PRISONER CORNWELL WORK RELEASE
Mr WHELAN: I address my question without notice to the Minister for Justice and Minister for Emergency Services. Is the Minister aware that the notorious convicted drug-runner Bruce "Snapper" Cornwell, while on day release, frequents many of Sydney's restaurants, including a visit to the exclusive restaurant Mario's in East Sydney? Will the Minister order an inquiry into why a prisoner on work release can dine in an exclusive restaurant?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Blacktown to order. I call the honourable member for Londonderry to order. I call the honourable member for Port Stephens to order and I call the honourable member for Charlestown to order.
Mr MERTON: It is true that Cornwell was briefly back on the work release program last week. For the record, Cornwell was employed as a general hand by a company based in western Sydney.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Blacktown to order for the second time. I call the honourable member for Oxley to order.
Mr MERTON: He started work on Wednesday, 24th February, two weeks after being sacked from his previous work release job. As has been reported, I was more than a little surprised to learn that Cornwell had rejoined the work release program. That was because the Commissioner for Corrective Services had advised me that Cornwell had been removed from the program pending a review of his case. I invited the commissioner to my office on Monday to seek an explanation for the apparent contradiction between his advice and the reality of the situation. The commissioner told me that he, too, was unaware that Cornwell had found another job.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Londonderry to order for the second time. I call the honourable member for Ashfield to order.
Mr MERTON: The commissioner advised me that he had previously issued a verbal direction that Cornwell be removed from the program. He further advised that his verbal direction apparently had not been passed to the appropriate authorities at Silverwater prison, from where the work release program is administered. The commissioner accepted full responsibility for the matter and expressed his regret that the situation arose. Having said that, I want to put on record my complete confidence in the commissioner, who I believe has made a significant contribution to corrective services. Let us be a little analytical about this. Here we have the gallery that gave us the revolving door prison system, the gallery that -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The outburst from the Opposition is completely outside the level of decorum that one would like to think applies in this Chamber, and I am sure is expected by visitors in the public gallery. I ask all members to co-operate and listen to the Minister's reply in silence.
Mr MERTON: The gallery that today -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Smithfield to order for the second time.
Mr MERTON: The gallery today have overnight had a road to Damascus experience but all the old players are still there. They were all in the cardigan Cabinet under Barrie. Little Bobby over there was the leader of the push, but of course Bob has had a road to Damascus experience. Mr Aquilina, the member for Riverstone, was there too.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister will refer to members by their correct title, the name of their electorate.
Mr MERTON: The member for Riverstone was in the Cabinet too, as was the member for Heffron. They were all there.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Heffron to order.
Mr MERTON: Let us look at the situation as it existed under Labor and go back to the good old days when the Labor Party was in operation.
Mr Whelan: On a point of order. Mr Speaker, I am mindful of the ruling you gave yesterday on a point of order raised by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. However, I request you to ask the Minister for Justice to answer the question. The question relates to his ordering an inquiry into a notorious criminal and does not relate to anything else. If Ministers persist in not answering questions, as I said before, we might as well forget question time. For that reason I ask you to draw the attention of the Minister for Justice to the question asked and to advise the House if he is going to have an inquiry into why this notorious criminal is able, on day release, to eat in Sydney's finest eateries.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member for Ashfield raises a couple of matters to which I should advert. First, it has long been a tradition of this Chamber that in answering questions Ministers may reply to interjections. Therefore it is always in the interest of the Opposition not to interject if it does not wish a Minister to stray from matters relevant to the question asked. However, by the same token it is incumbent upon a Minister to make answers reasonably relevant. The asking of a question does not necessarily give a Minister latitude to perambulate the whole history of his department or deal with matters that may be considered remote to the question asked. I ask the Minister to bear that in mind and ensure that his answer is relevant to the question asked.
Mr MERTON: The reality simply is this, and this is what you people fail to understand: Cornwell was eligible for work release for one simple reason; he was eligible for work release because under your sentencing legislation -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Broken Hill to order.
Mr MERTON: - he was eligible to be paroled in December this year. Under this Government's legislation he would not have been eligible until the year 2000; you bunch of hypocrites. The reality is that under our legislation it would have been 2000. You may smirk; you may smile; you put the boot firmly in your own backside, because that is where it belongs. Under our legislation he would not be eligible for parole.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ashfield to order for the second time.
Mr MERTON: You are not off the hook yet. You think that is funny.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Irrespective of whether what is being said in the House is provocative, interesting or otherwise, members who have not been given the call should not react in the manner of what one can only describe at the very best as a rabble. Such reactions certainly are not illuminating. I ask members to exercise a modicum of self-discipline - difficult though that may be for some members - and to allow the Minister to proceed in the fashion in which he wishes to answer the question.
Mr MERTON: You are not off the hook yet -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ashfield to order for the third time.
Mr MERTON: - because when this man is released it is not in the hands of this Government; it is the hands of your Federal masters, the Federal Attorney-General. The Premier has written to the Attorney-General and has said, "There is great public concern and we appreciate that too. What are you going to do about this man's parole?".
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Leader of the Opposition to order.
Mr MERTON: To date there has been absolutely no reply.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Wallsend to order.
Mr MERTON: Let your Federal masters tell the people what is going to happen to Cornwell before 13th March so the people of Australia can realise how fair dinkum you are about truth in sentencing and law and order. The reality is that the ball is firmly in your court. Your Federal masters decide when this man will be released. But for your sentencing policy he would not be eligible for parole or work release until the year 2000. I thank you very much for the question because it is important.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Wallsend to order for the second time.
Mr MERTON: Let us look at the situation. In March 1987, when all these newfound people gained wisdom overnight, four convicted murderers went ten-pin bowling. Have you forgotten that? Have you forgotten about the 10 people who were murdered as a result of your system? Have you forgotten about Rex Jackson and the riots? You are a bunch of phonies and are not fair dinkum.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Peats to order.
Mr MERTON: We have a genuine commitment to the people of New South Wales with regard to prisons. On becoming aware of Mr Cornwell's release on day release, I immediately ordered that it be cancelled. It has been cancelled and that is the end of the story. The fate of Mr Cornwell is in the hands of your Federal masters. Please get us an answer; but you will not get an answer because the reality is that your Federal masters, like the bunch of hypocrites opposite, are completely weak, inept and neglectful as far as law and order is concerned.