Minister For Police



About this Item
SpeakersLynn The Hon Charlie; Tingle The Hon John; Nile Reverend The Hon Fred; Dyer The Hon Ron; Rhiannon Ms Lee
BusinessCensure, Division


    MINISTER FOR POLICE
Page: 12405

    Motion of Censure

    Debate resumed from 7 March.

    The Hon. C. J. S. LYNN [11.14 a.m.]: This morning's division is another attempt by the Government to throw an asbestos blanket over a problem in south-western Sydney that it can no longer contain. The Government has learnt nothing from Peter Beattie's experience in Queensland: when he had a problem with voting rorts, he confronted it and said that he would deal with it. It is time that this Government confronted the law and order and drug problems in Cabramatta and did something about them. It should not use every resource at its disposal to shut down debate and intimidate those who are trying to address those problems. This morning's tactic is an indication of how worried the Government is about this issue. Yesterday the expert filibusterers rode shotgun, raising points of order in an attempt to waste time and stifle debate. A diversionary amendment was moved regarding the Cabramatta High School that has absolutely nothing to do with this motion to censure the Minister for Police for interfering with the processes of the House.

    The Hon. I. M. Macdonald: You weren't here.

    The Hon. C. J. S. LYNN: I was here for all of the debate.

    The Hon. J. J. Della Bosca: Was that the other Charlie Lynn?

    The Hon. C. J. S. LYNN: Will you sit down and shut up?

    The PRESIDENT: Order!

    The Hon. C. J. S. LYNN: There has been an attempt to shut down this parliamentary committee. As I said yesterday, I have visited Cabramatta many times and spoken to the community. In Cabramatta one can see a uniformed policeman standing on a corner while, in his direct line of sight, a dealer conducts a drug deal in broad daylight. Either the police in Cabramatta have been instructed to turn a blind eye to drug dealing in the streets or they are incompetent. In a recent interview with John Laws, the Minister for Police said "It's not a resource problem that we have out there, it's an industrial relations problem." I contend that there is a serious law and order problem in Cabramatta. Fourteen police are sharing one police car and the Minister claims that it is not a resource problem.

    Yesterday Ms Lee Rhiannon, the Hon. G. S. Pearce, the Hon. R. H. Colless and the Hon. I. Cohen gave clear and comprehensive overviews of the process and worth of the committee system in this House. They spoke of the checks and balances in our democratic system—particularly those that prevent any abuse of power by the Executive—and the division of powers between Parliament, the judiciary and the Executive. That is the fundamental foundation of our democratic system. There is no doubt in my mind that the Minister for Police warrants censure for his outbursts. The Hon. P. J. Breen said yesterday that the Minister for Education and Training and the Premier were also worthy of censure for condemning the committee and its chair, the Hon. Helen Sham-Ho. He said:
        The condemnation of the inquiry into Cabramatta police resources is not an isolated attack by the Government. It is not a hysterical response out of left field …

    It is a carefully orchestrated, strategic tactic to discredit the committee, to intimidate potential witnesses from appearing before the committee and to discredit those who have already given evidence. The Hon. P. J. Breen hit the nail on the head when he said:
        This House is much too democratic for the Government.
    That is the issue at stake here. The Treasurer has a motion on the notice paper to abolish this House. If this House were abolished, the Treasurer would not be a member of Parliament. He has already been rejected by the community he sought to represent in the other place. This House gives him a stage on which to perform his theatrical antics every day. Anything for a lark from the Treasurer! The Hon. I. Cohen went to the crux of the issue when he said, "This is not an issue about the adequacy of police and their work; it is about the rights of a committee to proceed without outside interference." All speakers in the debate yesterday noted that the attack on the committee by the Minister was not random. As I said, it was part of a carefully orchestrated campaign to cover up the unacceptable law and order failures of the Government in Cabramatta by using the full power of its public relations machine to attack the workings of the committee and the credibility of witnesses called before the committee.

    In 1997 Premier Carr said, "Cabramatta has had enough. We have had to mobilise even more resources to bring relief to an area under siege." One has only to read newspaper reports or visit the area to see that the Government's policies and its rhetoric about Cabramatta have had no impact on the community there. In 1997 the Premier went on to say, "A telephone hotline is going to be established to assist the local community with the problem of discarded needles and syringes." Yesterday there was a report that on Clean Up Australia Day 2000 syringes had been picked up in one park in Cabramatta.

    A number of people in Cabramatta are putting their careers, businesses and lives on the line in regard to this issue. I single out two heroes. The first is Sergeant Tim Priest. When he had the courage to speak out on this issue he would have had no doubt that his career as a police officer would be effectively finished. He has since moved out of Cabramatta. Since appearing before the committee he has borne the brunt of attacks by the Premier, the Minister for Education and Training, the Minister for Police and the local member. They have focused on discrediting Sergeant Tim Priest. Yesterday we learned that 60 police at Cabramatta unanimously supported Sergeant Tim Priest. They know what the problem is. They know who the dealers are. They know what the drug problem is. But they are not allowed to do anything about it.

    The Government has an unwritten policy, a policy we will not hear about, to contain the drug problem in Cabramatta. A couple of years ago police were brought to Cabramatta from all over the State in a big operation to push the dealers out of Cabramatta. The dealers went to Liverpool, Campbelltown, Granville, St Marys and Penrith. This created major problems in those areas that the Government could not handle, because it does not have the police and it does not have the will. Retail businesses in the streets of Campbelltown had to lock the doors to their shops during the day. Customers had to knock and almost prove that they were clean before being admitted. The Government has quietly withdrawn from Cabramatta to suck the dealers back to Cabramatta to confine the drug problem there rather than tackling the heart of the problem. Never mind the business people and the honest, hard-working residents of Cabramatta who want a normal life with their families.

    Yesterday the Labor Party moved a ridiculous amendment to try to create a diversion in relation to Cabramatta High School. There was almost a denial that there was a problem around Cabramatta High School. I was there last year when there was a siege in the flats around the high school. People living there can identify all the drug houses, the cars doing deals and the people standing outside the school gates trying to recruit students. This can be seen on any day of the week. But the Government has gone into denial, accusing the Opposition of attacking the public school system. This has nothing to do with the public school system; it is about dealers being able to operate in daylight without fear of retribution or arrest by the police. The dealers have taken over Cabramatta. The Government has also used police statistics to try to suggest that it is dealing with the problems at Cabramatta. Murders, serious assaults and drug dealing were excluded from the statistics to show that Cabramatta was safer than Mosman and Roseville. Those offences are not criminal activities according to the Government!

    The Hon. D. J. Gay: Does the local member still live on the North Shore?

    The Hon. C. J. S. LYNN: I understand that the local member commutes from the North Shore in the comfort of a very prestigious BMW. Back in 1997 in another place she congratulated the Carr Government on the announcement in relation to the development of a comprehensive strategy to deal with the ongoing crisis on the streets of Cabramatta to attack the entrenched trade in narcotics and drug-related crime. She said that since the beginning of Labor's term of office there had been a tremendous input to beef up police resources. Yet we found out the other day that to beef up police resources in the crime hot spot of this State 14 police share one car. Did they have a horse and buggy before? Does that explain the beefing up? The local member went on to say that the initiative was a demonstration to the people of the Cabramatta area that the Carr Labor Government was listening to community concerns.

    The other hero of the Cabramatta community is the President of the Chamber of Commerce, Mr Ross Treyvaud, who has had the courage to stand up and speak out and lead the community on this issue. But when he and Sergeant Tim Priest say that there is a major problem that they want fixed they are attacked, intimidated and discredited by Ministers. It is an absolute disgrace. As recently as 22 June last year Reba Meagher, the BMW-driving local member for Cabramatta, said, "I am proud to be a member of the Carr Government because it is prepared to tackle this issue head-on and it is prepared to take the community with it." The Legislative Council, as the House of review, whose job it is to check the powers of the Executive government, formulated terms of reference for a committee to deal with community concerns. We all know the process for the calling of witnesses before a parliamentary committee. If Labor members of a committee think that people should be called to give evidence to give a counter view they are able to do so. But they did not do that in this case. They accused Coalition members of giving short notice to Sergeant Tim Priest, not inviting other people and so forth. If that is the case they must have been asleep on the committee. They have now been told to wake up and do something.

    As a result of Sergeant Priest speaking out, and the publicity that that has generated, not only did 60 police yesterday unanimously give their support to Sergeant Tim Priest but I read in today's paper that an additional nine police now want to give evidence to the committee, despite the obvious risk of attacks on their character from members of the Carr Government. It is quite obvious that this problem has now become uncontrollable for the Carr Government, which should follow the line taken by Premier Beattie in Queensland and admit that there is a problem. It should match its own rhetoric by endeavouring, with the community, to find out about the problem. If it means the problem blows out in Cabramatta and spreads to other suburbs, the laws will need to be changed to enable police to effectively tackle the dealers.

    At the moment the laws relating to dealers are ridiculous, and the dealers know it. They have to be warned three times, so they deal in traffickable quantities twice in a month. They then stay in their flats until the month is up, and do the same thing again. Everyone knows that they have mates across the road who act as a mother ship for their supplies. The system allows dealers to operate by providing them with this indemnity from prosecution. I support this motion. It is important to censure the Minister and to send a message to the Government that we will not be intimidated. The committee should be allowed to continue its deliberations with the complete protection of this House.

    The Hon. J. S. TINGLE [11.31 a.m.]: I have some real problems with this motion but not for the reasons that might be expected. I should take about 60 seconds to explain what they are. I believe I can claim that my record in this House on law and order matters is pretty good and, in fact, in legislative terms I think it is probably better than the record of the Government. Nobody can deny how horrific the problem is in Cabramatta and nobody in this Chamber, I am sure, would hesitate to do whatever needs to be done to try to deal with that problem. However, in deciding not to support the censure motion I am not defending the Minister for Police, nor am I seeking to justify his curious outburst against the committee. I do not believe that the committee has been impugned or discredited by what has been said by the Minister for Police. I think it was a very unwise thing for him to say. I do support the committee system and if, in fact, there was any real attempt to close this committee down, I would fight that move with whatever resources I have.

    I believe we need an effective mechanism to enable us to deal with Ministers or members who we believe have erred or have misused or abused their position in any way. However, I do not believe that censure and expulsion motions are the correct mechanisms. I remind honourable members that not very long ago we expelled the Leader of the Government from this House, but he is still here. My problem with motions of this sort is that they have absolutely no effect on the person who is targeted. They run like water off a duck's back. Until we have a better mechanism to enable us to deal with this sort of thing I, for one, believe that every time we pass a motion of this type we demonstrate once again the powerlessness of this House to deal with such matters. When we do that we undermine our own position in the face of the many people who would like to see this House abolished. I will not support the motion.

    Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE [11.33 a.m.]: I realise that a number of members want to speak on this matter so I shall speak only briefly. Two issues seem to be tangled up in this censure motion. One is the reflection on the work of the committee; the other is the serious crime problem in Cabramatta, which is what the Opposition is mainly referring to. We all agree that there is a serious problem with drugs in Cabramatta, but the censure motion deals with the committee itself, and we should remain focused on that. I move:
        That the motion be amended by omitting in paragraph 2 the word "censures" and inserting instead "reprimands".

    The word "censure" is a parliamentary term and it is a serious term. Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice states:
        From time to time the Opposition put down a motion on the paper expressing lack of confidence in the Government—a "vote of censure" as it is called. By established convention the Government always accedes to the demand from the Leader of the Opposition to allot a day for the discussion of such a motion. In allotting a day for this purpose the Government is entitled to have regard to the exigencies of its own business, but a reasonably early day is invariably found. This convention is founded on the recognized position of the Opposition as a potential Government, which guarantees the legitimacy of such an interruption of the normal course of business. For its part, the Government has everything to gain by meeting such a direct challenge to its authority at the earliest possible moment.

    Honourable members are targeting the Minister for Police, but a motion of censure of a Minister of the Crown is, in fact, a challenge to the authority of the Government. I do not believe this matter is serious enough to warrant that. I am not a member of the committee, but the contributions indicate that the waters are muddy in regard to the way in which the evidence has been handled by the committee, and there is some justification for concern.

    The Hon. J. H. Jobling: How can you say that if you are not on the committee?

    Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE: From the debate in this House it would appear that the waters are muddy. It is not a simple black and white situation and therefore the word "reprimand" is more appropriate.

    The Hon. R. D. DYER [11.36 a.m.]: I speak in opposition to the motion of Ms Lee Rhiannon and in support of the amendment moved by my colleague the Hon. J. Hatzistergos. I serve on General Purpose Standing Committee No. 3 in place of the Hon. J. R. Johnson, who relieved me from another inquiry. Whether he or I have the better part of the deal is not for me to say. Perhaps I should query whether or not my serving on this committee is a fair cop. Quite simply, the position is that the committee is inquiring into a contentious and difficult matter. In the course of inquiring into the terms of reference, namely, the resources of police in Cabramatta, the committee has, it could be said, stirred up a hornet's nest in the sense that a conflict has developed between certain members of the Police Service.

    The contentious issue that arose was the evidence given by Detective Sergeant Priest and the reaction to that evidence from what I will loosely term the police hierarchy, and Assistant Commissioner Clive Small in particular. The Minister for Police and Assistant Commissioner Small felt aggrieved by the evidence that was given by Detective Sergeant Priest. I am not going to analyse the sequence of events in close detail, because time does not permit. However, I want to say that if there is a crime, the punishment does not fit it. If one reads the press release issued by the Minister for Police, the Hon. Paul Whelan, it certainly is expressed in robust language. However, it is not abusive or intimidatory language. At last report New South Wales is a democracy and free speech does apply.

    The Hon. D. J. Gay: Do you know about division of powers?

    The Hon. R. D. DYER: The Deputy Leader of the Opposition interjected to refer to the division of powers. That has absolutely nothing to do with this motion. We are talking about the Legislature. We are not talking about the judiciary or anything else; we are talking about a committee of Parliament which has been criticised by the Minister for Police. Whether the Minister for Police is right or wrong in his criticism of the committee, he clearly has a democratic right to express his view. As I have said, he has done so in not intemperate, but, perhaps, confronting, direct and robust terms.

    In his contribution yesterday the Hon. I. Cohen referred to the gagging of the committee debate. There has been no gagging of debate. The Hon. Helen Sham-Ho has been running the proceedings, and as recently as Monday of this week circulated a draft letter to the Minister for Police and to an official in the police department. The Hon. Helen Sham-Ho circulated a draft letter to members of the Committee, including me, last Monday. I took the opportunity to comment on the terms of both of those draft letters. It is not known to me whether the letters have been sent. However, the Hon. Helen Sham-Ho, as the chair of the committee, has the full and undoubted right to forward correspondence on behalf of the committee under her hand—

    The Hon. J. F. Ryan: Time! Time!

    The PRESIDENT: Order! Time is not up for the speaker until 15 minutes remains on the top clock. The Hon. R. D. Dyer may continue.

    The Hon. R. D. DYER: I am simply making the point that it is competent for the chair to reply, as I believe she has done, to the Minister for Police. It is not a matter, in my view, that ought to be discussed in this House. It ought to be a matter confined to the committee. I have had long experience, extending over 21 years, of committee operations in this House, and committees ought to conduct their own business.

    Pursuant to sessional orders debate interrupted to allow the mover to speak in reply.

    Ms LEE RHIANNON [11.42 a.m.], in reply: The Greens have clearly triggered an historic debate today. As far as I am aware—

    [Interruption]

    How extraordinary! Government members are already interjecting. We can hear laughter coming from the Government benches. Today we should be attempting to get the democratic process in this State back on track. We have witnessed a most serious attack, not merely on the committee process but also on the way that the New South Wales Parliament works. For members to start laughing when I am speaking in reply is most unfortunate. I thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate. It has indeed reflected the gravity of the situation. So far as I am aware—and this is why, before those rude interjections commenced, I said that it was an historic debate—no member of the lower House has been censured by this House in 30 years. It may be the case that a lower House Minister has never been censured by this House. Let us remember why we are having this debate. This motion is before us because the Minister for Police is trying to gag the House of review.

    The Hon. I. M. Macdonald: He is not.

    Ms LEE RHIANNON: He most definitely is. One has only to look at the contributions from the Government benches to see the weak ground that the Government is standing on. They were not in a position to defend their Minister. They talked about the situation at Cabramatta High School but they could not go to the essence of the issue, which is the Minister's behaviour. The reputation of the Legislative Council is on the line. Honourable members can stand up for the right of the committee system, or we can be intimidated. If we vote to censure the Minister for Police today it will be a new day for politics in New South Wales. I say that because of what we have seen happening around the country. The major political parties are on the nose, and they are on the nose because they will not speak frankly in public or in Parliament about issues that concern voters. That is what is occurring now in respect of our committees.

    The Hon. J. Hatzistergos: You want to gag them.

    Ms LEE RHIANNON: We are not trying to gag anybody. The Hon. J. Hatzistergos is a member of the committee. We want the committee to be able to function; to have everybody who can make a contribution appear before it—not to gag people, as the Hon. J. Hatzistergos accuses us of doing. In regard to the amendments before the House, the Greens believe that it would be a positive move to support the amendment moved by the Hon. P. J. Breen, which acknowledges the situation at Cabramatta High School, but the amendment moved by Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile is effectively a watering-down of the important motion before the House. When such extreme statements are made about the workings of a committee we must censure the Minister concerned.

    I believe that the Greens, the other crossbenchers and members of the Opposition are taking a stand to protect our role as parliamentarians in what I believe is a quite fragile democracy. When one sees how democracy works in this place, one can see that we are still at a quite immature stage in the development of democracy in this State, and that a great deal needs to be done to assist it. We believe the censure motion will help to put a stop to Labor's arrogant style of Executive government. We see it too often. We have seen it very clearly from Mr Whelan in the past few weeks. I sincerely thank the members of this House for their support in bringing on debate in the first instance. We want the inquiry into policing in Cabramatta to proceed and to proceed unencumbered by certain attitudes we have seen on the part of the Minister who is responsible for policing in this State.

    Our role is to use this House of review to unearth the truth, and that truth should be allowed to come forward unencumbered, without attempts by the Minister, members of the committee and members of the Government sitting on these benches throughout this debate attempting to further intimidate us. Mr Whelan was unwise to call for the termination of the inquiry. That is where he overstepped the line. I noted during the debate that members of the Government did not explore that issue because they knew that they were on indefensible ground. Such bullying as we have seen from the Minister is, unfortunately, stock-in-trade for the slick Labor media machine. I have often heard it said, "Oh, that is just a day's rhetoric." Well, one cannot just dismiss statements and a media release from the Minister as today's rhetoric. Our political process has to go much deeper than that.

    Attempting to use the media to beat up on a committee is just not on any more. What is more, the Government has to realise that the public is aware of this. At times the media described the orchestrated media blitz that came from the Premier down as quite extraordinary. Mr Whelan went public last week to say he was disgusted by the conduct of a committee, on which there are three Government members. Again, I remind honourable members as we sit here and consider how we are going to vote, that when the evidence was given by Mr Priest those Government members did not call for that evidence to be taken in camera. They did not take action at that stage.

    The Greens have moved this motion because New South Wales needs its House of review, and everything that has happened in relation to this Minister has shown us how important that is. We need our House of review to check the excesses and arrogance of the government of the day, as happens so often, and we need it to check the excesses and arrogance of the Carr Government. It is not there all the time, but it is certainly there in this instance. The Greens and the members of this House need to turn things around. I most sincerely thank all members of this House who participated in the debate and the Greens look forward to getting this House and the Parliament of New South Wales back on track so that we can do the right thing by the people of New South Wales.

    Question—That the amendment of the Hon. J. Hatzistergos be agreed to—put.

    The House divided.
    Ayes, 12
            Mr Della Bosca
            Mr Dyer
            Mr Egan
            Ms Fazio
            Mr Johnson
            Mr Kelly
            Mr Macdonald
            Mr Obeid
            Mr Tsang
            Mr West
            Tellers,
            Mr Hatzistergos
            Mr Primrose

    Noes, 23
            Mr Breen
            Dr Chesterfield-Evans
            Mr Cohen
            Mr Colless
            Mr Corbett
            Mrs Forsythe
            Mr Gay
            Mr Harwin
            Mr M. I. Jones
            Mr R. S. L. Jones
            Mr Lynn
            Mrs Nile
            Reverend Nile
            Mr Oldfield
            Mr Pearce
            Ms Rhiannon
            Mr Ryan
            Mr Samios
            Mrs Sham-Ho
            Mr Tingle
            Dr Wong
            Tellers,
            Mr Jobling
            Mr Moppett

    Pairs
                Ms BurnswoodsMr Gallacher
                Ms SaffinMiss Gardiner
                Ms TebbuttDr Pezzutti

    Question resolved in the negative.

    Amendment negatived.

    Amendment of the Hon. P. J. Breen agreed to.

    Question—That the amendment of Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile be agreed to—put.

    The House divided.
    Ayes, 15
            Mr Della Bosca
            Mr Egan
            Ms Fazio
            Mr Hatzistergos
            Mr Johnson
            Mr M. I. Jones
            Mr Kelly
            Mr Macdonald
            Mrs Nile
            Reverend Nile
            Mr Obeid
            Mr Tsang
            Mr West

            Tellers,
            Mr Dyer
            Mr Primrose

    Noes, 20
            Mr Breen
            Dr Chesterfield-Evans
            Mr Cohen
            Mr Colless
            Mr Corbett
            Mrs Forsythe
            Mr Gay
            Mr Harwin
            Mr R. S. L. Jones
            Mr Lynn
            Mr Oldfield
            Mr Pearce
            Ms Rhiannon
            Mr Ryan
            Mr Samios
            Mrs Sham-Ho
            Mr Tingle
            Dr Wong
            Tellers,
            Mr Jobling
            Mr Moppett

    Pairs
                Ms Burnswoods Mr Gallacher
                Ms Saffin Miss Gardiner
                Ms Tebbutt Dr Pezzutti

    Question resolved in the negative.

    Amendment negatived.

    Question—That the motion as amended be agreed to—put.

    The House divided.
    Ayes, 19
            Mr Breen
            Dr Chesterfield-Evans
            Mr Cohen
            Mr Colless
            Mr Corbett
            Mrs Forsythe
            Mr Gay
            Mr Harwin
            Mr R. S. L. Jones
            Mr Lynn
            Mr Oldfield
            Mr Pearce
            Ms Rhiannon
            Mr Ryan
            Mr Samios
            Mrs Sham-Ho
            Dr Wong
              Tellers,
              Mr Jobling
              Mr Moppett

      Noes, 15
              Mr Della Bosca
              Mr Dyer
              Mr Egan
              Mr Hatzistergos
              Mr Johnson
              Mr M. I. Jones
              Mr Kelly
              Mr Macdonald
              Mrs Nile
              Reverend Nile
              Mr Obeid
              Mr Tsang
              Mr West

              Tellers
              Ms Fazio
              Mr Primrose

      Pairs
                  Mr GallacherMs Burnswoods
                  Miss GardinerMs Saffin
                  Dr PezzuttiMs Tebbutt

      Question resolved in the affirmative.

      Motion as amended agreed to.