Valedictory Speeches

About this Item
SubjectsMembers of Parliament; Electorates: Epping; Liberal Party: New South Wales
SpeakersTink Mr Andrew
BusinessBusiness of the House
Commentary Valedictory Speech

Page: 4608

    Mr ANDREW TINK (Epping) [10.01 a.m.] (Valedictory Speech): From the time I first sat in this Chamber as an 11-year-old schoolboy as a guest of my then local member, John Maddison, I wanted to be a member of the New South Wales Parliament. It took me another 24 years to make my maiden speech in support of the Greiner Government's Summary Offences Bill to wind back Frank Walker's laissez faire approach to the criminal law. It is the only speech I have read in this Chamber until now, and I seek your indulgence to read this one.

    While I was proud to be a member of Nick Greiner's fast-moving reformist Government, my personal political progress was depressingly slow and much of my time was taken up on parliamentary committees. Looking back on things now, those were some of my most productive and enjoyable years. As a result of my membership of the Privacy Committee, I was able to introduce what I believe was the first bill in Australia on data protection, although in recent years ramped up privacy laws have been used to trump freedom of information laws—something I never intended. My first chairmanship was of the Ombudsman's Committee. The then Ombudsman David Landa was deeply suspicious when I announced a public inquiry into his handling of complaints against police. But the committee was able to hold an unprecedented joint meeting with Mr Landa and the then police Commissioner Tony Lauer, at which the Ombudsman agreed to the police handling minor complaints as management issues while the commissioner agreed to a widening of the Ombudsman's jurisdiction to directly investigate serious complaints. Ted Pickering then legislated to give effect to this agreement in a system that survived the Wood royal commission and continues largely intact.

    In 1992 I became Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. With the assistance of a wonderfully talented staff, the committee produced a record number of reports into things as diverse as school student transport, public defenders and infrastructure. The Cabinet with the political courage to tackle the anomalies of school transport has probably not yet been born, though the public defender's report led to statutory recognition of that office. However, it was the infrastructure reports that really broke new ground and the phrase "public private partnerships" soon gained wide circulation. The Government formally adopted many of the committee's recommendations as it proceeded with private sector participation in the huge construction program for the 2000 Olympics.

    Since then, however, the reputation of public private partnerships has suffered, especially with the debacle over the Cross City Tunnel. But this project failed the committee's most basic test: the appropriate balance between public and private risk—an issue as old as New South Wales itself. In 1786-87 the Home Secretary Lord Sydney spent £54,000 to ensure that his able contractor William Richards could adequately provision the First Fleet, as a result of which there were only about 23 deaths on the voyage out. But his successor, the young up and comer William Grenville, keen to make a name for himself in Cabinet as a cost cutter, sacked Richards and replaced him with the London slaving firm of Camden, Calvert and King, saving over £20,000 in the process. As a result, 267 people died during the Second Fleet's voyage and the conditions were so bad that one of the captains was prosecuted for murder.

    The message then and now is simple: get the public-private balance of risk right. With road projects, such as the proposed tunnel through my electorate linking the F3 and M2, traffic counts are the key to measuring this risk, which is why I have advocated a short, sharp public inquiry into the traffic counts that were used to justify this tunnel option. So much of committee time these days is taken up in search of a headline by the highly aggressive cross-examination of witnesses. While tough questioning is part of public accountability, not much from these confrontations seem to stand the test of time. I think parliamentary committees should remember that they have an opportunity to do what executive governments cannot do: bring those with conflicting points of view together to test them on oath in public to find common ground and devise good public policy out of the process.

    By backing my friend Peter Collins in the leadership ballot following Nick Greiner's resignation, it took me until July 1994 to reach the dizzy heights of Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier. It was not that I did not get on with John Fahey—I admired him immensely for his work in introducing enterprise agreements as industrial relations Minister. It was just that he had other political debts to pay. Such is life in politics. When I arrived at the "Black Stump" as the Premier's office tower was then known, I was returning to a place where I had worked over three university vacations for Premiers Askin, Lewis and Willis. My job as an Assistant Service Officer in the 1970s had been to serve tea and biscuits, lay out the Cabinet table and wash up after Lady Askin's Christmas parties. After I got my Arts degree, I was put in the research section, trying to figure out how to stop Gough Whitlam claiming large chunks of coastal New South Wales under the new Law of the Sea legislation.

    As Parliamentary Secretary, I soon discovered that the Premier's Department staff had consulted the departmental archives to try to figure me out. We got on okay and at the beginning of 1995, when John Fahey turned to campaigning full time, I was left to deal with all his correspondence on the advice of the Premier's Department head, Col Gellatly, and his Chief of Staff, Robert Maher. Our proud boast was that we had to get the Premier off a helicopter only once—to deal with a letter from the Federal transport Minister, Laurie Brereton, who was trying to fit us up over the third runway fiasco.

    Mr Bryce Gaudry: Truth in sentencing.

    Mr ANDREW TINK: I will come to that. Otherwise, we handled everything, including all ministerial correspondence and the referral of a high profile statutory body to the ICAC. Following the defeat in March 1995—where, by the way, John Fahey and Ian Armstrong got almost 53 per cent of the popular vote—I finally made it on to the front bench under Peter Collins, and within a year, I was Shadow police Minister. With the implementation of the Wood royal commission reports, these were momentous times. Some of Wood's recommendations I agreed with and some I did not. Beyond any doubt, the ICAC had failed in one of the key tasks Greiner had set it, namely, rooting out police corruption. I very strongly supported Wood's recommendation to set up the Police Integrity Commission [PIC] to do what the ICAC had failed to do. The more powerful an investigative body, such as the PIC is, the greater is its responsibility to act fairly. So, when ABC Four Corners broadcast PIC telephone intercepts relating to Operation Florida before they had been introduced as evidence at PIC hearings into that operation, I lodged a complaint with the PIC Inspector.

    The Hon Mervyn Finlay, QC, found that the steps the PIC took to ensure that Four Corners would not put such intercepts to air had failed, and he held the commission accountable in his report of 8 November 2001, copies of which are in the Parliamentary Library. The inspector's emphatic conclusion was that, "What happened should not have happened!" Nevertheless, I note in his book Jonestown at page 412, that Chris Masters seems to think this was somehow a plot cooked up by Alan Jones and me to attack Four Corners. Nothing could be further from the truth. Justice Finlay's report speaks for itself and I thank Alan Jones for airing this matter. While I supported the creation of the PIC, I did not agree with Wood's recommendations that resulted in the amalgamation of the then 160-odd locally led and locally based police patrols into 80 local area commands. In my view there was insufficient evidence of police corruption in the uniform branch to justify this reorganisation, and the abolition of police patrols such as Cronulla and Lakemba later made it difficult for police to nip in the bud the sort of conduct that led to last summer's riots. But Wood's recommendation 12 to legislate to give the commissioner clear authority over operations and the Minister over policy, so far ignored, needs to be revisited in the wake of those riots.

    By far my biggest political fight was with police Minister Paul Whelan over his hotel interests. Where are you, Davina? I promised I would be good! My view was simple, especially during the reform process when so much was being asked of senior police who were prohibited from holding hotel interests: The Minister who, at the end of the day could direct such police, should set the example and divest himself of his interests. The battle raged on and off for years until in May 1998, after I revealed in Parliament that the Minister was the company secretary and director of Reachbold Pty Limited, which owned the Orient Hotel in The Rocks, he resigned from these positions.

    This fight was not personal on my part, but was all about the perception of a conflict of interest, as was an issue involving Premier Carr's proposal to allow Gordon Samuels to continue as Chairman of the Law Reform Commission following his appointment as Governor. I could not understand how one of the Government's key advisers on changing the law could, at the same time, sign such laws into effect, and raised the matter with ICAC Commissioner Barry O'Keefe. However, at his later swearing in, the Governor announced he would not be available to be chairman, which I thought was the right and proper result.

    Apart from tackling such issues, I tried to run a broad-based program of private members' bills to push the Government on reform. With parliamentary numbers tight after 1995, I almost got up a contract provisions disclosure bill, but was defeated on the casting vote of the Speaker. My first majority verdicts bill was comprehensively defeated in 1997 after a very strong speech against the whole concept of majority verdicts by the current Premier, who has only recently come to see the error of his ways. Nevertheless, Paul Whelan allowed me one significant victory when the Government agreed to support a Bail Amendment Bill allowing the confiscation of passports after a man, allegedly involved in driving a defective truck that hit a car and burned a baby to death, absconded overseas after a magistrate said he had no power to confiscate his passport.

    More recently as shadow Attorney General, I proposed greater accountability for prosecutors and judges, and wanted to see juries involved in sentencing. The New South Wales Department of Public Prosecutions [DPP] should be subject to the same parliamentary committee oversight as the English DPP, and Mr Cowdrey should realise that independence must be balanced by accountability of the sort the ICAC, PlC and others have long accepted. As for the judiciary, the debacle of the sleeping Judge Dodd, whose problem was brought to a head by the RTA rather than the Judicial Commission, clearly indicates to me that it is high time a layperson was appointed to the division dealing with serious judicial misconduct. After all, the Judicial Commission's powers are delegated from Parliament itself, which alone has the power to sack judges, and lay participation in proceedings to discipline barristers and solicitors has long been accepted.

    I refer now to W. C. Wentworth to my left up here, who first sat in this Chamber as an elected member in 1843 and whose portrait has hung here since 1859. When Wentworth was born in 1790, return communications from Sydney to London and back took a year, as a consequence of which the Governor was all-powerful. But in 1872, the year of Wentworth's death, the completion of a telegraph line reduced communication time to about four hours—and this changed politics. In the 1850s, the Crimean War came and went, reported as a far away Imperial distraction. But thanks to the telegraph, General Gordon's decapitation in Khartoum was so quickly reported in Sydney in 1885 that New South Wales immediately sent troops there. And so today, changes to communication also drive politicians.

    When I first came into Parliament, mobile phones were virtually unheard of and there was no Internet or email. Even in the mid-1990s, only a few public servants and Ministers could access up-to-date New South Wales statutes. Today Internet search engines allow anyone to look up sentencing Acts and get on to talkback radio to debate them. The ability of an ordinary talkback caller to be heard by 600,000 listeners, on sentencing, is, by definition in a liberal democracy, good; but it places enormous stresses on the legal system. The key to easing these stresses now, as it was almost 200 years ago, is to allow the public to participate.

    In Wentworth's day, a burning political issue was whether to allow ex-convicts to sit on juries to judge wealthy exclusives. Wentworth championed the ex-convicts and the law was eventually changed without awful consequences. Today even the Chief Justice agrees that the community, through juries, should have a say in sentencing. And again there is a relatively simple way: If a jury returned a guilty verdict for a crime carrying a standard non-parole period set by Parliament, the jury would be asked whether, on the evidence it has heard, the standard non-parole period should apply. If the answer were "yes", the judge would use the non-parole period as the minimum starting point for sentencing and if "no" then there would be no such restriction. [Extension of time agreed to.]

    My first experience of a Liberal leadership challenge was in January 1976 during one of my summer breaks working in the Premier's Department. Eric Willis defeated Tom Lewis, but no good came of it and the Coalition Government was defeated four months later. Since then I have seen Chikarovski defeat Collins, and Brogden defeat Chikarovski. Each time I backed the incumbent, believing that those involved would have been much better off working on policy. At each subsequent election we went backwards, and the careers of two people who had the ability to be Premier ended prematurely.

    The lesson, as far as I am concerned, is that leadership coups are no substitute for good policy work. After John Brogden resigned, some suggested that I put my hand up for the leadership. But whatever my ambitions might have been in the past, it was out of the question following a nasty attack of shingles above my right eye, which, at that time, affected my general health quite severely. I was happy to continue as shadow Attorney and Leader of the House, but as the time approached for me to nominate for pre-selection it became clear to me that I should stand down, not being certain at that time that I could commit to another four years in Parliament.

    Since making that decision my health has improved greatly, which, as far as I am concerned, is a sign that I made the right personal decision at the time even though it will not be easy to be a mere spectator of what I am quietly confident will be a Coalition Government next year. It has been a great privilege to represent the people of Eastwood and Epping for 19 years in this House. The biggest local promise I made in my inaugural speech was to get the Castlereagh Freeway built, which was finally delivered in 1997 after years of turbulent public meetings. Overwhelmingly my constituents are resourceful and independent self-starters. They are also very well informed and capable of great passion in their politics, which locally has focused mainly on transport and planning issues arising from the pressures of an electorate comprising suburbs in the middle of the Sydney metropolitan area. My constituents are also among the most generous people in Sydney with as high a rate of volunteerism, community work and charity support as anywhere else in New South Wales. Eastwood Community Aid and the Shack Youth Outreach at Epping are just two wonderful examples of this.

    I thank, firstly, members of the Eastwood and Epping State Electorate Conferences of the Liberal Party for their unswerving and strong support of me. I thank, secondly, my staff over the years, especially Margaret Zappala who first went to work for my predecessor Jim Clough in 1976; and last but by no means least, I thank my family, who, like all families of politicians, have had to put up with quite a bit over the years. When I announced I was not standing for re-election, one of the phone calls I most enjoyed receiving was from my old sparring partner Paul Whelan who gave me the following advice: "Mate, very occasionally someone might stop you in the street and say, 'Don't I know you from somewhere?' All you have to say in reply is, 'Yep, I got knocked off in one of the early rounds of Who Wants to be a Millionaire and they will then leave you alone". By the way, he told me he should have retired four years earlier. I have turned out to be a lot more conservative than John Maddison was in this House, but I still like to think that he would have approved of my career in the Parliament that, 42 years ago, he inspired me to join.