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30 November 2005
Budget Estimates and Related Papers
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Budget: New South Wales: 2005; Education; Health; Railways; Schools; Tax: New South Wales; Government Departments: New South Wales: Community Services
Ashton Mr Alan
George Mr Thomas
Amery Mr Richard
Aplin Mr Greg
BUDGET ESTIMATES AND RELATED PAPERS
Financial Year 2005-06
Debate resumed from 19 October 2005.
Mr ALAN ASHTON
(East Hills) [7.33 p.m.]: The last time I spoke on the budget—my speech was interrupted—the gallery was full. A crowd was here, the kids were here, and it was fantastic. Now, about six weeks later, I am completing my speech. I pointed out previously that the budget was another record Labor Government budget. In almost all areas there was a great increase in expenditure—in health, including mental health, schools, education, transport and police. The increases were in the area of 8 per cent to 10 per cent, way beyond the inflation figures, so they were real increases—across the State, from the North Coast to the south, from the waters of Coogee to Tibooburra and Broken Hill in the electorate of my colleague the honourable member for Murray-Darling. Even Mount Druitt did exceptionally well in the budget.
I will conclude my speech with brief references to expenditure in my electorate, which recently received $78 million for the Revesby turnback project, which will greatly improve reliability and services on the East Hills line. The turnback will allow trains to terminate at Revesby and return to the city without having to across the tracks ahead of express services from Campbelltown. This will improve the on-time running of services. The Revesby turnback includes a new track, turnback and crossover; a new island platform; easy access facilities including three lifts and a new covered pedestrian footbridge; and a new bridge at The River Road to accommodate the new track. Construction on the turnback project is scheduled to commence in 2006.
Community consultation has already begun. Several meetings have been held at the local community hall. Information leaflets have been dropped around and we have had information through my office. The turnback is part of the Government's $1 billion Rail Clearways Program. As most members are aware, the Sydney rail network is like spaghetti tipped out of a bowl. We are trying to untangle it and create dedicated lines. A billion dollars will be spent on that. A tender will be chosen for the turnback project on 20 December.
Good things have been happening in schools through the funding provided by the Government in the budget. One is the partnership for better local schools. That is under the joint funding program of the Department of Education and Training. The school community chooses its own project and the parents and citizens association raises funds through fetes, raffles and other fundraising activities for the building work. The Government matches dollar for dollar what the schools can raise. In some areas schools can raise more than in others. In my area, Condell Park High School received $81,000 for a covered outdoor living area. East Hills Schools Technology High School received $29,000 to extend the darkroom, $17,298 for a multimedia room and $1,044 for modifications to the mezzanine level of the library.
Picnic Point High School, my old school, received $34,402 for fencing and resurfacing of the games courts. In the last few months since the budget was announced the money has come through. The Bankstown-Lidcombe hospital oncology unit was upgraded and refurbished. Donations were made by the local clubs as well. I refer to Mr Michael Carroll, a gentleman who donated $1,000 to the unit. He decided that instead of taking all the presents for his fiftieth birthday party he would collect money from the guests. He collected $2,000, giving $1,000 to Westmead Hospital and $1,000 to the oncology unit. The letter he wrote to me came via Tony Stewart, the honourable member for Bankstown.
We could say that the budget is in reasonable shape—it is probably better than that—but without being overly political there is no doubt that the goods and services tax break-up of funding to New South Wales is not fair. We pay $13 billion and get $10 billion back. When the Federal Treasurer says that the States are awash with money he is not wrong. But what he does not say is that the money is not provided fairly. An assumption underlying the allocation of GST revenue was an increase of only 6 per cent after 2003-04. I hope that in the next year there will be a better recognition of the money that the Government of New South Wales should receive, because the Government of New South Wales are the people of New South Wales.
Mr THOMAS GEORGE
(Lismore) [7.39 p.m.]: In speaking on the budget for 2005-06 I note that it is fairly late in the year. However, I might be able to pre-empt some Ministers about what might happen next year by placing a few things on record. I acknowledge at the outset that my electorate did receive some money in the budget but, as everyone else would say, it is never enough. There was $1.6 million for the Lismore police station out of a total of $13.2 million and $10.4 million for the Richmond clinic, the mental health unit, including $2 million for the child and adolescent part. That expenditure will be much appreciated in the area. Funding of $3 million was allocated for a new electricity substation in Lismore, $91,000 to complete the refurbishment of Lismore TAFE's Learner Support Centre, $250,000 for Lismore and District Women's Health Centre and $584,000 for Department of Housing crisis accommodation. I appreciate receiving that funding for projects in my electorate and some funding for road works, but I want to touch on a number of items that still need attention.
In the Health portfolio, work on stage one of the redevelopment of the Richmond Clinic, which will include the child and adolescent mental health unit, will commence in January 2006. Stage two, the development of an integrated cancer centre, will commence following the development of stage one. In my electorate there are a number of problems associated with the Health portfolio and I have accompanied a number of delegations to the Minister. Today the Premier told the House that I am well aware of what is happening in relation to health in Lismore. Naturally, I am aware of that, but I want to place on record the fact that the Northern Rivers is the most underfunded area in New South Wales; it is 6 per cent or approximately $20 million dollars under its equitable funding share.
Extra funding is urgently required for the North Coast Area Health Service [NCAHS], and I have raised that issue with the Minister in the course of a community delegation. I have also stressed to the Minister the importance of the construction of a cardiac catheter laboratory at the Lismore Base Hospital. That is urgently needed and my understanding is that it will form part of stage three of the development. Stage three is important to the community, and I sought a commitment from the Premier today in relation to it. He fully understands the importance of funding for stage three, which is the new procedure centre at the Lismore Base Hospital. It will be difficult to cope in the future with the pressures of increasing demand in the area, and we need a funding commitment to cover that.
I recently placed on record in this House the fact that the current NCAHS rehabilitation unit at St Vincent's Hospital in Lismore is run down and a new unit is needed. I have made representations in that regard to former Minister Craig Knowles, Premier Iemma and the current Minister for Health, John Hatzistergos. The rehabilitation unit is run by St Vincent's Hospital for the North Coast Area Health Service, formerly the Northern Rivers Area Health Service. I very much doubt that there has ever been a complaint from anyone about that service. The workers at the rehabilitation unit are dedicated. If honourable members could see the facility they would wonder why there have not been more complaints. The service offered by the staff is excellent and they do a fantastic job.
I cannot comprehend the possibility of the rehabilitation unit being shifted from Lismore to Ballina. I will put it this way. If you draw a line in a 360-degree radius of Lismore you will find population everywhere. If you draw a line in a 360-degree radius of Ballina you will find that half the area is under water. I find it difficult to accept that the unit would be better located at Ballina. I assure the Premier and the Minister that I will continue to pursue a commitment to funding for stage three. Once again I place on record my concerns about dental health services. I am sure I am not the only member of this House to have problems with the provision of dental services, or lack of provision of dental services, in their areas. Today I referred in a private member's statement to the opening on Monday of the Kyogle Memorial Health Service. It is a credit to that town, the local community and the State and Federal Governments. The same thing happened at Nimbin earlier this year. We have certainly come a long way, but we have a lot further to go.
I turn my attention now to law and order and policing in my electorate. Yesterday I gave notice of a motion noting that the strength of the Richmond Local Area Command is down by 20 per cent. The critical shortage in the area includes 13 police officers on long-term sick leave or stress leave, 12 officers on restricted duties and 9 vacancies, a total of 34 police officers out of a probable 182. I congratulate all the police officers who are doing their work and who are also expected to cover the 20 percent shortage. That creates a stressful situation. I have spent many years seeking a new police station at Lismore. That need has now been acknowledged and we will get a new police station. The local community appreciates the fact that money has been spent on Casino and Kyogle stations. However, we have a lot of one-man and two-man stations in the electorate—at Bonalbo, Urbenville, Woodenbong and Tabulam. Distance is a major problem for the local community if there are no police on duty.
I am always being confronted by the Nimbin community about a lack of police officers in the town. Nimbin is a unique area. It is one of the prettiest parts of my electorate and a tourist attraction, but the lack of adequate policing creates concerns in the local community. I have made representations to various Ministers over the past four or five years, but to no avail at this stage. While I am talking about law and order, I extend my thanks to the rural crime investigator in the Richmond Local Area Command who is based at Casino. Rural crime is a major issue and having the rural crime investigator based at Casino has certainly reduced crime in that area. However, he is underresourced, which is probably typical across the State. Four-wheel drive vehicles and sometimes horse floats and horses are needed to get into some of the country that has to be covered. Many officers are borrowing that equipment when they need it.
Turning to education, work will be undertaken on various schools in my area, but a lot more remains to be done. I place on record my appreciation to the Federal Government, which provided more than $1 million for schools in my electorate through its Investing in Our Schools Program. I believe that is a one-off allocation. However, I know that the schools are very appreciative of that funding. Modanville Public School needs a toilet block. That has been an urgent part of that schools program for years now and it has not yet been provided. Wyrallah Road Public School needs a school hall or a multipurpose venue. West End school at Casino is in the same situation. Bonalbo school has been struggling without airconditioning.
Funding for community colleges has been cut. Adults are capable of learning at all stages of life. The individual learner is the centre of education process. I have received correspondence from John Shugg, the Executive Director of Community Colleges New South Wales, who has alerted me and other members of Parliament to the problems associated with funding cuts. They play an important role in the community and I ask the Government to reassess the situation and restore funding to community colleges. In rural and regional areas adult education is an important part of community life.
Concern has been expressed to me about cutbacks at TAFE colleges within the electorate. For example, three or four years ago in excess of 85 people attended the manufacturing and engineering course at Wollongbar and Lismore, paying a fee of $260. In 2004 only five people attended the courses because they had to pay the full fee-for-service cost of $4,000 a year. These specialist courses are available at our TAFE colleges but people in country areas who are out of work simply cannot afford the fees. I understand that two students paid $10,000 in fees to undertake a hairdressing course. People simply cannot afford that. Students who live in my electorate have to travel to Kingscliff to undertake fashion or electrical trades courses. The electrical trades teacher is being pressured to increase student numbers from 14 to 19 in the workshop classes that are designed to take 15 students. There are many problems associated with TAFE classes that have come about over the last four or five years. We have tried to bring the problems to the attention of the relevant Ministers over that period, but to no avail.
The Department of Community Services [DOCS] in Lismore is looking for additional staff to do the extra work the department is faced with. Today I asked the Minister for an update on the matter. Hopefully, in the New Year we may have some good news for the Lismore office. The DOCS staff in Lismore do a wonderful job, and I pay tribute to them. Another matter of concern is that the funding that is allocated to community-based preschools is simply inadequate given the fees charged and the increases in costs each year. I draw the matter to the attention of the House. I think all but one preschool in my electorate have raised with me the funding problems that preschools face. I also raised this matter with the Minister today, and she was extremely receptive. Hopefully, the matter will be addressed in the future. It is a major problem, especially given that preschools are now operating in some public schools. Two such preschools operate in my electorate, at South Lismore primary school and West End primary school, at Casino. I believe it costs the Government something like $250,000 a year to fund community-based preschools across the State. Yet a community preschool down the road, with probably the same number of students, receives funding of about $75,000.
Last week I visited The Channon Children's Centre and was presented with the results of the Children's Choice Campaign survey. The centre received 99 responses to the survey, which addressed a number of key areas, including the number of days on which children attend preschool. If community-based preschools rates were more affordable, parents would use them a lot more. I am aware that the Federal Government system of long day care creates problems for community-based preschools. The Government must ensure that the fees of community-based preschools are more affordable. Obviously, this will involve more funding for them. I call on the Government to increase the per capita investment in early childhood education to at least the level of other States and Territories. I pay tribute to Bianca Urbina, who presented me with the survey on behalf of the community-based preschools in the Lismore electorate.
I turn to cross-border issues that need to be addressed. The Government has finally adopted the Opposition's policy of abolishing the vendor tax. The reintroduction of the land tax threshold will come into effect on 1 January. The Government has no feeling whatsoever for the agony and trauma those taxes caused mum and dad investors. People have been caught by a one-off land tax bill, for one year. Next year those people will not pay land tax because of the reintroduction of the land tax threshold, a proposal the Opposition put forward all along. But this year those people will pay land tax because the Government introduced legislation on the run, creating a lot of heartache. During debate on the vendor duty bill I referred to a letter written to me by a solicitor saying the legislation was introduced on the run, without any nuts and bolts being worked out.
I turn to Crown land leases. The rent of the Casino branch of the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia, which is a not-for-profit organisation, increased from $500 to $5,000 plus GST in just one year. That has created a problem. I have made representations to the Minister and, hopefully, commonsense will prevail to get that issue sorted out. On many occasions in this House I have referred to the Northern Co-operative Meat Company with respect to workers compensation premium increases. However, such increases affect small businesses just as much as they affect large businesses such as the meat company. In 2006 a New South Wales company that employs 50 staff will pay a total workers compensation premium of $271,484. [
Extension of time agreed to.
By way of contrast, a Queensland company with the same number of employees will pay a total workers compensation premium of $149,000. The honourable member for Mount Druitt has often asked me whether I have evidence of the workers compensation premium differences, so I will give him a copy of the document setting out the figures. Such increases in workers compensation premiums are forcing our State's businesses to compete with their counterparts across the border—in the case of my electorate, only an hour across the border. That is simply unacceptable for a company that employs 50 people.
Payroll tax is still a problem. I challenge the Government to adopt the Coalition's payroll tax policy. The Premier says the Opposition does not have policies, but I urge him to have a look at our payroll tax policy and seek to introduce it. I congratulate the shadow Minister for Gaming and Racing, George Souris, on the release of the Opposition's clubs tax policy, which showed initiative and reflected that we are an Opposition that not only listens but responds to the needs of the club industry. I challenge the Government to do likewise, because many country communities are suffering because of the clubs tax. As I said, on many occasions in this place I have referred to the Northern Co-operative Meat Company.
Mr Richard Amery:
And you're not going to miss out tonight.
Mr THOMAS GEORGE:
I will not miss out tonight. I will not let the opportunity go without emphasising what the Government is doing to companies such as the Northern Co-operative Meat Company. The company, which has 1,750 producer members, is recognised as one of the industry leaders not only in Casino but right across the world. The company's total number of employees during the high season is 1,000, and during the low season it is 700. The company's wage bill is $38 million. Given a multiplier effect of 3.5, its wage bill is $483 million. It must be remembered that Casino has a population of only 12,000. The company needs State Government assistance with regard to increased road weight limits.
I will refer to a few statistics on actual product weight in a 40-foot container. In Queensland the road weight limit is 25 tonnes, whereas in New South Wales the road weight limit is 22.5 tonnes. The variance between the two States is 2.5 tonnes. Queensland processors in the South East Basin also have a capacity that allows a weight limit of 27 tonnes, which represents a difference of 5 tonnes between the two States. I will give an example. To load a 20-foot container and transport it to North Asia costs $4,500, whereas to load a 40-foot container costs $6,700. The disparity between a 20-foot container and a 40-foot container can give a Queensland processor a 6.3¢ per kilogram advantage. That disparity needs to be addressed. The lower weight limit in New South Wales is estimated to cost the Northern Co-operative Meat Company $1,204,500 per annum. If the company's processors go up the road 70 or 80 kilometres, they can have the full weight container, but they cannot go to Queensland to load the container.
I want to point out a few other statistics. As I said, the higher road weight limits in New South Wales compared with those in Queensland cost the company $1,200,000. If the company were in Queensland it would save $375,000 in payroll tax. The fire services levy has been a real thorn in my side; it would be $520,000 cheaper if the company were in Queensland. Workers compensation would be $1,500,000 less if the company were operating in Queensland. So, the operating costs of this company in New South Wales, just 70 kilometres from the border, would be $3,622,700 cheaper if it were in Queensland. It needs support, and the Government needs to be aware of these issues.
I have spoken about road problems. I recently had a meeting with the Minister for Roads, the honourable member for Clarence, and the honourable member for Ballina. We went to the Minister with a new proposal—an inland road—and I was criticised for being the first member of Parliament that has asked the Minister for Roads for a highway to go through his area. He said, "Why would you want that? How far out of touch are you?" The only thing the Minister did not realise is that I have lived in the area all my life, I have been involved with businesses all my life that are dependent on the trucking industry, I know and understand the community, and after discussions with my two colleagues in the area we realised what was best for the community and we put the highway proposal.
All I ask is that the Minister carry out a feasibility study and if the results of that study indicate, "Thomas, you are wasting your time. It is a waste of money," I will be the first one to say, "Thanks very much. At least you have proved us wrong." Of course, I may be proved right. We need to look at the benefit-cost ratio of route A and route B, and I challenge the Minister to undertake that feasibility study.
The biggest problem from the Pacific Highway to the tablelands from the Queensland border to Sydney is the east-west corridors. It is difficult to drive a truck or a car along those east-west corridors, whether from Lismore to Warwick, from Ballina to Tenterfield along the Bruxner Highway, or from Grafton to Glen Innes; it is a major problem getting over those ranges. We plead with the Minister to conduct that study and provide us with the statistics. We want an independent study to provide us with actual statistics, to either support us or show us where we are wrong in our proposal.
The roads in my electorate certainly need upgrading. The Summerland Way east of Mount Lindsay needs attention; the Woodenbong to Legume road badly needs an upgrade, and we are continually making approaches on that; and of course there is the Alstonville by-pass. There is heavy traffic between Lismore and the coast, and I want the Alstonville by-pass fixed up so that more people will come and shop at Lismore—though people in Ballina might say it will be the other way around. We need better access along the east-west corridors.
It is great to see former Minister for Agriculture Amery in the House. I could not finish without mentioning ticks and the Department of Primary Industries. At the moment the tick fever inquiry is under way, headed by Garry West, a former member of this place. I thank the Government for conducting this inquiry. I know that the local area is certainly putting a lot of effort into the inquiry and I thank the people of the Northern Rivers area, especially the people I represent, who have put a lot of time into providing submissions to the inquiry and who have also done a lot of work helping me call on the Government for this inquiry.
Duncan Gay, our shadow Minister in the other place, has done a lot of work in calling for the inquiry, and we have had a lot of support. The honourable member for Tweed was also involved. Let us hope some commonsense comes out of this because it has been a major problem. Former Minister Amery is grinning and acknowledging that. I could go on for a fair while about the problems associated with native vegetation but I want to place on record the concerns of farmers and landowners in my area who are faced with a major problem, especially after 1 December.
I pay tribute to our emergency service organisations. Again I single out the police, the New South Wales Fire Brigades, Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service, the Ambulance Service, the Rural Fire Service, the Volunteer Rescue Association at Casino, and the State Emergency Service [SAS]. They all do a tremendous job. The flood levee in Lismore has been completed. That was a three-way joint venture between the council, the State Government and the Federal Government. The flood levee was not even officially opened before the good Lord above officially opened it; He tested it out before we even had the official opening.
Everyone was concerned how the flood levee was going to hold, but it was not a question of whether it would hold, but whether it was high enough. I will never forget receiving a telephone call from a radio station at 12 o'clock one night wanting to know what all the fuss was about this levee and being asked, "Why won't people pay this levy?" I pointed out that we were talking about a flood levee wall, not a levy! People did not understand and they were concerned it was going to fall over. But that was not the problem; it was, as I say, a question of whether it was high enough.
The SES headquarters is on the river side of the flood levee wall and we are embarking on a program to build new headquarters at Lismore opposite the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service. The council has been working with the State and Federal governments, and hopefully will be able to complete the plans and obtain funding for that project, typical of the support given in the area for all these organisations. We saw these organisations, together with the Salvation Army, operate at Norply recently when there was a disaster at Kyogle. I pay tribute to Kyogle today on the opening of the Kyogle Memorial Health Centre. The Lismore SES alone provided 3,960 hours in answering 366 requests. That is nearly 4,000 hours provided by these genuine, dedicated people to the community. That is typical of all the organisations, and the least the Government can do is build them a great place to operate from so they can provide these services to the community.
As I have already said, Lismore has something like 73 emergency services members available to be called out, and there are 10 inductees waiting to join them. I place on record my appreciation of all the members of the emergency services within the electorate of Lismore who put their lives at risk to deal with any problems they confront and who unselfishly give of their time. Their families also need to be appreciated for supporting them while they answer calls, as do their employers, who give them time off to provide these services to the community. These people are a credit to the Lismore electorate and I trust that we will be able to complete the SES headquarters in the near future with all three tiers of government and the community working together.
Mr RICHARD AMERY
(Mount Druitt) [8.09 p.m.]: I acknowledge that some months have passed since the budget was delivered. Indeed, since the budget we have seen a change in the political landscape of New South Wales. At that time the Premier was Bob Carr, the Treasurer was Andrew Refshauge and, if I can be cheeky, Pittwater was a Liberal seat. Changes have also been made to property taxes and vendor duty, and we will see the benefits of this budget for the rest of this financial year.
The budget for 2005-06 continues the trend of Labor budgets, both in recent times and past generations, of concentrating on massive public works or, as they are now known, infrastructure programs. Like all Labor budgets I have seen delivered in this place, the other common theme is that the Coalition parties have found it difficult to make any real criticism stick. The reason for this is also clear: there is little that can be criticised in the budget brought down by former Treasurer Refshauge. This year the Opposition has picked up on a misleading theme in the media that the Government, in its efforts to retire State debt, has allowed the so-called infrastructure of the State to run down. These arguments are not backed by evidence, but that has never stopped the Opposition from criticising the State Government.
To support its claims the Opposition has pointed to the water situation, an issue canvassed widely today by the Premier. Water restrictions in Sydney are introduced but the Opposition asserts the Government has not planned for the current water shortage. During debate about where a dam should be built, Opposition spokespersons do not bother to remember that we are in a period of historically low rainfall for the Sydney Basin and, indeed, despite good rainfall in recent months, for the whole State.
One need only look to the detail in the budget papers to see that the amount of State money being spent on infrastructure projects is higher than it was throughout the 1990s and the 1980s. My electorate of Mount Druitt is once again a winner when it comes to State funding. For example, $11.52 million will be spent on a new courthouse in Mount Druitt, of which more than $5 million has been allocated in this budget. Mount Druitt Hospital is another winner. The rehabilitation therapy hub will cost some $3.5 million, of which $1.5 million is allocated in this year's budget. This is only part of the funds being spent on our hospitals in the western suburbs. The Minister has already announced that $1 billion of the $10.9 billion budget is being spent in the Western Sydney Area Health Service.
Of the 800 new hospital beds announced for the State, 16 will be for Mount Druitt Hospital. Also, the new specialist paediatric unit is now operating. Mount Druitt TAFE continues to draw substantial resources from the State Budget, with $3.4 million allocated in this year's budget towards new classrooms for students in business and administration, hairdressing-beauty therapy, electrical engineering, and general purpose fields. Today during question time the Minister for Community Services referred to a $1.2 billion reform program for the Community Services budget. Mount Druitt is a major recipient of capital expenditure and ongoing expenditure. The Mount Druitt Community Services Centre will be one of 19 sites to benefit from that reform program for child protection services.
The recruitment process is currently underway for eight new caseworkers and a manager caseworker at Mount Druitt. This will bring the total number of caseworkers to 40, a 60 per cent increase in two years. These additional caseworkers will be better able to support families in the Mount Druitt area. In early 2006 the Mount Druitt team will be relocated to a new purpose-built office in Mount Street, Mount Druitt, close to the new courthouse. Capital works expenditure for the electorate is set at $126 million.
But, of course, there are critics. The history of New South Wales is littered with stories of massive Labor Government projects and pages of Coalition members of Parliament finding angles to criticise and whinge about those projects. For example, when the Government introduced the Millennium train, the good, old-fashioned Liberal and National parties highlighted mechanical problems. The same could be said of Darling Harbour, which was built during the terms of the Wran and Unsworth governments. It is incredible that the Treasurer has to emphasise the amount of money the Government is spending on infrastructure. He said in the Budget Speech:
No government in the history of this State has devoted more of its energy and resources to strengthening the basic services and essential infrastructure on which people rely …
Capital expenditure by the entire New South Wales public sector in 2005-06 will be at its highest level ever in real terms: 52 per cent above the average of the 1990s and 68 per cent higher than the average of the 1980s.
Followers of this so-called infrastructure debate should look not only at what is being spent now but also at history to see which side of politics have been the real builders of the State—from the election of the McGowen Government in 1910, which moved quickly to construct the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, to the Holman Government and its investment in bulk grain handling, to the Lang Government's investment in railways and roads, through to the 25-year reign of successive Labor governments that saw massive investment in public housing, water storages, rail infrastructure and electrification between 1941 and 1965. The current infrastructure debate is only a repeat of the past. For example, the Opera House was an initiative of the Cahill Labor Government, and the New South Wales Opposition was the main critic of that project. When the Sydney Harbour Tunnel was being built, the one common theme, as with the Sydney Entertainment Centre and Darling Harbour, was that they were Labor projects that were criticised by the Coalition.
I should not suggest that the Coalition, when in government, has not tried some projects of its own. Let me remind honourable members of Eastern Creek Raceway, which was estimated to cost only $2 million but which blew out to $100 million or $120 million. The former Coalition Government tried to reopen Luna Park and lost $50 million in the process. It organised the airport link, which the Premier of the day said would cost the taxpayers "not a cent", but in fact it cost those who wish to have the privilege of travelling on the most expensive rail link in the country approximately $700 million. Perhaps I should not talk too much about the consequences of Coalition infrastructure projects.
Property tax was a controversial issue in the budget announced last year and involved three initiatives, including the removal of the land tax threshold, under which virtually everyone who had a second property had to pay land tax. It included vendor duty on the sale of investment property and a stamp duty concession for properties up to the value of $500,000 for first homebuyers so that they were not liable to pay stamp duty at all. This past year the call has been for the Government to reverse those policies. However, I do not believe that anyone would have wanted the Government to revert to the previous stamp duty policy for first homebuyers. In my electorate more than 99 per cent of homes are worth less than $500,000, so for the few houses that are sold for more than $500,000 only a small amount of stamp duty would be paid.
Premier Iemma abolished the vendor duty and reinstated the land tax threshold. Even though it has removed those revenue sources, I compliment the Government on maintaining the crucial component of the property tax reform of 2004 to ensure that first home buyers are not liable to pay stamp duty on properties under $500,000, and a concession for homes valued between $500,000 and $600,000. I congratulate the former Treasurer on his first budget. He maintained the excellent standard set by former Labor Treasurers of keeping debt down, public works up, and money distributed fairly among all those competing for public funds. We should not forget that this is in the context of New South Wales residents paying that well-known figure of $13 billion in GST to the Commonwealth Government but receiving only $10 billion back.
The Mount Druitt electorate has benefited from the Mount Druitt Hospital, the new Department of Community Services [DOCS] office, the new courthouse, last year's rail station upgrade, the Mount Druitt TAFE, along with past projects such as the police station, the Roads and Traffic Authority office, the quadruplication of the rail line, and Chifley college, to name but a few. And all of those projects have one thing in common: they were built by Labor governments, past and present.
I am pleased to contribute to this budget debate. I know some months have passed since the budget was brought down, but my electorate has been the beneficiary of a massive capital works project. Many people driving through my electorate have commented that it looks like a building site, with the construction of the M7 almost complete. The M7 cuts straight through a major portion of the Mount Druitt electorate. All the major projects such as the hospital, the DOCS office, the courthouse and the rail upgrade show that seats that are strongly held by Labor, such as Mount Druitt, are not neglected when Labor governments come to provide all-important public works funds, which are a highlight of this year's State budget.
Mr GREG APLIN
(Albury) [8.20 p.m.]: On 24 May 2005 the Hon. Dr Andrew Refshauge, the Treasurer of New South Wales, delivered his first budget. It was the eleventh budget of the Carr Labor Government and it was the eleventh hour for the then Treasurer. During his preamble to the budget he paid tribute to his predecessor, Michael Egan, the longest-serving Treasurer in the State's history, and to his colleague the Premier, who was about to surpass the record held by Neville Wran as the longest-serving Premier of New South Wales. He thanked them for their stewardship and for the good fortune he had to assume the treasurership of the State. There is one thing in common with all those people mentioned by the Treasurer: none of them is still present in this august House, the Parliament of New South Wales. That probably says something about the then Treasurer's faith in the budget. It certainly speaks volumes for the people of New South Wales and their understanding of what the budget delivered.
What were my expectations prior to budget day? I said that tax relief was a priority; it remained the number one issue affecting not only the Albury electorate but the whole of New South Wales in relation to discouraging investment and encouraging businesses to move to other States. Close behind taxation was the improvement of infrastructure, particularly for the XPT CountryLink rail system. I suppose I could say that there were some good moments in the budget. Tax relief had been sought and there was a small move in the land tax, to adopt a Coalition policy, and I am pleased that that occurred. However, my overall reaction was that a "back flip", a "tax slug" and some "fence mending" were probably the best descriptions I could come up with to describe the 2005 budget. I saw it as one of lost opportunities, with no answers to the problems created by 10 years of Labor; no answers to late trains, the hospital waiting list crisis, and infrastructure and employment growth in the Albury electorate.
As I said, one highlight of the budget for the people of Albury was the adoption by the Carr Government of the Opposition's policy on land tax. The Government's back flip on land tax simply reinforced the level of its incompetence in abolishing the tax-free threshold in the first place. The Treasurer refused to provide a refund to all the property owners subjected to the tax rip-off this year. Property investors, including hardworking people saving for their future, were continually punished by what was the hated vendor tax. It was named the "world's dumbest tax". It killed the property market in New South Wales, and in my electorate it drove investment across the border. Along with everyone else, I applauded when the vendor tax was abolished, which was another Coalition commitment. Incredibly, the Government, through the Premier, was able to adopt the brazen approach, the sheer effrontery, of saying it was a brave and wonderful move to abolish the vendor tax—because that opened the question: Why was it introduced in the first place?
New South Wales retained its highest taxing status by hitting families, businesses and farmers with an increase in stamp duty for general insurance such as home and contents, travel insurance, mortgage insurance and public liability insurance. In the budget the Government allocated only $9 million to upgrade XPT trains, but that was for all XPT trains in the State. Allied to that commitment, there was no suggestion that it would make the trains run on time. The Government would do well to look at infrastructure and to consider the problems we face on the southern border. The Victorian Government is considering relocating the V/Line passenger rail service, which currently travels through the heart of Wodonga, to west Wodonga, with the movement of a rail station. That would leave Albury passengers without a means of travelling between Albury and Wodonga to connect with a broad-gauge rail line that travels down to Melbourne.
Certainly, in Sydney the Government may not be particularly concerned about providing a link to Melbourne. For the people of southern New South Wales it is a vital link. The Minister for Transport must meet with his Victorian counterpart to discuss this infrastructure problem, because infrastructure planning is required. The proposal will affect people in southern New South Wales. It immediately conjures up the bad old days of changing trains when the gauges changed on the border. Recently in a speech I harked back to Mark Twain's recounting 110 years ago of the necessity to change trains on the border because of the different gauges. We could well face a similar problem because there will only be the one standard line. That is fine—it carries the XPT, but it does not provide a contact between Albury and Wodonga and then down to Melbourne. I ask the Minister for Transport to consider that matter, because it is truly an infrastructure problem that affects New South Wales.
On the subject of rail, an overpass will be constructed at Gerogery, which has been the scene of a significant number of fatalities involving young people. The overpass is nearing construction but safety concerns expressed by local land-holders over the past two years have not yet been addressed. Indeed, local land-holders have yet to be convinced that their safety is being taken into account, because they must move slow-moving agricultural equipment and machinery from one side of the road to the other. In the future they will use the overpass, which will carry B-doubles and other heavy transport travelling at 100 kilometres an hour, or possibly in excess of that, on the downhill side. Unfortunately the turn-off to farms is at the base of that incline. Land-holders are seeking to have their concerns addressed through the Minister for Roads and the RTA. They are backed up by a judgment delivered by Justice McClellan last year when he acknowledged that there were safety concerns about that roadway. Again, that needs to be addressed at a local level.
Another aspect of infrastructure that needs to be addressed in the Albury electorate relates to rail and the extension of a heavy-gauge line from Henty to the rail silos. In 1999 a committee was set up to take on board the issue and encourage the Government to extend the heavy-duty line. The strange irony is that the heavy-gauge rail lines lie alongside the lighter gauge lines. A heavy-duty locomotive carries a lighter duty locomotive from Junee and places the lighter locomotive onto the light-gauge rail line to transport grain from the silos to the main line. This would appear to be a duplication, at considerable cost. I believe that the Government should make it a priority to extend the heavy-gauge line for 1.1 kilometres in order to move grain much more efficiently and at lower costs.
In the budget there was $100 million for the Hume Highway upgrade at Albury. We all know this is Federal funding yet it is included as State expenditure and obviously swells the bottom line and makes the budget look better. The only other road expenditure, as I referred to a moment ago, is the further $2 million for the $18.5 million rail crossing at Gerogery. It is expected that that project will be completed prior to the end of the year. The much-vaunted investment in infrastructure yields very little for the Albury electorate. The extra funding is cleverly masked as "various" in the budget narrative. While Greater Southern Area Health Service headquarters at Queanbeyan have ensured $44 million for Queanbeyan hospital there is no promise to reduce waiting lists at Albury Base Hospital or to build an extra six age care beds at Culcairn.
I recently received a letter from Robyn Raine, a constituent who has been active in the community on all health issues and who has a son with a major disability and chronic health issues. On behalf of the wider community she brought to my attention concerns about what is happening with cross-border integration of the health system and asked whether it was in the best interests of Albury-Wodonga. She singled out the fact that there is now a single unit for paediatrics. She went on to ask about the reasons and promises that were given to the community. She said the reasons were that it would attract more doctors and nurses to the area. A single cross-border unit would create a unit to deal with more complex needs. It would create a safe environment for children and doctors, and children will still present and be triaged by paediatric doctors in Wodonga and there would be paediatric nurses in hospital at all times. If a child has to be transferred to Albury Base Hospital it would be by ambulance and parents should see it just as a corridor from one hospital to another. If Albury Base Hospital was full a strategy would be put in place to open the surgical ward to take on sick children. She went on to tell us the reasons we feel so upset and disillusioned with the integration process. She asked these questions:
1. How do you expect to attract more specialists when you cannot solve the problems and keep the medical staff that you already have
2. How do you expect to keep paediatric nurses in the Wodonga hospital trained and skilled when there are different rules and registrations that stop them working in both states
3. How can it be made an elite unit when the hospital is under funded and at breaking point
4. How would you have a safe environment when it is not staffed or equipped properly
5. And when this happened at Albury base, why wasn't the Wodonga paediatric winter strategy put in place for children if it was not a cross border issue
6. And if you expect to see this as a corridor from one hospital to … another how come it was made out to be just a NSW health problem when it is supposed to be an integraded service and Victorian children were effected.
She went on to tell the Minister for Health:
If you plan to attract more specialists and doctors to the area you must give them some commitment and incentives as well as a safe work place for them to stay.
You must have an equipped and funded facility for them to work in.
You must put more funding in for teaching and training programs that we already have here so that the younger doctors will come back.
But most importantly if you are going to have an integrated health system you must come to the realisation that Victoria is not just funding the Wodonga hospital and NSW is not just funding Albury base, but as two campuses with the combined population of Albury/Wodonga and surrounding districts.
So both hospitals have to be funded and equipped to deal with growing populations of these two cities.
And some how there has to be dual worker contracts, dual registration and two hospitals working together on all issues,
We need two health services and two states working together to run a dual service on every level
I congratulate Robyn Raine on placing those comments so clearly before us. I have been advocating that for the past two years. I still have some concerns. These were drawn out by the Auditor-General in his report to Parliament for 2005 when he stated:
The Service told us—
And he refers to the Greater Southern Area Health Service—
that the Department has expressed concerns over the arrangements and that these matters would be considered during a review of the cross border agreement to be conducted in or before December 2004. We understand the review is currently underway.
That is correct; it is. The only problem is it is now November 2005 and this review, the cross-border health agreement interim review, which should have been completed by the halfway point, which would have been early this year, will not now be completed until 2006. Of course, the agreement comes to an end in July 2006. It will be interesting to see the commitment of the department and the Minister. Interestingly, when it comes to the Greater Southern Area Health Service we note from the Auditor-General's report that:
The Department has directed that Areas should not have any creditors … over 45 days. The Service did not meet this requirement. During the year the Department provided repayable advances of $10.0 million to help the Area address its liquidity. Nevertheless the total level of these creditors at 30 June 2005 was $7.5 million. The Department told us that the Service's financial performance would be monitored and subject to ongoing assessment.
So they should, because he went on:
Cash flow difficulties are placing a significant strain on resources within the finance division and elsewhere within the Service. Considerable resources are being devoted to handling the volume of creditor enquiries due to slow payment of invoices. Some creditors have placed the Service on "stop supply" and many practical difficulties are being encountered in acquiring critical goods and services needed for running the Health Service.
Those are not my words, they are the words of the Auditor-General. They reinforce the concerns that have been expressed by many representatives of the people, including me, over the past year. These are not new issues. These are not new computer glitches. These are the result of an amalgamation of health services that was ill-considered and ill-conceived and is not working correctly.
Interestingly, I was speaking with representatives of the community in a country town recently. They said to me that the Government had presided over and encouraged the biggest centralised model for hospitals and delivery of health services. They referred to control from the top, the spin doctoring, the suppression of dissent, the removal of local management, the inadequate staffing at patient service level, the proliferation of managers forever attending conferences, a lack of real understanding of local issues and, above all, an insistence that staff toe the line and provide reports that support the outcome desired by the Government, which was obvious to any observer gaining access to the facilities.
All of that suits the New South Wales health department because it has an inbred culture developed over several decades that supports and promotes all of the matters mentioned. Whenever the situation reaches crisis point a restructure is announced—usually bigger areas with the promise of savings and greater efficiency. It only lasts until the next crisis when a new structure is announced and we go through the same process again. Every restructure takes years, not months, to settle. It is generally not complete before the next restructure is announced. Staff are uncertain as to their positions and roles in the community and are frustrated. Patient services and future planning are put at risk. Costs for the implementation of the new structure are usually dismissed as being one-off. [
Extension of time agreed to.
Would the money be better spent on better patient services? Following restructure after restructure the whole system remains flawed, as demonstrated by the continuing saga of the Greater Murray Area Health Service—now the Greater Southern—not paying its accounts. Why would the Minister need to appoint somebody to see that the accounts are paid? It says very little for the ability of Greater Southern Area Health Service to manage its affairs, given that it has the dual benefits of two accounts departments, one from Greater Murray and one from Greater Southern. Yet the problems are more unmanageable than ever before.
Above all, it is the strong role that will be played by small local hospitals, the proper MPS model, the local hospital MPS board, and the local director of hospital health services. That has to be recognised and fostered by NSW Health and the Government if the operation is to succeed. Strong local hospitals and MPS boards reduce the load put on the base and larger hospitals, which should be focused on more demanding procedures. In country areas and towns the retention of the local hospital, the MPS, is essential for access by the local community due to many factors, including support for the local doctor and a lack of public transport. As we all know, in country areas, outside of the main cities, there is very little in the way of taxi transport. One of the other important elements is that the closeness of the family unit is retained by providing services within those smaller communities.
The Ambulance Service needs reform, being co-located with the hospital or MPS in country areas, with backup from regional centres. It was made clear at Henty during the opening of the MPS only last week that Henty is 60 kilometres from any ambulance service. It is therefore disadvantaged and its patients often have to suffer the indignity of a transfer from one ambulance to another as vehicles cross from one region to another. In this situation it would make sense if an ambulance were based at the MPS. Staff at the MPS would then be multiskilled. The charge for an ambulance service between hospitals and MPSs could well be investigated and changed so that this nonsense of transfer costs does not occur. Every hospital and MPS should have its own board of management of local citizens with proper governance responsibility. That would go a long way to sorting out some of the problems currently besieging the Greater Southern Area Health Service.
Education has not fared particularly well: there was no commitment of extra funding for school upgrade works in the electorate. However, I worked with the department on the sale of surplus land at Henty, which is currently under the guardianship of the Henty Public School. After approaching the regional director and then the Minister we were able to fast track the sale of that unused land and, importantly, gain a commitment that the moneys raised would go back to the school for improved facilities. I was very pleased to learn that 90 per cent of the proceeds will be returned to the school.
During a visit to the school earlier in the year I found that my visit coincided with the day that the "For sale" sign was being erected on the spare land. I was already aware of the purpose to which the funds would be put but I was pleased, with the principal, to look at and learn of the plans and to see the gratitude expressed. Through community pressure and representation the school will gain something important for the students. Another issue that needs to be addressed by the Minister for Education and Training is the Aquatic Environment Education Centre at Wonga wetlands in Albury. Requests for support have been pushed for some years now by me, the community and school principals from the public and independent systems. Currently it is supported purely by Albury City Council. The response from the education Ministry was:
... the Department of Education and Training has already fully committed the funds available for the area of environment education, including funding of 23 environmental education centres across New South Wales and two zoo education centres. One of the environment education centres is the Riverina Environmental Education Centre at Wagga Wagga.
This is all very well but Wagga Wagga is 130 kilometres from Albury. Numerous schools travel from across southern New South Wales and even from north-east Victoria and from Sydney to visit the Albury centre. This speaks volumes for the quality of education, which is syllabus related, delivered at that centre. I plead for the Government to consider in next year's budget an allocation of funding towards that magnificent and perhaps unique centre on the Murray River. With the need particularly in regional areas to encourage apprenticeships it was extraordinary that a day after the budget this item appeared in the local daily newspaper, the
. It was titled "Job help team axed" and stated:
The Murray Youth Employment Training Network will cease operations on Tuesday when NSW Government funding ends.
... the program was established in October 2002, with funding from the NSW Board of Vocational Education and Training to address many issues affecting youth, employment and education in the Albury region... a dedicated group of business operators, education and service providers had been a part of the network.
The network had been a driving force behind successful initiatives such as the L-Plates for Industry—Let's Grow Our Own Campaign... these projects achieved wide acclaim for providing a positive focus in motivating youth, industry and the wider community to address our regional labour and education demands.
At a time when skills shortages, youth unemployment and future education directions are high on everyone's agenda... [the service was cut through lack of funding].
So on the one hand a great job was achieved; on the other there is the query as to why it was not continued, particularly at this time of focusing on apprenticeships and encouraging youth to remain in regional areas and to enter vocational courses. The budget failed to plan for the ageing population or to assist people with disabilities in the southern region. Most of the funding announced goes to stabilising and maintaining current services that struggle to meet demands and only partially respond when people are in desperate crisis. Over the lifetime of this Government the Albury electorate has been the poorest resourced in the southern region, with young people living in nursing homes and elderly parents caring for children with disabilities. Many families are stretched to breaking point because they cannot get respite or the support they deserve. This was highlighted in answer to a question I posed to the Minister.
In the reply I received today I found that over the last financial year the Albury electorate received only $4,921,677 in funded service grants for the western region while up the road Wagga Wagga received $18,467,771. I had asked: What are the reasons for the significant differences in funding allocations between areas of similar populations? The answer was that non-government organisations receive funding for regional services covering large geographic areas. However, the question arises as to whether those services are being monitored. In meeting with people who are clients of the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care I have found on many occasions that they are unaware of the services being delivered. So there is certainly room for the Government to ensure that the services are delivered in a more equitable manner in the Albury electorate.
It is interesting that the Premier's Department closed down its Drug and Community Action Strategy Office in Albury at the end of June. It says a lot about the commitment to front-line services. The number of police has steadily drained from the administration area at the local area command based in Albury—and from the total force—reducing to a low of 140 from a high of 156. The strain has told and the manager of the administration service took sick leave, as did one of his officers. The plight has been further exacerbated by the sick leave of the senior local area commander. That is borne out by the fact that there has been no Police Accountability Community Team meeting over the past year in the Albury electorate. I hope that will be addressed because I for one found them a useful means of conversing with the many people involved in crime prevention and law enforcement in the area.
Despite the fact that land had been purchased at Lavington and development approval secured by NSW Fire Brigades for construction of a new fire station, no money was allocated in the budget for the project. This is extraordinary. In answer to a question more recently I have found that funds will now be sought for the project as part of the 2006-07 budget process. This indicates that planning is somewhat loose when it comes to construction. People's hopes are raised only to be dashed when the construction takes several years rather than occurring at the time promised. To bear that out, in June 2004 the Attorney General stated that $150,000 would be provided to upgrade the facilities at Albury courthouse for disabled clients. The completion date expected was March 2005 but to date no works have been undertaken—and it is now November 2005.
Another infrastructure promise that has not been delivered concerns Morgans Lookout near Walla Walla. The salt interception plant pump successfully operated in the summer of 2003-04 but it remained idle last summer because there was no funding to operate it. Yet the Department of Infrastructure and Planning sunk another bore in February this year and purchased private property. But it still has no funds to pump water into Billabong Creek to benefit land-holders in the Walbundrie-Rand area. This is all the more surprising when funding is allocated to other salt interception plants. I refer to the $507,000 for Buronga. I have nothing against Buronga but where an operation has been proved effective it would seem sensible to provide money to keep it operating. All that taxpayer money is now wasted on equipment which cannot operate because it is unfunded. The budget is a sad indictment of a Government that has had more than $7 billion in additional tax revenue over the past 10 years but has failed to invest in infrastructure projects. It now sinks the State into debt to try to catch up on this neglect because it fears the justified wrath of the public in 2007.
Debate adjourned on motion by Ms Sandra Nori.
The House adjourned at 8.51 p.m. until Thursday 1 December at 10.00 a.m.
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