Budget Estimates and Related Papers
Financial Year 2007-08
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
Mr GEOFF PROVEST (Tweed) [5.57 p.m.]: I have given a great deal of thought to my response to the budget and I have listened intently to the contributions made by the previous speakers, both in favour of the budget and against it. As all honourable members know, during a vigorous debate last night a great deal of criticism was laid at the feet of the Federal Government in relation to various issues. Before I deal in detail with the effect of the budget on the Tweed electorate, I will make some comments on fiscal management by Federal governments. I grew up in Sydney and lived here for a long time. I was married at a very early age and had a mortgage. Unfortunately, I went through the Federal Labor era under the Hawke-Keating Government and paid 18 per cent interest on my home loan.
I assure the House that it was extraordinarily tough, especially when the then Prime Minister was dashing around in Italian suits and collecting French clocks. The high rate of interest had a fairly dire effect on my family because it limited what I was able to provide for them. At that time, both my wife and I were working and all our money was spent on paying the mortgage and feeding the children. I make those comments to illustrate the point that budgets are very important and that the responsibilities inherent in budgets are also very important. I am 100 per cent for the Tweed. This Labor Government budget is 100 per cent against the Tweed. The budget not only fails to fund the Premier's Tweed election promises, but also fails to provide sufficient funding even to maintain current levels of Government-funded services in the Tweed.
Recently in the media I have been accused by the Premier of being a relatively new kid on the block, and I guess I am. However, I was taught that if you promise something, that promise should be delivered. The Premier won the election, and I congratulate him on that. He made promises, but he did not keep them. The people of the Tweed should not be held to ransom. The Premier said, "Oh well, Geoffrey, you have to understand that I was speaking of a four-year cycle." I am talking about election promises for police stations, which are needed now, not in four years. That need has become critical.
When I asked the Premier about this in question time, he told me that I failed to understand that the Government has four years to keep its election promises. The Tweed residents who were promised a new trade school in Kingscliff, a new police station and a community health centre in Pottsville, are not satisfied with that explanation. When the Premier made his secret visits to the Tweed in the run-up to the election, he said he would deliver those services if Labor were re-elected. He did not say, "I'll sit on my hands for 15 months and then I might do something."
The Premier also promised Tweed residents that a re-elected Labor Government would deliver, "better services, not cuts". Yet all we have seen since 24 March are cuts, cuts and more cuts. Labor cut one of only six coronary care beds at Tweed Heads District Hospital. Labor cut the funding that Queensland gave it to buy compensatory habitats to make up for the environmental impact of the C4 roadway, known as the Tugun Bypass, on the New South Wales side of the border. Labor has just tried to cut the guts out of Murwillumbah District Hospital by attempting to close the children's ward and giving up on recruiting an obstetrician. Labor has cut and run on the Pacific Highway upgrade at Sexton Hill, allocating less than 1 per cent of the required funding in the budget.
Labor cut Tweed Neighbourhood Watch and the Tweed Safety House programs. Yesterday I attended a meeting at police headquarters with representatives from Neighbourhood Watch. The police congratulated the local residents and the volunteers on the way they run their programs, saying that it was one of the best examples of Neighbourhood Watch that they had seen. Yet, that program is to be pulled apart. It is a crying shame that when people try to make their community a safe and better place they do not have the support of the Government.
Labor cut the Tweed's only rail service. In my inaugural speech in this House I outlined the key issues that I have been fighting for on behalf of the citizens of the Tweed. I put forward practical and affordable solutions to the problems in the Tweed. I realise that there is not unlimited money and that there are great demands on those funds. We have had many problems in the Tweed that have been caused by the failure of the Carr and Iemma governments since 1999 to listen, to understand and to act on the concerns of Tweed residents. The number one issue in the Tweed is the Sexton Hill upgrade of the Pacific Highway. The Government's proposed B-doubles option B will be a nightmare for Tweed residents. Community option C, prepared by Rod Bates and his team of experts, is a much better option for local traffic and the environment. The encouraging thing about option C is that the price tag and the time it takes to build are roughly the same as option B. Unfortunately, the Roads and Traffic Authority and the Government are not listening. The budget should have funding for an independent evaluation and costing of both options and the money to get started.
Tweed Heads District Hospital is blessed with hardworking and caring medical professionals. Unfortunately, they are let down by financial neglect and inept management from Sydney and the North Coast Area Health Service. It was revealed earlier this year that patients assessed as requiring medical treatment at our hospitals are often left to wait in the corridors for up to 48 hours. The budget should allocate explicit funding to fix the problems at Tweed Heads District Hospital. Instead, the Government has cynically attempted to all but close Murwillumbah District Hospital, which is outside my electorate but which services the Tweed community. If it were not for the strong intervention yesterday of The Nationals candidate for the Federal seat of Richmond, Sue Page, the Government may well have got its way.
The Premier promised a new community health centre for Pottsville, but there is not a penny in this budget for that project, nor any mention of the project. God help the Tweed if we get an Iemma-type Labor government in Canberra later this year. Labor closed the Tweed's only rail service three years ago, the Murwillumbah to Casino rail service. The Government claimed it could not afford to operate the line. At the same time, it boasted about spending billions of dollars on CityRail in Sydney. On the old figures for that rail line, the subsidies were less that the amount that the Government is currently paying for CityRail. The budget should have included funding to introduce a commuter and tourist light rail service and to start planning the extension from Murwillumbah to the Gold Coast in conjunction with the Queensland Government. Currently?and I hate to say this?the Queensland Labor Government is getting on with the job. It already has plans and rail reserves to bring the rail line down to the airport at Coolangatta. I applaud the Queensland Government for that; it has shown some foresight.
The Government made all sorts of policy-on-the run promises about Tweed police services just before the election when Tweed officers threatened industrial action. They threatened to strike because of the lack of numbers. We were to get extra officers, a new police station and a new mobile command unit. Needless to say, none of those promises has been kept in this awful budget. The best we get is that Sydney occasionally lets us borrow one of its police cars during the peak tourist season. The Tweed Police Association representatives have told Tweed media that they were conned by Labor. We need at least 25 additional officers to open the Murwillumbah and Kingscliff police stations 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we need five additional highway patrol officers. Our highway patrol officer numbers have not increased for 15 years, while our population and traffic on the highway have more than doubled.
Tweed schools are missing out on Labor election promises and they are missing out on the minimum funding they need to operate safely. Tweed River High School needs about $4 million in urgent maintenance funding, not for any expansion, but just to bring it up to standard. It has received only a fraction of that money. Banora Point High School needs about $200,000 to implement the Government's plan to extend the school from year 10 to year 12 over the next two years. Once again, only a fraction of that money has been provided. There are currently year 10 students at Banora Point High School, and they need to go to year 11 next year. We need funding for that.
Kingscliff Primary School is great school with great teachers and supporters. However, it cannot get money to fix its toilet block, which would be condemned if it were commercial premises. The school has had a temporary toilet block for nearly four years. The former Minister for Education and Training, the Hon. Carmel Tebbutt, visited the school and commented on the smelly toilets. The students are forced to use substandard facilities. The budget should have provided enough funding to maintain Tweed schools. Ideally it should have included planning funding for a new high school at Pottsville, which is right off the radar, but I intend to keep fighting for it.
Public housing is in crisis across New South Wales. The problem is particularly acute in the Tweed, where there are many pensioners. In fact, pensioners in the Tweed face an 18 to 20 year wait for public housing, compared to nine years just across the border in Queensland. However, pensioners in 20 units at Yarra Court in Banora Point are being evicted by the Labor Government. That is right! The Department of Housing is forcing those elderly people out on to the streets. Those people, almost all of whom would qualify for the public housing list, are being evicted by the Department of Housing to make way for people on the public housing list. This is Labor bureaucracy gone completely insane. How much more pain and confusion is the Government going to inflict on those Banora Point pensioners who I am privileged to represent? They are elderly people and twice they have been given misinformation about their proposed eviction date.
I turn now to the Tweed environment. The Government made a big play of its environmental credentials in the Tweed campaign, in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to get Greens preferences to save my embattled Labor predecessor. I have already mentioned Labor's Tugun bypass compensatory habitat rip-off. Labor also promised $10,000 for a management plan for Duranbah Beach, which is listed as one of the top five surfing beaches in Australia. Needless to say, that money is not in the budget. The balance between necessary development and the environment is a difficult one in the Tweed. There are no local checks and balances on developers in the Tweed since Labor sacked the elected council and took over its planning powers. Labor bureaucrats in Sydney now approve developments and the principal criterion appears to be how much a project will put into the State Government's coffers. That is why Sydney Labor foisted upon us bad developments, including the infamous Cudgen bug farm, the expanded Chinderah marina, which has now been stopped by the courts, and the sell-off of the Jack Evans Boat Harbour.
The budget should have included funding to protect our river and restore local democracy to the Tweed but, once again, we fail to see any reference to it. I might be the new kid on the block, but I would really like to see some transparency and some figures in the budget so that the people of the Tweed know where they are heading. The incredibly frustrating cross-border problems that cause such needless headaches for families and small businesses on both sides of the border have never been of much interest to the New South Wales Government. Sadly, daylight saving is one of the issues that causes not only social problems but also financial loss to many businesses, which are held up in the time warp. Unfortunately, in recent days there has been a move to increase the amount of daylight saving by another four weeks. Once again, that will create many problems in the Tweed electorate.
Before the election the Labor Government picked up on The Nationals policy of creating an independent cross-border commission, which recently resulted in Premiers from both Queensland and New South Wales signing a memorandum of understanding. I asked a question on notice about the terms of reference for that cross-border commission. I received a response, but guess what? The Government is still working out the terms of reference. Too much time has passed; this issue has been around for years we need action now. The Government's response was pathetic and at this stage amounts to an arrangement to share a taxi rank at the airport. That is the gist of discussions concerning the cross-border commission.
In conclusion, this is a terrible budget for country New South Wales. The Premier boasted that the Government was back in the black, but budget day for my constituents in the Tweed was nothing to celebrate. I repeat my invitation to the Premier to visit the Tweed and meet real people with real problems rather than relying on advice from bureaucrats more interested in protecting their own positions than offering impartial advice. This week the Premier told me in question time that he thinks the Tweed is a beautiful part of New South Wales. He went on to say many times that he would visit it.
The Premier and any other Ministers are more than welcome to come and talk to the locals. The member for Macquarie Fields and the member for Wollongong are more than welcome to visit the Tweed at any time. It will probably be a little warmer than it is in Sydney at the moment. Why does this Government treat the Tweed with absolute contempt? I would like to sit down with members of the Government and work through these issues. The Tweed must be recognised but, more importantly, it must be recognised through the allocation of resources. The people of the Tweed want to enjoy the lifestyle that is being enjoyed by people in Sydney.
Ms PRU GOWARD (Goulburn) [6.13 p.m.]: The Iemma Government's budget held few surprises for the Goulburn electorate and a great many disappointments. The Premier's boast that the budget reflects a strong commitment to country New South Wales was demonstrated to be a travesty. No such commitment was made to my electorate. The Premier told us that this year a record $3.69 billion would be spent on rural health services and facilities, but despite local fundraising and a clearly demonstrated need, not a single cent has been allocated to upgrading the children's ward in Bowral hospital. Chief executive officers of the Sydney South West Area Health Service have given assurances, but some 2½ years since the BDCU Children's Foundation began raising community awareness and fundraising, absolutely nothing concrete, literally, has been done to the ward.
It is still a sleep-out, an enclosed verandah attached to an adult ward, overcrowded and with limited space for parents to remain overnight, which is now normal practice in other hospitals. "Too bad", says the Minister for Health. It is not where she lives?in Coogee?so apparently it does not matter. In the scheme of the total Health budget, $3 million is such a pitifully modest amount of money. If the budget papers are to be believed, nothing is about to happen any time soon. That is particularly galling when I have had two conversations with departmental health officials when the urgency of this upgrade has been acknowledged. It is disgraceful that this Government continues to ignore the public concern and the obvious necessity of upgrading the children's ward.
Children who are ill and require oxygen have to be moved from their beds to access these facilities. The ward is depressing and inadequate. Thank goodness for the professional and dedicated staff who do not appear to be affected by these conditions. The foundation has raised around $100,000— Children who are ill and require oxygen have to be moved from their beds to access these facilities. The ward is depressing and inadequate. Thank goodness for the professional and dedicated staff who do not appear to be affected by these conditions. The foundation has raised around $100,000—money that local people have been happy to give for an important cause, but obviously not important enough so far as the health Minister is concerned. Local people have no intention of putting their trust in the Iemma Government in the hope that, one day, completely out of the blue, it will suddenly deliver a refurbished children's ward. We will keep on and on about this issue. We will not miss an opportunity to make sure everyone knows that of the $3.69 billion spent on rural health services and facilities not one cent was earmarked for the children's ward.
The Treasurer also announced that over $5 billion had been committed to commuters, but will a single dollar of that amount be spent in replacing the local rail services savagely cut by this Labor Government? Will any of the billions of taxpayer dollars to which residents in the Goulburn electorate contributed be used to fund a feasibility study into the electrification of the line from Campbelltown to Goulburn? Or what about straightening the winding track north of Mittagong that adds at least 20 minutes to the journey? So far I have received nearly 300 replies to a survey that I distributed in the Goulburn-Mulwaree local government area, in which I asked specifically about rail and bus services from Goulburn to Sydney.
Some people are so furious about the service that they attach letters detailing their concerns. They make comments such as "frequently delayed", "filthy", "disgraceful", "unreliable", and that is only a start. Someone made the comment that it seems as though the Sydney to Goulburn service is deliberately being allowed to run down. Given the Government's refusal to do anything other than cut and slash services, perhaps that person is correct. I am waiting to hear from the police Minister about the number of police who have been removed from the Camden and Goulburn local area commands and detailed for involvement in security operations for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Sydney in September 2007.
Meanwhile, vandalism in the Southern Highlands is becoming a weekend sport. Shop windows are smashed on a regular basis. People complain that they do not see police officers on the beat or highway patrol officers on local roads. So how much of the $2.7 billion can we expect to see in the Goulburn electorate? The police Minister recently suggested to me in this place that I would welcome the announcement of funds for the commencement of planning for a new police station. Indeed I do, albeit with reservations. No doubt our hard-working police who are stationed at Bowral police station would have welcomed the refurbishment, or a new police station, when it was first mooted back in 2004.
The Treasurer of the day proclaimed that Bowral police station was flagged amongst the stations identified as "the highest priorities for replacement or refurbishment". Since that time nothing has changed for Bowral police station. Now, three years later, we have another Minister suggesting that I should welcome "funds for the commencement of planning for a new police station at Bowral". Perhaps he will understand my cynicism. I will hold my praise until, and if, the final product is delivered. It was not delivered last time. Will this turn out to be more bluster, more bells and whistles, but no actual money spent or action taken? What is the point of building a new police station when there is no commitment to staff it adequately anyway? When it comes to spending taxpayers' money, there is always something to spend when the Government believes it will earn votes. This brings me to the white elephant, known also as the desalination plant. I received an email today from someone who I think sums it up precisely:
? please let it be known that I do not want a desalination plant. I don't want a big one or a small one. I want 100% stormwater harvesting. So please keep up the pressure. If the Iemma Government can't manage the stormwater then let them give it to someone who can. No stormwater or sewerage should be going into our oceans or waterways to be wasted.
Nicely put?and it is certainly not an isolated message. Why have the Premier and his cohorts not heard this loud refrain? Water from the drenching rains of recent weeks has been pouring out to sea, literally gushing down stormwater drains. And what is the Government doing to harness that water? Its answer is a desalination plant that will cost some $2 billion! The Government should be supporting water recycling and stormwater harvesting instead of pouring taxpayers' money into a desalination plant with dubious environmental credentials.
The New South Wales Coalition in this place mentioned domestic rainwater tanks some 10 years ago. The Premier of the day publicly derided the idea along with stormwater harvesting and then went on to offer a financial incentive to customers of Sydney Water to install domestic rainwater tanks. In typical fashion this Sydney-centric Labor Government did not offer the incentive to those who were not customers of Sydney Water and only now, with much trumpeting and hurrah, the budget notes that this incentive will be extended across New South Wales. I will be looking out for the application forms and the information package. I invite the Minister to send some to my office so that I can distribute this much-needed subsidy around my electorate.
A briefing to Wingecarribee Shire Council last night from the New South Wales Department of Commerce has muddied the water even more—if that is possible—in relation to the Wingecarribee to Goulburn emergency pipeline. Wingecarribee council was told the pipeline, which is promised in the budget, will now deliver 7.3 megalitres of water at a cost of approximately $50 million—well below Goulburn Mulwaree Council's own estimate of between $55 million and $65 million. But with the rain of previous days filling Sooley Dam—which is Goulburn's main dam—the people of Goulburn and I are seeking an assurance that the Government will retain the $20 million pipeline contribution promised in the budget. A heavy flood will not turn the region around forever.
Goulburn is in a drought-prone area and it is only a matter of time before that emergency pipeline is needed again. Goulburn cannot be allowed to be in such dire circumstances again. The cost to Goulburn of servicing the $10 million that the city is required to contribute to the pipeline is a significant impost on ratepayers. Specifically, it will involve an increase in water charges of $65 per ratepayer each year and a levy of $130 per ratepayer to pay the interest on the loan. This will be a heavy burden for many low income and retired residents in Goulburn. The Iemma Government should ensure that assistance is available to help people who might experience additional financial hardship because of this impost.
The Upper Lachlan shire has been waiting patiently for $710,000 to complete the sealing of the Oberon to Taralga-Goulburn Road. There is a mere 5.35 kilometres left to seal but a hunt through the budget papers revealed no funding. At a meeting the council had with the Minister for Roads in early June it was assured that the funding was available. Of course, the question remains: When will it be made available? With the recent rain washing dirt roads away and causing potholes the size of craters in roads, sealing the remainder of the Oberon to Taralga Road has become more urgent than ever.
The Government's lack of commitment to the people of my electorate, and indeed to the rest of New South Wales, in the area of climate change is also a significant issue that must be raised. The $310 million commitment over four years sounds good on paper but is not new money. It is rebadged old money that the Government could not spend from the energy and water savings funds. There is no reference to the Climate Change Fund in the budget papers and there is little reference to the detail of how this fund will be delivered. We have had to wait for a separate bill to find that out— The Government's lack of commitment to the people of my electorate, and indeed to the rest of New South Wales, in the area of climate change is also a significant issue that must be raised. The $310 million commitment over four years sounds good on paper but is not new money. It is rebadged old money that the Government could not spend from the energy and water savings funds. There is no reference to the Climate Change Fund in the budget papers and there is little reference to the detail of how this fund will be delivered. We have had to wait for a separate bill to find that out—even though the Government has been talking about it for weeks in Parliament as a way of filling in time. The people of New South Wales deserve to know the details about what the Government is doing to combat climate change. To me, the most logical and transparent place to do that would be in the budget. The people of New South Wales also do not know when they can expect to see these programs.
The Government says, "Sure, the rainwater tank rebate and the solar hot water service rebate begin on 1 July." But that is this Sunday! Where are the forms? Where is the advice to water supply companies? Where is the promotional campaign? As usual the Government has put no effort into administration or actually delivering on a promise; there is just spin. The Government waited until the dying days of this session to push through the Climate Change Fund legislation, but it had months to put in place the administration of these schemes and, since no new moneys were involved, the lack of legislation and the lack of a budget were no barriers. What disgraceful public administration! I know this because of the hundreds of telephone calls to my electoral office and from the conversations I have had with my Coalition colleagues. They tell me how many people are phoning their offices, inquiring about the rainwater tank rebate scheme, how it will work and where they can pick up the forms on Sunday. Yes, we all know the scheme will begin on 1 July because the Minister told us so several times in this Chamber. Surely this is not a case of the Government being misleading.
The $310 million commitment over four years is not even generous by the standards of the revenue that the Government is now harvesting from environmental taxes. Some $337 million will be collected in a single year from one waste levy in 2010-11. Let me make it clear: The New South Wales Government, touting its environmental credentials like it was the inventor of the environment, will collect $310 million in one year from one waste levy, yet its commitment to climate change is $310 million over four years. This is proof indeed that the New South Wales Government's commitment to addressing climate change is nothing more than its usual patting down of environment groups and community concerns, with no determination to get out there and do the job. Spending money is not that hard except when it comes to this Government spending on services and supports for regional New South Wales. If the Government is really committed to demonstrating its environmental credentials it might return to the hypothecation of environmental levies to environmental projects, as it tried to do once before and failed miserably.
The Government's lack of commitment to bettering New South Wales is also evident in my second shadow portfolio of Women. In the budget media release the Minister for Women welcomed "policies and programs designed to support New South Wales women". The Minister then went on to list programs that already exist, such as Girl Savvy, Lucy Mentoring and the grants to local councils for International Women's Day. What about additional support for domestic violence services and women's specialist services in the community sector? Where is the detail to say how the funding for victim support and counselling will be spent? Where is any mention at all of action on pay equity? That is Labor women's favourite subject—at least it is when they can do nothing about it.
The reality is that this budget has little on offer for women in New South Wales. A State Government that offers only lip service to the problems faced by women wheeled out the standard rhetoric with no substance and no action. Since 2000 women in the New South Wales public sector have consistently earned $6,000 less on average than their male counterparts. That issue could have been addressed in the budget. Despite the fact that more women than ever before are working, wages for women in the New South Wales public sector have remained well below those of their male counterparts for the past five years. The Minister's list of key initiatives for women offers programs that encourage leadership, independence and success but it fails to cut to the chase and confront the issue of pay equity— The reality is that this budget has little on offer for women in New South Wales. A State Government that offers only lip service to the problems faced by women wheeled out the standard rhetoric with no substance and no action. Since 2000 women in the New South Wales public sector have consistently earned $6,000 less on average than their male counterparts. That issue could have been addressed in the budget. Despite the fact that more women than ever before are working, wages for women in the New South Wales public sector have remained well below those of their male counterparts for the past five years. The Minister's list of key initiatives for women offers programs that encourage leadership, independence and success but it fails to cut to the chase and confront the issue of pay equity—the very basis of equality in the workplace.
I of course applaud women's independence and success, but what a slap in the face for a woman to achieve both and then get to the public sector only to be told that she cannot earn as much as her male counterpart. The public sector should be leading the way in this area and setting an example. This issue should be driven by the Minister for Women and it should be in this budget. This budget is a grave disappointment to the people of Goulburn and country New South Wales as a whole and a missed opportunity for this great State.
Mr GREG SMITH (Epping) [6.33 p.m.]: This budget does very little for the Epping electorate. Epping is becoming the road and rail junction for northwest Sydney, but what benefits does that bring to the residents of the electorate? The Government proclaims, and the Deputy Premier, and Minister for Transport skites about, how much money is being spent on the Chatswood to Epping rail link. The Deputy Premier says he is doing a lot for Epping. He also skites about the money being spent on the North West Rail Link.
Epping is being treated like the late Jim Cairns claimed he was being treated by the media over his friendship with Juni Morosi: we are getting all the blame and none of the benefit! In the case of Epping, that is a true statement, because the people of Epping are getting very little benefit from the Epping to Chatswood rail link or the North West Rail Link. What is the benefit to Epping of having a thousand cars a day clogging the roads leading to Epping station, then parking in suburban streets for a radius of more than a kilometre from the station, all day, every week day? Commuters are parking in front of driveways and on footpaths.
Having a brand-new railway station complete with lifts and escalators that regularly break down, and a steep staircase to replace a functional 30-year-old bridge and ramp that helped the frail-aged, the handicapped and mothers with prams—now destroyed by the Transport Infrastructure Development Corporation, with the express permission of the Deputy Premier, and Minister for Transport—has left the citizens of Epping in a poor state. How are they to safely cross Beecroft Road to Langston Place? They are reluctant to catch the lift because they are scared of getting stuck in it, and anyway they cannot get in the lift at busy times of the day. And they cannot go up the stairs because they are at such a steep incline.
Do they have to walk another 125 metres across a rough footpath to a pedestrian crossing? That is almost impossible for those with a walking frame or in a motorised wheelchair. The Government, and particularly the Deputy Premier, and Minister for Transport and the bureaucracy of his ministry, deserve the strongest of condemnation for their lack of care and attention to those people of Epping. They failed to consult these people, then stubbornly refused to reconsider pleas to retain the old bridge and the concourse at the station.
Another area in which the Government has shown its callous disregard for the residents of the northwest and motorists who use Epping Road and the Gore Hill Freeway is in its contracting with the builders of the Lane Cove Tunnel to close two of the three lanes on Epping Road and close some adjoining roads so that motorists will be funnelled into the Lane Cove Tunnel, which remains unfiltered and thus a health risk through exposure to the fumes for drivers and passengers who use the tunnel, and for neighbouring residents who are exposed to polluted air emitted from the stacks.
Residents of the northwest, including Epping, who travel to and from the city each day are being bitten by the tolls that are being imposed—up to four times going in, and up to three times on their return. Some motorist will pay a total of $29.32 a day, plus parking fees, to come into the city. Of course, those living in the western area of Sydney get the advantage of a cash- Residents of the northwest, including Epping, who travel to and from the city each day are being bitten by the tolls that are being imposed—up to four times going in, and up to three times on their return. Some motorist will pay a total of $29.32 a day, plus parking fees, to come into the city. Of course, those living in the western area of Sydney get the advantage of a cash-back system. They get back $2.20 if they travel on the M4 and get back $3.80 if they use the M5. The people of Epping and other parts of the Epping electorate get no refunds. Admittedly M4 and M5 motorists have to pay the 10 per cent in GST on the tolls. However, people in the Epping area are paying up to $29 a day in tolls. That is discrimination.
If cash-back was not available for citizens who use the M4 or M5 because of their race, because of their sexual preference, or because of their transgender or marital status, or because they have a disability, or because they have carer responsibilities, or because of their homosexuality, or their age, or because they have HIV-AIDS, that would be unlawful discrimination. So why are the people of the northwest suffering this discrimination that the people of the west do not suffer? Why do we have to pay more if we travel from our area to the same city, being voters in the same State and taxpayers who pay tax in similar amounts? This Government has done nothing to rectify this injustice. I assure the House and the electorate of Epping that in my term as member for Epping I will fight this discrimination. If the Coalition is elected at the next election, as I expect it will be, it will be one of my achievements to have that discrimination scrapped.
The Coalition will not impose these discriminatory fees on the west. We will not discriminate against any of the people of this city. The cash-back system applies to the people of the west, who are said to be poorer—even though the may have more disposable income or cash in hand than do many who live in the northwest, particularly those who have to pay all these transport tolls and various other amounts. However, the people of the northwest are missing out badly because they do not have a similar scheme.
I come to a number of specific ways in which the Epping electorate suffers as a result of the budget. Before the election, along with the much-heralded announcement that Maxine McKew would be a candidate against the Prime Minister, came an announcement that after many years of inaction the New South Wales Government would build a school hall at Epping West Public School. The Opposition also announced that it would build the school hall. The Coalition did not have a chance to renege on its promise—it would not have done so because it was committed to it; it was a first priority for the electorate of Epping—but this Labor Government has reneged on its promise.
There are no funds in the budget for the Epping West Public School hall. This is despite the fact that the parents and citizens association has raised $300,000 over the past seven years to help pay for extra facilities in the hall. And it is despite the fact that the State Government would be up for only a small portion of the cost of the hall, because the Commonwealth would supply the majority of funding. However, unless the State puts in its 15 per cent or so, there can be no hall. That is what has happened. Before the election this Labor Government promised to build that new hall. As it were, they seduced the school community. The principal wrote to the parents of the children saying: This is what the Government has announced; isn't it wonderful? But they have got nothing. The school community has no idea when they will get this hall, if ever.
Andrew Tink, my distinguished predecessor, fought for years on this issue. He sent petitions to this House containing thousands of signatures. What was the Government's response? It was to use the names and addresses in those petitions to write to those people and promise them that the Epping West Public School would get its hall! What has happened? Nothing. They will not get their hall. That promise has been broken. Epping, because it happens to be a Coalition held seat, gets nothing. In contrast, the Ryde electorate has had spending of several million dollars on schools in that electorate in the last year or so. That is because the State Government was prepared to put its money in to help the Ryde schools and get the Commonwealth benefit. Epping West, which raised $300,000 towards the cost of its hall, gets nothing. I do not know how that will help Maxine McKew, who lives in the Epping West area.
Cheltenham Girls High School also has been let down. It was promised an upgrade, but not one dollar has been allocated in this year's budget for completion of the upgrade project. Last year we were told that that upgrade would be completed in 2008. Now we are told it will be 2009—but not one single dollar has been allocated to this worthy project. The poor girls of Cheltenham Girls High, many of whom supported me during the campaign—and made great fun of the fact that I was on the stations regularly handing out things to them and others—are made suffer again. They are forced to wait while Michael Costa crows about his budget surplus—a surplus achieved by depriving the students of Cheltenham Girls High School.
What has happened with Epping Road? Many in the electorate of Epping and elsewhere use Epping Road. What has the Government spent on Epping Road improvements? It spent $25 million to keep Epping Road open for the election, so motorists could go through the tunnel or along Epping Road. Now the Government will funnel traffic into the Lane Cove Tunnel by closing off lanes on Epping Road, leaving one lane instead of three on each side, along what is already a congested stretch of road.
Pennant Hills Road is part of the national highway and an extremely important piece of infrastructure. How much money has been allocated in the budget for spending on Pennant Hills Road? Nothing! Another inquiry into Pennant Hills Road is underway. The Government, despite the recent history of tunnels, wants to put a tunnel under Pennant Hills Road. The Cross City Tunnel was a fiasco. The M5, which the Government has to fit with filtration because of the problems it has caused, was also a fiasco. But the Lane Cove Tunnel has no filtration. The residents of the area would prefer a road across the Hawkesbury so that trucks can get to Sydney West by another route, which would certainly save time. At the moment Pennant Hills Road in peak hour is like Belfast during the Troubles: people will not go into their front yards, they will not go out of their front gates and they will not answer their front doors. They do everything from the back door because out the front it is too noisy and too dirty as a result of the thousands of big trucks that rattle along Pennant Hills Road each day threatening ordinary commuters who use it.
The budget has not allocated enough money to finish the Epping to Chatswood rail link, despite promises that it would be completed by this time next year. When the rail link was originally promised it went all the way to Parramatta and, on estimates, would cost nearly half as much as it is going to cost. Now it goes only half the distance for practically twice the price, and it is running two years late on the original estimate. Many people in Epping cannot see it being finished by 2008 the way the Government has undertaken the project. The Government is not allocating funds to finish it in the current budget. Not one extra car parking space along the Epping to Chatswood rail link has been included in the project. Optus offered to fund thousands of car parking spaces for its new premises at North Ryde, but the Government cut it back to 1,000 saying that people would come by public transport. But people do not come just by public transport. They come by car because public transport is not always available. To use public transport you have to park your car in the streets of suburbs like Epping.
Not one dollar has been allocated in this year's budget for the North West Rail Link, a vital piece of infrastructure that was supposed to be completed by 2010, which will not be completed until who knows when. The varying estimates are 2015 or 2017. Seed money has been allocated for work on some plans, but that should have been done in the past few years. After all this time the Government has flip-flopped, changed its position and, as a result, failed to deliver for the community. My communities are in an uproar because of the Government's failure to properly consult and to choose a route that has least impact on the enjoyment of one's home in our area. A meeting will be held tonight at the Epping Heights Public School. Last week I attended a similar meeting at the same venue with 200 angry people. They raised valid concerns about the impact of the North West Rail Link on their properties and the depths at which the Government is tunnelling. Their concerns must be addressed. You cannot say, "We've saved Cheltenham and we've saved Beecroft because we are not going to quadruplicate the northern line. We are going to put a tunnel between Epping and Cherrybrook."
However, the Government then decided that the tunnel would go under streets in Epping, Cheltenham and Beecroft at levels that may well cause noise and shuddering to properties, and will certainly reduce their value. The Government must address these concerns. The committee has been given until some date in early July to make submissions to the Department of Planning, but that is just not long enough. The Government only announced it about three weeks ago and it has allowed only one month for people to put in their submissions, expert statements and information as to why the plan is undesirable and why there are better options. I ask the Minister for Transport and Minister for Planning to extend until at least August the deadline for submissions so that the voices of members of the local community who are affected can be heard. It is not as if the Government could not get it right. It has had years, yet it still cannot process the plan with proper consultation.
The Ryde Hospital, in the Ryde electorate, which impacts on the Epping electorate, has received $4.5 million for an upgrade, which is welcome news. But the allocation reveals another one of Labor's election porkies. During the election campaign the Deputy Premier and member for Ryde, Mr Watkins, promised $5 million to revamp Ryde Hospital, but that figure has been reduced. The Government has imposed an ambulance station on top of the child care centre in the grounds of the hospital, which will cause all sorts of difficulties for those who send their children to that centre. It is not good enough. Ryde Hospital has been understaffed and under serviced for many years. When I see the Government spending the money I will believe it.
The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions [DPP] is the only organisation in the Attorney General's budget that has had its budget cut. Even though the budget papers say it has been cut by at least 3.3 per cent, which is $3.2 million, it is actually more than $5 million. This is all part of the Government's plan to cut the number of experienced and expert Crown prosecutors. The Government wants to run the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions more cheaply. It is trying to dumb down the prosecution area. It is trying to get as many pleas of guilty as possible in the local courts so that it can keep people out of jail or incarcerate them for a lesser time so that it do not have to build more gaols. But the community will not accept this because people want to be protected from criminals. They want criminals who have committed serious crimes to get the punishment they deserve.
If the Government were serious about getting the best results in the criminal justice system it would properly equip the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions so that the best prosecutors could be recruited and retained. You do not get the likes of March Tedeschi, QC, or Margaret Cunneen for nothing. The futures of such high-calibre, able and experienced prosecutors in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions are in jeopardy. The Premier has said he believes that tenure is antiquated. There are 94 Crown prosecutors, of whom only about 80 are permanent. The others are acting in the position, wondering and looking over their shoulders to see whether the Government will cut out their positions. They should be given tenure. If it is antiquated for prosecutors, is the Government admitting that it is also antiquated for judges? Does the Government think that independence in the criminal justice system is antiquated, that we do not need it? A member of one of the predecessors of this Government was Rex Jackson. Corruption created the need for an independent prosecutor. Governments wanted to distance themselves from the smear of corruption.
The Government set up the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. It gave the Director of Public Prosecutions life tenure and continued the Crown Prosecutors' tenure, which they have had for 175 years. But now the Government is talking about cutting it out. Why would it do that? One wonders. One of the Government's senior Ministers is facing a committal hearing. What will the public think if the Director of Public Prosecutions is on a time contract and Crown prosecutors are only acting in the position or are also on a time contract? What does the Government think the public will say about independence or the need to ensure that the criminal justice system remains pure to protect the community from political interference? I say the public will reject it. The Government is trying to use spurious grounds by suggesting that the Patrick Power matter could have been handled differently to try to justify cutting the position of the Director of Public Prosecutions. If that is the case let us meet that challenge. Let us get the public to say whether it wants prosecutors on contracts who can be sacked at will. [ Time expired.]
Mr KEVIN HUMPHRIES (Barwon) [6.53 p.m.]: I enjoyed listening to the comments made by the member for Epping. I wish him a safe trip to the public meeting in his electorate that he plans to attend, and I hope that he gets through the toll. Tolls are an interesting issue in the context of the budget. We do not have any tolls in the Barwon electorate. In some cases we do not have any roads, either. I am not sure whether the people of my electorate would be prepared to pay tolls and pick up some of the accompanying infrastructure.
I will make some general comments on the budget but most of my comments will be directed toward an examination of allocations that affect my electorate of Barwon. In the past week there has been a great deal of discussion about the relationship between the State and Federal governments. That is a matter that is discussed on a daily basis in rural and remote electorates that rely on the State Government to provide services. However, increasingly my electorate seems to be relying more and more on our Federal counterparts to meet some of our needs.
It is interesting to note that when revenue disbursements were made to the State, increased funding was based on a commitment or intention by the States to reduce State taxes. The fact that we live in the highest taxed, most overly managed but underserviced State in the country is cause for considerable concern. The bleating about this State not receiving its fair share of revenue distribution from the goods and services tax reflects a poor understanding of the historical context in which the Federal Government made a commitment to all the States in the 1930s based on need. The fact is that all States receive revenue from the goods and services tax, but over the next three years at least, this State will enjoy an additional $1 billion from the distribution of goods and services tax revenue.
I should also point out that this State will continue to receive ongoing windfalls, not just from distribution of goods and services tax revenue but also from continual collection of taxes and royalties. The topic of royalties generates considerable discussion in the Barwon electorate as mining industry operations continue to expand in places like Cobar, Nyngan and Narrabri. A few years ago the population of Cobar was 3,000 and it is now approximately 5,500. Despite the Barwon electorate contributing approximately $48 million in royalties this year to State Government coffers, it does not have an obstetrics unit. I will deal with that issue in more detail later.
A matter that the mining industry approaches with a considerable degree of seriousness is a proposal for a number of mining companies to combine and withhold royalty payments to the State Government because of the inadequacy of infrastructure support in rural and remote areas. At the outset of my term as a member of this House and throughout my term, I will call on the Government to upgrade infrastructure facilities for the Barwon electorate. I also will introduce members of the Government to managers of Australian and overseas mining companies who will explain to the Government that they are unable to attract staff to isolated places because of the lack of infrastructure and commitment by the State Government to providing services in the area— A matter that the mining industry approaches with a considerable degree of seriousness is a proposal for a number of mining companies to combine and withhold royalty payments to the State Government because of the inadequacy of infrastructure support in rural and remote areas. At the outset of my term as a member of this House and throughout my term, I will call on the Government to upgrade infrastructure facilities for the Barwon electorate. I also will introduce members of the Government to managers of Australian and overseas mining companies who will explain to the Government that they are unable to attract staff to isolated places because of the lack of infrastructure and commitment by the State Government to providing services in the area—despite record windfalls produced by the area in mining royalties.
Endeavours to attract young families to the Barwon electorate are based on the salaries that are paid by mining companies. People who live in Cobar or Nyngan and who want to have a child are faced with the difficulty of having to travel more than 300 kilometres to obtain obstetric services. That is plainly not acceptable. Emerging communities such as Narrabri, where coalmining continues to expand, could have the opportunity to get onto the front foot with planning for road and rail infrastructure and services. A local council suggested that a percentage of the royalties derived from the area should be retained and returned in the form of infrastructure and services.
The heavy culture of taxation and compliance is no more evident than in day-to-day grassroots experiences. Recently I spoke to a local electrician who was one day later than the 30-day licence renewal period in paying his fee and was told he would be charged $150 for late payment. That really annoyed him. He is sick of regulation and sick of compliance. He said that there are other occupations he can pursue, so the State has lost another electrician. Western New South Wales had approximately 100 weighed loads during the 2005 wheat harvest, which was the first harvest that central New South Wales had had in four years. As people were carting wheat from their properties to silos, they did not always know how to measure the weight of their loads—it is a bit hard to weigh loads in a paddock when there is no weighbridge handy—and they are being fined for incidents that occurred over 18 months ago. That is unacceptable because it is purely revenue raising and it reflects the heavy-handed culture of taxation and compliance that exists in this State. It is very difficult to do business in this State compared to other States in Australia.
As a new member of this Parliament, I eagerly awaited budget announcements, given the number of projects that were discussed in Barwon and in neighbouring electorates. There is considerable interdependence between electorates given that Barwon is the most isolated electorate, if not the largest electorate. Murray-Darling is the largest electorate, but the two electorates combined cover 60 per cent of the State. Barwon is the only electorate that does not have base hospitals so we rely on hospitals in adjacent electorates. For that reason I was interested to know what infrastructure will be provided to adjacent electorates, particularly in relation to health facilities and services.
Each time I searched for budget information that I wanted to convey to my constituents, an interesting electorate came up. Not many people know that we have a new electorate named "various". Whenever I went to check on the funding, much of it was attributed to "various". I undertook a search on "various" in relation to the Barwon electorate and I discovered that in the 2007-08 budget's infrastructure allocations, "various" comprised 112 projects with a total budget of nearly $1.3 billion. Barwon's infrastructure projects for the coming year amount to approximately $25 million. I know that there is more to the "various" allocations, but to drill down and find out what "various" means has taken a bit of doing. Even some Ministers I have spoken to about some of the projects relating to that usual electorate known as "various" were unable to give me any answers.
That tells me and financial sector professionals throughout this country that the New South Wales budget is akin to a commentary. It is the least transparent of any budget presented in this country, and that is a matter that should be addressed. Barwon physically covers 30 per cent of the State. Infrastructure and services are the main issue in my electorate. As far as the Barwon electorate is concerned, the main project that has repeatedly appeared in budgets and is again highlighted in this year's budget is the Moree bypass. Well over 10 years ago, at the very beginning of lobbying for the project, I was involved and I know that funding has been sought from the Federal Government. The State Government has the contract to manage the project. What initially began as a $28 million project has blown out to cost $56 million. That tells me as well as many of the people who live in my electorate and adjacent electorates that the current Government really struggles to control expenses and manage projects.
We know that considerable amounts of Federal funding have gone to other States for roads. The people of my electorate carefully note allocations associated with roads. Funds are being diverted to other States because the New South Wales Roads and Traffic Authority and the State Government do not have the required level of project management ability to implement the projects and spend the funds wisely. New South Wales needs those projects and is entitled to receive them, but the fact is that although this Government bleats about funding that is not forthcoming from the Federal Government, the reality is that it would not matter how much funding came from the Federal Government because this Government cannot manage projects properly and there is no confidence that this Government would apply the funds efficiently and achieve a good outcome.
During this first session of this new Parliament I will watch closely to see whether the commentators, who have said that we will probably end up with half the projects at twice the cost, are right. It is a great cause of concern that the Government cannot deliver in a timely manner on some projects, and that needs to be addressed. The Opposition has given notice of a bill about country rail services. It seeks to redress the inequity of charging pensioners a $10 booking fee for a train trip, that is, if a train is available. Hopefully, the bill will get a good run. One pensioner group constantly tells me that the elderly cannot get on and off buses all the time; they need a reliable train service. This State needs decent rail infrastructure, but there has been no commitment to CountryLink services at any meaningful level. Having met the Minister for Transport and introduced Narrabri Shire Council representatives to him, I look forward to the safety upgrade of the Baan Baa rail crossing. Unfortunately, there has been a fatality at that location.
One of the main items of capital expenditures for Barwon is the Narrabri Hospital, for which the Government has allocated $1.6 million. It is a victory for the community. In the recent election campaign the Labor candidate gave a commitment on behalf of the Government to supporting that program to the extent of $40 million or perhaps $50 million. That commitment has already been discussed with the Minister for Health. Multipurpose service facilities have been built or are nearing completion in Nyngan, Tottenham and Dunedoo. That is another victory for the community in its efforts to gain more effective health service facilities in country areas.
I look forward to the upgrade of the Coonamble multipurpose service facility, about which the Labor candidate also gave a commitment. We need to speed up the delivery of that upgrade, because I am advised that parts of the present facility do not meet fire and safety standards. Aged care residents are living in a dysfunctional facility, dialysis units are set up on covered-in verandahs, and other parts of the facility have been closed. I have met with the Minister and discussed that upgrade with her. It is a phase four facility and needs to be completed in this term of Government. I look forward to that happening.
One reason why areas such as Walgett cannot attract police is because there is no adequate housing. In years gone by most police who were posted to country areas were single men, and most of the accommodation was single men's quarters. That is not the case today. Most of our Police Force are younger, family people and need appropriate accommodation, which is a basic need. I admire the work they do, and they should be supported. One way to do that in rural areas is to provide appropriate housing. There is no allocation in the budget for that, unless it is listed under "Various". Over the next few years I will push for that accommodation.
I turn now to law and order, a matter we have discussed this week, the role of the Department of Community Services and the protection of young people. Today I spoke with the Minister for Community Services about the Bourke community safe house. That project has been on the drawing board for a couple of years. The problem is not so much a financial issue, it is more about licensing and regulation compliance and giving the responsibility for meeting some of their needs back to the local communities. Despite that, funding for it should be reflected in the budget. It is unfortunate that the Government has not adopted the recommendations of the "Breaking the Silence" report. One key recommendation of the report is that we should engage community-based groups to provide some of the services that the Government either will not or cannot provide.
The Department of Community Services has a problem attracting staff. However, there are alternatives. The Government does not need to control everything, because there are members of the community who will take up that challenge. That is certainly the case in Bourke. I have found that on some occasions the more the Government intervenes, the more remote and worse the outcomes are. We need to turn that around. We need a re-empowerment model for the Department of Community Services, safe houses and the needs of our indigenous communities. As I said, it is not so much about money, it is about process and reform. A good budget should reflect reform, and there was no major reform in this budget.
I turn now to the environment. Money has been allocated to the Riverbank project, which involves water buybacks. There was no community adjustment funding for places such as the Pilliga or Gwabegar for the forestry readjustment that has taken place. Money is available and it needs to be let loose to back projects that can create real employment and help take up the slack in places such as Barradine, which has 35 per cent unemployment, and Gwabegar, which has 95 per cent unemployment. Money has been allocated for satellites and for catchment management authorities.
One of the big issues for Barwon is inland rail, which is again a Federally funded project. The State Government has not made any comment about the fast rail line between Melbourne and Brisbane. That sort of infrastructure will benefit my area, and we need the State Government to work with our Federal colleagues to make sure that happens in a timely way. The same applies to road and broadband funding. In 1995 the Coalition had a new dams policy, but we have heard no major announcements about water infrastructure for the capture and storage of water. That is a weakness in the budget that needs to be addressed. There is a proposal to run a gas line from central Queensland to the Hunter, which would benefit my area and would pick up on stranded assets. Companies such as Eastern Star Gas need to come on board.
I am concerned about hospitals and preschools in my electorate. In Barwon in the past 10 years 10 obstetric units have been closed. That is not acceptable. Previously there were 73 rural obstetric units in New South Wales; that is now down to 33 units. It is all about cost cutting, not about service delivery or about improving the quality of life for country people, who need to travel for up to five hours to have a baby delivered. That is not acceptable in a modern-day society. It is costly and stressful. I would like to see that turned around in my time as the local member.
The Greater Western Area Health Service is struggling to meet the needs of residents. Local people need to rely on outside providers and must partner up with our city cousins. The services of the Isolated Patient Transport and Accommodation Assistance Scheme are centralised. It is costly to access those services, and we have an ageing population who need better facilities. Prior to coming to this place I was involved with preschools. The Australian newspaper recently stated:
Preschools are the glaring omission in the NSW budget, which fails even to mention the word despite the state having the lowest proportion of children in preschool education in the nation.
We have 800 community preschools, many of them in Barwon. On average the preschools get $74,000, a cost per student of between $30 and $40. There are 100 Department of Education and Training preschools, and they average about $240,000, with a cost between $2 to $5 a day. Only 60 per cent of preschool age children in New South Wales receive a preschool education. More than 90 per cent of preschool age children in other States receive preschool education. That reflects a lack of vision and commitment to early intervention, words we often hear mentioned by the Government in relation to meeting the needs of our young people. There is still a long way to go, but I will certainly fight for Barwon and make sure that we get our fair share.
Debate adjourned on motion by Dr Andrew McDonald and set down as an order of the day for a future day.
[ Acting-Speaker (Mr Thomas George) left the chair at 7.11 p.m. The House resumed at 9.28 p.m. ]