Save Orange Grove Bill
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
The Hon. JOHN TINGLE [2.40 p.m.]: I support the Save Orange Grove Bill. My reasons for doing so may be a little out of the mainstream legal argument but I believe them to be quite valid. Obviously there is a major formal question as to whether the Orange Grove development should have been allowed in the first place, but the validity of that approval is for others to decide. In my opinion it is not the central point of what we are debating or even the pivot upon which this bill swings. It is also not the main reason why I intend to vote for this bill, which I expect will be passed by this House only to die a sudden death in the other place.
The reason I will vote for this bill is as follows. Even if the development approval might have been doubtful and in breach of zoning laws, as has been claimed, once that approval was received the Orange Grove outlet went ahead in good faith believing that it had received approval. Traders set up their businesses in good faith and staff took up their jobs in good faith. Now those businesses and those jobs are, as it were, hanging over the edge of an abyss, trading on what the Hon. John Ryan has described as a play of people power in defiance of a court order that it must close. Majority formal opinion, including in the courts, is that they should not have been there in the first place.
I believe that popular opinion disagrees, but the vital fact is that they are there and, as a result of the ordered closure, many people will become innocent victims because somebody, somewhere, somehow, seems to have screwed up. The development of Orange Grove created a problem but the traders and workers did not and they certainly should not be penalised for something that was done by somebody else. Closing the Orange Grove factory outlet centre and throwing so many people out of a job is not a reasonable or just solution to the problem. The Government is trying to fix one problem by creating another even bigger problem, which makes no sense. The bill, which will provide a just, reasonable and workable solution, a classic workaround, should be supported.
The Hon. Dr PETER WONG [2.43 p.m.]: I state at the outset that I support the Opposition's Save Orange Grove Bill and I urge members of the Labor Party in this House and in the other place to do what is fundamentally right. By exercising their conscience they will be supporting the effort to save the jobs of hundreds of struggling workers. I commend the Hon. John Ryan, the shadow Minister for Western Sydney, for the work he has done on this bill. I have watched this sad saga unfold. Whilst there are lighter moments such as the now infamous photograph of Joe Tripodi, which I think should now be known as the kiss of death, there are many other examples of high farce, with the Department of Planning, the Premier and Labor factional in-fighting brilliantly impersonating the three stooges.
The sad reality is that hundreds of people are not enjoying this Labor Party joke. Like any member of this House I enjoy a good giggle, but this is a practical joke that has well and truly got out of hand. I cannot believe the conflicting evidence that has been given by bureaucrats, Labor Party operatives, and businessmen who are Labor Party members and financial contributors. I cannot reconcile the fact that senior bureaucrats in the Department of Planning have as part of their job description the production of press releases for something as mundane as a wholesale shopping outlet. I can understand that press releases may be part of their function when designing and approving large State initiatives such as Darling Harbour or Olympic Park, but I cannot believe that they write press releases every time they give planning permission for something such as a Mitre 10 store or a roller-skating rink.
The fact that senior bureaucrats put out press releases announcing a planning decision that allowed for the Orange Grove development to proceed only confirms my belief that there was political interference from the outset. Today I will not be asking the Premier why he intervened, and nor will I ask him about his relationship with Frank Lowy. I will not be asking the Premier why he lied about his dealings with Westfield or why his chief of staff met with a former Keating adviser and Mark Ryan, the present Westfield director of corporate affairs, and discussed issues about Orange Grove. However, I want to know from the Premier why he allowed grubby party factional infighting to have this incredible impact on workers that his party pretends to represent. I have watched with awe as the credits roll by. This impromptu pantomime and its cast of thousands consists entirely of Labor Party performers.
I have watched powerful party people such as a previous Keating adviser introduce the horrible spectre of the party's political assassin, Phuong Ngo, as some bagman carrying bribes from one Labor Party member to another—a performance that I found disturbing. Regardless of whether the political interference in the rezoning process is read as corrupt and whatever people say about the debacle in the planning procedure, these issues are open to interpretation. It is obvious that the actions of the Premier in not controlling his party are destroying the lives of hundreds of people. Even if what the Premier and the Labor Party are doing to Orange Grove, the owners and workers is not corrupt, it is unethical.
Mr Carr is pulling the strings of yet more bureaucrats. His uninspired attempt to find jobs for workers is not enough to expunge the Labor Party's guilt and responsibility in this matter. The Premier must show leadership in this matter, forget the party's underlying agenda, and prove that the Labor Party is a party for the workers—something nobody believes. In supporting the Opposition's bill the Premier must give workers at Orange Grove the job security they deserve. I commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS [2.47 p.m.]: The Australian Democrats have some difficulty about the Save Orange Grove Bill. We do not believe that Parliament should be involved in rezoning, and we believe that planning laws should be upheld. Both those propositions are inconsistent with this bill. However, this exceptional muddle, which I believe has been caused by the Labor Party, has resulted from the Government's planning policies. The State Government overrules local councils when it suits large vested interests, often the planning processes are not transparent, and so on. In November 2000 Liverpool City Council granted development consent for the retail complex at Orange Grove Road, which was subdivided into 63 tenancies and involved a wide range of retailers.
At the time that was against the local environmental plan [LEP], but it was passed. I spoke to Nabil Gazal, who said he knew it was against planning regulations but he was not going to make any money from a bulky goods store. He had assessed the market in that regard and he had been knocked back in his attempt to include a cinema complex there, which he thought fell within the LEP. He thought that was because of the influence of Westfield, so he gave it a whirl. The project was approved and the Minister for Planning, Infrastructure and Natural Resources, Mr Knowles, attended the opening ceremony and unveiled the plaque on 21 November 2002. It is said that 400 people found new jobs, small business was growing, and local members of Parliament and Mr Knowles had a photo opportunity, looking good and busy.
Westfield then lodged a protest on the grounds of the LEP. It disputed that the outlet was a bulky goods outlet under the Liverpool local environment plan 1997 and ruled it illegal. On 16 January 2004 the Land and Environment Court held that the legality of the development approval was invalid. It basically ruled that a "bulk goods outlet" sells many goods and a "bulky goods outlet" sells large amounts of product to a small number of customers. That makes a huge difference to what products are sold and the amount of traffic to and from an outlet. The court ruled the bottom line was that the Orange Grove outlet was a shopping centre with many shops, which is specifically excluded in the local environment plan. It said that some convenience stores—such as the little hamburger shop—should be allowed to continue trading in order to serve the employees of the bulky goods store but ruled that the centre could not continue to operate as a huge retail complex. I do not think the Land and Environment Court could have reached a different decision.
In April 2004 Gabrielle Kibble, who was appointed administrator of Liverpool City Council after the elected council was sacked as a result of the failed Oasis development, forwarded an application to DIPNR to change the LEP and rezone the site at Orange Grove to enable the factory outlets to be approved. She obviously recognised the anomaly of the application and Land and Environment Court decision—which is presumably exactly what she should have done. A document prepared by DIPNR staff regarding a proposed amendment to the Liverpool LEP summarised the background and history, sought input from various public authorities, considered all relevant policies, and assessed the benefits and disbenefits of rezoning the land. DIPNR policy adviser Peter Hamilton, Principal Policy Adviser, Metropolitan Strategy, concluded:
Taking into account the assessment using the net community benefit criteria and the broader considerations relating to consumer choice, business competition and local employment generation, the conclusion reached is that the benefits of developing the proposed outlet centre at Orange Grove Road outweigh the disbenefits.
Laurel Cheetham, the Senior Environmental Planner for the Sydney Region West, concluded:
… in the context of the Integrated Land Use and Transport package, and given the location of the site, the type and scale of development, it is considered that it will have a net community benefit.
So the Carr Government is effectively ignoring the advice of its department and the technocrats who are qualified to make these assessments. This affair reveals the Carr Government's poor management of the State of New South Wales. Presumably the council should not have given development approval but any appeal against that decision should have been lodged before construction on the site began—before the wheels were in motion—and before people with mortgages and debts were locked into contracts.
It has been alleged—I do not have the details of the claims and counterclaims—that Westfield lobbyists spoke to people within the Premier's Department so the Premier's statement that he was not approached directly is true only technically and does not convey the real situation. It is perhaps similar to the children overboard affair in that the Prime Minister said he was not informed personally but contact was definitely made at departmental and management levels. The Carr Government's behaviour in this matter is most worrying. I believe in the concept of open government. I believe all documents relating to planning approvals and official behaviour should be made public so that people can see what is going on. Those who want to keep documents secret should apply to an ombudsman to do so. That concept is enshrined in the New Zealand legislation that I have touted in this place for quite some time.
I generally do not like to support legislation that overrides the court system and the planning process—which it suits the Government to stand behind in this case. The site should have been rezoned before the development approval was granted or the approval should have been knocked back. This bill recommends a course of action similar to that advocated by DIPNR. The bill proposes to facilitate the continued use and operation of the designer outlets centre, commonly known as Orange Grove, in Liverpool. It will effectively rezone the current site, enabling Liverpool council to grant development approval to the current outlet. As everybody knows, this has been a most controversial subject in the media of late and the inquiry undertaken by General Purpose Standing Committee No. 4 has offered a good deal of insight into how the Carr Government works.
This seems to be a fight between little ALP mates and big ALP mates—I mean no offence by that comment. It was interesting to speak to Mr Gazal, who courteously showed me around the centre. Mr Gazal, who is a Lebanese Christian, said to me, "Look, when I was in Lebanon I knew the system was corrupt: If you wanted something done you had to put in your bribes and whoever offered the most money won the day. I didn't come to this country penniless—and I won't pretend I did—but when I came here I thought the system was above board. I haven't bribed anybody. I knew my application wasn't within the LEP but I put it in and once I had consent and the Minister opened the centre I thought that was as good as it got and I was quite happy to go ahead and sign up tenants—what else would you do if you'd built a shopping centre?" Mr Gazal said that he signed leases with tenants because he had planning agreement from the council, which said that it would change the LEP. Mr Gazal has statements from a number of people about who said what to whom when and how they were connected to various branches of the Labor Party. I presume that the legal hassle associated with this matter will continue, but I do not want to comment on that now.
Let us contrast the Carr Government's decision in this case with its decision to overturn the Land and Environment Court's ruling with regard to the Collex waste facility. The Government introduced special legislation to do that. Parliament passed special legislation in relation to Walsh Bay—from memory, I think at 2 o'clock or 3 o'clock in the morning—so that the National Trust could not take the case to the Land and Environment Court, which it had planned to do that same morning. Let us consider the extraordinary Honeysuckle development for which the Carr Government is both the proponent and the consent authority. One might ask: Why is the Government so keen to uphold the decision of the Land and Environment Court in this case and so defamatory of its proponents?
Liverpool is a blue-ribbon Labor electorate. In fact, when I visited the Orange Grove centre one retailer commented, "It's weird; it's good to see John Brogden out here because we always think he is on the other side." In other words, the locals are such dyed-in-the-wool Labor supporters they cannot imagine how a Liberal politician will do them any good. It is an interesting perspective. Many Liverpool electors are now very disillusioned with the Labor Party and keen to see this bill passed. The same retailer, who ran a shoe shop, commented that she had not seen the local member, the honourable member for Fairfield, Joe Tripodi, or the honourable member for Liverpool, Paul Lynch, for a long time. In a sense, those to whom I spoke are feeling neglected in what is a safe Labor Party seat.
I will support this bill. Parliament should not be rezoning, and planning laws should be upheld. Fundamentally, if the Government is going to interfere it should do so promptly on publicly available criteria. It is unfortunate that this bill has had to be introduced. The lesson is that planning has to be a far more open and transparent process in New South Wales at the local government level and the State Government level. Obviously, many points of view in planning clash. Some people want to keep more bush, others want to develop and some want development only near planned travel corridors or transport nodes. This Government has been reluctant to submit sensible plans for transport and even more reluctant to invest in such plans in areas like the north-west sector.
This Government sold 100 railway wagons before it had their replacements. It had a huge shortage of rolling stock and there were very few trains on the line from Campbelltown and Macarthur to Parramatta, which caused a huge bottleneck for drivers. That placed a huge demand on the western orbital because people got into the habit of driving due to the lack of public transport. Even then the Government learnt nothing. When this Government was asked to put in an easement for public transport along the western orbital it was too stupid to agree. The Government was too stupid to continue the rail line from Epping to Carlingford to allow those in Western Sydney to travel to Chatswood because of the lack of demand—of course, there was no demand because there was no transport. Because the Government has not continued the line in the north-west sector, there will be immense bottlenecks in the future. This Government does not plan intelligently, and Orange Grove is part of that syndrome. I will support this bill. Surely the Government will do some serious urban planning—transparently arrived at by consensus—and invest money into transport infrastructure to prevent this debacle from recurring. I hope that something can be gained from this Government's mates-type approach, which has gone on for too long.
Ms SYLVIA HALE [3.03 p.m.]: I support the Save Orange Grove Bill on behalf of the Greens. The Greens believe that the central issue in this debate is not planning going wrong and the Minister intervening to rectify it, but corruption—corruption that the community perceives as having occurred at the highest level of government, the end result of which has been the loss of more than 400 jobs in Liverpool and a further enrichment of the Lowy family in the Westfield corporation. This bill removes the decision of whether to rezone the Orange Grove site from a Minister whose office has been tainted by allegations of corruption and places it in the hands of Parliament. This, admittedly, is not the way in which rezoning approvals are normally dealt with, but surely no-one can suggest that we are confronted with a normal situation. We have two versions of what lay behind the decision to deny planning approval for the Orange Grove site. One is the version put forward by Mr Gazal and is the basis of his complaint to the Independent Commission Against Corruption. Mr Gazal's version is contained in a conversation that he says he had with Mr Joe Tripodi, the member for Fairfield, on 22 May 2004. He said:
I asked Mr Tripodi, "Please tell me what you told Sam?" He said, "I talked to Diane Beamer and she told me that she received a phone call from Mr Bob Carr asking her to screw the rezoning." I said, "Why is she doing that?" He said, "I asked her. She said he is doing a favour for his mate Lowy". He meant Frank Lowy …." I said, "Did you ask her why?" He said, "Yes, I told you why." I said, "But don't worry. Diane will do the right thing if the report is allowed because it's a no brainer and 450 jobs and $40 million in damages are involved",
Mr Gazal later expanded on this and said:
Joe kept repeating, "It's a no brainer. She will do the right thing if the reports come good." And then I asked Joe, I said, "Did you ask Mrs Beamer about the 450 jobs she is cancelling?" He said, "Yes." I told him, "Did you ask her if she asked the Premier about them?" He said, "Yes." "What did he say?" He said, "Mrs Beamer told him the Premier said that he doesn't give a [shit] about the jobs in Liverpool. He owns the joint."
That is one version of what happened. Then there is the other version, the one we hear from the Premier, from his chief of staff, from Diane Beamer's chief of staff and from Westfield that the stench surrounding the entire development and rezoning processes was so great, the approval process so dodgy, the web of dishonest influence so strong, that the Minister had to stick to the rules and this inevitably led to a refusal of the rezoning application. I have no doubt that the original decision made a decade ago to rezone the site was dodgy. The Orange Grove development first came before Liverpool council in March 1991 when developer Nabil Gazal's company, Jokona, lodged an application for the rezoning of 12 hectares in the Orange Grove industrial estate which had been used for the manufacture of caravans. The site had a restricted industrial rezoning which prevented it being used for industry generating traffic movements on and off the highway. The revised rezoning would permit bus and truck depots, service stations, restaurants, showrooms and saleyards, all of which would generate traffic.
Minutes of the council meeting of 4 June 1991 show that the application was refused. The current Federal Leader of the Opposition, Mark Latham, was a member of the council during that time. Several months later, on 22 August 1991, Councillor Latham received a donation of $3,000 from Viscount Caravans Pty Ltd, one of Mr Gazal's companies. On 10 September 1991, Councillor Latham received a further $1,500 from one of Eddie Obeid's companies, Moona Plains Pty Ltd. On 14 October, by which time Mark Latham was mayor, Jokona's development application was again before council. This time it was resolved that a draft local environmental plan [LEP] be prepared and exhibited. Contemporary newspaper reports indicate that there were more than 500 objections to the rezoning proposal but that these objections were ignored by the council and by Mayor Latham and, as a result, the council's development committee resolved to proceed with the LEP.
The first stage of the centre opened in 1991. Significantly the current Minister for Infrastructure and Planning, Craig Knowles, was also on Liverpool council from 1982 to 1994. As we all know, he officially opened stage two of the centre on 21 November 2003, declaring it to be "great for Liverpool". The bulky goods centre has been in existence and has generated traffic for more than a decade. How should the council have dealt with a development application to extend its operations? The application was received, processed by council staff and approved under delegated authority by council offices. It did not come before the elected council, the council over whom the Oasis scandal has cast a cloud. Significantly, former Liverpool councillor Colin Harrington, who was at the forefront of opposing and exposing the Oasis scandal, said in his evidence to the committee of inquiry on 16 August 2004:
I would like to say publicly that if it [the development application for the retail outlets centre] had come before the council, I would have supported the application for the social and economic benefits that are very clearly evident with that application.
After all that has been said and done on this considerable controversy, you still support the designer outlets centre going ahead?
Mr Harrington replied:
Most definitely, yes.
Yesterday in the lower House the Minister for Planning made much of the fact that the development application was "dodgy". Just how dodgy was it? To answer this question, it is instructive to look at what Westfield's own solicitors, Minter Ellison, had to say on the matter. In an email to Westfield executive Craig Marshall on 23 March 2004, Minter Ellison partner John Whitehouse wrote:
The Council's decision to grant development consent... was clearly a potential course of action available to it... In our view... the initial decision of Council to treat the application as permissible was reasonable and arguable, even if ultimately unsuccessful before Lloyd J.
And, as has been pointed out earlier in this debate, Mr Gary McCully, Liverpool's new general manager, investigated the process by which development approval was granted and found that nothing untoward had occurred and that the process stood up to scrutiny. In June 2003 Westfield commenced proceedings in the Land and Environment Court to have the approval overturned. In those circumstances, what was the appropriate course of action for Liverpool council to have followed? What it did do, in December 2003, was to propose a spot rezoning of the site the effect of which would be to retrospectively validate the designer outlets centre. Was this dodgy? Here it is crucial to bear in mind that by March 2004 Liverpool council had been dismissed and the decision to proceed with and recommend the draft local environmental plan rezoning the site was made by the new administrator, Gabrielle Kibble.
Gabrielle Kibble was the person appointed by this very Government to put Liverpool council's affairs in order and to dispel the perception of corruption surrounding it. She is a woman who has been intimately involved with the Liverpool community for the past 18 months, and she is a woman in whom both Labor and Liberal governments have reposed complete confidence for almost two decades. She is a woman whose qualifications would seem to fit her for the task: Director of Planning in the New South Wales Department of Housing from 1987 to 1995; Director of the Department of Housing from 1992 to 1994; Director-General of the Ministry for Housing, Planning and Urban Affairs from 1993 to 1995; and Director-General of the New South Wales Department of Urban Affairs and Planning from 1995 to 1997, when she retired. Ms Kibble's handling of the LEP was not cursory or a matter of shuffling the papers on her desk. She intervened to separate what was a rezoning initially covering both the designer outlets site at Liverpool and the Cross Roads site at Casula into two separate plans. As the inquiry heard, "her fingerprints were all over" the draft LEP. She then forwarded the draft LEP to the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources [DIPNR] with her full knowledge and approval of the contents.
At DIPNR a section 69 report was prepared, primarily by Laurel Cheetham, Senior Environmental Planner, Sydney Region West, a planner of some 20 years experience. It was then endorsed by David Birds, Team Leader Southwest Sector, DIPNR, and by Gary Prattley, Executive Director, Metropolitan Land and Resource Planning, DIPNR, on 16 June 2004. Mr Prattley, no doubt sensitive to pressures from above, subsequently changed his mind. With the possible exception of Garry Prattley's change of mind, what, up to this point, was dodgy, corrupt or ensnared in a web of dishonest influences? Just what was untoward or improper in anything that had occurred to this date?
When questioned on this during the inquiry's hearings, former Keating staffer Mark Ryan, now Westfield's Director of Corporate Affairs, said that he had concerns about irregularities in the process, but conceded that he had "no material evidence of any act of corruption". Nor did he have anything worth reporting to the ICAC. Yet Mr Ryan's allegations about the Minister being encircled by dishonest influences were supposedly so serious, so substantial, that he sought and was granted a meeting with the Premier's Chief of Staff, Graeme Wedderburn, who in turn spoke to the Premier. And the Premier was so shocked, so perturbed, so concerned by what he learned that he told Mr Wedderburn to instruct Minister Beamer to "stick to the rules" and follow proper process. Just whose leg is being pulled here? No allegations, no evidence, just vague assertions about a council that had already been dismissed.
I put it to the House that what we have here is a concoction, a farrago of half-truths and innuendos, deliberately designed to distract attention from a sleazy decision to put the corporate interests of Westfield ahead of the jobs of more than 400 people at Liverpool. It is also a concoction that smears and besmirches the reputation of all those public servants who have participated in the process: Gabrielle Kibble, Garry McCully, Laurel Cheetham, David Birds—to name just the most obvious.
I now turn to the issue underlying this whole debate—and that is the issue of political donations. The Greens' opposition to corporate donations from the big end of town to political parties is well known. Call it what you like, large sums of money changing hands between corporate interests and politicians buys influence. "Donation" is in fact a misnomer. Nobody believes that the pubs and clubs industry or developers that make donations to political parties do so for the social good or to enhance the quality of democracy. They give donations in the hope or expectation that politicians will make decisions favourable to their business interests. They are not donations; they are bribes.
The Greens have done extensive research on political donations. That research shows that the biggest donors to the Australian Labor Party in New South Wales are property developers. It is no coincidence that the largest donors are developers. The daily currency of property development involves property acquisition, land rezonings and development approval—the very same hallmarks that have characterised the Orange Grove saga. Over the past four years the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party has received donations from at least 80 companies in the property industry. The Walker Corporation gave $165,000; McRoss, also associated with Lang Walker, gave another $122,000; Meriton donated $294,500; Multiplex donated $258,350; the Mirvac Group donated $98,000; Leightons gave $147,550; the Lend Lease Group gave $241,850; and Paynter Dixon Construction Pty Ltd gave $298,450.
Then we get to Westfield's gifts to New South Wales Labor: $75,000 from Crossy Ltd, a Westfield subsidiary, in 1998-99; $4,000 from Westfield Holdings in 1999-2000; $22,000 from Westfield Holdings in 2000-01; $19,550 in 2001-02; $95,000 in 2002-03—a total of $215,550 over five years. These are only the donations to the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labor Party. Over the same period Westfield donated $643,500 to Federal Labor—all up, $859,050 in donations to Labor from Westfield and its associated entities. I suggest that $859,050 buys a lot of influence. It certainly buys more influence than $10,473—the amount Nabil Gazal donated to the Labor Party over the same period. And Gazal has openly admitted that had he known Labor wanted more, he would have been only too happy to pay more if that was what was needed to get a favourable outcome.
If the Government wishes to dispel the stench surrounding the actions of the Premier and the Minister Assisting the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning (Planning Administration), it will support the bill, it will permit the rezoning, and it will permit the administrator of Liverpool council to determine whether to approve the development application for a retail outlets centre. A person with local knowledge and considerable qualifications and experience could make that decision. The people of Liverpool deserve no less. The Premier may be contemptuous of the people of Liverpool and not give a fig about their jobs, but the Greens certainly do. I urge the House to support the bill.
The Hon. JON JENKINS [3.20 p.m.]: Many members in this House would be familiar with my attitude to what I call political stunts. Generally I will not support them. The Leader of the Opposition and I have had discussions both on and off the record about what I call stunts. This bill will probably not help one person at Orange Grove find a new job, nor will it help any of the people who have sunk their livelihoods into new businesses in good faith. I have not supported any political stunt by the Opposition in the past because I do not believe that any one of them was truly a genuine attempt to do something for the people of the State. But this occasion is a little bit different because it indicates that we are at a crucial time in both State and Federal politics. The people of New South Wales—in fact, the people of Australia generally—are sick to death of cynical, patronising politicians who twist the truth and who are more concerned with political power than with doing the right thing. They are desperate for a viable alternative, so desperate that approximately one in ten, according to the polls, is considering seriously voting for the lunatic Greens, who, the evidence is clear, want only to destroy and create anarchy. Are senior politicians so detached that they cannot see and feel what is happening out there in voter land?
I turn to the specifics of this situation. The attitude of the Government to planning laws has been very flexible, and in some cases it is a good thing: the environment changes, patterns of human behaviour change, and our suburban needs and requirements change. Planning laws and instruments should reflect those changes. There is no doubt that political shenanigans have been going on behind the scenes and that the Government will have to take its lumps for its incompetence and mismanagement. In 2002 Liverpool council approved the use of Orange Grove as a factory outlet. No objections were raised to the construction of the facility. Clearly, this was an error on the part of council because the zoning requirements prohibited retail outlets in this area. It is unclear why the council approved Orange Grove. An altruistic view may well be that it was reflecting the community's needs and desires to have such an outlet at this place. Conversely, the more sinister implication is that powerful political forces behind the scenes were directing events. In June construction of the Orange Grove centre began and an application was made to the Minister to rezone the centre for retail purposes.
In the full knowledge of all these events the Minister subsequently opened the centre, thereby providing legitimacy to the council's decision, and the retailers who had sunk their livelihoods into creating businesses and employment in this area. Certainly those who were aware of the rezoning proposal would have taken this action by the Minister as sanction or approval of the rezoning proposal. However, both the Minister and the council soon became aware that trouble was brewing because Westfield had signalled its intention to begin litigation. Subsequently, the Land and Environment Court and then the Court of Appeal found that the centre had breached the zoning rules. In the intervening period the appointed administrator of Liverpool council, herself an experienced town planner, had supported publicly the rezoning of the centre for retail purposes. Many senior staff from the planning department also supported this action. Now the Minister and the Government had two choices: either rezone the centre as had been recommended by the senior planning staff of Liverpool council's administrator or refuse to rezone the centre and allow it to close, with the associated loss of jobs and businesses.
This is where the uncertainty arises. On what basis was this decision made? We do not know, and will never know, why this decision was made. We will never know who did what, who said what to whom or who paid what to whom. No inquiry, including an inquiry by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, will ever get to the bottom of it. Perhaps in the distant future, when one of the people involved writes his or her memoirs, we will eventually know, but in the near future we are not going to know. In my short time in this House I have seen that the Government—as the Opposition has pointed out—has been quite prepared to be flexible in its planning arrangements. Why no flexibility in this case? That is where we stand at the moment. The Government refuses to lose face and rezone the centre, approximately 400 people have no jobs, and, worst of all—and these are the people I really feel for—a multitude of small business people have risked everything and sunk their livelihoods into their businesses in good faith.
The bill will never get past the lower House. Orange Grove should not be given any false hopes. But this bill will present a way of getting the Government to look seriously at its internal structures and its branches, including the councils it controls. In direct contrast to my previous behaviour of not supporting political stunts, I will support this one. However, I urge Government and Opposition members to stop treating the voting public with cynicism and deception. They are acting like two young children trying to outstare one another, each believing that the first one to blink will lose. However, I believe that the first one to blink will actually be the winner with the people of New South Wales and Australia. If the major parties fail to heed this sea change that is taking place out there in voter land, the voting public will respond with a pox on both their houses, and extremist fanatics will end up having control over the future of New South Wales and this country. Heaven help us if that occurs!
The Hon. KAYEE GRIFFIN [3.25 p.m.]: I wish to make a number of comments about this bill and some of the issues that have led to it being before the House today. On economic and business considerations the draft bill has planning implications for Liverpool and, possibly, the State. Is that the purpose of a draft planning bill? This bill contradicts significant planning law, government policy, State environmental planning policy 66, centre policy and three court judgments. I shall quote some sections of the judgment of Justice Lloyd of the Land and Environment Court on 16 January 2004. Section 19 states:
I accept the submission of the applicants that the breach of the Act in the present case is no mere technicality. Section 76B of the EP&A Act clearly states that where an environmental planning instrument provides specified development is prohibited on land, a person must not carry out the development on that land. The system of planning control in the State could be set at naught if a use of land which is prohibited by an environmental planning instrument is allowed to continue. The whole system of planning control is dependent on the orderly enforcement of environmental law … a sense of inequity would be felt by those who complied with the requirements of the Act if relief were not granted. Moreover, the use in the present case is that of a shopping centre. Allowing a retail shopping centre on land on which shops are prohibited cannot be regarded as a mere technical breach.
Section 23 continues:
Neither do I accept that there is a public benefit in allowing the development to continue. The public benefit is said to arise from the economic benefit it brings to the area, including the employment of persons in various businesses. If this argument were to be accepted it would mean that business and economic considerations should prevail over planning controls which govern the integrated and orderly use of land. It would elevate the power of the dollar above carefully formulated planning and environmental controls.
In some ways people have skirted around some of the issues involving Liverpool council. It is particularly interesting to note that when Ms Sylvia Hale referred to some of the decisions of Liverpool council in the early 1990s she did not make much comment about the way this development application was handled. On 18 September 2001 the council granted consent for a bulky goods outlet at Orange Grove. On 15 November 2002 Liverpool council, under delegation by a single officer in the council, granted development consent for a change of use of the Orange Grove site from a bulky goods warehouse to a factory outlets centre.
My understanding of the most common practice of most councils is that if an application relates to a use that is not permitted within a specific zoning, the developer or applicant will not proceed with the application and the council will examine whether its local environmental plan [LEP] or zoning is correct. Councils have an opportunity to make changes to their LEPs, but in most cases those changes are carried out before consent is granted to a change of use, such as in the case of the Orange Grove Road outlet.
Evidence was given to the committee of discussion about letters that had been sent to Mr Mosca, the architect who lodged the development application on behalf of Gazcorp. The original letter sent by the planner to Mr Mosca referred to the definitions of bulky goods salesrooms or showrooms, but no part of those definitions referred to retail goods. Retail trading was not allowed under the Liverpool City Council zoning that was in operation at the time, yet from the time that letter was sent, 13 June, to the period during which the development application was advertised, from 1 November to 14 November, there seemed to be some change. What that change was no-one seems to know. Some of the discussion suggested that a change occurred from the point when the original application was lodged with the council to the point when the decision was made about whether the proposed use was allowable under Liverpool City Council's planning proposals. But never at any stage does it appear that anyone discussed rezoning of that particular area under the Liverpool City Council's local environmental plan.
As a consequence, in November 2002, after the application for a change in the use of the land was advertised on page 31 or 33 of the local paper—and no-one seems to know much about that advertisement or exactly what went into it—and because of the manner in which the council had delegated its authority, it transpired that if there were fewer than three objections to the proposal, the matter could be dealt with by a single senior planner, who was the person in charge of assessing the development application. Approval of the application was notified to the applicant on 15 November, the day after the advertising period closed. There did not appear to be any discussion at council about the approval—which at that stage had been given—being in opposition to what was allowable under the council's local environmental plan.
The evidence also indicates that people noticed that it took from 15 November 2002 until 9 April 2003 for the development consent to be publicly declared. The former mayor said that he was not aware of the development. In evidence he said that he was not aware that a legal challenge had been made. Although the legal proceedings in the Land and Environment Court were lodged on 17 June 2003, no-one seemed to know very much about them. My personal opinion is that the mayor and elected members of the council should have been made very aware of any large developments that were proposed. They should also have been made aware of a proposed development that was contrary to the type of development allowable under the local environmental plan. They should also have been made aware whether the approval given by the council was contrary to its LEP provisions, in circumstances where no rezoning or change to the LEP had taken place that would permit a non-conforming use. None of that seems to have occurred at Liverpool City Council.
A proposed change to the Liverpool City Council's LEP, the purpose of which was to validate the council's previous consent for the Orange Grove Road development—an approval that had been given 13 months earlier—suddenly came before the council at its meeting of 8 December 2003. If the council had acted correctly and properly, and if everyone within the council had been made aware of what was happening and what was supposed to be done, it would have closely examined the possibility of rezoning at the time the development application came before it. An application of the magnitude of the development that is the subject of this bill should also have come to the notice of councillors and should have been dealt with properly by council officers as well as elected members. The current problems have been exacerbated by the council's decision-making process having taken place over a two-year period.
If this draft bill is passed by the Parliament and in the future a council does not make a correct decision and does not examine all relevant issues—such as non-conforming uses in development applications and council approval being given contrary to the provisions of the LEP—there will be significant problems. If we pass this bill, we might as well throw out the window all planning laws and constraints that are exercised by local government, and ignore any involvement by the State Government in planning processes. I suggest that the Designer Outlets Centre at Liverpool will not be the only development to which the provisions of this bill will be applied, if it is passed. Why would anyone bother to play by the rules if this bill comes into force?
I certainly acknowledge the circumstances of the people involved and the concerns expressed about the time that has elapsed in determining the use of the land. However, those issues do not override the fact that at the commencement of the process, for whatever reason, Liverpool City Council made a decision that was contrary to its own local environmental plan and that at a late stage in the decision-making process the council considered a change in zoning and alteration of its LEP to accommodate the use of the Orange Grove Road land—decisions that unfortunately did not resolve the problem. The processes of the council have made matters extremely difficult for everyone involved and I believe they will make matters very difficult for others in the future. Will this Parliament be called upon in the future to introduce bills to cover each and every error made by councils similar to this error made by Liverpool City Council?
I reiterate the comments I made at the beginning of my speech. If this bill is passed, it will be for economic and business considerations. The effect of it becoming law will be to throw all planning considerations out the window. If this bill is passed, it will open a Pandora's box of planning processes. If this bill succeeds, why would anyone want to play by the rules?
Reverend the Hon. Dr GORDON MOYES [3.38 p.m.]: At the outset I congratulate the Hon. John Ryan on introducing this bill. While I listened to the contribution of the member who preceded me in this debate, I found it difficult to understand how any member of this House could speak against this bill in the light of those involved in the matter hurting so badly. I will give the House seven reasons why I support the Save Orange Grove Bill, the object of which is to facilitate the continued use and operation of the Designer Outlets Centre in Orange Grove Road, Liverpool, by allowing the activities of that centre to be carried out with the consent of Liverpool City Council.
My first reason for supporting the bill is that it will assist in preserving 400 jobs. I will be very interested to see what happens as a result of the Government's attempts in the other place to press its rejection of this bill given that it well knows unemployment is a very serious issue in the Liverpool area and that, by its actions, it will be depriving people of employment.
If the outlets close, 400 more people will become dependent on unemployment benefits. From a personal perspective, as head of Wesley Mission I have a number of officers in Wesley Uniting Employment helping people find jobs. My staff engaged in that area tell me that it is extremely difficult to get the kind of people who are currently employed at the Orange Grove centre into other jobs. It will be tough, and the Government does not seem to care about what will happen to those 400 people.
The second reason I support the bill is that it will save 60 small businesses, and the life savings of families who have invested in those businesses. In the main they are very small businesses, and it seems that the Government regards them as being less important than the technical integrity of land use zonings. The Government has looked at the 60 small businesses but does not consider them to be of any import or significance; it would rather stick with technical integrity of land use zonings. My third reason for supporting the bill is that it keeps $30 million worth of economic activity in Liverpool instead of it going outside of Liverpool. Many other places would welcome the customers that would otherwise go to Orange Grove, but it is important that the $30 million stay in the local Liverpool area. That area of Sydney has the country's highest level of unemployment, and it deserves to have that level of money spent there.
The fourth reason I support the bill is that if the outlets close, potentially the ratepayers of Western Sydney will be liable to foot a compensation bill running into millions of dollars. I have heard that Nabil Gazal and Gazcorp, if they were to sue, would seek $60 million to compensate for lost opportunity and constructions costs. The assistant planning Minister, Diane Beamer, has been caught out in rejecting Gabrielle Kibble's recommendations—a decision that will cost the ratepayers of Western Sydney a great deal of money. The fifth reason I support the bill is that if the outlets close a $22 million purpose-built building will be left idle. If it is sold, part of the money will be recouped, but certainly the total cost will not be recouped, and that will be a total waste of a valuable resource.
My sixth reason for supporting the Save Orange Grove Bill is a very simple one. The proposal was professionally endorsed by some of the best town planners we have. The proposal to rezone the land had been endorsed by the planning staff at Liverpool City Council and then endorsed by one of the State's finest planners, Gabrielle Kibble, a former Director-General of the Department of Planning. Recently Ms Kibble was appointed by the Carr Government as administrator of Liverpool council. Three professional planners from the New South Wales Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources also endorsed the zoning. In other words it has been the subject of major planning exercises by our best town planners, all of whom approved the development. It has also been the subject of three separate financial impact studies, all of which concluded that it would not do any long-term harm to existing businesses operating in the Liverpool central business district.
Honourable members should remember that when planning Minister Knowles officiated at the opening of the centre last November he said the centre would be "great for Liverpool". There is also evidence that if the Orange Grove centre continues to operate there will be a positive environmental impact. Residents of south-western Sydney will be saved having to undertake long car trips to other factory outlets located miles away at Homebush, Birkenhead Point and Mount Druitt. Tuggerah has an excellent outlets centre. There is no doubt that factory outlets shopping for seconds and out-of-season bargains is extremely popular with consumers. I feel greatly relaxed when I visit my local outlets centre on a Saturday morning; I can stand and watch the rest of the world go by and it costs me very little money. People have been flocking to the Orange Grove centre in droves, even after the Land and Environment Court determined that it should close.
Not one member of this House would not have been moved by the presentation yesterday in this House of a petition containing upwards of 50,000 signatures praying for the Orange Grove centre to be saved. Most of the people who work at the factory outlets centre are semi-skilled women, usually in casual and part-time work. It will be very difficult to find other jobs for them. My seventh reason for supporting the bill is that what it seeks will be the best result from a planning and political mess. Yesterday the Federal Leader of the Opposition, Mark Latham, at long last made a comment on the issue. Although the centre is located in an area adjacent to his electorate, many of his constituents have shopped there, and he has called on the Carr Labor Government to reconsider the matter. He said:
I just trust and hope that these inquiries sort it out and if there's an argument for rezoning the site —if that was the fair thing to do—and allow those retail chains to re-establish themselves, then that should happen.
This is a political mess as well as a planning mess. The best option is to rezone the land to allow for an outlets centre. The problem is, however, that Labor has a two-faced response and it has to try to cover its backside on the issue. The first is the Government's desire is to keep Westfield on side as a major donor. The other is that either Diane Beamer or Joe Tripodi is lying, or both of them are covering up for Premier Carr. On 21 November, when Craig Knowles unveiled the plaque and cut the cake, there was no problem. But now he has had the rug pulled out from under his feet.
Carr Government Ministers and members cannot get their act together. Some people obviously have to pay when Government Ministers counter each other in order to repay those who, like Mr Lowy and Westfield, have given considerable electoral donations to the Carr Government. We are talking about a successful business venture here. Scores of investors, small businesses and many ordinary people have invested great time and effort in it. We cannot close it down just to keep in good with those who make big donations to the Australian Labor Party. I remind honourable members that Westfield and its main shareholders have donated $860,000 to the Australian Labor Party in the past five years. I have often wondered how much it would take to buy a government decision. Now I know!
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA (Special Minister of State, Minister for Commerce, Minister for Industrial Relations, Assistant Treasurer, and Minister for the Central Coast) [3.47 p.m.]: I oppose the bill. In recent weeks General Purpose Standing Committee No. 4 heard extensive testimony indicating that there is no special case for Liverpool council to receive a retrospective rezoning application. This bill is nothing more than a stunt. It needs to be borne in mind that Gazcorp has repeatedly frustrated efforts to find the Orange Grove employees new jobs in other, legal centres. Some members of this Chamber have chosen to make that the principal issue on which turns the rights and wrongs of the bill. The Government moved quickly to put in place assistance networks. Staff from the Premier's Department were put onto the case full time, and Drakes were engaged to start identifying alternative jobs and suitable placements.
These efforts have been frustrated at every turn by Mr Gazal, who has professed concern for the ongoing employment of staff. The reality is, however, that all he has ever been concerned about is lining his own pockets. Mr Gazal stood to gain a windfall profit if this rezoning proceeded, and that is why he has been cynically manipulating employee disappointment. It is important that the full extent of his obstructions are revealed and made known to members before any vote on the bill is taken. On 21 July 2004 a telephone offer was made to Mr Gazal to meet with Loftus Harris, an officer of the Department of State and Regional Development, and the jobs co-ordinator to discuss potential bulky goods operations. The offer was rejected. On 22 July a formal letter was sent to Mr Gazal from the jobs co-ordinator seeking a meeting to discuss bulky goods operations and protocols to access employees. That offer was faxed at 4.00 p.m. At 4.55 p.m. that same day a follow-up phone call by the jobs co-ordinator was made. He was advised that Mr Gazal was busy and would return the call shortly. The call was never returned.
On 23 July there was a follow-up phone call, this time to Mr Gazal's mobile, which was answered by Nicholas Gazal, who said that his father was busy and that he would pass on a message for him to return the call. That call was never returned. At 11.00 a.m. on 26 July a follow-up phone call was made by the jobs co-ordinator. On that occasion Nabil Gazal took the call, but he advised the caller that he was not interested in a meeting and that the caller "should talk to Mr Knowles" On the same day the jobs co-ordinator faxed a letter to Mr Gazal setting out attempts to organise a meeting and advising that the jobs co-ordinator would be visiting the centre and repeating the offer to meet. The jobs co-ordinator visited the centre at about 2.50 p.m. that day to distribute letters of introduction and a small survey form for centre traders. What happened in response to this attempt to assist workers? The jobs co-ordinator was intercepted by centre management and security and asked to leave the premises, after only four letters had been distributed.
The Hon. John Ryan: For his own protection.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA: I note the interjection of the Hon. John Ryan. At 1.15 p.m. on 28 July the Orange Grove centre manager rang the jobs co-ordinator to confirm the rumour that the co-ordinator was to visit the centre that afternoon. The jobs co-ordinator was advised that he was not welcome at the centre.
The Hon. John Ryan should consider the logic behind the point he is making. On 2 August Drake called the centre manager to arrange a meeting to discuss gaining access to employees. It was agreed that a meeting would be held at 11.00 a.m. the next day. Later that evening the centre manager called the meeting off and said he would call Drake the next day. No call was received. Drake rang the centre manager regarding a meeting. The centre manager advised that he would call back. That call was never made. At 10.30 a.m. on 4 August Drake Personnel arrived at the centre with envelopes containing pamphlets for staff. Some 250 pamphlets were handed out and all but some six outlets were visited.
What was Gazcorp's response? Shortly after Drake's arrival, centre management and security requested Drake to leave the premises. On 12 August a letter was sent to Mr Gazal requesting co-operation in facilitating meetings with staff and traders to arrange alternative employment offers. The letter also advised Mr Gazal of the appointment of the Australian Retailers Association to help traders. No response was received. At about 3.00 p.m. on 20 August the jobs co-ordinator made a telephone call to Orange Grove centre manager seeking access by Drake to employees in the last week of trading. The centre manager undertook to talk to the owners and to call the jobs co-ordinator back, but no return call was made.
On 25 August the jobs co-ordinator made a telephone call to Orange Grove centre manager seeking access by Drake to employees following the decision of the Court of Appeal that the centre would cease to trade at the close of business that day. Access was sought for 26 August 2004 and the Government was to publicise to employees that Drake would be at the centre. As there was no response to a 2.00 p.m. voice message a further call was made at 2.58 p.m. and another message was left. At 3.35 p.m. the centre manager returned the call advising that it was not his decision and that the owner would need to agree to the meeting, that 26 August 2004 would not be a good time as emotions were high, and because nobody would be there, and he agreed to speak to the owner and to ring back if access was granted.
Guess what? As at 2.00 p.m. on 27 August 2004 no return call had been made. That is 14 documented attempts to get Gazcorp's co-operation. Every attempt was obstructed, delayed, not passed on, or downright ignored. Mr Gazal's professed concern for staff lies in tatters. It is rubbish, and it was rubbish from day one. Overwhelmingly the evidence shows that he deliberately set out to mislead tenants about the legality of the activities of the centre—something to which Opposition members should be listening. He knew all the while that people were being employed by tenants based on a deception. He wanted that to happen so he could attempt to blackmail the Government into agreeing to a rezoning which would have given him a massive personal windfall.
The Hon. John Ryan: Like you gave Westfield in 1982.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA: Is the Hon. John Ryan silly enough to proceed with that argument? This afternoon in the other place evidence was produced showing that retailers had complained that they had not had the legal actions disclosed to them. Mr Gazal, and only Mr Gazal, brought about this sorry state of affairs. It is not the first time that he has demonstrated a reckless indifference to the welfare of workers. Mr Gazal, this great champion of workers, who is being defended by Opposition members, was director of the company that owned Viscount Caravans and who previously operated at 20 Orange Grove Road. During his time as a director there was an industrial dispute with the relevant union because Viscount had stood down employees, including over the Christmas period. In 1995 Deputy President Watson of the Industrial Relations Commission had this to say:
In my view the attitude and conduct of Viscount show a clear disregard for the terms of the award and a preparedness to put its own interests above the obligations on it imposed by the award.
Viscount in its action has had no regard to the terms... of the award and the obligations of the award... its employees have as a consequence endured periods of work without pay, to their detriment and inconsistent with their rights under the award...
Recently a disgruntled former employee of Viscount has been in contact with the Government and continues to provide documentation highlighting the tawdry treatment meted out to Viscount staff.
The Hon. John Ryan: It has nothing to do with Mr Gazal.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA: The former employee worked for Viscount for 25 years, only to be told that he had no superannuation. In his correspondence to the Government this former employee, who has requested anonymity for the time being, states:
At one point before the factory closed a number of employees, myself included, were employed by Mr Gazal asking us to approach Liverpool Council re having the land rezoned, as if the land was not rezoned he would be forced to close the factory.
Mr Gazal should do the honourable thing and come clean with the tenants of Orange Grove and their employees. The most important thing about this debate—
The Hon. John Ryan: Now you are going to deny that there are 400 jobs.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA: The point I was about to make is that the Hon. John Ryan knows full well that the economy operates in a rules-based fashion. He knows that some organisations follow the rules and some do not. That applies to planning issues, industrial relations issues, and occupational health issues.
The Hon. John Ryan: The council supported him.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA: The point I am making is that there was a clear obligation on Mr Gazal to disclose to his tenants and their employees the legal situation. Any attempt to give this Parliament the authority to perform individual spot rezonings—
The Hon. John Ryan knows that this is a completely different situation.
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Patricia Forsythe): Order! The Minister has the call. Interjections are disorderly.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA: I will not respond to that interjection other than to make the obvious point that the Hon. John Ryan knows full well that this is a completely different set of circumstances. This is a parallel set of circumstances to a whole range of activities. The simple fact of the matter is that rules exist to provide a level playing field. If some people extract additional personal value—whether or not they hold other people hostage—it is not the way in which to properly proceed. I suspect that members will vote for this bill, which I believe will dishonour the way in which this Chamber operates.
Opposition members should give serious thought to whether they want to do this. We have heard speeches about the issues to which the Liberal Party is committed. I would think that one thing the Liberal Party would have thought about would be the fact that the free enterprise system operates within a set of rules. The marketplace can only operate effectively within a set of rules. If we disregard them we go to the law of the jungle. Opposition members have been blackguarding what Westfield or one company does or does not do. There are the rules and we cannot simply ride roughshod over them.
The Hon. DAVID OLDFIELD [3.59 p.m.]: Over the past few weeks I have watched with interest some Government members running and hiding in relation to this issue. They had an opportunity to state why Orange Grove should close, why this is a bad bill, and why 450 people should be put out of work, but they have not put forward anything new or convincing. I note that the heavyweights have been brought in to contribute to this debate. The Special Minister of State told us that the testimony of witnesses who have been brought before the inquiry has shown there is nothing special about this matter. Maybe there is nothing special about the way in which Labor governments operate. We might be able to see that, for example, in relation to the Eastgardens issue that the Hon. John Ryan raised.
The Hon. John Della Bosca said there was nothing special about witnesses' testimony that would cause this case to be considered in this manner. I suggest that this case is special in many ways. We must be careful what we say about what has occurred during the inquiry but many who have viewed its proceedings have suggested to me that the only convincing and consistent arguments put forward were advanced by the owners and supporters of the centre. Indeed, it seems that people find the testimony of many other witnesses somewhat conflicting—indeed, various Ministers and staff members have been accused of lying. If the testimony is examined in its entirety, I am sure its significance will be evident to any independent reader. I am most interested in the government jobs co-ordinator scenario. I was at the Orange Grove centre when the government jobs co-ordinator, seconded from the Premier's office, arrived.
The Hon. John Ryan: You saw what was happening.
The Hon. DAVID OLDFIELD: I saw him: He was running around looking for people to find jobs for and looking for jobs for people who had them—they were already employed. It is a joke. It is the Aladdin's lamp principle of job seeking: new jobs for old. The Government is concerned not about finding jobs for people who do not have them but about finding jobs for people who are already employed and who are about to lose their jobs as a consequence of government action. If the Government is so concerned about jobs and thinks the gentleman on secondment from the Premier's Department can find them efficiently and effectively, it should employ him full time, 365 days a year, to seek jobs not just in Liverpool but across the State. It is amazing that it is only when the Government decides to close a centre and put 450 people out of work that it chooses to be proactive and second someone from the Premier's Department to find jobs—new jobs for old. Who is going to fall for that?
The Save Orange Grove Bill is essentially about jobs, businesses, families, income and mortgages. Indeed, the financial impact of the Orange Grove centre closure will be felt even by many children for years to come because the economic suffering of the parents naturally passes to their children. But of course none of this has to happen, and it will happen only by virtue of the will of the Carr Labor Government and of Bob Carr personally. It is about preserving a social and economic necessity for Liverpool and for much of south-western Sydney.
In its short life the Orange Grove centre provided 450 much-needed jobs for Western Sydney, an area with the second highest unemployment level in the country. Make no mistake, Mr Carr has wrongfully attempted to attribute blame to Mr Gazal, to his former ministerial colleague George Paciullo in his role as mayor of Liverpool council, and to Liverpool councillors and staff. But the matter is now before Parliament and the buck will stop with Mr Carr. If the centre is not to be rezoned, it will be Bob Carr, and no-one else, who is responsible. I am reminded of the Premier's words in support of past rezonings done in the Parliament by his Government. The Premier made it clear that he considered the parliamentary process to be the most open and accountable, and hence such rezonings were legitimised by Parliament's involvement.
Well, Premier Carr, that process is under way again today and even if the majority of upper House members support the Opposition's bill, everyone expects the Premier to crush the bill in the lower House. Mr Carr, if you do as everyone expects, you will crush not just the bill but 450 jobs and the thousands of people connected with those jobs—husbands, wives, children and grandchildren—as well as impact on the businesses, and hence the families, of those who work to service and supply the businesses of Orange Grove. Could anyone have imagined this scenario: a Labor Premier rampaging through western Sydney with the sword of unemployment, slashing at and cutting down Labor voters and despoiling the hopes and dreams of the unsuspecting, who for so long have pledged their votes to the very people who would shatter their livelihoods?
Premier, it does not have to be that way. If this House passes the bill—and I suspect it will—you could accept that democratic process that you speak of and not oppose the passage of the bill through the lower House. That would be not a backdown but a true example of your previously expressed belief in the people's process. You do not have to be the Premier who says "No", and crushes the people of Western Sydney. You can be the Labor Premier who takes the opportunity to say "Yes" and save the jobs and the families. Premier, preserve this huge economic bonus for south-western Sydney. The centre attracts tens of thousands of people, 50 per cent of whom come from outside the local area. We have analysed the petitions received on this matter and found that 50 per cent of the signatories come from outside—well outside—the Liverpool area.
Premier, there is a public perception that Orange Grove is in this position because a favour was done for Westfield. Given the way in which events have unfolded, such views are understandable. Indeed, much of what was required to dispel such ideas could have been provided through the testimony of Joe Tripodi. But as Joe Tripodi's statement was untested and incredibly late in coming, the Government's position was not helped. Premier, it will do you a lot of good if you allow this bill to pass through the lower House. If you do not, it is likely that the public perception will be that you said, "No, no, no" either because of ego or as a favour. There is no public good in saying "No" to this bill and "No" to Orange Grove.
The Save Orange Grove Bill and the Botany and Randwick Sites Development Bill 1982 have a number of commonalities. Like now, in 1982 a Labor Premier and a Labor Government were involved. Like now, in 1982 it was about the issue of jobs and economic hardship. Like now, it concerned the issue of shopping centres and rezoning. Like now, there were allegations of corruption and favours for corporate mates. Like now, the Land and Environment Court was involved. Like now, Westfield was involved. During debate on the 1982 legislation, Labor Government Planning Minister Bedford said:
This bill is essentially about jobs! It is a practical and immediate example of employment generation in the face of extremely hard economic times.
Labor Minister Bedford—back when Labor meant something to working people—went on to say:
Honourable members opposite have tried to play down the fact that the first responsibility of the New South Wales Government is to ensure that it keeps in employment as many people as it can and, where possible, creates employment for others. Though it is difficult for governments to make decisions against a whole range of laws that they have to handle, it would be immoral in the extreme for this Government to walk round the problem of trying to keep jobs in New South Wales … it is the responsibility of the Government to provide employment.
Where is Minister Bedford today? Why is he not a Minister in the Carr Government?
The Hon. Amanda Fazio: Because he's very old and he's retired, you fool!
The Hon. DAVID OLDFIELD: It is a shame that many of the very old and retired are those with the appropriate principles.
The Hon. Amanda Fazio: And he's caring for his grandchildren.
The Hon. DAVID OLDFIELD: It is a shame that he is not here to care for the grandchildren of the people who have lost their jobs at Orange Grove. The irony of these words from the 1982 debate is that at the time the Wran Labor Government was justifying its rezoning to retail of 27 acres of Crown land, including eight acres of bus depot, so that Westfield could build a shopping centre. That shopping centre became the 68,000 square metre Eastgardens, which was then the biggest shopping centre in Australia.
The Hon. John Ryan: And probably made a windfall profit for Westfield.
The Hon. DAVID OLDFIELD: There was a huge windfall profit for Westfield. It is probably what started the momentum for the corporation and sent it on its way to success and to becoming rich, rich, rich. The Hon. John Ryan knows, as I do, that the Labor Party seems able to pick and choose who can be successful and have money and who cannot. Nabil Gazal is a good example. Much has been made of Nabil Gazal's ability to make money. Did anyone who worked in the centre or anyone who owned a shop in the centre not intend to make money? Is there anyone who does not want to make money? If there is, they should have their heads read! Everybody wants to make money. It appears that it is okay for Westfield to make huge profits—much of them off the back of the considerable and helpful rezoning efforts of this Government.
I must add that when we talked about Eastgardens and the 68,000 square metre Eastgardens complex—the biggest shopping centre at the time in Australia—it was not enough that Westfield actually got all of that Crown land rezoned from industrial to retail rights but, to sweeten the deal, Westfield and its joint-venture partners also, compliments of the Government, had 34 acres of land rezoned residential high-rise, on which more than 1,200 residential units were built. How much profit would that have been? Tens of millions in profits! But Nabil Gazal is not allowed to make money, it would seem, not according to this Government. One of the most interesting statements of the good and decent planning Minister Bedford—the Labor Minister in the Wran Government—was:
I am pleased that NSW has a Labor Government, for if a Coalition Government were in office it would be willing to flush all these jobs down the drain—
My, how the shoe is now on the other foot—
As a member of the NSW Parliament, I shall do all I can to get for NSW as many jobs as possible, from wherever I can.
But not through Nabil Gazal and Orange Grove, it would seem. Some other words of Labor Planning Minister Bedford should not be lost on anyone. He said:
That is my first responsibility to this State, and it ought to be the first responsibility of every other honourable member of this House.
In that instance Minister Bedford was speaking of the creation and retention of jobs. Throughout the course of this issue—through the press and the parliamentary inquiry, and in all forms of debate—much has been said about the role of local authorities. The local authorities involved were the Liverpool council and, more recently, the Government-appointed administrator for Liverpool council, the greatly respected former Director-General of the Department of Planning, Gabrielle Kibble. Liverpool Council approved the zoning change, as did Gabrielle Kibble. While the Government has taken swipe after swipe at Liverpool council—a Labor council, I might add—it has been impossible for it to make negative remarks about Ms Kibble.
Regardless of how dishonestly the Government attempts to associate Liverpool council with this matter, the fact remains that its own respected administrator, Gabrielle Kibble, supported the zoning change, and she made that abundantly clear in the course of her testimony to the parliamentary inquiry. The Hon. John Ryan, the initiator of this very worthy bill, asked her:
How important is it to take into consideration employment opportunities? For example, to summarise what has been said in the media, the centre represents job opportunities for in the order of 450 semi-skilled predominantly female people. Are they social and economic considerations that are important for Liverpool?
Ms Kibble, a former director-general of planning for 10 years appointed by the Government as the Liverpool council administrator, responded:
I considered them to be sufficiently important to support the rezoning on that basis.
Further, when the Hon. John Ryan asked her:
You said you have paramount concern for the Liverpool CBD. Given that concern, why would you permit or facilitate the approval of the factory outlet centre?
Ms Kibble responded:
I think I have already answered that question. I did it on what I considered to be the appropriate social and economic grounds—the fact that the centre was there.
On the matter of the inquiry and what has taken place in the inquiry, it should be noted that in the Legislative Assembly the Premier has breached standing orders and may possibly have been guilty of contempt of the committee by disclosing matters discussed in its deliberative meetings. Without going into what those matters are it is fair to say that what the Premier said in the other Chamber was not only inappropriate but also untrue and absolutely misleading. Labor Planning Minister Bedford took a different position on local planning authorities than the position this current Labor Government chooses to take. On the extraordinary rezoning of acre upon acre of Crown land for the massive Eastlakes shopping centre proposed by Westfield, Minister Bedford said:
The local authorities asked for a rezoning of the land and the provision before Parliament is to validate the... local environmental plans that were prepared.
Let us not forget: We are not talking about a minor change to the LEP that would allow direct factory outlets as opposed to a bulky goods centre, for a development that already exists, as in the case of Orange Grove. Westfield's Eastgardens proposal required the Labor Government of the day to rezone 27 acres of Crown land. The Wran Labor Government punched the rezoning through the Parliament whilst the issue was being fought out in the court. Those fighting the development were cut off in midstream when the judge presiding over the matter ended the proceedings as a result of the Labor Government's decision.
The action of the Parliament prevented the answering of 72 pages of questions asked of the Department of Planning, the Minister, and the local council. Imagine: The judge is presiding over the Land and Environment Court when a sheriff walks into the back of the court and quietly approaches the bench and slips the judge a note. The judge opens the note and in midstream the barristers are cut off when he says, "These proceedings are over because the Parliament has spoken." Mr Carr has a chance to have that happen again through the upper House and by not opposing this bill.
Unlike Orange Grove, the Eastgardens proposal caused massive public and business protests, all of which were ignored by the Government and squashed by the Wran Government's actions. Orange Grove, of course, has had wide public support and only one protester, and unfortunately it had the worst protester one could have: Westfield. When comparing Eastgardens and Orange Grove, one might understand why some may take the view that when Westfield asks, Labor governments bend over backwards to deliver. We should look at some of the comments of a Labor Government Minister for Energy and Water Resources, the Hon. D. P. Landa, who said of the rezoning for Eastgardens:
This bill is an example of government creating jobs without spending money. Indeed, in the final analysis, several million dollars will accrue to consolidated revenue as a result of this exercise. It merely requires … a will and recognition that employment should be the first priority of a responsible government.
However, when considering the fate of the jobs and everything relating to Orange Grove, it is what Minister Landa said to justify rezoning for Westfield's Eastgardens that really needs repeating. He said:
What would happen if the employees ceased to be wage earners? They have families, they pay rent, mortgages, school expenses and medical instalments. Those who have regular jobs find it difficult to imagine what would happen if their employment were no longer available. The problem is compounded when a large number of people in a small district become unemployed at the same time. It is not possible to quantify the impact of unemployment on social and family life. This bill will prevent people going on unemployment relief.
I have given a brief description of some of the financial and social effects on employees, their families and the community when people are thrown out of work. When a company closes down, the economic loss extends beyond the employees of the company.
Those words of Labor Minister Landa are so true and could not be more relevant than they are today in relation to Orange Grove, so why is all this apparently lost on Bob Carr? Though some may be cognisant of the possibility that what is being done to Orange Grove may be a matter of currying favours that will be paid back further down the track, it is also worth considering what the honourable member for Mosman had to say of the rezoning for Eastgardens in 1982—once again under the Wran Labor Government. Mr Arblaster, the honourable member for Mosman, said:
Only two questions need to be asked: how much, and who got it?
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS [4.18 p.m.]: I speak on this bill as a member of the committee inquiring into the Orange Grove outlets centre, as is the Hon. David Oldfield, the Hon. Kayee Griffin, and the Hon. John Ryan. The debate thus far has only confirmed my opinion that this House should have waited for the committee to consider the evidence. The committee will hold another hearing next Monday and its reporting date has been extended to 24 September. This has struck me as a strange debate and proves that it is something of a sham. I gather we are only going to have one speaker from the Opposition, six speakers from the crossbench have already spoken, one of whom is a member of the committee, there have already been a number of Government speakers, and there will be more. It strikes me as very strange, having listened to some of the rhetoric we have heard, particularly from the Hon. John Ryan, that if this matter were so crucially important and if he really believed what he said, there would have been more support from the Coalition parties in moving this bill. However, I will leave that for him to talk about.
Many of the comments made in this debate hark back to the role of the committee, what some committee witnesses have said, and indeed what some committee members have said. I would like to refer to some of those comments. The speech of the Hon. David Oldfield focused mostly on 1982, the speech of Sylvia Hale focused very largely on 1991, and much of the evidence and theatrics that we have had from witnesses before the committee focused mostly on the Liverpool by-election in 1989. Obviously, it will be fairly clear to honourable members of this House that none of those things have anything to do with the matter under debate; that is, the fact that a Labor Party council, late in 2002, illegally granted approval for a factory outlets centre at Orange Grove; and that, after a number of court proceedings and so on, the Government has, quite properly, declined to override the legislation, the rules of Liverpool council, the local environmental plan and three court decisions to retrospectively change the situation.
The fact that we can all have great and genuine sympathy with the victims in this case—who are, of course, the shopkeepers and the workers at the outlets centre—does not prevent us from arguing very strongly that this centre was wrongly approved by Liverpool council in the first place, and none of the arguments that have been presented convince us that it should be retrospectively legalised. Much has been said in this debate. The Special Minister of State, the Hon. John Della Bosca, for instance, has made very clear the extent to which the people involved with the outlets centre have been misled and gulled by Mr Gazal and Gazcorp.
The Premier has spoken at length about the complete failure of Mr Gazal and his company to disclose, as the law provides, the situation in relation to court action and the question mark hanging over the centre when the leases were prepared for the 62 tenants. Indeed, recent court action by tenants of the centre against Mr Gazal and his company have been totally ignored by those who have spoken in support of the bill. The evidence has been before the committee, although Government members of the committee have found it incredibly difficult to persuade the four non-Government members of the committee that Mr Gazal's original offer to produce the leases should be stuck to. I note that at one stage in his speech the Hon. John Ryan actually announced that he believes Mr D'agostino. Mr D'agostino is Mr Gazal's solicitor. Despite Mr Gazal on two occasions at least telling us he has no problem about appearing before us, he has so far carefully avoided appearing before us.
So we have a very murky situation in which, right from the beginning, the problem lay with the procedures adopted by Liverpool council. My colleague the Hon. Kayee Griffin devoted her speech to going through those procedures between June 2002 and November 2002, pointing out in detail exactly how improper, illegal and suspicious they were. The council, in granting the development application on 15 November 2002, had ignored its own rules—indeed had ignored the correspondence from the planner associated with it, and had ignored its own local environmental plan. The mayor at the time has informed us that he had no idea whatsoever that this matter was going on. This is a centre with an estimated value of some $40 million or $50 million, but the mayor had no idea that any of this was happening. The council staff have given very conflicting evidence. But regardless of all of the things that were placed on the record by my colleague the Hon. Kayee Griffin, the fact remains that from the point at which this consent was granted by Liverpool council—totally contrary to its own rules, and to the law applying to it, as the Land and Environment Court and the Court of Appeal have since confirmed—
The Hon. David Oldfield: Point of order: The Hon. Jan Burnswoods is completely misleading the House with regard to the testimony to the inquiry. I acknowledge, as she said previously, that perhaps it would have been better if this debate had taken place after that inquiry had been finalised. But it has not. Therefore, she now has the opportunity to mislead the House with regard to what she has described as conflicting evidence by council staff and various other people.
The Hon. John Ryan: Don't worry! That has been breached by Premiers and members of the Labor Party.
The Hon. Amanda Fazio: It has been breached by your introducing this bill, you sanctimonious little twirp.
The Hon. David Oldfield: Do you actually know what a twirp is? Madam Deputy-President, I have another point of order.
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Patricia Forsythe): Is the member speaking further to the same point of order?
The Hon. David Oldfield: No. I will come back to it.
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Patricia Forsythe): Order! There is no point of order. Throughout the day members have referred to evidence given to the committee. The interpretation of that evidence is a matter for each committee member.
The Hon. David Oldfield: Point of order: Madam Deputy-President, I ask you to direct the Hon. Amanda Fazio to withdraw the reference to the Hon. John Ryan as a "sanctimonious little twirp". I am concerned that the Hon. Amanda Fazio may not know what a twirp is. It is a most offensive remark.
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Patricia Forsythe): Order! All interjections are disorderly. The Hon. Jan Burnswoods may proceed.
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS: I want to turn to some remarks made earlier in this debate by Ms Sylvia Hale. I do so particularly because of her comments about what should be the approach of members of Parliament and indeed of the Government. The contribution of Ms Sylvia Hale to the committee has been most interesting. I have particularly enjoyed some of her remarks about planning and donations. I have enjoyed her remark, for instance, about someone not being on the payroll and being only a consultant. It is interesting to see how that sits with Greens policy. I have been looking at the Greens policy in relation to planning and the environment. I would like to refer to some of those policies in relation to some comments made by an important committee member. These references are from the Greens web site of August. In the Greens policies document in relation to urban planning and built environment we read things such as:
There is a pressing need to move the focus of current planning process away from the unrestrained rights of the developer to make profit for private good, towards a focus on sustainable development, residential amenity, and community empowerment.
Further on in that document we read:
The Greens NSW are committed to a review of the Land and Environment Court, aimed at removing the inherent and gratuitous bias to the developer.
… the Greens NSW believe that current policies of urban consolidation have:
… failed to stop the spread of the growth of Sydney at its fringe, known as urban sprawl, which is consuming important ecological and primary producing lands.
Allegedly, these same policies have produced massive and unsustainable profits for a number of developers that continue to drive unrealistic profit expectations. I could go on and on. There is a lot about the importance of public transport, cyclists and pedestrians. Those of us who are on the committee know what an important role the planner's arguments about the lack of access to transport at the Orange Grove centre has played. Paragraph 1.11.2 of the Greens policy states:
Similarly, developers are regularly obtaining consent for non-complying developments on the basis that planning controls lack flexibility. These developments then serve as precedent justifying further inappropriate development.
I could go on and on. There are pages and pages of it. I find it slightly puzzling that on a bill said to be so important the Coalition should have only one speaker. On the same debate, and I include the media debate and so on leading up to all of this, I find it strange that the longer-term Greens, Mr Ian Cohen and Ms Lee Rhiannon, have been so conspicuously silent. Given what I now know from the detailed examination of Greens policy, I am no longer surprised that Mr Ian Cohen and Ms Lee Rhiannon have been so quiet. Clearly, almost every argument that Ms Sylvia Hale has put forward in this House and in the committee has been totally contrary to Greens policy on urban planning, the built environment, transport and ministerial powers.
I leave out completely the argument she put forward about political donations. I note that since the famous speech of our former colleague, Tony Burke, in this House, in which he nailed the untruths in the Greens policy about donations by pointing out that their receipt of arms-length donations from trusts completely fell down when one analysed the companies in which the trusts invested because many of the companies to which Ms Sylvia Hale has referred are to be found in the companies in which the trusts that make donations to the Greens political party invest. Perhaps it is not so surprising that during proceedings of the committee Ms Sylvia Hale would be so careful in her language about donations and that she would be so careful to protect people working as consultants.
However, it seems that since Tony Burke's speech in this House the Greens' web site has been changed substantially. Now, not only can you not find out the details of those trusts and donations from companies, but you are no longer promised that if you donate more than $3,000 you can go into a private meeting with Senator Bob Brown and if you donate, I think it was, over $1,500 you can go to a cocktail party with Senator Brown. Tony Burke should be proud that, in his relatively brief period in this House, he so effectively showed up the total hypocrisy of the Greens, particularly their richest member, Ms Sylvia Hale. The four non-Government members on the committee have worked very closely. Indeed, the plethora of Brogden minders who have sat in the gallery, acting as a cheer squad and feeder of questions and comments to the Hon. John Ryan, Ms Sylvia Hale and the Hon. David Oldfield have been enough to worry a number of us about the genuineness of the inquiry. I hope that in its forthcoming hearings and deliberative meetings the committee can do somewhat better that it has done to date.
I wish to sum up some of the issues and make a couple of final comments on what has been said in the debate. The Hon. John Ryan started off, and other people have followed him, with some crocodile tears about the reputation of Gabrielle Kibble, all of which seemed to be based on a totally false allegation that Government members of General Purpose Standing Committee No. 4 criticised Gabrielle Kibble. We have done no such thing. We have simply tried to point out, as she said in her evidence and has been repeated on several occasions, but which we have had to remind non-Government members of over and over, that she made it quite clear to us that, acting as administrator of the council, when council decided to seek a new LEP she supported it. This follows the sacking of Liverpool council.
The Opposition and other committee members say very little about the sacking of Liverpool council and what was said about it by the Daley inquiry, particularly remarks about the "culpable negligence" of the mayor and the general manager, and comments of similar strength about councillors on Liverpool council and its staff. These are the people who got all of us into the mess we regret that Liverpool council produced. I am sure that is one of a few things we are united on in this House: we regret the mess that Liverpool council produced. We regret that this centre was allowed to open and that people were allowed to have their livelihoods depend on it through a planning process that was incompetent at best and shonky at worst, conducted by council, mayor, officers and other councillors who have been found by the Daley inquiry to be guilty of culpable negligence.
The Hon. David Oldfield: Point of order: I again raise my concerns about the way in which the Hon. Jan Burnswoods continues to distort the evidence and mislead the House. There has been no evidence of any kind connecting council officers with this application or anything else. She continues to remark on councillors and the mayor, and the way the council has been sacked, et cetera. She wants to carry on about how scurrilous they are, but they are not related at all to this application. They may have been in the same place at the same time, but there is no relationship. The Government does not seem to want to accept that. It is a matter of tell a lie often enough and it will become true. She is simply lying before the House.
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Patricia Forsythe): Order! There is no point of order. The evidence that was before the committee has now been made public and it is possible for all members to draw conclusions from that evidence. I will allow the member to proceed.
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS: I refer, of course, to the evidence from council officers, including Mr Hunt and Mr Turrisi, but I also refer to the evidence of the new general manager, particularly his evidence to the effect that he had totally changed the rules to which I am referring under which the development application was originally granted by the planning people. I was, of course, quoting from page 25, to be precise, of the report of the Daley inquiry, which used the phrase "culpable negligence" to which I have referred. I stress that in the first case we had an appallingly incompetent, if not shonky, decision by Liverpool council to grant the application. We then had a further series of suspicious actions, which have led us to the unfortunate situation we find ourselves in now.
The Hon. AMANDA FAZIO [4.38 p.m.]: I oppose the Save Orange Grove Bill. I have talked about this to a number of people who have a great deal of experience in local government and planning approvals, and all of them said they cannot understand how this came about. If a development application was submitted but the proposed use was not compatible with a local environment plan it simply did not proceed. How did it go so wrong at Liverpool? Both the Hon. Kayee Griffin and the Hon. Jan Burnswoods have alluded to some of the problems. But, quite simply, the process was that junior council officers were dealing with major projects. They went ahead and allowed the project to be advertised, even though it was stuck on page 32 or 33 of the local newspaper, not in a typical sort of ad that one might see. I am an avowed reader of local papers in my area and I know that major development applications are not buried away with everyone who wants a carport added to their house or anyone who wants to demolish a wall and put a pergola in the backyard. Notification of a development of this magnitude is not usually buried in a newspaper and devoid of details. For a big development such as the one that has taken place at Orange Grove Road, it is appropriate to insert a large advertisement. However, the fact is that the proposal should never have been advertised in the first place because the proposed use was not compatible with the zone.
In any event, the development was advertised in a small notice that was absolutely tucked away in the newspaper. The copy I am showing to the House is an enlarged copy; it is not the actual size of the advertisement. The advertisement was inserted among notices of a proposal to erect four additional display dwellings in an existing exhibition village for Mirvac homes, a notice concerning a block of flats, a notice relating to assisted accommodation, and relocation of a demountable building which will be used in relief and rehabilitation programs for the Wesley Mission. There is also the advertisement for a change of use from existing bulky goods warehouse development to warehouse clearance outlet. The notice states that the applicant is Mosca Pserras Architects and includes details of the property. It also states that it concerns lot 121, 12 Orange Grove Road, Warwick Farm, but that is all it states, so people would have had no idea what the developer was actually proposing to do.
From the amount of information that was given to the public through the advertisement placed by the council, people would not know that the developer intended to build a so-called Designer Outlets Centre which, as I have said and which I will continue to reiterate for the benefit of members opposite, should never have been advertised in the first place because of its incompatibility with the zone. A small advertisement related to the proposal was hidden away in the 30 October 2002 edition of the Liverpool City Champion on page 33. It was an inadequate advertisement for a proposal that should not have even reached the stage of being advertised.
I have been a member of the Joint Select Committee on the Quality of Buildings. The one point highlighted throughout all the hearings has concerned the time it takes for development applications to be approved and, as a result of the delays in getting development applications approved, the time it takes for people to have their homes built or to have major renovations carried out. People referred to delays in some council areas of six months and in some places, such as Leichhardt, delays of nine months in obtaining development approval for a house.
The Hon. John Ryan: This one took 10 months.
The Hon. AMANDA FAZIO: This development consent went through in no time flat. Notification by advertisement and the time for objections expired on one day, and approval for the development was given on the next day. That was absolutely amazing—a wonderful example of the well-oiled wheels of the Liverpool City Council turning! A development application that was incompatible with the local environmental plan [LEP] was approved in no time flat by the council.
The Hon. John Ryan: No-one objected to it, and it had already been assessed.
The Hon. AMANDA FAZIO: The Hon. John Ryan says that there were no objections. No wonder! Nobody knew what they were supposed to be objecting to. One only has to refer to the inadequate advertisement that was tucked away on page 33 of the local paper to realise that. The process was an absolute disgrace. People did not object because they did not know what was going on. They did not know what was going on because the advertisement was very small and it was hidden away. That was the start of the problems associated with this development. The Liverpool City Council should never have reached the stage of advertising the development. It should have called in the proponents and explained to them that, as the proposed use was not compatible with the LEP, they either had to change their proposal or go away altogether and come back later with a different proposal. But the developers were persistent. They had been trying for a long time to create a development on the sites that was not compatible with the zoning. First they wanted a cinema complex, but they were unable to see that through. Then they decided that they would try for a factory outlets centre. The proposal should never have been accepted.
An organisation that was operating within conditions applying to its site, Westfield, wanted to know what was going on at the Orange Grove Road site. Westfield knew that the land was zoned as an industrial area for bulky goods, yet a factory outlets centre was in operation. Quite rightly and within Westfield's legal entitlements, it commenced an action in the Land and Environment Court. The court, which is so often held up in this Chamber as the ultimate authority in planning matters when members cite its decisions with approval, said that the centre constituted an illegal use of the land. The court said that the Designer Outlets Centre had to be closed, and that is when Gazcorp and everybody else commenced their grubby attempt to have the rezoning pushed through by the State Government.
I can only say that if members want to obtain a very good understanding of what has happened, they should examine in Hansard the proceedings that occurred yesterday in the other place and examine the chronology given by both the Premier, the Hon. Bob Carr, and the Hon. Craig Knowles. Those details explain exactly what happened and what went wrong. Much has been stated during the current inquiry, in the media and in this Parliament about what went on, but the simple fact is that the development proposal was not appropriate for the zoning that applied to the land. The council was wrong in considering the use of this site as a factory outlets centre and in approving it. Westfield was only pursuing its legal entitlement by taking action in the Land and Environment Court. The decision of the Land and Environment Court was correct. Subsequent decisions of the State Government have upheld the decision that has been made by the Land and Environment Court.
Of the many comments that have been made during speeches in this debate, some have been completely baffling and some have been downright sickening. The Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans stated that, despite his support for planning laws and public transport, he supports this bill. If a member supports planning laws, he cannot support the Save Orange Grove Bill because the propositions are mutually exclusive. If a person supports public transport, he would not support the Orange Grove Road outlets centre because people cannot get there unless they have a car.
The Hon. John Ryan: Yes, they can. The 800 bus goes there.
The Hon. AMANDA FAZIO: People have to have a car. It is not convenient for most people to go there. People do not say to themselves that they will just nip out there in the bus. This bill does nothing to support public transport.
Mr Ian Cohen: Where in the western suburbs is it convenient to use public transport?
The Hon. AMANDA FAZIO: I do not accept sideline comments made by members about the western suburbs. I know damn well what the public transport system in the western suburbs is like—or, as I should say, what the service that private bus operators provide in those areas is like—because I was brought up in Cabramatta. The Orange Grove Road complex is not very far away from where I used to live.
I know what it is like there; I remember when the site was the Viscount caravan factory and that next door there used to be a Maxwell House coffee plant. That area was most suitable for industrial development and it should have stayed that way. When Gazcorp obtained that property, it was zoned as industrial land and that was never changed; it has never been zoned as retail. Gazcorp knew what it was doing when it is erected a retail complex on that land. Gazcorp knew that it was pushing the envelope, but this time it has pushed it too far. When the planning laws were properly applied, Gazcorp was told to close the centre and has screamed and carried on ever since. The contribution made by the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans indicates that he supports planning laws, but on this occasion he will do a backflip and support the bill.
Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes also made a contribution to the debate and somehow, through his divine powers, he has been told that either the honourable member for Fairfield, Joe Tripodi, or the Minister for Juvenile Justice, Minister for Western Sydney, and Minister Assisting the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning (Planning Administration), Diane Beamer, is a liar. He said that he had seven reasons for supporting the bill and he outlined them. One of the last ones was that either Joe Tripodi or Diane Beamer is a liar. I do not know how he has come to that conclusion. Anybody who has followed the story in the newspapers, examined the evidence that has been given before the inquiry or listened to what has been said in the Legislative Assembly would not have been able to arrive at that conclusion, but somehow or other he has decided that he will support the bill because he believes he has a direct line to Jesus and that one of those two members of the Legislative Assembly to whom I have referred is a liar. That is a disgraceful proposition for someone in his position to put.
The Hon. David Oldfield made the most amazing historical speech. That next time I see Eric Bedford—and I see him regularly—I must tell him that some of the comments he made in 1982 were championed in this House by the Hon. David Oldfield, the representative of One Nation. Eric Bedford will hang his head in shame and ask, "What happened to me? I used to be a respected member of the community and now the comments I made in 1982—a quarter of a century ago—have been dragged out and used erroneously in a debate by somebody representing One Nation." The poor fellow will hang his head in shame. Although I do not know him very well, telling him that his name has been taken in vain by somebody of the Hon. David Oldfield's ilk is the right thing to do. The speech made by the Hon. David Oldfield revealed a complete lack of understanding on his part that the laws have changed in the past 25 years. In this new millennium, the planning laws that applied in 1982 no longer apply. There are different rules, there is a new regime that applies to the approach to be taken to planning, and there are new relationships governing the way that councils and departments deal with planning issues.
It was absolutely ludicrous that quotes of the Hon. Eric Bedford and the late David Landa in 1982 were taken out of context to prop up some populous viewpoint put by the Hon. David Oldfield. There were other contributions that I cannot let go without comment. The Hon. Sylvia Hale gave her typical conspiracy theory rant about developers, donations, contributions, the Australian Labor Party [ALP]—corruption, corruption, corruption. She is just like Henny Penny running around crying out, "The sky is falling." We know that as soon as the Hon. Sylvia Hales comes to the microphone and there is a possibility of the mention of corruption or political donation we will get a full 20-minute spray from a member who, when talking about inappropriate development applications or lack of them, should look no further than her own backyard. She does not have the best track record when it comes to complying with planning laws in her own businesses. For her to take the high moral ground is pretty rich. Quite frankly, many members are sick of her hypocritical stance on such issues.
The Hon. Jan Burnswoods: And her acting contrary to Greens policy.
The Hon. AMANDA FAZIO: In that regard, anyone can hack into the Greens web site and change its policy. That seems to be the only place one can find it. But by far the most appalling comments to be heard in this debate today were those of the Hon. John Ryan when he opened this debate. He went on, chapter and verse, digging up every bit of filth and scuttlebutt he could about what may or may not have happened in ALP branches in the outer western suburbs of Sydney. In typical fashion he dumped garbage, innuendo and unsubstantiated allegations, on the honourable member for Fairfield, in particular, and any ALP representative from the western suburbs, in general.
He made ill-founded assertions and indulged in a little pathetic muck-raking. However, I have to give him some leeway—he was playing to a captive audience in the public gallery. All I can say about that is that for a self-proclaimed Christian his comments were pretty anti-Christian in their general sentiments. If his beliefs have any substance, he should go home and reflect on what he has said here today and seek to change just a little his approach to this matter. I turn now to the Save Orange Grove Bill, what a scrappy, grubby bill it is. It is so nice and fine!
The Hon. John Ryan: You have doodled on your copy, that is the problem.
The Hon. AMANDA FAZIO: Unlike other members of this Chamber, I actually read this rubbish before I got up to speak.
The Hon. Jan Burnswoods: I read it.
The Hon. AMANDA FAZIO: I am sorry, I apologise to the Hon. Jan Burnswoods.
The Hon. John Della Bosca: I did too.
The Hon. AMANDA FAZIO: I apologise to the Hon. John Della Bosca, as well. What does this bill actually say? It says:
Outlets centre means a building or place comprised of at least 20 separately leased retail outlets that is centrally managed and the majority of outlets at which officer stock for sale a majority of which is surplus, out of season, seconds or samples, but that does not include retail outlets used for personal services (including hairdressers, barbers, beauty parlours and the like), travel or real estate agencies, banks (except automatic teller machines), insurance or financial institutions, newsagencies, supermarkets, department stores, or for the retailing of fresh food and groceries (other than cafes or other food outlets for visitors to the centre where the food is to be immediately consumed).
What will happen further down the track if a company like David Jones wants to establish a warehouse clearance outlet at the centre? But David Jones cannot have an outlet because it is a department store. Jeans West, however, can have an outlet. This is a silly bill, and it was introduced as a very cheap political stunt, the honourable member knowing full well that even if it passes through this Chamber it will not go anywhere in the lower House. What is his point in introducing this bill? He is trying to damage the reputation of the Government, but the only people who will be damaged by this bill will be those who have leases at the Orange Grove centre that are not compatible with the zoned use and people employed at the outlets. The only people he will damage will be the business owners and the workers, because he is encouraging them with false hopes.
The Hon. John Ryan should be offering practical assistance, such as helping employees who have lost jobs to find other jobs. It is too bad that Mr Gazal would not let people from the Premier's Department and Drake go to the centre to help these people. The Hon. John Ryan did not say to the lessors and those who have invested their life savings in businesses at the centre that they should consider legal redress against the owner of the centre, who signed them up to leases when he knew full well that the development did not comply with zoning provisions. The lessees, who have been led astray by the Hon. John Ryan and his cheap political stunt with the Save Orange Grove Bill, should be looking at their chances of recovering some of their life savings from the owner of the centre who offered them leases and gave them hopes of building on their investments, in some cases building up financial bank rolls, so that they would be okay in their retirement.
Mr Gazal did all that, knowing full well that the centre was on land not zoned for that purpose. It operated as a retail centre, although the zoning provisions did not allow for that. Mr Gazal knew that people were taking a risk when they signed up for retail outlets in his centre. He did nothing to tell them any differently; he just signed them up, took the rent, and led them on. The Hon. John Ryan is complicit in those actions by bringing forward this bill and for not telling these poor people, who have the genuine sympathy of the Government and its members, that they should realise that they have been led down the wrong path, that they should not hold out some faint hope that somehow the decision will be reversed. The Government will stick with this good planning decision, which is based on existing planning laws.
Rather than telling lessees this, he is letting them remain in limbo in the hope that the centre will be reopened. The Hon. John Ryan should have said to the lessees that he sympathises with them but they must understand that the Minister has decided not to overturn the Land and Environment Court decision and rezone the land and they should be getting on with trying to salvage what they can. Instead, the Hon. John Ryan, who is in cahoots with Mr Gazal, is leading these people astray. The Hon. John Ryan and Mr Gazal have been as thick as thieves since all this started, and the honourable member should be ashamed of himself. He is encouraging the lessors with false hopes that will lead to nothing.
The people should regather and work out how to proceed in future and where to go to get proper legal redress for what has been done to them. They should be taking action against the owner of the centre, not allowing themselves to be led astray by the Hon. John Ryan, who has moved them from the gallery of this House to the gallery of the other place to listen to question time in each House. He has shunted these people around like members of a freak show to exploit them for political gain. He and John Brogden should be condemned for the way they have led these people on. For that reason and the other reasons referred to in my contribution I urge all members, particularly the crossbench members, to reconsider their position on the Save Orange Grove Bill and vote against it.
Mr IAN COHEN [4.58 p.m.]: I had not intended to speak to this bill, which I thought Ms Sylvia Hale adequately covered for the Greens. However, I was prompted to come into the House to say something after listening to the debate in my office while trying to work out the riddle of the threatened species legislation information that has been sent to me. That is another bill that is of great importance to me. I remind members that there are three Greens members in this House. The Hon. Jan Burnswoods referred to the absence from the Chamber from time to time of myself, Ms Sylvia Hale and Ms Lee Rhiannon. The reason is simple. We each undertake specific portfolio responsibilities. The Hon. Jan Burnswoods clearly indicated her ability to surf the web and look at all the Greens information by accessing our web site.
Had she looked a little more closely, she would have read that Ms Sylvia Hale has been allocated responsibility for the planning portfolio. And contrary to the belief of some Government and Opposition members it is clear that she is adequately looking after those issues. I felt that I had to contribute to this debate to correct some comments made by other members. Some Government members—those who can only be described as "the hit women of the Australian Labor Party"—referred to the hypocrisy of the Greens. No member should take a holier than thou attitude in relation to this bill. Government members accused Opposition members of cheap political stunts. If the Hon. John Ryan were a defrocked Christian, perhaps then he could be accused of engaging in a cheap political stunt. I have not seen anything quite like this since the introduction last session of the Government's filming bill.
This Government could be accused of being responsible for a litany of cheap stunts relating to community groups, the Port Kembla copper smelter, or the court action that was taken to destroy people's aspirations. Government members should not refer in this Chamber to the misguided aspirations of people in New South Wales, particularly people in the western suburbs of Sydney. A quick look at the record of this Government makes me shudder. By and large the Greens are discharging their responsibilities under the planning portfolio. Debate on this bill has been interesting. Certain accusations have been made about the Greens policies. The Federal Coalition Government has delved into and attacked the Greens policies and now the New South Wales Labor Government is delving into our policies. Both governments appear to have something in common.
When governments, regardless of their political persuasion, have been in office for a long time there seems to become entrenched a reckless attitude towards the community. There is that commonality between the Federal and State governments. It is only fair that we should be debating this issue today. It was totally inappropriate for some Government members to insinuate that I was not in the House at the time Ms Sylvie Hale was speaking because I disagreed with what was being said. Although I was not in the House, I was listening to the debate. I do not disagree with this bill, it is just that I was involved in planning other activities. When I was the only member of the Greens in this place I had a great workload and it was difficult for me to cover all issues. I am pleased that there are now other members of the Greens in this place. The workload can be spread around; we can examine any perceived corruption issues and issues relating to the granting of development applications.
I understand that a council employee approved this development application and that the council's new general manager, Gabrielle Kibble, agreed with the process. I have a clear picture in my mind of Gabrielle Kibble being questioned by the committee. I heard her say in the media that she supported the rezoning on social grounds. There are significant arguments in favour of this proposal and there are significant arguments against it. References by Government members to hypocrisy on the part the Greens are farcical. I am sure that we could spend quite a few private members' days debating the hypocrisy of the Government during its time in office and other issues that have influenced its attitude in recent years.
I am concerned this Government seems to be adrift. Because of the attitude of the planning Minister, Mr Craig Knowles, my relationship with the Government on planning matters has deteriorated. However, it is not appropriate at this stage for me to make a statement about that issue. I am aware that the development application, which went from Gabrielle Kibble to the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources and then to the Minister, received support. So it is appropriate for us to debate this issue. I have a great deal of sympathy for those who were employed at the centre, even though I have heard valid arguments about proper planning processes. This whole process seems to have been clouded because of cheap political attacks by the Government, which attempts to smear anyone who disagrees with it. That attitude will not serve the Government well in the long term. I conclude by saying that the Government should continue to advertise the policies of the Greens. It is much appreciated.
The Hon. JOHN RYAN [5.06 p.m.], in reply: I am proud that I introduced this bill. I am in no way ashamed of it, as was suggested earlier by a Government member. I have sought to do nothing other than what Diane Beamer should have done—that is, rezone the land to enable 400 people to keep their jobs, to ensure that 60 businesses are not wrecked and to let a facility that is clearly appreciated by the people of western Sydney continue trading. Those are the Opposition's objectives. I am disappointed that some Government members argued against that. They did so not with any level of logic but by generating personal smear—and that is regrettable. Many of their comments were about those who spoke rather than about what was said.
The Hon. Jan Burnswoods: Are you talking about David Oldfield?
The Hon. JOHN RYAN: No, I am talking about you.
The Hon. Jan Burnswoods: Did you actually listen to what David Oldfield said?
The Hon. JOHN RYAN: I listened to every word spoken by the Hon. Jan Burnswoods. Sadly, it was her usual poisonous and obnoxious performance. She criticised the people who spoke rather than what they said. I respect the fact that some members would have views contrary to the views that I have put and I am prepared to reply to those who put forward contrary views. The Special Minister of State logically outlined the Government's general argument against the factory outlets centre. The only problem is that the jobs co-ordinator has found only 20 full-time jobs for the 400 employees who lost their jobs. Not all 400 jobs were full-time or casual jobs. I recollect that of the order of about half those jobs were full-time, yet only 20 jobs have been found.
They might apply for other jobs but that does not mean they will get those jobs. These are only job opportunities, not real jobs, and these people will have to compete against many others for them. It is not possible in a place like Liverpool to find jobs for a massive number of people. It is particularly difficult to find jobs for semi-skilled female employees—which is what made the factory outlet so valuable. Much has been said about Mr Gazal. I can only tell members about how I found him. I have spoken on many occasions to Mr Gazal and to his family. At times Mr Gazal has been gullible. He was certainly proved gullible to have trusted members of the Labor Party. I may be proved wrong but I have not found him to be untruthful or manipulative.
I recall Mr Gazal telling me about the closure of the Viscount factory in which he was involved. Because of the failure of that business he spent millions of his own dollars paying out the entitlements of many workers who could no longer be employed. Various attempts have been made to try to smear Mr Gazal. Some clever person found the name "Gazal", and someone associated Mr Nabil Gazal with a person with the same name and who is associated with the Viscount caravan factory.
As I understand it, Mr Nabil Gazal's behaviour towards his retrenched employees was exemplary—the sort of behaviour that the Australian Labor Party would expect of any employer in the same position. Allegations have been made—particularly in another place—regarding the retail leases. One of the most disturbing comments I have heard is the suggestion that Mr Gazal has been unco-operative and is not prepared to give the parliamentary committee access to his leases. Mr Gazal has pointed out that there are a couple of problems involved with simply trotting out his leases in the Parliament of New South Wales and allowing them to become part of a parliamentary inquiry. First, the leases are not the property of Mr Gazal but shared agreements between he and his leaseholders. Mr Gazal would need to get permission from the tenants to make the leases available. That is an important matter of privacy that simply must be respected these days.
Secondly, much of the information in the leases is not germane to the terms of reference of the parliamentary inquiry and relates largely to the management of the retail outlet, not its approval and continuance. So in many respects the leases are not relevant. I think some members, in taking the opportunity simply to smear Mr Gazal, are seeking to run first through Parliament legal arguments that may be made in court—probably to the detriment of all parties involved. It is sad that litigation is likely with regard to the leases. Mr Gazal makes certain claims and some tenants—a minority—make other claims. The simple truth is that the best place to test those claims is in court, and certainly not in the highly politically charged atmosphere of a parliamentary inquiry.
Nevertheless, Mr Gazal has attempted to supply to the parliamentary inquiry whatever information he is able to provide. For example, he has supplied a form of the correspondence that he sent to all his tenants, regardless of whether they held leases. Some businesses moved into the retail outlet without signing a lease. They did so not at Mr Gazal's invitation or as a result of his advice but because they wanted to trade during the Christmas sales and so on. They elected to occupy their shops without signing a retail lease. A solicitor would have told them that that was not a wise idea but Mr Gazal chose not to interfere with their personal choice. In those circumstances there is no lease to show. Furthermore, as Mr Gazal pointed out to the committee, some proposed leaseholders have not completed the requirements for signing a lease.
The Hon. Jan Burnswoods: How many leases has he signed? Tell us how many leases Mr Gazal has signed with the tenants, whom he cares so much about!
The Hon. JOHN RYAN: I will go through the issues in a logical manner. I will not proceed in a harebrained fashion simply to deal with the interjections of the Hon. Jan Burnswoods.
The Hon. Jan Burnswoods: Go on, tell us. You won't answer, will you?.
The Hon. JOHN RYAN: I do not know, frankly.
The Hon. Jan Burnswoods: You weren't at the committee when we asked him over and over again. You are giving a very partial account of all the evidence we've heard.
The Hon. JOHN RYAN: It is no less partial than the account given by the Hon. Jan Burnswoods. The Premier misled the other House—possibly at the instigation of some of the Government members on the committee—when he said that the committee had voted against requiring Mr Gazal to table the leases. We did not do that, did we? We did not vote against it, because no motion was moved.
The Hon. Jan Burnswoods: Now you are admitting that there was a discussion.
The Hon. JOHN RYAN: I have no other choice when we have been verballed. We discussed the leases but, sadly, the Premier chose deliberately to mislead the other House by suggesting things happened during the inquiry that simply did not happen. The committee has accepted—so far at least—that Mr Gazal is attempting to co-operate with the committee so far as that is possible.
The Hon. Jan Burnswoods: That's why his solicitor was there, is it?.
The Hon. JOHN RYAN: Mr Gazal's solicitor is coming. But apparently because Westfield is not available to appear before the committee on Wednesday it is unlikely that we will be able to meet—unless the Hon. Jan Burnswoods wants to attend a meeting to hear the evidence of a single witness. The simple fact is that many attempts have been made to smear Mr Gazal but not one of them is based on any concrete information. People have simply tried to take advantage of the unfortunate position in which Mr Gazal finds himself in that he is likely to become the subject of litigation. They have threatened to put his commercially sensitive material into the hands of a parliamentary inquiry—which would be absolutely stupid—from where it could well be leaked to his competitor Westfield. The bottom line is if the Office of Fair Trading believes Mr Gazal has done anything inappropriate with his leases, let it go its hardest. Interestingly, the Government has not exercised that option.
I can say only that I believe Mr Gazal has been straight with the committee. Unlike many Government members, at least he has been prepared to appear before the committee to give evidence, to be present at the hearings—day in, day out—and generally make himself available. That is more than can be said for Mr Knowles, Ms Beamer or certainly Mr Tripodi. This is a good piece of legislation that is designed to reduce the human carnage that is likely to occur as a result of the closure of these factory outlets. In my view this place can give a fair representation of what the community at large thinks about this matter. I have not yet met a single person other than a representative of Westfield or the Government who has told me that he or she disagrees with this action—not one. I am happy to put the bill to the vote in the House so that honourable members can reflect the views of the community. I commend the bill to the House and look forward to seeing what the Government will do when it has been passed and sent to another place.
Question—That this bill be now read a second time—put.
The House divided.
Reverend Dr Moyes
Mr Della Bosca
|Mr Gallacher||Mr Tsang|
|Miss Gardiner||Ms Robertson|
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.