This debate challenges us and our views about how best to send a strong message that drug use causes enormous harm, while at the same time supporting those who are injecting drug users, keeping them alive and helping them leave their addiction behind and make more positive choices for themselves and their families. As I have said on many occasions, we all would prefer a world where a facility such as this is not needed. However, we have to deal with the world as it is, not as we would like it be.
Having said that, I respect the strongly held views that have been articulated in this debate. The Government is committed to a comprehensive response to the complex problem of drug abuse. The medically supervised injecting centre is but one component of such a response. The Government shares the views of Opposition members who believe drug strategies should be about more than keeping people alive. They should also help move people towards treatment and rehabilitation. But there is no magic solution. Causes of drug addiction are varied and complex, and there can be no one answer to this problem. A sensible Government must ensure a range of options to help people as they battle addiction, and to help them get treatment. The medically supervised injecting centre plays a vital role doing just that. It reaches out to the most marginalised and entrenched drug users in our community, builds relationships and trust, and keeps them safe with direct clinical advice and support, bringing them to a point where they will accept a referral into drug treatment.
Drug treatment referrals from the centre are made to a range of facilities, including the 20 dedicated places for medically supervised injecting centre clients at the Langton Centre. We will continue to support the centre in its efforts to engage more clients in ongoing treatment through the referral system. Members opposed to the bill raised a number of issues, which I will now address. Some raised concerns that the centre sends a message condoning drug use. Nothing could be further from the truth. The New South Wales Government's support for the medically supervised injecting centre is just one component of a much broader drug policy that includes law enforcement, treatment, education and prevention. In fact, the Government has committed more than $406 million in additional funding to drug-related law enforcement, treatment, education and prevention, including an additional $296 million for treatment since the 1999 Drug Summit.
Our Police Force is taking strong action in the fight against illicit drug crime, as demonstrated by the $262 million worth of drugs seized in operations conducted last year and this year. This included the use of specialist State Crime Squads for more complex drug seizures such as in clandestine lab investigations. In 2006, police laid more than 20,000 drug-related charges—almost 1,000 of which related to heroin. No funding for the centre has been diverted from other drug response initiatives. The centre is fully funded from the Confiscated Proceeds of Crime Account. Some members raised the idea that the medically supervised injecting centre acts as a honey pot for drug-related crime in the area, but the overwhelming evidence is to the contrary. I refer members to the most recent report of the highly respected New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, which found no evidence that the centre has had an adverse impact on rates of drug-related crime.
The bureau found also that the level of drug-related loitering has not increased. The truth is that the centre has had a positive impact on its local area: 69 per cent of local businesses and 78 per cent of residents support the centre. The legislation makes clear also that the Government is committed to one injecting centre only. We recognise that Kings Cross is unique; it has a long history as an illicit drug centre with high levels of drug overdose and a transient population. The centre also is functioning well. Throughout its status as a trial it has had strong leaders, as well as hardworking, well-trained and compassionate medical staff. I thank them for the job they do. The independent evaluation of the centre found also that its protocols are working well. The centre's qualified and highly professional staff assess all clients before they can register. As the legislation indicates, stringent monitoring of the centre will continue.
It is worth highlighting the widespread support for the Government's decision to end the trial, particularly among clinicians. I reflect on the words of my colleague Dr Andrew McDonald when he cited support for the centre from the Australian Medical Association and the Royal College Australasian College of Physicians. The most recent evaluation for the centre also links its presence to a significant 44 per cent decline in ambulance call-outs to suspected overdoses in Kings Cross. The centre is part of a diverse approach to finding a solution to a problem that plagues almost every society across the globe. We cannot rest on simplistic solutions or narrow-minded ideology. A number of speakers noted that drug users are not anonymous statistics—they are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, and friends. It is our duty as members of Parliament to do all we can to help them and to reduce the impact of illicit drugs on our society. I commend the bill to the House.
Question—That this bill be now agreed to in principle—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.
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.
PROTECTED DISCLOSURES AMENDMENT (PUBLIC INTEREST DISCLOSURES) BILL 2010
Agreement in Principle
Debate resumed from 24 September 2010.
Mr JONATHAN O'DEA
(Davidson) [11.56 a.m.]: I lead in debate on the Protected Disclosures Amendment (Public Interest Disclosures) Bill 2010 on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition and the Liberals-Nationals. The New South Wales Coalition introduced the Protected Disclosures Act, which is the principal Act, in 1994. The primary intention of the Act is to provide protection for public officials who make disclosures concerning corrupt conduct, maladministration, or waste of money in the public sector.
The Protected Disclosures Act was reviewed in 1996, 2000, 2006 and 2009, yet whistleblower protection in New South Wales has remained grossly inadequate. In June 2008 the Leader of the Opposition, Barry O'Farrell, even introduced a private member's bill entitled the Protected Disclosures Amendment (Supporting Whistleblowers) Bill, which sought to implement 17 recommendations of the 2006 report of the Committee on the Independent Commission Against Corruption. The bill was discharged on 6 May 2009. The Opposition has long supported such reform. It is truly amazing that this bill has finally made it before this place—albeit as we approach the next State election.
The Protected Disclosures Amendment (Public Interest Disclosure) Bill 2010 produces reforms that will enhance protection for those who act in the public interest. The object of the bill is to amend the principal Act to reflect the recommendations of the report by the joint Committee on the Independent Commission Against Corruption entitled "Protection of Public Sector Whistleblower Employees" that was published in November 2009. I was a member of that committee, which unanimously agreed on the recommendations. However, I again must record my dissatisfaction, and that of Opposition colleagues, that not one single individual whistleblower was permitted to give oral evidence before the committee, despite numerous written submissions having been received from people who had made internal or protected disclosures and who found those arrangements totally or partially ineffective.
The failure to reality-check the committee's recommendations by hearing directly from whistleblowers was a lost opportunity and sent the wrong message to affected whistleblowers. Some of the current proposals in this bill seek to draw New South Wales into line with whistleblower protection legislation in other States. However, while we are pleased to finally see it, the bill does not implement all the recommendations in the 2009 report. This perhaps indicates that comprehensive reform of this important area still eludes this Government. Accordingly, I foreshadow that the Liberal-Nationals will propose an amendment to the bill.
This bill provides for an expanded definition of "public official"; protection for those who make disclosures based on honest belief and reasonable grounds; increased penalties for the offence of taking detrimental action in reprisal against a person who made a protected disclosure, and whistleblowers to recover damages and obtain injunctions; establishment of the Public Interest Disclosures Steering Committee, which will be chaired by the Ombudsman; increased responsibilities for the Ombudsman in relation to public awareness, monitoring and compliance; a requirement that public authorities have a protected disclosures policy and annually report upon their obligations under the Act; the repeal of section 16, which removed protection for disclosures considered to be frivolous or vexatious; misdirected disclosures to be justified by an honest belief that the investigating authority was the appropriate body to deal with the matter; an expanded definition of "misconduct for disciplinary action purposes" to include detrimental action taken against a whistleblower; an exception to privacy requirements where the whistleblower's identity has become public with their consent; a requirement to provide the Director of Public Prosecutions with any evidence of detrimental action taken against a person for making a protected disclosure; consultation with the steering committee on any proposed regulation to be made under the principal Act; special Ombudsman reports to Parliament; and a broader review of the Act in five years.
There are a number of reasons that good governance requires effective protections for those well-intentioned employees and other individuals who are motivated to ventilate issues arising in policy administration and governance in this State. The electorate at large is entitled to demand effective accountability of its elected government and public service. Transparency is vital, and the role of the Independent Commission Against Corruption in addressing maladministration and corruption generally depends on whistleblowing by those in the know. There is an old adage in business that a customer's complaint is like gold. Very few disgruntled customers take the trouble to complain; the overwhelming majority just stop buying. By analogy, a government that does not listen to those with the courage to blow the whistle on their own organisation or misguided colleagues will, in all likelihood, incur the wrath of countless unknown electors in due course. It may take longer to materialise—even a decade—but the day of reckoning will surely arrive. It appears that that day may be near for the Keneally Labor Government.
Whistleblowers will often be highly principled and courageous individuals who risk career prospects rather than remain silent and complicit. Ministers may squirm because of the uncomfortable attention that sometimes results from the whistle being blown, but this may be a feature of a political culture we should accept. A number of high-profile cases were quoted in the parliamentary debate that led to the 2009 Independent Commission Against Corruption committee report. They demonstrated the appalling treatment that whistleblowers can suffer and emphasised the need for strong protection. These include the treatment of Milton Orkopoulos' former electorate secretary, Ms Gillian Sneddon; former employee of the Premier's office Mark Aarons; former RailCorp employee Bimla Chand; and nurses from Campbelltown and Camden hospitals.
Matters concerning the treatment of Milton Orkopoulos' former electorate secretary, Ms Gillian Sneddon, were particularly discussed in the context of the deliberations and report of the Independent Commission Against Corruption committee, yet they have still not been resolved. The Government should not hide behind the principle of sole cognisance of the Houses, which prevented the Legislative Council inquiry, or jurisdictional technicalities, which prevented examination by the Independent Commission Against Corruption committee inquiry. These matters should not be simply swept under the carpet and forgotten; they should be fully investigated and resolved. The fairly recent episode involving Mark Aarons also revealed inadequacies in the legislation. Besides a general lack of transparency and accountability, a police investigation occurred only because the Leader of the Opposition made a formal approach to the then Minister for Police. Some whistleblowers have told the media of their experiences. Former RailCorp employee Bimla Chand told the Sydney Morning Herald
on 15 March 2008:
With all the talk from politicians about whistleblower protection, blowing the whistle has ruined my life … State Rail not only wants to bury me, they want to dance on my grave for daring to speak out.
One of the nurses, Ms Sheree Martin, said:
… you have to understand that this has been 13 months of five nurses … following a plan where we approach our managers, our senior managers, our area managers… We're victimised and bullied. We go to our local member, Craig Knowles. We're victimised there …
It is understandable that Ministers under media pressure forget that their instinctive defence contains the seeds of further trouble. Trying to extinguish realities revealed by whistleblowers ultimately rarely works. The truth in our democracy generally comes out, if necessary through leaks to parliamentarians or direct to the media. The long-term success of a Minister and the Government might be better served by welcoming assistance in improving administration and governance. In doing so, a government should encourage the use of proper channels by those we now call whistleblowers. Unfortunately, there are still senior bureaucrats and politicians who try to besmirch them and their legitimacy, or punish them in various ways.
It has been good to hear statements from the Government suggesting that open government and a more mature approach to whistleblowing was finally accepted at the current centre of power. However, this was not consistent with Premier Keneally's behaviour in the case of Karen Paluzzano; the Premier initially went out on the wrong limb and retreated behind accusations of vexation to besmirch the reputation of a public servant ultimately proven to have been correct. Premier Keneally stood steadfastly behind the then member for Penrith and compounded the damage to become part of the problem. The electors of Penrith gave their verdict on behalf of the wider community. At least in the case of the member for Drummoyne the Premier seems to have taken greater care not to beat up on anyone who may have disclosed.
One should not get the impression that whistleblowing is only rare and sensational, as it is a commonly used and highly valued tool that improves the health of an organisation. When the whistleblower is disrespected, punished or treated in a hostile or unfair manner, the law needs to offer protection. It should also be noted that since 1994, when the principal Act was introduced, there has not been a single successful prosecution for detrimental action against a public official whistleblower in New South Wales undertaken substantially in reprisal for making a protected disclosure. That speaks volumes.
A whistleblower may well ask: What is the point of increasing penalties when none are ever imposed? Nevertheless, the Opposition welcomes the implementation of the recommendations contained in the 2009 Independent Commission Against Corruption report that should significantly improve whistleblower protection in New South Wales. However, many of those reforms should have been implemented years ago. In addition, this bill does not implement all the recommendations. Recommendation 3 of the report states:
That the Protected Disclosures Act 1994 be amended to require the Premier, as the relevant Minister, to provide a response to the NSW Ombudsman's protected disclosures audit report, addressing any specific recommendations by the NSW Ombudsman, and for the response to be tabled in Parliament.
While at least proposed section 6 (c) of the amending bill deals with provisions of information to the Ombudsman for auditing purposes, does the Government intend that proposed section 6 (c) cover this recommendation? Likewise, this bill does not implement recommendation 8 of the 2009 report of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, which states:
That the Protected Disclosures Act 1994 be amended to require the Premier, as Minister with administrative responsibility for the relevant legislation, to table in Parliament a response to any special report of the NSW Ombudsman, and for the response to address each recommendation for reform.
That recommendation is hardly onerous and should have been included within this bill. The Premier must not abrogate her responsibility for responding to any future recommendations from the Ombudsman to amend the principal Act or any other relevant matter. When one considers how long the Government has taken to introduce these reforms, the treatment of whistleblowers by government agencies and the Government's failure to accept an obligation to simply respond to the New South Wales Ombudsman's Protected Disclosures Audit Report or special reports, as appropriate, it is clear that this Government still does not take whistleblower protection seriously enough. We need a change of government culture and ideally a change in the Government. In the meantime the Opposition will move the following amendment to this bill to implement recommendation 8 of the report of the Committee on the Independent Commission Against Corruption to ensure the Premier, as the Minister responsible for the Act, responds to any special report of the New South Wales Ombudsman on the Act:
1 Page 16, schedule 1, proposed section 31A. Insert after line 3:
(3) The Minister must table in each House of Parliament a response to any special report of the Ombudsman made pursuant to this section. The Minister's response to a special report must address each proposal for legislative change included in the report.
I ask that the Government accept that amendment as part of this bill.
Mr David Harris:
Mr JONATHAN O'DEA:
I will now make specific comments relating to whistleblowers in NSW Maritime who have understandably been disappointed with the way protected disclosures have been handled, and who are vitally interested in the matters discussed in this bill. I have taken a close interest in the emerging evidence of systemic harassment, and even persecution, of staff in NSW Maritime who have made disclosures. Some went to the employee relations manager as a nominated disclosures coordinator, which resulted in senior staff, including and particularly its chief executive Mr Steve Dunn, turning on them rather than addressing the issues they raised. The disclosures apparently were wide ranging, from policy breaches and processes being corrupted to arguably appease the politically connected, through to personality conflicts, harassment and bullying in the workplace. Regardless, the outcomes were the same.
Those with legitimate concerns have been ostracised, harassed and ultimately sacked, demoted, redeployed or forced to resign. The chief executive of NSW Maritime even described relevant complaints, when mentioned before an estimates committee hearing on 14 September 2009, as being part of an "anonymous, vexatious and malicious campaign" from "disgruntled current and past NSW Maritime employees". The evidence published by the Independent Commission Against Corruption during its investigation of the private conveyancing business activities of NSW Maritime's general counsel, Tonette Kelly, and her related but separate criminal prosecution, is informative. The power elite at NSW Maritime hid behind contorted legalisms to shield itself and a demonstrably corrupt official. The power elite in that corrupted environment chose to bear down with their might and State resources on the wronged individuals. So much for rights at work for those employees of this Labor administration. Mindful that other investigations and relevant criminal prosecutions have not concluded, I will refrain from going into further detail. However, I will briefly and selectively quote Mr Paul Bertram, a whistleblower whose voice has been muffled by a government unreceptive to his legitimate concerns. He said:
I seek to give you my perspective as a whistleblower, who suffered detriment and disadvantage due to the patronage and protection afforded Ms Kelly by senior managers within NSW Maritime … It is self-evident that successive Ministers have failed to hold Mr Dunn accountable for his errors of judgement and strident protection of the corrupt Ms Kelly, or his attempts to discredit the whistleblowers that brought her activities to light …
I also note that in a farcical answer to a question from another former Maritime employee, Mr Peter Cribb, requesting an inquiry into Mr Steve Dunn's conduct, the office of the Treasurer—who is also ports Minister— indicated that "Internal staffing issues are a matter for NSW Maritime". Surely conduct of a departmental chief executive officer is a matter for ministerial attention. Parliamentarians should take particular note of the despair expressed by Gerry Gleeson in recent Stateline
coverage of his address to the Institute of Public Administration. As a lion of the Labor administration of Premier Wran his observations on current defects in this State should not be dismissed. He claims that, "frank and fearless advice" from public servants was actively discouraged by Ministers of this Government. It is apparent that many suffered terminal damage to their careers, including at NSW Maritime.
At the same time we have seen various senior appointments of Labor operatives, although at least the Joe Scimone appointment at NSW Maritime was stopped. After more than a decade perverting the ability of the civil service to give professional advice, we can see the results in a crumbling government. This could not have been so quickly achieved without ruthless reprisals and threats of them against honest and concerned individuals who make internal disclosures. In conclusion, while this bill is a step in the right direction we request that the Government accept the amendment proposed by the Opposition in order to further strengthen this long overdue reform to better protect whistleblowers in New South Wales.
Mr BARRY COLLIER
(Miranda—Parliamentary Secretary) [12.19 p.m.]: I support the Protected Disclosures Amendment (Public Interest Disclosures) Bill 2010. The bill demonstrates the Government's commitment to continually improving the integrity of public sector administration. It implements all of the major recommendations of the parliamentary committee on the Independent Commission Against Corruption's report entitled, "Protection of Public Sector Whistleblower Employees". The report's main focus was establishing a new rigorous oversight mechanism for protected disclosures in the public sector. The Independent Commission Against Corruption committee considered that a long-term view should be taken on the future of the protected disclosures scheme and the protection it affords public officials who disclose wrongdoing in the public sector. The Government supports this approach.
As recommended by the committee, the bill establishes a new oversight system, comprising the Ombudsman and the Public Interest Disclosures Steering Committee. The bill confers on the Ombudsman's office new monitoring, auditing, education and reporting functions. In particular, the Ombudsman will be given new powers to collect evidence about the operation of the Act from agencies and report to the Parliament. The bill also gives a statutory basis to the steering committee, which now exists as an administrative body. The bill provides that the steering committee is to provide advice to the Premier on the operation of the Act and the recommendations for reform. The steering committee consists of the Ombudsman, the Director General of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, the Auditor-General, the Commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Commissioner of the Police Integrity Commission, the Director General under the Local Government Act 1993 and the Commissioner of Police.
This is a rigorous new oversight system. It will assist with ongoing evaluation of the protected disclosures scheme. It will also enable systematic collection of information over the long term about how the scheme is operating and how public authorities are dealing with disclosures. This will ensure that robust data is available before further consideration is given to whether more extensive reforms might be desirable. The new oversight system—in particular, the Ombudsman's new monitoring and auditing functions—will assist in ensuring that agencies are properly dealing with disclosures. The bill also requires a parliamentary committee to review the Act and the new oversight arrangements after five years when more information regarding the operation of the Act should be available. This was recommended by the Independent Commission Against Corruption committee.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption committee also made recommendations to improve the handling of disclosures by public authorities. As recommended by the committee, the bill makes it mandatory for all public authorities, including local councils, to adopt internal protected disclosures policies. The committee noted that while most public sector agencies have voluntarily adopted internal policies, a small number of local councils have not done so. This amendment will ensure that all public authorities, including local councils, adopt such policies. Public officials will now know that their employer must have a mandatory system in place for assessing and investigating disclosures.
The bill also requires public authorities to prepare annual reports on their obligations under the Act, as recommended by the Independent Commission Against Corruption committee. The information in these annual reports will assist the Ombudsman in his new oversight functions. The reforms in the bill I have outlined today will assist in improving the integrity of public sector administration. The bill builds on the many significant integrity reforms that the New South Wales Government has already implemented, such as the Lobbyist Code of Conduct and banning developer donations. 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.
OMBUDSMAN AMENDMENT (REMOVAL OF LEGAL PROFESSIONAL PRIVILEGE) BILL 2010
Message received from the Legislative Council returning the bill without amendment.
PROTECTION OF THE ENVIRONMENT OPERATIONS AMENDMENT (ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING) BILL 2010
Agreement in Principle
Debate resumed from 24 September 2010.
Ms PRU GOWARD
(Goulburn) [12.24 p.m.]: The Opposition does not oppose the Protection of the Environment Operations Amendment (Environmental Monitoring) Bill 2010, but has a considerable number of concerns with it. The purpose of the bill is to give the Environment Protection Authority the power to require environment protection licence holders to contribute to the cost of environmental monitoring where a cluster of industry may be having a cumulative effect. The Government claims that this bill is in response to difficulties in implementing new air quality monitoring in the Upper Hunter region. Despite widespread concern about the contribution of the industries to dust and air quality, according to the Government—and I understand this is correct—it took two years for industry to agree to fund an additional air quality monitoring network.
I say at the outset that that view is strongly refuted by the New South Wales Minerals Council, which stated that the Upper Hunter air quality monitoring network was negotiated by the industry in good faith. While the process was challenging and time consuming, positive outcomes were achieved and an agreement reached. The New South Wales Minerals Council believes that the comments made by the member in the House, that the significant period of time taken to negotiate the Upper Hunter air quality monitoring network deed of agreement did not cause significant and unnecessary delays to its implementation, nor did it lead to further delays in obtaining better information about the air quality in the Upper Hunter, were unmerited and do not recognise the concerted efforts and commitment of all the parties involved in the development of the deed, nor do they reflect the complexity and scale of the Upper Hunter air quality monitoring network.
I guess the Keneally Labor Government does need to understand that when your livelihood is at stake, when the impacts of the proposal directly affect your capacity to employ people—because that is what this is essentially all about, making profits to employ people—industry is going to be careful to ensure that, unlike so many other changes to government regulations in this State, it comes up with a deed of agreement that is rigorous, robust and able to withstand the pressures that would undoubtedly come through changing circumstances. If it took two years, I guess there are certainly lessons that can be learned from that, but it is the strong view of the council and its members in the Upper Hunter that it was an unwarranted reflection upon them and in that sense does not justify the amendment bill we are considering this morning.
The key proposal of the bill is to empower the Environment Protection Authority to initiate additional environmental monitoring programs, to charge an environmental monitoring levy and to create an environmental monitoring fund. Obviously the argument in favour of that is that it would improve funding for this activity and provide for the expansion of pollution monitoring. However, the Opposition has a number of concerns with this legislation. First, the bill places all the costs on licensed businesses, irrespective of their contribution to pollution. As we know, to be licensed you have to have introduced a number of procedures and protocols that lower your pollution. The fact that the levy is not appellable makes it even more difficult for licensed businesses, and goes nowhere near affecting the activities of unlicensed businesses or small businesses that are not covered by the bill and may continue to pollute to their heart's content.
Section 66 of the Act already provides for significant environmental monitoring, which is the power that relates to "relevant ambient conditions prevailing on or outside premises". The bill also ignores the contribution of those many smaller unregulated activities on the environment—the many operators that may exist below the licence threshold levels—and until that is addressed one would have to say that this is very flawed legislation. It does not cover the whole industry. It focuses basically on people who are already compliant and no discipline is placed on the unlicensed and less regulated part of the industry where the problems obviously occur.
The bill also seeks to shift the Environment Protection Authority's investigative, administrative and overhead costs associated with an environmental monitoring program onto businesses without any guarantee that that money will be spent on environmental monitoring. As we know, the Government already raises $300 million from the waste and recycling industry in New South Wales through the imposition of the waste and environment levy. These funds should be used to fund additional environmental monitoring, but, as we know, there is no guarantee that the funds raised through environmental levies will not be directed into consolidated revenue—where of course they will go to fund a large number of other frolics of the Government rather than the purpose for which they were intended. The retrospectivity of the bill is unclear in some respects but new section 295Z (4) (a) provides for the recovery of—
the costs of investigating the need for, and the development, implementation, operating and administration of, environmental monitoring programs (including any costs incurred by the EPA before the commencement of this Part)
As we all know, retrospectivity is a very dangerous and concerning element of any legislation. All the industry groups consulted opposed the legislation. Some members will say, rather like Mandy Rice-Davies, "Well, they would, wouldn't they?" The bill imposes additional costs upon them and there is no guarantee there will be any benefit to industry or, for that matter, to residents in these areas as a result. I remind the House that the NSW Minerals Council, the Australian Sustainable Business Group and the Waste Contractors and Recyclers Association of NSW have all opposed the bill, and I will come to their criticisms in a moment.
It is interesting that a health foundation such as the New South Wales Asthma Foundation, whilst it does not have a particular position on the bill, asks the obvious outsider question: Why are we making policy on the run? If we want to control pollution of the environment and water, should not the focus be on preventative measures at the development application stage where the business owner is required to institute practices and protocols and introduce technologies that address the pollution rather than at a later stage? Whilst there is clearly room for both, there is no point in doing the monitoring if you have not been rigorous at the development application stage.
I turn now to the concerns of the NSW Minerals Council, which feels the bill has made inadequate provision for consultation with those industries expected to contribute financially to all aspects of an environmental monitoring plan. Although the bill indicates that industry will be consulted to develop the formula for cost sharing, it does not provide for industry to be consulted about the need for a monitoring program or the design of the program. Industry is effectively being asked to write a blank cheque, which lacks transparency and is contrary to the principles of good governance. We could assume that industry is going to be resistant to measures that impose costs upon it, but we could also assume that industries understand that they have to work with governments and governments have a wider public interest that they must be mindful of, and indeed make it the centrepiece of government policymaking.
Wise industry bodies work cooperatively with governments, recognising that governments have the ultimate legislative power, and it would be very foolish for an industry to oppose something outright when there is a clear public benefit. The fact that there is inadequate provision for consultation is a recipe for the development of protocols and provisions that do not work in practical terms, are resisted by industry and do not in the end achieve the outcomes that the legislation seeks to achieve. You cannot have enough consultation. You cannot expect public servants to understand the technical machinations of the way an industry or a piece of plant and equipment works, and if you do not work with the operators of that plant and equipment there is no chance at all of developing a sensible and practical policy that will be rigorous and robust.
The bill also appears to circumvent the current licence process, which already allows for environmental monitoring conditions on licensed sites to be included. For example, environmental protection licences in their current form have wide scope. They include environmental monitoring conditions for impacts such as noise and dust and require studies to be conducted to identify, quantify and manage these issues. All members can attest to that. The current licence process also factors in consultation and negotiation with relevant parties throughout the process—a process that is markedly absent in this bill. The bill allows the Environment Protection Authority effectively to dictate without consultation when an environmental monitoring program is required over and above licence requirements. In that sense it is a step back. It is duplicative and less consultative, and therefore less transparent.
The potential cost implications of the bill for industry, and therefore for jobs in New South Wales, are considerable. Industry will be expected to contribute to the costs of investigating the need for environmental monitoring programs as well as the development, implementation, operation and administration of the program as required. That is all in the context of no consultation or transparency about the proposed program. The bill does not specify whether there will be a cap on contributions or how costs will be apportioned across affected licence holders. In the interests of transparency and openness, which as we all know are essential for effective corruption-free administration, the NSW Minerals Council has requested that more information be made available on how the levy would be imposed. I look forward to hearing the Government's response.
An independent external body would be best suited to review any compulsory levy, and the costs involved in the establishment and implementation of the program, in the view of the Minerals Council, must be shared between all affected parties, including relevant government agencies. It is unclear from some parts of the bill whether it is retrospective, rendering uncertain its effects on existing agreements for environmental monitoring programs. In addition, the Waste Contractors and Recyclers Association of New South Wales has raised a number of concerns not dissimilar to those of the Minerals Council. It is concerned that the bill will provide for the Environment Protection Authority to be able to levy environmental licence holders for strategic pollution monitoring programs without negotiation. It is an enormous power in addition to that which the authority has currently in relation to environmental licence holders.
The amendments, however, will not assist the department in addressing issues with the smaller non-regulated end of the market—the many operators that exist below the licence threshold. That is a common concern held by the Opposition, and I would have thought by preventative health organisations such as the Asthma Foundation as well as key industry bodies. If the legislation is not applied to all operators in an industry there is a serious possibility that the level of pollution will not be reduced to the extent desirable and that licensed operators who already meet a certain standard of pollution control will, in effect, be funding a monitoring program that they will not be able to effect because the people causing the pollution are outside the scope of this legislation. I ask the Government to consider that problem very closely as it seems to be a major one. If the costs associated with the program prove to be the burden that is anticipated, we will see a proliferation of smaller companies that do not reach the licence threshold, and therefore more pollution, which means not only that the purpose of the bill will not be met but the problems will be made worse.
I reiterate that the Opposition does not oppose the bill. However, it has some fundamental design flaws that need to be carefully taken into account, and we would welcome any Government amendments to that effect. The Minerals Council referred in particular to the Upper Hunter air quality monitoring network process. The council's view is that, because of the challenges in that process and because of the need to ensure that the outcome and the deed of agreement are rigorous and robust, the two-year monitoring period is necessary. No doubt, the involvement of various government agencies in that process, and the need for complete synchronisation of people's approaches to it, in the end added to the complexity of the process and therefore to the timescale. That does not mean that governments always need respond to what was a longer period of time by imposing very heavy-handed legislation such as this. There can be no harm in legislation that addresses air pollution in the Sydney basin. That is a matter of grave concern to many of us. Undoubtedly, such pollution contributes to poor health outcomes for people, particularly children, in the Sydney basin and in New South Wales generally. On that basis, the Opposition does not oppose the legislation.
Ms JODI McKAY
(Newcastle—Minister for Tourism, Minister for the Hunter, Minister for Science and Medical Research, and Minister for Women) [12.41 p.m.]: I support the Protection of the Environment Operations Amendment (Environmental Monitoring) Bill 2010, believing that it will provide regulation to empower the Environment Protection Authority to charge a levy to polluters as part of environmental licences to cover the costs of monitoring programs. This is consistent with the principle of "polluter pays". I speak to the bill in my capacity as member for Newcastle and Minister for the Hunter. It is important to put on record that, as Minister for the Hunter and member for Newcastle, I am supportive of coalmining in the Upper Hunter. I realise the jobs and investment that that brings to the Hunter region. However, I have been very vocal in my support for an adjustment of the balance in the Upper Hunter, particularly in Singleton and Muswellbrook. It is therefore important to have a bill such as this to ensure that proper balance can be restored.
It is true that my electorate has the largest coal export port in the world, and it is true that I set up the Upper Hunter Directions Forum to work with councils that are outside the Lower Hunter strategy area, primarily councils that have coalmining in their local government areas. Part of that forum's functions is to look at how government can support communities to correct the balance to which I referred. Coalmining is generally supported in the Hunter Valley. People realise that more than 15,000 jobs are directly linked to coalmining, and we recognise the importance of some 200 million tonnes of coal being exported from the Port of Newcastle and the economic benefits that that brings for the region and for New South Wales.
It is also important that the New South Wales Government establish and maintain the environmental infrastructure needed to ensure that the health of the State's population and environment is not detrimentally impacted by human activity, including industrial activity. In this case, the Upper Hunter environment and air quality network obviously is directly linked to coalmining. Environmental monitoring networks inform the development of environmental policy, strategic planning instruments, regulatory requirements, regional pollution management practices and appropriate health responses. I was very pleased when, in October last year, the Government announced the establishment of a monitoring network in the Upper Hunter to provide local residents with real-time data on air quality. It is true that monitoring was occurring at individual mine sites, but monitoring of the cumulative impacts of coalmining was not occurring. The data to which the Government will have access will enable government, industry and the community to better understand the cumulative impact on air quality of those coal operations in the Upper Hunter. The Government will use that data and work with industry, the community and local councils in developing ways in which to address those issues.
I would like to record in Hansard
that the Minister for the Environment and Climate Change has worked solidly to try to achieve consensus and agreement with the 14 coal companies. I believe he has met with those companies three times. Certainly, in the Hunter, I have expressed my desire for this process to move forward quickly. Even though some of those 14 coal companies have agreed on this environmental network, we have not seen a willingness to get it moving and put the dollars on the table. This bill enables the Government to move forward on a monitoring network that is really important for our region. I am advised that the air quality monitoring network will consist of up to 14 monitoring stations, and that the consultative group—consisting of representatives of industry, council and the Department of Climate Change and Water—is currently looking at the locations. I believe Muswellbrook council recently agreed on one location, although I cannot name that park at the moment. However, I know there is a lot of consultation with the community on where these monitoring stations should be located.
The monitoring stations will measure particles called PM10—less than 10 microns in diameter; that is, 10 millionths of a metre—and that is the measure on which current national standards are based. It is important also, when discussing the particles to be measured, and how that information will be used by government, to acknowledge the work of the Minister for Health in setting up an advisory group of medical and health experts in this field to ensure that the information that will be gathered by the monitoring network will inform government health policy as well. In talking about the diameter of particles to be measured, it is important to understand that that is a nationally accepted standard.
The network will also be capable of measuring particles of less than 2.5 microns at some sites, including Singleton and Muswellbrook. As there are heavy mining clusters in those two areas, it is important that both 10 micron and 2.5 micron particles be measured so that the community will have confidence that the network will provide information that will inform good policy by government going forward. There is currently no national standard related to the 2.5 micron measurement, but this capability will assist in establishing baseline information for the area should such a national standard be introduced in the future. The network will be funded by industry, while management and administration will be undertaken by the Government. This network will enable publication of real-time results on the Department of Climate Change and Water website. The community has called for that, and I am supportive of that call because it will provide transparency in the monitoring and sharing of information with the community and industry on what is occurring in Singleton and Muswellbrook in particular.
I welcome the involvement, negotiations and agreement of the industry to establish the Upper Hunter air quality monitoring network. Concerns were raised at the length of time taken to confirm the new network. Since the announcement of the network in October last year, the Minister has met many times with industry representatives to negotiate the commencement of the project. Almost two years has been set aside to achieve that. The bill will give the Government the power to establish, as required, strategic environmental monitoring programs, such as the Upper Hunter air quality monitoring network—importantly, in a timely fashion. Certainly the Upper Hunter community needs, wants and desires this to occur quickly. While at this stage there are no plans to establish a monitoring network anywhere else, it gives me confidence, as the member for Newcastle and as Minister, to know that this legislation can protect communities such as Newcastle. The Port of Newcastle is the largest coal export port in the world, exporting around 90 million to 100 million tonnes annually. Eventually that amount will double and some 200 million tonnes of coal will be exported from Newcastle, with more than $1 billion in investment from the Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group [NCIG] and Port Waratah Coal Services.
Obviously, local community members are concerned about coal train movements, noise and dust from the new coal loader activity on Kooragang Island by the Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group. In response, I will hold an information session for residents in those suburbs around the Port of Newcastle—Mayfield East, Islington, Carrington, Tighes Hill and, of course, Stockton—so that they can get some understanding of the parameters within which the different government departments operate. This area crosses government boundaries and moves into the Federal sphere—for instance, through the haulage of coal along Australian Rail Track lines by the two coal haulage companies, as well as the involvement of the 14 or so coalmines and the two coal loader companies that bring coal to the Port of Newcastle. The host of stakeholders involved need to be able to communicate transparently with residents the parameters within which they operate. Of course, overseeing this process is the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water, which is responsible for monitoring and ensuring the environmental performance of the coal chain. The forum I will host on 4 November will give residents an opportunity to hear what the departments are doing. The feedback I have received from the community is encouraging.
While I do not believe this legislation is warranted for areas such as Newcastle, even though we have dust and noise emissions—particularly dust emissions—from coal train movements and coal loading facilities, my understanding is that when coal exports through the Port of Newcastle reach 150 million tonnes we will have a proliferation of some 75 coal trains a day coming through the port-side suburbs to the port. As the member for Newcastle, I make it clear that I am not saying we need an environmental monitoring network in Newcastle at this point. I support the Minister and the bill because the provisions provide a mechanism to recoup costs and ensure that the Government meets the needs, demands and desires of the local community. It is important the bill ensures that the industry that is responsible for any emissions or pollution and that is subject to monitoring will pay for the program rather than the cost being borne by New South Wales taxpayers. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr ANDREW FRASER
(Coffs Harbour) [12.54 p.m.]: I was born and raised in Newcastle, so I understand the concerns expressed by the member for Newcastle. I saw my grandparents and my wife's parents wipe the soot from the clothesline before hanging out the clothes. I appreciate the concerns about the Protection of the Environment Operations Amendment (Environmental Monitoring) Bill 2010. Now that I live on a pristine part of the North Coast, I understand the need for clean air, clean rivers and a clean environment—on which the North Coast prides itself. I believe somehow the legislation might be using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I have never been totally in favour of the powers of the Environment Protection Authority and other such agencies, although my early fears about the legislation as introduced by Tim Moore have not yet been realised.
Under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, anyone who places any substance—gaseous, liquid or solid—where it may be washed, blown or percolated into a waterway is guilty of an offence. It worries me that those provisions remain in the Act. Of further concern to me is that the legislation is retrospective. I believe the problem raised by the member for Newcastle, which this legislation purports to address, could be resolved through licensing under a development application. The conditions of the licence or development application could state when monitoring should be done by the industry concerned—be it mining or anything else.
The legislation does not specifically mention mining or extractive industries. From my understanding, it covers the whole of schedule 1 to the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997, which refers to activities such as agricultural processing and general agriculture processing, which includes dairy and grape processing and covers aquiculture and mariculture. It covers industries that are vital to country areas. That includes coal works, but it also covers composting at a time when we are encouraging farmers to increase the amount of carbon in their soil. Many farmers on the Liverpool Plains make their own compost and store it on site in huge amounts—far more than 200 tonnes. They then plough it back into their paddocks. The bill applies also to concrete works and refers to contaminated soil treatment.
I was involved in finding a solution to the contaminated soil problem in the Coffs Harbour area, which extended up the North Coast, caused by the banana industry. At one stage growers received an instruction from the Department of Agriculture that all banana crops had to be treated with arsenic to prevent borer beetles. They used the treatment religiously, and it protected the industry. Now that most banana production occurs in North Queensland the old banana farms are being turned into rural residential estates and the owners have to decontaminate the land. We have developed a great process that inverts the soil, diffuses the arsenic and brings any contamination below about 100 parts per million. However, that process would be caught by this legislation. So children who want to subdivide instead of farm the family land could find that, under the legislation, they will need to monitor the process at huge expense. That would make it impossible to change the land use on those properties.
The extractive industries—with their crashing, grinding and separating processes—are fairly well regulated now. Irrigated agriculture is also caught by the legislation, as is dairy cattle and other animal accommodation. A New Zealand company is currently investing $20 million in the dairy industry in the Raleigh area by consolidating three farms. It is hoping to produce in excess of 20 million litres of milk a year, which will retain the 60 to 80 jobs at the Norco factory at Raleigh while bringing great investment to the area. However, over the years there have been totally unjustified complaints about the occurrence of cryptosporidium in the Bellingen-Kalang river system.
I believe that the source of the cryptosporidium is improperly installed septic tank systems, or that cryptosporidium is being caused by people pumping effluent into the river, either intentionally or unintentionally because their septic tanks are not functioning properly. If somebody lodges a complaint suggesting that the dairy or beef cattle industry in the valley is responsible, as people have claimed in the past, an extremely expensive monitoring process has to be undertaken prior to development applications being approved and during the production period. That could render many industries uncompetitive.
Logging operations on the North Coast are also caught by schedule 1. Despite the Government having transferred to national parks thousands of hectares of old growth pristine forests that have stood for centuries, logging continues on the North Coast. During arguments over the Oakes State Forest, green groups insisted that Forests NSW relocate a road that had been constructed to facilitate harvesting to a site adjacent to the Bellingen River. When that had been done, the obvious occurred and run-off from the road poured into the river. Forests NSW was fined and logging operations ceased because mud was contaminating the river. The definition of "water pollution" in the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 is:
... placing ... any matter, whether solid, liquid or gaseous, so that the physical, chemical or biological condition of the waters is changed ...
I could cite at length examples showing how this legislation will affect coalmining, paper and pulp production that is extremely important in the Monaro electorate, road construction such as the upgrade to the Pacific Highway, sewage treatment as well as wood or timber milling and processing. In the Clarence electorate the Notaras mill and Big River Timbers process and mill timber. In my electorate of Coffs Harbour, we have mills such as Pilks Pine at Lowanna. If someone lodged a complaint and the Government responded by implementing monitoring processes specified by the bill, that would result in huge expense having to be borne by industry, and more importantly it would make the industries to which I have referred unviable. Employment in regional communities is hard to come by at the best of times.
When the member for Riverstone made his agreement in principle speech, he stated that the measures would be exercised only "when there appears to be a cumulative environmental impact developing, or likely to develop". A cursory glance at schedule 1 reveals that there are obvious and real problems with that provision. The member for Riverstone went on to state:
The only businesses that could be levied are those with environmental protection licences.
All the businesses I have mentioned and any businesses pertaining to activities mentioned in schedule 1 need an environmental protection licence. I suggest that while the Opposition opposes the legislation but supports a cleaner and greener environment, the conditions that the legislation is designed to address could be handled under conditions placed by the Government or local councils upon development application approval. I state those concerns for the record because I foresee significant problems with this legislation. I also believe that the retrospectivity of the legislation is a problem. All members know that businesses operate on a profit and loss basis. In some industries, profit margins might be fine, but retrospectivity may result in some industries finding that expenses associated with a monitoring or clean-up program wreck their profit margins. In that event, companies in important industries could eventually become bankrupt. Everybody knows that environmental impact statements and environmental monitoring are not cheap.
Irrespective of the financial impacts, I have very genuine and real concerns about this legislation. I seek assurances from the Government that this amending bill will not play into the hands of self-interest groups who have an eye to preventing development from occurring, especially in regional areas of New South Wales and especially in so far as very important agricultural industries are concerned, and will not result in interruption of improvement works on the Pacific Highway. The Opposition would not like this legislation to be utilised by pressure groups to impede or halt improvement processes and create financial burdens for companies that are involved in industry monitoring programs.
Mr JOSEPH TRIPODI
(Fairfield) [1.04 p.m.]: I am pleased to express further support for the Protection of the Environment Operations Amendment (Environmental Monitoring) Bill 2010. This legislation is necessary to enable the Government to ensure continuing growth and prosperity of the Hunter Valley, in particular, the coal industry which is so dominant and plays such a crucial part in the economy and livelihood of people who live in the Hunter region. New South Wales has led the innovation of environmental regulation in Australia and often leads the world. Innovations include the development of market-based instruments, such as the Hunter River Salinity Trading Scheme, bubble licensing and load-based licensing. All those approaches have built on and complemented the traditional site-by-site regulatory approach and give licensees an incentive to go beyond mere compliance with their environment protection licences. They also provide tools to address environmental issues in a more strategic way. They are based on the polluter pays principle.
The cost recovery mechanism, which will be established if the bill is enacted, similarly will provide another tool to ensure that New South Wales is a leader in the innovation of environmental regulation. It will help to ensure that industry in New South Wales is operating sustainably and that the Government, industry and the community in general are better informed of the cumulative impacts that may be developing due to the operation of a number of licensed premises in an area. This approach also means that industry is paying for the monitoring networks that are needed to ensure that it is operating sustainably, rather than the New South Wales taxpayer having to subsidise corporate activity.
I understand that the Protection of the Environmental Operations Act 1997 currently does not enable the Environment Protection Authority to require licensees collectively to establish a strategic environmental monitoring program. Monitoring requirements that are imposed by environment protection licences must relate to each licensee's individual performance. It is essential that the New South Wales Government have the tools it needs to set up essential environmental monitoring infrastructure to ensure that the health of the people of New South Wales and the environment are not compromised by growth in industrial activity. This cost recovery mechanism allows monitoring networks that take a more strategic view to be designed and established. This tool will be even more important in the future as the potential for greater land use conflicts increases.
The fact that the bill establishes a regulation-making power, rather than simply enabling the Environment Protection Authority to levy licensees as it sees fit, means that a regulation must be prepared each time the Environment Protection Authority [EPA] intends to levy licensees for the purposes of environmental monitoring. Each regulation will need to be developed in accordance with all the checks and balances that accompany that process, which of course includes appropriate consultation with stakeholders, justification of the need for the scheme, and an assessment of the cost and benefits in accordance with the better regulation principles. This is a welcome approach that will again place New South Wales as an innovator and give New South Wales the tools it needs to tackle the environmental issues of today and those of tomorrow. I am pleased to support the bill.
Mr ROB STOKES
(Pittwater) [1.07 p.m.]: My contribution to debate on the Protection of the Environment Operations Amendment (Environmental Monitoring) Bill 2010 will be brief. At the outset I state that it is critical and absolutely appropriate, when a person or company is engaging in activities such as coalmining which by its nature is unsustainable, that the operators of essential businesses should pay licence fees and, in recognition of the fact that a licence to pollute is a pretty significant concession, should pay fees to ameliorate the impact of air pollution. The State should be recompensed for the costs of dealing with pollution created by an industry over the longer term, particularly when the costs relate to inherently unsustainable practices such as coalmining.
Although industries such as coalmining are vital, nonetheless they cannot be carried on in a way that truly can be described as sustainable because the very nature of digging something out of the ground that has taken 350 million years to accumulate rules out the possibility of that material regenerating at the same rate at which it is being removed. From that perspective, I totally agree that we need appropriate and enhanced environmental monitoring. It is important that we check the impacts of such activities on our landscape, on human health and so on.
My comments relate to the mechanics of the bill and the proposed levy. As a Liberal I am generally not enamoured by or in favour of new taxes or levies. Environmental licences, for which fees are charged, are the instrument that enables polluters to pollute. Those licence fees should be used to cover the costs of environmental monitoring. Surely the licence fees are the appropriate instrument to fund environmental monitoring programs. If the licence fees are not sufficient to pay for appropriate environmental monitoring, perhaps they need to be revisited to ensure that there are sufficient funds to cover environmental monitoring. I am sure the fees bring in sufficient funds, but I suspect that this is more about Treasury wanting control of the licence fees and not giving the Environment Protection Authority the resources it needs to do its job effectively, which is why the levy has become necessary.
I do not oppose this legislation because the requirement for environmental monitoring must trump everything. However, we already seem to have a device to fund environmental monitoring, namely, environmental licence fees. That is the device we should be using. Rather than introducing a new levy and imposing an extra regulatory burden, we should be using the device that already exists. From my knowledge of these things, I am fairly sure that the fees people pay for motor vehicle licences got to the Roads and Traffic Authority to support road safety. I would have thought the fees for licences to pollute should be used to ameliorate the impacts of that pollution. I do not oppose the bill, but I question why we need to go down the route of an additional levy when there is already a device to require polluters to pay for ameliorating their pollution.
Mr FRANK SARTOR
(Rockdale—Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, and Minister Assisting the Minister for Health (Cancer)) [1.12 p.m.], in reply: The Protection of the Environment Operations Amendment (Environmental Monitoring) Bill 2010 will ensure that essential environmental monitoring programs can be developed and implemented with adequate funding and in a timely manner. The bill addresses the shortcomings of current legislation in cases where a cluster of industry sites is having a cumulative environmental impact on communities and the environment. This is often the case when a particular environmental licence is issued for one site; of itself it is not an issue but eventually when multiple sites are approved there is a cumulative effect. For example, there are limitations in a local air shed.
In essence, the bill provides a regulation-making power so that the Environment Protection Authority can levy environmental protection licensees to pay for strategic environmental monitoring programs, consistent with the polluter-pays principle. I remind members that the need for the amendment was highlighted recently in the Upper Hunter region where there is considerable community concern about the impact of the power and coalmining industries on ambient air quality and dust impacts in particular. I am aware of not several but many anecdotes of respiratory-related issues in, for example, Muswellbrook and Singleton. In that instance it took almost two years for industry to sign a legally binding agreement that required the licensees to pay for an air quality monitoring network. Ultimately we reached agreement when the Government agreed at a meeting I had with the industry to cap any exposure of costs to industry. This led to significant delays in obtaining better information about air quality in the Upper Hunter so that the impacts on public health and the environment could be addressed.
It should be noted, however, that the bill is not required to establish the Upper Hunter monitoring network. That has been established. The agreements have been entered into, and I acknowledge the constructive work that we have done with the Minerals Council and with individual mines. However, it would be better if there was a much more formal mechanism for doing these sorts of exercises. Before the power to levy licensees would be exercised the Environment Protection Authority would, first, investigate the need for an environmental monitoring program. These investigations might be prompted by a number of indicators, including escalating community concern about environmental or public health impacts from a group of industry within a region. I note that the bill provides for a dual-responsibility system. The Minister can request the director general to investigate it, but the director general must also form a view that it is justified. It is not simply a matter of politically imposing something; there must be a justifiable reason for installing this kind of regime.
Secondly, the Environment Protection Authority would develop a program in consultation with the relevant industry stakeholders and the community, where the investigation indicates that a strategic environmental monitoring program is required. Existing monitoring stations would also be considered at that point. Thirdly, it would take into consideration advice from an independent person or body with relevant expertise as to the cost effectiveness of environmental monitoring programs in relation to the environment and human health. This is to ensure that value for money is achieved, and that the design of the environmental monitoring program is consistent with its objectives. Finally, the Environment Protection Authority would consult with industry and the community regarding the design of the environmental monitoring program. In particular, it would work closely with industry to develop a fair and equitable formula for sharing the cost of the environmental monitoring program. I note that this has been achieved with the Upper Hunter monitoring program involving 12 monitoring stations.
Once the issues raised in the independent report and consultation process have been considered, the Government will prepare a regulation to enable the Environment Protection Authority to levy licensees on a cost-recovery basis to pay for the environmental monitoring program, in accordance with the cost-sharing formula. The regulation may also make provisions for the environmental monitoring program, including requirements for the Environment Protection Authority to review and report on the program. Once the regulation is in place the Environment Protection Authority would make arrangements for the monitoring stations to be put in place. The need to rationalise existing monitoring stations and monitoring requirements in licences and consents would also be considered as part of the above process.
The bill also establishes an Environmental Monitoring Fund, into which the levies will be paid. The fund is under the control of the Environment Protection Authority. The money in the fund can be used only for the costs of investigating the need for environmental monitoring programs; the costs of developing, implementing, operating and administering environmental monitoring programs; and other costs relating to environmental monitoring programs as directed by the Environment Protection Authority. Money from the fund can also be refunded to a licence holder in accordance with the regulations, for example, if the program costs less that the initial estimated cost. I assure members that the mechanism would be exercised only when a cumulative environmental impact appears to be developing, or is likely to develop, from a group of industrial sites within a region. Further, any levy would apply only to environmental protection licensees as determined by the licensing thresholds under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997.
Small-scale enterprises, retail outlets, food outlets, offices, domestic premises and farmers engaged in traditional farming practices, such as cropping and grazing, will not be affected. The only businesses that could be levied are those with environmental protection licences. The ability to levy polluters for strategic environmental monitoring programs will help to ensure that the health of the New South Wales population, and the environment more broadly, is not being detrimentally impacted by human activity, including industrial activity. The need for the bill has been clearly demonstrated by the programs we have sought to implement recently. The levy will enable the Government to respond to escalating community concerns in a timely and measured way, when the growth of industry is having a cumulative impact on environmental and human health, particularly near population centres. 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.
[The Assistant-Speaker (Ms Alison Megarrity) left the chair at 1.20 p.m. The House resumed at 2.15 p.m.
[Question time commenced at 2.17 p.m.
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY LAW REFORM
Mr BARRY O'FARRELL:
My question is directed to the Premier. Given the Premier cannot cite any official advice to justify her decision, has been condemned by Professor Ron McCallum, and the latest Federal Government comparative data reveals New South Wales has the most inspectors, more prosecutions, collects more fines, yet has a higher incidence of workplace injury than the national average, will the Premier finally admits she has got it wrong and scrap her plans to trash the national reforms?
Ms KRISTINA KENEALLY:
I must say that, unlike my colleagues in the upper House, I was completely unprepared for that question. I am pleased to tell the House that the Opposition has found a photocopier that works. Unfortunately, it has not found a person who knows how to work a photocopier. The Opposition could not provide costings at the last election. Why? Because the photocopier had broken down. On level 11 the Opposition seems to have found a photocopier that works. Today, just before upper House question time, a Labor staff member was doing some routine photocopying and found the questions for the upper House from the Opposition. There they were.
Order! Members on both sides of the House will cease interjecting. I call the member for Coffs Harbour to order.
Ms KRISTINA KENEALLY:
I advise members that there is a working photocopier on level 11. I confirm that no policies were found on the photocopier. We are still waiting for proof of policy from those who sit opposite us. For the New South Wales Government, the debate on workplace safety is about a principle, a principle that we as a Government and as a society should do everything reasonable to protect the people of this State when they go to work. Life and limb are more important than dollars and cents. They are more important than harmonisation for harmonisation sake. Those opposite have spent too much time in the company of those who think that workers and their protection is an inconvenience.
Order! I call the member for Terrigal to order.
Ms KRISTINA KENEALLY:
This Labor Government has not lost sight of those priorities. The fact is that New South Wales has additional protections for its workers that most jurisdictions do not have. We have the unions' right to prosecute, we have the reverse onus of proof and, as the Minister for Finance outlined thoroughly to this House yesterday, as outlined by Access Economics, we have enjoyed very strong economic growth under those workplace protections. No-one could seriously suggest that giving up additional protections will make New South Wales workers safer. That simply defies logic. What is more, New South Wales workers have had these protections in place for decades—they have existed under Labor and Liberal governments alike—and this Labor Government will continue to fight for workers' safety every day when they go to work.
Mr MATT BROWN:
My question is addressed to the Minister for Primary Industries. What are the latest drought figures? How is the New South Wales Government continuing to support farmers?
Mr STEVE WHAN:
I thank the member for Kiama for his question and his ongoing interest in rural and regional New South Wales as a proud member of Country Labor—
Opposition members are getting their geographical knowledge out again. They think that Kiama does not have farmers! Again, we see just how ignorant they are of rural and regional New South Wales. As members are aware, our farmers have endured 10 years of relentless drought. It has tested the resilience of farmers and farming communities. In April 2003, at the height of the drought, 99.5 per cent of the State was in drought. Our paddocks were dust bowls and water storages were dry. Even as recently as December last year only around 5 per cent of the State was satisfactory. At the time the Premier and I visited a number of farmers who were drought-affected. The conditions are certainly not a distant memory for our farmers because the drought continued its grip for 10 years.
Order! I call the member for Myall Lakes to order.
Mr STEVE WHAN:
Someone just interjected about the Premier visiting country New South Wales. You remember that trip! That is the one where Andrew Stoner got up and showed us a photo of a dry lake, but he had the wrong location. Do you remember that? I remember that—the geographically challenged Leader of The Nationals! I am pleased that he did a driving course recently. It might have helped him to avoid the water in the last floods.
During this long drought the State Government has stood shoulder to shoulder with farmers during testing years, with $535 million in drought assistance measures going to our farming communities. In recent years we have seen livestock numbers fall as feed has become scarce, water has been transported long distances to keep animals alive and crops have failed due to lack of moisture across the wheat belt. The good news is that 2010 has seen a change in fortune for our farmers in country New South Wales. Our crops look fantastic. Our water storages are edging upwards. Burrinjuck Dam is overflowing at the moment, something which a year ago would have been hard to imagine. There is now plenty of feed for livestock.
Today it is official: New South Wales has finally broken free of this historic run of drought years, with the latest figures showing that not one single hectare of the State is in drought. That is something that should bring a great deal of hope for the whole State. Zero per cent of the State is drought declared. We have a number of areas of the State that still have marginal status, but they have reduced from 20.5 per cent to 10.8 per cent. The satisfactory area is 89.2 per cent, up from 75.3 per cent. The main improvements have been in the New England, north-west, south-east and Riverina. The areas where we still have marginal status include the south-east—in my electorate and part of the electorate of the member for Bega—the New England and the north-west.
This year cropping predictions amount to $2.85 billion for the winter crop harvest, which is a very bright picture. However, there are still some threats, including the weather. Interestingly, as we have heard in the last few days, in areas in the south there is a need for it to stop raining so that we can harvest the crop in the next few weeks and ensure that it does not get rust disease and so on. There is also the threat of locusts. This Government has allocated $18.5 million to the fight against locusts. We are the first Government in New South Wales history to directly allocate money towards fighting locusts. The livestock prices continue their impressive run at the moment, with ewes sold at a top of $214 at a recent sale at West Wyalong. This is due to the shortage in numbers and the fact that rebuilding of herds and flocks has started. It will take several seasons and an eventual improvement in cash flow before we can expect farmers in the worst drought-affected areas to get properly back on their feet. That is important for people to understand. It will take a while for farming incomes to recover; that is a point that I have been making consistently.
The New South Wales Farmers Association President, Charles Armstrong, said on Radio National breakfast this morning, "To come out of a 10-year drought and have things looking the way they are at the moment—and without too much flood damage—it's looking good. But of course, for a lot of farmers, income isn't earned until December or January when the crops are harvested and sold, and that will be the real test as to whether farmers believe themselves that they are going to be able to return to normal." After so many years of drought, extended periods of above average rainfall are needed. Fortunately, the continued good rainfall across the New South Wales cropping region has now provided the basis for the best yields in 10 years. However, as I said, it will take a while for farmers to get back on their feet.
Exceptional circumstances assistance is continuing in around 57 per cent of the State and does so into next year. I am pleased to say that the State Government has provided funds for farmers during these testing years and some of those measures will continue, including the waiving of 75 per cent of rural western land lease annual rents for 2009-10; the waiving of 75 per cent of wild dog destruction rates for 2010; the employment of drought support workers, which is a very important part of providing support for people in drought areas and to help ensure that mental health problems do not become serious; farm family gathering and drought workshop programs; and, of course, the business drought assistance payroll tax relief scheme in 2009-10 with a provision that costs be paid in 2010-11.
A range of measures will continue while farmers get back on their feet, start receiving income from their crops and regain the ability to restock their properties. I know all members would join me in wishing our farming communities well with the much-improved conditions. All we need now to get this bumper crop off is a dry end to the season to allow harvesting to continue.
MURRAY-DARLING BASIN PLAN
Mr ANDREW STONER:
My question is directed to the Minister for Water. When will the Minister offer real support to farming communities in regional New South Wales by joining The Nationals and the Liberals in rejecting the current draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan and extending New South Wales water sharing plans to match the time frame applying to Victoria?
Mr PHILLIP COSTA:
I have been given strict instructions—
The Minister is armed with yesterday's responses!
Mr PHILLIP COSTA:
For your information, Mr Speaker, I have a brand-new response.
I stand corrected.
Ms Katrina Hodgkinson:
Point of order: This is a very serious topic and I ask you to direct the Minister to give a serious answer.
Order! The Minister was making some introductory remarks. The Minister will proceed.
Mr PHILLIP COSTA:
I agree that this is a very serious matter and one that requires all of us to work together in order to make progress. I want to put the matter in context in relation to what is happening around the country, particularly with the Federal Government. I note that the Federal Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, the Hon. Tony Burke, has told the Federal House of Representatives:
... the extent to which any cuts have been floated at the moment are not government policy.
This document is a guide. We have in excess of a year to sort this out. It is a guide to a problem that exists and we need to fix it. At this stage the guide is a draft for a plan for the Murray-Darling Basin that has been endorsed by the Commonwealth. What a contrast to the approach taken by the Opposition, which has rejected the guide to the draft outright. It does not want to find the balance. If you object to the guide and object to the plan you still have not addressed the problem. Putting your head in the sand will not make the problem go away. The Opposition does not want to find the balance that will ensure the sustainability of the Murray-Darling Basin and the communities it supports. It is about balance and getting it right. Putting your head in the sand by saying "We will not participate in a dialogue" is not the way to do that.
Order! The Leader of The Nationals will cease interjecting.
Mr PHILLIP COSTA:
As the Premier said on Tuesday, The Nationals and the Liberals have decided to walk away from discussions about the issue. That is not the way to find the solution. Rather than inform themselves and argue a view they have walked away from the table, yet again showing their irrelevance to country New South Wales. We are sitting around the table.
Ms Katrina Hodgkinson:
Point of order: This is a total fabrication by the Minister. He is misleading the House.
Order! The member for Burrinjuck will resume her seat. She is aware that this is question time, not an opportunity for debate. The Minister has the call.
Mr PHILLIP COSTA:
The New South Wales Government wants to find the right balance and we will not do that by slamming the door shut. There is an old saying about being on the inside of a tent. If you want to make change and get improvement you get into the tent and do something about it. It is why most, if not all, of us are in this House. I will provide some background about Murray-Darling Basin reform. On 23 September 2008 I spoke in this Chamber about the referral powers to the Commonwealth and said:
The referral bill establishes the arrangements needed to implement the historic 3 July 2008 Intergovernmental Agreement on Murray-Darling Basin reform.
The July IGA was historic ... all basin jurisdictions came together and agreed on a way forward for the Murray-Darling Basin.
The Murray-Darling Basin extends over four States—Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia—and the Australian Capital Territory.
That appears in Hansard
on 23 September 2008. For some time we have been saying we want to ensure the sustainability of the Murray-Darling Basin and particularly the communities it supports. It is about supporting not just the environment but the communities the basin supports. We continue to advocate for New South Wales regional communities and the environmental assets they rely upon. They go hand in hand. The environmental assets need to be protected and supported as do the communities, because one relies upon the other. In the Legislative Council on 24 September 2008, the Hon. Melinda Pavey spoke about the referral bill and said:
The Water (Commonwealth Powers) Bill 2008 is a very important bill and needs to pass through both Chambers ...
The bill defines the role of the authority, powers, duties, asset management, management access rights, including the living Murray, environmental outcomes, managing critical human water needs, basin planning, managing quality and quantity of flows, water-sharing arrangements, pricing, water market rules, emergency procedures and transitional arrangements.
This is an extremely complex piece of work and a very complex program. The Hon. Melinda Pavey also said:
Those are huge issues that the Opposition is supporting across the basin.
That is Melinda Pavey, shadow Minister and member of The Nationals, as reported in Hansard
. In her words, they are "huge issues that the Opposition is supporting across the basin". For a while it appeared that the New South Wales Opposition shared our desire to ensure the sustainability of the Murray-Darling Basin and the communities it supports. What do we see now? They are running away from their commitments and those made by their Federal colleagues. The New South Wales Government is engaging other jurisdictions cooperatively to ensure the sustainability of the basin and the communities it supports.
Order! The member for Murray-Darling and the Leader of The Nationals will come to order.
Mr PHILLIP COSTA:
We continue to have dialogue with other jurisdictions. I am continuing to talk with them and we are looking for a way forward. The New South Wales Government has committed to assessing the content in the basin guide once the underlying technical data has been released. Volume 2 of the guide has not been released and we cannot make decisions without the detail of the plan. We will be meeting with stakeholders.
Order! I call the Leader of The Nationals to order.
Mr PHILLIP COSTA:
I have been meeting with stakeholders. I have not been sitting in my office doing nothing else but I have been talking to stakeholders since the plan was released, and I will continue to do so. We will be meeting stakeholders to inform our position so that the position we take forward is one that best reflects the needs of our State. We will take an informed position forward.
Order! The Leader of The Nationals will come to order.
Mr PHILLIP COSTA:
If members really wanted a good outcome they would work with us and not play politics with such an important piece of planning. We also strongly encourage all stakeholders to engage directly with the authority's consultation process. This is to ensure that the authority is aware of their views. That has been very ably done by the people out west and I congratulate them on making their point clear to the authority. We will make our position quite clear to the authority once we have the detail. That we do not have that detail is disappointing, because we need it to make an informed decision. The Opposition, in little more than a week, without consulting widely, which the Government is in the process of doing, and without seeing any of the technical data, unless it has seen technical data that I have not seen, and I would be very surprised if it has—
Mr John Williams:
Point of order. I refer to Standing Order 129. The Minister should have gone to the Murray-Darling basin meetings and listened to what was being said.
Order! The member for Murray-Darling should learn how to take a point of order.
Mr PHILLIP COSTA:
New South Wales leads the way in reform in the Murray-Darling basin by having the largest and most open water trading market. Statutory water sharing plans in place across 90 per cent of the State are proactively reducing entitlements in groundwater. I say again, we are about balance and determining that balance in an informed manner. We are not about environmental vandalism, and we are certainly not about decimating country communities. We remain in the debate, and we continue to put forward a position that best represents the interests of the people of New South Wales.
Mr ROBERT COOMBS:
I address my question to the Minister for Health. How is the New South Wales health system delivering better outcomes for its patients?
Ms CARMEL TEBBUTT:
I thank the member for Swansea for his question, and I commend his interest in public health in New South Wales. I know that all members of the House are aware that hospitals and health services across New South Wales are very busy; for example, on a typical day 5,000 people are admitted to a public hospital, 6,000 people attend our emergency departments, 1,000 patients undergo surgery and 200 babies are born. On any given day, we know that amazing things happen in our public hospitals. Health professionals are using their skills and knowledge to care for patients and save lives.
There are always high expectations and intense public scrutiny of the health system, and so there should be. However, the reality is that New South Wales has a very good public health system. More importantly, patients endorse the public health system. The Bureau of Health Information, the independent body established by the Government, found that 90 per cent of overnight patients rated their level of care as good, very good or excellent, and 95 per cent of patients who receive day-only care rated their care as good, very good or excellent. So, we have a very good public health system, staffed by dedicated, hardworking and caring health professionals.
The health professionals and staff in the public hospital system do not ask for thanks and gratitude, but they deserve it. Last Friday was an opportunity to celebrate some of the excellent achievements of the New South Wales public health system at the 2010 New South Wales Health Awards. These awards recognise the hard work and dedication of people working in the public health system across the State. I congratulate, as I am sure will all in the House, even the member for North Shore, all the finalists and winners. As always, the entries were of high standard and reflected the desire of health staff to find effective ways to deliver patient care. For example, the pre-hospital thrombolysis project is saving the lives of cardiac patients in regional communities. There have been many significant advances in treating heart attack patients, but patients in rural areas who live a long way from hospitals can face crucial delays in receiving treatment. The program allows paramedics to provide a clinically proven cardiac reperfusion intervention, or, in simple terms, get blood flowing again to blood vessels of the heart.
By using technologically advanced ECG equipment, within minutes of reaching a patient a paramedic can send that patient's ECG information directly to the cardiologist at a hospital. This saves precious time in the race to restore blood supply to the heart muscle, and that directly saves lives. In the Hunter and mid North Coast, 130 paramedics have been trained and equipped to deliver this life-saving treatment. This successful treatment model earned the Hunter New England Area Health Service and Minister's Excellence Award, and the model is being considered for statewide application. Another great example recognised at the health awards was the Clean Hearts Program at the Children's Hospital at Westmead. It was recognised for its achievements in clinical excellence and patient safety.
Ms Tanya Gadiel:
Ms CARMEL TEBBUTT:
The member for Parramatta says, "Hear! Hear!" She is a long-time supporter of the Children's Hospital and knows the great work that it does. The Clean Hearts Program introduced new protocols for children undergoing major cardiac surgery, to reduce surgical site infections, one of the most common types of complications experienced by hospital patients. Under the program, the rate of infection has fallen from 2.9 per cent to less than 1 per cent, and the number of days to treat an infection has reduced from 57 to 20 per quarter. This is good news for patients, but it also means cost savings for the health system—an estimated $250,000 per year.
Technology is being embraced to enhance the delivery of health care. The Sydney South West Area Health Service won an award for using Web 2.0 technology to enable clinicians to share their expertise and knowledge of clinical initiatives across different hospitals. This learning tool, which was used by registrars, staff specialists and senior nursing staff in emergency departments, helped spread good ideas and experience, and it led to improved research and training capacity in the area health service hospitals. Every single one of the award winners stressed the importance of good, multidisciplinary work in order to improve the delivery of patient care. The awards attracted 175 entries and 33 finalists. They are an opportunity to celebrate the hard work, dedication and achievements of health professionals across New South Wales. They are also an insight into the proactive and high-performance culture that exists amongst the staff in NSW Health.
DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITY SERVICES CASEWORKERS
Ms PRU GOWARD:
My question is directed to the Minister for Community Services. Given the Government's commitment in 2007 to increase the number of Department of Community Services caseworkers at Katoomba, Sutherland, Raymond Terrace, Charlestown, Cessnock and Cardiff service centres, yet there has been no increase at any of those centres, how can the community have any confidence in the Government's ability to deliver on its commitments?
Order! I call the member for Bathurst to order. I call the member for Lismore to order.
Ms LINDA BURNEY:
I thank the member for Goulburn for her question. I will put on record some facts in answering that question. It is rich indeed for a question to come from the Opposition on the number of caseworkers. Caseworkers were a victim of the absolute slash and burn action of the Coalition when it was last in office. In fact, it is only in the past 10 months that we have all those caseworkers re-employed.
Order! The Leader of the Opposition will cease interjecting.
Ms LINDA BURNEY:
I remind members that the great new policy of the parties on the other side of the House makes no commitment at all, not one, to any additional protection workers for the children of this State. It is fairly rich for that side of the House to ask a question about the number of caseworkers in various community service centres across New South Wales. If someone can show me where in this document "Start the Change" is their commitment to additional caseworkers, I ask them to do so now.
Order! Members will cease interjecting.
Ms Pru Goward:
Point of order—
Order! Government members will come to order.
Ms Pru Goward:
The question was specific. It was about caseworkers in a number of service centres and nothing else.
Order! I will hear further from the Minister.
Ms LINDA BURNEY:
The question was about caseworkers and I am answering that question. When the Coalition was last in control of this side of the House the decimation of the Department of Community Services was something to behold. This document "Start the Change" does not even mention child protection, let alone make any commitment whatsoever to additional caseworkers.
Order! Government members will come to order.
Ms Pru Goward:
Point of order: My point of order is relevance under Standing Order 129.
Order! The member for Goulburn will resume her seat. I will hear further from the Minister.
Ms LINDA BURNEY:
The Minister is drawing to the attention of this House what happened to child protection workers last time those opposite were in government. That is what the Minister is doing.
Order! The member for Lane Cove will come to order.
Ms LINDA BURNEY:
After two years as Minister for Community Services, I can assure the House that not only were caseworkers slashed by the Coalition; it closed down community service centres. Those opposite were closing down centres that provided support to rape victims. They were slashing thousands of caseworker positions from the system. For all the posturing from that side of the House, the effect was a crumbling system and a decimated and demoralised Department of Community Services. The full effect was not just on the caseworkers or the demoralisation of the department; it was also in the reduction of protection for the most vulnerable children in this State—a lack of protection for children who had been abused and children who had been neglected. I say to that side of the House, "Do not stand up and pretend that you've got a good history in this area because you don't." The Coalition has absolutely nothing to stand on.
Order! The member for Goulburn will cease interjecting.
Mr Adrian Piccoli:
Point of order: I refer to Standing Order 129. The question was simple. It was about a commitment the Government had made and its failure to honour that commitment.
Order! I remind the Minister of the question before the House.
Ms LINDA BURNEY:
We have implemented the recommendations from Commissioner Wood's inquiry into child protection in this State. We have injected an additional $750 million into child protection in New South Wales, rolled out massive reform, changed legislation and put in additional resources.
Order! I call the member for Wakehurst to order.
Ms LINDA BURNEY:
We are investing in early intervention and prevention.
Order! I call the member for Wakehurst to order for the second time.
Ms LINDA BURNEY:
We have changed the statutory threshold for child protection and we have now a shared responsibility not only throughout the Government but also with our non-government partners. We have a new child protection system in this State.
Mr Adrian Piccoli:
Point of order: I refer again to Standing Order 129. Question time is about accountability. The Government made a promise and has not delivered on it.
Order! The member will state his point of order.
Mr Adrian Piccoli:
I appreciate the background, but the Minister should provide an answer to the question.
Order! I have reminded the Minister already of the question before the House.
Ms LINDA BURNEY:
I shall conclude by saying that I am absolutely proud of the record on this side of the House for our investment and commitment to improving child protection in New South Wales.
Order! Members will cease interjecting.
Ms LINDA BURNEY:
I can go through the numbers of caseworkers in specific areas now if members want, but I can assure the House that caseworker numbers across this State have not reduced; in fact, the numbers have increased. I am happy to go through the specific targets.
Ms ALISON MEGARRITY:
My question is addressed to the Premier. What is the latest information on the redevelopment of Barangaroo?
Ms KRISTINA KENEALLY:
Barangaroo is an urban renewal opportunity for Sydney that is of genuine regional and national significance. Barangaroo is not just a local project, it affects all Sydneysiders.
Order! I call the member for Coffs Harbour to order for the second time.
Ms KRISTINA KENEALLY:
Therefore, consultation about Barangaroo should be as broad as possible. For this reason the Barangaroo Delivery Authority has provided as much online consultation as possible, with over 13,000 people viewing the plans for this great new precinct of Sydney. The Barangaroo Delivery Authority also held town hall-style information sessions in the central business district, western Sydney and southern Sydney. Members will be interested to hear that the authority has conducted research across greater Sydney showing a high level of public support and enthusiasm for this great new foreshore quarter.
More than 2,200 people were interviewed from across Sydney about the elements they believed were important in the creation of the new waterfront Barangaroo precinct. That research demonstrates that more than three-quarters of the people surveyed believe they will benefit personally from Barangaroo. The research demonstrates that 87 per cent felt it would provide new ways to enjoy the harbour, 85 per cent felt the new parks will give them a chance to get closer to the water, and 80 per cent said they would enjoy Barangaroo with their family. In addition to personal benefits, most people interviewed saw the need for the central business district to evolve and develop to meet current and future needs for our economy. Of those surveyed, 79 per cent believe Barangaroo will be a positive step for the city by extending the central business district and providing new growth opportunities and employment, and 72 per cent agreed that we need to keep developing the Sydney central business district to keep pace with the rest of the world's major cities. I acknowledge that a handful of local politicians remain keen to derail this project.
Order! Members will cease interjecting.
Ms KRISTINA KENEALLY:
Those politicians at least have been consistent by opposing every single process of Barangaroo right back to the first design competition in 2005. Although the Opposition gave bipartisan support to Barangaroo through the passage of the Barangaroo Delivery Authority Act, one member of this House broke ranks and was a star speaker at the anti-Barangaroo rally at the Town Hall on 3 August. That was the member for Wakehurst.
Order! I remind the member for Wakehurst that he is on two calls to order. The member for Wakehurst might want to save his remaining call in case he needs to interject. The Premier has the call.
Ms KRISTINA KENEALLY:
He told the assembled crowd some interesting things. First, he told them:
I assume he means the Liberal and National parties.
Mr Brad Hazzard:
—have not been consulted by the Keneally Government on the planning processes for Barangaroo.
Ms KRISTINA KENEALLY:
"True", he says. Members can watch the YouTube posting of the Friends of Barangaroo Rally and hear the member for Wakehurst. That is what he said and he interjects that it is true. He seems to have forgotten that on 1 March 2010, John Tabart, the Chief Executive Officer of the Barangaroo Delivery Authority, and Paul Keating, Barangaroo Design Panel Chair, briefed the member for Wakehurst.
Order! I call the member for Wakehurst to order for the third time.
Ms KRISTINA KENEALLY:
Then on 16 June 2010, Barangaroo Delivery Authority staff briefed the member for Manly and Peter McConnell, Chief of Staff to the Leader of the Opposition. On 6 May 2010, the member for Manly attended another briefing at the Sydney Business Chamber. On 7 October 2009, the Opposition leader attended a boardroom briefing held at Clayton Utz. He also attended a boardroom meeting with TTF Australia Limited on 29 June 2010 and a briefing held at the John Holland boardroom on 14 September 2010.
I know that members opposite are still confused. We know that one member, the member for Oxley, thinks that Barangaroo is east of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but just because someone does not understand a briefing they have been given, it does not mean that the briefing did not happen. We have to ask: Why was the member for Wakehurst at the Sydney Town Hall meeting at all? What was he doing there in the first place? On 1 October 2010, the Leader of the Opposition, Barry O'Farrell, refused to tell the Sydney Morning Herald
what he thought of the plans on display. He insisted, "... not up to us to support particular plans''." Another statement by the Leader of the Opposition is:
We support Barangaroo being used as an opportunity to further enliven the city … but I don't think politicians should get into the business of saying which colour and what shapes, we'll leave that to the experts.
Did he mean "experts" like the member for Wakehurst? The member for Wakehurst told the assembled protestors, "One of the planning principles of our Sydney foreshore should be appropriate preservation of the public domain—especially at Barangaroo. The current level of public domain at Barangaroo is zero. I repeat: currently there is no public domain there." For the benefit of the member for Wakehurst, I point out that that is why we are creating it. In fact, more than 11 hectares of new public domain, including a new headland park, will be created; apparently, the member for Wakehurst does not realise that. He said that there is not sufficient emphasis on public domain at Barangaroo. Not sufficient emphasis? It is majority public domain and continuous public domain across the entire length of the Barangaroo site and has been publicly known and guaranteed for five years. Although I can see the enthusiasm for this, I conclude my answer at this point.
NSW HEALTH CREDITORS
Mr STEVE CANSDELL:
My question is directed to the Minister for Health. How does she reconcile the statement she made during budget estimates, "... as at the end of June 2010 there were no ... overdue trade creditors of more than 45 days", when a company, In The Shed Australia Pty Limited of Red Rock, is still owed several hundred thousand dollars for work completed two years ago, and in total is owed up to $1.7 million by NSW Health?
Ms CARMEL TEBBUTT:
I thank the member for Clarence for his question. I stand by what I said, as at 30 June 2010 there were no overdue more than 45 days trade creditors that were ready for payment. That is a significant achievement.
Order! The member for Clarence has asked his question. He will listen to the Minister's answer in silence.
Ms CARMEL TEBBUTT:
I hear the concerns expressed by the member for Clarence. I am very happy to look into the issues that he has raised. There is no doubt because I have made it clear on numerous occasions that the New South Wales Government expects suppliers to be paid, and paid on time. We have made that very clear, and we have put in place a range of measures to achieve that. The fact is that we have had significant success because, as at the end of the financial year, there were no overdue more than 45 days trade creditors ready for payment. We have had significant success. The member for Clarence has raised an issue whose details I do not have in my possession, but I am very happy to follow it up. Nonetheless, I would simply point out that the Government is committed to continuing our improved performance with regard to trade creditors.
TRAFFIC CONGESTION AND LICENSING
Mr RICHARD AMERY:
My question is addressed to the Minister for Roads.
Mr Andrew Stoner:
Your face is red for a reason.
Mr RICHARD AMERY:
You should know. I got this question off your copier, and I wish you would write a bit better.
Order! Members will cease interjecting.
Mr RICHARD AMERY:
What is the Government's response to community concerns about recent licensing and congestion proposals?
Mr DAVID BORGER:
I thank the member for his question—wherever it came from! In the past 10 days, we have seen a dribble of policy suggestions or thought bubbles emerging from the office of the State's would-be Deputy Premier. We have witnessed calls to give rebates to more than two million licence holders as well as calls to adopt the Coalition's free learner-driver programs, and who could forget the bold plan to place a massive congestion tax on all Sydney drivers?
Order! Members will cease interjecting.
Mr DAVID BORGER:
I was very surprised when I woke up on 11 October 2010 to read a headline, "Coalition puts congestion toll on 'fair deal for motorists' agenda". The article referred to a brand-new big, bold plan from the shadow Minister for Roads and Ports, but, unfortunately, he ruled out his policy only moments after the public got wind of it. The policy did not even last until the end of the morning peak period.
Order! The member for Murrumbidgee will resume his seat.
Mr DAVID BORGER:
He very quickly became a bit like Bart Simpson when he said, "Hey, I didn't do it. It wasn't me. Someone else must have done it. It wasn't my policy." For five years he has been the shadow Minister for Roads and his first foray into policymaking was abandoned before breakfast had finished.
Order! I call the member for Coffs Harbour to order for the third time.
Mr DAVID BORGER:
To be absolutely fair, I should add that he said he was misrepresented. Part of an article in the Sydney Morning Herald
... the leader of the Nationals and the opposition spokesman on roads, Andrew Stoner, said he supported uniform congestion tolling to create a fairer deal for motorists. ''My view is it should be a per-kilometre basis and there should be some time-of-day aspect to it,'' he said.
It is a difficult to see how those words were misinterpreted. He went further and said:
All of the entrances and egresses from the city ought to be part of the equation as well.
I am a great fan of Ken Livingstone, a former socialist Lord Mayor of London, and obviously the shadow Minister is a great fan and that is where the policies are coming from! To any fair-minded listener or reader, that means a big, fat congestion tax on Sydney at major entry points. The Coalition will charge motorists $5 each per day to get into the city. The New South Wales Government is combating congestion through its $100 million pinch points program that will lengthen turn bays and convert roundabouts to control by traffic lights, widen intersections and adopt other practical measures to deal with congestion.
Order! I call the member for South Coast to order. I call the member for Kiama to order.
Mr DAVID BORGER:
I draw to the attention of the House the Government's fully funded program that contrasts nicely with the novel approach adopted by the member for Oxley. Yesterday we saw something new—a proposal for training 250,000 learner drivers for free. The idea is up there with the water-powered car. I may be a little bit dry economically, but I seriously question the concept of delivering free professional driver training to a quarter of a million young people who are trying to get their drivers licences. Fortunately, as is normally the case, the member for Oxley backed away from his policy on the morning he announced it.
On that morning, he encouraged the insurance industry to foot the bill. Good luck with that one! I wish him well. Later in the morning on ABC radio, he downgraded encouragement to hope. I have a very open mind about the benevolence of the insurance industry, but I would be very surprised if one day insurance industry representatives walked into Mr Stoner's office and said that they would be more than happy to pick up the tab. The question for everyone is: How much will the thought bubble cost? I am advised that it will cost a mere $187 million over four years. By 10.30 a.m. that day, he had shifted to a third position on his own policy.
Order! Members will come to order. Government members will come to order.
Mr DAVID BORGER:
Perhaps a fourth position is being developed.
Order! Government members will come to order.
Mr DAVID BORGER:
As people started to question the free driver training promise, on ABC radio the Leader of The Nationals said:
We would hope that insurance companies get on board with this and as part of a comprehensive insurance package for a young driver they cover the cost of the course or at least contribute to it.
He moved from free training for all learner drivers to signing up to comprehensive car insurance policies costing thousands of dollars a year so that they could quality for a $150 driver training course. Not so free!
Mr Adrian Piccoli:
Point of order: I refer to Standing Order 129. I do not recall the question being about Opposition policy, although we would be happy to debate it. Mr Speaker, I draw your attention to the length of the Minister's answer. Question time has been going for an hour and I think we still have a couple of questions to ask.
Order! The member for Murrumbidgee will resume his seat. I draw the Minister's attention to the length of his answer.
Mr DAVID BORGER:
We now come to the Coalition's driver discounts policy. In a media release on 11 October the shadow Minister said—
Mr Adrian Piccoli:
Point of order: I refer again to Standing Order 129. I do not recall the question being about Coalition policy.
Order! The member for Murrumbidgee will resume his seat.
Mr Adrian Piccoli:
He's flouting your ruling.
Order! He is not flouting my ruling. I will hear further from the Minister.
Mr DAVID BORGER:
I thought members opposite wanted everyone to know about their new policies. Obviously that is not the case. The shadow Minister said that it is estimated that a little under half of the State's four million licence holders would be eligible for the new discount.
Mr Adrian Piccoli:
Point of order: I refer to Standing Order 129. Mr Speaker, if you allow such a question you must ensure that the answer is relevant. Clearly the question was provocative, in the same way that Opposition questions are sometimes provocative. The Minister's answer must be directly relevant to the question.
Order! Under Standing Order 129 an answer must be relevant to the question asked. I remind the Minister of the question before the House.
Mr DAVID BORGER:
I am advised that the potential pool of people available for this discount is exactly 2.84 million drivers with no demerit points. I have had this costed. A conservative estimate of the cost is $220 million over five years.
Mr Chris Hartcher:
Point of order: The Minister's answer is going well beyond the question. On several occasions he has been reminded of the question. It is now appropriate for him to either address the question or conclude his answer.
Mr Richard Amery:
To the point of order: My question was: What is the Government's response? The Minister for Roads, and Minister for Western Sydney is representing the Government. The second part of the question is about recent licensing and congestion proposals.
Order! The member for Mount Druitt will resume his seat. I am sure the Minister is concluding his remarks.
Mr DAVID BORGER:
I will be brief. The $220 million cost of that policy would come out of the Roads budget. No wonder these characters do not want independent scrutiny of their policies. Maybe Joe Hockey can cost it for them.
Mr Chris Hartcher:
Point of order: The question does not relate to costings or policies.
Order! The member for Terrigal will resume his seat. I draw the Minister's attention to the length of his answer.
Mr DAVID BORGER:
With the Leader of The Nationals, we always get the cover of the book but never the contents.
PEEL VALLEY WATER SHARING PLAN
Mr PETER DRAPER:
My question is directed to the Premier. Given that Peel Valley irrigators have already had their water entitlements slashed from 74,000 megalitres to just 15,400 megalitres, with the Murray-Darling draft plan guide foreshadowing a further cut of 27 per cent, and considering that many local farmers have already abandoned electricity in favour of diesel because of rapidly rising prices, will the Government reject the latest Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal recommendation that Peel Valley water users pay yet another massive hike in water charges of some 73 per cent?
Ms KRISTINA KENEALLY:
That is a good question from a good Independent member. The Peel Water Sharing Plan was made in April this year and came into effect on 1 July. The plan ensures the security of water rights and provides a legal framework for the equitable sharing of water for all users in the Peel Valley. The plan was developed with extensive consultation and discussion with the community. I believe it provides a positive step forward for the management of water in the valley. This week the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal released its draft pricing determination for the New South Wales Office of Water. The office's submission to the independent regulator sought to recover costs for water management services across the State. This is in accordance with National Water Initiative pricing principles. It is important to keep the proposed new prices in context. The current charge for Peel regulated river licence holders is $1.73 per million litres. The independent regulator has suggested in its draft an increase next year to $2.09 per million litres.
In making its determination, the independent regulator seeks to balance the need for water management charges to cover costs against keeping prices for bulk water affordable. I stress that this is a draft determination. The independent regulator has asked for feedback before a final determination is made next year. This Government strongly encourages all stakeholders to engage directly with the independent regulator's consultation process to ensure that it is aware of local views. This is a complex issue that covers social, economic and environmental concerns. It combines them in a way that is never a case of either/or. The environmental and economic aspects of water management can never be mutually exclusive. That means we are constantly striving for a balance between a range of priorities and pressures. We are not alone in this; it is a national and international problem. We are seeking to manage it with an approach that is consultative, evidence based and as independent as possible. We will continue to work with communities in the Peel Valley and across New South Wales on that basis.
Mr GEOFF CORRIGAN:
My question is addressed to the Minister for Water. Will the Minister briefly update the House on the fiftieth anniversary celebrations for Warragamba Dam?
I did not hear all the question. However, I heard the word "briefly"!
Mr PHILLIP COSTA:
I have the short version of the answer. I thank my friend and colleague for this important question. Last Sunday was a monumental day at Warragamba. It was the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Sydney's largest water supply dam—the fiftieth birthday of a great piece of infrastructure—and the backbone of this city's water supply. It is almost 50 years to the day since the official opening of Warragamba Dam in 1960.
Mr Richard Amery:
Another Labor project.
Mr PHILLIP COSTA:
It is another Labor project. I was delighted to return and commemorate the engineering marvel that has continued to secure this city's water supply for five decades.
NSW HEALTH CREDITORS
Ms CARMEL TEBBUTT:
Earlier in question time the member for Clarence asked me a question about Intheshed Asset Management Pty Ltd. I have received further advice that indicates that the Northern Sydney Central Coast Area Health Service is in dispute with Intheshed Asset Management Pty Ltd, a company that holds a State contract for the disposal of surplus health equipment. Intheshed was contracted to carry out the works at Royal North Shore Hospital in July 2008. Intheshed carried out the work and presented an invoice to Northern Sydney Central Coast Area Health Service in February 2009.
Order! Members will come to order. I am sure the member for Clarence is interested in the Minister's answer.
Ms CARMEL TEBBUTT:
I am advised that the Northern Sydney Central Coast Area Health Service believed that it had settled this invoice on 2 April 2009. Following further claims from the company I am advised that a further payment was made in August. I am advised that the Northern Sydney Central Coast Area Health Service is working with Intheshed to resolve any outstanding amounts as a matter of priority.
DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITY SERVICES CASEWORKERS
Ms LINDA BURNEY:
Earlier in question time the member for Goulburn asked me a question about caseworkers in the Department of Community Services. I have been advised that there is a 140 per cent increase in the number of caseworkers in those communities to which the member for Goulburn referred. The number of caseworkers in Coonabarabran has increased from three to nine, a 200 per cent increase; Tamworth from 15 to 33, a 120 per cent increase; Katoomba from seven to 18, a 57 per cent increase; Raymond Terrace from six to 22, a 267 per cent increase; Sutherland from 18 to 30, a 67 per cent increase and Charlestown from 19 to 51, a 168 per cent increase. On my reckoning that is a very good record of about 140 per cent all over.
Question time concluded at 3.25 p.m.
The Clerk announced that the following petitions signed by fewer than 500 persons were lodged for presentation:
Walsh Bay Precinct Public Transport
Petition requesting improved bus services for the Walsh Bay precinct, and ferry services for the new wharf at pier 2/3, received from Ms Clover Moore
Sydney Harbour Planning
Petition requesting an inquiry into development processes on the Barangaroo site and the creation of a dedicated Bays Renewal Committee to coordinate redevelopment around Sydney Harbour, received from Ms Clover Moore
Petition requesting the opening of Burrill Lake, received from Mrs Shelley Hancock
Shoalhaven Police Station
Petition requesting funding for the establishment of a new police station in the central Shoalhaven area, received from Mrs Shelley Hancock
Shoalhaven Local Area Command
Petition requesting additional resources for the Shoalhaven Local Area Command, received from Mrs Shelley Hancock
Petition opposing the sale of animals in pet shops, received from Ms Clover Moore
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Motion by Mr John Aquilina agreed to:
Suspension of Standing Orders: Routine of Business
That standing orders be suspended at this sitting to provide for the following routine of business following the conclusion of the motion accorded priority:
(1) Government business;
(2) private members' statements at the conclusion of Government business; and
(3) the House to adjourn without motion moved at the conclusion of private members' statements.
CONSIDERATION OF MOTIONS TO BE ACCORDED PRIORITY
Mr DAVID HARRIS
(Wyong—Parliamentary Secretary) [3.27 p.m.]: Earlier I gave notice of my motion which should have priority over other business of the House. I know that members understand how devastating drought can be. It not only affects small communities and individual farmers but also the whole community. My wife's family has a property named Windara
at Hillston near the Lachlan River in the Riverina area. I have seen that farm without one blade of grass: it resembled a Martian landscape with red dust as far as the eye could see. The whole community was suffering at the time. I worked in the Hillston district for a number of years and I know the devastation that drought causes.
Drought has flow-on effects. For example, it impacts on food prices and also individuals. The impact of drought on individuals can result in suicide, which is an important issue in our community. My motion deserves priority because after many years the State is finally, officially out of drought. That is good news to the whole State both in social and human terms. Communities in rural New South Wales take on a whole different mentality when the area comes out of a drought cycle. When I talked to my wife's family recently I was told about the difference between the red dusty Martian landscape I had seen and a paddock full of crop and flocks of sheep. Importantly, the whole community has enthusiasm and a greater sense of wellbeing. As I said, it is not just about farming communities, it is good news for consumers because, when there is a bumper crop, food prices can remain stable.
The motion also deserves priority because the weather that causes the drought is only one element. We have to remember that until farmers start to see the economic benefit of better times—when they harvest their crop, bring it to market and start getting some money into the bank again—the full effect of the drought is not over. We must also understand that it takes time to bring cattle and sheep stocks up to the levels they were before the drought. While we have had above-average rainfall that has quenched parched paddocks and resulted in flooding some areas, it is something that farmers have not seen in New South Wales since June 2001, so it is an important time for those communities and for the whole State.
Today is a great milestone for our farming communities with 100 per cent of the State being declared drought free. That is good news for communities right across the State, but we need to remember that before those crops are harvested we have the threat of locusts, floods and other things. Weather can still intervene and too much rain can have an adverse effect. We want to make sure that our farmers are at the stage where they have money in the bank and make sure that those communities fully recover.
Parliamentary Budget Officer
Mr MIKE BAIRD
(Manly) [3.32 p.m.]: It is actually nice to see a reasonably sensible motion moved by the other side and I think on any other day it would be given priority, but there are some important issues we must deal with. The sensible part is probably the fact that the member is a Sea Eagles supporter. Day in and day out we see examples of the Keneally Labor Government's wrong funding priorities. Any member of this House—it does not have to be a member from this side of the House—would argue about the lack of funding for critical services in parts of their electorate. Why is that interesting? Well, this week we saw a secret little missive come into the Parliament under the cloak of some noble aim in the form of Eric's insurance office.
In the past couple of weeks I have seen Sam Dastyari in Parliament. In fact I saw him in Joe Tripodi's office yesterday. He was probably saying to Joe, "Can you please be quiet about occupational health and safety concerns? We know you want to do it and we're not sure why Kristina is doing it, other than the fact that the unions are demanding it." He then went into Eric's office. I wish he had taken someone with him who understands a little bit about finance because it is becoming embarrassing listening to the Treasurer trying to talk about bonds markets and funding. The Treasurer is attacking bankers who work in Treasury Corporation—there are a number of them. Today he said they should not be employed in Treasury Corporation. Perhaps Eric is sacking them this afternoon. I hope the Treasurer stops talking about bond markets and funding because he does not understand them. He needs basic finance education, and I hope that Sam does that for him.
When Sam Dastyari was with Eric he probably said, "Listen Eric, we're a chance of losing. What are we going to do about it? What are we going to do about the fact that we're losing?" So Eric and Sam have come up with a plan called Eric's insurance office. Under the cloak of having a Parliamentary Budget Office we actually have Eric's insurance office. It is not as if Eric Roozendaal has suddenly said, "You know what? I think members of Parliament need some assistance or some economic resources." It is about scrutiny of the budget. It is not like a road to Damascus experience—here comes Eric. No. This is all about what will happen should State Labor lose the election.
Eric was in the Illawarra on Friday giving a speech. As every single Labor member in this place knows, there is a particular button that you push when you are about to give a speech—it is the parallel universe button—and what comes out is an entire speech. Eric gave a speech that was all over the place. He tried to talk about what a wonderful job he was doing as Treasurer, but he failed to acknowledge a number of funding priorities in the Illawarra. He failed to notice Illawarra neighbourhood centres. A million dollars would transform neighbourhood centres in the Illawarra region. We could talk about what funds could be applied to the Picton Road upgrade, what funds could be applied to the Windsor bridge in western Sydney or what funds could be applied to the Berry bypass. Each community across the State is interested in every single dollar this Government spends. No community is going to be interested in Eric Roozendaal's insurance office at a cost of $30 million. That is his project and he wants to put $30 million into it.
The concept of a budget office makes sense, but we are not interested in something that is about funding a government that may lose the next election. Government members think that they may lose the next election, so they had better get some staff on the ground. What sort of staff will set up? The budget is $3 million a year and the set-up cost is $4 million. On those numbers, on a per capita basis, that is five times Canada's Parliamentary Budget Office budget and three times the United States Congressional Budget Office budget. It has nothing to do with providing advice to the Parliament; it is all about an insurance policy for those guys on the other side.
On top of that, there is absolutely no understanding of what the budget office is going to do. In fact the Treasurer said it is based on the Canadian and United States budget offices, but the legislation says that as soon as the Parliamentary Budget Officer is appointed, the officer will have to work out what to do. So $30 million has been allocated and then the Parliamentary Budget Officer will work out what the officer is going to do. In Canada, the Parliamentary Budget Officer wants more independence. He does not want the budget office to be part of the Parliament. We need more decisions, we need more scrutiny of this proposal, and we need to care about every single dollar that is allocated.
Question—That the motion of the member for Wyong be accorded priority—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion Accorded Priority
Mr DAVID HARRIS
(Wyong—Parliamentary Secretary) [3.37 p.m.]: I move:
That this House:
(1) recognises that New South Wales has finally been declared officially out of drought; and
(2) congratulates farming families and their workers across the State for their resilience during the drought.
Today all corners of New South Wales have reason to celebrate in the news they have been waiting for a decade to hear. After a string of drought-ravaged years, New South Wales has finally emerged from one of the toughest decades the bush has ever seen. The Minister for Primary Industries today announced that New South Wales is drought free. Zero per cent of New South Wales is officially drought declared. From one end of New South Wales to the other, our State looks a picture. Our dams are edging up; some are at full capacity. The winter crop is bursting out of paddocks and livestock are making the most of flourishing pastures in grazing districts and are in top condition. Our farmers and regional communities have been waiting far too long for today to come and, as I said earlier, my wife's family is one of those families who have been through some pretty tough years in the last decade.
Mr John Williams:
Are you Country Labor, David?
Mr DAVID HARRIS:
I might be drafted in, you never know. At the height of the drought in April 2003, 99.5 per cent of New South Wales was drought ravaged and, as early as December last year, 95 per cent of New South Wales was suffering at the hands of the long dry. Today we mark a milestone. The New South Wales Government's official figures show that not a single inch of our great State is in drought. In fact 89.2 per cent of New South Wales is now considered satisfactory. This area runs from the Queensland border through central New South Wales and down to the south.
I am told by Industry and Investment NSW that the only areas not rated as satisfactory are around Wanaaring in the west, north of Armidale, and the south-east corner around Cooma and Bombala. The New South Wales Government is well aware that after so many years of drought our farmers will still need help. It will take extended periods of above-average rainfall for farmers to get back on their feet and recover financially. But after so many years of drought, the good rainfall across the New South Wales cropping region means that we will see the best crop yield in 10 years. Subsoil moisture has been substantially replenished and early sown grazing cereals have continued to provide excellent grazing in most districts, relieving the pressure on pasture resources. There is hope for these areas and I know that the Minister for Primary Industries, the member for Monaro, will be watching the status of these regions closely, especially the south-east.
The main improvements this month have been in the New England, north-west, south-east and Riverina. Farmers and communities in these areas have welcomed the news and have their fingers crossed for a good end to the season. Part of the New England district moved from drought to marginal and another part from drought to satisfactory. The entire South East Livestock Health and Pest Authorities area moved from drought to marginal, which is a great achievement for an area that knows only too well the relentlessness of this long dry. Part of the Hume region shifted from marginal to satisfactory and the entire Riverina moved from marginal to satisfactory status. Not since June 2001 have we seen such a great situation, where the season has created opportunities for our farmers rather than squandering them. Livestock prices are booming again, grain is looking good due to drought cutting into the crop in Europe, and for once water does not need to be carted to keep livestock alive.
Respected farmer John Pattison, who runs a family property at Marrar in the Riverina, is one of the State's farmers who is enjoying the season and the rain it has delivered almost on cue. He says this season has been a "blessing", with cereal and canola crops absolutely thriving in the rich red soils of his property about 30 kilometres from Wagga Wagga. His only threat now is from a locust plague and a deluge of rain, which would interrupt the harvest of his valuable winter crop. However, he has heeded the warnings and reported early locust hatching to authorities and has started treating hatchings to protect what is likely to be the Pattisons' best harvest in a decade.
While this year is golden, the days of dust, not mud, are not too distant in our farmers' minds. Only last year drought had a stranglehold on New South Wales, and the New South Wales Government is well aware that while the drought may be behind us, the hardship continues for many. We have stood shoulder to shoulder with farmers and their communities since the start of the long dry. While the conditions have been tough until recently, the people of rural New South Wales are tougher. Today we must acknowledge their tenacity in standing up to nature and persisting, seeking sustainable farming methods and continuing to feed the masses. As the former chair of the Natural Resource Management Committee, I visited many of those communities and saw the great things they were doing in terms of sustainability.
While we celebrate the end of this drought's dark days, we also celebrate our rural and regional communities for seeing it through. This year they may get a just reward in the form of a 5.13 million hectare bumper crop. Industry and Investment NSW experts are forecasting a $2.85 billion windfall for New South Wales farmers from the winter crop that is about to be harvested. I believe I speak for both sides of the House when I say that such a result at the end of a string of difficult years is well deserved, if not well overdue. However, the State Government has not stood by and watched from the sidelines as our State has been battered by dry winters and scorching hot summers. We have helped ease the pain where possible through a whole-of-government response. That is why I am proud to say that this Government has committed more than $535 million in drought assistance since 2002. We have directed this assistance to those most in need. There is no doubt that this assistance has helped farmers stay on the land to continue doing what they do best.
Assistance in New South Wales for drought-declared regions includes a 50 per cent drought transport subsidy scheme; waiving 75 per cent of rural western land lease annual rents for 2009-10; waiving 75 per cent of wild dog destruction rates for 2010; and the business drought assistance payroll tax relief scheme in the 2009-10 year, with a provision that costs be paid the following year. In addition, the New South Wales Government employs a team of drought support workers who help farmers through the drought and hold farm family gatherings and workshops for farmers and their families. This is a good occasion, and one the Parliament should note very seriously.
Ms KATRINA HODGKINSON
(Burrinjuck) [3.44 p.m.]: I welcome farming families to the Parliament. It is nice to have some fellow farmers among us this afternoon. The motion moved by the member for Wyong recognises that we are finally drought free—it has been a rotten 10 years—and congratulates farming families and their employees across the State on their resilience during the drought. It has been an absolute shocker. I do not know a family living on the land in my electorate of Burrinjuck that has not been impacted by the drought in some way and suffered some form of heartbreak. Many of us have lost family members as a result of mental illness that was exacerbated by the problems created by the drought. For me, it has been a very trying experience personally, as members will recognise. I would also like to mention the member for Strathfield, who is not in the Chamber, who also suffered a personal tragedy involving a family member living in my electorate. Although she is a city member and I am a country member we can both identify with some of the really difficult mental health issues that we have struggled with so much over the past decade.
It was wonderful to see the rain begin. The past week or two has been something of a spectacle. We have almost received too much rain. For the first time in a very long time the Burrinjuck Dam is 100 per cent full. It has probably saved some of the communities further down the Murrumbidgee from more serious flooding because it has been able to take that very strong flow. I drove out to Burrinjuck Dam just a couple of weeks ago to see it as the water level was increasing. Its capacity was about 93 per cent then but it was looking absolutely glorious. Let us hope that does wonderful things for tourism as well because it has certainly suffered as a result of the drought.
Obviously if you cannot get a punt out onto the dams there will not be a lot of fish caught. Local operators have struggled so hard and really done it tough. It is important to recognise that the drought has affected not just farming families; it has affected businesses across the board. If farming families are not bringing in money and employing people there is no spin-off to country town businesses. They feel the pinch and many of them have not survived either. There have been lots of "For lease" signs around various country towns over the past decade and we are really hoping that the end of the drought will signal a true economic stimulus for the regions. Hopefully it will inspire business operators to take the plunge and invest and help the economies in regional towns. That would be a good thing for all of us.
We know that the pressures of city living are extreme and our cities are bulging at the seams. The Nationals have a strong plan for populating our country areas rather than seeing the populations of our burgeoning cities increasing further. The country lifestyle is wonderful and now that the drought has officially ended let us hope it stimulates regional economies. The Government could help people living in the Murray-Darling Basin by signing our online petition, which we launched today on www.backourbasin.com.au
. Even though the drought has ended, with wonderful rains, we now have the guide to the Murray-Darling Basin draft plan, which will take away sustainable diversion limits to the tune of up to 45 per cent in some regions. We were expecting an average cut overall of about 28 per cent of sustainable diversion limits when the plan was eventually released—which we believe will happen mid to late next year. A process is underway at the moment, as I have explained in this place already.
Suddenly, just as the drought has broken and the rains have come, farmers are hit with this whammy. The Gillard Government has allowed the release of a guide to the Murray-Darling Basin plan by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. The Government allowed that to be released without first conducting a socio-economic study on the impacts that those cuts and sustainable diversion limits will have on regional communities. I regard that as almost a criminal act.
That Commonwealth Water Act must be rewritten, the guide must be restarted from scratch, and there must be a triple bottom line approach before the Murray-Darling Basin plan is drafted. That triple bottom line approach not only must take into consideration the very important environmental needs—for we all recognise that there has been extreme stress in the Murray-Darling Basin as a result of the 10-year drought—but it must give equal weighting to the social and economic impacts that such cuts and limitations will cause. Some might be under the mistaken impression that they will impact only on irrigators. That is not so. The cuts will adversely impact the two-thirds of the State that is in the Murray-Darling Basin. It will impact every town, village, city, every farm, everyone with a dam—everybody. Cuts will have to be taken by every region, according to what is determined by the Commonwealth.
Why do we care? At the end of the day, the States will have to implement the further cutbacks. Farmers have already faced big cutbacks in achieving water sharing plans that operate until 2014. We want to make sure that the Commonwealth gets it right from the beginning. It is much easier to fix something before it is implemented, rather than try to patch it up after it is set in place. It is much easier to get it right at the beginning. That is why we call for abolition of the guide and restarting of the process. We have to take into consideration the social fabric of our communities. We have to take into consideration the adverse economic impacts that these cuts will have on people across the board, their ability to grow and supply food to the major capital cities around the nation. I welcome the end of the drought, but I sincerely ask that the Government take into consideration the facts that I have raised today.
Order! I call the member for Wollongong.
Mr John Williams:
Another farming community. What do they grow at Wollongong, Noreen?
Ms NOREEN HAY
(Wollongong—Parliamentary Secretary) [3.51 p.m.]: Just behave yourself. Sit there, listen and learn.
Mr John Williams:
Ms NOREEN HAY:
You in the Murray-Darling don't like workers, is that right?
Order! The member for Murray-Darling will come to order.
Ms NOREEN HAY:
Today's announcement that the worst drought in a century is finally over is truly cause for celebration. It is great news not only for our long-battling farmers but for the whole of New South Wales. For 10 years it is been a wide brown land—now, at long last, the heavens have opened and the paddocks across New South Wales are green again. Our farmers have been through the highest of highs and the darkest of lows—and now, finally, there is light at the end of that tunnel. As today's Daily Telegraph
editorial points out:
This is terrific news for farmers and cause, not so much for celebration, but a giant sigh of relief.
And the front page rejoices—"It's over." Only in December last year, more than 95 per cent of New South Wales was drought declared. It was not so long ago that the situation for many of the State's farmers seemed hopeless. Paddocks had turned to dust bowls, crops had turned to dust and stock were suffering under the enormity of the situation. Our farmers are now on the brink of the best crop in years, at a time when grain prices are the best in years. Paddocks are green and lush and the crops are strong and healthy—and sheep and cattle are again a high-priced commodity, grazing on record amounts of feed. Children are now accustomed to running through the puddles of record rainfall.
It is wonderful news. It is a hopeful time for so many of our farmers who continue to work and push on to recover from the impact of so many years of drought. It will, of course, take several seasons and an eventual improvement in cash flow before we can expect farmers in the worst drought-affected areas to get back on their feet properly. Currently we have 18 areas in New South Wales where the drought hit hard and exceptional circumstances assistance is still available to eligible farmers and small business owners. This means exceptional circumstances declared areas still cover approximately 57 per cent of the State,and the New South Wales Government continues to assist those farmers in areas declared to be in exceptional circumstances. But today we also look to the future—to better conditions which mean that food prices are likely to remain stable, or even fall. As New South Wales Farmers Association Vice-President Peter Darley points out in today's Daily Telegraph
No drought means that NSW is the land of plenty and the price of food won't go up.
We also know that our farmers are now facing a new fight—against locusts. War is being waged by the New South Wales Government and farmers in earnest, despite flood and rain disrupting operations, to minimise damage caused by plague locusts. To date, 1,830 reports of locust activity have been received, 7.2 million hectares of potential hatching areas have been surveyed and 65,000 hectares have been treated from the air. Farmers have also been working away on the ground, scouring their properties for locusts and treating them when found in sufficient numbers.
This continuing shift in fortunes for our State's farmers could not be more dramatic. It was record rainfall—and lots of it—that spelt the end of the big dry. For example, West Wyalong received 97 millimetres; Tumbarumba, 117 millimetres; Glen Innes, 172 millimetres; Grafton, 110 millimetres; and Mudgee, 93 millimetres. Unfortunately, the much-needed rain that we have been enjoying has caused bad flooding in the south of the State. So much so, that some areas that were once drought declared now have a different natural disaster on their doorstep. Most farmers are still unable to get out on their land to assess the damage. However, reports coming in indicate that significant agricultural damage has occurred across a wide area.
This week the New South Wales Government declared a natural disaster in the cities of Wagga Wagga and Albury and in the Tumut, Tumbarumba, Greater Hume and Lockhart shires, triggering a range of assistance for the affected communities, including primary producers. As the floodwaters have made their way through swollen river and creek systems and the footprint of this disaster's impact has grown, the New South Wales Government has also extended the natural disaster declaration to Carrathool, Coolamon, Hay, Junee, Leeton, Murrumbidgee, Narrandera, Urana, Corowa, Jerilderie, Gundagai and Bland shires.
Mr John Williams:
You want to travel around these places, Noreen.
Ms NOREEN HAY:
Having travelled around all of those places, I still find it difficult to pronounce some of the names. Confirmed stock losses to date include more than 1,300 sheep, 60 cattle and two horses, and these numbers could rise significantly over the next week or so. Having been Parliamentary Secretary for State and Regional Development and travelled to places like Wagga Wagga and elsewhere, I am encouraged and quite proud of the work that farmers and people in country areas have put in.
Mr JOHN WILLIAMS
(Murray-Darling) [3.56 p.m.]: I am quite pleased to speak on this motion. It is important to recognise that we have come out of an era of doom and gloom. No-one expected the drought to last as long as it did. First, I acknowledge that the Federal National Party took a step in the right direction by establishing the system of exceptional circumstances assistance, which has sustained families through nearly a decade of drought. There can be no doubt that without that level of support, those farming families would have had to walk off the land. Virtually no part of the Murray-Darling electorate has been exempt from the drought, and no part of the electorate could have carried out normal farming activities during it. That long drought was a really stressful time for farming families and communities in the Murray-Darling electorate.
Generally, during dry seasons, irrigators find a way out because they can support their farming with water. But water storages, on the Murray River in particular, reached historically low levels. For three years there was a zero allocation of water for the farmers. The drought did not miss anyone; everyone was caught up in it. It is a great feeling now to travel around the communities of the Murray-Darling; all of a sudden, the people you talk to have a spring in their step. They are feeling a lot better about their circumstances. They are looking out over paddocks that will provide them with high yields. Most farmers are saying that the current crop will produce historically high yields, complemented by some very high wheat prices.
This is an opportunity for farmers to get back on their feet. We all know that until the grain is in the bin, it is not over because too many other things can affect the harvest. Obviously, there is always the threat of locusts and unwanted rain, which unfortunately occurs. Some crops were flooded recently and little will be recovered in some farming areas. A farmer has a tough life. As the shadow Minister said, farmers who survived the drought and started feeling good because there was a little light at the end of the tunnel were then confronted with the Murray-Darling Basin plan. It is bad timingand an unreasonable load to place on farming families and communities—something is always around the corner that threatens to take away their future.
This is a difficult period. Farmers now have the opportunity to start putting some money back in the bank. That is what hurts farmers most. Farming families take pride in their achievements. They are proud to look across a field of grain that they produced for consumption by the Australian population. Obviously, until that grain is stripped, binned and transported to the silos, the job is not over. But steps are being taken in all the right directions. We certainly hope that the season will pan out to be a great one for farmers—God knows they need it.
Mr DAVID HARRIS
(Wyong—Parliamentary Secretary) [4.01 p.m.], in reply: I thank the members representing the electorates of Burrinjuck, Wollongong and Murray-Darling for contributing to this debate. Members will appreciate from the speeches from both sides of the House that this is a bipartisan issue. We all support people in regional and rural areas. Although the member for Murray-Darling asked, probably tongue in cheek, how many farmers live in Wollongong or Wyong, drought affects all people across New South Wales. All members of the New South Wales Parliament take this issue seriously. The member for Burrinjuck rightly talked about the effects of mental illness and its impact on her and on the member for Strathfield. People do not necessarily think about that particular by-product of farming. They recognise the physical and economic issues, but the social and human issues are sometimes irreversible. Unfortunately, when people believe they face a hopeless situation, they can take drastic steps. Their families and communities are left to live with the unfortunate consequences forever, even after the rain eventually falls.
The member for Burrinjuck said that Burrinjuck Dam is full. That will be good for the local tourism industry because people like to waterski on the dam and camp in its surrounds. The whole region will benefit from the dam being full. The Murrumbidgee River will also benefit because extra water can be released into the surrounding areas during summer to maintain environmental flows. This will ensure that those areas are looked after once the flooding subsides. Both Opposition members mentioned the Murray-Darling Basin plan, but I do not believe anyone on either side of politics would resile from that important issue. As the Minister for Water told the House during question time today, the Murray-Darling Basin plan needs to be worked through to achieve a measure of balance. As I know many people in those communities, I was heartened to hear the Minister say that the Government's response would be measured and based on detail. I know the Minister will work diligently to achieve a good outcome for the communities affected.
I acknowledge not just the member for Murray-Darling and the member for Burrinjuck but all members from regional and rural areas because they have supported their communities during these tough times and argued strongly for them. I understand their frustration at never getting as much as their communities need, but they always take the fight forward. A good member supports their community and makes sure that their issues are at the forefront of the Government's considerations. They also suffer with their communities, and have to work through suicides and other difficult issues. They also experience the extremes of nature. The member for Wagga Wagga, who has just entered the Chamber, has seen the opposite effects of drought and is assisting communities in his electorate following the recent flood. The pictures in the foyer outside this Chamber graphically illustrate the extremes of nature in a single area. I mentioned earlier my wife's family's farm at Hillston, where my daughters have stood in the red dust and later stood on the same spot but could not be seen for the tall crop and the wildflowers. Such extremes are commonplace in rural Australia.
The member for Wollongong rightly talked up the benefits to New South Wales of a healthy rural sector in respect of food pricing, but she and the member for Murray-Darling referred also to the current locust threat. On the radio this morning I heard about a possible mouse plague. I experienced a couple of mouse plagues in a little town called Merriwagga and it is something one does not necessarily look forward to. I thank all members for participating in the debate. Again, I congratulate those rural communities on their resilience. We hope that average rainfall returns to rural and regional New South Wales.
Question—That the motion be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Order! Consideration of the motion accorded priority having concluded, pursuant to resolution the House will now consider Government business.
HEALTH SERVICES AMENDMENT (LOCAL HEALTH NETWORKS) BILL 2010
Bill introduced on motion by Ms Carmel Tebbutt.
Agreement in Principle
Ms CARMEL TEBBUTT
(Marrickville—Deputy Premier, and Minister for Health) [4.06 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now agreed to in principle.
I am pleased to introduce the Health Services Amendment (Local Health Networks) Bill 2010. This important bill amends the Health Services Act 1997 to allow for the creation of Local Health Networks to deliver public health services in New South Wales. In April 2010 the New South Wales Government reached an historic agreement with the Commonwealth and seven States and Territories to implement national health reform through the National Health and Hospitals Network [NHHN] Agreement. These reforms will deliver an extra $1.2 billion in funding to the New South Wales health system over four years and are contributing to 488 beds being opened across the State in 2010-11, and this represents a better outcome for patients, carers and families.
The National Health and Hospitals Network Agreement will result in major funding and structural changes to the New South Wales health system. Central to these reforms is the creation of Local Health Networks that will be responsible for providing and coordinating health care services in their local areas. A key outcome of the National Health and Hospitals Network Agreement was improved access to primary care services. The Government will continue to work with the Commonwealth to ensure the new Medicare Locals align as much as possible with local health network boundaries.
This new approach to the delivery of healthcare will result in improved patient-centred care, more sustainable funding and better integration with primary care services. Very importantly, these changes pave the way for increased local decision-making and greater clinician engagement. On 29 September 2010, following an extensive consultation process, including nearly 400 submissions, the New South Wales Government announced 18 Local Health Networks in New South Wales, comprising eight geographically based local health networks covering the Sydney metropolitan region, seven geographically based local health networks covering rural and regional areas, and three specialty networks covering children's health, forensic mental health and services delivered by St Vincent's Health.
The geographically based local health networks were based on specific criteria which included a population-based health needs approach, population growth and change, self-sufficiency, natural communities and flow patterns, capacity to maintain clinical service networks and high standards of patient safety and quality of care. As a result of the feedback received during the consultation process, I plan to issue a set of ministerial directions for each local health network. For example, ministerial directions will recognise distinct sectors and distinct budgets for Blacktown-Mount Druitt Hospital, Dubbo Base Hospital and the Orana region and at the St George and Sutherland hospitals.
As part of the reform process, the State Government will be consolidating its relationship with local government. The State Government will enter into a statement of intent with the Local Government and Shires Associations to facilitate this process, particularly in relation to rural and regional Local Health Networks. This will lead to formal arrangements between the new Local Health Networks and local government around important issues such as improvements to health facilities and workforce development. The Government also will enhance the role of the Clinical Excellence Commission [CEC] to strengthen interaction with clinicians. In the new, localised health structure, the Government will appoint three regional coordinators of clinical governance to report directly to the Clinical Excellence Commission. This will maintain our high standards of clinical governance in New South Wales.
I am sure that members will agree with me that our public health system is a dynamic one. It is continually evolving and changing with population growth and ageing, emerging technologies and new models of care. The State Government is giving priority to developing cross-border health agreements with the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia through discussions with our interstate colleagues. We currently undertake a range of joint planning activities and will build on this work in the coming months. It is our intention that this will lead in the future to the development of Local Health Networks that cross State borders and reflect the reality of proximity to services and patient flows.
The bill provides for the establishment of the 18 Local Health Networks. In doing so, it will abolish the current eight area health services. It also will enable the establishment of network governed health corporations to support the Sydney children's hospitals network and the forensic network. It also contains provisions to enable affiliated health organisations to be treated as networks under the National Health and Hospitals Network Agreement. This is the first step of an important and historic reform. It provides a comprehensive legislative basis for establishing and supporting the new local health networks, their governing councils and chief executives. The new Local Health Networks are a key component of the National Health and Hospitals Network Agreement and New South Wales is leading the way on their implementation. Establishment of local health network boundaries and appointment of the chairs and members of governing councils and chief executives means that New South Wales will continue to do so.
I now turn to address the specific provisions of the bill. Items  to  of the bill propose amendments to the objects of the Act to reflect these changes to the structure of the New South Wales public health system. Like the current area health services, Local Health Networks will provide services on a geographic basis. The new Local Health Networks also, under section 17 of the Health Services Act, will be established as statutory corporations that do not represent the Crown in right of New South Wales, and which are separate legal entities from the Department of Health. The National Health and Hospitals Network Agreement contains a number of important requirements relating to the governance of local health networks. The bill proposes amendments to the Act to reflect these requirements.
The bill will amend section 26 of the Act to establish local health network governing councils in the place of the current area health advisory councils. Section 26 (1) of the Health Services Act already provides for the Minister to appoint the members of the council. This is in line with clause A11 of the National Health and Hospitals Network Agreement and will be retained. New section 26 subsections (2) and (3) set out the skills and expertise that will be required of members of governing councils in a way that is consistent with the requirements of the National Health and Hospitals Network Agreement. This will ensure that governing councils will comprise members with an appropriate mix of skills and expertise to oversee and provide guidance to large and complex organisations. To this end, the bill requires that governing councils include members with expertise and experience in such matters as health management, business management and financial management, the provision of clinical and other health services, knowledge and understanding of the community served by the network, and other backgrounds, skills, expertise, knowledge or experience appropriate for the network.
It is also important to ensure that health professionals working in our local hospitals and health services are recognised. As the House will be aware, the Government has issued a statewide expression of interest for membership of the governing councils—and local doctors, nurses and allied health professionals are encouraged to apply. In addition, I have requested the Department of Health to consult with key professional groups, including the New South Wales branch of the Australian Medical Association [AMA], the Australian Salaried Medical Officers' Federation [ASMOF], the New South Wales Nurses Association and the Health Services Union to develop provisions for the local health network model by-laws so that formal and clear pathways for local nurses, doctors and allied health professionals may be established and put forward for the consideration of the Minister for appointment. To further ensure clinician engagement and community involvement, hospital clinical councils and local health advisory councils will continue to play important roles in the new structure.
A new clause 26 (3A) provides that a local health network governing council also will be required to have at least one member who has expertise, knowledge or experience in relation to Aboriginal health, in keeping with the current advisory council provisions. The amendments to section 26 also provide that membership of each governing council will be limited to a minimum of six members and a maximum of 13. A rigorous and transparent process is being undertaken to appoint chairs of governing councils. The Government has made clear that it supports local clinicians being appointed to governing councils and expressions of interest are being sought from suitably qualified persons.
Some of the most important amendments in the bill are designed to establish governance relationships between the State, the chief executive and the governing council that reflect the framework of the National Health and Hospitals Network Agreement. The agreement provides for the governing council and the chief executive to be jointly responsible for the key obligations of the Local Health Networks in relation to local service delivery, financial accountability, performance and patient outcomes. These key obligations already are embedded in the Act in Section 10. These functions will be retained, and the new networks will be accountable for undertaking these responsibilities for their communities.
The bill addresses the governance issues in a number of ways. First, the current powers in section 25 of the Act have been revised. Currently, section 25 (b) provides that the chief executive is, in the exercise of his or her functions, subject to the control and direction of the Director General of the New South Wales Department of Health. This provision will be removed. Instead, the chief executive will, in the exercise of his or her functions, be accountable to the governing council—the terms of this change reflecting the wording of clause A11 of the National Health and Hospitals Network [NHHN] agreement. Second, a new section 28 has been added, setting out in clear terms the functions of governing councils. These functions have been developed having regard to the functions of the local health networks and to ensure complementation of the roles of the governing council and the chief executive in fulfilling their joint responsibilities.
To this end, the functions of governing councils will include ensuring that effective clinical and corporate governance frameworks are established to support the maintenance and improvement of standards of patient care and services by the network and to approve those frameworks; approving systems to support the efficient and economic operation of the network, to ensure that the network manages its budget performance to meet performance targets and that resources are applied equitably to meet the needs of the community served by the network; and ensuring that strategic plans to guide the delivery of services are developed for the local health network and to approve those plans, providing strategic oversight of and monitoring the network's financial and operational performance. This will ensure that the council maintains a proper strategic oversight and monitoring role in relation to the network's activities.
The chief executive will, under the terms of section 24, continue to be responsible for the day-to-day management of the affairs of the local health network. The governing council will confer with the chief executive in connection with the operational performance targets and performance measures to be negotiated in the service agreement for the network under the NHHN agreement and approve the service agreement for the network under the NHHN agreement. The governing council will also have specific obligations in respect of the Chief Executive of the Local Health Network. While the chief executive will, consistent with New South Wales public sector employment arrangements, be an employee of the State Crown through the Director General of the Department of Health, the council will have the role of making recommendations for the appointment of the chief executive of the network and, where it considers it appropriate to do so, make recommendations for the removal of the chief executive. This ensures that the council will have a key role in appointment decisions consistent with the NHHN agreement.
The council will also continue to undertake some of the functions of the area health advisory councils, particularly and most importantly in ensuring that the views of providers and consumers of health services, and of other members of the community served by the network, are sought in relation to the network's policies and plans for the provision of health services. The council will also confer with the chief executive on how to support, encourage and facilitate community and clinician involvement in the planning of network services and keep the community informed about local policies, plans and initiatives. The bill also includes a power to add additional governing council functions by way of regulation. Given the different role and functions of governing councils compared with area health advisory councils, the bill also proposes deleting a number of current provisions relating to area health advisory councils that are unnecessary or inapplicable to governing councils.
These provisions include section 27, which sets out the role of area health advisory councils, section 29, which allows the Minister to establish a charter for area health advisory councils, and section 29A, which requires area health advisory councils to furnish an annual report relating to the council's performance. Instead, the council will have the function of endorsing the Local Health Network's annual report. As with members of area health advisory councils presently, under section 26 (4) of the Act, governing council members shall be appointed for a period of no more than four years, such period to be specified in the instrument of appointment. I draw the attention of members to amendments to introduce a new section 29 to provide for the Minister to remove governing council members, and, where appropriate, replace them with an administrator. Similar provisions to this proposed section are already in place in respect of board-governed statutory health corporations.
This is an important provision. The council and the chief executive will have substantial obligations in relation to the effective and efficient operation of the local health network, and for ensuring appropriate standards of care for their patients. It is critical that where there are failings governments can intervene, and intervene urgently in the most serious cases. A power to remove, urgently and without reason, is currently available in respect of chief executives in the case of area health services and chief executive-governed statutory health corporations and boards in the case of board-governed statutory health corporations. Historically, such action has been taken rarely and in the most extreme cases. I anticipate that this will continue to be the case. Clearly, however, there needs to be transparency in the event of such a decision.
In recognition of this, section 29 will also provide that where the Minister for Health exercises the power to remove a council and appoint an administrator, the Minister must make a statement to Parliament that sets out the basis for making the decision to appoint an administrator. The responsibilities of the State under the NHHN agreement recognise that the State has the overall responsibility for managing the general public health system. Therefore, the NHHN agreement provides that the State has responsibility for being the statewide system manager, for system-wide service planning and policy, and for managing network performance. Section 122 of the Act already recognises some of the broad systemic oversight roles for the Director General of the Department of Health. To ensure that the State can effectively undertake these functions, the bill amends section 122 of the Act to provide the director general with the additional functions of providing governance, oversight and control of the public health system and the statutory health organisations within it, and issuing lawful directions to statutory health organisations.
The NHHN agreement not only focused on the State as the overall manager of the public health system, but also recognised the more general financial and other accountabilities of public bodies under State law. It is therefore important that the State, through the director general, has the capacity to give directions to local health networks, both to ensure that they fulfil their statutory and financial obligations and to assist the State to meet its own obligations as system manager. The Local Health Network structure announced by the Government in September this year included two specialty networks of clinical services: the Sydney Children's Hospitals Network—Randwick and Westmead—and the proposed Forensic Mental Health Network. Given that these services will be provided across local network boundaries, it is considered most appropriate under the framework of the Act for these services to continue to be constituted as statutory health corporations.
Currently, chapter 4 of the Act permits either board or chief executive-governed health corporations. The Sydney Children's Hospitals Network, for example, is currently a chief executive-governed health corporation. In order to provide for health corporations that comply with the requirements of the NHHN agreement, a new division will be created in chapter 4 of the Act allowing the establishment of network-governed health corporations. The provisions relating to the governance arrangements of network-governed health corporations, including appointment and functions of the governing council and chief executive, are to be broadly the same as those for local health networks. These proposed amendments create a statutory framework to enable the Sydney Children's Hospitals Network and the proposed new Forensic Mental Health Network to be established as network-governed health corporations and to be recognised and funded under the NHHN agreement.
The Government has also announced the recognition of a new St Vincent's Network, comprising St Vincent's Hospital and Sacred Heart Hospice in Darlinghurst and St Joseph's Hospital at Auburn. This approach accords with the NHHN agreement, which recognises the vital role played by non-government providers of public health and hospital services, such as St Vincent's. Non-government sector providers of public health services are dealt with under chapter 5 of the Act. This chapter enables private benevolent bodies to be recognised as affiliated health organisations to be recognised in respect of certain of their establishments or services where public health or hospital services are provided. It is not proposed to make any structural changes to these arrangements in order to allow St Vincent's to be recognised and funded under the NHHN agreement.
Given the necessity for St Vincent's to retain its independent board, it is not possible to establish the proposed network as a local health network or a network statutory health corporation under the Act. Instead, a new section 62B will be inserted into the Act to enable the Minister to make an order declaring that one or more affiliated health organisations are, in respect of some or all of their recognised establishments or recognised services, to be treated as a network for the purposes of the NHHN agreement. Such an order can be made only with the concurrence of the affected affiliated health organisation.
Amendments to insert a new section 133B into the Act will provide protection for members of the governing councils of both local health networks and network-governed health corporations against personal liability for anything done in good faith for the purpose of carrying out their statutory functions. This provision reflects and updates the current statutory protections provided to board members of board-governed statutory health corporations. The Government will be introducing separate legislation to establish a National Health and Hospitals Network Funding Authority in New South Wales, as required by the NHHN agreement. Under the agreement all activity-based funding from both Commonwealth and State governments is to be paid to the proposed funding authority, which will in turn make payments to local health networks in accordance with agreed local health network service agreements.
The NSW Health consultation process in relation to proposed local health network boundaries confirmed strong support for the ongoing provision of clinical networks and other services that are currently provided across area health service boundaries. Under section 126B, the director general already has functions to provide support services to public health organisations. In order to facilitate the ongoing provision of such services, the bill proposes to amend section 126B of the Act to allow the director general to provide services, not only in support of public health organisations and the public hospitals they control, but also to enable the coordinated provision of health services involving more than one public health organisation on a statewide basis.
This amendment will facilitate the ongoing provision by the director general of health support, clinical service networks and, clinical support clusters that will provide expertise and support in vital areas such as mental health/drug and alcohol, cancer services, renal services, oral health, imaging and pathology hubs in order to ensure equity of patient access to the appropriate range of services, whilst allowing local health networks to focus on local planning, decision-making and implementation. This amendment is also supported by a proposed addition to the functions of local health networks in section 10 of the Act to recognise networks' roles in cooperating with other networks and the director general in relation to the provision of health services involving more than one public health organisation or on a statewide basis.
Section 126, which sets out the performance agreement provisions, will also be amended and augmented to confirm that a performance agreement may include the provisions of a service agreement within the meaning of the NHHN agreement. The changes will also extend the provisions relating to the reporting obligations to ensure they will cover the range of data and information necessary for New South Wales to comply with its reporting requirements to the Commonwealth under the NHHN agreement. Finally, the bill contains a number of transitional and machinery provisions to facilitate the transfer of assets, rights and liabilities of area health services upon their dissolution. Given that the reforms involve the disaggregation of area health services into local health networks, amendments are proposed to enable this to occur smoothly and without risk of disruption to service provision.
I express my thanks to the many clinicians, community members, heath managers and stakeholder organisations that have been part of the consultation process, which has assisted in the development of the bill. I thank the New South Wales Area Health Advisory Council which, under the guidance of the Right Hon. Ian Sinclair and Professor Judith Whitworth, played a critical role in facilitating feedback. I acknowledge and thank the Australian Medical Association, Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation, the Nurses' Association and the Health Services Union, whose advocacy has assisted greatly in developing the governance arrangements.
I also thank the eight chief executives of the current area health services. The establishment of local health networks means significant change for those eight people. They have throughout this challenging time remained focussed on ensuring area health services deliver quality patient care. For reasons I have never understood, health administrators are often not recognised for the substantial contribution they make to the effective operation of our health system. I thank the chief executives of the area health services for their commitment and passion for the delivery of effective quality health services in New South Wales.
The reforms proposed by this bill enable the creation of local health networks in New South Wales and strengthen local decision-making and community involvement in health service delivery. It continues the State Government's positive agenda for health in New South Wales and its ongoing commitment to deliver the right care in the right place and at the right time for all New South Wales residents. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mrs Jillian Skinner and set down as an order of the day for a future day.
COASTAL PROTECTION AND OTHER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2010 (NO. 2)
Consideration in Detail
Consideration of the Legislative Council amendments.
Schedule of amendments referred to in message of 20 October 2010
Mr FRANK SARTOR
No. 1 Page 10, schedule 1 , proposed section 13. Insert after line 31:
(2) In exercising its functions, the Coastal Panel is to have regard to the objects of this Act.
No. 2 Page 11, schedule 1 , proposed section 13 (3), line 2. Insert "the Minister and" after "concurrence of".
No. 3 Page 12, schedule 1 , lines 19 and 20. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead:
Omit the section. Insert instead:
55A Minister to have regard to objects of Act
In exercising his or her functions under this Part, the Minister is to have regard to the objects of this Act.
No. 4 Page 17, schedule 1 , proposed section 55M, lines 5 to 31. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead:
(1) Consent must not be granted under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 to development for the purpose of coastal protection works, unless the consent authority is satisfied that:
(a) the works will not over the life of the works:
(i) unreasonably limit or be likely to unreasonably limit public access to or the use of a beach or headland, or
(ii) pose or be likely to pose a threat to public safety, and
(b) satisfactory arrangements have been made (by conditions imposed on the consent) for the following for the life of the works:
(i) the restoration of a beach, or land adjacent to the beach, if any increased erosion of the beach or adjacent land is caused by the presence of the works,
(ii) the maintenance of the works.
(2) The arrangements referred to in subsection (1) (b) are to secure adequate funding for the carrying out of any such restoration and maintenance, including by either or both of the following:
(a) by legally binding obligations (including by way of financial assurance or bond) of all or any of the following:
(i) the owner or owners from time to time of the land protected by the works,
(ii) if the coastal protection works are constructed by or on behalf of landowners or by landowners jointly with a council or public authority—the council or public authority,
Note. Section 80A (6) of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 provides that a development consent may be granted subject to a condition, or a consent authority may enter into an agreement with an applicant, that the applicant must provide security for the payment of the cost of making good any damage caused to any property of the consent authority as a consequence of the doing of anything to which the consent relates.
(b) by payment to the relevant council of an annual charge for coastal protection services (within the meaning of the Local Government Act 1993).
No. 5 Page 18, schedule 1 , proposed Part 4C, note, lines 4 to 9. Omit all words on those lines.
No. 6 Page 19, schedule 1 , proposed section 55P (2) (e), lines 13 to 16. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead:
(e) in relation to material placed before 1 September 2011—the material must be placed by or on behalf of the landowner in accordance with any requirements adopted by the Minister and published in the Gazette for the purposes of this section before 1 January 2011,
No. 7 Page 20, schedule 1 , proposed section 55R (1) (c), lines 31 and 32. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead:
(c) in relation to works placed before 1 September 2011—any requirements adopted by the Minister and published in the Gazette for the purposes of this section before 1 January 2011,
No. 8 Page 21, schedule 1 , proposed section 55T. Insert after line 38:
(6) For the avoidance of doubt, works are not or cease to be emergency coastal protection works for the purposes of this Act if the works are not placed or maintained, respectively, in accordance with the requirements set out in the conditions of a certificate issued under this Division.
Note. See also section 55P (2) (a) and 55R (1) (a).
No. 9 Page 22, schedule 1 , proposed section 55T (6), lines 1 to 5. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead:
(6) A person must not make an application to an issuing authority for a certificate to authorise the placement of emergency coastal protection works if:
(a) a certificate relating to the same works has been issued by another issuing authority and is in force, or
(b) an application to another issuing authority in relation to the same works is pending.
No. 10 Page 24, schedule 1 , proposed section 55Y (1) (a), lines 11 and 12. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead:
emergency works authorised officer means an authorised officer appointed by a council or the Director-General who has been authorised in writing by the council or the Director-General, as appropriate, for the purposes of issuing certificates under this Division.
issuing authority, in relation to an application for a certificate under this Division, means the relevant local council and the Director-General.
(a) in relation to works placed before 1 September 2011—any requirements adopted by the Minister and published in the Gazette for the purposes of this subsection before 1 January 2011, and
No. 11 Page 25, schedule 1 , proposed section 55Z (1). Insert after "concerned" on line 18:
(e) to minimise disruption of the public use of the beach concerned.
No. 12 Page 26, schedule 1 , proposed section 55ZA (3) (a), lines 36 to 37. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead:
(a) in relation to an order made before 1 September 2011—any requirements adopted by the Minister and published in the Gazette for the purposes of this subsection before 1 January 2011, and
No. 13 Page 28, schedule 1 , proposed section 55ZC (1) (d), lines 12 to 16. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead:
(d) the works have ceased to be emergency coastal protection works (for example, the works have been in place for longer than the maximum period allowed for emergency coastal protection works or the works are not being maintained as required by Part 4C or this Part or the requirements of the certificate under Division 2 of Part 4C that authorises the works).
No. 14 Page 28, schedule 1 , proposed section 55ZC. Insert after line 35:
(4) A Coastal Authority that is a designated authority for land on which a person has placed (or caused to be placed) emergency coastal protection works may order the person to restore land that is adjacent to the land on which the works were placed if the Coastal Authority is of the opinion that the adjacent land has been damaged or disturbed by:
(a) the placement, maintenance or removal of the works, or
(b) erosion caused by the works.
No. 15 Page 28, schedule 1 , proposed section 55ZC (4) (a), lines 39 and 40. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead:
(a) in relation to an order made before 1 September 2011—any requirements adopted by the Minister and published in the Gazette for the purposes of this subsection before 1 January 2011, and
No. 16 Page 30, schedule 1 , proposed section 55ZD. Insert after line 28:
(9) An order under this Part given to a person does not authorise the person to enter land without the permission of the owner of the land.
No. 17 Page 31, schedule 1 , proposed section 55ZF. Insert after line 23:
(2) It is a defence to a prosecution for an offence under this section if the defendant establishes that the failure to comply with the order concerned was caused by the refusal of an owner of land to give the defendant permission to enter the land to do the act or thing required by the order.
No. 18 Page 43, schedule 1 , proposed schedule 2. Insert after line 17:
The Coastal Panel must cause full and accurate minutes to be kept of the proceedings of its meetings.
17 Minutes to be available for public inspection
The Chairperson must, on request, make available to any member of the public a copy of the minutes of the proceedings of the meetings of the Coastal Panel.
No. 19 Page 44, schedule 2 , proposed section 496B, lines 7 to 22. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead:
(1) A council may, in accordance with this Act and the regulations, make and levy an annual charge for the provision by the council of coastal protection services for a parcel of rateable land that benefits from the services, being services that relate to coastal protection works constructed:
No. 20 Page 45, schedule 2 , proposed section 496B (9), line 17. Omit "Subsections (1) and (2) do". Insert instead "Subsection (1) does".
(a) by or on behalf of the owner or occupier (or a previous owner or occupier) of the parcel of land, or
(b) jointly by or on behalf of:
(i) the owner or occupier (or a previous owner or occupier) of the parcel of land, and
(ii) a public authority or a council.
No. 21 Page 45, schedule 2 , proposed section 496B (10), line 22. Omit "may". Insert instead "is to".
No. 22 Page 45, schedule 2 , proposed section 553B (1), lines 33 to 36. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead:
(1) An annual charge for coastal protection services may not be levied on a parcel of rateable land in relation to existing coastal protection works unless the owner (or any previous owner) of that land has consented in writing to the land being subject to such charges.
No. 23 Page 46, schedule 2 , proposed section 553B (2), lines 3 to 6. Omit:
if, after the commencement of this section, the owner or occupier of the parcel of rateable land contributed to the upgrade or expansion of the existing coastal protection works.
if the owner or occupier (or any previous owner or occupier) of the parcel of rateable land contributed, after the commencement of this section, to the upgrade or expansion of the existing coastal protection works.
No. 24 Page 52, schedule 3. Insert after line 9:
3.2 Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 No 203
Insert at the end of section 79C (1) (iv):
(v) any coastal zone management plan (within the meaning of the Coastal Protection Act 1979),
No. 25 Page 52, schedule 3.2. Insert after line 10:
Insert in alphabetical order in clause 3 (1):
coastal council means a council whose area, or part of whose area, is included within the coastal zone (within the meaning of the Coastal Protection Act 1979) or whose area includes land that adjoins the tidal waters of the Hawkesbury River, Sydney Harbour and Botany Bay, and their tributaries.
No. 26 Page 53, schedule 3.2 , lines 3 to 7. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead:
4B Annual charges under Local Government Act 1993 for coastal protection services that relate to existing coastal protection works
In relation to a coastal council—whether the owner (or any previous owner) of the land has consented in writing to the land being subject to annual charges under section 496B of the Local Government Act 1993 for coastal protection services that relate to existing coastal protection works (within the meaning of section 553B of that Act).
Note. "Existing coastal protection works" are works to reduce the impact of coastal hazards on land (such as seawalls, revetments, groynes and beach nourishment) that existed before the commencement of section 553B of the Local Government Act 1993.
(Rockdale—Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, and Minister Assisting the Minister for Health (Cancer)) [4.34 p.m.]: I move:
Mr DONALD PAGE
That the Legislative Council amendments be agreed to.
(Ballina) [4.35 p.m.]: The Liberal Party and The Nationals cannot agree to the amendments because we do not agree with the legislation. We opposed the legislation in the Legislative Assembly and in the Legislative Council because we believe it is not an adequate response to the challenging issues to do with coastal erosion and management. It is worth noting that the Government accepted 26 amendments to the legislation which, in itself, indicates that it was less than perfect. One of the contentious issues in the bill is the ministerial requirements in relation to emergency works. Both the shadow Minister and I got assurances from the Minister that changes could be made to the ministerial requirements should there be a change of government next March. However, I note that one of the Greens' amendments that the Government accepted allows the ministerial requirements to be entrenched for at least 12 months.
My concern is that the ministerial requirements are not very good as they basically restrict people in a practical sense from taking emergency measures. I will not go over the debate again, but one of the most obvious ridiculous aspects of the ministerial requirements is that one is not allowed to put in place emergency works if the Bureau of Meteorology is predicting significant storm and cyclonic events, which is precisely when one would want to take emergency action. Another restriction is that one cannot take emergency action until the erosion is 10 metres from one's house—not from the boundary—which is very close. Another restriction is that one cannot excavate on a beach in order to put in sandbags when quite clearly those sandbags would need to be stabilised and imbedded properly, in most cases, by doing some excavation. I do not think the Government has thought through a lot of issues in relation to the ministerial requirements very well. I am concerned that the Government has accepted an amendment which effectively means that those ministerial requirements are locked in for a further 12 months.
I would appreciate the Minister addressing that matter in his reply because if an incoming government could be given the flexibility it will need, the Liberals-Nationals would be very keen to see that happen, particularly in light of the fact that the cyclone season is approaching. The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast that in the next few years we will have some of the worst cyclonic conditions we have had in 100 years. I am concerned that legislation is in place that in broad principle is inadequate. It is not all bad but the ministerial requirements, in particular, will deny a lot of people, and communities, who have a legitimate need and reason to protect their properties from being able to do so.
If we have a breakthrough at the Belongil at Byron Bay in my electorate it is highly likely that serious flooding will occur as the sea comes into the central business district at Byron Bay. So it is not just individual property owners. We cannot accept the amendments. We do not agree with the legislation. We do recognise that it is an attempt to solve what is a very complex problem of coastal erosion management, but for all the reasons I outlined in my original speech and a number of other members of the Liberal and National parties have outlined in debate, both here and in the other place, we will oppose the legislation. Even though it has an extra 26 amendments, we still think that the legislation is inadequate.
Mr FRANK SARTOR
(Rockdale—Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, and Minister Assisting the Minister for Health (Cancer)) [4.40 p.m.], in reply: I thank the member for Ballina for his comments. I want to make it clear that the ministerial requirements that are currently on the web for public comment are in draft only. They have not yet been finalised. Nothing that was passed in the upper House last night, if accepted, would cement them in concrete. In fact in the debate in the upper House it was acknowledged that there would be changes, particularly in relation to the 10-metre rule, for example. As the legislation has passed, the next step is to finalise the ministerial requirements, the guidelines, and then they will be gazetted.
There were a number of related amendments moved in the upper House; they sound like a lot, but they probably relate to four or five themes and quite a few were rejected. The Greens amendment limited ministerial requirements until September next year because the Greens felt that ministerial requirements should be a regulation rather than a non-statutory document. In other words, ministerial requirements could be altered at any time by the Minister and gazetted and, if it were a regulation, it would be open to oversight in Parliament and a regulation could be disallowed. That was the import. In the absence of Liberal Party support—the member's shadow Minister was off on a frolic, but God knows what she was trying to do—it is not an amendment that would fundamentally frustrate the bill or the intent of the legislation. It is my intention to carefully work through the draft requirements and finalise them so that we will end up adopting an improvement on what currently exists. I agree that there are a number of issues with the current requirements—not just the 10-metre rule. A few other bureaucratic enthusiasms will need to be improved.
Mr Donald Page:
Mr FRANK SARTOR:
Expunged, improved, massaged, refined, manipulated, or delicately refined.
Mr Donald Page:
Simplified, made practical.
Mr FRANK SARTOR:
It is a bit like producing a fine wine. There will be some changes. Then they will be gazetted and I will commence the process of preparing a regulation that will replace the ministerial requirements, but hopefully will be the same as the finalised form of the requirements. The process of creating a regulation, for which there is a regulation-making power in the Coastal Protection Act, will take some time and require public comment. I would be doubtful that that would be finalised before the March election. Requirements will be adopted that have force only until September and probably a draft regulation will replace the requirements in the system at election time. Then whoever forms government can put in place what the requirements will be next September. I do not think that that is at all irreversible. The argument put in the upper House was simply that the Greens wanted to be able to review them if some absolutely outrageous Minister—unlike the current wise and sensible Minister—runs amok. It is really an anti-ministerial running amok provision and, as a sensible Minister, I am quite happy to accept the amendments and will support the amendments.
Question—That the Legislative Council amendments 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.
Legislative Council amendments agreed to.
Message sent to the Legislative Council advising it of the resolution.
|Mr Koperberg||Mr Humphries|
|Mr McBride||Mr Piccoli|
PROTECTED DISCLOSURES AMENDMENT (PUBLIC INTEREST DISCLOSURES) BILL 2010
Agreement in Principle
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
Mr ROB STOKES
(Pittwater) [4.52 p.m.]: The protection of whistleblowers is a fundamental right that governments and parliaments need to offer to public officials. The words of William De Maria are perhaps most instructive. When he did his survey in Queensland during the early 1990s he produced a detailed report entitled "Unshielding the Shadow Culture: Queensland Whistleblower Study", which was issued in two parts in 1994. He said in relation to his investigations that he had found "nothing to celebrate" on his "tour through the entrails of our society, except perhaps the valour of the whistleblowers who guide us into the netherworld of corruption, incompetence, cover-ups and organisational vendettas", and that "the nonsuffering" whistleblower is "a contradiction in terms".
The protection of whistleblowers is absolutely crucial and we need legislation to effect that. In 1994 the Liberal and Nationals Government introduced the Protected Disclosures Act to provide protection for public officials who make disclosures concerning corrupt conduct, maladministration or waste of money in the public sector. The general description of a protected disclosure—I note that the bill will change the title of the principal Act to the Public Interest Disclosures Act—is provided by Near and Miceli in their article entitled "Organisational Dissidence: The Case of Whistleblowing" in 1985 where they define it as the disclosure by organisation members, former or current, of illegal, immoral, or illegitimate practices under the control of their employers, to persons or organisations that may be able to effect action.
ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Thomas George):
Order! There is too much audible conversation. The member for Pittwater will be heard in silence.
Mr Paul McLeay:
Ask him to speak up. He is mumbling a bit.
ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Thomas George):
Mr ROB STOKES:
The New South Wales Ombudsman in a 2004 report titled "The Adequacy of the Protected Disclosures Act [NSW] to Achieve its Objectives", which was an issues paper, talked about three universal prerequisites that need to be fulfilled before most employees will make a disclosure about problems in their organisation. They are, first, that they must facilitate public interest disclosures; that is, they must encourage whistleblowing. Secondly, they must ensure that disclosures by whistleblowers are properly dealt with; and thirdly, they must ensure the protection of whistleblowers from reprisals taken against them as a result of their having made the disclosure. It is the issue of reprisals that is the most critical one that this bill seeks to address. Indeed, it needs to be addressed and has needed to be addressed for some considerable time.
As an example of why an effective public disclosures regime is so important, I note that New South Wales is the only State that allows the making of a protected disclosure to a member of Parliament. I think that may now also be the case in Queensland because the medical negligence occurring at Bundaberg Hospital was disclosed by a nursing unit manager who expressed her concerns to a member of Parliament, who then made them public. She had tried to get something done through the established processes but no-one listened to her. If it had not been for the avenue provided by the member of Parliament to whom the nurse spoke there would not have been the media exposure that ultimately led to the Bundaberg Hospital Commission of Inquiry in 2005. Public disclosures are effective only if there is effective protection against reprisals. This is something that William De Maria wrote about in a 1999 article entitled "Deadly Disclosures: Whistleblowing and the Ethical Meltdown of Australia". He said:
The deficiencies in existing legislative approaches are such that critics have long feared that public sector whistleblower protection is something of a chimera. Indeed, there is a valid question as to whether 'whistleblower protection' laws have not functioned as simply symbolic measures. While no doubt introduced with good intentions, there is a fear that such legislation may actually have served to increase the risk of reprisals against employees, lulling them into the false confidence that they will be protected if they blow the whistle, when in truth the legislative systems provide few guarantees that this will be the case.
That was in 1999, but a more recent article points to exactly the same problem today. In an article in 2008 by A. J. Brown and Paul Latimer entitled "Symbols or Substance? Priorities for the Reform of Australia's Public Interest Disclosure Legislation", published in the Griffith Law Review
, the authors commented:
There is strength to the argument that current whistleblower protection laws—while symbolically very important in promoting the legitimacy of public interest disclosures—have so far added relatively little to the practical realities of whistleblower protection itself.
There is clear endorsement from leading academics in this area and leading administrative lawyers that the protections against reprisal in existing whistleblower legislation simply are not good enough and may make the problem worse. I note in that context that the existing legislation, section 20 (1) of the Protected Disclosures Act, creates a summary offence, which is committed when a person takes detrimental action against another in reprisal for the making of a protected disclosure. In other words, it is an offence to take detrimental action against another person substantially in reprisal for that other person making a protected disclosure. The burden of proof is on the defendant.
However, the statute does not provide victims with any additional means of obtaining compensation. That is another reason why the reforms in this bill are so important. However, I also note that for all the focus on this offence aimed at preventing reprisals there have not been any successful prosecutions for reprisals since the inception of the Act. My research revealed only one example where a case had even judicially considered section 20 (1), and the whole issue of prosecution for reprisals seems not to have been dealt with by the courts at all. So there is no evidence that this provision has actually managed to protect anybody from a reprisal.
The need for additional protections, to give existing legislation real teeth, is very important. David Lewis, in "Whistleblowing Statutes in Australia: Is it Time for a New Agenda?", published in 2003, suggests that whistleblowing statutes should provide a full panoply of measures dealing with retaliation, such as make victimisation a serious disciplinary offence, offer immunity from legal and administrative actions, provide for injunctions, provide remedial actions allowing whistleblowers to opt for transfers and, last but not least, provide for unlimited, including punitive, damages. I know the substance of the current bill does not go that far, but that is certainly the opinion of David Lewis. The existing protections are inadequate. The bill goes some way towards correcting the balance but, according to Lewis, it still does not go far enough.
I note what was said by Brown and Latimer in their 2008 article. While the major purpose of the legislation is to criminalise reprisals against those who make disclosures, the offences created also need to cover reprisals taken against friends, family members or colleagues of persons to disclose, or mistakenly so against the third party that a victim suspects was the whistleblower even though they were not. The Protected Disclosures Act, in section 20 (1), provides that reprisal is only an offence when taken against "another person", substantially in reprisal for that "other person" making a protected disclosure. In other words, the provisions regarding reprisals against the third party are still not appropriately covered, and the Government needs to look at that matter more closely.
I note that this bill stems from the parliamentary Committee on the Independent Commission Against Corruption report on the inquiry into whistleblowing. I was a member of that committee. I truly believe, as is already on the public record, that the quality and effectiveness of that report would have been enhanced if the committee had been allowed to hear the evidence of the whistleblowers themselves. I put on record that that committee was not entitled to hear from the whistleblowers themselves. Personally, I regarded that as completely farcical. How can a committee effectively investigate how to best protect whistleblowers if it cannot hear from the whistleblowers themselves? How can we draft effective laws prohibiting reprisals if we fail to hear from those who have had reprisal actions taken against them? The committee talked with stakeholder groups, but that was not going to result in the best possible report that we could have come up with.
I also note in that respect that not all the recommendations of the committee's report were taken up in this legislation. That is why I am supportive of the amendment that was moved by my colleague the member for Davidson. Those are the main issues that I wanted to speak about. I want to give the last word to the leading administrative lawyer in this field, A. J. Brown, in his paper "When the Whistle is Blown", carried in the Griffith Review
in 2009. It sums up very effectively the importance of this legislation, and the importance of getting it right. I quote A. J. Brown:
Australia is a society where citizenship and the quality of democracy matters. Australians know they can participate in affairs of government in many ways but, ultimately, their control over the quality of the government that serves them is reduced to a trip to the ballot box every four years.
In the meantime, the guardians of the public interest, in the way our government goes about their daily affairs, are each and every holder of public office. How the rights and duties of any employee are recognised and protected is a vital issue. But nowhere is it so vital as in the rights and duties of public employees to speak up about the things they think might be going wrong. Every public official, or public contractor, or employee of a public contractor is the ordinary, everyday custodian of every Australian citizen's interest in seeing government work effectively, honestly and responsively for our society. When they speak up, they do so for all of us.
The very least that we in this place can do is support them in the process.
Mr ANTHONY ROBERTS
(Lane Cove) [5.04 p.m.]: I support the bill and the amendments to be proposed by the member for Davidson, who I commend for his hard work on this legislation. The Protected Disclosures Amendment Bill seeks to increase protection for whistleblowers in the public section who report corruption. It increases penalties for those who engage in reprisals against a whistleblower, it allows for whistleblowers to seek civil damages should reprisals occur, and it allows the Supreme Court to grant injunctions against any reprisals. Further, the bill extends the provisions on protected disclosures to cover contractors working for a public sector agency or department. In addition, the Act will establish a Public Interest Steering Committee to be chaired by the Ombudsman to provide advice to the Minister as to the operation of the Act.
However, I note that there are many shortfalls inherent in this bill, as with most that are proposed by this Government. The most obvious shortfall of this bill is how long it has taken the Government to bring it to the Parliament. Much of this bill seems to be a copy of that moved by the Opposition leader in 2008, which was voted down by this Government. There have been additions to this bill from the 2008 bill following the 2009 report of the Committee on the Independent Commission Against Corruption. The questions must be asked then: Why has it taken so long for this bill to come to the House? How many public officials who have witnessed corruption in the interim have not felt the confidence needed to make a protected disclosure because of a lack of legislative protection? I note, as the member for Pittwater and the member for Davidson stated, that to date no action has been taken against those who have been part of reprisals against whistleblowers.
Further, it is impossible to judge whether this bill will see all the recommendations from the 2009 report of the Committee on the Independent Committee Against Corruption implemented, given that many of these changes are not of a legislative nature. In addition, there has been no public promise from this Government to implement all of those recommendations—not that anyone would believe them if they had. Another criticism that can be made of this bill relates to the increased penalties it places on those who engage in reprisal actions against a whistleblower. I have been informed that there is a severe lack of prosecutions of this nature in New South Wales. What is the point of increasing the penalties if we are not, at the same time, making it easier to take criminal proceedings against those engaged in reprisals?
Finally, the bill does not place any requirement on the Premier to table in Parliament a response to special reports from the New South Wales Ombudsman on the operation of the Act. In the opinion of the Opposition, this is nothing less than an abrogation of the Premiers' duties as the Minister responsible for the Act. In the opinion of the Opposition, the Premier should be required to be at the forefront of protecting whistleblowers. That is why the New South Wales Liberal-Nationals Coalition has moved an amendment ensuring that the Premier will be required to table in Parliament responses to special reports of the Ombudsman on the Act. This will ensure that all public officials feel confident to make protected disclosures and ensure that the Premier will be the figurehead for that confidence.
It is important that this role be played by the head of Government for this confidence to exist and is thus vital for the spirit of the Act to flow through to public officials. I urge the Government to support the Opposition's amendment. Once again, I commend the member for Davidson for the hard work that he has done on this. We all know that accepting the amendments is the right thing to do. Any different actions can be seen as nothing less than cynical politics at its worst. Nonetheless, this bill is a step in the right direction and, as such, I commend the bill to the House.
Dr ANDREW McDONALD
(Macquarie Fields—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.08 p.m.], in reply: I thank members for their contributions to the debate. The purpose of the bill is to implement all of the major recommendations of the parliamentary Committee on the Independent Commission Against Corruption contained in its report "Protection of Public Sector Whistleblower Employees". New South Wales has had comprehensive legislation in place to protect whistleblowers for 20 years. The member for Pittwater stated that the Government has done nothing to make it an offence to take a reprisal action against a third party. This is incorrect. I refer the member to section 20 (1C).
ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Thomas George):
Order! Does the member for Pittwater rise on a point of order?
Mr ROB STOKES:
Mr Acting-Speaker, the member is misleading the House. I did not suggest that the Government has done nothing. I said there was more to be done. It is heading in the right direction.
ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Thomas George):
Order! The Parliamentary Secretary has the call.
Dr ANDREW McDONALD:
The bill ensures that the protected disclosures regime in New South Wales remains effective and paves the way for further considered reforms. 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.
Consideration in detail requested by Dr Andrew McDonald.
Consideration in Detail
ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Thomas George):
Order! By leave, I will propose the bill in groups of clauses and schedules.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Dr ANDREW McDONALD
(Macquarie Fields—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.10 p.m.], by leave: I move Government amendments Nos 1 to 9 in globo:
Mr JONATHAN O'DEA
No. 1 Page 3. Insert after line 27:
 Section 4, definition of "principal officer"
Insert in alphabetical order:
principal officer of a public authority includes:
(a) for the Department of the Legislative Assembly—the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly and the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, and
(b) for the Department of the Legislative Council—the Clerk of the Parliaments and the President of the Legislative Council, and
(c) for the Department of Parliamentary Services—the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, the President of the Legislative Council and the Executive Manager of the Department.
No. 2 Page 4, schedule 1 . Insert at the end of line 4:
(e) the Department of Parliamentary Services, the Department of the Legislative Assembly and the Department of the Legislative Council.
No. 3 Page 4, schedule 1 , line 31. Omit all words on that line. Insert instead:
(b) a member of Parliament, but not for the purposes of a disclosure made by the member,
No. 4 Page 6, schedule 1 , proposed section 6B (1), lines 36 and 40. Insert "in respect of their functions as investigating authorities" after "authorities".
No. 5 Page 7, schedule 1 , proposed section 6C. Insert after line 28:
(2) This section does not apply to the principal officer of the Department of Parliamentary Services, the Department of the Legislative Assembly or the Department of the Legislative Council.
No. 6 Page 7, schedule 1 , proposed section 6C (4), line 36. Insert "or 23" after "section 22".
No. 7 Page 8, schedule 1 , lines 26–34. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead:
(c1) to the principal officer of the Department of Parliamentary Services, the Department of the Legislative Assembly or the Department of the Legislative Council about the conduct of a member of Parliament, or
No. 8 Page 10, schedule 1 , lines 13–23. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead:
(2A) To be protected by this Act, a disclosure by a public official to the principal officer of the Department of Parliamentary Services, the Department of the Legislative Assembly or the Department of the Legislative Council about the conduct of a member of Parliament must:
(a) be made in accordance with any official procedure established for the reporting of allegations of corrupt conduct, maladministration or serious and substantial waste of public money by a member of Parliament, and
(b) be a disclosure of information that the person making the disclosure honestly believes, on reasonable grounds, shows or tends to show corrupt conduct, maladministration or serious and substantial waste of public money by a member of Parliament.
No. 9 Page 11, schedule 1 , lines 5–7. Insert "or public authority" after "investigating authority" wherever occurring.
(Davidson) [5.10 p.m.]: The Opposition agrees to the amendments.
Question—That Government amendments Nos 1 to 9 be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Government amendments Nos 1 to 9 agreed to.
Mr JONATHAN O'DEA
(Davidson) [5.11 p.m.]: I move Opposition amendment No. 1:
No. 1 Page 16, schedule 1 , proposed section 31A. Insert after line 3:
(3) The Minister must table in each House of Parliament a response to any special report of the Ombudsman made pursuant to this section. The Minister's response to a special report must address each proposal for legislative change included in the report.
On the basis that the Government agrees to the amendment, I shall not speak further to it. I spoke to the amendment during my contribution to the debate on the bill.
Dr ANDREW McDONALD
(Macquarie Fields—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.12. p.m.]: The Government does not oppose Opposition amendment No. 1. However, the amendment is unnecessary as the Government always intended to respond to any special report made by the Ombudsman to Parliament. The Opposition's amendment merely formalises this process and deals with a minor procedural matter.
Question—That Opposition amendment No. 1 be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Opposition amendment No. 1 agreed to.
Dr ANDREW McDONALD
(Macquarie Fields—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.15 p.m.]: I move Government amendment No. 10:
No. 10 Page 17, schedule 1 , lines 10–13. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead:
(5) The joint committee is to report on the outcome of the review to both Houses of Parliament as soon as practicable after the completion of the review.
This is a minor technical amendment that simply makes it abundantly clear that the parliamentary committee reports to the Parliament and not to the Minister. This amendment was requested by the Clerk.
Mr JONATHAN O'DEA
(Davidson) [5.15 p.m.]: I move:
That the amendment be amended by adding the following:
(6) The Minister administering this Act is to provide a response to the outcome of the report to both Houses of Parliament within 6 months of the report being tabled.
The Opposition has discussed the amendment with the Government. While the Opposition accepts the change in approach, with the review going from the Premier to the joint standing committee, we believe it is important to acknowledge statutorily that the Premier will respond in due course to that report. That provision is contained already in Standing Order 303A of this House. However, given that the Premier has carriage of this legislation and the extra imperative associated with putting that obligation in a statute, the Opposition proposes that the obligation be referred to specifically. It is important that the Premier is seen to be responsible in taking carriage of matters pursuant to this legislation. Unfortunately, while I am pleased that the Government has accepted, in a statutory sense, the obligation to respond to special reports, it does not always respond to the reports of committees of this Parliament within six months. Most recently, we discussed the report of the Public Accounts Committee on the State Plan, which remains unanswered. I understand that the Government, in a spirit of fierce agreement, will not oppose the amendment.
Dr ANDREW McDONALD
(Macquarie Fields—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.17 p.m.]: The Government does not oppose the Opposition amendment.
Question—That the amendment of Government amendment No. 10 be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment of Government amendment No. 10 agreed to.
Question—That Government amendment No. 10 as amended be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Government amendment No. 10 as amended agreed to.
Question—That schedule 1 as amended be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Schedule 1 as amended agreed to.
Question—That schedule 2 be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Schedule 2 agreed to.
Consideration in detail concluded.
Passing of the Bill
Motion by Dr Andrew McDonald, on behalf of Ms Kristina Keneally, agreed to
Bill passed and transmitted to the Legislative Council with a message seeking its concurrence in the bill.
That this bill be now passed.
ROAD TRANSPORT (VEHICLE REGISTRATION) AMENDMENT (WRITTEN-OFF VEHICLES) BILL 2010
Agreement in Principle
Debate resumed from 24 September 2010.
Mr ANDREW STONER
(Oxley—Leader of The Nationals) [5.20 p.m.]: The aim of the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Amendment (Written-off Vehicles) Bill 2010 is to prohibit the re-registration of all repairable written-off vehicles, with some exceptions, in an attempt to clamp down on vehicle rebirthing. One of the other main objectives of the bill is to make New South Wales roads safer by removing poorly repaired, unsafe and older-model vehicles. The criminal practice of rebirthing is indeed far too prevalent in New South Wales and is known to be linked to organised crime syndicates. We all want vehicle theft statistics to be driven down and to make life harder for people who are involved in organised crime. We also want to reduce the number of shoddy, badly repaired written-off vehicles on the roads. Road safety should be a priority for the State Government, especially after another horror year on New South Wales roads. According to figures released by the Australian Department of Infrastructure and Transport, from September last year to August this year 388 fatal road crashes occurred in New South Wales in which 432 people died. The New South Wales road toll is simply too high.
Notwithstanding that, this bill is a heavy-handed way of addressing the issues of vehicle rebirthing and the number of unsafe and formerly written-off vehicles on the road. The Government has adopted a heavy-handed approach and the bill is the result of ham-fisted policymaking by a tired and arrogant Labor Government. The original announcement to ban the re-registration of all repairable written-off vehicles was made by the former Minister for Transport, David Campbell, in April this year. But even after six months has elapsed, as recently as this week the Keneally Labor Government had last-minute discussions with stakeholders regarding this legislation. If the Government were serious about addressing the issue of organised crime involvement in vehicle rebirthing and about reducing the road toll, it would at least have made sure that its legislation was right and had the endorsement of key stakeholders before introducing it to Parliament. Clearly this bill is another example of policy on the run from a tired old Labor Government.
Under current arrangements, there are two types of written-off vehicles in New South Wales: first, statutory write-offs, which are vehicles that can never be re-registered in this State or, by national agreement, in any other jurisdiction but may be sold for spare parts or scrap metal only; and, secondly, repairable write-offs, which are vehicles that can be re-registered after they have been repaired in accordance with the manufacturer's standards and after the identity of the vehicle has been verified. Earlier this year the Government announced that it would ban all repairable write-offs in an attempt to cut down on illegal car rebirthing. Under the ban, a vehicle will be unable to be registered anywhere in Australia once its details have been entered in the written-off vehicles register, which is the national database that assists in preventing the illegal rebirthing of vehicles.
The laws will apply to all light vehicles, including motorcycles, in New South Wales over 15 years of age, and statutory write-offs will be able to be used only for parts. According to the Roads and Traffic Authority, approximately 35,900 vehicles are written off annually. Of those, the vast majority—30,300—are repairable write-offs. Roughly half of those, approximately 13,600, are subsequently presented for registration. According to the Government, approximately 19,000 vehicles were stolen in 2008-09 in New South Wales. Approximately 5,700 of them have not been recovered. According to the New South Wales Police Force, that is a key indicator of rebirthing activities. Clearly this is an issue that we must deal with. It is just a shame that the Government's legislative response to the problem is far from perfect.
The Nationals and Liberals support a tightening of legislation applying to written-off motor vehicles to protect consumers, reduce crime and make our roads safer. However, we are concerned that this legislation will potentially have a significant impact on the cost of car insurance premiums. Although the Government claims that insurance companies have not taken into account that the elimination of repairable written-off vehicles could provide a benefit of approximately $60 million to insurers, the Daily Telegraph
reported on 20 October that the Minister admitted premiums would increase by approximately 3 per cent.
Mr David Borger:
Mr ANDREW STONER:
The Minister cited examples of that earlier today. On my quick calculation, the increase in cost to me of insuring my private vehicle, which presently costs approximately $800, will be approximately $24 a year. GST has to be added to that, as well as the fire service levy and the emergency levy, so the total increase for my private vehicle is likely to be between $25 and $30 a year. I dare say that many people pay higher insurance premiums than I do. The Government may not consider the increase to be significant and may not think it will make much of a difference to a family's budget, but I point out that there is quite a high level of mortgage stress throughout our communities, particularly communities in western Sydney.
Families are struggling to cope with the increased cost of living, particularly increased prices for electricity and water, interest rates and mortgage repayments. In that context, any increase—between $25 and $30 in my case, but in many more cases it will be a much higher amount—will present a difficulty, especially for younger drivers and for people who live in areas of high risk of theft and accident, which would be most people in Sydney. Moreover, the insurance industry has discussed premiums increasing by between $50 and $100 a year. There appears to be a credibility gap. We are not sure who to believe in relation to the cost of premiums, but both sides are saying that insurance premiums will increase, and that issue should be addressed in the context of this legislation.
The legislation stipulates that repairs must be certified by a licensed vehicle repairer and that the vehicle must pass certain inspections. The cost of the inspections will be determined by market forces, and that may also lead to additional costs for the consumer. While it is important to cut back on illegal car rebirthing and to prosecute individuals who are involved in those types of criminal activities, we ought to ensure that the cost of doing so is not significant and is not passed on to all car owners. The Liberals and Nationals supported another piece of road-related legislation concerning written-off vehicles, the Road Transport (General) Amendment (Written-off Vehicles) Bill 2007, because it went some way towards achieving national consistency in the notification, registering and management of written-off vehicles.
On the other hand, this bill does not take a national approach. It is a case of the Government getting ahead of attempts to address the issue nationally. However, the issue must be addressed nationally because vehicle theft and the use of vehicles that have been written off and subsequently repaired do not stop at State borders. It is a national issue that should have a coordinated national response. I note that key stakeholders such as the Insurance Council of Australia make that point strongly. They state that the Government should delay this legislation in order to review the outcomes of discussions being held nationally through the National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council, which is working on a national reform agenda in this area. There is a fear that changes to individual State laws could simply drive criminal activity into other jurisdictions. The bill does not outline which vehicles may be granted exemptions. While we recognise that exemptions may be necessary, the bill specifies only the classes of vehicles to which exemptions might apply.
ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Thomas George):
Order! The Leader of The Nationals will be heard in silence.
Mr ANDREW STONER:
And the vehicles would have to satisfy prescribed conditions. The bill states that the classes include enthusiasts' vehicles, collectible vehicles, vehicles of a high personal or economic value and some hail-damaged vehicles. There is scope for discretion in that area, and it would be useful to have further definitions. The feeling of many involved in this industry, whether from the insurance side or the vehicle repair side, is that the Government's legislative response to the issue is somewhat akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The point has been made to me that the issue of unsafe repaired write-offs could be addressed by limiting the ability to re-register a written-off vehicle to one that has been repaired by an accredited repairer.
It has been put to me that one might be able to address the issue of rebirthed vehicles by better resourcing police task forces that are tasked with cracking the criminal gangs responsible for these activities. I understand that there are hot spots, particularly in western Sydney, which indicate where this activity is taking place. A broad-brush legislative response may not be the best way of addressing these issues. I refer to an email I received from a constituent of the member for Willoughby. This person, who is a licensed trader and motor vehicle dealer, feels that he will lose his livelihood if this legislation goes through. He believes the industry needs to be cleaned up as it is rife with corruption, but not at the expense of legitimate repairers. He considers there should be an amendment to exempt licensed motor dealers. He said that licensed dealers were given the information only on Wednesday last week, with no time for consultation, and a number of insurers attended a meeting. So both insurers and repairers in the industry have expressed concern about the way the legislation will impact on them.
I note that the bill does not exempt licensed repairers. Licensed traders have contacted me and told me that if this legislation goes through their livelihood will be affected. I would like the Minister to respond to these issues in his reply. In terms of other stakeholders, businesses such as auction houses, motor traders, some repairers and private vehicle repair enthusiasts have indicated that the legislation may have an economic or other impact on them, although I understand that other stakeholders, including the Motor Traders Association, the NRMA and NRMA Insurance, are supportive of the legislation. So it is a bit of a mixed bag—which is a sign that the legislation is imperfect. Some people are happy with it; others are predicting doom and gloom if it goes through.
I note that much of the detail, including exemptions and a reference to "agreed value" as well as "market value" in the definition of "total loss", will be provided in regulations. The Liberal-Nationals suggest that the Government consult further with industry stakeholders and affected businesses on those details and on the provision of a transition period, given the extent of concern. I seek a response from the Minister on those issues as well. Earlier I said that there is an issue in this State with repairable written-off vehicles and car rebirthing. The Government has taken nearly 16 years to produce a legislative response. We believe the legislation is imperfect and that, as of this week, it was being tweaked—or was at least being discussed with the insurance industry. And we are debating it today. I ask the Minister to respond to the concerns expressed. However, at this stage the Liberal-Nationals will not oppose the bill, given our overriding concerns about road safety and reducing vehicle theft.
Mr MATT BROWN
(Kiama) [5.37 p.m.]: I am pleased to support the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Amendment (Written-off Vehicles) Bill 2010. These reforms address the critical problem of rebirthing repairable written-off vehicles by denying re-registration of the high-risk and suspect vehicles that supply the criminal rebirthing market. Serious questions about the origin of the parts used to repair vehicles can be raised in approximately six in 10 repairable write-offs presented for re-registration in New South Wales. This amounts to more than 12,000 suspect repairable write-offs being re-registered in New South Wales per year. Vehicle rebirthing and theft deeply distresses affected consumers, including families, who may unknowingly purchase a vehicle that had previously been written-off and may have been poorly repaired.
At best, consumers may discover after a period of ownership riddled with problems that the vehicle they purchased is of a lower than expected standard, leading to a drain on their financial resources due to the ongoing need for repairs. At worst, consumers find out about the poor vehicle condition in the most tragic of circumstances, when serious injury occurs to them or to a loved one in the event of a collision. These vehicles have been found to have seriously compromised structural integrity concealed by cosmetic repairs, which is not revealed by standard pre-purchase vehicle inspections. Victims of criminal rebirthing activities can also be left significantly out of pocket.
Consumers report an inability to recoup the money they have paid for a vehicle that is later identified as rebirthed. The costs they face include the purchase of another vehicle when the rebirthed vehicle is impounded for police investigations, while still being burdened with the debt on the rebirthed vehicle. These reforms will significantly increase the protection available for individuals and families from unscrupulous repairers and the potentially devastating results of unwittingly purchasing a poorly repaired written-off vehicle. The safety of New South Wales roads will be improved by implementing this ban. Cosmetic repairs to a repairable written-off vehicle can disguise the true condition of the vehicle and pose serious road safety risks.
In the event of a collision, the vehicle may not provide the expected level of safety and protection to occupants and may indeed increase the likelihood or severity of a crash. Despite the current New South Wales repairable written-off vehicle inspection regime, unscrupulous people use sophisticated techniques to conceal poor-quality repairs that are often impossible to detect without comprehensive or intrusive inspection techniques. Examples of these cosmetic or fake repairs include: the failure to replace used airbags, but rewiring the airbag notification system to indicate to the driver that the absent airbag is present and functional; and the fitting of trimmings or parts to disguise structural damage that could prove extremely dangerous in an accident.
In a national review of written-off vehicle management, the National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council concluded that a complete ban on the registration of written-off vehicles would achieve the greatest benefit to vehicle owners and insurers. A total ban would provide a benefit of $60.6 million to the community. There is a range of vehicles for which limited opportunity exists for rebirthing due to identical vehicles being largely unavailable for parts. I was pleased to note that, in recognition of the importance to the motoring public, the bill provides a means for the regulations to allow the re-registration of a limited but important range of vehicles. These vehicles may include enthusiast vehicles, collectible vehicles, vehicles of high personal or economic value and some hail-damaged vehicles. I note that the potential impact of these exemptions on theft reduction statistics is minimal, which is an important point to make in this debate.
The Minister for Roads has taken the time to address the concerns raised by the Opposition in 2007 when the previous bill was considered, and the concerns of transport authorities in other jurisdictions, about the potential movement of damaged vehicles out of New South Wales to attempt to avoid more stringent written-off vehicle requirements here. Two aspects of this bill will significantly reduce the opportunity for interstate transport of vehicles in an attempt to avoid the law: the bill requires all New South Wales registered vehicles that are written-off to be notified to the written-off vehicle register in New South Wales and it requires vehicles designated as repairable write-offs in another jurisdiction to be repaired, inspected and re-registered in another jurisdiction before they can be re-registered in New South Wales. I support the bill and the balance it achieves. I thank the Minister and his office for their hard work in preparing this bill. This is a balance between recognising the need for some limited exemptions and taking a tough stance against vehicle theft and re-birthing.
Mr GREG APLIN
(Albury) [5.42 p.m.]: The Office of Fair Trading protects consumers by managing the licensing regime for the motor vehicle repair industry, implementing the Motor Vehicle Repairs Act 1980. The aim is to ensure that consumers have access to people who are technically qualified to undertake repair work and who meet probity standards. The Act establishes minimum standards for repair work and behaviour by licensed persons. Disciplinary action can be taken where work falls below the required standard or the behaviour of the licensee is unfair or unjust. It is from that perspective that I make the following comments on the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Amendment (Written-off Vehicles) Bill 2010. The problem has been recognised for some time now. In a 7.30 Report
story from May 2000 Quentin Dempster called vehicle rebirthing "a $100 million business run by gangs of deviously clever car thieves now making fools of vehicle registration authorities around the country"!
How far have we come in the past 10 years? The Motor Traders Association of New South Wales estimates that 13,600 vehicles, on average, are presented for registration each year in New South Wales. An unknown proportion of them are rebirthed. At the heart of the matter, we really do not know accurately how many vehicles are rebirthed illegally. Yet we know enough to recognise that it is significant problem and more must be done to shut it down. Many panelbeaters have been writing to me over recent days supporting a ban on repairable write-offs. One email from Dennis Standen of Kloster Bodyworks in Wickham also included images of a substandard repair job and he provided a case study which illustrated the problem. He wrote:
I run a licensed body repair shop, and have done so for over 47 years and have seen countless vehicles come into my shop that have had previous dodgy repairs.
He referred to the photographs he had attached and told the story of an unsuspecting young couple with a new baby who had fallen victim to a rebirthing racket. He explained that the car had been written off in New South Wales and rebirthed in Queensland, purchased for $18,000, and brought into his workshop for a supposed "water leak". He went on to write:
All vehicles need to be repaired by licensed body repair technicians in properly equipped workshops, not in someone's backyard then sold to an unsuspecting customer. The general public needs protection from sub-standard, backyard repairs, and a ban on re-registering written off vehicles will really help!
But this criminal industry is not going to disappear without significant and concerted action by a host of stakeholders. The parliamentary response, through legislation, is but one factor. If we squeeze the rebirthers they will endeavour to expand their illegal operations elsewhere or in a more deceptive manner. That is the way of things. There has always been a slow history of action by the Government on this pernicious problem. Yet, as James McCall, Chief Executive Officer of the Motor Traders Association New South Wales said on 8 April this year:
It is important to note that whilst the overall motor vehicle theft figures have reduced in recent years the number of vehicles that are unrecovered each year has remained static and in some years actually increased.
Recent reforms and legislative action have included these steps: New South Wales introduced a voluntary Written-off Vehicle Register in 1996; in December 2005 there was the release of a New South Wales parliamentary Staysafe committee report No. 9/53, called "Repairing to a price, not a standard"; updated legislation for the industry followed in 2007, the Road Transport (General) Amendment (Written-off Vehicles) Act 2007; and a Roads and Traffic Authority discussion paper, "Improving the Regulation of Written-off Vehicles in New South Wales", was released for public comment in August 2009. By a Roads and Traffic Authority Vehicle history check, buyers could check whether a vehicle had been written off previously. As the member for Macquarie Fields said in the agreement in principle speech:
Despite the current New South Wales vehicle inspection regime, some unscrupulous persons employ sophisticated techniques to conceal poor quality repairs, which are often impossible to detect without more comprehensive or intrusive inspection techniques.
One concern over the proposal to remove the category of repairable write-offs is that insurance companies will have greater incentive to authorise repairs of more heavily damaged vehicles than we are used to seeing repaired. This is, if one likes, lifting the dollar threshold above which a vehicle will be declared a statutory write off. If one keeps the vehicle in play its value will not be reduced to its bare minimum—that is, spare parts or scrap. That is where the incentive lies. This is logical, fair enough, but clearly will move the marketplace into new positions with perhaps unexpected consequences.
Repairers will be asked by insurers and consumers to get to work on heavily damaged vehicles. This work may require the highest levels of skill and experience working with multiple metals with different properties, as well as reinstalling and checking safety equipment and sensors. That is not the domain of a simple workshop any more. It is highly technical, advanced work. As the Minister said, bad repairs "are often impossible to detect without more comprehensive or intrusive inspection techniques". No legislative regime is perfect and, I suspect, the prescriptive provisions of the bill before us will prove no different. Once again, enforcement becomes the issue. Will the Government increase the number of inspectors or allocate more financial resources to monitor the industry, to see that highly damaged vehicles are being repaired according to standards? If one does not look, one does not find out.
Another consequence of this bill is that the supply of used spare parts will increase, perhaps sharply. Many vehicles will be stripped as their only value is for parts. Repairers and insurers will have an interest in using these available spares, both because of their immediate availability and to keep costs down. We may well see acceptable practices change due to the new supply of used parts. From the recycling or reusing perspective that is good news; from the safety perspective, a caution must be raised. Damage may not be obvious from a simple visual inspection. This is why, for example, we do not want bicycle helmets or baby safety capsules to be reused after they have been in an accident or crash. Who will determine which vehicle used parts are as safe to reuse as a brand new part? How will inspectors monitor the new impetus in the spare parts trade?
The Government has announced a number of exemptions from the statutory write-off provisions, with the Roads and Traffic Authority to make determinations on a case-by-case basis within the broad categories. These might be classic antique or hail-affected vehicles, high-value vehicles, designated motor sport vehicles or those with sentimental value to the owner. I presume the exemptions will be made in the regulations but it would be helpful to the Parliament to have the details confirmed by the Minister now, as part of our debate on the substantive provisions of the scheme. Make no mistake: the width of these exemptions will provide opportunity for illegal activity to circumvent the new provisions. Let us see the detail of the exemptions now. It is a mistake not to have presented these exemptions to Parliament.
There appears to be a number of errors of drafting or of understanding how things will work in practice. These errors demonstrate a concerning failure of the Government's stakeholder consultations. In the bill's definition of "total loss", section 16H refers only to the market value. This definition accounts for a minority of insured vehicles. The majority are insured under agreed value policy. For a new vehicle in particular the agreed value will often be the full replacement cost of the vehicle. Market value, however, includes depreciation which, as we all know, begins the moment you drive a new vehicle out of the dealer's yard. The definition error must be corrected in this bill.
There are problems of a practical nature too with automatic deregistration of a written-off vehicle. Vehicle owners will have little opportunity to find out what this means, to find out if they can appeal the decision, to seek and take advice, and perhaps to launch an appeal. The process is unrealistic for consumers and more work should be done on this. There are also concerns for insurers as to how they can deregister third party vehicles when they do not have a contract with the owner. Again, this problem reveals that the bill has been presented half baked. If New South Wales is to take a lead on this further phase of anti-rebirthing laws, it must deliver a bill which is worthy of the leadership role. Unfortunately, this bill contains uncertainties and impracticalities. It will be difficult for other States to follow this flawed bill. In saying this, I make it clear that I am not condemning the underlying principle of taking firm action against vehicle rebirthing. We do, however, have an obligation to get the processes right. In this respect I have some reservations.
Finally, the bill before us, let us not forget, will hurt quite a number of individuals and businesses, whose honest pursuits will be curtailed or made more difficult. Parliament must always tread warily when, in cracking down on offenders, it also prevents honest citizens and businesses from carrying out previously lawful activity. Vehicle auctioneers, small repair shops and vehicle enthusiasts may lose access to cheap projects and routine sales commodities. Some jobs may be lost and insurance companies warn us that premiums will increase by perhaps $60 to $100 per vehicle per year. Where is the Government's response to the financial concerns of consumers? While consumer safety is paramount, we must nevertheless not ignore or gloss over the financial cost to consumers.
It is a balancing act but, alas, we do not have before us a thorough analysis by the Government of the cost that this update of the anti-rebirthing laws will impose on consumers. Consumers must be protected, not just in theory but in reality. To this end, I await the Minister's responses to the questions I have raised about additional resourcing and expertise for inspection and enforcement services and a likely cost to consumers. We do not oppose this bill but, given that a significant amount of detail is deferred to the regulations—including exemptions considered by the Roads and Traffic Authority—the New South Wales Liberals and Nationals request that there be full consultation with industry stakeholders and affected businesses on the details and transition period to be included in the regulation.
Mr JOHN AQUILINA
(Riverstone—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.52 p.m.]: I support the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Amendment (Written-off Vehicles) Bill 2010 and I commend the Minister for introducing it. Many Ministers before him have indicated a need for such legislation. Indeed, there has been discussion about it for a long time, but it is now finally with us. Whilst I acknowledge—and no doubt the Minister will also—some of the issues raised by the Opposition in relation to some of the detail, I think it is time that we got on with the job and passed the legislation. There will be opportunities for regulation in other ways to make sure that we address those issues. After all, this is a dynamic area of activity. It is not something that has happened in the past; nor is it something that we can encase in concrete and say that that will be it and that is final. It is something that changes from day to day. No doubt as a result of this legislation there will be a reaction by the debt industry that would require—if I can use a term that was used in the House yesterday—"tweaking" at times.
It is high time we got on with this legislation—legislation that is extremely important and timely. As has been already indicated in the agreement in principle speech, in 2008-09 approximately 19,000 vehicles were stolen in New South Wales, 5,700 of which were not recovered. One wonders what happened to those 5,700. That represents almost 16 per cent of the vehicles per day that were stolen and not recovered in New South Wales. It is extremely important that we address this issue as well as the issue of rebirthing, for a number of reasons. It is of great concern that there are so many victims of criminal rebirthing activities in the community, victims who do not have the ability to recoup their money and to redress the wrong that has been done to them.
There are also the various costs, including the purchase of other vehicles while the rebirthed vehicle is impounded for police investigations, while still being burdened with the debt of the rebirthed vehicle. There is the whole issue about the amount of police time that is taken in relation to these matters, which is indeed considerable. On top of that, vehicle owners suffer great distress throughout this process. That in itself is a great cost. It is a cost to the general community, it is a cost to the taxpayers and it is a cost that the Government has a responsibility to address and reduce. Reducing the opportunity of rebirthing and reducing the opportunity of having this stress, having this financial burden placed on people, is an important obligation of this Parliament and this Government. Therefore, it is important that this bill be passed.
Another more insidious issue needs to be addressed, and that is the real potential for danger for people who have a faulty vehicle on the road. Indeed, there have been some graphic instances of this. Some vehicles have been shoddily or illegally repaired in such a way that the faults are hidden. For example, airbags may be left out or the electronics may be arranged in such a way that it appears as though the airbags are all okay to the casual observer. I have been told that there are literally thousands of these sorts of vehicles in the community. This is a great danger. It is also a great threat to many people.
I have had a number of discussions with vehicle repairers about this issue. Indeed, they brought it to my attention before it ever needed to come to this place. I compliment a number of members of the Motor Traders Association who have been knocking on my door about this issue for several years. I note that the member for Hawkesbury is in the Chamber. He may refer to the same people in his speech—I assume that they have been knocking on his door as well. They are from the areas he and I represent. I compliment Graeme Smith of Blacktown City Smash Repairs, a man who has run a reputable business in Sunnyholt Road, Blacktown, for a long time. For years now he has expressed to me the concern he has about this issue and the prominent danger that exists for many people. He could cite case after case of where he has attended a crash scene and has seen the extensive damage and injury done to people because of shoddy, illegal repairs on these sorts of vehicles that have been written off and then repaired. However, the work has been carried out in such a way that the faults have not been able to be detected by the Roads and Traffic Authority's inspectors.
The Minister referred to a crash test video where the crash test confirmed the severity of safety risks known to be associated with poorly repaired, written-off vehicles. I refer to an official Roads and Traffic Authority Crash Lab test, conducted under scientifically controlled conditions, on a written-off Toyota Corolla that had been defectively repaired. As is too often the case with poorly repaired, written-off vehicles, the vehicle had faults with seatbelts, airbags and various other safety systems. The video showed the 2004 model Corolla crashing head-on into a wall at a speed of only 56 kilometres per hour. That test was conducted not far from my electorate. As the seatbelts and airbags failed, both occupants were shown suffering horrible injuries.
In fact, in analysing the test results it was found that the driver of the repairable write-off was 42 times more likely to have critical head injuries and the passenger 36 times more likely to have critical head injuries than in a standard Corolla. The types of injuries identified in this crash would include major skull fractures and critical, irreversible brain damage. The results of this test show without doubt that the New South Wales' Government's reforms are essential.
Let us think about some of the issues raised in that test. Some years ago the Government passed legislation in relation to adding a premium to compulsory third party insurance to ensure we make provision for those who suffer brain damage in accidents. I know that that is a costly matter and an impost upon motorists, but it was very important legislation that this Government introduced because it wanted to make sure that people who suffered brain damage as a result of accidents received proper compensation—a situation which up to then had not been addressed. The cost of that to the community is horrendous. The situation that has existed up until now, with illegally repaired write-offs and factors in relation to safety mechanisms being concealed, is a contributor towards the pain and permanent damage that many people suffer.
Issues have been raised about the cost of premiums and so forth; however, people I have spoken to have said the reverse. We need to weigh that against the fact that we will be making vehicles safer as well as reducing the stress, anxiety and tension caused by vehicles being stolen and rebirthed and people having their money literally taken from under their noses because they buy a rebirthed vehicle without knowing it and find it being impounded.
Another issue relates to spare parts. It is well known today that spare parts for the repair of vehicles are practically unavailable, and they are unavailable because they go into rebirthed vehicles or vehicles that have been fixed after being written off. That is at horrendous cost to the community and, in itself, has driven up premiums quite substantially. If a car is damaged and needs a door, panel, bumper bar or grille fixed, a new part has to be brought out, which is paid for by insurance companies and adds to the cost of premiums. I have been told by many motor repairers that, as a result of this legislation—for which they enthusiastically commend the Minister and the Government—a large number of spare parts will be made available for use in the repair of vehicles, making the cost of repairs substantially cheaper than it is now because of the availability of spare parts. That is also an important aspect that we need to consider and an important economic fact that needs to be taken into account.
No doubt some issues will need to be sorted out in the implementation of this legislation, but I am confident that, with the willingness of the Minister to consult and with the capacity and ability of insurance companies and also the Motor Traders Association to ensure that consultation does take place, a process of consultation will be undertaken and what needs to be sorted out can be sorted out. Let us not hesitate in any way about bringing forward the legislation. Here we have legislation that is of extreme importance, which is going to make our roads safer, which is going to ease stress for thousands of people in this State and which will give us a greater guarantee of being able to drive on our roads with safety.
Mr RAY WILLIAMS
(Hawkesbury) [6.03 p.m.]: I support the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Amendment (Written-off Vehicles) Bill 2010. Before making my contribution, I state for the record that I speak on behalf of the industry as a qualified panelbeater and spray painter who retains a trade certificate and who worked in the industry for 22 years prior to entering Parliament. I speak on behalf of panelbeating businesses across New South Wales and, in particular, consumers. As the member for Riverstone stated, consumers are the people we must look at closely and who are the people most affected by these changes to the legislation.
The legislation has been a long time coming and as we stand here tonight there are literally tens of thousands of families and young people driving on our roads in cars that are nothing less than death traps. They are death traps because they are vehicles that have been purchased at auctions, repaired in the backyards of unlicensed and unqualified panelbeaters, and returned to the market for unsuspecting consumers—unsuspecting families—to purchase. I talk of the large majority of the almost 14,000 vehicles that were written off in the last year alone. If we work that out over a number of years, there are tens of thousands of these vehicles on the road today. All I can say is God help those people if they have a serious accident—God help them if they have a minor accident and have to return the vehicle to a panelbeater for repair. Many insurance companies have raised some concerns about this and about an increase in premiums. I believe that as a result of the legislation there will be a massive reduction in stolen vehicles and that will offset the premiums that insurance companies are talking about inflicting on consumers.
I will pick a hypothetical example of a car, maybe a three-year-old or four-year-old car, which is valued at $20,000 and insured for $20,000. If that vehicle were to run up the back of another vehicle, at first look it may have cosmetic damage to a bumper bar, grille, front apron, the bonnet and some guards. However, the cost to repair the vehicle may be as high as $15,000. Insurance companies will look at the payout figure. Whilst the car may be insured for $20,000, if repair will cost $15,000 and the insurance company has a good idea that the car would bring some $5,000 to $6,000 if sold through auction, it would write-off the car, pay out the owner and send the vehicle to auction to be sold.
The repair of the car would not just be assessed on the cosmetic make-up but also the sub-structure, the sub-frame, the firewalls and the inner guards, which have particular high-tensile steel and strength and require specialist repair work in order to bring the vehicle back to a roadworthy condition. It can be brought back to a roadworthy condition provided it is repaired by a qualified and authorised panelbeater, but that does not usually happen. That is what the legislation is about: vehicles written off and sent to auction. They are purchased at auction for about $5,000 or $6,000 by people who repair them in their backyard. This is where the problem exists. People purchase the vehicles and fix up the cosmetic nature of the damage; however, the sub-frame, the inner guards and the high-tensile steel remain unrepaired. To the untrained eye, to someone purchasing these vehicles after repair, that would largely go unnoticed. Some backyard repairers are very good at covering up what would, I suppose, to the untrained eye appear to be very minor. However, the damaging effect of this deficit on the structural integrity of the vehicle places future drivers in very grave danger.
Normally, in an accident, airbags would be expanded in the vehicle. The car would go to the auction house and the backyard dealer who buys it would remove the airbag, usually stuff it full of tissues, and silicone the cover on the steering wheel. We then have a vehicle which, unbeknown to unsuspecting buyers, not only has damaged structural integrity but also has no airbag. I state firmly on the record that there are literally thousands and thousands of these vehicles on the road tonight being driven by unsuspecting people. That is why the legislation is so important. That is why we need to ensure that the legislation goes through. We need to ensure that in the future any vehicles damaged in that manner are assessed. The insurance companies assessing them must ensure that the vehicles are repaired by qualified and authorised panelbeaters only.
There should be no-one in a backyard anywhere across this country undertaking those repairs. This legislation is worthy and timely. It will provide safe vehicles for consumers and will remove the death traps that are on our roads. It will also remove what we term debt traps for people because once these vehicles are discovered to have these faults insurance companies will no longer insure them. They even turn up for sale in other car yards or can be traded in, and one needs to have a qualified eye to notice some of the problems. When these vehicles are traded in car dealers are then faced with the problem of not being able to onsell the vehicles to the public because they are then accountable for these dangerous vehicles being returned to the road.
The corrupt practices in the backyards across our country of bringing these vehicles back on to the market have created a very dangerous situation. This bill will result in a reduction in insurance premiums because there will not be the incentive for rebirthing of vehicles. This is where vehicles are sold through the auction house after having been written off. They might have been purchased for $5,000 or $6,000. Upon being repaired the vehicles could fetch up to $30,000. Unscrupulous people do not go to the trouble of repairing the vehicle, they simply steal a similar vehicle. As has been stated already, some 20,000 vehicles are stolen each year and 6,000 are never recovered.
I stand with my hand on my heart and state that many of these vehicles will be returned to the streets of New South Wales rebirthed from the compliance plates and vehicle identification numbers of vehicles that have gone through the auctions. That practice will be removed through this legislation. I return to my original example of the vehicle insured for $20,000. All of a sudden it will not be worth that value at the auction house. In turn, the insurance companies, being businesses, will try to get the best outcome, so the great likelihood is that many of these vehicles will be repaired. That will create an enormous amount of work for the industry. Panelbeaters will suddenly see many more vehicles being brought to them for repairs. Any vehicles that cannot be repaired will be written off and will become second-hand parts, of which there is a shortage. An increase in second-hand parts will mean a reduction in new car parts, which have controlled the market to date. It will be better for the economy across the board.
This bill will result in more cars being repaired by panelbeaters, meaning more jobs and apprenticeships. I accept that there is a skills shortage, and many times previously I have referred to the antisocial behaviour of young people, such as with graffiti, on our streets, especially in western Sydney. However, they could be some very good panelbeaters of the future if we could just tap into the market. I commend the Motor Traders Association, which is undertaking an apprenticeship scheme to encourage people back into the trades. One thing that rings the bells of young blokes involved in antisocial behaviour is working on cars: they love motor vehicles. I was involved with many apprentices during my time working in the trade. Young blokes love to get their hands on a spray gun to repair and do up their vehicles. If they can be encouraged into the industry it will help to alleviate the skills shortage. I cannot see any negatives to this bill, except that it has been a long time coming. My heart goes out to the many people driving around in unroadworthy and unsafe vehicles. They will lose a lot of money when they find out that their vehicles are no longer worth much.
I raise an important aspect of the bill that I believe has been overlooked and must be addressed in the near future, that of heavy vehicles. The bill does not go far enough. It is good legislation with respect to light vehicles but when semitrailers capable of towing up to 80 tonnes roll over, the cab is almost unrecognisable: to the naked eye it is completely destroyed. These vehicles, which are capable of killing dozens of people in a serious accident, are returning to our roads because they have been repaired in the backyards of people's homes. This is happening as I speak and is why we should amend the legislation to include heavy vehicles. Much of my time in the panelbeating industry involved working on heavy vehicles. When a heavy vehicle has an accident, especially major accidents involving rollovers or where vehicles end up on their sides, there is stress to much of the vehicle's structure—tie rod ends, steering arms or steering boxes.
I state categorically that the only way to check whether the integrity of a heavy vehicle's important safety aspects are intact is to crack test them and undertake specialised testing to ensure that a fault will not be encountered down the track. Many trucks on our roads tonight have been repaired in backyards because nothing is in place to demand that they be repaired and presented for reregistration by registered and qualified panelbeaters. I put to the Minister that we must impose exactly the same standards on heavy vehicles that we impose on motor vehicles around New South Wales. Recently a truck held up traffic on the F3 for 12 hours. I do not suggest for one moment that there was anything wrong with that particular vehicle.
However, it is very difficult to forensically examine whether or not that vehicle had anything wrong with the integrity of its steering or its structural make-up after the accident. When an 80-tonne vehicle has an accident it causes enormous problems. If trucks have accidents and run off our roads—and we see some interesting accidents at times—it is hard to point to exactly what has happened. I would hate to think that those trucks have been returned to our roads after being repaired in backyards without proper checking and accountability. That is a failure of this legislation. In the future we need to ensure that we impose the same standards on heavy vehicles that we impose on light vehicles. I support the legislation but urge the Minister to take on board my comments.
Mr JOHN WILLIAMS
(Murray-Darling) [6.18 p.m.]: As a motor dealer and someone who has operated in the motor industry for 32 years I feel I am qualified to have an opinion on the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Amendment (Written-off Vehicles) Bill 2010. I speak primarily on behalf of the motor dealers of New South Wales and I am sure that news of this bill will create considerable pleasure amongst motor dealers who run legitimate businesses. Over many years I have seen the fallout from exactly what we are discussing tonight. I have seen consumers who have bought a car on face value but later have found out that it was repaired in a backyard. Shortcuts have been taken, safety features have been removed and the integrity of the vehicle has been compromised. In the course of car ownership it may have become apparent to some people that their car had some disturbing safety issues.
There have been situations where faulty repairs have caused major vibrations in the vehicle at speed, tail shafts have fallen off and caused cars to jack-knife, and people have been exposed to some very dangerous situations. I ran a repair shop in combination with my vehicle dealership and I am well aware that insurance companies from time to time choose to write off vehicles. During this process there is negotiation between the repairer, the insurance company and the owner with regard to whether the car should be repaired and, maybe at the request of the owner, the repairer will support a contracted arrangement with the insurance company to fix the vehicle to the satisfaction of the owner and the insurance company and ensure that it returns to the road in very good condition. The fact is that at that point of time the insurance company has not yet chosen to write it off.
During my time as a motor dealer I spent a lot of time visiting auction houses and I can assure members that when auction houses were disposing of written-off vehicles a culture developed with the people engaged in purchasing those vehicles. There was no doubt that their intentions were either to repair the vehicle in a shoddy manner or find another vehicle so they could rebirth it. Either way it impacts on people's lives. Insurance companies have said the provisions of the bill could increase premiums, but when we consider that there should no longer be a problem with vehicles being stolen and not recovered it is apparent there will be a huge benefit to the insurance companies. They will find that the 5,000 or 6,000 vehicles that are stolen each year for rebirthing will suddenly no longer be stolen. Over time we will see the benefits of this legislation.
The problem with faulty repairs that I have referred to could happen to the family or a friend of any member of this House. People buy a vehicle at what they believe is a very good price—most of them present well at face value—and they find out in due course, hopefully before they have a major accident, that the vehicle does not provide the safety it should. One of the greatest improvements I have seen in motor vehicles in my time in the motor industry has been the safety features. There is no doubt that people who walk into a motor dealership today consider safety to be one of the prime features when buying a vehicle. They believe there are certain safety features in the vehicle that will engage in the event of a crash. I have seen at first hand rebirthed vehicles whose airbags have gone off in an accident. The airbags have been snipped off at the base and the covers glued back into position. People who thought they would have some protection in the event of an accident may find the protection has been removed. These are the people who get hurt.
There is no doubt this legislation is much needed. I would have liked to have seen it happen many years ago because, unfortunately, Far too many cars on the road present a major hazard either to their owners or to other vehicles on the road. When those compromised vehicles get into a situation in which most vehicles will engage, their safety features could perform in a very unsafe manner and create a risk to other vehicles that normally would not be involved in an accident. This legislation is a great step forward and I congratulate the Minister on bringing it to the House. I can assure him that a lot of people will be very happy about it.
Mr WAYNE MERTON
(Baulkham Hills) [6.24 p.m.]: My comments will be very brief. Previous speakers have canvassed the provisions of this legislation in great detail and there is no need for another exposition to be on the parliamentary record at this stage. Suffice to say that the object of the bill is to provide for the keeping of a register of written-off vehicles and the collection of information concerning written-off vehicles. The proposed written-off vehicle register will prevent the registration of a vehicle having the same vehicle identifier as a written-off vehicle unless the Roads and Traffic Authority has issued an authorisation to repair the vehicle and a licensed motor vehicle repairer has assessed the vehicle as meeting certain repair standards and issued a certificate of compliance in relation to the vehicle.
The register will also prevent the registration of a vehicle that has the same vehicle identifier as certain written-off vehicles recorded on a register of written-off vehicles in another jurisdiction. Lastly, the bill will enable Austroads, the body maintaining the national database of written-off vehicles, to have access to the details on the register of written-off vehicles.
No doubt there are problems with vehicles that should have been written off but have been defectively repaired or effectively rebirthed. There are two issues: vehicles that have been rebirthed and those that have not been professionally or correctly repaired. To use a colloquialism, one could say the repair has been a bodged job. That has enormous ramifications as far as the owner and driver of the vehicle is concerned as well as for members of the public who have to travel the same roads as some of these bodged vehicles. Other speakers have referred to airbags being disconnected, chassis being out of alignment, defective brakes, wheels being out of alignment and similar faults that could cause accidents.
It is interesting to note that the bill defines a total loss as a vehicle that has been damaged, dismantled or demolished to the extent that its salvage value, plus the cost of repairing the vehicle for use on a road, would be more than the market value of the vehicle immediately before the damage, dismantling or demolition. In other words, the criteria are economic. The salvage value of the vehicle and the cost of repairing it properly exceed the market value of the vehicle. In that situation vehicles should be written off under this legislation. The ramifications are that I believe many more vehicles will now be repaired because the market for vehicles for rebirthing will diminish dramatically. That will bring more employment to panelbeaters and such people. Also, there will be fewer thefts because people will have no incentive to steal a vehicle for use in a rebirth.
My only question to the Minister relates to a reference in the agreement in principle speech to collectible vehicles. Other members have referred to this as well. In some cases collectible vehicles are worth substantial sums of money. They are owned by enthusiasts who have insurance with some companies that do an excellent job of insuring such vehicles. The wreck is salvaged and it goes to the enthusiast to rebuild the car—he may well have rebuilt it in the first instance—and the vehicle eventually goes back on the road. That is an important part of our motoring heritage and history and it is important that it be preserved.
I note that the Minister is nodding his head, indicating that the legislation covers this aspect. I could not find such a reference in the legislation. Perhaps the matter will be dealt with by the regulations. I ask the Minister to clarify that aspect in his reply. On behalf of the Opposition I support the bill. I believe it is worthwhile legislation, and I commend the bill to the House.
Mr MICHAEL RICHARDSON
(Castle Hill) [6.30 p.m.]: Three years ago we considered changes to the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Act that created two categories of written-off vehicles: reparable write-offs and statutory write-offs. That was consistent with nationally agreed definitions for each class of motor vehicle. The bill, drafted after extensive consultation with the industry, provided for the Roads and Traffic Authority to refuse to register a statutory written-off vehicle. According to the Roads and Traffic Authority, approximately 36,000 vehicles are written off each year. Around 30,000 of these vehicles are reparable write-offs, and 13,600 of those vehicles are re-presented for registration in New South Wales. The bill will ban these previously reparable write-offs from being re-registered in this State, or indeed in any other State. They will go onto the national Written-off Vehicles Register, and that should theoretically mean they can only be stripped down and sold for parts.
It is too often the case that reparable write-offs are repaired to a substandard or even dangerous level. In the debate three years ago I described a car from Western Australia that had been repaired then registered in this State. Its structural integrity was comprised and the pin connecting the brake pedal to the brake lever was about to fall out—there was the potential for a horrific accident. This sort of shoddy workmanship is apparently commonplace. I understand that the frame of the new Holden Commodore is made of high-strength steel that cannot be repaired by normal means. If the car suffers a side impact that bends the frame, the whole side of the car should be replaced. So the car could theoretically become a reparable write-off after six months on the road. An unscrupulous person could buy the car, patch it up to a substandard level, make it look good, and then sell it as a virtually new car. Obviously it will be the buyer who will suffer—and, potentially, anyone he or she is carrying in the car, as we have heard. Compromising the structural integrity of the car could cause an horrific injury, if not death.
Re-birthing—whereby a written-off vehicle is given a new identity—has become big business for car thieves. An unregistered reparable write-off is bought at auction or from a wrecker. The thief then steals a similar make and model of vehicle and switches the vehicle identification number and compliance plate from the written-off car to the stolen one. The stolen, rebirthed car is then presented to the Roads and Traffic Authority or to an interstate motor authority for re-registration. The stolen vehicle is then sold privately to an unsuspecting member of the public. Alternatively, the thieves will buy a reparable write-off and use parts from the vehicle they have stolen to repair the damaged vehicle, often to an unsatisfactory and unsafe standard. They might leave the shell of the stolen vehicle sitting in the street. That car goes back to the auction house to be sold as a reparable write-off, the gang goes along, bids for it and buys it, steals another car, and puts the parts from the stolen car onto the stripped reparable write-off. And so it goes in a somewhat vicious circle.
When I spoke in the debate on the previous bill three years ago I said, "The Government should consider making the writing-off of vehicles statutory, thereby ensuring they will never be repaired." It is nice to be ahead of the game. However, I believed then and believe now that this should be a national approach. As things stand, any reparable write-off vehicle registered in another State can be re-registered here with no questions asked. One important definition in the bill is that of written-off vehicle. Any vehicle assessed as an economic total loss is classified as a statutory write-off. That occurs when the cost of repairs, plus the vehicle's value as a damaged vehicle, are higher than its undamaged market value.
A local smash repairer gave me the example of a Ford Territory insured for $17,000 that would have cost $9,500 to repair. The insurance company wrote off the vehicle because the value of the vehicle at auction was greater than the $7,500 differential between the two. But what might happen at present is that the car would be bought at auction and repaired in a substandard way using second-hand—not necessarily stolen—parts by a backyarder, then sold privately to some unsuspecting buyer. In future this vehicle will be written off. The bill also requires that a competent person be used to assess repaired, crash-damaged vehicles. Those vehicles must be repaired to a standard and not to a price.
Some of the equipment used by repair shops today is extremely expensive—for example, equipment used to straighten and stretch damaged chassis—and is not available to backyarders. Indeed, I understand that today it costs about half a million dollars to set up a smash repair shop. The repair might be more expensive, but what the consumer will end up with is a properly repaired car that is safe and will last. This is certainly a step in the right direction. Enthusiasts' vehicles, classic collectors' vehicles and specified personally imported vehicles will be exempt from the ban on reparable write-offs. Vehicles with a demonstrated high personal or sentimental value to the owner will also be considered for exemptions.
The bill still contains some loopholes and anomalies that the unscrupulous or criminally minded may exploit. They include lack of retrospectivity. I understand that any vehicle already in the system will not come under the new bill and that a large number of damaged vehicles are being snapped up in anticipation of this bill becoming law. I have heard on radio some discussion about that aspect of the legislation. I also raise the treatment of hail-damaged vehicles. Members may recall there was a huge hailstorm some 11 years ago. It was the most expensive insurance event in Australia's history. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of cars were damaged at that time. In many instances hail damage is cosmetic damage; the vehicles are not necessarily structurally damaged. However, the cost of repairs to a damaged vehicle, plus the vehicle's value, would be higher than the vehicle's undamaged market value. That would mean that the vehicle would be written off, even though it could be driven perfectly safely because it is not structurally impaired in any way.
I also raise the issue of motorcycles. NRMA Insurance has written to me, and presumably to other members, about this issue. The company points out that motorcycles are in a different class from cars and that it is possible to write off a motorcycle in a driveway, simply by it falling off its stand. Obviously, if that occurs the motorcycle is not structurally damaged at all. There are some very expensive parts hidden behind the fairings of modern motorcycles, so even dropping the bike at a fairly low speed can cause the bike to be written off. The frame is not damaged in any way, the brakes are not damaged in any way, the structural integrity of the bike is not damaged in any way, and yet under this legislation the bike will end up being written off. I encourage the Minister to look at that issue because I believe it is important. It is possible that it will be covered by the regulations.
Mr VICTOR DOMINELLO
(Ryde) [6.36 p.m.]: The object of the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Amendment (Written-off Vehicles) Bill 2010 is to tighten the laws in relation to the re-registration of severely damaged, or write-off, vehicles. The bill is a response to the prevalent criminal activity of
the rebirthing of stolen vehicles and their parts. According to the Roads and Traffic Authority, about 36,000 damaged vehicles are classified as write-offs each year. Of these, 14,000 are presented for re-registration in New South Wales. The aspect of the bill I wish to address is the regulation determining when a written-off vehicle can be repaired and sold—known as a reparable write-off under the current legislation.
Earlier this week Mr Peter Zaknich, a licensed vehicle repairer and dealer, contacted my office to express his concern about the effect the bill would have on his business. Mr Zaknich has operated his business in Ryde for more than 11 years. His stock in trade is purchasing written-off vehicles from insurance auctions, repairing them to a roadworthy standard and, following Roads and Traffic Authority inspection, selling them. I am advised that there are between 25 and 100 licensed repairer dealers in Mr Zaknich's line of business. Based on briefings from the Department of Fair Trading it has become clear to many repairer dealers, such as Mr Zaknich, that they may be put out of business as a result of these new restrictions.
The changes are aimed at stopping the activities of criminals and unscrupulous operators who have no regard for properly repairing the safety features of written-off vehicles. These operators are driven solely by quick profits. Mr Zaknich has expressed his frustration at the way in which dodgy backyard operators have tarnished the reputation of legitimate operators in the industry. The Roads and Traffic Authority could do a lot more to target its efforts on irregular operations. For example, Mr Zaknich believes that the authority could restrict written-off repairs to licensed repairers. These repairers could be made to certify their work prior to presentation for inspection by the Roads and Traffic Authority Vehicle Identification Inspection Unit.
Mr Zaknich also believes that if a licensed repairer or dealer presents defective vehicles to the Roads and Traffic Authority, severe financial penalties should be imposed as well as a loss of licence. This would hold people accountable. The fear of losing one's livelihood should deter people from cutting corners when repairing vehicles. These are the concerns expressed by Mr Zaknich and, for that matter, a number of my constituents. I believe it is appropriate that in debating this bill I draw these concerns to the attention of the House.
Mr BRAD HAZZARD
(Wakehurst) [6.39 p.m.]: At the outset, I indicate my support for the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Amendment (Written-off Vehicles) Bill 2010. I acknowledge the need for this legislation. When I was called, I was having discussions with the Minister, who was being most helpful, as he usually is, and his staff about a number of issues. I do not intend to canvass matters raised by my colleagues, but from my experiences over many years as a solicitor, the people caught out by rebirthing of vehicles and the use of stolen parts are those who are least able to withstand the problems associated with buying a vehicle and finding out that it is not in fact theirs. Often, it is young people and those in lower socioeconomic circumstances that buy a vehicle that appears to be a bargain but turns out to be anything but a bargain.
I certainly support any amendments to New South Wales legislation to facilitate appropriate searches being available. Obviously, that requires that any register set up under this legislation is accessible, not only by government agencies but also by individuals. I formally raise a point that I was discussing with the Minister and his staff when I was called upon to make my contribution. I ask the Minister to put on record that an individual person, not just a government department, wishing to purchase a vehicle will, under this legislation, be able to make a search on an available register by inputting relevant data to that searchable register, whatever it may be.
From my brief discussions , I know that some searches are already available. I was told that one of those was introduced in 2009. The Minister might expand on that in his response so that anyone reading this debate will understand that they will be able, presumably when regulations are promulgated, to make a formal search. I ask the Minister whether there is likely to be a fee for that search, or whether the search could be made by computer without fee. If it is accepted that primarily young people and others who are in lower socioeconomic circumstances would most benefit from this legislation, it would be helpful if the Government could facilitate a search on a no-fee basis. I appreciate that that may not be possible, but I ask the Minister if he can clarify it in the context of this debate.
I am pleased to support this bill, which I think will go a long way to ensuring that a lot more information becomes available for individuals who may find that they took possession of a vehicle only to find that title to it is with somebody else, whether the person from whom the vehicle was stolen or the finance company. This is a constant problem. With these new measures, and hopefully the additional information, I trust this Parliament will have moved much further forward to assist residents of New South Wales.
Mr DAVID BORGER
(Granville—Minister for Roads, and Minister for Western Sydney) [6.42 p.m.], in reply: First I will respond to a number of questions that were asked, and to some criticisms that were made during the debate. I thank in particular the members for Riverstone, Murray-Darling, Hawkesbury, The Hills, Baulkham Hills and Wakehurst for their contributions to the debate. I note that most members who spoke were genuinely and positively engaged in this legislation, genuinely had strong links to the legitimate industry in their electorates, and genuinely were quite supportive of what the Government is trying to do with this measure. I appreciate the comments made in their contributions.
I refer now to some questions that were asked and to some of the comments made, particularly by the shadow Minister for Roads. The first point made by the shadow Minister was that this bill is like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Well, it is a pretty big nut when more than 5,700 vehicles are not recovered each year, that is, cars that are stolen and never seen again. I am not saying that every one of those cars had been stolen to match a written-off vehicle bought at auction. However, the police, the Motor Traders Association and the general community are fairly sure that a large proportion of those unrecovered cars are going to feed a criminal industry that undermines safety and the legitimate repairers who make very large investments in equipment that is needed to service modern vehicles.
The question was asked: Why cannot legitimate repairers be allowed to buy written-off vehicles? This bill is about closing a loophole, preventing crooks and shonks becoming licensed repairers. We do not want those engaged in illegal activity at the moment suddenly deciding that a way to overcome these measures is to somehow become registered. This will be a law that everyone understands. It will prevent people from stealing cars, connecting them to other vehicles that they have bought legitimately, and then onselling them, with all the attendant risks to buyers.
Another question asked was: Should we not wait for a national system? Some members asked for information on the national environment. This is a leadership issue. New South Wales has the opportunity to take the national lead, to be the first State to ban written-off vehicles, to be the first State to reduce the amount of criminal activity associated with written-off vehicles. That is precisely what the bill does. I am very pleased for the support from both sides for it. Back in 1996 we led the way in legislating and establishing the first written-off register. That was done unilaterally, as a single State. Guess what? Every other State has followed that legislation, and it has become a model. I hope that will happen with this legislation.
Some positive signs are coming out of Victoria. I urge the Victorian legislators to follow suit, because New South Wales and Victoria are the bulk of the national market. If the two States adopt these sorts of measures, that would create pressure for other States to follow in that respect. We could have referred this proposal to a national committee, but we were elected to act, to make decisions. Frankly, sometimes life is too short to refer these matters to national committees, where such things can die the death of a thousand cuts.
A question was asked about exemptions to the legislation. There were very good questions about categories and classes of vehicles that will not be subject to this legislation. Obviously, we will have to develop regulations that marry with this bill. We will consult on those regulations with industry and with people who have raised concerns and issues today, to make sure that those regulations do not also crack down on legitimate opportunities to repair written-off vehicles where there is no question that there is a relationship with criminal activity, such as hail-damaged vehicles. My friend the member for Mount Druitt is very concerned about his 1963 VW beetle. I guarantee him that his 1963 VW beetle will be well and truly covered in the regulations. If his beetle were written off, legislative opportunities would be available because of the antique value of that sort of vehicle. Questions on that issue were also raised by other members.
The shadow Minister for Roads made the comment that this proposal is not supported by everyone—somehow suggesting that because it is not supported by everyone we should not act. Frankly, our job is to make decisions, for better or for worse, for everyone. We may not always get it right, but we have to make decisions. If we wait for everyone to support it, we will be waiting for all the backyard dodgy brothers to get behind the legislation. That will never happen, and that is why the Government is acting. That is the hard part of governing, but that is what we are doing.
Concerns were raised about whether insurance premiums would increase. I think the member for Hawkesbury answered that question, and I appreciate his contribution on this. He indicated that premiums would decrease. I would not go that far, but I will say that there will be downward pressure on a system that encourages, aids and abets the stolen vehicle market. The changes we are proposing will make it much harder for people to steal to order and to attach that stolen-to-order vehicle, or its parts, to a vehicle that they have bought in the legitimate market.
The Government is very positive about this legislation. The Motor Traders Association understands the market. I particularly thank James McCall, the Chief Executive Officer, Greg Preston and David Smith. They are tenacious operators who are very strong advocates for their industry and the 17 divisions of the diverse industry they represent. They are of the view that this will have a minimal impact on insurance premiums. The other issue that has been raised is spare parts. Spare parts are expensive, rare and difficult to get in some cases. Eliminating the illegal part of the industry should make the supply of parts that have been lawfully obtained more plentiful. An increase in supply should mean downward pressure on prices, at least to ensure that they will not rise when parts become more available. The Government considers that there are positive aspects in this. We will wait and see. I note that not all insurance companies believe that insurance premiums will rise. I also note the positive comments about this legislation of the insurance arm of NRMA.
Reference was made to the transition period provided for in the bill. This will allow legitimate dealers and repairers to purchase current reparable written-off vehicles that appear in the Written-off Vehicle Register prior to the commencement of the legislation. They will have two years from the commencement of the legislation to get those vehicles repaired and registered. However, eventually that loophole will close. The Roads and Traffic Authority will also be introducing new inspection processes to support vehicle owners and consumers, and that will focus on vehicle safety and authenticity. Once a vehicle is repaired, it will be inspected by a licensed repairer who must certify that the standard of repairs and the repair methods used are in accordance with the legislation, regulations and so on.
I foreshadow an amendment to the bill that the Government will introduce in the upper House to enable the smooth and effective implementation of the legislation. In the course of discussions with key industry stakeholders it was proposed, in the interest of clarity, to amend the definition of what constitutes a "total loss" when undertaking assessment of a damaged vehicle. The current definition provides that a vehicle is a total loss when the cost of repairs to the vehicle plus its salvage value is higher than the market value of the vehicle before it was damaged. However, the insurance industry has highlighted that many of its policies are not based on market value but may be for the sum insured or the agreed value of the vehicle. The sum insured may be greater than the market value of the vehicle.
The foreshadowed amendment will provide for greater clarity of what is a total loss, to allow some flexibility to accommodate different types of insurance policies. The amendment will enable insurers to use a specified sum-insured value when determining whether a vehicle is a total loss. As such, a damaged vehicle would be a total loss when the cost of repairs plus its value as a damaged vehicle is greater than the sum insured. Whilst advice received by the legislative drafters was that an amendment to the bill may not be legally necessary to serve this purpose, for clarity I am pleased to support the amendment. The amendment demonstrates the Government's constructive approach of working with stakeholders to ensure that the objectives of this legislation to protect consumers, enhance road safety and tackle re-birthing are met. The community deserves and expects no less.
I place on record my thanks to a number of people who have been involved in facilitating this policy change. I particularly thank Terry Hickey, Kelly Miller, Peter Wells and others. I look forward to the passing of the bill, which will present an opportunity for legitimate repairers, the people who take risks and invest money, to save money. Auto Alley, which is in my electorate, is a big precinct for car sellers and repairers, of both new and used vehicles. They want this legislation and are looking forward to it. I have received a lot of correspondence from them and from people around the State. They do not want the Government to dither or delay, or to refer the matter to a national committee. They want action for the legitimate industry and in the interests of safety for the rest of the electorate. 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.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' STATEMENTS
TOBACCO AND HEALTH
Dr ANDREW McDONALD
(Macquarie Fields—Parliamentary Secretary) [6.54 p.m.]: Betty Zdan, local volunteer liaison officer for my electorate from Cancer Council New South Wales, has raised with me the concerns of the Cancer Council about the availability of tobacco products for sale in so many of our everyday retail outlets. Many smokers wish to give up, but are often defeated by the widespread availability of tobacco. Betty asks: "Is it acceptable for tobacco to be sold anywhere, anytime, by anyone?" Now that taxpayers' money is funding anti-smoking advertisements and banning point-of-sale displays, we need to think about the next step—namely, the licensing of tobacco retailers similar to that which applies to alcohol retailers.
As a State, we have a goal of reducing smoking in New South Wales by 1 per cent per year. Successive governments have made steady progress in reducing smoking rates. Important initiatives have been undertaken in creating smoke-free environments, such as banning retail displays and investing in social marketing. However, to ensure those rates continue to decrease we need to do more. Tobacco smoking is now more strongly socio-economically determined than at any time in the history of this State. The smoking rate amongst doctors is only 2 per cent and among female medical students it is close to zero. Yet the overall smoking rate in New South Wales is still 17 per cent. At the antenatal clinic at Campbelltown Hospital it is 30 per cent and it is greater than 50 per cent in some high-risk communities, such as the Aboriginal community. To ensure equity of opportunity we need to get this rate as low as possible. The smoking rate for doctors shows us what is possible with education and engagement.
Many people talk about the importance of educating the young to not smoke. But how can we convince schoolchildren that smoking is bad when they see the New South Wales Government condoning it by allowing all local shops to sell tobacco products with the same freedom as selling confectionary? The most common age for children commencing smoking is in year 10, at age 16. Few smokers who start smoking past the age of 19 will ever become lifelong smokers—those who have the highest mortality. Today, about half the youth who start smoking can expect to die prematurely—about 10 years prematurely—as a result of their habit. This means that tonight in New South Wales nearly one in ten year 10 students will take 10 years off their lives by taking up smoking.
Recent research released by the Cancer Council showed that currently one retail outlet is selling tobacco for every 77 smokers in New South Wales, and that nine out of 10 smokers reported being able to easily purchase cigarettes within 10 minutes of their normal daily routine. This simple availability of tobacco is society condoning their choice to smoke. Importantly, this same research showed that almost one-third of smokers reported that they would either give up smoking or cut down if tobacco was not so readily available to purchase. Our goal should be to reduce the number of places from which tobacco is sold. This should be done in a way that has the greatest impact on smoking rates, by focusing on those smokers who are ready to quit. This is not about my local tobacconist at Carnes Hill, which is a low-risk highly ethical business selling a legal product. In fact, I hope this business would be improved by a reduction in the number of retail outlets.
We know that around 80 per cent of smokers want to quit at some stage. Cancer Council research indicates that smokers who are younger or who are light smokers, and those who have tried or are trying to quit, are those most likely to buy tobacco on impulse from places such as service stations and convenience stores. Betty informs me that the Cancer Council is calling for the introduction of a licensing scheme for those selling tobacco, in its campaign "Saving Life: why wouldn't you?" Licensing of those selling tobacco would provide our community with a mechanism to change the dynamics of tobacco retailing and provide a way to eventually reduce the number of outlets selling tobacco. Do not expect this policy to be ever suggested by those opposite—its preventative health policy is still sponsored by British American Tobacco.
A licensing scheme would provide enforcement options by enabling conditions to be imposed and by withdrawing licences from retailers who breach the regulations. The community would be horrified at the idea that retailers such as petrol stations could sell alcohol anywhere, anytime. Why is it acceptable for the selling of tobacco, which causes 80 per cent of the drug- and alcohol-related deaths in our community? New South Wales research shows it would be a popular move. The community survey conducted by the Cancer Council found that 91 per cent of respondents agreed that retailers should have a licence to sell tobacco products, in the same way that retailers need a licence to sell alcohol. Betty calls on all parliamentarians to seriously consider the merits of introducing stronger safeguards for selling tobacco, and urges all members of Parliament to look at the recommendation of the Cancer Council of New South Wales.
It is time to open the discussion about this issue, and that will be extremely unpopular with the big end of town. Big tobacco is bigger than almost any industry in Australia. It is a fearsome opponent and will do whatever it can, through a variety of front organisations, to denigrate people such as me who take a stand against its poisoning of our young people. I commend Betty to the House for her courage in bringing this to my attention, and all who oppose the increase in smoking by young people.
SOUTH COAST DAIRY INDUSTRY
Mr ANDREW CONSTANCE
(Bega) [6.59 p.m.]: On the last occasion I made a private member's statement I spoke about the plight of the dairy industry on the far South Coast in respect of world commodity prices, the impact of the market power of Coles and Woolworths in respect of generic brands and also the power of some lead milk processors. Today I shall continue those comments with respect to some of the challenges facing the South Coast dairy industry. It is noted today that the drought has finally broken. We acknowledge that some areas of the State, particularly the south-east, are teetering on the edge as they are not fully out of drought. The possibility remains that they could easily return to drought conditions. I will refer to the price of bulk water as well as some issues facing farmers regarding noxious weeds.
I again congratulate the local fireweed committee, which is headed by Noel Watson, on trying to get Federal and State governments to do more to identify a biological control to combat fireweed. The Commonwealth has been more receptive to the initiative undertaken by local farmers. It is disappointing that the State Government has not dedicated more resources through the Department of Primary Industries to try to tackle this menace. Fireweed is a toxic weed that causes enormous problems. In some cases, upwards of 60 per cent of pastures are unproductive because of this noxious weed. More must be done to find a biological control because that is the only way this menacing weed will be beaten. I will meet with the fireweed committee in the next few weeks, but it is important that I raise in this place the need for more work by the Department of Primary Industries and the member for Monaro and Minister for Primary Industries, Steve Whan, to tackle this problem. The Commonwealth made an initial grant of about $300,000, with more funds to follow, for research. The State Government should also make a contribution to this cause.
The other issue affecting farmers in the Bega Valley is bulk water pricing. Time and again, the State Government has tried to force on farmers the notion of full cost recovery for Brogo Dam, which has a small number of users. Full cost recovery will lead to their going out of business. The Government must realise that when it sets the bulk water prices every year there is a risk that farm businesses will go backwards. More should be done to find ways forward in respect of bulk water pricing. Over the next four years prices will increase by 10 per cent per annum and according to the consumer price index rate. The cost has been around $30 per megalitre. Yesterday the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal [IPART] foreshadowed a 75 per cent increase above the current rate for monitoring, measuring and environmental assessments of water. The Office of Water applied for an increase of 160 per cent; the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal released a draft determination of 75 per cent. People will be invited to forward submissions in respect of the determination.
Politicians can skite as much as they like about New South Wales being out of drought, but other issues have a profound effect on the production and capacity of farms on the far South Coast. I want to see more done to address the full cost recovery issue because the bottom line is that farmers cannot afford it. The Government will have to address the philosophical approach it has taken on that issue. All these increases are happening at a time when the Office of Water is increasing its number of bureaucrats. Farmers should not have to foot the bill for this type of featherbedding. Farmers in the valley are entitled to a better outcome. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will raise the issues of fireweed and bulk water prices with the Minister for Primary Industries.
Mr BARRY COLLIER
(Miranda—Parliamentary Secretary) [7.04 p.m.]: I thank the member for Bega for raising concerns about fireweed in his electorate and for the way he is working with his community to tackle the problem. I note particularly the work of Mr Noel Watson, whom the member mentioned. Obviously, farmers around the globe face particular problems in and out of drought. The member raised the issue of funding and mentioned a $300,000 grant from the Federal Government. I am sure the Minister is more than aware of the fireweed issue in the Bega electorate and that the member will make appropriate representations on behalf of his community.
WYEE RURAL FIRE BRIGADE AWARDS
Mr GREG PIPER
(Lake Macquarie) [7.05 p.m.]: On Saturday 16 October I had the great pleasure of attending a celebration to mark 50 years of dedicated service by the Wyee Rural Fire Brigade and to participate in the presentation of long service awards to members. Special and deserved attention was given to Russell and Gwen Deaves to mark their contribution to the Wyee community through their combined 93 years of voluntary effort with the Wyee Brigade of the Rural Fire Service. Russ was a foundation member of the local volunteer bush fire brigade, the forerunner of today's Rural Fire Service, and has been with the brigade for all its 50 years. Gwen has been alongside Russ and other members for 43 years. This is a magnificent commitment to their local community and is the kind of community service that makes organisations such as the Rural Fire Service so effective.
The ceremony was attended by Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, AFSM, along with Chief Superintendent John Parnaby and Inspector Shane Geerin. I had the privilege of assisting the commissioner with the presentation of the awards. Receiving long service medals for 10 years service were Len Wood, 18 years; Janet Wood, 17 years; Anthony Cameron; Allan Lancaster; and Dianne and Victor Longobardi, each with 14 years service. Receiving a Long Service Medal 1st Clasp 20 years was Jacqueline Deaves, with the Long Service Medal 2nd Clasp 30 years being awarded to Allen Minslow after 36 years of service and Geoff Deaves after 33 years of service.
As can be seen, the surname "Deaves" is significant in the awards and in the local community. I have known Gwen and Russell Deaves for many years and I was particularly proud to be there for the recognition of their service. Gwen Deaves was awarded the Long Service Medal 3rd Clasp 40 years after 43 years of service while Russell Deaves was awarded the Long Service Medal 4th Clasp 50 years. It is frequently noted that volunteers provide an invaluable service to communities that could never be afforded by governments or, for that matter, by any other means. It certainly would be difficult to assign a monetary value to the combined contribution of Russell and Gwen Deaves. Rural Fire Service members are more than just a collection of people who come together in times of emergency. The shared experience in working so closely together during emergencies forges friendships and bonds that see these members working across the board to help their community in good times and bad. The people involved form a solid commitment to their important role.
I know this commitment well as I have seen it in the family of my wife, Lyn. Her father, Owen, until his recent passing, was a longstanding and stalwart member of the Mannering Park Brigade, which is a neighbour of the Wyee Brigade and for many years shared a boundary until the establishment of the Wyee Point Brigade. Owen and his wife, Joan, along with their son, Jeff, and their grandchildren, have shown longstanding commitment to their brigade colleagues, which in many ways is an extended family. It was through their friendship with Owen and Joan Smith that I first met Russell and Gwen Deaves many years ago. Since that time, through my subsequent role in public life with Lake Macquarie City Council and now as the member for Lake Macquarie, I have been pleased to maintain that friendship.
The camaraderie between members extends beyond local brigades and embraces adjoining, regional, statewide brigades and beyond. They are the kind of people who are willing to help, whether it be fighting a fire, assisting in times of drought, attending a motor vehicle accident or helping a local person or family in need. Members of the Rural Fire Service deserve our respect and gratitude. It is, therefore, very pleasing that the commissioner and senior staff were in attendance to personally bestow the awards. These awards provide well-deserved recognition. I am sure that all members of the Wyee Rural Fire Brigade are very proud of their recipient colleagues. I am also sure that the broader community is very grateful for the service provided by the local brigade. In this regard, I acknowledge the brigade captain, Troy Hawkins, and president, Mr Terry Prior, and thank them and all the members of the Wyee Rural Fire Brigade and their families for the incredible commitment they make to their community.
Mr BARRY COLLIER
(Miranda—Parliamentary Secretary) [7.10 p.m.]: I thank the member for Lake Macquarie for drawing to the attention of the House the fiftieth anniversary of the Wyee Rural Fire Brigade and the work of Captain Troy Hawkins and brigade members. I particularly note the contribution made by Russell and Gwen Deaves, with 93 years of combined effort to the Wyee Rural Fire Brigade. That truly is a family effort. It is obvious to anyone involved with the Rural Fire Service that the members who put their lives on the line for us, protecting our families and property, could not do their job without the support of their families. I congratulate the members who received long service medals. I note the commitment of Owen, Joan and Jeff Smith, which was alluded to by the member for Lake Macquarie. On behalf of the Government, I ask the member for Lake Macquarie to pass on to brigade members our thanks for their contribution to our community. The whole State is very appreciative of their work.
Mr JOHN WILLIAMS
(Murray-Darling) [7.11 p.m.]: Today I lodged a petition with 6,684 signatures. In my short time in this Parliament that is the greatest number of signatures in support of any petition I have lodged. These 6,684 signatures were raised in western New South Wales. As members would appreciate, that is a good achievement for the area. The petition protests the memorandum of understanding that was signed between Premier Kristina Keneally and Prime Minister Julia Gillard, primarily for the purpose of finding an alternative storage for the Menindee Lakes water and decommissioning both Lake Menindee and Lake Cawndilla. Neither the Premier nor the Prime Minister has ever visited the Menindee Lakes scheme. If I showed them a map of Australia and asked them to locate those lakes, they would not be able to do so.
The memorandum of understanding was driven primarily by agitation from South Australia. People in South Australia have a view that the two lower lakes in that State, Lake Albert and Lake Alexandrina, and the subsequent flow into the mouth of the Murray and the Coorong need to be preserved. They see the Menindee Lakes as a source for achieving that goal. In fact, it would fall a long way short of doing so. The water that is held in Lake Menindee and Lake Cawndilla forms some of the regulated streams in the lower Darling. This water is not wasted in evaporation; it returns to the system. Members of the House would not be able to understand the joy and pleasure caused by the filling of these lakes. There was a constant stream of traffic from Broken Hill and Menindee as people came to see the opening of the gates in the interconnecting channel between Lake Pamamaroo and Lake Menindee and to watch the lake fill for the first time in 10 years. It provided a great deal of joy and excitement. It also revitalised two important wetlands in western New South Wales. Both those lakes are wetlands. Currently, Ramsar listing is being sought for those sites in recognition of their importance to western New South Wales. The water will evaporate, but at no greater rate than the water in Lake Albert and Lake Alexandrina.
The Murray-Darling Basin plan will create a bad situation. The Prime Minister, seeking votes in South Australia, has ignored that because she sees the plan, which is primarily designed to achieve South Australia's goals and environmental needs, as an easy way to deal with the angst of the South Australians. Over and above that, she is prepared to trade off the people of New South Wales, as is the Premier, and allow the memorandum of understanding to proceed. The memorandum of understanding has not been signed by the Minister for Water. I have obtained the support of the Minister and I appreciate the work he has done for my electorate in his role as Minister for Water in this State.
I value him not only as a colleague but also as a friend. He has done a flyover of the Menindee Lakes and I have explained the scheme to him. He supported the people of western New South Wales by ensuring those lakes were filled during the most recent flood event that occurred in the Darling River. Ernie Wetherell, a former Labor Minister from Broken Hill, started the process of developing the structure that saw these ephemeral lakes converted into a facility that provided a benefit for local downstream irrigators and for South Australia. It is a crying shame to think in this day and age that people along those river systems focus only on Menindee Lakes as a solution to their problems.
Mr BARRY COLLIER
(Miranda—Parliamentary Secretary) [7.16 p.m.]: I thank the member for Murray-Darling for bringing to the attention of the House a petition with 6,684 signatures—which, as he said, is a very large petition. I can understand the joy that residents would feel about the filling of the Menindee Lakes after 10 years. As the member said, they are ephemeral lakes. I note that a Ramsar listing is being sought for the area. I understand the importance of this international listing as the Kurnell wetlands in my electorate are Ramsar listed. I urge the member for Murray-Darling to continue discussions with the Minister for Water, whom he regards as a friend and who has visited the Menindee Lakes.
ILLAWARRA ACADEMY OF SPORT
Ms LYLEA McMAHON
(Shellharbour—Parliamentary Secretary) [7.17 p.m.]: I was fortunate to attend the Illawarra Academy of Sport Awards Ceremony at Shellharbour City Stadium. The awards ceremony, which was organised by Shellharbour City Council, honoured young athletes from around the region who have received an Illawarra Academy of Sport scholarship in 2010. At the awards reception I was joined by Shellharbour City Council administrator Mr David Jesson, academy chairman Mr Brian Weir, academy executive director Mark Brogan, and by many coaches, athletes and parents. The Illawarra Academy of Sport is an extremely prestigious institution. Established in December 1985 to expand sporting opportunities for our region's talented athletes, it became Australia's first regional Academy of Sport. Since its humble beginnings, the academy has fostered the talent of about 3,000 young athletes. Many have become well recognised in their respective sporting arenas, including Siobhan Paton, Brett Lee, Phil Jacques, Ben Kersten, Luke Wilkshire, Shaun Timmins, Craig Fitzgibbon, Luke Bailey and Lori Munz, just to name a few.
Athletes from the electorate of Shellharbour who were presented with certificates by the executive director of the academy were: Jake Edwards, cricket; Zachary Hilton, cricket; Rod Nguyen, cricket; Daniel Davies, golf; Nicky Logan, golf; Jei McLaurin, golf; Travis Smyth, golf; Georgia Cohen, hockey; Laura Nealon, hockey; Jack Pogson, hockey; Molly Hanrahan, individual athlete program; Blake James, individual athlete program; Adam Daley, lawn bowls; Tiana-Lee Elphick, lawn bowls; Stephanie Hili, lawn bowls; Kyle Johannes, lawn bowls; Natalie Noronha, lawn bowls; Aaron Spears, lawn bowls; Ben Treuer, lawn bowls; Justine Walsh, lawn bowls; Taylah Cordina, netball; Zoe Elkerton, swimming; Alexis Mastro, swimming; Jarrod Poort, swimming; Rachel Frezza, tennis; and Ellen Perez, tennis.
To be awarded an Illawarra Academy of Sport Scholarship is testament to the many hours of hard work and dedication these young athletes undertake to achieve their dreams. The academy aims to provide athletes with an extremely solid foundation for future sporting endeavours, and it encourages and assists them in their pursuit of improvement and excellence in sports skills. The criteria set by the academy for scholarship recipients primarily involves the athlete residing in the Illawarra, being able to display an ability to apply coaching and technical instruction, demonstrating dedication to improving performance, and having the potential to improve performance to a high level.
The diversity and range of sports offered by the academy have ensured that young athletes from a variety of sporting backgrounds are afforded the opportunity of being a part of an academy's program. Sports currently offered by the academy include golf, netball, hockey, cricket, rugby league, rugby union, cycling, sailing, and swimming. Fortunately the academy is managed by a dedicated executive board of local professionals, including the Chairman, Mr Brian Weir, who is the recently retired general manager of Shellharbour City Council; the vice-president, Mr Jeff McCarthy; the executive director, Mr Mark Brogan; the Treasurer, Mr William Dowson; the business plan chair, Mr Peter Bowman; and the public officer, Mr Brian Baird. The academy is enabled to support local athletes through the generosity of sponsors, such as Warilla Bowls and Recreation Club, the Illawarra Mercury
, BlueScope Steel, the Australian Hotels Association, Sydney Water, Credit Union Australia, Pub Stay, and the Australian Hotels Association, Illawarra.
Since the pioneering efforts of the Illawarra Academy of Sport commenced, 10 regional academies have begun operating throughout New South Wales, and 19 academies nationally. All academies play a vital role in the delivery of well-defined and targeted elite sports development programs that directly underpin the programs of the New South Wales Institute of Sport. The New South Wales Government is very proud to provide financial support to all New South Wales regional Academies of Sport. These academies give talented young athletes a chance to access specialist support, without forcing them to leave their communities, families and schools. These academies are not just for young athletes; they also train young coaches, officials and sports administrators who are a crucial resource for sport and recreation in New South Wales. The academies give them a change to further their skills and careers.
As Australians, we are so lucky to live in local communities that provide a plethora of sporting opportunities for our children. I am proud to say that sport is at the heart of the community in my electorate of Shellharbour, which has in turn created a fantastic local sporting history. I am sure that one of the sports for which Shellharbour is renowned will in the future be synonymous with the names of many of the young athletes I have mentioned today. It is appropriate to mention and to thank the mums and dads of these young people. Behind the scenes, parents have spent countless hours cheering on the sidelines, driving to and from sporting engagements, cleaning team uniforms and filling the drink bottles—all for the benefit of their children and the community. I applaud them for their efforts.
Mr BARRY COLLIER
(Miranda—Parliamentary Secretary) [7.22 p.m.]: I thank the member for Shellharbour for drawing the attention of the House to the Illawarra Academy of Sport and, in particular, the sporting awards presented for 2010. I understand that the Illawarra Academy of Sport sponsors approximately 3,000 local athletes, including some high-profile sportspeople and well-known names in sports. I congratulate all winners of awards and thank all the staff under the chairmanship of Mr Brian Weir for their efforts. I also thank the sponsors, and families of the athletes.
The variety of sports offered by the academy is impressive. Quite clearly the Illawarra Academy of Sport and other sporting academies throughout the State played an important role in the achievements of our athletes at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and the domination by Australia of the medal tally. I congratulate the academy and ask the member for Shellharbour to pass on the Government's congratulations to all award winners.
NORTHERN RIVERS REGION
Mr DONALD PAGE
(Ballina) [7.23 p.m.]: Recently I attended a Regional Futures Institute symposium in Byron Bay and was asked to speak about issues in my electorate and in our region. When Dr Earle Page, my grandfather, who was an innovative surgeon before going into politics, was asked in his latter years what were the differences between medicine and politics, he said:
In medicine, a lot of emphasis is given to the correct diagnosis of a problem because it is this diagnosis that determines the appropriate treatment to be followed.
In politics, hardly anybody does any diagnosis of the problem but everyone knows what the treatment should be!
With those thoughts in mind, I would like to diagnose and identify problems and provide some suggested treatments for my electorate and the Northern Rivers region generally. The region's current population growth rate is 1.6 per cent a year. Approximately 90 per cent of that population growth is net migration as opposed to natural increase. Also 18 per cent of our population is aged over 65 years compared to 13 per cent for New South Wales as a whole. It is predicted that the percentage of our population over 65 years will increase to 30 per cent by 2036 compared to 21 per cent for the State as a whole.
Those statistics have obvious implications for the provision of health services because people over 65 years generally use four times more health services than those under 65 years. We will also need more aged care facilities. Population trends will also have an influence on the type of housing we build in the future. What about our workforce? In short, we do not have enough jobs. Our unemployment rate is 10 per cent compared to approximately 6 per cent for the State as a whole, and only 60 per cent of our residents are employed full-time compared to nearly 70 per cent for the State as a whole. Obviously it follows that we have more part-time and casual employees than the State as a whole. Does this actually matter?
It matters in the sense that many people in the region do not make enough money to live comfortably. For example, 64 per cent of our households earn less than $1,000 per week compared to 48 per cent for the State. We also have a relatively high indigenous population and people with disabilities. There also is a shortage of affordable housing. Richmond-Tweed house rents are the highest in the State outside Sydney and 67 per cent of renting households in this region spend more than 30 per cent of their weekly income on rent. Public transport is limited to buses so it is hard to get around without owning a car.
As the member for Ballina, which encompasses both Ballina and Byron shires, I am mindful of the threat posed to our coastal communities from rising sea levels, especially when combined with high tides and storm surges. In my view climate change is real and will impact on our coastal and estuary areas in coming decades, so we need to be proactive in planning for it. I will return to my original point about diagnosis and treatment. I would say that the average patient is ageing, has difficulty getting a job, has low income, has few transport options beyond the car, finds it difficult to access affordable housing, but finds that many more people are coming to stay because it is a beautiful place in which to live, and the weather and the lifestyle are attractive. Referring to treatment based on the diagnosis, it appears as though we need a combination of things.
Because of our ageing population we need better health and aged care facilities. In creating more jobs we need to build on our successful existing industries such as tourism, agriculture, construction or the service industries, health and education. In addition, we need to value-add more than we do currently in horticulture, agriculture, timber and forestry. We need also to create new industries—for example, in the renewable energy area—or in further developing our arts and cultural industries. What about a greater focus on environment innovation, alternative medicine and healthy lifestyles? In a broader sense, we need to cut the cost of doing business compared to other States and nations, wherever possible, and to fix up our planning system so that we increase certainty for investment and reduce the time taken to make decisions, while protecting our environment.
Clearly, we need better transport options. In the area of roads, not only do we need to complete the north-south Pacific Highway upgrade as quickly as possible; we also need to put more emphasis on the east-west road network. That will enable people to access more affordable housing away from the coast and it will take pressure off coastal ecosystems. As the population ages, it is likely we will need more bus services. We should focus more on rail. In future we should connect New South Wales rail services to the south-east Queensland rail system to guarantee its long-term viability.
I have long advocated not just rail services that link us to south-east Queensland, but a local triangular regular light rail service from Lismore to Byron Bay; from Byron Bay to Ballina, taking in Lennox Head and the Ballina Airport; then westward through Alstonville and Wollongbar, via the TAFE College and back into Lismore via the Southern Cross University and St Vincent's and Lismore Base hospitals. Regular services on a Lismore-Byron Bay-Ballina triangle would be well patronised by not just locals to access employment, education, health services and beach opportunities, but also tourists who would enjoy the trip.
Finally, we must make our State competitive with Queensland so that our businesses can compete with those that enjoy lower taxes and charges, like payroll tax and workers compensation. A lot of work in the region is being done by Queensland firms. That is impacting negatively on job opportunities in the northern rivers region.
Mr BARRY COLLIER
(Miranda—Parliamentary Secretary) [7.28 p.m.]: I thank the member for Ballina for giving us a comprehensive diagnosis of his electorate. Obviously he has spent considerable time on coming to the conclusions he reached. Many electorates are being confronted with problems associated with the provision of services for an ageing population.
The challenges are not exclusive to the Ballina electorate. I assure the House that the Sutherland shire is dealing with the same issues. Our ageing population presents challenges to all governments, Federal, State and local, and must be addressed at all levels of government in the future. I thank the member for Ballina for his useful diagnosis. Having said that, I wish, respectfully, to add my own observation to the analogy drawn by the late Dr Earle Page in relation to one aspect: these days, most members of this Parliament are making complete diagnoses of their electorates and the problems that exist—particularly at this time in the election cycle.
COUNTRY WOMEN'S ASSOCIATION
Mr RICHARD TORBAY
(Northern Tablelands—Speaker) [7.29 p.m.]: On 8 September the Country Women's Association of New South Wales held its first Awareness Day because, to quote from its own material, "It was high time that we took a moment to focus on the achievements of the organisation". It is also high time that we, as a community, followed suit and paid tribute to this formidable group who in the past 88 years has done more to improve the lives of country women than anyone else. Any profile of the Country Women's Association [CWA] documents a considerable segment of Australian social history. It also defines what we see as national characteristics—the mateship, resilience, practical self-reliance, courage, ingenuity and never-say-die attitude we regard as typically Australian.
In the early part of the last century, as Helen Townsend observes in her history of the CWA, Serving the Country
, the outback was seen as "alright for men and dogs but hell on women and horses". In 1923 figures show that 10,000 mothers in New South Wales died from blood poisoning or other troubles arising from childbirth. Most country women lived in harsh conditions, were isolated, and had no access to health services for themselves or their young children. Unless they were married to wealthy pastoralists, women's lives were lonely and underprivileged. Their plight was taken up by the member for North Sydney, Dr Richard Arthur, who, with Florence Gordon, wrote the Home Page for the Stock and Station Journal
and who then took up the idea of convening a bush women's conference during the Royal Easter Show in April 1922.
Grace Munro of "Keera", Bingara, a district in my electorate, was one of the first to grasp the concept and saw immediately that if country women wanted to improve their lives they would have to do it themselves. She jotted down her ideas, which became the basis of the CWA constitution, and headed for Sydney to help organise the conference under the banner which the organisation still holds as its motto—"for women, through women and by women". She became the first president. The conference was a huge success as women flocked to air their issues. From the outset the organisation was apolitical and focused on improving the lot of country families, particularly women and children. By 1923, 68 branches were operating in country New South Wales.
Through their fundraising and lobbying, members established a network of rest rooms, many with baby and bush nursing clinics, across country New South Wales. These became the meeting rooms and places for women and their children to socialise when they came to town. The CWA established maternity wards in local hospitals and ambulance services; it purchased houses at the beach and in the mountains for women and children to take inexpensive holidays; it lobbied to reduce train fares from the inland to the coast in summer; and it lobbied for services for, as they were known then, handicapped children.
During the Depression when the export wool market collapsed, the group focused on boosting the domestic market. It led a boom in home knitting, spinning, wool dyeing and tanning sheepskins. It also encouraged practical skills such as sewing, growing vegetables, cooking and making clothes. In 1947 the CWA took a kiosk at the Royal Easter Show to raise funds through providing a cuppa and scones to visitors. At last year's show members raised $114,000 from scones alone. They made between 36 dozen and 60 dozen scones before 9.00 a.m. each day and continued the production line, sometimes until right on closing time at 5.30 p.m.
Mr Barry Collier:
I hope they make pumpkin scones. I love pumpkin scones.
Mr RICHARD TORBAY:
And pumpkin scones, as I am reminded by the Parliamentary Secretary, and they did so for the full fortnight of the show. Over the years the organisation extended its wings to support Aboriginal women and children, women in Third World countries, women with mental health problems and senior citizens. It established school hostels and lobbied to improve roads for children to access school. In the 1970s the CWA became involved in preschool education and child-minding services for women who went to work. In the 1970s Country Women's Association members joined the National Rural Advisory Council and provided university extension kits for adult education. The CWA also supported drug and alcohol counselling, and computer and electronic banking training for older women.
The CWA is still the largest women's organisation in Australia with a membership of approximately 25,500 in 1,500 branches around the States and Territories. It is represented on most of the leading consumer bodies in Australia and its views are sought by politicians, corporations and policymakers. Throughout its history of great achievements it has retained its grassroots strength, its focus, and the respect of the communities it still serves.
Mr BARRY COLLIER
(Miranda—Parliamentary Secretary) [7.34 p.m.]: How could I not respond to the dissertation of the member for Northern Tablelands on the contribution to the State and the nation by the CWA over the past 88 years? Sadly, we often forget the women behind the men who developed this great country of ours. Raising $114,000 by selling scones at the Royal Easter Show says something about the determination of these ladies, and I am pleased to hear that they sell my favourite—pumpkin scones. Clearly, the CWA is an organisation that has contributed so much to the lives and the lot of country women, who often suffer from isolation assisting those who run the farms and properties.
The CWA clearly is an organisation that has a wide diversity of functions and obviously it will go from strength to strength. I congratulate the CWA on its contribution to the State and the nation and I thank the member for Northern Tablelands, the Speaker, for bringing it to the attention of the House this evening.
HUMANITARIAN AID RELIEF TRUST
Mr JONATHAN O'DEA
(Davidson) [7.36 p.m.]: The Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust [HART] works to provide lasting change through aid and advocacy for those suffering oppression and persecution, who are often neglected by other organisations or are largely out of sight of the world's media. Founded in 2003 by Baroness Caroline Cox, a human rights activist, HART makes every endeavour to be a voice for the voiceless—for those who may be unreached, unhelped and unheard. The Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust relies on first-hand evidence of human rights violations as a basis for powerful twin-track programs of international advocacy and aid. It believes that advocacy, combined with aid, is vital to achieve sustainable community development, local ownership and empowerment for oppressed peoples.
The Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust is committed to the prevention and alleviation of suffering and to the upholding of human dignity; the provision of support for local values, local ownership and local capacity-building as the most appropriate and sustainable methods of promoting change; and it holds a belief in the value of advocacy with aid. It also provides a voice for the victims of oppression and persecution and it focuses on those largely neglected by international aid organisations due to political constraints. In addition to its principles of advocacy for those suffering, and appropriate aid relief, HART prides itself on an authenticity demonstrated by gathering evidence first-hand and an accountability for those for whom it speaks and for those who support its work.
Last Saturday, 16 October, I attended a dinner function at Barker College on the North Shore supporting the fledgling HART Australasia, at which Baroness Caroline Cox was the special guest speaker. She is a courageous and inspirational leader who has risked her life many times in her passionate and compassionate determination to make a difference in some of the darkest parts of the world. Like others committed to action on social justice, HART's leaders realise that, while they cannot do everything, they cannot do nothing. HART Australasia is chaired by Dr Martin Panter. Some of the other people driving the organisation live in my electorate of Davidson, including Stephanie and Paul Binsted, Reverend Roger Chilton and Lola Baumgart. Many parishioners of St Swithuns Church at Pymble are also supporters.
HART Australasia currently works to assist with projects in Timor Leste—East Timor; on the Thai-Burma border; and on the border of India and Burma—Myanmar. The HIAM Health Project in East Timor is a world-class centre in Dili for treating the most severely malnourished children in our neighbouring nation. It treats both child and carer quite literally from the soil to the table. Families remain in the centre for up to a month, having usually been referred from the national hospital, learning not just good dietary principles but how to grow and harvest food that is affordable and appropriate to the Timorese climate.
HART's other projects are in Thailand, on the border with Burma, and in the state of Mizoram on the east side of the Bay of Bengal in India. Some are primary care projects, training community health workers to work with refugees fleeing persecution and hardship in Burma. Others involve training backpack medical teams to go into Burma, especially the regions where some 500,000 internally displaced refugees are living a fragile and uncertain life in the border jungle areas. HART also cares for some 250 orphans from the long-running and brutal civil war in Burma.
In closing, and mindful of last weekend's canonisation of Australia's first saint in Mother Mary MacKillop, I am reminded of the thoughts of St Francis of Assisi. He pointed out the difference between pity and compassion. Pity does not help anyone; compassion does, as the empathy that accompanies it moves one to action. HART, including its Australasian offshoot, is a compassionate organisation that deserves encouragement and support.
Mr BARRY COLLIER
(Miranda—Parliamentary Secretary) [7.41 p.m.]: I congratulate the member for Davidson on drawing attention to the work being done by the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust [HART]. As he said, HART is a voice for the voiceless. I congratulate the organisation on its work in protecting human rights and bringing to light human rights violations. I note there is a chapter of HART in Australia. As the member said, HART is about making a difference in the darker parts of the world. I note the projects being undertaken in East Timor, Thailand and India, as well as those looking after orphans in Burma. I thank the member for drawing attention to HART, and I ask him to pass on our best wishes to the organisation in his electorate.
Mr ROB STOKES
(Pittwater) [7.42 p.m.]: Tonight I inform the House about a significant anniversary in the heart of my community of Pittwater. This year marks 200 years of permanent settlement of Scotland Island. Scotland Island is an emerald diadem wrapped around a rock in the waters of the southern end of the Pittwater. Measuring about a kilometre in diameter and rising to a height of about 120 metres, the island is very beautiful, particularly when viewed from the south-east through the mist on a winter's morning, when the deep green of the sea meets the grey green of the island, or when viewed from the north on a hot summer afternoon as a stiff nor'easter whips up a forest of dancing whitecaps that seem to scurry across the blue water in their haste to get to Catherine Park on the northern side of the island.
The island itself is a jumbled mix of homes, trees, colour and people. There are lots of children, few vehicles and few fences. And, come to think of it, there are not many shoes either. Scotland Island feels of community. The richness of the relationships is almost palpable. Everyone knows each other and cares about each other. The islanders are an enterprising lot: they run their own water supply and they support their own rural fire brigade and kindy. One of the things I love on the mornings I drop off my children to kindy and school in Newport is watching the island and offshore children making their happy pilgrimage up Queens Parade to Newport Public School, having caught the Church Point ferry across the pond. Scotland Island is a happy place, and it has a rich history that endorses Mark Twain's comments of Australian history that it did not read like history at all but:
… like the most beautiful lies; and all of afresh sort, no mouldy old stale ones. It is full of surprises and adventures, and incongruities, and contradictions and incredibilities; but they are all true, they all happened.
Having been marooned in the Pittwater when sea levels rose about 18,000 years ago, the island would have been regularly visited by the local Guringai tribe, but there were no signs of permanent habitation until it was granted to Andrew Thompson, a Scottish ex-convict, by New South Wales Lieutenant-Governor Paterson in 1809. By 1810 Thompson had made his permanent home on the island and had created a successful salt works. A resourceful Scot, like his Governor and friend Lachlan Macquarie, he also built a ship slipway and, it is rumoured, an illegal still. It is ironic that young people these days are often criticised for changing careers too much and not sticking at one job. Andrew Thompson managed a career as a convict, constable, toll collector, builder, shipwright and industrialist and possibly, although he would have been unlikely to record it on his resume, a distiller. And all that by the age of 36!
He named his island, previously known as Pitt Island, after his beloved homeland. It is quite fitting that in the same year we honour the Scot Macquarie for his contribution to the development of New South Wales we honour his compatriot Andrew Thompson and the beautiful island he named after their shared homeland. And it is appropriate that we remember Andrew Thompson in this place on this day, exactly 200 years after his sudden death on Scotland Island on 22 October 1810. According to accounts from the time, he died of exhaustion, and, most likely, water-borne infection after rescuing people in the Hawkesbury floods a few months earlier. I am the same age as Andrew Thompson was when he died, and I salute this enterprising pioneer for achieving so much in such a short life.
In 1812 Scotland Island was offered for sale. The Sydney Gazette
advertisement declared it contains "one hundred and twenty acres of good soil, extensive salt works, a good dwelling house and stores, labourers' rooms, and every convenience suitable for a fishery, or shipbuilding, also a vessel of about ninety tons, partly built, still on the stocks". It did not say anything about the distillery. Over the years different characters and activities have contributed to the rich history of this little island, which has been progressively subdivided until today, when there are well over 600 permanent residents living in cottages cascading down the steep slopes of the island, mainly hidden among the trees.
Thompson's life and the rich history of Scotland Island were recently celebrated at a wonderful bicentenary festival organised by the indefatigable Emmy Collins and supported by the Scotland Island Residents Association, PMC Hill Real Estate and Pittwater Council. Bob Waterer, a Guringai elder and direct descendant of King Bungaree, gave a welcome to country, and the island celebrated its history and its future, its artists and its exhibitionists in song, dance, film, stories, food and fun. Greg Roberts dressed up as Andrew Thompson and Shar Jones' kids dressed up as giant kangaroos and spent the day being beaten up by toddlers.
My daughters spent the afternoon chasing chickens, while I was hosted by Bill Gye, president of the residents association. It was great to see some enterprising islander in the spirit of Andrew Thomson handing out sachets of local Scotland Island salt. I also thank Louise Roberts, who so kindly transported my family to join the islanders on the day. There are so many people who contribute to the success of this wonderful offshore community—too many to mention here—but I thank them all for making Scotland Island a special place and a beacon pointing to the real relationships and real community that all our neighbourhoods should aspire to emulate.
Mr BARRY COLLIER
(Miranda—Parliamentary Secretary) [7.47 p.m.]: I could not let pass the opportunity to comment on a wonderful speech from the member for Pittwater. He was poetic when he spoke about the wonderful family of people, the community that lives on Scotland Island. Clearly, it is full of surprises. I note the work of Andrew Thompson in getting it underway. He changed careers a number of times, from a convict to a toll collector, a shipwright and possibly a bootlegger. Indeed, a few of us in this House will be changing careers shortly. I congratulate the organisers of the bicentennial festival on Scotland Island. Again, I thank the member for Pittwater for his poetic dissertation and passion about this wonderful place called Scotland Island.
SUTHERLAND SHIRE COUNCIL MAYORAL ELECTIONS
Mr BARRY COLLIER
(Miranda—Parliamentary Secretary) [7.48 p.m.]: On Monday a constituent spoke to me about a problem she was having with Sutherland Shire Council. When I advised her that I would make representations to the mayor, Councillor Phil Blight, she responded by saying, "I thought Lorraine Kelly was the mayor". I told the constituent that Councillor Kelly was the mayor until last month, and that in the shire the councillors can select a new mayor every 12 months. The constituent said, "What's the point in that?" And I have to agree. For the individual councillor there is, of course, the honour and prestige of being shire mayor, as well as the experience he or she gains personally in performing the role for 12 months.
For shire residents, I see no real benefit in having our mayor elected by councillors each and every year. In the 104 years since Sutherland shire came into being we have had 54 changes of mayor or presidents, as they were once called. In that time our shire population has grown to 220,000, making us the second largest local government area in the State, with an annual budget of about $220 million. Yet for more than a century residents and ratepayers of the shire have had absolutely no say in who wears the mayoral robes. When we go to a polling booth in a State of Federal election we always know who the candidates are for the Prime Minister's job or the Premier's job, but we have absolutely no idea who is running for the top job in the shire.
A candidate who aspires to be the shire mayor should be able to say so up-front and on the ballot paper. But, unlike in smaller local government areas such as Fairfield, shire ratepayers have no idea who their mayor is likely to be until after the council elections, when the wheeling and dealing is done between candidates, factions and political allies. In a democratic society I believe the choice of mayor should reflect the aspirations of shire residents rather than the promises made and the deals done after the poll is declared. It is time for us to bite the bullet and have a mayor who is directly elected by the people of the shire. It is time for local residents to have a say at the ballot box about who will be the public face and voice of the shire.
It is time that we in the shire had a popularly elected mayor, and the Local Government Act provides the mechanism to achieve that. The first step is a resolution of present councillors to hold a shire-wide referendum, most sensibly and cost-effectively at the time of the next general poll. The question of a popularly elected mayor will then be determined—yes or no—by a simple majority of eligible voters. Of course, moving to a popularly elected mayor requires political will on the part of our 15 councillors. I call on each of them to grasp the nettle, to consult with their constituents, to have the debate and to put the referendum question to the residents of the shire at the next council election in 2012. The benefit to the shire in terms of planning, continuity and vision and the better use of council resources and ratepayers' money far outweighs the cost of doing so.
We should take this one step further. About 50 per cent of the concerns raised with me by my constituents concern Sutherland Shire Council. Complaints about council decisions concerning trees, potholes, footpaths and so on are common. Constituents complain that their ward councillors do not promptly return their calls or reply to their emails and letters. To be fair, part of the problem is that being a councillor is a part-time job that requires long hours of work attending council meetings and pouring through voluminous reports. We have five wards in the shire, each of which has three part-time councillors, including the annually elected mayor.
My constituents believe that local government in the shire would be more efficient, productive and responsive to their needs if we had one full-time popularly elected mayor and five full-time councillors, one for each ward, all of whom were appropriately paid. Constituents to whom I have spoken wholeheartedly support that proposition. Councillors would clearly have more time to deal with their constituents' concerns as they relate to local government issues. Ratepayers would also have more confidence in raising issues with councillors in the first instance rather than going directly to their State and Federal members as soon as a problem arises. Of course, there will be always be differences between the three levels of government, and that is to be expected.
Having full-time councillors would avoid a problem that I have observed for some time. The limited time available to our part-time councillors often means that they are forced to rely, seemingly without question, on the recommendations of the bureaucracy. They have too little time to make their own independent inquiries and independent and informed judgments. Of course, that impacts on the quality of debate in the council chamber and on the decisions that are made. In saying that I am in no way impugning the work of council staff or the advice they provide. It is simply a matter of the limited time that councillors have available to carry out their duties despite their determination to put the shire's interests first. At the end of the day, it is all about time. It is time we in the shire changed the way that we select our mayor. Our councillors should also have appropriate time available to them to perform their duties properly. Clearly, it is time we changed the way we do things in the Sutherland shire.
Private members' statements concluded.
The House adjourned, pursuant to resolution, at 7.53 p.m. until
Friday 23 October 2010 at 10.00 a.m.