NEW SOUTH WALES GOVERNMENT
Motion of No Confidence
(Willoughby - Leader of the Opposition) [5.25 p.m.]: I move:
That, in view of its mismanagement of Sydney’s water crisis, this Government no longer possesses the confidence of the House.
Six weeks ago the first signs began to appear. As the cowards vacate the Chamber - as they run from the issue - they run away from the responsibility they have not met in 3½ years and will never meet. There is only one way to overcome the problem with Sydney’s water. That is to have a new government in this State, a new government prepared to put a plan to the people and make sure that this sort of disgraceful breakdown of the most basic service never happens again in this State. Six weeks ago an article appeared in a newspaper warning a few thousand residents in a small pocket of eastern Sydney to boil their water. The reason for that was that a full two days earlier traces of cryptosporidium and giardia had been identified in their water supply. In the following six weeks the whole of Sydney has been engulfed in an on-again, off-again crisis.
This man-made disaster has hit the headlines across the world, from Cable News Network to the British Broadcasting Corporation and from the New York Times
to the Bangkok Post
. From Jerusalem to Johannesburg, Sydney has hit the news, not as the green Olympic city eagerly waiting to host the world two years from now but as the only developed city in the world whose residents cannot drink their water. Sydney is ranked alongside towns in Uganda, Burma and Bolivia, where the water is not safe to drink. The bulk of my speech today will focus on my positive solutions to fix the crisis - the coalition’s Safe Drinking Water Bill and its 10-point plan to solve the problem. It is patently clear that the Government has no answers. By contrast, the coalition does have answers in the run-up to the State election six or seven months away. To reach the answers we first need to know what went wrong and who is responsible for what went wrong. Let us talk about the Government’s failure to prevent this crisis.
Among the Government’s manifold failings perhaps the worst is its failure to prevent the problem from arising in the first place. This problem was described as an emerging issue in the 1996 Sydney Water report. Back in March 1996 - in the very same year that Sydney Water’s annual report identified cryptosporidium as an emerging issue - Sydney Water threatened to sue water expert John Archer, who questioned the quality of Sydney’s drinking water. We were told that Sydney’s water was "amongst the best and safest in the world". The Department of Health stepped in and said that "Sydney’s water is safe and amongst the world’s cleanest." The Government is not listening now and it has listened to no-one for 3½ years - its conduct does not change. What the Government is doing now treats the Sydney water crisis as a joke. For 3½ years the Government has treated its responsibilities as a joke.
The Premier, the Minister for Health, and the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning sit opposite chortling and exchanging jokes amongst themselves, but the joke is on the State of New South Wales and on the city of Sydney. The Government has allowed this crisis to emerge during the last 3½ years. In July 1996, the shadow health minister, alarmed at the risk, asked her Government counterpart in an estimates committee hearing whether testing should be undertaken. The Minister scoffed and replied,
"Routine monitoring for cryptosporidium is not appropriate." Three months later the honourable member for Liverpool asked his colleague the Minister responsible for Sydney water the following question, one of the many dorothy dixers heard with monotonous regularity during question time under the Carr Government:
What is the Government’s reaction to a report today of a dangerous bug in Sydney’s water supply?
The Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, who is now present in the Chamber, said in reply:
Sydney’s residents are supplied with the cleanest drinking water in the world.
The next words in his answer should drive the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, above all others in the Government, from this Chamber. He said:
Frankly, attempts to beat up the likelihood of a cryptosporidium outbreak are little more than scaremongery.
He further commented:
. . . I would have thought Opposition members would have appreciated an assurance from the Government that our water supply was clean . . .
That Dorothy Dixer was asked of the Minister two years ago, after the Opposition expressed its concerns about the emergence of the parasite identified in the Sydney Water annual report that year. The Minister’s response was an outright and arrogant dismissal of Opposition concerns. He said that it was mere scaremongering by the Opposition. In other words, the Minister said to the people of Sydney, "Trust me," and for a while they did. But now the people of Sydney cannot drink water from their own taps. They have a right to be angry at the Government’s appalling clumsiness in notifying residents of the boiled water alert.
The Minister was not answering a question on the run, but was replying to a planned question. If he had been asked a question without notice by the Opposition, without any hint or warning, he might be allowed a margin for error in that in his answer he was shooting from the hip without having all the facts. However, the Minister is on the record of this Parliament as having been asked a dorothy dixer by his own side, following concerns about cryptosporidium raised by the shadow minister in an estimates committee hearing in October 1996. If the Government wants to bring this matter on this afternoon I will read all this material into the record, chapter and verse. The Minister continued in his answer:
Sadly, this is not even a new story. The article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald was referring to tests conducted as far back as 1992. Even then the draft report identified only two occasions when cryptosporidium levels were probably high enough to be of concern. However, let us be clear about this. Since 1992, when the first tests were conducted, no further unacceptably high levels have been found.
That is precisely the opposite of what the Premier told the House today. Who is lying to and misleading this Parliament? Is it the Minister in charge of Sydney water quality, or is it the Premier? The Premier is again cracking a few jokes with his colleagues and laughing at the plight of Sydneysiders who have to boil their water. He should remember that the joke is on the people of Sydney. In 1996, the Minister, not content with saying in his answer in this House that a cryptosporidium outbreak was scaremongering, added:
Our water supply is getting better. Four water filtration plants, representing an investment of $3.5 billion, are now coming on line. I can report to the House that those water filtration plants are currently going through their commissioning phase. The good news is that all the plants are either meeting their performance standards or they are performing in excess of design criteria, which will effectively remove cryptosporidium.
The Minister continued:
Quite clearly, Opposition members are not in the least bit interested in what I have to say. In the circumstances, given an attempt to bring about a public health scare, I would have thought Opposition members would have appreciated an assurance from the Government that our water supply was clean and was meeting health standards. As I said earlier, the water treatment plants are performing -
Who said that?
The Minister responsible for Sydney water said that in October 1996, two years ago, before the Sydney water system collapsed. The story gets better. His answer continued:
Once the water filtration plants come on line we can expect the removal of cryptosporidium to a level of 99.9 per cent - a very creditable result. This matter received the attention of the present Government when it was in opposition and it received the attention of the previous Government.
The Minister was speaking about bipartisanship when he said that this matter had received the attention both of the previous coalition Government and of the present Government when it was in opposition. He continued in his answer:
So there should be unanimity in this attempt to dispel some of the nonsense that is appearing in today’s paper. As I said earlier, the cryptosporidium story usually does the rounds at least twice a year.
Parasites are going the rounds every day of every week in Sydney’s water system, and that means that the water is not safe to drink. I say that the first step to eliminating the parasites in our water to get rid of these Government parasites opposite. I commend the full text of what the Minister for Health said on 22 October 1996 as recommended reading for anyone who wants to know the truth about the Carr Government’s mismanagement of Sydney Water and its deception of the people of New South Wales.
The Government of this State is asleep at the wheel, and has been asleep for the last 3½ years while Sydney’s water quality goes down the drain. The Government is desperately seeking every piece of misleading information to drag over the trail to try to hide what really happened, and its inaction, during the last 3½ years. Of course, the Minister responsible for Sydney water was not the only one saying in October 1996 that everything was under control.
This is indeed a rare occasion: the Premier is actually present in the House for a parliamentary debate. This is probably the first time this year that he has participated in a debate of this nature, so he is probably not too familiar with procedure. I would like to familiarise the Premier with the speech he gave on 1 October 1996, which I will seek to table later. When the Premier speaks to the motion he will try to justify 3½ years of his Government doing absolutely nothing, delivering nothing to the people of New South Wales, and being asleep at the wheel. He will avoid details. He does not have the slightest interest in the detail of what happens in this State. Whatever his priorities are, they are not what might benefit the interests of the people of New South Wales. The Premier has been asleep for 3½ years. Problems have developed with Sydney water and everything else that is going wrong in this State, but he has been asleep.
The Premier has been attempting to interject, because he probably remembers some of his words. Honourable members should listen carefully to Premier Bob Carr’s presentation at the official launch of the Prospect water filtration plant - the same water filtration plant involved in the current contamination. The Government in its search for scapegoats over the past six weeks asked who it could blame. Obviously, it could blame the previous Government, but who else? The Government blamed Chris Pollett, and was eventually forced to blame David Hill, the rain, foxes falling into the catchment, dogs and cows, and people camping in the catchment areas. When really forced to do so, it had to sacrifice somebody. What a great sacrifice David Hill was - but Danna Vale will finish him off on 3 October in the Federal electorate of Hughes. A few sacrifices have been made by the Premier, who is receiving a bit of counselling at the moment. However, on 1 October 1996, the Premier said:
Sydney was recently voted the best city in the world in an international poll conducted by a leading US tourism magazine. One of the many factors contributing to the lifestyle that has made Sydney famous is the quality of Sydney’s water -
he has a great sense of humour -
the water we drink and the water we enjoy on our magnificent harbour and beaches.
He is a well-known beachgoer.
Today over three million Sydneysiders will enjoy fresh filtered water from Prospect Water Filtration Plant - one of the largest and most modern plants in the world.
The Prospect plant is fully automated and built to comfortably meet the quality required for both present and future demand.
That is what the Premier of this State, who is present in a rare visit to this House, said. He continued:
This facility is a triumph of modern engineering and technology and an example of the excellence which helped Sydney to win the 2000 Olympic Games.
Sydney’s drinking water catchments have been kept in pristine condition through careful planning and management.
A year into Government the Premier said that the catchment areas were in pristine condition through careful planning and management - so there goes his excuse about the foxes, dogs, cows and campers. The Premier said, and this is where it gets interesting:
While Sydney’s water supply is among the best in the world today, we have taken action to guarantee the quality of Sydney’s water for future generations.
Obviously, future generations did not stretch too far, not even two years. He continued:
Increased population, development and higher consumer expectations are all placing increasing pressure on our water supply.
Water from the Warragamba catchment area is held at Prospect Reservoir to allow sediment and impurities to settle before the water enters the reticulation system. As demand for water increases, the length of this settling period is decreasing.
The process of filtration has been introduced to replace the settling period and guarantee the quality of water to meet future demand.
Sydney now has fresh filtered water - crystal clear, healthy and great tasting.
On 1 October 1996, the Premier said that Sydney has fresh water, "crystal clear, healthy and great tasting" - and brought to you by the Premier, ever the humorist. Obviously, the hand of Bob Ellis is at work in this speech. The Premier continued:
This water is not only good enough to bottle but is great value - a tonne delivered to your home costs just 70 cents.
And although Prospect Water Filtration Plant represents a capital investment of $200 million, I am pleased to say this will not lead to higher water charges.
If this Government would allow the tabling of these documents I would not have to read all this detail on to the record. The Government, in an attempt to shut down this debate, will seek to disown this vital information as quickly as it can. But it will all be on the public record. The Premier continued:
This is largely due to efficiency gains at Sydney Water of over 20 per cent since 1993. These gains will essentially pay for Prospect Water Filtration Plant and for the three other major filtration plants at Macarthur, Woronora and in the Illawarra.
In addition, Sydney Water charges to business have decreased by an average of 45 per cent since 1993.
The supply of affordable, filtered water to a wide range of industries enables NSW business to be more competitive both at home and overseas.
Environmental issues are also of great importance. Australia is the driest continent in the world and Sydney Water is to be congratulated for the active role it has played.
He finished by offering congratulations - and this is important, because the search for scapegoats is not over. The Government trotted out blame on the previous Government, and got rid of David Hill and Chris Pollett. The Government may yet get rid of the whole Sydney Water board. More public service scalps will go, but the Government also blames privatisation. In October 1996 the Premier said:
I congratulate Sydney Water and Australian Water Services and their partners in this joint venture, Lend Lease, Lyonnaise des Eaux and P&O Australia, on the construction of Prospect Water Filtration Plant.
The Plant is a model of a successful partnership between the public and private sectors and an outstanding achievement which will supply Sydney with clean drinking water for generations to come.
The Premier ended with great rhetorical flourish. Taking a glass of Sydney water in his hand - this was at a time before water had to be boiled - he concluded:
I would now like to toast Sydney and its fresh filtered water as we look towards the 2000 Olympics when our water will be water to the world.
To Sydney and to its water.
Both the Premier and the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning would like to forget 22 October 1996. These people opposite allowed Sydney’s water system to collapse and destroy the international reputation of this city, yet they say, "We do not know what caused it, we do not know what the solution is, we have no idea how long it will take to get this right, and this may go on until March next year." A culpable government is running this State, sadly a government which has been asleep at the wheel. No doubt the Premier will enlighten this House about the origin of cryptosporidium. I suspect it is something that grew out of a Labor caucus meeting, but the fact is that it paralyses -
I am told you have only one party member to worry about - Peter.
Calm down, Pinocchio!
With Photios as deputy. How we look forward to that!
I know it hurts the Premier. This is a real parliamentary debate, he has forgotten the rules, and he is unaware that he is entitled to speak next in this debate. It has been a long time since the Premier participated in a parliamentary debate. It is good to see him in the Chamber. I would wager that later on he will say something about privatisation. Here he is, Mister "I’m going to get tough on Pauline Hanson, but boy am I going to back off as fast as I can on privatisation because One Nation doesn’t like it."
How does the honourable member for Maitland feel about that pledge?
He will introduce privatisation of our dairy industry. He will have the opportunity later to speak about it.
Is One Nation in Maitland getting your second preferences?
Keep going. Have you finished? I will tell the House about the Premier’s attitude on privatisation. Everyone would be thinking that Bob Carr has never really liked privatisation, and that he probably did not like the idea of water supply privatisation. One might expect that the way this debate would pan out would be that the Labor Party would say: it was Hill, it was the board, it was the technicians, it was the people who should have done the water monitoring, it was Australian Water Services, it was the previous Government, it was the flying foxes, it was the dogs, it was the campers, or it was the rain.
But what is Labor’s attitude on privatisation? Let us deal with that question up front. I am sorry that the Minister for the Environment - who in 1992 was shadow minister for the environment - is not in the Chamber either, because I have in my hand another letter that ought to be tabled in this Parliament. It cannot be tabled in this debate, but I will make sure that everyone has a copy of it after this debate. This letter was written in 1992 by the Leader of the Opposition:
Thank you for briefing the Opposition last week on your proposal to tender for the Sydney Water Board’s drinking water program and related build,own and operate projects.
The briefing was most informative.
Last December the Opposition supported the Water Board (Amendment) Bill 1991 to facilitate such projects. During the debate the Opposition supported the concept of private sector involvement in new infrastructure developments for the Sydney Water Board.
Is this the Labor Opposition?
This is Bob Carr, Leader of the Opposition, in 1992. I do not know that anyone had heard of cryptosporidium then, but perhaps Bob Carr had. From what was said earlier today by the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, and Minister for Housing, it seems he had heard of it, although he appears to have forgotten that by 1996. Perhaps the cryptosporidium had got to the Minister and destroyed his memory. I will repeat those extremely important words in Bob Carr’s letter:
During the debate the [Labor] Opposition supported the concept of private sector involvement in new infrastructure developments for the Sydney Water Board.
The provision of private sector infrastructure for use by public utilities is an important feature of our policy approach.
We would support this approach in Government as we do in Opposition.
The Opposition is pleased to give this assurance to any financiers intending to give assistance to your development plans.
On behalf of the Opposition, we wish you well in progressing this exciting proposal.
Bob Carr MP Pam Allan MP
Leader of the Opposition Shadow Minister for Environment
There we have it, ownership, lock, stock and barrel, of the private filtration plant, the plant that was endorsed again by the Premier in his speech on 1 October when he opened the plant. Isn't politics ironic! There he was, the then Leader of the Opposition, in a letter of endorsement in 1992, saying that everything that the private sector could do in relation to water should be done - giving 100 per cent support for private financiers involving themselves in water supply. Government members are having a caucus meeting over there to determine whether or not they actually endorse that privatisation commitment by now Premier Bob Carr as far back as 1992. They are shocked.
I am not surprised that Government members are going into a huddle on that side of the House because I suspect that the now Premier did not tell them that he was committing himself 100 per cent to private sector involvement and private sector takeover of the filtration of Sydney’s water supply. Of course, he went on to endorse that commitment in 1996 - as he should, because he had backed it four years earlier, in 1992. So there we have Bob Carr committing his government to 100 per cent ownership by the private sector. That commitment was given by the now Premier of this State when his party was in opposition - a man now desperately searching around for any excuse to push this issue as far away from him as he possibly can.
The fact is that the Premier has not been doing his homework. He has not been doing his job. He has not safeguarded the interests of the people of this State. One might say it is not the job of the Premier or the Minister to get out there and take water samples every day, that it is not their job to be the biochemists. But it is their job to protect the public interest; it is their job to make sure that we have the highest standard of water purity in this State, and, if they do not know what the solution to the problem is, to find the experts necessary to provide that highest standard, and to put those standards into law, maintain them and enforce them. That is where they have failed.
There is no more basic service that State governments anywhere in Australia or anywhere in the world are required to provide than safe, clean drinking water. In respect of foreign aid offered by Australia and other developed nations to developing nations, one of the most basic requests that we have constantly had as a nation with a good reputation for clean water - until the last six weeks in Sydney - is for clean drinking water. The most primitive countries ask countries like ours for the technology, the advice, the know-how, the equipment and plant to give them clean drinking water.
The Premier has failed this State abjectly. He has failed the three million people of this city time and again. He has hidden in the bunker, pushing others out to offer feeble excuses. He has pushed Ministers forward to offer conflicting advice and excuses, only to have them within hours retracting their advice and say that it is wrong, that they do not know the cause of the problem and they do not know the solution to it. Where is the plan to fix this problem? Where is the plan to overcome the incompetence of the Carr Government, which has brought Sydney to its knees? This Government skims $279 million off Sydney Water -
And wastes it.
- and wastes it. It puts the money not into monitoring, better filtration, or even research and investigation but into consolidated revenue. The money disappears into the general budget. It disappears into the Government’s slush funds. This is money that should have been keeping our water up to scratch, in line with world’s best practice. It is obvious to all members of this House and to everyone sitting at home that this Government should have been aware that, in the run-up to the Olympic Games just two years away, the world is looking at Sydney closer than we have ever been viewed before. Yet the same Government is prepared to go along with these coffee table annual reports such as was produced by Sydney Water Board in 1997.
It is yet another example of the misplaced priorities of the Premier and his Minister. This issue is turned into high farce. I will quote from this nice, glossy coffee table report. It is about as expensive as an annual report can be, with nice colour photos of the board and the senior executive. We see Peter Sams from the Labor Council. There is a photograph of Chris Pollett. Alas, we knew him well. There are a couple of lovely photographs of Paul Broad, who has gone to greener pastures, as it were, and there are some great quotes. This document tells the story of government in personal terms.
It’s upside down.
It does not make any difference.
It makes more sense upside down.
It makes a lot more sense. This expensive coffee table annual report has some great stories. The first story is as follows:
6am Damon Harris runs marathons for fun. His body loses about five litres during a big race - and dehydration is a big risk. Water is essential to keep him going. Even the rest of us need a drink at least eight glasses a day to keep our bodies healthy and working well. It’s the drink of champions.
It was the drink of champions but if people now drink Sydney water without boiling it -
It makes you run faster.
As the honourable member for Maitland said, if people drink the water now without boiling it they run a helluva lot faster. If Damon Harris drank the water today without boiling it he would probably knock about an hour off his marathon times. The document also has some sad stories. This is a day in the life of Sydney Water. I do not know where the sackings appear in the report; they are probably towards the back. Honourable members should think about this story:
8am Baby Lachlan is a patient at Sydney Children’s Hospital Randwick where our community puts a premium on the highest standards of cleanliness and care. Lachlan’s mum Kate Fraser can count on Sydney water to be fresh, filtered and safe. So all Lachlan has to worry about is his rubber duck.
Who is the greatest rubber duck of all? The rubber duck is sitting opposite. Honourable members would have got more intelligence from a rubber duck than from the Premier. Lachlan would have got better value from his rubber duck than from the Premier, who has ignored the plight of Sydney Water and the breakdown of the water system. He is ultimately responsible for this unparalleled debacle. The annual report further states:
2am Anna Di Donato is about to deliver a new Australian. We deliver them both a service they can't live without.
Sydney Water used to provide a service they cannot live without, but that is no longer the case. Sydney Water’s credibility is in shreds, as is the credibility of the Government. I hope that many of my coalition colleagues will speak in this debate about the plight of their constituents. I do not care how long the debate takes. I do not care whether it runs for the rest of the week, because the people of Sydney want answers from the Government. They are fed up with the lies, the deception and the cowardice of the Carr Government. Government members have been hiding in their bunker, shoving people out to make misleading statements, pulling back the statements and then retreating to the bunker, with the people of Sydney left to continue boiling their water.
The Government’s response has been simply to say to the people of Sydney, "We will not
compensate you for what you have paid, even in the first water crisis." We are now up to water crisis number three. All the Government has said is that the people of Sydney should count themselves lucky to get compensation of $15 and that they should go away. At the outset the Opposition said that the people of Sydney should get compensation of $40 for the first water crisis. In every sense the Government is short-changing the people of Sydney and the people of New South Wales. It is short-changing the people mostly by not telling the truth. The Government has not told the truth about this crisis and it will never tell the truth.
The coalition has put forward a 10-point plan which a Collins-Armstrong government would put in place. The $279 million that has been skimmed off the top should be used immediately to improve monitoring, filtration and the pipe system. Our comprehensive plan starts with an entirely new Sydney Water board. The Government cannot revive the credibility of the present board, which has been so damaged. Sydney Water needs a fresh board with expertise, not simply mates. If ever a public board cried out for a cleaning and the serious appointment of experts and specialists who can solve this problem, it is the board of Sydney Water. The Government should have done that but it has refused to do so.
The people of Sydney should be provided with more information about water quality. The Internet is a vehicle for the distribution of information but the Government has not acted on that suggestion. There should be daily monitoring for cryptosporidium and giardia, which have well and truly emerged since the 1996 Sydney Water annual report. Those proposals are only part of our comprehensive plan. As competent as Mr McClellan is as a lawyer, the terms of reference for his inquiry are too limited to enable him to reach the conclusions that the people of Sydney want to hear. They want the whole truth about Sydney Water and nothing but the truth. However, the truth will not come from the Government. That is why I moved on behalf of the Opposition a motion of no confidence in the Carr Government for its total mismanagement of the Sydney water crisis.
(Maroubra - Premier, Minister for the Arts, and Minister for Ethnic Affairs) [6.06 p.m.]: The only thing the Leader of the Opposition must explain to the people of New South Wales today is why under the coalition Government the level of cryptosporidium in the water supply was almost five times recent levels and there was no public warning. One significant aspect of this debate is the absence of the honourable member for Lane Cove. She was not here to support her leader. She opted not to be present to support her leader because, while the Leader of the Opposition can move motions of no confidence in the Government, it is increasingly clear that his party has no confidence in him.
Where’s your support?
There is one of the conspirators. He tells the media daily, "It is 14, 14, 10 in the party room."
Get your numbers right.
The honourable member for Ermington is lining up for the position of deputy leader. He is undermining his leader by seeking to walk away with the deputy’s post. The one bloke on trial in this Parliament is the Leader of the Opposition. What a lame, ill-researched, exasperated speech he made! There was not a revelation or a document in it. I have moved no confidence motions, and I have moved one in relation to Sydney Water but there was a bit of research behind it; I presented data, documentation and authority. There was no data, documentation or authority in the Leader of the Opposition’s speech. It was shoddy staff work again - poor research, poor co-ordination and no indictment of this Government.
The Leader of the Opposition failed to demonstrate what the Government has done or failed to do which has contributed to the Sydney water crisis. He failed to demonstrate that any action taken by any member on this side of the House has contributed to the problem. He failed to demonstrate any area in which the Government has failed to act which has brought about the problem. On Sydney radio this afternoon people wanted the answer to one question: Why, under the previous Government, were there recorded levels of cryptosporidium five times higher than those recorded in the past month or so and why was there no public warning? Talk about being asleep on the job! This was deep sleep.
When the Leader of the Opposition was asked about it by the Sydney Morning Herald
on 3 August he said, "When I signed off" - that is, on the standards - "at the time cryptosporidium to the best of my knowledge was not around." Leaving aside what happened in Milwaukee, I am advised that cryptosporidium has been around since 1681. Excuse me for my fascination with history, but it was described by a Dutch scientist who found it in his own stools! That information comes out of history books.
The Leader of the Opposition was Minister for Health in the previous Government, he was the shareholding Minister in Sydney Water, and in August he said that to the best of his knowledge cryptosporidium was not around. Talk about being asleep on the job! It is disgraceful that the honourable member for Lane Cove did not come down to the Chamber hear her leader speak. Is she not the shadow minister for something? Is she not the shadow minister for the environment? She is upstairs with a calculator - for, against, doubtful. When were these levels last recorded in our water supply? They were recorded in 1992, 1993 and 1994.
Order! The honourable member for Pittwater may seek the call when the Premier has completed his contribution.
The plea from the Leader of the Opposition today is, "Give us more information." He gave the people of Sydney no information on those dates when cryptosporidium levels went through the roof. No-one was told to boil water; no-one was given any information. Samples contained 58,660 cryptosporidium per 100 litres, almost five times higher than the highest levels most recently reported - and there was no health warning. This afternoon the staff of the Leader of the Opposition have apparently been downstairs shouting at journalists in the press gallery, trying to set them straight about the revelation of those levels of cryptosporidium when he was in government and the shareholding Minister in Sydney Water and did nothing. There were no health warnings and people want to know why.
What the people of this State want is what the Government has asked the McClellan inquiry to do. We have given the inquiry the broadest terms of reference and all the resources it needs. The other day the Opposition made a half-hearted call for a royal commission. That call was not repeated in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition or in question time. I wonder why the Opposition called for a royal commission a week ago but has not repeated that call when Parliament is debating the issue? Could it have something to do with the revelation the Government has made about the levels of cryptosporidium in the water supply when the coalition was in government and the absence of any public knowledge? The contrast is this: the Government has been absolutely honest with the people of this State. Whenever there has been advice from the expert health panel to issue a public health warning alert, the Government has done that. Meanwhile the McClellan inquiry has produced two reports and its recommendations have been endorsed by the Government.
Order! I place the honourable member for Wakehurst on three calls to order.
The first interim report made recommendations concerning public health powers and regulatory controls, and the Government has endorsed those recommendations. The Opposition has asked what the Government is doing. The recommendations include the requirement for tests and other quality assurance processes to be undertaken by water suppliers, requiring water suppliers to disclose to New South Wales Health a range of information necessary for the proper evaluation of drinking water and safety, and empowering New South Wales Health to declare public health alerts in relation to drinking water supplied by any authority. The system of health alerts is being reviewed and a memorandum of understanding between Sydney Water and New South Wales Health will be drafted.
There will be contingency and emergency plans between New South Wales Health and Sydney Water, and we will increase the health expertise of the board of Sydney Water. The Government has accepted all of the recommendations in Mr McClellan’s second interim report and has established a task force to fast-track their implementation. Yesterday Cabinet agreed to investigate the establishment of a catchment commission with tighter controls on catchment management. The Government is also tightening controls on all council-operated sewage treatment plants located within the catchment area; requiring the Department of Agriculture to work with all landowners to improve land management practices to reduce contaminated run-off; tightening management controls that restrict access to special catchment areas, including the possibility of increased penalties and on-the-spot fines; accelerating the reduction of feral animal populations; increasing the acquisition of private land inside the catchment; and continuing the acceleration of providing a sewerage system to The Oaks and Oakdale area south of Warragamba Dam.
Other measures include improving septic tank systems within the catchment where sewering is not possible, and increasing the use of remote sensing in managing the catchment areas. During this session the Government will introduce legislation to increase the control of the Minister for Urban Affairs and
Planning in respect of Sydney Water. The Government is committed to cleansing the 22,000 kilometre pipe system. That has also been accelerated. At the start of this crisis the Government established the public inquiry. That inquiry has all the powers it needs, it has broad terms of reference and it has produced two reports. The Government has accepted those reports and is implementing the recommendations.
The Government is being honest with the people of this State. It is sharing with them all the available information. The Government will take no risk with public health. In the meantime, after the revelations during question time today, the public wants to know why there was a cover-up under Collins. The public wants to know why, under Collins, those astonishing readings of cryptosporidium were allowed to pass without a public health alert. That is what the public wants to know. I am operating under something of a liability. I want to rebut the half-hearted, exasperated, cranky little speech that the Leader of the Opposition made, but I do not want to damage his credibility to the extent he has any, because those on this side of the House are in a delicate position. We want to flick away his criticisms, which is fairly easily done, but we do not want to harm him. Throughout this session we are barracking for you, Peter. As depicted by Moir in the Herald this morning, I am in the "Save Collins" camp.
The rambling, cranky speech of the Leader of the Opposition sent the honourable member for Camden into a comatose state. I am worried about her. Will the Minister for Health take her pulse? She was virtually wheeled out of the Chamber at the end of his speech. The honourable member for Lane Cove, who I am told is the shadow minister for the environment, did not even turn up. I repeat that at the end of his speech the Leader of the Opposition had not identified a single thing the Government has done or failed to do that contributed in any way to the contamination of Sydney’s water. He has not demonstrated a single occasion on which the Government has been less than honest and forthcoming with the public. Whenever there was a warning, the Government has issued the health alert. I rest my case.
[Mr Speaker left the chair at 6.20 p.m. The House resumed at 7.30 p.m.
(Lachlan - Leader of the National Party) [7.30 p.m.]: Who would have thought three or four months ago that on the opening day of the last session of this Parliament honourable members would be debating the water quality in the largest city in Australia? Who would have thought that in what is allegedly one of the most sophisticated cities in the world, the city that will host the Olympic Games in two years and one week, the city that will host the turn-of-the-millennium Games that will be the pinnacle of attention for 4,000 million people throughout the world for 16 days, members of Parliament would be debating water quality? The city of Sydney has spent an unbelievable amount per head of population.
A massive investment has been made in a single event, the Olympic Games, to provide real growth for both the State and the country and to provide an improved quality of life into the next millennium. Notwithstanding that, the members of the State’s Parliament are involved in a debate that could be taking place in any Third World country in the world today. It gives me no pleasure to be participating in a debate on a subject that is regressive and non-productive so far as the people of New South Wales are concerned. In recent days many cartoons have appeared in the press. The press cannot believe what is happening, and callers to talkback radio have shown a certain amount of scepticism.
They have always regarded Sydney as a safe place. People have always thought that it was safe to eat anywhere in Sydney, with its packaged or fresh food maintained in wonderfully hygienic conditions. They thought they could drink the water, and put ice cubes in their whiskey and in cool drinks to give to their kids in the summertime when they come home after a hot day at school. Suddenly they can no longer do so. They are now told they must boil their drinking water. Many of us can remember our mums having to boil water and, of course, women always boiled the water for babies. Honourable members can Imagine the Carr Government’s Christmas presents to the children of New South Wales this year, one of those wonderful Labor promises: every child will get a kettle for Christmas.
Let us get a few things straight. In relation to any service the Government is responsible for delivering within a designated budget, the buck stops in one spot only - with the Cabinet, the Premier and his Ministers. I have had enough of public servants and appointees being blamed for this so-called crisis. They may have been negligent - I am not prepared to pass judgment on that - but I have had enough of some members of the Government wimping out on their responsibilities. That is what they are doing. They want two bob each way.
When the Government was elected many of us said it faced many problems. The biggest problem
was probably the fact that members of the Government had no commercial experience. Only one or two of them have ever employed anyone. Lacking that experience, they have no understanding of how to handle people with respect and dignity or how to accept responsibility. The greatest disservice people can do for their employees is to blame them for what goes wrong and take the credit for good outcomes. That is what the members of the Government are doing. That demonstrates the incompetence of the Premier and the senior Ministers who are responsible for Sydney’s water supply. They are not prepared to accept their management responsibilities.
In the past few weeks the public has seen page after page of rhetoric from members of the Government. All the available techniques have been used by the so-called spin doctors in advising their Ministers, and the Ministers have been giving the public the soft soap and the hard sell. They have been warm and folksy. They have asked people to understand and to work with them. They have asked the community to have trust in them because they share the problem. Later the Government said it gathered some of the best experts in the world to advise it on this problem that has suddenly been found. That is simply passing the buck once again.
The Government can use all the rhetoric it wants, it can use all the experts it wants, but the public and the businesses of New South Wales, and the visitors from overseas, potential investors, are interested only in how the Government will clear up the problem and when it will be safe for them to live and invest in Sydney, and be able to use safe, clean, pure water. The public does not give a damn about the rhetoric the Government is pumping out. Water is a simple product and the public wants a simple answer to the problem.
When I was a Minister in the previous Government I was scheduled to visit one of the larger northern Asian countries. I was being briefed by the head of the department, who talked about some of the customs and culture and so forth, and he got around to food. He said, "Minister, I would advise you to eat only bananas, because they are not washed with water and they come in their own packaging. We will have many foods offered to us. Bottled water will be at every banquet, and I suggest you have only three courses." I said, "Which three courses?" He said, "The three beers," and he said that because the water was no good.
I’ll bet you enjoyed the courses.
I certainly did. So the advice to people coming to Sydney will be to forget about fresh lettuce, forget about iceblocks or ice-cream, forget about cleaning their teeth under the tap and eat only bananas and drink only three beers. Sydney is now at the same stage as that Third World country that I visited back in 1989. Last Saturday morning when I woke up I heard on the 2UE 6.00 a.m. news that the Minister for Health had advised that Sydney water was safe. Several times between then and about 20 to seven the commentator said that it was great that Sydney water was safe. I was relieved. I cleaned my teeth, had a shave and had a drink of water out of the tap. It was great.
At 10 to seven there was a news flash that the Health Department had issued a warning that people anywhere in Sydney were not to drink the water, clean their teeth, use ice blocks or wash vegetables under the tap. Water to wash vegetables had to be boiled. There would be no stronger warning anywhere in the world about water being unfit for human consumption: it is the strongest condemnation there can be. That warning was put out by the Minister for Health. If he participates in this debate I will be interested to hear what he says.
I mentioned that the Olympics will be on in two years and one week. The same person is head of the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, the Olympic Construction Authority and the Olympic Roads and Transport Authority. He is responsible for the whole process. He is also a Cabinet Minister. If the head of the Olympic organising body in Barcelona, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Nagano or any of the Olympic cities of recent times had found that the water was unfit for human consumption two years and two weeks out from the Olympics he would have called in the army. We have not heard a squeak out of Michael Knight - Mr Olympics himself - because he and Premier Carr compromised the Olympics by having a member of the Cabinet as president of SOCOG. He cannot wear two hats.
The present situation demonstrates that the same person should not do both jobs, particularly a politician. He has been totally neutered. He cannot assist the Olympic movement in convincing people that it is safe to come to Sydney. He has not been able to put an ounce of pressure on the Government to get its act together in the interests of the largest Olympics the world has ever seen. That is the second disastrous aspect of the Government’s actions in this exercise. Tourism, business and the quality of life have been affected but now there will be a lasting legacy with the Olympic Games. There is no champion from the Olympic movement who can speak on behalf of SOCOG because the president is the spokesman and he is a Minister of the Carr
Government, which has dropped the ball as far as water quality is concerned.
Projections going back to 1991 anticipated that the Olympics would be paid for by overseas tourist growth in years subsequent to the Olympics. In the five years from 2001 to 2006 Sydney could have expected a similar growth in tourism to that experienced by Barcelona - 100 per cent compounding. That is how a real benefit would be achieved for the people who have underwritten the Olympics, the taxpayers of New South Wales. Imagine going anywhere around the world now trying to tell people how good Sydney will be after the Olympics and asking them to invest, to book tours, to build hotels and units and to send tour ships to Sydney. People would have to bring their own water because our water stinks and they cannot even wash their teeth in it.
The quality of living in Sydney and our international image with tourists and the Olympics have been damaged. The Government has made a monumental blunder in locking the head of SOCOG in as a Government Minister. The city has not been equipped for this crisis. Who would have thought a few months ago that Sydney would have a crisis such as this? It was never expected under any previous government that Sydney would have to face a crisis such as this in which our water quality would be equivalent to that of the worst of the Third World countries. The Premier and the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning have referred to the world experts. They said that Australia had the very best. I do not doubt that that is the case, but why will they not let the experts tell the public what they think?
Why has the Minister for Health participated in the gagging of the people who have been brought to Australia, no doubt at enormous expense? It is probably a wise investment. The disaster has been kept a political issue: only politicians have talked about it, instead of the people who have the expertise. They are not allowed to speak to the media, to the public. They are kept behind closed doors because the Government does not have the slightest idea of how it will fix the problem. No doubt the experts are telling the Government what is going on but the Government knows that it does not have the money, and most likely the managerial expertise, to deal with it. So this is a cover-up. We have no idea of the recommendations of the experts that have been brought here.
I expect the Ministers who participate in the debate tonight to tell us accurately and precisely what the experts paid for by the taxpayers of New South Wales have recommended to manage the problem affecting everyone in Sydney tonight. We need answers to some of the following questions. What program is there for the restoration of safe water in Sydney? I ask the Minister for Health and his colleagues to outline the program, put a critical path on it. It should be put up on a billboard in Martin Place so that people can see and monitor the way in which the Government will restore Sydney’s water to its previous healthy condition. To this stage there has been no indication that the Government has a critical path or a managerial program. If it has been provided to the Government, it has not been articulated. The Government has not yet acknowledged that it has one so I suspect that there is no such program.
I ask the Minister for Health: what program will the Government undertake to restore world confidence in our tourism industry? Is the Government putting together a promotional exercise for when water quality is restored? Has the Government hired international public relations people? The Government has to restore the confidence of international travel agencies, major hotel chains, other governments and other tourism departments throughout the world. Otherwise we will never recover. The two fundamental questions are: what program is there to restore world tourism and business confidence, and what program is there for the restoration of safe water in Sydney? If this debate does nothing other than flush out the Government, force it to tell people these things, it will have achieved its purpose. The Government has botched not only Sydney water. I shall quote a few words from a speech by the Hon. Bob Carr, Premier of New South Wales, on 4 October 1997 at the Australian Labor Party State conference. On page 10 of his speech he stated:
Delegates, You recall the disaster of Wallis Lake.
Under present circumstances we spend $60 million a year on country water and sewage. It’s a 15 year program to fix our rural waterways.
We can fix them up with a burst of activity concentrated into the next five years - not stretched over 15.
That would generate more than 10,000 jobs in the bush.
The Premier said that under the Government there is a 15-year backlog on water and sewerage services in the bush, that the Government is spending only $60 million a year on country water, and that the Government’s initiatives would generate 10,000 jobs. When this Government took office the annual expenditure on the country water and sewerage
services program was $86 million indexed and there was a backlog on water and sewerage services of not 15 but nine years. The annual budget has been reduced by $26 million and the backlog on services has blown out by six years. It is not only Sydney that has a problem. The water supply to more than 300 towns and villages throughout this State does not meet the current standards demanded by the Minister for Health and his department, and the Premier’s speech to his own Australian Labor Party conference 18 months ago admitted as much.
Thus we have further evidence of the Government’s absolute incompetence in managing water supplies in this State. The questions and answers paper of Thursday, 7 May 1998 contained a question about the estimated actual expenditure under the country towns water supply and sewerage schemes for each financial year since 1987-88. The answer tabled details of that expenditure, spread across a multitude of towns across the State. It is significant that the table outlining expenditure from 1987 to 1997 has contracted since 1995. The Government is in trouble with the management of water for several reasons: it has not committed the requisite amount of funding, it will not accept responsibility, it does not have a management plan, and it is not prepared to be honest about the situation.
This evening I call upon the Government to make several admissions. It should admit that it has made a massive blunder and that it has no ideas on how to restore either the safe water program or confidence - national or international. I call on the Government to adopt the coalition’s 10-point plan announced today; to appoint a new water board based on expertise rather than political association - not jobs for the old mates; to introduce safe drinking water legislation similar to the legislation enacted by the Clinton administration; and to freeze the planned increase in water rates until the crisis has been resolved. The Government has stated that it will grant a cash rebate to holders of water accounts. What is the Government doing for those who live in rented premises? My colleague the honourable member for Myall Lakes has told me that approximately 1.5 million people in Sydney live in rented premises.
What is the Government doing for tourists staying in our hotels or for the country people who have come to Sydney for medical treatment, legal reasons or business purposes and who have to buy water? Country people supply their own water at home from a tank at the back of the house. Will the Government grant a $15 rebate to those people as well? I call on the Government to establish an Internet site providing up-to-date information on water quality. The Government should give a commitment that it will regularly monitor for cryptosporidium, giardia and other parasites that have emerged in the past two or three years as a significant threat to Sydney’s water supply. I call on the Government to redirect money from this year’s predicted $278 million government dividend to improvements in monitoring and filtration treatment.
Today in question time the Premier was asked about the present calamity and how he was going to fix it. Immediately he gave a spiel about how much money Sydney Water will be putting into the government coffers. That reply will not go down very well with restaurant owners or with mothers who are trying to bath young children in foul water before they go to bed and who are boiling water before making up a bottle of formula for their baby or giving their young children a drink of water. The Premier’s only answer relates to the amount of money being made from Sydney Water.
I call on the Government to provide a $40 rebate on the next water bill to ratepayers, to transfer responsibility for issuing health warnings from Sydney Water to the Department of Health, to tighten access to water catchment areas such as the Warragamba Dam, and to initiate regular patrols to report on possible human and animal contamination of water supplies. This Government cannot get out of the dilemma in which it has caught the people of Sydney by trying to blame others - bureaucrats, previous governments, animals grazing in the catchment areas, greenies camping in the catchment areas or the many native animals that live in water catchment areas. The Government cannot get out of this.
If the Government is to treat the problem it has to accept responsibility. The first fundamental issue in management is acceptance of personal responsibility. When one buys a motor car, takes out a mortgage or wins a seat in Parliament one has a responsibility. I have a responsibility. The Minister for Health has more than one responsibility: he has a responsibility as a member of Parliament, a responsibility as a citizen, a responsibility as a Minister and another responsibility as a member of Cabinet. The Government must accept its responsibilities. Unless it accepts its responsibilities the problems will not be solved. In this evening’s debate I should like to hear an admission that Government members individually and collectively accept and will honour their commitments and their positions within the Government.
It is essential that the Government clearly articulate its critical path for rectification of the
problem with Sydney’s water. The Government must this week announce how it will restore confidence to overseas and interstate visitors who intend to come to Sydney for the Olympic Games. If we are to sell tickets for the Games and fill the hotels, there is a need for confidence. The Government must restore that confidence this week. It is essential that the Government deliver to those countries that provide the majority of Australia’s tourists - the countries from northern Europe, northern America and Asia - the message that the water problem is being addressed. Visitors simply will not come to Sydney for the Olympics, to look at the Opera House, to walk up Macquarie Street or to visit country New South Wales if it is not possible to drink our water, use ice blocks or eat salads.
I have a secondary interest in the debate as someone who represents the party looking after country New South Wales. The National Party is well aware that 75 per cent of Australia’s tourists come through Sydney. If they do not come to Sydney then country New South Wales will not see them. The main arterial routes across New South Wales and attractions such as the Dubbo zoo and the Coffs Harbour porpoise pools will not get tourists if confidence is not restored, and they will not be able to survive without those tourists. The people operating those businesses are doing their jobs honestly and they are accepting their responsibilities. It is time that the Minister for Health did the same.
(Marrickville - Deputy Premier, Minister for Health, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) [7.58 p.m]: Debate from Opposition members has been disappointing so far. The Leader of the Opposition delivered one of the worst-prepared speeches I have ever heard. His speech contained no substance and provided no information on what he thought was the cause of the contamination, what he thought might be ways of solving the issue, what he thought the Government has done that he disagrees with, what the Government could have done to make things better or what would resolve the issue more speedily. The Leader of the National Party made a very interesting admission on this issue that the Opposition has decided is the most important of the day.
The Leader of the National Party said clearly that he prepared for today’s motion of no confidence in the Government by scratching a few notes on the back of an envelope. Presumably he had been thinking about the debate for some weeks, yet he decided at the last moment that he might take a glove to it. It is amazing that he takes this matter so lightly, but like his colleague the Leader of the Opposition he is under threat from rumblings in his own party. I was fascinated by his claim that as a former Minister who has travelled the world he understands Third World conditions. It offends me to hear people talk about Third World conditions in such a cavalier way. I am surprised that the Leader of the National Party presumes that the problems of the Third World - and they are significant problems - are in any way related to the issues that face us now.
If he wants to belittle people’s commitment to the Third World by his cavalier and irresponsible comments, be it on his head; he has no understanding of Third World issues. The Leader of the National Party also reiterated the Opposition’s 10-point plan - the plan that was released about two weeks ago. He does not even know what his Opposition colleagues are saying. Nothing in the 10-point plan identifies where the problem is, nor does it provide a solution to the contamination. It certainly does not suggest ways in which the Government could improve or change its tack. All it does is cut down more trees to issue ridiculous press releases.
The Leader of the National Party said also that as part of the Opposition’s new plan the public health unit of the Health Department should issue health warnings. That is already happening. The Leader of the National Party does not take the motion seriously. The Opposition is desperate to find something to talk about, because over the past few months it has been on holidays or plotting its own demise. The corporatisation of Sydney Water is an issue that needs to be tackled. The coalition corporatised Sydney Water in January 1995. It set up a new-style corporate model, which was a total failure, as the report of the McClellan inquiry showed. The report states:
In my opinion Sydney Water was not prepared for an event of this magnitude.
Sydney Water failed to respond to the initial contamination by implementing an adequate testing regime.
Its executive decision making was flawed.
In regard to the Government’s handling of the water contamination, Mr McClellan said:
It is my view that the actions of the government through the Premier and Minister Knowles in establishing an expert panel and Minister Knowles accepting responsibility of informing the public was essential.
In other words, Mr McClellan endorsed the Government’s action of taking responsibility and working hard. The Opposition has no credibility. It corporatised Sydney Water, developed the model for
its operation and created the circumstances under which the contamination has occurred, and the Government is cleaning up the mess. The Opposition has proposed no sensible course of action. Nothing in its 10-point plan would have prevented what has occurred. The only action the Opposition has taken has been to panic. Its performance on this issue is a measure of the way it would run government - out of control.
The public wants answers and action. The Government shares the public’s frustration and concern; it is demanding answers and attacking the issue. In contrast, the Leader of the Opposition is content to sit back and laugh at the people of Sydney; he is content to demean the concerns of ordinary Sydneysiders. The Australian
of 27 August reported that the Leader of the Opposition laughed at news of the second boil water alert. The people of New South Wales expect leadership and the Leader of the Opposition has demonstrated that he is incapable of leadership on this issue. He and his shadow cabinet would run New South Wales like a row of laughing clowns at the Royal Easter Show - mouths open and shaking their heads.
Fortunately the Carr Government has acted quickly to identify the issues and attack the problem. It is getting water back on track. It has established an independent panel of experts to define the risk to public health and has kept the public informed every step of the way, in contrast to what the coalition did when in government. The former coalition Government had the highest readings of cryptosporidium ever recorded, but kept them from the public. The Government established the independent inquiry under Peter McClellan, QC, to identify the cause of the contamination. That inquiry has already handed down two reports and New South Wales Health has acted quickly on the recommendations.
Specifically, the Government has assumed the role of issuing health alerts as well as improving communication with Sydney Water. The Government took control of the issue from day one and its actions are in sharp contrast to those of a rudderless Opposition. Following the McClellan reports the Government’s response has been rapid and comprehensive. The Government will present to Parliament this session a comprehensive legislative package to better protect Sydney’s water supply and resolve serious management failures in Sydney Water. A key part of the legislation will be to restore ministerial control over Sydney Water.
The Government will also investigate breaking up Sydney Water to create a separate catchment commission, which will have statutory obligations to ensure greater protection and management of Sydney’s catchments. Additionally, a major review will be carried out of the top management structure of Sydney Water. With regard to my own portfolio, public health powers and regulatory controls will be strengthened. That will include the requirement that tests and other quality assurance processes be undertaken by water suppliers, requiring them to disclose to New South Wales Health a range of information necessary for the proper evaluation of drinking water and safety, and empowering New South Wales Health to declare public health alerts in relation to drinking water supplied by any authority.
The system of health alerts will be reviewed and the memorandum of understanding between Sydney Water and New South Wales Health will be redrafted. The Government will also increase the health expertise of the board of Sydney Water. In regard to the handling of the incidents by New South Wales Health, it is important to recognise that the department has been vigilant in ensuring that the public is regularly kept up to date on the results of water testing, the levels of contamination, and water boiling alerts. That is in contrast to the actions of the Opposition. [Quorum formed.
Shortly after the first contamination the Government set up an independent advisory panel of expert microbiologists and parasitologists. The panel worked with the Director-General of Health, Mr Michael Reid, and the Chief Health Officer, Dr Andrew Wilson, to develop an appropriate protocol for action. The protocol set out actions to be taken following detection of any cryptosporidium or giardia in a sample of drinking water including: immediate reporting by Sydney Water to New South Wales Health; immediate second sampling for test by Sydney Water; and if significant levels in two samples of either cryptosporidium or giardia are found, the expert panel would be urgently convened.
It is important to make it clear that the committee does not look at water readings alone before a boil-water alert is called. The committee considers a range of factors, including the flow of water through the system, the turbidity of the water and the rate of illness in the community. Once a boil-water alert is in place, the protocol for release requires three clear readings from water supply sources, two clear readings and a 24-hour period of clear water through distribution channels, and consideration by an expert panel of any evidence of disease in the community.
Recent events demonstrate a degree of variability about contamination of the Sydney
drinking water supply. That, coupled with intermittent high readings, led the expert panel to advise New South Wales Health to announce a two-week boil-water alert beginning Saturday, 5 September. During this period the Government is stepping up its surveillance of illness in the community, including expanding public surveys and making giardia a laboratory-notifiable condition. In the meantime, all the normal investigations of plant and catchment areas will continue and water test results will regularly be released to the public.
If, at the end of the period, no increase in illness is found, the expert panel and New South Wales Health will consider lifting the boil-water alert. If further water contamination occurs, the normal protocol will be followed. The protocol does not require a boil-water alert for every incidence of cryptosporidium and giardia detected in the water supply. Many other actions occur before a boil- water alert is deemed necessary. The protocol makes it clear that other parameters, besides levels of parasites, need to be examined and be suggestive of a problem, including water turbidity and the level of illness in the community.
In addition, a working group of Sydney Water and New South Wales Health officials communicate or meet daily to discuss that day’s results, for the management of boil-water alerts and to ensure adequate public communication. During the incidents water testing results have been released as soon as they are available, sometimes up to twice a day. One can only speculate about whether that level of openness would have existed under a coalition government. A coalition government would have known it was responsible for the badly set up corporate structure, and no doubt it would have covered up the risks to public safety, as it covered up the results of testing that showed contamination up to five times that which has been found to date.
It is important to put the issue of illness into context. At the moment cryptosporidium and giardia appear to be causing no increased rates of infection amongst Sydneysiders. In 1993 during the Milwaukee water contamination incident more than 100 people died and 400,000 people became ill. The Milwaukee contamination occurred just before the former Government issued press releases stating that cryptosporidium was of no concern. Sydney has seen nothing like the level of illness that occurred in Milwaukee. During the second water incident, New South Wales Health conducted a survey of 100,000 households to determine the effect on health of water contaminated by giardia and cryptosporidium. Surveys were carried out of 500,000 households in affected areas and 500,000 in unaffected areas.
The rates of diarrhoeal illness were exactly the same in both groups - about 2 per cent, the normal background rate for that illness. New South Wales Health is currently undertaking another household survey as a result of the most recent boil-water alert. It is also important to note that giardiasis has now been listed as a notifiable illness, and that will help to determine potential or real health risks posed by contaminated water. Both these processes will enable the Government once again to determine whether there has been an increase in diarrhoeal illness. That is another way in which the Carr Government is protecting the health of the people of Sydney.
The causes of contamination and the fluctuating results have led to some discussion. The widely varying contamination results tend to suggest the contamination is isolated in clumps rather than across the entire water supply. Early indications from the inquiry indicate that Warragamba Dam is contaminated by clumps of giardia and cryptosporidium. The realities are that the parasites of cryptosporidium and giardia are not evenly distributed throughout the water supplies and are not being completely filtered out at Prospect, as was flagged by McClellan in his first report.
That has been considered by the expert panel in reaching its decision to call a boil-water alert for the next two weeks. That is the essence of the Government’s plan to ensure an appropriate response to contamination which best protects the health of the community. All expert advice indicates that it is not just levels alone which determine appropriate public health response. The Government must take a more sophisticated approach to looking at levels of illness and other water parameters. This is the third water contamination incident in two months, and is a completely new situation for Sydney.
As was made clear by Mr McClellan, protocols for the management of these incidents must be developed. As these protocols are being refined our knowledge also increases. We must have a more sophisticated approach to give the people of Sydney the greatest security with the least amount of inconvenience. It has been suggested that there have been delays in public health warnings from the time of testing. With each public health warning the Government has followed the protocols determined by the expert panel and New South Wales Health. The Government has moved to report results as swiftly as technology and the experts will allow.
Technology dictates that some delay will occur between testing and public release. The laboratory requires time and test results must be checked. At one stage during debate on this issue the Prime
Minister suggested he would be prepared to help. At that stage the Prime Minister probably did not know that the State Government, some weeks before, had already written to the Federal Government to ask for support through the National Health and Medical Research Council. The State Government is quite happy for the Prime Minister to expedite that request, even though the Leader of the Opposition did not seem to know what was happening.
The Government had announced the request some weeks prior to the decision of the Leader of the Opposition to enter the discussion. The Government followed directly on the McClellan report as was reported in the media. It is obvious that the Opposition had other things to do - it had been using the mobile phones non-stop to try to organise the numbers. I would rather deal with an opposition that took the issue seriously than with one which tries to perform stunts while knifing its members in the back. I would welcome a coherent opposition that offers help and solutions. At the moment that rabble is providing nothing.
(Miranda - Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [8.18 p.m.]: I strongly support this motion of no confidence in the Government. The main point of defence of the Premier and the Minister for Health in particular is that the Opposition has failed to demonstrate one thing that the Government has failed to do on this issue. It appears to me, and I am sure to the people of New South Wales, that the fundamental issue is that the Government has failed to take the necessary action to ensure that the people of Sydney continue to have clean drinking water. Governments need to be able to guarantee fresh water for the people of Sydney. Sydney is a major international city, which we are proud of and which we want to showcase to the world during the Olympics. The Government has failed to ensure that the people of Sydney have access to clean water.
We have seen a disgraceful display by this Government. Every time there is a problem - whether it be a budgetary problem, a health problem, a gun problem, or some other problem - it is always someone else’s fault; it is never the Government’s fault. The Premier’s great political skill is to be able to lay off the blame; that is what he prides himself on. He says, "Read the headlines. Find someone else to blame." It does not cut it on this issue. As Sydney enters its third water crisis in just over a month, the Carr Government continues to try to lay off the blame. It is looking - as it has done for the past three years - to blame anyone except itself for its abysmal failure, rather than accepting the responsibility. The Premier must realise that the buck stops with him and that the people of this State want action. They want to be assured that the Government is continually doing things to upgrade the services that it is providing.
How has the Government been laying off the blame? If one looks through the newspapers one will see that the Government suggested, firstly, that the contamination was due to dead dogs; then it was due to the irresponsibility of the manager, Chris Pollett; then it was the chairman, David Hill. Then it was suggested that it must have been because the plant at Prospect was privatised. Then it was blamed on the heavy rains. Now it is the previous Government’s fault. The Government continues to move the blame. The Minister for Health now starts to try to tie in the Federal Government, because it has offered assistance. Now the Government will be on the phone calling for assistance, and if it does not get enough assistance it will say that it is the Federal Government’s fault that we have this water contamination.
The people of New South Wales have had enough. The Opposition is moving no confidence in the Government because of its failure to ensure the implementation of available new technologies to continually upgrade the plants to maintain the city’s water quality. It is an evolving process. A system may be perfect today, but one cannot keep the same system for a whole century without changing it. The giardia and cryptosporidium issue is about change. When the coalition came to office in 1988 it moved to install filtration plants. In 1992 the coalition moved to approve the funds to build new filtration plants to the world standard at that time. Through to 1996, around the world more concerns were expressed about giardia and cryptosporidium, and the issue was starting to come through in government reports and water board reports. For three years, more and more information has emerged to suggest that the Government has done nothing to ensure the State’s water system is kept up to standard.
The Premier, the Treasurer and the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning must explain to this Parliament and the people of the State why, after three years of constant warnings, they did not respecify the contract with the private operator of the Prospect plant. Why did they not change the standards and require a higher standard of filtration? In 1996 the Opposition, along with numerous other observers, called upon the Government to react to the increasing threat of cryptosporidium and giardia. The response of the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning at that time in this Parliament was that the Opposition was scaremongering. The Minister has
failed to act. As regulator, the Government has a constant role to upgrade licences of this nature to ensure that the interests of the public are guaranteed at all times. It does not matter who owns it, whether it is in government hands or private hands, or whether it is a joint venture.
The primary responsibility of government is as regulator. As regulator, the Government has a responsibility to ensure that the regulations keep pace with change and developments so that the public health of our community is not compromised.The ridiculousness of the entire incident was highlighted less than four weeks ago when the regulators of the licence conditions produced a report giving Sydney Water a big tick for meeting all the conditions under the licence agreement. At the same time, no-one in Sydney was drinking tap water. A plant was operating, fulfilling the Government’s requirements, and Sydney Water gives it a big tick and says it is doing everything up to standard. But, at the same time, no-one is drinking the water.
Whose fault is that? Is it the operator’s fault, or is it the regulator’s fault? Who is in charge of standards and regulation? The Government. It is the Government’s fault; the problem rests solely with the Government. The Minister should not think he can solve this problem by changing the structure, by sacking people, or by putting in a whole range of smokescreens, as has been mentioned. The problem is the regulation and the Minister’s implementation of that regulation. They are the Minister’s significant failures.
The next big mistake by the Carr Government was the sacking of the previous board. The Government came in and, as usual, wiped out the board and appointed its Labor mates to the Sydney Water Board. In sacking the experienced board members and replacing them with the likes of its mates David Hill and Peter Sams, the Government destroyed a team with enormous experience and expertise - a team that was steering the corporation through a new period of corporatisation. The last thing it needed was Mr Disaster David Hill and Peter Sams. The Government has failed to learn from this approach to the management of a vital organisation like Sydney Water, because today we learn it has appointed Michael Costa, of the New South Wales Labor Council, to the board. The Government stacks these boards with all its mates and wonders why it does not get the performance required to maintain the high standards.
Sydney Water has been squeezed for more and more money by a government desperate to plug its gaping budget hole. This year it is planned to scrape from Sydney Water $279 million in profits. The people of Sydney are paying their water rates and the Government is scraping off, as good as a tax, $279 million. Since coming to office the Government has scraped off more than $800 million in funds out of ratepayers' money. What capital advancements could have been made to pipelines, water filtration and catchment areas with $800 million? That would have been an enormous investment. Yet this Government has been forced to take that money from Sydney Water because of the budget crisis that it has created for itself. Meanwhile, the Government is steadfastly ignoring the gathering weight of evidence pointing to the increasing threat posed by giardia and cryptosporidium.
When a government reduces capital investment, does not keep up with technology, does not keep up with changes, rips money out of organisations, continues to drive down the work force, does not keep its regulations up to date, the inevitable finally happens. Parasite levels have soared. Sydney Water is understaffed, overweight at the top and simply unable to respond. Senior management lacks the wherewithal to understand basic physical, microbiological and chemical concepts, because it lacks appropriate expertise in the sciences. Sydney Water’s chairman was more concerned about becoming a member of the Federal Parliament than about ensuring that the people of Sydney had safe drinking water.
In other words, this crisis was a disaster waiting to happen because of inaction by the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning. After three years of sitting on his hands, three years of running down Sydney Water and three years of his mates controlling Sydney Water, what has happened? In the past three years massive dividends have been removed from Sydney Water by the Carr Government and that has made it impossible for Sydney Water to undertake the necessary major capital works to improve water quality or to alleviate pollution from Sydney’s waste water in the Hawkesbury, in the harbour or in the ocean.
What irks me and the community most is the blame game that the Government continues to play. The Government’s response to the water crisis raised in the House today is to find someone new to blame. That strategy or tactic is constantly employed by the Premier. He said that the problem was the Australian Water Services plant at Prospect in Sydney’s west, a legacy, he said, of the previous coalition Government. The Premier conveniently ignored several facts. First, the Premier is on record
praising the plant as "a triumph of modern engineering and technology". And so it was - a world-standard triumph of engineering and technology in 1992 when it was proposed for building. Opening the plant on 1 October 1996 the Premier said:
One of the many factors contributing to the lifestyle that has made Sydney famous is the quality of Sydney’s water . . . The Prospect plant is fully automated and built to comfortably meet the quality required for both present and future demand . . . Sydney’s drinking water catchments have been kept in pristine condition through careful planning and management . . . Sydney now has fresh filtered water - crystal clear, healthy and great tasting.
What has happened in the two years since he said those words? Today we hear the Premier talking about the need to change the management of the catchments, because it is a disaster. He is trying once again to lay off the blame, but the blame rests solely with him. The Premier made a point of saying:
The Plant is a model of a successful partnership between the public and private sectors and an outstanding achievement which will supply Sydney with clean drinking water for generations to come.
He concluded by clinking his glass in a proud toast to Sydney Water. The second fact is that the Treasurer, too, was seemingly unconcerned about the Prospect plant when it was built in 1996. On 3 December 1996 Sydney Morning Herald
journalist David Humphries reported:
Michael Egan told [trade unions] he was keen on the sale of a government-owned business which few of us would have heard about but which pays the wages of 2,000 workers and racks up $300 million in annual sales.
David Humphries was talking about Australian Water Technologies, the trading arm of Sydney Water. He continued:
The Treasurer talked about getting an "equity partner" for AWT so that it could fulfil its ambition of getting into the Asia-Pacific to compete for big water and sewerage projects.
Both the Premier and the Treasurer were enthusiastic about the Prospect plant and Australian Water Technologies just two years ago. They were effusive in their praise. Two years ago they said it was the best, the cleanest water in the world, but now they are trying to find anybody and everybody to blame. The problem, however, rests in their lap; is on their desk, and it is one they have to solve. What has changed in the past two years? The third fact that the Premier conveniently ignores is that his Government had the capacity to renegotiate the Government’s contract with Australian Water Services to add pathogens to the list of parasites to be treated.
In 1996 and 1997, as the evidence mounted of cryptosporidium and giardia posing significant health risks, that is exactly what the Government should have done. The Government has failed to move and has failed to act. At any time Minister Knowles could have used his powers under the State Owned Corporations Act to direct Sydney Water to renegotiate the contract to treat water for cryptosporidium and giardia. When he became aware of the risks and failed to instruct that the contract be renegotiated he failed in his duty to ensure that the people of Sydney were spared the crisis now confronting them. Examination of this issue and the current stance of the Government in trying to blame public sector reform and private sector involvement makes clear that this problem stems from regulation control by the Government.
It is important to note that the Carr Government strongly supported Sydney Water Board corporatisation in 1994. The Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning led the charge. During the corporatisation debate the Minister for the Environment spoke for an inordinate time about the lack of ministerial responsibility and accountability under the 1994 corporatised model. Members of the present Government thought the model was wrong and spoke against it. Notwithstanding those views, the Government did not change the model on coming to office. The Labor Party, having examined the Water Board Corporatisation Act and bleated long and hard while in opposition, has passed not one amendment to the Act in its three years since coming to office.
Yet as soon a crisis arises the Government resorts to blaming the very legislation which it failed to amend upon coming to government. The Premier’s role in setting new standards in avoiding responsibility should be closely examined. As the Leader of the Opposition stated previously, in 1992 and 1996 the Premier publicly endorsed private sector involvement in water filtration provision and the performance of the Prospect plant. Earlier the Leader of the Opposition read extracts from a letter signed by Bob Carr and Pam Allan in 1992 which clearly demonstrated their full support for private sector involvement and the provision of water filtration at Prospect.
However, recently on the Graham Richardson radio program the Premier made two significant about-faces - one on private sector involvement in water filtration and the other on electricity privatisation. Let us cast our minds back to 1995,
when none other than the Premier made the following statement in relation to the State Owned Corporations Amendment Bill, the bill which governs the degree of responsibility and accountability of government corporations, including Sydney Water. The Premier stated:
The bill will ensure that this Government is accountable for the operations of a statutory State owned corporation . . . That is the kind of Government we are.
He went on to say:
. . . I believe that the public also expects that these bodies should be obliged to display a sense of social responsibility in the conduct of their commercial activities, and should be accountable for their actions. The Government is committed to ensuring that these public expectations are fulfilled . . . It is another promise kept by, and another big tick for, this Government.
However, the Government has done the opposite. Not one Minister of this Government has been held accountable or responsible for the water crisis. Instead, anything and everyone else is being blamed. Let me illustrate how effusive Bob Carr has been about the quality of water in Sydney, indicating that he does not expect his Ministers to perform. I go back to 9 September 1997. This was a statement made by Bob Carr when on a trip to Lebanon, as provided by Australia Monitoring Services:
I mean, there’s no French or American group or Egyptian group that will do it better. When it comes to water treatment as well, we’ve got Sydney Water represented by Paul Broad here and their general manager, three other groups and again, we’ve got real expertise when it comes to managing waste water and protecting and enhancing the quality of drinking water.
What has happened in just 12 months? Why have the Premier and his Ministers suddenly changed their mind and why do they want to blame everyone else? When will the Ministers realise that they are responsible for what is going on, that they are responsible for the failure to upgrade Sydney’s water system over the past three years. That is why this dead cat has landed on their desk. The people of New South Wales do not want a blame game; they want positive action, and they want that action now. They do not want the Government’s response of testing the water while allowing them to continue drinking it, of waiting to see if anyone gets sick, of waiting to see what happens.
Nor do the people want a stunt involving restructuring of the board of Sydney Water - sacking a few people, reversing corporatisation and appointing new boards in the catchment areas. The people of New South Wales do not want any of that nonsense because that will not fix the problem. They want an assurance from the Government that it will implement a program and provide capital investment to upgrade our water system so that high-quality water can be guaranteed. The health of our people and the reputation of Sydney around the world depend on action by the Government. This is no time for the political stunts that the Premier is so good at.
Let me summarise what has happened. Blame has been attributed for the Prospect treatment plant. Bob Carr supported the development of that plant. He opened it, and he praised it. Bob Carr supported private sector involvement in the filtration of Sydney’s water. Now he is saying that privatisation is the cause of the problem. That is just not true. Bob Carr supported corporatisation of the Water Board. Now he is saying that is a problem. He has made political appointments to the board of Sydney Water. That most definitely is a problem when those appointed are mates and not people of competence. Bob Carr has stripped the water board of funds, at a time when substantial capital investment was needed for water treatment processes, the lining of pipes, the protection of catchment areas, and improvement of treatment plants. In that time the Carr Government has ripped $800 million from Sydney Water, a major tax on the people of New South Wales.
A chairman resigned because of the dividend the coalition extracted from the board.
Labor made that an art form. At least the coalition was upgrading the system. Labor stopped the upgrading of the system, and that is the fundamental difference. Also, the price of a kilolitre of water for the people of Sydney has been increased from 65 cents to about 85 cents.
I thank the Minister for the correction, but it is still a substantial increase during the term of the Labor Government. Yet it has not continued to upgrade the water systems of this State. That has been nothing but an extra tax on the program. Labor has been ignoring the ever-growing evidence and information that has been coming forward on this growing problem of the need to do something to upgrade our water treatment plants. Labor set new standards in water quality but, stupidly, in setting those new standards, failed to invest appropriately in new technology as it became available to guarantee clean water for the residents of Sydney.
The real point of this debate on the motion of no confidence in the Government is that Labor has
been in government for three years. The issue of provision of water filtration to render our water safe from giardia and cryptosporidium has been a changing and developing issue. The previous Government moved to install treatment standards which it strongly supported. Time has moved on, standards have changed, but the Government has failed in its responsibility to ensure that treatment plants, pipes and catchments continue to be improved to ensure water quality in this State. Government members may present arguments that they have done this or that, or they may blame this person or that person, but the bottom line is that in Sydney I cannot do today what I had been able to do up to six weeks ago.
Yes you can.
I can, because I live in the Sutherland shire. But I cannot turn on a tap in this Parliament and in most places in Sydney and know that I can drink the water without getting sick. That is the concern of Sydney people. They want the Government to fix that problem. It is a disgrace that on this first day back in Parliament Government members want to play the blame game. I support the motion of no confidence in the Government.
(Moorebank - Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, and Minister for Housing) [8.48 p.m.]: At the outset I will deal with some of the nonsense inherent in the remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. No wonder he and the Leader of the Opposition are under challenge for their positions. Frankly, their performance in a debate on a motion of no confidence in the Government was appalling. They exhibited a lack of research or direct knowledge of matters that have been the subject of enormous debate in this Parliament since 1992-93 that was nothing short of disgraceful. At least they could have come into the Chamber armed with facts and proper information in support of their argument.
I make a number of points to deal with some of the nonsense put forward by them, but I deal with those matters in no particular order. The House has just been told that it is a disgrace that Michael Costa and before him Peter Sams were appointed to the board. The fact is that legislation provides that they are members of the board. Indeed, the Labor Council of New South Wales can nominate two people from which the Minister can select one for appointment to the board. That is in accordance with coalition legislation. The House has just heard the assertion that this Government ripped dividends out of the Sydney Water organisation. The dividends paid by Sydney Water under this Government are backed by proper and independent analyses of the cash management and capital programs of the organisation. The current dividend regime was verified by Coopers and Lybrand after some fairly exhaustive research.
Compare that with the fact that the coalition tried to pass off the special dividends of $200 million as asset exchanges for which Sydney Water received the grand prizes of a swamp, a silted river, a golf course and the Alexandra Canal. That caused the collapse of the clean waterways program in 1993-94 and directly led to the resignation of the former chairman David Harley in protest. At the parliamentary inquiry David Harley and many other people gave evidence about their performance on dividends which demonstrated that not only the clean waterways program but also the pipe cleaning program had collapsed. The pipe cleaning program was an instrumental and fundamental part of the alleged success or otherwise of the water filtration plants that were being brought on line during the inquiry.
The former Government gutted $200 million from the organisation and stopped the pipe cleaning program and the clean waterways program. Consequently, Sydney Water’s capital program was put in jeopardy, and Sydney Water’s capital expenditure went into a tail spin after that. Capital expenditure has only just recovered, and we are now witnessing substantial expenditure on capital programs. We are playing catch-up after several years of inadequate capital expenditure as a consequence of the special dividend payment. I turn now to water prices. We have been told that the price of water has increased. I can demonstrate that on at least 20 different occasions members opposite supported the principle of the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal determining prices.
However, members opposite will not admit that during the parliamentary inquiry into Sydney Water and establishment of the water filtration plants the chairman of the inquiry, the honourable member for Manly, and I asserted that the water filtration plants would lead to increased water prices, that prices would inevitably be passed on to Sydney consumers. That was hotly denied by the former administration. Indeed, during the inquiry there was clear evidence that prices would not be passed on. Sadly, at that time there was a whistleblower, or someone made a mistake. In a 1993 article Greg Klamus, the former manager of the Illawarra region, made it absolutely clear not only that the price of the water treatment plants would be passed on to consumers but that the cost of water would increase from 65¢ a kilolitre to $1.15 a kilolitre over the next few years.
Surprise! Surprise! When I became Minister I found that Sydney Water had made a submission to what was formerly the Government Pricing Tribunal for the full price to be passed on. I suspended that submission until a further full inquiry had been undertaken. History shows that Sydney Water and the Government of the day lied about the cost of water. Not only does New South Wales have an independent process for setting prices, and not only does Sydney have very competitive water and sewerage rates compared with other water authorities around Australia; New South Wales also has the big lie of the former Government which said that the cost of the water filtration plants, including the $250 million water filtration plant at Prospect, could be absorbed in the Sydney Water program.
The former Government passed on the cost of the water filtration plants to consumers, which is why we have the current pricing regime. Members opposite said that the Government did nothing to change the corporate model. It is a matter of public record that Labor when in opposition voted against the corporatisation of Sydney Water on the basis that the regulatory framework was inadequate. The honourable member for Manly will well recall a meeting in Robert Webster’s office at which Robert Webster, the honourable member for Manly, the honourable member for Bligh, the former member for South Coast, John Hatton, others and I debated the matter so that members opposite could decide which way to vote on the corporatisation of Sydney Water.
Members opposite voted for corporatisation, despite the strong view that I expressed at that meeting and in the Parliament that the regulatory framework was inadequate. I suspect that some of the chickens have come home to roost. I reject entirely the claim by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that the Government has done nothing since that time to improve the regulatory framework. One of the first things I did was to ensure that Sydney Water moved immediately from the 15-year-old water quality standards used by the Leader of the Opposition when he was a shareholder at the time Sydney Water was corporatised to the 1996 National Health and Medical Research Council standards. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition used 1980 standards for a 1995 corporatisation.
Today’s licence shows that the only improvement the Leader of the Opposition would have required was a gradual move to the 1987 standards. The Government leapt straight over the 1987 standards to the 1996 standards. The Government made cryptosporidium a notifiable disease from 1 January 1997, which required testing for cryptosporidium and giardia. That fairly fundamental reform moved Sydney Water into a position to adopt health standards. The Government also objected to the corporatisation of Sydney Water because Environment Protection Authority regulations were not up to standard. At that time the Labor Opposition moved an amendment which stated that Sydney Water should not be corporatised unless and until what was then euphemistically termed EPA stage two legislation was in place. However, the former Government, the honourable member for Manly and others rejected the amendment.
That legislation is now in place: the Minister for the Environment introduced it in this House. In addition, in 1995 I issued section 117 directions to deal with proper catchment management to ensure that we did not go through a laborious regional environmental planning process lasting several years. This Government moved quickly to establish a better regulatory framework for an operator which, at the time of corporatisation, was using 15-year-old drinking water standards. The former Government did not care; it lied to the people about water prices and it ripped the guts out of the organisation with a special dividend payment in the previous two years. On top of that, it gave a guarantee that the water treatment plants would "remove 99.9 per cent of cryptosporidium and giardia".
The guarantee was given on the basis that there was evidence at that time that cryptosporidium and giardia were an issue that would need to be dealt with, despite what the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition have said today. Today in the Parliament the Government released two reports which verify that fact. Despite what Sydney Water may have said during the inquiry - and, indeed, up to and including 1996 - and despite what members opposite may or may not have chosen to understand, learn or believe, the Government ensured that cryptosporidium and giardia were factored into the consideration of the health standards for the performance of Sydney Water’s supply.
What gets up my nose is the fact that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was the Minister for Health from 1992 until the change of government in 1995. What was his purpose in not notifying the community about a cryptosporidium level of 58,000 oocysts in 100 litres of water? As the Premier said today, that is more than five times the levels we are dealing with now. It is a notifiable level in anyone’s language. However, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition pretended that he did not know about it or that standards had changed. The
fact is that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition neglected to tell the public about the levels at that time.
This Government has chosen to give the public all the information as and when it becomes available. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition cannot pretend that he did not know about the issue at that time, or that it was not an issue back then but it may be an issue now. As a consequence, the coalition stands condemned for its performance in relation to the commitments and promises it made to the community at that time in relation to pricing, the performance of the treatment plants and notifying the community about health risks, and its failure to treat people truthfully and honestly. During parliamentary debates and the McClellan inquiry a lot more information will emerge about the coalition’s performance. Obviously the Leader of the Opposition is swinging in the breeze. He is desperate to find something on which to hang himself as people marshall the numbers around him. It would appear that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is dead meat, but people have not taken the time to cut him down.
My advice to members of the Opposition is to stop pretending they did not know. They did know. The record demonstrates it. Quite clearly the Opposition is now trying to cover up the fact that it failed to notify the public, and is trying to smudge over the fact that it fundamentally dismantled the structure of our water supply system and made false promises to the community back in the days when the water filtration plants were being established. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said in his opening remarks that the fundamental issue in this debate is the provision of clean water. I would go one step further and say it is more than that: it is the protection of public Health.
The delineation could not be clearer. Despite the frustration, anger and hostility of the community, the uncertainty surrounding the issue and the commentary by numerous experts about the various levels of risk associated with the outbreak of cryptosporidium and giardia, the Government has chosen to notify the public and take the most conservative and precautionary approach to the problem. That should be compared with the performance of the former Government - the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition were both former Ministers for health - and its failure to notify the public.
The Government shares the Sydney community’s frustration over the recent and repeated incidents of contamination of our drinking water supply - and, of course, the boiled water alerts - but, its main and overriding concern is and always will be the protection of Sydney residents’ health. That means, of course, that the Government will continue to take all necessary precautions to provide safe and clean drinking water. The Government certainly acknowledges, as I have acknowledged on numerous occasions, the inconvenience that Sydney people have had to endure, particularly in light of the fact that the results of the high-level tests for cryptosporidium and giardia have indicated no significant increase in illness.
Overseas experience has clearly demonstrated that these micro-organisms, when found in water supplies, can cause serious illness. That is why, of course, the Government has taken such a precautionary approach. In addition, there is clearly a need to go beyond Sydney and examine national standards, because the 1996 National Health and Medical Research Council standards do not require testing for cryptosporidium and giardia. New South Wales is one of the few water suppliers in this country that requires the testing in the context of international experience.
Until we have a national approach to this issue there will always be uncertainty about what constitutes a notifiable risk or otherwise. It is, therefore, entirely appropriate that the Premier has asked the Prime Minister to fast-track the work of the NHMRC to establish national drinking water standards for cryptosporidium and giardia. Sydney Water in the meantime has benchmarked its monitoring program against those undertaken by major water companies in the United States of America. The three recent contamination outbreaks have, of course, provided us all with an opportunity to examine not only what happened during the specific incidents, but, of course, the management and the corporate governance arrangements surrounding the treatment of Sydney’s drinking water supply.
The issues, of course, date back to the previous administration when the path of corporatisation was constructed for contracts for Sydney’s private water filtration plants and when they were signed. They will also be the subject of a final report by Mr McClellan, who is conducting the independent inquiry. Honourable members will recall that the McClellan inquiry was established on 31 July once it became clear that the parties involved - namely, Sydney Water, the Health Department as regulator, and the private operators of the Prospect plant, Australian Water Services - were in dispute over the cause of the contamination and the appropriate procedures for alerting the public.
The Government took control of the situation because the Premier and I were dissatisfied with the level and consistency of advice we had received and because we believed it to be in the best interests of the public to establish an independent and transparent process to examine all relevant aspects. During the initial contamination incident, the Government appointed an independent panel of expert microbiologists to monitor the testing procedures for cryptosporidium and giardia and to advise the Government on the need for both the implementation and lifting of public health alerts.
The panel has continued to work with New South Wales health authorities and Sydney Water to establish the protocols for future testing regimes. The Government will maintain the services of the expert panel until such time as it is satisfied that the best procedures for testing and monitoring these micro-organisms are firmly in place. The McClellan inquiry has already presented two interim reports which have been released to the public. The first report deals primarily with the possible source of contamination, while the second concentrates more specifically on management issues, including the procedures in place for alerting the public to any potential health risks.
The reports primarily reflect on the first incident between 21 July and 4 August. In those reports, Mr McClellan raised the scouring of the Upper Prospect canal or changes in operation at Prospect Water Filtration Plant due to maintenance as the more likely sources of contamination, given the absence of any preceding heavy rainfall. However Mr McClellan continues to stress that the exact nature of contamination for this first incident remains the subject of intense investigation.
In his second report, Mr McClellan heavily criticised the management of Sydney Water for its handling of the first incident and urged the Government to make a number of changes which have already been acted upon. They included: the strengthening of the protocols between Sydney Water and New South Wales Health; the introduction of legislative amendments to give me, as relevant Minister, more direct control over the Sydney Water Corporation; increased transparency of information in relation to testing and monitoring; and the establishment by Sydney Water and New South Wales Health of contingency and emergency plans to deal with any future incidents.
In relation to the second and third water contamination incidents it must be noted that the high readings of cryptosporidium and giardia in the water supply immediately followed the greatest rainfall seen in the catchment area for at least six years. It is interesting to note that the intensity of the flow into Warragamba Dam is believed to have been the greatest in decades, given that it rose from a level of 55 per cent to overflowing in just ten days. Mr McClellan indicated in his second interim report that extremely high levels of rainfall following long periods of drought resulted in a number of possible causes for the presence of cryptosporidium and giardia in the dam.
These included a significant amount of faecal matter in the catchment area flowing into the dam, the scouring of settled sediment in the dam and the overflow of poorly treated sewage from council-operated sewerage treatment plants due to the downpour. Suffice it to say that Mr McClellan has clearly separated the first incident from the second and third outbreaks. Nevertheless, as a result of the later incidents, filtration experts were flown in from the United States and the United Kingdom to assist Australian experts in pinpointing the exact nature of the problem. These experts are currently working with the McClellan inquiry and will advise on ways to prevent further contamination of Sydney’s drinking water supply.
The Government will not do be forced into any knee-jerk and expensive reaction which may in the end amount to very little. It has, however, tightened controls in catchment management and investigated the establishment of a catchment commission. These new measures include tighter controls over council and sewage treatment plants, increased acquisition of private land in the catchment area, further restriction of access to the exclusion zones around the catchment - including tougher penalties and continued acceleration of sewerage facilities in the Oaks and Oakdale areas south of Warragamba Dam.
The search for solutions brings me back to the issue of national drinking water standards for cryptosporidium and giardia. Honourable members will appreciate that this has been one of the enduring frustrations of recent months and that is why the Government is keen for Mr Howard to instruct the NHMRC to use Sydney’s example in determining a national standard for cryptosporidium and giardia in drinking water. I suspect, of course, that such action will meet with a degree of resistance and reservation from other States and Territories, given that they either do not test or test irregularly for these organisms.
New South Wales will continue to maintain the most rigorous testing procedures for cryptosporidium and giardia in the country, based on
overseas experience. Routine monitoring for these organisms in Sydney water filtration plants began in late 1996 on a fortnightly basis. In November 1997 it was stepped up to include testing at customers’ taps. From June this year, and prior to the first contamination incident, that testing regime by Sydney Water was once again accelerated to include three types of monitoring; routine, project-based and event-based.
Routine monitoring involves fortnightly or monthly monitoring of source waters at the water filtration plant inlets, twice monthly monitoring of filtered water samples from the water filtration plant outlets and twice monthly monitoring of each major supply system sample at the customers’ taps. Project-based monitoring of selected source water catchments involves monthly sampling of selected catchment inflows that are considered to be a potential source of cryptosporidium and giardia. Event monitoring provides data over and above that collected by routine and project-based sampling. This program is initiated by events such as floods, water filtration plant malfunctions and point source contamination.
As I have indicated, testing for cryptosporidium and giardia is still not a requirement of the 1996 National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines for drinking water standards, yet this Government has implemented a testing regime that ensures careful and consistent monitoring of Sydney’s drinking water supply. As I said earlier, that testing regime is based on those of United States of America water authorities, including cities such as New York, San Francisco and Washington. As I said in my opening remarks, the situation under former governments was very different. Under the Greiner and Fahey governments some infrequent testing by Sydney Water and the former Water Board occurred between 1991 and 1995. Even with such limited testing, Sydney Water became aware of high levels of cryptosporidium in its drinking water supply in late 1992.
However, that did not encourage the coalition to step up testing, and it did not lead to any significant upgrading of drinking water standards when the former Government finally corporatised Sydney Water with 15-year-old, 1980 drinking water standards. At the time, the Leader of the Opposition, for the short-term future, was Treasurer and the principal shareholder of Sydney Water. I note also he was at one time the Minister for Health. Yet when asked at a press conference on 2 August why he allowed Sydney Water to be corporatised with 15-year-old drinking water standards that did not test for cryptosporidium and giardia he told reporters, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald
, "Cryptosporidium to the best of my knowledge wasn’t around then."
That statement clearly defies belief and demonstrates the extraordinary lengths to which the Leader of the Opposition will go to cover up and deceive the public over this issue. What was the Leader of the Opposition doing when his former administration was moving flat out to contract private operators to build, own and operate Sydney’s water treatment plants on the promise that the plants would remove 99.9 per cent of cryptosporidium and giardia from Sydney’s drinking water supply? What was he doing when my immediate predecessor, his colleague Robert Webster, repeated that claim to Parliament on 23 September 1992? Where was he when the joint select committee particularly noted that evidence from representatives of the Water Board and the responses of Robert Webster to the inquiry made it clear that the water filtration plants would deal with 99.9 per cent of cryptosporidium and giardia?
The evidence strongly suggests that the Leader of the Opposition could not have been unaware of cryptosporidium and giardia. The evidence demonstrates that he knew; he just did not care. Guarantees made it clear that the coalition hoped that the performance of these plants would deal with the problem it knew about but failed to tell the public about. On behalf of the people of Sydney, I feel insulted by those failures. That is, of course, in stark contrast to the Government’s handling of this matter. It has fully informed the public, told it the truth and kept it informed. Today the Premier released a report by Dr Primrose Hutton which makes it clear that as early as 1992 the former Government knew about cryptosporidium and giardia.
During the parliamentary inquiry questions were repeatedly asked by me, by Richard Jones and by the honourable member for Manly, and government officials gave substantial evidence of the potential problems. However, they made it clear also that the water filtration plants would deal with the problem. Explicit statements were found in the environmental impact statement determination report by Paul Broad, the then managing director of the Water Board, in the evidence given to the joint select committee by Robert Webster and representatives of the Water Board, and in any number of other places during the inquiry.
By the time Mr McClellan finishes the inquiry and delivers the remainder of his report these issues
will be dealt with thoroughly. The people of Sydney have paid many hundreds of millions of dollars for a water cleansing system that clearly did not meet the expectations and promises made by the originators of the contracts. Of all the members of this House, only the honourable member for Manly and I recall the difficulties involved in trying to get information through a range of Standing Order 54 motions and letters backwards and forwards to the players, but even then information was withheld. It might now be five years later, but I assure this Parliament that the truth will come out. We will determine whether the problem we are dealing with now is merely a set of specific and isolated incidents or whether it involves systemic issues that go back to the heart and cause of the rationale behind the establishment of water filtration plants as one component of the cleansing mechanisms for Sydney’s water supply.
Guarantees of 99.9 per cent clearance, undertakings that the water filtration plants would not cost ratepayers more, and guarantees that the dividend programs would not affect the capital program and result in the collapse of the Clean Waterways program will be dealt with, as well as many other matters, during the course of this debate. I was here in 1993, I am still here now, and I assure the House that my determination to seek information has not changed one iota between then and now. I will be here at the end of this debate to make sure that those who have their fingerprints all over these deals are called to account and that the information is made public. The results of the calls to expand the terms of reference of the inquiry will be interesting. There are people in this Chamber and in former administrations who will be called upon to answer questions by the time this debate is completed. I reject the motion and I urge the House, particularly the honourable member for Manly, to acknowledge the truth of much of what I am saying.
(Manly) [9.18 p.m.]: For many years I believed Sydney Water would prove to be the nemesis of the New South Wales Government. In a sense that is what is now happening. The history of this matter ranges over two governments and is characterised by incompetence and neither side of politics has anything to be proud of.
Nor have you, Peter. I have your Hansards
I listened to the Minister in silence and with respect. I ask him to do the same. A no confidence motion should be based either on maladministration or corruption. One of those matters must be proven before such a motion can be carried. Let us make no mistake: the State faces a crisis in the provision of a fundamental service, that is, the provision of water.
My first remarks are directed at the current Government. It cannot slide away from responsibility for the present problem. I am sick and tired of governments constantly blaming those who were in office before them. It is fair enough if it is in the first few months of a government’s term of office, but the Government has been in office for 3½ years. It knew about the problems in catchment areas and the water treatment plants. In fact, the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning and the Minister for the Environment were members of the committee that inquired into Sydney’s water supply.
The Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, who is responsible for Sydney Water, was a signatory to the majority report of the committee. He is aware of the problems that were anticipated by members of the committee in relation to the water treatment plants. He signed the document which said they should not be commissioned. A month after the tabling of the report and following the disclosures under Standing Order 54 the Minister for the Environment expressed concerns about the choice of New South Wales Water Services to build the Prospect plant. Hansard
of 10 May 1994 reveals that she said:
The tender evaluation panel had regard to four aspects: first, environmental assessments; second, project delivery assessment; third, process assessment; and, fourth, operation assessment.
That is when the successful tenderer was being chosen. In each case Wyuna Water was ranked first, but was unsuccessful. New South Wales Water Services was the successful tenderer. On the same day the Minister said:
The prototype testing carried out to date with your nominated process using both clean water and artificially dirty water has not convinced us that your process is viable with the media you provided.
In other words, the present Minister for the Environment, who was a member of the committee, told this Parliament a month after the report came out that she was well aware of the shortcomings of and misgivings with the Prospect plant. Those shortcomings and misgivings have come home to roost. The Premier’s speech today was completely unacceptable. I thought it was an amazing performance for the leader of a government which has had a motion of no confidence moved against it. This is the first such motion that I can remember being moved against any government during the eight years I have been a member of this Parliament.
The Premier spent 15 or 20 minutes telling the House that there were problems in 1992, 1993 and 1994, when there were very high levels of cryptosporidium. That is important information and puts the Opposition in a bad light. The Premier spoke about the report by Dr Primrose Hutton and the fact there were 50,000 oocysts per 100 litres. That is damning and supports the contention I put forward earlier that neither side of politics has anything to be proud of in this whole debacle. The Government came to office in 1995. If the Premier knew about the problem, why did he not do something about it?
Had the Government given proper care and attention to Sydney’s supply of drinking water, to maintaining the catchments, to the cleanliness of the dams and to the effectiveness of the water treatment plants, it should have had access to the Primrose Hutton report. The Premier should have had that information. He should have known for five years that there had been levels of cryptosporidium five times higher than those recorded at the present time. I had hoped the Premier would convince me, as a member of Parliament who has to make a decision on this motion, why I should have confidence in his Government’s actions. However, he has not spelled that out to me at all.
The Joint Select Committee upon the Sydney Water Board, which I chaired, took submissions and deliberated in 1993-94. A report was published in April 1994. As I said earlier, two of the Ministers in the current Government - the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning and the Minister for the Environment - were members of that committee and were well aware of its findings. The committee examined a wide range of activities of the Water Board and made recommendations. It examined the Clean Waterways program, how water should be regulated and the activities of the Government Pricing Tribunal. It examined catchment and demand management, environmental standards, strategic planning, the special environment levy dividends, et cetera, and made a series of recommendations.
I particularly want to draw the attention of the House to the recommendations that appear on page 97 of the report which relate to the water treatment plants. The Minister responsible for Sydney Water and the Minister for the Environment joined with the majority members of that committee and agreed on recommendation 28(b), which advocated that the contracts for the two water treatment plants that had not then been signed should not be proceeded with until a cost-benefit study of the plants had been prepared. The committee made that recommendation because of submissions it had received. In addition, it had serious doubts about both the benefit and cost benefit of the plants. I asked Mr Manzi of Sydney Water whether he could guarantee that cryptosporidium would be removed from the water supply, and he said, "No."
So the Minister responsible for Sydney Water knows that water treatment plants do not remove cryptosporidium. He knows that the choice of New South Wales Water Services as the successful tenderer for the Prospect plant was the wrong choice, as the Minister for the Environment indicated in her speech to this House in May 1994. It was clear the committee was unhappy about that, but the government of the day, which is now in Opposition, bulldozed ahead with it. The majority of the committee was held up to ridicule. I was ridiculed both inside and outside Parliament, and members of the Opposition today have mud in their eyes because many of the problems they caused have now come back to haunt them. Indeed, they have come back to haunt all of us.
The other matter of grave concern to the committee was the fact that there were no catchment management alternatives. There is a feeling of deja vu about what is happening in 1998. Five years ago there was a debate about whether it is better to manage catchments or to put in treatment plants to treat water of variable quality. It was clear to the committee - and the Minister for the Environment will remember this - that Sydney Water had not examined or priced the alternative of catchment management; it pushed ahead with the expensive, gold-plate option of water treatment plants.
The government of the day was quite deceptive. It seems to me that it knew that the water treatment plants would not remove cryptosporidium, because it was represented on the committee. It knew cryptosporidium was around. The comments on page 100 of the members of the former Government who dissented from the majority report make interesting reading. In their minority comments the Government members - who included the honourable member for Davidson, the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai and the honourable member for The Hills - said:
In late 1992, two dangerous gastroenteritis-causing protozoan parasites, giardia and cryptosporidium, were discovered in Water Board storages. The levels of cryptosporidium discovered were similar to those which caused public emergencies in the USA and the UK.
So in 1994 members of the current Opposition drew to the attention of the House that high levels of both pathogens were discovered in Water Board storages, and they used that to justify the choice of water
treatment plants, even though they knew the water treatment plants would not remove the pathogens. Today the House has heard that the levels were much worse. Recordings of 50,000 oocysts per 100 litres have been referred to. Nevertheless, Robert Webster went ahead and signed the contract. He is quoted at page 89 of the report as saying:
I am aware that the Committee is concerned as to whether we need these plants at all and whether they will open the way for the Board to slacken its catchment management practices. I can assure the Committee that these plants will provide the Board with no such opportunity. Perhaps the strongest incentive of all will come into play in forcing the Board to look after its catchment when the treatment plants come on the line. It is called a business incentive.
Robert Webster was convinced that the plants would work. Robert Webster went ahead and signed for the plants and Robert Webster was absolutely wrong. Since then the board has slackened its catchment management practices and become sloppy. Peter McClellan is moving towards identifying that the problem lies above the Prospect water treatment plant, not in it or below it. The same coalition that signed for the water treatment plants is now behaving as though its hands are clean, and its hands are not clean. The government of the day ridiculed people such as the present Minister for the Environment and me for taking a strong stand on this issue. The coalition is not prepared to accept its responsibility. The Deputy Leader of the National Party, in his contribution to the debate on a matter of public importance in May 1994, really got stuck into the then Opposition and me. He said:
Let me refer to the mud that the Opposition and the honourable member for Manly have thrown at these plants. In desperation, they have tried every dirty trick and used every little lefty cliche they could possibly conjure up: water bills . . . Sydney’s water . . . being sold off . . .
He said that we were making wild claims that the technology was no good. He should be very red-faced because, frankly, the technology is no good. It has proved to be a failure. It has not been able to cope with the variations in the flow of cryptosporidium. He should have known that. There were reports in 1993 and 1994 that cryptosporidium could be found in amounts up to five times those detected in the current crisis. Yet the coalition went ahead and signed for the treatment plant, which it said was wonderful. People at that time, including the present Minister for the Environment and I, said that it would not work. Of course, it has not worked. I am not going to get angry about it but the House should be reminded of it.
The coalition also resisted the introduction of tougher regulatory frameworks that were recommended in the report in recommendations 28(b), (c), (d) and (f). The majority of the committee recommended that there be tougher regulatory frameworks. Had they been introduced, we would not be facing the problems today. It was recommended that the board should publish for public comment an annual auditing system and draft performance measures by which key senior executive staff could be held accountable, particularly regarding the success or failure of achievement of water quality goals and the current state of water and the quality and quantity the plant operators have provided.
Other recommendations in relation to accountability included implementation of quality and quantity targets in the contracts being made a performance measure of the appointed board. It was also recommended that annual reports and external audits should specifically account for the success or failure of the plants. None of that happened. In the three or four years since the plants were commissioned there has been absolutely no accountability and now at the end of the day they have proved to be a disaster. The government of the day rejected a tougher regulatory framework when Sydney Water was corporatised. I am convinced that corporatisation of Sydney Water was a good thing. Had it still been a government department the information we received in the last six weeks probably would never have come out. So corporatisation has brought its benefits. At the time I moved an amendment to strengthen the role of the licence regulator. But that was rejected by the coalition Government.
What I am drawing to the House’s attention is that the movers of the no confidence motion have to be careful that they do not prove to be absolute hypocrites as they have a lot of blood on their hands. We need to set very clear water quality goals. The failure of national water quality guidelines to set cryptosporidium standards has now been brought into focus. There should be a clear accountability mechanism. Australia has fallen behind. In the United Kingdom a current discussion paper on cryptosporidium sets the level at 10 per 100 litres. The findings at Warragamba Dam last weekend or the weekend before were 10,000. The findings in 1993-94 were 50,000. The British standard is being set at one cryptosporidium oocyst per 10 litres. It is being argued in the United Kingdom that it should be a criminal offence to allow that level to be exceeded, that there should be continuous monitoring of cryptosporidium levels and that the results should be on the public record and constantly published. In my view that is the way forward.
The task of the McClellan inquiry has been enormously difficult. It could not have been given to a better person. Peter McClellan is enormously competent and is doing quite well. Frankly, the first report was a little wishy-washy but those were early days. He talked about bats in pipes or bats in caves and a diverse series of possible contamination points. This did not advance the matter much but the second report came much closer to providing good disclosures. The first of the two major findings of the second report was that there was a breakdown in the relationship between the Health Department and Sydney Water and that led to many of the event management problems. The breakdown was essentially a breakdown of the memorandum of understanding that had been agreed upon.
A few people are responsible for that. Peter McClellan dwelt for some time on that issue. The other major finding involved the cause of the second event. The first event was probably from scouring of the canal above the Prospect water treatment plant. The second event is much more serious and is due to very profound contamination of Warragamba Dam. It seems that over the years sediment had dropped to the bottom of the dam and dam levels dropped. After heavy rainfall, water entered the dam, stirring up sediment on the bottom, which entered the treatment plant. This should have been anticipated and managed. It should have been subject to proper technical studies by Sydney Water over the last few years. There is still work to be done on the way that is to be managed.
More technical and scientific work is needed on the next stage of the McClellan report. We need to decide where we will go from here in amending either the Sydney Water Corporation legislation or the regulatory framework. It is important that the inquiry continue. It will take some months before technical matters are resolved. I am confident that the McClellan inquiry is the way to go. I do not seek a royal commission, another inquiry or a parliamentary inquiry - the McClellan inquiry is heading in the right direction. What I do argue is the need for another interim report to the Parliament, which should be issued within the next month, making recommendations on changes to accountability and an amending bill. A number of peak environment groups have already made suggestions about what should be done. I have not read the coalition’s bill so I do not know whether it moves in the direction I recommend.
It is important that the role of independent licence regulators be extended to enable them to conduct their own reviews. They should have oversight of the conduct of the regulators, that is, bodies such as the Department of Health, the Environment Protection Authority, the Department of Land and Water Conservation, and the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning. Independent licence regulators should also be allowed to establish drinking water quality standards and reporting protocols. Sydney Water’s operating licence should be amended to set standards for giardia and cryptosporidium. There is a need for greater transparency. Sydney Water should be required to publish on the Internet all of its regulatory instruments, all results, all reports and all communication necessary to inform the public of exactly what is going on.
Although this latter point is not necessarily concerned with legislation, I note the need for a much more rigorous focus on catchment management. That focus should include the release of joint plans of management between the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Sydney Water. An urgent State environmental planning policy for outer catchment areas is necessary. There are many lessons to be learnt from the past but there is a way forward and it is clear that we need to move on and try to rectify the problems within Sydney Water. This evening there has been talk of dividends and the way in which they have been ripped out of Sydney Water. Neither side of politics has anything to be proud of. This matter has in many ways stymied Sydney Water.
I have spent most of my political life concerned with waste water management rather than with water provision, but I have always felt that ripping money out of a corporation that is falling behind with its maintenance programs is unwise. Whilst the credibility of Sydney Water is completely in tatters, I take this opportunity to ask that the more recent decision to spend $400 million on completely unnecessary engineering for the north side storage tunnel be revisited. Frankly, the money would be better spent on sorting out Sydney’s drinking water problems. At the end of the debate it will be necessary for honourable members to decide whether to support this motion of no confidence. The case against the Government is compelling. At least two Ministers served on the committee that knew of the shortcomings of the water treatment plants and supported recommendations that they not be proceeded with.
In 1994 a Minister admitted in the House that the choice that had been made was the wrong choice, as was disclosed by information provided to the Parliament. It is my belief that the Government has been fully aware of shortcomings and misgivings with regard to the water treatment plants
and likely impacts on the management of catchments above the treatment plants. Those likely impacts have transpired. This Government has now been in office for 3½ years and Sydney is faced with a public health crisis. As the debate unfolds I shall decide which way to vote on this motion. In closing, I recognise that there will be a battle of words from both sides of the House. The Opposition will attack the Government, claiming that this is all the Government’s fault and that the Government has brought about this public health crisis. The Government will argue that this is all due to problems resulting from decisions made by the coalition prior to 1995.
I make the clear statement that there is blood on the hands of both the coalition and the Government. Sydney Water has been a monolithic, unaccountable, lazy organisation for as long as I have been involved in political life - which goes back to the mid 1980s. In fact, I entered politics because of Sydney Water and its impact on my community. I have never been impressed by Sydney Water and I should have hoped that governments of the day would realise that the shortcomings of Sydney Water would come back to haunt them, as is happening now. Sydney is in the middle of a very serious public health crisis.
(Blacktown - Minister for the Environment) [9.46 p.m.]: I wish to extend the debate by emphasising the present position and the steps the Government needed to take to remedy the situation bequeathed to the people of this State by the former Government. It is important for the Parliament to understand the context of this issue and the fact that the Government has undertaken substantial environmental reforms in water management in New South Wales, with consequent increases in the quality of life for citizens of this State. The Government has taken major action on the sewerage system, on stormwater and on reforming the way we use our waterways generally to ensure that our children have access to safe water.
On 1 May 1997 the Government announced the $3 billion waterways package to solve current urban wastewater and stormwater issues by 2020. As many people are aware, the package included massive upgrades to sewage treatment plants in urban areas and a $1.6 billion program to protect the community and the environment from sewer overflows. Twenty-seven environmental impact statements are on public display until 1 October, involving the community in choosing the best options for dealing with the sewer overflows that have plagued Sydney since early this century. I certainly recognise the political glee of the current Opposition about Sydney’s current water crisis, but I point out that there are several ongoing water problems - such as sewer overflows - that have been experienced in Sydney over many years and that the coalition has shown an amazing disregard for the importance of those issues.
Following consultation that has taken place on the environmental impact statements on sewer overflows the Environment Protection Authority will place legally binding conditions on Sydney Water to reduce the frequency and severity of sewer overflows. In making a decision, the EPA will use community feedback it will receive as well as information elicited from the assessments themselves. In the interim a five-year, $135 million program to repair the sewerage system was announced in January this year. Apart from the major commitments I have outlined, the Government has announced the commitment of almost $400 million to rural water quality for the next four years, including $30 million to blue-green algae issues and $20 million to total catchment management.
The Government has announced the expenditure of $135 million on 80 projects under the country towns water, sewage and drainage scheme; nearly $50 million for sewerage works in 1997 and 1998; $60 million for an overhaul of sewage treatment plants in the Hunter; and $375 million to intercept sewer overflows now going into Sydney Harbour and send them to North Head for proper processing. The Government has set up a $60 million program to protect Sydney Harbour and other urban waterways in Sydney and New South Wales from stormwater problems. That money is being used creatively to help councils install pollution-trapping devices, set up education programs for their ratepayers and prepare strategic plans to ensure that all activities mesh together successfully.
The Environment Protection Authority has issued a legal direction to councils requiring preparation of these stormwater management plans. As part of the commitment to a whole-of-government approach the EPA has also issued legal directions to the Sydney Water Corporation, Hunter Water Corporation and the Roads and Traffic Authority requiring them to participate in the preparation of these plans. Our rivers and inland waterways have been increasingly under stress from the extraction of too much water and the impact of pollution. Clear evidence exists of water degradation. It includes poor water quality, the loss of aquatic species - especially our native fish - and declining wetlands. These problems have been recognised in numerous reviews and audits
undertaken at national, regional and State levels. I very much sympathise with the honourable member for Manly, who said, "We are not after more studies and reviews of this situation. Let us just deal with the current review and work from there." During recent years we have certainly had a number of opportunities to get the vital information that is necessary to get on with the job of fixing some of the problems.
The Government has established the $117 million water reform process to ensure that the Government is using these precious resources sustainably. This process involves local communities setting interim objectives for water quality and river flows. Communities will be involved in working to achieve the interim objectives through a catchment planning process. To refine these objectives the Healthy Rivers Commission is holding public inquiries on individual river catchments across the State. The commission has an annual budget of $1.25 million. Its task is to recommend to government longer-term environmental objectives for river flow and water quality, and strategies to achieve them. As many people are aware, particularly those in the Hunter, the commission’s first inquiry was into the Williams River, a major source of Newcastle’s water supply. The Government has already accepted the commission’s findings, including establishing a power-boating plan which balances the use of the river for waterskiing with appropriate environmental safeguards.
The commission has reported its satisfaction with the actions taken so far by government agencies to achieve its recommendations. Most recently the commission has turned its attention to the Hawkesbury-Nepean rivers catchment, one of the most challenging catchments in the whole of the State because it is home to a large portion of Sydney’s population and is a major source of economic activity for the State. Recognising the effectiveness of the commission’s processes, the Government has announced as part of its August 1997 water reforms six further inquiries by the commission for completion under an accelerated two-year program. The catchments concerned are Shoalhaven, Clarence, Tweed, Hunter, Woronora and Bega. The Shoalhaven and Clarence inquiries are now well under way. Those in the Tweed, Woronora and Hunter are due to start before the end of the year. In addition, the Government is encouraging communities in these areas to become actively involved in the inquiries.
The Government has also set up a public inquiry to develop long-term strategies for the management of sewage and sewage by-products in the coastal zone. The final report from Commissioner Michael Codd is currently before the community for review, before consideration by government early next year. In August last year the Government announced the second phase of its comprehensive water reform agenda. The Government has reinforced its commitment through the allocation of $117 million over the next five years. In approving this latest reform package the Government has made the tough decisions needed for establishing a healthy future for all New South Wales rivers and ground waters. In particular, the Government is acting now to integrate environmental improvements with a sustainable rural economy.
Other water reforms now under way aim to achieve clean, healthy and productive use of water. They include: agreed environmental objectives and community-based action plans for all our rivers; better sharing of water between the environment and water users; the first comprehensive statewide policies on ground water and weirs; clearer water access and use rights for water users; a significant adjustment package to encourage industry to use water more efficiently; easier processes for buying and selling water to encourage regional development; and regular monitoring and auditing of the scientific and socioeconomic impacts of the reforms.
To achieve the reforms new river management committees - comprising community, environment, agriculture, industry and government representatives - are being set up in each valley to determine the best way to manage our rivers and ground water. Committees are now established on the six major regulated rivers and the Barwon-Darling and Murray rivers. Several ground water committees have been identified and the Government now has the framework and timetable for establishing the remaining committees. The major tasks for the committees are developing and recommending river and ground water management plans and actions. The Government is committed to ensuring that these committees are equipped for their tasks, which is why it has funded the five main agencies to provide direct input to the planning processes as well as administrative support for the committees.
Other important planks in the Government’s water quality improvement program are Beachwatch and Harbourwatch. These programs are conducted by the Environment Protection Authority in co-operation with local councils and other government agencies to provide regular information to the public on the status of swimming areas, pollution sources
and incidents. Last summer, from October 1997 to April 1998, Beachwatch monitored and reported on 35 Sydney ocean beaches within six local government areas. Beachwatch is also undertaking quality assurance of monitoring in the Hunter and Illawarra regions. It has also been involved in discussions with local government in the central coast region with a view to setting up public reporting in the area.
The Harbourwatch program complements Beachwatch and extends monitoring to 53 sites in Sydney Harbour, Botany Bay, Georges River, Port Hacking and Pittwater. Daily Beachwatch and Harbourwatch bulletins are released and weekly beach reports are made available in the Illawarra and Newcastle press. The Government is also working to improve environmental controls on forestry, particularly to protect water quality, while recognising the importance of the timber industry to this State. A critical feature is preventing siltation of water courses as a result of forestry operations, which the EPA does by requiring State Forests to comply with a set of environmental controls.
Overall, this Government has announced and acted on firm plans to spend more than $4 billion to clean up the State’s stressed waterways. This represents an extraordinary rate of environmental reform that will help lead New South Wales into the next century. It gives the people of this State major improvements to the way water is managed and hope that at last we are on the road to using our waterways in a sustainable way. The Government’s commitment to improving water quality is clear. It has provided the policy framework and financial resources necessary to see its commitment through. This is in stark contrast to the coalition, which is only interested in water issues when it believes it can score cheap political points. We must not forget that just three years ago the honourable member for Gosford was spearheading an attempt by the coalition to allow open-slather access to our drinking water catchments.
The coalition was hellbent on disallowing a regulation that would regulate access to Sydney Water’s catchments. In fact, the honourable member for Gosford said at the time, "The regulation is ill thought out and has no scientific basis." He was more than happy to throw open Sydney Water lands to any activity, regardless of the consequences. His then frontbench colleague, Jim Longley, went even further. He referred to the Government’s arguments about regulating the catchments as "hollow" and "nonsensical". In fact, the coalition was advocating jet skiing, power boating, waterskiing, swimming and a range of other polluting activities in Sydney’s drinking water. It had no concern for the impact that those activities would have on the purity of Sydney’s drinking water and the health of the community. It was more than willing to put at risk these vital considerations. This Government has put a stop to that lunacy and is working to manage catchments appropriately.
Even when in government the coalition showed scant regard for adequate and rigorous water testing guidelines. It was the former Labor Opposition that repeatedly made the point that the filtration plants would not meet the most recent National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines. The former coalition Government accepted outdated guidelines and persisted with them despite their obvious inadequacy and repeated concerns from the Labor Opposition. It appears that coalition members, in particular, the Leader of the Opposition, have short memories. They are now jumping up and down complaining that giardia and cryptosporidium are only a recent phenomena.
Where was the Leader of the Opposition when the Joint Select Committee upon the Sydney Water Board was being conducted, particularly when the inquiry focused specifically on the potential danger of cryptosporidium in our water supply? One of my clear recollections from my participation in that committee was the Hon. R. S. L. Jones persistently questioning the officials from the Sydney Water Board about the extent of their proposals and the impact that they would have on cryptosporidium in the water supply. It was the Hon. R. S. L. Jones, more than any other member of the committee, who put the issue of cryptosporidium firmly on the agenda of that organisation.
What sort of parasite is cryptosporidium? Is it a virus or a bacteria?
I can see that the honourable member for Wakehurst has been drinking something other than water. On 4 September 1993 the then Minister, Mr Webster, told the joint select committee, in regard to the water filtration plants at Prospect and elsewhere:
With regard to the . . . new plants’ ability to cope with biological threats to human health, I can state that the plants have been specifically designed to meet current and historical water quality criteria . . . The current design will remove 99.9 per cent of crypto and Giardia as proved by the overseas studies, by the prototype studies at Prospect and in testing at the existing Orchard Hills Water Treatment Plant.
Obviously the Leader of the Opposition has never heard of the Milwaukee case, which has received widespread attention. Even if the answer to all these
questions is no - and I strongly dispute that that would be the case - how could the current Leader of the Opposition and a former health Minister make such a rash statement, expecting people to believe that an organism that breeds in the gut of warm-blooded animals, and that has been known to have been around for so long, has suddenly materialised in Sydney?
In fact, if the Leader of the Opposition had listened to the advice of his own department when he was Minister for Health he would certainly have adopted a precautionary principle on this issue. It is obvious that for many years the Health Department has been extremely cautious in alerting people to possible impacts of diseases. It is an insult to the people of Sydney that the Opposition has attempted to sabotage the Government’s handling of this crisis with such obviously inaccurate and misleading information.
The Opposition has had very little impact, even in the media, in its attempt to achieve its objective. The Opposition is more or less a fellow traveller to the more informed critics that have appeared constantly in the media on the issue. Even the Opposition’s campaign, launched in the Parliament today, has had an almost negligible impact on the Government. The Opposition is trying to shift the blame or to cover up its lack of action in the face of its own evidence. That is the sign of a desperate Opposition.
I appreciate that the honourable member for Lane Cove has entered the Chamber. Today the Leader of the Opposition has moved a dramatic motion of no confidence in the Government as a whole simply to try to get back into the race, not only to make an impact on the Government on the water crisis issue but to survive in the political stakes. If the Leader of the Opposition does not make an impact on this issue, as a number of media commentators have pointed out at some length for the last few weeks, then he will not make an impact at any level. Honourable members opposite are well aware that this is a testing time for the Leader of the Opposition.
Not at all.
It is an extremely testing time for him. Despite all the important happenings in the political world and within this Chamber - the Federal election and the excellent address by the President of Ireland - the Leader of the Opposition has still not managed to make a dramatic impact on this issue.
The next Premier. Will he employ you? Will he give you a job, Pamela? What job would you like?
I wish to place on the record that it is quite obvious that the honourable member for Wakehurst has been drinking something other than water. It is disgraceful that at several minutes past 10 this evening, during an important debate, honourable members opposite come into this House in an obviously tired and emotional state. Are you prepared to take a breath test, Brad?
On a point of order. It is obvious that the Minister does not have much to say about cryptosporidium. She has been talking about the Leader of the Opposition but she should desist from attacking me when she knows that her waffle is absolute rubbish.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Gaudry):
Order! No point of order is involved.
Watch yourself, Pamela.
I am trembling in my boots. That sort of juvenile behaviour -
Get on with it, Pamela!
No, I am not going to get on with it, because that sort of behaviour by members of the shadow ministry is indicative of the immaturity of the Opposition.
Order! I call the honourable member for Wakehurst to order for the first time. I call the honourable member for Wakehurst to order for the second time. I call the honourable member for Wakehurst to order for the third time.
The behaviour of Opposition members in this debate, as illustrated by the honourable member for Wakehurst, and the Opposition’s lack of strategy in the current crisis that is affecting the State, is a sign of a desperate Opposition. It is obvious that Opposition members have short memories and are not prepared to acknowledge the vital role they play in corporatising Sydney Water. Sydney Water was corporatised on terms dictated by the current Opposition.
Although the honourable member for Wakehurst, who has been so vocal in this Chamber, may have played an almost minuscule role in that process, others who are more mature and more
senior than him and who currently occupy positions such as the leadership of his party in this Chamber, played an active role in determining the nature of that corporatisation. Part of that corporatisation has brought about our current problems. Over a number of years the Government has tried to remedy the problem of Sydney’s drinking water. In the same period it has done an extraordinary amount of work to improve sewer overflows, stormwater, the health of river catchments generally, and has allocated resources to ensure that those improvements take place.
For the first time in the Opposition’s history it has decided it is politically opportunistic to talk about an environmental issue, and therefore this matter has been raised today. The Opposition is desperate. It is trying to bury its promise to the people of Sydney that at the time the plants were constructed they would be effective against these potential diseases. Guarantees were given at the inquiry by the Parliament, not only by Ministers but also by senior bureaucrats of the organisation at the behest of the Government, that the plants would be effective. It has not been established that the plants are not effective. The current McClellan inquiry will confirm the reasons for the lack of effectiveness.
It is quite clear that the previous Government took a flippant approach to water quality, just as it takes a flippant approach to its behaviour in this Chamber after 10 p.m. The Opposition was quick to pay lip service to the safety of Sydney’s water but slow to take measures to adequately protect it. The coalition has conveniently chosen to ignore its own involvement in the history of this issue. Today in the truncated question time the Government took the opportunity to talk about that history. On future days the Government will remind the Opposition of its pivotal role in establishing the current set of circumstances. When this Government came to office it had to pick up the pieces of the seven years of neglect and mismanagement of this State’s waterways.
That includes stormwater management, sewer overflows, the upkeep of catchment areas and the maintenance of high drinking water standards - water quality. Clearly, this Government has a vision for clean waterways - a vision it has acted on and will continue to deliver on. The Government will not be paralysed or forced by the current crisis to rush into expensive and perhaps unnecessary solutions to the problems that are in the process of being identified. The Government will not respond to the hysterical bleatings that have been made by people who should know better. I refer not only to members opposite.
I am disappointed about some of the statements made over the past couple of weeks by Robert Wilson, a former managing director of the Sydney Water board, the current chair of Greenpeace and a private consultant. Bob Wilson has had an important role to play in the development and management of Sydney Water over many years. He was part of the process that led to the current crisis. Yet, he is one of the people who has rushed to criticise both the former Government, which at various times has been his employer, and the current Government, which also at various times has been his employer -
That’s a gutless attack on somebody who can’t defend himself.
The honourable member for Wakehurst obviously has not been watching the news.
"Gutless" is the only word for it.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Gaudry):
Order! I call the honourable member for Gosford to order.
Unless members opposite have been completely blind, deaf and dumb - which I suspect on various occasions they have been, or perhaps they have had their heads burrowed in the shadowy corridors of the Parliament, working out the numbers for the future leadership of their party - they would have noticed some of the comments that have been made by someone who should know better. I do not care whether Bob Wilson is present in the Chamber tonight. It is important to put on record the fact that it is wrong for people who have been part of a historical process of creating these situations to continually criticise. It is important that we come up with some positive solutions, but we should not pretend that we were not part of the loop that created the situation.
It is not only important that we have a more mature response from members opposite but that we look for answers and at the need for positive strategies. That will not come about from simply pious whingeing. I expect it from the Opposition. They are not very good at it. They are certainly not getting much acknowledgment in the polls for it. Obviously, they are not being listened to in the community at large. But I would like to think that we could expect a higher level of contribution from someone who has held responsible positions in Sydney Water in the past and has continued to perform at a high level, particularly in recent years,
in the environment generally and in the management of waterways.
I am confident that the approach that the Government is taking on water quality is the one that will deliver the best outcomes for the people of New South Wales. While it has been an interesting exercise in recent days to trawl through the work of the water committee, which was chaired by the honourable member for Manly, I emphasise that the solutions to the current problems will be found now, the strategies that will be required to address those problems will have to be implemented as a matter of urgency, and this Government is committed to doing just that. Just as the Government has been prepared to allocate literally billions of dollars to solve water quality issues in a whole range of areas, it will not shirk its responsibilities on water quality and will continue to concentrate its efforts on the issue, despite the pathetic contributions made by the members opposite.
(Gosford) [10.14 p.m.]: Under the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy the Minister responsible for serious problems in his portfolio is accountable to the community, and if he is unable to resolve those problems he must offer his resignation. If there is one person who should be offering his resignation tonight, it is the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning. If there is one person who claimed to lack the power to solve this crisis but simply lacked the competence to do so, it is the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning. If there is one person whom the people of Sydney would like to see dragged from office and made responsible for this enormous and ongoing disaster, it is the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning. It was the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, the Minister responsible, who in this Parliament on 22 October 1996, in answer to a dorothy dix question from the honourable member for Liverpool, told the House and the community of Sydney:
I am aware of the article on the front page of this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald. All I can say is that today must have been a very slow news day. Sydney’s residents are supplied with the cleanest drinking water in the world.
The Minister went on to say:
To make it clear, I said I was aware of reports on the front page and on page 6 of the Sydney Morning Herald -
because the Sydney Morning Herald
had raised the issue of cryptosporidium in the water supplies -
As I said earlier it must have been a very slow news day. Frankly, attempts to beat up the likelihood of a cryptosporidium outbreak are little more than scaremongery.
The Minister continued:
Sadly, this is not even a new story. The article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald was referring to tests conducted as far back as 1992. Even then the draft report identified only two occasions when cryptosporidium levels were probably high enough to be of concern. However, let us be clear about this. Since 1992, when the first tests were conducted, no further unacceptably high levels have been found. Sydney’s water remains one of the cleanest supplies in the world. Our water supply is getting better.
Let those be the words engraved on the Minister’s tombstone: "Our water supply is getting better." That is the level of his competence in his administration. The Minister continued:
Four water filtration plants, representing an investment of $3.5 billion, are now coming on line. I can report to the House that those water filtration plants are currently going through their commissioning phase. The good news is that all the plants are either meeting their performance standards or they are performing in excess of design criteria, which will effectively remove cryptosporidium.
In 1996 the Minister pledged to the people of New South Wales that his administration was addressing the issue of cryptosporidium, that it was commissioning plants that would remove cryptosporidium, and he pledged, as I quote once again, that "Our water supply is getting better." The Minister continued:
Quite clearly, Opposition members are not in the least bit interested in what I have to say. In the circumstances, given an attempt to bring about a public health scare, I would have thought Opposition members would have appreciated an assurance from the Government that our water supply was clean and was meeting health standards.
The Opposition and the people of New South Wales would love an assurance from the Government that the water supply is clean - if they could believe such an assurance. But, as they boil their water each morning, as they boil it each afternoon, as they boil it each night, as they are told that they must not drink it without boiling it, as they are told they must not gargle with it without boiling it, and as they are told they must not clean their teeth with it without boiling it, they start to get a little incredulous of the assurances of a government that has simply lost confidence and the ability to resolve this ongoing contamination crisis. The Minister continued:
As I said earlier, the water treatment plants are performing . . . Once the water filtration plants come on line we can expect the removal of cryptosporidium to a level of 99.9 per cent - a very creditable result.
This matter received the attention of the present Government when it was in opposition and it received the attention of the previous Government. So there should be unanimity in this attempt to dispel some of the nonsense that is appearing in
today’s paper. As I said earlier, the cryptosporidium story usually does the rounds at least twice a year.
That story has done the rounds twice this year - once in July and once in August - and it will keep doing the rounds at least until 19 September and possibly until Christmas. Cryptosporidium is here to stay. Minister Knowles’ incompetence in 1996 brought forth a system of plants and monitoring which ensured that it would happen sooner or later, and happen it did. On that fateful day, 22 October 1996, the Minister said:
The last time the cryptosporidium story did the rounds was when Mr Archer’s book entitled The Water You Drink, How Safe Is It was released in March this year. At best that book can be described as totally misleading and a distortion of the publicly available evidence.
Would Mr Knowles now say that that book is totally misleading and a distortion of the publicly available evidence? I would be interested to hear what he has to say, if he would only put aside his rhetoric and the fortress-mode self-defence which he has adopted over the past month. The Minister continued:
The original report, which Mr Archer’s book quotes out of context, is purely a hypothetical projection of an economic risk analysis. However, Mr Archer’s press release, which accompanied his book launch, makes the outrageous claim, "Up to 13,000 people became ill and 100 people died during a 12-month period as a result of drinking Sydney tap water". That statement, which is a nonsense, needs to be put to rest. It is outrageous to claim that 100 people died as a result of drinking Sydney’s tap water. That nonsensical statement should be shown up for what it is. Obviously, there is no foundation for any such claim.
The Minister continued to attack Mr Archer. He further said:
Time and again, whenever there is a cryptosporidium scare, it is associated with the release of some new book or some fallacious claim about the quality of Sydney’s water supply.
There we have it! The Minister claimed that cryptosporidium scares are associated with fallacious claims about Sydney’s water supply. What does the Minister say now? We have heard all his self-defensive rhetoric and simulated outrage, we have seen him hiding behind economic figures and economic analysis, but at the end of the day the Minister cannot pour a glass of water from a tap and say to the people of Sydney, "This is safe, drink it." The Minister cannot deliver to the people of Sydney the most fundamental responsibility of his portfolio - clean, potable water. The Minister continued:
Cryptosporidium is a parasite which is found in the water supplies of cities all over the world. It is found in the gut of most warm-blooded animals and humans. It has probably existed in drinking water supplies since the beginning of time.
This is great stuff. I imagine honourable members rocked with laughter as the Minister gave this analysis. Clearly, he was enjoying himself. He continued:
Water is only one potential source of the cryptosporidium parasite.
The Minister continued with another splendid quotable quote:
Sydney Water customers can be assured that their drinking water meets the standards and the health criteria of the National Health and Medical Research Council.
I digress at this point because in 1996 the standards that Sydney Water was meeting were the 1987 standards. Yet in 1996, when the Minister spoke, new standards had been introduced, but Sydney Water was not observing them. The Minister was clearly and deliberately misleading the House when he said, "Sydney Water customers can be assured that their drinking water meets the standards and the health criteria of the National Health and Medical Research Council", because it did not meet the most updated criteria of that council. Sydney’s water met criteria which at that time were nine years out of date. The Minister misled Parliament - and that is but one of his many sins. He continued:
Therefore, Sydney tap water is the same as and sometimes better than bottled or filtered water. In addition to those tough standards, the Government has introduced the most rigorous management practices within the catchment areas to make those catchment areas upstream of the dams the most pristine in the world.
The Minister said that the Warragamba catchment is the most pristine in the world. So every time the Premier says that cryptosporidium or giardia is caused by bats, dingoes, dogs, foxes, or runoff from the catchment area, or talks about new catchment commissions to run the catchment area, or about more rigorous enforcement, or about buying up all private land in catchment areas, he should cast his mind back to the day his incompetent Minister told this House that the dam catchment areas are the most pristine in the world. The Minister continued:
I assure honourable members that residents of Sydney can be confident they are drinking water of the best quality provided anywhere in the world.
What a splendid statement on which to hang this Minister. How important it is that the people of Sydney are fully aware of the message he sent them and of the assurances and promises he gave to this House two years ago. I turn to other aspects of the
Minister’s record. As the Minister responsible for the Sydney Water Corporation he took more than two years to finalise a memorandum of understanding - MOU - for the Health Department to take over the regulation of water health matters. He took two years to sign a simple agreement with the Health Department about water health regulation.
That memorandum of understanding came into force only earlier this year despite the Minister having directed Sydney Water two years ago to secure the agreement. Sydney Water was criticised in the 1996 licence regulator report for not having finalised the MOU. The licence regulator, which issues an annual report about the administration of Sydney Water, drew attention to and criticised this Minister for his failure to ensure the MOU was signed. It is inexcusable that this important MOU, vital for public health and safety, was allowed to drag on in a leisurely bureaucratic fashion for more than two years. When it became apparent that the two departments were having difficulty finalising the agreement, Mr Knowles should have intervened and brokered an agreement. But he did not, and he allowed it to continue.
The next allegation against him is that he allowed Sydney Water to be drained of its financial resources to prop up the Government’s budgetary policy. In the four years that he has been the responsible Minister, the Carr Government has taken $820 million from Sydney Water in dividends or tax substitution payments. In those four years Sydney Water has been drained, not of its cryptosporidium, but of its cash. The money taken the last financial year appears in the budget papers as a $33 million dividend. In fact, the Treasurer took $147 million in dividends. The Minister did not even have the intellectual courage to state in his budget papers the dividend he was paying the Treasurer. He sought, presumably with the compliance of the Treasurer, to conceal it from the people in the 1997-98 budget papers.
However, the 1998-99 budget papers contain the correct figure of $147 million. What does that say about a Minister who presents a budget and says, "Yes, we will pay a dividend of $33 million to the Government", but in fact pays a dividend of $147 million? A public corporation that did would be dragged before a court by the Australia Securities Commission for the most misleading prospectus or the most arrogant and arrant failure to account to its shareholders. In this case the shareholders are Sydney water consumers. Last year alone the Minister took $279 million by way of dividend and tax substitution payments from the people of Sydney to pay to his State Government masters.
[Pursuant to Standing Order 122(8) Mr Speaker left the Chair at 10.30 p.m.
Wednesday, 9 September 1998
[Continuation of Tuesday’s sitting.
[The House resumed at 9.00 a.m.
(Gosford) [9.00 a.m.]: When the debate was interrupted last night I was addressing the issue of the dividend taken from Sydney Water and how this Government, on an ongoing basis, has ripped money from that organisation. As I said, $279 million was taken from Sydney Water’s budget last financial year. That money could have been, and should have been, spent on maintenance of Sydney’s water system, on the upgrading of its technology, on the development of research, and if necessary on the introduction of measures to counteract giardia and cryptosporidium.
How did all these dividend rorts occur? They occurred in two ways. The first, as I outlined last night, was through the compliance by the Minister with the demands of the Treasurer. The Minister was not prepared to stand up for the people of Sydney. Nor was he prepared to stand up for his own organisation. He rolled over to the Treasurer. The other way in which it occurred was through the compliance of the board of Sydney Water. Over the past four years it had been stacked with Labor Party mates. One was Peter Sams, a Secretary of the Labor Council. On Monday we had the appointment of Mr Michael Costa, another Secretary of the Labor Council. There has been an ongoing series of appointments of Labor Party officials to Sydney Water. At the very apex was Mr David Hill himself.
Mr David Hill is one of the most pathetic figures in New South Wales. That man has been dragged out by the Labor Party as its Mr Fix-it: the State Rail under Wran, the ABC under Hawke, State Rail once again under Carr, and finally Sydney Water under Carr. The record of David Hill is deplorable, be it in railways, media or Sydney Water. He stands accused of gross incompetence and simple self-interest. But, more than that, he stands accused of jeopardising the health of 3½ million people, simply to advance his own political career. On 26 July, when he interfered with the warning alert to the people of Sydney, for the most base political motives, his own prospects in the Federal electorate of Hughes, that man passed upon himself the judgment of history as the ultimate cynic who would trivialise and put in jeopardy the health of 3½ million people. He is, as someone said, Adolf Hitler come to town.
It is not just of the stacking of Sydney Water for the past few years that the Minister stands accused; he stands accused also of the placement of its senior executives. The international executive search firm Egon Zehnders had been retained to find a replacement for the previous managing director, Mr Paul Broad, but outsiders did not make it to the final interviews. The appointment of Mr Chris Pollett, another Labor mate, was engineered by Mr David Hill. So not only was the board corrupted and tainted by politics, but the senior executives of Sydney Water also were corrupted and tainted by the political process. Chris Pollett did not win appointment on his merit; he won appointment on his political connections. His incompetence, along with the incompetence of the man who put him there, David Hill, is graphically and massively illustrated on 26 July and following.
Let us look beyond the board to the administration of Sydney Water itself. The work force has been reduced from 9,000 to about 5,000 in the past few years. Many of those who have been made redundant were patrolling catchment areas. Those were the very rangers who looked after the catchments, those areas into which rainwater falls before finding its way into Warragamba Dam, from which we the people of Sydney draw our drinking water. The on-scale running down of maintenance of catchment areas, the failure to ensure that animal wastes and chemicals did not wash into reservoirs, and the failure to prevent pollution from sewage all result from that massive reduction in the work force. Such a drastic cut to the work force of Sydney Water, particularly of those who patrol the catchment areas, was grossly irresponsible. It is clearly a major contributing factor to the present crisis.
I return to Minister Knowles. The crisis first broke on 26 July. It was not until Friday, 31 July, that Mr Knowles removed Sydney Water executives from managing the crisis, replacing them with an independent assessment team. The Premier admitted that the resignation of David Hill should have been sought two weeks before it was offered. The resignation of the managing director should have been sought after 27 July, because it was on that date that the managing director had a meeting with the Minister and failed to alert him - according to the Minister, if he has any credibility - about the impending crisis in Sydney’s water. The managing director sat in the Minister’s office and said nothing about the great crisis that was about to unfold. The Minister was only informed about that afterwards, according to the Minister.
What chief executive is allowed to escape having committed a crime of that nature and walk away with $350,000? Was it hush money that he was paid? Why did he receive such a payment after only nine months when his incompetence had been revealed, and when his Labor Party connections had been revealed? What was it that got him $350,000? Was it a reward for good conduct? Surely not. Was it a reward for long service? Surely not. It has all the overtones of a be quiet and we will look after you payment, in which this Government specialises. That $350,000 should be returned to the people of New South Wales. It should be returned to the Treasury. It should be returned to the ratepayers of Sydney Water.
The incoming coalition government will investigate that matter thoroughly. I send that message now to Mr Pollett, Mr Hill and Mr Knowles. This whole sorry episode is not finished, and it will not be forgotten. It is not just the incompetence of Mr Knowles that is revealed. The Premier also has played what might be termed the blame game. He said the problem was the Australian Water Services plant at Prospect in Sydney’s west - a legacy, he said, of the previous coalition Government. Conveniently, he ignores several facts. First, the Premier is on record praising the plan as "a triumph of modern engineering and technology". Opening the plant on 1 October 1996, the Premier said:
One of the many factors contributing to the lifestyle that has made Sydney famous is the quality of Sydney’s water . . . the Prospect plant is fully automated and built to comfortably meet the quality required for both present and future demand . . . Sydney’s drinking water catchments have been kept in pristine condition through careful planning and management . . . Sydney now has fresh filtered water - crystal clear, healthy and great tasting.
So said the Premier of New South Wales. Let those words be engraved on his political tombstone: "Sydney now has fresh filtered water - crystal clear, healthy and great tasting." Sure, it tastes great; it tastes great after you boil it. The Premier made a point of saying:
This plant is a model of successful partnership between the public and private sectors and an outstanding achievement which will supply Sydney with clean drinking water for generations to come.
The Premier lacks none of Churchill’s attributes. He loves the hyperbole. He believes that generations yet unborn will rejoice at his announcements. Let them remember this one: clean drinking water for generations to come. The Premier concluded by chinking his glass in a proud toast to Sydney Water. The Treasurer also was seemingly unconcerned with the Prospect plant in late 1996. Sydney Morning Herald
journalist David Humphries reported on 3 December 1996:
Michael Egan told [trade unions] he was keen on the sale of Government owned business which few of us would have heard about but which pays the wages of 2000 workers and racks up $300 million in annual sales.
Mr Humphries was referring to Australian Water Technologies, the trading arm of Sydney Water. He continued:
The Treasurer talked about getting an "equity partner" for AWT so that it could fulfil its ambition of getting into the Asia-Pacific to compete for big water and sewerage projects.
The Premier and Treasurer were both enthusiastic about the Prospect plant and AWT only two years ago. What has changed? The Premier also conveniently ignores the fact that his Government had the capacity to renegotiate the Government’s contract with Australian Water Services to add pathogens to the list of parasites to be treated. In 1996, as the evidence mounted in regard to cryptosporidium and giardia posing significant health risks, that is exactly what the Government should have done. The Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning could have used his powers under the State Owned Corporations Act at any time to direct Sydney Water to renegotiate this contract to treat the water for cryptosporidium and giardia. When he became aware of the risks and failed to instruct a renegotiation of the contract, he failed in his duty to ensure that the people of Sydney were spared the crisis that now confronts them.
The Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning always had the power to direct Sydney Water. The State Owned Corporations Act was amended by this Government in 1995 in one of the first bills it introduced upon taking office. That gave Ministers the power to direct State-owned corporations provided the directions were tabled in the Parliament. The Minister did not act on the powers he had; he was not prepared to table his directions in the House. He ignored the warning of Sydney Water in its 1995-96 annual report that cryptosporidium was a growing problem. The Minister saw fit to describe as scaremongering any concern about this when the issue was raised in the Sydney Morning Herald
in 1996 and when he answered a question from the honourable member for Liverpool, a question that he had previously arranged to be asked. The Minister’s incompetence has been adequately demonstrated.
It is clear that throughout this crisis the Government has been concerned not with water management but with media management. It has been concerned to ensure that as far as possible the responsibility did not fall back upon the Government. However, it cannot ignore the fact that it is the Government. It cannot ignore the fact that it controls Sydney Water. It cannot ignore the fact that the Minister responsible for Sydney Water and the Minister for Health always had the full statutory power to intervene and act - the State Owned Corporations Act in the case of the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning and the Public Health Act in the case of the Minister for Health - yet they both failed to act.
The Opposition believes that a royal commission is required to investigate the operation, administration and finances of Sydney Water from April 1995 to the present so that it can consider everything that happened under this Government - the inactivity, the nonfeasance and the malfeasance of the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning and the Minister for Health. It can consider the massive incompetence of David Hill and the Labor mates connections of Chris Pollett. It can consider the whole administration of Sydney Water, which does not have a single microbiologist on its board, which has no technical qualifications, but which has been used simply as a healthy cash cow to flow a river of gold into the coffers of the Treasury, but not to flow a river of drinking water to the people of Sydney.
This Government cannot expect to enjoy the confidence of this House when it cannot deliver drinking water to the people of Sydney. This Government has failed in its primary responsibility: to provide basic services to the public. This Government stands accused of incompetence, cronyism and financial mismanagement, but, above all, malfeasance and nonfeasance in its operation of Sydney Water. The people of Sydney have lost confidence in the Government. The Opposition will not support the Government’s continuation in office. This Government must fall. This motion must pass. [Time expired.
(Badgerys Creek) [9.14 a.m.): The overriding concern in this issue must be the health of Sydney residents - those who drink our water, those who brush their teeth in our water, those who need to use water on a daily basis. Yesterday the honourable member for Gosford said that when the Opposition was in power the people of Sydney could always drink their water. That is true. They could always drink their water and they were not issued with alerts. Perhaps they did not get sick, but they are not getting sick now because the Government is doing the right thing and alerting people to boil their water. The overriding issue is the concern to ensure the health of Sydney residents.
The Government has not hesitated to tell the public to boil their water. Sydney residents can be assured that when they drink boiled water they are taking precautions against possible contamination from cryptosporidium and giardia. Compare that to what happened in Orchard Hills seven years ago. The honourable member for Gosford may not have drunk the water in my electorate, near Orchard Hills, where some of the highest readings ever were taken, but his Government certainly did not tell members of my electorate that they should not drink it at that time. If we tell Sydney residents that they have safe drinking water, we must assure them that in the future they will be notified if contamination is detected.
The recent water contamination has provided us all with an opportunity to consider what has happened during specific incidents, and to delve deeper and review the management, administration and corporate government arrangements in regard to Sydney’s water supply. The Leader of the Opposition said, in regard to water standards, that when he signed off, to the best of his knowledge cryptosporidium was not around. That is not true. The Opposition did not notify the public of the high levels of cryptosporidium found in Sydney’s drinking water supply in 1992, 1993 and 1994. In December 1993 the former Government found extraordinarily high levels of cryptosporidium at the Orchard Hills water filtration plant. Samples of cryptosporidium of 58,660 oocysts per 100 litres were recorded. But it was not limited to Orchard Hills. High levels of cryptosporidium were also found at North Richmond, which scientific experts considered notifiable. Such levels were not notifiable when the coalition was in government.
The coalition has accused the Government of being responsible to the people of Sydney and being honest. It has accused the Government of taking responsibility and informing the public of any danger. I would much prefer my constituents to know what is going on rather than not know what is coming out of their taps. All Sydney residents want to find the cause of the problem and want a speedy resolution to it. I defy any member of this House to say that he or she is a scientific expert and knows the cause. No Government members have said they know the source of the specific contaminants that produce such high levels of cryptosporidium. The levels were considered notifiable in 1993, but the former coalition Government did absolutely nothing about it.
In response to a front-page story in the Sydney Morning Herald
on 7 July 1993 entitled "Disease fears over bacteria in tap water", the current Leader of the Opposition issued two press releases to the effect that Sydney’s water was safe to drink, and that residents should not be alarmed by reports of the existence of the parasite cryptosporidium in the city’s water supply. To the best of his knowledge, he did not know it was around. The next day the Sydney Morning Herald
dutifully reported, "Water supply safe, says Board." Political expediency took precedence over public interest. How can the coalition again be trusted in government if it cannot keep the public informed? If one compares the Government’s notifications with those of the coalition it is obvious that the Government is not the one with its head in the sand.
The former Government has no credibility whatsoever on this issue. Although the Government was quick to alert Sydney residents about the quality of their drinking water, the former coalition Government quashed such information. It decided that 58,000 oocysts of cryptosporidium was not cause for notification. How can the coalition criticise the Government’s efforts and resources in seeking to solve this problem? How can the honourable member for Gosford hold up a glass of water in this place and say with a straight face that when the coalition was in government one could always drink the water, unless he is again lying to the public of New South Wales?
All Sydney residents must ask why they were not informed of the high levels of cryptosporidium found in their drinking water in 1992 and 1993. They must question the coalition’s motives in not making that information public. Perhaps it was the fact that the Orchard Hills plant, in the middle of my electorate, was in the middle of a marginal seat. Perhaps it was simply fraudulent to tell the people of New South Wales that they could drink the water. The former Government’s actions illustrate that this Government’s administration is keeping the city of Sydney informed. I am hopeful of a speedy resolution, because the Government’s overriding concern is public health. I am also hopeful that the residents of every electorate in Sydney will again be able to trust governments on these types of issues.
(Lane Cove) [9.23 a.m.]: Like many Sydneysiders I awoke this morning, went into my kitchen to have a glass of water - which is the way we have all been told to start our day: health authorities tell us water is good for us - but like 3.5 million other Sydneysiders I was unable to turn on the tap to get that glass of water. I had to go to the refrigerator, get a bottle of water and pour water from it. That is inconvenient and expensive. I have been told that I may have to do that for the next six weeks. I suppose like many
other Sydneysiders I asked myself why it is happening, why the Government has allowed it to happen and, more importantly, what the Government intends to do to fix the problem and ensure that it does not happen in the future.
It was adding insult to injury to find my latest water bill when I arrived home last night. Sydney Water states that we need to look after water because "Water is precious and scarce. We should preserve it come rain, hail or shine." Sydney Water should add that we will preserve a lot more water because we cannot use it. Speaking as a member of the community, not as a member of Parliament, I am distressed that in this city, which should be and has been regarded as one of the world’s great cities, we are subject to a Third World water supply system. We are in the seventh week of a water crisis. We are constantly told to boil our water to avoid those diseases that travellers around the world have been told to worry about - Delhi belly and Montezuma’s revenge - and now in this city we have Carr’s curse.
Two weeks ago I visited beautiful Papua New Guinea which, as we all know, has recently been through some fairly difficult times. In the hotels in Papua New Guinea I was not told to boil the water, I was not told to avoid drinking the water, and I was not told to use boiled water to brush my teeth. In Papua New Guinea I was able to drink the water. But I returned home to my city, a place that I am told is one of the great cities of the world, to be told that I cannot brush my teeth with the water. What impression has this left some of our more recent distinguished guests? For example, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was told she could not use Sydney water to brush her teeth. The President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, was told that if she intended to drink the water in this city she would have to boil the kettle for one minute to make sure it was safe.
Hundreds of thousands of visitors to our fair city are being dramatically inconvenienced by the water crisis, which the Government has been unable to solve. The water crisis began on 21 July. It is now in its seventh week. When it began we were told it was only a small matter and would be quickly resolved. Seven weeks later we are told it could be another six weeks before the people of this city can be confident that their water supply is safe. The usual players say they should not be blamed because it is not their fault. The Premier said it is not his fault, the Minister for Planning said it is not his fault and the very distinguished Labor candidate for Hughes, Mr David Hill, said it is not his fault. I remind honourable members that this same man, when asked at a press conference to drink a glass of water, was not prepared to do so, but as Chairman of Sydney Water he said the water problem was not his fault.
We could spend all day blaming the bureaucrats and everyone else as the Premier, the Minister and David Hill have tried to do, but the fact is that under the system of government by which we operate, in a crisis of this proportion the blame rests with those who drive around in their big white cars. The responsibility rests with those who sit on the green benches on the opposite side of the House. As Harry Truman said, the buck stops there. The Government can deny it all it likes; it can seek to walk away from the responsibility. But at least the former President of the United States had enough sense to accept that members of government have to accept responsibility for a problem and do something about it. The Government’s response to the crisis has been poor. It has been so busy throwing around blame that it has done little to reassure the people of this State and this city that it is doing something about the problem.
I have three points to make in this debate. The first is that the question of who bears responsibility for this problem and the way it arose has not been properly investigated. The Government has made much of the fact that because it adopted new standards for Sydney Water it now has a problem. I point out that the Government was dragged kicking and screaming into adopting the 1996 National Health and Medical Research Council standards, and did not adopt them until May 1998. The Government was reluctant to adopt the standards because it realised - at least I hope it realised - that in order to comply with those standards it needed to do one simple thing: update the treatment works.
In order to comply with the standards the Government would have had to reinvest in the system the money it had ripped out of Sydney Water. It was not in a position to do that because in the previous few years it had used Sydney Water as a cash cow; it had ripped money out of Sydney Water instead of reinvesting in capital expenditure to obtain the plant required to deliver water of a quality that this city expects. Last year $279 million was taken from Sydney Water’s budget by pressuring a compliant board -
As the honourable member for Coffs Harbour said, it was a board stacked with Labor mates. Those Labor mates provided that money to the Government instead of
investing it in technology. The board was aware that capital investment was necessary. I am advised that at the beginning of this year the board was aware that Australian Water Technologies wanted it to invest in upgrading plant. Earlier this year the board was advised that if Sydney Water was to guarantee the supply of water of the highest quality it needed to invest money to upgrade the plant. What happened? Instead of upgrading the plant the board did what the Government wanted: provided $279 million to help fund the State’s poor budget.
The people of Sydney have suffered as a result. It was a poor financial decision and huge claims may be made against Sydney Water as a result of the present crisis. The community is supposed to receive a rebate from Sydney Water, which will cost millions of dollars, and certain legal firms in this State are considering class actions. I suggest that the Government will be required to repay the $279 million to meet the anticipated claims. If the Government wishes to take credit for introducing the standards, it must also accept responsibility for not implementing the necessary upgrading of the treatment works to ensure compliance with those standards.
The second point concerns the deathly silence about the role of the licensed regulator of Sydney Water. Whilst the regulator has a limited role to audit compliance with licence requirements, I ask the Minister for Agriculture to inquire of the Minister responsible for Sydney Water whether that body has been allowed to act completely in accordance with its legislative responsibilities. Has that body been stymied in any way from properly investigating whether there has been compliance with the requirements of the licence for Sydney Water? It is an independent body and should be allowed to operate independently. I seek an assurance from the Government that there has been no interference with that process.
The community would like to know that the independent auditor of the licence has at least been able to conduct a proper investigation and has had access to all information required under its statutory responsibilities. I seek that assurance, through the Minister for Agriculture, from the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, who is responsible for Sydney Water. The Minister for Agriculture is a fair-minded and sensible gentleman. In fact, he is a former policeman and understands the importance of scrutiny and appreciates that the community wants to know that all processes in relation to Sydney water have been complied with. I am sure he will take that message to the Minister. The third point concerns the Environment Protection Authority. That authority is responsible for the administration of environmental protection in this State and responsible for ensuring that environment protection standards are in place.
I am somewhat disconcerted at the lack of comment by the authority. I cannot recall a statement about this issue from either the Minister responsible for the Environment Protection Authority - other than her comments in the House last night - or from the head of the authority, Neil Shepherd. I draw to the attention of the House the memorandum of understanding between Sydney Water Corporation and the Environment Protection Authority regarding the authority’s role as a regulator of Sydney Water. That memorandum was signed on 26 November 1996 by the former Managing Director of Sydney Water, Paul Broad, and the Director-General of the Environment Protection Authority, Neil Shepherd. The explanatory note in the introduction to that memorandum of understanding states:
This Memorandum of Understanding was prepared by the Environment Protection Authority and the Sydney Water Corporation, in keeping with the requirements of the Water Board (Corporatisation) Act 1994. Section 35 of the Act requires the Corporation to enter into a separate Memorandum of Understanding with each of its regulators, including the Environment Protection Authority.
The Memorandum of Understanding is designed to facilitate effective interaction between our two organisations -
and I stress the following words -
and ensure environment protection, restoration and enhancement at the least overall cost to the community.
It is clear that environment protection is one reason that the memorandum of understanding was entered into. The introduction to the memorandum sets out the role of the EPA. It states:
The EPA has the responsibility to protect the environment in NSW taking into account community values, scientific and expert knowledge, best practice environmental regulation and economic considerations. As such, it develops environmental policy and programs, carries out regulatory functions and provides environmental education.
What regulatory functions has the EPA carried out with regard to Sydney Water and what inquiry has it undertaken during the present water crisis? What work has it done to satisfy the community that the EPA has fulfilled its statutory obligations for Sydney Water? The MOU notes that some of the responsibilities under licence conditions and monitoring will be vested in the EPA. It states:
Compliance monitoring and reporting by Sydney Water is to be undertaken as specified in licences, approvals and certificates of registration issued by the EPA. Compliance with relevant environmental legislation and requirements in EPA licence conditions, approvals and certificates of registration will be independently audited by the EPA.
What compliance monitoring has the EPA done for Sydney Water, not only during this crisis but overall? What compliance can it point to that could satisfy the people of this city that it has been overseeing Sydney Water in any shape or form? I ask the Minister for the Environment, who is responsible for the EPA, to advise the community of the action the EPA has taken in respect of its responsibilities for monitoring Sydney Water. The MOU states that Sydney Water must comply with all relevant requirements of New South Wales environmental law. Surely it is the role of the EPA to ensure that compliance, but the EPA has been deathly silent throughout the Sydney Water crisis.
It has had little to contribute to the debate and has done little to restore even limited public confidence that, in its role as supervisor, it has been monitoring what Sydney Water has been up to. Another issue of concern to the community is the fact that there has been less than full and frank discussion about the data relating to water quality that has been collected by Sydney Water. This memorandum of understanding provides:
. . . data gathered or collated by the Corporation may also be available to the EPA depending upon circumstances. In reaching a decision as to whether data can be provided, the following matters need to be considered:
(i) whether the data has been gathered by Australian Water Technologies . . . for an external client;
(ii) whether the data requested is commercially confidential;
(iii) whether the data requested is still in draft form or is "raw data", not having been quality controlled.
Given the amount of concern expressed by the community about the data collected by Australian Water Technologies - and, indeed, Sydney Water’s new body recently established by the Government - I suggest that there is almost an obligation on the Environment Protection Authority to investigate that data and provide it to the community. The community is not confident that it is being told the full story, or that it is not being kept in the dark by the Government. The community would be reassured if it knew that the Environment Protection Authority was examining that data and independently assessing it. This MOU provides that opportunity and it is time the EPA came clean and told us it is fulfilling that role. I note with wry amusement that one of the provisions of this MOU refers to open communication:
The EPA and Sydney Water are committed to open communication and consultation with the community on key strategic issues affecting the regulation of Sydney Water. . . .
That particular clause should have been referred to David Hill. As honourable members know, David Hill took a somewhat different view about open communication. He decided it would be better to keep the people of Sydney in the dark about the problems with Sydney water, and not communicate with them in the way this MOU suggests should be the norm. The EPA and Sydney Water are committed to open communication. The Opposition would like them to implement that part of the MOU. The other part of this MOU that should have been more closely considered by both Sydney Water and the EPA is clause 4.2.5, which states:
Licence, approval and certificate of registration conditions should make reasonable provision for unforeseeable emergency conditions.
Someone within Sydney Water forgot to consider unforeseeable emergency conditions. The management response to the Sydney water issue has been less than edifying. To suggest that the Government has been in control of this issue is complete nonsense. The people of Sydney think it is complete nonsense. Those who have to boil their water on a daily basis think it is nonsense to suggest that Sydney Water and the Government have made provision for unforeseeable emergency conditions. I spent most of last night looking after my sick son, who had a very bad night. He was not at all well. As I was tending him the possibility that he had been infected by either cryptosporidium or giardia crossed my mind, and I suspect every mother in Sydney who is looking after a sick child has done the same.
And grandfathers, I would think.
Indeed. In fact, my father is looking after his grandson today, so I accept that. All people who are looking after sick children today would be concerned to think that there may be some link between the water and the illness that has manifested itself in their homes. I do not intend to blame the Government for my son’s illness, but I do blame the Government for creating an atmosphere within the city that would cause people to even consider that drinking the water is likely to cause their families to be ill. I blame the Government for not being in control of this crisis. I blame the Government for trying to shift the blame
to everyone but those who should accept responsibility, that is, the people who sit on the Government side of this Chamber.
A person who chooses to become a Minister should act in a responsible manner; he or she must accept the responsibility as well the good times. The Minister should take responsibility for the fact that in this State and city it is his problem. It is the Minister’s crisis and he has not shown the leadership that the community would like to see. Therefore, it is quite appropriate and within the leave of the debate on this motion to say that the Government no longer has the confidence of this House or of the people of Sydney.
(Gladesville) [9.46 a.m.]: The most accurate thing the honourable member for Lane Cove said was that she does not blame the Government for her son’s illness. That could be broadened to include most people in Sydney. They do not blame the Government for the problems associated with Sydney’s water supply. The people of Sydney are aware that a major health problem exists, but they do not blame the Government because they are realistic and open-minded about the cause. They want to see if fixed, and that is the approach the Government has taken.
The depressing reality about this debate is that it seeks to apportion blame. The Opposition’s objective is to find someone to blame for this problem. The debate has nothing to do with informing people about a major health issue or with trying to establish a process by which these problems can be avoided in the future. The process indicates how absolutely irrelevant and redundant such debates are. No doubt most members of the Opposition are praying that no-one outside this House is listening to their speeches. This debate has nothing to do with water quality or public health; it is related to the leadership ambitions of the honourable member for Lane Cove.
It is interesting to note that two of the conspirators against the present Leader of the Opposition - the honourable member for Gosford and the honourable member for Lane Cove - have taken part in the debate this morning. They were not given the guernsey to lead the charge yesterday. They did not speak last night and their names have been placed well down the list. That fits in with the very interesting body language and behaviour of the honourable member for Lane Cove, who sits quietly in the background when the pressure is on the Leader of the Opposition. When the President of Ireland was delivering her wonderful address the honourable member for Lane Cove could not have been placed further away from the Leader of the Opposition. This debate, launched by the Leader of the Opposition, has more to do with the difficulty he has in maintaining his position than with any other aspect.
I have learned several lessons - no doubt we all have - from the incidents in Sydney in recent months. The first relates to the fragile nature of the Sydney water catchment. For too long we have taken for granted the high-quality water that magically appears when we turn on a tap. Too few of us have given any thought to where that water comes from and the quality of water in the Sydney water catchment system: we have assumed that all has been well. We should be aware of the experience in other parts of Australia. I understand that outbreaks of cryptosporidium and giardia have occurred in Lismore and other places. It is interesting to note that news reports today refer to a similar problem in Adelaide.
Everyone involved in water quality throughout the nation is examining the issue carefully. It should be noted that it is as much a problem in every developed western nation as it is in Australia. The proposition that because of problems with the purity of its water Sydney has become a Third World city is false. As the pressure of development and population growth impact on water catchment quality in the future, these problems will have to be faced in most major cities of the world. As a community I hope that we will learn that unless our water catchment areas are maintained in a pristine condition there will be problems. The cause of the present water quality problems in Sydney is unclear. Several reports suggest they were caused by a huge inrush of water into Warragamba Dam, Sydney’s main dam.
A few weeks after having been at only 60 per cent capacity, the dam was full. Who knows what impact that has had on water quality. This crisis should make us realise the fragility and importance of our water catchment system and the need to protect it. I have been very pleased with the efforts of the Premier and the Minister for Land and Water Conservation who have announced steps to ensure that the issue will be carefully examined. The same course of action will be taken in every city in Australia. The water quality problem has concentrated our attention on our interdependence with natural systems. Unless we get the balance right, we will have problems in the future. The second lesson I have learned - a matter that has surprised me - concerned the reaction of the people of Sydney to the water crisis. To call it a crisis is an overstatement. The people of Sydney have
approached this water problem with great tolerance, forbearance and understanding.
You think so, do you?
If some honourable members do not believe that, I have only to point to my experience as a local member. Being a marginal seat, my electorate tends to quickly reflect changes in the public’s emotions or focus. I have not received one call, letter or e-mail about the quality of Sydney’s water, or about any of the problems that have arisen in the past three weeks. In my monthly column in the local paper I have included details about the water problems and information from the Health Department. No-one has contacted my office to ask or complain about water quality problems or about how the Government has reacted. No-one has criticised the Government, the Premier or the Minister or called for their heads.
The fact that not one constituent has contacted my office to complain about water quality problems does not indicate that the people of Sydney are unconcerned. No doubt all honourable members, certainly those with children, have been boiling their water. It is difficult to boil enough water to keep a family functioning. There is no doubt that the water problems have caused difficulties for the people of Sydney, but they have not contacted my electoral office. Other members of Parliament have told me the same thing - no-one has contacted them in anger or to demonstrate concern about the problem. In contrast, I received 600 letters about the Government’s position on the State’s south-east forests, and I interviewed 20 to 30 local constituents and received scores of letters about land tax.
The people of Sydney appreciate that the problem with Sydney’s water is a public health issue that must be treated in an orderly fashion. They are confident when they see advertisements in the Sydney Morning Herald
and hear radio announcements that the Government is attending to the public health issue in a proper, ordered and responsible fashion. The third lesson I have learned from this crisis relates to the behaviour of the Opposition. My expectation was that members of the Opposition - who want to be in government after the next election - would have detected the mood of Sydneysiders; that they would have understood the public’s concerns and followed a course that the people of Sydney wanted.
However, they do not understand the public’s desire for information and for health issues to be addressed. The people want to know the time frame for resolution of the issue. There is also an element of resignation, but certainly not a strong desire to blame individuals. Members of the public understand the causes of the crisis and they understand that it is not within the control of any Government. This problem is occurring in Adelaide under a conservative government and it occurred in New South Wales under the previous Government, but, unfortunately, no-one was told. The people of Sydney know that no government is to blame for increased levels of cryptosporidium and giardia in the water system. It is how the Government reacts to the problem that interests people.
That is what you will be judged on.
That is what we will be judged on, and what we are being judged on at the moment. I have to tell the honourable member for Georges River that the judgment of the people of Sydney is a positive one. They regard this as a public health issue and they are happy with the Government’s response. The people of Sydney do not want the apportioning of blame, the personality of politics. They do not want hypocrisy or political point scoring. In short, they do not want what the Leader of the Opposition did yesterday when he launched a senseless and foolish censure motion against the Government. The people of Sydney do not see the issue in that light at all.
What the Opposition has been saying throughout this debate has not helped. It has not helped the status of Sydney or the people of Sydney. The Opposition does not help by saying in this House, "We are a Third World city. What a shame that Madeleine Albright had to drink bottled water when she was here." That does not go down particularly well with the people of Sydney. I am able to understand why the Leader of the Opposition has chosen to take this path. For him this issue must have seemed to be a political lifeline. The issue of contaminated water has had an impact on every household in Sydney. The Opposition, which was having great difficulties in laying a glove on the Government, must have thought of this issue as one that dropped that from the heavens, much like the rain. The water supply is the responsibility of a government authority, Sydney Water, and the Opposition has chosen to lay the blame at the feet of the Carr Labor Government.
The present beleaguered Leader of the Opposition, must have been very pleased to at last find an issue that he thought he could use against the Government. The Leader of the Opposition misread the mood and, in his eagerness, developed a response that has been rejected by the people of
Sydney. The response of the Leader of the Opposition is interesting in that it has flipped and flopped all over the place. The Leader of the Opposition called first for resignations and then for special legislation. Yesterday he gave notice that he intends to introduce special legislation. The Government and the Leader of the Opposition know that his legislation will go nowhere. This issue will, it is to be hoped, be behind us in a few weeks and will then be forgotten, as will the proposed legislation of the Leader of the Opposition.
The Leader of the Opposition, however, considers that he has done his job. He has demonstrated that he intends to take action. As Leader of the Opposition he is required to do something, so he decided to introduce a bill. His legislation will disappear. The Leader of the Opposition then called for a royal commission. As the Premier pointed out yesterday, that call is no longer being made. The Government is aware of the reasons for the sudden silence on the call for a royal commission. A royal commission would consider the quality of water without fear or favour and would consider the previous Government’s record on water quality. Yesterday in question time the Premier released information which showed that when the coalition was in government -
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Mills):
Order! The honourable member for Coffs Harbour will cease interjecting. Such behaviour is disorderly.
When those who now sit on the Opposition’s front bench - those who have attacked the Government in this debate - were in office, many of them serving as Ministers, Sydney’s water contained levels of giardia and cryptosporidium far higher than those that triggered recent warnings that people should not drink tap water. Ministers of the former Liberal-National Government received that information but they shelved it - they did not tell the people of Sydney that there were problems with the water. Giardia and cryptosporidium traces in Sydney’s water are not a new occurrence of the past few months; they have been in Sydney’s water supply for the past eight years and probably longer. The coalition when in government was given information about that but refused to issue a public health warning. How dare coalition members raise the image of suffering children today, knowing that when they were responsible they did nothing.
When the coalition Government received information about levels of giardia and cryptosporidium in Sydney’s water it chose to do nothing. There was no way in the world that it would tell the people of Sydney about that, because it realised what damage could result. The coalition chose to shelve the issue. Everything fell into place yesterday when the Premier released this information - people realised why the Leader of the Opposition’s call for a royal commission fell silent a week ago. Someone in his party reminded him that when the coalition was in office, and he was a Minister, there were problems with the water but the coalition did nothing. The coalition decided that it would be best to drop its call for a royal commission, demonstrating the hypocrisy at the centre of this debate.
Coalition members are censuring the Government for doing something that they did not have the courage to do when they were in office. Coalition members when in office covered up this issue and now expect this Government to cop the blame for doing the right thing, for being honest and telling the people of Sydney when there is a problem with the water supply. Every time there has been a problem with Sydney’s water the Minister has told the people of Sydney about that. Coalition Ministers did not do so. It is clear that this motion of no confidence in the Government has more to do with the problems being faced by the Leader of the Opposition in his role than it has to do with Sydney’s water. The position of leader of the opposition is very difficult in any State. What does one do? One has to be seen to be acting - if a leader of the Opposition does nothing then the community complains that it never hears from him. On the other hand, if he starts to take action then many people say that he is complaining all the time.
The biggest problem the Leader of the Opposition has is not with the electors of New South Wales. The biggest problem for any leader of the Opposition is in keeping his troops happy. A leader of the Opposition, whoever that may be, has to ensure that the people behind him consider that he is doing a good and responsible job. The present Leader of the Opposition is having problems in that regard. We all know that there are grumblings and ructions within the New South Wales Opposition. The honourable member for Lane Cove intends to be Leader of the Opposition and would like to be in that position soon. In such a tense environment, the present Leader of the Opposition has been presented with an opportunity to take some action on a public health issue.
The Leader of the Opposition has decided to move a motion of no confidence against the Government. He decided to lead the charge against the Government by making a passionate speech that would show his troops that he can take a fight to the
Government, whack together some arguments, speak well and score some points that will strengthen his position and cause the attack on him from the honourable member for Lane Cove to lose some of its impetus. This motion is all about the position of the Leader of the Opposition; it is nothing to do with improving the quality of Sydney’s water.
One could well imagine a scene in the office of the Leader of the Opposition late at night some weeks ago. Perhaps it was raining outside, and the inside of the windows would be misted up from a kettle boiling in the corner. The Leader of the Opposition was asking his loyal advisers how the coalition could use this issue. Someone came up with the idea of introducing legislation. Then there was a suggestion to move a censure on the Minister. That suggestion was discarded in favour of a motion of no confidence against the entire Government, in the hope that it would put the Opposition on the front page of the newspapers and show the Leader of the Opposition performing. Of course, he will have another chance to perform at the end of this motion, when he has the opportunity to reply. The Leader of the Opposition hopes to increase his standing and to diminish the attack of the honourable member for Lane Cove.
The Leader of the Opposition has not been concerned about the people of Sydney but about the honourable member for Lane Cove, who, on the very night we have been talking about, was probably out duchessing groups of Sydney businessmen who told her that she was the best thing that the coalition had going for it and that the sooner she took over as Leader of the Opposition the better it would be for the coalition and its hopes for government. It is depressing that that is what has driven this motion. The Opposition has suggested that the Government’s actions in this issue deserve censure. A censure motion is mounted by an opposition against a government. If enough members vote in support of that motion, that is cause for great government embarrassment. The Opposition has suggested that the Government deserves censure on this issue. A motion such as this legitimately opens for consideration the record and the recent behaviour of the coalition.
In talking about the corporate body Sydney Water and its responsibility in this whole issue, it is necessary to talk about the present entity of Sydney Water. It was the coalition Government that corporatised Sydney Water and created the model that has led to the present situation. The coalition separated the Minister from Sydney Water and its operations. It pushed the Minister away at arm’s length from Sydney Water. Today coalition members criticise the structure that has in their view led to a poor response on the issue of water quality, yet they created that structure. As we all know, corporatisation of Sydney Water was the first stage in the coalition’s plans to privatise that body.
Honourable members will remember the heady days when the Greiner Government was managing this State better for the people. Its way of doing that was to corporatise public authorities and then to privatise them. Corporatisation was always the first step on the path to privatisation. Honourable members will remember that Margaret Thatcher corporatised, sold off, the water quality of England and that the conservative South Australian Government tried to do the same thing. The answer of the former Government to any problem that it might have was to jump out of government control of any authorities. The coalition lost government before corporatisation went to privatisation, although honourable members will probably figure that the page of its policy that it will not reveal until the next election is the privatisation agenda that covers Sydney Water and electricity.
Everyone knows that the Leader of the Opposition is committed to privatising electricity. If the coalition regains government, it will try to privatise Sydney Water, the State Rail Authority and Sydney Buses, but it will not tell us about that. The former Government set up the structure of Sydney Water that it now criticises. It is opposing steps to reform the structure of that body to ensure that public accountability through the Minister is maximised. The shadow minister has realised that there are problems with the structure of Sydney Water and has therefore determined that the answer is to make Sydney Water more accountable to the Minister. This Government proposes to do that, but the Opposition is concerned that it will allow the Minister to get too close. The coalition is still on its corporatisation path, pushing public authorities away from the control of the Minister.
The Opposition is locked into its shallow corporatist view of the world in which ministerial responsibilities are unnecessary, a barrier to efficiency, an outmoded hangover from the past. I can tell honourable members that it is not an outmoded hangover from the past. The people of Sydney expect Ministers to be responsible for the operation of Sydney Water, which will happen under the Government’s proposed structure. The most surprising and disturbing thing that I have heard in the recent weeks and months that water quality has been in the public eye was the information that the Premier released yesterday to the people of New South Wales.
I was shocked and saddened to hear that the Opposition is criticising the Government for doing something it would not do. The newspapers picked up the significance of it this morning. The Minister has advised the public when there is a problem, for when the giardia and cryptosporidium counts have reached a certain level it becomes a public health problem. The coalition Government did not do that. It had the opportunity and the information available but it did not have the courage to do it. The former Government was concerned that if it informed the public that high levels of giardia and cryptosporidium were present in the water it would cause a public health problem and the Government would cop the political problems. It shirked its responsibilities, fobbed off the matter and filed the information in a filing cabinet, never to see the light of day.
The present Leader of the Opposition; the would-be Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Lane Cove; the leader of Opposition business in this place; and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, were senior Ministers in the previous Government. They knew about the water quality problems but covered them up. If anyone should be censured it should not be the Government; it should be that mob over there. Why did the previous Government not take action? We really should not criticise some members of the Opposition.
Three members are currently sitting on the Opposition benches: one was a noble and well-liked Speaker - the honourable member for Hawkesbury - and the other two were members of the Government. They probably did not know. But certainly former Ministers knew the situation and they did not inform the people of Sydney. Why did they not take action? What sort of government was the previous Government to refuse to take action on a public health risk? What sort of people would decide not to tell the public but would dare to criticise this Government today for taking action to inform the people about what has happened?
People are concerned about our political institutions. Politics is anathema to most young people because they see the hypocrisy and the double standards of members of this place. The Opposition is a perfect example of that. Unless members of Parliament as a group realise that people, and especially young people, are not interested in political point scoring and hypocrisy and want governments to respond to problems when they arise, they will lose forever the support of the people, and that would be disturbing. I reject totally the politics behind this censure motion. It should be laughed at in this place. When the vote comes it will be defeated.
(Ku-ring-gai) [10.15 a.m.]: I often get the opportunity to follow the honourable member for Gladesville. I do not know how that happens.
It does not always happen that way.
As the honourable member says, it does not always happen that way. However, it does give me the opportunity to discuss some of his themes and put a correct perspective on them. The honourable member for Gladesville does not believe that there is a role for private enterprise to help society to progress. That is why he went on and on about these great bogymen and used scare tactics. The honourable member for Gladesville said that the coalition, of which I am a member, wants to privatise water, privatise this and privatise that. Let me make it plain from the outset. On behalf of the New South Wales Opposition I inform the House that the coalition has absolutely no intention of privatising Sydney Water. As the Leader of the Opposition has said on many occasions, it has never been its policy and will not be its policy. If honourable members had been listening when the Leader of the Opposition came back from the United Kingdom -
We will write that down.
It is in Hansard
. The honourable member can write it down and take his own notes. One of the things that the Leader of the Opposition said, which is held to be true by the coalition side of politics, is that the experience in Great Britain has taught us that water is a public utility that must never be in private ownership but must remain in public ownership and be accountable to the public. The honourable member for Gladesville has just said that the Government wants to make Ministers more responsible for our water system. Ministers are responsible. If the honourable member had taken the trouble to read the relevant Acts he would know that whether Sydney Water is characterised as a corporate body or as some other statutory authority the Minister still is responsible. How its internal structures work is not relevant to the debate, but the accountability and responsibility, are in the hands of the Minister and the Government.
There should be no doubt about that because in 1995 or 1996 the Labor Government strengthened
the Minister’s control over the operations of Sydney Water. Therefore, what the honourable member for Gladesville proposes is already the case: the Government is responsible. If the Government is responsible, why has the Government not accepted its responsibility and acted, firstly, in a way that would allow the people of New South Wales and the people of Sydney to trust that the water system is clean and, secondly, to protect their interests? If the Government is already responsible - and I have demonstrated that it is - why do the people of Sydney not trust the fact that we have a clean water system and that the Government has its eye on the ball? Why is there a deep sense of dissatisfaction with the performance of the Government?
That is why the Opposition has moved a motion of no confidence in the Government, the most serious motion that can be moved in this House. The Government has sought to provide only a political solution, not a real solution, to the problems of Sydney’s water crisis. I am not blaming the Government for cryptosporidium or giardia because they have been in the environment for a very long time - certainly longer than the Carr Government has been in office and before we were walking on this planet. They, along with other parasites, pathogens and other nasties, have been part of our water supply for a very long time. As long as bears have done whatever it is they do in the woods, those things have been in our water supply. I am sorry to talk in those terms but the Opposition tells it as it is.
Those are the bare facts.
As the honourable member for Hawkesbury says, those are the bare facts. Our modern society has progressed through industrial activities and developed as a civilisation. We have put greater demands on our own water systems and over the years have added to the pathogens and bacteria that have entered our water catchment areas. We have tried to solve those problems through a variety of means, such as sewage treatment plants and various other catchment management techniques. As society progresses and becomes more complex and as the demand on the water supply increases and more waste enters our water supply, increasingly sophisticated techniques are required to ensure a clean water system. One technique is water treatment plants.
The honourable member for Gladesville said that the former Government had recorded levels of giardia and cryptosporidium in Sydney’s water supply storage areas and had done nothing about it. That is completely wrong. He corrupted the debate by suggesting it is about whether health warnings were issued to the public. It is not. The debate is about the Government’s handling of the situation and its attempts to create a political quick fix by sacking the chairman of Sydney Water and public servants, and remaining at arm’s length so that the public could not make it accountable. That was the rhetoric from the honourable member for Gladesville. Because the Government has created a political solution it has lost the trust of the people. It is not a question of whether health warnings were issued but what was actually done and which side of politics has the correct vision to provide a system in which the people of Sydney can turn on the tap and be assured that the water will be clean.
I shall refer to what has happened since 1992, when I was elected to Parliament and when the coalition was in government. Levels of cryptosporidium and giardia were detected in catchment areas and storage areas during that time, and the coalition does not dispute that. It is on the public record and no-one would disagree, except the Premier and his mate the honourable member for Gladesville. I refer briefly to a report presented to the Parliament in 1994 by the Joint Select Committee upon the Sydney Water Board. I was a member of that committee and Government committee members were alarmed at the direction of the Labor Party and the Independent who chaired the committee, the honourable member for Manly.
They were pushing for a system that would reduce the quality of drinking water for the people of Sydney. They wanted to rely almost entirely on catchment management and keep it free of pathogens and other nasties that occur when humans interact with the environment. They believed that a clean water system could be created by simply locking up the pristine environment around Warragamba Dam and its catchment areas. That is patently crazy. In the past few days they have blamed the drought and flood, which are naturally occurring events. What happened to their ideological position of 1994 in which they asserted that catchment management alone and a pristine environment are the best solutions, making the environment more important than human beings?
That ideology has gone out the window for political pragmatism. Now they seek to blame the environment and hail the success of the water treatment plants built by the former Government. Honourable members opposite say there were levels of cryptosporidium and giardia found in 1992 and 1994 and that nothing was done. That is wrong. First, the Government, through Sydney Water, introduced a technique to increase the levels of
alum, a settling compound that helps to settle clumps of bacteria and so on from the water. Also, it increased the dosages of chlorine in the system to try to cope with the levels that had been found. The former Government did one more important thing: it committed the people of New South Wales to one of the world’s best treatment plants at Prospect. Honourable members should not just take my word for it; they should ask the Premier.
In 1994 the Labor Party, which was in opposition, opposed this measure. However, on 1 October 1996 the Premier opened this treatment plant, which the coalition built because of its concern for the safety of the people of New South Wales because of the contamination found in Sydney’s catchment. The Labor Party did not want to build the treatment plant, because of its ideological obsession with the use of private money to build public facilities. The honourable member for Gladesville, who is from the left-wing of the Labor Party, went on about this. However, in 1996, by which time the Labor Party was in office, it said that the water plant was tremendous. The Premier said:
One of the many factors contributing to the lifestyle that has made Sydney famous is the quality of Sydney’s water . . . The Prospect plant is fully automated and built to comfortably meet the quality required for both present and future demand . . .This plant is a model of successful partnership between the public and private sectors and an outstanding achievement which will supply Sydney with clean drinking water for generations to come.
Of course, that was until this year. Honourable members opposite assert that the former Government ignored the warnings. The honourable member for Davidson also was a member of the select committee. He would remember that at the time coalition Government members had to fight against members of the Labor Party and the Independent chairman, the honourable member for Manly, who did not want to use water treatment plants to cope with these problems. Government members were so incensed that they released a minority report, which is on the public record and which gives the lie to claims of the Labor Party today that the Government of the time did not inform people about problems in the water supply.
The minority report to this Parliament, which bears the names of then Government members who sat on that committee, spells out coalition concerns about cryptosporidium and giardia. The previous coalition Government spelt out why its solution, that of building better treatment plants, was better than that of the Labor Opposition, now the Labor Government, which did not want plants to be built. Members of the coalition Government referred to the document entitled "Doing the Vision Thing" written by former chairman of Sydney Water and a former environment minister of the previous coalition Government, Tim Moore, the former member for Gordon. The report states:
In "Doing the Vision Thing", Messrs Wilson, Harley and Moore refer (on pages 66 and 67) to their support for the water treatment plants by:
•warning of the detection of giardia and cryptosporidium
There it is in black and white, a warning to the people of New South Wales of the detection of giardia and cryptosporidium. The document continues:
•noting that the Water Board had to increase alum and chlorine dosing in an inefficient manner
•inviting the private sector to assist in funding and developing solutions to the problem with drinking water quality
•undertaking investigations for water treatment plants to ensure the protection of Sydney’s health.
The minority report, contributed to by members of the coalition Government of the day, continues:
The Government members share the views of the authors of "Doing the Vision Thing" that there can be no compromise on the issue of high health standards for Sydney.
In 1994 the coalition Government was concerned about what the Labor Party and the honourable member for Manly were doing. The report continues:
There is a persistent claim in this section that the Board was not interested in catchment management until 1993 (e.g. page 84), whereas catchment management was conducted for decades . . . The even more pernicious claim is made that "the necessity for water treatment plants is caused by catchment deterioration" (page 86). The majority on the Committee simply ignored all other possible reasons which were given for introducing treatment for water.
Coalition Government members further commented:
The Board acts on the principle that the high quality water from catchments into dams reduces the need for expensive treatment later in the delivery process. Prospect Reservoir management is currently under stress - settling times are near their limits. Prospect Reservoir was designed in the 1880s to detain water in storage for 180 days ("Doing the Vision Thing", page 66), but today water is detained for approximately two days. It has been estimated that at least two months detention is recommended for minimal standards of turbidity settlement. The third element in the strategy, treatment, is now necessary and the Board has to maintain a clean distribution system.
That is what I and other members of the Government in 1994 said in our minority report to the Joint Select Committee upon the Sydney Water Board. There are two ways to ensure a clean water supply. First, make sure that the catchment is clean. Sewage treatment plants and industrial and other polluters within a catchment must do their bit. However, the current Government has not taken the necessary steps to ensure a clean catchment.
Second, the filtration system must filter out and treat the water to make sure that pathogens - bugs and nasties - in the water do not reach the taps. In 1994 the coalition Government realised that Prospect Reservoir, which was built back in the 1880s, was no longer good enough to meet the demands of Sydney, a city that has grown beyond all measure. Prospect Reservoir was designed by engineers to let the water settle for 180 days. When water comes down from a catchment into a dam it becomes churned up, especially following the recent storms which the Government blames for its water problems. The bacteria about which we are now concerned are churned up and pass into Prospect Reservoir. Engineers have stated that the 180 days is the optimum time to allow pathogens to sink to the bottom of Prospect Reservoir.
That is one of the reasons Sydney Water adds a compound called alum to the water. Alum clumps or chemically bonds onto the pathogens, makes them heavier and causes them to sink to the bottom. These days the water is not allowed 180 days to move from one side of Prospect Reservoir to the other and then to pass along the mains to our taps. Because so many Sydneysiders are taking water from Prospect Reservoir the pathogens have only two days to settle - a much shorter period than the 180-day flow period for which it was designed.
In 1994 the former coalition Government realised, first, that the water needed to be helped to settle faster and, second, that a world’s best practice treatment plant was needed to treat the water that was coming through in two days instead of 180 days. The coalition Government committed a great deal of effort, time and expense to preparation for and building of a high quality water treatment plant. Why is Sydney experiencing problems now, and why does the Opposition blame the current Government? Since 1995 the Labor Government, which was elected with all its ideological baggage about not caring for private sector water treatment plants, has taken its eye off the ball. The Government has not been doing its job.
The current Minister for water, who also sat on the same committee about which I have just spoken, knew full well about the problems of the system, and he is now running it. The Minister has done nothing to improve the quality of either the catchment or the treatment plants. The Government may have opened plants but it did not bother to ask whether they are meeting world’s best practice health standards. In 1996 the coalition asked the Government why cryptosporidium was not being tested for, and the Minister said it was not necessary. The Government had no excuse for saying that, given that in 1994 the Minister for water was a member of the water committee on which I and the honourable member for Davidson sat.
The Minister heard all the evidence and knew all the facts. He was committed to catchment management alone and not to treatment. He has an ideological problem. Honourable members may remember the charade about production of contract documents. The then Opposition was worried only about who was paying for the project, where was the money going and whether the private sector - that nasty P word - was involved. The then Opposition did not worry about water quality.
Since 1995 the Government has been in control but has done nothing to improve the water system. Sydney has suffered a drought followed by a series of storms. The system could not cope. Worse than that, the Government actually removed catchment management inspectors whose job it was to police catchment areas and ensure that people did not enter where they were not supposed to be and generate waste in the Sydney water supply catchment. Let us not have such hypocrisy.
It is cost cutting.
It is cost cutting, as the honourable member for Georges River rightly says. Today’s Daily Telegraph
points out that during heavy rains in August all the sewage treatment plants within the Warragamba Dam inner and outer catchment areas had large overflows and were unable to process raw sewage. That raw sewage flowed into the creeks, into the rivers, and down into Warragamba Dam. Many sewage treatment plants, large and small, impact on the Warragamba Dam catchment. Bob Carr will go out in his typical press release-driven fashion and say, "We have fixed the problem. We have strengthened our power. We will provide a better water system." He will point his finger, look seriously at the camera, and do all the stuff that he does in his marionette approach to politics.
The fact is that the Government has had the power all along but has done nothing. It should have
been upgrading sewage treatment plants right throughout the outer catchment for the Sydney water area, but it has not done so. As today’s Daily Telegraph
shows, that is one of the things that must be done. The Government should upgrade sewage treatment plants in Ku-ring-gai electorate, soon to be the electorate of Hornsby. The Labor Party has not provided a better system for Berowra Creek, which it said it would do when in opposition. Berowra Creek does not lead into the Sydney Water catchment, but it is part of the Hawkesbury-Nepean system. Our children play in that creek and in the Hawkesbury River. People go water-skiing there, and we eat the oysters that come from places like Brooklyn, which produces some of the best seafood in New South Wales. Constituents in Ku-ring-gai electorate want the Government to upgrade our sewage treatment plants. But Labor, despite its clear promises when in opposition, has not done so.
The Labor Party when in opposition spoke a lot about its plans, but it has done nothing. The people of New South Wales no longer trust that the Government has its eye on the ball, and that is the reason for this Opposition motion of no confidence in the Government. Has the Government had the financial capacity to fix the treatment plants to a better standard, to test for these pathogens, and to upgrade sewage treatment plants? We know that it has, because it has taken $800 million in dividends from Sydney Water. Because the Government is the Sydney Water shareholder - in other words, Sydney Water is still in public ownership, and that is where it should stay - the Government gets Sydney Water dividends. Where has that money come from? It has come out of the water bills of the people of New South Wales.
A headline in today’s Daily Telegraph
states that $100 million is required to upgrade sewage treatment plants. The Government has taken $800 million out of Sydney Water. Why could not the Government spend $100 million of that sum to upgrade the sewage treatment plants in the outer catchment area? Perhaps the Government will respond to that matter later in this debate. Who knows where the Government has spent the money? Perhaps it has spent it on marginal seats, flashy solutions, or inefficiencies in government. I assure the House it has not spent the $800 million on public education, and it has not spent it on the sewage treatment plants, because those sewage treatment plants have not been upgraded.
If people think that that money is not coming out of taxpayers pockets, I assure them that it is. During the term of the Carr Government since 1995 the price of water has gone up from 65¢ per tonne to 85¢ per tonne - in other words, an increase of 62 per cent over four years. As students in the gallery who are studying economics will understand, that is about eight times the increase in the cost of living. That is how much more the people of the State have paid for water under the Carr Government. That has allowed the Government to take about $800 million in dividends out of Sydney Water, but it has not spent that money on upgrading the system and has downgraded catchment management.
I do not blame the Carr Government for giardia and cryptosporidium and other naturally occurring pathogens that have been part of the environment since creation, but I do blame the Government for not fixing the problem, which it knew about in 1995. I remind the House that the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning sat on the same committee that I sat on when we examined all this information in great detail. Secondly, I blame the Government also for being ideologically opposed to water treatment and for focusing only on catchment management. Thirdly, I blame the Government for downgrading catchment management. Fourthly, I blame the Government for its hypocrisy when it opened the treatment plants that it was opposed to, saying that they were the best in the world - in other words, proclaiming the success and pretending it was their own. Fifthly, I blame the Government for not keeping watch on the figures coming through about water treatment. Sixthly, I blame the Government for not testing for giardia and cryptosporidium, even though the evidence was that it should have been doing so in 1996. Seventhly, I blame the Government for trying to create political solutions, and for sacking David Hill and Mr Pollett, rather than taking final responsibility for creating a clean water system on behalf of the people of New South Wales
Under the Westminster system the Government has that responsibility and accountability. That is what the Parliament is all about. Our style of Parliament, with a Government and an Opposition, follows a centuries-old tradition of Ministers having to answer questions asked by the Opposition on behalf of the people of New South Wales about how they are managing the affairs of this State so as to make it a better place for us all. Notwithstanding that tradition, the Government cancelled question time simply because it does not want to answer questions. The Government knows that it has the numbers to survive this no-confidence motion. But it also knows, despite what the honourable member for Gladesville said earlier, that there is deep-seated dissatisfaction in the New South Wales community about the Government’s handling of this and many other similar issues. The Opposition believes that,
even though the majority of members of this House will not support this motion, the people of New South Wales have no confidence in the Government. [Time expired
(Davidson) [10.45 a.m.]: There is no more basic commodity used by human beings than water. There is nothing more basic than our expectation, as residents of a developed country, to be able to turn on the taps in our homes and drink the water and use it in food preparation and for cleaning, without jeopardising our health. Sydney residents, contrary to their basic expectations, continue to suffer from circumstances they have been forced to endure for the past month or so. They lack confidence in the Carr Government because it has not properly responded to the water crisis and has failed to meet community expectations over the past three years. This motion is about accountability and about the people of this State having confidence in the Government to look after their health and manage Sydney’s water system.
Sydney is facing a health and tourism disaster unparalleled in living memory. Our city - the city that won the bid for the 2000 Olympics and which will host those Olympics in two years - is being shamed and embarrassed internationally as reports filter overseas to large cities where people can drink their water straight from a tap, whereas we cannot. In August my father, who was recently in Oshkosh in the United States, could not believe that in that relatively small town the front page of the local newspaper carried a story about Sydney’s drinking water problems. That is typical of the image that is being portrayed of Sydney as a result of the bungling and mismanagement of Sydney’s drinking water by the Government. It has failed to live up to the expectations of the people of this State that it could manage Sydney’s drinking water, and it has failed them in its response to the crisis.
There has been an abject lack of accountability, from the Premier down. The Premier, who has absolute authority and responsibility, has refused to accept that responsibility. The Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning has also refused to accept responsibility. The Westminster parliamentary system requires that a Minister should accept responsibility for things that go wrong within his or her portfolio. Ministers certainly accept responsibility for things that go right. The Premier and his Ministers accepted responsibility and credit when they attended the opening of the Prospect water treatment plant. Equally, they have to shoulder absolute responsibility and accountability when things go wrong. They have failed to do that. They sought scapegoats, they blamed management, and they sacked the chairman and the managing director, but they have not accepted responsibility for their actions and mismanagement.
I turn to the management of Sydney Water over the past 3½ years under the Carr Government. In four successive Carr Government budgets, dividends and tax equivalents of $820 million have been taken out of the Sydney Water budget. That money was spent elsewhere notwithstanding a crystal clear requirement that funds needed to be spent on sewage treatment, particularly in the Warragamba catchment area, and also on water treatment to guarantee a safe water supply. Money has been taken out of successive budgets from 1995-96 to 1998-99. In the 1995-96 budget $133 million was extracted; in the 1996-97 budget a little more than $158 million was taken out; in the 1997-98 budget $250 million was taken out; and $279 million is budgeted to be removed this financial year. However, it is quite likely, given what happened last financial year, that that amount could be higher.
Last year the Government admitted and conceded that it had budgeted to take $125 million but actually took $250 million. That money came from the ratepayers, the public of Sydney, who expect to get not only quality sewage treatment for disposal into the waterways but also 100 per cent safe drinking water coming out of their taps. The Government has failed because it has taken that money, and has frittered it away in Labor seats on purposes other than health and education, for politically motivated and wasteful reasons. Over that time dividends have increased and the Sydney public has paid more for water. Just four years ago water cost 65¢ per kilolitre; today that charge has increased to 85¢ per kilolitre. The Carr Government’s plan was that by 1999 water would cost 95¢ per kilolitre.
The Government, however, has put a temporary hold on that projected increase as it tries to remedy its own mess and to address the public perception that the Government is wasting money. That perception, unfortunately, is based on fact. For the past four years water charges, dividend raids and tax equivalent extractions from Sydney Water budgets have increased, accompanied by consequential capital expenditure reduction. That money should have been spent on treating effluent flowing from dwellings throughout the Sydney basin to deep-water outfalls or into the Hawkesbury-Nepean system, or on dealing with effluent from towns within the Warragamba catchment.
For example, in 1993-94, the year of the inquiry by the Joint Select Committee upon the
Sydney Water Board, $315 million was spent on capital expenditure. That money was spent on upgrades and improvements to the sewerage and water systems. However, in 1996-97 only $145 million was spent - a drop of $180 million - but not on upgrading and improving capital works. That money was not kept in Sydney Water, nor was it spent on any recurrent purpose elsewhere within the Sydney Water budget, but it was plucked out and taken by Treasurer Michael Egan, with the concurrence of the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning and the Premier. That money should have been spent in protecting the health of the people of Sydney, but it was spent elsewhere.
David Hill was one of many political appointments by the Labor Party throughout the public sector. He was appointed as chairman of Sydney Water, following a less than glorious career in other Labor Party appointments at both Federal and State levels. When it came to the crunch at Sydney Water, David Hill made the wrong decisions and tried to cover up a health problem. When Sydney Water was warned about the danger, David Hill did not want to disclose to the public that it faced a disaster and that lives and health were at risk. He wanted to cover up. David Hill has been the temporary fall guy, and he might not be the last.
The Government required the resignation of and managed to get rid of Chris Pollett, but I am sure he will pop up somewhere else. On 3 October David Hill will face a real acid test in his federal electorate. Will voters, remembering what he did a month ago to the people of Sydney, believe that he will credibly represent their interests? Sydney Water did not spend that money on upgrading sewage treatment works and drinking water quality. No warning was given to the public even though test results showed high levels of giardia and cryptosporidium. I have been advised that evidence is available about test results which showed high levels of contamination at least one month before this crisis.
More than one month before admitting high levels of cryptosporidium and giardia, the Government possessed test results which showed that a potential health disaster was knocking on our doors. The Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning is the Minister responsible for water. He appointed David Hill and is responsible for the failure of Sydney Water to notify the Department of Health. The Minister is one person who, based on the evidence gained during the joint select committee hearing in 1993-94, should have known about the risks. He should have known what the problems were, but he did not. In 1996 the Minister labelled concerns raised about cryptosporidium as scaremongering. In this House he said:
Frankly, attempts to beat up the likelihood of a cryptosporidium outbreak are little more than scaremongery.
That is what he said less than two years ago when he pooh-poohed any suggestion that the health of those who drink Sydney water was at risk. Clearly, their health was at risk then, as it is now. Despite concerns raised earlier, the Minister failed to respond. Several weeks ago the Leader of the Opposition disclosed that Sydney Water executives and managers, travelling first class and staying at five-star hotels, had studied experience overseas and evaluated how it could be applied to improve Sydney’s water. However, the million-odd dollars spent on those executives achieved nothing. Not one of them visited Milwaukee, where in 1993 the worst recorded outbreak of cryptosporidium left 100 people dead and numerous others suffering from poor health. No-one bothered to go to Milwaukee to find out what solutions were put in place all those years ago. That simply shows the abject irresponsibility of the Government and Sydney Water in addressing potential concerns about the health of Sydneysiders.
One must ask whether Sydney Water notified the Department of Health each time positive test results for cryptosporidium and giardia were recorded in the catchment, the water system or the water treatment canals. The former managing director, Bob Wilson, the former Minister, Tim Moore, and David Harley have said that under the coalition Government the Department of Health was immediately notified when cryptosporidium and giardia were detected. Clearly, that practice has stopped since the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning assumed responsibility for Sydney Water. Was it the Minister or the Chairman of Sydney Water, David Hill, who directed that the Health Department not be notified of the positive tests? Obviously, David Hill intervened in August and decided that the Health Department should not be notified of the positive readings.
The Government will not come clean on when the tests for cryptosporidium and giardia were positive and when the Health Department was notified that there was risk to the four million people living in Sydney. It has not been forthcoming with answers to those questions. The second reason the Opposition does not have confidence in the Government is its response to the crisis. As I said, the Government has refused to accept responsibility. Ministers have tried to blame the former coalition Government and the former Sydney Water board.
The Government has failed to accept responsibility for the crisis, despite the fact that during the past three to four years it has been aware of potential problems. In particular, the Opposition has sheeted home the lack of response to the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning.
Sydney Water made various announcements about the need to boil tap water, and the Government has trotted out various Ministers. The situation last Friday was ludicrous. Within 12 hours of the Minister for Health saying that the crisis was basically over and that the people of Sydney could resume drinking water without boiling it first the story had changed. After weeks of on again, off again alerts about the need to boil water in Sydney we have now been told that there is no solution to the problem. Sydney Water does not know what to do and the Government cannot guarantee that people will not have to boil their water for not only two weeks but perhaps as long as six months. The Government has failed to find a long-term solution.
The Government’s response to calls for compensation for the people of Sydney has been ordinary and inadequate. It has treated the people of Sydney with contempt by offering compensation of $15 at the same time as it proposes to substantially increase water charges. To put it simply, the fact that the Government is not prepared to offer reasonable compensation is symbolic of its lack of concern and its contempt for water users in Sydney. The only step taken by the Government towards a long-term solution has been an announcement in the media about catchment management. As the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai said, the Government has provided no real explanations and it has not been prepared to answer to the House.
Yesterday the Government curtailed question time so that Ministers would not have to answer questions asked on behalf of the people of Sydney about possible solutions and what responsibility it will take for the crisis. The announcements about catchment management relate primarily to controlling the catchment. A body will be established to examine the catchment. The Warragamba catchment area, which is massive, covers the Blue Mountains and extends as far south as Picton and the southern highlands. Development is taking place in towns covered by the catchment area and urban land is used for various purposes. By and large, 90 per cent of the land is relatively pristine. Unless the towns are wiped off the map the potential sources of pollution and the potential sources of giardia and cryptosporidium cannot be entirely removed from Sydney’s water supply.
Obviously the Government can go a long way towards minimising the potential sources of pollution, including giardia and cryptosporidium. Money could be spent - something which the Government has not done until now - on treating the sewage effluent from the towns and properties in the catchment area. A number of steps can be taken to reduce the number of cattle grazing within the catchment area, but humans cannot be removed from the area. Regardless of what people think or say about catchment management one cannot stop birds from flying, kangaroos from hopping or wild pigs from roaming into the catchment area. As long as there are animals in the Warragamba catchment area there will always be potential sources of giardia and cryptosporidium in the catchment and, consequently, in Sydney’s water supply.
While catchment management is an important factor - it is important to minimise potential pollutants or sources of disease in a catchment area - it is not the answer to delivering safe, 100 per cent pure drinking water to residential homes. I was a member of the Joint Select Committee upon the Sydney Water Board, as was the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai and the honourable member for The Hills. The Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning and the Minister for the Environment, who were also members of the committee, played an active role in supporting the majority recommendations relating to Sydney Water’s treatment plants. The coalition members of the committee vigorously opposed those recommendations for reasons that I shall outline later. It should be noted that the committee was chaired by the honourable member for Manly.
What the honourable member for Manly said in July and August, which is when the crisis first broke, during radio interviews in which he implied that the crisis was the fault of the former coalition Government and that the committee’s recommendations would have solved the problem if adopted is abject rubbish. The honourable member for Manly should take greater responsibility for the health of the public, given his former occupation. However, the report of the committee he chaired contained no recommendations about addressing the quality of Sydney’s drinking water or about the potential impact that drinking the water in Sydney could have on the health of the public. The honourable member, together with the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, had significant doubts about proceeding with the water treatment plants and strongly recommended that the only priority should be management of the Warragamba catchment.
As I said, no matter what a government does in relation to a catchment, it cannot guarantee that the quality of water flowing from it is 100 per cent safe for the health of water users. The majority of members of the committee - that is, essentially, the Labor members and the honourable member for Manly - adopted a suggestion that the expenditure of sums as low as $1.7 million a year on catchment management programs could "eliminate the need for extra and expensive filtration processes." That was the evidence of an officer of a branch office of the Department of Conservation and Land Management. It is farcical to suggest that expenditure of $1.7 million could eliminate the potential problem of giardia and cryptosporidium in our water supply.
That evidence was rejected by the department.
As my colleague the honourable member for the Hills points out, the department denied that assertion. Labor Party stooges within that branch of the department made that submission to the parliamentary inquiry. Dissenting members of the Committee, the Liberal Party members, noted in their comments on the report that certain evidence was ignored in the majority report. The first of that ignored evidence was that Sydney water at that time did not meet the 1987 health guidelines set by the National Health and Medical Research Council. Those health guidelines should have been met. Sydney Water, which was then the Water Board, was working towards meeting those guidelines, but that could only be done by constructing and installing those water treatment plants. The majority of members of the Committee - the Labor Party members and the honourable member for Manly - ignored that evidence and asserted that the water treatment plants were not required. Another concern raised by the Liberal Party members of the Committee was:
In late 1992, two dangerous gastroenteritis-causing protozoan parasites, giardia and cryptosporidium, were discovered in Water Board storages. The levels of cryptosporidium discovered were similar to those which caused public emergencies in the USA and the UK.
In "Doing the Vision Thing", Messrs Wilson, Harley and Moore refer (on pages 66 and 67) to their support for the water treatment plants by:
•warning of the detection of giardia and cryptosporidium
•noting that the Water Board had to increase alum and chlorine dosing in an inefficient manner
•inviting the private sector to assist in funding and developing solutions to the problem with drinking water quality
•undertaking investigations for water treatment plants to ensure the protection of Sydney’s health.
That evidence was given on oath to the parliamentary Committee. Finally I quote from that minority report:
The Government Members share the views of the authors of "Doing the Vision Thing" that there can be no compromise on the issue of high health standards for Sydney.
That was the position that coalition members took in 1994, when in government. When we sought to incorporate that statement in the majority report, it was opposed by the Labor Party, by Minister Knowles, by Minister Allan and by the honourable member for Manly. That is an indication of the lack of responsibility that they exhibited in relation to the quality of water that Sydney people would receive through their taps. That was a measure of their concern about the health of the public of Sydney. Coalition members of the committee took a right and proper attitude to their responsibility of ensuring as far as possible that no recommendation of the committee would be to the detriment of public health. The majority of the members of the committee ignored the opinion of coalition members and opposed the establishment of water treatment plants. They proposed no solution but asserted that catchment management would solve all. I now want to make another point from the report of the minority members of the committee, the Liberal Party members:
This section has been framed to bolster a pre-existing position on catchment management and demand management which is anti any treatment plants. The majority report has been selective in the evidence presented and much relevant evidence has been ignored.
I stand by that statement as much today as I did four years ago. I think the Labor Party members of the committee and the honourable member for Manly had notions of a one-year $50,000 inquiry by the Parliament to bolster their pre-existing positions. Most certainly in the case of the Labor Party members, and probably also in the case of the honourable member for Manly, that position was taken to bolster their political aspirations. They cared nothing about the health of the public of Sydney in making their recommendations. Their actions in the interim clearly demonstrate that.
I have only two minutes in which to make a number of points. On Monday evening’s 7.30 Report
two people were interviewed. One was Michael Mobbs, the consultant to the committee chosen by the honourable member for Manly and the Labor Party, and the person who was to draft the report. The other was Bob Wilson, former Labor Party
branch member and managing director of Sydney Water. Both Mr Mobbs and Mr Wilson inferred in the interview, but not in 1994, that their stated positions, submissions and recommendations had raised concerns about what was being done regarding the drinking water quality program and the impact of the quality of drinking water on the health of Sydney people. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Bob Wilson was managing director of the Sydney Water Board. For the two or three years that he was on the board he went through the process of the design of and tendering for the water treatment plants. Michael Mobbs was the right-hand man and attendant to the honourable member for Manly, Dr Peter Macdonald. He was supporting Dr Macdonald in the drafting of the report and saying that the catchment management solution was all that was required. There was no statement whatever about the need for water treatment plants. What we require from the Government is its recognition of the need to enhance our water treatment system. Some 99.9 per cent of giardia and cryptosporidium is being removed by those treatment plants. The final 0.1 per cent will have to be removed either by micro filtration or some other system such as laser flashing or ionisation. Unless there is a commitment to use the money that has been dragged out of Sydney Water by the Labor Party, we will not have quality drinking water in Sydney. [Time expired.
(The Hills) [11.15 a.m.]: I arrived back in Australia on 28 August after a short holiday in Asia. I was greeted at Darwin airport with the news that the people of Sydney were boiling water again. I must say it made me feel right at home. I had spent a week in a place where one could not put ice in one’s scotch, clean one’s teeth under the tap, or eat salads and unpeeled fruit like apples, pears, nectarines, grapes, cherries and so on. When I arrived in Sydney exactly the same position obtained here. What a farce! Sydney is a major international city. It is to host the Olympic Games in the year 2000. I have lived here for 41 years and until this year, under this Government, there had never been a day that I had not been able to drink the water.
Last night I went to the dining room in this establishment to have dinner. The customary jug of water was not on the table. I was asked whether I wanted some mineral water. I said, "Yes." A bottle of mineral water was provided. I was astounded at the end of my meal to be presented with a bill for $1 for the mineral water. I crossed out the name Richardson on the bill and put "Craig Knowles", the Minister responsible for Sydney Water, because the blame for the problem and the costs of it should be sheeted home to him and to the Government. A constituent telephoned me yesterday expressing serious concern about this issue. He was particularly concerned that when he boiled his water he noted slime in the bottom of the kettle. The suggestion was that the water might not be safe even though it had been boiled. Certainly, slime at the bottom of a kettle would raise concern about the purity of the water that is being supplied under this Government.
Mr Ross Colosimo, who runs the Castle Hill Tavern in my electorate, told me that his business was incurring substantial costs. He is not able to use ice made from the water supply on his premises so he has ice brought in. Since the premises are large that has cost him thousands of additional dollars. That example points up the farce of the $15 rebate the Government has suggested should be paid to all Sydney Water customers. As the Daily Telegraph
headline said a few days ago, "You must be joking." The Government must be joking to offer that $15 rebate after placing the city of Sydney and its people in the present situation. The water quality crisis is the Government’s problem. The blame cannot be sheeted home anywhere else, although the Government is trying desperately to do just that.
The Government ripped a $279 million dividend from Sydney Water. It was warned on several occasions of the likelihood of impending giardia or cryptosporidium contamination of the water supply, yet it took no action. The Government’s response to those warnings was to sack about half of its catchment management staff. Catchments were not being maintained to the appropriate standards and, therefore, problems were not identified early. The Minister for Health in his contribution to this debate claimed that corporatisation was the problem. Corporatisation is not the problem. The Minister responsible for Sydney Water has taken additional powers unto himself; he remains able to issue edicts if he wants to and remains in charge of the Sydney Water Corporation.
The Minister responsible for Sydney Water is under siege and any Minister in that position naturally would attempt to find scapegoats. The honourable thing to do would be to accept the blame, but so far there has been no evidence of that happening. The Minister is flailing around like a drowning man. We hope he does not swallow any water, because if he does not drown the parasites will get him! Yesterday the Premier said that the Government had been completely honest with the people of this State. Far from being completely honest, the Government has made a mockery of
notifying the people of Sydney of the danger. On Saturday, 25 July, high levels of giardia were identified in the water system and the public was not informed.
Because the area around Parliament House was affected, I am sure members will recall that on 27 July Sydney Water warned residents within a two-kilometre radius of College Street to boil the water for at least one minute before using it. The Government still had not notified the vast majority of Sydney residents. On Wednesday, 29 July, after much bungling and confusion, and after the intervention of the then Chairman of Sydney Water, David Hill, an earlier Sydney-wide alert was retracted and Sydney Water reissued a warning for the area east of Bankstown and Silverwater, south of Sydney Harbour and north of the Georges River. That warning affected 400,000 households and 1.5 million Sydneysiders, but the fact that cryptosporidium had been found at Prospect was removed from the warning. On Thursday, 30 July, the Premier cancelled his visit to Lismore and Murwillumbah and returned to Sydney.
The Minister responsible for Sydney Water and Chris Pollett held a joint press conference during which the Minister refused to express confidence in Pollett. Again he wanted to pass the buck. Mr Pollett did not rule out the possibility that the bug discovered on Wednesday might have been present in the Sydney water system for up to a month. The Minister’s office later clarified that by saying that because of daily testing since Friday the bug could have been present only since Tuesday. At 8 o’clock that night the alert was widened to include the whole of metropolitan Sydney, thus affecting one million of Sydney Water’s 1.5 million households, and three million Sydney residents were ordered to boil their water.
Was that Mr Hill?
I believe Mr Hill was out of the action at that stage. It was remiss of the Government to take six days to alert Sydney residents of the potential danger caused by drinking the water. How could a Government whose primary duty is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the people of New South Wales be so neglectful of its duty? How could a Government, one of whose primary duties is to ensure a clean drinking water supply to the people of New South Wales, have allowed this situation to eventuate? The Minister has sought to pass the buck and shift the blame. I was a member of the Joint Select Committee upon the Sydney Water Board. The Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning and the Minister for the Environment were also members of that committee. One of the terms of reference required the committee to examine the impact of the construction of four water treatment plants at Prospect, Macarthur, Woronora and the Illawarra. The committee was consistently told, and each of its members understood, that the major reason for building the plants was to guarantee the safety of Sydney’s drinking water. The Water Board’s submission to the joint select committee stated:
The reason the Water Board is now moving to filtration of the raw water supply is to maintain the ability consistently to deliver reliable, safe water to the greater Sydney region. The need for the proposed water filtration plants is to protect public health.
The water supply system is currently running at its limit of efficiency. There have been occasions recently for example, where the Board has temporarily been unable to draw water from whole reservoirs due to the inability to control particulate matter and bacteria in the water. This results in low levels of disinfection at the customers tap and jeopardises the Board’s ability to provide water of an appropriate standard.
. . . Catchment management is . . . the first most basic and natural strategy to address water quality issues.
The Water Board and all members of the committee clearly understood that catchment management was one of the strategies available to address the issue of water quality. The submission continued:
The most difficult of the well known pathogenic pollutants to treat are Cryptosporidium and Giardia. These are best controlled by management of the system at catchment level. Cryptosporidium is a protozoan parasite that infects most young mammals and is shed to the environment in their faeces. Infection in humans occurs during the oocyst stage when Cryptosporidium can invade the intestine causing gastrointestinal illness . . . In late 1992, Cryptosporidium was detected in all the Water Board’s storages at levels comparable to those reported overseas in similar water bodies. These were preliminary investigations. A more comprehensive investigation programme is under way to determine the characteristics of this occurrence and to ensure that the proposed water filtration plants can effectively remove in inactivate it.
Members of the committee members clearly understood the primary reason for constructing the water treatment plants and incorporating them into the Sydney water system. However, the responsible Minister did not seem to grasp that reason. He may have undergone a conversion on the road to Damascus, because he stated in his contribution to the debate that the overriding concern was the protection of Sydney residents. In the past he did not seem to think so. The honourable member for Davidson told the House that the majority report from the joint select committee, following the lead set by its chairman, the honourable member for Manly, who has been making some strange
pronouncements about this issue over the past month, recommended only the cleaning of the catchment areas. The majority report consistently referred to the cost of the plants. For example, at page 90 it states:
The contracts appear to make it less likely that the Board will be able to implement least cost planning measures such as by recycling water through its storages instead of building dams.
I doubt whether too many residents of Sydney would be keen on effluent being recycled through Warragamba reservoir. Some might feel that is what is happening right now under this Government. The entire thrust of that part of the majority report related to catchment management and the cost of the water treatment plants. The health considerations and health rationale for building the plants did not appear to come within the ken of the honourable member for Manly, the Minister for the Environment or the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning. As late as last night the Minister followed the same line in his speech on this issue:
Surprise! Surprise! When I became Minister I found that Sydney Water had made a submission to what was formerly the Government Pricing Tribunal for the full price [of the water treatment plants] to be passed on. I suspended that submission until a further full inquiry had been undertaken. History shows that Sydney Water and the Government of the day lied about the cost of water. Not only does New South Wales have an independent process for setting prices, and not only does Sydney have very competitive water and sewerage rates compared to other water authorities around Australia; New South Wales also has the big lie of the former Government which said that the cost of the water filtration plants, including the $250 million water filtration plant at Prospect, could be absorbed in the Sydney Water program.
The former Government passed on the cost of the water filtration plants to consumers.
In his defence of the indefensible the Minister in charge of Sydney Water once again referred to the economic issues relating to the building of plants rather than the need to supply safe drinking water to the people of Sydney. In contrast, the honourable member for Davidson, the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai and I stated, in the minority report of the joint select committee:
The Board’s ability to provide a consistently safe, reliable water supply depends on the performance of the whole system. The treatment plants are only one element of the water management system. The Board acts on the principle that the high quality water from catchments into dams reduces the need for expensive treatment later in the delivery process. Prospect Reservoir management is currently under stress - settling times are near their limits. Prospect Reservoir was designed in the 1880s to detain water in storage for 180 days . . . but today water is detained for approximately two days. It has been estimated that at least two months detention is recommended for minimal standards of turbidity settlement. The third element in the strategy, treatment, is now necessary and the Board has to maintain a clean distribution system. No single element of itself can be expected to deliver safe and secure water to the customer.
Treatment is no substitute for proper catchment management. Rather, treatment complements catchment management. There is a commercial incentive for the Board to protect its catchments. It will cost the Board more to deliver water if catchment management is not maintained.
Another issue that was raised in the minority report was the natural contamination that can occur in any catchment, regardless of whether there is human habitation in the catchment area. We said in that report:
Turbidity in rivers and storages is natural, as are bushfires, which also cause problems for water quality. Restoring things to some imagined pristine state - were that possible - would not eliminate all problems. Contamination from storm flows washing over ground and picking up and/or dissolving "polluting" compounds such as sediments, minerals, mulch from plant growth, animal droppings, dead animals, ash from bushfires and so on, means that reality is more complex than implied in the majority report.
Those comments are as apposite today as they were then. The McClellan report refers to the likely causes of the latest contamination, and an article in today’s Daily Telegraph
Mittagong, as well as the sewerage systems of Goulburn, Bowral, Berrima and Bundanoon, has been pinpointed as the source of the major sewage overflow into the Wollondilly River, which along with the Cox’s River, accounts for 60 per cent of water flow into Warragamba Dam . . .
Goulburn was unable to irrigate its treated effluent and this was released into the Wollondilly River. Sludge ponds at Bowral were flushed into the river and the Bowral, Mittagong, Bundanoon and Berrima plants were all required to operate at extraordinary levels. There is also evidence of faecal contamination in the Cox’s River.
The map supplied by the water board to the committee in its submission clearly showed the extent of the catchment area for Warragamba reservoir. As the honourable member for Davidson said, short of bulldozing all of those towns and returning everything to a completely pristine state, one could not, simply by catchment management, guarantee the safety of Sydney’s drinking water. The only way to deal with that issue was - as we said then, and we stick by that position - through catchment management and building water treatment plants.
For all the huffing and puffing of the Minister and the Government they cannot deny that they live in a house of straw. In its 1996 annual report Sydney Water flagged the possibility of problems with cryptosporidium in the future. In an estimates committee hearing in July 1996 the honourable
member for North Shore asked the Minister for Health whether testing should be undertaken. She was ridiculed for asking that question. She was told that regular testing was not appropriate. We now see how appropriate the question was.
On 22 October 1996 the honourable member for Liverpool asked the Minister in charge of Sydney Water that famous Dorothy Dixer. Remember, this was a Dorothy Dixer, not a question the Opposition dreamed up to embarrass the Government. The Government did a terrific job of embarrassing itself on that day. In answer to the question, "What is the Government’s reaction to a report today of a dangerous bug in Sydney’s water supply?" the Minister replied:
In the circumstances, given an attempt to bring about a public health scare, I would have thought Opposition members would have appreciated an assurance from the Government that our water supply was clean and was meeting health standards.
The Minister continued:
Once the water filtration plants come on line we can expect the removal of cryptosporidium to a level of 99.9 per cent - a very credible result.
That is precisely the same information that was supplied to the joint select committee. The Minister continued:
This matter received the attention of the present Government when it was in opposition and it received the attention of the previous Government. So there should be unanimity in this attempt to dispel some of the nonsense that is appearing in today’s paper.
Then there were those famous comments about Sydney tap water:
. . . Sydney tap water is the same as and sometimes better than bottled or filtered water . . . the Government has introduced the most rigorous management practices within the catchment areas to make those catchment areas upstream of the dams the most pristine in the world.
Honourable members should remember that this same Government has reduced the number of staff employed to manage those catchment areas. Does the McClellan report suggest they are the most pristine in the world? The Minister continued:
I assure honourable members that residents of Sydney can be confident they are drinking water of the best quality provided anywhere in the world.
What did the Minister have to say when he was quizzed about those comments? According to the Sun-Herald
of 2 August he said that Sydney Water had misled him; he used briefing notes supplied by the administration when he addressed Parliament in 1996. He is trying to pass the buck by saying Sydney Water misled him, it was not he who misled Parliament or the people of New South Wales. He has not accepted his responsibility as a Minister of the Crown. That is an indication that he supported those water treatment plants. He underwent a conversion on the road to Damascus and believed the water treatment plants would perform a beneficial function. So did the Premier. When he opened the plant at Prospect on 1 October 1996 he said:
One of the many factors contributing to the lifestyle that has made Sydney famous is the quality of Sydney’s water . . . The Prospect plant is fully automated and built to comfortably meet the quality required for both present and future demand . . . Sydney’s drinking water catchments have been kept in pristine condition through careful planning and management . . . Sydney now has fresh filtered water - crystal clear, healthy and great tasting.
I encourage the Premier to chug-a-lug a few schooners of untreated water right now. As the Minister responsible for Sydney Water has noted, the McClellan inquiry stated that there were three causes of parasitic contamination - the overflow of council sewage treatment plants, the stirring up of sediment on the bed of the Warragamba reservoir and the washing down of faecal matter. The honourable member for Manly, in his contribution to this debate yesterday, spoke about scouring and referred to the "very profound contamination of Warragamba Dam." He said:
It seems that over the years sediment had dropped to the bottom of the dam and dam levels dropped. After heavy rainfall, water entered the dam, stirring up sediment on the bottom which entered the treatment plant.
That statement is consistent with the McClellan inquiry and with the need, first, to maintain catchments and, second, to provide some sort of downstream treatment process for the water coming out of Warragamba Dam. Nobody can foretell what sort of rainfall we are going to get. Indeed, if the sediments were already in the reservoir then with a heavy rainfall event such as was experienced in August - the heaviest rainfall we have ever had in August, which, according to the Minister, meant the dam filled from 60 per cent to overflowing in a matter of 10 days - it could be expected that such a situation would occur, that the sediment would be stirred up and that there would be problems with the quality of the water supplied to Sydney.
The coalition’s conscience is very clear on this issue. The water treatment plants were necessary. The Government stands condemned because it has not maintained the catchments to the standard
required and because, clearly, it has not acted on warnings that have been given to it about the possibility of parasites entering the Sydney water system. One would have to ask how all those problems could have been eliminated simply by cleaning the catchment, as the former honourable member for Moorebank, the former honourable member for Blacktown and the honourable member for Manly wanted at the time of the inquiry. I suggest that there has been a cover-up of, appropriately, Watergate proportions and buck-passing that would have made Richard Nixon envious.
As I said earlier, safe drinking water is probably the most fundamental of all the services that any government is required to deliver. Regardless of corporatisation and all the buck-passing that the Carr Government has attempted, the Government is in charge of delivering safe drinking water to the people of Sydney. It has failed to do that. Not only has the Government failed, it has added insult to injury by significantly increasing water prices from 65¢ a litre to 80¢ a litre, with another increase of 5¢ a litre proposed. Those increased prices have been imposed on a product that can be used for only half the purposes for which it was intended. The Government is more interested in ripping $279 million in dividends from Sydney Water. The major cause of the problem is that the Government has not applied the profits made by Sydney Water or the price increases imposed on the people of Sydney to improving the system to a standard of world’s best practice.
The downgrading of Sydney Water’s capital works program has parallels in other aspects of government administration. The capital works program for schools has been downgraded from $201 million to $129 million. As a consequence, schools in this State go without assembly halls and have to make do with makeshift classrooms. In my electorate schools are not being built. Schoolchildren have to bring boiled water from home because they are not able to drink water from bubblers or taps at the schools. This example is consistent with the Government’s economic incompetence.
It is the Government that is to blame, for all the reasons I have outlined. There is no point in the Government blaming all and sundry: Chris Pollett, the former managing director of Sydney Water, who was effectively sacked after nine months in that position; the egregious Mr David Hill, who is about to meet his Waterloo in Hughes; Mr Paul Broad, former managing director of Sydney Water; the board of Sydney Water; or the coalition, which foresaw these problems and attempted to address them when in office. It is the Carr Government that is in office and has been in office for 3½ years. It is the Carr Government’s responsibility to ensure the safety and purity of the drinking water provided to the people of Sydney.
One has only to ask those who are responsible for clean water. The community is not saying the responsibility lies with the Leader of the Opposition or the honourable member for Gosford; the community is not saying that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition should have done better. The community is blaming the Premier, the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning and this Government. Everyone I speak to and every talk-back radio program I listen to highlight that fact. As Harry S. Truman so appositely said, "The buck stops here." The buck stops with the Government, the Minister and the Premier. This Government should go. Quod erat demonstrandum.
(Ermington) [11.45 a.m.]: I take this opportunity to quote an article from the international press, which speaks volumes for the way in which Sydney is seen as a direct consequence of the water crisis. The article reads:
During Sydney’s water crisis, when we all slurped the bottled stuff, a woman was seen pouring imported Evian water on the potplants in the office.
"What on earth are you doing using Evian water for the plants?" she was asked.
"Well there’s been such a run on bottled water, we’re out of Perrier," came the reply.
This sort of carry-on does little to dispel the belief the rest of Australia earns the money, Sydney spends it.
We may well consider those remarks with an element of mirth if it were not for the fact that Sydney now faces arguably its greatest environmental crisis - certainly one of its greatest domestic crises. Water as we have known it in this great rich land of ours has not only been in abundance in Sydney but has been recognised as being clean - clean until CryptoCarr got his hands on the levers of the Sydney water system. The hard, cold, damning reality internationally is that the drink of champions, Sydney’s water, is now seen as being one of the most humiliating features of our lifestyle and local landscape. Those remarks, quoted with a snigger and with much mirth at Sydney’s expense, damn all those on the Government benches who are responsible for the cover-up and for the inaction and inertia and who now demonstrate an appalling inability to govern and lead us out of the crisis.
For the reason I have given, this Government has to go. It should no longer enjoy the confidence of the House. In relation to our international reputation, I am appalled at the Government’s inertia and ignorance in regard to the impact of the water crisis on tourism. The Minister for Tourism would have us believe that the crisis does not affect us one iota. He stands particularly condemned for not arguing a case on behalf of the tourism industry to get our act together fast and for arguing that any attempt to paint Sydney in a bad light, any attempt to evaluate the impact of this crisis on our tourism industry, is no more than scaremongering.
This morning I was interested to read an article by Greg Lenthen in the Sydney Morning Herald
which referred to the effect of the water crisis on the tourism industry. The Minister for Tourism arrogantly dismissed the valid concerns voiced by the Federal Government, the Australian Tourism Commission, Tourism New South Wales, and Tourism Council Australia - all the independent leading authorities on tourism, which would have us believe there is at least an emerging problem, and in some instances a very real and existing one. Yet the Minister for Tourism misled the community. He argued that the Federal Government is being misleading and sensationalist in its attempt to focus on this serious problem.
It was not just being misleading; it was a lie.
It is not a lie. The Minister for Tourism says it is a lie and that no international damage will be done. I will give the big lie to the Minister. If it is a lie that internationally New South Wales is being looked upon in negative terms, I will quote some media reports. Have I made up a New Zealand media report which states, "Sydney’s nice, but don’t trust the taps"?
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Gaudry):
Order! For the benefit of Hansard I ask the honourable member to identify the articles to which he is referring.
Is it a lie that the Malaysian Star
of 31 July published an article entitled "Parasites found in Olympic city’s water supply", or is the Minister lying?
You are lying, Michael.
The Minister should tell me if it was not printed on 31 July in the Malaysian Star
. In New Zealand the story continues. The Hong Kong South China Morning Post
stated on 31 July, "Olympic city in parasite shame". I am not lying about what is in the South China Morning Post
. The Minister does not have a copy of the article. The Singapore Straits Times
of Saturday, 1 August, stated:
No safe drinking water in all Sydney
Residents have been warned to boil their water, even if is for their pets, after the discovery of a third parasite in the Australian city’s water supply
Another report refers to New Zealand’s water supply and states, "Clean water, no boiling needed" but in regard to Sydney it states, "Sydney’s nice, but don’t trust the taps". I say Sydney is nice but do not trust the Minister. The Minister wants us to believe, in the face of hard, cold evidence, internationally Sydney is not hurting. The Minister cannot read if he cannot believe these stories; he cannot listen if he does not appreciate the import of what I am saying and what the tourism industry says. On Monday 7 September, the Los Angeles Times
quoted the Sydney Morning Herald
and gave a damming report of Sydney’s water crisis. It stated:
Canadian tourist Morreen Prior agreed. Hearing about the crisis, she bought bottled water at home in Toronto [Canada] and was drinking it today in front of the Sydney Opera House.
"The hotel told me not to drink the water," she said. "It’s really embarrassing for Sydney."
The Minister continues to deny that we have a real problem with our international reputation. The Minister probably wants us to believe that whilst a few parasites such as giardia and cryptosporidium are serious, the taps are turned off in Sydney and nobody knows about it anywhere else in the world. The reality is that not only do we and the Australian Tourism Commission know about it but his own department knows about it. In the Weekend Australian
Tourism New South Wales made it clear that the problems in New South Wales are serious.
The Australian Tourism Commission reported that Sydney has a major problem. John Larkin, acting chief executive officer of Tourism Council Australia, said, "The safe, clean and friendly environment could be severely tarnished by the crisis." Tourism New South Wales, the independent body which is at the Minister’s disposal, reported the problem in the Australian
. The Minister, has demonstrated, for purely political reasons, either his manifold ignorance or his covert attempt to join with colleagues in the Government to cover up the nature of the crisis, refusing to accept the advice of Tourism New South Wales. This critical situation
caused the Federal Minister for Sport and Tourism to write to the Premier yesterday in the following terms:
I am writing regarding the meeting I conducted this morning with representatives of the tourism industry to discuss the Sydney water crisis.
The Commonwealth’s international marketing arm, the Australian Tourism Commission (ATC), today gave me an extensive dossier of external media coverage of the ongoing crisis dating from August 3.
It shows that the coverage has been extensive, and potentially damaging.
Whilst it is too early to gauge the effect of inbound tourist numbers, I note your own tourism marketing authority, Tourism NSW, stated in yesterday’s Australian newspaper that it has already seen cancellations by domestic visitors.
Today I do not want to be the first to issue warnings of cancellations and missed opportunities, both domestic and inbound, tourism in New South Wales. As the shadow minister for tourism I want to remind the Minister for Tourism that his department has warned of this crisis and has already been made aware of cancellations by domestic visitors. I have been advised today that I will soon receive information of a cancellation of major tourist groups to some of Sydney’s major hotels. If those early reports come to fruition, then certainly Tourism New South Wales, the Minister’s department; the Federal Australian Tourism Commission; the Federal Minister for Tourism; and the Australian Tourism Council, representing industry across the board, all got it right. That certainly gives the big lie to this Minister’s failure to contain, admit and respond to a crisis affecting the fastest growing industry in the Olympic city - the parasite city of the world - where the drink for champions is meant to be consumed.
Those participating in a marathon race would have to pull up every few kilometres and boil the old-fashioned Australian billy. The only way to get clean water these days is not to turn on a tap but to set a match to a little fire or get out the old Bunsen burner. It is a great day for Evian, a great day for Perrier and it is a damming day for CryptoCarr. The Government has failed to tell the truth, it has failed to respond, and it has failed to provide an answer. The nation is crying out for a solution from the Minister and his Government but they offer nothing but excuses and resignations and accept no responsibility. The Government has provided no solutions and has not proposed any engineering, technological or scientific answer.
That is what the people want from Bob Carr and from the accident-prone Minister responsible for Sydney’s water. That is what leadership is all about. The Minister is busy finding scapegoats across the State - in one case, five dead dogs were blamed for the contamination. We want a response, and the Leader of the Opposition has provided such a response. The coalition pleads with the Government, in the face of its inertia and intellectual bankruptcy, to embrace the solution offered by the State Opposition.
The 10-point plan of the Leader of the Opposition contains only one or two elements which were subsequently embraced by the Government. The first element is that a new Sydney Water board should be appointed based on expertise, not political association. During the past year I have had dealings with David Hill, a political apparatchik who has been used by the Australian Labor Party, up hill and down dale. The public perception is that David Hill was used, then left spent and discredited. Sydney water may have passed its use-by date, and surely David Hill has reached his during the water crisis. When he goes to the polls in southern Sydney the voters will pour cold water over his electoral chances. His was a great career in the making but it is not going anywhere now. David Hill, as chairman of Sydney Water, said:
In all the roles I have played it is the managing director who has the focus, without the chairman meddling.
If ever there was an extraordinary statement, a big lie, that is it. David Hill’s reputation was built on his total and absolute over-the-top involvement. Suddenly David Hill found it too hot in the kitchen when the buck stopped with the chairman. He beat the Government by hours to being dismissed - by resigning. He spoke of the dangers when he said:
I never for a moment thought that something like this could happen and neither did anyone else. Sydney Water prided itself on its clean water and to my knowledge there is no record of warnings that this was a problem waiting to happen.
That is one of the most extraordinary statements imaginable. The glossy annual Sydney Water report stated:
Cryptosporidium and giardia are an emerging problem.
The annual report by Sydney Water, run by David Hill, warned him that this was an emerging problem. His authority had undertaken tests which had revealed the danger. He made that statement while trying to duck and weave in a measly, miserly way. When he resigned he certainly got what he deserved, and he will get what he deserves at the polls on 3 October. The people will tell him that they do not want to touch him with a barge pole. David Hill, the master of all cover-ups, claimed that he knew
nothing. He said, "I know nothing, I have no hands on the levers, I am not responsible, I am only the chairman of Sydney Water."
David Hill, as chairman, said that the contract with Australian Water Services for the Prospect plant did not specify several other water quality guidelines which would safeguard against giardia and cryptosporidium, even though the contract did not specify removal of the two parasites. David Hill is an extraordinary man. He was in charge of that authority and was responsible for the appointment of Chris Pollett as managing director, shortly after his own appointment. Despite his track record of detailed, intricate involvement in everything he does, suddenly he knows nothing, sees nothing, and does nothing. David Hill is three blind men in one.
The first element in the 10-point plan of the Leader of the Opposition is that a new Sydney Water board be appointed on the strength of expertise, not political association. That element is critical, because scientific, technological and engineering solutions are needed, not political claptrap from a government that refuses to accept that it has any responsibility but wants to blame the problems on a few bureaucrats, the previous Government, the weather or five dead dogs. The second point of the plan is that a Safe Drinking Water Bill similar to the legislation enacted by the Clinton administration be introduced. Yesterday the Leader of the Opposition foreshadowed such legislation. This is an opportunity for the Government to grasp the nettle, to admit it cannot find a solution to the problem, and to embrace in bipartisan spirit the proposal suggested by the Opposition.
The third Opposition proposal is that a freeze be placed on the planned increase in water rates until the crisis is resolved. I am pleased to give credit where credit is due. The Carr Government, backed into a hole, recognised that Opposition proposal as a good one, but for political purposes decided to embrace it and freeze the planned increase in water rates. After all, could anyone imagine the Government increasing the price of undrinkable water from 80¢ to 85¢? Within a period of three years the Government raised the price of water from 65¢ to 80¢ and now wants to increase it to 85¢. Sydney battlers, who have been warned not to drink the water, were told that under a Carr Labor Government, with inflation running at around 1 per cent, they would have to meet a one-third increase in the price of water.
The 10-point plan later explains people have had to pay more for water. The fourth point, a small initiative, is establishment of an Internet site with up-to-date information on water quality. At the moment people have to buy newspapers or listen ad nauseam to radio broadcasts hour by hour detailing postcodes. It is humiliating that this city has been brought to its knees in this way. Most people cannot access information instantly when they need it. The Government is so incompetent that after three days of testing it gave an all clear for water but 24 hours later admitted it had made a mistake and that the water was still not safe to drink.
The Government has said that the process could continue for a further six months. Even if the water is all right today the taps cannot be turned on until at least 19 September because the Government does not want to make a bigger fool of itself by making pre-emptive announcements about water quality. If the Government cannot test the water and tell the people whether it is safe to drink, how can it be trusted to get it right? At great expense the Government brought in international experts to give advice. If they cannot say whether we can drink the water, how can we expect the Government to fix the problem? If the Government cannot get its public relations right, it certainly will not be able to fix the problem. Over the past year the Government authorised Sydney Water to send bureaucrats on 36 international junkets, trips which cost New South Wales voters more than $1 million. It is said that Nero fiddled while Rome burned; under this Government, Sydney Water executives spent $1 million on international junkets while the water system went from bad to worse, and then into crisis, yet the Government still cannot come up with a solution.
The fifth element of the 10-point plan is that a coalition government would regularly monitor for cryptosporidium, giardia and other parasites which have emerged over the past two or three years as a significant threat to Sydney’s water supply, and this should be done with transparency. The sixth point, probably the most fundamental proposal, is that money be redirected from this year’s predicted $279 million government dividend to improvements in monitoring and filtration treatments. This problem will not be solved by water alerts or by bringing in international experts to say whether we can drink the water, or by holding inquiries, necessary and fundamental as they are. The only way to solve the problem is to find an engineering solution that fixes it.
Give every child a kettle for Christmas.
The Government will enter the new millennium promising a new gift, a kettle for Christmas, as the honourable member for Coffs Harbour suggests.
A billy for the boys, from CryptoCarr. This is the big solution offered by the Government. There has been no engineering solution, not even a public relations solution, merely the spectacle of an accident-prone Minister with his hands on the levers and a Government incapable of coming up with any proposal. The Government embraced the proposal for the private sector to treat water at the Prospect treatment reservoir. In a letter written in 1992 the Premier thanked the private water treatment people for their briefing. He said that the provision of private sector infrastructure for use by public utilities was an important feature of Labor’s policy approach.
I throw in that small commercial because my old mate the honourable member for Gladesville has entered the Chamber. In an otherwise excellent speech - 99 per cent of the honourable member’s speech dealt with this subject, so I will not accord him much more than 1 per cent - he focused on the private water treatment plants as part of the problem and the alleged privatisation of water as a potential contributor. Even before Labor took the political levers members opposite received briefings from the private sector and endorsed the very treatment plants that the Premier subsequently opened with much fanfare, taking the credit which the honourable member for Gladesville now seeks to discredit and for which he seeks to hand responsibility to the Opposition.
More blame gaming.
The honourable member for North Shore says, appropriately, that the blame game continues. The Opposition wants the Government to say "No" to the filthy attempt by the Treasurer Michael Egan to rip $279 million from Sydney Water this year to be spent on whatever the Government wants to waste it on. The Opposition believes that the money should be spent on cleaning Sydney’s water system. The health system and the hospital system demand a quality health outcome from water. The honourable member for Gladesville agrees that the money must be spent on health. He wants to disown his Government as quickly as the people of New South Wales have disowned it.
Money needs to be spent on fixing Sydney’s water. We do not need more inquiries, commissions, royal commissions, investigations, ombudsmen, auditor generals, international experts, junkets or reviews, important as they are. In addition to the investigations we need a substantial solution. As we speak the Government is ripping $300 million from Sydney Water and, consequently, from Sydneysiders who are crying out for a solution. That money provides the only opportunity to fix the problem. The Minister will not fix the problem without spending a dime or while a lack of credibility hangs around his head while he refuses to respond.
The seventh point is the provision of a $40 rebate to ratepayers on their next water bill. The Government offer of a $15 rebate is a joke. It would be better not to offer any rebate. For many households it is $1 a day. However, $1 will not buy half a litre of water from Franklins. Is this the party of the battlers, or is it a sick joke? The Government has offered a rebate of $15 at the same time as it is ripping $279 million out of Sydney Water. Last year it ripped $150 million out of Sydney Water. Indeed, over the past three years nearly $1 billion has been taken from Sydney Water and thrown into Treasury coffers as a dividend. If the private sector owned Sydney Water it would not be so negligent.
The Opposition does not want the private sector to own Sydney Water because it is anti- privatisation. I am worried about what the Government will do. I fear that the Government’s solution to the problem will be to privatise water. I fear that it intends to raise a dollar or two from the privatisation of water. That warning concerns me and it concerns the people of Sydney. The coalition Government did not privatise Sydney Water during its seven years in office. The Opposition has made a commitment that a coalition government would not privatise Sydney Water, but I fear that that is what the Labor Government wants to do. The Opposition will not tolerate that; it will fight the privatisation of water to the death knell. The eighth point is to transfer responsibility for issuing health warnings from Sydney Water to the public health unit of the Department of Health. That is the only point in the 10-point plan that the Premier borrowed from us; we acknowledge that the Government has largely implemented it.
It is ridiculous that the very authority that was meant to supply the water was issuing the warnings. It is little wonder that the Government was involved in a massive cover-up. The ninth point is to tighten access to water catchment areas like Warragamba Dam and to initiate regular patrols to report on possible human and animal contamination. Amongst the other negligent mistakes in relation to water, the Government has removed the patrol officers - the police force, as it were - who are responsible for water catchment areas. As part of its economic rationalism, government downsizing, cost cutting, job shedding policy the Government has removed the catchment inspectors and asked them to take a walk to the dole office.
But that’s the right approach, according to the Premier.
If the Premier wore a dress he could be excused for being mistaken for Margaret Thatcher. The honourable member for Northcott is quite right. The Premier has reduced the catchment patrols to zero and left us exposed. That is only one factor contributing to the crisis. The final point is that statutory obligations be imposed on the Minister and that the Department issue health warnings as soon as relevant information is made available to them. In other words, the people of Sydney will not accept any more excuses or cover-ups from the Premier - CryptoCarr - and the accident-prone Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning. The Opposition wants to make it a statutory obligation for them to tell the truth and nothing but the truth on their parliamentary oath. Yesterday the Leader of the Opposition made a positive announcement when he foreshadowed the Opposition’s intention to introduce the Safe Drinking Water Bill. The Opposition has offered the Government bipartisan support if it will get on with the job. If the Government fails to respond to the cry for action from the people of Sydney and the people of New South Wales it is destined for defeat on 27 March next year.
(North Shore) [12.15 p.m.]: My personal involvement in this issue arose from the incidence of cryptosporidium discovered in public swimming pools during the warmer months earlier this year. A young woman working in my office, Kate Merrill, undertook high-quality research which led me to put several questions upon notice at the beginning of June this year. It is important to note the date.
When was that?
That was at the beginning of June this year, about a month before the public was notified about the first outbreak of cryptosporidium. I asked the Minister the following questions:
(1) Dr McAnulty, NSW Health Department, claims that cryptosporidium can be killed by high levels of chlorination. On what grounds does the Department base its claims?
(2) What, if any, methods have been employed by the Department of Health to provide adequate and accurate testing procedures for cryptosporidium?
(3) There is serious concern in the community that alarming levels of the cryptosporidium parasite have been found in New South Wales water mains. Are you able to assure the public that this is not the case?
On 25 June this year the Minister replied as follows:
(1) I am advised that Dr McAnulty was quoting a reference in a scientific paper from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
One would have expected the Minister for Health and his public health officials to know better and to say that the information that cryptosporidium can be killed by chlorination is wrong. If the Minister for Health does not have personal knowledge about these matters he has access to expert advice. However, from the outset he did not provide the Parliament with accurate information. In response to my third question the Minister said:
The 1996 Australian Drinking Water Guidelines state that "Routine monitoring for Cryptosporidium is not appropriate."
An absolute non-answer. That is typical of this Government. The Minister’s answers to my questions show that he has shirked his responsibilities in relation to clean water supply and providing truthful answers to the people of New South Wales. Members opposite should be concerned and they should be agitating, as they are about the Minister’s lack of response and his dishonesty. It is particularly important to note the date of that reply because the McClellan interim report points out, as many honourable members have said in this House, that since 1996 Sydney Water has had in place a monitoring program for cryptosporidium and giardia and that, according to the June 1997 Sydney Water interim drinking water quality incident management plan, in filtered water one oocyst of cryptosporidium per 100 litres of water, or one cyst of giardia per 100 litres of water, triggers a significant incident, and that more than those levels triggers a major incident.
Why did the Minister for Health not know that? Why did the health experts who are advising the Minister not know that? Their lack of knowledge is even more extraordinary in the face of a memorandum of understanding that was developed between Sydney Water and the New South Wales Health Department following two years of discussion. Under the memorandum of understanding, which was signed in November 1997, Sydney Water must "immediately report to NSW Health any event within its water supply system which may have significant implications for public health." It could not be clearer. I repeat that this is the memorandum of understanding developed by the Minister’s own department over two years. Yet the Minister knew nothing about it? This is referred to in the 1997 annual report of the Department of Health.
It is noted at page 3 under "Highlights" and under the pen of the Director-General of the Department of Health. This is typical of the Minister, who has bunkered himself in his office in North Sydney. He really does not know what is happening in his own department. The complaint made about this memorandum of understanding is that there are no clear guidelines on who should issue public health alerts or take rectification action in the event of a contamination incident. The McClellan report said that the water crisis was the first test of the memorandum of understanding, and stated:
. . . the value of this instrument in its current form must be doubted. At the time of the incident there was no protocol in place for the issue of a boiled water notice.
So much for the expertise of the Minister and his department and their taking two years to develop this memorandum of understanding, which is supposed to resolve these kinds of issues. I now focus on the responsibilities of the Department of Health regarding the regulating of Sydney Water. The department is responsible for regulating Sydney Water in relation to public health outcomes, and in particular the provision of safe drinking water. The Minister for Health has emergency powers contained in the Public Health Act 1991 allowing him to take action to restrict or to prevent the use of water which is unfit for drinking or domestic purposes, or which is suspected to be a risk to public health. That power has been delegated to the Chief Health Officer in New South Wales Health.
Under the memorandum of understanding with Sydney Water, New South Wales Health is responsible for the development of a public water supply regulatory program for the purpose of making independent judgments on public health matters relating to Sydney Water’s activities. I now want to touch upon the chronology of events leading to the recent outbreak of cryptosporidium and giardia. The chronology demonstrates a total lack of planning and understanding of the issue by the Government. The left hand did not know what the right hand was doing. I still think it does not. The Government is fobbing off blame and directing it to everyone but itself.
The people of this State want answers. They want to know why the Government has failed so miserably in its handling of this issue. They want to know not only why the Government cannot provide clean water but why it is not showing any leadership in the provision of solutions to dealing with such problems from this point on. The chronology of events leading to the latest incident starts on 21 July this year when New South Wales Health was notified of cryptosporidium levels of two oocysts per 100 litres of water and three cysts of giardia per 100 litres of water at Prospect and at Potts Hill, but decided that those levels did not raise a health concern. I remind the House that, according to the June 1997 Sydney Water interim drinking water quality incident management plan, in filtered water one oocyst of cryptosporidium per 100 litres of water or one cyst of giardia per 100 litres of water was identified as triggering a significant incident, and that higher levels constituted a major incident.
Sydney Water made the decision that the levels detected at Prospect and Potts Hill did not raise a health concern, contrary to the advice in the interim plan. Because of the Department of Health’s view, no warning was issued. On 23 July New South Wales Health was notified of new levels of infestation at Sydney Hospital, right next door to this parliamentary establishment. The readings were 43 oocysts of cryptosporidium and 19 cysts of giardia per 100 litres of water. A meeting was organised between the hospital and Sydney Water - so at least the hospital was informed. The next day, 24 July, the Department of Health was notified of levels of cryptosporidium in Sydney Hospital water and at the Art Gallery. Sydney Hospital took local action. But there was still no warning to the public. So the public was kept in the dark by New South Wales Health, which has responsibility to let the people know that they cannot rely on the safety of Sydney’s drinking water.
On that occasion the Director-General of the New South Wales Department of Health was informed. He in turn informed Minister Dr Refshauge, who in turn informed the Premier. But, it appears, Sydney Water did not tell its Minister, Mr Craig Knowles. Neither did the Premier nor the Deputy Premier, and Minister for Health. That validates my claim that the left hand really did not know what the right hand was doing. And, above all, the people of Sydney did not know what was happening because none of the persons I have mentioned were being honest enough to tell the people what the problem was.
The same situation applied the next day, 25 July, when at 6.35 p.m. New South Wales Health was notified that test results showed up to 15 oocysts of cryptosporidium and 161 cysts of giardia at the Art Gallery and in the Crown Street and Macquarie Street areas. At 7.30 p.m. the department notified that test results at the Crown Street reservoir revealed 104 oocysts of cryptosporidium and 461 cysts of giardia per 100 litres of water, with Sydney Water agreeing that it needed to obtain independent validation of the results by Macquarie University.
Again, no action was taken to advise the public. I find this extraordinary behaviour on the part of the Minister for Health, who knows the impact particularly of cryptosporidium on people with suppressed immune systems.
I repeat that this reading was taken in eastern Sydney. One of the hospitals in that area is St Vincent’s Hospital, which treats many people with suppressed immune systems through suffering from HIV and AIDS. At no stage was St Vincent’s Hospital notified of this contamination of its water. So that hospital went on merrily carrying out its work, in ignorance of this health risk, doing its best to treat people who would be at severe risk from this contamination. Nothing shows the heartlessness of this Government and of the Minister for Health more than that total disregard for that serious risk to the health and wellbeing of the people most at risk in our community, those with suppressed immune systems, for example, those suffering from HIV and AIDS and undergoing cancer treatments, as well as older people and children.
By 26 July the public had not been notified, yet contaminated water had been discovered on 21 July. At 9.00 p.m. on 26 July the Acting Manager of the Health Department’s water unit was notified of extremely high readings in the eastern central business district. Those readings were validated by Macquarie University. The Acting Manager, Mr Adrian Farrant, took no action other than to note the extremely high readings, and New South Wales Health gave no consideration to the required public health response. The next day, 27 July, the Health Department convened a teleconference between 11.45 a.m. and 1.15 p.m. involving Sydney Water and representatives from authorities dealing with public health, infectious diseases and water testing. It was decided that the Health Department would issue an immediate statement warning people in the eastern Sydney CBD to boil the water.
Fighting over how the media alert would be carried out led to an unacceptable delay in issuing the public warning, which the McClellan interim report said could have resulted in serious health consequences. Limited warnings had been given only to those living in the eastern CBD. On 28 July the Health Department issued a press release to the Sydney Morning Herald
, which, because it was used only in part, led people to believe that cryptosporidium would not have any effect on their health. The McClellan report criticised the use of that alert, the selective reporting and the decision by Sydney Water, based on the Sydney Morning Herald
selective reporting, to drop cryptosporidium from its warnings and include only giardia.
The interim report made the sensible recommendation that only one agency was entitled to issue media alerts. At 1.30 p.m. on 29 July a meeting was held between Sydney Water and the Health Department, but again there was confusion between the respective media units of Sydney Water and the Health Department. That confusion delayed the issuing of a media release to extend the warning to boil water until almost 6.00 p.m. The meeting was held at 1.30 p.m. and the warning was not issued until 6.00 p.m. That delay represents the first breach of the Health Department’s memorandum of understanding with Sydney Water, that is, Sydney Water kept the news of further contamination from the Health Department for more than two hours.
Following confusion at Sydney Water about which area should be alerted to boil water, the Health Department took it upon itself to issue a media alert with a Sydney-wide warning that evening on the late television news. I was at home and, on one of those rare occasions when I watch television, I heard the warning, which included the area in which I live. What about those who were not watching television and who had gone to bed after cleaning their teeth and perhaps having taken tablets using non-boiled water from the tap? This Government stands condemned for its inaction in not advising people of the risks to their health.
The situation was made all the more extraordinary by David Hill ordering that the warning be retracted and that Sydney Water issue a second release approved by the Health Department that excluded a cryptosporidium warning. The McClellan interim report labelled this omission as inappropriate - the understatement of the year! That series of events in July speaks volumes about the total lack of control and management by the Carr Government of this issue. That lack of control and management starts with the Minister for Health, who, only a month earlier, told this Parliament that cryptosporidium did not have to be monitored. He was not prepared to provide an assurance to the people of Sydney that their heath was not at risk from any potential contamination.
Much of the media coverage claimed there had not been any reports of increased illness in the community so perhaps people need not worry, but on 3 August the Daily Telegraph
revealed that a doctor had notified the Health Department three months earlier of a case of cryptosporidium-related illness and was told by an official that it was only one of 500 cases relating to drinking water. One must ask how much reliance can be placed on the information given to the public about disease resulting from our contaminated water. Given that
the Minister does not believe there is a problem or that it is necessary to warn people about contamination, perhaps he is fudging figures about people becoming sick from drinking our contaminated water.
My office has taken calls from people describing symptoms they believe result from drinking contaminated water. I hope the offices of all Government members have received similar calls because members of the Government are the ones who should be providing the answers. I know the honourable member for Bathurst, who is in the Chair, will provide the answers because he is an honest bloke, but I am not too sure about many of the members opposite. I remind the House of the nonsensical claim of the Minister for Health that routine monitoring for cryptosporidium was not appropriate and of his inability to assure the public that there was no health risk to their health. Two years earlier his chief health officer, Dr George Rubin, warned that giardia and cryptosporidium posed a unique threat to drinking water and sought rapid action to assess the risks. That action was never undertaken.
The former Managing Director of Sydney Water, Paul Broad, responded that Sydney Water had world’s best practice land management procedures in its first line of defence - the catchments - and that treatment plants would intercept as much as 99.9 per cent of cryptosporidium. At the same time experts from Sydney Water advised that treatment plants would need to achieve greater than 99.9 per cent removal to reach acceptable cryptosporidium risk levels. Obviously some people do not know what they are talking about. My final comment about that matter relates to a report in the Sunday Telegraph
on 30 August, a copy of which I received on my return from a six-day tour of country hospitals.
That article reported that the Health Department said it did not want to stop and start issuing warnings. On Friday, 4 September the Health Department all but lifted the warning when the Minister said that it was reasonable to expect that Sydney’s water would get the all clear by the end of the weekend. By 8.00 a.m. Saturday morning Sydney was told it would again have to boil its water, possibly until Christmas. Again the Minister for Health was proven to be unreliable. The only thing he can be relied upon to do is tell lies. Like his colleagues, he had no strategy to deal with the problem. His only response was to again play the blame game, a process in which he and his colleagues have developed a great deal of expertise over the past three years.
The Leader of the Opposition has shown the way forward with his 10-point plan. That plan demonstrates leadership. He has shown the House how the Government can solve the problem. My colleagues have read out that plan, so I shall not take up the time of the House by repeating it. However, on behalf of the people of New South Wales, particularly those most at risk - babies, young children, the elderly, cancer patients, HIV and AIDS patients, and those suffering other immune-suppressed systems - I plead with the Government to take the lead shown by the Opposition, adopt the plan of the Leader of the Opposition and support the coalition’s proposed legislation.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Whelan.