Wednesday, 29 May 1996
Mr Speaker (The Hon. John Henry Murray) took the chair at 9.00 a.m.
Mr Speaker offered the Prayer.
TRANSPORT ADMINISTRATION AMENDMENT (RAIL CORPORATISATION AND RESTRUCTURING) BILL
Debate resumed from 22 May.
Mr MOSS (Canterbury) [9.00]: This landmark legislation has been designed to address the Government's approach to competition policy, and that should be applauded. Legislation would have been introduced whether or not competition policy was on the agenda, because the creation of greater efficiency within the rail network is a priority of the Government. The legislation is twofold. It seeks to address competition policy but in doing so it will restructure the railway system to provide more efficient and more profitable customer-orientated services. I congratulate the Minister for Transport on introducing this legislation. As he said in his second reading speech, it is the first of its kind in New South Wales. I have no doubt that the other States will follow the lead if they are fair dinkum about national competition policy.
The structure of the railways dates back to the time when most freight was transported overland by rail, other than that which was transported by bullock teams, and when travellers used either rail or horse and cart. In those days, for the sake of comfort and speed, most people chose rail over horse and cart. The problem is that the same railway structure exists today, despite the competition that State Rail faces from passenger-orientated buses, taxis, private vehicles and aeroplanes and that Freight Rail faces from air and road transportation. This legislation is necessary not only to conform with competition policy, but also to bring the railways into the twenty-first century.
The Minister explained in his second reading speech that SRA activities will be split into four separate entities to enable competition in new ventures and more effective competition in existing programs. A new State Rail Authority will be solely concerned with passenger rail by means of Countrylink and CityRail services. The bill will establish the Railway Services Authority to handle most work, maintenance and repairs, and the Freight Rail Corporation and the Rail Access Corporation. The Railway Services Authority will combine all railway works into one body. That will not only separate the works now associated with a number of ad hoc organisations throughout the system, but at the same, by creating a separate regime, will consolidate all railway workshops, field work, capital works for the entire rail network and all civil, structural, electrical and signal maintenance in one coordinating body.
After 1 July this year the Railway Services Authority will provide its services under contract to the Rail Access Corporation. Contracts will become contestable progressively over a four-year period. In other words, in four years most work carried out by the Railway Services Authority will be tendered out. Those who are involved in railway workshops, capital works and general maintenance areas of the railways are excited about the prospect. They do not feel threatened, because they are happy to compete with private companies and believe they can mix it with the best of them. The legislation will allow the Railway Services Authority to tender for jobs outside the rail system, which has not been previously permitted.
That tendering will undoubtedly be successful because the railways system possesses managerial expertise, engineering know-how, and skilled tradesmen who will be able to give the private sector a run for its money. I congratulate the Minister on including that provision in the legislation. Discussion on competition policy tends to concentrate on giving the private sector an opportunity to compete with the public sector, but if competition policy is to be fair dinkum it must allow the public sector to compete in the private sector. The bill will give the railways that chance. The new State Rail Authority will be vastly different from the old one because it will concentrate solely on passenger and rail services. The Minister for Transport stated in his second reading speech:
For seven years before this Government came to office the focus was entirely on so-called efficiency, which was nothing more than thinly veiled cost cutting without any regard to the needs of the community.
Nothing could be further from the truth. However, this Government is so customer focused that all future passenger rail services will be operated under a separate structure. When the previous Government talked about greater efficiency, it had little regard for passengers. The previous Government believed that greater efficiency meant withdrawing services such as the Countrylink service from Sydney to Broken Hill - but this Government reintroduced the service a couple of weeks ago - and reducing intercity services to the Hunter and the south coast areas. The famous catchcry of the previous Government was on-time running, but in order to achieve it trains skipped stations galore. A public transport system can always be run at a greater profit and with fewer
operating losses by denying customers service. The purpose of the new structure is to improve customer services, and the creation of a single authority devoted solely to passenger services will undoubtedly lead to greater efficiency. While the new State Rail Authority may seem simplistic, I must point out that it will do more than just run trains on the CityRail and Countrylink systems.
A number of ad hoc bodies such as the marketing and sales division, the heritage unit and the planning and business development section, to name just three, will be married into the new SRA system. The new State Rail Authority will be the largest of the four units in respect of both organisation and employment. It will also be the most important unit because it will deal with the State's most important commodity, passengers. Passengers are the rail users that the previous Government forgot all about. This Government is committed to increasing and improving passenger rail services and the new State Rail Authority will do just that. Two other bodies that will make up the new structure are to be corporatised, the Freight Rail Corporation and the Rail Access Corporation. [Extension of time agreed to.]
Freight Rail will be able to focus more on its role of carrying freight than it has in the past because it will not have to bother with track maintenance or track construction, which will be the responsibility of the Railway Services Authority. Freight Rail will be better equipped to compete for freight business with new operators, which, under this competition strategy, will be able to join the industry. Although Freight Rail will compete in the future, it has the upper hand at this stage because it will own all the existing Freight Rail rolling stock and competitors who want to compete for rail access will have to provide their own rolling stock. Freight Rail will have little to fear initially from competitors and it should be able to iron out any deficiencies in the next couple of years, enabling it to become a viable competitor with other freight bodies. Only time will tell how successful it will be in the long term.
As other contributors to the debate have pointed out, the Rail Access Corporation will be a small but extremely powerful body with three main functions: to provide access to the railways for all train operators; to run the timetables, which is a major task; and to charge fees for access. The Rail Access Corporation will be powerful also in that it will own most of the infrastructure associated with the railways, such as rails, sleepers, signalling, overhead power supplies, road bridges and footbridges over railways, subways under railways and level crossings. Though it will own all the infrastructure, it will not be responsible for its maintenance or repairs, most of which will be contracted out to other railway businesses. Most of the facilities that are to be shared by Countrylink, Freight Rail and CityRail will be controlled by Rail Access, leaving Countrylink, CityRail and Freight Rail to do what they do best - carry passengers and freight. This legislation is very clever. It has been very well thought out in respect of both competition policy and the creation of greater efficiencies within the system.
In future, the railway workshops, through the Railway Services Authority, will be able to tender for contracts outside the industry, which is a great move, and CityRail and Countrylink will be able to concentrate solely on the provision of passenger services by placing most of their infrastructure under the control of other bodies. Likewise, Freight Rail, which will relinquish all its trackwork to the Railway Services Authority, will be able to concentrate solely on freight operations. Finally, although Rail Access will own most of the infrastructure, the equipment will be serviced and repaired by other railway businesses, and I dare say that most of the repairs will be carried out by the Railway Services Authority. This is excellent legislation that will work. I know that a number of amendments are to be considered but they are designed to iron out problems in the legislation before it becomes law. I believe the bill will be generally accepted by honourable members in the interests of creating a greater railway system for the future.
Mr O'FARRELL (Northcott) [9.18]: In speaking to the Transport Administration Amendment (Rail Corporatisation and Restructuring) Bill I follow the shadow minister for transport, who made a brilliant and outstanding contribution to the debate on 22 May. His speech indicated a grasp of the issues involved in the bill, which was breathtaking to those who heard it. The reason that the Minister for Transport feels under such pressure becomes clear when one hears contributions of the type made by the honourable member for Ermington. The aim of the bill is the creation of an open access regime so that anyone who wishes to operate trains on New South Wales tracks and is properly accredited under the Rail Safety Act may do so. This will be achieved by establishing, under the State Owned Corporations Act, the Rail Access Corporation, which will be responsible for management, control and maintenance of essential rail infrastructure and provide access to all accredited operators on an equitable commercial basis.
The bill seeks to meet the needs of intermodal competition, which is vital for the State Rail Authority and its entities if their futures are to be secured. As the honourable member for Ermington indicated in his contribution, the establishment of the National Rail Corporation led the way. The former transport Minister in the Greiner Government, the Hon. Bruce Baird, led debate in this country about the formation of the National Rail Corporation, supported at the time by the current head of the Prime Minister's Department, Mr Max-Moore Wilton, and Mr Vince Graham, who, at that stage, was number two at State Rail and went on to become the first head of the National Rail Corporation. At that time even better proposals
could have been pursued and the National Rail Corporation could have gone further if it had not been for the actions of the then Federal Labor Government and, in particular, its Federal transport Minister, Bob Brown. It is also true to say that at that time Bruce Baird put on the national agenda for the first time moves to form a national interstate passenger corporation. This bill is an echo of moves established by the former Government under Nick Greiner's premiership and Bruce Baird as Minister for Transport. As usual, the Minister's second reading speech is full of hyperbole. He stated:
This bill represents the most profound reform to rail system management ever undertaken in Australia.
That is yet another unfounded statement by the Minister. The claims made for the legislation are overstated. They seek, as the honourable member for Ermington reminded the House, to cover failures by the Minister for Transport to get his way through caucus and through Cabinet on issues such as the Public Transport Authority. This is a specific bill that, by and large, the Opposition supports, but it does not meet the claims that the Minister for Transport made with great hyperbole in his second reading speech. There would have been no rail corporatisation and restructuring bill without the Baird reforms of 1988 to 1995. If the Minister were not as mean spirited towards the former Minister for Transport, as he is so often in this House, he would acknowledge that fact and the debate could move on. Under the former Minister for Transport, Freight Rail broke into profitability. It went from a $373 million per year loss under the Unsworth Government to a $50 million per year profit under the Liberal Government.
Track and other infrastructure was upgraded under the former Government. Although it has more relevance to passenger services in Sydney, the Sydney signalling system that affected both freight and passenger services was at an all-time low of 9.9 on a scale of 0 to 10 when 10 was fatal when the former Liberal Government came to office in 1988. Bruce Baird devoted resources to it, even though resources were limited at the time, and he fixed the problem. As you know, Mr Speaker, trains traverse the main north line, which cuts through the Northcott electorate and the electorates of a number of members on the north shore. Other achievements of Bruce Baird in that period included the finding and securing of new markets for Freight Rail and, due to increased productivity and profitability, the cutting of freight rates for coal and grain by 25 per cent and 10 per cent respectively from 1988.
As honourable members debate this legislation, which takes the Baird-Greiner reforms an extra step, they should not forget the role that the Labor Party played when the former Minister for Transport and the Greiner and Fahey governments sought to undertake those reforms. The Minister for Transport, and Minister for Tourism when in opposition supported by his colleagues opposed those reforms every inch of the way. He wanted to stop the coal industry as it moved to provide its own freight operations in the Hunter. The best example of this was in the lead-up to the last State election campaign in the then marginal seat of Maitland, which, thanks to the great work of the honourable member for Maitland, has been made much more secure and will remain in Liberal hands for as long as he continues to put in the effort he has since 1991. At the time of the last State election campaign Harold Dwyer from the Public Transport Union placed an advertisement in Hunter newspapers headed "Stop Fahey's bid to privatise Hunter Valley Coal Trains", which read:
Labor's Transport Spokesperson, Brian Langton, condemned Premier Fahey, writing:
"Any claims by the [Fahey] Government that their proposal is somehow related to `competition' are ridiculous. The result would be that a public monopoly - operating efficiently with benefits for the public as a whole - would become a private monopoly with benefits for the few . . .
"As for the Hunter Valley coal lines, Labor will continue to oppose their privatisation, in the public interest of maintaining a viable rail freight service for New South Wales . . .
"The Hunter Valley coal lines represent a massive public investment made by generations of Australians. The Fahey government is insulting all New South Wales taxpayers by making secret deals to virtually dispose of this most precious public asset."
The advertisement then gave five powerful reasons to stop John Fahey. They were:
•the Hunter Region will get even less back from the coal it exports:
•SRA will lose its "world class" coal business, which provides 30% of its freight income;
•all SRA freight operations, with 10,000 employees, would be jeopardised;
•millions of tonnes of freight would be shifted from rail to road;
•Exxon, CRA, Shell, Peabody and Oakbridge would grab SRA's core business.
You can stop this crazy privatisation scheme by defeating Fahey's candidate in the only Liberal seat in the Hunter Valley - Maitland.
Vote 1 Keating in Maitland
In March 1995 the people in Maitland did to Keating what they did to him in March 1996: they sent him packing. The seat of Maitland went from a marginal seat to a safe Liberal seat, as did the seat of Camden in Sydney. I have raised that issue at length because it shows the sort of hypocrisy that Labor pursued. It campaigned shamelessly before the State election against the sorts of reforms the bill sets out.
Mr Price: Read the bill. It is very different.
Mr O'FARRELL: I suspect that the honourable member for Waratah, who no doubt will contribute to the debate, will give honourable members a lesson in semantics. I will listen to it with great interest. I remind the House of the comments of the honourable member for Ermington. The reality is that these legislative
reforms will cost 2,000 Hunter Valley Freight Rail jobs. This Government came to office having campaigned in the Hunter opposed to job cuts. As a result of the legislation the estimates in the honourable member's speech are that between 2,000 and 5,000 jobs will be lost.
Mr Price: You removed 17,000 jobs in your time.
Mr O'FARRELL: I have a great deal of respect for the honourable member for Waratah; he is a fine Deputy-Speaker. For seven years in opposition the Minister for Transport opposed every effort to reform and rationalise State Rail, particularly by pointing to job losses. This proposal, which will again lead to job losses, has the general support of both sides of the House. I do not decry that fact, but I decry the hypocrisy of the Minister opposite and of Harold Dwyer in saying before the election, "We won't let jobs go", and after the election saying the opposite. That is the point I seek to make to the honourable member for Waratah. It is not just the Opposition that is concerned about job losses; the trade union movement is concerned about the impact of the proposed legislation. It knows that it will bring to an end any government or private monopoly and will provide opportunities for the private sector to be involved in the delivery of viable freight services in the Hunter Valley.
At least the unions are true to the advertisements they ran prior to the last campaign, which is more than can be said for the Government. The benefits to New South Wales of reforms contained in the bill will be significant. They will include an improved rail system and an expansion of the coal industry. Aside from the direct benefits to the Hunter Valley - 2,500 new jobs in the private sector and $500 million invested in new mine development - New South Wales will profit by $20 million in taxes and charges on the additional tonnage hauled. Rail freight currently comprises 15 to 30 per cent of the overall costs of the New South Wales coal industry. These costs must be reduced if New South Wales is to continue to compete in export markets. Lower costs will mean more exports, further mine development and more private sector jobs.
I wish to canvass specifically a number of issues in this legislation. The first relates to the New South Wales Rail Access Regime, which should have been provided by the Minister to the public, to the industry and to this place prior to the introduction of this bill. It is a disgrace because, without knowledge of the content of that regime, one cannot be certain that it will fully meet the obligations of the competition principles agreement - the CPA.
Mr Langton: We released it two weeks ago.
Mr O'FARRELL: The Minister interjects to say that he released it two weeks ago. That is not what he told the House last week; it is not what he told the House at the beginning of the speech of the honourable member for Ermington when he said he would table it later in the day. At the end of the speech of the honourable member for Ermington, the Minister said he had tabled it "yesterday". The Minister does not have a clue about what the regime is, where he tabled it or where he last left it.
Mr Langton: I was going to give it to him but he got chucked out.
Mr O'FARRELL: A third variation: he was going to give it to him but he got chucked out. [Extension of time agreed to.]
This Minister, who is so representative of the Government, did not in any way attempt to consult the industry over these reforms, to the extent that the rail access regime was not produced prior to the legislation being introduced. Up until whenever the Minister released it - and he seems to be confused about that point as well - the regime could not be tested by debate in this House. I am sure the amendments to be moved by the honourable member for Ermington will be passed by the upper House with that House having the benefit of a full analysis of the New South Wales Rail Access Regime.
I am concerned also about the pricing policy because the bill provides only for the Rail Access Corporation - RAC - to develop and maintain an access rail pricing policy. That is contained in proposed section 19E(3)(a), whereas the Minister in his second reading speech said that it would issue a policy consistent with the regime. Also, it has not been determined whether pricing policy can be challenged before the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal - IPART. I know that will be the subject of an amendment by the honourable member for Ermington but I refer the House to the New South Wales Government policy statement on the application of national competition policy to local Government. Section 2 of the competition principles agreement states:
(a) provision of independent pricing oversight of Government Business Enterprises (GBEs);
(b) application of competitive neutrality to the significant business activities of Government;
The pricing policy encapsulated in this legislation is in conflict with that competition principles agreement. Once again the Government talks about its commitment to competition and to the Hilmer reforms but the legislation does not match it. It is essential that the bill makes it clear that the Rail Access Corporation must issue its full access pricing policy and comply with the competition principles agreement. Also, access seekers should have a right to challenge the pricing policy before the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, an amendment to be moved by the honourable member for Ermington.
My third concern is that the bill does not require the RAC to provide and price open access transparently. This maintains the inherent
monopoly power of the RAC which is the crucial issue for major users. It is also contrary to the practice for electricity grid access under the draft national electricity code of practice. The negotiation of access parameters and pricing without adequate data about the costs of access being available to the access seeker from the RAC, followed by arbitration if that fails, is inherently flawed. It is inconsistent with the whole precept of competition policy, which is that all parties should have the full facts on which to base their negotiations. If one has transparency, access seekers can work out what are fair and reasonable access prices and terms.
There can be no genuine competition without transparency. This bill does not provide for transparency, and the honourable member for Ermington will address that issue. The negotiation-arbitration route is lengthy, unequal, costly and inefficient. Until that is addressed the Minister for Transport or any other member cannot make a claim that there is true equality in the negotiation process or that true competition will apply. I refer again to the pricing oversight by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal which is not provided for in this bill in relation to charges. This potentially contravenes the competition principles agreement, which the Treasurer, to his great credit, seeks to apply in his areas of responsibility. It is also contrary to practice for electricity grid access, water supply and public rail fares in New South Wales, which all have access to IPART. It is important that, if there is to be a creature called IPART, these sorts of measures proposed in the bill will be before it.
The fifth area of concern relates to the value of RAC assets. Under schedule 4 of the bill the ministerial order under proposed section 19J transferring the infrastructure assets from the State Rail Authority to the RAC can specify the "consideration on which the order is made and the value or values at which the assets, rights or liabilities are transferred". This means that assets could be valued at replacement value - somewhere in the order of $6 billion - which is clearly unrealistically high. This would impose huge cost burdens on users and once again negate the reforms this legislation seeks to introduce. A proper economic approach is to value the assets at optimised deprival value, which I am sure the Minister would be aware of. In this context it means the value determined by application of the guidelines on accounting policy for valuation of assets of Government trading enterprises agreed by all Commonwealth and State jurisdictions. I seek a commitment from the Minister that he will determine a value for assets to be transferred from the State Rail Authority to the RAC according to those principles, which have been used by other sections of government.
The last issue of concern is that the Minister in his second reading speech said that community service obligations required for a particular traffic haulage cost are only available to Freight Rail, thereby preventing haulage competition from third-party operators, even though competition would actually reduce or eliminate the need for a CSO. Again, if there is to be genuine competition both sides should be treated equally. If CSOs are going to be provided to one side they should be provided to the other because in the longer term they will drive costs down and productivity up. The previous speaker in this debate spoke at some length about the alleged actions of the former Government in relation to its reforms. Every regular rail user in New South Wales would agree that passenger rail services in New South Wales improved over the seven years of the Greiner and Fahey governments.
Metropolitan services improved out of sight. Stations were cleaner, staff were friendlier, trains were on time and passengers reached their destinations safely. Mr Speaker, I also remind you as a regular visitor to country areas of the massive improvement in country passenger services over the seven years the coalition was in government. When the coalition came to office, trains operating on the north coast and other parts of New South Wales had been in use for 60 to 80 years, and rolling stock was massively dilapidated. At the end of the coalition's term of office, XPT sleepers were used for services to the north coast, and Xplorer services were used to the south coast, to the north-west and to Canberra. I noticed during recent by-election activity in Canberra that those services were frequent and the trains were often full. It is clear that Canberra residents support those services.
The coalition supported a massive restructuring of rail which, at the end of the day, produced more services for the people of New South Wales in a modern, efficient and cost-effective way. The Opposition supports this legislation, although it shows all the signs of haste, lack of consultation and pragmatism masking its principles that so characterise the Minister. Nevertheless, I am pleased that the coal industry is finally nearing the end of a very long process, which hopefully, depending upon amendments to be moved here and in another place, will ensure greater control of the transport access for the industry in a truly competitive regime.
Mr PRICE (Waratah) [9.38]: That was an interesting historical treatise. I wonder what the honourable member for Northcott does in his spare time, because rhetoric can come cheaply. I support this positive, ground-breaking bill that supports absolutely the principles of competition which all governments have agreed to adhere to in this country - ones that are essential if we are to survive as a competitive nation within the world structure. If we cannot compete within our own structure, our efforts externally and internationally will certainly fail. This landmark legislation undertakes a number of important initiatives to restructure the State Rail Authority to make it more effective, more user friendly and more responsible to its various arms, and to provide the opportunity for future
employment increases, whilst at the same time allowing non-government organisations certain access to each facet of operation.
The basic principle of separating the infrastructure upgrade and maintenance from the basic functions of freight and passenger service provision is a significant step forward and is clearly identified in the bill. Under its four separate headings the organisation will become a cheaper operation for the State purse, will be more progressive and more aggressive, and will take its place truly as a competitive series of units within its various fields. The honourable member for Northcott referred to the transportation of coal in the Hunter by the proposed freight rail authority, the Freight Rail Corporation. I should like to expand on his comments. The former Government initiated with coal owners and shippers a dialogue that may well have virtually sold the rail line, the infrastructure, to the coal owners. The State would then have had to hire the line for its normal passenger and freight services and other uses. For many years the State provided, maintained and upgraded that line at great cost to the public purse.
I say without equivocation or challenge that that line provided freight access for probably the most lucrative section of State Rail Authority's business and income. But if the line had been sold, private operators not only would have owned the line, but also would have purchased the rolling stock and the prime movers at a cut rate. All units owned by the public would have been discounted and sold to the private sector for nominal compensation. The nearest similar example was the sale of the coal loader at Port Kembla, which resulted in the massive wiping of hundreds of millions of dollars of outstanding debt that was not transferred to the current operators. The State still maintains the wharves but the profits go directly into the private purse to benefit the shareholders of private companies, not the people of this State who provided the seeding and funding moneys for development, operation and maintenance of the wharves.
This Government is not about lining the pockets of others at the expense of the people of New South Wales. The bill supports absolutely that principle. What will the restructured State Rail Authority look like? Instead of having one large SRA containing a variety of different businesses, each with its own special and often competing pressures, there will be four new independent businesses. Each will have a clear focus on a specialist area of the rail industry. The proposed changes to the industry are profound. Attitudinal changes in top and middle management will take some adjustment. Likewise, the workers, the hands-on people, will find that for a period they will be reshuffled. Some will be insecure inasmuch as they will not know whether their particular skill in one organisation can transfer safely to the organisation which they have been designated to attend. Those things will be worked out over time. But there will be no dismissals. People will be given the opportunity to retrain or transfer to other sections. If, by mutual agreement, it is found that they do not wish to carry on, a voluntary package of retrenchment will be offered. There will certainly be no compulsory retrenchments and no dismissals.
Of course, those elements were missing in the former Government's policies when it made employee dismissals common practice and retrenchment and redundancy the order of the day in almost every attempt to restructure and streamline the State Rail Authority. That is not Labor's way; it is not in its program and it is not reflected in this legislation. If Opposition members actually read the legislation and its explanatory notes they will find the proposals interesting. Rhetoric and opinion based on other than fact have no place in this debate. As a former public servant in a State enterprise that was required to make a profit and that disappeared when its capacity to make a profit failed, I dealt with railway workshops. In those days the workshops were antiquated and were probably overstaffed by current standards. The reason for that was that capital expenditure did not allow a different approach.
Mr Photios: Bruce fixed that.
Mr PRICE: The honourable member for Ermington interjects, which seems to be his continual habit. The upgraded machinery in those workshops did not necessarily suit the function of the shops. In fact, some of the equipment was used by other government instrumentalities but that use was regarded as a cost against the State Rail Authority, not against the authority or department that used it. The SRA was subsidising other departments in a small way, but nevertheless that was not a State Rail Authority function and should not have been permitted. However, it is a breath of fresh air that the State Rail Authority workshops will be given an opportunity to compete not only for its own maintenance programs, but for maintenance programs and engineering works outside its ambit. This will breathe new life into those industries and will use capital equipment that for many years has been underused but paid for from the State purse. This move will give an opportunity to recover costs, reduce overheads and fully utilise equipment that has been underutilised for many years. The opportunities are tremendous. I cannot overstate how useful competition will be to this State, let alone Australia generally.
Many private organisations now undertake State Rail Authority maintenance. The structure of those organisations forms almost an oligopoly. However, with State Rail being able to compete actively without having unreasonable overheads imposed on it to prevent it being competitive, those other organisations will find the market has changed when they go to tender again for future maintenance work and other associated engineering requirements. State Rail is taking a progressive step; it will use
the talents of its employees and the equipment owned by the State to best advantage. Ultimately a profit situation will emerge. Certainly there will be some teething troubles - there always are. No doubt the Minister is keen to ensure that these corporatised bodies act responsibly, as the bill requires, and that the social aspects of the operations are maintained so that the public is not disadvantaged. The network provided by the Rail Access Corporation operates under defined guidelines. The explanatory notes in the bill state that in providing access the RAC must:
(a) develop and maintain an access pricing policy, and
(b) compile the master timetable for the allocation of train paths, and
(c) establish systems to ensure that train paths are allocated in an efficient and impartial manner under the master timetable, and
(d) prepare and apply standards for the allocation of train priorities and the resolution of conflicts if the master timetable cannot apply for any reason.
Those amendments will allow these already very specialised personnel within the organisation to concentrate on their functions without interference. They will not be concerned with rolling stock or with freight requirements; they will be dealing wholly and solely within the guidelines set out under the bill. It is imperative that that separation of functions is clearly defined and scrupulously observed. The functions of the Railway Services Authority already are to be expanded. Clause 19V provides that the authority can supply goods such as ballast, sleepers or equipment and provide services relating to the repair and maintenance of rail infrastructure, facilities and rolling stock. Again, that emphasis on the operations of the authority and its ability to compete on the open market not only will lead to an improvement in the services delivered by the rail system in this State but will be a valuable and competitive means of streamlining our manufacturing, maintenance and service industries in the wider field.
The benefits of the reforms will be significant. Competition means improved efficiency. That will result in more and better services at a lower cost to the community. With the new State Rail dealing solely with Countylink and CityRail, we can look forward to further improvements in rolling stock. We can improve on the availability of the rolling stock provided by the former Government. Delivery of some of the units was slow under the former program. That was not the Government's fault, but it was noted by commuters. Existing rolling stock can be upgraded by implementing a far more positive maintenance program. Contracts for such programs will be available to everyone, whether inside or outside the service.
Freight Rail continues to be a most significant earner within the State. The benefits from that particular portion of the reform are significant. The Federal Government already uses some of our rail services through the National Rail Corporation, which does not own any of the rail infrastructure but operates services on tracks within New South Wales. The Commonwealth itself is proposing an organisation, called Track Australia, to look after infrastructure only. Hopefully, that body will be set up soon. Track Australia, like other private enterprise operators who use our rail lines, will have to assist with the provision and maintenance of certain infrastructure if they wish lines to be kept open. That will be done either by direct negotiation or through charges levied on those operators for access approvals or certificates of authority and entry.
The cost of rolling stock has been significant, but it is available for lease as required. Coalminers who wish to hire rolling stock and prime movers will be able to negotiate such hire and use such equipment as they require it. The rolling stock will remain a State asset. If operators can use the rolling stock better than we can, good luck to them, but the State should benefit significantly from the provision of this Transport Administration Amendment (Rail Corporatisation and Restructuring) Bill.
Mr BLACKMORE (Maitland) [9.53]: I am pleased to speak to the Transport Administration Amendment (Rail Corporatisation and Restructuring) Bill. My colleagues on this side of the House have mentioned brochures which were distributed in the Maitland electorate during the 1995 election. Harold Dwyer plastered all over those documents "Stop coal company grab for Hunter Valley coal trains and stop the privatisation to the Liberals". Lacking from this debate is mention that under the former Fahey Government there was a genuine attempt to try to lower the cost of transportation of Hunter Valley coal and make Australian coal prices more competitive.
The miners in the Hunter Valley - the very same people that Labor claims it supports - had to take cuts in their working conditions and become more productive so that the employer mines could become more competitive in securing foreign coal orders. The coalminers did that; they became more competitive. One of the most significant components of the price of coal was the cost of its transportation by rail. Any honourable member representing a Hunter Valley electorate will tell about the problems associated with road transportation, particularly on the New England Highway and through our cities. Immense noise and vibration are caused by road transport of coal. It was former Premier Wran who said that all coal would be transported by rail. But we saw a backdown on that. He allowed the Transport Workers Union to again become involved in the issue. Hunter Valley residents want coal transported by rail, and the former Government was intent on making rail more competitive with road transport.
As Premier Fahey said at the time: how does a monopoly coal carrier know how competitive it is until faced by an interest from the private sector? That proposition remains true today. Each day
130,000 tonnes of coal is transported by rail from the Hunter Valley to the Port of Newcastle for export. Who introduced the 90-class locomotives? It was the Fahey Government, under Minister Bruce Baird, which introduced the magnificent 90-class locomotives to haul the coal. The new wagons that we see on railway lines also were introduced by that Government. What we are discussing today is not new. What the former Government was talking about was not new. The people of the Hunter Valley well know that coal wagons had BHP written on their sides. The mines owned their own wagons. South Maitland Railways used to have its own private coal line. There is still a line available in the Kahibah region on which coal was hauled from the pits to Lake Macquarie and Belmont.
So, when we speak about allowing competition on the line we are not talking about something new. When in Government the coalition made that promise, and Labor has come forward with it today. I do not criticise the Government for introducing this bill, because the Opposition wants to work with the Government to implement measures to make rail more competitive so that businesses can survive and this country will become more competitive, by lowering the costs of haulage and transport. Surprise, surprise! During the March 1995 elections a letter was distributed in the east Maitland area and the western suburbs by an ALP candidate telling people their homes were under threat from the vibration and noise of passing coal trains. It promised that, with their support, a Labor Government would release the findings of an inquiry and act upon its recommendations to reinvest some of the $200 million profit made annually from the haulage of coal to implement noise reduction measures, as well as re-establish the compensation fund to cover damage to homes. When I asked a question upon notice of the Minister the answer I got was: "No, we will not be re-establishing the compensation fund."
Mr Photios: What? Another broken promise?
Mr BLACKMORE: Yes, another broken promise.
Mr Nagle: On a point of order. The honourable member for Maitland should not be exchanging comments with the honourable member for Ermington, but should be addressing his remarks through the Chair. The honourable member for Ermington should be directed to resume his seat.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Clough): Order! The member for Maitland will address his remarks through the Chair.
Mr BLACKMORE: I was saying that the Government has announced that it will not reintroduce a fund to compensate for damage caused by coal wagon vibrations.
Mr Langton: On a point of order. I would be delighted to debate that matter with the honourable member for Maitland at another time. However, it has nothing whatever to do with the bill.
Mr BLACKMORE: On the point of order. The matter relates to the bill. I placed a question on notice to the Minister for Transport about rail use in the Hunter Valley, and I am referring to the Minister's response to that question.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER: Order! This is a far-ranging debate and the member is making a point with regard to his electorate. There is no point of order.
Mr BLACKMORE: If private companies use the rail lines, I want to ensure that the residents of my electorate and residents in other Hunter Valley electorates are protected under the bill and that there is adequate compensation. To the Minister's credit, the inquiry group is still talking to residents whose homes have suffered damage as a result of vibrations. Much is at stake. Whilst we try to drive our region and the nation forward - I applaud that because the previous Government took that initiative - we still have a responsibility to the community. I will be watching to ensure that the residents of the Hunter Valley are not simply brushed aside while private companies are allowed to use the rail lines.
The honourable member for Waratah referred to voluntary redundancies. I heard similar comments when I was in Government: redundancies will be voluntary, no-one will lose his or her job, other employment will be offered. When the power industry was restructured, workers in that industry were told the same thing. I want to ensure that State Rail workers are not given the sack. They should be offered voluntary redundancy or another position in State Rail.
Mr Langton: How can the honourable member keep a straight face?
Mr BLACKMORE: I can keep a straight face quite easily, because people in my electorate suffered as a result of forced redundancies in the power industry. Workers were offered jobs at the back of Bourke; if they did not want those jobs they were forced to accept redundancy. That is the record. I want to ensure that the Government is sincere when it talks about voluntary redundancy. Voluntary redundancy is just that - it is not forced redundancy. The Opposition supports the bill. The coalition Government attempted to make the transportation of produce and coal, particularly in the Hunter region, more competitive so that New South Wales could compete in the international market. It is a worthy approach to say that New South Wales is doing its bit to compete. However, I ask the Minister to take on board the comments about damage caused to homes by vibrations, and about the documents circulated in Maitland in 1995. The Opposition will not stop the bill from going through; it will work with the Government to find a satisfactory solution so that everyone in New South Wales wins.
Mr NAGLE (Auburn) [10.04]: It gives me great pleasure to support this important legislation, which is the result of the vision and direction of the Minister for Transport. We must do away with the fallacy propagated by the honourable member for Maitland about forced redundancies and voluntary redundancies. When the coalition came to Government in 1988 there were 38,000 State Rail Authority and transport employees; now there are 21,000 employees. Many employees were forced to take redundancy payments. I notice that the honourable member for Ermington is leaving - he does not want to hear the truth.
Mr Jeffery: I would leave the Chamber, too, except that I am on duty.
Mr NAGLE: That is a matter for the honourable member for Oxley. I am not keeping him here; he can go whenever he likes. In one case a boilermaker would not accept redundancy, so he was made a sweeper. However, his tenacity and hard work over three years enabled him to return to his trade. Yesterday I spoke to a gentleman about hypocrisy on the conservative side of politics - and members opposite will be in Opposition for a long time to come. In another case a gentleman accepted a redundancy payment from State Rail and bought himself a concrete truck. His boss went broke; he sold his business to his mate, and he and his mate are now back in business; while the truckie who used to work for the State Rail Authority lost his redundancy payment because he was forced out. The hypocrisy of Liberal and National Party members who talk about forced redundancies is exactly that - hypocrisy. The honourable member for Northcott made a brilliant speech - I say that with tongue in cheek.
Mr Langton: Wasn't it appalling?
Mr NAGLE: It was disgraceful. I timed the honourable member: 48 per cent of his speech was devoted to attacking either the Minister for Transport, the Labor Party or the previous Unsworth Government; and 52 per cent of his speech was directed at the bill, of which at least one third was directed at unrelated matters. The honourable member should remember that Pennant Hills railway station has better car parking facilities than any other station, because Bruce Baird provided those facilities - although western Sydney did not get much-needed car parking facilities. Bruce Baird looked after his electorate, including the Pennant Hills railway station. Members opposite talk about honesty and integrity in relation to these matters. However, they rorted the figures when in government. Be that as it may, this bill is an important step forward.
Some suggestions of the previous Government have been incorporated in the legislation, but most of the provisions have resulted from the hard work of the Minister for Transport. The honourable member for Northcott should stop shooting from the mouth. Although he has only been in the Parliament for five seconds, compared with my time here, he thinks he knows everything; I can assure him that he knows very little. Today he wrote a letter to me in my capacity as chairman of a committee and it was personally delivered to me. Everyone knows the protocol: letters are delivered to the project office of the committee. The honourable member does not even know the protocols of the Parliament. In a glowing tribute to the shadow minister for transport, the honourable member for Ermington, he described the honourable member's speech as brilliant. It was appalling. I do not usually comment on other speeches, but the honourable member's response to the bill and to the Minister for Transport was appalling.
The situation in New South Wales is not unique. In some overseas jurisdictions infrastructure has been separated from operations. In Australia we have seen the emergence of independent rail businesses such as the National Rail Corporation, which does not own infrastructure, and the Commonwealth's proposed Track Australia, which will manage the interstate rail network but not operate trains. I remind honourable members that the honourable member for Ermington is trying to jump on the back of the national rail projects of the Keating Government by saying that they are a great step forward. Let me assure honourable members that they are not. The comment made by the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, Mr Barry O'Keefe, regarding corruption in State Rail has been adequately dealt with in the legislation; the legislation will diminish the chances of corruption in large government bureaucracies such as State Rail. I think $1.3 billion goes to State Rail every year. The break-up in the structure and the restructuring, on which the Minister has been working for over a year, will now come to fruition and stop that type of corruption. Let me remind the House who controlled the State Rail Authority for seven years prior to March 1995: the hypocrites on the other side. The mass corruption that Barry O'Keefe is talking about -
Mr Langton: That's why they were kicked out.
Mr NAGLE: That is exactly right: that is why they were kicked out. The mass corruption that Barry O'Keefe was talking about occurred under the previous Government, not under this Government. An Australian State government needs to be competitive, and the competition principles set out in the agreement between the Commonwealth and the States are being adhered to in this legislation. The principles deal head-on with the issue of third-party access to services provided by significant publicly-owned infrastructure. Financial and commercial relations were never developed between the State Rail Authority and business groups; nor was any attempt made to see whether services could be improved by reallocating costs from the centralised rail bureaucracy to the delivery of quality passenger and freight services. However, it is now dealt with by the Minister, as he said in his second reading speech.
In the Government's view, these issues and relationships can only be resolved effectively by separating accountabilities into separate organisations. This approach will not create job losses; it will strengthen the whole rail transport system, both within the State and nationally. It will be an effective means of dealing with the community's future need for rail public transport. The bill proposes a separation of the presently vertically-integrated rail industry - the existing State Rail Authority owns the track and associated infrastructure and operates virtually all trains - into four new organisations: first, passenger train operations through a reformed State Rail Authority - I emphasise: a reformed State Rail Authority - second, freight operations through a new Freight Rail Corporation; third, infrastructure management by a new Rail Access Corporation; and, fourth, rail support services through a new commercially-orientated Railway Services Authority.
The Minister for Transport has spent time talking to many groups of people about this infrastructure: business, the trade-union movement and the Independent Commission Against Corruption. All these organisations have spent time looking at the infrastructure that needs to be altered, changed or reformed, for which this legislation provides. The State Owned Corporations Act sets out five basic objectives for all State corporations. They are: first, to operate at least as efficiently as any comparable organisation; second, to maximise the net worth of the State's investment in business; third, to exhibit essential social responsibility having regard to community interest; fourth, to conduct its operations in compliance with the principles of ecology and sustainable development; and, fifth, to exhibit a sense of responsibility towards regional development and decentralisation. These are the objects that the Minister, through his organisation in the State Rail Authority, has tried to achieve by this legislation.
This legislation is not the beginning and end of all ways of reforming State Rail, but it is a large step forward. If time shows that there are defects in this legislation, they can be rectified in this House. In addition to the objectives I have just mentioned, the bill assigns the following functions to the Rail Access Corporation: first, to hold, manage and establish rail infrastructure facilities on behalf of the State; and, second, to provide rail operators with access to the New South Wales rail network. These are commendable procedures that have been put in place to create a better system for the people of New South Wales. In providing access, the corporation must, first, develop, maintain and access a pricing policy; second, compile a master timetable for the allocation of train paths; third, establish systems to ensure that train paths are allocated in an efficient and impartial manner under its master timetable; and, fourth, prepare and apply standards for the allocation of train priorities for the resolution of conflict on the track.
Rail access will be subject to stringent rules covering the use of market power in the heavy rail industry. It not intended in the foreseeable future that the bill will apply any rules to short-line, light rail systems. The bill will establish the rules under which access can be made available. That regime will be endorsed by the Premier and the Minister for Transport when the bill becomes law. The vision of the Minister was a bill that will take State Rail and the New South Wales public transport system into the twenty-first century, and I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Thompson.
COMMONWEALTH POWERS (FAMILY LAW - CHILDREN) AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from 1 May.
Mr TINK (Eastwood) [10.15]: The Opposition supports the Commonwealth Powers (Family Law - Children) Act. The objects of the bill are: first, to refer to the Commonwealth Parliament the matter of the determination of a child's parentage for the purposes of the law of the Commonwealth; second, to refer to the Commonwealth Parliament certain matters relating to maintenance that are presently excluded from the reference of maintenance matters in section 3(1) of the Act; third, to ensure that certain matters relating the custody, guardianship, care and control of children that would otherwise not be referred to the Commonwealth Parliament by the Act are referred if there is written consent from the Minister administering a provision set out in schedule 1 to the Act, or, in certain cases, from his or her delegate; fourth, to require references in the Act to the provision specified in schedule 1, read as reference to the provision as amended from time to time or, if the provision is replaced, to the provision which replaces it; and, fifth, to make other minor consequential amendments.
The bill has been considered by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General since 1990. The referral of powers to the Commonwealth was necessary to overcome problems and jurisdictional disputes between the Family Court and State and Territory courts over the right to deal with matters involving the custody and guardianship of and access to ex-nuptial children where their rights were being considered in connection with divorce or other matrimonial matters. The existing law was causing considerable confusion and generating significant legal costs to parties involved in matrimonial disputes where one of the children was not the natural child of the two parties. The bill will be part of uniform legislation throughout the country. It will significantly reduce legal costs and disputes relating to and arising out of matrimonial disputes. For those reasons the Opposition supports the bill.
Mr IEMMA (Hurstville) [10.19]: I support the bill, the purpose of which is to refer to the Commonwealth the power to personally deal with certain matters relating to custody, guardianship, access and maintenance of children who are the subject of State welfare orders; and second, to allow the Commonwealth to make declarations of parentage for all Commonwealth purposes. The intention of the bill is to close a number of gaps currently existing whereby neither the Family Court nor the State courts have jurisdiction to effectively make orders relating to custody, access, guardianship or maintenance of children who are the subject of orders under State welfare laws. The bill does not remove any exclusive jurisdiction for the State to make laws concerning the welfare and protection of children, including adoption; that still remains the exclusive province of the States.
The basic problems that this bill seeks to address stem from the present constitutional limitations that arise out of section 51(22) of the Commonwealth Constitution. This section enables the Federal Parliament to legislate with respect to divorce and matrimonial causes. Associated with this are parental rights in the custody and guardianship of children. That power has been interpreted to mean that the Commonwealth has power to make laws only with respect to children of the marriage. All other children, that is, ex-nuptial children, are outside the scope of section 51(22) and come within State jurisdiction. In an attempt to overcome this limitation, in 1986 the Commonwealth Powers (Family Law - Children) Act was passed by this Parliament. That Act referred to the Commonwealth the power to make laws with respect to the guardianship, access and maintenance of ex-nuptial children. The object was to overcome jurisdictional problems between the Family Court and State courts in those matters I have just outlined in respect to ex-nuptial children.
When the Act was passed New South Wales retained its exclusive jurisdiction over protection and welfare of children, including adoption. However, since the passage of the Act, experience in the Family Court and in the State welfare area has led to a further examination of the referred powers by the Standing Committee of Attorneys General. That examination revealed a number of gaps in the current system, which this bill deals with. The first gap relates to custody and access arrangements for children in need of care. Currently under section 72 of the Children (Care and Protection) Act the Children's Court has the power to make orders in relation to a child in need of care. They include orders placing a child under the supervision of an officer; placing a child in the custody of a suitable person, that is, foster arrangements; or declaring a child a ward.
The Children's Court can also accept undertakings from a child's carer in relation to granting or prohibiting access. These orders and undertakings granting or prohibiting access to a child can only be made on an interim basis. However, the Children's Court does not have the power to make final orders or to enforce undertakings. The only option open to the Children's Court in the event of an undertaking not being complied with is to vary or rescind the order. Under State jurisdiction access orders can only be made in the Supreme Court. This bill will, by clause 3(2), allow such matters to be transferred to the Family Court, which does have the power to make final orders and deal with breaches of undertakings. I support that clause.
The second major problem that the Standing Committee of Attorneys General outlined was the maintenance of children in State care, and this is a matter of great concern. The New South Wales Department of Community Services can obtain a contribution towards the maintenance of a child in its care from parents of the child. However, the States differ considerably in their practices and policies on the maintenance of children. The Family Law Council has criticised the retention by the States of power over the maintenance of a child subject to State child welfare laws, particularly in view of the differences between maintenance provision at Commonwealth and State levels.
By virtue of the operation of section 66H of the Family Law Act 1975, persons who have been granted custody, guardianship, care or control of a child pursuant to the New South Wales Children (Care and Protection) Act are denied access to the Commonwealth Child Support Agency and the mechanisms that are available through that agency to collect maintenance from non-custodial parents. Clause 3(2) of this bill removes these restrictions and allows the Child Support Agency to collect maintenance on behalf of children who are the subject of State welfare laws. That is long overdue. The third major problem which was identified by the standing committee is Commonwealth parentage declarations. At present the Family Court regularly makes findings of paternity in matters that come before it. However, the court is only empowered to make such findings where that is ancillary to another matter, such as maintenance, custody, access or guardianship. The power to make a declaration, an absolute determination for all purposes, still rests with the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court rarely uses this power because of the expense and the fact that the Family Court is seen as the more appropriate forum.
Because of the non-referral of power to make such declarations, there is doubt as to whether a finding of parentage by the Family Court would be binding in State matters such as inheritance and adoption. This bill seeks to overcome that problem. Related to that is the experience of sole parents applying for child support benefits. In order for sole parents to preserve their entitlement to child support benefits from the Department of Social Security, a parent must make an application for maintenance from the other parent. However, where the parties are not married an application for child support assessment in relation to an ex-nuptial
child can only be made where the other parent has acknowledged that he or she is the child's parent or where a court has made a finding of parentage.
Because of restrictions on the Family Court's powers, sole parents cannot approach the Family Court direct for a declaration about the child's parentage. Instead they must wait for their application for a child support assessment to be rejected by the Department of Social Security before appealing to the Family Court under section 106 of the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989. Clause 3(1)(c) of the bill will allow parents to approach the Family Court direct to obtain such a declaration. That will be of tremendous benefit to sole parents. The Department of Social Security estimates that 30 per cent of sole parents have ex-nuptial children, of which about 15 per cent do not have their father named on the birth certificate. I support this bill. It will streamline the processes and allow the Commonwealth to more adequately cover the field for children I have outlined here. It will make access to justice through the Family Court a lot less expensive for those parents.
Mr DEBUS (Blue Mountains - Minister for Corrective Services, Minister for Emergency Services, and Minister Assisting the Minister for the Arts) [10.26], in reply: I thank members for their contributions to the debate.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.
NOXIOUS WEEDS AMENDMENT BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture) [10.27]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
Noxious weeds are among the most serious threat to New South Sales primary production and natural environment. They reduce farm and forest productivity, displace native species and contribute significantly to land degradation. The cost of weeds to agricultural industries alone in New South Wales has been estimated at over $600 million a year. Noxious weeds also represent a major problem in conservation of biodiversity, displacing native vegetation and associated fauna. On average, approximately 17 per cent of Australia's flora now consists of exotic weeds. The decade of the Landcare plan, the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development and the draft national strategy for the conservation of Australia's biological diversity all recognise that the detrimental effect of weeds threatens the achievement of their goals and they support the development of strategies to reduce those threats.
In New South Wales the Noxious Weeds Act deals with the control of noxious weeds. Since it came into operation in 1993 it has generally been received positively, although a number of limitations to its operation have been detected. This bill will alleviate some of those limitations. The main objective of the proposed changes is to reduce the risk of noxious weeds being introduced into New South Wales. The changes will also reduce the risk to the public from weed control operations.
The bill provides for the Minister to have power to quarantine an area of land or water in order to prevent the spread of very serious weeds while a major eradication operation is taking place. This power will be limited to the most seriously threatening categories of weeds. Consultation with any affected public authorities will have to take place before the quarantine may come into operation.
The quarantine will be subject to conditions which the Minister considers necessary. For example, the quarantine may be for machinery or vehicles but not for persons. A power to impose a restricted area is to be given to local control authorities, to restrict access to an area of land during spraying operations for weed control and for a period thereafter until it is safe for stock to re-enter the area. This is only a short-term restriction. Movement of the public will be limited in a spray area while spraying operations are under way so as to avoid any injury or harm which may potentially be caused by the machinery being used in the area. Stock will be restricted from eating in the spray area for the withholding period on the label of the herbicide being sprayed. This is to avoid stock becoming affected by chemical residues from eating chemically affected food. This will allow control authorities to implement best agricultural practice in a time when the chemical residue status of animals is of concern to us all. The restriction on stock in the area will be for a matter of days only, depending on the withholding period of the chemical being sprayed.
Given the volume of trade and the movement of vehicles between New South Wales and neighbouring States, it is not possible to completely exclude all new noxious weeds from New South Wales. A key part of the strategy for weed control, when a new outbreak is found, is to trace all other locations where the same produce was delivered or which were visited by the same machinery, and to check them for the presence of the weed. The bill includes a requirement for information to be provided, on request, for the purpose of enabling machinery or agricultural produce potentially contaminated by noxious weed material to be traced in New South Wales. The greatest risk of a serious noxious weed being introduced to New South Wales is the risk of parthenium weed being brought from Queensland in unclean machinery. At present only headers, augers and field bins may be inspected at the border. The bill proposes the identification by regulation of the classes of machinery which need to be inspected. Ongoing risk assessments will be undertaken and categories will be kept up to date with the findings of those assessments.
The bill also removes the requirement for a border inspector to be satisfied that an agricultural machine at the Queensland border is free of notifiable weed material. This requirement is unworkable and impractical, since it would require the machine to be dismantled. This will be replaced with a requirement that the owner-operator sign a declaration that the machine has been inspected and cleaned according to a prescribed protocol before reaching the border. The protocols are presently being developed with industry groups. Random audit inspections of machines will still be carried out to ensure that the cleaning protocols are being followed. The most effective weed control strategy is to exclude new weeds wherever possible, but if the weed does get in, to track it down and control it quickly. These changes will assist with this strategy and in so doing will contribute to the Government's objective of protecting the agricultural and ecological resources of New South Wales. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Slack-Smith.
BANANA INDUSTRY AMENDMENT BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture) [10.33]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The Banana Industry Committee, which was established under the Banana Industry Act 1987, serves a number of functions vital to the continued growth of the banana industry in New South Wales. These functions include research and development, disease control, technology transfer, product promotion and market development. The Banana Industry Committee is seen by banana growers as their industry body, and the proposed changes to the Act are universally supported by banana growers. The major objective of the bill is for the Banana Industry Committee to become independent of the Banana Growers Federation Cooperative Limited, the BGF. The BGF is a commercial enterprise and in recent times its focus has been directed towards strengthening its commercial orientation. The Act currently provides that, along with two ministerial appointees, the members of the Banana Industry Committee are the directors of the BGF. Many growers feel that this arrangement is anachronistic and unrepresentative of growers, as fewer than 25 per cent of the shareholders in the BGF are now banana growers.
When the Banana Growers Federation Cooperative was originally established it was a service organisation to the then banana industry. When the Banana Industry Committee was originally formed in 1969, as the Banana Marketing Control Committee, it was appropriate for the banana industry leaders, as elected to the board of directors of the BGF, to have the responsibility for exercising the statutory powers granted by the Banana Industry Act. Over the past three decades, the demography and horticulture of the north coast of New South Wales have changed dramatically. As a commercial cooperative, the BGF has had to strengthen its commercial activities in a diverse marketplace. The original nexus between the two organisations has been broken and it now becomes necessary for the membership of the Banana Industry Committee to be determined directly by growers. The proposed amendments provide for the members of the Banana Industry Committee to be directly elected by banana growers only and for all banana growers to be able to participate in the process of electing representatives.
In the current situation, banana growers who are not members of the BGF - and there are many such growers - do not have any direct say in who their industry representatives will be. Further, under the proposed amendments, a banana grower will now be able to become a director of the Banana Industry Committee without first having to become a member of the BGF and without having to hold office in both organisations concurrently. The mechanism proposed in this bill involves electing one committee member for each designated banana-growing district. Currently it is proposed to have five districts, although the bill is flexible so as to allow for the number of districts to be changed from time to time. Another major amendment proposed is in relation to the voting rights of growers. The current voting system is one vote per plantation. However, given that almost half of the banana growers in New South Wales possess only 18 per cent of the crop area, a one-grower-one-vote system means that small-scale growers would have a distinct voting advantage over larger growers in the determination of committee affairs.
It is therefore proposed that the voting system to be introduced be on the basis of one vote per four hectares of bananas grown, with a maximum of three votes per banana grower. Under this system the banana growers who have the greatest stake in the industry will have the greater say in its management. In order to accommodate these two key amendments, several other changes have been made to various sections of the Act. The changes are machinery in nature and include changes regarding qualifications to vote, nominations and voting requirements, as well as the duration of a member's term of office. The proposed amendments also provide that the committee may donate funds to any group which the committee considers makes a positive contribution to the banana industry. Previously, the BGF had established district councils which provided local support to the industry and which were supported by the BGF. The district councils have recently been abolished. However, growers in all districts have indicated that they see merit in retaining localised industry bodies. This amendment empowers the committee to donate to local bodies if and when it is appropriate to do so.
All of the amendments are of a technical or administrative nature, and are being made at the request of the industry. They do not have an impact on the underlying philosophy or rationale of the Banana Industry Act. These are issues which will be addressed in an overall review of the Banana Industry Act, to be undertaken in accordance with the principles of the Council of Australian Governments national competition policy, the NCP. This review, which will begin shortly, may result in more significant amendments to the Act, depending on whether the industry can demonstrate that the benefits from the present legislative arrangements outweigh their costs. There is a need, as I indicated earlier, for some immediate updating of the present Act, to recognise the separation that has occurred between the BGF and the Banana Industry Committee. It is important that these changes be made now, and not be delayed further, pending the outcome of the NCP review. All of the proposed amendments to the Banana Industry Act have been widely canvassed amongst the industry and are universally supported from within the industry. Since the proposed changes will allow the committee to be more representative of the needs and concerns of banana growers, they will no doubt be of benefit both to the banana growers of New South Wales and to the industry generally. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Slack-Smith.
RURAL ASSISTANCE AMENDMENT (BOARD MEMBERSHIP) BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture) [10.40]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The New South Wales Rural Assistance Authority is a body set up to act on behalf of the Commonwealth and State governments to administer assistance measures to rural producers and small businesses under three schemes: the rural adjustment scheme, the special conservation scheme and the disaster relief scheme. A report into the activities of the Rural Assistance Authority last year recommended a number of changes to the operation of the Rural Assistance Authority. These changes were aimed at focusing on an integrated approach to rural reconstruction. The report recommended that the Rural Assistance Act 1989 be amended to provide for expanded membership of the Rural Assistance Board. The changes in this bill will increase the number of members of the Rural Assistance Board from four to six, allowing for members with social welfare, rural counselling or other such backgrounds as the Minister might consider necessary.
As a result of the implementation of the report, the New South Wales Rural Assistance Authority is more closely associated with the New South Wales Department of Agriculture. Dr Kevin Sheridan, Director-General of New South Wales Agriculture, has been appointed chief executive officer of the authority. The authority is in the process of decentralisation, with the headquarters moving from Sydney to the same building as the New South Wales Department of Agriculture in Orange. The option of locating staff at other regional centres will be further examined once the main headquarters has been established in Orange. This closer connection between the two organisations allows the authority to view rural reconstruction from a broader perspective and become more oriented toward achieving positive outcomes for primary producers and the communities they make up.
Seven regional directors of agriculture have recently been appointed within the Department of Agriculture. They will be responsible for providing a link between the local community, the Office of Rural Communities and the New South Wales Rural Assistance Authority. As a result of consultation with industry organisations, other government agencies and the rural community in general, the regional directors of agriculture will provide policy advice regarding the region on community needs; industry trends and developments; priorities for departmental services; and allocation of resources within the region. An Office of Rural Communities has also recently been created within the Department of Agriculture. Its functions are: to assist the Government in the coordination and review of the State's rural policy and provision of government programs and services in rural areas; to consult with the broad spectrum of interests in rural communities; to encourage and assist State agencies to incorporate rural and remote strategies in their departmental planning; and to perform a limited service delivery role by taking responsibility for the rural women's network, rural counselling service and rural partnership program.
With the implementation of this new approach to policy advice on the development of assistance to rural communities, the close connection with New South Wales Agriculture will improve the ability of the Rural Assistance Authority to provide relevant advice to its clients. The Rural Assistance Authority has a close bond with rural counsellors throughout New South Wales. Using this close tie combined with the association of New South Wales Agriculture, programs for rural assistance will become more focused and better targeted to meet the needs of the rural community. To allow an increase in technical knowledge the authority is recruiting staff from a rural background with an emphasis on tertiary qualifications in areas such as agricultural science. A new self-eligibility easy check guide has been introduced to enable primary producers and their advisers to quickly check their potential eligibility for the various forms of rural adjustment scheme assistance. This has been widely disseminated.
Working in conjunction with New South Wales Agriculture, the authority has introduced a series of newly styled, simple, user-friendly, information brochures. These have been distributed throughout the State to all commercial banks, accountants, rural counsellors, the New South Wales Farmers Association and New South Wales Agriculture offices. A procedures manual for use by assessment staff was finalised and introduced in June 1995. Its introduction was accompanied by training for existing staff, and all new staff will receive appropriate training upon entering the authority. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Slack-Smith.
INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS BILL
EMPLOYMENT AGENTS BILL
Mr YEADON (Granville - Minister for Land and Water Conservation) [10.46]: I move:
That these bills be now read a second time.
Honourable members are no doubt aware that the Industrial Relations Bill, which has passed through the upper House, was received in this Chamber last night. I wish to address the following issues: the development of the New South Wales bill; its major features; debate on this legislation in the Legislative Council; and the contrast between the approach of the New South Wales Government to industrial relations reform and the approach of the Federal Government. The New South Wales Government's industrial relations program is a key element of its micro-economic reform agenda. The overall goal is to create a framework that encourages fairness and equity and provides flexibility, enhanced productivity and efficiency. Consultation commenced in April 1995 with the creation of a working party of peak industrial organisations. That working party met on 11 occasions, considered more than 60 submissions and reviewed drafts of the legislation. Wider consultation occurred from October 1995 with the release of a draft exposure bill.
Last November the Government introduced into the Legislative Council the Industrial Relations Bill 1995. Despite the fair opportunity given to the New South Wales industrial relations community to contribute to the shaping of the 1995 bill, the Opposition delayed consideration of that legislation until Parliament rose at Christmas. With the resumption of Parliament this year the Government introduced a fresh piece of legislation, the Industrial Relations Bill 1996, largely building on the 1995 bill. The 1996 bill attempts to incorporate a balance between competing views. While consensus is not always possible, the 1996 bill is the fairest and most workable model for industrial relations in New South Wales. Following completion of debate in the Legislative Council the bill has proceeded to the Legislative Assembly for consideration.
I will now highlight the major features of the bill and comment briefly on its overall style, content and size. The bill, which is approximately 50 per cent the size of the 1991 Act, has been drafted in plain language to assist accessibility. Awards remain a fundamental feature of the industrial relations system in New South Wales. Key points to note include the retention by the Industrial Relations Commission of its comprehensive award-making powers, not just for a piecemeal number of minimum conditions. A new process will require the commission to review all awards in order to ensure that they are modern, that they reflect contemporary practices, that they do not restrict productivity or efficiency, that they are free from discrimination and that they do not contain archaic language.
The key points of the bill in relation to reform of enterprise agreement laws include: providing a broader definition of enterprise to cover major multi-employer projects; requiring the commission to approve all enterprise agreements; providing reasonable intervention rights for unions, employer bodies, the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board and so forth in the approval process, but allowing only the commission ultimately to have a right of veto; requiring the terms of the agreement to meet a broad no net detriment test when compared against the aggregate package of award conditions; and providing special requirements for agreements involving employees directly. For instance, unions must be notified upon commencement of formal negotiations.
I turn to industrial disputes. Industrial disputation is at an historically low level. However, legislation needs to provide a balanced mechanism which can deal effectively with disputes of all sizes. The bill's provisions dealing with industrial disputation and industrial action give a simplified dispute notification and resolution process; put an emphasis on conciliation at the first instance; place a bar on some common law tort actions during conciliation; give a single, cost-effective process to deal with all conciliation, arbitration and enforcement; and provide an effective system of sanctions for breach of agreements or awards, including the imposition of penalties as a last resort. I note that the bill abolishes the discredited "interests/rights" introduced by the former Government.
In relation to discrimination and pay equity, industrial relations issues affecting women are a priority. The new legislation is designed to eliminate workplace discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity in the workplace. The 1996 bill has measures to empower the commission to address pay equity and discrimination in awards and agreements, to nominate designated deputy presidents specialising in anti-discrimination and pay equity, and to allow the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board intervention rights in proceedings before the commission.
The Industrial Relations Commission of New South Wales will be reformed as a single, independent body exercising both judicial and arbitral functions. The present Industrial Court's functions will be assumed by the judicial members of the commission sitting as the Commission in Judicial Session. The new commission's powers and procedures have been remodelled significantly to expedite hearings and eliminate unwarranted litigation - for example, limiting appeals and allowing delegation to single members. The bill retains the existing unfair dismissals system, with some minor amendments aimed at improving its operation. Importantly, the New South Wales jurisdiction will be expanded to include non-award employees who earn less than $62,200 per year. Provisions governing right of entry for union officers have been improved: to recognise legitimate union responsibilities, where members and employees eligible to be members work; to reduce notice periods to realistic periods - 48 hours instead of the current seven days notice; to include new safeguards against misuse, with revamped offences related to those safeguards; and to allow the commission to issue orders waiving the 48 hours notice period in exceptional circumstances.
I now turn to the debate on the 1996 bill in the New South Wales Legislative Council. Since the bill was introduced on 17 April it has been debated for in excess of 32 hours. The Opposition proposed more than 150 amendments, seeking to introduce a range of obscure technical alterations, reintroduce a number of discredited provisions of the 1991 Act and generally delay and obstruct the Government's reform process. Support from the minor parties present in the Legislative Council for the Opposition's amendments varied, with fewer than one third of the amendments being accepted or carried by the Chamber. Despite the Opposition's attempts, the major elements of the Government's package of reforms remain intact. The Government is delighted at that situation.
Before concluding I wish to contrast the approach taken by the New South Wales Government in reforming its industrial relations laws with that taken by the Howard coalition Government federally. Major Federal proposals include: abrogating international treaty obligations relating to elimination of discrimination in employment; stripping award conditions to a maximum of 18 components; introducing secret individual contracts under the guise of Australian workplace agreements; weakening the no-disadvantage test for enterprise bargaining; reducing training wages to a pittance; and limiting the legitimate right of union officers to enter workplaces to discuss matters with members during non-working time.
The approach adopted by the Howard Government in developing the new Federal laws contrasts with the New South Wales open, consultative and inclusive process of legislative development. I note that detail of the Federal legislation remained secret until its introduction into the Federal Parliament. There was no involvement of the broad industrial relations community. Consequently, the package of measures contained in the proposed legislation is unbalanced, which does not promote goodwill in the industrial relations community. That is a very important factor.
In conclusion, I commend the New South Wales Government's industrial relations reforms as a balanced and workable package which promotes economic development while guaranteeing fair and equitable employment standards. The bill will be an outstanding piece of industrial legislation which will stand in stark contrast to other Federal and State legislation. Labor will take great pride from that situation and demonstrate to the wider community that there is no need to remove people's conditions of employment to achieve operational efficiency. The work force will operate most efficiently and cooperatively when workers feel they have been included and are being treated fairly. This will be demonstrated when the legislation is operating. I commend the bills to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Hartcher.
LIQUOR AND REGISTERED CLUBS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (MINORS' ENTERTAINMENT) BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr FACE (Charlestown - Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [11.00]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The aim of the bill is to increase the alcohol-free entertainment and recreational opportunities available to young people under 18 years of age. The proposed amendment will facilitate the holding of alcohol-free entertainment in hotels for persons under 18 years of age; allow access to club premises for junior members of small registered clubs; and broaden the range of clubs that can allow junior membership. The bill also clarifies the existing offence of the sale and supply of liquor to young people under 18 years of age. That issue is of particular importance because it is at the heart of the under-age drinking problem, that is, the way in which minors obtain alcohol.
Recently the honourable member for Cronulla drew the attention of the House to the anti-social behaviour being displayed by young people drinking in Dunningham Park, Cronulla. That is symptomatic of the problem that occurs when young people have nowhere to go at night, or even during the day. That problem is compounded by the consumption of alcohol. As many honourable members would be aware, for most of my life I have been involved in youth-related activities. For some years I was the chairman of the police citizens
youth club movement, and it has always been obvious to me and to others who work with young people that the lack of suitable entertainment and recreational options must be addressed. For various reasons many young people do not want to belong to structured organisations, and not many alternatives are available to them. In fact, the first thing young people generally say is, "There is nothing for us to do."
Some might say that they are not looking for things to do, but it is a fact of life that young people who will soon be adults find suitable entertainment difficult to find. Indeed, the Legislative Council Standing Committee on Social Issues identified the lack of places for young people to find entertainment. One of the priorities for the Government's action is the committee's 1995 report on youth violence in New South Wales. I commend that committee and the Hon. Ann Symonds, who has a strong commitment to that issue and played a major role in the committee's inquiry. In its very useful report the committee made a specific recommendation in respect to alcohol-free events in hotels, and that recommendation is mirrored by the Government's proposed amendment.
The Government gave a commitment to introduce the proposals in the bill when it took office last year. The Labor Party had identified many of the problems associated with young people being unable to find suitable entertainment and the plight of juniors wanting to belong to registered clubs. These amendments will sensibly increase the range of alcohol-free entertainment and, most importantly, the recreational options for young people. I will now address the proposals in detail. The first proposal concerns alcohol-free entertainment in hotels. Before honourable members consider the proposals contained in the bill in this regard, it is appropriate to take a moment to consider the current situation. Both registered clubs and hotels are already able to stage alcohol-free functions for young people under the age of 18, but unlike registered clubs hotels must cease all liquor trading when these events are conducted.
A stringent requirement was introduced into the Liquor Act in 1990. That requirement was a brainchild of the former Premier, Mr Greiner, and resulted from a conversation he had with his daughter about the lack of entertainment for young people. Mr Greiner then introduced the provision into Parliament and made a great hue and cry about it. However, as with so many other things the Government did at that time, it did not bother to think the provision out. During the debate on that provision on 12 September 1990 I gave my support to the spirit of the legislation. However, I also raised the concerns that any liquor trading requirement imposed on hotels would severely limit the appeal of the proposal to a small section of hotels, and would not achieve the aim of providing entertainment for young people.
The former Premier took part in the debate and said that the provision was one small step forward. As have I said, I do not think Mr Greiner resolved the problem that had been raised by his daughter. It was clayton's-type legislation, because it was pointed out to him that unless the amendments moved by the then Opposition were included, the legislation would fall in a heap. History has proved that to be so. Unfortunately for young people and hoteliers my prediction on that occasion proved to be accurate. Over the past five years only 24 hotels have staged this type of alcohol-free entertainment for young people under 18 years of age. That is 1 per cent of the hotels in New South Wales. The amendment introduced by Mr Greiner was a fairly poor attempt to overcome the problem. In 1990 the proposal was a new and untried initiative for hotels.
I agree with the former Premier that the amendment was probably a bold step, but it turned out to be a clayton's amendment. At the time little had been done to promote responsible alcohol serving practices in licensed and registered club premises. No doubt many people in the community did not agree with the proposal to allow minors into hotels for alcohol-free events, even if those events were properly supervised. The responsible service of alcohol has come a long way, not only as a result of government initiatives but as a result of the industry taking a more responsible role. In this day and age those who are irresponsible are in the minority, and they are paying the appropriate penalty if they step out of line. The harm minimisation legislation that proceeded through this Parliament last week will go a long way towards overcoming the problems that still exist.
The liquor and club industries strongly support the Carr Government's joint agency approach to educating licensees, club secretaries and their bar staff about responsible serving practices. To the credit of the community, it has shown that alcohol-free entertainment can be successful. One event staged at a club on the central coast in late 1995 had good community support, and feedback obtained from the young people who attended the event was positive. I was interested to learn that one of the main responses from young women who attended the event was that they felt safe. That says a great deal.
A great deal of that fell into line with the concerns of the Government and with the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the death of young Anna Wood, who attended a club when she was under age. I do not want to experience what the Premier experienced when he spoke with the parents and friends of Anna Wood. The death of Anna devastated them, and it certainly had an emotional impact on me. Her death emphasised to me the lack of facilities for young people under 18 years of age. The scheme proposed in the bill will remove the existing difficulties encountered by hoteliers who want to make their premises available for alcohol-free entertainment for people under the
age of 18. That will encourage hoteliers to conduct this type of entertainment for young people in the same way as clubs. I believe both sides of the Parliament will agree that that is a commonsense approach.
Briefly, the scheme will allow a hotelier to apply to the New South Wales Licensing Court for an annual functions authority. The police will have an opportunity to object to the grant of the authority, and a specific complaint provision is proposed so that steps can be taken if it is found that an authority is not being exercised in the interests of young people and the community. That is a very important safeguard. This new application process will overcome the difficulties that have been experienced by hoteliers. If hoteliers are to be encouraged to hold alcohol-free entertainment it is essential that the application process be streamlined. The new hotel function authority will designate a separate and distinct part of the hotel premises that may be used as an alcohol-free function area for entertaining young people under the age of 18 years. That is the specific amendment that I proposed to the 1990 legislation.
It is envisaged that a lower age limit will be provided for by the regulations, and this will be subject to consultation with the liquor industry. At the moment the Liquor Administration Board usually imposes a standard condition of alcohol-free entertainment in hotels which sets 15 years of age as the minimum age limit. To prevent minors mixing with other patrons the bill provides that the function area will be separate from the rest of the hotel. Access to function areas will also be considered an essential part of the approval. While most functions will be held for those in the 15 to 17 year age group, lower ages may be targeted in some areas, for example tourism. In other words, minors will need to be able to gain access to function areas without having to go through other parts of the hotel. The alcohol-free events will still be subject to strict conditions.
It is not the Government's intention to throw open the doors of hotels so that minors can walk in or that a functions authority will give minors casual access to hotel function areas. On the contrary, the alcohol-free functions will be held on specified dates and hoteliers will be required to keep a register of those dates and advise local police prior to each event. That will ensure that police patrols are aware when an event is to take place on hotel premises. The Government intends to strengthen the conditions that are currently imposed on the holding of such functions and to place the main conditions in both the Liquor Act and the Registered Clubs Act. That will send a clear message to the hotel and club industries about the requirements that must be met when conducting alcohol-free entertainment. Whether that entertainment is held in a club or hotel, the conditions will also ensure a consistent approach to controls over minors attending alcohol-free functions. Until now those controls have been imposed on a case-by-case basis.
I should like to highlight those controls to assure honourable members that minors attending alcohol-free functions in hotels will do so in supervised environments. When granting a hotel functions authority the Licensing Court will be required to impose conditions on the authority concerning the level of adult supervision required for each event, the steps that licensees must take to ensure that minors attending or departing from functions do not disturb the quiet and good order of the surrounding neighbourhood, the steps that licensees must take to enable the safe conduct of minors in the vicinity of the licensed premises, and, most importantly, any other conditions that the court deems it appropriate to impose. Those controls will give the court a wide discretion to impose additional conditions.
The functions authority will also be subject to an automatic condition that requires tobacco vending machines to be removed from function areas and their access areas when alcohol-free events take place. That was highlighted in the time leading up to the drafting of this legislation because young people under 18 years of age cannot purchase tobacco-related products. In addition to these controls a set of standard conditions will be prescribed in the regulations. Those conditions will be drafted in consultation with the liquor and club industries. In other words, a regulatory consultation period will ensure that the legislation works.
I have already spoken about the minimum age limit for alcohol-free events being prescribed in the regulations. It is envisaged that the regulations will also provide a range of controls to prevent alcohol being brought to the events and to prevent those who appear to be affected by liquor from entering the events. The controls I have described will ensure that minors attending alcohol-free functions are supervised and that their safety in the vicinity of hotels and clubs that hold such functions is taken into consideration.
The second and third proposals concern junior membership of registered clubs. For a long period of time that has been a vexed problem that successive governments have failed to address. The Government is at last doing something about it. Most of the 1,500 registered clubs in New South Wales provide excellent entertainment and recreational facilities for their communities, particularly those in rural and isolated parts of the State. Many registered clubs have excellent sporting facilities that can be used by club members. As the Act stands, only clubs that have been established for athletic purposes, golf clubs or bowling clubs are able to have junior members. That has caused problems for clubs and young people, as I will illustrate shortly.
The bill contains two separate proposed amendments in relation to junior membership of registered clubs. The first amendment will improve the situation for small registered clubs that do not have an unrestricted area where junior members are
allowed. Many clubs have small premises, perhaps one room with a bar and poker machine area. Mr Acting-Speaker, as the member for Bathurst, a wide and rambling electorate, you would be aware of that problem. This bill will rectify the problem. If sufficient safeguards are in place to ensure that juniors cannot gain access to liquor and gaming, they should be allowed into the premises to take part in prize-giving ceremonies or other activities associated with their sport.
The following example illustrates a typical problem that can arise. I ask honourable members to imagine a small bowling club that is running a junior bowling tournament and halfway through the tournament it starts to rain. If the club did not have a non-restricted area where minors are allowed, junior members would not be able to enter the club and take shelter from the rain. That may be an extreme case but situations such as that arise in small suburban areas and country towns. Often the only recreation facilities in small towns are bowling or golf clubs. Some larger clubs with no sporting facilities and no responsibilities to the community are putting small clubs out of business.
Recently the mayor of a reasonably sized country town drove hundreds of kilometres to see me because a local services club sells liquor and food but gives nothing back to the community, and the local golf and bowling clubs are now insolvent. People now have to drive 73 kilometres to play lawn bowls or golf. That is ludicrous. It is about time the Registered Clubs Association got its act together and, instead of criticising me, tried to encourage people not to do that sort of thing, because it will happen more often in the future. To some extent the bill will overcome that problem. When small clubs go out of business recreational facilities are lost.
The bill introduces an approved scheme that will allow small registered clubs to apply to the Licensing Court for approval to allow junior members to enter premises to take part in sport or associated prize-giving ceremonies. Before granting an approval of that kind the court will need to be satisfied that because of the size of the club premises, it is impractical for an area of the club to be designated as a non-restricted area. Small clubs in small country towns do not have the resources to bring the premises up to modern standards or to extend their premises. The court will also impose certain conditions on the approval so that controls apply to junior members whenever they are on club premises. Those controls include the establishment of a special register for junior members to sign when they enter the club, the level of adult supervision that is necessary at those times, the steps that the club must take to ensure that junior members do not gain access to liquor or gaming machines while they are on club premises, and the disabling of tobacco vending machines whenever junior members are on club premises.
These controls are similar to those imposed on minors who are on club and hotel premises for the purpose of enjoying alcohol-free entertainment. In other words, it will be easy for small clubs, usually with a volunteer secretary and directors, to abide by an identical set of rules. The second amendment in the bill relates to the types of registered clubs that can offer junior membership. That has been a vexed problem for the Royal New South Wales Bowling Association for some time. Junior members have long been connected with golf clubs, but there has been an increase in junior membership of bowling clubs. Some time ago I was at North Sydney with the honourable member for North Shore, who represented the former Government, to commission junior bowls. That was a good move. It was a credit to the junior males and females that they participated together, rather than taking positions that were miles apart. Frankly, it took the young people to show the old people some sanity.
The legislation currently allows only clubs that are primarily established for athletic purposes, bowling clubs or golf clubs to admit junior members. Many clubs, such as Returned Services Leagues clubs, ex-services clubs, community clubs and clubs established by ethnic groups do not fall into these categories. Some clubs have their own youth clubs, such as the RSL clubs, which have long had youth clubs attached to them. But young people in those youth clubs do not have the same rights as club members. Once again, that situation is not without its problems. Perhaps the most effective way of describing the problems that can occur in this regard is to provide honourable members with the following scenario. I ask honourable members to imagine an ex-services club in a country town that has excellent bowling greens, and young people in the town have expressed an interest in using those facilities. The club wants to encourage young people to enter the sport, so it sets up a youth club which those under 18 years of age can join.
The club has its own internal bowling club that is anxious to allow the those under 18 years of age into the youth club to hold tournaments, competing with other young people under the age of 18 in the local bowling club. That is where the problem arises. While those under 18 year of age in the ex-services youth club can affiliate with the Royal New South Wales Bowling Association so that they can take part in the bowling tournament, because they are under 18 they cannot join the ex-services club and cannot represent the club in the bowling tournament. That is an example of young people taking part in a recreation, and such situations have occurred in every part of New South Wales. However, it has been a real problem to country towns, especially as lawn bowls has become part of the sports curriculum in schools. That is ridiculous and is undoubtedly frustrating for both the club and the young people involved. That would not be an isolated example.
The proposal in the bill will preserve the current requirement that junior membership is for the purposes of athletics or sporting activities organised by a registered club. At the same time it will increase the types of registered clubs that can offer junior membership to those under 18 years of age. The age of junior members will be determined by the rules of the individual clubs. A few directors have claimed that their clubs will be taken over by the kids. That is not the case. Clubs will be able to determine, as they have always been able to do under club rules, what they will allow. The Government will not interfere in that process. I understand that clubs that can currently allow junior membership usually set the minimum age for junior members at 14 or 15 years. The aim of junior membership is to allow a young person to take part in sports. Therefore, the age at which that person is physically able to compete in a particular sport is a determining factor. It is therefore appropriate that the minimum age criteria should continue to be provided for in the rules of individual clubs.
It is worth noting that as with any club member, a young person would need to be proposed for membership by an adult, and a club's board of directors would consider each application for junior membership on its merits. Junior members will also be subject to the same disciplinary requirements as full members. The junior members of clubs are, of course, under 18 years of age. That means that they continue to be governed by the existing legislative provisions that prohibit those under 18 year of age from gaining access to liquor and gaming whilst they are on club premises. The amendments in the bill will allow young people to better enjoy the sporting facilities offered by registered clubs. That will provide health benefits as well as increasing recreational options for young people, particularly those in rural and isolated areas of the State to which I have already referred.
The fourth and final proposal in the bill clarifies the offence of the sale and supply of liquor to minors. Honourable members will no doubt be aware that on many occasions I have addressed this House on the problems associated with under-age drinking. Second-party sales - the purchase by adults of liquor that is then supplied to minors - is the most insidious aspect of under-age drinking. It is commonly known as secondary purchase or secondary service. Unfortunately, this activity is well established within our community. It is not new; it has always existed under the surface. But the practice of second-party sales has increased recently as a result of intensified policing of licensed and registered club premises and the vigilance of liquor licensees and clubs in keeping under-age drinkers off their premises. That has led to an upturn in second-party sales, which was previously hidden under the carpet or in the closet. The responsible attitude of both hotels and clubs to ensure that under-age people are not served has driven the practice into the streets.
The Government has made the second-party sales problem a priority area for action, and action has already been taken to significantly increase the maximum penalty for the offence of selling and supplying liquor to minors. That action was part of the harm minimisation legislation which passed through the Parliament last week. The bill clarifies that it is an offence to sell or supply liquor to a minor, regardless of where the sale or supply takes place. This clarification is necessary because many people may believe that the provisions of the Liquor Act apply only to activities that take place on licensed premises. Of course, that is not the case. It is a clear warning to those who want to play around and who think the law applies only to the premises. The law applies everywhere. The proposed amendment to section 114 of the Liquor Act highlights the fact that to sell or supply liquor to a person under 18 years of age is an offence, whether it takes place on licensed premises, in registered clubs, in the streets nearby, or in a park. The existing defence for parents and guardians of young people will, of course, not be affected by this amendment.
The proposals contained in the bill have been the subject of government consultation with the Liquor Industry Consultative Council, the Club Industry Advisory Council and the New South Wales committee on under-age drinking. That Committee, which I set up when I became Minister, is doing an excellent job. Certain amendments in the bill have been sought for some time by the liquor and club industries. As I said in my initial remarks, this legislation has been sought for many years, but until now the time has not been right for change. The bill provides a balanced approach. It allows minors to have supervised access to hotel and club premises, while ensuring that appropriate controls are in place so that they do not gain access to liquor and gaming. The Government's aim is to increase the alcohol-free entertainment and sporting options for young people, while at the same time ensuring that they are safe and have healthy options. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Slack-Smith.
NURSES AMENDMENT BILL
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Premier, Minister for Health, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) [11.29]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The Nurses Amendment Bill contains two important initiatives. It provides for the constitution of impaired nurses panels and an increase in the size and composition of the Nurses Registration Board. Schedule 2 to the bill provides for the constitution of impaired nurses panels as an alternative to the
current disciplinary procedures that follow the making of complaints about nurses. This new mechanism may apply in circumstances where it is brought to the attention of the Nurses Registration Board that a nurse is suffering from a physical or mental impairment that detrimentally affects his or her capacity to practise nursing. Based on the medical practice model that has operated successfully since 1992, this new mechanism will enable a pro-active approach to be adopted by the Nurses Registration Board for tackling matters involving impaired nurses before they deteriorate to the stage where the public is put at risk and disciplinary proceedings should be commenced.
The Nurses Act already defines "impairment" as any "physical or mental impairment, disability, condition or disorder which detrimentally affects or is likely to detrimentally affect the person's physical or mental capacity to nurse. Habitual drunkenness or addiction to a deleterious drug is considered to be a physical or mental disorder." Under the proposed system any person, including the Health Care Complaints Commission, may refer a matter concerning a nurse who may be impaired to the Nurses Registration Board. Where the Nurses Registration Board decides to refer a nurse suffering from an impairment, an Impaired Nurses Panel will be convened. The membership of the panel will be determined by the board and will include at least one registered nurse and one medical practitioner. The inclusion of a medical practitioner will ensure that the panel can readily access medical advice which is relevant to the condition of the nurse concerned.
The panel will enquire into the matter, conduct an assessment of the nurse concerned and prepare a report for the board. On the basis of its assessment, an Impaired Nurses Panel may do one or more of the following: counsel the nurse, or recommend specified counselling; recommend that the nurse concerned consent to conditions being placed on his or her registration or to suspension from practice for a specified period of time; and make recommendations to the Nurses Registration Board as to any other action that the panel considers should be taken. The Nurses Registration Board may then place conditions on a nurse's registration or suspend the nurse from practising nursing where a panel has recommended that the board do so, and the board is satisfied that the nurse has voluntarily consented to the panel's recommendations.
The requirement that the nurse voluntarily agree to the imposition of conditions on registration or suspension is an important element of this process for dealing with impairment. As with the Medical Practice Act model, the impairment process will complement the disciplinary process and not function as a substitute for it. However, a matter may not be dealt with as an impairment where the nurse concerned is the subject of an investigation by the Health Care Complaints Commission. Impaired nurses panels are not intended to be punitive. Rather, they will function to provide impaired practitioners with an opportunity to acknowledge their impairment and obtain treatment in appropriate situations. In circumstances where a nurse fails to agree to the imposition of conditions, or initially agrees but fails to comply with the treatment regime that has been approved by the board, the board is to deal with the matter as a complaint against the nurse concerned. In these cases, the nurse has a right of appeal consistent with existing rights under the disciplinary provisions in the Nurses Act.
In accordance with the bill, after some time has elapsed, a nurse who has undergone this process may request the board to remove, vary or lift the restrictions that have been imposed. The panel must then conduct a review of the matter and may recommend to the board that either no further action be taken or that the matter be dealt with as a complaint. The New South Wales Medical Board, which has had impaired registrants panels since 1992, has informed me that this system is working well. It both facilitates the rehabilitation of impaired practitioners through early intervention and adequately protects the public. It is widely perceived that an impaired practitioner is more likely to be reported where there is an alternative to disciplinary proceedings. Cases have come to the attention of the Medical Board's Impaired Registrant's Panel in a number of ways, including notifications from colleagues, hospital administration, family and friends. Clearly, the panel's existence provides the potential for a reduction in the number of practitioners against whom disciplinary proceedings would have otherwise been taken.
Schedule 1 of the bill increases the size of the Nurses Registration Board from 10 to 13 members. Since the introduction of the 1991 Nurses Act, the board has been experiencing difficulties in dealing with its workload. The Nurses Act 1991, which replaced the Nurses Registration Act 1953, reduced the size of the board from 18 to 10 members. At the same time a committee system was introduced with each committee chaired by a board member. The board, at its current size, has difficulty fulfilling the chairmanship of all of the committees. By increasing the size of the board as is proposed, the board's difficulties should be alleviated. In selecting the categories for the new board positions which are proposed in the bill, care has been taken to augment the current expertise of the board. At the present time none of the three registered nurses who have been elected to the board is a practising midwife. Midwifery is the only speciality of nursing that is recognised in the Act. Given the specific statutory status of midwives and the additional expertise that a practising midwife would bring to the deliberations of the board, the absence of a midwife has been viewed as undesirable.
Under the proposal, a registered nurse with authority to practise midwifery will be elected to the board at the next scheduled election for the existing four elected board positions, which will be held in 1998. In the interim it is proposed that there will
be transitional provisions to allow the Minister to fill the vacancy created with a duly experienced midwife. The dedication of one of the newly created positions on the Nurses Registration Board to a registered nurse practising in the area of mental health will enhance the expertise and ability of the board to undertake its role. This is consistent with the high priority that this Government has accorded to the area of mental health and the views of the profession. The inclusion of another consumer representative on the board, who is to be nominated by the Minister, will ensure that there is better scope for public input into the board's deliberations.
It is consistent with the Government's desire to increase community participation in public administration and decision-making processes through various measures, including increased consumer representation on statutory boards and committees. Key groups, including the Health Care Complaints Commission, the Nurses Registration Board and the New South Wales Nurses' Association, have been consulted on this proposal and there is broad-based support for these important initiatives. In short, the proposed amendments will provide an effective mechanism for dealing with impaired nurses, complementary to current disciplinary processes, and enhance the expertise and ability of the Nurses Registration Board to undertake its statutory functions. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mrs Skinner.
APPROPRIATION (PARLIAMENT) BILL
APPROPRIATION (SPECIAL OFFICES) BILL
APPROPRIATION (1995-96 DEBT RETIREMENT) BILL
MOTOR VEHICLES TAXATION AMENDMENT BILL
BUSINESS FRANCHISE LICENCES (PETROLEUM PRODUCTS) AMENDMENT BILL
ROAD IMPROVEMENT (SPECIAL FUNDING) AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from 28 May.
Mr RUMBLE (Illawarra) [11.37]: I congratulate the Premier and the Treasurer on a fair and financially responsible State budget. It has been well received in the community by the media, trade union movement and community groups. Some of its main features include an underlying surplus of $5 million for the 1996-97 year with projections of a $155 million surplus in 1997-98, and $167 million in 1998-99. Other features are as follows: no new taxes or tax increases; abolition of loan security duty at a cost of $20 million per annum; employment of an additional 100 police officers as part of the additional 650 police officers to be provided over four years, bringing the number to date under this program to 450; upgrading of police pistols over five years at a cost of $11.2 million; provision of $7.1 million for the Department of Bush Fire Services to buy an extra 110 tankers; allocation of $14.6 million to improve Aboriginal health services, $15 million for rural health services, $10 million for mental health services; provision of $13 million over three years to prevent child abuse; provision of $4 million for an extra 45 child protection officers and 51 new district officers for the Department of Community Services; and allocation of $30 million over three years to maintain heritage assets.
I turn now to some of the main features in the budget that will benefit my electorate of Illawarra. In housing, at Unanderra 38 units are under construction at a total cost of $3.8 million of which $1.4 million will be spent in the 1996-97 financial year. At Dapto 17 units costing $1.6 million will be constructed and $1.5 million of that will be spent in the 1996-97 financial year. The Dapto water reservoir will have $107,000 spent on it this year with a total cost of work of $12.8 million. This year $26,000 will be spent on Wongawilli water reservoir, with the project costing a total of $2 million. As for the State Rail Authority, the total cost of track side noise abatement works will be $467,000, with $167,000 being spent in the 1996-97 financial year. The Moss Vale to Unanderra railway line is being used increasingly, and noise pollution from that line affects residents in Farmborough Heights.
I made numerous representations to the previous Government in relation to this problem. All I got was a lot of waffly letters generally signed by the parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Transport. No notice was taken of the problem and no serious attention was given to it until the Labor Government took office in 1995, when I mentioned the matter on the floor of the House. The Minister for Transport was not impressed, to put it mildly, by the inaction of Freight Rail and the previous Government. The Minister took the matter on board, and has directed certain investigations and works to be done. The project is moving now, with community consultation and public meetings, and train drivers have been educated to keep noise pollution on this line to a minimum. The previous Government would not provide more up-to-date diesel engines on this line, but the new administration has provided much quieter, more efficient diesel engines to pull freight on the Unanderra-Moss Vale line.
The Roads and Traffic Authority will spend $38,000 on council cycleways; pedestrian traffic signals will be installed outside Farmborough Road Public School at a cost of $82,000; traffic signals will be installed at Lake Entrance Road or King Street, Warilla, at a cost of $70,000; a roundabout is needed at the intersection of Unara Road and
Princes Highway at Dapto and the Roads and Traffic Authority has allocated $20,000 for planning and development, with other funding to be available from the Roads and Traffic Authority once Wollongong City Council has appropriate funding in place. I am pleased that the Roads and Traffic Authority has brought forward its funding allocation on the basis that Wollongong City Council will do the same.
In the Dapto area $144,000 will be spent on the rehabilitation of pavement along the southern freeway. Suitable locations for ramps on the F6 interchange are being investigated. Construction of the ramps is expected to cost $4.7 million; $50,000 will be spent this financial year on ascertaining the best position for the ramps and so on. The problem of noise pollution emanating from the F6, which is being experienced by residents in Dapto, has been brought to my attention over the past few years. The previous Government did nothing about that problem. Something was done only when I brought the matter to the attention of the Minister for Roads. This year $1.2 million will be spent on solving that problem, in addition to $93,000 for development works. Public meetings have been held, a contract has been let and noise pollution barriers will be erected within the next three or four months.
Some $2.8 million will be spent on constructing the Oak Flats interchange, including the placement of culverts, construction of a bridge over the southern railway line, minor works and acquisition of the required land. This year $100,000 will be spent on Dapto technical and further education, tourism and hospitality information technology, with a total cost of $250,000 for the project. The Department of School Education has been allocated funding for my electorate and I shall run through that. Some $182,000 will be spent to upgrade Dapto High School hall and technical and applied studies facilities; $20,000 will be spent on upgrading security provisions at Farmborough Road Public School; $26,800 will be spent on upgrading hall safety at Dapto High School; $180,000 will be spent on upgrading the technical and applied studies facilities at Lake Illawarra High School; and $80,000 will be spent on upgrading administration facilities at Oak Flats Public School.
Since 1988 I have been concerned about abandonment of work on the Maldon to Dombarton rail link. That project was recommenced under the previous Labor Government under Barrie Unsworth, when a contract was let to construct the Avon tunnel. When the previous Liberal Government took office it abandoned work on that project; it paid literally millions of dollars in compensation, and the project was left in limbo. This Government has set aside $37 million for work to recommence, together with extra moneys from the Federal Government and the private sector. The Minister said that the Government is committed to seeking industry interest in the project. It is envisaged that a major industry public sector venture will need to be established to enable completion of the link. The Government is in the process of gathering information on the options available to complete the rail link, and will take into account all the commercial issues as well as the potential for the link as part of an integrated rail system for both freight and passenger services. A consortium of local councils and other interested organisations in the Illawarra commissioned a study on a possible link between St Marys and Port Kembla.
The feasibility of the Maldon to Dombarton railway was also studied as part of the proposed rail link. The findings of the study will be considered in the process of reviewing options for completion of the rail link. This is an effective step towards meeting the transport needs of the community. I reiterate that I am disappointed, as a State member of Parliament for the Illawarra region, that that line has not been recommenced. It is not only a matter of awaiting a cost-benefit analysis before recommencement of the work on the line begins; there are other considerations that must be taken into account. The main Illawarra line has instability problems because coal trains that travel from the western districts of New South Wales must travel via Sydney and down the main Illawarra line. The instability problems have been caused not by passenger trains but by freight trains.
If the Maldon to Dombarton line was completed, coal and other freight trains would use that line, instead of using the main Wollongong to Sydney link which, as I said, has instability problems. I have urged the Government to electrify the railway line south of Dapto. Two or three years ago the new line between Coniston and Dapto, which cost $10 million, was opened. Of that $10 million, $7.5 million was furnished by the Federal Government and $2.5 million by the State coalition Government. I acknowledge that people who travel south of Dapto no longer travel on rundown, ramshackle red diesel trains - they travel on more modern trains. The Government is committed to extending rail electrification south of Dapto, initially to Kiama. Some planning work on design and a functional specification has been carried out.
Implementation of the project is dependent upon availability of funding. The matter is presently being considered in the context of formulating CityRail's forward capital works program. Provision has been made in the State Rail budget this year for the expenditure of approximately $50,000 to contract a firm to review existing documentation associated with the project and to have a construction specification ready for the invitation of tenders when funds become available. While approaches to the Federal Government to provide funds for the project have proved unsuccessful, further attempts will be made to enlist its support. Regardless of the outcome of this approach, the State Government remains firmly committed to implementing the project as quickly as possible.
I will now turn to an important issue so far as the budget is concerned and, more importantly, so far as the employees of New South Wales are concerned - industrial relations. The bottom line of the Federal Government's aims, and most probably the Liberal Party in general, would be for people to negotiate directly with an employer and have individual contracts. Notwithstanding the fact that employers would still have the Employers Federation and other associations to assist them, the Federal Government would have employees with no trade union type of assistance to negotiate contracts.
To make a comparison between this Government's proposals and the Howard-Reith proposals, in New South Wales there will be scrutiny of all New South Wales agreements by an independent umpire, compared with Federal laws that will actively promote secret one-on-one contracts. This Government will secure relevant awards to underpin enterprise bargaining in New South Wales, compared with Federal plans to strip back to a handful of core conditions. In New South Wales trade union officials will have reasonable access to the workplace in order to try to enforce awards, compared with Federal requirements that workers identify themselves as troublemakers by forcing them to provide officials with written invitations. There will be strong safeguards for gender pay equity in New South Wales, compared with retrograde Federal laws which would take the definition of equal pay back to the 1960s.
There will also be active cooperation between the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission and the Anti-Discrimination Board to address discrimination issues, compared with Federal reforms to strip the Australian Industrial Relations Commission of all its powers to deal with discrimination issues. In New South Wales there will be award-based protection for part-time workers, including a special test case to set minimum conditions, compared with Federal plans to strip part-time workers of any rights whatsoever. This Government's reforms will include reasonable rules regarding union coverage in the State system, compared with a free-for-all that will rage federally as Howard dismantles the "conveniently belong" rule. In New South Wales laws will be written in simple, clear, non-legalistic English, compared with the dense and legalistic Federal bill.
Another issue I would like to comment on concerns victims of crime. I am pleased that the limit on awards of compensation for injuries will increase from $10,000 to $50,000 and the needy immediate families of murder victims will be paid $50,000. A $7 million advisory bureau will be established to provide counselling referral to support services, to help in the preparation of victims' impact statements to go before courts dealing with the offenders, and to provide information on the location of offenders and their prison release dates. An act of violence will be redefined in law to mean a violent criminal act, but it will specifically include all sexual assaults, non-violent threats of blackmail, assaults by people in authority and acts of intimidation in domestic violence. [Extension of time agreed to.]
The Government has excluded from the scheme what it considers to be rorts. In the past $2 million was paid out to prisoners. One case involved an inmate who was awarded $12,000 after claiming he was assaulted in his cell, even though he refused to help police investigate the incident and refused to give evidence. A 19-point charter of rights for crime victims is also about to be released. It will include victims' rights to assistance in getting appropriate help and legal services and remedies, to be kept informed of investigations as to why charges are not laid, and to be told of prosecution schedules and outcomes. I am pleased that the scales are moving towards giving support to victims of crime as distinct from supporting the perpetrators of crime; and this change began under the former Liberal Government and has continued under this Labor Government. One example that comes to mind relates to dock statements. We were told that was a fundamental part of the system of British justice but it was an old English law that went back to a time when people were illiterate and could not understand the legal processes. Dock statements had the effect of allowing rapists and murderers to stand in the dock, without taking an oath, and lie their heads off.
I shall refer briefly to some of the effects of the budget. The budget pays for the Olympics up-front, improves public sector efficiency, and assists small businesses, farmers, home buyers and families. Contrast that with the record of the previous Government - literally thousands of public servants were shovelled out the door to make cost savings and at the same time there were economic black holes, such as Eastern Creek and Luna Park. Another matter I would like to comment on is the Government's major reforms in domestic violence. Some of the main changes include allowing children under the age of 16 to be included in an adult's apprehended violence order, with the further protection for children of a new provision allowing a court to hear proceedings privately or in the absence of a person. A further change is to fix a dangerous anomaly in the law which leaves a person unprotected where the person they fear is convicted of stalking, but appeals. If the accused person is not gaoled, currently there can be no bail conditions imposed. Under this Government's reforms the court will be required to issue an apprehended violence order - AVO - in order to protect the victim.
The police will be given the power to arrest any violent or potentially violent person in order to defuse a dangerous situation or to ensure they do not avoid service of an AVO. The changes will require magistrates who refuse to make an order excluding a defendant from a home to give reasons for that refusal. These reforms are overdue. There have been many documented tragic cases where innocent people have been murdered because the
law has not protected them. As well as protecting women and children the Government has introduced tougher new penalties to prevent cruelty to animals, with fines for individuals of up to $10,000 and two years' imprisonment, and for companies of up to $50,000. The Act will include the banning of the use of steel-jaw leg traps and the practices of tethering pigs and allowing unrestrained dogs to ride on the back of utilities and trucks on public roads.
The green paper that has been circulated makes 37 recommendations, and comment is invited on them until 31 July 1996. Other recommendations include giving the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals greater powers to investigate acts of animal cruelty, abandoning the practice of firing of horses and greyhounds, and banning the tail-nicking of horses. They are the main points I wanted to raise in the budget debate today. Once again I am pleased that I have been able to speak in support of a budget that has been well received. This budget is financially responsible and the Government is to be congratulated on it.
Mr KINROSS (Gordon) [12.00]: I will make some general comments about the budget brought down last week by the Treasurer and then refer to specific areas that affect the Gordon electorate, ranging from roads to transport, health and police and last, but by no means least, education. I am surprised that this budget received the coverage that it did, having regard to the smoke and mirrors within it. The budget benefits from a lot of assets sales, and Budget Paper No. 2 reveals an enormous underlying deficit - a matter of concern for all Australians. We cannot ignore this level of debt, because it will affect future generations. An article in today's Australian Financial Review referred to the fact that this debt would be an intolerable burden for future generations.
Reference was made also to some of those matters by the Auditor-General in his report that was tabled only yesterday. As I said earlier, this budget appears okay at first glance, but one soon starts to realise that there is little substance behind the rhetoric. The budget is a bit like a used car: it is okay until you drive it, and then you realise that the wheels have fallen off. This budget, which is unhealthy, has taken the provision of capital works to a new low. It has taken the meaning of "work" out of the term "capital works". It is a biased budget in the sense that it specifically targets marginal Labor seats and Labor electorates on the whole, and excludes needy electorates elsewhere in New South Wales, specifically the North Shore and Gordon electorates.
I thought that one lesson that would have been learned after the Ros Kelly whiteboard fiasco a few years ago was that governments are supposed to be for all the people - in this case, all the people in New South Wales. Governments should not create divisive communities if they sincerely wish to make New South Wales and this country grow. We have only to recall that last year the Minister for Roads made a most quotable statement that will be viewed in the same light by those on the North Shore as the "recession we had to have" statement by Paul Keating. The Minister for Roads said, "We intend to rob from the rich to pay for the poor." People on the north shore are not rich; a great many of them are hurting. It sickens me to hear people referring to that area as "a land of silvertails". Many people in their mid-forties who have children and commitments have lost their jobs. It is becoming difficult for them to prosper. This budget does not help them in any regard. Its underlying debt will continue to wreak havoc on all families.
I will deal now with economic growth and business confidence generally. In the year to December 1995 economic growth was only 2.1 per cent. Apart from Tasmania, economic growth was lower in New South Wales than in any other State. Last year's budget forecasted a growth rate of 3.7 per cent. That difference alone, leaving aside the general outlook for the economy, could lead to a deterioration of about $225 million in revenue. The Carr Labor Government has grossly overestimated a host of economic forecasts, including business confidence. Unemployment has jumped a staggering 1.2 percentage points in the past four months alone. It is clear in my electorate from the calls I get and the involvement I have had with the Ku-ring-gai Career Transition Centre - which was formerly known as the Ku-ring-gai recession program - that some of the middle-aged people who have lost their jobs are really suffering.
Payroll tax receipts are likely to fall $135 million short of the Government's estimate this financial year. I would be surprised if anyone other than Premier Carr believed that the New South Wales economy was - as he said on the Jenny Brockie show on 2BL - roaring along. Far from roaring along, the New South Wales economy is in grave danger of stalling. I will deal specifically now with my electorate and the north shore. The Minister for Roads, who only recently moved to the north shore, has continued to exclude necessary funding for that area by removing a major project from my electorate that was included by the coalition Government in the 1994-95 budget papers. That project was to provide for the building of a bridge on the Pacific Highway at Pymble, just north of Pymble station.
This area is frequently referred to by radio stations as a real bottleneck and traffic disaster. One has only to listen to afternoon peak hour traffic reports to discover that there is yet another bottleneck on the north shore, specifically north of Pymble and Ryde Road in particular. The bottleneck begins as early as 3 p.m. and continues until 7 p.m. The coalition Government substantially reduced that bottleneck by providing for the realignment of that bridge and an increase to three lanes at a cost of $5.5 million. Last year no funds were provided for capital works in the Gordon electorate. That project was unilaterally scrapped on the decision of Treasurer Michael Egan and the Carr Labor Government.
It is important from a safety aspect. Trucks travelling south hurtle down the Pacific Highway from Telegraph Road and have to negotiate what is almost a 90 degree turn with only very paltry guard railing separating the highway and the railway line. All honourable members would be fearful of any repeat of a disaster of the magnitude of the Granville train disaster in 1977. I remembered that very well as a child and I still recall it vividly. This bridge has certainly been subjected to a few crashes, as is evidenced by the guardrail, and occasionally the odd truck has been known to swipe a few cars parked nearby. Freight trains regularly travel on the northern line to and from the central coast.
The relevance of the central coast is that we cannot say that this road has any sectional interests. It should not be a question of Labor saying, "Look, this is the Pacific Highway in Gordon, so we won't allocate any funding." This road is used by many commuters, especially those coming from the central coast, a lot of whom are members of the Labor Party. So to me it makes no sense whatever for the Government to remove this project from the list of capital works; particularly because of the very dangerous possibility of a truck coming down this very steep hill on the Pacific Highway and crashing through the guard rail and onto the railway tracks at Pymble station. That would be a disaster, but with sufficient momentum it could end up on the station platform, and one shudders to think of the danger to the many commuters who travel by train from Pymble railway station to the city. Recently the Labor Party promised to fund the construction of a canopy over platform 1 at Gordon station. I quote from a letter from the Parliamentary Secretary for Transport, Kevin Moss, to me dated 26 April 1996 wherein he said:
CityRail advises me that it proposes to construct a canopy on platform no 1 at Gordon station. This work will be carried out in association with other planned improvements to the station.
The timing of this project is subject to the availability of funds.
I wrote back advising that this was a matter of concern not only to my constituents but, indeed, to the station master, Mr Ben King, with whom I meet regularly to discuss Gordon station, transport issues generally and the welfare of commuters. I said that this is a hollow promise of the Government because it is not likely, given what we have seen to date from the Labor Party, that funds will be made available for this project. When the coalition was in government I always said that commuters who want to use trains should continue to do so. Sydney has a huge traffic problem; the Government ought to be getting commuters out of their cars and into public transport. One way of doing that is to provide an incentive for a good environment, one of which is that people must have shelter when it rains. At the moment shelter is sadly lacking at Gordon Station, unlike Pymble. A signal box at Gordon station has heritage interest too, and I would have thought that with the Government's interest in the preservation of heritage buildings it would act to preserve this box, but, sadly, no funds have been set aside for it. I challenge the Government to provide funding for the canopy at Gordon station and for walkways to the platforms at that station.
There is no public hospital specifically located within my electorate. However, many of my constituents visit Hornsby hospital and the Royal North Shore Hospital. No money has been provided for Hornsby hospital, and although a paltry sum has been provided for the Royal North Shore Hospital, it has not improved the outstanding hospital waiting lists at those two hospitals. The new Gordon police centre, which was built by the coalition Government, has only eight full-time or equivalent full-time positions. No extra police have been funded. Every month or two when I visit Gordon police station and speak to Inspector Abbott, I am ribbed by one or two of the detectives who say to me, "What about more staff? How are we going to cope?" That is another issue that has to be addressed. It is no good saying that this is an area of wealth; and I will not say that some offences in my electorate are committed by people from the west, although there is some evidence to support that, and crime has no political friend. Indeed, this is an issue that I would have thought the Government has to address very seriously. [Extension of time agreed to.]
In relation to education I have been notified at last, only this morning, that St Ives High School - which the Premier has seen fit to showcase to the world; that is correct, to the world - is to have funding for a very paltry administration block. This was not reflected at all in the budget estimates because it is regarded as minor capital works but nevertheless it is to be welcomed. On 14 November last year and subsequently on the estimates on 22 November I spoke of the importance of this project. St Ives High School is showcased to the world. It is an important model for education because not only the Department of Education but indeed the Premier's Department takes overseas visitors to see educational excellence at St Ives High School.
It is incredibly important to upgrade the facility and appearance of the administration block not only for the benefit of visitors from overseas, but also to improve the horrendous working conditions that the staff have suffered and will continue to suffer until that building is completed. This morning I was advised that the upgrade of the administration block will commence in the fourth term of 1996, and I expect that it will be completed in the second term next year - at least, that is what the department has advised. I will continue to monitor that project because of the importance of maintaining high educational standards, and because future leaders are likely to attend that school.
The Minister for the Olympics, and Minister for Roads has repeatedly referred to robbing from the rich to pay for the poor. That serves no
purpose in the advancement of any electorate. Factional warfare, indeed political warfare in this context, serves no purpose. The budget overall looks quite frightening. The level of debt and some of the figures portrayed in the budget summary are of concern. An article in this morning's newspapers portrayed a frightening level - in an increasing fashion, almost 100 per cent - of householder debt. That debt must be contained. The coalition Government proposed to take control of debt, and it left this Government a healthy budgetary position. That is something this Labor Government will have to learn if New South Wales in general and my constituents in particular are to prosper.
Ms HALL (Swansea) [12.22]: The second budget of the Carr Government signals a new era of record funding for the Hunter. It is a good-news budget for the electorate of Swansea and is welcomed by the people of New South Wales and the Swansea electorate. The 1996-97 budget is in balance. New South Wales will pay its way without tax increases, yet will still meet the commitments of better health care, better schools and safer roads. At the same time it will provide more teachers and police, increased spending for hospitals, and child protection. The budget has the right balance between social justice, jobs, economic development, environmental protection and sustainable financial strength. The budget has been widely acknowledged as satisfying Labor's traditional social priorities without mass privatisation or sackings, as occurred in Victoria and as is mooted, and I am sure will occur, under the Howard Government.
The budget delivers increased funds and support for regional and country areas. A headline in the Newcastle Herald stated, "Record funds for projects in the Hunter - $371 million worth of capital works projects". That is a far cry from what the previous Government did for the Hunter. For the entire time the previous Government was in power the Hunter was dudded. Time and again there were headlines such as "Hunter misses out again". Little concern was paid to the industrial base of this State - the Hunter, the heartland of this State, the area that is important for the economic development and sustainable growth of New South Wales. This Government recognises the importance of the Hunter and the importance of Swansea electorate, and the budget reflects that recognition.
A record figure of $2 billion has been set aside for roads this year, which is an increase of $48 million on last year's funding. The budget allocates $1.2 billion for continued development and maintenance of road networks, $267 million for road safety and traffic management, and a record $961 million to be spent in country areas. I am sure the electors of Clarence were impressed by those figures and voted accordingly last Saturday. Fifty-five per cent of funds under the 3 x 3 program will be directed to rural areas. Once again, I am sure the people of Clarence were impressed, as were the people of Orange, when they voted last Saturday. An amount of $35 million will be spent this year on road-related public transport improvements, and $150 million has been allocated to ensure efficient customer service at motor registry offices. For many years the upgrading of the Pacific Highway has been a running sore, and the Carr Government has now set aside $220 million in the budget for that purpose.
The 1996-97 health budget stands at $5.6 billion, including $477 million for capital works programs. The recurrent budget of $5.1 billion is an increase of $131 million on the 1995-96 budget. That represents a 6.9 per cent or a $332.8 million increase over the past two years since the Carr Government came to office. Mental health services have been neglected for years, and the allocation of $389 million reflects the Carr Government's commitment to mental health as a top priority. The problem will no longer be ignored and expected to go away; it will be dealt with. An extra $10 million has been allocated to recurrent funding to improve mental health services, and $30.1 million in new funding for existing and new works under the mental health plan. The Carr Government is meeting its commitment to the area of mental health. The amount of $16.4 million has been set aside for specific Aboriginal health programs, and $2.8 million new funding has been allocated for recurrent Aboriginal health services and capital projects.
Rural New South Wales will benefit. An additional $15 million in funding follows the implementation of the new resource redistribution formula. It is not only people in rural areas who will benefit; people in the Hunter region will receive a fair share of the health care dollar. It will no longer be directed into the Sydney area. Belmont hospital in my electorate has been struggling for a long time to obtain funds for the purchase of an ultrasound machine. Following changes to the formula, money has recently become available and $200,000 has been made available for the purchase of that equipment. That reflects the Hunter receiving its fair share of the dollar.
The 1996-97 budget provides capital works spending in excess of $476 million. The new hospital at Coffs Harbour, estimated at $53 million, was surely a factor in the results of the Clarence by-election last Saturday. Additional funding of $4 million over the next three years has been allocated for aged and disability services, including an action plan on dementia; $2 million has been allocated for the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute; and $1 million has been allocated to reduce waiting times for support items for disabled people. That important funding has been ignored for too long. An amount of $3 million has been allocated to increase the supply of Factor 8 blood plasma for the treatment of haemophilia. The Government has continued its commitment to mental health with an allocation of $400,000 for schizophrenia research.
The Hunter has received increased funding, which I will detail later, but I should now like to concentrate on education, to which the Government has made a big commitment, a commitment that contrasts sharply with what is happening in the Federal sphere. The New South Wales budget provides an increase in spending on the education and training portfolio of 3.7 per cent over last year. An additional 100 teaching positions will be funded to provide release for teachers to train in reading recovery, making a total of 200 additional positions since 1995-96. An additional 18 teaching positions have been created for the community language program and 7.5 teaching positions have been created to provide support teachers for small schools in the country, something I am sure that those in the Clarence electorate were aware of on Saturday. The computers in schools program has been allocated $29.6 million. The higher school certificate advice line, which was very popular last year, will continue. An amount of $143.6 million has been allocated to the TAFE capital works program.
A total of $1.09 billion has been allocated to TAFE, with a 16.1 per cent increase in capital spending. The Government has made a commitment in the budget to TAFE, to education, to the development of skills for young people and, in the long term, to the reduction in unemployment. The Government is about more jobs and more training. The TAFE budget includes innovative strategies designed to promote access and equity, including increases in the working for women action plan that encourages young women to consider non-traditional areas of employment, a new strategic plan for Aboriginal vocational education and training, and a review of the admissions system for students with disabilities. As someone who has worked with disabled people for many years, I can say with confidence that such a review is necessary.
In the past TAFE has provided a good service, but it must change. It must move with the times, it must respond to the needs of the people of New South Wales. The review will help to make the services provided by TAFE more applicable and more available to people with disabilities. TAFE will also provide more literacy and numeracy courses at most campuses. The need for the numeracy and literacy courses reflects the disregard by the previous Government of the fact that more money was needed for literacy in education. The Government is committed to training and job schemes, programs to help Aboriginal people, the Australia traineeship scheme, skills gap training programs, contracted training provisions, increasing training places in job growth areas, intervention support programs, and youth initiative strategies. The list goes on and on. The Government is obviously committed to spending in education and training.
In the 1996-97 budget spending on the Department of School Education has been boosted by 4.8 per cent or more than $172 million. The budget also provides $29.6 million over four years for the computers in schools program. That is a $177 million package. Other highlights of the budget include an increase of $110 million in general funding requirements; an increase of $10.1 million to $475.1 million on equity programs targeting Aboriginal students, students from non-English speaking backgrounds, and students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds; an increase of $38.4 million in funding for strategic programs targeting literacy, antiviolence, computer technology, student assessment and community languages; and an increase of $13.9 million in support for non-government schools.
Let me contrast those figures with what is happening in education federally. The Federal Minister for Employment, Education Training and Youth Affairs, Amanda Vanstone, has planned cuts of as much as $600 million to higher education. A cut of 12 per cent, as has been mooted, will mean an average cut of public funding per student of $1,000 per year. What effect will that have on tertiary education? Universities will have to take drastic action such as closing down, cutting the number of courses offered, cutting places or increasing the number of postgraduate fee-paying courses at the expense of undergraduate courses. Students sitting for the higher school certificate this year and in future years will be disadvantaged. They will not be able to access the university system as it now exists. Such drastic cuts will force the closure of several new and smaller regional universities. I am sure the honourable member for Coffs Harbour is disturbed about the effect these moves will have on the joint development between the Southern Cross University and the Department of School Education under which funds have been allocated for child studies, fitting and machinery, hairdressing and rural studies. It is an enormous program with total funding of $5,491,000, the initial cost of $140,000 being allocated this year.
The honourable member for Coffs Harbour will surely approach the Federal Minister in that regard and tell her that she cannot make these drastic cuts to university funding. Fees payable under the higher education contribution scheme will increase drastically. Up-front administration charges, as well as sneaky course and material fees, will be introduced. Some students who miss out on university places will be able to buy their way into universities. That is a return to the old system - education for those who can afford to pay for it - unlike the system delivered in the New South Wales budget under which education for everyone is provided for. University entrance has always been skewed to students who can pay. Higher fees will only make it harder for those who do not have the money to go to university to receive higher education and find work. The budget addresses the needs of people on all income levels, not only those who can afford to pay.
The Federal changes will ensure that education is outside the reach of those who cannot afford to pay for it. In the Hunter $148 million has been
allocated to roads, $224,000 has been allocated to public works, and funds have been allocated for a sports high school. The Hunter has a proud record of sporting achievements and boasts such teams as the Knights, the Breakers and the Falcons, all of whom are competing well. Junior sport in the area is very strong. A large number of girls play every Saturday at Lakeside netball competition in the Swansea electorate. The East Lake Macquarie Basketball Association has recently been established and junior rugby league, soccer and athletics are strongly supported in the Swansea electorate. Sport is of great importance in the Hunter. The establishment of a sports high school will enable young sports people from the Hunter region to pursue sports within the curriculum of the high school system. [Extension of time agreed to.]
Approximately $9.4 million will be spent on Newcastle TAFE. The Tighes Hill painting and decorating facility will be upgraded, and the ticket-writing and sign-writing facility will be refurbished. Once again the Carr Government is making a commitment to a needy area and to training people for jobs. The budget is not about providing training for those who can pay. The electorate of the Minister for Mineral Resources, who is seated next to me at the table, will receive $6.9 million towards the construction of a new public school at Salamander Bay. The Government recognises the needs of the Hunter. The budget is good news for the Swansea electorate; it has delivered to the Swansea electorate. I would like to refer to the second $500,000 allocation for rehabilitation and improvement of the foreshore park at Green Point. That was another election promise of the Carr Government. Funds will be directed towards providing facilities for future generations and everyone in the Hunter.
For years Lake Macquarie City Council tried to secure the land at Green Point. The previous Government would not provide any money towards the purchase of this land unless massive wholesale development for the area was approved. The Carr Government recognises the importance of Lake Macquarie to its region and to the State. It also recognises the importance of a foreshore park that will be accessible to everyone in the Hunter region and, indeed, the entire State. Green Point will have a wonderful facility. I take particular pleasure in the development of this project because in my four-year term on council I was one of those who negotiated the purchase of the land for future generations. Unfortunately, Lake Macquarie City Council had to provide a great deal more money than it anticipated because the coalition Government was not prepared to come to the party. The people of the Swansea electorate and the Hunter region will now have a beautiful foreshore park. Next year another $500,000 will be provided. A total of $1.5 million will be provided for this facility.
For many years Belmont fire station has been in great need of repair. The previous Government once again disregarded the people of the Hunter and the electorate of Swansea. However, the 1996-97 budget acknowledges the need to upgrade the station and $400,000 has been allocated for that project. Another project in which I have been particularly interested is the upgrading of cells at Belmont police station. The budget has allocated $425,000 to upgrade the cells to the standards recommended by the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody. That is a much-needed resource in the area and the improvements should have taken place a long time ago. I understand that other facilities at Belmont police station will also be upgraded. Once again, the Carr Government has honoured its commitment to the people of Swansea. I turn now to education. An amount of $529,000 has been set aside in the budget to build a new school at Blue Haven.
Blue Haven is at the southern end of the Swansea electorate. It is an area of great growth with many young families moving into newly built homes. Over the next two years $3.693 million will be spent on building this school. The electorate will then have a core 14 school with 10 classrooms, an administration block and a school hall. The Carr Government is looking after the children of the Blue Haven area. The Government acknowledges the importance of education to children and to the future of this State. The budget has put aside $480,000 to build a special education facility at North Lakes High School. A problem has existed there for a long time. Children with learning problems, in some cases severe learning problems, have been pushed to the back of the school and housed in substandard accommodation. The Carr Government was not going to allow that to continue. Funds have been set aside to give these young people facilities equal to those for the other students of the school. These facilities will promote learning and will not act to further alienate them from the school population.
The budget has set aside funds for many projects to upgrade roads in the Swansea electorate. Included in those projects is the rehabilitation of the Pacific Highway at Cold Tea Creek, roadworks at Evans and Gerald Streets, Belmont, and numerous other road projects. The budget has allocated $216,000 to upgrade the motor link intersection, which will improve safety at that junction. The Department of Housing will receive funds for the construction of 15 dwellings. A considerable amount of money has been set aside to upgrade Swansea electorate housing stocks. A number of properties are in need of maintenance. The previous Government ignored the need to keep the housing stocks up to standard. The Carr Government realises that public properties must be looked after and those in need of repair brought up to scratch. The budget has set aside funds for that purpose in the Swansea electorate.
Another project that will be of great benefit to the Swansea electorate is the Charlestown bypass. Construction of this bypass has been on the books for at least 32 years. Over the last eight years my
colleague the Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development has chased the funds to construct this bypass. Unfortunately, the previous Government ignored him. The Carr Labor Government has now set aside $9 million in the budget to get this project up and running. I congratulate the Treasurer and the Premier on acknowledging the importance of this project. Everyone travelling north into Newcastle is affected by the massive traffic congestion in Charlestown. Only when this bypass is constructed will traffic flow smoothly between the Swansea electorate and Newcastle. The bypass will also enable businesses in Charlestown to develop and prosper. This project is of regional value and I congratulate the Minister for Gaming and Racing on his efforts to secure funds for the project.
When I read the second Carr budget I asked a number of questions. Does it pay all the bills? Yes. Does it refrain from increasing taxes or tax rates? Yes. Does it reduce taxes? Yes. Does it improve schools, hospitals, roads, policing, community services, the environment and other core priorities? Yes. Does it assist economic development and job growth? Yes. Does it pay for the Olympics up-front? Yes. Does it improve public sector efficiency? Yes. Does it drive economic reform? Yes. Does it lead to reduction in the charges of government utilities? Yes. Does it assist country and non-metropolitan regions, particularly the Hunter region and the Swansea electorate? Yes. Does it assist small businesses? Yes. Does it assist farmers? Yes. Does it assist home buyers? Yes. Does it assist families? Yes. Does it attack unfunded liabilities? Yes. Does it reduce debt and the gross State product ratio? Yes. Does it contribute significantly to national savings? Yes. Does it put New South Wales on a sound financial footing? Yes. The people of New South Wales, particularly those in the Hunter, have been winners under the budget. I am sure the honourable member for Maitland and the honourable member for Coffs Harbour, particularly having regard to the university and the hospital in his electorate, will heap praise on the Government for its contributions to their electorates. The Carr Labor Government has delivered to the people of Swansea and they will not forget that. They will ensure that Swansea is not forgotten, as it was forgotten under the previous Government.
Mr SMALL (Murray) [12.50]: It was good to hear from the honourable member for Swansea that some electorates will receive a great deal of money under the budget, but so far as I can see they are only Government electorates. The second budget brought down by the New South Wales Labor Government is a mixed bag of tricks. It is evident that the Government does not care about the south-western rural area of the State where my electorate is located, because the budget is all about spending taxpayers' money in the greater Sydney area. Although some important project will receive funding under the budget, important areas have been neglected and the cutbacks in funding of the capital works program are appalling.
I refer firstly to the health budget. The new multipurpose health facility at Urana will be opened by the Minister for Health on Friday. The previous Government approved the facility, and it will be a great asset to the area. Aged care beds have been converted to nursing home beds. Palliative care, which is important in the area, will be provided. An ambulance station will be built within the multipurpose facility. Colombo Lodge is a hostel attached to the multipurpose facility. I am grateful that after a long wait a multipurpose facility costing $1.2 million will be built at Wentworth. That is great news. That facility has been on the drawing board for some years, and the budget provides an allocation of $960,000 for that project.
Mr Martin: We deliver.
Mr SMALL: I am pleased the Government is delivering on that facility. I turn to education. Hay War Memorial High School, Barham High School and Deniliquin North School each require multipurpose hall facilities. None of them has been provided for in the budget. For a number of years the community has pushed hard for those projects, and the community has been let down because of the lack of funding. Accommodation and upgrading of facilities at Lockhart Central School, which were started last year, will be completed this year with the allocation of the last $20,000. The total cost of the project, which will be a huge benefit, will be $1.7 million. Apart from that allocation of $20,000, no funding has been made available to the 67 schools, including private schools and convent schools, in the Murray electorate. That is an absolute disgrace.
I acknowledge the presence in the gallery of Mr Howard Bye, the manager of the Deniliquin office of the Department of Housing, and Mr Harvey Smith, who worked for the Department of Water Resources and now works for the Department of Land and Water Conservation. I have acknowledged their presence because the education budget provides allocations of $370,000 to build three two-bedroom villas at Hay for teachers and $360,000 to do exactly the same at Balranald. I am pleased that housing accommodation for teachers is being provided in those areas.
The provision of electricity is now listed under EnergyAustralia. An examination of the budget reveals that $350,000 has been allocated for a 66kV line to Balranald substation, and $350,000 has been allocated for a 66/22kV substation also for Balranald. The total cost of those works will be $1.5 million. An amount of $420,000 has been allocated for voltage regulator transformers at Moulamein and Koraleigh. I am pleased that that work will proceed. The budget for Far West Energy includes an allocation of $500,000 for system augmentation work for the Wentworth region. That relates to part of the Broken Hill area. It is not in the Albury-Murray electricity division, as it was previously.
The good news for the Wentworth area particularly is that a mobile radio system will be installed during 1996-97 at a cost of $950,000. I would also like a MobileNet installation located within the Lockhart catchment area, and a transmitter located at Galore Hill would be ideal to interconnect areas from Narrandera to Wagga Wagga, and possibly to Urana. A transmitter to cover Sturt Highway in the Lockhart area and the main highway running between Deniliquin-Jerilderie and Wagga Wagga is urgently required. Finley, Berrigan and Tocumwal also need a MobileNet installation. A network in Finley would assist Jerilderie, which has a MobileNet installation, and Deniliquin. Corowa also needs an upgrade.
The Government has allocated a large amount for water supply and sewerage work in the Murray electorate. I am pleased that funding for that work has continued in the budget. However, I am disappointed that instead of the work being finalised within one or two years it has been expanded over several years. Wakool shire is listed to receive $325,000 for the Barham stage 2 sewerage works, and the Wakool township will receive $150,000. Water supplies at Moulamein will receive $180,000, and $20,000 has been allocated to Wakool. Berrigan shire will receive only $10,000 for the Barooga water supply which, when completed, is estimated to cost $2 million. The total expenditure is large, but unfortunately only a small amount has been allocated this year for design works. Corowa shire at Mulwala will receive $200,000 for sewerage works. The total estimated cost of that project is $2.25 million. An amount of $131,000 is listed for sewerage works in Urana township.
Debate adjourned on motion, by leave, by Mr Small.
[Mr Deputy-Speaker left the chair at 1.00 p.m. The House resumed at 2.15 p.m.]
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture) [2.15]: I wish to make a ministerial statement about allegations concerning rabbit calicivirus. As a result of a number of serious allegations concerning the illegal release of the rabbit calicivirus in the Cooma region, I have instructed my department and the State Council of the Rural Lands Protection Boards to conduct an inquiry into these claims. The allegations that a staff member of the Cooma Rural Lands Protection Board has offered infected rabbit parts for sale to local farmers is a matter of great concern. Claims have been made that rabbits infected with the calicivirus are being offered to farmers to enhance the spread of the virus which, as everyone is aware, accidentally escaped quarantine experiments and testing last year. Today it has been confirmed that the calicivirus is now present among rabbits in the Bathurst area. How it got there is unclear at this stage.
I have stated on previous occasions that I fully support the controlled release of the virus at the appropriate time. Currently the Commonwealth authorities are continuing testing of calicivirus to ensure its controlled release will be absolutely safe to native wildlife. Federal Minister for Primary Industries, John Anderson, has indicated a controlled release will take place, but not before the spring. It is important for the success of the control program that any release is scientifically conducted and that proper follow-up control programs be implemented when the virus is finally released. The illegal release of the virus is not in the best interest of farmers and I would caution anyone contemplating being involved in such a practice. If, for some reason, it was decided not to release the virus, it could place farmers in an embarrassing position. Officially the virus is still quarantined and it could be a breach of quarantine laws to be involved in any illegal spread. I expect my department will report to me sooner rather than later on this issue and on these serious allegations and I will inform the House of progress on this matter.
Mr ARMSTRONG (Lachlan - Leader of the National Party) [2.16]: The release of the calicivirus and the management of it are of extreme importance for the environment and for disease control in this country. The calicivirus originally escaped from an offshore island of South Australia. It is still not known how it reached the mainland, let alone how it might have reached Bathurst or, I understand, Cooma. The Opposition will support entirely the Minister and his department in efforts to manage properly the orderly progression of the calicivirus. It must be managed well. The medium- to long-term ramifications of the virus are unknown. Therefore, the use of the virus must be managed properly, in order to avoid an uncontrolled outbreak, such as occurred with control of prickly pear in the 1920s. However, it is indisputable that the rabbit has been the single most environmentally-destructive agent in this country. It is essential that the opportunity be taken to arrest the spread of rabbits and hopefully to eradicate them. However, the Opposition will not be party to the compounding of further problems if the eradication of rabbits leads to other unknown factors. I urge the Minister to act with the utmost vigilance and he will have the total support of the Opposition in this matter.
Mr SPEAKER: I acknowledge the presence in the gallery of the former member for Wyong, Mr Harry Moore, OAM. The House gratefully acknowledges his presentation to the Parliament of a magnificent book of great historic value. I also acknowledge the presence in the gallery of Mr Bruce Duncan, a former member for Lismore.
Governor of New South Wales
Petitions praying that the office of Governor of New South Wales not be downgraded, and that the role, duties and future of the office be determined
by a referendum, received from Mr Armstrong, Mr Beck, Mr Blackmore, Mrs Chikarovski, Mr Collins, Mr Debnam, Mr Downy, Mr Ellis, Ms Ficarra, Mr Glachan, Mr Hartcher, Mr Hazzard, Mr Humpherson, Mr Kerr, Mr Kinross, Ms Machin, Mr Merton, Mr Phillips, Mr Richardson, Mr Rozzoli, Mr Schipp, Mr Schultz, Mrs Skinner, Mr Smith, Mr Tink and Mr Turner.
Petition praying that the Government cooperate with other Australian Governments in the implementation of uniform gun laws that require proof of reason for all gun licences, registration of the sale, transfer and ownership of every gun, and other than lifetime licences, received from Ms Moore.
Biological and Research Institute, Rydalmere
Petition praying that the Biological and Research Institute at Rydalmere, and its staff, be maintained at the present location, received from Mr Photios.
M4 and M5 Motorway Tolls
Petition praying that the Carr Government be censured for breaking its promise to lift the tolls on the M4 and M5 Motorways; that those responsible for breaking the promise resign; and that all such future proposals be independently audited before they are announced, received from Mr Souris.
Sydney Showground Fox Film Studio
Petition praying that the Fox Film Studio proposal for the Sydney Showground be subject to the conditions set out in the petition, received from Ms Moore.
Department of Agriculture Budget
Petition praying that cuts not be made to the budget of the Department of Agriculture, which would result in the loss of expertise, services, research and development, received from Mr Beck.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
BUILDING SERVICES CORPORATION AND Ms VANESSA LOVETT
Mr COLLINS: I direct my question without notice to the Minister for Local Government. Did his staffer Vanessa Lovett use his ministerial letterhead to make representations to the Building Services Corporation to secure a $100,000 payout on her claim, pre-empting a Supreme Court decision on the issue? Does the Minister deny this inappropriate use of his ministerial letterhead shortly after he visited the site of Ms Lovett's renovations in December 1995?
Mr E. T. PAGE: I am not aware that my letterhead was ever used in relation to anything to do with the Building Services Corporation.
Mr Collins: You will be.
Mr E. T. PAGE: Well, okay.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Eastwood to order.
Mr E. T. PAGE: It has been suggested also that I visited the building site in question. That is completely untrue.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Vaucluse to order. I call the honourable member for Lane Cove to order.
Mr E. T. PAGE: I have not been near the site. I do not know where the site is. I have probably seen the address, but I certainly have not been near the site.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister has the call. The Leader of the Opposition has asked a question. The House is entitled to hear the Minister's answer. The Minister needs no assistance from other members.
Mr E. T. PAGE: It is quite surprising that it has taken so long for this matter to be made public. I believe that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the honourable member for Lane Cove have been arguing for some eight weeks about who would raise this matter in the Parliament. Apparently, they have been overridden, rather stupidly, by the Leader of the Opposition.
Mr Phillips: The story is that good!
Mr E. T. PAGE: I will tell you the story.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai to order. I call the honourable member for Ermington to order.
Mr E. T. PAGE: A member of my staff has been involved in a particularly distressing dispute with a builder since the latter part of 1994. In September 1994 she wrote to the Building Services Corporation seeking its assistance in resolving the dispute and rectifying rather despicable building work which had been carried out. In December 1994 she wrote to the then Minister for Planning, and Minister for Housing, Robert Webster, seeking assistance from him. He referred the matter to the then Minister for Consumer Affairs, Wendy Machin, for a response. Three months later, in March 1995 - a rather significant month - the Minister responded to the inquiry. Her letter noted that the problems had been reported against the builder and said:
The BSC has advised that notification of the outcome of your insurance claim will be notified to you in the near future.
Those who have had recent dealings with the BSC will not be surprised to hear that despite repeated requests and correspondence to the BSC, the matter dragged on.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Gordon to order.
Mr E. T. PAGE: A detailed report was obtained on the defects of the house. The report was from a company called Building Diagnosis Consultants and it is over 100 pages long. I might say, this is a new building, a new house on a cleared block of land.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ermington to order for the second time.
Mr E. T. PAGE: It lists the structural defects and substandard building workmanship in relation to the partially completed building. The report itself cost nearly $14,000 - and this on a new building.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Gosford to order. I call the Leader of the House to order. I call the Leader of the House to order for the second time.
Mr E. T. PAGE: Here are some of the defects.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Eastwood is on two calls to order.
Mr E. T. PAGE: Come again, keep coming. Some of the defects are: gaps in the timber junctions throughout the building; lack of timber supports over the eaves; defects in structural load-bearing beams; inappropriately sized roof timbers; faults in structural wall-framing studs; probably little support in the main roof and first floor loads; lack of diagonal wall bracing; inappropriate drilling of structural timbers; incorrect positioning and/or absence of joists under load-bearing walls; incorrect positioning of steel beam; no clearance gaps allowed beneath the windows; missing timber blocks and noggings in the wall framing; unknown conditions of foundations, laid without inspection; waterproofing defects caused by damage; incorrectly installed wall sarking; and inadequate foil roof sarking, and so it goes on - and this is a new building.
In early December last year the staff member was advised by telephone from the BSC that it had agreed the partially completed building should be demolished and that she would be awarded $100,000 compensation. She was further advised that this would be confirmed in writing so that demolition could be arranged and she could negotiate with a new builder for the construction of the home. Throughout December she continued to make inquiries about when she would receive the promised letter from the BSC. She mentioned to me the fact that she was getting very worried about the whole saga.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Oxley to order for the first time.
Mr E. T. PAGE: Isn't that strange! She was obviously very distressed by the situation and even now she remains tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket because of the money paid to the builder and the legal fees. On 21 December last year she was again attempting to establish when she would receive a letter from the BSC confirming that decision. Seeing her distress, I decided to ring the BSC and ask when she would receive the promised letter.
Mr Photios: You rang?
Mr E. T. PAGE: I rang. I said I rang. That is no more than I would do for any of my constituents facing similar problems. It is no more than I would do for constituents of other members, I might add.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Ermington is on three calls to order.
Mr E. T. PAGE: I did not - and this is confirmed in the correspondence from the BSC - I did not canvass the details of the case or the decision of the BSC. I spoke to a Mr Mike Carroll in the insurance services section who told me that a decision had been made and a letter would be forwarded shortly. At no time did I talk to anyone in the office of the Minister for Fair Trading about the matter, nor did I talk to the Minister herself about it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Northcott to order.
Mr E. T. PAGE: My only involvement was a single phone call to Mr Mike Carroll to find out what the score was as far as the delay was concerned. I have no regret about making the phone call and I believe that any responsible member of Parliament concerned -
Mr Schipp: You are a Minister -
Mr E. T. PAGE: Joe's awake.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Members will cease interjecting across the Chamber. The member for Wagga Wagga will have an opportunity to ask a question at a later stage.
Mr E. T. PAGE: As I said, I have no regrets about making the phone call. What surprises me is that the builder, Mr Michael McCosker - who one would not get to build a fowl house - came in to see Opposition members. He has an axe to grind because he cannot build a house from scratch. He found fertile ground among Opposition members who slander others to try to score some spurious political points. It is indicative as to why that crew over there are losing by-elections.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Eastwood is on three calls to order. Unless the Leader of the Opposition refrains from interjecting, I will call him to order.
Mr E. T. PAGE: There is no-one from the National Party asking the Minister for Agriculture questions on agricultural matters. No-one is asking the Minister for Health about health issues. This is one of the reasons why the Opposition will not win by-elections. It does not know what the game is about. It does not represent constituents and, as far as I am concerned, that's great!
BUILDING SERVICES CORPORATION AND Ms VANESSA LOVETT
Mr COLLINS: I ask a supplementary question. Further to the Minister's earlier answer regarding use of his letterhead by his staffer Vanessa Lovett, will he confirm that this copy of a document forwarding an extra quote is on his letterhead and bears the signature of his staff member?
Mr Knight: On a point of order -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Leader of the Opposition is on three calls to order. He will collect the document from the table and will resume his seat.
Mr KNIGHT: The point of order I was seeking to make is one that you, Mr Speaker, have anticipated, that is, that the Leader of the Opposition is not allowed to table documents.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The point of order is upheld.
Mr E. T. PAGE: I have no idea what the Leader of the Opposition has in his hand.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I remind the Leader of the Opposition that he is on three calls to order. The honourable member for Northcott is on two calls to order.
Mr E. T. PAGE: The previous answer I gave is still correct: I have no idea that a letter was sent on my letterhead about anything to do with a matter of the Building Services Corporation and a member of my staff.
Mr McMANUS: I direct my question without notice to the Minister for Police. What has the Government done to fight crime among our youth?
Mr WHELAN: The Carr Government is committed to fighting youth crime. Today I am pleased to announce the establishment of the youth crime intelligence unit to tackle youth crime. For the first time a strategic, coordinated approach will be taken to tackling youth crime, particularly gang-related crime. A team of highly trained professionals, including experienced police officers and crime intelligence analysts, have begun work. The youth crime intelligence unit will draw on the resources and information provided by the 43 officers of the State intelligence group. It will use those resources to provide police in New South Wales with strategies to fight juvenile and youth-related gang crime such as graffiti, street drag-racing, housebreaking and stealing. The activities of this unit will be broad in scope. Today I am sending a message to hot rodders and revheads: the community has had enough; we are determined to reclaim the streets.
In a recent police blitz on illegal street racing in Sydney's west, almost 900 infringement notices were issued and more than 30 charges laid. Code-named Arianna and Amabili, these police operations were carried out on Sunday evenings throughout March and April. For months large crowds of youths have been gathering in the Auburn district on Sunday evenings. Indeed, on one occasion outside McDonald's at Auburn, 700 vehicles and more than 1,000 young people brought the area to a halt. The rowdy behaviour of these young people and their cars not only caused disruption amongst an otherwise peaceful neighbourhood but also posed risks for innocent bystanders caught up in the melee. A coordinated rapid response team was formed to combat this problem. Police resources were brought from surrounding districts, including the highway patrol and random breath testing units.
The response team worked closely with officers from the Environment Protection Agency and the Roads and Traffic Authority, and operations began to eliminate the problem. They specifically targeted unroadworthy vehicles, dangerous driving and street offences, and police carried out mobile random breath testing. The results speak for themselves - 900 infringement notices and 32 police charges. The community is angry. Noisy and dangerous cars are among the greatest concerns of the public.
Mr Debnam: What are you going to do about Bondi?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Vaucluse to order for the second time.
Mr WHELAN: The honourable member has said enough. His behaviour in this House in the last couple of weeks has been absolutely disgraceful.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Lane Cove to order for the second time.
Mr WHELAN: I have been speaking to members of his constituency - the Eastern Suburbs cocktail jetset - and they are concerned about him behaving like a westie. He is behaving like an English soccer hooligan. These operations were so successful that response teams have been formed in other regions to deal with similar behaviour by large groups of hoodlums. While the operations have been a resounding success, the Government recognises that an ongoing, concerted effort is needed if this behaviour is to be controlled. The results of these operations have been monitored on an ongoing basis. This is but one example of an area of gang-related youth crime and the police strategy to deal with it.
The establishment of the youth crime intelligence unit will enable police to identify a range of youth crime problems and to develop strategies to reduce them. As part of this offensive against this serious and difficult crime problem the unit will also establish a specialist group on graffiti crime, exchange information with interstate and overseas police, research the progression of juveniles into adult organised crime, develop a
training package for police on youth crime and an information package for schools and community groups to be delivered by local police, and work with district antitheft squads, transit and beat police to develop new ways to fight crime. The information gathered by the youth crime intelligence unit will be invaluable. It will become part of the centralised intelligence database to assist police to identify trouble spots and allocate appropriate resources to deal with them.
The unit will also take over the intelligence and strategic role of the graffiti task force, although in an expanded way. The new youth crime intelligence unit will be reviewed in six months to assess its operational effectiveness. The Government's aim is to improve policing of youth crime and gang-related activities. The Carr Government is serious about tackling youth crime. The youth crime intelligence unit will ensure that the Government's commitment is met. I repeat: the community has had enough; we are determined to reclaim the streets.
Mr STEWART: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Corrective Services, Minister for Emergency Services, and Minister Assisting the Minister for the Arts. What is the Government doing to honour its commitment to increase public awareness of the importance of smoke alarms?
Mr DEBUS: Last December, following the deaths of 12 people in house fires over a period of only one month, I organised a smoke alarm summit. I wanted to bring together firefighters, government, the insurance industry, the fire suppression industry and other experts to discuss ways of increasing the installation of smoke alarms in homes across New South Wales. During the course of that summit we heard some disturbing facts. Only 21 per cent of homes across New South Wales have smoke alarms installed. Last year only 5 per cent of the burning homes that were attended by New South Wales Fire Brigades had these life-saving devices installed in them. On average 30 people die in New South Wales each year in house fires, and more than 300 are hospitalised with burns. Twice as many people are likely to die in a house fire when no smoke alarm is installed.
Perhaps the most compelling address at the summit was that given by the State Coroner, Mr Derek Hand. Like firefighters, the Coroner sees the tragic effects of house fires all too often. He was adamant that the Government could attempt to force more legislation on home owners but that it would have little impact. Mr Hand said he saw the results of broken laws in his work every day and that if the Carr Government was to make a difference it must educate the public to take responsibility for fire safety within their own homes. At the end of the summit I announced that the Government was committed to creating an awareness campaign which would boost the number of smoke alarms being screwed to ceilings across the State. That was four months ago. In that time the Government has been working hard. Unlike the coalition, which was happy to continue with a piecemeal approach over seven years, this Government has approached the tragedy of fire deaths in an whole-of-government way.
My colleague the Minister for Housing has recently announced a multimillion dollar effort to install thousands of hard-wired smoke alarms in public housing stock across the State. Since December public housing tenants have been able to purchase battery-operated smoke alarms for only $6 each. More than 9,500 alarms have been purchased, providing protection for 6,000 homes. New South Wales Fire Brigades have been involved in the scheme, putting alarms in the homes of aged and frail people. Indeed, firefighters across the State have been involved in various local campaigns to install smoke alarms in the homes of the elderly and disabled, addressing school groups about fire safety, and distributing information packages. In association with the National Electrical Contractors Association, New South Wales Fire Brigades recently conducted 20 seminars throughout the State on the installation of smoke alarms.
New South Wales Fire Brigades has been working closely with local councils in educating the public that smoke alarms save lives. Hard-wired smoke alarms are already mandatory in all new structures, and today I am pleased to announce on behalf of the Deputy Premier and Minister for Health and myself the honouring of the commitment I made in December. This afternoon the Deputy Premier and I will launch a campaign entitled "Now There's No Excuse". That campaign will begin on Saturday, the first day of winter and the beginning of what is traditionally the worst time for house fires. On Saturday television viewers and newspaper readers will see, and radio listeners will hear, an advertisement that demonstrates the effectiveness of smoke alarms. The commercial has a baby lying quietly in a cot as a small fire begins nearby. The child is rescued from her smoke-filled bedroom after the smoke alarm alerts her parents to the fire.
The campaign is a tribute to all those who attended the smoke alarm summit last December. At the time of the summit I called for contributions from the insurance and fire suppression industry, and the response has been encouraging. Singleton's advertising agency has produced the campaign at cost. The fire suppression company BRK and the Department of Health have funded the campaign. The department of the Minister for Health has made its contribution as part of an ongoing effort to reduce the terrible human toll from house fires across the State. In addition, the insurance company AAMI has introduced a smoke alarm with home insurance policies scheme. In creating the campaign we were anxious to ensure that people not only understood the importance of installing smoke
alarms but had the opportunity to do something about it immediately. By calling a 1900 number callers can ask for more information or simply purchase three alarms for less than $50, plus postage. The campaign will run on television, radio and in the press across New South Wales for three months. The "Now There's No Excuse" campaign is a major initiative of the Carr Government in honouring its commitment to increase public awareness of the importance of installing smoke alarms. I am sure the House will join with me in supporting this campaign, and that individual members will do all they can to spread its message.
BUILDING SERVICES CORPORATION AND Ms VANESSA LOVETT
Mr PHILLIPS: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Fair Trading. Did she direct the Acting Assistant Director-General of the Department of Fair Trading, Geoff Casson, to settle Miss Lovett's claim as beneficially to her as possible? Is this what Miss Lovett thanked the Minister for in her letter of January 1996 when she said, "Many thanks for your assistance in the past. I have just one more favour to ask of you"?
Mrs LO PO': I have no knowledge of anything that the honourable member has said; no knowledge at all.
CROSS-BORDER ELECTRICITY PLANT LEASING
Mr MOSS: I address my question without notice to the Minister for the Olympics, and Minister for Roads, representing the Treasurer. Is the Minister aware of attacks by the Leader of the Opposition on the Government's cross-border leasing and assets replacing program? Will the Minister provide the House with further information on these matters?
Mr KNIGHT: I thank the honourable member for Canterbury for his interest in all financial matters of the State. Yesterday in his reply to the Budget Speech the Leader of the Opposition made a big point of attacking this Government about cross-border leasing of the Bayswater Power Station. However, he well knows that properly executed cross-border leases are beneficial to the people of this State. Cross-border leasing of existing assets allows the Government to take advantage of an unintended consequence of the American taxation laws. In effect it means that the American taxpayers subsidise the people of New South Wales - a very desirable situation.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Gosford to order for the second time.
Mr KNIGHT: To dispel the scaremongering of the Leader of the Opposition, I want to make a number of important points. First, there will be no question of managerial conflict: ownership and control remains with the State of New South Wales. Second, there will be no impact on Australian taxation revenues: the Australian Taxation Office has to sign off on the deal. Third, initial discussions have taken place with the Auditor-General, and the Government has agreed that he will be included at every stage of the deal. Fourth, and most important, this is not, as the Leader of the Opposition claimed yesterday in his reply to the budget, privatisation by stealth. As the Leader of the Opposition well knows, ownership, management and control of the power station remains with the New South Wales Government. The hypocrisy of the Leader of the Opposition on cross-border leases is breathtaking. All honourable members know that the Leader of the Opposition had a bad weekend. We all know he is trying to forget the results of last Saturday.
Mr Humpherson: We all know you live in Roseville.
Mr KNIGHT: And it is a pity that those who live there are so poorly represented by the honourable member for Davidson, but there is nothing I can do to help them. We know the Leader of the Opposition is trying to forget last Saturday. We certainly know he is trying to forget his comments on radio on Saturday morning when he said, "This is the first opportunity that 200,000 voters have had to really send Bob Carr a message about the first 14 months he has had as Premier." Thank you Harry, thank you Bob, thank you 200,000 people. We got the message.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The House will come to order. A number of members are already on three calls. If any member who has been called to order attracts my attention again, I will place all members who have been called to order on three calls.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! All members who have been called to order are now deemed to be on three calls to order.
Mr KNIGHT: In his rush to suppress one painful memory of last Saturday the Leader of the Opposition seems to have selectively forgotten other things. He forgot to tell the House yesterday that when he was Treasurer he approved cross-border leases to the value of $1.1 billion. I have with me copies of two Executive Council minutes, one of 21 December 1994 when he approved a cross-border lease for nine locomotives valued at $350 million, which is dwarfed by comparison with his other Ex-Co minute of June 1993 when he approved cross-border leasing of rolling stock for the railways of $800 million. The hypocrisy of the Leader of the Opposition does not stop with his criticisms of cross-border leases. In his reply to the Budget Speech he also criticised the Government's current modest asset replacement program. He attacked the Government for selling $559 million of surplus property to help fund the creation of new capital works, new assets for the people of New South
Wales, and new jobs for the workers of the State constructing those buildings. Yet is this not the same man who was a member, indeed the Treasurer for part of the time, of a Government that flogged off many income-producing assets?
Who but the Leader of the Opposition could forget the fire sale of the GIO and the State Bank? In his last budget as Treasurer, the Leader of the Opposition, who complains about the modest asset replacement program of the Government, provided for assets sales of over $1 billion, which is almost totally the figure for which he criticised this Government, but unlike this Government he still could not balance the State budget - he had more than $1 billion in asset sales, yet he brought in a budget with a deficit of $350 million. The pathetic response of the Leader of the Opposition to the State budget yesterday says much about his character. Last year he mounted a savage, personal attack on the accounting firm KPMG Peat Marwick.
Mr O'Doherty: On a point of order. There could be no clearer case of anticipating debate on a bill than this. The Minister is directly debating matters raised yesterday in debate on the Appropriation Bill by the Leader of the Opposition. The place for the Minister to do this is in the debate on the Appropriation Bill, not in question time. I would ask you to sit him down.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No point of order is involved.
Mr KNIGHT: But for the interruption by the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai I would have already finished. Yesterday it was a hypocritical and inept attack on asset sales and cross-border leases. Just like last year, the budget reply of the Leader of the Opposition yesterday provided no ideas, no alternatives, no vision and no leadership. It is no wonder the Sydney business community said that when he was Treasurer Peter Collins made quite a passable arts Minister.
BUILDING SERVICES CORPORATION AND Ms VANESSA LOVETT
Ms MACHIN: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Fair Trading. Did a Supreme Court appointed arbitrator, with the agreement of the representatives of Ms Lovett and the builder, identify that the maximum to be paid out to rectify building works be $37,000 and, therefore, that Ms Lovett's house not be demolished? Did the Minister, as Ms Lovett states, provide her with assistance by applying inappropriate pressure on a public servant in the Building Services Corporation to pay her $100,000 before her Supreme Court case began?
Mrs LO PO': It is easy to answer this question. I have no knowledge about this matter.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I place the Deputy Leader of the Opposition on three calls to order.
Mrs LO PO': Ms Lovett's case is only one of the cases that goes through the BSC. Honourable members should not think for one minute that I deal with all cases. The cases are part of a process and appropriate letters are signed and forwarded. This question reveals a lot about the Opposition: a case of evil sees as evil does. It is clear that the Opposition accuses me of tactics it obviously adopts. The way the Opposition directed public servants and did many similar things is evidence of the way it deals with these matters. I will obtain information about this matter. It is interesting that mention is made of Geoff Casson, who is well known to the honourable member for Port Macquarie - and she knows exactly what I mean by that comment. I will obtain information about what he said I intended to do.
Mr Collins: Check what his file says about you.
Mrs LO PO': I will check his file, mark my words. I have no knowledge of this matter at all. I was on vacation at Christmas time. I will find out exactly what the process is. I repeat: this question is an example of evil sees as evil does.
PORT MACQUARIE BASE HOSPITAL PRIVATISATION
Mr MILLS: My question without notice is directed to the Deputy Premier, Minister for Health, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Has privatisation of the public hospital system been a successful way to decrease the cost of public hospital services?
Dr REFSHAUGE: It is clear that privatisation has been a dismal failure. One need look no further than the Auditor-General's Report and the Port Macquarie example. The privatisation of Port Macquarie Base Hospital was nothing more than the sale of the century. The coalition Government paid $143 million for a hospital that should have cost $52 million to build. Yet there is more! The company that we as taxpayers paid $143 million to build this hospital will ultimately keep the hospital! And there is more! Not only do the taxpayers pay twice the price and the company gets to keep the hospital. but the Government will pay all the running costs.
Mr Hartcher: On a point of order. Mr Speaker, earlier today you received notice of a motion for urgent consideration concerning the privatisation of Port Macquarie Base Hospital and the Auditor-General's Report. In accordance with the standing orders, questions may not anticipate debate on a matter that is on the notice paper. This matter is on the notice paper and I ask you to rule the question out of order.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Chair has ruled previously on this type of matter. The matter is before the House, but there is no guarantee it will be debated. A debate after question time will determine that. The Minister may continue.
Dr REFSHAUGE: Not only are taxpayers paying $143 million for a $52 million hospital that the Government will not eventually own; the Government will take all the financial risk and cover all of the costs. But there is still more to come! The company that runs the hospital gets a whopping 30 per cent more to provide those hospital services than would be paid to a public sector hospital. One would not be surprised to discover that this process is an expensive failure. It is so expensive that the Auditor-General said of this deal that the Government pays for the hospital twice and then gives it away. The New South Wales taxpayers have to pay $143 million for a $52 million hospital but will not own it. If New South Wales Health wants to run that hospital at the conclusion of the 20-year contract, it must buy it back at market cost. I am glad the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was not my accountant; otherwise my house would be owned by my plumber.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will not be surprised at how expensive this failed privatisation policy has proven. He was the person who signed this ridiculous deal to pay for the hospital twice and then give it away. Further, New South Wales Health will pay 30 per cent more for the running costs of that hospital than it would pay for a normal public hospital. The only member to be surprised is the honourable member for North Shore, who really believes this process is ideologically driven. It is ideologically driven; nobody believes it is the right way to go. The only blinkered ideology comes from the honourable member for North Shore. She keeps pushing these privatisation deals for our public hospitals.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for North Shore will refrain from interjecting.
Dr REFSHAUGE: The Deputy Leader of the Opposition might have had another reason for doing this deal. When I became Minister for Health I looked at the computer that the former Minister used. It contained his diary. What happened on 28 November 1994? There was a fundraising lunch. Who hosted that fundraiser? None other than the owner of the private hospital at Port Macquarie! The former Minister signed the deal, paid twice for the hospital, pays 30 per cent more than he would for the running costs of a public hospital, gave it away, and then trots up to the boardroom of Health Care of Australia for a fundraising luncheon for the re-election of the Liberal Party. He was asked to bring a staffer to the luncheon. Who did he bring as a staffer? None other than Tricky Dicky! Honourable members will remember Richard McKinnon. He worked for the Deputy Leader of the Opposition when he was Minister for Health and also for the Victorian Minister for Health at the same time. He got twice the pay and played one against the other.
When Tricky Dicky had spare time he would go to the Department of Health and berate the public servants into changing their advice to the Minister and writing things they did not believe. The honourable member for North Shore tries to interject. She was the one hawking this discredited memo saying that the waiting lists could only be reduced if the figures were fiddled. The reality is that a public servant only wrote that memo when Tricky Dicky berated those public servants; but that public servant said afterwards, "This is not true. I do not believe it. It was only because the Minister's office forced me to do it." Is it any wonder that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition took that staffer to the HCOA fundraiser for the re-election of the Liberal Party? The Auditor-General has calculated that the capital cost of Port Macquarie Base Hospital is twice what it should be. Every hospital in New South Wales is paying that cost. Not only is capital cost involved; until now secrecy provisions of this agreement prevented me revealing the true cost of privatising the Port Macquarie hospital.
The Auditor-General revealed in his report that last year taxpayers paid $28 million in recurrent funding to run public hospital-type services at Port Macquarie Base Hospital. I asked the Department of Health how much it would cost for a similar hospital to run those services. The Department compared Port Macquarie with Albury, Coffs Harbour, Dubbo, Lismore, Orange, Tamworth and Wagga Wagga hospitals. Port Macquarie was by far the most expensive. It required $6 million more in recurrent funding compared with the average of the other hospitals. That is $6 million taken from all other hospitals because Ronnie wanted to give it to Wendy. Would not that make a good deal? I wonder who is now standing for the leadership of the Liberal Party and the National Party? The Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the honourable member for Port Macquarie.
Ronnie gave the money to Wendy, and now they are in the deal together. It costs $6 million more to run this privatised hospital than it costs to run a similar public hospital. The recurrent costs of the privatised Port Macquarie Base Hospital are between 20 per cent and 30 per cent higher than those for an equivalent public hospital. The Auditor-General has hinted why that may be the case. He said that when the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was Minister for Health he paid top dollar for every procedure performed at the hospital; all procedures were costed at the top rate of private health benefit cover. It is no wonder that all other hospitals paid an extra $6 million for this privatisation deal. There is no doubt about what the Liberals and Nationals do with failed accountants and failed dealers. They make them shadow treasurers. What happened to the Treasurer at the time who authorised this deal? He became the Leader of the Opposition. That is why members of the Liberal and National parties will remain opposite for a hell of a long time, and it is why we are on this side of the House.
BUILDING SERVICES CORPORATION AND Ms VANESSA LOVETT
Mrs CHIKAROVSKI: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Fair Trading. In his recommendation that Vanessa Lovett be paid $100,000 on her insurance claim, did the Building Services Corporation claims manager state that all evidence indicated that demolition was appropriate? Does the fact that the independent arbitrator determined that the work needed was worth a maximum of only $37,000 demonstrate there was no need for demolition or for a BSC payout to Ms Lovett of three times that amount?
Mrs LO PO': I shall take that question on notice and see if I can find out what this matter is about.
RURAL EDUCATION AND TRAINING
Mr NEILLY: My question is directed to the Minister for Education and Training, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Youth Affairs. What is the Government doing for rural education and training?
Mr AQUILINA: I am delighted to be asked that question by the honourable member for Cessnock, who is one of the competent and capable country members of the Government. The Government has increased expenditure on education and training in country New South Wales by $72 million to almost $1.9 billion. The cornerstone of the Government's education and training budget is equity, and country New South Wales plays a big role in equity. The Government believes in providing equal opportunities to all students, no matter where they live, be it on the north coast in the electorate of Clarence, in the far west in the Broken Hill electorate, in the central west in the electorate of Bathurst or in other electorates such as Coffs Harbour, Myall Lakes or Murrumbidgee. That is the sort of Government we are. We provide equity, particularly to rural New South Wales.
The Government believes that it is the right of everyone to enjoy the same opportunities for learning and training, no matter what their circumstances, their age or where they live. Rural schools will benefit in the same way as city and regional-based schools from the Government's initiatives. For example, 100 literacy teaching positions will be funded this year. The honourable member for Ku-ring-gai keeps pooh-poohing the additional 100 literacy teachers. If he does not want me to allocate them to electorates held by Opposition members, I will be happy to allocate them to electorates held by Government members. By allocating the literacy teachers to rural electorates, among those who will benefit the most, and among those most in need of literacy training, will of course be country children, particularly Aboriginal children. This is the week of reconciliation. Aboriginal children need literacy training perhaps to a greater degree than other children. The additional 7.5 teaching positions will provide support for teachers in country-based small schools.
Mr Carr: That was in the election policy.
Mr AQUILINA: That was an election commitment, which has been fulfilled. Those additional teaching positions are part of 30 such positions that will be provided over four years. As well, 14 additional opportunity classes will be established in country schools in 1996, and an extra $29.6 million has been allocated for the computers in schools program. That is a continuation of the Government's four-year $177 million program that commenced in 1995-96. The program will involve the training of 15,000 teachers in the use of technology in schools and the provision of 40 technology advisers to district offices, 18 of which are in rural New South Wales. One of those district offices is in Grafton which is in the Clarence electorate. By the end of this year all schools, including those in country New South Wales, will be linked to the Internet. Which schools will benefit most from that?
Mr Carr: Country schools.
Mr AQUILINA: Country schools will be linked to the Internet for the cost of a local call. As the honourable member for Bathurst indicates, that is another tick, another commitment delivered by the Carr Government. The higher school certificate advice line will operate for an extra week this year. That is another great initiative. Last year the advice line received 24,000 calls. Many of those calls were from rural HSC candidates who otherwise would not have had access to outside tuition and training. Students who live in isolated areas will benefit the most from that initiative, as the calls cost the same as a local call. That is only one of the Government's countless success stories in country New South Wales. Funding for equity programs that target those from disadvantaged backgrounds has increased to more than $475 million. An amount of $54 million has been allocated for rural programs such as the Distance Education Centre support, the years 11 and 12 access program, staffing betterments in small schools, boarder scholarships at agricultural high schools, the living away from home allowance and student assistance program, and the drought assistance rural crisis package.
Since the restructure of the Department of School Education last year 22 per cent of the total number of departmental employees have been employed in rural New South Wales, compared with 20 per cent under the previous Government. The 18 district offices in country New South Wales account for 43 per cent of the statewide district office staff. The Government will establish an HSC marking centre at Coffs Harbour. I have not yet read the press release from the honourable member for Coffs Harbour congratulating me on that; I hope it is coming. I do not need to remind the honourable member, or other country members opposite, that under the previous Government country teachers had little or no chance to mark the higher school certificate. That has all changed. That is the sort of government we are: a government that looks after country New South Wales.
In addition, the capital allocation for this year will result in the commencement of 35 new school projects. The honourable member for Port Macquarie is not in the Chamber to hear the good news. A new high school will be provided at Camden Haven in the Port Macquarie electorate, and a new kindergarten to year 12 school will be provided at Evans Head. Where is Evans Head? It is in the electorate of Clarence. Where are you, Harry? A new hall will be constructed at Grafton Public School. Good on you, Harry! He is a great representative. What will he do when he actually gets here? The stage 3 upgrade of Maclean High School will commence this year. I should like to hear the honourable member for Oxley congratulate the Government on that. The Labor Party when in opposition made a promise about that. The Premier and I went up there.
Mr Jeffery: On a point of order. I know that the Minister was a history teacher and not a geography teacher, but Maclean High School is near Grafton.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no point of order.
Mr AQUILINA: I am delighted to hear that once again the representations of the new member for Clarence have been so successful. In anticipation of his arrival, the Premier tells me that he will draft the member for Clarence to say thank you to the people of Clarence. I am sure all these initiatives are welcomed by all members. I would like to hear from the honourable member for Murwillumbah. What about Murwillumbah High School?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Murwillumbah is on three calls to order.
Mr AQUILINA: Getting back to the electorate of Coffs Harbour, when in opposition the Government made a pledge that the honourable member for Coffs Harbour said would never be delivered. I need not remind the House that Woolgoolga Public School has its hall. As of this week the honourable member for Coffs Harbour still has the funding for it - as of this week! There are new halls for Camden South and Mawarra public schools. There are so many initiatives. I will conclude on this point. Cobar High School has its multipurpose hall. There will be upgrades to public schools at Cobbity, The Oaks, Oakdale, Dungog - where is the honourable member for Maitland? - and Thornton. Mudgee and Orange high schools, Farrer and Yanco agricultural high schools, and Toronto High School will also be upgraded. I am sure the honourable member for Cessnock will be pleased to hear that $1.2 million will be spent on Weston Public School, which is in his electorate. I thank the honourable member for Cessnock for giving me the opportunity to point out what a caring Government we are.
Questions without notice concluded.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Suspension of Standing Order 284
Mr WHELAN (Ashfield - Minister for Police) [3.22]: I move:
That Standing Order 284 be suspended during the passage of the Appropriation Bill and cognate bills.
Standing Order 284 provides:
(1) During the second reading debate on the Appropriation Bill on motion of a Minister, the House shall appoint Estimates Committees.
(2) The Estimates Committees shall examine and report on proposed expenditures . . .
I have moved the motion to remove the ambiguity about the standing order. The standing order will be considered by the Standing Orders and Procedure Committee. In view of the attitude of the Legislative Council towards the creation of joint estimates committees, I have moved the motion to ensure compliance by the Legislative Assembly with its own standing orders. I urge the House to support the motion.
Mr HARTCHER (Gosford) [3.23]: This matter should be examined by the Standing Orders and Procedure Committee. However, it is premature for the Leader of the House to move the motion now. The House has this particular power but only if the motion is moved by a Minister. I have already today withdrawn my motion for the appointment of estimates committees by this House. Accordingly, the Opposition sees no reason why the standing order should be suspended at this time.
Mr WHELAN (Ashfield - Minister for Police) [3.23], in reply: I thought I was being polite. The reason the Parliament will not have joint estimates committees is the refusal by the Liberal Party and the National Party to confer with their upper House colleagues. Joint estimates committees would have provided some accountability of the primary objective of the budgetary process emanating in the Legislative Council and dealt with through all stages by the Legislative Assembly. Those opposite have denied the members of the Legislative Assembly the opportunity to scrutinise the budgetary process. They have absolved themselves from their duties and obligations and have transferred those obligations to members of the upper House. They regard joint estimates committees as nothing more than a political stunt, but in reality they have denigrated the role of this Chamber in analysing the budgetary process.
Mr O'Farrell: You did that.
Mr WHELAN: Never. The Government has always agreed to joint estimates committees.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Northcott will remain silent.
Mr WHELAN: The Opposition had the opportunity to vote with us and voted against the motion. A message was sent to the upper House, and the upper House refused to adhere to the view of the Government that the estimates committees should be joint estimates committees. The
proposition before the Chair is designed to suspend the provision contained in the standing order that estimates committees shall be appointed. Joint estimate committees cannot be appointed because the Opposition will not agree to it.
Question - That the motion be agreed to - put.
The House divided.
Mr Amery Mr Markham
Mr Anderson Mr Martin
Ms Andrews Ms Meagher
Mr Aquilina Mr Mills
Mrs Beamer Ms Moore
Mr Carr Mr Moss
Mr Clough Mr Nagle
Mr Crittenden Mr Neilly
Mr Debus Ms Nori
Mr Face Mr E. T. Page
Mr Gaudry Mr Price
Mr Gibson Dr Refshauge
Mrs Grusovin Mr Rogan
Ms Hall Mr Rumble
Mr Harrison Mr Scully
Ms Harrison Mr Shedden
Mr Hunter Mr Stewart
Mr Iemma Mr Sullivan
Mr Knight Mr Tripodi
Mr Knowles Mr Watkins
Mr Langton Mr Whelan
Mrs Lo Po' Mr Yeadon
Mr Lynch Tellers,
Mr McBride Mr Beckroge
Mr McManus Mr Thompson
Mr Armstrong Mr D. L. Page
Mr Beck Mr Peacocke
Mr Blackmore Mr Phillips
Mr Chappell Mr Photios
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Richardson
Mr Cochran Mr Rixon
Mr Collins Mr Rozzoli
Mr Cruickshank Mr Schipp
Mr Debnam Mr Schultz
Ms Ficarra Mrs Skinner
Mr Fraser Mr Slack-Smith
Mr Glachan Mr Small
Mr Hartcher Mr Smith
Mr Hazzard Mr Souris
Mr Humpherson Mr Tink
Dr Kernohan Mr Turner
Mr Kinross Mr Windsor
Mr Merton Tellers,
Mr O'Doherty Mr Jeffery
Mr O'Farrell Mr Kerr
Ms Allan Mr Downy
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
PUBLIC BODIES REVIEW COMMITTEE
Appointment of Members
Motion, by leave, by Mr Whelan agreed to:
That Donald Frederick Charles Beck be appointed to serve on the Public Bodies Review Committee in place of John Harcourt Turner, discharged.
CONSIDERATION OF URGENT MOTIONS
Port Macquarie Base Hospital Privatisation
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Premier, Minister for Health, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) [3.33]: My motion for urgent consideration is the condemnation of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for privatising Port Macquarie Base Hospital which, in the words of the Auditor-General, will lead to New South Wales taxpayers paying twice for Port Macquarie Base Hospital and then giving it away. Mr Speaker, yesterday you tabled in this Chamber the Auditor-General's Report, a report of immense importance. People throughout New South Wales are concerned about a range of issues. The issues that are of most concern to them are those that are regularly referred to as the bread and butter issues.
Despite attempts by members of the Opposition to take the focus away from the important delivery of services, the most important role and function of a State government is service delivery. The Auditor-General said in his report that there were excessive costs in relation to the privatisation of Port Macquarie hospital. The House should now take note of this important issue and determine what it has cost to build and run Port Macquarie Base Hospital. The House must establish clearly who is responsible for that extra cost. The Auditor-General spent an enormous amount of time examining this most important contract. We have heard from Opposition members that privatisation is still clearly on their agenda. The report of the Auditor-General has clearly shown the outrageous expense involved in privatisation, a process embarked upon by the former Government.
Mrs Skinner: On a point of order. The Minister is debating the substance of this issue; he is not seeking to establish urgency. I ask you to direct him to return to the substance of the matter.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister should not debate the motion. The purpose of this debate is to establish which notice will receive priority.
Dr REFSHAUGE: This matter is urgent as the report of the Auditor-General was tabled in this Parliament only within the last 24 hours. Honourable members must take note of what the Auditor-General has had to say and not let this opportunity slip away. Let us debate the matters raised by the Auditor-General. Members of this Chamber have taken a strong point of view on this issue. The Independents have also taken enormous interest in this issue. It is important for us to
recognise and put on the record the work that the Auditor-General has done. The issue of the privatisation of public hospitals must also be debated. I am sure the Independents can attest to the fact that the former Government planned to privatise $2 billion worth of public hospitals in this State.
Mrs Skinner: On a point of order -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I anticipate the point of order. The Minister should not debate the motion.
Dr REFSHAUGE: This matter is urgent. Honourable members should vote for this motion to take precedence over all others.
Contagious Livestock Diseases
Mr ARMSTRONG (Lachlan - Leader of the National Party) [3.37]: The closure of Wagga Wagga and Armidale veterinary laboratories is an urgent matter. The overwhelming inexperience and maladministration demonstrated by the Minister for Agriculture in divesting New South Wales Agriculture of hundreds of highly trained and skilled personnel has placed our livestock populations at risk of devastation by contagious diseases. Nowhere is this more dramatically demonstrated than in the Minister's abject failure to respond quickly and effectively to the threat posed to our sheep by the outbreak of ovine Johne's disease, an imported disease, which has the potential of spreading throughout our entire sheep population of approximately 50 million, including sheep owned by hobby farmers and small flock operators. Essentially, this matter is urgent -
Mr Gibson: On a point of order. The standing orders in this regard are clear. The Leader of the National Party must establish why this matter is more important than the matter referred to by the Deputy Premier. The Leader of the National Party is not entitled to debate the substance of this matter.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I uphold the point of order. The Leader of the National Party knows that under the standing orders he is required to establish why his notice should receive priority and he is not permitted to debate the substance of the motion.
Mr ARMSTRONG: This matter is urgent because of the Minister's lack of awareness and understanding of the potential livestock disaster posed by this disease. Every day our sheep are exposed to the risk of this insidious disease which is spreading throughout the State. Essentially, ovine Johne's disease can best be described as animal leprosy. We have already seen evidence of -
Mr Gibson: On a point of order. As I said earlier -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I anticipate the point of order and uphold it. The Leader of the National Party may not debate the substance of the motion.
Mr ARMSTRONG: It is absolutely essential that this House be fully apprised of the effects of Johne's disease, including its capacity to seriously affect the rural economy, to affect breeding stocks, and to jeopardise the viability of our sheep and cattle industries. The cattle and wool industries are suffering financially at the moment and it is essential that the import of this disease be fully discussed.
Mr Gibson: On a point of order. I am reluctant to take a point of order but the Leader of the National Party must establish why it is more important for this House to debate his notice than that of the Minister. He is not entitled to debate the substance of the matter.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have heard enough on the point of order. For the moment I will allow the member to continue.
Mr ARMSTRONG: The matter is urgent because this Government is wanting to cover up the matter by trying to take these points of order. The Minister should know the facts. The disease has spread in the last three weeks. The potential outbreak of this disease would cause livestock health problems because the Minister and his department are unable to come to grips with control of Johne's disease. There is nothing more urgent that this Parliament should discuss than the potential effect of a major disease outbreak affecting the livestock industries of this State, the largest employer - [Time expired.]
Question - That the notice for urgent consideration of Dr Refshauge be proceeded with - put.
The House divided.
Mr Amery Mr Markham
Mr Anderson Mr Martin
Ms Andrews Ms Meagher
Mr Aquilina Mr Mills
Mrs Beamer Ms Moore
Mr Clough Mr Moss
Mr Crittenden Mr Nagle
Mr Debus Mr Neilly
Mr Face Ms Nori
Mr Gaudry Mr E. T. Page
Mr Gibson Mr Price
Mrs Grusovin Dr Refshauge
Ms Hall Mr Rogan
Mr Harrison Mr Rumble
Ms Harrison Mr Scully
Mr Hunter Mr Shedden
Mr Iemma Mr Stewart
Mr Knight Mr Sullivan
Mr Knowles Mr Tripodi
Mr Langton Mr Watkins
Mrs Lo Po' Mr Whelan
Mr Lynch Mr Yeadon
Mr McBride Tellers,
Dr Macdonald Mr Beckroge
Mr McManus Mr Thompson
Mr Armstrong Mr D. L. Page
Mr Beck Mr Peacocke
Mr Blackmore Mr Phillips
Mr Chappell Mr Photios
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Richardson
Mr Cochran Mr Rixon
Mr Collins Mr Rozzoli
Mr Cruickshank Mr Schipp
Mr Debnam Mr Schultz
Ms Ficarra Mrs Skinner
Mr Fraser Mr Slack-Smith
Mr Glachan Mr Small
Mr Hartcher Mr Smith
Mr Hazzard Mr Souris
Mr Humpherson Mr Tink
Dr Kernohan Mr Turner
Mr Kinross Mr Windsor
Mr Merton Tellers,
Mr O'Doherty Mr Jeffery
Mr O'Farrell Mr Kerr
Ms Allan Mr Downy
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
PORT MACQUARIE BASE HOSPITAL PRIVATISATION
Consideration of Urgent Motion
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Premier, Minister for Health, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) [3.50]: I move:
That this House condemns the member for Miranda for privatising Port Macquarie Hospital, which will lead to New South Wales taxpayers paying twice for Port Macquarie Base Hospital, then giving it away.
The truth is at last out. The Labor Party has a proud record of opposition to the privatisation of Port Macquarie Base Hospital - an experiment that failed. The New South Wales Auditor-General's Report tabled in the House yesterday by you, Mr Speaker, confirms the view of the Labor Party opposing the privatisation of Port Macquarie Base Hospital. The findings of the Auditor-General are clear. Firstly, the system that the previous coalition Government set up to manage the Port Macquarie project is unaccountable. The Auditor-General found that the hospital is not being properly accounted for. The moral of the story is that privatisation means less accountability to New South Wales taxpayers. Secondly, the Auditor-General found that the scheme involves "little risk to private sector partners". So much for the rhetoric of shifting risks to the private sector. Despite the high cost, despite the contracts, the public sector continues to carry the can. The Auditor-General's Report states, on page 408:
With the exception of ensuring that health services are maintained at an agreed level (together with the corresponding operating margins) it is arguable that the majority of other risks and benefits born by the operator are passed to the Department via the service charge.
The report further states at page 408:
Overall, it would appear that Department of Health is substantially in the position of an owner of the Hospital for the period of the agreement because of its exposure to the majority of rights and obligations/risks and benefits relating to that facility.
Thirdly, the privatisation of Port Macquarie Base Hospital has been the sale of the century. The Auditor-General found that the capital cost to the public sector for the project is $143.6 million, and he concluded:
. . . in the case of Port Macquarie Base Hospital, the Government agreed to pass over the hospital and hospital land (and hospital licence) to the private sector, after the Government has paid out the financiers in 20 years time. This inexplicable grant is additional to the significant fees paid by the Government for the private sector-provided hospital services. The Government is, in effect, paying for the hospital twice and giving it away.
In addition, the Auditor-General found that in 1994-95 Port Macquarie Base Hospital made the department incur annual costs of $28.1 million, as referred to on page 404 of the Auditor-General's Report. I asked the Department of Health to use this figure and advise me how this cost compares with the costs of similar hospitals run by the public sector doing similar work. We examined Albury, Coffs Harbour, Dubbo, Lismore, Orange, Tamworth and Wagga Wagga. Those hospitals were not chosen by me. They were announced by the former Minister for Health as the marker hospitals, those that would be the base for determining standards at Port Macquarie Hospital. The results of this analysis are astounding. The department estimates that Port Macquarie Base Hospital is between $4.4 million and $6.4 million more expensive to run than if it were run by the public sector. That is between 20 per cent and 32 per cent more expensive than if it were run by the public sector.
Mrs Skinner: Table that report.
Dr REFSHAUGE: About $6 million of taxpayers' money will be put into this deal every year that should be spent on other health services. The honourable member for North Shore interjected and told me to table the report. I would be happy to table the report if she is happy to obtain agreement from the provider that that aspect of the contract be broken that prevents me from tabling the report. I am happy to table it if I have an assurance from the operator that it would be happy for me to breach the confidential agreement and table the report. It is easy to see why the costs are higher. It is not simply because the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is a lousy accountant and was certainly a dreadful Minister for Health. Page 403 of the Auditor-General's Report states:
The Department of Health pays a `service charge' to the operator for the treatment of public patients. The majority of the budgeted service charge is calculated on a set fee per service. The set fee is equivalent to the top cover private health insurance rebate.
No wonder it is an expensive hospital to run. The Auditor-General also found that the cost has escalated. He stated on page 404 of the report:
There have been significant variations between the estimated costs ($23.9m) included in the Services Agreement and the actual annual costs ($28.1m) incurred by the Department for 1994-95.
What is worse, the Auditor-General also shows that the cost is likely to continue to escalate, and he stated, on page 403:
The number of individual services is set by the Department of Health annually, having regard to a range of factors including changes in demographics and changes in the demand for services. The budgeted annual service charge is not to be less than the total service charge paid in the previous year.
In other words, it will continue to escalate each year. Perhaps $6 million extra will have to be paid from all the other hospitals to prop up this lousy deal, but it will be extra money every year for 20 years and that cost is likely to escalate in future years.
Mrs Skinner: You are saving money.
Dr REFSHAUGE: There is no saving when it costs the Government $6 million that should be spent in other areas. The honourable member for North Shore constantly interjects. The next time she asks for money I will tell her to talk to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Port Macquarie, and Health Care Australia. That is where the money went, and that is a lousy deal. It is disturbing that the person who approved this project, the former health Minister, has the pretension to be the shadow treasurer. If his handling of a relatively small but important project such as Port Macquarie Base Hospital is costing the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars both in capital and on recurrent expenditure, the sort of damage he would do if he was running Treasury would run into billions of dollars.
We must not forget that it is not only the former Minister for Health who bears this responsibility. We must recognise the role of the Treasurer of the time who allowed these shambles to go ahead. He now wants to be the Premier. He will stay Leader of the Opposition for a long time, if his party allows him, if he continues to support such a lousy privatisation deal. Despite this mess, I make it clear that I want to make sure that the people of Port Macquarie are not penalised because of the negligence of the previous Government. I have directed the Department of Health to compensate the mid-north coast area health services under the new resource distribution formula with a private sector inefficiency grant. It is important that the people of the mid-north coast are not penalised because of the lousy deal imposed on taxpayers by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, in cahoots with the honourable member for Port Macquarie.
The rest of the people of that area should not be penalised. The private sector inefficiency grant will be a separate item for the mid-north coast area health services so that people in other areas are not penalised as a result of the disastrous deal that was done between the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the private operator. When he was a Minister he knew what was going on and the people he paid money to knew what was going on because they organised a Liberal Party fundraising dinner with him as the major guest. In the middle of this deal they were prepared to invite him and others to come along in order that they might donate money to the Liberal Party. It is not surprising that the Opposition is still wedded to privatisation. As the Independents would testify - and as Terry Metherell would testify - the Metherell diaries show that when they met with John Hannaford, who was at that stage the Minister for Health, he said, "$2 billion of health services can be privatised this way. We are prepared to and want to privatise all of our public sector hospitals."
If this deal went throughout the whole public health system in New South Wales, we would not be talking about $6 million that should have been spent on health but is now going to the shareholders of this company, we would be talking in billions of dollars. Privatisation was put on the agenda by the Liberal-National Government. It was clearly opposed by the Labor Party. It is a major reason that the Labor Party is in government and the coalition is in Opposition. [Time expired.]
Mr PHILLIPS (Miranda - Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [4.00]: All honourable members know that the Minister for Health, who is on the left wing of the Labor Party, has always been intractably opposed to any sort of privatisation whatsoever, and nothing angers him more than the involvement of the private sector and the churches in public health. Yet the private sector and the churches have been involved in health to a substantial extent for many years in New South Wales and throughout Australia. All honourable members are aware of his views: he would like to drive out the Catholic Church from the health service. It sickens him that the private sector is involved at all in health care. Now that he has become Minister for Health he is determined to prove himself right. It does not matter that the contract for the Port Macquarie project was the benchmark used by Labor Governments in Western Australia and Queensland to privatise their major veterans affairs hospitals. It does not matter to him that a private sector hospital at Hawkesbury, and run by the Catholic Church, uses the Port Macquarie benchmark model - no grumblings about that. He is very satisfied with the deal and everything is running okay.
Honourable members should remember that Port Macquarie hospital was the icebreaker. It had to start right from scratch. Such a project had never been undertaken before. It was a difficult process, as honourable members would expect. It was difficult for the people of Port Macquarie. It was difficult for the honourable member for Port Macquarie. It was difficult for the Ministers
involved. It was difficult for Treasury and it was difficult for officers of the Department of Health. It was all new ground. Why did the former Government take this approach at Port Macquarie? I have to remind the Minister and honourable members that when the coalition came to Government in 1988 and in the time it was in office the coalition was determined to upgrade the capital stock of the health system, to put new hospitals into western Sydney, such as the New Children's Hospital at Westmead, and new hospitals at Nepean, Liverpool, the St George area and Gosford.
But, unfortunately, the capital available from taxpayers and loans available to the former Government did not extend to other projects. The people of Port Macquarie were desperate to have a new hospital. Under the program in place at the time they would not have had a hospital until the end of this decade, unless the former Government was able to find a new way to do it, and it did. Port Macquarie now has a brand new, privately operated, privately owned hospital providing services for both public and private patients. If honourable members were to speak to the people of Port Macquarie they would be told that the people never thought they would have a hospital of that quality. The quality of service provided by that hospital and its standards of care are at least comparable with, if not better than, those of public hospitals of its type around the State. That is the case because the contract says so. We are not talking about a second-rate standard of care, but about the highest standard of care available to the people of Port Macquarie.
That is the background to the philosophical opposition of the Minister for Health to privatisation and why he hates the fact that the project is a success. He will do everything possible to try to undermine its success. His use of the Auditor-General's Report is absolutely dishonest. As a politician I get sick of people, such as the Auditor-General and others in such places, putting headline grabbers in executive summaries to achieve publicity for their reports, then not justifying their headlines in the context of the report. The Auditor makes the throw-away comment that:
This inexplicable grant is additional to the significant fees paid by the Government for the private sector-provided hospital services. The Government is, in effect, paying for the hospital twice and giving it away.
That is not so. But what is even worse, the report has absolutely nothing to do with evaluating whether the project is a good deal or a bad deal, whether the taxpayers of New South Wales have been ripped off, whether the contract should have been signed, or whether the Public Accounts Committee of this Parliament that reviewed the project was in error. The report is simply an assessment of accounting treatments. Why was there a conflict over the accounting treatment? The answer is that there was a difference of views between Treasury and the Department of Health about how the hospital should be treated in accounting terms. The Auditor-General was concerned about the accounting treatment, so one year he qualified the accounts and now he has produced a report. As I understand it, to this moment Treasury and the Auditor-General still differ in their views as to how Port Macquarie hospital should be treated in the accounts, but that is what the report is about.
The other dishonesty that flowed from the Minister was his statement that this public hospital, which cost $52.5 million, in fact cost the taxpayers $143 million. He stated that we could have had a public hospital for $52 million but we will have to pay $143 million. The Minister is either dishonest or he is an accounting dunce. Even the Auditor-General's Report clearly showed that if Port Macquarie were a public hospital it would have cost $63 million, not $52.5 million, and that is just the capital cost. The capital service charges have to be added. Honourable members know that to build a public hospital one has to borrow. To build a private sector hospital one has to borrow. The $143 million adds up to capital service charges associated over the term of the contract for borrowing $52.5 million to build a hospital. But would the Minister evaluate the cost of a public hospital that way? No! He wants to compare them in a very dishonest manner.
I turn to the audit conclusions. I really had to strain my eyes, but I am still unable to see any reference in the report that states that the taxpayers were ripped off, or it was a bad deal and they should not have signed the contract. The report says that service charge payments display the features of a service contract. As such they should be accounted for as an agreement equally proportionally unperformed - AEPU - and expenses as incurred. The report then talks about accounting treatments. I know that is hard accounting jargon, but that is what the report is about - an argument between the Auditor-General and Treasury regarding the accounting treatment of the project, as to who carries the risk and who owns the asset. If honourable members were to ask the people of Port Macquarie or the doctors who operate in the hospital whether they have a good deal, they would receive a favourable response.
The Auditor-General's Report clearly indicates that construction of the Port Macquarie hospital was an attempt to provide expanded health services for the people of Port Macquarie. The Auditor recognised that there were capital limits, he recognised there were loan borrowing restrictions imposed on the State Government by the Federal Labor Government relating to how much could be borrowed and how that borrowing should be treated. The Auditor also recognised that Treasury, because of the accounting treatment, directed the Department of Health that the ownership should be laid off to Health Care of Australia and not to the Government. I therefore move the following amendment to the motion:
That all words after the word "the" be deleted with a view to inserting instead:
Minister for Health for deliberately underutilising Port Macquarie hospital, wasting health resources and developing services elsewhere.
That is what is happening. Large areas of that hospital are left vacant by the Minister and are not properly utilised, yet rent is being paid on that property. [Time expired.]
Ms NORI (Port Jackson) [4.10]: The comments contained in the report from the Auditor-General tabled in the House yesterday come as no surprise to Labor Party members. In opposition the Labor Party consistently expressed outrage at the privatisation of Port Macquarie Base Hospital. The Auditor-General's Report confirms Labor Party fears and provides evidence of the gross incompetence of the previous Government. I take no comfort in being able to say to coalition members, "I told you so". Page 15 of the Auditor-General's Report states:
Of course, if the risks associated with such transactions are removed then no liabilities arise. However -
and this is the important point -
a large majority of the complex transactions audited to-date have adopted structures which provide the plausible appearance but not the reality of reducing risk for the State. This report comments on the audit of a further four complex financial arrangements which also reflect the failure to minimise risk for the State.
Therein lies the scam, the great hoax perpetrated on the taxpayers of New South Wales by the former Government. The coalition attempted to sell New South Wales a pup. It said that this great scheme would save money, that the taxpayer would do well and Port Macquarie would get its hospital. Port Macquarie did get a hospital, but at great expense and to the detriment of the rest of the taxpayers of New South Wales. Certainly it was to the detriment of the rest of the health care consumers of New South Wales. We know now that New South Wales taxpayers will pay twice for the hospital and will never own it. Honourable members have heard a lot about BOOT schemes - build-own-operate-transfer. Many public infrastructure projects were funded under this scheme, but not so Port Macquarie hospital. New South Wales might get back some of its roads and other infrastructure, but it will not get back Port Macquarie hospital. We did not even enter into a BOOT scheme. The Port Macquarie Base Hospital services agreement pays fees to the private operator equivalent to the top private cover insurance rebate. The expenditure of the hospital is not being properly accounted for.
The honourable member for North Shore can interject all she likes, but she should take a little advice. She would be better off cutting her losses, admit making a mistake and get on with things. And, of course, she should promise not to make the same mistake should New South Wales have the misfortune to elect another Liberal government, although the weekend results indicate that that will not occur for a while. The poor old taxpayer continues to bear the risk. As the Deputy Premier said in his contribution, this has been the sale of the century. Unfortunately, New South Wales taxpayers are paying the bills and the precious private sector is receiving all the prizes. How can the Deputy Leader of the Opposition go to bed with a clear conscience after presiding over the debacle of the Port Macquarie hospital? His incompetence has cost New South Wales taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars that were needed to expand health services in the public sector. As the member for Port Jackson, I resent the handing over to Port Macquarie Base Hospital of money that could have been spent on Balmain Hospital, Sydney Hospital or any other hospital. On behalf of my constituents I resent the coalition blowing the dough and depriving the rest of the State of a better health system. No wonder waiting lists were out of control.
Mr Phillips: Read the report. Where does it say that?
Ms NORI: I have read the report; it is pretty damning. As I said to the honourable member for North Shore, admit the mistake and do not make it again. No wonder waiting lists were out of control under the coalition Government. Emergency departments were underfunded and rural services were consistently depleted. This all occurred under a Government that bragged about its managerial credentials, the same Government that delivered a privatised hospital that will cost at least 30 per cent more than if it were run under the public system. Where is the good management and public accountability? Of course, we must be grateful to the Auditor-General in his report finally vindicating what many of us have known for a long time, that is, not to degrade the public hospital system but support it. In an age of economic rationalism, this process is a salutary lesson. Some things are sacrosanct because they are vital, essential and important. The public hospital system is too important to be run simply for profit. I am proud to be part of a Government that sees the public hospital system remaining in the public sphere as a cornerstone of its philosophy. [Time expired.]
Ms MACHIN (Port Macquarie) [4.15]: I welcome the opportunity once again to speak about the Port Macquarie Base Hospital. The hospital has been an outstanding success for patients. The Minister visited the hospital and was grudgingly impressed by the standard of the facility. Some interesting statistics are available to measure the performance of the hospital. The Minister has quoted the seven clinical indicators with peer hospitals. Unplanned hospital readmission within 28 days has a threshold of 5 per cent; Port Macquarie hospital achieved a rate of 2.6 per cent, almost half the State average. The average for State hospitals for unplanned return to operating theatres is 5 per cent; for Port Macquarie it was 0.4 per cent. Development of post-operative pulmonary embolisms was 0.9 per cent for Port Macquarie; the average is 1 per cent. The clinical indicator for contaminated wound infections, which measures the percentage of contaminated wounds that become infected in hospital, at Port Macquarie is 2.5 per cent; the State average is 5 per cent.
On many of the clinical indicators Port Macquarie hospital is streets ahead of the public average. At the time of publication of the hospital's annual report that information was not available from the peer hospitals. The Minister berates Port Macquarie Base Hospital, but it is by far outstripping the performance of many of its peers in the public sector that cannot even collect the information to provide the indicators. I do not know what the Labor Party thinks it will gain out of this privatisation issue other than making the Port Macquarie hospital the whipping boy for every project that it decides not to go ahead with. Patient satisfaction surveys could be compared to the 1995 election, in which the National Party achieved about 62 per cent of the vote. The Minister might be interested to learn that patient satisfaction levels show that 83 per cent scored Port Macquarie hospital as very good or excellent. That sort of satisfaction would not be found in many patients in public hospitals.
The Government raised the issue of accountability. My colleague the Deputy Leader of the Opposition very capably set out the way the Government has confused the debt-servicing cost with the day-to-day running costs of the hospital. Port Macquarie Base Hospital is probably one of the most accountable hospitals in New South Wales. It has its own board of advice, which is accountable to the hospital administration and the company that runs the hospital. The hospital has a section 20 committee, which reports directly to the Minister. A community representative is a member of that committee. Thanks to the restructuring by this Government, no other hospital in New South Wales can boast its own local hospital board. Port Macquarie hospital is the only hospital in the State that still has its own board, which reports directly to the Minister.
The hospital runs pretty efficiently. It is interesting to draw parallels between the executive staff of this hospital and that of the private hospital in town. Port Macquarie Base Hospital comprises about 240 beds run by a senior executive of three people. The district public hospital system has 12 people running about half the number of beds. Again, Port Macquarie Base Hospital shapes up on efficiency measures. What is disturbing is the Minister's blind ideological opposition to the project. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said, the Minister will never let up. He has done what he can to destroy the project, and continues to do so. He cannot get it into his head that the only people suffering are the patients at Port Macquarie. I shall give the House two examples. The hospital was designed specifically to accommodate community health facilities for community health services that mesh well with in-patients. That facility stands vacant today almost two years after the hospital opened because of the Government's blind ideological opposition to using it. Many rooms are unused while the Government plans to renovate or rebuild other facilities in town to accommodate the very services that this building was designed to provide.
Second, the psychiatric unit was a sought-after project by many parents of people suffering mental illnesses. Patients that have to be scheduled must travel, often in the back of a van, to Newcastle to be scheduled and they are then returned to Port Macquarie. Only a small amendment is required to allow the psychiatric unit at Port Macquarie to be gazetted. This Government will not do that and the patients are suffering. These issues have been referred to the Auditor-General, and I know that he is most interested in them. Finally, the Public Accounts Committee report contains some praiseworthy statements about the project, which the honourable member for Manly has. The Minister for Health was on the Public Accounts Committee when it reported on the Port Macquarie Base Hospital project, but he did not make a dissenting report. The committee's report referred on a number of occasions to the significant savings that the Government could make over the life of the contract - $40 million was the estimated figure. [Time expired.]
Mr MILLS (Wallsend) [4.20]: I am pleased to support the motion for urgent consideration of the Minister for Health. I shall repeat the motion because I do not think that the honourable member for Port Macquarie has read it; she has merely scribbled an amendment to it. The motion states:
That this House condemns the member for Miranda for privatising Port Macquarie Hospital, which will lead to New South Wales taxpayers paying twice for Port Macquarie Base Hospital, then giving it away.
The honourable member for Port Macquarie and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition tried to defend their acute embarrassment over what must be the lousiest deal perpetrated on New South Wales taxpayers in decades. The motion berates the lousy deal. Of course, the honourable members tried to defend the indefensible, because they ran a lie about the motion. The Government does not question the quality of medical treatment or the patient satisfaction at Port Macquarie. The Minister for Health explained that the special grant to the Port Macquarie Area Health Service to account for overcharging on current services has been included in the budget in an effort to ensure that the people of Port Macquarie do not suffer because their services are more expensive than those provided elsewhere in New South Wales.
The problem is that the deal was arranged and done. The former Minister for Health said that public servants and others had to work hard. He accused the present Minister for Health of having a blind ideological commitment. I would not call it blind commitment but open-eyed enthusiastic commitment, which I share. The Port Macquarie Base Hospital deal was equally ideological. The previous Government was determined to experiment with privatisation and try to make it work. It did not work, and the taxpayers of New South Wales must subsidise the hospital for a long time to come. The Auditor-General's Report tabled yesterday marked a day of shame for the Opposition. It was a
day on which all those who opposed the privatisation of Port Macquarie Base Hospital were proved right, including the hospital action group, the people of Port Macquarie who voted in the referendum - by more than 60 per cent against the privatisation - the Australian Labor Party members in this House, and the former shadow minister for health.
Mr Phillips: What happened to the vote in Port Macquarie at the State election?
Mr MILLS: If the honourable member starts quoting State elections, I shall start quoting the result in the Clarence by-election. The Auditor-General's Report shows the mismanagement of the previous coalition Government on issues of accountability and cost effectiveness. Neither the capital nor the recurrent sides of the agreement can be justified in terms of cost structure. In addition, the nature of the agreements makes it difficult to provide proper accountability to the people of New South Wales. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition must carry a lot of the blame for that shambles because he was Minister for Health at the time; he must carry the can. The former Treasurer, the present Leader of the Opposition, must also carry blame because he allowed the project to go ahead. As Treasurer he should have looked at the accountability mechanisms for taxpayers' funds built into the deal, which most of us could not find out.
I shall give a report card on the project. The deal failed on accountability for expenditure of taxpayers' funds. The Auditor-General concluded that the hospital is not being properly accounted for. The cost effectiveness of capital investment failed. The Auditor-General concluded that the Government is effectively paying for the hospital twice and giving it away. Value for money for running costs has failed. The Auditor-General reported that the annual cost of the hospital is $28.1 million, which makes it 30 per cent more expensive to run than hospitals operated by the public sector. Honourable members will find that on page 403 of the report. How could the Leader of the Opposition allow the project to go ahead? What responsible Treasurer would have allowed the project to go ahead? Other questions must be asked. What economic appraisals were carried out before the project was approved? If such appraisals were carried out, who had knowledge of the results? Was the Public Accounts Committee given all the available information at the time? How does the increase relate to the costs estimated at the time of tendering? In many ways the Auditor-General's Report prompts more questions than it answers, including who will get the financial benefits. [Time expired.]
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Premier, Minister for Health, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) [4.25], in reply: The issue is the condemnation of the former Minister for Health for allowing such a lousy deal to go ahead. He used a couple of interesting arguments in his defence, one of which was that Treasury told the previous Government to do the deal in this way; it could not be done any other way. In 20 years time - it will be less than that because the hospital has been operating for some time - if the owners decide that Port Macquarie Base Hospital should become a hotel resort, the Government will have no ability to reject the proposal. There will be no hospital at Port Macquarie if the owners decide to change the hospital into a hotel resort. That is what the former Minister for Health was prepared to saddle us with.
The Auditor-General has looked through the contract and he has talked to a number of people about it. In his report he quoted the former Minister for Health as saying, "I would never do it again." The former Minister realises that the deal was an absolute disaster. Privately he is prepared to say that he would never do such a deal again; in the House he tried to defend the deal as the best deal possible. Undoubtedly we have been saddled with regular recurrent cost payments because of this lousy deal. All other hospitals and health services in New South Wales must contribute to those extra costs. People have said that it is difficult to calculate paying twice for a hospital when one considers that $143 million will be paid over 20 years for a $52-million hospital. There is an easy answer to that. The Auditor-General, whom we consider an independent person and trust to work out the figures, said that that is what the hospital will cost.
Honourable members do not have to believe me or the Labor Party. They need only look at what the Auditor-General said, which is effectively that we are paying twice for the hospital and then giving it away. Former Premier Nick Greiner said in the House, on an unrelated issue, "What is the point of allowing a private sector company to borrow the money, because the State Government can borrow it at a cheaper rate and does not have to pay the shareholders as well?" He said that there is no point in doing the deal this way because it costs more. Nick Greiner, for all his faults, could add up the figures. He clearly knew that this deal was the wrong way to go. In talking to the Opposition's amendment, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition suggested that the Government should spend more money on running Port Macquarie Base Hospital - it should pay high premium costs to treat more patients at the hospital. What an outrage! He not only tried to cover up his incompetency; he is now saying that more taxpayers' money should be wasted because the hospital is there and the deal was lousy.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that more money should be spent on propping up the hospital. I will not do that. If there is appropriate need in that area for expanding Port Macquarie Base Hospital services, I shall certainly look at that, as I would look at other hospitals in other regions. To say that the hospital should be used because he did that lousy deal and because it will cost us more seems to be utterly and totally stupid. I have no doubt that they have learned their lesson. It is time
that honourable members showed clearly that they have no doubt that this lousy deal is costing significantly more than the estimate and that Port Macquarie may end up with no hospital but a resort in 20 years time. Members of the Opposition look charmed and pleased with themselves and think that is a great deal. I think it is lousy. This House should condemn the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for signing the deal, a deal that really stinks.
Question - That the words stand - put.
The House divided.
Mr Amery Mr Martin
Mr Anderson Ms Meagher
Ms Andrews Mr Mills
Mr Aquilina Ms Moore
Mrs Beamer Mr Moss
Mr Clough Mr Nagle
Mr Crittenden Mr Neilly
Mr Debus Ms Nori
Mr Face Mr E. T. Page
Mr Gaudry Mr Price
Mr Gibson Dr Refshauge
Mrs Grusovin Mr Rogan
Ms Hall Mr Rumble
Mr Harrison Mr Scully
Ms Harrison Mr Shedden
Mr Hunter Mr Stewart
Mr Iemma Mr Sullivan
Mr Knight Mr Tripodi
Mr Knowles Mr Watkins
Mr Langton Mr Whelan
Mrs Lo Po' Mr Windsor
Mr Lynch Mr Yeadon
Dr Macdonald Tellers,
Mr McManus Mr Beckroge
Mr Markham Mr Thompson
Mr Armstrong Mr O'Farrell
Mr Beck Mr D. L. Page
Mr Blackmore Mr Peacocke
Mr Chappell Mr Phillips
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Photios
Mr Cochran Mr Richardson
Mr Collins Mr Rixon
Mr Cruickshank Mr Rozzoli
Mr Debnam Mr Schipp
Ms Ficarra Mr Schultz
Mr Fraser Mrs Skinner
Mr Glachan Mr Slack-Smith
Mr Hartcher Mr Small
Mr Hazzard Mr Smith
Mr Humpherson Mr Souris
Dr Kernohan Mr Tink
Mr Kinross Mr Turner
Ms Machin Tellers,
Mr Merton Mr Jeffery
Mr O'Doherty Mr Kerr
Ms Allan Mr Downy
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question - That the motion be agreed to - put.
The House divided.
Mr Amery Mr Martin
Mr Anderson Ms Meagher
Ms Andrews Mr Mills
Mr Aquilina Ms Moore
Mrs Beamer Mr Moss
Mr Clough Mr Nagle
Mr Crittenden Mr Neilly
Mr Debus Ms Nori
Mr Face Mr E. T. Page
Mr Gaudry Mr Price
Mr Gibson Dr Refshauge
Mrs Grusovin Mr Rogan
Ms Hall Mr Rumble
Mr Harrison Mr Scully
Ms Harrison Mr Shedden
Mr Hunter Mr Stewart
Mr Iemma Mr Sullivan
Mr Knight Mr Tripodi
Mr Knowles Mr Watkins
Mr Langton Mr Whelan
Mrs Lo Po' Mr Yeadon
Mr McBride Tellers,
Mr McManus Mr Beckroge
Mr Markham Mr Thompson
Mr Armstrong Mr O'Farrell
Mr Beck Mr D. L. Page
Mr Blackmore Mr Peacocke
Mr Chappell Mr Phillips
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Photios
Mr Cochran Mr Richardson
Mr Collins Mr Rixon
Mr Cruickshank Mr Rozzoli
Mr Debnam Mr Schipp
Ms Ficarra Mr Schultz
Mr Fraser Mrs Skinner
Mr Glachan Mr Slack-Smith
Mr Hartcher Mr Small
Mr Hazzard Mr Smith
Mr Humpherson Mr Souris
Dr Kernohan Mr Tink
Mr Kinross Mr Turner
Dr Macdonald Mr Windsor
Ms Machin Tellers,
Mr Merton Mr Jeffery
Mr O'Doherty Mr Kerr
Ms Allan Mr Downy
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
RURAL HEALTH SERVICES
Matter of Public Importance
Mrs SKINNER (North Shore) [4.42]: I ask the House to note as a matter of public importance the Carr Government's review and restructure of rural health administration and services. Rural health is a matter of grave importance for the people of country New South Wales, and it has reached crisis levels under the meddling hands of the Carr Government and this Minister for Health. The future delivery of health services in the country is grim following recent changes to rural health administration ordered by the Minister for Health. His actions in reducing the number of districts from 23 to eight, in sacking dedicated health boards and in creating a fractured network of 22 administrative centres only two months after he announced that they would be reduced to eight, has thrown rural health services into a panic.
It is important to look at the history of the Carr Government's restructuring of rural health. The Minister advised as part of his election campaign that he would reduce the size of rural health administration. I believe that the consultant who prepared the review of the administration of health in country areas was under clear instructions that the number of regions should be reduced to eight - the worst kept secret in country New South Wales. Twenty-three district health services that had been working extremely well in the two years that they had been in operation were to be lost. The consultant's review, which is now known as the Hardwick report as it was conducted by consultant Jill Hardwick, has not quoted any of the submissions made to that review. I assure honourable members that the Health Services Association, the industry group representing public providers in New South Wales, stated in its submission that the review was "short-sighted and foolish".
The HSA said in its submission that creating larger districts would reduce the capacity of rural health services to improve the health of people. It also noted that voluntary community involvement would enhance the capacity of rural health services to respond to the needs and priorities identified by the communities that they served. The Minister, by abolishing those boards, has jeopardised services in rural areas. Former health board members across the State condemned the restructure for removing community input. I know that the Minister attended the Health Services Association conference on Friday last week as I attended on Thursday. I also attended the dinner that evening. The topic on everybody's lips at every break and during some of the formal sessions was the disastrous effect that the restructure of health in country New South Wales had on the capacity of the system to deliver health care for people. In fact, the Health Services Association recommended to the consultant who conducted the review that there should be as little change as possible to the existing system.
One of the interesting things about this review is that we knew it was coming, but, all of a sudden, the consultant was engaged and not much public notice was given of it. When I was advised by the Health Services Association that that was the case I wrote to the Director-General of the Department of Health asking whether people could be given an extension of time to put in their submissions because a number of people in country areas had not been given an opportunity to make submissions. As I said earlier, the Hardwick report does not quote from any submissions. It states that there was community input but I have yet to meet one person from a country town who had an opportunity to make a submission to the Hardwick review. Because the report does not quote from any submissions there is no guarantee that any were taken into account, if in fact there were any at all.
I am aware that the consultant discussed the matter with bureaucrats, but that flies in the face of the claims that this Government is making that it consulted with communities. The Minister announced that the regions would be reduced from 23 to eight, which makes a mockery of claims that were made in this place yesterday about the Government's commitment to consulting and taking heed of the needs of country people. Hospital boards and former rural district health services were totally ignored. They were not thanked for the voluntary work that they had done over many years. They truly supported their hospitals and believed that hospitals would provide better services for the community if the community was able to have a say in the way that they were run.
I am aware that a number of board members were terribly hurt by the off-handed way in which they were discarded by this Minister, who sent them a "Dear John" letter saying, "Thank you very much. Your services are dispensed with as of tomorrow", despite their having been given a guarantee in writing by Mr McRead, the second most senior bureaucrat in the Department of Health, that everything would remain the same until at least 1 July. I have received numerous letters and telephone calls from board members and from country people who have given many hours of dedicated service to country hospitals to ensure that they had much-needed equipment and other things to keep them operating. A great deal of the goodwill of people in those country areas will be lost.
Some of the questions country people have been asking are: What will happen to funds raised by hospital auxiliary committees and community groups to enable them to purchase a special piece of
equipment for local hospitals? What special empathy did this consultant have with country New South Wales? How much of the limited time that she had to conduct this review did she actually spend in the country talking to people about what they believed were important things for the delivery of services in their communities? While the Minister sat behind his desk creating this fanciful mess called rural health restructuring, New South Wales hospitals stretching from the Victorian border to the Queensland border have been struggling because of a chronic lack of staffing and facilities. In fact, this review did nothing to address the serious need to provide additional doctors, nurses, health specialists and health service providers in country New South Wales - a point made by the Health Services Association in its submission. Honourable members will be aware that there is story after story in country newspapers, in telephone calls to me, and on radio stations about the crisis in our hospitals throughout the country.
Recent funding restrictions at Albury Base Hospital, for example, have resulted in the closure of more than half of its surgical beds, including those in intensive care, and the transfer of seriously ill patients to hospitals in other towns. What is the rural restructure going to do about that? Today I spoke to the local member about the fact that at Tweed Heads District Hospital this week, five coronary care patients were left in the emergency department because there were no other beds for them. While the coronary patients were there, five fewer beds were available for emergency patients. Tweed Heads District Hospital transfers 900 patients a year because it does not have the facilities to treat them, and doctors at that hospital are begging other hospitals to take their patients.
These horror stories are being repeated across the State, and particularly at Wagga Wagga Base Hospital. My colleague the honourable member for Wagga Wagga will speak specifically about some of the problems at that hospital. Stories are told about that hospital being in a state of near bankruptcy, unable to pay bills, with shocking conditions because it is overcrowded, and staff who are desperate to provide the optimum care for their patients but simply cannot cope. I feel desperately sorry for the nurses, doctors and staff of our hospitals under the administration of this Minister, who seems to be more focused on punishing people in country New South Wales for their desire to have a say in how their hospitals are run.
The fact that the Minister got it wrong was proved when, after he made the fanfare announcement about the structure of eight megahealth regions throughout the State, mostly with each subsuming three of the previous district health services, he then suddenly announced there would be 22 new administrative centres. The farce of it all is that Macquarie region has its chief executive officer at Dubbo, its clinical services at Cobar and its bills paid at Mudgee. What a stupid way to manage the health system, requiring people working in the system to travel hundreds of miles across the State. There will be a considerable administrative cost, let alone the loss of goodwill and the waste of community resources.
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Premier, Minister for Health, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) [4.52]: What a pathetic performance. One would have thought the honourable member for North Shore would have had some information to put before the House. What an unbelievably pathetic performance. It seems that she does not like the fact that the consultant we chose to determine the rural restructure recommended a suggestion that we have implemented. Did she overlook the fact that this consultant has been used by many other governments throughout Australia including, from memory, the former Government when it was in office. All of a sudden the honourable member for North Shore decides to bag the consultant. Let us look at some of the things that people in country New South Wales have said about the rural restructure. Let us look at an area that to date has not traditionally been seen as a major Labor stronghold - although I must admit, as it includes the electorate of Clarence, that things are changing. The editorial in the Northern Star on 9 May carried the headline "Healthy decision". It said:
Three regions, Clarence, Richmond and Tweed become one, but not under one roof. The official position is that the community wanted health services spread out through the region and that has been delivered.
It further said:
We can only say how refreshing it is for the government to listen to the community.
Mrs Skinner: On a point of order. You have ruled previously that members should not quote from newspapers in this place, and the Minister is doing just that.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no such ruling.
Dr REFSHAUGE: I turn to an article in the Northern Daily Leader, which is based in Tamworth.
Mr Jeffery: What is the date?
Dr REFSHAUGE: He wants the date? The headline on 9 May was "Health move, a win for all". I am a bit embarrassed to read this, but it says:
HEALTH Minister Dr Andrew Refshauge deserves commendation for his consultative approach to the restructure of rural health service administration.
I do not know where the honourable member for North Shore has been but she certainly has not been talking to these people. It is embarrassing to have such glowing reports from the Northern Daily Leader but I felt I had to read that. I also have an article from the Gold Coast Daily News of 10 May. One of the senior people that the honourable member for North Shore was saying were outraged
is the former Tweed Valley health service chairman, Paul Bolster. I want to put on the record that Paul Bolster did an excellent job when he was chairman of the former Tweed Valley area health service. It is also fair to say that he is not renowned as a member of the Labor Party. The article states:
Former Tweed Valley Health Service chairman Paul Bolster said he was pleased Dr Refshauge intended to implement aspects of community proposals to continue current health standards.
Mr Bolster said it was pleasing the Minister had said he intended to retain local management centres, which meant retaining local jobs.
This senior member of the group that the honourable member for North Shore said is outraged is saying that my decision was great. The headline of an article in the Manning River Times on 10 May was "Health Never Brighter". Is this the outrage the Opposition is talking about? Give us more outrage! It is fantastic! Let us also look at another person whom I would not presume to be a traditional Labor supporter. The President of the Australian Medical Association - not the New South Wales branch - said on 21 May on radio 2UE that he is pleased the Government has recognised the importance of regional health. In that sense he means rural health.
I think the Australian Medical Association ought to be listened to. Certainly one would hardly see its president regularly turning up to ALP fundraising functions; one would not see him doing that on a regular basis. The honourable member for North Shore said that there are problems with the rural health service because of funding. Under the coalition Government there were 1.5 per cent productivity funding cuts every year. Good old Joe used to come and whisper in my ear, "Get stuck into them regularly. Stop them cutting my hospital budgets." Of course that is what he would say. All country members who have any commitment at all to their communities would say, "Stop those notorious productivity cuts." The Opposition says that rural health services are in a mess. The honourable member for Dubbo is rather pleased that the Government is building a hospital. Why? Because despite seven years in government and seven years of promises, the coalition Government did not start to rebuild Dubbo Base Hospital.
Mrs Skinner: You are only rebuilding what we already started, Andrew.
Dr REFSHAUGE: The honourable member for North Shore says that the former Government started it. I can tell members of the Opposition that under their Government there were no bricks and mortar at Dubbo. This Government is rebuilding that base hospital and it is getting the credit for it. The honourable member for Dubbo knows that, and he thanks me regularly. The Leader of the National Party is also desperately depressed that he could never get West Wyalong, an important hospital with an important focus, onto the list. Who is building it? The Labor Party is building it. The Liberals and Nationals never built it.
Mr Turner: There is no point in building a hospital there now, because there is no-one there. You shut Lake Cowal down.
Dr REFSHAUGE: The honourable member for Myall Lakes says that he does not want this hospital there, he does not want me to put the money into it. I am quite happy to override his personal representations that I should not spend money on that hospital; the people of Taree deserve better than his representation to me that the Opposition does not want the hospital. The Government is building hospitals in country New South Wales: in Coffs Harbour, Taree, West Wyalong, Dubbo and Lithgow. The Government is rebuilding the public hospital system throughout New South Wales. The Opposition refused to do it. The honourable member for North Shore referred to the lack of intensive care beds at Tweed Heads District Hospital. That did not happen yesterday; it has been happening for years. The honourable member for Murwillumbah sat on his hands and voted with his Government when his hospital's budget was cut every year - a 1.5 per cent productivity cut. Did he ask for more intensive care beds? No.
The Labor Government is building the accident and emergency centre so that more beds can be provided and the Tweed can have a fair go. The rural restructure has been welcomed throughout the State. Of course people want changes in some areas and I am happy to listen to suggestions. The honourable member for North Shore cannot read documents. She says suddenly the Government will be paying people in the Macquarie area from some town near Dubbo. That is absolute rubbish. I cannot understand how she maintains any credibility in her party. She misrepresents things time and again in an horrendous way. It is depressing that she cannot make a reasonable contribution to the debate.
One would have expected that a third of the way through a four-year term some policy would be forthcoming from the Liberal Party and the National Party. They have no policy; all they do is whinge. The previous Government did not rebuild the public hospital system in country New South Wales. This Government is building hospitals in Lithgow, Dubbo, Broken Hill and Coffs Harbour. How many times did the honourable member for Coffs Harbour promise a new hospital for Coffs Harbour and not deliver? This Government is building those hospitals and doing it proudly. It cares about people in the bush and is prepared to consult them and listen to them. That is why the Government has been the subject of editorials such as this one in the Northern Daily Leader of 9 May 1996:
Health move a win for all - Health Minister Dr Andrew Refshauge deserves commendation for his consultative approach to the restructure . . .
The Northern Star said, "Healthy decision" and congratulated me again, and the Manning River Times stated, "Health Never Brighter". Health is in good hands. [Time expired.]
Mr SCHIPP (Wagga Wagga) [5.02]: I support the honourable member for North Shore. Many people in rural New South Wales are disturbed by the restructure. I must make some corrections to what the Minister said. He said I regularly approached him about the administration and efficiency gains. That is untrue. The only approaches I made to the Minister's office were over a protracted period when I tried to extract the Hardwick report, on which he said today, and has announced previously, his restructure was predicated. A freedom of information application was necessary to extract that report from him, and that raises suspicion. The report is not accompanied by back-up evidence or even a list of those who provided evidence. It was prepared in haste in about 2½ months. The Minister also tried to bury information relating to Albury-Wodonga hospital. If the report is to be believed, staff at that hospital will be disturbed again in three years when they will be moved from the greater Murray district to another new district.
The Deputy Premier, and Minister for Health said the honourable member for North Shore cannot read and understand documents. He also said he accepted the Hardwick recommendations, which are in the report, as the next stage of the break-up of the greater Murray. The Minister also misunderstands the break-up of the administration. The Hardwick report stated that Wagga Wagga was to be the headquarters of this new enlarged district. After that announcement, the Minister went wobbly at the knees when he came under some pressure. He said the matter had to be reviewed and if he could be convinced, the headquarters could either be set up elsewhere or remain at Wagga Wagga. The only time I recall approaching him on these matters is when I asked him about Wagga Wagga being dumped as the headquarters. He told me to make a written submission to him, which I did, and ultimately it was grandly announced that Wagga Wagga would be the headquarters for the new greater Murray health district.
However, there is a break-up of the administration between Deniliquin, Griffith, and Albury-Wodonga. It is impossible for staff to cover four different locations, and time would be spent by the chief executive officer travelling between offices. On the Wednesday after the Minister's visit to Wagga Wagga following his announcement of the restructure I attended a meeting at Wagga Wagga Base Hospital, convened by the acting executive from Albury, Terry Meehan; and Joy Ross from the Riverina district. A number of people were in attendance, many of whom were hospital board members. They were paid the greatest insult because on that night some of them had not received letters informing them that they had been dismissed from the hospital board. When they received their letters they discovered that the same letters had been sent to district board members, with just a change of name on the top. There was no recognition of their years of service. Those experienced hospital board members had been asking how they were going to manage the district. But the new greater Murray area, which is almost the size of Tasmania, with 35 local government districts and 30 hospitals, was to be run by amateurs.
Dr Refshauge: Amateurs?
Mr SCHIPP: They are amateurs. They are local people, not professionals. I am talking about people who nominate for boards. The Minister knows they are not experienced people. The doctors who were at the meeting said they could not give their time. The Minister knows it is a hopeless situation.
Mrs SKINNER (North Shore) [5.07], in reply: Some of my colleagues have run into the House in high dudgeon because of some of the Minister's misleading claims during this debate. My colleague the honourable member for Coffs Harbour told me that the only reference that has been sighted anywhere to a $53 million capital works program for Coffs Harbour and District Hospital is in a press release of the Minister. There is no mention of it in the budget. The only reference in the budget is to $2.31 million allocated in 1996-97 for a planning study but no total cost is identified. Where is the land that the Government promised to purchase last year? My colleague suggested that I should tell the Minister to dust off the plans and Treasury approvals of February 1995. The Carr Government has not even begun negotiations with council to buy the land.
One indication of the commitment of the Government to health is the budget. The Minister has said much during this debate about increased capital works for rural areas. I find that hard to swallow, and I am sure people in country areas will find it equally hard to swallow. When they get copies of this debate they will understand that this year the capital works budget has been reduced by 2.4 per cent, the first time the health capital works budget has ever been reduced since the last Labor Government was in office. When one looks through the budget carefully one realises that the Minister has spread out what will be spent on health by re-announcing programs that were budgeted for several years ago, but in relation to which no work has been done. At 1.1 per cent the recurrent budget has been increased by far less than the inflation rate, and there is no identification anywhere in the budget papers of the breakdown of what new country areas or metropolitan areas will receive.
I have a copy of a table on which the former coalition Government reported. Last year I was fortunate enough to obtain from an unofficial source a copy of the same table that was provided to the Minister's office. It is interesting that the same document was neither published nor released this year. What does the Minister have to hide? The $15 million so-called additional allocation to country New South Wales was allocated last March and spent. Country hospitals will run themselves into serious debt, and crisis points will be reached within
a short time. The Minister has not countered the serious suggestions made by many throughout the country about the crisis in rural hospitals. He has managed to find and quote at length from three skimpy newspaper articles. I can assure the House that I could embarrass the Minister enormously by quoting from many country newspapers I have in my office.
The Minister knows very well that interesting articles have been written by his former board members in country New South Wales and reproduced in the Sydney Morning Herald. Those articles have created a great deal of interest not only in the country media but also in the metropolitan media. The reports, which related to how the Minister has totally turned on its head a system that was working effectively, were scathing. An indication of the contempt with which the Carr Government holds country people was demonstrated by the farewell thankyou dinner to outgoing board members in one of our country regions. The hospital put on the dinner, but the doctors had to provide their own drinks. If the Minister does not believe me I ask him to meet at some stage with Mr Mark Jenkins, a board member who happens to be sitting in the gallery. It is disgraceful that the Government could not thank people for voluntary services they had provided to the State for many years. The Government has now lost the collective wisdom of such people because of its contempt for them and its treatment of them. The Minister stands condemned for his actions. The childish, juvenile remarks that he is mumbling to himself will do him no good at all.
APPROPRIATION (PARLIAMENT) BILL
APPROPRIATION (SPECIAL OFFICES) BILL
APPROPRIATION (1995-96 DEBT RETIREMENT) BILL
MOTOR VEHICLES TAXATION AMENDMENT BILL
BUSINESS FRANCHISE LICENCES (PETROLEUM PRODUCTS) AMENDMENT BILL
ROAD IMPROVEMENT (SPECIAL FUNDING) AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
Mr SMALL (Murray) [5.13]: The Urana shire will receive $131,000 from the budget for sewerage works at the Urana township. Sewerage pump-out stations at various positions along the Murray River will receive $400,000 to ensure that they can be used by houseboats, paddle-steamers and other vessels that use the Murray River from Albury to Wentworth, thus maintaining the quality of the waterways. That is a continuation of an initiative introduced by the former coalition Government. Although the total road budget is unknown, it is extremely encouraging that $1 million has been allocated for further work on the construction and sealing of the Cobb Highway north of Booligal towards Ivanhoe. That part of the Cobb Highway has been identified as a priority. Consequently each year the Roads and Traffic Authority has been able to allocate funding. Last year the Commonwealth Government also provided $500,000. This year at least $1 million has been identified to upgrade that area.
I congratulate the Cobb Highway action group, its secretary, Helen Rogers, and its president, Clive Linett, on achieving those allocations. They were hoping that either this year or next year the sealing of the road right through to Ivanhoe would be completed, but that may take another year. Normally every member of this House receives a document setting out an identifiable amount of money relating to the total roads budget and where those funds will be spent in the next 12 months, whether it be on highways, regional roads or local roads. I am sorry to say that this year I have not yet received any such information in that regard. I hope that in the near future the figures will be forthcoming.
The agriculture budget is a complete disaster as the Minister and the Government continue to work against rural people with huge investments in their land. The relocation of the Biological and Chemical Research Institute from Rydalmere will cost $500,000. The closing down of that facility is a tragedy and is against all the principles of country investment and security. It is still unknown whether the Wagga Wagga and Armidale veterinary laboratories will close. Country people, particularly those from areas that have undergone alterations to or loss of research facilities, are concerned about the loss of resources. Many people claim that it must be better to have most research undertaken in country areas, and I would agree. The moving of the two veterinary laboratories from Wagga Wagga and Armidale would be tragic because they are basically the two main areas where most stockbreeding occurs and where some of the world's best studs are maintained. Their removal could seriously affect the socioeconomic circumstances of those two centres.
The closure of Rydalmere is hurtful. A great deal of horticultural work was conducted at the institute, particularly in relation to disease control and plant breeding. I am disappointed that the Minister for Agriculture has not faced up to the concerns expressed by rural people. Overall, the budget is an unbalanced one for country people, while their urban cousins are so much more favoured by a city-based Labor Government. That imbalance is reflected in my electorate. Fisheries are a huge, expanding industry, and include yabby farming and silver perch farming. Moama has a huge development that has been successful in
exporting yabbies to the European market. I congratulate those involved in that development. It is turning over good income from its exports and demonstrates how yabbie farming can be successful in the Murray shire.
A new aquicultural farm outside of Jerilderie, owned by Rick Maillor, is also contributing enormously to local income. At least $1 million has been invested, particularly for the ponds, to handle silver perch and yabbies, which can be successfully bred together. Aquiculture is a growing industry, particularly in Moama, Jerilderie, Deniliquin and the eastern part of my electorate. Honourable members will understand that native fish stock has been reduced by carp. The area needs greater assistance to help it cope with the demands of fish and yabbie farming. In recent years the most tragic event has been the serious effect of the long-term drought on cash flow. The eastern part of my electorate is still suffering drought conditions. Under the exceptional circumstances provision rainfall must be recorded within gazetted areas. In areas like Balranald, Ivanhoe and Wilcannia, which are perhaps more than 200 kilometres apart, rainfall is not actually recorded. I am sure the honourable member for Broken Hill appreciates the isolation of these areas.
Many farmland areas need to record rainfall over a period of time to identify whether properties in those areas qualify for exceptional circumstances assistance. Between those major centres there are pockets that I have no doubt would be eligible for exceptional circumstances assistance. Those areas are being considered. I hope those farmers who are coping with severe weather circumstances will be successful in their applications for assistance. I am pleased that the Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer, visited Balranald last Saturday to speak to those who are having these problems. Another factor for consideration is the effect of the cash drought. The price of beef cattle in the stock markets has decreased by as much as 50 per cent. The wool industry has shown a similar downturn. In recent years the rice industry has been a wonderful cash industry. Rice is a summer crop that has helped growers and towns in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, the Coleambally Irrigation Area and southern irrigation districts. The most recent summer was one of the coldest on record. Consequently, yields from many of the crops decreased by 25 per cent to 50 per cent. In some cases no crop at all was harvested and there was no yield. Of course, that seriously affected cash flow. [Extension of time agreed to.]
It is incorrect to claim that in many areas the drought is over. That might appear to be so, but drought comes in two forms. Some areas in the south-western part of New South Wales, and perhaps other pockets in the State, are still completely dry. The other form of drought is the cash drought, of which I spoke earlier. That is reflected in an enormous downfall in the value of commodities produced from the land. This winter more rural areas have probably been prepared for grain crops than one could ever anticipate. We can only hope that oilseed and grain crops will be successful in yield and price. Agriculture is an important base of economic income and export value for New South Wales, and the drought can never be ignored.
The provision of funding for preschools is another concern of my electorate. The 25 preschools within my electorate face extreme difficulty in obtaining budget funding. Over the years the Federal Government has turned away from providing funding for preschools, thus leaving it to each State to fulfil funding requirements. The Federal Government has aimed most of its input at childminding centres. Many children aged three, four and up to 4½ years of age now attend preschool. That means that often children are well over five years of age before they attend public school kindergarten. Children are spending longer periods of time at preschools. Recurrent funding to assist preschools presents a problem. Parents must contribute a large amount of money for these facilities to operate successfully. Across the border from my electorate, on the southern side of the Murray River, Victorian preschools receive greater amounts of funding than the majority of preschools in New South Wales. Our local preschools are suffering the effects of funding inequity.
I ask the Hon. Ron Dyer to consider the urgent needs of my electorate. Many parents of preschool children have written letters, as I have, requesting help for preschools. It would be extremely helpful if the Federal Government could provide funding for 3-year-old children to attend preschools, the same as funding that is provided to childminding centres. I want to highlight the wonderful success in recent years, under the land and water management plans, of the privatisation of both the upper Murray and lower Murray irrigation areas and the Hay irrigators settlement scheme. I am pleased those schemes were privatised. They got on with the job in the Berriquin, Wakool, Denimein and Deniboota irrigation districts, which incorporate the Cadel area. Irrigation farmers have suffered problems with soil degradation, rising water tables and salinity. Land and water management plans have achieved magnificent results. They involve a management structure and land and water management committees. The Government, through the Minister for Land and Water Conservation, has agreed to continue the funding provided by the former Minister in the coalition Government, George Souris. I hope the Federal Government can match the funds provided under those land and water management plans. Farmers were providing 50 per cent of those funds and governments were matching the amount.
Over the next 13 to 15 years appropriate funding will ensure a reticulation program, land management plans, land forming, tree planting, securing shallow water extraction through bores, and maintaining a lower water table and a better
environment. These programs are being achieved through a comprehensive scheme that the irrigators successfully voted for. I commend them for the work they have done with past and present governments. I look forward to that cooperation continuing. The irrigation areas are important food-producing areas. The Murray-Darling Basin area, which includes the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, benefits enormously from the resource of water. The Darling River has had several flushes from rain catchment within southern Queensland and north-western New South Wales. It now seems that Menindee Lakes will be full, which is a godsend for those who rely on that water.
I turn to policing. I do not believe that there are financial shortages in the police budget. It is a matter of how the budget is managed and how it can be better managed for the future. Most country towns and rural areas always seem to suffer from insufficient police numbers. The police do a magnificent job. I could not speak too highly of the police in the Murray division and in the Broken Hill and Wagga Wagga police regions, which extend into my electorate. When police officers apply for promotion they must appear before a selection board. When an applicant is successful, the unsuccessful applicants may challenge the decision. The appeal is a lengthy procedure and a long time passes before the successful applicant knows whether he or she will secure the higher position. Such proceedings can leave a town without an officer for several months before a replacement is provided. Honourable members will appreciate that holidays, sick leave, travelling and court appearances all reduce the number of police hours in a particular town or district. Those factors have a telling effect.
Perhaps the Minister for Police and the Government can examine other means of maintaining police numbers in identified areas, thereby reducing the lost time that occurs at present. Most towns and shires in my electorate are concerned about this matter. As I said, the policing is excellent. No-one would complain about it; the police do a great job. It is a matter of looking at the broad policing administration structure and deciding how the service can be provided and police numbers can be maintained, without police numbers in particular towns being reduced from the usual four or five to two, one or in some towns none while an officer is on holidays and cannot be replaced.
I know that to maintain efficiency police must work in different towns within one police division. The problem of securing replacement police may well exist in urban areas, but it is more significant in rural areas, where the need for police is much more identifiable because of lower police numbers. These days many shires are doing all they can to attract police; they are providing improved conditions and housing. I am pleased that the 1996-97 budget continues previously allocated funding. I am disappointed by the extension of the time period. Allocations for schools, hospitals, public works, sewerage and water filtration works will be extended over another year or two.
I am also disappointed that 3 x 3 road funding, which previously covered three years, will now extend over four years; it is now a 3 x 4 program. That means three years' funding will be stretched over four years. That is effectively a cut of between 25 per cent and 30 per cent in funding for rural areas. I hope that is to be corrected. Many roads have been upgraded over the past eight or nine years, and it is important that these services and facilities in rural areas be maintained. I thank the House for the opportunity to speak on the 1996-97 budget as it affects the electorate of Murray.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Beckroge.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' STATEMENTS
Suspension of standing orders, by leave, agreed to.
Mr SMITH (Bega) [5.35]: Today I honour volunteer workers in this State, particularly those in my electorate. Volunteers Week 1996 ran from 15 May to 19 May, but unfortunately I was unable to make this statement during that week. However, the Government and the whole community should constantly bear in mind the fact that the men and women who willingly donate their time to a huge range of community activities save the Government and the community millions of dollars each year. For the benefit of honourable members, I shall give examples of the contribution made by the volunteer movement to the State. Members representing city electorates may not have the same opportunity to appreciate voluntary work as members representing country electorates because many of the services carried out by volunteers in the country are provided by the Government in metropolitan areas. The bushfires that raged through parts of Sydney in January 1994 surely brought home to all the invaluable service provided by the New South Wales Bush Fire Brigades. In that disaster units came to Sydney from all over the State to help eliminate the threat to life and property.
Honourable members will also be aware of the work carried out by service clubs - for example, Rotary, the Lions Club and Apex. Branches of the Country Women's Association, Quota, Probus and View are possibly less well known. Those branches all do their best to improve the lot of individuals in the community, lobby governments on broader issues and provide a platform for debate and education. Some honourable members may have been unfortunate enough to require the assistance of the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol, the State
Emergency Service or the Volunteer Rescue Association. I recall a few years ago a Government member got lost in the bush during a visit to my electorate. He for one certainly appreciated the people who give up their free time to train in search and rescue procedures.
The Community Transport Service would be less well known in the city. Public transport scarcely exists outside city areas; there is certainly no public transport in my electorate. The Community Transport Service is staffed almost entirely by volunteer drivers who provide the elderly or infirm with the means to get to doctors' appointments and the shops, or to visit larger centres for medical appointments or business matters. Meals on Wheels is another community service to the elderly. That service is part of the effort to keep people in their own homes for as long as possible rather than having them end up in nursing homes or hostels at great cost to the public. Red Cross is another wonderful voluntary organisation that operates worldwide.
Some younger members of our community are willing to run scout or guide groups or to give up their weekends to train youngsters in sport. Honourable members must not forget the service provided by the church, of whatever denomination, which provides marriage guidance, grief counselling, crisis counselling and support for the needy. I know I have omitted some groups, but members of the organisations to which I have referred typify people who in some cases are willing to risk their lives to help others or simply to donate a few hours of their time to make life a little easier for someone less fortunate than themselves. This effort by individuals, whether it is baking a lamington or two for a charity fund-raiser or abseiling down a cliff to assist an injured person, saves this Government an enormous amount of money.
In honour of the selfless work undertaken by volunteers in this State, I urge the Premier to reconsider the guidelines under which the Office of Protocol administers the provision of State flags to non-profitmaking community groups. My requests on behalf of two volunteer rescue patrols, a bush fire brigade and a school of arts, have been rejected by this Government. The Premier has advised me that free flags will only be provided to the State headquarters of such non-profit organisations. What good is that to the people of my electorate, who have a six-hour drive to get to Sydney? These people are proud of their communities, proud of their State and proud to be Australian. For their efforts the thanks from this Government is nil. When they request a flag which symbolises the values the State stands for - integrity, justice, peace, freedom, equality - they are told to buy their own. Surely, if the organisations I have mentioned are proud enough of their State to approach the Government for a flag, they should be provided with one free of charge. After all, the price of a State flag when compared with the savings to the Government that I have outlined is absolutely minimal. [Time expired.]
Mr E. T. PAGE (Coogee - Minister for Local Government) [5.40]: I agree with the honourable member's statement about the volunteer movement. In my electorate volunteer organisations include the community transport scheme, Rotary International, Lions Clubs International, Probus, Meals on Wheels, Soroptimist International, State Emergency Service, Scout Association, Boys' and Girls' Brigades, and umpteen people who are involved with swimming, cricket, rugby union, rugby league and athletics. This voluntary service is common throughout Australia. Australia is probably one of the few countries in the industrialised world that still has a significant volunteer system.
The honourable member for Bega lost me though when he talked about the provision of a free State flag. In principle I agree with him that State flags should be more freely available, but the policy he was complaining about was initiated by his Government. It was his Government that restricted the provision of flags. I remember it well because they said that scout groups would receive a flag but only regional girl guide groups. They discriminated against the girl guides. I will take the matter up with the Premier but certainly I am surprised that the honourable member for Bega is another one of the members who now consider that what they did when they were in government was unconscionable. At least he has woken up; I suppose you can give him a score of a half out of a hundred for having woken up to the system, but the policy he is complaining about was initiated by his Government.
NEWCASTLE CARSHARE PROGRAM
Mr GAUDRY (Newcastle) [5.42]: I congratulate the Government, the National Roads and Motorists Association - NRMA - the Newcastle City Council and the community of Newcastle on the efforts that are being made in that city and in the Hunter Valley - and, of course, in Sydney and Wollongong - to ensure that we have a clean air city leading up to the year 2000. Those efforts are being made for the health and benefit of the citizens of the area and for clean and improved air in future. I refer in particular to the launch last week in Newcastle by the Newcastle City Council and the NRMA of the Carshare program. That is one of the steps which have been taken in Newcastle by Clean Air 2000 to involve the community in the reduction, in particular, of air pollution. The groups involved in that program are the Newcastle City Council, the NRMA, the Roads and Traffic Authority and the Australian Taxation Office.
Those four organisations have joined together, using the sophistication of computer technology, to devise travel patterns of their employees and to organise for those participating employees a method of car-sharing for the journey to work. That is just one of the many ways of addressing the problem of increased air pollution in our cities which, in particular, is created by trips to work. There are some amazing statistics in terms of the use of a car
in the Newcastle area. An attitude survey - Monitor of Public Attitudes - conducted this year found that 36 per cent of Newcastle respondents to the survey never used public transport and another 36 per cent used it only a few times a year. It found that 83 per cent of people travelled to work by car in that area, yet only 7 per cent said they actually needed their vehicles for work. The remaining 76 per cent said they drove for a number of reasons; it was convenient; there were no direct public transport routes; there may be service at an infrequent level; there was no stop near their destination; or they found that public transport took much longer than driving.
Taking those matters into account and always working towards the improvement of journeys to work by public transport, the Clean Air 2000 committee is implementing arrangements for vehicle sharing to get people to work. Research has identified that each person in the Newcastle area makes an average of 3.7 trips a day. That is about 11 million trips per week for transportation to work in the region. When one considers that most of those journeys are made by people who do not require a car during their working day, then any way we can minimise the number of cars entering our city must have a real impact on air pollution. This is just one of the ways that the Newcastle Clean Air 2000 group is working with the community and with Newcastle City Council to ensure that we do our part to reduce air pollution caused by motor vehicles in the Greater Newcastle-Sydney-Wollongong regions.
It has been clearly demonstrated through research by the NRMA and the Environment Protection Authority and through work undertaken by the parliamentary committee into motor vehicle emissions in the last year that the motor vehicle contributes significantly to air pollution. That one small change in people's habits when travelling to work will be a great contribution to a clean air approach. Other initiatives under the program include the development of park-and-ride facilities along public transport routes to the city and an improvement in cycleway development. Cycling is recognised in Newcastle as a very important mode of transport. The more we encourage people to use bikes for a better city, the better it will be in terms of contributing to a reduction in air pollution. We are also looking at travel blending schemes, that is, planning travel and deciding whether you need a car for every trip. Just breaking down one day per week will have a significant impact.
Mr E. T. PAGE (Coogee - Minister for Local Government) [5.47]: I thank the honourable member for Newcastle for bringing this matter to the attention of honourable members. It is a very progressive program, bringing together diverse organisations such as the Australian Taxation Office, the NRMA, the Newcastle City Council and the Roads and Traffic Authority to cooperate on transport issues to reduce air pollution in the Newcastle area. Embarking upon this venture shows tremendous foresight on the part of those organisations and also the community of Newcastle. The points mentioned about park-and-ride facilities, cycleways and travel blending are great initiatives of the group. There is no doubt much can be done on a cooperative basis to solve many of our more vexatious environmental problems. Certainly programs such as this serve as a beacon for other cities and communities to implement plans to reduce environmental pollution. I commend the honourable member for Newcastle and the people of Newcastle for their involvement in this venture.
STATE BANK OF NEW SOUTH WALES AND Mrs CHERYL BOUGHTON
Mr SLACK-SMITH (Barwon) [5.48]: I rise to speak on behalf of a constituent, Mrs Cheryl Boughton, who recently and very suddenly lost her husband on Saturday, 12 May 1996. On Monday, 14 May, Mrs Boughton phoned her branch of the State Bank in Moree to advise them of her husband's passing. She was told to continue as normal and not to worry as everything would be okay. Banks suspend accounts when a death occurs. However, in almost every case they do the right thing and make appropriate arrangements for their clients. On Tuesday, 15 May, my constituent received a telephone call from the Tamworth branch of the State Bank. She was advised that her file, which had been transferred to Sydney and then to Tamworth, had subsequently been lost. She was then advised that she could not operate her joint account and that the whole financial situation would be reviewed at additional cost to her, which added to her immense grief. At this stage Mr Boughton had not been buried. The shock of this advice from the bank caused Mrs Boughton tremendous additional and unnecessary grief.
In all my dealings with financial institutions I have never come across such a callous and uncaring attitude as that displayed by an officer from the Tamworth branch of the State Bank. No-one can imagine how Mrs Boughton, her family, her family members and her many friends who were supporting her at this time, felt about this matter. How could a financial institution such as the State Bank of New South Wales, originally known as the Rural Bank - the rural man's friend in the good old days - treat a valued customer like Mrs Boughton in such a abominable manner? If that is the way financial institutions help us when we lose a loved one they are at a very low ebb. I urge the Minister to thoroughly investigate this matter and to ensure that it does not happen again.
As the member for Barwon I find it distressing that my constituent has been treated in such an uncaring, callous and distrustful manner. It is beyond belief that she should have to incur additional costs to have her financial situation reviewed. That is a disgraceful way for any financial institution to conduct its affairs, especially the State Bank of New South Wales of which we
should be justly proud. I express utter disgust at my constituent's treatment by the Tamworth branch of the State Bank of New South Wales and the Sydney head office. The least that the bank could do is offer an apology to my constituent for its lack of consideration and compassion during her time of grief. To this point no apology has been forthcoming.
This inhumane act represents a side of the banks that people rarely see - the insensitive disgraceful side that I hope we never see again. Unfortunately, banks have a reputation for being insensitive. Lending institutions are an important part of any business. I believe that the State Bank of New South Wales should apologise to my constituent, Mrs Boughton, and her family. I have written to the manager in the public relations section of the State Bank of New South Wales asking him for an explanation of the shocking manner in which my constituent was treated when she was at her lowest ebb. I have received no response from the bank. I can only assume that the heat in the kitchen is too much for the bank. We, as elected members of Parliament, must ensure that this sort of inhumane and disgraceful treatment does not occur again.
Mr E. T. PAGE (Coogee - Minister for Local Government) [5.53]: I understand the concerns expressed by the honourable member for Barwon. When a constituent loses a loved one he or she does not need the additional trauma of being treated badly by financial institutions. I certainly sympathise with Mrs Boughton in her time of need. Unfortunately, in the last 10 years or so the reputation of Australian banks has plummeted dramatically. Banks have become completely insensitive to the needs and wishes of their clients. I am sure that multimillionaires would receive different treatment, but average clients get nothing. This has been amply demonstrated by financial institutions, in particular banks, across the board.
Recently their attitudes to their clients have been particularly bad. The honourable member for Barwon asked me to investigate the matter and to try to obtain an apology. He might not realise that the previous Government sold the State Bank, so we no longer have any conduit into that organisation. I am terribly sorry that the bank appears to have joined those in the private sector who do not provide decent service to their customers. I hope this matter gets some publicity and that the bank loses some customers. It might then realise that it has to answer to the community at large. The bank's treatment of a longstanding customer is certainly outrageous. I hope that the bank comes to its senses and realises that, even though it has been privatised, it does not have to join other insensitive financial institutions in the private market.
CENTRAL COAST POLICE NUMBERS
Ms HALL (Swansea) [5.55]: Some people in the Swansea electorate, in particular those at the southern end of Swansea and in the northern Wyong shire council area, have had no police station for quite some time. The nearest police stations to the areas I am talking about - which include Gwandalan, Summerland Point, Lake Munmorah, Mannering Park, Blue Haven and San Remo - are at Toukley and Swansea. However, Swansea police station is not manned for 24 hours a day, so after hours people have to go to Belmont police station. Residents in the Swansea electorate lobbied the former Government to provide more police in that area to no avail. There is one car, which operates from Toukley police station, to cover an area of 400 kilometres. For a number of years there has been a poor response time.
The previous member for Swansea, Mr Don Bowman, made numerous representations to the former Government to increase the police presence in that area, but that Government failed to do so. Despite the fact that residents in the area were worried about the crime rate, the lack of police officers and the poor response time or lack of response, nothing has happened. I spoke to the current Minister for Police who said that the Government would increase the police presence in this priority area. Prior to the 1995 election he gave an undertaking to review the situation. Since the election the numbers of beat police at Toukley have been increased. This matter is now receiving additional attention. Lake Munmorah progress association, residents from Blue Haven and the Lake Munmorah and Chain Valley development committee have constantly lobbied the Government to increase police numbers in this area.
This problem did not arise in 1995. However, it has been seriously addressed by this Government since that time. This Government accepts that there is a problem in that area. On Sunday, 2 June, residents from Mannering Park will be holding a meeting to determine what should be done. They want to know what the Government is doing to increase the police presence in the area. There is a lot of confusion in the area. Reference has been made to the building of a police station at Lake Haven and the establishment of a demountable police station at the traffic lights at Lake Munmorah. This situation needs to be clarified.
We need additional police in this rapidly growing area. A number of people from Sydney are moving to the area so its demography is changing. There is a lack of infrastructure and services must be increased. I ask the Minister for Police to review the policing needs of the area. This problem, which was ignored for many years by the previous Government, must be addressed. The Government must ensure that people living in the northern Wyong shire council area of the Swansea electorate are no longer ignored. Their voices must be heard. This Government must address a need that the previous Government failed to address, despite numerous efforts by the former member for Swansea.
Mr WHELAN (Ashfield - Minister for Police) [6.00]: I thank the honourable member for Swansea for raising this matter. As she said, since its election to office the Carr Government has taken great strides to deliver a better policing service to the people of the central coast. The coalition's record on the central coast is appalling. It even wanted to close down Terrigal police station where it let police numbers fall. I am pleased to advise the honourable member for Swansea that I am responding to the concerns of the people of her electorate. Acting Regional Commander Clive Small is currently examining the policing needs of the central coast. Once that review is complete I will be discussing options for the future with him and with the local member.
In relation to the current situation I am advised that the allocation of additional police to Toukley patrol has had a positive impact on policing services. It is now possible for an extra mobile crew to be rostered on afternoon shift on Fridays and Saturdays. That means that there are now more police out patrolling on these nights which are traditionally the highest crime periods. On most afternoons more police are now available to crew an additional police car to supplement the other general duties police. The acting district commander has advised me today that several operations are ongoing. On every weekend operations are mounted, focusing on break, enter and steal, motor vehicle theft, and antisocial behaviour while the district antitheft squad is being used on a needs basis. In addition to the future policing needs of north Wyong, I am advised that the projected staffing needs profiles are being developed. I understand the honourable member for Swansea is to attend a public meeting this weekend about law and order issues in her electorate. I will take the comments she has made today and endeavour to provide her with a more detailed response as soon as possible.
YOUNG POLICE STATION RAPE REPORT
Mr SCHULTZ (Burrinjuck) [6.01]: I rise to speak on an issue related to justice in this State. I am pleased the Minister for Police is in the Chamber because I think he will be very interested to hear what I have to say. One of my constituents has written to me about a rape committed upon her daughter on Friday, 17 November 1995, by six men. Three of these animals were known by the daughter and three of them were unknown to her. Out of fear and shame the young woman told no-one for a week, and on Saturday, 25 November 1995, she finally decided to show her brother the burns and bruises on her body. That same night this young lady attempted suicide. The family then became aware of the rape.
The following Monday, 27 November 1995, the brother of the young lady made a statement to a detective at Young police station. A policewoman subsequently interviewed the young woman a week after the brother made his statement. Very little information was given on the rape and no statement was signed at that time. Harassment of the family continued on a regular basis, resulting in an apprehended violence order being placed on a person associated with the accused rapists. Following a phone call to me by the mother of the young woman I drove to Young on Thursday, 4 January, to talk to the family and to try to convince this traumatised young person that she should make a statement to police who were powerless to take action unless a statement from her was forthcoming. It was a very difficult situation.
I spent three to four hours endeavouring to get this young lady to talk. She was not talking to the family; she was ashamed; she basically had become introverted, and she had a very bad psychological problem. I finally convinced her that she should make a statement, which she subsequently did. She made a formal statement of complaint the following day on Friday, 5 January, giving names and details of the rape. Despite this action, some three weeks passed before police questioned any of the accused. On Wednesday, 24 April, following contact by local police, the father of the young woman went to the police station to be told that because of the lack of evidence no charges would be laid at that stage. In the meantime, one of these animals that raped this young lady, and happened to be an illegal immigrant, absconded. I understand that two of the other five are in gaol on other charges.
The harassment and intimidation of the woman continued and on at least one occasion occurred whilst the investigating detective was in attendance at a local tavern. Other witnesses have come forward to make statements, and despite the evidence of burns still on the woman's body, at this stage no charges have been laid. On a number of occasions the young woman has attempted suicide and is still receiving counselling from mental health officers. I arranged for the rape crisis people from Wagga Wagga to talk to her and for the appropriate bodies in metropolitan Sydney to contact her by phone to try to keep her on track and to stop her from these suicidal attempts. One of the most important social justice issues today in this State is the victim's right to have the story heard in court; not for police to make a decision in an office on whether to proceed with charges.
It is the view of the parents and indeed myself that the police have been negligent in this matter and it is my intention to hand my files on this serious issue over to the Ombudsman. I bring this matter to the notice of the Minister for Police because of the way in which I believe the investigation of this matter has been handled by police at Young. Unless something is done about it very quickly I have absolutely no doubt that if this girl is not watched she will take her own life because she has shown no signs of improvement in her mental condition as a result of this traumatic experience.
Mr E. T. PAGE (Coogee - Minister for Local Government) [6.06]: It is certainly a terrible story the honourable member has told and every member in this House would feel that some dramatic action should be taken. I will bring this matter to the notice of the Minister for Police to ensure that something is done to redress to some extent what has occurred, and certainly the young woman concerned needs to believe that some action is being taken to support her in her hour of need, and that her pleas are not being ignored.
NEEDLE EXCHANGE PROGRAM FUNDING
Ms MEAGHER (Cabramatta) [6.07]: This evening I advise the House of an important public health initiative about to be undertaken by the South Western Sydney Area Health Service and the Department of Health in my electorate. Honourable members may recall that a couple of weeks ago I advised that the Cabramatta community centre would be forced to wind up the secondary outlet needle exchange program on 30 June this year. The dramatic increase in the demand for the service, the absence of trained health professionals to administer the program and the lack of funding meant that the centre could no longer offer a needle exchange service to clients. I also advised that the present location of the secondary outlet at the multipurpose community centre was inappropriate because the increased number of clients using the service resulted in some complaints by other user groups.
The closure of this important harm minimisation program would have had a disastrous impact on individual health, and put the community at risk of communicable and deadly diseases such as HIV-AIDS and hepatitis C. When I last spoke on this topic I advised that unless the Government came to the party with the necessary funding there would be a health crisis in south-west Sydney. I am now pleased to be able to advise that subsequent discussions with the community centre, the Department of Health, the area health service, Dr Refshauge's office and me have resulted in a major breakthrough for the future of the program both in the short term and for a longer term integrated health service for the area. At a meeting between the parties held on Monday, 27 May, it was decided that the South Western Sydney Area Health Service would take over responsibility for the needle exchange program, which is a result that I welcome.
The South Western Sydney Area Health Service will commence negotiations with Fairfield City Council in order to secure a property in Cabramatta that has been assessed as a suitable location. The South Western Sydney Area Health Service has guaranteed to fund the program to the tune of about $100,000 a year. This will not only fund the equipment but will provide for 2½ trained workers to administer the program. While the site for the primary fixed outlet is being negotiated the Government has agreed to provide stopgap funding for the community centre and has agreed to continue the service until the new premises are ready.
The relocation of the service to an independent site is a vital step that over time will result in the establishment of a multiagency approach to the problem of addiction in the Cabramatta area. It is the intention of the Government and the South Western Sydney Area Health Service that over time other services may co-locate at the site and facilitate a whole-of-government approach to dealing with the problem. At the meeting to which I referred it was determined that the South Western Sydney Area Health Service would continue to develop its submission for the primary fixed needle exchange outlet, with special regard to services that may be run through the centre that would complement the detoxification unit to be built on the Fairfield District Hospital site. Other services being considered at the primary fixed needle exchange outlet include rehabilitation support and home detoxification programs.
I am pleased to advise the House that the South Western Sydney Area Health Service has confirmed that it is finalising a feasibility study to determine the exact cost of establishing a detoxification unit at the hospital, which is the final step before construction can commence. The Director of the South Western Sydney Area Health Service, Mr Ken Brown, has advised me that it is expected that the unit will be completed next year. The establishment of the primary service, which will be administered by trained health workers, will guarantee a better monitoring of clients and facilitate earlier intervention, detoxification and rehabilitation. Closer monitoring of clients will also ensure that the needle return rate, which is a real concern to the wider community, is greatly improved. The establishment of this service is the vital first step in breaking the cycle of addiction. I welcome these important initiatives, which will facilitate real change in the way addiction is managed in the Cabramatta area. For seven years the coalition failed to address the desperate need for detoxification and rehabilitation services in the south-west of Sydney, despite the alarming escalation in drug and alcohol abuse. A real long-term solution to the problem is now being initiated, and I am confident of favourable results.
Mr E. T. PAGE (Coogee - Minister for Local Government) [6.12]: I complement the honourable member for Badgerys Creek on raising this issue in a positive way some weeks ago and now telling the House that following negotiations with the area health service a solution has been found to the problem. That is in stark contrast to the approach of Opposition members, who did nothing about their problems for seven years but expect this Government to take the blame and take immediate action. I congratulate the honourable member on her progressive approach. She put a cogent case before the responsible authorities and the problem will be fixed by a government that is sympathetic to her.
CRIME VICTIM COMPENSATION
Mr SMALL (Murray) [6.13]: The matter I raise tonight is one of the most tragic I have raised in private members' statements. I have received a letter from Mrs Margaret Coe, a constituent whom I have known all my life. Her letter, dated 12 May, reads:
I am writing to see if you can help me with a matter that has come up concerning an application to the Crimes Compensation Tribunal concerning the brutal murder of my Son Peter last Feb. 4th 1995.
Now in the 12 mths since, I am hardly able to cope with my life, and the only thing that I could think of, was how Peter was murdered and my health has been seriously affected and I am on medication still, and can still have these terrible panic attacks when I am out, and perhaps when I am in a crowd, now I have had to have specialists help & Dr. Wei & Jill Prowse a Psychologist in Echuca wrote letters explaining all this, but apparently this does not matter.
When I was down in Melbourne for the Hearing in Nov. 1995 which was a terrible ordeal, I was told by Police and others that there was such a thing as the Crimes Compensation Tribunal and that I should apply to them, through my Solicitor which we did. I was down for the Hearing for over 2 weeks, and Court Case could be 3 weeks.
Now the letter came back saying that I am not eligible for any compensation because of the Act 1983 -
which I assume is the Victorian Act -
which said because I live in N.S.W. and the brutal murder of my Son Peter was committed in Melb. Vic, by two 14 year old Boys in Feb 1995. Apparently the fact that I have to travel to Melbourne from Deniliquin for the hearing last Nov, and now the Court Case on 27th May, does not come in to it. Now if you read [the solicitor's] letter, he says that I am not eligible for Compensation in N.S.W. because my Son was murdered in Vic.??
. . . I don't live in the right State . . . don't you think this very wrong, as it says also that because you live in another State you do not suffer as much, through the violent act to my only Son . . .
In another letter of the same date Mrs Coe wrote:
Nothing is ever going to bring Peter back or compensate me & [my daughter] Jeanette for this terrible violent death that took Peter from us. The one thing that I have found is, the law gives very little thought for the Victims family, but for the offenders there is a lot, they are entitled, to a lot of help, and they can get Legal Aid, which is ironic, because I am in a small way helping to pay for a Barrister for them, and no-one thinks of offering me any financial help.
The two lads involved in the murder were under the care of the community services department in Melbourne. Following the first hearing one was gaoled for only three years, and the second hearing has commenced. Margaret Coe's husband died many years ago and she has had a tragic life. The two 14-year-old boys murdered her son by stabbing him with a knife when he was conveying them by taxi to a destination. These lads obtained help with legal aid and representation, yet she cannot receive compensation. Her life has been ruined. I have raised the matter with the Attorney General, the Hon. Jeff Shaw, and I sincerely hope something can be done through the Crimes Compensation Tribunal to assist Mrs Margaret Coe, who deserves help.
Mr E. T. PAGE (Coogee - Minister for Local Government) [6.17]: I sympathise with the case raised by the honourable member for Murray. Mrs Coe has certainly been through the mill, and one would hope she can receive some compensation. Sometimes things that should be carried out by the responsible government become difficult or impossible because they involve matters in a different State. I will certainly refer this tragic case to the Attorney General, but I would not be too optimistic about the outcome.
URUGUAYAN CLUB OPENING AND ARGENTINEAN NATIONAL DAY
Mr LYNCH (Liverpool) [6.18]: I draw to the attention of the House two events that have recently occurred in or near my electorate, and I congratulate the organisers of those events. These matters are more positive than some of the matters that have been raised tonight. The first event I wish to refer to is the opening of the Uruguayan Club on Saturday, 18 May. That club is located in Whitford Road, Hinchinbrook. Present at the opening were the Mayor of Liverpool, the Hon. George Paciullo, councillor Wendy Waller and councillor Alex Sanchez, the Deputy Mayor of Liverpool, who speaks Spanish, and representatives of the Uruguayan consulate.
Ms Meagher: I was there.
Mr LYNCH: And I am assured by the honourable member for Cabramatta that she was there too. I do not recall that, but I will take her word for it. The club was opened by the Premier, the Hon. Bob Carr. In his opening address he made some interesting comments about Uruguayan history, which he assured us he studied at university. He pointed to the resonances in Uruguayan history, certainly in the early part of this century, with traditional Labor Party values and traditions. George Pendle, in his book A History of Latin America, refers to Uruguay as the first welfare state in South America. I would put it in slightly different terms and say that the political forces at work in Uruguay in the early part of this century were essentially social democratic and because of that there are extraordinary resonances between those political forces and some of the forces in Australia. Of course, those Uruguayan forces were not completely successful and there was a turning back of the clock later this century.
In terms of the organisation of the club and its development, special acknowledgment should be made of the role of the president, Señor Alberto Grant, the secretary, Judy Deus, and the junior vice-president, Jose Deus. I should formally record my thanks to one of the speakers known to me and many others as Companero Lucera. The club has had a long and difficult history. It first took occupation of the site long ago, but found itself in the middle of an urban development with lots of houses being developed around it, and that led to inevitable and obvious pressures and tensions. It is
to the great credit of the club that it has overcome such problems and has tried as best it can to deal with some of the concerns of neighbouring residents. It is now an impressive club and a great facility for the Uruguayan community.
It will also be a great facility for Liverpool and the community generally, and that reflects the significant role that the Uruguayan community plays within the electorate of Liverpool and generally within the south-west of Sydney. The strength of the south-west of Sydney is the many different and diverse groups that are able to exist and work together so effectively. The other event I seek to draw to the attention of the House is the celebration of the Argentinean National Day held on Sunday, 26 May. The celebration was held at Fairfield Showground and attracted representatives from the Argentinean Consulate, Aerolineas Argentinas, which sponsor the Argentinean Club, myself and the Deputy Mayor of Liverpool City Council, Councillor Alex Sanchez. I particularly thank the Argentinean club for inviting me to attend the function and Felix Passo, someone with whom I have had a long association. Whilst I could not stay for the entire day, the time I spent there was very pleasurable.
The celebration consisted of various displays and performances involving Argentinean culture and folklore. It is a reflection of the strength of members of the Argentinean community that, although they are certainly Australian residents who have a great commitment to this country, they are able to remember their Argentinean culture, and celebrate its background and its history. The Argentinean National Day is a celebration of the independence of Argentina from Spain, an independence that was achieved in the early part of last century. It is interesting to learn when one studies Argentinean history that in many ways there are resonances between Argentinean political movements and social democratic forces in this country, but in some ways they were much more advanced than in Australia. If one looks at the 1810 junta established in Buenos Aires, one finds Jacobean tendencies which were far more impressive than anything present in Australian politics. [Time expired.]
Mr E. T. PAGE (Coogee - Minister for Local Government) [6.23]: I commend the honourable member for Liverpool for referring to these two events. He has certainly been involved with his Spanish community and its activities. I always feel a certain empathy with the South American people because by and large most of them who come to Australia have suffered in some way under some dictatorial regime, though, as the honourable member for Liverpool said, there were many significant social democratic movements which, unfortunately, did not come to fruition as we would have liked in this country. It is pleasing to note that the honourable member for Liverpool recognises the existence of such groups in his community and appreciates being asked to be associated with them.
BUILDING SERVICES CORPORATION AND Mr TONY ALLEN
Dr MACDONALD (Manly) [6.24]: I make representations on behalf of one of my constituents, Mr Tony Allen, and the Building Services Corporation inquiry into consumer grievances. Mr Tony Allen and his family, who live in a home - if one could call it that - in Balgowlah represent yet another sorry chapter in the sordid history of the BSC. I regard that as one of the hospital passes to the current Minister, for whom I have some regard and who I think has attempted to deal with this issue, although it appears that the outcome is not satisfying everyone. The history is a long one and the responsibility cannot necessarily be sheeted home to this Minister; it is the result of a consumer-averse culture that has existed within the Building Services Corporation for many, many years. The recent inquiry into outstanding grievances with the Building Services Corporation has underlined that very fact.
I do not want to go into specific detail about Mr Allen's case, but I have corresponded with the Minister on his behalf since June last year, and I understand other members have made representations to the Minister on behalf of their constituents. Mr Allen's house is in a serious condition, and it appears to be worsening. He has directly suffered from this consumer-averse culture, which the Minister's inquiry acknowledged led to fraudulent responses from builders and insurers. It has left him in a vulnerable position after local stormwater pipes failed, overflowed and apparently destabilised his house. I have placed a number of questions on notice and I look forward to a prompt and full response from the Minister. I have prepared some other questions and I would like the Minister to respond to them in her reply.
Why does the Minister try to minimise the legitimate claims of the Allens, as substantiated by University of New South Wales reports, with accusations of contribution to the damage, when she and her inquiry know that concealed deficiencies in the construction of the Allens' house 38 years ago had no real impact, and in fact would have been repaired as a by-product of the main repair had the BSC not been a corrupt organisation which facilitated fraudulent certificates of structural adequacy, making the partially done and botched repair to the Allens house possible? Given the inquiry's finding into the Allens' case against the insurer, the insurer's engineer, the builder and, perhaps if the matter had been properly investigated, Manly Council, why then is the Minister protecting parties that allegedly breached the Building Services Corporation Act to the detriment of the Allens by not prosecuting those parties? Given the widespread dissatisfaction of the victims with the Minister's informal inquiries and inadequate offers of compensation and justice, will the Minister conduct a test case as per the conditions proposed in the Freehill Hollingdale and Page advice for the consumer victims dated 24 November 1995?
Why does the Minister accuse Mr Allen of failing to make a BSC insurance claim in 1993 when the reason was they were falsely advised by the corrupt BSC inspector that they had no basis for a claim? Under the circumstances, is it not totally unreasonable to offer just $100,000 and to leave Mr Allen unaided to pursue proper compensation for which the Minister for Fair Trading and her inquiry have responsibility and have given an undertaking to resolve? I note that the Hon. J. H. Jobling in another place has given notice of a motion referring this matter to the Auditor-General for his consideration. I believe this is totally appropriate, and I urge all honourable members in the other place to support the motion. The motion has three clauses. One is that the Legislative Council views with concern the failure of the inquiry into outstanding grievances with the BSC to produce and use consistent methodology in assessing victims' claims. Indeed, the inquiry acknowledged that it had for some, but not all, victims recommended payment for a range of heads of damages.
In the words of another aggrieved consumer, "Consumers were deprived of their rights to compensation for gross negligence by the BSC on the basis that it was too difficult to work out." The second clause in the notice of motion condemns the unfair tactic adopted by the BSC and the Department of Fair Trading in insisting that victims bank any cheques offered by 31 May 1996 in full satisfaction of any claim and agree to forgo any further or future rights to claims of further legal action. The notice of motion also calls upon the Minister to rescind that deadline to allow complainants to bank cheques received in part payment of proper compensation and to enable complainants to retain full legal rights on banking. These comments are self-explanatory. Why should aggrieved consumers have their rights constrained in any way?
Mrs LO PO' (Penrith - Minister for Fair Trading, and Minister for Women) [6.29]: The honourable member for Manly has been actively pursuing this issue on behalf of his constituents, and this is at least the fourth or fifth occasion he has raised the issue with me. His diligence is to be commended. The inquiry was asked to consider whether the former Building Services Corporation had breached any of its statutory responsibilities in respect of defective building work carried out by licensed builders. With Mr Allen's home the inquiry found that the failure of the remedial work was compensable under a statutory insurance scheme administered by the former BSC. The inquiry found that Mr Allen was invited to claim such insurance in 1993, but did not do so until May 1995, and that refusal of that claim on 16 June 1995 by the former BSC amounted to a breach of its statutory responsibility.
It follows that the loss from that breach amounted to the failure of the former BSC to pay Mr Allen the statutory limit for compensation, which is $100,000. No other loss was found to have been sustained by the refusal of that claim. The inquiry recommended compensation accordingly and offered Mr Allen $100,000. This amount was in full compensation for what the inquiry identified as the breach of statutory responsibilities by the former BSC. It was not the statutory duty of the former BSC to pursue private insurers or local councils on behalf of consumers. Nor was the former BSC responsible for loss or damage caused by other agencies. It was not within the scope of the inquiry to pursue such matters. I feel sorry for Mr Allen, as I do for any consumers left with genuine grievances against the former BSC. Mr Allen has been offered appropriate compensation for a breach of a statutory responsibility by the former BSC. It is important to note that the apparent cause of Mr Allen's problems was water escaping from domestic water pipes and a fractured water pipe apparently under the care and control of Manly council. [Time expired.]
Mr PRICE (Waratah) [6.31]: I raise an issue concerning the developer Carrington Holdings and its proposed development at Beresfield off Weakleys Drive. I preface my comments by saying that I have no brief for any development organisation or individual, but I certainly have a desire to see that part of my electorate grow to an economically viable size, which will include a number of public institutions and infrastructure developments. The history of the project is interesting. The site was originally adjacent to Weakleys Drive and behind the existing ribbon development of residential cottages. It is accessible to the national highway, which is Weakleys Drive. The development had progressed through the normal processes of Newcastle City Council. In December 1994 town planners recommended zoning to the council, which was adopted and recommended for public display. To date there has been no public display.
Officers from Newcastle City Council and Maitland City Council are apparently attempting to develop some sort of open space plan in the vicinity of that development site. In my opinion those officers have frustrated the developers in their attempts at a sensible development. The development at Beresfield will allow a waste water amplification scheme to be brought from Morpeth to the site and extended to an adjacent light industrial site approximately one kilometre further down the road. This scheme will make the site far more viable and accessible. At the moment it is sterilised from those infrastructure provisions. The site was formerly subject to an exploration mining licence. There was to be a large open-cut mine from the Beresfield side of the exploration licence site westward for a period of up to 20 years.
The local community objected violently to the prospect of a mine in that location for a variety of reasons: explosions, consequent vibration and, worst of all, the westerly wind carrying dust that would
destroy the lifestyle of those in the suburbs of Beresfield and Tarro in the Newcastle City Council area and Woodberry in the Maitland City Council area. In August 1990 the Clough report recommended against continuing those exploration licences on the basis of the need for a small urban integrated residential development of an appropriate size. The previous Government upheld those recommendations and the mining licences were withdrawn. With the procrastination of town-planners and difficulty experienced by the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning and, to a lesser extent, by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, another mining company has lodged another exploration licence application with the mines department. That application is currently being favourably reviewed.
When this application is made public, the local residents will again protest and the reason for the original withdrawal of licences will be totally frustrated: history will repeat itself. I am concerned that part of the procrastination is the result of the National Parks and Wildlife Service being involved in the assessment process. The service considers it is being used as a scapegoat. I was recently invited to join a rezoning proposals committee for the Beresfield-Thornton corridor by the Newcastle and Maitland city councils. I was unable to attend that meeting, as was the only other person outside of council, the representative of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The meeting was fraudulent: the time scale reveals that 45 minutes was allowed for
an extremely important meeting. I refer the matter to the Minister and trust that some action will be taken. [Time expired.]
Mr E. T. PAGE (Coogee - Minister for Local Government) [6.36]: I congratulate the honourable member for Waratah on raising this issue of concern to his electorate. I undertake to refer the matter to the relevant Minister in an endeavour to reach finality with the approval of the honourable member and the constituents he represents.
Private members' statements noted.
The following bills were returned from the Legislative Council without amendment:
Casino Control Amendment (Cheques) Bill
The following bills were returned from the Legislative Council with amendment:
Exhibited Animals Protection Amendment Bill
Government and Related Employees Appeal Tribunal Amendment Bill
Public Servant Housing Authority (Dissolution) Bill
Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Contaminated Land) Bill
Non-Indigenous Animals Amendment Bill
Periodic Detention of Prisoners Amendment Bill
Stock (Chemical Residues) Amendment Bill
House adjourned at 6.40 p.m.