Thursday, 26th November, 1992
Mr Speaker (The Hon. Kevin Richard Rozzoli) took the chair at 9.30 a.m.
Mr Speaker offered the Prayer.
PUBLIC HEALTH (AMENDMENT) BILL
Debate resumed from 25th November.
Mr O'DOHERTY (Ku-ring-gai) [9.31]: I support the Public Health (Amendment) Bill, which has been introduced by the Government. It is an important public health measure. I note that honourable members opposite also support the legislation, perhaps with the exception of the honourable member for Smithfield, who addressed the House before it adjourned last night. I want to begin by addressing some of the concerns raised by the honourable member for Smithfield. First, I commend him for the amount of work he has done on the proposed legislation. Obviously, he feels strongly about it. He said it has caused difficulties between him and members on both sides of the House. The honourable member means well, but his statements last night may well cause distress - indeed, even a degree of danger - to the community. It is important to discuss that issue. Mr Scully starts from a flawed hypothesis. His hypothesis seems to be that -
Mr Beckroge: On a point of order. The honourable member for Ku-ring-gai should not refer to the honourable member for Smithfield by his given name. He is a new member, and I think it appropriate to bring that to his attention.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I remind the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai that members are referred to by their electorates and titles, and not by their proper names. That rule is sometimes honoured more in the breach than in the observance.
Mr O'DOHERTY: I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, and to the honourable member for Broken Hill for bringing that to my attention. The honourable member's hypothesis is that if people keep themselves healthy, fit, eat the right food and undertake exercise, they will keep themselves free from disease. On the best advice available to me, that is a flawed hypothesis. I commend the honourable member for the enormous amount of research he has done. As he said last night, he made overseas telephone calls and collected information form the United Kingdom and the United States of America. However, the information he collected went to support his original hypothesis. That is not a scientific method of research. He did not look at all the other evidence available; he merely collected data and opinion to support his own hypothesis.
The honourable member for Smithfield does not appear to have considered the possibility that his own hypothesis may have been wrong to begin with. There is a view in the community that doctors cannot be trusted. I do not understand how or why that view has developed. It may be a reaction to the tendency of some doctors to be slightly intellectually arrogant, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said last night. Of course, the honourable member for Manly does not have that tendency. As a result, some members of the community - especially those who have not informed themselves about
medical issues - believe that doctors are not to be trusted. That view is potentially dangerous to their own health and also to the health of other members of the community. The hypothesis of the honourable member for Smithfield supports that dangerous view.
Mr Scully: On a point of order. The honourable member is indulging in tedious repetition. I have heard the word hypothesis at least six times.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No point of order is involved. The honourable member for Smithfield is trifling with the House.
Mr O'DOHERTY: If the Government allows that view to go unchallenged, an extremely serious health problem may develop in New South Wales and throughout Australia. If people are allowed to believe that they can become immune from disease through macrobiotic means or by following a healthy lifestyle alone -
Mr Scully: The honourable member should not trivialise the debate.
Mr O'DOHERTY: I assure the honourable member I am not trivialising the debate. Last night the honourable member mentioned macro living conditions. The Government would not be serving the community or our children well if it publicised the honourable member's theories. As the rate of immunisation falls, so serious childhood diseases increase. That cannot go unchallenged. Honourable members cannot leave lying the statement of the honourable member for Smithfield that we are injecting young babies with serious disease. That extremely emotive terminology may lead to a misunderstanding in the community. In the sense that most people would understand the word disease, a vaccine does not introduce a disease into the body. It is a changed virus - biologically controlled organisms - that has the effect in the body of preventing disease. A vaccine causes changes to occur in the body to render it immune to serious diseases. Rather than introducing a disease into young babies, as the honourable member for Smithfield believes, vaccination is an important measure for the health of children.
Honourable members will be aware that I have a child - James Matthew - who is eight and a half months old. He is fully immunised according to his age. He is the first born of this branch of the O'Doherty line. My wife and I intend to keep our son immunised, appropriate to his age, up to the time he commences school and later to have booster shots, as appropriate. We believe that that is the most important thing we can do for his health. We do not want him to go to school where children are not immunised and be susceptible to serious childhood diseases. We know how distressing it is to see a child who is sick. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred last night to children he has seen dying from some of the preventable diseases. They are preventable by the best methods available to us through immunisation technology. If the Government does not do everything to encourage people to have their children immunised, it is not serving them well. The implications of leaving children unimmunised are horrendous. For example, the complication rate of measles and whooping cough causes me the most concern this morning. One in 15 children who have measles will go on to develop pneumonia. One in 1,000 children who have measles will develop encephalitis; in one in 5,000 cases measles will lead to death. I cannot support what the honourable member for Smithfield has said, on the basis that I may be condemning one in 5,000 children who develop measles because they were not vaccinated to die or develop other serious diseases.
After the measles disease has done its dreadful work many children develop a condition called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis - SSPE - which is a fatal and degenerative disease of the central nervous system. The honourable member for
Smithfield should note that since 1986 this terrible and debilitating post-measles condition has caused 36 deaths in New South Wales. The statistics for whooping cough in some instances are even worse. One in 25 children who contract whooping cough will develop encephalitis; one in 12 children will have convulsions on a regular basis; one in 50 will develop permanent brain damage; and one in 25 children will die. The outbreak of childhood diseases can be prevented to a large degree if the immunisation rates can be increased to about 95 per cent. That can be done by allowing people an informed choice. That is the basis of the bill before the House today - informed choice for the people of New South Wales. There is no question that the proposed legislation has anything to do with compulsory immunisation of children. That is anathema to the Government. I know it is anathema to the Minister for Health. A large part of the measure is education for the public so that they can learn all the facts about immunisation and make their own choices. Included in the facts that will be made available is information on some of the dangers of immunisation that affect a small number of children. The honourable member for Smithfield referred to those dangers. But the benefits by far outweigh the disadvantages. It hardly compares. When one compares the death rates of one in 25 from whooping cough or one in 5,000 from measles and the death rates from serious complications, the disadvantages of immunisation hardly rate a mention.
The Department of Heath has produced a document which, as a result of this bill, will be presented to all parents, as material was presented to my wife and I when James was born. It will allow them to make an informed choice, just as we have done. Our informed choice on behalf of our son is to have him immunised to protect him against the seven preventable childhood diseases. A higher incidence of immunisation throughout New South Wales will be achieved through informed choice. Parents will be required to provide evidence of immunisation when they take their children to child care or pre-school or when they enrol in school, because that will focus their minds on the fact that they need to make a choice about immunisation and on the dangers of not having their children immunised. These days children are sent to child care at the age of six months, 12 months, or when both partners return to work - which is happening at an increasing rate in our society. The rate of immunisation has been dropping. The implications of a baby coming into contact with children who may not be immunised, exposing them to serious and potentially fatal diseases, must make the choice clear for all parents, as it was for us. That choice was to immunise.
Requiring parents to certify the immunisation status of their children when they attend child care, pre-school or school enrolment will focus their minds on the issues, allow them to make an informed and - the Government hopes - appropriate choice to have their children immunised for their own good and that of the rest of society. The proposed legislation provides a safety net in the event of an outbreak of disease in the community. The Department of Health will be able to direct that unimmunised children cannot attend a child care facility, pre-school or school while there is a danger that they may contract the disease. Again, that is for their protection and for the protection of the rest of the community, as we try to stop outbreaks of measles or other diseases. Outbreaks occur on a fairly regular cycle of about once in every three years. That is because the average rate of immunisation against measles in Australia is 85 per cent. That rate must increase for the health of the community.
The bill provides that in the event of a local outbreak unimmunised children or those who are unable to provide proof of immunisation to the school or health authorities will be removed from school for the period that the danger exists. Later they will be brought back. Together with this bill, the Education Act will be amended so that affected
parents do not have to meet the requirements under that Act to have their children attend school, because it is for the public benefit that they are removed from school for a short time. The proposed legislation could hardly be a more sensible health measure or better framed. It will enable the people of New South Wales to make an informed choice. It is not about compulsion in any way, shape or form; it is about putting the appropriate facts - not the overdramatic facts the honourable member for Smithfield presented in a well-meaning but potentially dangerous way - to enable people to make an informed choice. The honourable member for Smithfield should note that the Department of Health spends about $24 million on public health measures, whereas the immunisation program is worth about $2.3 million. That illustrates the belief of the Department of Health and the Government that a healthy lifestyle is as important as the honourable member for Smithfield has claimed. The Government also believes that immunisation of children is essential and ought to be welcomed by every member of the House.
Dr MACDONALD (Manly) [9.46]: Though the Public Health (Amendment) Bill covers a range of issues, the debate this morning and last night has focused on immunisation. I shall concentrate on that element of the bill rather than on any of the other measures, as I believe it will generate concern among those who have doubts about it. I shall comment on the remarks the honourable member for Smithfield made last night. I do not intend to attack the honourable member except to say that I think he represents, particularly in his broad views and his concerns about immunisation, the forces of darkness. There is a certain arrogance in some of his attack, because he is assuming a level of knowledge that I do not think he can claim to have. I would be reluctant to make the level of attack on his profession that he would make on the medical profession.
Immunisation is a most exact science. It has a long history. No member of the medical profession needs to make any apology for immunisation. It is not at the cutting edge of debate, in my view. A number of things in the medical world are at that cutting edge, and the honourable member for Smithfield should save his energy so that he can debate homoeopathy, the overdependence of society on therapeutic drug regimes and high-tech medicine. He could usefully debates those subjects. To enter this debate on the basis of seeking to discredit immunisation is wrong. There are risks in some aspects of science. I shall digress for a moment because the honourable member for Smithfield and I would have similar concerns about certain scientific issues, but I think it would be on broader aspects rather than the specific aspect of immunisation. Science is a very exact and in many cases an intimidating discipline. It sets boundaries. I believe we have problems with science because of those boundaries. The scientific method has brought great gains. Scientists have to reproduce results and test hypotheses. That is where science is strong. It has brought benefits and led to the so-called dawn of enlightenment.
Galileo, the founder of science, said that only that which is measurable is real. He started the concept of measuring and applying strict principles to research. One of the great gains has been immunisation. I share the concerns of the honourable member for Smithfield and concede that the clinical world of science brings with it a certain passivity and deadness, which lacks wisdom, spirit and emotion. I have a real concern that it has led us into an era of exploitation and domination over nature - a world that measures rather than thinks. Perhaps the harshness of an immunisation program is not part of this immediate debate but it is on the edge of it. People are concerned about the harshness of science. My criticisms of science are not of the expertise in science, those narrow boundaries that include vaccination, the ability to produce clean water and public health measures; they are the benefits of science. But as a result of science we lack an appreciation of the wholeness of things. The debate should focus on that rather than on seeking to discredit vaccination - one of the great areas of expertise in science.
This bill will bring about an optimum level of immunisation. It provides for a comprehensive program of education of the individual benefits of vaccination, not just for the public good but for the individual good. I can substantiate, as the Department of Health or any medical practitioner can substantiate, the benefits of being vaccinated. The concept that vaccination confers herd immunity has led the honourable member for Smithfield to foreshadow his amendment about compensation. The bill will also bring about a reduction of the risk pool - the number who are not vaccinated. There is nothing new about this measure. If I have any criticism of the Department of Health and previous health Ministers, it is that they have been too slow on this. I take some pride in referring to a paper written in 1983 called "Measles in the 80s" of which I, Dr Peter Christopher, Alan Murphy and Paula Buckley were the authors. The paper, which makes specific recommendations, was written, in conjunction with the Department of Health, when I was in general practice. It clearly outlined the extraordinary success of the measles immunisation program in the United States of America, where measles has almost been eliminated. The paper highlighted the fact that infection with measles confers lifelong immunity, as does the live measles vaccine, and that an active, continuing campaign should be undertaken throughout Australia to promote measles vaccination. As a progressively greater proportion of children are immunised, the number of measles cases will diminish.
The paper concluded that in Australia publicity and health education has been only partially successful in promoting measles vaccination. The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia recommends a system similar to that in the United States, which requires evidence of immunisation prior to commencing school. The Australian experience then and now is in stark contrast to what is happening in the United States. That paper was written in 1983 and was associated with an editorial in the Medical Journal of Australia on 12th November. The editorial focused on the goals of immunisation. The goals then are the same goals that we have today - to eradicate infectious diseases. In 1983 eradication of measles had almost been attained in the United States. It has been accomplished in countries like Albania and Gambia in West Africa. The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, in its goals for health for children, sought an 80 per cent coverage for vaccination of the six major infectious diseases. That has been achieved in Canada, Sweden and China. The aims of this bill are nothing new. The Medical Journal of Australia editorial referred to waning immunity, which was addressed by previous speakers, and stated that there is absolutely no evidence that immunity has waned during 16 years' surveillance since the vaccine was introduced in 1967.
The editorial dealt with the question of safety. Indeed, the experience in the United States is that from 150 million doses of measles vaccine the safety record is excellent. There are serious side-effects, but encephalitis, which is the one that would create most concern, occurs only in one in a million doses, and that contrasts to one in one thousand if one contracts measles. I have spoken informally to the honourable member for Smithfield about the long-term effects and the spectre of the serious disease as a complication of measles known as SSPE - subacute sclerosing panencephalitis. At one stage it was assumed that it might be caused by the vaccine, but it is clear in the communities that have high vaccination levels that the condition has been almost eliminated. It is easy to criticise vaccination but the evidence suggests that it is immensely safe. The MJA editorial concluded by stating that the virtual 100 per cent uptake of measles vaccine in the United States has been considerably assisted by the inflexible requirement for children to have evidence of such vaccination. I remind honourable members that the United States is the great bastion of freedom, so how does that sit with this particular program? The United States has insisted on it and there is clear evidence, which I will produce later, that most States in the United States have enforced immunisation. Following that editorial and the paper produced by Peter
Christopher and me, a media release by Laurie Brereton was issued in 1983 in which he stated:
Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveal that in 1981, 2,200 children were admitted to hospital in N.S.W. suffering from measles. Five of those children died after developing complications . . . Despite these moves to encourage voluntary immunisation however, there is growing pressure to make measles immunisation compulsory.
[Extension of time agreed to.]
He said also:
My personal view is that the risk of severe and permanent complications resulting from measles far outweighs the small risk of adverse reaction to vaccination.
That media release was issued nine years ago. The Government and the Department of Health have not been particularly quick on the uptake, but I am sure they had good reasons. The benefits of vaccination have been questioned by some honourable members. Honourable members should remember that the discovery of vaccination came about by chance. I think it was Edward Jenner who noted that the milkmaids who were milking cows with cowpox had a high immunity against smallpox. In 1796, amidst great controversy, he vaccinated a small boy with material from the cowpox pustule. That controversy is still with us today. I challenge the honourable member for Smithfield to deny that smallpox has been eradicated. In countries with incredibly poor levels of health it has been eradicated as a result of a most effective worldwide program of vaccination. That is one of the great triumphs of modern science. A number of anecdotes are associated with this matter. India was the last country to report cases of smallpox. The reason for the delay in the eradication of the disease in that country was that it was a tradition among witch doctors and alternative medical practitioners to keep the scabs from smallpox victims in a bottle or a bag and wave them over victims to try to cure them. For some years that acted as a reservoir until it was possible to educate practitioners about the importance of getting rid of that type of disease. A tragedy occurred in Birmingham after smallpox had been eliminated. Research was continuing to be carried out in England on smallpox and a small amount of the virus was kept in a laboratory in Birmingham. Unfortunately the virus escaped and two or three people died. The British Government then made the decision to eradicate smallpox completely. The smallpox virus no longer exists in that country. That was a great triumph. Similar results could be achieved with many diseases. Where does that leave any room for doubt?
I have spoken about the benefits, difficulties and challenges of implementation and the effectiveness of a good, extensive, worldwide vaccination program. The honourable member for Smithfield does not have grounds for entering this debate with the force that he did, because he does not have experience of the disease as do those at the coalface of medicine - and they do not include me, but those in the public health areas. It is easy to forget what it was like in the days of our parents and grandparents. I have seen children die from whooping cough; it is a tragic experience. Vaccination levels for whooping cough were decreased in Great Britain in the last decade. About 120 deaths occurred in the Greater London area because the authorities took their eyes off the ball in regard to vaccination. If the level of vaccination is dropped, the level of illness increases, which leads to disasters. The same can be said of measles. The honourable member for Ku-ring-gai mentioned some of the tragedies caused by measles. Encephalitis associated with measles has caused more disasters than is commonly thought. About one in one thousand people will contract encephalitis during an outbreak of measles. Some Australian studies show that the mortality rate from encephalitis exceeds 8 per cent. That means that 80 people out of 1,000 could die from encephalitis. Severe behavioural problems and permanent brain damage can result from the disease. One need
only go to the Spastic Centre at Allambie Heights to see children who were normal until the age of two or three and who then caught measles. If one does that, one will never doubt the wisdom of the program proposed by the Minister.
It is all very well to enter the debate from the sidelines, but one must acknowledge the great benefits that have flowed from vaccination. Finally I should make a comment about overseas experience with school immunisation laws. As has been mentioned, those laws have been in force in the United States for some years. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta has produced evaluations of the immunisation program. Authorities from that centre have no doubt that measles has almost been eliminated. An important way of ensuring a high immunisation level is by the enforcement of school immunisation laws. A number of States in America fell behind in the immunisation program. Pennsylvania was one of the last States to introduce that type of legislation. All the evidence from that State shows that the major outbreaks in the United States have been in the States that do not have tough school immunisation laws. Until comprehensive school immunisation laws were implemented in Pennsylvania thousands of cases of measles occurred. We could have a similar experience here. My only criticism of the Department of Health is that it has taken too long to introduce these measures. Undoubtedly this is an extremely important initiative by the Government and the Minister for Health, whom I commend. I look forward to the development of this program.
Mr MILLS (Wallsend) [10.5]: My remarks will be brief, but I should make an important point following on what has been said by other honourable members. I support the Public Health (Amendment) Bill. I shall be particularly pleased when amendments are made to it. This Parliament governs New South Wales with the consent of the Government. That is the only way our society can accept the rule of law. Therefore it is important that we do not coerce people who have sincere views, as does the honourable member for Smithfield. We must make laws that allow for conscientious objection but protect the interests of public health for the majority of people. That is a difficult balancing act. I hope all honourable members have taken the time to read the bill and think through its provisions. It is essential to strike the right balance and for there to be no compulsion. I was pleased to hear the remarks of the honourable member for Manly about the debate that has occurred in other countries. Some honourable members may have read reports in the newspapers earlier this month of a similar debate in the Netherlands where a group of conscientious objectors steadfastly opposed immunisation, on religious grounds.
An outbreak of polio had been found in a band across the Netherlands where that religious group lives, from the southwest over to Gelderland in the east. Since the middle of September this year 31 cases of polio had been reported. Nothing much has changed in these villages since the last poliomyelitis epidemic in 1978 when 110 people who were not immunised were affected by the disease. In that belt across the middle of the Netherlands only 65 per cent of children are vaccinated against poliomyelitis, compared with 95 per cent elsewhere in that country. These people live in fairly close-knit communities that have their own churches, school, dispensaries and so on. That factor accelerates the spread of the disease. The Dutch Parliament recently considered making vaccination compulsory. The argument was that the common good should take precedence over individual freedom. However, a majority of members of the Dutch Parliament refused to enact legislation to enforce immunisation. I quote from the Newcastle Herald of 16th November:
. . . to enforce vaccination would be an unacceptable interference in private lives and would probably not work because people with conscientious objections would rather pay the fines or go to jail than have their children vaccinated.
So, the problem is being addressed elsewhere. The amendments foreshadowed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition relate to important features of the bill. I would be the first to admit that there are problems in regard to immunisation. One of those problems is that some people have harmful after-effects from vaccination. The fifth proposed amendment speaks about compensation in cases where serious adverse reactions have occurred. Another difficulty is that not all immunisations confer immunity. I understand that rubella is a prime example. Some people say that about 30 per cent - I am unaware of the exact figure - of those who are immunised do not become immune to the disease. Immunisation is not successful in all cases. For example, an immunisation certificate for rubella would not necessarily guarantee that the person was immune. Consequently, it is a good idea that there be other ways of testing immunity and that they be permitted to intrude on to the process described in the bill with respect to requiring evidence of immunity to be presented to a school or pre-school by way of a certificate. Another problem is that in many instances a child who is not immunised may still be immune, perhaps from having contracted the disease. Again, there is need for another form of proof of immunity so that a child is not kicked out of school on the grounds that he or she has not been immunised. For example, a blood test could be a form of proof. In the event of an outbreak, a child should be put out of school only if he or she is not immune. I have to emphasise that point.
I refer now to schedule 2, items (2), (3), (4), (5) and (8). From reading the bill, it is most surprising that the powers conferred in this schedule do not already exist. I do not know how such an oversight have could occurred. For example, item (2) will empower the Director-General of the Department of Health to order the disinfection or destruction of an article which "has been in contact with a person suffering from an infectious disease". That is something new. Item (3) refers to the action a Minister can take with respect to water found unfit for drinking or for domestic use where "the Minister suspects that a risk to public health has arisen or is likely to arise because of the water". I am amazed that that power did not exist previously. Item (4) refers to a medical practitioner being aware that a patient has died while suffering from category 1 or category 2 medical conditions, such as sudden infant death syndrome or measles, to provide information to the director-general as to that condition on being requested to do so. I am amazed that that sort of provision was not already in existence; clearly it is necessary for the maintenance of public health. I support the bill and urge the House to support the amendments which will be moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in Committee.
Mr HATTON (South Coast) [10.12]: There is overwhelming support for this bill on both sides of the House. A number of honourable members have quoted figures about the minimum risk of immunisation. I will add two figures to those already
mentioned. With respect to the poliomyelitis immunisation, the risk is one in four million experiencing paralysis; and, as I think has already been mentioned, one in 5,000 children is likely to experience convulsions as a result of immunisation against diphtheria. I have six brothers and two sisters - I believe at one stage we would have had seven children under the age of 10 in our household; of course, there has to be twins in that figure to make up the number. I can remember as a young shire president opening a dam in the old goldmining town of Yalwal in the outer Shoalhaven. It hit me hard when walking through a small cemetery to see a tombstone that contained the names of five children from one family. They had died during the days of the diphtheria epidemic. Despite the fact that I have read quite a lot about it, it hit me quite hard.
The issue of compulsion is interesting. I am not in favour of compulsory immunisation, yet I question that judgment. We have to look at the rights of the child. To what extent does a parent have a right to subject the child to a risk which is preventable? However, at the same time, we say through our education legislation, "Thou shalt educate thy child". When put in that context, it is an interesting debate as to where the parents' rights should start and finish and when the State should intervene. I shall leave that issue and get to the nitty-gritty of something which is exercising my mind; that is, should those who suffer as a result of mass immunisation campaigns be compensated? If so, under what circumstances? By whom? And by what method? They are basic questions. There is bipartisan support for the bill. We also have to consider the Opposition's amendments. I commend the honourable member for Smithfield for raising this matter. I had not given it a great deal of thought previously. However, I have found the debate extremely interesting.
If the answer is that we should compensate, should we compensate only in cases of compulsory immunisation - in which case no one would be compensated because we do not have that in Australia - or in cases arising from mass immunisation campaigns, which are not compulsory? The fact is that because of mass advertising and social pressure there is an enormous moral compulsion on parents to immunise their children. Consequently, there is a fair case for compensation for those people. Should they be compensated by the drug companies, the ones which manufacture the vaccine? For example, if a protein is in the vaccine - and there could be an argument about that in some cases - which may cause side-effects, is the drug company responsible? It makes profits from the manufacture of the product. A car manufacturer could be sued for damages because of failure of a brake system. Obviously a reasonable comparison could be drawn if something was wrong with a vaccine. Despite the best of testing techniques, the drug company should be up for compensation. A similar situation could arise in regard to a pesticide company. The question whether the Government should pay compensation was addressed in a paper which the honourable member for Manly shared with me. The issue was looked at in California. The fact is that if the drug companies are to be made responsible, obviously they will greatly resist becoming involved. What level of profit and what level of risk should they take, especially when vaccination is being pushed by government in a mass immunisation campaign? I think it comes back to the fact that the Government should be responsible. It has taken the moral mantle, as it were, to push mass immunisation, and therefore it is responsible for millions of people, eventually, being immunised. It comes down to that.
Under what method should the compensation be granted? The messiest method is through the courts. Parents seeking to obtain compensation from drug companies, chemical companies, et cetera - and we do not have class actions in Australia - could be up for enormous expense and a great deal of trauma, in addition to the trauma to their child through the side-effects of a drug. There may well be a big payout. The Government might consider the proposition put forward by the Opposition. If someone receives a settlement for $1 million, or an even larger figure, will that set a precedent for
a series of other court actions and, therefore, large payouts? If we go down the victim's complaints tribunal route - where there is a compensation level of $50,000 - $1 million would provide a lot of compensation. In regard to the small number of people who could be involved, that sum would go a long way towards covering a government liability. People could be relieved of the trauma of having to go through the expensive court process even though that process may provide them with a better result.
Another question is: should we embark upon this process at a time when the matter is being considered across the nation? I am yet to be convinced of that. This is one of those issues where I will be convinced by the debate. There is an argument that, yes, we should embark upon this process because why should those under potential risk be denied the opportunity to get up to $50,000 compensation whilst we wait for the national scheme to come in? When the national scheme comes in it may subsume the State scheme. The argument is why should we not step out and lead the way? That is a powerful argument, which tends to sway me.
Finally, I wish to deal with the question of precedent; and the question of the fluoridation of water should be considered. I am not aware if there are any side-effects of fluoridation of water, but, if so, that is compulsory medication. Though adding chlorine to water is not medication, it is a health measure and is compulsory, to all intents and purposes, for those people using the water supply. Will the area of victims' compensation be opened up whereby the Victims Compensation Tribunal will be jammed with people who will say, "You can get it from immunisation, which is not compulsory, and we have a case of something that to all intents and purposes was a compulsory measure". One should ask whether we are opening up a Pandora's box. I shall be listening with interest to this debate in order to make a decision on whether I will vote for the Opposition's amendment. At present I tend to be swayed by arguments that some minimal compensation scheme should be put in place, and this measure appears to be the appropriate mechanism.
Mr PHILLIPS (Miranda - Minister for Health) [10.21], in reply: I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Albury, the honourable member for Manly, the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai, the honourable member for Wallsend, the honourable member for South Coast and the honourable member for Smithfield for their valuable contributions to this debate. The honourable member for Smithfield has strong views on this matter. It is not unusual for members of Parliament to feel strongly about certain issues. The honourable member for Smithfield distributed a substantial document to honourable members opposing immunisation as a concept - opposing it vigorously on medical grounds based on his research. In the time available since the Government received the document, it has not been able to provide a comprehensive response to the honourable member; however, in due course information will be provided regarding the alternative view.
The honourable member for Smithfield claims that this is a measles exclusion bill. It is not; it is to reduce the social, medical and personal costs of all of the vaccine-preventable diseases. No one would believe that we can exclude disease but the best efforts must be made to reduce the impact of disease. It is wrong and dangerous to pretend that this document is a research document upon which conclusions can be drawn. By the words of the honourable member in this Parliament last night, the document is a compilation of reports, information and comments that were gathered to suit his preconceived ideas and prejudices. That is a dangerous fundamental flaw. It should be made quite clear that this document has been produced to strongly support a particular view, and the research undertaken was to support that view. All honourable members should take that into account when reading the document.
The issue of waning immunity has been mentioned. It is well known that immunity, induced either by disease or immunisation, may diminish over time. It is for this very reason that national immunisation guidelines recommend booster injections, for example, every 10 years against tetanus. That problem is not denied. The question of natural immunity has been raised. That concept is appealing to the uneducated but for some diseases - even as life-threatening as tetanus or capable of causing great personal harm, such as gonorrhoea - no immunity follows an infection with the microbe that causes the disease. For example, it should be noted that no Australian serviceman ever died from tetanus, despite the horrific tetanus-prone war wounds that so many received. Unfortunately, this year, two New South Wales citizens almost died after having been infected with the tetanus bacillus while gardening. They were not immunised, and each spent many weeks on ventilators in intensive care at great cost to their families and the health care system. That point should be emphasised.
It is well known that some vaccines cannot achieve 100 per cent immunity. Using the data of the honourable member for Smithfield, it is said that pertussis whooping cough vaccine will achieve immunity in approximately 80 per cent of children. Surely it is better that each child immunised against whooping cough has an 80 per cent chance of avoiding the disease, which is potentially fatal to children under the age of 12 months, rather than take the huge risks the honourable member for Smithfield is advocating. On the question of sudden infant death syndrome, despite the attempt by the honourable member for Smithfield to selectively report only those papers which support his view, I am advised by the highest authority that the overwhelming weight of international scientific opinion confirms the lack of any causal relationship between a vaccine and the sudden infant death syndrome. The honourable member for Smithfield does himself no credit by refusing to acknowledge the carefully considered position of the Sudden Infant Death Association and by not accepting the balanced view of risk and benefit of immunisation in the Australian Consumers Association magazine, Choice, which is reflected in the document of the Department of Health "Information for Parents on Immunisation".
The honourable member for Smithfield has asked all members of Parliament, the Minister and the community to keep an open mind on these issues, and it is healthy that we should do that. We should not be swayed because the evidence merely seems to be weighted a particular way, but we should always keep an open mind. In the interests of sensible public debate on this important issue he should keep an open mind in weighing up evidence opposing his view. The debate will progress better if he follows that approach. The honourable member for Smithfield seriously proposed to this House that the Government conduct some test to seek a definitive answer to the SIDS immunisation issue. He is seeking to have one group immunised and another group unimmunised, to be set up as test groups. First, I have already emphasised the overwhelming scientific evidence against a causal relationship. Second, I am astonished at the naivety he displays in proposing such an unethical trial. Would he really have the Government advise some parents, on the weight of evidence, not to immunise their children so as to wait and see if the children die of SIDS? Surely he would understand that to simply monitor children who, by parental choice, are not immunised introduces an unacceptable bias into the study. The parents may be of different socioeconomic status, have different nutritional habits, live in different parts of the State, and this would render any comparison absolutely meaningless.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition rightly affirmed that there are not only major benefits of immunisation but also well-defined risks. As is so often the case throughout the health system, every time one makes a health decision there is a risks and benefits factor. The honourable member for Smithfield also raised this important point. However, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition rightly pointed out, a Department of
Health publication for parents clearly and unequivocally sets out the risks so that parents can make educated decisions about immunisation, and we would want nothing less. There has to be an informed choice, and information is available in documents to allow people to make informed choices. However, for those who have difficulty comprehending how we can endorse a health measure which carries with it a risk, it should suffice to say that the benefit far outweighs the risk in every individual case by several hundredfold if not several thousandfold, and that is the test of the decision.
On the question of compulsion, the honourable member for Smithfield in particular and some other members in support wanted assurances that we would not go down the compulsion path. Certainly I as an individual, and, I know, most members in this House are very concerned about the compulsion aspect, especially when it comes to matters such as immunisation. There is a limit to how much government can intervene in a person's daily life to keep that person well. The Government might make as many laws as it likes about compulsory immunisation, but when it comes to the crunch someone who does not want to be immunised will not be. We cannot force it upon someone, and nor should we. Unfortunately, that person takes the risk. If government or health intervention for the public good were taken to the nth degree, one could go to such extremes as forcing me to have certain dietary habits so that my weight stays under control to minimise the risk of coronary disease, which is of huge expense to the community. One could go to enormous extremes. We could force the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to give up smoking, but that would be no good at all. It comes to a point where there is a limit to intervention. I assure the honourable member for Smithfield and other honourable members of this House that while I am Minister there will be no compulsion for immunisation. We will not go down that path.
The honourable member for Wallsend raised in his contribution the question of rubella immunisation. I can advise the honourable member for Wallsend that rubella immunisation is one of the most effective forms of immunisation. He indicated in his speech - and I do not know whether it was on purpose or was just a slip - that there was a 30 per cent failure rate in that area. On the contrary, the rate of failure in immunisation against rubella is as low as 10 per cent or, conversely, the success rate is 90 per cent. The question of compensation is a very important part of this debate which we must pursue. I know that the honourable member for Smithfield would be aware that the whole issue of compensation for persons affected by medical misadventure is already on the agenda of health Ministers since it is not appropriate for any one State to attempt to address this issue of major concern not only in Australia but throughout the developed world. It is very much on the agenda. Medical misadventure is of concern not only in respect of immunisation but broadly as well. It is very much being discussed at a national health Ministers conference level. As a report is expected in January, it is important that we do not take any pre-emptive action without examining all of the consequences and taking in all the research that is reported. Then the Parliament and the Government can decide whether we take immediate and strong action early in the year or wait a bit longer for certain information. We will be better informed come January or February about the direction which we should take.
Other issues need to be covered when considering whether to provide compensation for the unintended consequences of immunisation. How will we fund compensation? Should we levy the drug companies, as the honourable member for Manly has raised with me? Though governments and health authorities will be encouraging people to be immunised for the good of public health, will they submit to immunisation so that they can seek compensation? That problem has to be thought through. The
honourable member for South Coast mentioned the matter of precedent. If we legislate for compensation in this area, what will be the flow-on effect? I do not think it is appropriate to consider this very broad and important question and set precedent through this legislation. It is a separate issue, and we must consider it separately and fully. That could be done in the New Year based on a nationwide report to be released then. I urge honourable members to be patient on this issue. I have a very open mind on it. As the honourable member for South Coast has indicated, it is a very complex question. In principle, if governments and health authorities go down the path of strongly encouraging people to be immunised for public health safety reasons and a very small number suffer ill-effects from immunisation undertaken because of that encouragement, as a matter of principle we should consider how we will compensate or support them in respect of their resultant problems and suffering. That, in principle, is the way I am thinking. I am looking forward to the report that will come out in January to see how we can address the question of compensation in that area.
On the question of health promotion, the honourable member for Smithfield implied in his speech last night that public health authorities are walking away from their other responsibilities because they think immunisation may be some sort of panacea that will reduce their workload. His concern is that immunisation will have a negative effect in that area. As the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai clearly indicated, health promotion is a very strong policy area of this Government, of the Department of Health and of health direction in Australia. We are changing the emphasis from treating people when they get sick to doing whatever we can to reduce the incidence of illnesses that require people to seek medical services from our hospitals. The measure of our success is not how many people we operate on and keep in hospital, how many hospitals we build or how many beds we have; our success must be measured on improvements in the health status of the whole community, enhancement of their quality of life, and the reduction of the need for people to seek medical attention from and be admitted to hospitals. That is the whole thrust. The department spends $2.3 million a year on the immunisation program; on health promotion it spends $23 million. So immunisation is not a panacea for improved public health, but it is an important part of the armoury in improving the health status of the community and should be supported by this House. I commend the honourable member for Manly, whose only objection is that the Department of Health and other authorities have taken so long to come up with this type of legislation. He referred to a document entitled "Measles in the 80s", co-authored by Messrs Christopher, Murphy, Buckley and himself. That document, published in 1983, states in its abstract that it deals with aspects of measles immunisation programs in several countries, and I quote:
As more of the susceptible population is vaccinated there will be fewer cases of measles, but among these cases will be an increased proportion of cases of measles occurring in previously vaccinated individuals.
That is the argument put by the honourable member for Smithfield. The document provides the calculation to estimate the proportion of vaccine failures, and concludes:
We support the measures to increase immunisation compliance.
The paper in the Medical Journal of Australia reads, in conclusion:
In Australia publicity and health education has been to date only partially successful in promoting measles vaccination. In addition to a promotional campaign, how can greater acceptance of measles immunisation be achieved? The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia has recently recommended a system similar to that in the United States, which requires evidence of immunisation before school entry, with provision for exemption on defined medical, personal or religious grounds. Such a move should be supported if the needless morbidity and mortality of measles is to be prevented.
I am sure the honourable member for Manly is pleased that the work he did almost 10 years ago is coming to fruition. The honourable member, in "Measles in the 80s", mentioned a system "similar to that in the United States". I hope he meant by that a system in which immunisation is not compulsory, as is the case in the United States. In conclusion, the Government commends this rational policy which, the weight of evidence demonstrates, will improve the health of the children of New South Wales. This policy highlights the importance of complete immunisation and provides an opportunity for parents to actively choose whether to have their children immunised or not. Improvement in the immunisation coverage rate will reduce the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases and associated morbidity and mortality. A reduction in disease levels will benefit the whole community. In 1991 the cost to the community was 432 cases of measles, 48 cases of whooping cough and six cases of tetanus.
For the first time in New South Wales the Department of Health will be able to accurately monitor the immunisation coverage rate of schoolchildren. Another important advance through the proposed legislation will be the ability to accurately monitor the immunisation status of the under five years of age group, when complete age-appropriate immunisation is so important. An additional side benefit is that improvement in the immunisation rate will lead to reduced absenteeism from schools through a reduction in the number of cases of vaccine-preventable diseases, which obviously will help to provide optimal education for children. The New South Wales Department of Health and my Ministry commends the Department of School Education for its active support in the development of this policy. It is a good example of co-operation between government departments in a joint initiative in this very important area.
Finally, in relation to the amendments proposed by the Opposition, the Government will be moving two amendments clarifying definitions, after agreement reached in discussions between the parties. The Opposition will be moving a further amendment to ensure that no detriment is served on children at school because they are not immunised. That is very important, and the Government is happy to support that amendment. The Government believes that proposed amendment 4, which would require the director-general to issue guidelines, is unnecessary because a significant number of publications and documents produced by the National Health and Medical Research Council are distributed widely and thoroughly. We should not overlegislate in these areas. In relation to the fifth proposed amendment, which provides that immunised children who suffer an adverse medical reaction be entitled to compensation, I, as Minister, and the Government are very keen to pursue that issue but we believe it should be pursued on a national basis, where it is being handled at the moment. We ask the House not to support that amendment at this stage. We will ensure that members are kept informed early next year about progress in that particular area. I commend the bill.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Mr PHILLIPS (Miranda - Minister for Health) [10.46]: I move:
Page 3, Schedule 1, line 8 (proposed definition of "child at risk"). After "immunised against", insert ", or has acquired immunity by infection from,".
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [10.47]: Given the obvious singularity of opinion by the honourable member for Smithfield, I
point out that it was at his suggestion that this amendment be proposed, despite the fact that on any medical model "immunised against" means immunity. There are in fact other ways of gaining immunity such as getting the disease. Obviously, the Opposition supports the amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr PHILLIPS (Miranda - Minister for Health) [10.48]: I move:
Page 3, Schedule 1, line 31 (proposed definition of "immunisation status"). After "immunised against", insert ", or has acquired immunity by infection from,".
The reason for that amendment is the same as for the previous amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [10.49]: I move:
Page 7, Schedule 1 (proposed section 42D). After line 7, insert:
(7) A member of the staff of a school or child care facility must not, except as provided by this section, subject a child who attends or is seeking to attend the school or facility to any detriment because of the child's immunisation status.
The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that no discrimination occurs in relation to the immunisation status of children. Some children will not be immunised owing to the wishes of their parents, but children should not be further disadvantaged by any activity at school, apart from the provisions of the proposed legislation, which is supported by the Parliament. I point out that no statutory penalties are contained within the bill. I hope this gives a clear message of the bipartisan approach of the Parliament. Obviously, if teachers do not observe the provisions of this bill, disciplinary action may be taken against them. But I think it would be highly inappropriate for statutory penalties to be provided. However, we may later decide that the present course should be changed.
Mr SCULLY (Smithfield) [10.50]: I am pleased that the Minister has indicated his support for this amendment, which arose from my discussions with the shadow minister about my concern to make it absolutely clear that compulsion was not on the agenda of this bill. I was concerned that the wording meant that it was possible - though probably unlikely - that a child would be told, "Do not enrol here: you have not been immunised". It was also possible that in the event of a disease outbreak there would be not only an exclusion but an invitation to the parents not to bring the child back to the school. I am pleased that the amendment will make it absolutely clear that the procedures will be voluntary. I welcome the Minister's support for the amendment.
Mr PHILLIPS (Miranda - Minister for Health) [10.51]: It is very much the intent of the Government that there be no detriment to the child. For the sake of clarification the Government is more than happy to support the amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [10.52]: I move:
Page 7, Schedule 1. After proposed section 42D, insert:
Director-General to issue guidelines relating to immunisation procedures
42E. (1) The Director-General must, from time to time, prepare guidelines for use by medical practitioners and other persons who immunise persons against vaccine preventable diseases, or who give immunisation certificates, with respect to:
(a) the procedure to be followed when immunising a person against a vaccine preventable disease; and
(b) the procedure to be followed for assessing a person's suitability for immunisation against such a disease; and
(c) the procedure to be followed for informing a person and, if the person is a minor, a parent of that person, of the risk involved in being immunised against such a disease and obtaining the consent of the person or a parent of the person before immunising the person against the disease having regard to that risk; and
(d) the keeping of records of immunisations by medical practitioners and other persons who immunise persons against vaccine preventible diseases or give immunisation certificates.
(2) Guidelines prepared under this section are to be published in such form and manner as will, in the opinion of the Director-General, ensure that they will come to the attention of medical practitioners and other persons to whom they are directed.
This amendment is to ensure that the director-general issues guidelines relating to immunisation procedures. In my speech at the second reading stage I mentioned that there was a comprehensive, although short, booklet that set out the risks and benefits for parents. Further information could be obtained from a list of telephone numbers as well as from looking up the source material. I have proposed this amendment to highlight a number of things. Immunisation is not just a matter of lining up kids and jabbing them. There are times when kids should not be immunised: they should be examined and their history assessed to make sure that they are not suffering from a disease at the time which would preclude them from being immunised. The parents should have a chance to understand what is happening. When I worked in general practice many times parents could not remember whether their children had been immunised. They said that they went to the doctor's surgery, a needle was given, but they did not really know whether it was for an antibiotic or an immunisation. It is not appropriate that we allow that situation to continue. It is appropriate that we have more informed consent about what is happening.
There are two ways of approaching the problem. One way is to get much better community consultation and informed consent, which we would obviously want. Another way is to achieve it through the practitioners. The clear message from the Parliament via the director-general should be that certain things should be done. I would almost guarantee that at the moment batch numbers of vaccines are not being recorded universally by practitioners giving immunisations. Such a procedure is important if there is a bad batch. There should be a way of immediately checking the source of the immunisation. This is not being done. Despite the director-general sending out guidelines and the National Health and Medical Research Council working out guidelines and a book being available, we should send a clear message about the way to handle these matters. I hope the Committee will support the amendment.
Mr SCULLY (Smithfield) [10.54]: I welcome this amendment, which requests that the director-general set out guidelines for immunisation procedures. It has concerned me for some time that there may well not be uniform procedures followed both in general practice and in immunisation clinics. I am particularly concerned about the council-run clinics. I have heard of cases - I do not think it happens throughout Sydney - of minimal information being passed on to parents. I question whether the consent forms are signed by people who are truly aware of the risks. Record keeping is important. Most parents keep a blue book. The clinic or the general practitioner should maintain a permanent record of immunisation status. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition mentioned batch
numbers. The batch number, the manufacturer and the date should be recorded. There should be guidelines as to the examination of people being immunised. I am concerned that we have a line-up mentality. I hope that the proposed guidelines will move clinics away from that attitude so that individual examinations, even though short, will be given. The guidelines should give the clinics contra-indications in regard to temperatures, infections, illnesses, family history of certain neurological illnesses, and adverse reactions to previous shots. Advice should be given to the parents that there may well be more serious consequences of being vaccinated, or that the child should not be vaccinated.
I ask the Minister for an assurance that the department will see that parents are informed - I am not sure whether it would be appropriate at the point of the clinic or the general practitioner - that their children do not have to be vaccinated. When we move on to the compensation amendments I will deal with this matter in more detail. I am concerned that parents will not be told that they do not have to vaccinate their children. I understand where the Minister is coming from. As I said last night, I am not here to yell from the treetops that people should not vaccinate their children; what I want to ensure is that people have the information available, that they are aware of the risks and that they are aware of the fact that they do not have to have their children vaccinated. If the department said, "Here is the overwhelming evidence in favour of it. Here is the evidence against it. It is your decision. You exercise your free choice as the parent of that child", I would be happy. But I am not confident that that is being done.
Mr PHILLIPS (Miranda - Minister for Health) [10.58]: The Government cannot support this amendment for the following reasons: The National Health and Medical Research Council has published guidelines entitled "NH&MRC Immunisation Procedures". The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories undertook to distribute a copy of these guidelines to every general practitioner in Australia. The New South Wales Department of Health distributed multiple copies to the 14 public health units around the State for further distribution to immunisation providers other than general practitioners. The department also distributed copies to all local councils. The NH&MRC guidelines are accepted by the department and have already been distributed appropriately. The proposed amendment would add absolutely nothing to the existing situation and is not supported. I make this important point: though we would accept that the clinical procedures outlined in the amendment are currently good practice, the principle of legislation incorporating clinical practice is just not supported. Where would it end? Patterns of practice change with time and are more appropriately promoted through accepted professional guidelines and recommendations.
The Director-General of the Department of Health is responsible for matters raised in this amendment, and the Committee should be assured that promotion and evaluation of immunisation practices is a priority issue for the director-general and the Department of Health, and that is where it should remain. The provision of batch numbers has been referred to. These days every new-born child is issued with a blue book. The Chairman of Committees, who recently gave birth to a wonderful son named James, was issued with a blue book, so the system is working. The batch number is provided for in that blue book. The certificates issued by doctors provide for the batch number. Those procedures are already in place. How bureaucratic does the honourable member for Smithfield want the system to be in relation to informing patients? Does he want the Department of Health to give the mother and father of every new-born child a briefing and hand them all the documents?
Mr Scully: Don't trivialise it.
Mr PHILLIPS: I am not trivialising the matter. The honourable member for Smithfield is taking the matter of assurances too far. He wants an assurance from me
that the Government and the department will ensure that every parent receives the right information and makes that choice.
Mr Scully: That can be done.
Mr PHILLIPS: The only way the Government and the department can be responsible is to keep a record of the parents of every child, catch up with them and give them a briefing. The medical system, the hospitals, the general practitioners, the child care clinics and a range of networks in the community are provided with information on a variety of issues. The department expects the medical professionals involved in this area to properly inform parents about their right of choice. However, there is a limit as to how far the department can go to guarantee that that will happen in relation to every individual. An enormous amount of information has already been distributed, and it is not appropriate to prescribe constantly changing clinical practices in legislation. The health system is responsible for ensuring that that occurs appropriately. For those reasons, the Government opposes the amendment.
Dr MACDONALD (Manly) [11.2]: This amendment is well meaning but impertinent. It is impertinent for a number of reasons, but primarily because some assumptions in the amendment are flawed. The opportunities for the dissemination of information start with the manufacturer. Every vaccine is accompanied by information which is available to those who administer the vaccine, whether they are medical practitioners or nurses. In the present climate of potential litigation, those involved in the process of vaccination need to become, and remain, familiar with that information. That is one of the safeguards, or safety nets, about which the honourable member for Smithfield should be reassured. In his second reading speech the Minister said:
The department will widely distribute an information paper, a procedural manual and a parents' guide, which explains in question and answer format the importance of the immunisation certificate . . .
So the matter has been addressed, and I am confident that the documentation referred to by the Minister will be adequate. The honourable member for Smithfield should take the opportunity to read a publication entitled, "The Benefits and Risks of Immunisation". It is an up-front publication, which is almost an invitation to sue the Department of Health. It is a frank, well-supported, scientific document, which relates to side-effects, adverse
reactions and complications. It is extremely clear and precise. It is available to practitioners administering vaccines. It highlights the necessary precautions and the risks. The amendment moved by the Australian Labor Party deals with a number of matters. It deals with procedure. In fact, procedure is followed at present. Registration boards certify that medical practitioners and nurses have reached certain professional standards. The adequacy of that procedure must be acknowledged. To suggest that the procedures to be followed must be prescriptive ignores that aspect.
The amendment deals also with the need to assess a person's suitability to receive a vaccine. Presumably that includes any risks. That again is a process that those involved in the program would automatically go through; it does not need to be prescribed in legislation. The amendment deals with the need to inform the patient of the benefits and risks; in other words, informed consent. That applies to any medical procedure, whether it is in relation to vaccination, having an operation or taking medication. I do not believe the honourable member for Smithfield needs to tell the profession how to suck eggs, and that is exactly what he is trying to do in that paragraph of the amendment. If he read any document issued by the Medical Defence Union, he would know that practitioners are very familiar with informed consent.
The keeping of records is important. The Minister alluded to that when he referred to the blue book, which I think was introduced during the term of office of the Government and is proving successful. Guidelines are already issued in the form of the National Health and Medical Research Council immunisation procedure. The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories handbook is distributed to every general practitioner in Australia. A host of guidelines are available to practitioners. Patients have a host of opportunities to inform themselves about the benefits and risks. The amendment is totally unnecessary. The matters with which it deals have been covered not only in the second reading speech but by all the other material to which I have alluded.
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [11.7]: I move:
Page 7, Schedule 1. Before line 8, insert:
Immunised children who suffer adverse medical reaction entitled to compensation
42F. (1) A child who suffers an adverse medical reaction in consequence of immunisation against a vaccine preventable disease is eligible to receive compensation for the reaction and compensation for expenses.
(2) An award of compensation to a child under this section is payable out of money to be provided by Parliament and the maximum amount of compensation that the child is eligible to receive as compensation under this section for an adverse medical reaction and for expenses is $50,000.
(3) The Victims Compensation Tribunal has jurisdiction to consider and determine applications made under this section.
(4) An application for compensation under this section must be made to the Tribunal and must:
(b) be accompanied by documentary evidence (such as a medical certificate) of the adverse medical reaction; and
(c) be verified by statutory declaration; and
(d) be lodged with the Registrar of the Tribunal within 2 years (or within such longer period as the Tribunal may, in a particular case, allow) after the relevant adverse medical reaction first occurred.
(5) The Tribunal must consider each application made to it.
(6) For the purposes of considering an application, the Tribunal may conduct a hearing in accordance with Part 4 of the Victims Compensation Act 1987.
(7) In deciding whether or not to conduct a hearing, the Tribunal must have regard to, but is not bound to comply with, the wishes of the applicant.
(8) The Tribunal may require an applicant to undergo a medical examination by a medical practitioner.
(9) After considering an application, the Tribunal must determine the application by making an award of compensation or by dismissing the application.
(10) The Tribunal must cause notice of its determination to be given to the applicant. Section 19(4) of the Victims Compensation Act 1987 applies with any necessary modifications to such a notice.
(11) In determining the amount of compensation to award under this section to a child, the Tribunal must have regard to:
(a) any amount which has been or will be paid to the child as damages awarded in civil proceedings, or under an insurance policy or other contract or under any other Act or law; and
(b) any other amount which has been or will be received by the child,
in respect of the adverse medical reaction concerned.
(12) Sections 22(1), 23, 24, 24A and Divisions 4 and 5 of Part 3, and Part 7, of the Victims Compensation Act 1987 apply (so far as relevant and with any necessary modifications) to an application for, and an award of, compensation under this section in the same way as they apply to an application for, and an award of, compensation under that Act.
(13) This section applies only to an immunisation administered after the commencement of this section.
"compensation", in relation to an adverse medical reaction to immunisation, means compensation for pain and suffering, and for the loss of enjoyment of life, attributable to the reaction;
"compensation for expenses" means compensation for actual and future expenses, and for loss of present and future earnings or capacity to earn, arising from an adverse medical reaction to immunisation;
"Victims Compensation Tribunal" or "Tribunal" means the Victims Compensation Tribunal constituted by the Victims Compensation Act 1987.
The general principle is that compensation should be available to children who suffer a serious adverse reaction to immunisation, and to their families. It has been pointed out in this debate that adverse reactions are rare, but an adverse reaction can cause substantial damage to the immunised child and, of course, enormous trauma and long-term problems for the family. Because of that, the Parliament should ensure that compensation is available - and not only because immunisation is advocated for the child's own benefit. There is certainly no doubt that Parliament is as one in agreeing that immunisation should be for the benefit of the individual child. Immunisation has more benefits than those which accrue to the individual. The Chamber has been told about herd immunity. If immunisation rates can be increased to a high level, the risk of immunisation preventable
diseases will be greatly decreased. Not only does a child who is immunised take the risk individually; he or she takes a risk for the benefit of the community. That sets the risks from immunisation apart from the risks people take when undergoing different categories of medical procedures for their own benefit. Recently the Government set a precedent under which money was paid to people who acquired AIDS through medical procedures. No negligence was shown, and the people involved did not undergo the medical procedures for anyone's benefit but their own.
I was not supportive of that discriminatory decision - I am sure many other honourable members had similar concerns - but a precedent was set. I do not want to use that precedent. Let us set it to one side and consider this as a separate issue, because people are taking risks for other people in the community. The Minister has indicated that, in general, he supports the proposal, and that the Australian Health Ministers Conference actively has it under consideration and will probably make a recommendation. One thing that will force the Health Ministers Conference to ensure that compensation remains on the agenda is for a State - the biggest, most powerful and best State - to include in legislation a provision that it wants to pass to the Federal Government. By having it spelt out in legislation, the Minister, or his replacement - which may be me - will have a powerful incentive to ensure that the proposal remains on the conference agenda until it is comprehensively dealt with and a final decision made. It will not break the bank. There will be a limit of $50,000 on any payment. Considering the number of cases that are likely to occur in what I hope will be the short time before the health Ministers get their act together, it is unlikely that there will be any call for compensation.
The Opposition's amendment envisages a separate allocation of funds for payment of any claims. Funds allocated to the Victims Compensation Tribunal for other purposes will not be used for that purpose. In that sense, there will be no detrimental effect on those who have other claims on the tribunal for compensation. As I have said previously, the Opposition believes immunisation is necessary and is willing to support legislation that will coerce parents to immunise their children. The proposed legislation allows for conscientious objection and will always do so. The Opposition believes that a higher rate of immunisation is in the community's best interests. However, honourable members should recognise the risks involved and provide for the few who may suffer a reaction to immunisation. At the time we make this major change we should set up a compensation fund under the Victims Compensation Tribunal. I would be delighted to speed the passage of the removal of this clause once the health Ministers have made their decision and enacted legislation to set up a compensation fund. But let us show that we are big enough to take the responsibility of pushing for compensation and ensure that the pressure remains on the health Ministers until this issue is finally resolved at the Federal level.
Mr SCULLY (Smithfield) [11.14]: I welcome the amendment, which proposes the setting up of a compensation scheme for the victims of vaccination. Adverse reactions to vaccines have been well documented, and throughout this debate various members, including myself, have referred to them. I challenge the honourable member for Manly, who commented on the paper by the New South Wales Department of Health entitled, "Benefits and Risks of Immunisation", written by Ms Sue Jobson, Immunisation Program Co-ordinator, and Dr Michael Levy. I welcome the preparation of such a document. It is the sort of document I have in mind to inform parents of the real risks of disease and vaccination. In my opinion the Minister was attempting to trivialise my views. I am not suggesting that when parents go to a clinic a box load of scientific papers should be dumped in their laps. That is absurd. The risks of vaccination and of disease can be summarised in pamphlet form for the benefits of parents. This document attempts to do that, and I welcome it, but it does not present the story as it should be
presented. The Department of Health has the view that immunisation should be aggressively supported. As I said last night, this document will not lead the way to the path to truth and righteousness that we must follow, the light on the hill of immunisation. It is not so simple.
Mr O'Doherty: On a point of order. We have debated the rights and wrongs of the immunisation procedure many times. That is not the point of the amendment. It is directed specifically to compensation. I ask you to draw the member back to that issue.
Mr Scully: On the point of order. That is an irrelevant point of order.
The CHAIRMAN: Order! That is for the Chair to rule. I uphold the point of order because it appears to the Chair that the member for Smithfield is debating issues that were raised in discussion on the last amendment. The amendment before the Committee relates to the issue of compensation.
Mr Scully: Further to the point of order.
The CHAIRMAN: Order! I have ruled on the point of order.
Mr SCULLY: I accept your ruling. It is necessary to compensate the small number of people who suffer adverse reactions to immunisation. Parents ought to be informed of possible adverse reactions and, if this amendment succeeds, of the fact that compensation is available to them. There has been some debate about whether a sudden infant death might occur as a result of the vaccination of a child against whooping cough. If that is established in the literature at some time in the future, it may provide substantial grounds for compensation. I want to reply to some of the comments made by the Minister. There is a strange notion that it is unethical to pursue truth on the question of whether a particular vaccine causes an injury. Two researchers, named Scheibner and Karlsson, have indicated that they propose to obtain a random population sample of immunised and unimmunised people in order to determine whether the DPT vaccine causes cot death. This is an important aspect. I refer the Minister to the work of a research doctor in the United States of America, who discussed the problem of whether it can be proved that sudden infant death syndrome is caused by the DPT vaccine. In an article published in the United States, I believe in the early 1980s, he said:
If one is to look at frequency distribution of sudden infant deaths by age and argue that our results are consistent with this age distribution, and are not due to the DPT immunisation, then one must use a base population of infants who have not received the immunisation for other than medical reasons. Unfortunately, this population does not exist.
If the prevailing medical view is that it is unethical, we will not receive a definitive answer and we will never know. The document "Benefits and Risks of Immunisation" contains some errors.
Mr Phillips: On a point of order. The Government has been reasonable. An extensive second reading speech covered all the issues now being canvassed by the honourable member for Smithfield. The Committee debate is specifically related to amendment No. 5, which relates to compensation. I ask you to indicate to the honourable member the Committee is not debating the second reading speech again and he should stick to the point.
Mr Scully: On the point of order. I raised the matter only because the
honourable member for Manly raised it. I have no intention of discussing this.
The CHAIRMAN: Order! The honourable member for Manly raised the issue when discussing the previous amendment.
Mr Scully: It would have been out of order then if it is out of order now.
The CHAIRMAN: Order! The previous amendment dealt with guidelines and at that time it was in order for the honourable member for Manly to refer to a document in discussing guidelines. I will allow the honourable member for Smithfield to continue. He has not said enough about the document at this point to indicate whether he is entering into debate. If he is using the document to debate the issue of compensation, he is in order.
Mr SCULLY: I cannot understand how referring to a document about the risk of disease is not linked to compensation. To me it is very pertinent.
The CHAIRMAN: Order! The honourable member for Smithfield will not debate the point of order; he will debate the clause before the Committee.
Mr SCULLY: The Minister supports the notion of compensation, if I understand his comments correctly, but he has said that now is not the right time. If he supports the notion at the Health Ministers Conference and suggests that New South Wales would support a national scheme of compensation for vaccine damage, I suggest that the amendment is appropriate as an interim measure, and that the Minister ought to support it. I say to the Independents that the Government, through the Minister, is suggesting that there should be compensation for vaccine damage. If the Minister were to give specific reasons why compensation for vaccine damage is wrong, he would have an argument against the amendment. But the Minister has not done that. This morning he has said, "Yes, I accept the principle of compensation for vaccine damage, but not now. Let us do it federally or after health Ministers have a meeting in Perth in a nice, comfortable hotel, and talk about it". One day in 15 years' time, when we are all retired, legislation might be introduced. We should do it today. I have been asked why the Victims Compensation Tribunal should be used and why another structure should not be set up. That is another delaying tactic. I anticipate that the Minister's response will be that if honourable members accept that there should be some form of compensation and that there should be a structure, it should be covered in a special bill.
Have honourable members had matters determined by the Victims Compensation Tribunal? Prior to the establishment of the tribunal, I appeared in court proceedings seeking compensation for criminal acts, which is a similar procedure, where magistrates hear evidence of injuries and make determinations based on the medical evidence. This notion is no different in principle. We are inviting parents to take their children to the Victims Compensation Tribunal and say, "As a result of vaccination my child was injured, and here is the medical evidence". If the tribunal accepts the evidence, it will award an amount of compensation but if it does not, the parties receive zilch. I must be honest. I was astounded that there was any opposition whatever to this motherhood notion. If the community is encouraged to vaccinate children, it is beholden upon us to protect those who are hurt by it. Honourable members should bear in mind that a distinction can be made between the precedents that could be set by the awarding of compensation.
The honourable member for South Coast mentioned fluoride and chlorine in our water supplies. Other members have mentioned compensation for medically acquired AIDS and the Chelmsford hospital victims. All of those can be distinguished. People
do not have to drink fluoridated and chlorinated water. They can obtain water purifiers, as thousands of people have. The cases of medically acquired AIDS and Chelmsford hospital victims are quite different. People attend the surgery of the honourable member for Manly because they are sick. They seek medical assistance because they are ill. But with immunisation we are promoting a scheme whereby healthy people are injected with foreign material as a public health measure. They are not vaccinated because they are sick. This massive immunisation program is run for the benefit of society. If that is the case, we must compensate those who are on the downside of immunisation. Let us do it properly, and let us do it today.
Honourable members have said that immunisation will not be compulsory and I accept that, but the honourable member for South Coast said that, given parents will not be forced to immunise their children, it could be suggested that we should pursue the question of compensation. There is an element of compulsion in this legislation. Parents of children who attend schools will be compelled to present some form of documentary evidence of immunisation. Principals will be compelled to request the immunisation records of students. The bill does not compel vaccination but it compels the production of evidence of immunisation. The Minister in his second reading speech said that the Department of Health will use its marketing strategy to promote the immunisation scheme and that the school and child care systems will demand that proof. To me, that is a sufficient level of compulsion to mean that we must compensate those who are on the downside. I think the honourable member for Manly raised the question of courts and whether it was appropriate that manufacturers of vaccines be liable to pay for those injured through vaccination.
Anyone who knows anything about courts, how much it costs and the likelihood of any success, would veer away from that suggestion. If people genuinely want to compensate people who are injured through vaccination they would not suggest for a moment that vaccine manufacturers should be taken to court. The costs of such proceedings would be enormous. The Minister may well be aware of the landmark decision in the United Kingdom - 100 pages of judgment - where the court stated that proof that the injury or damage was caused by the vaccine is only the first hurdle. It must be established that the vaccine manufacturer was negligent. The manufacturer may well say, "Yes, we accept that this person was injured by this vaccine but we were not negligent. We applied all the scientific literature, the available medical evidence, the microbiological testing and sampling tests. We exercised all the known evidence required to develop the vaccine. We were as careful as any company in the western world could be in developing a safe vaccine. We are sorry that it damaged or injured you". The court in all probability would be satisfied that the company followed all those guidelines. [Time expired.]
Dr MACDONALD (Manly) [11.30]: We should commend the honourable member for Smithfield for raising this issue. But when it comes to the question of how we progress the matter of compensation, I believe that the jury is still out. That should be the message which comes from the Chamber today. A number of issues have to be considered - and probably are being considered - by the Federal Government and the Australian Health Ministers' Conference. For example, how much compulsion should there be? We do not have compulsion, as the honourable member for Smithfield mentioned. There is a difference between our system and the American system. What obligation does society have to provide for a reduction in risk? One responsibility of society is to make sure that the vaccine is safe. Is it the responsibility of society to provide compensation? The answer to that is: who will benefit, the individual or the public? We will be clearer on that issue when the experts who are considering this issue
hand down their deliberations. There is individual benefit. I note that today children from the Liverpool area and also children from the area of the honourable member for Oxley are in the public gallery. They have been very patient. They are a healthy looking lot of children; I think that is because most of them have been vaccinated. We have to balance this matter; we have to weigh the individual benefit and the public benefit.
We cannot adopt the Opposition's amendment at the moment because it is not clear who should carry the risk. Should the manufacturer, the Government or the individual carry the risk? That debate has to take place; it has not yet taken place. I am not yet satisfied that those issues have been addressed. It is important. Should we constantly put safety nets below everyone for every step they take in life? If we opt for a compensation tribunal arrangement, will it lead to an increase in the vaccination rate because people feel comfortable or will it lead to an increase or decrease in litigation? I am happy to wait for the outcome of the Australian Health Ministers' Conference. I am not happy with the amendment; it opens up a whole lot of things. For example, there has to be documentary evidence that a person has had a side-effect or an injury. That is on the basis of a medical certificate. Is having a temperature enough? There must be thresholds. This amendment is premature. However, I welcome the fact that it has opened the debate and I welcome the assurances of the Minister for Health on this.
Mr HATTON (South Coast) [11.32]: We could save a lot of money in courts if we had a massive compulsory injection program of common sense into lawyers. Will the Minister for Health give an assurance that after the Australian Health Ministers' Conference this matter will be brought back to the House so that we can have an opportunity to debate the important question of compensation before the end of the autumn session? The Government will have a couple of months to come to a conclusion, as the conference will conclude in January.
Mr PHILLIPS (Miranda - Minister for Health) [11.33]: Like the honourable member for Manly and others, I think this has been a worthwhile debate with respect to pursuing the question of compensation in this area; it also has impact in many other areas. The debate is all very fine, but we have to make sure that as legislators, as lawmakers, we go about this in a professional manner. As the honourable member for Manly has said, the jury is still out. A huge national study is being carried out; reports are to come forward with respect to how to handle this significant problem - and it is a significant medical, financial and legal problem. We should have the benefit of all that research and information. The Opposition wants to further change the legislation because it has a good feeling in the stomach which makes it think, "Maybe we should be looking after those people". That is all very fine, but we should make sure that we do things right. It is not as though we will wait for a long time. Other countries have spent years considering the aspects of compensation. We will be in a position to do something within the next 12 months. A report is to come out in January.
The honourable member for South Coast has asked for my assurance that we will be able to debate this matter next session. I assure him that when the report comes out in January I will inform the Chamber about the Government's attitude. Let us be professional legislators and see that appropriate legislation is introduced. I ask all members at this stage not to support amendment No. 5, which relates to compensation. Members have put their views on the record; the issues are on the record. Let us wait for the report which will be brought forward in the new year. This is a national issue. I assure the Committee that we will pursue the matter along proper lines.
Question - That the amendment be agreed to - put.
The Committee divided.
Mr A. S. Aquilina
Mr J. J. Aquilina
Mrs Lo Po'
Mr J. H. Murray
Mr W. T. J. Murray
Mr D. L. Page
Mr E. T. Page
Question so resolved in the negative.
Schedule as amended agreed to.
Bill reported from Committee with amendments and report adopted.
ENDANGERED FAUNA (INTERIM PROTECTION) AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from 18th November.
Ms ALLAN (Blacktown) [11.43]: On behalf of the Opposition I would like to indicate, as I have already indicated to the Minister for the Environment, that the Opposition will support this legislation. I begin by making the comment that the second reading speech of the Minister for the Environment on 18th November starkly contrasts with debate on this legislation almost 12 months ago to this day. If one reads the Minister's fairly brief speech, one will find that it is definitely a mild, measured and formal description of what the bill seeks to achieve. That is certainly in contrast with some of the dire statements made on a number of days in December last year on results that would flow from the enactment of the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Amendment Bill. On 12th December last year there was substantial debate and a number of key figures within the Government participated. For example, the Minister for Conservation and Land Management expressed a number of concerns about how this bill would affect the future of New South Wales. He said:
The bill . . . may be well-intentioned but it is not, in its present form, workable. It is based on the false premise that by allowing the National Parks and Wildlife Service to issue licences it will overcome the problems that were highlighted in the Chaelundi case.
At the operational level, it also seems ludicrous for land use decisions to be made in isolation from the planning process. That is what this bill would provide. We say that there must be an integrated system. We do not believe that fauna can be dealt with alone. It is only logical that endangered flora should be considered at the same time . . . The Opposition's proposal makes no attempt to achieve this. Requiring applicants to obtain an initial licence will add just another layer to the already complex bureaucratic process.
He continued saying that the whole process established by the bill is "so excessively bureaucratic that it has been suggested that it could take up to four months for these licences to come into effect". He wound himself up as he spoke. For example, he said:
This bill will only exacerbate [the present economic climate] by creating further uncertainty and instability in the timber-dependent communities of this State. The effect of this bill is to make the National Parks and Wildlife Service the determining authority for all forestry operations. This is ludicrous. It is a totally inappropriate role for the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Such a move would accord it powers right outside its core responsibilities, making it the arbiter of land-use decisions in isolation from the planning process. That is the problem. There will be no obligation to consider both the economic and the environmental factors.
This bill has the potential to close down the industry . . . We have heard that this bill is a way of keeping the jobs open. The reality is that there could be a major conflict. Because of the regulatory and bureaucratic processes it may not be possible to issue licences.
He concluded by saying:
Though the legislation purports to review schedule 12 and limit it to only the most sensitive species, the criteria used would lead inevitably to the inclusion of wide-ranging native forest species, which will have an unacceptable wide impact on the timber industry.
Other speakers carried on in the same vein. The honourable member for Northern Tablelands said with a flourish:
We must protect the forest industry and associated industries of New South Wales . . . If any legislation has been designed to kill off industry, this is it. This great unknown legislation will be the straw that breaks the camel's back. It will impose ill-defined and nonsensical restrictions
He went further:
This legislation is an assault on industry. Businesses are just as likely to pack up and go . . . They will not work in the forest industry or the mining industry. They will invest elsewhere, and we will all be the poorer, including the environment, which this legislation is supposed to protect.
A number of Opposition members participated in debate. I will mention a couple of comments I made in conclusion. Also I want to mention the contribution of the Deputy Leader of the National Party, the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs. In his contribution to debate on 12th December he was particularly concerned about the impact of this legislation on the agricultural industry. Paragraph (h) of the objects of the bill gave the Minister for the Environment and the Director of the National Parks and Wildlife Service the power to issue a stop work order against any activity likely to affect significantly the environment of any protected fauna. The Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs said the following of that aspect of the legislation:
At first sight, to the uninitiated and the unexperienced, that object may seem to have merit, but in practical terms it would be totally impossible to achieve the spirit of that object if it were to be accepted by this Chamber. Not one of us, be we farmers, people who do gardening in our own backyards in suburban Sydney, the Hawkesbury, or wherever it might be in the metropolitan area or in the inland of New South Wales, could comply with that objective in respect of a brown snake in a yard at Hornsby or elsewhere.
He went on in similar vein but I will not bore the House with it. At the conclusion of his contribution he made this strong point:
This legislation is an unfortunate hoax.
That was his view on 12th December last year. Other members of the National Party also rushed to participate in the debate. The honourable member for Coffs Harbour expressed concern. He said;
This legislation puts flora and fauna well and truly above man.
He also said:
This legislation will ensure that the rufus scrub bird and the brown snake -
The same brown snake that the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs was so concerned about:
- will be given consideration before the farmer, before everyone else. The price of our commodities will rise. A small minority of people will dictate to productive people of this State what they can and cannot do on the basis of habitat, not habitation.
He went on to say:
That scares the hell out of me and the people in my electorate. It is unacceptable to us.
Several other members contributed to that debate, though I do not intend to mention all of them. I would like to note the contribution of the honourable member for Monaro, who spoke at great length, in particular, about the track record of the Australian Labor Party in looking after the interests of working-class people in this State. I was never quite sure at the time I was listening to him of the relevance of that contribution to debate on the bill. He quoted George Loveless "for the benefit of members opposite" - people like myself He said:
They relate to what this bill is all about. It is about denying the right of people to work:
After quoting George Loveless the honourable member said:
Do not ever forget that, because the workers in the timber industry in the southeast forests are hoping that sooner or later members opposite will find enough guts to stand up and defend them and their right to work.
The honourable member for Bega also shared the concerns of the honourable member for Monaro, which is not surprising. He was quite heartened in some ways that the proposed legislation was only an interim measure, but he went on to say:
By the time any of the provisions are implemented, the interim period will have expired. There will be so many problems with development applications that the Forestry Commission and probably a lot of agricultural plans and development will be affected.
He was most anxious that "a fast-track system has been devised to overcome any immediate problems". Many other members participated in that debate. As I re-read that debate this morning I thought I should make the point of mentioning some of those highlights, in particular in relation to the current debate. I wish to refer to what I said 12 months ago in my speech in reply after some hours of debate in this Chamber on the bill. I tried my very best to reassure those anxious members of the National Party who had sought to contribute in the debate. At that time I said:
I do not believe that the National Party, farmers and timber workers have anything to fear from this bill. This bill has brought together a set of measures that will protect endangered fauna within this State and protect the livelihoods of people working in various industries who could be affected when this bill is implemented.
I also counselled those very same National Party members who had spoken against the bill. I said:
Those who spoke with such venom against the bill should read it.
It has taken some of them at least 12 months to read it. I suspect that to this day some of them still have not read it, but at least we can be assured from the fact that the Government has introduced this proposed legislation that the Minister for the Environment and his colleagues in Cabinet have finally read the legislation. I think they have now come to the conclusion that I came to on 12th December last year in my final comments in that debate:
Once this bill is passed by this House we will have a successful package of proposals which will put in place, at least for a temporary period, necessary measures that need to be taken to protect endangered fauna in this State.
We have been at that point for the past 12 months. We now come to a further point in the debate about protection of endangered fauna. The Government has introduced a bill which seeks to extend until 1st October next year the operation of those provisions of the initial Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act 1991 that are due to expire on 1st December this year. Second, the Government's legislation will extend until 1st October, 1993, the duration of Forestry Commission licences to take or kill endangered fauna issued under section 120 of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 after the commencement of the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act. I was very pleased to receive the letter from the Minister for the Environment on 18th November this year in response to correspondence I had forwarded to him, in which he indicated that this would be the action the Government would be taking. He did point out in that letter, and I shall quote a paragraph from it, that obviously despite the Government's preparedness to introduce this legislation it may have some misgivings. He wrote to me in that letter of 18th November:
Whilst you would be aware that the Government is opposed to the legislation and the cumbersome administrative burden it places on the National Parks and Wildlife Service and is committed to introduce our own Endangered Species legislation to protect both endangered flora and fauna, it is not expected that the Government's proposal will be in place this year.
That is the Minister's rationale for the introduction of this legislation. At the same time he attempted to remind me, as shadow minister for the environment, that the Government remains opposed to the legislation, even though it is seeking to extend it today. In particular he highlighted to me what he calls the "cumbersome administrative burden" that the legislation imposes on the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Unfortunately, the Minister for the Environment in that letter does not give me any examples of that so-called cumbersome administrative burden; if he has examples he should share them with us so that all the information about this proposed legislation is on the table. Even though the Opposition supports the bill, I wish to highlight specific concerns about the proposed legislation. The Opposition has concerns about clause 4 of the bill. Those concerns have also been expressed strongly to us by the conservation movement in this State. Clause 4 extends to 1st October, 1993, the current stop-gap licences held by the Forestry Commission of New South Wales. It is my understanding - and I have already pointed this out again on 24th November, 1992 in correspondence to the Minister for the Environment - that these licences received significant attention during 1992 to assist the Forestry Commission in the production of fauna impact statements and transition of those licences to general licences. The stop-gap licences were due to expire on 1st December, 1992.
To date, no fauna impact statements have been produced for current logging activities that are covered by the stop-gap licences. This indicates an inability on the part of the commission to meet agreed timetables. I shall return to that point in a moment. Despite the statements that the Minister for the Environment made in his second reading speech, the Opposition remains convinced that the best of intentions - if these matters are not entrenched in the legislation - will not necessarily ensure that the Forestry
Commission complies satisfactorily with the timetable that converts stop-gap licences to general licences before the new expiry date of the Act. The Opposition is aware that at this late stage there is virtually no time for those fauna impact statements to be prepared. Though they should have been produced and exhibited before the expiry of the current licences, we are more than happy to proceed with this legislation. I have written further to the Minister for the Environment seeking assurances, some of which he has given and others which I hope he addresses in reply to my comments.
I would like the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Conservation and Land Management to address the basic inability of the Forestry Commission to meet agreed timetables. Can we find an immunisation injection to ensure that the commission will be able to do this? The conservation movement has been making representations to Opposition, Government and Independent members about the inability of the commission to meet agreed timetables and even legislative requirements. Why does no one, presumably apart from the Director of the Forestry Commission and the Minister for Conservation and Land Management, trust the commission? Page 10 of the 1992-95 corporate plan of the commission confidently states that the New South Wales Government is about to establish a natural resources management council which will advise the Government on resolution of competing interests for land and on other natural resource issues. The Forestry Commission believes that this initiative forms the basis for a more effective environmental approval process for forest operations and therefore increases security for resource management and this is fundamental to the future of the commission's business.
Talk about the Forestry Commission jumping the gun! Here it is already extolling the virtues of a more effective environmental approval process - more effective presumably than we already have and what has been put in place by various laws in this State including the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act and the endangered fauna protection Act, which it has been proved over and over again the Forestry Commission has flouted - when in its corporate plan it is stating that these things will be in place. As I said a couple of months ago in this Chamber when speaking in a discussion of a matter of public importance, I have more news for the Forestry Commission: the natural resources management council and the process that was extolled in the corporate plan are not in place. The Government has failed to deliver the natural resources package to the people of New South Wales according to the Government's timetable. It was passed by this Chamber less than a fortnight ago. We are now back in the business of ensuring that the Forestry Commission meets its obligations under the Endanger Fauna (Interim Protection) Act.
I would like the two Ministers to comment on this matter. It seems that the Forestry Commission officers in the regions across New South Wales have been contemplating their collective navels and not doing the work that they were supposed to be doing under the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act. They have been hoping and praying that the rain stops falling so that they can get on with their logging activities, and that the natural resources management package would be in place. It is not in place. Even by the Government's fresh timetable, which is by the conclusion of the autumn session next year, it will not be in place for six months, if not longer - if ever - depending on what support the Government is able to get for a new package. The Forestry Commission has been dragging the chain, which has resulted in anxiety being expressed by the conservation movement. The evidence is there that the commission has been blissfully ignoring the law while waiting for the Government to save it by foisting an unpopular, unwelcome and unsuccessful natural resources package on New South Wales. Because of the concerns about clause 4, the lack of trust and the Forestry Commission not doing its job, Opposition members have written to the Minister for the Environment and had discussions with him in an attempt to gain assurance that the Government
legislation which we are debating today will address those concerns. On 25th November I wrote to the Minister as follows:
Further to our discussions today it would be appreciated if you could undertake to provide in your quarterly reports to Parliament the following:
1. A list of the compartments subject to "Stop Gap" Licences.
2. The timetable for the introduction of Fauna Impact Statements and the conversion of the "Stop Gap" licences to General licences under the Endangered Fauna Interim Protection Act.
The Minister replied the same day:
I . . . wish to advise that I am prepared to include in the quarterly reports to Parliament the following:
1. A list of the compartments subject to "Stop Gap" Licences. This is as requested by you;
2. Progress reports on the preparation of Fauna Impact Statements in relation to all areas subject to "Stop Gap" Licences, including estimated completion dates. This is a variation of your request. The actual request cannot be met in the terms asked due to constrained resources and a lack of availability of appropriate qualified consultants. Moreover, to accede to your request for a timetable could prejudice the quality of the Fauna Impact Statements being prepared.
I welcome that statement from the Minister but I seek further assurances. I am pleased that the Minister acknowledges that in his quarterly reports on the implementation of the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act he will be able to give more specific information about the progress of the Forestry Commission in relation to the preparation of its fauna impact statements. I also accept the logic of the argument - this was expressed quite powerfully when we had discussions with the Minister and officers of the Forestry Commission and the National Parks and Wildlife Service yesterday - that the Forestry Commission, because of its current environmental impact statement requirements, is probably using almost all available consultants at present and has provided them with a huge backlog of work.
Also, we have just emerged from winter and it is more difficult to undertake fauna impact statements when a lot of the little furry creatures are holed up for winter. There are physical problems in doing fauna impact statements during winter. Nevertheless, I want an acknowledgment in the Minister's reply that he is cognisant of the games that have been played in the past by the Forestry Commission on this issue. They were no doubt played in December 1991 when the initial interim protection bill was enacted. Those games have been confirmed by the corporate plan. I have no doubt whatsoever that the Forestry Commission will continue to play games. There could be logical reasons for delays in the preparation of fauna impact statements but we want assurances from both Ministers that the concerns raised about clause 4 will be addressed. A broad range of organisations have expressed concerns to the Opposition and no doubt to the Minister. The Wilderness Society wrote to the Leader of the Opposition yesterday setting out its concerns about clause 4. It stated:
Clause 4 essentially extends these stop-gap licences for another 10 months, postponing long overdue scrutiny on the Forestry Commission's activities in regard to endangered fauna. New South Wales has one of the worst cases of fauna extinctions anywhere in the world in the last 200 years. It is not acceptable to continue our sorry record.
I concur wholeheartedly with that statement. Is the reason the Forestry Commission regards itself as not being able to meet the designated timetables its continuing fear of scrutiny by outside organisations and its colleague, the National Parks and Wildlife Service? I could quote at length from the December 1991 debate in this Chamber. One of the key themes that emerged from that debate was the total distrust of the National
Parks and Wildlife Service felt by members who believe they represent the interests of the Forestry Commission. Another overwhelming theme of that debate 12 months ago, a theme which was repeated in the debate on the Timber Industry (Interim Protection) Act earlier this year, was the fear and the lack of trust that the Forestry Commission feels towards the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Sid Walker, the Executive Officer of the Nature Conservation Council, has also written to the Leader of the Opposition expressing his concerns about the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Amendment Bill, particularly about clause 4. I am sure the Minister for the Environment would have received an almost identical letter. Sid Walker goes further than the Wilderness Society, but he certainly makes a similar point. He expresses the strong distrust of the Nature Conservation Council for the bona fides of the Forestry Commission in relation to the implementation of the proposed Act. The Nature Conservation Council is certainly frightened that this legislation will let the New South Wales Forestry Commission off the hook. The Nature Conservation Council's letter reads:
Clause 4 of the Amendment Bill arbitrarily destroys this balance -
He is referring to the balance struck by the previous legislation:
- by extending the stop-gap licences for another ten months. If enacted in its current form, the Amendment Bill would postpone yet again long-overdue public scrutiny -
There is that word again, which emphasises the distrust that people, organisations and the community have for the Forestry Commission:
- and external assessment of the impact of forestry activities on this State's endangered fauna.
The Nature Conservation Council says:
It would be a charter for the Forestry Commission to return to 'business-as-usual'.
The council also claims that clause 4 will allow the Forestry Commission to avoid potential embarrassment because it may well be that several fauna impact statements due on or before 1st December, 1992, are not in an advanced state of preparation. One of the concerns I have had with correspondence I have received about clause 4 has been the lack of specifics. There have certainly been plenty of allegations and no shortage of testimony about the distrust the conservation movement feels towards the Forestry Commission, but I am concerned about the lack of specifics. I have been concerned also about the failure of the conservation movement to address the issue I raised earlier about the lack of consultants literally on the ground to do the jobs the conservation movement wants them to do, and the failure of the conservation movement to realise that weather can sometimes delay that process.
This morning John Connor, on behalf of the Nature Conservation Council, has at least identified to me a specific example, and I would like the Minister to address this matter in reply. John Connor is dissatisfied with the undertaking the Minister gave to me yesterday. He claims that the Minister's undertaking to embellish his quarterly reports on the legislation to Parliament does not guarantee that once fauna impact statements are
completed, they will be forwarded with applications for general licences. Mr Connor has given the example of the Mistake State Forest, where a fauna impact statement in relation to current logging has been completed since August this year but has not been forwarded to the National Parks and Wildlife Service with an application for a general licence. That is what the Nature Conservation Council believes, and I would like the Minister to deal with that.
Other concerns were expressed to me this morning by the Nature Conservation Council. The council is specifically concerned that the Minister's undertaking, which I have already read into Hansard, will not inform the Parliament of the current status of the preparation of fauna impact statements after an extension of almost 12 months. That matter should be specifically addressed. The council is also concerned that the more detailed reassurance promised by the Minister to the Opposition and the Independents will not eventuate until next March. Under the legislation, that is when the next quarterly report is due. I should like to help the Minister out by suggesting to him that when the latest report is tabled in the Chamber - I understand that it is due any day - perhaps he could give honourable members a little more information than he has done in the past and try to reassure the conservation movement on that point.
Mr Hartcher: I will give the honourable member an assurance on that now.
Ms ALLAN: The Minister has given me that assurance. What a wonderful human being he is! The other point made by the Nature Conservation Council today - and I concede this issue was raised by the Opposition yesterday in discussions with the Government - was the lack of resources currently available to the threatened species unit. The Nature Conservation Council and the Opposition are not satisfied with the amount of resources available to the threatened species unit to do its job and to ensure that the processing of fauna impact statements is kept at a brisk pace. The Budget has already been debated in this place, but the Opposition strongly recommends to the Government that more resources be given to that unit. I want to digress a little from communicating the concerns of conservationists directly to the Minister and make one or two of my own comments about the position of the conservationists on this issue. In the second-last paragraph of the letter from which I quoted earlier, the Nature Conservation Council wrote:
The Government may have suggested to the ALP that unless the Amendment Bill -
That is the legislation honourable members are debating:
- is passed unamended, jobs will be put at risk.
The letter goes on to dispute that. I want to assure the Nature Conservation Council that at no point in the discussions or the debate so far on this legislation has there been any hint that jobs will be put at risk. That is a welcome development in the whole debate and shows a certain maturity and sophistication which was not evident 12 months ago. I assume the conservation movement, particularly the Nature Conservation Council, is highlighting that point to the Labor Party because it believes the Opposition, being fearful of suggestions that jobs may be at risk now or at some unknown future time, is not prepared to move amendments to the bill if the legislation is found wanting. At this stage I do not believe the bill needs to be amended. There has been an excellent process of consultation. Some assurances have been given that meet a number of the concerns that have been expressed. However, I also believe that if the Minister will give additional assurances today, the Opposition and the conservation movement will be satisfied.
The conservation movement cannot afford to be too clever by half. I believe the bill before the House is basically good legislation and is working well. I am disappointed
that the conservation movement refuses to acknowledge that. In fact I have only received one letter on the issue that acknowledges that during the last 12 months the legislation has worked well. That letter was from the threatened species network. I have seen many other items of correspondence that indicate that in the metropolitan area and in country regions around the State panic buttons are being pushed, particularly in the past 48 hours. I should like to refer particularly to a letter from Dailan Pugh, who I know is a strong worker for the northeast forest alliance on the North Coast of New South Wales. The letter is not addressed to me; it is addressed to the Independents. I cannot share the emotion or the concerns expressed by Dailan Pugh in this letter. In the first paragraph he thanks the Independents. He says:
I would like to thank you for your attempts to achieve some rationality into the Endangered Fauna (Timber Industry Interim Protection) Amendment Bill.
I do not know where I and the present Minister for the Environment have been during the last few days, but I thought the debate so far had been fairly rational. Dailan Pugh continues:
I write to you belatedly, in the hope it is not too late, to follow up on John Connor's discussion with you . . .
He went on talk about a number of issues which I believe need to be addressed, but which go beyond the range of this particular legislation. He highlights underfunding for the threatened species unit; I have already referred to that. I believe it is operating on a shoestring. Surely the Minister for the Environment, who is responsible for the National Parks and Wildlife Service, should be aware of that and, within his budgetary allocations, attempt to address that issue. He talks about the need for additional funding for the service, to enable the employment of two suitably qualified zoologists of high professional standing to assist the threatened species unit. That is desirable but it should not be within the scope of this particular legislation. I am very disappointed with the final paragraph of Mr Pugh's letter which is in the following terms:
While I understand that this appeal is probably too late, -
Given that it is an appeal only made yesterday, it is getting a little late:
- I believe that without the required funding the Forestry Commission's coup will be complete and the EF(IP) Act the farce the Government always wanted it to be.
I do not share Dailan Pugh's assessment that this legislation has been a farce. I do not think that many people in New South Wales believe that to be the case. There have been some difficulties with the implementation of the legislation, mainly brought about because in the very early stages after the bill became law there was a great deal of reluctance, particularly on the part of colleague departments of the National Parks and Wildlife Service - the Forestry Commission, New South Wales Agriculture, the Soil Conservation Service for a while, and a number of others with land use responsibility - to make the legislation work. They did not want to make the legislation work. Those departments, which should have been committed to the legislation after it was passed in December, did not have the initial will to make it work. What made the legislation work, what developed the framework so that it could work and did work for a large part of this year, was the dedication and commitment of a relatively small group of people within the National Parks and Wildlife Service. I refer in particular to the director of the service, Mr Bill Gillooly, and also Mr David Papps, one of the senior officers in the service. There are probably a dozen other officers of the National Parks and Wildlife Service responsible for the effective implementation of the legislation, but I believe that Bill Gillooly and David Papps were absolutely crucial to its successful implementation.
I would also pay tribute to the former Minister for the Environment, who was at that stage responsible for the service - at a time when pressure was being applied, no doubt directly in Cabinet and certainly from bureaucrat to bureaucrat in the public service generally, to ensure that the legislation did not work. To his credit, the Minister for the Environment did not seek to implement a political agenda once the legislation became law. He sought to stay in the background while his senior officers got on with the job of implementing it. That was a very proper response at the time; I am pleased the current Minister for the Environment has continued that tradition. I must say also that in the early part of the year I received countless letters from individuals, local councils, farming groups, forestry industry lobby groups and others, expressing grave concern about how the Act would be implemented. I said, in response to those letters, that if those who complained about the legislation could indicate some specific concerns, the Opposition would be happy to seek to work with the Government to address them. Most of the correspondence was very short on specifics. I have no doubt identical correspondence would have been received by the Minister for the Environment and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Representatives of the Pastures Protection Board had discussions with me and raised some specific concerns, but there were very few specifics actually raised. I believe that, when specific concerns have been raised, the National Parks and Wildlife Service has at all times sought to address them. We have come to the stage where, the bill having been passed last year, it has worked very successfully. There are problems, certainly, with the Forestry Commission and its lack of commitment to the legislation, but the Forestry Commission stands alone in relation to other government departments. It remains out on a limb in terms of commitment to this legislation. I warn the Forestry Commission that if it believes this particular debate is the end of the scrutiny, it is wrong; it is the continuation of the process of scrutiny that has taken place since December about the activities of the New South Wales Forestry Commission. I, as shadow minister for the environment, and the honourable member for Port Stephens have as our primary priority the absolute scrutiny of the New South Wales Forestry Commission. We will not be diverted by emotional reactions to such things as the sit-in that occurred two weeks ago in the commission's offices. We will not be diverted by that type of hysteria but will continue to scrutinise the commission's operations and its ability to implement the Act.
The last part of my speech relates to other statements made, particularly by the Premier, at the same time as the commitment was made to introduce this legislation. I am very disappointed that, though the Government has shown itself prepared to introduce and extend the legislation, it has also indicated its intention to reintroduce the natural resources package next year. The key reason this legislation is before the House today is because the Government could not get its natural resources package through. The situation now is that, while we continue to seek to extend this interim legislation, the Government is signalling its intention to revisit that package. The Government has had many political failures this year. In the context of the environment portfolio, its major failure has been the natural resources package. Yet the Premier on 18th November, when he announced that the Government had committed itself to extending the sunset provisions of the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act beyond 1st December, also said that the Government "will reintroduce the natural resources package in an amended form in the next autumn session". That is disappointing news. It is disheartening news. I served on the committee that scrutinised the natural resources package. We did not do much of a job, I would have to say. We received a large volume of correspondence from many people and groups within New South Wales, 80 per cent of whom opposed the legislation. However, we spoke to only one government department, the Department of Fisheries. We neglected to talk to other relevant departments, such as the Department of Planning, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Forestry Commission, New South Wales Agriculture and the Department of Conservation and Land Management.
The only way we will ever get an effective package of legislation for natural resources in this State is if the Government shows its commitment to go through the process of adequately discussing with all those government departments in a very public way, whether or not the sorts of bills suggested in the package are the most appropriate ones.
I cannot see that the Government will be able to achieve its objective by the autumn session, and we may find ourselves still committed to this interim measure while that process takes place. As I have said on several occasions, the Opposition supports the legislation. We regard it as our legislation and we are pleased to see that the Government, without too much fanfare, has managed to introduce it again. We acknowledge the concerns that have been expressed by the conservation movement, particularly in the past 48 hours, but we believe that there have been some extenuating circumstances that go towards explaining the failure of the Government to give us the commitment we sought yesterday for an agreed timetable. We seek multiple assurances from the Minister for the Environment to do all that he can in his capacity as Minister for the Environment and in his capacity as Minister for forests to ensure that the fauna impact statements are prepared and that the Forestry Commission does not evade its responsibilities under the legislation.
Mr PHOTIOS (Ermington) [12.30]: I welcome the bipartisan support of the Government's initiative to reintroduce the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Amendment Bill. I am delighted that the coalition Government has seen fit to introduce the bill as a Government initiative. I use that magic word deliberately because on the last occasion that the legislation came before the House a broad range of views were espoused. I appreciated being reminded of some of those remarks by the honourable member for Blacktown, who chose to mention the reluctance of some of my colleagues for the legislation. She ascribed to some members of this House a particular reluctance - and in some cases quite strong opposition - to support the legislation on 12th December that was supported by all members of the Parliament. On that occasion I said - and my position has not shifted in any way, shape or form - without any qualification:
I am delighted to have the opportunity to address the House on the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Bill. I do so within the general framework of my strong and passionate support for the need for comprehensive endangered species legislation in this State, and indeed, complementary legislation across Australia, which will apply to both habitat and species on private and Crown land. As an environmentalist and as the chairman of the Government's environment committee I have adopted that attitude, as have many other members of the House, not merely for consistency but openly both inside and outside of party and parliamentary forums. I strongly support the need for endangered species legislation. It honours a commitment that was made by the Premier of New South Wales in 1988 because of the need to preserve the biodiversity of the flora and fauna of this State and this country for the present generations and future generations.
I concluded my remarks on the following terms:
After the bill is amended we shall support the third reading of it. I congratulate everyone who has been involved in a very tortuous process in developing this landmark legislation for which future generations of Australians will be very grateful, even if some of our colleagues in this House are not.
Honourable members should be aware that the legislation the Government seeks to reintroduce today was developed very much as a consequence of its direct input. The honourable member for Blacktown suggested that the legislation in its current form was developed by Opposition and Independent members in isolation. In reality, as most honourable members would know, the former Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Tim Moore, was very much involved in detailed negotiations that resulted in a resolution of the issue. For that reason, the present Minister for the Environment, other Government members and I were pleased to support the legislation at that time. I take this opportunity to reiterate the essential ingredients of the interim bill, which was to
expire on 1st December but which will now expire on 1st October, 1993, in order to facilitate a consultative and co-operative approach to the development of a natural resources package. That is not the package presented to the Parliament and to the legislative committee, but an amended package that I, together with the committee, ably chaired by the honourable member for Bega, hope will more appropriately reflect a wide range of comprehensive and appropriate protections for endangered fauna and flora.
The current legislation has been amended to provide for the extension of the definition of "take or kill", the establishment of an independent scientific committee to recommend the listing of endangered fauna, the requirement for a fauna impact statement, for a general licence to take or kill endangered fauna - whether or not in pursuit of development consent - the power to issue stopwork orders to prevent development that is likely to significantly affect the environment of endangered or other protected fauna and the extension of the Act to amphibians. In short, those essential ingredients, which are now in place and have been working well, as both the Minister for the Environment and the honourable member for Blacktown have indicated, are continued in this legislation, which is designed to give our endangered fauna and flora the ongoing protection they so rightly deserve, while simultaneously appreciating that this sunset legislation, like the initial legislation that was introduced, will give the Parliament and the community the opportunity to work together to co-operatively develop an appropriate strategy.
Given the bipartisan support for this Government initiative, I will not speak at length about issues raised by the honourable member for Blacktown. But I wish to deal with the fauna impact statements that have been the subject of her request for some reassurance, and rightly so, given the difficult nature in which government bureaucracy and agencies have had to come to terms with meeting the appropriate demands of the public and the expectations of the Parliament. As honourable members would be aware, fauna impact surveys are very costly. I am advised that they cost something in the order of $100,000. The studies undertaken by agencies in response to the Act are costing the taxpayers about $2 million to complete. That is the cost to the Forestry Commission in the context of its own management, and it has seen fit to develop a number of fauna impact statements that have been the basis for its long-term monitoring and safeguarding of important species. The average fauna impact statement takes six months to develop, and therefore is a substantial reason to extend both the bill's provisions and the licences in order that appropriate logging operations are not affected.
The honourable member for Blacktown asked whether the Government intended to do the right thing with the fauna impact statement that could be expected from the Mistake State forest. I am pleased to inform the honourable member that the fauna impact statements for the Mistake and Dorrigo management areas will be put on exhibition shortly. Certainly there is no intention on the part of the Government, the Forestry Commission or any other agency to keep those fauna impact statements from the public. As is expected under the legislation, they will be placed on exhibition. The fauna impact statements for Glen Innes, Wingham and Mount Royal management areas have been completed. The assurance that the honourable member for Blacktown seeks is given, in the same way that most of her other requests have been appropriately dealt with by the Minister. I am pleased to support the extension of the legislation that was collectively introduced into this House about a year ago. The Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Amendment Bill, like its predecessor, includes the ongoing essential ingredients necessary to protect our flora and fauna. I welcome the opportunity to support the legislation.
Mr KNOWLES (Moorebank) [12.38]: I support the bill, but in doing so I note that Government members to speak to this bill are the Minister for the Environment, the
honourable member for Ermington, the honourable member for Ballina, who did not speak to the bill originally, the honourable member for Burrinjuck and the Government Whip, the honourable member for Sutherland. From a reading of Hansard, that is in stark contrast to the range and hostility of members who spoke to the bill when it was originally introduced 12 months ago. For the record, I note the absence in the Chamber today of those speakers who condemned the bill.
Mr Hartcher: Do not encourage them; they will all come down.
Mr KNOWLES: I should like some of them to be here; after all, they have a few things to answer for. I intend to ask questions about their claims in respect of job losses. In the previous debate the speakers were: the Minister for the Environment, the Minister for Conservation and Land Management and Minister for Energy, the honourable member for Northern Tablelands, the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs, the honourable member for Coffs Harbour, the honourable member for Tamworth, the honourable member for Monaro, the honourable member for Burrinjuck, the honourable member for Bega, the honourable member for Murray and the honourable member for Ermington, who has just addressed the House. The honourable member for Ermington probably signed his own death warrant by congratulating everyone involved in the tortuous process in developing this landmark legislation, for which future generations of Australians will be grateful. That is why the Minister for the Environment is not the honourable member for Ermington.
That bill was followed by the Timber Industry (Interim Protection) Bill. Another plethora of members spoke on that legislation - the Minister for Conservation and Land Management and Minister for Energy, the Minister for Natural Resources, the honourable member for Oxley, the honourable member for Monaro, the honourable member for Tamworth, the honourable member for Bega and the honourable member for Coffs Harbour. Where are they today to condemn the operations set up by a piece of legislation enacted on 17th December, 1991? What about the claims with respect to job impacts, thousands of fauna impact statements and stopwork orders? In the time available to me, I will place on record not my views about this but the views of government agencies, the Forest Products Association and the Forestry Commission, particularly with respect to the implementation and operation of the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act. In doing so, I note that this bill will be extended for a further period because of the Government's failure to put in place more rational and comprehensive legislation to complement what it calls its natural resources package.
I refer to quarterly reports of the National Parks and Wildlife Service to the Parliament, as required under the Act - report No. 64 of 24th April and the report of 30th September. We learn that the service, up to 30th September, has received and assessed 58 licence applications to take or kill endangered fauna. It has issued 45 section 120 licences, 12 section 171 authorities and one temporary licence under the provisions inserted into the National Parks and Wildlife Act by the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act. More than 200 variations to those licences and authorities have been processed. The majority of applications for licences and variations have been completed within a 48-hour turnaround. The Forestry Commission recently requested an extension to its licences in order to complete all fauna impact statements. That was granted on 23rd June, with all licences for the Forestry Commission now expiring on 1st December, 1992. That is a far cry from the claims made at the time this legislation was introduced into this Chamber - claims that there would be hundreds of fauna impact statements, stopwork orders and licences; it was all doom and gloom. The bulk of the licences for applications to take or kill endangered fauna were issued in the first few months of the implementation of this legislation; 50 were issued up to 29th April this year. From 29th April to 30th September there have been eight. Since the implementation of this bill
there have been 45 section 120 licences - all of them have been issued during the period 17th December to 29th April; none has been issued since 29th April because there has been no need for them.
Mr Cochran: What about the Timber Industry (Interim Protection) Bill?
Mr KNOWLES: It is all very well for the honourable member for Monaro to continue his rhetoric, but he does not have to aim it at me. He should talk to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Forestry Commission, the Forest Products Association and the Department of Planning. I asked a question during the recent hearing of the estimates committee examining the Department of Planning. My question referred to a response given by Ms Holliday, the Assistant Director of the Department of Planning. I asked:
Given Ms Holliday's responses to my earlier questions about the endangered fauna and timber industry (interim protection) Acts, would Ms Holliday expand on her answer and advise whether the department is aware of any problems associated with the implementation of those Acts, particularly relating to the costs to the Government, or delays in processing applications either at a government or local government level, again particularly relating to the inclusion of endangered fauna considerations under section 90 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.
It is important that the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act amends the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act by the incorporation under section 90 of an additional head of consideration for the examination of endangered fauna. The Timber Industry (Interim Protection) Bill had no effect on the operation of that section at all. Ms Holliday replied:
I do not think it is possible at this stage to answer that in any comprehensive way. Obviously we are not fully apprised of issues relating to local government activities and the impact of that legislation on developments proceeding in their normal way through local government. To the best of my knowledge, the department is not aware of any specific delays brought about as the result of the legislation to which Mr Knowles refers.
I asked a supplementary question, because I did not think her answer was particularly clear. I asked:
My understanding is that the department issued a circular to all local government authorities in relation to the implementation of the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act. I am interested to know whether local government authorities in response to that have reported any problems in its administration by way of the inclusion in section 90 of the Act of the consideration of endangered fauna?
Mrs Kibble, the director of the Department of Planning, answered:
I certainly did issue a circular to local government when the Act first went through, and I am not aware that we have had any particular representations made to us about the operation of the Act. If we have, they must have been very minor in extent or I would have seen them, and I simply have not seen anything come forth from local government about that.
As a result of the operation of the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act, the amendments made to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, incorporating an additional head of consideration to section 90, there has been nothing. Where are the hollow claims about job losses? They are summarised in the Hansard I have before me. All the assertions made about job losses were summarised by the cranky Minister for Conservation and Land Management and Minister for Energy. The Sydney Morning Herald of 18th October, in an article headed "Logging jobs threat", stated:
Thousands of New South Wales timber industry jobs may be at risk if tougher licensing rules which have stopped logging in north-east forests are applied across the State, according to the New South Wales Commissioner for Forests.
Commissioner Hans Drielsma said yesterday he hoped the last-minute inclusion by the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service of an extra condition to the Carrai State Forest logging licence would not set a precedent. The added condition requires nocturnal wildlife studies of the area being logged.
Dr Drielsma said if the stricter licence conditions applied across the State, they could jeopardise the jobs of 6,000 or so timber industry workers who depend on native-forest logging.
The NPWS had imposed the extra condition on the logging licence late on Friday, a week after reaching an agreement to allow logging there.
The Minister for Conservation and Land Management, Garry West, condemned the NPWS action as "extremely provocative". He said it made him cranky because the question of nocturnal studies had not arisen in previous negotiations . . .
There are claims in that article that the job losses would total 6,000, in various shapes and forms. Those claims have continued to be made since the day this legislation was laid on the table for consideration last year. They have not let up. We have continually asked for a demonstration of the job losses.
Mr Fraser: What about the cost of the fauna impact statements?
Mr KNOWLES: For the record, the honourable member for Monaro asks what is the cost of the fauna impact statements.
Mr Cochran: I did not. It was the honourable member for Coffs Harbour.
Mr KNOWLES: When job losses cannot be proved the Government moves the goal-posts and finds some other reason to complain. Let us listen to what some other fellow had to say about job losses as a result of this legislation. The person I would like to quote is none other than the Executive Officer of the New South Wales Forest Products Association. I quote from his evidence before the legislation committee inquiry into the South East Forests Protection Bill on 30th October. As a result of his showing a video of the demonstrations in Macquarie Street, starring some of the National Party members opposite, I asked:
What effect on the South East Forests has the enactment of the Endangered Fauna and Protection Legislation had? Can you give any information about the number of stopwork orders that may have been placed under that? Do you have any further information about the impact on fauna for example?
Dr Hurditch said:
I have two responses. First, to my knowledge there has been one stopwork order that has been in place on 1402, and has been renewed constantly.
[Extension of time agreed to.]
Second, the impact of the Endangered Fauna Legislation will be in this way; while areas generally have been licensed and approvals have been given, the conditions on the licences applied by the National Parks and Wildlife Service will increasingly constrain harvesting within otherwise approved areas. I don't have any more specific information, other than that.
I then asked a supplementary question - it is the only way to get information out of some of these people - "To date you are not aware of any major impact on job losses?" Dr Hurditch, the champion of the forest industry and the head of the Forest Products Association, said, "To date no". On 12th December it was claimed that 6,000 jobs would be lost. After almost a full year of operation of the legislation to 22nd October this year, there have been no job losses. But poor old Bill had to try to boost the cause
a little further and said, "But I think we could expect some". The honourable member for Bligh jumped in on that and said, "If we haven't had them to date, why would you expect some?" Dr Hurditch said:
Because of the second part of my answer; that increasingly the conditions imposed in providing licences, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Forestry Commission will be such that they will constrain the timber volume availability from otherwise available forest areas. That will lead to reduction.
Honourable members know that the alternative coup logging practices of the Forestry Commission are a lot of nonsense. But the quarterly reports of the National Parks and Wildlife Service reveal that extensions of licences have been granted, the most recent on 23rd June. That licence will expire on 1st December. No claims can be made that job losses have resulted from this legislation. Finally I mention the view of the Forestry Commission. In evidence given to the same legislation committee, Mr David Ridley, district forester for the Eden district, and his boss, from the Forestry Commission, Mr Colin Nicholson, when asked about the impact of the endangered fauna interim protection legislation, indicated that they were more than comfortable working with the officers of the National Parks and Wildlife Service in achieving the objectives of the Act. Though more work was involved, it was work that they were comfortable with. The Eden management area is the only one in the Forestry Commission to have a stopwork order placed within its management area.
Compartment 1402, which the legislation committee looked at, was clearly an area of pristine, old growth forest that fully deserved the stopwork order placed upon it, which David Ridley conceded. It lies between the Nalbaugh National Park and the proposed Coolangubra national park. It is absurd that the Forestry Commission would consider logging that area. However, considerable roadworks and preparatory work for the logging of compartment 1402 prior to the stopwork order being placed have been carried out. But that is the only stopwork order of the thousands that were purportedly to be placed on forestry activities across the State. The National Parks and Wildlife Service has, with considerable difficulty and scare resources, effectively managed this legislation. Its quarterly reports to the Parliament demonstrate that the legislation has not had a major impact on forestry activities. The Department of Planning has expressed the view that there have been no problems in local government as a result of the inclusion of section 90 in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act requiring the consideration of endangered fauna.
If there were any job losses, the Executive Officer of the Forest Products Association would know about them. If he is doing his job properly, he should know by name those who lost jobs, but he could identify none. The district forester from the Eden forest district said he was happy to work with the legislation and with the officers of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Those opposite in the National Party should give up, put aside the rhetoric and come out with their hands up saying, "Look, we were pulling your leg. We played a cruel hoax on people from country regions and families working in the forestry area to get them down to Sydney to demonstrate in the main street of Sydney". The Government has pulled this stunt and continued it despite the enormous weight of evidence that exists against its claims. What has happened in the past 12 months should be enough to show the National Party for what it is. However, if one more fact were needed to show this, it is that the Minister for the Environment has chosen to continue the Labor Party's legislation for a further period to the end of October 1993 without amendments. If the legislation was so crook, destined to fail and caused job losses, why has it been extended?
Honourable members know that the Government has not been able to get its natural resources package right. The package is an absolute failure, condemned unanimously by the legislation committee and sent back to square one. There is political
mileage for the National Party in claiming job losses, but the Government will have to acknowledge that in the almost 12 months of operation of the legislation the commonsense management by the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the provisions of that Act and the damning evidence of government agencies and, more particularly, Dr Hurditch of the Forest Products Association will condemn the National Party to history and the people who supported its false claims as liars. I have never seen such an amount of false information disseminated to whip up a campaign and bring people on side for cheap political gain. I put it to the House that this bill was workable legislation and continues to be workable legislation, as is evidenced by the action of the Minister in continuing with it.
Debate adjourned on motion by Dr Macdonald.
FIRST STATE SUPERANNUATION BILL
STATE AUTHORITIES SUPERANNUATION (SCHEME CLOSURE) AMENDMENT BILL
SUPERANNUATION LEGISLATION (SUPERANNUATION GUARANTEE CHARGE) AMENDMENT BILL
Mr WEST (Orange - Minister for Conservation and Land Management, and Minister for Energy) [12.58]: I move:
That these bills be now read a third time.
Motion by Mr West agreed to:
That the question be amended by leaving out all words after the word "That" and inserting instead the words "the State Authorities Superannuation (Scheme Closure) Amendment Bill be recommitted for reconsideration of the long title."
In Committee (Recommittal)
Recommitted long title.
Mr WEST (Orange - Minister for Conservation and Land Management, and Minister for Energy) [1.3]: I move:
Page 1, long title. Omit "16 August 1992", insert instead "19 December 1992".
Mr BECKROGE (Broken Hill) [1.4]: The Opposition has not had any advice on the proposed amendment. However, I have been assured by the Minister that the amendment makes no changes to what was passed by this House last evening. On that basis I accept the amendment.
Mr WEST (Orange - Minister for Conservation and Land Management, and Minister for Energy) [1.6]: For the record I should give the following explanation. The honourable member for Broken Hill will recall that the bill in its original form proposed the closure of this scheme as at 16th August. As a result of the amendments that were moved last night in Committee by the Minister for Finance, and by agreement of all parties, that closure date was moved to 19th December. This amendment seeks to change the long title of the bill to reflect that change, for it had not been done in the drafting of the bill. I thank the honourable member for Broken Hill and members for their indulgence in allowing the bill to be amended at this late stage so that it can go to the
Amendment agreed to.
Recommitted long title as amended agreed to.
Bill reported from Committee secundo with a further amendment, report adopted, and bill passed through remaining stages.
[Mr Acting-Speaker (Mr Chappell) left the chair at 1.9 p.m. The House resumed at 2.15 p.m.]
MATTER FOR URGENT CONSIDERATION
Mr Speaker advised the House that he had received from the honourable member for Liverpool notice of a matter for urgent consideration, which would be set down for debate at the conclusion of formal business.
MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
Mr Speaker advised the House that he had received from the honourable member for Heffron notice of a matter of public importance, which would be set down for debate at the conclusion of formal business.
Mr SPEAKER: I draw the attention of honourable members to the presence in the Speaker's Gallery of a delegation under the auspices of the Australian Political Exchange Council of young political leaders from the United States of America.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
WATER BOARD REDUNDANCIES
Mr CARR: My question is directed to the Premier and Treasurer. Following his failure yesterday to explain the Water Board's unspent $50 million on environmental works, can he today explain why the Water Board's annual report states that the board will spend $16.5 million by June next year on redundancy payments? How many workers are set to lose their jobs? Will he finally admit that his jobs freeze is a fraud?
Mr FAHEY: I shall deal first with the part of the question about the matter raised yesterday. Once again the Opposition has thrown the story around that there is money that has not been spent. For years when I was Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations I had to put up with statements that money was not spent between 1st July and 30th June. It seems to the economic pygmies opposite that unless money can be spent neatly in a year that starts on 1st July and finishes on 30th June that money has not been committed. Many projects in the capital works program are spread over more than one year, and in many cases several years. The environmental levy was scheduled to raise $485 million in a five-year program. Last year $98 million was raised. The extensive projects that that money was to be spent on extended past 30th June. The money was committed; it was not sitting in any account. The $50 million that yesterday was alleged to be lying idle gathering interest was committed.
Programs, totalling $148 million, include upgrading of ocean treatment works. Projects of that size are not completed in a week, a month or even a year. Installation of fine screens at treatment works and outfalls totalled $12 million. Reliability improvement of ocean treatment plants totalled $14 million. Research on new technologies - this included the Memtec matter, which has been given some publicity - accounts for $2 million. Nutrient reduction treatment for the Hawkesbury will cost $9 million. Construction of the Blue Mountains tunnel and closure of the treatment works - the honourable member for Blue Mountains is fully conversant with this project - will cost $16 million. The project has been continuing for several years, not just one financial year. The project to cease dumping of sewage sludge into the ocean involves $26 million. We all know what the people of Sydney now think about our beaches as a result of the initiatives taken by this Government. Reduction of odours at treatment works will cost $2 million. Reduction of sewage overflows will cost $28 million. Urban runoff pollution reduction will cost $2 million. Rehabilitation of bushland and wetlands will be undertaken. All these environmental projects will be funded by the environmental levy and will improve the quality of life of the people of Sydney as a result of the contributions that they have made.
Rehabilitation of bushland and wetlands will involve $3 million and trade and industrial waste control will cost $3 million. The total figure is $148 million. Yesterday the Opposition said, "An amount of $98 million has been collected; programs amount to $148 million, therefore the $50 million difference is lying idle gathering interest and not being used for the purpose intended". The money is being used; it is being spent; it will be allocated as and when required to all the programs. This was fully explained this morning by the General Manager of the Water Board on the Andrew Olle radio program.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Blacktown to order.
Mr FAHEY: He made it abundantly clear that the money was being spent on proper, sensible and environmentally sensitive projects. This shows that the Government is doing what it said it would with the environmental levy: it is improving the quality of life of the people of Sydney. The question referred to $16.5 million for redundancy payments. All agencies have provided for an amount to cover redundancy payments. This is made clear in the budget. Within the next one or two weeks - printing is currently being done - documents on the performance of government trading enterprises in this State will be published. Such publications have been issued for the past few years. The number of employees, the size of the enterprises, and the efficiency, productivity and dividend targets will be published. This will show where all government trading enterprises, including the Water Board, are going with respect to their employees. I do not have the Water Board target available at present. There are numerous government trading enterprises. I have seen the publication. It gives a clear example that we are transparently putting everything on the table and demonstrating that our trading enterprises are there to serve the people and that the proper economies are built in. The method of operation of government trading enterprises ensures that the consumers of this State pay the lowest amount possible. The publication is also extremely honest in the manner in which it deals with staff matters. In due course it will be available for all to see.
ROYAL COMMISSION INTO PRODUCTIVITY IN THE BUILDING INDUSTRY
Mr YABSLEY: My question without notice is addressed to the Premier and Treasurer. What action has the Government taken in response to the report of the building industry royal commission? Has the royal commission assisted the process of
reform in the State's building industry?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Illawarra to order.
Mr FAHEY: I notice that every time any reference is made to the building industry royal commission the chants go up from the Opposition benches, and it is clear that they come from certain sectors on the left and the right. If the Building Workers Industrial Union is slightly involved, one can hear the chants from members of the left opposite endeavouring to protect one of the unions that supports them and has put them into this place. The Government has moved swiftly and decisively to implement the recommendations of the building industry royal commission. Almost half of the recommendations made in the report have already been implemented and action is proceeding in relation to all of the others.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Hurstville to order. I call the honourable member for Drummoyne to order.
Mr FAHEY: The Government is encouraged by the actions of the Commonwealth Government and the private sector on the report's recommendations. The report itself has shamed the Commonwealth Government into recognising that its capital works program cannot be allowed to go on willy-nilly. This Government established the building industry task force to ensure that the law is effectively enforced in this industry. Let us examine some of the things that have occurred as a result of that task force. In relation to criminal activity, the task force has so far laid criminal charges against 19 persons and already there have been a number of convictions. Those convicted include a BWIU delegate, who was convicted of demanding money with menaces; two builders who had obtained financial advantage by false declarations; and a former project manager who was found guilty of corruption. A further 133 matters are under consideration for possible prosecution. Four references have been made to the New South Wales Crime Commission. One case, relating to conspiracy to defraud subcontractors, involved an amount of several hundred thousand dollars. The matters were referred to the Crime Commission because of the element of compulsion which is available to the commission in pursuing such matters.
In relation to civil remedies, the civil remedies unit of the task force has already been active. Earlier this month it facilitated a successful application in the Federal Court for an injunction against an illegal secondary boycott on the South Coast. The task force has dealt with a substantial number of complaints in respect of compulsory unionism, and the experience has generally been that once the task force has become involved in investigating the matter, the demand for compulsory unionism has been dropped. I appreciate the sensible approach taken by the unions in relation to that matter. In relation to collusive tendering, government construction agencies have been extremely active in recovering money from contractors which have been improperly obtained through collusive tendering. The agencies include the Public Works Department, the Roads and Traffic Authority and the Department of Health. So far construction agencies have negotiated the return of about $4 million, money that was taken illegally through collusive tendering. In one case alone the fees amounted to more than $1 million.
As a direct result of the royal commission and the initiatives of the New South Wales Government, both major building industry associations in this State - the Master Builders Association and the Australian Federation of Construction Contractors - have undergone a process of fundamental reform. They have changed personnel, co-operated in the elimination of collusive tendering processes and adopted new standards of ethical behaviour. Negotiations have taken place with both of those employer organisations in respect of the recovery of special fees. The Government commenced legal proceedings
against the Master Builders Association for recovery of money in relation to the Master Builders Association group apprenticeship scheme. The matter has been before the court and has been stood over until February on the basis of mediation, to which the parties have agreed, and which the court suggested is an appropriate way to deal with the matter.
That demonstrates to those opposite who raise chants each time the BWIU is mentioned that the Government is serious about dealing with all of the recommendations of the royal commission. The Government has also adopted a code of practice for all new State building and construction projects. That code of practice, which has been given some considerable publicity, will go a long way towards cleaning up future industrial relations practices on building sites. The code has been embraced broadly by various employer associations and by the body that represents the major investment in construction in this State, the Building Owners and Managers Association. There has been a growing recognition that the royal commission and the actions of the New South Wales Government have set the agenda for reform of the building industry, not only in this State but around Australia. That was acknowledged in a recent speech by the national president of the Master Builders Construction and Housing Association, who pointed out that the strong response of the New South Wales Government to the royal commission is forcing the pace of change in this State. He said, "and this acceleration will have consequences elsewhere in the industry nationally".
In particular, he contrasted the New South Wales Government's approach with the Federal Government's industry reform process, which, in his words, was in danger of becoming bogged down and marginalised. His executive director, John Murray, was rather more direct, describing the Commonwealth strategy as "dead in the water". The national Master Builders Construction and Housing Association has called for the adoption of a national code similar to that put in place by the New South Wales Government. The New South Wales Government is doing something; the Commonwealth Government is simply paying lip service once again. The Government will not be slackening off the pace of reform and a number of further initiatives will be announced over the next few months, relating to issues such as occupational health and safety, security of payment and workplace reform. It demonstrates that the New South Wales Government is pursuing a reform agenda and doing so in a measured and deliberate way. That should be contrasted with Keating's froth and bubble. What it shows is that New South Wales is about action; Keating is about destruction.
STATE BANK REDUNDANCIES
Dr REFSHAUGE: My question without notice is directed to the Premier and Treasurer. Why did the State Bank sack 13 workers two days ago from one of its city offices, despite announcing an improved profit last week? Is it part of a plan to sack up to 200 employees? How does that action sit with the Premier's statement in June that there were no plans to cut jobs here, there or anywhere else for a period of at least one year?
Mr FAHEY: I have to ask where has the Deputy Leader of the Opposition been for the last few years? Obviously he has been wandering around, chasing that elusive dream that was referred to by the honourable member for Campbelltown in the local paper recently as being what the Left is about; chasing the elusive socialist dream. Because, if he was aware of what is happening in this State, he would be conscious of the fact that legislation was passed by this Parliament which separates the State Bank, corporatises the State Bank, gives the State Bank autonomy, and gives it an opportunity to operate in the market-place in a competitive manner.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order. I call the Leader of the Opposition to order. There is far too much interjection from both
sides of the Chamber.
Mr FAHEY: They have demonstrated a resilience, with the result that was achieved last Friday. At a time when banks are in such difficulties, and when we see the results across Australia in regard to State banks in particular - and in respect of the private trading banks, disastrous results - the State Bank's result last week is a credit to its management and to the way it has anticipated the difficulties of a recession caused by the Federal Labor Government. They have managed to go through a process of not only keeping the service operating and, at the same time, have declared a dividend, from memory, of $27 million-odd. What the State Bank does is a matter for the State Bank Board, for its own operations. It is on the same footing as the Westpac Bank, the National Australia Bank or other bank in the autonomy it has to manage its affairs. That question is not a matter for this Parliament. It is not a matter for the public; nor does the Government have responsibility in this particular area. The statement in relation to the job freeze is in place. It has not been breached in the terms it was made. In typical fashion -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Moorebank to order. I call the Leader of the Opposition to order for the second time.
Mr FAHEY: In the typical fashion of the Leader of the Opposition, who interjected, say anything, do as you like. I think his best this week has been the statement reported in the Sydney Morning Herald a few days ago -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Leader of the Opposition to order for the third time. The Leader of the Opposition is now on three calls to order.
Mr FAHEY: As I was saying, say what you like; do as you like; never be accountable. That is the attitude of the Labor Party. It is on the basis that they never will have to be accountable. That is the only conclusion I can draw. They have obviously no plans to ever make government because they are not prepared to do anything or say anything that would mean accountability. The lies continue to be peddled.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Wallsend to order.
Mr FAHEY: I quote from the Sydney Morning Herald of 25th November:
The Leader of the Opposition, Mr Carr, said last night: "The Liberal Party should have funded this".
That relates to the Court of Disputed Returns court cases:
"When NSW families are doing it tough it is outrageous that the Government can find public funds to help the Liberal Party ward off challenges in court".
Let me indicate that the article was about the fact that the annual return of the Premier's Department disclosed that, in respect of the court cases relating to the election in May of last year, $286,701 was paid for legal fees in respect of cases for the Liberal Party. The fact is that the Labor Party took $350,000.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Minister for Justice to order.
Mr FAHEY: Should we get the Sydney Morning Herald to change that to -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ermington to order.
Mr FAHEY: - "The Labor Party should have funded the $350,000"? They put
their hand out and said, "Give us $350,000". The Liberal Party received only $286,000. They were not afraid to do it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Minister for Finance to order.
Mr FAHEY: They were ordered to pay court costs in a couple of other cases, such as the Camden case.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Lakemba to order.
Mr FAHEY: I cannot recall the second one. I am not sure if that has been paid at this stage.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ashfield to order.
Mr FAHEY: I suppose the simple fact is that when you are $10 million in debt, as the Labor Party is, propped up by the Labor Council, you cannot be too proud about putting your hand out. But do not let that get in the way of criticising the Liberal Party. The Opposition took more. They had no hesitation. No accountability! Say what you like! Do not worry about having to account for it. So go on telling your lies. The Labor Party knows if it was in government it would have to be accountable.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Before I call on the honourable member for Camden to ask a question, I ask for the co-operation of all members so as to get through question time in an orderly and proper fashion. There is far too much interjection from both sides of the Chamber. A disorderly and disruptive Chamber creates a bad impression on persons in the public gallery.
Dr KERNOHAN: My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Transport. Has the Minister received advice about industrial action planned for the State's rail network tomorrow? What are the reasons for the dispute and what emergency arrangements is the Government putting in place to assist commuters?
Mr BAIRD: I would like to thank the honourable member for Camden for her question. Obviously she has a real interest in the strike tomorrow and its impact on those who commute every day.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to order for the second time. I call the honourable member for Coffs Harbour to order.
Mr BAIRD: Since the strike was announced there has been not one word from the Opposition showing any concern about the 700,000 people who tomorrow will be disadvantaged - disadvantaged by their mates in the union movement.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Granville to order. I call the honourable member for Kogarah to order.
Mr BAIRD: I am sure our visitors from the United States of America would be absolutely amazed that we are debating this issue, an issue that 20 years ago they resolved in the United States of America in terms of contracting out. The Opposition wants to live in the past. The unions want to live in the past. They want to have jobs protected for all their mates.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Newcastle to order.
Mr BAIRD: It is a futile strike. What the Government is about is saving $150 million to the taxpayers of New South Wales.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Moorebank to order for the second time.
Mr BAIRD: As indicated previously, there will be no sackings in the State Rail Authority.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Granville to order for the second time.
Mr BAIRD: We have indicated to Goninans that first priority should be given to State Rail employees for the jobs they will be creating. Those who wish to stay in the State Rail Authority will have the opportunity to stay with that organisation and be retrained, if necessary, or, if they wish, take voluntary redundancy payments. The reality is that the entire metropolitan rail system will be brought to a halt as from midnight tonight. Honourable members can see the way the Opposition is reacting. They could not care less. The rail unions had a chance to outline how they would resolve the situation, how they would save the money and how their work practices would be reformed. I should point out that they are very different from the private sector.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Kogarah to order for the second time.
Mr BAIRD: The attitude of railway employees is very different from that of employees in the private sector. The amount of sick leave taken by rail employees is twice that of the leave taken in the private sector. Rail employees within those workshops take an average of 15 days sick leave per person.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Granville to order for the third time.
Mr BAIRD: Despite being given the opportunity, the unions did not come within a bull's roar of matching the bid submitted by the private sector. The State Rail Authority called for tenders and selected a bid that will save the taxpayers millions of dollars a year. The unions presented their case, did not add anything to it, and then said they wanted the opportunity, after everything had been put on the table, to reopen the case. It cannot be done that way. Their futile strike will achieve nothing. If the honourable member for Kogarah had any interest in transport matters he would oppose the strike. The Government has been working on a set of emergency arrangements to minimise the inconvenience to people travelling to the city tomorrow. To ease congestion on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, for tomorrow only, the bus lane will be treated as a transit lane. Drivers with two or more passengers should enjoy a faster trip across the bridge. Workers will be encouraged to organise car pools to carry additional passengers to the city. Extra parking will be provided at Moore Park, the Domain and Wentworth Park. Special one-day passes will be provided for private buses to run services from outlying areas, including the Central Coast, the Blue Mountains and Wollongong, to the city. Taxis will be permitted to multiple hire, and clearway hours will be extended. No stopping restrictions in the city will be extended also to give buses a faster run through the city.
It is important that everyone co-operates tomorrow to ensure that roads do not become congested and blocked. Normal parking restrictions will be enforced, particularly
during peak hours, so that traffic can move as freely as possible. There has been a suggestion that the unions will hold a series of rolling strikes. The unions are putting forward all types of spurious claims. They have suggested that private security guards are to carry out the work of train guards; that is absolutely ridiculous, a total furphy, as are most of the unions' claims. There are no such plans. I urge the unions to abandon their industrial action. It is futile. The decision has been made. The decision will advantage taxpayers to the tune of $150 million over 10 years but the unions want to cause major disruption not only to the constituents of the honourable member for Camden but to the constituents of all honourable members. The end result will be futile because a decision has been reached to reform the State Rail Authority, which for many years was one long series of rorts and rackets under the administration of the previous Government.
CANTERBURY AND WESTERN SUBURBS HOSPITALS REDUNDANCIES
Mr MOSS: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Health. Has the Department of Health prepared draft letters to more than 1,000 staff at Canterbury and Western Suburbs hospitals advising them of sackings that will result from the Government's decision to close either one of these hospitals before May next year. How does this sit with the Premier's June commitment to freeze job cuts?
Mr PHILLIPS: The perennial question with its rumours and innuendos has been asked again. Everyone is trying to second guess what is going to happen.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Bankstown to order.
Mr PHILLIPS: In September of last year I gave notice to this House, and publicly, that serious negotiations were taking place between the State and Federal governments over the transfer of Concord Repatriation Hospital into the State system. Those ongoing negotiations involved discussions on the impact of the transfer, the dollar deal between the two governments and how to maximise and improve the health services of the inner west of Sydney. That information has been available for some time.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Hurstville to order for the second time.
Mr PHILLIPS: I gave an assurance to this House, to the Labor Council, to the community and to the medical profession that once a heads of agreement has been reached with the Labor Federal Government an announcement will be made and a position paper will be presented to the community.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Canterbury to order. He asked the question and he will listen to the answer in silence.
Mr PHILLIPS: There will be an extended consultation period to decide the best way to restructure health services in the inner west and to improve the run-down hospitals of Canterbury, Western Suburbs, Lidcombe, Bankstown, and so on. As has been said, some 10 hospitals can be seen from the roof of Concord hospital. A significant number of hospitals built in the past 100 years are run-down. The Opposition wants the leave them in a state of disrepair.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Hurstville to order for the third time.
Mr PHILLIPS: In conjunction with Federal Labor Government we will address the problem of restructuring and improving the health services and infrastructure of the
inner west. When we can stitch up a deal with the Federal Government to do it properly, we will advise the community. After significant consultation a decision will be made as to the most appropriate way to improve health services. This Government has a health policy and knows exactly what it is doing, which is different from Opposition members.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Port Stephens to order. I call the honourable member for Mount Druitt to order.
Mr PHILLIPS: I note that the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition - the so-called spokesperson on health - have left the Chamber.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ashfield to order for the second time.
Mr PHILLIPS: They have no coherent health policy.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Sutherland to order.
Mr PHILLIPS: The mayor of Liverpool, Mark Latham, a good friend of the Leader of the Opposition, said that Liverpool council has commenced a campaign for the closure of small inner city hospitals and the transfer of health resources to Sydney's southwest. Mark Latham was Bob Carr's personal adviser before he became mayor.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Londonderry to order. I call the honourable member for Ermington to order for the second time.
Mr PHILLIPS: Mark Latham suggested that Prince Henry, Lidcombe, Balmain, Western Suburbs and Canterbury hospitals be closed. He said that any State politician addressing hospital issues needs to identify where the money is coming from to build and operate new hospitals in New South Wales.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Mount Druitt to order for the second time.
Mr PHILLIPS: Mark Latham, a Labor mayor, is desperate to get some coherent policy from Opposition members about what is to happen with health services. That is an honourable objective. Let me inform honourable members of what the honourable member for Liverpool said about -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Racing to order. There is for too much interjection in the Chamber. Questions will be answered more quickly if there are fewer interjections from members.
Mr PHILLIPS: The Liverpool Leader said, "Latham move gets big snub". Mark Latham, who wants resources moved to the west, gets a big snub from two Australian Labor Party colleagues from Liverpool council, and the honourable member for Liverpool. The honourable member for Moorebank is reported as saying, "It is too simplistic and it ignores reality". On the one hand, the honourable member for Penrith who is desperate for resources for the Nepean hospital -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Minister for Natural Resources to order.
Mr PHILLIPS: I will come to a conclusion. This is a vital issue for the people in the inner west of New South Wales. The Government has a coherent policy and will continue to address it; it will continue to ensure that there is an upgrade of health facilities in the inner city and inner west of Sydney; and it will get resources out to the
growth areas, in spite of the fact that the vast majority of those areas are in the electorates of those opposite. It is about time they had a coherent policy to do something about it.
COUNCIL RATES REBATES FOR PENSIONERS
Mr JEFFERY: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Local Government and Minister for Cooperatives.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Londonderry to order for the second time.
Mr JEFFERY: Is the Minister aware of promises by the Federal Government that all pensioners will get council rates rebates from 1993, regardless of a means test? Is this about to occur? If so, what effect will it have on the budgets of the State Government and local governments?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Port Stephens to order for the second time.
Mr PEACOCKE: Before replying to the honourable member for Oxley, it is delightful to see the pupils of Kingscliff High School in the gallery, from the electorate of the honourable member for Murwillumbah. No doubt they have been greatly educated by the disgraceful performance of the Leader of the Opposition. I thank the honourable member for Oxley for his question on what is a vitally important matter to ratepayers throughout New South Wales. There can be no doubt that the Federal Government is desperately seeking whatever means it can to grab votes for a Federal election. This latest scheme to attract the votes of senior citizens, through a campaign of confusion and misinformation, is both contemptible and cruel. The State Government currently operates a pensioners' council rates rebate scheme in conjunction with councils whereby pensioners who qualify under the Commonwealth means testing procedures are provided with generous rates rebates. All honourable members would be aware of that system. The annual cost of the scheme is $84 million - half of which is borne by the State and half of which is borne by local government. The Commonwealth Government does not contribute a single dollar towards this scheme - and it never has. At the outset, let me make it quite clear that there is no question of this State's very generous schemes for its senior citizens being cut back in any way.
Mr Amery: You cut the funding by $2 million.
Mr PEACOCKE: Rubbish! And the honourable member knows it is rubbish. The Government is totally committed to providing appropriate assistance to those who need it. In August 1992 the Federal Minister for Social Security began a campaign aimed at making Commonwealth pension recipients who did not qualify under the Commonwealth's means testing procedures believe, wrongly, that from 1993 onwards they would automatically qualify for all State provided concessions, including council rates rebates. The Federal Labor Government's cynical and dishonest vote catching exercise involves some 400,000 part pension recipients and others throughout Australia, at a cost to the States and Territories in excess of $100 million. It is likely that approximately 100,000 residents in New South Wales would be affected by the proposal. The Commonwealth Government's decision was a unilateral one; the State was never consulted, nor were local government councils. It was only recently that the Commonwealth is reported to have offered the State a paltry $22.4 million in additional funding for 1993-94, whereas the likely cost to the State, were it to extend all forms of concessions to the extra claimants, would be in the order of $40 million to $50 million per annum. The additional council rate rebates alone may be worth up to $20 million,
of which local government will have to find half. The Commonwealth's financial offer is grossly unsatisfactory and it has shown no willingness at all to properly compensate the State for the impact of its decision. I understand that the other States, particularly Victoria, have also received similar shabby treatment from the Commonwealth.
In summary, this appears to be one of a series of cynical and desperate measures that the former Labor Government has resorted to in its attempt to get re-elected - of course, that will not happen. The Federal Government is trying to saddle the State with tens of millions of dollars in costs. Families in New South Wales just cannot afford to carry an extra $50 million financial burden of this type. This is too high a price to pay so that the Federal Government can grab some extra votes. Many councils would either face financial ruin or have to increase the level of rates paid by the remainder of the community unless the Commonwealth fully funded the cost of the proposal. This is one of the worst confidence tricks I have seen by the Government of shonks in Canberra; but it is a typical ploy from the highest taxing government ever to occupy the Federal Treasury benches. Who else but our old friend Paul Keating would have the gall to falsely hold up the hopes of people struggling to survive the ravages of the depression he has forced upon the country? He is making promises to give away millions of State and local government money which he knows the States and their ratepayers cannot possibly afford. I am certainly not going to condone yet another rate hike for struggling ratepayers to finance this scheme. If the Federal Government were fair dinkum about this scheme, it would make a realistic funding offer to the States. The adequacy of the compensation for New South Wales will need to be very carefully examined before the Government will be able to make a decision on this matter. At the same time, New South Wales will continue to offer concessions on a wide range of services to all full pensioners.
IMPACT OF GOODS AND SERVICES TAX EFFECTS ON THE RACING INDUSTRY
Mr FACE: I direct my question without notice to the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Racing. What impact will John Hewson's proposed goods and services tax have on the racing industry in New South Wales? Specifically, what impact will it have on State racing tax revenue to the Government and race clubs? Does the Minister support this tax?
Mr Hazzard: On a point of order. Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice, at page 391, refers to the fact that it is disorderly conduct for a member of Parliament to read a book which does not relate to matters before the House. I point out that the Leader of the Opposition is currently reading a book which has no bearing on the proceedings of question time.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Londonderry to order for the third time. I have no idea what the Leader of the Opposition was referring to -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Leader of the Opposition is stretching his good will with the Chair. He is on three calls to order already and he well knows that to interrupt the Chair while the occupant of the chair is on his feet can be considered to be grossly disorderly conduct. The Chair is always minded to extend more tolerance to the Leader of the Opposition, but I warn him that if he transgresses again I will have no option but to remove him from the Chamber. I consider the point of order of the honourable member for Wakehurst to have no particular substance. The Leader of the Opposition may have been reading a book or he may have been referring to pages in his folder - I have no idea. He did not appear to transgress in the way I think was envisaged
by Erskine May. Order! I call the honourable member for Oxley to order.
Mr SCHIPP: The question of the honourable member for Charlestown related to the impact a goods and services tax would have on the racing industry. It is my understanding that certain concessions were made at the time of the announcement of the Fightback package some 12 months ago - it recently celebrated its first birthday.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Swansea to order.
Mr SCHIPP: Concessions were made to the racing industry which satisfied the concerns of the industry. Further, it is my understanding that the impact of a similar tax in New Zealand did not affect the racing industry; in fact, it gave a boost to the industry through racegoers having more money in their pockets to satisfy their habit.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Coogee to order.
Mr SCHIPP: However, to allay any concerns, I have a book specifically on the effects of the GST on the sporting fraternity in total, clubs and players of sport. My reading of it has allayed concerns that I might have had on this matter. I will make that available to the honourable member for Charlestown. He can assess its suggestions and we can discuss this matter in our normal harmonious way.
ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION AUTHORITY MEDIATION AND PROSECUTION
Mr SCHULTZ: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for the Environment. What action has the Environment Protection Authority taken against polluters such as vehicle owners? Is it a fact that the agency is using mediation as well as prosecution to enforce pollution laws?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Smithfield to order.
Mr HARTCHER: I thank the honourable member for Burrinjuck for his continuing interest in the environment - in fact, in all green matters.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Bankstown to order for the second time.
Mr HARTCHER: As honourable members on both sides of the House would be aware, the Government has adopted a two-pronged approach to the implementation and enforcement of the various laws covering pollution offences. That approach involves a preference for consultation and co-operation followed by prosecution where warranted against those industries and individuals which fail to meet their environmental obligations. I am pleased to be able to inform the House that, as a result of reforms introduced by this Government, dual goals are being met more successfully than ever before. The Environment Protection Authority has moved quickly to establish both informal and formal links with industry, local government, interest groups and the wider community.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is too much audible conversation in all parts of the Chamber.
Mr HARTCHER: For example, the State environmental protection community consultation forum and the three regional community consultation forums provided for in the legislation have been established and have already demonstrated their value in assisting effective communications and understanding between various groups. The authority, however, is firm in its resolve and is prepared to take prosecution action in the courts where this is necessary. More than $1 million in fines was paid as a result of
penalty notices issued and court prosecutions brought by the Environment Protection Authority and its predecessor, the State Pollution Control Commission, in the last financial year. This is an increase of almost 50 per cent on the previous year's figures and has been achieved largely through the introduction of a new system of infringement notices which were part of the Environmental Offences and Penalties (Amendment) Act 1990. Through this change the EPA has been able to detect and penalise more polluters than ever before while reducing the number of cases which proceed through the courts and freeing up these courts for other matters. For example, last year there were some 4,000 self-infringement notices issued. The bulk of these were issued against smoky and noisy vehicles. The fines, ranging from $200 to $600, can be imposed on the spot by officers from the EPA and a number of other government authorities.
Motor vehicle pollution is one of the major contributors to photochemical smog in the metropolitan area and the Government has been conducting a co-ordinated strategy to tackle this problem. The Government is working towards the introduction of annual exhaust emission testing, with a trial scheme now under way at 50 authorised inspection stations throughout Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong. This scheme is assessing the capability of the existing authorised inspection stations to carry out the emission tests in a satisfactory manner but in no way rules out other types of tests. Results of these latest tests will be assessed early next year. They are a clear sign that the Government is determined to introduce a testing system which protects the environment while minimising any inconvenience to motorists. Other initiatives being taken to combat the problems caused largely by motor vehicle emissions include the establishment of a metropolitan air quality study - an initiative of this Government. The Australian Labor Party had 12 years to tackle the problem, and as usual did nothing.
It is worth reminding the House that when those opposite occupied the Government benches air monitoring was slashed. In the early 1980s State Pollution Control Commission air monitoring ceased in Newcastle. In 1985, when the current Leader of the Opposition was Minister for the Environment, air monitoring in Wollongong was reduced and funds for the Sydney program were cut by 25 per cent. The Government has reversed this trend. Under it, new air quality monitoring stations have opened in western Sydney; they have opened in Newcastle recently; and Wollongong is expected to come on line shortly. Through this study, which will provide comprehensive regional air quality data for the first time this summer, we will be better able to understand what pollutants are in our atmosphere, where they come from and how best to tackle them. However, the Government does not believe that the answer to our pollution problems lies simply in prosecutions and the EPA is working with industry in providing expert assistance to encourage greater environmental responsibility.
A major review of pollution control licences is being undertaken in order to set conditions that can be enforced while at the same time working systematically towards longer term goals through negotiated pollution reduction programs. The licensing system is being used as an increasingly effective mechanism to drive down the emission of all pollutants. In the recent case of Associated Pulp and Paper Mill Limited the validity of the approach of the EPA to licensing was questioned. However, the court upheld that the EPA licensing system is furthering its statutory duty for environmental protection. As applied to APPM, that policy will see a reduction of 95 per cent of pollutants entering the Shoalhaven River by 1995. Such pollution reduction programs have been incorporated into many of the licences so far reviewed which legally bind companies to reduce their emissions according to a set timetable. Such programs encourage a co-operative rather than a confrontationist approach to environmental responsibility.
The success stories of such an approach are numerous and, rather than focus on the negatives, I would like to highlight the ICI company as an example of what can be
achieved through such a co-operative approach. The EPA has been working co-operatively with ICI Australia Limited to review the company's emissions from its facility at Botany. So far, the review has been completed for two of the elements within the facility and relevant pollution reduction programs have been put in place. In answer to the second part of the question of the honourable member for Burrinjuck, this week the EPA was able to negotiate the first settlement through mediation on pollution laws in New South Wales. The case at Gundagai involved an appeal against a prosecution under the Noise Control Act and, rather than hear the case, the Land and Environment Court appointed a mediator to resolve the dispute. The mediation between the EPA, those directly involved in the action, the neighbours and the local council resulted in the appeal against two of the notices being withdrawn, and a third notice was then withdrawn by the EPA. This process resulted in an agreement not to cause excessive noise and was reached at least three months earlier than any decision could have been made by the court. I have no doubt that honourable members on both sides of the House would support the concept of environmental mediation which the Land and Environment Court is developing and the EPA is actively supporting. The Government remains fully committed to the protection of our environment and will seek to do this as much as possible by voluntary means such as mediation, which can avoid excessive prosecution and the clogging up of courts.
MARITIME SERVICES BOARD REDUNDANCIES
Mr LANGTON: My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Transport and Minister for Tourism. Does the Maritime Services Board plan to cut 15 staff from its marine operations branch? Does correspondence from the Managing Director of the Sydney Ports Authority outline a program of forced sackings? Is not the MSB bound by the Premier's freeze on job cuts?
Mr BAIRD: The Maritime Services Board is one of our government trading enterprises and, as such, is exempt from the Premier's statement. The MSB will continue to operate with a commercial board and will continue along the same lines. As everyone knows, the MSB has improved its performance dramatically. It was making a loss when we came to government. It has now made a very large profit, which will pay a very large dividend to the Government. This will be put into other areas of Government activity whether it be schools, roads or hospitals. There has been some discussion with the Labor Council about the situation of the MSB at the moment, but the Opposition should be applauding what has been achieved at the MSB because it stands as a model for every port authority around Australia. It was the first authority to undergo the reform process, and its productivity has increased dramatically. Its profitability has soared. I make no apologies for reforms in the Maritime Services Board. At the transport Ministers conference the Federal Senator responsible for that area used those reforms as an example of what can be achieved on the waterfront. We have had the guts to make those changes and reforms. All the Opposition can do is knock the reforms and the reform process. We have shown the way to reform transport authorities. The honourable member should get his definitions right. The Maritime Services Board is a government trading enterprise.
WORLD YOUTH SOCCER CUP
Mr ZAMMIT: I direct my question without notice to the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Racing. How is the Government assisting with the staging of the World Youth Soccer Cup to be held in Australia next year? What benefits will that event bring to New South Wales?
Mr SCHIPP: I thank the honourable member for Strathfield for his question
and commend him on his interest in all matters relating to sport and in particular for his interest in motor racing. With exactly 300 days to go before decision day for the Olympic Games bid, it is most important that we keep in mind the importance of events such as the World Youth Soccer Cup in focusing attention on this State. Every month, every week and every day, as the decision on the site for the Olympic Games in the year 2000 comes nearer, the eyes of the world are focusing more closely on Sydney and the east coast of Australia. In March next year about 2.5 billion people around the world will be able to view two great events in Australia, one of them in Sydney. Yesterday I referred to the Eastern Creek Grand Prix, which is expected to be beamed to half a million viewers. Communities in the western areas of Sydney await that event with great enthusiasm. Recently the Blacktown Advocate ran the headlines "High Praise for the Grand Prix" and "Push to Add Prix Glamour". The honourable member for Riverstone is reported as welcoming the economic boost to be generated in western Sydney by the Grand Prix. The Blacktown mayor, chamber of commerce and the local Returned Services League have expressed similar views. The World Youth Soccer Cup will be held in Australia the same month as the Grand Prix, and six of the events are to be played in Sydney.
I congratulate the Australian Soccer Federation on its major coup in convincing Federation Internationale de Football Association, the governing body of world soccer, that this great event should be held for the second time in Australia. Sydney will become the focal point for the staging of the cup as a result of significant support from the Government's special events council. This is yet a further indication of the Government's affirmative policy to encourage the staging of major international sports events for the people of New South Wales. The Government will provide a total of $600,000 towards defraying the significant costs involved in organising the youth soccer championship. As Sydney vies to hold the 2000 Olympics, this high profile event, which represents the junior version of the World Soccer Cup and is rated among the top six international sports contests, will play an important role in showing the world yet again how successful we are in staging major international sporting events.
Soccer is one of the world's most popular sports and indeed one in which Australia is becoming increasingly competitive. All members would be aware of the outstanding performance of Australia at the last World Youth Soccer Cup held in Portugal, where our Young Socceroos reached the semi-finals. They are currently rated third in the world. We all recall the outstanding performance by our national team at the recent Barcelona Olympics. Part of the Government's significant financial commitment to the World Junior Soccer Cup next year was used to stage the tournament's all-important draw ceremony held at Darling Harbour last Friday. This draw was held before an audience of about 1,500 representatives of Australian and world soccer organisations, the Olympic movement and the wider community. The event, in which the Premier participated, was beamed to a worldwide audience and reached many millions of international viewers. As the host nation, Australia automatically took first position in group one and has been drawn to play against Colombia, Russia and an African team yet to be named. All of Australia's group one games will be played in Sydney. Les Scheinflug, the Young Socceroos' coach, is confident that, though the draw is a tough one, the team will do Australia proud. The cup will kick off with a spectacular opening ceremony at the Sydney Football Stadium on Friday, 5th March.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is too much audible conversation in the Chamber.
Mr SCHIPP: The final will be played on Saturday 20th March at the same venue. A total of 32 matches are to be played in tournaments at five Australian cities - Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra. The SBS television network has
been chosen as the host broadcaster. All games will be televised to an estimated international viewing audience of about two billion viewers, and about 70 countries are expected to take SBS exclusive coverage. The successful staging of this event will further stake Sydney's claim for the staging of the Olympic Games in the year 2000. The eyes of the world will be firmly focused upon us. The benefits to the people of New South Wales are obvious. The World Youth Cup will attract 400 players and team officials, 500 international media representatives, 70 FIFA delegates and thousands of overseas visitors. This will provide a major boost to the tourism and hospitality industries of this State. Of course, the sport itself will be the big winner. Soccer is a sport that has a vast following among ethnic communities and enjoys increasing popularity among Australians generally. Already the interest being displayed by the ethnic soccer community is proving of valuable assistance to the organising committee. The World Youth Soccer Cup has attracted the full support of ethnic clubs throughout the State and interstate. This no doubt will form a firm foundation around which promotion of the cup can be built. I look forward to the support of all members in attending the international series when it is held next month and in supporting the Young Socceroos in their endeavours to become the top young team in world soccer.
Illawarra Rail Services
Petition praying that the House prevent a reduction of services on the Illawarra line between Thirroul and Waterfall, received from Mr McManus.
Petitions praying that the House will enact legislation to reintroduce capital punishment in extreme cases of murder where there is absolutely no doubt that the offender committed the crime, received from Mr Blackmore and Mr Schipp.
Public Hospital Privatisation
Petition praying that the House will reverse the Government's decision to privatise public hospitals, received from Mr Davoren.
Bulli District Hospital
Petition praying that Bulli District Hospital remain open, received from Mr McManus.
Hunter Area Health Service
Petition praying that the House reject any proposal to amalgamate the Hunter Area Health Service with any other area health service, received from Mr Neilly.
Lidcombe Hospital and Auburn District Hospital
Petition praying that the House reject any proposals to cut back services or staffing at Lidcombe Hospital and Auburn District Hospital but instead support an increase in services and staffing at the hospitals, received from Mr Nagle.
Petitions praying that because of dissatisfaction with the rationalisation of health services the House prevent the downgrading and possible closure of services at Lidcombe Hospital, received from Mr Nagle and Mr Shedden.
JOINT SELECT COMMITTEE UPON THE MANAGEMENT OF THE PARLIAMENT
Mr Downy, as Chairman, brought up the report of the Committee together with the minutes of evidence.
Ordered to be printed.
PROSECUTION OF FORMER DETECTIVE SENIOR CONSTABLE PAUL KENNY
Matter for Urgent Consideration
Mr ANDERSON (Liverpool) [3.25]: I move:
That this House views with concern the alleged actions of police, lawyers from the Director of Public Prosecutions office and others in the unsuccessful prosecution of former Detective Senior Constable Paul Kenny and calls on the Government to establish a judicial inquiry to fully investigate this matter.
The six-year prosecution, and indeed persecution, of former Detective Senior Constable Paul Kenny is far worse in its implications than any of the matters that resulted in the royal commission to clear Harry Blackburn. Kenny, a member of the New South Wales police force for 11 years from 1978 to 1989, a customs officer and Federal narcotics agent for five years from 1973 to 1978, deserves justice. Prior to this incident, in 16 years of public service he was never once the subject of a complaint and was continually rated as being outstanding in the performance of his duties. This is clearly a matter involving, as it does, extremely serious allegations strongly supported by evidence against senior police, senior Crown law officers and others, and the only satisfactory resolution of this historic persecution of Paul Kenny and others will be before a judicial inquiry. Then and only then will the full import and ramifications of what has been done to this man and his wife and the other police involved in the matter be adequately investigated and action be recommended to ensure that it never happens again.
There is no other way in which this matter can be resolved other than by a judicial inquiry. The facts speak for themselves and justice cries out for a full and proper examination of what must have been and continues to be the unnecessary and horrific destruction of a human being's career and life. Some might ask: why not pursue other avenues? Last week, on 16th November, after consideration, the Independent Commission Against Corruption declined to investigate further any of Kenny's complaints. The Ombudsman has had the matter since 27th April, 1987. The Bar Association has had it since 27th February this year. The Commissioner of Police has had the complaint since 2nd June, 1988. And the Government has had the complaints since 7th October, 1988. Kenny has been everywhere seeking justice. He now appeals to the highest court in the land - that is, the democratically elected Parliament - to give him the justice he so richly deserves. I seek the support of honourable members in this respect.
The Parliament should understand that allegations by an admitted perjurer and heroin dealer who stated he had sold heroin on more than 500 occasions were the basis
of this saga. He had heroin supply charges withdrawn because senior police lied to the Commissioner of Police. The Crown has never established a prima facie case against Kenny and has had costs awarded against the Crown twice. A judge directed Kenny's acquittal on an ex officio indictment and placed a suppression order on certain documents on the court file. A convicted former police officer was improperly induced by senior Crown law officers to make a false statement against Kenny, which he subsequently refused to give in evidence. The simplest way to explain the Kenny saga is to start not at the beginning but at the end. On Friday, 28th August, 1992, the Court of Appeal of New South Wales handed down its judgment on a prosecution by Her Majesty's Attorney General for New South Wales against, amongst others, Paul Kenny. In that judgment the Court of Appeal dismissed the charges against Paul Kenny of contempt of court. In doing so, and not for the first time, a court in this State awarded costs to Kenny in a prosecution against him by the Crown.
The long saga started on 14th October, 1986, when, as a result of information supplied to him by a reliable informant, then Detective Senior Constable Paul Kenny and other police from the Drug Law Enforcement Bureau arrested Lawrence Edward Dias at Penrith for possession of approximately eight grams of heroin. Dias was subsequently charged that day at Penrith police station with "supply and possess heroin". Subsequent to Dias's arrest and unbeknown to arresting police another then police officer not involved in the arrest, former Detective John Killen of the Penrith drug unit, entered into a clandestine arrangement with Dias for the payment of money to assist him to successfully defend his drug charges. Former Detective John Killen is the son of former Executive Chief Superintendent of Police, Frank Killen, who had retired some years earlier and who was and, I am proud to say, is a highly regarded and respected member of the community. Dias later complained to his solicitor that the drugs had been planted on him and that money was being demanded from him to successfully defend his drug charges.
Dias was subsequently interviewed by members of the police internal affairs branch and listening device warrants were obtained. As a result, a number of incriminating conversations were recorded between Dias and Killen and later between Dias and a criminal associate of Killen, a man known as George Pett, who has since died. On 24th October, 1986, the internal police security operation known as Operation Debt Collector commenced. On that day Dias handed a sum of money to Killen's criminal associate George Pett at Kingswood. Pett was apprehended by internal security police. Following his apprehension internal security police then arrested Detective Sergeant Brian Kenny at Penrith police station. Detective Sergeant Brian Kenny was subsequently released when the arresting police realised they had the wrong Kenny. The House should not believe for a moment that this was the first and last mistake by the authorities in what was to become six years of agony for Paul Kenny and his wife, who are both in the gallery today. On the following day Detectives Kenny, Maxwell, McMillan and Killen were interviewed by internal security with regard to the allegations made by Dias. Two other police were interviewed later.
Having examined the brief of evidence prepared by the internal security unit, the Crown prosecutor, Mark Tedeschi, Q.C., provided advice to the Solicitor for Public Prosecutions recommending the preferment of charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and demanding money with menaces against Kenny, Maxwell, McMillan, John Killen and Pett. Soon after Dias was arrested in October 1986 a message with the words "Larry, I need one ounce" was transmitted on his pager. Dias struggled with the arresting police at the station, grabbing his pager from them and turning it off, thus effectively erasing that message from the pager. Subsequently Kenny arranged a search warrant and was able to obtain a copy of the printout of Dias' pager. That printout was supplied to internal security police but it was withheld from evidence.
In March 1987 Paul Kenny took his brief of evidence against Dias to Chief Superintendent Peter Sweeney, then senior police prosecutor and officer-in-charge of the police prosecuting branch. Sweeney and another police prosecutor examined the brief and advised the then commissioner, Mr Avery, that in the interests of justice the case against Dias should proceed. On 19th March, 1987, at a meeting with the commissioner, Mr Avery allegedly inquired as to the antecedents of Dias prior to deciding whether to withdraw Kenny's drug charges against Dias. It is alleged that senior police in the internal police unit deliberately misled Commissioner Avery by assuring him that Dias was not a drug dealer, even though documentary evidence in the form of Crime Intelligence Unit forms and Operation Noah information linked Dias and Killen in drug dealing. Rejecting Chief Superintendent Sweeney's recommendation and relying upon the assurances given to him by two senior officers from the internal security unit, Commissioner Avery directed the withdrawal of Kenny's indictable charges against Dias.
Late on the afternoon of 19th March, 1987, Chief Superintendent Sweeney informed Kenny of the commissioner's decision. Kenny received advice from the Police Association to seek an adjournment at Penrith court the next day so that he, Kenny, might be properly represented in order to continue the prosecution of Dias himself. On 20th March, 1987, Kenny appeared before Mr John Hiatt, S.M., at the Penrith Local Court and represented himself as the informant under the Justices Act in the matter of Dias. On that occasion the police prosecutor sought Mr Hiatt's leave to withdraw the charges against Dias on behalf of the Commissioner of Police. Mr Hiatt sought a reason for the commissioner's determination, but the prosecutor was unable to supply any reason as the file in relation to the matter had not been forwarded to the court. Subsequently Mr Hiatt withdrew the charges against Dias and suggested that he, Kenny, could commence a private prosecution against Dias if he so desired.
On Monday, 23rd March, 1987, Kenny attended Central Local Court in Sydney and spoke with the chamber magistrate. Summonses were then issued against Dias for the offences of supply and possess heroin and were subsequently served upon Dias. Late on the afternoon of Thursday, 8th October, 1987, almost seven months after Kenny had commenced his private prosecution of Dias and one working day before committal proceedings were to commence against Kenny and others, notice was served upon Kenny's solicitor that the Director of Public Prosecutions had taken over Kenny's private prosecution of Dias. On Friday, 9th October, 1986, Kenny contacted the Solicitor for Public Prosecutions, who would not tell him whether the Director of Public Prosecutions was going to terminate the private prosecution of Dias or whether Dias was to be offered immunity from prosecution.
At the commencement of the committal proceedings against Kenny and other police on Monday, 12th October, 1987, the Crown prosecutor, Mark Tedeschi, Q.C., formally took over and terminated Kenny's private prosecution of Dias. Following advice he received on 27th April, 1988, Kenny attended the Ombudsman's office and spoke to Sergeant Donnelly for some hours. Subsequently, at 12.30 p.m. on 18th May, 1987, Kenny attended the Ombudsman's office again and lodged a formal complaint alleging that members of the internal police security unit had conspired to falsely accuse Kenny, Maxwell and McMillan and that Commissioner Avery had unlawfully withdrawn lawfully laid drug charges against Dias. The Ombudsman directed the Commissioner of Police to investigate Kenny's complaint under the Police Regulation (Allegations of Misconduct) Act. Carriage of the investigation was given to then Assistant Commissioner Shephard. No witnesses or police were interviewed, and Assistant Commissioner Shephard subsequently submitted a report dated 4th August, 1987, consisting of about two and a half pages and purporting to be an investigation of Kenny's complaint.
The Ombudsman subsequently agreed with Kenny's response dated 15th August,
1987, to Assistant Commissioner Shephard's investigation of the complaint and ordered Shephard to conduct a further investigation. The committal proceedings against Kenny and others commenced on 12th October, 1987, and were completed on 3rd December, 1987, when Killen and his criminal associate, Pett, were committed for trial, and Kenny, Maxwell and McMillan were discharged as no prima facie case had been made out against them. During the committal, despite having denied ever having seen heroin in his life, Dias subsequently admitted that he was a heroin dealer and a liar and that he had supplied heroin on between 500 and 1,000 occasions. This was the sole witness that the internal security unit and the Director of Public Prosecutions had the audacity to present as the Crown's case against Kenny, Maxwell and McMillan, completely destroying their careers and, more importantly, their lives. The three police officers were discharged at committal at the completion of the Crown case with the magistrate finding that there was no prima facie case against the police and without a word of evidence having been given by them. On 4th December, 1987, they were reinstated to the police force.
Mr SCULLY (Smithfield) [3.34]: On 15th February, 1988, Kenny wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions seeking an explanation as to why he had terminated Kenny's private prosecution of Dias. On 15th February, 1988, Mr Blanch, Q.C., replied, stating that he terminated the prosecution of Dias to remove the threat to the witness posed by the prosecution. Mr Blanch also said, "I have considered the question of proceeding further against you by way of ex officio indictment and have determined not to do so". Following the discharge of the three police at committal, Chief Superintendent Neville Stanford, one of the force's most accomplished investigators and a former police prosecutor, was appointed to conduct the investigation that had previously been requested by the Ombudsman. On 16th May, 1988, Chief Superintendent Stanford read his report of his investigation to Kenny, at the end of which he said to Kenny, "As far as I am concerned Mark Tedeschi should be charged with perverting the course of justice."
Shortly thereafter, the Assistant Ombudsman, Mr Andrews, described Chief Superintendent Stanford's report as being "the most scathing thing I have every seen". On 16th May, 1988, after Chief Superintendent Stanford finished reading his report to Kenny, Kenny asked him to make urgent arrangements for Kenny to have a private audience with Commissioner Avery. On 2nd June, 1988, Kenny had a private audience with Mr Avery in his office at police headquarters for a little over an hour. Also present were now Assistant Commissioner Cole and Chief Superintendent Stanford. Among other things, Kenny alleges that Mr Avery told him that the senior police from the internal security unit had not told him that Dias was a drug dealer before he ordered the withdrawal of the charges against Dias. Kenny left the commissioner's office and was asked to wait outside. About 20 minutes later Chief Superintendent Stanford came out of Mr Avery's office and put a proposition to Kenny that he return to the police force. Kenny rejected that proposition.
Towards the end of September 1988 Kenny contacted a senior member of the office of the then Minister for Police, Mr Pickering, to arrange a private audience with the Minister. He was requested to supply documentation, which he delivered to Mr Pickering's office personally at 11.20 a.m. on 7th October, 1988. On the morning of 21st October, 1988, Kenny and McMillan had a meeting with the then member for Penrith, Mr Matheson, as Mr Matheson was Mr McMillan's local member. Apparently Mr Matheson had already spoken to Mr Pickering about the matters and told McMillan and Kenny, "Strictly off the record, Pickering told me to keep right out of it". Kenny's last communication with the staff member in Mr Pickering's office was late on 8th October, 1988, when he was told that the Minister had his documentation and was still considering Kenny's request for a private audience, and that she would send a letter of acknowledgment. No acknowledgment has every been received.
In July 1990 John Killen went to trial and was convicted. His criminal associate, Pett, had died before the trial. After conviction and the day before sentence Killen made a false statement in order to obtain a lighter sentence. In that false statement Killen implicated Kenny alone in his criminal activities. That statement contained more than 40 provable lies. Killen subsequently alleged that he made the statement as a result of an inducement held out to him by the Crown prosecutor at his trial, Mark Tedeschi, Q.C., after conviction and prior to sentence, the inducement allegedly being that in return for a statement he would receive a non-custodial sentence or periodic detention. Having obtained that statement Mr Tedeschi informed Killen that he would be imprisoned. Killen then refused to give that statement in evidence when requested to do so. Killen was sentenced to a minimum of 16 months' imprisonment.
Solely as a result of that induced forced statement made by Killen, which was inconsistent with two prior statements made by him, the Director of Public Prosecutions instituted proceedings against Kenny alone by ex officio indictment. Because of this action by the Crown, Kenny was dismissed from his new job and his health rapidly deteriorated, and in mid-1991 his wife also suffered serious health problems. Following a newspaper article on 16th June 1991, John Killen's father, former Executive Chief Superintendent Frank Killen, contacted Kenny and told him certain things about his son's statement and Mr Tedeschi, Q.C. On 11th July, 1991, former Executive Chief Superintendent Killen attended the office of Kenny's solicitor, Mr Christopher Murphy, and there told Mr Vince Murphy certain things about Mr Tedeschi. As a result of that conversation, on 4th August, 1991, at his request, John Killen was interviewed by a solicitor at Berrima gaol in the presence of his father. During that interview Killen provided detail in relation to the inducement held out to him by Mr Tedeschi, Q.C., to make a statement further alleging that in a visit to the gaol Mr Tedeschi, Q.C., had agreed that he was conducting a personal vendetta against Kenny because of media attention.
During that interview Killen also alleged that he had been threatened by another Crown prosecutor, Mr Christopher Maxwell, with a review of his sentence or a charge of contempt if he failed to adhere to his statement. It was also alleged that the instructing officer, Ms Denise Sexton was present at all times during the conversations with Killen at Berrima gaol, to which I have just referred. On 16th August, 1991, Killen was brought from Berrima gaol before His Honour Judge Graham at the Sydney District Court and refused to give evidence in the ex officio proceedings against Kenny. On that day, in sworn testimony, amongst other things Mr Maxwell, Q.C., said to Killen, "Are you prepared to give evidence in this matter?" Killen responded, "You reneged on our deal". The Director of Public Prosecutions then no billed the ex officio proceedings against Kenny, but did not inform him. On 21st August, 1991, on being informed of the no bill, His Honour Judge Graham ordered a jury be assembled and directed a verdict of not guilty be entered in Kenny's favour. On 30th August, 1991, Judge Graham awarded costs against the Crown in the matter.
Judge Graham also made it a matter of public record that on 21st August, 1991, Crown Prosecutor Christopher Maxwell, Q.C., and instructing officer Denise Sexton had attended His Honour's chambers and sought the removal of the written submissions prepared by Kenny's barrister, Mr Andrew Martin, containing Killen's allegations against Mr Maxwell and Mr Tedeschi from the court records. Judge Graham refused to remove the written submissions from the court record, placing a suppression order upon them. Those documents were to be placed in a sealed envelope and only to be opened by a District Court judge or Supreme Court judge - yet another reason why only a judicial inquiry will suffice. On Monday, 2nd September, 1991, the next working day after costs had been awarded against the Crown, a newspaper article, which was not only false but blatantly defamatory of Kenny, Maxwell and McMillan appeared in the Sydney Morning
Herald. The article was entitled "Victim of legal system in five year fight to clear name" and related to the heroin dealer and perjurer, Lawrence Dias.
On 2nd September, 1991, Christopher Murphy, Mr Kenny's solicitor, and his brother spoke to the journalist responsible for the article. Two days later Kenny spoke to the journalist, who indicated that the source for the article was from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Time precludes me from fully presenting all the matters which have been brought to my attention over the past two years and more. Suffice it to say that the allegations made regarding this six-year saga clearly indicate that it is not a matter for Crown law officers to investigate, nor the Ombudsman, who has had the matter before him for some years, nor the Independent Commission Against Corruption, which has declined to do so. This is a matter which raises an outrageous set of circumstances. I would be astounded if the Government elected not to order a judicial inquiry. A very serious allegation has been made against two Queen's Counsel, a solicitor from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, senior police officers, the internal security unit and the Director of Public Prosecutions. I invite the Minister to consider circumstances where a Commissioner of Police has withdrawn a prosecution, then a serving police officer has issued a private prosecution, the Director of Public Prosecutions has taken over that private prosecution and has then withdrawn it.
I invite the Minister to consider when such a situation has occurred in the past. I must say that when the honourable member for Liverpool gave me this material I was a little sceptical about the allegations being made about people in high places. Having read it, I am satisfied that it stinks. It smells to high heaven. We will only get to the truth with a full judicial inquiry. Mr Mark Tedeschi concerns me. All sorts of comments have been made about him - in the Anderson trial, in Praturlon, and now in this particular matter. We have to get to the bottom of this character. He has a reputation for pursuing convictions without letting truth, justice or fairness get in the way. I am confident that if the Bar Association dealt with him firmly he would be struck off. The Minister should take this matter on board and launch an inquiry.
Mr KERR (Cronulla) [3.43]: No one would dispute the seriousness of the allegations made by the honourable member for Liverpool and the honourable member for Smithfield. The Government has not in any way sought to reduce the debate or manipulate it by the use of the standing orders. The matter was sufficiently serious that an opportunity was given to provide a full 20 minutes to outline the facts of the matter, because the first speaker for the Opposition made such serious allegations that it was important that the whole matter be outlined. My only regret is that, given the nature of the matter that was brought on as a matter of urgency, details were not provided to the Minister for Police or other honourable members because honourable members would take this matter very seriously. It is not a simple matter of Opposition or Government -
A member said "Defamation". That hardly applies to private conversations that occur between Ministers and other members in this House, whether they be Government, Opposition or Independent members. Defamation is not relevant to this matter. It is also not a party political matter. As outlined by the first speaker for the Opposition, these matters occurred in 1986 under the previous Government. Of particular concern, having regard to what has been said by the honourable member for Smithfield and the allegation about the role of the Crown law officials and a senior Crown prosecutor, is what material was provided to the ICAC and when it was provided. The House was told earlier that the ICAC declined to take any action in relation to the matter. Details as to the basis for that rejection of the investigation should be provided, in addition to answers to the questions I have just raised. The House has also been told that the matter was referred
to the Ombudsman, and it is currently under investigation. However, the honourable member for Liverpool has indicated there has been an unsatisfactory rate of progress in relation to that investigation. That is probably the most charitable conclusion honourable members could draw from the speech of the honourable member for Liverpool.
I should have thought it was abundantly clear to all honourable members, and to all members of the public, that the Government does not dictate to the Ombudsman. If there are complaints in relation to the rate of progress of that investigation, or the Ombudsman alleges there are other unsatisfactory matters in relation to this matter, that should be fully canvassed and the reasons given. I am concerned also that, if this House were to commit itself to a judicial inquiry, it would be doing so without the answers to the questions I have raised. This is not a partisan matter. Because of the very serious allegations outlined by the honourable member for Liverpool, this matter strikes not merely at justice for the individual, but at the whole criminal justice system. One is entitled to get answers to the questions asked before there is a commitment to a judicial inquiry. What could a judicial inquiry determine that the Independent Commission Against Corruption could not? That is one matter that should be considered.
The Government has made no attempt to score cheap points, and has deferred to members of the Opposition to give them a substantial time in which to outline the matter. It has done so because it has a responsible attitude. It is best that all such matters are ventilated. I view with considerable concern what has been said today and the time that has elapsed with no action being taken in respect of the allegations. It is a matter of utmost concern to the public. Neither side of the Parliament would benefit by keeping the other side in the dark. That is why I have asked the questions: When was the matter referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption? What information was provided to the Independent Commission Against Corruption? What was the basis upon which the Independent Commission Against Corruption declined to undertake the investigation?
Mr E. T. PAGE (Coogee) [3.48]: As the honourable member for Cronulla said, this is a bipartisan issue. It is a matter of ensuring that justice is done to three families that have been persecuted as a result of conspiracies in the past six years. I have a particular interest in the matter because I have known the mother of Paul Kenny for longer than I care to remember. I have known him for the past few years and have no doubt about his integrity. I have a copy of the letter from the Independent Commission Against Corruption, and I am astounded at its refusal to investigate the matter. An extensive folder with 23 attachments was sent to the ICAC on 29th June. Its letter of rejection is dated 16th November.
Given the number of agencies involved, it is astounding that the Independent Commission Against Corruption has not taken a glove in this matter. It worries me that Dias and others who plea bargain and provide information to authorities are not held to account when they do not keep their bargain and are found to have told lies. The severity of their charge is reduced, but when they do not deliver their part of the bargain and mislead the authorities the lesser charge still stands. There have been many concerns about the way the Crown prosecutor conducted the case. From evidence that I have read there is no doubt that he provided advice which was contradictory to the evidence given to the Director of Public Prosecutions to ensure that the case was listed. From the available evidence, he knew that the statement by Dias was incorrect, and that Dias could not be trusted. He presented to the court a transcript of a tape recorded conversation, but omitted a statement which Dias made to the corrupt policeman, Killen, in which Dias said, "Kenny knows nothing". If that had been included in the evidence the case would have been stopped immediately. However, that evidence was deliberately omitted by Mark Tedeschi, Q.C. As I said, he knew Dias had a prior involvement with heroin. He
did not get evidence from the policeman who apprehended Dias.
As my colleague said, Paul Kenny got a pager printout from Dias' pager, which contained the words "Larry, I need one ounce". That was not included in the transcript presented to the court. It was deliberately omitted. That statement was in the handwritten transcript but not in the printed transcript that was given to the court. Tedeschi did not arrange to have the plastic bags tested for fingerprints. Dias had said that the bags were planted, that he had never touched them and he knew nothing about them, yet the bags were never fingerprinted by the police or Tedeschi never suggested that this be done. Misleading evidence was given about a notebook containing some notes on building costs, which had nothing to do with the drug matter but was raised by Tedeschi. This caused some confusion because the notebook was not presented at court. Tedeschi ignored interviews with the police involved, who all agreed that from their observations and what they had heard drugs were found in the vehicle.
The other matter mentioned by the honourable member for Smithfield was the allegation against the Director of Public Prosecutions. It is incredible that such a person would initiate a newspaper article one working day after the Crown lost the case and after the costs were awarded against the Crown. The article, a copy of which I have here, implied that Dias was the victim, yet the article was printed on the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The author of the article was both apologetic and astounded that she had been misled on this matter.
Debate adjourned to a later hour on motion by Mr Whelan.
HOMEFUND CONTRACT BREACHES
Matter of Public Importance
Mrs GRUSOVIN (Heffron) [3.55]: I move:
That this House notes as a matter of public importance the breaches of HomeFund contracts as revealed by findings in the Consumer Claims Tribunal and the need to protect the rights of borrowers under HomeFund mortgage contracts.
The Minister for Consumer Affairs has jurisdiction in matters relating to the New South Wales Fair Trading Act. In recent weeks a scathing report was delivered by the Trade Practices Commission with respect to HomeFund loans. However, there is still the question of jurisdiction with regard to where the Trade Practices Commission report will go. It has conducted its findings as an investigatory body but there is no doubt that the Minister for Consumer Affairs has jurisdiction under the New South Wales Fair Trading Act to ensure that justice is provided to consumers and that protection is also available. The State body is the appropriate body that should have been dealing with this matter,
particularly under the carriage of the Minister for Consumer Affairs, because many injustices to HomeFund borrowers are being exposed. Despite my calls to the Minister for warnings to HomeFund borrowers while this review was being conducted, and even prior to that, no action has been taken. The present Minister for Consumer Affairs has not long held that portfolio. In 1991 during the estimates debate I first raised with the then Minister for Consumer Affairs my concerns about breaches of the New South Wales Fair Trading Act in relation to false and misleading information being made available to borrowers, and nothing has been done in the area of consumer affairs to address those problems.
This is a matter of public importance. At the end of June this year 53,838 home loans have been made. The total value of these loans is approximately $4.175 billion. Each of these loans has a mortgage contract. Recent hearings in the Consumer Claims Tribunal have established that mortgages have been breached. Four HomeFund borrowers have been awarded compensation for those breaches. That leaves 53,834 mortgages that have not been examined. HomeFund loans have been promoted as loans from the New South Wales Government. In recent days some minor changes have been made and the prong has been withdrawn from a good deal of promotional material and advertisements. Of the nine claims for damages so far lodged by HomeFund borrowers in the Consumer Claims Tribunal, four have been heard and four have been successful. Initially two were heard on 16th October, adjourned until 6th November and then further adjourned with an expected hearing date some time in mid-February 1993. Another two were heard on 13th October and were also adjourned until an expected mid-February 1993 hearing. Of the four cases that have been heard, the tribunal determined that the mortgagee, Permanent Trustee Company, was in default. Those four consumers have been compensated by an amount approximating their claims - to date in excess of $15,000.
Mr Paul Zikking was awarded $100 in damages for a breach of mortgage. His claim was that he made his repayments on the 20th of each month, but those repayments were not credited to is account until the last day of each month. In the vicinity of 50,000 borrowers have been disadvantaged as a result of this practice and are entitled to a refund. Only one - Mr Zikking - has been reimbursed for the loss suffered in October 1992. This harsh, unconscionable and illegal practice was changed as of January 1992. On 4th March, 1992, I asked the then Minister for Housing whether FANMAC played the short-term money-market with the mortgage repayments of 45,000 HomeFund borrowers for 10 or 11 days each month. Had the question not been ruled out of order and had the answer been given, this House would have heard that Permanent Trustee, the agents of FANMAC and the Government, had almost $33 million to play with on the short-term money-market for 10 or 11 days every month at the expense of low-income earners and HomeFund borrowers in this State. They were deprived of the benefit of earning interest on their money for one third of every month, and instead paid even more capitalised interest on their already ballooning HomeFund loans.
Why? As late as Mr Zikking's hearings in the Consumer Claims Tribunal on 23rd October, FANMAC was still arguing that this illegal practice was necessary because the banks were not able to assure the mortgagee of payment of the debt for up to ten days after the debt was raised. FANMAC argued that for administrative reasons a set procedure was put in place to enable moneys to be collected on the 20th of each month and credited on the last day of each month. This is November 1992 and statements such as that have no credibility. The Minister for Consumer Affairs, the Minister for Housing, and the Premier and Treasurer should be insisting that every one of the 50,000-odd Homefund borrowers disadvantaged as a result of this practice are compensated for their loss by way of refund or recalculation of their accounts. The amounts of money involved in this breach are not large. However, there are other breaches of mortgages
which involve large sums of money. I refer to the thousands of borrowers who have been disadvantaged by that practice of interest being taken on the 20th of each month but not credited until the first. I ask the Minister whether it is feasible to expect that those thousands of HomeFund borrowers will each have to approach the Consumer Claims Tribunal with his or her application fee of $40 to have that injustice redressed? I believe it is imperative that action must be taken.
I want to go to more serious matters because other breaches of mortgages involve very large sums of money which, in fact, place them outside the scope of the Consumer Claims Tribunal. On 13th November, 1992, I was advised that there are 39,842 loans currently in the HomeFund portfolio. Of those, approximately 23,000 are subsidised affordable loans. At a homebuyers night on Tuesday night, which was sponsored by the Department of Housing, promotional material was still available encouraging people to take up HomeFund loans. The promotional material distributed states that these loans are supported with money from the New South Wales Government and the Commonwealth Government. These are the loans that tenants of the Department of Housing or people on the department's waiting list are offered; these are the loans given to people in their late fifties and early sixties, people who have no prospect of ever being able to keep up with annually escalating repayments.
The other three claims determined by the Consumer Claims Tribunal relate to affordable loans. The mortgage documents prior to October 1991 state that affordable borrowers should pay only 27 per cent of their income. Many borrowers have not only paid more than 27 per cent of their income, but many have been evicted, forced into bankruptcy, or are still being harassed for shortfalls incurred on the sale of the property. They were all told that they were in arrears. If the rules of their contracts had been complied with, their payments would have been reduced to 27 per cent of income; and because they were paying what was required they would not have been in arrears. In each of the three claims heard by the tribunal the tribunal has determined that the mortgages have been breached. Three of the estimated 23,000 borrowers who have affordable loans have been compensated. Mr and Mrs Jenkins were refunded $2,022.61; Mrs Beatty was refunded $7,827.38; and Mr and Mrs Iminjan were refunded $5,377.
Because of the complexity of the mortgage documents and the operation of HomeFund, it takes a professional who is well versed in HomeFund two days to adequately prepare a claim for the tribunal. HomeFund borrowers do not have the expertise. For example, Mr Zikking, a retired solicitor, a solicitor who had never practised in this area, was not familiar with the intricacies of what is - as everyone acknowledges - a very complex home loan scheme. One HomeFund borrower who tried to prepare his case to be heard by the Building Disputes Tribunal, which operates in a similar fashion to the Consumer Claims Tribunal, has been given the runaround and shown the revolving door for some time now. I would be very surprised if a senior referee has not referred HomeFund as a matter of importance to consumers to the Minister - and certainly to the Commissioner of Consumer Affairs.
This is a matter of public importance. As I speak today, a sole parent with two children is still fighting to have her payments reset at 27 per cent of her income in accordance with the terms of the mortgage contract. She is still under threat of eviction. If she makes an application she will not get to the Consumer Claims Tribunal until next year. The reality is that she should be going to the Supreme Court because the Consumer Claims Tribunal has a ceiling of $10,000 available to disadvantaged consumers. This woman, who - as we will see - is owed money, has been battling this matter out for a long time and is hoping to continue with possession of her home. In reality, her loss is in the vicinity of at least $12,000. How can this woman who is almost destitute proceed to the Supreme Court? The Minister for Consumer Affairs and Assistant Minister for
Education has that ability, as she knows and her commissioner knows - [Time expired.]
Mrs CHIKAROVSKI (Lane Cove - Minister for Consumer Affairs, and Assistant Minister for Education) [4.5]: I assure the House that the New South Wales Government is concerned about some of the difficulties experienced in the recent past by HomeFund borrowers. That is why this Government moved quickly and decisively earlier this year to establish an independent inquiry into the HomeFund scheme. Specifically, the inquiry was required to report on HomeFund's past performance and possible future directions, having regard to: first, the appropriateness and effectiveness of its organisation, mission, objectives and strategies; second, the efficiency, economy, integrity and prudence of its structure, processes, operations and finances; third, the roles, responsibilities and interrelationships of the different participants in the scheme, that is, the borrower, co-operative housing societies, the Department of Housing, the Home Purchase Assistance Fund, FANMAC and investors; and, finally, the State's responsibilities under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement.
That inquiry, which is better known as the McMurtrie inquiry, is expected to report within the next few weeks, according to advice I have received today from the Office of the Minister for Housing. I must remind the House that the establishment of the McMurtrie inquiry was welcomed by the honourable member for Heffron and other members of the Opposition. It has been well publicised that the Trade Practices Commission conducted a six-month investigation into allegations made in connection with HomeFund. Its report has taken the form of a detailed submission to the McMurtrie inquiry. It was clearly the intention of the Trade Practices Commission to submit that report to the inquiry as a submission. In its submission, the Trade Practices Commission recommended that a body with sufficient jurisdiction should be established to assess HomeFund claims on an individual basis. Specifically, it states that this could most effectively be achieved through the establishment of an arbitration body with power to make such orders as are appropriate in the circumstances. Indeed, the report cites the Consumer Claims Tribunal as an example of such a body. I am completely convinced that the submission presented by the Trade Practices Commission, and its recommendations, will be thoroughly examined by the McMurtrie inquiry, as will all the issues raised by the honourable member for Heffron today.
In the meantime, I can advise the House - as I have previously - that action has been taken to specifically address some of the concerns raised by the honourable member for Heffron. I have advised the House on a previous occasion that advertising in relation to HomeFund has been stopped. In relation to matters which come to my department, mediation officers have been told that they are to advise people of their rights. At the same time, a number of HomeFund borrowers have lodged claims with the Consumer Claims Tribunal seeking various amounts of compensation on the basis of alleged unfair treatment in relation to their loan. I inform the House that of the nine original HomeFund claims before the tribunal, the claims which have been referred to by the honourable member for Heffron, the result is as follows: one was withdrawn before hearing; three were settled by the parties themselves without any order having to be made by the tribunals; and only one - the much quoted Zikking matter, as referred to the by the honourable member for Heffron - has had an order made for $100 against the mortgagee, Permanent Trustee Company Limited.
I am also advised that claims against the other respondents in that matter - City Central Co-operative Housing Society, First Australian National Mortgage Acceptance Corporation Limited and the New South Wales Department of Housing - were dismissed by the tribunal. Two other matters have been adjourned for further evidence, and the other two have been adjourned to allow the tribunal to consider jurisdictional challenges.
Two further claims have been lodged since the original nine; both of them should be listed for hearing some time in February. The advice I have bears repeating. In the three cases settled at a hearing on 20th November the tribunal made no order at all contrary to the impression conveyed by the honourable member during the past few days. The tribunal did not need to make any orders because the parties came to a mutually acceptable agreement. It is heartening to see the tribunal being used in such a way. After all, the philosophy of the tribunal is to provide effective dispute resolution in an informal setting. The tribunal works extremely well, and I have nothing but praise for its work in these cases.
One further point that must be clarified is precedent. The honourable member argues quite incorrectly that the order made by the tribunal has set some legal precedent for HomeFund borrowers. That is not right. All cases or claims before the tribunal are assessed on their individual merits. Decisions necessarily reflect the particular referee's assessment of the available evidence. As I have said all along, any consumer who believes he or she has not been treated fairly in relation to HomeFund or any other consumer area is entitled to lodge a claim with the Consumer Claims Tribunal. In the meantime, I remind the House that these issues relating to the HomeFund scheme are before the McMurtrie inquiry. I can assure all honourable members that the Government is awaiting the results of the McMurtrie inquiry and we will consider those recommendations in due course. It is my intention as Minister for Consumer Affairs to take a particularly keen interest in those recommendations; and I look forward to the McMurtrie inquiry presenting its report to the Minister for Housing.
Mr IRWIN (Fairfield) [4.11]: The breaches of HomeFund contracts revealed by the findings of the Consumer Claims Tribunal point to a disastrous level of mismanagement under the scheme. That the breaches have caused hardship for many families throughout New South Wales is now a matter of record. What must be made clear is that HomeFund was, in effect, driven by FANMAC. As its disastrous consequences have been made apparent, it was misrepresented to consumers in such a way as to advantage FANMAC at the expense of borrowers. The Trade Practices Commission outlined the list of complaints raised with it as follows:
Representations that repayments would be set at 27% of income if financial circumstances change (a feature of "Affordable" loans) when the borrowers were subsequently signed up for "Low Start" loans in which no such limit applies;
For many "Affordable" borrowers repayments were reduced to 27% when their gross income fell, but only for periods of between 3 and 12 months, when the mortgage documents provide for a reduction (with the set annual increase of 4-6%) for the balance of the loan period;
Representations that the repayments of "Affordable" borrowers would be reduced to an amount of 27% of income, when in many instances an "approved minimum payment", allowed for in the loan documents, was the rate applied;
Complaints that the mortgagee purported to exercise its power of sale when the safety net provisions allowed for in relation to "Affordable" mortgages had not been followed . . .
It is essential that we recognise the difference between the affordable loans, for which the New South Wales Government will subsidise a portion of any shortfall in repayments, and the low start loans, which are structured so that the initial repayments are less than the amount of interest accruing, the difference being added to the outstanding loan balance. As is apparent in so many cases, low start loans are promoted as allowing borrowers to borrow more than they might otherwise be able to do from other financial institutions. Indeed, it is abundantly clear from the report of the Trade Practices Commission that there was considerable confusion if not misrepresentation of the critical
differences between affordable loans and low start loans. What needs to be borne in mind on the mismanagement of the scheme is that, through the encouragement of borrowers to borrow very close to their absolute limit and to borrow almost the entire cost of the home purchased, such a scheme was taken to its limits in a totally irresponsible way.
Much of what has occurred when the chickens came home to roost, as they inevitably did, could have been foreseen. When the HomeFund scheme was first set up in 1985 one Michael Scott Lynch was recruited as the director of the task force appointed to investigate its establishment. He had excellent credentials for the position. He was highly recommended by Salomon Brothers. More importantly, he had been executive director of the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation. Mr Michael Scott Lynch would have been well acquainted with what the consequences of such a scheme were because this scheme has operated in Alaska since 1980. A boom in the early 1980s had much the same effect on this fund as on HomeFund in New South Wales. In 1985, 60 per cent of all home mortgages were through the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation. Then Alaska entered a recession and the whole thing began to unravel. Much the same situation as with HomeFund followed. There were foreclosures with families enduring substantial difficulties in meeting their repayments, so much so that in Alaska between 1985 and 1987 there were 16,000 foreclosures. No one should have known better than Michael Scott Lynch the consequences of the irresponsible administration of a scheme such as HomeFund. He had enjoyed an income in excess of $1 million a year. He had had intimate experience with the consequences of a scheme like HomeFund. Yet he has utterly mismanaged the scheme and has allowed the situation to develop to the stage that thousands of families are suffering. The irresponsible, total mismanagement of the scheme has now been exposed through the Trade Practices Commission and the inquiries of the Commercial Tribunal.
Mrs GRUSOVIN (Heffron) [4.16], in reply: Let us get one thing very clear right now. In fact, in those three matters heard in the Consumer Claims Tribunal last Friday, there was in excess of $15,000 awarded to those borrowers.
Mrs Chikarovski: Mediated.
Mrs GRUSOVIN: Mediated at the direction of the referee. Those borrowers had been fighting for their rights for months. After getting a hearing in the Consumer Claims Tribunal, which is supposed to be the vehicle for a mediation process, those borrowers finally achieved justice because the referee directed that they mediate an agreement. The claims made by those borrowers were received by them in very close approximation to the amounts that they believed they had been deprived of. It was then asked: who should bear the cost of those claims? There was I understand an agreement that the Department of Housing would pick up those costs rather than the co-operatives. Let us make it quite clear that this Government and this Minister have had no will to do anything to protect borrowers and consumers in this State.
A press release put out by the acting Minister for Housing claimed that promotional material was changed in July 1992. That is a lie. I believe he was provided with false advice by the department. The Association of Co-operatives cannot provide to me any proof that any material was changed then. The press release also stated that circulars have gone out to the co-operatives recently to clarify advice to borrowers. That again was a lie. The first time the co-operatives received advice was on 30th October, two days later, when they were specifically informed what was to be withdrawn. In the press release on the very same items the credibility of the Trade Practices Commission is drawn into doubt because it is claimed that its input was based on old information and
out-of-date promotional material. Why was it that on 30th October, following the press release of the Acting Minister on 28th October, that very brochure, "Can't Afford your Own Home? You Can Do It", dated 1st September, 1991, was required to be withdrawn? Why were the rent-buy brochures and all of these others listed on this page after being withdrawn on 30th October, two days after the department told the Acting Minister to put out a press release saying that information had already gone out to the co-operatives? There have been too many lies, too many brick walls and too big a cover-up.
This is the most disgraceful scandal I have every come across in my 14 years in public life - and I have seen many things in this place during that time. The truth will out. We might have to wait a few more weeks for a part-time chairman who will do it pro bono - a man from the Union Bank of Switzerland, and I might talk about some aspects of that on another occasion. The Minister for Consumer Affairs just will not act in the interests of borrowers. What are they going to do? Will they be put back out on the streets, and back on to the public housing waiting list, seeking rental subsidy and relief, knowing they will have to wait until next year at least to hear about the future direction of HomeFund? I am talking about human beings, about bodies.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Myall Lakes to order.
Mrs GRUSOVIN: I am talking about men crying in my office, seeking help. I am talking about distraught women. I am talking about families that have been left with nothing.
Mr Turner: You are driving us to tears.
Mrs GRUSOVIN: I do not mind being called a bleeding heart by members opposite. I have never seen anything like the scope of the injustice under the HomeFund scheme - a scheme "from the New South Wales Government" that claimed: "You can do it. We will help you have your own home".
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Myall Lakes to order for the second time.
Mrs GRUSOVIN: This scandal is disgraceful. Do not tell me that the Government has got a will. On 3rd November these photographs were taken of continuing promotional material at the Camden co-operatives office. A photographer was seen taking the photographs, and at 2 o'clock the same afternoon they whited out the words "from the New South Wales Government". These consumers take the Minister for a joke because they know she has not got the guts to get out and do her job as Minister for Consumer Affairs and provide a fair go for borrowers in this State - for consumers, for the most disadvantaged and most inarticulate people in this State, the low income earners who are supposed to be helped, who are still paying the highest interest rates in the country. Well the Minister might look at the clock; she could not bear to hear me on this issue much longer. But I tell you, Minister, that I am absolutely appalled. [Time expired.]
Motion agreed to.
ENDANGERED FAUNA (INTERIM PROTECTION) AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
Dr MACDONALD (Manly) [4.24]: This debate is coming to an end and I wish to raise concerns that have been expressed by peak environment groups. Those concerns have not been adequately responded to by the Minister, the Government or the Opposition. It is important to put this issue in some sort of context. The Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act, introduced last year and assented to earlier this year, exempted the Forestry Commission from certain provisions of the Act by granting it the right to apply for section 120 licences for current logging. That exemption in effect allowed the commission to escape scrutiny. The amending bill seeks to extend that exemption through to October 1993. I argue that is not appropriate. Indeed, I have had discussions with the Minister about clause 4, which specifically provides for extension of section 120 licences for a further two months but imposes no specific requirements about fauna impact statements that may or may not have been completed. Clause 4 makes no provision for any program of transition from stop--gap licences to general licences. Provision does not seem to have been made for exhibition of those FISs. Usually such statements are given a 28-day public exhibition.
Similar concerns have been raised in a letter by the honourable member for Blacktown, the Opposition spokesperson. Though I am not privy to its exact text, that letter generated a response from the Minister for the Environment to those concerns in a letter dated 25th November. I do not find the Minister's letter reassuring, and he is aware of that. The provisions and assurances that were requested would be better reflected in detailed amendments to clause 4. Indeed, the tenor of the Minister's letter seems to be that he agrees with those concerns but offers what can only be described as a watered down version. All one really draws from the Minister's response is that lists will be prepared of compartments which are covered by section 120 licences and that progress reports will be made on the preparation of fauna impact statements for those compartments. The reasons offered for the Minister not being able to take the next step are constrained resources and lack of availability of appropriate consultants. The letter also argues that timetables cannot be provided because that might prejudice the quality of the FISs.
The letter is full of holes and I am deeply concerned. What sort of deal did the Labor Party extract from the Government? The undertakings are not sufficiently substantial. Indeed, some of the fauna impact statements that have been completed have not been exhibited. I understand that a fauna impact statement has been completed on the Mistake State Forest, where logging has been going on since August this year, but that statement has not been exhibited. The Minister's response does not inform or intend to inform about the current status of FISs that are required - and that is 12 months after the measure was introduced. The Minister's response is inadequate. The peak environment groups have suggested an amendment. I hope that amendment will be supported by the Labor Party. I am disappointed that support has not yet been given. The amendment provides that a publishing program for FISs and applications for general licences for areas currently covered by section 120 licences may be published within one month of the legislation receiving assent. That will enable programming and documentation of the status of preparation of fauna impact statements and allow for proper transition to general licences. I have a letter from the Director of National Parks and Wildlife which lists a de facto program, in a sense, for fauna impact statements. The letter speaks about fauna impact statements that have been completed, those areas where FISs are under way, and where consultants have been engaged. In other words, it sets out the status of fauna impact statements. How different is that from what is being asked under the amendment? There should be a detailed publishing of the status of all the FISs along with the timetable for their transition to general licences. The director was able to produce that, yet the Minister is not able to accede to the amendment I proposed to
move which he has declined to support.
The whole question is accountability of the Forestry Commission. It was given specific exemption back in December last year. I remind the Minister that his letter states that the request cannot be met in the terms asked due to constrained resources and lack of availability. It is worrying that the Minister should raise the question of the lack of staff. On the one hand he is saying that the commission will be able to comply with the legislation and there will be a transition to general licences; yet on the other hand he says that there is a lack of resources. I ask the Minister in reply to confirm whether it is the case that there are no permanent employees in the threatened species unit - they are all temporary - and none of them are necessarily highly qualified in the field of ecology. Apparently, $750,000 was to be set aside in the environment budget for that threatened species unit. We would like details. If the situation is so bad, the Minister should allocate the necessary funds to enable the employment of necessary staff. I have a statement from a research scientist from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in Victoria in response to inquiries about whether there are qualified zoologists available to staff the unit and provide the necessary resources. They are available; I have evidence to substantiate it.
Is the commission unable to cope with the requirements of the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act because of a lack of funding and lack of staff? It is incumbent upon the Minister to address that matter in his reply. Perhaps the Minister could come a little further down the track on what he agreed to in his letter of the 25th. As I have stated, I am not happy with that response. It does not go near far enough. What about being a little more prescriptive in the report in detailing the status of the FISs in the section 120 licence areas? What about agreeing to publish the report within one month? Let us get the thing nailed down so that we can leave this debate with some confidence that things will happen. What about within three months agreeing to prepare FISs and lodging applications for general licences? Why would that not be possible? What about detailing in the report those management areas where systematic fauna surveys have already been undertaken? I hope the Minister will agree to these important concessions. I made the point earlier that some FISs have been prepared on State forest areas but they have been sat on. What about a requirement that once the FIS has been prepared an application for a general licence must be lodged? It was necessary to extend the interim Act but it seems that there are holes in regard to clause 4 of the bill. The Forestry Commission appears to have been let off the hook once again. It will be able to get a second breath until October next year. The Minister has argued that there is insufficient time and that there are seasonal and funding problems. I think the Government's response produces more questions than it answers.
Mr HARTCHER (Gosford - Minister for the Environment) [4.35], in reply: I thank honourable members who have participated in this debate - the honourable member for Blacktown, who led for the Opposition, and the honourable member for Moorebank, who supported her; the honourable member for Ermington, the chairman of the Government's environment committee; and the honourable member for Manly. It is clear that the House supports the bill but there are certain concerns about clause 4 which the honourable member for Blacktown has properly raised with me. The honourable member for Manly has also raised these concerns today. Parliament is about dealing with the possible. We do not live in a perfect world. Everybody in this House would like to see our environmental problems, especially those associated with old growth forests and fauna, resolved satisfactorily. We can only work through the problems. There will be no quick solution. We certainly will not find an easy solution in these matters concerning the viability of the timber industry.
The honourable member for Blacktown admitted that nobody has said that
thousands of jobs are at stake; nonetheless, jobs are an important underlying factor. The viability of the timber industry has to be acknowledged. We must achieve a workable system which protects as far as possible what old growth forests we can protect, our native flora and fauna - that is incumbent upon us - and ensures that the timber industry can continue to evolve toward less dependence on native forest and more dependence on tree farming and new growth areas. That evolutionary process will not be achieved overnight. All sections of the environmental movement and all sections of the community understand that. However much the Government may not have liked this legislation when it came about, nonetheless, it is the will of the Parliament and therefore the will of the people and it must be upheld and obeyed. The legislation seeks - whether the Government likes it or not - to ensure that fauna are protected and that the timber industry can operate within the constraints of a system of fauna protection. That is what it is all about. The Government is extending the legislation. The licences that have been granted will continue, subject to variation by the director if he thinks it is necessary to protect the fauna. Fauna impact statements will be carried out as necessary.
I turn to the questions raised and undertakings sought by the honourable member for Manly and the questions put by the honourable member for Blacktown. The honourable member for Manly said that this involves a question of accountability. That is so. The bill is not just about the Forestry Commission; it applies to anyone, across the board. It is just that the Forestry Commission is the bete noir. Now the commission is accountable in a way it has never been before. It has to conduct fauna impact statements, lay the studies open and present them for assessment, but as well as that -
Dr Macdonald: When?
Mr HARTCHER: We will answer that also. I, on behalf of the Government, must report quarterly to this House. Those reports, as a result of the undertakings sought and given to the Opposition, will be more comprehensive and more detailed than they have been in the past. I am not saying that I do not believe they have been fairly good and comprehensive. The honourable member for Moorebank found them fairly informative and quoted extensively from them in his address. So far as possible, the whole program will be laid open. The Government has nothing to hide. It is trying to find a practical solution, not merely an ideal one. I appeal to the honourable member for Manly to take that into account and not to believe that the Government has a hidden agenda to devastate and not to be accountable.
The honourable member for Manly also referred to lack of staff in the National Parks and Wildlife Service. I referred to the lack of availability of consultants; I do not think I said anything about lack of staff. I have not tried to engage a consultant myself and therefore I cannot speak from personal experience. However, I have received advice not only from the Forestry Commission but also from the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Fauna impact statements are a new field of knowledge and human endeavour. I will not use the word "industry", but it is a new specialisation. Not many people are properly qualified for it. People with the necessary qualifications command high salaries outside the public sector, so this specialisation will grow more rapidly in the private sector. If their reports are to be acceptable, they will have to have proven track records. Therefore they must work in an informal accreditation system because there is no formal accreditation system. People with standing, scientific responsibility and integrity are needed, and they are in limited supply. As I have told the honourable member for Manly, and as all members of the House know, these reports can only be prepared at certain times of the year. For example, the studies cannot be undertaken in winter, when bats go into torpor, snakes go into hibernation, and migratory birds fly elsewhere because their feeding trees are not in flower.
Mr Knowles: Ministers go overseas.
Mr HARTCHER: Sometimes Ministers go overseas, but not this one. There is a whole range of reasons why these studies cannot be undertaken in winter, so effectively most of May, all of June, July and August and some of September are not available. To try to tie the times when studies can be done down to specific days, times and places like a train timetable, which is what the honourable member for Manly seems to want to achieve, is simply not practical. The studies have to be done between October and May. Will it be possible to do all of the studies within that time frame, given the limited range of consultants available? That is simply not achievable. If that were attempted, the first risk would be that the studies would not be done properly. These studies must be done properly because they are designed to protect our fauna. The options are that the studies are done effectively or they are not done at all. The honourable member for Manly must understand that.
I was asked by the honourable member for Manly to speak about the threatened species unit. He has asked me to do so and as a member of this House he is entitled to a response. I am advised that the threatened species unit has limited resources. It is not as large or as expansive as one might possibly wish. The National Parks and Wildlife Service is a growing organisation. Staff numbers have increased this year; there have been no staff cutbacks or forced redundancies. The Government does not plan to cut staff numbers at the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Clearly the threatened species unit is not as large as one might like it to be, but it is the best that is available given the overall framework of budgetary constraints. I do not apologise for that. So far as I am aware the honourable member for Manly was not a member of the Estimates Committee on the Environment. There were no Independent members on that committee. If he had attended, he could have gone into all these issues with the public servants who were there with me. It was left to Opposition and Government members and the Hon. R. S. L. Jones from another place to staff the Estimates Committee on the Environment. These issues were all available for public ventilation at the committee.
The amount of money available is limited. The Government cannot apologise for that; it is simply a fact of life. The available funds have to be divided up in the best possible way. It must be understood that the threatened species unit does not prepare fauna impact statements; it merely assesses them. The staff of the unit are qualified and competent to assess the statements. If it is possible to employ highly qualified staff, that will be done. The honourable member for Manly knows that. If I as the Minister were not as interested as I am, the director and David Papps, the deputy director, are the sort of people, as the honourable member for Blacktown said, who would make sure they had the best available scientific assistance. As I have said, the honourable member for Manly spoke about the availability of consultants. I do not personally know about the availability of consultants, but the list I saw, which may have been made available to the honourable member for Manly - it had his name at the top - had several people on it, one of whom claimed to be a bat specialist and wanted to work on bats in the southeast forests. I would have thought that was a limited range of consultancy expertise.
There were only two people on the list who would seem to satisfy the normally sought criteria. I asked for that to be checked. I will not comment on them either critically or uncritically, but the list is very limited. It will clearly be incumbent on the Forestry Commission, the Roads and Traffic Authority and all other organisations to have these fauna impact statements completed. I will not pretend they are subject to a strict timetable, that on 10th March this statement has to be done or on 12th March that statement has to be done. They are expected and if they are not completed, the relevant organisations will not receive licences. It is as simple as that.
Dr Macdonald: Set dates.
Mr HARTCHER: My undertaking to the honourable member for Blacktown involves estimated completion dates. The honourable member for Blacktown and the honourable member for Manly will be able to ask me questions in the House. I am not running away from the issue. The honourable member for Manly asked why I do not intend to publish reports within one month detailing the status of fauna impact statements for all areas covered by section 120 licences. I am advised that that is simply impossible, because pastures protection board areas and agricultural and rural land is covered. It would be an absolute nightmare for the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which is already functioning under somewhat constrained staffing circumstances. Nothing would be achieved. The document refers to the forestry management areas. That is what I have been discussing with the Opposition. All 20 forestry management areas are on the list, which has been made available to everyone who has expressed an interest. The two-page list was prepared by the Forestry Commission. I was not prepared to accept it in its original form. I requested that it be submitted to the Director of National Parks and Wildlife to obtain his confirmation. That was done. He checked and confirmed the list.
In a sense that is what the honourable member for Manly is asking for. The list may not have dates on it but it has a complete list of the forestry management areas. I hope the honourable member for Manly accepts the list as a fairly accurate summary. The document lists the four fauna impact statements that have been exhibited. Two are to go on exhibition, I gather within a short time frame - within either the next week or 10 days - and another six are under way. Consultants are about to be engaged for another three, a further two surveys and fauna impact statements will be completed in the future, and a further three additional surveys outside the environmental impact statement program are also under way. As I have said, this list relates to the forestry management areas; it does not necessarily relate to the section 120 licences. To obtain a licence, one has to submit a fauna impact statement. The honourable member for Manly has asked that the report detail those management areas where systematic fauna surveys have already been undertaken and that the commission prepare fauna impact statements and lodge applications for general licences within three months. That is up to the Forestry Commission. If it does not do it, it will be the loser. I do not propose to do the work of the Forestry Commission, and I do not think honourable members would expect me to do so. It is for the Forestry Commission to do the work and lodge the applications.
Dr Macdonald: They do not extend to 120s?
Mr HARTCHER: That is a matter for the director. It has been made clear that the Government has not interfered at any stage with the director's discretion. He has issued stop-work orders and varied licences, and he has copped criticism from the honourable member for Oxley for doing so. His discretion is unfettered.
Mr Jeffery: He moves the goal-posts.
Mr HARTCHER: I do not accept that remark from the honourable member for Oxley. Immediately after a fauna impact statement is prepared, an application for a general licence will be lodged. That is the responsibility of the Forestry Commission. If the commission does not do it, it will miss out. It is as simple as that. As I mentioned privately to the honourable member for Blacktown and the honourable member for Moorebank, I appreciate the manner in which the Opposition has handled this issue by attempting to resolve differences in private, where possible, and then put them on public record in the Parliament. It indicates that issues can be sorted out but in an open and accountable manner. I shall repeat the undertakings that I have given the honourable member. On behalf of the Government I advise that future quarterly reports to the Parliament, other than the report that will be presented on the next sitting day, will include, pursuant to section 14 of the Timber Industry (Interim Protection) Act, advice to be provided to me by my colleague the Minister for Conservation and Land Management and Minister for Energy, who has responsibility for the Forestry
Commission - or any other Minister who is responsible for the Forestry Commission - on the progress of the Forestry Commission's preparation of the fauna impact statements under the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act.
The report will include a list of the compartments subject to stopgap licences and further progress reports on the preparation of fauna impact statements in relation to all areas subject to stopgap licences, including estimated completion dates. That should satisfy the concerns of every person seeking comprehensive and up-to-date information. Information will be provided by the Minister administering the Forestry Commission and, if he does not supply the information to me, the report will state, "This information has not been supplied". Honourable members will be able to see each quarter exactly what the Forestry Commission is doing. It will be full, open and accountable. The director has shown his absolute integrity in the administration of the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act, which was passed by this Parliament in 1991. He has, where he has deemed it necessary, issued stop-work orders. The stop-work order that comes to mind is the one issued for compartment 1402 at Tantawangalo. He has varied licences where it was considered necessary for the protection of fauna, as was most recently evidenced at the Carrai State Forest in the electorate of the honourable member for Oxley.
I should like to thank the honourable member for Blacktown for her kind comments about the director and David Papps. The law is the law and, whether the Government likes the legislation or not, it is duty bound to ensure that it is enforced throughout the public service. That has been the case to date, and it will continue to be the case. The honourable member mentioned the Mistake State Forest. A fauna impact statement has been forwarded to the National Parks and Wildlife Service together with an application and an application fee of $200. The director will determine the issuing of a general licence. I am advised that has occurred in the past week. The honourable member also said that there had been no argument that jobs are at risk. As I said earlier, that is correct. This extension has not been negotiated and put to the House in an atmosphere of excitement but in a fairly detached manner. All negotiations have been carried out in a cool and detached way.
I hope that addresses the concerns raised by the honourable member for Blacktown, the honourable member for Moorebank and the honourable member for Manly. The bill speaks for itself. The reports to be tabled will be more comprehensive and will include more information to address the specific concerns raised. I hope that will be successful in ensuring the right degree of balance between the need to protect our fauna, the need to protect and conserve what we can of our old growth forests, and the need to ensure we have a viable timber industry and that other activities, be they in agriculture or roads, or any other field of human activity, continue in a fair and effective manner. I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING AND ASSESSMENT (CONTRIBUTIONS PLANS) AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from 18th November.
Ms ALLAN (Blacktown) [4.57]: The bill proposes a minor amendment to the Environmental Planning and Assessment (Contributions Plans) Amendment Act 1991. The effect of the amendment is to extend the time for councils to prepare section 94 contribution plans from 17th December, 1992, to 30th June 1993. The extension is
necessary because the great majority of New South Wales councils will not be able to complete their contribution plans by 17th December. Unless the plans are completed, councils will be unable to levy section 94 contributions for new developments in their local government areas. The bill is straightforward, and the Opposition was partly responsible for it being dealt with expeditiously by the Government. Opposition members have received representations from a number of councils in the metropolitan area, particularly in western Sydney. I have received both written and verbal representations from Fairfield, Penrith, Blacktown, Liverpool, Holroyd and Parramatta and other councils. On behalf of all those councils the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils has also raised the matter with me. The Opposition intends to support the Government in ensuring that councils do not suffer undue hardship in the process of preparing their section 94 contributions plans. That is why the Opposition is prepared to allow them another six months to achieve that objective.
Mr YEADON (Granville) [5.0]: I support the Environmental Planning and Assessment (Contributions Plans) Amendment Bill. Honourable members would be aware that the Environmental Planning and Assessment (Contributions Plans) Amendment Act 199l put in place a requirement that after 17th December, 1992, any council wishing to levy development contributions should first have a section 94 contributions plan in place. This was brought about because of varying degrees of accuracy and accountability in relation to contributions by developers. It has become clear that the deadline of December of this year caused problems for a number of local government associations to conclude their plans and put those arrangements in place. I, together with other members of this House, have received representations from local councils. The Council of the City of Holroyd and the Parramatta City Council have both made representations to me indicating that they have been unable to meet the 17th December deadline.
I understand that earlier this year the preparation of such plans was delayed for a number of months pending the issue of planned preparation guidelines by the Department of Planning and the release of preliminary census data. Further, some difficulty has been experienced in meeting the deadline owing to the amount of work required to prepare the plans and the need to exhibit them publicly for 28 days prior to council's approval. Councils that have contacted me have been concerned that considerable loss of income will ensue in the event that they do not meet the deadline. Because of the nature of the regulations, any such loss of contributions by developers will be irretrievable by those councils, which would be a most unfortunate state of affairs. Two overriding factors need to be considered in relation to this matter. Councils have experienced problems with the deadline, and it is important that this process is carried out correctly, rather than putting in place half-baked measures merely to meet the deadline. Proper plans should be formulated and further time allowed to put those plans in place. It would be most unjust if, as a result of a short deadline, developers were not required to make contributions. As I have said, those contributions would be irretrievably lost. That would give a number of developers free run and cause major problems for councils and their rate-payers, which would miss out on the contributions that would otherwise be made. I support the bill. It will allow six months basically for councils to put their plans in place.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Knowles.
PROSECUTION OF FORMER DETECTIVE SENIOR CONSTABLE PAUL KENNY
Consideration of Urgent Matter
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
Mr GRIFFITHS (Georges River - Minister for Police) [5.4]: The Government
agrees that this matter is one that is deserving of independent analysis. Allegations against police officers and other public officials are always treated with great concern. It must be understood that allegations such as those made in the House today cause tremendous stress not only to the officers under investigation, but more particularly to their families. It is the Government's view that a retired judge should be retained to examine all the available material, including that produced by the Opposition and other honourable members. The Attorney General will confer with the shadow attorney general on the appropriate terms of reference for the inquiry. The judge will report to the Attorney General, who will consult on the report with the shadow attorney general and take appropriate action as a result of any recommendations. I am sure that honourable members will understand that it would be inappropriate to disclose the report to Parliament until any further action and investigations that may be required have been undertaken. The Attorney General will report to the Parliament at the first available opportunity after receiving the report. It is envisaged that the inquiry will conclude on 28th February, 1993, which should enable a report to be made available to the Parliament by the end of March 1993. Honourable members will recall the precedent for this type of examination - the Purnell inquiry - which also reported to the Attorney General for precisely these reasons.
Mr ANDERSON (Liverpool) [5.6], in reply: I thank the Minister and the Government for their response to this matter. During the course of debate and subsequently, I was concerned about the matter being referred back to the Independent Commission Against Corruption. I wish to read from a letter dated 16th November, addressed to Mr Kenny from Gabrielle Drennan, Principal Lawyer of the ICAC. The letter reads:
I refer to your letter dated 12 November 1992 asking that I advise you of "the Commission's future intentions in relation to this matter".
Your complaint and all the material which you provided to the Commission was carefully considered by Commission officers. The report prepared was considered by the Operations Review Committee at its meetings on 4 September and 6 November 1992. I attach a pamphlet which outlines relevant information concerning that Committee.
After consideration of the report the Committee has recommended to the Commissioner that your complaint should not be the subject of further enquiries or a formal investigation. The Commissioner has accepted that advice.
I note the advice in your letter dated 12 November 1992 and earlier that you have complained to the Bar Association of New South Wales concerning the conduct of Mr Tedeschi QC and Mr Maxwell QC. Your complaint against those persons formed part of the material which was considered by the Operations Review Committee. Your enquiry relative to Mr Tedeschi's continued practice as a Crown Prosecutor should be directed to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Returned with this letter is a folder containing some 23 attachments to your letter of complaint dated 29 June 1992. I note that you have uplifted the various transcripts which you provided to the Commission.
It is important that honourable members understand why I took the position I did. I am pleased and grateful that this action has been taken in this matter. After six years the truth will out by this process. It will not be as costly, extensive and certainly not as difficult for the people involved. I have grave concerns that Paul Kenny, his wife and his family could withstand six months or 12 months of a royal commission-type inquiry, though at times that may be the only way to get to the truth. However, in this case, depending upon the terms of reference drafted ultimately and the appointment of the judicial officer, I believe it is possible that this process will produce an appropriate result and the matter will be over one way or the other. I took no delight in a number of matters today. I have known the Killen family for a long time, and to revisit such sadness upon Frank Killen and his wife did not please me. Some of the other people against whom serious allegations were made today are close friends of mine and I did not
delight in making those allegations, but six years had passed, and I have had this matter for almost three years. Something had to be done, so I am grateful to the Government for the decision it reached. I thank the Independents, in particular the honourable member for South Coast, who, it is not unreasonable to say, changed his position during the course of question time. Without their support the matter would not have been debated.
Mr West: We all had an open mind.
Mr ANDERSON: I accept that, and I think it is wonderful. I am pleased that there is a process in place for the suspension of standing orders, unlike the old process which was an ambush. With this process the Government had an hour to consider the matter as well as time during debate and has made what I think is a very decent decision. I hope the Government resolves it. It may set the tone for the way in which matters can be resolved in the future. If that happens, it will be good for the Parliament. I readily acknowledge the good will on the part of the Government. I particularly want to thank the chief policy adviser of the Minister for Police, Bruce Kelly. I have had to deal with him on this matter and others recently; he has been competent and helpful in achieving things. I digress slightly to thank the Minister for Police and his colleague the Minister for Community Services and Assistant Minister for Health for the way in which they ensured that I, as the local member, was kept informed of the terrible incident in my electorate yesterday from the time it started until it ended so tragically. I am grateful for that.
Motion agreed to.
ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING AND ASSESSMENT (CONTRIBUTIONS PLANS) AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
Mr KNOWLES (Moorebank) [5.11]: When this bill first came before the Parliament in December last year the Opposition moved an amendment, which was accepted by the Government, to include in the bill a completion date of 17th December for the preparation of contributions plans under section 94. At that time, it was generally regarded by everyone, including the Government and the Department of Planning, as a satisfactory date. By all assessments and expectations, local government authorities throughout New South Wales could reasonably have been expected to complete their work by the time specified, being 12 months from the date of gazettal. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. As a consequence, this bill to amend the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act has been brought forward. The purpose of this bill is to extend the completion date until 1st July, 1993, to allow councils to complete their work for the preparation of contributions plans. It is important to note that section 94 contributions are a vital part of the budgeting and revenue sources of councils, particularly those in western Sydney, as they represent funds that are directed to embellishments of new release areas. That, of course, establishes for new communities in the growing areas of western Sydney a basis for their -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Moorebank is straying from the ambit of the bill. There is no scope to discuss section 94 contributions in general, merely the extension of the date by which reports are to be made.
Mr KNOWLES: The purpose of section 94 is to allow councils to require the dedication of land or a monetary contribution as a condition of development consent. This bill will allow the local government authority to extend to 1st July, 1993, the
opportunity for councils to complete those works. The purpose of the original bill was to require councils to provide a nexus by way of a section 94 contributions plan between their levy and the purpose for which those funds were to be levied. That means that the council has to demonstrate clearly that the funds which it wishes to collect from developers will be applied to services and facilities generally. The extension of the date in the bill before the House allows councils to continue that work of justification. It is appropriate that councils continue to do that. As the honourable member for Granville has pointed out, the opportunity for councils to raise section 94 levies from developers is one of the few ways in which councils can collect revenue. To demonstrate to the House the concern of local government authorities generally - something which you may be interested in, Mr Speaker - I have a letter dated 2nd October from Mr David Mead, the General Manager of Baulkham Hills Shire Council which requests an extension of the time available for the preparation of section 94 contributions plans. The letter states:
The council had its meeting on 29th September 1992 and considered a report on the deadline for section 94 contribution plans and resolved that the State Government and the Opposition be advised of council's concern regarding the December 1992 deadline for the section 94 contribution plans . . .
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Moorebank is not entitled to read a whole letter; he may paraphrase it if he wishes.
Mr KNOWLES: Mr Speaker, I am reading a direct quote from the council resolution.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That does not give the honourable member for Moorebank the entitlement to read large slabs of letters; he can paraphrase the substance of the letter if he wishes.
Mr KNOWLES: The council resolved to seek the extension of the section 94 -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It being 5.15 p.m., pursuant to sessional orders the debate is interrupted.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' STATEMENTS
WORONORA RIVER BRIDGE
Mr DOWNY (Sutherland) [5.15]: I read an interesting story on the front page of the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader of Tuesday this week regarding a meeting held by the Roads and Traffic Authority on Thursday, 19th November. According to the article, the meeting was a workshop held with local councils to discuss RTA road priorities in the southeastern area of Sydney. I read in the article that a motion moved by Sutherland shire's councillor, Paul Smith - a Labor councillor - to downgrade the priority of the proposed Woronora River bridge in favour of other roadworks was passed overwhelmingly. I was absolutely amazed to read that that action was taken. I rang the Roads and Traffic Authority to find out exactly what had happened. I was told that there had been a workshop for councils in the southeastern part of Sydney on 19th November.
The meeting was called to present an overview of the authority's road planning in the council areas affected and to indicate general road strategies and general upgrading priorities for the area. Councils were invited to put forward views on the Roads and Traffic Authority's planning - apparently many views were forthcoming. As the article indicates, several Sutherland shire councillors spoke against the Woronora River bridge. A motion was moved by Councillor Paul Smith to reallocate the funds for the proposed
Woronora River bridge at Woronora to other projects in the region. I was informed that the shire president, Councillor Ian Swords - another Labor councillor - also indicated that all of the funds that were to be allocated for the Woronora River bridge should not be spent in the Sutherland shire but should be spent in the St George area. I was absolutely amazed that even Labor councillors from the Sutherland Shire Council would suggest such a thing.
When the Labor Party was in office no money was made available for roads in the Sutherland shire, particularly in the Menai area. This Government has allocated many funds to that area to make up for the backlog of roadworks that should have been done years ago. I cannot believe, after all the planning that has been done for the Woronora River bridge and other roadworks in the area, that an Australian Labor Party controlled council is now saying, "No, we do not want to spend the money here; spend it somewhere else". One of the Labor councillors commented at the workshop that there were no serious delays or accidents on the Woronora River bridge road and, therefore, the money need not be spent. I refer the House to two incidents that have occurred in recent weeks. There have been two long delays on River Road and Menai Road at Woronora River. During the first week of November an accident led to a delay of an hour; on or about 13th November there was another delay. A constituent who lives at Bangor and wanted to get to Sutherland left home at 8.30 a.m. and finally got to the Woronora River bridge - which is usually a two- or three-minute drive - by 9.10 a.m. Traffic had to be diverted through a track at Bonnet Bay because of the delays that took place following the accident on River Road at Woronora River. It is about time that these Australian Labor Party councillors on Sutherland Shire Council realise that the great majority of residents want the Woronora River bridge. To prove this point, I refer to a letter in the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader written by one resident. He pleaded to me:
Arrange for some more funds to erect a possible life-saving route between the two sides of this divided shire.
A poll carried out some two years ago showed that an overwhelming majority of residents want the bridge. It is time for the Government to act. We need this bridge; we want the environmental impact statement to be approved by the Roads and Traffic Authority; we want the funds to be made available; and we want this bridge to be built. We do not want the misfits at Sutherland Shire Council, those Australian Labor Party councillors, to say that they do not want the money. My constituents want the money, and they want it to be spent on the Woronora River bridge.
Mr SCHIPP (Wagga Wagga - Minister for Sport, Recreation and Racing) [5.20]: The honourable member for Sutherland has once again demonstrated that he is well on top of the issues relating to his electorate. He is a man of action. He wants to get things done and not to turn the clock back as does the council that he has referred to. The Minister for Roads has asked me to assure the honourable member in these terms. The Roads and Traffic Authority released a strategy for road development in the western area of the Sutherland shire in January 1991. As part of this strategy the Woronora River bridge was accorded a high priority. This project will provide for a better connection between the Menai growth area and the Sutherland area and would enhance the Bankstown-Sutherland inter-regional connection. The proposal calls for the construction of a bridge over the Woronora River and approaches, a climbing lane on the river road and additional roadworks into Linden Street.
An environmental impact statement for the project has been prepared and was publicly exhibited in November 1990 and again in January 1991. Subject to the
determination of this environmental impact statement, which is expected by the end of December 1992, it is proposed that work on the project will commence in 1994. As part of the project, the Roads and Traffic Authority has undertaken measures to ensure that noise pollution within the area is kept to a minimum. A separate environmental assessment has been conducted to permit the provision of noise attenuation barriers and landscaping adjacent to the Menai Road deviation on the western approaches to the Woronora River. A contract was awarded in April 1992 for the design, manufacture and construction of concrete barriers for use in reduction of noise. Work commenced on the erection of these noise attenuation barriers on the site in September this year, and they should be completed within the next couple of weeks. Landscaping of the area will then be undertaken once these noise reduction barriers have been installed.
SYDNEY (KINGSFORD-SMITH) AIRPORT CIVIL AVIATION AUTHORITY PLAN
Mr J. H. MURRAY (Drummoyne) [5.22]: I draw the House's attention to the proposed plan by the Federal Government's Civil Aviation Authority which will optimise the efficiency of runway usage at Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) Airport and at the same time reduce noise levels and provide for safer landing and takeoff procedures. This trial plan will provide a welcome respite from the incessant aircraft noise that has afflicted the residents of Drummoyne, Chiswick, Abbotsford, Rodd Point and Five Dock since the war. For the first time the main north-south runway will be dedicated to departing traffic and the east-west runway to arriving traffic. All takeoffs will be to the south over Botany Bay except for a few days of the year when wind conditions make this impossible. The main advantages of the Civil Aviation Authority's proposals would be a massive reduction in the number of residents affected by this constant and irritating aircraft noise over the Drummoyne electorate; optimising the capacity of the current runways; facilitating the operational efficiency of aircraft flying into Sydney; and, finally, reducing delays to the aviation industry. The Civil Aviation Authority has been established to set and maintain safety standards for civil aviation in Australia and to protect the environment from the effects of aircraft. The Civil Aviation Authority general manager for air traffic services claims the system optimises the capacity of present runways. He stated:
The proposed system is safer than what we are currently doing. In other words it is a win, win scenario.
I ask: why has the Government stalled this important trial, which would be of such benefit to many residents of Sydney? It is inconceivable that the Federal Government has even considered denying this trial because it would improve the quality of life of residents who have for many years been subjected to horrendous aircraft noise and emissions. The trial would be of great benefit to residents in the Drummoyne area. The number of takeoffs using the north runway over Drummoyne would not change - it would still be 4 per cent of all takeoffs - but the number of landings would be significantly reduced from the current 43 per cent to less than 10 per cent. This decrease in landings would mean a massive decrease in noise pollution levels, resulting in improved sleeping patterns, better television reception, less rattling of windows and a generally much improved quality of life for long suffering residents. There is also the issue of safety. With less aircraft traffic over the city the risk would be minimised if, God forbid, something did occur. This would drastically reduce the likelihood of an aviation disaster. In fact, the safety equation shows that the potential for aircraft crashes over the Drummoyne area would fall by up to 40 per cent.
How can the Federal Government possibly deny the rights of these residents, who have suffered from noise, depreciation in the value of their homes, the disruption of their lives and decreased quality of life, to have this trial proceed? Not only would the residents benefit, but also the Government would benefit as a consequence of savings
in fuel for Australian aircraft. I call on Prime Minister Keating to intervene. He should look closely at this matter. I know that he has had personal experience of the difficulties the people of Drummoyne have faced over the years and would be fully aware of the benefits this trial would bring to all Drummoyne residents. This trial should proceed to allow residents the chance to test this radical and, what I believe to be, most positive initiative. Last night in debate on superannuation, we saw how the Parliament can work; all sides came together to try to develop a rationale for superannuation which would be to the benefit of a majority of people. On this occasion I am taking the opportunity to address the House to show that the people of the Drummoyne area, including those who support the Australian Labor Party, are at variance with our Federal colleagues on their putting the trial on hold. It is a bad decision. I want to be counted in this House as being against that decision. Hopefully the Hansard will be read by the Prime Minister and, as a consequence, his decision on this matter will be changed.
Mr SCHIPP (Wagga Wagga - Minister for Sport, Recreation and Racing) [5.27]: Members on this side of the House are in total disbelief that a member of the right-wing faction of the Labor Party in this State would make such a statement. I congratulate him on taking a stand, but where was he when Messrs Brereton, Punch and McLeay rolled the Civil Aviation Authority through the devices of the very Prime Minister that he is appealing to now. They have turned down a very innovative trial, which was for one month only, to prove the benefits of this scheme; that has now been blown out of the water. The only noise that the honourable member for Drummoyne ought to be worried about is the noise that he is prepared to make publicly. He should not sneak off a Hansard to the Prime Minister and hope that he reads it; he should go out in the public arena and castigate the right-wing faction of the Federal Government, which rolled the Minister for Shipping and Aviation Support. That faction beat the Civil Aviation Authority for putting in a scheme that was worth trialling. As the Daily Telegraph Mirror said yesterday morning in its editorial, the scheme is so simple and straightforward it is a wonder it has not been thought of before. The honourable member should make the noise and show he is fair dinkum. He should call a vote on this because we will vote with him on this. We will test him. He should go public.
Ms MACHIN (Port Macquarie) [5.29]: I rise tonight to discuss the need that Kendall has for a community pre-school, an issue that has been running for a long time. I was interested in it long before I became a parent. Having children heightens one's concern about the need for child care - that includes in the Parliament. However, the community at Kendall has been working extremely hard for several years to provide a facility for some 20 children that it currently caters for. For the benefit of the House, Kendall is a small but very rapidly growing town just south of Port Macquarie and just west of the highway from Kew. A lot of young families have chosen to buy a block of land, move there, and raise their children in a much nicer environment. The committee, headed by Alison Haylett and including a number of others, has been working hard to provide a decent facility out of the School of Arts Hall, which is not all that convenient because the group has to share it with a number of other organisations. That group has to put toys and other equipment away each day so that other groups are not inconvenienced. It is not a very satisfactory arrangement. The hall is on a sloping site and there is limited outside space. The community preschool has been looking for a long time for a site and for money. We explored the possibility of using State Rail Authority property when the Government decided to divest some of that, and now we have the opportunity to explore the use of a forestry office at Kendall. The Minister for Conservation and Land Management, who is in the Chamber, is aware of this need. We have put it to him.
The matter was first raised with me by Mrs Jessie Steinmetz, a longstanding and active member of the community. Mrs Steinmetz asked whether the building, which is vacant, available and practical for a pre-school, could be used for that purpose now that the Forestry Commission has consolidated and moved a couple of staff members down to Taree. I hope that the Minister responsible for the Forestry Commission will acknowledge our community's need and help us come to some arrangement. Naturally, we would like him to donate the building, but people in that area are realists. They are aware of the difficult economic times that we face and would be prepared to discuss some sort of leasehold arrangement. They are a community of very keen workers. Many of the parents are willing handymen and would be happy to help fit out the school. I received a letter from a Mrs Haylett, a member of the management committee, who says they have inspected the building, they recognise the need for a Forestry Commission depot, and would propose to fence off three sides of the building. That would still leave a considerable portion of the area for the forestry workers and their equipment in the depot.
As yet I believe they have not had the chance to inspect the inside of the building. However, the dimensions of the inside of the building, after alterations and renovations, would be suitable to provide the amount of space required for 24 children. The outside area is flat, with a nice big shady tree. The building is centrally located between roads, has much more space than the current site, and is somewhat safer, being in a less busy part of the town - not that Kendall could be described as a very busy town. I urge the Minister to support this proposal, which would be an excellent use of community resources and of a public building that is no longer required. It seems stupid to force the community to raise funds to look for and buy, or build, another building. Unfortunately, at present not much money is available for pre-schools. The building is available. We hope to be able to negotiate a deal with the Forestry Commission that will meet its needs, continue to provide a depot, and also provide a suitable pre-school for the community in a good location. I urge the Minister to consider this request sympathetically and help us meet the needs of the community, which has been working on this matter for several years.
Mr WEST (Orange - Minister for Conservation and Land Management, and Minister for Energy) [5.34]: The honourable member has raised this matter with me on previous occasions. I can indicate to her that I have sought advice from the Commissioner for Forests, who has advised me that the commission will favourably consider any reasonable proposal by the Kendall pre-school committee. However, a number of problems still need to be overcome; some of those problems were alluded to by the honourable member today. It is worth enumerating the problems that have been identified. For example, the Forestry Commission will need to continue to use the garages and sheds associated with the office building as a works depot for employees residing in Kendall. This will involve a considerable amount of traffic, and for safety reasons the office building would need to be fenced off from the yard.
Though I am aware that peak periods would normally be before and after pre-school hours, there could still be some noise and dust problems associated with that activity. There would also be a need at times for employees to work at the depot, especially during wet weather. As no other toilets are available, people would require access to the office toilet. The building needs repairs and ongoing maintenance. However, I understand that people associated with the pre-school would be prepared to undertake this work. I assure the honourable member that the Forestry Commission, with the encouragement of the Government, while adopting a more commercial approach to all of its dealings and while looking for reasonable returns on assets, will be very reasonable in its approach. I hope that we are able to meet the requirements and requests of the committee in this regard at an early opportunity.
USE OF SEWAGE SLUDGE IN AGRICULTURE
Mr CLOUGH (Bathurst) [5.36]: I want to talk about a product of Sydney that is not wanted in the Mittagong area, on Sydney's beaches or on the North Shore but which apparently can be dumped without compunction in the Bathurst electorate. I am talking about Sydney's excrement, the product of its sewers. Sewage sludge is not acceptable at Mittagong, in the Southern Tablelands electorate represented by the Premier, where its use was trialled for some time. The sludge is not acceptable on the beaches of Sydney. The Minister for Planning and Minister for Housing in another place has announced that this summer Sydney's beaches will be free of sludge. Any suggestion that the sludge be trialled in the Ku-ring-gai Chase and Davidson National Park brought a quick and sharp response from newspapers in that area. They did not want it. I suggested that the people who produce it should gain the benefits from it. However, the sludge has been surreptitiously introduced into the Bathurst electorate in total secrecy. Now the Government is trying to give some form of accreditation to it by claiming that it grows marvellous trees. Once a seed is dropped into the sludge, jump back because the tree will knock you unconscious with its rapid growth.
I want to examine some of the facts of the matter. The Government is now touting that 1,600 tonnes of this stuff is in the Lidsdale State Forest. That figure is incorrect. At the moment 3,600 tonnes of sludge is in that forest. There are 1,200 tonnes of it in the forests around Mount David to the south of Bathurst. Recently the Water Board has been out in that area testing the water. I would take the board's test results with a grain of salt, for I do not believe a single officer in the New South Wales public service today is prepared to give a test result that does not conform with the Government's policy. The Government has an easy remedy for that type of misdemeanour within the State's public service - rapid redundancy. Apparently a number of applications by farmers in the Bathurst district requesting this sludge have been agreed to and the Water Board has delivered it. But the farmers have woken up to the fact that the sludge transported to Bathurst, in particular from the Riverstone area, contains concentrates of a number of pesticides including chlordane and dieldrin. Last week I saw a leaked Water Board memorandum indicating that the sludge not only contained higher than acceptable levels of pesticides, as set by the Department of Agriculture, but that the department is about to raise those levels. Levels that are unacceptable at present will become acceptable.
I have no sympathy for farmers who seek cheap gain from using the sludge. I know of two people who have made applications for the sludge. One farmer was refused permission by the Lithgow City Council simply because his property is alongside a dam into which products from this Sydney excrement would leach or run off. The Government, through the Minister for Planning, has consistently denied that the sludge will leach into the waterways. The property I refer to is on a hilltop. Unless the Minister is capable of altering the direction in which water flows, the sludge will make its way into the Cox's River in one area and into the Abercrombie River and Wyangala Dam in a second area. I ask the Government to be honest about what it is doing with this rubbish. The Government should tell people it is putting the material in the Bathurst electorate and let people know what is happening.
Mr SCHIPP (Wagga Wagga - Minister for Sport, Recreation and Racing) [5.40]: One gets the impression that the honourable member for Bathurst has dumped a fair amount of sludge into this place in the last five minutes. I wonder how he voted when the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs put legislation through the Parliament to allow the use of sewage sludge of a particular concentration for agricultural, silviculture, and soil improvement purposes. As I recall, nobody voted against it, including the honourable member for Bathurst. The remarks of the honourable member
would make people think that sludge is coming out of sewage plants and running off into the countryside. That is just not right. At the Royal Easter Show the Water Board -
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Chappell): Order! The honourable member for Bathurst has had his opportunity to speak.
Mr SCHIPP: The Water Board showed the machinery that spreads the pelletised soil improver. There is no smell and no water. The honourable member said at the end of his speech that the people should be told and that there is speculation and whatever. If what the honourable member said is correct, people are in breach of legislation that is there to protect our food industries. He is making allegations -
Mr Clough: On a point of order. The Minister is suggesting that I made some sort of a comment that -
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER Order! It is not up to the member to debate the issue. What is the point of order?
Mr Clough: My point of order is that the Minister now is stating that I said something that I did not say. He is telling lies.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER Order! There is no point of order.
Mr SCHIPP: The honourable member should read the Hansard. He is suggesting a conspiracy theory involving people in the bureaucracy not being game to speak out for fear of their jobs being threatened. That is absolute garbage and he knows it. People will test his assertions and he will be shown up for having said what he did. [Time expired.]
AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY LIQUOR TRADING HOURS
Mr COCHRAN (Monaro) [5.42]: I draw the attention of the House, the Minister for Police and the Premier and Treasurer to a problem causing considerable grief and aggravation to the people of Queanbeyan. I refer to liquor trading hours in the Australian Capital Territory. Queanbeyan is just across the border from Canberra and many of the problems felt by residents of the ACT are felt by the residents of Queanbeyan. I raise this issue on behalf of parents of teenagers in Queanbeyan. For some time they have been complaining that the extended trading hours of liquor outlets in the ACT are providing an around the clock opportunity for young people in Queanbeyan to consume alcohol. They are tempted by nightclubs and other facilities across the border. Recently there have been brawls, bashings and gangland activities in the ACT, and these activities are spreading to Queanbeyan. Those who know the area would recall that in years gone past Queanbeyan would have been accused of in some way degrading the quality of life in the ACT, but the situation has been reversed. There is a relationship between these activities and the trendy, left-wing management practices of the ACT Government, which has also allowed the proliferation of pornographic material. The ACT is now the porn capital of Australia and its liquor laws are so liberal that young children have access to liquor 24 hours a day. This is generally degrading the quality of life in the ACT and surrounding areas of New South Wales, which concerns me more. There is no question that there are direct links between drug and alcohol abuse and crime and violence. Today's Canberra Times contains a quote from ACT Chief Magistrate Ron Cahill as follows:
We might have choked on the over-liberalisation of liquor licensing . . . The Canberra I know has changed in many ways, and one of them is the fear of violence.
It might well be a product of growth - but it's a product I don't like.
He went on to say that he had great difficulty coming to terms with a city which served alcohol at 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. The article continues:
Any barman could tell that no-one coming in at that time was having their first for the day.
"We need to get more community activity into policing these things." He said. "And we need also to look at restricting nightclub hours".
Chief Magistrate Cahill has sat on the bench in the ACT for many years and he probably has a better understanding of law and order in the ACT than does any other person. ACT and New South Wales police have grave concern about the level of violence in the ACT, which is spreading into Queanbeyan. As the parent of a teenager I am as much concerned as anybody else living in the area about restriction of liquor trading hours in the ACT and in New South Wales. It may well be that trading hours of the Queanbeyan Leagues Club and the Raiders nightclub may need to be restricted. The ACT Attorney-General has admitted that there is a problem and he has stated that he intends to take action. In 1991-92 there were 172 assaults in Civic, the city centre of Canberra, and 20 in the adjoining suburb of Braddon. In the first four months of this year 62 assaults occurred in Civic and 19 in Braddon. That is an indictment of the whole city. I ask the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Racing to refer these matters to the Premier and to the Minister for Police so that they will be raised at the consultative forum which will take place this Monday in Canberra.
Mr SCHIPP (Wagga Wagga - Minister for Sport, Recreation and Racing) [5.47]: The matter raised by the honourable member for Monaro has caused wide concern in the community. People from the Prime Minister down have raised the question of violence and community standards. The Prime Minister has been supported in raising concerns about what is shown on television. A lot of the rubbish shown on prime time television is reflected by what occurs in the community at large. The honourable member raised the matter of liquor laws in the ACT, but I think the general public would welcome a review of the relaxation of laws that has resulted in the situation described.
Mr Thompson: The Liquor Act in New South Wales has just been reviewed.
Mr SCHIPP: We are talking about the laws in the ACT at the moment. I will make sure that the relevant Ministers and the Premier are advised of the honourable member's concern. All honourable members would relate to the problem and I state on behalf of the Government that the raising of the matter by the honourable member is appreciated.
Mr FARMER PARKING INFRINGEMENT NOTICES
Mr THOMPSON (Rockdale) [5.48]: I raise a matter on behalf of a constituent of mine, Mr Norman Farmer of Arncliffe. Mr Farmer is a law-abiding, long-term resident of my electorate. He and his wife Amy are well respected local senior citizens. Over the past five or six months the Farmers have been subjected to receiving a spate of infringement notices for illegal parking. They are completely innocent of the alleged transgressions. On each occasion they have received a notice of a parking infringement they have been able to convince the Police Service of their innocence. In all, at least five notices have been received, all in the form of a so-called courtesy letter - a misnomer if ever there was one in view of the effect they have had, and continue to have, on Mr and Mrs Farmer. The first notice was received in June and was for "standing contrary to
notice - no standing", the penalty being $45. This puzzled Mr Farmer as he and his wife were in Dubbo at the time of the alleged offence, which took place in Sydney. So he phoned the Parramatta office of the Police Service on the number that appears on the courtesy letter, 633 9500. Anyone who has tried to get through on that number will begin to understand the utter frustration that innocent people feel when trying to correct the mistakes of the bureaucracy. The line is constantly engaged. I have tried it a number of times, most recently today, and have yet to get through.
However, on the occasion in question, Mr Farmer persisted and was eventually able to make contact with an officer of the department. It was admitted that a mistake had been made in the computer entry of the offending vehicle's registration number. The number of the vehicle was AAH-81Z, which is remarkably similar to the registration number of Mr Farmer's vehicle, which is AAH-812. Clearly the "2" was transposed for the "Z". Mr Farmer accepted that a simple mistake had been made and put the matter behind him, even though both he and his wife had been upset because they are not used to being in conflict with the law. A few days later another courtesy letter arrived in relation to the same alleged offence, together with a $45 fine. Again Mr Farmer went through the exhausting and frustrating process of telephoning the Police Service and again the same problem was found. Subsequently Mr Farmer wrote to the Parramatta office of the Police Service, and I will quote part of his letter. He said:
I again rang the Office and explained what had happened in the first instance, and again I was told to ignore the notice and not to worry - the matter would be fixed and the mistake would be rectified.
He concluded his letter by saying:
As my wife and I are pensioners and worried, could you please look into this matter before it goes any further.
An apology was given in a letter of 15th July, in which the Infringement Processing Bureau also advised that "remedial action had now been taken". But within a couple of days of this letter, yet another infringement notice arrived. On investigation it was found that the relevant offence took place at Crows Nest. Mr Farmer had not been to Crows Nest for many years, and no one had used his vehicle to travel anywhere near Crows Nest. On 31st July I wrote to the then police Minister setting out the facts and the problems caused by the transposition of the letter "Z" with the numeral "2" in the registration numbers. The Minister's response dated 17th September also apologised for the error and advised that action had been taken to "obviate courtesy letters being sent to Mr Farmer in error." That was fair enough, and I should also place on the record that at all times the staff and officers of the bureau have been courteous and as helpful as they could be in relation to this issue.
Since then two more notices have been received by the Farmers and the problem persists. I have written again to the police Minister in relation to the matter - I think it was on 11th November or thereabouts - and I am hopeful that will lead to a final resolution of the problem. My elderly constituents are worried. They are mystified as to why they are being harassed in this way. They have a feeling akin to persecution. They want to get off the treadmill but the computer will not let them. Obviously there is a problem with the computer system. Surely my constituents are not the only people suffering. One wonders how widespread and significant the problem is. At the very least, I want some action to be taken so that Mr and Mrs Farmer can again enjoy peace of mind and not be harassed by the computer-driven madness that has become the bane of their lives. It is silly that such look-alike registration plates could have been issued in the first instance. Having considered the matter, I think I should pursue the matter further with the Minister for Roads because I have the feeling that the infamous DRIVES
registration system is somehow involved.
Mr SCHIPP (Wagga Wagga - Minister for Sport, Recreation and Racing) [5.53]: The honourable member for Rockdale completed his contribution at the place I was about to commence. I would have suggested to him that he take up the matter of the similarity of the number plates with the Minister for Roads, who has responsibility for the Roads and Traffic Authority. He may be able to ascertain why two such similar sets of number plates were issued. The other option, of course, is to issue the parking police with spectacles so their vision will be clearer. It seems strange that parking police in two different locations which are a fair distance apart could read "Z" as "2" in the same circumstances.
Mr Thompson: Almost all of them are council officers.
Mr SCHIPP: Whoever is doing it must have bad eyesight. Perhaps the registration numbers are so similar that the officers do not have the necessary powers of differentiation. I believe that two Ministers have a responsibility in relation to this problem - first, to ensure that the computer does not keep turning out these so-called courtesy letters and, second, to ensure that one set of number plates is replaced. I cannot understand how the letter "Z" can be at the tail end of a registration number.
Mr Martin: It is a new system.
Mr SCHIPP: Perhaps the new system needs reviewing. If either of the Ministers were standing here, I am sure they would extend an apology, which has already been done, through the honourable member for Rockdale to his constituents. Now the matter has been raised again, I am sure they will do their best to resolve the problem and give the honourable member for Rockdale's elderly constituents some peace rather than allow them to be continually harassed by this nonsensical problem.
GREATER SOUTHERN BLUE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK AND Mr AND Mrs JENSEN
Mr MORRIS (Blue Mountains) [5.55]: I wish to bring a sad matter to the attention of the House. I refer to some dear people, Mr and Mrs Doug Jensen, who live on a property called "High Valley" in the Blue Mountains. The property is approximately 30 kilometres from Wentworth Falls in the shire of Wollondilly. Many years ago the property was placed in the proposed Greater Southern Blue Mountains National Park. I should like to read from a letter from the National Parks and Wildlife Service which was circulated to the local council in September 1977. The letter reads:
In relation to the perimeter area of the proposal, detailed negotiations will be carried out by officers of the Service, with any affected private landholders prior to the acquisition of these lands. The Service is committed to eventually acquiring all private lands within the external boundary of the proposal after the Park has been established, however, as to when actual acquisition of these lands will be sought will depend on the availability of funds. At the present time the Service's acquisition programme is heavily committed and the time schedule for acquiring these lands will depend on the availability of funds in the future.
That letter tended to place a blight over Mr and Mrs Jensen's land. I should also like to read from a grievance debate which appeared in Hansard on 10th November, 1977. Mr Mason, the former member for the electorate of Dubbo, said:
The story continues with a reference to a person who has become well known to everyone in the area - a Mr Jensen. He wanted to find out what was going on, in particular the location of the 30,000 hectares that the State intends to buy. In a submission he states that he has a property
called "High Valley" and he had poured a lifetime of effort into it. He points out that his family want to make their future lives there, and they propose to pass it on to future generations. Suddenly, he has discovered that possibly the property will become part of the Greater Southern Blue Mountains National Park.
Mr Jensen was quoted as saying:
Ours is a natural place. We do not destroy animals and vegetation. After 25 years of effort we now find we are an enclave in the proposed Greater Southern Blue Mountains National Park. What is our land worth now?
Mr Mason continued:
That is the sort of question other people are asking. As well they are saying that valuations on their properties are falling. They have read in the papers that the Premier can take action to select his neighbours but what can they do? A notice has already appeared in the Government Gazette in relation to this proposal. I went to the Department of Lands and was treated with great courtesy there. I paid $3 to have a look at the area that was gazetted and to receive a copy of the appropriate maps. Any honourable member who has a look at the maps will be considerably confused by the red lines on them.
I ask the Minister for the Environment to take urgent action to help these lovely people. They are getting on in years. They have been coming to see me for a long time, and want this blight lifted from their land. The previous Minister, the Hon. Tim Moore, gave an assurance that while he was the Minister nothing would be done to harm Mr and Mrs Jensen. They want to retain their 80 acres of land in fee simple. I ask the House and the Minister for some compassion. Mr Jensen is 75 years of age, and this problem has led to both he and his wife suffering from bad health. "High Valley" is their home. They would like to live their days out there and leave it to their children and grandchildren. I ask the Minister to take urgent action so that the Jensens can enjoy their remaining years in peace.
Mr HARTCHER (Gosford - Minister for the Environment) [6.0]: I congratulate the honourable member for Blue Mountains for the care and attention he shows his constituents, and for the way he brings their grievances before the House. Last Saturday, when I visited the Blue Mountains area, I had the honour to meet Mr and Mrs Jensen. They are a fine couple and I can well understand their concern. They are great Australians who have lived in the area for many years. Their only wish is to ensure that their property is handed on to their children; they have conserved it and maintained it well, and they are to be congratulated. I assure them that, as Minister, I would not seek under any circumstances to forcibly acquire their land. The land will remain with them until they wish to sell it. The policy of the Government is that it will acquire land for national parks and nature reserves from private landholders only where there is a willing vendor and a willing purchaser. That has always been the case and will continue to be the case.
As far as the Government is concerned, they can be assured that the blight they believe has been placed on their land by the letter they received from the Wollondilly Shire Council in 1977 is lifted; that the land remains theirs in freehold; and that it will be acquired by the Government only if they should wish to offer it for sale. They are free to sell it to whomever they please; they are free to pass it on to whomever they designate in their will, and it would come into public ownership only if they elected to offer it to the Government for purchase for addition to the national park. I commend the honourable member for Blue Mountains for his interest and I hope my answer satisfies the concerns of Mr and Mrs Jensen.
WOLLONGONG FISHERMEN'S CO-OPERATIVE
Mr SULLIVAN (Wollongong) [6.1]: I want to raise a matter concerning the Wollongong Fishermen's Co-operative, which has for many years held a lease with the
Public Works Department for mooring facilities at Belmore Basin at a cost of $10,000 per annum. I am informed that the lease expired in 1989 but the arrangement has continued since that time. Over the years the co-operative has paid a large proportion of the total lease cost from its own funds; it also covers the cost of electricity and water rates. It has experienced great difficulty in recouping the cost of the lease from the fishermen who berth their vessels at Belmore Basin. Not all the fishermen are members of the co-operative but, more importantly, the co-operative is unable to guarantee any fishing vessel a berth in the harbour. The fact is that Belmore Basin is frequently congested, with vessels double parked; it is a case of first in, first served. Therefore it is not surprising that fishermen are reluctant to pay for something when there is no guarantee they will be able to use it. The co-operative is in dire financial straits. It is well known that Wollongong's fishing industry is experiencing grave difficulties, and local fishermen are suffering severe financial hardship. During September - the peak season - the fleet was forced to limit fishing to only three days so as not to exceed the new quota restrictions. I was therefore appalled to learn this week that the Public Works Department has informed the Wollongong Fishermen's Co-operative that from October 1992 the co-operative will have to pay $30,000 per annum for berthing facilities - a three-fold increase.
The Public Works Department is also insisting that the co-operative continue to accept responsibility for managing Belmore Basin, that is, subleasing berths to fishing vessels and collecting the rents. The co-operative found it extremely difficult to pay the old amount of $10,000 per annum; it certainly cannot afford to pay $30,000. For the reasons already stated, it has been impossible for the co-operative to recoup the costs of the lease from individuals who cannot afford additional financial outlays. The other crucial point is that the co-operative believes it has no legal right or authority to impose rents on fishermen, nor to pursue collection of rents from fishermen who may default on payment. When representatives of the co-operative approached the Public Works Department about these valid concerns and sought their advice and assistance, they were told to see their own solicitor. The co-operative acknowledges that fishermen should pay for mooring facilities at Belmore Basin, but these charges should not impose further financial hardship on fishermen and should not be detrimental to the fishing industry as a whole.
For the reasons already stated, the co-operative would prefer the Public Works Department to fulfil its responsibilities as the landlord and collect the rent itself. Indeed, the department has told the co-operative that it would be prepared to manage the berths and collect rents from individual fishermen - but only for a lease totalling $75,000 per annum. The rents imposed on individual fishermen would be ruinous. The Public Works Department justifies an increase of 7½ times the previous lease because it maintains that it would need extra resources to act as its own estate manager and to collect rents. This stance holds the co-operative to ransom. It is left with no choice at all because local fishermen simply cannot afford to pay rents totalling $75,000 per year. Therefore, it is being forced to comply with the demands of the Public Works Department - that is, to pay $30,000 a year instead of the existing $10,000 and to act as the department's manager - something for which it has neither the funds nor the resources.
I am talking about a local industry which has a long history and which has been a pioneer of that industry throughout New South Wales. It continues to contribute much to the region, supplying both the local and Sydney markets. However, its viability is threatened and this latest assault by the Public Works Department could well prove to be the final straw. I ask the Minister whether he is insisting that the Public Works Department enforce his Government's philosophy of user pays, regardless of the consequences. If he is, I call on him to consider the users - in this case, the fishermen who already face an uphill battle to keep their industry viable. Surely this Government does not want to pursue the user-pays principle to the point where the users are
eliminated. I call on the Minister to instruct the Public Works Department to co-operate with the Wollongong Fishermen's Co-operative and local fishermen by offering assistance and financial incentives, not a ruinous imposition of fees which will decimate the industry.
MEDICAL TRIBUNAL INQUIRY INTO Dr McBRIDE
Mr YABSLEY (Vaucluse) [6.5]: I raise a specific concern in the context of a general concern, that is, the increasing tendency towards government by tribunal. I do not seek to generally malign all tribunals or the people who work for them. I know there are some talented people who do a lot of worthwhile work and on occasions provide an efficient mechanism within the overall machinery of government. However, I fear that increasingly it is the exception rather than the rule. I am also concerned that tribunals have taken on a Star Chamber role in relation to matters where allegations of impropriety or illegality arise. The specific matter I raise this evening relates to someone I know personally, and I refer to Dr William McBride. In the words of the former Attorney General, John Dowd, that fact should be neither an advantage nor a disadvantage in raising this particular matter tonight.
By referring to the matter of Dr William McBride before the Medical Tribunal, I do not presume to pre-empt the outcome of that process. I am not qualified to do so, and I am not about to familiarise myself with the technical evidence of the McBride case. All I can say from my own experience is that Dr McBride is a brilliant and personable individual who changed the course of certain medical history. If he has done anything wrong - I emphasise the "if" - that mistake should be seen in the context of his brilliant achievements. My concerns about the McBride case are well summed up in an article that appeared in the Australian on 10th November, headed "McBride mauled by a marauding out of control monster". I want to refer to some parts of that article, written by the journalist Frank Devine. He said:
The medical tribunal inquiry into the fitness of Dr William McBride to practise medicine entered its fourth year last Thursday. The tribunal finished hearing evidence and argument more than 14 months ago but has not reached a verdict. It seems unlikely to do so this calendar year, although its four members are hard at it.
The article goes on to say:
The McBride case is a monster that grew beyond anyone's worst imaginations, seeming at times to travel beyond medical and legal reality into satirical science fiction.
Mr Devine records that the McBride case is the world's longest medical disciplinary proceeding and probably the most expensive. It is Australia's longest complainant-defendant legal case. Mr Devine records also that, as a spectator, he found that McBride's intense and deepening humiliation overshadowed all else. Dr McBride had reached the summit of his chosen profession. His thalidomide intervention had given him international standing he could never have anticipated. He was affluent and enjoyed social prominence locally. The article went on to detail the appearance of Dr William McBride before the Medical Tribunal. I will not seek to paraphrase that, but it concludes in the following terms: "Justice delayed, they say, is justice denied. The Boston Strangler was dealt with more expeditiously and perhaps less expensively than Dr William McBride". I do not seek to pre-empt any outcome pertaining to Dr McBride, but this case study before the Medical Tribunal raises the most grave concerns about a process that we rely upon to consider matters such as the McBride matter. Some fundamental questions have to be asked: what is the cost to date of the McBride tribunal? Is there any limit on such a tribunal? How much has each tribunal member been paid? I fear that this has developed into some kind of cottage industry. I understand that individual members of the tribunal are being paid as much as $800 a day, and I cannot help but raise my concern that this might be an ingredient in this self-perpetuating process of justice delayed and therefore justice denied, which has seen a huge expensive burden
placed on someone of international prominence and inflicted a significant and unnecessary burden on his life.
MYALL LODGE RETIREMENT VILLAGE
Mr MARTIN (Port Stephens) [6.10]: Last Monday evening I was at a public meeting at Hawks Nest attended by local residents who wished to express their concern about acquiring additional land for Myall Lodge retirement village. The meeting was also attended by Mrs James, Lois Barbour, and the President of Myall Lodge. Dr Merv Cooper and George Mallan are two great supporters of the lodge. The community retirement facility, comprising 12 hostel beds, is situated on Crown land and is funded by the community. The local sub-branch of the RSL club donated $247,000 towards the lodge. At the meeting Mr Ted Ingram and Mr Dawes spoke passionately on behalf of the residents. In July this year I was informed by the residents of their concerns in relation to the potential sale of adjoining Crown land. I acknowledge that in 1974 and in 1979 transactions were taking place for the sale of the land. In July this year I wrote to the Minister informing him of the need to reserve a portion of the Crown land adjoining the existing hostel, given that the 12-unit hostel will need to be expanded. On 18th September I received advice from the Minister in the following terms:
I am, however, prepared to make available one or two lots, adjoining the existing retirement hostel, from the proposed subdivision under, either leasing arrangements similar to those already in place or by private treaty sale at market value.
The local community fear that the proposed subdivision will prevent them from acquiring the land for the lodge. The Minister for Conservation and Land Management, the Premier and many others were invited to attend the meeting. I told the meeting that I would support any move to acquire more land for the lodge. The community comprises mainly retirees from Sydney and other parts of the Hunter Valley. These articulate people appear to be able to get the ear of many politicians of all political persuasions, many of whom holiday in that area. One of Hawks Nest's favourite residents is His Excellency, the Governor of New South Wales. I call upon the Minister to seriously consider the request of the residents. Hawks Nest is a popular tourist attraction and there is a great need to preserve land for wildlife corridors. Given that Hawks Nest is situated on a peninsular there is little opportunity for it to expand. The community is isolated and is some distance from Newcastle. As the lodge can accommodate a limited number of people, a significant proportion of the aged population have no choice but to go to Oban Nursing Home at Raymond Terrace, Alandale home at Cessnock or St Josephs Men's Home. In 1988 the then Premier visited Port Stephens and made available land for an additional 50 aged care units at Port Stephens. The residents of Hawks Nest look forward to the same sort of treatment. I ask the Minister to seriously address the needs of my constituents.
Mr WEST (Orange - Minister for Conservation and Land Management, and Minister for Energy) [6.15]: As the honourable member said, this matter was drawn to my attention previously, and as a result the department indicated that consideration should be given to reserving land for the future expansion of Myall Lodge. Following the public meeting I am sure that the honourable member and the local residents of Hawks Nest will develop and submit a case to the department, and I will be more than happy for the department to give further consideration to the matter.
[Mr Acting-Speaker (Mr Chappell) left the chair at 6.17 p.m. The House resumed at 7.30 p.m.]
ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING AND ASSESSMENT (CONTRIBUTIONS PLANS) AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
Mr KNOWLES (Moorebank) [7.30]: Prior to the adjournment of the debate on this bill Mr Speaker said that I may have been straying too far from the leave of the bill. I simply made some comments about why an extension of the date for completion of section 94 contributions should be made and I made some remarks about the consequences if an extension is not granted by the legislation. I note that we have received numerous requests from a variety of councils across the State. Of particular interest to me is the concern expressed by the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, on behalf of its constituent councils in the western Sydney region. This region covers most of the area of metropolitan Sydney which will have to deal with Sydney's future growth. In summary, the need to extend the deadline is encapsulated in the following points. The notice of the deadline was not available to councils prior to the preparation of their 1992 budgets. That prevented councils from budgeting for the additional resources which are necessary to prepare detailed contribution plans in accordance with the requirements of the new Act and regulations. I note that many councils have employed consultants to assist them in the preparation of contribution plans, taking into account some of the specialised tasks in that process. I note also that the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils has engaged consultants to prepare computer software specifically for the purpose of assisting councils with their plans and monitoring them in accordance with the requirements of the legislation.
In addition, the regulations supporting the Act were not gazetted until 14th February, 1992. The specifics of the requirements were not known to the councils until 14th February; that was compounded by the fact that the manual produced by the Department of Planning to assist councils in the preparation of the section 94 contribution plans was not released to councils in its final form until the end of April 1992. We had an extraordinary situation where the Legislative Assembly determined in December 1991 that this work would be done within the next ensuing months but the guidelines were not issued by the Department of Planning to councils until April 1992, effectively reducing the amount of time councils had to perform the required tasks in preparing the contribution plan. That was further compounded by a Department of Local Government circular containing the accounting guidelines not being released to councils until 28th July, 1992. Data from the 1991 census, still available only as raw count data, was not released until the middle of 1992. I think they are legitimate reasons for councils to express the view that the time available to them for the preparation of section 94 contribution plans was too short. An extension of time is therefore warranted.
I express concern as the original amendment requiring the preparation of contribution plans was developed by the Department of Planning. It had full knowledge of the intent, yet the circular to local councils did not reach the councils until the end of April 1992. Though I am unsure why that delay took place, it is worth noting that that alone is a legitimate reason for councils to say that they have been unable to complete the work, even with the assistance of consultants and the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils and its computer modelling programs. The consequences of councils being unable to complete their plans by a defined date, if the Parliament does not extend the deadline contained in the earlier legislation until the middle of next year, would mean that with respect to those release areas or areas where section 94 levies would normally be levied, the councils would simply be unable to extract the section 94 contribution from developers, as they would not have gone through the due process of preparing and exhibiting contribution plans.
More importantly, under the principal Act which we are amending tonight, councils would be unable to establish a nexus between the amount of money they sought from the levies and the development which was proposed. I was trying to make the point
earlier that the need for section 94 contributions to assist Sydney region councils, particularly outer urban councils, becomes crucial. The Labor Party supports the need for those councils to be able to continue with their work sensibly and rationally to develop their contribution plan and establish a nexus. If they rush it will leave open the opportunity for a developer to challenge the plan in court if the nexus has not been properly established. Though it is detailed, specialised and of considerable volume, it needs to be done thoroughly. I support the bill.
Mr COLLINS (Willoughby - Minister for State Development, and Minister for Arts) [7.36], in reply: I thank all honourable members who have contributed to this debate. There is no doubt that the amendments before the House overcome a problem which was not foreseen when this legislation was amended some time ago. I have no doubt that the simple amendment before the House will be welcomed by many councils throughout the State which have justifiably put forward their concerns to many members of this House about the likely impact of the legislation should it not be amended. Accordingly, I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING AND ASSESSMENT (MISCELLANEOUS AMENDMENTS) BILL
Debate resumed from 24th November.
Ms ALLAN (Blacktown) [7.38]: The Opposition supports the Environmental Planning and Assessment (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill. This bill proposes 12 minor amendments to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, some of which are consequential. In summary, they include the abolition of the advisory co-ordinating committee; the creation of development control plans to add detail to a regional environmental plan; authority for councils to re-exhibit an amended draft local environment plan; authority for the Land and Environment Court to determine the commencement date for certain appeals; requirements for a consent authority to consider section 90 matters for modification of a consent; expanded ministerial powers to require a commission of inquiry; and an increase in penalties for offences under the Act in line with the Environmental Offences and Penalties Act. The amendments properly reflect current planning practices and clarify the powers of consent authorities, including the Land and Environment Court and the Minister for Planning. The Minister for Planning and Minister for Housing consulted with the Opposition prior to the introduction of this bill. My colleague the honourable member for Moorebank and I have had a productive session with officers of the Department of Planning, including Shane O'Toole, the Assistant Director. As a result of that, a fair degree of consensus was arrived at.
The advisory co-ordinating committee has not met for several years and has been replaced by the urban policy committee of Cabinet as the preferred consultation mechanism on urban planning issues. In addition, the urban policy committee of Cabinet has assumed some of the role of the advisory co-ordinating committee. The officers of the Department of Planning informed the Opposition that the advisory co-ordinating committee has not met since 1989. It is timely that the committee be abolished. Other amendments will increase fairly perfunctory powers of council, for example, by giving them authority to re-exhibit plans as part of the formal planning process. That power is not available to councils at present, and it should be. In that sense the amendment will
formalise an existing practice. In regard to written environment plans, at present it is not possible to do a development control plan under a regional environment plan. These amendments will allow that to occur. The other amendments are consequential and straightforward. I welcome in particular the expanded ministerial powers that will require the holding of commissions of inquiry. Commissions of inquiry are becoming popular with the community and local government for resolving many contentious planning issues. I note the preparedness of the Minister for Planning to establish the commissions of inquiry and to accept their recommendations. That is a welcome development. The amendments contained in the bill will increase the chances of those commissions of inquiry being established. I congratulate the officers of the Department of Planning for their preparedness to consult with the Opposition on this legislation. I reiterate the Opposition's support for the bill.
Mr KNOWLES (Moorebank) [7.41]: I shall make a few brief remarks on the bill. In supporting the contribution made by the honourable member for Blacktown I place on record my appreciation of the time and effort the officers of the Department of Planning gave in briefing Opposition members about these various amendments to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. I found their advice to be particularly valuable. I checked through the information and found it to be accurate. The briefing we received included a proposal to incorporate as a further amendment detailed provisions relating to applications for development consents by the Crown and statutory authorities and for the modification of such consents. Essentially that amendment would have added to the Act a deemed refusal period in respect of Crown applications. The Minister will be aware that if a council chooses not to deal with a Crown application but simply puts it in the bottom drawer, the application is effectively placed in limbo and there is little the Crown can do about it. Though the council cannot refuse a Crown application, by not dealing with it the council simply thwarts the normal planning process.
The proposed amendment would have included in the Act a deemed refusal period of approximately 40 days, if my memory serves me correctly. That caused the honourable member for Blacktown and I concern as in many instances councils have few tools for negotiation, other than to defer or delay an application to try to get a Crown applicant, especially the Department of Housing, to comply with council codes and requirements. I thought we left the briefings on the basis that though we expressed concern and said that we would probably oppose the inclusion of any such amendment, the Department of Planning officers would provide us with more detailed information and data on the nature of applications that were causing the department concern, the range and type of them, and the length of delays being incurred. I would still appreciate receiving that information. Last week in the House the Premier noted the delay of seven Crown applications - five schools at Blacktown and two TAFE colleges in other parts of the State - simply because the council refused to deal with them and was having ongoing, fairly tortuous negotiations regarding section 4 contributions. An amendment to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act to deem a refusal period might overcome some of the Premier's concerns. I am surprised that, given the strength of the Premier's attack on Blacktown council last week, he has not seen the value in pressing ahead with that amendment.
I am flagging to the Department of Planning that if it still sees merit in proceeding with the amendment, it should take up the offer made by the honourable member for Blacktown and I to provide data and further information on those issues so that we can get a clearer picture of the extent of the problem. If it is simply a small-scale argument about a particular development control issue and consent, that is one thing; but, if it is widespread across the State and is causing considerable delay in investment, construction and provision of housing - for example, a Department of Housing application - that is another thing altogether and something in which the Opposition would be particularly interested. Another point I should raise in regard to the miscellaneous amendments is the proposal to expand the Minister's powers to deal with
commissions of inquiry. I note that the amendments will allow the Minister to extend to part 4 applications a requirement for a commission of inquiry for non-designated developments. My understanding is that though the Minister can require a commission of inquiry to be held, the findings and recommendations of the inquiry are to be returned to the council for it to make the determination, as opposed to the commissioner's report being forwarded to the Minister. My support for that amendment is contingent upon the local government authority retaining its role as the consent authority.
The Minister does have a role in trying to encourage and force councils which are dealing with controversial matters in their own area to investigate the issues relating to the particular application at hand. The classic case could be the establishment of a tip in a local government area where, because of the NIMBY syndrome, nobody wants the tip and everybody wants the garbage to be sent somewhere else. Given the Government's proposition in regard to the waste management green paper, involving the option of sending garbage somewhere else - particularly for a western Sydney council which does not have the capacity to pay for it - someone somewhere must force the local government authority to make hard decisions. I understand that this amendment will allow the Minister to require the establishment of a commission of inquiry and appoint a commissioner to hear the non-subjective views of the various opponents to the scheme, whatever they might be, without all the local colour and flavour that would otherwise lead to the proposal being rejected. Once the commission of inquiry process has been completed, the findings and detail of the process would be returned to the council. Though it would have the option of refusing the application - in the example I gave saying no to the tip as a result of public pressure - it would be much more difficult for the council to do so in light of the full weight of knowledge and information provided by a commission of inquiry process. The council would be subject to the full force of community derision if it were simply making what was seen clearly to be a home town decision.
The remainder of the miscellaneous amendments legislation deals with a variety of other changes, the principal one of which is the abolition of the advisory co-ordinating committee established under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. As all honourable members would be aware, the Advisory Co-ordinating Committee has not met since about 1989. Even when it did meet, there was a great deal of concern about its relevance to the planning process as it was simply, in my view, an afterthought built into the Act although it was originally formulated in some sort of attempt to establish community confidence in the operation of the Act. That committee has been replaced over the years by a variety of other statutory bodies such as section 22 committees established under the Act. In fact, I have been a member of three or four section 22 committees over the years - including the urban development committee of Cabinet - in a variety of capacities. They all were more relevant to current planning practices than the historic and largely useless advisory co-ordinating committee. My understanding from advice received from departmental officers was that the advisory committee resolved to dissolve itself. I guess that this is one of the few times in the history of the bureaucracy that an organisation has voted to wind itself up. I support the bill.
Mr COLLINS (Willoughby - Minister for State Development, and Minister for Arts) [7.51], in reply: I thank honourable members for their contributions and I note in particular the support of the Opposition for the Environmental Planning and Assessment (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill. I also note with pleasure the generous comments made by the honourable member for Blacktown about the co-operation she received from the Minister for Planning in another place and officers of the Department of Planning. Like other speakers in this debate, I share an admiration for the professionalism of officers in the department and have no doubt that the proposed amendments will greatly enhance the bill. I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
LEGAL AID COMMISSION (AMENDMENT) BILL
Debate resumed from 24th November.
Mr WHELAN (Ashfield) [7.53]: Though the Legal Aid Commission (Amendment) Bill might ultimately be seen by some as insignificant, it has very important ramifications for the Legal Aid Commission. Regrettably, the legislation is the hallmark of the current Government in that it is typical of its not consulting those in the legal aid system. The Commonwealth Minister for Justice, Senator Michael Tate, wrote to the Attorney General on 16th November in the following terms:
I note that under the proposed amendments the position of Director of the Commission will now be described as Managing Director and that it will no longer be necessary for the occupant to hold legal qualifications.
That is the fundamental purpose of the legislation. It is important that the House note what the Commonwealth Minister went on to say because it will give an indication of the reason that the Opposition, though disappointed by the proposal, feels that it has no choice but to let the legislation pass, with a rider which I will develop later in my contribution. The letter continued:
I also note that the amendments are the result of advice from Messrs Robson and O'Connor, who are conducting the review of the Legal Aid Commission, that the present position of the Director, being the chief executive officer of the Commission, should be changed in this manner to reflect the true role and status of the position.
Senator Tate continued:
I do not have any objection to the proposed amendments.
The actions of the Commonwealth are very influential in the continuation of the Legal Aid Commission because in excess of 50 per cent of the funding for legal aid is provided by the Commonwealth. The emphasis on family law makes the commission very important. I am disappointed but not surprised that I have received representations, only in the last couple of days, complaining about the absence of consultation. I cannot understand how the Government can expect that those employed by the public service, many giving their whole lives to it - for example, lawyers who work for the Legal Aid Commission - should be put in the difficult position of finding out about change in the legislation by chance after seeing the draft bill when they go to buy an Act of Parliament. A letter I received from Athol Cairn, the Secretary of the New South Wales sub-branch of the Professional Officers' Association, dated 23rd November, stated that he was writing as a follow up to a letter from the president of the group, whom I do not want to name. He stated:
As you know [he] is . . . with the Legal Aid Commission and has drawn to our attention an amendment, apparently proposed by the Government last Friday, that will change the title of the Commissioner to Managing Director.
There is no requirement for legal qualifications. Mr Cairn continued:
1. This amendment has been put up to Parliament with no consultation with the Legal Aid Commission itself, the Law Society or other relevant professional bodies.
2. The Commission is the subject of a review at the direction of the Attorney General. Why
is this matter being brought before parliament with such haste and not as part of the full review, with proper reasoning to back it up?
3. Given that the position of Director, is currently vacant, despite having been advertised in July 1992, to change the requirement that the Director of the Commission need not be a solicitor smacks of changing the selection criteria to suit a particular person, not selection on merit.
I ask the Minister for State Development whether this is a job for a boy or girl who no longer has legal training? Is that the motivation behind the legislation? Mr Cairn continued:
4. The Legal Aid Commission is first and foremost a legal office who acts solely on behalf of persons granted legal aid. Many times the government of the day is the opposing Party in the proceedings. Is the Attorney General going to appoint someone who will be compliant with Government and not run embarrassing cases?
5. To have a non lawyer in charge of legal aid is the same as saying you don't need to be a lawyer to be Chief Justice, or Director of Public Prosecutions or Chief Magistrate.
The last point he made was:
We (POA) understand that the Law Society have grave reservations about this bill . . .
I wonder whether the former Attorney General, who is now the Minister for State Development and Minister for Arts, can answer those questions. Late this afternoon I also received representations from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. It expressed alarm at the legislation and said that it did not have a definite view about the merits of it. The principal policy officer of that centre wrote:
Our serious objection is to the fact that this amendment has been introduced with absolutely no consultation - neither with the Commissioners of the LAC, with community legal centres, nor with any other groups or organisations with an interest in legal aid in New South Wales. Most of these groups learned about the Bill at the eleventh hour . . .
. . . I understand that there has been no consultation even with the Commissioners of the LAC.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre has asked that the matter be deferred. Because this is likely to be the second last day of the session, because the Government has listed it and because the Attorney has requested it, the Opposition will not oppose the legislation, but it has some reservations about the haste with which this bill has proceeded through the House. I shall talk to my colleagues in the upper House and request them to seek answers from the Attorney General to questions I have posed. I turn now to the bill. A problem may arise in that the director will not have the legal obligations referred to in the Legal Practitioners Act; he will not be a legal practitioner. The legislation is silent on that aspect. How will the Government overcome that matter? I should like to have the matter resolved. Though the measure is not a major consequence, it is one of three bills in relation to which there was no consultation. It is about time consultative processes were carried out with the relevant bodies. It is time the Government realised it should consult with relevant groups to be more informed about the planning, arrangement and practicality of legislation and its operation. Those groups should be treated with respect and not with the contempt demonstrated by this absence of notice.
Mr COLLINS (Willoughby - Minister for State Development, and Minister for Arts) [8.1], in reply: I thank the honourable member for Ashfield and shadow attorney general for his support of the bill. I indicate at the outset that the measure has a degree of urgency, even though it is relatively minor in its impact. There is a position to be
filled and it is a difficult position to fill. The duties of managing director of the Legal Aid Commission in the middle of a recession, with an ever-growing list of clients, would be onerous and difficult. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the former Director of the Legal Aid Commission, Mark Richardson, who, over many years, did an excellent job and whose term as director came to an end round about the time my term as Attorney General came to an end - though that was entirely coincidental. Mr Richardson now works for the Law Society of New South Wales and will be an asset to that organisation.
It should be understood that the management role of the Legal Aid Commission has assumed gargantuan proportions. There is a massive task to be undertaken by whoever fills the job of managing director. It is fair to say that the skills which an individual legal practitioner may have - and indeed may have in abundance - are not necessarily those required to manage such a vast legal enterprise affecting so many individuals and practitioners. That is the reason for the amendment. Senator Tate, on behalf of the Commonwealth, and the Law Society have advised there are no difficulties with the proposal. However, on the more general point made by the honourable member for Ashfield about further consultation with other interest groups, I am not in a position to advise whether there was or was not consultation, nor am I in a position to advise on the outcome. The point has been made and I shall pass that on to the Attorney General in another place. But I acknowledge - despite the misgivings expressed by the honourable member for Ashfield - his appreciation of the importance of filling this position with the best possible applicant. I acknowledge also the Opposition's support for the legislation. It may well be that when this legislation is considered in the other place several of the points raised by the honourable member for Ashfield will be dealt with. In the meantime, I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
PUBLIC HEALTH (AMENDMENT) BILL
Bill read a third time.
ELECTRICITY CORPORATIONS BILL
Debate resumed from 18th November.
Mr ROGAN (East Hills) [8.6]: I lead for the Opposition and I inform the House that the Opposition opposes this bill. Briefly, the purpose of the bill is to constitute the electricity distribution corporations and regional electricity transmission corporations; to transfer governance of electricity councils from the Local Government Act 1918 to the Electricity Act 1945; to separate the functions of Broken Hill and Tenterfield councils from the electricity distribution function; to transfer the traffic route lighting subsidy scheme and the hazardous poles relocation program to the Roads and Traffic Authority; and to clarify the law as it relates to electricity distributors being required to submit building applications for the erection of electricity poles. In particular I refer to the case of The Blue Mountains City Council v. Prospect Electricity. The minor amendments referred to by the Minister are contained in the measure. This bill follows a detailed discussion paper issued on 8th April by the former Minister for Energy.
I commend the approach taken by the Government with this legislation. It is in contrast to the approach adopted previously - and I refer to the bill introduced last year, the Electricity Corporatisation Bill, in relation to which discussion papers were not issued. Indeed, consultation generally within the community did not take place and when the legislation was introduced the Opposition had no alternative but to have the bill referred to a legislation committee to enable proper consultation. All sectional groups within the community then had the opportunity to participate. With regard to this bill consultation has taken place and for that I commend the Government and the Minister. I take this opportunity to thank the Minister and his staff for the co-operation extended to me as shadow minister. I have been taken through the legislation in detail and have been apprised of its various aspects. Indeed, several changes have been made to this legislation as a result of those discussions.
I had hoped that a spirit of co-operation might have resulted in a bipartisan approach to the measure, subject to certain differences of opinion. The considered view of the Opposition, notwithstanding some areas of agreement, is that the bill will be opposed. The fundamental basis for that Opposition view is that the basic purpose of the legislation, despite the denial by the Minister in his second reading speech, is a raid, instituted mainly by the Treasury, on electricity consumers in the greater west of Sydney, represented by Prospect Electricity, consumers on the Central Coast and in the Hunter, represented by Shortland County Council, and consumers in the Illawarra, represented by Illawarra County Council. In addressing what has been happening in relation to Sydney Electricity I shall quote figures. I hope that points of order are not taken because those figures are relevant and germane to the bill. Not all that long ago the House considered - and indeed the Opposition did not oppose - a measure to corporatise Sydney County Council, similar to the proposal in relation to the three major county councils to which I have referred.
The Government had expressed the view that that bill was important for microeconomic reform. The Opposition does not wish to stand in the way of microeconomic reform, which it considers is in the best interests of the people of this State. It has been stated that the proposed legislation will follow the Sydney model, but it is important to examine in detail what has happened to the SCC, now Sydney Electricity. I am now able to quote from the 1991-92 annual reports of both Prospect Electricity and Sydney Electricity. A comparison of performance targets set for those councils and their achievements is interesting. The customer satisfaction indicator for domestic customers shows that Prospect Electricity recorded a result of 68.2 in 1991-92 compared with Sydney Electricity's figure of 67.3 - close but nevertheless Sydney was lower. The business customer satisfaction indicator shows that Prospect, with 64.7, was slightly behind Sydney on 65.9. Turning to return on assets, Prospect achieved 3.8 per cent and Sydney 3.9 per cent. Prospect's debt gearing ratio was 11.76 per cent; the ratio for Sydney was 28.7 per cent. In operating cost per customer Sydney Electricity did better than Prospect but not by a great margin. Operating costs per customer, excluding depreciation and interest, were $247 for Prospect and $238 for Sydney. The report contains figures for customer-staff ratio, including support staff, right down to the average collection period in days of electricity accounts - 26.5 for Prospect and 22.5 for Sydney.
The most significant figures in the report are to be found in a comparison of debt gearing ratios for Sydney and Prospect. Following the raid by the Government on the assets of Sydney Electricity subsequent to the Curran report, which was a blueprint for what is happening at Prospect, Sydney Electricity's debt blew out to more than $700 million. As a result, the debt gearing ratio increased from 27 per cent in 1987-88 to 70 per cent in 1989-90. That ratio went down slightly in 1990-91 to 68 per cent. In the last financial year, for a most interesting reason, that ratio dropped to 29.9 per cent. That figure looked most impressive for Sydney Electricity until the figures were examined.
What happened was in the finest traditions of the raids made by Alan Bond and the Bond Corporation during his heyday: take over a company, revalue its assets upwards, giving a base on which to borrow more money from the banks, then strip the company of its assets. At the end of the day honourable members know what happened. The asset revaluation figure for Sydney Electricity jumped by the extraordinary figure of $1,244,300,000.
The Minister in his reply no doubt will say that revaluation followed a standard adopted for fixed assets depreciation and works in progress, in line with Australian accounting standard 10, which led to a revaluation of all the assets of statutory bodies. The figures must be questioned. The summary to the annual report states that in 1990-91 the assets of Sydney Electricity were valued at $2,663 million but that the revalued assets were worth $2,714 million. That does not seem to be much of a difference until one reads the figures in the report, which reveal the true position. Under non-current assets, fixed assets jumped from $1,114.6 million to $2,260.1 million. That is not shown in the front of Sydney Electricity's annual report, which most people would skim to check that body's performance. The figure is buried in the audited figures in the conclusion of the report.
The massive revaluation of the assets of this body has led to the significant decrease in the debt gearing ratio from 68 per cent last year to 29 per cent. That has happened with Sydney Electricity and it is about to happen with Prospect Electricity and other authorities. If the 11.8 per cent debt gearing ratio of Prospect Electricity is raised to be on an equal basis with Sydney Electricity's 29 per cent, it is equivalent to an amount of approximately $350 million. Given what happened to Sydney Electricity one can expect the Treasury will raid that authority in order to bolster the Government's failing Budget. Anyone who reads these accounts in detail will have no doubt, as I do, that is exactly what will happen. Those figures represent the assets and money that belong to the electricity customers. In my view that is the basis of the $400 million special dividend mentioned in the Curran Report that Prospect Electricity could pay to the State Government.
There is no substantiation in the Curran Report for that $400 million special dividend payment. Why would Mr Curran select that figure? One can only suggest someone in Treasury said to him, "We have been able to get all this money from Sydney Electricity, and their gearing ratio is now 29 per cent. Prospect's is 11.8 per cent, and perhaps Sydney Electricity's figure will be the norm that will be set for all statutory authorities, as they will become if this legislation is passed. If you do that there, you can get your hands on $350 million or $400 million". The Minister for Conservation and Land Management and Minister for Energy in the tabling of the Curran Report indicated the Government will require $75 million from Prospect Electricity this year. Is it any wonder the Opposition and the Independents are suspicious of the real motive behind the Government's approach to this legislation? They could not help being concerned when they saw those figures. Schedule 2 electricity authorities will automatically fall within the ambit of section 59B of the Public Finance and Audit Act. The Treasury can then automatically impose this dividend payment upon these authorities.
This money belongs to the electricity consumers in the areas served by those councils. The Government is desperate to get its hands on the money because its Budget is failing. The desperate plight of the Government can be seen from the blow out in State debt by $2,000 million in the past 12 months. The capital value of the State's debt has grown by $1,845 million in the year ended June 1992. The total net debt now stands at $21,712 million, which is equivalent to $3,600 for every man, woman and child in New South Wales - an increase of $300 per person. The motivation behind the legislation is for the Government to get this money in order to improve the deteriorating State finances. The unemployment figures for the September quarter reveal that Commonwealth
Employment Service job vacancies rose by 27 per cent Australia-wide, but only 9 per cent in New South Wales. This puts New South Wales in equal last position with Tasmania and well behind Queensland, which has a rate of 11 per cent, Western Australia 22 per cent, Victoria 36 per cent and South Australia 60 per cent.
This legislation is not driven by a need to reform the Electricity Commission but by the desire of Treasury to get its hands on money from any source. I do not suggest the intent of the Minister for Conservation and Land Management and Minister for Energy is dishonourable in any way or motivated by this desire. Nevertheless, the hand of Treasury - of the Premier - is pushing this reform. The Opposition did not oppose the reformation of Sydney Electricity when it was put through, but there has been insufficient time since for the legislation to give an indication as to whether that type of reform is of benefit to the State generally. I refer to an article in the 23rd November edition of "Electricity Week", an authoritative newsletter published by its editor Bob Beatty and sent to those involved in the electricity industry. The article stated:
Jury still out on whether the Sydney changes have improved things.
This move is definitely suspect, considering the performance difference between Sydney and its local government counterpart, Prospect: in the last financial year - the first full year since it was transformed into a corporation - Sydney's total contribution to the welfare of the State has declined markedly, to the point where the smaller, local-government-run Prospect Electricity is making a greater contribution to government revenue in the current year. Additionally, at least one of the changes in moving Sydney to a corporation has been a backward step: the dreaded public service promotional appeals system is said on good authority to have added significantly to the time taken for appointments of staff to new positions.
A comparison of Prospect Electricity, which is an electricity distribution body operating under the present system, and Sydney Electricity, which is operating under the system proposed in this legislation, in figures provided by the Local Government Electricity
Association of New South Wales - a body representing all electricity distributors in this State - shows that the Australian Capital Territory has the cheapest quarterly household power prices. At the end of the day it is price on which the consumers will judge the performance of an electricity distribution authority. The ACT has the advantage of cheap power from the Snowy hydro scheme. The figure categories include customers who consume up to 1,000 kWh up to those that consume 20,000 kWh. Murrumbidgee has the next cheapest figure. In the 1,000 kWh range the figure for Sydney is below Prospect in the list of the 10 cheapest electricity providers: Prospect performs better than Sydney. More importantly, in the 1,500 kWh range, which equates roughly with average household consumption of electricity - about 1,200 kWh to 1,300 kWh - Sydney again is below Prospect. In the 20,000 kWh range Sydney is second last in the top 10.
So where is the justification for the proposal before us tonight? Prospect operates under the control of local government aldermen in the greater western region of Sydney. On most measures it is outperforming Sydney Electricity, which according to what the Minister has said is the model upon which this legislation is predicated. On the basis of the figures I have given, the bill should be voted against. Sydney should perform much better than Prospect because it has a bigger customer base over which to spread costs. It has a larger commercial base than Prospect. It also does not have the geographical problems of Prospect. By and large, Sydney Electricity serves a settled area and does not have to provide new connections and powerlines to new developments as councils outside Sydney have to. In the next six or eight years the population of western Sydney will increase by a quarter of a million people. For these reasons, Sydney Electricity should be streets ahead of Prospect on all the criteria for measuring council performance.
The Opposition will not stand in the way of microeconomic reform if it is in the best interests of the consumers and taxpayers of the State but we will not support legislation if we do not believe it is in the interests of the people. Let us consider proposals to statutorise Prospect, Shortland or Illawarra councils on an individual case by case basis. If the Government can make out a case for transferring those bodies from being schedule 1 county councils to schedule 2 bodies - statutory authorities - the Opposition will consider such proposals. However, we will not support legislation if it can be demonstrated, as I have in this speech, that on every criterion the body the Government proposes to privatise outperforms a statutory body such as Sydney Electricity, given all the advantages that Sydney Electricity enjoys. Therefore, the Opposition will oppose the bill. Prospect is the next major council after Sydney. If the Government has its way and Prospect becomes a statutory authority in accordance with the Curran report recommendations, it will have its assets stripped and $400 million will be ripped off. A report prepared by Prospect in response to the Treasury's draft discussion paper on a financial distribution policy for New South Wales Government trading enterprises, states:
. . . the proposed formulas for calculating target rates of return of profits and thereby any dividends payable when applied to Prospect are grossly excessive. Application of proposed formulas would require Prospect to earn a profit of something like $265M when in fact Prospect's gross margin (which is totally determined by the Government through its control of bulk and retail tariffs) is only $235M out of which all recurrent and capital outlays must be funded. As can be seen this total is entirely impractical;
In order to meet such targets - as impractical as they are - would require tariffs to increase by 22% or the value of the assets in the reticulation system to be reduced by two-thirds;
As an illustrative example, a debt to equity ratio of 60:40, which was generally mentioned in the Treasury discussion paper, would translate in the case of Prospect
County Council to the assumption of an additional debt of almost a billion dollars, $925.956 million. The sinister hand of the Treasury is hovering over the money of electricity consumers from not only the greater western region of Sydney but also those from the Hunter region in the north, the Illawarra region in the south and perhaps ultimately those from other areas such as the Northern Rivers region. Before concluding my remarks in relation to Prospect County Council, I should say that even though the Minister has not referred specifically to the Curran report, it is pertinent to this debate. One of the headlines generated by that report when it was tabled in this House was in relation to the proposed site for the new head office of Prospect Electricity at Huntingwood. This side of the House cannot be blamed for that. That decision was taken by a Liberal-controlled county council, not the present Prospect County Council board.
The Leader of the Opposition, when he was the Minister for Planning and Environment in the previous Labor Government under the premiership of Barrie Unsworth, refused permission for Prospect County Council to move from Parramatta to the site at Huntingwood. Bob Carr said Prospect County Council should stay within the Parramatta central business district area. What happened when the coalition Government came to office? The former Minister who is never mentioned on the other side of the House, Mr Pickard, gave Prospect County Council permission to move to Huntingwood. It is a pity that Hansard does not record photographs because I have a photograph of the former Minister for Local Government turning the first sod on the Huntingwood site. He is full of smiles. He was accompanied by the general manager and the former Minister for Minerals and Energy. The caption on this photograph reads:
The Minister for Local Government, Mr David Hay, turns the first sod to plant a tree at Prospect Electricity's office and communications centre site at Huntingwood on 27/8/89 during a Prospect family tree planting day. Also participating are the Minister for Minerals and Energy, Mr Neil Pickard (left), Prospect's General Manager, Mr Gordon Douglas, and the Chairman of Prospect County Council, Mr Frank McKay, who is a Liberal.
Let there be no doubt that the decision relating to Prospect County Council, which formed the basis of the Curran recommendations and which I suppose could be said in some way to underlie this legislation, can be clearly sheeted home to a Liberal-controlled county council. The council did not have one Labor member. My colleague the honourable member for Penrith, who will be speaking in this debate and will detail some of these matters, was certainly not on the council. When the present county council came to office it was confronted with the decision to move to the Huntingwood site. It was also confronted with the problem of improving the appalling public relations of the previous Liberal-controlled council. Like the present Government, that council did not understand what it meant to consult with the community before making major decisions.
I do not want to deal with the bill in great detail, but I would, nevertheless, like to refer to a number of aspects of it and, indeed, foreshadow a number of amendments that the Opposition proposes to move in the event that the House agrees to a second reading of the bill. The Opposition hopes that the House will reject the legislation and that it will be returned to the drawing-board. Although the Opposition has no real problem with minor parts of the legislation, we hope the House rejects the bill so that the Government then has to justify its decisions. As I said earlier, despite what the Minister said in his second reading speech, this legislation is all about allowing Treasury to get its hands on the money of electricity consumers in the major sectors of Sydney. I point out to the House that, together with Sydney Electricity, the councils to which I have referred - Shortland County Council, Prospect County Council and Illawarra County Council - represent 80 per cent of the State's electricity consumers. The remaining 21 distributors, which will become schedule 1 distributors under the legislation, represent the other 20 per cent of electricity consumers in this State.
If the bill is given a second reading, the Opposition will move an amendment to eliminate schedule 2. If the Government can justify a case for a schedule 2 body, that can be dealt with by individual legislation. Part 3 of the legislation deals with regional electricity transmission corporations. The bill provides for the establishment of three bodies to take over the 132 kV transmission system. When amendments to the Electricity Act came before this House in the past, I have said that the transfer of the 132 kV transmission system to county councils was simply a means adopted by the Government to divest itself of debt. With a quick book entry, the State suddenly divested itself of more than half a billion dollars worth of Electricity Commission debt and transferred it to the county councils. The Government and the former Premier came to office promising debt reduction. It simply makes no sense to reduce the State's debt and load it on to semi-government authorities like county councils. Although the 132 kV system has been transferred to the major county councils such as Sydney, Illawarra, Shortland and Prospect, the rural county councils cannot afford to operate the 132 kV system within their existing structures.
This structure has been put together. The electricity newsletter published this week, and to which I referred earlier makes the point - and I think very capably so - that the most contentious change embodied in the legislation is the creation of three transmission entities that will operate 132 kV and 66 kV elements and buy and sell electricity in bulk. That effectively means there will be another layer of electricity trading within the State. When the transmission operations of the State generator, Pacific Power, are separated - as agreed to by governments in pursuit of a national grid arrangement - it will mean that New South Wales will have four new bodies to do the work formerly done by part of one. This Government, which is supposed to be a good business operator, is simply setting up a further layer of operations on the electricity transmission system. I put it to the Government that if it were really serious it would simply put a transmission authority out there to take over all the work of transmission and leave the Electricity Commission to do the job that it does best, that is, generate electricity. But, no, New South Wales will have an additional layer of bureaucracy from the establishment of these regional transmission corporations, with the cost to be borne by electricity consumers.
Clause 17(2)(b) of part 4 deals with the right of a board of an electricity corporation to question a direction given so far as its performance is concerned. Clause 17(3)(b) makes provision for the board to request the Minister to review the direction if the board considers that the direction is contrary to the provisions of a performance agreement or is not in the commercial interests of the corporation. I think that is a reasonable provision and one which gives at least some power to the boards. I commend that provision of the legislation. Part 5 deals with the constitution of boards. In respect of a schedule 1 corporation and a schedule 2 corporation, the bill provides:
23(1) The board of directors of a Schedule 2 Corporation is to consist of nine directors, being:
(a) 5 persons elected as prescribed by the regulations; and
(b) 4 persons appointed by the Minister.
I foreshadow that in the event that that schedule 2 concept is passed, the Opposition will move for the provision of a worker-elected representative, as in the case of Sydney Electricity. It is very strange that this legislation is modelled upon the Sydney Electricity model. However, there is one omission; that is, that in the Sydney Electricity model there was a worker-elected representative, but the proposed legislation, which seeks to establish exactly the same constitution of the board and principles of operation, does not include a worker-elected representative. I suppose one should not be unduly surprised
about that because it would be a little foreign to this Government to have workers on the boards of corporations, despite the fact that in Europe private enterprise and government enterprise have such a provision. The European economies are the most successful in the world. This Government should do something progressive that will benefit the State. Clause 23(2) provides:
The persons appointed by the Minister as directors of a Schedule 2 corporation must have such managerial, commercial, financial, legal or other qualifications as the Minister considers appropriate to enable the directors to carry out their functions.
I do not propose go back and revisit appointments to the board of the Electricity Commission, but it behoves me to mention that the former Minister, Mr Pickard, introduced a similar amendment in the first piece of legislation he introduced in this House as a new Minister. Who was the first appointment under that new provision? None other than Mrs Kathryn Greiner. I have no criticism of Mrs Greiner as a person. Let that be very clear. She is a lovely person. When asked to justify that appointment on the basis of the provision in the legislation the Minister was silent. He did not have an answer. Whilst I do not disagree with that provision, I do question its worth. The very first appointment under that provision in the Electricity Commission Act was Mrs Greiner's appointment and there was no justification for that in regard to having a managerial, commercial, financial, legal or other qualification. I suppose the Opposition should not be unhappy about that.
I wonder sometimes why we continue to point out to the Government its errors and faults. Quite frankly, we will be better off if the Government keeps going the way it is - with no consultation. If it continues to appoint friends and relatives to those boards it will quickly come to an end. Indeed, if it had not been for its rorts in regard to ticks and crosses, members opposite would not be sitting where they are now. That is the reality. Just as in the upper House when the timer is turned over, the sand will run out, and the sand is running out for members opposite. I will return to the bill. Part 6 deals with finance, and schedule 2 corporation dividend contributions to Consolidated Fund. There is some concern about clause 30(2)(b), which refers to the accumulated reserves of the corporation derived from the exercise of its functions. Clause 30(5) provides as follows:
Nothing in this section affects section 59B of the Public Finance and Audit Act 1983.
There is concern that that is a double dipping provision; in other words, the Minister for Energy can give a direction for moneys to be paid out but, at the same time, the Treasury can also put its hands into the till.
Mr West: Why have we not done it to Sydney?
Mr ROGAN: The Minister has asked a question. I am saying that the sinister hand behind this legislation is that of Treasury. Treasury people want to get their hands on the money. There is genuine concern on the part of those who have the responsibility for operating those bodies. Part 7, clause 38, deals with staff. I was concerned initially and considered proposing an amendment but clause 38(1) provides:
The regulations may make provisions for or with respect to the employment of the staff of an electricity corporation, including the conditions of employment and the discipline of any such staff;
Clause 38(2)(a) relates to the regulations relating to the conditions of employment and provides:
Have effect subject to any relevant award made by a competent industrial tribunal and to any industrial agreement to which the corporation is a party.
I would be grateful for the Minister's reassurance on this aspect, but that would seem to me to protect the existing rights and entitlements of staff who may, particularly in the case of the transmission corporations, be required to be contracted out or work for the corporations. Will their existing rights and entitlements be protected? I believe that is covered by the provision, but it would be reassuring if the Minister could verify that that is the position. I have no real problem with division 3, which deals with general managers and other senior staff. But the Opposition is of the view that, if the bill is passed in its present form, the Minister should have the right to reject the recommended appointment of a schedule 2 general manager. As the Minister appoints the board he should have confidence in its recommended appointments. The buck however stops with the Minister. If I were Minister I would be happy to have the power to reject a recommended appointment. Therefore, I support that provision of the bill. The Opposition supports division 4, which provides for equal employment opportunity. That is a standard provision which appears in most bills, and it is certainly a measure that the Opposition supports.
The Opposition supports clause 73 of the bill, which deals with building approvals for corporation's equipment, and believes that this measure would have overcome the problem that arose in the Blue Mountains. The former Prospect Electricity Board, because it was a Liberal-dominated council, did not know how to consult with the community. This lack of consultation was responsible for the problems that occurred when the council erected a power line through the Winmalee, Springwood and Warrimoo areas. The council tried to ramrod its decision on the local people. I commend Elizabeth Harrison, the former president of POWER, a community group with whom I have had a number of dealings. If there had not been this provision in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act the Blue Mountains council would have been prevented from appealing against the decision of the former Prospect Electricity Board. If this legislation is passed I do not know what the approach of the new board will be.
Another aspect of concern in regard to this legislation is that the presently constituted county council boards meet in open council - similar to local government councils - which gives people the opportunity to address councils on their decisions. They are not closed boards, as is the case now with Sydney Electricity. When a power line problem arises, similar to that which arose in the Blue Mountains and which was one of the justifications for the Curran report, I wonder how the proposed corporation will deal with it. Under the provisions of this legislation the corporation will have the power to erect power poles without having to submit a building application to the council. Schedule 1 details electricity distribution corporations that do not represent the Crown, and specifies their distribution districts. The Opposition will be moving an amendment in so far as Far West Electricity and Broken Hill City Council are concerned. Under schedule 1 the electricity distribution function of Broken Hill City Council will be separated from the local government function. At present it is a combined function and the Broken Hill City Council has put up a very strong case that it should retain the current system of distribution of electricity. In a letter to the Independents it stated:
The proposed action of the State Government in establishing an electricity authority separate to the Council will:-
incur a large establishment cost;
result in additional staff being employed;
reduce the flexibility and multi-skilling facets of the existing Council operations.
(a) Exempt Broken Hill, as a unique situation, from the provisions of the new legislation and
provide for the existing operations to continue, or
(b) Empower the Broken Hill City Council to distribute and supply electricity under an authorisation arrangement.
Given that the Broken Hill City Council has submitted that the proposed provision will mean an additional cost on the people of Broken Hill of between $150,000 and $200,000, the Opposition will move an amendment .
Mr West: That is nonsense.
Mr ROGAN: I would be pleased to hear the Minister in his reply repudiate those figures. I do not have access to staff to be able to check these figures; I accept in good faith -
Mr West: What Peter Black from Broken Hill told you?
Mr ROGAN: No, the letter I referred to was from Mr Dwyer, the town clerk. I have met him and he appears to be a reasonable and competent fellow. If the Broken Hill City Council can mount a case that this measure will cost the council between $150,000 and $200,00 at a time when Broken Hill is feeling the recession perhaps even more so than other areas of the State, I believe the provision should be amended. Schedule 4 to the bill deals with boards of directors. I foreshadow that the Opposition will be moving an amendment to schedule 4, clause 5, which deals with remuneration, if this legislation is passed in its present form and the schedule 2 concept is adopted. If the corporation becomes a statutory body the duties of board members will not change but, under the provisions of this schedule, they will be entitled to receive increases in their remuneration of between 300 and 700 per cent. I do not know what the current figure is, but the figure I have been given for Sydney Electricity, for example, is of the order of $25,000 - it may even be higher. The Opposition will move an amendment consistent with the Local Government Act 1990 with respect to attendance at meetings of members of councils and their performance of other official functions. We are saying that they should be treated as they are at the moment. At a time of hardship for everyone else in the community, there is no justification for their allowances to increase in the order of 300 per cent to 700 per cent.
Mrs Lo Po': They did not do it for the money.
Mr ROGAN: As the honourable member for Penrith has said, those aldermen did not do it for the extra money; they are honest people. They are the major provisions of the legislation. My Opposition colleagues will deal with some of the other areas of the bill in more detail. If this amendment goes ahead - and I have outlined a conclusive and justifiable case on why it should - the bodies will be less accountable and will meet in closed session, without the media or public present, and will be subject to raids of Treasury upon their assets. At the end of the day it will be the electricity consumers who are served by the electricity corporations. Sydney Electricity led the way in reducing the time for payment of electricity accounts from 21 days to 14 days. My colleague the honourable member for Penrith will probably have something to say about that, because that change was forced upon that electricity distributor by the performance agreement committee. People are suffering; they cannot meet the cost of their electricity. The decision to reduce the time of payment from 21 days to 14 days is cruel. That is the way these bodies and statutory corporations would operate. A whole host of other charges - connection fees, inspection fees, et cetera - have increased by well in excess of consumer price index increases.
Yesterday the Minister answered a question I had placed on notice with respect
to the performance agreement committee, which is an integral part of the operation of the schedule 1 and schedule 2 county councils. It is interesting that no cost restraint has been shown by the performance agreement committee, which sets performance standards for county councils. In 1988-89 the committee had costs of $34,390; in 1991-92 its costs were $528,490 . Its budget approval for this year is $293,000 - a significant increase nevertheless. The performance agreement committee imposes upon rural county councils and other county councils the need for better performance; it should look at its own operations. We hear a lot from bodies such as the Industry Commission and others which deal with the electricity industry. I refer to an article published on 8th September, 1992, written by Peter Roberts. It is headed, "Little to gain in meddling with the electricity industry". It states:
The industry has substantially reformed itself in the past eight years, yet to hear the critics you would think our power was as expensive as in Japan and our supply as inefficient as that in some Third-World backwater.
It makes this point:
Power prices to industrial users in Australia are the third lowest in the OECD group of nations, the second lowest in Asia after Indonesia, and we enjoy supply reliability.
The House should take that into consideration when considering this legislation. The Opposition will not oppose progressive microeconomic reform; the Government will get our support.
Mr Chappell: Should we stop trying to improve the industry? Should we give up?
Mr ROGAN: The Opposition did not oppose Sydney Electricity, but believes the jury is still out on Sydney Electricity. A comparison of the performances of Prospect Electricity and Sydney Electricity shows this legislation is not warranted in its present form. If the Government proposes the reform of these bodies separately and puts a justifiable case for it, the Opposition will consider it.
Mr CHAPPELL (Northern Tablelands) [9.16]: I support the Electricity Corporations Bill. In late twentieth century Australia few products or services are as all pervasive and essential to our individual and collective well-being as electricity. More and more, as new appliances and products come on to the market, we are relying on the comforts, conveniences and lifestyle choices made possible by electricity. As Australians, we are particularly fortunate to have a highly skilled electricity work force that sees to it, as far as humanly possible, that our electricity is supplied reliably, safely and cheaply. In the realm of technical excellence, the industry in New South Wales is unquestionably among the world leaders. The electricity distribution industry in New South Wales has always run the engineering and technical aspects of its business well. In line with reforms under way throughout the country, attention now needs to be focused on getting the financial and commercial side of the industry in order as well as the technical and engineering side of it. In essence, I believe that this bill is largely about helping the industry in New South Wales move on and achieve better results for the benefit of consumers. This bill is also about building on the substantial improvements which have already occurred over the last three years under the performance agreements initiated by the Government - improvements which have seen productivity grow by 13 per cent, customer to staff ratios improve by 28 per cent and, most importantly, average retail electricity prices fall by 3.6 per cent in real terms from 10.67c per kilowatt hour in 1988-89 to 10.29c in 1991-92.
I intend to confine my comments to aspects of the bill's impact on electricity
distribution in metropolitan New South Wales, or schedule 2 corporations as the bill calls them. Under the bill, Prospect, Illawarra and Shortland county councils will become statutory authorities representing the Crown. Honourable members will note that this legislation is modelled on the Sydney Electricity Act which was passed by this Parliament in 1990 following the report of the inquiry conducted by Mr Charles Curran into the former Sydney County Council. The results reported in the 1990-91 annual report for Sydney Electricity are an indication of the gains to be made from the governance and other reforms recommended by the inquiry. The year saw Sydney achieve a major productivity improvement of 13 per cent, operating costs - excluding fixed charges - were reduced by 16 per cent in real terms and customer satisfaction indices improved significantly. The commercialisation of all internal business units was almost completed. A corporate quality policy incorporating international quality standards was introduced. Quality improvement teams within the organisation brought about savings of $3 million a year. Overall, 17 of Sydney's 20 performance agreement targets were achieved.
In the past four years Mr Curran has headed up three inquiries which have had a direct impact on this industry and which, in large measure, have guided the formulation of this bill. I refer, of course, to the landmark New South Wales Commission of Audit into the State's finances in 1988, one of the findings of which was that overall debt levels in the New South Wales public sector were too high; the inquiry into Sydney County Council; and the recently completed inquiry into Prospect County Council. The changes to the governance of the metropolitan distributors proposed in this bill accord with the findings and recommendations of these reports. The Minister in his second reading speech made reference to the fact that the New South Wales distribution industry annually sells almost $4 billion of electricity and that of that $4 billion the metropolitan distributors account for almost 80 per cent. Plainly, we are talking about big scale businesses when we talk about the metropolitan distributors. Yet, under the current arrangements for three of the four distributors highly important and, no doubt at times, complex business decisions are left to people who do not necessarily have the professional experience and skills to make them. That is in no way a poor reflection upon them as individuals - I know there are many fine, hard-working delegates on these councils, as there are on country county councils. The system needs changing and updating to meet the challenges and demands of the 1990s and beyond.
The bill will enable hard-working representatives of local people to participate in the management of electricity distribution in western Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong. Their representation on the new boards will be through five directors. At the same time, the bill introduces a legislative requirement that the other four of the nine directors on each board, who will be appointed by the Minister, must possess the managerial, commercial, financial, legal or other qualifications that are necessary for good and efficient management of businesses of this scale. Any reasonable person must acknowledge that this is a well-balanced and sensible change, with local government still retaining majority representation. The report of the Prospect County Council inquiry demonstrated very clearly the problems that can arise under the current governance arrangements. I mention two specific examples from the report to illustrate my point, namely, the critical findings of the report on Prospect's capital structure and the inadequate capital appraisal process of the Huntingwood head office project. Any honourable members in doubt as to the desirability of changing the governance of the metropolitan distributors, as proposed in this bill, would be well advised at least to read the relevant sections in the Curran report dealing with these two issues.
The Curran reports on Sydney and Prospect concluded that the capital structures of both organisations actually worked counter to sound commercial financial objectives. For example, both were found to have low debt-equity ratios inconsistent with sound financial practice. Accordingly, the reports recommended that both organisations adopt
balance sheet structures similar to other major business undertakings with similar characteristics, a principle which equally applies to Illawarra and Shortland. This would entail undertaking an acceptable level of debt, which each would be required to service; repatriating any surplus resources under their control; and being constituted with an adequate level of capital, on which each would be required to generate an acceptable rate of return. Contrary to assertions in this House by the honourable member for Penrith, those recommendations were fully consistent with the thrust of Mr Curran's 1988 Commission of Audit report. In that report he emphasised the necessity for government enterprises to operate with appropriate debt levels. It is grossly misrepresenting his report to suggest that he called for a blanket cut in debt levels in every individual public sector organisation. Under the bill, schedule 2 corporations will be required to pay annual dividends at the direction of the Treasurer. These will be determined from the overall position of distributors, bearing in mind their responsibilities and other liabilities. The bill requires the Treasurer to consult with both the Minister and the respective corporations.
Of the $400 million dividend suggested by the Prospect inquiry, the Minister has requested Prospect make a $75 million dividend payment, with any further amounts contingent upon consultation with the board of the new corporation. I remind honourable members that this is money going to other necessary community works and spending on education, hospitals and the like, usually in areas of growth such as the west of Sydney. Gone are the days when these large business undertakings will engage in non-core activities, for example, property speculation. I do not believe this is a proper function for it can involve an organisation in huge losses in areas in which they have no expertise. What some of these county councils forgot in the past was that they were playing with customers' money. I hope we will see lean and mean organisations without the featherbedding of the past. Obviously I would like to see electricity tariffs reduced, as would everyone in this House. This is the way to achieve that.
Initiatives by this Government have seen increases in tariffs kept to the consumer price index. I do not believe there should be any further resting on laurels. I would like to see the cost of electricity reduced. The price of electricity is a major consideration in profitability in manufacturing and other industries. If the price comes down, we might see more light manufacturing attracted to rural areas. In the 4½ years since this Government came to office, we have clearly demonstrated that we are prepared to lead the nation in the reform of government sector services. The bill advances reform of the New South Wales electricity distribution industry in a positive and constructive way, and I am pleased to note that in respect of the schedule 2 provisions of the bill the councils of Prospect, Shortland and Illawarra have each given their agreement to transfer over. As the industry becomes more business oriented and customer focused in every aspect of its operations, those with the most to gain will be the electricity consumers of New South Wales.
The electricity consumers are the people who gain most when the electricity industry, via the Electricity Corporations Bill, imposes a proper and viable corporate structure and when scheduled 2 statutory authorities pay tax equivalents and dividends. To say that those payments to Treasury should have been returned direct to consumers, as did the previous speaker, is to deny the real benefits that flow much wider and deeper throughout the industry when it is subject to all the normal rigours and forces of the commercial market place. The Opposition is showing again that it does not understand the basic principles underlying the microeconomic reform of this Government. It talks about supporting microeconomic reform. We heard the diatribe of the Opposition from the previous speaker: "We believe in microeconomic reform. We just don't want it again this time". How often have we heard that cry in this place? The Opposition says: "We believe in privatisation. We are all for it. We want to protect the triple-A credit rating.
But we do not want to do the things that have to be done to achieve it". That is where the Opposition falls down and shows that it simply does not understand. This bill is the way to go for the industry and consumers.
Finally, I note with pleasure the establishment under schedule 1 of Tenterfield Electricity's supplying of electricity to Tenterfield shire in my electorate. This decision will be a very welcome one indeed in the Tenterfield area, which has always prided itself in being able to look after itself. It has survived despite the adversity of distance and small scale operation. I argued on the shire's behalf to Elcom, to Pacific Power and to the previous Minister that Tenterfield should remain as a separate authority and that it should have energy supplied to it at the standard supplied tariff. I look forward to Tenterfield Electricity showing that the faith shown in it by the Minister and by Pacific Power was well justified. It will operate in this major, reinvigorated industry in a most successful way. I support the bill.
Mrs LO PO' (Penrith) [9.30]: The bill must be seen for what it is - an attempt to strip assets from western Sydney and also a raid on the autonomy of local government. I was interested to hear the honourable member for Northern Tablelands talking about all the wonderful things that have happened with the corporatisation of Sydney Electricity. I have documentation that shows that nothing good has happened to Sydney Electricity since corporatisation. The Government would have people believe that the assets of county councils belong to the State and not to the community. If they belong to the State, when the Sydney County Council returned $75 a head why did not the people of western Sydney get some of that money? The Government gave it only to people in the Sydney County Council area because it was understood that the assets belonged to those in the Sydney County Council area. The Opposition argues that Prospect Electricity belongs to the people of western Sydney, not to the State. If the Sydney County Council belonged to the State, the people of western Sydney and the northern tablelands should have got some of that rebate money. The honourable member did not question that at that time and is now being led by the nose.
Already under the Electricity Development Fund the Government has the right to pull out a dividend from county councils. In 1988-89 the Government took $5 million from Prospect; in 1989-90 it took nothing; in 1990-91 it took $13 million plus another $11.59 million; and in 1991-92 it took $8.875 million plus another $11.016 million. Moving Prospect County Council out of the Local Government Act will do several things: it will ensure that Prospect County Council becomes a government trading enterprise and puts all of its assets up for grabs so that the Government can slowly bleed the west of its assets; it also means that elected representatives can earn more than $3,000. We are aware that many of our elected colleagues saw what Sydney County Council representatives were getting and said, "We will have a bit of that too".
Under schedule 2 Prospect County Council will represent the Crown, and that will make it susceptible to the arms of the Treasury. The proposal is not about dividends, it is about stripping assets and making Prospect Electricity a government trading enterprise so that the Government can home in on the assets. As a government trading enterprise Prospect Electricity will be commercially driven. I wish to draw attention to what happened in Sydney Electricity when it became commercially driven. It is quite frightening that Sydney Electricity has not protected the environment at all. Years ago Sydney Electricity had a much better underground lines policy, but currently it is putting underground only the lines blown over in 1991 on part of the North Shore - and the rest of the community in its domain can go hang. That is simply because Sydney Electricity must be commercially driven and cannot take account of the environment or the needs of its community.
The asset stripping that has gone on in Sydney Electricity is also alarming. Sydney Electricity has assets of $1.5 billion, liabilities of $1.2 billion, with net assets of $320 million. Prospect County Council, before the Government touches it, is doing much better. It has assets of $1.5 billion, liabilities of $324 million, with net assets of $1.1 billion. That is why the Government wants to get its hands on it. Given that Prospect Electricity will be a government trading enterprise, over time the Government will be able to privatise and sell off its most profitable parts, leaving the most expensive parts for the people to pick up. The Government is all about capitalising its profits and socialising its losses. Everything the Government has done so far with government trading enterprises has been just that. Last week miners from Pacific Power came to the Parliament. They had lost their jobs. The Government was able to downsize the work force without any notice simply because collieries had been made government trading enterprises. This is what the Government proposes for Prospect Electricity. The Curran report says that what Prospect Electricity is doing is not good enough, that its policy of natural attrition is not good enough, and that it should have management strategies for downsizing. That means mass sackings. The most disturbing element is the absolute control the Minister will have over the board. The bill states that the Minister may give the board of directors of an electricity corporation written directions in relation to the exercise of the corporation's functions. The Minister will have absolute control over the board. Irrespective of who is on the board, the Minister has the final say. Clause 6(2) of schedule 4 to the bill, on page 40, states:
The Minister may remove an elected or appointed director from office for incapacity, incompetence or misbehaviour.
That means that as soon as a director disobeys a written directive from the Minister he will be out on his ear. What sort of autonomy is that for a local government area? How is it possible for members representing electorates in the west of Sydney to believe that is a proper way to run a local community? How can they support the idea of a Minister who does not live in western Sydney having total control of a board and giving it orders? That is what has been wrong in the west for years. People who have never lived there are the ones making the decisions. I guard jealously our right to autonomy and to make our own decisions. In his first speech after tabling the Curran report the Minister said that a $850 million a year business is being controlled by amateurs. If Prospect Electricity is currently being controlled by amateurs, why is the Minister willing to have seven amateurs on a nine-member board? If those seven directors are not amateurs, the Minister cannot make them professionals by waving a magic wand. How is the Minister going to do this? I will tell him. He is going to appoint his own chairman and deputy chairman and will use them as ramrods to get through all the policies he wants for the west. The people of the west have never seen the Minister, who does not go to those areas. The Minister does not go to the west but he will be giving directions about our assets.
Mr West: The honourable member has been blind. How many conferences have I attended out there with you?
Mrs LO PO': I cannot remember. I can never remember seeing you out there.
Mr West: Not even as Tourism Minister? The honourable member must have a short memory.
Mrs LO PO': I can never remember seeing the Minister there. He is obviously not interested in visiting the west.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Blacktown to order.
Mrs LO PO': The people of the west will receive directions from the Minister, whom they have never met, and they will have to toe the line. The board will be ramrodded by the Minister's two board members. How can the Minister say that seven directors are amateurs one day and professionals the next? The Minister has no credibility in this regard. If the members of the Prospect Electricity board are amateurs, they will be amateurs next year and the year after. The Minister should make up his mind. We are either amateurs or we are not, but we cannot be turned on and off like a tap on the say so of the Minister. Sydney Electricity has been held up as a model, yet its debt-gearing ratio moved from 17 per cent to 70 per cent. The Government must be very proud of bleeding the people of Sydney dry. The Government took three-quarters of a billion dollars from the assets of the Sydney County Council. It must be proud of that. There is no evidence that Sydney Electricity is protecting the environment. Its assets have been sucked away by a greedy, incompetent and desperate Government.
At one stage in this House the Minister put up the notion, as recorded in Hansard, that "Sydney has the cheapest electricity in the State". If that is the Minister's opinion, I will state the facts. Charges for 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity are ranked as follows: Australian Capital Territory Electricity and Water, Murrumbidgee, Murray River, Southern Riverina, Prospect, Sydney - sixth out of 10. The ranking for power charges for 1,500 kilowatt hours is: ACTEW, Murrumbidgee, Southern Riverina, Murray River, Shortland, South East Queensland Electricty Board, Prospect, Sydney - eighth out of 10. Charges for 20,000 kilowatt hours are also ranked: ACTEW, Murrumbidgee, Southern Riverina, Shortland, SEQEB, Murray River, New England, Prospect, Sydney - ninth out of 10. Yet the Minister said Sydney was the cheapest. And for 1,000 kilowatt charges for off-peak No. 1 Sydney is fourth out of 10. Either the Minister has misled the House or cannot read the figures. He actually said in a speech that all the wonderful work he claims to have done with Sydney Electricity has made it the cheapest electricity supplier in Australia. I have just proven that is not so. The Curran report, which the Government holds out as some sort of bible, is based on a false premise. If the Government wants a report written it gets Curran, the famous man, the man for all seasons. His report of four years ago states:
In almost every case a reduction in debt levels is an important element in the establishment of the Authorities on a commercial basis.
So at one stage Curran was saying that for authorities to be commercially driven they had to get rid of their debt. What does he do in 1992? He says that Prospect has to incur a debt. And this is the man the Government holds up as a credible guru to dictate what will happen in western Sydney. The hypocrisy of the report is very clear. When we first heard that Curran was going to do a report on Prospect we jokingly said, "He has probably already written the recommendations and he is coming out to make sure that the report fits them". As it turned out, it was not a joke; it was reality. The report has no substantial link between what is written and reality. The President of the Local Government Energy Association, Mr Jim McAlpine, a member of one of the rural councils - Macquarie council, I think; this is a very conservative group of people - had this to say about the Government's Curran report:
Members have a right to be sceptical about the recommendations of the Curran inquiry into Prospect. Analysis by the Association reveals the report to be short on facts and logic necessary to back up the key recommendations. The most important recommendation, that the State take over Prospect from local government, is based upon the mere assertion that changes to the governance of Sydney Electricity has brought about greatly improved performance.
However, the report fails to analyse Sydney's performance and in particular does little to compare Prospect's and Sydney's performance.
[Extension of time agreed to.]
That is the key. Prospect is currently outstripping Sydney in many facets. The only thing the Government has not got its hands on is the assets. That is why it has introduced this bill. It has nothing to do with efficiency; it has nothing to do with dividends; it has to do with the Government getting its hands on the assets. This is a desperate government. It has to put its debt on to other people. The president of the LGEA went on to say:
While the executive summary proposes a $400 million "special dividend" to the Government, its justification for the dividend is weak indeed and there is no justification whatsoever for this amount. Industry can only conclude that the entire exercise was nothing more than an attempt to justify the State's usurping of local community's assets.
I did not say that; that comes from the president of the LGEA, and this fellow is a National Party member. The Government has got it wrong by a country mile. If I may just be a bit charitable to the Minister -
Mr West: Do not bother.
Mrs LO PO': I will do it anyhow; it will annoy him. My understanding is that the Minister would not have ordered the Curran report. He got trapped into this situation by the previous Minister, who got trapped into it because he followed the former Minister. I understand that the Minister has no stomach for this report. In fact, he has gone on record as having said that he would never have ordered it. Why does he not have the guts to can it and do something intelligent such as working out each matter case by case instead of lumping together Prospect, Illawarra and Shortland. Then he would probably win brownie points. This legislation could be called the tarpaulin Act on electricity - there is a bit of RTA, a bit of Tenterfield, a bit of Broken Hill, a bit of Prospect, a bit of this and a bit of that. If the Minister were on top of his portfolio he would not have followed in his predecessor's footsteps; he would have done something original. He would have canned the report and done something clever.
I shall finish my remarks by referring to Huntingwood. The honourable member for East Hills is correct: in 1987 I was the chairman of Prospect Electricity, a very proud organisation and I was very proud to be chairman of it. The Prospect Electricity officers wanted to move out to Huntingwood. The Minister for Planning at the time was the present Leader of the Opposition. He said, "You have no right to be anywhere but in the central business district", and he would not allow the move. Labor lost the State election and it also lost the local government elections. Prospect became dominated by 15 Liberal members, a Liberal chairman and a Liberal Government. It had no difficulty persuading coalition supporters to go to Huntingwood to build a property that was needed. The building that the staff are currently in is filled with asbestos. Nobody seems to worry about the workers in the building. They have to get out of that building and go to Huntingwood. All the Minister has done is rail about the expense because the Government could not get its hands on the money of the council. The Government did not understand that all properties took a dive in this financial climate. Obviously properties have lost value but that has not been taken into account.
The Government is not fair dinkum. It is looking for excuses to raid Prospect. Any excuse will do and Huntingwood has been picked on for this purpose. The Minister has been hoist with his own petard. Everyone in the west knows that it was a Liberal plot to get Prospect out to Huntingwood. Labor would not touch it with a stick. The Government's Ministers did; they thought it was a great idea. We have photographs of them having a barbeque on the site. And now they have got sprung. This Government has created a monster, and it is using it as an excuse to raid Prospect's assets. People in western Sydney are not dumb. There are exceptions. The people will know that the Government is raiding their assets. We already pay a toll; we pay an environmental levy; we are threatened with a Water Board levy; and now this $400 million is under threat.
I tell the Government here and now that we will run this scheme up the flagpole so that the people will know that it is this Government causing this expensive agony. If the Government wants us to do that, it should proceed with this proposal to raid the assets of Prospect. I will be very interested to hear what the honourable member for Blue Mountains will have to say. To my knowledge he knows perishing little about Prospect.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Blue Mountains to order.
Mrs LO PO': The honourable member for Blue Mountains will have his turn. I am just saying that this is a raid on the assets of Prospect and an attack on local government, which has put Prospect in the position of having a surplus. Local government enterprises do not have to be profitable but Prospect has gone against the odds and operated profitably. As it turns out, that is probably a sad fact: because it has been profitable the Government wants to raid it and turn it into a government trading enterprise so that the Government can get its hands on the assets. The people in western Sydney will understand this very well. The honourable member for Blue Mountains wants to talk about clubs, but let us talk about what will happen when the Minister puts in his ramrods. None of these meetings will be open to the public. All meetings will be behind closed doors. Where will the people go for justice? The ramrod will be put in by the Minister to have his directions put through. The bill provides that the Minister can direct the council. Do not think that he will not do it; do not think that his boffins will not be there to see things get through.
Mr PACKARD (The Hills) [9.48]: The House has just heard the socialist attitude to the privatisation of Prospect. One would not believe that we are all talking about the same thing. The strength of this Government is its government trading enterprises. Since the coalition was elected in 1988 it has taken operations that were not going well, tidied them up, put good people in to run them - there were some good people running them - and made them pay dividends. Let us examine what the honourable member for Penrith said. Prospect County Council and the Sydney Electricity Commission both paid a $9.8 million dividend. The only thing that she overlooked was that Sydney County Council also paid a $60 million dividend to the people of Sydney. So it provided $69.8 million worth of electricity at the same price and Prospect put in only $9.8 million.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Penrith to order.
Mr PACKARD: The people of The Hills electorate and other electorates in western Sydney are delighted that Prospect Electricity will be properly run. It is right and proper that in the future the government of the day will have an input into the running of that organisation. Since March 1988 the Government has been doing all it can to ensure that the people of New South Wales enjoy the best quality of life and services from the most enterprising and competitive organisations in the world. The Government established the Western Regional Board. The honourable member for Penrith was at the launch and knows all about it. Electricity is one of the most expensive components of any commercial enterprise. If New South Wales is to become internationally competitive in the future, the supply of electricity must be properly managed from now until the year 2000 and beyond. The Curran report did not criticise the people who run Prospect County Council; however, the report stated that they did not have the necessary expertise to run an enterprise with the volume of turnover of Prospect County Council. The success of Sydney Electricity is demonstrated by the fact that it is now run by a mixture of community representatives and people with the expertise to run the organisation. That is right and proper.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Auburn to order.
Mr PACKARD: Throw him out; he is an egg! The bill was prepared in consultation with the electricity distribution industry and is the most recent effort by the Government to further enhance the commercial orientation of the industry. The Government is mindful of the special needs and circumstances of rural communities, and proposes in this bill mainly to carry over the existing access and operating provisions from the Local Government Act for the rural electricity distributors. The kinds of changes proposed for the governance of the metropolitan distributors, whereby business people will be appointed to the boards of directors, will not be made with the rural corporations. The bill provides for the Minister to retain the right to examine every appointment to the board of Prospect Electricity and the other distributors and to make decisions as to whether the appointees have the commercial expertise to run that huge organisation. That is the key to this bill. The present nominees to the board were appointed because of their political allegiance; they were not appointed because of their expertise. That has been repeated over and over again by the Curran report.
In accordance with current practice, the rural corporation boards will elect their chairpersons and deputy chairpersons annually. General managers, however, will be directly appointed by the new boards. This departure from the existing position, where general managers must be appointed by the Government, is one example of how the new bill will give the new boards a greater measure of autonomy over their operations. In recognition of the community service obligations most rural distributors meet by providing services to uneconomic customers, the Minister has assured them that they will not be asked to pay a dividend into the Consolidated Fund during the life of this Government. It is important that the Government gives that guarantee, and I note that the Minister has given effect to it by not including schedule 1 corporations in the bill's specific dividend provisions. The objective of the bill is to deliver to New South Wales the cheapest electricity in the world and to return to a government trading enterprise the proper dividend, the proper profit, that should result from running an enterprise as large as Prospect Electricity. The bill has a twofold purpose. The first is to ensure that the price of electricity is controlled now and into the next century. The second is to ensure that the profit made when an organisation such as Prospect Electricity is properly run is returned to the people. What does the honourable member for Penrith believe is happening to the money? I cannot believe that she does not understand that a benefit is to be derived from putting the money made by organisations such as Prospect Electricity into schools and hospitals.
Mrs Lo Po': That will be the day.
Mr PACKARD: She is off again. Where is the Children's Hospital going? The honourable member for Penrith may not know that it is not remaining at Camperdown; it is going to the west, to Parramatta, to the central population base of New South Wales. The former Minister for Health, now the Minister for State Development, made the decision to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into Liverpool Hospital. Those funds resulted from the proper running of government trading enterprises. The performance agreements process has greatly enhanced the commercial understanding of the current council delegates. In the case of directors of a schedule 1 corporation in particular, the performance agreements process will continue to be an important educative tool and a vital mechanism to move the corporations towards the Government's goal of commercialisation. In addition, by setting performance goals for the corporations and reviewing those goals, the performance agreements process will develop accountability incorporations at the elected board level. The bill is a major step forward for New South Wales. It has been a long time coming. The people I represent are pleased about the changes that are taking place. In the future western Sydney will be the place where the business of the nation is done. The honourable member for Penrith seems to believe that the people of the west do not agree with anything the Government is doing. Clearly that is not the case. Prospect Electricity will deliver ongoing services at the best prices to the people of western Sydney. It will also deliver
a dividend to the Government which will be recycled into hospitals and education facilities. I congratulate the Minister and support the bill.
Ms ALLAN (Blacktown) [9.57]: I participate in this debate as a representative of the people of western Sydney, a consumer of electricity in the Prospect County Council area and as a ratepayer. Yesterday morning as I organised myself to come from my home to this place, it just so happened that a Prospect County Council truck was parked in my street. Trees were being clipped to clear electricity wires in the street. What I am about to say might be a source of amusement to the Minister, but hundreds of thousands of people in western Sydney have that experience every day of their lives. I do not claim that the people of western Sydney have come to love Prospect County Council - that would be taking it too far - but they have certainly come to respect the organisation for its many decades of efficient electricity operation and community service. A sense of community ownership has developed from that respect. It is from those two perspectives that I want to make some brief comments about the legislation. During the past two years, probably almost since 1988, a number of major natural disasters have occurred in the electorates I have represented, first Wentworthville and then Blacktown. The Toongabbie area has suffered severe flooding; the Pendle Hill, Girraween and Wentworthville areas have suffered major electrical storms; other smaller disasters such as storms and minor flooding have occurred. Although those disasters have been smaller, they have been significant because of the amount of property and personal damage they caused.
In respect of those natural disasters that have occurred over the past few years, two organisations have come to prominence as far as community service is concerned; one, of course, is the emergency services, usually voluntary emergency services, and the other major organisation is Prospect Electricity. On previous occasions in this House I have complimented them on their performance during those crises. They have been to the forefront in assisting people. But they do not only respond when there is an emergency. Apart from performing a major community service, they also have had a sense for looking after the welfare and social needs of western Sydney for many years. It is not that those habits have developed in Prospect Electricity merely as a result of the positive leadership of chairmen like Alderman Faye Lo Po' and Peter Anderson and others, they have also developed and been maintained under even more conservative chairmen, chairmen from parties other than the Labor Party.
For example, in 1986, I was involved with the Wentworthville railway station centenary committee. That committee had to put in expensive floodlighting at Wentworthville station. It was one of the few railway stations at that time on the western Sydney line that still had a siding where for a temporary period a steam train or an exhibition train could be stored as part of those centenary celebrations. The siding is no longer there. It cost Prospect Electricity $1,400 to put the necessary floodlighting in. In normal circumstances that expense would have been borne by the particular user - in that case the community committee. That expense was borne by Prospect Electricity. There was no great agony or hassle on the part of that organisation. After it was pointed out to them by one of its members, Alderman Chris Worthington of Parramatta City Council, that it was an important community responsibility Prospect Electricity took great delight in footing the bill for that particular operation.
There has been a lot of emotion and rhetoric, particularly from the last speaker, the honourable member for The Hills, about the need to downsize organisations and make them more internationally competitive. But how will the community of western Sydney view Prospect Electricity's future community role, instanced by the generosity it showed at Wentworthville railway station in 1986, or as shown by the voluntary effort given by
the employees at Prospect Electricity when storms and floods occurred continuously in my area from 1988 onwards? Where will that preparedness be? Where will the expectation be if we suddenly have a government trading enterprise that is not being driven by genuine community representatives? Earlier this year I highlighted, both in my local media and in the metropolitan media, the very good track record of Prospect Electricity and the compassion it had for its ratepayers who were unable to pay their electricity rates on time. That particular compassion and the policy that Prospect Electricity implemented at that time - and which it implements now, but is unlikely to implement in the future, if this legislation is passed this evening - contrast very sharply with the practices of the Sydney Electricity organisation. It is to the great credit of Prospect Electricity that it has been able to show compassion to many struggling families in western Sydney who have not been in a position to pay their electricity bills. It has extended the time for payment. I had a brief discussion with members of my electorate office earlier this week and asked them to go through the files. I asked my electorate office to inform me how Prospect Electricity responded when approached on behalf of constituents who were having difficulty with their current rates or previous debts or future debts. On every occasion since 1988, and there were many such occasions, it showed compassion and understanding. That contrasts sharply with the current practice of the Sydney County Council.
Some of the points I propose to mention now have not been referred to previously but they relate to the sense of community ownership which is currently being felt by the people of western Sydney towards Prospect Electricity. There are many reasons for that. I have mentioned some of the more compassionate social welfare policies adopted by that organisation, and I have also mentioned its community role. It may be a surprise to the Minister or some members who have participated in the debate - but it should not be a surprise to others - to know that many employees of the organisation live in western Sydney. Western Sydney, of course, is where most of the population of the Sydney metropolitan area and New South Wales live. It is not surprising that many Prospect Electricity employees actually live in the area. Because they live and work in that area they feel a strong identity with the organisation. Many generations of families have worked for that organisation; it is not uncommon to find people who have worked for Prospect have encouraged their children to seek apprenticeships with that organisation. It is not surprising also to note that Prospect Electricity has been very aggressive in its campaign to encourage apprentices in western Sydney. They have spearheaded many campaigns, working closely with local councils, TAFE colleges, and increasingly with schools to encourage technical training in areas of the western suburbs. That has encouraged the feelings of the local community towards Prospect.
I would like to comment on some statements and the public debate, which has been reported in the local media in western Sydney, about the attitude of the current executive, the elected executive of Prospect Electricity, and the non-elected management of Prospect County Council in regard to the deal that will be confirmed if this legislation is passed tonight. In particular I refer to some statements made by the current chairman of Prospect County Council, Alderman Jim Morris - a colleague member of the Labor Party and an alderman on Holroyd council. In a press release on 24th November he came out strongly to reject public criticism to Prospect becoming a statutory authority. In that press release he said:
In all our negotiations with the State Government we set out to ensure that local government maintained its traditional control over Prospect. In this we were successful.
That is a flawed argument. The arrangement that will come forward tonight does not
mean that the local government will maintain control over Prospect. Alderman Jim Morris and others on Prospect County Council who have apparently agreed to some deal to allow the Government to seize control of the organisation, and eventually of its assets - as outlined by the honourable member for Penrith - are kidding themselves if they believe they will retain control of Prospect. Under the new arrangement they will not retain control. Those traditional policies of sympathetic social welfare, community-mindedness or employment incentive programs will not be maintained by that organisation. They will not be in a position to maintain those programs because they will not have control. Some aldermen will become part of the board of Prospect Electricity as a result of this legislation, but will they feel accountable to local councils? What has occurred in the past weeks in the debate reported in the newspapers - and the debate by councils - is that those aldermen have virtually been bagged to a man by their respective councils for their apparent sell-out on this issue. They will not feel a sense of loyalty to those individual councils - whether it is Holroyd, Blacktown, Liverpool or Penrith council - they will feel a sense of loyalty to the Government which ultimately appoints them to the organisation and which ultimately pays them a fee of, perhaps, $25,000 a year.
Mrs Lo Po': A disgrace.
Ms ALLAN: It is a disgrace. One of the very important things about Prospect in the past has been that the management, the elected local council, has consisted of relatively humble people who have received approximately $3,000 per year for the privilege of serving on that council. They have not seen it as a career path; they have not seen it as an opportunity simply to increase their own personal assets but they have seen it as an extension of their normal local government service. There is always fierce competition for delegates to Prospect County Council from various local government authorities because in the past it has been happy to sponsor the elected aldermen to various international conferences and other training exercises that are considered important. In the general scheme of things those international conferences and other activities pale into insignificance in comparison with what is currently proposed in this legislation. I believe that no individual member of the board of Prospect Electricity deserves to be paid $25,000 or $35,000. If that amount of money were offered to them they should not accept it. More importantly, as soon as they accept that sort of money they become removed from the constituency to which ultimately they are responsible and accountable.
Mr Knowles: They will be captives.
Ms ALLAN: They will be, as the honourable member for Moorebank said, captives of the current Government. They will turn their backs on their natural constituency, the people of western Sydney and they will participate with the current Government in the plunder of the assets of Prospect. More importantly, they will lose their natural links with the community of western Sydney. I am disappointed with alderman Jim Morris and other aldermen not only from the Labor Party but also from the Liberal Party and Independents who have indicated to the Government that they are prepared to accept this legislation. We on the Labor side of politics from western Sydney are not willing to accept the legislation. A fortnight ago I listened to my Illawarra and Hunter colleagues debating a regional issue of major importance - I think it was with regard to mine subsidence. I am pleased to note that tonight western Sydney members will register their strong, political and personal protests about what the State Government is seeking to do to Prospect Electricity.
Mr MORRIS (Blue Mountains) [10.11]: I believe debate on this bill is far wider than the Prospect end of the deal. The Government's principal objective for the electricity industry in New South Wales is to maximise economic efficiency in the production and use of electricity. This objective is now shared by State and Federal governments across the country and has led to the production of a number of reports recommending ways to make the industry more efficient nationwide. Historically in New South Wales, as in some other States, responsibility for electricity distribution has been directly vested with local government. Various reports have questioned the appropriateness of this. The 1991 report on energy generation and distribution by the Federal Government's Industry Commission concluded that it is no longer appropriate. In his second reading speech the Minister echoed the commission's views in respect of the four metropolitan distributors serving Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong. He noted that they are large businesses, with multi-million dollar annual sales revenues, and that the exclusive local government governance is no longer appropriate. Therefore, this bill seeks to change the governance of the three remaining country councils, Prospect, Shortland and Illawarra, and to create electricity corporations governed by a board with a blend of local government experience and business acumen.
In recognition of the different needs of rural New South Wales, the governance of rural distributors will remain in the hands of local government representatives. However, as with schedule 2 corporations, they will come within the sole legislative responsibility of the Minister for Energy. This is in accordance with simplifying accountability for the industry and ensuring more efficient and co-ordinated energy planning. In particular I draw to the attention of honourable members the bill's provisions for electricity in the Tenterfield and Broken Hill regions. That is why I said that the debate is wider than the Prospect deal. Unlike the rest of the State, to date electricity in those regions has been supplied not by county councils but by Tenterfield Shire Council and Broken Hill City Council. The bill will provide for the creation of Tenterfield Electricity and Far West Electricity respectively as schedule 1 corporations. Apart from providing a consistent form of governance throughout the State, the last remaining area - a vast area in the northwest corner - will be given coverage by a distributor. I note that the honourable member for Northern Tablelands was delighted to participate in this debate.
In the case of Far West Electricity, the bill will ensure that Broken Hill City Council retains a major representation on the governing board, with five directors nominated by Broken Hill City Council; two directors nominated by Central Darling Shire; and one member representing the unincorporated area elected by residents in that area. The directors will elect a chairperson and a deputy chairperson annually. The board of Tenterfield Electricity will compromise a number of persons approved by the Minister, being persons nominated by the Tenterfield shire council. As with Far West Electricity the directors will elect a chairperson and a deputy chairperson annually. The assets of both Tenterfield and Far West will remain in the control of the corporations. There are provisions which will enable their boards, should they wish, to contract out electricity functions back to their respective local councils. This will obviate the necessity to establish separate organisational structure to manage the electricity function and therefore avoid any unnecessary associated cost.
It must be emphasised that the decision on the most appropriate supply arrangement for the two regions rests solely with the new boards, which will be legally responsible for the efficient delivery of the service. That is a fairly tall order. These amendments support the autonomy of rural electricity distributors in New South Wales, and they focus the distributors on the commercial aspects of their businesses. The establishment of separate electricity boards for Broken Hill and Tenterfield will enable
them to focus their efforts solely on improving the efficient delivery of their service, which in the medium to long term will generate benefits for the electricity consumer in those outlying areas. As schedule 1 corporations, neither Tenterfield nor Far West will be asked to pay dividends into the Consolidated Fund. I note and support the Minister's comments in his second reading speech that rural distributors are already making considerable community service obligations by providing a service to uneconomic customers in remote villages and locations. I welcome his assurance given to the industry earlier this year that, because of these obligations, no dividends will be required of rural distributors during the administration of this Government.
The existing three dual-purpose county councils - Oxley, Northern Rivers and Southern Riverina - will be constituted on the same basis as electricity distributors. The water functions of these councils will be under the administration of other legislation. If the body responsible for the water function decides to continue with existing operational arrangements, the bill allows for distributing corporations to carry out the water functions. The bill also provides for the establishment of three regional transmission corporations to enable the transfer of rural 132 kV assets from Pacific Power to rural corporations. These regional transmission corporations will have all the necessary legal powers to operate the 132 kV assets. Members representing distribution corporations will make up the boards of transmission corporations - local people. Pacific Power will continue to operate and maintain rural 132 kV assets until at least March 1994, in line with the three-year moratorium. After that date it is not envisaged that regional transmissional corporations will employ field staff; rather, it is more likely that work will be contracted out on a competitive basis to either Pacific Power, electricity corporations or private contractors.
In the event that Pacific Power is unsuccessful in winning maintenance contracts and maintenance is performed by rural corporations, it is expected that employees will have the opportunity to apply for positions within the corporations. Where staff are surplus to requirements, I understand that Pacific Power will be prepared to negotiate with corporations to enable staff to take up employment with them under similar conditions to those that were negotiated with the four metropolitan distributors over the 132 kV asset transfer. Those arrangements allowed for employees to transfer their long service leave entitlements and a proportion of annual sick leave entitlements for use in the event that distribution corporation entitlements were depleted. There will be no staff retrenchments as a consequence of the establishment of regional transmission corporation or the subsequent transfer of rural 132 kV assets, although offers of voluntary redundancy may be necessary. This transfer will reduce overall costs for the industry by effecting economies through better integration of the 132 kV assets and the subtransmission systems of rural corporations. In addition, the rural 132 kV system is predominantly of wood pole construction, as are distribution networks of rural distribution corporations. Corporations are therefore better placed to operate and maintain these assets. Reform is taking place in government enterprises across the country in all sectors. The electricity industry has been at the forefront of change in this State. This bill will help to ensure that the industry remains at the forefront and is best placed to receive and maximise the benefits that flow from it. I support the bill.
Mr ANDERSON (Liverpool) [10.20]: So that no one is under any misapprehension, I state at the outset that I was a member of the Prospect County Council from 1977 until 1980 - and proud of it. I have more pride in the fact that I had the honour of being its chairman from 1977 until 1978. From the age of 14 or 15 I was closely associated with the Sydney County Council through somebody else. I saw what was done to Sydney County Council and how it was destroyed by the Government. We only have to look at the figures the honourable member for Penrith produced tonight to see what has happened to Sydney and why the Opposition does not like what the
Government is trying to do to Prospect. We have sat here and listened to the remarks of the honourable member for The Hills. Charlie McLaughlin, the longest serving councillor on the Prospect County Council - he has retired now - would be absolutely mortified. One of the Government's former parliamentary colleagues, Fred Caterson, would not tolerate what the Government is doing to Prospect. The honourable member for Blue Mountains is sitting opposite. The Prospect County Council, under the former Government, resolved his problem with respect to the terrible electricity charges and poor service when the Blue Mountains City Council did its own electricity. That city council also used to supply its own water, which the former Labor Government fixed and put under the Water Board. It astounds me that the honourable member for Blue Mountains supports this legislation.
Some of the things that have been said about Prospect - with respect to its inefficiency and everything else - are absolutely stunning. Who led New South Wales in the provision of rebates for kidney dialysis patients? Prospect County Council. Which was the first council to introduce pensioner rebates? Prospect County Council. When the amalgamations took place at the end of the 1970s and earlier 1980s, Prospect County Council had to take over the Nepean River County Council, Hartley Council and the Blue Mountains electricity department. From reading the second reading speech, it appears that the Minister for Conservation and Land Management and Minister for Energy does not understand that Prospect County Council is not simply an urban distributor. If one understood the enormous area incorporated within Prospect, one would understand that it has a concentration of urban development, it has massive rural areas - through Lithgow and down through Wollondilly - and it has the outer area of the greater western region of Sydney. Let us have none of this nonsense that the Government is comparing like with like when it compares Sydney and Prospect.
Over the past 15 to 20 years Prospect has had the greatest growth rate in New South Wales, and probably in Australia, yet it has been able to introduce the things that ought to be introduced and it has been able to provide the additional services to cope with that growth. It has committed the awful crime of trying to keep domestic electricity charges down. It did not take the Government long to change that. Those opposite do not understand. I await with great interest the release of the recent census statistics. If we take the latest census statistics and use my electorate of Liverpool as an example, we see that 82 per cent of the population has an income under $22,000 per annum; 60 per cent-plus has an income of $15,000 or less. Those people have already had to wear the Government's train fares and tollways; they are paying a minimum of four times more for water and the Government has jacked up the electricity prices. The Government now wants to raise $400 million out of them. The honourable member for Penrith and the honourable member for East Hills referred to the asset grab - that is exactly what it is.
The Government will not do anything about improving services, it will cut services back. What will happen to the kidney dialysis rebates? What will happen to the pensioner rebates? What will happen to the out of hours service? Some of the Government's cohorts on the ground in western Sydney have suggested that we should not have those sorts of services out of hours, that it is cost inefficient. It is not inefficient if someone is trying to heat milk for a child or trying to run a dryer to dry nappies because it has been raining all day. That is what the people of western Sydney have to put up with. I notice the smiles of the advisers on the other side of the Chamber. That is outrageous. They probably live on the North Shore and they are paying the inflated prices Sydney now charges under its corporatised plan. On 11th November the great mental giant from the other place, the Hon. J. F. Ryan, was protesting. He said that corporatisation should proceed immediately for Prospect because Prospect had the audacity to allow 21 days for people to pay their electricity accounts. He said that they should have only 14 days like Sydney. It appears that the Government and its advisers
do not understand what it is like to come from a low socioeconomic background.
Mr Schultz: Rubbish!
Mr ANDERSON: The honourable member for Burrinjuck would not know; he is lucky to be awake. He is lucky to be here, but he will not be here much longer. The reality is that people need two fortnightly pay cheques to be able to pay their power bills, not 14 days. The honourable member for Burrinjuck should go out to western Sydney and sit in Green Valley or Liverpool and see how many people are getting help from Centacare, from the Salvation Army -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Sutherland to order.
Mr ANDERSON: - from the Sydney City Mission and other welfare organisations providing vouchers and money so that people can simply pay their electricity bills. That is what is happening to many people out there. The Government proposes to have a wonderful asset grab, a corporatisation, to rip a few more tens of millions of dollars out of that area. Who is going to pay for that? I am absolutely staggered at the so-called logic that if we increase the debt of an organisation we make it more efficient. We have been told what the private sector does. This country would not be in the trouble it is in and the banks would not be run the way they are if it were not for the private sector people - the little people on low incomes did not send them broke.
The honourable member for Blue Mountains should go and fix up the Blue Mountains with his shonky deals. The fact is that Prospect has addressed the issues which would be addressed, allegedly, by corporatisation. On 13th May this year Standard and Poor's - the famous ratings organisation; not the Premier, "stumble and pause" - gave Prospect County Council a triple-A rating because of its "extremely strong annual financial performance". That is a stand-alone rating, without taking any government guarantees into account, therefore making it the ultimate rating. One cannot have a better rating than that. The Government thinks it can do better. There is no logic to that. Some members from this side mentioned what happened to some of the existing members of the county council. I was asked to attend a meeting at Prospect on 15th May this year - it was a spontaneous meeting, arranged by Prospect for people in local government and representatives all over the area - because of what the Government was proposing to do. I am staggered that some people who got up and spoke in the manner in which I am speaking tonight have changed their tune. I do not care how many press releases some of them put out; there is no doubt what happened - those who are going to get a guernsey and those who see themselves going from the $3,000 allowance per annum to $25,000 or $30,000 allowance have sold out. They can dress it up any way they like - they have sold themselves out and, more importantly, they have sold out the people of western Sydney. It is time that the hypocrisy and the ridiculous propositions being put forward by the mob opposite are seen in the light they should be.
I remind honourable members that Prospect has a triple-A rating and it does not even own a hardly used racetrack. It has done very well to keep that triple-A rating given the sorts of things it has had to put up with. There has been 19 per cent growth in demand. I remember when Westmead hospital was built. It used more electricity than the city of Broken Hill. Prospect responded, despite all the pressures upon it, and built a zone substation at a cost of more than $1 million. It pioneered many of the environmentally sensitive pad mounts. It has made developments that have led the
industry worldwide. When I was on the council at a time of great difficulty it increased the number of apprentices it was taking in. Instead of cutting apprenticeships like this Government it increased them.
Mrs Lo Po': The Government will get rid of them.
Mr ANDERSON: My colleague the honourable member for Penrith rightly points that out. What will happen to the apprentice training scheme at Prospect? It will be gone. Pensioner rebates will be threatened.
Mr West: Come on!
Mr ANDERSON: That is what the Government has done everywhere else. It has downsized, to use the new word. The Government should consider its employment rating and the staff situation in Sydney. Will the Government tell me that service is still the same in Sydney?
Mr McManus: If it does it is talking rubbish.
Mr ANDERSON: As the honourable member for Bulli points out, it is a load of rubbish to make that assertion. We all know what the Government is about. Why is it not honest?
Ms Machin: What is this, class war?
Mr ANDERSON: This is a difficulty with Government members. They have no empathy with people who find it a little difficult at times. It is all right for them to fool around. They should come out to western Sydney and see what people there have to put up with. Mr Speaker knows about this. Government members make comments about automatic representation on the council. Mr Speaker knows well Cec Sullivan, the former Chairman of Prospect County Council, a very successful businessman in the Windsor-Hawkesbury area. I note that Mr Speaker nods. Cec Sullivan was not of my political persuasion but served the county council in his area and the whole region in a very good and effective way. He was a successful businessman but then the Government took over, and look at what happened; probably even he fell apart.
The honourable member simply does not understand. If he cannot work something out with his fingers he is in real trouble. I would be quiet, Pete.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is too much interjection.
Mr ANDERSON: I do not know who supplied the speech on this bill, but any assessment, or more particularly the figures given by the honourable member for Penrith who compared Prospect's position on different utilisation rates, shows where Prospect is in comparison with Sydney. Sydney has no excuse for where it is now. If what Government members say is correct, it should have been right up the top - and it is right down the bottom. The debt ratio shows the reality. Who will pay that debt? Existing consumers and the consumers of the future will have to pay this. What the Government is doing is not as it says. It is not trying to make Prospect more efficient, but is punishing Prospect for being efficient.
Mr West: This is a good leadership speech. I think I will vote for you too.
Mr ANDERSON: I have offered to assist the Minister for Conservation and Land Management and Minister for Energy to replace the Deputy Premier when he goes. It is not an easy job to help him because there is not much to work with. I would keep very quiet if I were him because someone will ask him what a gigawatt is and he will be confused. He is trying to work that out. I will leave it there and stop the fight.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is too much interjection on both sides of the Chamber.
Mr ANDERSON: I do not propose to take up any more of the time of the House other than to conclude by repeating what I started with. It is with great pride that I stand here as a former member and chairman of Prospect County Council. It has been wonderful for the provision of services for the people of western Sydney, and it ought to be allowed to continue. It is a matter of enormous regret to me that not only does the Government propose to do what it thinks it will get away with, but also it is being aided and abetted by certain people on Prospect County Council such as councillors and, no doubt, some people employed by that body. It would be a great tragedy if this bill goes through, not because the organisation will change so much but because the level of service that people like me who have lived in western Sydney for 20 years or more have come to expect, not for themselves but for the whole community, will be lost. Once it goes, it can never be replaced. The Minister is a reasonable person. That is why we supported his leadership. We ask him to think it through again.
Ms MACHIN (Port Macquarie) [10.34]: I wish to make a brief contribution to debate. I did not intend to do so, but the emotional comments of the honourable member for Liverpool have moved me to contribute to what is more a debate about class than electricity. Someone listening from the gallery would wonder what we are talking about. The honourable member for Liverpool, it would appear, thinks that this is some huge conspiracy of the Government to rip off western Sydney.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Bulli to order.
Ms MACHIN: The honourable member for The Hills hit the nail on the head when he said in response to the honourable member for Penrith, "What is this bill all about and where will the money go?". The money will go back to services for her area and my area. I do not know what the Government thought we were going to do with the money. It is a sensible approach and it is all about putting money where it is needed. The Labor Party seems to think that a tree produces money whenever we want it. It sprinkles a little water on the tree and everything is right, mate. The world does not work that way. This means that some tough decisions have to be made from time to time. I want to address the view that the western suburbs are getting the raw deal. I invite people such as the honourable member for Liverpool to come up to the North Coast. Because members from that area happen to represent a very pretty part of New South Wales, people tend to think that all is sweet. I would like to tell people such as the honourable member for Liverpool that there are people on the North Coast who do not have jobs and live in tents and caravans. They find it damn hard to pay bills as do people in the western suburbs. In fact, I would dare say that many people in western Sydney are better off than those on the North Coast.
This legislation is all about getting money to those areas in need, namely, western Sydney and northern New South Wales. Those areas are where the big population growth is. We have seen this trend in health, roads and other public infrastructure. I simply say to the honourable member for Liverpool: "Come on up and talk to some of the people who work with those who are struggling. Look at unemployment statistics, which realistically are over 20 per cent. If you think you are
doing it tough in western Sydney, come to the North Coast". Members from the western suburbs are simply perpetuating the myth that everyone in western Sydney is down to his last two bob; it is real struggle town: it is not. There are some fabulous places and people in western Sydney but the way the Opposition goes on one would think everyone there is on welfare, was never going to make it and did not have a bob to his name. Why not give them a break and be a bit sensible for a change? We should give a bit of money where it is needed.
Mr A. S. AQUILINA (St Marys) [10.37]: I cannot believe the comments made by the honourable member for Port Macquarie. She obviously does not understand that indeed this is a class war. She said that the Labor Party is now fighting a class war. I remind Government members what this Government has been doing. Corporatisation leading to privatisation in so many areas is only the beginning. The Government sacks workers and talks about saving money, but where will the money go? The honourable member for Bulli said that the money would go back to the people of New South Wales, presumably back to western Sydney. My colleagues and I know very well that the money made out of this ransacking of Prospect Electricity will go into the black hole of this Government's deficit. It will go into the black hole of Eastern Creek. It will go into the black hole that the Government cannot find its way out of. This Government is not able to manage properly. It cannot do what it ought to do as a government caring for the people of this State. Indeed, the $400 million that will be taken from the people of western Sydney will not go back to western Sydney. I can assure the House of that because the figures just do not show it. One only needs to look at the Budget to see where the money is going and how much is being spent on infrastructure in western Sydney. People talk about the need for hospitals and public housing. There are people in western Sydney - and I am sure there are people in Port Macquarie - on a long waiting list for public housing. People in those areas are paying more now than ever for water, electricity and other public utilities they need.
Mr Morris: They do not have to put up with poo on Bondi Beach.
Mr A. S. AQUILINA: The honourable member for Blue Mountains talks about Bondi Beach - he ought to talk! What happened to the environment levy proposed by the Government to fix up all environmental problems? That money is not being used to clean up the beaches, as the honourable member for Blue Mountains seems to claim. That is an excellent example of the Government's inability to manage and use the resources of this State for the benefit of the people. This action by the Government is one of last resort. I am not a left-wing socialist and prefer to be regarded as a representative of the people of St Marys in western Sydney who, like those at Port Macquarie and throughout the State, are doing it hard. The Government has made life hard for ordinary working people.
Ms Machin: What about your Federal mates?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is too much audible conversation in the Chamber.
Mr A. S. AQUILINA: The honourable member interjects about Federal mates. Premier Fahey has said that unemployment in this State is not the Government's problem but a problem of the Federal Government. Comparison of levels of unemployment in New South Wales and those in other States clearly indicates a gradual and consistent deterioration in the economy of this State. That is the bottom line. The Government is not about gaining efficiencies; it is about getting money from the people of western Sydney and other areas of the State through control of corporatised utilities. The Government wants to put that money towards the billions of dollars deficit that it has loaded on to the people of this State, a huge deficit that the Government does not know how to deal with. The Government is attempting to fill that black hole with a $400
million profit from Prospect Electricity. Such action will ensure that Prospect Electricity will amass further debt. The people of western Sydney will eventually be paying for that debt through increased rates. That will happen as surely as night follows day. It has been happening. Since I was elected as a member of this House the working conditions of the people of this State have been continually eroded and charges have consistently increased.
Mr Morris: What about Paul Keating?
Mr A. S. AQUILINA: The honourable member should not ask me about Paul Keating because he well knows -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is far too much audible conversation in the Chamber. I do not seek to interrupt the honourable member for St Marys, but I remind him that it is some time since he appears to have addressed the scope of the bill. I remind him that if he wishes to continue his contribution he should return to the scope of the bill. I also remind him that the debate is not of a general nature such as occurs during an Address-in--Reply debate.
Mr A. S. AQUILINA: Thank you, Mr Speaker. That is indeed the bottom line. The bill is an example of what the Government has been doing. The Government has been attempting to ensure that the workers of this State will pay more for basic services. The Government will end up increasing taxes by stealth. The Government will ensure that the loans to be undertaken by Prospect Electricity will be paid for by the people of western Sydney in lieu of extra taxes. However, the people will be paying much more money in extra utility charges for electricity and, I dare say, for water. That is the next big fight. The Government has shown by its actions a total disregard for the needs of ordinary working people. Yesterday in the superannuation debate honourable members heard how the Government is flushing the working conditions of our public servants further down the drain through its attempt to change access to superannuation. That is yet another example of the Government's plan to erode the working conditions and quality of life of the people of this State. Mr Speaker has said that I am steering away from the bill.
Mr SPEAKER: I am about to come to that conclusion.
Mr A. S. AQUILINA: The honourable member for Penrith, the honourable member for Liverpool and other Opposition members have been saying and will continue to say that this proposal is a microcosm of what the Government has been doing to the people of western Sydney and this State. People are hurting hard. I implore members opposite to think twice about the bill and to support the Opposition's amendments.
Mr WINDSOR (Tamworth) [10.46]: I wish to take this opportunity to address the bill. I, too, have concerns about the Electricity Corporations Bill, but I wish to say at the outset that I support the basic thrust of the proposed legislation. I have listened with interest to the debate and in particular in relation to Prospect, Illawarra and Shortland electricity councils. I have spent some time looking into this legislation, as I am sure the honourable member for East Hills will testify. It has been my belief that those three councils have agreed to enter into this arrangement with the Government, though there will be some debate about the degree of that agreement.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Bulli to order for the second time.
Mr WINDSOR: I have spent some time with the Local Government Electricity
Association looking into arguments about schedule 1 and schedule 2 corporations. I have been assured that even though some constituent members did not agree with what those county councils were doing, they entered into that arrangement with the Government of their own volition. I think that in itself divides schedule 1 and schedule 2 corporations. I shall introduce some amendments to insert into the proposed legislation the oral assurances that the Government and a number of Ministers have given over a period of time that schedule 1 electricity corporations will not be required to pay dividends to the Government. I know that the Minister for Conservation and Land Management and Minister for Energy, the former Minister Mr Webster, and I think the Minister before him, gave assurances to country county councils that there would not be a requirement for dividends to be taken from them.
As that assurance has been given, I believe it should be within the legislation so that those corporations, when they are created, can operate with a surety of not being attacked by the Treasury further down the track. Some people would say, and some members in this House might very well say, that any distancing between schedule 1 and schedule 2 corporations is to some degree hypocritical. I do not believe that is correct. I think I have covered that by saying that schedule 2 corporations have agreed, in a sense, to the arrangement they are entering into with the Government. The people who agreed were the elected officials of their constituent areas, whereas schedule 1 county councils have not agreed, do not intend to agree and do not want to agree. There are other quite basic differences that need to be explained in this debate. Eighty per cent of electricity consumption in this State occurs in the much bigger areas of the schedule 2 county councils and Sydney Electricity.
Rural areas have the disadvantage of distance in relation to the relaying of power and the expense of extending services to far flung communities. I had intended to move an amendment in relation to schedule 6, clause 18, in relation to traffic route lighting. The previous Minister offered county councils this carrot to agree to changes in the legislation. I believe the Government essentially has walked away from the commitment given that electricity corporations under the new arrangement would not have to contribute to another government authority - the Roads and Traffic Authority - for traffic route lighting. The Government deserves criticism for that. I do not believe I would have the support of the Opposition for such an amendment, but I would support such a change. I seek an assurance from the Government that it will not ask new electricity corporations to contribute towards traffic route lighting, which in my view is essentially the responsibility of the Roads and Traffic Authority. The most satisfactory outcome would be for the Opposition to support such an amendment. Clause 22(1) states:
The board of directors of a schedule 1 corporation . . . is to consist of persons elected as prescribed by the regulations.
I ask the Minister to clarify whether that means that the board will be elected by members of local government councils within the corporation's distribution district. If it does not mean that - and I believe it should - I will consider moving an amendment to rectify the situation. I was disappointed about the debate degenerating into some sort of class war. The significant problems in western Sydney have been caused not just by this Government; all governments in the past 20 years have contributed to the circumstances of the people of the western suburbs. And I do not mean only in relation to their economic circumstances. In a way I am straying from the content of the bill but I believe that we have an obligation to do some good for the people of western Sydney by addressing the planning stupidity and the social injustices and environmental damage which will continue under this Government and under the Opposition if it becomes the government. We must implement long-term plans, particularly in relation to the Hawkesbury-Nepean. The proposals of the Government and the Opposition will only perpetuate the crazy class distinction that has been referred to tonight. On occasions I
am cynical in believing that there are political benefits in keeping people in a degree of poverty and environmental and social stress such as the people of western Sydney suffer when I see nothing coming from either the Government or the Opposition to provide a long-term solution to the problems. The Opposition may be offended by what I have just said but nothing proposed in environmental debates will remedy the problems being endured by the people of western Sydney at the moment.
Mr MILLS (Wallsend) [10.57]: I oppose the Electricity Corporations Bill because it is an asset stripping bill. The Government has claimed that we should not criticise assets being stripped from local government oriented distribution authorities because the proceeds would be spent on the people of New South Wales. This year the Government's budget deficit was reduced from the proceeds of the sale of the GIO. If this bill goes through, $400 million will be taken from Prospect Electricity, $250 million from Shortland and probably $150 million from Illawarra, as the basis of avoiding the black hole of the budget deficit in next year's Budget. The bill has been designed to achieve this purpose and it has been modelled on the structure of Sydney Electricity. We have heard from a number of speakers who represent electorates in western Sydney and I think it is about time the House heard from someone from the Hunter region. I shall devote most of the remainder of my remarks to that area and the proposal for Shortland Electricity to be made a schedule 2 organisation. I think I know most of the councillors at Shortland Electricity. Back in about September they had discussions with the Minister when it was made fairly clear that, in accordance with the draft bill, he wanted the four inner core New South Wales authorities operating as schedule 2 distributors by early next year. To achieve that he asked for the co-operation of Shortland and Illawarra because he did not want to have to hold an inquiry as provided under the legislation similar to the inquiry conducted recently in relation to Prospect. When the former energy Minister, Mr Webster, proposed these reforms Shortland Electricity stated that, although it did not have a major problem with the proposal, it thought it could fulfil the Government's requirements by being reconstituted as a schedule 1 distributor.
A year ago Shortland County Council held the view that if the Government was intent on pushing ahead with the schedule 2 concept in relation to Shortland County Council, the council wanted two things. One was the voluntary mechanism and the other was a transfer without an inquiry. That was long before the present Minister came to the energy portfolio. The people of Shortland certainly did not want inquiries of the kind experienced by Sydney County Council and Prospect County Council. Those councils believed such inquiries would lead to a loss of credibility, subject the staff to moral problems and, indeed, affect their motivation. I have learned informally from the people of Shortland that they did not believe that they had much choice in relation to the voluntary transfer. They believed that if they did not go along with the transfer of the council to schedule 2, sooner or later they would have to face an inquiry. As I have said before, schedule 2 is based on the Sydney Electricity model. The first big change under that model is a reduction in the size of the board and a change in its composition. Some people argue in favour of big boards, others argue in favour of small boards, and others argue in favour of commissions of one. Anyone can cope with a reduction in the size of the board. The second big change, which is not usually open for debate - although the honourable member for Penrith made it very clear - is that the power and authority of the State replaces local government. Local government has to cope with. The third big change that results from a transfer to schedule 2 is that asset stripping starts. One of the most remarkable interviews I have heard on radio recently was early last week on the Micki de Stoop program on ABC radio when the Minister was interviewed about the bill before the House. For most of the interview he praised effusively the performance in recent years of Shortland County Council. He praised its restructuring of senior management. I know those things have been very well done.
Shortland County Council has introduced performance management programs and has achieved wonderful productivity improvements, one or two of which I will refer to in a moment. Its costs reductions as a result of organised microeconomic reforms have been superb. Costs have been reduced by 23 per cent between 1988-89 and 1992-93. Towards the end of the radio interview, the interviewer asked the Minister why the legislation was necessary. One of the more embarrassing silences on ABC radio then occurred, because the Minister found it hard to think of any reason for a change. Many people were surprised by his reaction. Being a successful politician, the Minister eventually found some words to fill the space, but they were not convincing. There are no good reasons for sending Shortland County Council down the schedule 2 route.
Earlier the honourable member for East Hills and the honourable member for Penrith quoted from the Local Government Electricity Association prices survey. The figures for Shortland County Council and Prospect County Council are similar, and are generally better than those of Sydney Electricity. Another improvement in Shortland County Council in the past few years has been that although the customer base has risen 12 per cent, the staff has been reduced by 31 per cent. Shortland County Council has been praised for award restructuring. Performance based employment agreements for management have been introduced. As the honourable member for Liverpool said in relation to Prospect County Council, Shortland County Council has been at the forefront of the electricity supply reform process, for which it has been widely praised by the Minister. In order to remain at the forefront of that reform process and to retain the initiative, Shortland County Council resolved, with a great deal of reluctance, to be restructured and to reduce the elected representation on the board from 15 to seven, to voluntarily transfer to schedule 2 status following the gazettal of new electricity legislation, and to accept the Minister's offer to appoint seven elected members to the board. Shortland County Council advised the Minister that no customers should be disadvantaged by its transfer to a schedule 2 distributor.
Will the Minister guarantee that no one will be disadvantaged? Of course not! How can the Minister even begin to guarantee that no customers of Shortland County Council would be disadvantaged when its reserves will be raided? The whole process will push Shortland County Council into greater debt. That has been the result of the Sydney Electricity model. The Government's economic theories are inconsistent and erroneous. In 1988 Curran said there was a great need to lower the debt of government trading enterprises. In the Prospect County Council report in 1992 Curran said there is a need for higher debt at the council. Poor old Curran seems to write whatever he is told. The capital structure outlined on page 25 of the report is amazing. The directions were to undertake an acceptable level of debt, which Prospect Electricity would be required to service and to repatriate any surplus resources under its control. That is a nice fancy euphemism for asset stripping. The next direction was that Prospect Electricity was to be constituted with an adequate level of capital on which it would be required to generate an acceptable rate of return.
According to the Curran report, the proposed debt to equity ratio for Prospect Electricity would have been 44 per cent. The debt to equity ratio, the gearing ratio, for Sydney Electricity in the year following the passing of the relevant legislation increased from 17 per cent to 70 per cent. This year the annual report of Shortland County Council shows that the debt gearing ratio is 15.5 per cent. It has decreased steadily since 1986-87, from 27 per cent to 15.5 per cent. That has resulted from the council meeting its own performance targets, which were in accord with Curran's theories in 1988 but obviously do not accord with Curran's theories in 1992. The real doozey appears on page 26 of the Prospect County Council report. I refer to Curran's solution: a special dividend of $400 million representing in effect the value of the franchise right, which Prospect County Council enjoys, being paid to the Government and funded by additional
borrowings which would thereby increase Prospect Electricity's total loans to $550 million.
Who will pay back the loans? What special dividend will be taken from Shortland County Council after it is transferred to schedule 2? Will that dividend be taken under clause 30 of the bill before the House or will it be taken under section 59 of the Public Finance and Audit Act? It does not matter. What is the price of rape? The reserve stripping envisaged by this bill must be stopped. Our government trading enterprises must not be forced into higher debt. As indicated by the shadow Minister in his contribution, a work representative is needed on the board. Genuine consultation on dividends is needed. That is promised in clause 30 of the bill. Dividends must be related to profits and earnings. Dividends should not be related to asset stripping processes. In recent years Prospect County Council and Shortland County Council have been working to improve their efficiency without being transferred to schedule 2. Huge fees of the order of $25,000 should not be paid to directors. That is waste and extravagance of the kind that no New South Wales government can afford. This bill is not the way forward.
Mr HARRISON (Kiama) [11.8]: I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this bill. I will start by referring to some of the comments made by previous speakers, particularly in relation to class. I announce that I am working- class down to my bootstraps. In this place I represent the interests of workers to the best of my ability. I deplore the fact that the Government of this State is equally committed to the class it represents, that is, the haves of this society. The Government is all about taking off the poor to give to the rich, the reverse Robin Hood complex I have spoken about on a number of other occasions. What this legislation is about is a grab for $400 million from Prospect and an unnamed amount of money to be grabbed from Illawarra and Shortland. It would not be unreasonable to say that up front the Government hopes to immediately get its hands on approximately $600 million which it can use to prop up the continuing waste and mismanagement that has been very much in evidence since this Government came to office. It has been indicated that Shortland will be up for an immediate penalty of $400 million and will also then have to take on the responsibility of additional borrowing. The previous speaker posed the question: where is the money going to come from to service these loans? You do not have to be Einstein to work it out. The money will come from the consumers in the Prospect local area, the same as it will come from consumers in the Illawarra and in Shortland. That is really what it is all about. It is not about providing cheaper electricity, as we have been told over and over - that is a lie, and I do not know why people do not choke when the Government keeps repeating it. It is about increasing the price of electricity in exactly the same way as the price of water has increased since this Government came to office.
These days, people say to me, "I am paying as much every three months for my water as I used to pay every 12 months under the previous Labor Government". That is the plain fact. I receive water bills every three months in the summer of anywhere between $140 and $150. For the life of me, I do not know how people on $350 or $400 a week take home pay are surviving. They must really feel like throwing themselves out on the road and saying, "Pick the bones clean, you bunch of bludgers". There is no end to the amount of bills that they are hit with, ever escalating amounts of money for the Government and authorities that the Government represents. This is a transitional move that has taken place. This is not the end of it. Honourable members have seen this sort of thing happen with the Water Board. First of all local government representation on the Water Board was reduced, and then it was abolished altogether. Local government now has no representation on the Water Board - or rather they might have one nominal person there. I do remember an election or a person from the Illawarra region being appointed by the former Minister for the Environment some years ago. I do not know whether he is still representing the people of Illawarra. He is no longer in local
government and his profile while he was there certainly left a lot to be desired. I speak about a gentleman named Dennis Owen.
There were three nominations put forward by local government in the Illawarra region - one was myself, the mayor of my local government area; another, a fine Independent gentleman named Arthur Campbell, who was the mayor of Kiama; and the other person was Dennis Owen, a card carrying Liberal Party member and failed Liberal Party candidate. Pick the odd one out. He is not difficult to pick. The person who was elected was, of course, Dennis Owen. He is one of the people being touted as very likely to be appointed to this new corporation when it comes into effect. Other people whose names are being touted are a former president of the county council and card carrying Liberal Party member, Peter Bolt, and Alderman Neville Fredricks from Kiama. Alderman Neville Fredericks is the principal director of a company named Miltonbrook, which has profited to the tune of many millions of dollars from development in the Shellharbour local area, particularly at Albion Park. He is not to be criticised for that. There is nothing wrong with making a profit. It was interesting to hear on the radio this morning a well-known Illawarra radio announcer point out that Miltonbrook had been asked to make a contribution of $150 to provide Christmas carols for the people of Albion Park. The Christmas carols are being organised by the local Lions club, a group of people who have worked their fingers to the bone doing good for the local community. Believe it or not, Miltonbrook said it was not in a position to give $150. That is after ripping millions of dollars in profits out of the local area. Miltonbrook is the biggest developer in the Illawarra region and could not come up with $150.
That is the type of Ebenezer Scrooge we are going to finish up with on the Illawarra County Council. I can speak with some authority about the fact that the Illawarra County Council - like Prospect and, I believe, like Shortland - has always been prepared to try to assist in any way possible people who have difficulty paying their electricity bills. They have always been prepared to come to the party in terms of assistance to people when there are natural disasters, such as floods and minor cyclones, which we get in the Illawarra on some occasions. They are held in high esteem by the local community. I had occasion to attend a meeting of the Illawarra County Council about 18 months ago when a decision had been taken by the board of management to discontinue arrangements that had existed so far as payment of accounts in the Bombaderry area was concerned. That involved a certain amount of inconvenience for people in Bombaderry who were required to travel to Nowra to pay their electricity accounts. When I approached the board of management about the problems that were being created, pointing to the fact that there was an abysmal public transport system there and that pensioners were being unduly inconvenienced, they reviewed the position and put things back the way they had been. That was no big deal but what I am getting at is that the county councils as they exist at present are made up of people who, sooner or later, have to face an election and who, as elected people, realise that they have to be responsive to the needs and the welfare of people.
What we will see happen progressively so far as the corporations are concerned is there will be about 50 per cent local government representation for a start - eventually it will be abolished altogether. As suggested by a previous speaker, they will hold their meetings in secret in the way that the Illawarra Area Health Service does. People such as myself will not be allowed to attend. When I turned up at a meeting of the Illawarra Area Health Service a few months ago, the chairman indicated to me that if I did not leave he would consider calling the police and having me removed. Here is a petty upstart -
Mr McManus: A ring-in.
Mr HARRISON: Yes, a ring-in, as the honourable member for Bulli points out - really elected to represent nobody, who can say to the elected local member of Parliament, "You are breaking the law by coming into this meeting and listening to what is going on in your area". They did not want me to hear about the closure of Kiama Hospital. I was interested to hear speakers earlier tonight talking about how the money will be used for hospitals. I do not know if it is intended that the money be used for Port Macquarie Hospital, but it is certainly not going to be used for Kiama hospital because that hospital has been closed. At the moment the Illawarra Area Health Service is circulating a bogus questionnaire in the Kiama area asking people what they want in the way of health care for the Kiama local government municipality. But nowhere does it mention the possibility of reopening the hospital. In fact, the principal recommendation seems to be that half the hospital site be sold and various other services that already exist in the Illawarra be moved into the existing buildings, effectively closing the option of it ever reopening again.
I do not want any members opposite to tell me they are about getting extra money to spend on hospitals, to make life better for the people of western Sydney, the people of the Illawarra and the Hunter. The Hunter region has suffered just as much as the Illawarra, with the closure of Wallsend Hospital, in the same way that we have suffered with the closure of Kiama Hospital and the unfinished and unfunded hole in the ground at Wollongong Hospital, which purports to be the Illawarra regional hospital. The honourable member for Tamworth spoke about the need for improved social infrastructure in the west and about the social injustice that exists. This is a classic example, and I do not know why the honourable member for Tamworth cannot see that. I invited him to stay around and suggested we might talk about some of the things that the Labor Government did while it was in office, because he said he could not remember anything. He has only been in this Parliament for a short while. I can remind him of a few of the things that have been done, particularly so far as the Illawarra is concerned. I can point to the fact that when the previous Government was in office it had something in the pipeline all the time. When coal and steel were going bad, the coal loader was under construction; the Maldon to Dombarton railway line was under construction. That project has been axed, of course, by this Government. It was only half-completed with millions of dollars paid out in worthless compensation to the contractors to just pack up and leave the district. The grain terminal was under construction.
Something was always in the pipeline, but nothing is in the pipeline now. The effective Illawarra county council, which used to provide a little assistance for the people of the Illawarra in one way or another, either by arranging Christmas carols and providing a bit of lighting, or giving those who have lost their jobs extra time to pay their accounts and so on, can no longer do so. It is to be replaced with a secret group, comprising local government members initially, with the Minister breathing down their necks the whole time. Four members will be appointed by the Minister, and I would be surprised if they were not all card carrying Liberal Party members of the kind I spoke about a while ago. The Minister will be empowered to direct them to do anything; to appoint them or to kick them out on a whim. Local electricity councils have proved their worth in the way that they have dealt with award restructuring and made other difficult decisions in the past few years. They are not the amateurs that the Minister described. They are people who have conducted a successful and profitable enterprise for many years. This bill is not about greater efficiency; rather, it is about getting greedy hands on accumulated funds of these statutory bodies, and forcing them into greater debt. Because the Government is up to its ears in debt, it thinks everyone else should be. I do not subscribe to that point of view. I will be voting with my colleagues against the bill in its entirety. I note that Independent members have progressively gravitated to the Government benches to whisper to Government members; I have not seen one Independent member confer with the Opposition tonight.
Mr Kinross: Look to your left.
Mr HARRISON: I apologise; the honourable member for South Coast is sitting on this side. I will be interested to see whether the Independents support the Government's seizing of assets of local communities, or whether they think that people who have put in this money are, in the long term, entitled to have control of it and that their elected representatives have a say in how it will be spent. If this bill is eventually passed, I will be pleased to support amendments in relation to worker representatives on the board. I know that it flies in the face of everything that Government members believe in, but I am committed to worker participation in management. The bill is all about robbing workers and taking away accumulated assets of working-class areas. It will not apply to country areas, and in saying that I am not inferring that there are not workers in the country. I am a country boy from way back, and I know how hard life can be in the country. But life is damned hard in areas affected by the economic downturn in industries, and this bill is designed to do nothing to help them. If anything, it will make life worse for them.
Mr McMANUS (Bulli) [11.23]: Originally I intended to speak about the distress I feel for my region, the Illawarra, but I, too, have concerns for the people of New South Wales. The number of Opposition members who have decried this bill because of similar concerns for their regions must go down on record as a stark illustration to the Government of the mistakes in this bill, which must be corrected. Madam Deputy-Speaker, you, in your capacity as the member for Port Macquarie, and your colleagues denied there was class distinction. There is class distinction of the highest degree. The only other place where I have witnessed such class distinction is in the Royal Australian Navy between officers and serving members - the wardroom and the quarterdeck.
Never let it be said that was I in the wardroom eating lobster; I ate kidneys and gravy like the rest of the them. I shall deal with the class war and relate it to the Illawarra. The Government corporatised Port Kembla Harbour -
Madam DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! I remind the honourable member for Bulli and other honourable members that though a fair degree of latitude has been permitted, corporatisation of Port Kembla Harbour is not covered in the legislation and I ask the honourable member to return to the scope of the bill.
Mr McMANUS: I understand indirect references can be made. You did allow, Madam Deputy-Speaker -
Madam DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Kiama was in order at all times. I am not trying to inhibit debate for the honourable member for Bulli. I simply pointing out that this is an electricity bill and has nothing to do with the corporatisation of Port Kembla Harbour.
Mr McMANUS: Let me deal with the corporatisation of Tallawarra power station which has a direct reference to the electricity commission of this State. It was corporatised, similar to Port Kembla Harbour. Huntley Colliery which provided coal to produce electricity in this State was also corporatised. They are two examples of the Government's exercising class distinction. This is the Government that closed down Huntley Colliery and Tallawarra power station, and created unemployment. This is the Government that was going to look after the people of the Illawarra. It asks the people of the Illawarra, of Shortland and of Prospect, to trust it. This same Government by this disgraceful bill is saying, "We are going to give you a new system of secrecy". The honourable member for Kiama was dead right; this bill is designed to prevent Opposition members publicly telling the people of the Illawarra, of Shortland and of Prospect, of the Government's intention. The bill is a grab for money - $400 million. It is government
avarice. It is BondCorp all over again. A couple of years ago, Alan Bond was criticised because he inflated his valuations and liquidated his assets. Yet this Government is doing exactly the same thing with this bill. The New South Wales Government should be known as BondCorp. The same mob that bucketed Bond is doing exactly the same thing in principle that it objected to Bond doing a couple of years ago. Members of the Government, and not Alan Bond, should be in prison.
Mr Downy: You should be in an asylum.
Mr McMANUS: Genevieve Rankin will put you in an asylum before she is finished with you. As a former deputy chairman of Illawarra County Council, let me inform honourable members of the efficiency rating it held before the Government made a mess of it. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the council took steps to amalgamate with other councils, which saved the government of the day millions of dollars. We got rid of the top jobs and the disgraceful million dollar rorts from the system, and we created a system of cheaper electricity in the Illawarra region. The county council created the rebate system for pensioners, but it does not ask for Government assistance. The council sat down and budgeted for itself. That was the spearhead for the electricity rebate system throughout New South Wales. Now the Government has the damned hide to say that the Illawarra County Council is inefficient. The Government is only after money. If it sees an efficient semi-government organisation or a local government organisation running at a reasonable profit level, doing its job and providing electricity or any other commodity at a reasonable cost, it wants to get its grubby little hands on the assets of that organisation. There is something wrong when a local government system can provide benefits through amalgamation, can provide rebates to pensioners at no cost to its consumers, yet can be in trouble with a government that wants money from it. That is a total disgrace.
The Government says it is trying to be financially responsible. My biggest concern is the Government's cloak and dagger idea of having five board members under schedule 2. The Illawarra County Council has always worked under the same principle as Wollongong City Council. Its delegates are paid a proportion of the honorarium paid to an alderman of Wollongong City Council. I see no reason for publicly elected officials to be paid between $10,000 and $24,000. It has to be decided tonight the amount of honorarium that the Minister intends to pay those board members. I understand that at present - and it has not changed much since I was in local government - an honorarium of $3,000 is paid, and that meeting fees and travelling allowances are paid. As a former deputy chairman of the Illawarra County Council, I do not see the necessity for extravagant amounts of money to be paid to people who carry out public duties and responsibilities.
I hope the Independents realise that the Government has expended $102 million of public moneys on a racecourse that is seldom used, and under schedule 2 is now going to expend approximately $25,000 on each board member. At the same time $400 million of public moneys will to be ripped off county councils, and probably $150,000 will be ripped off the Illawarra county council; and yet the Government is trying to maintain some credibility with the people of New South Wales. That cannot be achieved unless the Government comes clean on what it intends to do. The Government is being inefficient. I pointed out earlier the past performance of the county council with which I have been involved over many years, and I have promoted actively the fact that the Illawarra County Council, as a public instrumentality, has been the most efficient that I have ever dealt with. I am concerned about the Government's rapacious appetite for the finances of other organisations. I have serious concerns for my own region, because since this Government came to power we have had a user-pays system - which I think in general nobody disagrees with. But the number of user-pays systems that this
Government has introduced has the majority of my constituency in a position where the users can pay no more. Continual increases in electricity, rail and toll charges are absolutely ridiculous; they have to stop. Water rates will increase again.
The Premier cannot even spend the Water Board environment levy that he has imposed. In some areas the Government is receiving an influx of money that it cannot spend, yet other Ministers are saying, "We have to take dividends from organisations like Illawarra County Council, Shortland County Council and Prospect County Council because we need money." People in the electorate are not fools; they know what is going on. I intend to tell them every day of the week what an inefficient, mismanaged, misguided group of individuals the Government consists of. Mr Greiner was going to give us everything, but within two weeks he was giving us nothing. Now, the Government is not only not giving anything; it is taking everything from the people. The way things are going, I do not think the Premier is going to last. I think he is going to throw this agreement with the Independents right out the window, and I personally think we will go to an election before next March, because I do not think he can hold on. I would say to the Independents: be very cautious because this promise that has been made, this agreement that has been signed, is not worth the paper it is written on. This mob is in strife.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Bulli is straying from the terms of the bill. His comments must be relevant.
Mr McMANUS: The only thing that will save the Government is if it wakes up to itself in its handling of the bill. It has to understand that the people of the Illawarra and New South Wales have had a gutful of paying out, and paying out again, under a user-pays system, just for the Government to build race tracks. That is what it is all about - Eastern Creek; more black holes that the Government cannot dig itself out of. The honourable member for North Shore is right. Unless the Government starts to get its act together and make its user-pays system fair, it will be in real strife. It must begin to give us a fair go. I ask the Minister to clarify how much the Government is going to pay these cronies that it intends to appoint to the new committees.
Mr J. J. AQUILINA (Riverstone) [11.37]: I wish to address what I think are the three issues of major relevance in the bill. The first is the economic basis upon which the Government is arguing its case; the second is the matter of public representation versus ministerial appointments; and the third is the social welfare needs of the people of Sydney's west, the Illawarra and the Hunter, how they can best be addressed, and why the bill is inadequate in dealing with those issues. There may be some query from the Government as to why members of the Opposition have spoken to this bill with such passion. It is because the Opposition sees the bill as a very thinly veiled attempt by the Government to reap yet another $400 million from people who can least afford to pay. It is, in every sense, robbery in its most transparent form. That is why the Minister for Conservation and Land Management and Minister for Energy, and the Premier and Treasurer have been walking around the Chamber over the last few weeks with smiles from ear to ear. They see dollar signs. It is all about dollars, about taking $400 million away from the people of the western suburbs, from the Illawarra and the Hunter - dollars that those people can ill afford to pay. Electorates such as Riverstone and Hawkesbury will bear the brunt of this bill; they will have to pay up.
This bill is not about microeconomic reform, no matter how much the Government tries to disguise it as such. The issue is not microeconomic reform. If it were, the Government would put forward proposals that would spell out microeconomic reform in the electricity business in this State. The Government does not dare to do so because it knows what real microeconomic reform would mean. It realises that in order
to bring about microeconomic reform the National Party would have to attack its heartland. That is where the real microeconomic reform is to be found in New South Wales. The Government will not do that. Instead, it attacks the most vulnerable, the big corporations, such as Prospect Electricity, Illawarra Electricity and Shortland Electricity. Those corporations are large and vulnerable. By a simple act of Parliament it is easy to rape them of the funds they have acquired and make the consumers pay. The Government realises only too well that the political backlash will not be against it because most of those areas are represented by members of the Opposition. That is the height of political arrogance that brought about the massive reduction in the Government's majority and almost led to it being thrown out of office at last year's election. The Government's arrogance between 1988 and 1991 has turned the people of New South Wales well and truly against the Government. There is no way the Government will be able to sell this to the people. The Government's argument is not valid. The so-called Curran report on Prospect Electricity is manipulative. Charles Curran is a great consultant, a great man. There is no argument that he does a great job. He did a great job for former Labor governments. He was used time and again as a consultant. He has done a great job for this Government, too. Shortly after coming to office in 1988, the Greiner Government commissioned the New South Wales "Commission of Audit: A Focus on Reform" chaired by Charles Curran. Mr Curran's comments on page 42 of the executive summary of that report are pertinent to what he says about Prospect Electricity. He said:
The position of individual authorities is discussed elsewhere. In almost every case, a reduction in debt levels is an important element in the establishment of the authorities on a commercial basis.
He went on to say on page 43:
In addition, the commission strongly opposes the funding of capital infrastructure for social services through borrowings. As noted above, the borrowings should be related to capacity to pay and, as such, should not be used to fund non-income generating activities, such as schools.
Charles Curran said that in 1988, yet in 1992 he has recommended that Prospect Electricity pay a dividend of $400 million. I ask the Minister to tell the House and the people of the west where the $400 million will be obtained, unless Prospect is put into debt, unless it is forced to borrow. That is the real issue. It is not about microeconomic reform, because there have been no suggestions of what the Government has put forward with respect to how the electricity supply to the areas affected by this legislation will be reformed. What microeconomic reforms will be introduced? There is none. The Government is talking about yet another way of milking the hard-earned money of the people of the west. It is thinly veiled daylight robbery. The people of the west have reacted strongly because they understand clearly what the Government is on about.
Other than going into debt, in what other way can Prospect Electricity honour its commitment to pay dividends to the Government? It can do that by increasing the cost of electricity to the consumer. The Minister should give a guarantee that Prospect Electricity will not increase the cost of electricity to its consumers, to the people of the west. There is no way the people will get their just deserts. Once again, when it comes to the west people do not matter, but they are a useful way of raising funds and dividends so that the Government can meet its commitments elsewhere, so it can pay off Eastern Creek and the other blunders it has made over the past four years. One would think better of the Government. After all, for the past four years we have had to listen to economic claptrap, economic mumbo jumbo, which is supposed to convince us that the Government knows what it is talking about when it comes to economic reform. Time and again, economic jargon has been used to disguise the Government's plans to rake the money in and use it to divest itself of various activities and transactions that in many cases will not benefit those most deserving of the Government's attention.
A number of honourable members have referred to the so-called class distinction. I do not make those sorts of distinctions, claims or statements. That is not what this is all about. No one on the Government side can argue that the west, the Illawarra and the Hunter are not being victimised in the way in which this legislation has been brought forward. Those people are being specifically victimised, specifically targeted and specifically disadvantaged. When the west, as a group, says that it has certain needs, such as the hospital at Nepean, the ambulance station at Riverstone, a police station at Quakers Hill or a road overpass to eliminate the railway level crossing at Quakers Hill it is told time and again that the Government does not have the money. When it comes to trying to find an innovative way of raising revenue, where does the Government go? It lets the people of the west suffer, it lets them cop it in the neck. It thinks the people of the west can afford another $400 million. If their electricity is going to be a bit more expensive as a result, so what? Let them pay a bit more. The people in the west have bled hard enough; they are beyond the point of bleeding any further. The Government continues to bleed them dry in every area it can. Some honourable members have referred to the Water Board. The Water Board is also paying a dividend, but the price of water has increased. The price of electricity will rise as well. It is just not good enough that the west should be singled out for such treatment.
I raise also the issue of public representation versus ministerial appointments. The Government could not carry out the economic rape of Prospect Electricity without a board of directors lenient towards what it wants to do. It does not want opposition from within. The Government sacked the public representatives and the Minister and then appointed a board of directors who will be amenable to what the Minister requests. In order to put a seal on that, the Government has increased the allowance for management representation to $3,000 a year. At present the directors receive $25,000 a year, and it is rumoured that the remuneration will soon increase to $30,000. I do not want to cast aspersions but I put it to the Minister that this matter must be made public and understood by the public so that what the Government is doing can be seen for what it is. Another issue that needs to be borne in mind is the social welfare of the people of the west. It is no secret that a large percentage of those who live in the west are socially and economically deprived. Most of their salaries go towards subsidising their weekly needs. They are not great savers, because not much is left after they have fed their families and paid their bills. From time to time they have enormous difficulties paying their bills. I do not suggest that there have never been problems with Prospect Electricity. Nevertheless, for all its faults it has always recognised the needs of the people and has helped them. I am sure that no member who represents an electorate in the west of Sydney has not had someone come to his or her office from time to time and say, "I am destitute and needy". Should any member then go to Prospect Electricity, he will always get a good reception.
I wonder how this hard-fisted economically driven board of directors will respond to the needs of such people. Once again economic reform jargon and simplistic economic arguments will be thrown around. The welfare needs of individuals who are having hard times and have been hard done by because of the way the Government is treating the people of the western suburbs will suffer again. Members who represent western electorates are passionate about this bill, and have every reason to be passionate. They are not convinced, and can never be, that the Government is genuine in what it does. This is not an issue about greater efficiency or delivering better and cheaper services to the people of the west. This is all about finding another boot to loot. The Government is trying to find another pool of funds so that it can come closer to balancing its budget. It is all about raping $400 million in additional taxes from the people of the western suburbs and once again putting the boot into the worker.
Mr McBRIDE (The Entrance) [11.52]: In this debate members from this side
of the House have demonstrated that the bill involves an issue of social justice. In a number of matters that have come before the Parliament there has been a similarity in the performance of the Government. The prime issue is: who actually pays? Schedule 1 lists the electricity distribution corporations that do not represent the Crown, and schedule 2 lists those that represent the Crown. Sydney County Council has already been incorporated. That happened in 1990. Of the 25 corporations throughout the State three will be incorporated under the provisions of the bill. They are Illawarra County Council, Prospect Electricity and Shortland County Council. The majority of electorates that come within those distribution districts are represented by Labor Party members; they are working-class areas. When the Government needs money where does it go? It goes to the working-class areas of Sydney. In the debate on the State Authorities Superannuation Scheme it became apparent that the people were to be penalised for this Government's mismanagement - the clerks, the ordinary workers, those on the lowest income are the ones who will have to pay, not the members of the senior executive service on broken contracts. They are looked after and have their own superannuation schemes. They are not the ones who will have to pay. The workers of New South Wales will have to pay, as they have been paying ever since this Government came to office.
Under the provisions of the bill 21 of the distribution regions covered by the 25 electricity distribution corporations will not be touched. They are in rural areas, represented by National Party members. The Minister for Conservation and Land Management and other National Party members are the tail that will wag this dog. They have told the Government to hit the Labor Party electorates, but not to touch the National Party electorates, which must have the cheapest possible electricity and the lowest charges. In the Illawarra, the Hunter and the west of Sydney people will have to pay the increased charges. Where is the fairness or justice in that? The Minister represents a country area. People in his electorate will not have to pay the additional costs for electricity, but the working people of the Hunter, Illawarra and western Sydney will have to pay. There is no fairness or justice in that. When the Government is in trouble it always has the same knee jerk reaction: hit the worker, who must pay for the Government's mistakes.
What has happened to Sydney County Council since it has been incorporated? I refer honourable members to the report of Sydney Electricity for the year ended 30th June, 1991. That shows that the corporations's debt gearing ratio went from about 27 per cent in 1988 to 68 per cent in 1991 - a 100 per cent increase in debt ratio since the county council was incorporated. Where is the advantage in corporatisation? All it has done is increase the debt of that organisation. We all know why that has happened. The money has been taken from Sydney Electricity, which has to fund its own capital works, not from its own resources but by means of borrowings. What is this Government about? It is about making money out of these organisations to fund its mismanagement. Who will be running the show? Clause 17 in part 4 of the bill deals with ministerial control of corporations. Paragraph (1) provides:
17.(1) The Minister may give the board of directors of an electricity corporation written directions in relation to the exercise of the corporation's functions.
That sounds familiar. Remember Ted Pickering? He used to give a lot of written directions - 800 in one year.
Mr West: Now read the present Act.
Mr McBRIDE: Is the Minister going to change the Act now? Is he not going to give the board of directors written directions? Who will be the chairmen of the boards of the corporations? Clause 23 provides that of the directors one is to be appointed by the Minister, by instrument in writing, as chairperson of the corporation. So, the
Minister will give written directions and he will appoint the chairman. If the chairman does not behave, what will happen? In schedule 4, paragraph (2) of item 6 provides that the Minister may remove an elected or appointed director from office for incapacity, incompetence or misbehaviour. The Government has this tied up lock, stock, and barrel. It will appoint the chairman, give him written directions and, if he does not perform, he will get the boot. How will performance be measured? It will be measured in terms of a dividend. The honourable member for Blue Mountains has an interested in this debate, but he has not spoken. Will he say something?
Mr West: He has spoken in the debate.
Mr McBRIDE: Is he opposing the bill?
Mr West: No.
Mr McBRIDE: He is supporting the Minister?
Mr West: Yes.
Mr McBRIDE: I hope the electors of the Blue Mountains remember that when they get a bill and have to pay increased rates for electricity. We will tell them by distributing a brochure to every person in that electorate. We will tell them that the member for Blue Mountains supported the Government when it brought in an increase in electricity fees. I am sure they will like that. It is great to know that the honourable member for Blue Mountains supported the Minister. When the election is held - and I understand that will be soon, according to the member for Bulli - the people of the Blue Mountains electorate will be told. How many times can the Government get rolled in two weeks? It cannot continue putting up with that. Sooner or later it will have to go to an election, and we will remind the electors about this matter. I hope the legislation will be enacted by then, so that we will be able to tell the people of the Blue Mountains how the honourable member voted in this debate. He supported the Government in introducing increased prices for electricity for those electors. Many workers in the Blue Mountains will be really cranky about that decision. In a letter dated 24th September, 1992, S.C. Jewel, General Manager and Engineer of the Central Tablelands County Council -
Mr West: What does this have to do with the electricity legislation?
Mr McBRIDE: Listen and you will find out. I know that Government members have a great respect for engineers. He stated on page 5:
The requirement for payment of dividends is particularly disturbing to the Central Tablelands County Council for a number of reasons.
Is not that a National Party area?
Mr West: It is mine.
Mr McBRIDE: I did not know that.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for The Entrance will address the Chair.
Mr McBRIDE: He continued:
As stated above, local government in particular has always operated, and still does, on a cost recovery basis. This provides for the cheapest possible service to consumers.
So long as consumers in the area represented by the Minister, a member of the National Party, get the cheapest possible service, that is okay by him, but he does not worry about the workers in the western suburbs, the Illawarra or Newcastle. The Minister pointed out that he represents the area covered by the Northern Tablelands County Council; I did not have to point that out for him. A dorothy dix question was asked by Mr Packard to Minister West on 24th September, 1992. Mr Packard asked:
I address my question without notice to the Minister for Conservation and Land Management, and Minister for Energy. Has the Minister received the report of the Curran Inquiry into the Prospect County Council? What action will the Minister take on that report?
The Minister said this about money raised through dividends:
I will also be recommending to the Premier, and Treasurer that all moneys raised in dividends from Prospect be spent on capital works projects in the western suburbs of Sydney.
That is wonderful. Has the Premier and Treasurer agreed to that? Has there been an answer? The silence is deafening. The Minister is very quiet now. What has the Minister found out since 24th September? Has the Premier agreed to that? Does that nod mean no? He is very silent now. It is lovely - absolutely beautiful! Where will the money be spent? Honourable members might remember that before the 1988 election all 900 government printers received a letter signed by the Premier; 900 letters were sent out. They were told, "Don't worry, you will all keep your jobs". How long did that last? What was said in this answer is only the Minister's word. When does he propose to send them a signed letter confirming this? That might give them a bit more confidence. The Minister might say such things but who in the western suburbs would believe him? The Minister is most probably a really nice guy, but the problem is that he has no credibility. He is doing a job for the Government, and in doing so he has looked after his own team.
Let us look at what the Government had done in other areas. It corporatised the Water Board so that it could get its hands on the board's assets. It is classic asset stripping. I did not know much about this sort of thing until I watched it happen time and again under this Government. The same sort of thing happened to the Maritime Services Board and Pacific Power. The Government wanted to get its hands on their money, their assets and their resources and then use that money to somehow disguise the debt brought about by its mismanagement. It wants to disguise the fact that it is in a black hole which is growing bigger day after day. The Government should get a one-off gain of about $400 million from Prospect; from Shortland, about $130 million; and from the Illawarra, about $96 million. This would give the Government about $626 million in one go. The Government is after the money, but the end result for the consumer will be increased prices. It is simply taxation. The Minister may turn his back on me, but he will see the result next year if this legislation goes through. What has happened in every other area of government that has been corporatised? Who was Curran, the man who wrote this report? He was the paid assassin of the Government. What is Curran famous for? It was something called the Curran scheme. What was the Curran scheme all about? I cannot remember. I need the Minister's help. What was the Curran scheme all about?
Mr McManus: Asset stripping.
Mr McBRIDE: How did he become famous? I cannot hear you.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I ask the member for The Entrance to conduct himself with a certain amount of parliamentary dignity. Parliament is not a circus, and the behaviour which he just exhibited is quite unacceptable. I ask him to address his remarks
through the Chair.
Mr McBRIDE: What was Curran famous for? It was asset stripping. That is where he got his reputation. In the report he is recommending the stripping of the assets of these councils. The Government hopes that somehow this measure will buy it out of its problems.
Mr WEST (Orange - Minister for Conservation and Land Management, and Minister for Energy) [12.7 a.m.], in reply: I will take this opportunity to dismiss some of the myths that have been circulated as part of debate tonight, some of the lies that have been pedalled by the Labor Party in the community ever since the 1988 election. The Opposition has made an art of telling lies. Before I go into the detail of the bill, I will dismiss this nonsense. At some stage in the comments of the honourable member for East Hills he spoke of how we got to government on the basis of ticks and crosses. The Leader of the Opposition walked into the Chamber at that time, and the honourable member had to put on a little performance for him, saying that the legislation was all about ticks and crosses. That has nothing to do with this legislation or with the Government -
Mr McManus: On a point of order. The Minister has made it quite clear that ticks and crosses have nothing to do with the legislation. To my knowledge no one has mentioned ticks and crosses. I ask that he be required to confine himself to the scope of the bill.
Mr West: On the point of order. If the honourable member for Bulli had sat through this debate like I have since before 8 o'clock tonight, he would know every word that had been uttered. The honourable member for East Hills referred to ticks and crosses. The honourable member for Bulli should ask him.
Mr McManus: Further to the point of order. I certainly was not in the House when that matter was mentioned and I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, were not in the House. So I only have the Minister's word on this. I ask that he be brought back to the bill as have a number of Opposition members.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Bulli has taken a fairly frivolous point of order. The Minister for Conservation and Land Management answered the point of order perfectly adequately. The matter has been raised in debate before and the Minister is entitled to refer to it in his reply. I will not countenance any further frivolous points of order.
Mr WEST: I suggest that the honourable member for Bulli and honourable members opposite read the annual report of the Electoral Commissioner tabled this week in Parliament and reported in the metropolitan press. Tonight a very sad event has occurred because members of the Labor Party have admitted that this particular piece of legislation is all about class war. It disappoints me that it has come down to that level of debate. If it is genuinely about class war, why have not people from Surry Hills and Leichhardt complained. Honourable members mentioned the magnificent job done by Prospect when there are storms and flooding. I agree with that. But, does that mean to say that the people who work for Sydney Electricity, as it is now constituted, do not do the same work? What about the floods and storms that whipped through Turramurra, Waitara, Hornsby and Terrey Hills in January 1991? Who did the work then? In the same way that Prospect did the work, Sydney Electricity does likewise. That is a fallacious argument. It is an absolute nonsense to assert that because they have moved to this new model, they will not be able to carry out those particular functions. Credit ought to be given to employees of county councils not only for Sydney or Prospect but
every county council. The employees work long hours in the worst of weather to continue to ensure that at the flick of a switch we can have the power we want in our homes and industries. That is what this Government is making sure will continue.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Bulli to order for the third time.
Mr WEST: The Opposition has used scare tactics suggesting that pensioner rebates will cut out and that the dialysis machine rebate will be discontinued. The honourable member for The Entrance has made a contribution because he represents an electorate that happens to be within the boundaries of Sydney Electricity. The honourable member cannot tell me that the pensioner rebate has been cut out to his constituents. It has not.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for The Entrance to order.
Mr WEST: The honourable cannot assert that rebates to his constituents on dialysis machines have been cut out because they happen to live in the area serviced by Sydney Electricity. They have not been discontinued. It is absolute nonsense to suggest that social justice is being cut out because of the move to this model. If the issue is about social justice and the new model not working, why did the honourable member for The Entrance not say anything about it in his entire contribution. He represents the electorate of The Entrance which is within the boundaries of Sydney Electricity yet he did not provide one example of how the new Sydney model has not worked. This is because he did not have any examples.
It is interesting that the only honourable member to make a contribution and representing an electorate within the boundaries of Sydney Electricity was the honourable member for The Entrance. Where were the honourable members for Ashfield, Auburn, Drummoyne, Heffron, Hurstville, Kogarah, Maroubra, Marrickville and Port Jackson who all represent electorates serviced by Sydney Electricity? None of those honourable members complained and that is significant. One honourable member quoted a press release by Alderman Morris, the new Chairman of the Prospect County Council, in which he defended the fact that local government will not continue to control these councils. I was of the view that the Labor Party prided itself on the numbers game and out in the branches knew how to count. It has been proved to me tonight that its members must have some other way to gain preselection. If honourable members opposite read the bill, it says that on schedule 2 corporations there will be a board of nine and five of them will be elected councillors. In my day five beats four. Obviously, the Labor Party does not understand that any more because that is the reality and that is the model for Sydney Electricity.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Penrith to order for the second time.
Mr WEST: We must recognise that aspect. The honourable member for East Hills led for the Opposition and referred to this measure commencing with the discussion paper issued by my predecessor. A long period of detailed consultation took place with the industry. The crux of that discussion paper and part of the whole microeconomic reform of the electricity industry - which honourable members opposite say they accept - is that it is not only about transmission or generation but about distribution. Those are three important aspects of the industry. This legislation is a significant part of dealing with distribution. It is putting on record and being honest with the people of New South Wales that this trading enterprise, this utility - electricity - which is second in its business
side to Telecom, is a dividend-paying organisation. Honourable members opposite say it has not been a dividend-paying organisation. They should do their homework and research. In 1987 Peter Cox introduced legislation to establish the Electricity Development Fund. That fund allowed the former Labor Government and this Government - in the way it is currently structured - to take dividends from all those councils. It does not have any accountability or formula. Today government can say, "I want to take $200 million or $10 million". Where is the accountability and rationale for that. This process has now been set up with Sydney Electricity where the Treasurer, the portfolio Minister, and the board of Sydney Electricity meet and discuss the performance, discuss likely outcomes and set an appropriate dividend rate. This does not involve ambush, saying, "We will take that much money from you". That is the important aspect of this structure. It is up-front, is declared up-front, without hiding behind the door.
The honourable member for East Hills and other honourable members have said that this legislation is all about asset stripping and that Sydney Electricity cannot perform because it was asset stripped under this new model. Let history be on the record of the Parliament tonight: in his contribution to the second reading speech of the Sydney Electricity legislation - this was the bill actually setting up the Sydney Electricity model - the honourable member for East Hills, by his own words, said, "As a result of the Curran report the Sydney County Council has been plunged deeply into debt". Sydney Electricity was put in debt through the Electricity Development Fund process prior to the Sydney Electricity model commencing. Who says that this new model is about plunging it further into debt? Since the new model has been in place we have not used the EDF process to adjust debt structures because we have not been able to negotiate that in a transparent way up-front.
I wish to speak about debt ratios. This is the debt of Sydney Electricity and this is important. Because of that as at 30th June the current debt is $643 million. Honourable members should realise that $140 million of that debt was in fact taken out of Sydney using the EDF to provide an interest-free loan to Prospect. The lion's share went to Prospect, Illawarra and Shortland to buy their 132 kV asset from Pacific Power. I am talking about the future. I released the Curran report into Prospect because that process was in place. I then received a telephone call from the chairman of the Illawarra County Council. He asked whether he could come and see me and I stated that I was happy to see him. Their words were: "We are looking at reducing the size of our county council back to about seven." - or a slightly larger number, I think - "The discussion paper clearly indicates the direction the Government and the industry are taking in this reform process. We cannot bring it down to five, which is the Sydney model, at this stage. We recognise that there has to be an interim process and that there has to be an interim board. We would like to have seven local government representatives because of the size of our seven - "
Mr A. S. Aquilina: What is the difference?
Mr WEST: All right, seven councils. What they were saying was that because of the size and representation, they wanted it down to that number. So we got down to it and I said, "I do not want to hold a gun at your head. I think that is a reasonable proposition. I will give you an undertaking that if your council agrees to it, I will have five as the elected representatives of local government, and two members of the interim board will be people representing commercial or other interests". So they went back to their council, it was put to the full council, and the full council agreed. They wrote to me and said, "Minister, we accept your offer." I then rang Shortland and said, "On the basis of Illawarra would you like to come and have a talk?" They came down, sat in the
conference room in my office, and I said, "This is Illawarra's position, you can talk to them and they can clearly tell you the conversation that we had." I was open and honest with them - I am not about ambushes. I told them fairly and squarely where the dividend process is headed in the future - I was not interested in the hijacks that occurred under the Labor Party and under the Peter Cox formula. The same offer was then made to the chairman of Shortland County Council. He said, "Would you make me the same offer, Minister?" I said yes. He took that back to his council, and then he wrote back and said, "We accept the offer".
Of course, Prospect was playing the political game and holding out. What happened was that on the Monday of the local government conference Alderman Morris and Alderman White flew back from Albury to meet with me. They said, "Minister, can you make us the same offer that you have made the other two? On that basis, Minister, we believe we are all in together." I said, "I am prepared to offer you the same deal". Is that altruistic? I do not believe it is altruistic, because even now the legislation has not passed through the Parliament. But they know that this will be the way of their industry in the future and they are sick of being hijacked for money all the time, as they have been in the past, without being able to negotiate. Then the Prospect aldermen had to go back to their council. The honourable member for Penrith would well remember that debate and the results of the particular vote that was held out there. What was it again, just for the record?
Mrs Lo Po': Ten to one.
Mr WEST: And who was the one? Obviously, the member for Penrith.
Mrs Lo Po': Moi.
Mr WEST: The honourable member for Penrith referred to amateurs. I do not want to talk about amateurs tonight, but it was very obvious, with all the people who were lined up from the Labor Party, that it is the club. Just look at it. That is why I say we have outgrown total local government representation. The honourable member for Penrith is a member of Prospect County Council. Yet on 6th November I received a letter that says - and I will try to paraphrase it to protect the constituent - "I am writing on behalf of one of my constituents. After writing to the manager of Prospect and receiving the attached form in reply to the letter, my constituent feels the answer is not adequate. I believe the charges are exorbitant, and I would appreciate detailed consideration of the matter." Honourable members might ask who that letter was written by?
Mr Beckroge: On a point of order. I ask the Minister to table the document he is reading from.
Mr WEST: I am happy to table it. The letter is signed by Alderman Fay Lo Po', who just happens to be the honourable member for Penrith, and also happens to be a member of the Prospect County Council, who cannot even look after her own constituents through that county council process. Let us face reality. What we are really saying is that there is a place for local government representation. I am guaranteeing, in this model in this legislation, that the majority will be local government representatives under both the interim process that I have agreed to with those county councils and also in the bill. Much play has been made about clause 17, which provides that the Minister may give the board of directors of an electricity corporation written directions in relation to the exercise of a corporation's function. Members opposite would remember reading that clause to me and telling me how terrible that is. I will read the Act which was
introduced by the Labor Party, the legislation under which Ministers of the previous Labor Government acted and under which I have been able to act until this time. Section 7(1) of that Act provides that an electricity council shall in the exercise of its functions related to the supply of electricity be subject to the control and direction of the Minister.
What is different? Members opposite are complete hypocrites who do not even know their own Act. They are playing a political game but have failed to recognise the significance of the distribution side of this industry. Sydney Electricity has a turnover of $1.651 billion, Prospect County Council has a turnover of $834 million, Illawarra County Council has a turnover of $246 million, and Shortland County Council turns over $341 million. Those are not the sorts of industries that we should avoid running as businesses. Opposition members said that these assets belong to the people living in those areas. I offer an analogy. If the people own the assets of local government, can it be said that the people of Prospect, Illawarra or Shortland have share certificates to be able to say, "This is my share of the asset"? That cannot be said, but they do pay their electricity bills.
Did the honourable member for The Entrance tell the House that he is paying more as a result of being in Sydney? He could not, because he knows he is not at a disadvantage as a result of the change. I shall continue with the analogy because it is important. A person living in rented accommodation pays rent to a landlord or to someone else who owns the property. Does the rent payment entitle that person to a share of the capital value of that asset? Does it entitle that person to a dividend of the profit that the landlord or owner might make? No, it does not. The concept that those assets belong to the people of those areas is nonsense. We are talking about a utility and an industry that belongs to the people of this State. But what happens with the dividends that come in through this process? There has been some mockery of a suggestion of mine that the dividends should go to capital works in western Sydney. What is wrong with suggesting that? Capital programs are needed throughout this State, including in western Sydney, and as a result of this process there will be an ability to do that work. I was asked, "Where will we get $400 million out of Prospect?" The general manager of Prospect Electricity himself has admitted publicly in local newspapers that $400 million could be provided today by selling surplus assets and non-performing assets, without having to borrow. This is what has happened, but members opposite do not understand it. This industry, as is evident in the performance of these distributors, is a non-performing industry. They have been cashed up but have put the money into investments that are not performing for the people of this State.
We want these organisations to perform and give the people of this State a return so that schools, hospitals, and roads - the things that are needed for the general running of the State - can be built. They are important requirements. The honourable member for Tamworth voiced his concern that I and my predecessor have indicated those councils listed as schedule 1 corporations should take part in the dividend-paying process. The Opposition asks why? Those councils have large remote areas they have to service. In effect, they are paying a dividend through the community service obligations component of satisfying those customers. The honourable member for Broken Hill knows through CSO and government commitments that the Government contributed to loans in the western parts of New South Wales. They are the CSO components of those areas. Under the discussion paper of my predecessor the two ways to transfer from a schedule 1, non-dividend paying council corporation, to a schedule 2 was either for the Minister to order an inquiry, which meant an automatic transfer, or for the corporation or council to transfer voluntarily.
Inquiries are a waste of time and energy spent on them could be better put into the future direction of this industry. For that reason I have not made a hard sell in the
community about the Curran report on Prospect Electricity. That is totally different from what the previous Labor Government did in relation to Sydney Electricity. It is time efforts were not being wasted in that direction and were put into ensuring the future. As a result of these amendments I will make sure that the only way a council can transfer from schedule 1 to schedule 2 is if it puts up its hand and tells the Minister or the government of the day that it wants to transfer. That transfer would then be done by regulation, which would be subject to the subordinate legislation. A regulation would come through this Parliament and be subject to disallowance. Even if a future parliament had the numbers evenly balanced, as they are now, every protection would be available to councils in regard to transfers between the schedules. The honourable member for Tamworth raised concern that the councils are still subject to section 59B of the Public Finance and Audit Act. That part of the Act allows the Government to take a dividend without going through all the nonsense I am talking about, without entering into negotiations and without putting forward any of this transparent proposal.
The honourable member for Tamworth says that to give that further guarantee these schedule 1 corporations should be exempt from that particular section. The Government is prepared to accept that amendment at the Committee stage because it is only reinforcing its belief that those schedule 1 councils should not be moved into that category. It may be in Illawarra and Shortland, but part of Prospect also has some large non-economic areas not currently being serviced. I have acknowledged and indicated that to the councils, but I have said I do not believe it is the responsibility or the right of the Minister to take a broad brush approach to drawing a boundary and say, "That part of the Illawarra is no longer a part of the Illawarra new schedule; it is not economic so just cut the boundaries around in a different direction". I have said they should be moved with their current boundaries. A boundaries inquiry should be established comprising specialists in the industry - people with engineering, technical and financial expertise - not governments sitting down with brilliant cartographers drawing boundaries but producing an actuarial way of saying through technical expertise that this is what the boundaries should be; or there should be no boundary changes, but this is the way the areas that are uneconomic in terms of the larger area should be accounted for.
The Government has been honest about the way the industry is going. The honourable member for Tamworth also referred to the changes in the traffic route lighting scheme and said that a subsidy is still provided to the Roads and Traffic Authority. He criticised the Government for talking about becoming commercial yet still providing subsidies. Unfortunately, the RTA has not quite reached the commercial stage. When it does reach that stage we will be able to take the commercial load away from it as well. The honourable member for Tamworth referred to the guarantee that the directors of boards of corporations included in schedule 1 would be people from elected councils. The bill indicates that an elected director means a member elected as prescribed by the regulations. The reason it is prescribed in that way is that there could be 19 combinations of numbers of boards. The Act provides that the board numbers range from five to 13. With 19 councils, some members could be on five, six, seven or more boards. The Parliamentary Counsel advised that that detail is inappropriate in the Act. What will happen is that a regulation will come in via subordinate legislation and will therefore be subject to a regulation that can be disallowed in this House if there were any concern that the books were being fiddled.
I thank my colleagues for their support but Opposition members have really lost the plot. Their own colleagues in this industry have recognised the reform that has to take place. The industry is moving with it, not just in New South Wales and Australia, but worldwide. I have spoken to the President of the Local Government Authority, who has recently visited the United Kingdom, and I have spoken to many others. They have
admitted that what has occurred in the United Kingdom is not all right. The Government acknowledges that but is satisfied that it is able to make sure we do not make the same mistakes. It is a valuable lesson being learned by all that this industry is moving forward. This legislation is clean and far more honest and up-front than any legislation the Labor Party introduced when it was in office. The Labor Party set up an Act that allowed it to put its grubby hand in and draw out $140 million here, $10 million there -
Mrs Lo Po': They never used it.
Mr WEST: They never used it?
Mrs Lo Po': It was $5 million.
Mr WEST: The honourable member said they did not use it; now she says it was $5 million! She should check her facts and see just how much Peter Cox drew out of Sydney County Council.
Mrs Lo Po': It was Prospect.
Mr WEST: Did the honourable member like that $5 million being drawn out of Prospect in that way?
Mr Scully: You are a thief.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Smithfield to order.
Mr WEST: If I am a thief, what was Peter Cox? The honourable member for Penrith just admitted that Peter Cox drew $5 million out of Prospect.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Port Stephens to order.
Mr WEST: So who is the thief? I also ask you to check the records on how much he drew out of Sydney County Council, because those are the things that you cannot face. Your own colleagues have deserted you. People recognise this is an industry, not just a club. It is not just about the politics of county councils any more. There is an important opportunity -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Broken Hill to order.
Mr WEST: - for local government to perform, but there is also an opportunity to make sure this industry and this utility performs for the people of New South Wales.
Question - That this bill be now read a second time - put.
The House divided.
Mr W. T. J. Murray
Mr D. L. Page
Mr A. S. Aquilina
Mr J. J. Aquilina
Mrs Lo Po'
Mr J. H. Murray
Mr E. T. Page
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and committed.
Progress reported and leave granted to sit again.
The following bills were returned from the Legislative Council without amendment:
First State Superannuation Bill
State Authorities Superannuation (Scheme Closure) Amendment Bill
Superannuation Legislation (Superannuation Guarantee Charge) Amendment Bill
WORKERS COMPENSATION LEGISLATION (FURTHER AMENDMENT) BILL
Bill received and read a first time.
PRE-TRIAL DIVERSION OF OFFENDERS (AMENDMENT) BILL
Bill received and read a first time.
House adjourned at 12.50 a.m., Friday.