Governor's Speech: Address-In-Reply
First Day's Debate
Mr COLLIER (Miranda) [10.36 a.m.]: I move:
That the following Address-in-Reply to the Speech which Her Excellency the Governor has addressed to both Houses of Parliament on opening this session of the Parliament of New South Wales be now adopted by this House:
To Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, Governor of the State of New South Wales in the Commonwealth of Australia.
May it Please Your Excellency—
We, the Members of the Legislative Assembly of the State of New South Wales, in Parliament assembled, desire to express our thanks for Your Excellency’s Speech, and to express our loyalty to the Sovereign.
We assure Your Excellency that our earnest consideration will be given to the measures to be submitted to us, that we will faithfully carry out the important duties entrusted to us by the people of New South Wales, and that the necessary provision for the public services will be made in due course.
We join Your Excellency in the hope that our labours may be so directed as to advance the best interest of all sections of the community.
I congratulate Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir on her role as Governor of New South Wales. Everywhere I go in my electorate people pay compliments to her dignified manner and compassion, to the way in which she relates to individuals and groups, and to her understanding of the issues facing each and every Australian. I am honoured to move the adoption of this House's Address-in-Reply to Her Excellency the Governor's Speech on the opening of Parliament yesterday. I am privileged to lead the debate on behalf of the Carr Government. The year 2002 marks a political milestone for the New South Wales Parliament. It is, of course, the centenary of women's suffrage. In this great country of contrasts, our Australia, New Year's Day 2002 marked the beginning of the Year of the Outback. Ironically, as the International Year of the Volunteer came to an end, our State was in the midst of one of our greatest challenges of recent times—the bushfire crisis beginning Christmas Day.
There are a thousand stories of lives and property saved and of the courage and unselfish commitment of our volunteers throughout the crisis. Grays Point, in my electorate of Miranda, borders the Royal National Park in Sydney's south. In recent times this bushfire-prone area has seen the loss of the lives of three volunteer firefighters. On Christmas Eve we have a tradition in Grays Point. The firefighters drive through the streets with Santa, atop one of their trucks, distributing boiled lollies to the local children. The past three years it has been my privilege to play Santa Claus on the back of the fire truck. Last Christmas Eve as the truck stopped to turn in Greenhaven Road, Grays Point, on the edge of the Royal National Park, I could sense the unease and foreboding amongst our experienced firefighters. On Christmas Day some of these volunteers from Grays Point were fighting bushfires in the Blue Mountains. By Boxing Day they were fighting fires in the Royal National Park and Heathcote National Park.
On Boxing Day and in days following in the electorate of Miranda I witnessed the generosity, compassion and spirit of the people of the Sutherland shire. The Gymea Trade Union Club opened its doors to 600 people of all ages very early that Boxing Day morning. They included aged residents of John Paul Village and families, some with their pets, cut off from their homes in Heathcote and Helensburgh. The "Tradies" management and staff, the local Salvos, the Red Cross, St Vincent de Paul, as well as the Department of Community Services, ambulance and the police all combined their efforts in a calm, quiet commitment to the wellbeing of all 600 persons. Local residents and businesses attended with offers of food and help. Some looked after the pets of the evacuees while others offered stranded children a swim in their own backyard pools.
Each time I attended the Grays Point Rural Fire Service station I saw locals continually arriving with food and offers of help. Many called in just to say thank you to our magnificent volunteers. I take this opportunity to thank Captain Wayne Roberts and the men and women of the Grays Point Rural Fire Service for their truly unselfish commitment to my community. It was so fitting yesterday to see our magnificent volunteers in a guard of honour to Her Excellency. The Year of the Volunteer has officially ended, but their work goes on, and tonight a grateful Grays Point community is having a fundraiser just to say thank you.
I also thank and congratulate president Graham Hill, manager Tim McAleer and the staff of the Gymea Trade Union Club as well as the local emergency organisations and residents for the relief and comfort they brought to those affected by the bushfire in the Sutherland shire. I know that members of the Grays Point Rural Fire Service and indeed the shire community will welcome proposed amendments to legislation giving the commissioner power to ensure hazard reduction works are implemented across all land tenures as required. Welcome too are the legislative proposals to streamline the approval process for hazard reduction and a new State environment planning policy to ensure that councils map bushfire-prone areas and implement appropriate planning and setback provisions.
The Carr Government's commitment to maintaining the highest standards of achievement and a quality learning environment is readily apparent at schools within my electorate. Spending on education across New South Wales has been increased to a record $7.6 billion in the year 2001-02. Oyster Bay Public School is to get a new hall—something long-promised and long-awaited under the Coalition but being delivered under the Carr Government. Recently, during a visit to Gymea North Primary School, the Premier announced funding of more than $880,000 for basic building, maintenance and renovation projects across 14 schools in my electorate—from Como Public School to Kirrawee High School, from Yowie Bay Public School to Sylvania High School, and from Jannali East Public School right across to Port Hacking High School.
The projects include everything from new floor coverings and telephone systems to playground improvements and toilet upgrades. The Government has brought these projects forward by up to four years. Bringing these projects forward to this year is most welcome. It means better learning environments for our children now—and that means better results for our primary and high schools. Late last year an influential OECD study revealed reading literacy standards in New South Wales high schools to be the highest of any Australian State and among the best in the world. The Government's successful Reading Recovery Program—with some 14 reading recovery teachers in local shire schools—has played an important part in this outstanding achievement. The Government's focus on spelling, writing and reading as part of its literacy strategy, and the continuing expansion of its numeracy strategy, means high achievement and excellence at our schools.
The level of computer literacy and information technology skills among our primary and high school students is simply astounding. Schools such as Gymea Bay Public and Kirrawee High are running computer programs, networks and hands-on IT courses that rival those of the professionals. That is a tribute to the ongoing provision of computers to our schools, but it is also testament to the skills and talents of our teachers. As a former teacher, I understand the demands that teachers face. I value and congratulate them on the wonderful work that they are doing at schools in my electorate. Teaching is indeed a noble profession, and I welcome Government initiatives to enhance the standing of these committed professionals in our community.
I saw that professionalism not that long ago at the Gymea Technology High School, when over a weekend a fire gutted classrooms and an administration block. Teachers and staff rallied. They came to the school on the weekend and re-roomed and re-timetabled that high school of some 700 students. On Monday morning I was present when, following a short assembly, those 700 students were in their rooms at their lessons. That is a remarkable achievement. I congratulate the principal, Anne Wright, and the staff of Gymea Technology High School. That is just one example of the commitment and professionalism of schoolteachers within the electorate.
The Carr Government is committed to better health care for the people of the Sutherland shire. We are building a better Sutherland Hospital. The New South Wales Government's $82.5 million redevelopment of Sutherland Hospital is on track for completion in 2003. Work has commenced on the new ward block and clinical services building near The Kingsway. This new building will incorporate surgical and oncology wards as well as new coronary, high-dependency and intensive care facilities. The construction of the new building will be followed by the renovation of the hospital's south wing. The redevelopment process has taken place in consultation with user groups right across the hospital, and with a minimum of disruption.
To date, progress with the redevelopment of the hospital has included a new $5.1 million accident and emergency department, with a magnificent contribution from a committed shire community; a $1.5 million day surgery unit and renovated aged care ward; and $800,000 day respite facilities for the frail aged and dementia patients. As this redevelopment proceeds the hospital continues to enhance its services. An extra $32 million in recurrent funding for the South Eastern Area Health Service in the last budget means enhanced services for cancer, diabetes, asthma, respiratory and day surgery patients, as well as mental health clients. The $82.5 million redevelopment of our hospital is not just a major capital works project but a very real demonstration of the Carr Government's commitment to improve health facilities and improved health care in the shire.
Our Sutherland Hospital is greatly valued by the community. Its redevelopment by the Carr Government stands in stark contrast with the Coalition's policy—a Coalition that was content to let this important community facility run down. Labor is delivering where the Coalition failed. I welcome also the Government's $20 million plan to recruit and retain nursing staff and to attract former nurses back to the profession. One of my constituents, Jennifer Enriquez, of Kareela, a former nursing sister, is about to return to that profession. Jennifer was attracted by the Government's package and hopes to work at the new Sutherland Hospital. It is very pleasing to see the Government's initiative attracting such high-calibre personnel as Jennifer Enriquez.
The total investment by this Government in transitways, motorways and railways that are currently being undertaken or planned is greater than at any time in the past 50 years. I am pleased to say that my electorate and the Sutherland shire are benefiting from that. The Eastern Distributor and the $794 million M5 East are making car travel to the city from the shire safer, smoother and quicker. The $47 million Woronora Bridge, opened last year, has eliminated the hazardous hairpin bends going down to and leaving the Woronora River. Last week I was privileged to attend the launch of the environmental impact statement for the Bangor bypass by the Minister for Transport, the Hon. Carl Scully, along with the honourable member for Menai. The Bangor bypass will cost around $100 million. It will take thousands of cars off local roads daily. This exciting project is due to commence later this year.
The Bangor bypass links with the western side of the Woronora Bridge. On the eastern side of the bridge, a $4 million right-hand turn facility is currently under construction at Acacia Road, Kirrawee. The project will direct traffic to the south from the Woronora Bridge, taking that traffic out of the shire and away from local roads. I am pleased to say that work commenced on Monday on the Miranda five-ways. This $7.1 million project will see the end of the notorious roundabout often labelled the number one black spot in the State for minor accidents. The roundabout will be replaced with traffic signals following extensive community consultation and a $50,000 traffic study.
These major projects in the shire—the Woronora Bridge, the Bangor bypass, the Acacia Road facility and the Miranda five-ways—total more than $150 million. They are all being completed or commenced in the term of this Government. Of course, other projects that are not so expensive have improved the safety of our pedestrians and motorists at important intersections. I instance the traffic lights at The Kingsway and Sylvania Road, and The Kingsway and Hotham Road—long awaited by the community, and delivered under Labor.
On the rail transport front Labor has delivered an easy access upgrade to Caringbah station. Recently the Government announced a $3.1 million easy access upgrade for Miranda station. The installation of a lift, access ramp, upgraded facilities and extended awnings are all good news for the 7,500 passengers who use Miranda station daily. I am told that the current ramp is unsuitable for those with disabilities and those in wheelchairs. The installation of a new ramp will comply with Australian standards and provide easy access to the station for those in wheelchairs. We in the shire value our beaches, our waterways and our natural heritage. The completion last year of the $90 million upgrade of the Cronulla sewage treatment plant has provided us with beaches that have never been cleaner. Late last year the State Government announced a further $11.5 million to upgrade 20 sewage pumping stations across the shire, which will result in a cleaner Georges River, Woronora River and Hacking River. Our beaches and waterways are so clean that I have heard locals tell of sharks cruising in Gunnamatta Bay.
Only two days ago the Premier declared Boat Harbour at Cronulla to be an aquatic reserve, which will preserve and protect the habitat of marine creatures in rocks and rock platforms for future generations of shire residents. It will ensure that children do not have to look to a textbook or an aquarium to see our marine treasures but rather, with their parents, they will be able to observe them on rocks and in rock pools. This Government cares about the environment and it has kept its promises on waterways. Siltation continues to be a problem for watercraft in Port Hacking. The $850,000 tender to treat the channels in Port Hacking will be called next month. The project continues to fulfil a promise made in 1995 by Bob Carr as then Opposition Leader that his Government would continue to fully fund maintenance dredging in Port Hacking. That is good news for boaters and good news for people across the shire. When this Government makes a promise it keeps that promise.
Her Excellency spoke of legislation to enhance community safety, crime prevention and law enforcement. Much has been done by this Government to enhance and strengthen police powers. Sentences have been increased for certain offences. New offences have been created in response to changing circumstances where appropriate, for example, delivering of packages that are designed to cause fear and alarm. The new Minister for Police, the Hon. Michael Costa, visited Miranda and Sutherland local area commands to discuss concerns and issues with front-line police. The Minister met Local Area Commanders Reg Mahoney and Henry Karpik. The meetings were frank and productive. I take this opportunity to thank Superintendent Reg Mahoney and Superintendent Henry Karpik, and the men and women of their commands for their hard work and commitment to the people of the Sutherland shire. The Minister has introduced a number of reforms, many of which have been welcomed by front-line police in my electorate.
Changes have been proposed to the Bail Act to remove the presumption in favour of bail for repeat offenders. I understand from police that those changes are very welcome. Consolidating police powers and setting out sentencing principles in legislative reform are also very welcome. Often crime prevention is not as simplistic as some would like to make out, nor is it an issue for police alone. Anyone who has worked in the criminal justice system would know that often the causes of crime are complex, and that effective crime prevention means bringing together resources from across the community. During my time as a legal aid solicitor working at Sutherland Local Court I saw some common patterns among offenders: education to year nine, poor literacy and numeracy standards, illiteracy, drug dependency, alcohol dependency or both, joblessness, psychiatric problems, child abuse victims and family breakdowns. [Extension of time agreed to.]
These common features were never offered as excuses for crime, but often they are the unseen factors that lie behind the reality of crime. For many offenders crime is a vicious circle: a crime-court-prison merry-go-round. I, for one, welcome the Government's new place management program, which currently operates in Miller. The program aims to tackle the underlying causes of crime. New South Wales has a healthy, vibrant economy. We have the lowest unemployment of any State or Territory. Since 1995 new jobs in New South Wales have increased by 400,000. The New South Wales economy is growing faster than the national economy, and 200 major investment projects are under way.
This Government has produced a budget surplus for six successive years, plus a $10 billion reduction in debt, which clearly demonstrate responsible fiscal management by the Carr Government. I note that New South Wales was the first State to abolish the bank accounts debit [BAD] tax, some 3½ years ahead of the national timetable. This will benefit households and small businesses throughout my electorate. As Her Excellency said, New South Wales is the engine room of the Australian economy. It is sound fiscal management that makes possible the programs in my electorate and across the State. I know that all honourable members will support the motion.
Mr NEWELL (Tweed) [10.56 a.m.]: I second the motion of the honourable member for Miranda to adopt the Address-in-Reply to the Governor's Speech. I take seriously my role as the representative of the Tweed electorate to work hard for every individual, community group and organisation within the electorate. Every day I meet constituents who have an expectation of this Government and an expectation that I, as their representative, will work hard to achieve the best possible outcome for the Tweed. In the past three years the Tweed has gained many services. The New South Wales Fire Arms Registry, which relocated to Murwillumbah, provides 50 jobs. I have had the privilege of touring the facility on many occasions and I congratulate the staff and leadership of Mr Gary Corbin, the Manager of the Fire Arms Registry, on their work. They are very professional and knowledgeable about the registration of firearms and the issuing of licences to gun owners.
The new community health centre, established in Murwillumbah some 12 months ago, is situated in the same building as the Fire Arms Registry. The centre brought together a number of agencies to provide services to the community. Previously many of the services were scattered throughout the town or located in a very old and almost inaccessible building behind the present Murwillumbah District Hospital. The cluster Director of Northern Community Health Services, Mr Paul Starr, oversights the facility, which is ably led by Siobahan Lassey, who has done a great job in pulling the services together and ensuring that the community of Murwillumbah has access to professional people. They provide a service that is second to none. Despite various constraints that have been experienced at different times, the staff work exceedingly well. I congratulate them on their performance, particularly in the provision of services, including counselling services, which have assisted in strengthening the community in many important ways.
Much has taken place at the Murwillumbah District Hospital over the past three years while I have been the State parliamentary representative for the Tweed electorate. The children's ward at the hospital has been refurbished and the hospital's operating theatres have been upgraded. A high dependency unit also has been established, at considerable cost. All of these improvements have been co-ordinated very ably by the hospital's chief executive officer, Mr Ian Murray. Behind the scenes some very expensive upgrading of equipment has taken place, including improvements to the airconditioning and fire response systems.
Although these upgrades do not result in more patients being treated and are not items of expenditure for which members of the public see a direct benefit, it nevertheless must be acknowledged that without that upgrading of equipment, to the tune of $1 million, the hospital would not be able to function efficiently and in the future would not meet modern building standards. Members of the public may not be aware of the substantial expenditure that has taken place behind the scenes, but they may rest assured that the expenditure has been applied to ensuring that the Murwillumbah District Hospital will be able to provide a high standard of health services long into the future.
I refer now to education facilities in the Tweed electorate. Recently I was delighted to announce to the Bogangar-Cabarita community that the development application for the Bogangar Primary School was lodged last week with the local council. If the application is approved, it will result in a long-awaited new primary school being built at Bogangar. I have found the delays associated with the application process very frustrating and regrettable, but I am pleased that some of the causes of the delays have been worked around. I hope the council will appreciate that some of the school's facilities were redesigned to accommodate council requirements.
As a result of consequential changes to the design, I am sure that the residents of Cooley Street and Towners Avenue in Bogangar, who were very concerned about the original design concept and who worked assiduously through my electorate office for changes to the original design to be made, are pleased with their success in ensuring that residences in the area are not adversely affected by increased traffic. The amended design has ensured that utilisation of Cooley Street and Towners Avenue to provide access to the facility will no longer be part of the project. I am sure that the residents of the area are celebrating and appreciate the efforts of the officers of the Department of Education and Training and the staff of my electorate office in conveying to the Minister for Education and Training their concerns about the original design.
As part of the Behavioural Initiatives Program, two centres will very shortly come on stream: the tutorial centre at Murwillumbah for students who have behavioural difficulties at school, and a school for specific purposes, to be known as the Caldera School. Those centres will be established in the Tweed electorate as soon as some aspects of land rezoning and development are resolved. The centres represent part of the Government's ongoing commitment to assisting students who have behaviour problems. I know that the Department of Education and Training is serious about establishing those centres because a principal has already been appointed to the Caldera School and arrangements are being made to ensure that the school will be operating as soon as possible to provide services to meet the needs of students who have behavioural difficulties at school.
In the near future the Minister for Education and Training will visit the Tweed electorate in connection with secondary education matters, and I expect that the Minister will make some welcome announcements at that stage. Over the past 18 months a committee has examined the provision of secondary education in the Tweed electorate and on the Tweed coast. A discussion paper entitled "Focus on the Future: Options for Secondary Education on the Tweed and Tweed Coast" was presented to the community in my electorate last year. As a result of a quite thorough public consultation process, the department has made recommendations to the Minister. Very soon the Minister will announce the result of the consultation process, and it is expected that that will result in additional facilities being provided for the benefit of the Tweed and Tweed coast community.
Next week the Premier will visit the Tweed electorate to open the third and final stage of redevelopment of the Tweed Heads District Hospital. The hospital's chief executive officer, Trish Hogan, her team, and members of the broader community are looking forward to the opening of the new facilities. I will have more to say on this matter in the future. Last year a community health centre was opened at Tweed Heads for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. The centre's team leader, Sue Follent, is doing a great job of providing services in the new facility for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. The centre is part of the strategy of the provision of three community health centres, and provision of a centre for the Kingscliff area is in the planning stages.
My contribution to the Address-in-Reply debate would not be complete without mentioning the massive roadworks that have been undertaken in the Tweed electorate, particularly the Yelgun to Chinderah motorway, which is part of the Pacific Highway upgrade. The project is well and truly on track and will be opened later this year. The roadworks have been carried out at a cost of $340 million, and one-third of the funds for the project were provided by the Commonwealth Government. The State Government has carried through the project very well. I congratulate the Abigroup construction company, which has ensured that the project has been well and truly completed on time, although not without some angst on the part of various groups.
Before the project was submitted to tender, a consultation process was undertaken—a hallmark of the Carr Government. The Government was prepared to consult with local industries, particularly the sugarcane industry, which is vital to the economy of the North Coast, and with community groups such as environmental organisations and local councils to ensure that the selected route would have minimal impact upon the sugarcane industry. As a result of the consultation process, a route was selected which presented some engineering difficulties, but those difficulties were largely overcome by virtue of some innovative design.
I recently again inspected the project, which features a number of bridges and a tunnel, resulting in the creation of a tremendous roadway. Some fauna overpasses have been included in the Yelgun to Chinderah motorway to link green corridors rather than sever them, and that has added considerably to the cost of the project. However, the Government has seen fit to ensure that the roadway resulted in minimal impact upon the natural environment and the sugarcane industry, which is a vital primary industry in my electorate. As recently as last week I launched a public consultation program for a pedestrian overpass at Sexton Hill, a facility that is long overdue.
A former councillor and well-known personality in the Tweed electorate, Tom Hogan, commented that the overpass was something he had been trying to arrange for 15 years. I am pleased that I have been able to achieve that result in my first term as the State parliamentary representative for the Tweed electorate. The overpass will link communities in the east Banora district, where the major shopping centres and schools of Banora Point are located, and will be of assistance to both members of the community and students, in particular primary school students, by enabling them to walk or ride their bicycles to school and back across the highway in complete safety. The pedestrian overpass will also benefit those who regularly catch a bus to travel into Tweed City or to centres further up the Gold Coast. A number of my constituents have pointed out to me that they literally have to run the gauntlet of traffic on four lanes in order to cross the Pacific Highway at present.
I referred earlier to the Tweed Heads District Hospital. A public dental health clinic employing practitioners who are able to provide services directly to the Tweed Heads community also operates out of the Tweed Heads District Hospital. It provides a tremendous service, but local residents would like to see the provision of extra funding—in particular an additional contribution from the Federal Government—to enable more patients to take advantage of the services of that clinic. On a different tack, there have been major achievements and a number of community groups have been impacted upon by sporting grants, which have assisted a broad range of projects in my electorate. Those projects have benefited the people of the Tweed, improving the economy, their educational, health, tourism, transport and employment options, and the environment.
I note that the former Minister for Sport and Recreation is at the table, and it is appropriate to thank him for his co-operation and hard work in the last two to three years to ensure that a number of sporting and community groups in my electorate were able to benefit substantially from the Capital Assistance Program conducted by the Department of Sport and Recreation. A number of those facilities have yet to come on board. For example, the construction of a $10,000 skateboard facility at Les Burger sports field south of Cabarita is not yet up and running. I know the community appreciates what has been proposed and no doubt the obstacles within the shire council and elsewhere will soon be sorted out. Funding of $8,000 was also allocated for the construction of a concrete slab for netball and basketball at the Crabbes Creek Sports Oval, which is utilised by school students as well as after-hours sporting groups. When I visited the area last year the locals could not speak highly enough of the former Minister for Sport and Recreation.
The Dave Burns field at Chinderah received $9,000 to fund improvements. Funds have also been allocated to the Tweed Heads indoor swimming complex for the construction of a change room and toilet facility for disabled patrons of that complex. Arkinstall Park received funding of $9,000 to install an irrigation system, which has extended the season for soccer and other groups that utilise that park. Although the North Coast is dry at present, the boggy conditions often continue after the wet season and can extend into winter, causing problems. The Chillingham tennis club received an allocation from the Capital Assistance Program for resurfacing of the tennis courts. At Bruce Bartrim Oval $900 was spent on resurfacing the turf on the pitch; and at Murwillumbah netball complex, where hundreds of young people, and others not so young, play netball on Saturdays and on week nights, $6,000 was provided to resurface three netball courts with asphaltic concrete. Those facilities have been a great assistance to the local community.
This year portable shade areas have been provided at the Murwillumbah swimming complex. Shade areas will also be provided for the skateboard park that I mentioned earlier, and four shade shelter sheds will be constructed at Noel Robinson courts at Tweed Heads South. The shelter sheds are certainly needed and will be appreciated by players at the Tweed Heads tennis club. Safety back netting and a side fence will be constructed at the Uki sports ground at a cost of $3,200, and $6,000 has been allocated for the upgrading of a softball field at Piggabeen—many people utilise that complex, particularly during the weekend. Amenities costing $8,500 will be constructed at Ned Byrne field at Kingscliff. Burringbar School of Arts will receive $4,500 to upgrade amenities and the Bilambil community will benefit from a grant of more than $8,000 for drainage works associated with the development of playing fields at the football ground.
As member for Tweed I believe that it is of equal importance that I also strive to meet the needs of individual constituents. Not a week goes past that I do not meet someone who requires my help or who works as a volunteer in the community. Last week I presented lifesavers at Cudgen Headland Surf Club with a State flag. Tomorrow one or more of them may approach me for assistance on an individual basis. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Secretary, Keith Kennedy, and President, Keith Sutton, for their work with Cudgen Headland Surf Club and the job that volunteer organisation does in providing an essential service, particularly in a tourist area such as Kingscliff on the Tweed coast. That organisation does a great job in assisting locals and tourists who swim in the area, many of whom are inexperienced and have little knowledge of the dangers posed by the surf. [Extension of time agreed to.]
Last year a Tweed resident, Brendan McGrath, took to the water on the Tweed River and skied for 36 hours to raise money to assist those suffering from cancer. The community rallied behind him and applauded his efforts. Others in the community work quietly behind the scenes, looking after the elderly, delivering food for the Meals on Wheels service, and taking disabled children horse riding. There are families who face life's greatest challenges, perhaps the serious illness of a child. Family and friends rally and government services assist, but it is the emotional support offered by family and friends that never ceases to amaze me. The efforts of all these people who put others before themselves is inspirational. Government agencies can never replace the goodwill that emanates from the volunteers in our community. It is this spirit that is the seed for our future and it is heartening to know that goodwill is flourishing in the Tweed and that our future is assured. However, this does not mean that government can be complacent in its efforts. We must not ride on the back of that goodwill, but rather be the forerunner for its survival.
On 17 January the coastal town of Kingscliff in my electorate was ravaged by hail. More than 600 homes suffered damage. Many ceilings collapsed and house after house sustained water damage, as a result of broken windows and wrecked roofs. Almost 2,000 tarpaulins were used to cover damaged roofs, with tarpaulin reserves called in from Sydney. I understand that, following a call for help from Tweed-Richmond State Emergency Service controller Scott Hanckel, two container loads of tarpaulins arrived a few days after the disaster and were put to good use. Volunteers, many of whom had not long returned from helping fight the bushfires in Sydney, came to assist Tweed residents. Approximately 700 volunteers from New South Wales and Queensland emergency services, Department of Community Services officers, the Rural Fire Service, the New South Wales Fire Service and the Salvation Army arrived to help after the massive storm ripped through the Tweed coast, causing extensive damage to the Kingscliff and Cudgen areas.
The State Emergency Service [SES] groups, backing up from the bushfires, came from as far away as Sydney, Bathurst, Parkes, Lightning Ridge and Gunnedah. I understand that some of the volunteers from western New South Wales saw the ocean for the first time in their lives. The mammoth clean-up at Kingscliff was the largest storm response ever carried out by the region's SES operations manager, Scott Hanckel. The storm triggered just over 1,000 calls to the Richmond-Tweed SES, resulting in an unprecedented effort by local SES workers. It is that seemingly never-ending, generous effort of the volunteers that nourishes our communities. I congratulate Angela Gracie, who was acting controller for the Murwillumbah-Banora Point area at the time of the disaster. Angela did a great job, in the absence of Arthur Akehurst, to pull things together to minimise damage and ensure that the SES response was speedy and effective.
I must say that there has been disturbing news about one aspect. Whilst the insurance companies acted quickly to get assessors on the ground, some residents have had difficulty with one insurance company related to replacements for tiled roofs. Most insurance companies have been very co-operative in respect of the iron roofs that many houses have. Unfortunately, a number of the newer houses have tiled roofs and many were damaged in the storm. Owners of some of the older houses have found it difficult to replace the damage tiles with tiles of a similar colour and type because of the numerous changes that have occurred in the past few years. I call on all insurance companies to assist people in that area. Those companies have been quite co-operative in meeting claims for storm damage to the interiors of houses and replacing household items. However, for some reason or another they have tended to baulk a little at meeting costs for the replacement of roof tiles on some houses.
I am sure honourable members would like to refer to and discuss at length many issues that were mentioned in the Governor's Speech. The Governor referred in her Speech to the Government's $30 million Community Technology Centres Program, which is to provide computers, information technology training and Internet access to small country towns. The communities of Uki, Tyalgum and Chillingham are already beneficiaries of that program. A grant has been made available to those communities for that very purpose. A number of people in those small communities, which are located outside the township of Murwillumbah, find it difficult to get into town to access those sorts of services. The centres that will be established in each of those villages will ensure that those who do not have ready access to transport will receive training and will be able to utilise those modern forms of communication.
The Governor referred in her Speech to a $30 million allocation by the Department of Education and Training to fund building and security upgrades. Of that amount, $700,000 will be spent in the Tweed electorate to upgrade security, airconditioning and telephones and to ensure that school buildings in that electorate are maintained at an adequate standard. I am delighted that the Government has embarked on that program. The Governor stated in her Speech:
The Menadue and Sinclair Reports have mapped out a fairer funding system to correct historic inequities between regions...
Obviously, the Tweed electorate will benefit from that system. The official opening of Tweed hospital by the Premier next week will ensure that the Northern Rivers Area Health Service and services located in the Tweed will receive funding on a per capita basis—something that has not happened in the past. I am looking forward to the extra money that will flow through to provide extra services. Health services in the Tweed area, which is located on the Queensland border, take in patients from Queensland and the lower part of the Gold Coast. That places a tremendous burden on facilities in both the Tweed and Murwillumbah hospitals. Thirty per cent of mental health patients come from over the border, which, in turn, places demands on services in the Tweed and leaves those services strapped for cash. That extra funding will ensure that the quality of services in the Tweed area is maintained—an issue which I, as the local member, will watch closely.
In my first speech in this Parliament I spoke about mental health. I am delighted that the Government has allocated extra funds for mental health services. The hospital at Tweed Heads will be provided with an acute care facility to treat mental health patients. At present patients have to go to a facility in Lismore or to facilities on the Gold Coast. That presents problems for cross-border patients who have been ordered to obtain treatment. I have asked the Minister for Health to attempt to address those problems. The Governor referred in her Speech to the fact that the Government will introduce legislation relating to community safety, crime prevention and law enforcement. I congratulate Tweed Shire Council on supporting the community crime prevention plan that has been proposed for Tweed shire, which has not yet got off the ground.
A crime prevention study is under way and crime prevention plans will be implemented in the Tweed Heads and Coolangatta areas. Tweed Shire Council has accepted the fact that a community crime prevention plan should be implemented in the Tweed shire and, in particular, on the Tweed coast—a growing area which has its own set of problems and which receives a lot of visitors during weekends and holiday periods. That area desperately requires a crime prevention plan. Another issue to which the Governor referred is the extension of the Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment Program. At present a pilot program is operating in Lismore. That program is to be extended to other areas on the North Coast, including the Tweed.
The Governor, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, spoke about the relief and comfort provided by volunteers in times of crisis. The energetic perseverance and passion that volunteers bring to our community sustain and inspire us. On behalf of the people of Tweed I wholeheartedly thank all volunteers for their physical efforts and their inspiration.
Mr ARMSTRONG (Lachlan) [11.26 a.m.]: I have much pleasure in participating in the Address-in-Reply debate. I enjoyed yesterday's presentation by Her Excellency Governor Marie Bashir—a country person by birth. That was the first occasion on which I had an opportunity to be present while she was in the Chamber. I was delighted to be present on that historical occasion. Before I refer to aspects in the Governor's Speech I wish to refer to the death of Sir Roden Cutler, a former Governor of this State. Yesterday four members of this House spoke to a condolence motion: the Premier, the Deputy Premier, the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the National Party.
All the speakers in that debate referred to Sir Roden Cutler's colourful and great career and to his professional life. I echo the sentiments expressed by those speakers and inform honourable members why Sir Roden Cutler was so respected—an issue referred to by all those who contributed to debate on the condolence motion. Sir Roden Cutler, who was erect in stature, was focused and had a purpose in life. His single purpose in life was to defend his country. Honourable members would be aware that Sir Roden Cutler was awarded the Victoria Cross. He was an honest man and a man of integrity. In the 40 years that I knew him—and I did not know him well—I was aware that he was comfortable with himself and that people were comfortable with him.
Sir Roden Cutler did not exert pressure; he was a man who was in control. One could not help but be affected by his aura of non-confrontation. He was in control, he had respect for himself and he respected everybody else. Sir Roden Cutler never complained. I am not aware of any occasion on which Sir Roden Cutler complained about anything that was written about him. He went about his life with purpose. I was present on two occasions when he visited country areas, which he did many times. The homework and backgrounding he did before those visits were exemplary. When I turned on my radio at about 5 o'clock this morning I heard one of those talkback programs that seems to be broadcast night and day, on which listeners call in to talk about their problems. I thought that it is a pity that young people do not have a Sir Roden Cutler type of role model. Life is not bad. If you are comfortable with yourself you can be comfortable with society. We all—particularly the young people of today—could do a lot worse for an example of how to live our life than the model provided by Sir Roden Cutler.
As we well know, the Governor's Speech traditionally is prepared by the government of the day. The Governor's Speech yesterday started by referring to the recent and devastating bushfires. A number of guests in Parliament House yesterday had suffered from the effects of the bushfires, including 14 year-old twins from the Blue Mountains who were interviewed on one of the popular talkback shows yesterday morning. In the Governor's Speech a lot of thought was given to the suffering of the victims of fires and the efforts made by the volunteers. The very meaning of the word suggests the unpaid provision of something that would not otherwise be expected. I join in passing on my thanks and appreciation to all those who did their very best to contain a disastrous but natural aspect of our Australian way of life. The siting of houses in eucalypt forest causes a conflict of interest that is almost unique to Australia.
However, I ask members to spare a thought for those who lose their houses and family possessions—some insured and some not insured—in individual fires. In some town or village this week some family will lose everything. A single house fire, though not recognised to the same extent as mass devastation, is just as hurtful and destructive as other disasters to people whose lives are wrecked. The house of a pensioner at Lake Cargelligo was burned down by unknown persons. He was left with nothing and had to move to Young. The place was not insured, and it is believed that certain juveniles were responsible for the fire. My heart goes out to the victim and others like him who lose their possessions because of fire, storm or flood. The local Rotary club may hold a lamington sale and the local storekeeper may provide clothes, which is good, but we should consider the individual tragedies as well as the more spectacular ones.
The Governor's Speech, prepared by the Government, contained many reannouncements of Government initiatives. Some were announced a long time ago and some have been reannounced on a number of occasions. I guess you would call that reinforced reannouncing. It is like repeated advertising: the message will get through eventually. The Speech was very much Sydneycentric. It is not the first time I have stated in this House that a third of the population of the State lives outside Sydney. Those people also pay taxes. They certainly did not get a third of the promises in yesterday's Speech. Bearing in mind that we are only 12 months out from an election, the Speech was very much one of political favouritism. For example, there was no mention of country roads. The country roads system was bled pretty dry by the Government two years ago to support the Olympic Games, and I would have thought that country roads would have been mentioned in the Speech yesterday.
Former rail chief Ron Christie recently stated that $30 billion has to be spent on the Sydney rail system over the next 40 years—$750 million a year. That represents $187.50 every year for the next 40 years for every one of the four million men, women and children living in Sydney. To maintain the same equity of transport infrastructure outside the Sydney metropolitan area, with a total State population of six million, a further $16 billion should be spent on rail infrastructure for regional and rural New South Wales. I rest my case on that point.
The Governor's Speech contained no message of the massive social and cultural problems in country towns—and indeed in suburbs of Sydney—flowing from public liability and public risk insurance. Last Thursday in Cootamundra and last Friday in Forbes I held seminars on this issue. I anticipated an attendance of 40 or 50 people at each. Much to my surprise, more than 270 people attended the two seminars. After a bit of publicity on radio people came from as far afield as Walgett, Inverell and Gunnedah in the north, Bega on the South Coast and virtually every point in between. There were speakers from the Insurance Council of Australia, the WorkCover Authority, the Plaintiff Lawyers Association, the Local Government Association, the Shires Association, Employers First, and Mr Ian Douglas of Triton Brokers. There were stories about every type of sporting and cultural activity within country towns and suburbs. Horse riders in trail riding associations cannot afford insurance.
The freehold title to the hotel at Burcher, which is out near West Wyalong, is held by a gentleman who lives in Ryde. For some years there have been exchange cricket matches between teams at Ryde and Burcher, with the site of the match alternating each year. This year it is Burcher's turn to come to Ryde. But the team has been told that it needs its own public liability policy to play at Ryde cricket ground, which will cost $8,000. A small religious group of 14 women rent a room to meet in the local shire council chambers. A couple of weeks ago they were told that they have to have their own public risk policy to meet—in a local government room. Only yesterday, following the Governor's Speech, I met a gentleman, Mr Campbell, in the foyer of Parliament House who introduced himself. He has stated:
Thank you for listening to me yesterday at what was a most inopportune time for you. The Scottish-Australian Heritage Council has about 54 affiliated clan societies of Scottish associations. We have not been able to obtain umbrella cover for our affiliates as recommended in the exploratory notes for incorporation of associations. We would commend to you the notion that this principle be part of envisaged legislation hopefully in the future.
I guess there are a hundred stories like that. In the middle of the year it will be the centenary of Tumblong village. Lack of insurance might prevent a proposed celebration. Recently, the Woolfest at Forbes was cancelled. It was a wonderful promotional day for tourism, sport and the wool industry. The billycart races at Forbes have been cancelled. The annual football over the silo competition at Mirrool Creek, which is west of West Wyalong, has been going for about 15 years. The competition involves kicking a football over the 36-metre high wheat silos. I think that the last person to succeed, about two years ago, was barefooted. But the competition cannot be held because the small village with a population of about 30 cannot afford the public risk insurance. A shire in my electorate currently has no less than 80 matters pending involving potential cost to the shire. The unavailability of public liability insurance has had a serious effect on sport, culture and quality of life in country towns, and the issue is now at crisis point.
The two seminars carried four motions, which, hopefully, I can persuade the Parliament to support. The first motion proposed that there be a threshold of $36,000. In other words, anyone who wishes to make a claim may do so only if the claim exceeds $36,000. Anyone is capable of securing personal accident risk insurance, as people do when they travel overseas by aeroplane. Indeed, many people take out such insurance whenever they fly by aeroplane, because it is not very expensive.
Many accidents occur as a natural part of life. For example, people will trip over; kids will fall off ponies and break an arm; kids playing in trees will fall out of the tree and break a shoulder or their nose; and kids going down waterslides headfirst will knock out a tooth as they land in the pool. Although unfortunate, many accidents are simply part of life. Therefore, why do we have such a litigious society? Indeed, I have been informed that New South Wales is today more litigious than any other State. But why should we have thousands of small claims, which are making it impossible for many organisations to afford the cost of such insurance or to simply obtain cover? I therefore propose that there be a threshold of $36,000.
Secondly, I propose that all charitable or non-profit organisations that turn over less than $300,000 a year and are run by genuine volunteers be exempted from prosecution. Such organisations include Apex, Rotary, the local parents and citizens association, and the local gymkhana raising money for the Far West or the Cancer Society. The honourable member for Tweed referred to a couple of organisations in his electorate that conduct fundraising activities for cancer research. My proposal is supported by some 270 people in Cootamundra and Forbes from all walks of life. It has also received unqualified support from the Australian Hoteliers Association, which has contacted me to specifically ask me to indicate its support for my proposal that those organisations be exempted from prosecution.
I also propose a cap on payments for successful claims. I suggest a cap of $4 million, to bring the legislation into line with the Victorian Motor Traffic Act. Fourthly, I call on the three levels of government—local government, State Government and Federal Government—to commence a campaign to persuade people to bear in mind that we have certain risks that we must take ourselves and we must stop being so litigious.
I recently heard of the case of a local accountant, a professional person, whose client told him she was going to take action against a shopkeeper in the town because she tripped on the shopkeepers step, or something to that effect. As the client entered the accountant's office, she tripped on his step. The client is now suing both the shopkeeper and the accountant. A golf course in my electorate has pine trees as a feature of the course. In total, there are about 45 pine trees. One of the lady golfers who ripped her ankle on a pine cone is now suing the golf club. As pine trees are a feature of that golf course, such a claim is just silly. People must bear in mind that, for example, pine cones can rip your ankle; if you step on a footpath after recent rain you might slip; if your 12 year-old son goes down a waterslide headfirst, he might knock his teeth out; and if you put kids on a pony at a school fete, they might slip off and break their arm, their finger, or some other part of the body. I ask for support as we go through the process, to ensure balance and reason regarding public liability. [Extension of time agreed to.]
I am delighted that the Minister for Sport is at the table, because we have a serious problem with many of our country sporting clubs, particularly golf clubs and some bowling clubs. Golf clubs, by their very nature, are usually on the outskirts of country towns. In recent times, since poker machines have been installed in hotels, most of those clubs have suffered a downturn in income and many are in serious financial difficulty. The same applies to certain bowling clubs, such as country clubs that cater for bowls, tennis or golf. For example, at West Wyalong the services club was established to take over the country club. The country club in Cootamundra, a golf club with bowls facilities that has accumulated massive debts over the years, has been run entirely by voluntary labour, with the exception of the groundsman. Unless something happens, that social, sporting and cultural centre could be lost to Cootamundra.
In West Wyalong, the bowling club's airconditioning plant, which was installed in the 1950s and is well and truly beyond its use-by date, virtually does not work, but the club does not have the funds to renew it. In Ungarie, the bowling club is run entirely by volunteers. Once those volunteers give up or move on, I hate to think what will happen to that club. In Grenfell, the bowling club is also run by volunteers, as is the golf club. This state of affairs is symptomatic of many country towns across New South Wales, and it is a serious problem. I ask the Government to note the genuine problem of cash flow movement in country towns that has affected the viability and continued operation of those clubs and sporting facilities. I will seek to speak with the Minister about the matter at a later date.
I take this opportunity to speak about country sporting facilities in general. I believe we have not had catch-up following the Olympic Games for sporting facilities in country towns. These days many country sports people are disadvantaged because they do not have access to regional sporting facilities. Let us take swimmers. For example, in the town where I live, which is represented by the honourable member for Orange, we have an outstanding young junior swimmer, James Taylor. James swam fourth in the State Titles last Saturday. Indeed, he has been hailed as one of the brightest country prospects we have seen for years. Yet, every day during winter James has to travel for 2½ hours to train in Bathurst. Cowra Shire Council is currently moving to heat half of its pool complex, and that will be much appreciated. Nevertheless, I ask the Government to acknowledge that both the State and individuals are disadvantaged by the lack of regional sporting facilities, and that we need to further upgrade sporting facilities to try to help the talent in country New South Wales, such as James Taylor.
I now turn to grain freight lines. Recently the Government sold off FreightCorp. The sale has been a long time coming, and we understand the background to that. But we also understand that in June last year promises were made that $256 million would be made available to subsidise the cartage of grain on branch lines for the next five years. Those branch lines are primarily west of the Newell Highway. However, just a few weeks ago the Treasurer indicated that $50 million of that $256 million would go to Werris Creek to build new grain terminals, another $80 million would go towards purchasing rolling stock, for the cartage of wheat down the main lines, and the balance of the funding would go primarily to subsidising the cartage of petroleum by rail over the mountains. The amount of funding that was allocated to subsidise the cartage of wheat and maintain those lines now looks to be seriously in doubt.
There has been a lot of rhetoric about the sale of FreightCorp, and the Government's intention in that regard is yet to be clarified. I hope someone will soon inform us. For every tonne of grain that moves from rail to road, there will be damage to the roads. If we are to transfer the freight, we must transfer the funding as well. We cannot expect the roads of New South Wales to accept 8 million or 9 million tonnes of grain without some increased funding to increase the tensile strength of the pavements, maintain road edges and drainage at a good standard, and drain roads where there is a salinity problem. These are some of the fundamentals that must be addressed.
Police numbers are a serious problem. I am told that there are about 13,500 police constables in New South Wales and that not more than about 4,000 are available for duty at one time. In recent months we have heard much speculation about police numbers. We have been told that we are now going to have police back on the streets. However, it would be nice to simply have police in some of the towns. It would be nice, for example, to get a sergeant and two constables in Lake Cargellico. It would be nice to get a third constable in Condobolin.
It would be nice if one policeman could attend the regular traffic meetings held in Grenfell, but as there is no staff in Grenfell an officer would have to travel from Cootamundra. Police have not been able to attend those meetings for the past nine months. Condobolin has a population of nearly 4,000 but its police numbers have been reduced by one sergeant and two constables, and another constable has been transferred indefinitely. I ask, once again, that the Government take note of major staffing problems in country police stations. Very few rural police stations have a full complement to enable officers to adequately police their towns, protect the people, or attend to crime.
Rural theft, which over the years has been continually escalating, is now rampant. It is no secret that the prices of rural commodities—sheep, cattle and machinery—are at high levels. Spectacular new machinery has increased productivity. A truck loaded with 120 lambs worth $90 each, or 40 wool bales worth $1,000 each, would be a pretty good grab for thieves, better than stealing a load of cigarettes. But that is a risk that farmers have to take. I ask, again, where is the stock squad that we were promised 12 months ago? Where are the 32 police officers that the Government announced had been appointed? They have not materialised in country areas.
I refer now to water problems in New South Wales, part of the driest continent in the world. Water management problems continue to plague us. Shortly after last Christmas many crops were lost in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. This year the Lachlan River has supplied water to Hillston through the Wyangala Dam. The Lachlan River has the highest transmission loss of any river in New South Wales. The accepted method of managing the Lachlan River, which winds through flat country and travels approximately twice the length of the nearby road, is that Lake Brewster, just below Lake Cargelligo, is filled at the end of winter. The lower part of the river is then run from Lake Cargelligo to minimise transmission loss and to improve native bird habitat.
This year the river was run through Wyangala Dam, so through the summer months the river was full from Wyangala, which is above Cowra and not far below Oberon. Water loss was up to 60 per cent, so that for every 100 megalitres let out of Wyangala only 40 megalitres arrived at Hillston. That is an absolute waste! That policy was introduced to replicate the natural flow. Under that policy, each year until October every megalitre of water that goes to Wyangala is let go down the river. Unless that water is contained the dams will not be filled. Before Wyangala Dam was built and before the Burrinjuck Dam was built on the Murrumbidgee River, both rivers were chained to water holes, on their natural flow, but today that environment is completely artificial.
A committee tried to grapple with those problems for more than two years. I heard that 154 or 156 models had been tested at the Manly Hydraulics Laboratory, and it was decided to accept model 48 because there was not much wrong with it, but no-one knew why. Farmers are being asked to invest in new technology and new management in the grape, dairy and horticultural industries. Every night more than 130 tonnes of vegetables leave the upper Lachlan area for Sydney, for both domestic and export markets. Farmers find it very difficult to make decisions to invest in new technology that will take upwards of 10 years to pay off, let alone to persuade their bank manager to lend them the money.
These days if a farmer can demonstrate that a project will deliver a good cash flow and he can prove he has security, most banks will lend him money for up to 25 years. A farmer can certainly borrow for up to 15 years with an interest-only loan, and pay back the principal at the end of the 15 years. However, if a farmer cannot demonstrate that he has a continuous water supply, a bank will not lend him money for even 15 months. I repeat, our water problems have to be resolved if this State's primary industry is to enjoy continued growth. At the very time that our primary industry is being hailed as the real champion of this State and the national economy, the fundamental water supply is not being properly planned and managed. That factor may affect the future enhancement and viability of the primary industry.
As always, there are challenges for the Government and for the community. This morning I put to the House that the challenge from a social, cultural and sporting point of view is to fix up public liability insurance and responsibility. On a bigger scale, the challenge is to develop a proper water management program. Road, rail, education, health, and law and order services have not been properly provided for by the Government of this State in the past seven years. Unfortunately, the Speech prepared for the Governor to present to Parliament yesterday did not really address those fundamental problems.
Mr GIBSON (Blacktown) [11.56 a.m.]: It is my pleasure to participate in the Address-in-Reply debate. I do not agree with everything that the honourable member for Lachlan said but it was good to hear him speak in this Chamber, because he speaks from the heart. I enjoyed listening to him. Yesterday the New South Wales Governor, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, opened the third session of the Fifty-second Parliament with a wide-ranging Speech outlining the Government's plan for the coming year. Her Speech highlighted the Government's education, policing, health, transport, regional and rural affairs, economic management and environmental programs. Probably the Opposition members who will speak in this debate will use the same theme, that everything that was announced yesterday had been announced previously.
In some instances that may be so, but those programs are either under way or about to happen. I suppose we could make a comparison between policies of the State and Federal governments and I could spend my time talking about the boat people or children being thrown overboard. I could spend my time talking about Peter Reith and his lack of passing on information to the Prime Minister. John Howard must be the only Prime Minister who does not know what is happening in his own country. I could talk about the goods and services tax [GST] that the Prime Minister said during his 1999 election campaign would not happen. However, soon after the election the GST came in with a great bang. I could talk about the Prime Minister who, a few months ago, when the private medical health funds advocated that fees would rise by 14 or 15 per cent, said—
Mr Fraser: Point of order: The member states that he could talk about all those issues, but the Address-in-Reply is designed to enable members to respond to the Governor's Speech. None of the issues the member is presently addressing were raised in her Speech nor have they been raised by the Government in the House during this session. I ask you to draw him back to the content of the Governor's Speech.
Madam ACTING-SPEAKER (Ms Beamer): Order! The Address-in-Reply is a wide-ranging debate. If I upheld the point of order I would have had to stop the honourable member for Lachlan many times. He referred to various issues he thought should have been included in the Speech. However, I am sure the honourable member for Blacktown will return to the motion.
Mr GIBSON: I could have taken a point on the honourable member for Lachlan when he said the Governor did not speak about roads, and then went on for 10 minutes to speak about rural roads. This is a wide-ranging debate but the Opposition finds it hard to accept the realities of the real world. Decisions made in Canberra affect everybody in the State, particularly people living in my electorate of Blacktown, who are affected in a very bad way. Blacktown is the largest municipality in New South Wales and the third largest in Australia behind Brisbane and the Gold Coast. The Blacktown municipality has a population of more than 262,000. It is a magnificent area that is growing all the time and is starting to gain prominence as one of the leading cities of the nation.
In the past five years the average price of homes in the Blacktown area has jumped a staggering $70,000-odd. A real estate boom is occurring in the area at the moment and large business is moving into the area in great numbers. This is a telling factor for the future of Blacktown. One out of every 76 people living in Australia today lives in the municipality of Blacktown. This is a staggering but true figure. Blacktown City has the largest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population in the State, with a total of 5,500. More than 57,000 residents, 27.2 per cent of the population of Blacktown, speak a language other than English. People of more than 30 nationalities live in my electorate, and they speak more than 40 different languages.
Some two years ago Greg Norman, the great white shark, was looking at investing in western Sydney. Finally, the shark has purchased considerable land at Schofields in the Blacktown municipality and has just announced that he will build one of the best championship golf courses in the world there. Hopefully in the very near future we will stage one of the majors at the Schofields course. If everything goes through planning properly, he thinks development will start in September this year. It is great news for Blacktown and western Sydney that somebody so well known and such a great sportsman would invest in western Sydney. Greg Norman sees the future of western Sydney, as I do, as do many people living there.
Yesterday's Speech was delivered by a Governor who has compassion, charm, poise and respect. The way the Governor of New South Wales goes about her duties is a credit to her. It was good to see her husband, Nick Shehadie, present, looking so trim and fit. I am a Republican, but people such as Professor Marie Bashir are a genuine reason why such a position is maintained and respected. We can compare her position with that of the Governor-General, who is receiving flak from all quarters. What is going on at the moment takes away from the position of Governor-General. We on this side of the House will never forget another famous Governor-General by the name of Sir John Kerr, who could form a good daily double with Hollingworth.
Yesterday the Governor spoke about 2,000 teachers in more than 600 schools who would be involved in literacy and numeracy initiatives for students in the vital transition period from year 5 to year 8. News South Wales leads this country in literacy; our literacy levels are up there with the world's leaders. That is to the credit of this Government. When the Government came to office some seven years ago one of the Premier's main initiatives was to make sure that literacy was taught in the schools the way it should be. He put an emphasis on improving literacy standards. The proof of that is there for everyone to see.
This is on top of the 90,000 computers already in public schools; and there is to be another 25,000 computers. We are the only State, and probably the only region in the world, including the United States, that has computers in all schools. That too is a great feat of the Government. I have often said that we in this State are fortunate. In the State school system we have the best teachers of any education system in the world. We should give them full praise for the great job they do. I have no doubt that children in State schools benefit from the standard of our teachers.
School principals have been coming to see me for a long time about maintenance problems in their schools. Nearly every school in my electorate has benefited from the $70 million that was allocated a few weeks ago for maintenance. This is no wish list, as the Opposition might suggest. Some of this work has already started, and most of the remainder will start in the next five months. Some of the work will even be completed by then. Blacktown Boys High School, a great high school, has needed considerable money to upgrade its toilets. The sum of $70,000 has been allocated to that school for this purpose. Doonside High School is a very old school and needs repainting. That might not have happened for the next five or 10 years, but because of the initiative of the Minister for Education and Training and the Government, $80,000 has been put aside for that painting.
The roof of Evans High School was in bad condition and needed to be replaced. When the principal heard that $100,000 has been allocated for this purpose he came straight to my office to thank me and asked me to pass on his thanks to the Minister and the Premier. Marayong Public School needed its floor covering replaced, at a cost of $6,700. The amount of money is not important, it is the fact that this job may not have been done for a long time had this money not been made available. Blacktown Girls High School is a great school, not only because it is in my electorate but because it is up there with the best schools in the nation. That school needed external movement areas, floor coverings and painting, and $150,000 has been allocated for the work. This maintenance has been needed for long time. It will now be done and the school's problems will be overcome.
Recently Mitchell High School received $2,500 from the State Government to deal with a graffiti problem. This $2,500 will combat the graffiti problem and hopefully prevent its recurrence. Work approved by the Minister and the local council has reduced the graffiti problem to the lowest it has been for a long time. As part of the New South Wales schools improvement package, a total of $102,500 was also allocated in the past few months for minor capital works in the Blacktown electorate. That too has been of tremendous assistance.
The Eagles Baseball Club has received a grant of $14,500 under the capital assistance program to upgrade lighting in the club. A sum of $10,500 has been allocated to William Lawson Park for floodlighting, and $9,000 has been allocated for lighting at Tallowong Oval. Also, Blacktown and Doonside little athletics clubs have received $10,750 for security storage facilities at their ground. Many children participate in sporting activities at that ground and they appreciate receiving this extra money, which enables work to be done that normally otherwise could not be undertaken.
The Governor referred to the devastating bushfires, which unfortunately are a natural part of our environment. I congratulate the volunteers on the great job they did. Where would we be without our volunteers? We always rely on them to pull us through, and again they have done a tremendous job. Recently the Government allocated $350,000 to the Blacktown fire station for a new rescue vehicle, the first of its kind, for the benefit of both the emergency services and the firefighting services. That is greatly appreciated. The Rural Fire Service in Blacktown has received a boost of $960,000. The Opposition often refers to broken promises or work being incomplete. However, since coming to office this Government has allocated a staggering $34.7 million to Blacktown City Council for rural fire brigades compared to only $2.9 million under the former Coalition Government during the same number of years. I suppose another point of order will now be taken.
Mr Ashton: It's a pity he hasn't got any matches in his pocket.
Mr GIBSON: The honourable member for Coffs Harbour is the old satellite. He should talk about bushfires instead of taking points of order. This record spending means that New South Wales Fire Brigades is better equipped to provide greater protection for the Blacktown community. Also, a new minibus was recently provided to help the sick and elderly in my electorate—something that is long overdue. The people of my electorate will benefit greatly from the provision of this community minibus and are extremely grateful to the Government for it. [Extension of time agreed to.]
When I was first elected as the honourable member for Blacktown my electorate experienced law and order problems similar to those occurring in other communities. Although they may not be major problems to other people, they were of concern to my constituents.
Mr Markham: Monumental.
Mr GIBSON: That is right. On a daily basis people would sit in the gutters of Blacktown's main street drinking grog, throwing bottles and cans, and using bad language. In fact, often the ordinary good citizens were afraid to walk down the main street. However, with the help of Blacktown police that problem has been solved and it is a pleasure now to walk up and down the main street. The moral of the story is that if communities want something bad enough and pursue it vigorously, problems can be resolved.
I asked my local police superintendent, "To do the job properly how many more police would you need?" He said, "We need 16 more police officers." I am happy to report that after some negotiation, 16 additional police officers were recently assigned to the Blacktown area to help the existing police officers, for the benefit of the local community. Police in my area do a fantastic job and in the past 12 months they have carried out a staggering number of successful drug raids. We do not have a solution to the drug problem; if we did, every city in the world would want to know it. However, police officers in my area have come down hard on drug offenders. Indeed, police officers ride their bikes up and down the main street, on some days nearly all day, making it safer for the citizens of Blacktown to walk the streets. If people see someone dealing drugs they tell those police officers, who keep surveillance and take action, if necessary. That is another successful initiative.
The Governor also referred to changes to the Bail Act, which are long overdue and which are welcomed by my community. Approximately 80 per cent of crime is committed by about 20 per cent of the people who are on bail, some of whom have been charged with many crimes. I would like to refer to Nurragingy Reserve comprising 88 hectares of regional parkland at Blacktown. The honourable member for Wollongong recently visited that park and would agree with those who have visited there that it is one of the best kept secrets in Australia today. It is almost impossible to get into the reserve on a weekend because its beauty and facilities, including lakes and ovals, make it extremely popular. Over the past 15 years Blacktown City Council has managed this reserve and has poured $6 million into improving it. Recently the Government, in good faith, gave the reserve back to Blacktown City Council so that it may be retained by the people forever. Also, I should like to commend the officers of the State Emergency Service and other volunteers, who all help to make the community tick.
In the past 12 months an extra $95,579 was allocated to five support groups and three toy libraries across Blacktown, Penrith and the Blue Mountains—so child care services have certainly received a boost. The Blacktown Roving Childcare Centre, which provides child care so that parents can attend parenting classes or work-related courses, also received $6,357, bringing its annual total allocation close to $69,000.
Over the years problems have been experienced with Blacktown railway station. Over the next 12 months Blacktown will probably become the largest city station on the network. During the seven years the Opposition was in government, numerous requests were made for escalators to be constructed at the station, yet those requests were denied. Work commenced on the escalators within two or three months of my being elected the honourable member for Blacktown, and today the people of Blacktown enjoy riding up and down the escalators. The provision of escalators has made it easier for the elderly, the sick and the frail to catch a train. This Government has achieved that for the people of Blacktown—it has not just talked about it; it has taken action.
The Government is proud that it has reduced State debt by some $10 billion. It is good to know that it has produced six or seven budgets in surplus. The Coalition Government failed to produce one budget in surplus, so members opposite do not have much to crow about. One matter not mentioned yesterday in the Governor's Speech was homelessness. As members of Parliament, collectively we should talk more about homelessness and homeless people. Recently I attended a function in Parliament House on a wet night. While returning to the building I walked past the State Library and I saw 11 men ranging in age from about 17 or 18 up to about 80 sleeping out in the rain because they had nowhere else to sleep. Homelessness is a major problem. Collectively we should speak more about homelessness and endeavour to do something to alleviate the problem in this great, rich country.
It is great to know that Grantham High School will soon become a sports high school in western Sydney, thanks to the Minister for Education and Training. It will probably be called the Hills sports high school. That change is another feather in the cap for the Government. The honourable member for Lachlan said that someone living in Cowra had to travel more than 100 kilometres to participate in sports training. The people in western Sydney, including young athletes, will be able to use the facilities at Grantham Sports High School, thereby overcoming part of their training problem. The people of Blacktown have been fortunate because at last the Government has discovered that they have an appreciation of the arts. In the past few weeks Blacktown has been given $500,000 for the arts, and that is very important.
As I said, yesterday the Governor delivered her Speech in a dignified and poised manner, and it was a credit to her and to the New South Wales Government. It is a credit to this Government that it has managed this State. It is very hard to solve every problem for everyone, and no-one will ever do that. However, anyone who compares the New South Wales Government with any other State Government or, indeed, the Federal Government to see which government is achieving and which government is not achieving will realise that this Government is probably the best Government the State has ever had, and I am very proud to be part of it.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Ashton.