Standing Committee on Social Issues Macquarie Fields Inquiry
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
The Hon. JON JENKINS [3.49 p.m.]: There is an assumption that it is always society's fault and that we have to look at the social environment that produces such turmoil. The vast majority of the population of Macquarie Fields are decent people. The vast majority of young adults in Macquarie Fields would have nothing to do with throwing Molotov cocktails, bricks or pieces of wood at police. The vast majority of Macquarie Fields residents would have nothing to do with such violence. It does not matter whether one takes the nature point of view—that some people are born bad—or the view that the socioeconomic environment is the cause of the problem. Some psychiatric evidence supports the nature point of view, which assumes that violent, psychopathic behaviour is part of the makeup of some people. If that is so, surely society should be protected from such people.
On the other hand, if one takes the nurture point of view—that such people are encouraged by the social environment—it is simply wrong that young adults who have been before the courts 20, 30 or 40 times are still allowed to visit their social dysfunction and violence on the rest of the community. I would have supported the inquiry from the start had its terms included reference not so much to whether social circumstances caused the riots, but to how we treat those who have made this internal decision to become sociopaths.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER (Leader of the Opposition) [3.51 p.m.]: That the motion of the Hon. John Tingle is well meaning is obvious. But it is also obvious that at the end of the day the Government is walking away from the good people of Macquarie fields who are calling out for help. Much has been said about the social conditions of the area. This inquiry would have given the people of Macquarie Fields the much-needed opportunity, the catalyst, to change the lifestyle that is afflicting them and those around them. We all saw television footage of these hoodlums, these dirt bags, running around throwing Molotov cocktails and sticks and stones at police. It should not be forgotten that these disturbances took place outside the homes of people who had switched off lights and kept their kids down low, out of sight, because they were in fear of their lives. This was an opportunity for the Government to support these people.
I am pleased to hear the Hon. Peter Primrose giving support once again to the Opposition because the Government has walked away from its responsibilities. The contribution of the Minister for Justice, representing the Minister for Police, was breathtaking. He will have to see a chiropractor to realign himself after such a back flip! Over the past two weeks the Government indicated it was against the inquiry and ran a whispering campaign suggesting that the Coalition and the Greens were in collusion. Even worse, it suggested that we were against the police. However, unlike the Hon. Peter Primrose, who has never said anything positive about policing in his life, we made sure our position was very clear. The Hon. Peter Primrose has had an opportunity to contribute to this debate but he has said absolutely nothing. The Government has done an incredible back flip. First it indicated it opposed the inquiry. Then it said that the Greens and the Coalition were colluding to get stuck into the police—but everyone knows that is completely wrong. John Brogden has been supporting the front-line police who were having bottles, Molotov cocktails and sticks and stones thrown at them.
The Hon. Peter Primrose has been loud on this issue only by way of interjection. I have not heard him go in to bat for front-line police, who are at the receiving end of the Government's ineptitude. The Government was put through the mill because of its ineptitude at Redfern, and with regard to Macquarie Fields it has been caught sitting on its hands, doing absolutely nothing.
The Hon. Peter Primrose: When it comes down to it, you would rather play politics than support the local police.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER: I acknowledge the interjection from the Hon. Peter Primrose, who accuses me of playing politics. Let us look at that statement.
The PRESIDENT: Order! I remind members that interjections are disorderly at all times.
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER: This comment comes from a member of the Government, which said it did not want an inquiry into Macquarie Fields but which, when it realised the tide was going against it, came up with its own inquiry. Only a couple of hours ago the Government was pushing full steam ahead in this Chamber until the House resoundingly rejected its attempt to politicise the inquiry by getting stuck into a member of Parliament because of comments he made that were relevant to the terms of reference: social issues and policing at Macquarie Field. As soon as the Government realised its political imperative was gone it supported a deferral of the inquiry. It seems the people of Macquarie Fields are no longer important to the Government. The political gain for the Government has been lost and it is skulking away like a low dog that has been exposed by the light.
The Government has no excuse for the political game it has played over the past two weeks, and I challenge it to reverse the decision it made a few minutes ago. If it is serious about wanting to resolve the problems at Macquarie Fields, it should vote for the committee to commence its inquiry immediately. The claim that the inquiry should be deferred until the police investigation has concluded is rubbish. That investigation will continue for months or possibly longer as every single matter is taken through the courts. I can hear the whingeing now: We cannot start it yet because it could be sub judice as there are serious matters before the court. Things will drift on until all is forgotten. But the people of Macquarie Fields will not forget, because they have to live this nightmare night in and night out. Opposition members are willing to get stuck in and support the people of Macquarie fields. Members of the Government are walking away from their own heartland, and they are a disgrace.
Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile: Madam President, I wish to speak in debate on the substantive motion. My previous contribution in this matter was, as I understand it, to debate on the motion to suspend standing and sessional orders.
The PRESIDENT: Order! I am advised that the member has spoken already in debate on the substantive motion. However, he may speak again with the leave of the House.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE [3.59 p.m.], by leave: I support the motion, which states:
That it be an instruction to the Standing Committee on Social Issues that it not commence the inquiry into public disturbances in Macquarie Fields referred to the committee by the Minister for Police on 17 March 2005, until the conclusion of any:
(a) operational review into the police response conducted by New South Wales Police, and
(b) investigations by New South Wales Police into the Macquarie Fields emergency call response, oversighted by the New South Wales Ombudsman.
I was very pleased when it was made public that there would be an operational review into the police response, which I think is important, and that the investigations by NSW Police would be oversighted by the New South Wales Ombudsman. I see that virtually as an Ombudsman's inquiry. He will ensure that it is detailed and fair, looking at all aspects of the events at Macquarie Fields. Some people have compared the situation to what happened at Redfern but the two situations are completely different. At Redfern there was a racial element. As far as I am aware—it may be something that has not been made public—no racial element is involved in the rioting at Macquarie Fields. It seems a clear law and order issue.
There is a question about the response of the police and whether police strategies were correct in having officers standing in line while young men threw bottles, fire bombs and so on at them. The police do not agree with that policy and the public does not agree with it. Police should not be standing targets. I understand that a number of police at Macquarie Fields have been injured. It is no option for the police not to be involved; they must be involved. The police must move rapidly to quell the riot and take those breaking the law into custody. It is as simple as that. Then we would not see such incidents on the television night after night. Media reports have suggested that the Macquarie Fields riots received tremendous coverage in the United States and other countries, almost giving the impression that there is a state of anarchy in Australia, with riots all over the nation.
I understand that there were a number of inquiries to tourist bureaus by Americans about whether it was safe to come to Australia. The riots would even have had a negative impact on Australia's tourist trade. That is another reason for the police to ensure that the disturbances are dealt with and those promoting them are taken into custody. The whole key to the riots has now become clear. Police surveillance tapes from Jesse Kelly's home have revealed—we have heard this on the radio—that when he said "I lost it" and admitted that it was just an accident when he was driving fast and the car hit a very solid tree, causing the death of the two teenagers in the car, his grandmother said, "No, tell everybody that the police forced you into the tree, ran your car into the tree."
Jesse Kelly then told that story to all his mates and the community in general, which was like putting petrol onto a fire. There was then an instinctive reaction as happened in Redfern—that is the only parallel—where the Aboriginal community thought the police had caused the death of TJ Hickey. The teenagers at Macquarie Fields believed from Jesse's own words that the police had caused the death of their two friends. That was the fuel that led to the rioting. It is a tragedy that the grandmother could be so irresponsible.
Ms Lee Rhiannon: It was not the grandmother. Correct that.
The Hon. Amanda Fazio: It was the aunty.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: The media said at one stage that it was the grandmother.
Ms Lee Rhiannon: It was not the grandmother, and you should correct that.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: I am happy to correct it if it has been proved that it was the aunty, but a relative in the house told him to say that. Is that acceptable?
The PRESIDENT: Order! I remind Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile that interjections are disorderly and he should ignore them.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: A senior relative in the house told Jesse Kelly to say that the police had caused the accident. The Greens may think that the police caused it—I do not know what their policy is on this issue—but the tape showed that the police had no role in the accident. They may have been pursuing the vehicle because they were keeping track of Jesse in relation to other crimes. Another serious matter arising from the Macquarie Fields situation is that Jasen Greeks, a resident who lived close to where the accident occurred, was interviewed on television as to what he saw. He said, "I saw the driver jump out of the car and run away."
The driver obviously left the two men in the car. He probably did not know that they were dead but he would certainly have known that they were seriously injured. He took no interest in their welfare and did not find out whether they were dead or alive, or whether they needed medical help. Jasen Greeks sincerely gave his report to the media. I heard on the radio, and other members may also have heard this, that one of his relatives, I think his sister, rang Ray Hadley on 2GB and said that the next day a group of up to 10 men went to Jasen Greeks' house and bashed him for telling his story to the media. He was so seriously injured that he had to be taken by ambulance to hospital for treatment. The men also threatened the other people in the house, particularly the children, and said that if any more was said they would come back and bash them—implying even the children—and burn the house down. That sort of behaviour should not be tolerated, and I hope the men who carried out the attack will be apprehended.
One of Jasen Greek's daughters rang the police hotline when he was bashed, and asked for help. She was almost hysterical, and said that people were bashing her father. Apparently the duty officer decided not to take any action. According to one media report he thought it might have been a hoax call or feared that police may be ambushed. It is a mystery to me why the police took that attitude, and I disagree with the duty officer's decision. However, an ambulance was called and he was attended to and taken to hospital. Apparently although the police were fearful of being ambushed they allowed ambulance officers to attend to the victim. Nothing happened to the ambulance officers and they were able to take the victim to hospital.
There is no doubt that there is a need for an inquiry. I believe, as the motion states, that first there should be an operational review into the police response, an investigation by NSW Police oversighted by the New South Wales Ombudsman, to get all the facts so that there can be no confusion with all the media reports and the bits and pieces we hear as members of Parliament. Once all the evidence is set out logically and printed in a report, the social issues committee can base its questions on the report and follow up the issues. The officers who give evidence to those inquiries may not be required to appear before the committee. It might in fact streamline the committee's investigation and enable it to concentrate on other aspects of the terms of reference in finalising its report.
The Hon. John Tingle mentioned earlier that these police inquiries could take as long as 180 days. My understanding of what he said is that that is the maximum length of time for a police inquiry; it is not the time that has been set down for these inquiries. I am sure that Commissioner Moroney, the Minister for Police and the Government will ensure that the police inquiries are conducted with the utmost urgency in order to obtain the facts and allay any fears in the community. I would be surprised if the police inquiries continued for any longer than the end of April or early May; they certainly would not continue for 180 days. I do not see a need for that. In fact, I believe that if the inquiries appeared to drag on, that would necessitate action to bring on the inquiry by the Standing Committee on Social Issues, which would be a pity.
The very fact that we are having a debate in this House today will be drawn to the attention of the relevant police authorities who are conducting these inquiries. They will be aware that they should be conducted with the utmost urgency so that they can report, and the Standing Committee on Social Issues can build on those reports in conducting its inquiry and look at the other aspects of the terms of reference that are also relevant to this inquiry—social factors and so on. I am pleased to support the motion moved by the Hon. John Tingle.
The Hon. JOHN TINGLE [4.11 p.m.], in reply: It seems that we have basically two points of view—people who think we should do it quickly and people who think we should do it thoroughly. In her contribution Ms Lee Rhiannon said, and I agree with this entirely, that we need a fair and thoughtful inquiry. She then said we should get on with it and should do it as soon as possible in the interests of the people of Macquarie Fields. I believe that this House would not accept that the majority of the people in Macquarie Fields are involved in the type of rioting and violence that we saw after the deaths of those two unfortunate men in a car. I think we have to understand that we are dealing with a minority of people and that we do not, under any circumstances, accuse all the people of Macquarie Fields of being riotous or violent.
The Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans repeated the same concern, that 180 days was too long to wait for the police inquiries to finish. As Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile just said, 180 days is the maximum period. It is not a minimum time, it is not a mean time, it is a maximum time and I believe that the Government probably wants to get this over and done with as quickly as the rest of us do. I do not believe that there would be any inordinate delay in reducing those two police reports. In fact, I imagine the inquiry into the failure to respond to the 000 call would be completed very quickly, because it is an internal police matter.
The Hon. Peter Breen suggested that I had not thought this through. Well, I believe I have thought it through, and I have thought it through in conjunction with members of the crossbench whom I have talked to about it and whose opinions I respect. We simply felt it was too much of a rush and that there were too many things happening at once to produce a satisfactory result. The Hon. Jon Jenkins pointed out that there are two elements to this—the question of the crash and the deaths of the two young men, and also the question of the riots. They are virtually separates issues. The socioeconomic factors, which could have allowed this sort of environment to develop, are obviously germane to the inquiries that will be held, but, again, they are separate.
I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition, when he was talking about scumbags or words to that effect, was not suggesting that that is representative of every person in Macquarie Fields—at least I hope he was not. Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile has quite correctly stated, as I indicated this morning, that there are parallels in this to the inquiry in Redfern. I hope we learned enough from Redfern to be able to conduct this inquiry with more expedition, but there are elements of a racist nature that were present in Redfern that are not present in this instance.
A great deal has been made of the fact that the inquiries could take 180 days. I do not think they will, but I have already said in my contribution in moving this motion today that if they drag on inordinately then I would seek to move a motion to bring on the inquiry by the Standing Committee on Social Issues. It comes down to what I said at the beginning, that it is a question of whether we do it quickly or do it right. I commend the motion to the House.
Question—that the motion be agreed to—put.
The House divided.
Mr Della Bosca
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.